“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Trust is fundamental to the success of all relationships. Between parent and child; partners in a relationship; consumers and commercial enterprises. Without it, relationships cannot be sustained and inevitably fail. Without repeat sales, businesses fold.
We live in a society where we are seemingly more trusting than we’ve ever been. Developments in how we live our lives nowadays necessitates an unprecedented level of trust. Airbnb and Uber are two perfect examples of this.
Before the existence of Airbnb, we would have found it unimaginable to stay at a stranger’s home, in another city and pay for the privilege!
Uber drivers have no boss, no set hours and no physical office. Yet we are perfectly happy to get in a car with a complete stranger to take us where we need to go. We will even do this in an unfamiliar city in another country without a second thought. What makes these commercial exchanges possible?
Safety net of reviews
The answer is quite simply reviews. If an Uber driver has had predominantly positive reviews, we trust it’s safe to travel with them. If an Airbnb property’s review boasts amazing views, comfortable beds and a 5-star location, who wouldn’t want to stay at that property?
These two examples highlight the necessity for and importance of genuine, trusted reviews. The high level of trust needed in these exchanges is entirely attributed to its online reviews. And with an increasing number of consumers shopping online for more products and services, this need will only continue to grow for commercial enterprises. The key word, however, is trusted.
Consumers have more information at their fingertips and so require fewer interactions with companies before deciding to buy. They are able to take time evaluating alternatives before making an informed purchase decision. Trusted reviews are key to this stage as consumers look to peer-generated reviews to help inform their choice. In fact, 89% of consumers worldwide check online reviews before making purchases.
Confidence levels in governments, religious institutions and social media influencers is diminishing with 96% of consumers no longer trusting social media influencers. Instead, consumers turn to family, friends and online reviews as credible sources of feedback and recommendations. When reviews turn out to be fake, confidence levels drop further and companies find it hard to recover. Nietzsche is right; it’s hard to win back lost trust. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. This is why it’s vital that businesses do everything possible to ensure the trustworthiness of the reviews written about them.
Reviews that can damage consumer trust
Organisations face real challenges in tackling a range of bad behaviours on their platforms to meet the high standards that consumers expect, and to maintain trust.
Astroturfing is the colloquial name given to the practice of promoting positive support or opinion for a product or service on forums, blogs or reviews. Marketers attempt to influence star ratings for a product or service by posting fake, inflationary reviews or paying users to do so for them. This could equally be done with the intent to attack a rival company rather than promote their own. A person posting fake reviews could be incentivised to do so by getting the product for free or in exchange for a gift, such as a holiday.
On the other hand, it’s right to be cautious if there are an overwhelming number of overly positive reviews…
Too good to be true
The proliferation of fake reviews has led 49% of consumers to believe “too many companies are creating fake reviews online”. Consumers are becoming more suspicious of 5 star ratings. Can the product really be as good as it seems, or at least as good as the reviewer claims it to be? How can we trust they weren’t incentivised to write a positive review or in fact that they even purchased the product or experienced the service? Don’t be fooled by the term ‘Verified Purchase’. The term is ‘Verified Purchase’, not ‘Verified Review’ for a reason. Just because the product has been ‘purchased’ by the reviewer, doesn’t mean the content of their review has been verified.
Amazon recently disclosed that it blocked more than 200 million suspected fake reviews in 2022. By the end of August 2023, it had taken legal action against 147 fraudsters in China, Europe and the US. Two China-based review brokers found selling fake Amazon reviews to bad actors through third party messaging apps were sentenced to 2.5 years in prison and three years of probation in China. This is Amazon's second criminal judgement.
Online reviews are often the first impression a business makes. On average, prospective customers read 10 reviews before they trust a local business. Isn’t it important to be aware of the online conversation around your business? If fake reviews, either overly positive (unconvincingly written) or distinctly negative (damaging to the business) are read, this can have a serious impact on trust in and, as a result, the longevity of the business.
Spot the fakery
So, what are the hallmarks of fake online reviews? Tell-tale signs such as poorly written reviews, and overly positive language are potential indicators of fabrication. However, AI tools help make review writing much easier for fraudsters providing them with more credible-sounding reviews. What's more effective, therefore, is alongside examining the review content, analysing the circumstances of how the review was posted - when were the reviews posted? Are the reviewers connected? Do the patterns and interactions seem authentic? These questions are harder for consumers to answer and instead rely on platforms using fake review detection technology.
With fake online reviews influencing more than $150 billion in sales globally in 2021, it is vital that consumers are not being misled.
Truth bias (Vrij, 2008) is a common finding in deception detection research where human judges are more likely to classify an opinion as truthful than deceptive. This means that favour lies with the liar because ultimately people want to believe what they see, hear or read.
From a consumer’s point of view, truth bias would lead someone to believe that the very positive Amazon review they’re reading is true rather than suspect it’s fake. From a business’ perspective, it means that apart from the operational challenge of manually sifting through hundreds of thousands of reviews, it is far less accurate to rely on humans to spot deception on a large scale. We rely heavily on visual cues when spotting deception - impossible when analysing written reviews. That coupled with our propensity to believe what we read makes it a very challenging task indeed.
So, how can online platforms that offer customer review functionality protect themselves from review fraud?
By combining the processing power of technology and the expertise of humans, platforms can create a more trustworthy and reliable review system while minimising the risks of review fraud.
Learn more about how Pasabi's fake review detection solution helps combat the problem at scale.