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Combating fake reviews: common sense rather than law

The fake-news are regularly in the limelight, including “thanks” to Donald Trump who made the buzzword 2017 and the bill announced by President Macron. On the other hand, fake reviews , fake online comments or false consumer opinions, enjoy a lesser reputation among the general public, while presenting “in the mind” a certain analogy.

FAKE NEWS VS FAKE REVIEWS

Whether on the forums, merchant sites, platforms, online consultations, dishonest comments are multiplying. Positive or negative, they pursue objectives that can be distinct: for some individuals, it may be for the sole pleasure of pouring their galls free.

For professionals, fake reviews can aim to discredit the competition, or on the contrary to boast about the merits of their own company, their services, their products: are we never better served than by ourselves? The last two situations emphasize a form of professionalization of false comments for strictly commercial purposes.

If all sectors of activity can be concerned, those of the hotel industry, training organizations, and services between individuals would be the most active in this unfair practice of self-evaluation .

FAKE REVIEWS: A PHENOMENON NEITHER MARGINAL NOR WITHOUT EFFECTS
If this phenomenon is quantitatively important and has an impact on the sale of products and services, its nuisance capacities do not stop there. Everyone remembers the controversies and the debates on the fake news during the American elections. You should know that fake reviews are just as calamitous. They can distort online consultations that are supposed to garner the views of people. You may learn from reading this article that fake reviews have had unintended consequences on our topic: e-commerce!

As part of a public consultation on net neutrality in the United States to which the FFC (Federal Communications Commission) has advanced the figure of 22 million Internet users who participated on its site. A study conducted on millions of comments in October 2017 by the company Gravwell (company specializing in data analysis) revealed that only 17.4% of the comments came from real users.

It is hardly surprising that, in the face of such revelations, in November 2017, the New York public prosecutor (considering that the public consultation launched by the FFC could have been intentionally skewed) announced that his office would conduct an investigation. It’s all to his credit. Unfortunately, waiting for this investigation eventually to succeed, one thing became certain: on Thursday, December 14, 2017, the United States repealed net neutrality , a founding principle of the net .

For an alleged public, transparent and democratic debate, what can one say? No comment ! These fake reviews will have supported a repeal that could have significant economic consequences (free competition and regulation of the dominant players in the market): a vast project in prospect for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)!

To return to the fake reviews concerning products and services, the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) has already been working since 2010 to identify and act against questionable practices.

According to its latest survey entitled “False Consumer Reviews on Digital Platforms”. published on November 17, 2017, 35% of online customer reviews did not comply with the consumer information rules . When we know that 80% of online shoppers consider online reviews according to a study by Nielsen , the problem is to be taken very seriously; in order to monitor the phenomenon, this survey should be repeated in 2018.

FIGHT AGAINST FALSE COMMENTS… AN ANNOUNCEMENT EFFECT?

Shouting to the wolf is one thing, and the wolf is there. But then how to be able, without being a specialist, to sort the wheat of the chaff? This is a legitimate question and one that needs to be answered. In addition to the renewal of the survey mentioned which shows the determination of the DGCCRF in this fight, from November 22, 2017, the site of the DGCCRF has posted a video titled “Avis consommateur: Attention to false comments on the Internet”, all announcing the imminent strengthening of the legal framework. This reinforcement has been a reality since January 1, 2018 . This 1 st January 2018 the Decree No. 2017-1436 to clarify the term “online notice” which had been published on Thursday, 5 October 2017 in the Official Journal has entered into force. Undeniably, an educational approach training users to be more vigilant is relevant.

We can reasonably assume that gradually changing the influence of fake reviews with trained, informed and less fooled users will have the effect in the medium term to discourage practitioners of the thing if they no longer benefit. Pedagogy will probably be more effective than the law.

In the past, similar legislative initiatives aimed at punishing practices considered as deviant: This was the case of the High Authority for the Dissemination of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet HADOPI . In its last report, the latter indicates that between December 2011 and 31 October 2017, 2,146 proceedings had been transmitted to the judicial authority. There will be 583 criminal responses, including 189 convictions. Other numbers are sobering:

The police on the Net, which focuses on prevention, sent more than 7.5 million “first recommendations” to Internet users fraudsters between 2010 and 2016. [NDLA: during this period.] Only 72 were finally convicted .

I leave it to the reader to form his own opinion on the effectiveness of the approach.

That is why, to consider the expected benefits with regard to the risks incurred (remember that in 2016, six companies were convicted for deceptive marketing practices) I do not expect a sudden self-discipline of the customary practice of this unfair practice. On the other hand, when it comes to filtering comments to limit the propagation of false opinions, Amazon’s approach (an example among the examples, because of its history) shows the progress that can be made in this area: the company had already limited in 2016 to five the number of comments per week that a user could publish without checking his purchases.

Regarding the purchase verified, it is a brake on false comments and is a guarantee of veracity. Even if it can be circumvented by unscrupulous companies 1 it would be bad faith to consider this safeguard as an advanced gadget.

That does not mean you have to get discouraged. New safeguards will be invented by the most exposed sites. These safeguards will end, probably also bypassed. There is nothing worrying about this, which is how the Internet has always progressed. This is how, step by step, grinding will become more and more complex

IDENTIFY FALSE COMMENTS

In the current situation, companies can still progress. This does not mean that the user is exempt from his responsibility. It is useful that he learns from his side to distinguish the true from the false.

For products from the Amazon platform, Enrique Moreira offers six tips to identify a false comment , it specifies that the user can also use dedicated sites that have seized this phenomenon to help him see clearly:

With the development of fraudulent advisories, websites specialized in the analysis of online sales sites have put in place tools to help users navigate it. This is the case of ReviewMeta or Fakespot . Just copy the product link in the space provided and an algorithm analyzes all comments related to it. It then brings out the most reliable comments and those that are best avoided. Again, the machine is not infallible, but it can, in this case, help a little to clear the true of the false.

A LITTLE COMMON SENSE

Internet is younger than it looks. He is constantly evolving with the good and bad practices that accompany his evolution. Every day the Internet brings new challenges for both businesses and users. Many tracks remain to explore to fight fake reviews .

Tracks other than an umpteenth law and/or dedicated organizations, which, if we refer to past experiences, raise questions and appear less effective than pedagogy .

Why, for example, would the companies concerned not integrate the tools of the type developed by ReviewMeta or Fakespot on their own site ? These tools would be able to assist the moderators in their difficult task, to give credibility to the platform, to discourage the falsifiers. This is one of many tracks.

It is also up to us, users, to use common sense. When in doubt, do not hesitate to use these tools. To cultivate a good sense of peasant on the net. There is no shame in behaving like a Saint Thomas comment posted on the internet. Only then, once the reliability of the comments duly tested, then trust what we see.

The liar’s house caught fire, but no one believed him.
Persian proverb

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