Consumer Gag Orders

News
Thursday, March 31, 2011 - 9:23am

Many businesses are going after customers who post critical reviews online.

At 150 pounds, Tuna is a lot of dog, who gives, and gets, a lot of love.

"We adopted tuna from a rescue." Says Kristin Gansheimer, Tuna’s owner.

So when Kristin left for a weeklong trip to Mexico, she took her Tuna to a cage free boarding facility.

"I was paying them to take good care of my dog."

But, she says, Tuna came back with a nickel-sized hole in his shoulder.

"It was an open wound, and the skin was peeled back…" Says Kristin.

Unhappy with the company's response, Kristin did what millions of people do these days.

She posted an online review.

"I gave details, and I gave my opinions of what had happened. I didn't feel like I was being treated honestly."

But that wasn't the end of her ordeal.

"I got a call from them threatening to sue me for slander or libel if I didn't take it down." Says Kristin.

She says they even sent a letter promising to file legal papers against her calling her review "slanderous and defamatory."

Kristin's not alone.

A quick search of popular review sites show plenty of consumers are reporting this type of bullying and intimidation, but now some businesses are going even further and requesting your signature on a consumer gag order.

Angie Hicks, founder of angieslist.com, says the practice violates the consumer’s first amendment rights.

"Whether it be health professionals or retailers that are actually asking consumers to waive their rights of freedom of speech which is just crazy. No one should have to give up such a fundamental right in order to get good service."

A recent Angie's List poll of contractors showed one in San Francisco admitted he asked customers to sign such a waiver and another online appliance retailer puts in its terms that it will pursue libel charges if customers post lies.

But do you have to sign on the dotted line when faced with a contract like this?

"Absolutely you should say no if you see a contract like this." Says Hicks.

Hicks says you are protected when you tell the truth and you have a right to share your opinion.

"If you say that paint job was sloppy then that's your opinion. You'll hear how companies say you can't say that, well you do have a right to your opinion. We have been in the reviews business for 16 years. In that time, I've not been aware of a single judgment against a member in regard to a post they've put on Angie's List."

"I try to be as factual and honest as possible when writing a review." Says online reviewer Dena Maguire.

Maguire says she relies on review sites for recommendations, and says savvy businesses know how to find the positive in a negative review.

"I'll get a response saying, 'thank you so much for the review. We didn't realize this was a problem. We'll work on this and fix it because now we know it is a problem."

Kristin says she edited, but never removed her negative review and the company never sued.

Like most consumers, she believes companies that address complaints and apologize are far more effective than any gag order, especially in this era of online feedback.

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