TripAdvisor's Rankings Of 'Dirtiest Hotels' Is Not Defamation

from the but-now-we-know-who's-upset-about-it... dept

Eric Goldman has an article at Forbes about the failure of the Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to win its lawsuit against TripAdvisor for listing it as the “dirtiest hotel in America” on its 2011 list of such hotels. TripAdvisor, of course, is a very popular site, in which people rate various hotels. The company then took those rankings to come up with the list, meaning that it’s pretty clearly a statement of opinion (the aggregated opinion of all the users who entered review info on TripAdvisor). However, to try to turn that into a defamation claim, the hotel’s lawyers appeared to argue that because TripAdvisor came up with a numerical rank from all that user generated input, that made it a “factual statement” rather than an opinion. As you know, opinions aren’t defamatory, but incorrect facts can be.

The court isn’t buying it, at all.

It is true that the Defendant published an article with a numerical ranking, and that the Defendant suggests reasons to support its opinions, including that “87 percent of those who reviewed [Grand Resort] recommended against staying there,” but neither 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. A person who is unable to distinguish the phrase “it is hot,” a subjective opinion, from “it is one-hundred degrees,” an objective fact, is hardly “reasonable.” Similarly, TripAdvisor’s “Dirtiest Hotels” list is clearly unverifiable rhetorical hyperbole.

TripAdvisor’s list is of the genre of hyperbole that is omnipresent. From law schools to restaurants, from judges to hospitals, everything is ranked, graded, ordered and critiqued. Undoubtedly, some will accept the array of “Best” and “Worst” rankings as impenetrable maxims. Certainly, some attempt to obfuscate the distinction between fact and opinion as part of their course of business. For those that read “eat here,” “sleep there” or “go to this law school” and are unable to distinguish measured analysis of objective facts from sensational “carnival barking,” compliance will be both steadfast and assured. Nevertheless, the standard, fortunately, is what a “reasonable person” would believe. A reasonable person would not confuse a ranking system, which uses consumer reviews as its litmus, for an objective assertion of fact; the reasonable person, in other words, knows the difference between a statement that is “inherently subjective” and one that is “objectively verifiable.”

I find the implicit suggestion in there that the plaintiff is not a reasonable person somewhat amusing as well. Either way, as Goldman notes, this should be a somewhat useful case whenever others are threatened for opinion-based lists they put together. That said, as a district court ruling it doesn’t have much widespread impact, but with clear and concise reasoning, that doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful in convincing other courts to rule similarly.

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Companies: tripadvisor

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Comments on “TripAdvisor's Rankings Of 'Dirtiest Hotels' Is Not Defamation”

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The Voice of Reason says:

What a grand missed marketing opportunity.

What they should have done is started a marketing campaign, ‘We listened to YOU our Customers’.
Hire a crew to come in and clean the resort ?top to bottom-inside and out, take videos and pictures of the whole process.

Do a before and after comparison, hire a consultant to help change practices and work on being rated as the cleanest hotel on the list.

Invite the most vocal critics back, offer them some deal to get them in, ask them to post reviews.

Admit you made mistakes, fix it, apologize and make lots of money! This would turn things around for them but instead they are still listed as the dirtiest hotel.

The legal team should now help them file for chapter 7 for free.

Trails (profile) says:

A Big Win

Spot on. Not only have the propagated that opinion of their hotel, but in suing TripAdvisor for defamation, rather than spend that money to improve their services, it leads me to the opinion that the Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee are a filthy, dirty fly by night shithole more interested in bilking the unsuspecting than offering quality lodging.

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