People will be people.
Early this week we received an e-mail from a member named Owen who is concerned about some of the recent postings he’s read on the HSI Forum. His message was prompted by a comment posted last weekend that included some uncomplimentary personal information about another member. This information was in no way health related and therefore had no place in our Forum.
We made the decision to remove the thread that contained that posting, although this is something that we rarely do. The HSI research and editorial staff check in on the Forum frequently (it’s one of the best ways we can find out which health issues are most important to you), but we don’t closely monitor the content for inappropriate postings. In the true spirit of a forum, we want to provide an atmosphere that will encourage an open exchange of experiences and ideas about important health issues.
“And then,” writes Owen, “there are the product distributors” – those member postings that are obviously designed to sell something. Owen says, “They’re as blatant as they are transparent. There are the people who respond to each and every posting – whether it be athlete’s foot or thinning hair – by mentioning over and over a product which will cure the condition. And by great good luck, they sell the product!”
When someone starts a Forum thread and asks to hear about other members’ experiences with a health problem or a treatment, it can be annoying to receive thinly veiled advertisements in return. If these “advertisement” responses are clearly unsuitable for a health care forum, we remove them. Otherwise we let them stay because in spite of their commercial slant, they may help lead members to useful solutions.
A more troubling problem that Owen brings up is “forgery.” We’ve seen instances where a member will post a message under the name of one of the Forum regulars. This misrepresentation is unethical, and I would encourage any member whose name has been misused to contact the HSI webmaster immediately to register a complaint. Owen offers this suggestion: “Perhaps a password system would eliminate the forgeries.” This might solve one part of the problem, but because we feel it would interfere with the open nature of the Forum, we’re not inclined to use passwords.
What we appreciate most about Owen’s e-mail is his thoughtfulness in suggesting solutions to these situations. If you have ideas about how we can make the HSI Forum a more welcoming and useful environment for everyone, please e-mail us at HSIResearch@agora-inc.com. And by all means, please contact us immediately if you feel that someone is using the Forum in a way that’s inappropriate to a free and open discussion of health care issues.