Unfamiliarity with the Internet or Online Communities
Most of us are familiar with protocol and rules for face-to-face support groups, but even for many people who are Internet-savvy, an online community is a new experience. Fortunately most groups have posted a list of guidelines and/or a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions document) that will tell you what is and is not acceptable in the group. If the group does not have this type of documentation posted, ask the administrator if there is anything you should know about etiquette.
If an online support group is poorly run, it can be worse than having no group available at all. Lack of moderation is detrimental to any online community, but especially to a mental health support community.
Without an administrator or team of moderators keeping an eye on things and/or monitor messages before they are released, thoughtful discussion can be dominated by a loudmouth (or group of loudmouths), by flame wars or by personal agendas. I have seen a newsgroup completely destroyed essentially due to its lack of moderation. A newsgroup set up to discuss suicidal thoughts was taken over by a group of people (or one person – it’s hard to tell online) who told everyone who made a suicidal post that they were going straight to hell. Unfortunately, there was no moderator screening the posts. Needless to say, in a short time the newsgroup was abandoned.
If you are looking for an online support group, you will probably have the best luck with one that has clear guidelines against disruptive behavior and a moderating team that is active.
Anonymity, for many people, is one of the benefits that the Internet offers that allows them to be comfortable talking about their depression. Unfortunately, that same anonymity can be exploited and gives someone the ability, if they so choose, to perpetrate a hoax. The worst type of hoax that has been perpetrated on my depression support forum is the suicide hoax. We will see a post from someone who claims to be the roommate, parent, friend or even landlord of a member (rarely a long-term member). Their post says they’re sorry to have to tell us that the member has committed suicide. Then they say they either knew that the member visited the forum or were browsing through the person’s computer and just happened to come upon it.