If you are buying a product and love the great reviews you are read on Facebook, then think again. Which?, a UK consumer body, has warned that little has been done to stop fake reviews since the practice was highlighted back in June.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) urged Facebook in June to probe the sale of fake reviews after they announced ‘troubling evidence’ of a thriving market place of incentivised review writing. This evidence had been uncovered by a Which? investigation.
The original probe found that there were several active groups recruiting people to write fake five-star reviews in return for free products. The reviews were not for household names but for unknown brands of popular items such as headphones, smart watches and fitness trackers. Thousands of reviews were unverified, meaning there was no evidence the reviewer had ever bought the product, Which? said.
As an example, they reported the results of one analysis of reviews for a set of headphones by an unknown brand called Celebrat. It had 439 reviews, all of which were five-star, unverified and were posted on the same day, suggesting they had been automated.
The latest Which? investigation shows that dozens of Facebook groups continue to encourage incentivised reviews on a huge scale and that not much has happened since the CMA wrote to the company requesting that identified content was removed. It also urged the company to put measures in place to stop them from reappearing. Facebook agreed to co-operate, but more than a month later Which? found that little has changed.
For its investigation, Which? said it joined 10 separate Facebook groups looking for recruits. They said it was “disconcertingly easy to find dozens of suspicious-looking groups in minutes.”
The latest investigation found that since the CMA warning there were still dozens of groups on Facebook incentivising product reviews. In a 30-day period, recruiters added more than 55,000 posts across nine groups offering free products to people who wrote highly-rated reviews on Amazon. This has the potential to generate “hundreds or even thousands of posts per day,” they reported.
One Facebook group was found to be posting 650 posts a day, while two other groups were managing 500 each. Across 10 groups there were more than 3,500 new posts promoting incentivised reviews in just one day, the report said.
Which? showed that the10 groups they were monitoring “had a staggering 105,669 members on August 1st, compared with a membership of 85,647 just 30 days prior to that – representing an increase of nearly 19%”. One group in particular had a 75% increase in a month, almost doubling its membership, despite having existed since April 2017. This suggests that new recruits are being funnelled into similar groups and away from those Facebook is cracking down on.
"It is deeply concerning that [Facebook] continues to leave customers exposed to poor quality or unsafe products boosted by misleading and disingenuous reviews," said Natalie Hitchins, head of products at Which?, talking to the BBC.
A spokesman for Facebook said it had removed nine of the 10 groups Which? reported to it and was investigating the remaining one, according to the BBC. "We don't allow people to use Facebook to facilitate or encourage false reviews."
This is an issue that requires social networks to commit both to improving the tools and technologies they are using and to constantly monitoring their platforms.
EBay was also contacted by the CMA back in June after it was found to have over 100 listings offering five-star reviews for sale. Since then their situation has dramatically improved, suggesting eBay has taken significant action to address the problem. Only one such listing was found by Which?