Handcuffed , Tokyo
Creative Commons License photo credit: mskogly

I had a member, who recently joined our community, create a post to criticize a martial artist they had encountered and, among their many gripes, they claimed that this person had stolen $800 of equipment from the dojo where they practice. And they named the person – first and last name.

There is an issue with this. To say that this person stole $800 worth of equipment from you, you are claiming that they have committed a crime. It is a criminal accusation and it is serious. For a very long time, I have had a policy on my communities against specific criminal accusations being made of individuals.

The reason is simple. If the person stole from you, call the police. Don’t use my community as part of a smear campaign, which is what a majority of the people who use forums for this purpose are doing. Either that or they’ve called the police and the police didn’t agree with them. Regardless, my community is not the place to make criminal accusations – it just isn’t the right venue.

While there are probably some exceptions for certain subject matters, for the vast majority of communities, it is irresponsible to allow people to use the platform you manage to make criminal accusations. It’s not fair to the parties involved and it goes back to the old adage of treating people as you would like to be treated. And I try to treat people outside of my community with the same respect that I treat people inside of it.

In addition, positioning your community as some sort of sounding board for criminal complaints could lead to legal action that might threaten your community as a whole.

The member didn’t like that I removed their post and suggested that they should call the police. In fact, they suggested I was bullying them. Ignoring the fact that they are posting anonymously and making accusations of someone that could harm that person’s life. They were happy to post someone’s real name and claim that person committed a crime, but not to share their own name. And I’m bullying.

Just like people use our communities for great things with wonderful motivations, some will also try to abuse them with poor ones.