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.
The expose includes reports from several travellers who claim that TripAdvisor administrators barred their posts about their first-hand experiences at Mexico resorts.
In its official response to the report, TripAdvisor apologised for blocking Kristie Love's multiple attempts to post about an incident in 2010, about which she wrote that she was raped by a security guard at Iberostar Paraiso near Playa del Carmen. Love said she was told at the time that the post was removed because it was not "family friendly".
A year later, a 19-year-old who was staying at the resort with her family reported to the hotel that a security guard raped her in a bathroom, according to the news outlet.
When Gizmodo asked for comment from TripAdvisor, the company shared their official statement on the matter. "We apologise to the sexual assault victim reported on in the article, who had her forum post removed seven years ago on TripAdvisor," the statement reads. "At the time, we had a policy whereby we judged content to be in breach of our guidelines if it did not adhere to family-friendly language. More than seven years ago that meant all language needed to be G-rated."
The statement also notes TripAdvisor changed the "G-rated" policy a few years ago "to allow more descriptive reviews on the site about first-hand accounts of serious incidents like rape or assault". According to TripAdvisor, this change has allowed for more published accounts of robbery, assault and rape. The company states that a "simple search of TripAdvisor will show numerous reviews from travellers over the last several years who wrote about their first-hand experiences that include matters of robbery or theft, assault and rape".
Gizmodo performed a more-than-simple search and did not easily find any first-hand experiences of assault or rape. We asked TripAdvisor to send examples of reviews that include those topics and a spokesperson shared these three examples.
Curiously, TripAdvisor's official statement only addresses Love's story of a deleted report of assault, even though the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report included multiple incidents, most of which were more recent.
Gizmodo asked a TripAdvisor spokesperson why its statement did not address the other cases, such as Jamie Valeri who tried to post a review in 2015 about her stay at the Iberostar Paraiso near Playa del Carmen. In the review, she tried to tell travellers about the time she said she was sexually assaulted in the middle of the day after her and her husband both "blacked out" as they were beginning their third drink, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The incident took place at the same Iberostar hotel cited in the aforementioned deleted post from 2010, which TripAdvisor admitted it deleted. Valeri told the Journal Sentinel, "Maybe we wouldn't have gone or maybe that wouldn't have happened to me," if Love's post about her experience at that same hotel had not been deleted five years prior.
The Journal Sentinel reported it used hotel documents, medical reports, receipts, email records, phone records and interviews to confirm details of Valeri's story.
Journal Sentinel also reported that Josh Resmini tried to post a TripAdvisor review on October 16 about an experience at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico when a massage therapist allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted him. TripAdvisor told Resmini it would not publish the review because it was hearsay. The company also did not address this case it its initial statement about the report.
Gizmodo asked TripAdvisor if it would comment on Valeri and Resmini's attempts to post reviews about their assaults. A spokesperson said, "Jamie Valeri's initial review was not posted because it contained hearsay, which violates our review guidelines. Josh Resmini's initial review was also not posted due to hearsay. However, he opted to rewrite it in accordance with our guidelines and it is currently live on our site."
It's difficult to make sense of how TripAdvisor chooses what reports get barred from the site or buried in the forums, but the Journal Sentinel points out that the site's business model leans heavily on site visitors who become bookers. "Advertisers will not continue to do business with us if their investment in such advertising does not generate sales leads, customers, bookings, or revenue and profit," TripAdvisors' financial officers wrote in a federal filing in August.
TripAdvisor's statement insists that it keeps "a strict separation between our commerce and content businesses", and that "there is no tie between commercial relationships with our partners and how our content guidelines are applied to reviews or forum posts published on the site".