Skip to main content
Faculty Research

Yelp certified: BYU-led research discovering ways to keep fake online reviews offline

Findings already being used by Yelp, TripAdvisor, Trustpilot

illustrative image of a person painting in a star in a set of 5 stars
Photo by Chalet Moleni

From choosing a restaurant for a special dinner to selecting a new part for a car, consumers are heavily influenced by the experiences of their online peers. However, often lurking beneath the surface of online reviews is misinformation that threatens to erode this trust. A new study led by a BYU business professor offers strategic measures that businesses can take (and that consumers should be aware of) to instill a greater sense of trust in online review platforms and combat misinformation.

Since anyone with access to the internet can get onto any website and say whatever they want about a product or a business, regardless of if they have actual experience with, this poses a particular challenge for businesses and review platforms on how to ensure that only legitimate experiences are published on online review platforms. Likewise, it leaves consumers confused as to which reviews, and to a further extent which review platforms, they can trust.

As online reviews take center stage in consumer decision making, BYU Marriott professor Ben Beck and his colleagues Stefan Wuyts from Penn State and Sandy Jap from Emory University have identified five practices that serve as the cornerstones of building and safeguarding consumer trust in online review platforms.

  • vigilant monitoring to weed out fake content
  • exposing businesses that are propagating fake reviews
  • fostering a sense of online community
  • bestowing status on credible reviewers
  • encouraging identity disclosure

“We saw that online review platforms work better and facilitate greater consumer trust when they keep a close eye to spot and remove fake reviews,” Beck said. “Making sure real user reviews get the spotlight they deserve and creating a friendly community where people share their thoughts and experiences collaboratively likewise boosts effectiveness.”

Beck said big-name online review platforms Yelp, TripAdvisor and Trustpilot are already implementing these strategies and seeing significant improvements in the way their online reviews are handled. Their research also shows a correlation between platforms that adopt the five practices and business success of those platforms; for example, more people visiting their website.

“Yelp’s mission is to connect consumers with great local businesses by giving them access to reliable and useful information,” said Aaron Schur, General Counsel for Yelp. “Consumer trust is one of our top priorities, which is why Yelp makes significant investments in technology and human moderation to protect the integrity and quality of content on our platform.”

To test the efficacy of their recommended practices, Beck and his colleagues undertook a series of five comprehensive studies. Their findings shed light on the individual and collective impacts of the proposed practices on platform trust. More than just uncovering their effects, the research delves into the intricate processes through which these practices bolster trust.

Furthermore, they found that there are more effective ways to ensure reviewers are legit without requiring them to disclose their identity online, a previous solution among review companies long thought to be the only way to ensure trust on online platforms.

Abiding by these principles means there is less of a need for consumers to disclose their identity on review sites, thus maintaining online anonymity while ensuring review legitimacy.

The implications of this research are far-reaching. With trust being the bedrock of online review platforms, the paper’s insights provide a roadmap for platform designers to navigate the threat of misinformation. By integrating the suggested practices, platforms can instill renewed faith in their users, fostering an environment where genuine experiences are valued and upheld.

“It has been so refreshing to see companies like Yelp, Trustpilot, and TripAdvisor putting the trust of consumers at the forefront of their mission,” Beck said. “They are doing this not just to protect their consumers, but to protect and promote integrity in the world.”


Written by Carl Stengel