The "official" guidelines for the proper and polite use of internet services are contained in RFC 1855. We have reproduced the portions of that document which relate to mailing lists below. You can read the full text of RFC 1855 here.

1.0 Introduction

In the past, the population of people using the Internet had "grown up" with the Internet, were technically minded, and understood the nature of the transport and the protocols. Today, the community of Internet users includes people who are new to the environment. These "Newbies" are unfamiliar with the culture and don't need to know about transport and protocols. In order to bring these new users into the Internet culture quickly, this Guide offers a minimum set of behaviors which organizations and individuals may take and adapt for their own use. Individuals should be aware that no matter who supplies their Internet access, be it an Internet Service Provider through a private account, or a student account at a University, or an account through a corporation, that those organizations have regulations about ownership of mail and files, about what is proper to post or send, and how to present yourself. Be sure to check with the local authority for specific guidelines.

We've organized this material into three sections: One-to-one communication, which includes mail and talk; One-to-many communications, which includes mailing lists and NetNews; and Information Services, which includes ftp, WWW, Wais, Gopher, MUDs and MOOs. Finally, we have a Selected Bibliography, which may be used for reference.

2.0 One-to-One Communication (electronic mail, talk)

We define one-to-one communications as those in which a person is communicating with another person as if face-to-face: a dialog. In general, rules of common courtesy for interaction with people should be in force for any situation and on the Internet it's doubly important where, for example, body language and tone of voice must be inferred.

2.1 User Guidelines

2.1.1 For mail:

3.0 One-to-Many Communication (Mailing Lists, NetNews)

Any time you engage in One-to-Many communications, all the rules for mail should also apply. After all, communicating with many people via one mail message or post is quite analogous to communicating with one person with the exception of possibly offending a great many more people than in one-to-one communication. Therefore, it's quite important to know as much as you can about the audience of your message.

3.1 User Guidelines

3.1.1 General Guidelines for mailing lists and NetNews

3.1.2 Mailing List Guidelines

There are several ways to find information about what mailing lists exist on the Internet and how to join them. Make sure you understand your organization's policy about joining these lists and posting to them. In general it is always better to check local resources first before trying to find information via the Internet. Nevertheless, there are a set of files posted periodically to news.answers which list the Internet mailing lists and how to subscribe to them. This is an invaluable resource for finding lists on any topic.