2 Posts Per Day = A Restriction on Free Speech?

One of the cornerstone characteristics of E-Democracy.Org issues forums, has always been that we limit each participant to 2 post per day (which is now 2 posts per 24 hours). Our goal has always been to encourage as many different people as possible to participate and early on we choose to accomplish this by putting some restriction on the volume of participation by any individual participant.

Another way of thinking about this is to assume that there is a limit on the number of posts that any one forum can constructively manage, by limiting the number of post that any one individual can make, we like to think that we are making it possible for more people to participate in the discussion.

We also believe, that elected officials in general are more interested in participating in discussions/forums with broad participation, rather than hearing from the same people, lots of times.

This 2 post per day rule has always been controversial and runs counter to what many folks feel that an internet discussion should be. YET, we continue to believe that our 2 post per day rule has been a key factor in the success of our forums as “meaningful” spaces for public participation.

Recently, the steering committee for the Brighton & Hove Issues Forum did a survey to guage support for this rule. Several members of their forum have vocally opposed the rule since the inception of the forum and members of the steering committee wanted to see what others thought.

    “Two Mail Limit” – March 2, 2006
    “two post limit, reply off list by default” – September 29, 2006

When asked about what the limit should be, the survey results were (roughly):

    20 = Leave limit as is (2 posts per 24 hours)
    13 = Double the limit
    7 = Remove the limit completely
    3 = Provided alternative options for a small increase in posts

That came to a total of about 43 votes (from about 250 participants). While the vote/survey was non-binding, the Brighton & Hove steering committee decided that a majority of those responding did desire some kind of change. So, the decision was to double the limit to 4 posts per 24 hours on a three month trial basis. The decision will be reviewed in April to see what kind of effect it has on the forum.

We’re watching this experiment with great anticipation to see, what kind of effect this change will have on their forum. We’d love to hear what other people think about putting “posting limits” on participation in a public forum?

6 thoughts on “2 Posts Per Day = A Restriction on Free Speech?”

  1. The 2 post a day limit doesn’t impose on me at all, unlike the “reply to sender” default which seems to dampen the development of persistent group discussions. So it’s interesting that you’ve amended a policy after taking a vote, but to me it’s on the wrong issue.

  2. I think one of the key aspects of the two posts a day rule is that it allows a forum to grow beyond 400 members with a reduced message volume so the forum doesn’t implode.

    Both Brighton and Newham are under that size so the virtue of the locally set rule is probably obscure.

    Two or perhaps three within 24 hours also reduces the chance that two individuals will rapidly escalate into a flame war within hours.

    I’ve also wondered if the limit on message volume makes our political forums more equitable for most female speaking styles. If most online political forum posts are 10 to 1 male. I am guessing that Brighton, Minneapolis, and St. Paul are about 30% female. If Brighton goes the other way during the test, that will be an important lesson.

    Ultimately, the local charters (where the posting volume is set) and universal civility rules are designed to create agenda-setting forums where the discussions influence local citizens, media, and decision-makers. It is quite possible that the ideal rules designed in the interest of the most frequent posters runs counter to our ulitimate goal and mission.

    Designing rules to ensure that the forum is “lurker” or less frequent poster friendly in my opinion gives it much more power and relevance. Sounds like a research challenge. 🙂

    Steven Clift
    Board Chair, E-Democracy.Org
    P.S. Andy, our decade long idea has always been that being “public” needed to be an affirmative choice. We want to avoid mistaken messages to all. We do need to point out that you must press “reply-to-all” in our welcome and future monthly reminder posts. Also, what we really need in Newham and other newer forums is a coordinated and aggressive recruitment drive. With 400 members this setting might make a lot more sense.

  3. Yeah, thanks for the little PS Steven.
    I am of course familar with the arguments for reply to sender, and I don’t agree with them. People have already made an affirmative choice to be public when they join a public forum. On the other hand the reply to sender default is more suitable to private networking type of communication rather than group discussion.
    The fear of accident is a red herring which discloses a predisposition towards privacy rather than openness and the 400 number is arbitrary. Yahoogroups is probably the largest system of e-groups and many of them seem to work quite healthily with reply-to-group and over 1000 subscribers. And before the web, we had Usenet with undisclosed numbers of subscribers to each group, but reply-to-group set as default in all variations of newsreader software, and many subscribers coping with up to 200 messages per day in high traffic groups. I’ve been subscribed to a couple of majordomo e-groups which switched from reply-to-group to reply-to-sender at the dictat of the group owner and in both cases the traffic subsequently declined from a healthy series of ongoing overlapping topic discussions into sporadic postings with periods of inactivity such that the new visitor will find a dead group and move on. In other words, reply-to-sender artificially maintains an effectively less-than-critical mass.
    But I guess you will carry on insisting on sticking with the decade long idea, after all they are your groups and sufficiently lurker friendly that we could all become lurkers with nothing to lurk in. Thousands of youth in newham have myspace and facebook accounts, but are in my opinion extremely unlikely to adopt the practice of denying spontaneity and consciousy complying with counter intuitive instructions to try and make a seriously uncool medium work for social groups. Is it deliberate policy to disenfranchise them in order not to embarrass the occasional big wig who doesn’t know what he’s doing?

  4. Why not 2 replies per thread per 24 hours?

    I think it’s a good idea to discourage people with more time on their hands from dominating a debate by flooding it with posts, but what if on a certain day 3 people start threads that I want to respond to? I would have to choose which of these threads I would forsake responding to, which is obviously detrimental to that particularly debate. But if I had 2 posts per thread then although I would have a total 0f 6 posts that day I wouldnt be able to flood any of the seperate threads.

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