'Board' of Spam

Stephen Yagielowicz

Stir-fried, baked, or roasted on the end of a pointy stick over a roaring camp fire, Hormel's real SPAM is a convenient and tasty treat. But when served cold and unsolicited to an unappreciative and disinterested audience, today's digital equivalent is unwelcome, and even more so when it takes the form of a blatant advertisement that was 'copy n pasted' into an online community's Message Board or 'Forum' area...

When it simply falls into your e-mail program's 'inbox,' spam is easy to isolate, filter, ignore, and delete. While still a costly and inconvenient problem, this form of passive message receipt is as easy to deal with as throwing away traditional 'junk mail.' When it is then force-fed to you in a response to your own active quest for knowledge or nattering - such as when you are visiting your favorite message board - it is easy to choke on its acrid aroma. Left unchecked, spam will easily overrun any message board and destroy the feeling, flavor, and community behind it, just as crabgrass left unchecked will overrun and destroy even the best of lawns.

A Balancing Act
The communities that evolve around message boards tend to be composed of like-minded individuals who share a common interest, and are searching for a 'comfortable' place to share their thoughts and opinions. Especially in a field that embraces the "freedom of speech" as wholeheartedly as does the adult Webmaster community, defining acceptable levels of conduct - including what is, and what is not, 'appropriate' speech, brings the issue of censorship straight to the forefront. Establishing some sort of 'code of conduct' is vital, however, to fostering the greater good of providing a safe, comfortable environment for the nurturing of the community as a whole.

After all, if the 'signal to noise ratio' becomes excessive, or if the comments and behaviors of the board's participants lead to a hostile or abusive environment, then it is natural to expect that community members will gravitate elsewhere. This is the moderator's balancing act: how do you ascertain what the community wants, and then how do you ensure that their desires are met, without alienating the very community that you are striving to protect?

The community members themselves must also play a role in such decisions, for they are the ones most affected by any changes made to the 'status quo.' Is an unchecked level of advertising by non-community members ('drive-by spamming') acceptable? What about blatant advertising by the community members? Where does the line between 'helpful information' and spam lie? Would you rather have a very 'productive' environment where professionals can exchange their favorite tips and techniques, and where newbies can feel comfortable in asking the same questions that we ourselves once asked? Or would you rather participate in an uncontrolled 'free for all' where you are fondly encouraged to 'go fuck yourself' on a regular basis?

Time is money: How do you want to spend yours?

Recklessness and Responsibility
Beyond the moderator's balancing act, there are other unfortunate considerations in this equation, all of which stem from today's litigious society, where words uttered in carelessness or contempt can come back to haunt you; and if the lawyers have their way, haunt all that facilitated their conveyance. In short, there are those who so vehemently oppose 'freedom of speech' that if they disagree with your statements, will hold not only you personally responsible, but the media in which they publicly appear, libel. These circumstances force message board owners and operators to take concrete measures which may be against their desires...

These circumstances force message board owners and operators to take concrete measures which may be against their desires, or indeed against their own personal beliefs about 'freedom of speech,' but which are unfortunate and necessary evils, when given the realities of the world in which we live, and operate our businesses in. The operative question then really becomes one of "How do we best control the content presented on our Message Boards?" and not at all one of "SHOULD we control the content presented on our Message Boards?"

While I am sure that more restrictions could (and should) be added to our current policy, an argument for less restrictions might also be made. In the end, it is the decision of the owners, as well as in some part the community member's themselves, what type of environment they wish to present, and participate in. Have some thoughts on the subject? Click the link below... ~ Stephen