Facebook, fake adverts and defamation

Background

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert, recently settled his claim against Facebook for publishing adverts which falsely claimed that Mr Lewis endorsed financial products. The products included high-risk schemes such as binary trading, which Mr Lewis does not endorse, and scams which used Mr Lewis's reputation to persuade vulnerable people to invest. Facebook was required to remove all the fake and defamatory adverts. After Facebook failed to do so, Mr Lewis began legal proceedings against Facebook.

What happened?

After almost a year, Facebook agreed to a settlement of £3 million donated to Citizens Advice to set up a UK Scams Action project, and a scam adverts reporting tool for the UK with a dedicated team to deal with reported adverts on Facebook.

Facebook already has a tool to report adverts, but "dark adverts" targeted to individuals which are not shown on timelines make it very difficult for someone affected by defamatory adverts to have all fake adverts removed.

Why is this important?

Facebook argued that they were a platform, rather than a publisher. Although this was never established in court, if Facebook was found to be a publisher it could have serious effects on many social media websites which show adverts, as the websites could then be liable for any defamatory content.

Arguably, Mr Lewis was able to use this case to set the record straight and to go some way towards repairing, at least in part, the damage to his public reputation. He was able to demonstrate that he does not support the financial products falsely using his name, and to enable the introduction of projects to target future scam adverts. He has now made it publicly clear that he opposes these scams and protected his reputation as a supporter of consumers.

The matter of whether or not Facebook would have been treated by the Court as a publisher in this case, and indeed others, remains to be seen.

For more information on this topic, please contact Jayne Clemens.