Journalism is a precarious vocation. A writer must keep objectivity in mind despite the how reality-altering stories become to the general public. Remaining objective requires the writer to embody a voice and a morality perpetually altering the facts on the ground and in the minds of everyone involved with news or media. However, there are some cases still showing plain, definitive boundaries of good journalism. Proving the factual origins of a story still provides the reliable benchmark for writers to follow.
In July of 2013, a reviewer writing under the ironic pen name “The Clarifier” harangued Loiseau Des Ducs restaurant, located in Dijon, central France. The review published on Pages Jeunes, a business directory site posting ratings and reviews. In his post, “The Clarifier” berated the high-class restaurant, calling it “[v]ery overrated, it was all show, there was very little on the plate, and the only thing that was well loaded was the bill,” as re-quoted by The Local.
But it’s difficult to have an authentically negative dining experience in a restaurant yet to open.
Ahlame Buisard explained his company fully supports customers’ right to express negative or positive opinions regarding a place of business, provided these businesses are actually open for business. For him, the need to hunt down the origin of a fake review was a point of principle.
In total, Buisard spent 5,000 euros (over $5,400) finding the imposter reviewer When found the writer was consequently taken to court, albeit with the writer’s anonymity preserved against public onslaught.
The court ruled this week and concluded since this review written five days before the restaurant opened for business could not be based on a real experience, But, instead obviously attempted to coerce future customers from dining at the new restaurant.
The reviewer was fined 2,500 euros in damages, and ordered to cover the restaurant’s costs in tracking the con artist down. This amounts to 7,500 euros, or $8,200.
This brand of digital counterfeiting is more ubiquitous than one might think.
The lion’s share of internet users depends on online customer reviews to decide where they ought to buy what they need. Whether it’s an exquisite French dish or an Uber ride, fooling the public to spend, or not spend, based on false information creates problems around the world.Ω
For example, Amazon filed suit in Washington State against over 1,000 people offering to post fake gleaming write-ups of products for just $5 per article. The country’s largest online retailer filed their suit in October, ordinary people commission, compose, and live off of paid, fake reviews, preying on the public.
Of course, Amazon is not alone. Yelp’s restaurant reviews and TripAdvisor’s hotel ratings suffer from the critiques of disgruntled business owners, whose frustrations made their way into a South Park episode titled “You’re Not Yelping” South Park’s creators now face legal action from Yelp for damages to reputation.
But Amazon’s aggressive response to fake exceeds others made by major U.S. ecommerce companies. Their lawsuit claims complicit parties write reviews about products they’ve yet to try, and willingly plot with product makers to subvert and override Amazon’s safeguards to increase the public’s trust of official website reviews.
“Suing the reviewers is a way to discourage them from doing it again,” explained Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. “They’re trying to make a statement that you can rely on the integrity of the reviews on the site.”
To broaden our scope, this ordeal of fake reviewing moves beyond the corporate level, and now becomes a subject of government action. In September, New York regulators announced the most comprehensive crackdown to date on misleading online reviews. The recent agreement requires 19 companies to immediately stop their misleading practices and pay a sum of $350,000 in penalties.
This investigation lasted a year and lassoed companies creating fake reviews and buying clients together in this confusion. Some parties implicated include a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain, and an adult entertainment club. In addition are other reputation-enhancing firms publishing fraudulent reviews on Yahoo, Yelp, Citysearch, and Google.
Yes, restaurant and product reviews mislead consumers to a shady meal, or a defunct, botch watch, but it’s clearly worse to be fooled into a fake dentist appointment, or manipulated into trusting a washed-up lawyer with your legal well-being, or putting your gestating child under the hands of medical malpractice.
Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General, says, “[w]hat we’ve found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising…When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”
Fake reviews usually start with faked reviews of the company faking a good review. Back in October 2010, a Yahoo review was published, where the writer exclaimed he was “thrilled” by Mainstreethost services. He said he didn’t get “why the company gets all the negative reviews.” To reclaim what he believed was Mainstreethost’s proper reputation, he added: “for the record, I am not a Mainstreethost.com employee, don’t know anyone who is, and have no knowledge of anyone else’s experience but my own.”
The author was (as the not-so-subtle link in the text suggests) a MainStreetHost employee. After being outed, the business paid a $43,000 fine in legal expenses.