Online Forums Aren’t Dead; Here’s Why

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 4.03.45 PM

Evidence of the death of our online discussion forum.

Countless articles have been written about how online forums are dead. My personal experience of being an administrator for a local-interest online forum would certainly support that claim. The same year Facebook boomed in Atlantic Canada, our community fell apart. The only posts I would moderate on our once-busy forum were spam. We shut down the forum after years of inactivity.

True, forum platforms have a history of being difficult to navigate on smartphones, and have other downsides such as spam bots, rampant trolling and karma farming. Nevertheless, some online forums have survived the trend of moving these communities towards Facebook, while new discussion forums have become popular.

Niche Communities

If you wanted advice about fixing a strange noise your 2006 Ducati Multistrada motorcycle makes, where would you go? As a fellow biker, I know that we take pride in trying to repair our bikes ourselves instead of bringing them to mechanics. We also love talking about our rides. Luckily, there’s an amazing and still wildly popular adventure motorcycling forum called ADVRider. It’s a community where riders share their adventures, challenges, lust over bikes, and help each other. With nearly a million discussion threads, the forum’s easy search feature makes this a much more viable social network than Facebook for this purpose. This is just one of many active niche online forums. Into music? Try Rather digital photography? Then Photography on the Net is for you. There’s a community for everything!

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 4.00.41 PM

The ADVRider community is still very active.

Reference and Reading

Apple’s new screen time application has categorized Reddit, the largest online discussion forum, as “Reference and Reading.” Though there’s plenty of junk (and even more cute kitty pictures) on Reddit, there is a wealth of information and personal experience that contribute to its users’ knowledge. If you don’t know where to start, try r/todayilearned (TIL). Despite its ugly interface, Reddit has had a boom in users in recent years. In fact, the online forum has recently surpassed Facebook as one of the most visited websites. And there are very good reasons for that.

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 3.58.00 PM

Reddit has surpassed Facebook for daily website views.


Not convinced that forums still have a purpose? Check out this short article by Wix on why Reddit is so great. If you don’t know how to get back into the forum game, read this fantastic article on resurrecting forums.


twitter Online Forums Aren’t Dead. Here’s Why:

facebook Thought online forums were dead? Think again! Check out my new blog post:

4 Tips for Moderating Comments on Government Social Media

One of the hottest (and long-standing) topics about government and social media is comment moderation and social engagement. Last year, CBC ran an article about the federal government blocking accounts and deleting comments, which itself sparked over 1,700 comments on CBC’s website. Proponents of open commenting cite freedom of speech, transparent government, and citizen engagement as reasons to limit the powers of moderators. Yet government agencies have a responsibility to correct misinformation, foster a safe and respectful online community, and protect private or confidential information.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when moderating government social media accounts:

Develop and publish clear user policies

Screenshot from PSPC's website.

Screenshot from PSPC’s website.

To ensure consistent moderation, social media teams, whether governmental or corporate, must develop user guidelines or policies. These not only help moderators decide what to delete, but also help them justify blocking users. For instance, here are the grounds on which Public Services and Procurement Canada may block users or delete comments taken from their guidelines.

Allow negative comments and don’t reply to everything

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 2.57.55 PM

PSPC did not reply to a negative comment from a public servant who is not yet being paid correctly.


Though it might be hard, allowing negative comments gives legitimacy to the claim that your organization is listening to citizens’ concerns. Plus, you respect the principles of freedom of speech and citizen engagement. If you respond to every comment, users may not interact with each other and your organization will appear defensive.

Forward valid comments to the right people

building architecture historical tower

Photo by Splash of Rain on

It’s one thing to allow comments, but quite another to do something about them. Though social media moderators aren’t usually the subject matter experts, they should have clear guidelines for what feedback to report on.

Document deleted posts and private messages

selective focus photo of black wooden drawers

Photo by bruce mars on

Governments have an obligation to archive information. When it comes to deleting posts or moderating offensive behaviour, it’s important to keep proof. As this article rightly suggests, it’s not enough to preserve the deleted comments, but you should keep records of the context in which the offense occurred.


If you’re developing or revamping your organization’s social media strategy, be sure to include a section on community moderation. Jay Majumdar has a great article on best practices for moderating if you want to read more.

I’d love to hear more about how your organization manages comments. Share your thoughts below!



facebook Moderate a social media account for a government agency? Read my most recent blog post for 4 essential tips:

twitter 4 Tips for Moderating Comments on Government Social Media:


Is Your Doctor Allowed to Post about You on Twitter?

In my last blog post, I discussed the importance of having a personal policy about sharing health-related issues on social media. As I argued, it’s vital to think before posting when it comes to health problems. At least it’s relatively easy to control what you post about yourself.

But how would you feel if you saw a Tweet from your nurse with your personal health details, or worse, publicly admitting she is too hungover to be at work? Is it within the rights of a paramedic to post about having lost a patient in an odd situation on her most recent shift?

There is all kinds of cringe-worthy behavior by medical professionals on social media. In fact, the Times recently reported that over 1,200 National Health Services (NHS) employees in the UK were reprimanded for misusing social media since 2013. To add to that, private clinicians and medical organizations in the US have to advertise to get business (what a terrible way to talk about patients!). Luckily in Canada, physicians don’t need to spend time or money on social media marketing to be successful.

At the same time, medical professionals and organizations have valuable health and safety messages to share. In fact, as I have written elsewhere, Health Canada is the most popular Canadian federal ministry on social media. Plus, allowing medical practitioners a certain amount of freedom to consult each-other online can help solve tough cases.


Know your rights

Screenshot of Vitalité Health Network's web page on Patient Rights and Respoinsibilities. To the right is a menu with Ethics written in large letters. At the top is a banner with the site's mega menu.

My local health network publishes their code of ethics online.


What should you know about the online activities of health organizations and healthcare professionals?

  • You have the right to know and understand how your private information may be used. If this is a concern for you, ask questions.
  • All hospitals and health networks have patient confidentiality policies, and they’re often quite easy to find online. For instance, I found several policies on privacy on my regional health network’s website.
  • Some hospitals and organizations have specific policies or guidelines addressing the use of social media. This handy guide and this particular policy were developed by the Ottawa Hospital. Medical professional associations also have guidelines such as these.
  • There are ways to report inappropriate online behaviour through the social media platform, as well as the provincial and medical organizations. Learn how to report Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts. Whether about yourself or another patient, report privacy breaches right away.

Professional online conduct

If you are a medical professional, be sure to understand your rights and responsibilities. Consult your health network, professional association, and other useful online resources. Here’s a great article, which lists some safe social media behaviours. Kingsley Napley just published a fantastic blog post about this very topic in light of the NHS scandal.

The burden is definitely on those in the medical field to ensure their online presence is professional at all times, even if they aren’t posting about their jobs. Just think: how would you react if you saw a photo of your doctor on a drunken night out, regardless of whether he was on vacation that week?

In short, the answer to the question whether your doctor is allowed to Tweet about you is not so simple. Medical professionals absolutely have to respect patient confidentiality, but in general, they are allowed to post about anonymous patients as long as there is no identifiable information that could point back to you.

Still worried? Be sure to talk to your medical team if you have lingering questions.



facebook Ever wonder if your personal medical information gets shared online? You may want to know your rights. Check out my new post:


twitter Is your doctor allowed to post about you on Twitter? Find out: #medical #socialmedia #doctor


The Personal Health, Social Media Policy You Didn’t Know You Needed

Here I am, sitting by my mother’s hospital bed. I’ve barely left her side since she was rushed here in a critical state on Friday. Good news: the prognosis is positive, but it was and still is very serious.

One of my first instincts upon confirming that her condition was stable was to reach for my mobile to write a Facebook post about what happened. I didn’t post anything though, because I realized it wasn’t my news to share. Plus, at first, she was in no state to consent. We’ve become so used to sharing all our personal wins and struggles on social media that it’s now a reflex.


Outdated signs I found throughout the hospital

Social media platforms like Facebook are really useful in these situations. They provide an easy way to instantly notify and update friends and family. They also allow easy access to advice, community support, and guidance surrounding medical issues. But if I’ve learned anything from this ordeal, it’s that we should all be sure we’ve planned our personal strategies before hitting the send button.

Considering what to share

We’ve all seen friends share their medical conditions online. Sometimes they’re vaguebooking, while at other times they’re giving out TMI (too much information). Patient confidentiality is very important for medical professionals, but we often give away lots of private information about ourselves or about our loved ones without even thinking.

To make sure that you don’t disclose information that you will later regret, ask yourself a few questions:

Why are you sharing? Some people seek support; some want to inform family and friends. Others chronicle their stories to offer support to other people in the same situation.

How much information are you willing to share? You may want to share your whole journey, or simply post short status updates.

Who are you sharing with? Determining your audience will help you decide how much to share and on which platform. Facebook, for instance, allows you to select specific friends who can see your posts. You can also create a group and add those who need to know.

Do you have consent? If you’re sharing another family member’s medical information, think hard. Stories about your children’s or your parents’ illnesses may have an impact on their private lives down the road. Kids can’t really consent, so you should think about their future online selves.

The answers to these questions will vary wildly from one person to another and from one medical condition to the other. By asking yourself why you’re sharing information, you will be more likely to feel confident that your posts are thoughtful and will have your desired effect.

Knowing the risks

Though the benefits of sharing information about our health online are great, there are risks associated with these types of social media activities.

Privacy: The biggest concern for everyone is that no matter how secure we believe our posts are, information might fall under the eyes of someone we don’t want to see. In one example, a patient who was collecting disability payments stopped receiving her benefits because of her social media activity.

Unsolicited advice: Be ready for all kinds of unwanted advice. Some people become armchair doctors as soon as you disclose medical conditions, worse is when someone tries to sell you the latest fad remedy. Luckily, there are polite ways to deal with these situations.

Misinterpretations: Even in the best of times, we might not be conveying what we think we’re communicating. When under a great deal of stress, we tend to not be as clear in our writing. This could lead to family and friends getting the wrong message. While we’re on the topic of miscommunications, be sure to avoid vaguebooking.

Relationships: There are all kinds of consequences of posting medical issues on social media. Some people report that they lose friendships over posting too much about the illness. Others might find themselves blamed for not including a particular family member in the conversation. On the bright side, you may find support where you least expected it or even cultivate new friendships along the way.

People in Front of Macbook Pro


Elaborating a personal policy


At least there’s Wi-Fi where we are!

Once you’ve established your purpose and have understood the risks, you’ll feel much more confident about sharing your experiences. Set your personal limits. It doesn’t have to be a full out communications strategy. Only you know what feels right.

Whether you or your loved ones are sick now or not, it’s good to set yourself a personal policy about your health and social media now. Because once you’re in the thick of a medical situation, you’ll know what to do.




Image result for facebook logo

You may not know it, but you need a personal health social media policy. Check it out:


Image result for twitter iconThe personal health, social media policy you didn’t know you needed: