That a major teenage Web portal is to close chat rooms that have been infiltrated by paedophiles (MW last week) is a decision to be both applauded and wondered at.
Applauded because it’s absolutely right that website owners don’t absolve themselves of responsibility when it comes to the safety of their users online. Wondered at because, when I spoke to Wickedcolours last year, I was told that chat was one of the most popular areas of their site. The traffic building, stickiness and sheer marketing leverage to be gained by offering community-building features such as chat and bulletin boards on a website is immense, but of course no brand wants the bad press associated with having been a happy hunting ground for paedophiles.
Yet squaring the circle is not difficult or expensive. Moderation of communities by real people – carefully selected, trained and supervised – is something that just about every grown up brand can do, either in house or by outsourcing. That way, the goal of “interactivity” is achieved, at the price of a few pounds an hour rather than a huge number of column inches in one horrible week.