Since its inception in 2011, the Bitcoin development mailing list has been unmoderated. Anyone could join it and start posting to it. For most of its existence, the list was a mostly technical forum, devoted strictly to Bitcoin and the cryptography underpinning it, including bug discussions and proposals from the public.
More recently, the list has become a hotbed of heated debate between proponents and opponents of immediate block size increasing. The debates have at times felt very much like the debates on raising the debt ceiling in US politics: divided parties repeating the same arguments, leading up to a schism in the form of Bitcoin-XT. CCN.com’s own Venzen Khaosan recently posted a message to the list which was deemed by Peter Todd to be very off-topic. Arguably, it was.
In the wake of all this argument and “noise,” Jeff Garzik posted a message last week which outlined a moderation policy proposal.
This mailing list, bitcoin-dev, aim [sic] to facilitate constructive discussion of issues related to technical development of the bitcoin protocol and the Bitcoin Core reference implementation. We can achieve this, in part, by behaving well towards each other, so that the broadest diversity of participants – both amateur and professional, new and experienced – feel that the lists are welcoming and useful.
Seven days after that, yesterday at some point, the moderation policy was put into effect. It is not like most mailing list moderation policies, which simply have a few people entrusted with overseeing the list giving a pass or fail to every message that comes into them.
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Rather, users who post meaningful content will earn their place on a white list of sorts, being granted automatic posting privileges after proving themselves. Moreover, rejected messages will go to a separate list, thereby still being public and received by those who choose to subscribe to the alternate list. It’s important to note that this is a very liberal policy as moderation policies go. This might be credited to the versatility of the Mailman software, which allows one to white list users with relative ease.
Rusty Russell posted the notification to the list yesterday, saying:
Everyone starts moderated, and the mod bit gets cleared as they post. It gets set again if someone notices or reports a violation.
The moderators have all been on the list for quite some time, and are well known and trusted members of the community. The new policy does not come off as an attempt to stifle vibrant discussion, but rather to differentiate between philosophical and technical discussions.
Three months from now the policy will be reviewed by the entire list, in an unmoderated discussion. Again, this is unusual among moderation policies. The whole episode exhibits the philosophical underpinnings of the cryptocurrency movement, which are those of people who are, to say the list, not friendly to any form of censorship, preferring a chaotic exchange of ideas to carefully guarded, politically correct discourse.
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