New study investigates online reviews – makes surprising discoveries


Online product reviews are a huge part of our lives these days, and often, they’re the nearest thing we get to a ‘hands on experience’ before we buy something. Extremely positive or negative reviews can greatly alter the perception of a product in the mind of an undecided customer.

So how do we know that the reviews we’re reading are honest? The authors of an MIT study entitled ‘Deceptive Reviews: The Influential Tail’ have looked at several sites which feature customer reviews, including Amazon, but focused on an unnamed private label apparel retailer. Crucially, this unnamed retailer does not link reviews to a purchase of that item – i.e., you can write a review of something even if you didn’t buy it.

What they found is that ‘approximately 5% of the product reviews are written by customers for whom there is no record they have purchased the item. These reviews are significantly more negative on average than the other 95% of the reviews for which there is a record that the customer previously purchased the item’.

It’s no surprise that positive reviews lead to higher sales, but according to the study, negative reviews have a much more profound negative effect.

Online customer reviews have a huge impact on our perceptions of products, and can make a real difference to sales for an online retailer like Amazon.

In simple terms, if you’re considering buying something which has ten five star ratings and a single one star rating, that single negative review could make you move the cursor away from ‘buy now’. And if the review was dishonest, then you, and the online retailer, just lost out. 

The research team looked at the questionable 5% of reviews, and analyzed various characteristics including the length of the reviews, the content and the language and grammar that was used.

They found that fraudulent reviews ‘tend to be longer [and are] more likely to contain details unrelated to the product’. The researchers also noticed that they were more likely to contain odd grammatical quirks like a prevalence of shorter words, and unnecessary multiple exclamation points.

Perhaps most interesting though, is where the team thinks these deceptive reviews came from. Their research suggests that they do not originate from a small band of ‘rogue reviewers’, or the agents of rival companies engaged in smearing other manufacturers’ products (‘shills’ is a word you’ll see used a lot in our own comments and forums) but from loyal, genuine customers, ‘self-appointed brand managers’ who are taking advantage of the review process to ‘give feedback on the firm’.

Fanboys, in other words. 

The paper is long and very interesting – and far too nuanced to do justice in a short news article like this. We suggest you click here and read it for yourself. We give it five stars!!!!

If you’d like to leave your own scrupulously honest reviews of the products you own and love (or hate) don’t forget that you can do so in our forums


Ulfric M Douglas

“makes surprising discoveries”? Err, no. Obvious, yes.


Bottom line is that you have to read every review to determine if it has any validity in your particular case. A lot of bad reviews are written by idiots who cannot figure out a product because they don’t read the documentation or because they are too stupid to figure out much of anything. Some bad reviews are because the reviewer wanted the product to do something it was never designed to do, again these are stupid people. Example, “I bought this computer to use as a door stop but it is just to light weight to keep my heavy door open.” Of course a lot of bad reviews are just fanboys of competing manufacturers.

As far as good reviews go, it seems most of these are people who are basically saying, “I bought this, therefore it must be the best out there because I bought it.”

Read the reviews. Don’t just look at the number statistics.


Perhaps the best user review site is They do a pretty good job of weeding out the fake positive reviews from camera salesmen and store owners.

For example….. Best Price Camera earns a 0.01 rating out of 10.0, with 373 user reviews claiming they are frauds and scam artists.

And…. B&H Photo gets a 9.65 rating out of 10.0, with 65,610 user reviews, almost all of which praise the company for service, price and professionalism.

This makes it pretty easy to decide who gets your credit card number.




Personally, I think most user reviews must be taken with a grain of salt.

There are too many people who gush over a camera after 10 minutes of ownership. The battery is still being charged, and they want to justify their big purchase. Even here at Dpreview we had people doing user reviews BEFORE a camera was even available!

And many of the negative reviews are just complaints about price, delivery, or something that has nothing to do with the camera. Like they ordered something by mistake… without reading the product description.

The absolute worst user reviews were on, where people got paid for writing reviews, so they would grind out lots of reviews. They would review things they never even touched but “my uncle has one.”

For me… the best solution is to read the forums in addition to the professional reviews. If something is wrong with a camera, you will hear about it. If something is good about a camera, you will hear about it too.

Peter K Burian

Interesting. I see the example above shows an screen and I do see fake reviews there. It’s either the only one that is five star OR the only one that is a one star review.

OR the guy who writes a review of every camera guide book and says “it just rehashes the owner’s manual”. (He actually owns all those cameras and has read all the owner’s manuals?)

Also occasionally on rating a hotel or restaurant as five star when every other review gives it 2 or 3 stars. (Obviously a friend of the owner.)


“[…] but from loyal, genuine customers, ‘self-appointed brand managers’ who are taking advantage of the review process to ‘give feedback on the firm’.”

Huh. Where is the news?

Most consumer electronics companies have precisely zero possibilities to submit any kind of feedback, and users have to resort to /excotic/ methods.

(OK, some have outsourced support line, but listening for many hours/days/weeks to the same boilerplate questions and suggestions is rather a maddening experience.)


Is this article about Ken Rockwell???


Apparel may be different than technology. In technology forums there are definitely paid shills.

I won’t name who, except to say a well known competitor to Apple left a very clumsy audit trail of their smear campaign.

A trust was set up funded by the research arm of the competitor.

That trust then set up a research project (a further separate entity funded by the trust) to ‘study the impact of social networking on brand image’.

That entity hired interns and ‘earn money from home with your computer’ responders who were unaware of what they were really being hired for.

These employees were paid to join social networks and forums and then given scripted disinformation, targeted at chipping away at Apples brand image and products. The more posts they got from their script, the more they got paid.

If you are interested, the audit trail is out there, but you may need to use a variety of search engines to find it because, curiously, the trail doesn’t show up in all search engines.


it wasn’t necessary a study to know that!


I urge reading of section 6

the key thing to take away here is that negative criticism is perceived as being more intelligent, so “self-appointed experts” are more devoted to throwing negative things in.


Does anyone bother reading Amazon’s reviews? Does anyone make up one’s mind about buying a product or not based on those reviews?


Yes. When n= a pretty good size number they are very reliable.


I usually read them with the goal of reading the best and worst ones but reading them in ignorance of the rating. I’m looking for details that come up in use that wouldn’t be easy to spot from the spec sheet (like the menus aren’t organized well for people who try to do X).

Andrei Todea

Is this Digital Sociology Review?


This site is devoted to digital photography; that means not just reviews of camera gear, but also news and articles about things that may be considered relevant or interesting to people interested in photography. People who buy camera gear online and read customer reviews could very well find this study interesting, so what’s the problem?

I’m sure no reviews were harmed because of this. 😉


No, Andrei, this is an Amazon subsidiary. 😉


Early adopters get burned more often than those willing to wait a few months for the sample size of reviews to grow. Most highly sophisticated products such as DSLRs will see a certain percentage of the first production runs leave the factory gates with QC, software or other problems. Six months later, those things are usually fixed. If one has to live on the bleeding edge, one might lose a little blood now and then.

Reviewing the brand together with the product has some benefit to the reader of the review. Buying a DSLR means in all probability you are going to deal with the same company for system expansion, services and repairs, future camera upgrades, software issues etc. So if Nikon has a hostile service policy, the prospective first time DLSR owner has the right to know about it. if the camera is great but the lens system is incomplete, likewise. We are buying parts of a system and experience, not merely cameras or lenses.

Andreas Stuebs

In a way I agree with a simple BUT: If I am an early adopter, which I rarely am, I am aware of teething problems: here is where some companies or retailers shine: They strive to sort the problems out. A company which acknowledges that they have problems and sort them out will still get good marks from me. It is only where the product fails and then the service fails as well I will give a made review. Oh yes I have given some books bad reviews if I thought they deserved them.

Der Steppenwolf

Only good “fanboy” is one kept veeery far away from nearest internet device capable of posting ANY form of text on the web. Those imbeciles make me wanna give up internet.

Joo Prates

Reviews are one of the most eficaces ways to sell on the internet, (instead of “word of mouth”, from our friends and familly), to use with weighting.

I was a kid when I discovered that Santa Klaus did not exist, so …
Worse than telling lies is disguise them as real, with more or less scientific evidence to mislead consumers.

Barry Fitzgerald

And how does the study determine that x no of reviews are “fake”? Some of the top Amazon reviewers review many products some are Amazon purchases, and some will have no doubt purchased/used items elsewhere and spent the time to put their thoughts up, and sure some might not have used them! It is the users of sites like Amazon that determine if the reviews are useful or not. IMO 5 star wonder reviews are just as useless as 1 star anger reviews. It is usually quite easy to spot reviews that are of no use or out of spite/anger or irrelevant (ie packaging problems that are not real product issues) DPR has lost my interest in recent years as they miss problems that users discover with some cameras, and they tend to gloss over or not mention weaker points that users do. I find user reviews for the most part very useful. The study is just “sour grapes” few camera reviews sites are man enough to be genuinely critical.


Camera brands most likely to have Fan boys:

Apple (not really a camera so this is a special category of stupendous ignorance)

1. Olympus
2. Canon
3. Nikon
3. Fuji
5. Pentax
6. Sony
7. Panasonic


Leica, Samsung, Ricoh….


Don’t forget Android lovers, they are as obnoxious as Applephiles.

Paul Amyes

Are you saying people tell lies on the internet? I thought everything read was true now what will I do?

Joo Prates

Of course there are comercial interests behind some reviews; we all know that there are some review sites that favor some brands; there is a particular review site, that favors Sony cameras, and that’s incredable the way they always find to get the same result.
Reviews play an important role in buying decisions, so I’m not naive and I believe that brands are attentive and “work” consumer reviews.


I have seen far more fake positive reviews.


It must be rubbish! You just don’t like bad news! Review some decent cameras for a change!


Huh! Some attempt! Other than you fail to say about the PRICE of fish!! And RANDOMLY use the HATS LOCK buttern!! I expected better SAtire than this!!! And you spelling is APALLING(ly good, and so not fit-for-purpose). Come on Hugo! Pull your socks up!!!!

KW Phua

Let talk about review on DSLR on dpreview, after previding the score to each function and feature, let the reader put the weight/priority to them. e.g sport shooter prefer AF & FPS and high ISO quality (Noise & DR) but landscape shooter prefer wider DR in low ISO.


I actually think this is a brilliantly simple idea: personalised reviews. Very good.


You might want to read the last section here. It’s about future plans:


This study really hits a point. Good to know. Especially that people can rate a product who never bought it was new to me.
I think manipulations are possible because many people buy online nowadays.
But if you read reviews and tests available for the product you are interested in first, and then go into a real-life shop and see the product for yourself, you probably will not make much wrong.

mehran langari

anythins we like to hear about one thing ,is good an oposit is true ,because my mind dont jodje my mind love hear good things ,then we trust that positive ads


Funny. If ever there were a group of more negative product reviewers its right here in the Dp forums. No matter the camera, lens, tripod, software, bag, or accessory it’s bashed and thrashed by both users and speculators like there’s no tomorrow right here. This is THE place to be where perfection is expected or release the hounds. This forum and others like it are well known online (and poked fun at) for the most cynical, critical, negative, and “if only they’d have done this or that….I’d buy it” jargon the world has ever seen.

And yet suddenly the same cynics and fanboys aren’t that at all….it’s those “other reviewers” who should be ignored for product bashing or gushing praises on “seriously flawed equipment”.

Life itself is entirely subjective and a matter of personal opinion. There’s no bleeping difference between what someone thinks about a crappy camera and the enchiladas at some restaurant. Personally I wish we could go back in time … To before Yelp took over.

Henry M. Hertz

but but.. you are the worst of all…..


You obviously have never read any posting of mine on here or you’d know I don’t review equipment.


On DPR only some forums are that bad, I made some very positive experience, and I am grateful to the DPR crew for running their site.

For Canon users (not fanboys) is much worse. It should be renamed in, and I am pretty sure that serious Nikon users make the same unpleasant experience vice versa in some of their forums (and other brand users, too). On e.g. somebody only has to start a thread including the buzzword “sensor” and you can be sure that this Swedian troll “angkorwat” surfaces within a few minutes… I never posted to canonrumors and I completely stopped reading their threads now. It’s a waste of time.

Henry M. Hertz

worse then private reviewers are BLOGS.

not only that everyone can write a blog without any deeper knowledge of the topic.
blogger often just write good reviews so they sell the stuff they review or make money via ads.

Alan Brown

Some interesting comments in the article and the replies below.

I too filter the exhilarated and hyperbolic negatives out. However as the article states., the balance of negative and positive is ,well, not balanced.

My wife who is a pessimist can read 10 positive reviews and be floored by a single negative. The effect of FUD is clear and used by those with agendas. Some here even said they post on multiple sites to ‘set the record straight’. Can you trust someone who has an agenda (however well intentioned they think they are being) to post an un biased opinion?

You see similar posts regularly in forums where the same statements are pasted into threads which are only vaguely appropriate to their ‘tirade’ . The effect has far reaching.. and very sad.

Again the anonymous power of the internet.


Since when I noticed that ANYONE can review a product on Amazon even if he/she didn’t buy it, I simply skip user reviews on Amazon.


Why would anyone read 5 star reviews any way. Or, for that matter, 1 star. On the one hand, hyperenthusiasts and on the other unrealistic grumps.

The balanced info is in the middle.

Valterj reviews – I don’t trust them!

In the past I bought a Canon Powershot S50 – was the best camera for (compact cameras)

When I try the camera I feel that was the worst camera I’ve had ever!

So, I returned the camera.

Leandros S

Shall we take that as your 1 star review of cnet, then? (I may have used too many short words there, but it’s just a quirk, honest!)


This is the scientific proof of what everyone observes in forums, on amazon, elsewhere. But it is quite simple to recognize those “fanboys”: they have this completely humorless, messiah-like anti-satan approach to any evil brand. Often you literally can see behind those comments/reviews the socially isolated poor bugger working his hate into his computer. Let’s face it: the internet may keep some of such cranks from doing much worse things…

Leandros S

So the unsurprising message seems to be… You have to actually read the reviews, not just look at the score.


Leandros, that’s it. Just omitting the best and worst scores won’t help. If you e.g. check some camera stuff on Amazon, you mostly get 5 stars (the lovers) and some or more 1 star (the haters) scores. If someone has just mixed 3 stars feelings about a product, she/he won’t invest time in writing a review, as others already said in their comments here.


I prefer to look at the pictures… this IS photography, right?


This article is spot on. Case in point: Look at the reviews on Amazon for the book “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith. All of the 1 star reviews were created in the past 24 or so hours after it was revealed that JK Rowling was the author of the book.


hey the reviews are free, and you don’t have to read them, and let’s face it, some of them are pretty damn funny…
review of the 200-500 F2.8 on amazon came to mind…


this Sigma 200-500/2.8 review on amazon is legendary, he he…


thanks !!! now i’ve got to read it lol


Yep Legendary good advice about avoiding major airports LOL !!

tell the truth

In the past year, I have started to leave my comments. I want to thank D P REVIEW for letting us do this. Never before have I felt a need to leave a review. I have always just excepted the Rip Offs as they are dished out. But with the RIP OFFs getting BIGGER and BIGGER and More Costly, I feel it is a DUTY to give feed back so Big Companies HEAR US, and photographers get Warned ! And yes I use !!! and CAPS !!!! I would not even bother on comments if I have not been BURNED SO HARD !!! My number one BEEF has been with cAnNOT. PROBLEMS PROBLEMS PROBLEMS ! With QC on products and SERVICE. My relationship with them has been HORID ! But lets take the NEW M , as just one example.. WHY,, HOW ,, did they let this camera out,, it CANNOT FOCUS with out a 10 minute wait, Is that OK for you? NEED I SAY MORE ? Yes. – I believe , the comments that are against me are from cAnnOT paid shrills, because they HATE THE TRUTH . Please caNNot SMELL the coffee. Thank U NIKON , SONY, DP REVIEW




Look.. “,,” are NoT acceptable unlesS you qualify them with ……. and !!!!!!!! OK?????

Franka T.L.

Pretty surprising .. I wonder how it apply to non consumer-centric products and services


I don’t care about the number of stars, like some people said someone will give one or two stars because the shipping was slow or some trivial reason not germane to product quality. I read context and if it seems like hands on experience with the product I note that. MOST importantly I look at more than one site for reviews. Especially if it’s a big ticket item, I want to see a pattern of similar reviews from more than two sites. Only then do I start to give credence to the comments.

Sometimes the bogus reviews are obvious. Regardless if you seek out enough input, the phony reviews become irrelevant whether positive or negative.


I find some sites review generally good I.E. sites like B&H where you are asked to review a product after purchase. Even the negative ones are posted. On one end people will always justify their own purchase with a good review ( You always make the best buy) . On the other end buyers remorse and incorrect product selection play a large part. Expectations also form a large part of negative feedback as this is often related to price and perception which can deflate when opening the box. Let’s face it the picture and the Item are often not as attractive. I did notice something on one site though the same user (Maybe disgruntled with the supplier ) gave a lot of products negative reviews. The main problem with electronic purchases is not being able to see and touch the product which often leads to disappointment. I have had a few purchases which have surprised me as to the good quality. One persons flimsy and another robust could be the same thing depending on expectations and needs.


The last monitor I bought had a terrible image, and my bad review (the only one on CDW for that monitor) has probably cost the company a dozen sales now.

Sometimes enraged consumers will go to one review site after another to express their unhappiness. I’ve done that.


So lets see. You make a choice of a product. It does not meet your expectations or you got a lemon. So you carpet boom the product on various site. When looking for a product I would look at a lot of reviews and disregard your copy and paste when it appeared in more than one review. Don’t think all people are stupid and can’t spot a poisoned review. These multi pro/con review posts lose the poster any form of creditability.


But CollBaxter that review may be the only worthwhile one there. Time after time I’ve seen reviews for very poor products that have rated it highly. More often or not its books in Amazon. Five stars predominating with only a couple of bad ones for what is really rubbish. What happens is that people buy something, then write a review after having the product for a very short time and as they are excited to have got the product rate it much higher than it deserves.


To pdcm . Ah Books. I think books and reviews are very subjective as they depend on personal taste. I have recommended books which I think is the funniest book I have read only to get a cold reception on recommendation. The same goes for movies I remember many years ago the rave reviews about dances with wolves and I had to watch Kevin Costner ride a horse for about 2 miles /20 minutes and watch every step of the way. My wife raved I gave my Cold Bums View. Brokeback Mountain , 2 Dudes eying each other out around a camp fire for 10 minutes with about 10 words said. These are my perceptions of values. One has to even look at the professional reviews . We have one reviewer who I will not see a movie he recons is good but will watch the ones he pans. Books and movie reviews are subjective form the start. A $4 book is a $4 book. But it might have $20 value to others. Hard things like products can be compared like to like. I do agree about padding on amazon.


One should approach online reviews the same way Olympic events are scored… throw out the highest and lowest scores and average the rest…


Thats life you see the same fraudulent behavior in forums, Competition/gallery voting and many other areas where people are given power to express themselves.
IMO its more to-do with low self esteem and a desire to aggrandize oneself.
Many single person ‘Technical Blog’ sites fall into the same trap where lack of knowledge of the subject matter is covered up with barely disguised plagiarism in poorly expressed opinion.
As noted in the article these ‘Negative’ approaches attract attention and feed these charlatans needs.

Thanatham Piriyakarnjanakul

How about ‘Ken Rockwell’?


Ken Rockwell well…Rocks!


Rockwell, for all his one-sided view, does often give quite insightful comments, and ones that have saved me money.


Awful camera,owes 2 stars!!;)

The Nihilist

I love the people that give a product one star because the shipping took longer than the projected timeframe and they haven’t received it. They seem to completely miss the irony of negatively reviewing a product because they don’t have the product yet.


My cousin taught me a great tip in regards to travel review. Sometimes (and I’ll bite the bullet to say often (not always however) the culprit reviews are signed with female sounding names), whenever there is a mention of a lost luggage, the entire experience is heavily negatively biased.

“The airline lost my luggage with all my dresses and shoes, anyway, the hotel was bad, the staff were rude, the food was bad, the room was bad, the beach was bad, the nightlife was bad”.

It helps in assigning weight to reviews to correct for the reviewer’s state of mind.

John Clouse

From awaldram: “Thats life you see the same fraudulent…” This is not a sentence!
Neither is this: “… its more to-do with low self esteem…”
[That’s life.] [You see…] […it’s…] […to do…”]
So, does bad grammar mean it’s a bogus review?

TN Args

Despite the confidence of some comments on this article, it is impossible to spot the biased/faked reviews unless they are badly faked. You think they haven’t thought of readers who ignore 1-star ratings? Think again.

I ignore them completely. Especially with regard to reliability or breakdowns: even if the reports are true, they give a completely unrepresentative and distorted view of the odds of you having a problem if you buy one.

It has even gotten to the point where the main website reviewers will mark a product down for not having some feature that a different model has — they assume everybody wants it. Why won’t they review the product (camera) for how well it does what it does, not how well it does what it doesn’t??

I mainly read reviews not for the number rating, but sometimes users come up with some really interesting ownership or usage aspect that I had not thought of, or read elsewhere.


Reviews don’t generally mention features that were omitted simply because they’re something only a higher end / different kind of camera would have. They mention features that a camera has no excuse for not including.

austin design

Sorry, chaos, but I ROUTINELY encounter the very sort of reviews described by TN Args.


Whenever I use the Amazon customer reviews, I completely ignore the 5 star and the 1 star reviews, and read only the 2, 3, and 4 star reviews. My thinking is the fanboys will give it 5 stars, so there is no point even reading those reviews, and 1 star reviews are mostly people upset because the UPS truck arrived when they weren’t home, had a warranty problem, or simply didn’t read the product description and ordered the wrong product.

You usually find the most informative reviews in the middle of the rankings.


Very sound advice.


Outstanding advice. In this world there’s nothing absolute so people who give extreme ratings are rarely as insightful as people who don’t


I largely agree… the trouble for me is that there are too many 5, 4 and 1 star reviews. Too many fanboy and hater reviews. Not enough balanced and insightful reviews. In the case of Amazon, I have been looking elsewhere for reviews to find the middle ground. This is where it is nice to find a reviewer whose perspective you share and trust. You may not always agree, but atleast you can respect their judgement.


Marty, I guess you will never read a lot of my reviews then. I only tend to write reviews when the product is very poor and has been reviewed far too favorably and I want to set the record straight. My reviews are honest and based on real use rather than someone who has just opened the box and is excited and wants to tell people.


Fully agree too. 5 star and 1 star reviews are plain boring. I like to review, though, and just occasionally i am in the awkward position that i find 1 star or 5 stars appropriate – but if i’d rate with 1 or 5 stars, I’d look like a fuming fanboy on a mission, not so?


I’m a bit surprised that the level found was only 5%, but that may be due to the product being a clothing line and not electronics. In my previous job (retired now) I found that camera reviews on seller’s sites ran closer to 8-10% disingenuous regardless of brand, and that includes both overly positive and overly negative reviews. I can still usually spot it when a review is from a falsely proclaimed “owner” or when the problems in question are essentially self-inflicted. Always gives me a chuckle.


There are no problem (some of it is real, but I understand there are a few lemons in a shipment) with low reviews in general, but people are more likely to review items when they are angry then the ones that worked as expected. There are some fanboys reviews from another camera that don’t own what they are reviewing. I see this more with kids stuff like gaming consoles. But yes there are fanman (to old to be call a boy) too. Most of my amazon reviews are 4 stars, but the items that breaks, badly engineered and consumers service won’t answer my email/call (in a timely manner) are usually from small companies. They get 1-2 stars. Vestal watches are garbage for the record. Cheap Rainbow imaging strap that unhooked itself and dropped my camera gear on the ground gets a 1 star for bad engineering. 2 years later they placed a twist lock on the clip.

The Sigma 200-500 f2.8 reviews on amazon are hilarious.

Miike Dougherty

I always look at the details of the review. Some of the DSLRs I own were given bad remarks because of poor video capability and were down-rated accordingly. I don’t use or want video in my DSLR so I do not include related comments about video in my analysis of whether or not to purchase a DSLR.


My _sense_ is that we’ve reached a critical point of dishonest (wrong, malicious, gratuitous, and/or paid for) personal reviews. We have been building towards this “poisoned” point for some time, and now I think it is here. The brief Golden Age of honest reviews has passed — somewhat like the passing of the Golden Age of a WWW not based on advertising revenue.


Excellent point. Hopefully, a universal digital reputation assigned to an individual can change that.

Create Dont Imitate

Once something looses its credibility… its pretty difficult to get it back.

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