The term fake news has become prevalent in the public discourse, but an Italian court has slapped a fine on a person for posting fake reviews on giant online travel platform TripAdvisor in exchange for money from hotels aiming to boost their profile on the giant reviews platform.
PromoSalento had uploaded many fake reviews on behalf of quite a few businesses.
The owner of PromoSalento, an Italian business selling the fake reviews to hotels was sentenced to jail and fined around €8,000.
“Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result,” said the vice-president of TripAdvisor, Brad Young.
TripAdvisor had initially become aware of the illegal practices by PromoSalento in 2015, when the Italian company was offering to write fake reviews after several Italian businesses forwarded promotional emails they had received.
After doing a technical analysis, TripAdvisor either blocked or removed over 1,000 attempts by PromoSalento to post reviews on hundreds of different properties.
The company notified businesses it had linked to fake reviews submitted by PromoSalento and demoted their positions in its popularity rankings. For any company that didn’t shape up, TripAdvisor slapped a red badge on its listing page warning travelers that the business has been trying to manipulate reviews.
Since 2015, TripAdvisor has put a stop to the activity of more than 60 paid review companies worldwide, the company said. In July the company posted online more information about how it moderates reviews and stamps out fraud.