Here’s one more leak in the drip drip drip of evidence that Facebook is totally out of control, even if and when it tries to get it together. Buzzfeed reports that an extremely predatory scammer that exploited Baby Boomers (also previously exposed by Buzzfeed in October) had a helper on the inside at Facebook.
An enterprising former member of Facebook’s policy team known in messages as “Ryan” accepted bribes to reinstate accounts for the sham marketing company Ads Inc. which violated company policies. Those presumably included ads for “free trials” of products falsely claiming to have celebrity endorsements, which locked unwitting victims into inflexible monthly subscriptions. Ads Inc. reportedly also convinced users to “rent” their pages for ad space, which is against company policy, and then Ads Inc. even rented out those rentals to other marketing companies. Facebook told Buzzfeed that they’re exploring legal options against Ads Inc.
In messages obtained by Buzzfeed, Ryan struck a deal with Ads Inc. CEO Asher Burke, who agreed to pay him a $5,000 flat rate and a subsequent $3,000 monthly fee. In exchange, Ryan activated Ads Inc.’s accounts and agreed over the following months to surreptitiously reenable the ads for a few weeks by “accident.” Ryan lowballed the bribe in my opinion, given that Buzzfeed previously reported that the company had spent over $50 million on ad space since 2016, but Ryan was also dumb enough to put this in writing.
Ryan claimed to have moved to the “risk” team, but Ads Inc CEO Asher Burke told a colleague in separate messages that Ryan still had a colluder on the policy team. A Facebook spokesperson told Buzzfeed that an unnamed employee (possibly Ryan) has since been fired and that they’re “continuing to investigate the allegations and will take any further necessary action.”
Ryan may be a shady outlier, maybe not. Another former Ads Inc. employee told Buzzfeed that they knew of a couple of Ryans willing to make helpful mistakes. The incident more broadly shows that the company is way too big to police itself and suggests that any number of other scams could be running at the moment. Per Buzzfeed’s reporting, Ads Inc. implemented a sophisticated scheme to fly under Facebook’s radar by creating links that would direct Facebook’s monitors to dummy blogs and redirect pedestrian users to their credit card trap. The Federal Trade Commission has caught various other marketing companies scamming netizens with fake news like “Will Ferrell Packs On Muscle in Just 3 Weeks Using These 2 Muscle Supplements That Celebrities Love.”
The FTC might go after the scammers themselves, but it’s unlikely to overhaul Facebook’s advertising policies in general. Speaking to Bloomberg earlier this year, Commissioner Rohit Chopra of the Federal Trade Commission pointed out that the FTC could have added more oversight mechanisms for Facebook’s advertising policies when it reached a settlement with the company earlier this year, but it did not, and even a $5 billion fine can’t ding them.
The only logical remedy is to murder Facebook, and several state attorneys general are working on it with an expansive antitrust investigation. The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have also launched antitrust probes–in the DOJ’s case, to examine how online platforms have “reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.” This is exactly the type of shit. Shit like this happens when you’re too big for anyone to possibly manage effectively.
Gizmodo reached out to Facebook and will update the post if we hear back.