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PR Agency Settles With FTC Over Fake Reviews

Just in case you were wondering there are people out there that are manipulating social media to their advantage. What, you say?! Say it ain’t so! People are always honest when it comes to trying to sell things……right?

Well, of course we all know that trust is a major concern when it comes to social media and the reviews it can generate. Can we trust that the reviewer is being completely objective? Can we trust that the reviewer was not paid to do so or (more innocently?) prodded to do so.

What we can be sure of though is that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is paying attention and can get involved to stop such activities even for those few that actually get caught.

The latest story comes from TG Daily

A public relations agency is to settle with the FTC over charges that its staff posed as members of the public to post fake reviews of video games developed by its clients.

Reverb Communications represents a number of games developers, including Harmonix, creator of Rock Band. The company and its owner, Tracie Snitker, were accused of engaging in deceptive advertising by having staff pose as ordinary consumers to post game reviews.

Between November 2008 and May 2009, Reverb and Snitker posted reviews about their clients’ games at the iTunes store using account names that gave readers the impression the reviews were written by impartial consumers, says the FTC.

They didn’t disclose that they were hired to promote the games and that they often received a percentage of the sales.

Ooooops, our bad!

It’s an extremely safe bet to say that this PR agency is not the first and won’t be the last to do such a thing. Doesn’t make it right but it is the reality of our current way of doing business in a social world that believes just about anything. PT Barnum stated famously that there is “ A sucker born every minute” and the those with less than stellar ethics see this as ‘blood in the water’ and a chance to make a killing.

Of course, as any good PR firm would do they denied the charges but since they decided to settle rather than fight the charges it’s pretty much assumed that they got caught with their hand in the social media cookie jar.

Reverb denied the allegations, claiming that while staff had posted reviews, they’d done so after buying the games with their own money and playing them in their own time.

I would recommend in the future though that you don’t release a statement like the one above because no one will believe it. Sorry, that’s just another reality of this social media age we live in.

Of course, if this report is completely on target (and who can be assured of that?) it may have been the best route to take a settlement since it is reported

Under the proposed settlement, Reverb and Snitker are barred from misrepresenting themselves as ordinary consumers, and from endorsing or making claims about a product or service unless they disclose any relevant connections with the seller.

Wow, the FTC is really bearing their teeth and showing how tough they can on this one. As far as penalties go this is just an after school detention kind of punishment which won’t serve as much of a deterrent for others.

Oh well, looks like it’s just best for the rest of the world to rely on that old adage with a new twist – caveat emptor ‘social mediator’.