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TripAdvisor’s Review Transparency Report revealed 2.1% of the 66m reviews submitted were identified as fraudulent.
Almost three quarters (73%) of those fake reviews were blocked by TripAdvisor’s review fraud detection systems before being posted, which constitutes more than 1m fraudulent reviews being prevented from reaching the platform.
Less than 0.6% (374,220) of all review submissions were identified as fraudulent and removed after being posted.
Some 98.5% of the fake reviews caught were first identified by TripAdvisor by the review analysis system or content investigators.
TripAdvisor said it applies a range of penalties when it finds evidence of fraud.
One of these is a content ban – individual members who persistently commit fraud face a content ban, which removes their ability to post reviews and content. As well as banning the user’s account, the platform also takes measures to prevent the user from being able to create new accounts.
It also has a ranking penalty. If a business is caught posting fraudulent reviews, the first step – after removing the fake content – is to impose a ranking penalty on the listing.
A ranking penalty is a reduction of a property’s position within TripAdvisor’s popularity or traveller ranking for a period of time.
In 2018, 34,643 businesses – out of the more than 8m locations listed on TripAdvisor – received at least one ranking penalty.
This figure included businesses that did not submit fake reviews directly but encouraged or paid others to do so.
The majority of businesses receiving a ranking penalty quickly change their behaviour. In 2018, only 24% of businesses penalised in this way continued to attempt fraud after receiving a ranking penalty.
However, in cases where fraud activity continues, further penalties are applied with increasing severity.
TripAdvisor employs its strongest penalty for the most persistent cases of fraud – a red penalty badge.
The badge is a highly visible notice on a business’s TripAdvisor listing page that warns travellers about suspicious review activity spotted in relation to that business. It is accompanied by a significant enforced drop in the traveller ranking.
This severe penalty is only applied to the small minority of persistent offenders who have continued to attempt fraud despite being warned and penalised for suspicious activity previously.
TripAdvisor senior director of trust and safety Becky Foley said: “Ensuring TripAdvisor is a trusted platform for our users and listed businesses is a top priority.
“We have continued to make advancements to our fraud detection efforts in recent years but it is a daily battle and we are far from complacent."
She added: “While we are winning the fight against fake reviews on TripAdvisor, we can only protect our corner of the internet.
“As long as other review platforms aren’t taking aggressive action, fraudsters will continue to exploit and extort small businesses for cash. It’s time other platforms, like Google and Facebook, stepped up to the plate to join us in tackling this problem head-on.”
Adrian Cummings, of the Restaurants Association of Ireland and HotRec, said it was good to see the review site embrace transparency and provide a detailed window into how it assesses and moderates reviews.
He added: “Many hotels and restaurants rely on reviews to attract new customers, so it is crucial review sites make every effort possible to ensure contributions are authentic. The figures released show TripAdvisor, at least, takes its responsibility seriously.”
However, Karen Errington, licensee of the Rat Inn, Anick, Northumberland, reflected on her experiences of fraudulent reviews.
She said: “We had a review last week where the reviewer uploaded fake photos alongside a defamatory review of our business. The pictures weren’t even taken at our pub.
“Eventually I was able to get the photos taken down, however, I was informed the review ‘met guidelines’ as TripAdvisor believes ‘censorship is detrimental to our platform’, in other words it is only interested in volume of traffic to the site.
“How can a review that featured fake photos be viewed as trustworthy? Leaving the review up confirms they encourage disingenuous contributors. Anyone found to be uploading fraudulent content should be automatically barred from the site.”