TripAdvisor fake reviews is a reality that it is fighting – yet again. Only this time it’s different. Earlier TripAdvisor.com was battling fake reviews that were presented as genuine.
This time around, a marketing agency named Bacon Agency has openly offered to write fake TripAdvisor reviews for a relatively modest sum of $ 570.
Since the whole idea of democratizing customer reviews became prevalent – and easy to implement, thanks to the internet – the ghost of fake reviews has always lurked in the background. What makes Bacon Agency’s move to create TripAdvisor fake reviews unique is the no-holds barred, blatant offer to provide fake reviews, in exchange of a fee.
This creates a unique digital world: one the one hand, you have the danger that Google reads your Gmail messages, while on the other, opening the doors so that anyone can offer reviews of their experience.
The question is, of course, of permission.
User-generated TripAdvisor reviews
TripAdvisor correctly understood that the best travel reviews, hotel reviews and restaurant reviews come from other travelers and guests, not professionals.
Tourism professionals look at stuff like how many rooms of a hotel have a beach-view; real travelers are more interested in whether a stay in any of these rooms is enjoyable.
Tourism professionals try and see if the napkins on ten different tables were folded in ten different ways or nine; real travelers are more interested in good food and clean napkins.
In short, professionals have a different way of looking at things, many of which aren’t a big deal for most travelers. That’s why genuine reviews from actual travelers are way more useful.
Think of user-generated content (in TripAdvisor’s case, it’s user-generated reviews) as a massive and an ever-increasing database which everyone else can contribute to and access.
For all the understanding, TripAdvisor fake reviews is a bitter truth one must combat.
Ironically, we are seeing the emergence of artificial intelligence that does a lot of work for humans. But that is face with the question: will robots take my job? Additionally, you see automation making communication easier to the extent that Adrian Abramovich company asked to pay a fine of US$ 120 million for questionable phone calls, under the guise of genuine sales calls.
An interesting thing about user-generated reviews, like in case of TripAdvisor reviews, is that extreme reviews tend to balance out in the long run. If a guest has had an exceptionally wonderful experience at a restaurant, where both the food and service are usually average, there would be a good number of guests who were neither impressed nor too displeased. That means five reviews that rate a restaurant ‘average’ will counterbalance the one ‘awesome’ review that’s dubious at best.
So what happens is when you read one review that rates the restaurant as ‘awesome’ and five reviews that rate the restaurant as ‘average’, you know being awesome isn’t common behavior for the restaurant.
In other words, readers get to read a range of reviews and, in the process, subconsciously even out extremely positive or extremely negative reviews.
That still doesn’t stop people to try and game the system by writing fake reviews.
Fake TripAdvisor reviews
To understand the impact of reviews on TripAdvisor, first take a look at the screen-shot below:
Yes, you read it right: Last counted, there are 630 million reviews on TripAdvisor. Well, the world population is 7.6 billion, so:
Put differently, roughly 1 out of every 12 human being on earth has written a TripAdvisor review!
If you’re an unethical restaurateur or a hotelier free from moral compunctions, these numbers are absolutely irresistible.
There are two kinds of TripAdvisor fake reviews:
- Fake reviews that sing undeserved praise of a particular restaurant or a hotel
- Fake reviews that severely criticize a (competing) restaurant or a hotel
Ahead of the Soccer World Cup in mid-June, restaurants and hotels in host countries like Russia are putting in top-dollar marketing. And to take advantage of these businesses, all sorts of services are being offered – including TripAdvisor fake reviews.
One particular service caught the attention: an open offer to create fake positive reviews in exchange of US$570. Yes, Bacon Agency, the marketing agency that has publicized this offer is offering restaurants and hotels a major jump in their positive reviews – fake, needless to add.
TripAdvisor fake reviews, something that was lurking in the shadows till now, suddenly sounds like a business proposition.
Why TripAdvisor reviews matter (even the fake ones)
In a video interview with Reuters, Roman Baldanov, executive partner says, “Writing a [TripAdvisor fake] review is not a crime or as big a deception as one may think. Often it’s a necessary measure.” He ‘explains’ that with the sudden spurt in tourists with the World Cup, new restaurants might never be noticed, unless they can lure tourists with attractive reviews.
An interesting, but not rare, case is that of an Italian restaurant Peperonchino near the stadium in Kaliningrad. It used to receive an average of about one review a week. And suddenly, it has been flooded with positive reviews.
Peperonchino was #28 on the TripAdvisor list, now it’s ranked #2.
What makes the new positive reviews look suspicious is the fact that they are posted from new TripAdvisor accounts and they use stock photos of the dishes served. Tongue in cheek, Reuters advised tourists to take all reviews with a ‘pinch of salt’.
The problem is compounded by the fact that there is no direct connection between a verified reservation or payment and the individual writing the review.
That means you can’t easily tell a genuine review from a TripAdvisor fake review.
How TripAdvisor fake reviews are spotted and dealt with
TripAdvisor has been wary of fake reviews since long.
In essence, it relies on the following to identify TripAdvisor fake reviews and prevent gaming the system:
- A team of over 300 employees working across the world to manage content and detect fraudulent reviews
- Their understanding of what’s normal and what’s not, that stems from their 15 years in the profession
- A proprietary algorithm that captures a lot of data and feeds it into a system that constantly learns and improves itself
- Letting business flag content that they feel is fraudulent – without guaranting it will be taken off, toned down or modified
- Engaging with and enticing shady companies that try to hire people to write fake reviews and game the review system
- Driving home the importance of being honest, in the minds of hoteliers and restaurateurs
- Placing a warning, in red fonts, beside properties that were suspect of manipulation and thereby alerting customers and deterring property owners
- Encouraging users to report reviews that are sizeably different from their actual experiences or the ones they don’t find credible
- Using other, more intricate methods that TripAdvisor doesn’t disclose, because that might actually help the very tricksters TripAdvisor is trying to ward off
Once identified , here’s how TripAdvisor penalizes fake reviewers and fraudulent activities and deals with them:
- Block and remove fake reviews
- Make each fraudulent review negatively impact the business’s rank in TripAdvisor’s Traveler Ranking (if a business does it repeatedly, it’s practically out of the ranking)
- Disqualify restaurants and hotels from special awards and recognition
- Pursue and identify companies that sell such services, remove all fake content they’ve posted and penalize their clients that engaged in such activities
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TripAdvisor believes in what they call ‘the right to write’. That means two things. One, they encourage travelers to write their reviews. And two, they protect that right against businesses that would like to influence reviews, both positive and negative.
That, sadly, gives a broad enough margin for TripAdvisor fake reviews.
Can you spot TripAdvisor fake reviews?
Ok, so like there’s a team and an algorithm and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and all that stuff to spot TripAdvisor fake reviews at the TripAdvisor office.
The question is: can you spot fake TripAdvisor reviews?
Well, you can be sure no system of spotting fake reviews can be perfect. For all the efforts TripAdvisor puts in to detect fake reviews, there will always be a very small number of fake reviews that manage to fall through the cracks. The good news is that (hopefully) the number is too insignificant to materially impact your own judgment.
That said, is it possible for you as an individual to tell a TripAdvisor fake review from a genuine one?
The answer is, yes – well, mostly.
How to spot TripAdvisor fake reviews
We found the discussion on this forum quite educative. Here’s a summary of the various ways on how to spot fake reviews on TripAdvisor (or elsewhere):
- Fake reviews tend to be extreme. Approach with caution reviews that read “Experience of a lifetime” or “This hotel is the last word in worst service”. Actual visitors are more likely to balance out things.
- Fake reviews often engage in irrelevant small talk a little too much. Since the core information is limited, the reviewer will talk about her awesome boyfriend or the family reunion.
- Fake reviews use a disproportionately large number of industry jargons. When a restaurant themselves supply the phrasing, reviews read like industry journals: “pax”, “cover”, “day guests”, “leisure guests”… travelers are unlikely to think in this way!
- Fake reviews often come in huge numbers. That restaurant was doing an average 2.4 stars till last week. And suddenly, 43 guests are madly in love and assigning 5 stars – well, you know it’s fishy.
- Fake reviews use unnecessary details. “In all the 37 rooms, the hotel has a blah blah faucets.” When was the last time you counted the total rooms in a hotel you were staying at, much less rooms with certain faucets?
- Fake reviews contain too many embellishments. “Outstanding cutlery” “extra-ordinary, world-class service” “awesomestly helpful host” “undoubtedly, the finest in the region”. Genuine travelers tend to be a little less over-the-top.
- Fake reviews might actually run out of words. This may sound silly, but there’s a chance you read one review about a hotel in Milan, and a month later, you see a review, verbatim, for another hotel in Kuala Lumpur!
- Fake reviews often come from one-off accounts. Reviews from accounts that max out after one or two reviews are less likely to be genuine. Regular TripAdvisor users post more often.
This isn’t enough to weed out every single TripAdvisor fake review, but it’s a good start all the same.
TripAdvisor, founded in 2000 and headquartered in Massachusetts , USA, is primarily a hotels and restaurants reviews aggregator platform. It also offers accommodation bookings. Its founders include Stephen Kaufer and Langley Steinert, among others.
TripAdvisor’s content is user-generated. As a matter of fact, it thrives on user-generated content. Interestingly, the site started out to aggregate professional reviews from trade journals, magazines and newspapers. The idea was to provide a single website from where you could read professional reviews, by experts, for about every restaurant and hotel.
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On the side, there was a button that said “Visitors add your own review”. To the surprise of the founders, soon visitors started flooding TripAdvisor with reviews. And that’s how TripAdvisor began focusing on user-generated content, something that’s its core offering today.