back to article TripAdvisor didn't defame hotel by putting it on 'top 10 dirtiest' list

Website operators that base their rankings of goods or services on the "unverified" views of online users cannot be sued for defamation, a US judge has said. US district court judge Thomas Phillips said that although such systems may contain errors and not provide for good evaluation, they could not be labelled as defamatory …


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  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    A good place to sue

    if you want to sue for libel (written defamation) come to the UK. While the government here is busy outsourcing a lot of law enforcement to the USA (just ask, we'll deport anyone you wish for), London has become the de-facto favoured location for a good bit of sue-age.

    I suppose it all goes back to the days of honour (long gone) when impugning the good name of a "gentleman" was the ultimate crime - much worse than killing or stealing from an ordinary person. These days we have some of the most punitive judgements in the world for the heinous crime of suggesting a rich celebrity is in any way less than perfect. Providing of course, you can afford the crippling costs of a legal team.

    So now that an american hotel chain has failed in it's bid to convince a Tennessee judge (Tennessee? really?) of their case, can we see them going for "double or quits" on this side of the pond?

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: A good place to sue

      and god forbid if it is a barrister you 'defame', especially if you do something really bad like catch them being whipped in a basement by a bunch of ladies in pseudo military attire. Then you really are in trouble! They throw an entire library at you.

      (for the record, I agree the above scenario would be a breach of privacy, but the best response when caught is 'you are all just jealous it wasn't you', not a lawsuit).

  2. Tom 7 Silver badge

    fair, legal, decent, honest and truthful

    And legal - I thought wirgin had been told to stop showing their advert saying they can stop buffering by a court of law. Still showing...

    As to tripadvisor I guess this means they are officially shit but there’s nothing we can do about it - other than ignore them.

  3. Danny 14


    "A reasonable person would not confuse a ranking system, which uses consumer reviews as its litmus, for an objective assertion of fact"

    I would disagree. The amount of people who would look at tripadvisor, see the top 10 dirtiest and avoid would be high I imagine. Although I tend to disregard 5* and 1* reviews I do skim over the 4,3,2 to get a feel of the review. My parents simply look at the main synopsis and base judgement in a few seconds. They are hardly thick but have more "trust" for the website and its reviews than I do.

    TBH I would have thought the hotel had a point. Putting a "top 10 dirtiest" headline from unverified reviews is a bit strong. Have a competitor? Hire 100 dodgy web reviews to mark them down etc.

    I wonder how this would fare for things such as investments or stock market tips etc.

    1. dotdavid
      Thumb Up

      Re: hmm

      When it comes to TripAdvisor I've found that generally the reviews are quite useful, if you take the time to read between the lines. Rather than go by the headline score, if you read some of the comments you might not be as concerned about some of the "issues" raised as the reviewer might have been.

      Personally haven't seen any obvious astroturfing/shill posts, and generally my experience of hotels has pretty much matched up with the TripAdvisor comments - so I still think the site is quite useful. Certainly it's much better than picking a hotel was without it...

      1. Graham Marsden

        @dotavid - Re: hmm

        "Personally haven't seen any obvious astroturfing/shill posts"

        Whereas I have, or, at least, it seems so, when one place gets a mix of five star and one star reviews I get the feeling that someone's telling porkies...

        1. Lee Dowling

          Re: @dotavid - hmm

          Or people get different experiences, have different expectations and have their own opinions? Or that hotels learn from bad feedback and improve themselves? Or that staff and hotel-quality change over time?

          A hotel I stayed in recently was given only two stars, and had reviews saying that the rooms were small and grotty and the staff belligerent. There was more than one "bad" review, and no good ones at all. But the key thing was that the guy in charge replied to them all, even if it was just a "Sorry you were disappointed" response.

          I booked it, because it was a last-minute weekend getaway on the Bank Holiday and all I wanted was a room near a friend's house and it was THE last room in the whole damn county, virtually, and it turned out to be a wonderful place with huge, clean rooms, and the guy who ran it was the most lovely and friendly guy ever.

          Either a) someone makes up reviews and puts them on the website or b) someone had a different guy, stayed there under a different ownership, has never really stayed in a "grotty" hotel in their life, or was just plain annoyed at something and vented their anger in the form of a vastly exaggerated review.

          So much so that I went back on the site and put my own review up. So you now have several entirely opposing reviews. And in the past, I've posted devastating rundowns of problems I've had on the comments sections of hotels / B&B's that had perfect 5-star ratings. Because *I* didn't get a good service from them.

          Same thing happens on eBay and Amazon, no doubt, and just about any site that allows ratings. Hell, at my favourite gastro-pub, I often see "complaints" inside the pub from people that think a 3-course meal should arrive within seconds, that the seats outside are near a road (you mean that road you just drove down to get to that pub in the first place? Shocking that!) or that because the guy in charge didn't give them free snacks while they waited 5-10 mins for their starters (on a table of 16!), they nearly started a fight.

          Some people are morons and have stupid expectations and don't bother to check things. Hell, I've seen people complain on hotel websites that they "weren't allowed to smoke in the rooms" (which is illegal now!). So polar-opposite reviews do not a conspiracy make. It just means that someone had a bad experience, in their opinion, and someone else didn't, in *their* opinion.

          The trick is: Ignore all ratings, stars, and everything else. See what the hoteliers responses are, and if the response is unreasonable, consider just what the stated problem was (and compare to other reviewers). A one-off "there was putrefied flesh dripping from the ceiling" actually means very little unless the hotelier ignores it, or someone else had the same experience.

          And, at the end of the day, some poor sod will be the one underneath the bathroom when it leaks and have a soaked luggage while everyone else in the hotel stayed perfectly happily.

          It's not about finding a hotel that doesn't have a single reported problem. You will never, ever, ever, ever do that. It's about finding a hotel where, when something goes wrong, they handle it correctly. If I *report* to you that the carpet was filthy or the room smelled or the bathroom only actually had three walls now, I expect you to do something about it. It doesn't really matter how it got like that (it's a public building and the people servicing it are human), what matters is your response to me reporting the problem. And if I don't report the problem until I've gone, how can the hotelier ever do anything about it?

          1. Ragarath

            Re:@Lee Dowling @dotavid - hmm

            Good post and I totally agree. The main problem I find with review sites is that most of the time it's only when people have a problem they get motivated to comment.

            If everything trundles along fine and dandy most people do not feel the need to comment unless there was some exceptional experience. On the other hand if there is the smallest problem, emotions get the better of us (we are only human) and we feel like we need to report it to the world.

            Because of this I take reviews by the public as being lower than they otherwise would be. And like you I base my opinions on what I read into all the recent comments, not the comments themselves.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: hmm

      I would also disagree and would point out that TripAdvisor's own business model depends entirely on "reasonable persons" accepting that the sheer number of reviews will somehow "cancel out the bias" and result in a site that is trustworthy.

      TripAdvisisor are still in business, right? They make a profit, right? OK, that's *objective* proof that most people believe in this "wisdom of crowds" rubbish. So either most people aren't reasonable or the judge is demonstrably wrong.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I worked for a website that included listings of accommodation in a major capital city. We were tasked with integrating with TripAdvisor in order to show ratings, link to existing reviews and provide a means for visitors to create new reviews. The features lasted a few months until we started receiving complaints from people about the reliability of TA reviews - mostly from people saying the hotel was not up to the standard suggested by the reviews. When we investigated we found that many of these hotels had reviews with very wording along with a suspicious consistency in grammatical and spelling errors. Anyone know a highly populated former British colony where you can get lots of cheap labour to write TA reviews?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: colony


      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: re: colony

        @ Theodore - I think that was a rhetorical question.

        For what it is worth, I pay no attention to TripAdvisor; too many biased-review stories for me to take the reviews seriously. But I now know a hotel to avoid if I ever go to Tennessee. Streisand effect much?

      2. npo4

        Re: re: colony

        It would probably be cheaper in the Philippines, tbh...

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      'tis a pity you didn't alert your local fair trading agency. They do take more notice when tipoffs come with multiple bits of evidence.

  5. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    It is all very well to talk about the 'reasonable person' but my experience is that such persons are a tiny minority and that huge swathes of the population will unquestioningly believe anything they read.

    I know of good people who have been put out of business by crap online reviews.

  6. Joe Harrison

    Tripadvisor very useful

    It's not that hard to filter out reviews which are obviously rubbish. Then make a judgement based on remaining comments from people who sound sane, especially if they have a decent posting history. How else do you choose a hotel in a place you have never been before?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tripadvisor very useful

      "How else do you choose a hotel in a place you have never been before?" has user reviews, but they are invitation only, meaning you need to have made (and not cancelled) a booking in order to leave a review.

      Unfortunately, that does not work for restaurants and bars but, really, I have looked at TripAdvisor's reviews for restaurants in my local area and the reviews were in most cases surprisingly accurate. It also did a good job of finding decent, non franchised cafes in a recent stay in the Highlands.

      For more rural areas in non-English speaking countries, I tend to try searching for local review sites with Google Translate's help, and that also seems to work well in my experience.

      I guess my point is that one cannot make sweeping statements as to the quality and helpfulness of TripAdvisor or any other sites when it comes to satisfying one's own specific needs. A critical mind and common sense are required.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tripadvisor bots

    We do some PR work for a couple of hotels and one thing that we've come across is quite blatant abuse of the Tripadvisor platform.

    Even just searching 'tripadvisor bots' on Google brings up which shows how trivially easy it is to influence tripadvisor results.

    So how much trust do I have in Tripadvisor? Not as much as I used to!

  8. Khaptain Silver badge

    No one is forced to use TripAdvisor.

    There are other means to reviewing your future hotel/destination.

    For example you can head down to your local Travel Agent who will supply you with a brochure full of wonderfull photos and remarks.

    Alternatively you could phone up the hotel who will also supply you with a wonderfull conversation about how good the hotel is.

    </sarcasm off>

    The big problem here lies in the fact that is is "impossible" to obtain an objective opinion on anything that you "personally" have never done.

    TripAdvisor has shills, well thats not news, they are after all relying on publicity dollars in order to survive. They are no different from any other ecommerce service that has reviews, Amazon, Dixons, Darty, Computer Stores, etc etc etc .

    Like everything else on the web you have to sift through the shit in order to find some gold. If some people are too dumb to realise that then they are the kind of peple that would have been fooled by the Door to Door Insurance salesman and other con artists anyway.

    I agree with the judge on this one.

    Would love to see a "lusers" icon.

  9. Tringle

    Whenever our little family takes a trip somewhere we check out trip advisor.

    Having once changed from a really brilliant hotel (rate by TA as below average) in a town we have visited a few times to one that TA rated highly but which was not even close to being in the same class as the previous hotel, we now look at it just to see how amazingly wrong it can be. The answer is pretty much always, and often hilariously so were it not that it affects the business of the downrated hotels.

  10. DrXym Silver badge

    TripAdvisor need to get their house in order

    Most reviews on Tripadvisor are truthful and genuine reviews but there is doubtless a lot of astroturfing and shills in there and I think they need to make a more visible effort to stamp out the practice and offer redress / investigation for businesses who think they're a victim of it.

    At the end of the day Tripadvisor relies on trust and astroturfing undermines that trust. They need to make some public examples of the worst offenders and pepper their system with triggers that flag suspicious behaviour.

    Maybe one way to reduce shilling would be to send out periodic confirmation links to reviewers and if they don't respond their listing is removed. The more shill accounts a business sets up the harder it would be to service all these reminders and there would be an opportunity to catch the more stupid ones out by doing an IP check.

    1. Wize

      Re: TripAdvisor need to get their house in order

      Its not just the fake posts made by the hotels to keep an eye on.

      Its the people who give bad ratings for no reason.

      There was a UK documentary on a few months back about Trip Advisor and some of the worst offenders. Once such chap marked the hotel down if he didn't get fresh bedding every night. His excuse to the camera was he had a skin condition that requires new bedding every night. Did he tell the hotel? "No" he replied "they should have asked me".

      People like that have closed businesses from their unnecessary bad reviews.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TripAdvisor need to get their house in order

        "People like that have closed businesses from their unnecessary bad reviews."

        Indeed. Which is why I actually like living in a country where people take great pride in being rude (though not necessarily unhelpful). We don't seem to see many of those "it's all about me" types.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: TripAdvisor need to get their house in order

      TA will counter requests to do an IP check by pointing out that many ISPs run everything through a proxy, however it will at least show up a lot of reviews coming from an unexpected country.

      Publishing the submission IP (or /24) would probably go a long way towards allowing users to spot astroturfers.

  11. Miek

    "It does not appear to the Court that a reasonable person could believe that TripAdvisor’s article reflected anything more than the opinions of TripAdvisor’s millions of online users." -- I guess that sentence was delivered tongue in cheek. Millions of users and this Hotel makes it into the top 10 dirtiest? Clean your Hotel mate.

    1. mhoulden

      For the cost of hiring a lawyer for a few days you could get a contract cleaning firm in and get them to make the place spotless. I hadn't heard of this place before, but thanks to the Streisand Effect I know where to avoid. On shows like Hotel Inspector it can be surprising to see just how out of touch some hotel owners can be. Even in budget hotels you expect them to do basic things like make sure the place is clean and things like taps and sockets work properly.

  12. The Jase


    TripAdvisor user photos of hotels are good.

    Nice to see shots away from the official ones, gives you a better feel for the place.

    I read the best and worst reviews, then the ones that are recent. Hotels can change, anything that is a year old is good for photos only.

  13. Fred Dibnah

    I mostly use Laterooms for hotel bookings, and their big advantage over TA when checking out a hotel is that reviews can only be posted by people who have made a booking. IMHO that makes for more reliable reviews.

    A couple of years ago I stayed in a great B&B with really nice owners. They had had a noisy crowd in a few days before who decided to party until 2am in their room, breaking the beds by jumping on them. When the owners asked them to keep it down they were told that they would receive negative reviews on TA. Nice.

    Apart from the photos I avoid TA.

    1. dotdavid

      Seeing as presumably the noisy crowd made a booking, couldn't they also leave negative reviews on Laterooms were it to become as popular as TripAdvisor?

      There are tonnes of idiots in these crowdsourced reviews sites but I think there are probably more fair reviewers that hopefully drown them out.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A quick search turned this up -

    Seaton, who is no longer involved in the Grand's day-to-day operations, is facing a March criminal trial on charges of sexual battery involving five women in 2009 at his KMS Enterprises in Pigeon Forge, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.

    Seaton also is a defendant in a civil lawsuit alleging sexual harassment of two former housekeepers hired to work in KMS hotels, the Sentinel reports.

    He must like court cases.

  15. Alex King

    Bad priorities

    Hmm, if your hotel gets into the top ten dirtiest on TripAdvisor then either (a) you have a dirty hotel or (b) you've pissed a lot of other people off in some way (maybe these women and housekeepers you're accused of abusing.)

    Depending on which it is, he should spend less on his legal team and more on running his hotel/life better. Either way, it's hardly TripAdvisor's fault.

    1. The FunkeyGibbon

      Re: Bad priorities

      Sure, no fire without smoke I guess. The problem here is the uncritical nature of many people when look at a sites like Trip Advisor.

      Anecdotally, I did over hear a really obnoxious American woman once demand a room upgrade for free "...or I'll give you such a shitty review on Trip Advisor you'll never have any guests again!" While she was clearly overstating the effect of a single bad review, people are starting to see Trip Advisor as important and influential enough that there might be leverage in using it as a threat. When that becomes the case then surely the site has to take responsibility?

      1. Colin Millar

        Re: Bad priorities

        Why does this site have to take responsibility?

        No other web site in the known space-time continuum takes any responsibility for any of the old bollocks that they allow to appear all over their pages. Pirate at will, abuse and harass people with anonymity and immunity and if you do get caught out the howls of twitterage will come to your aid (or condemn you utterly - depends what kind of hair day they are having). There's no middle ground in user generated content - it always tends rapidly to extremes.

        If you do stuff based on the words of some anonymous bloke on the web (or even some million anonymous blokes on the web) then please drop me a line as I have this large amount of money in Nigeria ..........

  16. James 36



    The reasonable person would also know the difference between a person's opinion and an objective fact, based on my own personal experience on many forums I see some people fail to distinguish this difference. OTOH I used trip adivsor recently and found the bulk of the reviews accurately reflected the hotel in which I stayed.

    the above comments are my own personal opinion and are not presented as facts

    (maybe the last statement should be mandatory in ever forum post unless sufficient references can be provided to make the statement one of fact and not opinion )

  17. James 100

    I've found TA quite interesting, and make a point of reviewing places on it (almost always positive ones, usually with some nice photographs). Ultimately, though, it's my own experience: any website which publishes it is being entirely truthful: it is honestly reporting what I said about the place. If it's negative, or harmful to them, the proprietor should take it up with me, not the middleman. (In this particular case, "87% of our reviewers said this hotel was dirty" is presumably entirely factual; whether those 87% were being honest or fair is another matter, but not TA's responsibility.)

    Astro-turfing can be a real problem, though. A few years ago, I had a lousy family meal out in Dundee, after which my mother emailed the proprietors and posted a critical review online somewhere. The review received a comment from a "satisfied customer" who said he couldn't understand her criticism, it was great value and he loved it, great value, wonderful food... Her email of complaint received a reply, *from the same person* - but this time signing himself 'customer service manager'. Funny, that: I suppose the staff discount would make it better value...

    A shame we didn't know about false-flag reviews being a crime at that point: my mother's retired now, but used to be a lawyer - for Trading Standards. That could have ended quite badly for them if she'd known! (As a lawyer, presumably she would if it had been in force at the time. Glad to know it's actually illegal now though.)

  18. Zot

    The "Executive Inn" has the funniest reviews

    (can't seem to be able to post URL links,sorry)

    All the reviews paint a perfect description of this place that are really hard to ignore, like this:

    "My In-Laws booked the hotel, I didnt think twice to check what they had booked upon arrivial we discovered that the hotel was a dump. We checked in right after someone that was checking in to live in the hotel. When we got to our room of course we looked over our rooms. There were bullet holes in the walls, blood still on the wall. There were cigarette burn holel in both sets of sheets covers. The bathrooms rings in the shower/tub. rings or grime in the skink and toliet. There was a table and 2 chairs in the room which had dead bugs on them. I have to say under the bed was clean, probably the cleanest part. The capet were filthy the room the worst I have ever seen or stayed in thank got it was only for 2 nights So if you enjoy the drug dealing and gangster ville stay here, need a place to live stay here if you have kids, and are looking or a good place to stay, look else where!!!"

  19. Spoonsinger

    "It's a diss, but it's not defamatory – judge"

    Obviously never been to Diss then.

  20. npo4


    "The reasonable person, in other words, knows the difference between a statement that is 'inherently subjective' and one that is 'objectively verifiable',"

    If only this were true for all Americans, it could do wonders for their political system...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Politics

      Presumably anyone that evolved would be run out of Tennessee

  21. nhirsch

    I've used TripAdvisor and still do. It is the best reviewing site for travel out there. Sure there are some people holding grudges but you can tell by reviewing a number of reviews. I trust the site. I was curious about the place that sued them and went to their website where they have a few endorsements on their webpage, one dated "recent" which was 4/2011. I tried to leave a comment but the server crashed. I also reviewed the TripAdvisor ratings for that Tennessee company and clearly it is not a place I'd want to stay. Seems they ought to spend money to clean up their lodging rather than try to sue a company that is a host for people reviewing sites and providing what I consider valuable information.

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