Participated in a Facebook competition? Can't sue. Shared a picture of a box of Cheerios from their page? Can't sue. Downloaded a coupon for a free pint of ice cream? Can't sue.
General Mills has added legal language to its policy which makes it impossible to take legal action against any of its brands if you've ever engaged with their Facebook pages in any way that could be construed as being personally beneficial. You could almost choke to death on a rogue Lucky Charm or find dogshit in your Haagen Dasz, but you'll have to settle for sending a bad-tempered email. This is known as "forced arbitration".
It makes sense that General Mills are trying to use so-called "brand engagement" against their customers: last year, they had to fork out $8.5 million over false advertising complaints surrounding their yoghurt packaging. In 2012, they had to pay out for another false claim: turns out their Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups and Gushers didn't contain any strawberry. Like, at all.
But for ordinary citizens, this goes against everything we've been taught about consumer rights. Why should liking something on Facebook strip you of your god-given right to sue the shit out of big corporations? If General Mills can get away with this, just imagine other companies trying to muscle in on this – think of a car company stopping crash victims from suing a faulty manufacturer, all because they once liked their page. Some people believe this is only the start.
"Although this is the first case I’ve seen of a food company moving in this direction, others will follow — why wouldn’t you?" Julia Duncan, an arbitration expert at the American Association for Justice, told the New York Times.
We'll leave you with this valuable life lesson: be careful what you like, especially on Facebook.
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot
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