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ReviewMeta Analysis Test: Deleted Reviews

April 27th, 2016

At ReviewMeta we have the ability to see how product reviews change over time. One important test we can do with this data is finding deleted reviews. We can detect deleted reviews by checking all the reviews for a product one day, then checking them again at a later date and seeing which ones aren’t there anymore.  Although this can seem benign, a large number of deleted reviews can actually indicate that there have been and – possibly still are – unnatural reviews.

There are a few main drivers that lead to reviews being removed:

  1. The user can remove their review out of their own free will.
  2. The brand can lobby (either to the reviewer or the platform) to get the review removed – typically negative reviews.
  3. The platform (i.e. Amazon) may remove a review if they decide that it violates their rules – usually positive reviews.
  4. The platform can change the rules after the review is posted.  For example, many existing Incentivized Reviews were deleted after Amazon updated their policy to prohibit them.  Another example is that Amazon lowered the cap on Vine reviews per product and thus deleted many Vine reviews that exceeded that limit.

Reviewers deleting their own reviews on their own accord isn’t necessarily a red flag. A reviewer may feel guilty for writing an overly critical review, or they may not want their username associated with a particular review. Perhaps the product reviewed was something embarrassing. Perhaps they wrote a long ranty review after a few too many glasses of wine but then had regrets the next morning.  

Where it gets more dicey is when outside forces coerce a reviewer into removing their own review. Some brands may contact reviewers who leave negative feedback and offer a refund, free product, coupon code, etc. in exchange for the user removing their negative review.  If bribing the reviewers isn’t an option, some brands may even threaten negative reviewers with legal action. Even if the legal grounds are completely baseless, most reviewers are normal people who don’t want to risk legal action over an online review and chose instead to bend to the threats and delete their reviews. Even having a brand contact a reviewer might be enough to push a reviewer to delete their review due to privacy concerns. Lastly, brands will sometimes go directly to the reviewing platform and ask for reviews to be removed.  They may try to strong-arm the platform into deleting the reviews by leveraging their business relationship, or may even make legal threats on grounds of defamation.

The final, and seemingly most common cause for deletion is that the review platform discovered reviews which violated their terms.  Each review platform has their own set of rules designed to keep their reviewers honest and prevent brands from stuffing the ballot.  In their effort to create a reliable and accurate resource for their customers they are constantly on the lookout for dishonest reviews. When they discover reviews that break their rules, they will delete them.  However the battle between nefarious brands and the reviewing platforms they seek to exploit is a constant cat and mouse game and a platform may not be able to detect all of the sham reviews of a product.

Even though the deleted reviews don’t affect the overall product rating, a high number of deleted reviews can be an indication that the product may have had problematic reviews in the past. These reviews are like mold, just because they have been removed once doesn’t mean more won’t be back the next day. But like all of our tests, the Deleted Reviews test should be considered alongside all of the other tests we conduct on a product’s reviews and reviewers. Failing a the Deleted Reviews test alone isn’t enough to throw out the existing reviews of a product. But if their report card is riddled with failed tests, the Deleted Reviews test can provide evidence that the product’s reviews have been rotten for a long time.

PS – You may be wondering why we don’t show the text, username or title of the deleted reviews, but instead show “REDACTED”.  Well, this is for a few reasons.  First, we need to respect the platforms for making their decision to remove the review, but also to respect the privacy of the user who might have initiated the deletion.

5 responses to “ReviewMeta Analysis Test: Deleted Reviews”

  1. Another American says:

    You are reporting I’ve had four deleted reviews, and you’ve only found 53 of my 93 reviews that are currently published.

    The thing is, I’ve never been told by Amazon that they are deleting my reviews. I’d love to know what reviews they were! I’m aware of one deletion which was almost certainly the author complaining to Amazon about my negative review, but what are the other three (and how many more have been deleted, too – I occasionally have written reviews since 2000 so I’ve totally no idea what might have disappeared!).

    My point is that, in my case at least, the deleted reviews are more likely to be a positive than a negative factor. Rather than being untrue positive reviews, they are more likely to be stridently but accurately critical reviews deleted after complaints from suppliers.

  2. John says:

    It’s not detecting deleted reviews very well. One particular item said zero reviews deleted. I know for a fact mine was, so why doesn’t it show? It first let my review stay for a few days before being deleted, without Amazon saying why. I read the rules and followed them.

    • Hi John-

      We are only able to discover deleted reviews if we collected them while they were live on Amazon and then re-visited the page and discovered that they are missing – we’re not claiming to be able to detect all the deleted reviews.

    • Tornado13 says:

      That’s curious. And VERY annoying, as well. Personally, I couldn’t let issue that go without being given a solid reason as to why a company like Amazon would arbitrarily delete my arguably-opinionated but harmless review(s) when the entire website is an impossible hodgepodge of fabricated reviews from who-knows-where and those that were written by people who had actually purchased the product.

      Of course, I don’t hold the company responsible for that. I suppose every technical or scientific advance comes with a new set of creeps who try to manipulate something awesome into something else that will only benefit a select few.

      Sadly, for all those great people who take the time to help fellow consumers, the technology to share information has also provided a way to trick us into believing the other phony baloney reviews. All to sell a set of steak knives or an exercise device or a child’s toy.

      What’s even sadder to me is how paranoid people quickly become when they discover they’ve been bamboozled. They begin to suspect that every gray area or honest mistake is a scam and then post acerbic reviews or write venomous letters to the Better Business Bureau that are hard for an honest business owner to undo.

      Unethical behavior and unjust treatment engenders bad vibes all around. I wish we could each do or say one nice thing everyday and let one negative action slide. It would be a start, right?

      Anyhow, did you call Amazon and request for a supervisor to research the situation for you? Because, if there WAS some gray area that you overlooked, wouldn’t you want to know what that is in regard to any future reviews? Hey, it’s YOUR voice, and I – for one – appreciate every truthful opinion I receive about a product.

      As for, I have only recently installed the extension and am fascinated by the complexity and scope of their analysis. I totally get where they are coming from, as it only another tool to help the consumer maker their best decision but WHAT A TOOL!

      However, I think you may be expecting too much from what even this clever resource can provide. Unless they plan to revisit every page of every product every 12 hours for the next month, the chances are that it will never be a perfect tracking system.

      But I think we should do what they ask. Instead of us sending the donations we often do to a few choice developers, they request that we share the ReviewMeta website with others.

  3. Sun says:

    Can you look again for deleted reviews. I purchased this camera from Amazon and it doesn’t look to be as it was advertised. I logged back onto Amazon and happened to notice the product now has a 1 star rating and only has three reviews. I wouldn’t have purchased a product with such poor reviews (and only 3 reviews)

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