Despite me having in the past exposed dodgy reviews of audio components on various audio websites over the years, I still find that when I am looking at websites that have nothing at all to do with audio I am often 'sucked in' by false and misleading 'reviews'. By way of example, I recently went on holidays, and in the process of trying to book hotels in advance, ended up reading quite a few reviews of hotels posted on Trip Advisor. I not only read those reviews, I followed their advice. Oops. Big mistake. On one occasion, I wondered if the reviewer had ever stayed in the hotel. Not that the hotel websites were any better. One of the hotels we stayed in (it was a family holiday) had posted room images on its website that were taken from a completely different hotel! No wonder the view from the window of my room (or from any other window in the hotel for that matter) didn't match the website images.
One of the biggest consumer review sites in the US is Yelp. While the company behind this site says it takes steps to try to ensure the reviews on its site are accurate and truthful, it admits that around one quarter of the reviews on its site are 'suspicious'. My guess if it's admitting to that amount, the real figure is almost certainly far higher… maybe even half the reviews.
Why are there so many fake reviews? One reason is that many people are getting paid good money to write them. UK journalist Oobah Butler (and no, that isn't a fake name) is on record as admitting that he was once employed to write fake reviews for restaurants that he'd then post on Trip Advisor. Restaurants were paying him $20 per review.
If that journalist's name sounds familiar, it's because Butler achieved his greatest fame by writing fake reviews for a London restaurant called 'The Shed at Dulwich'. His reviews were so enthusiastic that the restaurant was very briefly (November 2017) the No 1 rated restaurant in London. The only problem was that not only were the reviews fake, but the restaurant itself was also fake. It didn't exist. 'The Shed at Dulwich' really was just an empty garden shed in a back yard in Dulwich and the restaurant a single-night pop-up in that backyard. Butler created the hoax so he could write a story about it for Canada's Vice magazine. The website Butler built for the hoax still exists (at the time of writing) with an 'example menu' that includes a dish claiming to be 'a deconstructed Aberdeen stew; all elements of the dish are served to the table as they would be in the process of cooking. Served with warm beef tea.' The site is theshedatdulwich.com. You can also see the restaurant in action here.
The Shed at Dulwich is a funny story, but the truth underlying it is not funny at all. Fake reviews are becoming a serious problem. There are so many of them that consumers are being mislead and in the audio sphere are being deceived — 'tricked' if you like — into buying products they would not normally have purchased. With audio product prices continually increasing, the temptation to create fake reviews is becoming greater, and the resultant dollar loss for consumers ever-higher.
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