User-generated content under suspicion
Online copywriters have been warned not to claim that user-generated content is reliable after the UK regulator made what it describes as a 'benchmark ruling'.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which is responsible for commercial copywriting on websites, spoke out in the wake of its ruling against US travel review portal TripAdvisor. Two hotels and an online reputation firm that represented several others had complained that TripAdvisor's website was going too far with the claims 'reviews you can trust', 'TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travellers', 'read reviews from real travellers' and 'more than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world'.
Case for the defence
In its defence, TripAdvisor pointed out that it had various measures to ensure that most of its user-generated content was genuine - such as introducing fraud detection systems, requiring every contributor to confirm that their review was genuine and providing a right to reply for hoteliers. In an argument that will doubtless ring true to many website owners, they also argued that it was not practical to manually examine the integrity of millions of reviews.
Nevertheless, the ASA decided that TripAdvisor's commercial copywriting claims would be interpreted by consumers as meaning that every review had been posted by genuine travellers giving their honest opinions. This was deemed to be a breach of two parts of the Committee of Advertising Practice Code relating to misleading advertising and substantiation. And the ASA ordered TripAdvisor to refrain from using copy that made the same claims again in future.
Matthew Wilson, the ASA's spokesman, told the BBC that this judgement had a much wider relevance. "This should be regarded as a benchmark ruling which applies to all web sites which make claims about the reliability of their user-generated content," he said.
Daniel Nolan, managing director at theEword, added: "Every company trading in the UK needs to ensure that copy on their websites can stand up to independent scrutiny. By using a trustworthy commercial copywriting service that knows how to keep within the rules, website owners can avoid the embarrassment of a public dressing down from the regulator."