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Forum membership - a privilege not a right

How fortunate it is that the vast majority of online contributors respect the guidelines laid down, especially when they agree to terms applied to contributions that they make to forums. But there is a tiny minority who will feel the the guidelines don't apply to them, or try to hide activities outside the Acceptable User Policy. I have just been looking at such a case and it lead to some interesting thoughts and discussions, which I will share in general terms.

I can recall, from before the days that I was administering any online forums (but only moderating one) some of the problems that were caused by a tiny proportion of members who signed up with multiple accounts. There rarely seemed to be a legitimate reason for multiple accounts - there were the people who set up two accounts so they could post their real views (under one persona) and authoritative information under another, those who set up two accounts as "honey traps" in which they argued with themselves and entangled other members as friends of one of their accounts in order to con them, and those who had acted in such flagrant breach of the acceptable user policy (AUP) that they had been banned, but who tried to sneak back in under a new name. In fact, I consider multiple accounts without good reason (and without the facts being fully published and open) to themselves be a flagrant breach of the AUP on boards that I help look after - the people who set them up are tricksters and unwelcome - but what can the admin / board owner do?

There are three possible different levels of proof to consider before taking action against an account. There is the legal (criminal) "beyond reasonable doubt", there is the legal (civil) "balance of probability" and there is the access I allow to my own space which is a privilege and I will describe as a "significant possibility" level of proof.

Which of these apply to a privately run forum, where any signed up member can post their own contribution? It's the 'significant possibility' level that's all that's required. It sounds a bit harsh, as decisions taken on this basis are likely to net some completely valid accounts. But when you think about it, it has to be. Having been alerted to a significant possibility of abuse, and become convinced that the significant possibility exists, I'm not only able but required to act. To protect my members, to protect myself, to protect others (for example, the privacy of other people and their copyright in the case of posting abuse. Failure to protect members and others in this way would be, morally, a breach of my care to the majority.

There is a huge gap between "beyond reasonable doubt" and "significant possiblity". They are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I would much prefer the luxury of "beyond reasonable doubt" before I take action on an account. For if I think I have a conner - it might actually not be. Could you (hypothetical example) tell two of the Nolan sisters apart from their posting habits, assuming the posts had such close harmony as their singing? One of the last things I want to do is close a valid account on suspicion alone. Closing accounts always looks bad. Doing so when to someone who (it turns out) was a valid user looks doubly bad. Setting up an innocent party with a potential grudge against you is trembly bad.

But at the end of the day, you have to protect yourself as the forum operator. You need to protect your members. You don't have to accept just anyone into your home, nor business orders from just anyone who wants to buy from you. And there are plenty of other places online where people you choose not to accept into your group can post ... heck, they could set up their own website ... and then post whatever they like, subject only to the laws that regulate it.
(written 2009-06-22)

Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articles
G903 - Well House Consultants - Running and moderating forums and social media sites
  [4492] Almost so wrong, but perhaps it's right for some? - (2015-05-11)
  [4403] The unbalanced relationship between customer and provider - (2015-01-21)
  [4315] Welcoming genuine forum posters quickly - but turning away off topic advertisers - (2014-11-16)
  [4307] Identifying and clearing denial of service attacks on your Apache server - (2014-09-27)
  [4283] Can a legitimate forum post become illegal a year later? - (2014-07-11)
  [4239] Facebook marketing - early experiences - (2014-01-19)
  [4234] Change to Libel and Defamation laws from 1st January 2014 - (2013-12-31)
  [4065] Handling requests to a forum - the background process - (2013-04-17)
  [4025] Backups, Codebase, Strategy and more - dealing with forum incidents - (2013-03-03)
  [4017] Acceptable User Policy / vexatious interacter - (2013-02-24)
  [3910] Identifying your real customers and keeping them well informed fast - (2012-11-02)
  [3479] Practical Extraction and Reporting - using Python and Extreme Programming - (2011-10-14)
  [2820] Netiquette for forum newcomers - (2010-06-20)
  [2781] The 500 pound question to get you started - (2010-05-26)
  [2569] How to run a successful online poll / petition / survey / consultation - (2010-01-10)
  [2527] Flying tonight - (2009-12-05)
  [2526] A reluctance to move from old shoes to new - (2009-12-05)
  [2386] Computing under the influence of alcohol - (2009-08-29)
  [2177] Preventing forum spam - checks at sign up - (2009-05-12)
  [2162] Admins thoughts on banning a member from a forum - (2009-05-09)
  [2156] Stopping forum spam - control of the signup process - (2009-05-04)
  [2116] Why do we delay new forum members through authorisation? - (2009-04-03)
  [2103] Ask the Tutor - Open Source forum - (2009-03-25)
  [1972] Pettifog and forum boards away from public view - (2009-01-03)
  [1923] Making it all worthwhile - (2008-12-04)
  [1759] While the world sleeps ... - (2008-08-19)
  [1678] Software - changes and delays. But courses must run on time! - (2008-06-15)
  [1595] First Great Western Weekend - (2008-03-30)
  [1578] Please don't shout at me! - (2008-03-16)
  [1569] I dont care - goodbye - (2008-03-09)
  [1563] Guidlines for posting on a forum - (2008-03-04)
  [1539] A forum is not always the best vehicle - (2008-02-14)
  [1532] Comment spam blocked. Please comment via Forums - (2008-02-05)
  [1523] Ive just received an email from myself. Should I be worried? - (2008-01-29)
  [1485] Copyright and theft of images, bandwidth and members. - (2007-12-26)
  [1472] The Horse goes on and on - (2007-12-15)
  [1362] No Thank You - (2007-09-23)
  [1190] Save the Forum - A regular clean sweep - (2007-05-17)
  [1088] Why use BBC code not HTML? - (2007-02-21)
  [948] Running an on line campaign - (2006-11-27)
  [923] Why shouldn't I spam? - (2006-11-13)
  [919] Freedom for X is denial of privacy for Y - (2006-11-09)
  [841] Forum help - a push in the right direction - (2006-08-21)
  [828] Freedom of speech and freedom to post - (2006-08-10)
  [806] Check your user is human. Have him retype a word in a graphic - (2006-07-17)
  [651] Please Register with Opentalk - but just once! - (2006-03-19)
  [516] Open source questions? Anyone can ask. - (2005-12-03)
  [424] How not to run a forum - (2005-08-24)
  [248] Use me, but use me effectively - (2005-03-16)
  [231] Feedback as lifeblood - (2005-02-28)
  [204] The confidence to allow public comments - (2005-02-06)
  [130] Spelling and grammar - (2004-11-25)
  [115] Expiration dates or times on web pages - (2004-11-12)
  [29] Silence is Golden - (2004-08-26)
  [22] Falling out over the silliest things - (2004-08-21)

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Questions I have been asked on answering the phone
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Is it Python past cheetah already?
Past PHP delegates / others - coding help needed for next 3 months
Forum membership - a privilege not a right
Walks in and around Melksham, Wiltshire
Leaping dog, Leaping horse, copyright of old masters
Over a third of numbers start with the digit 1
Bluegrass comes to Melksham
Public Transport from London to Melksham, Wiltshire
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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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