OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Ahh message boards, love them or hate them but they are a place where fans and haters alike congregate to voice their opinions on pretty much everything. While one would hope the discussion remains educated and civil, that's wishing a lot for message boards.
Actress Patti Murin found this out this week when looking at BroadwayWorld's message boards. Upon seeing what people had to say about her and the work she's been involved with, she wrote the following blog which I highly recommend looking at.
In response, Broadway World has decided to make some adjustments to their message board policy.
Let me first say, I applaud both Patti Murin and Robert Diamond and Broadway World(BWW) for addressing the issue and making the necessary changes. I also think that the steps Broadway World is taking beyond the message boards, is fantastic. I don't support bullying in any way and the less of it online, especially over theatre, the better.
While we, at OnStage, don't have a message board (and never will), we do have a Facebook page. While the majority of the discussions on there are civil, every now and then they get out of hand. By going through Facebook however, I can go use their comment policy to report abuse and usually its taken care of pretty easily.
BWW doesn't have this option so I can see why they're making these changes right now.
My only concern is that their new policy does leave some things open to interpretation. And I worry that it might lead to an over-correction where comments are policed to a degree where users might be afraid to voice their opinions from fear their accounts will be shut down.
The wording that gives me pause is their policy of "No personal attacks - we all have different opinions - disagree with the view, not with the person."
Now we all know what a personal attack is. But if one were to criticize a performance a show. For instance if I was to say Jessie Mueller is terrible in Waitress and has no business being in that show (something I would never actually say), could that be construed as a personal attack and therefore result in me being thrown off the site?
The other clause that gives me some concern is "Those joining the site for the sole purpose of spamming, baiting or trolling will be removed."
Spamming is one thing and very easy to detect. But "baiting" and "trolling" can lead to interpretation issues down the road. If I'm debating with someone over whether or not Bette Midler should be in Gypsy, could my challenging debate phrasing cause me to be accused of baiting or trolling when that wasn't my intention? It's certainly possible.
My advice? As much as it pains me to say this, delete these two previous policies. They lead to too much open interpretation that could do more harm than good. Everything else on the new guidelines is great. From prohibiting profanity to image usage standards, those things will work to decrease in the number of "trolls" and "haters" over time.
And while BWW would never shut down their message boards, due to the traffic is produces and staying true to one's roots, I might suggest removing their ads from the message board pages to show that they aren't at least directly making money off of negative discussions.
I want the same things BWW wants in this, I just don't want anyone accusing them of limiting free speech or booting the wrong people over a misunderstanding of what they said. Taking steps likes these and adjusting the new guidelines will certainly protect BWW.
Either way, bravo to Patti Murin and BWW for taking a stand against message board bullying.