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Inevitably something negative, even tragic will eventually happen to at least one member ("the member").
Most of the family will want to do whatever they can to help get the member's life back to normal ASAP.
1) From a webmaster's point of view how should situations like this be handled in terms of what messages are permitted and what messages get deleted?
2) Should the website have a TOS that covers this sort of thing? If so, should the TOS make it mandatory to get a sysadmin's permission before the member can post a solicitation for help.
Here's an important point to consider. This is the point that made me realize I should seek out the advice of my fellow webmasters.
What if the member has been inactive for nearly a year (just short of being deleted for inactivity), returns only to post a message about what's happened to them, and then proceeds to solicit widget supplies instead of stuff that might be considered more important like finding a place to live?
If your forum is about finding friends, then asking for help with a personal tragedy is a valid part of that and should be allowed. (Ensure you are not posting anything that might make new members feel out of the loop or uncomfortable).
If your forum is about widgets but secondarily has a community feel about it, maybe some separation of threads into different forums is the appropriate way to handle it.
I don't see any real need to have your TOS cover this. There doesn't have to be a rule for EVERY evenuality - tact and personal moderation should be sufficient to handle situations that occur outside the TOS.
My main concern was how to handle members like the one I described. If the same thing had happened to an active member I'd be the first one to set up a PayPal donation page. I've actually done this once before and that member is now back on his feet and even more loyal to the website and his friends there who helped him in a time of real need. I'm just worried that this new member is up to no good and I thought having a rule to prevent soliciting stuff, except in our forum for soliciting widget parts, could be a good thing.
I've since come to an understanding with this member and so for now the problem has been resolved.
But in the long term I still wonder if a TOS to cover such things is a good idea. Again please remember I'm looking at this from the point of view of the owner/webmaster, not a member. I have an obligation to protect my members/friends from being scammed.
Sorry to ramble. That tends to happen late at night. ;)
The end result? I've never had a negative outcome. My site's 'family' is amazingly cohesive and supportive which only serves to enhance the site. Were there to be a scam one day, I don't think it would reflect negatively on the site as I've never gotten the site officially involved in such a cause and members realize that.