If you are a California cannabis patient, chances are this article will not really surprise you. But it definitely should alarm anyone who hopes for an open and honest cannabis industry.
Lots of California patients rely on Weedmaps to decide which dispensary or delivery service is best for them. Weedmaps is one of the few online advertising platforms available to the cannabis industry. In fact, Weedmaps and Leafly are big fish in a small pond because the goliath advertisers (Facebook and Google) don’t want anything to do with cannabis advertising while the plant remains illegal under Federal law.
So what does this mean for patients? According to the Los Angeles Times, these online menu and review services may not be the most trustworthy source for consumer information. Weedmaps and Leafly both offer business subscriptions so that retailers can update their menus. Beyond menu-listing, these online cannabis directories also have a Yelp-like component that allows users to review a business and leave only a fictitious username. So far, this seems pretty straight-forward.
But last week, a report from the Los Angeles Times revealed that these consumer reviews may not be honest at all. In fact, an examination of nearly 600 LA businesses on Weedmaps revealed that 70% of cannabis retailers had multiple reviews originating from the same IP address. A New York business Fakespot also found suspicion in 62% of total Weedmaps reviews. This suggests some not-so-savory business tactics being used by subpar companies trying to inflate their public image.
Promotional tactics are present in every type of marketplace, but what is very concerning is that other industries have peer review tools like Yelp and Amazon that are unavailable to the cannabis industry. Basically, this report seems to indicate that many business owners are piling on fake reviews to seem more professional. The implication is that the primary information resources for cannabis are filled with a substantial amount of valueless feedback.
Representatives from Weedmaps responded quickly to these reports on several levels. Step one was removing the public exposure of user IP addresses (so no more independent audits could be conducted). Step two was guaranteeing technological improvements to help with fake reviews (and to protect IP address information that can pose cyber vulnerability for users). Step three was, and still is, an attempt to introduce alternate explanations behind these findings.
“The reviews are definitely part of the picture,” Weedmaps President Chris Beals said. “We don’t want to neglect anything, but to be honest, it’s critical to have accurate menu and lab information. That’s the number one complaint.”
-Quote from LA Times article
There are innocent explanations of why Weedmaps reviews may be so skewed. It is possible, for instance, that multiple roommates operating on the same network all left reviews for a particular retailer. Weed maps also suggested that many businesses use freebies and credit opportunities to gain more reviews, and users may redeem these deals on-site at the retail location.
IP addresses alone are not enough to indicate with certainty that a single user is responsible for multiple reviews — but it is enough to raise a few red flags.
The LA Times article does not discuss the exact method used to compare IP addresses to user reviews, and there is no indication that the IP addresses from reviews were cross-referenced with the IP address being used to update the retailer information.
All in all, these IP address discrepancies indicate what many of us already assumed: cannabis is competitive and as the industry evolves, hopefully the business ethics do as well.
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