It’s common practice for people to check out what other consumers have written online before they make a major purchase, download an app or buy something on Amazon.
What you may not realize is one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are bogus. That’s according to Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His 2008 research showed that 60 percent of the product reviews on Amazon are five stars and 20 percent more are four stars. “But almost no one wants to write five-star reviews, so many of them have to be created,” he told The New York Times.
Who’s writing fake reviews on Amazon and other sites? It could be marketers or retailers, authors using pseudonyms, customers who get a deal for leaving positive feedback or services that exist solely for the purpose of writing them.
“'For $5, I will submit two great reviews for your business,' offered one entrepreneur on the help-for-hire site Fiverr, one of a multitude of similar pitches. On another forum, Digital Point, a poster wrote, ‘I will pay for positive feedback on TripAdvisor.’ A Craigslist post proposed this: ‘If you have an active Yelp account and would like to make very easy money please respond,’” reports The Times in a separate story on the subject.
It’s a duplicitous practice, but there are some clues to help determine if a review is concocted. According to researchers at Cornell University who have developed an automated algorithm to detect them, fake reviews tend to include several features:
- A lot of superlatives and not much description. Phrases like “a must-read” and “life-changing” are giveaways.
- References to other people such as “my family” or “my husband.” Keep in mind, if the person writing the review is making it up, the story tends to stray farther away from the actual product.
- More frequent use of the first-person singular. Fictitious assessments tend to include the words “me” and “I” more often, as if to make the review seem more credible.
- Exclamation points and positive emotion. Truthful reviews use other kinds of punctuation, including the dollar sign.
We'd also add to the list:
- People who have written only one review on the site
- People who write only five-star reviews
- Reviews that sound like a marketing brochure from the company or use the full official name of the product
For more ideas, check out this Consumerist story, which has more than 30 reader-generated tips on how to ferret out worthless reviews, such as the good advice to only consider reviews that leave two to four stars in a five-star system. Or, my personal favorite: “Even if they're not fakesters, anyone who writes in ALL CAPS is an idiot and should be ignored.”
Ultimately, before being swayed by any isolated review, peruse a slew of them and give the most credence to those that are balanced and reflect that the writer can actually describe using the product.