Free speech is a given right in the United States, says Steven C. Wyer. However, many American consumers have been penalized for sharing their opinions publicly, not by the law but by companies angry over negative reviews. A recent introduction to the House may change that.
A “hater” business is one that penalizes customers for having a bad experience. According to Steven C. Wyer, more and more companies are lashing out aggressively at customers who take their frustrations online. The retaliation has gone as far as fraudulent credit reporting. Some companies refuse to do business without their customer signing a non-disparagement contract.
The issue is significant enough that the federal government has recently taken notice. The Consumer Review Freedom Act was introduced to Congress in April 2015. Steven C. Wyer reports that this bill, if passed, will offer a degree of protection for consumers who take to the Internet to provide an honest and accurate but negative review of a company. This applies to performance assessments, services, and products. The law prohibits businesses from barring consumers from stating their opinion and voids previous contracts requiring such.
It is largely understood that negative reviews may seriously damage a business’ bottom line. However, widespread opinion is that a customer’s experience, and thus narrative of, is protected as free speech, says Steven C. Wyer.
Currently, only 28 states have existing laws that prohibit strategic lawsuits against public participation. These so called SLAPP lawsuits, notes Steven C. Wyer, are often unwarranted and used to coerce the consumer into removing their review. The laws vary greatly from state to state in their level of protection. In some cases, the plaintiffs have been hit with SLAPP-back suits where they have been required to pay a penalty for initiating the complaint.
The Consumer Review Freedom Act is sponsored by over half dozen representatives including Scott H. Peters and Brad Sherman.