Rants of a deranged squirrel.

Usenet is NOT a Democracy

[This was originally written for se7en, for his magazine titled “Shades of Black” and mirrored on attrition.org.]

For those of you who read Usenet, you will no doubt be able to relate to the following text. For those of you who don’t know what Usenet is, read on. On the internet, Usenet exists to exchange messages about different topics and share information/opinions/whatever. With Usenet, it doesn’t matter what time the different people are on, you can read people’s messages, and leave your own for them to read at their convenience.

There is currently over 15,000 different Usenet groups covering just about any topic you could want. You will find groups dedicated to sports, literature, computers, fan clubs, sex, and just about anything else. Some of the groups receive thousands of new messages a day while others receive one or two a week. There are two fundamental types of newsgroups: moderated and unmoderated. Just like it sounds, some of the groups have one or two moderators who ensure the posts stay on topic and keep flame wars and spams out of the messages.

A moderated newsgroup is easy to spot, just look for one that ends in “moderated”. i.e.: alt.2600.moderated or rec.cats.moderated as well as many others. If the group does not have that ending, odds are it isn’t moderated. Usually….

There are a lot of groups that have self appointed moderators who feel they are doing a service to the other readers. Often times they are doing a good thing and helping other people as well as protecting the from time wasting spams or trolls. Sometimes however, these self appointed moderators go too far.

It is generally accepted that you only post a web/ftp address in a newsgroup where you think people would want to see it. If you have a page dedicated to cats, then posting your address to rec.cats would usually be considered acceptable. Many web and ftp sites are fairly big and cover many topics. With these, if one of the topics is in line with the newsgroup, then once again it is acceptable to post it.

Recently a little war has erupted between a self appointed moderator and a Usenet reader (again). This time however, I think it needs to be pointed out that sometimes moderation is not welcome. Elf Sternberg has proclaimed himself the moderator of alt.sex.bondage for some reason. He was not voted to take this position, he did not start the group, and has no basis whatsoever to moderate it. Yet, if you post something he doesn’t like, he mails you and your system administrator to complain.

In this recent case, a user posted his web address for people to check out since the pages cover a very wide range of topics. The pages are usually found to be interesting to all because of the humorous topics, funny stories, good information, and well designed graphics.

The response to this one line post is below:

Date: Mon, 18 Mar 1996 07:40:20 -0800 (PST)
From: Elf Sternberg
To: postmaster@sonic.net, se7en@sonic.net
Subject: Do not use the internet to advertise. (was Shades of Black WWW Page)

Please do not use the Internet for advertising. Your post to
this newsgroup violates the community standards of Usenet
against advertising, and has cost thousands of people around
the world thousands of dollars–dollars you have not paid
others to carry your advertising. Please don’t do it again.

Elf Sternberg
Moderator, the alt.sex FAQ.

Your offending article is returned to you.

Lets look at this for a second. The big complaint about advertising on the internet usually refers to large commercial institutions that flood newsgroups with product advertisements or services. Many times these companies use programs to disguise their real address because they know they will receive many letters of complaint as well as potential retribution. Advertising a personal web page is NOT commercial advertising.

Community standards. There are none. On the internet, everyone is on their own. There are no real rules and the guidelines people have written in the past vary too much to be universal. It can be argued that the group of people on one newsgroup set the standards for that area, but how are you supposed to know what they consider right? You don’t.

Mr. Sternberg goes on to say it has cost people thousands upon thousands of dollars in damage. Wrong again. If you were to break it down and calculate a worst case scenario for a single Usenet message crossing through the most expensive gateway in the most foreign of countries, it would still cost less than a single penny. Had the message been a huge binary file or something else, it may have cost around fifty cents.

Sternberg then signs it as ‘Moderator’ even though he isn’t. The “alt.sex FAQ” suggests he has written a FAQ or part of one about sex. Sex in general from the sound of it, not a FAQ for the newsgroup he is trying to moderate. The letter he has written to complain about that post is more offensive, and has wasted five times the bandwidth the original message did.

Usenet is not a democracy. So, you may argue that he has a right to do that. Yes, he does. He also has the right to accept the abuse that comes with it. Moderating like that often causes arguments among users, and a series of attacks against each other. Had se7en wanted, he could have taken one of many steps to get back at Elf. Removing the newsgroup entirely, flooding it with thousands of blank messages a day, and mail bombing Elf are just a few things that can be done.

So, a one line post that Elf didn’t like could lead to a huge waste of time and bandwidth in retaliation measures. All because Elf decided HE was the moderator and decided HE didn’t like it. Get a clue.

The last thing to consider is what group he has decided to moderate. A group dedicated to bondage of all things. Wake up and do something good for the net instead of moderating a newsgroup that shouldn’t be moderated.. stay off the net.

You can reach Elf at: elf@eskimo.com or elf@halcyon.com


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