This time around, we go all the way back to Vent #6, 11 May 1996, for a bit of personal history:

Once upon a time, there was a man named Randy K., so far as I know no relation to Tonio K. or anyone in Franz Kafka's entourage, and he was a man with one particularly quaint notion that online speech should be no less free than its printed cousin.

Then again, in the 1980s, "online speech" was something less than a buzzword; it was simply something that went on, low enough beneath the clouds to avoid detection by the radar of the national nannies and their media brethren. Randy called his discussion area "Controversial", and he wasn't kidding. When it went up on FidoNet's North American backbone, available to anyone with a link with a mail hub, the conference became almost instantly famous or, perhaps, infamous for the willingness of its moderator to entertain any ideas whatsoever, so long as they were, er, controversial enough.

Then one day in 1989 we took a look around and noticed that we hadn't heard anything from Randy in quite some time. This wasn't a big deal; it's not like Randy had been a hands-on moderator or anything. In fact, he took a certain amount of pride in the amount of control he didn't exert.

So when FidoNet decided, circa 1990, that conferences this size needed someone, if not to ride herd on the user base, at least to be responsible for the paperwork, I assumed control of Controversial, and served as the moderator thereof for the following six years.

It occurs to me that there might be some interest in the way I ran things, and so I'm reprinting here the last version of the actual Conference Rules that I posted before departing the conference in 1996.

CONTROV:  The Rules (Version 3.13, 30 September 1995)
The purpose of the Controversial conference (area tag: CONTROV) is to
provide an ongoing forum for the discussion of those topics which
affect our lives most directly, without many of the strictures
imposed by more specific conferences.  
A forum devoted to free speech is simultaneously a boon and a
boondoggle; the signal-to-noise ratio is often not encouraging and
the volume of messages can be staggering.  Just the same, guidelines
do exist and can be enforced if the situation warrants.
Messages meeting these descriptions are defined as off-topic:
1) Blatant advertising, be it for products, services, BBSs, whatever.  
Exceptions may be made for the announcement of conferences which serve
a similar purpose to this one, in an effort to give them something of
a boost in recruiting.  The Moderator will decide what is "similar".  
2) Clearly illegal content.  This is a grey area, but some things - LD
codes, pirating software, and such - are more likely prosecutable than
3) Messages which translate to "I know you are, but what am I?" or
similar kindergarten stuff and nothing more.  It is assumed that 
everyone here is capable of carrying on a reasonably adult 
conversation - although age per se is irrelevant.
The Moderator does not play TopiCop (sm) very often; an occasional 
lapse is forgiven, sometimes because it isn't noticed.  However, 
repeat offenders run the risk of being considered "excessively
annoying", and will be dealt with accordingly.
When you post something in CONTROV, do so with the expectation that 
someone will take exception to it.  Some subjects provoke almost 
violent reactions at times, and you should not be surprised to 
receive an occasional fierce and intemperate reply.  Such things are 
inevitable in a forum like this.
Policies of the conference:
Quoting:  Encouraged, though not required.  Deliberate misquoting or
unnecessary overquoting - for instance, recycling an entire thread
just to add a line or two - is not permissible, and flagrant 
violations are cause for removal.

Handles or aliases:  No specific rule.  The individual sysop decides
the policy for his/her system, and the Moderator expressly disclaims 
any responsibility for any occurrence that may be due to the use of a
handle or alias - or to the failure to use one.

Cross-posting:  Handled on an individual basis.  If you have something
large to bring over here, please ask. 

Complaints:  Should be sent in NetMail to 1:147/49.  The Moderator 
will not cross-post NetMail to the conference without the consent of
the sender.

Graphics and other clutter:  Discouraged, but not considered off-topic
if they are part of an otherwise legitimate message.  The poster, 
however, should expect informal complaints from the gallery.

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) (tm) and other encryption systems:  Entire
messages ought not to be encoded; however, until such time as FidoNet
may choose to establish contravening policy in this matter, exchange
of public keys as part of a legitimate message shall be permitted. 

Personal attacks:  Probably unavoidable in this conference.  Somewhere
along the continuum, verbal abuse turns into direct threats; the 
Moderator will evaluate these as required.  However, the history of 
the conference suggests that actual, credible threats are rare indeed.

Penalties for infractions:  Handled on an individual basis. 

In general:
The Moderator serves at the pleasure of the conference.  Should there
come a time when the position must be vacated, the Moderator will 
select a successor with a similar commitment to free speech, and will
seek the advice and consent of the conference participants before
making the final decision.

The Moderator reserves the right to take part in any or all 
discussions on this conference, without regard to his status as

The Moderator further reserves the right to take whatever actions 
may be necessary to insure the continuity and integrity of this 
conference, whether specifically spelled out in these Rules, the
policies of FidoNet (tm) and/or the Zone 1 Backbone, or otherwise.

And lastly, while the Moderator disclaims any copyright or similar
interest in any individual message in the conference not posted by
himself, compilations or extracts of conference messages as a whole
should not be undertaken without permission of the individuals
involved - if not for the sake of copyright law, then certainly as
a matter of common courtesy.

Charles G. Hill
CONTROV Conference Moderator (since 30 April 1990)
NetMail: 1:147/49

"LD" codes were used to dial long-distance numbers and bypass the existing billing system. This was a big deal in the late 1980s. And "excessively annoying" was the one unforgivable crime in the Fido system: you could be annoying, yes, but not to excess.

I do hate to blow my own horn, but I think I did a pretty decent job, not only of keeping the conference under as little control as possible, but of delivering something of a low-budget free-speech manifesto for the 21st century five to ten years early.

The Vent

  23 March 2006

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 Copyright © 2006 by Charles G. Hill