People who use the Internet without ill intent have become addicted to online reviews. Every marketing expert knows that word-of-mouth is the most effective type of advertising a company can get, and online reviews are treated like word-of-mouth by a large majority of Internet users. It is estimated that 84 percent of all online consumers trust online reviews and use them as part of their decision making process.
As more companies catch on to the importance of online reviews, there has been a growing trend of companies abusing the Internet to get positive reviews those companies do not deserve. In the terms of service for many websites, there is hidden a clause called the "non-disparagement" clause. In general, these clauses say that any user who posts a bad review of the website online will be fined. These gag orders have gotten so bad that now even apartment complexes and office buildings are including them in their lease agreements. If you don't like your office building and you post it on social media or on Yelp, you could be fined.
There are two primary issues with non-disparagement clauses. The first is that customers do not get an accurate feel for the real feedback being offered about a company or website. If negative reviews are punishable by fines, then people are not going to leave negative reviews or they will remove their negative review to avoid having to pay the fine.
The other problem with non-disparagement clauses is that website owners do not feel that they have to market their website properly or treat customers with respect to get good reviews. Digital marketing experts dislike non-disparagement clauses because they discourage website owners from realizing that they have to utilize a professional marketing company to get the best possible results. In other words, non-disparagement clauses make website owners lazy.
There are two routes the government could have taken to solving this problem. The first would have been to declare non-disparagement clauses unconstitutional because they infringe on the public's first amendment right to free speech. While this would seem the easy way to solve the problem, it would have required action on the part of the Supreme Court that may have taken months to initiate.
Congressman Leonard Lance decided to pursue the other solution available to the government and that was to make non-disparagement clauses illegal. In December 2016, Congressman Lance and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan signed the bill that would become the Consumer Review Fairness Act once it is signed by either President Obama or President Trump after Trump is inaugurated.
Once the Consumer Review Fairness Act is made into law, the business of digital marketing can go back to normal. Digital agencies can get their clients to focus on website quality again, and take the necessary steps to achieve premium customer satisfaction. Website owners must start to put the focus on themselves to improve their websites and develop reasons for customers to leave positive reviews instead of negative ones.
Businesses were forcing customers to give the business websites positive reviews and no one ever realized it. By the time the practice of using non-disparagement clauses was brought to light, the federal government was already working on a solution. At some
point in 2017, website owners will no longer be allowed to infringe on the first amendment rights of their customers and those owners will have to earn every positive review they get.