Safe Mailing list

From Gender and Tech Resources

How can we set up a secure mailing list? Should our mailing list apply social rules, moderation and netiquette? How can we administrate mailing lists so that they are safe spaces for discussion and exchange?

Setting up a Safe Space Mailing list

Mailing lists are one of the oldest forms of social networks, allowing a group to discuss and organise, to share information, exchange video, audio and pictures. A mailing list is a list of addresses to which the same information is being sent. The most common types of mailing lists are announcement lists and discussion lists. The below section will help you in the steps to setting up a safe space mailing list.

Case study: Techie Feminist Mailing lists

FemTechNet Fembot Queer Geek Feminism Femmehack TransHackFeminist GTI Participants Ada initiative mailing list Lady tech mafia Cyberfeministas


If you have decided that you need a secure communication channel for your collective and that you do not want to use corporate services, there are many alternative services to choose from that are recommended for human rights defenders. For example: Riseup, Aktivix or Autistici/Inventati (A/I Collective), all those options are free but they still prioritise security and user privacy.

Riseup is a tech collective which provides secure communication tools for people working on liberatory social change. They have many feminist and queer oriented lists and therefore are a great collective to host your mailing list. To see some of the existing public mailing lists go to:

Other tech collectives also offer mailing-lists and email addresses. Autistici/Inventati (A/I Collective) and Aktivix are two other great examples, and the former also offers a dedicated newsletter service for groups that want to send regular news to a high number of recipients. To read about their services visit Autistici lists and Aktivix lists information.

Open or closed list

Once you are ready to create your mailing list you need to decide whether it will be an open or closed list. An open list allows anyone to subscribe, receive announcements or participate in the discussion. A list becomes really public when it is advertised to the world and anyone can request subscription. For example the mailing list run by FemTechNet.

But a list mustn't be necessarily publicized and can be run on a need-to-know basis. In other words, you can choose not to advertise your list publicly and to keep it invitation-only. You could have for instance a publicized list which is closed i.e. a list that people know about (literally everyone!), but which requires approval as mentioned above. A closed list is limited to the subscribed email addresses that will have been approved by you or your collective. In deciding what is best, check if choosing to keep a list open to new subscriptions automatically implies that the archives of the list are available to anyone on the web and will eventually end up on search engines (such as Google). In some cases, as in the mailing list service offered by Riseup, the archives of a closed list are only accessible to those who have the subscription password while the archives of a closed list can be accessed by everybody. In other cases, as A/I's platform you can choose whether you keep the archives public or not independently of your choice to keep your list open to new subscriptions.

If you intend to talk about sensitive issues (and talking about feminist related topics is often a sensitive issue!) or if trust within the group is important for creating your safe space, you might want to set up a closed list and to keep your archives closed. If you do choose to leave your archives accessible, it is important to inform everyone subscribed to the list that any delicate topic or personal detail that pops up in your discussions will be potentially visible to anybody.

Invitations and new additions

Once you have your list set up, start inviting people. If friends are suggesting to add more people to the list, ask them to explain to the list the reasons why such and such person should be added. If you get a green light from your collective, add this person to your mailing list. Working through the web of trust is a good practice to follow when setting up a mailing list. Also, make sure you have a discussion on who can be part of this list. If you set up a feminist list, who can be part of this list? Do you for instance allow feminist men to be part of the list? If so, will you be setting up a policy for your list on the acceptable behavior? (See below for how to set up a policy) These are important questions that you need to discuss with your group. But don’t be too harsh on yourself and your group and know that you can always revisit these decisions if at some point you and your collective feel you want to change your collective mailing list agreement.

Mailing list policies

Agreeing on a mailing list policy from the start will save you a lot of time and difficult conversations. Publishing your policy and the ways in which to report violations of the policy, even if it is a closed list, might be helpful in creating the online safe space you want everyone to enjoy. The policy can provide guidelines for everyone using the list, on how to behave. It can address tensions like the fact that expression of emotion is an important feminist principle, but losing your temper and attacking someone you don't agree with on the list is not ok.

Having a visible and explicit policy will send a strong signal of the value of creating a safe space on a mailing list. The geekfeminism wiki is a great example of a women-only policy for online communities. They also have a similar policy or agreement for online communities that includes men. Check them out and adapt them to your needs, beliefs and desires.

To make sure that the policy does not get forgotten, you can regularly remind it to the subscribers. The Ada Initiative mailing list, for example, adds a link to each email sent on the list. Below is what you see:

Policies for behavior on this list: Contact to report violations Please avoid gendered assumptions and language about the list as a whole (eg "XX", "ovaries", "ladies") To subscribe, go to:

Administration and moderation

Administering the list involves handling subscriptions and moderating content. One person can be responsible for doing it but if your list suddenly becomes very chatty, this might be too demanding for just one person to do. You can also choose to have more than one administrator of the list. A list can even be collectively managed. As a general rule, moderation has three main goals. First, a well-moderated community will be more productive and efficient in generating and distributing valuable information and knowledge to its members (subscribers). Moderation will also increase the accessibility and openness of online communities enabling respectful dialogue among its members. Finally, a good moderation will do its work making as few demands as possible on the infrastructure and on participants.

Before trying to figure out which moderation better suits you, you should think about internet access and expectations from list members. Depending on where you are located, some people on the list might not have regular access to the internet and this needs to be factored in when taking the decision. Some tensions will inevitably arise from the collective administering process and therefore you and your collective need to think carefully about the ways in which you will handle these tensions. Are we ready to wait for a few days to have new members added to the list? If each message needs admin approval, are we ready to accept waiting for the message to be approved for a few days, a week, more? Since administering a list is a great way to learn, is it only those who are tech savvy that might manage it or should we rather allow for learning to happen? If your expectations are clear, the possibility for tensions and conflicts to emerge will be minimized.

As a case in point, the Spoon Collective, a discussion list active in the 90s, adopted a strategy of central collective "ownership". Everyone on the list had administration rights and so the responsibility of managing the list could be shared amongst members. This is a strategy that can be best used when you are part of a close collective. It also requires trust that all members will care enough to manage it collectively.

Encrypted mailing lists

If you want a high level of security, there is the possibility of encrypting mailing lists. However, it is important to understand that this requires every participants to the list to already use PGP (Pretty Good Privacy)/GPG. This type of list, based on a software named Schleuder and developed by the German Tech Collective, is designed to serve as a tool for group communication, but this time with a strong emphasis on security. Schleuder list is a GPG-enabled mailing list and the list takes care of all de- and encryption among others. If you and your group feel you are able to install software in a server or can ask help from your community and you are all ready to use an encrypted mailing list, visit Schleuder.