Regulation: Usenet and Community Moderation
As we saw in our discussion of Usenet, the aspect of regulation in the circuit of culture encompasses both hard and soft forms of regulation, ranging from formal government censorship to more informal, community-based types of consensus and moderation. From a cultural standpoint, that is, the concept of regulation must be understood to extend beyond government dictates to less institutional ways of creating order on the internet, including the ad hoc conditions put in place by shared communities on how people should produce and consume online content.
For this blog post you will be asked to choose a Usenet newsgroup conversation and describe the ways that the group, and the community members within it, place restrictions on what can be posted. Examples of such restrictions include the subject name of the newsgroup itself, which sets parameters for the topics that are suitable within the discussion. How individual community members discuss these rules, if they cite them directly, would be an ideal illustration of the group’s efforts at self-regulation, but even the absence of such discussion is meaningful. A group that stays on topic self-regulates to stay on topic.
(A good example of this comes from a SUNY Cortland assignment, from around the height of Usenet’s popularity, that recommends to students that they brush up on the proper “netiquette” before getting started. In the 1990s, in fact, setting the tone for appropriate conduct on networks like Usenet and Gopher was a matter of widespread discussion, with forums and websites dedicated to establishing the rules and commandments of online behavior. Scholarly publishing got into the mix as well, documenting these distributed efforts, as can be seen here and here.)
Finding a Newsgroup
Archive.org hosts the Usenet Historical Collection, where you can download old discussions going back to the early 1980s in mbox format. To read these files, however, you will need a newsgroup reader. The University of Michigan’s Information and Technology Services offers a nice rundown of how to get started importing mbox files into the Mozilla Thunderbird mail client.
Another resource, though it isn’t always reliable, is the Usenet Archives, a web-based search and discovery platform for historical newsgroups.
- Choose a Usenet newsgroup and read through the discussions to find a conversation about moderation or one that simply piques your interest. Nearly any conversation will work for the purposes of this assignment if you are creative in analyzing how the thread is moderated or shows signs of community self-regulation.
- Claim your newsgroup of choice on the class spreadsheet (link in the assignment submission form on Canvas, as well as in the syllabus) by Tuesday, October 3.
- Analyze as many of the ways the newsgroup places restrictions on access, content, and use as you can find. Whenever possible, consider how these restrictions are interrelated, and in each case consider what the goals of the regulations are: who they serve, what content and use they make possible, what effects they have on the community involved, and whether they are potentially beneficial or malevolent overall.
- Include a feature image, which can be a screen capture of the discussion. Be careful to follow the image requirements so you don’t end up with an excessively large file.
Due October 6 by 5:00 p.m. EST.