Twitter & Liability--Proceed with CAUTION

By
Real Estate Broker/Owner with STAR REALTY Hopkinton

Don't get me wrong:  I am a raving fan of twitter.com for lots of reasons including its honesty, openness, and transparency as a communication medium.  Nevertheless, as the broker of my firm, I have seen a few tweets go by in these last few days that have made me cringe from a liability perspective.  First as an example, I've taken a screen shot of a tweet from @tyr with whom I was discussing the topic.  Notice the date and time at the bottom of the comment...

tweet from @tyr

 

Now, keeping in mind that tweets could be entered as evidence in court, consider this tweet (I've removed the name from this one):

Compromising tweet

Whoa.  As a broker-owner, I'd have grave concerns about one of my agents tweeting this.  Chances are, and we hope, this single tweet will not affect the outcome of the home sale for this Twit's client but boy you can imagine numerous scenarios where it could and would affect the outcome.  Imagine I'm a buyer considering writing an offer just $30K below asking.  Well heck, I don't want to overpay for the property.  If someone else was offering so much less, maybe it's not worth what I thought it was.  Maybe I should write an offer for $80K under asking.

Is this kind of disclosure a breach of fiduciary duties to the seller clients?  As professional real estate agents, shouldn't we be maintaining confidentiality about ongoing negotiations? Like other electronic communication such as email, once you hit 'enter' your tweets are out in the public domain, indelible (yes tweets create a permanent record on the internet which you CANNOT delete), and discoverable by a court of law.  The National Law Journal has a great article entitled, "Beware: Your 'tweet' on Twitter could be trouble".

Perhaps tweets will not cause you to be involved in a lawsuit.  They may still cost you clients.  Check out this tweet (again I removed the name but in fact anybody can find these posts by searching twitter):

Buyers were bummers tweet

Then the next morning we hear:

Buyers are Liars tweet

I sure hope those buyers are not following the agent on Twitter, because if they are, I bet they don't care to work with that agent any longer.  They would know the agent is referring to them because the date is clearly indicated! And if they are not following you now, they can start at any time or simply search the public timeline to see what you've been tweeting. 

I love twitter and am already addicted beyond the point of no return.  I ain't givin' it up. Yet something tells me I may not love it in the future if I have to defend against less-than-well-thought-out remarks on Twitter in a lawsuit.  I am trying to make a habit of thinking 3 times before I hit send.  Sure hope my agents will do the same. 

BTW, you can find me (and...ahem...everything I've ever posted) at twitter.com/kathleenbuckley

 

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Re-Blogged 3 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Donald Bradbury 12/21/2008 09:41 PM
  2. Ed Bisquera 12/21/2008 11:25 PM
  3. Kathleen Buckley 12/22/2008 02:46 PM
Topic:
Real Estate Technology & Tools
Groups:
Independent Brokerages
Twitter
Tags:
twitter
lawsuits
fiduciary duties

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Rainer
8,339
Jennifer Sylvester
RE/MAX Spectrum - Plymouth, MA

Thanks for bringing that insight to the forefront - everyone needs to be reminded of the implications of their actions! BTW - it was nice bumping into a fellow New Englander! I'm following you on Twitter - (I'm relatively new) - talk to you soon!

Dec 23, 2008 04:45 AM #128
Rainer
16,005
Kathleen Buckley
STAR REALTY Hopkinton - Hopkinton, MA

AnnMarie "Help people buy and sell houses" -- sounds good to me!

Christopher-  Maybe they just weren't thinking clearly and need a reminder. 

Jennifer-  I'm following you back ;-)

Dec 23, 2008 07:38 AM #129
Rainmaker
450,099
TIM MONCRIEF
Bartlett Real Estate Group, llc - Austin, TX
$44,530,000 2013 Production (breg)

As my attorney told me...."whatever you put in writing, be prepared to explain it to a jury when it is put on an overhead projector that is 8 feet tall".

Dec 23, 2008 12:24 PM #130
Rainer
16,005
Kathleen Buckley
STAR REALTY Hopkinton - Hopkinton, MA

Tim-  GOOD ONE. I think I'll repeat it: "whatever you put in writing, even in a tweet, be prepared to explain it to a jury when it is put on an overhead projector that is 8 feet tall"

Dec 23, 2008 01:03 PM #131
Rainer
124,907
Hope Goss
Ventura Property Shoppe - Ventura, CA
Ventura Real Estate

Wow, thanks for the reminder.... I'm pretty new to all this twitter and facebook stuff.....

Dec 27, 2008 11:00 AM #132
Rainmaker
1,394,823
Maureen McCabe
HER Realtors - Columbus, OH
Columbus Ohio Real Estate

Huh? You can delete on Twitter.  I dopn't think it's any different than Facebook or ActiveRain. 

The point is that deleting does not remove the comment, content, etc  from the search engines.  How is that different than  ActiveRain, Facebook?

Dec 28, 2008 05:38 AM #134
Rainer
16,005
Kathleen Buckley
STAR REALTY Hopkinton - Hopkinton, MA

Maureen- First, I honestly did not realize there was a trash can there on twitter.  So I ran an experiment and deleted some tweets which did remove them from my update stream.  Then I ran a search from tweetdeck with just my handle.  The deleted tweets appeared within those search results as you noted in your comment.  So, for purposes of liability, if any attorney typed in the username of a person they were looking for dirt on, all of their comments, even those deleted, would appear in the search results with a date and time stamp. Hence, my concern about liability stands.

This may or may not be the same as search engine results on f/b or AR, I don't know.  A number of people have cited within these comments that they find the disclosures made within AR posts very frightening as well. 

-Kathleen

Dec 28, 2008 07:58 AM #135
Rainmaker
1,394,823
Maureen McCabe
HER Realtors - Columbus, OH
Columbus Ohio Real Estate

There is a lag time on TweetDeck. You can delete on TweetDeck too and it won't  immediately delete from Twitter or other twitter applications either.  Do the tweets eventually delete? Better not to post anything on Facebook, MySpace, ActiveRain or Twitter etc. that is inappropriate.

Google and search engines are different than an inability to delete or edit on Twitter (which was misinformation in the comments here but it looks like that comment was edited out.)   Delete on ActiveRain (or Twitter or any other online network) and there will still be bread crumbs on Google (and other search engines) for people to follow. I thought the  point of the article is not that Twitter does not have a delete or ability to edit but that anything you delete on something that is picked up by search engines becomes unerasable.    Does Facebook get spidered?  Maybe not. That would be the difference, but why post something anywhere that is inappropriate?   The missing comment said you could not delete on Twitter.

You post something on ActiveRain and it get's cached on Google (and search engines) the same as Twitter. ActiveRain has always prided itself on how quickly it all gets on Google.

Dec 28, 2008 08:55 AM #136
Rainer
16,005
Kathleen Buckley
STAR REALTY Hopkinton - Hopkinton, MA

Maureen- That was me deleting the comment about the inability to delete a tweet once I discovered that you can.  It seems the fact remains that tweets are indelible and extremely easily discoverable via searches.  Is it really deleted if it comes up in searches?  Would we call that deletable but indelible?  So the caveat about liability and proceed with caution, stands, don't you think? 

Your point about why post something anywhere that is inappropriate is right on.  Nevertheless, given the examples in this blog post, agents persist in doing so.

-Kathleen

Dec 28, 2008 09:23 AM #137
Anonymous
Anonymous
Brad Hanks

Kathleen:

I wish your post had been around for me to share at my presentation at the Wisconsin REALTOR Association Management Conference on December 11th.  The presentation, entitled "Brokers & Managers: Are You Rolling the Dice?" dealt specifically with risk management as it relates to social media use by associates and staff.  It's a relatively new subject, but one your post brings to light as critical for every broker's consideration.

For those that would suggest that the best defense is to restrict their agents' use of these tools altogether, they'd be better served trying to shovel water - consumers (and agents) are flocking to sites like Twitter (and yes, Twitter has tremendous application in our business), LinkedIn and Facebook in droves.  Social media is here to stay.  Instead of limiting the use of social media, we need to set clear expectations as to how the tools should be used.

My advice to brokers is fairly straightforward: develop policies and procedures for the proper use of these tools, monitor (not moderate) the conversations by setting up Google Alerts or subscribing to RSS feeds, and outline what will be done in the event something goes awry.

But clearly the best advice for those participating on Twitter is offered in your post and the comments posted by many of your readers: Think long and hard before you hit the 'enter' key. Because blogging (and micro-blogging) is forever.

Thanks again for a great post!

Brad Hanks ~ Connecting People With Success ~  

www.twitter.com/bradhanks | www.linkedin.com/in/bradhanks | www.BradHanksSeminars.com

 

 

Dec 30, 2008 01:29 AM #138
Rainer
15,973
Kathleen Buckley
STAR REALTY Hopkinton - Hopkinton, MA
Hopkinton Specialist

Brad-  Thank you for your thoughtful comment.  Your suggestions as to how brokers might proceed to tackle this challenge are excellent.  I'd only add that whenever we see examples of what not to do, we grab them and throw them up on "8-foot projector" as Tim Moncrief above puts it, then let our agents decide if they want to see their name attached to such comments.

-Kathleen

Dec 30, 2008 08:15 AM #139
Rainer
13,590
Brad Hanks
RE/MAX Whatcom County - Bellingham, WA

Kathleen:

The examples I've used in class have certainly opened some eyes. And I intend to use your post here as required reading for those attending my sessions.  Thanks again!

(Noticed I wasn't signed in when I posted my original comment. That's what I get for switching browsers last night.)

Dec 30, 2008 08:58 AM #140
Rainmaker
188,043
Johnathan Mullaney
Village Land Shoppe - Flagstaff, AZ
Broker, Flagstaff Real Estate

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People are right to have their opinions but oh my god. They should not get tweeted, emailed, blogged. Wow, I would be concerned too. None of my agent really know what twitter is, nor do they blog. Most just straight text message or pick up the phone to complain. You must have a lot more agents than I do.

Dec 30, 2008 05:37 PM #141
Rainer
15,973
Kathleen Buckley
STAR REALTY Hopkinton - Hopkinton, MA
Hopkinton Specialist

Johnathan- I don't have many agents just 5 (these posts are not from my agents thankfully).  I am rather relieved that my agents, for now anyway, prefer the old-fashioned types of networking like serving the community and being good friends and good people. I have the best agents!

Dec 30, 2008 09:54 PM #142
Rainmaker
181,012
Cathy Tishhouse
RE/MAX Showcase Homes - Royal Oak, MI
Royal Oak Real Estate

I am now addicted to Twitter but definitely keep in mind that I don't know who is reading - particularly as I follow (& followed) by a fairly large # or people.  I can't believe someone who is twittering (usually for business in one way or another) would write something on such a public platform.  Also, I don't check the box to have my members only posts linked to Twitter - why would you?  Thanks for creating such a clear picture to keep in mind.

Jan 16, 2009 01:12 PM #143
Rainer
32,341
Suzanne Roy
Move, Inc., / realtor.com - Jensen Beach, FL

Oh my!  Thanks for posting this!  It definitely sheds new light on how "open" one may be on the Twit'ster!

Feb 13, 2009 03:00 PM #144
Rainmaker
260,985
Christianne Gordon
Carson Valley Homes and Land - RE/MAX Realty Affiliates - Gardnerville, NV
REALTOR e-PRO CDPE, SFR Carson Valley Real Estate Specialist

Thanks for sharing this. I never use twitter in this way - I tweet with old friends, I tweet updates about blog posts, but I don't tweet personal information about my clients...that would really be a mess if they found out...YIPE!

Mar 13, 2009 09:01 AM #145
Rainer
20,986
Treva Fox-Christy
GOLDEN DOOR REALTY - Farmington, NM

OH my, we should take heed from your post and remember that what ever you write on any site or airwave can be found. Guess Mom was right, don't say anything behind one's back that you can't be proud to say with a smile in front of them. Thanks, gets me to take note of myself and what I say.

Mar 20, 2009 07:45 AM #146
Rainer
18,723
Derek Massey
Mid-Atlantic Settlement Services - Hunt Valley, MD

Great post, Kathleen.  I am the rare bird who is half attorney, half social media enthusiast.  I am on Twitter frequently, and believe it is a great tool for agents, lenders, and all real estate professionals to connect, network and (yes) market.

The advise is simple:  ASSUME your competitor, client and mother is going to read everything!  It doesn't always have to be rainbows and butterflies -- life isn't -- but that which isn't positive needs to be posted in a thoughtful, responsible and proactive way.  Converse yes, disrespect no.

Mar 20, 2009 08:37 AM #147
Rainmaker
428,589
Sybil Campbell
Century 21 John T. Ferreira and Son Inc. 500 Centre St. Amelia Island, Fl 32034 - Fernandina Beach, FL
REALTOR ABR, SFR, SRES - Amelia Island

I am surprised that people would tweet something like the amount under list price an offer came in at or how their buyers were a pain.  I have read some tweets of people who thought they were the best agent around town, but I don't think people who read their tweets will be convinced.

Sep 23, 2009 11:09 PM #148
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