The Code of Ethics has been amended in the past two years primarily to address online advertising and actions. It is pretty clear by reading through Article 12 and the related Standards of Practice that our obligation to present a "true picture" in our advertising applies to every aspect of our online presence. The Preamble was amended in 2007 to clarify that we pledge to observe the Code in all of our activities whether conducted personally, through associates or others, or via technological means.
As REALTORS®, we have an affirmative obligation to take measures to insure that where we advertise or choose to place our advertisements conforms in every way to the Code of Ethics and presents a "true picture" to the public. In the past, we primarily dealt with newspapers, but now that the internet dominates our advertising focus, there are new opportunities to reach the public that were never imagined when the Code was originally written.
Standard of Practice 12-5 as amended in 2007 states that the Code applies to "any medium (e.g. electronically, print, radio, television, etc.) put it together, that "any medium", "electronically" and "etc" covers all electronic advertising: websites, blogs, newsletters,Wikis, podcasts, webcasts, or any other "casts" that are to come in the future!
Daily the Association receives phone calls about new and innovative ways REALTORS® are trying to creatively advertise on the internet that result in a picture that is not "true" when viewed by the public. Most involve the advertisement of another broker’s listings online - this is a violation of Article 12 as well as MLS rule 12.8.
The most recent example is Zillow; this website allows agents to mark properties listed by other brokers as "for sale" on the website. However, by marking the property for sale and or adding pictures or other information to the property online, it then becomes marked by the agent’s name and contact information which in turn leaves the impression to the public that the property is being represented by that agent, regardless of the identity of the actual listing broker.
Just because a website provides opportunities to manipulate data online - it is still the obligation of the individual REALTOR® to be certain that their own participation on the website will not in any way obscure the "true picture" obligation we have under Article 12 or the MLS rules. Additionally, the Department of Real Estate states that "false or misleading advertising can result in administrative, civil and/or criminal penalties."
To flagrantly take part in advertising that presents a false impression to the public, regardless of the rules is a violation of the Code of Ethics and subjects the REALTOR® and the broker to disciplinary actions by the Professional Standards Councils. Disciplines can be fines of up to $5,000; any violation found also subjects the violator to a $500 Administrative Fee by the Association.
But most importantly, creating a "false picture" in advertisements demonstrates a lack of professional ethics that mocks the Code of Ethics that we have pledged ourselves to and that we represent ourselves to the public as maintaining a higher standard by upholding.