Review sites are extremely popular, perhaps because they contain what appears to be real, honest feedback by everyday folks wanting to help others out with their own experiences. People tend to trust the information their peers give them since, at face value at least, there doesn’t seem to be an ulterior motive behind it.
But while the original intent behind these sites may have been well-meaning – to provide other consumers or members of the public truthful and relevant information to use in making purchasing, healthcare, educational or even dating decisions – their overall value today is diminishing. A visit to these sites reveals that they’re increasingly infiltrated with submissions by disgruntled people looking for opportunities to retaliate against and hurt a business or individual. Lawsuits are becoming more common (see the example of one physician who is suing for defamation and business disparagement for an anonymously-posted review on RateMDs.com).
There are even sites that specifically cater to consumers who want to vent. Some examples include Pissed Consumer, Ripoff Report and Scambook. Others sites are of a more personal nature, such as LiarsCheatersRUs.com and Don’tDateHimGirl.com. These sites shield themselves from responsibility for the information posted on their platforms. Pissed Consumer, for example, states that:
Q: Does PissedConsumer investigate the postings published on the website?
A: PissedConsumer does not investigate the postings made by users.
Q: What can we do if we believe that someone is slandering our organization on PissedConsumer?
A: It would be advisable for you to speak to legal Professional [sic] about the situation.
Users should be extremely cautious and critical in weighing the information they find on consumer review and other ratings or feedback sites. Some of the questions they should ask themselves include:
- Does the poster provide their real name and identity?
- Do the posters list verifiable specifics in their complaint such as dates, times, dollar amounts, images/copies of actual records and so forth?
- Do the posters use vague yet attacking language such as “scam” or “fraud” or “crook” without providing verifiable information about the situation?
- Do the posters use overly inflammatory and attacking language?
- Do the posters describe an overly negative story where everything the company or individual does is supposedly bad?
- Do the posters reveal that one of the reasons they are writing online is to make sure others know how angry they are?