SMB Ombudsman says more needed from online platforms to stop fake reviews

Over 30 businesses have come to Australia's Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman with concerns about online fake reviews.

Digital platforms should do more to prevent fake reviews from appearing online, according to Australia's Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

The ombudsman's call to respond was made in a submission to the government's parliamentary inquiry into social media and online safety. In the submission, the ombudsman warned that fake revies have damaged the reputations of many businesses and caused significant distress to staff and business owners.

"Fake reviews often receive prominence on online platforms used by the public to find business services, such as Facebook, Google and UberEats. Fake reviews may contribute to a loss of sales over an extended period causing economic loss. Further, as a small business owner's identity is often intrinsically linked to their business, fake reviews contribute to mental health strains," the ombudsman wrote in its submission.

The parliamentary inquiry kicked off in December with the intention of building on the proposed social media legislation to "unmask trolls". The inquiry is focused on scrutinising major technology companies and considering evidence relating to the impact social media platforms have on the mental health of Australians.  

To address these concerns, the ombudsman's office in its submission has recommended digital platforms build tools that prevent fake reviews as well as create a more accessible and transparent review system.

"This should include giving small businesses more transparency on the evidence they need to provide a digital platform to have a fake review reviewed and removed," the ombudsman said.

It also recommended for a federal small business claims list to be formed as part of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia to provide an affordable way for small businesses to pursue their own economic interests in relation to online defamatory remarks rather than only having the option of litigation which is often a costly route.

Addressing social media policy has been front of mind for the federal government in recent months as beyond the anti-troll laws, the government has also announced an Online Safety Youth Advisory Council and proposed an Online Privacy Bill to make it mandatory for social media organisations to verify users' age.

An Australian Senate Committee at the end of last year also recommended more government oversight over social media platforms and their ability to prevent cyber-enabled foreign interference.

The parliamentary inquiry's findings are currently set to be presented to government sometime next month.

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