Martin Lewis drops defamation case as Facebook cooperates on spam ads

Consumer rights champion Martin Lewis has dropped his defamation lawsuit against Facebook after the social media firm agreed to launch a button enabling users to report scam ads, and cover the founder’s legal costs. In addition, Facebook will donate £2.5m in cash and an additional £500,000 in Facebook ads to Citizens Advice to help fund a new UK Scams Action project (CASA). This will launch in May.

Lewis brought the case in In April last year, after more than 1,000 scam ads abusing his name or image had appeared on the site. He had pledged that any proceeds from a successful outcome would go to charity.

The spam ads reporting button will launch in the UK only “within a few months” according to Lewis’s own site. It will come with a dedicated team to handle the complaints flagged.

CASA will enable Citizens Advice to independently take on scam prevention work, including identifying and tackling online scams that impact people in the UK, and supporting victims. It will aim to increase UK public education and awareness about digital scam ads and how to recognise them. It will also provide one-to-one tailored support to victims of online scams and help people recognise such scams. And it will work on the development of online tools to help consumers spot online scams. Citizens Advice will run the project independently on a day-to-day basis, although Facebook will work with the charity to develop the technology.

Lewis said: “It shouldn’t have taken the threat of legal action to get here. Yet once we started talking, Facebook quickly realised the scale of the problem, its impact on real people, and agreed to commit to making a difference both on its own platform and across the wider sector.

“The amount being donated to set up the Citizens Advice scams action project is far above anything I could’ve won had I succeeded in a court. In fact, we believe the amount Facebook is donating is substantially bigger than the biggest-ever UK court settlement for defamation. That shows Facebook’s determination to change things.

“The aim of my campaigning lawsuit was always to stop scam ads, and to help those who have fallen victim to them. What we’re announcing today does that at a far bigger scale than I could’ve hoped for.”

Lewis also called on “the other major players, both social media and advertising platforms, including Google, to follow Facebook’s lead, accept things must change and put their hands in their pockets to help Citizens Advice scams action too.”

Steve Hatch, Facebook’s regional director for northern Europe, said: “We’re grateful to Martin Lewis for bringing attention to this important issue and for his guidance over the last eight months.

“Our donation to Citizens Advice and our launch of a new UK scam ad reporting tool and dedicated operations team for this reporting channel is part of a wider commitment to tackling scams and to ensuring people are given more transparency and control over the ads they see on Facebook.”