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AOL reverses English-only policy

The service reversed a decision to make sports message boards English-only forums.

After receiving complaints from multilingual users,America Online today reversed a decision made last week to turn its Grandstand sports message boards into English-only forums.

The Grandstand forum allows users to post messages about sporting events. Last week, the leading online service erased non-English messages from its Grandstand forum because AOL employees charged with monitororing the postings are not multilingual--and, therefore, can't take responsibility for their content in the event that it is offensive, according to the company.

AOL issued a warning that read, "Posts not made in English will be deleted without notice." Today, however, the service posted a new statement: "After reviewing this situation, we have modified our guidelines for the Grandstand message boards and AOL now encourages members to post multilingual messages."

Complaints about the original decision were not limited to individuals. The Mexican-American Legal Defense learned about AOL's policy and was working to file a lawsuit against AOL, charging the company with discrimination against Spanish-speaking users.

"We did some legal research and drafted up a letter that we placed on several lines in both Spanish and English to make people aware of this problem," said Martha Jimenez, regional council for the organization. "Had they not reversed it, we would have submitted a letter to them today, but we think our strong statement must have gotten to them before we did."

Jimenez said this isn't the end of its investigation into AOL's language policies. "We plan to thank them for reversing their policy, but we need to find out why they did it in the first place," she said. "What America Online did clearly shows a certain level of preference or chauvinism and a certain bias that is certainly unbecoming of such a growing company."

AOL does already host French, German, and French Canadian chat rooms. Company representatives did not return phone calls at press time.

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