Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Can a Business Twitter Block You Because of Critical Comments?

Last year in the sate of California a bill was passed (AB 2365) that says:

This bill would prohibit a contract or proposed contract for the sale or lease of consumer goods or services from including a provision waiving the consumer’s right to make any statement regarding the seller or lessor or its employees or agents, or concerning the goods or services. The bill would make it unlawful to threaten or to seek to enforce, a provision made unlawful under the bill, or to otherwise penalize a consumer for making any statement protected under the bill.

This means that businesses in California can not force current or potential customers to agree not to post negative business reviews on social media websites (or anywhere a statement regarding the sellers services can be made).  Of course the customer must be making a truthful and honest statement or they could be subject to being sued by the business for libel, slander, or defamation.

This bill was popularly referred to as the "Yelp Bill" and provides for changes to CA Civil Code 1670.8.  This bill was passed to ensure that customers could be free to make reviews on platforms like Yelp regarding their purchase of a goods or service that are critical of the the business that provided the goods or service.  However, lets assume you are a customer making a comment critical of a seller's services on a platform like Twitter.  Well, CA Civil Code 1670.8 still applies.  What also applies is the CA Unruh Civil Rights Act and CA Civil Code 51.5.  One of the things all of these laws have in common is to guarantee customers do not get unfairly penalized for engaging in activities that are otherwise lawful.

Lets look at the biggest offender I've found on Twitter so far, SeaWorld of San Diego.  What makes them so bad?  If you've been keeping up with the news you will have noticed SeaWorld has gotten a lot of bad press lately:

SeaWorld Bitten By Own Twitter Campaign
SeaWorld Says Suing Investors Haven't Established 'Blackfish' Impact
What SeaWorld’s Sinking Stock Really Means

All this bad press that basically revolves around the issue of animal welfare has made SeaWorld look bad and certainly people will take their opinions to social media platforms like Yelp, FaceBook, or Twitter.  However, SeaWorld, and specifically SeaWorld San Diego, goes further and Twitter blocks those current and potential customers that make statements SeaWorld finds critical of their own animal welfare practices.

The CA Civil Rights Act covers political affiliation.  You can have your own "political opinions" regarding animal welfare, share those with SeaWorld of San Diego, and not have to be otherwise penalized for making a statement protected by AB 2365.

I would encourage anyone who feels like they have been unlawfully denied access to SeaWorld of San Diego's Twitter account, @ClydeSeaWorldSD, to file a public accommodation discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing immediately.