What is ‘Astroturfing’ and how might it affect me?

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Research has found that some businesses are ambushing rivals with fake reviews.

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Well, ‘it’s just not cricket’ or football for that matter and it’s certainly not sporting!

Research has found that some businesses are ambushing rivals with fake reviews and customers are using the threat of online criticism to win discounts.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has found that 54% of UK adults used online reviews, and many found them valuable. It is estimated that £23bn a year of consumer spending was potentially influenced by online reviews.

However, it discovered cases known as ‘astroturfing’. This is the practice of creating fake grass root reviews on unnamed sites, for example:

  • Businesses writing fake reviews of themselves to boost their ratings on review sites compared with rivals;
  • Firms writing or commissioning fake negative reviews to undermine rivals, for malicious reasons, or for personal gain;
  • Review sites cherry-picking positive reviews;
  • Sites allowing businesses to remedy negative reviews, that go unpublished, meaning a complete picture is not clear to review site users.

Consumers could be unaware that some endorsements in blogs were paid for by business.

In some cases, the payment was made clear in the blog, but in others it was not. An investigation had now been launched into such practices, since the use of paid-for endorsements may be unlawful.

It is recognised that impartiality could be compromised by review sites needing to make money through subscriptions, click-throughs, or selling reputation management services to businesses.

The authority also heard allegations of consumers using reviews to ‘blackmail’ businesses into providing concessions, such as price discounts.

The investigation is ongoing and any evidence of wrongdoing should be brought to the attention of the CMA.

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Howard TilneyHead of Strategy / Legal AdvisorRead More by this author

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