Facebook has long been known as a haven for unreliable information and outright scams, with the platform traditionally placing the onus on its users for spreading such content. However, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has a different point of view, having announced court proceedings against Meta, the recently re-named parent organization for Facebook, Instagram, and other associated services.

Countless Celebrities See Names Used in Phony Ad Campaigns

Phony Ad Campaigns

The court proceedings are in relation to a recently increased trend in fake ad campaigns for Bitcoin and crypto scams. The ads have been seen on Facebook and a wide variety of other platforms, using the likenesses and names of notable celebrities to drive unsuspecting victims towards fake investment opportunities.

These specific proceedings are taking place in Australia, but they are far from being the only country affected by these fake celebrity endorsements. They can be found the world over, with the most common targets being residents of the UK and Australia. The US has much stricter laws around online investment opportunities that make implementing scams more challenging, but similar ads are still seen there as well.

The fake ads have featured some of the world’s most well-known celebrities, along with regional stars in Australia and the UK. Some of the most common examples include Elon Musk, Martin Lewis and Richard Branson. Both are known for outlandish and ambitious schemes, with the fake endorsements promising exclusive access to Bitcoin opportunities. Further investigation into the falsified endorsements shows entire websites set up to host phony news stories about figures like Musk’s involvement with the Bitcoin scams such as the Immediate Edge scheme which was recently exposed.

Within Australia, one of the specifically targeted figures is Andrew Forrest. The former mining tycoon has seen his name and face plastered on fake endorsements. He is likely the most well-known Australian billionaire, with the groups behind these fake ad campaigns seeming to use his fame and association with smart investments to lure in victims.

In fact, Forrest launched civil proceedings against Facebook in February 2022 regarding these fake endorsements. Facebook denies any liability in the matter, and there has been no significant progress in the case so far. Other Australian celebrities featured in these ads include chef Pete Evans and the cast of the Australian program Shark Tank.

Proceedings Hope to Protect Scam Victims

Protect Scam Victims

The ACCC alleges that advertisements run on Facebook Ads featuring fake endorsements, which led to websites featuring further false information. Victims who signed up for the opportunities presented by these websites would become subject to a variety of aggressive sales tactics to deposit money with the Bitcoin scams, including frequent phone calls.

In fact, one Australian victim lost over $650,000, with many more having lost smaller amounts as well. Alleged endorsements in what is presented as a great investment opportunity have led these Australian victims to lose millions to Bitcoin scammers. The widespread nature of these scams has cost countless investors in other countries their savings as well.

It is the contention of the ACCC and the point they hope to prove through this case that Facebook is responsible for these ads. Facebook advertisements are moderated through a flag and review system that many criticize as being far too ineffective in combatting scams. Facebook has stated that they implement automated systems to prevent scam ads on their platform, but some say that they aren’t taking things far enough.

Further Efforts Against Social Media’s Fake Celebrity Endorsements

Fake Celebrity Endorsements

Facebook says that they’re currently reviewing the ACCC’s filing and that they intend to defend themselves during the proceedings. However, this is far from the only front on which Facebook and other social media and tech companies are facing significant backlash over fake celebrity endorsements and other scam advertisements.

In the UK, an amendment to the Online Safety Bill has added further requirements for websites to deal with scams. The change comes after the effort of many campaigners, including celebrity financial journalist Martin Lewis who had previously sued Facebook regarding fake ads, much like Andrew Forrest is doing now.

Conclusion

The presence of fake celebrity endorsements on Facebook and other websites has been a growing problem for over a decade now but has recently reached a fever pitch. This legal action from the ACCC could go on to set an international precedent in how companies are held responsible for these fake endorsements on their platforms.

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