The Times today reports that reputation management agencies which used by celebrities to prevent reporting of their private lives are also being used to dishonestly fix the ratings of businesses on review websites.
According to the Times (paywall), hotel owners have paid £10,000 to get their business moved up travel review website rankings and it states that agencies maintain hundreds of fake email accounts and teams of content writers to pen fake reviews.
It also states that ‘followers’ on social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter can be purchased for 24p each.
It quotes one anonymous agency owner who said: “You would use content writers who can switch between styles and vocabularies quite easily. Then using a range of proxies [which disguise the true location and IP address of a computer] they can submit hotel reviews to TripAdvisor or other review sites, and also to forums like MoneySavingExpert. com and Mumsnet.”
Such sharp practice would breach the ASA, NUJ and PCC codes in the mainstream media – where any marketing content has to be clearly labelled as such. But it is more difficult to police in the online world.