What’s up, WebPunchers? This is Matt Jones, your Professor of WebPunch’s School of Online Reputation Management. Life is good. Sorry it’s been a little bit of time, but we’re back. My drone cuts are finally healing, I’m back to the gym, so things are off to a good start here in March.
I wanted to talk to you today, I want to tell you a little bit about Roca Labs. So this was a weight-loss clinic, and what they would do is, when their patients would come in to get the medicine or whatever, they would make them sign a form. And in that form, there was a lot of fine print that most people didn’t read. I never read fine print, but we probably should. So anyway, Roca Labs, they would make them sign the fine print, and what the patients didn’t understand is that if they went online and wrote a review for Roca Labs that was negative, that’s actually violated that agreement, that contract, because in that contract they were signing away their rights to do that. So that became a big deal and, actually, you would hear quite a bit of people suing other people who had patronized their business for writing them a negative review.
So there was a lot of fine print that had that at a time, there was quite a bit of lawsuits around that. And it became an issue of First Amendment, or free speech, versus libel, which is when you write something that’s negative, untrue, malicious, about a company. So it became, “Gosh, you’re saying something really bad about our company.” What course of action does a business have? So it became a kind of issue there, and the FTC said, “Okay, opinions are fine.” So if you said, “Hey, this restaurant’s lousy,” “This restaurant has bad service,” those are all opinions. If you say, “That restaurant had rats in the kitchen,” that becomes kind of a fact that can be disputed. And so, that became more of kind of a gray area in, you know, whether you’re able to say things that are factually untrue about a business in your review.
So in 2015, there was a bill that was passed called the “Consumer Review Fairness Act”, and most of you probably aren’t aware of that. But the idea was, we want to get rid of practices like Roca Labs, and we want to make sure that people can give their opinions about a business without worrying about being sued. So this was past, and the FTC is the one who’s enforcing it, and what they said is, basically, people can go out and give opinions and write a review about a company. It doesn’t matter if it’s a product or if it’s a service. They can write about any company. They can go on social, they can post pictures, they can write up what their experience was, and that’s totally okay and protected.
But if people write things… there are some things that this Act does not protect against, and areas that you can contest if someone’s written about your business in any of these fashions. So if they falsely identified your business, again, that happens all the time. People think that they’re writing a review about your company and they wrote it about your competitor, which sometimes works in your favor, sometimes it doesn’t. But if someone wrote a review for your company and never did business with you, obviously that review can be contested. Vulgar or obscene reviews are also not protected in the Consumer Review Fairness Act. So we know on Yelp that people can use what’s called “colorful language“. In Yelp’s terms and conditions they state that. But if it’s a vulgar review, those aren’t… again, that could be a little bit subjective, but those aren’t covered under this act. So again, be aware of that.
Also, if the review is misleading, so if it is stating facts that aren’t true, then that’s something that can be contested. If the review is racist, sexist, insert the “ist”, then it can also be contested. Also, if it’s confidential, so if in the review they’re giving patient information, or financial information, or trade secrets, anything like that is not protected and can be contested by businesses.
So it’s really important for business owners to know that these are the rules. People can talk about your business, you can’t sue them. If there are things that are happening here though, they’re outside of the guidelines of this Act, then yes, you do have some remedies. And again, the FTC is the one who’s enforcing this, and they’re the ones who have the teeth to kind of make sure that things are getting done according to this Act. So again, worst comes to worst, you’d work with them. Hopefully first, you would work with a good online reputation management company that would help manage your reviews, and make sure that if any reviews violate these categories that they’ll be taken down. But if you don’t do that, you can try that yourself. And if not, contact the directory. If that doesn’t work and it’s still damaging your business, and you think it falls into a libel situation and one of these categories, then contact the FTC and see what they can do for you.
I’m Matt Jones. Hopefully I dropped some knowledge that you didn’t know before, and we will see you next time on WebPunch’s School of Online Reputation Management.