Can you really trust an online review?

As I ponder what to write about this week, my mind draws to one of the most memorable videos I have watched. In 2017, Oobah Butler (a journalist for VICE) made his shed at home the top rated restuarant on TripAdvisor and as a result, this act of deceit became viral. Now, how did this happen? Well it should be noted that Butler has been known for his deception before, with one of his most notable actions being how he faked his way to the top of Paris Fashion Week by becoming the designer of “Giorgio Peviani” a knock-off demin brand of Giorgio Armani. People didn’t notice this though, which allowed him to attend numerous fashion shows, convincing people that he was the creator of these jeans and was fashion royalty. Needless to say, people believed him.

So my question is how far do you think deception can go? How far can you make someone believe you, and is there more to it than meets the eye? In Malcolm Gladwell’s novel The Tipping Point, he discusses the 3 rules of change that elicit an epidemic: The Law of few; The Stickiness Factor and The Power of Context. In the Law of Few, Gladwell states that in any situation, roughly 80 percent of the effects comes from 20 percent of the causes (the 80/20 principle or Pareto principle). He delves into this idea further by contending that whether or not this social epidemic occurs, is determined by the 20 percent of the participants that are involved. These important people are either be connectors, mavens or salesmen who affect the rapid spread of messages.

Butler’s restuarant “The Shed” at Dulwich rose to the top by a number of fake reviews (written by his family and friends), where these so called “people” raved about its eccentric and eclectic nature. Moods were served instead of meals and dining could only be achieved with a booking, as no address was given. These fake reviews were the words of people Gladwell refers to as mavens. They want to help others by giving their opinion and we trust them because their intention is to help others through the spread of information.

The various frozen-meal concoctions that Butler served to his diners.


After the restaurant gained some traction online, people started to make bookings. Butler’s inbox was filled, and his burner phone would not stop ringing. The only catch in all of this was that people weren’t actually dining there. Word started spreading about The Shed and the exclusivity of it all added to its widespread appeal – everyone wanted to eat there. After 6 months, The Shed finally became the #1 London restaurant on TripAdvisor purely because of these fake reviews.


the shed number 1.jpg

So, can you really trust an online review? Butler entertainingly reveals the power of perception and challenges the authenticity of an establishment. The tipping point in this situation wasn’t really about the food, but more about the power of one’s deceit. People loved the potential of getting to eat the food at one of the best places in London. It brings to light how social currency is yearned for and how word of mouth is so prevalent in making something viral. It also makes us think twice about what we should believe, and how a precaution should be taken when it comes to things on the internet.

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think about fake reviews in the comments below!


10 thoughts on “Can you really trust an online review?

Add yours

    1. Hi Paul, thanks for reading! I didn’t think to connect curly fries and my post, but you’re definitely right – being a follower can reveal a lot about a person and may not necessarily reflect what they like, but reveals more about who they are.


  1. Great Blog! Perception is sooo powerful, and sometimes its even scary to think about how much they can impact a business- especially a poor review. Do you remember a little while back the Calmer cafe in Essendon was done dirty by a negative comment in the VCE English exam that created backlash for them? IT WAS A MESS! Crazy how something like negative WOM and fake reviews can cause such detriment to a business!!!

    – Bella


    1. Hi Bella, thanks for reading! You bring up something very interesting, I hadn’t thought much about the impact of negative reviews. And wow, I definitely remember that incident! I just checked and it seems as though the fake reviews were removed, thank goodness for them.


    1. Thanks for reading Mitch! I agree, it’s crazy to think that some of the reviews I have read online are probably fake, and that I have probably believed a lot of them. It really makes you become more wary and critical of what you see on the web!


  2. Hey Jennifer,

    Another awesome blog post, it’s crazy how easily Oobah manipulated the populace to make a small shed seem like one of the best restaurants in the town. I think it goes to show why an understanding of digital marketing, organic SEO and trends is so important.


    1. Hi Zac, thanks for reading! I absolutely agree with you. Having an understanding of digital marketing can be beneficial, especially when you don’t know you’re being manipulated!


  3. Hey Jennifer,

    First time I ever heard about this story! Such a crazy story and a crazy guy. To think Oobah could convince so many people through deception like that really is crazy.
    I definitely rely on online reviews a lot whenever I’m going out to eat and I can definitely understand how reviews both negative and positive affect a business. Great read, really makes me question if I’ll continue relying on online reviews so much.


    1. Hey Ryan, thanks for reading! I know right? It’s a crazy thing that he did. I rely on online reviews as well, especially when it comes to food! I’m always searching up on Zomato what their rating is, and what other customers have said about the establishment. On Zomato, they actually remove reviews they deem to be fake which is is good!


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