The ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ Usenet Newsgroup

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After spending some time browsing Usenet Newsgroups, I found one with clear rules of moderation and levels of restriction that were practiced efficiently- the ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ Newsgroup.

The subject name hints at the main topic of discussion. The Newsgroup was mostly populated by self-proclaimed witches, and most questions related to practicing the craft, learning more about the subject, and connecting with other witches. Only questions related to ‘traditional’ witchcraft were allowed- discussions about other forms of witchcraft (such as a question about a digital love spell) were not permitted. The newsgroup functioned smoothly for a subject as esoteric as witchcraft, largely due to the member-wide adherence to restriction. Crude language was acceptable, for instance, but soliciting was not, and most members of the group were familiar with the specifics. Any poster who said anything about witchcraft being a hoax was immediately kicked out of the group.

Another reason for the success of the Newsgroup, (and something I hadn’t seen in the other Newsgroups I had looked at) was the presence of active moderators, around seven or eight members who policed the thread and called out discrepancies promptly. Other non-moderator members of the Newsgroup were permitted to call out infractions as well, but I noticed that the job largely ended up going to the moderators. Having people patrolling the Newsgroup who were specifically there to regulate made the group’s objective clearer to even the more casual members and limited the amount of out-of-bounds talk: the number of times a moderator had to step in during 2004 was far less than they had to in 2007, as members grew accustomed to what was and was not acceptable. Moderators tended to cite rules more explicitly when dealing with non-regulation posts, and would usually respond to such posts within twenty-four hours of posting.

Unlike some of the other Newsgroups I had browsed, which were a lot more open-ended as to their objective, ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ had a clear purpose and mostly stayed true to that purpose. Being clear about their objective made it easier to regulate, and the group stayed active and well-moderated for the large majority of its six-year stretch, a pretty uncommon feat.

A few years after the formation of the group, the moderators started a new form of regulation by creating a hierarchy of power in a way that I hadn’t seen in other Newsgroups: they limited who had access to share with the group. New members were ‘read only’- they could read the threads, but couldn’t not post themselves. Two weeks after joining, members had access to the ‘inner circle’, and could send emails to only to the frequent posters of the group. A month after joining, they had access to the entire group, though members had to make at least one ‘inner circle’ post to be cleared to post to the entire list, irrespective of time spent registered. These limits could be overridden by getting the permission of a moderator. Having new members spend time without the ability to post gave them time to grow comfortable with the way the group operated and grow familiar with what was considered acceptable content. It also limited bots and trolls in the group.

‘Traditional Witchcraft’ very much felt like a community- most of the posters were regulars, who had become very familiar with each other in the six years that the Newsgroup had functioned. They each had a specific witchy nickname and were familiar with each other’s. The regulars enjoyed the power they had with being the ‘inner circle’, and would often gang up on new members who they felt didn’t align with their morals. These one-sided spats were ignored by the moderators.

But also, at the end of the day, it was a Newsgroup. Even with the moderating and restrictions in place, some weirdness did seep through.

Image: Confluence of the Cult- Review of The Love Witch (2016)

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