The fake review industry is alive and clicking, says Choice, with the consumer advocacy group warning consumers that “not all is as it seems online” following its investigation which looked at fake online reviews and bogus social media profiles.
“When shopping online we increasingly rely on reviews on social media platforms and our opinions can be influenced by what we read and view on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. But with 20 fake reviews costing a little under $2 each to publish, consumers need to be aware not all is as it seems online,” Choice head of media, Tom Godfrey, said.
“Consumers will be surprised to learn how easy and cheap it is to purchase popularity and bogus reviews on our favourite social media sites,” says Godfrey.
The Choice investigation found popularity can be purchased on most social platforms with Facebook ‘likes’ costing $70 for 2,500; Twitter and Instagram followers $75 for 5000; and YouTube views just $70 for 25,000.The investigation also looked at paying for fake product or service endorsements.
“Many consumers will be unaware of how easy it is for businesses to manipulate their perceptions online and how simple it is for their identity to be misappropriated and used to endorse a product they may never have set eyes on,” says Godfrey.
“Using a fake email address, we posted a job on a popular freelancing site asking for 15 reviews of an imaginary product. Within 24 hours 11 bids for the job were received from freelancers as far afield as South Africa and Jamaica, all willing to write a variety of positive reviews highlighting aspects of the product as instructed.”
“We selected one freelancer who completed the job exactly to our specifications in 48 hours for just $34.00,” Godfrey said.
“It has been estimated 16 per cent of online reviews on some sites are fake and we are aware of cases locally where large corporates have been caught posting bogus negative reviews against competitors.
“From buying white goods and electronics to booking accommodation, manipulating consumers with fake reviews, ratings and likes is big business.
“The message is clear, if you are relying on ratings and reviews on social sites to make an informed purchasing decision – it won’t be too long before you’re misled into a poor choice.”