Yelp attempts to tackle fake reviews


Every B&B owner knows that the world of online reviews in a complex one, fraught with possibilities and anxieties in equal measure. Some accommodation providers have been given a terrific visibility/sales boost by excellent online feedback. Others (like this one) have suffered from malicious fake reviews. And some have tried to game the system by creating fake reviews of their own.

While TripAdvisor seems to float serenely above these concerns – only addressing them in the most grudging way possible when forced to do so – Yelp looks as if it is trying to take them a bit more seriously (in the US, at any rate), as reported by The New York Times: “Like every Web site that depends on consumer critiques, Yelp has a problem with companies trying to manipulate their results. So it set up a sting operation to catch them. The first eight businesses — including a moving company, two repair shops and a concern that organizes treasure hunts — will find themselves exposed on Thursday. For the next three months, their Yelp profile pages will feature a “consumer alert” that says: “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business.” Potential customers will see the incriminating e-mails trying to hire a reviewer.”

Yelp’s internal filters already know that fake reviews are most likely to be contributed by users new to the site. So, to have the best shot at getting a fake review onto a profile page, a sneaky business needs to find an established contributor, whom Yelp has called an “elite” reviewer. Yelp’s sting operation involved getting an employee to pose as just such an “elite” reviewer and advertising their services on a classified site to attract the unscrupulous: “A pest control company offered $5 to anyone who would post a review that the business itself had written. The moving company was willing to pay $50 but wanted original copy. An appliance repair shop provided a start: ‘I really appreciate that the service tech was on time, the problem was solved, everything was cleaned up and he was very professional. Please add 50 or more words,’ the shop suggested. It would pay $30.”

As the New York Times concedes, putting a spotlight on eight businesses is only a modest crackdown (incidentally, none of those eight seems to have been a hotel or B&B.) But it is at least a start. On the other hand, it also raises the unwelcome prospect of someone trying to manipulate this attempt to stop manipulation:  “What’s to stop someone from going and soliciting fake positive reviews for a competitor’s restaurant, in order for them to be publicly shamed?”

Oh, what a tangled (inter)web, etc…

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