[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 
>technical opinions.

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 
own organizations....

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 mailing list