The Current

The business of fake online reviews

Restaurant goers who rely on the internet for unbiased critique may be surprised by a new study that suggests as many as 16 per cent of reviews are fake.
In the online world of reviews, many are fiction or rather fakes. Some written by friends or family. Some written by a person half way around the world who may praise the steak, they've never tasted. The problem irked New York's Attorney General so much he faked out the fakes.

Perhaps you've stumbled on a suspicious online review -- for a restaurant, or hotel, or even a doctor or lawyer -- and wondered just how many online rants and raves are fake?

New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman has launched an investigation into fake online reviews, and the results surprised him.

It goes far beyond anything I personally every realized. I look at reviews and take them with a grain of salt but can't help but getting caught up in the sense that this is a pretty good restaurant or hotel ... or service. But we discovered there are a lot of companies that were paying their employees, or friends and family of employees, directing them to inflate their views. But beyond that we discovered this entire industry, something called Reputation Management companies or Search Engine Optimization companies, that you can call and very brazenly offer you to produce lots of false reviews and have people chance their IP addresses to work on social networking sites. We think there's a much higher portion online that are false reviews that we ever anticipatedNY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaking with WNYC radio

Earlier this week, his office handed out more than $300-thousand dollars in fines to 19 businesses that had gamed the system with fake reviews. But it's still a rich territory for building a new business, smacking a competitor, or sticking it to an old boss.

David Streitfeld has written about this for the New York Times. He's been reporting on the pervasiveness of fake online reviews for two years. David Streitfeld was in San Francisco.

We spoke with Vince Sollitto, the vice-president of corporate communications for the customer review website Yelp. He says the website does weed out bad reviews. And is turning to legal action, including a suit against a Canadian who allegedly writes fake reviews for money:

Yelp only shows about 75 per cent of the reviews that are submitted to our site because those are the ones that we have the most confidence in that we think are most reliable and trustworthy. So about 1 in 4 reviews don't make the cut and are not recommended to consumers and its in that group that we find reviews submitted by businesses on their own behalf or against their competitors or things like that. We have also began to take some legal action against businesses that are particularly egregious in their behaviour or individuals.Vince Sollitto, Yelp Vice-President

Whether it's accentuating the positive or eliminating the negative, our next guest knows how to help companies maintain their reputation online.

Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of the online reputation management company He was in Redwood City, in Silicon Valley, California.

Katy Steinmetz is Time magazine's language columnist, and she shared a few tips of things you should look for to spot a fake review. Here are her tips online.

Do you look at online reviews when you are deciding on a restaurant or a hotel? How much do reviews influence your decision to try a new place?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar, Peter Mitton and Josh Bloch.

Real Actors Read Yelp Reviews

We referred to a new study suggesting as many as one in five reviews may be fake. Fake or not, restaurant reviews seem to inspire a strange level of intensity. A web series called Real Actors Read Yelp Reviews channels some of that passion into dramatic readings. Therese Plummer positively gushes while performing this review of a British Indian restaurant.



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