NEWTON, Massachusetts—Allegations of fake hotel reviews on travel review sites, namely on TripAdvisor, have remained one of the top social-media concerns for hoteliers in recent years.
TripAdvisor executives have previously commented on the company’s zero-tolerance policy on fraudulent reviews. To prove just how serious they are, the company hired a director of content integrity in February.
Andrew Marane served in the U.S. Navy and spent 15 years working as an organized crime investigator in the law enforcement field. These duties, coupled with his most recent stint in the commercial sector investigating organized e-commerce crimes, prepared him for his new role at TripAdvisor.
People who try to take advantage or attempt to subvert the content on TripAdvisor, and the people who commit e-commerce or insurance fraud follow the same patterns, Marane said. “We’re looking at similar attributes, similar types of behavior.”
It’s important to put a stop to these behaviors early on due to the potential economic impact to the properties featured on the site and to TripAdvisor itself, Marane said.
A three-tiered process
While he declined to go into details about the type of content that raises red flags to the content and integrity team, Marane said TripAdvisor has an incredible amount of resources to ensure the company is effectively preserving the integrity of the site’s content.
It starts with TripAdvisor’s engineering system, which is similar to how a bank captures financial transactions, Marane said.
When a TripAdvisor user leaves a review, the system takes in a wide breadth of information and checks for anything uncommon. “The majority of content that we have coming in is from normal channels, and it tends to follow a pattern. What we are looking for are things that run contrary to that pattern. Similar to how a bank looks for irregular patterns,” Marane said.
In addition, the company uses its manpower as a second line of defense to catch anything the system might have missed the first time around. “We have an extensive team of content and integrity investigators and specialists that also go back and look for patterns of abnormal activity,” Marane said.
The team checks for fraud coming from both types of TripAdvisor users: hoteliers and hotel guests. “Content and integrity looks to protect property owners just as much as users on our site,” he said.
The final step in the process comes from a quality assurance process, which checks how well the automated systems are detecting fraud on the site.
It’s a three-tiered effort to ensure TripAdvisor is maintaining content integrity, Marane said.
Yet, he said, even though the process seems to be working so well, there are challenges.
“Being new to this role, one of the largest challenges is dealing with the volume of content that our team is responsible for and ensuring that we scale our resources so that informational reviews that come into our site are handled in a timely manner,” Marane said.
But, he added, that’s a good problem to have.