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Judge not...

Here's something I though would probably be of interest to more than a
few here that read Usenet news.  First article is the "Cancel FAQ" put out
by the "Judges List", which many may have seen on the new.admin.*
groups.  Following it is the "Judges List" FAQ.  

I doubt this is a major threat, but is a good example of the sort of
thing that needs to be nipped in the bud.

If the "Cancel FAQ" doesn't trip any alarms, be sure to read the
following "Judges List" FAQ.  

Please pardon the length.

Articles follow:

Article xxxxx of news.admin.misc:
From: judges[tm]@arch.ping.dk (NetNews Judges[TM] List)
Newsgroups: news.admin.policy,comp.admin.policy,comp.security.misc,misc.legal.computing,news.admin.misc,news.groups.questions,news.groups,news.newusers.questions,alt.censorship,alt.comp.acad-freedom.talk,alt.current-events.net-abuse
Subject: Cancel Messages:  Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Date: Sat, 4 Feb 95 16:29:13 +0100 (CET)
Organization: NetNews Judges[TM] List
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Reply-To: judges[tm]@arch.ping.dk (NetNews Judges[TM] List)
X-Mailer: uAccess - Macintosh Release: 1.6v2
Lines: 382

Cancel Messages:  Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Ver. 2.0



You can protect your reputation as a information source by 
cancelling articles posted under your name as soon as you 
discover that they are erroneous.

Cancelling other's articles, however, can expose you, 
your site, and the Net as a whole, to serious threats. The 
sender should be notified when articles need to be cancelled. 

Disputes or doubtful cases can be directed to the Judges' 
List for resolution.


       List of Frequently Asked Questions

*** Purpose of this document

1) What are cancel messages?

2) How have cancel messages been used?

3) When should I issue a cancel message?

4) When should I not issue a cancel message?

5) What should I do when in doubt about whether a 
cancel is appropriate?

6) What should I do if I receive a request to 
cancel one of my own messages?

7) How can I request that a message be cancelled 
when I can not do so myself?

8) What should I do if I suspect one of my 
posts has been improperly cancelled?

9) Why should I follow these guidelines?

*** Cancellation request form

*** Contributors to this FAQ


***     Purpose of this document

This FAQ list serves as an introduction to cancel messages. 
More advanced information is presented in the document 
"Administration of Cancel Messages", which is directed to 
News system administrators. The objectives and operational 
procedures of Judges' List are specified and explained in the 
Judges-L FAQ, also available as the Welcome message for new 
subscribers to the List.

1)     What are cancel messages?

Cancel messages are special USENET messages from a class 
known as "Control" messages.  Control messages don't result 
in postings for people to read. Instead, they give 
instructions to the USENET server software at each site that 
gets the message.  A Cancel message is a control message that 
indicates that a particular message (named through its unique 
Message-ID) should be deleted.

2)     How have cancel messages been used?

Most commonly they are used when a person posts something 
they want to delete, correct, or retract.  One can cancel an 
old message and optionally issue a new one.  (There is a
better way to cancel and re-issue called Superseding, but 
most user programs do not support it.) 

Cancels are sometimes used by moderators of moderated 
newsgroups to delete messages that should not have been 

3)     When should I issue a cancel message?

You should issue a cancel message if it becomes necessary to 
delete, correct, or retract one of your own posts.

You can issue a cancel message to delete a forgery: A message 
posted by someone else, that appears to be from you. A 
forgery can often be cancelled by you as if it were your own 
article. Such cancels should be reported to the Judges' List 
(see below).

Some victims of forgeries don't cancel them, but consider it 
sufficient to post disclaimers to the affected newsgroups 
alerting everyone to the forgery. This is wise, in any case, 
since the forged message is likely to be seen by many people, 
even if it is cancelled.

The newsreaders rn, nn, and trn use "C" as the cancel 
command. In Rusnews type ":cancel" while reading the message 
to be deleted.

4)     When should I not issue a cancel message?

It is not appropriate to cancel an article posted by someone 
else. However, a forgery is an exception. 

A low-tech form of "forgery" is to insert fabricated quotes 
in an article. Such posts should be followed-up with a 
correction and the poster notified. 

Misattribution of quotations, as opposed to fabrication, is 
often a result of inferior news-reading software. Such posts 
can be followed-up with a correction and the poster should be 

It is inappropriate to cancel someone else's writing simply 
because you find the opinions expressed offensive. You can, 
however, ask the author to cancel the offensive post. Your 
news-reading software should permit you to enter the names of 
offensive posters in a "kill" file. Then, you will not see 
articles from that person in the future. Ask your 
administrator to upgrade your software if your news-reading 
software does not have this capability.

The poster should be asked to cancel a chain letter or a 
libelous article, or any other post, such as an advertisement 
or pyramid scheme, that has inappropriate content.  A copy of 
the request should be directed to the postmaster at the 
originating site, if the content is unlawful.

5)      What should I do when in doubt about whether a cancel 
is appropriate?

Unless you are certain the poster is acting in bad faith, you 
should explain to the poster why you object to the post and 
ask that it be deleted. State that you are considering 
submitting a complaint to the Judges' List and explain how 
one can participate in the dispute-resolution process (see 
below). You may explain how the offending post, or a post 
that accomplishes the same objective, can be broadcast.  One 
source of information is a list of Frequently Asked 
Questions, "How to find the right place to post (FAQ)" in the 
newsgroup "news.newusers.questions".

If the post comes from your site, contact your postmaster or 
News administrator for an opinion about whether the article 
violates the site's usage agreement.

Doubtful cases can be submitted to the Judges' List, for an 

A complaint to the Judges' List must include a:

     :complete copy of the offending post.

     :complete copy of your letter to the poster, requesting 
that the post be cancelled.

     : complete copy of any reply from the poster or a News 
administrator (only if permission to forward is not refused).

The complaint must have a subject line that starts with the 
characters "COMPLAINT: ", followed by the subject of the 
offending post.

If you receive additional information after submitting a 
complaint or wish to withdraw the complaint, the same subject 
line should be used.

Mail the complaint to [email protected] or 
[email protected]

If you wish to participate in the discussion of the 
complaint, email to [email protected] or 
[email protected] with only the command:
SUB JUDGES-L <your-name-here>
in the message body. Replace the <your-name-here>, with your 
first and last name, in the above command.

Before making comments on the List, please wait for someone 
to respond to your complaint. If there is no response within 
a week, it is most likely that you did not file a 
satisfactory complaint (see above). If you find no error in 
your complaint and the problem still has not been resolved, 
send an additional message asking for help.

6)     What should I do if I receive a request to cancel one 
of my own messages?

If you do not agree that the request is valid, reply to the 
request with your reasons for not cancelling. If the request 
does not mention the Judges' List, refer to this FAQ and ask 
that you be notified if a complaint is submitted.

7)     How can I request that a message be cancelled when I 
can not do so myself?

If your software does not permit cancellation, or you are not 
confident in using it, ask your administrator to issue a 
cancel message for you.

8)     What should I do if I suspect one of my posts has been 
improperly cancelled?

If you suspect that your post has been improperly cancelled, 
contact your News administrator to rule out the possibility 
of a technical failure. If there has been an improper cancel, 
complete documentation should be directed to the Judges' 
List. Follow the procedures for submitting a complaint, but 
replace the characters "COMPLAINT: " with "CANCEL: ".

9)     Why should I follow these guidelines?

If you do not cancel erroneous articles that you have posted, 
you waste readers' time and damage your own reputation as a 
reliable source. Consider an article posted to a typical 
newsgroup with 36,000 readers, a post that takes an average 
of 1 second for each reader to deal with (i. e., examining 
the subject line) uses a total of ten man-hours  (36,000 
seconds / 3,600 seconds/hour = 10 hours). If the article uses 
up an average of four seconds, then the total time 
expenditure is 40 hours, the equivalent of a work-week. This 
is probably the minimum time expenditure on any article that 
is even selected for scanning. Thus, a few minutes spent 
cancelling an article can save a lot of time for readers. 
Groups with a lot of erroneous articles tend to lose readers, 
and articles posted to those groups reach a limited audience. 
By cancelling erroneous posts, you also reduce the risk that 
your name will be entered in numerous kill files, thus 
limiting the audience you can reach with your posts. Posting 
of apologies for faulty articles, such as those with an empty 
body, is to be avoided, since this wastes even more time of 
the reader, without supplying useful information.

If you abuse the cancel facility, by cancelling other's 
articles, you force people to take defensive actions. Many 
administrators have disabled cancels, because they have been 
abused. The disabling of cancels means that you will not be 
able to delete all copies of your own posts. Therefore, if 
you cancel an erroneous article and then post a corrected 
one, readers at certain sites will first see the erroneous 
one and then the corrected one. They may think that the 
corrected one is a duplicate and not read it. This situation 
is obviously of no benefit to posters or readers. If your 
site's administrator has disabled cancels, it is wise for you 
to notify your administrator when you issue a cancel, so at 
least it can be deleted at your site. 

Disabling of cancels does not prevent a cancel from working 
at all, since the cancel message can delete the cancelled 
article before it gets to a site where cancels are disabled. 
Therefore, a cancel will be most effective if it is issued 
immediately after the target article is posted. In some 
cases, robot posters have been used to immediately repost 
articles that have been cancelled. This can rapidly lead to a 
newsgroup being overloaded at a site where the cancel 
facility has been disabled. This type of conflict situation 
should be avoided, since it makes the newsgroup unusable for 
most readers. Cancel messages must be used with extreme care.

If you cancel articles based upon their content, you expose 
your site to a legal risk, since it can then be argued that 
you are taking responsibility for all articles' content, some 
of which may violate copyright or pornography laws, for 
example. Originating sites already are exposed to this risk, 
therefore, they should be allowed to cancel such posts. They 
should also have a user agreement that permits them to 
discipline a user, thus ensuring that repeated postings of 
this type do not occur, and thereby reducing the legal risk 
at all News sites. 

This is not a hypothetical risk. Many sites have been closed 
down, had their equipment seized, and their operators 
prosecuted, and in some cases jailed. The effectiveness of a 
common-carrier or "bookstore" type of defense has yet to be 
established (But see Mike Godwin <[email protected]>. INTERNET 
1993) [URL: ftp://ftp.eff.org/pub/CAF/lawlibel_1.IW]. The use 
of non-originating site cancels, to control content of 
articles, reduces the chances that such a defense can ever be 
established. This could make the risk of operating a News 
site unacceptable. Some sites have already been prohibited 
from operating moderated newsgroups or mailing lists by their 
legal counsel, because of the legal risk associated with 
assuming responsibility for content of distributed messages. 
The damage to USENET caused by the most extreme case of 
abusive posting was much less than that caused by external 
threats, even when those threats did not directly result in 
disruption of a News site. Therefore, in doubtful cases, 
cancel messages should not be issued. Notification of 
authorities external to the Net should be avoided. Contacts 
to the Press should be left to those who have been trained in 
public relations or have equivalent experience.

In order to minimize legal liability, you should in, first 
instance, try to stop abusive posting at the source. By 
objecting directly to a poster of offensive material and 
making the person aware of this FAQ, you reduce the chances 
of repeated abuse.

In the case, that a poster refuses to comply with a request 
to cancel an article and you refer the matter to the Judges' 
List, the conflict can be resolved in a way which benefits 
the Net in the long term, and reduces the risk that you will 
be subject to retaliation, for example, by having your posts 
improperly cancelled. Complaints to the Judges' List also 
permits a database of repeat abusers to be built up, with 
much more effective resolution of such cases then becoming 

***     Cancellation request form

Sample reply to a poster requesting cancellation or 
explanation (not usable in cases where only the opinions 
expressed are offensive):

I object to your post, because ....

Please cancel this post and notify me that you have done so, 
or explain why you will not delete the post. Please note that 
any reply may be forwarded to the JUDGES-L list, unless 
explicit objection is given.

If I get no response, I will submit a complaint to the 
Judges' List. 

If you wish to participate in the discussion of the complaint 
on that List, email to [email protected] or 
[email protected] with only the command:
SUB JUDGES-L <your-name-here>
in the message body. Replace the <your-name-here>, with your 
first and last name, in the above command.

***     Contributors to this FAQ include:

Bob MacDowell <[email protected]>
Tim Pierce <[email protected]>
David Stodolsky <[email protected]>
Dimitri Vulis <[email protected]>

Posted on behalf of the NetNews Judges(TM) List.
Judges-L Registrar,

David S. Stodolsky, PhD  * Social *   Internet: [email protected]
Tornskadestien 2, st. th.   * Research *    Tel.: + 45 38 33 03 30
DK-2400 Copenhagen NV, Denmark  * Methods *  Fax: + 45 38 33 88 80

And now, the "Judges List" FAQ: