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Childcare expert threatens to have community website shut down

Impossibility of moderating large community cited



9:28 am on Aug 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Interesting article in today's UK Guardian (Google for "Childcare expert threatens to have website shut down") about yet another attempt to censor a community site. The article says:

Officials say the site remains under threat, despite the fact that all the contentious postings have been taken down. They say they have sought to react to each complaint from Ms Ford but cannot hope to monitor all the 10,000 contributions submitted to the website each day."


I think that this highlights the importance of having a clearly stated and highly visible moderation policy. What irks me is the somewhat defeatist attitude of the moderators of the threatened site.

[edited by: rogerd at 4:08 pm (utc) on Aug. 8, 2006]
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4:21 pm on Aug 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

The easiest and safest thing for the forum owner to do is remove such postings. In a way it's unfortunate, though, because it stifles important conversations that raise legitimate questions about a business entity, person, or technique. And it's all too easy for a bully to have his/her way because removal is the path of least resistance.


10:12 pm on Aug 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This story has been quite prominent in today's news (at least on the BBC). It seems that the site were unable to reign in some more abusive comments which veered outside the realm of decent discussion of this particular author's childrearing methods. It's certain one of those divisive topics though.


12:52 pm on Aug 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

This issue really highlights the challenges of forum owners. The plaintiff's child-rearing techniques are clearly of interest to the many members of the forum, and she no doubt has many supporters there. Her desire to crack down on negative comments, though, seems to have had the end result of excluding all discussion of her methods from that forum.

It also shows the blurry line between opinions and libel/slander. A post like, "I think ____ is a complete fool, and should be committed to an asylum." is an expression of an opinion and is probably protected (at least in the U.S.), while, "I know that ______ was arrested twice for selling drugs." would fall into the libel/slander category if untrue. (That's a non-lawyer's assessment.) Of course, a lot of forum posts fall into that gray area in the middle.

Combine that gray area with the gray area of a forum owner's responsibility for messages posted by third parties and you've got a muddle that makes nuking/banning seem like the most straightforward and safest course of action - forget about freedom of speech.

Of course, sometimes complainants DO have a legitimate point. We've seen a situation where an ex-employee of a firm put up a series of highly negative posts. Facts aside, the individual clearly had some kind of axe to grind and was hardly a disinterested party. Competitors can do the same thing. Ideally, though, other respected members will restore balance to this kind of discussion even without intervention of the moderators. If a crank's first post is a rant about a company's product and three or four senior members counter with their own positive experiences, the company should have little to be concerned about.


1:11 pm on Aug 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

An equal an opposite problem thats rarely considered is the posters who come in with the opposite agenda - to talk up a company.

No one ever sues over that, but its rife - and its the other end of this nasty, pointy little stick.

What you end up doing, if you insist on moderating at all, is only ever silencing the dissenters and leaving the shills alone - so you end up with a load of content less enlightening than your average newspaper and slightly more biased, only the bias is hidden - not part of the brand.

Perhaps the answer is to cease all moderation. As far as I can tell, a forum owner is only responsible for content if they do any moderating. If the board is left unmoderated the pros and anti's can sort it out among themselves honestly without legal interference.

The instant you start censoring at all you legally place the balance of power in the hands of those likely to be criticised. The criticized then want more censorship - not realising they already had their fair share. It defeats the entire purpose of a forum.

The owners of the board brought this on themselves entirely, by putting 'naiceness' and 'polaightness' above free speech. Everyone wants free speech - but not in their backyard! They made their personal comfort level a higher priority than their own user's civil rights. Shame on their half-educated lower middle-class sensibilities!

They made themselves a legitimate target for any nutter with a grudge. Once you apportion yourself the power to start tinkering with what people can say, you have to be prepared to take full responsibility for the words you allowed to remain.

I hope she wipes the floor with them.

[edited by: Alex_Miles at 1:35 pm (utc) on Aug. 9, 2006]


10:18 am on Aug 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

What you end up doing, if you insist on moderating at all, is only ever silencing the dissenters and leaving the shills alone - so you end up with a load of content less enlightening than your average newspaper and slightly more biased, only the bias is hidden - not part of the brand.

All forum moderators, whether their site is commecial or otherwise, fear that their boards will be hijacked by hype-mongers as much as they fear the trolls. It also tends to be more stealthy and hard to detect than the outright dissent. There's lots of discussion on these boards about "tag team" shilling.

I think the better view is to improve your moderation rather than give up on it entirely, thus plunging the board into some Hobbsean state of nature and seeing your members flee to other boards.


12:04 pm on Aug 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I like the notion of 'improving' censorship. Whats next? A 'polite' mass murder? 'Pleasant' Ebola? Its lipstick on a pig.

Anyway, how are you going to improve it enough to detect the tag team shilling we saw in that recent thread? You can only detect it by reading every last message the shills wrote for months and spotting a bias uncanny in its consistency - that is, content analysis. Then you have to research the backgrounds of the suspected shills. No censor is going to have time for that, and being hierarchical types, they tend to find it more natural to silence dissent than challenge corporate propaganda.

And who doesn't? Who doesn't find it easier to make just a tiny little snip that won't hurt hardly at all, then another and another - than to stand up to something bigger than they are?

Most of the population are temperamentally unsuited to standing on their own two feet and that includes censors. In fact it especially includes censors. Conformists by nature.

When was the last time a censor got a Nobel prize / a medal / a multi-million dollar patent?

They simply aren't up to it. In their world its 'bully or be bullied'. The website in the original message opened Pandora's box when they decided on censorship - and in it was a bully with bigger boots than theirs!

If you are going to have censorship there is only one way to do it in a civilised, that is 'grownup' society. You treat the reader as your equal - not as child who mustn't be 'allowed' to read potentially offensive stuff in case of nightmares.

That means you fire your censors and install an Ignore button. If you do anything else they have you by the short and curlies.


9:24 pm on Aug 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Alex_Miles, I think you are suggesting that moderation is a slippery slope that can lead to legal difficulties when someone claims you've done a poor job of moderating (because their name is getting trashed and you did nothing about it).

There may be some truth in that, but few forum owners would be willing to adopt a no-moderation policy for the murky increase in legal protection that might afford. Most forum owners have a desire to create an environment that will attract good members - so, ensuring that posts are not obscene, don't contain advertising, aren't hostile flames directed at other members, etc. goes with the territory.

Obviously, standards will vary greatly by forum, but every forum operator I know has had to deal with problem posts and problem members. Unmoderated forums may have their place, but I'd guess that an unmoderated environment would appeal to a minority of typical Web users. But, that's why there are thousands upon thousands of Web communities - unlike the physical world, it's easy for each individual to seek out the places where he or she is the most comfortable and compatible; no individual needs to remain "stuck" in a community that's a poor fit.


10:29 am on Aug 11, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Cod libertarian philosophy aside, I take your point but fear that should people running forum hide behind a no-mod policy to shield themselves from liability, the law will rapidly evolve to bring them inside. I'm certain there's some kind of tortious negligence strand out there just waiting for expansion.

Your "nobel prize winner" argument is leaky, since peer-reviewing and moderated access to the kind of influential channels that nourish the great and the good (journals, symposia and whatnot) clearly exist. Sure, it's not perfect, but short of a return to quackery it's the best we have.

In your view, mightn't all conversation simply descend into a shouting match between the most sociopathic? Wouldn't all learning cease as it became impossible to judge an argument on its merit? Wouldn't it be impossible to trust what you were reading?


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