A recent decision by Italian competition authorities to fine TripAdvisor for misleading claims and truthfulness of reviews published on its site may have wider implications for a range of social media platforms. Sites relying on user information or posts to provide endorsements or rankings for places, products and services would now appear to have an even greater responsibility to diligently ensure the accuracy of the information they are provided by third parties.
The Italian regulator (the AGCM) challenged the well known US website (the latest in a number of recent actions against TripAdvisor) over what it perceived as misleading claims relating to the accuracy and truthfulness of reviews published on the site. It ruled that the already rigorous measures TripAdvisor had in place to ensure reviews were accurate fell short of the standard it deemed necessary.
Narrowing the liability exemption for hosting providers yet further after Yahoo and YouTube cases, the AGCM successfully argued that the exemption was not applicable to the TripAdvisor site due to its ranking function being such an essential component of its design.
In other words, because TripAdvisor relies on such information as part of its product, to do what it does – rank the 'top' offerings across different categories (not simply a platform for musings on what your dog had for breakfast and all manner of familiar-by-now social media trivialities) - it has to be held to higher standards in terms of transparency than previously thought.
In effect, the judgement leaves any social media platform that allows inaccurate information to influence claims it makes, or rankings it publishes and maintains (and publicises), open to such a sizeable financial sanction – unless it can demonstrate sufficiently robust and extensive checks have been undertaken on the information. It also may impact upon bloggers or vloggers who report on or promote certain goods or services without full disclosure of incentives.
Whilst social media may not yet be abuzz with awareness and analysis of this particular TripAdvisor case, it would be wise that it sits up and take note of the message that the Italian authorities have sent.
As we await interpretation and possible expansion of the principle set by the AGCM by other competent authorities, it may well be that the goalposts have permanently shifted on levels of transparency certain social media sites have to now demonstrate in vetting user provided information.