11 June 2021


In this issue of zoom-in brief, Trump gets two-year Facebook ban; Australian MP settles defamation claim; ASA bans influencer debt advice posts.

Editorial credit: noamgalai / Shutterstock.com
Editorial credit: noamgalai / Shutterstock.com
Donald Trump

Regulation – Trump faces two-year Facebook suspension

The Facebook accounts of former US President Donald Trump are to be suspended for two years by the social media platform.

The decision follows an interim ban first introduced in the aftermath of the US Capitol riot in Washington on 6 January and Trump’s repeated questioning of the US election result.

The Oversight Board which upheld the suspension was created by Facebook as an external body that people can appeal to if they disagree with Facebook’s content enforcement decisions and includes former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger among its members.

In a blog post on Friday, Sir Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs and communications, said: “Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols.

“We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year.”

Trump described the ban as an “insult” and added in a statement that Facebook “should not be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing”.

He said: “Ultimately, we will win. Our country can’t take this abuse anymore!”

Clegg said the decision to impose a two-year sanction had considered the need for it to be “significant enough to be a deterrent to Mr Trump and others from committing such severe violations in future”.

He went on to say that the ban could be extended following the two year period, if it was determined there was still a “serious risk to public safety”.

“When the suspension is eventually lifted, there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr Trump commits further violations, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts,” he said.

While Clegg referred to “enforcement protocols” as the basis for the decision, and to Facebook’s increasing transparency in relation to its decision-making process, its actions were also met with immediate criticism from those who felt it had not acted quickly enough, or gone far enough when it did so.

The controversy surrounding the suspension illustrates the difficulties Facebook faces as it moves towards accepting a level of responsibility for the content published by its users.

Defamation – Australian Minister Christian Porter settles defamation claim

Australian Industry, Science and Technology Minister Christian Porter has dropped his libel claim against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (“ABC”) after it agreed to clarify that it did not contend the historic allegations it had reported could be substantiated.

Porter had sued the broadcaster over an online article published in February alleging that an unnamed cabinet minister had been accused of rape in a dossier that had been sent to the Australian Prime Minister and three other parliamentarians.

Although the article did not name Porter, he claimed he was identifiable and brought defamation proceedings against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan. After the article was published Porter identified himself as the minister referred to in the article and strenuously denied the allegation.

The case has been settled after a mediation between the parties. While the terms remain confidential, and the ABC agreed to pay the costs of the mediation, it did not pay any damages. The article remains online but has been updated with an editors note. That note says:

‘The ABC did not intend to suggest that Mr Porter had committed the criminal offences alleged. The ABC did not contend that the serious accusations could be substantiated to the applicable legal standard – criminal or civil. However, both parties accept that some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter. That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.’

Regulation – ASA bans influencer debt advice posts

Three influencer Instagram posts about a company called Debt Slayers have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA).

The advertising regulator ruled that the posts – by Geordie Shore’s Chloe Ferry, TOWIE’s Myles Barnett, and Ex On The Beach’s Helen Briggs – cannot appear in their current format again because they did not make it clear that they were paid advertisements and did not explain the risks associated with Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs).

Barnett’s post read: “One of my friends just got 81 percent of his debt wiped off. So if you’ve got debt above £5,000 – it could be credit cards, catalogues, car finance … a loan, anything like that, swipe up, there’s more information on there … I know it’s weird times at the moment and everyone’s finances have taken a hit. So swipe up, and you can wipe off a big, big chunk of your debt”. Ferry’s  stated “IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS OVER £5,000+ IN DEBT … THAT COULD BE THE FOLLOWING; CAR FINANCE, CREDIT CARDS, CATALOGUES, PAYDAY LOANS, PLUS A BUNCH MORE+ … THIS IS A NEW FULLY REGULATED SCHEME THAT CAN HELP YOU WRITE OFF 85% OF THE DEBT! … SWIPE UP NOW!” Briggs’ post also linked to the Debt Slayers website.

In its decision, the ASA noted that the posts did not include the hashtag #ad which it recommends influencers use to ensure posts that are adverts do not fall foul of the ASA rules. The ASA also found that the posts did not make clear the risks associated with IVAs.

Ashteck Media Ltd (trading as Debt Slayers) said it only had informal agreements with the three influencers, anyone who contacted the company because of the posts was told of the risks and fees associated with IVAs and this was also highlighted by the companies to which it passed on the leads. Debt Slayers told the ASA that it had reviewed its marketing campaigns to ensure future compliance, and would no longer be working with influencers.

Ms Briggs said her future marketing communications would be properly labelled and Mr Barnett and Ms Ferry said they would not work with IVA, debt lead or debt management services in the future.


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