“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” wrote Walt Whitman, a great bard of self-promotion. As the world goes ever more digital, quite a few businesses & celebrities are adopting that philosophy – hiring a veritable chorus of touts to sing their non-existent praises and lure in customers, viewers, voters, followers or supporters. A recent investigation in US encompassed companies that create fake reviews and the clients that buy them. Among those signing the agreements are tour operators, health service providers, property brokers, network marketers, web portals, laser hair-removal clinics, parties / clubs, social groups, celebrities, and who knows what else. Also signing are reputation-enhancement firms (PR!) that place fraudulent reviews on sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Mobile Apps, Paid Media, Yahoo etc.. for a price!
Thought we at Solution Point, had rejected many clients who came to us thinking we will do just anything to promote their brands ignoring the reality or credentials, but there is no lack of chorus of touts calling themselves “digital media” agencies and with similar names to re-catch such hype-mongering clients and flooding the Internet with fake reviews for few bucks!
There is a web of deceit in which innocent reviewers hired by global cronies in third-world targets who produced, for as little as a dollar a rave, buckets of praise for places and brands they had never seen in countries where they had never been. In some cases, brands also bribe clients / customers to write more fake reviews, giving them gift certificates or freebies for their trouble. They also went on review sites that criticized their own fake-review operations and wrote fake reviews denying they wrote fake reviews.
Within recent memory, reviewing was something professionals did. The Internet changed that, letting anyone with a well-reasoned opinion or a half-baked attitude have his say. Web sites and apps loved this content, because it was free. So consumer reviews became ever more ubiquitous – and influential. Reviews persuade people to try a new hotel, fancy app or shun an old restaurant. They sell books and the devices the books are read on. They influence the choice of beauty tools, home builders, high fashion and, increasingly, doctors. If you provide a service or sell a product and you are not reviewed, you might as well not exist.
For service companies, buying reviews seems a shortcut to the better reputation they are unlikely to achieve on their own. Fake reviews undermine the credibility of the Internet. Who else could be trusted? Faking reviews often begins with faked reviews of the company faking the reviews. Bad grammar, misspellings, overuse of emotions, juvenile slang, excess punctuation such as multiple exclamation points, lack of specifics, etc. immediately discredit a review.
Incidentally, no investigation of fake reviews on the Internet would be complete without looking at the practices of movie industry. Nearly all new releases receive at least few pages of 8 to 10 star reviews with unfounded hyped-up praise in popular media. Before going after the health clinics, restaurants and other small fishes of the world, let’s look there and yes, the financial and democracy agencies too.
Though this not only unethical, but probably illegal, many consumer goods and other brands are approached by Internet companies offering to generate thousands of star reviews, fake Facebook likes, bulk Twitter followers for products and services offered in marketplace. Forget that brands are built by reliable products supported by great advertising. For quick results, go to social media people who can mass produce parallel chat rooms and spread your rumor.
So I’d tell people to assume two things on-line. One, the Internet exists to sell you stuff. Period. And two, unless something is accompanied by a verifiable name, it’s probably fake. The problem is that the advertising regulations designed to protect consumers from charlatans and fraud developed over decades are only slowly reaching the Internet.
This is where free-market capitalism is going in 21st century… It’s not about creating a better product or service for the consumer, but about tricking consumers into thinking yours is so much better than theirs. Everyone cannot be the best, there can only be one. And until we take it upon ourselves to demand that companies keep striving to outdo the other, we will get products and services that will diminish in quality & doped while brands spend their money on fake Internet reviews, jumlas or similar ads. Forget a fine. It’s disgusting.
Good regulations need to be extended on-line. At the same, we need to reject slogans of manageable paid media in association with competing off-line beneficiaries and anti-uprising politicians to ban the fragmented social media – because they cannot manage or bribe it their way!