[LINK] Moderator Censorship

Robin Whittle rw at firstpr.com.au
Sun Mar 27 21:45:19 AEDT 2011

I am replying to Irene Graham, Craig Sanders, Ivan Trundle and Greg Taylor.

Hi Rene,

You seem to be responding to what I wrote as if I did something like this:

> so-called list owners
> posting "Moderation Notes" to the list which have the blatant intention of 
> chilling speech on the list. 


> publicly rebuke, reprimand or censure posters if 
> posters say something the moderator/s don't like."

I said that list members - Tom Koltai in this instance - should not
discourage other list members from discussing a topic or expressing
particular opinions.  I also said that if they make an arguably extreme,
dismissive, negative value judgement about something a list member had
written ("claptrap" in this instance) that they should support this with

If you regard this as "chilling of speech", "public rebuke" etc. then so
be it.

I believe that without some moderation along the lines of what I was
trying to do, then there's nothing to stop people doing more of this
stuff - and the resulting arguments greatly detract from the lively and
generally constructive discussions which are the purpose of the list.

If it turns out that most Link people want a list without such
standards, then that's fine - someone else should take my place.

Martin, Ivan and I were the first three to volunteer.  No-one else
volunteered.  Marghanita suggested that three was a good number.
Everyone who expressed an opinion seemed to support this and no-one
objected to us taking over responsibility for the list.

None of us made policy speeches.  I don't recall any of us promising to
run the list the same way Tony Barry ran it.

I did something which I think Tony Barry would not have done.  I did it
on my own, without checking with Martin or Ivan.

I did what I believed to be the right thing - but maybe I was mistaken.

If you were running a list and people were writing to it more than once
in a dismissive, unconstructive manner - and expressing their opinion
about a subject and then urging no-one else to do so - perhaps you would
just let it go.  However, that's not my idea of the best way to run any
mailing list, including Link.

If there is widespread objection to my approach - including especially
if the other two Amigos disagree with it - then I will happily let
someone else take my place.

Please remember I support all list members, including Tom Koltai,
discussing nuclear safety.  If the other Amigos rule nuclear safety  out
of scope, then I would support them in this.   Please also remember I
defended Tom against what is arguably an ad-hominem critique of being a

Fellow Amigo Ivan wrote, in part:

> The day that Link is moderated in any capacity is the day that I
> leave Link.

Hmm - it seems we have a problem.

I am not interested in being responsible for a mailing list where the
list owners exercise no control over who joins, over who posts or over
the way members post to the list.

Joining is already controlled by a system which tries to reject
spammers.  Posting is already controlled to reject messages with Sender
addresses which do not match any member's address.

If a member used this list to divulge seriously personal information or
otherwise cause a bunch of disruption we (Amigos) would probably attempt
to delete the message from the archives.  For instance, if one or more
people started posting messages which were gibberish, or in a language
other than English, or which contained uuencoded graphics files or
whatever, I am sure that Tony Barry (in the past) or my fellow Amigos
would take action to prevent this pattern from continuing.

If someone repeatedly posted a bunch of stuff which has nothing at all
to do with Link's purpose (as formally stated and according to general
opinion, based on years of wide-ranging discussion) then I am sure we
would firstly ask them to stop and secondly would either ban them or
switch their membership to requiring moderator approval for each message.

So the list is in this sense "moderated".  There's a bunch of things
which list members could do which would cause Ivan, Martin or I to take
actions which would discourage or prevent that person from continuing to
do such things.

The list is not "moderated" in the sense that every message needs to be
approved by a moderator.  Anyone can join.  Any member can post.  The
messages go straight out to all members and into the archives.

I haven't heard from Martin, but my understanding of Ivan's position is
that he supports my attempt to dissuade Tom Koltai or anyone else from
discouraging other list members to post.

So it all depends on what is meant by "moderation".

Greg wrote:

> My biggest concern is that Robin intervened as moderator in a
> situation where he was personally involved in a robust argument as a
> list *member*. In such a situation, if moderation was required at
> all, it is surely appropriate for the moderator personally involved
> to abstain from  the moderation role altogether. The remaining
> moderators would also need to consider staying out of it, lest their
> intervention be seen as biased support for a fellow Amigo.

So we all step back like the two chipmunks in Bugs Bunny ("No, you
first!" No, you!"), and nothing is done??

I still think some people are behaving as if I tried to stop Tom Koltai
from writing about nuclear safety.  I did not do this.

I said he shouldn't discourage other people from writing about it, and I
said that his extreme negative assessment ("claptrap") of what I wrote -
which was to do with moderation, not nuclear safety - really should be
accompanied by arguments.

> IMHO, the debate in question did not require a "moderation note", nor
> has any debate on Link in my memory. No list member has any power to
> "suppress discussion or opinions". List members can and will post on
> a topic whenever they wish, irrespective of any other member's desire
> or suggestion that debate should cease.

Yes, but if there are one or more members who frequently belittle other
people and their views, in dismissive, insulting, uncollegial ways -
then this definitely will reduce the tendency of people to post about a
particular topic, or express a particular opinion.  This definitely will
cause people to ignore or leave the list due to the argumentative and
unreasonable way these one of more members behave, and due to the
arguments which frequently erupt after each such unconstructive or
uncollegial message.

So every list member has the power to degrade the list - for instance by
posting off-topic or insulting stuff.

Most members don't do this.  When someone does seem to be making a habit
of doing so, then in my view, it is the responsibility of the list
owners to discourage or prevent this pattern continuing.

> I would like to see the "moderators" consider their role more as list
> administrators. Intervention to moderate discussion on the list
> itself should be seen as an extreme action, not a routine one,
> limited in most cases to a gentle reminder about excessive off-topic
> posts (whatever "off-topic" might mean for Link). Most list members
> are intelligent and mature enough to deal with robust debate and the
> occasional ad hominem without being treated like errant children.

Sure.  I was trying to be helpful, but if it turns out I am not being
helpful, I will happily relinquish my Amigoship.

If multiple people jump up and down as if what I did was *censorship*
and if we have dozens of messages going back and forth on it, then maybe
in the context of the present Link membership my action wasn't in fact

> The Link reactor is over-heated. However, it is a Thorium reactor and
> will therefore self-moderate without the need for the operators to
> insert emergency control rods or destroy it by drowning ;-)

That depends entirely on the behaviour of the fuel rods.  If I try to
moderate what in my judgement is a pattern which is destructive to the
list, and one of more of the said rods explode as if I was trying to
stop them discussing a topic, or trying to stop them expressing an
opinion . . . then it will overheat.

For the avoidance of doubt: if there seems to be a consensus amongst
list members and/or the other two Amigos that the list owners should
never attempt to guide the discussions along the lines I tried to with
Tom, then I will happily resign and let someone else have a go.

  - Robin

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