Are you a fearless smartphone warrior, poised to praise or ditch a product on social media with a swipe of your finger? Why bother emailing a restaurant to complain about an uppity waitress when you can go on TripAdvisor and tell everyone the place sucks?

While you may believe that online reviews are impartial assessments of a product’s merits, the ACCC isn’t quite so trusting.

Consumer reviews have become an important platform for promoting businesses. A recent report suggests that 74% of social media users are reading online reviews before making a purchase. So it isn’t surprising that some businesses are paying for or posting fake reviews.

The ACCC has released its first set of guidance materials relating to online product reviews for businesses and review platforms (like Urbanspoon or TripAdvisor). The aim is to increase transparency for consumers by addressing the issue of businesses who use social media as an online battlefield by posting fake positive reviews of their product or rubbishing a competitor. Under the Australian Consumer Law, this type of activity is considered to be misleading and deceptive and is punishable by heavy fines of up to $1.1 million.

What are the main points to take away from the ACCC guidelines?

  1. Be transparent about commercial relationships – Your favourite blogger is probably paid for raving about the latest statement handbag. The ACCC tells us that commercial relationships between businesses and the reviewer or the review platform must be disclosed.
  2. Don’t post or publish misleading reviews – The ACCC makes special reference to the fact that businesses should not encourage family and friends to write reviews about the business without disclosing their connection; businesses should not write reviews about another business if they have not experienced the good or service; and soliciting others to write reviews about your business if they haven’t tried the good or service is a definite no-no. If you run a platform and know a review is dodgy, you should take it down.
  3. Omitting negative reviews can be as misleading as posting fake reviews – Removing most of the negative reviews of a business in exchange for that business advertising on your site is seriously bad.