Fallout from the Givewell affair January 6, 2008 9:31 PM   Subscribe

The Givewell Board of Directors have issued a statement concerning the changes they made in the wake of the astroturfing and related activities earlier in the week.

This thread is to highlight some events, get more people to update the wiki and continue the earlier thread which was Too Damned Big. We have many new members who have come by as a result of what has transpired, so folks may want to keep that in mind.

[link to givewell MeFi wiki entry for backgrounder]
posted by jessamyn to MetaFilter-Related at 9:31 PM (536 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

I would also like to congratulate (brand new) MeFite Tim Ogden on his new interim position as Board Secretary. More details on the wiki.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:34 PM on January 6, 2008


perhaps you should retroactively link this thread in the old one?
posted by Hat Maui at 9:41 PM on January 6, 2008


(This was in response to a comment in the old thread about the civility of metafilter. jessamyn closed the door on me, probably for good reason.)

I have been in meetings (years ago at Microsoft) where the people in charge were at least as harsh as the strongest words in the givewell thread. People literally crying at the meetings, which I, as a contractor, could only wonder at (both sides--that people couldn't take it and that other people were as blunt as they were) until someone pointed a finger at us contractors and said "leave, this has nothing to do with you."

At the time, I thought "Christ, that guy is an asshole," and, well, he probably was/is. But he was actually making good points and calling people on bullshit. Rather than saying "well, that's nice, but what about this?" he said "you've had two months and have done jack shit, and what little you've done is unimpressive. I've studied this for an hour and can see eight gaping holes that no one in here has even considered. What gives?"

It's not the best way to build a team but it is a good way to wake people up. Whether they're willing to do good work for you later is another question.

I do cringe a bit when I read a comment directly and harshly criticizing Phil and others. Some of it is uncalled for personal attack, but a lot of it is just very blunt criticism. I know I really dislike receiving blunt criticism in my own work, but often it's all that wakes me up to the fact that what I'm doing wasn't very good or I wasn't seeing the entire problem. That's what prompts me to sometimes make my own fairly blunt observations.
posted by maxwelton at 9:42 PM on January 6, 2008


(Not saying she closed it on me personally, I was just caught in the revolving part when the blots slammed home.)
posted by maxwelton at 9:43 PM on January 6, 2008


I think this is a reasonable outcome. The board had to act against Holden's actions but also demonstrate that they were not wrong to follow him initially. Demoting him shows some faith in his ideas and hopefully helps donors from bailing.

Good work Mefi! Really impressive.

Thank you for the new thread. The old one took almost 3! minutes to load last time I tried!
posted by typewriter at 9:46 PM on January 6, 2008


Ah, the familiar smell of CYA PR hackery! The GiveWell board "believes that the acts of misrepresentation that were committed are indefensible and are in direct conflict with the goals of the organization and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms", but they don't fire Karnofsky.

So much for trust and transparency.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:47 PM on January 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's kind of shocking that a metatalk call-out could have such real-world implications.

Did anyone really want someone to lose their job over sock-puppetry?
posted by empath at 9:47 PM on January 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


[thanks HM, took your advice - this is sort of an unprecendented move but with the big news and the superlong thred this seemed like a decent move. apologies again for the abruptness]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:47 PM on January 6, 2008


Jeff Doyle asked, in the now-closed GiveWell thread:

Speaking of rules that ought to apply in both worlds, why should you not be judged by the company that you keep?

My take on the somewhat harsh response to Phil is that several Metafilter members were frustrated by Phil's continuation, on Metafilter, of the tiresome lectures on his literary antecedents, woodcuts, characters created by Dryden, Swift, and Johnson, and rhetorical traditions of the past 2000 years, that we found so baffling at Gift Hub, and which seemed be an elaborate way of evading the issues at hand. It appeared that Phil's strategy for dealing with difficult questions about the conduct of his colleagues and peers was to baffle his interlocutors into silence, by cowing them with his supposed learning: the implicit message seemed to be, "Are you really that stupid? Are you not aware that what I am doing has a 2000 year history in Western culture?" In short, Phil's digressions were bizarrely evasive.

We were asking some fairly straightforward questions: Why do you insist on making excuses for Holden's lies and subterfuges? Why are you criticizing us for brutish incivility while at the very same time, rushing to the defense of a regular commenter on your site whose comments included, "I wipe my a** with Metafilter"? Why are you more perturbed by the criticism of your colleague than the violation of trust represented by your colleague's conduct?

We didn't get many straight answers. In fact, I suspect Phil has not been truthful with us. I think he has finagled an apology out of a Metafilter member where none was due, and I think his trumpeting of the apology was in bad faith that starkly contradicts the moral traditions he claims to cherish. I suspect other members of Metafilter share my thoughts about Phil. So that's why the response to Phil has been harsh.

But nowhere in this thread has the discourse been lowered to the level of words that Phil himself defended on his own blog. And because Phil defended words from his friends far less civil than we have seen here, I do not see how you can really object to what has been said on Metafilter.
posted by jayder at 9:49 PM on January 6, 2008 [13 favorites]


Notified CNBC of the statement from the Board of Directors about changes at Givewell.
posted by netbros at 9:54 PM on January 6, 2008


Wow. That Holden is so valuable to the GiveWell that they kept him around as Program Officer. He sure must know a lot about non-profits, and about how the web works.

Um, speaking of transparency, how much was the "financial penalty" GiveWell "imposed" on Program Officer Karnofsky? Was that in addition to the "financial penalty" that naturally comes with a demotion to a (presumably) lower-paying position?

And the statement says nothing about co-founder Elie Hassenfeld's astroturfing. Is he going to be made a "Program Officer" too?

I suppose the larger question is, what does GiveWell bring to the table that isn't already done better by other organizations, organizations with established track records and not besmirched by a pattern of repeated duplicity? Why should anyone give money to this self-appointed middle-man that still diverts some portion of donated money to Holden Karnofsky and other cronies, when all that money could go directly to the needy, and not to privileged ex-hedgefunders with dreams of winning social accolades for skimming charitable contributions?
posted by orthogonality at 9:55 PM on January 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


In addition to being removed from his positions, a financial penalty has been imposed on Mr. Karnofsky.

Ouch.

Holden will be moved to a Program Officer position, where we believe he will be valuable in helping GiveWell meet its outstanding commitments to applicants and donors.

Ah.

I just hope he actually learned something about honesty, transparency, dicking people around, and how to behave as a civilized member of a web culture. If he did, he might very well have rejoined us using a new name.

That's one of the beauties of web life: you can have a name that is recognizable to others and repected or tolerated, that has a reputation; and yet if you screw the pooch on it, you can get a second chance. Or until your IP is banned or blocked.

I frankly thought the web reputation punishment would end up being enough punishment: Holden is part of a large web mythology now, a lesson to others.

I am somewhat surprised Givewell's overseers don't understand the detriment of having that organization's name associated with the history of internet communication/community fuck-ups. Look up canter siegel usenet.

Add to that the complexity of Givewell Australia already having legitimate claim to the charity namespace and particularly the specific "non-profit review and accountability board" charity namespace, changing the name is a legitimate escape from the tarnish. It's not like you guys told the dumbass to be a dishonest self-serving asshat.

I do have to admit that what I actually want at this point is for a bunch of jackasses who leapt to Holden's defence by attacking us. I am truly sorry that you do not understand.

I don't know whether I should tell you to drink the kool-aid or not. Or take the blue pill. Or the brown acid. Whatever the hip term is for taking MeFi as a serious social organism. Come, join our cult.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:57 PM on January 6, 2008


(glad I previewed, so I knew to cut and paste)

Maureen Doyle wrote...
I am particularly interested in the taboo in our society concerning identity, including the question of alternative discursive styles or communication techniques, which is, as you all know, at the heart of the givewell crisis and the ensuing debate on GiftHub.

Hello Maureen, thanks for dropping in.

Identity is (quite obviously from these threads) a squirrely topic. Let me suggest a continuum.

One could imagine taking the shifting identities of Phil's blog one step further, and having a taboo on placing any identifying marks on a message. I've seen communities like this from time to time but they don't last. With the rare exception of the Buddha, humans just don't feel at home without their egos.

A little closer from that end we have Phil's blog, where archetypes are shared and assumed as needed. This is a fine tradition, and as Phil is quick to point out is what literary masters have done throughout the ages: grab the character of a God, or a King, or a Philosopher and speak their own words through his or her mouth. Jung would approve mightily of this method of exploration, but it proves too abstract for some. It is a beautiful tool for understanding the theory of humans, but can lack that gritty edge that accompanies humanity.

In the middle we have the anonymity of every day living. The people we sit next to on the bus, the strangers in traffic, the unidentified mass of humanity. We believe them to have fixed identities, but in truth we'll never know.

And here we come to acquaintances, where Metafilter largely lies. We know parts of each other here -- our online personas are every bit as fractional as the ones we show to people in the workplace. Even those of us who strive to bring our entire selves to the table are hampered by the medium. At this level of identity there is an ongoing tension between making a good impression and "just being yourself". This particular community tends toward the latter on good days, but our egos are as vain as everyone elses.

Beyond acquaintances is the sometimes frightening world of real identity and real intimacy. I say frightening because egos like being stripped bare about as much as they like being obviated. We all want a little protection from these extremes.

In any case, that's how I would draw things in this case:

No Identities-----Shifting-----Anonymity-----Acquaintances-----Intimacy

(I would also note that in this case, the collision between Phil's blog and Metafilter was (and is) marked by a misunderstanding by several mefites who confuse the shifting indentities with people attempting to show off for new acquaintances. And frankly there may be some of that going on.)

As others have more rudely pointed out, it's not clear that Holden's actions here were really of the same nature of the collision between Metafilter and Gifthub. He didn't come here with archetypes or attempting erudition: he came to claim familiarity and acquaintance under false colors, in order to push a pet project. This is, I think you would agree, a very different activity than what is being carried out at Gifhub.
posted by tkolar at 9:57 PM on January 6, 2008 [6 favorites]


Thanks jessamyn, and greetings to the new members.

It is welcome to see that there are consequences to dishonest actions, especially when they constitute a pattern of behaviour. The actions taken at Givewell seem to be appropriate (though a financial penalty seems a bit odd? is it normal to get fined by one's employer?). I look forward to knowing if there will be consequences for Elie as well, as well as reading the minutes, as promised.

on preview:

and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms


This has always struck me as an odd way to express oneself -- I mean, use the terms, don't just denote them collectively as the 'strongest possible ones'. Was it stupid? Idiotic? Dishonest? Just say it.

For those wondering why the emotion arose in that thread, fourcheesemac nailed it, I think, as being about a microcosm of recent trends in the world. So you don't have to wait for that thread to load, here is the start of his/her comment:

After reading nonprofiteer's smart post above, this occurred to me. Maybe some of the visceral anger here is scapegoating, in a sense, but man is the anger deserved.

We have had years, now, of being told that rational and efficient market-based forces would radicalize the hitherto flabby and emotional ways we have thought about social justice and morality. Across all sectors, not just philanthropy. There have been many prior Holdens, waving stopwatches and sliderules and books of rational choice theory and quantitative methodology at us and telling us that being "good" and being "competitive" are the same thing. The left -- and "liberalism" -- has been repeatedly humiliated by this rhetoric, not least in the last 7 or so years of a CEO president who also seems to have managed to surround himself with fellow incompetents who, behind their moralizing discourse, were busy fucking everything up while robbing everyone blind and lining their own pockets.

posted by Rumple at 10:01 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


empath wrote...
Did anyone really want someone to lose their job over sock-puppetry?

I don't think anyone lost their job over sock-puppetry.

Lying, attempted bribery, identity theft, and creating a PR hassle? That the lost their job over.
posted by tkolar at 10:02 PM on January 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't think anyone lost their job over sock-puppetry.

Fixed.
posted by typewriter at 10:06 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


To quote Holden himself on the issue of plain speech when delivering criticism:

I’ve given up a great job with great pay for one that has more hours, more stress, and less comfort. I’ve already struggled, I’ve already felt pain and demoralization, and I know that I’m just getting started. But to give me “sympathy” by tempering your feedback would hurt our project, and my desire for the project to succeed is the only reason I’m doing any of this in the first place. So please, honor the following wish for me. If you ever talk to me, be totally blunt with me about the job you think I’m doing. And if I ever complain that your language or your tone or your criticism is inappropriately harsh, and focus even a speck of my energy on making you “nicer” rather than learning from you, please do these two things in succession:

1. Remind me of this letter; call me a crybaby and a hypocrite; and repeat your feedback, as harsh as or harsher than before.

2. If that doesn’t work, and I continue to focus on my feelings rather than your feedback, kindly bludgeon me in the head.

Best,

Holden

posted by Rumple at 10:09 PM on January 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


I hope that, as a program officer, Holden will have more time to learn some of the nuts and bolts of how NPOs operate - how much reporting they already do, to whom, and in what form, and what the associated time-costs of that kind of reporting entail.

thank you, jessamyn, for closing that monster and opening this one. Welcome to the new members; please do take some time to click through to people's profiles, skim some of our previous comments on this and other posts, and watch that last step - it's a doozy!
posted by rtha at 10:10 PM on January 6, 2008


a financial penalty has been imposed

I don't really understand this. I mean, I've never heard of a person being "fined" by their employer. (Shrug.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:12 PM on January 6, 2008


Mr. Doyle --

There has been a lot said here about how the same rules of honesty and transparency that apply in the real world should apply on the web. (I couldn't agree more.) The one thing I don't quite get is this. Isn't it also true that the same rules of civility that apply in the real world should apply on the web? Look at how you all are treating Phil who has come over in the spirit of peace and reconciliation. Is this the way you would treat someone in the 'real' world?

Three things:
1. Not to be a six year old, but he and his Merry Band did have quite a number of nasty things to say about us, some of which have been quoted, so, well, he started it. It's like expecting the kid who throws the rocks at the hornet's nest not to get stung.

2. I see 2-3 downright nasty things people have said. I don't like that at all. But I see what, 12-15 other comments that range from curt to polite? Are you saying we're supposed to be circumspect and passive aggressive instead of direct?

3. And let's talk about ratios here.

18 people show up to a city council meeting to protest how their particular neighborhood has been treated -- a council member called them all "bumpkins and trailer trash."

At open mike time, 15 of the 18 people say, in varying levels of anger, that this is an uncalled for slam. Some suggest the council member resign. Others say he should apologize to the community. Some point out the features of their community, and hasn't the council member been down to see what people are like? Others point out that they live in ramblers, not trailers, thank you. In general, they have well-reasoned arguments, some a little more heated than others, but generally of the sort of discourse you find in an editorial page.

The other three get up and call the council member all sorts of names, suggest he's incompetent, moon him, suggest untowards things about his family, and say that if he doesn't resign, they'll make him resign.

Question 1: Are the 18 people who went to the meeting an "angry mob?"

Question 2: The three people who acted inappropriately live in the same neighborhood as the other 15. What should the other 15 people do?

Question 3: Can they really do anything?

Question 4: Do the three bad actors excuse the behavior of the council member?

If you can't find the answer to your rhetorical question in Jessamyn's or jayder's response, I think you'll find it in the answers to these questions.

And I don't hold anything against Phil. He's a strange one, and that's a strange group. I certainly don't like the anger and cynicism some have shown him, but his communication style is a tough thing to understand.
posted by dw at 10:14 PM on January 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


I don't really understand this. I mean, I've never heard of a person being "fined" by their employer. (Shrug.)

Demotion and a paycut.
posted by IronLizard at 10:16 PM on January 6, 2008


a financial penalty has been imposed

A loss or curtailing of salary and bennies, most likely, commensurate with Holden's downgraded position.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:17 PM on January 6, 2008


a financial penalty has been imposed
I don't really understand this. I mean, I've never heard of a person being "fined" by their employer. (Shrug.)


I'm interpreting it as another way of saying "appropriate cut in pay with the demotion" (or, probably, sideways slide. I don't get the impression Givewell has a flock of employees.)
posted by five fresh fish at 10:18 PM on January 6, 2008


Did anyone really want someone to lose their job over sock-puppetry?

I hadn't really settled for myself the question of whether I thought Holden should keep (or be allowed to keep) his position; when I saw the verdict post at the Givewell blog, it hit with some weight, though maybe not with any more than it would've if they'd brushed the whole thing aside as not actionable.

What I did, very much, want in all of this was for Holden's actions—whether they can be best summed up as sockpuppetry or astroturfing or deception or simply bad faith behavior—to be considered, by people with their hands and their principles tied to this issue by one vector another, as something that someone could, without question, lose their job over.

In some of the fine details, probably no two people in all of this will agree completely; there are things about the language of the Board's post that don't sit quite right with me as a characterization of what happened; but I am satisfied at this point that we haven't seen ethics stepped around with a convenient dismissal. If Givewell has the potential as an organization to do some good, I hope they succeed; and I hope that Holden makes the best of this and his future endeavors; and most of all I hope that everyone who has been watching and participating in this conversation for the last week—mefites, other bloggers, the folks at Givewell—comes away from this wiser and more careful about how they trade on their honesty and integrity and on that of those communities and organizations they represent.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:19 PM on January 6, 2008 [11 favorites]


So he wasn't fined. Yep, typical PRspeak. For a group so hellbent on rooting out trustworthiness, they're chock-full of slippery, disingenuous assholes.

Go to hell, GiveWell.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:20 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


[conspiratorial] Or maybe the board refused his expense account items for the bogus MeFi accounts. [/cons]
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 PM on January 6, 2008


What I did, very much, want in all of this was for Holden's actions—whether they can be best summed up as sockpuppetry or astroturfing or deception or simply bad faith behavior—to be considered, by people with their hands and their principles tied to this issue by one vector another, as something that

is offensive to a meaningful community, and to apologize for it sincerely and unreservedly, without using weasel words. I still do not feel we have been given any reasonable sort of apology for the way we were treated.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:23 PM on January 6, 2008


My take on the somewhat harsh response to Phil is that several Metafilter members were frustrated by Phil's continuation, on Metafilter, of the tiresome lectures on his literary antecedents, woodcuts, characters created by Dryden, Swift, and Johnson.... In short, Phil's digressions were bizarrely evasive.

Yes, and hopefully we can just avoid talking about him. He's just a waste of time.

Anyway, Do feel a little bad for Holden. But he made his mistake, and it is his fault. I don't really know what to think about the fact that they demoted him, rather then firing him outright. It's not too surprising, since it's obvious that Holden was the major force behind the organization. The guy needs to learn a lot about Humility, and not just judging other people's lack thereof.
posted by delmoi at 10:24 PM on January 6, 2008


So he wasn't fined. Yep, typical PRspeak.

Hang on here. He's going to a Program Officer position. He was making $65K. Most Program Officers I know make $30-40K. Assuming they're now going to pay him commensurate with his new position, a ~30% pay cut has gotta hurt.

If they're keeping him fairly close to his original pay rate, though, then I'd agree with you. Of course, we don't know, do we?
posted by dw at 10:24 PM on January 6, 2008


dw wrote...
Question 2: The three people who acted inappropriately live in the same neighborhood as the other 15. What should the other 15 people do?

Question 3: Can they really do anything?


The other 15 people should speak up and apologize for the behavior of their own. If you want to the right to speak as a community, you can't just gloss over the bad behavior of some members. Yes, that's probably not fair or just, but thems the breaks.


(Interestingly enough, this backends right into the classic Metafilter "All Christians are evil gay-bashing womens-bodies-controlling closet pedophiles" discussion, where the vast number of upstanding and reasonable Christians are called upon to answer for their whacked out brethern.)
posted by tkolar at 10:25 PM on January 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Since the changes were effective January 3rd, one could surmise the board meeting was held that day. January 3rd is the same day Lucy Bernholz polled her blog readers about what to do relative to the Givewell situation. It apparently took Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to prepare the statement of the Board. It seems a tad bit weird to announce the changes on a Sunday night rather than the next business day, particlarly if the decisions were made three days prior.
posted by netbros at 10:27 PM on January 6, 2008


How Metafilter was treated is almost beside the point. What mattered was the web-wide pattern of astroturfing, the use of bogus e-mail accounts, and so forth. Until the full story came out, he was just another self-linker, albeit slightly sleazier one than most since his self-link was to a charitable organization specializing (supposedly) in transparency and accountability. But really, he was never more than a very minor pimple on our collective ass.
posted by Rumple at 10:28 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


My comment above was in reference to Five Fresh Fish's earlier post re: how MeFi was treated/no apology

It was never clear to me whether there were any more than two employees at Givewel in the first place. For example, Holden is the one posting on message boards about technical issues re: tweaking the web site.
posted by Rumple at 10:32 PM on January 6, 2008


I still do not feel we have been given any reasonable sort of apology for the way we were treated.

Seriously, what the heck are you talking about? How is any of this (after the first two comments in the original thread -- astroturfer found, account banned) in any conceivable way about the way 'we' have been treated?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:32 PM on January 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yeah, why the "reasonable apology" thing? We got an apology. That's more than we usually get from these folks who try to game the site.
posted by dw at 10:35 PM on January 6, 2008


Stuff like this gives me genuine hope for the future of accountability post-mass media. Good work, internerds
posted by bonaldi at 10:41 PM on January 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


Help Wanted: Executive Director of charity aggregator. Honesty, integrity, and transparency required. Experience not necessary; willing to train. $65,000/year. Contact Givewell.net.
posted by netbros at 10:43 PM on January 6, 2008


I wrote...
The other 15 people should speak up and apologize for the behavior of their own. If you want to the right to speak as a community, you can't just gloss over the bad behavior of some members. Yes, that's probably not fair or just, but thems the breaks.

And in that spirit, may I apologize for the apparently rabid turn that five fresh fish has taken tonight? That's particularly addressed to Maureen Doyle, who dropped in with a civil question only to be met with a barrage of vulgarity by fff.

It's embarrassing really. And this is one of the *better* on-line communities.
posted by tkolar at 10:43 PM on January 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I find it hard to leap to any conclusion about all of this with any certainty or righteous indignation. We are no court and it is not within the usual purview of this grey forum to present all the evidence and all the facts, for and against, in any balanced way. Dude certainly fucked up and got a web kicking that will follow him around. We are told he was demoted and there is financial penalty. On the face of it, those are some serious consequences and although there will always be those baying for blood over this, these penalties are not outside what I would expect on the continuum of choices available.
posted by peacay at 10:43 PM on January 6, 2008


If they're keeping him fairly close to his original pay rate, though, then I'd agree with you. Of course, we don't know, do we?

It might be in the Audio. Has anyone listened to it yet?

And Holden certainly apologized, "Rachael Tension" also apologized, according to Phil. (Not that it matters, because I would really not like to see this thread also derailed by their odd behavior)
posted by delmoi at 10:46 PM on January 6, 2008


Wow, Lucy is now covering her ass very comprehensively (cravenly) (sarcastically) now in this unrelated post:


*FULLEST POSSIBLE (511) DISCLOSURE: I have worked with, in some fashion, almost every individual and organization mentioned in Caruso's article. I have championed Caruso's book as as a "must read" and a critical resource for philanthropy. I have read all of the studies she mentions in her piece and may have even contributed to some of them in some small way, shape, or form. Oh, let me not forget that I've spent time in New Haven and met with some of the folks mentioned in that story also. If I have somehow omitted or mischaracterized an affiliation or attribution, I have done so only in error, not as an attempt to mislead.

posted by Rumple at 11:03 PM on January 6, 2008


I've had a Lot of interesting and conflicting thoughts about online identity and whatnot after this and the orginal givewell thread. There's so many possible learning experiences in the original thread (thanks Miko, dw, nax, and others..) and so many here. Though agnostic to whatever happens to holden, this whole experience has prompted me to write and think and talk a lot about online identities. It's crap, I know, but it's crap that needs to be figured out by myself, and I'd love any help from y'all in doing so!
posted by localhuman at 11:12 PM on January 6, 2008


Jeff Doyle wrote...

Speaking of rules that ought to apply in both worlds, why should you not be judged by the company that you keep?


Clearly, unequivocally, yes.

I'm quite proud to call myself a member of a community which includes the likes of Jessamyn, cortex, and Miko. There are also a few hundred other people who have not played a part in this particular drama that make Metafilter a place I return to and a place that I recommend to my friends.

Then there are some other folks. Most everyone here has redeeming features, but there are some terribly offputting themes running through this community -- religion bashing, cop bashing, and hatred for the wealthy are all things that are returned to again and again. And of course there are all of the issues that come with any cross-section of humanity: sexism, racism, anger, arguments for the sake of arguments, etc.

For me the question is not "does the Metafilter community perfectly reflect my values", but rather "is there any place out there that comes closer?". And I have to say if I could find a community this large, this varied, and this useful that somehow managed to exclude the nasty human side of things (including my own nasty human side, which certainly makes appearances) then I would join it in a second.

Unlike Jessamyn and cortex it is not my job to be here. I've chosen the place, and chosen to publicly represent myself as a member of Metafilter. I'm comfortable with that, so please do judge away.
posted by tkolar at 11:13 PM on January 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


According to this, GiveWell only has two full time employees. I guess this makes Elie Holden's new boss. And yet Elie is not exactly an innocent bystander in this.

I look forward to seeing the announcement of Holden's demotion on the Givewell.net site as well as the Clear Fund site, and not just on their blog.
posted by Rumple at 11:16 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


oh, and props to fourcheesemac as well (the idea of him kept me well fed throughout this whole thread...)
posted by localhuman at 11:18 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Let this be a lesson to all of you sockpuppets out there.
posted by Dave Faris at 11:21 PM on January 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: let this be a lesson to all of you sockpuppets out there.
posted by gnome de plume at 11:28 PM on January 6, 2008


Let this be a lesson to all of you bloggers out there.
posted by I Got My Own Blog at 11:31 PM on January 6, 2008


Huh, whaddya know. Good to see.
posted by blacklite at 11:32 PM on January 6, 2008


. . . if it hadn't been for those meddlin' kids!
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:36 PM on January 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Now we go after the king.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:55 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Let me rephrase what I said in the closed thread:

Those who gravedance should be stripped naked and dragged across astroturf until rug burned.
posted by dw at 11:58 PM on January 6, 2008


Yeah, I have to say that I'm both relieved to see it turn out this way but bummed to see someone lose their job. And to have it all play out in a public forum like this is a drag.

I think the Givewell board did the right thing -- the core issue was a director acting in ways that were antithetical to the aims of the organization he helped found, but then I'm not one to dance on graves or say it wasn't enough. It sounds like there were real-world consequences to how Holden acted online at this site and other places and while some may be unhappy he wasn't ousted from the organization completely, it feels like a good, but difficult decision was made that should be better for Givewell going forward.

My hope is that Holden uses it as a learning experience (a painful one at that) and never makes the same mistakes again.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:05 AM on January 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


The release seems deliberately phrased to sound dramatic but probably amounts to very little. And it doesn't address the actual issue raised on the thread - the "Givewell cause" being a crock of shit. I suppose that was too much to ask.
posted by cillit bang at 12:29 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I suppose that was too much to ask.
MUCH too much to ask. If MetaFilter were capable of breaking down an organization's entire reason for being, I can think of a lot of other organizations we should've gone after first.
posted by wendell at 12:49 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

My hope is that Holden uses it as a learning experience (a painful one at that) and never makes the same mistakes again.
The problem is that what you and I think his mistakes are, are not the same same things he (and his friends, supporters, and fellow board members) think his mistakes are.

You and I think his mistakes were using deception means to promote his organisation - doubly bad, because the organisation purports to rate others by their openness and honesty - and, when caught, attempting to cover it up via disingenuity.

He and the others involved think his mistake was getting caught. The evidence of that is all over the other thread, their own blogs, and other 3rd-party blogs.

I'll leave the discussion of whether the consequences fit his actions up to others - I don't think I'm really ready to think about that part of it objectively.

The only thing I will say on that part is that while the great tradition of giving someone more than a fair go and allowing them to learn from their mistakes is a wonderful thing, it seems to allow far too many weasels with a glib tongue and an ability to convincingly fake sincerity to slip though the mesh...
posted by Pinback at 1:22 AM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon writes "A loss or curtailing of salary and bennies, most likely, commensurate with Holden's downgraded position."

Could also mean he's lost part or all of an annual bonus.
posted by Mitheral at 1:23 AM on January 7, 2008


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- GiveWell Elects Billy Maulana To Executive Director Position
posted by jojopizza at 1:41 AM on January 7, 2008


I just spent the weekend getting caught up-- the Board's statement came just a few hours after I had finally reached real-time commenting here and was reading the last of the related Gift Hub discussions. My head is still spinning.

Things that surprised me:

1) The early "donation" offering. Actually, H00's quick apology and the posting of same on the GiveWell blog surprised me nearly as much, which is probably why the MeTa thread lost my attention early on; it seemed close to settled when I left it way back on the 31st. A plea on the transgressor's part for suggestions of adequate acts of contrition was unusual enough, but I can't think of another example of someone offering money in exchange for MeTa absolution. Poor thing was obviously panicked and ethically confused (not to mention apparently sleep-deprived), but I still find it a bizarre response. Can anyone point to any examples that bear any resemblance to a callout reply such as this?

This "No Charity Left Behind" model of philanthropy management, however, perhaps elucidates how someone might somehow be/become predisposed to the conclusion that throwing money at something is one's best defense.

2) I was also surprised at Metafilter being referred to elsewhere as bloodthirsty and vicious. I mean, people here were getting excited by and chatty about the unfolding drama (as we are wont to do), but the discussion was, I thought, largely earnest and thoughtful as well as often quite gracious. Not to mention the fact that it was at least 90% contained to MetaTalk. I have to wonder how much, if any, moderation by deletion actually occurred in the thread; perhaps I missed something.

It could be relevant that I was deeply enmeshed in reading outside threads' protestations of inappropriate discourse while simultaneously watching what little I could stomach of last night's Presidential debates. Wait, was that last night? I am still halfway down the rabbit hole.

3) Being called "largely anonymous" posters (was that Lucy early on?) should not have surprised I suppose, but it did in part because as an avid longtime reader, the majority of the posters in the original MeTa thread (as well as the AskMe thread, come to think of it) were well known to me-- if not by name, at least by handle, occupation, location, writing styles, and opinions and expertise on a variety of subjects. "Anonymous" seems like an antonymous description of the MeFi community, at least from inside. Of course, the subjects of web anonymity, affected personae (& "pseuds"), and the pros, cons, and even often irrelevance of supplying one's "true name" online or elsewhere are too large and convoluted in this instance to be addressed by me just now. I hope_well that whoever writes the book devotes a chapter or two to the subject, however.

Finally, after wading through the various blogs associated with this ordeal, I have a renewed appreciation for the relatively feather-light moderation hand here, and realize that it is a more crucial reason for MeFi being my chosen web home away from home than I knew. Seeing our mods being chastised for not being more stringent wranglers was as dissonant to my thinking as the suggestion that there is some fundamental difference between MeFi and a "real" community.

Okay, I think I need to go read some YouTube comments or something to snap out of this.
Kudos and thanks to all for a weird-ass weekend.
posted by obloquy at 2:07 AM on January 7, 2008

He sure must know a lot about non-profits, and about how the web works.
Or about where the bodies are buried.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 2:15 AM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Holden Karnofsky has been removed from his position as Executive Director of GiveWell and from his position as Board Secretary"

The way that this was written interests me. Not "has stepped down" but "has been removed". From this it sounds like Holden wasn't ready to give anything up so the board had to act. I'll certainly be listening to the mp3 of the board meeting when it gets published.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 2:26 AM on January 7, 2008


I have to wonder how much, if any, moderation by deletion actually occurred in the thread; perhaps I missed something.

I'm not sure if I missed a stray comment deletion by Matt or Jess in the last six days, but the only comment I've removed was a lame softball jab at Holden's appearance some time on probably the 1st. It wasn't vicious so much as just completely ad hom—I'd say there's nastier stuff we've let stand, but nothing more arbitrarily aggressive.

Seeing our mods being chastised for not being more stringent wranglers was as dissonant to my thinking as the suggestion that there is some fundamental difference between MeFi and a "real" community.

Heh. Imagine how I've felt. Jessamyn and I have talked a lot about this over IM and email in the last week. I think often (and have commented some here and elsewhere lately) about the perception of Metafilter by the outside world, and this situation is a perfect example of why that is.

One of the things that is hard to convey to a new observer is why a Metatalk thread would be allowed to contain angry or nasty or ugly comments. We do not hang a sign over the door that summarizes any of it; I'm not sure what that sign would say, and whether it would actually be a sufficient explanation or just seem like a preemptive excuse, and since the vast majority of Metatalk threads are internal social or policy discussions that are likely to be both boring and opaque to non-mefites, I don't think there's any change to be made there.

Which leaves us with this sort of situation: once in a great while (when was the last time a Metatalk thread, specifically—not a Mefi post, not an AskMe question—got heavily discussed off-site?) we'll end up directly or indirectly presenting Metatalk to the world. Without signage, generally without more explanation than "we're (or they're) discussion x over at Metatalk".

We do very little deletion of individual comments in Metatalk. We will often close threads when they seem to have met their useful purpose, and we'll outright delete threads that seem like a bad idea from the start, but if a thread seems worthwhile and still has some legs, we'll pretty much let it run as is, and let people get out whatever they need to get out with the understanding that this place, if any place on the site, is the release valve where people can vent and chatter.

On top of that, in a situation like this we've got a lot of chatty and/or venting people responding to a situation that's transgressive in terms of the site's social and ethical mores. Gaming and deception are, as far as I can tell, more fundamental errors than harsh words in a lot of folks' eyes, and so the former gets met with the latter by some folks—both those heavily invested in the discussion and those mostly just double-taking at the transgression against the site. And, again, we generally don't delete that.

So we find ourselves in this position where we have for sound reasons built over the years a policy for very lightly moderating a part of the site intended as and used for, far more than any other part of the site, internal consumption only. And then we present, in this odd hyper-visible outlier, our least-mannered, least moderated, and probably least-flattering face to the world. Not because we want that to be the face we present the world, but because circumstantially it's the part of the site where this sort of thing can reasonably happen.

Again: there's no sign explaining all of this. And I don't think it's odd that people unfamiliar with the site would read the previous Givewell thread and balk at some of the (very much in the minority, thanks) vitriol. It'd stand out to me going somewhere else, I'm sure. I don't think it's odd that they'd wonder why this is how we "choose" to present ourselves, as much of a misunderstanding of the site and the community as that may be.

But we weren't and aren't about to begin retroactively moderating the hell out of that thread just because it is the odd hyper-visible exception. The moderation policy on mefi in general is built around a certain assumption of trust and reliability and the notion that if there are going to be significant changes, the community will be involved in talking through them. So editing our way to some cleaner, more-flattering, less-bantery version of that thread would be strange and irresponsible behavior in the context of the site and community, as convenient as it might be for aiding first impressions from folks outside.

The creation of the Givewell wiki writeup seems like a good precedent for compromise, then: there's a place where people can distill the substance of the thread out from all the inside baseball and banter and offhand commentary in the thread, and give outsiders a more neutral, controlled view of what's going on here. I hope that, should something similar in scope and visibility to this last week's events come up again, we'll repeat and refine that approach and maybe help ease the process of acclimation for outside readers thereby.

This is a very long comment explaining and trying to contextualize (in a still hopelessly brief space) why Metatalk moderation policy is what is. I want to be clear that it's not intended as a defense of those nasty and ad hom and overtly angry comments that can be found in the previous thread. They suck, in my humble, and as I said elsewhere they're just about my least favorite thing about Metafilter; insofar as I speak for myself and not the whole site, I apologize for the offense they've caused. In a perfect world, we wouldn't see that sort of thing, even in the face of behavior as lousy and out-of-touch as what Holden was revealed to have pulled here and elsewhere over the weeks running up to the 31st.

But Matt and Jessamyn and I don't let the ugly comments stand out of some unprincipled willingness to let a satisfying jab under our radar; we let them stand on the principle that (barring comments so off-the-wall or egregious that they're likely only to badly damage the discussion) what people have said, they've said, and sweeping it under the rug isn't likely to help anything.

So, welcome, new readers and new members. Consider this an ad hoc sign hung on the door.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:49 AM on January 7, 2008 [38 favorites]


Although I know you're primarily speaking to a larger, newer audience, I thank you for your response, cortex-- I didn't suspect that there was much moderation going on, but the clarification of that point, I think, is useful.

Certainly the fact that this saga found its way out into the larger internet from within MetaTalk is unusual and somewhat uncomfortable. It's like having unexpected guests drop by, but instead of keeping themselves to your cluttered and eclectic yet acceptably clean blue living room or immaculate professional green kitchen, they instead insist on spending all their time in your unkempt, dirty laundry-strewn gray bedroom; a room that most of your closer acquaintances have never even thought to enter. It's embarrassing, but only because of the brutal reality of it.

The fact that from the perspective of one who lives here the mess is relatively tame is not much consolation, especially if the guests have come through the back bedroom door, having never seen the rest of the house at all.
posted by obloquy at 3:35 AM on January 7, 2008


Consider this an ad hoc sign hung on the door.

ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.
IF YOU WANT TO HOLD ONTO YOUR HOPE, ENTER HERE OR HERE.

or maybe...

The First Rule of MetaTalk is you do not talk about MetaTalk.

But seriously, cortex's comment, as well as the existence of the Givewell Wiki Writeup seem to suggest a need for a separate section of the site for the handling of Serious Issues, kind of a MetaStraightTalk as opposed to the existing MetaLooseTalk. Of course, this kind of thing does not happen every day, but looking at all the problems, scandals and issues that could use a little MetaFiltering, it almost could. We are cursed to be living in interesting times, and a lot what MetaFilterites are accused of en masse (including by some of our own)... Liberal, Anti-Business, Anti-Religion, Single-Issue, Disrespectful and Snarky... used to describe the "crusading reporters" of what was considered (by some) the Golden Age of Journalism. Nowadays, some people try to pass off Bloggers as "Citizen Reporters"; well, that would make MeFi a "Citizen Mass Media". Or maybe not. I'm about two sentences away from arguing something completely different, so I'll just throw out this bone for others to chew on and hope nobody swallows it whole.
posted by wendell at 3:38 AM on January 7, 2008


Wendell, your idea is interesting, in that there are a lot of really knowledgeable people here who could probably provide all sorts of investigative insight on all sorts of issues/problems/etc.

However, "give well" was, in many ways, a perfect storm:

1) A clear transgression of the site's terms on a sensitive issue and
2) Quickly discovered transgressions at other sites; which lead to
3) A skivvy apology by the perpetrator, including cash money offered; which
4) Clearly seem to be against everything his organization stands for, where
5) He is the king, so to speak, which makes the whole organization look crappy;
6) It turns out the organization is at best fairly amateur and unorganized, and
7) Their board comes to the rescue in about the worst possible way, which just stirs up the hornets;
8) His friends come to the rescue, which, after a bit of light poking, turns out to be another mistake.

Etc, etc.

I'm happy that it at the very least lead to some corrective action, and the discussion has been truly best of the web--I've learned more about philanthropy here than I ever expected to know, and that's great. The signal to noise ratio was very very good for an essentially unmoderated discussion online.
posted by maxwelton at 4:03 AM on January 7, 2008


Metafilter: community weblog.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:12 AM on January 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: We will get you fired.
posted by sneakin at 4:55 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


haven't read through the new thread yet, still catching up on the old one, so my apologies if this is old news.

I’m curious as to whether MeFites (?) know of any other charity / foundation is as active in engaging / transparent with its donors as Give Well

First, a word from the grownups. (go halfway down first link for pdf of study)

geoff: The manager gets a relatively modest fixed fee as a percentage of assets under management and a performance bonus based on the profit turned. The Association of Fundraising Professionals considers it unethical to base your fee on a percentage of donor dollars raised. This is so basic to the profession that I sincerely doubt (and would be horrified) that Givewell is operating like this.

Damn, only got halfway through the new thread, and I have to go to work. I'll reload the new monster later!
posted by nax at 4:58 AM on January 7, 2008


The last thing we need is an empowered mob.
posted by smackfu at 5:33 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I bet he quits in a month or two. No way he wants to be a 40K a year program officer when he could be making ten times that at a hedge fund.
posted by mattbucher at 5:35 AM on January 7, 2008


Man, this has been fascinating.

One of the things I love about this site is its ability to show me -and explain to me-things I would not otherwise have run across in life. It has broadened my view of the world considerably (which is one reason I stick around.)

I hope our new members do stick around, poke around on other parts of the site, and come to know why this place really is one of the best places to spend one's online time.
posted by konolia at 5:38 AM on January 7, 2008


I'm very tempted to parse the original givewell thread for commenter longevity vs contributions. It's fascinating to see the makeup of a discussion change as timezones and interest shift. Of course I'll need another gig or so of ram to load the page but still.
posted by Skorgu at 5:46 AM on January 7, 2008


I bet he quits in a month or two. No way he wants to be a 40K a year program officer when he could be making ten times that at a hedge fund.

Except that he already was making ten (ok, well, 5) times that at a hedge fund, and he already did quit for a large pay decrease (to 65k). Your point is kind of moot, no?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:52 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


oh, and props to fourcheesemac as well (the idea of him kept me well fed throughout this whole thread...)

Just doin' my bit to sustain the filter. . . . Here, try some.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:16 AM on January 7, 2008


I note that no penalty has been announced for Elie, who was certainly involved in some of this, but who has escaped discussion as a partner in Holden's deceptions. Unless Holden was also stealing *Elie's* identity, why is the Board of Givewell not announcing *any* sanctions on Elie Hassenfeld?
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:20 AM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


From the GiveWell statement: We would also like to make clear to all donors to GiveWell since December 1 that we will contact them directly about these recent changes and will provide them the opportunity to have their gift returned if they so choose.

This is the part I'm glad to see; I've been wondering how much cash GiveWell had hauled in from all those MSM puff pieces and blog posts (and astroturf comments) from people who forked over end-of-year donations before learning about the unpleasant antics of the folks they were dealing with.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:26 AM on January 7, 2008


Metafilter: The last thing we need is an empowered mob.
posted by jeanmari at 7:00 AM on January 7, 2008


The our people page at givewell.net is not updated. It only lists Holden and Elie as full-time employees and the only other people mentioned are the boardmembers. Was it ever clear who the "new employee" whose account Holden sent mail from was? Shouldn't complete transparance also include showing all who works there?
posted by boogieboy at 7:10 AM on January 7, 2008


I note that no penalty has been announced for Elie, who was certainly involved in some of this, but who has escaped discussion as a partner in Holden's deceptions. Unless Holden was also stealing *Elie's* identity, why is the Board of Givewell not announcing *any* sanctions on Elie Hassenfeld?

Because they don't have to. I believe that, behind closed doors and off the record, the problem is still seen by GiveWell as, not "Holden did a grievously bad thing," but "Holden got caught." Holden is the whipping boy in all this, the primary name being decried all over the web and MSM and philanthropy blogs. Elie will be the media's afterthought in all this. He's safely "the other guy" -- the Andrew Ridgeley of the duo.

By removing Holden from the board and demoting him from executive director, they've given us our pound of flesh: they've "done enough." Call me a cynic, but I believe that what the GiveWell board has done is exactly on par with what a for-profit business would do in the same circumstances -- not one iota more than the bare minimum needed to Demonstrate Action and quiet the majority of the detractors.

I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see the following: GiveWell goes quiet for a while, 3 - 4 weeks, while they lick their wounds and let the presidential race and various Spears pregnancies knock them out of popular memory. Meanwhile, they conduct the most perfunctory lip-service search for a new ED, and conveniently cannot find an external candidate who is willing to work for the "peanuts" represented by $65K. So, they are forced to search internally.

Enter Elie Hassenfeld, one of the co-founders, who has been bravely, diligently toiling away as a mere program officer all these months. Conveniently, Elie has the passion and willingness to make "the financial sacrifice." By Q2, Elie is named the new executive director, and given an ex officio, non-voting position on the board. By Q3, due to his stellar, spotless performance (i.e. no new scandals created), Elie is a voting director. And Holden, his Bridgewater pal, remains his Rove-like advisor -- all the influence, none of the inflammatory public view.

And in order to support this strategy, if I were running their PR, I would appoint a completely above-board, totally spotless "ethics officer" with a scary title like "Director of Oversight and Compliance," who will be charged with "recalibrating the organization's moral compass."

And as insurance against the possible outcry over putting Elie in a position of leadership, I would find early investors (like a Jason Rotenberg, or maybe someone even more detached), to make a comment on this or that blog which goes mostly unnoticed -- to the effect that he is "worried about GiveWell and Clear Fund maintaining their original vision," without either co-founder at the wheel. This lets leadership point to investor concern and say, "We risked losing our financial backing by shutting out Elie and Holden completely, and without donors we cannot save all the poor children, so you can see our hands are really tied here."

And when MeFi or anyone else brings it up again in the future, GiveWell is fairly close to bulletproof: they've taken a big demonstrative action... they make good business cases for all subsequent decisions... and they just want to put the past behind them and look to the future, because no one is perfect and yes, Holden was a 26-year-old who didn't really think things through but we took away his crown, what do you want us to do, take him out back and shoot him??? And the people who won't stop bringing it up will be positioned as unreasonable and obsessed.

Again, I hope you all don't think that I'm a despicable cynic or "just like them." But this is what I would advocate to the GiveWell board, if I were Lucy Bernholz. (Thank [$DEITY] I walked away from orgs that needed this sort of crisis PR. No one should have to work a job that erodes the soul.)
posted by pineapple at 7:11 AM on January 7, 2008 [16 favorites]


We have had years, now, of being told that rational and efficient market-based forces would radicalize the hitherto flabby and emotional ways we have thought about social justice and morality. Across all sectors, not just philanthropy. There have been many prior Holdens, waving stopwatches and sliderules and books of rational choice theory and quantitative methodology at us and telling us that being "good" and being "competitive" are the same thing.

And this is exactly what Phil is trying (pretentiously and ineffectually, yes) to fight with his Wealth Bondage shtick. He's on the side of the angels, so I really wish people would quit bashing him for not being as cool as we are.

Note that Phil is not responsible for Holden; he felt himself to be in a mentoring position and defended a guy towards whom he had friendly feelings, and that's fine. He never suggested that Holden hadn't done anything wrong and has said all along it's up to the board to decide how he should be punished.

My thanks to jessamyn for making the desperately needed thread switch, and to cortex for that excellent summary of MetaTalk policy. To any outsiders or new members reading this: please don't be put off by a few cranky bastards; the conversation around here is wide-ranging and occasionally abrasive, but it's stimulating and educational once you get used to it.
posted by languagehat at 7:11 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bravo and good show. This seems about as forthright and proper a response as we were likely to see. When people are digging and excited about shady dealings, the instinct is to call for blood and then to say that the amount of blood offered is not enough. Speaking as a non-digger, this strikes me as a pretty appropriate action to take. Don't forget that the whole incident is going to make their work a lot harder too-- the marketplace will impose its own penalty.
posted by norm at 7:18 AM on January 7, 2008


The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports, linking to this thread, among others.
posted by Rumple at 7:30 AM on January 7, 2008


Interesting...

I'm still a bit confused about who has what title and what it means. Is Givewell planning to hire a third administrative employee? That's a bit topheavy for a small NPO. Is Holden still doing the same job under the new title?

My gut feeling is that, once the hoopla fades, it may be business as usual at Givewell, with the same players.

I'll be curious to see if any of the Board Members decide to cut ties, I certainly would if I were in their shoes.
posted by HuronBob at 7:34 AM on January 7, 2008


To any outsiders or new members reading this: please don't be put off by a few cranky bastards; the conversation around here is wide-ranging and occasionally abrasive, but it's stimulating and educational once you get used to it.

And that's the rough-and-tumble thing we've been talking about. That's the learning curve. You have to learn how to adjust your personal filter and learn that some people here are just like that, pick your battles, and be ready to defend yourself and your beliefs.

I do feel like Holden's transgression somehow got us admission to a tea party we weren't supposed to be at. And there we were, looking like Rodney Dangerfield at the country club while the NFP folks were in the Ted White role. I don't think they liked us being in their world, and we were going on about getting "no respect."

Sticking my head into a land I haven't been near in a decade and at the same time have never been in has been eye-opening. As one of those people who is still optimistic about the Internet I see great opportunities for the NFP and philanthropic world in the Web. However, they'll never know those opportunities until they stop acting insular and condescending and start really embracing openness and transparency. That sector desperately needs someone who can translate their vernacular so that people on the ground can ask the right questions.

The potential is great. Other sectors have been able to realize the potential. Eventually, maybe the philanthropic world will realize their own potential in this new world. And maybe they can do it without once using "2.0" or "Black Swan" or "Long Tail."

I hope Phil, Jeff, the Doyles, nonprofiteer, and the others stick around. I think they have a lot to add to the conversation.
posted by dw at 7:47 AM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Speaking of rules that ought to apply in both worlds, why should you not be judged by the company that you keep?

I favourited more comments in that thread than I would normally do during months of reading Metafilter. I'm perfectly happy to be judged by the company I'm keeping here, thanks.

Also: I thought the Givewell board's decision was a reasonable and just one. Despite his recent actions, Holden looks like a fast learner from what I can see. I'm sure this will only be a temporary blip in his career.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:51 AM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


fourcheesemac: Curse You!
posted by nax at 8:08 AM on January 7, 2008


Except that he already was making ten (ok, well, 5) times that at a hedge fund, and he already did quit for a large pay decrease (to 65k). Your point is kind of moot, no?

No. I'm not sure if he'll quit or not, but there is plenty of speculation in the other thread about the relative value and potential growth in the paycut that Holden already took. Any of that (a sterling resume edition, a large bump up in salary as ED after GiveWell starts pulling in more) doesn't really apply to his new job. Certainly if he stays it will say something about his motives that was not said by his "leaving" his hedge fund job to start GiveWell.
posted by OmieWise at 8:18 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to chime in and say, "Well done!" to the Scooby Gang that brought this all to light, especially Miko. If this isn't grounds for a gold star, I don't know what is.

Many of the other problems that have been analyzed in this and the last thread, especially the wrongheadedness, inefficacy, and wastefulness of GiveWell itself, and the likelihood that something like pineapple's scenario will play out are well beyond our reach here. Charitable foundations and non-profits limp along long after they've outlived their usefulness: I've seen other NGOs survive for literally years as nothing but a name, address, and an Executive Director who simply fires the development staff every six months as they realize that they're working for an organization without aim or purpose.

I'm not sure there's a way to fix that when the waste is widely viewed as a private matter between donors (who have expiated their guilt and washed their hands of the matter once the check cleared) and the organization itself. If someone wants to turn the GiveWell affair into a wider expose of the pathetic 'long-tail' of orphaned donations, we're going to need a lot more than a MetaTalk thread. Moreover, the whole technocratic thrust of the accountability/transparency movement strikes me as significantly more dangerous than the wasted dollars. Is there anyone here who has the media savvy and connections to redirect the development of this story to some of these issues?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:21 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


It'll also be interesting to see if the NY State Attorney General's office decides to investigate this affair (although the Federal Trade Commission ultimately did nothing with John Mackey's similar ruse). I'm sure Givewell would like this to over and swept under the mat as quickly as possible, but has the Charities Bureau had time to investigate yet?
posted by mattbucher at 8:26 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


And Holden [...] remains his Rove-like advisor

Uhh.... W. T. F?

While I'm certain that Holden is capable of learning much from his stumble here, I somehow don't see him jumping directly from "somewhat naive but earnest do-gooder" to "master political adept".

Even if we were to accept (which I don't) that Holden is cynically playing the charity game for his own enrichment, he has many many years to go before he's ready to advise anyone on anything but hedge funds.
posted by tkolar at 8:27 AM on January 7, 2008


Notified CNBC of the statement from the Board of Directors about changes at Givewell.

Thanks for starting a new thread, jessamyn. Now I have two places I can go when I need to brush up on state-of-the-art self-righteousness. This Holden guy could lose his job, be imprisoned, waterboarded, and stripped of his citizenship, and I think the whole episode would still mean less to him than it does to some of the posters here.

Not to say he doesn't deserve his fate, but Jesus you people just lock on and never let go, and before you start in with the IF Stone comparisons, I meant that in the annoying yipping poodle way.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:38 AM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Full disclosure man. Full disclosure.
posted by netbros at 8:44 AM on January 7, 2008


I meant that in the annoying yipping poodle way.

Annoying yipping poodle sharks, circling a papercut in the water.
posted by tkolar at 8:46 AM on January 7, 2008


"The truism of the web: people talking about you is far more effective than talking about yourself." -Seth Godin.
posted by phaedon at 8:47 AM on January 7, 2008


Granted, I haven't been following this very closely. But his "demotion" seems rather laughable.

This isn't a real company. It's not like he just lost his job as Chairman of the board for GE or Microsoft. This is a stupid little website that has a "board" in order for unimportant friends to give each other important sounding titles. It feels absurdist to pretend that (a) he had any real power or was important beforehand; or (b) he won't have the same influence he had otherwise. This is just words on a paper.

This feels like 10 friends getting together and voting to have Bob stripped of his position as vice-commissioner of the Fantasy Football League as punishment for getting drunk and puking on Greg's floor and being demoted to assistant chair of the rules committee.

(Also, the monetary penalty? Is that different than the tax-deductible contribution he was going to make anyway?)
posted by dios at 8:52 AM on January 7, 2008 [17 favorites]


I note that no penalty has been announced for Elie, who was certainly involved in some of this, but who has escaped discussion as a partner in Holden's deceptions. Unless Holden was also stealing *Elie's* identity, why is the Board of Givewell not announcing *any* sanctions on Elie Hassenfeld?

How sure are we that he actually was the one doing that? Given Holden's willingness to use a new employee's identity to pretend to be a disinterested proponent, wouldn't it be just as likely it was him as Elie doing those things? Things he was doing rampantly all over the internet at the same time?

This isn't an operation that has earned a lot of benefit of the doubt in recent weeks but with just a few identified Elie moments I'm more likely to think it was actually Holden than not.
posted by phearlez at 9:02 AM on January 7, 2008


Geez guys, just because cortex put a disclaimer in doesn't mean that NOW it's pile on time.
posted by garlic at 9:03 AM on January 7, 2008


So ready to stop caring about this.
posted by nanojath at 9:06 AM on January 7, 2008


I somehow don't see him jumping directly from "somewhat naive but earnest do-gooder" to "master political adept".

The Rove comparison was meant to be that Holden could easily become a behind-the-scenes player, one who affects policy and procedure without being media bait on the frontline. As dios pointed out, just because Holden's new title is Program Officer doesn't necessitate his job description changing in any notable way.

Even if we were to accept (which I don't) that Holden is cynically playing the charity game for his own enrichment, he has many many years to go before he's ready to advise anyone on anything but hedge funds.

And yet, until one week ago, he was the executive director and sat on the board. So, while we around here might doubt his value as an advisor on charity matters, the GiveWell crew clearly thinks differently.
posted by pineapple at 9:25 AM on January 7, 2008


I'm not at all interested in 'blood', and there have been times that I've wished I had just emailed the mods about the self-link, watched it disappear, and moved on. But as each new facet of the situation came to light, it became more interesting: the responses from those connected to the organization; the structure and model and operations of GiveWell itself as compared to other entities; the stated purposes and assumptions of GiveWell in the wider context of the nonprofit world and in the cultural climate in general; the donor world that their focus emerges from; the community of philanthropic bloggers who work with those donors; the power and money in play and the uses of the tax structure; the issues of accountability, transparency, and identity in a relatively new medium and also in the world at large; the specifics of management and strategy within the organization; and finally, the results of the board of trustees' deliberations and chosen course of action.

It is because this situation offers so very many facets that so very many people have chosen to follow it and discuss it for so very long, not because of a unified vengefulness.

At the same time, I recognize that some of the rhetoric employed has been vengeful, and unnecessarily so, because this matter has always been serious enough to warrant real consquences and close examination without acting from vengefulness. But infairness, I think most of the hyperbole evolved in response to the 'no-big-deal' evaluation of other voices in the debate. Since it is a big (enough) deal, the rhetoric occasionally became heightened and somewhat aggressive, because it seemed as though only using very strong terms would elicit a sense of proportionalism from defenders of the questionable actions in the web community at large. I'm not defending that rhetoric in others and really tried to avoid it myself, sometimes failing, but I'm also recognizing that at least some of it was employed to convince the outer world that this situation was worth addressing, not dismissing. The public views these sorts of things as serious, affronts to the systems we place faith in. Of course people of generally good faith will get a little hot under the collar when they're told not to worry about it, it happens all the time. It's happened in a thousand small towns and in some large organizations. It's a reality of work in the sector.

There's no enjoyment in seeing consequences levied, but there was also no enjoyment in seeing deceptive practices used to promote one charity at the expense of others or in seeing the entire sector trashed for presumed failings. The consquences are fair, and we can only speculate about how the internal operations may be changing or not changing at GiveWell. I think all citizens witnessing this could ask for is that the board of directors be accountable to take action in ways they believe appropriate to guard the public trust. They've taken action and believe they are doing the best they can on behalf of the public and, at the same time, to advance the cause they care about. We may not agree with the route they chose, but they're doing their jobs now. I hesitate to congratulate them overmuch, but I also wouldn't condemn them. A board effort to rebuild the organization is what was needed, and this is the form that effort has taken. Perhaps it was the correct one and all shall be well. If the organization or the model is truly diseased or unworkable, that will show. This is where market analogies do apply. We'll see what happens. Though I found an examination of the operations interesting from an organizational-analysis standpoint, noting that the charity was running sloppily and without sufficient guidance is only that and no more - I've seen no real reason to believe there is any sort of scam or deep ill intent. There are a lot of badly run charities out there, no doubt about it, and that alone is no reason to nuke this one out of existence (though it is a factor in individual donation decisions). It's the tension between the pronouncements of quality and superiority made by GiveWell, brought into conflict with the lived values of the organization, that made the discovery of that reality interesting, and disheartening to see.

As for MetaFilter, Jessamyn's 'town' analogy is an excellent one. In my own town, I don't agree with every letter to the editor or candidate sign or point of view expressed in council meeting or on the street. I argue for my convictions, but it's not my role to curtail the public speech of others. There is plenty of room for calls for general calmness and that sort of thing, and a few times some of us have sent and received emails saying things to one another like 'it might be better not to press such-and-such a point,' or 'you'd be easier to support if you'd tone it down,' but beyond those efforts to influence the atmosphere of the discussion, I can no more say that I'm ashamed of views within MetaFilter than I can say that I'm ashamed of views of individuals within my town. Unless we're acting as a body in the way a town's structure sometimes does - for instance, if an important decision were preceeded by public hearing, votes, and the approval of an official position taken as a body - then we can't be considered a body and can't even be assumed to be in agreement. This is where "the views expressed are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organization as a whole, its members, its supporters or associates" yadda-yadda-disclaimer that will be intimately familiar to anyone who is a member of a board. There are plenty of disagreements here between us, and as all have seen, anyone can jump in and disagree some more. It's a forum. Not a forum without rules, but with a commitment to allowing a wide range of viewpoints to be aired. If some of us have agreed with one another, it's because we've won support from one another with ideas and argument, not because we all signed a blood oath in Tom Sawyer's cave to act as one, do or die.

Thanks to the mods here, who I doubt got any sleep this past week. I will continue to follow this topic and read my updates on GiveWell with interest. I've learned a lot too, and come away with some stronger commitments to certain areas of my own work and some resigned acceptance of certain realities within the NPO sector and in the changing culture.
posted by Miko at 9:41 AM on January 7, 2008 [14 favorites]


Of course people of generally good faith will get a little hot under the collar when they're told not to worry about it, it happens all the time. It's happened in a thousand small towns and in some large organizations. It's a reality of work in the sector.

That was so unclearly written. It should read something like:

"People of generally good faith will get a little hot under the collar when told "Don't worry about underhanded dealings in your nonprofits, they happen all the time." Such responses have happened in a thousand small towns and in some large organizations (though usually on talk radio or in the local paper, not on the internet. Yet). Public response to public missteps are a reality of work in the sector."
posted by Miko at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2008


The Chronicle of Philanthropy article is decent; it recognizes that the AskMe question is serious enough to explain:

On Metafilter, an online message board, Mr. Karnofsky promoted GiveWell without identifying himself. In one message he asked for ideas on how to choose a charity to support and then “answered” as another writer by touting GiveWell’s evaluations of nonprofit groups.

Curious to see if the NYT does any sort of follow-up to its Dec. 20 puff piece. One would expect *something.*
posted by mediareport at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2008


Well put, Miko.

/Coals to Newcastle, but so what?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:54 AM on January 7, 2008


Also, wanted to confirm that I have never heard of a fine or 'financial penalty' being levied for something like this, and would be interested in clarification as to whether that's a pay cut, a donation, or what. It's unusual.
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on January 7, 2008


I think Miko has summed this up pretty well, with her usual even, reasoned tone. She's truly the Best of MeFi.

I wish we could let her have the last word and the moderators would close this thread up. I really think we're done here now, nothing more to see, move on. I'd rather leave it to history and PhD dissertations to continue this discussion.
posted by dw at 9:58 AM on January 7, 2008


Jeez, dw, let's at least get to lunchtime on the west coast before the discussion is closed off.
posted by mediareport at 10:26 AM on January 7, 2008


You accusing me of East Coast MeFi Bias? Because I'm Northwestside representing.
posted by dw at 10:37 AM on January 7, 2008


But infairness, I think most of the hyperbole evolved in response to the 'no-big-deal' evaluation of other voices in the debate. Since it is a big (enough) deal, the rhetoric occasionally became heightened and somewhat aggressive, because it seemed as though only using very strong terms would elicit a sense of proportionalism from defenders of the questionable actions in the web community at large.

Exactly. If the response had been "Goodness gracious, that's awful—thanks for alerting us! We'll investigate and take appropriate action," the reaction here would have been very different (though of course we would still have watched with eagle eyes to see what action was taken).

I wish we could let her have the last word and the moderators would close this thread up. I really think we're done here now, nothing more to see, move on.

Oh, come on. If you're tired of it, quit reading. I think there's lots more to see, including whatever ripples appear in the mass media, and I'm still learning from every comment Miko and other knowledgeable posters make. This isn't about getting Holden ("OK, we got 'im, boys! On to the next malefactor!"), this is about a whole complex situation that MeFites are doing a great job of clarifying for those of us who didn't have a clue.
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hey, sorry, late to the party. I've had the flu and pink eye for the last week and totally missed out on this. I'm still groggy as shit and was just wondering if someone could summarize what the hell went on with GiveWell and MeFi. Cheers.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:20 AM on January 7, 2008


There's a MeFi Wiki on the subject. Here you go, lazaruslong.
posted by stagewhisper at 11:37 AM on January 7, 2008


How sure are we that he actually was the one doing that? Given Holden's willingness to use a new employee's identity to pretend to be a disinterested proponent, wouldn't it be just as likely it was him as Elie doing those things? Things he was doing rampantly all over the internet at the same time?

No, and its one of the things that pushed me away from taking a more forgiving stance.

Tim Ogden, himself, admitted that Elie was participating in blog posting in at least one thread (the one Ogden pointed out in his post that was at the WSJ). It proved that it wasn't a lapse of judgment, but rather, a concerted action between both founders. Holden was made a fall guy over this mess, mainly I think, because the role he played in it being uncovered, and his direct participation here on Metafilter.

I think Elie's activities should have also been addressed, and perhaps they were at the Board meeting, but I won't be running around calling for Elie's blood over the matter. It seems that a decision was made, the gravity of which cannot really be decided without more information. If a replacement was hired for Holden's previous post, it might prove that Holden has been relegated to a less important and influential position.
posted by Atreides at 11:37 AM on January 7, 2008


One of the things that is hard to convey to a new observer is why a Metatalk thread would be allowed to contain angry or nasty or ugly comments. We do not hang a sign over the door that summarizes any of it; I'm not sure what that sign would say

Here there be assholes.
posted by shmegegge at 11:41 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Search for "posted by Miko" in the other thread, lazarus; it's a great way to get caught up and miss most of the dumb stuff.

Basically, GiveWell made a splash last year by aggressively attacking what it called a "lack of transparency" about "effectiveness" in the charity world. One of the founders, Holden Karnofsky, seemed to get off on being something of an obnoxious punk while doing it, pissing off a lot of folks but hitting a sympathetic nerve with others who agreed that the charity world needed a bit of shaking up. Karnofsky and the other GiveWell folks decided that the December giving season would be a good time for a major media pitch, and so put out a press release that suckered in a lot of folks and resulted in puff pieces about their Important New Model for gauging charity effectiveness. At this point, Holden and his partner Elie also began a campaign of leaving non-transparent comments at a series of sites around the web, hyping GiveWell and attacking its competition without clearly identifying themselves as GiveWell founders.

It's worth noting here that Miko, who works in the nonprofit world, took issue with GiveWell's entire schtick, pointing out that not only are there already decent ways of judging effectiveness that other charities are doing, but that GiveWell's way of measuring it is, in fact, inferior to those other decent ways, and seemed more dependent on 1) folks believing GiveWell's arrogant, misinformed, self-absorbed PR hype and 2) a previous generation of charity types' lack of familiarity with the Web than on anything really new.

Anyway, at the tail end of GiveWell's December media push, Holden decided to game AskMe to boost his Google rank. He asked and answered his own question, using two different accounts, simply to get another GiveWell mention on a popular site. He was caught and quickly apologized for a momentary "lapse in judgment" caused by sleep deprivation but not for the rest, which was shortly discovered: that pattern of non-transparent comments hyping GiveWell and attacking its competition across a series of sites throughout the month of December.

Over the course of the discussion here, many other criticisms and questions about GiveWell, from the infrequent meeting of its Board of Directors to its own financial transparency, were raised. Again, searching for "posted by Miko" (and nax and dw and a few others) will net you most of the good stuff. Yesterday, GiveWell's board announced the removal of Holden from the GiveWell board.

There was a lot more, mainly arising from shockingly clueless summaries and defenses of Holden at various media and philanthropy-related sites, but that's the gist. Miko deserves a medal is the bottom line.

And now, you owe me a beer. :)
posted by mediareport at 11:52 AM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


mediareport writes...
[fairly succinct summary of the story to date]

You forgot the part where after Holden was caught gaming Metafilter, he attempted to bribe his way out of it.

That's what the "[...] as were his attempts to ameliorate the situation by offering a financial contribution" part of the press release is about.
posted by tkolar at 12:03 PM on January 7, 2008


Here's a NYT article discussing accountability among non-profit organizations, a topic that came up often in the previous GiveWell thread.
posted by bassjump at 12:07 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that part seemed so colossally stupid that it never really bothered me as much as some of the rest of you. It was clear he was flailing at that point, as some part of him realized things were about to spiral out of control. The immediate reaction to buy his way out of it was revealing, but I never thought of it as much of a serious offer.
posted by mediareport at 12:10 PM on January 7, 2008


I'm uncomfortable with the 'medal' comment and all that (though it's nice of you to say), partly because it rings wrong to be 'proud' of something with some serious impact, but also because so many people have been so interesting and made great contributions to this topic and represented us well and been all sorts of deep, smart, fascinating, educated, aboveboard, thougtful, and curious. I'd start naming names but you can read the thread and see the many outstanding thoughts posted - you'll see it's not a one-person gig. The Chronicle piece is actually a very good summation in shorthand.
posted by Miko at 12:16 PM on January 7, 2008


Miko, you deserve a medal for the amazing way you held yourself throughout the whole thing, in the midst of tremendous dirt and deliberate misunderstanding, and even after being viciously smeared. You stood straight and calm and intelligent and filled with heart throughout. Sorry, but that's definitely medal-worthy. :)
posted by mediareport at 12:24 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


If the response had been "Goodness gracious, that's awful—thanks for alerting us! We'll investigate and take appropriate action," the reaction here would have been very different.

Same for me, no question.

With regard to the board's action, twelve hours or so later I find my main response to be indifference. Givewell's declared mission was to start a revolution. Over the past week the organization had a real opportunity to take action that would have truly stood out, perhaps to the point of being studied for years as an example of entrepreneurial charity. Now it's just another nonprofit that responded to a crisis by rearranging titles and trying to move on.

A couple phrases commonly used in the corporate world come to mind. The first is musical chairs, shuffling around managers and titles to give the impression of change. Yes, Holden has technically been demoted, but the same folks that went into the board meeting came out, albeit with a couple different labels.

The second is kabuki dance, which in certain circles is another way of describing an action done mainly for show. Yes, the board publicly condemned Karnofsky's actions in the strongest terms possible (whatever that may mean), but to follow that up with mockery of the critics' concerns--the sarcastic blog note from a board member about spending time in New Haven is significant--sends a message about what's really being said.

I want to be clear: this isn't an attack. It's just the sort of straightforward assessment that goes on all the time in the corporate world, which, if I recall correctly, is the standard that GiveWell originally sought to apply to the nonprofit sector. There are any number of people out there who are noticing a real disconnect between ideals and action. Just because they do not post on message boards does not mean their skepticism is less real.

The next phase in the rhythm of incidents like this is what we've been seeing here and elsewhere, and yes, it has its place--we naturally gravitate toward closure. On this score the reaction of many people in the MeFi community has been gracious and admirable, despite and perhaps in part even because of the negativity thrown their way.

But as a person whose job is more to explain than to participate, I cannot help observing that damage has been done.
posted by jefftrexler at 12:25 PM on January 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


Man, I somehow missed most of this (having closed the original thread sometime around where Cortex and Matt banned dude for astroturfing, which was was, 3rd comment?). Then, somehow I went back and read most of that thread there (I am some kind of nuclear powered glutton for punishment, I guess). I learned three things that I already know:

A) Miko is a wicked fahking smaaaaat and classy person.
2) Lots of people are on the make.
iii) When we set out to deceive, we almost universally forget that we are mostly lying to ourselves.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:35 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I would also like to congratulate (brand new) MeFite Tim Ogden on his new interim position as Board Secretary.

Did you intend this to be as smug as it sounds? Do you think brand new MeFite Tim Ogden is really happy to be in this new position?
posted by xmutex at 12:36 PM on January 7, 2008


*FULLEST POSSIBLE (511) DISCLOSURE: I have worked with, in some fashion, almost every individual and organization mentioned in Caruso's article. I have championed Caruso's book as as a "must read" and a critical resource for philanthropy. I have read all of the studies she mentions in her piece and may have even contributed to some of them in some small way, shape, or form. Oh, let me not forget that I've spent time in New Haven and met with some of the folks mentioned in that story also. If I have somehow omitted or mischaracterized an affiliation or attribution, I have done so only in error, not as an attempt to mislead.

Heh :-)

I'm sure she's none too happy to have learned that she's living in a fishbowl. At least she has a sense of humor about it.
posted by tkolar at 12:38 PM on January 7, 2008


Oh, come on. If you're tired of it, quit reading. I think there's lots more to see, including whatever ripples appear in the mass media, and I'm still learning from every comment Miko and other knowledgeable posters make. This isn't about getting Holden ("OK, we got 'im, boys! On to the next malefactor!"), this is about a whole complex situation that MeFites are doing a great job of clarifying for those of us who didn't have a clue.

I did qualify it with "I wish." In my mind, at least, this chapter is over. The mass media recriminations may come, they may not. They probably won't come for days (since the press seems to be 1-3 days behind the web).

If we want to, we could keep discussing all the issues that have arisen from this event for weeks to come. Is there such a thing as anonymity on the web? How is it different from real-world anonymity? Is a username the same thing as a "mask?" Why are we so drawn to hypocrisy? Why is there such a disconnect between the philanthropic community and what happens on the ground level of an NPO? Are the things Givewell is attempting to measure even quantifiable? Are their comparisons even valid? Why are we so focused on metrics and benchmarks nowadays? Why is the philanthropic community still carrying a 1998-1999 mindset about the web? Should cortex/jessamyn moderated the threads as if they were in the Blue instead of the Grey? Should MeFites run to other blogs to defend the group? Should the moderators? Is Internet community supposed to function just like meatspace community? What does community even look like nowadays? Etc. etc. etc.

I mean, we certainly could. We could even queue them up for the BBQ. But I feel like we're now moving well beyond the original issues (although, given, we were beyond those after comment 3), and the questions that we are left with feel way too big to even try to answer in the Grey.

I just felt that Miko's statement drew a line under the entire event, and I would have been happy with leaving it at that. I'm probably just sleep-deprived, though.
posted by dw at 12:38 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


We could even queue them up for the BBQ.

Yeah, I've been thinking about that, actually.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:43 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, one thing I feel remiss in saying: Going through Holden's del.icio.us links days after the facts of the matter had already been laid out was too much. I was going to say that to the poster in the thread yesterday, but I got distracted. But that was a bit too far.
posted by dw at 12:48 PM on January 7, 2008


In addition to the new Chronicle of Philanthropy article (cited above) they pose the question: Did Givewell Take the Right Action in Response to CEO's Missteps?
posted by ericb at 12:56 PM on January 7, 2008

"Phil Cubeta, a financial and charitable-giving adviser, writes that he worries that the 'beating' Mr. Karnofsky has received over the incident will lead other grant makers not to use the Internet to discuss their operations with the public.

'Will the lesson learned inside the closed world of elite philanthropy be that it should stay closed?' he asks on his blog, Gift Hub."*
posted by ericb at 12:59 PM on January 7, 2008


I've been profoundly moved and heartened reading holden00's apologies, confessions, coming clean and taking action to make things right. Also really pleased by the sane dialog between MeFites and holden00 on the relevant issues.
posted by nickyskye at 1:01 PM on January 7, 2008


The guy needs to learn a lot about Humility...

I find it quite ironic that Holden's last blog post at Gladwell before this kerfuffle fuffled was:
Transparency, Measurement, Humility

"Transparency is the one thing about GiveWell that everyone seems to like. Our focus on measurement is much more contested. I believe that the connection is tight, though, because both are necessary consequences of humility..."
posted by ericb at 1:16 PM on January 7, 2008


Phil on the fallout question: But, the scene got so wild on line over the Holden thing that I am concerned that conservative risk averse philanthropy people will be less likely to venture on line, lest something dreadful happen.

See, this is where I part ways with languagehat about Phil; I think he's still completely full of shit. If Phil's so concerned about the fallout question, he'd clearly and repeatedly state at Gifthub the real lesson of Holden's actions for "conservative, risk-averse philanthropy people": Do not lie about who you are online to promote your charity.

Simple, right? Somehow, I think "conservative, risk-averse philanthropy people" would find a way to understand that one. Of course, Phil's in no position to be talking to people about the risks of lying about who you are online, given his intense love of masked play. So, he's close to worthless on this issue, one of the most interesting to hit his world in weeks, if not months. Instead, we get more open-ended questions and misleadingly vague phrases like, "the scene got so wild on line" that serve only to confuse the issue further.

Even now, at this late stage, he can't find a way to avoid confusing things. It's difficult not to see that as pathetic.
posted by mediareport at 1:17 PM on January 7, 2008


posted by mediareport Even now, at this late stage, he can't find a way to avoid confusing things. It's difficult not to see that as pathetic.

I think it says more about Phil's lack of understanding about the way in which online communities actually work, and if you read it carefully, Phil's description of "conservative, risk-averse philanthropy people (who) will be less likely to venture on line" is just a description of himself.
posted by fandango_matt at 1:27 PM on January 7, 2008


I don't think he's full of shit, but I do sometimes wonder how much he's allowing himself to live in denial. the scene got so wild online? really? this ain't Lineage clans killing each other in the streets over something that happened in the game, you know? This is people reacting to unethical behavior. how does ANYONE take away from this situation that the problem here is metafilter? it blows my mind.
posted by shmegegge at 1:29 PM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yes, and remember he was the one defending some of the most disgusting comments in the affair, which showed up at his own site. "The scene got so wild online," indeed.
posted by mediareport at 1:36 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


See, this is where I part ways with languagehat about Phil; I think he's still completely full of shit.

I didn't say he wasn't full of shit, and he'd be the first to agree that he's full of shit (which is what his Fool persona is all about). So what? We're all full of shit to some extent. My point is that, unlike Holden & Co., he is a good guy and hasn't done anything wrong except try to stand by someone he considered (however mistakenly) a friend. I understand people being impatient with his rather silly roleplaying thing; I fail to understand the venom directed at someone who is not part of the Givewell mess.

Yes, and remember he was the one defending some of the most disgusting comments in the affair, which showed up at his own site.


For fuck's sake, he apologized for that. Have you never said anything you regretted afterwards? Do you want people bringing it up forever after and throwing it in your face?
posted by languagehat at 1:46 PM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


I find it quite ironic that Holden's last blog post at Gladwell before this kerfuffle fuffled was:

There's probably no end to the ironies over there. The World's Tiniest Violin in the ant photoshop job here made me laugh, considering all the people who leapt to both GiveWell and Holden's defense.

I'm looking forward to hearing the board meeting audio to see if anything was said about Elie's similar behaviour. Granted, he didn't try to pay hush money or attempt bogus excuses; but he did the same spammy BS. Their people page says that he's working for The Clear Fund, as if that's some sort of separate entity... but the footer of their website clearly says "GiveWell, aka The Clear Fund".
posted by CKmtl at 1:50 PM on January 7, 2008


For fuck's sake, he apologized for that.

He keeps adding hypocrisy, though, hon. "Things got so wild online" in significant part because of his defense of sleaze and later, his own attacks. Yes, for fuck's sake, he did apologize. But he's right back at it now, hypocritically moaning about the horror of online scenes and continuing to confuse the issue. I'm sorry, but that's some pretty bullshit behavior, even after apologizing.
posted by mediareport at 1:51 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


'Will the lesson learned inside the closed world of elite philanthropy be that it should stay closed?'

and so now, from his own words, the admission that he's an elitist - that's what he was doing to us over here and i didn't like it - nor did i like all the talk about the "mob" - it's classist and it reeks of dismissing one's critics not as wrong, but as socially inferior

i get the feeling that it doesn't really matter to them what a lot of us think because we don't belong to the right social circles anyway

But, the scene got so wild on line over the Holden thing that I am concerned that conservative risk averse philanthropy people will be less likely to venture on line, lest something dreadful happen.

like, god forbid, finding out that other people matter as much as you do and their opinions actually count for something?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:03 PM on January 7, 2008


I fail to understand the venom directed at someone who is not part of the Givewell mess.

A fairly fine distinction to make, since he waded right in to defend Holden with no prompting from anyone.

But that's not really why he's attracted so much venom. He's attracted the venom because he presents a face of wealth and privilege to Metafilter -- he might as well have showed up claiming to be a Catholic Bishop who moonlights as a traffic cop. He'd be getting the same welcome.
posted by tkolar at 2:22 PM on January 7, 2008


But, the scene got so wild on line over the Holden thing that I am concerned that conservative risk averse philanthropy people will be less likely to venture on line, lest something dreadful happen.

Indeed, something dreadful did happen. Phil discovered online communities are a brave new world full of people who are much smarter and more resourceful than he is, and they don't like being lied to by people who claim to be something they aren't.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:23 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


he might as well have showed up claiming to be a Catholic Bishop who moonlights as a traffic cop.

a FAT catholic bishop who drives an SUV, moonlights as a traffic cop, tazes people and makes them listen to celine dion cds at walmart
posted by pyramid termite at 2:34 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Can we stop with the pile-on now? The fellow is a new member and has apologized for his past transgressions and gone to great lengths to explain himself; let's please judge him from here on out on the basis of his conduct here.
posted by whir at 2:44 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are a couple of things that arise for me from this fallout, and from Phil's post at GiftHub.

I think there's some issue between philanthropy and charity which is worth addressing here. Phil is absolutely correct in that the foundation world is often closed. I don't know of any grantmaker here that is as publicly open about its procedures and policies as Givewell. Having sat in some foundation board meetings, I can see why that happens. Not because anyone at the meetings I've been to was dishonest or flippant or crooked; on the contrary, I was extremely impressed by the trustees' devotion to the foundation's purposes and to the applying organisations, by the sharp questions they asked about the applications, by the level of research they expected. But I can see why some of the decisions were not made public, because often it might boil down to a point that could lead the foundation open to endless debates and arguments. I think Givewell was doing a brave thing by making that process open to public scrutiny.

None of that is to say that there is no openness or information sharing on the part of foundations; on the contrary, there's a lot of informal knowledge sharing within the foundation world. But I think waving the banner of the closed foundation world around is a bit of a red herring in this case. Holden was here promoting Givewell, not because it was a cool transparent grantmaker, but because he was touting for donations. The question and answer were explicitly framed in such a way as to encourage the reader to donate to Givewell. It's not their actions as givers that led to the scandal. It's their actions as potential recipients - as fundraisers, if you like.

All the guff about Holden's life of privilege and all the criticisms of him for it are a smokescreen, obscuring the facts. All the breaking of Metafilter rules and conventions are a smokescreen. The reason for the scandal is that the CEO of an organisation which openly promotes itself as uniquely open and transparent was both badmouthing other charities and attempting to obtain donations through misrepresentation and deception. Any other criticisms of Holden and Givewell, valid or not, justified or not, are actually leading us away from that issue.

If Givewell's board had been approached by a charity seeking a grant, which was engaged in the same practices Holden displayed here and elsewhere, wouldn't they use that deception as one of the factors they'd weigh up when choosing not to fund said charity? That's the real issue, not the fact that foundations don't make their decisionmaking process public or that the world of philanthropy can be elitist or that Givewell was trying to break those things down.
posted by andraste at 2:48 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


But he's right back at it now, hypocritically moaning about the horror of online scenes and continuing to confuse the issue. I'm sorry, but that's some pretty bullshit behavior, even after apologizing.

So if someone (say, me) flies off the handle, they're forever barred from saying they would like to see some civility? That's some pretty strict standards, there.

'Will the lesson learned inside the closed world of elite philanthropy be that it should stay closed?'
and so now, from his own words, the admission that he's an elitist


Are you unable to read? He's been trying for years to open up the closed world of elite philanthropy; he's expressing his concern that because of this they may resist the idea. How does that make him an elitist?

A fairly fine distinction to make, since he waded right in to defend Holden with no prompting from anyone.

So if you defend someone accused of something, you're automatically the same? Gee, that fits right in with the philosophy of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

But that's not really why he's attracted so much venom. He's attracted the venom because he presents a face of wealth and privilege to Metafilter

Huh? How, exactly?

Phil discovered online communities are a brave new world full of people who are much smarter and more resourceful than he is

Wow, that's childish. Right, we're all much smarter and more resourceful than this guy, because... we caught a guy astroturfing and he didn't. Or we know better than to quote Erasmus in public. Or something. Also, Phil was involved in online communities well before a lot of people here. But hey, he's not as cool as you, so the hell with him.

Here I was feeling pretty good about this community because of the conversation in the other thread, but this one has degenerated into "let's get the fat kid!" I still fail to understand the venom against someone who has done nothing but 1) try to defend someone he thought of as a friend and 2) join this community in the hopes of continuing what he saw as a useful dialogue, but hell, have at him. You'll probably succeed in driving him away and then have a little victory dance. Enjoy!
posted by languagehat at 2:54 PM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Honestly, guys, back off Phil already. Yes, he's a pompous twit. He admits as much. But he came here in good faith and people are shitting all over him.

You all want to feel like you're beating up the bully, but you're just smacking around the art school kid who is friends with the arrogant football player because how DARE he be friends with that prick?

Does his "satire" make sense? No. Does he "get it?" Not completely. But, you know, so don't a lot of other people here and elsewhere.

I've been defending MeFi for being smart kids talking about the broader issues and NOT being an angry lynch mob, only to find that now people ARE turning into an angry lynch mob.

It's like your spy slipped up behind me and knifed me in the back.

No, not bitter about getting my ass handed to me continually by a few of you in Team Fortress 2. Not bitter at all. Sigh.
posted by dw at 3:15 PM on January 7, 2008


It's difficult not to see that as pathetic.

Between you and your self-selected nemesis here, there's someone who's behaving in a pathetic way. I'll give you a wee hint: it's not Phil. He may be right or wrong in what he says, he may even come off pretentious and annoying to some, but (contrary to fandango_matt's bogglingly clueless assertion above) he's no dummy, and he's consistently behaved here in a reasonable and civil fashion, in stark contrast to the relentless trash talk of a handful of vicious members in this community. If there is counterevidence to that, I challenge you to show me it.

You embarrass yourself and the rest of us with this inexplicable determination to attack Phil Cubeta, who has done no wrong here.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:15 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, good grief. After defending Holden and then apologizing, Phil then went on to post in his blog about how, ". . . the scene got so wild on line over the Holden thing that I am concerned that conservative risk averse philanthropy people will be less likely to venture on line, lest something dreadful happen."

Translation: "Holden may have done a bad thing, but it wouldn't have been such a big deal if MetaFilter hadn't stuck their big noses where they didn't belong!"

Also, Phil voices concerns that "something dreadful might happen." What Phil is really worried about is the loss of his job when people discover certain brands of philanthropy are just businesses looking out for their own self-interests. The fact Phil fears the repercussions of online communities just proves how little he understands about the way in which they work.

I mean come on.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:17 PM on January 7, 2008


It's ridiculous to try to shut down folks who are responding to new developments in this thing by attacking them for "piling on." Phil has posted something new at his site, I have responded, both here and there.

languagehat, Phil's previous behavior is directly related to the bizarre, I think disingenuous stance he's taking now.

stav, I don't know what to say to you, except that I respect your desire to defend a pal. Good for you.
posted by mediareport at 3:19 PM on January 7, 2008


Are you unable to read?

yes, i was utterly unable to understand his name-dropping of every significant satirist of the last 2,000 years in defense of his writing style

i guess you're an elitist, too - otherwise you wouldn't be asking people if they could read
posted by pyramid termite at 3:22 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


LH, phil is a schumuck, and nowhere near as naive and innocent as you portray him. He does describe himself as part of the elite, so we do get to call him on that. He does deliberately engage in behavior AFTER his appology which contradicts the appology, so it's fair game to assume the appology was a lie. He is deliberately mischaracterizing the issue, if he's as online community-knowledgeable as you claim, which is just more proof of his bad faith-ness. Just because he just now paid his $5 to mefi doesn't mean we can't call him out on his lifetime of uselessness. He's another pointless middle-man in a business that doesn't need anymore, taking money from people who could help, people who need help, all to stroke his own ego.
DW, he has definetly NOT made anything I'd call goodfaith efforts. He deserves every bit of grief he gets and more, because he isn't any different than before.
posted by nomisxid at 3:25 PM on January 7, 2008


Huh? How, exactly?

I reckon that the vitriol would have been a good bit more tempered if dude had gone to Michigan State and spent time as an accountant before joining Givewell.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:27 PM on January 7, 2008


Heh. My misunderstanding. Please ignore my prior comment.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:28 PM on January 7, 2008


Translation: "Holden may have done a bad thing, but it wouldn't have been such a big deal if MetaFilter hadn't stuck their big noses where they didn't belong!"

He wrote in English, no translation required. That "what he REALLY meant" interpretation of yours is just that: your own interpretation. You're reading a lot of tone into it that isn't necessarily there, or that he didn't intend to put in it.

The fact Phil fears the repercussions of online communities just proves how little he understands about the way in which they work.

Actually, he says he's concerned that conservative risk-averse philanthropy people will fear the repercussions. Because they probably won't understand the way in which online communities work. This could be addressed either by said philanthro-wonks not participating online, or by their being educated/advised about online communities. Hopefully by someone with more insight than Holden/Elie, that is.

And, yeah, piling on the newbie and nitpicking his every word is distasteful. At least wait for him to champion the wrong breed of cat before getting to that stage.
posted by CKmtl at 3:35 PM on January 7, 2008


languagehat: [...]someone who is not part of the Givewell mess.

tkolar: A fairly fine distinction to make, since he waded right in to defend Holden with no prompting from anyone.

languagehat: So if you defend someone accused of something, you're automatically the same?

No, if you wade in and start defending someone accused of something then you become part of the mess.

I was objecting to your portrayal of Phil as just a random passerby who happened to have shown up at the same time the Givewell mess was happening and had no particular connection to it.

As for how Phil presents the face of wealth and privilege to Metafilter, perhaps you missed the "Morals Tutor To America's Wealthiest Families" bit. That's a mask he's chosen to wear elsewhere, and the over-educated voice he continued to use over in the other thread. Wealth and privilege do not play well here, as more than one innocent AskMe user has found. I don't particular like that aspect of Metafilter, but that's the way it is.
posted by tkolar at 3:39 PM on January 7, 2008


LH, phil is a schumuck, and nowhere near as naive and innocent as you portray him.

I've known the guy for five years, but I defer to your judgment, since you are obviously a person of keen insight and deep knowledge of humanity.
posted by languagehat at 3:41 PM on January 7, 2008


There's some reasonably good drilling-down happening in the comments of the Gifthub thread under discussion; I blinked a little bit too at the initial post text, but the conversation is pretty reasonable. Instead of running with the uncharitable caricature, it's probably better to either just cool off a bit or try to engage with the discussion over there on the merits.

For example, I agree somewhat that there's a problem of maybe perception here, where Phil is simultaneously in the position of being on the tech vanguard as far as some of the philanthropy community goes (he's been blogging for a few years, at the very least) but doesn't really have a command of the group dynamics of larger web communities. His comment here isn't a bad attempt on his part to identify a lot of the points of consideration in some potential online place, which isn't a bad place to start identifying the pros and cons of different approaches.

So, you know, I'm pretty much agreeing with the Cut It Out folks. I can understand the frustration with his presentation and the culture clash between gifthub and here, but it's a little thick in here at the moment.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:42 PM on January 7, 2008


posted by CKmtl He wrote in English, no translation required. That "what he REALLY meant" interpretation of yours is just that: your own interpretation. You're reading a lot of tone into it that isn't necessarily there, or that he didn't intend to put in it.

I think it's pretty obvious what Phil meant, but suit yourself.

posted by CKmtl Actually, he says he's concerned that conservative risk-averse philanthropy people will fear the repercussions. Because they probably won't understand the way in which online communities work. This could be addressed either by said philanthro-wonks not participating online, or by their being educated/advised about online communities. Hopefully by someone with more insight than Holden/Elie, that is.

Ironically, the job of educating conservative risk-averse philanthropy people about online communities is part of what Phil does.

Onward.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:55 PM on January 7, 2008


I hope this isn't seen as piling on, but seriously. I've come to the conclusion, not angrily or hatefully, quite calmly, that Phil is out of his mind. Really. I Am Not A Doctor, but really do I think he's unbalanced in some way. And, yet again, he's posting, showing that he doesn't get it.

The irony comes now though -- I think Phil may be the Energy Creature of all time which we should strive at all costs Not To Feed. I think pursuing his posts or arguing about his words are likely to prove a horrible distraction.

You know what's still perplexing me? The fact that other people still don't get it..

I imagine the web/AskMe as a town meeting. Holden comes in, stands on the left wearing a hat and coat and asks a question: "what should the town spend its taxes on?".

Then he ducks over on the right, takes off his coat and hat, puts on a false moustache and answers his own question: "I personally thing you should spend the money at givewell.com!".

It's morally wrong, it's deliberately misleading, it's pretty damn stupid, and it's embarrassing for everyone who's put their trust in him.

And then, some of the people at the meeting start to cat-call and insult him. They swear at him and say rude things about his background.

The fact that some people think the catcalling and insulting is the main problem strikes me as completely mad.

The fact that some people seem to think that further investigation, after coming across the first couple of examples, was distasteful, strikes me as completely mad.

The fact that people worry that it will discourage people from coming to town meetings in future strikes me as completely mad.

The fact that people skate over the monumental deceitfulness and stupidity of what he did and say "hey hey, he meant well" strikes me as completely mad.

I ask this in all seriousness: can someone explain to me, how this looks to those people who Still Don't Get It?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:05 PM on January 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


posted by AmbroseChapel I imagine the web/AskMe as a town meeting. Holden comes in, stands on the left wearing a hat and coat and asks a question: "what should the town spend its taxes on?".

Then he ducks over on the right, takes off his coat and hat, puts on a false moustache and answers his own question: "I personally think you should spend the money at givewell.com!".


Brandon Hardesty, please pick up the white courtesy phone!
posted by fandango_matt at 4:08 PM on January 7, 2008


I can understand the frustration with his presentation and the culture clash between gifthub and here

That's not all that's going on with the criticisms of Phil, cortex. But you know that.
posted by mediareport at 4:18 PM on January 7, 2008


Stephanie Strom, writer of the NY Times piece on GiveWell, says she will have a follow-up on this story in tomorrow's paper.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:27 PM on January 7, 2008


I think it's a big part of it, though. And I think that, as much as I sympathize with some of the sentiment, people are being a bit lazy over here about their condemnations. I'm not saying give him a hug and tell him you love him, but there's folks over here who are just as patly satisfied with their conclusions about the situation as folks were in comments on Gifthub that really pissed folks here off.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:33 PM on January 7, 2008


That's not all that's going on with the criticisms of Phil, cortex. But you know that.

The irony comes now though -- I think Phil may be the Energy Creature of all time which we should strive at all costs Not To Feed. I think pursuing his posts or arguing about his words are likely to prove a horrible distraction.

The fact Phil fears the repercussions of online communities just proves how little he understands about the way in which they work.

*sigh*. why are you talking about him? He's a friend of holden, he defended him, so what? This back and forth with and about the guy is just so tedious.
posted by delmoi at 4:35 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the "Metafilter = town" metaphor, where exactly am I supposed to spend my $20?
posted by Challahtronix at 4:46 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Stephanie Strom, writer of the NY Times piece on GiveWell, says she will have a follow-up on this story in tomorrow's paper.

Mainstream media appearance of "internet mob justice" in 3...2...1...



(I really, really hope I'm wrong.)
posted by mediareport at 4:48 PM on January 7, 2008


I hope this isn't seen as piling on, but seriously. I've come to the conclusion, not angrily or hatefully, quite calmly, that Phil is out of his mind. Really.

Yeah, you are piling on, and upping the ante. Plus, you're completely wrong. Really.
posted by languagehat at 5:04 PM on January 7, 2008


Man... really, please consider just dropping the whole Phil thing-- both defense and offense.

Phil's been hated on and Phil's been defended. At this point, everyone's gonna remain where they're standing, so what's the point in continuing the shoving match?
posted by zennie at 5:17 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow. I hope the NY Times folowup is as contrite and serious as the first piece was arrogant and lazy.

I also support dropping the whole Phil thing. It's such a sidebar to the much more interesting story here. Especially with a NY Times followup on the way.

Blazecock, how did you hear about this? I had written to Stephanie Strom with no reply. Did she reply to you?
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:33 PM on January 7, 2008


(half of MetaTalk) LESS PHILLING!
(other half of MetaTalk) HATE'S GREAT!

(JOHN MADDEN bursts through backdrop)

JOHN MADDEN: Hey! Look! It's MetaTalk! OMG, WTF! Where's the barbecue?

VO: MetaTalk. Everything you always wanted in an online community. And less.

(Fade to black.)
posted by fandango_matt at 5:33 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Consider, folks, that a New York Times followup will bring a *lot* of new visitors to MeFi tomorrow.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:44 PM on January 7, 2008


I continue to be pissed at how MetaFilter is being portrayed as the bad guy by the Givewell-associated people.

I don't feel any of them have provided a proper apology. They always use weasel words to reflect the fault back onto us. It's always our fault that there's this big mess at Givewell.

I want to hear someone in a position of authority say flat-out that Holden and Elie were dead wrong to use lies and manipulation to get their message out.

I doubt I'll be reading any real apologies, though, just as I doubt the "Holden punishment" is anything but a bit of hand-waving to make us feel better. It would not surprise me in the least if his job duties remain the same, his pay remains the same, and the only real penalty is that he doesn't get reimbursed the $10 he spent here at MeFi.

And as for Maureen O'Dowd (yeah, I'm responding to criticism made a few hundred comments ago), she's got her head lodged up her ass. Just like Phil, Givewell, and a few others, who continue to push this bullshit down our throats: that Holden's actions were merely "alternative discursive styles or communication techniques."

It's always denying the issue and weaseling with these people. Outright lying and subterfuge are merely "alternative discursive styles or communication techniques." Holden didn't do anything wrong, it was just alternative.

Screw that. This entire lot of dishonest scum posing as philanthropists can all go to hell.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:54 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actual conversations I have had with foundation representives (staff, consultants and boards):

me-- we fit your guidelines and would like to apply for a grant. Can you send your application materials.
foundation-- well, you can't apply uness you're on our list.
me-- how do we go about getting on your list?
foundation-- to get on the list, you have to be on the list. (sic. I am not kidding. I had this exact conversation)

me-- You fund organizations similar to my own. I'd like to come talk to you about your program before we submit a proposal.
foundation-- you have to have received funding before we talk to you
me-- how will I know if we're a good fit if I can't talk to you
foundation-- we only give that information to the organizations that we fund

Foundations are absolutely IMPENETRABLE. This is one of the things that I like about the GiveWell model (if not their execution). Their idea that transparency works both ways is dead on (too bad, of course, they don't appear to practice what they preach on this either). I think a lot of foundation officers and donors are terrified that they will be mobbed if they let an inkling out about what they do and how they do it. But development officers like two things-- safe bets and high percentage of return.

By this I mean that I don't want to send proposals to organizations that simply are not going to fund me. But feeding me tautologies like the conversations above is not going to make me go away. It just means that I'm going to take a chance on a proposal that looks like a fairly good fit, and probably end up wasting everyone's time. I really don't want to harass you for your money if you are not inclined to give it to me, if for no other reason than that I just don't have the time. I only want to go after money that I'm likely to get (high percentage of return. I don't want to have to put together 100 proposals and get 10 grants. I'd rather winnow that down by half or, hey, more!)

Many links and prior posts regarding overhead are also on target. The insistance on project/program funding to the exclusion of overhead is hugely problematic, especially if the donors then start deciding for you what constitutes overhead and what constitutes project. In the arts in particular there are funders who insist on overhead costs not to exceed 10%. I don't think this serves to make charities more "efficient" or "responsive" I think it leads to extremely creative bookkeeping. I suspect this is what led to Givewell's erroneous conclusion that overhead doesn't matter.

I am not attempting to excuse or rationalize their behavior, but GiveWell locked onto an excellent set of problems among agencies and donors. Their approach is both simplistic and oddly overarching. Holden's unfortunate dishonesty should not serve to negate or overshadow a valuable discussion.

At the very least, from a personal point of view, the entire contretemps has led this dinosaur (naxosaurus?) to the vibrant online philanthropy world, of which I was barely aware, to my shame. It's an ill wind that blows no good.
posted by nax at 5:56 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I for one welcome our NY Times....
posted by nevercalm at 5:58 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thesis:

I continue to be pissed at how MetaFilter is being portrayed as the bad guy by the Givewell-associated people.

Antithesis:

And as for Maureen O'Dowd (yeah, I'm responding to criticism made a few hundred comments ago), she's got her head lodged up her ass. Just like Phil, Givewell, and a few others... It's always denying the issue and weaseling with these people. Outright lying and subterfuge are merely "alternative discursive styles or communication techniques... This entire lot of dishonest scum posing as philanthropists can all go to hell.


Synthesis:

*head explodes*
posted by languagehat at 6:00 PM on January 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


Consider, folks, that a New York Times followup will bring a *lot* of new visitors to MeFi tomorrow.

"I also suggest that we use big words and perfect grammar, and refuse to write as the young ruffians in question speak.

"This could lead to some interesting 'dialogue.' "

posted by pyramid termite at 6:02 PM on January 7, 2008


AmbroseChapel writes...

I ask this in all seriousness: can someone explain to me, how this looks to those people who Still Don't Get It?


Well, in the case of Phil I would say that he went through a very quick arc of not quite getting it, entirely getting it, and then moving on to the issues that he really cares about rather than the ones we do.

This is the case for most of the other non-Metafilter players in this situation. At one point or another they've all said "Holden's activities were indefensible so we won't try." They then went on to try to draw other lessons from the situation -- in some cases this was a fairly transparent attempt to divert attention from Holden, and in other cases it was just people trying to draw lessons from the situation.

In our little corner of the internet the One And Only Lesson to be learned is that Thou Shall Not Be A Douchebag. From farther away the lesson is "Attempting to astroturf can lead to serious blowback". And from the furthest away the lesson is twofold: 1) "Have a clear communications policy", and 2) "The internet can bite hard if provoked."

That people are more concerned with those other lessons doesn't mean they don't get that you shouldn't be a douchebag, it's just that these other lessons are more pressing to their situation. Particularly a lot of this latest criticism about Phil ("He's over there attempting to obfuscate the case against Holden!") is very strange, as the case about Holden is over. There's nothing left to obfuscate. Phil is just meandering along trying in his own particular way to draw lessons from the whole mess.
posted by tkolar at 6:05 PM on January 7, 2008


I find it exceedingly hard to believe that Metafilter's point, of all points, was "don't be a douchebag."

Talk about "do as I say, not as I do."
posted by Dave Faris at 6:11 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Board believes that the acts of misrepresentation that were committed are indefensible and are in direct conflict with the goals of the organization, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.
I want to hear someone in a position of authority say flat-out that Holden and Elie were dead wrong to use lies and manipulation to get their message out.


I am only saying this because I care: there's a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing.
posted by tkolar at 6:15 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I find it exceedingly hard to believe that Metafilter's point, of all points, was "don't be a douchebag."

I edited for brevity.
posted by tkolar at 6:17 PM on January 7, 2008


Consider, folks, that a New York Times followup will bring a *lot* of new visitors to MeFi tomorrow.

MATHOWIE: ...they are coming.

CORTEX: (looks through door) They have a cave troll David Brooks.
posted by dw at 6:37 PM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Death by a dozen alter-egos.
posted by Brian B. at 6:42 PM on January 7, 2008


And as for Maureen O'Dowd

Who is Maureen O'Dowd?

And if you meant Maureen Doyle, she didn't write what I responded to, which tkolar was responding to in turn.
posted by dw at 6:43 PM on January 7, 2008


LH: please explain the asplodes thing. Maureen makes it our fault for not accepting an "alternative discursive style" that is, at its core, flat-out lying. To me, she is saying that Holden should be excused: the problem is that flat-out lying isn't a "good fit" for MetaFilter.

tkolar: thx for that quote. I take issue with the "strongest possible terms," as they clearly did not condemn them with the strongest possible actions, but that's just typical organizational weaseling. Holden's still employed in much the same position, just possibly at a lower pay scale. Strong, but not strongest.

Actually, re-re-reading that, I think I'll accept the Givewell board's apology at face value. "Acts of misrepresentation" adequately covers lying and deception; "direct conflict" acknowledges the problem of saying "honesty and transparency" while behaving completely the opposite, and "strongest possible terms" will have to do as-is.

I don't actually expect an apology from anyone, so that gets the bloggers who blame us for this problem off the (my) hook.

I do hope that a good number of the fools who got involved in this end up joining MeFi (under assumed names, preferably, so there's no baggage carried forward). I think they all will learn a great deal from this community about internet communities.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:45 PM on January 7, 2008


Sorry, Doyle, not Dowd. Not sure what you're referencing, dw. I'm pretty sure tkolar (linking in the "comment" link in my recent post) was refering to what I wrote in response to Doyle's remarkable inability to recognize that the problem is with the lying, not the promoting.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:47 PM on January 7, 2008


No, tkolar was extending off this comment I made, and I was responding to this comment by Jeff Doyle from the previous thread.

Just being your friendly neighborhood pedant.
posted by dw at 6:52 PM on January 7, 2008


Consider, folks, that a New York Times followup will bring a *lot* of new visitors to MeFi tomorrow.

From personal experience, links in from the New York Times actually don't generate much traffic, even on stories that top their 'most emailed' and 'most blogged' lists. Links from MetaFilter appear to generate much more traffic.
posted by dgaicun at 6:58 PM on January 7, 2008


Er, okay. That's not the tkolar comment I referenced, though. I am, however, now confused, so perhaps I'm mistaken. Either way, though, I still think MeFi has been painted as "the bad guy" by most of the off-site people who got involved.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:01 PM on January 7, 2008


Fff, let 'em.

They don't matter, and WE know better.
posted by konolia at 7:05 PM on January 7, 2008


Holden needs a hug. Phil needs one too, but doesn't want one.
posted by waraw at 7:19 PM on January 7, 2008


Either way, though, I still think MeFi has been painted as "the bad guy" by most of the off-site people who got involved.

So what? The people on gifthub are half crazed anyway, so who cares what they think? In fact, their trolling managed to make people here look a lot worse then they otherwise would have. They turned the whole Naritive onto themselves, and by acting weird they made our conversation weird.

Holden's actions have nothing to do with personas, Plato or any of that nonsense.
posted by delmoi at 7:41 PM on January 7, 2008


Apparently I've been commenting way too much. In any case, I've quoted both dw and fff above so I think you're both right.

FIVE FRESH FISH wrote...
they clearly did not condemn them with the strongest possible actions,

Hey, you just said you were looking for someone in authority to *say* Holden was wrong. I don't do miracles.

FIVE FRESH FISH also wrote...
Maureen makes it our fault for not accepting an "alternative discursive style" that is, at its core, flat-out lying.

Hmm, I think you're reading a lot more into Maureen's question than I did. To me it sounded like she was interested in how identity played into all this and, yes, confused about the difference between the easy identity swaps at Phil's blog and what Holden did here.

Her blog entry presented Metafilter in a poor light, but here she was asking questions and wanting to engage with us anyway. And not even quoting Diogenes every third line.

At the very least I would have liked to let her have enough rope to hang herself, instead of greeting her at the door with a four-letter salute that reaffirmed her first impression of an angry insatiable mob.
posted by tkolar at 7:45 PM on January 7, 2008


it seems as if phil isn't saying anything here anymore - which is just as well - unless he starts his shtick up here again, i'll just regard him as being irrelevent
posted by pyramid termite at 7:46 PM on January 7, 2008


By the sweet unsucked nipples of the mother of jesus, some of you people have me wishing for the first time ever in more than 7 years here that Metafilter had killfiling.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:53 PM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


In which our new members discover that every thread devolves.
posted by Miko at 8:09 PM on January 7, 2008


Blazecock, how did you hear about this? I had written to Stephanie Strom with no reply. Did she reply to you?

I received this from readerservice - at - nytimes.com:

Thank you for your email. I'm sorry to be tardy in responding. Our email system did not alert me to mail arriving via the Internet, so I was unaware that you had written until today, when another correspondent called to ask if I had received his email.

There will be a short story on this subject in tomorrow's paper.

Many thanks, Stephanie

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:22 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


stavrosthewonderchicken wrote...
By the sweet unsucked nipples of the mother of jesus,

Assuming I'm not in your killfile, could you expand on that oath a little? This is a part of the Christian Mythos I'm not familiar with.

(of course, I didn't know until about a month ago that Episcopalians needed an electrically grounded sink to clean a platter that the communion wafers were on, so apparently I'm fairly ignorant all around).
posted by tkolar at 8:32 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why "unsucked"?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:35 PM on January 7, 2008


At the very least I would have liked to let her have enough rope to hang herself, instead of greeting her at the door with a four-letter salute that reaffirmed her first impression of an angry insatiable mob.

Yah, I suppose. I was frustrated as hell: just as it seemed as though a few of them were beginning to grasp the concept, she come barging in with a fauxed-up concept of what was really going on.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:40 PM on January 7, 2008


Our email system did not alert me to mail arriving via the Internet, so I was unaware that you had written until today, when another correspondent called to ask if I had received his email.

LOL. The Times has this fancy-assed system for sending email to reporters via the website where you can't find a reporter's direct email or phone number. Then they don't bother to forward the emails to the reporters.

Bill Kristol is a perfect fit.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:43 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Bill Kristol is a perfect fit.

Bill Kristol Misattributes Quote in His First NYT Column.
posted by ericb at 8:46 PM on January 7, 2008


Unsuckled would indicate she hadn't yet been banged-up, que? Not "taken by god," so to say.

I wonder how Joseph dealt with the knowledge that he cuckolding God. Or, for that matter, if he ever wondered how his sexual performance compared to God's. Can you imagine how awkward the first time must have been? I mean, last time she had sex, she had sex with god!

Anyhoo....

posted by five fresh fish at 8:47 PM on January 7, 2008




So, to summarize:
1) Holden is the new Rusty Bottoms.
2) Metafilter spews forth gallons of self-congratulatory jism. elephant piss.

Thank you for tuning in.
posted by chlorus at 8:56 PM on January 7, 2008


NY Times story
posted by needled at 9:01 PM on January 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


I love you all so much for this that I broke my self-banishment to tell you so.

Back into Outer Darkness I go!
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:07 PM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

I hope some good comes of this - for the [very worthy] work Holden wanted to do and for anyone observing the situation. I’d like to use this sad tale as a reminder to all of us that you MUST be honest and authentic online, or else. In the Web 2.0 world, no matter how good your intentions, you pay a big price for misrepresenting yourself. In your job, please never be tempted to AstroTurf. Don’t anonymously post good things about your organization or bad things about others without identifying yourself, because it’s unethical in my view. And if that’s not incentive enough, know that those tricks tend to get discovered. They will estrange and enrage the very people you set out to influence. You and your cause will get burned.
posted by Miko at 9:22 PM on January 7, 2008


GiveWell’s board acted last week against the founder, Holden Karnofsky, demoting him from executive director to “program officer” and saying it was withholding $5,000 of his salary and using the money to pay for him to take a professional development course.-

So, if I'm reading this correctly, the only "financial penalty" Karnofsky gets is a one time 5k thing. No pay cut at all to go along with the purely symbolic demotion to another job title.

Why did only Holden get punished when Elie did the exact same things?? To me that is almost worse than if no one got punished at all. It makes it feel like Holden is simply being used as a sacrificial lamb; punished to go through the artificial public motions of appeasement, instead out of apprehending the real reasons we punish people. It's like the cargo cult imitation of business ethics.
posted by dgaicun at 9:24 PM on January 7, 2008


The Times reports that the 5K will actually go toward a professional development program. Not a bad benefit, especially if before-tax.
posted by Miko at 9:26 PM on January 7, 2008


Indeed, dgaicun, if you check out the minutes and documents from Givewell's first board meeting, the salary for a Program Officer (the position Elie holds and the one to which Holden was demoted) is exactly the same as Holden's original salary.
posted by ssg at 9:29 PM on January 7, 2008


NY Times story seemed straightforward enough.

And not a hint of mob justice or Metafilter bashing to be had.
posted by tkolar at 9:43 PM on January 7, 2008


NY Times story

Well, I expected worse, but that's about as perfunctory as you could get when covering this one. There's not a peep in the Times story about the fact that the episode here was part of a larger series of comments across a variety of sites over the course of December, and that part of the deception involved criticisms of other charitable groups. That seems an important part of the story; Stephanie leaves the impression that this was based on only one incident, which is unnecessarily misleading and could have been easily corrected with just a couple of words.

*shrug*

Newspapers fail us again.
posted by mediareport at 9:44 PM on January 7, 2008


Coming in late to this GiveWell thing, I have been a silent observer after the fact, and I have been so totally impressed with so many of my fellow mefites - miko, jessamyn, and cortex in the forefront -- and so many others - one of our finest hours.

But this thread? Could I get a side of "generosity of spirit" with the main course of honesty, please?

Don't think I'll be checking this thread any more - this is not my beautiful house.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:47 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


BTW -- regarding my stance as to GiveWell and their stated goal of examining and providing information/data on the effectiveness of non-profits I defer to folks who have the experience, knowledge and foundation of providing such this past decade. GiveWell, in my opinion, is nothing but a "pretender," new to the scene. What do 26 y.o. hedge-fund employees bring to the table at this juncture?

This past weekend The New York Times covers the issue of "measurability" vis-a-vis non-profits: Can Foundations Take the Long View Again?

There has been significant focus on such over the past decade. There is nothing "new/revolutionary" that GiveWell can offer as per their December P.R. push. Take for example the work of groups like The Bridgespan Group (affiliated with Bain & Company, Inc.) and New Profit, Inc. (affiliated with the Monitor Group). There is also the work done by Monitor Institute in collaboration with New Profit and Fast Company Magazine which has "created one of the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment processes for evaluating the performance of nonprofit organizations in the U.S."* They have used this evaluation process each year since 2004 in selecting The Fast Company/Monitor Group Social Capitalist Awards.

Why would one rely on the untested and amateur approach that GiveWell has exhibited in evaluating the performance of any non-profit? I'd go with the pros who've spent time in the sector and established their reputations over the past decade.

[Disclosure: I am an investor in NPI and have served as an advisor to the organization and to a number of its portfolio groups.]
posted by ericb at 10:08 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I’d like to use this sad tale as a reminder to all of us that you MUST be honest and authentic online, or else. "

So it's OK to be dishonest and inauthentic IRL?
posted by arse_hat at 10:26 PM on January 7, 2008


Can we please put the GiveWell Wiki link at the top of this thread? It is an absolutely invaluable resource, especially for those who are not familiar with MetaTalk and how this site operates. Not to mention the convenience for all having that reference point readily available.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:29 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Newspapers fail us again.

That was a bit underwhelming, wasn't it?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:30 PM on January 7, 2008


ericb, you forgot your disclosure over on the Givewell blog.
posted by netbros at 11:18 PM on January 7, 2008


It was a paltry and weak article at best. I remain optimistic that this is still just the beginning. And that intelligent readers will see that article and scratch their heads as they load Google.*

Also, I personally feel that it's really important to be bringing up the key points and insightful comments from this dialogue to *other communities* that are reporting and/or discussing GiveWell, such as NY Times, Digg, blogs and news sites. There are many people who would care about this controversy were they provided with a summary or a comment excerpt and a starting point. Most people do not have the time, resources or understanding of Metafilter to come here and involve themselves with a 10-ton thread.

(However, read a compelling comment or two and you may not be able to stop yourself from getting completely sucked in...which is exactly how I ended up spending the last 24 hours in front of my monitor.)

*It is a double shame that the NY Times article does not link to Metafilter. People don't seem to recognize that it all started here, and continues on, at roughly 1,700 comments. That is so unbelievably impressive for ANY forum, ANYWHERE, on just about ANY topic. If people knew just that fact alone, they might ask themselves what could these people could possibly be saying, 1,700 different ways.

posted by iamkimiam at 11:46 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


ericb, you forgot your disclosure over on the Givewell blog.

Oops. Done. Remedied.
posted by ericb at 12:41 AM on January 8, 2008


I cannot stop listening to umbú's musical take on this episode. It's brilliant. It'll break your heart and make you laugh at the same time.
posted by mediareport at 1:06 AM on January 8, 2008


The Board believes that the acts of misrepresentation that were committed are indefensible and are in direct conflict with the goals of the organization, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.
That's transparent...
...a transparent lie.

If they really condemned in the strongest possible terms, would Holden or Elie still be working for them? The mere fact that someone can say "These acts are so reprehensible that I will never willingly give money or allow by inaction money to be given to anyone who participates in such acts" indicates whatever the strength of their condemnation, it's far from the "strongest possible terms." WTF, givewell?
posted by juv3nal at 3:03 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sidhedevil, come back!
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:49 AM on January 8, 2008


Well, I expected worse, but that's about as perfunctory as you could get when covering this one.

it's about as much as one could reasonably expect - with all the things going on in the world, they aren't going to dwell on this for long

neither am i
posted by pyramid termite at 4:57 AM on January 8, 2008


note to givewell: when you make someone walk the plank, you put the plank over the gunwale of the ship, not over the galley.
posted by bruce at 6:55 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


LH: please explain the asplodes thing.

If you can read the two quoted sections and not recognize that the vitriolic nastiness of the second makes being "pissed at how MetaFilter is being portrayed as the bad guy" either stupid or disingenuous, I don't know what to tell you.

It is a double shame that the NY Times article does not link to Metafilter.

No, it's a lucky break. The fewer people who see this shitpile of a thread, the better. This place really does resemble Lord of the Flies sometimes.
posted by languagehat at 7:57 AM on January 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, I for one, hope that the world welcomes its new MetaFilter overlords!
posted by nax at 8:23 AM on January 8, 2008


I can't help but be a bit confused by those defending Metafilter's honor. I love this place as much as the next $5 newb, but isn't the whole point to a community this large that you don't love everyone or hate everyone but just coexist, hopefully peacefully? I can't take any responsibility for the efforts of Miko, cortex, or jessamyn when they perform beautiful feats of diplomacy and thoughtful engagement out on the rest of the web, but that also means I don't have to feel bad when some idiot goes out and makes a fool of herself with a link back to her Metafilter profile. We're only 'all in it together' when it comes to policy decisions about the site itself: threaded comments, deletions, banning trolls, etc. The rest of the time I live in Tennessee and y'all go about your lives somewhere else.

thread takeaway:

Do not become enraged when accused of acting like an angry mob. It's a performative confirmation.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:32 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Holden's still employed in much the same position, just possibly at a lower pay scale. Strong, but not strongest. Holden's still employed in much the same position, just possibly at a lower pay scale. Strong, but not strongest.

That's not how I see it at all.

If I were a board member at Givewell, there are a bunch of things that are at the forefront of my mind:

1.) The extent to which this might have damaged public trust in Givewell.
2.) The impact that letting go of Holden might have on any current donors or friends of the organization.
3.) The extent to which his passion, commitment and ability mean that he may be able to make a valuable ongoing contribution to the organization.
4.) My assessment of his ability to learn from his mistakes and move on.

Presumably, members of the board are likely to have a personal relationship with Holden, so they'll be best placed to judge some of these issues. The issue of the damage to public trust is a big one, but as Givewell appears to be very much Holden's personal vision, I'm pretty certain that he'll be as acutely aware of that as any other board member.

While I know nothing of Holden or his background, my impression is that Holden has always been a golden boy. A huge success at whatever he's turned his hand to. Harvard educated, valedictorian, a man with enough of a vision about how philanthropy works that he's able to persuade his hard-nosed hedge-fund boss to stump up a pile of dough to set up his own outfit.

For a person like Holden, in charge of an organization that he built, pursuing and implementing his own vision -- and if the media coverage is anything to go by -- and for most of the world, that tends to matter more than everything else. Then somebody comes away and takes that all away from you, puts you in a subordinate position and brings in somebody else with their own ideas of how things should be done. For somebody of Holden's age and experience, I think that can be deeply shaming. Perhaps more so than anything he's encountered in his life so far. In many ways, this might actually be a greater punishment than having him move on, find another job and go back to being a golden boy in some other field of endeavour.

But this gives him the opportunity to learn a little humility. To buckle down and learn about the field and what makes it tick. And if his vision really does have legs (and I share the concerns that Miko and Phil Cubitt have expressed about Givewell's business model and Holden's personal value system/political ideology), then it's an opportunity to try and thrash out which bits of that model actually do have value while the humility has the potential to modify his value system and his ideology accordingly.

And if it doesn't work, and the board doesn't see any signs that he's moving in the right direction, ship him out then. Again, to echo Miko elsewhere, if I was anything other than a vicarious onlooker from 5,000 miles away, I'd have my concerns about the board, its lack of experience and lack of diversity. But I don't think this was a bad decision at all. Just the opposite, in fact.

Gonna be interesting to see how they navigate the next twelve months or so.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:56 AM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


WTF, givewell?

For a group of people concerned at being considered as a blood-thirsty mob, we seem mighty blood-thirsty.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:04 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The people saying that this was a minor incident and is essentially over are missing the big picture.

First, there is the matter of GiveWell. The board members in particular have tied their political fortunes to a 20-something who acted like a dick on the internet. Clearly they should pay the consequences for that -- there are plenty of 20-somethings who never have been and never will be a dick on the internet, and I think we can agree that simply apologizing for hooking up with one is not nearly enough.

Then there is the charity world as a whole. Although GiveWell's schtick is that it was formed by outsiders with no real knowledge of that world, it is clear that GiveWell *is* a charity NPO. The 1.5 million charities in the U.S. should be rocked by this scandal. At the very least, they should be spending this week investigating the online behavior of their 20-something members.

And the business world -- Holden and Elie *come* from that world and clearly learned this poor behavior there. HR departments around the world should be holding seminars this week. Bridgewater should just close its doors right now.

Needless to say, Harvard had better give one spectacular apology. They've damaged their reputation irretrievably by admitted Holden.

Last but not least brings us to the government of the United States, which through its proclivities and negligence was perhaps the greatest contributor to this mess. Lesser scandals than this have brought down governments around the globe, and yet the US Goverment stands immune. I say that this is the moment we draw the line: A 20-something was a dick on the internet, so THIS GOVERNMENT MUST FALL!

In any case, those of you saying that this is "over" are clearly hallucinating. This legendary and shocking betrayal by a 20-something on the internet will have massive repercussions that will be felt for generations.

This is just beginning.
posted by tkolar at 9:04 AM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can't help but be a bit confused by those defending Metafilter's honor. I love this place as much as the next $5 newb, but isn't the whole point to a community this large that you don't love everyone or hate everyone but just coexist, hopefully peacefully?

It's kind of a "home town" thing. The tribal instinct runs strong in many of us, and urge to say "We know they're idiots, but they're OUR idiots" is an outgrowth of that.
posted by tkolar at 9:08 AM on January 8, 2008


For a group of people concerned at being considered as a blood-thirsty mob, we seem mighty blood-thirsty.

Remarking on the subject with a "WTF" is not blood-thirsty.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:13 AM on January 8, 2008


But I don't think this was a bad decision at all. Just the opposite, in fact.

I have to agree there. Given that Givewell is an organization that exists to prove or disprove this "hedge fund" approach to charity that only Holden seems to be backing so far, kicking Holden out wasn't really something that was a possibility for the board.

And frankly, let's not pretend that Holden is some sort of evil genius here. A little addicted to self-publicity, maybe -- but there's not much genius in the plan. If my name was Holden and I wanted to really fool people, I wouldn't do it through an online alter-ego whose handle contained my (rather unusual and fairly ironic) first name. The proposition of payment in a publicly-accessible, semi-open forum is also the hallmark of someone who hasn't thought his cunning plan all the way through. Or indeed much at all. One can only hope that he's thought his charity plan out more thoroughly.

I don't think the idea behind Givewell is a particularly good one. That being said the board didn't have much of a choice, because without Holden there's no Givewell at all, and that's the board's primary concern.
posted by clevershark at 9:13 AM on January 8, 2008


Why did only Holden get punished when Elie did the exact same things??

Presumably because he was only following orders? I don't think I'd like to discipline somebody who was pursuing the same course of action as his boss had endorsed, perhaps even encouraged him to pursue.

And while you can't carry this reasoning too far -- I mean, you can't line your own pockets because your boss happens to be stealing from the company -- I'm not sure that you can expect subordinates to carry the can for what amounts to attempting to pull of a bit of dodgy PR by dubious means, during a PR frenzy that's taking place in the old media. I can see how, in that situation, even someone with reservations might get caught up in the moment and do something that they wouldn't otherwise have done.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:20 AM on January 8, 2008


Wow, the NYTimes proves once again it is the bastion of investigative journalism and in-depth research. I suppose this article will appear somewhere under the fold, buried on page 37 too. To reduce it to merely the self-link trivializes the problem and effectively gives Holden a pass.
posted by ooga_booga at 9:20 AM on January 8, 2008


Docking pay strikes me as a punishment you use only on people to whom money is the only important thing. That's not a good sign for a charity.

This whole thing stinks really, really badly. I don't think this is a charity that's truly driven to help people, but rather to enrich the founders. I suspect the whole board is in on it.
posted by Malor at 9:37 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rewording.... the fact that the board thinks that docking pay is an appropriate punishment, and trumpets just how much they punished Holden, tells me that their main motivation is money. And I don't think it's for charitable purposes.
posted by Malor at 9:39 AM on January 8, 2008


What is Daniel Gadsby's MeFi username, since he was mentioned in the NY Times article? Just trying to fit him into the context of this whole thing, and wondering why the NYT picked him to quote. Forgive me if this should be blindingly obvious to anyone following this mess, I've been sick.
posted by desjardins at 9:44 AM on January 8, 2008


Remarking on the subject with a "WTF" is not blood-thirsty.

That was just the first one that popped out when I scanned through the messages. Probably a poor choice. I'm just struck at the number of people who seem to think that we're somehow entitled to have some sort of say in the goings-on of the Givewell organization.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:54 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm just struck at the number of people who seem to think that we're somehow entitled to have some sort of say in the goings-on of the Givewell organization.

Yeah, it's kind of weird. Like they owe us or something. Holden apologized for the self-link, which is the only thing that he actually did 'to us'. It's fine to have an opinion about him, and about GiveWell, but it seems like some people want to have this scorched earth battle with the lot of 'em and all their friends. Frankly, I think it's counterproductive.
posted by delmoi at 10:04 AM on January 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


the number of people who seem to think that we're somehow entitled to have some sort of say in the goings-on of the Givewell organization.

In my view, American citizenship allows us to critique and register opinions on nonprofit organizations, because they belong to the people, through the state government. The people are represented by the trustees, whom the state charges with the public trust. This is what makes them fundamentally different, governance and responsibility-wise, from private businesses.
posted by Miko at 10:06 AM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Agree that it doesn't need to be personally vindictive, though, which some seem to feel it is. No need.
posted by Miko at 10:06 AM on January 8, 2008


Miko: In my view, American citizenship allows us to critique and register opinions on nonprofit organizations, because they belong to the people, through the state government. The people are represented by the trustees, whom the state charges with the public trust. This is what makes them fundamentally different, governance and responsibility-wise, from private businesses.

This is particularly true of charities, which by definition serve a public purpose. Tax-exemption and deductibility only strengthen the connection. Time and again experience shows that when charities see themselves as above public critique, trouble lies on the horizon.

I'm not merely talking about an increased chance of a scandal. Burdensome laws are relics of suspicion and discontent from previous generations. When I wrote about hubris I wasn't just trying to be provocative. Besides being a lawyer I'm also a historian. I've seen this before, and the long-term results for charity usually aren't pretty.
posted by jefftrexler at 10:19 AM on January 8, 2008


Well, that was interesting. Who wants pie?
posted by jeanmari at 10:25 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


In my view, American citizenship allows us to critique and register opinions on nonprofit organizations, because they belong to the people, through the state government.

Okay, that excuses the Yanks; what about the rest of us?
posted by timeistight at 10:38 AM on January 8, 2008


(Sorry, I was channeling my mom there. Something she would say after a particularly crazy fight over dinner.)

For those of you who are still hanging in there and are checking in over at GiftHub, Phil just posted something (perhaps in response to a question that I asked him in a comment on his blog) that might be interesting to those of you who have an opinion about philanthropy, increased transparency and the internet.

I don't think his list reflects his personal opinion. It sounds more like some of the things that the powers-that-be would say in arguing against blogging and increased transparency on the 'net related to their activities.

If you have a productive counterpoint, please share. I think the opportunity to discuss the pro's and con's of online communications is a valuable one.
posted by jeanmari at 10:38 AM on January 8, 2008


I didn't really expect much from the NYT but Holden's own mea culpa enumerates the multitude of incidents, making it clearly not "a Web site" (when oh when with the AP recognize 'website' as valid?) but scores of "Web sites."

Not only is this lazy reporting, but since they are really reporting on the board's reaction to this incident they mischaracterize that incident by failing to accurately communicate why they took the action they did.
posted by phearlez at 10:39 AM on January 8, 2008


Insofar as the government regulates charities to ensure that they comply with the code that keeps them tax exempt, the only recourse you have as an individual in the ins-and-outs of them is whether you contribute to them. Other than that, it's none of your business.

That this little scandalous tableau occurred on our doorstep is immaterial.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:43 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't think his list reflects his personal opinion. It sounds more like some of the things that the powers-that-be would say in arguing against blogging and increased transparency on the 'net related to their activities.

Yeah, I think the final item makes that pretty clear:
I can't type; I have an assistant who does that for me.

Which won't stop idiots from attacking it as though it does reflect his personal opinion. "He called us the great unwashed! Fuck him!!"
posted by languagehat at 10:44 AM on January 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Response to my email noting the major missing parts of the NYT followup:

Thanks for your email. I know there are many more details, but with readers pressing us for shorter and shorter stories these days, I get less and less space to tell stories. So I try to hit the highlights at the very least.

Regards, Stephanie Strom
(01/08/08)
posted by zennie at 10:46 AM on January 8, 2008


Phil just posted something

Heh. (Which, incidentally, was my whole initial comment, though I'm concerned now that it might get read as a reply to whetever comment might be in the queue before mine, now. Oh well.)

I think that latest post may be a bit of a ride. Insofar as there's likely to be some earnest replies that don't take into account the intent of the post as a spit-take, well, oy all around.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:54 AM on January 8, 2008


(And there's a whole side-conversation to be had there about the pros and cons of moderated comments, the key thing that comes to mind here being the added administrative cost of watching the queue attentively 24/7—or at least at peak times, like right after making a post. It's interesting seeing some of the tweaks he's implementing at Gifthub in reaction to what is I take it a lot more commenting activity than usual. But that's sort of a side-conversation indeed.)
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:59 AM on January 8, 2008


Insofar as the government regulates charities to ensure that they comply with the code that keeps them tax exempt, the only recourse you have as an individual in the ins-and-outs of them is whether you contribute to them. Other than that, it's none of your business.

No, it's not just a matter of tax law. Tax reporting is the result, not the cause, of state oversight of the nonprofit sector. There are many nonprofits which are not eligible for tax exemption under the 501(c)3 code but are still granted nonprofit status by the states. In most states, a nonproft has to register with the state and abide by state oversight law whether or not they seek a tax exemption. In most states they have to file an annual report with the state. Sometimes the state will accept a Form 990 as the report, but sometimes have their own forms instead of or in addition to the IRS reporting form.
posted by Miko at 11:06 AM on January 8, 2008


readers pressing us for shorter and shorter stories these days

Well, ain't that depressing. I do have to wonder whether it's readers pressing for the shorter stories: I for one read the Times because of the more in-depth reporting, not in spite of it. (Though I'm down to Sunday-only now.)
posted by Miko at 11:09 AM on January 8, 2008


cortex wrote...
I think that latest post may be a bit of a ride. Insofar as there's likely to be some earnest replies that don't take into account the intent of the post as a spit-take, well, oy all around.

[shakes head, wonders what the hell otherwise sensible people are doing over there]

[wanders off in search of jeanmari to see if she has peach pie, or just one of those inferior *other* kinds.]
posted by tkolar at 11:26 AM on January 8, 2008


Other than that, it's none of your business.

Pretty well everything that gets posted to Metafilter is none of our business. That's not a reason not to discuss it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:27 AM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Phil just posted something... It sounds more like some of the things that the powers-that-be would say in arguing against blogging and increased transparency on the 'net related to their activities

Worse, some of these points could be copied almost verbatim from the US/UK Govt PR manual.

1. You are exposed to the unreasoning and ill-informed criticism of the great unwashed.
2. You become the target of class hatred and asinine charges of elitism by people you would never meet socially.
4. You get caught up in senseless controversies.
5. Every thing you do or say is second guessed, sometimes by people who see straight through us, for heaven's sake.
8. You waste endless time talking to nobodies.
10. Our ghost writers are already busy on other projects [particularly manufacturing a case for war].
11. We already have a PR team [to spin our message].
12. Our marketing helps us control the message and the brand [and therefore the public].
13. Better to spend time with persons of substance in every sense of that term*
14. The public are like mushrooms, keep them in the dark and fertilize them with manure to be ignored in all circumstances.
15. Not all messages are for all ears.
18. Following all these conversations distracts us from our mission and will drive up the overhead; we should put all our efforts into our programs warmongering and deception.
23. We are already doing a great job*

*hugely debatable.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:33 AM on January 8, 2008


[shakes head, wonders what the hell otherwise sensible people are doing over there]

Eh. I'm not exactly in love with the Gifthub style, but as nexus for some of the ongoing conversations this whole saga has spawned, I'm finding it worth keeping track of. I can understand people not feeling the same way, but I don't really agree with the THEY'RE CRAZY conclusions some people have drawn here, and I have no desire to hold a grudge about the culture-shock trainride from the last week.

In other words: if you think I am (or Miko is, etc) an otherwise sensible person, and it makes you wonder that we're spending time over there, it might be worth considering that it's something other than a bizarre lapse in our respective judgement.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:33 AM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I will admit that at one point I also strongly thought that the only thing transparent at GiftHub was craziness, but I no longer think that. It doesn't mean I think the style and aims are always productive, but there's something worthwhile going on there: some really good questions being asked and considered. I doubt I'll make a priority of hanging out there, but it's in my bookmarks and on my radar now.

On another point, I was just searching for an unrelated document in some material I brought back from a recent training program, and found this, from a session on professional ethics. The session took this statement as its premise.
1. All professional ethics are situational.*
2. Most workplace-related disagreements are not matters of ethics.
3. In a democratic society, it is appropriate, desirable, and unavoidable for the public to have a role in establishing and approving professional ethics.
4. In the end, professional ethics in museums^ boils down to two questions:
  • a. What fulfills the public trust?
  • b. Who has the authority to define and enforce the public trust?
    5. Within this context, there are such things as professional ethical standards, they can be identified, and practictioners are obligated to act accordingly.
  • *My lecture notes add that 'situational' is opposed to 'hypothetical' or 'abstract.' Ethics are constantly evolving because ethical challenges are constantly changing. An example given was the ethic that evolved within only the last few decades that certain sacred Native American cultural objects should be removed from museum collections and offered to their groups of origin. That resulted in NAGPRA. Obviously, ethics around internet activity would be an example of an area in which ethics are evolving.

    ^"Museums" here only because this was a program for museum people. But given the basis for the statement, it would apply to other nonprofits as well.

    posted by Miko at 11:49 AM on January 8, 2008


    I think it should read:

    23. We are already doing a heck of a job
    posted by Miko at 11:50 AM on January 8, 2008


    In other words: if you think I am (or Miko is, etc) an otherwise sensible person, and it makes you wonder that we're spending time over there, it might be worth considering that it's something other than a bizarre lapse in our respective judgement.

    The conclusion that there is something of substance to be gained is becoming an overwhelming certainty as time moves on, particularly when the fact that the moderator just dumped a bunch of gasoline on the fire is met with good natured tolerance.

    Metafilter is built on a basic trust of the moderators' good judgment. I've just become too spoiled to accept anything less.

    (note that I'm not suggesting that your participation over there in any way reflects on your judgment, I'm just saying that GiftHub as a community has a basic flaw that someone as snooty as me can't tolerate)
    posted by tkolar at 11:56 AM on January 8, 2008


    I know there are many more details, but with readers pressing us for shorter and shorter stories these days, I get less and less space to tell stories. So I try to hit the highlights at the very least.

    I find it hard to believe that people write the NYtimes asking for shorter stories. Particularly when the ads are getting bigger and bigger.
    posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:09 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


    I think part of it is we're seeing that lastest post differently. I totally get that it's readable as a taunt, but from what I've gotten of Phil's attitudes and posting instincts in the last few days, I don't think he meant it as one.

    Did it occur to him that he might be fanning the flames in choosing to go with that contrary style of post after several threads containing discussion of straightfoward vs. satire when courting responses from folks outside his tight-knit community? I hope so—it'd be pretty tonedeaf of him not to notice that at this point—and I can follow the uncharitable interpration from attentive outsiders that he's therefore flipping the bird.

    My guess is, that's not really what he was going for. I don't know if it was a smart move on his part—that pretty much depends on whether the response he gets is anything like the response he wanted—but at this point I think it's reaching to far to try and interpret his every move on his own blog as aimed specifically at Metafilter, for example, so taking it personally over here is probably an overreaction.

    Anyway, I'm curious to see what does happen with that post. I'm assuming Phil is having a busy day, but the lack of any comment-approval action over at Gifthub since around the time he posted that entry is moving on toward notable. Again touching back to my comment about the (probably partly unconsidered) implications of changing to a moderated comment model—he's now made himself an additional single point of failure in the functioning of the blog, which is sort of a bad thing when lag time gets measured in hours during a site's Busy Season.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 12:10 PM on January 8, 2008


    Yeah - when you're used to weblog-as-conversation, the long silences are awkward.
    posted by Miko at 12:31 PM on January 8, 2008


    I think part of it is we're seeing that lastest post differently. I totally get that it's readable as a taunt, but from what I've gotten of Phil's attitudes and posting instincts in the last few days, I don't think he meant it as one.

    I don't even see how it could be considered a taunt. He's playing devil's advocate from the mind of an NPO head -- why should he/she blog when all these Bad Things could happen?

    It's a great question. It's the sort of question many of us here should be able to answer easily and cogently.

    Stop playing Where's The Terrorist Today? people. That's Rudy Giuliani's job.
    posted by dw at 12:36 PM on January 8, 2008


    I hope Phil doesn't try to post that to Projects or else it might get deleted for being too meanspirited and anti-Metafilter.
    posted by mattbucher at 12:37 PM on January 8, 2008


    Not just awkward, but destructive to linear flow. We see commenter apologias over here along the lines of "on preview...", acknowledging that in the minutes that a commenter was writing their own comment, some other commenter has addressed part of what they were talking about.

    Change minutes to hours, and the effect is multiplied. At the moment, the only comments that new post can be receiving are responses to the post itself; Phil may be dealing with an avalanche of overlapping, unsequenced first-reactions without any actual conversation at all initially, which is a bad way to start a thread off. No accumulated wisdom when you can't see the accumulation.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 12:37 PM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


    Can we please put the GiveWell Wiki link at the top of this thread?

    I did.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:39 PM on January 8, 2008


    No, it's a lucky break. The fewer people who see this shitpile of a thread, the better. This place really does resemble Lord of the Flies sometimes.
    posted by languagehat at 7:57 AM on January 8


    Haha. On second thought. You make a really good point.

    I have learned so much from these threads...I never thought that reading comments on an internet forum had the ability to alter my world view, but it most certainly did. No matter what becomes of all this, I have been and will continue to be inspired by the intelligent and insightful thoughts and information shared here.

    I guess there was a part of me that wanted others to get sucked into these threads, as I have, in hopes they will benefit from the same enlightening experience I found here. I realize now that the trouble with that view is that we're all different, and therefore inspired by different methods and means. A 1,500 comment thread alternating between snark and seriousness just doesn't do it for most folks (Metafilter devotees excluded, obviously). I assume that you (LanguageHat) were being more funny than serious with your comment, but you reminded me of how we all need our life-changing plates 'o beans served up in infinitely different ways if they are to have any effect on us. Which is a GOOD THING. It's the same reasons that everything from organized religion to internet porn appeals to some, but never all.

    I also want to express my gratitude to LanguageHat, Miko, BitterOldPunk, dw, salvia, rtha, the Mods, and countless others who have made this place extra-special-sauce-AWESOME this last week.

    Jessamyn, thanks for adding the link at top!
    posted by iamkimiam at 1:15 PM on January 8, 2008


    I assume that you (LanguageHat) were being more funny than serious with your comment

    No, I was quite serious—I find the pointless hostility and refusal to accord Phil and GiftHub even basic benefit of the doubt in this thread extremely depressing, and it embarrasses me to think that other people will be getting a first exposure to MetaFilter from it. It really does remind me of Lord of the Flies. But thanks for the kind words.
    posted by languagehat at 1:27 PM on January 8, 2008


    Agree with dw and languagehat. If you're not sure about Phil's intentions, spend some more time over there. You may still quibble with style and you may still find it weird, but as languagehat has been very patient in explaining, he's not a villain here.
    posted by Miko at 1:43 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Agree with dw and languagehat.

    Thirded, or fourthed, or whatever. My initial response was that he was smart and funny, though I struggled a little to locate him and his values. That slipped somewhat with his intemperate response to Miko and others, but he was quicker to apologize than many of us would have been.

    And the very thing that people are giving him shit for -- seeking to extend maximum good faith to somebody that he's been mentoring -- is something that I personally value in people. There's nothing I dislike more than somebody who is happy to mentor somebody as long as they can bask in the reflected glory, but drops them like a hot brick as soon as they make a mistake.

    I won't be reading gifthub, because I find the discursive conceit tedious, but I have no doubts that he's on the side of the angels.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:09 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


    I know there are many more details, but with readers advertisers and shareholders pressing us for shorter and shorter stories these days, I get less and less space to tell stories.

    Jesus H. beanplate, could she have come up with a stupider reason? I vote we quit picking on Holden and GiveWell and Phil and whoever and pick on this reporter instead.
    posted by rtha at 2:13 PM on January 8, 2008


    I'm sorry if I harshed on Phil, I'm sure he's a prince of a fella, but I had such a viscerally negative reaction to his prose style that the snark was almost reflexive. In fact, just thinking about the way he writes sets my teeth on edge. OK, me stop now.
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:44 PM on January 8, 2008


    posted by languagehat It really does remind me of Lord of the Flies.

    It's reminding me of a bad HOA meeting.
    posted by fandango_matt at 2:45 PM on January 8, 2008


    That's almost a story in itself. Advertisers and shareholders are pressing the NYT to do shorter and shorter stories? Despite the fact that space on the web is effectively infinite and free? I thought they were under pressure to take the same size story and split it into multiple pageviews, not cut down on the actual content.
    posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:47 PM on January 8, 2008


    That's almost a story in itself. Advertisers and shareholders are pressing the NYT to do shorter and shorter stories? Despite the fact that space on the web is effectively infinite and free?

    Yes, that's the most interesting thing that's come out of this thread. We've got a number of newspaper types on MeFi; anybody know more about this? I mean, this is the Times we're talking about, not the Post or something.
    posted by languagehat at 2:54 PM on January 8, 2008


    What the? I wake up and suddenly everybody's apologizing to languagehat for shitting on Phil Cubeta, after I've undergone so much damn stress and taken so much flack for defending the guy over the past week or so?

    *slaps forehead* Sometimes I just want to give up, you know?

    Reasonable result, though, regardless of who gets the kisses and wreaths and blowjobs, so that's good. Perhaps my timing was bad, and I should have waited until the blood had cleared from the water a bit further.
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:09 PM on January 8, 2008


    stavros, I'm pretty sure there's a Greek parable about your particular curse.

    That and the timing thing, probably. :)
    posted by cortex (staff) at 3:12 PM on January 8, 2008


    That's almost a story in itself. Advertisers and shareholders are pressing the NYT to do shorter and shorter stories? Despite the fact that space on the web is effectively infinite and free? I thought they were under pressure to take the same size story and split it into multiple pageviews, not cut down on the actual content.

    Wait, what? I was just doing a Fixed That for You thing - or is it my snarkmeter that needs tuning?
    posted by rtha at 3:28 PM on January 8, 2008


    ...which is not to say that LH hasn't been steadfast in his pushback against the mob mentality: he has. And thank goodness, maybe we can move on to something new, and the baleful glare of the pitchfork brigade can turn back to where it belongs, back inward, onto our own.

    I actually hope Phil and others who joined up during this shitstorm find it in their interest to engage with the community here in future, despite their unfriendly and confrontational 'welcome'. That would be the best result for Metafilter as a whole.
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:31 PM on January 8, 2008


    I am *way* behind on this givewell event, but on the off-chance there is someone who may find this information useful: The Urban Institute has a policy center named the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy. And one of their projects is the National Center for Charitable Statistics, which is the "national clearinghouse of data on the nonprofit sector in the United States."
    posted by terrapin at 3:35 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


    *slaps forehead* Sometimes I just want to give up, you know?

    You could just live with the smug self-satisfaction of knowing you were right, you were right before we were right, and that history has vindicated you.

    But as those intellectual opponents to the Iraq War have learned, that and $3.50 will get you a Starbucks latte.
    posted by dw at 3:38 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Oops. I used to work for the Urban Institute 2 years ago, but am in no way associated with them now! I promise :)
    posted by terrapin at 3:39 PM on January 8, 2008


    languagehat, substantiated rumors say that the plan for the WSJ is to get stories down to such small, easily digestible (indigestible?) chunks (this word was actually used) that page jumps will eventually become extremely rare, if not obsolete in the printed form.

    Their website will serve to flesh out the stories instead.
    Like adding meat to hooks, or some such analogy.

    The possibility that all papers might go this way, including my beloved record of choice is horrifying.
    posted by stagewhisper at 4:30 PM on January 8, 2008


    If I may offer a possible explanation for the hostility toward Phil Cubeta, it may have something to do with his picture on his site, showing a resemblance to a younger version of actor Fyvush Finkel (imdb), best known for his role in "Picket Fences" as the lawyer who was pretty much a schmuck and annoyed Ray Walston as the judge. Certainly, some level of transference would not be surprising.
    posted by wendell at 4:31 PM on January 8, 2008


    Ugh. That didn't really answer your question. In the WSJ's case, they plan to move more, expanded content to the web, not make the web stories shorter. I agree, this NYT response seems odd.
    posted by stagewhisper at 4:42 PM on January 8, 2008


    The "shorter stories" thing is almost certainly a product of reader focus groups and phone surveys, where people who probably read the paper only casually explain that they don't have time for shorter stories, which then filters up the marketing department to the publisher and down to the editors and reporters on the news side. It's standard focus group knowledge, worth what that usually is - i.e., not much.

    The real point is that Stephanie is making an excuse for the priorities she saw in this story, which inexplicably didn't include the fact that Metafilter was just one of the sites Holden used for deception. It's very easy to include the information that multiple web sites were involved:

    A founder of GiveWell, a new nonprofit research organization that seeks to assess the effectiveness of charities, has been demoted after admitting that he promoted the organization on a series of Web sites by posing as a prospective charitable donor seeking information and attacking other charities without disclosing his link to GiveWell.

    How hard was that? Length wasn't the problem here, misunderstanding or lazy reporting was.
    posted by mediareport at 4:44 PM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


    >Wait, what? I was just doing a Fixed That for You thing - or is it my snarkmeter that needs tuning?

    Yeah sorry. I read, cut and pasted in haste.
    posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:55 PM on January 8, 2008


    languagehat wrote...
    [Phil has] spent so many years now doing his "I'm pretending to be a heartless capitalist to show how evil they are" thing that he's vanished up his own irony hole.

    stavrosthewonderchicken wrote...
    I suggest those who enjoy rapier work over bludgeoning have a look [at Phil's blog]. He is a master.

    I'm afraid that's where you lost to languagehat, stavros. I understand why both you and langaugehat wanted to defend him as a person and a friend, but defending his schtick was perhaps pushing things too far.

    I'm sure Phil is a nice person, but I could fill several 1400 post threads with the particulars of how much his schtick grates on me. (NOT MEANT AS A VAGUELY SEXUAL IMAGE, SO GET THAT THOUGHT RIGHT OUT OF YOUR MIND)
    posted by tkolar at 5:31 PM on January 8, 2008


    PMcD:Pretty well everything that gets posted to Metafilter is none of our business. That's not a reason not to discuss it.

    In fact, it's the entire point.
    posted by nax at 5:47 PM on January 8, 2008


    I'm afraid that's where you lost to languagehat, stavros. I understand why both you and langaugehat wanted to defend him as a person and a friend, but defending his schtick was perhaps pushing things too far.

    Nobody won or lost here in terms of the Happy Tutor/Phil Cubeta sidebar, and I'm sorry if I gave the impression that that's what was in my mind.

    But I think you misunderstand. I have had less interaction with Phil over the years than I have with most of the people on this site, I consider him a friend only in that we've been part of the same very loosely knit group of long-time weblog people and have exchanged comments and links and discussion over that time (if never, that I can recall, email).

    I stand by what I said, wholeheartedly. The 'schtick' as LH called it and others have villified Phil for, well, I've always found it a little pretentious and off-putting and needlessly obfuscatory; I said that already. I'm very much about plain speech, and distrust anything else. But I also think he's a very fine and careful thinker, and a very fine and careful writer, and I have learned a lot from what he's written over the years, in character and out, when I could muster the energy to penetrate the allusions and illusions.

    I've exchanged MeFi mail with LH about this, and to be honest, both of us remain, as far as I know, somewhat mystified about the reasons that people went after Phil with such gusto. I don't really care and am not soliciting explanations -- I think it's been a bit of a shameful episode for the MeFi collective, to be honest, and is best left closed -- but I reiterate that I think Phil's writing over the years has been honest, insightful, dedicated to poking the wealthy, powerful, and privileged with pointy sticks, and all about the rapier rather than the bludgeon, as I stated before.

    Some folks may be annoyed by it, as you are tkolar, and hell, I am too, sometimes, but I'm still glad for his voice. I hope more people read him as a result of all this, and that some of them like what they read.
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:48 PM on January 8, 2008


    That said, I do consider Phil a friend, as I do many many people on this site, but in that new and slightly weird (to an old bugger like me) way that the internet has permitted -- people who have never met, never even heard one another's voices, being friends. The way that many of my less net-savvy 'real-life' friends and relative don't really seem to understand.

    It's different but I don't think in any important way lesser.
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:51 PM on January 8, 2008


    Yeah, what the chicken man said. Just because I got tired of Phil's shtick doesn't mean I don't think he's smart and has good things to say. I just wish he'd find a fresh way of saying them. And I think he's working on it, judging by his contributions here.
    posted by languagehat at 5:58 PM on January 8, 2008


    Also, if people were shitting on PC, he has to take some of the burden of blame for that on himself. The continuous shifting of hats and obfuscation of points of view makes it extremely difficult to figure out where he's coming from. Had I only read the givewell threads, I'd have been very reluctant to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was only that I happened to take a look at a couple of other posts and the accompanying commentary that I realized there was something more complex and multi-layered going on.

    Now generally I don't have a problem with complexity, but given the amount of artifice involved, it was inevitable that anybody would choose to suspend judgement about the guy simply because he tends to avoid transparency and embrace opacity. And I don't have a problem at all with anyone taking issue with some of the things the guy wrote, because in isolation, they are provocative -- intentionally so. If your goal is to provoke people, you really shouldn't be surprised when they end up being provoked.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:23 PM on January 8, 2008


    All of which really is just a long-winded way of saying exactly what the hat said.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:25 PM on January 8, 2008


    And so, the angry mob, not satisfied with the punishment dealt to their former quarry, thrashed around looking for a new victim. Unfortunately, an old grey, lady fell under their gaze...
    posted by Dave Faris at 6:29 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]



    And so, the angry mob, not satisfied with the punishment dealt to their former quarry, thrashed around looking for a new victim. Unfortunately, an old grey, lady fell under their gaze...


    You know, when dios posted I was certain that he was a slam dunk as the next target of opportunity. I'm quite surprised the mob has let him be.
    posted by tkolar at 6:47 PM on January 8, 2008


    thrashed around looking for a new victim

    Oh please. I made a living as a media critic for years; it's second nature. And the "shorter stories" excuse *is* ridiculous.
    posted by mediareport at 7:17 PM on January 8, 2008


    when dios posted I was certain that he was a slam dunk as the next target of opportunity. I'm quite surprised the mob has let him be.

    The Grey Reports: is dios another Cubeta sockpuppet? How deep down the rabbit hole are we?
    posted by anotherpanacea at 7:17 PM on January 8, 2008


    hold your tongue, Faris, or you're next.
    posted by jtron at 7:42 PM on January 8, 2008


    Thank you for the welcome to MeFi. It's my first time back, since I posted the other night. I'm intrigued by MeFi, but to be honest, unconformable here.

    You see, I'm a rather reserved person who prefers to converse in quiet places with a small number of people. I live in rural VT, run an off-beat NPO start up and spend my free time gardening, fiddling, hiking and hanging out with my family. I got involved in the Givewell discussion on Gifthub because I care about the biz. I stayed on for the meta-discussion, because I care even more about the question of how to hear and heard by people with different perspectives and discursive styles. I joined to Mefi to follow up on that conversation.

    Borrowing DW's description in a comment above, I found MeFi "rough and tumble" and not well-suited to me. I am not looking to "adjust" my personal filter or to "pick battles", and I prefer more quiescent ways of "seeking stimulation and education".

    Although I've enjoyed reading some of your posts and would enjoy getting to some individuals I've "met" here, it's unlikely that I'll be back often.
    posted by Maureen Doyle at 7:47 PM on January 8, 2008


    Just an FYI Maureen, I live in rural Vermont (Bethel) too. You're welcome to come and go as you please. You may find that other parts of the site are a little less rough and tumble than MeTa which is usually only for hardcore MeFi policy wonks and people with suggestions, requests or grudges (and the moderators of course). My favorite part of the site is Ask MetaFilter where people ask and answer questions. It's a lot more heavily moderated and there's loads of good infomation there. MeFi Music is also pretty great if you like to listen to or create your own music and want to hear a wide variety of stuff from random folks. In any case, I appreciate your dropping by. Feel free to drop me a message if you're in Bethel and want to chitchat over coffee instead of a keyboard.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:54 PM on January 8, 2008


    Well, did you miss me when I was gone? Actually, I have read all the posts on this thread and most of the recent ones from the prior thread. I feel much better, for that's worth and much more at home. Those who have called me out or called me names, no problem! Those who have asked for interpretive charity on my behalf thank you. I have truly learned a lot from reading so many comments about me. Me. Me. Way too many about me, but thank you.

    The reason I feel at home, though, is that the conversation here has shifted to the lessons people here learned too. That is your internal business in many ways. I am too new to weigh in, but it is very much to the credit of all concerned to hear comments reflecting on things like house rules, moderation, how heated things got. We are all learning how to live like this, in these virtual rooms, sometimes with virtual strangers.

    My personal question or hope is that we not let the moment pass into internet history as just another "episode." The conversation about the nonprofit world, social class, elitism, transparency, openness, accountability, let alone prose style far surpassed, in many posts, anything I have read in the "philanthropy blogs" of late. Can we keep it going? Not the heated stuff, or the abuse (except of me, which is fine), but the searching conversation about the nonprofit sector, about civil society, about giving and philanthropy?

    I am too new here to know how that hope might be realized. But for me, these were the most exciting and stimulating, the most beneficial for me personally, days I have spent blogging since the beginnings, in 2000 or whenever. The low points were bad indeed. The high points were fantastic. I am already feeling nostalgic.

    Whatever you may think of me or my satiric fugues states, please accept my thanks, one and all. If you get going on philanthropy or giving as a topic, please cue me in, if I am not active here at that moment.

    Yes, as you noticed, I am processing in current posts what I have learned, as you are discussing all that here. Please do drop in and bust my chops as the spirit moves you. Can we agree that a) I am mad b) elitist c) an asshole d) an effete snob e) a nuisance f) bald g) a MetaFile newbie and g) a colleague in some sense?

    Thank you all, and yes, I could use a hug.
    posted by PhilCubeta at 8:15 PM on January 8, 2008 [9 favorites]


    That, Phil, was accessible. Thank you.

    Also, a [hug], iffen you want it.
    posted by five fresh fish at 8:35 PM on January 8, 2008


    And Maureen, please head to MeFi or AskMe for The Real Deal. MeTa isn't a good place to be introduced to the site. The grey is difficult territory.
    posted by five fresh fish at 8:37 PM on January 8, 2008


    Here, there be dragons.
    posted by Tenuki at 8:41 PM on January 8, 2008


    Well, did you miss me when I was gone?

    everyone kept talking about you anyway
    posted by pyramid termite at 9:04 PM on January 8, 2008


    F**king bald people.

    ---------

    Welcome back, Phil. While your Moral Tutor persona grates on me, many people who I respect have spoken in turn of their respect for you. Here's hoping for more productive times ahead.
    posted by tkolar at 10:20 PM on January 8, 2008


    You see, I'm a rather reserved person who prefers to converse in quiet places with a small number of people. I live in rural VT, run an off-beat NPO start up and spend my free time gardening, fiddling, hiking and hanging out with my family.

    Maureen, I hate to tell you this... but most everyone here is rather reserved and prefers to converse in quiet places. Most of us, after all, are geeks. And there are plenty of hikers, fiddlers, gardeners -- heck, I actually grew tomatoes last summer in Seattle without managing to kill them (well, not until the freeze took them out).

    Point being, you're like us. Yeah, there are some outsized personalities here, but even those of us who talk a good game tend to be less so in meatspace.

    The problem is that this is the Gray, which is the back alley of MeFi. The main drags, the Blue and the Green (aka MetaFilter and AskMeFi), are more moderated and a little more civil. This is probably the worst way to get introduced to this place.

    I really recommend you at least give Ask MetaFilter a try before giving up on this place entirely. It's a Q-and-A format, less discussion, more helping people find answers. And it's really a separate community in itself, tho there's a lot of crossover.

    I understand not wanting to be in the rough-and-tumble here, but do know you're coming into the house via the kitchen door, so it's going to look and feel, well, like the kitchen. Don't judge this place by the craziness you see here. Judge us by the craziness on the other MeFi sites.
    posted by dw at 10:48 PM on January 8, 2008


    phil, that most recent comment is much appreciated. what you said encapsulates what drew me to metafilter and subsites in the first place, and as i suspect you'll quickly learn, each of the subsites has a unique tenor, metatalk being of the gauntlet tenor. it is my favorite for that reason, although many of this site's participants don't have the same appetite for the scrum that perhaps some of us do.

    was wondering if you'd consider allowing me to query you privately about something that's been bothering me about the non-profit organization for which i work? an aspect of it has been stuck in my craw as a result of this remarkable cross-site "incident." i suspect you're uniquely qualified to answer said question by dint of what you do.

    if so, let me know, i'll hit you up over mefi mail.
    posted by Hat Maui at 11:39 PM on January 8, 2008


    So if someone (say, me) flies off the handle, they're forever barred from saying they would like to see some civility? That's some pretty strict standards, there.

    Not forever barred, no. But if we're having a simple disagreement, and you elevate it by saying say "fuck your momma," and I respond "well then, fuck your momma," it's ridiculous, hypocritical, and frankly retarded to suddenly object to my response and beg for civility.

    How can anyone take those people seriously? Phil is two steps removed from a run-of-the-mill LARP dork with his "masques" and "personae" (barf), and everyone involved in charity and charity blogging is apparently a grade-A spoiled shithead.

    (With the exception of Miko, who I thank for outing precious Holden as just another con artist.)
    posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:57 AM on January 9, 2008


    Maureen: Welcome! Another central Vermont resident (Tunbridge, with a Bethel snail mail address). I am also on the board of the Justin Smith Morrill Homestead, which is a museum house in Strafford. Glad to have you around.
    posted by terrapin at 3:59 AM on January 9, 2008


    As I said before, welcome Phil! Yeah the "puce " (cause it's not quite grey on my screen, and puce sounds more like puke, which is what you sometimes want to do over here) is a pretty scary place-- usually I avoid it, but this discussion was too close to the bone.

    As one of the dead-enders that you'll never meet in a social situation I love the posts you've put here-- all that literary posturing on GiftHub is just like running into a wall.

    Absolutely let's keep this conversation going, if for no other reason than that I can now read MF at work and tell my boss-- hey, this is pertinent, I'm workin'! Great cover (thanks everyone--8 hours without MF is just too long).

    At any rate, I'd love to see more arts people checking in; our issues seem to be slightly skewed, plus, ya'll need a reality check-- in the midsized (and even major) art world, $20,000 to $40,000 puts you in the Major Sponsor category. I was just crying way upthread when people were calling grants these sizes "peanuts." You can send your shells over here to the arts anytime you want!
    posted by nax at 4:16 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Back to the subject at hand: three days later and still no board of directors audio. What gives?
    posted by bhance at 6:40 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


    But if we're having a simple disagreement, and you elevate it by saying say "fuck your momma," and I respond "well then, fuck your momma," it's ridiculous, hypocritical, and frankly retarded to suddenly object to my response and beg for civility.

    Now, there I agree with you, and it always amuses me to see exactly that interaction repeated over and over around here. Some hardass take-no-prisoners cynic will start handing out the nasty, and when someone hands a little of it back suddenly it's "oh dear me! how can you be so hurtful! MODS! Billy bit me!!"

    That said, you're completely wrong about Phil, who is a stand-up guy. Just because you don't enjoy his rhetorical strategies doesn't mean it's OK to shit on him.

    Maureen, as everyone else said, this is not the heart of MetaFilter, it's the smelly cloaca. By all means spend time at AskMe, and check out the blue (front page) once in a while—a lot of great stuff finds its way there among the gibberish. And welcome!
    posted by languagehat at 7:04 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


    For Phil and Maureen, it might help to know why there is a MetaTalk, and I'm not the best person to talk about its history or the reasons behind its creation. But it's not the heart of the site, as languagehat just said. It's the place where stuff that gets messy, personal, complicated, or problematic on other areas gets discussed, and also the place where we talk about the site itself - media mentions, requests for changes in features, etc. So you ended up on this subsite because the AskMetafilter rules were broken - the thing that started this all - and this is where people go to talk about broken rules and site problems. As you might imagine, that can get more contentious than other parts of the discussion.

    Phil, I think it's really great that you want to continue discussions about philanthropy and charity with people here. One of the best ways is to start those conversations through making a front page post on the "blue," or the main MetaFilter site with the blue background. Front page posts are called FPPs for short. It's similar to what you do on your own blog, but with a few additional guidelines, which you can read here. Generally, the idea is that you find something on the web with exceptionally good content and construct a brief post around it. It can contain one link or many, but there's an expectation (maybe just a hope) that the links are going to be good, well curated choices, not simply easy finds like wikipedia pages. You might, for instance, find an example of a charity aggregator site that is doing some new very well and post that for discussion. Or you might want to make a post on the 'transparency movement' and provide some links to articles, blog entries, and examples. There are a lot of good ways to make an FPP, and a lot of less good ways. The best way to learn about what works and doesn't is simply to read the blue. Posts get a variety of responses, from a calm silence to a passionate discussion to argument to critique. Sarcasm and editorializing usually create strong reactions and frame the discussion to follow in negative ways, so it's wise to avoid them. Posting too frequently can be annoying - the site's diversity of topics is its greatest strength, and when any one topic seems to take over too much, people start objecting. It's sort of silly for me to say more about FPPs, because the guidelines are so good and because you learn about them by living them and I'm no expert at it, but I think if you want to talk to people about the world you know so well, you should think about introducing some great links here and see whether they generate a good discussion. Emphasis on 'great link,' though.

    Have fun exploring. If I had arrived at MeFi through MetaTalk, I don't think I'd have stayed. I came in through Ask, like a lot of people, where standards are high, discussion is generally civil, and you can learn a ton and occasionally help other people with their questions. Even questions about fiddling, gardening,vermont, charities, and nonprofits.
    posted by Miko at 8:02 AM on January 9, 2008


    doing some new THING very well

    also forgot to say it's a good idea to read the site for awhile before posting, as you would read a print publication before submitting to get an idea what flies and what fails.
    posted by Miko at 8:05 AM on January 9, 2008


    To add to Miko's (rock solid) advice: if you do decide to jump into the pool by posting something to the front page of Metafilter, you're always welcome to ask someone for a quick sanity-check on your presentation to make sure you're not accidentally pushing some buttons tone-wise. A post that links to something genuinely interesting on the web and that goes about it in a fairly neutral way (sans editorializing, sans excessive chattiness or personalized banter) will usually do fine, but there's no harm in being sure. Drop me a line and I'd be happy to vet it.

    As for the AskMe side of things, the most common challenge for new members is avoiding straying into Chatfilter territory. AskMe's focus is on problem-solving, not discussion, so questions need to be purpose-driven rather than bull sessions, as much fun as a good bull session might be.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 8:29 AM on January 9, 2008


    (It's also worth noting, if you're really raring to go, that there's a one-week wait after account creation on posting to AskMe.)
    posted by cortex (staff) at 8:32 AM on January 9, 2008


    If I had arrived at MeFi through MetaTalk, I don't think I'd have stayed.

    I arrived here via MetaTalk. The Alex Reynolds drama queen pile-on, to be precise.

    That was it -- I was hooked. It was like a real life soap opera. I still love the pugnacious nature of Metafilter. But it's not very nice to impose it on people who aren't pugnacious themselves. Also, I'm pretty sure that if I'd been subjected to the sort of mass pile-ons that Alex and Phil were subjected to, I very much doubt that I'd have stayed around to learn more.

    More credit to them for doing so.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:45 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Thank you for your continuing hospitality, helpful orientation and thoughtful advice.

    Don't get me wrong: I 'm not scared off by the “rough and tumble” of MetaTalk. I grew up in a depressed mill town in the White Mountains of NH, where the adjectives were mostly derived from 4-letter expletives and our biannual visits to my extended family in New York were the epitome of “rough and tumble” -- verbal and otherwise. So it's not that I can’t take MetaTalk. It's that I don’t want to dwell in a community (cyber or real) that permits “rough and tumble” and asks people to simply adjust to it. Which is why I don’t watch TV., try to keep my consumption of print news and public radio to a minimum, carefully select the books I read and continue to struggle with my decision to live in the US.

    My relationship with the US is strained, because I don't like its politics nor any aspect of its culture which falls on the same continuum as its politics. I place the glorification of the "rough and tumble" and "the authentic self" in this category. The authentic self is a myth. There is no fundamental self that lurks deep down inside waiting to be released. Each of us continuously creates our person (obviously not the part that eventually withers away but our social and private person) through our acts of consumption and production. Of the material and immaterial ilk. Whether we’re conscious of it or not. And we are responsible for our auto-creation.

    So, I don’t buy the argument that a good Metadiscussion entails raw, unmediated expression. When the going gets the stickiest, which oftens also means most interesting and important, I advocate the opposite -- a call for more moderation (self and social). To have a constructive conversation, it is necessary that each person exercises self-moderation and encourages everyone else to do the same. According to Miko, that's the express goal elsewhere on MeFi (though I haven't looked yet myself). Clearly some of you here are practicing this mode. My question is, why not expect and enforce the same from everyone who participates in MetaTalk?

    I wonder if structural changes to the space might affect some constructive changes in the Metatalk culture. (For instance, a mechanism which slowed down the posts by immoderate participants -- sort of like the response of my satellite, which throttles my service if I take more than what it considers my fair share of bandwidth; a system of warnings which could lead to a penalty -- like yellow and red cards in soccer; a feature which permits people to edit or retract previous comments; a system for rating comments or contributors.) These are just ideas to kick around. I’m sure you could think of many more.

    The essential point I’m trying to make is the following: I think that the MeFi community -- with its numerous, diverse and enthusiastic users and its track record for affecting social change -- ought to consider some constructive alternatives to its current MetaTalk forum. In particular, strides should be taken to cast a very dim view on unfettered reactivity and to establish 0 tolerance for ad homonym attacks.
    posted by Maureen Doyle at 9:20 AM on January 9, 2008


    three days, three comments and she's already trying to tell us how to run the place

    I think that the MeFi community -- with its numerous, diverse and enthusiastic users and its track record for affecting social change -- ought to consider some constructive alternatives to its current MetaTalk forum.

    if that's what you want, i suggest you build something like that instead of expecting a site of 65,000 people to change for you

    i also suggest that you actually LOOK at the place before you tell us what's wrong with it
    posted by pyramid termite at 9:41 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


    My relationship with the US is strained, because I don't like its politics nor any aspect of its culture which falls on the same continuum as its politics. I place the glorification of the "rough and tumble" and "the authentic self" in this category. The authentic self is a myth. There is no fundamental self that lurks deep down inside waiting to be released. Each of us continuously creates our person (obviously not the part that eventually withers away but our social and private person) through our acts of consumption and production. Of the material and immaterial ilk. Whether we’re conscious of it or not. And we are responsible for our auto-creation.

    But, in a sense, you ARE arguing for the "authentic self." For some of us, the rough-and-tumble helps us form our ideas, defend our ideas, change our minds. We destroy, we create, we recreate.

    And certainly we are all responsible here. YOYOW is one of the fundamental things about the Internet.

    I think your issue is that you are a rural person. And I'm not being ruralist here at all. If you go back to the allusion of this place to a town (or a hometown), we're more like New York City -- at once ugly and beautiful, full of people who don't give a rip and happy to call you asshole, but OTOH more than willing to buy you a beer.

    (At one point earlier this week, I was halfway through writing a comparison between this place and Yankee Stadium and suggesting people were wearing Mariners caps into Yankees games. But I don't think that's a good comparison, since we're not dumping beer on anyone. And also, Yankees suck.)

    I get the sense that NYC is a place you like to visit, but it's certainly nowhere you want to live. And hey, I can understand that. So, don't live here. But please drop in from time to time. You'll find some nice, quiet salons all over this place. Just don't wear an M's cap in there.

    According to Miko, that's the express goal elsewhere on MeFi (though I haven't looked yet myself). Clearly some of you here are practicing this mode. My question is, why not expect and enforce the same from everyone who participates in MetaTalk?

    Because MetaTalk is the release valve for the Blue and the Green. When someone sees something off or just needs to have a ranty flameout, they come here, instead of mucking up a thread or getting the moderators mad and reaching for the banhammer.

    There's also MetaChat, which is a horse of a different color. In fact, I think it's more like a rabbit. But anyway.

    In particular, strides should be taken to cast a very dim view on unfettered reactivity and to establish 0 tolerance for ad homonym attacks.

    Absolutely. I'm tired of homonyms getting degraded by those homophone lovers.
    posted by dw at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


    I think it's a question of ends. Take a look at Josh/cortex's comments on the "Lessons Learned" thread at GiftHub. MeFi is a place where conversations happen, but doesn't have a strong agenda of its own.
    posted by Miko at 9:45 AM on January 9, 2008


    As for Phil:

    1. Read the Blue
    2. Understand the Blue
    3. Start posting to the Blue
    4. Just don't self-link lest the ice weasels be loosed
    posted by dw at 9:48 AM on January 9, 2008


    I was just crying way upthread when people were calling grants these sizes "peanuts." You can send your shells over here to the arts anytime you want!

    Was that me? If so, my apologies. I'm in public health, and with the sheer amount of money flying into public health and global health right now, $40K is small compared to... what did Bill and Melinda give for that health metrics institute, $105M? Yeah, sounds right.

    See, if you could just combine community theater with global health research, you'd be swimming in money. :)
    posted by dw at 9:54 AM on January 9, 2008


    I said that about 'peanuts' too, just in recognition that servicing a $20,000 grant costs us at least $1400 in staff time at the bottom line. When that time would come out of program activities or measurement for programs which have better funding, it's the more efficient decision to turn down the $20-40K grant and spend the $1400 in staff time servicing the $75K - $200K grant. Unless you have abundant staff time available and have a program you've already evaluated for another purpose or another grant, so you can put your hand right on the data and send it out - exactly what the GiveWell grantees could and did do.
    posted by Miko at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2008


    servicing the $75K - $200K grant*

    or selling the tickets, or planning the $250K fundraiser, or partnering on retail reward...you get the idea. This is what I meant by charities needing to be more efficient than business - our time is the most limited resource.
    posted by Miko at 10:09 AM on January 9, 2008


    So, I don’t buy the argument that a good Metadiscussion entails raw, unmediated expression. When the going gets the stickiest, which oftens also means most interesting and important, I advocate the opposite -- a call for more moderation (self and social).

    As someone who absolutely loves a good metadiscussion—that's arguably the main reason I've been here all these years—I think the question of how to balance different ideas of what "raw, unmediated expression" means and how much of it is allowable vs. desirable is damned complicated, and I've done my best to try and suss out where the practical compromises lay—which is arguably one of the main reasons I ended up working here.

    As a couple of examples: I hate it that people occasionally let themselves fall back to "hey, fuck you" as an argument in here. If that's what you mean by raw and unmediated, I'm right on board with you. On the other hand, I like that people will sometimes present a detailed, earnest explanation of what they're upset about and why they're upset about it, without dressing it up in allegory or pretense, becuase I think that's incredibly valuable to folks broadening their understanding of where other people—in this case, other members of the community they're part of—are coming from. And that's a sort of raw, unmediated expression, too.

    Clearly some of you here are practicing this mode. My question is, why not expect and enforce the same from everyone who participates in MetaTalk?

    Because that's not the main priority of the site. I want Metatalk to be approachable to people; I hope for good behavior here, and sometimes speak up as a moderator and a fellow user specifically to ask for or encourage good/better behavior, but I don't expect it in Metatalk because it's not a mandate. Why don't we enforce it? That's an eight-year-long question, really; my long comment upthread is an attempt to at least explain it in overview. One way to answer it is that we don't enforce it here because we enforce it to degrees on other parts of the site that are intended for public rather than internal consumption.

    The essential point I’m trying to make is the following: I think that the MeFi community -- with its numerous, diverse and enthusiastic users and its track record for affecting social change -- ought to consider some constructive alternatives to its current MetaTalk forum. In particular, strides should be taken to cast a very dim view on unfettered reactivity and to establish 0 tolerance for ad homonym attacks.

    I hear you. One of the things that may not be obvious about Metatalk, from your brief and bumpy introduction to it, is that it is a forum for considering how to constructively alter or improve how the site in general and Metatalk itself works. There have been many, many discussions over the years about all sorts of issues tied to this idea; my personal opinion is that Metatalk has improved in tenor a good bit from where it was say three years ago. The spikes are still here, the largely unmoderated (in the sense of proactive deletion of individual comments) administrative ethos is still here, but the overall tone has improved a lot.

    However, while Metafilter is capable of doing things like affecting social change, it is not (as Miko says, above) a site with any charter or agenda or specific goal; folks who join here join on their own terms (basic social contract and respect for the guidelines accounted for), for any number of reasons, and it'd be a fundamental change to how the site works and what it is about to invoke some sort of post hoc mission on it. This is a place defined by the people who spend time here; policy is mostly a matter of group mores and concensus, where Matt and Jessamyn and I deal with these questions reactively in most cases.

    So I'm all for casting a dim view on, as you say, unfettered reactivity and ad hom attacks; you'll find, if you stick around, that a lot of people feel that way, and do speak up about it. But zero tolerance? No. We don't do zero tolerance for that sort of thing around here, except in very well-defined situations—out-of-line comments in Ask Metafilter get removed, ugly interuser exchanges on Metafilter (and even the ugliest over here on Metatalk) get removed; users who display an unwillingness to rein that sort of thing in when we call them on it get temporarily or permanently banned, etc.

    What we do instead is provide mechanisms for users to let us, and each other, know about problematic stuff. We've got a flagging system (the little [!] next to each comment and post) that makes distributed reporting of bad (or exceptionally good!) stuff easy and non-disruptive; we've got an internal mail system (and, at the user's discretion, a field for providing an external mail) so that people can take things off-band if they want/need to; and we've got Metatalk, where people are encouraged to present exactly this sort of "is this okay, and why?" dilemma on a case-by-case basis.

    And that's probably the big thing, here: case-by-case. We have very, very few hard-and-fast rules here, and that's by design.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 10:16 AM on January 9, 2008


    In particular, strides should be taken to cast a very dim view on unfettered reactivity and to establish 0 tolerance for ad homonym attacks

    There are about nine layers of funny here.
    posted by fourcheesemac at 10:17 AM on January 9, 2008


    Despite what you've read above, MetaTalk is the heart of Metafilter. It's also the lungs, liver, pancreas, and both intestines.
    posted by timeistight at 10:20 AM on January 9, 2008


    This is what I meant by charities needing to be more efficient than business - our time is the most limited resource.

    Exactly. Do you know of any NPOs not named the Gates Foundation that adequately staffed? I sure don't. And yet, between the scarcity of dollars and the paucity hours charities do more with less than most businesses.

    And that's what frustrates me about this demand for metrics. The more analysis that demanded, the more unique qualitative and quantitative data points demanded by donors, the less time an NPO has to do what they're supposed to do.

    The more people demand metrics in the name of efficiency, the more likely it is that highly efficient NPOs will become more inefficient. Ironic, don't you think?
    posted by dw at 10:22 AM on January 9, 2008


    Despite what you've read above, MetaTalk is the heart of Metafilter. It's also the lungs, liver, pancreas, and both intestines.

    YM "rectum." HTH.
    posted by dersins at 10:51 AM on January 9, 2008


    Actually, I was going more for vitally important viscera, but thanks for the "H".
    posted by timeistight at 11:11 AM on January 9, 2008


    A rectum, like metatalk, is vitally important. It keeps us from being completely full of shit.
    posted by dersins at 11:25 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


    But it's a compromise, dersins, considering that it also damn near killed 'em.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


    So it's not that I can’t take MetaTalk. It's that I don’t want to dwell in a community (cyber or real) that permits “rough and tumble” and asks people to simply adjust to it.

    The thing is, Maureen, you don't have to get used to MetaTalk. Nobody but the moderators are obligated to read or post in MeTa. Many Mefites are quite happy to play in Metafilter and Ask Metafilter, and quite easily forget MetaTalk even exists.

    MeTa feeds my strong interest in the way online communities function, for all the elements cortex listed above. It so happens that, despite any problems it may have, metafilter.com is one of the finest thriving examples available to be seen. I've been involved with web communities long enough to understand that metafilter.com must have been coaxed into being by very careful (or at the least, extremely lucky) choices. Communities like this don't happen spontaneously, and even with my experience-- or perhaps because of it-- I wouldn't presume to walk in off the street and attempt to impose my will.
    posted by zennie at 11:34 AM on January 9, 2008


    Maureen Doyle wrote...
    My question is, why not expect and enforce [better behavior] from everyone who participates in MetaTalk?

    cortex answered...
    [MetaTalk] is the release valve where people can vent and chatter.


    Just to expand on that a bit, the Metafilter group of sites seems to take the approach that dealing with fractious and offensive speech is inevitable, and so tries for quarantine rather than eradication.

    But there is another key point here -- neither the Metafilter front page nor AskMetafilter are really meant for discussions. In fact, they are both rather pointedly Not About The Discussion. The Metafilter front page is about finding and posting interesting tidbits from around the web; AskMetafilter is about asking (specifically non-open ended) questions and receiving definitive answers. And Metatalk is supposed to be solely about administration of the other two.

    There really isn't a place in the Metafilter group of sites that is appropriate for general conversations. I think that's somewhat by design: having read the rambling conversations on Usenet for many years, I have to say that moderating them is virtually impossible. Metafilter is oriented around clearly defined topics that can be discussed and concluded and, yes, moderated.

    That doesn't mean that conversation doesn't happen, but it is all done in the cracks between the "official" uses of the site. It's hard for there to be a policy around conversations when they really have no official existence to begin with.

    You wrote...
    For instance, a mechanism which slowed down the posts by immoderate participants

    My thoughts went down similar lines while reading through parts of these threads, but I decided that such a system would just be more frustrating for the people who need to blow off steam the most. It might result in fewer distractions in, but it would also lead to people who felt that format was too restrictive skipping Metatalk entirely and simply polluting the main parts of the site instead.
    posted by tkolar at 11:45 AM on January 9, 2008


    There are about nine layers of funny here. (and 6 metaphors. Is that a record?)

    dw via Miko: And that's what frustrates me about this demand for metrics. The more analysis that demanded, the more unique qualitative and quantitative data points demanded by donors, the less time an NPO has to do what they're supposed to do.

    Exactly. Now add onto that the attempt to quantify "results" when your mission is to produce classic musical theater or medieval choral works or whatever. What you end up with is a lot of bullshit "music for the homeless" programs (not that music for the homeless or other disenfranchised is bullshit, but that you get a lot of bullshit programs from people who don't really know how to approach social service.) There is a now- two decades long attempt to make arts organizations into social service organizations, complete with "metrics" and "results" and "evaluations". So you've got a bunch of artists pretending they have a clue how to use the arts toward a social service end, and what you get is trucking hoards of children in to see a symphony concert once a year, without any support in the schools so they have a clue what they are experiencing, and that they never experience again until next year.

    Every now and then you get someone who really makes a difference through an internship or other intensive program, but you can't get that funded because it's just a few kids. Or you get someone like the former Director of Outreach at the Chicago Symphony (now working in legit arts outreach in NYC), who knew what he was doing, brought gobs of money into the Symphony, made a huge difference, transformed outreach in the arts in the city, and what did the Symphony do? Got rid of the entire department.
    posted by nax at 12:53 PM on January 9, 2008


    The essential point I’m trying to make is the following: I think that the MeFi community -- with its numerous, diverse and enthusiastic users and its track record for affecting social change -- ought to consider some constructive alternatives to its current MetaTalk forum. In particular, strides should be taken to cast a very dim view on unfettered reactivity and to establish 0 tolerance for ad homonym attacks.

    I love you, you're perfect, now change.

    Remember that this arose out of a violation of community norms and the investigation thereof. This isn't the part of MetaFilter where we discuss the urgent issues of the day, it's where we bring up issues that need to be resolved. It's not a public lecture or a reference desk at a library, it's half town meeting and half dive bar for retired cops. This is where we call people jerks, assholes and spammers so reducing "reactivity and ... ad homonym [sic]" attacks would be a bit like screwing for virginity.

    Which isn't to say that there wasn't plenty of uncalled-for assholishness in both threads.
    posted by Skorgu at 1:13 PM on January 9, 2008


    Insofar as the government regulates charities to ensure that they comply with the code that keeps them tax exempt, the only recourse you have as an individual in the ins-and-outs of them is whether you contribute to them. Other than that, it's none of your business.

    ..?

    From Givewell's statement:
    Furthermore, we remain committed to engaging in
    public dialogue about how best to achieve these goals and encourage continued comment about our organization’s work.
    posted by juv3nal at 4:27 PM on January 9, 2008


    cortex says: No accumulated wisdom when you can't see the accumulation.

    Going off on a bit of a tangent, but this is exactly why Projects should have public comments.
    posted by Malor at 9:38 PM on January 9, 2008


    Oh, and to Maureen:

    I think others have tried to cover this, but I'll hit it again from my perspective.

    Historically, the front page (just regular Metafilter) and Ask Metafilter have been 'the community', where we have some standards and some semi-unified vision of what should happen. I don't think it's so much conscious agreement as de facto... people tend to be somewhat restrained over there, and the mods will shut folks down who exceed the norms by too great a degree.

    Metatalk, on the other hand, is where we talk about those behavioral norms; it's the 'backstage area' where the actors growl at each other, practice their lines, and deal with the inevitable wardrobe malfunctions. The expectations are different here. I have rarely been aware of anyone being censored from Metatalk, where that happens regularly in the Blue and the Green. (Mefi and AskMe)

    This particular conversation happened "in the gray" because it's partially about Metafilter. Had it happened on the front page, you would probably have seen much better behavior -- if for no other reason than the admins would remove the really egregious stuff. But this discussion doesn't belong on the front page, and thus you get the relaxed rules of Meta to deal with instead.

    Basically: this isn't the center; the 'real' community is over yonder. In many ways, Meta is the worst of MeFi. Please try checking out the other sites before giving up. :)
    posted by Malor at 9:58 PM on January 9, 2008


    For instance, a mechanism which slowed down the posts by immoderate participants

    On the tangent - I moderate another, rather more rural, community online - I'm not sure whether it would count as self-promotion to link to it, so I won't - which has posting limits. The daily limit has gone down to as little as ten, to see what happens when every post has that level of significance ascribed to it. Currently it sits at 50 or so, which is enough to stop concerted spamming but almost never affects discussion.

    When things get heated there - heated to the point where one member is accusing another member of unacceptable behaviour, or demanding that they be banned from the site - we ask the participants to "take it to Policy", a dedicated forum. Anyone can read or contribute to the Policy forum, but in practical terms it means that only people who want to know about and participate in the running of the board will have to deal with the following discussion. It also means that the readers will largely be interested in resolving the situation for the good of the community. Usually, arguments taken to the Policy wind down without serious action being taken, and any serious unpleasantness is at least shielded from the ontopic discussions elsewhere.

    MetaTalk seems to be much the same kind of thing as that - a place where heated discussions not relevant to the topic originally under discussion can be taken away from people who don't want to be around them (for example a recent MetaTalk thread siphoned off a chap called bruce from a discussion on domestic abuse on MetaFilter proper), and also where the everyday business of running a board (can I do this, can I advertise my site, can we get this functionality) is resolved, or at least sectioned off and discussed by people who are interested in dealing with it. If you are not interesting in these two elements, it makes sense not to go to MetaTalk.

    I think there's another issue here about familiarity with Internet communities. I regret to say that it is very common for new users of online communities to suggest early on in their interactions changes in line with their own beliefs which they feel would benefit the community they have joined without any sophisticated understanding of how the ecosystem of the community functions, hence Pyramid Termite's rather brusque response.

    There are certainly other ways to run an online community, or any area where people can express their views in a public forum. Some communities are very tightly moderated, to the point of banning people for swearing or for disagreeing with moderators. Others are essentially anarchic. One danger of close moderation is that it tends to be very hard to apply it equally, and to give the clear appearance of applying it equally - compare and contrast the description of MetaFiilter's "mob mentality" and taste for blood with the demands for understanding and acceptance of abusive posts by those familiar to the site owner at GiftHub, which I think is a good part of what got people's backs up over there.

    However, the advice you have been given is probably the advice you would get in my board's Policy forum, Maureen - that participation in MetaTalk is no requirement for interaction with MetaFilter, and that MetaFilter's standards for community and behaviour have evolved over time and might need some time to appreciate. If after a while the existence of MetaTalk in its current form still seems unacceptable, then I imagine MetaTalk would be the place to start a discussion about changing it.
    posted by tannhauser at 4:16 AM on January 10, 2008


    This thread is helpful to me in understanding Metafilter and Metatalk, and how the system is designed to work. It seems this is kind of like the faculty lounge in Metatalk where moderators settle issues that come up in threads. I can see how Holden's case ended up here. But then many crowded into the lounge and it became an open space surging with emotion. Something like crowd dynamics took over. What I have taken away from the experience on both sites is that "the wisdom of crowds" does require a "MetaFilter" or Buffer of some kind. We have to master our own emotions, and help others master theirs, so that some good humor and good sense can prevail amidst the clash of personalities and positions. Moderators stepping up helps. Participants slowing each other down by absorbing negative energy and giving back positive helps. Going direct to a person and talking to them off line by email one on one rather than about them online helps. And slowing down one's own posting to reflect first also helps. This thing took off so hard and so fast and took on such a life of its own that it, I think, may have overwhelmed our usual systems, including our own internal systems for regulating our own emotions, as a flood overwhelms the levees. Now, that the waters have receded we can think about flood control systems. Next time we will all be better prepared.
    posted by PhilCubeta at 6:06 AM on January 10, 2008


    Phil, you've also posted on your front page that MetaFilter is now discussing "lessons learned." I disagree and think that a more nuanced understanding of the role of MetaTalk is still in order. This discussion has been unusual for the number of its connections to the MSM and for the way it has pulled in several new members with their own perspectives, but it's not all that unusual for MetaTalk in its tone, moderation style, diversity of comments, clash of opinion, posting style, and the like. This hasn't been as much of a 'flood' here as it may seem, and I'm not sure it will result in any changes to the moderation, though I'd be interested in hearing the mods' perspective.

    We have to master our own emotions, and help others master theirs, so that some good humor and good sense can prevail amidst the clash of personalities and positions


    Again, a very worthy personal goal, but we return to the question of aims. Is the aim of MetaTalk to minimize clashes of personality so that good sense can prevail? Only insomuch as it helps good sense prevail elsewhere on the site. There is a high tolerance for clashing in this space, and I'm not sure how widely shared is the sense that things were beyond appropriate bounds. Those who went overboard were chastised, and the tone has moderated. The life cycle of the discussion is a familliar one here.
    posted by Miko at 6:23 AM on January 10, 2008


    Well, a faculty lounge is normally restricted to faculty, Phil, whereas MetaTalk is more like an agora - anyone can go there, and if something particularly interesting happens, people will tell other people, who will also wander over to look. I very rarely go here, but followed a link from a Metafilter offshoot. The size of the thread on Jeremiah/Holden0 was unusual, although not unimaginably so, and in part this was because the resolution was open-ended: the MetaFilter management part of it (banning Holden0 and Jeremiah) was done by about the fifth post. If Holden00 had never appeared, that would probably have been it, but by doing so he introduced an issue that was not immediately actionable by but was pertinent to MetaFilter.

    However, I think you're still hung up on this idea of the crowd, the mob, the flood, the taste of blood usw. An online community, even quite a big one, is not a mob, because it does not trample those not moving with it when it surges. People can, essentially, continue to have a conversation in between and around almost any amount of noise, or just go somewhere else entirely. Newcomers to the thread were frequently given a set of tearch terms (Miko, primarily) in order to navigate it - they could do that without entering a crowd as they would have had to in a real agora.

    In a large community there will be people at extremes. Some people here are expressing their revulsion at the way MetaFilter has ruined a good man. Others are angry that he has not been punished enough. Short of lopping off a tenth at either end of the emotional spectrum, as judged by the moderators - there is not a huge amount to do about that. Such excision can be easily done on a small forum with little traffic, such as a personal blog - you could simply keep from publishing any post you felt tended too far to one extreme or the other, although as a decision that has its own complications.

    I've found most interesting the attitudes to anonymity that this imbroglio has thrown up. Holden did not realise that he was not anonymous, or that his assumption of anonymity had consequences - or possibly did not understand that he _was_ anonymous, in some cases, and that "Holden" was not enough in itself to identify him. "Rachel Tension" was confident of her anonymity to the outside world and her status as a known quantity to the site owner, and so doubly protected felt able to indulge in abuse. When the edifice of anonymity was revealed to be more shaky than expected, then all smiles stopped together. I think there are some interesting elements to that. Some communities insist on people giving their "real" names, in the belief that a forum full of posts from Bob Smith and Jimmy Roberts will inevitably be more mature and feel more accountable than one populated by Link'sgirl91 and SuperSwordVoltron. This may be true, but only I suspect because of the perception of anonymity. When languagehat started posting under his given name on your blog, as a symbolic gesture of transparency, he did so presumably knowing that anyone who cared to find out his name could have done so in seconds. The Rachels or Holdens of the online world - a little savvier than their employers or peers - share the characteristic often ascribed to those possessing a little knowledge in these situations.
    posted by tannhauser at 7:24 AM on January 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


    By the way, I just wanted to throw some data at this sentence: This thing took off so hard and so fast and took on such a life of its own that it, I think, may have overwhelmed our usual systems.

    While to someone not familiar with a lot of mefi history that ~1500 comment initial GiveWell thread seems surprising and completely out of the ordinary, the truth is it's not really. The easiest example I can point to is ~2700 comments across three threads (1, 2, 3) about the way different genders perceive the site. Not to say that that's the only example of this kind of mass-reaction thread here, just that they're the most recent and easily available.

    So I have to disagree. I don't think anything about this incident overwhelmed the systems here where for better or worse such things happen fairly regularly. I can't vouch for how well other sites handle a deluge of pissed-off Junior Detectives; it does seem that there was some overwhelming being done in other places to be sure.

    And again, I don't want to discount or even disagree with (what I read as) your central point: lots of people are assholes, especially when there's blood in the water.
    posted by Skorgu at 7:53 AM on January 10, 2008


    The easiest example I can point to is ~2700 comments across three threads (1, 2, 3) about the way different genders perceive the site. Not to say that that's the only example of this kind of mass-reaction thread here, just that they're the most recent and easily available.

    Actually those are pretty much the exception that prove the rule. I can't think of a single other thread that garnered that sort of attention and was that long (without being a longboat thread). I think even the Suicide Girls thread was sub-1000. Most MeTa threads go on for dozens of comments and rare ones go on for hundreds. Lately it seems like we've had a lot to discuss and threads have gone on longer and topics have spanned multiple threads. I can't remember that happeneing ever before unless a thread was closed prematurely. The wiki thing has, I don't think, ever happend before as the result of a MeTa thread, has it? I know we've has AskMe concatenations and other project sites, but this whole "this is what happened" seems new, and helpful. Anyone who wanted to get the high points without wading in to the personality ocean here could go there.

    I've also received and replied to a ton of email on this subject which seems appropriate since there's not any backroom dealing going on about this for the most part. As people have said, the MeFi aspect of this (identifying the transgression, banning the relevant accounts) happened within the hour, everything else has been discussion, hypothesis and updates.

    I'd be interested in hearing the mods' perspective.

    In short, I regret nothing. I've actually been pretty impressed how this stuff has gone generally speaking over the past ten days or so. There's a certain amount of nastiness but I think it's been 1) minimal, realtively speaking (i.e. MUCH LESS nasty than other hot button topics and with almost no out and out trolling, to my mind) and 2) contained (very little protacted OMGLOL stupidity which is unusual in MeTa as well). I've been impressed at how people have left the site to comment on this topic elsewhere (generally) and the way people have been willing to give positive feedback and apologies as well as negative feedback and snarks.

    I don't think I'd do anything different in the future. I mean in a dream world it would be nice to send emails to new high profile members coming from other sites and let them know what's up, but in my dream world I also don't work on New Year's Eve. My point of "yay team" is that in a site with very few moderators, that this worked out at all. I know cortex and I worked hard to keep an eye on things and make sure things were moving forward with input from us as necessary. That would not have happened at all if the site really wasn't, to a certain extent, self-policing. I could go to bed at night knowing the place wouldn't fall apart without my personal intevention; that's sort of cool.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:46 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


    jessamyn wrote...
    The wiki thing has, I don't think, ever happened before as the result of a MeTa thread, has it?

    Not that I've been able to find. Relatively live updating of the wiki does appear to be a brand new element to the way Metafilter handles large community issues, and a fairly successful one I might add.

    The other big "lessons learned" discussion here was about how to handle the fact that large numbers of non-mefites were being introduced to the site via the extremely untidy back room. Although the outcome of that has pretty much been "the current situation is the best we're gonna do", I thought that was an important and interesting conversation to have.
    posted by tkolar at 10:52 AM on January 10, 2008


    This thing took off so hard and so fast and took on such a life of its own that it, I think, may have overwhelmed our usual systems, including our own internal systems for regulating our own emotions, as a flood overwhelms the levees. Now, that the waters have receded we can think about flood control systems. Next time we will all be better prepared.

    Huh? MetaFilter worked fine. It's still here, still filled with asshats and weirdness and snark. The only tangible results of the GiveWell fallout to the site are a few new members, a slightly higher profile in the blogosphere (I hate that word so hard), and some huge threads that no one will bother to read. MetaFilter and its subsites worked great -- it's you guys who are picking up the pieces.

    And the insistence that this was all "crowd dynamics" is hi-fucking-larious. Y'all still don't GET IT. This whole imbroglio was caused by a smug rich dude who thought he could use deception to game a community website -- in other words, he had NO CLUE how crowd dynamics actually work in real-time in virtual communities.

    Absolutely nothing unusual happened at MetaFilter -- well, what was unusual is that instead of demolishing a straw man, our ordinary target, we got to sink our sharp little toofies into a real man who richly deserved it.
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:04 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    I guess we're not gonna make 1,400 comments, huh?
    posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on January 10, 2008


    MetaFilter and its subsites worked great -- it's you guys who are picking up the pieces.

    To go with what BitterOldPunk is saying there a bit—I've run with the theme of culture shock when talking about how Gifthub and Mefi (and, more generally, how Gifthub and The Outside World) interacted last week, and I think that's pretty key to explaining why the friction that was on display manifested between different users.

    But in talking with Phil over here and over there and a bit by email, I've gathered that the culture shock idea applies just as well to the situation from a site-administration rather than user perspective. Some of what Jessamyn just said captures this: there really wasn't anything fundamentally unusual going on on Metatalk in the last week. What was notable was, mostly, that the person who transgressed (a) came back to talk about it, (b) turned out to have been up to a lot of trouble on other sites as well, and (c) was effectively a sort of bigwig in the real world.

    It was an unusually long and busy thread, which was driven by the circumstances and the fact that the "plot" kept advancing.

    There was some cross-site chatter—that's another unusual thing. There usually isn't a lot of movement from a Metatalk thread to the outside world. Even at that, though, this wasn't (as I've said before) anything like Internet Mob Justice to anyone who has ever seen that sort of thing in action. Every single day at digg.com, for example, there's more vociferous, more impersonal bugaboo-chasing going on. This was a dozen (or a half-dozen?) mostly-civil people commenting on a handful of other sites where the issue was being discussed (and, notably and again fairly unusually, metatalk was being linked to and discussed).

    So the appearance of mefites at the steps of Gifthub may have seemed like An Event, but the arc of how things went down over here was pretty much business as usual, with a few unusual shiny bits. A notable week, by matter of degree, but not really a surprising or paradigm-shaking one.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 11:24 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


    "I think the question of how to balance different ideas of what "raw, unmediated expression" means and how much of it is allowable vs. desirable is damned complicated..."

    ** I couldn't agree with you more.

    "I've done my best to try and suss out where the practical compromises lay.."

    ** I believe you. You sound like a bright and sincere person. But you're not the only one that gets to decide. As long as MetaTalk lives (and I assume you hope it outlives all of us), it will continue to evolve in response to the society that dwells there.

    "I hate it that people occasionally let themselves fall back to "hey, fuck you" as an argument in here. If that's what you mean by raw and unmediated, I'm right on board with you."

    **I agree, you're on board.

    "On the other hand, I like that people will sometimes present a detailed, earnest explanation of what they're upset about and why they're upset about it, without dressing it up in allegory or pretense..."

    What's wrong with Allegory as a mode of expression if it's someone's preferred mode? Why do you think earnest (which I think is code for angry or brash) means more authentic? It sounds to me like you're saying people better deploy an acceptable voice or go away. Smacks of colonization or a recipe for schizophrenia.

    "Basically: this isn't the center; the 'real' community is over yonder."

    **Over there? This reminds me of the joke about the lost hiker:

    The Boy Scout scans the map and the horizon, pauses, scratches his head, scans them again and finally lifts his head and says: "According the map, we're on that peak".

    Shame on you. MetaTalk is as real as any other community, on Mefi, elsewhere in Cyber space, on Earth or in our personal gallery of ghosts.

    "I think there's another issue here about familiarity with Internet communities. I regret to say that it is very common for new users of online communities to suggest early on in their interactions changes in line with their own beliefs which they feel would benefit the community they have joined without any sophisticated understanding of how the ecosystem of the community functions..."

    Sounds like you guys invented the Internet? As many of you know, for decades people from all kinds of disciplines have been discussing ecosystems and the specific ecosystem of the on-line community.

    "So the appearance of mefites at the steps of Gifthub may have seemed like An Event, but the arc of how things went down over here was pretty much business as usual, with a few unusual shiny bits."

    Not an event? What about all of those hours the moderators put in, even over New Years? What about the scores of new MeFi users, visitors to MetaTalk, this continuing discussion? It certainly looks like an event to me. Who gets to call an event an event?

    "A notable week, by matter of degree, but not really a surprising or paradigm-shaking one."

    Beware of hubris, the Gods may strike out. Our ancestors get to decide whether or not there's a paradigm at hand and whether or not any events shook it up. It's not something we mortals should presume to see.
    posted by Maureen Doyle at 2:40 PM on January 10, 2008


    Suddenly, I miss Jenny Diski.
    posted by pineapple at 2:45 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


    Beware hubris indeed.
    posted by zennie at 2:50 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Why do you think earnest (which I think is code for angry or brash) means more authentic?

    Because, by definition, it is. Have you been playing with masks so much that you have lost sight of that fact?
    posted by dersins at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    .
    posted by iamkimiam at 3:00 PM on January 10, 2008


    Heya, Maureen.

    What's wrong with Allegory as a mode of expression if it's someone's preferred mode? Why do you think earnest (which I think is code for angry or brash) means more authentic? It sounds to me like you're saying people better deploy an acceptable voice or go away. Smacks of colonization or a recipe for schizophrenia.

    There's nothing wrong with Allegory as a mode of expression. I've said as much over on Gifthub, and here. It's clear that where it's a tradition over there, however, and folks are very much comfortable with it, it's very far from being the default discursive style over here.

    Insofar as mode of discourse is a shibboleth, it swings both ways; you aren't comfortable with the cultural emphasis on "unmediated" commentary over here, and a lot of folks here aren't that comfortable with the allegorical style on Gifthub. So it goes, and there's nothing surprising or wrong about that—but the culture shock is a reflexive experience here. You can't with one hand dismiss our preference for straightforward discourse and with the other cry "colonization" when we don't hop on the allegory bandwagon.

    Shame on you. MetaTalk is as real as any other community, on Mefi, elsewhere in Cyber space, on Earth or in our personal gallery of ghosts.

    Shame? Metatalk is a subsection of Metafilter; it has an active subcommunity that overlaps significantly with the subcommunities of Metafilter and Ask Metafilter (and splinters like Music, and cousin sites like metachat.org, and...). The point Malor was making is that for most people who spend time at Metafilter, this place -- Metatalk, "MeTa", "the grey" -- is not why they're here, and is not what they mean when they say "Metafilter". And, likewise, when someone says "Metatalk", they don't generally mean Metafilter.com as a whole; they mean this part of the site specifically.

    Opinions differ. I find Metatalk the most fascinating part of the site, because I love the policy discussions and the self-examination by the community and the rampant silliness that often flares up (in much greater proportion, I want to point out, than does nastiness). But this is a niche, a fraction of what Metafilter is. Whether it's the heart or soul of the site is almost a sidetrack: whatever it is, it's not the body.

    Sounds like you guys invented the Internet? As many of you know, for decades people from all kinds of disciplines have been discussing ecosystems and the specific ecosystem of the on-line community.

    And a lot of them, a lot of them, hang out here. The idea is not that you (or any other person coming new to Metafilter or some other given community site) are incapable of understanding or unfamiliar with the idea of community norms or on-line philosophies or what not; I've no reason to assume that's the case. But you are new to Metafilter, and we did—for a very collective, temporally vague definition of "we" that includes thousands of people over eight-and-some years—invent this community.

    There's nothing wrong with discussing site philosophy, moderation, community values and direction and etc. I welcome it and enjoy it. But you must, by now, have encountered the idea that as the newcomer to the neighborhood you've got a lot to learn about the culture you're speaking to, and that in your newness it's easy for you to make suggestions and assertions that betray a lack of familiarity with the history of the place you're offering to "fix". If people bridle at that, it shouldn't be surprising. If they're overly brusque in response, I don't think that's particularly great, personally, but that's life with new neighbors.

    Not an event? What about all of those hours the moderators put in, even over New Years? What about the scores of new MeFi users, visitors to MetaTalk, this continuing discussion? It certainly looks like an event to me. Who gets to call an event an event?

    By Metatalk standards—by the measure of what an average week is for me and Jessamyn and Matt here—this has been a bit busy, but as much as anything it's been work being done in one place rather than as much work being done in a dozen places around the site. It's definitely on the timeline of Things That Happened, but when I hear e.g. Phil talk about "lessons learned" and "steps taken" and whatnot, I feel like there's an order of magnitude of difference in how big of a deal the community events have been from his perspective versus mine and Jessamyn's. This has been another day on the farm; a busy, interesting day, definitely, but not, again, a paradigm shift or an apocalypse or anything to that scale.

    As far as that goes, and as far as I'm measuring it against my expriences as a moderator here, I kind of do get to say what's An Event. That's not grandstanding, but the opposite: slightly weary acknowledgement that this is a damned busy place pretty much every day.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 3:09 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


    And you've apparently closed your account.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 3:10 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Not an event? What about all of those hours the moderators put in, even over New Years?

    You know that cortex one of the other two moderators, right?

    But you're not the only one that gets to decide. As long as MetaTalk lives (and I assume you hope it outlives all of us), it will continue to evolve in response to the society that dwells there.

    I think the whole point is, this is a large community that has already discussed a lot of these things, a lot. Any new person is welcome to show up and say "hey, how about if we do something different for XYZ reason?" but I think it's a reasonable response to say "we've talked about that and decided not to for ABC reason" and then if the topic gets opened up again, so be it, but having no sense of history or why a place is the way it is, isn't a great footing for recommending sweeping change. Then again, part of the whole Givewell thing was that Holden was exactly this sort of outsider with exactly these sorts of new ideas who was heralded as a godsend by some people for almost exactly this sort of reason. However, I think that's where the comparison ends.

    Realistically, one person showing up in a town of 65,000 people with maybe 5,000 registered voters and says "hey, why don't we paint all the mailbox blue, you all have some SHABBY MAILBOXES" should expect some sort of "well this is why the mailboxes are they way they are" response. You can still agitate for what you want, but the odds are slim that you'll achieve consenus, slimmer if you act like there's something wrong with the status quo, or don't make any compelling argument for why your suggested improvement changes things for anyone but you and some unamed group of sympaticos. In fact, this happens from time to time here and we call it "the special snowflake phenomenon" where people essentially want the place to change almost a decade of community decisionmaking, moderation and growth because they, for themselves (though sometimes it's a small group) want it to be different. They come to MetaTalk, we talk about it, sometimes things change and often they don't. When you want to change moderation policies, that's one thing; when you want to change human behavior, that's quite another. So, requests suggesting that people stop swearing generally go nowhere, and requests that we the mods crack down on swearing go nowhere in a different fashion.

    Shame on you. MetaTalk is as real as any other community, on Mefi, elsewhere in Cyber space, on Earth or in our personal gallery of ghosts....Sounds like you guys invented the Internet? As many of you know, for decades people from all kinds of disciplines have been discussing ecosystems and the specific ecosystem of the on-line community.

    Up to you, but I really don't feel that this is the best way to move forward here. MetaTalk is a subsection of, and literally would not exist without, MetaFilter. The reverse is not true. So, in a way it isn't as "real" because it exists in service to the larger site, sort of like a pronoun or something. It's generally assumed that people are here because of something happening in the larger site or about the larger site in the larger world which is true for probably 99.9% of what goes on here. This is a crazy exception.

    I think there are some generalizable things that people know about online communities as a general entity, but this one is ours and has its own quirks, foibles and character. Since we're not the government or some other institution that receives some sort of special benefits for adhering to certain rules (as a 501c3 does, for example) it's acceptable to say "well if you don't like the way we do things here, you are welcome to not come here" We try not to say that, but we (as a community not as moderators generally) sometimes do. cortex and I are trying to explain things to a set of people who don't have the same involvement and backstory as we do, and if "shame on you" is really what you think is an acceptable useful "let's all learn something" response then I might politely suggest that you're not going to like anything else we say either.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:12 PM on January 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


    And I'm omniscient.
    posted by iamkimiam at 3:13 PM on January 10, 2008


    I'd say that the difference between GiveWell and other notable threads is one of degree not one of kind. Mefi is bigger now and so are the threads, but I'd say Kaycee alone was more of a transformative thread than any of this.

    Or, you know, what cortex said.
    posted by Skorgu at 3:18 PM on January 10, 2008


    And you've apparently closed your account

    Somehow, that's not surprising.
    posted by dersins at 3:20 PM on January 10, 2008


    What about the scores of new MeFi users...?

    Scores? I think I counted seven.
    posted by Miko at 3:28 PM on January 10, 2008


    Would it be a cruel pony to ask for a line of cut-off-hand icons across the top of metatalk representing each day's closed accounts?
    posted by maxwelton at 3:46 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Today I learned that MetaTalk is a pronoun.
    posted by tkolar at 3:50 PM on January 10, 2008


    Today I learned that MetaTalk is a pronoun.

    It's like a pronoun.

    Extra credit: that was a simile.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:52 PM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


    MetaTalk: sort of like a pronoun or something.
    posted by rtha at 3:53 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    jessamyn: putting the me in metatalk.
    posted by Rumple at 3:56 PM on January 10, 2008


    I always figured she was putting the "tata" in metatalk.
    posted by dersins at 4:26 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    please don't hurt me
    posted by dersins at 4:27 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Would it be a cruel pony to ask for a line of cut-off-hand icons across the top of metatalk representing each day's closed accounts?

    there are certain rules of etiquette to be followed, though

    1) always use your steak knife, not your butter knife to cut off your hand

    2) never use a salad fork to hold your hand in place, use the regular fork

    3) it is not acceptable to place the bloody stump or the dislocated hand in the finger bowl

    4) do not use your tie or your napkin as a tournaquette

    we don't want our new members to think we're a bunch of impolite barbarians, do we?
    posted by pyramid termite at 4:30 PM on January 10, 2008


    Damn. And I had my most presentable mask on, too.
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:37 PM on January 10, 2008


    So, um. Maureen responded to me, above, apparently in the belief that I am Al Gore, but I'm not quite sure how to respond, if at all. Has Maureen deleted her account, then? And does anyone think that she made clear and good points above which should inspire a revision of how MetaTalk works, possibly as a totally separate forum from MetaFilter?

    Only, I can't really see any actual content up there.
    posted by tannhauser at 4:42 PM on January 10, 2008


    And does anyone think that she made clear and good points above which should inspire a revision of how MetaTalk works, possibly as a totally separate forum from MetaFilter?

    no, she was just trying to distract attention from the whole givewell/holden thing with the empty accusation that we're mean to people when we catch them breaking the rules and to enlighten us poor ignorant peons that internet communities should work a special way for those with a highly developed sense of privilege and entitlement, especially if they're trying to help their inferiors

    she quit when she realized it wasn't working

    hubris? chutzpah is more like it
    posted by pyramid termite at 5:02 PM on January 10, 2008


    Is it an allegory that Maureen Doyle didn't even bother to learn metafilter's quoting conventions before she flamed out? Or is that just dramatic irony?
    posted by anotherpanacea at 5:06 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Wow. I finally decide it's time I did some work instead of following the thread, and I miss the flameout.

    Sigh.

    You know, I'm sure Maureen's way of the world is very nice. But this community is what it is, for good or for ill. I'm sorry her first interaction with the site was in the kitchen and not the parlor, but you know? What do you do?

    This whole event is a half dozen PhD dissertations waiting to happen.
    posted by dw at 5:13 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Well, that was a damned unsatisfactory flameout. This is just one more reason people need to hang out and learn the traditions and mores: so when they flame out, they do it right, giving us time to get the popcorn, beer, and molten tar ready.
    posted by languagehat at 5:17 PM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


    I have to say, the first time I came on MetaTalk I got burned, ouch, ran crying to mommy (otherwise known as jessamyn, who more or less set me straight), and when I disappeared from the discussion people sent me hate mail through the MeMail system wehn I wouldn't play. So this part of the site is not for the thin skinned.

    And yet, here I am. Either I am a glutton for punishment or Maureen is a wimp. Anyone taking bets that she's lurking in the blue?
    posted by nax at 5:23 PM on January 10, 2008


    *boggle*
    posted by Skorgu at 5:26 PM on January 10, 2008


    Extra credit: that was a simile.

    I'm not sure what the emoticon for a simile face is, but I'm guess it includes an equal sign.
    posted by tkolar at 5:37 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Or even guessING. I may go that far.
    posted by tkolar at 5:38 PM on January 10, 2008


    Wow. It takes real chutzpah to tell an eight year old community (that's roughly 8000 years in internet time) how to run itself.

    I can't say as I've particularly liked the newbies we collected from Holden's retarded little escapade. Not one of them has appeared to make any effort whatsoever to learn what MeFi is about and how it works.

    Doesn't really tear me up inside to see them leaving.
    posted by five fresh fish at 6:27 PM on January 10, 2008


    I dunno, Phil seems to have been making an effort so far; Jeff Trexler's been a mensch. Holden and Tim I wouldn't expect to hang around, really. Maureen joined after some reactions to her own blog post on the matter, and Jeff Doyle as like as not joined mostly to support her and check the place out. Nonprofiteer's been quiet but nice enough.

    I wish Maureen hadn't gone with the kissoff-and-close maneuver, but oh well.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 6:35 PM on January 10, 2008


    I dunno, it seems to show a fairly advanced understanding of MetaTalk.

    If she had paged languagehat before doing it, I would have said she was a master.
    posted by tkolar at 7:29 PM on January 10, 2008


    "Smacks of colonization" was certainly a nice touch.
    posted by sculpin at 7:48 PM on January 10, 2008


    Ooh, I forgot about Jeff T. He's a keeper.
    posted by five fresh fish at 8:03 PM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


    And yet, here I am.

    Amen.

    I read the flameout, went out to dinner and a movie, and return with some thoughts on it.

    There's an obvious irony in being lectured on ill-understood community mores and then removing oneself immediately from the community.

    What's being missed in that brief interchange is one of the most important hallmarks of the site: contrary to the accusations above, MeFi encourages tolerance and real engagement. It is set up to ensure that people of very different opinion will encounter one another and be forced to deal with what they find, or barring that, be mature and confident enough to walk away from that conversation without thinking it'll be the world's last pronouncement on the subject. Witness the last gender threads, which resulted in a small but very welcome change to the site, but which were the final result of a long, iterative process that was years in development, because it was a battle for hearts and minds rather than the result of administrative fiat.

    Though Maureen and perhaps a few others have argued for stricter moderation, there is a very real sense in which stricter moderation would result in a paler, weaker, less vigorous, less interesting, and more limited dialogue. Greater comfort with the conversation does not equal better content within the conversation. If you rule out enough participation that the few remaining voices never disagree, or do so only very slightly, do you end up with a blog with so many thousands of active members who make so many varied uses of its content?

    As a longtime participant here, I am completely sympathetic to the feelings of repulsion that certain postings create. And it even gets worse after you know the place better, not better. 'Oh geez, he's such a freaking archconservative. Wouldn't you know, here they come with a cockamamie conspiracy theory. Oh no, here goes the misogyny again. Oh Lord, there she is pushing her I'm-so-much-hipper-than-you cred again. Gimme a break, now we have to hear from the Christians/atheists/vegans/therapy proponents/libertarians/marijuana legalizers/feminists/Your Cause Here. Good God, when will he stop grinding that same axe.?'And other similarly uncharitable thoughts.'

    It's very easy to say "These people are an unruly, unpleasant, ignorant mob, and I'll never return here again." It's especially tempting to do that after you've just had a long bunch of unpleasant interactions. Amd even more especially when your own sense of How Things Ought To Be has contributed to the unpleasantness. I think this is an experience which many current active members have some empathy with.

    But after a few years spending time here, I think the atmosphere has broadened, not narrowed, my tolerance for difference of opinion and sharpened almost every position I hold, personally, politically, and professionally. That's a result of confronting challenge and hashing things out, and witnessing what happens when others more informed than I do the same. Seeing how opinions stand, fall, or meet equilibrium. Seeing that it's possible for two people who are polar opposites on a position to somehow manage to both live happy, productive lives free of self-hatred. Seeing that the potential areas of expertise in life are shockingly numerous. And seeing that being The Expert isn't always the thing that is most valued in a human being.

    I wonder if it's acted that way for others. The fact that I think Poster X is rude and disgusting and shallow does not make Poster X go away, no matter how forcefully I argue that his comments are out of line. He is here, he is going to show up in threads, and if I screw up my facts or leave a big hole in my argument, he's going to zing me for it. He's going to have every right to, because I zinged him way back when and I have it coming. And I'm gonna have to admit he has a point. His membership in the community is every bit as valid as mine. His voice is every bit as loud. He stands a chance of convincing me that I haven't got it all figured out. But we both have to be here for that to happen.

    So we've been challenged just now on this belief that the very tolerant moderation here is an asset, not a detriment. But it's not a point I'm willing to concede. Disagreement and distaste for other points of view can be really difficult to deal with, but isn't it the lifeblood of MeFi? I don't have the luxury here of setting the terms of the discussion, deleting comments I don't like, writing the site FAQ, or banning participants. Opposing viewpoints are going to happen. But the focus on topic and content means it's worth it - if not in every thread, then in the aggregate. People who return frequently want to be in the conversation even if they can't set the terms. It's a polity.

    I don't think there should be a single change to moderation based on a few reactions from newbies, no matter how they discovered the site. Living with differences expands points of view a lot more than limiting discourse does. I do hope that those who have found themselves here with something to say will stay - it's the only way we can hear what they have to say, and grapple with it through the years, until perhaps real change takes place - not simple politeness, but real change.

    The 'culture shock' analogy pertains again. One of my good friends served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, delivering AIDS-prevention and sexual-health information to women in rural villages (most were in clans of three or four wives to each husband with many children in the family, and worked keeping house, supplying provisions, and raising children). She arrived there pretty sure she knew how to liberate and empower women to protect their sexual health. She was confident they would see and embrace the obvious rightness of her perspective and her efforts, and that the women she worked with would immediately understand that she brought superior wisdom from SCIENCE, and rush to accept a Western family model that would reduce the incidence of disease, reduce fertility levels, and change the power relationships between women and men in their society.

    It was a long two years.

    Today, that person, despite the Ivy undergrad and top-notch culturally-sensitive MSW she earned, recognizes that her wrestling matches with real difference in Cameroon as the single most powerful professional and personal development experience of her life.

    There's a reason why people stay at MetaFilter. Learning to talk to people whose points of view are really, really different is one of them.
    posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on January 10, 2008 [15 favorites]


    Shame on you. MetaTalk is as real as any other community

    Look, lady, I don't know who the hell you are to be casting shame on me. I told you, very politely, how it is. This has nothing to do with shame, it's just the simple truth. This is an opinionated, fractious subset of the real place. If you not only refuse to acknowledge this, but actually cast shame on the person trying to explain how things work, then it's probably for the best that you closed your account. I don't think you'd ever fit in.

    Rule 1 of communities: understand first, then suggest change.
    posted by Malor at 8:33 PM on January 10, 2008


    Yes, Jeff T. has shown to be a stand up guy ... both here and other sites where he participates.
    posted by netbros at 8:42 PM on January 10, 2008


    So, does anyone else get the idea that Givewell board meeting audio is being scrubbed, brushed, massaged, manicured and otherwise being given a complete makeover? Y'know. Just askin'.
    posted by netbros at 8:49 PM on January 10, 2008


    I wonder if it's acted that way for others.

    For me, it's been that for over twenty years. 1987 Citadel-86 network operated as you describe: loosely and lightly moderated, fiesty and argumentative, full of wickedly-smart people, and absolutely impossible to get away with presenting a weak or illogical argument for one's statements.

    Learning to talk to people whose points of view are really, really different is...

    ...how one learns to develop a solid foundation for principles and beliefs. Because if you've a flawed argument, sure as shooting someone smarter than you is going to school you.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:58 PM on January 10, 2008


    So, does anyone else get the idea that Givewell board meeting audio is being scrubbed, brushed, massaged, manicured and otherwise being given a complete makeover? Y'know. Just askin'.

    Post/comment at the GiveWell blog:
    "The audio recording of the meeting should be available by this weekend. There has been a delay as we consult legal counsel in reference to publicly posting an audio recording of an employee’s performance review."
    posted by ericb at 11:12 PM on January 10, 2008


    I have a certain amount of sympathy for Maureen, even if I wish she had paused to really understand the place before suggesting fundamental changes. In my callow youth, I tried to enforce niceness, civility, courtesy on a BBS where I was a [moderator], and boy was it a disaster - but a terrific learning experience. Don't get me wrong: I practice courtesy and consideration on nearly a daily basis in my own life, but at the time I wasn't giving credit to others for the dizzying variety of the individual human being. I thought everything would be better if we all played nice. And of course, the unspoken definition of playing nice was playing by my rules. I was valuing "people getting along" above the reasons we all participated in that group.

    Even discounting the folks who championed my wrongness like a battlecry - It wasn't better at all. By stifling the styles of a big part of the populace, I was making it harder for them to be a full-fledged member of the community because I was asking them to conform to some shallow standard. I wasn't valuing them, which resulted in less community involvement, or incendiary defiance. Discourse and the community suffered, and after I capitulated to my wrongness (it didn't take very long) we had a really productive discussion about style and perception. From that discussion, the community got stronger because we understood each other better, and our conversations got better for the same reasons. The sad thing is that we could have had that discussion without my crackpot attempts to make everyone play by my rules.

    People have to be comfortable in their communities to add value, and the communities have to be comfortable enough to accept different inputs and styles and experiences. Communities thrive when diversity is accepted as a matter of course, and in information-driven communities like the ones you find online, diversity is critical to elicit the best of the web or the bbs or the mailing list or whatever. I learned to look beyond the surface of a community and at the people with whom I was interacting. Just because someone is bombastic or childish or insane or overly picky (or whatever) in their presentation doesn't mean that their viewpoint is invalid or that they don't know what they're talking about.

    Some folks seem to get that instinctively. Others - like me - have to learn from the excruciating experience.
    posted by julen at 11:22 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Thanks ericb. Yep, he posted 10 minutes after me.
    posted by netbros at 11:42 PM on January 10, 2008


    I favorited Miko's comment above and I wish it could be inscribed on the outer wall of MeFi for eternity, but I'll just excerpt this bit here for special attention:

    I think the atmosphere has broadened, not narrowed, my tolerance for difference of opinion and sharpened almost every position I hold, personally, politically, and professionally. That's a result of confronting challenge and hashing things out, and witnessing what happens when others more informed than I do the same.

    Same here. (And if MeFi ever needs an extra mod, I hereby volunteer Miko, who's doubtless too busy to even think about accepting.)
    posted by languagehat at 6:59 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


    I think the atmosphere has broadened, not narrowed, my tolerance for difference of opinion and sharpened almost every position I hold, personally, politically, and professionally. That's a result of confronting challenge and hashing things out, and witnessing what happens when others more informed than I do the same.

    Agreed on this point. When I try to explain to people what I do for work or where I "hang out online" or who all these invisible friends are that I have beers with all over the world, I try to explain this part of it. It's hard to have conversations with random strangers who may be diametrically opposed to your opinion on some topic or other and something about the large group of people here with many-nuanced opinions on a variety of topics (and some entrenched ones, sure, I'm not all ready to sing kumbaya here) helps me hone my own viewpoints and, I hope, me more tolerant of the viewpoints of others.

    ThePinkSuperhero and I were chatting just the other day about how we sometimes model AskMe in our heads so that if we're mulling over something that we have to make a decision about, there's a definite sense of "what would AskMe tell me?" While doing what the hive mind suggests may not always be our final decision, it's helpful to have that bunch of people -- in addition to friends, neighbors, family, whatever -- to balance out whatever our personal darlings and false idols might otherwise push us towards. I find it surprisingly broadening.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:03 AM on January 11, 2008


    One of the reasons I like Metafilter and MetaTalk is that I like to argue. My real life is populated with people I don't really have to argue with, which, honestly, is a delightfully peaceful way to live a daily life, and suits me just fine. But in college, I got to argue a lot, and I liked it, and here, I find a similar dynamic: smart people arguing about stuff they care about. Pointy sticks poking holes in my arguments so that I can either make them better, or abandon them to contemplate something else. The opportunity to find our I'm wrong, and learn from that.

    Like jessamyn, I epically fail when I try to explain to people what Metafilter is, and why I hang out here.

    Second the proposal that Miko be the next new mod, should one be needed, and she's crazy enough to consider it.
    posted by rtha at 8:48 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Thanks for the mod nominations, but I'd be terrible at it! I have nowhere the Solomon-like prudence and patience that our mods possess. I'd have a hard time keeping my dogs out of fights because, like you rtha, I like to argue too.
    posted by Miko at 9:06 AM on January 11, 2008


    Miko is also in my timezone which is a strike against an otherwise spotless record.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:09 AM on January 11, 2008


    One of my favorite courses in law school was Guido Calabresi's Tragic Choices, which analyzed the difficult decisions society faces in the allocation of resources. One of the thought experiments in the class involved aliens coming down from space years ago and offering us a deal: they would give us automotive technology if we'd give them an offering of 40,000 people every year.

    It's not a sacrifice most of us would sanction, yet it's one that the U.S. implicitly endorses every year. Tens of thousands die and thousands more are injured as a result of car accidents, yet we tolerate that in relation to the overall benefits that cars provide. We could reduce the number of dead and injured significantly through an array of constrictive laws--universal speed limit of 25 mph; mandatory helmets and safety uniforms; armored tank construction; a ban on transporting kids. Yet imposing such new limits would have other costs that we're not yet willing to accept.

    One of the abiding realities of natural and social systems is that the same generative matrix can produce constructive and destructive results. Eliminating the perceived negatives isn't as simple as it appears; all too often, to the surprise of seeming experts, a rule that curbs an undesired result also gets rid of the things that we want.

    It's a dynamic that I see playing out in both nonprofit corporations and message boards. Sure, we can have perfect transparency and reporting by every nonprofit, if we want in world in which all be the wealthiest NGOs consume most of their resources on paperwork. It's akin to the curse of Weberian rationalism--we start off by creating rules and bureaus to curb irrational behavior, and pretty soon the rules and bureacrats occupy the field.

    On message boards, yes, aggressive moderation that filters out all but the best comments could create an information paradise, but it's also likely to drive most of the best commenters away. Who decides what's good? On what basis? How much of a time delay in processing is acceptable? How can one be sure that the moderator isn't just privileging friends?

    I'm yammering way too long, but I think you see where I'm going. The Givewell threads show that while MetaTalk can give rise to some unpleasant behavior and misunderstandings, it can also give rise to real learning. Maybe stricter regulation would tilt the balance more to the latter, but I suspect that it could also put the kibosh on conversations such as this.
    posted by jefftrexler at 3:51 PM on January 11, 2008


    Note, jeff, that AskMe is a highly moderated environment, yet is also thriving.

    "Who decides what's good?" appears to be a function of (A) the question-asker; (B) flagging and moderators; and quite possibly (C) MeMail peer pressure.

    On the other hand, AskMe is definitively not a discussion board.
    posted by five fresh fish at 6:04 PM on January 11, 2008


    Elie got his nose tweaked by the board. Naughty Elie!
    posted by disclaimer at 6:24 PM on January 11, 2008


    the board has decided to impose a financial penalty of $5000.

    The real lesson here is that the next time someone offers to bribe us we should find out how much we're talking about. We could have cleared at least $10,000, probably more off of this.
    posted by tkolar at 6:49 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


    On the other hand, AskMe is definitively not a discussion board.

    That's the answer right there. The value of AskMe--like any Q&A medium, from a classroom to an advice column--depends on maintaining a relatively high signal to noise ratio.

    A discussion board is different. Much like ordinary conversation, it can function quite effectively as a series of iconoclastic probes and parries. In this regard online discussion boards are modern-day Socratic dialogues. If that sounds like a stretch, I strongly recommend reading them as they were written, not as Somber Deep Philosophy,* but as funny, even occasionally obscene intellectual romps.

    (*Well, except for the later dialogues, which are admittedly a bit of a slog.)

    Imposed judgments from above change the dynamic considerably. This may sound odd coming from someone who is a teacher by trade, but I'm one of those folks who, the more I sense that my statements have to conform to an absolute external standard, the less I am likely to speak.

    Of course, that's probably one reason why I don't like having to give grades!
    posted by jefftrexler at 7:25 PM on January 11, 2008


    the more I sense that my statements have to conform to an absolute external standard, the less I am likely to speak.

    There are a lot of people here who feel that way and support loose moderation for that reason. One of the beauties of the cluttered mess we have going on here is that where there are standards, they are set far enough at the limits of useful speech that they still allow an immensely wide variety of people to speak up. While intensely focused academic discourse is sometimes appreciated here on the one hand, the emperor's-clothes observations from the layperson side of the street also fit in on the other hand. You don't have to have a graduate degree, or even a high school degree, to speak up. You don't have to have a spotless posting history or an open and impressive professional identity. You don't have write multi-syllabic, allusion-rich comments. You don't have to establish credibility, educational credentials, or legitimacy in your field of endeavor to have your comments weighed on their own merits. If we did expect those standards all the time, I think there would be much less rigor, vitality, and challenge here, because the shared assumptions would be much greater.

    I don't mean to overpraise MeFi or sing Kum Ba Ya either, and no text-based community of internet-connected English-speaking people is a representative sampling of humanity, but there are reasons why this place works, and has for so long, for such a wide swath of people. Among those reasons is the moderators' approach. Even those who've followed the conversation with interest and had nothing pressing to add other than a chuckleworthy one-liner are part of the energy that keeps it vibrant. And I'm really thankful for the number of those one-liners I've been able to enjoy in these threads.
    posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Elie got his nose tweaked by the board. Naughty Elie!

    He's tweaked for only for the December 31, 2007 "talia" comment at MNSpeak.com.

    What about his other "astroturf" postings at websites (from December 10 - 15)?
    posted by ericb at 7:48 PM on January 11, 2008


    He's tweaked for only for the December 31, 2007 "talia" comment at MNSpeak.com.

    Ah, and I was feeling all warm and non-cynical about that one.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 7:54 PM on January 11, 2008


    "What about Elie’s other 'astroturf' postings at websites (from December 10 - 15) where he doesn’t indicate his affiliation with GiveWell? Same behavior as Holden? Same response? Has Elie been 'demoted' beyond the $5,000 financial punishment?"* Should he be demoted?
    posted by ericb at 7:55 PM on January 11, 2008


    To echo languagehat from the previous GiveWell thread (GiveWell, or Give 'em Hell?):
    "Ooh, this thread is the gift that keeps on giving!"
    posted by ericb at 8:01 PM on January 11, 2008


    Drip ... drip ... drip ...

    Any hope for any credibility and faith in GiveWell?
    posted by ericb at 8:13 PM on January 11, 2008


    There are more ripples on the way.
    posted by Miko at 8:38 PM on January 11, 2008


    If we did expect those standards all the time, I think there would be much less rigor, vitality, and challenge here, because the shared assumptions would be much greater.

    Even those who've followed the conversation with interest and had nothing pressing to add other than a chuckleworthy one-liner are part of the energy that keeps it vibrant. And I'm really thankful for the number of those one-liners I've been able to enjoy in these threads.


    Amen to that!
    posted by jefftrexler at 9:18 PM on January 11, 2008


    the more I sense that my statements have to conform to an absolute external standard, the less I am likely to speak

    Mind, though, that MeFi has traditionally had a fairly rigid standard of using fact-based methodologies. It only barely tolerates religion, and outright crucifies those who make arguments that are demonstrably counter to plain fact and logic.

    Given that facts are basically the one thing we can count on all agreeing upon, it seems like a sensible foundation for discussion.

    That's not to say batshitinsane conjecture isn't tolerated. It's very much a matter of clearly demarking it as such.

    There is a grey area between. It's where the good friction lies.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:24 PM on January 11, 2008


    Givewell's blog update is to laugh. What a circus.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:25 PM on January 11, 2008


    [g.d. serial posters piss me off]

    And I'm really thankful for the number of those one-liners I've been able to enjoy in these threads.

    IMO, the one big thing MeFi Blue needs is an injection of sharp wit.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:32 PM on January 11, 2008


    Is this thread finally winding down? I remember when it was just two screens long.

    If anyone had the time to chart the evolution of this thread, it would be interesting to see. Something like this:

    1. Callout
    2. Banning
    3. Apology

    4.-39. ???

    40. Quiet flameout and account deletion
    41. Group hug

    posted by Locative at 3:51 AM on January 12, 2008


    (I've done a couple of blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) where I try to highlight those parts of the discussion in the other thread that I found most interesting. I wanted to let the posts speak for themselves and I've tried to make my quotations long enough to allow them to do so while keeping them brief enough not to cross the boundaries of fair use.)
    posted by rjs at 5:56 AM on January 12, 2008


    rjs: Good idea, but I find the massive doses of italics hard to read (why do you use them, since they're not contrasting with anything else?), and it's a little offputting that you don't mention the authors of the words you're quoting.
    posted by languagehat at 7:34 AM on January 12, 2008


    Thanks. I'm using italics for quotations, and I'm sorry if they're hard to read.

    I have been going back and forth about mentioning the authors. (Yup. Plate of beans. Overthinking.) On the one hand, I wanted to give credit where credit was due by mentioning the authors. On the other hand using real names (if people even supply them in their profiles) is out, so the only thing I could do is use their MeFi login names, and it felt kind of weird to do so outside of MeFi. (I vaguely remember that this same subject has come up in a discussion here some time ago, but I couldn't find it.)
    posted by rjs at 7:54 AM on January 12, 2008


    When I quote MeFi posts on my blog, I routinely use MeFi handles, and (more importantly) so does the mass media, as far as I remember from the various MeTa "ooh, we've been noticed!" posts; I'm pretty sure i'ts accepted practice and you'd be in the clear.

    As for quotes in italics, the reason we do that here is to differentiate between the quoted material and our response. Since you're not inserting responses, just quoting masses and masses of material, there's really no reason for the italics.
    posted by languagehat at 8:06 AM on January 12, 2008


    pineapple's comment explained so much about why this flameout seemed familiar.
    posted by OmieWise at 8:12 AM on January 12, 2008


    OK, I'll add the MeFi handles. Thanks.
    posted by rjs at 8:58 AM on January 12, 2008


    For those still interested in how ethics and law regarding uses of online identity are playing out, this is worth a look.
    posted by Miko at 10:15 AM on January 12, 2008


    Elie got his nose tweaked by the board. Naughty Elie!

    GiveWell Board: comment on December 31, 2007 related to GiveWell that was not under his own name. The comment was made under the name Talia

    I'm not sure what to make of this aspect of the GiveWell fracas. Am I (are we?) the one(s) with the weird concept of what does and doesn't constitute anonymity? Or is it the philanthropy world? Or is it a general societal thing?

    This same sort of thinking popped up on the various non-MeFite blogs that got involved... Comments that weren't signed, or signed with "ridiculous" names, got treated as suspiciously anonymous, but ones that were signed with "real" names were seen as generally above board.

    Slapping "Elie", "Holden", "Chris", "Steve", "Alex", "Michelle" or whatever doesn't do a thing to make something non-anonymous to outside readers (i.e., people who don't already know those people). None of those names are remotely unique, and it's totally up to the reader to suss out any possibly fishy motive connecting the message and the writer. Linking one of those comment names to a website (as Elie did in some of the 'turfy comments) doesn't help much either, as it also puts the onus on the reader to notice that someone with that same name is involved with that company/website. It's like covertly planting word of mouth in a bar while wearing your company's logo on your belt buckle: it only pays lip-service to honesty, transparency and the spirit of full disclosure.

    What would really help with full disclosure is including something like "By the way, I work for / founded this company..." That would have helped even if Elie or Holden had posted as UnicornFan1827 or any other "anonymous" name.
    posted by CKmtl at 11:04 AM on January 12, 2008


    Ack! When I saw that episode of "Law & Order," I immediately thought, "nice, it's a Holden Karnofsky, engineering a blackout." Interesting that the mud could flow back upstream too -- if the GiveWell kids are now being held responsible for the bad reputations of hedge-fund managers.
    posted by pineapple at 11:05 AM on January 12, 2008


    Audio of board meeting is up here—sans "employee review" portions. Bob Elliott explains in this comment.

    Also worth noting: the main Givewell site's Our People page now lists a Teel Lidow as the third full-time staff member, as of December '07. I'm not sure anyone at Givewell has acknowledged or elaborated on Holden's admission (see second bullet in his mea culpa post) of using a new employee's email to pump the organization. Is that Teel? Does Teel know?

    I haven't had time to listen to the board audio yet; that may or may not have been covered.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 3:31 PM on January 12, 2008


    Elie got his nose tweaked by the board. Naughty Elie!

    Yep, that's the very comment on MnSpeak I first commented on when theis whole mess started, and wondered if it might also have been astroturfing. How do you like them apples.
    posted by Astro Zombie at 3:38 PM on January 12, 2008


    sans "employee review" portions

    I should think so. Privacy does need to be respected.

    What Holden and company have done is something a transparent operation would admit to and preferably with examples or specifics so everyone knows what not to do; the consequences of such actions would also be transparently provided (I think Givewell has done well at this, actually); the in-between decision process can remain relatively opaque to us because we're not stakeholders in it.

    Teel Lidow looks like an anagram to me.
    posted by five fresh fish at 6:25 PM on January 12, 2008


    RTFA, FFFish. I apologize to the Givewell Board: this is much more comprehensive than I'd recalled.
    posted by five fresh fish at 6:28 PM on January 12, 2008


    Teel Lidow = Widow Teel

    Sounds like something from a Pratchett book. Google reveals nothing.
    posted by IronLizard at 7:12 PM on January 12, 2008


    I think you forgot the Law Of The Conversation Of Consonants there, IronLizard.
    posted by tkolar at 7:16 PM on January 12, 2008


    That law doesn't apply to me. I'm above such petty regulations meant for the masses.
    posted by IronLizard at 7:31 PM on January 12, 2008


    Having listened to the full audio of the Givewell board meeting from January 3rd, I feel good about the process they went through*. However, I'm left with as many questions as answers. Most significant among them are how Givewell will function without an Executive Director, and how Holden's "demotion" is anything more than symbolic. The board all appear to be astute and well-meaning individuals, so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt* that they will develop a workable plan for going forward. Let us hope that six months from now the Givewell organization is stronger and wiser, and is truly on a path toward their aspirations.

    * not that they give a hoot what some guy on a community weblog thinks
    posted by netbros at 9:17 PM on January 12, 2008


    Am I (are we?) the one(s) with the weird concept of what does and doesn't constitute anonymity?

    I've been asking myself that question all day after it popped up again on GiftHub. I'm striving to make the point that it's not the anonymity itself, but the use of anonymity for unethical or illegal ends, that's problematic. And that whether the anonymity is used on or off the internet doesn't make much difference at the accountability-for-wrongdoing stage.
    posted by Miko at 10:39 PM on January 12, 2008


    Law Of The Conversation Of Consonants

    B: "Hey, Ceecee, how ya doing'!"

    C: "Don't talk to me!"
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:17 AM on January 13, 2008


    Am I (are we?) the one(s) with the weird concept of what does and doesn't constitute anonymity?

    Many here demand full transparency for Givewell, but not for metafilter. This can be explained by cognitive dissonance, which is essentially a form of denial that serves to enforce a double standard. Holden represented the charity sector that is high on people's moral plane as a result of other moral assumptions they have accepted. Holden also violated the policy of astroturfing, which has its own moral reasoning designed to preserve the sanctity of metafilter as a source of reliable information. These two cognitions were incompatible, so an effort was made to demonize Holden in the strongest possible terms and "prove" to the dissonant mind that Holden wasn't the norm in the charity sector (or metafilter) and therefore deserved to be a negative example (which then became the goal).

    The problem was, however, that this process required a strong sense of self-righteousness by consensus, to establish the "reasoning" of the misdeed without any moral reasoning existing to condemn guerrilla-style charity or its Robin Hoods. The easy way was to prosecute on grounds of the perceived hypocrisy of the defendants, but this is the double standard, and led to the mob mentality of demanding that naysayers be hunted down and threatened in their jobs too, because any defenders in the real world threatened the entire process of establishing guilt by consensus. People instinctively knew that Givewell was perfectly willing to play this game to preserve their reputation, in the same way the CIA denies that any caught spies are working for them, but the "others" needed to be downplayed or threatened.

    A fair question would be to ask why Holden's punishment depends on a hastily concluded hypocrisy? I would venture to say that it all goes back to the wannabe capitalism of the petty dreamers, which as an idealism still requires that supply-side charity be the preferred method of dispensing survival rather than something more costly planned into the process. This pure idealism serves as a form of denial too, but to deny that the perceived method of progress in the world makes losers in the first place. In other words, Holden was not allowed to raise funds in a method consistent with capitalism, because capitalist moral reasoning must be preserved. If anyone really cared about the funding in the first place, by the first order of reasoning (and not as a method of self-gratification to get people to eat out of their hands), then Holden would be a positive example, but this was anathema to astroturfing here. It was a train wreck waiting to happen.
    posted by Brian B. at 12:14 PM on January 13, 2008


    In other words, Holden was not allowed to raise funds in a method consistent with capitalism, because capitalist moral reasoning must be preserved. If anyone really cared about the funding in the first place, by the first order of reasoning (and not as a method of self-gratification to get people to eat out of their hands), then Holden would be a positive example, but this was anathema to astroturfing here.

    No room for contradiction in your universe, then?
    posted by OmieWise at 12:27 PM on January 13, 2008


    Many here demand full transparency for Givewell, but not for metafilter. This can be explained by cognitive dissonance,

    Hmm, another way to explain it would be the fact that GiveWell based a huge PR campaign on their full transparency, and in fact claim that it is part of their core mission.

    But you're right, it's far more likely that Mefites just sort of manufactured it from their collective unconscious.
    posted by tkolar at 1:18 PM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


    ... cognitive dissonance, which is essentially a form of denial that serves to enforce a double standard.

    Not really. Cognitive dissonance is just what it says it is: the dissonance created by two or more conflicting cognitions. There's no 'denial' aspect to it, because it's a pre-denial thing. Denial of one or more of the, usually new, conflicting elements is merely one way of reducing the dissonance. The dissonant mind could alternatively reject the old cognition and accept the new one in order to alleviate the dissonance. Cognitive dissonance would still be involved, but that solution to it wouldn't be what called 'denial'. [/psych-geeking]

    If anyone really cared about the funding in the first place, by the first order of reasoning ... , then Holden would be a positive example.

    Assuming, of course, that people have no problem with astroturfy behaviour w.r.t. usual businesses. That's a big assumption to make. I, for one, am squikked out by it both when for-profit businesses and politicians engage in such things. That's not merely limited to MeFi because of its various rules and norms, but also when it's done in papers, over the phone, or whatever.

    Anyway, I don't particularly see what the capitalist idealism / cognitive dissonance analysis has to do with the anonymity thing, but you touched on it a bit (although, 'transparency' and (the lack of) 'anonymity' strike me as two different things, in a way that I can't quite describe at the moment):

    Many here demand full transparency for Givewell, but not for metafilter.

    Conversely, a lot of the philanthro-blogs were demanding real names of MeFites in the spirit of transparency while not realizing that merely providing one's real name doesn't do a whole lot to increase transparency / reduce anonymity.

    In my case, I've gotten to know the proper names of a few people here during the year that I've been a member. I have no feeling whatsoever that, having received that particular bit of knowledge, I know them better to any measurable degree. Nor do I feel that I know those whose full legal names I don't know any less for not having that info.

    The only difference I see between the two groups is that, with the former, I'd be able to Google-stalk them or have them served with legal paperwork if the mood struck me. Or, you know, send flowers or something nice.
    posted by CKmtl at 1:45 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


    I am fairly certain that my real name is more anonymous than Five Fresh Fish.

    It's a very generic name, I'm afraid. You can find my full name in dozens of phone books, and sometimes a dozen times in a single phone book.

    Given names are highly overrated. Self-naming is where it's at.
    posted by five fresh fish at 2:02 PM on January 13, 2008


    If anyone really cared about the funding in the first place...

    ...then they, like me, would be concerned about that fact that 29% of Americans said that they had "no or not much confidence in charities" while only 20% said they had "a great deal" of confidence (source: NYU/Wagner school of Public Service research db). They would note that donors who say they have "high confidence" in charities give 50% more annually than donors who say they have low confidence (source, The Independent Sector).

    Given that our social service needs are largely funded not through government but through willing donation, the perception of untrustworthiness is very serious. Ethics and management scandals impact all charities across the board. Events like this, which contribute to perceptions of untrustworthiness, result in reductions in overall donations and shifts in type of donation and type of need met.

    Not to mention the fact that when people make donation decisions, the second most common authority consulted in order to choose a recipient is "peers and peer networks" (35.9% of people consider a peer recommendation most important), second only to the recommendation and solicitations coming from NPO staff themselves at 41.2%. Brokers and financial advisors appear far down the list. So you see, the power of the peer network in channeling support to charity is obviously extremely important. GiveWell was attempting to use the apparent stamp of approval that comes from car-washing questions through a peer community such as AskMe to pull donations. That reduces trust in the peer network that is responsible for consulting on over a third of donation decisions.

    The perception that charities aren't accountable and are irresponsible is - make no mistake - the single biggest fundraising challenge we face in solving social problems and enhancing quality of life through nonprofit work. Only 11% of donors in the NYU study agreed that charities spend their money wisely. Ironically, this is the very problem Holden and Co. set out to solve. sadly, they placed too much emphasis on the management and ethics of their recipient organizations, and not enough on their own, though they are every bit as much members of the sector. And in practical terms, each incidence like this undermines donor confidence and changes donation decisions, resulting in a real loss of funding for the sector as a whole.

    That's why I care about it.
    posted by Miko at 5:59 PM on January 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


    "I've been asking myself that question all day after it popped up again on GiftHub. I'm striving to make the point that it's not the anonymity itself, but the use of anonymity for unethical or illegal ends, that's problematic. And that whether the anonymity is used on or off the internet doesn't make much difference at the accountability-for-wrongdoing stage."

    Miko, Pre-internet explosion, it wasn't all that difficult to determine what was illegal. Not so today, as internet law struggles to keep up with the medium. Ethics have always been a bit muddier, and based in societal norms. We are now needing to come to grips with the societal norms of the internet, and they are widely and WILDY varying, to say the least.

    The internet is like the wild wild west. Communities form their own norms to protect their "collective identity". When that is accomplished, they can move on to their "out-lying brethen". Generally, that is a huge group of faceless, nameless people who need HELP in the minds of community members. It usually takes the face of the old or young, or the poor or the infirm, or maybe those who are discriminated against, but more recently has become the masses of people (maybe sheeple)? in general.

    The stronger the "community" is, the deeper and wider that which they are willing to take on.

    Mefites are, no doubt, a strong community when we are talking to each other. Unfortunately, that is because most mefites who TALK, are exactly the same, only different. There is alot of comfort in hearing yourself talk. Even more comfort when folks agree with you. Don't take that for granted, but don't see it either as being a catylyst for change in the wild wild west..

    "Outing" Holden upped the blood flow here, and in his house too I bet. But did it change the NATURE of how things "get done"?

    I suggest that this dialogue is just the BEGINNING of our newer, and way-improved, "community collective".

    Holden. Hang on! You are far from the demon that this particular community found you to be. In fact, you just came in here and did what you learned to do on the internets. Problem was that you were not net saavy. For heavens sake, hire one of those net techs next time! They are mighty tired of not making any money here.

    On the internet? SKILLZ take on a whole new meaning. Marketers be damned! The techies will NOT be denied.
    posted by LiveLurker at 7:53 PM on January 13, 2008


    The thing is, LiveLurker, this had little to do with internet community norms and evolving ethics, and more to do with existing ethics and norms within the sector GiveWell operates in. Those are definitely situational - each case is unique - but not as nascent as internet norms. I've been saying all along, this behavior isn't a problem because it happened on the internet. It's a problem because nonprofits aren't exempted from legal guards against fraud, and in today's environment are also expected to be ethical exemplars. Had this happened in print media or on the radio, the problem would be the same.
    posted by Miko at 8:46 PM on January 13, 2008


    LiveLurker wrote...
    Pre-internet explosion, it wasn't all that difficult to determine what was illegal.

    Oh, nonsense. As long as there has been commerce, people have been skirting the legal edge as best they could. Slander, bait-and-switch schemes, confidence schemes (which is basically what Holden engaged in), etc. have been around from the first day someone had something to sell.

    All of these schemes (along with illegally placed posters, telemarketing, junk mail, junk faxes, and most recently spam) consciously walk the edge. You can tell by the fact that they're all done anonymously -- the people who do them realize that they are widely reviled, and one short legislative step from being outlawed.

    The internet is like the wild wild west.

    In 1860 San Francisco was the 15th largest city in the United States with 56,802 people living in it. You may notice that number is smaller than the number of Metafilter users. By wild west standards we are a major city.

    In any case, the idea that all sites on the internet are tiny little prairie towns with their quaint local customs is rapidly fading into history and being replaced by an acknowledgment of larger, stable communities. Many of these communities share common values, much in the way large cities everywhere do.


    [Ethics/societal norms] are widely and WILDY varying, to say the least.

    The ethics of lying about your identity to shill your product were settled years ago. To claim otherwise is to be disingenuous or outright ignorant.

    What bugs me most about people trying to explain Holden's behavior as a reasonable mistake is that *Holden knew it was wrong*. He said so very clearly in his apology. There may be some hypothetical person out there from a community with WILDLY varying social norms who honestly thinks what Holden did was just fine, but Holden himself is not that person.
    posted by tkolar at 8:51 PM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


    Because the audio isn't great and the file is large (and of course, to help with the continuing discussion) I have transcribed the first seven minutes of the GiveWell board meeting on the Wiki, the bit which essentially contains Holden's apology/explanation to the board.

    Do we think it's a fair account?

    Just on a personal note, Holden's repeated use of the following argument fascinates me:
    1. Honesty is very important to me;
    2. I did something dishonest;
    3. The two previous statements do not contradict each other.
    I'm all transcribed out or I'd do the rest, but there's a lot of it and Holden talks very quickly...
    posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:17 PM on January 13, 2008


    1. Honesty is very important to me;
    2. I did something dishonest;

    Eh.
    1. Eating healthily is very important to me
    2. I eat crappy food on a regular basis
    3. The two previous statements do not contradict each other

    posted by tkolar at 9:20 PM on January 13, 2008


    Whups, I forgot to say thank you for doing the transcript.

    Uh... Thank you for the doing the transcript.
    posted by tkolar at 9:22 PM on January 13, 2008


    Holden gave himself up to Meta . Didn't work out so well though for Holden, did it?

    Holden will be back, but never beHOLDEN to metafilter, I suspect.
    posted by LiveLurker at 9:24 PM on January 13, 2008


    You get all this for five dollars?
    posted by LiveLurker at 9:44 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Among the goodies in the rest of the audio -- who was the mysterious "new employee" whose account Holden used? It was a guy called ... inaudible. Maybe "Alan"? And he's in Thailand. Holden didn't say what he was doing in Thailand but I'm sure it was something charitable.
    posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:50 PM on January 13, 2008


    The ethics of lying about your identity to shill your product were settled years ago. To claim otherwise is to be disingenuous or outright ignorant.

    Yep yep yep. I'd favorite this a whole lot if I could.
    posted by rtha at 10:01 PM on January 13, 2008


    The internet is still wild, and metafilter matters little in the scheme of things.

    On the other hand? Gotta love your cowboys!
    posted by LiveLurker at 10:01 PM on January 13, 2008


    Let's talk.

    I personally have no issues with anyone who figures out a way to move their heartfelt idea forward.

    Not even putting down the marketers we all see ad naseum on the net. After all? They pay our way to only give a fiver to Matt.

    Who seems like a nice guy.......but?

    Where the heck is he when we need his leadership?
    posted by LiveLurker at 10:36 PM on January 13, 2008


    What? How has Matt let us down? What do you mean?
    posted by Locative at 11:17 PM on January 13, 2008


    Well someone let us all go down the rocky path to make a fool out of metafilter?
    posted by LiveLurker at 11:51 PM on January 13, 2008


    Geo Bush or Matt, as I see it.
    posted by LiveLurker at 11:54 PM on January 13, 2008


    I don't see Metafilter looking bad in this. A self-linker was called out, there was some hubbub, all farily civilized, and deftly handled by cortex and jessamyn, if not Matt himself.
    posted by Locative at 2:29 AM on January 14, 2008


    Where the heck is he when we need his leadership?

    On vacation, in Hawaii. A failing on his part, unquestionably. We've considered spending a special ops team to extradite him to the continental 48, but instead we're just going to plan something decisive for the event of his willing return.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 7:01 AM on January 14, 2008


    See, cortex, this is why you'd make a terrible coup leader. Me, I'd have the tanks and APCs heading for the Portland suburbs moment his plane was taxing to the runway.
    posted by dw at 7:05 AM on January 14, 2008


    His transponder seems to indicate he touched down a few hours ago.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:14 AM on January 14, 2008


    Well someone let us all go down the rocky path to make a fool out of metafilter?

    a) What you mean us, kemo sabe?
    b) You're honestly not helping.
    c) Hope you're having fun, mathowie!
    posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:28 AM on January 14, 2008


    Man, Hawaii sounds damn good right now.

    The Chronicle of Philanthropy will be running a follow-up story, print and online, next week.
    posted by Miko at 7:29 AM on January 14, 2008


    DNFTT.
    posted by languagehat at 7:38 AM on January 14, 2008


    Where the heck is he when we need his leadership?

    Well someone let us all go down the rocky path to make a fool out of metafilter?


    What the fuck are you talking about?
    posted by rtha at 9:23 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


    I find it curious that they are having technical dificulties with the audio recording of their December 17, 2007 meeting:

    Board meetings

    Click a meeting for audio and other details.
    - June 22, 2007
    - December 17, 2007 (Note: we are currently trying to resolve technical issues with the audio recording of this meeting, and will post meeting materials after we have done so)
    - January 3, 2008


    Given that December 17 falls smack dab in middle of their astro-turfing days, I wonder if there was some discussion of it at that meeting. Since they were in the midst of a media blitz at the time and on the verge of some very good press, I would expect that there would be some talk of marketing and promotion. Are they hiding something? Did Ogden, Bernholz, or other board members officially condone the activities? What will the tapes reveal?
    posted by mds35 at 1:13 PM on January 14, 2008


    An 18-minute gap, no doubt.
    posted by tkolar at 2:01 PM on January 14, 2008


    another one!

    'associating "good" with responsible, not a fraud, (..) "good" (..) one of them. (..) selling refridgerators - not a fraud is .. tiny, tiny, tiny piece (..) demand the best deal you can get .. rather than .. double check (..) money .. lit on fire. http://www.givewell.net'

    please tell me the answer is a joke and has been edited with the links.

    posted by dnial at 5:19 PM on January 14, 2008


    meant to strike through the url from the answer.. sry .. 3am --
    posted by dnial at 5:27 PM on January 14, 2008


    Matt left the answer intact but struck out the URLs, back when we initially found out about this whole thing. I think you may have missed the sequence a bit, dnial.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 5:30 PM on January 14, 2008


    New York Times: Nonprofit Punishes a 2nd Founder for Ruse.
    “The board of GiveWell, a new nonprofit research organization that seeks to assess the effectiveness of charities, has disciplined the second of its two founders for promoting the organization by posing on the Internet as someone else....In the latest move, the directors said in a statement posted Friday that Elie Hassenfeld had admitted using a false name online to steer people to the GiveWell site. They said they had fined Mr. Hassenfeld $5,000 but had decided to keep him on in his position as a program officer....It is unclear whether the online deception by GiveWell’s founders has had any impact on the organization, which thus far has been largely financed by its directors, several of them former colleagues of Mr. Hassenfeld and Mr. Karnofsky in the hedge fund industry.

    Mr. Karnofsky said in mid-December that the Hewlett Foundation had expressed interest in putting money into the organization, and Eric Brown, a spokesman for Hewlett, said Monday that it continued to be interested.

    ‘We’re going to wait and see,’ Mr. Brown said, ‘but we think the concept has a lot of value.’”
    posted by ericb at 9:05 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


    It is unclear whether the online deception by GiveWell’s founders has had any impact on the organization

    LOL. MeTa spanked by the NYT!
    posted by five fresh fish at 10:19 PM on January 14, 2008


    Well.

    It's taken me two days to catch up with all of this.

    And I'm only posting now because apparently it's possible to spend an hour or two every day reading the blue and to be totally oblivious to the firestorm going on next door.

    I find I'm not that upset to have missed it... but I just wanted to affirm my undying respect for Miko in one of the threads.
    posted by jokeefe at 1:46 PM on January 15, 2008


    Here's a piece of transparency I'd like to see: Why does Holden Karnovsky still have a job? I'd have been out on my can from the buffet restaurant I worked for in high school if I'd tarnished their (good, but not Harvard-grad-high-profile) image to this extent. So they dropped him as Secretary and docked $5000 from his salary to give to some professional development course (which I suspect will be half shameless self-aggrandizement and half el-cheapo platitudes that the Good Book did better, but I digress). They did not fire him, and this is a situation I would very much like to see explained.

    What springs to mind, of course, is that Mr. Karnovsky will embarrass them more, and personally, if he is sent packing than the corporate embarrassment they suffer from keeping him. I have no explicit grounds for this suspicion, and the above should not be construed as an assertion of fact. But really. Their name is now mud, and they're still giving him $60k a year. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
    posted by eritain at 9:30 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


    In related news: Facebook Generation: 10 Tech Revolutionaries -- Conribute Magazine profiles those redefining the power and face of philanthropy.
    posted by ericb at 7:04 AM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


    Ericb, thanks for the link!
    posted by jefftrexler at 7:32 AM on January 16, 2008


    thanks for the audio transcription-- that was awesome.
    posted by garlic at 7:40 AM on January 17, 2008


    The Hewlett Foundation saying they're "still interested" in the model? I suppose the model might work in the right hands. But the present staff's thinking is so poor, their understanding of the world they undertake to change so very poor. They're far outscaled by what it is they seek to do and haven't the faintest idea how to apply the few tools they do have. The new post about evaluating charter schools just makes my heart break - again, they don't get what they're trying to do, don't have a history with which to understand it, haven't approached it by first trying to understand, aren't sure what they're looking for, and won't know what it means when they find it. Why would this seem like a viable to anyone?

    Why not learn first?
    posted by Miko at 9:37 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Miko, my own reading of the Hewlett reaction is that it was, shall we say, hedging. The use of the word "concept" really stood out. The spokesman could have expressed the HF's confidence in the organization or its founders, but did not.

    That doesn't mean the Foundation won't support GiveWell--it very well might. What was actually said, though, was relatively neutral.

    As for the more systemic issue you raise re GiveWell's approach, I wonder if the problem you highlight doesn't reflect the norms of contemporary entrepreneurship, particularly in tech startups. Instead of a prolonged period of closed testing before bringing a product to market, the advice today is for businesses to send out products that are "good enough," albeit substantially flawed. The assumption is that this is a way to spark innovation and capture market share, with performance improvements emerging in response to actual use.

    Please note that I'm not saying it's an ideal model to bring to assessments of charity, just a possible explanation of what seems to be going on. In the business world this approach is ubiquitous, which may be one reason for folks outside the nonprofit community may have embraced GW so readily.
    posted by jefftrexler at 12:35 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


    Man. 2 (3?) people evaluting 4 different charitable fields with 3-5 groups in each with no direct experience in any of the fields. That's sure to turn out well.

    Eli starts off saying test scores aren't a good way to evaluate schools, but then goes on to use them anyway.
    posted by garlic at 12:45 PM on January 17, 2008


    Google Offers a Map for Its Philanthropy -- "Google will spend up to $175 million in its first round of grants and investments over the next three years, officials said."

    Google.org (DotOrg as Googlers call it).
    posted by ericb at 1:00 PM on January 17, 2008


    The more one learns about Givewell, the more farcical it appears. They simply don't know jack-shit about what they're doing, that much is obvious.

    Holden must have one helluva gift of gab to have bamboozled his investors so thoroughly.
    posted by five fresh fish at 5:39 PM on January 17, 2008


    The more one learns about this whole situation, the less interesting Givewell becomes (they're just a standard-issue Foolish Young Startup, when all is said and done) and the more interesting the industry reaction becomes. What proportion of the philanthropy industry has its head completely up its ass (as shown by its willingness to continue considering Givewell a promising newcomer)?
    posted by languagehat at 6:03 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


    What proportion of the philanthropy industry has its head completely up its ass (as shown by its willingness to continue considering Givewell a promising newcomer)?

    Probably the same proportion as every other industry - more than it's comfortable to realize.
    posted by phearlez at 8:21 AM on January 18, 2008


    But that is exactly the point, LH. Philanthropy is NOT an industry. Businesses live and die by their metrics which are shit shined ten ways to Sunday on their way up or down before they end up in shareholders' laps. Shareholders eventually find the shit, and those businesses implode, as with Enron, or they die a natural death from the lack of the green. Non-profits have been given a "push", in gambler language, and for way too many years. The same is true for government, but that is a much bigger bite, which I will save for another night.

    I have never worked in non-profit, which I suppose I need to say as self-disclosure, given how this thread has gone. I have worked for many businesses, however, whose metrics were evaluated quarter by quarter, not quarter century by quarter century.

    I am not at all surprised by the reaction to Givewell within philanthropic circles, and nor should anyone else be surprised. They are taking a deep, deep sigh of relief that , at least for now, they will be judged as they have been in the past. To oversimplify, in most cases, that is "x" cents on the dollar to "administrative costs", and to say they did what they set out to do. Surely, after decade upon decade, quarter century upon quarter century, ANY non-profit accountant can figure out how to make the numbers work, and lord knows that mission statements ALWAYS sound good.

    It is more curious than not that major donators have not asked for more accountability over the years, but.... times, they are a changing.
    posted by LiveLurker at 8:50 PM on January 18, 2008


    Not looking for a fight here. BUT am more than amused that no one shows up to talk to me.

    Miko? You have been the most outspoken. What say you?
    posted by LiveLurker at 9:19 PM on January 19, 2008


    Well, you're trolling. But you're also late to the game. I think if you read both threads you'll find that all your arguments have been dealt with, and we're somewhere beyond that now.
    posted by Miko at 9:26 PM on January 19, 2008


    And boring, frankly. Subtlety isn't your forté.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:39 PM on January 19, 2008


    I have never worked in non-profit,

    *falls down laughing*

    Well, you're trolling.


    Yeah. What Miko said. fff, too.
    posted by rtha at 9:49 PM on January 19, 2008


    The women on Metafilter should understand that calling them "babe" is a compliment.





    Anyone? Anyone at all?
    posted by tkolar at 10:01 PM on January 19, 2008


    Come on people, it's 10:08 on a Saturday night. LiveLurker and I are getting lonely in here.



    We are the troll patrol

    Immune to logic
    Common sense is too hard
    We live on the fracas
    Don't let us starve!

    Don't care what we say
    As long as you rise
    In indignant rage
    Your anger our prize

    Say we're ill-mannered
    Say we're a bore
    Say we're a pestilence
    We're not full yet, say more!

    Tell us we're sinners
    Invoke your God
    Nothing is better
    Than a self-righteous clod

    Impugn us, deride us
    And we're here to stay.
    Just don't ignore us
    Or we'll go away.
    posted by tkolar at 10:21 PM on January 19, 2008


    I didn't check back in on this thread until today, but Miko, contrary to your opinion, I am not a troll. Additionally, I followed ALL the Metafilter threads on this topic. I was mesmerized by what I perceived as a communal feeding frenzy against Holden for doing something that happens every day in every way on the net. This is a very net saavy community, so to see this occur here? Well to say the least, it became disturbing. As the feeding frenzy wore down, a few came in to offer up ways to discuss what had happened, and how we could all learn from it. Unfortunately, it seems, Phil was one of those people...hence, another, albeit mini, frenzy of nastiness, because Phil's site's "way", was not the Metafilter "way". A few people tried to add some other observations which I thought insightful, but they required some Metafilter self-examination, so that dialogue also fizzled out rather quickly.

    I am a valued and loyal member of Metafilter, if only in my own mind. I don't participate in exactly the same way that many other, more vocal members do, but so what? I do my thing, which at its worst, you might see as "trolling", and you do your thing, which I see, at its worst, as group-think "baiting".

    Miko, you called out Holden, didn't you? Matt snapped on that, immediately... this time. Then you spent the next thousand threads being Metafilter's wikipedia of "all to be known about non-profits" from a Metafilter perspective. I learned alot about what you wanted me to know, and about how things will always work given group dynamics.

    tkolar, I got a big kick from your poem. It was a much finer way to be unkind than was exhibited heretofore. fff? I will BE subtle, when I SEE subtle.

    To the Metafilter collective I say...Fishing was previously known as a fun thing to do when you had some free time, a pole and a body of water. If you haven't fished that way, then do so at your earliest chance. Your kids and grandkids will find your fish stories endearing, albeit quaint.
    posted by LiveLurker at 7:57 PM on January 21, 2008


    Oh, look, I hooked a human turd! My, it's a big one!

    It's grand to fish in the MeTastream.

    [I practice only catch-and-release.]
    posted by five fresh fish at 10:11 PM on January 21, 2008


    Just picking this up after lurking for about 100 comments. Particularly interested that the central issues here-- givewell's failure to honor its own central idea of transparency, and the supposed need for nonprofits to provide definitive measures of their work-- still don't seem to be getting through to some.

    In the mid 80s and into the 90s, the arts got behind standard business models in a big way, in particular regarding marketing and "product" to the extent that in some organizations I was involved in, they actually started referring to the art as "product." I bring this up because I think it is a nice little case study in what happens when nonprofits start pretending to be the same as for profit businesses.

    This is nothing that hasn't been said here before, but nonprofits do not have a "product" and they do not have "profit" in the business sense that I put xx money in and get xxx money out, personally. They have a never-reachable goal (feed the hungry, preserve operetta, improve education) that simply cannot be measured. I can tell you how many hungry people I have fed, or how many operettas I have produced for how many people, or how many children are in how many classrooms performing how well on tests, but I have not completed my task-- no profit, no metric, no measure is available for this. In fact, this one tenet of not-for-profit work-- that the goal is always somewhat out of reach-- is central.

    The effort by local (Chicago) nfp arts to become more businesslike had some good outcomes, notably in that many, esp. small and midsized, became more businesslike in their systems and administration, with the philanthropic community funding a lot of space build-out, business incubators, technical systems etc. Groups also became more sophisticated at marketing, due to a blossoming of technical support and seminars.

    On the downside, as long as we were becoming good little businesses, the philanthropic community started insisting that the only valuable "metric" was numbers-- bodies in the audience, peformances per year, and later, specifically, "at risk" kids being exposed to the arts. What happened was that, unless they had a powerful angel, small and midsized groups got completely squeezed off the funders' lists because they just couldn't deliver the numbers that the major downtown groups could deliver. Many organizations added unweildy and ill-conceived "outreach" components, a excellent goal in itself, but not in keeping with the mission of every organization. Outreach or community engagement or whatever you want to call it-- defined as getting your art into the schools, or poor kids into the concert hall is great, but at the same time these same philanthropists and their cohort in the government and business world were eviserating the actual teaching of arts in the schools, then dumping the task on arts organizations and then blaming us when they efforts weren't successful. (Maybe because we're performers and artists, not educators.)

    The "outcome" of performing or displaying or creating was simply not measurable enough, or measurable in numbers too small to matter to the banks and major independent philanthropies who were *also* now applying these business metrics and desire for outcome to their own nontraditional businesses. The largest independent philanthropy in Chicago now includes in its application process a question about how many people you can expose their logo to. So I guess now funding is about marketing for the funder.

    I can't cite any of this stuff, because no one will admit to it on the record. But I've had plenty of conversations with funders and recipients, and I've been on the (non)receiving end of this. I've been living it.

    In the not for profit world we have always known that we have to bring our donors in on faith. They need to believe in the mission, and in our ability to follow it. We cannot give them the hard numbers they desire, it's simply not consistent with, if I may, the "product." There is no product. There is only quality of life, an inherently unmeasurable goal.

    You can't view the presentation of art as an effort to "capture market share" as jefftrexler mentions (in a post that seems to agree with me). I think this is also true with a social mission. In the nfp world, you can't just make different widgets to fit someone's need for a "reliable metric." I agree with the basic premise that donors should do their homework to make sure they're not giving money to a scam, and that nfps should be transparent (and in fact are, by statute). If you want to "invest" money, don't make a gift to a not-for-profit. I hate to break it to the Holdens of the world, but it's not. an. investment. It's a gift.

    Funders are also notoriously susceptible to fashion. In the 80s you could get money for computer systems by crooking your little finger. Thirty years later we are all still using the same systems (and in some cases the same hardware) because funding it went out of fashion. So if you're doing something inherently unfashionable, you're out of luck. My organization does most of its outreach to seniors, but that's just not fashionable right now, so we can't get it funded.

    languagehat, in answer to your question. The entire philanthropic "industry" has its head up its ass.
    posted by nax at 8:05 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Anybody else notice that all of Givewell's documents are apparently authored by "Holden" - including their "Clear Fund Board of Directors Official Statement (Outcome of 1/3/2008 Meeting)"?

    Must be interesting, writing up the minutes for the meeting re: your own punishment ...
    posted by bhance at 8:18 AM on January 22, 2008


    I was mesmerized by what I perceived as a communal feeding frenzy against Holden for doing something that happens every day in every way on the net.

    So that makes what he did here okay? What he did here and elsewhere - for the nteenth time - was in violation of his own organization's missions statement. He was the opposite of transparent. That's what got people riled up.

    If he'd done his thing out there without bringing it to Metafilter, no one here would have noticed, or cared. But we do call out and ban self-linkers here when we catch them, and Holden's excuses, and the initial reaction to his actions by some of his own board members (best described as "meh"), only added fuel to the fire.

    You got called a troll earlier, LiveLurker, because your comment was taken as yet another ignorant statement about how nonprofits run from someone who has no experience working in the nonprofit world. Not unlike Holden, who seems to want to fix a system he doesn't understand.

    I'm not a grantwriter, but I have proofread more than a few multi-tens-of-millions-of-dollars grant applications, and if you think that nonprofits are somehow unaccountable simply because they don't all act like for-profit business, well, you've never seen the kind and amount information that funders ask for in these grant apps. How many people does your program attract? How many service units do you provide per week/month/quarter? What percentage of the last grant award went to this, that or the other? What percent did you spend on outreach? How many more people did you get into care over last year? The year before? Who is your staff, what are their qualifications, and how much do you pay them? Etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    And, as nax said above, though more politely, it's dumb to judge nonprofits by the same metrics as for-profits. They do different things. They have different rules. This is not to say that nonprofits shouldn't have systems in place to track where the money goes and if it's being put to the best use. But y'all seem to be under the illusion that, pre-Givewell, keeping track of where the money goes and if it's being used well had never occurred to nonprofits before. That assumption only unveils your ignorance.
    posted by rtha at 8:45 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


    nax: This is nothing that hasn't been said here before, but nonprofits do not have a "product" and they do not have "profit" in the business sense that I put xx money in and get xxx money out, personally. They have a never-reachable goal (feed the hungry, preserve operetta, improve education) that simply cannot be measured. I can tell you how many hungry people I have fed, or how many operettas I have produced for how many people, or how many children are in how many classrooms performing how well on tests, but I have not completed my task-- no profit, no metric, no measure is available for this. In fact, this one tenet of not-for-profit work-- that the goal is always somewhat out of reach-- is central.

    I think that there may be a fundamental divide in philosophy between those who start out saying, "I want to make the world better," and those who start out saying, "I want to help people." These goals are similar at heart, but in methodology they have the potential to become contradictory. It's only possible to develop meaningful metrics for one of those goals.
    posted by zennie at 9:15 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


    The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Charities Urged to Set Online Guidelines Following One Group's 'Lapse' (subscription required).
    posted by ericb at 9:51 AM on January 22, 2008


    If anyone with a subscription to the Chron would be willing to excerpt any key bits, that'd be great.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 10:09 AM on January 22, 2008


    I called LiveLurker a troll because of this post, which looked like blatant fight-picking. I do think the points LiveLurker would like to discuss have been thoroughly covered. I will pick up on this:

    It is more curious than not that major donators have not asked for more accountability over the years

    Saying this tells me that you have probably not done much giving to charity, or that if you have, you have not asked for the kind of information you are entitled to, or looked at it if it was offered. If you did do so (or had read the threads), you would know that charities are engaged n constant reporting. Donors do demand accountability, and get it, in many forms outlined in this thread and other threads (annual report, annual meeting, open budgets, IRS reporting, grant reports, site visits, development contacts, newsletters, etc).

    I agree with those outside the nonprofit community who find much reporting data heterogenous and hard to compile and perhaps evaluate. The present system is such that we report rather directly to people who directly fund us, and that at least some of that funding covers the time spent to do the kind of reporting rtha details. That system works fairly well for those who are involved in it. That is exactly why Charity Navigator and the other reporting sites don't dip their toes into that well; beyind the basic numbers, cash in/cash out and for what, evaluation becomes endlessly complicated and begins to take in much softer data. Metrics from one type of nonprofit (the symphony) will never be applicable to another type (the soup kitchen, or the fund to buy track shoes for poor kids, or the equine-therapy program). There is no way to compare apples to apples when you have apples, kumquats, plums, kiwis, bananas, durians, and all sorts of other fruit lined up side by side. All nonprofits are different, and differently funded. Each organization completes a constellation of reports to a constellation of organizations each year, but those organizations are all different, funded you for different reasons, and demand different outputs.

    The GiveWell folks were looking for simple, comparable data. But because our funding sources are so diverse and divergent, simple comparable data does not exist. Which frustrates them no end, because they are unable to determine something they vaguely define as 'impact.' So they are asking nonprofits to provide them simple comparable data by dangling a carrot in the form of a small-impact grant. This is not different than what any other grantmaker does, with the exception that they are planning to share their documentation. The bigger question this raises for me is: where should the burden of transparency really fall? Who is that work serving? Who determines the types of outputs measured, how they are measured and reported? Who determines what 'impact' is, and is that person at all informed about the field in which they seek to determine impact? Who asks the questions on the grant form? And is being chosen as one of GiveWell's Top Ten Charity Picks a valuable goal - is it worth the added effort if securing that funding ends up distracting the organization from its mission by requiring an investment of staff time? Taken to its logical extreme, GiveWell will end up enriching larger, more established charities and/or small startups. The larger charities will have files full of reporting documentation already, which they can just cut and paste into GiveWell's form, and they can spare the time of a development staffer to deal with them on the phone. The small startups will have the energy and the clear decks to chase after a $20-40K grant. All the others - the midsize organizations currently working to capacity, and the small organizations burdened by the ongoing reporting and projects they are already knee-deep in, with small staffs - will not even take them up on their offer. THerefore, any determination they make about the 'impact' of a program, or finding the 'best' program in any area, is hampered by two serious concerns: first, that the majority of organizations will (and have) self-selected out of their process, and second, that the people designing the application have little understanding of the fields they're seeking to fund.

    GiveWell arose because people who are not well informed about nonprofit operations became interested in supporting charities. They imported their culture of quantification into their evaluation of charities in the sector. They are trying to solve the problem of how to give in the absence of personal connection with an organization or personal mission to assist with a cause. That reduces the problem to one of metrics. Nonprofits exist, in large part and quite intentionally, to do the vital work of a society that generally refuses to attend to almost anything other than metrics.

    See the conflict?
    posted by Miko at 11:52 AM on January 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


    The Chronicle article was excellent, if short, and reporter Ian Wilhelm did a terrific job clearly laying out the story and exploring its implications. Though brief, it made the impact of the episode clear. I think it would be wrong to post the whole thing, since it is subscription-only, but the part of most relevance is the part that discusses implications. I was going to excerpt it here as cortex asked, but I think the best thing to do is link back to Jeff Trexler's discussion about it on Uncivil Society (which is now one of my favorite blogs - silver lining) - he excerpts that part about impact and provides some context. The first few sections discussed the basic history and stated mission of GiveWell, the astorturfing, the use of another person's email identity, the board's response, and other basic facts of the situation, very clearly and with good perspective that neither minimizes nor overstates the event.

    One thing I think has been very interesting and ultimately, quite helpful to the field, is the way that the story is being parsed by nonprofit media. This has been something of a turning point for a sector uneasy with technology and unsure about how to use it responsibly but productively. Many bloggers and nonprofit-watchers interpret this as a cautionary tale about PR. Without doubt, we will be seeing many organizations follow the lead GiveWell was forced to provide by revising communications and marketing policies to give specific attention to online activities.

    There have certainly been times when I wondered whether the MetaFilter reaction was overblown, but I no longer think so; rather, I think it took the established philanthropy sites a while to watch, understand, consider, and determine the impact and meaning of this event. Though there was quite a bit of heat coming from this site, in the end, I believe that some of that urgency and passion served to demonstrate to the nonprofit world that the general public and certainly the online world does care, and very much, about the work of nonprofits, the ideals we hold nonprofits to, and the trustworthiness of the sector. The brouhaha raised an issue the sector would have had to struggle with at one point or another, and has created some ripples that will strengthen standards across the board. (Amusingly, among the quickest to make some hay of this, of course, are the private fundraising and PR firms who will gladly accept a check for telling your organization to not do things like this...)

    Here's a roundup of some of the things I've been reading:

    Nonprofit's Online Gaffe Spurs Guidelines for Communicating Online on Getting Attention: Helping Nonprofits Succeed Through Effective Marketing
    Who's Watching the Watchdogs, on the blog of fundraising firm Huntsinger & Jeffer
    n00bs in Philanthropy on Nonprofit Tech Blog
    Nonprofits Should Avoid Astroturf Too on the blog of IDI, a PR firm
    The Faceplant That Rocked Philanthropy on Doing Giving Differently, a blog
    Astroturfing Burns: Be Authentic or Else on Getting to the Point: Katya's Nonprofit Marketing Blog
    And check out a recent Lucy Bernholz Post, What Does Transparency Look Like, including her disclosure statement at the bottom. Now that's no longer snarky, it's an excellent model for such a statement, and is exactly the kind of thing that would have been required of an old media reporter writing about these organizations.

    Some positive changes have been/will be made.
    posted by Miko at 12:38 PM on January 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


    What the butts?

    In the comments of the n00bs in Philanthropy thread, the first comment is by someone with the same name as the NYTimes writer who wrote about Elie's astroturfing.
    posted by CKmtl at 1:51 PM on January 22, 2008


    That's kind of astounding, CKmtl. I'm thinking that it may not really be her; I'd be relieved if it weren't. Like most newspapers, the Times has an ethics statement containing guidelines for its reporters' public speech, and theirs, at least, specifically includes web content. Among other things, it says "Staff members who write blogs should generally avoid topics they cover professionally; failure to do so would invite a confusion of roles" and "as journalists they must avoid taking stands on divisive public issues." So I'd be really surprised if it were really her, rather than someone who thought it would be cute to post in her name.
    posted by Miko at 2:14 PM on January 22, 2008


    I suppose it would be against those ethics guidelines, yeah.

    I'm not certain it's really her either... considering that she wrote about Elie's misbehaviour three days before that "At least this nOOb knows that Elie did not engage in sockpuppetry, so far as we know to date" popped up. You'd figure that a reporter could remember the major salient point of a story a few days after writing it, even if they are busy writing and researching other stuff.
    posted by CKmtl at 2:31 PM on January 22, 2008


    I wondered why her name sounded so familiar to me. I think I'm deciding to believe that it's not her.
    posted by rtha at 2:36 PM on January 22, 2008


    I sent off an email about it to her through the NYTimes site. I figure if it's not her, she should at least know that someone's up to shenanigans using her name.
    posted by CKmtl at 3:10 PM on January 22, 2008


    Still here. Still not trolling. Or should I say, not trolling anymore than anyone else here is?

    I tracked down all the sites you suggested I see, miko and others. And what I found was this...in no particular order....

    Marketers...now who would have thunk it? (None any more transparent than Holden in his initial moment)

    Trexler...with a world of wisdom of how not to be CREAMED by a tight, on-line group like metafilter

    And that woman, whatshername, who said one thing initially, and then said the exact opposite when it suited her purpose.

    My observation says that no one feels welcome here unless they do that metafilter "dance".

    From my personal perspective? We, WE, have alot of talking to do. I may not know squat about not-for-profits, but I am willing to listen, and I will spend alot of time to learn. I will give you "yours", but I also expect to be welcomed as a questioner of all you think you stand for and feel you KNOW because , dammit, I am not like you, and i KNOW what EYE know. My calling myself a lurking friend of this site does not seem to hold any weight at all, and I vehemately object to that. I am one of you, but I am NOT you.

    When one of yours calls me a "human turd", that seems to be OK with you? If I called fff scat? Would that be ok with you too? If so? Then maybe I am too sensitive, or I guess it is possible that fff has EVEN lesser credence with the metamasses?

    We can continute to talk about non profits, if you wish. Personally? I think we have a few WAY MORE IMPORTANT issues to discuss. How the hell are we going to talk to each other?
    posted by LiveLurker at 7:21 PM on January 22, 2008


    I'll pick up here. LiveLurker, I'm confused. You consider yourself a valued and loyal member of Metafilter, and yet your contributions are extraordinarily limited. "Geo Bush or Matt"? What do you mean? I have no idea. All I get is that you don't really know very much about this topic, and you don't care terribly much about it either. As for issues that are "WAY MORE IMPORTANT", perhaps you can mention them so someone can help you learn more about those.
    posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:48 PM on January 22, 2008


    As for issues that are "WAY MORE IMPORTANT", perhaps you can mention them so someone can help you learn more about those.

    And in a separate MetaTalk thread, please, since they don't have to do with nonprofit ethics.
    posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on January 22, 2008


    Don't feed the trolls. Ignore it; it'll go away.
    posted by dersins at 8:20 PM on January 22, 2008


    Or it will start writing poetry. Not all trolls have a such a limited repertoire.
    posted by tkolar at 9:02 PM on January 22, 2008


    Ok, so I guess it was ok for me to be called the "human turd" because my view is not "on stream? with miko, at least, in THIS thread.

    and strike the viol says..."I don't care terribly much about it either"?

    AND most importantly, someone who lays down type says I am, an "it" and a troll, and should be ignored, so then I will go away.

    I will repeat myself. I am NOT a troll. I have been lurking here for way too long, and not lurking anymore. I am as valued a member of this site as you are. I know more than some and less than others., but I care as much as any.

    You can call me the silent majority, or the silent minority, but please do not call me not caring, or a "human turd".....especially when your leader choses to oust some astroturfers and not others.

    I watch IN WONDER. I can't call you out about this exactly, so I watch some more, and finally speak, whereupon I am diminished as a caring human being, and then called a human turd.

    This isn't tough love. This is just plain wrong.

    We really can agree to disagree in the short term, but when longer term dialogue attempts a shut down of alternate views? We need to look more closely.

    What is THAT about?
    posted by LiveLurker at 9:06 PM on January 22, 2008


    Take it to MeTa, people.
    posted by konolia at 9:11 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


    What is THAT about?

    Post about something, please. Understand that I disagree with fff. If you want to continue this discussion, please respect Miko's wishes. Thanks.
    posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:03 PM on January 22, 2008


    LiveLurker, if you are not a troll, then I apologize deeply and look forward to your contributions in the future.
    posted by five fresh fish at 10:22 PM on January 22, 2008


    LiveLurker, if you are not a troll, then you are simply extremely ill-mannered in your unwillingness to actually do all of your background research before asking experts spend their valuable time debating with you.
    posted by tkolar at 11:08 PM on January 22, 2008


    If your participation in this discussion is sincere, then what is this?
    posted by pineapple at 5:52 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


    (whoops, I linked to my own comment in that thread, meant to link to LiveLurker's... which seems apropros of nothing, to me)
    posted by pineapple at 8:30 AM on January 23, 2008


    I think LiveLurker's biggest problem is that he doesn't know where to put things. Givewell comments go in the Givewell thread. Stock market comments go in the stock market thread. And trolling goes, well, where do the trolls go?

    (If you make it into a matching game, it's kind of fun!)
    posted by iamkimiam at 10:05 AM on January 23, 2008


    To follow-up about the weird comment about Elie in that n00bs in Philanthropy thread: it actually was her.

    Apparently the root cause of it was a slight misunderstanding about what is and isn't sockpuppetry. She was under the impression that sockpuppetry is very, very narrowly defined as posting and answering one's own question under different usernames. Under that definition Elie's "Talia" thing would be astroturfing, but not sockpuppetry, since (as far as we know) he didn't post the original question.

    It's an understandable confusion w.r.t. terminology and neologisms that one isn't familiar with, I guess. I fleshed them out a bit more for her, so hopefully she'll understand why it raised a few eyebrows to begin with. No harm, no foul, as far as I'm concerned.

    Tangentially--

    LiveLurker: I have been lurking here for way too long ... I know more than some...

    If that's the case, then you should know that bringing unrelated interpersonal grievances into unrelated threads is generally frowned upon and considered a "wtf?" move. It's even "wtf?"ier when the person with whom you have that grievance isn't even involved or commenting in that thread.
    posted by CKmtl at 10:31 AM on January 23, 2008


    Wow. I'm still kind of surprised to see a reporter publicly commenting on her personal view of a story she reported on. Interesting followup, CKmtl.
    posted by Miko at 10:50 AM on January 23, 2008


    To follow-up about the weird comment about Elie in that n00bs in Philanthropy thread: it actually was her.

    Okay. Wow. How utterly weird. Her characterization of Metafilter as ... Metafilter may be “fundamentally democratic” — but only among their mostly young, mostly white and Asian, mostly affluent and mostly technocentric members really threw me when I first read it. And when she says There’s a distinct us v. them tone to your post, which describes a system that requires new members to “lurk” on the sidelines and learn to censor themselves before participating it just made me want to go to her house (i.e. the NYT) and start telling them to quit using whatever cobbled-together mess of a style guide they've got and adopt the fantastic one I've created.

    I don't see myself as particularly young or tech-savvy or affluent, but I was raised to at least try to understand the culture I'm going to participate in and to learn some of its rules, if only to avoid unnecessarily offending people (and embarrassing myself). I mean, of course you lurk when you enter a new place, whether that place is real or virtual - if you don't know the customs or mores of a place (online community, place of worship, country, bar - pick one), it behooves you to shut your mouth and open your ears before you start telling that culture's denizens that they don't know what they're doing, or you have a better way of doing what they're doing, and everyone should listen to you. Because even if you have really good ideas, if you don't understand how that culture (philanthropy, metafilter) actually already works, you'll get laughed out of the room.

    Which is what's kind of happening to you here, LiveLurker. You only sound foolish when you say on the one hand I have never worked in non-profit... and on the other I am not at all surprised by the reaction to Givewell within philanthropic circles, and nor should anyone else be surprised. They are taking a deep, deep sigh of relief that , at least for now, they will be judged as they have been in the past. and It is more curious than not that major donators have not asked for more accountability over the years, but.... times, they are a changing. When Miko and nax and others - whose comments you claim to have read in the various Givewell threads - have laid out exactly how, and to whom, nonprofits are accountable, and that yes, major donors (foundations, individuals, the government) can and do ask for accounts and reports and such. You clearly think that they don't, or haven't been, because all you've read about how nonprofits work, and what donors need, comes from Givewell, which was started by two guys who - wait for it - never worked in philanthropy before. And your attitude towards the enormous amount of time and information that Miko and others have provided to us is less than gracious (like this: Then you spent the next thousand threads being Metafilter's wikipedia of "all to be known about non-profits" from a Metafilter perspective) and indicates that you were willing to believe information given out by actual, caught-them-redhanded scamsters like Holden at the expense of learning something from someone who actually knows what the fuck she's talking about.

    Bah! I don't know why I even wrote this, or why I'm about to hit "post". I'm going to blame the cold and gloomy weather, and a (perhaps) incipient cold. And the fact that that reporter's ignorance, and LiveLurker's, too, just pissed me off.
    posted by rtha at 12:07 PM on January 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


    Ehhh... If you think about it more, the meat of that comment isn't really about the story she wrote. It's more about the social stuff orbiting around the actual story, you know? And, in light of the terminology misfire, the PS re: Elie isn't that big of a thing.

    Whether or not you agree with her about her characterization of MeFi or her commentary on lurking, it seems rather weak sauce as an ethics problem.
    posted by CKmtl at 1:09 PM on January 23, 2008


    True.
    posted by Miko at 8:44 PM on January 23, 2008


    Obviously, this thread is all wound down, but this is when the learning begins, maybe?

    Let me start by telling the few of you left, how much I admire your passion for what you do.

    Miko, I think you helped the community work through what became a near feeding frenzy, by trying to educate us about the topic at hand.

    nax, you showed us the humanity of the matter, from an up close and personal perspective.

    rtha, you are speaking for your brothers and sisters here on metafilter, in reminding me of the normative standards.

    Seems that we have mind, soul and body represented rather well.

    As for me? New to the boards here, yet not new to this site. I have a more dispassionate view than all of you, for good or bad.

    I said some things that pissed you off. Not proud of how I said some of what I said, or in some cases, what i said, but I think it's important that I got out of my lurking mode to participate in all of this. I tend to be the OBSERVER. Forgive me for falling in here with two left feet in one big mouth.

    That being said, is there some way that at least a few of us can make some sense of what just happened here without lining up in opposition to or support of?

    I know I would like that alot. What say the rest of you still following this thread?
    posted by LiveLurker at 10:29 PM on January 24, 2008


    some way that at least a few of us can make some sense of what just happened here without lining up in opposition to or support of?

    If that's your goal, I'd suggest that you find particularly relevant and/or opinion-changing comments in the relevant threads and link to them from somewhere on the wiki with an eye towards Wikipedia-style encyclopedic summarizing. By doing so you'll make any insight that you gained out of the conversation that much more accessible to folks who may not have the time or inclination to read the entire thing. (In fact, I've often wished that MeFites would do something similar for the epic sexism / boyzone threads of a few months back, just to make them more accessible.)

    Besides that I'd say LURK LAES. I was a lurker for a long time before I joined and I'd guess that the majority of current users were as well. You seem like you have the general gist of the place, but like iamkimiam said, you have to know where to put your comments. If you're in the conversation sooner you won't feel the need to set yourself apart as a dispassionate observer with a special extra-objective point of view; instead you'll just chime in when it suits you and take your lumps like the rest of us. Obviously all of this is my opinion only, and is worth exactly five dollars, at least to all of you post-14K n00bs.
    posted by whir at 12:20 AM on January 25, 2008


    Interesting policy-development side-note: the folks at the Givewell blog have started in on comment-moderation scheme using placeholder and displacement instead of outright removal. An objectionable comment is replaced with a placeholder deletion notifier and a link to the text of the deleted comment on a dedicated page.

    This is a step toward reactive moderation from the prior stated policy (on 1/7/08) of no-moderation, no-blocking comments. Given the string of weird stuff (yay, I've got a fan) on that deletion page, it seems like a smart move, and keeping the stuff visible on the graveyard is probably wise, at least in the short term, as a way of shoring up the image of transparency.

    There's another comment, from 1/2/07, where Holden address moderation, saying:

    Regarding the blog comment policy, we don’t currently have one, and need to come up with one. I’m in favor of everyone’s expressing their opinion; I’m against the practice of making comments on this issue on blog posts that have nothing to do with it. I will be deleting comments along those lines, but continuing to allow comments on this post (and, of course, relevant comments on other posts).

    I'm wondering if the delay in seeing the deletion mechanism/policy come into play is owed in large part to the Givewell folks deciding to have Holden be just plain hands-off re: the blog on the short term.

    The purge is either incomplete or not something they intend to bother with retroactively; gems like this ("Get you cock pumped...") are still around, at least for the moment.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 2:23 PM on January 25, 2008


    whir, thanks for your comments, and point well made. Next time I happen upon a conversation that catches my fancy the way this one did, I will do just as you suggest. That was my personal takeaway from this.

    cortex, I was pleased to see them taking those comments off the blog. Perhaps they are leaving some of the bad ones there for now so it is easier for all to understand the need to remove any. The "all" includes those who might have accused them of lacking transparency by deleting ANY threads. Personally, I don't think they need any "dedicated page". Get rid of this kind of nastiness that has no bearing on the dialogue they are trying to move forward. Moderation is a good thing, assuming it isn't invoked just to shut down the minority opinion.
    posted by LiveLurker at 3:53 PM on January 25, 2008


    While I would really have liked to believe that this sort of enormous trainwreck would be, as they say, a teachable moment, I was depressed to discover that another company is engaging in the same sort of behaviour.

    I caught Moli.com astroturfing on my blog. I busted their Director of Customer Service posting in my comments as "Hawk5721" (swingin' name, dude) and a few other places, and out and out told them to go read about GiveWell so they could learn from them and do a better job managing the fallout.

    Did they learn? No. So far, so Holden.

    Anyway, there you have it. Moli.com will not givewell.
    posted by DarlingBri at 3:00 PM on January 31, 2008


    If it isn't a charity, I don't see your point. What makes Givewell unique is that it demands honesty and transparency of charities, but doesn't walk the talk in its own operations. It's a lying charity, which has a bit more "hook" than the ordinary and, frankly, expected behaviour of businesses and scams.

    Moli.com doing the same sort of bullshit isn't a surprise.

    I'm cynical enough that I wouldn't be surprised to learn your post is a subtle bit of astroturfing itself. You successfully drove me to both your site and Moli's, if only for a few seconds each, just to get some context for this post. Well done!
    posted by five fresh fish at 5:59 PM on January 31, 2008


    Heh. That's some quality cynicism, five fresh fish, let no one tell you otherwise; but DarlingBri actually sanity-checked with me whether or not it'd be appropriate to mention it in some context on- or off-site and I suggested she throw it in here.

    The charity angle is a distinction between Givewell and MOLI, to be sure; but the parallel of a principal employee doing gutter-level turfing is pretty solid. Laugh or cry, cry or laugh.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 6:14 PM on January 31, 2008


    I'm glad I wasn't really committed to my cynical take on it, then!

    I'm quite certain there are many principal employees spamming/turfing/lying/etc blogs and aggregation blogs. When you're one of only two or three people in a project, it's pretty much a certainty that someone's going to have to do some dirty work to get the thing off the ground.

    There really is no good solution for these folk. Unless you're exceptionally lucky and get a top-tier blogger interested in your project, you're pretty much S.O.L. for anything but self-promotion through duplicity.

    Speaking of which, I'm starting a project myself and could use actual cash money. Just a buck from each and every internet use will help launch my project that much faster!
    posted by five fresh fish at 7:48 PM on January 31, 2008


    EAT AT JOE'S
    posted by pyramid termite at 9:48 PM on January 31, 2008


    Five Fresh Fish, just for the record, Moli has 55 employees and $30 million in freshly minted, round 2 funding. So these are not three guys in their college dorm room, you know?

    They can afford legitimate advertising.

    Their Director of Customer Service got caught astroturfing on the day his company was at DEMO, the most exclusive tech launch event of the year, which puts you in front of the world's top VCs and tech journalists. They were, in fact, exceptionally lucky to be invited to pitch at DEMO; every start up I know would sacrifice their first born to be on that stage.

    They had an ample platform for self-promotion.

    I don't find astroturfing acceptable on any level from any organisation, charity or not, nor do I believe this practice is widespread, if for no other reason than that it is so damaging to your credibility when you're caught. I have been a personal blogger since 2000, a pro blogger and editor of a commercial blog network, and while it isn't crazy unusual for a company to shill in the comments of a related entry while stating their relationship to themselves, this is the first instance of astroturfing I have ever personally encountered. And it's not like I wasn't looking out for it along the way.

    Did I link to myself? Yes, because it was my lawn they got caught on.

    But Dan has, of course, been pissing on other lawns, including Digg and TechCrunch, since June.
    posted by DarlingBri at 5:27 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


    I don't find astroturfing acceptable on any level from any organisation, charity or not

    I do too - it's distasteful and I think runs the risk of being actionable as fraudulent. I'm less sensitive to seeing it from business, though, because though businesses are governed by law, their purpose is understood to be essentially self-serving. For a charity, it really subverts the purpose of their charter to be faking support.
    posted by Miko at 7:49 AM on February 1, 2008


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