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Handling requests to a forum - the background process

When you host a forum such as the First Great Western Coffee Shop which receives around 2,000 new messages for public view every month (as I do), you're bound to get occasional complaints / requests that certain messages be removed / modified.

With good guidelines for posters to follow, such requests aren't going to be common. On those rare occasions when they are received, the solution is usually just to ask the original poster "did you really mean to imply xxx", and he/she will happily modify the post to the satisfaction of the complainant. We're all new to this game at some point and none of us has psychic powers to know the entire background and total effect on others of what we say and do.

On rare occasions within these rare occasions, further action may be required. Requests may (in the view of the moderation team) be unreasonable, an original posted may not which to make the said changes, or some other scenario may present itself. Alas, these things tend to blow up when they're most inconvenient, and whilst there may be a pattern, no two are the same. So it was earlier this week that I received an email asking me to remove articles from our site, and asking for my assurance that "no further abuse is allowed". It wasn't at all clear to me which article(s) were involved, nor the nature of the alleged abuse - I couldn't see anything obvious from the incoming email to confirm the thread or thread(s) in question, and on researching the writer I was struck by the very different style of the email I had received and other writing online from that same person - thus leading me to wonder if we had an impersonator at work. After all, anyone can register any name with hotmail.

Tempted though I am to go into the individual case (it would be cathartic), I won't. I'm fully aware that it's the nature of these things for a single word (yes, I have such a word in this case) to become a flag behind which the complainant will rally his / her time and effort, and that the complainant may have plenty of time available due to life choice or circumstances which give him or her far more resources available than I have or wish to deploy.

So I won't look at the specific case - I'll comment on some things that are in the back of my mind as I work it through

Strategy. If we have a clear idea of where we're looking to head / what we're looking to achieve with the forum in the longer term (strategy), how we act in the shorter term (tactics) become clear.

Precedent. Actions and decisions should fit a pattern for everyone to be able to understand and trust.

Humanity. No matter how unusual and difficult to take / handle the request that's come in to admin level is, there's going to be a person or people behind it. They should be treated with sympathy, respect, humanity, and we should remember that they may not be as lucky as you and me (but they also may be playing that card to the full and beyond).

Routing. However a matter is handled, it shouldn't result in driving anyone up a cul-de-sac; there should be a viable and positive way forward for everyone and dark corners for resentment to fester should not be left.

Stable State. Solutions need to result in a medium to long term stable state, where there's no constant / frequent / daily need to add extra activities and procedures to what's already done

Safety. Everything should be done with an eye to the risk of things going wrong. Which is not to say that a hard stance can't sometimes be taken, nor that the solution is always the safest way. Just remember risks.

Pragmatism. There are times that it's simply not worth fighting a battle, no matter how right we feel we are. As long as no precedent is set / any suggestion of inappropriate action is denied, it's sometimes better just to walk away.

Members. Last but NOT least. Where a matter is raised, it's going to be because of a difference of views. And we must never forget the member, the quieter one. If someone complains at what can be publicly read and I decide to remove a post as a result, I'm impacting on the member who made that post. I may be upsetting him / her and (unless done with agreement) I am restricting his / her ability to comment. And the quieter person who made the original post has just as much right to be heard as the complainant - in fact we should pay more attention to what they say, as what they say should not be diluted. Members are also our soulmates, brethren, and we look after each other, right?
(written 2013-04-17, updated 2013-04-20)

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)
  [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)
  [2254] Forum membership - a privilege not a right - (2009-06-22)
  [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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Even early on, separate out your program from your HTML!
Arrays in PHP - contain different and even mixed data types
The woman, the television, the bullock and Darlington
MVC and Frameworks - a lesson from first principles in PHP
Handling requests to a forum - the background process
Apache httpd - a robust, open source web server
Backups by crossover between network centres - setting up automatic scp transfers
Sessions, forms and validation in CodeIgniter - early examples
Seamless, integrated IT - we have a long way to go!
CodeIgniter - an excellent PHP framework with an easy start point
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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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