Your review has rights (if it’s honest)

A sales or service company cannot force you to sign a contract forbidding you from writing a negative review. But with that right comes responsibility.

Consumer ratings and reviews are essential tools in measuring the marketplace. They even play a part in how I decide which businesses get my #WiseChoice endorsement. Their consumer benefit is why Congress passed the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) to protect your right – to write – a customer review.

According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Education Specialist Bridget Small, the FTC invoked the CRFA when it sued three businesses for using contracts or contract riders to ban their customers from ever writing negative reviews about them, whether they intended to or not. Small said the CRFA renders such contracts unenforceable.

“The CRFA protects your ability to share your honest opinions about a business’s products, services or conduct in any forum, including social media,” Small said. “If you have signed a form contract that restricts you from sharing reviews or penalizes you for doing that, the business may not be able to enforce those restrictions.”

The law essentially guarantees your privilege to share your consumer experiences. Truthful experiences.

There’s the rub. Your review must be honest. The CRFA doesn’t give you the right to say whatever you want about a business. You’re still subject to libel and slander laws, which means a business can still sue you if it believes your review is inaccurate or downright defamatory. To put it plainly, you better be right.

The law doesn’t allow people to write fake positive reviews, either, although those are next to impossible to enforce. Recently, I was about to promote a positive Google review posted for one of my #WiseChoices. When I gave that Wise Choice’s owner the heads-up, she told me she had no clue who the reviewer was…no record of the reviewer ever hiring her company’s services. I discovered the review was a fake, written under a ghost name and profile pic. The source was untraceable: red flag number one. The source had also written reviews for services all over the country — during time periods so close together, the source would’ve had to clone itself in order to receive those services.

Yes, consumer and user reviews are helpful. Yes, federal law protects your right to write them. But you must be responsible and vigilant.

You can’t just write whatever you want — and you can’t believe everything you read.

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