Re: Can a moderator help manage emotional email?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 4 Feb 2017 09:18:25 -0800 (PST)
> On Fri, Feb 3, 2017 at 1:58 AM, Martha Wagner <wordbizpdx [at]> 
> wrote:
>> A while back i recall seeing a post from someone whose community managed
>> conflict that arose in email  through the use of a rotating moderator. If
>> your community has such a system or has guidelines that help reduce the
>> potential for email flaming, please share here.

My community doesn’t have a formal system but there are people who do comment 
and correct off-line about message content.

I love email lists and have at times belonged to 25 or 30 lists. I’ve learned a 
lot about what works and what doesn’t. I moderate a neighborhood list of almost 
3,000 members. I’m proud to say that we have grown in our ability to have 
serious, heated discussions between friends and strangers on topics like race, 
neighborhood development, politics, and adolescent crime. I want a neighborly 
but relevant and useful list, not an announcement or business-like list. The 
list is 20-years old but I’ve been moderating for 13 years. During those 13 
years the list has grown from 300 to almost 3000.

The things I have found that work well in both dampening flames and encouraging 
relevant and serious conversations on a public list maybe adapted to help some 
communities who want to address email use.

1. PURPOSE. Be clear about what the list is for. Is it for announcements, 
discussion, jokes, whatever. Stick to it. And post messages yourself that are 
in the style you would like.

2. INDIVIDUAL POSTS. Always address offensive or uneducated posts off-line and 
say, "No problem, just a reminder.” That relaxes people and stops a long back 
and forth about censorship and Nazi’s and racist moderators. Sometimes a person 
hasn’t been reading and doesn’t understand the context of someone else’s post 
or misinterprets a word. (One of my lists includes a number of non-native 
English speakers.)

3. CONFLICT. When there is a lot of back and forth between many list members, I 
post online a reminder not to characterize people as idiots, communists, 
racists, or skunks. Or to attribute motives. Or make assumptions. I define 
“facts." and ask if there is a factual basis for statements. I ask people to 
research facts if no one has any. (We do have a lot of experts so we can 
usually dig them up.)

When 2 people are going back and forth and it closes out all other 
conversations, I ask them to resolve it off-line.

When the whole list is going totally crazy, I put everyone on moderated status 
and read all messages before posting them. I’ve only had to do this twice. Once 
over accusations of racism and once over a housing development on what was 
considered by some to be a park. (You can’t imagine how contentious the 
definition of “park” can be when it comes to real estate development.)

4. CONFLICT WITH MODERATOR I get accused of censorship and racism from time to 
time — less so as the years go by but it still happens. I have 2 co-moderators 
I can ask to step in when I think it is personal animus or that I’m over the 
top with a person. (The racist charge is always stunning since I don’t know 
these 3,000 people much less what their self-identified race is.)

5. EXPLAINING. I take a lot of time off-list to explain to individuals what the 
list is for, how to address tough subjects, why their post was inappropriate, 
and when they are doing their arguments damage.

6. PERMANENT MODERATION. All new members are moderated to prevent spam. I read 
and approve or return new member messages until they post 2-3 normal messages. 
Others are on “permanent” moderation because of frequent blasts. One drinks in 
the evenings, for example, and anything posted after 10:00pm will be 
unpredictable, like our president. I’ve only had to ban 1 person from posting 
at all.

7. UN-SUBCRIBERS. When 2-3 people unsubscribe within a few days, I know the 
list has gotten too hot. Sometimes a tough discussion can go on for days 
without offending anyone, sometimes only for a few hours. The normal rate of 
unsubscribes is one every 1-2 weeks.

8. TOLERANCE & CHARACTERS. I like characters and every list has one or two. We 
have one major character who is as sweet as can be and funny but is also a 
garrulous eccentric old man, in the stereotypical definition of “old man.” I 
sometimes ask him to dial it back and sometimes ask others to be more tolerant. 
He adds a lot of zest rarely attacks people. And he sends me love letters 
whenever I defend him. He also gives me okra plants. 

Some people just need to be allowed to speak. No one has to answer or start an 

HOWEVER, when the list is a community list of equals moderating is tough. If 
you have a highly respected senior or a particularly diplomatic self-effacing 
member, they might get away with it without resentment. Again a clear purpose 
that everyone accepts is crucial.

One of our lists at Takoma Village is defined as for “business." If you are 
living in a community, what is not business? I could argue that minutes and 
announcements are not the business of the community. Is that why we live in 

Writers & Non-writers. I have an advantage on email because I’m a writer and I 
type fast and I am often online. Some people do not write comfortably and 
others have a hard time comprehending asynchronous messages. Others don’t want 
to seek people out for individual F2F communication. Others don’t come to 
meetings. A single form of communication can’t be banned or required.

There is broad and deep disagreement about what email can be used for. Some 
attribute to it all our modern ills back to the invention of paper. Others 
think cohousing would never have grown without it.

In DC with its often tense class, skin color, and ethnic mix, if 3000 people 
can have or watch a conversation on race harmoniously and intelligently, can 
cohousers learn to handle email discussions?

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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