TripAdvisor, the travel website where countless people turn to read reviews on hotels and restaurants, was tricked by a London-based Vice writer, who was able to get a fake restaurant to the top of the charts in London.
According to a news report in Fortune, Vice writer Oobah Butler had been paid to write fake reviews in the past, inspiring him to see how easy it could be to manipulate online review websites with a fake restaurant. Butler created a fake website for The Shed at Dulwich, which in reality was the cottage where he lived. He used a cheap disposable phone to set up an account for his restaurant and didn’t provide an address, stating that reservations were by appointment only. That served to throw off any suspicious web surfers and also created buzz about its exclusivity. Butler used mocked-up pictures of shaving cream, bleach tablets and his feet to trick people into thinking they were photos of gourmet dishes, and got his friends to write glowing reviews of the restaurant.
After that, Butler said things got a “little out of hand” as the restaurant started to climb the charts online, and he began getting emails and phone calls requesting reservations. When he would say The Shed was booked for the next six weeks, that would create even more frenzy. Food suppliers even began guessing The Shed’s address, sending free samples to his home. Butler also received job applications and pitches from public relations companies who wanted the restaurant as a client.
The campaign ultimately propelled The Shed at Dulwich to the top of the charts on TripAdvisor, giving his fake restaurant the top ranking in London, a spot it held for two weeks. TripAdvisor didn’t respond to Fortune‘s inquires, noted the report.