Chinese travel experience sharing platform Mafengwo has been under the spotlight lately due to fake review allegations. The story was first posted on an independent WeChat account only to be denied by Mafengwo a few days later, leaving the truth unclear.
On Oct. 20, WeChat public account Xiaosheng Bibi, working with data group Hooray Data, published an article titled “Is Mafengwo, with a valuation of 17.5 billion, actually a ghost platform composed of zombie accounts and bots?” Zombie accounts and bots here refer to ghost accounts, or writers, who have been paid to post online comments for the purpose of interfering with statistics.
Based on the article, among Mafengwo’s 21 million reviews on restaurants, hotels, and travel destinations, over 18 million pieces were plagiarized from its rival websites or completely faked. The article presents examples of reviews that are exact copies of posts on other Chinese travel service providers such as Ctrip.com, Meituan-Dianping, and eLong, as well as translated content from the American crowd-sourced review forum Yelp.
Two days later, on the morning of Oct. 22, Mafengwo published a statement on its corporate Weibo account, responding to the article that has over a million views.
It is said that unlike local service providers, Mafengwo is an experience sharing social media platform comprised mainly of travel logs, guides, and Q&As. Reviews of restaurants and hotels make up less than three percent of user-generated content. The percentage of fake accounts is even smaller after the company cleaned up the platform.
Mafengwo has also taken a stand against rule violations of advertisements, stating that the company removes 26 thousand posts and closes down 15 thousand accounts on average per week.
Denounced as an “organized attack” by Mafengwo, the original report posted on WeChat is now labeled as “controversial content”. But it hasn’t stopped Xiaosheng Bibi and Hooray Data, who said they would investigate more companies and their substance in the future.