Can You Go To Jail for Writing a Fake Review?

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Is it a crime to post a rave review of your own book or a hostile one of someone else’s? If it isn’t, many people think it should be. Though you may not agree, we suggest you think twice before posting that encomium to your just-published book and hiding behind a pseudonym.It may actually be illegal.

Barb Darrow, writing in Gigaom.com, reports that “Three years ago, the FTC found that companies paying for rave reviews without disclosing that the reviewer was compensated constitutes deceptive advertising and can be prosecuted. Gartner thinks that means companies will take a proactive role policing reviews that defame their products and services and pressure online sites to remove them. That will give rise to ‘reputation defense’ companies specializing in such practices.”

The practice is widespread, and our recent posting about the soaring rate of fake Amazon reviews provoked a tempest of indignation. (See Has Anybody Seen an Honest Reviewer?). But until now it was hard to quantify the extent of the problem. Gartner, Inc., the world’s leading technological research firm, has a pretty good idea, predicting that in two or three years, between 10 and 15% of all online reviews will be spurious and self-serving notices.

We’re actually surprised it’s so low, given the conjecture made by Education Portal, that somewhere between 75 and 98% of all college students cheat. Gartner thinks the phony review trend is just beginning to rise, so maybe we will see parity with college cheating a few years down the road.

Gartner attributes what might be called Reviewgate to enormous corporate and social media pressures. A senior analyst notes: “With over half of the Internet’s population on social networks, organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors and solicit ‘likes’ on their Facebook pages … Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.”

Because fake reviews make it impossible for consumers to make informed choices, most right-thinking people abhor the practice. But when it comes to punishing the practitioners we lapse into fatalism. What can we do, that’s way of the world, right? But if it’s against the law, sooner or later there will be a test case. Bring it on!

Details in Gartner predicts raft of fake online reviews by 2014

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

About Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis is a leading New York literary agent (www.curtisagency.com) who foresaw the Digital Book Revolution and launched an e-book publishing company early in 2000. E-Reads (www.ereads.com) is one of the foremost independent e-book publishers in the industry, specializing in reprints of genre fiction by leading authors in their fields. Curtis is also a well-known authors advocate, author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction including several books about the publishing industry, and prolific blogger – see his hundreds of other blog posts here.

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5 thoughts on “Can You Go To Jail for Writing a Fake Review?

  1. Fake reviews are absolutely not ethical, but can they be a crime?

    If an organized attempt of changing public opinion does not exist, they should not be considered to be a crime.

    When opinions are controlled with legal restrictions, the additional risks will be much more, and the final result can be a complete silence of the readers. If one writes a fake review, others are expected to correct it.

    Thank you for this interesting discussion.

  2. Be pretty difficult to prove unless it’s so obvious e.g. same repeated comments on many different websites. Do we address press releases, blurbs on book covers, political comments (both written and verbal) or in fact advertising on the internet? Thanks for bringing this to light; it should be addressed, probably right behind current and past student loans, low interest rates on savings and the budget.

  3. Should anyone go to jail fter the latest DOJ investigation? Collusion? Price fixing? Am I missing something? How about buying co-op space and fooling readers into thinking a book is a bestseller earned by sales when that rack space is bought?

    Yes, let’s go after authors, but not publishers who are now paying millions of dollars in damages. For following the law?

  4. I must admit I’m pretty much disillusioned by the online review process and have been since I found out that John Locke paid for reviews of his books. As far as the star system at Amazon is concerned I will give 5 stars to a book I just have to keep reading; 4 stars to one which contains formatting and proof-reading errors but is still a gripping read; 3 stars to a book I enjoy but can easily put down for a while. 2 and 1 star I probably will discard before reaching the end. I’ll review 5 and 4 star books. I don’t usually bother with 3, 2 or 1 star books. In fact I’ve reviewed just one ’1 star’ book because even though I rated it so low I wanted to give constructive criticism and encouragement to what appeared to me to be a very young author.

    I still take note of reviews when buying an e-book but I’ve learnt to ignore those reviews I think are fake or written by the author’s friend/mother/publishing rivals. Discount those which just say ‘brilliant – couldn’t put it down’ or ‘Complete and utter trash’. Look instead for those which explain why they loved or hated the story and give some evidence that they have actually read the book and are not simply re-wording the book description or repeating other reviews.

    As to the books I co-author? One thing about the reviews at Amazon intrigues me. #1 book has 185 reviews, #2 book has 187, #3 book (our own) has 6 reviews, #4 book has 293 reviews. I have not paid anyone for reviews, asked for reviews from friends or written any reviews under false names. Should I have done so?

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