How Fake Reviews Are Manipulating You Online

Money exchanging hands with 5 Stars
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Fake reviews are everywhere online and they’ve probably influenced some of your purchases. Fake reviews can be positive or negative, and they’re obviously unethical and harmful. But they’re the symptom of a larger problem with e-commerce and online platforms.

Reviews Are Worth Their Weight in Gold

In the world of e-commerce, reviews are the best sign of success or failure. Sure, a batch of good reviews shows that a product has sold well and that people enjoy it, but it’s more than just that. Reviews are the ultimate form of advertising.

Businesses that have good reviews get a lot of free exposure. On websites like Amazon and Yelp, products and pages that have good reviews show up at the top of search results. They’re suggested to users based on interests, and they’re even sent out in email campaigns or marked with labels like “Amazon’s Choice.”

And while exposure doesn’t guarantee sales, good reviews do. According to a BrightLocal study, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust friends. That’s an incredible statistic because it suggests that a poorly written 50-word review by a stranger can hold as much clout as a positive recommendation from someone that you trust. Essentially, the exposure and clout that businesses get from good reviews create a powerful e-commerce formula.

In some ways, this formula feels a little too easy. But it actually creates a highly competitive marketplace that’s easy to exploit. Well-reviewed businesses can easily overshadow competitors, and products or pages with bad reviews are hidden from customers by website algorithms.

This makes sense. Obviously, Amazon and Yelp don’t want you to associate their websites with crappy products. But bad reviews can completely break a reputable business, especially a small or new company that’s struggling to find a foothold in the market.

You’ve probably realized where this is going. Businesses need good reviews to stay afloat, so they pay people to write fake reviews.

Who Writes These Fake Reviews Anyway?

Robots or AI don’t do the majority of fake reviews; actual people do. It turns out that websites like Amazon are pretty good at catching bot activity, and it helps that most bot-written reviews stick out like a sore thumb (there are even websites, like Fakespot, that can catch AI-written reviews).

Man typing on a laptop
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But, like other forms of online policing, fake-review takedowns are done manually. Usually, a website will simply target reviews that look “inauthentic.” Yelp, for example, tends to take down poorly written reviews by inactive accounts, or accounts that are clearly run by a bot. The website also uses IP addresses to find suspicious reviews. If a restaurant in Idaho has 15 Yelp reviews from an Australian IP address, you can assume that there’s some fraud going on.

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