Business Owners Adopt Muzzling Clauses to Avoid Negative Social Media Reviews

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve impatiently scrolled through those online “terms of conditions of service” agreements just to get to the  “ yeah, yeah, yeah, I agree” box so I can move on to my new app, website or amazing, hot off the press free download.  Sure after the South Park, HumancentiPad episode, I slowed my scroll to allow a perfunctory “scan” before checking the box.  But in all honesty, my “slowed scroll” probably wouldn’t keep me from being hauled away and given a prime spot on the centiPad line up (if you haven’t seen the episode, I advise against watching on a full tummy..).

Okay, seriously, there’s no centiPad line up, but I could end up on the losing end of a nasty lawsuit and so could you.  Deep in the text of some of those terms and conditions are hidden muzzling clauses that threaten monetary fines and/or legal retribution if the box checker posts a negative review of the goods or services received by said business. 

Fortunately, this issue has come to the attention of the California State Legislature and Assembly Bill 2365 was born.  The bill Imagedeclares these “non-disparagement” clauses as void and unenforceable unless the consumer knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently agrees to the waiver. Also if a business owner pursues legal action against a consumer for posting a negative review, she must be able to prove that the consumer willingly and with full understanding, accepted the terms of the clause yet, violated them anyway. 

It’s disturbing that business owners feel so much pressure from on-line review sites that it became necessary to resort to such underhanded schemes. I also find it disturbing that some reviewers have given themselves permission to use social review sites as a weapon of coercion against small business.  So while I’m hopeful that AB 2365 passes, I’m also hopeful that dishonest and unethical reviewers begin to recognize the power their words have on the livelihood of a struggling business owner and our economy as a whole.  

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