Believing online reviews

By | Category: Travel rumblings

annoyed and moaning

© Dan Sperrin

CD-Traveller has pointed out before the wariness that readers must use in believing online reviews of hotels, restaurants, guest houses and holidays themselves.

Mostly, this is because we are all different. What one person likes another may not; what one person finds acceptable would horrify another. In addition it has been known for some time that some people linked to the places reviewed have produced fake reviews damning or lauding them.

We know that companies have paid others to produce tens of thousands of tweets and Facebook messages in support of their products and that whole industries are pushing up in places like Bangladesh and the Philippines to falsify social media postings for clients. But how widespread is this activity? How much should we believe?

About ten days ago, New York authorities fined 19 different companies $350,000 for posting fake reviews. All the companies promised not to be bad boys again! But this seems the tip of the iceberg. A research company estimated in 2012 that up to 6% of reviews could be fake. Yelp says that 25% of its reviews could be the same which is higher than a recent academic study by Michael Luca and Georgios Zervas called “Fake It Till You Make It” suggested. They suggested up to 20% of reviews could be fake.

Should we believe was the other question I posed? Two years ago, academics from Cornell University suggested it was beyond the capability of humans to spot dud reviews but that their computer techniques could spot them in 90% of cases. Some online sites carrying reviews validate them but I suspect that not all are especially where the site has millions of entries. Earlier this year, the Daily Telegraph ran a story about a Brixham restaurant that didn’t exist but which posted fake reviews for three months before TripAdvisor caught up with it. You wonder whether it spotted it at the same time as the journalist did or whether the story prompted them to act.

What it all shows is that you must be wary in believing any reviews particularly on those sites like TripAdvisor where the person reviewing needn’t necessarily have visited the place!

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