Water cooler and triangular chairs

Facebook combats fake reviews following CMA pressure

Published on 02 August 2021

The question

What does the CMA’s prompting of Facebook to take action over fake reviews signal to the online marketplace in terms of potential future action in this area? 

The key takeaway

Social media platforms and other similar online service providers need to consider the extent to which they offer a platform for individuals or businesses to sell fake reviews, and the steps they need to take to curtail this type of activity. 

The background

In January 2020, following an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Facebook committed to efforts to identify and remove both groups and pages on its site where misleading reviews were being sold. This commitment was also extended to Instagram in May 2020.
Fake and misleading reviews are already illegal under The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008; however, the CMA was not convinced that enough has been done by many internet giants to combat fake reviews. A follow-up investigation in early 2021 into Facebook found further evidence that the illegal trade in fake reviews was still occurring on both Instagram and Facebook, causing the CMA to intervene again.

The development

As a result of Facebook’s crackdown, more than 16,000 groups were removed from the platform for trading fake reviews, as well as the creators being either suspended or banned outright. To build upon their current systems, Facebook also implemented further changes, namely: 

  • suspending or banning users who repeatedly create Facebook groups and Instagram profiles that promote, encourage or facilitate fake and misleading reviews
  • introducing new automated processes that will improve the detection and removal of this content
  • making it harder for people to use Facebook’s search tools to find fake and misleading review groups and profiles on Facebook and Instagram, and
  • putting in place dedicated processes to make sure that these changes continue to work effectively and stop the problems from reappearing.

Why is this important?

As the Chief Executive of the CMA notes: “…never before has online shopping been so important…fake and misleading reviews are so damaging – if people lose trust in online reviews, they are less able to shop around with confidence, and will miss out on the best deals”. This is noted as being particularly important in light of research which found that more than three quarters of shoppers are influenced by reviews when they shop. 
Social media platforms and businesses both need to be critically aware of reviews on their websites and ensure that they are acting in a way that promotes public confidence, in order to avoid similar scrutiny from the CMA and ensure they act within the confines of the law. This is against the backdrop of the new Digital Markets United, which was set up within the CMA in April 2021, and provides a framework for governing the behaviour of platforms that dominate the market. 

Any practical tips?

All platforms and businesses offering similar opportunities for the sale of fake reviews are likely to risk action in the future. This is particularly the case given the EU’s forthcoming Omnibus Directive in May 2022, which highlights online reviews as a target area of concern. Identifying checks and controls now in order to monitor and verify reviews is increasingly becoming a business necessity if sanctions from the CMA and other regulators across the EU are to be avoided and public confidence in reviews is to be retained.