Q: A number of residents in our community have created a Facebook account using the name of the community. Many residents have joined the group under the assumption it is the HOAs official Facebook page. The administrators of the page are not on the Board and so much of the information and rumors spread on the page are false. What can we do?
F.B., Bonita Springs
A: This has become a frequent problem for many communities with the increasing popularity of social media and the growth of social media communities. The Association has a very limited ability to limit what can be posted on social media because residents have a right to assemble on private social media platforms and, accurately or not, voice their opinion on community matters.
These rights, however, do have some limits. Any website or social media platform used by residents should not create confusion whether the page is an official page of the corporation. The homeowners’ association has property rights in the use of the name with respect to community management. Depending on the level of protection and ownership in the community name, you may or may not be able to prevent the residents from using the name of the community, but it is my opinion that you can prevent them from using the name of the community in a manner that creates confusion. If a resident is under the impression that the Facebook page is the community’s official page, that is a problem that should be corrected with, at a minimum, a conspicuous disclaimer or name change.
Next, although you have the right to publish comments on a social media platform, those comments could be actionable if they are defamatory. The analysis on this issue would take more space than allotted, but social media posts can be considered a publication in certain situations where a false statement or accusation could result in liability by the individual posting on the site.
Finally, I am often asked how a Board should deal with inaccuracies on these forums. In my experience, I have seen more inaccurate information and rumors spread on these unofficial social media platforms than I have seen accurate information. In other words, many Board members want to jump into the social media conversation to correct inaccuracies or defend themselves against unjustified or false accusations. Although this urge is completely understandable, those of you reading this article that have tried to engage in this internet debate most likely discovered that the internet is not always a safe space for debate. If my clients insist on posting in these social media platforms, I generally recommend the Board acknowledge that there is inaccurate information and invite the residents to attend a Board meeting for a discussion on the matter.
John C. Goede Esq. is co-founder and shareholder of the Law firm Goede, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC. T o ask questions about your issues for future columns, send your inquiry to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Goede, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC or any of our attorneys. Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein. The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this column.