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You Are the Gatekeeper: Creating Guidelines for Association Websites to Avoid a Defamation Lawsuit.

More and more community associations are choosing to have an association website in order to facilitate increased communication with the owners. In fact, some states have made it a requirement in order to achieve this goal. While an association website can be an amazing tool to highlight the beautiful amenities of a community and easily provide important information to the owners, board members must be cautious about how and what it publishes, as distributing negative information about an owner or other individuals may result in a lawsuit for defamation of character.

Defamation is defined as a false publication which injures a person’s reputation.  There are two basic types of defamation claims: libel and slander. In short, libel is written defamation whereas slander is spoken defamation, although either form may lead to expensive and protracted litigation.

When formatting its website, an association should be diligent not to publish sensitive information related to an individual owner, such as ongoing enforcement actions.  Enforcement matters should be only reflected in the board’s executive session minutes, and never placed on the association’s website.

Boards should also consider restricting who can post content to the website and should always have final approval of the content before it is published. Given the anonymous nature of the internet, far too many people are empowered to act as though they can say whatever they want without repercussion. Disputes within a community can quickly turn personal, and the last thing an association wants is for someone to go on its website and get the impression that somehow the association endorses an ugly or offensive statement or position.

With proper rules and guidelines in place, an association website can assist the board with operating in a transparent fashion with increased communication. However, board members always need to be cognizant of what information is published on the association’s website.

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