The UK’s CMA: Facebook and eBay to Tackle Fake Reviews

We don our Facebook spyglass once again.  However, unlike the last time it was on our radar, Facebook is now a model co-operator.

With the goal of putting their products and services on the map, and bringing home the bacon, many users on social media and other online platforms have been involved in trading fake and misleading reviews as a way of reaching their selling point.  The thing is, Facebook and eBay users have been using word-of-mouth marketing to go viral.  Creating a buzz around your product/service is certainly what sells in this digital age.

Good for them!  What is the upshot for consumers though?

In a nutshell, consumers are beset by fake and misleading reviews.  Typically, online user reviews are the perfect means of checking out the reputation of a supplier of a service or product.  The CMA (Competition and Markets Authority of the United Kingdom) highlights that 75% of people are influenced by online reviews and that billions of pounds are spent every year based on those reviews; therefore the CMA tallies that Facebook and eBay have a responsibility to ensure that unlawful and harmful content is not advertised or sold through their platforms.  Whatever the aftermath may be, it is certainly not in line with the consumer protection laws of any country and is undeniably not in line with international trade rules that prevent illegal trading.  On June 21, 2019, the CMA launched a work targeting fake and misleading online reviews.  Not alleging, of course, that Facebook and eBay are allowing such content to be traded through their networks, the CMA has obviously fathomed their onus to protect Facebook and eBay users (online shoppers, to be precise) from these kinds of gyps.

So, did the CMA find a way of putting a stop to burning holes in consumers’ pockets?

“The stop” started to materialize on January 8, 2020, when retorting to CMA concerns, Facebook and eBay removed content which the CMA had labelled as fake and misleading.  Not only did these websites kill the content in question, but they went a step further by introducing mechanisms to identify and remove similar fake and misleading review content in the future, and taking steps to prevent illegal trading when it occurs on, or is facilitated through, the Facebook Service and eBay.  One thing is for sure, the CMA has not turned a blind eye to one of the most used apps latterly, Instagram, operated by Facebook, which gave a commitment to investigate the issue at hand.  The journey’s end is to pre-empt this and similar fraudulent behaviour where online users cash in their chips.

After the CMA’s intervention, Facebook removed 188 groups and pages in total and disabled 24 accounts used to trade of fake and misleading reviews, right off the bat. 

To boot, eBay sanctioned 53 users and removed their illegal content altogether, further permanently suspending 87 users and temporarily suspending 176 users.

The CMA is clearly in high gear. So, what other plans do they have going forward?  To disrupt and deter this behaviour, the plan is to take regular and appropriate action to identify and remove this type of content and deploy automated detection technology by March 31, 2020. 

What happens next solely depends on the viable implementation of these arktech proposals.

Authors: Nadja Kosić and Ivana Stojanović