Traditionally, online reviews have been a reliable resource for most health concerns and solutions. A positive or negative review can bring success or many failures for a product or even an industry. At best, an online review is like a personal recommendation that can provide an overall snapshot of the customer experience. At worst, it can be a soundboard for complaints from unhappy consumers.
There is a fascination for male enhancement that has fueled many men to hunt for the best products available in the market. Many read various reviews for a particular product, especially if they are having doubts, thereby doing what an informed customer usually does. These online reviews can be beneficial because they can either give you the reassurance and confidence to proceed with a procedure, or prove your “too good to be true” suspicions right. Unfortunately, when it comes to a business and its products, there have been instances of fake users and phony reviews to increase sales. At what cost?
Fraudulent Users and Reviews Breeding Ground for Misinformation
Online medical forums have become a breeding ground for phony reviews, mainly because exploitation is easy, profitable, and concealed from the public. All a company needs to do is log in using a set of fake users and use them to praise the benefits of clinic, procedure, drug, or implant while spreading false reviews about the competition. These forums commonly attract a distinct audience that seeks to solve a pressing concern; so fake reviews prove to be highly effective and dangerous.
In February 2019, the FTC brought its first case against a company for advertising a product that used paid phony reviews on Amazon. The FTC argued that a company called Cure Encapsulations paid amazonverifiedreviews.com to write positive reviews for a product called Garcinia Cambogia. In these reviews, the product is alleged to help with weight loss. Instead, it caused acute liver failure. The case was settled in less than a week with a $12.8 million fine.
Online forums and review sites were purposed to provide a safe environment for people to get recommendations from peers. In too many cases, companies with greedy financial interests have taken advantage of patient trust by abusing sites with fake users who spread misinformation. Some of these false users will even offer medical advice without any prior medical knowledge. The problem remains widespread in aesthetic-medicine forums.
Aesthetic-Medicine Forums are a Prime Breeding Ground for Abuse
The problem is common on aesthetic-medicine forums because the psychological sensitivities around aesthetic medicine create a vulnerable and captivated audience.
PhalloBoards.info is a forum that invites discussion around the topic of penile surgery and claims to provide anonymity to create what the site calls “an environment of candor and encouragement.” This anonymity, however, makes it convenient for people to post fake claims. The above-mentioned forum also says that it provides “an honest and unbiased means of communication.” However, it is sponsored by specific doctors and can help make the posting of phony reviews easy and more probable.
For example, when a forum member complained about a sponsor’s office’s lack of responsiveness, the site’s administrator replied, “Their office is undergoing some changes which will include coming to PhalloBoards. Anticipate their presence summer of this year, definitely exciting.” Another example is set during a discussion referencing the sponsoring physicians of the forum. A senior administrator wrote, “I’d personally recommend our Commercial Accounts for HA/Temporary Fillers. Dr. C is the only known & reputed PMMA physician.”
However, physicians who do not sponsor the site seem to receive vastly different treatment. A senior member of PhalloBoards writes, “Dr. K is a very dangerous man, stay away from him.” Even with the bold warning, no action has been taken against the senior member even though several posts claimed that the accusation was baseless. When one forum member described a positive experience with a physician who did not sponsor the forum, the site’s administrator wrote, “Really? Well, good luck, I wouldn’t let Dr. L clip my nails, let alone work on me. You sound like a shill…no-invested member would be so reckless.”
In this forum and others, many users are intentionally misled. Unfortunately, malicious intent is difficult to prove, and defamation suits are often time-consuming and too costly for small or medium businesses to take up. As a result, this issue is spiraling out of control. The solution is unlikely to come from the forums that may be profiting from the misinformed nor will it come from the law. Therefore, it must come from the consumers themselves.
Red Flags That Help to Spot Phony Reviews
Some fake reviews are blatantly fake. Others can be more subtle. Here are a few red flags that can help anyone spot fake or suspicious reviews and forums when searching around online.
1) Bad Grammar and Spelling – It’s not surprising to learn that finding people to write fake reviews isn’t that easy. A conscientious writer usually won’t take that kind of job, so companies who engage in deceptive marketing use unskilled writers. As a result, the review may have poor spelling and grammar. Some writers even create reviews in “shorthand text”, which marketers think will make the post sound more casual and authentic. In actuality, the post can be deemed as suspicious.
2) Name Dropping – In past times, search results were mainly based on the occurrence of a specific word or phrase in the text of a web page. Therefore, marketers began keyword stuffing, a method in which their specific keyword or phrase is inserted many times into their text – squeezing and forcing it in as much as possible. Most companies know this is to be an outdated way of boosting search engine results, but dodgy companies continue to use it. If a review spells out the full name of a product or uses specific phrases repeatedly, it may be an indication that it’s a fake review.
3) Only the Good News – Fake users will never mention the negative aspects of a product – it’s not permitted! No matter how great the product is, there is always an opportunity for improvement. Caution should be taken of reviews with no negativity or suggestions for improvement.
4) Vague, Yet Amazing Results – Phony review writers don’t use or see the product they are reviewing so the details are few. Observe reviews that consistently write about “amazing results” without giving any details. It’s likely that the writer probably has not seen or owned the product.
5) Reviewers Without Reputations – In the male enhancement and online review world, people pride themselves on their reputation as a reviewer. If you notice reviews written by those who only post reviews with the red flags like the ones previously mentioned, you can deduce that most of their posts are fraudulent, no matter what website it appears on.
Be Informed; Do Not Be a Victim
Living in the information age allows people to be better informed about health issues than ever before. However, those opportunities come with the risk of being manipulated by greedy companies or jaded individuals spreading false information for nefarious purposes, even at the cost of public health.
So how can the public help stop this problem of fake users and phony reviews? It’s simple – get involved. By understanding the importance of their involvement, communicating with the community, and condemning false reviews, consumers can become a force for change for the community and help create a more reliable place for their peers to learn about their options.