While Google was trying to shut down Fudzilla yesterday claiming that we peddled malware, Lonely Planet's popular online travel forum, Thorn Tree, was been shut down by owner BBC. In that case the fear was that the site had become an online haven for paedophiles.
BBC executives are nervous about any wiff of paedophilia after a scandal involving one of its “personalities” Jimmy Savile who sexually assaulted a huge number of underage children from the 1960s until he died last year. It was assumed that the BBC must have known about what was happening and turned a blind eye. In the case of Thorn Tree, it seemed that the Beeb had a panic attack after a disgruntled user alerted them to swearing and posts that discussed topics related to paedophilia. It is not clear why it was necessary to close the entire forum without warning except that "a number of posts" did not conform with the site's "standards".
The founder of Lonely Planet, Tony Wheeler, who no longer owns the publisher but contributes to it, told Fairfax that he was amazed the forum was still offline four days after the shutdown and criticised the BBC for not offering a more detailed explanation.
The Thorn Tree is one of the oldest travel communities on the web. A source with links to Lonely Planet management said the decision to shut the forum was "all about Jimmy Savile". A disgruntled user, who had been banned several times for trolling and harassment, emailed BBC executives asking if they were aware that Thorn Tree was full of porn and swearing.
He pointed out that if you looked for terms like 'paedophile' or 'child prostitution', you got Thorn Tree hits," the source said. That would not have mattered much if it had not been for a thread which asked what the age of consent was in Mexico. The source said other posts the BBC executives found objectionable were related to child prostitution in Thailand.
It is not clear when the site will be back online.
Update: BBC Worldwide issued a statement in response to the closure:
"We've found no evidence of discussions concerning paedophilia on the Thorn Tree forum, but we have discovered instances of inappropriate language and themes. Until we are confident that all rogue posts can be identified and deleted, we feel we have no option but to temporarily close the site as a precautionary measure."