Good for you, Federal Trade Commission!
I give you five stars for recently declaring war on fake reviews posted by sleazy businesses. You know the ones. They show up everywhere: Yelp, Amazon, Google Maps, etc. to sway you on everything from which yoga pants to buy (“double-stitched phone pocket!”) to finding the best periodontist (“My gums have never looked healthier! Between that and my new yoga pants with the double-stitched phone pocket, I’m truly living my best life!”)
Sometimes you can tell they were written by a bot: “This 10-inch chef’s knife cuts sharper than sharpest knives that cut leaving you more time to relax and reflect.” Who is this for? Dexter?
With healthy gums, utilitarian yoga pants and a relaxing knife, what could go wrong? Well, what if the reviews are glowing but the product is truly crappy? Happens all the time and the FTC (motto: “Not the ones that deliver the flowers”) is so completely over it, the agency is ramping up investigations and punishments for businesses that sell fake reviews.
This is way harder than it sounds because phony product and services reviews are big business using vast networks of digital marketers, many overseas, paid per review. Amazon, alone, removed 200 million fake reviews last year. I personally know of one of them because it was attributed to a member of my very own household! Duh Hubby received two bottles of probiotic vitamins he never ordered and, later that week, received an email from the manufacturer asking him to post a favorable review on Amazon. Nope.
But days later, there was a fake review with Duh’s name and hometown giving five stars to the gut pills he’d never heard of, much less ordered. I can’t remember the exact “review” but it went something like this: “I’ve tried many probiotic products over the years and none of them worked! These vitamins have put a spring in my step AND my colon!”
We learned this is called “brushing” in the scam world. You could say, “Yes, but at least he got something for it” and I’d say, “Here. Let’s open up this bottle of PILLS we didn’t order shipped from an anonymous address, take a couple and see what happens. You first!”
It’s hard to know whether you can trust a review, but I’m always suspicious when the review is too mean. Like the restaurant customer claiming there was a fake fingernail/Band-Aid/syringe in her risotto. Maaaaaybe. But more likely the competition is playing dirty and made that up. I hope.
We live in a culture obsessed with assigning value. I’m tired of being asked to leave a gushy review of whatever product or service I just paid for. You did the job, you got paid. Do I now have to write 145 words about how much that quarterly termite bait station check meant to me? No.
If something disappoints, we don’t hesitate to trash it, even if it’s a …sunset. A friend told me the sunset I had bragged about on the riverfront was “at the end of the day (duh, naturally) just so-so.” Memo to the Almighty: Do better!
This is the theme behind Amber Share’s brilliant book, “Subpar Parks.” Ms. Share noticed national parks and scenic wonders didn’t always get great reviews at travel websites so she collected the best of the worst, adding her own lovely artwork.
Here’s a sampling of comments from People I Never Want to Meet In Real Life.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: “I’ve seen better.”
New River Gorge National Park, W. Va.: “Mist obscured the views.”
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: “Too orange and too spikey.”
Mount Kilimanjaro: “Honestly not that cool.”
Redwoods National Park, Calif.: “Trees and coast are mostly it.”
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: “A very, very large hole.”
Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park: “Didn’t even get to touch the lava.”
Bless their one-star hearts.