Social Media and Community Associations

If you live in a community association, serve on its board or manage a community association, you probably have to deal with social media. Gone, for the most part, are neighborhood newsletters sent out through the mail, or simple notifications of events on a bulletin board in the clubhouse. Most communities have a Facebook or similar social media platform where members can learn about pool parties, share items for sale and gather support for charitable activities. These are positive developments- but less positive is the opportunity the social media platform creates for the sharing of complaints, personal attacks or even outright falsehoods. In the past year I have seen members use a community’s social media platform to threaten their neighbors with bodily harm, call their board members liars and cheats and in general sow the seeds of disharmony. This is clearly not the purpose for which the social media platform is intended, and most, if not all, of this misuse can be addressed through adoption of a good social media policy. Ideally, a social media policy will:

  • Define and limit who has access to the community site
  • Limit access to “Friends” on Facebook and to association members on at least some sections of the website
  • Control who can speak on association platforms
  • Establish clear terms of use of the platform, and expressly prohibit negative or disparaging comments about individuals or entities
  • Prohibit publication of any confidential or potentially embarrassing information which may violate owners’ or employees’ privacy rights
  • Assert the right of the Board to remove comments that violate the standards for published comments and deny access to individuals who fail to respect the terms of use
  • Establish procedures for screening content before it is posted, or for removing posted comment quickly when it is deemed to be offensive, libelous or otherwise inconsistent with the usage standards

Invariably you will have someone complain that they are being denied “free speech,” and they are correct- they are not being given complete freedom to state whatever they want on the association’s social media page. The association owns its own social media platform and may establish rules and terms for its use.

Of course, restrictions on the social media usage are only as good as the policing that is done on the site. Someone- typically a social media committee- will have to periodically monitor the site for objectionable content and move as quickly as they reasonably can to remove such content. Board members often ask me if they are opening themselves up to liability if they fail to remove objectionable content quickly enough, and my response, so typical for a lawyer, is it depends. The terms of use should state how often the site will be reviewed, and establish procedures for reporting of objectionable content. As long as the site is monitored as laid out in the policy, and objectionable content is removed as quickly as possible, it is probably unlikely that the association would face any liability. Someone can always sue, but I would feel pretty good defending our actions in a courtroom in this situation.

The attorneys at Law Firm Carolinascan help you with these and other Community Association issues.

HOA & Condo Associations