Sock-Puppeting, a Form of Creating Fake Reviews


In the world of publishing, sock-puppeting does not mean what you think it might. Sock-puppeting is amplifying a perspective by impersonating someone else on the Internet. In other industries, this may be known as “review brushing.” Some use these measures to write glowing reviews of their work or to bolster massive amounts of simple, but satisfactory ratings and in turn, fool consumers into believing their products or services are reliable.

Walt Whitman’s first volume of poetry “Leaves of Grass,” published in 1855, was described as “intensely vulgar, nay, absolutely beastly.” To counter the criticism, Whitman anonymously wrote reviews praising of his work; he even went so far as to compliment his own style of dress, voice, and personality.

With the rise of the Internet, sock-puppeting has only gotten easier. With a single click, one can add a five-star review to a product on Amazon, regardless of its quality. R.J. Ellory, a crime writer, was caught in 2012 writing positive reviews of his own work and defamatory comments on his rivals, all under the name Nicodemus Jones.

Others outside the publishing industry even offer jobs to brush reviews and write negative ratings for other businesses. In 2014, Haitao Xu, a researcher at Northwestern University, found almost 250,000 jobs from 11,000 sellers were put up in a span of just two months.

According to Xu, businesses that use brushing can build their online presence ten times faster than those who do not. Vice reporter Oobah Butler knows this from experience. Butler had a job where he got paid 20 dollars for every phony restaurant review he composed. So, he conducted an experiment to find out how much brushing could affect a business growth. He added his made-up restaurant, a Shed at Dulwich, to TripAdvisor, along with photographs of fake, fancy dishes made of household supplies. After enough reviews were posted, the Shed became the highest-rated restaurant in London. The site has since removed the bogus business. TripAdvisor has a meticulous system for reviews to weed out any that might be fraudulent.

The technique was also used to create political controversy. Hillary Clinton’s memoir “What Happened,” was blasted with almost 1,000 one-star ratings when it was released on Amazon. Similarly, the video game “Firewatch,” by Campo Santo, was hit with several negative reviews after the company banned YouTuber PewDiePie from playing any of their games. This backlash came after he used a racial slur in one of his videos.

Amazon also has a system to keep false ratings out by allowing only those who have actually purchased products to leave reviews. Still, users have found a loophole by buying a product, writing the review, then returning it.

This begs the question: is it okay to brush reviews? While it can be a way to give businesses leverage, it can also be damaging to the consumer. Nevertheless, measures will have to be taken to show buyers what is real and what is not in this war on fake reviews.

[Source: The New Yorker]

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