Support, Not Medical Information
Why the FAST Website Maintains a "No Medical Information" Rule
If you're a member on the FAST list (or thinking about becoming one) you might wonder why there's a strict rule against posting medical information. No medical information? On a message board about a disease? It sounds like it can't be done.
There aren't one or two simple reasons behind not allowing medical information on the group, but many. FAST was the first allergy website (1997) to embrace the fact that there's a lifestyle behind food allergies (it's not just all medicine and needing recipes), and that people living with the same health problem might wish to join together in an online support group. Plenty of sites at that time, and even today, do not have forums for many reasons, including the possibility of members passing along inaccurate information and the threat of spammers.
In running online forums now for over a decade, it has become apparent that this rule is the way to go in order to have a flame-free, low-volume, on-topic list which works to foster goodwill and a feeling of community.
Following are some of the reasons that the FAST mailing list tries to be free of medical information.
Reasons that Help the Site
FAST has worked diligently to be accepted by the mainstream medical community (or, at least, some of it). This is not easy, especially with the group being based on free servers. Yet many members were led here by the mainstream medical community who felt they could recommend FAST to their patients for support. That trust means a lot and has to be earned. There are also websites that have linked to FAST and expect it to not contain medical information. This type of standing could be lost if the mailing list were open to medical information.
You are also protected by the ruling not to have medical information present on the board. While our group maintains that listmembers and FAST cannot be held responsible for information exchanged on the board, it's still important to encourage members not to give or exchange any sort of medical information. Board-certified allergists are the correct people to speak to in case of a food allergy question, especially with topics that relate to treatment, tests, reactions, cures, and the like.
Ads that have appeared on the forums (without permission) have sometimes been seen to be concealed advertisements posted by people attempting to increase their customer base. By not allowing any medical information at all, these concealed ads can easily be erased, as they automatically fall against the "no medical information" rule.
Second-hand "hearsay" is not allowed in court. That sounds a little out of place, but anything we post on FAST that is medical is secondhand. It might be from our doctor, it might be from a book, but it's secondhand. Through each person that information goes through, it loses a bit of its accuracy. Think about the childhood game "Telephone," or even how gossip gets changed as it goes from person to person. Additionally, members are not medically trained, so our understanding of something may be "off" (This is one reason it's recommended that you take someone with you to medical appointments. It helps to have a second set of ears hear what our doctors tell us).
Finally, the focus of our list is helping one another through sharing our commonalities. This is what makes FAST unique! Medical topics place the focus on the clinical and differences, the impersonal. They also place focus on aspects we all find personal to ourselves and believe very strongly about. FAST the website has been known for being a place where people feel a common bond. Our group has never had an all-out flame war (knock on wood) in over a decade of being online! Not many groups can make that claim. Groups that allow medical information are more likely to have flame wars. Which, granted, some people do like . . . but our group tries to be a soft place to land for people who need to feel welcomed and supported.
Reasons that Help Members
Bad experiences result in debate. Our medical experiences are experiences we all feel very strongly about, good or bad. These topics bring out passionate responses. Passionate responses often lead to debate. When strong feelings exist and people wish to drive home a point, this can result in flame wars and hurt feelings.
Debate fosters bad feelings and gossip. One of the ways two people might bond is through siding against someone else's opinion! This creates an environment that fosters gossip and negative feelings toward one another. Quickly, a group can go from being a support group to being a group that is all about debate and hurt feelings.
Medical information also creates an authoritative tone and intimidation. This has happened on our list, and I was informed by several members that they felt intimidated and uncomfortable because of it. That is why we now even have a rule about not using an authoritative tone! We must realize we are all in the same boat; what we post is opinion, not necessarily fact, and none of us is better than the next. We're all "researchers" in a way. You have to be when you (or your child) have a disease.
Finally, the last reason under this category that members find great is that the FAST list is low-volume, friendly, and personable. We share more about personal things happening in our lives in relation to food allergies (Did you hear that Jane's mother-in-law gave her peanut brittle for Christmas? What can I do for an allergen-free get together? What do you make for Thanksgiving?) and know that that type of topic will not cause alarm or debate.
Reasons that Help Moderators
Volunteer has many meanings--on FAST it means unpaid. The moderators are volunteers. Less medical topics mean less work for the moderators, because there is less sorting through flame-wars and there are less hurt feelings to mend. When medical information and flames are posted, there are often hurt feelings and members who threaten to leave if certain things are not changed. The less medical information posted on FAST, the less problems we have.
No medical board is available for fact-checking. It might be a different story if FAST were a huge site with paid employees and a medical advisory board. If so, there would be the ability to fact-check, erase inaccurate posts, or correct them. As it is, none of us are medically trained and we don't have the capability to do this. Put shortly, we don't have the time to have a list that is full of debate, misinformation, and flame posts. And you don't have the time to read it!
Now, that being said, medical information does sometimes sneak on the list. Hopefully it's "common knowledge" information, like "spelt is an ancient form of wheat." This information appears in typical dictionaries, so it's not exactly medical information that only a doctor can tell you. Tidbits of common-knowledge medical information are only to be expected on a list about food allergies.
However, if you do find that there is uncomfortable medical information sneaking on the list that the moderators are missing, this is why the moderators exist--please let us know!
Reading this may have made you wish to not subscribe to FAST, or wish to unsubscribe. Some people have found that they wish to belong to more than one group. You might belong to one group that you write to when you wish to post medical information; another group you may write to when you want to post about a difficult experience and wish people to rally to support you. There are reasons to belong to low-volume lists that exclude topics, just as there may be reasons to belong to a more open forum.Whatever you decide, hopefully this article has helped explain why the FAST list has been an online support group, rather than a medical resource, since 1997.