Fake products on social media call for smarter brand protection methods

By Carol Rodriguez

Counterfeit goods are being sold on Facebook and Instagram

Reports that the number of fake products being sold across social media channels have steadily risen to unprecedented volumes. A study conducted by Red Points, an online brand protection company, monitored the number of fake soccer jerseys sold on social media channels for a select group of European clubs. Researchers from Red Points state that in 2017 over 50% of these items were sold on either Facebook or Instagram, with Facebook accounting for just over 45% of this volume. In 2015, the percentage of counterfeit soccer shirts detected on Facebook was just 2.2%.

Prior to these findings many counterfeit sports goods were sold on large-scale ecommerce platforms such as Aliexpress and Tokopedia. For football clubs like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the sale of counterfeit versions of their merchandise has resulted in huge levels of lost revenue.

However, the scale of the problem isn’t just limited to the sale of fake soccer shirts – other industries such as cosmetics and fashion have suffered at the hands of counterfeit vendors diversifying their sales tactics. Additional research conducted by Red Points states that more than 50% of counterfeit cosmetics are sold on social media, which presents a serious health risk to consumers – Cosmetics Business reports that a woman who bought fake lip gloss was hospitalised when her throat had started to close.

Why is social media used by counterfeiters?

Red Points offers several explanations for this increase in the number of IP-infringing posts on social media channels; one of these being better policing systems on ecommerce platforms like Alibaba. Vendors who sell counterfeit goods are now being forced to make use of alternative sales channels, and social media has provided the perfect replacement for ecommerce.

In addition, tools on social media channels allow advertisers to target and segment their posts, enabling sellers to identify relevant consumers with a much greater degree of accuracy. Red Points also highlights that fake products on social media has become a ‘cottage industry’, where vendors only sell a narrow selection of items in comparison to ecommerce websites, enabling them to make substantial cost-saving measures which otherwise wouldn’t be possible on an ecommerce platform.

Shouldn’t social media channels share some of the responsibility?

Within Facebook’s terms page there is a clear statement of rights and responsibilities, in addition to strict community standards, to which users are required to adhere. Similarly, Instagram’s terms of use also prohibits users from posts which infringe on third parties’ intellectual property. Although these clear and strict regulations for both Instagram and Facebook exisit, there has still been a significant rise in the number of posts from people trying to sell fake products on these popular social media channels.

So where does all of this leave brands in their fight against counterfeits being sold online? While social media platforms can remove fake versions of products on behalf of brands, it is unlikely that they alone could be able to eradicate the problem completely. Counterfeiters are simply too common and deeply-rooted on social media for a traditional reporting process to effectively deal with the criminal activity.

Detecting fake products of a brand online is certainly not an easy job when the problem has become so diverse, prompting the need for a more efficient and effective method to detect counterfeits online. Manually searching and enforcing intellectual property online has been to he go-to approach for the past few years, but as counterfeiters continue to embrace the technology available to them, the time and money needed for lawyers and brand protection specialists to fight back against them is only going to spiral upwards. The only strategy that makes sense in the long run is for brand protection agents to adopt technology with as much gusto as the criminals they are fighting do.

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