What should you do if you receive a fake online review?

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    Celia Woolfrey

    Celia Woolfrey UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    Negative reviews of a product or service you sell can make your blood run cold, especially if you're very close to your business. "One star reviews are crushing," says best-selling author Catherine Gray, the writer behind the 'Unexpected Joy of' series. "It feels so intensely personal to have someone trash my newborn book." 

    Bad reviews are doubly disturbing if they're written with malicious intent. In 2019, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced it had found “troubling evidence of a thriving marketplace for fake online reviews” in the UK. 

    Although, more often than not, this involves businesses paying for positive reviews (aka 'organised boosting') there's a market for fake negatives too. These tend to come either from a rival (or someone acting on their behalf), or from someone trying it on with a blackmail threat (“Freebies, or else.”) 
     

    Paid reviews could originate from anywhere in the world, but appear to be more prevalent in some areas than others. Source: 2019 TripAdvisor Review Transparency Report.
     

    In 2019, Gray discovered large sections of one of her books copied and pasted into the captions of an Instagram account, with account holder 'Tara' passing them off as her own. "I politely asked her to credit the book," says Gray, “She immediately blocked me, and went to every corner of the internet to bash my three books with one-stars and reviews such as: “Wouldn't read it again.' ”

    Reviews do matter – three-quarters of us read them, and our purchasing decisions are influenced by them, as the Spiegel Research Center in the US has quantified in its study on the impact they can have on sales

    But being on an online review platform can sometimes feel like being in the Wild West. There's little regulation. Systems, such as they are, can be easily gamed. And people are often trigger-happy when they hide behind an anonymous identity and vent.

    Tripadvisor calls fake reviews 'review vandalism'. “We work extremely hard to block them,” says Tripadvisor spokesperson Emma Shaw. "No one has a greater incentive than us to ensure the reliability of the content on our platform. It's the core of our business because, if people don't find our content reliable and helpful, they won't keep coming back to our site."

    Like other platforms, Tripadvisor has an automated system for spotting potential fakes, even if a reviewer tries to cover their tracks. When the system identifies a suspicious reviewing pattern, this is investigated – and can lead to prosecution.
     

    Automated systems for finding fake reviews work by monitoring patterns in user activity. Source: 2019 TripAdvisor Review Transparency Report.
     

    Fakes do still slide through. So, what should you do if you're on the receiving end? 

    First, flag it up with the platform straight away.

    Next, post a response as soon as you can. 

    You can't call reviews out as bogus or speculate as to the identity of an anonymous reviewer (both 'guidelines violations' and 'interference with reviews' that will get you red-flagged on your listings page). 

    But a hotel could write something along these lines to flag a review up as fake without actually spelling it out: 

    “We take great care of our guests' comfort and do our utmost to deliver an excellent service. However, I have double-checked with our teams and we have no record/recall of a guest experience such as you are describing. Please contact us directly so we can discuss in detail.”

    Once a review has been reported, a human (as opposed to an algorithm) will assess it to see if it's really a fake – or from a genuinely aggrieved customer. 

    "Be patient. It can take several days for a review to be assessed," Google warns. 

    In theory, getting your followers to flag a review as problematic can speed things up. Tripadvisor's Emma Shaw says: "When a review is reported by the community, the moderation team tries to resolve it as quickly as possible. Last year, 79 per cent of moderation assessments on reported reviews were conducted within six hours."

    But Catherine Gray's experience shows this can go wrong. She tried to get the fake reviews written by 'Tara' taken down. But when she asked her followers to back her up and hit 'report' on Amazon, it backfired spectacularly: "For the hundreds of followers that reported, many accidentally clicked 'helpful', so when you now look at the US reviews for my book The Unexpected Joy of Being Single, Tara's revenge review – 'Didn't care for it' – is top, with 53 'helpful' votes.”

    "Talk about an own goal," she says. 

    So, what if the platform refuses to take down the review? The pragmatic approach is to let it go. "Accept that the faceless people of the interweb are unfair and will say things that are not true," says Gray. "On the flipside, the universe has a way of rewarding you with 90 per cent accurate and fair reviews, to balance out the 10 per cent of nitwits."

    But if you're the victim of a sustained attack, you may need to make a legal removal request. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) requires businesses to act in a way that avoids distorting consumers' decision making. They class fake reviews as 'unfair practice', so a business posting fake reviews, or getting someone else to do it for them, is in breach of CPRs (schedule 1, paragraph 11).

    Before you rush off to your solicitor, there is an argument for embracing the occasional negative review – fake or not. The Spiegel Research Center found that five stars throughout is "too good to be true". We're more likely to buy at ratings in the 4.0 - 4.7 range, but get turned off a purchase as ratings approach 5.0. "While it may seem counterintuitive, negative reviews can have a positive impact because they establish credibility and authenticity," it says.

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  2. Calvin Crane

    Calvin Crane UKBF Regular Free Member

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    Interesting that Trip Advisor said "Tripadvisor calls fake reviews 'review vandalism'." They initially started out with all fake reviews to get the ball rolling.
     
    Posted: Jan 24, 2020 By: Calvin Crane Member since: Jun 8, 2018
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  3. Michael Loveridge

    Michael Loveridge UKBF Contributor Free Member

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    I was shocked to discover how easy it is to obtain fake reviews. I just Googled`fake reviews' and this company came up first - https://reviewsthatstick.com/why-buy-from-us/

    It's a shame that there isn't some form of national blocking system to prevent any UK access to such sites (though I realise that so many people use VPN's these days that it's probably pointless).
     
    Posted: Jan 24, 2020 By: Michael Loveridge Member since: Aug 2, 2013
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  4. Paul FilmMaker

    Paul FilmMaker UKBF Contributor Free Member

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    A small part of the reason for my business is because of fake reviews. Most of what I do is in the B2B space but recently, I did a small thing to help a business mitigate a load of bad, 'fake' reviews.

    Specifically, the situation looked to me as if a group had tried to trash a business using online reviews. Specifically, they had insane, completely unreasonable expectations, were nasty people and when that business hadn't then given them everything they wanted for free, they then became pretty nasty and did everything they could to trash that business. It was a sustained campaign of negative reviews.

    It genuinely looked to me as if this group were completely unreasonable, their behaviour at the business premises was nothing short of disgusting and the owner and staff were shell shocked. I also thought the owners were a little naive but they were a new business and had yet to encounter something like this. Frankly, there is some business that you just don't want to have.

    What really shocked me was that a bunch of unreasonable @£$%holes were successfully trashing a business using the review system. Sure, complain, get stuff changed but the reality is a small group of people can easily damage a genuine business quickly and it makes my blood boil.

    It's nothing more than blackmail. i.e. Give us everything for free or we'll write you a load of one-star reviews and there's nothing you can do about it.

    What we did helped mitigate this tirade of nasty, pretty sweary, one-star reviews and they had a consultant who helped with the online stuff but Jesus wept... It's way too easy to attack a genuine business online by some pretty bad people.
     
    Posted: Jan 25, 2020 By: Paul FilmMaker Member since: Aug 29, 2018
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