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Message Boards Are Not the Place for Mud Slinging

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Message Police
April 4, 2018

There are more than 4,000 residential buildings that use BuildingLink message boards in the Naked City. About 85 percent of them moderate what residents post, with building management serving as arbiter of what’s acceptable 90 percent of the time, according to data from BuildingLink. 

A shareholder in a large Upper West Side co-op got miffed when management rejected posts about a school rezoning debate, buildings materials, and a Paris apartment exchange. Should the board establish a policy on what’s considered an acceptable post? Can shareholders request that posts not be subject to management approval? 

The co-op board should circulate a written policy explaining the permitted uses of the message board so residents understand the rules, replies the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. Residents could also request a more open forum. However, the board would not be obligated to change its policy. To accomplish that, shareholders would need to elect board members sympathetic to their cause. 

But shareholders should be aware that there’s a potential downside to an anything-goes policy on in-house message posting. Attorney Mark Hakim at Chaves and Perlowitz advises boards to restrict the use of online message boards to business uses, such posting the names of candidates for board elections, disseminating building notices, and letting residents make service requests. Turn the message board into an online water cooler, Hakim cautions, and the board could open itself up to a possible defamation suit should conversations turn into mud-slinging contests. 

For more impassioned debates, boards might consider setting up a private Facebook, Yahoo or Google group for shareholders, moderated by residents. With such a group, the residents, not the management, would decide how to restrict the content and conversations. But brace yourself: Moderating social media groups can be a headache, and impassioned debate has a way of turning into mud slinging.

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