[EM] Moderating vs suppressing

Abd ulRahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Sat Sep 3 20:39:05 PDT 2005

At 07:59 PM 9/2/2005, Rob Lanphier wrote:

>I have dabbled with the idea of using some of the moderation features on
>the EM list.  Specifically, I would hope to weed out the following:
>*  Blatant personal attacks
>*  Off-topic posts (such as the post below)
>*  Other violations of policy (see http://electorama.com/em for current
>As it turns out, the Mailman mailing list software used on Electorama
>has a very cool feature, which allows for setting the moderation flag on
>a per-user basis.

This feature is also standard for yahoogroups lists....

>   So, I could conceivably put one or two people on
>probationary moderation, while letting most emails pass through
>unmoderated.  I can also make it so that everyone is moderated by
>default, and then clear the moderation flags for those individuals that
>show good judgement.

My own experience indicates that, if there are clear rules, most 
people will follow them. If the list is relatively small (which could 
be up to a thousand members or so), default moderation may not be 
necessary. However, as a list gets *very* large, or where a list is 
dealing with hot-button issues that easily trigger flame wars, 
default moderation may be a good way to go.

However, as they say, the devil is in the details. I moderated for 
some years the usenet newsgroup soc.religion.islam. We had clear and 
specific policies about moderation, and multiple moderators, any one 
of whom could approve a message (though there was typically one duty 
moderator at any time). Some of the ideas I'm working on were 
originally designed to deal with that newsgroup. As an example, 
writers whose posts were rejected were informed in the rejection 
message that the rejection could be included in a regularly published 
rejection list, if they so requested. The subject header (if it was 
not intrinsically offensive in itself) and the email address of the 
writer were given. I had planned -- and did some work toward 
realizing -- setting up a mailing list, to which anyone could 
subscribe, which would receive the incoming feed for the newsgroup. 
This list would be otherwise read-only, it was not intended for 
direct posting. However, whenever a post was rejected and the author 
requested public notice, a URL could then be given to the rejected 
post. And anyone could see exactly whether or not moderation was fair.

>I'm not to that point, yet.  It's a fair amount of work to do.  The
>non-trivial amount of spam moderation that occurs is work that I've been
>very lax in doing.  Fortunately, Anthony Duff has been doing a fantastic
>job of staying on top of this; rarely have I found much laying around
>when I've checked.  I wouldn't want to potentially increase his workload
>without his opinion on the subject.
>However, if the signal-to-noise ratio gets too low on this list, I might
>consider making a change (perhaps taking on more moderators to offset
>the extra work).

To my mind, the best way to defuse disputes over moderation is for 
moderators to conduct themselves as would chairs of meetings under 
Robert's Rules. The moderators make decisions based on their 
judgement, preferably following clear rules (but not all situations 
meriting attention will be clearly described in the rules). Chairs 
under RR have wide latitude to make rulings, which are by default 
enforced, but always subject to appeal.

So on one mailing list which was formed specifically to be a "charter 
committee" for the newsgroup soc.religion.islam, there were strict 
rules about relevance, personal attacks, etc., and it came to pass 
that one member violated the rules and did not respond to warning. (I 
was the moderator). So I put him on moderation, and notified him that 
he had the right to appeal to the membership. He did. Under RR, an 
appeal from a ruling of the moderator is not a debatable issue, so a 
vote was immediately taken. In spite of the likely fact that this 
person had attempted to pack the membership with some dummy members, 
my ruling was sustained. He left in a huff, and founded another list 
to be a reform committee for the newsgroup, and that is a long and 
entertaining story.... My point was that the process worked. That 
member wanted to blame me, of course, but, in fact, it was the 
membership that rejected his claim....

Some lists are tightly run by individuals; they can appear to be open 
discussion fora but are actually controlled according to the agenda 
of that person, which may or may not be stated in the rules. Other 
lists do operate democratically, where the moderator(s) are merely 
servants of the majority. One problem with lists is that there is no 
clear membership definition; anyone can join, and someone can join 
more than once, so vote counts can be problematic. However, there are 
ways to deal with this problem.... One way is to define a list of 
core members who are mutually respected, with procedures for 
admitting new core members. And I won't go into all the possible 
rules which could govern this.

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