Buying Fake Book Reviews: Are you a respectable writer or a con-artist?

FakeReviewsFiverrI have ZERO respect for authors who purchase fake reviews to boost their popularity and sales. It’s pathetic. Cheating. Undeserving of any respect. You trick consumers. It’s dishonest. You buy fake book reviews to trick consumers into buying your books? Frankly, you’re a con artist!

Secretly purchasing glowing reviews should be a crime. I mean, if the reviewer doesn’t disclose that the review was written for pay, it’s fraudulent. Why do it secretly if it isn’t? If these undeserving, manufactured bestselling authors were asked, “Do you or have you ever purchased reviews for any of your books?” do you think they would answer honestly? I don’t.

And you know what, I think technically it IS a crime!

The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews. [source]

Here are some relevant points from the FTC Guidelines:

Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser.

If you didn’t read the book, anything you write about it would be dishonest. Also to have an experience, one must consume the product. If you don’t read the book, you haven’t experienced it, therefor cannot write a review!

and:

Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers

This is a huge one. Most of the paid reviews on Amazon and elsewhere obviously do not state that the review was paid for and that there is any relationship between the reviewer and the author!

When the advertisement represents that the endorser uses the endorsed product, the endorser must have been a bona fide user of it at the time the endorsement was given.

Did you catch that? The reviewer has to have been a “bona fide user” !!

I wish Anonymous would out these authors and publicly shame them. The writers bask in their undeserved public adulation and popularity, making loads of cash while doing it, so why not? Where are the whistleblowers? I’m almost considering posing as a Reviewer on Fiverr just to see who bites.

I want to make a documentary. A sting operation. Like To Catch A Predator. But it would be called To Catch a Lying, Conniving Author… I know. It’s a mouthful. When the writer falls into the trap of hiring me to write a fake review, I’d play the part of Chris Hansen and walk out from behind a folding screen with my camera crew and ask the writer to put his clothes back on and “have a seat.” The writer will zip up his fly and sit down on the stool, stunned. I’d offer him a cookie because for some odd reason there’s always a platter of cookies. While the wrongdoer nibbles on a cookie with a deer-in-headlights expression on his face, I’d ask him, “What possessed you to do this? Did it not cross your mind that you’d get caught?” He’d claim that he didn’t know he was hurting anyone. (Bull.) That he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. (Bull.) Only when the writer walks out this house, he won’t be tackled to the ground by police officers. (Unfortunately.) He’ll probably disappear just long enough to make a new pen name before continuing with his scamming.

None of this will actually happen but I had a good laugh seeing it play out in my mind…

All this makes me wonder where these hot sellers would be if they’d done it like the rest of us. You know, the honest way? Probably toiling away in obscurity like the rest of us. Oh wait. No they wouldn’t. These people are lazy. They take the easy way, a shortcut. If they don’t succeed immediately, they’d probably give up and find a new get-rich-quick scheme.

What can be done? Here are some of my ideas:

  • The FTC should get serious about this and do a crackdown. They need to go through Fiverr and other sites and confiscate lists of all customers who used paid reviewers and check to see which of these reviews state that the review was for pay. I’m guessing less than 1% of the reviews state that.
  • Fiverr should BAN fake review writing services! Just get rid of that category all together! Seriously. But I guess it makes them money so we probably won’t see that happening… even though 1,114 Fiver users were sued by Amazon this year (!!) for writing fake product reviews. Definitely a step in the right direction!
  • Whistleblowers need to come out. It seems that if money is exchanged, it needs to be disclosed. If the authors aren’t doing it, the reviewers need to! Come out of the phony-review closet!
  • Authors who do not and will not use fake reviews should band together. Tell readers about the problem. Write about it.
  • A petition, maybe? But I don’t know who to show the petition and what will come of it. Just something to think about.
  • End lazy consumerism. People need to stop riding trend waves and being told what’s “hot” and what they should or need to be reading right now because seemingly everyone else is! Have your own interests. Don’t let others form your interests (thus, personality!)
  • The readers/consumers of these writers need to take responsibility. Do they carefully consider the reviews? That maybe a lot of them are not honest reviews? That the reviewer didn’t actually read the book!? Look at the bestselling books and make sure to read the low reviews (1-2 star reviews.) And compare what the low raters are saying to the glowing 5-star reviews. If the 5-star review doesn’t mention anything specific from the book, it’s probably a fake.
  • Amazon.com should implement a box that reviewers tick stating that this review was not paid for by the author (or anyone)… and another tick box for paid reviews. And consumers have a choice, a button they can click, that will disregard all paid reviews and adjust the rating accordingly. This is also useful in case of any lawsuits. If a reviewer lies about not being a paid reviewer, their ticking the not-paid box can be used as evidence. It’s essentially a contract. (I think I will write a separate post on this.)
  • Amazon.com can also cross-reference IP addresses of authors and reviewers to see if authors are reviewing their own books using sock puppet accounts. Of course this won’t work it using proxies, but I bet you’d be able to catch at least a few fraudulent authors this way.
  • Amazon.com should internally flag accounts that have made multiple book reviews within a single day and then proceed to investigate the reviews for authenticity. Sure, multiple reviews in a single day alone does not necessarily point to fraud but a lot of fake reviewers post multiple reviews in rapid fire succession. It’s a red flag for sure. Especially if they do it over and over and over again!
  • Boycott Fiverr if they refuse to do away wit their Review category. I also find buying social media followers to be unbelievably dishonest, shameless and despicable.

Seriously, what’s next? Buying fake negative reviews for your competition and people you don’t like? Sounds shady doesn’t it? That’s because it is. (After writing this I found out people actually do this. Seriously… what is wrong with people!?)

Interesting, related articles and blog posts:

New York Times: Book Reviewers for Hire Meet a Demand for Online Raves

The Atlantic: Will Paid Reviews Bite Amazon Back?

Buying Book Reviews – Still Admire John Locke?

The Guardian: Sock Puppetry and Fake Reviews: Publish and be Damned

Review Cheats- Shameful Author Behaviour

Why Paying For Bogus Reviews Makes You an Idiot

Huffington Post: Fake Reviews Are Worse Than Bad Ones

FTC Guidelines for Endorsements and Testimonials (pdf)

Amazon Files Suit Against a Thousand Fiverr Users for Selling Fake Reviews

Are Fiverrs Running Scared From Amazon Fake Reviews Lawsuit?

Readers Beware: The New Wave Of Amazon Review Fraud Is “Within Posted Guidelines”

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Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web?

A Productive Writing Week & Plans for the Future

I’ve been having one productive day after another this past week. I hope this luck continues. Or maybe it’s not luck? Maybe it’s just hard work and obsession. I’ve entered some short story and poetry contests and have been making a long list of others to enter. The hardest part is waiting for the results!

Also, I have found a few writing fellowship/residencies that I would just LOVE to go to. I should just write more and get together my strongest pieces. I need to get published. And I don’t mean self-published. Anyone can do that! (And I have.) I’ve also been thinking (dreaming?) about getting my MFA but have run into a few problems, the largest two being: Money (the lack of it, to be more exact) and Recommendations. I graduated from college in 2008, seven years ago. I hear it’s OK, but I would feel a bit strange asking professors and advisers who don’t even remember me to write me a letter of recommendation. And having been a mix of self-employed and unemployed over the past four years, I don’t really have any professional recommendations. It’s pretty depressing/embarrassing.

I need to balance things better (ie. don’t just write all day but find time to READ more.) I love reading about other writers and their lives. Dead or alive. I highly recommend Kindle Unlimited for writers out there. It’s inexpensive and there’s a pretty good selection of e-books you can borrow. I find myself investing in my writing more which I think is a great thing. Instead of wasting what little i have on junk that I really don’t need, I’m subscribing to writing magazines and paying for contest fees. I feel it will pay off in the future.

If you haven’t already, do check out my Twitter profile. (See the right hand column for my Twitter feed.) I’ve been posting a lot of “microflash” or “twiction” on there. Creative stories in 140 characters or less! You should try it. hashtag or no hashtag! (It’s a little difficult when you use a hashtag… every character counts! I just hope no one reads a fictional tweet I wrote and think it’s real!)