Mega travel website Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum is back online after 15 days of downtime.
The word on the web was that owners BBC were alerted to threads about paedophilia and, being mid-Jimmy-Savile-gate themselves, the powers that be at the Beeb were taking no chances with anything that could taint them further with the kiddy-fiddling brush.
According to USA Today, a spokesperson for the BBC said: "We've found no evidence of discussions concerning pedophilia on the Thorn Tree forum, but we have discovered instances of inappropriate language and themes." Yet, another anonymous source told the Sydney Morning Herald that BBC execs closed the forum after "They discovered that if you looked for terms like 'pedophile' or 'child prostitution', you got Thorn Tree hits" linking to threads discussing the age of consent in Mexico and some posts related to child prostitution in Thailand. More after the jump....
If that was indeed the case, then of course those posts should be removed but closing down the whole site seemed a little excessive. Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler agrees. A few days into the closure he told Fairfax Media he was "amazed" that the site was still down. He was less surprised, however, by the revelation that the 16-year-old forum contained some controversial topics and comments: "There are always some areas which are live wires—Israel and Palestine for example—and if you don't keep a constant eye on them it can quickly go haywire," he told Fairfax.
The forum did come back to life on Saturday 5 January but with a vastly reduced number of posts and stricter new community guidelines, summarized by Lead moderator Zabba on his welcome back message: "We've made some changes to how we ask travellers to use Thorn Tree. Strong language of any kind won't be acceptable, and you'll find filters are in place to prevent this. Attempts to get around this with creative sailor-speak will be deleted, so please avoid doing this. Off-topic posts of any kind have no place on Thorn Tree and will be deleted." Click Zabba's own profile and it rather amusingly says "This member's profile has been removed as it contains content which is deemed inappropriate," leaving us to wonder if LP has gone and created a Frankenstein censor that it can no longer control?!
Anyway, Zabba also says they'll be scaling back up from here and resurrecting older posts as soon as they can, but they have a big job on their hands. Last time we looked, there were something like 850,000 posts—that's a a big pool of temporarily unavailable but massively useful shared traveler knowledge and we are looking forward to its return.
Luckily for anyone seeking tips and advice on travel in China, we're also here to help! Our forum may not be the prettiest kid on the block (we're working on a facelift) but there's a treasure trove of travel tips to be had and sound advice from our team of expert editors who have over 15 years of China experience between them, so ask away on the forum or in the blog comments section below and we'll tell you what you need to know.