I think it's truly wonderful that you are working to build ways for people to support one another!
However, this forum you've founded is very troubling in that it involves something that looks a heck of a lot like counseling by a profession -- a professional soliciting personal disclosures for purpose of "support" -- on a public, unencrypted website that is run by a third party. In so far as this could be considered counseling services delivered via the web, it is in violation of the American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics
(HTML via Google
If the counselor in question is licensed, and especially if she is a member of the ACA, this could reflect on her poorly should, heaven forfend, it come up before her licensure board. In doing this, one would be risking one's license every time one dared the ire of a troll by booting him off the forum.
But of even more concern is that those ethical rules really are
good guidelines for the protection of those in our care. I am guessing you don't know much about the computer security issues you are exposing your forum members to -- you don't have the sort of due-diligence explanation to your users which the ACA rules require, and which really are just common decency to warn them about. But I think, perhaps, nobody warned you.
It's not impossible to do this ethically; you need to spell some things out for your users so they can decide, fully informed, if these are risks they are comfortable with and how they might want to mitigate them. For instance, you can suggest anonymizers and other approaches to improve their privacy; you can have guidelines on how not to accidentally reveal one's identity.
But I think perhaps you have not, in your zeal to help, thought through the ethical and liability issues in this project, which are dizzying. If one forum member threatens another, do you have a Tarasoff duty? How will you fulfill it? I have been advised by multiple ethics professors now to warn people I "support" online with a standard disclaimer that in doing so, I am not establishing a client/clinician relationship. Can you imagine being hauled before your licensure board for "client abandonment" because you didn't post for a week and a forum member with NPD traits decided that was grounds to sue? Can you imagine being hauled before your licensure board by the survivors of a member who committed suicide, who claimed you were the forum member's therapist by virtue of their participation in the forum?
Please consider these issues well. I love your idea and want to see the Internet used to promote well being and the relief of human suffering. I think you are doing your heart-felt dance on very thin ice. Can you move it to where the ice is thicker?Edited at 2008-07-03 06:57 am (UTC)