Following a report that TripAdvisor deleted multiple comments warning users about sexual assault, the company has announced a new system that will make it loud and clear if a destination might present safety risks.
TripAdvisor has deleted multiple reports of rape and sexual assault over the last several years, according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which also highlights the confusing rules and algorithms that determine which reviews are deleted or featured more prominently than others.
Last week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran an in-depth expose about TripAdvisor's history of deleting comments that were written to warn other travellers about potential risks at certain establishments. According to the report, "more than a dozen travellers from across the country have said TripAdvisor muzzled their first-hand stories of blackouts, rapes, and other ways they were injured while vacationing in Mexico." Those comments included allegations of assault by hotel employees. TripAdvisor subsequently apologised for deleting the comments and said its guidelines had flagged the comments for various offenses, like not adhering to "family-friendly language" or "hearsay."
On Tuesday, TripAdvisor announced that it will now include badges that indicate "health, safety, and discrimination issues in all of the website's travel categories." The badges will remain on a destination's page for up to three months and might be held longer if issues continue to be reported. From the New York Times:
Decisions to add or remove a badge will be made by an employee committee, he said. Listings will not be removed from the TripAdvisor website regardless of the number of complaints. "We want consumers to see good and bad reviews of businesses," Mr. Carter said. Comments from users will continue to be posted on the site.
Three resorts in the Playa del Carmen region of Mexico were those flagged by TripAdvisor, including the hotel ranked at number 2 by users, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya; the hotel ranked at number 4, the Iberostar Paraiso Maya; and the fifth-ranked hotel, the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo. Each had received thousands of reviews.
Here's what one of the webpages with a warning looks like.
In addition to the badges, TripAdvisor says it's implementing a new policy that will inform users specifically why their comment has been flagged, and give them an opportunity to reword their post. In one instance, the company apologised publicly to Kristie Love, who wrote about her experience of allegedly being raped by a security guard at the Paraiso Maya resort near Playa del Carmen. Her comment was deleted because it contained language that was deemed inappropriate, TripAdvisor claimed. In 2015, another guest was sexually assaulted at the same hotel and her comments were also rejected because the company claimed that a line about her doctor's diagnosis constituted "hearsay" by a third party.
Last week, the company shared a statement that claimed the policy on "G-rated" language was changed a few years ago "to allow more descriptive reviews on the site about first-hand accounts of serious incidents like rape or assault," and that the site now features comments from many users describing "their first-hand experiences that include matters of robbery or theft, assault, and rape." When Gizmodo asked for specific links to such comments, a spokesperson sent these three examples.
It's unclear what guidelines the "employee committee" will use to determine which comments or reports warrant adding a warning badge to a destination's page. Not only did the Journal Sentinel's report raise concerns that TripAdvisor's policies were enabling assaults that could have been prevented, it also set off alarms that the company might be scrubbing disparaging information from the pages of its advertisers in order to keep them happy — a claim TripAdvisor has refuted. Gizmodo has reached out to TripAdvisor for comment and to ask if the committee guidelines will be publicly available. We'll update this post when we receive a reply.