Martin Lewis takes on Facebook over fake ads

Consumer affairs campaigner Martin Lewis has issued libel proceedings against Facebook, saying his reputation has been harmed by the fake adverts featuring him which have appeared on the site.

The novel legal claim is the latest in a series of difficult issues faced by the ubiquitous social media site over the past year, coming as it does in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving the harvesting of users’ personal data, and the controversy over Facebook’s role in the circulation of so-called fake news during the US election.

Lewis’s claim has been brought over the publication of what he says are over 50 fake Martin Lewis adverts which have appeared on the site in this country.

He alleges that the adverts are often for scams, have big pictures of him, and feature his name, alongside false promises or endorsements. Some adverts then link on to related fake articles.

In a statement about the claim, Lewis said: “Enough is enough. I’ve been fighting for over a year to stop Facebook letting scammers use my name and face to rip off vulnerable people – yet it continues.

I don’t do adverts. I’ve told Facebook that. Any ad with my picture or name in is without my permission. I’ve asked it not to publish them, or at least to check their legitimacy with me before publishing. This shouldn’t be difficult – after all, it’s a leader in face and text recognition. Yet it simply continues to repeatedly publish these adverts and then relies on me to report them, once the damage has been done.”

Lewis and his lawyers have emphasised the campaigning nature of the litigation, saying that it aims to demonstrate that Facebook is more than just a platform and is effectively a publisher of the content that appears on the site.

Lewis is also seeking exemplary damages, on the basis that Facebook should pay a sufficiently high sum to prevent it simply writing off any pay-out as another cost of business.

The claim is likely to give rise to a number of interesting legal issues, including what the fake adverts are understood to mean about Martin Lewis by those who see them, to what extent Facebook can be held responsible for them in law as a publisher, and to what extent a company based in California will engage with legal proceedings in this country.