One of the most important values in the United States is freedom of speech. As Americans, we want to be able to express ourselves without interference. This value includes online reviews for goods and services.
Although there has been some retaliation from some companies against people who leave negative reviews on various websites, the US legislature has stepped in recently to protect the rights of Americans to state their opinions without such recourse, according to a recent article in arstechnica.com.
How Companies Use Gag Clauses
Many sellers write gag clauses into the fine print of their user agreements. Non-disparagement clauses prohibit consumers from posting negative reviews. In the primary case that sparked the recent bill, “a company demanded the removal of a negative online review or payment of $3,500 in fines because the online merchant’s terms of service included a non-disparagement clause.”
The Importance of Freedom in Online Reviews
It’s obvious that consumers being fined by companies for leaving negative reviews would have a tremendous impact on consumer rights.
Especially in a market dominated by online purchases, where word of mouth and standard print advertising is not nearly as important as it once was, online reviews are extremely important for people making purchasing decisions.
This legislation, which should be signed into law without incident, is an important move for the rights of consumers.
We will keep our eye on this legislation. In the meantime, if your rights as a consumer are being violated by non-disparagement clauses of this kind, talk with an experienced lawyer right away.