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Meta receives its first ever criminal charges from Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest

Andrew Forrest has accused Meta of not doing enough to prevent scams from appearing on its social media platforms.
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Written by Campbell Kwan on
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Andrew "Twiggy" Forest

Image: Aaron Bunch/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Australian iron ore magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest has launched criminal proceedings against Meta in local courts, accusing the company of failing to prevent various scam ads from using his name and image.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind as Meta, formerly known as Facebook, had previously never faced criminal charges.

The circumstances behind this lawsuit are also uncommon as it is a criminal proceeding arising from a private individual suing a corporation. Due to these circumstances, Forrest needed to get the approval of Commonwealth Attorney-General Michaelia Cash before he could go ahead with the lawsuit.

The attorney general has been contacted for comment.

In a statement, Forrest said he filed the lawsuit on allegations that Meta committed three offences against Australia's anti-money laundering laws.

Those three charges, all filed to the Magistrates Court of Western Australia, allege that Meta is criminally reckless as it "did not take sufficient steps to stop criminals" from using its Facebook platform to send scam advertisements to defraud Australian users.

"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," Forrest said.

"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.   

The Australian lawsuit follows Forrest launching a separate civil lawsuit against Facebook in the US six months ago.

According to Forrest, both lawsuits were raised after he contacted the Facebook platform to prevent his image from being used to scam Australian users.

In response to the lawsuit, Meta said it did not want to provide specific comments, but said generally it does not want ads that scam people out of money or mislead people on Facebook to be on its Facebook platform.

"[Scam ads] violate our policies and are not good for our community. We take a multifaceted approach to stop these ads, we work not just to detect and reject the ads themselves but also block advertisers from our services and, in some cases, take court action to enforce our policies. We're committed to keeping these people off our platform," a Meta spokesperson said.

The initial hearing for the Australian lawsuit is currently scheduled for the end of March, with a committal hearing expected later this year.

It's been a rough week for Meta, with former Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifying to an Australian parliamentary committee earlier on Thursday that the platform deliberately provides less help, reporting of online abuse, and safety to users based outside of the US to save on costs.

"I'm sure on a per capita basis there is less help, less support, and less safety for Australians because Facebook knows it operates in the dark. Where they don't have to, they don't apologise about anything," Haugen told the committee.

Hours prior to the testimony, Meta said in a conference call it expected to lose $10 billion in 2022 due to Apple making various iOS changes. Diem, the company's stablecoin project, also officially shut down on Monday after it "became clear" that regulators would never give the project the light of day.

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