The following is an article concerning the use of discussion forums on commercial Internet sites.
While we aspire to let through as much as we can, I thought it may be helpful to outline some business reasons surrounding forum moderation.
However, please keep in mind, this is a general article about discussion forums, not specifically the T-Nation forums.
COMMERCIAL WEBSITE FORUMS
Internet discussion forums are a relatively new business medium. They are a great way to publish information and to invite interaction with a large base of users. This interaction provides a lot of value to users in terms of asking questions, receiving answers, direct access to staff and even comraderie and entertainment. However, the same forums are also able to provide a lot of opportunity for abuse. Since everyone is probably already familiar with the benefits of such a medium, the following provides an outline of some of the problems that might be faced.
In general, trolling is when one or more people post messages for the sole purpose of provoking a response. These may be argumentative posts, meant to push people to make unwise statements in the heat of anger, or perhaps simply ridiculous posts in an effort to provide self entertainment. If left unchecked the site is in danger of degrading into a lowest common denominator slug-fest, which will drive away new members who don’t have the time or the inclination to figure out the pedigree of the messages on the forum or of the users posting those messages.
An anonymous Internet forum is a popular place to commit fraud. Perhaps by registering multiple accounts, acting as both buyer and seller, you can create a reputation for yourself and lure in unsuspecting customers. This is especially the case when the subject matter is of questionable legality. After all, who is going to report a fraud if it would identify them to authorities as someone attempting to do something illegal anyway? Before trusting anyone on a forum, spend enough time there to figure out who has actually developed a solid reputation.
Libel and Slander
The Internet is a place of personalities, opinions and heated discussions. While personal libel and slander may occur, it is also very possible for people associated with competitors to register accounts and attempt to denigrate the products or services of the company hosting the forum. The risks are minimal and the rewards are of course great, especially if you have competing products and services to offer and refer to them now and then.
Companies selling products and services may incur legal liability if they allow certain types of bad advice to proliferate. For example, some messages whether or not by intent, may simply contain dangerous advice that could have serious consequences if someone were to follow that advice using the companies products or services. In these litigious times a responsible company would be foolish to allow such a risk.
From time to time discussions between members will get out of hand. These have the ability to turn into flame fests, complete with insults, threats, heated language and other less than civilized behavior. Threads that exhibit such content are not likely to make the site inviting to new members. This will be true both from a professionality standpoint and from the point of view of the risk involved in making a post in such an environment.
Racism and Bigotry
While most feel that they are in fact not a racist or bigoted individual, there will be posts that are of such a nature. They will perhaps be by accident or even in some cases on purpose. Allowing such content to collect on a forum is a sure way to drive away both visitors and customers.
What is it about the Internet and porn? Anyway, in a public forum, there will certainly be a propensity for some people to post pictures and even avatars that are totally inappropriate. Going beyond the standards of decency is another sure way to drive away visitors and customers.
Moderation and Censorship
While providing a free and open forum is presumably the goal, there are many situations that call for moderation and or censorship. However, the very act of moderating and censoring posts is likely to raise the ire of the forum citizens. Everyone feels very strongly about their own free speech. What does need to be understood is that free speech is not hampered just because someone else does not wish to publish certain statements. People are still free to say those statements in other locations or even on their own web sites. Freedom of speech does not mean that one can say anything anywhere, it more accurately means that one can at least say anything somewhere.