First of all, any time a system is created that attempts to reward merit and the efforts of the deserving, there will be those who try to game the system to reap the rewards without the hard work. There’s no way we, or any review site, could ever guarantee that planted reviews would be absent from the site. They are almost certainly on the site now and will be posted again in the future.
The key, however, is to establish a system that minimizes the effects of these planted reviews, be they examples of self-touting or petty shots taken at competitors and rivals.The site is set up to automatically marginalize suspicious content. Suspicious content is that which is posted by a site user with little or no past activity and whose relatively few posts are not well-received by the community.
Let’s look at an archetypal example of suspected site abuse to see how the various safeguards in place work:
1) A site user, often one with little or no past activity on the site a review that either raves about a Spot or excessively trashes one. Site users and/or TNH staff see the reivew and it seems suspcicous. What next?
2) The review is flagged. This should be the first step. If a site users feel that a post made to the site has violated our Terms of Service (such as a business owner posting reviews on the site anonymously), then they should click on the flag icon next to the review. This will allow them to send a message to site admins so they know to look into the post.
3) Site admins will investigate the flagged post. Using a wide range of moderation tools, the site admin will check to see if any clear evidence of wrong doing is present. If said evidence is present, the post will be immediately removed. If such evidence is lacking, the content will remain on the site with site admins continuing the monitor the user who posted it. If subsequent evidence of inappropriate ulterior motives are found, later action can be taken.
4) If the post remains, automated, algorithmic features come into play. Given that the user in the example has not made many posts to the site, any content they post is mathematically marginalized. Each site user is weighted based on the volume and types of contribution they make. A site user just signing up to post a planted review is weighted so lightly that they have virtually no effect on a Spot’s overall rating compared to even an average site user. Their content may remain on the site for some time, but from a mathematical standpoint, it is doing virtually nothing.
5) Our site users aren’t fools. While the algorithms in place are taking care to marginalize the numerical impact of the post, anyone with any sense is doing the same thing with what they are reading. If a post comes out of nowhere from a user who has done nothing to establish any credibility within the community, then most are going to take what the user has written with a grain of salt. They will dismiss it much the same way that our algorithms have.
This isn’t to say that a devious business owner couldn’t, over a great deal of time, work to build up a user account’s mathematical and social reputation enough to plant a consequential review. Anything is possible. However, there are three things to consider in such a scenario.
Firstly, a mass of activity that large would provide all sorts of clues and hints to admins about the user’s identity. They would be much, much more likely to be caught.
Secondly, the more a user posts, the more the community who is interpreting their contributions has to go on when making up their own minds. Context is the most valuable thing for anyone who reading this sort of content. If what they write is grossly out of character with what is expected, alarm bells will be going off once again.
And finally, any business owner who spends that much time trying to cultivate an alter-ego on TNH just so they can post a single review of their own place has invested far, far more time into the project than the effects of a single review will be worth. It’s a net loss for their business.
It’s not impossible, but we don’t make it easy.
If you have any questions or concerns about any of this, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.