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Re: <nettime> remember the kosovo war on this list?
t byfield on 19 Sep 2000 09:38:07 -0000

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Re: <nettime> remember the kosovo war on this list?

esmaggbe {AT} cetus.zrz.TU-Berlin.DE (Mon 09/18/00 at 11:33 PM +0200):

> Also I can remember that the moderators of this list turned on the
> censorship button quite heavily during the war. Maybe I can get some
> statements about how many mails were sorted out, and why, without raising a
> long debate about censorship in general? Or please correct me if I'm dead
> wrong on this subject,

i hope you'll take it in the intended spirit when i say that this
is all that anyone ever seems to remember: whatever sinister entity
the magical incantation 'moderation' designates, loiters in the 
formlessness and void, like an angel always threating to erupt in 
rebellion against the pure light of otherwise transparent communi-
cation. actually, it's mostly janitorial work, and--with all due
respects to the vagaries and sensibilities of communicative envi-
ronments (and many, many are due)--it's got very little to do with 
the mythological screeds that paralyzed this list a few times, be-
fore their authors wandered off to greener pastures or their own 
private discursive deserts.

when the war in kosov {AT}  began brewing, the number of incoming mails
increased by something alarmingly close to a factor of ten. had we
simply approved all that mail, the list would have died. as it was,
we digested a *lot* of material. the result: though the data trans-
ported remained quite high, the number of messages was 'moderated.'
there were still quite a few complaints, indignant unsubscriptions,
some discussion, but the fact that the number of subscribers went UP
seemed to suggest that either (a) they all pipe nettime straight to 
/dev/null or some other useful place, or (b) the decisions we were 
making as moderators remained within the tolerance of most people on 
the list. it's hard for us to tell: the few squeaky wheels who talk
(or yell, actually) about these kinds of things exist against a back-
drop of 1500+ other silent majoritarians. and Rule One is that the
lurkers are neutral.

the fact that many of the innovations of that period--for example,
ivograms and geertograms--fell into disuse points up something that
is rarely acknowledged in these discussions, namely, that moderation
is an ad hoc activity. the list, having watched it every day for a
few years now, is moody; we, the moderators, adjust accordingly, and
not necessarily by coordinated plan. we haven't talked about the fact
that the recent WTO discussion hasn't been digested: it seemd fine,
even good, that it isn't. and not only has no one complained but the
discussion has thrived--and it feels a bit more like ye olde nettime.

another example: the announcer, which was becoming a *huge* burden 
(several hours a week) hasn't appeared for a while now, yet NOT ONE
person has remarked this fact. we're doing what we can to simplify it 
in order to bring it back, but the silence has made us wonder if any-
one bothers reading it at all. so where, in that interplay, would the 
'censorship' be? 

in general, i think that 'by turning on the moderation button quite
heavily during the war,' we actually managed to *reduce* the number
of messages filtered out, if not in absolute then at least in rela-
tive numbers. it's paradoxical that the visible sign of 'editorial'
intervention should (from our perspective) betoken or (from yours) 
facilitate as little intervention as possible, but it's true--or at 
least there's a strong (empirical, even) argument to be made for it.
however, i won't fall into the trap of assuming that empiricism is
the silver bullet that negates arguments made on other grounds: it
isn't, and it especially isn't in realms founded on feelings. and,
really, what's a mailing list if not a technical structure which N 
number of people have a superabundant, or at least surplus, attach-
ment to?

and you ask why we 'sorted out' mail? because people, ourselves very
much included, care about this list. it feels like words, and phrases
like 'collaborative text filtering' encourage such an attitude; but i
think one could just as easily call it a social sculpture. i'm not
sure why a 'sculpture' would be adequate where 'text filtering' isn't.
it may have to do with the most basic question of whether what's at
work is a reductive process or an additive process. the sculptural
analog of 'filtering' is chiselling, carving, or a lost-wax-type pro-
cess, but i don't think that's what this list is or does. it seems 
much more like building. ok, so now tell me about 'moderation.'


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