The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has rejected complaints that positive online reviews for a law firm were fake and that the website hosting them would not accept negative reviews.
In the first complaint of this nature involving law firms, which came from someone who wanted to post a negative review of the practice in question, the ASA cleared N5 Ltd, which owns a network of local websites under the brand ‘thebestof.co.uk’.
The unnamed firm in Suffolk had seven positive reviews on its local website.
N5 told the ASA that the sites, which are managed by individual affiliates, generally only featured businesses that paid to work with them. However, businesses needed recommendations from at least two local people before they could be considered for the site.
N5 said its affiliates were encouraged only to include reviews they were certain were genuine, which included verifying the e-mail address of reviewers where possible (they also accepted handwritten reviews on cards businesses provided to their clients, recognising that not everyone, particularly older people, have e-mail addresses). They moderated reviews to ensure they were recent and relevant.
N5 said that affiliates were told to post all genuine reviews, including those of three stars or less and there was no policy not to publish negative reviews. At the same time, negative reviews did not go up automatically. These were only uploaded once they had all the details and the business owner had been given the opportunity to provide a response. N5 provided an example of one negative review on the website.
The ASA was also given sight of three of the original reviews and was satisfied that they were genuine and therefore not marketing.
In any case, “because the reviews were organic user-generated content and had not been adopted and incorporated into the marketing communication, we considered that the actual content of the reviews was outside of the remit of the ASA and the advertisers were therefore not required to hold evidence that the reviews were genuine or to hold contact details for those who submitted it. We also noted the ad did not include any claims that the reviews were all genuine”.
N5 said the complainant’s review had not been published because it related to events dating back to 2003 and so was out of date.
The ASA adjudication said: “We considered that it was reasonable and understandable for a review website to have some restrictions on the types of reviews they would accept, including that reviews related to recent experiences.”