Protecting Your Opinion

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Back in July we shared an article about a couple leaving a negative online review on a business page that made them lose millions of dollars. Now, multiple people around the country have been receiving lawsuits because they have expressed their negative opinion on businesses Yelp pages. With people having similar situations the two laws that are being proposed are getting traction online because the law’s intent to protect free speech both before and after it occurs.  The two pending are:

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  • Consumer Review Fairness Act, HR5111. Nicknamed the “Right to Yelp Act,” this would bar companies from including non-disparagement provisions, gag clauses, and it would stop companies from trying to nip complaints in the bud by getting consumers to waive their rights to gripe.
  • Speak Free Act, HR2304. This would create a legal weapon for defendants in lawsuits over their publicly expressed thoughts. For example, someone who is hauled into court over their words can invoke the bill’s anti-SLAPP motion to get the case dismissed quickly and to force the plaintiff to pay attorney’s fees. Such cases are called SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation).

While many are scared to express their opinion now because of the high probability of getting a lawsuit, others are acting against it like Evan Mascagni. The policy director at the Public Participation Project (a free-speech nonprofit) says, “There are bullies out there who seek to silence individuals for speaking out on matters of public interest. These laws aim to combat that and get these lawsuits dismissed relatively quickly and painlessly.” One of the states where customers are prevailing in court is California because it has similar robust version of the both laws mentioned, however merchants can always take it to federal court or to a state that lacks anti-SLAPP.

Not everyone agrees with the two bills, like Alexander Reinert a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He says the bills are unconstitutional and it intrudes into state rights, “impose significant barriers to important civil rights and public interest litigation.” With Yelp been on the forefront of the forty companies and nonprofits backing the bills, it has taken new steps to fight back against companies that sue its users by flagging their review sites with a red box headlined “Consumer Alert: Questionable Legal Threats.” Laurent Crenshaw, director of policy  at Yelp San Francisco says, “We’re trying to alert consumers to the fact that these businesses have taken extraordinary legal steps against consumers who have written critical reviews against them on Yelp.”yelp

Just remember when writing an online review to be careful on what you are posting. You do not want to be part of the group of people being sued for their one star review. If you do get a lawsuit in the mail, visit your local attorney and ask him about the laws of the state.

For businesses we recommend to have a solid online reputation management or “ORM” system in place. At Online Advantages, we generate, manage and administer custom plans for our clients.

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