ELL: re: moderator

jireem at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu jireem at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu
Thu Sep 30 13:31:10 UTC 1999

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Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 07:31:10 -0600 (CST)
From: jireem at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu
Subject: ELL: re: moderator
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I've lurked on ELL as long as it's been up, and this is my first post. I'm
not an expert on endangered languages but am generally interested in
issues of linguistic preservation, specifically text production,
orthography design, and human-language-technology complexes. I've also
followed other ELL threads with interest. I'm writing my dissertation on
the representational practices of American linguists, a sort of history of
disciplinary discourse, and I like staying in touch with current
conversations. I'd feel sorry to see these ones go.

Arguments for and against a moderator (or two) both seem reasonable
-- on one hand, we'd like to preserve the immediacy, authenticity,
and informality of discussions (and there may be questions of political
ethics involved as well); on the other hand, we need to protect the list
from becoming *too* immediate, authentic, and informal in ways that seem
endemic to on-line environments/communities.  Without any face-to-face
bonds, it's too easy to start slamming and flaming.

I offer these three thoughts on moderated lists:

1. I'd like to be able to appeal to our sense of community and avoid the
moderator. But this appeal is premature. Or is it? I think it's important
to remember that the social protocols of interaction in these environments
are still evolving. It's going to be rough. It's a frontier. However, it's
clear that what's evolving is a public sphere, and that the rules for
public discourse (ok, American ones) add civility onto Grice's maxims.

Call it Erard's maxim for Internet discourse: civility + Grice

2. The other moderated list I'm on, LINGUIST, generates good discussion
on a wide range of interesting and controversial topics. In my
experience, moderating does not eliminate or edit certain kinds of
topics.  On the other hand, the flavor of the list is dependent on the
moderator him or herself. Recently LINGUIST featured an often-heated
discussion on universal word order; some people might have called some
posts "flames." Thus, moderating is not a guarantee against (what
some might perceive as) uncivil discourse.

3. My other immediate thought is that LINGUIST costs money to run. So does
an edited list, WriterL, that I'm going to subscribe to. Is it possible to
run a moderated list without paying the moderator and ensuring their lack
of bias (and our trust in their absence of bias) thereby?


Michael Erard
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English
University of Texas at Austin
Instructor, Department of English
Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas

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