Moderation versus censorship

Sun Feb 12 13:46:35 UTC 1995

Lesl~aw Borowski writes:
>    Applying of censorship (they call it moderating or am I wrong?)
>looks also as a kind of slight aggression to me. I think it is
>potencially dangerous. Some ideas may be kept hidden to a community,
>some may be ascribe to wrong people.

Yes, I think it is wrong to equate moderating a list with censorship.
There is, of course, always an element of making a judgement in the
process of moderating a list, and there is always some risk that some
people will not be pleased with a judgement that has been made. My
own experience in owning and operating a moderated list, however, has
been that most subscribers who bother to say anything at all on the
topic of moderation express appreciation. The kinds of things that we
filter out are misdirected messages (requests for unsubscription that
should have been sent to the listserv, requests for basic information
about the list, etc), personal messages (which usually result when
someone uses the reply function of a mail program and does not realize
that the reply goes to tout le monde and not just to the long-lost
friend or former lover whose letter on a public list is being replied
to), and messages that are quite tangential to the subject matter of
the list. It is this last category that is most likely to bring charges
of censorship or violation of academic freedom, so we rarely quash a
line of discussion entirely. Recent cases that come to mind where we
did quash a discussion did not result in a single complaint about our
having quashed it; the only complaints we got were from people who
wondered why we did not stop the discussions more promptly. (The other
moderator and I always consult with one another before stopping a
thread of discussion. Just to give you some idea of how we have
exercised our judgement, we quashed a rather heated debate about
prayer in publicly funded schools in the USA, and we stopped a silly
discussion about astrology. In both cases, we thought the topics
had no real bearing on the academic study and teaching of Buddhism,
which is the announced subject matter of the list.)

I am convinced from my own experiences, both as owner of a moderated
list and as a subscriber to several, that moderation improves the
quality of a discussion list, especially as the membership increases
to more than a few hundred. The principal disadvantage of moderation
is that it is time-consuming for the moderator, and it is not an
expenditure of time that earns any feathers in one's academic bonnet.
If it's praise, promotions and accolades you're after, do not
volunteer to serve as the moderator of a discussion group. But be
grateful when someone else does volunteer to do it.

Richard P Hayes (cxev at
Owner of buddha-l at

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