THINKPIECE: Internet users have 'hijacked' funding appeal

Val Hockey, chief executive of the ME Association

In this magazine last month there was an article about the ME Association (Third Sector, 25 June). Facing another cash crisis, we had, for the first time in 27 years, launched a funding appeal. But our careful plans were to be overtaken by the organisation's medical adviser refusing to desist from making allegations about the resignation of trustees and financial mismanagement on the internet in breach of his duty of confidentiality.

So the appeal was hijacked at the touch of a 'send' button and it proved impossible to stop this. The allegations were picked up by a charity on the other side of the world and within days landed on my desk as copy in their magazine. Various sites allowed postings to be made, some outside British jurisdiction.

The ME Association was forced to reply to the allegations on its web site. But these answers were not given within the time specified by the accusers, who demanded instant responses. Sometimes a letter to me appeared on a message board before I had received it. No time was allowed for enquiry, consultation and analysis and the charity was under intense pressure to react and refute statements in contravention of its communications policy.

It does not seem fair to the vast majority of members to conduct affairs in this way. Surely it is unreasonable that a tiny but vociferous percentage of its online members and non-members wish to act as prosecution, judge and jury, making allegations and providing their own radical solutions.

The only people in full command of the facts are the board, which by its nature and constitution, cannot, and should not, enter into debate and counterattack on the internet concerning what is little more than gossip and uninformed speculation.

The Charity Commission has looked at the allegations and concluded that it has "no regulatory concerns". So where does that leave those spearheading the campaign and our appeal, given the influx of supportive letters arriving with cheques?

We have, in the past week, sent a 'to whom it may concern' email to this same group of individuals, advising them of their responsibilities as they try to force an emergency general meeting by internet petition before our annual general meeting. We will never know the impact on the appeal.

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