Updated at 2:15 p.m. ET
More than a dozen tourists say that TripAdvisor, a popular travel review site, deleted their attempts to post descriptions of rapes, assaults and unexpected blackouts they experienced at Mexican resorts, according to reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The newspaper has been doing extensive reporting on alcohol-related safety issues at Mexican resorts. Now the Journal Sentinel reports that travelers who attempted to warn other tourists about the dangers were apparently "muzzled" by TripAdvisor staff.
You can read the full story — which includes descriptions of assault, including an alleged rape by hotel security guards — at the Journal Sentinel. In at least one case, the travel review site said a deleted post violated its "family-friendly" guidelines.
The newspaper describes a recent forum post in which a woman asked TripAdvisor users about their concerns over safety in Mexico's Riviera Maya, specifically asking about blackouts and the risk of assault, rape or robbery.
There were 55 replies, the Journal Sentinel reports. Less than half of them, 24, were positive, reassuring the woman she would be fine. Four were irrelevant comments. The newspaper writes:
"What about the other 27 posts? Did anyone express worry, describe problems or share experiences that might serve as warnings?
"The public had no way to know.
"The posts had all been removed from the forum.
"In their place was a message from TripAdvisor that cited various reasons for the deletions: They were 'determined to be inappropriate by the TripAdvisor community,' or removed by staff because they were 'off-topic' or contained language or subject matter that was not 'family friendly.' "
TripAdvisor would not show those deleted posts to the newspaper.
The newspaper describes one specific resort where over the course of seven years, at least three women reported being raped or sexually assaulted, with two women reporting assaults by uniformed security guards working at the hotel.
"Those are just the rapes at one resort reported directly to the Journal Sentinel by travelers who read earlier stories," the newspaper notes.
Seven years ago, one of those women repeatedly attempted to post an account of her rape — and her account of the hotel's refusal to call police or investigate the security guard who she identified as her rapist — on TripAdvisor, specifically to warn other travelers. Each time she posted it, she told the newspaper, it was deleted.
One of the subsequent victims said that if she had read an account like that, she might not have gone to the resort.
After the newspaper asked TripAdvisor about that deleted post in particular, the website republished it, seven years later. Users have to click to the 2,608th page of the forum to view it, the Journal Sentinel reports.
TripAdvisor told the Journal Sentinel, after the paper began investigating the deleted posts, that it was establishing a "badge system" for flagging security risks and that it "absolutely" wants to publish reviews that warn travelers about concerns over assault.
The Journal Sentinel's report includes an examination of TripAdvisor's business practices and obscure post deletion policies,
TripAdvisor sent NPR its official response to the Journal Sentinel's article, which reads in part:
"We apologize to the sexual assault victim reported on in the article, who had her forum post removed seven years ago on TripAdvisor. At the time, we had a policy whereby we judged content to be in breach of our guidelines if it did not adhere to family-friendly language. More than seven years ago that meant all language needed to be G-rated. A few years ago, we changed that policy to allow more descriptive reviews on the site about first-hand accounts of serious incidents like rape or assault. We recognized then that our previous guidelines went too far in preventing information like this from being shared.
"Over the last several years, this policy change has yielded many first-hand accounts of serious incidents being published on the platform. A simple search of TripAdvisor will show numerous reviews from travelers over the last several years who wrote about their first-hand experiences that include matters of robbery or theft, assault and rape. ...
"We will continue to work to improve and evolve our moderation and publishing guidelines as we work to provide the most accurate information in the travel industry available online."