Baker photo fraudulently used to sell blood product

Prof Michael Baker was shocked to see his image being used to sell the product. Photo: Supplied
Prof Michael Baker was shocked to see his image being used to sell the product. Photo: Supplied
Otago University epidemiologist Michael Baker is concerned about his image being fraudulently used to sell a product called 'Blood Balance'.

Professor Baker's first became aware of the use of his image - on Facebook and Instagram - about a week ago.

"I started getting emails from people sending what was obviously scam content from Facebook and Instagram of me promoting some product to send people's blood or somehow protect them from diseases of the circulation system."

Baker said he did not know what the product was, nor endorsed it, and he encouraged people to ignore it and report it as a scam.

But he said it was the messages from people telling him they had spent a significant amount of money on the product and thanking him for the endorsement that really worried him.

"That's really bothered me because this is actually hurting people."

He was also shocked to see deep fakes of his image talking about the product and encouraging people to buy it. 

Companies like Meta, which made huge profits from advertising on sites such as Facebook and Instagram, needed to better manage their product, he said.

"With profit should also go responsibility and I would like to see Meta and other companies take responsibility for the harm they're doing with the way social media is operating."

Baker said currently there was no way to complain to the social media giants about images being used fraudulently except by reporting individual ads.

He said he had been a commentator for a long time, but had seen an onslaught of misinformation, negative feedback in the social media landscape since the Covid-19 pandemic.

"People are threatening to do everything you could imagine to you - Nuremberg 2, a 'hanging would be too good for you' - and it goes on and on. While it's unpleasant to get some of these comments, they're not actually physically hurting you.

"The problem is that over time, when many people read these comments about you and you become more recognisable, it dehumanises you. The risk is then people feel that it's quite acceptable, or even desirable to physically attack you."

It had already been seen with politicians and journalists, Baker said, and he feared it could happen to scientists in the future.

"So I do think companies operating social media and profiting from it need to take these responsibilities really seriously and act on them."