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Yelp is great -- we can praise our favorite stores, shops, and restaurants and complain about false advertising and bad service. And then the businesses ruin it by suing people for bad reviews.
Everyone's got a voice on the Internet these days, and online opinion travels fast, so maybe it's only natural to expect businesses to try and protect their reputation with over-the-top litigation meant to bludgeon their critics into silence. But those days may be over due to a new federal consumer protection law.
Permission to Speak Freely
When companies or other private entities try to silence criticism via lawsuits it's known as a SLAPP: a strategic lawsuit against public participation. The classic example is a citizen's group that opposes real estate development or environmental damage being sued by a commercial developer -- the lawsuit can be so costly and time-consuming that the citizen's group either is unable to continue criticisms or refrains out of fear of further legal action.
SPEAK FREE or Die
H.R. 2304, also known as the SPEAK FREE Act of 2015, is based on anti-SLAPP statutes in California and Texas. The law would provide and expedited way for someone being targeted with such a suit to have it dismissed. The goal is to discourage businesses from threatening to sue customers for sharing public opinions by giving consumers an easier way to get out of the lawsuit.
Whether people are expressing their opinions in the form of a consumer review, an editorial in a newspaper, or commentary on a blog, it's important that they not be bullied into retracting their criticism. Having both of these laws in place at the federal level will ensure that Yelpers, and all Americans who care about their freedom of speech, are protected from wealthy bullies and powerful special interest groups.
We'll be keeping a close eye on these bills protecting consumer free speech -- they've got a long way to go to become law.