Shedding Light on the Dark Side of Fake Reviews

Twitter has just announced that it will crack down on abusers and remove offensive posts. Threats of violence will no longer be tolerated on the popular social media site. “Our previous policy was unduly narrow and limited our ability to act on certain kinds of threatening behavior,” Twitter’s director of product management, Shreyas Doshi, wrote in a blog post.

This is good news. Too many people–particularly high-profile women–have become ongoing targets of Internet trolls and others who typically hide behind anonymity to harass and threaten others.

However, the problems run deeper than trolls and abusive posts. Online reviews are rife with fake ratings and comments–often posted by competitors that even pay people (usually overseas) to generate fake content. Over the last couple of years, Yelp, Trip Advisor and others have improved their algorithms and used more sophisticated methods to identify cheaters, but abuse still happens way too often.

Of course, bad reviews and ratings can damage a business. It can affect how others view or purchase a product or service. At Amazon, more than a few authors (including me) have seen their books receive negative reviews. That’s fine if a person takes the time to explain his or her thinking in some detail and presents cogent arguments. But what about when the person hides behind a fake name, account or meaningless handle and consistently posts one-star reviews? What about when the reviews all sound eerily similar? What about when it’s fairly obvious the person hasn’t read the book or used the product?

While it’s important to provide a forum for comments, opinions and ratings, everyone loses when trolls and abusers swing their wrecking balls. The goal should not be unfettered “free speech” to the point where we reach the lowest common denominator. And the same basic principles apply for social media and social business systems within the enterprise. It’s critical to identify offensive posts, reviews and comments and shut down bullies and abusers. Otherwise, good employees exit.

CIOs and other enterprise leaders should keep an eye on this issue. If you operate a site or business that includes ratings and reviews, don’t squelch legitimate reviews, comments and complaints. Learn from them. But, at the same time, look for abusers and shut them down. Otherwise, everyone is a big loser.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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