A popular discussion forum focused on travel and operated by the BBC has been shut down after allegations that users were posting topics related to pedophilia, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
Thorn Tree, a forum linked to guide book publisher, Lonely Planet, has been temporarily taken down after 16 years of operation. The site is widely regarded as one of the oldest travel forums on the web and a long-standing meeting place for globetrotters seeking advice from fellow travellers. The site will remain offline until management is "confident all rogue posts have been identified and appropriate action taken" against those who have posted "inappropriate language and themes", according to the online notice posted on the site.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, BBC executives pulled the plug on the forum after a disgruntled user asked them if they were aware that Thorn Tree was filled with porn and swearing.
"They discovered that if you looked for terms like 'pedophile' or 'child prostitution', you got Thorn Tree hits," a source speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Sydney Morning Herald. The searches were linked to threads discussing the age of consent in Mexico and some posts related to child prostitution in Thailand.
Philip Fleming, a spokesperson for the BBC, has denied that the broadcasting corporation, who bought Lonely Planet in its entirety last year, found any proof of pedophilia on the site.
"We've found no evidence of discussions concerning pedophilia on the Thorn Tree forum, but we have discovered instances of inappropriate language and themes,” he said, adding that the temporary closure of the site is a "precautionary measure," according to USA Today.
According to Lonely Planet's community guidelines, Thorn Tree has its own set of guidelines for users, separate from that of other areas in Lonely Planet. The guideline also states that the site reserves the right to monitor disputes between members but is under no obligation to do so.
Lonely Planet's original founder, Tony Wheeler, was reportedly "amazed" that Thorn Tree was still shut down four days after going offline on December 22 and criticizes the BBC for failing to thoroughly explaining to users what was going on, notes Tech News World.
The allegation that the forum was used for pedophilic discussion comes months after accusations that the now deceased Jimmy Savile — a former radio DJ and television host — sexually abused children inside BBC property.