In an age where people increasingly rely on social media as their source for news, entertainment, and socialization, it is natural that community associations have begun to take a serious look at social media as a potential means of disseminating information to residents as well as fostering a sense of community spirit. While social media can, in fact, be a valuable tool, problems may arise in the association context because comments or posts attributed to the association (rightly or wrongly) can expose the association to liability including claims of defamation, discrimination, harassment, invasion of privacy and the like.
Before participating in social media, one of the first determinations an association will need to make is what degree of administrative oversight, if any, it wants to have over a page or feed dedicated to the neighborhood. While directly administering a page and monitoring content might at first seem desirable because the association can control what is posted, it places an enormous responsibility upon an association to monitor the page or feed and remove inappropriate content in a timely fashion.
Two social media platforms commonly used by neighborhoods, each with different degrees of oversight, are Nextdoor and Facebook. Nextdoor is a platform designed specifically for neighborhoods and allows for the creation of a private neighborhood page, access to which is granted only to those who verify their residency or ownership within that neighborhood. An association would not have the ability (or responsibility) to control content on a Nextdoor neighborhood page because the site is administered by the staff of Nextdoor, who are ultimately responsible for moderating comments and posts and for verifying the residency and ownership eligibility requirements. An aspect of Nextdoor that associations should be aware of, however, is that the distribution of posts can be expanded to residents of other nearby neighborhoods. While this provides a great way to advertise a community garage sale, there could be serious ramifications if an association accidentally distributed private information to other neighborhoods. Unlike Nextdoor, Facebook allows any person to create a page, public or private, which is then controlled by the person or entity that created the page. Liability risks aside, an association could potentially create its own private neighborhood Facebook page, control access to the page, and control the content. Before doing this, however, an association would want to adopt a strong social media policy establishing clear guidelines for the administration of the page and allowable content.
Even if an association decides that it does not want to administer a page or feed on a social media platform, if a neighborhood page already exists (such as on Nextdoor or Facebook), the association will still need to consider to what extent board members should be allowed to participate on these sites. As comments by individual board members might be construed as representing the board’s position, might create dissension among other board members, or might undermine previous board decisions, associations may want to institute policies prohibiting board members from participating on such sites or at least from posting or commenting on association issues.
Clearly, an association’s participation in social media raises a host of issues. Thus, before jumping into the social media pool, an association will want to carefully weigh the benefits against the potential pitfalls and liability risks. If an association is interested in using social media for its neighborhood, it should contact its association’s attorney to discuss risks and develop a social media policy that best protects and serves the association’s needs.