Europe & UK

November 12, 2019

Facebook penalized for showing fake Bitcoin ads featuring Big Brother creator John de Mol

[ By Kavita Krishnan ]


The billionaire creator of Big Brother, John de Mol, has sued Facebook for showing fake Bitcoin ads in its platform that featured him.

Facebook Inc suffered a major blow as a Dutch judge imposed a penalty payment for each time it failed to block cryptocurrency advertisements improperly using the image of the originator of the Big Brother television franchise. The Dutch court has ordered the social media giant to remove advertisements that feature John de Mol’s likeness to promote fraudulent Bitcoin investments.

The company was ordered to pay 10,000 Euros ($11,000) up to a maximum of 1 million euros each time the posts appear using the image of John de Mol, according to a ruling by an Amsterdam court. Facebook said it is considering its options, including an appeal.

The court said that the company plays too active a role with respect to advertisements, which form its primary business model. The court also highlighted that Facebook sets a pricing policy for ads, as well as policies for deciding on which advertisements are published on its platform. While it might be difficult to stop the ads, the court concluded that it is Facebook’s responsibility to take measures “even if that is not technically easy.” The court said that a filter could also lead to over-blocking of real posts. According to the court, the risk of any unwanted over-blocking of legitimate advertisements does not outweigh the seriousness of the problem.

Facebook has already been undergoing a plethora of cases against it. There were revelations that Russian trolls had used the platform to influence the 2016 United States Presidential elections. In the United Kingdom, journalist and TV anchor Martin Lewis settled a case with Facebook after ads falsely claimed he backed several investment schemes. Ever since, Facebook introduced a scam ads reporting button.

Europe’s highest court – the European Court of Justice ruled in October that individual countries can order Facebook to take down posts anywhere in the world if content was determined to be defamatory or otherwise illegal. In Germany, the law requires Facebook to remove content that contains hate speech or incite violence within 24 hours or face up to 50 million Euros as penalty.

Facebook’s lawyer said that De Mol’s complaints have been addressed and the ads removed before the first hearing in June and that such ads no longer appeared on the site.

However, according to De Mol’s lawyer Jacqueline Schaap, Facebook’s platforms were continuing to feature fake ads displaying the Dutch billionaire stimulating people to invest in the cryptocurrency, resulting in new victims.

John De Mol is the co-founder of Dutch media company Endemol, which was sold to Telefonica SA in 2000 for 5.5 billion Euros. It was behind the reality series ‘Big Brother,’ first aired in The Netherlands in 1999 with more than 50 countries following, including the U.K., Germany and the U.S.

De Mol’s legal team estimated that investors had lost 1.7 million Euros ($1.88 million) due to the fraudulent ads.

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