Amazon fake reviews controversy reemerges; the company isn’t alone

From time to time media publish stories about fake reviews of products on sites like Amazon, Wal-Mart, and others. Right now there’s a story bouncing around from site to site about fake reviews specifically at Amazon. A British consumer group is the source. What’s an online shopper or artist in search of reviews to do?

Let’s admit it is very difficult for a small company, indie author, indie musician, and the like to get reviews on any website. People are busy, after all. The current controversy involves tech products. Have you ever bought a tech product that didn’t quite live up to expectations? I have, but it didn’t come from Amazon.

British consumer group Which? investigated, and found, among other things, “Tens of thousands of positive, unverified reviews” and “Hundreds of five-star, unverified reviews arriving on a product in a single day.” The findings in terms of sheer numbers, if you read the whole article on fake reviews, are impressive.

We live in a snake oil age, it seems, where things are often not as they seem to be. Personally speaking, I delete as SPAM all manner of fake posts and feedback messages often promoting a website that is sketchy. You can tell right away with some of the posts people submit to this site—there will be misspelled words, nonsensical sentences, and an appeal to greed. If you just go to this site, you will be rewarded! And like that. My host service does have a SPAM flag, but for some reason, it doesn’t catch everything. I have to do that manually.

I shop online like many other Americans, and I have noticed from time to time that some reviews posted on a product page don’t even relate to that product. I tend to dismiss lightweight reviews—“This product is AMAZING. It will change your life!!!” That’s a fictional example, by the way, but it’s a composite of reviews I often see on large corporate websites. CNET has more examples of these fake reviews gathered from a number of sites.

I never purchased a single item based on a one or two sentence review. I do read product specifications. If I’m purchasing a tech item, I do a general search using an engine like Duck Duck Go—that’s the most helpful tool I have in making a decision.

Sometimes I do wonder about certain celebrities’ products, asking myself if people are getting paid to promote them. Even if they are, that usually doesn’t change my mind about something though. Tech items are one matter, but art is another.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a film that got lots of nasty one-liner responses on film review sites and wondered if those reviewers even watched the film. This happened recently, but it wasn’t a one-liner. There was a negative story about a film I’d seen; I don’t remember which corporate media site carried the story. But I believe the writer of that review never saw the film because the review didn’t mesh with what was actually in the film.

Often a celeb will spout off about some social or cultural topic and tons of positive and negative feedback will occur. How much of that feedback comprises bots is anyone’s guess, but I’d wager it’s quite a lot. Political books are among the most suspect. I’ve read more of them than I care to admit, and most are dull as a rusty nail, but somehow they end up on best-seller lists and on shows run by natterers of all political persuasion.

Branding is so competitive these days, and the Web is still fairly open to all in the US (unlike many other countries, including a number in Europe), it’s easy to see why some would seek or pay for fake reviews. I think we can apply some common sense and take comfort in the fact most online retailers have a ready return policy if you don’t like what you’ve bought.

If something sounds too good to be true, it’s usually suspect.

(Kay B. Day/April 16, 2019)

 

 

 

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