Bethenny Frankel is going after the big man!
On Thursday, the Real Housewives of New York City alum filed a lawsuit against TikTok in New York arguing they need to crack down on scam ads after videos of her were edited to promote counterfeit products without her consent! And this is a major issue across social media she’s now trying to take charge of and change!
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According to the reality star, she was scrolling through the app on September 16 when she noticed many of her followers were asking about an ad they’d seen on the site. In the video, she featured was promoting a cheap knockoff designer cardigan — only she’d NEVER actually consented to the ad! She claims a scammer took a previous video of her promoting a different cardigan and edited it to make it look like she was discussing the knockoff. Per the lawsuit, she immediately posted a video alerting her fans of the fraud, but she claims TikTok removed the video within minutes, reportedly for bullying. What?!
Bethenny also reported the scam ad through TikTok’s content-flagging system, though little was done. Speaking to the Washington Post on Thursday, Bethenny shared why it was so important for her to take legal action, noting:
“First and foremost, I want there to be a tangible change, whether it’s an act, a law, a process, a step, that protects content creators. An effort needs to be made by TikTok to protect creators and consumers. There are people who purchased these products after they saw these ads with me in them.”
The scam ads can have real consequences for social media stars, too since much of their success depends upon trust between them and their audience. Even for Bethenny, this fake cardigan promo did real damage, she added:
“People were saying, ‘I thought you sold out. You’re hawking these bad products.’ It’s such a violation of me as a brand, a media figure. You can’t decide to just use me as an advertisement day in and day out.”
Vanessa Flahertypresident of Digital Brand Architectsan influencer management company, also told the publication:
“The value of a creator is in how they recommend products and what brands they stand behind. If that’s being taken out of context and being applied to a brand they have not and may never want to endorse or support, that puts their credibility at risk.”
It can also impact the creator’s other business deals. Oftentimes, influencers sign exclusive deals to promote a product or brand – but when a fake ad pops up, it can cost them their deals, even if they had nothing to do with the scam! Yikes!
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Bethenny has asked TikTok to set up a way for influencers to flag unauthorized ads internally, so they can be removed swiftly. Right now, stars have to really fight for attention to get their issues solved. Jenni Kayne, a clothing brand, contacted TikTok in mid-September to report ads for a counterfeit product, starring Frankel and other influencers. Reps from the company submitted a trademark certificate, links to the offending ads, screenshots of the third-party site, and a formal report to TikTok. Still, the ads weren’t removed for at least 10 days. Alexa RitaccoJenni Kayne’s chief marketing officer said:
“It was over 20 emails of us begging them. It took TikTok so long to respond. It was so clear they did not have a protocol for this. We were getting hundreds of direct messages per day about the counterfeit ads.”
One reason TikTok may be slow to make a change, Bethenny argues in her suit, is because they allegedly profit from the sales taking place through the phony ads. The lawsuit claims TikTok generates revenue through ads and scammers are paying to run ads for their counterfeit goods. The court doc states:
“Although the platform is not an e-commerce site, it facilitates and promotes the sale of products. The promotion of products, particularly counterfeit products, garner millions of views and incentivize TikTok to increase their revenue streams by allowing the counterfeit products to be presented to users.”
The businesswoman is now seeking damages from TikTok for the harm the fake ad has caused her brand. She also wants the company to implement better protections surrounding a creator’s likeness. On why this is so important to her, she told WaPo:
“I want to be a voice for change in this space. I have a platform, I have influence, and I want to make a difference on a greater scale.”
The Skinnygirl founder shared similar thoughts on her Instagram while discussing the lawsuit. Check it out (below).
Meanwhile, Ashley Nash-Hahna spokesperson for the social platform, insisted the app takes copyright and intellectual property information very seriously, saying:
“We have strict policies to both protect people’s hard earned intellectual property and keep misleading content off of TikTok. We regularly review and improve our policies and processes in order to combat advanced fraud attempts and further strengthen our systems.”
To prove her point, she stated from July 2021 to December 2021, TikTok received a staggering 49,821 global copyright takedown notices. They successfully removed 40,469 of those (or 81.2%). She explained:
Users can report content in the app, and they may escalate concerns related to copyright or trademark infringement via our website. Advertising content passes through multiple levels of verification before receiving approval, and we have measures in place to detect and remove fraudulent or violative ads.”
But obviously, something is still wrong if there’s now a lawsuit! There is also a growing concern in Congress to regulate the rapidly expanding online merchandise market, so who knows, maybe real change will come soon. For now, Bethenny has set up an email account for other content creators to get in touch with her and join the lawsuit if they have experienced similar troubles. Thoughts?
If you have experienced an illegal violation of your rights on social media, email [email protected]
[Image via WENN/Avalon]