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Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web

MIT Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

That restaurant review is probably bogus. And that sinister comment on your blog is probably the work of a faker or troll.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


The Internet, that transformative force driving innovation, communication and collaboration worldwide, also has a dark underbelly. In this murky world of fakers and trolls, nothing is as it seems. One expert computer analysis found that “about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake.” That the restaurant review you referred to last night may come from someone paid by the restaurateur or by the restaurateur’s rival. Believe the credibility of that glowing book review on Amazon at your peril; the author may have ghostwritten it. Joseph M. Reagle Jr. jumps into this cesspool with a reporter’s gusto, delving into the unlit corners of Yelp, Twitter and coder conferences. His findings might not surprise those who are deeply embedded in the Internet culture, but for most readers, his exploration is an eye-opener. At times, Reagle veers into the stilted prose of academia and his language can be vulgar, since that accurately reflects the material he’s covering. Nonetheless, this mostly approachable book delves into a crucial topic. getAbstract recommends it to online retailers, investors, entrepreneurs, and anyone who ever read anything on or ordered anything using the Internet. And that, of course, includes nearly everyone.


When Everyone Has a Platform

The Internet’s explosion of online content offers value, diversity and – in the form of commentary – a lot of hokum. The web user’s joy in the “comment culture” springs from the brain’s “mesolimbic dopamine reward system.” People love to talk, write and think about themselves. Disclosing information about yourself makes you feel good. This explains why consumers so readily create – and accept – the reams of user-generated content on social-media sites like Twitter and Facebook and the endless reviews on Yelp and Amazon. If you’re a discerning consumer shopping for a backpack, you can find dozens of YouTube reviews on a single model.

Consumer reviews are not a new phenomenon. The Michelin travel guides started in 1900 with reviews of restaurants and hotels. The publisher then had the brainstorm of assigning stars to reviews. The Zagat restaurant guide later added user-generated reviews – proving that old-school publishing could translate to a new era. In 2011, Google paid $150 million for Zagat and, in 2013, it launched a free Zagat app. An online gold rush surrounds review websites. TripAdvisor fetched $200 million in 2004, and its owners...

About the Author

Joseph M. Reagle Jr. is an assistant professor in the department of communication studies at Northeastern University. He also wrote Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia.

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