Internet Forums - The Wild West of Publishing
If you were beginning to get alarmed about review sites and their potential for wreaking havoc, then I have some bad news. Forums are even less regulated than review sites and the whole point is to keep posting about a subject to build a 'discussion'. This is why it is so dangerous.
Forums have what is called a moderator, a person who acts as a 'regulator' and can remove posts and also users. But this is always after the event and with the damage done. Many moderators pride themselves of being "light touch" moderators. In other words, they do nothing until it all gets out of control.
If the phrase "light touch" sounds familiar, remember that in late 2008 the world was sharply reminded that things that need strong regulation, but only receive weak regulation, have a nasty habit of demonstrating why.
That is not to say that forums are going to destroy our banking system. But they can destroy your reputation and business and that will feel very similar.
What is an internet forum?
A forum is a place for discussion by the users of a website. The website might be about computer games and so the topics in their forum will be predominately about games and all things related (sometimes very tenuously related). A user will see a topic in a “thread” (an existing topic being discussed) and join it to read and maybe contribute by posting a comment. A typical forum will have a large number of threads that are active, sometimes many hundred. Over time they become inactive as people get bored and move onto something else. So far so good…
Many websites are industry specific and are populated by members of that industry, be they customers, suppliers, supply and support services and so on. Many of these sites have a commercial aspect to them; they are selling something other than the basics of the industry.
For example a website could be all about plumbing and plumbers. The site might offer training or good leads for work. It might be an exchange for tools etc. It will carry advertising for all products of a plumbing nature and other ancilliary products.
It will also have a forum. It is in that forum that trouble could be lurking.
Defamation of business on an internet forum
Let us assume that there is a thread in the forum about the latest plastic pipes from Germany that clip together, no soldering required. And let’s assume that someone called “Dave” has bought some and is telling everybody that they were cheap and inferior Chinese fakes that leak.
He is also telling everybody that he bought them from “those crooks at Bob’s Plumbers who have ripped me off”.
And, finally, let’s assume your name is Bob and you own Bob’s Plumbers. You have a big problem…
From the above situation, whenever anyone carries out an internet search for “Bobs Plumbing plastic pipes” to see if you sell them, up will come a link to this thread. And you may well find it is directly beneath your own website!
What’s more, anyone who knows you and has something to complain about will also be drawn into the debate. It is quite remarkable how people come out of the woodwork and find these forums and then chip in with their own two pennies worth!
Banks and suppliers, when extending or renewing credit facilities, now all carry out their due diligence which will often include internet searches of the company and it's directors. The idea being that it is cheap, quick and you never know what you might find. If they find a raging forum that has been branding you as a crook for months, and you have left it unchallenged, they may well draw adverse inferences from your inaction.
We have seen threads like these that have been going on for years old with many hundreds of posts. If you see your name appear in a negative way on a forum, then seek help without delay.
Contact a Social Media lawyer today!