Facebook removes 16,000 groups as UK competition regulator tackles fake reviews

LaToya Harding
·3 min read
A man is silhouetted against a video screen with an Facebook logo as he poses with an Dell laptop in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: BUSINESS TELECOMS)
In January last year, Facebook, along with online selling firm eBay, committed to better identifying, investigating and removing groups and other pages, as well as preventing them from reappearing. Photo: Reuters/Dado Ruvic

Facebook (FB) has removed 16,000 groups that traded fake product reviews on its platforms as the UK’s competition regulator uncovered more evidence of misleading content.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it was the second time it had taken action against Facebook. In January last year, Facebook, along with online selling firm eBay (EBAY), committed to better identifying, investigating and removing groups and other pages, as well as preventing them from reappearing.

Facebook gave a similar pledge in relation to its Instagram.com business in May 2020, after the CMA had identified similar concerns.

However, the watchdog was forced to intervene for a second time after a follow-up investigation found evidence that the illegal trade in fake reviews was still taking place on both Facebook and Instagram.

The tech giant is set to make it harder for people to find groups and profiles that buy and sell fake reviews.

Further changes to its systems include suspending or banning users who are repeatedly creating Facebook groups and Instagram profiles that promote, encourage or facilitate fake and misleading reviews.

Other changes include introducing new automated processes that will improve the detection and removal of this content, and making it harder for people to use Facebook’s search tools to find fake and misleading review groups and profiles on Facebook and Instagram.

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More than three-quarters of people are influenced by reviews when they shop online, and billions of pounds are spent every year based on write-ups of products or services.

Fake and misleading reviews are illegal under consumer protection law. Websites have a responsibility to ensure that unlawful and harmful content isn’t advertised or sold through their platforms.

“Never before has online shopping been so important. The pandemic has meant that more and more people are buying online, and millions of us read reviews to enable us to make informed choices when we shop around,” Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said.

“That’s why fake and misleading reviews are so damaging – if people lose trust in online reviews, they are less able to shop around with confidence, and will miss out on the best deals. It also means that businesses playing by the rules miss out.

“Facebook has a duty to do all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms. After we intervened again, the company made significant changes – but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.”

She added that the CMA would not hesitate to take further action if the company fails to honour its commitments.

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Recently, Facebook has also faced pressure from the CMA for antitrust concerns over its acquisition of GIF website Giphy.

Rocio Concha, director of Policy and Advocacy at Which?, said: “We’ve previously raised the alarm about fake review factories continuing to operate at scale on Facebook, leaving online shoppers at huge risk of being misled. The tech giant failed to meet its earlier commitment to the CMA, so it is positive that the regulator has stepped in and demanded more robust action.

“Facebook must deliver this time round – it has shown it has the sophisticated technology to eradicate these misleading review groups and needs to do so much more swiftly and effectively."

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