For and Against Moderation

Zeynep Tufekcioglu zeynept at
Sun Aug 25 13:47:25 MDT 1996

I am taking for granted an unmoderated, non-specific list as this one. It
may flourish or drown.

I think that for some topics, like the ones proposed so far, we need
sensible moderation. But internet moderation should be different than
editing a journal.

Internet discussions are somewhere between writing and talking. Neither the
style of normal discussion, nor the rules applicable to a journal are
suitable. Letting it continue as a discussion is unsuitable. In discussions,
people often choose who they discuss with, have certain time limits, and
purposes. If the discussion "ends", i.e. everyone starts shouting over each
others heads, the discussion *does* end. Not so on the internet.

Also, the speed and the interactivity allow much more freedom correspondence
by writing. Reading a journal is a passive activity. Very rarely people
write long articles repudiating an article they object to. The standards of
writing to a journal are too high to allow brainstorming, casual
loud-thinking. Nor is it possible to interrupt and ask questions, object to
a single point, add an insight, etc.

No moderation, and the internet-communication degenerates into a "chat",
which does not have the social/spatial constraints and rules of a chat. If
we "edit" instead of moderate, we'd just stiffle the discussion and create
something worse than a journal.

I think we need moderation to stop the discussion from becoming a chat is
obviously not going anywhere. What I sort of envision is a workshop-type
environment. There are certain subject(s) that are currently being debated
under a heading that is general enough to encompass most of the relevant
aspects, but defined to allow focusing. The argument continues in real-time,
allowing developments and new ideas to be incorporated. It is perfectly
acceptable for the argument to get heated, for the sides to get angry, etc.
What is not acceptable is purposely-distruptive, time-wasting pits. If a
flame war gets out of hand and stops serving a purpose (according to most of
the list-members), the flamers are reminded that they are repeating
themselves, not convincing anyone, and drowning the list. If they insist,
they may be asked to leave the list and continue their flame-war in the
unmoderated list if they wish to.

I think that such an environment won't need much moderation after a time. I
would guess that anyone who wishes to convince would listen to other list
members reminding him/her that the signal to noise ratio will soon stop
everyone from reading their posts. However, a possibility of expulsion must
exist for people who have no wish to convince, and only want to distrupt and
divert. Also, a productive debate is very enticing, such an environment
would itself provide an incentive to remain there, so follow the rules.

The only problem I can see is over-moderation. That's why I propose a panel
of moderators and the possibility to select/remove moderators. Moderators
who represent the list-members should be able to expel. If most of the list
members want to continue flaming and just expel everybody else who doesn't
agree with them, that list isn't going to work, no matter who the moderator
is, how skilled s/he is. Unless a general, collective will to engage in a
productive debate exists, nothing can be done. We can all go back to our

As for dividing the subjects. I think there are obvious subjects worth
focusing on, and it is not possible to discuss everything, at once. The
subject should allow a focus, and the boundaries should be set, dynamically,
>from looking at the world from that certain lens. If a subject doesn't fit
anywhere, we can create a new list. We can and should allow intelligent
cross-posting, and inter-forum exchanges.


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