It can’t have been long after the first cavemen offered up grunts of approval or disapproval that someone had the bright idea of paying for good reviews. It’s cheap, it’s efficient, and best of all: it’s dishonest! Sure you’re basically lying to consumers, but tricking the gullible is half the fun, isn’t it? Movie marketers have elevated the fake review to an art form.
Needless to say, social media has taken the fake review phenomenon to the next level. According to a report from Gartner titled “The Consequences of Fake Fans, ‘Likes’ and Reviews on Social Networks,” “enterprise spending on paid social media ratings and reviews” (that’s a nice way of saying “fake reviews”) will increase over the next few years: by 2014, the research outfit predicts that 10%-15% of all online reviews will be fake.
Jenny Sussin, a senior research analyst at Gartner, stated: “Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors' interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.”
There are, of course, some legal questions which arise when marketers hire people to pose as ordinary, unpaid reviewers. Gartner also predicts that at least a handful of Fortune 500 brands will probably run afoul of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission by 2014. The FTC decided back in 2009 that paying for positive reviews without disclosure constituted deceptive advertising, which can be punished with fines.
In August 2011 I wrote about software created by four Cornell students to identify fake online hotel reviews. The students described their efforts to combat “opinion spam” in a report titled “Finding Deceptive Opinion Spam by Any Stretch of the Imagination.” Overall, the Cornellians claimed their software is able to spot fake reviews 90% of the time, versus just 50% for human subjects, focusing on fake positive reviews and irrelevant comments which, say, post links to other Web sites for promotional purposes. With this focus in mind, the authors said roughly half of all online hotel reviews are fake -- four times the proportion guessed by human subjects (who estimated fake reviews as 12% of all reviews).