Many of us sign contracts without carefully reading all of that small print. In this day and age of social media reviews – Yelp, TripAdvisor, FaceBook – you might get in trouble, in fact you might get sued by posting an unfavorable review. By agreeing to the terms of service in the tiny print, some customers are unwittingly giving away their right to free speech. The specific right? The one to write negative reviews on an online platform.
Experts say that more companies from hotels, to wedding photographers and dentists are slipping non-disparagement clauses (and other language that prevents consumers from writing negative reviews) into the fine print almost no one bothers to read. Consumers who violate these policies may be sued and fined — even if the complaints are 100% true.
A hotel in Hudson, N.Y., demands you pay them if you — or any of your wedding guests — write a bad review of the hotel. Specifically, the policy reads: “There will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event.” Pretty soon after you hear, “you may kiss the bride,: you will also hear the officiant remind attendees not to write negative reviews online.
What is the driver? Increasingly people both write online reviews of companies and turn to online reviews to figure out what companies to do business with. We apparently like talking and reading – as of the fourth quarter of 2013, there were more than 53 million reviews on Yelp (the number of reviews on the site grew 47% from the year prior) and the site has more than 120 million monthly visitors.
A bad review can hurt business and many companies are trying to prevent consumers from bad-mouthing them — even when what they say is true. Some consumers are fighting back and the battles are escalating to the courts.
It’s a jungle out there!