Monday, September 23, 2013
The practice of astroturfing, leaving fake reviews at consumer websites to bolster one's online reputation, has resulted in at least one lawsuit filed last week against a San Diego law firm as well as a yearlong investigation by the New York Attorney General's Office that also found lawyers in that state engaged in the practice. Apparently both soliciting and offering to write fake online reviews at sites like Yelp has become big business which is not surprising given how beholden businesses, including lawyers, have become to online consumer endorsements in order to generate new business. The article from today's New York Times discusses the aggressive measures that state is taking to stop the practice, including hefty fines, by going after both those who write the reviews as well as those who solicit them. The Federal Trade Commission has enacted regulations as well that empower that agency to crack down on fake and deceptive online endorsements. For lawyers in particular, relying on fake reviews could lead to even more trouble in the form of professional ethics violations for engaging in false and misleading advertising.
The NYT article notes with irony that one of the companies targeted by the A.G.'s investigation into fake online reviews got its start writing fake reviews of its own fake review service.