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Can you criticize a competitor on social media?

By Anne Cockayne
Standard of Practice 15-2

Not all comments violate Code of Ethics

It is important to note that disparaging comments about an individual are not considered unethical. If a Realtor resorts to name-calling or makes comments about another real estate professional that are not real estate related, such conduct may be unprofessional but they are not violations of Article 15.

Jan. 2, 2017 — After 20 years in the business, Sue is proud of her spotless reputation as a Realtor. She has become skilled at leasing commercial rentals downtown and has a large number of loyal clients. Rodney, a new licensee, is aggressively pursuing Sue's customers.

To his dismay, he's having little success because there's simply not enough business for two agents. So, he decides shake things up a bit by disparaging Sue in a social media campaign posted to his personal Facebook account. "Market values are up," he says, "so why are your buildings vacant and your rent below fair market value? Maybe you should ask your real estate broker, Sue. Instead of pursuing tenants, Sue just sticks her sign in the window and waits for business to come to her. I can increase consumer traffic, making downtown a desirable place to do business, benefiting both landlord and tenant alike if given the opportunity. Leasing commercial properties should be left to the professionals, not to a part-timer whose skill set is limited at best."

Sue is appalled. His statements and accusation that she is a part-timer are untrue. What bothers her the most is the fact that some clients, who are desperate for tenants, are now questioning her ability to lease their properties. The town is recovering from the recession and it has been difficult to bring businesses to an economically depressed area. But, unknown to the tenants and Rodney, Sue has hired a marketing firm to help her attract boutique businesses and the process is just getting started.

Rodney feels that since he posted his comments on his personal Facebook account, he can say whatever he wants, but Sue files an ethics complaint alleging Rodney has violated Article 15 of the Code of Ethics. She cites Standard of Practice 15-2, which states, "The obligation to refrain from making false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses and their 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 in writing, by technological means (e.g., the Internet), or by any other means."

Are Rodney's comments about Sue unethical? Using a personal account on social media does not absolve Rodney from making false or misleading statements and an ethics hearing panel could find Rodney in violation of Article 15 because his claims that Sue is a part-timer whose skills are limited to placing signs in storefronts and waiting for business to come to her could be construed as reckless and misleading.

Anne Cockayne is Director of Policy Services for Florida Realtors

© 2017 Florida Realtors®

Related Topics: Florida Realtors Legal News