On personal attacks on mailing lists

Regarding etiquette on mailing lists. So long as people stay reasonably on topic, I’ll tolerate a lot. For example, I’m much more tolerant of foul language — in fact, I embrace its use.

But I’ve noticed that one thing gets my attention every time: I ban people over it if I’m the list manager, and raise a stink over it if I’m not. It’s personal attacks, some so strong as to constitute, in my mind, slander. Lord knows there have been times when I should have stepped away from the keyboard, but I’ve learned from my mistakes; others, it seems, have no qualms about making accusations that, if they were printed in a newspaper, would generate instant calls to the lawyers.

It’s amazing what happens when I ban people over such comments, or block their messages. The howls of protest! The cries of censorship! The accusation that I’m taking sides! Antics I’d expect from six-year-olds, not fiftysomething professionals who are upset that I won’t let them smear someone else.

The fact is, mailing lists are subject to the rules set out by their provider: Yahoo! Groups, for example, has terms of service, and private lists are owned by their listowners in a very literal sense. Those who freak over being censored forget this — and also forget that a failure to police bad behaviour might well expose a listowner to liability, even if, as in one risible recent case, the perpetrator offered to “indemnify” me against any legal action.

Anyway, if you’re wondering where pontiacenvironment.org went, that’s why. I got tired of it and walked away. Too bad the list — and the site — went with me.