FABRICATED OPINIONS : The Rise of Fake Online Reviews

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The prevalence of fake online reviews and how to protect your business from them.

 

Online review sites have transformed word-of-mouth advertising and the value of a customer referral in recent years by allowing customers from all over the world to contribute feedback and insights on products and services. This expansion provides a fantastic opportunity for businesses – particularly those with a strong web presence – to greatly expand their reach and potential customer base. That is, if their products and services are excellent. However, as with most innovations, there will undoubtedly be new ways to cheat the system. That is where fake online reviews come in.

 

 

Fake online reviews regarding businesses can be immensely damaging to both the corporations that engage in these shady methods and the consumers who are lured to purchase a product or service that they would have avoided based on actual feedback. Falsified product or service reviews became more common when prominent review sites such as Yelp, Facebook, and Google My Business gained in popularity, allowing for the creation of phoney reviews – a strategy known as ‘astroturfing.’ According to Big Commerce, astroturfing is a term used in marketing and advertising to describe ‘campaigns or messages that appear to be naturally occurring but are actually specified by a firm.’ The purpose of these campaigns is to alter perception by simulating genuine public interest in a company’s products or services, whether favourable or bad, when there is none.

Although it is illegal for corporations and the agencies who represent them to engage in this behaviour, it still occurs on a daily basis. Fake reviews and the skewed perceptions – both positive and negative – that they can cause for potential customers making a purchasing choice should concern every internet user today. As internet reviews have become more prevalent, they have become more implicitly trustworthy. However, when fakes are thrown into the mix, it has a significant impact on consumers’ and businesses’ daily lives. Someone might end up purchasing a poorly designed product as a result of these phoney reviews. Local enterprises are susceptible to the same fate. Fake reviews can make consumers furious when looking for a good lawyer, contractor, or even a lunch location, and in response, they may leave real evaluations about the business, product, or service based on a true experience with the particular brand.

 

As internet reviews have become more prevalent, they have become more implicitly trustworthy. However, when fakes are thrown into the mix, it has a significant impact on consumers’ and businesses’ daily lives. Someone might end up purchasing a poorly designed product as a result of these phoney reviews.

 

The industry that is affected the most by the surge of fake online reviews is the global e-commerce industry. According to a new study, online reviews had a USD 3.8 trillion impact on worldwide e-commerce spending in 2021. On principle, this is a positive thing. Online reviews, in their most perfect condition, provide a valuable economic function for all parties involved in a transaction. These pearls of wisdom and warnings aid in bridging knowledge gaps between buyers and sellers by disclosing information that might not otherwise be available. However, as with many aspects of the internet, there are malevolent individuals and bots among the well-intentioned valid users. Hence, on the opposite end of the positive impact of online reviews, in terms of sheer economic impact, fake online internet reviews have a direct impact of USD 152 billion on global online expenditure. This impact of fake reviews on review-influenced e-commerce in some of the world’s largest e-commerce countries can be further broken down. Fake online reviews have a USD 791 billion impact on e-commerce expenditure in the United States, USD 6.4 billion in Japan, USD 5 billion in the United Kingdom, USD 2.3 billion in Canada, and USD 900 million in Australia per year.

Fake reviews are becoming easier and more accessible, whether by people, botnets, click farms, or groups. This makes online reviews one of the most targeted sectors for bad actors, as well as one of the most expensive in economies where e-commerce grew during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to rise. This is backed up by a European Commission investigation that identified fake consumer reviews as one of the biggest market-distorting variables in e-commerce, resulting in serious consumer harm. Acting against phoney internet reviews and significantly limiting the impact of unscrupulous actors affecting online purchasing decisions has become an obvious economic requirement.

 

WHY DO FAKE ONLINE REVIEWS HOLD UP SO WELL?
The reason is quite obvious. One of the main reasons is that the return on investment of soliciting phoney reviews is very good. A single additional star on a restaurant’s Yelp rating can boost revenue by 5% to 9%. According to the Federal Trade Commission, spending money on bogus reviews might yield a twenty-fold return. For example, it was discovered in an enforcement case against Legacy Learning Systems Inc. that a USD 250,000 investment in fake reviews resulted in more than USD 5 million in sales. Even after deletion or detection, the deployment of fake reviews causes a significant short-term rise in organic search positions and sales ranks that lasts four weeks. Bad actors can also ‘bootstrap’ their reputations with false information by employing fraudulent reviews. According to Invesp data, 90% of polled consumers said they read internet reviews before purchasing a product or service. Furthermore, those individuals are more inclined to spend an average of 31% more on a company with excellent evaluations. With statistics like these, it’s easy to see why a company would want to have more favourable reviews, but the dissemination of these fraudulent reviews poses a severe threat to consumers who rely on this input to make purchasing decisions.

 

Online reviews, in their most perfect condition, provide a valuable economic function for all parties involved in a transaction. These pearls of wisdom and warnings aid in bridging knowledge gaps between buyers and sellers by disclosing information that might not otherwise be available. However, as with many aspects of the internet, there are malevolent individuals and bots among the well-intentioned valid users

 

 

A DETAILED STUDY CONDUCTED BY A CONSUMER GROUP
Multiple research organisations have conducted research in order to understand the sheer impact of online fake reviews. The in-depth study done by ‘Which?’, a consumer product review platform, is one of the most insightful ones. It claims that the coordinated trade in fake online reviews is a large global business, owing to the fact that as buyers flocked to the internet during the pandemic, so did sellers, making it even more difficult to get a product seen. According to ‘Which?’, ‘new [Amazon] vendors were joining at a rate of 247 every hour’ in early 2021.’
‘Which?’ visited ten websites purporting to provide ‘review manipulation services’ to Amazon merchants, posing as either a potential reviewer or a seller in need of reviews. ‘Which?’ discovered ‘a booming industry’ that might add millions of false reviews to the platform. Electronics, dog toys, and vegan food items were among the products promoting phoney reviews on review platforms. Despite the fact that Google (like Amazon) has standards in place to try to prevent fraudulent reviews, ‘Which?’ claims that “the web of reviewers we identified exposes a severe gap in Google’s measures to prohibit exploitation of its review platform.” However, ‘Which?’ correctly points out that such platforms could and should do more to protect consumers from being deceived, and that governments and regulators should hold them more accountable if they don’t.

HOW TO RECOGNISE FAKE CUSTOMER REVIEWS?
Not every review site is as committed to combating negative feedback as Yelp and Google are. Every day, review sites can receive hundreds of thousands of reviews. If you want your brand to be free of phoney reviews, make sure you’re on the lookout for them and reporting them to the review site. Here are some of the greatest strategies for spotting false reviews, regardless of whether you are a customer or an online entrepreneur.

 

Similar looking content
They’re most likely false reviews if you find dozens of them with the same title, phrases, author, or something that appears like it was copied and pasted multiple times.

 

Reviewers who have not been verified or who have chosen to remain anonymous
There’s a good probability a review is phoney if you can’t discover any evidence of a person’s name or that they even visited your business, especially if the review includes very few specifics about their experience with your brand, product, or service.

 

Multiple reviews on the same day
If you observe a swarm of reviews on a single day, it’s likely that they’re all fraudulent. A hundred unfavourable 1-star ratings for a firm that receives less than 10 reviews every day is an example of this.

Language that is grammatically incorrect
Fake reviews are frequently posted by non-native speakers. If you notice a pattern of reviews from people who utilise the wrong terminology or make common spelling errors, there’s a significant probability the reviews are phoney and the reviewers were paid to write them.

 

Duplicate reviews on other sites
If you observe a spike in unfavourable reviews, look to see if your competitors have received the same or comparable feedback. Unfortunately, there are companies out there who will pay for nasty evaluations about their competitors to be written.

As the world embraces advances in technology and integrates them into all aspects of everyday life, purchase patterns are also changing. Hence, word of mouth has taken the form of online reviews – where viewpoints and perspectives are freely expressed, communities are formed and ideas are exchanged. Reviews are surely a proven method to interact with other participants in order to understand the quality of the product or service. But fake reviews are true obstacles. Educating the customers and empowering the brands can enable everyone to steer past these.

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