Watching Your Words

Use policy to curb the potential for members to express hate speech in forums you control and those where members are promoting their real estate services.

A member of our association has been accused of using hate speech. How can we respond?

Dealing with offensive speech from a member can be a disheartening and frustrating situation for association executives, and it’s hard to know what punitive actions your association can take. The National Association of REALTORS® recently released guidelines to help navigate the process at

Any time an inappropriate comment is posted on your association’s social media pages or other communications channels, you must remove it promptly. Advise and remind members that all comments are subject to review and will be removed if they are deemed inappropriate and that other appropriate actions may also be taken.

If a member posts an inappropriate comment on a personal social media account or public forum, the question of what your association should do becomes more complicated. But remember: Hate speech may be a violation of Article 10 of the Code of Ethics if it relates to the member’s real estate activities, especially if the comments are posted on the member’s professional social media accounts.

Regardless of where the alleged hate speech was published or said, you should report the offense to the member’s principal broker. In order to protect their business, brokers will often take punitive action against agents who use offensive speech. Threats of violence of any kind should be reported to local law enforcement.

Finally, it’s important to show your membership that your association doesn’t take discrimination lightly and is committed to offering equal services to all. You can—and should—offer training on fair housing, antidiscrimination efforts, and implicit bias. Please view NAR’s recent video, Bias Override: Overcoming Barriers to Fair Housing.

I want to create a social media policy and code of conduct for our association. Where do I start?

With social media becoming a bigger part of our professional and personal lives, it is important for your association to have a policy concerning the appropriate use of social media. But it might not be sufficient to create a single catch-all social media policy. Creating separate social media policies for your staff and volunteer leadership—in other words, distinguishing between paid staff and unpaid volunteers—will minimize your association’s risk under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Both policies should identify the following:

  • The scope of the policy.
  • To whom the policy applies.
  • Who is authorized to speak on behalf of the association.
  • What information can and cannot be shared.
  • Expectations for business and personal conduct.
  • The repercussions of policy violations.

Remember to consult with your association’s legal counsel regarding any state or local social media laws and regulations. More information and sample policies can be found at Good Sense Governance: Social Media Policies.

Can we create a social media policy that extends to members?

While you cannot and should not attempt to control what members post on their personal social media accounts, you should have clear guidelines and a code of conduct for any social media accounts that your association oversees. These guidelines should be reasonable and fair, allowing for differences of opinion and open communication while also taking the steps necessary to curb posts that can be considered discriminatory or offensive.

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