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What is a "moderated" email list?

Simply put, a moderated email list is one where each message submitted by a subscriber to a list is read first by a moderator who approves or rejects each message before they are distributed to the rest of the subscribers on the email list.

But people sometimes have misconceptions about why moderating might be used on an email list. Or they get moderating mixed up with negative ideas about censorship or restrictions to their freedom of speech.

First of all, letís start with the definition of "moderate" from the dictionary. This is from the Websterís New World college edition:


adjective. 1. within reasonable limits; avoiding excesses or extremes; temperate or restrained. 2. mild; calm; gentle; not violent. 3. of average or medium quality, amount, scope, range, etc.

noun. a person holding moderate views or opinions, as in politics or religion

verb, transitive. 1. to cause to become moderate; make less extreme, violent, etc.; restrain. 2. to preside over (a meeting, etc.)

verb, intransitive. 1. to become moderate. 2. to serve as a moderator

Etymology/background [ME moderat < L moderatus, pp. of moderare, to keep within bounds, restrain < modus, measure, manner, mode < IE base *med-, to measure, consider, wise counselor, doctor]

SYN. moderate and temperate are often interchangeable in denoting a staying within reasonable limits, but in strict discrimination, moderate implies merely an absence of excesses or extremes, while temperate suggests deliberate self-restraint. ANT. excessive, extreme

As you can see, moderate has to do with making wise decisions and bringing something more toward a middle ground and away from extremes.

Now letís look at the oft-dreaded word "censor": n. 1. one of two magistrates in ancient Rome appointed to take the census and, later, to supervise public morals. 2. an official with the power to examine publications, movies, television programs, etc. and to remove or prohibit anything considered obscene, libelous, politically objectionable, etc. 3. an official in time of war who reads publications, mail, etc. to remove information that might be useful to the enemy. vt. to subject (a book, writer, etc.) to censorship. Etymology [L < censere, to tax, value, judge < IE base *ens, speak solemnly]

Youíll note that the actions listed here under "censor" are actually pro-survival or tending towards higher-toned activities.

So why is it that people donít like censorship? Iím not entirely sure, but certainly there are people who have abused their privileges or used poor judgment when doing censoring. There is also another word very similar to "censor" which gets confused with it... probably in part because it stems from "censor" and sounds almost like it. That word is "censure": n. 1. a condemning as wrong; strong disapproval. 2. a judgment or resolution condemning a person for misconduct; specifically, an official expression of disapproval passed by a legislature. vt. to express strong disapproval of. Etymology [L censura < censor, censor]

Now that word definitely has a negative connotation! Sounds like the "censor" didn't have a high enough level of judgment to make sane decisions and "censured" instead!

Letís look now at the subject of "Freedom of Speech". We hear that term bandied about quite a lot, most usually accompanied with personal opinions, interpretations and false data. Rarely does one simply state it from its source -- the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America -- which says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

It says what it says quite clearly and simply enough, and frankly I donít think it needs any further clarifications or discussions, just clearing up the words for those who donít understand it! But oh it sure is discussed, and usually with lots of "opinions" on the subject.

Letís now add to this the definition of "freedom of press": "freedom to publish newspapers, magazines, books, etc. without government interference or prior censorship, but subject, after publication, to laws prohibiting sedition, libel, and obscenity." And here you see consequences starting to come into the picture.

Having been the moderator of several email lists in the past and working with other moderators, Iíve met quite a few people who believe that they have the right to communicate anything to anybody at any time with no regard for the effects their communication may cause. If you look (and use your sanity noggin) youíll find that though the American government may have been founded upon principles which include "freedom of speech", it doesnít mean that youíre in the right or protected when you communicate from a lower condition (Can you spell: sedition? enemy? treason?) or you lie or false report about others (libel). Quite the contrary.

Within the online service I used to run, we took the attitude that youíre responsible for your originated communications. However, that doesnít mean we always take a "hands off until afterwards" approach. On a moderated email list, weíre definitely "hands-on". Sure, one can always individually correct people or apply justice actions after theyíve sent an inappropriate message to hundreds or thousands of people. But when running communication lines that are far-reaching, itís more pro-survival to assign someone to hold the position (job) of a "communicator" as described in a book titled How to Live Though an Executive by Ron Hubbard. That book contains an excellent write-up about running communication lines, and if you run any yourself you ought to read it.

By correctly applying the techniques of a communicator while moderating an email list, inappropriate messages are returned to the sender or discarded, rather than being forwarded on to hundreds of others. The moderator might find and reject destructive or ill-tempered messages, waste-of-time messages (such as repetitive, incomplete or misdirected ones), or messages which are against the purposes for the email list (off-topic). Would you rather get your message back with one correction from someone who knows the techniques of a communicator, or receive dozens of corrections from your fellow list members (undoubtedly some will not be so politely written)? Iíve subscribed to both types of lists (moderated and unmoderated) and I find the moderated ones to be calmer and more constructive.

It is because we "wore our communicator hat" so well that our moderated email lists became premium email communication lines. I have received hundreds of compliments about how sane and wonderful these email lists were because they were moderated and I gave lots of hearty commendations to my moderators for helping to keep it that way. Since we were in the business of providing communication lines, it was part of our service to help keep those communication lines clean, uptone and flowing. We wouldnít have been doing our jobs if we didnít.

If your message to a moderated email list is sent back to you as rejected, that doesnít mean youíre censured. Please get the differences between censure, censor and moderate.

So there you have it. A description about what "moderating" is in an email list.

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