One Percenters Control Online Reviews

In a recent New Yorker cartoon, a hotel clerk facing two patrons says, “If there’s anything we can do to make your stay more pleasant, just rant about it all over the Internet.” It is a humorous jab that feeds the popular perception that online consumers wield huge power, and that a few strong words on sites such as Yelp or Amazon can make a business change its ways pronto or go kaput.

And, in fact, online review sites have transformed the way we make consumer decisions. The appeal of online forums on Yelp, Amazon, TripAdvisor, and countless other sites, is to offer a wide range of opinions that, taken together, give consumers the scoop about the real quality and worth of a product or service. Ideally the sites allow consumers to make up their minds by sampling a wide range of public opinion, rather than taking the word of advertisers or professional critics.

But recent social research into how these sites work reveals that they may fall short of providing a representative sample of broad opinion. This is due to how the sites display comments or choose not to, how businesses influence what’s written about them, and the fact that only a small fraction

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