[LINK] Moderation note: Attempting to suppress discussion or opinions (Match Koltai - Was Fukushima scaremongers becoming increasingly desperate)

Robin Whittle rw at firstpr.com.au
Sun Mar 27 15:55:48 AEDT 2011

Short version: I defend kookishness and dispute the assertion that
               moderation of a list such as Link is "censorship".

Hi Craig,

You wrote, quoting Tom Koltai and then me:

>>> Now could we stop discussing it, please. Or could we move this rather
>>> moribund discussion to alt.rec.henny.penny
>> I think it is unreasonable of you or anyone else on the list to argue or
>> assert in such a dismissive fashion that any particular subject
>> shouldn't be discussed on Link.
> FWIW, i think that TK's line above is perfectly reasonable. 

Do you think Tom is helping the Link list by being dismissive, making
strong negative value judgements ("claptrap") without proper arguments
and trying to persuade people not to mention a subject?

If so, please argue your case.  I think stating your opinion is not as
interesting or useful to other people as stating it together with the
reasons you have for this opinion.

> more to the
> point, i think you are over-reacting and, worse, changing the moderation
> style of the list from Tony's minimalist only-in-extreme-cases style to
> pro-active censorship.

None of us Three Amigos promised to keep doing things the way Tony did.
 That minimal intervention, with the Link "charter" (for want of a
better word):


remains unchanged as the default.

However, as I argued in previous messages I think moderators owe it to
the list members to put a halt to patterns of behaviour which degrade
the list.  There is broad agreement, I think, that unconstructive
(without arguments, suggestions for better ways of doing things etc.)
negative comments, insults, mocking and dismissive comments about other
people or about what they wrote is a drain on the list.

Likewise, I believe someone writing to the list expressing their opinion
on a subject and then requesting, suggesting, pleading or whatever that
there be no further discussion of the subject.

If I, Martin Barry or Ivan Trundle put pressure on a list member not to
write about certain things, not to express particular opinions, or not
to write to the list at all, *privately* - without such communications
being on the list - then I think you could argue that this was
"censorship".  That is not what I did.

If you think some or all instances of fully public (entirely on-list)
action by moderators to influence or control what is written to the list
is "censorship", please argue why this is the case.  Please also give an
example, if you can, of moderators doing so in a fully public way is not
censorship.  If you can't think of an example of the latter, perhaps you
believe that moderators should never attempt to influence or control
what is discussed on the list.  That's not my view of how a mailing list
can or should be run.

Ideally, I think, mailing lists should have a clear statement of goals,
guidelines, on- and off-topic subjects etc.  Link's current charter
mentions subject areas, and the activities of some members.  It doesn't
go into specifics of what other subjects may be suitable.  Nor does it
spell out matters of constructive discussion, not assuming bad-faith,
avoiding misrepresentation of other list member's views etc.  Tony Barry
left all that unstated.  For most people, that's fine - because they
have "common sense" about how to conduct themselves on a mailing list.
A problem arises when someone repeatedly behaves in ways which the
moderators believe are at odds with what is good for the list.

Mailing lists are delicate things.  Too much fuss, attacks, flames etc.
and people tune out and leave the list.  Too tight a rein on subject
matter, decorum or whatever, and people don't feel like contributing.

In the absence of publicly stated guidelines about how members should
conduct themselves on the list, moderators need to make up their
guidance on the fly - which is what I did and which I am still doing,
with the other Two, and in discussions such as this.

If you thought that Link had, has or should have little or no guidance,
perhaps you were largely correct in the past.  Now three different
people are running the list.  Since we three haven't busied ourselves
with altering the "charter", creating a more detailed set of guidelines
etc. our guidance will be in the form of reactions to things which we
think are bad for the list.

As long as we are clear and reasonably consistent, and do it all in
public, I argue this is not "censorship".  If there was only one mailing
list and this was it, then list members would have no other way of
discussing things, so I think whatever limits were placed on the
discussions, public or otherwise, could reasonably be described as
"censorship".  But that's not the case here.  Any of us can create a
web-archived mailing list - such as by using Google Groups (its free and
takes about 5 minutes).  Then any of us could invite anyone to our new
list to discuss anything we like, however we like.  So no-one is captive
in Link.  As long as moderators operate with reasonable consistency to
support a shared vision of list discussions, I think this can't fairly
be described as "censorship".

> an ordinary member *asking* people to shut up on a topic is a far
> different thing from a moderator saying that certain kinds of statements
> or requests are forbidden. the former is normal conversation, the latter
> is censorship or the threat of censorship.

Are you arguing that no moderator, or no moderator of Link, should be
able to publicly guide the list members to avoid discouraging other list
members from posting on a subject?  I believe this is a legitimate
function of moderation - I am supporting all list members discussing the
subject, including Tom Koltai.

> please don't.  censorship or over-active moderation are far more
> damaging to the list than anything TK has said or could say.

We will see.  It depends in part on how people (over?) respond to the
moderators' actions.

> craig
> PS: i generally ignore TK's posts, disagree with much of what he
> writes when i do happen to read it, and basically think he's a bit
> of a kook...

Sure.  I have no intention of discouraging kooks from writing to Link.
Lots of creative people have kookish elements to them, myself included.

Even those with a high kookish quotient - *especially* those with a high
KQ - frequently contribute to fruitful discussions.  They bring in
perspectives and fresh information that non-kooks either have never
heard of, have never thought of, or would not want to mention in public.

Please see my my reply to Tom Koltai: "Re: [LINK] Moderator Censorship",
which contains more on "kookishness".

I am not at all suggesting that Tom Koltai shouldn't write to the list,
or that he shouldn't argue his case for nuclear power been far less
problematic than many other people think it is.

I am only saying that he (and all list members) should refrain from
needlessly denigrating other people and their contributions without
supporting arguments - and from attempting to suppress discussion of
particular subjects or the expression of particular opinions.

If Tom or anyone else had written something like:  "I think nuclear
power is off-topic for Link.", that would be fine.  Likewise if he had
written something like "I think this discussion is boring / pointless /
off-topic - so I won't be contributing to it.  But that doesn't mean I
accept what other people are writing about this subject."

> but at least he seems to genuinely believe what he says,
> often has experience, knowledge, or research to support his odd
> interpretations, and isn't just abusing the list for self-promotion
> or trolling as some people have done. and kooks sometimes have an
> interesting/bizarre/challenging POV that makes you stop and think about
> your own POV.

Exactly.  I think you are misinterpreting what I wrote.  I think you may
believe that I am trying to stop Tom from writing to the list.  That's
not the case.  He writes a bunch of stuff and my impression is that he
contributes significantly to many discussions, including those which he

  - Robin

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