Monday, 20 August 2018
Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

We have become sheep to the viral effect

By  Mark Thomas Feb 04, 2018

Is modern technology making us all stupid? I think the answer is yes. We have lost the skills of human communication, we are losing our memory (how many phone numbers do you know off by heart) and we rely on Google to answer questions. And yet we have a blind faith that technology is making things easier. The answer is the exact opposite. We don't commit data to memory because of the "Google Effect" – we're safe in the knowledge that answers are just a click away, and are happy to treat the web like an extension to our own memory. And it is making us dumb.

We believe too much of what we read online. And yet what is printed in a newspaper is “fake news.” Facts that no longer suit our purpose are now seen as lies and the term “alternative facts” has sprung up. We have become sheep to the viral effect. If it is good for millions of other people, then it must be good for me. We have exchanged our real brain for an online one.
We book our holidays, find our future partners, reserve our flights, interact socially, order our food and pay our bills all in a virtual world. But just how trusted are these online services? One of the most popular has seen itself under fire – TripAdvisor.

You’re looking to book a table at a swank restaurant in Dubrovnik, hoping to find real local cuisine at reasonable prices. Where can you get the inside information to jump the queues and reserve your holiday meal? In these digital days many people would turn to the online review site TripAdvisor for assistance. But just how reliable is TripAdvisor? Can you trust the reviews and real and that you have really found a top ten restaurant in Dubrovnik? There have been many cases over the years of businesses paying for fake reviews, this happens all over the world so why should Dubrovnik be the exception?

There was a case a few years ago when a dubious team of “experts” promised to raise restaurants and travel businesses up the TripAdvisor list. They basically did this by writing fake reviews and posting them onto TripAdvisor sites, if I remember correctly it cost 1,000 Kuna for 10 reviews. To an extent it worked, but they made a few classic mistakes which altered TripAdvisor to the scam. But TripAdvisor is far from perfect. And one recent case in London has proved just how shaky the online review service actually is.

Like I’ve mentioned face reviews are nothing new, but in Dubrovnik they have all been for actual real restaurants. Just how much can you trick TripAdvisor.

One ingenious journalist from London set out to see just how far he could go. The Shed at Dulwich was a fictitious restaurant, literally it didn’t exist, but thanks to some clever marketing and some inside tricks it managed to find itself as the number one restaurant in London on TripAdvisor out of more than 18,000 restaurants. It didn’t have a cook, a waiter, tables, chairs or any food whatsoever, in fact it had never even served a hot meal to any guest, but yet it was rated as the top restaurant in London. Celebrities, food bloggers and the rich and famous were falling over themselves to book a table at London’s hottest new restaurant, an eatery that didn’t exist.

Oobah Butler, a journalist at Vice Video, spent seven months concocting The Shed at Dulwich, and the story is incredible. The Shed was at the end of his garden and with a cunny plan to trick TripAdvisor he managed to find himself in the middle of a media storm. “TripAdvisor is a false reality that everyone takes completely seriously,” commented Butler. When The Shed started to slowly rise up the ranks and the listings his phone was ringing off the hook with potential customers trying everything to get a table at the hottest eatery in the capital. It was all a hoax.

But the more he turned away customers, saying he was fully booked, the more and more they tried to book. “I always believed that the only part of TripAdvisor that was unfakeable was the restaurant itself. But then I thought, well actually maybe it is fakeable,” said Butler. It took lots of work but after seven months he had got the restaurant ranked as the top restaurant in London, and he had never even cooked a boiled egg let alone something that a Michelin cook would prepare. He even filmed the whole scam and when it was published of course it went viral and TripAdvisor more than a little mad. “People don’t trust their senses above what they read online anymore,” concluded Butler. He isn’t wrong!

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