Facebook and Twitter ‘failing to tackle fake review factories’

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Facebook and Twitter have been accused of failing to tackle an online industry of fake product reviews, with new research uncovering schemes on the platforms with hundreds of thousands of members.

An investigation by consumer group Which? found a large-scale community online where people were offered free goods in exchange for leaving five-star reviews for the products in question on sites such as Amazon.

Which? said that between June and November 2021 it found 18 Facebook groups with more than 200,000 members collectively which were taking part in this fraudulent activity.

The Twitter logo
Twitter said it does not allow spam or fraudulent activity (Yui Mok/PA)

It said the new research was particularly disappointing because Facebook had previously committed to tackling the problem, and called on the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to challenge the firm further on the issue and consider opening an investigation into Twitter’s approach.

The consumer group’s director of policy and advocacy, Rocio Concha, said the two platforms were “failing to adequately tackle fake review factories”, which was “making it easy for unscrupulous firms and fake review agents to evade weak checks”.

“This risks seriously undermining consumer trust in online reviews,” she said.

Facebook logo
Facebook said fraudulent activity is not allowed on its platforms (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“The Government plans to tackle fake reviews as part of its consumer and competition reforms and should bring forward new laws to banish these exploitative practices as soon as possible.”

Which? also raised questions over the effectiveness of detection measures in place to stop such groups, noting that review agents often used easily decipherable messages – such as “Ne3d R3vi3w Full Fr33 product” – in an attempt to evade detection.

It was also noted that warning messages on Facebook that popped up to tell researchers a term they had searched for was associated with fraudulent activity could be easily dismissed to carry on the search.

In response to the investigation, a spokesperson for Facebook’s parent company Meta said: “Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews.

“We proactively removed many of the groups identified by Which? before they approached us, and we swiftly removed the additional groups that violated our policies.

Amazon app
Amazon urged consumers to use the ‘report abuse’ button (Lauren Hurley/PA)

“While no enforcement is perfect, we continue to invest in new technologies and methods to protect our users from this kind of content.”

Twitter said it does not allow “spam or other types of platform manipulation” and it had suspended all the referenced accounts for violations of the Twitter rules.

On the fake review groups online, an Amazon spokesperson said that when such groups are detected, it reports them to the site in question to have them taken down.

“This industry of fake review brokers needs to stop now. Only when regulators, law enforcement, social media sites and retailers work together will these fraudsters be stopped,” the spokesperson said.

“We advise customers who doubt the credibility of a review on a product to click the ‘report abuse’ link available below each review. We will then investigate and take necessary measures.”

The CMA said “fake and misleading reviews affect shoppers’ ability to make informed choices” and that it had “raised Which?’s latest findings” with Facebook “to ensure it is honouring its commitments”.

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