Unauthorized hotlinking is one of those rare issues that most community managers (and most web savvy people) will universally agree is a bad thing.
But, agreeing it’s a bad thing and taking action against it can be two very different things. It can be tricky to catch because people may share a lot of images on your community. Do you check them all?
If the community is small enough, you can. But, even if it isn’t small enough to do that, you can randomly check a sample of images posted. You can take action against any that you see. You can include it in your community guidelines and inform those who do it that they should not do it in the future. You can encourage people to report it and then take those reports seriously.
You can offer your own file upload system, which can help reduce instances of hotlinking. There are more technical limitations that you can put in place that can help eradicate hotlinking, if your community is really massive. For instance, you can require they upload the image to your server. Perhaps a more practical approach is to install a whitelist that is tied to image embeds. It would be a list of domains that you know allow hotlinking, including the popular image hosting services that allow it. You could then add more domain names to the list as members request them or as you want.
The point is, solutions can be found. For me, how a community manager handles hotlinking gives me a good idea of who they are as a manager. For a few reasons:
- For the most part, we all agree it is wrong and want nothing to do with it.
- But, at the same time, it happens a lot.
- Finally, it is one of those things that most members won’t ever know about nor care about.
That last one is the big one. If you allow hotlinking on your community, your members (for the most part) won’t think less of you. They likely won’t notice or care. So, this is an practice that you disallow because you know it is wrong, because you wouldn’t want it to happen to you and because you want your community to be respected. Though legal issues may arise from hotlinking, that seems to be exceedingly rare. Bad PR is perhaps more common, but only slightly so. For the most part, the primary deterrent to allowing hotlinking is because you, yourself, know it is wrong.
That’s why it is a true indicator. It is how we act when no one is watching and no one cares that tells the most about the type of people we are. The type of managers that we are. The level of care and attention to detail that we put into our work.
If a community manager says it is “too hard” or there are “too many,” frankly, they just don’t care enough to put in a serious effort. It’s not too hard. Even if you are just now realizing this is an issue and you have a large community that has done it a lot, there is no time like the present. Disallow hotlinking from this point forward and take steps to mitigate the damage of the past.
Because, at the end of the day, if you don’t care about hotlinking, I’m left to wonder: what else don’t you care about?