CNN is the target of an online campaign to swamp its mobile application with bad reviews and one-star ratings in Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store, Digiday reported. The negative comments accuse the broadcaster of spreading fake news, propaganda and falsehoods, mirroring President Donald Trump's antagonism toward unfavorable reporting.
CNN complained about the reviews to Apple and Google, but there doesn't appear to be much the companies can do to suppress the onslaught of bad reviews, which may harm its chances of being downloaded. Google is working with CNN's developer team to identify spammy reviews.
A blogger on the 4chan message board on July 5 started a viral thread calling for users to give the app a one-star review. Within nine hours, the app received 2,000 bad reviews to reduce its overall rating to one star in the App Store. CNN's app ratings were re-set after the broadcaster posted an updated version on July 10, but a renewed barrage of bad reviews cut its rating to a single star again.
CNN will survive the coordinated efforts by people who disagree with its editorial stance as long as its mobile app and TV network attract an audience that advertisers want to reach. The effort does, however, point to how particularly contentious political times are causing a headache for both media companies and marketers, which can be caught in the crossfire by aligning themselves on either side of the aisle, and sometimes for only having tangential ties to politics at all. While it's unclear whether the one-star ratings have actually deterred anyone from downloading CNN's app, the network last month boasted that it had the best ratings among 25- to 54-year-olds in 14 years during the second quarter and a record for total viewership.
Still, CNN fell to third place behind Fox News and a surging MSNBC for average primetime viewers ages 25 to 54 during Q2 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported. Fox News is No. 1 in the ratings race, although its audience shrank after Megyn Kelly left for NBC News in January and Bill O’Reilly left in April amid an advertiser boycott after a sexual harassment scandal. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow helped the network's ratings to jump 72% from a year earlier as she focused on dissecting the Trump administration.
Apple and Google should avoid making any rash decisions on suppressing reviews before consulting their legal teams and considering the possible negative effects of becoming targets for politically motivated boycotts, protests and bad press. Amir Ghodrati, the director of market insights at App Annie, told Digiday that efforts to monitor coordinated attacks would inevitably run into difficulties and even pose potential ethical questions.
"The greater concern lies in the implications of the platforms exercising that much oversight and control over ratings and reviews outside of potentially threatening or offensive language," he told the publication.