The relationship between franchisees and franchisors can be contentious at times. With today's instant access to a worldwide audience, the resolution of conflict, before escalation, is imperative for the franchised owner, the system and the franchisor. Freedom of speech applies to blogs, websites, comments to articles, Facebook, Linkedin and the like. If negative opinions are being publicly communicated, clearly that party has not been able to resolve their issues, and is seeking justice in the court of popular opinion. The problem is that "justice" can also serve to hamper the same franchised system the complainer is a part of.
Franchise participants need to be aware of discontent, and begin to address it early. Sweeping it under the rug, ignoring it or being defensive just causes the flames of anger to swell.
Recently in Golob v Kelley a California court found in favor of a website owner that had posted negative opinions and disparaging but true facts about a franchise founder. Mr. Golob sued, claiming he was injured by the comments.
As you will see in the article recounting the drama, the court ruled against Mr. Golob and required him to pay the opposing parties attorney's fees. The court clearly opined that the expressions of discontent are protected speech, as is the statement of fact, even if it is negative and harmful to a parties reputation.
In my experience the best systems have a dispute resolution mechanism already embedded in their process. It may be a single franchisor representative who acts as an ombudsman of sorts, or a mediation program, allowing parties to work towards resolution through a neutral, but they understand; getting past the dispute and back to business is key.