The internet provides a place where many contrasting views are shared by all sorts of people. This means, that on occasion, you might come across comments that are not to your taste. But what do you do if you find something inappropriate on a message board?
To get one thing out of the way quickly, we’re not talking about stuff that’s just irrelevant. You might well find someone has put a note about their recent trip to the dentist and marked it OT, which means off-topic. This is usually tolerated.
No, we’re talking about something generally inappropriate. This could be a link to graphic sexual material, racist material or even pro-Nazi ramblings. Even then, there are ‘adult’ message boards which will welcome the sexual stuff as long as it’s consensual and legal. There will be times when you judge something to be inappropriate, but the people running the board don’t, and your only option is to withdraw to something more strictly moderated.
Who to tell
So let’s assume you’ve found a message you find offensive, and let’s assume the message board has reasonable moderators. You’ll find out who’s running the message board in the “about us” or “FAQ” (frequently asked questions) section of the board’s website (in fact, the FAQs may well have guidance on exactly how to report something inappropriate).
Your first move should be to find the names of the moderators and mail them to let them know that you believe an inappropriate message, image or link has been published. They will almost certainly take action. If there are no names published, you can try asking in the forum - someone’s likely to answer.
Failing that, you might be able to find out on whose servers the forum is resident. If it’s a Google Group, of which there are many, you may be able to refer the matter to Google. Likewise AOL’s groups won’t tolerate abuse and neither will Facebook (not quite a forum but you might have a similar issue). The email address email@example.com often works.
Difference of opinion
Remember, though, inappropriateness is often subjective. Take swearing, for example. Some forums hate it and ban it completely - no mild swearing, no asterisked-out swearing. Others take the view that if you can go and hear it at a comedy gig, there’s no point in banning it online.
There are clear cases of abuse, but there are also judgement calls and dividing lines – and if you’re really in the wrong place then the only thing you can do is withdraw.
And you should. If enough people do so, it’ll go away.