Facebook has vowed to take more action in removing fake reviews and fake review sellers from its platform after the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) issued a warning to both Facebook and eBay over the impacts of allowing the online fake review marketplace to thrive.
As reported by TechCrunch, last June, the CMA warned both companies that they needed to take more action to prevent the sale of fake reviews on their platforms.
As per the CMA's statement:
"The Competition and Markets Authority has found troubling evidence that there is a thriving marketplace for fake and misleading online reviews. After web sweeps performed in the period November 2018 to June 2019, the CMA was concerned about over 100 eBay listings offering fake reviews for sale. It also identified – during the same period – 26 Facebook groups in total where people offered to write fake reviews or businesses recruited people to write fake and misleading reviews on popular shopping and review sites."
According to CMA estimates, more than three-quarters of UK shoppers are influenced by reviews when they shop online, highlighting the potential scope of the fake reviews problem. A lack of action on such activity, which is illegal under UK consumer protection law, could lead to more significant regulatory action, and/or legal recourse against each.
For its part, Facebook says that it has improved its processes, and that it is working to remove fake sellers from its network.
"Fraudulent activity is not allowed on Facebook or Instagram, including offering or trading fake reviews. While we have invested heavily to prevent this kind of activity across our services, we know there is more work to do and are working with the CMA to address this issue. Since we were first contacted by the CMA, we have identified and removed over 180 groups and 24 accounts for violating our rules and have taken robust steps to prevent this type of fraudulent activity from re-appearing on our platforms."
Those steps include improved machine learning systems for detection, and enhanced action to remove offending Pages.
This new push is particularly relevant for Facebook, as it looks to move further into eCommerce and on-platform shopping, both on Facebook and on Instagram.
Last year, Facebook acquired video commerce startup Packagd, which focuses on enabling users to make direct purchases of products via live-stream videos, while it also bought up Indian marketplace app Meesho, which connects sellers with customers through WhatsApp, and already has more than 2 million users.
Facilitating more in-app shopping will require at least some level of co-operation with local regulatory authorities, and if Facebook isn't viewed as trustworthy in this respect - which would include turning a blind eye to potentially illegal practices like selling reviews - that could make its eCommerce pathway more difficult.
The increased enforcement against review sellers also aligns with Facebook's broader push on stamping out other misleading digital marketing actions, like buying likes and followers and manipulating ad performance. Facebook took more legal action than ever against these practices in 2019. Adding fake reviews into this mix seems like a logical expansion of its broader push to outlaw questionable practices.
In a broader sense, the removal of fakes and manipulative behaviors can only be beneficial, and it will ensure more clarity in the information available, and improve trust in related processes. From a digital marketing perspective, that has a range of potential impacts, from making your Facebook ad results more transparent, to reducing the damage caused by negative reviews which have been posted solely for the sake of lowering reputation.
Overall, actions like this show that digital marketing is growing up, and that regulators are taking it more seriously - and as systems and enforcement processes evolve, that can only benefit the broader online marketplace.