Code of Conduct
Mailing List Owners
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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.