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The Demise of Online Product Reviews: From Shady Influencer Practices to AI-Generated Content

The Demise of Online Product Reviews: From Shady Influencer Practices to AI-Generated Content

From the mid-to-late 2010s, one type of video ruled the internet: the review.

The YouTube subscriptions tab was a sea of beauty gurus, each eager to share their opinions on popular makeup products. Meanwhile, social media users were awaiting the verdict—whether Kylie Cosmetics’ lip kit would earn the “Jeffree Star approved” stamp or if new brands like Fenty Beauty lived up to the hype, according to the one-and-only Jackie Aina.

But reviews weren’t just relegated to the beauty sphere. They spread across every corner of YouTube— from iJustine’s takes on tech to Ryan Kaji of Ryan’s World unboxings and reviews of kids’ toys. No matter the niche, a review was available to help viewers decide if a product was worth the hype.

At one point, this type of content was considered gospel, with audiences hanging on every word. But having since been burned by creators time and time again, things have shifted. Today, audiences are much more skeptical of influencer reviews. 

Naturally, this shift is partly due to the surge of misinformation and sponsored reviews online.

As influencer marketing took over the digital space, social media— and our lives within it— became totally commodified. Nowadays, sponcon floods our feeds, and almost every influencer has some sort of product placement on their Instagram grid. 

Initially, the average internet user wasn’t entirely aware of the inner workings of the creator economy. But as we came to understand the landscape—especially influencer-brand partnerships and affiliate links—things started to get murky. 

Creators like ZoellaNikkieTutorials and Jaclyn Hill soon faced repeated criticism for failing to disclose affiliate links and being unclear about sponsored content. This, in turn, eroded many viewers’ trust in their favourite influencers, leaving them uncertain about whether a review was genuine or part of a promotional deal.

As the gap widened between creators and their audiences, things took a turn for the worse. Many viewers started resenting influencers as they flaunted their privileged lifestyles and the opportunities afforded to them. As a result, users not only distrusted creators but were less inclined to listen to a creator’s opinion—even on something as uncontroversial as mascara or foundation.

As audiences move away from influencer reviews, many internet users are turning to crowdsourced information for the rundown on different products. This, of course, has fuelled the explosion of information-sharing and review-style content on platforms like TikTok.

With TikTok democratising viral fame, users no longer have to rely on the voice of one popular creator. It has become easier than ever to find diverse perspectives on everything from beauty and fashion to tech. 

Many platforms have tried to harness TikTok’s charm, so much so that we have seen different apps try to centralise reviews—attempting to sort out the scattered commentary on the FYP. 

Take Flip, for instance. Founded in 2019 by social media entrepreneur Noor Agha, Flip turns user-produced reviews and tutorials into shoppable content. Ultimately, it operates within a short-form video format, essentially as if all TikTok content were linked to TikTok shop.

“The app resembles TikTok, if TikTok were filled exclusively with ads for shoppable products from direct-to-consumer brands,” Mia Sato writes for The Verge. “The whole experience of watching these videos is painfully awkward and a little surreal, worlds away from the high-polish videos on YouTube or Instagram.”

It’s clear that TikTok is definitely paving the way for this new age of consumer-first reviews and commentary, where audiences no longer rely solely on magazines and industry experts. 

Nevertheless, there are some TikTok creators who are famous for their reviews. Mikayla Nogueria is a case in point. 

After rising to TikTok fame in 2020, Mikayla gained recognition for her beauty reviews, tutorials, and Boston accent (though it is still up for debate if her accent is exaggerated or not). Since then, she’s emerged as a key player on TikTok, successfully establishing a niche for short-form beauty reviews. 

However, after a string of dishonest brand deals (like Lashgate) and various “cash-grab” collaborations, Mikayla seriously lost the trust of her followers. Once considered the TikTok blueprint—praised for her unfiltered reviews—her credibility soon waned. Today, her comment section is filled with criticism, questioning the authenticity of much of her content. 

That being said, Mikayla’s situation reveals an interesting dichotomy: building your brand around reviews and advice doesn’t automatically earn trust on TikTok. While some of this doubt stems from fatigue with influencers, it also reflects the increasing complexity of the digital landscape.

Aside from sponcon and influencers spinning overly positive reviews, this distrust worsens as AI-generated content dominates the digital sphere.

E-commerce has long relied on user reviews to help encourage online purchases. While social media users have become accustomed to reading customer comments, brands have long been criticised for inflating reviews or paying for positive feedback. 

Take the skincare brand Sunday Riley as an example. 

It was revealed in 2018 that the company had instructed employees to write five-star reviews on Sephora between November 2015 and August 2017. By 2019, Sunday Riley had settled the complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

In a piece for The Business of Fashion, writer Sophia Qureshi argues that with artificial intelligence and large language models like ChatGPT, it’s becoming increasingly easy for bots to flood websites and social media comment sections with positive product reviews, further eroding trust.

“The line between authentic reviews and AI-generated content is itself beginning to blur as review platforms roll out new AI-powered tools to assist their communities in writing reviews,” Qureshi continues. “[Ultimately] fake reviews can mislead consumers into buying counterfeit products, which represent a risk to a shopper’s health and wellbeing as well as their wallet.”

All in all, the looming influence of AI and the skepticism toward influencers have created the perfect storm for the demise of reviews as a popular form of content. As a result, many social media users have fallen prey to confirmation bias—the tendency to interpret and remember information that aligns with our existing beliefs and preferences. 

For this to change, brands must pave the way. Rather than expecting creators to share only positive reviews, influencer partnerships should be rooted in transparency— giving creators the freedom to speak their minds and rewarding them for honesty. Recently, K-beauty brand TIRTIR has gone viral for doing just that. 

Earlier this year, TIRTIR faced backlash when creators criticised the lack of diversity in their Cushion Foundation shades. Instead of suppressing these critiques, the company embraced them.

TIRTIR actively engaged with the influencers who voiced their concerns, sending them luxury gifts as a gesture of goodwill. For instance, Mikayla received a Hermès bag, while smaller creators like @MissDarcei were sent Chanel bags. Since then, the company has expanded its Cushion Foundation range to include new, more diverse shades.


Thank you so much @TIRTIR i am forever grateful and so excited to work with you in the future! #korea #kbeauty #beautytok #makeup

♬ original sound – Darcei

While the golden age of online reviews might never return,  it’s clear that the digital landscape is on the brink of change. Now, both creators and brands have the chance to rebuild trust with their audiences by highlighting diverse opinions and experiences—especially as we enter an era dominated by uniform AI-driven content.

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