Kavi Mailing List Manager Help

Chapter 8. Mailing List Moderation


Moderation can be thought of as a temporary transfer of control from automated processes to a human decision maker. There are two distinct kinds of mailing list moderation: a moderated subscription process and moderated posting. The help primarily focuses on moderated posting, and this is what most people mean when they refer to "mailing list moderation."

This document discusses the advantages of mailing list moderation, the mechanics of moderating ezmlm-supported mailing lists, how list policy and configuration influence the moderation process and tips on troubleshooting moderated lists. If you want instructions on how to moderate a message or add moderators to a mailing list, see How to Moderate a Mailing List.

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The Virtue of Moderation


Man is a slow, sloppy and brilliant thinker; the machine is fast, accurate and stupid.

  --William M. Kelly

Automated processes can only do so much to protect list quality. For example, software can instantly analyze an email to determine whether the sender is allowed to post messages directly to the list or if the message should be sent for moderation. However, the software doesn't recognize the sender as a person who participates in the organization, nor does it have the sophistication needed to determine whether the message contents are on-topic for the mailing list.

Mailing list software can quickly determine whether a sender's email address is on a Subscriber List or not and apply simple posting rules based on this data. To the software, posting privileges belong to a sender's email address because it is on a Subscriber List, whereas a human moderator knows that the email account belongs to an individual who has been granted posting privileges because of their participation in the organization and the community served by the mailing list. If an individual sends a message from their primary email address (which is on the Regular Subscriber List), and sends a second message from their alternate email address (which isn't on any Subscriber List), the software sees these messages as coming from different senders and may apply different posting privileges. For example, if the mailing list is configured to post subscriber messages but send public posts for moderation, it sends the first post directly to the mailing list and sends the second message to the moderation queue. This is where the moderator comes in. A human moderator recognizes that these messages were sent by the same individual using different email addresses. The moderator may approve the second message because she knows the individual who sent it.

Other kinds of software, such as virus and spam filters, can check message for characteristic patterns that commonly occur in spam or viruses, and even for blatant content violations such as bad words and delete the message before it reaches the mailing list software. What the software can't do is to keep an authorized poster submitting an inappropriately caustic flame or off-topic message—a moderator can. If you want to eliminate all spam, not just the percentage caught by the spam filter and make sure other inappropriate content is kept off a mailing list, the list needs to be moderated.

Advantages of moderated posting:

  • Moderators prevent spam.

  • Moderators help keep content on-topic by rejecting off-topic messages and providing helpful suggestions to users whose posts are rejected.

  • Moderators help maintain a positive environment for list users by rejecting messages containing harsh or abusive language.

  • Moderators can allow deserving nonmembers to post to lists that are ordinarily closed to nonmembers.

  • Moderators prevent spam!!!

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Mailing List Rules and Moderation

Access Control and Moderation

Moderation is essentially a form of access control. Access to mailing lists is controlled at three key points (i.e., posting, subscriptions and archives) as explained in the Concepts document Access Control.

Rules Are Based on Subscriber Lists

Many mailing list rules are based on "who" sent the message, in other words, whether the envelope sender is on a certain Subscriber List. Mailing list rules often differentiate between subscribers and the general public, granting a higher level of posting privileges to subscribers. When the mailing list receives a message, it checks for the sender's address on one of its Subscriber Lists, which may include 'Regular', 'Digest', 'Allow', and if this is a moderated mailing list, 'Moderator'. The first three of these have regular subscriber privileges, but Moderators have higher privileges, and are always allowed to post, even when regular subscriber messages are rejected. The 'Deny' Subscriber List functions in the opposite way: messages from senders on this Subscriber List are automatically rejected. See Subscription Types and Subscriber Lists for more information on this topic.

Rules Are Set in the List Type

To understand how your mailing list behaves, you need to know what rules are set in the List Type on which the mailing list is based. A List Type is a preconfigured mailing list template. When a mailing list is created, the administrator selects the List Type that is the best fit for the use that the mailing list is intended to serve. The List Type configuration determines what kinds of rules will be automatically enforced by the mailing list, such as posting rules. It especially applies to how the list behaves when users interact with it via email and ezmlm email commands.

List Policy and Moderation Rules

Automated rules and moderation work in tandem to enforce mailing list policy. Automation is useful because it can restrict access and filter out inappropriate content on a large scale, but it can't implement the finer points of list policy. This is where a moderator comes in. As a moderator, it is your responsibility to interpret and implement list policy by selectively allowing appropriate posts to go through to the list. If you are moderating a mailing list that moderates email subscription requests, you may help control access to posting and archives by controlling who you allow to subscribe to the mailing list.

If you are an administrator, you may augment moderator processes by moderating messages and managing Subscriber Lists through webtools, including the Allow and Deny Subscriber Lists.

Moderators, administrators and list users can visit Mailing List Home to read the Policy and Usage section and view information on the underlying List Type by clicking the Details link.

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Moderated List Types

A mailing list is moderated if moderation is enabled in the underlying List Type. Moderated List Types are configured to use moderated posting, but there are several different sets of moderation rules. A custom moderated List Type may also have moderated

List Types with Moderated Posting

There are several different settings for the option 'Who can post to the list?' that have moderation enabled. If you are familiar with ezmlm-make arguments, you know that moderation is enabled if -m is set in the ezmlm-make argument string. Here is a quick look at the different kinds of moderated posting rules.

Moderated configuration settings:

Anyone can post but all posts are moderated (mOUY)

This configuration setting is used for public discussion lists. Mailing lists that allow public senders to post directly are rare because they present such a tempting target for spammers, so most public discussion lists accept messages from anyone but send them for moderator approval. With the exception of senders on the Deny Subscriber List (whose messages are automatically rejected), this type of mailing list applies the same posting rules to all senders and simply sends every message to the moderation queue (even messages sent by moderators). Of course, messages sent to this type of list may be rejected or deleted by a spam filter or anti-virus software before they reach the mailing list.

The default List Type Moderated Public Discussion uses this configuration setting.

Subscribers can post and all others moderated (mOuY)

Senders on the Regular, Digest, Allow and Moderators Subscriber Lists are allowed to post directly while messages from public senders are moderated. The Moderated Private Discussion default List Type uses this configuration setting.

Subscribers can post, all others are rejected, and all posts are moderated (mOuy)

Senders on the Regular, Digest, Allow and Moderators Subscriber Lists are allowed to submit posts but their posts are sent for moderation. Messages from public senders are automatically rejected. The Moderated Subscriber-Only Discussion default List Type uses this configuration setting.

Only moderators can post (moUY)

The most restrictive kind of moderation, used for situations where the list content must be strictly controlled. As mentioned previously, this type of configuration prevents malicious users from impersonating a moderator by forging the identity of the sender on an email posted to the list. It also gives moderators an opportunity to double check whether they really want to post every email they send to the list. This comes in handy on those occasions when a moderator accidentally presses Send instead of Save on their MUA. The Announce Only default List Type uses this kind of moderation, since announcements generally have a higher standard of quality control than informal newsletters, and may be used to disseminate information to fulfill legal obligations. This type of configuration is frequently used by lists that serve top-level groups, such as the organization's board or technical committee. The Announce Only default List Type uses this configuration setting.

List Types with Moderated Subscription

Subscription moderation is enabled in custom List Types where the Subscription Model option is set to 'Moderate all public email based subscriptions' and Public Email Commands is set to 'Respond to public ezmlm email (un)subscribe and help commands. In other words, any List Type where -ps is set in the ezmlm-make argument string. There are no default List Types with this combination.

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Moderating Posts

Moderated message posting can be handled by mailing list moderators via ezmlm email commands or by administrators using Kavi Mailing List Manager moderation tools, as described in more detail in How to Moderate a Mailing List. Mailing list moderators receive ezmlm moderation requests by email, and use ezmlm email commands to reject the message or accept it for posting to the mailing list. Administrators view the moderation queue and moderate messages through the Moderate Pending Messages and View/Moderate Pending Messages tools.

Mailing list moderators are not necessarily website administrators. Moderators may be members or member company representatives who hold positions of responsibility in the organization and are knowledgeable about the subscriber community or group served by the mailing list. In many organizations, mailing list moderators positions are fulfilled by website administrators, which is one of the reasons why the 'admin' alias is subscribed to receive messages from the 'listmoderator' alias by default.

On every moderated list, mailing list posting access controls are enforced first through automated processes and secondly through the intervention of a human moderator. Depending on configuration, a moderated mailing list may send every incoming message to the moderation queue or it may check to see which Subscriber Lists the sender's email address is on, then route the message according to its configured posting rules. Once a message has been sent for moderation, it will only be sent to the mailing list if a moderator or administrator accepts it for posting.

The Moderation Queue

When a message is sent to a mailing list's moderation queue, it is wrapped in a moderation request and forwarded to everyone on the Moderator Subscriber List. Moderators can selectively act on each message in the moderation queue by responding to the moderation request, or ignore the message until it eventually times out and is automatically returned to the sender. Administrators can view and interact with this same moderation queue through Kavi Mailing List Manager moderation tools.

Moderator Versus Administrator Actions

Although email and webtools are different routes to the same moderation queue and most of the moderation processes are handled by the same underlying ezmlm software, there are certain differences in the actions that moderators can take when moderating messages via email and the actions that administrators can take when using webtools that you should know about if you are moderating or managing a mailing list.

Key differences:

  • Both can accept messages to be posted to the mailing list. The moderator uses email commands to do this and the administrator uses webtools.

  • The moderator receives each moderation request singly via email and can only view messages in their personal mailbox. Assuming the administrator is not subscribed as a mailing list moderator, the administrator won't receive the moderation request but can view the entire moderation queue through the Moderate Pending Messages tool. In fact, the administrator can view the moderation queues for all the organization's Kavi Mailing List Manager mailing lists at once, if desired. The administrator can moderate multiple messages as a batch.

  • The administrator can retrieve and manage all messages from an individual sender that are in any of the Kavi Mailing List Manager mailing list moderation queues.

  • If subscription moderation is enabled, ezmlm email subscription commands must be moderated via email. These requests aren't sent to the moderation queue and aren't visible through webtools.

  • Moderators can't subscribe or unsubscribe themselves from the Moderator Subscriber List. Administrators have to do this through webtools.

  • Only administrators can add users to the Allow or Deny Subscriber Lists.

  • When a moderator rejects a message, the ezmlm software packages it into a rejection notice and returns it to the sender. The moderator can add a message to this notice, if desired. An administrator can delete a message from the queue rather than rejecting it, and no automated notification is sent, but the administrator has the option of creating one manually.

Moderating Posts Via Email

When a message is sent to a mailing list moderation queue by the ezmlm software, a moderation request is forwarded to every address on the Moderator Subscriber List. A moderator can use ezmlm email moderation commands to accept or reject the message, or can ignore the request, leaving the message in the queue until another moderator or administrator acts on the message or it times out of the queue (usually after five days or so).

The moderation request email provides a copy of the message that needs to be moderated plus instructions that include the email commands that the moderator uses to moderate the message. The moderator accepts a message by replying to one email address or rejects it by replying to a different email address. This is explained in greater detail in How to Moderate a Mailing List.

When a moderator approves a message, the message is posted to the list, then deleted from the moderation queue. When a moderator rejects a message, the message is wrapped in a rejection notice and returned to the sender and deleted from the moderation queue. Messages that are ignored eventually timeout, are wrapped in a timeout notice and returned to the sender, then deleted from the queue. Once a message has been deleted from the queue because a moderator acted on it or it timed out, no further action can be taken. For instance, once a moderator rejects a message and the message is deleted from the queue, another moderator who attempts to accept the message will receive an error notification via email.

Example 8.1. Ezmlm Timeout Notification

Hi! This is the ezmlm program. I'm managing the
mod_public_discussion@tbkorg30.teya.sarge.kavi.com mailing list.

I'm working for my owner, who can be reached
at mod_public_discussion-owner@tbkorg30.teya.sarge.kavi.com.

I'm sorry, the list moderators for the mod_public_discussion list
have failed to act on your post. Thus, I'm returning it to you.
If you feel that this is in error, please repost the message
or contact a list moderator directly.

--- Enclosed, please find the message you sent.

If you are a mailing list moderator and have a strong opinion about whether a certain post should be accepted or rejected, you may want to respond promptly. If you wait, an inappropriate message from a normally reliable sender may be accepted by another moderator who relied on the sender's reputation and didn't read the message before okaying it.

Moderating Posts Via Webtools

If the administrator isn't subscribed as a moderator, they won't receive moderation requests via email. In lieu of any email prompts, the administrator should make it a practice to visit the Moderate Pending Messages tool on a regular basis to check in on the moderation queue. The administrator can moderate messages in bulk or view an individual message and add the sender to the Allow Subscriber List to confer ongoing posting privileges or to the Deny Subscriber List to revoke posting privileges for as long as desired. As mentioned, administrators can only delete messages through webtools. If you prefer the more polite ezmlm rejection process, this has to be handled by moderating the message via ezmlm email commands. On the other hand, if you prefer to make unwanted messages go away without explicitly notifying the sender of said unwanted messages, quiet deletion may be ideal.

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Moderating Subscriptions

If a mailing list is based on a List Type with subscription moderation enabled (i.e., -s is set in the ezmlm-make argument string), moderators have to approve email subscribe and unsubscribe commands. This is handled via email by mailing list moderators, as explained in How to Moderate a Mailing List. Unlike message moderation requests, which can be managed via email or webtools, subscription moderation requests can only be handled by email.

Some List Types are configured to reject all email subscribe and unsubscribe commands. When this happens, subscriptions must be added or removed through Kavi Mailing List Manager tools. Access to webtools is set separately for each mailing list in the Web Availability option, so potential subscribers may or may not be able to add new subscriptions for themselves. When ezmlm email subscription commands are blocked for a mailing list and users are prevented from subscribing directly through Kavi Mailing List Manager tools, another kind of moderated or private subscription process results. In this case, the subscription process is controlled by administrators rather than mailing list moderators. Unlike ezmlm email commands, in which the unsubscribe process has the same level of restrictions as the subscribe process, subscribers may be able to unsubscribe directly through webtools even if they aren't allowed to subscribe.

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Troubleshooting Moderated Lists

Here are a couple of the most common support issues affecting moderated mailing lists. If your issue isn't addressed here, see Kavi Mailing List Manager's extensive help on Troubleshooting Email.

You Are your Email Address

If you are a list user or an administrator troubleshooting a moderated list, the most important thing you can remember is that the software only recognizes a sender and their access level based on the email address they use. Most of the problems encountered on lists of this type are caused by this difference in human and machine perspective. Humans often expect the mailing list to grant them the same level of access no matter which email address they use, because, after all, the access level was granted to them as an individual, based on who they are in relation to the organization and the group served by the list. This is true in the real world, but in the virtual reality of the software, they are their email address, and it is their email address that has been granted these permissions. If a user is having a problem with list access, check to see whether they are sending email from the address under which they are subscribed, and whether the level of access they are expecting is granted to this level of subscriber or not. Refer to the section on Subscriber levels in the Access Control concepts document for more information.

If you are running into problems with access control mechanisms, and aren't sure how the list is configured, click the View link.

Lost in Moderation

Another common situation in moderated lists is that an email seems to have disappeared when it has actually been forwarded to the moderation queue. The amount of time a message can sit in a moderation queue is configurable, so it varies, but most lists give moderators several days before messages timeout and are removed from the queue.

Administrators can check the mail logs to find out whether a message has been sent to the moderation queue.

If All Else Fails

For help troubleshooting other issues, see How to Use the Email Troubleshooting Flowcharts to identify which flowchart best fits your needs.

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