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“Review is only reliable if I like it” – how do you recognize fake online reviews?

Posted October 25, 2018

Trying before buying is not always possible. We have to trust people who used a particular product or service before us and so we read online reviews. However, they are not always reliable and it is up to us to judge which ones are stating an honest opinion and which ones are fake or written out of anger. A team of scientists led by the University of York found that we are not good at determining if the review is reliable.

Finding a good hotel based on reviews is not easy – you have to overcome a confirmation bias. Image credit: nclm via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Before reading a review, we already have certain expectations. We may really want to try that product ourselves or, on the contrary, don’t like it from the very beginning. Scientists found that we are more likely to question the legitimacy of a review if it doesn’t fit our expectations. Being suspicious is all well and good, since it is estimated that around 30 % of online reviews are fake. But we tend to let down our guard on reviews that we like or that fit our prediction. For example, a good review for a luxury hotel seems more believable than a bad one.

It is a simple confirmation bias – we agree with those statements that fit our own belief system. A simple design flaw of humans. But it is not only that – scientists also found that people tend to believe reviews with attractive titles more. Scientists say that more effective titles are well-articulated and concise, they require less effort from the reader. At least it is what scientists noticed during this study, which involved a fake review website and a 100 participants who were all regular users of review websites. Scientists say that these results show that luxury and budget hotels need different amount of time and effort invested into online marketing.

Budget hotels are more vulnerable to bad reviews, because those are seen as honest and reliable. Meanwhile luxury hotels are more immune to bad reviews – as long as the hotel is considered luxurious, people will not pay too much attention to negative reviews. Fake reviews are also difficult to identify, but scientists advice using more reliable sites that only allow users to actually leave reviews. Dr Snehasish Banerjee, one of the authors of the study, said: “When it comes to fake reviews, hotel owners face a ‘prisoners’ dilemma’ – they don’t know whether their competitors are engaging in these unscrupulous practices so they hedge their bets so as not to risk losing out on business”.

Scientists also advice spending more time on your own review if you want people to find it useful and reliable. You should at least write a nice concise title – something many online influencers are yet to learn. And if you have a business suffering from bad reviews, you should improve the quality of your service, but also invest more into online marketing.

Source:  University of York

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