Travel Website Rankings of "Dirtiest Hotels" Based on User-Generated Content May Be Flawed, But Are Not Defamatory As a Matter of Law

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[author: Richard Raysman]

In Seaton v. TripAdvisor, LLC, 2012 WL 3637394 (E.D. Tenn. Aug. 22, 2012), a Tennessee district court held that an online travel ratings site that created a Top Ten Dirtiest Hotels list based upon user comments and data is not liable for defamation because a reasonable person could not understand the list in question as an assertion of fact instead of merely "unverifiable rhetorical hyperbole" and the aggregated opinion of the site's millions of online users. The court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss. The court concluded that the plaintiff failed to plead any facts that showed the defendant made a statement of fact, or a statement of opinion that it intended readers to believe was based on facts. The court also noted that although the site's method of arriving at its conclusions (i.e., unverified online user reviews) was "a poor evaluative metric," it was not a "system sufficiently erroneous so as to be labeled ‘defamatory' under the legal meaning of the term."