Lonely Planet forum shut amid paedophilia claims

ASHER MOSES
Last updated 16:26 26/12/2012
Lonely Planet

STOP HERE: The message greeting visitors to the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum.

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Lonely Planet's popular online travel forum, Thorn Tree, has been temporarily shut down by owner BBC, reportedly after the discovery of paedophilia-related posts.

A source said that BBC executives, still smarting from the Jimmy Savile scandal, went into "panic attack mode" after a disgruntled user alerted them to swearing and posts that discussed topics related to paedophilia.

The site has not officially revealed 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". A message on the Thorn Tree page said the forum was closed "temporarily" so the site could apply "necessary editorial and technical updates".

The Thorn Tree is around 16 years old, making it the oldest travel community on the web. It has become a staple for avid travellers looking for tips, advice and a connection with other globetrotters.

A source with links to Lonely Planet management said the decision to shut the forum was "all about Jimmy Savile".

The source said 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.

"They discovered that if you looked for terms like 'paedophile' or 'child prostitution', you got Thorn Tree hits," the source said.

"The hits are mostly discussions of current events or pointless stuff that would have been moderated, like 'Barney the dinosaur is a big purple paedophile'. However, someone found a thread about 'what's the age of consent in Mexico?' That really set them off.

"They went into full, freak out, panic attack mode."

The source said other posts the BBC executives found objectionable were related to child prostitution in Thailand.

Long-time Thorn Tree users are distressed that they got no warning of the shutdown and didn't have a chance to say goodbye. It is not clear when the site will be back online.

In the past, some have labelled Thorn Tree "scorntree" after experiences with abusive trolls on the site.

A spokeswoman for BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster's commercial arm, could not immediately be reached for comment during the holiday period.

Lonely Planet was started in Melbourne by Maureen and Tony Wheeler in 1972. The pair sold a 75 per cent stake to BBC Worldwide in 2007 and the final 25 per cent in February 2011.

The Guardian reported on December 6 that BBC Worldwide was considering selling Lonely Planet after poor performance and criticism that it did not align with BBC programmes. The paper reported that BBC paid £130.2m (NZ$255m) for the travel publisher but in July valued the business at £85m (NZ$167m).

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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