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Computer Science

Users are doling out justice on a Chinese food delivery app

To her surprise, the post attracted much more attention than she’s ever received. She soon got more than 2,000 comments, many of which were other screenshots of particularly bewildering complaints. People have kept replying to her, and she’s now at the point where she’s getting tired of reading Meituan reviews.

“At least 90% of the [jurors] are doing it for the fun,” Yu says. “If the complaints by the restaurants and the customers were boring, I don’t think there would be many participants.” 

Meituan has clearly designed the feature to require only a light commitment from individual jurors. There are few qualifications needed other than having a verified, active account and passing a “test” that includes judging five simulated complaints. After that, each juror gets a maximum of three cases every 12 hours—meaning it’s more a casual game to keep them in the app than any serious form of crowdsourced platform management. They also don’t get any compensation for their participation, just the mental satisfaction. 

But this doesn’t mean some jurors don’t take their duty very seriously. In one case that was posted on social media, a bubble tea vendor argued that contrary to the complaint, it did place a straw in the delivery package. But some jurors realized that the time stamp in the security camera footage uploaded by the merchant didn’t match the time of the delivery. The restaurant had seemingly fabricated evidence, and in the end, 51% of the jurors sided with the customer.

Meituan encourages the activity of these more serious jurors. In an October announcement, the app said it would reward 20 “quality jury comments” with a gift bag of Meituan merchandise every month. To explain who qualifies, the app offered an example of a juror not just casting a vote, but going above and beyond by consulting catering professionals on pricing standards. 

Weeding out fake or unfair feedback

The public jury function can improve efficiency in resolving disputes and bring more transparency to the platform’s decision-making process, says Angela Zhang, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, who has done extensive research on what she calls “crowd-judging” features. “Since these decisions are crowdsourced, they align more closely with community norms, helping platforms better understand and integrate these standards,” Zhang says.

Most of the cases up for trial are initiated by the merchants, according to reposted screenshots and Yu’s personal experience. Though the Meituan spokesperson says a user can open a case in some specific situations, for example if they have an issue after they’ve purchased one of the app’s coupons. “I think the main target of this feature is to reduce the number of malicious [customer] reviews,” Yu says. 

The juries may even help uncover reviews that are fraudulent. Food delivery vendors, like any online service, rely heavily on reviews to attract potential customers, which has inspired a black market in both fake five-star reviews for themselves and one-star complaints for competitors.

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