Facebook is failing to tackle fake review ‘factories’ with hundreds of thousands of members, according to a new report.
Consumer group Which? says the groups are offering refunds for Amazon products in exchange for five-star reviews, against Amazon’s terms and conditions.
It uncovered 18 Facebook groups with a total of more than 200,000 members, some dating as far back as 2011 and 2014 – despite Facebook’s repeated pledges to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that it would crack down on this type of activity on its platform.
Within minutes of joining the Facebook groups, researchers were offered hundreds of free Amazon items, from dog beds to web cams, in exchange for five-star reviews.
“Facebook must prove that it is taking effective action, having repeatedly made commitments to the regulator that it would crack down on fake review trading,” says Which? director of policy and advocacy Rocio Concha.
In a separate investigation last October, Which? found that fake review issues were also rife on Twitter. Searching for phrases such as ‘Amazon freebies,’ ‘Amazon free product seller for good reviews’ and ‘free Amazon products for review’, it found dozens of review agents, who sent the researchers 53,065 listings and 132 brands.
The majority of profiles said they were based in China, with others appearing to be based in India, Pakistan and the US. They were looking for reviewers in countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden and the UAE.
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While three profiles were suspended from Twitter for violating its rules before Which? flagged them, many remained active, with one listed as having been live since November 2017.
“Facebook and Twitter are failing to adequately tackle fake review factories on their platforms, making it easy for unscrupulous firms and fake review agents to evade weak checks by some of the biggest online platforms and shopping sites,” says Concha.
“This risks seriously undermining consumer trust in online reviews.”
In January last year, pressure from the CMA forced Facebook to remove 188 groups from its site and agree to work harder to eliminate fake reviews. In April this year, it got rid of 16,000 more.
However, last summer, Amazon said in a blog post that it was struggling to deal with fake review factories, claiming that social media companies had been taking a median of 45 days to shut them down. That figure’s now down to five days, it says.