The topic of HOA message boards comes up from time to time. Usually this arises at a board meeting or during the HOA’s annual membership meeting. What precipitates this topic is the concern about communication within the HOA.
A message board (also known as a discussion group, discussion forum, discussion board, and online forum) is a general term for any online “bulletin board”. A message board can be a standalone website or a section of a website that is used for open discussion in which participants can leave or read messages. Usually, the message board is established for discussion on a particular subject and can be setup for public access or restricted access to just certain parties. Online polling is sometimes a popular topic.
The message board is a tree-like structure and can contain a number of subforums, which may have different subjects. Within the forum, each new discussion is called a thread. The message board’s design determines if the users can be anonymous or if they have to register. Most message boards require users to register and login to leave messages or make posts. However, most message boards allow view only access and do not require registration for users to read existing messages.
Probably the largest benefit of an HOA message board is the communication that evolves. Members actively engage by reviewing and posting HOA related matters. This engagement factor can help reduce apathy and lead to more membership evolvement. Message boards also help members, who may feel inhibited in a larger setting, to open up and give their opinions. For example, if a membership meeting lacks participation, message boards are a medium where conversations can take place.
Boards are also a resource for members and others to do research and read about the community. Ideally, the message board would foster a sense of community among the membership, and lead to more positive discussions among everyone.
The negatives of a message board should also be a part of the consideration before establishing this type of forum. The autonomy and virtual anonymity of a message board can make some members believe they can post whatever they want, which can lead to misunderstandings and disagreements. One major negative with message boards is when members run down the community or run down particular parties in the membership, such as board members or neighbors. Still another issue that arises is the discussions turning to issues that are not related to the community, such as politics.
Message boards, to be effective and to eliminate inappropriate posts, must have moderators actively reviewing the board. The moderators or “mods” have access to the posts and threads of all members of the message board for the purpose of monitoring discussion.
Rules and policies of message boards vary from board to board. An HOA committee that is accountable for the forums’ rules, policies, and overall maintenance usually governs HOA message boards. The moderators enforce message board rules. Moderators can edit or delete posts that violate the board rules and also ban people from posting to the boards.
While lawsuits are rare, there are legal liabilities for HOAs and the message board moderators. Lawsuits for libel have been brought against message boards and message board posters. In a recent case in Texas, a jury awarded a couple a judgment of $13.8 million. The Texas couple had filed a defamation lawsuit against posters who had accused them of being sexual deviants and drug dealers.
With most HOAs that have message boards, the biggest concern becomes members or others posting negative comments about the HOA. The most disconcerting aspect of this type of negative feedback is the impression it gives to non-community members. Even with highly restricted access, non-HOA members have gained access to HOA message boards. Prospective homebuyers doing research on communities can be unduly influenced by negative posts.
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