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life, miracles and shadows of the ‘internet bar’ with a turnover of one million euros a year

27 mayo, 2021

With the rise of social networks, most of the forums passed away. The word, in fact, sounds like old man to some. Despite the passage of time and fashions, not all of them ended up forgotten. ForoCoches, born in 2003 as a community for automotive fans, has survived to this day transformed into one of the most controversial and controversial platforms. “This is ForoCoches, not a fucking car forum”their users often say.

We are in the center of Madrid, in a hotel inspired by literature, with the founder and owner of the portal. It is Alex Marin, a Palencia born in 1980, known on his forum under the pseudonym Electrik. We want to talk about ForoCoches, radiograph its day-to-day life and understand its history, which it has captured in The engine of success: 35 keys for your idea to succeed, a book in which he talks about his personal experience to achieve success, mixing a first-person story and entrepreneurial advice.

ForoCoches has 770,000 registered users, 305,000 active and about 150,000 daily messages

It is estimated that your platform It is the largest forum in Spanish on the internet and the fifth in the world. They currently have 770,000 registered users, explains Marín to Genbeta, taking into account that the profiles are deleted after being two years without use. The number of active users, those who have entered at least during the last month, stands at 305,000. A day it ensures that between 100,000 and 150,000 messages are left. It also generates around one million euros a year.

The internet bar and something else

Portrait Alex Marin Forocoches

“I think that expression was said by me and in some medium they took it as if I had said that ‘it’s the internet bar’ for that reason,” he declares. “It is a lot of people talking and in an environment that often looks like a bar, a group of people who speak in a freer waysay, by using a nick“.

That Pub, whose bar and tables would be the threads, hosts conversations of all kinds. Cooking recipes are told, “the fallacies of Francoism” are discussed, Telegram channels are shared, officials are debated, they continue to talk about cars, all kinds of trolling are carried out, stories such as the “Extremaduran iPhone are uncovered “, there are threads qualified as epic and also other types of behaviors that contravene their rules of use.

Among other behaviors, ForoCoches prohibits xenophobic, racist or defamatory comments; although part of them remain

Among other behaviors, ForoCoches prohibits damage to people or companies with false information, insults, defamation or threats; the dissemination of personal data of third parties without their consent; the distribution, exchange or dissemination of any type of illegal content; or the realization of Xenophobic, racist, or defamatory comments.

There may be, yes, messages that appear like this, of course. With 150,000 messages a day … It’s like in a blog or in a medium, the comments they put on the news, if they are not moderated beforehand, before they appear, as many slip through. And if nobody reports them, then they can stay there, in the history.

Because one of the keys to success among others, according to its creator, is the lack of a human moderation as direct as has traditionally existed in other internet forums. First, no users busy maintaining cleansed the place with the position of moderators because its creator did not want to. Moderation is in the hands of the community as a whole.

From experience in previous forums, before ForoCoches, which I have had several in 99, four years of this, and there I did have human moderators. And I saw that always, in the end, it ended a little with favoritism, each one imposing their ideas like that in a very particular way and always ended with problems. Between the moderators they fought.

And in ForoCoches, from the beginning, I said: Well, I’m going to do it another way. And that is why I decided that the users themselves were the ones who were self-regulating the community.

The power of the bans falls on the most veteran users, whose reports have more weight when it comes to knocking down a message than the newer ones. Although there is not much difference either, explains Marín, because “the user who is four years old, would be from 2014, has the same power as one from 2003, for example.” Ensures that this system has not been adjusted because it is going very well. To this control is added another, a kind of automatic moderation that filters keywords.

Yes, in the titles, not in the messages, which would already be more difficult to filter by words. But in the titles there are keywords that are filtered and make them not accessible to unregistered users, or to Google … That also controls a lot that this content remains within the platform.

Certain messages are deleted in the eyes of unregistered users and search engines like Google, but not for ForoCoches users

As is clear from his words, this content, despite having been marked as abusive, still visible to ForoCoches users. However, if the abusive behaviors go beyond an unclear border, the owner of the portal says that those users end up expelled. “They end up outside. When it is clear xenophobia they purify themselves. Besides, as they cannot re-enter with the invitations, they make the control really powerful enough,” he declares.

The last barrier to this moderation is carried out by an outside company. There are messages in which you can be defamatory and in it they are in charge of manually reviewing them, he tells us. A service of virtual assistants responsible for different tasks within the forum, such as commercial issues and this, moderation.

However, certain behaviors continue. Sexist, racist, homophobic content and situations of harassment are repeatedly reported online. In fact, part of the interviews he has given as a result of the publication of his book have been called “image washing” On twitter. What do you think about it?

No, I think not [están lavando la cara al foro]. All that is said is enough … you know what there is. Nor do I see a wash.

Well, there is everything. I just read a super article … from ‘eldiario.es’, which participates there Barbijaputa, it’s called. And they have released an article there super … I mean, there are from both sides, let’s say. It looks like a war, in the end.

Machismo, racism, homophobia, politics …

Img 20180409 Wa0006

Is Forocoches a home for sexist, racist, homophobic behaviors …? Is the set of users like this?

No, not that. Generalize by 1%, say, 100% …

There are people of all kinds. Yes, there are messages and that is what we have commented before, which is criticized for that and “image washing” that there is not that … There are really 305,000 active users, who write, and there is everything. With only 1%, there are already 3,000 users that if you look at their messages … Every day there are about 100,000, 150,000 messages, that is, there is everything.

“The ‘to scrub’, for example, I think that came from ‘The Simpsons'”

We remember the “to scrub”, the “all whores” … Are the machistas, trolls … are, in your consideration, a minority?

That is, it is a minority. But of course, the minorities are there, they make noise … Many are falling, because always … Many things is also what I have commented there, and the typical phrases that they use as humor have been put as a headline in this. Sure, offensive phrases, which are like memes.

The “to scrub”, for example, I think that came from ‘The Simpsons’. There is a chapter that everyone is talking about in a congress and a girl comes out and says: “I think I don’t know what.” And Homer comes out and says: “Let’s wash up!” And I think it came from there. And it is something that is lengthening, lengthening, lengthening … They use it in the forum, as a humorous meme, but of course, that offends now.

Now he has also given them to mess with bald men, for example. And every time someone comes out, they say “no, if you are bald, so”, and well, bald people, for now, are not offended in the same way, even if it is humor as well. “Go to Turkey, I don’t know what” is like a phrase too.

Now it also offends everything. On the subject of feminism it offends, with good reason, I do not say no. But there are issues that at times offend that sector, now this other … And deep down everyone is offended and everything is criticized.

Regarding the moderation or not of content, where do you put the border of what is published in the forum?

It is super difficult to control. I leave it a bit to the management of the users themselves and then, when something passes the law, let’s say. Sure, even the laws, it’s difficult. It’s happening with singers and with … It’s very difficult, I don’t know exactly where to define. Not myself, many times …

Should certain hate speech be allowed? Racists, etcetera.

Of course, there are the limits … It is like the article I read this morning, the columnist of ‘eldiario.es’, there it even insults, or calls, defines … It is like the opposite side, in a way … Calling someone racist is also how someone who is racist calls … I mean, it is doing the opposite. That is, to insult without motives or without any proof of anything. But hey, you can … If it’s opinion …

You know that accounts of xenophobic British parties were suspended on Twitter …

There are limits … […] I do not know, I have doubts in that sense, what limits can be, which are not … Then there is the humor part, that many times many things slip through, as was done with Franco, that many things sneak in as humor, in songs and things like that. In the end, people always skip it and now as anyone can generate content on Twitter or in any other medium, they can skip it. You can also use Tor-type networks and do things … to be anonymous, and whoever puts something illegal, cannot be caught, say, by the IP or by little things like that. It’s a move.

“I’m looking for a middle ground between leaving the user free to give their opinion a little about what they want, but without it happening either, because if it happens then the accounts go out”

Are you in favor of increasing moderation to avoid certain types of messages or fewer limitations with the risk of spreading hate speech, harassment …?

I am looking for a middle ground. Between leaving the user free to say a little about what they want, but without it happening either. Because if it happens then the accounts go out. In ForoCoches, some more right-wing platforms were created … They are called Third Division, something like that, which is a way of camouflaging those who are very right-wing, and those platforms ended up being reported by users and were deleted, blocked and expelled to the people. When it comes to extremes, whichever side it is, I see well that it is cut. But in the middle term, I do not see either that freedom of expression is cut off or that it is censored. Neither one way nor the other. Middle term.

Do you think that the platforms have responsibility for the content of your users?

The platforms do not. They may have responsibility if something is reported and not removed. But when it is in real time, content generated by third parties, you can not be responsible for what the third parties put. It’s like the …