munchies.vice.com – Russia? Meddling in online fakery?? Bring me my smelling salts and ready the fainting sofa!
Guys, this is going to be hard to believe, but apparently there’s a Russian company out there that is trying to manipulate the information we find online. According to Reuters, a marketing firm called the Bacon Agency has passed out brochures to restaurants in several of the Russian cities that will be hosting World Cup matches next month, offering to post as many fake TripAdvisor reviews as it takes to push those joints into the site’s top ten.
“What can you do if no Serbs and no Swedes have ever been to your venue and left a review?” the agency wrote in its handouts. “You write it yourself!” (This is obvs sketchy as hell, but it is kind of quaint that it’s soliciting online fraud using paper flyers). Reuters reports that, for a fee of 35,000 rubles (just under US $570), it will type the kind of glowing review that will make, say, an endless line of England supporters stop in for a meal before they all start shouting expletives at the Belgians.
The Bacon Agency’s president says it knows that this kind of thing is prohibited by TripAdvisor—but it also knows that restaurants do it anyway, so he just wants to be the middleman. “We were just testing this niche, because we see high demand. It’s not because we’re bad guys who came in and said, look, you’ve got to start swindling,” Roman Baldanov said. “All restaurants know that reviews are ordered, and many use this service.”
TripAdvisor is having none of it—and the company says that the Bacon Agency’s willingness to promote itself was one of its biggest mistakes.
“We strongly oppose any attempt to manipulate a business’ ranking on TripAdvisor,” James Kay, a TripAdvisor spokesperson told MUNCHIES. “The kind of services described in the Reuters piece are what we call review optimization, and we have a dedicated investigations team which is proactive and extremely effective at catching anyone who attempts to market them. Since 2015, we have taken action against over 60 different review optimization companies to put a stop to their activity […] Secondly, the optimization companies themselves leave behind a trail of activity we can catch by the very fact that they have to market themselves to other hospitality business owners—so our investigators are able to track them down based on where they advertise.”
570 smackaroos for some fake restaurant reviews?! Shiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttt any restaurant owners want to pay Just Grubbin 50 bucks and some free food we’ll give you all the glowing reviews your heart desires.