My focus today will be on an ethical issue revolving around the business use of social media – Astroturfing.
What is Astroturfing?
It is the creation of a fake review by a company that a reasonable consumer will believe to be by another real consumer. Businesses usually astroturf through their own employees or relatives by asking them to provide biased reviews in attempts to improve their online reputation. (Kevin, 2014)
How is it done?
Making use of the Internet’s anonymity, firms create bogus reviews or accounts to falsely praise a company or defame another. The video below provides some examples.
(Video by me -PowToon, Information from here)
With advertising quickly moving on from traditional mediums to online platforms, there is increasing need for companies to develop positive online reputations and some may resort to unethical means when normal efforts are unsatisfactory.
In 2013, Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission fined Samsung $340,000 for astroturfing. Samsung was claimed to have paid two marketing firms to hire people to accentuate the flaws of their competitors’ products as well as disinfect negative reviews and post positive reviews about Samsung products. (Mike, 2013)
Why is astroturfing unethical?
We as consumers often rely on reviews on make our purchasing decisions as shown in this study by Nielsen. I personally am very dependent on Facebook, Instagram and other online forums for reviews and I would hate to know that I have been deceived into believing otherwise about the company! In fact, this can be considered as a form of false advertising which can be prosecuted under several consumer protection laws(Bigcommerce, 2016) as well as by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act.
This is a problem because a Gartner report predicts that 10-15% of all social media “reviews” will be fake opinions paid by companies by 2014. Not only will astroturfing cause consumers to believe fake opinions, it may also cause consumers to doubt real opinions!
Here is a video by FTC that shows how online reviews and recommendations may be manipulated behind the scenes.
In some cases, some companies may not be aware that they are guilty of astroturfing. The infographic below shows some tips on preventing your company from getting into legal trouble.
(Infographic created by me, Information from here)
Social media is a great business tool only if it is used in an ethical and appropriate manner. Do not try to astroturf. Once you get caught, you will have to say goodbye to your customer loyalty and reputation!
Word Count: 399
Kevin Kent, 17 June 2014, Review Trackers, The Legal Risks of Writing Positive Fake Reviews: Don’t Astroturf Your Online Business Reputation, http://www.reviewtrackers.com/legal-risks-writing-positive-fake-astroturf-online-business-reputation/, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]
Mike Elgan, 26 October 2013, Are online comments full of paid lies?, http://www.computerworld.com/article/2485252/social-media/are-online-comments-full-of-paid-lies-.html, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]
Nielsen, 4 October 2012, Consumer Trust in Online, Social and Mobile Advertising Grows, http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2012/consumer-trust-in-online-social-and-mobile-advertising-grows.html, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]
Bigcommerce, 3 Feburary 2016, What is astroturfing, and why your business should avoid it, https://www.bigcommerce.com/ecommerce-answers/what-is-astroturfing/, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]
Kyle-Beth Hilfer, 24 August 2015, Why Astroturfing and Fake Online Reviews Are Illegal, http://maximizesocialbusiness.com/astroturfing-fake-online-reviews-illegal-9985/#, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]