Review Skeptic: An Algorithmic Approach to Fight Fake Reviews

Filed in Local Search, Reputation Mgmt. by Matt McGee on February 7, 2012 8 Comments

five-starsSometimes you can spot a fake review a mile away. (Remember that old post about the fake florist reviews in California?) But some of the services that offer phony reviews for a small fee are getting smarter and less obvious about their spammy ways.

Some really smart people are developing software programs that aim to spot fake reviews algorithmically, and you can play with one of them yourself.

It’s called Review Skeptic, and it’s as simple as pasting the review text into the site and letting the computer guess if it’s authentic. The public website is out there “for entertainment purposes only,” the site says … and it is kinda fun to see how accurate it is.


The site says it’s best to use English-language hotel reviews, but I did some limited testing of my own using a variety of business types: I cut-and-pasted the full text of my 10 most recent Yelp reviews, and Review Skeptic identified all of them as truthful. Whew.

Review Skeptic is the work of a group of Cornell University researchers, and the result of testing on 400 fake and 400 authentic hotel reviews. There’s a link at the bottom of the site to their research paper, which explains that the software had 90 percent accuracy during testing.

How to Detect Fake Reviews

I’m no scientist, but the way I read the material in that PDF is that Review Skeptic classifies words and text patterns and looks for signs of authenticity or deception. And one of the researchers, Myle Ott, just explained it like this to

…the software takes note of subtle signs that most people overlook. “Truthful reviews tend to have more punctuation, such as dollar signs, which indicate a specific that’d only be known to someone who has been there,” he said. “There are also more specific details, like the hotel location or that the room was small or large.”

Fake reviews, by contrast, tended to have more superlatives and adverbs in the writing (makes sense) and more details that were “external to the hotel,” such as whom the reviewer was traveling with. The fakes were also filled with pronouns, rather than proper names — because someone who had never been to a hotel wouldn’t know the name of the bellman or the woman at the front desk.

Interesting stuff, but I kinda wish the “secret sauce” was kept secret.

That TIME article mentions that no “major websites” are using the software behind Review Skeptic, but I’d be shocked if Google and other major review sites aren’t also using algorithms to identify review spam. Yelp, in fact, is well known for having a review filter in place — although my understanding is that Yelp’s filter focuses as much, if not more, on the user than on the words used in reviews.

Anyway, if algorithms and software can do a better job than we humans of identifying review spam, here’s hoping Review Skeptic and similar products catch on more widely. On that note, one last thing: According to this New York Times article from last summer, the Cornell researchers have been contacted by Amazon, TripAdvisor, Hilton Hotels and other sites … and Google contacted Ott to ask for his resumé.

(Stock image via Used under license.)

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  1. Keith says:

    Fake reviews are pretty easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for, very rarely do people file a negative review with the intent to destroy someones reputation online, the language for an authentic review is more natural and less repetitive/spammy.

  2. Cliff says:

    It’s the fake positive reviews that drive me nuts. A few of my competitors have a bunch of reviews on a few sites that have nothing to do with a business transaction. Fluffy comments about their ‘character’, and if they ever did do business, they would use the competitor….it’s pretty bad.

  3. Matt McGee says:

    I’d usually agree, too, Keith. At least I THINK I’m pretty good at spotting fakes. But in their research, the Cornell folks show two hotel reviews side-by-side and I totally was wrong in guessing which was fake.

  4. Kathy Long says:

    Well, hopefully Yelp will use it!!

    I had a review every business owner dreams of, a full page of praise. It was all legitimate. I don’t know how they could think it was fake. He wrote out in detail the steps we went through, the phone calls, the emails. It was a veritable story of his experience with me. Unfortunately yelp must have thought it too good to be true and they deleted it. And I’ve had many clients complain of the same thing. As an internet marketer who pushes my clients to provide excellent service so that they get the well-deserved praise, this makes me very upset.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping this is a start of good things to come for review sites! We really need it! Thanks, Matt.

  5. Ted Ives says:

    I tried review skeptic and the service was terrible. The bedsheets were dirty, the staff were rude, and it smelled like cigarette smoke. Our family is never using review skeptic again. Stay away from it, it’s a ripoff!


    Sorry to hear about losing that review Kathy, bummer…on the flip side, sometimes I look at my blog’s spam Akismet has flagged and wonder – is there maybe a real person saying one of these generic positive things I’m throwing out? Really hard to know sometimes!

  6. Damien says:

    Hope Google can do something similar with Places reviews so that they can get rid of all the spam and reward ethical people/businesses.

  7. Van De Velde says:

    Sorry to contradict, tested Review Skeptic with some of my own reviews. It misjudged 90% of them…

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