[EM] Moderating vs suppressing
Abd ulRahman Lomax
abd at lomaxdesign.com
Fri Sep 2 19:38:51 PDT 2005
At 03:19 PM 9/2/2005, Dave Ketchum wrote:
>I am addressing this to both Condorcet and EM.
>This disagreement needs serious response. According to Jobst:
> Jobst's posts to Condorcet are being suppressed by Jeff.
> Jeff, apparently, is suppressing for disagreeing opinions
> rather than for unsuitable content.
>Seems to me moderator business is controlling quality of accepted
>posts without considering agreement/disagreement with personal
Whether this is true or not, there are a number of rules appropriate
for peer groups.
(1) If there is censorship of content, the bare fact should be
clearly announced. Further, there should be public access to all
censored material, so that any interested member can review it and
form his or her own opinion. This does not require posting it to the
list! (Nor need it apply to all rejections; it is enough that any
rejection which is accepted by the member are not published, and only
those are published which are contested or appealed.)
(2) Similarly, if membership applications are screened for approval,
the standards for membership should be clear. Even if the standard is
"whoever I (the moderator) like," this should be known. I run a large
number of lists where memberships must be approved; we did it to
avoid spammers, not to otherwise control content. All we really want
to know is that the subscriber (1) is not a robot and (2) knows, at
least a little, what the list is about.
(3) If all posts are moderated, this should be, again, public record,
members should be on notice *before* they submit a post and find that
yahoogroups, or another host, won't accept it directly.
(4) If, as can become necessary, in an otherwise unmoderated list, a
member must be put on moderation in the judgement of the moderator,
again, this should be announced. In all but the largest lists, such
an event is rarely necessary.
And some caveats to those joining lists:
Some lists are run as private fiefdoms by the moderators. They may
even have stated rules; in my experience, if you offend the
moderator, it really doesn't matter whether or not you actually
violated any rules. About a year ago, I made a comment on a certain
list about the identity of the moderator -- who used a pseudonym --
and it was pointed out to me that discussion of the moderator's
identity was a "violation of the rules." So I read the rules, which
said no such thing. However, the rules were internally inconsistent.
So I quoted the rules and pointed out the inconsistency. My goal, by
the way, in such situations, is generally to refine the rules so that
they are clear, not to change their intent. However, I was banned
from the list. Immediately and without warning (and the rules said
that any offenders would be warned). Not only that, but I had been
writing on this list for a few months. All the posts I had made to
the list were deleted from the archive. Plus all the posts from
everyone who had responded to me (which was three times as many posts
as I had directly written.) And all without comment on the list
itself. (And most list readers would not know that the archive now
was like swiss cheese.)
This kind of behavior is not all that unusual.
I've been involved in computer conferencing since the mid 1980s. I
once moderated several conferences on the W.E.L.L., a pioneer
conferencing ISP and host. I also participated in others. There was
one, moderated by a rather peculiar person, on gender and diversity
issues. The moderator preferred to be referred to as "he," but was
biologically a woman. Anyway, I took an interest in the situation of
this person and was, for example, the only person from the WELL to
actually show up at a court hearing involving this person's lawsuit
against the Navy.
To make a long story shorter if not short, I extensively discussed
the issues of concern to this person, with him and with others on the
hosted conference. For many months. At some point, however, I must
have triggered something, and suddenly I was not only persona non
grata on the conferences, but (as in the case above), all my posts
were deleted from the archives. And then the moderator realized that
there were all the responses, so he started to delete those. And then
he realized that there was little left, so he deleted the entire
conference. Months of his own work and writing, as well as that of others.
Some people will go to great lengths to avoid hearing disagreement.
By default, moderators own their lists. (Technically, with
yahoogroups and with other lists, there may be an owner with
authority to give and remove moderation privileges, and the actual
moderator(s) may be different, but it is most common that owner and
moderator are the same person.) The comment that I had made on that
list was actually "The owner of this list has the complete right to
make whatever cockamamie rules he wants." I meant that.
However, when there is an appearance of an open forum, there may be
an element of fraud if the forum is not actually open. Because truly
and completely open forums can be inadvisable (though it may only be
rare that some exception must be made and moderator control exerted),
the process should be visible and not something that takes place in
the shadows, where only the rejected writer and the moderator know
what is happening.
If the members are not interested, fine. That's up to them. It also
is the norm. Many people really don't care about others being
censored arbitrarily or otherwise, as long as it isn't them. But I do
think that people should be informed, so that if they continue, they
have been notified of the risks. It is a substantial effort that can
go into writing for lists, and it is distressing to see it wasted.
I know, for I was quite recently banned without cause by the
moderator of the Approval Voting list. I had violated no list rules.
The sequence was this:
As some readers will know, I tend to ... go on and on. I also bring
in what I see as related topics, and some people agree that they are
related and some do not. In this case, quite some time back, the
moderator posted a warning that my posts were "off-topic." However,
another reader wrote to the list that, no, while the relevance might
not seem obvious, he reread the post in question and it *was*
relevant. The moderator then apologized, effectively withdrawing the warning.
Months later, the moderator abruptly and without notice or warning
began deleting my posts. I think he eventually realized that this
wasn't right, and he began, instead, to reject them, occasionally
letting some through. It was pretty clear to me that he was judging
my posts differently than were being judged posts from others. I was
*much* more interested in process issues than in getting my posts
approved. So I created a meta-list, a list where rejected posts could
be posted. Most of my posts started being approved, but what I wanted
was for rejected posts (which were in my opinion, relevant) to be
available, and for there to be notice of the rejection. I did submit
such notices, and one was approved.
I'm sure the moderator considered me a pain in the rump, but I was
trying to help the list develop rules that would serve it in the
event that CAV actually did become a popular group. The rules and
procedure I was effectively suggesting were designed to allow
appropriate moderator control *plus* freedom of speech.
Anyway, I was simultaneously writing back and forth directly with the
moderator about the whole process. I did suggest the formal procedure
and guidelines to be used where a moderator deems it necessary to
intervene. It actually seemed to me like we were getting somewhere.
Then the moderator wrote to me, in response to those suggestions,
"I'll go you one better. I'll take you off moderation if you will
agree to limit your posts in length and relevance to what is typical
of posts on the list." I did not refuse, but neither did I accept. I
said that I was not happy to agree to standards which did not apply
to other list members. (And I also considered the standards far too
vague, they were a setup for violation, since relevance is in the eye
of the beholder, and I already knew that my opinions of relevance --
and, indeed, the opinions of many other list participants -- were
different from those of the moderator. Length could have been
specified, that was not the problem.) I got a mail back informing
that I had been banned for "refusing to follow list rules."
I could easily make all the correspondence available, but does anyone
care? Not as far as I know....
My point here is simply that such behavior by list moderators,
especially in hot-button areas like political reform, is not at all
uncommon. It is, in fact, one of the major reasons why the reform of
democracy is so difficult: most of those who would lead it don't
really trust democracy, which you can tell by how they manage their
I'm not at all proposing that lists must be a free-for-all where
anything goes. Quite the contrary, in fact. I'm proposing regulation
that respects the rights of members, and that allows the membership
to develop its own opinions about the actions of writers and
moderators. If a majority of list members -- or even a minority --
don't approve of the censorship, they can always form their own list.
But if they don't know that it is happening....
The EM list, for better or worse, has not seen moderator
intervention. This degree of openness may not be appropriate for an
actual political action group, where there can be a need for focus,
not to mention an avoidance of flame wars. But it is essential that
there be openness and transparency wherever there is a need for the
development of public consensus on issues. And it is my opinion that
PACs will be more effective if they can generate broad and genuine
consensus among their members, and if they remain open to new ideas
and approaches, which I believe can be done without diluting the
ability to act effectively. And this task, making such organization
possible, is exactly what I am about.
I have submitted this post to the Condorcet list as well as to EM,
because that is automatic when I Reply to All. I have applied for
membership in that list, but it requires moderator approval. Which
could be a bad sign, or maybe not.... So it may bounce. Ordinarily,
though, I would not cross-post where I think that a majority of the
membership of one list belongs to the other....
More information about the Election-Methods