If you run an online community it is important that your site contains prominent safety advice. I strongly believe that online communities and online chat forums are not dangerous – as long as users are reasonably educated that the same potential dangers that can occur in real life can also happen online.
Educate your users
You cannot presume that all of your site’s visitors are clued up to the potential dangers of getting in touch with new people – for some reason many think the same rules that apply in the offline world do not apply online. As a site owner, you must take some responsibility to educate your users by posting clear safety advice.
What your safety advice should cover
A good safety advice page should cover the following information:
-An introduction to your site-
What is the target audience and general subject matter of your community?
-Basic safety advice-
The typical staples of never revealing personal information and a strong recommendation to not meet users in real life, or to meet in public places should be sufficient.
What safety features does your community offer and how can a member use them? If you have a chat forum, make users aware of the ‘Ignore’ feature if you have one installed, and how to use it. If your forums have a facility to enable users to block messages from others, make this clear and advise your visitors how to use the feature.
Is your community moderated? To what extent? Provide information on moderation, and advise your members how moderators are selected. It also helps to provide information on how moderators are monitored, and exactly what roles they undertake on your site.
You should also provide information for users to contact you should they wish to provide feedback on any of your moderators.
Are your members able to complete profiles on your site? If so you should advise them what pieces of information they add to their profile will be publicly visible. It is worth reminding users that they shouldn’t reveal personal information in their public profiles.
It is important to make it clear how users can contact you with any safety concerns, along with how you will respond. Advise the reader what information you would like them to include with any reports (for example user names, dates, times etc) and give them an idea of when they can expect a response from you.
Screenshot of prominent safety advice button (click to enlarge)
There is no point on going to the trouble of publishing safety advice if your users cannot find it on your site. Provide a clear link to your safety page – keep it prominent, and keep your users safe.
Have you published safety advice on your community website? Do you think it is an important requirement, or do you feel that online safety is solely the responsibility of the individual? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below.