According to Ben Martin of the Virginia Association of Realtors over at VARBuzz.com, NAR has revised its Code of Ethics:

"Standard of Practice 15-2 was amended and a new Standard of Practice was approved to strengthen members’ obligations to refrain from making false or misleading statements about competitors, including in use of social media tools.

"The new amendment includes the duty to publish a clarification about, or to remove statements made by, others on electronic media the Realtor controls once the Realtor knows the statement is false or misleading. For example, if you’re publishing a blog and someone posts a false or misleading comment about a fellow Realtor on it, it’s your duty to remove the post or publish a clarification when you become aware of it."

According to Ben Martin of the Virginia Association of Realtors over at VARBuzz.com, NAR has revised its Code of Ethics:

"Standard of Practice 15-2 was amended and a new Standard of Practice was approved to strengthen members’ obligations to refrain from making false or misleading statements about competitors, including in use of social media tools.

"The new amendment includes the duty to publish a clarification about, or to remove statements made by, others on electronic media the Realtor controls once the Realtor knows the statement is false or misleading. For example, if you’re publishing a blog and someone posts a false or misleading comment about a fellow Realtor on it, it’s your duty to remove the post or publish a clarification when you become aware of it."

That was Ben quoting from a newsletter sent out by NAR to association executives.

The amended language for 15-2 has been posted on VARbuzz.com, and I am reproducing it here for sake of analysis:

"The obligation to refrain from making false or misleading statements about competitors, competitors’ businesses and competitors’ business practices includes the duty to not knowingly or recklessly publish, repeat, retransmit, or republish false or misleading statements made by others. This duty applies whether false or misleading statements are repeated in person, in writing, by technological means (e.g., the Internet), or by any other means.

"The obligation to refrain from making false or misleading statements about competitors, competitors’ businesses and competitors’ business practices includes the duty to publish a clarification about or to remove statements made by others on electronic media the Realtor controls once the Realtor knows the statement is false or misleading."

It appears, unless one is obtuse in applying the language, that anyone bringing a complaint against another Realtor under 15-2 has to show two things: that the statement is false or misleading, and that the Realtor being complained about knows the statement is false or misleading. …CONTINUED

Of course, this raises the rather tricky question of when it is that someone "knows" something. Presumably, some sort of "reasonable person should/would know" standard would be imported into deliberations of the enforcement authority (whoever that is).

And there is no clarity (as yet) on what sort of standard of evidence is required for a statement to be "false or misleading." Is the word of the offended Realtor enough? Notarized letter? Sworn statements? Third-party witnesses? … Now I’m getting into "Matlock" territory. (And I lost all you Gen-Yers just now, didn’t I?)

I still find it somewhat amazing that 15-2 imposes an "affirmative duty" to delete or clarify, however. Furthermore, it appears to me that the obligations in the new Standard of Practice (15-3?) do not replace or take the place of the obligation in 15-2 because of the word "includes."

In other words, the actual obligation is "… the duty to not knowingly or recklessly publish, repeat, retransmit, or republish false or misleading statements made by others." This duty applies whether false or misleading statements are repeated in person, in writing, by technological means (e.g., the Internet), or by any other means.

Which then raises questions about what constitutes "recklessness" in this context. If a commenter on my blog (let’s assume I’m a Realtor) says, "Agent XYZ was sleeping on the job during the open house I went to," do I have to call Agent XYZ to confirm or deny? If I don’t, am I reckless, or merely negligent?

And the language still leaves me wondering how broadly the "repeat, retransmit or republish" will be interpreted by decision-makers. If the above statement wasn’t made on my blog, but on the commenter’s own non-Realtor blog, which is fed to my Facebook page via RSS … is that retransmission or republication? Note that the "control" element is entirely missing from 15-2.

Originally posted at Notorious R.O.B., Copyright (c) 2009 Robert Hahn

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