Written by Jes Gonzalez
In the era of fake news, fake reviews also run rampant across the Internet, scamming buyers into purchasing poor-quality products, destroying businesses, and even giving rise to new but fake businesses.
All that's needed to publish content online is a keyboard and an Internet connection. Of course, this ability is important to maintaining a healthy democracy and promoting openness and transparency within businesses. However, it also means that fake reviews (and fake news) can be published quickly and easily by anyone.
According to Bing Liu, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, up to 30% of online reviews are fake. This is no surprise; many, many businesses have had to deal with fake online reviews.
The key to determining the difference between truths and lies online is to become an informed consumer. Conducting research, checking sources, and reading online reviews are great ways to identify which product or service is most suitable for your purposes.
If you're basing your purchasing decisions on online reviews, you need to be able to sort the real online reviews from the fake ones. Note the following eight red flags when reading online reviews.
- The language and tone are over the top. If a review contains excessively negative or overly positive language or makes outlandish claims, it is likely fake. It may also use the name of the product too frequently. If the review sounds like an infomercial, be wary.
- You see the same review posted in several locations. Reviews with very similar or identical text posted in several places are likely fake. This is especially true if the same review is posted under different names; the reviewer is widening his or her distribution with a lower risk of being identified as a fraud.
- The review is long and seemingly detailed, but strangely vague. Interestingly, when some people lie, they throw in a lot of details to make their claim seem real. This is also true for reviews. If reviewers are focusing on too many aspects of one product or service without touching on any others, they are probably trying to divert attention from the lack of detail in other sections.
- The reviewer has only one review. If a person is genuinely the type to leave online reviews, you will probably see more than one review from that username. You can check if a person is real through a quick Google search. Furthermore, you can look at that person's account to see if he or she is a verified user and check for previous reviews.
- The reviewer has only positive or only negative reviews. Think about your own customer service experiences. You've had good ones, bad ones, and okay ones. Someone who posts only good reviews may be a paid reviewer, and someone who posts only bad reviews may be on a campaign to harm a reputation, especially if that person is reviewing several products or services for one brand or company.
- The review has poor spelling and grammar. We may be biased on this one, but we have a good reason to suspect reviews that aren't written very well. Many places that sell good and bad reviews use software to automatically create and post reviews; otherwise, fake review writers usually write quickly using a formula, as they're paid just a few dollars per review.
- The review site itself has unclear motives. If a review website allows anonymous reviews, does not verify whether the reviewer has done business with the company, or offers "business services" (check the site's footer for offers like this), it can be hard to be sure of the site's motives. It's best to rely on nonprofit organizations instead.
- Many reviews were posted at once. If the dates of many reviews are identical or close together, the reviews are probably fake. It's probable that the reviewers were hired to post about the product. If the reviews are positive, they were likely posted to promote the product; if they're negative, they were likely posted to push the positive reviews to the bottom.
According to Inc.com, "Research shows that 91 percent of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation." If we, as consumers, are going to put that much stock into a review from someone we don't know, we definitely want to be smart about which ones we trust.
In the end, your best option is to thoroughly examine the site you're thinking of using. We previously wrote a piece on how to determine the credibility of editing services sites, and these criteria work equally well for other ecommerce websites. Always go straight to the source and contact the company directly.
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About the Author
Jes is a magician and a mechanic; that is to say, she creates pieces of writing from thin air to share as a writer, and she cleans up the rust and grease of other pieces of writing as an editor. She knows that there’s always something valuable to be pulled out of a blank page or something shiny to be uncovered in one that needs a little polishing. When Jes isn’t conjuring or maintaining sentences, she’s devouring them, always hungry for more words.