Google Maps Explains How It Handles Review Bombardment

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta February 2, 2022
Updated 2022/02/02 at 6:22 PM

Review bombing is a practice in which many people (or a few people harmed with multiple accounts) bombard a product, company, or service with negative reviews, often in bad faith. This can seriously harm a small or local business that relies on word of mouth. Google says that millions of reviews are posted to Maps every day, and it has laid out some of the measures it employs to end the review bombardment.

“Our team is dedicated to keeping user-created content on Maps reliable and based on real-world experience,” said the Google Maps team. said in a video. This work helps protect companies from abuse and fraud and ensures that reviews are beneficial to users. Their content policies are designed “to keep misleading, false and abusive reviews off our platform”.

Machine learning plays an important role in the moderation process, Ian Leader, Product Lead for User Generated Content at Google Maps, wrote in a blog post. The moderation systems, which are “Google’s first line of defense because they are good at spotting patterns,” screen all reviews for potential policy violations. They look at, for example, review content, the history of a user or business account, and whether there has been any unusual activity related to a location (such as spikes in one-star or five-star reviews).

Leader noted that the machines get rid of “the vast majority of false and fraudulent content” before any user sees it. The process can only take a few seconds, and if the templates don’t find any issues with a review, it’s quickly available for other users to read.

The systems are not perfect, however. “For example, the word ‘gay’ is sometimes used as a derogatory term, and that’s not something we condone in Google reviews,” Leader wrote. “But if we teach our machine learning models that it’s only used in hate speech, we can wrongly remove comments that promote a gay businessman or an LGBTQ+ safe space.” As such, the Maps team often runs quality tests and conducts additional training to teach systems various ways in which certain words and phrases are used to find the balance between removing harmful content and maintaining useful reviews in Maps.

An illustration showing user comments on Google Maps.

Google Maps

There is also a team of people who manually rate reviews flagged by businesses and users. In addition to removing offensive reviews, in some cases, Google suspends user accounts and files lawsuits. In addition, the team “proactively works to identify potential risks of abuse.” For example, you can take a closer look at locations linked to an election.

Google frequently updates policies depending on what’s happening in the world. Leader noted that when companies and governments began asking people for proof that they were vaccinated against COVID-19 before they were allowed to enter facilities, “we put extra safeguards in place to remove Google reviews that criticize a company for its health policies.” and safety or to fulfill a vaccine mandate.”

Google Maps isn’t the only platform that worries about the bombardment of reviews. Yelp prohibits users from condemning companies for requiring customers to be vaccinated and wear a mask. In its 2021 Trust & Safety report released this morning, Yelp said it removed more than 15,500 reviews for violating COVID-19 rules last year.

Before killing user reviews, Netflix dealt with review bombing issues. Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have also taken steps to address the phenomenon.

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