Martin Lewis, the journalist behind the 'Money Saving Expert' website, is taking social media giant Facebook to court claiming defamation over persistent fake adverts using his face and website to hawk dubious financial products.
Lewis launched his campaign today after years of warnings to his followers that he had nothing to do with the adverts, which appear to indicate his endorsement. Lewis claims that Facebook has failed to remove or prevent the adverts from appearing on its site.
Lewis claims that the false adverts are not only damaging to his reputation, but have also persuaded victims to invest their money into scams advertised over Facebook in the belief that they are endorsed by the journalist and entrepreneur.
Having founded MoneySavingExpert.com in 2003, Lewis sold it to MoneySupermarket.com for up to £87 million, while continuing to run the website on a day-to-day basis, as well as presenting his own money-saving show on ITV. Lewis said that he would donate any damages awarded to anti-fraud and fake news charities.
Other companies, such as Outbrain, who have run these adverts have taken them down
The adverts used titles such as "Bitcoin code" and "Cloud trader" to encourage people to plough their savings into a range of "get rich schemes".
Despite the fact that the Advertising Standards Authority has attempted to ban misleading Facebook advertisements, he said consumers are still being affected by scams.
"Criminal scammers from outside the EU are not really interested in the ASA [Advertising Standards Authority]. These adverts are in a lacuna of regulation. No newspaper would have run these adverts, and certainly not over 50 times," said Lewis.
One woman claimed to have been conned out of $100,000 after investing in one of these schemes, according to Lewis. However, he added, she has since been able to get her money back.
Lewis said: "I get about five messages a day from people saying, ‘I've just seen your Bitcoin ad and wanted to check it'. If that is the number who get through to me, how many more must be just taken in?"
What is particularly pernicious about Facebook is that it says the onus is on me, so I have spent time and effort and stress repeatedly to have them taken down
Although he has repeatedly contacted Facebook to complain, Lewis claims that the company has failed to take action - and he has faced reputational damage as a consequence.
"It is consistent, it is repeated. Other [online advertising] companies, such as Outbrain, who have run these adverts have taken them down.
"What is particularly pernicious about Facebook is that it says the onus is on me, so I have spent time and effort and stress repeatedly to have them taken down," he explained.
The campaigner said the company is "facilitating scams on a constant basis in a morally repugnant way". He added: If Mark Zuckerburg wants to be the champion of moral causes, then he needs to stop his company from doing this."
If Mark Zuckerburg wants to be the champion of moral causes, then he needs to stop his company from doing this
A spokesperson for Facebook said: "We do not allow adverts which are misleading or false on Facebook and have explained to Martin Lewis that he should report any adverts that infringe his rights and they will be removed.
"We are in direct contact with his team, offering to help and promptly investigating their requests, and only last week confirmed that several adverts and accounts that violated our advertising policies had been taken down."
Mark Lewis of Seddons, the lawyer leading Lewis's legal team in the defamation action, asserted that Facebook was "not above the law".
He continued: "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."
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