TripAdvisor is now putting warning badges on certain hotels
Anyone who speaks out about sexual assault has the heart of a lion. The sheer amount of guts needed to tell the world that you and your body have been disrespected in this way is incalculable, not to mention that many women and men force themselves through it, knowing full well that there's a strong likelihood they will be pushed back into the shadows. Tragically, being ignored, disparaged and silenced is something that happens after most sexual assault incidents. We expect to be hushed and sent back to our place, bound to forever remain there with our muzzle. Yet, one establishment that this censorship seemed unlikely to come from was TripAdvisor, the popular travel website where anyone is welcome to leave a review.
However, the website is accused of censoring reports of rape and is currently under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The situation transpired earlier this month after journalists broke the news that TripAdvisor had deleted numerous women's accounts of harassment on their site. Among the alleged victims was Kristie Love from Dallas, who claimed that she had been raped by a security guard at a resort near Playa Del Carmen.
Reportedly, Love was followed by the member of staff, who later physically overpowered her and raped her in the bushes. After reporting the scarring incident to the hotel, staff refused to call the police, so the 35-year-old took things into her own hands. It was too late to protect herself, but she could try to ensure that no other woman was put in her situation. Posting her story on TripAdvisor, there was hope that thousands of other women could be saved from such a fate. But this act of compassion was dismantled when TripAdvisor ruled that the post violated "family friendly" guidelines and deleted any evidence of the story from their site.
After seven years of her fighting tooth and nail to win justice, as well as several other similar stories breaking in the news, the travel website apologised to Love and reposted the story on their site. But the damage was done. It was going to be more than difficult to reverse and reestablish themselves as a worthwhile, safe service. With customers turning to Expedia at the speed of light, was TripAdvisor ever going to earn back the respect and trust of their users?
This remains to be seen, but they're going to give it a damn good try, primarily by adding warning badges to their pages. The travel website is in the midst of placing a cautionary message on all pages that show businesses that have been accused of being unsafe locations, whether that be serious safety, health or discrimination issues. Now, users assessing an affected page will be met with a small red box at the top of the site, reading: "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 company’s spokesperson Kevin Carter, who confirmed that TripAdvisor employees will decide whether to place or remove a badge, said: “These badges will remain on TripAdvisor for up to three months, however, if the issues persist we may extend the duration of the badge. These badges are intended to be informative, not punitive.”
In addition, last week, a TripAdvisor spokesperson addressed the sexual assault of Kristie Love:
"We apologize to the sexual assault victim, reported on in the article, who had her forum post removed 7 years ago on TripAdvisor. Since 2010, when the forum post was removed, our policies and processes have evolved to better provide information like this to other travellers. A simple Internet search will show numerous reviews from travellers over the last several years who wrote about their first-hand experiences that include matters of robbery or theft, assault and rape. We believe any first-hand experience should be posted to our site as a means to communicate to other consumers looking for information on where they should travel."
Their sudden concern for their customers' safety shows a change of direction for the business, which just a few months ago was more concerned with comments remaining "family friendly" than potentially stopping rape. Their moves are representative of the fact that the travel company is trying hard to right their wrongs - or at least maintain their reputation. But it's also indicative of the reality that all companies, including TripAdvisor, could do much more in the pursuit of bringing sexual harassment to a halt.
Only a few weeks ago, Facebook bosses reportedly told British MPs "we can't stop you getting raped" while giving evidence to an official inquiry on how to stop the harassment of MPs and political candidates. In addition, Mark Zuckerberg's company later admitted that they take as long as 48 hours to remove violent threats. Although a social media site surely can't be responsible for protecting everyone on their site from sexual harassment, their comments exposed the fact that they could be trying much harder. Similarly to TripAdvisor, back in 2011, Facebook bosses were disgraced when they allowed pages such as "You know she's playing hard to get when your (sic) chasing her down an alley" to remain in existence, insisting that their site was "a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views".
When it comes down to it, rather than merely being a place for users to tag one another in pictures or plan their next holiday, websites like TripAdvisor, Facebook and the many others out there have become the new defenders of the people. These days, much of the time, they are one of the first ports of call for users who have been sexually harassed or threatened in any other way. And, whether they like it or not, they need to live up to their contemporary policing role.
Although the warning badges seem like a reasonable start, victim Kristie Love has named TripAdvisor's new blacklisting policy as "offensive". Expressing her disgust at the fact that the warnings will only remain for three months, she claimed they wouldn't protect anyone, telling IBTimes UK: "Travellers deserve the truth in order to make an informed decision for travel plans. Isn't that what TripAdvisor is intended to do?" In addition, social media users have questioned why the site hasn't gone one step further in their quest to safeguard customers. Many insist that the company have "forgotten" to stamp warning signs on airline companies, shopping centres and dressing rooms, as well as numerous other locations.
Their users' insistence that they have not yet done enough shows that the company has a long and winding road in front of them to convince their customers to trust them again. With their history of disgusting disregard for victims, who knows if users ever really will put their faith in them again. But in a world where sexual assault seems to be increasingly prevalent, the question is, can we really trust anyone?