How to we filter out 'cash-for-comments' and fake reviewers?

A lot of social websites, such as Yelp and Foursquare and even Facebook check-ins, or Google Places,  provide what is seemingly candid and raw reviews from the public of cafes and restaurants, and other businesses, and other curious-minded people shuffle their list of places-to-visit based on the comments given by others. Even when you look in the App Store, before you spend a few quid on a new app, you look to see what others think of that utility or game. It makes sense when you invest your time and money on something, when it is unknown, you rely on others to drive consume decisions. An interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald, suggests that up to 71 percent of Aussies rely on ratings and comments when they look for a restaurant, cafe, hotel etc, but also suggests that up to 35% of the ratings are fake. That is, the ratings are paid for, or done by the business themselves, which is a scary revelation, that will erode the strength of the community trust, which is a shame. If you go on, you can hire someone or a group of people to post reviews and ratings, on your app or hotel, writing positive reviews, which goes against the exciting trend of citizen reporting.

Fake reviews are notoriously difficult to spot. Cornell University researchers pooled 400 truthful reviews of Chicago hotels from TripAdvisor and paid for another 400 deceptive reviews and trained software to spot the difference. They believe their software can spot fake reviews 90 per cent of the time (compared to 50 per cent for the average person) and have created a website,, allowing anyone to give it a go.

Economists at the University of California, Berkeley looked at ratings of 300 restaurants in San Francisco. They wrote in the September issue of Economic Journal that when a restaurant's rating on Yelp improved by just half a star (on a scale of one to five), the likelihood of its 7pm bookings selling out went up from 30 per cent to 49 per cent. (Sydney Morning Herald)


What do we do?

So, what do we do? Go on and do you trust the book reviews? I myself, am a book reviewer for O'Reilly, however under no circumstances am I told how to review the book, so I give my truthful opinions as I don't get given incentives either way.

The first solution that comes to mind, is so far-fetched that it is a fantasy more than a reality. The idea of a unique global account that is accessible to all services, from Apple's store to Yelp. That way, we can credit or discredit a real person, but this brings in the inherit problems of privacy, not to mention, companies don't play nice and won't want to do that. But having said that, if someone like Google (with Google Places) can monitor and ensure that the reviewers are coming from the same state, city, if it's a restaurant or cafe, that might work. With Apps, it is a lot more difficult, because someone abroad could potentially review an app, so who's to say whether it is genuine or not?

But they may not be able to get away with it

Well, okay, so we decide to live with the notion that a few rotten fake reviews exist for an app or hotel, it doesn't stop the real ones from posting honest reviews. If you hire 100 fake reviewers, the real people will trust that, visit the place, and if it genuinely stinks, they will post a bad review.

Just like on ebay, you can have a 98% rating, because almost all reviewers for your thousands of sales are positive, the small minute negative ones pull you away from that illusive 100% rating. The same way, if people look at a Google place and look at the negative ratings, they may get the pros and cons of that place. In that way it balances out the good and bad (if you don't take into account how many positives but rather take a few good and a few bad reviews).

What if it's sabbotage?

But hey, im focusing on just the positive reviews for those review-for-hire guys. What about companies and businesses that look to sabotage their competitors? You could have the cafe next door write horrible reviews to put their competitor out of business, or a rival app developer paying someone to dish it out against a competitor?


Back to square one

Well, that puts us back in square one. What is the answer to trusting reviewers? How do we filter out the fake ones from the real ones? I don't have the answer, and perhaps you guys do? Please feel free to comment below.




Doron KatzSocial Media, Yelp