Sunday, September 17, 2023

Should I trust reviews on social media?

If you’ve spent any time on social media, you’ve likely come across user reviews of one thing or another. A store. A dish. A book. A garden. A vacation spot. Most anything.

Presumably, the motivation behind such posts is to share enthusiasm, positive or negative, with other social media users who might be influenced to use or avoid the things reviewed. A reader we’re calling Constance wants to know if it’s wrong to post a review of something if you’ve never actually engaged with the thing being reviewed.

Constance is a member of a group on Facebook that shares positive news about her local community. The administrators stipulate that they will not tolerate negative comments or negative responses to others’ comments. All positive, all the time seems to be the mantra for the group. Mostly, Constance wrote that fellow group members follow the rules. It’s not the unbridled positivity with which Constance has any issue.

Lately, Constance wrote that she notices an awful lot of posts about restaurants or retail stores in town that start with a question, something along the lines of: “Does anyone have any experience with…” with the name of the establishment following. What follows, Constance wrote, is a rapid succession of one over-the-top review after another. Constance has begun to believe that the owners, or someone working on the owners’ behalf, is asking the initial question after having lined up posters to write overwhelmingly glowing reviews, many of which sound the same.

The tipping point for Constance was after someone asked how the food was at a new restaurant that she didn’t believe had opened yet. After several group members posted glowing reviews of the place and its food, one posted the comment that the place wasn’t scheduled to open until the following week.

Granted, restaurants sometimes have soft openings where people are invited to come in and try the food before it officially opens. Such events help the proprietors detect and smooth out any wrinkles in operation. It’s also not a bad way to spread the word.

But Constance is convinced that the restaurant owners or managers posted the original question and that others affiliated with them posted the glowing responses.

“Is it wrong to be cynical about such reviews?” asked Constance, admitting she has no definitive proof that what she suspects is going on is really going on.

Constance has every right to be cynical. So do readers of book reviews on, even though increasingly some reviewers are disclosing when they’ve been given a free book or product in exchange for their “honest” review.

It’s wise for Constance and any prospective customer not to use such reviews as the only reason to try a new restaurant, read a particular book, or purchase a new product. Better perhaps to look for independent reviewers or sites that review such things. Best to decide for themselves if they are interested in some place or thing enough to try it and then to form their own opinion.

While others’ comments online might pique Constance’s or others’ interest, the right thing is to base their opinions on their own experiences rather than assume they will find the same joy in something that others claim they had.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin



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