As Laura points out, calling an email spam is not a moral judgement. It’s just a statement of what a particular recipient thinks of an email. I have pretty negative thoughts about some email. And many people enjoy the precooked meat product that has been around since 1937. Spam is a construct that is used in the negotiations around sending and receiving email. For mailing list managers, moderation performs a similar function. In the new DMARC era, Mailing List Managers may expand the role of moderation as they exercise their responsibility for sending group email.
Email is a process that takes place between parties who take varying amounts of responsibility for the process. A sender may be authentic, nefarious or somewhere in between. A receiver tunes their exposure to incoming email using techniques such as filtering, their spam folder and its counterpart whitelisting.
A mailing list manager allows an organisation to host a conversation, thereby taking some responsibility for sending the email. But all the email, only the email that is consistent with the organisation’s purpose for hosting the list. When things are going nicely, list members post constructively, and on-topic for the group and the thread (aka “topic”). At other times, people post destructively, off-topic or both.
Moderation is a useful tool for dealing with this. When a moderated group member posts, a moderator decides whether to accept or reject the post. This is particularly useful in large public groups. Moderation can typically be applied to selected members and all new members.
In their simplest form, moderation and the spam folder function in similar ways. Suspect email is held pending a decision to accept or reject it. As spam folders become more sophisticated, allowing the user more control, I expect that mailing list moderation will similarly develop.
Mailman 2.1.18 has made a dmarc_moderation_action setting available on all lists. This is one of the tools that allow a list admin to decide how posts with From: addresses at domains with strict DMARC policies should be handled. While this might not strictly be moderation as we know it, it extends the ability of the list owner to exercise their responsibility.
In time, mailing list managers may look into checking the DMARC, DKIM and SPF compliance of incoming email. Whether this is handled by the MTA, the mailing list manager or some combination, this will further extend the scope of moderation.
Sadly, the moderation code in GroupServer is old and brittle. On the up-side, it works — just — and we have no investment to protect when we rebuild it. I expect we will be thankful for this as the role of moderation in taking responsibility for the email expands.
Thanks to Michael JasonSmith for inspiring and informing this post.