Code of Conduct


Mailing List Owners

Patrick P. Murphy, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1998, 1999


The administration of an electronic mailing list is an onerous undertaking, not one that should be taken lightly or delegated trivially. List owners occupy a position of considerable power and responsibility, thus a code of conduct is required to clarify the necessary checks and balances among the several owners needed to ensure the smooth and just operation of a list. Such codes are essential to ensure that the lure of power does not lead to the otherwise inevitable corrupting influence. This document attempts to outline a self- consistent set of articles by which any list may function with a reasonable, though not guaranteed, chance of ensuring the ideals of fairness, honesty, and integrity.

1. Organization

A mailing list is comprised of many list members (constituents) and one or more list owners. The role of the owner(s) is to address the executive, technical, administrative and judicial aspects of ensuring the smooth operation of the mailing list. One owner will be the "Executive" and is in overall control of, and bears the brunt of the responsibility for running, the list. The remaining owners will be classified as technical, administrative or judicial in their capacity. They are referred to as "co-owners" in this document, whereas the Executive is referred to as the owner.

2. Primary List Owner (Executive)

The primary list owner is referred to in this document as the Executive, has overall responsibility for running the list in a smooth, efficient, and ethical manner, and unless noted otherwise herein, has final say over matters related to the list.

3. Assistant List Owner (Technical)

There are two classes of technical co-owners: silent and active. A silent co-owner is one who need not be subscribed to the list, but is available to the other list owners for consultation on technical issues. An active technical co-owner is one that is subscribed to the list, and is expected to handle some of the routine aspects of list operation from a technical perspective. It is highly desirable to have at least one active technical co-owner on any mailing list.

4. Assistant List Owner (Administrative)

The duties of an administrative co-owner will revolve around the sociological aspects of the content appearing on the list. A typical duty might be to intercede to prevent a "flame war" from developing, or to terminate a discussion that is inappropriate for the list in question. Such assistant co-owners will receive their guidelines from this code of ethics, from additional rules as laid out in the introductory letter to the list, and finally from the Executive.

Any additional directives from the Executive to an administrative co-owner or owners not contained in this code of ethics or the list's introductory letter must be shared at their time of inception and/or revision with all other list owners. Such directives shall not conflict with this document or the introductory letter, and shall be published in the latter when they involve list members.

5. Assistant List Owner (Judicial)

The role of the Judicial co-owner can be likened to that of an ombudsperson. The desirability of having such an assistant owner is even higher than that of the technical category, as it is their role to ensure that all owners comply with this code of ethics, with the list rules as laid down in the introductory letter, and the Executive directives as outlined elsewhere in this document.

The role of Executive list owner and Judicial co-owne cannot be combined under any circumstances.

6. Appointment of List Owners

Unlike other fora such as UseNet, a list is in general not a democracy. Generally, a few -- or one -- take on the task of locating and configuring the resources to make the list possible, and then announce the existence of the list to interested parties. Thus, the initial owner(s) of a mailing list will tend to be self-appointed. Subsequent owners should be selected by the previous list owners, preferably from the membership of the list and also preferably by unanimous agreement among the existing owners.

Where consensus is not possible when selecting new list owners, a majority vote will take effect. The Executive List Owner will possess veto power in such votes.

7. Termination of List Ownership

For non-Executive co-owners, they may tender their resignation at any time by sending an appropriate message to all the other list owners, including the Executive.

The Executive list owner may tender resignation in a similar manner, in which case it falls on the remaining list co-owner(s) to institute a search for a replacement. Unanimous agreement among the existing list owners is required in order to replace the Executive. Where agreement cannot be reached, the list should be shut down after reasonable notification is given to the list members.

A non-Executive list co-owner may be removed from list ownership with prejudice if, in the opinion of the majority of list owners including the Executive, it is in the best interests of the list to do so. All list owners must be notified and must vote on the termination. When completed, notice of the removal must be sent to the list membership along with a brief synopsis of the reasons for such removal. In the event of a tie in the vote, the Executive list owner will appoint a temporary delegate to cast the deciding vote. This delegate will be from the ranks of the list members and will not be a former owner of said list.

The Executive list owner cannot be removed from list ownership. If *all* of the non-Executive list owners concur that such an action is in the interest of the list, it is their responsibility to make a formal petition to the Executive asking her or him to resign voluntarily. If the Executive declines, the remaining list owners must issue a statement outlining the situation to the list membership. The Executive cannot interfere with publication of this statement and it must appear in the same manner as any other message to the list.

8. Procedures for Rule-making

Any rules made by list owners shall not conflict in any way with any part of this document.

New rules instituted by list owners must be agreed on by 2/3 of the list owners. Those agreeing must include the Executive and Judicial owners.

Any new rule must be published both in the "Introduction Letter" that new list members receive on subscribing to the list. In addition, any such change in the Introduction Letter must be sent to all list members via the normal list distrubution mechanism.

9. List Owner Powers

Only the Executive list owner and/or admistrative co-owners may take action against a list member. Such action should only be in response to a violation of this code of ethics, or to the rules for the list as outlined in the introductory letter. The Executive list owner and the Judicial co-owner must concur that the action is necessary.

In emergency situations where it is not possible for the Executive list owner or the administrative co-owner to comply with section 9.1, all list owners must be notified of the action within 24 hours. The Executive list owner and Judicial co-owner may, if they both agree, override the action taken.

The actions envisaged in this article include, but are not limited to: issuing a private warning to a list member; placing a list member "on review" so as to require list owner approval of any posts from said member; or removal of said list member from the list.

10. Limitations on List Owner Powers

Given the difficulty of conveying nuances of meaning in the electronic media, it is essential that good communication be established and maintained between all list owners. To that end, any administrative action taken must include notification of said action to all other active list owners. This includes, but is not restricted to, changing the status of an individual list member's subscription status (e.g., placing them on or off review).

Where a message is sent to a list member by a list owner in connection with any administrative or punitive action, said list owner will forward a verbatim copy of that message to all other active list owners. This should be achieved via the carbon copy (CC) or blind carbon copy (bcc) mechanism.

11. Compliance

Any list that adopts this code of ethics will perform the following:

Make this code available to all list members. This can be achieved by periodically posting it to the list, by a periodic reminder of how to retrieve it or other similar means. It must be made available to list members free of charge.

Indicate in the introductory letter for the list that all list owners have voluntarily agreed to abide by these codes. If adopted after list inception, the notice of agreement must be sent to all list members.

No change may be made to this document in any way by anyone save the original authors as listed herein. The text version of this document is PGP signed, and the PGP boundary lines and digital signature must be preserved when it is posted in any forum. The PGP signature may be verified by looking at my plan, or by checking my home page and calling me, asking for the fingerprint.

Pat Murphy