Astroturfing is organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of…something…that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group…or corporation.
The term astroturfing is derived from AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to resemble natural grass, as a play on the word “grassroots.” The implication behind the use of the term is that instead of a “true” or “natural” grassroots effort behind the activity in question, there is a “fake” or “artificial” appearance of support.
So, astroturfing is gaming the system to create fake or false reviews to post them on the internet. Various sources indicate that up to thirty (30%) percent of reviews on the internet are fake and this estimate may be conservative.
Here are a few germane facts and statistics:
- Yelp receives 26,830 new reviews per minute
- In 2020, Google removed 55 million reviews
- Tripadvisor passed one billion reviews in 2022
- The FTC cited more than 700 businesses for deceptive endorsements in 2021
- The FTC has coined the term “own-dorsements” to describe some fake reviews
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is tightening its guidelines for advertisers against posting fake positive reviews or manipulating reviews by suppressing bad ones.
Online reviews contribute to a company’s credibility and brand recognition. So, they are very important from a public relations perspective. This is why the FTC is focusing on astroturfing.
It is a prohibited practice to pay for fake reviews or pay to hire “influencers” who would hide they were paid to post reviews. These are considered deceptive practices and are prohibited under Section 5 of The FTC Act. The FTC is looking to curb or eliminate deception in commerce to keep an even playing field for businesses that are doing things the right way.
Posting positive reviews about customers’ vehicle or RV purchase experience would not be considered fake, as they actually purchased the unit.
To be clear, the FTC determines these to be unfair and deceptive acts: falsely claiming an endorsement by a third party; misrepresenting whether an endorser is an actual, current, or recent user; using an endorsement to make deceptive performance claims; failing to disclose an unexpected material connection with an endorser; and misrepresenting that the experience of endorsers represents consumers’ typical or ordinary experience.
Consider a policy at your store, where paying for fake or false reviews would not be tolerated.
Further, any assertion that any individual (salesperson) or any dealership has been endorsed by a third party, which was created by an employee to sound credible, would also be a violation of your policy, as it is patently untrue.
In February 2023, the FTC fined a vitamin company $600,000 for “review hijacking.” This is where a marketer steals or repurposes reviews of another product. The FTC’s complaint alleges that by manipulating product pages, Bountiful misrepresented the reviews, the number of Amazon reviews and the average star ratings of some products, and that some of them were number one best sellers or had earned an Amazon Choice badge.
“Fake reviews and other forms of deceptive endorsements cheat consumers and undercut honest businesses,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Advertisers will pay a price if they engage in these deceptive practices.”
Each violation may result in a penalty of up to $50,120.
In summary, do things the right way, so you can protect your own turf! Cheers!