Martin Lewis settles lawsuit as Facebook agrees to donate £3m to anti-scam charity and launch new scam ads reporting button
Social media giant Facebook is to launch a dedicated tool to report scam ads, donate £3 million to a new Citizens Advice project to help tackle them and cover the legal costs of MSE founder Martin Lewis after reaching a settlement with him over his campaigning defamation lawsuit.
In April last year, Martin issued High Court proceedings for defamation against Facebook after a year in which over 1,000 scam adverts abusing his name or image had appeared on the site. He pledged any proceeds would go to charity.
Online scam adverts, which often use fake celebrity endorsements to get people to part with their cash, have become widespread in recent years, and Facebook admitted in May last year that there were 1,000s of these ads featuring Martin on its site.
Now, instead of pursuing legal action, Martin has agreed to drop his lawsuit, and he and Facebook have instead come together in a legal settlement on the condition it agrees to a major two-pronged action plan to fight the problem:
- Facebook will donate £3 million to Citizens Advice to deliver a new UK Scams Action project, which will launch in May 2019.
- Facebook will launch within months a new scam ads reporting tool, unique to the UK, and a dedicated team to handle these complaints.
For now, if you spot a fake ad featuring Martin, report it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Martin: ‘This is far above anything I could have won in court’
Speaking about the settlement, Martin said: "It shouldn't have taken the threat of legal action to get here. Yet once we started talking, Facebook quickly realised the scale of the problem, its impact on real people, and agreed to commit to making a difference both on its own platform and across the wider sector.
"The amount being donated to set up the Citizens Advice Scams Action project is far above anything I could've won had I succeeded in a court. In fact, we believe the amount Facebook is donating is substantially bigger than the biggest ever UK court settlement for defamation. That shows Facebook's determination to change things.
"The aim of my campaigning lawsuit was always to stop scam ads, and to help those who have fallen victim to them. What we're announcing today does that at a far bigger scale than I could've hoped for.
"And especially after recent weeks, when another plague of these horrible adverts has been right across the internet. I'd call on the other major players, both social media and advertising platforms, including Google, to follow Facebook’s lead, accept things must change and put their hands in their pockets to help Citizens Advice Scams Action too."
You can watch Martin give his reaction to today's news below...
Why was Martin taking legal action against Facebook?
In April 2018, acting in a personal capacity, Martin launched a campaigning defamation lawsuit against Facebook, initially seeking exemplary damages, ie, damages given as punishment to the defendant, to spur change and prevent these ads. He pledged any and all money paid out to him would be donated to anti-scam charities.
Fake Martin Lewis adverts often appeared on Facebook and other sites, and are regularly seen, likely by millions of people, in the UK. These adverts are often for scams. Many have carried his name and picture alongside a raft of false promises or endorsements – some then link to fake articles which continue the theme.
What will the Citizens Advice Scams Action project do?
The Citizens Advice Scams Action project (CASA) will allow the charity to take on scam prevention work independently, including identifying and tackling online scams that impact people in the UK, and supporting victims. (Important: This will not launch until May 2019, so please do not contact Citizens Advice about it yet.)
It will aim to:
- Increase UK public education and awareness about digital scam ads and how to recognise them.
- Provide one-to-one tailored support to victims of online scams and help people recognise such scams.
- Work on the development of online tools to help consumers, including victims, spot online scams.
Facebook will fund the project through a £2.5 million donation in cash over the next two years and £500,000 worth of Facebook ads, issued in tranches over the next three years.
Citizens Advice will run the project, although Facebook will work with it to develop the technology.
What will Facebook’s new scam ad reporting tool do?
Facebook will also develop a new tool for UK Facebook users to flag ads easily and quickly that they believe to be scams violating its advertising rules or other policies.
Facebook says this will help it keep pace with new scams and gather feedback from users to understand the issue.
It will also create a dedicated team to handle these reports, investigate trends and enforce against offending ads. The team will be trained to deal with the issue.
What does Facebook say?
Steve Hatch, Facebook's regional director for northern Europe, said: “We're grateful to Martin Lewis for bringing attention to this important issue and for his guidance over the last eight months.
"Our donation to Citizens Advice and our launch of a new UK scam ad reporting tool and dedicated operations team for this reporting channel is part of a wider commitment to tackling scams and to ensuring people are given more transparency and control over the ads they see on Facebook.
“We look forward to working with Citizens Advice, Martin Lewis and his team, and with others in the industry to continue to explore solutions to this ever-evolving challenge.”
What does Seddons say?
Rory Lynch, solicitor at Seddons, which represented Martin in his action, said: “This ground-breaking defamation suit was pioneered by Mark Lewis [Martin's lawyer] and Seddons and reflects Martin's passion for protecting the public from scam adverts.
"Martin took on significant risk in order to make Facebook confront this pernicious practice. This action led to an innovative agreement that sets an important precedent for other industry players to follow."
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