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What Can You Trust

November 9, 2014

There’s been a great deal of controversy about restaurant reviews and review sites in general, recently.  Traditional reviews are not a part of this controversy.  These are usually fairly long, written by well-known authors, and appear in news web sites or newspapers.  They are usually trustworthy, although they surely are spread across a spectrum of validity.  I’ve even seen traditional reviews included with restaurant menus.

The controversy mainly concerns the brief reviews that have begun to appear on web sites that specialize in reviews.  The most recent news has been about fake positive reviews.  Business owners can benefit greatly from positive reviews, providing the incentive to purchase fake ones.  It’s cheap advertizing for the companies.  Web sites do try to remove fake reviews, but people still need to be able to identify them as well.  The new style of reviews are just the personal opinions from customers.  Often they are quite brief, just a few lines or even a row of stars.

Showing just a count of likes or followers is even simpler.  It’s also even more misleading.  You can’t dislike a restaurant, only like it.  Businesses sometimes run contests or offer rewards to entice people to visit their web page.  There’s no way to tell if people really liked the product, or just went there to enter the contest or obtain the reward.

The other side of the controversy is that companies may threaten to sue people who have written negative reviews.  Just a threat is enough for most people to remove the review.  In general, businesses don’t sue their customers.  It’s for the same reason that shopping centres don’t tow their customer’s cars, even though they are parked in a no-parking zone.  Neither of them want the negative publicity that might arise from such and action.

I had a curious example the other day.  I received a flyer from a local company offering snow removal services.  Everything in the flyer seemed very good.  When I did a web search on the company name, I only found a few reviews.  There was perhaps one per site.  All were negative.  This company must have more than three customers.  What do I do now?

I know that people tend to believe online reviews from other customers, more so than something that is obviously advertizing.  I’ve searched for such things myself, always discounting ones where the poster had something to gain.  I see now that I have to be even more skeptical.  Positive reviews can be faked.  Negative reviews can be suppressed.  They all can be advertizing of a more subtle sort.  If it’s a review site, the site’s policy may help you judge the reliability of their reviews.  In any case, look at many of them to come up with a consensus, keeping in mind that some reviews may be fake and that some negative reviews may be missing.


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