Social media platforms ‘must refund victims’ who have been defrauded

The DCMS Committee chairman said social media companies have failed to do enough to stop fraudsters.

Gemma Bradley
Tuesday 18 January 2022 14:29
Instagram and TikTok were among the social media platforms being grilled by the Commons committee (PA)
Instagram and TikTok were among the social media platforms being grilled by the Commons committee (PA)

Social media giants have failed to do enough to stop fraudsters and must “refund the British public for any scam”, the chairman of an influential Commons committee has said.

In a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, Julian Knight Conservative MP for Solihull and chairman of the committee, branded the social media platforms a “disgrace” and said they had been making money from scams “for too many years”.

Speaking to Richard Earley, UK public policy manager for Facebook owner Meta Mr Knight said: “It seems incredible to me and to the public, the idea that you are systematically, over a period of years, making money from our constituents’ misery over being defrauded.

“You are making money off that and you are continuing to make money, and you’re still waiting for legislation to come forward before you appropriately react in order to exclude these scams from your platforms permanently.”

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg leaves the Merrion Hotel in Dublin with Facebook’s head of global policy and communications, Nick Clegg, after a meeting with politicians to discuss regulation of social media (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Earley defended Meta’s review process, which he said checks over any advertisement to ensure it is in line with their compliance and advertisement policies.

However, despite announcing last year that it would do so, Meta’s review process does not currently enforce that all advertisements are authorised by the FCA.

Mr Knight said: “People have lost thousands of pounds, some people have lost their entire livelihoods, frankly we have had people commit suicide as a result of the scams, and you have continued to take advertising throughout the entire time from organisations which are not FCA authorised, and only now are you pulling your finger out and bringing that very crucial change.

“You have just not done enough.”

He added: “This goes for all social media platforms actually, you ought to pay back the money that has been defrauded off the British public over many years.”

Representatives from Meta, Twitter Instagram and TikTok were given a grilling by MPs at the hearing, which focused on an inquiry into online safety and online harms and which has previously heard evidence from ex-Love Island contestant Amy Hart.

Mr Knight also quoted money-saving expert Martin Lewis who he said “pulls his hair out” at the number of paid-for scam advertisements on Facebook using his face.

The MP criticised the companies for not sharing data with each other regarding scams, calling it a “disgrace” that “has been going on far too long”.

Westminster SNP MP John Nicolson said Twitter’s verification system was chaotic and did not work (Andrew Milligan/PA)

During the panel, Twitter was also heavily criticised for its verification process by John Nicolson MP for the Scottish National Party, Ochil and South Perthshire.

He cited a Twitter account that was created under the name Mickey Mouse, with the email address “MickeyMouseIsNotMyRealName”, and a phone number from a phone that cost 99p, that then tweeted the footballer Marcus Rashford the word “squeak”.

Mr Nicolson called Twitter’s verification system “hopeless and chaotic” and said it did not work.

He said: “You’ve tried to manipulate the description of an anonymous account, because someone like that Mickey Mouse account is designated as a non-anonymous account under your current system. Your system does not work.”

He added: “If you can’t protect him (Marcus Rashford) what hope is there for all the anonymous folk who just get the daily misery if they use your platform, of abuse?”

Niamh McDade, deputy head of UK policy at Twitter, defended the system in place. She said she was not aware of the specific account Mr Nicolson was referring to, but did condemn all forms of racist abuse on the platform.

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