Isn't Moderation just another word for Censorship?

There is often speculation about how the email list moderators make decisions.  That speculation has, at times, devolved into rumours and accusations of bias and censorship.  Given that most list moderation work happens in private, it's not surprising that some see it as a secretive, perhaps shady process.

This essay is intended to lift the curtain, shed a little light what happens on the list behind-the-scenes.

Do the list moderators practice censorship?

Yes. Some content sent to the Lasqueti email list is censored.  Absolutely.
We reject and discard dozens of messages every month.

  • Spammers, scammers, and every form of huckster and fraudster would love to get their content on the list - all those messages are censored.
  • Occasionally, when tempers flare, people send personal attacks or other libellous or hate-filled content - those get censored too.
  • The list readers have expressed a strong desire for concise posts, and to not be inundated with repetitive posts from any individual, so we set some limits on the length and frequency of posts.

But these are not what most folks mean when they say the list is "censored".  Usually they mean a post of theirs has been "rejected", and they feel their opinion is being stifled.

What does a "rejection notice" mean?

The email list software uses unfortunate terminology:  "accept" "reject" "approve", "discard", ...
These terms merely describe an action a moderator can take (literally the labels on one of the limited set of buttons they can press).  Unfortunately these terms also carry a lot of baggage. 

When a moderator "approves" a message, they are not signaling they "approve of" the message content.  Nor when they "reject" a message are they "rejecting" the value of its ideas or the person posting it.  Though it's easy to see how people interpret it that way.

Most importantly, when a post is "rejected", the poster is invited to re-send their message back to the list.  It is not a "rejection" so much as it is an opportunity for a "sober 2nd look" at your post from the perspective of a 3rd party who has taken time to read it carefully and think about how it will be perceived by list readers.

The vast majority of posters are grateful for the compassion in that act.  But it does really piss some other off.

In case you've never receive a "rejection notice", here's the current template we use to notify a poster of the issue and what they can do to correct it:  Rejection Notice Template

Why would a moderator "reject" a message?

Content moderation is an extremely difficult balance.  All over the world large media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and news comment boards are struggling to define objective criteria and processes for moderating content.  They spend millions $$ on research and moderation teams.  Here on the list, our approach has been to accept that content moderation is a subjective task, and to reduce bias in those subjective decisions by:

  • applying a set of guidelines - principles shaped by the feedback we receive from list subscribers - that help us make consistent, fair, equitable decisions. 
    Those guidelines are public and constantly being updated as we learn:
    List Moderatrion Guidelines
  • sharing the load to ensure no individual has an out-sized role in controlling the list content - if a message is "rejected" by one moderator, that moderator then abstains from moderating the post a 2nd time if it is resent;  moderators don't approve their own posts.

Occasionally a list moderator might feel compelled to offer some advice or perspective to a poster who has perhaps made a post in haste and maybe hasn't imagined how it might be (mis)interpreted.   Some call this over-reach, others see it as an act of compassion, both for the sender and readers.  It is these cases that cause the most controversy.

But what if a moderator IS biased?

The moderators are volunteers, not professionals.  They are subject to the same biases and blind spots as all of us.  And they make mistakes.  If you expect perfect, unbiased, objective moderation 100% of the time, you are going to be disappointed.

However, the protocols used to moderate list traffic ensure no individual moderator can make unilateral final decisions.  For efficiency, moderators mostly work independently, each making a judgement call on the messages they process. 
When a moderator makes a bad call, three corrective feedbacks are in place:

  1. the list moderators have a private discussion about the post; debate the merits of the decision;  adjust our practices and update the moderation guidelines as needed (this happens a lot more often than you might imagine);
  2. the list readers let us know, publicly or privately, that a bad decision was made; and/or
  3. the original poster may re-send their post for another moderator to evaluate.

The people who moderate list traffic are bound to be biased.  Recognizing that, we put in place mechanisms to ensure the list functions fairly and democratically in any case.

How did the email list originate?

Peter has written a compact history of the email list here:
A Short History of the Lasqueti Email List