Video: How to become TripAdvisor’s top (fake) restaurant

TripAdvisor is often a target for those who want to benefit from a better position in the review website’s listings. Obviously, it’s all about financial gain — the higher up a business is in the rankings, the more visibility it has. And of course, the company makes it a priority to eliminate fake reviews and reduce opportunities to game the system. One enterprising video journalist from U.S. outlet Vice decided to test out a key thesis: while reviews might be faked, it would be impossible to dupe the system into actually ranking a non-existent restaurant.

The entire story is quite revealing, showing how the system can be gamed to deliver a completely warped reality. This is especially pertinent in the era of influencer marketing (see our lessons learned article about his very same shed in London).

“The only bit of TripAdvisor that is unfakable is a restaurant itself. One day I thought: Maybe it is actually fakable.”

This was the thinking behind the Shed at Dulwich, which became the top restaurant in London — despite it not actually existing. There were three key qualities in the restaurant that Oobah Butler targeted to make his faux restaurant seem more appealing: you eat outside, it’s weird “as fuck,” it’s homely, and it’s appointment-only. Butler managed to convince reviews to capture these qualities, all through doing basic things: a verified listing using a burner phone and a website with a menu and photos.

The menu concept — where guests order by moods rather than a la carte — is so ridiculous that it almost sounds legitimate. Butler even went so far as answering calls from hopeful diners to make it seem like the restaurant was fully booked constantly. Despite no one having actually experienced the restaurant, the reviews came pouring in.

While this is an edge case of brilliant manipulation, travel brands who deal with reviews must always be on guard for those who look to leverage a system’s weaknesses.

Watch this video — it’s a fascinating look into how it was done

TripAdvisor responds

In an update to this story, TripAdvisor sent over the following statement in response to VICE’s video:

As eye-catching as this experiment was, it actually doesn’t tell us much about fake reviews in the real world. Most fraudsters are only interested in trying to manipulate the rankings of real businesses – and that’s important, because there is a crucial distinction between fake reviews for a real restaurant, as opposed to a fake restaurant.

Real businesses, whether they try to game our system or not, have a footfall of genuine customers coming through the door and those customers contribute to the review patterns we would expect to see. Spotting the difference between a business’ genuine customer reviews and its fake reviews is one of the ways we catch review fraud. If a business does not exist at all, then clearly those patterns are going to differ from normal models of activity, as was the case here.

In any case, from the moment our system identified a suspicious pattern of reviews, it was only a matter of time before we caught and shut down this listing.

In fact, we had already applied a penalty to the property which reduced its position within our Popularity Ranking and removed a number of its reviews, prior to the listing itself being identified as fraudulent and removed from the site – all of which happened before the first VICE story was published.”

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Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick helps brands blog better at Ghost Works, a boutique blog management service. Nick was previously the Director of Content for tnooz, where he oversaw the editorial and commercial content as well as producing/hosting tnoozLIVE.



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  1. Bernie

    This made my week -so well executed

  2. Michael Kaye

    Highly entertaining and brilliant. That said Trip Advisor is right. The fact that a clever prankster can make a fake restaurant #1 in London does not mean that Trip Advisor is less valuable to diners looking for a real restaurant. Beyond the pure fun there are several lessons that can be drawn: 1-Trip Advisor is highly influential. 2-Scarcity is a highly effective motivator. 3-The affirmation bias is so highly effective it can convince diners that objectively terrible food is delicious. 3-People neither read or think. Food served on a 600 thread count Egyptian cotton plate is clearly a joke. No normally intelligent person who read that and though about it would think otherwise.


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