Can You Go To Jail for Writing a Fake Review?
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!