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Federal Judge Finds TripAdvisor List To Be “Unverifiable Rhetorical Hyperbole”

I am not a fan of Cruise Critic or its sister site, TripAdvisor, because those sites posture themselves as bastions of accurate information when, in fact, they are depositories for a huge amount of misinformation and skewed perspectives…not accurate facts.  Now a federal court judge has issued an opinion consistent with my opinion. So if you don’t want to believe me, how about a federal judge?

That is why I have always urged that you use an experienced, knowledgeable and honest travel agent…like me!

I recently wrote in an article during the 2012 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise aboard the Seabourn Pride about a restaurant in Dover, England that boasted a clearly flawed 4.5 star TripAdvisor rating:
This was a “Why you need to be careful of TripAdvisor ratings” moment. In Dover, which is not exactly the hotbed of fine cuisine, there is a very small Italian restaurant called Il Rustico. In its window hangs a poster boasting its 4.5 star rating…and more mementos of its “success” on the walls inside. The place was nice enough and the food was OK to good and two people said the dinner the night before had excellent pasta, but 4.5 stars? I have dined at some pretty nice places that get 4 stars or less on TripAdvisor because the measure by which they are rated is clearly far different than the one Il Rustico is. For Dover I would probably give it a 4.5 star rating. But as compared to restaurants generally it would have been a solid 3 stars…and no more. 

Well, on the flip-side it seems, the Grand Resort and Convention Center in Tennessee was sufficiently infuriated by TripAdvisor naming it the 2011 “Dirtiest Hotel in America” that its owner filed a defamation suit against TripAdvisor, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Expedia, Inc. The owner of the hotel lost the case, but ironically it is because of the very reasons I do not trust, and urge others not to trust, the information on TripAdvisor.  Seaton v. Tripadvisor, LLC, Case No. Case 3:11-cv-00549.

Let me explain:

After this federal court judge acknowledged “Its website proclaims that Defendant TripAdvisor provides the world’s “most trusted travel advice.” and later stated, “TripAdvisor’s method of arriving at its conclusions, unverified online user reviews, is a poor evaluative metric“, the judge goes on to observe that “when compiling its “Dirtiest Hotels” list, TripAdvisor relies solely on customer reviews; it does not inquire about, investigate, or consider any hotels except those receiving comments or reviews on the TripAdvisor website.”

Even with that the hotel owner quoting a number of assertions published by TripAdvisor including, as the judge noted:  “The list was published in different configurations in different media outlets, with Grand Resort ranking “number one” on the list in each configuration. One configuration contained the following statements, which Plaintiff claims exhibit “an effort to assure the public and the media that this list is factual, reliable, and trustworthy”: (1) “World’s Most Trusted Travel Advice”; (2) “TripAdvisor lifts the lid on America’s Dirtiest Hotels”; (3) “Top 10 U.S. Crime-Scenes Revealed, According to Traveler Cleanliness Ratings”; (4) “Now in its sixth year, and true to its promise to share the whole truth about hotels to help travelers plan their trips, TripAdvisor names and shames the nation’s most hair-raising hotels.”; (5) “This year, the tarnished title of America’s dirtiest hotel goes to Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.”

So how does the judge find that TripAdvisor is able to claim it has “The World’s Most Trusted Travel Advice”, but also that it only relies upon unverified customer reviews and that it doesn’t independently inquire about, investigate or consider any hotels not mentioned on its site?  Because the judge found that a reasonable person would not rely upon the information as being “fact”, but rather “opinion”.  Sound familiar?  (Remember, the judge was not ruling on whether TripAdvisor was actually the most trusted site, but merely whether it was reasonable to believe the stuff on the site was “fact” for puposes of a defamation suit.)

More specifically, before concluding “TripAdvisor’s “Dirtiest Hotels” list is clearly unverifiable rhetorical hyperbole.” the judge observed: “[N]either the fact that Defendant numbers its opinions one through ten, nor that it supports its opinions with data, converts its opinions to objective statements of fact. Any reasonable person can distinguish opinions based on reasons from facts based on reasons—just because TripAdvisor states its reasons for including Grand Resort on its list does not make the assertion one of objective fact.”

He also noted, “[A] reasonable person, in other words, knows the difference between a statement that is “inherently subjective” and one that is “objectively verifiable.”

And this has always been my point:  Just because it is posted on TripAdvisor or Cruise Critic, you should not consider it “fact based upon reason”, but merely “opinion based on reasons”…potentially skewed, bad, irrelevant to you or irrational reasons.

So when you read Cruise Critic or TripAdvisor be sure to know when someone’s statement is “objectively verifiable” and when it is unverifiable; especially because Cruise Critic bars the challenging of  “unverifiable, rhetorical hyperbole”.

But when you want true “objective fact” and clearly identified “subjective opinion”, contact me at Goldring Travel by phone US:  (877) 2GO-LUXURY, UK: 020 8133 3450, AUS: (07) 3102 4685 International: +1 732 578 8585 or email.

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