Searching for the Leviathan in Usenet
The Faculty of the Department of Political Science
San Jose State University
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
Richard Clark MacKinnon
APPROVED FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL
Dr. William McCraw
Dr. Kenneth Peter
Dr. Ronald Sylvia
APPROVED FOR THE UNIVERSITY
Searching for the Leviathan in Usenet
by Richard Clark MacKinnon
The purpose of this thesis is to identify signs of Thomas Hobbes'
Leviathan in the Usenet computer conferencing network. Certainly
nothing that the Usenet users can experience can compare to the
Hobbesian scenario in which persons are forced to give up the
right to govern themselves in exchange for personal safety. This
is certainly true on the surface, but there is another level of
interaction within Usenet other than user-to-user. It is the
level of the users' "personae," and it is at this level of
understanding that the fear of vanishing from existence is ever
present and near. For personae within Usenet, life can be
described as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." And it
is for their sakes that this researcher has searched for and
found a Leviathan in Usenet.
Hobbes, Leviathan, and Usenet ..........................3
Usenet is a Distinct Society ...........................8
The Notion of Persona .................................14
Personae are Persons ..................................21
The Powers ............................................25
The Pursuit of Powers .................................32
Living in Moderation ..................................43
Looking for the Leviathan .............................55
The purpose of this thesis is to identify signs of Thomas Hobbes'
Leviathan in the Usenet computer conferencing network. Defined
as "that mortal god, to which we owe under the immortal God; our
peace and defence,"1 Leviathan in a computer conferencing network
is the institution of censorship or moderation of the messages
written by the network's users. According to Hobbes, living in
fear of death or wounds disposes men to obey a common power.2
Certainly nothing that the Usenet users can experience can
compare to the Hobbesian scenario in which persons are forced to
give up the right to govern themselves in exchange for personal
safety. This is certainly true on the surface, but there is
another level of interaction within Usenet other than user-to-
user. It is the level of the users' "personae," and it is at
this level of understanding that the fear of vanishing from
existence is ever present and near. For personae within Usenet,
life can be described as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and
short."3 And it is for their sakes that this researcher has
searched for and found a Leviathan in Usenet.
In order to argue this work, this paper is organized into short
sections or chapters designed around major points. The first
chapter introduces the reader to Hobbes, _________
Leviathan, and Usenet.
A glossary is provided to assist with technical computer
terminology and an appendix contains relatively hard to find
Usenet documentation. The argument itself consists of seven
points and a survey of two hundred randomly selected Usenet
articles. The survey was conducted to find measurable signs of
the Leviathan as described in the argument. The findings show
the degree to which Leviathan is present in Usenet. Each chapter
states its purpose in the opening paragraphs and is concluded
with a summary of the points covered therein. In this way it is
possible to lead the reader through the theoretical worlds of
Leviathan and the Usenet persona. At the end of the argument is
a conclusion which summarizes all seven points and focuses on the
most difficult ones. And lastly, the thesis concludes with a
short discussion of future research considerations.
1Thomas Hobbes, _________
Leviathan, Edited by Michael Oakeshott (New
York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1962), 132.
Leviathan, and Usenet
Leviathan was selected for this thesis primarily
because it is a system of knowledge developed for the purpose of
understanding the genesis of government. This system of
knowledge for understanding the "matter, forme and power" of
society, originally advanced during Cromwell's tenure, was
published in 1651. The controversial title implied that the
monarchy was the political manifestation of the Biblical beast
and the work was considered scandalous.
Hobbes scholar Herbert Schneider explains that the choice of the
title is curious because the mythological Leviathan is
consistently the symbol of the "powers of evil, "4 rightfully
upsetting the supporters of the Crown. Yet it is clear when
Hobbes describes the Leviathan as the "mortal god"5 on earth that
he does not share the common diabolical connotation. Certainly
Hobbes was aware of this discrepancy and it is likely he intended
for the discrepancy to further define his concept of a Leviathan
rising from the people. There is no doubt that such a "beast"
would need to be menacing and powerful in order to convince
people that their lives are safer with it than in their own
hands. The Leviathan is the generation of the Commonwealth, that
entity consisting in the powers of all people which can protect
them from their enemies. Hobbes' critics were quick to equate
the evil beast with government, thus putting Hobbes at odds with
the regime indeed, with any government. It is possible that
Hobbes selected the Leviathan symbol in part to convey that
government is a necessary evil given humans' inclination to
destroy one another without it. Even this notion brought Hobbes
criticism as a paranoid anti-establishmentarian. While he admits
to a level of paranoia commensurate to being born the "twin of
fear," he is emphatically not anti-establishment--in fact, he
would have supported either Cromwell or the King as long as one
of them possessed absolute power to govern as a Leviathan. Given
his dim view of human nature, his predilection toward paranoia,
and the execution of the King, one cannot blame Hobbes for
desiring peace and order at any price.
Though never the intentional sum and highlight of his political,
religious, ethical, and philosophical view, _________
nevertheless emerged as such. This is because of Hobbes'
precision in the use of language and his plain treatment and
analysis of socially sensitive matter. In his lifetime _________
earned Hobbes the enmity of many who had formerly been his
friends. Today it is still popularly trivialized as a dark and
heretical treatise written by a paranoid exile. But Hobbes'
4Herbert W. Schneider, "The Piety of Hobbes," in ______
______ __ ___ ____
Hobbes in His Time, eds. Ralph Ross, Herbert W. Schneider, and
Theodore Waldman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
admirers and students appreciate the giant work for what it is--a
reconstitution of civil society from its most basic element. He
begins his book with the ambitious sentence, "Concerning the
thoughts of man, I will consider them first singly, and
afterwards in train, or dependence upon one another."6
Considering that his goal is to explain governance, one would
expect that a beginning begun with a discussion of the "single
thought" would immediately proceed to more developed concepts
such as the rights of kings. Not so. After describing the
nature of thought, he discusses the senses, imagination, dreams,
the development of speech, passions, virtue, and the
categorization of all knowledge. It is not until Chapter Sixteen
that he defines what a person is and in Chapter Eighteen he
finally addresses the rights of sovereigns. It is an
understatement to say that Hobbes is thorough in his endeavor.
Although this thesis focuses on the generation of Leviathan (at
the end of Chapter Seventeen), it is important to realize that
this study covers only a quarter of the book.
The result is a self-contained, interlocking structure with every
word defined and every conclusion logically sound. In the
writing of his book, Hobbes incidentally produced the first
comprehensive attempt at the theory of language. In other words,
Hobbes had to develop a theory of language to accurately describe
his theory of the commonwealth. Richard Tuck remarks that
Leviathan is the "first unquestionably great philosophical work"
in English.7 Prior to _________
Leviathan, all scholarly works of import
were written in Latin, French, German, or ancient Greek.8
Since his endeavor was intentionally comprehensive, his treatise
is unusually suitable for examining any and all societies--
including those that did not exist in his time and as in the case
of Usenet, arguably do not exist now. This is possible because
the treatise is presented mostly in general terms, giving it
broad applicability and timelessness. While it is true that
Leviathan is a product of troubled times, Hobbes' sparing
references to Britain merely illustrate his points and do not
confine them to that island. Additionally, his masterful
understanding of philosophy beyond the realm of politics is
useful in the establishment of personae and their virtual society
Usenet is the largest computer conferencing network in the world.
The network is composed of an estimated 2.3 million users at
45,000 sites worldwide. Most sites are academic institutions or
high technology companies, but commercial and publicly supported
7Richard Tuck, ______
Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford UP, Clarendon,
8And undoubtedly, Chinese and Italian.
access is available to any interested group or individuals.
Usenet users can send private messages to one another via
electronic mail. The mail can reach many sites on the planet
within seconds. The users can also write public messages known
as "articles." These articles are divided into approximately
4,000 thousand categories called "newsgroups." Newsgroups range
in topics from political theory to baseball. The current volume
of articles is 14,000 daily.9
Despite its size, Usenet has no central authority which monitors
access or content. All control, if any, is exercised at the site
level. Sites determine whether to provide access to users or
whether they want to provide a "feed" or connection to a
potential site. Users and sites may remain on the net as long as
the sites that provide them with access continue to do so.
Usenet articles are distributed using a "store and forward"
method. This means that when a user writes an article, the
original article is stored at his or her site and a copy is
forwarded via telephone or leased line to neighboring sites.
Because the associated costs of storage and forwarding can become
very high, economics may have more of an impact over local
control than anything else. A company, for example, may decide
to restrict users from participating in any of the recreational
newsgroups because the volume in those groups is high and their
business value is low. Still, some organizations may opt to
control content for other reasons. For example, a high school
may decide to block participation in sexually-oriented
newsgroups. However, thousands of users around the world enjoy
unrestricted access to newsgroups containing articles from the
technologically informative to the obscene. Depending on the
user consulted, Usenet can be an anarchic or a highly regulated
medium of communication.
9Brian Reid, ______ __________ _______
Usenet Readership Summary (Palo Alto,
California: Network Measurement Project at the DEC Western
Research Laboratory, March 1992), lines 22-28. The lines are
cited rather than page numbers because the document was received
electronically without pagination.
Usenet is a Distinct Society
In order to apply Hobbes' political philosophy to Usenet, it is
important to establish the distinctness of the Usenet society.
Distinctness assures that Usenet differs enough from the external
world--the reality outside of Usenet--to provide a unique
laboratory to cultivate new insights and new conclusions. The
argument for distinctness consists of Usenet's two-dimensional
nature, its creation of an explicit language to describe its
"physical" reality, its interference in the transfer of the
social structure from the external world, and its ability to
compensate for the lack of a complete social structure by
developing a parallel or alternate structure to that of the
Although Usenet is designed to facilitate communication among
computer users, it is restricted to written communication;
therefore, it mitigates the amount and quality of communication
possible among them. Much like unintroduced penpals can never
know the "real" persons behind their letters, Usenet users can
never know the "real" persons behind the articles. It is not
possible to capture the range of interpersonal interaction with
only the written word, transforming Usenet into a two-dimensional
substitute for three-dimensional, "face-to-face" communication.
As a result there is a deception in the medium that often
distorts the meaning of a message, much as a carnival mirror
distorts the reflection of a person: what is "said" is not
necessarily what is "heard," or more accurately, what is written
is often misinterpreted. Since ambiguity has this deceptive
effect in the external world, Usenet participants are especially
susceptible to ambiguous statements, implied meanings, and
sarcastic remarks. Whereas external world users can find clues
to meaning in facial expressions and voice control, Usenet
participants cannot. But more importantly, the lack of cues
available during "face-to-face" communication points not only to
the absence of faces, but to the absence of all physical
Lacking physical reality, Usenet users must create an explicit,
written language to convey meaning as well as emotion, physical
qualities, and action. As a society based in language, it relies
heavily on symbol, analogy, and metaphor to re-create or transfer
physical matter and actions from the external world. But since
these re-creations are merely metaphors for, or "analogs" of
their physical counterparts, Usenet can never be a mirror image
of the external world.
Usenet users are unable to "bring" with them their respective
social structures because the limitations of written
communication deconstruct their external world social structure.
These social structures consist of the norms, mores, and
traditions which guide the users' interaction as members of the
external society. The computer medium inhibits computer users
from transferring these social structures to Usenet. This
inhibition resulting from the absence of or limitations on
physical proximity, "face-to-face" interaction, and non-verbal
cues, is discussed and analyzed at length in Elizabeth Reid's
_____________ _____________ ___ _________ __ ________ _____
Electropolis: Communication and Community on Internet Relay
Chat. Reid exposes the failings of computer-mediated, i.e.,
written, communication as follows:
Words, as we use them in speech, fail to express what they
really mean once they are deprived of the subtleties of speech
and the non-verbal cues that we assume will accompany it. . .
. It is not only the meanings of sentences that become
problematic in computer-mediated communication. The standards
of behavior that are normally decided upon by verbal-cues are
not clearly indicated when information is purely textual.10
The deprivation of the "subtleties" is exactly what makes
communication and interaction among Usenet users different from a
room full of computer users. Computer users, as do all persons,
learn standards of behavior from their respective social
structures. As Reid suggests, these standards are reinforced by
"subtleties of speech and non-verbal cues." But within Usenet,
users limited to written communication are denied the full range
of verbal and non-verbal cues customary to interpersonal
communication and required for reinforcing behavioral standards.
In the external world, behavioral standards dictate that one
should not provoke a visibly angry man, but in Usenet the
absence, or least the distortion, of visible anger interferes
with that standard of behavior.
Despite the limitations of a society based upon written
communication, Usenet users are able to compensate. The
"interference" or distortion caused by the written medium forces
Usenet users to confront what Reid calls the deconstruction of
the "traditional methods for expressing community" by developing
"alternate or parallel methods."11 In this way, Usenet has
become an alternate or distinct society from the external world.
Usenet's parallel method or analog for conveying mores, norms,
and traditions is known as "netiquette." As the term implies, it
is literally "network etiquette" and it helps to reinforce the
standards of behavior that users might miss from the lack of
non-verbal cues. Several attempts have been made to summarize
the norms of "netiquette." The most widely cited is Gene
Spafford's series of documents12, which he compiled and edited
from the suggestions of Usenet users. Either heeded or ignored
by many, the estimates of the validity of Spafford's guidelines
vary, but they are often invoked to resolve a dispute or to
10Elizabeth Reid, "Electropolis: Communication and
Community on Internet Relay Chat," thesis, (Melbourne, Australia:
University of Melbourne UP: 1991), lines 495-505.
11Reid, lines 200-206.
12These documents are included in the Appendix.
"advise" one another. In the following example, "Jack" from the
University of California at Irvine advises "Bill" from The
Netherlands of a breach of "netiquette":
Your reply to my post gave me mixed messages. Some of
your comments are cruel. Your flame should have been sent
directly to me via e-mail.13
Since enforcement of "netiquette" begins with the individual
users, consensual interpretation by the Usenet public determines
the "law." If a user's action offends one person in 10 million,
that action is probably a slight breach, but nothing of wider
concern; however, if an action results in thirty complaints, then
it usually is treated more seriously. "Netiquette" then, is the
Usenet analog for the external world's system of mores, norms,
and tradition. While not a precise duplication of the external
world's social structure, "netiquette" provides Usenet users with
guidelines or standards of behavior. Chuq Von Rospach, author of
_ ______ __ ___ __ ____ ____ ___ ______ _________
A Primer on How to Work with the USENET Community, writes,
. . . for USENET to function properly those people must be
able to interact in productive ways. This document is
intended as a guide to using the net in ways that will be
pleasant and productive for everyone. This document is not
intended to teach you how to use USENET. Instead, it is a
guide to using it politely, effectively and efficiently.14
It will be recalled that Reid suggests non-verbals cues reinforce
the standards of behavior in the external world. Just as
"netiquette" developed into the Usenet analog for standards of
behavior, a system of written cues has developed as an analog to
reinforce those standards. These cues, known as "emoticons" make
use of non-standard punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and
special keyboard characters to convey action, emotion, and
emphasis. An excerpt from Spafford's guidelines follows:
The net has developed a symbol called the smiley face. It
looks like ":-)" and points out sections of articles with
humorous intent. No matter how broad the humor or satire, it
is safer to remind people that you are being funny.15
13All such examples are exerpts from actual Usenet
communication. The original punctuation and spacing has been
left intact to preserve the intent of the message. In the
interest of privacy, the authors' surnames have been suppressed.
14Chuq Von Rospach, _ ______ __ ___ __ ____ ____ ___ ______
A Primer on How to Work With the USENET
Community. Compiled by Gene Spafford, 1987, lines 14-16. See
the Appendix for the complete text.
15Von Rospach, lines 112-114.
This guideline emphasizes the use of emoticons to convey humor in
order to avoid the consequences of ambiguous or sarcastic
statements, but does not show the variety of possibilities, as in
the following examples:
I laughed, i cried....that post was GREAT! :-)
In this message, "-Mirth-" from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, has no difficulty sharing his or her amusement with
an earlier "post" or message of Steve's. Note the use of the
asterisks in "*sniff*" to convey action as opposed to simply
saying "I sniffed," as is done later. Of course, the
capitalization in "GREAT" indicates emphasis, presumably
enthusiasm given the presence of the "smiley." Consider the next
example from a user at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada:
You know, I agree with everything you said. However, you
loosely fall into the dweeb category by admitting you actually
READ most of the damn thing. It brings no fame to its creator,
but only humiliation to the human species (or does Kibo not
fit into the homo sapien sapien category? Maybe there is a
better division for an individual who's life is overwhelmed by
USENET? homo sappy postus?) *shakes his head, almost
embarassed that he has a 4 line .sig, let alone a 950 line
This article is an excerpt from a discussion on whether having a
"950 line" signature on an article is a violation of
"netiquette." The Canadian user agrees that a lengthy signature
is a violation and becomes embarrassed when he realizes that his
own "4 line .sig" is considered too long by most interpretations
of "netiquette." He conveys this realization by using asterisks
to simulate the shaking of his head.
To summarize, it is important to establish the distinctness of
Usenet from the society of the external world so that new
insights and new conclusions may be cultivated from the
application of Hobbes' political philosophy. This distinctness
is established by Usenet's explicit language for conveying
meaning, emotion, and action to a two-dimensional environment.
Although Usenet users are able to compensate for the lack of a
physical reality, their parallels or "analogs" with the outside
world have resulted in a distinct reality of their own.
The Notion of Persona
The high level of interaction between Usenet users in their
distinct society results in the development of "personae." The
following discussion explores this development, the personae's
ability to portray Usenet users to one another, the derivation of
their "actions" from words, and the conditions for their
Usenet is distinguished from other written media by the level of
interaction among its users. A printed newspaper, for example,
offers its readers a one-way medium. Generally, a newspaper is a
medium for the writers to communicate to their readers and not
with them; however, the Opinion/Editorial page does provide for
selected reader response. There the opinions expressed are
personal and not necessarily the view of the newspaper's staff.
These opinions may be compelling or inane, but it is the names
attached that remind one that there are individuals at the
source. These individuals, through the interaction of their
opinions, briefly create a sense of community. Granted, such a
community is a fleeting one at best, for often the emergent
dialogue is not a dialogue at all, but a set of coincident
monologues submitted in reaction to a piece of news. Any
repartee is unintentional and possibly staged--selected--by the
editor to represent a diversity of views. In Usenet, dialogue is
spontaneous and unedited, and the individuals at the source are
users who frequently contribute on a regular basis. The most
active users contribute over fifty articles per week each.16
This high level of interaction among Usenet users creates a more
permanent sense of community than among a newspaper's readership.
Accordingly, this high level of interaction among users provides
opportunities to develop relationships.
It has been established that the medium of written communication
interferes with the transfer of the users' external world social
structures into Usenet. By the same means, written
communication interferes with the transfer of the users'
personalities and unique qualities as well. The result is the
creation of "personae" which are as distinct from the users as
Usenet society is distinct from the external world. The external
world of the users is a world of myriad objects to be sense-
perceived ultimately to be desired or avoided.17 The nature of
the users' known universe possesses physical characteristics that
can be sense-perceived either directly or indirectly via
technological extension of the senses or a combination of these
accompanied by scientific deduction. Words signify the memory of
16UUNET Technologies, Inc., ___ __ ____ __________ __ ____
Top 25 News Submitters by User
__ ______ __ ________ ___ ___ ____ _ _____
by Number of Articles for the Last 2 weeks (Falls Church,
Virginia: July 24, 1992).
sensory experience and thought18, but the physical things of the
external world exist independently of the words which describe
them. Though important, words are not required for the existence
of the things to which they refer. But within Usenet, words are
the sole means of characterizing the network's universe. Thus,
wordsmanship in Usenet is a far more valued skill than it is in
the external world. Consequently, possession or lack of this
skill can inadvertently give the Usenet user a radically
different persona from him or herself. Accordingly, a command
of written language can empower a persona in Usenet beyond the
relative strength of its user in the external world.
The degree to which Usenet users resemble their personae seems to
vary. The representation of a user within Usenet is the
attempted transfer of the user's individuality into a Usenet
persona. The user has some control over the representation and
the extent to which the persona resembles himself or herself. A
representation is transparent when the user attempts to represent
him or herself as he or she is; a representation is translucent
when the Usenet persona is only a shadow of the user; and
accordingly, a representation is opaque when the persona does not
resemble the user at all.
A user can spend a great amount of energy wondering about the
"real" users behind the personae with which he or she interacts.
In all cases where there is no direct knowledge of another user,
if one cares, one must rely upon the word of that user as to
whether that persona is an accurate representation. Since it is
in effect that user's word which is in question, relying upon it
offers little relief. Without direct or revealed knowledge, the
pursuit of the true nature of representations is a matter for
speculation. Therefore, until the full truth is known, it is a
common and expedient practice to "forget" about the users behind
the personae so that any purported resemblance or dissimilarity
of personae to users can be treated as if it does not matter.19
Since Usenet is a medium for communication, any resemblance it
may have to external world society necessarily must be reduced to
written form. Physical actions such as activating a computer or
restricting access to another user's account are actions
completed by users and not by their Usenet personae. Users have
physical form and are able to manipulate physical objects such as
power switches and keyboards, but their Usenet personae have no
physical form. Therefore any interaction among personae must be
derived from the written words of their users. Note that actions
derived from written messages do not correspond exactly to those
of the respective users. For example, the action of a persona
19We commonly "forget" complications for the sake of
simplicity. For example, it is simpler to think of the sun
"rising" than it is to think of the earth turning.
which is "smiling," corresponds to the action of a user who is
typing. Although the action of "smiling" is derived from the
words that the user types, the actions do not correspond exactly
because the user may or may not be smiling and the persona is
probably not "typing."
It is the high level of interaction among Usenet users which
gives their personae "life." In fact, a single response to one's
statement is sufficient to generate a persona. That response,
though minimal, is the foundation of existence within Usenet. It
is obvious that a response implies a cause or stimulus worthy of
reaction; however it is less obvious that by implication it
signifies an acknowledgement of that cause. In terms of "cause"
and "effect," a characteristic of the effect is the
response substantiates the existence of a statement. This may
seem trivial until it is recalled that Usenet personae are
created as a result of the interaction among Usenet users. This
interaction consists of the cycle of statement and response. The
existence of the personae, therefore, is tied to that cycle.
One may wonder why interaction is a prerequisite for a persona's
existence. In a written world such as Usenet, there is a
stricter burden of proof for existence than Descartes requires in
the external world. A user can read and contemplate the words of
another user, but unless there is a visible, i.e., written,
response via his persona, the action of reading and contemplating
goes unnoticed. If a user is unnoticed, then he or she is not
interacting with other users. Because personae are created as a
result of interaction, reading and contemplating alone are
insufficient to generate or maintain the existence of a persona.
As shown, "Cogito ergo sum" is an insufficient measure of
existence within Usenet. If all users kept their thoughts to
themselves, they certainly would be assured of their own
existences, but Usenet would be reduced to a non-interactive,
indistinct, written medium. Without some sort of response beyond
interior cogitation, there is nothing to be perceived by other
Usenet users. "Network existentialism" is therefore more
skeptical than Decartes' externalism can account for.
However, a dialectical approach can be used to establish a
measure for existence within Usenet. Whereas "I think,
therefore I am" is insufficient for this purpose, so too is "I
write, therefore I am." Again, without a visible response, a
written statement remains isolated and apparently unperceived--a
persona's existence is neither generated nor substantiated. A
further modification to the premise results in, "I am perceived,
therefore I am." Suddenly the Usenet user is no longer alone,
for to be perceived requires another. The visible response, "I
hear you" generates and substantiates the existence of the first
user's persona, whereby a reply would perform the same function
for the second user's persona. The visible response is evidence
of perception. Without that response, the perception remains as
an interior cogitation of the would-be respondent and does
nothing to substantiate the existence of either user's persona.
The visible cycle of cause and effect, the users' statements,
responses, restatements, and correspondence ensures the viability
of the personae of both users. When extended beyond them to the
multitude of the personae within Usenet, the existence of all of
them is assured.
Where the parallel between dialectical existence in Usenet to
independent existence in the external world might be difficult to
follow, the parallel for the quality of life is more apparent.
As in other aspects of the comparison of Usenet to the external
world, persona existence is distinct from user existence. Users
require air, food, water, and other essentials for basic
existence. Personae, lacking physical form, do not require
physical sustenance; nonetheless, they are dependent upon three
essential conditions for existence.
The first condition is the continued association between the user
and the persona. The loss of the user's access to Usenet severs
the association to his or her persona. Once Usenet loses its
utility to the user, the continued association to the persona is
threatened. In other words, a persona's existence is dependent
upon a user's access to Usenet; and a user maintains access to
Usenet so long as Usenet remains useful.
The second condition is the visible demonstration of presence.
While Usenet may have great utility to a passive user,20 the lack
of interaction with other users does not create a persona which
exists in a way previously defined as existence within Usenet.
The passive user remains outside the boundary of Usenet existence
and his or her actions are unnoticed to "life" within. This
study concerns itself with those users who choose to participate.
The third condition is that the participation is continuous. A
persona belonging to a user who is prevented, unable, or
unwilling to continue to participate will continue to exist until
the memory of that existence is forgotten by the other users.
In summary, the two-dimensional nature of Usenet, caused by the
medium of written communication, forces the development of
personae among interacting users. Further, the derived actions
of the personae from the words of the users are distinct from the
physical actions of the users. Also there is sufficient
distinctness to allow users to "forget" that they are interacting
with representations of other users and not the users themselves.
Finally, the personae exist dialectically21 and will continue to
20A passive user is a user who does not or cannot
communicate with other users, e.g., while using a library's
Prior to the "first cause," participant A is isolated in
silence and unaware of "self" and "other"--existence is
undefined. Participant B, like A, is also alone and ignorant.
Spontaneously, participant A wonders aloud, "What is my purpose,
if any?" B, surprised by the break in the silence and the
presence of another, replies, "I don't know, but let's find out
exist as long as Usenet retains its utility to the users and the
users continue to participate continuously via the cycle of
statement and response.
together." The phenomenon of mutual awareness implies the
simultaneous awareness of the other and the self. This
rudimentary confirmation of existence-dependent-upon-another,
i.e., co-existence, is sufficient enough to allow participants A
and B to pursue the purposes of their existence together.
Personae are Persons
Having established the distinctness of Usenet's society and its
persona population, it is possible to proceed with a preliminary
parallel to _________
Leviathan. Establishing the parallel between persons
and personae will allow for the subsequent application of Hobbes'
political philosophy to Usenet. This parallel is established in
the following discussion of Hobbes' definition of "person," the
actions of personae, and the special form of representation known
A person is he, _____ _____ __ _______ ___ ___________
whose words or actions are considered,
______ ___ ____ __ __ ____________ ___ _____ __ _______ __
either his own, or as representing the words or actions of
another man . . . When they are considered his own, then is he
called a _______ ______
natural person: and when they are considered as
representing the words and actions of another, then is he a
_______ __ __________ ______
feigned or artificial person."22
Having established that personae represent users to one another
in Usenet, this definition seems to suggest that personae are
indeed persons. To explain, according to Hobbes a persona
represents the "words or actions of another man." Indeed, a
persona represents the words and actions of a user. Further,
Hobbes defines "personation" as "to act or represent oneself."23
This being the precise purpose for personae in Usenet,
"personation" is alternately definable as the "generation of a
persona." Therefore, in terms of Hobbes, Usenet users must
"personate" themselves via personae because written communication
prevents the users from acting and representing themselves in
person. In other words, personae are the Usenet analogs for
persons in the external world.
While it is true that a persona's actions represent the actions
of a user, the distinctness of the persona from the user allows
for the distinctness of the persona's actions. Recall that all
persona actions must necessarily be derived from the written
responses of the users. When a user writes a hostile message to
another user, his or her persona in effect "attacks" the persona
of the recipient. Whether a persona is actually responsible for
or "owns" the "attack," Hobbes writes:
Of persons artificial, some have their words and actions
owned by those whom they represent. And then the person is
actor; and he that owneth his words and actions, is the
22Hobbes, 125. Hobbes tends to emphasize with
capitalization and italics. This emphasis will be preserved in
all selected passages and quotations.
AUTHOR: in which case the actor acteth by authority.24
Strictly interpreted, personae are "artificial persons" because
their words and actions are owned by the users whom they
represent, but since it is common and expedient to "forget" that
personae are representations of users, it is possible to
understand how a persona's actions can be interpreted as the
persona's own. Although Hobbes does not say specifically, he
suggests that accountability for one's own actions is the
consequence of acting as "owner" of the actions or with
"authority."25 Accordingly, the expedience of "forgetting" may
lead one to treat a persona as the author of its actions,
thereby expecting accountability from the persona for the
actions. This is an unrealistic expectation, given that a
persona is but a representation of a user who is the owner of its
actions. From this it follows that a user seeking to evade
accountability for his actions might attempt to exploit the
expedience of "forgetting" by acting through another user's
persona. By impostering or "impersonation," he or she can create
a persona that appears to represent the personality and unique
qualities of another user. Because of the expedience of
"forgetting" and the uncertainty regarding the degree of
representation (transparent, translucent, or opaque) between
users and personae, "impersonation" is a more serious violation
of trust in Usenet than it is in the external world. Reid
writes, "The illegitimate use of [personae] can cause anger on
the part of their rightful users and sometimes deep feelings of
guilt on the part of the perpetrators."26
"Impersonation" is classified as an opaque representation since
the persona is intended to represent someone other than the user
behind it; however, not all opaque representations are
impersonations. A user seeking complete anonymity for personal
privacy reasons might consider an opaque representation; however,
a translucent representation is more common. A translucent
representation is typified by the user who wishes to interact via
a pseudonym. For the same reasons that an author would elect to
use a pen name, a translucent representation is useful in masking
the user's identity in certain situations. When the user is not
seeking to evade accountability for his or her actions, he or she
is not "impersonating."
To review, having established the distinctness of Usenet's
society and its persona population, it is possible to proceed
with a preliminary parallel to _________
Leviathan. This parallel
establishes that personae "act or represent the words or actions"
26Elizabeth M. Reid, "Electropolis: Communication and
Community on Internet Relay Chat" (thesis, University of
Melbourne, 1991), lines 1139-1141.
of their users. Additionally, expedience allows one to treat a
person's words or actions as the persona's own. This being
Hobbes' definition for "personation," personae are therefore the
Usenet analogs for persons in the external world. Further, a
user may exploit that expedience and "impersonate" another user
to evade the consequences of his or her actions. Finally, this
preliminary parallel between Usenet and _________
Leviathan clears the way
for further analysis of the latter and the development of analogs
within the former.
Given the preliminary parallel between personae and Hobbes'
"persons," it is possible to establish a further parallel between
Leviathan and Usenet. Hobbes explains that persons possess
certain powers. The discussion continues with the consideration
of these powers and development of their Usenet analogs. On the
subject of power, Hobbes begins,
Natural power, is the eminence of the faculties of body,
or mind: as extraordinary strength, form, prudence, arts,
eloquence, liberality, nobility. ____________
Instrumental are those
powers, which acquired by these, or by fortune, are means and
instruments to acquire more: . . .27
Three of these natural powers are severely limited in their
transfer to Usenet society because Usenet personae lack physical
form. They are strength, form, and arts. Obviously, physical
strength is irrelevant in any environment devoid of physical
things, but a Usenet persona can have strength relative to other
"execute an attack." It will be recalled that the action of
"attack," like all actions in Usenet, must be derived from the
cycle of statement and response. Therefore, "strength" in Usenet
is one's ability to write a potent or even, vehement statement.
The power of "form" comes from one's physical makeup. In
essence, it is the effect that one's appearance has on others.
According to Hobbes, "form is power; because being a promise of
good, it recommendeth men to the favour of women and
strangers."28 Like "strength" it transfers poorly into Usenet
because personae lack physical form. Yet it has an analogous
impression one makes on others, not with one's physique, but with
one's words. Even a pseudonym can convey form, as "Spartan"
brings to mind images of frugality and warriors and "Damsel"
connotes femininity and distress. "Form" can extend to actual
word choice when academic language can make a persona "appear"
more scholarly, or when language laden with scientific jargon
might bring to mind images of laboratory coats and measurement
instruments. Granted, while these images are not the clear,
consistent images conveyed by "form" in the external world--in
fact, they probably vary depending on the perceiver--they do
serve to add a "face" to a name and a personality to the words.
It is only natural to want to "fill in the blanks" that Usenet's
analog for "form" leaves empty.
Regarding the power of arts, Hobbes writes,
Arts of public use, as fortification, making of engines,
and other instruments of war; because they confer to defence,
and victory, are power: and though the true mother of them,
be science, namely mathematics; yet, because they are brought
into the light, by the hand of the artificer, they be
esteemed, the midwife passing with the vulgar for the mother,
as his issue.29
Since Usenet is a non-physical environment, the notion of
"defence," like that of strength, must be derived from the cycle
of statement and response. Having established that "strength" in
Usenet is one's ability to write a potent statement, then it
follows that "arts" in Usenet, because they "confer to defence,"
must be one's ability to write a rebuttal.
In contrast, the powers of "prudence" and "liberality" are
transferred to Usenet almost completely. "Liberality" is
intended by Hobbes to mean "generosity." He writes,
Also riches joined with liberality, is power; because it
procureth friends, and servants: without liberality, not so;
because in this case they defend not; but expose men to envy,
as a prey.30
"Liberality" can be combined with things other than riches to
produce the same effect. Consider the act of restraining oneself
from easily humiliating a subordinate in public or the act of
freely and genuinely offering one's assistance to the
uninitiated. These acts of kindness bolster one's liberality.
Additionally, they are actions easily transferred to written
On the subject of prudence, Hobbes writes,
When the thoughts of a man, that has a design in hand,
running over a multitude of things, observes how they conduce
to that design; or what design they may conduce unto; if his
observations be such as are not easy, or usual, this wit of
his is called PRUDENCE; and depends on much experience, and
memory of the like things, and their consequences
Here Hobbes explains that "prudence" comes from "much experience"
leading to "unusual observations" or insight. A person's
prudence transfers to his or her persona because they share one
and the same mind and experiences, despite the fact that
expedience may permit one to "forget" this fact. Only when one's
writing ability interferes with one's attempt to communicate
prudently does a persona seem less prudent in Usenet than the
user does in the external world.
Unlike the previously discussed powers, where it is clear that
some have more exact Usenet analogs than others, the transferral
of "nobility" to Usenet presents difficulty. Hobbes explains,
Nobility is power, not in all places, but only in those
commonwealths, where it has privileges: for in such
privileges, consisteth their power.32
One's privileges come from the recognition by others of one's
rank or nobility. Unless one conveyed one's nobility through a
pseudonym or name such as "Dr. Oakeshott" or by the use of
revealing information such as "My father, Senator Kennedy says .
. . ," it is not likely that external world nobility will have
relevance to Usenet society. Additionally, in cases where
external world nobility is transferred, the privileges and
respect are not as forthcoming as expected. Perhaps this is
because persons of nobility, accustomed to the "trappings" of the
elite, find that without these "trappings" in Usenet, their
nobility is nothing more than words. However, nobility does
exist in Usenet. Users such as Spafford, the frequently cited
authority on "netiquette," seem to enjoy much deference when
"making appearances" in Usenet. For example, because Spafford is
famous, other users may be less visibly critical of his
statements while he is "present."
"Eloquence," is possibly the most important power in Usenet.
Hobbes probably included eloquence among the powers because it
enables one to communicate, not only functionally, but with
finesse. Hobbes writes: "Eloquence is power, because it is
seeming prudence."33 The skill of writing enables one to have
"a way with words" or eloquence. Moreover, in a world where
words are primary to existence and serve as the sole mode of
communication and activity, their importance cannot be
exaggerated. In _____ ________
Emily Postnews, author Brad Templeton reminds
the uninitiated user that "sloppy spelling in a purely written
forum sends out the same silent messages that soiled clothing
would when addressing an audience."34 On the other hand,
actually wearing soiled clothing while accessing Usenet has
absolutely no effect on one's persona. The premium that Usenet
places on spelling, and writing skills in general, inflates the
Usenet analog for eloquence beyond its relative worth in the
34Brad Templeton, _____ ________
Emily Postnews, compiled by Gene
Spafford, 1991, lines 241-245. See Appendix for complete text.
Hobbes discusses additional powers which rely on or operate in
conjunction with those already considered. Among those
additional powers are "affability" and united power.
The power of "affability" seems similar to that of "liberality."
"Liberality" was described earlier with the examples of public
restraint with subordinates and generosity with the use of one's
powers. Strictly speaking, these qualities of graciousness more
accurately describe the power of "affability." If one reviews
Hobbes' definition of "liberality," one will notice that
"liberality" is power when "joined" with riches. Clearly, Hobbes
is concerned with "riches" when he writes of "liberality" because
"it procureth friends, and servants." Hobbes believes that
"liberality" or generosity with one's riches is a power because
friends and servants contribute to one's defense.
The external world concept of "riches" does not easily translate
into a world without physical or material wealth, but the
development of the analog is possible nonetheless. In the
external world, money is used to barter for goods and services.
In Usenet, goods do not exist. On the other hand, services are
abundant: sharing one's knowledge is a service. Assisting a new
user is a service. These services may be traded in Usenet
analogously to their trade in the external world. Therefore, the
Usenet analog for "riches" is "services." This conclusion
returns one to the original observation that "liberality" and
"affability" appear to share the same definition. With respect to
Usenet, indeed they do.
Finally, the power of united power or power "united by consent"
is described below:
The greatest of human powers, is that which is compounded
of the powers of most men, united by consent, in one person,
natural, or civil, that has the use of all their powers
depending on his will."35
It is premature to discuss why persons would want to unite their
powers in a single person before it has been considered why they
would want to pursue powers for themselves. But since Hobbes
includes this power with the rest, it is important to note that a
power "which is compounded of the powers of most men" is the
"greatest of human powers." While this may be true in the
external world, the nature of Usenet's written medium may
subordinate united power to the power of "eloquence," since it is
"eloquence" which enables users to create the environment where
unity takes place.
The Pursuit of Powers
Given the discussion of Hobbes' "powers" and the development of
their respective analogs in Usenet, it is possible to discuss and
develop the pursuit of powers in the external world and in
Usenet. This will be done by examining the benefits of power,
the need for continuous participation to retain one's powers, and
the effect of using one's powers to confront or compete with
another person or persona.
With respect to the benefits of power, Hobbes writes,
[Powers] . . . are the means and instruments to acquire
more: as riches, reputation, friends, and the secret working
of God, which men call good luck.36
The benefits of power then are riches, reputation, friends, and
good luck. One will discover that these benefits are in some
instances powers themselves, and that the pursuit of power
appears to be an end in itself.
Riches are perhaps the most difficult of the benefits of power to
transfer to Usenet society. In the external world, riches are
clear--they are the signs and objects of material wealth, such as
money and possessions. Given that Usenet lacks a physical
environment, an analog for material wealth, money, or possessions
is nonsensical. However, it has been established that
"services," as in sharing one's knowledge, is the analog for
Reputation is significant in both the external world and Usenet.
It is the most important benefit of power in Usenet society.
Hobbes does not provide a simple definition with which one can
grasp the full meaning of reputation; in fact, he defines
reputation contextually in the definitions of other powers.
Consider the following passage:
Reputation of power, is power; because it draweth with it
the adherence of those that need protection. So is reputation
of love of a man's country, called popularity, for the same
reason. Also, what quality soever maketh a man beloved, or
feared of many; or the reputation of such quality, is power;
because it is a means to have the assistance, and service of
many. Good success is power; because it maketh reputation of
wisdom, or good fortune; which makes men either fear him; or
rely on him. . . . Reputation of prudence in the conduct of
peace or war, is power; because to prudent men, we commit the
government of ourselves, more willingly than to others.37
Broadly defined, reputation is the publicly held estimate of
one's worth. With that in mind, Hobbes' definition of reputation
in the context of other powers make more sense. This being the
case, reputation is the publicly held estimate of one's powers.
For example, one may be an excellent cook known only within the
private circle of one's friends, but once one establishes a
reputation outside of that private circle, the estimate of one's
excellence may be held publicly. In this case, the power of
one's prudence in cooking is amplified by one's reputation, and
Hobbes tells us that in the first line of that passage when he
says "reputation of power, is power." It is in this sense of
power begetting power that the importance of reputation is
heightened in the external world. To the extent that reputation
is the most important power in Usenet, the following discussion
of the Usenet analog for reputation is critical.
In Usenet, one's powers, such as strength and eloquence, are
expressed by participating in the cycle of statements and
responses. Only in this way can one's powers be perceived,
substantiated, measured, and ranked by others. The resulting
comparisons made among personae establish the public estimation
of one's worth. This reputation-making process of comparison and
worth is supported with the following two quotations from Hobbes:
"Virtue generally, in all sorts of subjects, is somewhat
that is valued for eminence; and consisteth in comparison."38
"For let a man, as most men do, rate themselves at the
highest value they can; yet their true value is no more, than
it is esteemed by others."39
Indeed, Hobbes makes it clear that reputation serves to set a
"market price" for one's worth. He implies that although
reputation can amplify one's strengths, it can expose one's
weaknesses to greater scrutiny, thereby devaluating others'
personal estimate of those strengths. And with respect to
Usenet, reputation is the collective memory of the comparisons of
past cycles of statement and response.
Hobbes believes that the possession of friends is a benefit of
power. The Usenet "public" that forms one's reputation consists
of many personae, some of which are one's friends. During the
cycle of the statement and response, the participants and the
observers rate and compare the participants' expressions of their
powers. This comparison reveals degrees of affinities among
personae, that is, they may "take sides" on an issue. These
affinities are guided by what is described by Hobbes as
passions,40 which include but are not limited to appetite,
desire, love, aversion, hate, joy, and grief.41 Those personae
whose passions move them together out of common affinity become
friends, supporters, and allies. Those whose passions
disassociate them may become enemies. A persona's friends enable
it to establish and build its reputation, thereby increasing its
power, whereas its enemies seek to discredit it, thereby reducing
its power. There is no inherent quality such as "good" or "evil"
that distinguishes one's friends from one's enemies; what is
knowable is only that the former seek to support and increase
one's power, and the latter seek its attenuation.
The benefit of power known as "luck" describes one's ability to
"know the secret working of God." Certainly Hobbes does not mean
direct knowledge of God, but he does want to acknowledge the
power of those who tend to draw "stronger hands" than others.
The most important analog for luck in Usenet is one's ability to
draw friends. While it is true that one's friends come from
those who observe one's actions, luck guides one to act
fortuitously in places likely to attract many and the most
reliable of them.
In order to acquire the benefits of power, it is necessary to
continuously participate in the cycle of statement and response.
Although reputation is a benefit of power and a power, because it
amplifies the other powers, the duration of that effect becomes
important. If one's reputation is held by the public in
collective memory, it follows that one's reputation is
recalculated after each participation, with the readjusted
reputation replacing the older reputation in the collective
memory. Thus one's reputation lasts until it is forgotten. As
one's reputation fades from memory, so fades one's power.
However, to fade completely violates the condition of existence
for continuous participation; therefore, to avoid the fading of
one's power and the cessation of existence, one must continuously
participate in the cycle of statement and response.
To summarize, the objects or benefits of power are riches,
reputation, friends, and luck. Of these benefits, reputation is
the most important in Usenet because it is a benefit of power and
a power in itself. It enables one to increase one's power by
amplifying beyond the private circle into the public arena. By
subjecting one's powers to perception, substantialization,
comparison, and rating, reputation is created by participating in
the cycle of statement and response. Reputation sets the "fair
market" value for one's worth which may be higher or lower than
one's own estimation. Reputation is stored in the collective
memory of past participation in the cycle of statement and
response. And finally, the duration of one's reputation depends
upon one's continuous participation in the cycle of statement and
Where previously, the definition of power, its benefits and their
Usenet analogs have been discussed, it is possible to explore in
the competition for powers.
The possession of certain benefits of power, such as reputation,
is power in itself; however, possession of power alone seems not
to be enough. In revisiting the following passage on power, it
is important to focus on Hobbes' use of "more:"
[Powers] . . . are the means and instruments to acquire
more: as riches, reputation, friends, and the secret working
of God, which men call good luck.42
Hobbes does not say, for example, that powers are the means to
acquire riches, reputation, friends and good luck. He says that
powers are the means to acquire "more." This suggests that
Hobbes believes that the simple acquisition of powers is not
enough. In fact, it is clear from the following passage that
there is no limit as to how much can be acquired:
And the cause of this, is not always that a man hopes for
more intensive delight, than he has already attained to; or
that he cannot be content with a moderate power: but because
he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he
hath present, without the acquisition of more.43
As can be seen, the acquisition of "more" assures one's present
power and "means to live well." This implies an active life of
acquisition, not a leisurely life where one waits for power to
come to him or her. Hobbes is saying that if one wants the
assurance of one's "present means to live well," one must acquire
"more." Hobbes is very clear on this point when he uses the word
"restless" in the following passage. Note that "restless" should
not be interpreted as "fidgety," but rather, more literally as
So that in the first place, I put for a general
inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of
power after power, that ceaseth only in death.44
This indictment of "mankind" clears the way for a discussion of
"death." According to Hobbes, death in the external world is the
cessation of all movement, for men consist of a complex
combination of motions ranging from one's limbs to one's
dreams.45 These motions, "begun in generation, and continued
without interruption through their whole life"46 distinguish the
living from the not.
The Usenet analog for life is also derived from motions, the
motion of the cycle of statement and response, and it is
predicated upon the satisfaction of the three conditions for a
Usenet persona's existence: enough utility to assure the
continued association between the user and the persona, the
visible demonstration of one's presence via a persona, and
continuous participation in the cycle of statement and response.
Without the satisfaction of these conditions, a persona cannot
exist. It is clear from the conditions that utility and
participation are essential: Usenet must remain useful to the
user and the user must continuously assert the existence of his
or her persona by participating in the cycle of statement and
The effect of participation in this cycle is the creation and
development of one's reputation. Those personae whose
reputations are highly valued attract a sufficient number of
responses with which to perpetuate additional cycles for
statement and response. Those personae with poorly valued
reputations may at first generate an intense cycle based on
criticism of another and defense, but often come to be ignored
and forced to face exclusion, obscurity, and thereby "death."
For example, well-regarded personae only need to participate
occasionally to insure that they are not forgotten, because the
resultant cycle of statement and response will generate enough
interest to maintain their reputations, and thereby their
existence. It is also possible that little known personae may
establish temporary notoriety for themselves by making outrageous
statements before returning to obscurity after their cycle has
run its course.
By far, the great majority of personae enjoy neither fame nor
ignominy, for their participation merely consists of "skirmishes"
and banter. To illustrate this case, it is common for one to
state an opinion, draw criticism, and rebut it. The participants
in this short cycle are then compared, rated, and their
respective reputations adjusted in the collective memory. But
consider the case where one is subjected to an undue amount of
criticism. If the "assault" is without merit, as in the second
illustration, one may choose to ignore it; but if the criticism
is based on truth, one may feel compelled to defend his or her
reputation. Hobbes explains this compulsion as a "right" when he
THE RIGHT OF NATURE, which writers commonly call ___
naturale, is the liberty each man hath, to use his own power,
as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature;
that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing
any thing, which in his own judgment, and reason, he shall
conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.47
As it has been shown, reputation is the "tote board" of a
persona's existence within Usenet; therefore, to defend one's
reputation is to exercise one's natural right to self-
preservation in Usenet. But even relatively minor "skirmishes"
can lead to larger "battles," because the drive to acquire "more"
can accelerate the cycle of statement and response into a
reputation-making machine. Consider the effect of the
"perpetual and restless desire of power after power" and the
lengths that Hobbes believes a person will go to assure the
acquisition of "more." In Usenet, the analog for an attack
designed for quick reputational gain is called a "flame."
Perhaps named for their inflammatory nature, "flames" tend to be
ad hominem, argumentative, and often have little to do with the
original discussions in which they develop. The extremely
personal nature of "flames" often draws one to respond
reflexively with a statement even more insulting or offensive
than the original. Again, the motivation to participate in such
an exchange is to publicly defend one's reputation. A cycle
containing ad hominem exchanges can gain momentum very quickly,
attracting outside attention to its participants. As the number
of observers increases, the reputational stakes of the
participants increase. This has the effect of luring some of the
observers from the "sidelines" into the cycle as well, causing
the spread of the"war." Sometimes compared to "storms," because
they appear without warning, wreak havoc, and subside just as
unpredictably, "flame wars" can start over spelling, grammar,
semantics, or any seemingly trivial issue.
Since "flame wars" can dominate or otherwise interfere with the
discussion of non-participants, the "wars" tend to diminish the
utility of Usenet to those non-participants. Since utility is
among the conditions of existence within Usenet, if enough non-
participants feel the utility of their participation in Usenet is
substantially threatened by a "flame war," the warring
participants have nothing to gain reputationally and much to
lose. In fact, once a "flame war" loses its audience, the
participants not only lose those who would judge and compare
their actions, but more importantly, a war offensive, annoying,
or useless enough to drive away its observers will probably cause
a net loss to the reputations of its participants.
Although "flame wars" are generally discouraged because they are
so disruptive, they persist, and are commonly found in newsgroups
oriented toward social issues and controversy. However, the
relatively sedate technical discussion newsgroups have their
share. The notoriously disruptive, and futile, cycle of "Macs
are better than PCs" is a recurring "flame war" which many users
try to extinguish as quickly as it begins, by refusing to
participate. It should be noted that a special newsgroup,
"alt.flame," exists for the specific purpose of being a place
where one can participate in a "flame war" without being
disruptive to the discussions in the rest of the newsgroups, a
sort of "O.K. Corral." It is common to see someone write, "Let's
take this discussion to alt.flame."
The following passage from _________
Leviathan may shed light on why
"flaming" and contention in general occurs:
____ __ __________ ____ ___________
Love of contention from competition. Competition of
riches, honour, command, or other power, inclineth to
contention, enmity, and war: because the way of one
competitor, to the attaining of his desire, is to kill,
subdue, supplant, or repel the other.48
In the preceding passage, Hobbes suggests that persons engage in
lethal competition in order to acquire powers and their benefits.
reputations at the expense of others.
In summary, it is clear that personae must restlessly participate
in the cycle of statement and response, which is primary to their
existence within Usenet and which allows them to acquire more
powers, as in reputation. It is also understood that such
continuous participation, especially that of "flaming," is
contentious and that one's reputation is subject to damage. The
question remains, how contentious can the Usenet environment for
participation become, before the conditions to maintain the
existence of one's persona become so difficult to meet that one
is driven to surrender his or her powers to a single authority?
Living in Moderation
This section includes a discussion of an actual Usenet example of
the cycle of statement and response, the alternatives to the
outright surrender of one's powers, and the submission to
moderation. The following series of articles are messages from a
Usenet newsgroup oriented towards the discussion of evil. Topics
in the newsgroup drift between "tales from the dark side"49 to
the plotting of murder. This example is the beginning portion of
a cycle of statement and response involving five personae
discussing the fate of one of their teaching assistants and the
moral and legal implications of the discussion itself. The
personae are "Paul" from the University of Maryland at College
Park, a user at Youngstown State University, a user at Malaspina
College,"Jon" from Netcom Online Communications Services, and a
user at the University of Maine. All articles are included in
their entirety without editing to preserve the "realism" of the
discussion. Paul writes,
With one single, simple, trivial, insignificant event, my
life has been thrown into utter chaos.
I'm graduating this semester, or was. My TA insists I did
not turn in a significant amount of assignments for her class.
This is incorrect, and I have no way of proving it to her. As
such, see [___
sic] is giving me an F. Despite the large amount of
work I did, and my good test grades, she will not even
consider a D. Mind you this is an insignificant little one
credit Physical Education course. I explained that I had no
money to take a course during the summer ($300), was leaving
in the summer for Ca., was on my way to grad school, and that
this little incident was really fucking up my life. She
proceeded to give me, while power-tripping and in an
authoritative manner, the 'real world and responsibility'
speech. As though this fucking class and this little blonde
puke were representative of the real world. Needless to say, I
What I would like from you are suggestions to make her
life a living hell. I considered killing her, or driving by
her house with an uzi, but I don't want to go to jail, at
least not over her. Any suggestions from the subtle to
extravagant will be considered. Nothing she could easily trace
I anxiously await your response.....
Paul is apparently disappointed with his poor grade, but it is
never clear whether he actually intends to act on the advice he
solicits or whether he is simply attempting to gain sympathy from
others by sharing his plight. His first response arrives from
the University of Maryland user. It will be recalled that this
response satisfies Paul's conditions for existence--it proves
49John Gilmore, ___________ _________ ____________ ____ _
Alternative Newsgroup Hierarchies, Part I,
edited by Gene Spafford, 1992, line 147.
that he is not isolated and alone:
Heh... I'm starting to like this gal. She must really
like watching you squirm. Heh. You could post her name,
address, etc so every horny geek can give her a call. A
slight description, so they can pretend that they know her
well... scare the hell out of her. My guess, though, is that
she'd like it too much. Ah well...
Don't you see it?????? Come on, man... it *IS*
representative of the whole world. You are getting dicked
over in a way you never ever expected!! Some small
"insignifigant" person is ruining your life. You better learn
fast... or you are not going to fare well at all.
Why are you so worried about her misery being traced to
you? She doesn't mind that *you* know how very screwed you
are. *SHE* doesn't mind telling you *to your face* exactly
how she is going to do it. Illegal is bad...yep. Proof is
tricky... but avoidable. I suggest printing this out,
(assuming you save it), and deleting it immediately.
Okay... right now I'm more on her side than yours... but
since you asked....
Two words: Sexual Harrasment.
Just as difficult to prove/disprove as the homework issue.
Just as likely to ruin her life. I mean... how would you like
to be the girl who was *so* desperate to find a date, she was
blackmailing her student? Heh.
No offence to you... but this works even better if you are
Actually... this may even be what she is trying to do...
how do *I* know? You said you handed the HW in, right?
Okay... so she "lost" it. Maybe she wants something in return
for "finding" the homework. Start telling all your friends
how she keeps coming on to you, and got really pissed when you
turned her down... and that she hinted that she would ruin
your grade if you didn't play along. About this time, you
want to start recording conversations with this babe... keep
saying that you are *desperate* to do well in this class...
you'd do *anything* to make up for it... what could you do?
You, obviously, may want to edit out these portions of the
conversation. :) See what responce you get. Ask her out.
Bring sex into the conversation. Go back, now, and mention to
your friends that she *really is* going to ruin your grade
since you didn't play along. Get really upset. Become
hysterical... say that you don't really care and that you'll
go ahead and do what she wants... you just want to graduate.
Call her with someone in the room. Assuming that she didn't
want you to trade affection for your grade... I'n sitll not
ruling this out as a possibility... she will most probably
turn you down quite loudly. Your friend may even overhear
this if she is *really* loud. As some of your friends to help
decide what you should do. Eventually, this will come to
someone's attention... etc. If things don't look good, keep
telling the school authorities that you are going to take the
matter to a more public setting if they don't fix things with
your grade. This usually makes them jump. Even if she
doesn't get in trouble... you should most certainly get your
grade. Depending on how well you play it... you might even
get to make $$$ writing about it... touring... etc. Don't
make up dates and times that you cannot account for her
location. If you say she was harassing you and she was with
30 people playing nude twister... your story is shot to hell.
Write stuff down, and memorize it.
Ok. You have the tools... it all depends on how well you
....Send me a copy of your book.
Note the tone of the Maryland user's response. At first he or
she mocks Paul by "siding" with the teaching assistant, but
eventually the user describes a plan of action. Also note that
the user has to resort to non-standard punctuation,
capitalization, and asterisks to convey emphasis since the
traditional non-verbal methods of controlling voice pitch and
volume are unavailable. There is even the presence of emoticons
to indicate that the user is smiling at those points in the
response. But again, it is still uncertain whether this user
expects his or her advice to be taken seriously or whether the
exchange is merely an exercise to help Paul vent his frustration.
The next response to Paul's statement comes from Youngstown State
University. Generally, only two personae are needed to
substantiate one another's existences, but in this case, this
third user from Youngstown, rather than Paul, serves to
substantiate the existence of the Maryland user:
If by some chance, you can get her address & soc. security
number, I have heard that a really effective harassment goes
Call the I.R.S.
Say, "I'm (name of TA ), and I think I made a mistake on
my 1040, could you check your records?"
Supply address & social, if asked for them.
With luck, she gets audited.
Probably kinder to just shoot her.
This response clearly contains more humor than the previous two,
provided that one agrees that death is preferable to a tax audit,
but it is still difficult to tell whether or not this is a
harmless, but "dark" discussion or a conspiracy to commit a
felony. The fourth participant, a user from Malaspina College is
apparently not amused when he or she writes,
Please consider the implications of this conversation.
This is an extrordinarily offensive and demeaning exchange
with possible legal implications. Your conversations
contribute to the oppression of women and completely undermine
the human values you profess to acquire at college. Remember
that your commentari}iesare read by many people throughout the
world and reflect not only on you, but on the institutions you
represent. All of us in the college and university community
have a strong personal responsibility to ensure that our
colleagues--women in particular--are protected from abusive,
offensive, demeaning, belittling, harrassing, and threatening
language. There is NO EXCUSE for this exchange in any
conference. Fourteen women in Montreal were massacrd 2 years
ago by a man whose ideas reflected the same crap you are
exchanging. I am profoundly disturbed and ashamed that people
who profess intellectual skills will engage in this kind of
hate exchange. I am new to conference activity but fully
intend to do whatever is necessary to protect my colleagues
from thissort of abuse.
This user is risking confrontation by "scolding" and attempting
to shame the other users for their actions. Despite the name of
the current newsgroup, alt.evil, this user is convinced that this
discussion has no place in "any conference." In the terms of this
study, this user is "attacking" the reputations of the other
three. The first user to respond to the "attack" is Jon from
Who died and appointed you net.cop?
What a joke! You could easily argue that this TA's
actions contribute to the oppression of men. Further, as to
the "values" one acquires at college, this is bullshit. The
only "values" most people learn at college is what case of
beer is cheapest, or how best to make money.
Pahleeezee. I think you give it more importance than it
has. Especially in this newsgroup, which exists to promote
and discuss evil. Not social responsibility. There are news
groups for that purpose. Just look. You would probably be
happier there. Sorry, but this group is not going to mutate
into alt.fuzzy.warm.feeling.inside because it bothers you.
Don't you get it? *This is alt.evil*. It is a newsgroup,
not a conference. It is not about social responsibility.
Good luck, idiot. Have you ever heard of *Freedom of
Speech?* You are clearly living in a fantasy world, and
appear to believe you somehow are powerful. Ha Ha Ha. What a
shit head you are.
Note that Jon's first sentence, "Who died and appointed you
net.cop?" is extremely sarcastic and rhetorical. Its intent is
not to elicit a truthful response, but to embarass the Malaspina
College user for assuming an authoritative role. Jon then
proceeds to return the "attack" by questioning the validity of
the values acquired at college. This tactic actually pits Jon's
"prudence" in college experience against that of the user from
Malaspina, and may actually have more of a bearing on the
calculation of his reputation than everything else that he says.
After this point, his response quickly becomes an ad hominem
attack, mocking the Malaspina user and calling him names. This
message is an example of a "flame," and as such, it is
interesting to observe that aside from the first sentence, it
does not specifically have anything to do with Paul's original
The fifth and final user in this example is from the University
No moralizing on who's right or wrong, we are talking
about evil not ethics. sugar in the gas tank should
crystalize in the fuel lines, or use sand and ruin the engine,
figure a way to give her lice (there's a# of varieties esp.
pubic) or plant drugs on her etc. If you or any of your I.M.F.
team are captured thesecretary will disavow any knowledge of
your actions. -HAVE FUN
Again, note the humorous tone. Given that all of the responses
had elements of humor, it is entirely possible that the Malaspina
College user violated an alt.evil norm by dispelling their
fantasy plot. The Malaspina user also may not have "picked up"
on the humor given the interference of the medium and the
inadequacies of emoticons and other devices to convey non-verbal
information. Of particular interest in this last message is the
opening sentence, ". . . we are talking about evil not ethics."
By stating the purpose of the cycle and the newsgroup, this user
effectively pits his "prudence" in alt.evil interaction against
the previous two users'; and by immediately returning to the
topic at hand with the remainder of his message, this user is
attempting to extinguish the disruptive "flames."
It will be recalled that these articles are only the first five
in a cycle of statement and response. It should also be noted
that the number of observers of this cycle, if any, is unknown,
but that this figure is estimated to be five times the number of
participants.50 At the conclusion of each statement or response,
the participants and the observers privately estimate the worth
of each participant: the sum of that worth, held in the
collective memory, is their reputation.
Given this detailed discussion of the cycle of statement and
response, it is useful to recall the remaining question: how
contentious can the Usenet environment for participation become,
before the conditions to maintain the existence of one's persona
become so difficult to meet, that one is driven to surrender his
powers to a single authority? The following discussion prepares
one to answer by first considering the alternatives to the
outright surrender of one's powers. For this purpose the
following passage from _________
Leviathan is useful:
_____ _________ ____ ____ __ _____ ____ ____ __ ______ __
Civil obedience from love of ease. From fear of death, or
wounds. Desire of ease, and sensual delight, disposeth men to
50Brian, Reid, ______ __________ _______
Usenet Readership Summary (Palo Alto,
California: Network Measurement Project at the DEC Western
Research Laboratory, March 1992), lines 22-28. See Appendix.
obey a common power: because by such desires, a man doth
abandon the protection that might be hoped for from his own
industry, and labour. Fear of death, and wounds, disposeth to
the same; and for the same reason.51
From this passage it is clear that Hobbes recognizes that the
rest-less "pursuit of power after power" takes its toll on
persons who are as inclined to ease as they are to contention.
The balance between these opposing desires appears to be the
"fear of death, and wounds." It follows then, that it is the
fear of death and wounds that persuades persons to abandon their
pursuit of powers and surrender themselves to the power of
another. This notion is apparent in Usenet, but it appears that
there are other alternatives short of complete surrender. As
discussed, one may ignore a user who interferes with the utility
of one's access to Usenet. Additionally, to solve disputes and
facilitate the interaction, one may voluntarily adhere to the
general principles described as "netiquette" as outlined by
Spafford. Next to be discussed is an actual example from Usenet
which invokes Spafford's guidelines and the practice of using
"kill files" to systematically ignore disruptive users.
It will be recalled that Gene Spafford compiles and distributes a
series of guidelines designed to facilitate the smooth
interaction between Usenet participants, but since there is no
Usenet government to enforce them, the guidelines remain
informal. Nonetheless, many individuals voluntarily abide by
them and insist that others do the same. In the following
example, "David" attempts to persuade "Bill" to use some self-
restraint and conform to Spafford's guidelines:
Why don't you respond in private mail, and ask the person
you are sending to to summarize. This prevents clutter, which
this posting is as well. If everyone posted a response to
every PC related hardware question they saw, this newsgroup
would quickly become too bulky to work with.
In this article, David is responding to an earlier message of
Bill's. Apparently, Bill had previously responded publicly to
someone else's question. In all likelihood, the question was a
common one and Bill's response was a common answer. Tired of
seeing both "frequently asked questions" and their responses,
David asks Bill in this article to observe the Usenet "courtesy"
of responding to such questions in private. It should be noted
that David is relying on the following section from Spafford's
One of the biggest problems we have on the network is that
when someone asks a question, many people send out identical
answers. When this happens, dozens of identical answers pour
through the net. Mail your answer to the person and suggest
that they summarize to the network. This way the net will
only see a single copy of the answers, no matter how many
people answer the question.52
In Bill's response to David, "IMHO" is the common abbreviation
for "in my humble opinion":
My understanding is that these groups are for the
unfettered exchange of information. IMHO, too much band-width
is used attempting to restrict use of the NET. I, for one,
like to read like the answers. It's a lot easier for everyone
than E-mailing the posters and asking them to share
individually. Lot of recipients of NET-knowledge do NOT take
the extra effort to summarize. It's easy enough to ignore
threads which have nothing to offer. We're a divers bunch..
one person's "clutter" may be another's insight. There are
first-timer joining these groups every day. Remember our
roots. I have no problem with FAQ being FAQs. (Frequently
Asked Questions being Frequently Answered Questions)
Obviously Bill opts to ignore Spafford's guidelines and runs the
risk of being ignored by those he annoys with his "clutter."
Concerned that already too much time has been spent discussing
the issue, David replies,
I suggest this is way off the topic of comp.sys.ibm.pc, if
we really have to continue this discussion let's finish it in
David could be right. "comp.sys.ibm.pc" is a technical newsgroup
for the discussion of IBM personal computers. Participants
receive hundreds of messages daily and very few have the patience
for non-technical discussions in the newsgroup such as Bill's and
David's. It is very likely that both Bill and David are already
Sometimes the situation arises where a user will offend or annoy
another so severely that simply ignoring the user runs the risk
of encountering him and being offended and annoyed at a later
date. To remedy this situation, Usenet users have at their
disposal a utility known as a "kill file." Basically an
electronic filter, a "kill file" allows a user to screen out or
block the message of another user. A "kill file" can contain the
names of several users and sites, as well as offensive words,
effectively preventing the display of potentially unwanted
messages. Note that a "kill file" does not actually destroy
Usenet articles, but merely shields the owner of the file from
their existence. "Kill files" are an extreme method of self-
censoring because they take the power of decision away from the
"kill file" owner. Many users still prefer to run the risk of
52Von Rospach, lines 176-181.
re-encountering annoyances than to subjugate themselves to an
automatic censor; however, the following example of gratuitous
"flaming" makes the originator of the statement a prime candidate
for countless "kill files" within reading range of the message:
WHAT?!?!?! You deleted the FUCKING expletives you PUSSY-
STARVED DICKSUCKING BASTARD? What the FUCK kind of newsgroup
do you think this is?
This aint FUCKING rec.tv.family-channel.
Leave the FUCKING expletives in, it annoys the SHIT out of
me when ASSHOLES [do that] . . .
However, the threat of "kill files" do not necessarily prevent or
curb disruptive behavior. Mark from Denver illustrates this:
So put me in your kill-file, dac. Simple solution. What
makes you think I give a hoot about *what* you think of my
writing? I post for my own enjoyment.
Not yours. Live with it.
Of course, Mark should probably think twice about such a
challenge if his name begins to appear in too many "kill files."
As the amount of clutter or "noise"53 increases, more and more
users voluntarily submit to "moderation." A moderated newsgroup
prevents unapproved statements from being distributed. All
statements are submitted to a moderator who screens the messages
for content, posts the appropriate ones, and rejects the ones he
feels are unfit for the discussion. In the case of a moderated
newsgroup, the moderator has tremendous control of one's network
The price or reward for such restraint is the decrease of noise
and the increase of relevant information. Moderated newsgroups
are not without problems and as David reminds us, "one person's
'clutter' may be another's insight." Additionally, the degree of
censorship varies from moderator to moderator. In the case of
"comp.dcom.telecom," a moderated newsgroup dedicated to
telecommunications issues, many individuals are unable to
tolerate its highly-opinionated moderator, Patrick Townson. As a
result, they have created an alternative or unrestricted
newsgroup called "alt.dcom.telecom." To this day Pat's group
remains very popular while the much smaller alternative group is
commonly cluttered with articles critical of him. This offers
little choice for users who desire the volume of messages in the
moderated group, but deplore Pat's degree of restraint.
To summarize this section of the discussion, the maintenance of
the existence of a persona requires users to continuously
participate in the cycle of statement and response. As a result
53The commonly used term for "clutter," which comes from
the technical phrase "signal-to-noise ratio," which basically
means that the less interference there is, the cleaner the signal
of this participation, the users both establish or maintain their
persona's reputation and benefits from the utility of Usenet. As
a matter of participation, the users may receive challenges to
their statements or "actions" and may also challenge the
statements or "actions" of others. In rare cases, they may
participate in or observe a cycle that generates "flames" or
escalates into a "flame war." This sort of message and other
messages they find personally uninteresting, offensive, or
annoying decreases the utility of Usenet for them and threatens
the existence of their persona. To protect themselves from this
threat, they have the alternatives of ignoring the offensive
articles, requesting that offensive users conform to
"netiquette," "killing" the offensive users by placing them in
their "kill file," or participating in a moderated newsgroup.
Looking for the Leviathan
It has been established that in a contentious environment,
offensive or uninteresting articles may diminish Usenet's utility
to its users. As a result, users may opt to restrict their
participation to the moderation of another user. In terms of
Usenet, too many attacks and disruptive actions by other personae
threaten their existence to the point that they may consider
surrendering themselves to the control of another persona. It is
on this level, the level of the personae, that Hobbes' _________
operates. The following discussion describes and analyzes a
random survey of the participation within Usenet and the degree
to which the participation is moderated.
If one were to search for a Leviathan in Usenet, one would
obviously begin with the moderated newsgroups because the
discussions therein consist of articles previously approved by a
"common power." However, there are other less obvious
indications of restraint such as conformity to or compliance with
"netiquette" as a general guide to behavior; and conformity to or
compliance with Spafford's more specific set of guidelines.
A survey was conducted on a randomly selected sample of two
hundred Usenet articles. The articles were selected from a list
of 3,971 existing newsgroups with each group having equal chances
for selection. A computer program was written to randomly select
a newsgroup from the list from which it randomly selected an
article. The selected article became part of the sample
population. If the newsgroup did not contain any articles, the
computer program selected another newsgroup until the sample
population was equal to two hundred.
After the sample population was determined, each article was
examined for signs or indication of a Leviathan. These
indicators were operationalized as "Leviathan Factors" with each
increase in factor representing a greater sign or indication of
coercion. The "Leviathan Factors" (LF) are described as follows:
Leviathan Factor Description
0 No signs of coercion to conform or
1 Unmindful conformity to/compliance
with "netiquette" such as the use of
"emoticons" or other characters to
convey physical actions.
2 Reference to "netiquette" as means of
3 Reference to Spafford's guidelines.
More specific than LF 2.
4 Article is from a moderated newsgroup
or is otherwise censored.
Table 1. The operationalization of Leviathan
The factors are at the ordinal level of measurement such that LF
4 means "more Leviathan" than LF 3, but it does not mean than LF
2 represents twice as much as LF 1. Given the operationalization
of Leviathan as "Leviathan Factors," it was possible to read each
article and ask: Does this article contain any signs of coercion
to obey a common power? If an article contained more than one
indicator, then it was coded with the greatest LF for which it
satisfied the requirements. The findings help one to conclude
"how much" of a Leviathan is present in Usenet. A survey of the
sample population produced the following figures shown in Table
LF Frequency Percentage
0 162 81.0
1 14 7.0
2 3 1.5
3 2 1.0
4 19 9.5
Total 200 100.0
Table 2. Articles containing progressive signs of Leviathan
Based on the data, 9.5% of the articles surveyed showed the
greatest amount of Leviathan (LF 4), and 81% showed no signs of
Leviathan (LF 0). It was expected that there would be
progressively fewer articles with each increasing factor of
Leviathan, but the unusual distribution for LF 1-3 suggests
possible operationalization problems. In retrospect, it was not
correct to identify "emoticons" as a form of Leviathan because
they are signs of compensation for the medium of written
communication and not necessarily signs of compliance to or
conformity with "netiquette." The unexpectedly high number of
observations coded LF 1 bear this out. Additionally, the sample
size did not support a five-way breakdown with any degree of
accuracy between the extremes of LF 0 and LF 4. This resulted in
a negligible difference between the number of observations coded
LF 2 and LF 3 from which a meaningful conclusion can be drawn.
In order to account for operationalization and sample size
problems, the data can be presented in Table 3 in a way to
emphasize the measured extremes.
LF Frequency Percentage
0-1 176 88
2-4 24 12
Total 200 100
Table 3. Articles showing signs of a Leviathan
Presented in this way, the articles are divided into two
consolidated categories. The first category, LF 0-1, consists of
articles with no measured signs of a Leviathan, including
"emoticons" which are indicators of compensation and not
coercion. The second category, LF 2-4, consists of articles
which do contain signs of a Leviathan. This category describes
the range of articles including those in which someone asks
another to observe "netiquette" to articles submitted under
moderation. Based on the findings, some measure of Leviathan is
present in 12% of the articles surveyed.
The conclusion consists of a summary of the major points, a
discussion of the quantitative study, and a consideration of the
avenues for research.
This study has sought to establish seven major points. First,
Usenet is a distinct society because the exclusively, written
medium keeps much of the three-dimensional, external world out.
Second, personae are created by the interaction of Usenet users.
A user always interacts with the personae of other users because
it is impossible to interact ___________________
three-dimensionally via a written
medium. This always being the case, expediency allows one to
"forget" that interaction is via personae. Third, Hobbes helps
prove that personae are persons within Usenet. Fourth, like
persons, personae have powers, although they may be different.
Fifth, users participate in Usenet to maximize its utility, thus
persona existence is tied to user participation and utility.
Sixth, participation may become contentious or uninteresting,
thereby decreasing Usenet's utility and threatening personae
existence; however, users can increasingly subject their
participation to restraint. Seventh, to maximize Usenet's
utility and to maintain personae existence, some users may decide
to allow another person to control or moderate the extent of
their participation, thus controlling or moderating the existence
of their personae.
The following is a review of each point:
1. ______ __ _ ________ _______ _______ ___ ____________
Usenet is a distinct society because the exclusively,
_______ ______ _____ ____ __ ___ __________________ ________
written medium keeps much of the three-dimensional, external
world out. With the help of Elizabeth Reid's work, it has been
established that the written medium of Usenet "filters" or
interferes with communication among users. The effect of this
interference is the "deprivation of the subtleties" of verbal and
non-verbal communication. Reid's research suggests that such
subtleties reinforce the standards of behavior in the external
world. Without that reinforcement, Usenet users have had to
develop "alternate or parallel" standards of behavior such as
"netiquette" and Gene Spafford's guidelines. This compensation
for the shortcomings of the medium plus the development of new
written language subtleties known as "emoticons" has enabled
Usenet to become a society distinct from that of the external
2. ________ ___ _______ __ ___ ___________ __ ______ ______ _
Personae are created by the interaction of Usenet users. A
____ ______ _________ ____ ___ ________ __ _____ _____ _______ __
user always interacts with the personae of other users because it
__ __________ __ ________ ___________________ ___ _ _______
is impossible to interact three-dimensionally via a written
_______ ____ ______ _____ ___ _____ __________ ______ ___ __
medium. This always being the case, expediency allows one to
________ ____ ___________ __ ___ _________
"forget" that interaction is via personae. This is perhaps the
most difficult point to establish because it relies upon the
notion of "persona." Furthermore, it is the most critical point,
because it is on the level of the personae, not the users, upon
which Hobbes' _________
To review the notion of "persona," one must understand the
perspective of the user. From the user's standpoint, he or she
accesses Usenet because it satisfies some personal need that is,
it has utility. During the course of accessing, the user may
decide that writing an article, rather than exclusively reading,
will increase Usenet's utility. When the user drafts the article
it is probable that he or she has one or more recipient users in
mind. It is here that the notion of "persona" arises. If the
user thought about what information was used to create the
"image" of the recipient in mind, the user would discover that
surprisingly little is actually known. Yet, gender, stature,
appearance, intelligence, and other characteristics are somehow
attributed, sight unseen, to the recipient user. This is only
natural for the user to want to "fill in the blanks" which the
written medium leaves open. Moreover, if the user realized that
any information garnered about the recipient user was probably
unverified externally to Usenet, he or she should come to the
conclusion that the recipient user may bear little resemblance to
the user he or she has in mind.
This distinction between a user in Usenet and the "actual" user
in the external world is in the concept of "persona." Although
the user preparing to send the message may not realize it, as far
as other users are concerned, he or she is a persona as well.
Therefore, all users of Usenet interact with one another via
personae. Moreover, the personae are perceived to engage in a
range of pursuits which is derived from the words of the users.
For every exchange of articles at the level of the users, there
is an analogous "action" at the level of the personae.
Furthermore, the existence of the personae depends entirely upon
the users' willingness to continue accessing Usenet. With this
complex duality always present, it is often expedient for users
to "forget" the dichotomy between user and persona, but for the
purposes of this thesis, it can never be forgotten because it is
on the level of the personae upon which the concepts of _________
are established to operate.
3. ______ _____ _____ ____ ________ ___ _______ ______ _______
Hobbes helps prove that personae are persons within Usenet.
With the notion of "persona" having been established, it is
possible to establish a preliminary parallel to Hobbes' political
philosophy in _________
Leviathan. This is done by using Hobbes'
definition of "person" to prove that personae are indeed analogs
for persons in Usenet. This proof clears the way to apply
Hobbesian theory to personae rather than users.
4. ____ ________ ________ ____ _______ ________ ____ ___ __
Like persons, personae have powers, although they may be
different. During this stage of the discussion, further
parallels are drawn from Hobbes' "persons" to Usenet personae.
These parallels include the several powers which Hobbes suggests
are possessed in persons. Among these powers are "extraordinary
strength, form, prudence, arts, eloquence, liberality, and
nobility." From these powers of the external world, Usenet
analogs are developed to "fill in the blanks" or add form and
personality to the images of one another in the minds of all
users. Of these powers, "eloquence," is supreme in Usenet
because finesse in language is highly valued in a world of words.
5. _____ ___________ __ ______ __ ________ ___ ________ ____
Users participate in Usenet to maximize its utility, thus
_______ _________ __ ____ __ ____ _____________ ___ ________
persona existence is tied to user participation and utility.
Here the benefits of powers are examined by analyzing Hobbes'
relevant passages and developing Usenet analogs. It is
established that the personae, like persons, are inclined to
pursue "power after power" to insure their "present means." On
the level of the users, this pursuit of power is actually a
continuous cycle of statement and response intended to maximize
the utility of Usenet. Their reputations are the "collective
memory" of their participation in the cycle. As long as
continuous participation is provided by the users, the existence
of their personae is insured.
6. _____________ ___ ______ ___________ __ ______________
Participation may become contentious or uninteresting,
_______ __________ ________ _______ ___ ___________ ________
thereby decreasing Usenet's utility and threatening personae
__________ ________ _____ ___ ____________ _______ _____
existence; however, users can increasingly subject their
_____________ __ __________
participation to restraint. As a matter of participating in the
cycle of statement and response, users may encounter offensive or
insulting articles called "flames." These articles and others
which "clutter" the various newsgroups threaten the utility of
Usenet to the users. To bolster utility, users have several
alternatives other than moderation. They may ignore the
offensive or uninteresting articles, conform to the "netiquette"
standards of behavior, or block the display of "clutter" from
their screens. On the level of the personae, the "flames" are
perceived as "attacks" which ultimately threaten their existence.
In "fear of wounds, or death," they may be forced to surrender
themselves to the protection of a common power.
7. __ ________ ________ _______ ___ __ ________ ________
To maximize Usenet's utility and to maintain personae
__________ ____ _____ ___ ______ __ _____ _______ ______ __
existence, some users may decide to allow another person to
_______ __ ________ ___ ______ __ _____ ______________ ____
control or moderate the extent of their participation, thus
___________ __ __________ ___ _________ __ _____ _________
controlling or moderating the existence of their personae. In
this point, a sample cycle of statement and response is analyzed
leading to the discussion of moderation as the last resort to
coping with the "clutter" or "noise" in the newsgroups. On the
level of the personae, moderation represents the joint surrender
of their individual powers to common power for the purpose of
preserving their existence in a hostile environment.
The quantitative portion of this study raises provocative
questions regarding trends towards moderation in a forum hailed
by many as a "modemocracy" and a realization of the "global
village." A future study could track the frequency of the
Leviathan in Usenet over a period of several months. These data
could be contrasted with the failure of a completely moderated,
alternate to Usenet formerly known as "InModeration." Perhaps
the combination of moderated and unmoderated newsgroups in Usenet
points to the utility of "choice" and "freedom" which
"InModeration" might have underestimated. Additionally, refined
operationalization and a larger sample size might provide more
insight into the less obvious manifestations of the Leviathan in
Although this thesis has been limited to the Hobbesian
perspective on the origins of government, future researchers
should be encouraged to employ other theoretical visions to the
study of Usenet, or of the internet in general. The simple act
of searching for proof within the internet may more readily
fasten the theories' nuances in a student's mind than traditional
philosophical study. Where social studies were always possible,
internet studies present an equally complex, but more easily
observable, self-documenting society.
This theorist also recognizes and encourages the need for more
behavioral research. While normative study is valuable in its
own right, numerical analysis of internet society is needed. It
is important to know the distribution of the various degrees of
representation of users by personae, how the number of users
affects the generation of government, and the number and types
of and reasons for selecting one polity over another. These
lines of inquiry do not, of course, cover the entire range, but
they do suggest that the entirety of political science can
benefit from internet studies.
Political scientists are not the first social scientists to
explore this very new area. Current research in internet studies
reveals that insufficient ethical guidelines are available for
guiding research and there exists considerable debate over how to
proceed. For example, this researcher is the sole political
scientist on a large, research team which is investigating
computer mediated communication. Due to the global distances
between them, the researchers are represented by personae which
include scholars of English, communication, linguistics, theater,
sociology, and history. The qualitative portion of the research
involves content analysis of the communication of a specific
group of network individuals. Issues of privacy and intellectual
property have arisen. It is still an unresolved question whether
the research team should admonish the subjects and then seek
their permission for further study to be conducted. It is still
uncertain whether the study requires a human research waiver. It
is still debatable if this kind of analysis is closer to literary
criticism than behavioral science. It is still unknown whether
published research should give the subjects credit for their
statements or should withhold their names to protect their
identities. Despite these compelling questions, the computer
allows one to cross traditional boundaries--it enables the writer
to measure and the scientist to write--and to mix and combine
elements from previously disparate fields. The problems
described, of course, issue from the combination of scholars of
literature with social scientists. A solution probably lies in
acknowledging the unresolved nature of that combination once the
interdisciplinary novelty subsides. The point, however, is that
fertile ground for research has been uncovered and that the
process of how it should be tilled has begun. To miss the
opportunity to influence the process would be a major misfortune
for political science.
This section contains some of Gene Spafford's guidelines because
they may not be readily available to most readers. No permission
was obtained because the documents are freely distributable. The
guidelines are reprinted here in a smaller point size to preserve
their original format and page layout. Despite this
accommodation, there are still some formatting problems because
the margins in the original documents are much narrower than is
permitted in a thesis. Additionally, this appendix contains four
computer generated maps based on Brian Reid's ______ __________
Summary Report for April 9, 1991 and a glossary of technical
Original-from: chuq@sun.COM (Chuq Von Rospach)
[Most recent change: 7 September 1987 by email@example.com (Gene
A Primer on How to Work With the USENET Community
Chuq Von Rospach
*** You now have access to Usenet, a big network of thousands
computers. Other documents or your system administrator will
detailed technical documentation. This message describes the
culture and customs that have developed over time. All new
read this message to find out how Usenet works. ***
*** (Old users could read it, too, to refresh their memories.)
USENET is a large collection of computers that share data with
It is the people on these computers that make USENET worth the
for USENET to function properly those people must be able to
productive ways. This document is intended as a guide to using
the net in
ways that will be pleasant and productive for everyone.
This document is not intended to teach you how to use USENET.
is a guide to using it politely, effectively and efficiently.
Communication by computer is new to almost everybody, and there
certain aspects that can make it a frustrating experience until
used to them. This document should help you avoid the worst
The easiest way to learn how to use USENET is to watch how
others use it.
Start reading the news and try to figure out what people are
why. After a couple of weeks you will start understanding why
things are done and what things shouldn't be done. There are
available describing the technical details of how to use the
These are different depending on which programs you use to
news. You can get copies of these from your system
administrator. If you
do not know who that person is, they can be contacted on most
mailing to account "usenet".
Never Forget that the Person on the Other Side is
Because your interaction with the network is through a computer
it is easy
to forget that there are people "out there." Situations arise
emotions erupt into a verbal free-for-all that can lead to hurt
Please remember that people all over the world are reading your
not attack people if you cannot persuade them with your
the facts. Screaming, cursing, and abusing others only serves
people think less of you and less willing to help you when you
If you are upset at something or someone, wait until you have
had a chance
to calm down and think about it. A cup of coffee or a good
works wonders on your perspective. Hasty words create more
they solve. Try not to say anything to others you would not
say to them
in person in a room full of people.
Never say in ten words what you can say in fewer. Say it
it will have a greater impact. Remember that the longer you
article, the fewer people will bother to read it.
Your Postings Reflect Upon You -- Be Proud of Them
Most people on USENET will know you only by what you say and
how well you
say it. They may someday be your co-workers or friends. Take
to make sure each posting is something that will not embarrass
Minimize your spelling errors and make sure that the article is
read and understand. Writing is an art and to do it well
practice. Since much of how people judge you on the net is
based on your
writing, such time is well spent.
Use Descriptive Titles
The subject line of an article is there to enable a person with
amount of time to decide whether or not to read your article.
what the article is about before they read it. A title like
Sale" to rec.autos does not help as much as "66 MG Midget for
Beaverton OR." Don't expect people to read your article to find
it is about because many of them won't bother. Some sites
length of the subject line to 40 characters so keep your
and to the point.
Think About Your Audience
When you post an article, think about the people you are trying
reach. Asking UNIX(*) questions on rec.autos will not reach as
of the people you want to reach as if you asked them on
comp.unix.questions or comp.unix.wizards. Try to get the most
appropriate audience for your message, not the widest.
It is considered bad form to post both to misc.misc, soc.net-
or misc.wanted and to some other newsgroup. If it belongs in
other newsgroup, it does not belong in misc.misc, soc.net-
If your message is of interest to a limited geographic area
car sales, meetings, concerts, etc...), restrict the
distribution of the
message to your local area. Some areas have special newsgroups
geographical limitations, and the recent versions of the news
allow you to limit the distribution of material sent to world-
newsgroups. Check with your system administrator to see what
are available and how to use them.
If you want to try a test of something, do not use a world-wide
Messages in misc.misc that say "This is a test" are likely to
large numbers of caustic messages to flow into your mailbox.
newsgroups that are local to your computer or area that should
Your system administrator can tell you what they are.
Be Careful with Humor and Sarcasm
Without the voice inflections and body language of personal
communications, it is easy for a remark meant to be funny to be
misinterpreted. Subtle humor tends to get lost, so take steps
sure that people realize you are trying to be funny. The net
developed a symbol called the smiley face. It looks like ":-)"
out sections of articles with humorous intent. No matter how
humor or satire, it is safer to remind people that you are
But also be aware that quite frequently satire is posted
explicit indications. If an article outrages you strongly, you
should ask yourself if it just may have been unmarked satire.
Several self-proclaimed connoisseurs refuse to use smiley
take heed or you may make a temporary fool of yourself.
Only Post a Message Once
Avoid posting messages to more than one newsgroup unless you
it is appropriate. If you do post to multiple newsgroups, do
post to each group separately. Instead, specify all the groups
single copy of the message. This reduces network overhead and
people who subscribe to more than one of those groups see the
once instead of having to wade through each copy.
Please Rotate Messages With Questionable Content
Certain newsgroups (such as rec.humor) have messages in them
be offensive to some people. To make sure that these messages
not read unless they are explicitly requested, these messages
be encrypted. The standard encryption method is to rotate each
letter by thirteen characters so that an "a" becomes an "n".
known on the network as "rot13" and when you rotate a message
word "rot13" should be in the "Subject:" line. Most of the
used to read usenet articles have some way of encrypting and
decrypting messages. Your system administrator can tell you
software on your system works, or you can use the Unix command
[a-z][A-Z] [n-z][a-m][N-Z][A-M]". (Note that some versions of
don't require the  in the "tr" command. In fact, some
get upset if you use them in an unquoted manner. The following
should work for everyone, but may be shortened on some systems:
tr '[a-m][n-z][A-M][N-Z]' '[n-z][a-m][N-Z][A-M]'
Don't forget the single quotes!)
Summarize What You are Following Up
When you are following up someone's article, please summarize
the parts of
the article to which you are responding. This allows readers
appreciate your comments rather than trying to remember what
article said. It is also possible for your response to get to
before the original article.
Summarization is best done by including appropriate quotes from
original article. Do not include the entire article since it
irritate the people who have already seen it. Even if you are
to the entire article, summarize only the major points you are
When Summarizing, Summarize!
When you request information from the network, it is common
report your findings so that others can benefit as well. The
best way of
doing this is to take all the responses that you received and
into a single article that is posted to the places where you
posted your question. Take the time to strip headers, combine
information, and write a short summary. Try to credit the
the people that sent it to you, where possible.
Use Mail, Don't Post a Follow-up
One of the biggest problems we have on the network is that when
asks a question, many people send out identical answers. When
happens, dozens of identical answers pour through the net.
answer to the person and suggest that they summarize to the
way the net will only see a single copy of the answers, no
matter how many
people answer the question.
If you post a question, please remind people to send you the
mail and offer to summarize them to the network.
Read All Follow-ups and Don't Repeat What Has Already Been
Before you submit a follow-up to a message, read the rest of
in the newsgroup to see whether someone has already said what
you want to
say. If someone has, don't repeat it.
Be Careful About Copyrights and Licenses
Once something is posted onto the network, it is effectively in
domain. When posting material to the network, keep in mind
that is UNIX-related may be restricted by the license you or
signed with AT&T and be careful not to violate it. You should
aware that posting movie reviews, song lyrics, or anything else
under a copyright could cause you, your company, or the net
itself to be
held liable for damages, so we highly recommend caution in
Cite Appropriate References
If you are using facts to support a cause, state where they
Don't take someone else's ideas and use them as your own. You
someone pretending that your ideas are theirs; show them the
Mark or Rotate Answers and Spoilers
When you post something (like a movie review that discusses a
the plot) which might spoil a surprise for other people, please
message with a warning so that they can skip the message.
alternative would be to use the "rot13" protocol to encrypt the
it cannot be read accidentally. When you post a message with a
it make sure the word "spoiler" is part of the "Subject:" line.
Spelling Flames Considered Harmful
Every few months a plague descends on USENET called the
It starts out when someone posts an article correcting the
grammar in some article. The immediate result seems to be for
the net to turn into a 6th grade English teacher and pick apart
postings for a few weeks. This is not productive and tends to
people who used to be friends to get angry with each other.
It is important to remember that we all make mistakes, and that
many users on the net who use English as a second language. If
that you must make a comment on the quality of a posting,
please do so by
mail, not on the network.
Don't Overdo Signatures
Signatures are nice, and many people can have a signature added
postings automatically by placing it in a file called
Don't overdo it. Signatures can tell the world something about
keep them short. A signature that is longer than the message
considered to be in bad taste. The main purpose of a signature
is to help
people locate you on the net, not learn your life story. Every
should include your return address relative to a well known
site on the
network. Your system administrator can give this to you.
Summary of Things to Remember
Never forget that the person on the other side is human
Your postings reflect upon you; be proud of them
Use descriptive titles
Think about your audience
Be careful with humor and sarcasm
Only post a message once
Please rotate material with questionable content
Summarize what you are following up
Use mail, don't post a follow-up
Read all follow-ups and don't repeat what has already been
Be careful about copyrights and licenses
Cite appropriate references
When summarizing, summarize
Mark or rotate answers or spoilers
Spelling flames considered harmful
Don't overdo signatures
(*)UNIX is a registered trademark of AT&T.
This document is in the public domain and may be reproduced
excerpted by anyone wishing to do so.
Dept. of Computer Sciences, Purdue University, W. Lafayette IN
Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org uucp:
Original-from: email@example.com (Mark Horton)
[Most recent change: 17 September 1987 by firstname.lastname@example.org (Gene
This message describes some of the rules of conduct on Usenet.
vary depending on the newsgroup.
Some newsgroups are intended for discussions and some for
or queries. It is not usually a good idea to carry on
newsgroups that are designated otherwise. It is never a good
carry on "meta-discussions" about whether a given discussion is
appropriate -- such traffic mushrooms until nobody can find
that belong. If you are unhappy with what some user said, send
mail, don't post it.
Before posting, think about where your article is going. If it's
posted to a "comp", "news", "misc", "soc", "sci", "rec" or "talk"
newsgroup, it will probably go to the USA, Canada, Europe, Korea,
Australia. Certain articles are only of local interest (e.g.
ads) and it is inappropriate to post them to the whole world.
"Distribution" feature to restrict distribution to your local
you don't know how to use this feature, read "Frequently
Items" in another article in news.announce.newusers.
Don't post announcements regarding major news events (e.g. the
shuttle has just exploded!) to news groups. By the time most
receive such items, they will long since have been informed by
conventional media. If you wish to discuss such an event on the
use the "misc.headlines" newsgroup.
Announcement of professional products or services on Usenet is
however, since someone else is paying the phone bills for this,
important that it be of overall benefit to Usenet. Post to the
appropriate newsgroup -- comp.newprod -- never to a general
newsgroup such as "misc.misc". Clearly mark your article as a
announcement in the subject. Never repeat these -- one article
product at the most; preferably group everything into one
Advertising hype is especially frowned upon -- stick to technical
facts. Obnoxious or inappropriate announcements or articles
this policy will generally be rejected. This policy is, of
subject to change if it becomes a problem.
Some newsgroups are moderated. In these groups, you cannot post
directly, either by convention or because the software prevents
post to these newsgroups, send mail to the moderator. Examples:
Newsgroup Moderator Purpose
--------- --------- -------
news.announce.important cbosgd!announce Important announcements
comp.std.c cbosgd!std-c ANSI C standards
comp.std.unix ut-sally!std-unix ANSI Unix standards
comp.std.mumps plus5!std-mumps ANSI Mumps standards
comp.unix cbosgd!unix Discussion of Unix*
features and bugs
Some newsgroups have special purpose rules:
news.announce.importantModerated, no direct postings, important
misc.wanted Queries, "I want an x", "Anyone want my x?".
discussions. Don't post to more than one
Use the smallest appropriate wanted
(e.g. used car
ads to nj.wanted.)
Requests for sources, termcaps,
etc. should go to the
rec.humor Clean humor only; anything offensive
must be rotated;
no discussions -- humor only.
Discussions go in
rec.arts.movies Don't post anything revealing part of a
without marking it (spoiler) in the
rec.arts.* Same as movies -- mark spoilers in
the subject line.
news.groups Discussions about new groups: whether to
them and what to call them. Don't
votes, mail them to the author
misc.test Use the smallest test group
"test" or "ucb.test". Say in the
body of the
message what you are testing.
It is perfectly legal to reproduce short extracts of a
for critical purposes, but reproduction in whole is strictly and
explicitly forbidden by US and international copyright law.
there would be no way for the artist to make money, and there
thus be less motive for people to go to the trouble of making
available at all. The crime of theft is as serious in this
any other, even though you may not have to pick locks, mask your
or conceal merchandise.)
All opinions or statements made in messages posted to Usenet
taken as the opinions of the person who wrote the message. They
necessarily represent the opinions of the employer of that
owner of the computer from which the message was posted, or
involved with Usenet or the underlying networks of which Usenet
up. All responsibility for statements made in Usenet messages
with the individual posting the message.
Posting of information on Usenet is to be viewed as similar to
publication. Because of this, do not post instructions for how
some illegal act (such as jamming radar or obtaining cable TV
illegally); also do not ask how to do illegal acts by posting to
If you have a standard signature you like to append to your
put it in a file called .signature in your home directory.
and "inews" will automatically append it to your article. Please
your signatures concise, as people do not appreciate seeing
signatures, nor paying the phone bills to repeatedly transmit
or 3 lines are usually plenty. Sometimes it is also appropriate
another line or two for addresses on other major networks where
be reached (e.g., ARPA, CSnet, Bitnet). Long signatures are
definitely frowned upon. DO NOT include drawings, pictures,
other graphics in your signature -- it is not the appropriate
for such material and viewed as rude by other readers.
If you post an article and remember something you've left out or
realize you've made a factual error, you can cancel the article
cancelled quickly enough) prevent its distribution. Then you can
correct whatever was wrong and post a new copy. In "rn" and
"readnews", an article that you posted can be cancelled with the
command. Be aware, however, that some people may have already
incorrect version so the sooner you cancel something, the better.
Dept. of Computer Sciences, Purdue University, W. Lafayette IN
Internet: email@example.com uucp:
Original-from: firstname.lastname@example.org (A. Jeff Offutt VI)
[Most recent change: 7 September 1987 by email@example.com (Gene
I would like to take a moment to share some of my knowledge of
style. If you read the pointers below, remember: it's easy to
that they make sense but it's much harder to apply them.
Cunningham and Pearsall, "How to Write For the World of Work"
Strunk & White, "Elements of Style"
The above references are both excellent books. Cunningham is a
standard in Tech writing classes and won an award for the best
writing book from the Association for Teaching of Technical
was lucky enough to take a class from him as an undergraduate.
is a standard in college composition classes. Other ideas here
from my own experience on the net and hints from other people.
This is a "long article". The rest of it is simply a list of
* Write *below* the readers' reading level. The avg. person in
reads on a 5th grade level. The avg. professional reads on
about the 12th
* Keep paragraphs short and sweet. Keep sentences shorter and
This means "concise," not cryptic.
* White space is not wasted space -- it greatly improves
* Pick your words to have only *one* meaning. Vagueness is
artistic by literary critics. We are not being literary here.
* People can only grasp about seven things at once. This means
ideas in a
paragraph, major sections, etc..
* There are several variations on any one sentence. A passive,
or negative sentence takes longer to read.
* Subtlety is not communicated well in written form - especially
* The above applies to humor as well. (rec.humor, of course, not
* When being especially "flame-boyant", I find it helpful to go
before actually sending. Then, I often change the tone
* Subject lines should be used very carefully. How much time
wasted reading articles with a misleading subject line?
* References need to be made. When you answer mail, you have
message fresh in your mind. When I receive your answer, I
* It's *much* easier to read a mixture of upper and lower case
* Leaving out articles (such as "the," "a," "an," etc.) for
mangles the meaning of your sentences and takes longer to
read. It saves
you time at the expense of your reader.
* Be careful of contextual meanings of words. For instance, I
just now. In the context of netnews, it has a different
meaning than I
* Remember - this is an international network.
* Remember - your future employers may be reading your articles.
These pointers are all easily supported by arguments and
There's a lot more to say, but....
Dept. of Computer Sciences, Purdue University, W. Lafayette IN
Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org uucp:
email@example.com (Brad Templeton)
Last-change: 30 Nov 91 by firstname.lastname@example.org (Brad Templeton)
**NOTE: this is intended to be satirical. If you do not
it as such, consult a doctor or professional comedian. The
recommendations in this article should recognized for what
they are -- admonitions about what NOT to do.
"Dear Emily Postnews"
Emily Postnews, foremost authority on proper net behaviour,
gives her advice on how to act on the net.
Dear Miss Postnews: How long should my signature be? --
A: Dear Verbose: Please try and make your signature as long as
can. It's much more important than your article, of course, so
to have more lines of signature than actual text.
Try to include a large graphic made of ASCII characters, plus
cute quotes and slogans. People will never tire of reading these
pearls of wisdom again and again, and you will soon become
associated with the joy each reader feels at seeing yet another
delightful repeat of your signature.
Be sure as well to include a complete map of USENET with each
signature, to show how anybody can get mail to you from any site
the world. Be sure to include Internet gateways as well. Also
people on your own site how to mail to you. Give independent
addresses for Internet, UUCP, and BITNET, even if they're all the
Aside from your reply address, include your full name, company
organization. It's just common courtesy -- after all, in some
newsreaders people have to type an *entire* keystroke to go back
the top of your article to see this information in the header.
By all means include your phone number and street address in
single article. People are always responding to usenet articles
phone calls and letters. It would be silly to go to the extra
of including this information only in articles that need a
Dear Emily: Today I posted an article and forgot to include my
signature. What should I do? -- forgetful@myvax
A: Dear Forgetful: Rush to your terminal right away and post an
article that says, "Oops, I forgot to post my signature with that
article. Here it is."
Since most people will have forgotten your earlier article,
(particularly since it dared to be so boring as to not have a
juicy signature) this will remind them of it. Besides, people
much more about the signature anyway. See the previous letter
more important details.
Also, be sure to include your signature TWICE in each article.
way you're sure people will read it.
Dear Ms. Postnews: I couldn't get mail through to somebody on
site. What should I do? -- email@example.com
A: Dear Eager: No problem, just post your message to a group that
lot of people read. Say, "This is for John Smith. I couldn't
mail through so I'm posting it. All others please ignore."
This way tens of thousands of people will spend a few seconds
over and ignoring your article, using up over 16 man-hours their
collective time, but you will be saved the terrible trouble of
checking through Usenet maps or looking for alternate routes.
think, if you couldn't distribute your message to 30,000 other
computers, you might actually have to (gasp) call directory
for 60 cents, or even phone the person. This can cost as much as
few DOLLARS (!) for a 5 minute call!
And certainly it's better to spend 10 to 20 dollars of other
money distributing the message then for you to have to waste $9
overnight letter, or even 29 cents on a stamp!
Don't forget. The world will end if your message doesn't get
so post it as many places as you can.
Q: What about a test message?
A: It is important, when testing, to test the entire net. Never
merely a subnet distribution when the whole net can be done.
"please ignore" on your test messages, since we all know that
everybody always skips a message with a line like that. Don't
subject like "My sex is female but I demand to be addressed as
because such articles are read in depth by all USEnauts.
Q: Somebody just posted that Roman Polanski directed Star Wars.
should I do?
A: Post the correct answer at once! We can't have people go on
believing that! Very good of you to spot this. You'll probably
the only one to make the correction, so post as soon as you can.
time to lose, so certainly don't wait a day, or check to see if
somebody else has made the correction.
And it's not good enough to send the message by mail. Since
the only one who really knows that it was Francis Coppola, you
inform the whole net right away!
Q: I read an article that said, "reply by mail, I'll summarize."
should I do?
A: Post your response to the whole net. That request applies
dumb people who don't have something interesting to say. Your
postings are much more worthwhile than other people's, so it
a waste to reply by mail.
Q: I collected replies to an article I wrote, and now it's time
summarize. What should I do?
A: Simply concatenate all the articles together into a big file
post that. On USENET, this is known as a summary. It lets
read all the replies without annoying newsreaders getting in the
Do the same when summarizing a vote.
Q: I saw a long article that I wish to rebut carefully, what
A: Include the entire text with your article, particularly the
signature, and include your comments closely packed between the
Be sure to post, and not mail, even though your article looks
reply to the original. Everybody *loves* to read those long
point-by-point debates, especially when they evolve into name-
and lots of "Is too!" -- "Is not!" -- "Is too, twizot!"
Be sure to follow-up everything, and never let another person get
the last word on a net debate. Why, if people let other people
the last word, then discussions would actually stop! Remember,
net readers aren't nearly as clever as you, and if somebody posts
something wrong, the readers can't possibly realize that on their
without your elucidations. If somebody gets insulting in their
postings, the best response is to get right down to their level
fire a return salvo. When I read one net person make an
attack on another, I always immediately take it as gospel unless
rebuttal is posted. It never makes me think less of the
it's your duty to respond.
Q: How can I choose what groups to post in?
A: Pick as many as you can, so that you get the widest audience.
After all, the net exists to give you an audience. Ignore those
suggest you should only use groups where you think the article is
highly appropriate. Pick all groups where anybody might even be
Always make sure followups go to all the groups. In the rare
that you post a followup which contains something original, make
you expand the list of groups. Never include a "Followup-to:"
the header, since some people might miss part of the valuable
discussion in the fringe groups.
Q: How about an example?
A: Ok. Let's say you want to report that Gretzky has been traded
the Oilers to the Kings. Now right away you might think
rec.sport.hockey would be enough. WRONG. Many more people might
interested. This is a big trade! Since it's a NEWS article, it
belongs in the news.* hierarchy as well. If you are a news
there is one on your machine, try news.admin. If not, use
The Oilers are probably interested in geology, so try
He is a big star, so post to sci.astro, and sci.space because
also interested in stars. And of course comp.dcom.telecom
was born in the birthplace of the telephone. And because he's
Canadian, post to soc.culture.Ontario.southwestern. But that
doesn't exist, so cross-post to news.groups suggesting it should
created. With this many groups of interest, your article will be
quite bizarre, so post to talk.bizarre as well. (And post to
comp.std.mumps, since they hardly get any articles there, and a
group will propagate your article further.)
You may also find it is more fun to post the article once in each
group. If you list all the newsgroups in the same article, some
newsreaders will only show the the article to the reader once!
Q: How do I create a newsgroup?
A: The easiest way goes something like "inews -C newgroup ....",
while that will stir up lots of conversation about your new
it might not be enough.
First post a message in news.groups describing the group. This
"call for discussion." (If you see a call for discussion,
post a one line message saying that you like or dislike the
When proposing the group, pick a name with a TLA (three-letter
acronym) that will be understood only by "in" readers of the
After the call for discussion, post the call for flames, followed
call for arguments about the name and a call for run-on puns.
Eventually make a call for "votes." USENET is a democracy, so
can now all post their votes to ensure they get to all 30,000
instead of just the person counting. Every few days post a long
summary of all the votes so that people can complain about bad
and double votes. It means you'll be more popular and get lots
mail. At the end of 21 days you can post the vote results so
people can argue about all the technical violations of the
you made. Blame them on the moderator-of-the-week for
news.announce.newgroups. Then your group might be created.
To liven up discussion, choose a good cross-match for your
and group. For example, comp.race.formula1 or soc.vlsi.design
be good group names. If you want your group created quickly,
an interesting word like "sex" or "activism." To avoid limiting
discussion, make the name as broad as possible, and don't forget
If possible, count votes from a leaf site with a once-a-week
connection to botswanavax. Schedule the vote during your relay
head crash if possible.
Under no circumstances use the trial group method, because it
eliminates the discussion, flame, pun, voting and guideline-
accusation phases, thus taking all the fun out of it. To create
ALT group, simply issue the creation command. Then issue an
and some more newgroup messages to save other netters the trouble
doing that part.
Q: I cant spell worth a dam. I hope your going too tell me what
A: Don't worry about how your articles look. Remember it's the
message that counts, not the way it's presented. Ignore the fact
sloppy spelling in a purely written forum sends out the same
messages that soiled clothing would when addressing an audience.
Q: How should I pick a subject for my articles?
A: Keep it short and meaningless. That way people will be forced
actually read your article to find out what's in it. This means
bigger audience for you, and we all know that's what the net is
If you do a followup, be sure and keep the same subject, even if
totally meaningless and not part of the same discussion. If you
don't, you won't catch all the people who are looking for stuff
original topic, and that means less audience for you.
Q: What sort of tone should I take in my article?
A: Be as outrageous as possible. If you don't say outlandish
and fill your article with libelous insults of net people, you
stick out enough in the flood of articles to get a response. The
insane your posting looks, the more likely it is that you'll get
of followups. The net is here, after all, so that you can get
If your article is polite, reasoned and to the point, you may
mailed replies. Yuck!
Q: The posting software suggested I had too long a signature and
many lines of included text in my article. What's the best
A: Such restrictions were put in the software for no reason at
don't even try to figure out why they might apply to your
Turns out most people search the net to find nice articles that
consist of the complete text of an earlier article plus a few
In order to help these people, fill your article with dummy
lines to get past the restrictions. Everybody will thank you for
For your signature, I know it's tough, but you will have to read
with the editor. Do this twice to make sure it's firmly in
the way, to show your support for the free distribution of
information, be sure to include a copyright message forbidding
transmission of your article to sites whose USENET politics you
Also, if you do have a lot of free time and want to trim down the
in your article, be sure to delete some of the attribution lines
that it looks like the original author of -- say -- a plea for
peace actually wrote the followup calling for the nuking of
Q: They just announced on the radio that the United States has
Iraq. Should I post?
A: Of course. The net can reach people in as few as 3 to 5 days.
It's the perfect way to inform people about such news events long
after the broadcast networks have covered them. As you are
the only person to have heard the news on the radio, be sure to
as soon as you can.
Q: I have this great joke. You see, these three strings walk
A: Oh dear. Don't spoil it for me. Submit it to rec.humor, and
it to the moderator of rec.humor.funny at the same time. I'm
he's never seen that joke.
Q: What computer should I buy? An Atari ST or an Amiga?
A: Cross post that question to the Atari and Amiga groups. It's
interesting and novel question that I am sure they would love to
investigate in those groups. There is no need to read the groups
advance or examine the "frequently asked question" lists to see
topic has already been dealt with. In fact, you don't need to
the group at all, and you can tell people that in your query.
Q: What about other important questions? How should I know when
A: Always post them. It would be a big waste of your time to
knowledgeable user in one of the groups and ask through private
if the topic has already come up. Much easier to bother
people with the same question.
Q: Somebody just posted a query to the net, and I want to get the
answer too. What should I do?
A: Immediately post a following, including the complete text of
query. At the bottom add, "Me too!" If somebody else has done
follow up their article and add "Me three," or whatever number is
appropriate. Don't forget your full signature. After all, if
just mail the original poster and ask for a copy of the answers,
will simply clutter the poster's mailbox, and save people who do
answer the question the joyful duty of noting all the "me (n)s"
sending off all the multiple copies.
Q: What is the measure of a worthwhile group?
A: Why, it's Volume, Volume, Volume. Any group that has lots of
in it must be good. Remember, the higher the volume of material
group, the higher percentage of useful, factual and insightful
articles you will find. In fact, if a group can't demonstrate a
enough volume, it should be deleted from the net.
Q: Emily, I'm having a serious disagreement with somebody on the
I tried complaints to his sysadmin, organizing mail campaigns,
for his removal from the net and phoning his employer to get him
fired. Everybody laughed at me. What can I do?
A: Go to the daily papers. Most modern reporters are top-notch
computer experts who will understand the net, and your problems,
perfectly. They will print careful, reasoned stories without any
errors at all, and surely represent the situation properly to the
public. The public will also all act wisely, as they are also
cognizant of the subtle nature of net society.
Papers never sensationalize or distort, so be sure to point out
like racism and sexism wherever they might exist. Be sure as
that they understand that all things on the net, particularly
are meant literally. Link what transpires on the net to the
the Holocaust, if possible. If regular papers won't take the
go to a tabloid paper -- they are always interested in good
By arranging all this free publicity for the net, you'll become
well known. People on the net will wait in eager anticipation
your every posting, and refer to you constantly. You'll get more
than you ever dreamed possible -- the ultimate in net success.
Q: What does foobar stand for?
A: It stands for you, dear.
Software Engineering Research Center & Dept. of Computer Sciences
Purdue University, W. Lafayette IN 47907-1398
Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org phone: (317) 494-7825
Address: If a computer is multiuser or belongs to a network,
addresses are used to differentiate the various users. An
address is often the user's name, such as "rich" or
"spartan." To differentiate between the "rich" using
"SJSUVM1" and the "rich" using "portal," an addressing scheme
is used, e.g., "rich@portal." This is pronounced "rich at
portal." This form of addressing is known as "internet-
style." Other forms of addressing exist, such as
"portal!rich," but internet-style addressing is emerging as
the standard form of address across networks.
Bulletin board system: Also known as "BBS." See "conferencing."
Computer: At its most basic level, it is an electronic device
capable of carrying out millions of instructions per second.
The instructions it executes are determined by its
programming or software. The software enables the computer
to performs tasks such as word processing, numerical
calculation and communication.
Conferencing: This is a form of electronic mail which requires a
specialized type of communication software. Rather than
being sent to a specific user, a message is distributed
across the network or internet as an open letter. These open
letters are organized by the conferencing software into
categories of interest, such as "cat lovers" and "Italian
culture." Users subscribe only to the categories that
interest them and ignore the rest. Tens of thousands of
personal computers around the world are dedicated to
providing conferences between their users. Known as
"bulletin board systems" or BBS's, they provide a important
source of information for users with similar interests. Some
BBS's belong to a network of BBS's using the same
conferencing software. This allows local users to
"conference" with users at other sites.
E-mail: Users can send written messages to one another using a
special form of communication software called electronic
mail. Provided that both users' sites have electronic mail
and that both sites belong to gatewayed networks, electronic
mail is an amazingly fast and efficient way for users to
communicate. The Internet network (not to be confused with
the general term "internet") spans the globe and transmits
mail between sites within seconds. Slower networks, such as
Fidonet, can take hours or even days. Mail delivery is
limited by the speed of the slowest network along the
delivery route. For example, if a machine is a gateway
between the Internet and the Fidonet networks, mail can take
seconds to reach the gateway via the Internet and then a few
days to reach its destination site within Fidonet.
Feed: The Usenet connection between two sites. The site that
provides the connection "feeds" the site that wants it.
Fidonet: A network of personal computers running the Fido
bulletin board system software.
Gateway: A computer that belongs to at least two networks and is
registered with each network's NIC. A gateway computer
allows users and computers from one side of the gateway to
communicate with users and computers on the other side. A
machine serving as a gateway to several networks can be a
sort of network hub. The proliferation of gateway sites has
facilitated the linking of previously isolated networks. The
global community of linked networks is known as the
Internet: The internet is the global community of linked
networks. It is essentially a network of networks. The
National Science Foundation's network or NSFNet is
confusingly known as the Internet. The Internet is a high-
speed network linking the nation's military and research
institutions with corporations and foreign institutions
around the world. While only a part of the internet, the
Internet is considered its backbone because of its high-speed
connectivity. Because of increasing demand for commercial
access, the Internet is being restructured as the National
Research and Education Network (NREN). Management for this
new network will be contracted out to a consortium of private
Kill file: Blocks the display of the articles originating from
the users and sites listed in the file.
Moderation: A moderated newsgroups requires all users to seek
approval prior to posting an article.
Multiuser: See "user."
Networks: One or more computers linked for the purpose of
communicating or of sharing resources such as printers and
Newsgroup: The categories of discussion available via Usenet.
There are currently approximately 4,000.
Site: This is another term for a computer. Most often it is
associated with multiuser computers or computers in a
network. Sites have names such as "SJSUVM1," "sjsumcs," and
"portal." These names are used to differentiate one computer
in a network from another. A similar term is "node." A node
almost always refers to a computer in a network.
System Administrator: Each user is regulated by his site or
system administrator and each administrator relies upon his
neighboring site administrators for connectivity within the
network. Generally, the administrator is liable for the
actions of his users, but there is a debate over the extent
of this liability.
Usenet: The largest conferencing system in the world. The
Usenet software is used by sites within the UUCP network. It
is composed of an estimated 10 million users at one million
sites whose messages are divided into over a thousand
categories called "newsgroups." It is claimed that its
volume of messages is doubling every two months. To
participate in Usenet, a site must have Usenet software and
be a node within UUCP or the Internet. Usenet messages can
spread to other networks via gateways. These gateways
convert messages to the format used by their own network's
conferencing software. In this manner, Fidonet users can
receive Usenet messages as Fido "echoes," as they are called
in the Fidonet conferencing jargon.
User: The person who operates the computer. The user operates
the computer via software. The user interacts with the
software usually via a keyboard, video monitor and printer.
A "single-user machine" is a computer that can only
accommodate one user at a time. A "multiuser machine" is a
computer that can interact with several users simultaneously.
This implies that the computer has more than one keyboard or
point of interaction. A point of interaction is commonly
known as a terminal.
Blum, Deborah. "Studies on Beauty Raise a Number of Ugly
Findings." ___ _________ ________
San Francisco Examiner. 16 February 1992, B10.
Bowle, John. ______ ___ ___ _______
Hobbes and His Critics. New York: Barnes and
Noble, Inc., 1969.
Eachard, John. ___ _______ _____ __ ______ __________
Mr. Hobbs's State of Nature Considered.
Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 1958.
Frey, Donnalyn and Rick Adams. _____ _ _________ __ __________
!%@:: A Directory of Electronic
____ __________ _ ________
Mail Addressing & Networks. Sebastopol, California:
O'Reilly and Associates, 1990.
Galvin, Christopher J. "Micropopulists Speak Up." __________
Magazine, July 1991, 12.
Hobbes, Thomas. __________
Leviathan. Edited by Michael Oakeshott. New
York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1962.
James, D.G. ___ ____ __ ______
The Life of Reason. London, New York, and Toronto:
Longmans, Green and Co., 1949.
Horton, Mark. Untitled. Part of a series of documents compiled
and distributed by Gene Spafford, news.announce.newusers
Usenet newsgroup, 1987.
O'Brien, Michael. "Playing in the MUD." _________ ________
May 1992, 19.
Offut, A. Jeff. Untitled. Part of a series of documents
compiled and distributed by Gene Spafford,
news.announce.newusers Usenet newsgroup, 1987.
Reid, Brian. ______ __________ _______ ______
Usenet Readership Summary Report. Palo Alto,
California: Network Measurement Project at the DEC Western
Research Laboratory, March 1992.
Reid, Elizabeth. "Electropolis: Communication and Community on
Internet Relay Chat." thesis, University of Melbourne,
Ross, Ralph, Herbert W. Schneider, and Theodore Waldman, eds.
______ ______ __ ___ ____
Thomas Hobbes in His Time. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1974.
SRI International, _________ _______ _______
Internet: Getting Started. Menlo Park,
California: SRI International, Network Information Systems
Brad Templeton. ____ _____ ________
Dear Emily Postnews. Part of a series of
documents compiled and distributed by Gene Spafford,
news.announce.newusers Usenet newsgroup, 1991.
Tuck, Richard. ______
Hobbes. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1989.
Von Rospach, Chuq. _ ______ __ ___ __ ____ ____ ___ ______
A Primer on How to Work with the Usenet
Community. Part of a series of documents distributed by
Gene Spafford, news.announce.newusers Usenet newsgroup,
Warrender, Howard. ___ _________ __________ __ ______
The Political Philosophy of Hobbes. Oxford:
Oxford UP (Clarendon), 1957.
Wolin, Sheldon. ________ ___ ______
Politics and Vision. Boston: Little, Brown and