The MoneySavingExpert founder is unhappy over fake ads bearing his likeness and name
A knockout judgement against Facebook coming from a libel suit planned by personal finance guru Martin Lewis, the founder of MoneySavingExpert? It would barely register as a financial hit.
In 2017 – characterised as a ‘hard year’ for the social network – it generated $12.8bn (£9.2bn) in revenues, up 49 per cent, and turned a net profit of $4.3bn on that.
Its growth might be slowing, users might be spending less time on it, but the financial train is still rolling along the tracks. The company looks set to gobble up close to a fifth of the enormous digital ad market this year.
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The 2018 first quarter numbers that are due on Wednesday will be closed watched for any sign that the DeleteFacebook hashtag that emerged in the wake of the ongoing data scandal has had an impact.
But even if it has – and I’m sceptical for now – it probably won’t be a big one.
Where the promised lawsuit presents an issue for the company is in the precedent that it may set.
To recap: Mr Lewis alleges that his face has been seen on ads implying he’s endorsed companies and activities that he hasn’t.
The financial services industry is chock full of sharks and scam artists. Their using the image of Mr Lewis to sell a lie creates a clear reputational and a business problem for him given the reputation he has established as a campaigner, and the legion of fans he has accumulated through doing that.
He has already had complaints upheld by the Advertising Standards Agency. The watchdog, for example, ruled that a claims company misleadingly used his image despite its Facebook ad continuing a disclaimer in the small print.
The problem presented to Facebook by Mr Lewis – who has pledged to give any winnings to charity – is that if he is successful he could in theory open the door to others.
It has been said that the legal systems of much of the world have yet to catch up with the likes of Facebook. Its critics, like Mr Lewis, are increasingly finding ways to move things along.
If he wins, he could definitely establish Facebook as a publisher rather than a platform, at least in the eyes of the UK legal system.
It all presents yet another knotty problem for a business that is grappling with a lot of knotty problems, and that hasn’t been handling them very well.
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Wednesday’s first quarter earnings release might present an opportunity for founder Mark Zuckerberg to address this issue and others, by for example, outlining how some of the vast resources at his disposal could be deployed to change the narrative, and get to a place where people like Mr Lewis have less cause for complaint.
Wall Street has a tendency to jump on anything that might affect its quarterly earnings estimates, but this would be in Facebook investors’ interests as much as anyone’s.
This question is does Mr Zuckerberg, even now, really get it? Mr Lewis is among a growing number of people who are determined to wake him up if he doesn’t.