The Basics: What is TripAdvisor.com?

Founded in February, 2000, TripAdvisor.com is an independent, U.S. travel and restaurant review and booking website. It boasts over 315 million members, 500 million travel reviews, and is the largest online travel site in the world. Along with interactive travel forums, TripAdvisor provides a wide variety of travel related information and resources, such as; vacation rentals, flight comparisons, activity recommendations, and “best of” lists. It is considered by many, a “one-stop” shop and essential for all of your pre-travel and vacation needs.

At the forefront of internet travel and vacation planning, TripAdvisor was an early proponent of user-generated content. The website platform is free to users, and thrives off of user-generated reviews, lists, and other information, instead, generating revenue by means of advertising based revenue model. TripAdvisor’s main competitors include; Airbnb, Kayak, Expedia, Yelp, and Gogobot.

While TripAdvisor has encountered numerous criticisms and issues with their user-generated content and reviews, it is still considered an indispensable travel tool for research and planning. But, if you are a restaurant, hotel, or other business, you should acquaint yourself with the various issues surrounding TripAdvisor’s user-generated content platform in order to best protect your business’s’ reputation and livelihood.

 

Defamation Law Fact: TripAdvisor Media Group includes over 20 popular travel brands, including Citymaps, CruiseCritic, SeatGuru, GateGuru, HouseTrip, HolidayWatchdog, FlipKey, and many more, so be aware that defamation removal may be commenced against any one of their subsidiaries.

 

Issues with TripAdvisor’s User-Generated Content

TripAdvisor has been the subject of countless criticisms and shortcomings over the years, creating headache and worry for restaurants, hotels, and other travel industry businesses. Below are some of TripAdvisor’s most glaring issues, that have potential to adversely affect you and your business:

  • Lack of trustworthiness and user verification: TripAdvisor has come under great fire for stating all the reviews on the site were “honest, real, and trusted.” There is little in way of verification processes to make sure that a customer or patron genuinely engaged with the business or used its services. In late 2011, a U.K. advertising standards regulatory authority launched an investigation into the authenticity of those claims and found that is was highly misleading for TripAdvisor to promote all reviews and content as “trusted.” Ultimately, this led to TripAdvisor removing the word “trust” from their website slogan, and changed it to reflect that the reviews were merely “from the community.”
  • High susceptibility to extortion or blackmail: TripAdvisor has blacklisted several hotels, restaurants, and other businesses after it was found they were bribing guests and customers to leave positive reviews. The extent of businesses that have employed these tactics is unaccounted for, and it is suspected that a much higher number of “for-profit” and bribe-induced reviews than originally thought exist on TripAdvisor. Also, it is not unheard of for customers and users to extort the businesses themselves, trading positive reviews for certain benefits, including, discounts, free accommodation, and other travel luxuries.
  • Inadequate website regulatory mechanisms: Although TripAdvisor states that all reviews are not instantaneously posted on the website, and are subject to email and IP address verification, there have been countless egregious failings to tackle defamatory and false user-generated content. For instance, in May, 2013, a fake restaurant profile was created and posted information leading hungry and hopeful diners to a back alley littered with garbage and dumpsters. It took TripAdvisor over two months to identify this. Additionally, in March, 2014, TripAdvisor’s Chinese site was exposed for their inadequate review mechanisms and algorithm after a review posted over 51 reviews of Parisian restaurants in a single month, all while posting reviews of over 50 hotels located in other countries.
  • Defamatory and libelous reviews: Due to the lack of formal verification processes, and poor regulatory mechanisms to detect unusual and false postings, there is a higher likelihood of users posting defamatory and libelous reviews of businesses. Anonymous posters know that false and defamatory postings will likely go unpunished, and thus feel “invincible” and more inclined to write such reviews. The vague distinction between “honest opinion” and “libelous review” also opens up an important debate concerning where the line should be drawn. Too many users tread that thin line, and often go unpunished for false reviews because they claim their experience is based off of “honest opinion” and “truth.”

 

How False and Defamatory Reviews Affect Small-to-Medium Sized Businesses

TripAdvisor’s user-generated content platform does pose a more serious threat to certain types of businesses more than others, specifically, small to medium sized businesses that are not mainstream and highly profitable. While TripAdvisor does aim to promote honest and transparent reviews, that isn’t always the case, and a poor or false review will have a greater effect on a local mom and pop shop than it would on an international restaurant chain.

Despite such issues and lack of basic legal protections for businesses and customers, TripAdvisor is still held to a degree of reputable regard, making it an ever-present threat to the success of your business (should it be abused). As long as consumers continue to look to TripAdvisor as a legitimate and trusted site for reviewing and recommending businesses, business owners will need to stay vigilant and acquaint themselves with the numerous problems that threaten the reputation and existence of their businesses.

 

How to Remove Defamatory Reviews of Small-to-Medium Sized Businesses

As it is not always practical to address specific problems before they have occurred, having a well-thought out and comprehensive game-plan of recourse is highly recommended for all businesses, should you find yourself as the subject of false or defamatory reviews. Contacting the Internet Defamation Lawyers of Minc LLC is an essential step towards protecting your business and removing defamatory and libelous posts. We are confident in our ability to remove Internet defamation and libel, and guarantee the removal of offending reviews, or we will return your fee. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation call (216) 373-7706, or contact us online today.

 

Defamation Law Fact: In 2012, a Scottish court found (1) that although TripAdvisor was based out of Massachusetts, they were still subject to UK legal jurisdiction, and (2) their terms of use constituted a contract that was enforceable by the businesses being reviewed.

 

TripAdvisor’s Content Removal Policies

When facing defamatory and false reviews, owners and businesses often don’t know where to start. Approaching removal of such content requires an owner understand what content actually violates a website’s content guidelines, and familiarity with the proper channels for removing it.

In order to remove a defamatory or false review on TripAdvisor, you need to first prove that the post is in violation of their content guidelines and terms of use. Keep in mind, merely stating a review violates TripAdvisor’s content guidelines and policies is never a truly effective method for securing removal of the content. In most cases, you need to come prepared, and follow site procedure for reporting and removing it. Specifically, you will need to supply sufficient evidence that the review violates a site rule or policy. Posts are then reviewed by quality assurance specialists, and removed if they meet the following criteria:

  • Posts lacking relevance: Posts that are not relevant to the general website purpose of promoting businesses and travel will be removed. Such posts deemed irrelevant include:
    1. Posts promoting personal attacks on a business or person,
    2. Posts concerning politics and personal issues of a business owner,
    3. Posts addressing religion, and
    4. All other posts that don’t contribute towards giving a useful and accurate understanding of the business and its services.
  • Biased reviews: Biased reviews are reviews that exhibit preference or prejudice against a specific business or owner. Such reviews include positive reviews from affiliated businesses who stand to profit from a business’s success or negative reviews from competing businesses who stand to profit from a business’s failure. Proving the identity of the poster is the most difficult hurdle in bringing a defamation claim against another person or business, therefore it is highly recommend you hire an experienced Internet defamation removal attorney to assist in the takedown process.
  • Second-hand information: Reviews must be based on first-hand information and experiences. Most second-hand reviews have no factual foundation and lead to a higher likelihood of false information being posted. Reviews written by users who have never stepped foot on the premises of a business, or engaged in using their product or service, are not allowed. Reviews and posts that are based on mere hearsay, or heard through the grapevine, do not constitute valid reviews and may be subject to removal.
  • Your business is being extorted by a reviewer: Some reviewers believe that merely being an online reviewer grants them the right to demand free products and services. Oftentimes, past customers will threaten to leave a negative review or a string of negative reviews in order to selfishly and unfairly profit. Dealing with users and customers who attempt to “hold you and your business hostage” need to be dealt with in a calculated manner, so make sure you document everything. Reporting an act of extortion to TripAdvisor with thorough documentation will increase your chances of succeeding in your action for defamation removal.
  • The review is “commercial” in nature: Some businesses engage in stealth advertising and guerrilla marketing campaigns where a marketer poses as a reviewer. Such reviews contribute little to no valuable information about the services or products of a business, and are primarily used for promotional purposes. Promotional and commercial posts are often heavily biased, and written by users who have never used the service. Commercial advertisements may be removed from TripAdvisor.com, provided that you can prove the review is actually an advertisement.

 

Keeping the above types of reviews in mind when browsing TripAdvisor will allow you to easily recognize when there is something off about a post. Recognizing a review in direct violation of TripAdvisor’s content guidelines could mean the difference between a thriving business, or a dying one. Consulting an Internet defamation removal attorney will also allow for you to learn of any other content violations you may not have immediately recognized, and will lead to a better prepared game-plan towards tackling defamation removal.  

 

Removing Reviews From TripAdvisor After a Major Renovation

TripAdvisor may also assess past negative reviews after a hotel, property, or other business has undergone a major renovation or refurbishment. The key requirement for meeting TripAdvisor’s “renovation criteria” is whether the change will “substantially change the traveler’s experience. TripAdvisor stated it allows for the reporting of major renovations to provide properties and businesses with a “clean slate.”

Some examples of a major renovation include, a complete redesign of your hotel interior and exterior, or a hotel which has now doubled, or even tripled, the occupancy. Basic aesthetic changes, such as new paint, carpets, or a new sign, do not qualify as a major renovation. Upon completing a major renovation, you are required to submit at least one of the below documents to TripAdvisor.

  • Proof of an online press release with your business letterhead, documenting the new renovation, or
  • A letter from your town or city officials or Tourism Bureau verifying the details of the renovation.

Once you have provided sufficient proof a major renovation of the premises, TripAdvisor will remove all past reviews and photos, allowing you to start fresh, and remove any false or defamatory reviews.

 

Defamation Law Tip: If you know who the party was behind a defamatory review on TripAdvisor, sending them a cease and desist letter is an effective means for letting them know they need to remove the review immediately, or proper legal action will be taken.

 

Work With Aggressive and Strategic Defamation Removal Lawyers Today

If your business is being attacked by malicious TripAdvisor reviewers with false, inaccurate and other defamatory reviews, you may be able to protect your hotel, restaurant, or attraction’s reputation by taking swift action to remove those reviews. To schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation call with the lawyers of Minc LLC, dial (216) 373-7706 or schedule a meeting online.