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Australian billionaire can sue Meta over scam crypto ads featuring his likeness, says Court

What just happened? It’s not unusual for Meta to be sued, but this case is a bit different. An Australian billionaire mining magnate has won the right to sue the social media giant over scam crypto and investment advertisements that appeared on Facebook featuring his likeness.

Andrew Forrest wrote an open letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the ads in 2019. “You have the power and the technology to prevent these scam advertisements from running on your platform,” he said, asking Zuckerberg if revenue was more important to the company than the life savings of elderly people.

Forrest tried to launch legal action against Meta in Australia over the scam crypto and investment ads, but the Director of Public Prosecutions filed a discontinuance motion in April due to insufficient evidence. Forrest had sued under Australian laws that let individuals criminally prosecute foreign companies upon receiving prosecutors’ consent.

Forrest also brought a lawsuit against Meta in the US. On Monday, US District Judge Casey Pitts in San Jose, California, rejected Meta Platforms’ bid to dismiss.

As per The Reg, Forrest alleges that Meta had misappropriated his name and likeness, negligently breached its duty to the general public by allowing the scam ads to run, failed to warn users, unjustly enriched itself, and relied on the US Communications Decency Act as a defense. The court dismissed three of the arguments but said the misappropriation and breach of duty arguments were adequately pleaded.

“Dr Forrest claims that Meta profited more from ads that included his likeness than it would have if the ads had not,” Pitts wrote. “This is enough to adequately plead that the alleged misappropriation was to Meta’s advantage.”

Meta had tried to argue that Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act prevents platforms from being held responsible for content posted by users. The judge said Forrest’s claims “present a factual dispute regarding whether Meta’s ad systems were neutral tools that anyone could use (or misuse) or whether the tools themselves contributed to the content of the ads.” Forrest said the decision marks the first time a social media company has not been able to hide behind Section 230 in a US civil case over its advertising business.

Forrest called the decision a “crucial strategic victory in the battle to hold Facebook accountable.”

As Australia’s second-richest person, Forrest’s $16 billion net worth means he has the resources to go up against a tech giant like Meta. He said more than 1,000 of the ads appeared on Facebook in Australia between April and November 2023, resulting in millions of dollars in losses for victims. Forrest is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from Meta.

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