As the CEO of one of the nation’s most respected digital branding and marketing agencies, Steven C. Wyer has heard countless horror stories of businesses banning customers from speaking out against poor service. Some claim the addition of an “anti-review clause” is part of the company’s comprehensive image campaign. It is not. And now, Congress has made it clear that these stipulations are unwelcome in a country that was founded on free speech.
An anti-review clause is one that seeks to restrict customers from posting negative reviews online. According to Steven C. Wyer, these anti-disparagement clauses silence unhappy clients with threat of legal action. To counter these efforts, the Consumer Review Freedom Act is currently up for discussion in both the Senate and the House.
Steven C. Wyer distills down the Consumer Review Freedom Act by describing it as a law that would remove the legal authority of existing gag clauses and prevent future inhibitions on free speech. The Act, which is written to cover a broad spectrum of reviews and critiques, prohibits a business from levying fines, bans, or other punishment upon the sharing party. This, says Steven C. Wyer, is in line with previous rulings which have found anti-disparagement clauses in conflict with the First Amendment.
A new economy
It is understandable why some businesses would want to hush unhappy customers. Independent studies have shown that consumers of all ages now turn first to the Internet when making a buying decision. These same studies further found that negative reviews have a significant material impact on a company’s bottom line.
Steven C. Wyer notes there have been many instances where a company has tried to file suit against a reviewer for posting a legitimate experience. These strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP suits for short) are illegal in 28 states. The hope is that a combination of anti-SLAPP laws and the Consumer Review Freedom Act will further protect consumers’ free speech rights, which are more valuable to the country than a business’ ability to perform poorly and hope no one finds out.