Monthly Archives: February 2015

Strategies used by Writers of Fake Reviews

My local newspaper just featured a story about Yelp reviews of local restaurants.  In it, the author claims that the online environment is “rife with false reviews.”  And a little over a month ago, my cousin-in-law sent me a link to yet another news story about fake reviews. Of course, fake reviews remain  a problem — as the popular media continually reminds us. Given the anonymity that is afforded by posting on the internet, the PBS story’s correspondent describes the quest to identify fraudulent reviews as an “arms race” that will never be won.

However, as I was searching for recent academic work on this topic, I came across a paper that offers a slightly different perspective. In this study, researchers asked 80 people to write fake reviews. It was kind of like a homework assignment. They gave each participant the website of a particular hotel and told them to write either a positive, negative, or neutral review about their hotel for a site like TripAdvisor. After that, the researchers asked their participants to talk about how they went about composing those fake reviews. Interestingly, their participants used a variety of textual borrowing strategies, ranging from copying + pasting bits of existing TripAdvisor reviews for the same property, to paraphrasing from a model review. The findings of this study suggest that fake reviews actually *share many textual features with real reviews,* since they may be very closely derived from them.  Of course, this is just one of many reasons that makes some of them so difficult to detect.

Online Reviews in Languages other than English

Much of the research about online reviews has focused on English language reviews.   But online reviewing is a completely global phenomenon, and reviews are written in many other languages as well. For this reason, my colleague, Alice Chik, and I have been comparing reviews of restaurants in Hong Kong (written in Chinese, and posted on a local review site called OpenRice) with reviews of restaurants in New York (posted on Yelp). To try to keep things consistent, we selected only reviews of “Asian” restaurants which had received 1 Michelin star.

We found a lot of similarities in reviewing practices, for example, in terms of average review length as well as in many content features. But we also observed some interesting differences. For example, Hong Kong reviewers are a lot more specific about  food-related details, whereas New York reviewers are much more focused on matters of service and ambiance. Hong Kong reviewers also tend to get very descriptive about individual dishes, attending not only to taste and texture, but also to particular smells. (Not to get all Whorfian here, but as Dan Jurafsky points out in The Language of Food, Cantonese does have a particularly rich olfactory vocabulary…)

To learn more, look out for our article “A comparative multimodal discourse analysis of restaurant reviews from two geographical contexts” (Chik & Vásquez) in a forthcoming issue of Visual Communication.