Martin Lewis and Facebook case
Sadly this is not a new phenomena. In 2019 I acted for TV’s ‘Money Saving Expert’ Martin Lewis in his ground-breaking defamation case against Facebook. Anonymous criminals were using Martin’s image without his permission to promote scam crypto-currencies on Facebook. In a single year over 1000 of these scam adverts were appearing on Facebook.
At that time, each advert had to be reported to Facebook via a cumbersome, generic reporting tool for it to be removed. Due to the volume of these fake ads, Martin had to dedicate a whole team of his staff to spend every working day reporting these scams to Facebook. Martin told me he was also rung by an elderly lady who blamed him for the loss of her life savings as a result of his ‘endorsement’. This was devastating to hear for Martin – someone who had dedicated his whole life to protecting and fighting for the consumer. Enough was enough. He sued Facebook for defamation in their role as a secondary publisher of these scams.
The great irony was that Facebook was unwittingly profiting from this criminality, due to the advertising fees they charge. However, and in fairness to Facebook, they (along with Martin) were facing a ‘whack-a-mole’ situation, as when they removed an offending advert, the criminal would slightly alter the wording or algorithm of the same advert to get around Facebook’s cull and it would appear again the next day.
Thankfully, the case was settled with Facebook agreeing to introduce a stream-lined and dedicated reporting tool for scam adverts and donating £3 million to Citizen’s Advice for a project designed to protect the public against this insidious practice.
Sadly, Martin’s image is still likely being misused by such scammers. They tend to target celebrities with business or financial acumen, so images of, and ‘quotes’ from, Alan Sugar, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are also misused in this way. I even received a call from a young, barely-known entrepreneur who had set up a successful rival to Purplebricks and was having his image used in scam adverts.