Good News for Consumers
Here is good news for consumers wanting to leave honest reviews of their experiences with contractors and other businesses, even when deemed harsh or negative. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently sued three businesses and two of their owners for violating the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA). Important to note, two of the businesses were related to the home improvement space: an HVAC/ electrical contractor, and a flooring reseller.
The Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA)
The CRFA protects a consumer’s ability to share truthful accounts of actual experiences regarding particular vendors, and their products and services. Recently, three companies were called to task by the enforcement agency for using form contracts that barred customers from sharing negative comments and imposed financial penalties against customers who shared their negative experiences online. The FTC cited the three companies and banned them from using non-disparagement clauses in their form contracts for their goods and services. Furthermore, the FTC deemed these clauses to be prohibited and unenforceable.
Over recent years, consumers have come to rely on customer review-based websites such as Yelp and Angie’s List for due diligence on vendors’ goods and services. However, a number of high profile legal cases have tested consumers’ rights to tell the truth in their online reviews.
The California case of Hassell v. Bird, filed in 2016, in which a law firm sued a disgruntled client for posting a negative Yelp review was a significant case for online freedom of speech. The original complaint was against one of the law firm’s former, dissatisfied clients, not Yelp. However, Yelp protested a court order to remove the review arguing that it was a protected action of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The lower court disagreed, and ruled in the law firm’s favor. However, in mid-2018 the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Yelp, which caused the law firm to appeal to the US Supreme Court.
It is Not Illegal if What You Write is True
The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which is a win for review sites and their reviewers who post negative experiences that are honest and truthful. Since the State Supreme Court’s ruling on defamatory reviews stands, this makes it legal to post honest reviews, even if you paint the worst picture of the contractor or business. Remember – it is not illegal if what you write is true, but you should be prepared to stand behind the comments and claims in your review.
In order for public participation reviews to work well, consumers should feel confident that they have the law on their side when writing the truth about a poor experience with a contractor or other vendor. Attempts to silence people online will continue, but the prevailing rulings will stand and protect your rights, as long as you can support the statements in your review.
So go ahead, write that review and share your nightmare or disastrous experiences. The goal is to protect and warn others from having to endure what you have already experienced. In the end, we all win, when the light of honest reviews helps to weed out poor and shoddy contractors.