This document was created by regular BBCi users, in response to the implementation of the Iraq Conflict Policy, particularly with regard to the online communities using the DNA platform.
About the Policy
The policy was felt necessary by the BBC to ensure impartiality regarding the politics of the war, but also to limit the possibility of security breaches and to stop spamming, flaming, flooding, trolling and offensive material being posted. The Producers' Guidelines mention the risk of a message board being hijacked for extremist views or untrue reports, and state the need for increased editorial care.
When implemented, what the policy meant for BBCi users is that all user-generated war discussion had to take place within designated message boards. Any discussion of war outside of these forums would be removed. The reason given for centralising discussions was the need to employ specialised teams who could more closely monitor the content than the internal and external teams used elsewhere for community moderation.
Problems with the Policy
The announcement and implementation of the policy happened within the space of one day, and prompted over 500 posts on h2g2, one of BBCi's busiest and most popular online communities. The vast majority of these were expressions of anger and frustration with the policy. A number of reasons are given for this.
Choice of Platform
All of the forums where conversation about the conflict was allowed were hosted on the Howerd 2 message board system. However, many regular visitors to sites based on the DNA platform were uncomfortable with moving to the message board system. Reasons for this include the lack of message tracking – where users can see the posts they've made and if there are any replies from their personal space, the 'threaded' rather than linear display of the posts, slower load speeds, and navigation differences.
Breaking of Community
Many sites, such as h2g2, collective, and others hosted on both DNA and message boards, have formed unique online communities. These are areas where users know one another, share common interests, and are often said to have a particular 'vibe'. Having to discuss the conflict on a separate site means talking to a wider, unknown audience. One analogy used was having to move from a cosy local pub into a big city hall. Many users felt uncomfortable with this, preventing them from using the forums. Evidence from this comes from the (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to create 'h2g2-refugee' threads in the Great Debates forum.
Inevitability of War Discussion
Finally, one of the problems with policy is that with the war being such a huge topic, it became inevitable that the war would just 'come up' within unrelated conversation threads. Many users return to the site daily to continue discussions, and post regular journals containing their opinions of current events. Having these conversations halted when the topic was mentioned, or having to avoid the subject (the 'don't mention the war' line from Fawlty Towers was frequently quoted) becomes a strain on the community and a barrier to community cohesion.
Amongst the discussions following the implementation of the policy, a few suggestions for alternative implementations of editorial policy were put forward.
A DNA-based Discussion Forum
This suggestion mainly arose from discussions about the differences between the DNA and Howerd 2 platforms. There could be a new forum in which discussion of the war was allowed, created on the DNA platform. This could be hosted either on an existing site (the DNA hub was put forward as a suggestion), or on a specially-create new one. Specialist moderator resources would be allocated to this forum, and users on DNA communities would be directed here. This suggestion has the advantage of using the DNA platform.
Dedicated Forums on Each Community Site
A forum could be created on each community site in which discussion about the war would be allowed. Any discussion outside of these forums would either be moderated, or the threads moved. This suggestion has the advantage of staying within the community, centralising discussion and allowing moderators to more easily monitor discussions.
Use of Existing Moderation Schemes and Reliance on the Community
The h2g2 site has a special moderation status which means that individual messages aren't automatically looked at by a moderator unless flagged by another user. Other communities generally use post-moderation. Many h2g2 users thought that the best solution would be to simply continue using the existing system and rely on the integrity of the community to make sure that the iraq conflict guidelines were kept to. This would have the advantage of allowing conversations to continue naturally.
Most of the arguments given by users against the policy were aimed not at the reasons behind the policy but at the implementation of it. The problems are with usability and community cohesion.
In future, the BBC could consider the impact of policies on online communities, and work out solutions which account for the need to ensure that communities are not too heavily disrupted.
If such solutions were employed, the likely impact is that users would be happier, more willing to work with the staff, and ultimately, be more satisfied with the service.