Spicer’s Corner: No More Hiding Behind Keyboards

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all – we all know the old adage, but when it comes to the horse world, it seems many of us struggle to adhere to it. The deluge of catty comments that is all too common in equestrian circles has become more of a flood in recent years, thanks to the advent of social media and its forerunner, online forums.

But now one governing body is taking action to inhibit the flow of vitriol that is the unpleasant side of online conversation, by banning the use of pseudonyms on their online chat boards. British Dressage sent out an email to all its members last month, explaining it was removing anonymity from the forum. Now only registered members are able to post on the forum, and only under their real name – which is linked to their membership account. Associate members can read posts, but only paying members will be able to start threads or contribute to the conversation.

The news was met with some horror from board members, who were probably appalled at the idea of their previous posts coming back to haunt them IRL (in real life, for those of you who don’t frequent forums) and were about to spend the next few weeks deleting furiously. But British Dressage were keen to reassure them: “We would like to emphasise that any posts previous to midnight on 31 October will still retain the alias, so please don’t worry that anything historical will suddenly change – you don’t have to go deleting anything that you don’t want your name associated with.”

Even so, those who are against the change probably feel the essence of the forum – somewhere to have open conversation and give and receive advice without fear of recrimination – has been ruined. Some may avoid posting, unwilling to ask questions under their real name. After all, how often do we see some unsuspecting novice horse owner post a seemingly innocuous question online only to receive a barrage of abuse for being stupid enough not to know the answer in the first place?

The horse world is full of people with forthright opinions who are more than willing to share them whether invited to or not. Check out any equestrian social media pages and see how quickly a simple topic in the horse world can descend into mudslinging and online bullying. It’s not pretty.

It can often be top riders who are subjected to the harshest of criticism, with everything from their personalities to their training methods to their competitive results held up for extensive debate online. For many, BD’s announcement comes as a relief, such as international dressage rider Anna Ross, who posted on her Facebook page: “I’ve always been gobsmacked that it is legal on any forum for individuals hiding behind aliases to say untrue or defamatory things that are then read by, in some cases, 10’s of 000’s of people.”

So well done to British Dressage for taking a stand. Forums should be healthy, lively places for debate and conversation, but people shouldn’t be allowed to post inflammatory or cruel statements while hiding behind a screen name. If having to put your name to your opinion curtails some of the catty, unkind or even downright libellous comments, then it’s a change for the better, and perhaps it’s time for other forums to follow suit.

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