Fake News, Fake Reviews Could Irreparably Tarnish Credibility

It is sometimes easy to forget that there is news that is fake, as in made up, manufactured, blatantly untrue. It is also tempting to dismiss the impact that fake news has on those who read it. Most people do not stop to consider the contributions fake comments and reviews make to this.

Awards and rankings have always been manipulated to some extent, but now that ranking is so often algorithmic and uncurated, the system can more easily – and, similarly, algorithmically – be gamed. The algorithmic world that we live in has turned so many measures into targets, and by doing so ruined them. “#1 Best-Selling” books are a great example.

In this post-truth age, it has become more common for authors to try and buy their way onto the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Amazon bestseller lists. Likewise, others try to target books they disapprove of with “review abuse,” i.e. a fake negative review. Just like fake news, it has become an arms race between the genuine and the fake.

Researchers have used AI to develop software that can write extremely believable fake online reviews. This is a major threat to websites like Amazon who rely heavily on them. Perhaps more dangerously, it hints at a worrying future where AI is capable of writing sophisticated texts, undermining public trust and spreading fake news.

In general, the threat is bigger. I think the threat towards society at large and really disillusioned users and to shake our belief in what is real and what is not, I think that’s going to be even more fundamental. – Ben Zhao, Researcher, University of Chicago

For many people, online reviews are their first stop when looking for a product or service. As such, they have become the lifeblood for many businesses. And, because of this, businesses like Google and Facebook are constantly on the lookout for unfair or fake reviews, planted by disgruntled rivals or angry customers.

Fake news and fake reviews are an all too real example of a problem growing all over the world. Fake news. Fake science. Fake credentials. Fake skills. People game, fake, or outright invent measurements of all kinds, whether they be verifiable facts and statistics, social media connections, degrees, or accomplishments. Allowed to rise unchecked, fake news, fake comments, and fake reviews could irreparably tarnish the credibility of news and product/service reviews, as well as have far broader and more worrying implications for society.