Shortly after a detailed investigative piece on TripAdvisor was published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Nov. 1, various media reported that now TripAdvisor will flag hotels with reports of sexual assault. The announcement comes after the travel website was accused by a user for censoring her content regarding a hotel in Mexico where she claims she was raped seven years ago. The woman, Kristie Love, told The Journal that the website removed her post titled "Rape" wherein she warned users to avoid the five-star hotel Iberostar Paraiso in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
Two days after the investigative report went up on The Journal's website, CEO of TripAdvisor Steve Kaufner issued an apology on his LinkedIn. Kaufner denied Love's accusation of censorship and explained that her post had been removed due to previously stringent content guidelines that were enforced on the website at the time of Love's incident.
"The experience of the sexual assault survivor reported on in the article was from over seven years ago," Kaufner wrote. "We removed her post on TripAdvisor at that time, when we had a stricter family-friendly guideline and the content was judged to be in breach of our guidelines and removed."
Kaufner claimed the website's regulations over content integrity apparently evolved in the past several years. "Over time TripAdvisor has updated this policy to allow more descriptive reviews on the site about first-hand accounts of serious incidents like rape or assault," Kaufner wrote. But Love seemed to be unhappy with Kaufner's explanation and wrote in the comments below, "What apology? I've yet to hear a word from TripAdvisor, and certainly not an apology! In fact, when I went to repost the original post on [TripAdvisor] in response to the article, my post was again deleted! I had to post it a second time!"
The new feature for the travel website will show a red badge at the top of the screen on a hotel or lodging site where users have reported incidents of rape, assault, theft, and more. However, the flag does not exactly specify the reason behind the warning. In place of a defined reason, the flag merely states, "TripAdvisor has been made aware of recent media reports or events concerning this property which may not be reflected in reviews found on this listing. Accordingly, you may wish to perform additional research for information about this property when making your travel plans." The hotel Love detailed in her allegation shows the same warning.
TripAdvisor spokesman Brian Hoyt said that in addition to the red flag feature, the website will make an effort to explain to users why, in the case of post removal, their content was taken off of the site. Plus, users can make use of the forum's editing option. "In some cases, like with some of the people reported on in recent weeks, a small sentence edit can be made and the review resubmitted to be a valid firsthand experience," Hoyt said.
It's unlikely that the new changes in the website's policies will revolutionize user experience overnight but Kaufner said that his company is committed to improvement. In addition to Love's allegation, The Journal asserted that algorithms underpinning the website control the hierarchy of hotel names in lists. Kaufner denies that as well.
"The integrity of our site and our content is extremely important to me as we seek to continue to be a trusted source for travelers. As a point of clarification, we have always maintained — since our founding — a strict separation between our commerce and content businesses. Despite assertions and statements that are being made in the media, 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," he wrote.