Online bitterness: a spillover from Goanet


There this rambling rant — well, it’s unfair to call it a rant, everyone is actually entitled to their opinion, even if it is based on a half-udnerstanding of the situation — from Dr Cornel Da Costa, who goes on and on generally about how unfairly Goanet is run. Dr Cornel has also been the guy who has been reporting rather enthusiastically about the debates on Goanet on http://www.goanvoice.org.uk Ironically, I had a good equation with Dr Cornel till he read a “humour” response and was actually led into believing that I was censoring posts on Goanet big-time,

To be frank, I’ve been part of Goanet for some 13 years now. First as an ordinary member, then as a poster of news from Goa, then as a volunteer and admin team member, and since late 2006 as Goanet mentor. In that sense, if this is a mess, then I’m as responsible (maybe more) than anyone else.

Fact is, I see Goanet as an unqualified success. We do have our problem areas, admitted. (Too much volunteering on too few shoulders, a difficulty in spending more time at the wheel, the fact that sometimes we get rather irritated by the handful of posters who treat this as a soapbox for any nonsense posts, and also the ability of a few disgruntled elements to raise controversy over anything or everything.) But it is no mean achievement to have survived almost 100% on volunteer power (a limited number of donations have come in). And to build up a readership of an estimated 12,000 across diverse lists that are part of the wider Goanet family.

Goanetters' meet 1999 (?) by you.

Goanetters at an early meeting, maybe 1999. Photo FN.

As more and more people take to cyberspace in Goa, the power of the Net (and different aspects of it, including Goanet) become more apparent and visible. Skeptics who thought this was a waste of time have a different point of view now. No wonder that even mainstream political parties in Goa would like to, subtly or otherwise, attempt to infiltrate Goanet, if only they can manage to. Directly or otherwise.

At another level, criticism is necessary. Not just because people have a right to criticise (after all, we are ourselves critical of others) but because it could play a useful role in keeping volunteer-driven, community-based project such as these on track. Even as we get initiatives like the Deletionpedia (keeps track of deletions from the big and now-influential Wikipedia), it’s a positive sign that real or perceived attempts at ‘censoring’ content online are challenged by other initiatives and networks online.

It’s a bit of a joke, of course, that people who don’t know me or haven’t worked with me seek to portray me as someone who would like to censor ideas. But such propaganda is perhaps part of the price one has to pay for believing in free-speech.

After targetting his earlier mail largely at me, this time my name vanishes from his letter (targeted at Bosco D’Mello, Goanet admin team member). So sad!

Another list, called GX (Goenchim Xapotam, or Tall Talk on Goa) whose role has been largely focussed on having its members abuse one another freely (typically ‘Goan’, in the worst sense of the word and all it connotes!) until it recently changed its rules, has been building up a case against Goanet. The quality of its often-egocentric discussions and posts is reflected in the fact that GX had some 29 or 32 members, till the recent controversy (and, ironically, publicity on Goanet) helped this figure to grow to 42 or so.

Earlier, Dr Santosh Helecar, whom I otherwise respect a lot (except for what strikes me as his extremely dogmatic belief in ‘science’) had put out a set of ‘questions’ to Goanet, which Dr Cornel now echoes:

  • How many Goanet moderators are there, and what are their names?
  • How are the moderator duties divided between them?
  • Are all Goanet members placed on moderation, or are there some whose messages are allowed to show up on Goanet unmoderated?
  • Does a history of a poster on Goanet determine how closely his/her posts are screened?
  • What is done to ensure that there is no ideological bias in rejection or acceptance of posts e.g. supporters of BJP vs Congress vs Marxist party, Christian viewpoint vs Hindu view point etc?
  • Can the actual reason for rejection be stated more clearly, and the name of the person who moderated the post be provided, each time a post is rejected?”

I guess Dr Cornel believes he is onto something big. Fact is, how relevant this list of questions is to the running of Goa’s largest mailing-list is reflected in the reality that it drew up a humorous response from someone who is not connected in running Goanet at all, this response was taken to be the Gospel truth, and a whole set of further allegations were made on it! These questions are based on the insinuation that something is seriously wrong with Goanet. Goanet Rules lay down that feedback about Goanet needs to be sent to the Goanet Admin [goanet-admin@goanet.org] But an inquisition based on half-truths, total lies and misleading insinuations is sought to be bulldozed through.

As Cecil Pinto has pointed out in what I called a mischeviously worded reply, the team that runs Goanet has been listed here: http://www.goanet.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=9  This being a volunteer project, the team keeps growing, shrinking, with individual members getting activated or deactivated. The core team is as outlined in the line above, but volunteers being volunteers, we don’t dump work on them they’re not willing to take on.

The duties are shared out depending on the time available with each. For instance, around October 2006, I decreased the earlier heavy hours I used to put in to moderating. Another lady took up the task of coordinating the Goanet Cybermatrimonials. We got new volunteers for –Goanet-Sports. People have their own lives, and tend to be busy at some times too. At the end of the day, my advice to those volunteers who moderate the lists is — be fair in your decisions, but do avoid telling who’s moderating what message. You’ll have a set of cantankerous Goans take off on you, because everyone believes that the word deserves to read each and every word they write. Via Goanet!

It’s this small group that gets upset by every single rejection. They will target anyone who they learn (or imagine) is rejecting their messages, and make life miserable for you! This I learnt in late 2006, when my cyberromance with Goanet soured badly due to a handful who aparently saw my volunteering there as a thorn in their flesh.

Fortunately, Goanet founder and chair Herman Carneiro convinced me to stay on. In Bosco’s increasing pressures, I can see a similar effort to target him for everything a handful sees as wrong with Goanet. Most of which, as an insider I can say, is clearly imaginary.

And yes, all Goanet members are placed on moderation. How does this matter? Incidentally, I even place myself on moderation on lists where I am the sole moderator — you can’t risk a virus masquerading as you getting through, and causing nuisance for everyone else on the list.

Then, this may not be the correct answer if one wanted to score high marks, but yes, I do believe that a persons track record will determine how closely his posts gets scrutinized on this moderated (not censored!) list. Can you blame me for being a bit more careful with someone who has that tendency of sneaking in sexual innuendoes, or modified Konkani badwords in their posts? Why should a series of relevant posts that discuss Goa’s Dabolim airport and related concerns not make me believe it’s relevant to Goanet? And what about someone who has a reputation of sharing useful drama links or photo resources via Goanet? I can’t be blamed for being — at least subconsciously — favourable to approve such posts.

Goanet believes in free speech. Fullstop.

We don’t judge posts on the basis of ideological leanings of the post. But any post that violates our rules will be blocked (usually resent to the poster, pointing out what’s wrong with it, preferably citing a specific rule from Goanet’s list). No defamation, polite discourse. Is that too much to cope with? Some technical rules too (no cross-posting across lists, it causes chaos and scrambles threads.) But if the poster is a persistent violator, someone who keeps posting offtopic, or keeps violating the same rule, then can you blame a moderator for his or her patience running short?

This is the crux of the issue, as I see it!

Much hoo-ha is made of the stock phrase used while rejecting some messages, “Your mail was deemed inappropriate by the moderator.” Unfortunately, this is the standard rejection line used by the Mailman software while rejecting messages. If you’re one of those persistent offenders (who has been told in the past why your mail is getting rejected and you still continue with it), maybe you should be prepared to receive more such rejection notes.

Sorry folks: You can change the situation by volunteering to improve the Goanet project yourself, rather than just endless cribbing and carping.

But I agree. I think the actual reason(s) for rejection should be clearly stated. I think we moderators should avoid sounding patronising while rejecting a post (that’s okay in blog posts!) And I also think we should cite a rule while rejecting a post. This would hold our decision up for scrutiny.

Finally, I think it’s best if you learnt to stick to Goanet rules, didn’t personalise your ire against particular moderators, and stepped forward to volunteer on this project too.  (Cecil Pinto jests half-seriously: “I have often offered my considerable Net expertise for free as a moderator but been refused.” Well, how about first proving oneself as a volunteer with the right motives, and then hope to move upwards? I wouldn’t give someone linked to a flower-business a chance to run, say, Cyber-Matrimonials. Simply because there could be a conflict of interest there. We set up that to promote marriages, not flowers 🙂 if you get the drift…  Just to answer insinuation with counter-insinuation.

Now, now… that’s very unfair!

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