How easy is it to rig sites like TripAdvisor?

TripAdvisor needs to take a look at its reviews process, since it seems it can be too easily manipulated.

TripAdvisor needs to take a look at its reviews process, since it seems it can be too easily manipulated.

The problem has come to light in New Zealand after a motel keeper in the Bay of Plenty town of Katikati took issue with comments published online by a disgruntled customer. Motel keepers say "malicious" online reviews are a growing problem, as customers are increasingly use threats to seek refunds or free upgrades.

However, this isn't the only problem with TripAdvisor reviews. There are also those who say accommodation providers can manipulate the reviews themselves by getting family and friends to make false positive reviews.

And it appears to be a global problem.

This month, advertising authorities in the UK told TripAdvisor it could no longer make claims about the truthfulness of the comments made on its website as it could not verify them.

We also heard how an embittered woman used TripAdvisor to smear the reputation of an award-winning vegetarian restaurant in a personal vendetta.

TripAdvisor says it employs staff, at least in the UK, to monitor its website, and it takes action when necessary, but is this enough?

For TripAdvisor, the issue is one of trust and reputation. Not just the reputation of the accommodation reviewed, but the website's own operation.

It would be the ultimate irony if a business that purportedly rates the quality of other businesses failed to operate properly itself.

Of course, TripAdvisor and others have to be wary of pulling posts. They must remain independent, but it appears they must put more effort into policing their sites to prevent such common abuse.

This raises questions for other website operators, too. How trustworthy are the comments left on blogs and websites? How responsible should their operators be?

And in a similar vein, how responsible is Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom for how his website allegedly facilitates alleged copyright breaches, despite his claims he works with authorities to remove offending copyrighted material?

Certainly, regulations, laws and best practices still have a long way to go when it comes to online content creation and hosting. Perhaps in the end it will just come down to common sense when deciding what to believe of what we see online.