lonely planet

Lonely Planet forced to shut Thorn Tree forum over inappropriate content

Lonely Planet has temporarily closed its well-known Thorn Tree community pages after bosses discovered some discussions breached editorial guidelines.

Some reports suggest content included references to paedophilia, an especially sensitive issue for Lonely Planet owner BBC after being rocked in recent months following allegations about former-TV presenter Jimmy Savile.

The community was closed a few days before Christmas upon discovery of the content and is expected to remain shut until bosses are “100% confident” that a new moderation system being put in place is working properly.

The BBC is not going into specifics about the saga except to say a “small number of discussions” were found to be inappropriate and therefore took the action to suspend the service.

No evidence of discussions concerning paedophilia were found on Thorn Tree, an official says. However, the forum will not resume activity until bosses are certain all inappropriate remarks and discussions are removed.

Alongside the Savile sensitivities, suspending the service couldn’t be any worse in terms of timing for Lonely Planet given the busy period of the year for researching trips by users.

An official says the Thorn Tree system, one of the original online travel communities which appeared on the scene long before the plethora of social travel sites began to materialise in recent years, has around one million registered users and currently attracts between 100,000 and 110,000 new posts a month.

But the saga is another signal that large community sites which rely on reactive moderation, rather than proactive and arguably rather less seamless interaction for users, need to rethink their strategy.
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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Sasha

    Well that would explain why I’ve never seen you. I post on Morocco, Your Choice, Get Stuffed and a few others I post in now and then.

  2. Sasha

    That’s your handle. 🙂 I’ve never seen you on TT. Where do you post, Graham?

    • Graham Poole

      I’ve posted close to 1200 times, principally India but also Laos , Burma & occasionally England , Mexico etc. if I have something useful to say.

  3. Graham Poole

    I am not sure what a handle is, but my ID is simpy grahamapoole

  4. Sasha

    Me too Graham. I like helping people in travel and otherwise if I can and I like the help I get on TT. I haven’t been able to travel because of lack of funds but I still like going to travel forums. Does your handle on TT start with the number 5 by any chance?

  5. Norbert Brockman

    One wonders if the issue of pedophilia isn’t a screen for political pressure. Many governments are uncomfortable at TT comments regarding their rulers (China and Thailand, e.g.), their activities (much of the Middle East), and issues of corruption. While these may not be travel related, they do come up.

  6. Graham Poole

    The Indian site is plagued by lonely Indian males responding to young female OPs believing then to be easy.
    Many genuine responders alert the mods to these individuaks, but altho the offending single response id deleted, the offensive poster remains a member and is not removed.
    We have been alerting TT to this for several years and their specific responsibiities as employess of, ultimately, the Britisg govt who could be embroiled in a sexual offences case.
    I contend that the mods do not understand the situation accurately and disagree with a previous contributor who thought that they did their best.
    The other great problem on hat site is the pesky touting for business, again this inadequately handled by the modrators who do not remove the offending parties.

    • Sasha

      I understand your concern Graham but I’ve never seen this on any other branch. On the branches I go to the mods are very efficient about deleting posts and discontinuing handles when necessary. They are also very good about addressing concerns when brought up. Have you tried contacting the moderators? Of course it’s possible that there is one that isn’t doing his or her job as well. Maybe they need a bit of guidance or maybe moderating isn’t the right job for them. But no one will know about your issues unless you let them know.

      • Graham Poole

        Tks Sasha. The response on the Indian site is so dilatory particularly to lonely males that one wondered if the mods were Indian and didn’t really understand the concerns. I suppose am well in the regular poster category and have shared these thoughts with other reguular posters.
        Some girl travellers have also reported privately that they are receiving pms from some of these “banned” persons.
        I wonder if the furore over this poor murdered lass in Delhi has also sharpened TT-owner’s thoughts – I repeat I had alerted them to the possibily of harm coming to lassies some time back.

        • Sasha

          You may be pleased to learn, Graham that someone recently tried to put a post on the re-opened TT and it was blocked with a message that the mods have to review it before it’s posted. The person is pretty mellow as far as I can tell so I don’t know why but all posts have to fit into the new guidelines before being publicly displayed. So hopefully the India branch will get cleaned up.

          • Graham Poole

            Sasha Am so pleased about this, I enjoy contributimg to the TT as am a grandfather to 5 girls, (my son is also a grandfather to 3) so am concerned about the sfaety of all visitors, I cannot currently travel far as am significantly visually challenged. – hence a few typos.

  7. Sherif Hassan

    We have a blog section on our website as well as a Social Media Part that have to be scrubbed Twice Daily to make sure about content being appropriate and relevant to our Travel Community. Not only we have to weed out irrelevant Materials including spam but also comments with back links and Anchor Texts trying to pull traffic to substandard sites.
    This have proven to be a challenging mission for our support personnel.
    But I must admit that Forums/blogs and Social media are an integral to any growing Travel site .

  8. Stuart McD

    Excuse typos – written on phone before morning coffee.

    The biggest loser here isn’t the BBC/LP conglomerate as one assumes, sooner or later, Thorn Tree will be back online & get re-indexed by Google and move on.

    Rather it’s the dedicated members who were shut out of a forum, they built, without warning, at the very peak of holiday season.

    Members who have travel plans, wedding plans, tips, contacts and notes locked up in a now unavailable private messaging system.

    Members who were relying on answers to questions on the public forum to get the most out of their trips around the world.

    Members who have seemingly misplaced faith in an organization that couldn’t even make the effort to warn members that a shutdown was pending. Not even 24 hours notice?

    Members who were told nothing on the LP Facebook page nor the official Twitter account other than pointing users to the Thorn Tree Blue Screen Of Death.

    Over what?

    “instances of inappropriate language and themes.”

    Someone give me a better example of corporate mumbo jumbo farther from the original LP “call it as it is” travel ethos than that.

    As one Thorn Tree user said to The Independent: “Shutting Thorn Tree is the latest eg of BBC clearly not understanding what they bought.”

    No shit.

    At least there are other options, Tripadvisor.com for the global hotel review obsessed, already mentioned VirtualTourist.com, Travellerspoint.com and Bootsnall.com for global travellers, Indiamike.com for, well, India and of course Travelfish.org (my site) is one of many SE Asia forums.

  9. Sasha

    I’ve been posting on thorntree for the past six years. In the last 2 years the mood of the forum has actually mellowed, at least in the branches I post (one of which is the most controversial on the site). Yes, there are without question some obnoxious people who post less than nice comments and some cussing is used but no more than one can find on other sites and not much more than one hears on the radio or TV. One gets trolls on every website and TT is a lot more mellow than some others like B and 4chan.

    Futhermore, while the moderators may not be able to delete every uncomfortable or inappropriate post immediately, they do a very good job of monitoring the site and are very quick to delete posts when requested. TT is a huge site with a lot of traffic. One can’t expect miracles.

    This is not the first time someone has complained about posts. I have, myself, reported abusers of the site. Websites get trolls, it’s the way the internet is. I don’t understand why the BBC all of a sudden feels that TT needs to be taken down because of this complaint. Is someone being blackmailed, cajoled, given favors?? The goal of 100% compliance with posting etiquette sounds like an excuse to keep us from our favorite travel forum.

  10. Kimberly

    VirtualTourist.com, which has been around since 1998, is one of the original travel websites and online communities with a very active and popular travel forum. http://forum.virtualtourist.com/. It is also maintained 24/7 by staff and members who just like to help out. Any inappropriate posts are immediately deleted.

    Additionally, VT helps people plan their vacations/holidays by providing authentic tips, reviews and photos from real people who have actually been there and done that. VirtualTourist members can plan their trip, meet and ask questions of locals, and get expert travel advice, all in one easy place. The site’s variety of tip categories, from Things to Do to Off-the-Beaten Path, assures that all travelers can find advice that pertains to both their travel style and upcoming adventure.

    I encourage you to post your own travel question in our forums and see the response you get!

    • Sherif Hassan

      Nice website. I see that it has some good SEO work too.

    • Sasha

      Kimberly – I finally got a chance to try the website you posted. To be honest – I don’t like the layout as much as LP’s. But I might get on the Misc. forum every now and then. Maybe I’ll see you there.

      • Kimberly

        Hi Sasha,

        We’re launching our new forums later this month which will have a whole new layout. Hope you will come back and check us out then.

        • Sasha

          Thank you Kimberly. I had asked about it on LP and was told you were starting in the next few days. If there’s any way you could communicate that to other TT’ers it might be helpful. The few I talk to outside of TT had no idea. I told them but I’m sure others are breathlessly awaiting. The new layout thing scares me a bit, I like the old one. But I can see where some changes would be good so I hope the new one is.

          Please tell me you’ll still have YC, GS and other misc. branches?

          • Kimberly

            Hi Sasha,

            I work for VirtualTourist as mentioned above and we are launching OUR new forums at the end of the month. That’s what I was referring to above. I don’t know what the status is of TT.

    • Sasha

      Oh, sorry KImberly I misread. TT is now partially up as of today. The format has changed some and the monitoring is more intense. Posts that don’t meet their guidelines get pulled before being posted so the mods can look at them. They’re supposed to be up all the way by the end of the month. I look forward to seeing the changes here as well.


  11. Pete Meyers

    Seems like quite an opportunity for other community travel sites to step up and steal some thunder, doesn’t it?

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @pete – yes, true – but they’d need users first of all.

      • Tom

        Thorn tree is finished.
        Gone are the days of fair moderation & intelligent travel queries. It’s all about bickering & who knows the most moderators online.
        I’ve been a Thorn Tree member/used for over 10 years & nowadays it’s just full of criticism & attacking other poster’s comments.


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