Ask Andy: Truth/lies in online user reviews - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Ask Andy: Truth/lies in online user reviews

(WMC TV) - Just like how the road to you-know-where was paved, the concept of online user reviews was conceived with the best of intentions.

User-generated web reviews were intended to give consumers a leg up on that appliance, that restaurant, that blockbuster opening Friday at the theater -- honest opinions on whether to spend your money or to keep it in your wallet.

The problem is telling the difference between an honest review and one written either by a product rep pumping up his product or by a former employee smearing someone's or something's good name.

Professors and graduate students at Cornell University created (, a beta site that allows users to paste online reviews and determine whether the writers are really George Washington or Pinocchio.

The site's researchers offered great advice to consumer resource Bottom Line Personal magazine about how people can call the bluffs of online user reviews:

* DON'T TRUST REVIEWS THAT DON'T GIVE DETAILS.'s folks said deceptive reviews tend to leave out details on space, size and distance. Instead of saying, "The hotel room didn't have enough space to store my suitcase," the review's vague - something like, "The rooms were just awful!" Details, please!

* TRUST REVIEWS...OF THE REVIEWS. A good example of that is (, my favorite user review site for restaurants. On UrbanSpoon, anyone can post anything about a restaurant. But UrbanSpoon's user reviews include the question, "Was This Review Helpful?" -- with an option to click "YES" or "NO." That feature's designed to hold the reviewers accountable. The ones that have the most "unhelpful" marks, foodies should ignore.

* SEEK CONFIRMATION FROM OTHER SITES. Type the name of the product, company or service along with the word "reviews" into Google or another search engine. See if the reviews swing dramatically from one opinion to the other.

* BEWARE STRONG OPINIONS, FEW SPECIFICS. Over-the-top praise or badgering criticism; both are signs of dishonest reviews.

* TRUST REVIEWS BY VERIFIED CUSTOMERS. On, reviews marked "Amazon Verified Purchase" indicate those reviews were written by someone who actually bought the product.


* BE SUSPICIOUS OF GLOWING REVIEWS BY "TOP REVIEWERS." Sometimes, those reviewers are actually the item's sponsor, bought and paid for with cash or free merchandise.

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