Review Bombing On The Rise Leading Up To Midterm Elections

Review bombing -- defined by Damian Rollison, director of market insights at SOCi, as "when a large group of unhappy consumers posts negative reviews about a business to dissuade others from purchasing from the company, tarnish a brand’s reputation and decrease its sales” -- became more prevalent as the United States headed into the midterm elections.

SOCi is a tech company used by multi-location brands including Taco John's and Marco's Pizza to reach local customers and audiences. “It frequently happens when a company takes an action that negatively impacts or upsets a group of people.”

Examples include changing a policy or taking a stance on highly charged political topics, events and movements such as gun rights and gun control, Black Lives Matter, affirmative action, or the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

If left unchecked, Rollison said, review bombing can negatively impact a company’s online ratings and result in negative brand perception.



Rollison said to be aware of significant increases leading up to the U.S. elections and major events. Still, the threat of getting review bombed shouldn’t dissuade companies from taking a stance, especially if it reinforces a company’s core value or mission. It also shouldn’t stop a brand from implementing a meaningful company policy that they believe in and makes sense for their business.

Some 66% of Americans prefer brands that share their values, but social media is a more appropriate forum for political discussions in general.

Consumers are willing to use the space for reviews as a sounding board for their views, but reviews are a place for consumers to talk about their firsthand experiences with products and services, not take a political stand. They also are intended for companies to respond, engage and offer support.

“It is against every major search engine’s policy to write a review just because someone doesn’t like a company’s politics,” he said. “It’s possible for review bombing to temporarily impact star ratings if there is a sudden spike in one-star reviews. Algorithms and regulations exist to prevent and remove politically motivated reviews. If brands catch these reviews, they should report and flag them for removal."

Rollison also had advice for businesses that experience review bombing. Marketers can take these proactive steps so the business is not left scrambling to get bad reviews removed.

  • When planning to make a change or statement that might stir controversy, alert the internal marketing team as well as any relevant third parties beforehand.
  • The same should be done if there’s a politically-charged event like an election that might bring more attention to controversial topics, especially for businesses that operate in areas with increased political sensitivities.
  • For multi-location business, flag the reviews at impacted locations, so they can be taken down.
  • Monitor those locations more closely for a reasonable period of time. 

Like marketers, search engines can proactively prepare for review bombing by being aware of possible triggering events ahead of time.

For example, before Roe v. Wade was overturned, Google preemptively disabled reviews for abortion clinics to prevent abusive practices, and monitored places that could more easily become targets, such as locations involved with elections, Rollison said. They did the same early on around the incidence of COVID.

Search engines use machine learning to check each review for potential policy violations before they are published.

  • In addition to scanning reviews, they look for patterns, such as a barrage of one-star reviews, that might indicate review bombing.
  • It’s still possible for politically motivated reviews to slip through the cracks, which is why there are teams that look into reviews flagged by businesses for violations.
  • These issues emphasize the importance for businesses to closely monitor reviews surrounding sensitive events, locations and topics.

Rollison said no automated system is designed to reject certain criteria can catch everything. This year there has been a significant challenge with Google attempting to weed out these reviews, including fake reviews. They have been capturing legitimate reviews, which is a problem.

“When controversy heats up and begins to manifest itself in reviews, the likelihood publishers will be more prepared to deal with it,” he said.

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