Does Identity Matter in Online Reviews

When people first see WhoDoYou in action, they will sometimes ask ‘why do I care if one random person recommended a mechanic to another friend, if I don’t know either of them? As faithful readers of this blog know, it’s a question I’ve dealt with in various forms in the past. But this issue came roaring to life in January when Yelp lost a court case that required them to disclose the identity of 7 anonymous reviewers of a carpet cleaning business in Virginia. This past week Yelp was formally ordered to make public the seven identities.

 

So what, you say? Should it affect the sources you use for finding trusted information? Should this case make you wary about what you post when your name isn’t connected? Well, take a brief step back and think about how differently people speak when they are on an anonymous phone call with a complete stranger, versus the way people speak when looking someone in the eye. It shouldn’t take much convincing that people are willing to say a lot of things when no one is looking, and they tend to be much more reserved when others are clearly watching.

In fact, it reminds me of a project I worked on more than 15 years ago at a series of call centers. While my role as a consultant was primarily involved with the overall center operations, we were asked to ‘jack-in’ for a minimum of one hour of phone calls before we could start our project. In those 60 minutes I heard more offensive, abusive and downright nasty behavior than I had heard in many years. While I didn’t think it would have much of an effect on me, it actually shocked me. It seemed people had little compunction and self-control when nobody was watching. Or, more precisely, when nobody they knew was watching.

 

Perhaps this is an unfortunate element of the human condition. Maybe I’m getting a bit too philosophical for a tech blog. But our job at WhoDoYou is to think every day about building a high trust site for people to find local referrals. It matters a lot how that trust is built, and it seems clear to us that you simply cannot build a trusted review site on the back of anonymous reviews and reviewers. The motivation to misbehave is simply too strong, and as has often been pointed out on this blog, the rewards for unscrupulous behavior are too immediate to prevent people from polluting the overall healthy exchange of online opinions.

So, bottom line, what’s the take-away? Identity is required for trust. Without knowing who is giving the opinion, it’s nearly impossible to rely on the what that’s being said. And if Yelp is being forced to disclose the identity of presumed-libelous reviewers, anyone can be vulnerable when submitting anonymous reviews. Instead of getting caught up in all that, I suggest coming on over to WhoDoYou. You’ll find trusted advice shared between friends. And if you have an opinion about a local service provider, put your name behind it so your friends and neighbors can benefit from your honest assessment. They – and we – will thank you for it!

As always, please feel free to leave any questions or comments.

 

 

 

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