In the past, most product and service reviews were completed and published by “experts” in the relevant field. For example, known and esteemed fashion critics were tasked with forming opinions about the style and quality of designer clothes, and those opinions, at least on the surface, were backed by the critic’s expertise and knowledge of the fashion industry. Today, however, widespread Internet usage has led to an e-commerce market with universal ability to post feedback, thereby creating and perpetuating a platform for anyone wishing to publish his or her own reviews, no matter how limited the basis is for his or her opinions. These DIY consumer reviews are not composed in vain, though, because studies indicate that the majority of consumers read and evaluate other consumers’ reviews prior to making online purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, this has led to the manipulation of the review process, with brands, advertisers, and individuals alike engaging in the increasingly prominent practice of posting disingenuous reviews, the purpose of which may be to either encourage the purchase of a product or service, or contrarily, to discourage such a purchase. The fashion industry has begun to realize the infiltration of such sham reviews, and the relevance of this phenomenon will likely intensify as the fashion industry continues to engage in online sales.
The posting of fake reviews has begun to generate regulatory enforcement. The New York Attorney General settled a case against 19 companies engaged in the practice of submitting fake reviews to consumer-review websites, including Yelp, Google Local, and CitySearch. Naming this practice “astroturfing,” the Attorney General opined that this practice of posting fake reviews of products and services is the 21st century’s version of false advertising, and cautioned merchants against using this practice.
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