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The U.S. Government Supports Yelpers' Rights to Complain Online

A recently proposed bill would protect Yelpers who post bad reviews from being fined or sued.

Michael Dorausch/Flickr

Restaurant owners may hate Yelpers, but the U.S. government fully supports them: Today on Capitol Hill, the Senate is holding a hearing to discuss a recently proposed bill that's intended to protect consumers' rights to post negative reviews, says the official Yelp blog.

The Yelp blog notes that this proposed legislation — which was introduced by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) — "would nullify any of the non-negotiable clauses that allow businesses to slap consumers with large fines for sharing their honest feedback." A Senate press release explains the intent of the bill:

Non-disparagement clauses stifle consumer speech by silencing fair criticism in public forums, particularly on websites. An example of a non-disparagement clause the Utah case of Palmer v. where a website demanded a customer remove a negative online review or pay $3,500 in damages because the website’s terms of service included a non-disparagement clause. When the customer refused to pay the penalty, the website reported the $3,500 to credit reporting agencies as an unpaid debt.

The Consumer Review Freedom Act would prohibit business practices like the example above, while still allowing business owners to sue reviewers who make dishonest misrepresentations about their business.

The review site has been rallying to gain federal support for its users' right to speak their minds for some time; the company has previously stated that while the First Amendment offers online reviewers some broad protections, "Businesses and powerful interest groups routinely threaten the rights of consumers who speak out on matters of public interest on sites like Yelp."

Even before any new legislation is put in place, consumers in the U.S. already enjoy greater freedom when it comes to negative online reviews: Last year in France a food blogger was fined $3,400 for posting an unflattering critique of a restaurant on her blog.

Yelpers were also the subject of a recent South Park episode that portrayed them as power-hungry tyrants who threaten one-star reviews if a restaurant doesn't cater to their whims.

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