In case you missed it, here's a pointer to a recent Times story concerning baked reviews on Amazon and the like. In it, David Streitfeld describes how one company gave rebates to customers in exchange for five star reviews. They even seem to have a claque to address detractors--
Even a few grouches could not spoil the party. "This is an egregious violation of the ratings and review system used by Amazon," a customer named Robert S. Pollock wrote in a review he titled "scam."
He was promptly chastised by another customer. This fellow, himself a seller on Amazon, argued that he had both given and gotten free items in exchange for reviews. "It is not a scam but an incentive," he wrote.
You might recall the hysteria surrounding recent Federal Trade Commission rules on sponsored endorsements by bloggers. The agency had this type of situation in mind--average consumers, without any understanding of the rules or "ethics" of advertising are pimping products to others. It's unfair to competitors and other consumers. And it totally messes up my default shopping strategy of just buying the highest rated [insert product here] on Amazon!
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In the documentary (Astro) Turf Wars, there's video of a training day for Tea Party activists in which the presenter describes spending about half an hour each day going to Amazon and giving 5-star reviews to pro-conservative books and 1-star reviews to pro-liberal books.
Sounds like one way to game the system. They should have sent a coupon for a future order and asked kindly for positive feedback.
Yet another field of human interaction where ideology and graft have trumped simple honesty and forthright declaration of opinion based upon individual experience.
Humans are such shits.
It was inevitable, I'm afraid. There's always been shilling, and just as the Internet makes it easier for honest people to publish their work, it also makes it easier for shills to do the same.