A survey of the wide range of discussions about sock puppet reviews on Amazon from David Vinjamuri on Forbes:
A huge controversy has erupted over the use of “Sock Puppets” – fake personas created by authors – to write phony positive reviews of their own work and attack their rivals.
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As with any debate between writers, contrary views have sprung up. On his blog, bestselling author JA Konrath used a seductive variant of moral relativism to pen his own version of “The Writer’s Code of Ethics.” Konrath makes the case that ethics is a slippery slope and that punishing Ellory, Leather & Locke was patently unfair because every author is complicit in his own way.
On the face of it, the slippery slope argument is compelling. All authors areguilty in some way of stirring the pot to get good reviews. Even something as innocent as posting news of the publication of your new novel on your personal Facebook page can be construed as an attempt to get people who already like you to write less than perfectly honest reviews.
But that’s where moral relativism runs out of steam. There’s a big difference between friends being overly enthusiastic and authors creating or purchasing outright fraudulent reviews. Amazon’s review creation guidelines explicitly state that the following two types of reviews are not allowed on the site:
- Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
- Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package
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Consider this from Conor Pope, writing for The Irish Times:
Internal communication seen by The Irish Times indicates that the Carlton Hotel Group encouraged dozens of employees and other nominees to post positive reviews of the chain’s 10 hotels to TripAdvisor.
According to the email, sent to at least 29 employees in the summer of 2010 and copied to the hotel group’s directors, the group wanted “a more pro-active management of the reviews on Trip Advisor” and it said a plan had been agreed which would see managers nominate five people from each hotel to post fake reviews.
That’s right, a prominent hotel chain conspired to subvert the review system on TripAdvisor.
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STEP 1: NO ANONYMOUS REVIEWS
Writing for The Seattle Times, Ray Fisman points out that
when Amazon’s Canadian site accidentally revealed the identities of anonymous book reviewers in 2004, it became apparent that many reviews came from publishers and from the authors themselves
In the same article, Fisman details work done by a trio of academics from Yale, Dartmouth and USC who were able to show that TripAdvisor (where reviews can be posted anonymously or under a fictional name) was much more susceptible to fraudulent reviews than Expedia – where only travelers who have made a hotel booking through the site can review.
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It’s become clear to me in the past few weeks how difficult finding that line can be in practice. Three weeks ago, I self-published my first novel. A writer subsequently contacted me suggesting that we read and review each other’s books. As it happened, this writer was someone I was already aware of. I read the online sample of his book before I agreed to review his book, as he did with mine. Finally, we both agreed to purchase each other’s books and to write honest reviews using our real names.
Here’s where it gets complicated: I found myself wanting to please this guy. Fortunately, I really liked his novel, but it could easily have gone the other way. I was certainly a friendlier audience for his novel than the average reader. So I’ve decided that I’m not going to do this again. That’s my personal line in the sand. But Granny can still review my book as long as she buys it and uses her real name.
Link to the rest at Forbes