September 18, 2012
10 — 15% of social media reviews will be fake by 2014
by Ellie Robins
As if it wasn’t already hard enough to pick a new blender.
Gartner Research estimates that in two years’ time 10–15% of social media reviews will be fake, either written or paid for by people with an interest in the product’s success. It’s a timely report, given all the reviewing sock-puppetry that’s been revealed in the book world in recent weeks.
In the brouhaha following the discovery of R.J. Ellory and others’ fake Amazon reviews, much has been made of the importance of online reviews in bookselling today. A letter printed in the Telegraph and signed by writers including Lee Child, Jo Nesbo and Ian Rankin began as follows:
These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended on-line, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers.
According to those writers, the key is for more honest reviewers to chime in and drown out the inevitable rogues. In the US, the rogues are apparently less inevitable: the Federal Trade Commission has determined that paying for reviews without revealing that the author has been compensated constitutes deceptive advertising and will be prosecuted as such. Gartner Research anticipates a legal crack-down on false reviews, and sees that crackdown having a measurable effect on online trust:
Gartner believes that although consumer trust in social media is currently low, consumer perception of tightened government regulation and increased media exposure of fake social media ratings and reviews will ultimately increase consumer trust in new and existing social media ratings and reviews.
This Forbes piece points out that the difficulty is not restricted to books, but stretches across all online retail: ‘Online trust is degenerating and online retailers haven’t done enough to safeguard the system,’ says David Vinjamuri. Essentially the last few years have seen a democratisation of the system, and as we all know democracy isn’t invulnerable to abuse. Vinjamuri recommends a few solutions, most practical among which is a ‘flagging’ system for fraud, similar to that used on Craigslist. This would require Amazon and other sites to employ more staff to assess claims about fraudulent reviewers — an expense they might be reluctant to introduce, but which might well prove essential for keeping their customers’ trust, if Gartner’s figures are to be believed.
Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.