Fake Wine Reviews: Do They Matter?
This question stuck with me over the past few days after reading the New York Times front page story, "In a Race to Out-Rave, 5-Star Web Reviews Go for $5". The expose of paid for good reviews on sites like Amazon.com, Yelp and TripAdvisor began with this:
"In tens of millions of reviews on Web sites like Amazon.com, Citysearch, TripAdvisor and Yelp, new books are better than Tolstoy, restaurants are undiscovered gems and hotels surpass the Ritz. Or so the reviewers say. As online retailers increasingly depend on reviews as a sales tool, an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell raves for a pittance."
First, color me unsurprised that hotels, restaurants and publishers are willing to pay for a good review, particularly given the power of some peer review sites. Human nature being what it is, with competition being fierce in every field of consumer goods and services, and given the simplicity of manufacturing inauthentic reviews at peer reviews sites and you can guarantee this problem.
The NY Times story goes on to describe a company that says using an algorithm it can identify fake reviews 90% of the time. They describe how to spot a fake review:
"The fakes tended to be a narrative talking about their experience at the hotel using a lot of superlatives, but they were not very good on description. Naturally: They had never been there. Instead, they talked about why they were in Chicago. They also used words like “I” and “me” more frequently, as if to underline their own credibility."
So, is this happening at the wine peer review sites like Cellar Tracker, Snooth, etc? I'd bet evey bottle of wine I own that it is. The more important questions, however, are does it matter and how much is it happening?
I've listened to a number of people tell me that wine-related peer review sites will be the new "Robert Parker" and "Wine Spectator". The operative verb there is "will be". And maybe they will be, but they are not yet. And this is why fake wine reviews at peer sites, while undoubtedly existing, are likely in small numbers: the payoff for the effort isn't there yet.
The aggregated peer review site is useful in the same way that democracy is useful. Yet I'm aware, particularly now that we are entering into the primary season of presidential politics, that modern American democracy, like peer review sites, is the domain of the committed and not the masses. It's important to recall that the opinion of the committed, of the partisan, is not the same as the opinion of the masses.