Anti-Review Contracts and Clauses – The Next Step in Social Media Management?

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. My family and I did. We live in Ohio so we went south to Florida for a week in search of a little warmth. We rented a house using Vacation Rental By Owner which I’ve used several times. If you are not familiar with it, it is a place where private home/condo owners list their properties for short-term rentals. Among other things, VRBO has descriptions of the properties, rates, and reviews from past renters. I’ve had very good luck with the properties I’ve rented.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about the place I rented this time because I found this notice on the refrigerator:

“We agree not to post on any web sites regarding this property or other property owned by this owner. All postings, reviews, and use of web sites or links on Twitter, My Space, Facebook, VRBO, Home Away, or any other public publication or internet server are prohibited and must be approved by the owner. Violation of this policy will be deemed Tortious Interference of Business….”

It then goes on to say where the lawsuits will happen. Apparently this was part of the contract my wife signed. She didn’t have a problem with it but I certainly do. Is this the future of social media consumer reviews – managing social media reputation through intimidation of lawsuits? A little Googling showed me that this isn’t unique to the rental property sector. Apparently there is a company that sells anti-review contracts for doctors to have their patients sign. If you Google “anti-review contracts” you can find it.

What do you think of this? Is this legitimate protection of one’s business reputation? I can at least consider that someone might want to put restrictions on people posting at rating sites (but let’s be clear, I don’t agree with that either) but when you extend it to Facebook and Twitter you are basically saying you can’t talk to your friends about your experience. I hope that a court eventually deems these clauses illegal and unenforceable. Until then, I’ll only rent from places that don’t have such clauses in their contracts. That might not save me though. Here is a link to a Wikipedia entry about a customer that endured an extended lawsuit with a company for posting a negative review. The interesting thing here is that the company instituted its anti-review policy after the customer posted her review. They charged her a fine for not taking it down and turned her over to a collection agency (thus affecting her credit rating) when she refused to pay the fine.

As always, your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged.