Online reviews – can they be trusted?

Photo of computer
Photo: John Schnobrich / Unsplash


Computer guy Matt Bentley shares his thoughts on the value of online reviews.

Online reviews are, on the one hand, a handy form of reference. Do you need a quick estimate on whether a given product or services is going to be useful to you? Not only are online reviews painless to fill out, they also provide useful information to others. At their best, they’re an extension of genuine human altruism. At their worst, they spiral into negative, abusive spaces which harm not only consumers but the businesses themselves.

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many Indian music videos in the ‘trending’ section of YouTube, it’s not because somehow the western world has suddenly grasped an imminent need for modern Bollywood-style songs. It’s because India has thousands of so-called ‘click-farms’ with people, or automated bots, clicking on and listening to/watching the videos which they are paid to promote. These services are so ubiquitous you’ll even find them in articles about how to promote your videos.

…but all those stars

The same thing happens for all online services and products. It doesn’t cost much for a company to, say, get 15 paid positive reviews of a product from anonymised locations, nor does it cost much more to get 1500 views for a given video. The ubiquity and anonymity of online reviews also make them easily manipulable by corporate and non-corporate entities – meaning that, although an Amazon product which averages 1 star is generally worth noting, mostly you can’t entirely trust star ratings.

Negative ratings can also be an easy abuse. Say you’ve offended someone on social media, Reddit, etcetera. If whoever you’ve offended is well-known, it doesn’t take much for them to trigger a ‘review bomb’ of your product or service – largely from people who’ve never used it. This recently happened with a video game which contained some minor elements of parody toward the Chinese government. Of course, most of us aren’t going to be targeted by the Chinese government, but we can still be targeted by other random malcontents.

The nuts and bolts

I recently had a negative google review from someone who wasn’t a client, but was a little bit far gone, had shown up onsite at the factory complex and was harassing folk. I had to be stern with them to get them to leave, so they noted my business name and left a negative Google review. Given that I’d only had one review prior, this skewed the results somewhat!

Should you be worried about reviews for your business? Aside from perhaps not aggravating people on social media, and making sure you have enough positive reviews to survive a backlash should you get bad actors – probably not. Just be aware that an online review is only as reliable as the people who leave it, and those are not guaranteed to be real. Just sayin’.

  • Want to get your computer fixed or leave a review? Google Bentley Home PC Support or phone Matt on 021 134 8576. $60 per hour or $50 for drop-off-to-workshop services.Photo of Matt Bentley
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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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