Paid, fake testimonials are legion

Thursday, February 7th, 2013 By

Manure

Be careful with online reviews and testimonials; given the large number of fake testimonials, a lot are basically manure. Photo credit: Sten Porse/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA

Believe it or not, many people don’t like “BS” and don’t really like it when an advertisement is clearly spreading it on thick. Reviews of basically anything have to be taken with grains of salt, as paid and fake testimonials are everywhere.

Verizon ads derided online as fake testimonials, participants mocked

Look, let’s be honest. Most of the ads on television are best described as a substance that comes out of the rear of a bull. Everyone knows it. Does that stop advertisements from being made? Nope.

However, one of the beauties of social networking is that it can enable consumers to “call B.S” as it were. Verizon learned that the hard way, according to the Daily Mail. A recent commercial showed three “real” people, extolling the virtues of Verizon FiOS internet service, who offered their Twitter names to solicit comments.

Twitter questions included whether said testifiers were robots, “how much are they paying you to promote this” to “I have a cocaine problem. How can FiOS help?” and so forth, accusing them of making fake testimonials or at least, payola.

All three were revealed to be actors, though actual but “incentivized” Verizon customers.

Fake reviews rife on interwebs

Fake testimonials, paid testimonials, fake reviews, whatever one wishes to call them, are a plague upon the internet. Obviously, there are a lot of online reviews of stuff, restaurants and products and so forth, but just as with everything on said internet, not all of it is trustworthy.

Naturally, businesses have an incentive to have good reviews; people rely on reviews to make purchasing decisions. Ergo, they pay someone to write something nice or something bad about the competition.

How many reviews are fake is likely unknowable, but various estimates exist as to how many are. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a New York Times investigation in 2008 estimated up to 30 percent of all online reviews are fake. Research firm Garnter, according to Daily Finance, estimates 10 to 15 percent of social media reviews, including “likes” and plugs on Twitter and Facebook, will be fake by 2014.

Watch for the signs

According to The Guardian, it’s illegal for a website or company to pay for a review without disclosing it, but with the nature of reviews, such as on Amazon or Yelp, it’s difficult to prove which reviews are paid and which aren’t. Verizon covered their tracks, by disclosing their commercial’s subjects were “incentivized,” meaning paid.

Obviously, anything on television, especially advertisements, has to be taken as being at least half bull. There are some ways to spot fake reviews online though. According to CNET, common red flags are reviews that are all positive with no downside, or all bad with no upside. Both are likely either a reviewer being paid to promote or denigrate a brand, or a fanboy. Neither are trustworthy.

Also look at the reviewers’ name and history. If the name seems made of random characters, it’s probably fake. The reviewers’ history can also be telling; if they only review one businesses’ stuff, it’s likely payola.

Sources

Daily Mail

Sydney Morning Herald

Daily Finance

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/jan/26/fake-reviews-plague-consumer-websites

CNET: http://howto.cnet.com/8301-11310_39-57554335-285/how-to-spot-fake-user-reviews-while-shopping-online/

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