When and how to write a negative reference?

This topic is somewhat related to the other topic about how to write a quality reference (in general):

But in this particular thread I would like to specifically discuss writing negative references. A few things that I think are worth discussing in this thread:

  1. Other than for blatant violations, when is it appropriate to leave a negative reference for someone?
  2. How do you write the negative reference and what information do you include?
  3. What are some of the challenges of writing a negative reference and how do you overcome them?

I also want to mention that in addition to leaving a negative reference, please use the “report” feature to report anything or anyone that is inappropriate or in violation of our community guidelines. If you’re not sure if something should be reported or not, please report it anyway! The support team will review the report before any action is taken. You can also e-mail safety@couchers.org to report something. The support team is happy to answer any questions you might have.

I never used to write negative refs on CS - it was either positive, or nothing. I think this is partly because I was very picky about who I hosted/surfed with, so generally I didn’t meet people who I spent time with that was bad enough to warrant a negative ref. I also grew to be sceptical of “five star” reference culture and its strange distortions, both in CS and elsewhere.

However, if it came to it and it was, for example, a safeguarding issue, I would leave negative refs on Couchers for people who I felt would have a serious or significantly deleterious impact on the community at large.

I would include details to justify my reference and a note of warning to others. Personally, I wouldn’t include anything that states that people shouldn’t host/surf with that particular person, but just that they have been warned and should think carefully before they engage with them.

Of course, if there was somthing really serious, I’d flag it right away.

The only time I left a negative ref was for a host whose place was so dirty it had rats in it. “Nice guy, but shame about the rats. I chose not to stay and if you don’t like rats either, you might be advised to find someone else to stay with.”, or something to that effect.

Side question: is flagging part of onboarding atm? Would be good for new users to experience it and also get some kind of taste of what kind of response from Couchers they might expect.

  1. Other than blatant violations I think negative references are well deserved when people don’t respect house rules or if they are rude. Every CouchSurfer needs to be respectful. There are no ifs ands and buts if you are asked to follow certain rules or behave a certain way and you are not willing to respect that. I usually try to let my surfers know if they are doing something that is not appreciated so they can improve their behavior or actions BEFORE it turns into a negative experience. When I have repetitive or multiple problems, then I go ahead and write the negative reference, no regrets.
  2. As long as the content is true it doesn’t matter to me how exactly the reference is written and how much information it contains. Sometimes less is better (you don’t give a vibe that you are a person who is hard to please) but on the other hand a detailed reference can help people understand why exactly you decided to write the negative feedback (especially if there was a cascade of small events that culminated into something unacceptable).
  3. My biggest challenge when writing negative references is that occasionally I don’t know how I feel about some of my experiences. It isn’t always black and white, you know? When I am this confused, I like to share my experience with fellow CouchSurfing friends. I don’t feel bad anymore writing something negative knowing that other people would have given even worse reference if they were in my place. I just found it useful to have somebody unbiased who could help me objectively evaluate my experiences when I am not fully able to.

My opinion is that hosts are in a better position when it comes to writing negative references. It’s way easier to give bad feedback if someone is mistreating you at your own place. I feel surfers who are having a bad time do not want to look like they are ungrateful or demanding so they rather opt for not writing a reference at all. For this reason I really like that Couchers don’t have positive or negative references. You can still mention something not as fabulous without necessarily giving it a negative label and let other people decide if they would be ok with that or not.


When it comes to negative references, being objective is the most important. Facts, facts, facts. Not following house rules, or generally being ungracious or rude is not in the spirit of the community, and therefore would warrant a negative or neutral reference. Making sure to mention concerns related to safety or hygiene are relevant, but I would imagine rare.

Knowing when to write a negative reference is not always easy given the complexity of humans. Someone could be really nice, but also have idiosyncrasies that would be viewed unfavourably.
Challenges in “calling out” bad behaviour would include possible fear of retaliation or rumours. Ultimately those are overcome, I think, by being clear, concise, and factual in writing the reference.

One major consideration related to references, in general, is language proficiency. Obviously native speakers can give better feedback, and when we don’t speak a common language or not as well it poses a problem with being clear with the best intentions. I often find that some references in other platforms can be very nondescript and not-helpful to surfers or hosts alike.

Ultimately I believe that the majority of people in the community wouldn’t receive or give negative references, given that the majority all share the common values and demonstrate propriety.


i had a kinda nice experience last time the only problem was that the guy shit all over my toilet and didn’t clean up after himself and then just left, should i leave a neg ref or is this private info :Þ

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:sweat_smile: :roll_eyes: :dizzy_face:

That’s crazy. I’d definitely write that he wasn’t the cleanest guest ever, and maybe in the anonymous section write what had happened and leave a lower community standing score on the scale (like negative or neutral). I’d try to write something that didn’t embarrass the guy but warned future hosts!!


I have approximately 5 experiences involving someone else’s :poop: on CouchSurfing myself. I didn’t blast them all publicly, because majority of them were otherwise very nice people and I simply didn’t want them to have such information in their references open to public. But if someone didn’t care at all when surfing then I didn’t care when writing the reference. There exist one surfer who has a reference from me stating that she was freeloading her whole stay and the only thing she ever shared with me was an unflushed :poop: in my toilet. It was a bad experience in general so I absolutely didn’t care writing such thing online.

References can be very powerful- some of my worst surfers would not be able to find a host after getting a negative reference from me or had to delete their profiles after getting a negative reference from me (like a guy who returned from a party night and I had to scrub his puke off of the walls and the couch at 2am and had to book upholstery cleaning services). If your guy was nice and you do not want to embarrass or destroy him, do as Emily suggested and next time opt for “wasn’t the cleanest guest I had”.


Wow couldnt put it better myself. Putting only two labels like negative and positive negates all the grey that is between. Thank you for this post.

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there was a guy who was the kid of a surfer who came and partied with us and then got so drunk he ended up passing out and then waking up in the middle of the night saying “reykjavik reykjavik” while he proceded to piss all over my coffee table :Þ haha, i didn’t feel it was worthy as a negative experience as it was a party afterall :Þ

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