Sockpuppets on Sockpuppeting

No, not really. But I’m gradually running out of post titles here.

Anyway, as you could gather from the title, the fake reviews scandal is still expanding and hitting the mainstream media.

At The Atlantic, David Wagner points out that most sockpuppet reviews are pretty obvious, since they’re badly written.

At Forbes, David Vinjamuri wonders how customer reviews can be improved to cut down on fraud and keep them useful for those for whom the reviews are intended, namely the reader. Vinjamuri links to a lot of the posts and articles to which I’ve linked in the past few posts as well and he also goes into other scandals involving fraudulent customer reviews (e.g. on travel sites) that go beyond Amazon and book reviews.

Vinjamuri also points out another problem, namely that many of the influential “tastemaker” websites will refuse to feature a given indie book unless it has a certain number of reviews with an average rating of four stars and above. Sometimes, you even need to have X positive reviews merely to get the most popular sites to mention your free giveaway. This practice is also the reason why many indies are extremely eager for reviews, sometimes so eager that they fake them altogether. Indeed, the quickest way to tell whether a given book is indie or trad published is check the number of reviews. Because indies tend to have more reviews than trad published books, for they actively chase them. Coincidentally, the average review rating also explains why R.J. Ellory trashing the books of his rivals with one star reviews (and he is far from the only person who does this – many indie writers live in fear of jealous rivals leaving malicious one star reviews) is so harmful.

In the end, Vinjamuri comes up with a series of suggestions to cut down on fraudulent customer reviews, while maintaining the usefulness of customer reviews. They’re good suggestions, though – as I’ve said before – customer reviews don’t really influence my buying decision all that much, particularly with products other than books. I suspect this is largely cultural – after all, the US has no equivalent to Stiftung Warentest, the German consumer organisation which offers unbiased reviews of almost anything, so consumer reviews are a lot more important as a source of “no bullshit” reviews.

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