Have you ever spent a night in a damp, dirty, splooge-encrusted hotel room? Has a restaurant ever served you a meal that was gross and obviously (and badly) microwaved? Me too. For a lot of people, the first port of call in these scenarios is Yelp, or TripAdvisor. The problem is that a lot of companies have a tendency to get a bit litigious in these scenarios.
Thankfully, Congress just advanced a bill that makes it much harder for businesses to sue customers for posting negative reviews. The Consumer Review Fairness Act bars businesses from sneaking non-disparagement clauses into contracts with customers. Before the bill becomes law, both houses and the president will have to sign off on it.
There have been plenty of examples of businesses suing their customers for speaking their mind. In May this year, a North Texas petsitting business sued a young couple for $1 million after they left a one-star review on Yelp, thereby breaking a disparagement clause.
This phenomenon isn’t just limited to America, either. In September, 2013 the L’Hotel Quebec in Sainte-Foy, Canada filed suit against a guest for $95,000 after he posted a damning review to TripAdvisor which described a bed bug infestation.
Even the sites themselves aren’t safe. The month prior, the Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee sued Tripadvisor for $10 million (and lost) after topping its 2011 list of America’s dirtiest hotels.
Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor rely on people having the confidence to speak their mind. Lawsuits targeting these reviews creates a chilling effect that undermines that confidence. If this bill eventually comes into force, it’ll ensure that customers can speak frankly without the fear of a costly and lengthy lawsuit.
Of course, it shouldn’t take a law for hotels and restaurants to realize that gagging their customers is typically a bad idea. Take the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, which used to fine wedding parties $500 for any negative reviews posted by a guest. This caused the Internet to flood Yelp, FaceBook, and Trip Advisors with literally hundreds of negative protest reviews.
The hotel owner was forced to quickly backtrack, and the Union Street Guest House closed for good on May 25, 2015.