Review sites like TripAdvisor undoubtedly have their benefits to pub owners and restaurateurs, giving them the opportunity to showcase their venue and engage with their customers. However, the ability of users to freely make untrue claims against pubs, or demand a discount by threatening a negative review online, has led many licensees to become exasperated with the sites.
Luckily, however, hope is at hand, in the form of restaurateur, hotelier, pub owner and former consumer rights campaigner Jonathan Greatorex.
Greatorex became so fed up with malicious reviews online that he decided to investigate the legal obligations on sites such as TripAdvisor, which host such reviews, and believes he has come up with a solution to empower publicans and banish the scourge of fake reviews for good.
“I had a growing frustration with TripAdvisor because the stock response they would give to any negative review would be to say 'it complies with our guidelines',” he explains. “While these reviews may well comply with their guidelines, if something is factually incorrect I felt there had to be a method of dealing with it.”
“There is no other industry that is so open to immediate criticism. We don't have 'shop keeper adviser' or 'accountant adviser'. We have allowed ourselves to become so completely open to abuse at the push of a button.”
After a long and lengthy negotiation with TripAdvisor's legal team, Greatorex struck gold when he discovered a piece of legislation called the The Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013. Now he is setting out to teach pub, hotel and restaurant owners how they can use the law as a tool to fight back against untruths online.
“The law is very clear,” he says. “It only applies to UK-based businesses, but the company hosting the comments can be based anywhere in the world. Quite simply, if there is a review that is factually inaccurate, or contains opinion that cannot be supported by fact, then the law is black and white.
“If you serve a notice to TripAdvisor, and that notice has to be built in a certain way, they have to either give you the name and address of the person who wrote the alleged libellous comments, or it has to take the defamatory comment down within 48 hours.”
“Nine times out of 10 they will be unable to provide the name and address of the person who posted the review, so they will have to take that comment down.”
Greatorex is now attempting to spread awareness of the legal rights that operators are entitled to, and has set up new website – TruthAdvisor – to empower them to take action. The website contains detailed information about the The Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013, and a template notice letter that operators can send to TripAdvisor.
“I'm always happy to go along and talk to people,” Greatorex adds. “My background is as a consumer rights broadcaster and campaigner. I'm not giving people advice as such, I am just making them aware of the law, and that is very, very important, so that people know how they can fight back against unfair and unjust reviews.”
No 'predetermined outcome' says TripAdvisor
TripAdvisor, however, declined Greatorex’s request to comment on his new venture. The Morning Advertiser contacted the website and received the following statement: “Unfortunately we do occasionally see inaccurate advice about our processes for disputing reviews being circulated by third parties.
“Whenever an allegation of an inappropriate review is bought to our attention, our content team will investigate the content in question. It is simply not the case that there is a predetermined outcome to those investigations – every allegation is handled on a case-by-case basis.”
“If a review is deemed to be in breach of our guidelines, our content team will remove it, but if it is deemed to meet our guidelines, it will remain on the site.”
Greatorex insists that he is not trying to get rid of TripAdvisor entirely, and argues that justified criticism ought to remain possible via the website.
“Obviously the law is not open to abuse, and we have to be clear: TripAdvisor is here to stay, and we are not for one minute suggesting it should be taken down,” he says. “TripAdvisor has its place; I myself use it, as do millions of other people. It is a good thing, and we are not looking to take down every critical review.
“If someone comes to my restaurant and says they did not particularly enjoy the steak because it was overpriced, then that is a justifiable criticism. But if the reviewer comes in and says the steak had a piece of glass in it, and that turn of events did not happen, then that is the point at which the law needs to come in.”