House Passes Bill Blocking Anti-Disparagement Clauses

The House Monday (Sept. 12) passed a bipartisan bill hailed as striking a blow for online free speech.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 (H.R. 5111) was approved by voice vote on suspension of the rules, a way to fast-track a bill with broad support.

It effectively disallows so-called "anti-disparagement clauses" meant to prevent negative online reviews.

“Online reviews have become an integral part of daily life," said Linda Moore, president and CEO of TechNet. "With nearly 70% of consumers relying on them to make a purchase, consumers should never second-guess posting a candid review for fear of retaliation. By banning the use of non-disparagement clauses, consumers can post honest reviews and hold bad businesses accountable without punishment. TechNet thanks Reps. [Leonard] Lance [R-N.J.] and [Joe] Kennedy [D-Mass.]for their leadership in securing this legislation’s passage.”

Yelp, whose site is based on providing consumer reviews of local businesses and services, hailed the bill.

"With a similar bill having already passed the Senate, it is our hope that gag clauses will soon be explicitly prohibited across America by the end of the year," said Yelp director of public policy Laurent Crenshaw.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), pointed out in praising the bill that some consumers have found themselves on the wrong end of multimillion dollar lawsuits for negative reviews for goods or services on Yelp and TripAdvisor.

“The internet was created to be a place where anyone can go to freely and openly share information. But what good is that information really if it’s being cut down and censored by gag orders to screen out anything negative?” asked Issa. “The legislation we’ve passed today will ensure the marketplace remains open, honest and transparent by protecting consumers' right to free speech online.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.