Skip to content

Negative online reviews from Black people perceived as less credible according to new study

Consumers are less likely to perceive a negative review from someone of a Black background as credible, according to a first-of-a-kind study which explored the impact of showing race in online profile pictures and avatars.

Feedback customers review on a phone screen. People evaluating product, service. Website rating feedback concept.
The study looked at how people perceived reviews with no avatar vs reviews with avatars featuring people of Black, Asian and White race

Carried out by researchers from Nottingham Trent University, University of Glasgow, University of Dundee, and Edinburgh Napier University, the project comprised of two parts and involved 500 users of review sites such as TripAdvisor.

In the first part of the study, 200 participants from a range of racial backgrounds were asked to read mock hotel reviews – some featuring a Black race profile image and others with no image at all. They then completed a questionnaire which measured source credibility and information adoption.

Results showed that they perceived the credibility of reviewers with profile pictures reflecting Black race as more favourable when they posted positive reviews compared to negative reviews.

The credibility of reviewers with no profile picture was perceived as higher when they posted negative rather than positive reviews.

In terms of information adoption, findings revealed that readers unfavourably adopted the Black reviewers’ positive and negative reviews.

Babak Taheri, Professor of Marketing at Nottingham Business School, part of Nottingham Trent University, said: “Previous research has shown that people give more credence to negative reviews when there is a profile picture attached. We did not see this in our study where negative reviews from Black reviewers were not well-received either in terms of credibility or adoption. This shows us that racial cues inferred from profile pictures of reviewers, compared to absent profile pictures, influence other consumers’ positive or negative perceptions of the review.”

The second part of the study aimed to compare consumer reactions across different races and 300 participants were presented with mock hotel reviews featuring a range of avatars where the only difference was White, Black or Asian race.

While the credibility of the three reviewers was still higher when they post positively, they did not carry the same weight. White reviewers had higher perceived credibility than either Black or Asian reviewers, while Black reviewers had lower perceived credibility than Asian reviewers. When posting negative reviews, Black reviewers had lower perceived source credibility than either White or Asian reviewers.

Regarding information adoption, positive reviews posted by Black, White and Asian consumers were all favourably adopted by their readers, but not equally. Both positive and negative opinions of Asian reviewers were favourably adopted, although not to the same degree as those of White reviewers.

Readers tended to adopt negative opinions expressed by White reviewers more than those of Asian or Black reviewers. In particular, Black reviewers prompted the least information adoption by readers when the review was negative.

Babak Taheri

The study offers understanding not only of how race shapes consumer understandings of marketplace content but also how it negatively detracts from the perceived value of consumer reviews by decreasing perceived source credibility and information adoption.

Professor Taheri said: “Overall, these results reflect the existence of White supremacy in the marketplace, but these views do not necessarily represent the values of the research participants. It is more likely that they demonstrate unconscious bias in society.”

“Therefore, we recommend the development of consumer education programs to make consumers aware of the main trigger points and enable self-correction of biased behaviours. This is likely to reduce racial bias and, as such, is an important tool that should be used at scale in connection with a raft of other measures to address racism in society.”

This research also recommends that product and service firms, and managers should be made aware of the potential impact of race in online reviews and integrate corresponding factors, such as the race of the reviewers, in any measurement procedures.

For instance, while the perceived credibility of Black reviewers is still high when they post positively, it does not carry the same weight as White and Asian reviewers. It is recommended, therefore, that managers respond to both these negative and positive reviews with care and attention to give them credibility and importance among readers.

Professor Taheri added: “Perhaps the most effective measure in fighting online racial bias, as has happened with other review sites, would be to stop using profile pictures on such platforms and instead offer the option of adding generic, landscape, system-provided profile pictures for users to choose from and add to their profiles.

“However, we acknowledge that while avatars may help attenuate face-based discrimination, many people of colour would still prefer race-specific avatars as a meaningful identity marker. Accordingly, it is recommended that, when using platforms that currently use avatars with racial markers, businesses should consider additional metadata about interactions with these reviews, such as dwell time and engagement to determine the additional impact that bias may have on their platforms. This would avoid reinforcing existing racial biases and bubbles.”

The paper Consumer-Driven racial stigmatization: The moderating role of race in online consumer-to-consumer reviews has been published in the Journal of Business Research.

For further information on the Marketing and Consumer Studies Research Centre at Nottingham Business School visit the websiteTwitter or LinkedIn.

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.

    About Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Business School (NBS) at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is a leader in experiential learning and personalisation of business, management and economics education and research, combining academic excellence with positive impact on people, business and society.  NBS has an unrivalled level of engagement with business, public and voluntary organisations. With more than 8,000 students, NBS is also one of UK’s largest business schools.

    NBS is Quadruple+ Accredited by EQUIS, AACSB, EFMD BA for International Business, which are globally recognised hallmarks of excellence and quality for business education. NBS is also accredited by Small Business Charter, providing support and development for SMEs. The school is also a PRME Champion and held up as an exemplar and beacon by the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME).

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was ranked second best university in the UK in the Uni Compare Top 100 rankings (2021/2022). It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with nearly 39,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data) It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    75% of NTU students go on to graduate-level employment or graduate-entry education / training within fifteen months of graduating (Guardian University Guide 2021).

    NTU is ranked the second most sustainable university in the world in the 2022 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Published on 6 January 2023
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School