Lawmakers work to protect online consumer reviews

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YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- If you have a bad restaurant experience or a less-than-stellar stay at a hotel, you may be tempted to post a negative review online.

That review could land you in hot water, or even result in you being fined.

It's an issue lawmakers in Washington are trying to crack down on, with the Senate passing the Consumer Review Freedom Act unanimously this week.

"Out of 100 people who really love a product, how many people who really love the product are going to go back online and say they really love the product? A lot of times, the people who put the reviews on, they're unhappy people," said York County attorney Steven Stambaugh. He said people often have no idea when you buy something online or book a hotel, some businesses include a "Non-Disparagement" or "Gag Clause" in the fine print. This means when someone has a bad experience and posts about it, the business can fine you.  The bill passed by congress would ban these clauses nationwide, and allow consumers to post truthful reviews regardless of the content.

"Of course you don't read it, I do the same thing. And of course you accept them, because you want to complete the transaction," said Stambaugh.  "As a consumer you fight back and you put something online, simply speaking the truth about what happened, and next thing you know you get a lawsuit, and you end up owing thousands of dollars, because you clicked, I accept." Stambaugh said it can be costly and challenging to defend.

The bill would need to make it through the full Congress and past the president's desk before becoming law.

For consumers like Steve Ankers, he relies on reviews. "I try to find in-depth reviews. I like people who write a paragraph, because then you know they actually used the product, or they actually went there, and they wanted to let you know about their experience," said Ankers, who posts reviews too, mainly when a product is really good or bad. "Everybody is really in it together. You got to help everybody. If somebody can look at my review and say 'wow that`s a really good product,' or 'I shouldn't get this product," he said.

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