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Better Online Communities In 2012

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Wednesday December 21, 2011 )

Most forum/blog commenting guidelines are a joke in that they are not enforced. Let’s turn that around in 2012.

As I’ve said a few times in the past, the quality of conversations in forums and blogs seems to have greatly degraded over the years.

I’m not referring to the spam that slips through, but the posts and interactions of forum members and blog commenters.

In particular, the habit of slagging companies while hiding behind a veil of anonymity is particularly repugnant. In some cases perhaps the companies deserve it, in others they certainly don’t. These spiteful comments, exaggerations and assumptions relating to whatever gripe the person has, real or imagined, can really impact on companies.

Unfortunately, there is no real way for forum admins to tell the fact from the fiction.

Those offended businesses can also wind up causing headaches for the forum or blog owner at times. Sure, the company can post their own version of events in a thread to defend their honor, but unlike the complainant, they have to tread so lightly otherwise the “pack” may descend upon them like hungry jackals on an injured beast – just because they can.

It’s difficult for companies to fight lies in such an environment and often, forum admins and blog owners wind up getting caught in the middle.

People seem to be increasingly of the opinion they can post whatever they like without any form of accountability.

Blog and forum owners can be too scared to take action, fearing an exodus of members and visitors or other complications.

I’ve been guilty of pulling punches in blog and forum admin myself from time to time for this reason.

Even when I do take action, which isn’t uncommon, the decision making process can be very time consuming – and then there’s the fallout from the squawking of others rushing to the “aid” of their wronged compadre – even though they don’t have all the information about the situation.

What it increasingly boils down to for me – who wants these sorts of people in our communities anyway? If they are prone to this sort of behavior, let them go elsewhere as it’s this sort of vibe that can frighten off participation of people or companies who do have something valuable to contribute.

On a privately owned forum or blog, the right to freedom of speech does not apply. What applies are the guidelines the owners of that site and forum put in place.

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, but starting next year, I will be introducing a rule on one of the communities I oversee whereby if any poster wants to trash a company, they need to be prepared to provide their contact details to that company. If they don’t wish to do so, they simply shouldn’t post.

I don’t want to stop people with legitimate gripes posting about whatever company. I just want people to stop and think before hitting that “submit” button. They may not care about what effect their post has on the company or person, but they’ll likely care about what the repercussions could be for them if what they submit is factually challenged.

As I often say: freedom of speech is not freedom from accountability. Freedom from accountability is the worst form of anarchy.

Like everyone else in my position, I have better things to do than be fending off disgruntled businesses, refereeing cat fights between members, addressing the habitual conspiracy theorists and agitators, trying to decipher posts from people with incredibly poor written communication skills and general static crowding out the signal.

I want to operate communities where people feel welcome, where they are able to express their opinion, but in a civil and accurate manner, and where they do not have to dig through a hundred posts of crap to find some useful information.

An interesting year ahead.


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