[LINK] Moderator Censorship - volunteers should write a charter

Robin Whittle rw at firstpr.com.au
Tue Mar 29 13:11:15 AEDT 2011

Short version:  The link charter does not specify all the content
                controls which exist or would be enacted if needed.

                None of my detractors have volunteered to take my place.

                I was trying to set new standards in an explicit and
                open manner.  They weren't to everyone's taste, but
                I know from on-list and off-list messages that some
                people consider such standards to be desirable.

Hi Irene,

You wrote, in part:

> Thanks for your response. From the content of your message, I think it is 
> now quite clear to both you and I that the two of us are never going to 
> reach anything close to agreement about list moderation policy. 


> Hence, imo, it would be best if you and I just agree to disagree.

That's fine.  I was hoping to highlight our differences and
commonalities.  I was not "expecting" you to agree with me, though I
would be happy if you did.

I am agreeing with you about the difficulties of moderation, the
subjectivities etc.

We have different views on how precisely defined these things need to
be.  You seem to want little or no "content control" and to have any
such control precisely defined up-front and implemented by some
non-subjective means.  Yet list owners are human.  If I or anyone else
did a proper job of explicitly formulating all the constraints which do
in fact apply to this or any other mailing list, people would complain
about the length of the document!

I think the impossibility of precisely defining such things and
implementing them without subjectivity is not such a problem.  I think
its better to set some standards regarding providing reasoned arguments,
rather than just bare opinions (if only because unsupported opinions are
really boring, and good arguments are really interesting), as well as
disallowing the most blatant attempts to belittle or intimidate list
members according to their views.

If we were talking about "content controls" for Internet communication
in general, I would be in total agreement with you.  But this is just a
mailing list, and there can be a bazillion mailing lists, with people
creating their own, setting their own rules and choosing which ones to
participate in.

> Whether or not
> you are also of that view, after responding to a couple of your remarks 
> below, I'm not intending to further discuss this matter - unless some new 
> proposal or related issue arises that is significantly different from what 
> has recently been said/discussed (in which case, I may, or may not, decide 
> to comment).

OK - that's fine.

>> OK - you argued so strongly that what I did was censorship, ... 
> Actually, I did not say that what you did was censorship, let alone 
> strongly argue that (nor did I start the thread with that word in the 
> subject line). 
> I have only used the word "censorship" once, and this is what I said (on 
> Sun, 27 Mar 2011 16:08:39 +1000 ):
>> Personally, I am of the opinion that what you, Robin, are
>> saying/doing is vastly more akin to censorship than anything Tony
>> Barry ever did, and anything Tom Koltai has said. So-called
>> moderators may not be enagaged in actual censorship, but they
>> certainly have vastly more ability to significantly chill freedom of
>> speech/opinion on a public discussion forum than do any of the
>> ordinary subscribers. Accordingly any so-called moderator should be
>> extremely careful to ensure that any attempt to chill freedom of
>> expression is, and is readily able to be seen to be, *completely*
>> impartial. Imo that is not the case currently on this list.

"Chill freedom of speech" or "censorship" seems much the same to me -
you used these terms four times, plus the "Moderator censorship" title
of the thread you posted in, which you did not qualify or dissociate
yourself from.

There is no absolute freedom of speech on any mailing list.  There is
always some subset of the possible range of things which could be posted
to the list which would cause the owners to ban the member who posted
that material.

While the contributions of the members remain their own, and the
achievements of the list members in general are arguably a community
achievement, the list itself is owned by its owners and is a gift to
members from whoever provides the mailserver resources and whoever takes
responsibility for running the list - AKA the "list owners".

It is righteous and proper that the list owners control what happens on
the list.  Without controls and guidance, no-one would want to be on the

There are differing views about what standards of argument, decorum or
whatever a list should have.  Quite a few people share my views, but
other people such as yourself prefer fewer standards.  Everyone believes
in some standards, because everyone would leave a list, or demand the
owners ban members, if certain members persisted in writing stuff which
was excessively troublesome.

> Also, I was concerned that one or more moderators may intend to engage in 
> actual censorship of speech comprising opinions, in the process of 
> enforcing a moderation policy, which is why I asked you about that. Your 
> response confirmed that would be the case, if the list had posting rules 
> and moderation enforcement policy of the types you'd prefer.

Sure, me as a moderator, telling Tom and all other list members not to
try to dissuade others from posting on a particular subject, or
insisting that strong negative value judgements should be accompanied by
proper arguments is, from some points of view, "censorship" etc.  By
this absolutist definition, every list involves censorship since there
is always some kind of message, volume of messages or whatever which
would in fact cause the list owners to ban the member.

I argue that if such restrictions are publicly declared and reasonably
consistently applied, they are a normal and healthy part of a the
character of a mailing list - and so the term "censorship" is rather
alarmist and inappropriate.

I think every mailing list has a membership which is assumed to have a
core set of values and beliefs.  The list does not exist for the purpose
of giving a platform for people who want to criticise or belittle those

I think its perfectly appropriate for a Kiss fan-club mailing list owner
to ban any member who wants to belittle Kiss, harass members for being
Kiss fans or whatever.

If someone joined Link and responded to pretty much every thread that IT
was bad for humans, that the Internet was meaningless and over-rated,
that anything which appears on a video screen is at odds with humans'
innate needs for objects in the shapes of trees and animals  . . .
pretty soon, I am sure, you and many other folks would either leave the
list (perhaps to start your own clone of it with suitable content
restrictions) or would be asking the list owner to ban the troublesome

The Link charter doesn't state this, and I guess neither would the
charter of a Kiss fan-club mailing list.  But its a fact that these
content restrictions exist - and I believe you would support or demand
them if a single vigorous troll joined the list and started pumping out
their stuff.

> However, what you did was *not* censorship, and given you and I have been 
> around and engaged in discussions about censorship (primarily by govts) 
> since at least 1996, I expect I do not need to explain the significant 
> difference between actual censorship and rules or activity that chill 
> freedom of expression/opinion. I have long been very careful about the 
> terms I use because, among other things, it's my experience that anyone 
> incorrectly saying or implying (whether intentionally or inadvertently) 
> that what someone did is censorship, is typically inflammatory. Some other 
> people may not be so careful about what they say, and I can only assume 
> that you'd inadvertently forgotten what *I* said.

"chill freedom of expression" implies to me an entirely unreasonable and
probably secretive or insufficiently recognised process.  It not
necessarily exactly the same thing as "censorship", but my sense is that
such chilling is about as bad or perhaps worse.

Perhaps it would have helped if you expressly stated that you did not
regard my actions as an instance of "censorship", especially since you
posted under Tom's thread of "Moderator censorship".

With hindsight, I think it would have been helpful if I had started and
finished my "Moderation note" with a clear statement that I supported
Tom in writing about nuclear safety to the list.  It seems that he and
other people thought I was trying to stop him discussing this.

People sometimes complain about me writing at length.  Part of the
reason for this is that I have a pretty fertile imagination for what is
*not* in the head of a wide range of potential readers, and so what
erroneous interpretations some readers might make of what I write.  So I
could have added a note as just described, in which case some folks
would have thought I was being excessively wordy, prescriptive etc. or
not being respectful to Tom and others because of the implication that I
thought they were perhaps not smart enough to see that I was not trying
to inhibit anyone from writing about nuclear safety.

> Robin wrote (at approx. line 39):
>> So I wonder what sort of standards you think Link should have, and
>> how you think moderators should encourage or enforce them.
> I assume you had stopped wondering about that by the time you wrote (at 
> approx. line 230):
>> You are in agreement with the charter and Tony Barry's minimal
>> approach. 
> That is correct.

OK - but the charter is not in fact a complete statement of how list
members are constrained or expected to behave.

You seem to want everything stated clearly up-front - and I think your
complaint about my action was that it was at variance with the "terms
and conditions" if you like, of the "charter".  My actions were indeed

Ivan and Martin now have the task of running Link while avoiding the
sort of standards I was trying to explicitly establish, based on the
"charter" and apparently with the intention of keeping you and other
people reasonably happy.  That will be easy as long as no members do
things you and other people regard as unreasonably disruptive.  It will
be interesting to see what happens if one or more list members continue
with things which you or anyone else regards as excessively disruptive,
disrespectful, off-topic, inflammatory, excessively wordy,
self-promotional or whatever.

So, in the absence of sufficiently robust moderation, the list is at the
mercy of the the worst actions of whoever chooses to join and disrupt it.

With sufficient provocation, I am sure Link's owners, whoever they are,
would in fact act - and I think you would find that such actions are not
at all covered in the current "charter".

So I argue the charter is an inadequate statement of the "content
controls" which actually are in place, or would be enacted if needed.

Neither you nor any of my detractors have volunteered to take my place.
 Nor have you spelt out what level of disruptiveness you would tolerate
before either leaving the list or asking for moderator action.

So my impression is that you are hoping that no-one will disrupt the
list, or that any such disruption won't cause people to leave.

I was attempting to set standards to prevent such things, and I was not
doing it secretively.  I was not relying on an absence of disruption for
the continued health of Link membership and discussions.  Nor was I
pretending that the existing "charter" was adequate or an actual
statement of the controls which actually exist.

Hopefully you can appreciate that I was trying to be transparent and
clear.  I was attempting to introduce new "content controls".  I think
the idea that Link has no content controls, or none beyond what is
mentioned in the "charter", is false.

  - Robin

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