Facebook-Twiggy Australian clickbait battle dropped

Aaron Bunch |

Prosecutors declined to file a criminal case against Meta launched by Andrew Forrest over scam ads.
Prosecutors declined to file a criminal case against Meta launched by Andrew Forrest over scam ads.

Billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s bid to hold Facebook’s parent company Meta to account in Australia over an alleged clickbait advertising scam has been stymied.

The mining magnate launched a criminal case against the social media giant, accusing it of being criminally reckless in allowing bogus ads for a cryptocurrency investment scheme using his image to appear on its site.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions was expected to continue the fight in the WA District Court on Friday, because a private citizen cannot prosecute charges on indictment.

But it instead filed a discontinuance notice ending the matter.

Dr Forrest said it was a tragedy for the innocent victims of the advertisements who’d lost their life savings.

“It shows that Facebook is beyond the laws of Australia, that hardworking Australians are not protected, and that scams will continue to run rampant with no recourse for those who are duped by increasingly sophisticated technology on social media platforms that take no responsibility,” he said.

“In this case, the Australian legal system was incapable of holding Meta to account for flagrant conduct that causes significant harm to Australian citizens.”

Dr Forrest said he would continue his battle and campaign for urgent law reform so action can be taken against foreign-owned social media platforms, such as Facebook. 

“Politicians must take responsibility on behalf of ordinary mums and dads,” he said.

“Meta hides behind the lie that it does not do business in Australia, hiding behind a US entity.”

He said foreign companies must be made to abide by Australian law.

In a statement, Meta said it didn’t want scams on its platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Threads, and it would continue working to protect users of them.

“Scammers use every platform available to them and constantly adapt to evade enforcement,” a spokesman said.

“Our sympathy goes out to people who have been impacted.”

When Dr Forrest launched the case in 2022 it was the first time Meta had been prosecuted with criminal charges – three counts of recklessly dealing with proceeds of crime to the value of $1000 or more – related to its social media platform.

It was alleged the company failed to take sufficient steps to take down the scam ads, that were published in 2019 and feature Dr Forrest and other prominent Australians.

The philanthropist has said Meta “blatantly” refused to remove thousands of fraudulent scam ads on its platforms despite repeated requests.

Meta entered pleas of not guilty to the charges after initially saying it had no case to answer in Australia.

Dr Forrest, the founder of Perth-based Fortescue Metals Group, also launched civil proceedings against Facebook in California in September 2021.

That matter is also scheduled to be heard in the US on Friday.

The civil case will determine if Meta is liable for allegedly publishing and not removing thousands of fraudulent ads featuring Dr Forrest’s image.

“I’m asking the courts of California, I will ask the courts of Australia, to fix this illegal or improper content rapidly,” Dr Forrest said.

If successful, it could force Meta to be more accountable for fraudulent content on its platforms in Australia and globally.