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How to spot a fake review: there’s more to it than you think

Thursday, May 28, 2020
How to spot a fake review

People depend on the real opinions and experiences of others, especially when it comes to helping them decide which products and services to buy and use. In fact, we recently found that 90% of people say they use reviews before making any kind of purchase. But what happens if some of the views shared aren’t real and authentic?

The internet is full of tips and recommendations on how to spot fake reviews: use of simplistic language, the reviewer has only written one review and has no avatar/profile picture and so on. But do these tips really work consistently? Is it really as easy as everyone thinks to spot a fake review just by looking at it?

Let’s first understand what is meant by a fake review:

What is a fake review?

On Trustpilot, a review is considered to be fake if:

  1. It doesn’t represent a genuine service or buying experience

  2. It is a deliberate attempt to manipulate consumer perception or behaviour

How hard is it to spot a fake review?

Let’s consider the below example and return to the advice provided above.

The reviewer has used repetitive and simple language, has only written one review and has no image uploaded to their profile. So, logically you’d make the conclusion that this review is fake and has purely been written to mislead you. Right?

How to spot a fake review

Wrong. The review is...GENUINE

Our team of Content Integrity experts have had dialogue with the individual who wrote the review and also hold documentation proving the purchase made.

Here’s another example:

How to spot a fake review

Again one might question the use of emotive language like “Great service!”, with no additional context around the experience as something questionable.

This review is...GENUINE

Again, we have had full interaction with this reviewer and have further proof of purchase from the individual.

Science shows that people are unable to spot fakes reviews

Our team of Content Integrity experts see examples like this all the time. To the normal human eye, they could easily be misconstrued as fake.

The truth is, the average human finds it difficult to decipher what is true and what is false.

In fact, research of 25,000 people shows we are only 54% accurate when asked if a person is lying to our faces and when looking specifically at reviews, only 57% of people were able to accurately find a fake review, just by looking at the content. This slightly improves to 65% in tests where the participants were provided with more information about the reviewers.

The accuracy rates are far from convincing.

Let’s consider a further example.

The reviewer has written more than one review and has included an avatar. The review is 4 stars rather than a glowing 5 star review and appears to provide a reasonable account of the service provided.

How to spot a fake review

Infact, this review is .... FAKE

From a simple glance, this review might look trustworthy. However, our ability to look at behavioural patterns from 100s of data points behind every review including things like IP addresses, for example means we were able to spot that it was fake and remove this review from the platform to prevent it from misleading consumers.

It’s important that Trustpilot continues to fight fakes

Trustpilot is built on the premise of being accessible and open to all - a place where consumers’ voices can be heard, and where businesses can also respond and collaborate. We work extremely hard to maintain a fair balance between consumers and businesses. 70% of global consumers believe that the censorship of customer reviews is a serious concern and 56% of people want more transparency about how review platforms publish their reviews. That’s why, at Trustpilot, we make sure consumers' opinions are shared as soon as the review is written, with no company able to pre-moderate or censor any of the content.

Maintaining that balance isn’t always easy, but thankfully, the majority of business and consumers use Trustpilot in the way that it was intended. Constructive feedback helps companies listen, engage and improve their service experience, which is of benefit for everyone.

There will, however, always be a small minority that try to manipulate the system through fakes.

How does Trustpilot combat fakes?

At Trustpilot, we’re regularly asked about the techniques we use to prevent fakers and fraudsters from trying to post to our platform.

We combine cutting edge technology with our team of Content Integrity experts. Collectively, both our technology and people use data to assess behavioural patterns. If the patterns don’t adhere to the norm we investigate and remove them. Our methods have been developed over years and are far more accurate in detecting fake reviews than just by looking at the content.

This is in addition to a strong community of consumers and businesses that have the ability to flag content for further investigation should they believe it to be fake or should they think it contravenes our guidelines. Should you ever see a review you think is misleading to consumers in any way, we’d encourage you to report it to us at [email protected]

But no system is ever perfect and as fake reviewers increase in sophistication, there are times when some fakes slip through the net. We are confident fake reviews are a tiny fraction of the 87 million reviews on our platform and any impact is hugely outweighed by the power of the genuine reviews that help people make better buying decisions every day. Nevertheless, we’re continually improving our processes, systems, and techniques to minimise the risk to everyone using the platform. As fake behaviour evolves, so too do our techniques, technology, and processes to ensure the integrity of the Trustpilot platform.

Our work in this space is ongoing and will never stop. We use warnings, legal processes, consumer alerts (big yellow banners on a company’s pages), and continue to work with authorities in different regions to stamp out behaviour which can be misleading.

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