Facebook’s recent woes threaten to deepen following the announcement that Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis has issued high court proceedings against the social media giant over defamation. Has Facebook finally lost control to third parties on the platform?
Ever since their inception – back in the days of MySpace and the first iteration of Facebook – social media platforms have been on the defensive, fighting off accusations that
In 2018, the backlash has intensified in the wake of the news that one of Facebook’s partners, Cambridge Analytica, had used millions of users’ data to potentially influence political events through advertising. Once this story hit the headlines (despite actually unfolding in quiet since 2015), it was only a matter of time before disgruntled users discovered just how much of their data Facebook keeps tabs on.
As if this data scandal wasn’t enough, Facebook now faces another challenger: Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis. With new questions of liability and control arising as a result, 2018 could prove itself to be the most difficult year for the social media giant yet.
Using a Friendly Face
The reason behind Lewis’ court proceedings is a simple one: fake adverts have circulated on Facebook bearing his name, along with endorsements he would never make. These adverts are often for unstable financial products known as Binary Options, which implore users to risk £100-£250 for rewards which are rarely reaped.
Due to Lewis’ reputation as a consumer rights activist – and thanks to the untrustworthy nature of the financial products being advertised – the adverts are tantamount to defamation, with his reputation at stake should people lose money by signing up because of Lewis’ apparent approval.
Although this case is obviously of some concern to Lewis, it actually highlights a much more serious issue: social media users are increasingly finding themselves being manipulated through their data or by fake news. With instances such as this growing, and a common thread established between Binary Option adverts and Cambridge Analytica’s disregard for user data or politics, it begs the question of whether Facebook is losing control.
Liability and Control
Behind the likes of Cambridge Analytica and Lewis’ own lawsuit, there are two growing issues which are putting Facebook in such difficult positions: liability and control. Although Facebook and its team of 15,000 moderators can’t be everywhere at once, these scandals would suggest that something is amiss in these two areas.
In the case of the former, questions are once again being asked around how liable Facebook is for the content produced, published and distributed on the platform. After all, the Silicon Valley staple has declined to label itself as a ‘publisher’ on more than one occasion, waiving any sort of liability associated with being such an entity.
This would, technically, save them from taking responsibility for fake adverts and fake news on the platform – but taking this hands-off approach questions how much control Facebook still has.
The simple fact is that the bigger Facebook gets, the more difficult it is to stay in control of third parties – such as Cambridge Analytica – who seek to use data and advertising tools to sway individuals. This is the same in Lewis’ case too: moderators are vastly outnumbered by the volume of new adverts created daily. Control of the situation has clearly – and rather inevitably – slipped as the social network has grown.
Martin Lewis’ crusade against Facebook didn’t come without a warning: since March, he has voiced his issue with the use of his image in fake adverts. Not one to raise a challenge without offering a solution, Lewis has also advised the social network on how they might get around the issue for himself and other celebrities.
During media coverage since news of the lawsuit broke, Lewis has urged Facebook to make use of its facial recognition technology in order to target fake adverts using his and other public figures’ images. The difficulty with this, as pointed out by James Ball at New Statesman in his commentary, to use facial recognition would raise more challenges, as legitimate ads using celebrity likenesses could also be culled.
What’s more, new GDPR challenges and information transparency could see individuals opt out of their facial data being kept on file by Facebook. Even this proposed answer to the problem seemingly has the capability of pushing Facebook further from control, and yet a compromise must be sought somewhere to appease the likes of Lewis.
Survival of the Biggest
Whatever the outcome of Lewis’ lawsuit over the coming months, Facebook must answer some difficult questions: is it still in control of its third-party users? Should they be made to accept the liability of being a publisher? And how can adverts which threaten to defame public figures be tackled more effectively?
After a rough start to the year, survival for the social media giant now balances delicately on appeasing riled-up governments, a disgruntled user base, and now a court case which could change the game for defamatory fake news, all without losing the income generated by such advertising gambits.
Whether or not they can pull it off, we’ll have to see. But one thing is for sure: Facebook has undoubtedly exploded from its humble beginnings as a university networking site to a data-guzzling monster – and Zuckerberg might find it difficult to keep this beast under control for much longer. Something has to give.
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