In April 2018, Martin Lewis, a UK entrepreneur and TV presenter famous for founding the Money Saving Expert website, announced his intention to sue Facebook for defamation. He claims that over the past year more than 50 sponsored posts linking to fake news articles featuring his name or likeness to promote scams have been published on the platform. This is despite the fact Lewis has informed Facebook that he does not advertise and has reported the fake adverts to the service.
Martin Lewis is a trusted name for UK consumers looking to save money, so it's no surprise that scammers have used his reputation to try to trick people out of money. For example, one victim thought she was investing over £100,000 ($140,000) in an investment scheme approved by him. Lewis claims that Facebook has been slow to remove adverts that infringe his rights by using his name and image to indicate he endorses a product. He also insists that the onus should not be on him to report every single advert that infringes his rights and that Facebook should automatically delete such adverts – or at least verify their origins before publication – given that the company has already been notified that he does not advertise.
Lewis is asking for exemplary damages. This means that the damages being sought will be significant enough to have an impact on the company rather than, as Lewis says, be considered "a cost of doing business."
The lawsuit is partly a publicity stunt for Lewis: he hopes that it will draw attention to the fact that he does not support the kinds of "get rich quick" schemes that fake ads and associated fake news articles publicize. If he wins he hopes to open a legal avenue for redress for other public figures who have had their reputations damaged by fake adverts. But even if he loses and Facebook doesn't make changes to the way it moderates advertising content, he hopes it will encourage people to talk about the issue.
Lewis's argument that Facebook should have more control over the advertising it accepts is a compelling one, and more lawsuits from other public figures are almost certain if Facebook persists in allowing scammers to use the platform to advertise with fake news. More problematic than any damages is the possibility that Facebook will be found by the UK courts to be a publisher rather than merely a platform for publishing. If found to be a publisher, it will have to start taking more responsibility for content published on its platform. This will be expensive for Facebook due to moderation costs and likely lawsuits from other public figures.
Charlotte Palfrey, Senior Analyst, Communications and Social