Gossip, rumours, malicious lies..

"From a cast-iron source, you say?!..."

I love the Internet, and I love the fact that the increased availability of it – be it just in accessing it, or using endless ways to generate information to be included upon it.  I’d be one hell of a hypocrite not to, really – it’s these very mechanisms that give me the opportunity to splurge my Forest-related diatribes to the lucky masses (sic).

But with this increased accessibility of relatively simple-to-operate technologies seems to come an exponential increase in people attempting to subvert it.  Ridiculous rumours seem to be in over-drive this season, admittedly exacerbated by Forest’s chronic inability to sign the players we feel we need to progress, fuelling frustration and therefore those people who seem to like to capitalise upon it.

Back in ye olde days when I started watching Forest any unofficial views came in the form of fanzines – many a happy hour was spent poring over The Brian, The Tricky Tree and Forest Forever – reading material that was, by today’s standards, weeks out of date.  That said, it was generally reading material that was probably better thought-out than my average rambling on here!

Occasionally there’d be some quite risque material, or propagation of rumours or dischord – but the ‘lag factor’ meant there was rarely breaking news, and I suppose the nature of having to write, layout and get the thing printed then sell it meant they were perhaps edited by more responsibly minded people than folks like myself, who just find a bit of free webspace and let rip without nearly as much commitment.

But ‘Billy-on-the-plane‘ gate has got me thinking, and it’s far and away not the only example – just one that managed to even get a mention in the local media.  Online forums are a rife area for potential rifts developing (or widening?) between the club and fans.  We’ve already seen the example where Sheffield Wednesday sued a fan site, and there does seem to be a general lack of awareness of legal obligations when pushing material into the public domain.

The same goes on here – I try to have a policy of not moderating comments, but occasionally I have to remove one or two.  You see, as the controller of the content it’s me that’s liable for them.  Of course, you can put disclaimers up about comments being the opinions of the original poster and all that jazz, but ultimately, if it’s contentious then it’s the editor that needs to act and remove it.

So when on the Vital Forest forum a person posted an incredibly detailed account of a conversation with Billy Davies they supposedly had (amounting to 24 detailed points – a long ‘chat’ for a fairly short flight from Glasgow to East Mids!), perhaps their moderating team should’ve been a bit quicker off the mark to get it binned.  Because if it wasn’t true (which I don’t think it was) then it was libellous.  Extremely so.

That it has been removed following supposed interest from the club potentially damages the reputation of the Forest supporting community on the Internet.  It’s a tricky one, because like most people, I believe in freedom of speech – but of course, once something goes down in print it becomes somewhat different.  Whilst I wouldn’t want to see it, Forest or Billy could probably pursue legal action.

In the days where football rumours were peddled in pubs, occasionally fanzines or the typically well-screened arena of radio phone-ins it was a little more difficult to get your rumours to take root.  Your coverage wasn’t great – but now with so many burgeoning online communities all keeping an eye on each other’s ‘in the know’ type posts, once an exclusive drops it spreads like wildfire.

That’s before we even get on to Twitter or Facebook for proliferating the boom.  We really are living in a world of information overload – and it would seem that legislation is a bit slow to catch up – or perhaps, more accurately, people with access to preach to this massive digital audience aren’t aware of it fully, nor perhaps their moral responsibility.

I know from my own site stats that news or rumour of a signing spikes my hits like no other subject, so if cynical traffic-generating is the name of the game then it’s a cheap trick to employ.  Every forum I lurk around seems to have a select group of people with ‘sources’ – this summer their hit-rate has been pretty poor, yet still people cling on to their latest updates.  It’s a bit bizarre.

If I were in a position where I knew some information before everyone else then I certainly wouldn’t jeopardise that position of trust by spouting it to a load of strangers on the Internet (honest!).  It does make one rather question the motives of those folks who do claim to have some kind of inside knowledge.  I suppose it’s likely to be either just a good old wind-up or possibly attention-seeking.  Who knows.

Apologies for the long waffly rant.  I think it’s awesome Forest has such a vibrant and varied online presence courtesy of fans who put time and effort into providing their views – of course, my favourites are those of you that post here – but we do need, as a collective, to be careful not to cross the line.  Of course we have opinions, views, speculation and ranting to do – but well, isn’t it about time we cut the bullshit?

I used to quite enjoy some of the hints offered by a few posters around the forums, I might even have commented on them here – but the experience of this summer has rendered me completely numb to the rumours that have done the rounds this time around.  I wonder whether other teams suffer from it the same degree as we do?

Tell you what, a win against Reading tomorrow should improve the online mood immeasurably – come on Forest, do your bit, please!  And if anybody spots me spouting nonsense rumours then give me a virtual slap!