A lot of honest B&B owners have despaired in recent years at the rise of fake online reviews. It’s hard enough to keep your business going in testing times without competitors resorting to underhand methods to improve their property’s rating – and even damage yours. (To say nothing of disgruntled guests seeking revenge for imagined slights or trying to blackmail you.) But there are a few encouraging signs that the tide may just be starting to turn.
Fake reviews and the companies who supply them (they’re called FROs, which stands for Fake Review Optimisers”) don’t just infect the hospitality business. Local services, product manufacturers, even doctors and dentists are exploiting their services. As Professor Bing Liu, from the University of Illinois, recently told Time Magazine: “More people are depending on reviews for what to buy and where to go, so the incentives for faking are getting bigger. […] It’s a very cheap way of marketing.”
Unfortunately, FROs seem to be most active in the travel business. According to research by a group of technology experts from Cornell University, sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, which allow anyone to post a review – without requiring proof that the reviewer has actually done business with the hotel or restaurant being rated – contain the highest proportion of fake reviews. (Of course TripAdvisor refutes this, claiming its own internal research shows that 98% of respondents said the site’s reviews were accurate to their experience… then again, it would, wouldn’t it?)
But, as is so often the case, the solution to a problem caused by new(ish) technology (in this case, the Internet) might lie in… new technology.
Several experts (including the Cornell team and Professor Liu himself) are now developing sophisticated algorithms to try and rid the Internet of fake online reviews. Their work is still at a relatively early stage, but already it is yielding very positive results. At Cornell the software sifted through a test selection of 800 hotel reviews — 400 fake, 400 real. It managed to detect the fakes 90% of the time.
So what does the software look for when trying to determine whether or not a review is fake? Some of the main ‘flags’ of a real review include:
- more punctuation, such as dollar or pound signs (i.e. more real info)
- more specific details, like hotel location
Conversely, fake reviews are often identifiable from:
- more superlatives and adverbs
- more “external” details (such as whom the reviewer was traveling with)
- more pronouns (‘they/ he/ she’ rather than the actual names of hotel staff members)
- more exclamation marks!!!
- too many repetitive mentions of the hotel’s name (for SEO purposes, most likely)
- remarkably short or remarkably long (i.e. one line or War & Peace)
Of course, FRO companies will doubtless be reading these findings themselves and adjusting their practices accordingly. But for accommodation owners who, for too long, have been fighting this scourge alone, it’s good to know that it is being taken seriously at last and that someone is on the case.