Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of complaints about social media sites. We’ve seen talk of ‘fake news’ on Facebook and how the site isn’t taking care of it. There have been articles upon articles written about Twitter and harassment. And well, where things like Reddit and YouTube are concerned, it’s basically been a car crash all around. You literally can’t find anyway saying those two communities are ‘well run’!
However, there is a solution here. No, it doesn’t involve AI or machine learning.
Instead, it involves a much better social solution. Namely, internet forums!
Yeah, you know the ones. The kind you used to see on fan sites in the 90s. The ones many gamers and entertainment fans are die hard users of even today.
Those are better than the big social media sites and networks you find online. And I’m going to tell you exactly why.
1. They’re independent entities
Starting with the big reason I prefer internet forums to the likes of Reddit. Basically, they’re all independent entities.
What do I mean by that?
Well, look at it this way. On a forum, no one knows who you are. They don’t know who you are or what your ‘reputation’ is. They don’t know what forums you’ve been banned from or why. And you know what?
They don’t care either. When you join a traditional internet forum, you’re given a blank slate. You start from ground zero as a newcomer with no reputation at all and build it through your actions on that particular community.
And I prefer that. I feel that giving people chances is better than assuming someone is ‘unredeemable’ via past experiences. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that on the forums I run (Wario Forums, the merged Gaming Latest forums):
I don’t give a toss who you are or what you believe, as you long as you don’t break the rules. Are you a die hard Trump supporter who believes the PizzaGate conspiracy theory, wants Clinton indicted and feel America should build a wall to keep people out?
Don’t care. Obey the rules on my sites, act like a reasonable person and discuss the topic at hand, and you’ll be fine. Same goes with if you’re on the opposite end and feel like Trump should be impeached, Russia hacked the election and the treatment of minorities in America is bad enough to justify rioting against the police.
It’s much better than the Reddit ‘method’ of setting auto block bots based on what communities you’re a part of or the Twitter method of sharing block lists based on people with different political opinions to yourself. People are human, they make mistakes and they act differently in different contexts. Let’s not turn their online reputation into a virtual death sentence.
But forums being independent from each other isn’t the only reason I like them so much. Oh no, the moderation has an effect too.
2. Forums have fairer moderation systems
Because unlike Twitter and Reddit, there are no double standards on a well run forum. The popular kid doesn’t get away with murder because he brings the company money or fame. His ass just gets kicked out the door for disrupting the community and being a jackass.
That’s how it works on my sites anyway. You break the rules, you get a warning. You keep breaking them, you get temporarily banned. And if things keep getting out of hand… well it’s a permanent ban plus possible IP ban for you. There’s no subjectivity here, I don’t ban people more or less for their popularity or political views. I just moderate in an unbiased way that helps keep the community as good as possible.
Contrast this to say Twitter (where being ‘liberal’ gets you treated with kid gloves by the moderators), and I think the choice is clear. Forums (when run well) are better moderated than social media websites.
3. There is less Abuse on Forums
Additionally, forums in general seem to be less abusive communities than social media sites in general. Why? Because as I said above, they have clear rules moderated on a consistent basis. So unlike on Twitter or Facebook (where sending threats will often be seen as a non problem), a decent forum will have the offender banned or punished by the moderators for threatening another member.
However, even if you were harassed on a forum, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue. And that’s because…
4. Forums offer more choice in community styles
You always have multiple choices when it comes to what forum to join or what community to be a part of. What’s more, unlike Reddit or Voat, said communities can be run in any way the owner wants.
And to be honest, I think this works better than the platform having a single set of guidelines all communities could follow. I mean, look at Reddit for a minute. The rules may make sense for some communities, but there are also at least a hundred others where they act like an anchor round the moderators’ neck. For example, the whole ‘don’t link to other subreddits’ rule is ridiculous and makes the site less convenient for no real benefit. Same goes for the ‘10% rule’.
But independent forums don’t have these issues. Instead, the moderators can set up the rules to be exactly as nice or harsh as they want them to be.
Which works ten times better in general. It means a support community can indeed be much stricter on the guidelines in order to not stress out those suffering from illness or adverse conditions, and no one will mind. If they do… well, they just have to find one of a million competitors with looser rules.
On the other end of the spectrum, it also means forums for troll like audiences can indeed stop mincing their words and just become the free for all they want to be. Will it be a pleasant community? Eh, not for a lot of people. But the option is there, and sites like the Encyclopedia Dramatica forums and Kiwi Farms do exist for the people who want them.
It’s how a free society works. Choices exist and people can set their own tolerances for what they consider ‘offensive’.
However, the reasons to prefer forums don’t end there. Nope, they’re also better at avoiding another issue that’s plagued corporate social media sites for years…
5. Companies have limited influence
Namely, they’re not ruled by corporate influences in the same way as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube are. This is because of two things:
A: It’s not worth astroturfing them as much as social networks, so shills are a lot less likely on internet forums
B: Forum owners are not willing to censor their sites in advance to please corporate or political interests
It’s much better than the situation elsewhere, where systems like content ID have been implemented to please large corporations at the expense of the users. That sort of thing doesn’t happen on these smaller forum communities, and they’re a hundred times better for it.
6. Forums are unique
Finally (but perhaps mostly importantly), forums are entirely unique from other another. No single community has to have the same style, plugins, pages or features as every other such site does.
And that’s why something like Reddit or Facebook Groups will never compete with them for me. They’re okay ideas and I use them for more casual stuff already. But on an actual forum, things can be customised specifically for the community. We can add features like a chat room or a downloads centre or a gallery. Styles can be provided that make the site look nothing else out there or even turn it into a new type of site altogether. Everything can be made feel special and unique to that community.
It (and the other reasons mentioned above) are why I will always prefer forums to social media platforms. Because at the end of the day, a mom and pop team run a better, more inclusive and more enjoyable community than a faceless corporate overlord ever could.
It’s time we went back to forums and left the corporate social silos to die like the terrible ideas they actually are.