Criticizing a company online can be costly for consumers
Montréal, November 15, 2023 -
Consumers are poorly protected by current laws when posting negative reviews or opinions online about their experiences with companies, according to a study released today by Option consommateurs. Better regulation of online reviews is essential, given the risk of defamation lawsuits and the large sums consumers can be required to pay.
In Canada, consumers have recently been ordered to pay up to $25,000 in Quebec and $115,000 in other provinces for defaming a company online.
"Yet online reviews not only enable consumers to assert their rights individually with companies, they also have a collective, even public-interest dimension, by alerting other consumers to certain problems experienced or questionable practices by a company," argues Véronique Parent, a lawyer at Option consommateurs and author of the report.
A lawsuit should only be admissible when it is clear that the consumer's comments constitute an unlawful exercise of his or her freedom of expression, and that they cause significant economic damage to the company. "We need to allow consumers to express themselves without fear of reprisal, while protecting companies' reputations from unlawful infringement," insists Parent.
At present, it is up to the courts to establish, on a case-by-case basis, the limits of consumers' freedom of expression. That's why consumer protection laws should provide a framework for situations that could give rise to legal action in connection with the publication of a negative review, so that consumers are aware of the applicable guidelines.
What's more, for many consumers, online reviews represent an alternative route to justice when recourse to the courts seems simply unsuitable or inaccessible, notably because of the associated costs and delays.
Option consommateurs We recommend promoting the use of mediation and studying the possibility of setting up an online defamation tribunal to enable consumers and businesses to settle their disputes.
The research project " Criticism of businesses through social media and digital platforms: an alternative path to justice for consumers? " was carried out with funding from the Contribution Program for Non-Profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
About Option consommateurs
Option consommateurs is a non-profit association whose mission is to defend the rights and interests of consumers. It focuses on issues related to personal finance, business practices, financial services, privacy, energy, debt and access to justice.
For more information or an interview:
Marie-Ève Dumont, Director of Communications