Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Forum Moderators Can Be Overzealous

I wonder if anybody has run into what I consider to be amongst the most annoying and disheartening of phenomena on the Internet: Overzealous Forum Moderators.

A couple examples...

One of the two probematic forums that I have come across is Chowhound. Seems like some mods there are on a powertrip, and capriciously and arbitrarily in my opinion, delete posts that people put hard work into. That being said, I think that both forums are productive and full of content and qualified people.

Overzealous moderators are more annoying than a serious problem, because who cares really, at the end of the day, if your post about a restaurant doesn't get read by someone on a forum. Nevertheless, can you imagine sitting down to spend your precious time contributing a written review of a restaurant and having some anonymous overzealous moderator take it down with no explanation?!

Furthermore, the post simply vanishes, so that forum members do not even know that they are members of a cyber Gulag run by Big Brother. Without transparency, the overzealous moderators are unaccountable for their actions to the members.

Here is an example of overzealous behaviour on that forum. Note however, that in this example, I actually did get an explanation after sending a flame to the moderator. I excerpted a quote from a restaurant review and commented on it. The quote was from a magazine and confirmed my own opinion of the particular restaurant, which was provided ont he forum before the magazine article came out. The moderator told me that I was "breaching copyright". Huh? Copyright law allows one to copy another's work for the purpose of criticism, review, and fair comment. I told him that I was a lawyer and am familiar with copyright and he didnt know what he was talking about and even offered my free services in the future, should another issue arise with a post. No response, no thank you.....

But here is a more serious example at WebMasterWorld.com. I joined, paid a $100 fee, and started reading and posting.

My first post was in reply to a guy who was wondering about who might be spidering domain name registrations because he noticed that this was happening. I said it might be domaintools.com which is a leader in the domain name business and charges a lot of money to find out who owns what. This is what they told me:

"The following was removed from your post, per the Charter policy of avoiding member endorsements of specific service providers, tools, etc.: "

This was my post:

"In the domain name business, Domain Tools is one of the leaders, and it crawls and stores all registration information. It offers a service, for a very high price, that allows you to look up what domains are owned by someone, via their email address, as listed in the whois. Could this be what it was?"

I was promoting domaintools? Is this some kind of a joke?

I posted a reply to a guy who had a question about trademark law and domain names. Spent half an hour on it. Was very educational. Removed my post! Not allowed to give "legal advice"....These guys are strange....Their members have questions, an expert is willing to answer them and educate their membership for free, and they don't want any of that on their Forum...

Compare this to Idnforums.com, which invited me to be a member, set up a special section for me to answer legal questions, and everybody thanked me for helping out...

My second post was in response to a guy who had a domain name situation (they have a whole section just on domain names, and most of the questions are legal issues). He asked his question to the forum and was told that he is not allowed to ask about a specific situation. OK, so be it, that makes sense. So I replied that if he or anyone else wants to run something by me, they could do it outside of the Forum, so as to respect its rules. My post was removed. This is what they told me:

"Per the WebmasterWorld TOS and the Domain Forum Charter we don't allow members to use the boards to promote their services/expertise or solicit business, either directly or by suggestion."

Their members have questions, and they dont want them answered either on the Forum or outside the forum! Talk about "terms of service"....No service for members I guess...

There was a post on WebMasterWorld that said that 'cybersquatting was not illegal, just wrong' - and no one corrected him! They obviously could use a little legal information, if not advice...

My third post was also removed. Another wasted half an hour. Apparently it was verboten because it explained the law to someone who didnt know what the law was and that is not allowed. I actually never give "legal advice" on any forum; I just explain the issues and keep it general.

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