(Written for se7en@dis.org, for his magazine titled "Shades of Black")

                        Usenet is NOT a Democracy

        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". ie: 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