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Australian mining magnate takes legal action against Facebook over scam ads

By Hannah Ritchie and Jill Disis, CNN Business

Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest is taking legal action against Facebook in Australia after he claims the company failed to remove scam advertisements that used his image.

Facebook was “criminally reckless” because it did not take “sufficient steps to stop criminals from using its social media platform to send scam advertisements to defraud Australian users,” Forrest alleged in a statement.

Forrest is the founder of Fortescue Metals Group, one of the world’s largest iron ore producers, and Minara Resources — one of Australia’s biggest nickel mining companies. His complaints against Facebook go back years: In 2019, he publicly appealed to the company to stop scammers from using his image, and said in his statement Wednesday that he made “many requests” to the company before taking legal action.

The charges were brought in the Magistrates Court of Western Australia under a part of the country’s criminal code that deals with money laundering offenses.

Private criminal prosecutions are infrequent in Australia, but are permitted in many jurisdictions under common law if the circumstances allow.

Forrest said he sought the consent of Australia’s attorney general, Michaelia Cash, to bring the charges — a step that is required in cases involving foreign companies.

The attorney general “accepted our submissions that fraudulent on-line scams cost Australians millions of dollars each year and many of the victims are vulnerable people,” said Steven Lewis, principal at Mark O’Brien Legal, which is representing Forrest. “There is therefore a public interest in the proposed prosecution.”

Cash’s office did not respond to a request from CNN Business for comment.

In his statement, Forrest said that he wanted social media companies to “use much more of their vast resources and billions of dollars in annual revenue to protect vulnerable people,” adding that he was “acting here for Australians, but this is happening all over the world.”

Facebook declined to comment on the case, saying it is an “active legal matter.”

Company policy prohibits ads that use public figures to mislead people into buying scam products, and Facebook has taken legal action against some firms it claims have used misleading tactics to push people toward products. In 2020, for example, the company filed a federal lawsuit in US court against a man it claimed violated company policy by running deceptive ads on the platform using cloaking software. That lawsuit is still pending.

While Facebook declined to comment on Forrest’s case specifically, a spokesperson for its parent company Meta, said that the firm takes a “multifaceted approach” to stopping deceptive 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,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re committed to keeping these people off our platform.”

The Magistrates Court of Western Australia will hold an initial hearing on March 28, according to Forrest’s statement.

Last September, Forrest also filed a civil complaint against Facebook in California state court. That case is still pending.

Facebook and other Big Tech firms have had a tense relationship with Australia. Last year, Facebook blocked people from seeing or sharing news in the country after months of tension with the Australian government, which had proposed legislation that would force tech platforms to pay news publishers for content.

Facebook eventually restored news pages in Australia after the government agreed on changes to the planned media code. The tech company said those changes would allow it to retain greater control over what appears on its platform.

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