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Gasp! Survey Reveals That Many Online Reviews are Fake!

My world has been rocked, not once, but twice this week. First I found out that the reality series The X-Factor hid the fact that a 13-year old contestant was actual a Broadway pro in order to make the episode more compelling. That makes it more of a semi-reality series, doesn’t it? Appalling!

While I was still reeling from that shock, I checked into Mashable and found this: By 2014, 1 in 10 Social Media Reviews Will Be Fake. 

Say it isn’t so! I, like most internet users, trust those online reviews to give me the scoop before I check into a hotel, eat at a restaurant, or buy a new product. If 10% are fake, whom am I to trust?

The numbers come from a new report by Gartner called “The Consequences of Fake Fans, ‘Likes’ and Reviews on Social Networks.

They predict that by 2014, 10 to 15% of all reviews on social media will be phony and that at least two Fortune 500 companies will be facing charges from the FTC.

A few years ago, the FTC put strict rules in place that required bloggers to place a disclaimer at the bottom of all reviews disclosing the terms of their agreement with the brand. In most cases this meant admitting that they were given a free product in return for the review. That’s a fair trade and though it probably pushes the writer to post a positive review, it’s still good information.

The real problem is with companies who pay reviewers to post a review of a product they haven’t tried. Skim the job offers on Craigslist and you’ll see dozens of call-outs for Yelpers with good reps to post reviews for up to $25 a piece. Doesn’t matter if you live in Chicago and you’re reviewing a pizza place in New York, just make it sound good then collect your bounty.

And now, some wise words from Ed Thompson, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner:

“CMOs will need to weigh the longer-term risks of being caught and the associated fines and damage to reputation and balance them against the short-term potential rewards of increased business and the prevailing common business practice in their market, often regardless of ethics.”

What’s interesting about this whole thing is that we all know and accept the phrase, “don’t believe everything you read.” We even laugh at the often used joke of, “I saw it on the internet, so it must be true.” And yet, 70% of people say they trust online reviews.

On the flipside, we have my experience of last week. I went to Amazon to buy a DVD and saw several reviewers complaining about discs freezing in their player. I ignored the reviews, bought the DVD anyway and guess what, the discs froze up in my player. Sigh. This was one case where I should have believed everything I read online.