EDITORIAL: Bank on online reviews at your peril
Take your fingers off your phone for just one dad-blasted minute.
Let’s see a show of hands:
How many of you discerning consumers have ever used digital reviews to help you decide where to eat, who should work on your teeth, or which hotel earns the right to rest your road-weary head?
Thought so. You’re among the millions of Americans who have tapped into a billion-dollar revenue stream for review fraudsters. We know that internet hijinks and downright illegal activities are not news, but a recent New York Times article casts a startling light on how messy the online review industry is — and why experts believe even the most rigorous regulations and penalties won’t cure the disease.
According to The Times (https://shorturl.at/abfr8):
“Almost all fake reviews are positive endorsements, like four-star and five-star reviews, that the businesses write themselves or are created by digital marketers, whose services can be purchased online for as little as a few dollars per review. Many deceptive marketers are based overseas, limiting the F.T.C.’s power to police the problem. And artificial intelligence tools, like ChatGPT, threaten to supercharge the industry by making the fake reviews easier to write, the agency warned.”
Now, people tend to have individual tastes, but when you visit a resounding praised 4 ½-star restaurant where the silverware is dirty, the service is crappy and the food is mediocre at best, that’s a pretty good clue that the reviews’ tower of power was built on a thin layer of melting ice.
Or thin air.
The relevant term is review fraud.
The Times documents recent efforts by government and industry banding together to put a collar on the criminal activity, but as with all manner of fraudulent activity, the ultimate solution is you — your awareness and your determination to seek reliable sources of information. (And no, anonymous praise posted on websites is unlikely to pass “reliable sources” muster.)
Rely on brands you trust, including this newspaper's annual Best of North Idaho resource guide (https://cdapress.secondstreetapp.com/Best-of-2023/). Check with the local Chamber of Commerce. Talk to friends and family. When possible, take a look for yourself, live and in person.
Maybe most of all, rely on your own common sense. If something sounds too good to be true…