Creating potential liability for pharmaceutical companies wary of Food and Drug Administration regulations, Facebook recently changed its policy to state that it will no longer allow the makers of new pharmaceutical product pages to disable the comments feature.

Pharmaceutical companies commonly disable the comment feature on their product pages – a practice known as “whitelisting” – because of concerns that consumers might make a comment about a nonapproved or off-label use of the drug, triggering the FDA’s scrutiny. But that practice will change for many companies after Facebook sent an e-mail to existing pharmaceutical companies with a presence on the social networking site.

InTouch Solutions, a digital marketing agency focused on the pharmaceutical industry, posted the content of the e-mail, sent by Facebook sales representatives.

“As you know, Facebook pages are a free product for organizations, public figures, businesses and brands to express themselves and have an authentic, engaging, two-way dialogue with people on Facebook. Previously, pharmaceutical brands could submit a request through their Facebook sales representative to disable commenting on their Facebook page. Starting today, Facebook will no longer allow admins of new pharma pages to disable commenting on the content their page shares with people on Facebook,” the e-mail read. Facebook did say that it would consider allowing branded drug pages to disable the comments feature on their pages, however. “Subject to Facebook’s approval, branded pages solely dedicated to a prescription drug may (continue to) have commenting functionality removed,” the e-mail said.

Why it matters: Pharmaceutical companies face a continuing challenge to engage with consumers via social media. Legal requirements for the companies – like drug warnings, for example – don’t fit easily into a 140-character Tweet or quick Facebook post. Pharmaceutical companies that wish to maintain a presence on Facebook under the new policy must either create a branded Facebook page and seek to have the company approve disabling of the comment function, or be prepared for around-the-clock monitoring of the comment section. Drug companies have sought guidelines from the FDA on social media and Web marketing for quite some time but have yet to receive specific guidance.