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Dec 7, 2007 05:56 PM

Identifying restaurant shills


I'm getting tired of reading "wonderful, fabulous" posts/reviews about new restaurants from members with exactly one post. These appear to be thinly veiled attempts by shills to boost the reputation of that restaurant.

It would be *extremely* helpful if, on a member's profile, it would include "CH member since MM/DD/YYYY" in order to separate legitimate longtime lurkers who finally have the courage to post a review from the one-off shills that clutter the regional boards.

Please consider implementing this suggestion.



  1. Longtime lurkers are not always registered.

    1. Guarding against shills is our highest priority. If you see a post you're at all suspicious of, please use the 'report' link to flag it for the moderators and we'll review it.

      Many people, however, lurk on the boards and only register when they're finally prompted to post something, so the information you're referring to isn't that helpful an indicator of shillness.

      7 Replies
      1. re: The Chowhound Team

        Well, it would give lurkers an incentive to register knowing that when they do finally make that first post, it would carry a little more weight with other readers.

        1. re: rbailin

          Sorry for the digression, but how long a poster has registered isn't a good measure of their expertise. I've been on these boards since the late '90s, but I frequently see posts from more recent arrivals that are more interesting and informative; it's remarkable how much I've learned from posters with a lot less "seniority". If we evaluate a quality of a post based on how long a poster has been around, we risk not following up on tons of great chow tips. New posters can bring in fresh perspectives and discourage "group think" from the regulars on any given board. All in all, I feel that deciding to lend more or less weight based on a poster's "seniority" is not a good thing, because the quality of the poster is often unrelated to how long they've posted on the boards.

        2. re: The Chowhound Team

          Hello Mods,

          Thanks for all you do, we all do appreciate it, but of the three options on "report", what should we use for this nonsense? Spam isn't quite appropriate on its face, as they're not shilling Viagra, but is that what we should use?

          I would like to thank you, anonymous semi-saintly mods, for the fantastic job you've done on the Boston board though. I can rightly recall only one instance of this nonsense in the past few years I've been a CH addict. I expect others have caught a few, but I am impressed, so thank you.

          1. re: sailormouth

            Most people click the Spam button, however you can always fill in the free form field that opens up and just leave a note that is more specific to the situation.

            We really do appreciate the feedback we receive through the Report function.

        3. The original comment has been removed
          1. I wonder if people here overestimate the number of shills in general. I am a chef, it seems to me that shilling your place here has got to be one of the worst ways to get customers. It might get you a half dozen tables total. You are better off investing your time in making your restaurant run better. In most markets the only media that matters is the daily paper, radio or television.

            I come here mostly because it is a useful way to see what people are saying about the restaurant I run and my competitors. On the other hand I have had posts deleted because the moderators thought I was a shill, which is annoying, I only talk about places I have no connections to.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Somnifor

              Although many times a media outlet "supports" via reviews or "short bites" only the restaurants which advertise with them, noteworthy or not. Happens all the time in our isolated region.

              1. re: Somnifor

                Reply to Somnifor:
                "Annoying" is on target, indeed an understatement.
                My last post was deleted because I was apparently perceived as a novice who was overly enthusiastic about the restaurant I reviewed, and thus a shill. I didn't ask why I was deleted because of the longish and somewhat strident website statements about how Chound doesn't have time to explain. At any rate, this posture guarantees a pretty dry editorial result, and the probability that I may read this site but not waste any more time attempting to contribute to it ... I usually don't bother writing negative reviews, only enthusiastic ones.

                1. re: asnet

                  We sent you an email about your recent Places update -- please check the email address you registered with.

              2. On The MidAtlantic Board I've seen new CH's accused of shilling (& possibly wrongly so) and I've read threads by exp'd CH's so over the top delighted by a dining experience that their "review" seemed a bit too generous, almost suspect.

                Then a series of posts begins defending ones opinion/experience at said restaurant until a Mod comes along to tame the dialogue/delete posts or a CH reports it.

                Accusations aside, I feel the few true shills won't last long and dicing a potentially valuable CH isn't worth insulting discourse. We all have gut reactions to threads; part of this community's charm.

                13 Replies
                1. re: HillJ

                  In my mind, the appropriate response is always to just flag the post using the report feature and leave it to the moderators to sort out. There have been posts I've flagged that remained and I turned out to be wrong....there have been some that remained and I turned out feeling even more that I was right about it being a shill. But, responding directly to the potential shill is useless, I ignore the information and move on in my Chow searches.

                  1. re: ccbweb

                    Do feel free to "rereport" posts that you suspect of shilling if, as time goes by, you still think they are shills, so that we can review them further. And yes, reporting them rather than making public accusations is definitely the way to go!

                    You can also "report" public accusations. We'll remove the accusation, and then investigate the possible shilling.


                    1. re: The Chowhound Team

                      Can you explain why wiping shillers off without a trace is better than just letting the CH community read the accusations and weigh in on whether they agree or not? You just wiped out my shiller call out on the Tri-State NY board, but also wiped out EVERY SINGLE REFERENCE to the shiller's previous posts- references by real CH's that contained peoples articulated opinions. Is this your policy?

                      1. re: Wizzapizza

                        "You ... also wiped out EVERY SINGLE REFERENCE to the shiller's previous posts- references by real CH's that contained peoples articulated opinions. Is this your policy?" I have trouble with this too, to what looks sometimes like throwing the baby out with the bath, rather than clarifying posting policies, which many of us would then gladly, gratefully, follow. It creates a disturbing impression of CH, more so when requests for such guidance have been themselves deleted.

                        1. re: eatzalot

                          Shill posters aren't just trying to put up their own shill posts about the restaurant they are flogging, they are also trying to generate chatter about the place by legitimate posters. How much more of a reward could a shill hope for than to get a thread going, if CH moderators are only going take their shill posts down (assuming that all the shill posters are readily identifiable) as long as the other "legit" shill restaurant talk is left up. Shill's are the bane of a site like CH and they must not be allowed to promote a false agenda or destroy the credibility of honest opinion and organically grown reports.

                          1. re: Servorg

                            Utter agreement here, Servorg, about shills & agendas as bane of honest postings. That's no offhand opinion, I've followed online food fora for 25 years. My issue goes beyond shills. Clarifying posting policies to those eager to work within them would send a different signal to the good-faith posters, and would save effort all around.

                            1. re: eatzalot

                              Most all of the site moderation / posting policies are available for perusal. As the mod's have said many times in the past, there will never be a set of "hard and fast" rules that cover all contingencies. I am certain that the judgment of the moderators will come into play many, many times. I was simply setting out my own "logical" thinking in respone to you and Wizzapizza as to why all the posts (even those from known good hounds) attached to a shill post are taken down. If the site started rewarding shills with chatter about their places of interest you and I can only imagine that the levee gates would be thrown open and we would be in the midst of one of the Babylonian Flood Epics.

                              1. re: Servorg

                                I utterly disagree. It is censorship, pure and simple. Daylight is always the best disinfectant. By removing all these posts, you don't allow hounds who have been reading and responding to these shills for days or weeks to learn that the shill was a shill. Furthermore, you take away a HUGE disincentive for shills. If I am a restauranteur, and I know that I can shill and when I get caught by somebody, ONLY THAT PERSON knows I shilled, then what's the downside? However, if I am castigated and made fun of and word spreads in my community of my under-handedness, well, what do you think that is going to do for business?

                                Don't censor- it is a slippery slope and it also helps the shiller.

                                1. re: Wizzapizza

                                  If CH turns into a shouting match between those accusing others of shilling and those who are defending themselves against those same charges we all lose. So taking all the shill chat down is the only way to guard this sites integrity and at the same time keeping CH from devolving into a chaotic, screaming mess.

                                  Here is a link to the site rules regarding how CH treats shilling:


                                  1. re: Servorg

                                    Opinions clearly differ on whether deleting downstream postings hurts or helps a shill. What's undisputed is that it also deletes good-faith contributions likely unaware of the shilling. And yes moderators apply judgment, in a thankless role. All Internet fora face the same issues, which have a long history. Many achieve a high standard of content with far less reliance on surprise deletions. _Any_ opportunity to offer guidance, to willing contributors especially when requested, is a golden chance to achieve the same result but build good will too.

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      I see your home / local food board is SF. It appears to be a thriving community with numerous posts about restaurants from the very highest end to your wealth of taco trucks. So I get the impression that the very small number of posts which have to come down due to shilling are a drop in the proverbial bucket when compared to all the food discussion action available to us. The Chowhound glass seems way more than half full from my perspective (closer to over flowing I would say). So the times that moderation must be employed to keep this the friendly, focused and honest site that I see and participate in is a small price to pay.

                                      I also think that, because a lot of us spend so much time on this site, we end up knowing more about what has been moderated than on other sites we may visit more infrequently. I certainly don't spend anywhere near the kind of time I do on this site anywhere else. I am willing to bet that other moderated sites with equal numbers of posters to CH are probably similar in the numbers of posts that they have to redact. We just don't follow the action as closely as we do here, so we don't have as much knowledge about those moderator actions as we do with CH.

                                      1. re: Servorg

                                        My observations above reflect roughly equal experience with most of the popular US-wide and also some regional food-wine fora active in HTTP format beginning 1993, and prior to that with moderated and unmoderated food-wine fora, some of which I started, using earlier standard Internet formats (the SF Bay Area especially had early easy public Internet access, from 1985). Dynamics of moderated fora are among the most documented subjects on the Internet, with public archives and guidance going back to about 1982.

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          You lost me at "fora" (I am still working on flora and fauna as edibles). Do you have access of actual numbers for Chowhound moderating decisions / deletions? Do they tally and put that sort of information out publicly?

                                          My main point about shilling stands. We can't have a free for all on the local and regional boards with posters bombarding each other with "You're a shill" "No, I'm not" shouting matches. If would be a holy mess. When I see a suspicious write up I simply report it using the on screen button at the bottom of the post and let the mod's take care of it.