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Facebook promises to get tough on scam ads after Martin Lewis drops lawsuit

In a bid to restore consumer trust Facebook has said it will put more resource into ridding its platform of scam ads. The commitment is part of a settlement reached with Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis, who has now dropped his defamation lawsuit against the business.

Lewis issued Facebook with high court proceedings last year to stop the site publishing scam ads for get-rich-quick schemes that used his image; something other high-profile figures like Alan Sugar and Richard Branson have contended with online.

Facebook later admitted it had removed "thousands" of ads from nefarious businesses using Lewis' likeness, giving some insight into the scale of the problem.

At the time though, the platform simply stated that misleading ads weren't allowed and those reported by users would be removed. While today's launch still means the onus is on consumers to report bad actors, Facebook has unveiled a dedicated feature to help its crackdown and promised to put more manpower into tackling the issue.

To win his legal case, Lewis would have had to prove that Facebook was a publisher; a descriptor the company has rallied against time and again.

The pair have now agreed to stop legal proceedings and Facebook has announced a two-pronged action plan, as well as covering the financial journalist's legal fees.

First up, it will offer users a dedicated feature to "easily and quickly" flag ads that violate its standards. It's also launching a dedicated team to handle these reports, investigate trends and enforce its policies online.

As well as staving off legal action from Lewis, the move could help Facebook show its commitment to getting rid of third-party bad players off its services, positioning itself as a more premium buy for brands.

The second part of Facebook's plan will see it donate £3m to Citizen's Advice to deliver a new UK scam action project – a scheme that will allow the charity to undertake digital scam prevention work and increase awareness around this threat.

Facebook will work with Citizens Advice to help develop the technology, but the charity will run the day-to-day operations of the project independently. It's set to launch in 2019.

“We’re grateful to Lewis for bringing attention to this important issue and for his guidance over the last eight months," said Steve Hatch, vice-president for Northern Europe at Facebook.

"We look forward to working with Citizens Advice, Lewis and his team, and with others in the industry to continue to explore solutions to this ever-evolving challenge."

Lewis said: "It shouldn’t have taken the threat of legal action to get here. Yet once we started talking, Facebook quickly realised the scale of the problem, its impact on real people, and agreed to commit to making a difference both on its own platform, and across the wider sector."

Lewis first met with Facebook in May 2018, saying he wanted it to agree to a binding deal that locked it in to "fundamentally changed" the way it policed ads to protect both the public and high-profile figures.

"It has to stop putting the onus on others to report scams – and needs to take responsibility itself. After all, it is being paid to publish them," he added.

The move is just the latest in a line of plays from Facebook to restore consumer trust following an annus horribilis in which is has faced off the Cambridge Analytica scandal; a hack which compromised the data of at least 50 million accounts; and questions from global governments over its role in the spread of misinformation and fake news.