Facebook is profiting from advertising revenue from sponsored and promoted posts. Nothing new there, especially for those of us still keen to keep in touch with the real world by reading newspapers or watching the news on the telly.
But this practice became blatantly obvious last year, when Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by US lawmakers about the social media behemoth’s policy not to fact-check political ads. Soon after, Facebook launched a charm offensive with promises to invest in news-savvy people, state-of-the-art technology and processes designed to prevent fake news and fraudulent advertising from spreading on the newsfeeds of millions of people.
Back then, the world was effectively told that Facebook has got this menace under control and that the 30,000 fact-checkers it hired would eradicate false propaganda.
Then why is it that this week my newsfeed is being bombarded on a daily basis by a sponsored post that is as blatantly and conspicuously fraudulent as claims made by Facebook’s boss during the hearing in October?
Too broad for any fact check
I have the answer right here, in Facebook’s very own checklist of nine reasons its fact-checkers are given to consider whether to reject or publish an ad. None of those nine reasons calls for any action to be taken against ads that fall under a broad category bent on deception and financial fraud.
Therefore, it is perfectly fine to publish an ad enticing people to invest in cryptocurrency to take advantage from “Sweden’s decision to ditch the Euro and adopt an e-Krona instead”.
Well, I am not sure if any of Facebook’s fact-checkers come from Sweden or any other fellow Scandinavian nations. In fact, I am not even sure whether any of these fact checkers actually bother at all to fact check anything published on the platform. But what I am sure about is that it doesn’t take a genius to fact check the veracity of this ad.
A Scandinavian farce
Users see the ad in their Facebook news feed by a Facebook account called GoopDevoler. With a Swedish flag hanging from a building as the hero image, the post’s call to action states the following: “We are in a pivotal time now with our banks and it was only a matter of time before the euro was going to be thrown away. What Sweden has done is not only historic, but necessary.”
Underneath the image, the headline screams: ‘Sweden Ditches The Euro’ leading users to click links with different URLs all of which land on the page of a company called Kryptonex Research Group. In there, billionaires such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Peter Thiel and Eric Schmidt appear to be unequivocally endorsing “Sweden’s decision” while making “sky is the limit” promises for those who decide to invest in the cryptocurrency.
This beats, hands down, the emails I get from Nigerian princes asking me to launder a few of their billions. But guess what. Many do fall prey to those emails and exponentially more of those will fall for Facebook ads such as this.
Can this be an oversight? A sign perhaps that Facebook’s factcheckers are overworked, or that COVID-19 has had an impact on their productivity? No!
Many an excuse
Facebook has known about this and other similar fraudulent schemes, and has done absolutely nothing to stop it, or at least curtail it just a notch.
Last year, an investigation led by “Dagens Nyheter”, a Swedish national newspaper unveiled a so-called “fraud factory” that had been operating from the Ukraine and has allegedly collected over $70 million (Dh257 million) through defrauding vulnerable investors. Back then Facebook received a fair share of backlash for its oversight on the matter, specifically the fact that they allowed ads to be published for everyone to see, essentially endangering even more people to the crypto scam.
We have warned about the many pitfalls of social media stemming from their unchecked, uncontrolled and unregulated proliferation. One could always argue that Facebook will eventually get its own house in order or that the volume of posts is so vast that fake news will always somehow escape the scrutiny of well-trained fact-checkers and land on your newsfeed.
Who cares, right?
But Facebook’s ad review process according to its website is the following: “Before your ads are published to Facebook or Instagram, we review them to ensure they meet our Advertising Policies. Most ads are reviewed within 24 hours, although in some cases it may take longer.”
So, it is one thing to publicly vow you’re fixing a problem, and something totally different when you just pretend you’re providing a solution, while profiting from it.
And Facebook may be OK with it all, the criticism it receives, the regulatory scrutiny and legal battles with consumer associations, because it can afford to pay penalties. But what about the others?
Those like the Swedish government, the European Central Bank and the Brussels bureaucracy, or the celebrity billionaires on whose names gullible, vulnerable investors spend their savings in the hope for a safer and better future? Are they OK with it? Or are they finally going to take some action to fix it? — George Kotsolios is Managing Partner at Leidar MENA and author of “Back to the Future of Marketing: Provolve or Perish”. Follow him on Twitter @georgekotsolios.