Report: Facebook employee fired for taking bribes to reactivate shady ads

The incident, one senator said, illustrates how Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act lets digital scammers exploit large-scale platforms

A Facebook employee was fired after accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for reactivating an ad account that violated the platform's policies, according to a Buzzfeed report. The Austin, Texas-based employee reportedly accepted at least one $5,000 payment from a now-defunct marketing firm called Ads Inc. 

Earlier this year, Buzzfeed exposed a scheme in which Ads Inc. ran ads with fake claims about celebrities. The ads would lure Facebook users to a site where Ads Inc. ran a free trial scam. A Facebook spokesperson told Buzzfeed the employee in question was fired after the initial report prompted an internal investigation. Meanwhile, an unnamed source affiliated with Ads Inc. told Buzzfeed that more than one Facebook employee was involved. 

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ZDNet. 

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, told Buzzfeed that the incident was further proof that digital advertisers are "exploiting the scale of large platforms" to run scams and criminal schemes. "Because of Section 230, neither the victims of these schemes nor state [attorneys general] can seek to hold the platforms accountable for their continued facilitation of these frauds," he said. 

Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act, part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, exempts online platforms from liability for content posted by third parties. Thus, Facebook isn't legally responsible for the scams that Ad Inc. allegedly ran on its social network. 

Section 230 is credited with enabling the internet to flourish in the US. However, as large platforms are increasingly exploited for illegal, deceptive and otherwise destructive purposes, lawmakers have started taking a second look at Section 230. Congress passed a major amendment to the law last year, making it easier to sue platforms for hosting content related to sex trafficking. 

While members of Congress are still considering ways to rein in Section 230, the legal protections it affords internet companies may actually be expanded internationally, thanks to trade negotiations between the US, Canada and Mexico. The new trade deal effectively extends the principles of Section 230 to the United States' trade partners. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, opposed including the Section 230 language in the trade deal, but she acknowledged Tuesday that she failed to get it removed. The language in the agreement, she said, is "a real gift to big tech."