Yelp is a popular destination to check reviews for a wide variety of places, and according to a study from Harvard Business School, around 16 percent of restaurant reviews are fake.
The study titled “Fake It Till You Make It: Reputation, Competition, and Yelp Review Fraud,” analyzed restaurant reviews in the Boston metropolitan area.
Here is how they distinguished real reviews from the fake:
Empirically, identifying fake reviews is difficult because the econometrician does not directly observe whether a review is fake. As a proxy for fake reviews, we use the results of Yelp’s filtering algorithm that predicts whether a review is genuine or fake. Yelp uses this algorithm to flag fake reviews, and to filter them off of the main Yelp page (we have access to all reviews that do not directly violate terms of service, regardless of whether they were filtered.) The exact algorithm is not public information, but the results of the algorithm are. With this in hand, we can analyze the patterns of review fraud on Yelp.
According to the study, roughly 16 percent were found to be fake. Researchers also found that the more fake reviews there were, the more “extreme” reviews, meaning reviews left after a very negative experience.
Restaurants not nearly as popular had a higher likelihood of trying to game Yelp, including restaurants with fewer reviews.