Western Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest has lodged criminal proceedings against Facebook over cryptocurrency scam ads that used his name and image.
Dr Forrest, chair of Fortescue Metals Group, and a major tech startup investor, has alleged that Facebook breached federal anti-money laundering laws by failing to remove the ads, which have been appearing on the social media site since 2019.
The case also alleges that Facebook failed to create controls or a corporate culture to prevent its systems being used to commit crime.
The scam ads have featured a range of prominent Australians, including Dick Smith, former NSW premier Mike Baird, James Packer, Waleed Aly, and David Koch.
To launch criminal proceedings under federal law, the mining billionaire had to gain the approval of the federal attorney-general, Michaelia Cash.
The three Commonwealth charges allege Facebook was criminally reckless by not taking sufficient steps to stop criminals from using its social media platform to send scam advertisements to defraud Australian users.
The Australian case follows similar civil legal action Dr Forrest launched against Facebook in California last year.
The mining billionaire has campaigned vociferously against the scam ads since 2019. A woman in Western Australia lost $60,000 to scammers after seeing the ads featuring Dr Forrest.
Three years ago, he wrote a scathing letter to Mark Zuckerberg, accusing the Facebook boss of “socially reprehensible recalcitrance” in failing to prevent the scam ads.
Dr Forrest has been campaigning for governments around the world to intervene against Facebook.
He said Facebook was “one of the world’s most pernicious publishers”, which was being “embarrassingly exploited” while also profiting from the scam.
Dr Forrest said his concern “about innocent Australians being scammed through clickbait advertising on social media” led him to take legal action against Facebook.
“I’m doing this because I’m concerned about innocent Australians being scammed through clickbait advertising on social media. I’m committed to ensuring that social media operators don’t allow their sites to be used by criminal syndicates,” he said.
“This action is being taken on behalf of those everyday Australians – Mums and Dads, Grans and Grandads – who work all their lives to gather their savings and to ensure those savings aren’t swindled away by scammers. I’m acting here for Australians, but this is happening all over the world.
“I want social media companies to use much more of their vast resources and billions of dollars in annual revenue to protect vulnerable people – the people who are targeted and fall victim to these horrible scams with their hard-earned savings.”
Dr Forrest said social media is part of our lives, “but it’s in the public interest for more to be done to ensure fraud on social media platforms is eliminated or significantly reduced”.
He has previously stated that he does not invest in cryptocurrency.
The matter will receive an initial hearing before the Western Australian Magistrate’s Court on March 28 ahead of a committal hearing later this year.
Facebook declined to comment because it was “a potentially active legal matter”.
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