Private forums are meant to be private – the information contained within is supposed to only be for the people who have access to that forum.

But, people don’t always respect this fact and eventually, you may have someone leaking private information to people who shouldn’t have it. The question is: what can you do about it?

The short answer: not very much. It is an incredibly frustrating situation.

Unless you have clear cut evidence on who is leaking the information, the main thing that you need to do is resist the temptation to go crazy and go on a witch hunt. You need to maintain your cool, keep your eyes open and only make decisions based upon good information.

When people leak information in this way, they tend to do it privately, via email or some other means. They don’t usually do it in public, on some website that can be tied back to them.

For this reason, it is often not possible to figure out, with conviction, who is leaking the information. While you may have a hunch about this member or that member, a hunch won’t save you because hunches can be wrong. You can’t take the risk of demoting or banning a member on a hunch, because what if you are wrong?

If you are wrong, you’ll have angered and possibly lost a member. In addition, the people connected with that member will be impacted. You’ll still have the leak and you’ll be worse off for your mistake. This is why you can only act on solid information that you are confident in. Otherwise, your attempt to protect your community might backfire and, instead, inspire anger and paranoia.

If good information presents itself to you, you should act on it. Until then, you should keep calm and manage your community. Do great things and deliver value to your members, far beyond the dissemination of some of the information provided in your private area.

What is worse, however, is when that private area is your staff forum and it is a member of your staff who is doing the leaking. I’ve been in that position before, where a banned member provided me with information related to them that was posted in the saff forums, and it was one of the most challenging situations I’ve dealt with because there is a certain level of helplessness to it.

I had a good hunch, but I didn’t feel comfortable acting on it. If I recall correctly, I asked the person some general questions about the sanctity of the staff forum –  nothing too specific or accusatory, just to put it in their mind that I knew, if it was them that did it. I documented the incident for all staff to see and we went back to business as usual. I never found out who did it.

But, long term, we were OK and I didn’t make any hasty decisions. That said, if I had found out who did it, I believe it would have been hard for me to do anything but immediately demote the person from my staff. Once you break that trust once, it is irreparably damaged.