It’s ironic that our increasing distrust of corporate statements has made us more willing to trust the opinions of strangers. From Rated People to TripAdvisor, buying decisions are increasingly being influenced by comments attributed to people we’ll never meet. In extreme cases, these people may not exist at all. The BBC reported last year how fake five-star reviews are for sale online, and there are numerous stories of corporate sabotage involving false negative comments.
A question of trust
For consumers, false positive reviews might trick them into purchasing an unsuitable product through an untrustworthy vendor. For businesses, false negatives could damage their turnover and even threaten their long-term viability. Being able to distinguish between good and bad online listings (whether overly positive or unduly negative) is a vital skill we should all possess.
These are UK2’s tips for differentiating between genuine online listings and fraudulent or fabricated reviews:
Don’t trust a simple star rating system
Fraudulent reviews can only be removed once they’ve been identified as such, and it’s almost impossible to prove if a star rating breaches a website’s violation policy. Unless star ratings are supported by a few sentences of coherent opinions, they’re easy to fiddle.
Overlook one-post accounts
Many websites award badges and accreditations to regular contributors, to differentiate loyal users from people who’ve created an account to complain about one thing. Don’t disregard the opinions of first-time posters, but be wary if profiles don’t have account info or a photo.
Check the dates
If a normally well-regarded business attracted a series of hostile reviews within a few days, a targeted sabotage campaign may have been launched. If every post is about a particular staff member, product or service this further indicates a personal grievance or vendetta.
Read the posts carefully
Do bad reviews mention specific employees, or refer to a product by name? If so, they’re probably genuine. If they talk vaguely of “the staff”, using generic phrases like “it ruined my day”, this is as suspicious as comments claiming something is the “best ever” or “perfect”.
Look for grammatical patterns
If several glowing reviews contain the same words and phrases, it suggests that one person may have written them all using multiple accounts. Other tell-tale signs of fake or paid comments might include distinctive punctuation (!!), long and rambling sentences, and poor English.
Tackling the scourge of bad online listings
Even though 84 per cent of consumers admit they can’t always identify fake reviews, this phenomenon’s impact on individuals is minor compared to that on the business community. Social media platforms rarely help account holders tackle false negatives, though it is possible to hide all Facebook reviews if unwarranted critiques begin piling up.
Report dubious comments to the host platform, and publicly respond to each one. If the purchase has been verified, ask if you can rectify a bad situation; if it’s unverified, politely ask if the transaction really took place. A fake reviewer won’t respond, but your suspicions will be demonstrated to the wider public. It’ll also remind them not to treat online listings as gospel…