[LINK] Moderator Censorship - volunteers should write a charter

Robin Whittle rw at firstpr.com.au
Mon Mar 28 18:46:49 AEDT 2011

Hi Irene,

Thanks for your message, in which you wrote:

>> Those who criticise my attempt to do so should firstly check their
>> facts 
> In an attempt to clear up some apparent misunderstandings (and with serious 
> attempt not to further inflame this debate)...
> Firstly I have not said or even implied that RW was attempting to stop TK 
> from expressing his opinions about nuclear/radiation etc. I am quite 
> certain that RW was not.

OK - thanks for this.

> I have also not said that the list should be "completely" "unmoderated".

OK - you argued so strongly that what I did was censorship, and you did
not give any example of what you consider to be acceptable (implicitly
non-censorious) moderator actions that as far as I could see, you were
arguing for no "moderation" at all, whatever "moderation" might mean.

You also seemed to be equating my actions with:

> rebuke, reprimand or censure

which doesn't match my understanding of trying to set standards for all
list members of not discouraging debate and for presenting arguments,
not just opinions.

So I wonder what sort of standards you think Link should have, and how
you think moderators should encourage or enforce them.

> What I have objected to is what appeared, at the time I first posted, to be 
> a change to the pre-existing list management policy and without prior 
> notice to list subscribers. 

Sure - it was a change, made on my own initiative, but with a note that
it would be subject to Martin and Ivan scrutinising it.  So I wasn't
specifically speaking for them.  I wouldn't have done this if I thought
they would not support me, but I wasn't 100% sure they would.

None of us Amigos promised to give written notice of a change in how
Link is run, or to debate any such changes beforehand.

> Moreover, that it appeared that the new policy
> was (and still is in the view of at least one list maintainer) one that 
> would extend the pre-existing criteria for moderation (e.g. prevention of 
> spam) to include criteria that constitutes a highly subjective judgement on 
> the part of a "moderator" that the *manner* in which a person has expressed 
> their opinion is not appropriate on this list.

Sure, its my subjective judgement as a moderator.

> So far, probably the clearest statement of intention as to criteria that 
> I've seen is (quoting RW 27 Mar 2011 00:29:58 +1100):
>> As one of the Amigos, its my view that if you want to use a mailing
>> list to discourage other people from expressing their opinions - or to
>> characterise what other people write in such negative terms
>> ("claptrap") without sufficiently detailed supporting arguments - then
>> you should not use the Link list for this purpose.
> (Note: The term "claptrap" was used in referring to contents of a 
> moderation note, not in connection with the nuclear/radiation debate).
> I consider the above type of moderation criteria to be entirely 
> inappropriate for Link because:
> a) the criteria is so subjective, broad and vague, that it is impossible 
> for posters to know with any surety what types of expressions of opinion 
> will or won't result in a reprimand from a person wearing the mantle of 
> moderator. That will, in my view, discourage posts - chill freedom of 
> expression of opinions.

Maybe so to some small extent, but think most people would have had
little or no difficulty deciding whether the message they were writing
would fall foul of such requirements.

> b) the criteria is so subjective that it will most certainly result in 
> other list posters, who perceive what was said by the reprimanded person to 
> have had a different motive or intention than that perceived/alleged by a 
> moderator, and/or consider that the particular expression of opinion was 
> not inappropriate for Link, to criticise/complain about the moderation. 
> That will result in even more inflamation than what was originally said.

This seems to have occurred.  It seems I over-estimated the capacity of
some list members to see things in a way which concords with my
understanding.  Who's at fault here?  There's no scientific method of
finding out.

> c) sometimes it is just not possible to provide "supporting arguments" for 
> an expression of opinion, and in any case, imo people should not have to do 
> so. As I've said before, imo the vast majority of Linkers are perfectly 
> capable of deciding for themselves whether or not to pay any attention to 
> someone else's opinion, including whether or not it might have been more 
> likely to be persuasive if supporting arguments had been included.  

Sure, but when someone writes dismissively, without any arguments, such
as "claptrap" then a number of bad things are highly likely to happen.

 1 - Anyone who disagrees with the strong negative judgement will
     probably write to the list, asking for arguments.   This adds to
     list clutter.  The first poster should know that some or many
     people who read their message want to know the arguments - and are
     much more interested in their arguments than whatever their
     opinion happens to be.

 2 - People get upset that the original poster thought the arguments
     were so obvious that they didn't need to be mentioned - so there
     is a much increased level of argumentativeness and so
     misunderstanding, which takes many messages to sort out.

     This too adds to the clutter on the list.

The more clutter, noise etc. the less people want to be a member of the
list - so the membership falls, the range of discussions diminish, or
become increasingly dominated by a few active remaining members.

> d) such subjective, vague and broad criteria is almost certainly unable to 
> be applied consistently and without an appearance of bias as to what is or 
> is not an appropriate manner of expressing an opinion. Inconsistency and/or 
> an appearance of bias will certainly result in even more inflamation than 
> what was originally said.

This is what has occurred.  Hence my suggestion that people who
criticise my actions volunteer to fill my position and write their own
preferred version of the charter, complete with how to achieve the
desired degree of non-subjectiveness given that moderators are
subjective.  Then everyone can see what their ideas are before they
become an Amigo.

> In relation to (d), there is imo already "evidence" that that is case. I 
> refrained from entering this moderation policy debate until my concerns 
> were exacerbated by the observation that expressing the opinion that what 
> someone said in a particular post was "claptrap", without detailed 
> supporting arguments, does result in a reprimand from a moderator, but 
> expressing the opinion that someone who posts to this list is "a bit of a 
> kook", without detailed supporting arguments, does not. 


I didn't bite on that one, because of the difficulty I encountered with
my first attempt to set what I regard as good standards.

Nor on Philip Argy's message:


This could be seen as an attempt to get Tom Koltai to stop writing about
nuclear power, if (as implied) he either doesn't know the difference
between, or doesn't draw proper distinctions between, solar fusion
fission reactors.

> The latter just 
> results in a response which starts off with "Sure.  I have no intention of 
> discouraging kooks from writing to Link". I am of the opinion that 
> referring to any Linker as a "kook" is even more likely to discourage some 
> people from posting than is merely opining that what someone said in one 
> particular post is "claptrap". 
> The task of language police is indeed difficult.


But the inability of me or you or anyone else to formulate a rock-solid
framework, which can be applied without subjectivity, doesn't mean that
we shouldn't attempt to set some minimum standards of what is posted to
the list.

It would be helpful in this regard if a bunch of people didn't suddenly
cry out **CENSORSHIP!!** the moment someone like me makes an honest
attempt to set such standards.

> I have no intention of writing a proposed list charter, because I am of the 
> opinion that the pre-existing light-handed list management policy has 
> worked well for well over a decade. Therefore I am of the view that anyone 
> who opines that a more heavy handed policy is necessary or desirable, and 
> especially one based on highly subjective, vague and broad criteria, should 
> provide supporting arguments for that opinion, including examples of any 
> instances in the past where the pre-existing list management policy is 
> opined to have inadequate. Who knows, maybe someone could convince me and 
> others that such a change is necessary or even desirable However, 
> repetition of things the same as or substantially similar to what has 
> already been said will not change my opinion.

I think the Link list would have been better in the past if there had
been more in the way of minimum standards - more people, better
discussions, less back-and-forth argument about misunderstandings,
better overall signal-to-noise ratio.  There's no way of proving it
would have been, but that's what I think.

You are in agreement with the charter and Tony Barry's minimal approach.
 So far neither you nor my other detractors have volunteered to take my

> Furthermore, Robin, I would appreciate your advice as to your intention 
> concerning how you, and/or the other list moderators, would intend to deal 
> with a poster's failure to comply with a moderator's judgement that the 
> manner of expression of particular opinion was inappropriate. To be 
> precise, if a poster continues to express their opinions in the same or 
> similar manner, will the poster be banned from the list?

If it were my list, I would write up the standards nice and clearly - at
the risk of some folks thinking I was being too wordy or prescriptive.
This would include guidance about not quoting excessive amounts of other
messages, and going to some trouble about formatting the new and quoted
text so it was reasonably easy to read.  It would also include some
fundamental beliefs which are assumed to be shared by members and which
are not to be challenged.  This is just formalising a lot of what is
widely understood about any particular mailing list or discussion forum.

I would also have a separate list which is unmoderated, which did not
have public archives, for social, off-topic matters - and which would be
a good place for anyone to discuss moderation policy.

I would discourage lengthy debates about moderation policy and action on
the main list, because too many list members this is just clutter which
makes them want to tune out.

The archives of the second list would be accessible to members only, but
I would probably purge them after a few months.  At my sole discretion,
if there was anything in those archives which I considered more trouble
than it was worth, I would delete it.

List members who liked my approach would find the list a convivial place
to discuss a range of topics, however these are specified or expanded.
People would find that in general other members did not disparage them
or their opinions in a dismissive fashion.  Critiques would generally be
supported by arguments.

Anyone who repeatedly violated the guidelines would be asked to leave
the list or be put on a pre-moderated status where their messages are
checked by me or any other moderators.

Members would know where they stood and anyone with similar interests
who didn't like the arrangements could discuss changing them and/or
create their own list, which could be announced on the main list.

That's my idea of a good way of running a mailing list.  I didn't expect
to change Link to this way of doing things, but I thought it would be
good to maintain at least some basic standards of debate.  Obviously I
was mistaken - the fuss this created amongst a significant number of
members indicates I was wrong to think this could or should be done with
Link, at least with the current membership and attitudes.

Generally, there shouldn't need to be overly strict enforcement, overly
fussy specification of rules and guidelines.  However, to the degree
that one or more members pushed the limits or become overly anxious
about worst-case scenarios, there would have to be more discussions,
more detail, more fuss in guiding list members etc.

This sort of thing I am proposing would sound like horror to some folks
- they would conceive of this as me God and they my subject.  That's
fine - I have no idea how to make a list which works for everyone.

Other folks would find it a great way to discuss things, with
signal-to-noise ratio which would be the envy of the denizens of most
other mailing lists.

> If not, then I suppose I probably don't really care much about whether or 
> not you continue posting moderation notes of the recent type. Reprimanded 
> posters could choose whether or not to 'voluntarily' comply with a 
> moderator's subjective judgement and almost certainly some other posters 
> will speak up when they disagree with a moderator's judgement. So, the list 
> would continue in largely the same way as it always has.

Sure.  If moderators allow people to continue to use the list in
violation of the standards they set, then its a waste of time having the
standards or trying to set them.

> As you Robin remarked in February:
>> Making the corrective suggestions on list...has the
>> disadvantage of potentially inflaming the on-list trouble, and casting
>> public aspersions on the motivation and judgement of individuals who
>> are doing their best.
> (Ref: [LINK] Maintaining the link list - changes in policy?
> http://mailman.anu.edu.au/pipermail/link/2011-February/091771.html  )
> The former has been proven true, and with regard to the latter, *if* you 
> have somehow acquired the impression that I have been casting aspersions on 
> the motivation and judgement of individuals who are doing their best, then 
> I am sorry that that impression has been perceivable. That was certainly 
> not my intent and I have absolutely no doubt that you have been doing and 
> advocating for what you genuinely believe is best in relation to list 
> management policy. I have been expressing my opinion that I disagree with 
> your opinion.

OK - Thanks.

The current link "charter" does not in fact spell out all the things
which are allowable, desired, or undesired and banned.  In fact, if
people started posting really excessively, or posting gibberish or in a
a foreign language, whoever owns Link *would* respond by preventing them
from continuing to do so.

Since you and I guess other people seem to support the retention of the
current "charter", I think you have a choice of:

  1 - Accepting that the charter is an incomplete statement of what
      is and is not allowed on Link, and so anticipating that it will
      be interpreted loosely and adapting when someone's behaviour
      proves that the charter is inadequate.  This includes giving
      moderators autonomy to change the charter or take action outside
      what the charter states, without having to get agreement on the
      list beforehand.  Then, list members can debate the merits of
      this, and either agree to amend the charter, get new moderators,
      or leave and create another list with charter and moderators
      of their choice.

  2 - Pretending or insisting that the charter is adequate and
      so constraining moderators from taking action to solve a
      problem until there had been some currently undefined process by
      which list members agree on changes to the charter, which enable
      the moderators to take action.

I suggest that 2 is unworkable, if only because you would have to go to
a great deal of trouble by a currently undefined process to get general
agreement on what would be an proper process by which the charter be

The Link list is not controlled by its members.

Tony Barry controlled it.  Now Ivan Trundle and Martin Barry control it.

The charter is not an adequate statement of how the list owners will or
respond in maintaining the list.  Not everything can be anticipated in
formal documents.

I suggest list members trust the Ivan and Martin and cut them some slack
if they ever decide to do something which is not in accordance with your
understanding of the so called "charter" on the Link list home page:


  - Robin

More information about the Link mailing list