False Ads on Social Media: Swiftly Strengthen Regulations to Protect Consumers from Harm

False advertisements on social media, using the names and images of prominent figures without their consent to solicit investments, have been causing widespread harm. The government must urgently take effective measures, including legal restrictions on companies that operate social media services.

An expert panel of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has proposed measures against fake ads on social media. The main measure is to require social media operators to strengthen a system for their pre-vetting of ads to be posted.

It is necessary to examine in advance whether ads are appropriate for posting on social media, and the panel proposed establishing standards to determine their suitability. It also requested that a system to screen ads be established and that personnel who understand the Japanese language, society and culture be assigned to the task for that purpose.

The panel is considering imposing restrictions on tech giants such as major social media company Meta Platforms Inc. of the United States, which operates Facebook and Instagram.

Meta and other companies say that they are now screening ads using artificial intelligence and other technologies to automatically detect problematic ads before they are posted. In reality, however, false ads remain rampant.

Putting an effective screening system in place and increasing transparency are indispensable. It is hoped that the government will consider ways to realize such aims, including by setting a legal obligation to take appropriate measures.

There is also an urgent need to promptly delete posted false ads that have slipped through the screening process. The expert panel has asked major social media operators to formulate and publicize in advance the criteria for deleting ads, and to establish a section intended to handle applications for deletion.

The National Consumer Affairs Center received 1,629 complaints last fiscal year from people who said they were defrauded of money by false ads using the names and images of prominent figures, and other fraudulent claims, a sharp increase of nearly 10 times from the previous fiscal year.

To prevent harm, it is essential to immediately stop the distribution of fake ads, but companies have been slow to act.

In April, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party held a hearing with Meta. Meta has not disclosed the specific number of fake ads that it deleted, and its information disclosure has been inadequate.

One celebrity whose name and image were used in false ads asked Meta to delete such ads, but said he was told by Meta that there were so many ads that it could not deal with them all.

The situation cannot be left unaddressed, considering that false ads could harm the social reputation of celebrities. Although the operators claim that it is difficult to determine whether ads are false, the reality appears to be that even ads that appear highly likely to be false are being left unchecked.

The government is expected to finalize measures by the end of June based on the expert panel’s discussions. It must not leave it up to the major social media operators to take action on their own initiative, as it has done so far. The government should strongly urge them to make improvements through highly effective measures to strengthen regulations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 6, 2024)