In this day and age, the age of information, it’s easy for users to log onto their phone or their PC and find reviews for anything and everything. Whether it’s shopping on Amazon, or downloading new music, eating at a restaurant, or staying at a hotel: someone else has done it first, and written about their experience.
Yet what happens if you find a bad review? Well, you simply don’t buy that thing or eat at that restaurant. Simple enough. Unless of course, for some reason, there are, quite suspiciously, no bad reviews…
Out to Eat
Dawn Allison and her family were looking for a good place to eat. To do this, she decided to log onto one of her favorite websites, and one she frequented often for advice on local eateries wherever she found herself. The website was TripAdvisor.com, a site which provides hotel and restaurant reviews, accommodation bookings, and consumer feedback.
TripAdvisor also includes a number of interactive travel forums which foster communication and open discussion amongst its users, consumers of all kinds, from every walk of life. The website was actually one of the first adopters of user-generated content. They built a community to inform one another, and that worked well for a number of years after its inception. On this day however, the website would lead Dawn astray…
In the end, Dawn and her family decided to hit up the Rams Head Tavern just south of Baltimore. It was a place they’d gone before. One that they’d frequented for many a birthday, Mother’s Day, or other such family dinners. What Dawn didn’t know, and what she would soon become painfully aware of, was that the Rams Head had a dirty little secret…
You see, as Dawn Allison stepped into the ladies’ room at the Rams Head, she had no clue that not two days before, a woman had run into some trouble there. The woman had been in the bathroom, doing her business, when she noticed something attached to the floor right near the toilet. She bent down and picked up the strange, nearly invisible device, and to her horror, realized it was a hidden camera…
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that Dawn Allison found out the owner of the restaurant had been charged with six counts of secretly videotaping women in the bathroom stalls of his restaurant. The man was a well-known businessman in the community and it was a shock to everyone, least of all Dawn’s family, that he was nothing more than a resourceful pervert.
Tell the World
Dawn decided that the only thing she could do was to tell the world what had happened at the Rams Head. She went onto TripAdvisor and wrote a review, warning other consumers about what was going on. After all, if she had known prior to going, she would have chosen another restaurant. She posted a short blurb that said, “Oh my goodness, this guy is running a Peeping Tom camera.” Within a day, the post had been deleted…
She couldn’t believe it. Why would a website dedicated to truthful user reviews delete a post informing people of something very important about a restaurant. Dawn checked her email to find a message from TripAdvisor saying that her post hadn’t met the website’s guidelines and that this was why they had deleted it. Again though, why would they delete what Dawn considered important safety information?
Not the First
Indeed, the company’s refusal to post sparked what would become a three-year battle for truth on the part of Dawn Allison and her husband. What they didn’t know then, was that they had stumbled upon a conspiracy that many had already been affected by and it was sparked not by shocking revelations but by omissions…
There had been many other stories like Allison’s over the past few years. For instance, an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that TripAdvisor had deleted reports of a number of actual crimes reported by holidaymakers in Mexico. They had removed any mention of rapes, and other serious injuries, and even deaths among these travelers.
Another story involved the family of a Wisconsin woman who drowned in a resort pool in Mexico under what can only be described as “mysterious circumstances.” An attorney in Texas, who is handling the case says he’s received an influx of calls over the last couple of weeks from more than 30 people who have had their negative experiences deleted by TripAdvisor, and some are quite shocking…
In one of those cases, a Dallas woman warned of the dangers at a resort in Mexico in 2010 where she said she had been raped by a man in a security guard uniform. Her post was summarily deleted as well, with TripAdvisor citing that it violated the company’s “family friendly” guidelines.
The woman, Kristie Love, continued to try and warn travelers about the rapist at the Iberostar resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Yet as much as she fought to have the post published, TripAdvisor pushed right back, eventually banning her. Some of the other stories are just as disturbing…
One of the posters, a travel writer from Russia, explained that she had stayed at the exclusive and very upscale Six Senses Zil Pasyon in Seychelles, off the African coast, when she was raped at knifepoint by a housekeeper. Her very detailed post was also deleted but this time, they didn’t tell her why.
She attempted to caution others about what had happened and yet, despite the criminal charges she filed against the man, every post she tried to make was denied. “I was looking for TripAdvisor people in Russia to give them my documentation…There was nobody to connect with and ask why they didn’t publish it. I write letters to general mail. I got nothing back.” But why was this really happening?
And Many More
There’s no way to know right now exactly how many negative reviews have been withheld by TripAdvisor. Yet however many there may be, however many troubling experiences remain untold, there are those, like the Allisons, who are working towards showing them to the world. Many have come forward with similar experiences and it’s finally forcing people to do something about it.
Keeping them Honest
The Federal Trade Commission is currently looking into TripAdvisor’s business practices and Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman, has come out in opposition of such practices. Yet, while it’s comforting to know that something is being done about it, the question still remains, why was it happening in the first place? Was TripAdvisor blocking such posts on purpose?
Who Gets Through
What users don’t get to see is that TripAdvisor’s algorithms are designed specifically to encourage them to spend money. These same algorithms determine which hotels and resorts appear when consumers search for ideas. This is all because many hotels and restaurants pay TripAdvisor to display their establishments and pay commissions when users click their links or book.
It comes as no surprise then that TripAdvisor wouldn’t want their users to post negative reviews of establishments that have spent good money to be put at the top of the list. Not only is favoritism absolutely a possibility, but many users have special privileges to delete forum posts. These users could and very likely are, employees of the establishments whose job it is to play damage control when things at their hotels go awry. But can anything be done to stop this?
Well, thanks to a number of concerned whistleblowers, change has already begun. Two days after an investigation was published, TripAdvisor co-founder and CEO Steve Kaufer assured the world that, “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…”
Another facet of the new policy is that the website is rolling out a new warning system that marks resorts where safety concerns have been reported in the media. It’s damage control of the highest order, but it’s also the only way that they can build the public’s trust in them. As for Dawn Allison, she finally got her review, though on a forum page for the State of Maryland and not attached to the restaurant’s page itself.