Billion Dollar Bully & Ristorante Scaletta

What do these items have in common?  Both are about manipulating online reviews.

Ristorante Scaletta is the name of a phony restaurant that was recently invented by an Italian newspaper.  The paper then went on to post a number of positive (though obviously fictitious) reviews of this fake restaurant on TripAdvisor.  The story broke in the media about 2 weeks ago.  Once the phony restaurant began displacing other restaurants in the same area in terms of their overall ratings on the site, the newspaper contacted TripAdvsior to explain that they did what they did to prove a point – which is that it’s pretty easy to game the system.  What’s interesting here is a solution the Italian newspaper is proposing to make reviewers (and businesses?) more accountable: requiring reviewers to post a photo of a receipt showing that they really DID dine at the restaurant that they are reviewing.  Intriguing, but obviously, this would open up a whole big can of privacy issues.

Billion Dollar Bully is a forthcoming documentary which alleges that Yelp engages in unfair practices, including pressuring businesses to pay them for advertising, in exchange for Yelp helping to “manage” their reviews on the site.  (“Managing reviews” translates roughly to Yelp either giving advantages to those who advertise with them, or punishing those who do not…as a result of selectively highlighting – or hiding –  positive or negative reviews, according to the direction the company wants to skew impressions.)  It is unclear when the documentary will be released, but when it comes out, I know that I’ll be adding it to my queue!

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