Have you heard of Le Nouveau Duluth? It’s impossible to get a reservation there. Literally.
What happened: Tripadvisor took down the listing for its top-ranked Montréal restaurant after a CBC investigation found the eatery didn’t exist. The fictitious establishment had 85 five-star reviews and was easily surpassing real restaurants serving real customers.
- The man behind the prank is comedian Charles Deschamps, who created the listing to expose the flaws of review-driven platforms and how they can be manipulated.
It’s not the first time a merry prankster has gamed Tripadvisor like this. In 2017, British Journalist Oobah Butler was able to get his fake restaurant (called The Shed at Dulwich) the number one ranking in all of London by writing over 100 fawning fake reviews.
Why it matters: Online reviews can’t always be trusted. Hotels and restaurants pay people to write fake reviews on review platforms to boost their ratings, while fake reviews on Amazon are so widespread that sellers use them simply because everyone else does.
- Platforms and regulators alike are cracking down on review manipulation. Both Amazon and Google are taking review scammers to court.
- Meanwhile, the US Federal Trade Commission fined Fashion Nova last year for blocking negative reviews and fined rental site Roomster for paying for fake reviews.
Zoom out: Fake reviews still slip through the cracks in large numbers because humans aren’t very good at spotting them. A 2021 study by the World Economic Forum found ~4% of all online reviews are fake, leading to US$152 billion annually in online spending on products and services that aren’t five-star quality. So buyer beware.