Will Leaving Fake Reviews Soon be Illegal?


The short answer to that is yes, according to a BBC report (19.04.22 – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-61154748) which ran with the headline, “Fake reviews to be illegal under new rules”.

What does the report say about fake reviews?

The report says that, “consumers are set to be better protected from fake reviews and ‘subscription traps’ under plans to tackle rip-offs. Proposals include making it ‘clearly illegal’ to pay someone to write or host fake reviews”. 

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will get new powers to award compensation to consumers, and directly impose financial penalties worth up to 10% of global annual turnover for businesses that transgress the new rules, or up to £300,000 in the case of an individual.

The report goes on to say that the Government are aware that the average UK household spends about £900 each year after being influenced by online reviews. 

It even goes as far as to say that, “Under the proposed rules, there will be new laws against offering to write and commissioning fake reviews. Websites hosting consumer reviews will have to take reasonable steps to check they are genuine”. Small Business Minister, Paul Scully, was reported as saying, “No longer will you visit a five star-reviewed restaurant only to find a burnt lasagne”.

Is this a big change?

As internet law specialists, The Internet Law Centre point out in their blog, “Are fake reviews illegal in the UK” (https://www.internetlawcentre.co.uk/is-it-illegal-to-write-fake-online-review-uk) it is already, “illegal for a business to post fake reviews about themselves or about their competitors. Consumers who post fake online reviews about a business could be sued for defamation and for malicious falsehood by the business owners who are the subject of the fake online review”. 

They go on to say, “Regardless of whether a business owner posts fake online reviews about their own business or against a business of a competitors, the business owner could face an investigation by National Trading Standards, which is a body operated by local authorities and has prosecution powers, or by the Competition and Mergers Authority, which is a national body responsible for preventing and reducing anti-competitive activities.

“If retailers distort publishing fake online reviews they are in breach of rules contained in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading (CPUT) Regulations 2008 as well as advertising codes. The CPUT Regulations 2008 prohibits unfair commercial ‎practices. Writing fake online reviews satisfies the definition of unfair commercial practice because ‎it contravenes good professional practice, and it is likely to distort the economic behavior of the ‎average consumer. ‎

“The CPUT Regulations 2008 prohibit misleading actions and misleading omissions which cause or are likely to cause the average consumer to take a different decision. Posting fake online reviews might be considered a misleading action or an omission (or both). This is because fake online reviews prevent consumers from getting from the trader the information they need to make informed decisions relating to products. Misleading actions by traders may include giving false information to customers. A misleading action occurs when a practice misleads through the information it contains, or its deceptive presentation, and causes or is likely to cause the average consumer to take a different decision.

“Business owners who post, or who are responsible for posting fake online reviews against competitors, could find themselves being sued for malicious falsehood. To bring a claim for malicious falsehood against a business owner who is caught posting fake online reviews against competitors, you only need to prove on balance of probabilities that the fake online reviews had been posted by the defendant. There is no requirement to prove the identity of the defendant beyond reasonable doubt.

“If you can show that it is more likely than not to be the person you suspect, this would often be enough. Because business owners who post fake online reviews against their competitors, usually hire somebody else to do this on their behalf, it is enough to demonstrate the business owner’s responsibility. This is done by presenting to the court circumstantial evidence that reveals, on balance, that it is more likely than not to be the defendant who had been responsible for posting the fake reviews.

“With malicious falsehood the victim business owner is not required to prove damage to reputation nor does she need to prove damage to her own personal reputation. All that she needs to show is that the defendant maliciously publishes a false statement which identifies the claimant, or her business and that words published had been calculated to cause the claimant financial loss or, depending on the facts of the case, have caused actual loss to the claimant.”

If there’s already legal protection in place, why bring in a new potential law? 

Well, as The Internet Law Centre say, “The current risk of getting caught by an enforcement authority and of being prosecuted for posting fake review is fairly low” because, until recently, it was a low priority. They add, “However, the risk of being taken to court for defamation or for malicious falsehood is real following the posting of fake reviews about a competing business”.

With the acknowledged increase in both online reviews and the influence they have on consumers purchasing decisions we’re really not at all surprised to see the Government taking more of an interest in fake reviews and wanting to ensure it is an area that is properly policed. As we’ve always said, keep your reviews authentic and genuine and, as business owners, respond to all your reviews within 48 hours – especially the negative ones taking them offline and resolving them quickly.


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