Alleged Creator of Fake Reviews Sued in Federal Court

For merchants selling through Facebook ads, its customer feedback score is an important feature. If a merchant scores below a certain level on topics such as order fulfillment, shipping speed and product quality, Meta will employ varying enforcement measures against the merchant. These measures include financial penalties, account disables, ad restrictions, and in severe cases, an advertising ban from Facebook.

Because customer feedback scores are determined by customer reviews, the penalties provide merchants with an incentive to obtain positive feedback through pre-determined means.  

Cowan allegedly controlled 19 Facebook pages and 16 Facebook advertising accounts. His ads boasted that his business was “every Facebook marketer’s secret weapon” and charged merchants $18.70 and $29.00 for different sets of fake reviews and other positive feedback designed to override the consequences of negative reviews. Facebook claims over 550 businesses paid for Cowan’s services.

The central cause of action asserted by Meta is a breach of contract claim, because in setting up his Facebook pages and accounts, Cowan accepted Facebook’s Terms and Policies, which create contractual obligations. Other claims were for unjust enrichment and tortious interference with contractual relations.

The lawsuit, filed in March, has not progressed yet because of difficulties in serving Cowan, an Australian resident. However, Facebook is not alone in turning against the creators of fake reviews. Amazon has initiated at least two lawsuits review brokers, AppSally and Rebatest, in Washington state court.

TAKEAWAY: The practice of paying for fake reviews praising online businesses has been the occasional target of government enforcement actions, but the risk has now increased because at least two major platforms are beginning to target this activity with civil lawsuits.

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