Monday, 8 May 2017

Dodgy Ratings

Badreads

Writers work with words (including alliteration), yet we also look at numbers a lot - sales, ROI on advertising, ratings and so on. All authors know how much pain Amazon's review system can be, with legitimate reviews being deleted, threats to the authors that Amazon will close our accounts and not telling us why, while obviously-fake reviews stay there forever (even when the review is random text put together by a bot, or the book review says "the book did not arrive"!)

Goodreads suffers a lot of this too. Pros - Goodreads don't delete reviews often. Cons - Goodreads don't delete things which are probably fake, either! A number of authors have experienced fake ratings on Goodreads recently - "reader" accounts which only seem to post 1* ratings on certain books, with no comment or review.

I've seen other authors suffer this, and recently got in touch with Goodreads about one of my books, just to see what they did with accounts that don't seem to be real, or really reviewing books. The answer is - nothing! Sigh. Best not to look at the reviews and ratings sometimes! (Also: Goodreads is owned by Amazon, but their 5* rating systems mean different things.)

Just for information, this is an email I sent Goodreads recently:

Summary: Potential abuse of the ratings system

Hi,

In the past I have encountered one (or more) people who seem to have targeted books and abused rating systems. I've seen this on Amazon and other sites, and it always has the same pattern:

- Minimal profile set up. No image, or a fake stock image, that may not even match the profile details.
- The only interaction with the site is to leave a 1* review of one of my books (or another author's) in order to bring the average score down.
- There is never a review attached, or anything to justify the score, or show that these are opinions of different people.
- The review is never a verified purchase (where these systems are used, such as Amazon) - and the name is never anyone I sent an ARC to.
- The profile is then just abandoned with that one rating left affecting overall scores.

Some time later another account is set up which follows the same pattern, though may use a different location, name, sex, and interests.

Past investigations from vendors/sites with access to activity reports have suggested they weren't real accounts used by individuals, but were spoof ones created purely with the intention of manipulating scores on another book. I was told it could be an account set up with random ratings, just to look real so it can be used for some other scam. Or even that it might be an author who writes in the same genre and wants to abuse rating systems to lower scores for books seen as competition, as possibly happened here (I really hate to imagine this is true - all the authors I know support each other). Chances are it is not a real person who has read the book in question, it is all just about rating system abuse.

I recently noted two accounts on Goodreads that seemed to match the warning criteria above. Goodreads can check the access and determine if these are real accounts or spoof accounts, and I'd be grateful if you could do that.

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/65415187-luke-hill 
Only one rating, no review, targeting on of my books.
Presumably a false profile image.

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/37879468-claire-ufton
Only one rating, no review, targeting on of my books.
No profile image.

I could be wrong, but preliminary evidence makes these look suspicious, so I'd appreciate it if you could investigate and take any appropriate actions. Real accounts, and real opinions, are fine. I have no problem with that. But spoof accounts created purely to abuse rating systems are another matter entirely.

Yours faithfully,
Karl Drinkwater

Goodreads' reply:

Thank you for contacting us about this, though we sincerely apologize for the delayed response.  We looked carefully at the accounts you mentioned on the admin side, but they didn't raise any of our standard red flags for illegitimacy.  It also doesn't look like these members are breaking any of our rules.  Given this, we won't be able to remove the accounts from the site, as we're only able to take action when a member has violated our Terms of Use in some way.

However, if you see any further suspicious activity from these members, please feel free to email and we'll be happy to look into the accounts again.

Sincerely,
The Goodreads Team

To which I added:

Okay, thanks for checking anyway. I would have at least thought the first account broke the rule “You agree that any User Content that you post does not and will not violate third-party rights of any kind, including without limitation any Intellectual Property Rights” – his photo is even watermarked as copyright to a photographer, and is obviously just the results of a Google image search. If he’d bought rights to the image the watermark would have been removed, so that’s infringing content.
Best wishes,
Karl
Most people can spot a fake review

I'd also reported a bot/software account to them, and am not surprised to see it is still active, despite Goodreads saying they had investigated it:

Dear Goodreads, this is possibly a bot account - the reviews posted by "Stability Test Account" https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/66566617-stability-test-account are all garbled random strings of text, for example this one says "P,9[k opp aww5'q see; ttyl8fr wgww Ed m g bx+ xxou :) t ,wwwl.p..z c1(".
I'm sure you'll agree that is not a proper review. This usually occurs when a bot is being used to create an account (random ratings and reviews, many friend requests sent out so some get accepted etc)

Oh well!

Readers: I'll just keep writing the books and being intensely grateful to everyone that takes time to rate my books on Goodreads. I don't care what the rating is as long as it is real (even better when there are a few words to show the person actually read the book!) By the way, if you read my work and have a Goodreads account, please do pop along to my profile and add a rating to any of my books that you've read - you can do it all from one screen. You don't have to write anything (unlike Amazon), though you are welcome to add comments. Thank You!

Authors: do any of you get these weird accounts dropping a score bomb then sitting their forever, inert? Any good examples of score trolling or manipulation? Ideas on why it occurs?

Share:

6 comments:

  1. I had a person give me a 1 star on Goodreads. I clicked on his name and the last 20 books he supposedly read were also given 1 star. It is very common, but infuriating as hell. Reviews should help people decide what books to buy (good and bad). Fake ones created just to mess with scores or act as ways of attacking an author should be banned. They don't help anybody.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I thought you dealt with it in a very professional manner, Karl. I can understand your frustration. I've seen similar things with Amazon reviews, where they get 1* and a comment that shows the book was never read such as "didn't arrive" etc. We can't please every genuine reader but this type of mean and false down-scoring is deplorable.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Why do people do feel the need to be mean and cruel (not just here, in all sorts of ways)? Genuine reviews are good - and after all, not everyone will like what we write. But give bad scores just for the sake of it makes no sense. Gragh.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Some people on Goodreads use a star to mark books they want to read, which seems pretty stupid since there's a big "Want To Read" button!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for all the comments - sorry to hear others have been affected, but I knew I wasn't the only one. I also know many authors don't like to speak out about it for fear of being targeted.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Joanie - I try and imagine there are innocuous (if silly) reasons, such as "marking books for later reading", but sometimes the evidence does make it look more malicious.

    ReplyDelete