Brushing up against the law

By Stuart Fuller

It may seem like you are simply doing someone a favour, but writing a good (or bad) review for someone on an online marketplace or review website can land you in hot water.  It seems every month we have a new word to add to our digital lexicon and this month, thanks to the news story concerning Amazon and their intentions to bring the full weight of the law down on these fake reviewers, we now have "Brushing”.  In many countries, including United Kingdom, most of Europe under the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, China and the United States, the practice of arranging fake online transactions in order to artificially inflate the reputation of an online vendor is illegal. Whilst the authorities recognise it is a massive problem, trying to stop it happening is incredibly hard. 

It's not only people adding good reviews that is the problem.  There have been many cases of individuals deliberately writing bad reviews, often in exchange for a payment from a rival, to try and damage reputations.  This has been seen in the travel and hospitality market more than in others, where the power of online peer reviews thanks to the power that websites such as TripAdvisor and AirBnB now have.  Ignorance is no defence of the law, with TripAdvisor laying down the rules very clearly - "Bottom line: Any attempt to mislead, influence or impersonate a traveller is considered fraudulent and will be subject to penalty." 
There are also incidences of the employee review website, Glassdoor, being scrutinised for "overly positive" reviews that, according to suggestion, are created by HR departments in order to increase interest in employment with the company.  As of yet there haven't been any reported incidences of deliberately misleading or fake bad reviews being attributed to a company but with thousands of companies listed the odds of every negative review being genuine does offer itself up for scrutiny.

Amazon's decision to pursue over 1,000 individuals who were offering their services via the website is certainly a bold and positive step for all brand holders. "Amazon is bringing this action to protect its customers from this misconduct, by stopping defendants and uprooting the ecosystem in which they participate.” said a spokesman on announcing the decision. Despite the action you can still find users offering services on the website.

Digital marketing in most organisations is all about increasing a brand's online footprint, utilising social media to maximum effect.  However, the marketers now have to also keep an eye on the authenticity of their social dials.  The presence of fake reviews, likes or followers can lead to loss of search rankings, credibility and potential sanction from the authorities.  Brushing up on the threats to a brand through this new digital practice will ensure everyone stays squeaky-clean.