If you haven’t heard of “gag clauses”at the consumer level, they are becoming a reality that we need to be aware of and stand up against.
Essentially, businesses are writing into their contracts and terms of service that you, as the consumer, can’t write a negative review about them.
For example (from USA Today):
John and Jen Palmer, an Oregon couple, learned about this the hard way. It started with a $20 purchase from online retailer KlearGear.com in 2008. The Palmers never got the merchandise, Jen Palmer told a Senate panel last month, and she lambasted KlearGear online.
Three years later, KlearGear demanded that the Palmers remove the review or pay $3,500 for violating a “non-disparagement” clause. When the review wasn’t removed, an unpaid $3,500 debt showed up on John Palmer’s credit report.
I definitely understand the argument of protecting businesses from false/vindictive negative reviews but at the same time, many consumers rely on both positive and negative reviews to make better purchasing decisions.
While our legal and regulatory agencies continue to hash-out how to handle consumer “gag clauses,” we can take immediate action: If a business won’t allow you to write an honest (potentially negative) review, don’t do business with them.
For example, I hire professional photographers from time-to-time. I can’t imagine if one of these photographers asked me to sign a “gag clause.” I wouldn’t do business with them.
First, as someone who does look at references and online reviews for photographers, I would immediately question how good and professional they really are. I would have to assume that everyone else has also signed a “gag clause” which means I really don’t have a good understanding of how good they are.
Second, what if it goes badly? I believe heavily in writing honest reviews to inform other customers and I want to be able to warn others of a bad experience.
Third, I don’t make a habit of limiting my free speech and wouldn’t respect or trust a business that asked me to.
Sadly, this also means being more careful, as consumers, to read those pesky, long terms of service before doing business with an organization.