Can I patronize a business I'm 99.9% sure is lying/cheating?
February 16, 2007 5:58 AM   Subscribe

Moral dilemma. Can I patronize a business I'm 99.9% sure is lying/cheating, when it's the only business that fits what I need?

(Posting anonymously since I want to talk about the issue rather than outing the business.)

There's a yoga studio very close to my new building. They're the only walkable yoga studio from the building, and it's really important to me to walk home from yoga class in the open air rather than taking the subway (to maintain that sense of peace & relaxation).

The problem is that this studio has very obviously, very clumsily faked all of its reviews (more than 10 reviews, left over the course of several months) on Citysearch. The reviews all contain the same writing quirks, hit all the same selling points with barely changed words (some entire sentences are repeated verbatim in 3+ reviews, and many individual phrases are repeated verbatim in 2+ reviews), are all of almost the same length (one paragraph with a consistent sales-pitchy structure), and are each written by a newly registered user who has not written any other reviews before or since. The first two reviews were even left on the same day and are comically similar. Of course they all give it the highest rating too.

I feel pretty strongly about not rewarding public lying and stupidity. And I don't like not trusting a place where I do something that's meaningful to me (paying for yoga class is different than paying for a can of beans at the corner store). I know that whoever wrote all those reviews is probably not going to be teaching my classes, but it also feels weird not knowing who that was, and therefore not trusting the studio as a whole. It makes me sick to look at that Citysearch page.

I've thought about sending the studio an anonymous email talking about this situation, and seeing how they respond. If they own up to it and take down the reviews, I think I will have helped them not drive away other people (the faked-ness was also totally obvious to my friends when I emailed them the link in a neutral way), and I think I would also feel okay about going there. I can understand some business owners might get panicked enough to do this if their whole lives are invested in their business and they feel lying is the only way to get customers (...orrrrr maybe I shouldn't rationalize 10+ individual acts, over several months, as "panicked" :)). I've also considered emailing Citysearch to see if they want to look into this (I bet this place was also careless enough to post at least some of the reviews, if not all of them, from the same IP address).

What a stupid, sad situation! I was so excited about this place until I saw their Citysearch page.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Citysearch is a bizarre and useless little toy where it seems a great many of the reviews are posted by insiders. I don't think it is helping them at all to have their cityseach reviews all glowing and one star, as you say, its stupid and obvious. They are getting no benifit.

What it is the owners grandmother just trying to give the kid a boost? Really, you shouldn't take it so personally it makes you sick. Its bad for your psyche to take things to heart so profoundly.

If you really feel like something should be done, I would strick up a conversation with a manager or administrator there and talk about how bizarre their hacked citysearch page is, because well, surely they wouldn't do anything so low.
posted by stormygrey at 6:08 AM on February 16, 2007

I don't know about the moral dilemma side of things, but it seems doubtful you will be able to put this out of your mind and achieve "peace & relaxation" at this studio as it stands.

Why send an anonymous note? Go up to their recruitment person/front desk, show them printouts of Citysearch (with stuff highlighted if you feel it will help show the fakeness), and tell them you like the look of the studio but the fake reviews make you uncomfortable. Tell them then can contact you if they ever decide to be honest about it and remove the reviews, and that you'll happily write an honest review after you are in class for a month or so.
posted by mikepop at 6:09 AM on February 16, 2007

Good grief, it's just stupid blurbs on a website -- patronize the business and enjoy it. Find inner peace by imagining how pathetic the losers are that actually posted the reviews.
posted by davidmsc at 6:12 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

You might ask them for some references from customers. If they supply some, and after contacting them, you get the impression the 'customers' may also be insiders, forget the place. Dealing with them will not relax you, even if you do get to walk home.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:14 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd suspect the quality of their work if they're so insecure they have to post fake reviews. The lying would be less important to me than the fact that they obviously don't have any satisfied customers who are willing to advertise the business.
posted by winna at 6:16 AM on February 16, 2007

What davidmsc said. This is not a "moral dilemma," this is you overthinking. If it's convenient and gives you what you need, the quality of their Citysearch reviews should be the very last consideration on your mind. If you find out they're torturing children in the basement, that's a different story.
posted by languagehat at 6:16 AM on February 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

Why not take a class and form your own opinion? If it sucks don't go back. You don't have to get married on the first date.
posted by freq at 6:19 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't think you are overthinking this, I would feel the same way. You see this sort of thing all the time on apartment rating sites, too. As dishonest as it is, my guess is that the intention wasn't to be sleazy. The owner/marketing person probably just doesn't understand reputation systems and doesn't realize how tacky and sleazy the fake reviews actually are.

Write the owner a letter (anon or in your own name. Doesn't really matter as long as you provide contact information/email address/whatever) explaining why their fake reviews (not only dishonest but bad for business). Let her/him know how you feel about going to such a yoga studio, etc. Make sure you let them know what steps you'd like them to take to remedy the situation and let them know that you'd be happy to write them an honest review. Perhaps even suggest they ask their other clients to write reviews, too, if quantity is what they are going for.
posted by necessitas at 6:31 AM on February 16, 2007

You are overthinking this way too much. Who cares what Citysearch says? OK, it's lame if they're posting their own reviews, but so what? Why not try a class and judge for yourself? I would rather either try it myself or get personal, non-Citysearch/Yelp recommendations.
posted by sutel at 6:32 AM on February 16, 2007

I know that whoever wrote all those reviews is probably not going to be teaching my classes, but it also feels weird not knowing who that was, and therefore not trusting the studio as a whole.

If you trust your teacher as a yoga instructor and you don't think the business folk at the studio are going to start lying to you about the financial end of things, don't worry about the rest.

But if you just have to be the avenger for truth, you can always tell the business folk that they are embarrassing themselves with the fake reviews. There's no need to be anonymous about it. You might even get better treatment from them if they know you have something embarrassing on them.
posted by pracowity at 6:41 AM on February 16, 2007

I would be wary of dealing with a dishonest business. Next thing you know they will be causing shenanigans with your membership fees.

I agree that the best thing to do is ask them if they know about these reviews.
posted by grouse at 6:42 AM on February 16, 2007

but it also feels weird not knowing who that was, and therefore not trusting the studio as a whole. It makes me sick to look at that Citysearch page.

For all you know, it's not company policy to post fake Citysearch reviews, it's the dad of the owner thinking that he's being "web savvy" and the studio doesn't even know about it.

It makes you sick? Hey, this is not even necessarily lying and it's certainly not cheating -- CitySearch is a site that invites user-submitted reviews. It's not as if they paid off a journalist to make fraudulent claims.

You can express concern over the clumsy reviews. But if you go in all moral guns-a-blazing and demand that they "own up" to their "lying and cheating," don't be surprised when they gently suggest that you simmer down and do some gentle stretching and breathing exercises.
posted by desuetude at 6:45 AM on February 16, 2007

As freq said, go, see how you like it, and decide from there.

I certainly don't condone shilling on the review sites, but it's not quite like someone posing as a brain surgeon who's not, a restaurant faking its health code ratings.

As posted earlier, this could just be a "friend's" bad idea of how to help. Or a lapse of judgment by a small business owner who's excited to start a studio but a bit scared of the risk of going it alone in a competitive business.

An anonymous e-mail may not be a bad idea. Tell them you didn't go there because of the reviews, that may get some attention.

Once you've been going there and establish a rapport (assuming you like it), bring it up. They'll listen to you then, and value your opinion.

Ordinarily, I'm all for holding every business to a higher standard. But in this case, it seems like this really is the best location for you.

If you try it, and still can't quite feel OK about the place, then it's time to look elsewhere.
posted by altcountryman at 6:47 AM on February 16, 2007

I'm genuinely surprised to see MeFites so blase about the sort of behavior that ought to draw the death penalty from anybody who cares about the concept of online community, as I gather most people here do. My only hesitation would be, as stormygrey points out, you can't be certain it's the actual owners doing this, or someone else trying to be helpful. I wouldn't trust a place that did this, and I wouldn't give them my business. If you really want to patronize them, then confront them and ask that they get Citysearch to take the reviews down. Otherwise, find someplace else to go.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:47 AM on February 16, 2007

What you should do is:

Try their services yourself. Then write an honest review, regardless of whether it contradicts their reviews, or substantiates them. Feel free to mention that the previous reviews are fake, if it satisfies you.

That way you:
Get to see if their yoga classes improve the quality of your life, which is more important than some marketing on the internet.

Get an opportunity to -- with honest information and intention-- substantiate or refute the reviews on Citysearch.

Get to accept personal responsibility for improving a somewhat skeezy situation.

Keep in mind, too, that they may have hired a marketing firm to do this shilling (or it's part of a package from a marketing outfit/ad company) and that they could be generally unaware of whatever is happening on the internets.
posted by fake at 6:47 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd think the bigger concern is that if they lie and cheat to the public, they will lie and cheat to you too.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:49 AM on February 16, 2007

Second what a lot are saying: forget the fake reviews, worry about how much it must suck if they have to write fake reviews.

A more useful suggestion to a question you haven't asked: You say it's the only walkable yoga studio. Have you tried looking for places which aren't yoga studios but may offer yoga classes? (Individual yoga teachers who rent a multi-purpose room, county run rec-centers/parks with fitness classes, community college...)
posted by anaelith at 7:10 AM on February 16, 2007

I'm with you anonymous. 10+ fake reviews is going a bit overboard if you ask me. I frequent a travel site that revolves around customer reviews. There have been many instances of owners of inns, hotels, etc., planting several false, glowing reviews, when in truth the place is horrible or below average. Many of the places on the particular site I am speaking of have been outed. There is a feeling of outrage that is understandable.

I've also read several fake book reviews on They were made by the author and the author's friends. It gives me a bad feeling. If I know there are fake reviews, I'm probably not buying the book. I've bought two books that had several obvious fake reviews, and wish I hadn't spent the money. I only realized the fake reviews after the purchases.

I think writing an email to the owner is a good idea. Fake reviews do nothing but turn people off. They're hurting their business, rather than improving it.

Another idea is to write your own review on Citysearch. Point out why you believe the other reviews are fake. I've also seen this done on I think it could be quite effective. The fake reviewer may realize that she isn't so clever after all.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:15 AM on February 16, 2007

What Horace Rumpole said.... I can picture my mom jacking up my reviews out of good intentions, and without my knowledge. So I wouldn't be too sure that they did this.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:23 AM on February 16, 2007

Outing fake reviews is actually a big part of my job, so I'm personally very biased against people who do that. I'd seriously question the honesty of anyone who did that, and for someone who was going to be involved in my mental well-being, I'd want to be able to trust them. It sounds like yoga is not just a way for you to stretch your muscles, but a way for you to find peace and happiness, and trust is a big aspect of that.

That said, if you really want to go to this place, do consider the possibility that it's not the owners doing this in a conscious sort of way. It may be one instructor, or someone's Dad trying to be helpful rather than the owners or managers who are doing it. Allowing yourself that out may let you have the peace you need to go there and not feel out of sorts about it.

Of course, if they turn out to suck (and it's entirely possible that they might not suck, a number of really fantastic places that would get tonnes and tonnes of great, genuine recommendations write their own fake reviews on our site), you should write your own rather scathing review for city search.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:36 AM on February 16, 2007

whatever, just remember to pay cash, you don't want them to fuck with your credit card number.

If you find out they're torturing children in the basement, that's a different story.

in that case, you might want to mention the tortured children in a citysearch review
posted by matteo at 8:09 AM on February 16, 2007

First of all, CitySearch is among the least reliable user-submitted-review places on the internet. This yoga studio is but a speck of green in that giant field of astroturf. I'd advise against using it as a judgment reference for anything.

Beyond anything else, understand that the instructors at a given studio (at least here in NYC, which is where I assume you are as well) are almost all freelancers who also work at other studios.

And yes, the irony of being so stressed out over yoga is kind of hilarious.
posted by mkultra at 8:11 AM on February 16, 2007

I'm on the non-blasé side here.

Some ideas:

Post a rant on Craigslist; see if you can't scare up some real reviews that way. Fake reviews are at least great at bringing out notably honest ones.

Contacting a business about its reviews -- negative or positive -- or calling them on it in public -- often results in the offer of a freebie. There's "No, really, we are that great. Stop by for a free X -- you'll agree," and "Good heavens. Mortifying. Stop by for a free X and please review it honestly." I don't think it would be ridiculous to ask for a small one if you weren't satsified with what you got on first contact with them.
posted by kmennie at 8:38 AM on February 16, 2007

I'd assume no obvious connection to the owners, workers, or even clients of the business until one has shown up. If this place fits your criteria, try it and then leave an honest review. Point out the issues with the other reviews in your own if you must -- they're probably pretty obvious, anyway.

On a related note, a couple of friends run a website that tracks restaurants, bars, nightclubs and the like for our local area. They just post the contact information, address, and possibly a picture of the place and let anyone post a review.

When a new restaurant opened locally, they found the site (it was the first Google hit for their restaurant) and wrote an email complaining that they wouldsue because of negative reviews. Anyway, they responded - Hey, it's a free for all, anyone can post reviews, it's a pretty standard sort of thing. Within the next few days, a few positive reviews appeared, all coming from the same IP address and all demonstrating an amazing amount of knowledge about the menu and how the food was prepared.

People are stupid.
posted by mikeh at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2007

Some sites, like, who are biased, only print good reviews. They get around it (I had a row with them) by claiming that they call themselves a recommendation site. Rubbish.
posted by handee at 9:25 AM on February 16, 2007

The problem is that this studio has very obviously, very clumsily faked all of its reviews

Most people would to the same to get their business started up. Just try it and start with a membership for one month and not for a year. If they don't do a monthly membership then move on.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:36 AM on February 16, 2007

Hassling businesses is one of the pleasures of life. It is their job to get feedback from customers and it is also the right thing to do. Bring it up whenever you're turning over money. It's possible the people with the ability to do something about it don't even know about it, so many people are so tech clueless they hire some dumbass web scam artist to manage their online presence, this could be someone's idea of a "service." Find out about what really matters - are they decent as a business - state your case in no uncertain terms, see what happens.
posted by nanojath at 10:18 AM on February 16, 2007

Remember that many, many, many people are completely clueless about teh internets. The owner or marketing person may have just discovered that review sites even exist. S/he may not have had a clue that there was any issue with posting multiple "reviews." I know that sounds overwhelmingly naive, but at this point I am pretty much willing to believe almost any degree of online stupidity/simple naivete. I second just talking to them to get an idea of their motives here. See how you feel about their actions then.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:25 AM on February 16, 2007

Most people would to the same to get their business started up.

Most honest people wouldn't, and most people with a brain wouldn't make it so easy to detect.
posted by grouse at 10:31 AM on February 16, 2007

You don't know who put those reviews there. You've decided that they probably don't bear any relation to the way the business actually runs. Fine, I agree with you.

Now go find out how the business actually runs. Does it meet your yoga needs? If so, patronize it. If not, don't.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:56 PM on February 16, 2007

"that ought to draw the death penalty from anybody who cares about the concept of online community"

anyone who cares about online community probably shouldn't put much faith at all in community that allows 100% anonymous review posting. it is less than useless isn't it?

If I owned a yoga studio right now I would go online and find all the neighboring studios and post the most idiotically glowing reviews of them...over and over and over again.

deceptors are deceptive you know!
if it really is a big deal to you...ask them outright. Or tell them that someone is posting stupid reviews of thier studio and see if the disappear.

citysearch is for directions. not much else.
posted by darkpony at 1:06 PM on February 16, 2007

Just as an interesting side note, the EU is making that kind of shilling illegal.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:07 PM on February 16, 2007

If it were a restaurant or drycleaner or something, then I'd say let it go. With a yoga studio, though, it seems a rather large violation of various "right speech" concepts that underly the practice.

But I also agree the reviews may be due to ignorance rather than malice.

So, practice right speech, compassion, and non-judgment yourself. Talk to the owner, state your concerns that the reviews make it look as if she's trying to deceive people, and hear what she has to say.
posted by occhiblu at 2:01 PM on February 16, 2007

if this situation is actually bothering you, then it sounds like this particular yoga studio can provide a better space for your practice than any other.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 2:03 PM on February 16, 2007

And I would also add that half the yoga studios I've been to (and loved!) have been totally web incompetant. I think you can really, truly safely assume ignorance rather than malice.
posted by occhiblu at 2:05 PM on February 16, 2007

You're overthinking this. Try out a class and see if it works for you.

You can confront them, sure, but they're very likely to just deny it anyway and claim they have no idea what you're talking about.

It's ironic that you're asking strangers on the internet about what you should do about reviews from other strangers on the internet.
posted by drstein at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2007

Remember that many, many, many people are completely clueless about teh internets.


also, didn't authors get caught astroturfing the Amazon reviews of their books? that's slightly worse, since Amazon is much bigger, much more popular and influential than a B-list site like CitySearch -- it's the nature of the medium, cheats and liars and spammers thrive.
posted by matteo at 3:17 PM on February 16, 2007

It's ironic that you're asking strangers on the internet about what you should do about reviews from other strangers on the internet.

No it's not. We can't possibly have a vested interest. (Except for me—I own the largest chain of yoga studios in the United States.)
posted by grouse at 3:41 PM on February 16, 2007

My general rule of thumb when starting new relationships is that red flags only get worse.

At one point in time my partner and I found an apartment in the perfect neighborhood at the perfect price point, but the Better Business Bureau and various Google searches turned up some very, very bad reviews of the property management company and a handful of fake-as-hell ones ("And the staff is funny, too!!!") The final straw was the discovery that one of the fake reviews was posted from the username iloveshelties and I eventually found that the owner's home email address was Returning to Citysearch shows me that there are even more damning reviews and most of the fake-sounding ones are gone. (I think at the time I sent an email to Citysearch to complain.)

Certainly this kind of behavior in combination with other problems is an instant dealbreaker. Even in absence of other red flags, I probably would avoid business with a company where I knew this was their policy unless I had a really good reason to stick with them. You have to consider how important your proximity requirement is in this regard. Also, would biking work for you or is that too stressful? In other words, I'd do some more digging internally and externally to see if this is the type of business that I'd want to patronize. Your local BBB is a good resource.

As far as the moral question is concerned, I think we all have a prima facie duty to reward honesty and not reward dishonesty. The reality is that we all pick and choose our battles.
posted by Skwirl at 4:26 PM on February 16, 2007

Why would you give your money to someone for a luxury if you have any qualms at all about their service? If you are bothered that much, then perform your exercises at home for free and use the money for a different luxury.
posted by watsondog at 12:07 AM on February 19, 2007

« Older Schematic for DIY sequential shift lights?   |   Help me share! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.