With more and more consumers needing to be told where to eat, what to buy, and the best place to be jailed, businesses see a legitimate reason to outsource illegitimate, positive reviews of their products and services. The stakes are high! One Craigslist ad asking jobseekers (AKA everyone) to "Write Yelp Reviews" is looking for people who "have an active Yelp account and would like to make very easy money." You mean, we can't trust everything we read on the internet?
The Times shatters out innocence (as usual) by detailing the "boundless demand for positive reviews" that has made praise a hot, cheap commodity on websites like Yelp, Citysearch and Amazon. One freelance writer cranks out gushing compliments on Amazon for a "review factory" at $10 apiece, using phrases like "must-read" and "a lifetime's worth of wisdom."
What results is that the internet marketplace becomes, as one website owner puts it, Lake Woebegon, where "everyone is above average." To maintain the integrity of the reviews, a team from Cornell (hilariously photographed here in a hotel room, presumably before an academic ménage à trois) has developed an algorithm to spot fakes, which works "90 percent of the time." For instance, a bogus reviewer of a hotel in Chicago would be light on the description of the hotel, but heavy on "why they were in Chicago. They also used words like "I" and "me" more frequently, as if to underline their own credibility."
It's unclear whether or not the team is developing an algorithm to shame the most obnoxious Yelp reviewers, who should know that there's nothing "Elite" about vomiting as many opinions as humanly possible onto the internet.