The Internet is still very much like the Wild West: it's an open, completely untamed frontier. You can look up and learn about almost any topic you can think of . . . and you'll probably find a community of people interested in it too. You can have thousands of vicarious experiences, like what it's like to see color for the first time, or perhaps less profound, what it's like to be a squirrel. And of course, because literally anyone can publish anything, it's a great tool for keeping the authorities accountable. That's incredibly important to democracy, openness, transparency, and innovation.
There is a dark side to this freedom, however. Because anyone can publish anything, they can just as easily publish untruths and partial truths.
This is especially true when doing business on the Internet. Anyone with a bit of technical savvy can put up a website claiming to be a viable commercial concern. It's even possible to fake being a trusted Internet business.
For example, in a recent article, writer Kashmir Hill outlined how she was able to create a fake business and purchase a great reputation for it. The Sunday Times did an exposé on Amazon product reviews by creating an awful ebook product entitled Everything Bonsai and then successfully manufacturing glowing five-star reviews in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, Daniel Johnson described how a frustrated businessman created a fake restaurant on TripAdvisor and created wonderful reviews for it to demonstrate the apparent failings of that site.
If it's possible to post positive fake reviews about a bad or nonexistent business, is it possible to post negative fake reviews about a good business? You bet. Scribendi, as well as many other businesses, has experienced this.
Sadly, this is a tactic used by competitors (or disgruntled former employees) all the time. Worse, there are allegations that some "review sites" claiming to provide unbiased public feedback on a company may even manufacture negative reviews and then conveniently offer "reputation management" services to the company in question—for a hefty fee, of course.
To be sure, there are lots of online reviews, positive and negative, that are legitimate. But what's a wary consumer to do? How do you figure out whom to trust? Here are some of the methods we use to spot a fake review when we're making our own purchases:
The language and tone is over the top. If a review contains excessively negative or overly positive language or makes outlandish claims, it is likely a fake.
You see the same review posted in several locations. If you see reviews with very similar or identical text posted in several places, chances are it is a fake and part of a campaign. This is especially true if the reviews are posted under different names.
The reviewer has only one review. If a person is genuinely the type to leave online reviews, they will probably have more than one to their username.
The reviewer has only positive or only negative reviews. Think about your own customer service experiences. You've had good ones, bad ones, and some just okay ones. Someone who only posts good reviews may be a paid reviewer. Someone who only ever posts bad reviews might be on a campaign to harm a reputation, especially if they're reviewing several products or services for one brand or company.
Broken English. We may be biased on this one, but we have a good reason to suspect reviews that aren't written very well. That's because many of the places that sell good and bad reviews outsource the work to countries where labor is cheap and English is not the first language, or they may use software to automatically create and post reviews.
The review site itself has unclear motives. If a review website does things like allow anonymous reviews, does not verify whether the reviewer has truly done business with the company, or offers "business services" (check the site footer for offers like this), it can be hard to be sure of the motives of the site. It might be better to rely on non-profit organizations, such as the Better Business Bureau.
Indeed, Ben Popken, who offers even more tips for spotting fake reviews, might have it right when he quotes a Consumerist commenter: "Be skeptical of online reviews, period."
Your best option is to thoroughly examine the site you're thinking of using. We've previously written a piece on how to determine the credibility of editing services sites, and the criteria there work equally well for other ecommerce websites. You should also go straight to the source and contact the company directly, preferably by phone.
Meanwhile, if you're wondering about us, we'd love to talk. You can call us at +1 877 351 1626 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also offer free sample edits, so you can try our service at no risk.
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