Tripadvisor’s latest transparency report is out, revealing many insights into how the online travel company went about the Herculean task of moderating 26 million user reviews last year. Phony reviews, and often pay-for-play, remain a persistent problem, which the company addressed in 2020 by removing or rejecting nearly 1 million fake reviews and identifying a swathe of new sites selling bogus reviews.
The report also gives a peek into the enormous challenges of moderating user content not only during a pandemic but in an era of increased polarization and widespread disinformation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a game-changer for travelers, and “as a travel guidance platform, it is important that the information available on Tripadvisor reflect this new reality,” says the report. “For this reason, we made the decision to update our community standards and moderation processes to ensure travelers had access to the information they needed and businesses were being treated fairly during this unprecedented time.”
In June 2020, Tripadvisor launched a set of “Travel Safe” tools to help travelers filter for Covid-19 information and see how specific hotels and restaurants addressed sanitation procedures, mask-wearing guidelines, social distancing policies, and more. Not only could users more easily find which hotels and restaurants were taking these added safety precautions seriously, but they could also validate whether they observed these safety measures in person and share their experiences with other travelers.
Tripadvisor viewed these features as being crucial in encouraging the public’s confidence in travel. “As travel restrictions ease, hospitality businesses must recognize the changing expectations from consumers around safety and cleanliness,” said Kanika Soni, Tripadvisor’s chief commercial officer said at the time. “That is why Travel Safe will be such a vital tool. It will provide consumers with the information and reassurance they need when they travel, while allowing businesses to build trust by highlighting the concrete steps they are taking to keep their customers safe.”
While a large majority of Tripadvisor users embraced the new Covid-related features, a significant slice of travelers used them to downplay the pandemic and denigrate establishments heeding guidance from health authorities. “We remove any review criticizing an individual business for closing in response to Covid-19 lockdown measures or for the safety of their customers and staff,” according to the Tripadvisor report.
All in all, Tripadvisor manually moderated more than 257,000 reviews related to Covid issues in 2020. Of those, over 46,000 reviews — nearly 18% — were removed for violating posting guidelines. “We continue to ban racially insensitive content, including any reviews that refer to the Covid-19 virus as the ‘Chinese virus’ or ‘Wuhan virus’,” says the report. “Reviews naming the virus must use official World Health Organization terminology, such as Coronavirus, or Covid-19.”
“Of course, much has already been written about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on how and where we can travel,” writes Becky Foley, head of Trust & Safety at Tripadvisor, in the report. “However, little attention, to date at least, has been paid to the impact of the pandemic on the guidance travelers rely on to plan the trips they care most about — guidance from travelers who have been there before. Because, with all of the uncertainty travelers have faced over the last 20 months, the ability to call upon recent experiences and guidance from people all over the world has never been more valuable.”