Sometime last year, Gartner released a report predicting that, by the year 2014, 10 to 15 percent of social media ratings and online reviews will be fake. Entitled “The Consequences of Fake Fans, Likes, and Reviews on Social Networks,” the report studied how increased reliance on social media sites, user-generated content, and online review aggregators can lead to an increase in the number of fake or paid online reviews and ratings.
Since then, a number of online review sites have taken steps to ensure that trust is maintained between its community of users: consumers and business owners alike. Reviews aggregator Yelp, for example, introduced a consumer alert system designed to warn individual users about fake or paid reviews. (This is an extra anti-fraud measure supporting their review filter.) Local business listing and review service Google+ Local, meanwhile, implemented new updates to its review filter and spam detection system.
(Check out: “10 Savvy Ways You Can Spot Fake Reviews”)
Now, it’s travel reviews site TripAdvisor’s turn to combat fraudulent reviews. In a story at the Telegraph UK, TripAdvisor announced that it has borrowed anti-fraud techniques from the finance industry in order to crack down on fake reviews and maintain trust in its recommendations, ratings, and reviews of hotels, restaurants, and hospitality- and travel-related businesses.
The site recently developed an algorithm based on techniques designed to prevent credit card and insurance fraud. This algorithm checks every review posted every minute by TripAdvisor users, and analyses the characteristics and content of each review in order to determine whether it’s a genuine review or a fake, manipulative one.
“We put everything into one of three buckets: if it’s obviously stinky we remove it,” said Andrew Marane, a former e-Commerce fraud investigator and now TripAdvisor’s head of content integrity. “If it’s obviously good we wave it through and it’s usually on the site within 24 hours. It’s the ‘questionable’ stuff in the middle bucket where you’re not immediately sure and we put more resources.”
Marane added: “The biggest challenge is finding the fraud without impacting the good users. It’s just as bad removing a good review that someone spent time on as it is letting a bad one through. This is the tightrope we have to walk.”
Hotel managers, business owners, and marketers caught gaming the TripAdvisor system are slapped with a Red Badge on their profiles similar to the consumer alerts one might find on Yelp. The badge cautions TripAdvisor users that not all the given business’ online reviews are genuine.
The Red Badge reads: “TripAdvisor has reasonable cause to believe that individuals or entities associated with or having an interest in this property may have interfered with traveller reviews and/or the popularity index for this property. We make our best efforts to identify suspicious content and are always working to improve the processes we use to assess traveller reviews.”
“Our popularity index is our ranking of what TripAdvisor’s users think are the best places,” said Adam Medros, head of product development for TripAdvisor. “Ultimately, higher in that index means more exposure for businesses, so there (are) certainly incentives to try to manipulate it, either by raising yourself up or knocking others down.”