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WEBSITES, FACEBOOK & NEXTDOOR

Benefits. More associations are discovering the benefits of internet websites. They provide easy 24/7 access to the association's CC&Rs, bylaws, rules, architectural standards, minutes, financial statements, and newsletters.

Problems. Websites also expose associations to potential liability for defamation, theft of personal information, invasion of privacy, and "rights" organizations seeking litigation targets. To minimize such risks, associations should divide their websites into two sections: (i) one that is open to the public, and (ii) one that is members-only, and password protected.

Members Only. The public portion of the site can have a welcoming page with a description of the development and pictures of the project. The members-only section should contain the governing documents, financial statements, minutes, names of board and staff members, etc. Boards should be cautious about posting the names of delinquent owners, and should not post employee disciplinary actions, executive session minutes, or attorney-client privileged communications.

Chat Rooms. Association-sponsored online forums, chat rooms, and bulletin boards allow members to get to know each other and let off a little steam. Unfortunately, they are frequently taken over by small groups of disaffected owners who engage in personal attacks, gossip, obscenities, hostile diatribes, and defamation. Also, some owners have the mistaken belief that chat rooms serve as a means for communicating with the board and making demands. Directors who respond to such communications expose their association to potential risk.

Facebook. Facebook poses similar risks for associations if proper protocols are not established. If an association sets up a Facebook account, the admin settings should be set so only the board or management can post pictures. Individual members should not be allowed to post pictures or make comments on the site. Another precaution: the association should get written permission before posting pictures of members and their children.

Owner Websites. Owners can create their own websites and post assocaition information on them. However, they need prominent disclaimers making it clear that their website is not the association's website, and that they  do not speak for the association. Also, owners should not use the association's name and logo on their website. Otherwise, they may incur potential liability for misrepresentation and violate provisions of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 (15 U.S.C. §1125(d)) and provisions of the Lanham Act which protects trademarks. Also, see Internet Library of Law.

Next Door. NextDoor is a social network for neighborhoods. It is a neighbor-to-neighbor forum that gives homeowners a convenient place to share information about a good handyman, plumber, or electrician. It can be used to post things for sale, information about local events, or ask for help finding a lost pet. Some consider it the best neighborhood social network ever created, while others consider it the spawn of Hell. It can be both, depending on how it is used. NextDoor is useful when it is used to pass on helpful information about vendors and local events. Unfortunately, some HOA members use it to rant endlessly about the board, the manager, or to bully other members and polarize the community. The site can turn into a toxic dump. Following are comments from former users:

  • I subscribed to NextDoor when I moved into my neighborhood. I have since unsubscribed from all notifications for it - it's insanely toxic and people are really terrible on there.
  • I absolutely hate Nextdoor. The most toxic social media... neighbors against neighbors. I strongly suggest staying away from this app. I am so sorry I signed up for it. Bullying is at an all time high.

National Public Radio learned how easily bad actors can hijack social media. NPR disabled the "comment" portion of their website. They discovered that "public" input turned out to be only .06% of their listeners. They also discovered that the majority of that tiny fraction consisted mostly of disaffected ranters who were abusive and posted endlessly. In other words, the crazies took over. The same thing can happen with NextDoor, where bullies and trolls take over.

Recommendation: To keep NextDoor a friendly forum for owners to use, those in charge of the network should set guidelines on what can be posted, and stop abusive behavior that can ruin it for everyone. They should block those who use the forum to rant, attack neighbors, board members, and managers, and make threats. Otherwise, 

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

Adams Stirling PLC