Amazon has started delaying user reviews posted to its video-streaming service by up to three days to tackle fake ratings.
The move is an effort to tackle a spree of “review bombings” driven, in part, by an “anti-woke” backlash to the diverse casting in the company’s Lord of the Rings prequel series, The Rings of Power, which features non-white actors cast as elves and dwarfs.
On review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, the show has an 84% average rating from critics, but a 38% average audience score. Even on IMDb, the film and TV site owned by Amazon, the show has attracted 17,500 one-star ratings, 25% of the reviews for the title, although many of them have been disregarded by the site’s “weighted average” ratings, which attempt to downrate “unusual voting activity”.
Amazon’s Prime Video streaming site, however, where the new show has premiered, currently displays no customer reviews at allas a result of the delay. According to Variety, which first spotted the new practice, the streaming service uses the delay to determine whether a review is “genuine or a forgery”.
The company also has another weapon against review-bombing: users cannot post a review of The Rings of Power until they have watched the show. As a result, the first reviews should appear on Monday morning, 72 hours after the first episode aired at 2am UK time on Friday.
Review bombing, positive and negative, has become a fact of life for media franchises with large, dedicated and often unruly fanbases, who use sites such as Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes to leave messages in huge quantities, dragging down ratings and occasionally having a knock-on effect on the commercial success of the production.
The campaigns can be triggered by anything from a backlash against casting decisions (a 2016 Ghostbusters remake was review-bombed for its all-female stars) to complaints about geopolitical slights (the video game Life is Strange: True Colours was review bombed by Chinese players for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it inclusion of a Tibetan flag).
In taking action against fake reviews for its own multimillion TV show, however, Amazon risks charges of hypocrisy over its policing of reviews elsewhere on the e-commerce site. A Which investigation this year “found that there are still unscrupulous businesses exploiting weaknesses with Amazon’s review system,” said Rocio Concha, the consumer rights group’s director of policy and advocacy, “leaving shoppers at risk of buying products boosted by thousands of bogus five-star reviews.”