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Facebook slammed for failing to shutdown fake review groups

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Facebook is still flooded with fake product review ‘factories’, which recruit people to leave five star reviews on Amazon, more than a month after the regulator told the social networking site to remove them, Which? has found.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) raised concerns about fake review groups back in June, telling Facebook to remove and prevent them from reappearing.

However, Which? found dozens of groups on the social networking site in the UK that are recruiting people to write fake or incentivised reviews, with Amazon sellers offering free products in exchange for highly-rated reviews.

During the probe, Which? researchers joined ten Facebook review groups and found 3,511 new posts generated in just one day, and more than 55,000 posts over a 30-day period.

They also identified a worrying spike in membership in Facebook’s fake review groups since the CMA warning, suggesting that thousands of members may be flocking over from the groups that are shut down.

One group started in April 2017 ended up with more 10,000 members after 4,300 people joined it in July – a 75 per cent increase, despite it existing for more than two years.

Natalie Hitchins, head of products and services at Which? said: “It is deeply concerning that the company continues to leave customers exposed to poor quality or unsafe products boosted by misleading and disingenuous reviews.

“Facebook must immediately take steps to not only address the groups that are reported to it, but proactively identify and shut down other groups, and put measures in place to prevent more from appearing in the future.”

The CMA warning in June was also directed at eBay but the platform seems to have largely eradicated listings offering five star reviews for sale, Which? said.

Customers being duped

Fake reviews could increase the chance of people potentially being duped into buying poor quality or even unsafe products that have been boosted by disingenuous reviews.

Online reviews influence an estimated £23bn of transactions a year in the UK alone, according to the CMA, and a Which? survey showed that 97 per cent of people use them when researching a purchase. However, three in 10 (31 per cent) of those who bought a product because of excellent feedback scores were disappointed by it.

Writing or commissioning fake or incentivised reviews is in breach of consumer law and can lead to criminal action for the individuals responsible.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “We don’t allow people to use Facebook to facilitate or encourage false reviews. We have removed 9 of the 10 groups Which? reported to us and are investigating the remaining group.”

How to spot a fake review: Which?’s top tips

  • Be wary of brands you don’t know – Scrutinise customer reviews more thoroughly than usual if you’re looking to buy a brand you don’t recognise. Which? research indicates they are significantly more likely to be affected by fake reviews.

  • Be suspicious of large numbers of reviews – If you see hundreds or even thousands of reviews – be suspicious, especially if they are largely positive.

  • Look for repetition – If you see the same review titles, repetitive phrases or even the same reviewer name appear more than once on a product, it’s very likely that it has been targeted by fake reviews.

  • Watch out for multiple product variations – Look out for multiple variations of the same product within a single listing, especially if they have an obscure name. It’s unlikely that there are more than 10 variants of a pair of headphones. You can find out which variation is being reviewed underneath the date of the review.

  • Filter to check for unverified versus verified reviews – Reviews marked as ‘verified’ are those that Amazon can confirm were left after the item was purchased through its website. Unverified reviews are therefore far easier to ‘fake’ – in that they could be written by someone who has had no experience at all with the product.

  • Look at the dates – If large numbers of reviews were posted on the same day, or in a short period of time, it’s very likely that they are fake – especially if they are also unverified.

  • Check seller profiles – Things you might be wary of are foreign seller locations, strange business names, a lack of contact details, and of course, negative reviews of the seller. Check out the seller profile page before you buy to see if anything seems out of place.

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