Killfile Considered Harmful

By Xah Lee. Date:

In newsgroups, killfile is a playful word meaning that the poster has placed someone in a blacklist of authors, where their postings will be automatically hidden from view in their newsreader. Such functionality of newsreaders originated in unix. In the early 90s or before, it used to be referred to as “sending someone into /dev/null”, because “/dev/null” can be used as a way for deleting email program outputs.

The killfile behavior, is simply put: “sweep-under-the-rug”, “bury-head-in-sand” kind of behavior. Imagine that in a gathering where if everyone totally ignores other's voices except their own kind, then what cacophony would result? Similarly, if we ignore the problem of crime by simply using larger locks for our own doors, what consequence would result?

We are all human beings. Our surroundings are our organs and affects us dearly. In newsgroups, inevitably there will be certain individuals with foul breath at times. Killfile mechanism is a very good feature to battle such annoyances. This is not a reason for falling for the convenience of blocking your ears from dissenting voices or the nonconformists.

The worst thing i hate about it, is the broadcasting of someone being killfiled. Oftentimes the sole content of a message is “You've been killfiled”. WHAT GOOD DOES IT DO TO THE COMMUNITY BY SUCH ANNOUNCEMENT? Is it a warning system for fellow readers to prepare to follow suit? Or is it a stupid self-righteous act? In the course of a unpleasant encountering, the killfilers feel the other party being unworthy of further response but they don't want to be seen as chickening out so they had to announce it as if saying: “Hello world: you don't see a returning 'faak you' from me because _I_ am _smarter_ and took a step ahead of my antagonist and covered my ears, not because he is correct or anything like that.”. Pride is a human nature, but unqualified conceit is despicable.

A second motivation for announcing killfile is more explicitly juvenile. Killfile has several variant names: “You've been killfiled.”, “plonk” (sound of falling object), “I've send you to /dev/null” (unixism), and creativity does not seems to cease there, for example, in comp.lang.lisp: (plonk 'xah) or signatures that reads “in /dev/null, they can't hear you scream.”

The reason of these playful variations is precisely literary folly. The utterer delights in its use since most are wanting of genuine literary artistry. This adds to the fashion of killfile and its broadcasting.

Killfile behavior and broadcasting have another curious trait: No burden of commitment. One cannot really tell if the person really did the killfile. The decision to make a killfile cry in public does not carry any weight of responsibility as compared to making a claim, stating a “fact”, or expressing a opinion. It is simply a variation of “faak you”. This too, contributed to its uncontrolled popularity.