In lawsuit, Elburn company claims Facebook page secretly favors advertisers

An Elburn-based company has sued the operator of a "What's Happening" Facebook site, arguing he has stacked the deck to favor secret paying advertisers - violating the spirit of the popular community forum that's portrayed as a not-for-profit venue to get local referrals and business recommendations from residents.

In its lawsuit, Patriot Heating and Cooling argues Kevin Ketchum gives preferential treatment to advertisers on the "What's Happening" pages - for which Ketchum serves as administrator. The site has more than 100,000 members in Aurora, Batavia, Campton Hills, Elgin, Geneva, Naperville, Elgin and St. Charles.

The suit argues that Ketchum has intentionally deleted posts from community members that are favorable to the competitors of Ketchum's advertisers, let a disparaging post about Patriot stay up on the Facebook page, thereby hurting the company's reputation and future business, and has engaged in a deceptive practice by taking ads without disclosing this information.

"In reality, Ketchum and Nexxus Publishing LLC (Ketchum's print business) operate the 'What's Happening' pages for profit by charging local businesses to post and otherwise advertise on the pages," read part of the lawsuit.

"Ketchum and Nexxus, at times, delete organic unpaid member referrals for businesses in competition with Nexxus' advertising customers and while at the same time relaxing rules concerning 'overposting,' a name used for the practice of placing numerous referrals for one business in response to each inquiry."

Ketchum referred questions to his attorney, Michael Colwell, who did not respond to messages left Monday and Tuesday.

According to the lawsuit, Patriot employees in January 2016 noticed that favorable referrals to their business posted by members of the "What's Happening" Facebook group were being removed from the page. Patriot called Ketchum, who said they could be his advertiser if they paid more than McNally's Heating and Cooling of St. Charles, which also is a defendant, according the lawsuit.

McNally's owner Brian McNally said he pays to advertise in the magazine and has no involvement on what is posted on the "What's Happening" pages.

"We're not worried about (the lawsuit)," McNally said. "It seems like a desperate attempt to take a cheap shot at me. I've done nothing wrong."

The suit seeks more than $250,000 in damages and the parties are next due in court on Sept. 21.

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