By Tim Healy
25 February 2022
Broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan has received an unreserved apology from Facebook as part of the settlement of her High Court action over several defamatory and untrue adverts that were posted on the social media platform.
Included in the settlement agreement, Meta Platforms Ireland, formerly known as Facebook Ireland, has agreed to establish a scam ad reporting tool, which will allow Irish users to submit reports on misleading adverts to a specialist team within Facebook for review.
Speaking after the settlement the broadcaster said it was “a good day” following a five-year battle over the misleading ads which she said had caused her distress and had damaged her reputation.
She also expressed her delight that not only had the fake ads been taken down, but also over the fact Facebook is to introduce a tool which allows people to report scam ads.
In proceedings launched against Facebook Ireland three years ago Ms O’Callaghan claimed she was defamed, and sought damages, in a series of false and malicious adverts containing her image and name on Facebook and Instagram in May 2018.
On Friday Paul O’Higgins SC, instructed by solicitor Paul Tweed, for Ms O’Callaghan said the matter had been settled against Facebook.
As part of the settlement, Facebook’s counsel Joe Jeffers BL read an agreed statement to the court, in which it was acknowledged that the proceedings over the publication of misleading adverts published on Facebook by “malicious third parties” had been resolved.
“These adverts contained fabricated statements, which have been extremely damaging to Ms O’Callaghan. Meta Platforms Ireland accepts and regrets that the publication of these ads has caused Ms O’Callaghan distress and embarrassment, and regrets any wider concerns and distress caused by the ads,” the statement read.
“Meta Platforms Ireland apologises unreservedly to Ms O’Callaghan.”
The statement added that the the broadcaster is satisfied that the publication of the the fake adverts, using her name and image, appears to have ceased.
The statement added that as a result of bring the action “Meta Platforms Ireland has undertaken to the broadcaster that it will use robust measures to tackle such advertisements in the future and will offer the ability within Ireland to report scam ads via an additional scam ad reporting tool.”
Previously the court heard that the adverts at the centre of the action contained various misleading and defamatory headlines wrongly suggesting that Ms O’Callaghan has left her job with RTÉ’s Prime Time.
Ms O’Callaghan said she had “nothing to do” with the adverts, which are linked to offers for skin care products.
She claimed that she was most distressed at being associated against her will with what has been described as “a scam product,” the court heard.
She claimed the adverts exploited the trust placed in her by the Irish public and damaged her good name and reputation.
The paid-for adverts, known as “targeted advertisements “, appear on social media users’ newsfeeds, and are designed to encourage the user to click on the adverts.
Those who click on the adverts are offered various skin care products, which she said were falsely stated to be owned or endorsed by Ms O’Callaghan.
The pages also wrongly stated that she had left her position in RTÉ to focus on the promotion of the skincare range, it was alleged.
It was also claimed that users who availed of an offer of free trials of the skincare products reported that had money debited from their bank accounts which they did not authorise.
It was not possible to identify any real persons who were behind the fake ads with that information.
Outside court Ms O’Callaghan’s solicitor Paul Tweed said his client welcomed the successful resolution of the proceedings.
He said the settlement had achieved his client’s objectives of terminating the fake ads, vindicating Ms O’Callaghan’s reputation, and has brought about something that will afford Irish Facebook users more protection.
The implementation of an additional reporting tool allowing Irish Facebook users to submit detailed reports of fake or scam ads was also a welcome development.
The tool will make such misleading material easier to report, he said, adding that such complaints will be dealt with by a specialist team within the social media giants.