Arizona contemplating bill to ban negative online reviews of businesses, could make reviewers into criminals


ARIZONA — State residents might need to think twice before leaving a negative online review about the last greasy spoon they ate at if politicians have their way.

According to a report by Arizona Mirror, a bill has been introduced to the Arizona State Legislature that would add social media messages to the state’s extortion law so that people who leave negative or nasty reviews of businesses could potentially be considered criminals.

One sentence in the proposed Senate Bill 1001 makes it clear it would not matter whether a social media statement or comment was actually true or false:

“Expose a secret or an asserted fact IN A SOCIAL MEDIA MESSAGE AS DEFINED IN SECTION 16-901 OR IN ANY OTHER MANNER, whether true or false, tending to subject anyone to hatred, contempt or ridicule or to impair the person’s credit or business.”

The bill notes that “theft by extortion” could be either a class 2 or class 4 felony.

According to Arizona Mirror, a typical minimum sentence for a class 2 felony is three years in prison.

On March 16, Just Communities Arizona reported that the bill was later modified to make it a class 4 felony instead.

However, the Senate’s “engrossed” version of Senate Bill 1001 appears to retain flexibility regarding what is considered “theft by extortion.”

Therefore, depending on the circumstances, a person could commit a theft by extortion that is either a class 2 or class 4 felony.

The amended section is as follows:

“Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Arizona:

“Section 1. Section 13-1804, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended to read:

“13-1804Theft by extortion; classification

  1. A person commits theft by extortion by knowingly obtaining or seeking to obtain property or services by means of a threat to do in the future any of the following:
  2. Cause physical injury to anyone by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or cause death or serious physical injury to anyone.
  3. Cause physical injury to anyone except as provided in paragraph 1 of this subsection.
  4. Cause damage to property.
  5. Engage in other conduct constituting an offense.
  6. Accuse anyone of a crime or bring criminal charges against anyone.
  7. Expose a secret or an asserted fact IN A SOCIAL MEDIA MESSAGE AS DEFINED IN SECTION 16-901 OR IN ANY OTHER MANNER, whether true or false, tending to subject anyone to hatred, contempt or ridicule or to impair the person’s credit or business.
  8. Take or withhold action as a public servant or cause a public servant to take or withhold action.
  9. Cause anyone to part with any property.
  10. Take or withhold action regarding an alleged claim of easement or other right of access to an adjoining property if both of the following occur:

“(a) The claimant’s property interest is the result of a tax lien purchase or foreclosure pursuant to title 42, chapter 18.

“(b) The fair market value of the claimant’s property is equal to or less than the amount paid by the claimant for the purchase of the tax lien or foreclosure, including taxes paid after the lien purchase and any costs and attorney fees paid in connection with the lien foreclosure.  For the purposes of this subdivision, ‘fair market value’ means the fair market value as defined in section 33-814, subsection A as of the date of the theft.

  1. It is a defense to a prosecution under subsection A, paragraph 5, 6 or 7 of this section if a reasonable person would believe that the property or services were obtained or sought to be obtained by the threat of a reasonable accusation, exposure, lawsuit or other invocation of official action.
  2. Theft by extortion is a class 4 felony, except that threatTHEFT by extortion under subsection A, paragraph 1 of this section is a class 2 felony.”

Senate Bill 1001 was introduced by Republican Senator Vince Leach and is supported by several different Chamber of Commerce groups.

For example, Eric Emmert of the East Valley Chamber of Commerce Alliance likes Senate Bill 1001.

Emmert told Arizona Mirror that the bill would prevent people from extorting businesses via bad reviews.

Emmert gave an example:

“I want a free X or I will leave a bad review. That by definition is theft by extortion.” 

Emmert also claimed that “every retailer” has faced this issue in “some form or another” and admitted that existing state law against extortion likely covers the issue, but they are asking lawmakers to specifically add social media in order to help businesses that are being targeted.

Jan Newton, a cake business owner who also sits on the board of directors for the Mesa Chamber of Commerce, supports the bill as well, according to Arizona Mirror’s report.

Speaking before a House Judiciary committee on March 16, Newton said:

“Online reviews are very important to us. A one-star Google review can be extremely disastrous to us.”

Arizona Mirror noted:

“Newton said during her testimony that guests will leave the store and say a product is not to their liking and request additional items as a consolation, often threatening a bad review if they don’t get their demands met, Newton said.

“Newton admitted that she has not seen a loss in revenue from this issue and that it happens only once every month to six months.

“She also said she has never tried to use the state’s existing extortion laws to pursue legal action against anyone that has attempted to do this at her store.”

Politicians also chimed in and expressed concerns.

Rep. Melody Hernandez (D-Tempe) said:

“The fact of the matter is that teeth currently exist in the statute but it isn’t being used for whatever reason.”

Hernandez added that she was concerned that changing the law would sweep in people who were not bad actors:

“There are just a lot of unanswered questions.”

Rep. Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler) suggested a better solution might be the Chamber of Commerce Alliance training businesses so that they can learn their rights. She also pointed out:

“I feel like what we’ve learned is that we already have laws on the books.” 

Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) told the committee that his “six-figure” real estate business was destroyed three years ago by people leaving negative reviews on Angie’s List and Home Advisor calling him a “bigot.”

Finchem added:

“Having some considerable personal experience with this, I’m not going to go as far as saying there should be no limit on punishment.

“Using social media in an anti-social way, the fact that this happens makes my blood boil.

“I know I’m not the only person who this has happened to.”

Arizona Mirror reported that the bill passed along party lines and will head for a full vote by the House.

Negative reviews do appear to have a big impact.

Daily US Times reported in 2020 that Google had deleted millions of negative TikTok reviews from its play store after the Chinese social media app was facing huge backlash and its rating fell from 4.5 to 1.2 stars overnight.

The White House’s official YouTube channel disabled comments months ago because most were highly critical and negative of the Biden administration.

YouTube deleted what appeared to be thousands of “dislikes” from several videos on the White House’s YouTube channel, according to a report by The Epoch Times.

It also appears that YouTube decided to help the Biden administration by disabling its own “dislike” feature on the video platform.

Critics say it is because the White House’s YouTube content was getting more “dislikes” than “likes” despite thousands of views.

Last November, YouTubeCensorship.Com reported:

“Video sharing website YouTube announced Wednesday, Nov. 10, that it will remove all dislikes from public view to shield content creators from harassment – a move that is actually meant to protect the White House and mainstream media.

“YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said that the removal of dislike counts from public view aims to “better protect creators from harassment and reduce dislike attacks.

In a video also released on Wednesday, YouTube Head Content Liaison Matt Kovan said: ‘Research teams at YouTube have found there’s this whole other use for disliking a video. Apparently, groups of viewers are targeting a video’s dislike button to drive up the count, turning it into something like a game with a visible scoreboard. it’s usually just because they don’t like the creator or what they stand for.’

“Kovan clarified that while the dislike button will be staying on videos, total dislike counts will now be private. ‘You can still dislike videos … but you won’t be able to see the dislike count. Only the creator can find it on the back end, if they want.’”

Want to make sure you never miss a story from Law Enforcement Today?  With so much “stuff” happening in the world on social media, it’s easy for things to get lost.  

Make sure you click “following” and then click “see first” so you don’t miss a thing!  (See image below.)  Thanks for being a part of the LET family!
Facebook Follow First


Submit a Correction
Related Posts