Facebook has removed more than 16,000 groups trading fake reviews after the UK’s competition regulator criticised the company for failing to make good on a previous promise to clamp down on the practice.
In January 2020, the Competition and Markets Authority secured an agreement from Facebook to “better identify, investigate and remove groups and other pages where fake and misleading reviews were being traded, and prevent them from reappearing”.
The practice, in which unscrupulous traders buy fake positive reviews on e-commerce sites to boost sales – or hit competitors with fraudulent negative reviews – was frequently co-ordinated on Facebook and Instagram, the CMA found.
But while Facebook agreed to act, a follow-up investigation “found evidence that the illegal trade in fake reviews was still taking place”, the CMA said, and it was forced to intervene for a second time.
“Facebook has a duty to do all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms,” said Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the CMA. “After we intervened again, the company made significant changes – but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.
“We will continue to keep a close eye on Facebook, including its Instagram business. Should we find it is failing to honour its commitments, we will not hesitate to take further action.”
Facebook said it would suspend or ban users who “repeatedly” create groups dedicated to fake reviews, and introduce new technology to flag such groups automatically and make it harder for people to find and join the groups in the first place.
A Facebook spokesperson said: “We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews. Our safety and security teams are continually working to help prevent these practices.”
The scourge of fake reviews has spread across much of the internet. In October 2018, an investigation by Which? found that Facebook “factories” were producing the reviews, which were then almost entirely posted on Amazon. The e-commerce site would prioritise reviews from “genuine” buyers, who were then reimbursed for their trouble by the scammers on Facebook. The expensive “genuine” reviews were then backed up by tens of thousands of unverified positive reviews.
Another investigation looked at products on Amazon and found that 71% of headphones had perfect five-star ratings – but that the text of the reviews often referred to unrelated products such as soap dispensers. One set of headphones made by the brand Celebrat had 439 reviews. All were five-star, all unverified, and all arrived on the same day.