Benefits of social media in the community association context are numerous, not the least of which are speed and reach. Various online platforms enable communities to instantly deliver information to potentially hundreds or thousands of their residents who are regularly glued to their screens. As a result, however, many communities approach the use of social media as a no-brainer – using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms without much thought, without an understanding of the risks involved, and without any plan to limit those risks.
“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
~ Pearl Strachan Hurd
Potential issues that may arise from association social media use include:
- Claims of defamation, discrimination, harassment, and invasion of privacy – even posts by an individual board member on their personal accounts may be attributed to the association;
- Posts by individual board members contradicting Board actions or positions, thereby diminishing the credibility of the Board;
- Posts compromising association litigation or collection cases;
- Social media fights between neighbors spilling out into the larger community, damaging the community’s reputation;
- Social media platforms turning into de facto board meetings in violation of Florida Statutes and a community’s governing documents; and
- Claims of copyright or trademark infringement – using content or images without permission or proper attribution can subject an association to potentially significant monetary penalties.
Because of these potential issues it is often best for associations to not affirmatively administer or host a social media platform. The primary purpose of most community associations is to protect the community’s property values. In light of this purpose, a board must weigh carefully the benefits of social media use with the potential liabilities involved and make a business decision as to whether such use is in the best interests of the association or whether other communication tools may provide a more effective means of providing information to residents. If a Board does decide to utilize social media, it should do so only after developing a written social media policy that includes provisions intended to limit potential legal liabilities, including by addressing:
- Oversight – Associations cannot ‘set it and forget it’ – every social media platform utilized by an association should be actively monitored, either by a designated director, manager or a committee of persons, to ensure that association-posted content is accurate and current and that no content is harmful – particularly if the association elects to permit comments to be posted by members. Such active monitoring can be a significant administrative burden for some smaller associations. Understand, however, that liabilities discussed above can arise from both affirmative posts made by an association, and a failure by an association to take action in response to information posted on a forum by others.
- Controlled Access – Administrative access to any platform, including authority to post, review and remove content, should be limited to designated association representatives, who have proper training on each utilized platform. Associations should also consider limiting information that is accessible on the platform to association members and residents.
- Controlled Content – A social media policy should address the ‘dos and don’ts of content, including that association-posted content should be limited to accurate and factual information (i.e., information about upcoming association meetings or events), must not be personal in nature, offer personal commentary, disclose potentially private information, (i.e., accommodation requests under the Fair Housing Acts), nor identify owners that are delinquent in assessments. Generally, associations should not address pending or threatened litigation in social media and if so, only after consultation and review by legal counsel. An association should never allow the posting of unrestricted content, including via comments. In the event an association wishes to allow posts or comments by members, its policy should outline clearly what types of comments are objectionable, authorizing the association to remove posts that violate the policy.
- Restricting Inadvertent Association Attribution. Associations may also consider including restrictions on directors’ and officers’ use of their personal social media accounts, prohibiting such persons from posting information or making comments that could be reasonably construed as being made in such person’s capacity as an association representative.
While social media can be a powerful tool, it also has the potential to cause significant harm. The use by associations of social media should therefore be deliberate and professional. Work with your qualified association legal counsel in developing or reviewing any social media policy and take measures to regularly review and update the policy as technology changes and new issues arise. Associations would also be wise to consult with their insurance professionals to ensure that adequate insurance coverage is in place for potential claims resulting from such use