Mishmeres HaSholom: Ask the Rav

Q:In the past, I’ve cooperated with consumer survey companies who questioned me about my brand preferences for items such as dairy products, disposable diapers, etc. Recently, however, it dawned upon me that this practice may be problematic because of the lashon hara involved. Often, when dissatisfied, an honest answer to a question such as “How do you compare Brand A yogurt to Brand B?” could turn into a clear-cut case of lashon hara. On the other hand, if I say that I’m satisfied with a particular product, I may be condoning a manufacturer’s behavior of delighting in a competitor’s deficiencies.

Is it indeed forbidden to take part in their survey calls? In the case that it is prohibited, how can I do teshuvah over my past wrongdoings?

A:Though it isn’t assur to tell an individual about your preference of one product over another, when discussed in the public forum of statistics there is a dangerous risk that what you say will evolve into slander. Reviewers calculate figures and then publicize their high percentage of satisfied consumers alongside the lower percentage of unsatisfied consumers for a similar brand. Sometimes they go so far as to publicize the percentage of unsatisfied consumers of a specific product. Such publicity constitutes lashon hara. By cooperating with these statistics we are promoting lashon hara and hotzaas laaz. (As a rule, discussing differences in brands is not a commendable activity, even if the survey wouldn’t pose a problem of lashon hara.)

Having cooperated with surveys in the past, you must do teshuvah by feeling remorse, saying viduy, and resolving to do better in the future.