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Sketchy new trend – hiring fake online review writers

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Unethical but seemingly common practice

Realtor reviews and testimonials have always been riddled with fakes- agents who write their own testimonials with fake accolades, touting their “integrity” and “superior service” and the like. Those inside the industry can typically spot a fake when we see the full name of the brokerage in the review (consumers typically use an agent’s name or a shortened version of the brokerage name, not Joe Bob Williams Team Realty International LLC Number One), or unnatural language that looks eerily like a real estate website template (“my number one agent provided top notch real estate negotiations in real estate transactions”).

Have consumers become hip to the sketchy reviews written by Realtors on their own sites and printed in their collateral? Most likely, yes. The good news is that the rise of social networking is rapidly changing the review methods and reviews left are tied to a person and their real identity, for example, on Facebook or Yelp. Consumers are more willing to be honest and open if they have to legitimize a review with their true identity, plus this makes it more difficult for the fake Realtor reviews of yesteryear to rise to the top. Consumers have a nose for fake, overly-floral reviews and expect natural language.

The new sketchy trend is for businesses (not just Realtors) to hire fake online review writers. Cruise Craigslist in your city, and you’ll see Realtors, retailers, plumbers and lenders paying $5 to $10 for a legitimate user to give them a review, so long as that user has an active Yelp account or a similar account. This gets businesses around having to make fake accounts and keep them active, instead, just pay a few bucks for a fake review. The truth is, the reviews look real, are written in natural language and are by a legitimate person, not “Thomas H. of Dallas, Texas” who has no bio or picture.

Picking up deceptive cues online

Not only is hiring fake review writers unethical, it sullies the entire review process. There is no way to tell the full extent of how many reviews online on real users’ accounts are fake, but Cornell University has studied the legitimacy of online reviews and has spotted some deceptive indicators as published in the New York Times, with human subjects unable to tell real reviews from fake reviews.

The above review doesn’t start off as strongly deceptive and appears to be in relatively natural language, but the repetition of these cues made for an obvious pattern to the Cornell researchers. Immediately, we were dubious and opened our own Yelp accounts and were shocked that none of us had started a single review with “my [spouse] and I,” even though we would say that out loud naturally. We also rarely used the actual business’ name in the reviews and didn’t use “I” and “me” very frequently (although some of us are very enthusiastic and used exclamation marks frequently, but mostly in negative reviews).

We’ll see this trend of paid reviews for people looking to make a quick buck in a down market, and Realtors are already using and will undoubtedly increase use of these willing reviewers, making for a repeat of history where agents are painted as being “number one,” having “impeccable integrity” and “superior service,” along with the new patterns in fake web reviews as discovered by Cornell researchers.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Ross Therrien, Realtor, Broker Associate

    September 8, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Someone should look into the bloggers who buy their blogs. Many on Active rain I suspect.

  2. Teresa Boardman

    September 8, 2011 at 7:31 am

    This is an old problem. Reviews are just advertising

  3. Jay Papasan

    September 8, 2011 at 10:44 am

    My wife and I enjoyed reading this article very much. The writing was clear and provocative. The perspective on our industry was insightful. This is a disturbing trend! Learning how to spot a fake is really useful and I hope we get a chance to use it. AgentGenius features the best and brightest, you can't go wrong subscribing here.

    • Lani Rosales

      September 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      Jay, you win bonus points, that was the PERFECT comment! lol

      • Jay Papasan

        September 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

        Glad you enjoyed it. Couldn't resist.

        • Jonathan Benya

          September 12, 2011 at 2:21 pm

          Dammit, Jay, You beat me too it! I just found the article today and I was planning on leaving a comment like yours! Curses!

  4. Kevin C, Romito

    September 8, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    I read your story with great interest. This is exactly why Realtor Reviews must be done in a closed systems (where only real customers, and in our case every actual customer, is offered the opportunity to review the agent they worked with), vs. an open system (where anyone can complete a review, be it grandma, a competitor or paid reviewer). I wanted to make sure you were aware of QualityService.org and our soon to be launched national site, ratedagent.com. This is our only business and we are truly helping the industry raise the bar in terms of customer service. Thank you!

  5. David Pylyp

    September 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Love the yelp reviews! Just started to circulate those. I think its easier to get a video of the client in a relaxed environment. Their own home. youtube.com/watch?v=geaDrtlizGI

    Just ask questions about their shopping adventure and treatment?

    David Pylyp
    Accredited Senior Agent Living in Toronto

  6. Jeffrey Bratton

    September 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you for taking to the time to point this issue out. It's obvious something odd is going on when every agent on zillow has 5 star ratings.

  7. Matthew Hardy

    September 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I can't imagine anyone selecting real estate representation based on reviews.

    Doctors: "My doctor is the best cutter around! REALLY sharp scalpels!"
    Accountants: "My CPA added numbers WAY better than the last guy!"
    Lawyers: awe… never-mind…

  8. Pingback: Friendly reminder to businesses: it is ILLEGAL to lie about fake reviews - AGBeat

  9. Pingback: So how’s that internet working out for you? | Real Estate News and Commentary

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Social Media

Instagram announces 3 home feed options, including chronological order

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Instagram is allowing users to choose how their home feed appears so they can tailor their own experience… and chronological is back!

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Instagram home feed options

Break out the bottle of champagne, because they are bringing back the chronological order in Instagram!

About time, right? Well, that’s not all. Per Protocol, Instagram has announced that they are rolling out three feed options in the first half of 2022. What?! Yes, you read that right.

3 New Feed View Options

  1. Home: This feed view should feel familiar because it’s the algorithm you already use. No changes to this view.
  1. Favorites: This feed view option presents a nice and tidy way to view creators, friends, and family of your choosing.
  1. Following: Last, but not least, is my favorite re-boot, the chronological view of every account that you follow.

Per Protocol, recent legal allegations have been made that Instagram and Facebook have been prioritizing content viewed as harmful in the algorithm and specifically in Instagram. Instagram is widely believed to be harmful to teens. Per the American Psychological Association, “Studies have linked Instagram to depression, body image concerns, self-esteem issues, social anxiety, and other problems”.  They have been under scrutiny by lawmakers and in response are posing the chronological feed as a solution.

However, this won’t fix everything. Even if the algorithm isn’t prioritizing harmful posts, those posts will still exist and if that account is followed it can still be seen. The other issue with this solution is the knowledge that unless Instagram lets you choose your default feed view, they could still cause the algorithm view to be the automatic view. Facebook doesn’t allow you to make the chronological feed your default view. This means you would need to choose that view every time. This bit of friction means there will be times it is overlooked and some may not even know the functionality exists. Knowing this information about Facebook, prepares us for what’s to come with Instagram. After all, Facebook, or Meta, owns both.

While as an entrepreneur, the chronological view excites me, I know the reality of it being used is questionable. I would love to know others can see the products and services I offer instead of hoping that Instagram finds my content worthy to share in the algorithm.

As a human being with a moral conscience, I have to scream, “C’mon Instagram, you CAN do better!” We all deserve better than having a computer pick what’s shown to us. Hopefully, lawmakers will recognize this band-aid quick fix for what it truly is and continue with making real changes to benefit us all.

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Facebook’s targeting options for advertising are changing this month

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Do you market your business on Facebook? You need to know that their targeting options for ads are changing and what to do about it.

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Laptop on lap open to Facebook page representing ad targeting.

Meta is transforming Facebook’s ad campaigns beginning January 19th. Facebook, which has been infamously battling criticism regarding election ads on their platform, is revising its limited targeting ad campaigns. Per this Facebook blog post, these changes eliminate the ability to target users based on interactions with content related to health (e.g., “Lung cancer awareness”, “World Diabetes Day”), race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religious practices (e.g., “Catholic Church” and “Jewish holidays”) and sexual orientation (e.g., “same-sex marriage” and “LGBT culture”).

These changes go into effect on January 19, 2022. Facebook will no longer allow new ads to use these targeting tools after that date. By March 17, 2022, any existing ads using those targeting tools will no longer be allowed.

The VP of Ads and Business Product Marketing at Facebook, Graham Mudd, expressed the belief that personalized ad experiences are the best, but followed up by stating:

“[W]e want to better match people’s evolving expectations of how advertisers may reach them on our platform and address feedback from civil rights experts, policymakers, and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options we make available.”

To help soften the blow, Facebook is offering tips and examples for small businesses, non-profits, and advocacy groups to continue to reach their audiences that go beyond the broad targeting of gender and age.

These tips include creating different types of targeting such as Engagement Custom Audiences, Lookalike Audiences, Website Custom Audiences, Location Targeting, and Customer Lists from a Custom Audience.

Here’s the lowdown on how it will happen.

Per the Search Engine Journal, changes can be made to budget amounts or campaign names without impacting the targeting until March 17th. However, if you go to change the ad set level that will then cause changes at the audience level.

If you need to keep that particular ad to reuse, it may be best to edit the detailed targeting settings before March 17th in order to ensure you can make changes to it in the future.

I believe it was Heraclitus that declared change is constant. Knowing this, we can conclude other social platforms may follow suit and possibly adjust their targeting in the future as well.

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Hate speech seemingly spewing on your Facebook? You’re not wrong

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook (now Meta) employees estimate its AI tools only clean up 3%-5% of hate speech on the platform. Surprise, Surprise *eye roll*

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Facebook being crossed out by a stylus on a mobile device for hate speech.

As Facebook moves further toward Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, concerns about the efficiency with which the company addresses hate speech still remain, with employees recently estimating that only around 2% of offending materials are removed by Facebook’s AI screening tools.

According to Wall Street Journal, internal documents from Facebook show an alarming inability to detect hate speech, violent threats, depictions of graphic content, and other “sensitive” issues via their AI screening. This directly contradicts predictions made by the company in the past.

A “senior engineer” also admitted that, in addition to removing only around 2% of inappropriate material, the odds of that number reaching even a numerical majority is extremely unlikely: “Recent estimates suggest that unless there is a major change in strategy, it will be very difficult to improve this beyond 10-20% in the short-medium term.”

The reported efficacy of the AI in question would be laughable were the situation less dire. Reports ranging from AI confusing cockfights and car crashes to inaccurately identifying a car wash video as a first-person shooting are referenced in the internal documents, while far more sobering imagery–live-streamed shootings, viscerally graphic car wrecks, and open threats of violence against transgender children–went entirely unflagged.

Even the system in which the AI works is a source of doubt for employees. “When Facebook’s algorithms aren’t certain enough that content violates the rules to delete it, the platform shows that material to users less often—but the accounts that posted the material go unpunished,” reports Wall Street Journal.

AI has repeatedly been shown to struggle with bias as well. Large Language Models (LLMs)–machine-learning algorithms that inform things like search engine results and predictive text–have defaulted to racist or xenophobic rhetoric when subjected to search terms like “Muslim”, leading to ethical concerns about whether or not these tools are actually capable of resolving things like hate speech.

As a whole, Facebook employees’ doubts about the actual usefulness of AI in removing inappropriate material (and keeping underage users off of the platform) paint a grim portrait of the future of social media, especially as the Metaverse marches steadily forward in mainstream consumption.

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