A Vice journalist has fooled TripAdvisor’s ranking system into placing his garden shed as the top-ranked restaurant in London.
Oobah Butler used a combination of creative photography and digital nous to fool the review site’s algorithm into thinking his conception was the real deal.
However, crucially, Butler was also able to lean on a network of friends to post fake reviews and drive up the credibility of his bogus eatery. His inspiration was drawn from the revelation that he had learned to “game” TripAdvisor from a previous job, writing fake reviews for the site for £10 a turn.
— James Cook (@JamesLiamCook) December 6, 2017
A TripAdvisor spokesperson was quick to quash the integrity of Butler’s project, telling the Telegraph:
"Generally, the only people who create fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us. As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant it is not a problem we experience with our regular community – therefore this ‘test’ is not a real world example."
The spokesperson also stated TripAdvisor was working hard to combat fraudulent reviews; however the event raises a concern that continues to dog the online review industry as a whole.
In 2013 it was found that 16% of restaurant reviews on Yelp were fake. Subsequent research from Gartner found that in 2014, up to 15% of all online reviews were false. Trurating research found that 99% of the content from online review websites are written by one percent of the users.
Sites such as Amazon have taken unprecedented action in recent times. In 2015, it was revealed the ecommerce giant had filed a lawsuit against more than 1,000 people who have posted fake customer reviews on its website.
Having previously sued four businesses for selling fake reviews, the company stated its reputation was being damaged, along with consumer trust in online reviews.
Whilst Amazon’s lawsuit and Oobah Butler’s shed are both extreme cases, the general consensus is that more can be done to improve the integrity of customer reviews online.
Speaking via MyCustomer last year, Reevoo’s Richard Anson stated that regulators such as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) were unable to move fast enough to combat the problem, and that review sites were only partially responsible for defeating the fraudsters:
“To truly make a change that spans the entire industry, there needs to be action taken against everyone.
“Ultimately, the way to avoid the whole disingenuous business would be for brands to understand how to deal with negative reviews in the first place – which would eliminate the need to misguidedly pay someone to generate false positives.”
Georgina Nelson, CEO and Founder of TruRating agrees, adding that brands could do more to tackle bad reviews in a sensible manner.
“Fortunately, there are usually a few telltale signs that a review is fake. This includes accounts that only review once, leave multiple stellar reviews for different products or limit their reviews to only one brand. These can be reported and removed at the discretion of the reviewing platform.
“But to tackle genuinely bad reviews, it’s important for businesses to recognise where they’ve failed the customer and aim to make improvements by using it as a springboard. It can also help instill a greater sense of respect and trust in customers if you respond to both negative and positive reviews on each platform, for any failings on your part, or thanking positive reviewers for their custom.
“Of course, the best way to combat negative reviews is to learn exactly what your customers want using a strong internal data collection process – a process that until recently has been very costly, difficult to integrate and data mine.”
Earlier this year Google, which is also blighted by fake reviews, introduced “Verified Customer Reviews” which adds an email survey into point-of-purchase, to ensure reviews can’t be added without transaction.
But whilst this may snuff out some fraudulent reviews, Anson believes it’s an approach that will still likely provide a false sense of security for brands, who should focus more on what’s driving certain types of review in the first place.
“Unfortunately, it seems that regulation of the world of online reviews is the only way forward in the short term.
“Fake reviews are bad for business, and brands need to realise that genuine reviews, even negative ones, can improve consumer trust, increase the credibility of an online feedback system and strengthen the relationship between brand and individual.”
About Chris Ward
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.