Twiggy Forrest launches legal proceedings against Facebook for clickbait advertising

Australian businessman alleges the social media company has committed criminal offences by allowing cryptocurrency scams to be advertised on its platform

Australian Businessman and Fortescue Metals Group chief, Dr Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, has launched potentially ground-breaking criminal proceedings against Facebook, alleging the social media giant has committed criminal offences by allowing cryptocurrency scams to be advertised on its platform.

The action, launched in the Magistrates Court of Western Australia today, alleges the tech giant to have committed offences against Australia’s anti-money laundering laws by allowing clickbait advertising defrauding everyday Australians of their hard-earned dollars on its platform.

Three charges have been laid under Part 10 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. These allege Facebook has been ‘criminally reckless’ by not taking sufficient steps to stop criminals from using the platform to send scam advertisements. The advertisements reportedly used Forrest’s image, as well as that of other well-known Australian individuals, to promote cryptocurrency investment schemes that defraud users. Forrest’s has stated the ads have been appearing on Facebook since March 2019.

The charges also allege Facebook as a company failed to create controls or a corporate culture to prevent its systems being used to commit crime. The charges have the consent of the Commonwealth Attorney General and represent the first time Facebook has faced criminal charges globally.

The legal action is the latest step taken by Forrest after issuing requests asking Facebook to prevent his image from being used by criminals to scam Australian users. Former efforts included an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg in November 2019, in which he labelled the practice of such fraudulent schemes “abhorrent” and said Facebook “had the power and the technology” to prevent scam advertisements from running on its platform.

Forrest said the latest legal steps are being taken on behalf of everyday Australians who have lost money to clickbait advertising scams.

“I’m doing this because I’m concerned about innocent Australians being scammed through clickbait advertising on social media. I’m committed to ensuring that social media operators don’t allow their sites to be used by criminal syndicates,” he stated.

“This action is being taken on behalf of those everyday Australians – Mums and Dads, Grans and Grandads – who work all their lives to gather their savings and to ensure those savings aren’t swindled away by scammers. I’m acting here for Australians, but this is happening all over the world.”

Forrest has also launched civil proceedings against Facebook in California. The separate US civil case against Facebook, filed in September 2021, seeks injunctive relief and other remedies.    

“I want social media companies to use much more of their vast resources and billions of dollars in annual revenue to protect vulnerable people – the people who are targeted and fall victim to these horrible scams with their hard-earned savings.

“Social media is part of our lives, but it’s in the public interest for more to be done to ensure fraud on social media platforms is eliminated or significantly reduced.”

An initial hearing before the WA Magistrates Court will be held on 28 March, with a committal hearing expected later in 2022.

“I’m very serious about this, I’m very serious about preventing bullying, and I’m serious about doing whatever small part I can do to protect the innocent from exploitation,” Forrest stated. “The time has come to call social media to account.”

Facebook as a company recently changed its name to Meta.

While unable to comment on the specific legal matter, a Meta company spokesperson said the group doesn't want to see ads seeking to scam people out of money or misleading people on Facebook and said they violate the group's policies and are not good for our community.

"We take a multifaceted approach to stop these ads, we work not just to detect and reject the ads themselves but also block advertisers from our services and, in some cases, take court action to enforce our policies. We’re committed to keeping these people off our platform.”

An ACCC spokesperson confirmed to CMO it is also investigating Meta Platforms for its role in publishing advertisements featuring Australian public figures which give the misleading appearance that those public figures have used or endorsed schemes that were in fact scams.

“While Mr Forrest’s proceedings concern similar advertisements to those that the ACCC is investigating, the ACCC’s investigation is separate and concerns different questions of law,” ACCC chair, Rod Sims, said. “Mr Forrest’s proceedings have been brought under the Commonwealth Criminal Code. The ACCC will continue to consider whether Meta Platforms’ conduct raises concerns under the Australian Consumer Law.

“Like Mr Forrest, we consider that Meta Platforms should be doing more to detect, prevent and remove false or misleading advertisements from the Facebook platform so that consumers are not misled and scammers are prevented from reaching potential victims.”

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