Wednesday 2 October 2013

Fake  Reviews

Whenever I want to go to a movie, I go to my computer and look at the movies being shown in my area. After I see what that I believe will interest me, I look for the reviews. I know that I can trust what the moviegoers say about the movies because they are not putting in fake reviews on behalf of the theatre or the producers of the movies. It would be pointless for the owner of a movie theater to put in a review that praises the movie because if the movie is great, there will be a great many favourable reviews entered and if it stinks, the reviews of the theatregoers will say so

However, if I am searching for a restaurant to eat at, I have some suspicions that the reviews may not have been put in the interview by the restaurants customers but by the restaurant itself. The same goes for the hotels, motels and resorts. Mind you I have seen reviews that are not favourable to some restaurants or hotels but if there are many such reviews and one then shows up praising the restaurant, the hotel, motel or resort, I just know that it was written by the owners of those establishments.

In an increasingly tech-reliant world, most of us do not step foot in a restaurant or buy anything online without doing at least a small Internet research. And who better to look to before making a reservation or adding a gadget to your shopping cart than other consumers who have dined at that restaurant, spent a night at the hotel or used that gadget you are interested in buying? Nine out of ten shoppers say that reviews of products and services help determine where they spend their hard-earned cash. Sadly, some of the reviews we relied upon were in fact, absolutely fake.

The office of the New York Attorney General recently announced that it had conducted Operation Clean Turf,  a year-long undercover investigation into the manipulation of consumer-review websites by the companies that create these fake reviews, as well as the clients that pay for them.

Posing as the owner of a Brooklyn yogurt shop, representatives of the Attorney General's office contacted ‘search engine optimization’ (SEO) companies and requested assistance combating negative reviews on consumer-review websites. Some of these companies offered to write fake reviews praising the yogurt shop and post them on sites such as, Google Local and, as part of the companies' reputation management services. SOE’s customers know that good consumer reviews have significant impact on their company's success.

Now how you look at it, SEO and their customers are committing commercial fraud. It is no different than investment companies selling investments that are part of a pyramid scheme. It is outright corruption.

The Attorney General’s investigation also revealed that the SEO companies used advanced IP spoofing techniques to hide their identities, as well as set up hundreds of false online profiles on consumer-review websites in order to post the bogus reviews. Besides these dishonest companies using their own employees to write and post the fake reviews, these companies hired freelance writers from as far away as the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe for $1 to $10 per review. The consumer then believes that the review was made by someone in those countries that visited the companies in the U.S. and are now sending in their reviews.       

According to the New York Attorney General, the SEO companies also solicited people on, and other sites to write fake reviews. The companies were not always subtle in recruiting people to engage in their fraudulent practices. For example, one company's solicitation stated:

“We need a person that can post multiple positive reviews on major REVIEW sites. Example: Google Maps, Yelp, CitySearch. Must be from different IP addresses. So you must be able to have multiple IPs. The reviews will be only few sentences long. Need to have some understanding on how Yelp filters works. Previous experience is a plus. Just apply.  We are a marketing company.”                                                                                                

As a result of the New York Attorney General's investigation, 19 companies agreed to stop writing fake online reviews of products and services and they had to pay more than $350,000 in penalties.

Many consumer-review websites such as Yelp have implemented filters to detect or delete fake reviews. Recently, automotive information site sued a company that allegedly posted more than 60 fake reviews of car dealers on its site.

When we are given a hundred dollar bill, we tend to take a second look at it because of so many counterfeits are circulating. You should also take a second look at reviews because so many fake reviews are also circulating.  The problem is greater than you think. On average, one if five reviews is a fake. The burden of spotting fake reviews inevitably falls on consumers themselves.

The tips re locating the fakes I got from TIME.

Psychologists have found that people typically tend to use fewer personal pronouns when they’re lying. The son doesn’t say, “Hey Mom, I broke your vase.” He invokes the passive, distances himself from the event and says, “Hey, that vase got broken.” But fake reviewers, Cornell researchers have found, are trying to convince the world that they did something they didn’t do—so they overcompensate in the opposite direction by using more first-person pronouns. That could be saying “I ate the ravioli” when a normal person would write, “The ravioli was just delectable.

Fake reviews tend to be overdone and emotional. Look for superlatives, descriptions of rooms or meals or rides that weren’t just good but the best thing that ever happened this side of the Mississippi! Fake reviews for a Nashville-based company that sells guitar-lesson DVDs, and was fined by the Federal Trade Commission, described the discs as being the “undisputed #1 training product.” That is not how unbiased, normal people talk about things they purchase. It is the way a salesman talks—one who is trying to sell you the product.  

Certain words crop up more in fake reviews of hotels than real ones do, such as us, price, stay, feel, nice, deal and comfort. For restaurants, words such as options, went, seat, helpful, overall, serve, and amount were common words in false write-ups.

People tend to use figurative language when reviewing hedonic products—those purchased for pleasure, and more straightforward language when reviewing utilitarian products, those purchased because they’re stuff you need. If someone is writing up an opinion on a certain brand of chocolate bars, for instance, a metaphor about them being “to die for” wouldn’t be out of line. But if someone says “well made” that is a beacon in their cold, dark night and for this reason, some warning bells should be going off in your head.

The web has created some fantastic opportunities for authors, publishers and self-publishers alike. I strongly suspect that many authors are submitting their own reviews into Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Author Stephen Leather confessed, during an on-stage panel discussion, that he used fake accounts to promote his own books. He admitted to creating accounts on forums under assumed names in order to “create a buzz” about his own work. He also promotes and reviews his work using at least one pseudonymous Twitter account. This is how he got his own reviews into the Internet. He said in part;

“I will go into several well-known forums and post [my reviews] under various names. I build this whole network of people who talk about my books.”

I have had six of my books published and only one person has written a review of one of those books.  I would feel shamed if I opened up the site and saw only my own fake review. I would rather have no reviews than see my own fake reviews staring at my face. Obviously, it didn’t bother Leather. If someone doesn’t like any of my books, they are free to say it.

The widespread use of “fake identities” is causing untold damage to the publishing world. It has got to the point where potential readers of books sold online are becoming suspect of the reviews. RJ Ellory, the bestselling British crime writer was exposed for writing fake online reviews lauding himself while at the same time, criticizing his rivals, a practice he had been doing for the past decade. In his confession, he said in part;

“Over the last ten years I have posted approximately 12 reviews of my own books, and I also criticized a book written by Stuart MacBride, and another by Mark Billingham, both of whom had done nothing to warrant such criticism.”

He was in effect spitting in the face of his potential readers and doing it for money. He should be barred from placing any of his books on the sites he lauded himself or criticized other authors.  That is a punishment that would stop this detestable conduct from flourishing in the publishing industry.



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