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MoneySavingExpert’s (MSE) founder and TV consumer champion Martin Lewis (OBE) has commenced UK High Court proceedings against Facebook to sue the tech giant for defamation over a series of fake adverts bearing his name.
Mr Lewis alleges that 50 fake ads bearing his name appeared on the Facebook social media platform over the space of a year, and that the fact that the ads were not from him, and could / did (in some cases) direct consumers to scammer sites containing false information may have caused serious damage to his reputation, and did cause some people to lose money.
Mr Lewis prepared for the first day of the court action against Facebook (on Monday 23rd April) by giving an interview to BBC radio explaining why he was taking the action, and offering to stop the court action altogether if Facebook ‘took responsibility’ for what he believes were its damaging actions against his reputation.
It is alleged that the adverts featured Mr Lewis’s face alongside endorsements that Mr Lewis says that he did not make. Mr Lewis has publicly stated many times that he does not appear in any adverts, therefore, any advert bearing his name must be a fake.
Mr Lewis has stated in a press release about the case that he has been fighting to stop the adverts from appearing on Facebook over the last year and that, even when they were reported to Facebook, many of the ads were left up for days or weeks, and when they are taken down, scammers were able to new, nearly identical campaigns very soon afterwards.
Mr Lewis is personally suing Facebook (not on behalf of MSE), and has published details of the legal action on the MSE website, saying “I will issue high court proceedings against Facebook, to try and stop all the disgusting repeated fake adverts from scammers it refuses to stop publishing with my picture, name and reputation.”
The fake adverts are reported to have been mostly for ‘get-rich-quick schemes’ e.g. titled ‘Bitcoin code’ or ‘Cloud Trader’, which are reported to be fronts for binary trading firms based outside the EU. Martin Lewis has stated online that binary trading is a financially dangerous, near-certain money-loser, which the regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) strongly warns against.
Although Mr Lewis has said that he is seeking exemplary and substantial damages, he has said that this is because he wants to show Facebook that they can’t just pay damages as a kind of cost of business and then simply “carry on regardless”.
Mr Lewis has said that any money he does receive in damages from the court case will go not to him, but to anti-scam charities.
This case is compelling for many reasons. Firstly, it appears clear from what Mr Lewis has said publicly about his side of things that the fake adverts are bound to be damaging to a person whose public role is to fight for consumer rights, and is reported to have been damaging to other innocent victims of the scam ads e.g. the lady who reportedly had over £100,000 taken from her by the ad scammers. It’s in everyone’s interest that the activities of scammers are stopped.
Secondly, it will be interesting to see how successful Martin Lewis personally will be in taking on a rich tech giant that some commentators may see as being almost behaving as though it were above the law of some of the countries that it operates in. Since Martin Lewis is a consumer ‘champion’ and influencer when it comes to many financial products, it is likely that he will have a great deal of public sympathy and media attention which could give him extra bargaining power.
Thirdly, one key aspect of this case is which businesses Facebook is actually in rather than what business it thinks it’s in. For example, Mr Lewis is arguing that Facebook claims to be a platform not a publisher – and yet the problem has arisen not just from posts on a web forum, but from Facebook being paid to publish, promulgate and promote what may be fraudulent enterprises i.e. acting like a publisher. If Mr Lewis wins the case, it may be that Facebook will need to re-examine whether or not it now has to see itself as a publisher, and may be forced to change its system.