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TripAdvisor is finding itself in hot water after being forced to apologize to multiple tourists for deleting their reviews that warned of rape and assault at a resort in Mexico.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that more than a dozen travelers had their reviews of the Iberostar Paraiso Maya resort in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, a popular tourist destination, removed the website. Each of those reviews contained details of sexual assaults and even rapes at Iberostar Paraiso.
The Journal Sentinel had been investigating reports of tainted alcohol at Mexican resorts causing travelers to black out after one drink. The US State Department issued two warnings this summer about tainted alcohol and violence in certain tourists regions of Mexico.
According to the Sentinel, 27 reports were removed by TripAdvisor and messages from the website were in their place saying the posts warning of sexual attacks were “determined to be inappropriate by the TripAdvisor community,” “off-topic” or contained subjects that weren’t “family friendly.”
TripAdvisor would not release the deleted messages to the Sentinel.
The newspaper’s report on TripAdvisor is quite damning:
A Journal Sentinel investigation into the workings of the $1.5 billion company has found that it is what TripAdvisor does not publish that poses real problems for travelers.
The company’s policies and practices obscure the public’s ability to fully evaluate the information on its site. Secret algorithms determine which hotels and resorts appear when consumers search. Some hotels pay TripAdvisor when travelers click on their links; some pay commissions when tourists book or travel.
An untold number of TripAdvisor users have been granted special privileges, including the ability to delete forum posts. But the company won’t disclose how those users are selected.
The report delves into the experiences of three women who said they were raped or sexually assaulted at Iberostar Paraiso.
Kristie Love said she was raped by an Iberostar security guard in 2010 and had multiple posts on TripAdvisor removed because they breached the “family friendly” guidelines. In 2011, a 19-year old woman was raped and her TripAdvisor post about it taken down. And only two years ago in 2015, a woman named Jamie Valeri tried to tell her story of being raped when she and her husband blacked out after just two and half drinks — only to find her post was seen as “hearsay,” which TripAdvisor does not allow.
Valeri tried to rephrase her post put didn’t have any luck. It kept being deleted.
Only after the Sentinel’s investigation did TripAdvisor publish Love’s post about the 2010 attack. However, the review is 2,608 pages into Iberostar Paraiso’s reviews and apparently closed off from any new comments.
TripAdvisor’s moderation system is one of the reasons for the serious issues. “Trusted community experts” who aren’t employed by TripAdvisor have the power to take down posts. Additionally “destination experts” which can include tour guides, managers and hotel or restaurant owners can respond to safety concerns — but at the same time these people have a financial incentive to attract people to the area so they might not always be truthful. Lastly, the Sentinel reports that the website inconsistently enforces its own policy against posts that include hearsay.
The website told the the newspaper that it was developing a “badge system” that “will alert travelers to major media stories that expose health and safety concerns and other serious problems at hotels, restaurants or attractions.” A spokesman for the website said TripAdvisor absolutely wants these kind of reviews published.
TripAdvisor responded to the story on Twitter with this statement:
Others have responded to TripAdvisor’s tweet with similar stories of their legitimate reviews being taken down.
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