The responsibilities of platforms
The consumer rights advocate, journalist, TV personality, and founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, Martin Lewis OBE, is taking on Facebook in what could be, and should be, a ground-breaking challenge to the social media giant's advertising practices.
Martin Lewis is angry. He is angry that scammers continue to use his image and name in scams, making it sound like he is endorsing their product, and he is angry that Facebook makes a great deal of money from these rogue adverts yet does very little to stop them. He has said that he is issuing 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".
Lewis makes the point that in the last year, Facebook has published more than fifty adverts which include his photo and name as if he is endorsing the product. Many of these adverts are scams for Bitcoin, and others are for "binary trader" services. Binary trading is extremely high risk betting on the stock market and strongly disapproved of by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Enough is enough
In his blog, Lewis writes: "Enough is enough. I've been fighting for over a year to stop Facebook letting scammers use my name and face to rip off vulnerable people, yet it continues. I feel sick each time I hear of another victim being conned because of trust they wrongly thought they were placing in me. One lady had over £100,000 taken from her."
He went on to say: "I don't do adverts. I've told Facebook that. Any ad with my picture or name in is without my permission. I've asked it not to publish them, or at least to check their legitimacy with me before publishing. This shouldn't be difficult. After all, it's a leader in face and text recognition. Yet it simply continues to repeatedly publish these adverts and then relies on me to report them, once the damage has been done. Even when they are reported, many have been left up for days or weeks. And finally, when they are taken down the scammers just launch a new, nearly identical campaign very soon afterwards and the whole rigmarole starts again."
Lewis has every right to be angry, but Facebook's response is inadequate. It publishes adverts, collects the money, but takes no responsibility for them. If you spot an advert which breaks its rules, it is up to you to report it, and then, maybe, they'll look at it and take it down. And if scammers put it up again, its up to you to notice it again, and report it again. The whole business model is based on getting other people to do their work for them, and it is unacceptable.
Other platforms do this too
It isn't the only social media giant to use this business model, although saying "everyone does it, its standard practice" in no way justifies it. YouTube is pretty much the same and it isn't difficult to find videos on there which are ripped from TV programs or DVDs, or even from other YouTube users. Google argues that people upload 30 hours of video to YouTube every minute of the day, so they couldn't possibly afford to check it. With their business model, it would just be too expensive. Again this raises the question that if Google is a world leader in AI and an expert in knowing more about you than you know yourself, why is it so difficult for them to identify people who are repeat offenders for copyright infringements, racial abuse, and scams?
For the social media giants, it is so much cheaper, and more profitable, to get thousands of other people working unpaid, doing your job for you, and hiding behind the defence that you are merely a common carrier, just like the postal service or the telephone company. As a common carrier, you can't be held responsible for what other people send to each other through your system. Opponents will quickly point out that common carriers like the postal service and the telephone company do not analyse the contents of messages, profile users, treat their users as the product, or insert money-making adverts into letters and phone calls.
The tip of the iceberg
Martin Lewis is the tip of the iceberg. Many other public figures are likewise used in endorsements without their knowledge or approval. Scammers have even faked videos of the late Stephen Hawking apparently giving a glowing endorsement of their products. If Lewis wins his case and is awarded substantial damages, it might open the floodgates for similar cases from dozens of other celebrity figures and force social media companies to rethink their approach.
Lewis ended his blog by saying: "Facebook is not above the law. It cannot hide outside the UK and think that it is untouchable. Exemplary damages are being sought. This means we will ask the court to ensure they are substantial enough that Facebook can't simply see paying out damages as just the cost of business and carry on regardless. It needs to be shown that the price of causing misery is very high."
27th April 2018
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