In any environment where people meet and mix, you will encounter a few individuals you would not normally wish to meet. As an online community developer, you are obliged to keep every one of your members as safe as possible.
Ensure you educate your members
We have all read the scare stories published in the media about people meeting up with an individual they met in a chat room with less than favourable consequences. The fact is that if these individuals were educated to know that meeting up with someone they only knew online was not a good idea, these situations could have been avoided.
You need to ensure that if those that visit your site have not been educated about the possible dangers posed by the Internet, you are obliged to do so.
Offer safety advice
Your site should offer clear, prominent safety advice. Regardless of who you want your community to be accessible to, the fact is that pretty much anyone with an Internet connection can join your site. As a result, not everyone who visits your site will be the type of person you would otherwise wish to become a member.
You should recognise the fact that your community is not immune from such ‘undesirables’ – there are steps you can take to limit the risk posed to your community from such people (for example restricting membership to those over the age of 18, establishing and enforcing site rules, etc) but you can never eradicate them.
Offer safety features
As well as educating your members, you should also ensure you offer safety features. Forum software such as vBulletin and phpBB enable members to communicate anonymously via a private messaging system. You should ensure that any communications that take place between your members can be made anonymously.
The Just Chat email penpals section allows users to communicate via our own internal messaging system – this means people can interact with other members without revealing personal information such as their email address. Should a member ever feel uncomfortable, they can simply block a member or delete their epals account.
Similarly, out chat rooms enable users to place other members on ‘Ignore’ – if someone is receiving messages from a member they do not wish to hear from, they can simply block all future messages from that individual. Similarly, they can also choose to block all private messages.
Always recognise that your online community will never be completely safe from undesirable individuals. Educate your users – teach them how they can stay safe online, and offer safety features for your online community.