Should Posting Be a Crime? reports a bill that would protect consumers from being sued by a company if they write a bad review and post it online.

One of the powers of the internet is for people to freely express their opinion about products and services they use. This can be a big benefit for businesses or the downfall of their online reputation. These comments aren’t regulated and there is no requirement they be proven by the person posting the comment.

To prevent unwarranted attacks, some companies wrote “non-disparagement” clauses into their contracts. In essence, these clauses told people they could not post any disparaging comments or posts on the internet. If they did, they would be fined for the post. Some posts were made and people were billed, as you can imagine, lawsuits followed.

These clauses had a chilling effect on sites like OnlineReputationReviews, Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Yahoo. These sites rely on people to give honest and unbiased reviews, both good and bad. If people thought they could become involved in litigation over posts, they might be less likely to express their opinion. Yelp was very supportive of the legislation. They even created a consumer alert letting people know they have a right to post their opinions. The Better Business Bureau, arguably the granddaddy of all review sites, prohibits the use of the clauses by members.

Consumer Review Freedom Act

In December of 2016, Congress passed the Consumer Review Freedom Act. This act, authored by Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, prevents companies from including non-disparagement clauses in their contracts. The act passed Congress and is on it’s way to President Obama’s desk. If signed, the bill will give power to the Federal Trade Commission and states to prevent companies from including the clauses in contracts and terms of service.