i3 - May/June 2016 - 37

Policy

BY LAURENT CRENSHAW

G U E ST B LO G
TWO BILLS THAT CONGRESS
SHOULD PASS TO PROTECT
FREEDOM OF SPEECH ON THE
INTERNET

W

hat do you do when you're looking
for a new dentist, planning a trip
out of state or are in the market for
a new TV? Chances are you turn to
the Internet to see what others have to say.
People have always shared their experiences,
ideas and opinions with others. This trait has
resulted in innovation and aided consumers in
making informed decisions on how they spend their
time and money. And the Internet has amplified
this type of sharing. A review of a restaurant, which
would have previously been shared with only a few
people, is now seen by hundreds of people on sites
like Yelp. An opinion piece - on topics ranging
from politics to travel - in a national publication is
now read thousands of times online.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees the benefits of
the growing role online commentary is playing in
our society, and they're instilling stifling tactics -
like gag clauses in consumer form contracts and
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation
(SLAPPs) - to combat them.
Additionally, more and more businesses are
using gag clauses to attempt to silence negative
commentary online. These clauses, often buried
deep in consumer form contracts, allow businesses
to threaten and even fine customers for sharing
their honest, first-hand experiences online.
Along with these gag clauses, other bad actors
are using SLAPPs to stifle speech. These lawsuits
are used to intimidate writers of honest - but negative - reviews by threatening them with steep legal
fees and countless hours spent in court for sharing.
While most SLAPPs do not survive legal challenge,
the threat of a suit is highly effective at getting critics to take down their posts from social networks,
blogs and e-commerce platforms.
Fortunately, two bills have been introduced in
Congress that would limit the reach of these stifling tactics, protecting consumers and promoting
public participation.

C TA . t e c h / i 3

Consumer Review Freedom Act
In September 2015, Senators Thune (R-SD),
Schatz (D-HI) and Moran (R-KS) introduced the
Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015 (S. 2044).
This bill sets out to nullify legally dubious gag
clauses that stifle free speech and reward bad businesses that are willing to bully their clientele with
hefty fines and threats of litigation. We expect the
House to move on this in the near future.
SPEAK FREE Act
Introduced by Representatives Farenthold (R-TX)
and Eshoo (D-CA), the SPEAK FREE Act (HR
2304) - "Securing Participation, Engagement, and
Knowledge Freedom by Reducing Egregious Efforts
Act of 2015" - will allow federal courts nationwide
to determine whether a lawsuit targeting speech is
a SLAPP and, if so, to dismiss it early on in the legal
process. The bill goes even further to include a feeshifting provision, which will minimize actual costs
to the victims of meritless lawsuits.
While there is a patchwork of states that have
anti-SLAPP legislation on their books, we lack a
national baseline. Thus, millions of consumers
across the country are left without an affordable
and robust way to fight abusive litigation brought
forth to silence them. The SPEAK FREE Act
sets to remedy this removing incentive for these
meritless suits in the first place and protecting
consumers' right to free speech.
Yelp strongly supports these two bills, which will
curb the rise of SLAPPs and protect consumers from
nefarious hidden gag clauses in non-negotiable form
contracts. We look forward to continuing our work
to ensure Americans across the country are better
protected when it comes to exercising their right to
free speech, online and off.

Yelp strongly
supports
these two
bills, which
will curb the
rise of SLAPPs
and protect
consumers
from nefarious
hidden gag
clauses in
non-negotiable
form
contracts.

MAY/JUNE 2016

37


http://www.yelp.com http://CTA.tech/i3

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of i3 - May/June 2016

Contents
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i3 - May/June 2016 - Cover3
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