Listen, there are probably very few who understand astroturfers and their ways better than the Lazy Lightning community. However, NPR claims it has “Five Ways to Spot a Fake”. Unfortunately for them the entire article is not only useless, the title itself is just as misleading as their advice.
First things first: they don’t give five ways to spot a fake. What they do give are two fairly obvious suggestions that, “If the same string of words shows up in multiple reviews, or if someone who has never posted a review before posts a wildly enthusiastic review of that new eatery in town, those can be flags.” We’ve known this for years, however in our neck of the woods few bother to do anything but copy and paste across the different sites (the site which needs not be mentioned and Urbanspoon as well as Lazy Lightning itself).
While useful for those who may not have any common sense or knowledge of the wider reviewing world, they stop short of providing all five ways to spot a fake as they claim. However, they do provide five even more common sense ways to not get trapped by the content of review sites in general regardless of whether that content is faked or not:
1. Compare reviews not only within a site, but across different websites.
2. Reviews by people who are verified by the site are more trustworthy than reviews by anonymous reviewers — especially when it comes to negative reviews.
3. Read reviews less for whether they give a hotel or a restaurant one star or five stars, but more for the specific information they give about the experience.
4. Reviews are very useful for information that experts or merchants might not think to provide — how late a swimming pool stays open could be useful if you are traveling with a family.
5. Focus on aggregates, not outliers. You can’t trust a handful of bad reviews or glowing reviews, but trends are much harder to fake.
Personally I can fill in the five off the top of my head:
- 1. Overuse of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2. Heaping praise on items negatively reviewed by others without any substantive statements countering the original claim.
3. Character assassination of other reviewers, especially those with a large number of other restaurant reviews, while having only one review under their own belt.
4. Noting they’ve tried almost every item on the menu and/or saying they’ve gone to the restaurant ‘many times’ even though the restaurant has only been open a week or less.
5. Concentration on items which are generally irrelevant to the discussion (“the salt shakers on the table were really a nice touch!”) or a fixation on dishes which were obviously not made in-house.
There are tons of others but, as we know through our discussion of many of the restaurants which have tried this in the past, they are nearly too numerous for me to lay out in a post here.
I must admit that I’m a little disappointed in NPR’s coverage here. There is no reason why a company needs to use crazy algorithms or comparisons across sites. What they need are people trained in a few basic Internet sleuthing skills and a group of individuals stupid enough to post on sites that take the five or ten minutes to track down their direct connections to the business in question.
Just last week I had a repeat offender attempt to post a comment which read something like, “oh you’re still talking about us; I thought so.” The had used a name they previously did but a new e-mail address which I did not recognize. I contacted the person I believed it happened to be and asked if they had penned the ridiculous comment. They denied it but the IPs for both the comment and their response to my e-mail matched proving they were the same person. I suggested they grow up and I deleted the comment refusing to feed any more attention onto a business whose owner is such a sleaze that I refuse to provide them with a platform to continue to spread attention to regardless of whether it’s negative or positive.
If only more sites (and restaurants) would take the time to make their content worthy of attention rather than wasting time allowing (or penning) astroturfing, the Internet reviewing world would be a lot better place. Do you not agree?