Authorities in New York have handed down fines totalling nearly £220,000 to 19 companies which were found guilty of publishing the fabricated articles. The action comes after a sting operation was set up in the city.
The attorney general office created a fake Brooklyn business – a yoghurt shop – and went looking for help to raise its internet profile.
A number of firms contacted the fake firm, claiming it could help increase online presence. However, a number of the companies also offered to post fake customer articles as part of the process.
In the illegal practice, the brands created online social networking profiles and paid unethical web writers to create reviews.
Many of these writers were based in Asia and Eastern Europe, and the investigation found that many members of staff within the company were also asked to write fake reviews. It underpins the importance of enlisting the help of a reputable content provider.
Operation Clean Turf, as it was named, was hailed as a success by investigators, who said:
“[It was] a year-long undercover investigation into the reputation management industry, the manipulation of consumer-review websites (and) the practice of astroturfing (writing fake reviews).”
In the US, astroturfing breaches a number of state laws, including false advertising, with similar deceptions also illegal here in the UK.