This article was originally posted in 2006 on my handbag.com blog, which is now no longer operational.
One of the recurring issues for Community staff is finding the right balance between allowing conversation and debate to flourish within their communities whilst avoiding risking legal ramifications.
UK law dictates that dicussion boards and forums are treated as publications, firmly placing respondibility of content and community members’ opinions on the shoulders of the virtual space owners.
This in turn leads to a culture of “playing it safe”, in which conflict occurs between the members’ desire to be free to take responsibility for their views and debate freely, and the owners’ firm wish to stay out of court and avoid becoming test cases for often grey areas of UK Internet law. We often have this problem within our News and Celebrity Gossip forums, leading to resentment on our handbaggers’ part when we censor certain topics of conversation.
I became aware of a very unfortunate situation this morning; over at Mumsnet, one of the most successful UK communities of mothers and one of Talking Point’s main competitors, community staff and Gina Ford have been at loggerheads over user contributions expressing criticism over the Parenting expert’s views.
In a nutshell, Gina Ford took exceptions over the more negative views expressed over her approved parenting techniques, and launched her legal team into a battle with Mumsnet, demanding that all conversations and content about her be removed.
Mumsnet, being a website run with limited resources, could only capitulate and now displays a request essentially censoring any contributions about Gina Ford. It’s a sad day indeed when a dedicated interest website cannot even allow its readers to comment in either positive or negative terms on a relevant topic. It also makes one wonder why Mumsnet was singled out – lack of funds to defend itself maybe? Who knows what exactly was Ms Ford’s motivation.
Mumsnet’s full statement can be read here; it makes for depressing reading.
Other parenting communities are already reacting to the news; The Bad Mothers’ Club, amongst others, have been removing Gina Ford content as well.
Thankfully, our Talking Pointers don’t seem to be overly impressed by Gina Ford and her parenting methods – neither have been discussed at all. Maybe my blog entry would have been more scathing if I’d had to trawl through the forums and remove countless threads all morning!
I have included historical comments posted on the original article in 2007, my views do not necessarily correspond with those posted below and the comments are owned by the posters. Feel free to use the comments box below to add any thoughts!
07 Aug 2006 17:00
How can someone who’se whole profession relies on mothers alienate so many of them!
A sad day for all
07 Aug 2006 19:26
Mumsnet is a site that does so much for many- parenting guru’s should see the value in this support
how’s that for bad PR!
07 Aug 2006 19:36
Can only hope this backfires magnificently (am pretty sure it will in terms of bad publicity!)
Interestingly, the lady in question has her own website and discussion forum. It costs £40 per year to join.
Apart from the irony of threatening mothers (the core market, surely?) with litigation, this whole debacle brings up very important issues around how the law needs to catch up with internet discussions and forums.
07 Aug 2006 19:50
How stupid is Gina Ford? These are her customers she’s threatening.
07 Aug 2006 20:38
I have read more parenting books than I care to count Miss Ford’s included. She made a few points that I took on board, but most of it was unworkable in a normal busy family environment. But having had no children of her own Miss Ford really wouldn’t know how that feels. Sitting on the sidelines giving advice for money is easy, living the life day in day out is the real test.
Off you go Miss Ford for some time out…oh and here is the dummy you keep spitting out.
07 Aug 2006 21:49
As a MN user I am appalled at the recent events taking place regarding that so called child are expert. Never mind not being able to use her name, I don’t want to use her name.
She has now alienated thousands of mothers that may possibly have bought her books at one time or another for advice. Big mistake.
08 Aug 2006 10:02
I see what you mean – us users don’t always know what is happening in the background! This is a tragic turn of events.
08 Aug 2006 10:44
how can any woman who claims to be an expert in behaviour behave so childishly?
she may as well have stood outside of mumsnet towers and stamped her feet.
anyone who raises their head above the parapit, by way of getting a published book needs to grow a thicker skin. but when that author publishes book after book advocating methods some regard as pretty close to abuse (yes i refer to the 5 week old left screaming for 3 hours)then she must expect criticism surely. for her to now threaten that anyone saying anything considered as a bad review faces legal action is outragous.
Miss Ford, if you dont like it then grow at least one compassionate bone!
Stifling public opinion
08 Aug 2006 11:10
This has serious repercussions for all members of parenting sites. While I do not condone any allegedly defamatory or insulting remarks, I am furious at being told I cannot even mention her name on a site I have used for advice and support for years. we – as parents – are being banned from discussing parenting advice. How crazy is this? If you offer ‘expert’ advice to the public, you must be prepared for the public to disagree with that advice! Gina Ford is threatening to take away a lifeline to thousands of parents, simply because of a tantrum. Now, what would SupperNanny recommend for bullying behaviour….!
Wasn’t sure before…
08 Aug 2006 12:11
I am a MNetter and probably guilty of questioning Gina Ford’s methods on the website, it is a discussion forum afterall. Her methods always prompted heated debate but for as many of us who were against her ways there were at least as many if not more who supported her out and out.
I think Ms Ford’s actions will have done her more harm than good. I’m sure she will be succeeding in turning her supporters against her with her childish behaviour. She has also lost a good deal of good publicity as not even her supporters are allowed to speak of her name on the forum.
08 Aug 2006 16:35
Thank you for all your comments. It does look to be some very heavy handed attitude on the part of Ms Ford, all the more given that, as I understand it, she was heavily involved in the Mumsnet community at one point. I hope this is all resolved amicably in order to maintain this important support group.
Some of us have long memories, Ms Ford…
08 Aug 2006 18:55
I’ve used MN regularly for almost 4 years now. It’s much more than just a parenting forum – it has been nothing short of a lifeline for many women (and the odd bloke or two!) It is a warm, hilarious, infuriating, thought-provoking and utterly addictive place and thought of its existence being jeopardised by a tantrum is appalling.
Duck the slings and arrows, Ms Ford, concentrate on the adoring legions who are still willing to shell out £40 for your website (the advice on MN is free, by the way…) Write another bestseller (if you must) and leave Mumsnet alone.
There is such a thing as bad publicity, you know…
Has mumsnet gone
09 Aug 2006 02:02
I have tried getting on the site and cant get on there . It could be down or it could be so many people are trying to get onto the site because of the news lately .
mumsnet still active
09 Aug 2006 20:11
Try again Mandie. mumsnet is still active. I look at it just now. I am teaching my child to read, and had a good look at the advice – very good. As for you know who I have no comment about her. As parents know sometime the best way to deal with tantrum/ bullying is to ignore it.
30 Dec 2006 14:39
Good point. definitely agreeed with it.