It’s very easy for businesses to pay as little as £6.50 ($8.81) to companies that will write fake reviews for them and boost their pages on Facebook (FB), a new report revealed.
As part of its investigation, consumer group Which? set up a fake business page on Facebook and contacted a number of websites offering fake review services.
It was inundated with dozens of fake five-star recommendations and hundreds of "page likes."
“Our investigations continue to expose how easy it is for the fake reviews industry to infiltrate online platforms like Facebook and avoid detection, despite the incredibly sophisticated technology these companies have at their disposal,” said Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy.
“This is increasingly worrying as people continue to rely on these sites to find local businesses and it raises big questions about whether consumers can trust the reviews they see online.”
Back in April, after intervention from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Facebook said it would make it harder for people to find groups and profiles that buy and sell fake reviews. Some 16,000 trading groups were removed with suspensions or bans for users involved.
But the problem persists.
Concha said the CMA should also “strongly consider whether Facebook should be brought into the scope” of this probe.
Meanwhile Which?’s #JustNotBuyingIt campaign is demanding that strong laws are introduced by the government to force tech giants to protect people online.
Which? is urging the government to give regulators the power to make online platforms take greater responsibility for preventing and removing harmful content, at a time when the government is consulting on making the writing or hosting of fake reviews illegal.
The seven companies that offered Which? fake review services were easily found through Google by searching for terms like "buy Facebook business recommendations."
They were: App Sally, Famous Follower, Fast Face Likes, Gold Star Marketing, Online Boost Up, Red Social, and Woorke. They all agreed to artificially boost the company page in return for money.
Which? bought a package that included 10 recommendations from Gold Star Marketing for £99, a collection of 500 page likes and 10 recommendations from Fast Face Likes for £16, as well as 10 “glowing reviews” from Famous Follower for £6.50.
AppSally said it would "drip feed" the recommendations Which? purchased to "help avoid getting [the reviews] removed by Facebook".
The majority (76%) of the profiles reviewing Which?’s fake business were male. Almost all were from Bangladesh while 2.2% were from the US and Portugal and Oman both clocked up 0.2%.
All of the tactics identified in the investigation are strictly against Facebook’s community guidelines.
In a Which? survey of 2,000 UK adults, around two fifths (39%) of people said they had used review websites or apps over the previous 12 months to look for local trade businesses.
Facebook was the most popular review website or app used — almost half (47%) of consumers had used the online platform for this purpose.
CMA research suggests £23bn ($31.2bn) a year of consumer spending is influenced by online reviews.