Rules and Policies

The LincolnTalk list moderators have based the text of these policies on those of the Arlington list with the kind permission of their current maintainer, Richard Damon. Credit for the original drafting of the text belongs to David Coletta. Please read this entire document before you post your first message to the list and refer to it in the future if you have questions.


Definitions

  • Lurker—someone who subscribes to the list and read other people’s posts but rarely or never posts a message.
  • Moderators—the people who maintain the list, plus anyone whom they delegate when regular moderator(s) are on vacation or otherwise unavailable. Where you see the words “we” and “us”, it refers to whoever currently shares moderation responsibilities.
  • Posts—email messages sent to lincoln@lincolntalk.org by list members that appear (usually immediately) in the inboxes of other list members.
  • Subscription—your voluntary agreement to receive LincolnTalk list messages.
  • Subscription information—your email address along with certain preferences, such as whether you receive individual messages or digest messages.

Good and bad behavior

The list is a community of people gathering to interact with each other and help each other. We ask that people treat each other with respect and civility. As owners of the list, we develop, maintain and enforce these rules, which are spelled out in the rest of this document. Use of this list is subject to a few conditions:

  1. You agree to follow the list rules as spelled out here.
  2. You agree that we are the final arbiters of the interpretation of these rules, and will accept our rulings on list matters.
  3. You realize that we do not have detailed control over what is posted on the list, as we do not review every message before it reaches the list.
  4. Therefore, you will hold us, and those that help us, harmless for the material here, but will deal with the original poster.
  5. If you cannot agree to these rules, we ask that you unsubscribe from the list.

Basic netiquette

Your posts should be clear as possible in overall tone as well as specific content. Here’s some basic “netiquette”:

  • Use a succinct subject line that clearly describes your topic. If you’re replying to a message, keep the subject identical unless you have good reason to change it, and use the reply button. This allows people to more easily skip subjects they’re not interested in.
  • Trim unneeded material from replies.
  • Stay on topic.
  • Consider whether your statement is important enough to share with the residents of Lincoln and whether it adds something substantive to the discussion.
  • Follow the rules on Civility and Personal attacks below.

Civility

  • LincolnTalk is a private forum managed and paid for by volunteers. The mission of the list is to encourage civil online discussion in our town. Submitting postings to LincolnTalk and having them delivered immediately is a privilege you must earn by following these guidelines.
  • Do not make personal attacks on other list members. See Personal attacks for more details on what constitutes a personal attack.
  • Stick to Lincoln topics. This is especially important if you’re posting about something controversial. See Staying on topic for more details about what's on topic for the list.
  • Take long, heated arguments with one or two other people to private email.
  • When posting on a controversial topic, take responsibility for guiding the discussion back towards civility, even if you don't think that others are doing the same.
  • Remember that just as you have the right to state your opinion, so does everyone else.

Personal attacks

One of the cornerstones of civility is the expectation that you can say controversial things in a respectful manner. Personal attacks are never allowed.

What is a personal attack?

A personal attack is a message, posted in the context of an argument, in which the poster makes unfriendly remarks about another list member instead of addressing the specific points made by that list member. A personal attack often takes the form of a comment such as "You have no idea what you're talking about," an insult such as "Based on your postings I can see that you're incompetent," or a rhetorical question such as "How hypocritical can you get?"

The "no personal attacks" rule is intended to apply primarily to members’ messages and responses. Personal attacks on someone not known to be a list member, such as a business proprietor or a public figure, are similarly discouraged but are not specifically part of this policy. Similarly, attacks on the list as a group, such as "you're all a bunch of nincompoops on this list," are discouraged, but not specifically part of this policy.

What should I do instead?

Here's the scenario: someone's made a provocative statement on the list, and you're trying to find the right words to rebut it. You’ll never go wrong if you stick to the rule "seek first to understand, then to be understood." If someone posts something that makes you really angry or upset, try to give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Try asking questions designed to help you understand them better.

If you're ready to give up on seeking to understand, consider simply ignoring the person. Perhaps you feel you can't bring yourself to let a provocative statement "stand unchallenged,” but other list members won’t assume that everyone agrees with an unchallenged provocative statement. Often the person making the provocative statement is just hoping to get a rise. You don't have to take the bait. If you feel compelled to respond, at least make sure you address his or her specific comments. Quote the relevant portions of their message and address comments directly.

What are the consequences of posting a personal attack?

If you post a personal attack, you may receive a message from the moderators that will quote your message and ask you to refrain from making personal attacks. Such a message will always be private and never copied to the rest of the list; public humiliation is unseemly and ineffective.

Remembers that the moderators usually don’t see messages before they’re posted to the list and can only deal with personal attacks after the fact. Also please note that they may not always immediately recognize and take action after a personal attack is posted. List members are always encouraged to point out to the list manager anything that they feel is a personal attack.

How come my posting was singled out for a "no personal attacks" follow-up email from the list manager?

Since all follow-up emails are sent privately, there's no way for you to tell whether others on the same thread are getting the same type of emails from the list manager. Please assume that you're not being singled out based on whether the list manager does or doesn’t personally agrees with you. The "no personal attacks" policy is enforced as fairly as possible, and a "no personal attacks" follow-up email does not mean the list manager is taking sides in the argument.

What should I do if I get a "no personal attacks" email from the list manager?

First and foremost, please try to take it in the spirit in which it was intended—as part of an ongoing effort to keep the list civil. It doesn't represent any sort of judgment against you personally.

Some of the terms in the definition of a personal attack, such as "argument" and "unfriendly,” are obviously subjective and open to interpretation. So a thoughtful and considered reply to the list manager is always welcome. In particular, if the list manager's explanation of why your message was considered a personal attack doesn't satisfy you, you're always welcome to ask questions.

Staying on topic

People join the LincolnTalk list because they are interested in the topic of Lincoln. This policy provides guidance about how to stay on topic, and explains how the list manager handles threads that veer off topic.

Staying on topic is often difficult, and it’s understood that there are no hard and fast rules. It requires good judgment, which comes only with practice. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re writing a message. When you can answer "yes" to these questions, you’re probably headed in the right direction.

  • Is my message about Lincoln? If your message is very clearly and totally focused on Lincoln politics, Lincoln schools, Lincoln businesses—meaning Lincoln people, places, or things—it's on topic.
  • Is my message likely to be of wide interest to a large group of people who are here because they want to learn about and discuss Lincoln? If you feel confident that the answer to this question is yes, then your message is very likely to be on topic, even if it’s is not about Lincoln. For example, messages about a neighboring town, or about a state-wide map database that includes maps of Lincoln, or about a chain of stores that's coming to Lincoln, are probably all on topic.
  • Is my message an attempt to draw on the resources of my community? In other words, if you live in Lincoln and you’re asking for help from or providing information to your community, then your message is probably on topic even if the focus isn't on Lincoln itself. For example, if you’re inviting people to a national political event, asking your neighbors how they’re handling some aspect of the state tax form, or you’re looking for the best route to Logan Airport, it's probably on topic even if the focus is not Lincoln.
  • Does my message avoid changing the subject? When you reply to a message and you change the focus substantially, you may be going off topic. For example, if a list member posts a message inviting neighbors to a national political event, and you reply with a message that focuses on national politics instead of neighbors, you may not be staying on topic.
  • Does my message avoid violating any of the other list policies? If your message contains a personal attack or the text of a private email, it’s not on topic even if it otherwise would have been. If your message is of a commercial nature, please see Commercial Postings.

It’s not unusual for a discussion thread to drift from its original focus on Lincoln into other territory—philosophy, political parties, technical matters of law, definitions of words, and so on. This sort of drift is only natural, and it takes a conscious effort to bring the focus back to Lincoln. If you make that effort, your fellow list members will appreciate it.

If a thread that was originally on topic goes off topic, the list manager may choose to end the thread. Ending the thread means that the list manager posts a message to the list with the subject "Thread is off topic and has been ended" followed by the subject of the thread being ended. The list manager may also adjust the list software so that messages on that thread will be held for approval instead going through immediately without approval as they normally do. Not all off-topic threads are created equal: an off-topic thread about boating is not likely to be as disruptive to the list as an off-topic thread about a controversial and provocative topic. So the list manager will exercise judgment as to which threads need to be ended. Please trust that the list manager is choosing which threads to end in a fair and objective manner, based on the potential level of disruptiveness, and not on any personal preferences or viewpoints the list manager may hold.

Moderation

The list is not moderated in the sense that someone reads and approves every post before it appears on the list for other members to see. We manage the list, which means we deal with subscriptions and answer questions, but we normally do not exercise any control over the content of the list beyond enforcing the policies of the list contained herein.

The first few posts by new subscribers are held for moderator review to make sure they conform to the list policies. If a message isn’t approved, you’ll be notified; otherwise it will be released to the list, normally within 24 hours. After your first few posts, subsequent posts will go directly to the list without intervention.

The moderators may privately warn you about your posts for any reason, including violation of the list guidelines. If, in their judgment, your posts continue to violate the guidelines in letter or in spirit, they may moderate your posts, in which case you’ll be notified directly. If you have been put on moderation and you want to be allowed to post freely again, write to the list manager.

Moderator philosophy and methods

  • We will normally deal with problems with individuals privately (normally via email) rather than in open public settings. In our experience, people are more apt to listen and change when things are done this way. Public rebukes tend to lock a person into a defensive posture, trying to prove that they are right, as opposed to seeking what’s right.
  • If you see something on the list that bothers you, we prefer that you either contact the poster directly and privately, or contact us privately. Contacting us makes more sense if you think the issue may need "official" handling. You might also consider writing to the person and copying the moderators. If you make a public complaint on the list or elsewhere, we’ll consider that public posting to be sufficient and will ignore future private requests from the complainant about the matter.
  • We will not discuss with a third party any actions we’ve taken with regard to list violations unless we think there may be legal issues. This is for reasons of privacy, lack of time, and to avoid having people second-guessing our decisions and making us spend a lot of time filling in the background behind them.
  • For people whom we contact about problems, those who respond politely will be treated better than those who reply with complaints and insults.
  • Our general preference is to err on the side of allowing more discussion rather than less, and to work with a gentle hand initially. We will get firm if we feel the need.
  • Similarly, we will tend to give someone the benefit of the doubt when there hasn't been a history of problems, but we will be much less tolerant of repeat offenders, especially if we don’t have a sense that the person has had a real change of attitude.

Commercial posting

You are allowed to make commercial postings to the LincolnTalk list only if they are relevant to Lincoln and relatively infrequent.

  • "Commercial" here means that the primary purpose of your posting is to advertise something about your business or service. Advertising to sell your car, for example, doesn't fall under this guideline unless that’s your primary business, so this is always allowed. For the sake of this guideline, advertising specials or coupons in a way that might get you a referral bonus is considered commercial.
  • "Relevant to Lincoln" means that your business is located in Lincoln, you live in Lincoln, or your posting is very likely to be of wide interest to Lincoln resident
  • "Relatively infrequent" means that your postings for you business or service should occur no more than every three months or so. A simple reply of "we can do that" to a request to the list for a recommendation for a good or service that you provide will generally not be counted against your posting frequency.
Since one of the primary uses of LincolnTalk is for residents to exchange information about businesses and services, you should expect that advertising your business may spark discussion, both pro and con, about your business. Posts that involve civil criticism or concerns raised about your business will not be considered a personal attack.

These are guidelines, and as always, the final judgement as to the appropriateness of a commercial post rests with the moderators.

Privacy

This section describes your rights to your postings, the way the list software handles your private information such as your email address, and the topic of anonymity.

  • Do not repost to the list an email you received privately, whether signed or unsigned, unless you have the author's permission to do so, or unless the message was obviously written with the intention of unlimited distribution. For the purpose of this guideline, "private" means "not posted to the LincolnTalk list."
  • Posts must be signed, preferably with your real name. Anonymous posting is not permitted.

Anonymous posting

In the interest of maintaining civility and accountability, anonymous posting on LincolnTalk is not permitted. If you post a message, you must identify yourself with your name and email address. 

Anonymous subscribing and lurking

The only identifying information the list software stores about you as part of your subscription is your email address, your name, and some preference settings such as whether you prefer individual messages or digest messages. The list software does not store personal information about you, other than that which may be revealed by your email address (for example, “john.doe@gmail.com”).

Until the first time you post a message to the list, your identity as a member is secret; the software prevents other list members from knowing who is a member of the list. As long as you never post a message, you will never be asked to reveal your name or email address to the list membership. Only the moderators have access to list membership records, and they will make every reasonable effort not to reveal the existence of your subscription as long as you are a lurker.

You are encouraged though not required to sign messages with your real name. If you post an unsigned message, you should expect that fellow list members will ask you for your name, because there is a general expectation among the list that providing your real name makes your words more credible and adds to the level of civility and community that we expect from each other. You will never be removed from the list by the list owner solely because you use a pseudonym in your posts, but you may be removed without prior notice if you anonymously post messages which violate list policy or otherwise cause harm to the list in the judgment of the list owner.

Access to your subscription information

Access to your email address and preferences are password protected. Only you and the list owners have access to this information, and it will never be shared with anyone without your prior permission.

After you leave the list

The list software erases its information about you when you leave the list. Archived messages previously posted by you are retained indefinitely and continue to be subject to the above "ownership of your postings" policy below.

Archived messages

All messages you post to the list are archived and available to anyone who subscribes to the list. Your archive queries are stored and displayed only to you. The archives are protected from access by the Internet at large, but anyone may subscribe to the list and then access the archives. Information in the archives cannot be modified.

Risks of spam

If you never post a message to the list, there is no way for anyone, whether or not they’re a member of the list, to obtain your email address, so there’s no risk of getting spam as a result of your list membership. If you post a message to the list, it’s possible, though unlikely, that another member of the list will use your email address to send you spam, or will forward your message to someone else who use your email address to send you spam. If you join an email list, you expose your email address to the public, and your email address may be obtained for the purpose of sending you spam.

Ownership of your postings

By posting a message to the list, you retain your copyright but grant (1) a non-exclusive license to all list members to forward that message by email to anyone, and (2) a non-exclusive license to the list owner to maintain an archive. These two rights you grant by posting to the list constitute the only exceptions to the normal protection afforded by the copyright you retain to your words, so any other use of an email you send to this list requires your prior permission. Any use of your posting without your permission, beyond the two licenses granted here, is a matter between you and the person who uses your posting improperly, and you agree to hold the list owner harmless.

Best efforts of the moderators

The list owners will make their best reasonable efforts to enforce these policies. However, the list software may contain defects which compromise your privacy, and the password protection of secret information may be compromised by a determined attacker. You agree to hold the list owners harmless in the event that your privacy is compromised.