Fake Reviews: TripAdvisor Slams Facebook and Google

TripAdvisor recently defended itself from criticism by consumer group Which?, alleging the company was not doing enough to tackle fake reviews on its website.

The travel website responded by saying it had removed over one million fake reviews in 2018. Which? had this month reported that fake reviews had caused some of the top 10 rated hotels in popular tourist destinations to be pushed up the site’s rankings.

Here Tosshan Ramgolam, Brand Advisor at Incopro, the online brand protection software provider to over 650 brands, offers insight into the implications of fake reviews, and the ongoing ordeal with TripAdvisor.

Many customers rely on reviews when researching hotels, holidays and restaurants, so it’s not surprising that operators are offering money for fake reviews. This is a particularly acute problem with the nature of platforms like TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google, but the problem of purchasing fake reviews online to boost their ratings and dupe the general public is becoming a big issue.

TripAdvisor is one of the most popular travel review sites online and is a first point of call for millions of people, but it can be hard to know at the best of time which reviews are real and which are fake.

To prove this point, back in 2017, a Vice contributor turned his garden shed into a top-rated ‘restaurant’, which at one point ranked as the number one eatery in Dulwich on TripAdvisor’s ratings system. The listing was ultimately removed, but the prank unveiled how simple it was to fool both consumers and TripAdvisor with a few fake reviews and stock images.

Online reviews are hugely important for businesses, especially small and local establishments that don’t have the reputation and branding of large chains. 4 out of 5 people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and they are an important part of where Google’s algorithm ranks search results on its platform.

Although TripAdvisor claims to be help stop the flood of fake reviews on its site, even the most casual of glances shows that its attempts are almost entirely ineffectual.

Although the company said it’s removed more than one million fake reviews, how can anybody be sure that there are one million more still on the site?

TripAdvisor also said 66million reviews were submitted during 2018 and that all were analysed using advanced fraud detection technology. How, then, did one million reviews slip through the net? Or are the pre-2018 reviews not being checked as well?

The inherent issue of fake reviews is that they are even more widespread that suggested because, apart from anything else, fake reviews don’t self-identify as being fake.

While a handful of people will disclose that they received a free stay or meal in return for what they would call a “fair and unbiased review”, most of which tend to be four or five stars, fake reviewers naturally go to great lengths to camouflage their fake reviews. No-one really knows how many reviews are fake, but whatever the number, it is obvious that it is much larger than any official estimate.

As the likes of Amazon and eBay have found out in the past, it’s not a problem that is easily dealt with.

In order to stop the problem, we need to stop focusing on the fake reviews and start focusing on the fake reviewers. It’s almost impossible to stop people from publishing their feedback, but it could be a case of finding and tracking reviewers that consistently post 4- and 5-star reviews on hundreds of establishments every day.

Perhaps the model of reviews needs to change. Instead of platforms like TripAdvisor and Amazon offering reviews from anyone and everyone, would it make more sense to move towards a Which? model of having dedicated and trusted reviewers who are able to offer objective advice? Or limit the amount of reviews users are allowed to give?

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