Fake Reviews

A lot of of buying choices are based on reviews from TripAdvisor, Amazon, etc.. Some of these are fake. One journalist highlighted the problem by writing fake restaurant reviews for his garden shed. He managed to get his shed the top rating for any London restaurant!

Online companies make efforts to detect fake reviews, but tricksters improve their skills. No-one has yet won this war so if you’re buying something important you need to think about whether you can trust the reviews. How can you tell if they’re fake? There are tips in the articles linked below. But first…

You might want to speed things up with automated tools. Paste the web address into the box and they’ll run tests and give it a rating. (NB: These sites were recommended in the CNBC article linked below but I also ran VirusTotal over them and they tested clean).

FakeSpot.Com handles TripAdvisor, Amazon and a couple of other sites.

ReviewMeta.Com gives you a lot of information and explanation as to how the figures are arrived at. It seems to handle Amazon only.

You’ll need to get used to these tools. Running the same web address through both will give you a good comparison. Perhaps one of them is often more negative than the other. Test a few products or services that you’ve been happy with and where you’re confident that the rating is accurate. Remember this isn’t an exact science. Try pasting this link (to a Galaxy S9 Glass Screen Protector) into both engines:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07B9W9DN8/ (the address comes from the BuzzFeed article linked below)

Amazon currently shows only 2 reviews, while at the time of writing Fakespot shows 642. This probably means Amazon have recently taken down nearly all the reviews, and Fakespot are displaying the result of a test they ran earlier. The ReviewMeta result agrees with Amazon, listing only two reviews. Here’s another one with less extreme results: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B074SJV133/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1#customerReviews

Both sites show an adjusted score after removing the reviews they think are fake. If you’re using the sites to help you make decisions, use your judgment to decide how much you’ll rely on the adjusted scores.

Perhaps you want to do the job yourself instead of using the online checkers. The consumer magazine “Which?” provides tips on what to look for: The facts about fake reviews. Which? also check on customer reviews when they write up articles on individual products. You may be able to find Which? at your reference library. Here’s a direct link to the podcast from the article: Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, on Nick Ferrari’s LBC show to discuss fake reviews

… and one more article: Amazon has a problem with fake reviews — here’s how holiday shoppers can avoid falling for them (CNBC.COM)

Background

This Daily Mail article refers to a claim by Fakespot, and also include a statement from TripAdvisor in answer to it:
‘One in three TripAdvisor reviews is fake’: Hotels are accused of trying to manipulate their ratings on the site by paying third parties to give five-star write-ups and rubbish their rivals (Daily Mail)

Deep Dive

Buzzfeed: Inside Amazon’s Fake Review Economy

Reply All Podcast #124: The Magic Store This 2018 podcast is about one woman’s experience with an unsatisfactory product she bought on Amazon. It goes deeper into the methods some merchants use to get unfair advantages on Amazon. Please note:There is occasional swearing in the ReplyAll podcast series and if you are culturally conservative you may find some of the conversation offensive.

Fake News (and you)

Even if “fake news” doesn’t cause harm it still wastes everyone’s time. We need to see it for what it is and help others do the same.

This article is meant to be practical so I won’t be too precise about the definition. I’m including as fake news any material that is insincere. The creator wants to influence you, but is not open about why they want to and how they’re doing it.

They tell deliberate lies – or take no trouble to check the facts. Or maybe the words are technically true, but the choice of facts is so unbalanced that it gives you a false impression.

Start the Fightback

You don’t even have to get out of your chair. Part of the fake news problem is the attitude of people reading it. Try to be more sceptical about news generally. Many people confuse this with being cynical.

Two excerpts from the Oxford Dictionary show that cynics and sceptics are different types of people:

  • Cynic: One disposed to deny and sneer at the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions.
  • Sceptic: one who maintains a doubting attitude

So being cynical isn’t very nice, but there’s nothing wrong with being sceptical. It protects us from believing news just because it’s exciting or shocking. We run a few tests in our head. What kind of questions should we ask? Librarians would able to offer good advice. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has published what you see below.

How to spot fake news
Find a list of other language versions here

Next time you see something sensational you might want to check it against the chart and see whether it passes the tests. What else can help?

Try listening to all sides of an argument, especially if you hold a strong opinion. Even if it doesn’t change your point of view, knowing why others think differently will help you to be clearer on your reasons for thinking as you do.

Of course, you’re not guaranteed to get to the truth that way. Everyone may be distorting the facts even if they don’t mean to. Fact-checking websites may help. These are often run by charities and try to be unbiased (although no human can be completely unbiased).

Fact Checking

British

Full Fact is the UK’s independent factchecking charity
Channel 4: FactCheck
Independent: Fake News

International

FactCheck.Org
Snopes: What’s New
KnowYourMeme.Com

Other programmes and web content don’t provide fact-checking services but claim to get to the real story behind all the politics and propaganda, so they’re worth a look:

Science

SenseAboutScience.Org
What eight years of writing the Bad Science column have taught me (Ben Oldacre)

Listen/Watch

BBC Radio 4: More Or Less

Twitter

Of course, Twitter has a special place in the fake news world, but many of the principles of knowing what’s fake are the same as for other media (just a note about the “Twitter Verified Account”, indicated by a tick. Twitter has checked that the person is correctly identified. It’s useful to know that a real person, not a “bot” (software) is running the account, but of course it doesn’t mean that Twitter is guaranteeing that every Tweet is true.

Repeat Offenders

Since you can’t spend all your time fact-checking it’s helpful to improve the quality of news you see. If you find that a site has a bad reputation, you can stay away from it.
List of Fake News Web Sites

Explaining it to the Next Generation

These skills will benefit your kids for life, so here are a few things you could show them (They’re for very young kids and don’t have any sound. I’ll post something better when I find it):
Who Writes the Internet Anyway?
Don’t jump to conclusions, #AskforEvidence
It’s ok to #AskforEvidence

Deep Dive

If you want to go deeper into this topic, here are a couple of deep dives:
Podcast: The Ugly Truth (Sense About Science at the British Library)
Editorial: Sky Views: Facebook’s fake news threatens democracy

Fact Checking

Sky