Raising the level? February 12, 2008 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Can we work harder at having mature and respectful discussions? Do we need to do so?

There are intelligent members of this site. There are intelligent discussions to be had (and usually come from quality posts). But it seems that intelligent and respectful discussion is pretty much non-existent on anything other than benign topics anymore. Anything that comes close to controversy or disagreement seems to trigger visceral and personal responses, wholly ignoring the request at the bottom of the page to address ideas and not members. Or, topics derail into redundant disputes. The intelligent and respectful treatment of the issues seem to disappear.

I'm not going to sit here and speak of a Golden Age of Metafilter or request that this place become some wholly stuffy and snobby website (or suggest that I have been completely pure or that anyone should be 100% signal). But I do seem to recall a time where actual intelligent discussion occurred and was not a rare thing. Maybe I'm misremembering that. Sure, there was always snark, but the signal to noise ratio was such that I can recall the ability to have an intelligent discussion. I don't get that impression anymore.

While I am certain there are exceptions to the rule, it seems far more common to me that discussions occur only at the most superficial and repetitive levels of noise. Noise begets noise, and the signal becomes even more faint. Often, the actual substance of the links seem irrelevant to the default arguments that occur within (default in both substance and tone and members contributing).

I wonder if the visible favorites is the cause? Far too often people seem to try to be the most snarky, the most shrill, the most dramatic, the most hyperbolic, or the most abrasive as possible. I wonder if that is because people are hunting for favorites. I don't know. But I do know it is occurs too often and is not good for the site as it leads to derails, noise, and redundant bickering. It easier to go for the noise, and it is easy to go fall back into the same discussion. No one--including me--is going to be 100% signal, but this is about whether there is an issue and whether it can be addressed.

I'm willing to accept that my perception is inaccurate, and that's why I ask the question.

But if others agree that the level of discussion here could be improved, what can we do about it? I don't think the flagging system does much to address this issue. I know that the little comment right below the comment box does nothing. So what can be done, if anything, about it?
posted by dios to Etiquette/Policy at 11:30 AM (317 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

I fully expect the responses that I should lead by example to change it instead of make this post, and I respectfully submit that my individual action cannot change it. And whenever I try to do participate in a thread where a discussion occurs, I am quickly discouraged by the nature of the discussion. I have been thinking about this awhile, and started thinking more about it after cortex asked this question which I didn't bother answering given the trajectory of the thread and the reaction I could foresee. In other words, I allowed that topic to be drowned out. And then when I tried to talk about something today, the noxious personal insults and superficial reactions began which led me to withdrawing from the discussion. I didn't include this in this specific post because I didn't want to make it a callout of anything in particular and more wanted to address the broader topic. I don't want this thread to be about me (and I hope the irony would not go unnoticed if people make this about me and not the substance of the post). I just mention it because I'm not sure that individual contribution is sufficient to answer this question even though people love to answer any issue about etiquette by saying "you first." That is not always an effective answer.
posted by dios at 11:30 AM on February 12, 2008


It's funny, but I was just thinking something similar. I started reading the comments in the Telecom post today and was reminded why I rarely read the comments and almost never post any myself. AskMe is outstanding, even on most controversial items, but I'm staying more and more away from even reading the Blue.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:34 AM on February 12, 2008 [6 favorites]


.
posted by davejay at 11:39 AM on February 12, 2008


dios!
posted by Stynxno at 11:40 AM on February 12, 2008


This is why I read MetaFilter via rss mostly these days.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:44 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, that Guantanamo thread is pretty toxic. It sure would be nice to see a higher level of discourse than that.
posted by pombe at 11:48 AM on February 12, 2008


I was all set to throw out the "its just a web site - get over it" defense but I do see your point. If anything, I've seen MetaFilter turning into a more stuffy, intelligent place. Some of it I like, some of it bores me and yes, I've double-clutched on a few of my contributions however I seem to recall having felt this way since day one.

I don't know how much can be done with regard to hot button topics or posts that bring out the worst in us as a whole but I do know that your request/reaction is one that I've seen before. I'm not sure how answerable it is but I guess it doesn't hurt to debate it from time to time.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2008


I would agree on the general suggestion and disagree that one person can't make a difference. People respond to smart, curious questions and bits of info, so let it rip.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2008


While it's very admirable to be looking and lamenting for mature and respectable discussion, the last place you should be looking for it is on an open internet community message board like Metafilter. I'm not suggesting that we're incapable of it, but I do think that the medium, as well as community pressures, favor more hit-and-run witticisms and flame-wars. I'm sure you can find pockets and alcoves of intellectualism and reasoned responses, this just isn't the place to look. It's also not really fair to come along and say, "I don't like the way this place is. Let's change it." It is what it is. If you don't like it, then maybe you need to find what you're looking for elsewhere.
posted by Dave Faris at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2008


You're preaching to the choir, brother. For my part, I'm not always lengthy and I'm not always serious, but the topics do not always warrant close textual analysis and soul-searching. Lightheartendness is always welcome to me, even verging on flippancy in serious rooms. With regard to fraught topics eliciting less than illuminating discussion, well, I think the social aspect of the site plays an unfortunate role in that. I, at least, am hesitant to repeat myself, lest I be apprehended as a one-note didact. But, hey, I'll sign your pledge if I can have a wristband or something.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:52 AM on February 12, 2008


Blame it on society's acceptance and encouragement of masturbation.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:53 AM on February 12, 2008


I don't think favorites is the problem, I think it's more likely to be a volume issue, as in volume of users and volume of conversation: there are simply too many users speaking too loudly about too many things for the quality of conversation you're talking about to easily filter up through the noise on a consistant basis. The conversations are still there, but it's a big party and the excited buzz all around can make it hard to focus on the things you find the most value in. Given that, I don't think raising or maintaining the level is ever a battle that can be won, it's simply a constant but worthwhile chore to be shared by everyone.
posted by False Dichotomy at 11:55 AM on February 12, 2008


Yeah, that remove from activity link in the recent activity pages has come in handy a whole lot.

For all the good the mods do, I think there needs to be a slight priority shift in moderation, here. I've mentioned it before. I think acting like an asshole gets tolerated a lot here, but telling someone they're being an asshole gets deleted with a little [hey let's keep the discussion civil, huh guys?] note. The last time I really talked about it EB (may he rest in peace) called it the knife with a smile effect. So long as you act like a total snot about something without yelling or calling names, it's fine. The problem is that this infuriates other people enough to act rashly or to get really heated during the discussion.

Is this the only reason for it? Obviously not. But since we're on the topic I'd thought I'd bring it up.
posted by shmegegge at 11:55 AM on February 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


"You first" is an acceptable response, but only if it includes or implies "me too".

Metafilter to me was at it's best when it was fairly apolitical, when it was really a site dedicated to discussing the best of the web. The conversations which branched out from the posted links were what made Metafilter great, even if some did end up in train wrecks. There are still an awful lot of great links posted here but the political threads attract the comments. This is a shame because none of the political links are the best of the web and almost none of the comments within are actual conversations. This isn't just a problem with Metafilter, I don't know of any web site which doesn't devolve into a bile match between factions unless it was designed as a circle jerk for one point of view.
posted by substrate at 11:57 AM on February 12, 2008


I have been one to complain about people calling each other names - I hate it, honestly. But I don't even flag something when someone tells someone they are acting LIKE a jerk or an asshole or whatever. Or anything that describes behavior. Anything where someone says, "You ARE an asshole" or things of that nature rile me. Although sometimes it's so ridiculous what people will levy at you that it's fun - I got a kick out of jonmc telling me I have a Savior Complex yesterday. =) And I think The Snarky is a part of the culture of the site in that vein.

I agree that it's often TOO snarky and too much is tolerated. But it's a pretty hard thing to police, I would reckon. I don't think the discourse has changed much here since favorites, for what it's worth.
posted by agregoli at 12:02 PM on February 12, 2008


This isn't just a problem with Metafilter, I don't know of any web site which doesn't devolve into a bile match between factions unless it was designed as a circle jerk for one point of view.

But isn't it possible that MetaFilter could be significantly better than all those sites if it's done right? As an example, AskMe is 1000 times better than something like Yahoo Answers, partially because of the strict rules about what can be posted and what kind of answers are allowed on AskMe. I'm not sure that some set of rules could be formulated to raise the level of discourse on the blue, but it's theoretically possible.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:05 PM on February 12, 2008


Getting rid of a publicly viewable favorites system might help. One cannot help but get the sense that most of the commenters, in the longer threads at least, are just in there to show off and hear themselves speak, so to type.

Also, I think that the definition of "noise" needs to be extended to encompass posts that are just people giving their opinions without providing anything new to the discussion. One example of this would be those execrable punctuation posts in the obit threads, but I would go so far as to say that this describes a majority of the posts in, say, the Gitmo thread and others like it.

Also a lot of peoples' joke comments, particularly the tired in-joke ones, just aren't funny. There should be more MeTa call outs to shame the perennially unfunny into posting fewer jokes.

And all ad hominem attacks outside of MeTa should result in temporary bans. (Um, this would not apply to posts made before this rule was passed, of course.)

All of these somewhat practical suggestions would have the effect of making the discussions here more like discussions and less like a, less obviously misogynistic, version of Fark for people who claim to read books. This I believe.
posted by 1 at 12:08 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Incidentally, 1, what was your old alias?
posted by Dave Faris at 12:10 PM on February 12, 2008


This is not meant to minimize the request for a change in tone, but whenever people opine about MetaFilter's good old more respectful / less political /smarter /higher quality days I recommend that they take a wander through any month, at random, from the archives. The site has changed some, but the decline narrative doesn't really apply. In many ways, it was ever thus.

I do think these conversations are part of its self-correction mechanism, so I don't mean to quash discourse. And I agree with KevinSkomskold - in my view, it's a more civil and more intellectual site than it used to be. But lately, when I've found a thread getting to me, it's because of the arguing against people rather than ideas.
posted by Miko at 12:12 PM on February 12, 2008


This is the only account I've ever had here, Dave. For realsies.
posted by 1 at 12:14 PM on February 12, 2008


There are still an awful lot of great links posted here but the political threads attract the comments.

That's exactly what I was thinking. This thread, for example is just a recent political news post and already has 84 comments.
posted by jmd82 at 12:17 PM on February 12, 2008


A week (month? year??) without political (or news????) posts could be an interesting experiment. They don't seem to add much to the site as a place to find neat links, nor do they generally lead to interesting discussions that can't be better had somewhere else.

I need to take a cold shower.
posted by 1 at 12:24 PM on February 12, 2008


Just stop reading and participating in threads about politics or religion. You'll avoid 90% of the vitriol and get 90% of the good posts.
posted by brain_drain at 12:25 PM on February 12, 2008 [6 favorites]


Can we have an "unreasonable" flag?
posted by rush at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2008


Part of the problem, Dios, is that the current culture of Metafilter begs for the wittiest bonmots and rapier turns of rhetoric that it's members can cook up. Going back through my own posting history, I've noticed that my responses on AskMe are much more substantial than on MeFi. Part of the reason is that I know anything I put on the Blue is much more likely to garner a snark than a substantial response in return. This snark leads to more snark and usually outright hostility (I'm guilty of caustic repartee as well). But, I still keep coming back to MeFi, even after long breaks, because every once in a while I really learn something I wouldn't be able to find anywhere else and, as a whole, I like the personalities here. Perhaps we need an International MeFi Conference where we can all get together and hug?
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:28 PM on February 12, 2008


Yes, we need to do so, but no, we can't. We have discussions where "fuck them and fuck you", a comment that it is completely inappropriate for the Blue, gets favorited 11 times, but the flag is ignored.

I could find example after example after example. Way it boils down, we like to be assholes and the mods like to encourage it. I can buy the conceit that the mods don't see every flag or that they prefer to use a light touch, but only to some extent.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:28 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Getting rid of a publicly viewable favorites system might help. One cannot help but get the sense that most of the commenters, in the longer threads at least, are just in there to show off and hear themselves speak, so to type.

What?

I take it you're viewing favourites as a reward/backpatting system. If that's the case, how would removing the 'reward' and/or 'pats on the back' stop people from venting their spleens if they're only doing it to show off and/or hear themselves speak? You're positing a completely internal motivation for misbehaviour, and suggesting the removal of an external factor.

If you see favourites as a contributing reward system, removing them won't stop the misbehaviour. Instead of just clicking +, those who wish to socially reward jerkiness will find a way around it. Perhaps 30 "Ha! Good one!" comments instead of [30 favorites].
posted by CKmtl at 12:34 PM on February 12, 2008


I understand dios point of view and sentiment here, but I can't help but think that the problem in many cases is not the discussion, but the topic. In particular, the political posts get ugly precisely because no one ever wants to agree on one item with people they disagree with. "I hate Bush, therefore nothing Bush does can ever be right." etc.

I attribute this more to Bush-fatigue than anything else. Any political post is going to be premised in right-wing action, because that is who is in power now. But I wonder how these political threads will unfold if Obama wins, and what will happen when people who are more conservative make posts that invite criticism of that administration's policies.

Furthermore, and I don't really understand why this is, but dios tends to attract the haters more than anyone else I've seen on this site. I think a lot of people see the name dios and become prejudiced against the comment before reading it.

It might be an interesting experiment to get a second username and start commenting, and see how the reception to comments posted by that username.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:36 PM on February 12, 2008


Someone is trying to clean up the Wild West. Well, it ain't done with pretty words, boy. It's done with blazing guns of blue steel and a firing will to hang them high.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:37 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Way it boils down, we like to be assholes and the mods like to encourage it.

We like to encourage it? I'm pretty sure that every time I've spoken on the subject of assholery in and administrative capacity, I've been clear that I hate that shit, and that's something I'm comfortable speaking for Matt and Jess on as well. We don't like the assholery and the noise and the jabs that a lot of contentious threads bring out.

But there's that vs. the community itself, the people who spend time here and have strongly varying beliefs about just about everything you can think of. If we don't nuke every concievably jerky comment that gets posted, if things that push the line of permissability sometimes live through, it's because we're trying to strike a balance between not wanting people to be absolute jerks and not wanting people to feel like they're being hemmed in and prevented from saying what they want to say. There's a lot more going on than some weird "They Either Nuke It Or They Like It" bright line of preference on our parts.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:37 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's just contrarian wolfdog nature, but that "Everyone needs a hug" note long ago started making me think "hug this" every time I see it.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:42 PM on February 12, 2008


*hugs Wolfdog contrarily*
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:42 PM on February 12, 2008


For me, I've been more and more annoyed by how quickly threads have filled with annoying comments, whether they're jokey, completely unrelated to the post, or just plain pointless. I've reacted by trying to quell my own desires to post snarky comments in threads, but I'm not sure there's much else I could do (and I'll admit I haven't always succeeded).
posted by drezdn at 12:43 PM on February 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


Well, I think that the "Ha! Good one!" comments should be deleted as noise, etc. I think that for many (particularly annoying) people, the favorites system serves as a reward system. These, I would guess, tend to be the people who post the lame jokes. I mean, I think we can all agree that there are a lot of comments that seem to be there just to get added and, (less controversially), a lot of people clearly use the favorites tag to give kudos.

I think the people who tend to type their punctuation into the obituary threads and make one line posts about how (but not why) personally inspirational the magic of Barack Obama is to them are doing so with a different set of equally tedious motivations.

You're right about my first paragraph being logically incoherent. I hope this clears that up.

There definitely are other message boards with higher signal-to-noise ratios, which I'm sure a lot of us also participate in. What have y'all seen there that contributes to that culture?
posted by 1 at 12:45 PM on February 12, 2008


Intelligent discussion happens here, and it happens at the same rate it always has, sky-is-falling scare-mongering aside.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:45 PM on February 12, 2008


I wonder if the visible favorites is the cause? Far too often people seem to try to be the most snarky, the most shrill, the most dramatic, the most hyperbolic, or the most abrasive as possible.

I've long felt this was a big influence, and some of the ugly or attention-whorish things that rise to the top here leave a very bad taste in my mouth. (Especially the snarky comment that's pretty near the de rigueur opener for every front page post now; it's becoming the MeFi version of FIRST! and it often derails a good conversation before it can even start.) Yet favorites have lead me to some really great comments that I'd otherwise miss. I don't think the genie's going back in that particular bottle, at any rate.

I don't mean this in a sanctimonious way, but whether we disagree on the nature of the problem -- or even if it's a problem at all -- only you can decide exactly what kind of person you want to be when you're here, and what you want to support and contribute. There's really no other way. Lots of good members have left, and when they give a reason that's not time management or something, it usually boils down to the lack of civility/signal to noise ratios. So we're either kinder to each other and more substantive or we're not. It can't happen by administrative mandate. It can only happen because we want it to.
posted by melissa may at 12:45 PM on February 12, 2008


I think there's a mistake people make when talking about the mods. That mistake is to assume that if something didn't get deleted, then that means the mods love that sort of thing, or at least that particular comment or post. This is a really faulty assumption. As I understand it, there are a ton of things the mods hate seeing that manage to survive their scrutiny in the spirit of only moderating the site instead of micromanaging it.
posted by shmegegge at 12:51 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, I think that the "Ha! Good one!" comments should be deleted as noise, etc. I think that for many (particularly annoying) people, the favorites system serves as a reward system. These, I would guess, tend to be the people who post the lame jokes.

I think you're awfully prescriptive for someone who joined two weeks ago, 1. For realsies!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:54 PM on February 12, 2008


While I would dearly love to see the level of discourse raised on the blue, I'm not sure that we can do much other than try to raise the better our own comments. Reading through the Guantanamo thread*, I don't think that favourites are a particular problem: a few comments have a few favourites, but I can't see that those particular comments are the worst comments in the thread by any stretch. Heavier-handed moderation could help in some cases, but I can't really see more than one or two particular comments that could be considered deletable in this thread and I don't think that those had any particularly significant effect on the thread. Finally, and I'm letting my own bias in here of course, it is pretty hard to believe that we can have a thread about Guantanamo that isn't going to result in some legitimately outraged comments.

*dios, I know that this thread isn't particularly about the Guantanamo thread, but it is still a useful example.
posted by ssg at 12:56 PM on February 12, 2008


It reminds me of IRC about 6-8 years ago.

The Internet was becoming commodity, and you didn't have to be a geek to get on and use it. People were learning about this chat thing, and they wanted to use it. The user counts jumped, and jumped big. All the people who were there in the 90s were bitching about how IRC was being ruined by AOL, mIRC, etc, letting Joe User become part of the landscape. The problem is that the "people" (intelligence, personality, etc) the community liked found IRC long before Joe User did. Therefore, all the new users were the problem. As more and more Joe Users found out about IRC and started participating, all the old timers retreated to small niche areas.... but not before complaining to high heaven about how IRC was being ruined.

Or, another way to put it: What False Dichotomy said.
posted by jeversol at 12:56 PM on February 12, 2008


"Favorites" should be renamed to be "Bookmarks".
posted by painquale at 12:56 PM on February 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


(I agree with painquale - bookmarks is a better word for it - it's a placemarker, not a high-five, and some people clearly take it that way).
posted by agregoli at 12:59 PM on February 12, 2008


I certainly haven't seen any pronounced increase/decrease of the level of discourse here, but I, for the most part, stay away from news/political/religion posts. They are usually a train wreck and are almost never 'the best of the web'.

I honestly don't think the favorites mechanism has anything to do with the level of discourse either.

I think the best bet is to stay away from threads like the gitmo prisoners, then you'll have the perception of a higher level of discourse in the blue.
posted by nightwood at 1:00 PM on February 12, 2008


"Favorites" should be renamed to be "Bookmarks".

I agree.
posted by ericb at 1:01 PM on February 12, 2008


it's a placemarker, not a high-five,

It's actually both. Neither one nor the other has ever been called the official and only use for the system. I seem to remember mathowie once saying that it wasn't ever intended to only be one or the other, in fact. I might be misremembering that, though.
posted by shmegegge at 1:02 PM on February 12, 2008


Perhaps we should be able to filter out favourited posts. Favourites are a nice ego-stroke, but I do think that they're ultimately destructive.

On the other hand, seeing who favourited which comment is often useful when building the mental kill file.

It would be an interesting experiment for dios to start a second account. I'd even spring for it if he's interested.
posted by bonehead at 1:05 PM on February 12, 2008


only you can decide exactly what kind of person you want to be when you're here, and what you want to support and contribute

Quoted for truth.

I fully expect the responses that I should lead by example to change it instead of make this post, and I respectfully submit that my individual action cannot change it.

Someone I knew many years ago had this to say about that: "See, the thing is, each of us has our own little corner of the world, and it touches the bits of the world that other people have. So what I'm trying to do is make my little corner the best place it can be, and that'll rub off a bit on your corner. And yours will rub off on someone else's."

She really did live her entire life that way, and she did have a positive effect on everyone she came into contact with. Make of that what you will.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:07 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think jokes are fine, actually, the tiresome thing is that some people will immediately lash out at people who disagree with them and launch ad hominem attacks, rather than present cogent arguments. That is tedious stuff and it kills just about every thread that is vaguely political or has anything to do with circumcising fat people or any of our other red zone topics.
posted by Mister_A at 1:08 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


There definitely are other message boards with higher signal-to-noise ratios, which I'm sure a lot of us also participate in. What have y'all seen there that contributes to that culture?

Having a very strong topical orientation and being very limited geography- and membership-wise (e.g., Lawrence, Kansas area homebrewers) so that most, if not all, members have met and regularly interact with each other face to face seems to reduce a lot of the jackassery. Still, there's a lot of vituperation and noise in forums that are limited solely by topic (i.e., homebrewing), where members' opinions of each other are informed only by comments.

I honestly think that having meetups is one of the things that helps promote the cabal civility here, and having more and larger of them would make it even better.
posted by cog_nate at 1:09 PM on February 12, 2008


Charles Krauthammer one time said that the thing you needed to know to understand political discourse in the US is that conservatives think that liberals are stupid, and liberals think that conservatives are evil.

The reason that distinction matters is that it seems to be impossible for most lefties in this country to disagree with someone without also hating them. And given that the dominant political view here is distinctly left-wing, that's what you're seeing here.
Certainly I feel plenty of hate any time I get involved in any thread that's even slightly controversial, which is why I mostly steer clear of them.

Political discussions on Metafilter are not really discussions. They're a left-wing bonding exercise, where everyone voices the same opinion and seeks peer approval and reinforcement for their opinions. There's great emotional comfort to be found in an echo chamber. That's why dissenting opinions are greeted with vitriol; they spoil the mood.

Of course, pouncing on the occasional dissenting voice and excoriating the speaker is also a form of bonding.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:14 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


It also sucks. Noone likes to be the one voice of dissent with 15 plus people attacking them.
posted by garlic at 1:18 PM on February 12, 2008


MetaFilter: a lot of peoples' joke comments, particularly the tired in-joke ones, just aren't funny.
posted by grouse at 1:18 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


There definitely are other message boards with higher signal-to-noise ratios - 1

The absolute best way I've seen to keep noise down on message boards is to curtail sign-ups, and brandish the banhammer. I don't know that our benevolent leader would view that as a strong business plan.

I'm a little hesitant to wax nostalgic about when things were "so good," but if I squint my mind just right, I can conjure up memories of a time when discussions were so full of excellent signal that the noise seemed light. Ironically (or not), it was right before I joined. I think registering was broken for a while there, I'm not particularly sure.

Funny (to me) story - I didn't understand why I couldn't register, so I had this crazy theory that registration was closed most of the time, and that if you were patient, visited every day, and read the site for a long time without being able to post, one day that magical register button would appear. And when it did, most of the folks who signed up that day would be worthy. The people who lucked out that day, without paying their lurking dues, would either fall in line, or were smoked out rapidly. I actually thought that was how this worked.

I hope that gives you a chuckle.
posted by rush at 1:19 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


it seems to be impossible for most lefties in this country to disagree with someone without also hating them.

yay! this thread is going to rock!
posted by shmegegge at 1:21 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


some people clearly take it that way

Some people clearly give it that way.
posted by Dave Faris at 1:22 PM on February 12, 2008


Charles Krauthammer one time said that the thing you needed to know to understand political discourse in the US is that conservatives think that liberals are stupid, and liberals think that conservatives are evil.

Charles Krauthammer is wrong, though I too am pleased to imagine that others think I am diabolical, so I totally get where he's coming from. The truth is, most lefties think that conservatives are evil and stupid.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:22 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course, pouncing on the occasional dissenting voice and excoriating the speaker is also a form of bonding.

Let's be fair, that was not what happened in the thread being called out.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:24 PM on February 12, 2008


If you kicked everyone off the site who ever has made a questionable comment or post, there wouldn't be a site anymore.

Sadly, it's the nature of the Internet. And if you pay your five bucks to post on Metafilter, as long as you provide some sort of signal, your noise is largely forgivable.

Go read the talkbacks on Aint it Cool News for five minutes, then come back here and tell me that we aren't of a higher calibur.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2008


Let me summarize:

People Agree with My political Opinions = Level of Discourse Good.

People Disagree with My political Opinions = Level of Discourse BAAAD.
posted by tkchrist at 1:26 PM on February 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


I was really hoping the Gitmo thread could discuss some of the details of the case, but it was soon apparent that thread would be dominated by dios-hating (left-wing bonding, as SCDB says) and that did disappoint me. [dios, I think you should get a new account with a new handle and leave the baggage of "dios" behind.] I don't usually post in political threads and I regret doing so today. I think I will give myself a timeout.
posted by mattbucher at 1:27 PM on February 12, 2008


"There definitely are other message boards with higher signal-to-noise ratios."

But do any of them have community-driven content? Off the top of my head, in terms of fairly large communities, the Making Light boards seem to be less snarky, but they're arranged around the postings -- and sensibilities -- of the Nielsen Haydens.

I'm certainly not saying things can never be improved ever around here, but I look at the Diggs, Farks, and even Slashdots of the world, and I'm continually surprised this place is as interesting and civil as it is. I'd really be interested to hear of someplace that handles it better than Metafilter. Feel free to mail me if you want to avoid Blog Holy Wars.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 1:29 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


TKChrist, I think the real point is this:

People who speak to the issues == level of discourse Good
People who viciously attack other participants on a personal level == level of discourse Bad
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:29 PM on February 12, 2008


tkchrist, maybe that's true of den Beste, but it's not true of dios and hasn't been for a long time now.
posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 1:32 PM on February 12, 2008


(Especially the snarky comment that's pretty near the de rigueur opener for every front page post now; it's becoming the MeFi version of FIRST! and it often derails a good conversation before it can even start.)

The first few comments of a thread set the mood for how the entire thread is going to go, IMO. Which is why when commenting near the beginning of a thread, I try to set the bar high, and I encourage others to do so, as well (particularly when I'm the OP).

Political discussions on Metafilter are not really discussions. They're a left-wing bonding exercise, where everyone voices the same opinion and seeks peer approval and reinforcement for their opinions. There's great emotional comfort to be found in an echo chamber. That's why dissenting opinions are greeted with vitriol; they spoil the mood.

I agree.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:32 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


SCDB, I'm surprised you'd treat "The Left" as a monolith when you know full well both left and right are differentiated many different ways. There's a libertarian streak here that informs many people's views on both sides, for instance. I'd call myself a liberal, but I certainly don't think dios is evil, and although I disagree with him, his comments have given me many things to think about. Other avowedly conservative posters have irked me, but so have liberals, and I for one am not looking to run you out of town.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 1:35 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


MeFi users tend to be quite taken with their own odors; the political threads are generally too noisy to be valuable for this reason. (When was the last time a comment numbered > 100 racked up many favorites?) But then that's just a specific instance of a broad Internet phenomenon, which is that with (1) frictionless, free posting, (2) no material investment in the community, (3) a large population with nothing to talk about but its small differences, often merely stylistic, and (4) no release valve for the confrontational energies that build up in heated threads, along with (5) massive disingenuousness about people's reasons for showing up in the first place, conversations tend to go off the rails with increasing frequency and force.

When I was in high school and college, I was big into rec.music.phish, the Phish-related Usenet newsgroup. (That was back when 'Phish' was a band and not a verb.) The newsgroup was of value only in predictable and limited ways: when talking about the band's musical influences (which kept the young kids out of threads), arranging tape trades (narrow focus), aggregating opinions on what were good shows to seek out (wisdom of crowds of idiots, and all that), hashing out music-theoretic questions (narrow focus, increased training), and for sharing reviews of recent shows and albums. And in the last case, most reviews were in fact worthless; you knew to stick to the posts of ten or twelve decent writers. At the end of the day, as swell as it felt to be part of a thousands-strong community, you had to accept that once you got past reportage, few Phishheads had much new to say.

Indeed by the time I stopped reading the phish.net most of the old guard was only reading one of the user-edited email digests that made the whole thing bearable - one of the busiest Usenet newsgroups around, and for long stretches you could have ignored all but five or six posts a week.

MeFi reminds me of the phish.net in a number of ways. It's not new enough for most users to be conscientious about the 'community' aspects of the site, no matter its utopian intentions; if you don't hop into a thread quickly you're likely to miss the 'good bits' of a given discussion, though the format encourages you to feel like you're participating on equal ground with everyone else; the tendency to snark unreflectively far too often wins out over the desire to make a structured argument. Ultimately, most people on MeFi have nothing to say about most threads; but the site doesn't exist without comments. So blather fills the silence. Getting a decent conversation off the ground takes luck: the right participants have to care early on.

Matt's decision to charge $5 for entry was a good one for a bunch of reasons, not least because it keeps one-off commenters out. But that only gets you so far. Virtual communities without embodied analogues tend toward weightlessness, i.e. meaninglessness - death knell for a site nominally devoted to Talking About Great Things. If we're just here to type at one another - which is much, much truer of the Blue than the Green, and absolutely true of the Grey - with no rules other than 'Don't be a cunt' and 'Don't link to your own blog,' then why is it surprising that the conversations aren't particularly deep? The focus is broad or nonexistent, the userbase consists of anyone who can pay five bucks, the culture encourages trivial topics, and snark is rewarded with approbation because people tend to have a much harder time evaluating the correctness/value of intellectual arguments.

In other words, we get what we work for, and while I sympathize with dios on this one, by virtue of its narrow focus and apparently more heavy-handed policing, AskMe is really the only portion of the site with great value. (I don't read the Music pages, they seem cool too!)

Not sure whether this was valuable or not but it helps me to get some feelings out - and I believe I've just explained that that's the only important thing. Get off my lawn.
posted by waxbanks at 1:36 PM on February 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


(Especially the snarky comment that's pretty near the de rigueur opener for every front page post now; it's becoming the MeFi version of FIRST! and it often derails a good conversation before it can even start.)

The first few comments of a thread set the mood for how the entire thread is going to go, IMO. Which is why when commenting near the beginning of a thread, I try to set the bar high, and I encourage others to do so, as well (particularly when I'm the OP).


It's called articulating the dialectic. While I'm certainly no master rhetorician or debater, I've tried to note that on a number of occasions both seriously and jokingly. It's something fundamental to the discussion of the links in the post, and perhaps something should be done to make posters more aware that usually occurs willy-nilly in the hopes that the bar doesn't get set too low from the get go.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:37 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I disagree with what people are saying in this thread. I think there are some solid discussions about politics around here. For example, I was glad to get to go back and forth with koeselitz and others in this thread.

We are, unfortunately, living in a politically charged era. Are there really that many places that are better for this kind of discussion than MeFi?

I agree with dios that the hit-and-run style of commenting can go way overboard, and that that thread was pretty lousy. I agree with the suggestion that "favorites" be renamed. dios and Blazecock Pileon, who are to my right and left politically, and who once were at the center of an endless series of controversies, are two of the best participants at this site. So, we can all always do better. Peer pressure probably works best, and threads like this are not a bad thing.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:37 PM on February 12, 2008


People Agree with My political Opinions = Level of Discourse Good.
People Disagree with My political Opinions = Level of Discourse BAAAD.


Bullshit. Circle-jerking easily can and do lead to bad levels of discourse. And it is not differences in opinion that lead to bad discourse- it is how people disagree and respond to those disagreements.
posted by jmd82 at 1:37 PM on February 12, 2008


I'm certainly far more interested in views on the issues, and usually particularly in articulate disagreement. I have plenty of access to intelligent agreement, since intelligent persons agree with me.
posted by Abiezer at 1:38 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


And all ad hominem attacks outside of MeTa should result in temporary bans.

I could get behind this, you mouthy fuckin' noob.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:38 PM on February 12, 2008 [10 favorites]


In HTML there is no sarcasm tag, jmd82. There is no sarcasm tag.
posted by tkchrist at 1:40 PM on February 12, 2008


I'm watching Andy Griffith on TVLand. It's the episode where a bunch of gypsies camp out in Mayberry. One of the gypsies is played by Jamie Farr, who is actually Lebanese. But he's not wearing a dress.

(also, I've never used favoriting as anything other than applause. I assume those who favorite me are doing the same. YMMV.)
posted by jonmc at 1:41 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Abiezer I agree with you. So there goes that theory.
posted by tkchrist at 1:42 PM on February 12, 2008


I would like to vote for a lowering of discourse, personally.
posted by empath at 1:44 PM on February 12, 2008


well you would cuz you are teh dumbbass!111
posted by jonmc at 1:46 PM on February 12, 2008


SCDB, I'm surprised you'd treat "The Left" as a monolith when you know full well both left and right are differentiated many different ways.

In this case what I'm talking about is the prevailing MeFi hive mind as it deals with political discussions. Of course there is wide variety; I myself have written about the problems of trying to categorize political positions on a one-dimensional scale. (In part to explain why I consider myself to be both "conservative" and "liberal"; it's because they're not opposites.)

The prevailing MeFi zeitgeist behaves as I said. (I have the scars to prove it.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:46 PM on February 12, 2008


(I'm a giver)
posted by jonmc at 1:47 PM on February 12, 2008


Why are the favo(U)rite numbers so public anyway??? Couldn't the same pats on the back and bookmarking be achieved without them being so easily visible? The serendipity melissamay rightly enjoys could still be had by simply clicking through to our own or someone else's profile page. We don't have to lose the numbers - let's just put them one step away from immediate view.

The dissenters to this idea will probably be those who like to scan through threads, stopping to read comments with lots of faves. That's just a lazy habit (I know, I do it at times) and wouldn't be a great loss I don't think. The popular tabs might end up being even more useful in terms of distilling out the good stuff in such circumstances.

This is the only way I can see (other than the bleeding obvious: behave better you bastards!) to reduce the enthusiasm for zingers which, as everybody knows, engenders crappy opening comments that often steers the tone of the ensuing discussion.
posted by peacay at 1:49 PM on February 12, 2008


There's a libertarian streak here that informs many people's views on both sides, for instance.

Heh. Copyright and the Drug War. What else?
posted by Kwantsar at 1:49 PM on February 12, 2008


There are far fewer intelligent posts these days, at least proportionately. Miguel and matteo and others used to make fantastic, unashamedly-elitist posts about music, art and literature (trawl the archives for them if, like me, you're a Johnny-come-lately and missed them). I don't think the discussion ever quite reached the standard of the posts, but it was certainly a lot better than it is now. Of course nowadays there are intelligent posts here and there, but they generally just accumulate favourites and 'great post!' comments rather than any real discussion.
posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anything related to Sex between consenting adults.
posted by garlic at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2008


serendipity melissamay

This sounds vaguely like a character in a romance novel set in 19th century England.

as for 'zingers,' I like zingers. There's a lot of funny people here at Mefi, I say let them ply their trade.

To me, what were looking at here is not political conflict, but personality conflict. Some people (at least in their MeFi incarnations) take everything very seriously, others deal with almost everything via humor. So there's going to be conflict and misunderstanding. In a community of 60k+ people, it'd be incredibly surprising if there weren't. and who says we all have to like eachother, anyway. It's a 'community', not a club.
posted by jonmc at 1:55 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's two types of discussions you get the most out of, I think. Debating with people with diametrically opposed views can be very fruitful, but works best if there is an shared assumption of good will. I'm a very extreme leftist, even by European standards (!), but I've never doubted that there are people who hold conservative views for reasons other than naked self-interest. You're just very few and far between :p
I do think it's fine to reject out of hand or roundly abuse those advocating patently offensive and dangerous views. I'm also aware that's a subjective judgement and only engage in this in what I deem to be appropriate contexts. It's not something that comes up much on Metafilter as the kind of views I have in mind get deleted here for the most part anyway.
Otherwise, it's talking tactical nuances with people you already share a purpose with, and I'd expect less of that on a large public forum like Metafilter.
tkchrist, you are too modest and kind, and I'm too smug.
posted by Abiezer at 1:55 PM on February 12, 2008


fantastic, unashamedly-elitist

One of these things is not like the other. Frankly, I find at least one of these people to be kind of a fucking tool (and I'm sure that the feeling is mutual). If this is the standard you guys are longing for, I'm sorry, but we're all better off.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:56 PM on February 12, 2008


Miguel doesn't care what you think of him.
posted by Dave Faris at 2:00 PM on February 12, 2008


Ha! I don't know...

(Oh, DANG)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:00 PM on February 12, 2008


Politics and religion (and sexism) threads are disasters because there are huge numbers of very passionate people on either side who have a personal stake in the discussion.

No matter what policies are enacted be they social or technological, that will continue to be a fundamental impediment to any real discussion taking place. It simply takes too much effort to wade through three dozen subtly-different yet disagreeable posts and respond in detail so simplified, generalized "the Left, the Right" posts become the only way to respond. So the threads disintegrate into the usual namecalling and tired old arguments every single time.
posted by Skorgu at 2:01 PM on February 12, 2008


let them ply their trade

Agreed. But let's not them have such a highfiving metric visual to egg them on is all I say. Let it happen organically. Free range humour.
posted by peacay at 2:01 PM on February 12, 2008


[dios, I think you should get a new account with a new handle and leave the baggage of "dios" behind.]

What, "Tex" Connor and his Wily Roundup Boys wasn't good enough for ya ?
posted by y2karl at 2:01 PM on February 12, 2008


I find at least one of these people to be kind of a fucking tool

he used to be much cooler, I swear.
posted by shmegegge at 2:02 PM on February 12, 2008


Anyway, I generally don't see the problem. (Could that mean...I'm part of the problem???) I am for small site government, and I don't see a thing in dire need of fixing besides. Dios, I'm sorry if people were mean to you. You seem okay.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:03 PM on February 12, 2008


I don't think the flagging system does much to address this issue. I know that the little comment right below the comment box does nothing.

How do you know that these things do nothing? How do you know that people don't notice little comment below the comment box and say to themselves, "Huh. I could just type out this tirade and then not hit post."

We're all pretty sure of how the squeaky wheels and those with a certain level of name recognition feel about certain issues, but there are thousands of less "famous" users on this site who don't jump into every shitstorm with the bon mots, and look at the occasional favorited comment as just a nice thing.
posted by desuetude at 2:04 PM on February 12, 2008


We're better off without posts like this? Nonsense!
posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 2:04 PM on February 12, 2008


SCDB, you may not realize this, but you are not raising the discourse by asserting that "liberals think conservative leaders are evil". You're making a blanket statement that includes me, and although I know myself to be a liberal, I have never called any conservative evil in these pages, nor have I ever gone into ad hominem attack mode. Not to pat myself on the back, just to point out that this generalization is in effect an attack against a whole group of people.

That being said, I wish the person who had placed the ad-hom attack against dios in the Gitmo thread had just left it out. That one sentence managed to negate the very good argument that had been made just previous to it.
posted by lleachie at 2:05 PM on February 12, 2008


Oh shit, I just realized I should've been day trading this whole time....
posted by Burhanistan at 2:08 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Getting rid of a publicly viewable favorites system might help. One cannot help but get the sense that most of the commenters, in the longer threads at least, are just in there to show off and hear themselves speak, so to type.

Also, I think that the definition of "noise" needs to be extended to encompass posts that are just people giving their opinions without providing anything new to the discussion. One example of this would be those execrable punctuation posts in the obit threads, but I would go so far as to say that this describes a majority of the posts in, say, the Gitmo thread and others like it.

Also a lot of peoples' joke comments, particularly the tired in-joke ones, just aren't funny. There should be more MeTa call outs to shame the perennially unfunny into posting fewer jokes.

And all ad hominem attacks outside of MeTa should result in temporary bans. (Um, this would not apply to posts made before this rule was passed, of course.)

All of these somewhat practical suggestions would have the effect of making the discussions here more like discussions and less like a, less obviously misogynistic, version of Fark for people who claim to read books. This I believe.


I'll sign off on this too. Changing it from 'favorites' to 'bookmarks' is not enough. If you want to prevent a pandering to the lowest common denominator make the favorites invisible. Too much snark makes it less likely for any dissenting opinion to be presented in depth. If you want in depth discussions then the snark has to be the exception, when it's the rule you just have people scrolling through looking for the funny. That's fine too, but if we want something different then following up on a couple of these suggestions might alter the trend.

-----

There's a libertarian streak here that informs many people's views on both sides, for instance.

You're identifying outspoken social liberals with libertarian. There aren't that many fiscal conservatives on this site. You can't swing a dead cat in here without clocking some IRS-loving Statist.
posted by BigSky at 2:08 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course nowadays there are intelligent posts here and there, but they generally just accumulate favourites and 'great post!' comments rather than any real discussion.

For some admitted-newcomer perspective, here's a metatalk thread from a few years ago specifically acknowledging the problem of few comments in dense, fascinating posts. The contrast being that at the time there were no favorites, and the post is to some extent asking for the [this is good] subfunction of favorites. And it's Miguel asking.

(And a much more recent thread advancing, once again, the 'comments = quality' supposition. I'm sure there are more threads in the past, if someone is willing to go look.)

There's been no decline in responsiveness to good threads. There's been a general uptick in comments over time, but if I remember the last numbers I looked at it's not as aggressive a curve as you might think. Contentious threads were and are likely to become big and messy; sometimes, they also contain some pretty damn good discussion subthreads when interested folks press on with the conversation and hollerin' bedamned. Not-so-contentious threads were and are likely to be a crapshoot for volume, but generally have pretty good discussions based on the accessibility of the topic and the chance intersection between that and the passions and interests of the mefites who come across the thread.

This is not an apologia or a claim that noise isn't a problem worth continuing to think about, but there really is a strong whiff of Golden Age here that doesn't really jibe with my memory of basically the exact same complaints or assertions from two or five years ago.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:08 PM on February 12, 2008


Agreed. But let's not them have such a highfiving metric visual to egg them on is all I say.

I dunno, favoriting to me is kind of a benchmark for me as a writer. If a comment is favorite a lot, especially by people who usually dislike or diagree with me, I just assume I said something fantastic, although it's usually for throwaway one-liners rather than something I sweated over and thought long about, oddly.
posted by jonmc at 2:09 PM on February 12, 2008


I'm finding myself really liking the idea of moving the initial count of favorites from the front page to a click-through. Keep the Popular Favorites views and tabs and all that stuff, but don't display the total count in the threads or on the front page. The data will remain, and interested folks can find out what they've missed, but the piling on should slow a lot, and also, the snowballing effect where people favorite something just because they can see that it's been marked already, that would just stop altogether. A high number of favorites would mean more, I think, if they worked that way.

Would such a change be so big as to warrant a lot more discussion, or could it be implemented more or less right away, as an experiment?

And how long has that (HTML help) thing been beside the comment boxes, anyway?
posted by cgc373 at 2:09 PM on February 12, 2008


Being able to laugh a bit about even the most serious topic is important.
posted by maxwelton at 2:12 PM on February 12, 2008


Crap. My comment above should have read, in total:

100!

I fail at MetaTalk.
posted by cgc373 at 2:18 PM on February 12, 2008


Just stop reading and participating in threads about politics or religion. You'll avoid 90% of the vitriol and get 90% of the good posts.

I've come to disagree with this after trying it. The problem is those cesspools fill up and then spill over. If we let it go on anywhere, some people will begin to think it's ok throughout and some people will sign up specifically for the flame-wars. That's when dios is right that one person can't do a thing. One noisy person seems to be louder than any number of silent people or some reason.
posted by yerfatma at 2:18 PM on February 12, 2008


favoriting to me is kind of a benchmark for me

It still would be in my perfect Mefi world - it's just that you'd have to look at your profile page to see the backpatting.
posted by peacay at 2:18 PM on February 12, 2008


Listen to peacay!
posted by cgc373 at 2:19 PM on February 12, 2008


SCDB, you may not realize this, but you are not raising the discourse by asserting that "liberals think conservative leaders are evil". You're making a blanket statement that includes me...

Nearly all pithy statements of that kind involve generalizations, and all generalizations are subject to exceptions. What do you want, an epigram or something the length and detail of a legal contract?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:21 PM on February 12, 2008


cortex, I'm not sure that's what this thread is about, really. It's more about nasty arguments than lack of comments or responsiveness to good threads. At first, I thought you were trying to give an idea for where favorites came from, but then I kind of lost your point I think.
posted by shmegegge at 2:24 PM on February 12, 2008


What do you want, an epigram or something the length and detail of a legal contract?

Thus the problem.
posted by aramaic at 2:25 PM on February 12, 2008


People write inflammatory comments because they want attention. It works really well.

My suggestion: implement an "ignore this" button, to be presented along with the current favoriting/flagging interface. When clicked, the text would change from "ignore this" to "you are ignoring this comment".

This would provide some positive feedback for making the choice to not encourage trollish comments. There could even be a "Comments ignored: x" thing on the user page (visible only to the user), to provide a long-term incentive.
posted by teleskiving at 2:26 PM on February 12, 2008


Thanks for the MeTa links, cortex. I think my complaint about lack of discussion in current, intelligent (for want of a more descriptive word) posts is very much secondary to my opinion that there are, proportionately, just far fewer of them than there used to be.
posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 2:26 PM on February 12, 2008


What do you want, an epigram or something the length and detail of a legal contract?

I think she, and a lot of us, want you to realize that making sweeping generalizations about a particular political group and blaming the site's problems on that group lowers the level of discourse Liberals are not the source of the site's problems (neither are conservatives, obviously) and statements like yours more likely are.
posted by shmegegge at 2:27 PM on February 12, 2008


So this means no more joking around...just serious stuff.
posted by doctorschlock at 2:29 PM on February 12, 2008


The prevailing MeFi zeitgeist behaves as I said. (I have the scars to prove it.)

And how do you behave, Steven C. Angel?

It could be that I'm just gun-shy from having gone through something very similar at a different community board in 2004. Here's the scene:
- Board skews to one side. Political discussions tend toward that side, occasionally veering to echo chamber.

- ...Which isn't critical, since political discussions are fairly infrequent... until the presidential primaries start to heat up.

- A minority of users lean to the opposite political side. They make it a personal mission to provide the dissenting opinion. Sometimes they do it civilly. Sometimes, they don't. The number of "don't" times seem to increase proportionally with the increased number of politics discussions.

- Fingers get pointed: "This guy over here, he's really acting like an asshole. Why is that okay?"

- Minority Opinion Guy goes, "Hey! Not fair, I'm being ganged up on! The REAL PROBLEM here is that you majority-opinion folks are INTOLERANT. It's not how I'm personally acting, it's that you CAN'T HANDLE THE DISCOURSE. You can't stand anyone challenging your world-view so you're taking it out on me personally."

- ...Which has exactly the intended effect. The majority opinion hates intolerance, hates to be perceived as a bully, so they grumble quietly to themselves and try to act better.

- And the mods are faced with a problem: allow the board to become an echo chamber? Or demand that Minority Opinion Guy has to play by the same set of rules as everyone else, knowing that they risk their token minorities walking?

- ...all of which adds up to give Minority Opinion Guy a big fat carte blanche to continue to ratchet up the assholery. Ad hominem attacks as far as the eye can see, flamebaiting, bizarre arguments devoid of logic or merit. And when anyone dares challenge him -- on his behavior, not the crux of his position -- it's "AGAIN, ALL YOU MAJORITY PEOPLE OPPRESSING ME. I am OPPRESSED. This is a hotbed of intellectual INTOLERANCE."
Sound at all familiar?

Show me just one political conservative waving the "MeFites are so intolerant, the discourse has become so tragic here" flag that doesn't also have a history of bad behavior, and I'll listen to that person. But so far, I'm just not seeing it.

And if the "Conservatives are unfairly treated here!" didn't ring hollow with me, the classic pre-emptive strikes of "Let's not talk about the player, let's only talk about the game, mmkay?" and "This MeTa is NOT about the fiery thread I was just in (where I was treated with 'noxious insults'), it's merely about the general good of the board" just make it that much harder for me to believe that there's any sincerity involved here.
posted by pineapple at 2:31 PM on February 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


What if mod flagging (not plebe flagging!) had some sort of magic power it currently lacks? x-comments-flagged-as-noise-in-y-days turns into an automatic, quiet timeout, no insane public breakdown or MeTa callout necessary. That way we could have a decent, cumulative-effect middle ground between deleting comments and just rolling our eyes at them. Chilling effects!
posted by soma lkzx at 2:32 PM on February 12, 2008


You're identifying outspoken social liberals with libertarian.

Fair enough. I've seen contrasting definitions of what "left-libertarian" signifies, but I'm not as equipped to answer the question as others might be. I can see dios' point, though. (I don't want to derail here.) I wouldn't mind heavier moderation across the board, but as for less Statist (Modist?) solutions, I like cgc373's idea.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 2:33 PM on February 12, 2008


So, Cortex, why not just make favorites simply operate as bookmarks for the bookmarker (invisible to others on profiles), but make the total ## of favorites for a thread appear (anonymously) on the main page? That way people could tell whether a thread was well-received without favorites simply being a popularity contest.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:34 PM on February 12, 2008


Yes. We need more unashamedly elitist posts that don't have religious, political, or controversial content. And also we need to shame and humiliate anybody that makes jokes or snarks in these posts.

Yay! That is a perfect formula sure to make a more inclusive and civil community for sure!
posted by tkchrist at 2:37 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


it's so very "postmodern", things get defined as absolute when they are relative and the emotion follows. SCDB feels ganged up upon but points to glib phrases and generalizations to justify his feelings which provoke further angst in others that don't feel his compartmentalization is fair or accurate.

I'd be surprised if anyone here, on either side, is innocent. Name calling whether it is "echo chamber" or "fascist" do nothing to address the issues and further the topic. I don't think either Dios or SCDB are polarizing figures just because they are more conservative then the majority, they certainly have poked the nest a number of times, but likewise it is not fair to rail against them when they are not doing so.

Things should be phrased carefully and responsible. The "absolute" positions should be reserved for extreme cases and we should address people's opinions and not their inherant worth.

Now, will this happen... yeah, I doubt it, there is little reason to expect personal responsibility in a community as voluntary as this.
posted by edgeways at 2:42 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


In HTML there is no sarcasm tag, jmd82. There is no sarcasm tag.

Bullshit. I take back everything I said- it's statements like that which bring down the level of discourse.
posted by jmd82 at 2:43 PM on February 12, 2008


cortex, I'm not sure that's what this thread is about, really.

My comment was intended very much as an aside to BEIM's own comment, so I'm right there with you.

Thanks for the MeTa links, cortex. I think my complaint about lack of discussion in current, intelligent (for want of a more descriptive word) posts is very much secondary to my opinion that there are, proportionately, just far fewer of them than there used to be.

I still don't really agree. It feels like people have pretty much been saying this every year since 2000; and a read through the archives from 2000 (or, in my experience, any random month and year in the site history) will show that the mix has been more or less even over time. But it's hard to prove that sort of thing; I'd be interested in an analysis that took a solid stab at it, whatever the results, because as it is it stands as a he-said-she-said sort of thing.

I'm finding myself really liking the idea of moving the initial count of favorites from the front page to a click-through. Keep the Popular Favorites views and tabs and all that stuff, but don't display the total count in the threads or on the front page.

It's actually an idea that's come up a few times; personally (and I'm speaking only for myself, not Matt or Jess), I like the idea; I don't see any real harm in it. Though I'd quibble on showing post favorite counts: I don't think there's any real issue of "popularity contest" feedback loops or discourse-shaping there compared with what (might) be going on with comment favorites.

x-comments-flagged-as-noise-in-y-days turns into an automatic, quiet timeout, no insane public breakdown or MeTa callout necessary.

Eesh. Automated threshold tools aren't a great way to deal with people; we're continually tweaking and expanding our admin toolset, looking for ways to make it easier to keep track of stuff (both good and bad), but autobans or anything like them don't seem like the answer.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:43 PM on February 12, 2008


And how do you behave, Steven C. Angel?

How do I behave? I always try to stay at the level of issues, unless it's a thread which is clearly jokey. I don't resort to tu quoque, for instance.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:49 PM on February 12, 2008


SCDB and pineapple: I usually intentionally stay out of threads I post because I do not want to make this about me and feel I stated my case in the post itself. But I cannot resist requesting that both of you are completely missing the point of my thread. Rather, you are retreating to the exact redundant arguments that I am referencing my posts. I'm not saying either of you are correct; what I am suggesting is that the discussion you want to have is perhaps best suited for elsewhere. Because all you are doing is proving my point for me: you ignoring the substantive issue that is topical here and having an argument you want to have that is worn out, combative, and--as I said in my post--superficial and repetitive noise in the context of this thread. So please, don't make this a political issue because I intentionally did not.

And the irony award could also go to y2karl for posting this thread a petty and flat-out-wrong sockpuppet allegation. Or was that intentional irony? I can't even tell anymore.

That being said, I will slap my wrists for violating my personal policy and go back to allowing this discussion to proceed having stated my peace.
posted by dios at 2:51 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yeah, cortex, the FPP favorite count doesn't feel as weird when it's self-reinforcing as the comment favorites. True dat.
posted by cgc373 at 2:57 PM on February 12, 2008


stated my peace
The peace of dios that passeth all understanding.
(Sorry, it was just sitting there. I return you to your scheduled elevated discourse.)
posted by Abiezer at 2:57 PM on February 12, 2008


Bullshit. I take back everything I said- it's statements like that which bring down the level of discourse.

Yelling "bullshit" at the start of every post also raises the level discourse significantly.
posted by tkchrist at 2:58 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is there any empirical evidence that "the types of comments that lower the level of discourse" - as if we'd even be able to come to a consensus on what that meant - are actually being favorited at a high enough rate relative to other comments to even warrant claims of correlation, let alone causation? I just don't see it, personally. Certainly snarks and pileons were de riguer long before favorites came along, and if anything, I suspect that favoriting a zinger might actually provide a passive-aggressive release that cuts down on additional negative comments in thread. But, of course, I can't prove my supposition, either. Point being - maybe we shouldn't be so quick to always look for hard-wired solutions to issues we're only guessing at the causes of. My 2 cents.
posted by False Dichotomy at 2:59 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yelling "bullshit" at the start of every post also raises the level discourse significantly.

unless of course, one is posting about 'Cotton Eyed Joe.'
posted by jonmc at 2:59 PM on February 12, 2008


unless of course, one is posting about 'Cotton Eyed Joe.'

I don't get it.
posted by tkchrist at 3:02 PM on February 12, 2008


I agree with the people that say this is the best we can do, given a wide focus. The tone of discussion in Ask MetaFilter is just way, way better than it is in regular-type MetaFilter, and yet it involves most of the same people. The main difference? Narrow focus.
posted by ignignokt at 3:04 PM on February 12, 2008


I was really hoping the Gitmo thread could discuss some of the details of the case...

The GITMO thread seems to be progressing well enough to me.
posted by ericb at 3:04 PM on February 12, 2008


I always try to stay at the level of issues

Ah. Well there is your problem Steve. Rise above, bro.

Be more like me and attempt to transcend the level of the issue. Like, become sublimed. Like me.

Mmmmm. Floating up here in Zen repose on a snow white cloud of undifferentiated nothingness contemplating the...




Oh YEAH! Well fuck you too!
posted by tkchrist at 3:06 PM on February 12, 2008


Show me just one political conservative waving the "MeFites are so intolerant, the discourse has become so tragic here" flag that doesn't also have a history of bad behavior, and I'll listen to that person. But so far, I'm just not seeing it.

Do I qualify? I doubt I'd use the phrase 'so tragic', but I think the level of discourse is often pretty low. And it's not just political threads, so I'm not sure why the political pedigree matters.
posted by BigSky at 3:06 PM on February 12, 2008


unless of course, one is posting about 'Cotton Eyed Joe.'

I don't get it.


here(most concise explanation I could find, I have no idea what the rest of the blogs content is)
posted by jonmc at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2008


The GITMO thread seems to be progressing well enough to me.

Yeah. Me too. One of the better threads on the topic, actually.
posted by tkchrist at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2008


One noisy person seems to be louder than any number of silent people or some reason.

Umm...
posted by timeistight at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2008


What does Cotton-eyed Joe have to do with Cotton-mouthed Joe? Are they siblings?
posted by Dave Faris at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2008



While I am certain there are exceptions to the rule, it seems far more common to me that discussions occur only at the most superficial and repetitive levels of noise. Noise begets noise, and the signal becomes even more faint. Often, the actual substance of the links seem irrelevant to the default arguments that occur within (default in both substance and tone and members contributing).


Just stop reading and participating in threads about politics or religion. You'll avoid 90% of the vitriol and get 90% of the good posts.

I'm routinely disappointed by the level of discussion in science and science policy threads here, especially the ones on environmental science. This one ended my illusion that MeFi discussions here can currently handle that kind of topic. Don't get me wrong, it's much better here than the rest of the web, but that's not a real standard to aim for, either. But I don't hold the admins responsible for this-- they moderate to keep certain things out, not to bring certain things in. The community does the bringing.

I decided I would stick around to see if maybe there will at some point be a critical mass of people who will 1) read such articles and 2) bring something to the discussion besides their own particular flavor of half-baked speculation. I like that I can talk about other things here too, but science threads here fill me with a quiet kind of despair.

And I'm not saying people who have a science background necessarily make better contributions to such threads-- on the contrary, that was a 60 Minutes article, it was pretty accessible, and a great example of communicating complex science clearly to a more general audience. That is so very rare to see. But people weren't even reading it. Instead they were just voicing their opinions on forest fires and global warming. As facts though, not as opinions on the facts, and no one who disagreed was bringing in other facts. Or they were just accusing 60 Minutes of sensationalism without a second glance. I'm not a fan of 60 Minutes either, but that was just the surface. The link was a really good article and video 60 Minutes produced. And the thread here was just the latest iteration of OMG DOOMED vs. OMG SENSATIONALIST comments until the thread got less active later.

I'd be the last person to say "we should take this all very seriously." But I do agree that the noise is drowning out the signal almost entirely in some kinds of threads, and that sometimes it begins to feel like no one participating gives a shit about anything except being the funniest smartass. I love funny smartassery, but sometimes the actual content of a post is being dismissed so much and so quickly in the name of cool that there's no real discussion left. It becomes just a bunch of posturing and an echo chamber for a really superficial understanding of things. It starts to read like CNN headlines: no substance, just quick, attention-grabbing comments. Normally I would have found a comment like Stan Chin's amusing-- I've made similar ones-- if the post was some exaggerated claim. But this one wasn't. And it was treated the same by most people anyway. I could have made a post of my own to an article that was total crap and gotten the exact same reaction.

potch's comments in that thread were an interesting shift from quick dismissal to a second look and more considered reaction to what the thread was really about. I would like to see more Mefites take a longer look at the content of the post before jumping into the thread. And I don't mean agree with the content of the post, I mean discuss the content of the article for what it is and not what it's assumed to be.
posted by Tehanu at 3:18 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think that in group behavioral agreements and interventions, "Tu quoques" are a bit more relevant than in other discussions.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:20 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Especially in Canada.
posted by False Dichotomy at 3:21 PM on February 12, 2008


What about a "snark" label in addition to favorites? Short of a mod ban fest, the only way the discourse can be changed is through self policing. I don't think a snark counter should do anything other than sit in your profile. If you look at someone's comment and it has a [+30 favorites], and a [+12 snarkfilter], you'll be less likely to take them seriously.

People snark and fret about grammar because they DO care about what people think and what people think about them; albeit in different ways. If everyone is so worried that favorites encourage bad behavior, why not use some light negative reinforcement as well. feel its fine to be snarky every once in a while, as long as you're not "that guy".
By clicking on someone's profile with dozens of comment's labeled as chatfilter/snark you'll be less likely to take them seriously. It sure works for ebay profiles. I know many people who live and die based upon their %favorable ratings.
posted by JimmyJames at 3:22 PM on February 12, 2008


I'm routinely disappointed by the level of discussion in science and science policy threads here, especially the ones on environmental science.

Why? Not everybody is a scientist. Sometimes it would behoove posters to remember that this is a general interest forum and that not all users posses the same knowledge or education, particularly in more esoteric fields.
posted by jonmc at 3:22 PM on February 12, 2008


Bullshit. I take back everything I said- it's statements like that which bring down the level of discourse.
Yelling "bullshit" at the start of every post also raises the level discourse significantly.


I was attempting to respond to my own failing at recognizing sarcasm with my version of sarcasm, and failed miserably again. I never have been able to do it anyways.
posted by jmd82 at 3:23 PM on February 12, 2008


teleskiving : [An "ignore this" button] would provide some positive feedback for making the choice to not encourage trollish comments. There could even be a "Comments ignored: x" thing on the user page (visible only to the user), to provide a long-term incentive.

On whose page, the person whose comment has been ignored?

In the case of troll-minded people, that would only serve to encourage them. "I've managed to annoy people this many times, awesome!"; like notches on their asshole belts. It would be a purpose-built function for the same thing that the anti-favorite people are complaining about: socially rewarding jerkiness.

People can already ignore inflammatory comments on their own (although it's not always easy to) and give themselves a hug for doing so. While an ignore button might cut down on the vitriol, it could also cut down on the level-headed cogent replies to dumbass comments. Why bother shrugging off the insults and responding to the person when you can just [ignore this]?
posted by CKmtl at 3:23 PM on February 12, 2008


asshole belts.

Ouch. wouldn't asshole suspenders be more comfortable?
posted by jonmc at 3:25 PM on February 12, 2008


dios: "you ignoring the substantive issue that is topical here and having an argument you want to have that is worn out, combative, and--as I said in my post--superficial and repetitive noise in the context of this thread. So please, don't make this a political issue because I intentionally did not."

So, the fact that you are a polarizing user thanks to your history of political posting... and that you entered a political thread that even a toddler could have predicted would get heated... and then that things didn't end well -- you're saying (with a straight face) that has nothing to do with the direction of this thread? That it's mere derailing coincidence? That just because you declare, "This isn't about politics!" makes it so?

And yet you seem to take issue that I feel your post is disingenuous. The mind boggles.

dios: "what I am suggesting is that the discussion you want to have is perhaps best suited for elsewhere."

What exactly is "the discussion that I want to have"? I'm curious. I realize that your modus operandi is to make this sort of drive-by authoritative declaration right before you dash away from the thread claiming a high road -- but if you're going to put words in my mouth, then by all means, don't do it halfway.

SCDB: "I always try to stay at the level of issues, unless it's a thread which is clearly jokey. I don't resort to tu quoque, for instance."

Cute. I see what you did there. But, wait... what was it you said earlier? Oh, right. "Political discussions on Metafilter are not really discussions. They're a left-wing bonding exercise, where everyone voices the same opinion and seeks peer approval and reinforcement for their opinions. There's great emotional comfort to be found in an echo chamber. That's why dissenting opinions are greeted with vitriol; they spoil the mood."

Who needs tu quoque when you can make blanket generalizations and tar everyone with a broad brush? (Or was that decidedly non-issue-related attack on the majority of the community one of the "jokey" ones? It's so hard to tell...)

BigSky: "Do I qualify? I doubt I'd use the phrase 'so tragic', but I think the level of discourse is often pretty low. And it's not just political threads, so I'm not sure why the political pedigree matters."

Sure, I'll bite. What are some of the examples of reduced discourse that you'd like to use to make your case? I'm now especially interested in the non-political ones.

The political pedigree matters in this thread, in my opinion, because the complaining MeTa was posted by someone who is infamous for politically charged discourse and who lodged his complaint because of activity in a political thread... and yet demanded that we all should discuss the topic of whether discourse is low site-wide or not... while ignoring the political angle. (Seriously. The mind boggles.)

It's intellectually dishonest to separate the poster and the situation from the rest of this particular conversation.
posted by pineapple at 3:25 PM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


jonmc, Tehanu was careful to avoid criticising anyone for 'not knowing enough', or 'not being clever enough'. He criticised people's willingness to dive into threads and spout their opinions in snarky one-line form, without even having read any of the links (which were absolutely 'general-interest' — 60 Minutes for goodness' sake).
posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 3:26 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


potch's comments in that thread were an interesting shift from quick dismissal to a second look and more considered reaction to what the thread was really about. I would like to see more Mefites take a longer look at the content of the post before jumping into the thread. And I don't mean agree with the content of the post, I mean discuss the content of the article for what it is and not what it's assumed to be.

This is an excellent point. I personally wish more people would take the time to RTFA before commenting in the thread— failure to engage with the specific post is one of the big reasons for rehashed arguments in the Blue. The problem isn't that MeFites can't discuss the latest (for example) findings on anthropogenic global warming, it's that MeFites can't be bothered to discuss the latest findings and instead use the fact that the topic has been brought up as an excuse to say the same damn things they've said thirty or forty times.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:32 PM on February 12, 2008


And if the "Conservatives are unfairly treated here!" didn't ring hollow with me

Conservatives are unfairly treated here. It always amuses me (in a bitterly ironic sort of way) that the vast majority of righteous Bush-haters here finds that so hard to believe, whereas of course if someone suggested they try posting at a right-leaning site they'd be positive they wouldn't be fairly treated. But of course liberals aren't like that! Liberals treat everyone fairly! That's why they're liberals!

On topic: I agree that the level of discourse could use a little raising (though I love the snark and jokery), but it ain't gonna happen because of a MetaTalk thread. I agree with cortex that this complaint has always been with us, and I suspect the prevalence of bad feeling and snarkery rises and falls with the political seasons. So wait until November and things will improve.
posted by languagehat at 3:33 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


The problem isn't that MeFites can't discuss the latest (for example) findings on anthropogenic global warming, it's that MeFites can't be bothered to discuss the latest findings and instead use the fact that the topic has been brought up as an excuse to say the same damn things they've said thirty or forty times.

Quoted for truth.
posted by languagehat at 3:35 PM on February 12, 2008


At a certain point, everyone realizes that civility doesn't scale—small towns get too big to know everyone personally, and you have to know someone to forgive them.
posted by klangklangston at 3:39 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I dunno, favoriting to me is kind of a benchmark for me as a writer.

You're setting your bar pretty low. You should get your own blog instead of using metafilter as your benchmark.

If a comment is favorite a lot, especially by people who usually dislike or diagree with me, I just assume I said something fantastic, although it's usually for throwaway one-liners rather than something I sweated over and thought long about, oddly.

Fantastic? Trust me, never happened. But when you throw out 20,000 one liners with an audience of thousands someone's going to think you're funny. If you hit on a thousand women someone will like it, doesn't make you good looking. You play the odds, all the damn time. Constantly. You're the old lady sitting at the slot machine pulling the bar all day long. Nothing wrong with that, but a bar for your writing? You've gotta be kidding me. All you're getting is bucketful of nickels.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 3:40 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're setting your bar pretty low.

of course I am. Aiming for the skies is for ambitious people. I'm just having some fun.
posted by jonmc at 3:43 PM on February 12, 2008


LH: "Conservatives are unfairly treated here. It always amuses me (in a bitterly ironic sort of way) that the vast majority of righteous Bush-haters here finds that so hard to believe, "

I don't find it hard to believe, nor is the validity of the argument (as to whether conservatives are treated fairly here) what rang hollow to me when I made the comment.

What rings hollow is that if a user is widely considered to be part of the continuing part of the problem, it's disingenuous for that user to make a big show of his neutral observation about the disparity of it all, in the very same breath where he appeals to authority (yet again) and insults his political opponents.

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" might be more to my point.
posted by pineapple at 3:45 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was attempting to respond to my own failing at recognizing sarcasm with my version of sarcasm, and failed miserably again. I never have been able to do it anyways.

Careful.

I once did that and it opened up a quaking singularity of sarcasm that ripped a hole in space time.

Out walked George Plimpton. "This hurts me more than it hurts you."

And he walked up and kicked me in the nuts. While I was on the floor clutching my dingles in pain he turned around and marched right back into the time-space rip and they both disappeared with a quiet little pop.
posted by tkchrist at 3:45 PM on February 12, 2008


JimmyJames, regarding the "snark" flag; I really don't think this would help. As officially the most level headed and objective guy in the world (according to me and my mum, OK not even my mum) even I do find myself filing people under B for bad if I disagree with their political viewpoint.

dios raises a good point. I can't remember reading a (previous) comment by dios that I agreed with. Used to think that he was either insane or just out for a troll but a lot of that was/is down to the fact that he really does believe in a lot of things I don't (me Euro lefty, dios American righty).

There is a danger that given the option people would file those that don't agree with them in the snark file. If I'd had the option in my younger days I'd have hit everything dios (or SCDB) wrote as snark. This would not be due to snark volume of each comment (if something is obviously snarky it is easy to ignore) but could easily be down to being a comment that I fundamentally disagreed with but was sincereley made with same conviction or passion as those on the other side of the argument.

A 'snark' tag would reinforce the bias that already exists here. I say this as someone that is to the left of the existing bias, which on the American scale is already left of centre. A snark tag would therfore be detrimental to interesting discourse.

All that said it's going to get worse come the US elections and I'll most probably not even browse the posts as they come up as it will be 'Yah boo sucks to you matey' for a high percentage of the posts. However the only way to improve is to acknowledge that we are all a bit too prone to back our own side and strive to debate the issues. Play the ball and not the man.
posted by Gratishades at 3:47 PM on February 12, 2008


"Conservatives are unfairly treated here. It always amuses me (in a bitterly ironic sort of way) that the vast majority of righteous Bush-haters here finds that so hard to believe, whereas of course if someone suggested they try posting at a right-leaning site they'd be positive they wouldn't be fairly treated. But of course liberals aren't like that! Liberals treat everyone fairly! That's why they're liberals!"

Yeah, kinda. Sometimes conservatives get piled-on undeservedly, though (from my bias and sampling) most of the time, they don't. Where I tend to agree is that many times that liberals say something stupid or shallow or provocative, they don't get piled-on. But calling for more critical thinking from liberals is going to be hard. Plus, seriously, fuck SCDB. (I know, I know, I'm being bad, but I see so many bad-faith arguments out of that guy where he's presenting himself as unfairly pilloried while ignoring the fact that it's not conservatives—it's SCDB. It's him being wrong and then being disingenuous, and it just drives me fucking nuts.)
posted by klangklangston at 3:47 PM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


One factor in the political threads, as I see it, is that it's pretty much just Americans discussing (?) their political alignments, which isn't really that interesting to most of us non-Americans, especially seeing as I can turn on CNN if I want to see people either loudly railing or loudly rallying. Anyway, my point is that a proportion of the site (and thus a proportion of thoughtful users) is not from the US and thus not participating in the conversation.

As for snarky one-liners, a good example of this was the (awful) 90DayJane thread yesterday. There's definitely a feeling that some people just want to get the best zinger in (perhaps to get "applause"), and I can't help but feel like it's just a waste of time for the rest of us.
posted by loiseau at 3:49 PM on February 12, 2008


Why? Not everybody is a scientist. Sometimes it would behoove posters to remember that this is a general interest forum and that not all users posses the same knowledge or education, particularly in more esoteric fields.

I don't expect this to be that kind of conversation. I get that elsewhere, and I wouldn't be here if this place was a bunch of scientists. But I do think it's bad that global warming posts for example predictably devolve into exchanges of soundbyte statements driven by people who don't even read the post. MeFi's shown an ability to discuss the real substance in many other issues, all with a mix of seriousness and humor and brutal honesty and real thought. And yeah, some snark and some total bullshit too. But I do think the bullshit sometimes drowns all else out. I can see it in other topics too sometimes, and I think it has less to do with science itself. I think it has more to do with A) complexity of topic and B) ongoing controversy outside MeFi carrying a loud background noise into these threads. Low signal-- the topic requires a bit more reading/thinking. Very high noise.

Environmental science posts are one topic I frequently read where that's a jarring trend, so that's my example. Evolution is another similar topic, but I read that one a bit less. There does seem to be a trend there for the controversy of ID/creationism to drown out the evolution content.

I don't think having a science background changes any of this. Again, I'm not asking for discussion among scientists. Just discussion of science in a thread about science. Hence links to mainstream press and not journal articles except as support of the main article.

I'm also not advocating for a solution or course of action from the admins. This place works well overall. I recognize a problem, I visualize a better alternative, but I don't know what would walk us from here to there. I will continue to jump in those threads when I can.
posted by Tehanu at 3:52 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


You want radical?

How about we do this:

Shut down metafilter completely for a week. Close every fucking account. And make everybody sign back up starting from scratch. No favorites. No nothing except archived comments. Then we see who comes back.

Do this regularly every three years.
posted by tkchrist at 3:56 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Did you really just suggest that mathowie turn this car around if we kids don't stop our fighting?!
posted by False Dichotomy at 4:02 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Did you really just suggest that mathowie turn this car around if we kids don't stop our fighting?!

Yeah. Kinda. I think maybe a good laxative is in order every once in a while. Plus. I think after a week of suffering withdrawals people will see 80% of their whining is no big deal.
posted by tkchrist at 4:04 PM on February 12, 2008


Better yet, why don't we just disable the entire internet for a week?
posted by item at 4:06 PM on February 12, 2008


Did you really just suggest that mathowie turn this car around if we kids don't stop our fighting?!

Aw, to hell with that, I say he should just beat us up instead.
posted by jonmc at 4:06 PM on February 12, 2008


But the other twenty percent will BURN US ALL IN OUR TANKS, tkchrist.
posted by cgc373 at 4:07 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


mathowie didn't cuss
He didn't raise a whole lotta fuss
But when we did wrong
mathowie beat the hell out of us

mathowie don't, mathowie don't
mathowie don't, mathowie don't
mathowie don't, mathowie don't
mathowie don't take no mess
mathowie don't take no mess

hit me!
posted by False Dichotomy at 4:11 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not at all surprisingly, this thread seems to be bringing all the masochists to the fore.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:17 PM on February 12, 2008


"Better yet, why don't we just disable the entire internet for a week?"

THAT IS NOT FUNNY AT ALL, MISTER ITEM. NOT AT ALL.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:18 PM on February 12, 2008


whereas of course if someone suggested they try posting at a right-leaning site they'd be positive they wouldn't be fairly treated

be great if you could come up with an example of a comparable right-leaning general interest site and maybe we can try a little experiment. but the hardcore rightwing sites countenance no dissent whatsoever.

and if this entire thread is not the biggest example of concern trolling i've ever seen, i don't know what is.
posted by Hat Maui at 4:19 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't worry, crash. They still have porn in stores.
posted by item at 4:20 PM on February 12, 2008


Quoted for truth.

This is an example of the unfortunate "me too" type posting we'd see much much more of if we got rid of visible favorites.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:22 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


How about we do this: Shut down metafilter completely for a week.

I've often suggested one MeFi-free day a month where everyone could go take a walk outside. I'm not sure what I think about the general civility/favorites issue. Part of the issue is that there is a certain tendency to go easy on long-time users and say "oh hey that's just User X being User X", when in point of fact User X may be going over the line and doing things that we'd never really be okay with a newer user doing. I'm generally in favor of the brand new day way of looking at things, but I do feel that certain threads always go badly, the badness spills over into MeTa where it just gets worse, not better, and there's very little incentive for people with grudges to not wave them wildly around over here. I'm often surprised to see people who are incredibly helpful and thoughtful in AskMe turn around and be total fuckers to each other in MeFi and even worse here.

Usually, though not always, we hear some variant of "people should stop doing [bad behavior], though I'm guilty of it myself sometimes..." and I guess to me it starts there. If you can recognize incivility in other people, what is the broken mechanism that keeps you from being able to rein it in in yourselves?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:26 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Better yet, why don't we just disable the entire internet for a week?

If only that was possible. I think we'd get the global warming thing licked, wouldn't we?
posted by tkchrist at 4:27 PM on February 12, 2008


Usually, though not always, we hear some variant of "people should stop doing [bad behavior], though I'm guilty of it myself sometimes..." and I guess to me it starts there. If you can recognize incivility in other people, what is the broken mechanism that keeps you from being able to rein it in in yourselves?

You heard her you stupid bastards! We are sick of your uncivil cr...

Ohhhh. I get it.

Wait.

No I don't. You stupid bastards!
posted by tkchrist at 4:30 PM on February 12, 2008


So, how did the middle of this thread turn into exactly what dios was complaining about? Can anyone do a postmortem on that?
posted by smackfu at 4:33 PM on February 12, 2008


I am personally, mortally, and a bunch of other adverbially verbose terms I'm not going to bother to type right now due to outrage, outraged by tkchrist's constant adverting to my parents' questionable marital status. Just so's everybody knows.
posted by cgc373 at 4:34 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


jessamyn: "Usually, though not always, we hear some variant of "people should stop doing [bad behavior], though I'm guilty of it myself sometimes..." and I guess to me it starts there. If you can recognize incivility in other people, what is the broken mechanism that keeps you from being able to rein it in in yourselves?"

To clarify my position, in case I have mucked it up to this point: what I perceive to be the corollary of Jessamyn's statement is exactly how I feel.

Until one can rein in one's own incivility, one has no business calling out others for the same.
posted by pineapple at 4:35 PM on February 12, 2008


Oh, and for Burhanistan, who wasn't around when claudius posted this originally, here's some lovely dancing.
posted by cgc373 at 4:37 PM on February 12, 2008


So we just need to find someone who isn't an asshole, and they can tell everyone to be nice, and we'll all be a happy shiny family.
posted by smackfu at 4:38 PM on February 12, 2008


I for one am glad that tkchrist is not a mod. That is all.
posted by Lynsey at 4:38 PM on February 12, 2008


And Ps. "what is the broken mechanism that keeps you from being able to rein it in in yourselves?"

With me it's my broke't pineal gland. I broke't it taking orphans helper monkeys. Abused monkeys that I nursed back to health with the silvery sweet milk from my own pineal glands. And that is what broke't them.


Okay. That was over the top. I'm going to the gym.
posted by tkchrist at 4:39 PM on February 12, 2008


I for one am glad that tkchrist is not a mod. That is all.

That's not very nice.
posted by smackfu at 4:40 PM on February 12, 2008


unless of course, one is posting about 'Cotton Eyed Joe.'

I don't get it.


Hey, man. He brought disaster where ever he went.
posted by wafaa at 4:40 PM on February 12, 2008


Just stop reading and participating in threads about politics or religion. You'll avoid 90% of the vitriol and get 90% of the good posts.

Agreed. It's really that simple to me, but then I really don't feel I need to click on threads with links I feel I have no interest in and tell everyone that I have no interest in them and that they shouldn't either.

Of course, you may very well be interested in such threads and find the discussion about the link(s) lacking. A good solution is to indeed, note one's touching concern for the quality of the posts and the overall health of Metafilter, but really, make sure your own contributions are up to the standards you wish everyone else's was and continue to respond to like quality discussion.
posted by juiceCake at 4:44 PM on February 12, 2008


Oh, and just because I had some herbal stuff and am listening to Moby, I just want to comment:

What's up with the mod worship, people?
posted by wafaa at 4:45 PM on February 12, 2008


Herbal stuff? Like a nice hot cup of tea?
posted by puke & cry at 4:53 PM on February 12, 2008


Uh, yeah. THAT'S it.
posted by wafaa at 4:54 PM on February 12, 2008


fwiw, chamomile is dynamite
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:58 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Except for the sleep-inducing properties. It's kind of anti-dynamite.
posted by Tehanu at 5:02 PM on February 12, 2008


It's the dynamite of the non-explosive tea world.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:04 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Please don't take the visible favorites away. I'm new as a mefite (and already weirdly invested in the favorites I get) but I've been reading here for years and have always found the favorite counts to be really useful when you want to scan an old thread and get to the good stuff. Actually, it's in the kind of long, popular, controversial threads that y'all are talking about that you need the favorites the most.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:05 PM on February 12, 2008


It's the dynamite of the non-explosive tea world.

I will concede that it is awesome and nonexplosive, except when combined with Pop Rocks. Which I do not recommend doing, since it's kind of gross.
posted by Tehanu at 5:09 PM on February 12, 2008


CELESTIAL SEASONING'S SLEEPYTIME. MY CHAMOMILE OF CHOICE.
posted by wafaa at 5:09 PM on February 12, 2008


I think we need a flag that says "I would" and "I would not have sex with this person." That would really give us a sense of how we're doing in this community. And, hey, Valentine's Day.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:10 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's up with the mod worship, people?

Some of us just really like sharp dressing scooterists, is all.
posted by cog_nate at 5:10 PM on February 12, 2008


I'm with those suggesting the favourites system could do with a bit of an overhaul - is there really any good reason for the favourite count appearing at the end of comments? (It's a shame they were labelled 'favourites' rather than 'bookmarks' in the first place, but I doubt changing the term now would have any impact on the way they're used or the behaviour they seem to encourage.)
posted by jack_mo at 5:16 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Herbal stuff? Like a nice hot cup of tea?

I think he probably meant a nice salsa verde.
posted by dersins at 5:19 PM on February 12, 2008


Conservatives are unfairly treated here.

I wonder how. Do they get less questions in the green? Do they get their comments/posts deleted more often? Are they forced to have uglier fonts?
posted by nightwood at 5:21 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Better yet, why don't we just disable the entire internet for a week?

Here's the answer : unplug your cable modem. Delete your network connection. Pull the plug out of your computer. Break your desk chair. Burn down your office.

It's actually a great analogy for all of Metatalk. It's much easier to take yourself out of the internet than it is to take the internet out of everyone.
posted by Dave Faris at 5:21 PM on February 12, 2008


wafaa: come to the dark side. Seriously, I give this as a gift and people think it's all frou-frou and expensive, because it tastes awesome. I have been given pricey teas with all kinds of sheenanigans described on the box (single origin, whole leaves, special bags, leaves hand picked by Buddhists and serenaded by U2), but this is the stuff I am addicted to.
posted by Tehanu at 5:22 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some of us just really like sharp dressing scooterists, is all.

I have a theory about that, with a hypothesis to back it, and it is.........

NOT.
posted by wafaa at 5:25 PM on February 12, 2008


Some of us just really like sharp dressing scooterists, is all.

Scooter? Brando did not ride into town on a Vespa.
posted by jonmc at 5:28 PM on February 12, 2008


The first few comments of a thread set the mood for how the entire thread is going to go, IMO. Which is why when commenting near the beginning of a thread, I try to set the bar high, and I encourage others to do so, as well (particularly when I'm the OP).

That's a good idea, but the quick snark beats the reasoned, carefully-edited comment every time.
posted by Malor at 5:30 PM on February 12, 2008


Scooter? Brando did not ride into town on a Vespa.

I bet Gina Lollabridgida did. Just sayin'.
posted by wafaa at 5:31 PM on February 12, 2008


~chuckle~

Seth's ideas refuted for the thousandth time, followed by tantrum in MeTa, complete with SDB whining about how liberals *hate*.

Same as it ever was.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 5:32 PM on February 12, 2008


Nice to see you round these parts, f_and_m!
posted by languagehat at 5:35 PM on February 12, 2008


~chuckle~

Seeing this again after all these years, it makes me grin. Good times here. Good times...
posted by SeizeTheDay at 5:40 PM on February 12, 2008


"But I do seem to recall a time where actual intelligent discussion occurred and was not a rare thing. Maybe I'm misremembering that. Sure, there was always snark, but the signal to noise ratio was such that I can recall the ability to have an intelligent discussion. I don't get that impression anymore. "

I blame the noobs. Let's close signups and rescind the posting privileges of the last 3/4trs1 of the current users.

[1] Let's see, 66013 * 0.25 = 16503 > 16157 so yep, 3/4trs is good.

Dennis Murphy writes "setting your bar pretty low"
posted by Mitheral at 6:04 PM on February 12, 2008


The snark flag: I'd actually love to have a little flag to indicate that "this comment is crappy". This flag would only be visible to the comment's author (and the mods, assuming it was integrated with the current flagging system).

I'm not particularly eager to go about marking everyone's comments as crappy, but I'd love to have that feedback when I write a crappy comment. If I saw a couple flags attached to a comment of mine, I'd know to think twice before posting a similar comment. I'm sure that a few trolls would get a little rush of secret glee from such a flag, but I can't really see it increasing trollish behavior as there is already plenty of in-thread feedback for trolls.
posted by ssg at 6:07 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think snarky comments are fine as long as they are not among the first few, since they can so easily derail the conversation.
posted by dhruva at 7:21 PM on February 12, 2008


~snark~
posted by scold_and_obfuscate at 8:05 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm going to throw in a thought here: threads go south because civil people run out of reasons to post.

Let's face it, not every thread is going to end up with tons of people of any political stripe re-examining their assumptions. I'm as liberal as Huey is Long, but I think most people here -- liberal, conservative, or miscellaneous -- have come by their opinions by using their noggins. There are very few dopes here.

Unless a post contains vastly new and perspective-shifting information, political discussions are going to boil down to "I feel this way because I'm working from these priorities and assumptions" followed by "I feel a different way because I'm working from different priorities and assumptions."

Once in a blue moon there will be something to explore there, but as far as I've seen, that's usually all there is to it. At this point, the people who genuinely don't want a fight pack up their cravats and waistcoats and head home. The people remaining want to have it out. They pull out willful misinterpretations, or creative insults, or digressive meta-discussions about burden of proof, anything to shove a feeding tube down the throat of a conversation that was dead after the first fifteen comments.

This isn't liberal or conservative. I've seen it over everything from war to Warcraft. This is god damned human nature.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 8:11 PM on February 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


If there's anything that brings down Metafilter's collective IQ, it's posts like this.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:36 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


pineapple,

I understand the value in taking the personality and history of the speaker into account when you evaluate their words, but I don't see it as a major issue here. I'm just taking dios' words at face value and I see little, if any, attempt to validate his position under a pose of community criticism. It describes my experience as well. Yes I know he referenced himself in a political thread. This thread has 200+ comments, there's a couple of others who get the same vibe.

One example.

I don't see this thread or the top post as focused on the treatment of conservatives. Rather it's that there's a trend away from good faith, engaged arguments towards attention seeking behavior.

It does have a small political component, but this is a minor issue. In political threads conservative positions are frequently not judged and responded to on their merits. There tends to be a lot of 'conservative position' = 'some insult to the person holding that position' responses. But whatever. A community is going to have a bias. When the conversation gets more focused on the subject and less on the personality, then this area will improve as well.
posted by BigSky at 8:39 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I blame The Metafilter Effect.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:50 PM on February 12, 2008


If there's anything that brings down Metafilter's collective IQ, it's posts like this.

if you're gonna call me out, i'd prefer my own metatalk post. thx.
posted by Stynxno at 8:53 PM on February 12, 2008


Nah, not worth it, frankly.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:54 PM on February 12, 2008


Nah, not worth it, frankly.

so i guess i won then.
posted by Stynxno at 8:59 PM on February 12, 2008


More like Metafilter lost.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:01 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


If animated gifts and an mp3 scare you, the internet might not be the place where you should be hanging out.
posted by Stynxno at 9:03 PM on February 12, 2008


Do we need to move your desks to opposite sides of the clasroom?
posted by brain_drain at 9:04 PM on February 12, 2008


Hear that sound? That's my eyes rolling.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:05 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't know whether to be happy or sad that I missed this one.

Regardless, the community has a bias, indeed. And most of the vitriol is hurled from the members of the audience that shares that bias, just by dint of the sheer numbers. I don't think the overall amount of vitriol has increased, though the more biased posts and comments are getting old, old old. What I can't stand is the hand-wringing-we-MUST-do-something reactions, when what's really needed is moderation in all things. snuggle puppies ... there, I said it again ...

I do like the idea of shutting down accounts and making people re-up. That'd be an interesting experiment.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:05 PM on February 12, 2008


though the more biased posts and comments are getting old, old old....snuggle puppies

OMG IRONY
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:07 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


What I can't stand is the hand-wringing-we-MUST-do-something reactions, when what's really needed is moderation in all things. snuggle puppies ... there, I said it again ...

If you could just skip to the part where you call us hysterical I'd appreciate it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:08 PM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell seems to do a lot of hand-wringing about the hand-wringing he perceives.
posted by brain_drain at 9:19 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


If you could just skip to the part where you call us hysterical I'd appreciate it.

That'll come after I once again get threatened to be kicked in the balls. ;-)

I love you guys, I really do
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:24 PM on February 12, 2008


What I can't stand is the hand-wringing-we-MUST-do-something reactions, when what's really needed is moderation in all things.

I agree. Some of the conservatives here have gone completely hysterical.
posted by trondant at 9:32 PM on February 12, 2008


...what's really needed is moderation in all things.

That's what we have moderators for.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:53 PM on February 12, 2008


For whatever unintentional and strange confluence behind affairs, today I posted a question about the movie 2001 and I had my 2001st comment in Mefi. Weird.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:12 PM on February 12, 2008


If you are all so tired of being piled on, just stop being conservatives. No one's forcing you.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:51 PM on February 12, 2008


dios, this has happened eventually to every internet community I've been involved in, and there have been a number of them since 1986. How it usually goes is a bunch of sparkling, witty people with shared interests get together. There's some barrier to entry - you have to be able to write out the bang-path to propagate your message, or no one's heard of the internet yet, or only people who get NearNet on their computer at work can log on, or signups are closed or invite-only.

The sparkling and witty people go on having sparkling and witty conversations. These are fun to read and they attract dullards, who then proceed to spam the community with their dull contributions in the mistaken belief that they are now contributing and participating in sparkling and witty conversations. (Since sparkling is a matter of perspective, one person may be watching a community decline at the same time that another person is watching the community become more enjoyable or useful.)

The other phenomenon is money. There is nothing that ruins a community faster than the fact that some part of it either offers a moneymaking opportunity for participants or else costs some money to join. Spam, $5 noobs, self-promotion, beggars - money generates these phenomena that are like an infestation that plagues information platforms.

An endless cycle of 'hunt down where the cool kids are these days' is part of one solution to this problem. I got bored with that over a decade ago.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:01 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


This was an intelligent callout, and I respect you for making it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:33 PM on February 12, 2008


Metafilter: attracting the dullards since 1999
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:05 AM on February 13, 2008


I have not read all the comments in this thread, but I agree this is a problem and I think we should have a lower threshhold for banning people or giving them time outs. Trollish posts in the blue or green should merit punishment. Maybe even at the level of, if a comment merits deletion, the user merits at least a time out. Make people really think before they post and maybe we will see less meanness and more, well, thoughtfulness.

More work for the mods, though, so may be too hard, and may result in complaints. But for example in the sexism threads, I would argue that we have lost some of the "sparkling and witty" people from the site, and the people who frustrated them into leaving did not even get a wrist-slap. Maybe that's too divisive an example to use? But I agree that there is alot of weird hate being passed around in lots of threads that I wish we could do more to discourage.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:05 AM on February 13, 2008


Though the life cycles of communities have dynamics like what ikkyu2 suggest, each individual's emotional outlook on the site also has a life cycle. There is a phenomenon that makes every site seem much more wonderful when you are first getting involved in it and finding yourself being accepted and rewarded. Later on, when you're just one of the crowd and tired of seeing the same faces around the breakfast table, the bloom wears off. Again, if anyone thinks MetaFilter was ever better, read the archives. I have been going through the archives month by month over the winter for a project I'm working on, and if anything, the first few years on the site fall far short of the level of conversation (and the interestingness of the links) as what's found here today.

Every community needs to go through generational change. It can be painful for those who have been around a long time and gotten used to the norms of their time, but to ban new entries would be to cause serious stagnation to a site that already has a very powerful culture that is not terribly easy to immediately penetrate.

That's not to say that there shouldn't be more assertive moderation of asshattery. But it should be understood that a more activist moderation policy is a cultural change - the site tolerated asshattery much more in the past than its current user community wants to today.
posted by Miko at 8:14 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


That'll come after I once again get threatened to be kicked in the balls. ;-)

I love you guys, I really do


MetaTalk is not an appropriate place to whisper lovingly to your balls.
posted by CKmtl at 8:23 AM on February 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


For example, I suggest giving a time out to Cool Papa Bell for inserting "snuggle puppies" into a thoughtful discussion folks were trying to have, purely for the purpose of getting a reaction from people. No hand-wringing from me.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:31 AM on February 13, 2008


I suggest giving a timeout to onlyconnect for calling for other users to be punished, purely for the purpose of getting a reaction from people.
posted by grouse at 8:42 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


My time out suggestion was totally sincere and not intended as incendiary. Is the suggestion of giving someone a time-out for using language that has inspired entire metatalk threads and as a result caused other valued members of the community to leave really a crazy or incendiary idea? Seriously, I am not trying to be an asshat -- I'm trying to give a sincere suggestion.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:48 AM on February 13, 2008


Yep, that's a paddlin'
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:57 AM on February 13, 2008


If you can recognize incivility in other people, what is the broken mechanism that keeps you from being able to rein it in in yourselves?

It's called making a mistake. People do it occasionally. That's not the problem, and fixing the problem doesn't start there. It starts with punishing people who do that shit all the time because they don't care.
posted by shmegegge at 8:57 AM on February 13, 2008


Honestly onlyconnect, I think it is totally uncalled for and a bit unfair.
posted by grouse at 8:59 AM on February 13, 2008


I think mathowie already came up with an answer to this type of question.
posted by Sailormom at 9:11 AM on February 13, 2008


Politics and Religion? The discussions that get really out of hand and seem to inspire primo asshattery are the ones involving circumcision. Many people on here seem to get much more het up about circumcision than they do about politics or religion. This strikes me as odd and more than a little silly. Furthermore, this fact causes me to smile wryly and to have one of the little rhythmic nose-sniffy acknowledgments of a potential source of humor that only seem really effective if executed by an over-fifty man-of-the-world, which I'm not.
posted by ob at 9:17 AM on February 13, 2008


What some here call "vitriol" is nothing more than a litany of the abuses of this government or a lament on the failures of this administration combined with the fact that the current failure was voted into office by specific individuals.

It isn't vitriolic to draw connections between the K Street project and the cleansing of the federal bureaucracy that led to FEMA's collapse in the wake of Katrina, or voter suppression and the Attorneys General scandal, or the Plame Affair and the unplanned rush to war in Iraq; neither is it vitriolic to say that conservative voters of all sorts made it so with their votes and opinions. It's just true.

Truth is vitriol in the face of lies. Whether the lies are invented on the spot or just passed on by true believers and suckers, there's nothing wrong with countering lies with the truth.

Why does all this blame hurt enough to be called "vitriol?" Because deep down inside, even a liar knows the truth. That's why it hurts, and why you feel like fighting back.

Nobody likes being a fool, but you fools fucked everything up for everyone. Everyone has to deal with the disaster you caused; you should deal with having caused it.

Of course, there's personal nastiness, which is a different beast altogether. But too often I see folks complaining that they've been called a peddler of lies, that such vitriol is damaging to discourse, when all they were doing was peddling a few lies. Talk about entitlements: you want to be wrong, an asshole, and a snowflake, all at the same time. What do they say around here? Oh, right --

Fuck that noise.
posted by breezeway at 9:18 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


breezeway, so would that be called bile?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:19 AM on February 13, 2008


Nope. Spleen.
posted by breezeway at 9:25 AM on February 13, 2008


Calling someone a "peddler of lies" is not useful.
posted by smackfu at 9:25 AM on February 13, 2008


Naw, I think it's bile. You know, the old ideas about body humours are not devoid of merit. We's just the fluids flowin'.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:40 AM on February 13, 2008


Calling someone a "peddler of lies" is not useful.

It is if they're peddling lies!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:40 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nobody's peddling lies around here...they're all free!
posted by Burhanistan at 9:47 AM on February 13, 2008


Okay, smackfu, here's a rewrite for you:

But too often I see folks complaining that they've been called uncritical believers in and propagators of lies and calumnies, that such vitriol is damaging to discourse, when all they were doing was uncritically believing in and propagating lies and calumnies....
posted by breezeway at 9:49 AM on February 13, 2008


"Many people on here seem to get much more het up about circumcision than they do about politics or religion. This strikes me as odd and more than a little silly."

YOUR PENIS IS WRONG! YOU ARE MUTILATING YOUR CHILDREN!

"Truth is vitriol in the face of lies. Whether the lies are invented on the spot or just passed on by true believers and suckers, there's nothing wrong with countering lies with the truth."

Sure, but what happens more often is that lies are countered with the sort of thin-gruel outrage you just gave, rather than the truth—a handful of widely-accepted "truths" held by one side, very little supporting evidence, and a blanket condemnation of, let's be honest, conservatives as liars. I'm all for speaking truth to liars and/or power, but that ain't the way you do it.
posted by klangklangston at 9:51 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Okay, smackfu, here's a rewrite for you:

Why do you need to call them anything? Why can't you just attack their arguments, their lies?
posted by smackfu at 9:53 AM on February 13, 2008


onlyconnect writes "I agree this is a problem and I think we should have a lower threshhold for banning people or giving them time outs."

More moderation is not the answer. The site is much better for the light hand of the mods.

onlyconnect writes "My time out suggestion was totally sincere and not intended as incendiary. Is the suggestion of giving someone a time-out for using language that has inspired entire metatalk threads and as a result caused other valued members of the community to leave really a crazy or incendiary idea? Seriously, I am not trying to be an asshat -- I'm trying to give a sincere suggestion."

See this is the problem with administrative action for "trollish" behaviour. It is basically impossible to bright line it or even fuzzy grey line it. Without commenting on the sincerity of your comment if you'd been given a time out for it you would have been pissed. Probably with good cause. Cripes look at how many people used to rail every time quonsar had a brush with authority.
posted by Mitheral at 9:56 AM on February 13, 2008


Why do you need to call them anything? Why can't you just attack their arguments, their lies?

the problem isn't with people screaming "LIAR!" in threads. the problem is that when someone says "that's just patently false" or "that's a lie" or anything along those lines, then the liars start in with "You're calling me a liar?! Way to succumb to the lefty groupthink! blahblahblah..."
posted by shmegegge at 10:05 AM on February 13, 2008


See this is the problem with administrative action for "trollish" behaviour. It is basically impossible to bright line it or even fuzzy grey line it.

Who's talking about trolls? It's not that hard to bright line "offending a lot of people" or "constantly calling people names and being a dick." furthermore, a timeout isn't the end of the world. in a week, or even less, you come back and there are no lasting side effects outside of whatever reputation you may have earned for yourself by earning the timeout in the first place.
posted by shmegegge at 10:07 AM on February 13, 2008


Cripes look at how many people used to rail every time quonsar had a brush with authority.

This is actually a side-effect of not doing bans / time-outs very often. When there is one time-out a month, it is scrutinized and compared to all previous time-outs.

But then I am a big fan of Something Awful's probation/ban/permaban system. Bad behavior gets you a short probation, with the offending post linking to why. Repeated bad behavior gets you banned. You can get your same account back, but you have to pay again. Repeated bans or breaking the big rules gets you permabanned by IP.
posted by smackfu at 10:09 AM on February 13, 2008


See this is the problem with administrative action for "trollish" behaviour. It is basically impossible to bright line it or even fuzzy grey line it.

I see more of a problem with having the mod-power (i.e., time and effort) to actually enforce more time-outs than with the line-drawing, but maybe because I'm not a mod and don't have to deal with these issues I'm not that attuned. But, you know, there is a line for time-outs and banning now, so the mods are already making these types of decisions. My suggestion would just mean moving that line closer to civility. Hopefully once people saw that line moving, there would be more actual civility. Maybe not.

I don't know, though, maybe you're right and Metafilter is benefitted by a lighter mod touch that's more in line with what we've always had here. I know I always used to get annoyed with people who were constantly trying to mould MetaFilter into the MetaFilter they wanted, instead of leaving it be and taking the parts of it that they could use and leaving the rest. Maybe I'm trying to be too much of a shaper, and should be more of a take-it-or-leave it user. It's a frustrating conclusion to come to, but maybe that's what the majority wants.
posted by onlyconnect at 10:18 AM on February 13, 2008


Repeated bans or breaking the big rules gets you permabanned by IP.

From somethingawful.com site rules:"You may re-register your account unless you have been perma-banned, which is rarely done and only for serious cases (such as child pornography)."

Effectively, that seems to be saying that a quick $10 fine will fix most offenses.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2008


Because deep down inside, even a liar knows the truth. That's why it hurts.

This is true of those of you lacking foreskins as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:38 AM on February 13, 2008


Why do you need to call them anything? Why can't you just attack their arguments, their lies?

I have at least two reasons.

This isn't the thread for attacking each point that I mentioned. What you, and it seems klangklangston, are hung up on is my use of the "lie peddler" trope; I'll admit that it was a poor choice of words, but the real damage they caused was that they interfered with your digestion of the main thought in that sentence, that people who do --- are complaining that they're accused of doing ---.

So yeah, I fucked up, blew a good point by dropping a red flag in, and demonstrated exactly what this post is complaining about. But I'm doing so because the complaint rings false, I've heard it before, these sensitive souls who break things and then burst into tears when you point it out to them.

The other reason I have for writing what I did is that I write what's in my own heart, not in yours, and I wasn't really considering whether you'd care.

With a tip of the pen to klangklangston, "That ain't the way you do it, but it is the way I do it."
posted by breezeway at 10:41 AM on February 13, 2008


Nobody's peddling lies around here...they're all free!

Nah, we'll be paying for decades.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:45 AM on February 13, 2008


You know, I'm being a dick. It's impossible for anyone else to know that I've been sitting around brooding all day, or that I'm just keyed up and taking things personally. I believe the kernels of the thoughts I've done such a bad job elucidating here. I've been a dick to smackfu and klangklangston, though, and, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I've lowered the level of discourse in this thread.

I think this callout is good, in that it addresses the kind of over-the-top badmaking I just demonstrated; this callout also stinks, because it takes advantage of the concern good people feel about correcting missteps and avoiding acrimony in order to stifle political anger, which is useful and can be a font of clear constructive thinking as well as muddy rage.

I've done a good job demonstrating the latter, and in defending my muddy rage, I've gone on the offensive against reason itself. I'm sorry, smackfu and klangklangston, for treating you like devils and kooks. It was unwarranted and wrong.

That's not to say I don't still hold vengeful scorched-earth political opinions, or that I don't still think this sort of gripe is lame. Just that I treated you both in an unwarranted, condescending manner.

I'm sorry.
posted by breezeway at 11:15 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Back to dios' original query about what can be done to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. I think the answer is to improve your own noise filter. With a group this large, there are bound to be a number of vocal noise-generators and I don't think more work on the moderators' part is feasible in reducing that.

We all can, though, stop responding to them. Responding does nothing to dissuade them, and in fact, may encourage them. It's hard, because it is natural when confronted with an inane/offensive/incorrect comment to respond, as if silence is tacit approval. But it's not. Silence may mean that you refuse to be brought down to that level.

I think that intelligent conversation can still happen even with all the noise injected in between. Skip over the offending comments and feel confident that those who are able to hold a civil, thoughtful, informed conversation will do the same.
posted by nightwood at 11:23 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Um, unless that was all ironic (in which case, hook meet my mouth), I didn't feel like you were being a dick to me. Maybe I have a higher threshold (which may be why people sometimes feel like I'm being a dick when I don't think I am).
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 AM on February 13, 2008


So many dick jokes I'm managing to not make right now, klang. So very many.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:26 AM on February 13, 2008


Good thing you aren't a mind-reader, then, klangklangston. I stood up from my desk and realized I've been hunched over and cranky all morning, and I've been here going to great lengths to make my lack of cogency and clarity your fault. It's a damaging way of thinking, and it may be at the heart of some of the problems this post pretends to address.

So maybe I apologized more for what was in my mind than for what's on the page. If I'd done a better job of getting what was in my mind on the page in the first place, I might not have come to this.

Plus, like cortex, I just want to be loved. And make dick jokes.
posted by breezeway at 11:33 AM on February 13, 2008


shmegegge writes "Who's talking about trolls? "

onlyconnect said trollish behaviour should warrant punishment and the banhammer is about the only punishment we have after deletion.

smackfu writes "Repeated bans or breaking the big rules gets you permabanned by IP."

Banning IPs is idiotic because of the collateral damage to those sharing IPs, either behind a NAT or through dynamic allocation.
posted by Mitheral at 1:58 PM on February 13, 2008


Would it be useful for users to see the flags on their posts/comments? It might be interesting to me to see that, say, a zillion people flagged something of mine as "breaks the guidelines" or "is fantastic" or "is sucktastic" or whatever. Currently, we have no idea, besides the favorites count or besides a subjective read on the reaction to it in the subsequent posts.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:09 PM on February 13, 2008


Effectively, that seems to be saying that a quick $10 fine will fix most offenses.

Yep. It also gets you a shorter leash going forward. Less chance of probation. And $10 is enough to make people think twice about doing it again, especially since they have add-ons so you may really have $25-$30 invested in your account.

Banning IPs is idiotic because of the collateral damage to those sharing IPs

OK. That was the least important part of what I wrote. All that matters is that there is a "real" ban, that you can't just buy your way out of. It doesn't need to be IP based, it just needs to permanently retire your account name. You only need IP bans when you have persistent pests who keep creating sock puppets despite being banned... they do have collateral damage, but what other solution is there?
posted by smackfu at 2:20 PM on February 13, 2008


Not IP ban, ban the paypal account used to pay for the account. It's a pain for most people to set up a second Paypal account.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:22 PM on February 13, 2008


It might be interesting to me to see that, say, a zillion people flagged something of mine as "breaks the guidelines" or "is fantastic" or "is sucktastic" or whatever.

Interesting, maybe, but would it inspire a change in behavior? I doubt it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:26 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Currently, we have no idea, besides the favorites count or besides a subjective read on the reaction to it in the subsequent posts.

I'd have a hell of a lot more faith in the "visible flags = change" theory if I saw more people actually trying to curb jerky behavior based on, say, the reaction to their comments in subsequent posts. If half a dozen people saying "hey, you're being a real jerk" doesn't do it, I don't really think "x flags" is going to be the clincher; people either are or are not putting forth a genuine effort to change their behavior based on how it's been received by their fellow users.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:36 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


If half a dozen people saying "hey, you're being a real jerk" doesn't do it, I don't really think "x flags" is going to be the clincher

Ding ding din.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:37 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


onlyconnect said trollish behaviour should warrant punishment and the banhammer is about the only punishment we have after deletion.

no, we also have timeouts. but what smackfu said is the following:

Is the suggestion of giving someone a time-out for using language that has inspired entire metatalk threads and as a result caused other valued members of the community to leave really a crazy or incendiary idea?

this is not behavior that requires knowing the person's intent in order to punish them for it. sure, when it comes to trolling political threads it can be hard to know if someone merits a timeout or something, fine. But when it comes to being decent to your fellow mefites, some things ain't that hard to pick out. In the example onlyconnect was talking about, you don't have to know what Cool Papa Bell's intentions were in order to give him a timeout for being a dickbag. (And yes, I would happily accept a timeout for calling him a dickbag if it meant that behavior like his was likewise punished on a regular basis.) We've already had several massively hurtful and contentious threads about this that have cost us some all around good people simply because some folks don't want to be respectful for even a second, and you know what? Nothing's been done about it. Nothing. We have a new name for an old flag and nobody has ever been given any disincentive for acting like Cool Papa Bell. Not ever.

So yeah, I'd say we could easily step up the moderation a bit without worrying about that terrifying gray area problem.
posted by shmegegge at 2:57 PM on February 13, 2008


people either are or are not putting forth a genuine effort to change their behavior based on how it's been received by their fellow users

Just a brief observation: on the flipside, people who put forth a good-faith effort to change their behavior still occasionally get targeted for abuse, and that does encourage recidivism.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:20 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


We have a new name for an old flag and nobody has ever been given any disincentive for acting like Cool Papa Bell. Not ever.

That's actually not true, we're just not all heads-on-pikes about it. Part of trying to make things work out better for everyone here is to be able to take care of (mod) business without pointing the finger at transgressors and saying "YOU!" so pile-ons can commence. I've sent and received a lot of email and MeMail about this and I really feel except for weird occasional acting out (Cool Papa Bell, you shouldn't need a flag count to know your comment was Not Helping here), we've seen a decrease in both throwaway sexist nonsense and an increase in people's desire to call it out.

I really feel like the sweater puppy MeTa thread was so flawed from the get-go it's not a particularly good example of how to do things or how to talk about things, but many of the threads preceding it were. Sometimes progress on this sort of stuff is knowing when to say "this particular discussion we are having is not making anything any better no matter how many earnest people are having it" and going for a do over at some later point.

Really one of the biggest lessons I've learned personally is that the J'accuse! tack, while emotionally satisfying on some base level is pretty much the least likely to do any good of any of the approaches we've seen, as far as getting someone to stop being a tool. It puts the person in the spotlight, it names names, it makes most normal people defensive and possibly hurt. People who don't react negatively to that sort of thing probably aren't going to be very tractable in many other ways either. I think what we'd like to do is say "hey, there's a bunch of decent people here, let's try to work some shit out without diverging much from that essential assertion"

So, this was a wordy aside to say that while timeouts and comment deletions are definitely the most visible form of mod activity [besides this blathering] we do a lot more than that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:20 PM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


aren't timeouts and comment deletions only visible if you tell us you've done them? you guys know best, obviously, but it seems to me like giving someone a timeout for stuff you've noticed them doing without making a thread or comment about the timeout wouldn't have that whole shaming aspect I think you're getting at.

also, you're right and I'm sorry for saying you guys haven't done anything. it just feels like that when you see the sweater puppies line broken out a dozen times since that thread just because people think they're being funny or cute.
posted by shmegegge at 3:25 PM on February 13, 2008


people who put forth a good-faith effort to change their behavior still occasionally get targeted for abuse

It's hard to win back people's trust, especially online, where even the most innocent comments you make are taken the wrong way, and scrutinized and presumed to be an insult. It's human nature. I speak from experience, you have to work doubly hard to get out of a hole you've dug yourself into, and even still, you won't win over everyone.
posted by Dave Faris at 3:29 PM on February 13, 2008


Part of trying to make things work out better for everyone here is to be able to take care of (mod) business without pointing the finger at transgressors and saying "YOU!" so pile-ons can commence.

Exactly. There's a reason the three of us don't start Metatalk threads every time we time someone out or talk to someone via email: the goal here is not to Make An Example of anyone, it's to try and address the problems directly when we can to help this place's overall health. It can be dicey enough when users call each other out—sometimes it's really over the top—but that at least usually reads as an equal footing thing, and I don't think that us making a stink every time we take some admin action would be taken as at all consistent with how this place is run.

The desire to publicly excoriate someone is kind of at odds with the desire to not convey some image of petty dictatorial autonomy or encourage nastiness as a general culture here, in other words. Our goal is not to shame user x, it's to curb bad stuff y or promote good behavior z.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:37 PM on February 13, 2008


[shameful comment removed]

Some people are just crying out for a good shaming.
posted by languagehat at 3:39 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, and I just deleted that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:40 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some people are just crying out for a good shaming.

No they fucking well AREN'T.

Now you just pulled that shitty comment into this thread so that cortex's removing it doesn't do what it's supposed to. Now you've just done the thing I said was a good idea not to do. Moving crappy sexist comments into MeTa threads to ridicule them is not 100% different from making the comment yourself. I wish it were but it isn't. The point is to rid the site of sexist loutish comments and people who feel the need to make them. You've just added one more sexist loutish comment to the mix, even though I know your heart is true and you didn't write the words yourself.

Please don't do that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:47 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


it's to try and address the problems directly when we can to help this place's overall health.

The problem with doing it directly is that no one thinks you're doing anything.
posted by smackfu at 3:50 PM on February 13, 2008


Show me just one political conservative waving the "MeFites are so intolerant, the discourse has become so tragic here" flag that doesn't also have a history of bad behavior, and I'll listen to that person. - pineapple

Usually, though not always, we hear some variant of "people should stop doing [bad behavior], though I'm guilty of it myself sometimes..." and I guess to me it starts there. If you can recognize incivility in other people, what is the broken mechanism that keeps you from being able to rein it in in yourselves? - jessamyn

Regardless, the community has a bias, indeed. And most of the vitriol is hurled from the members of the audience that shares that bias, just by dint of the sheer numbers. - Cool Papa Bell

There are some jerky folks here. The political (un)balance of visitors here and the charged nature of political debate indicate that there are going to be some jerky liberals. We've discussed that before, and it didn't help much. I think the lesson that we learned there was that, if people are being jerks to you on the blue, and you come here to complain about it, guess what? People will just be jerks to you here. And the rules are softer, so they'll really lay into you, and the mods will look the other way while you get the shiv.

So, dios tried to address the issue again, and attempted to do so in a more general way - "hey, let's just try to raise the overall level of discourse, then." No dice. Dios is a known conservative, so rinse, repeat.

I appreciate jessamyn's sunny suggestion that it all starts with you, etc., but I don't think that works. My best guess is that I haven't really been a dick to anyone here since 2006 (I'm still sorry, zoogleplex), and I get frustrated by people's behavior on the regular.

It appears from this thread and the Godwin one that calling people fuckos and nazis is within the realm of acceptable behavior here - at least if your target is a conservative, and probably in general, unless you directly piss off a mod (i.e., sexism doesn't fly with jessamyn). It may be classless, but it's not against the rules. So, why are we in the gray on this again? Ain't nothing going to change but the time.

Well, call it the audacity of our hope. I have an absolute blast on this site, and I'd like to continue. If I have a suggestion for improving the site, my understanding is that it should be posted here in the gray. Right?
posted by rush at 3:51 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, and I just deleted that.

And, one hopes, just gave the twit who posted it a timeout.
posted by dersins at 3:55 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Alas, we shall never know.
posted by smackfu at 3:56 PM on February 13, 2008


The problem with doing it directly is that no one thinks you're doing anything.

If it's a choice between (a) helping this place be good and being occasionally frustrated by misapprehensions about what our job is like, or (b) endorsing and participating in opportunistic pile-ons as the preferred community dynamic around here, I'm not going to consider that as much of a problem at all. I'd love it if people would err more on the side of asking us what's up than telling us what we don't do and what are motivations are, but a certain amount of flack kind of comes with the territory.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:58 PM on February 13, 2008


Alas, we shall never know.

Well, we could go to his user page and see if it says "This account is disabled" on it. But since I don't know how to search for a user's page, I won't be doing that. Also, because I don't actually care all that much.
posted by dersins at 4:00 PM on February 13, 2008


Some people are just crying out for a good shaming.

No they fucking well AREN'T.


So shame on you!
posted by wafaa at 4:01 PM on February 13, 2008


Well, we could go to his user page and see if it says "This account is disabled" on it.

Doesn't look like it. Do user profiles show "time-outs"?
posted by smackfu at 4:04 PM on February 13, 2008


smackfu writes "That was the least important part of what I wrote."

Sorry, Pet peeve.

As for options a more nuanced approach like here where IP information is a guideline for Matt rather than something that just drops traffic into the bit bucket. I realize that doesn't fit into the revenue stream paradigm at SA though.
posted by Mitheral at 4:08 PM on February 13, 2008


Some people are just crying out for a good shaming.

No they fucking well AREN'T.


Hey, I agree with you about that (despite my earlier nonsense. sorry again.) but just for the record I would very much like to state that I sincerely hope that Dr. Mabuse gets a timeout. That shit was fucking foul.
posted by shmegegge at 4:08 PM on February 13, 2008


Now you've just done the thing I said was a good idea not to do.

The problem is, Metatalk loves a good lynching. And no amount of school marming will take that bloodlust out of those who refresh the grey so obsessively.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:08 PM on February 13, 2008


You know what I love? A good lunching.
posted by klangklangston at 4:39 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon: "Just a brief observation: on the flipside, people who put forth a good-faith effort to change their behavior still occasionally get targeted for abuse, and that does encourage recidivism."

Feature, not a bug. It should be harder to make amends. Knowing that if you're a shithead, people will have long memories on that, should be a fine deterrent. Someone who has behaved badly and made a name that way, then decides one day that he really wants to come clean, can always re-up $5 and start fresh. But a user who gets a reputation as a sexist or a troll or whatever, and decides he or she wants to both keep the original username/number and recalibrate his behavior -- sure, that's going to be a challenge. I don't think that we should worry about recidivism though. Someone who wants to be a better contributor has to want it for honest reasons, not just because we've got a gun to their heads.

Regarding the favorites and feedback: on the Vbulletin forum software, there is a feature called user reputation. On any given comment, a user can elect to vote bascially thumbs-up or thumbs-down -- which sends a positive (green), neutral (grey) or negative (red) dot to aggregate as an average in the commenter's public "reputation", and a short private note directly to the commenter. Admins can view both the votes and the notes. There is a curve on the voting; mostly it's the really great or really egregious comments that get dinged (so said an admin from the site). The bulk of the traffic is ignored.

On the board where I first saw the system in action, it was a popularity contest intentionally, and so people did absolutely shill for a nice high green score. But the aspect that I found most helpful was not the reputation scoring, but the private-message-tied-to-a-comment. It made it quick and easy to say things like, "That was funny," or "that was dickish" or "I think you're being too sensitive on this" or "95% snark, 5% 'helpful answer' does not make for good AskMe."

I'm not advocating a move to Vbulletin. But I am saying that we do currently have public feedback (via in-thread comments, MeTa, pile-ons), we do currently have our own version of the green dots (Protest all you like that Favorites are meant to be just bookmarks -- they're used equally as applause here if not more, and they mean something or else they wouldn't appear publicly, they wouldn't aggregate, they wouldn't appear in Contact Activity, and they wouldn't indicate alpha users).

But what I keep hearing is that the area that's lacking at MeFi is an option for negative reinforcement -- in a helpful way that doesn't publicly excoriate, or contribute noise to the thread. Jessamyn said, "the J'accuse! tack, while emotionally satisfying on some base level is pretty much the least likely to do any good of any of the approaches we've seen, as far as getting someone to stop being a tool. It puts the person in the spotlight, it names names, it makes most normal people defensive and possibly hurt."

Like it or not, favorites function as public "green dots". Maybe we need a way to give the red and grey dots too -- but instead of it being something shaming and totally public, or admin-eyes-only and therefore of no behavior modification benefit, it could be user-to-user. How it would work on the backend, or if it could, I don't know -- that's a pb/mathowie thing. But I know that I'd like a convenient way to be able to share my opinion on the quality of another user's contribution. If we're going to truly self-police, but without shaming or pile-ons, let's have a tool for it -- rather than leaving all of that work to the mods and then lamenting when they can't make 1,000 people act right.

(One could argue that MefiMail could be used this way -- but that's a workaround, not a change in site policy or function. If one could send a MeMail to the commenter, right from the comment line, and a quote would automatically be inserted, that would work similarly.)

rush, you said: "dios is a known conservative, so rinse, repeat." For me, it's hard to take him seriously not because he is a conservative but because in my limited exposure to him, he acts in a way that is inconsistent with the behavior he seems to be requesting in this MeTa. Stephen Den Beste is to whom I was referring specifically with my comment, since he was the one blaming liberal bias for any negative reactions he elicits here.

Regardless of that finely split hair, my comment wasn't accurate anyway, as we have seen since I made it -- since more than one conservative has waved and said, "Hi, conservative here, agreeing with dios about the lowered discourse." So, consider that piece retracted.
posted by pineapple at 4:53 PM on February 13, 2008


You're just saying that because you're a white people, klang.
posted by dersins at 4:53 PM on February 13, 2008


Slightly related pony: what about the ability to delete our own comments? Perhaps, when we sober up, we can decide that we shouldn't have called someone a poopy-pants.
posted by rush at 4:54 PM on February 13, 2008


rush, you currently have the ability to ask an admin to delete it for you; morning-after regrets happen and are understandable, we get it now and then. But it's not the sort of thing that should require per-user free-reign on removing their own comments.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:03 PM on February 13, 2008


breezeway, so would that be called bile?

Nope. Spleen.


What is this, an abbatoir?
posted by jonmc at 5:17 PM on February 13, 2008


"Feature, not a bug. It should be harder to make amends. Knowing that if you're a shithead, people will have long memories on that, should be a fine deterrent. Someone who has behaved badly and made a name that way, then decides one day that he really wants to come clean, can always re-up $5 and start fresh."

I'll say two things to that—First off, I think that in some pretty obvious cases, that system is obviously broken. Both Dios and Alex had some pretty shitheel moments, but continuing to punish them hasn't seemed to deter other shitheels, and I can definitely understand it making them less careful about being abrasive in the future. Second, Alex did get a new name. A couple times, if I recall correctly. And people have gone out of their way (well, like five people, to be honest) to tie that name back to the older ones that had the behavior problems. And yeah, again, they did act out. But Alex, at the least, has pretty well made amends and yet still gets hammered unfairly. Dios, too, gets judged more on how he used to act than how he does now. So, no, bug, not feature.
posted by klangklangston at 5:20 PM on February 13, 2008


Now you've just done the thing I said was a good idea not to do.

Yeah, sorry about that. Go ahead and delete my comment. It's just... that guy seems to make it his life's mission to drop turds into every thread he visits, and that one was so foul I lost my temper. Bile, spleen, you name it, I got it.
posted by languagehat at 5:23 PM on February 13, 2008


cortex - Ah, makes sense.

pineapple - duly noted, and it wasn't my intent to crybaby. My intent is to say that I have yet to identify a proper means of securing redress for being insulted on a web site, and it seems odd to suggest that there is one. On the other hand, occasional reminders to "raise the level" seem pretty healthy to me, and it's always worthwhile to consider options for cutting down on the number of our MetaFriends who are acting out of sort. That said, we've certainly disagreed before, but I don't think I've ever thought, "God, I wish pineapple would raise the level."

Roof, perhaps.
posted by rush at 5:24 PM on February 13, 2008


Yeah, sorry about that. Go ahead and delete my comment.

You're so great! At the to-be-announced Western MA meetup (are you free on April 5th?) I will buy you a libation of your choice.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:35 PM on February 13, 2008


Bile, spleen, you name it, I got it.

What, no mucus?
posted by jonmc at 5:40 PM on February 13, 2008


klangklangston: ""I'll say two things to that—First off, I think that in some pretty obvious cases, that system is obviously broken. ... [explanation]... So, no, bug, not feature."

Point very well taken. One of the things that has been hard for me in these kinds of discussions is that, despite a (relatively) low user number, I've only really become active in the site in the last year or so. I've never known Alex as anything but BP. I've never known dios as anything but kneejerk neocon, and even that it is an impression informed by an exchange on a mere one political thread.

In other words, I don't know these histories, and so I don't really know how hard any one person is working to overcome past transgressions and reputation for the same. So, I'll stop opining as if I know what I'm talking about with respect to how easy it is to forget The Past.

rush: "That said, we've certainly disagreed before, but I don't think I've ever thought, 'God, I wish pineapple would raise the level.' Roof, perhaps."

I raise the roof regularly. I'll send pictures.
posted by pineapple at 5:46 PM on February 13, 2008


Protest all you like that Favorites are meant to be just bookmarks

I have to agree. They are called 'favorites.'
posted by jonmc at 6:00 PM on February 13, 2008


You're so great! At the to-be-announced Western MA meetup (are you free on April 5th?) I will buy you a libation of your choice.

I am not great, I am bilious and splenetic. That said, I will definitely let you buy me a libation, being broke as well. April 5th sounds good!
posted by languagehat at 6:04 PM on February 13, 2008


Watch MeTa for news of said meetup, to be posted in about three weeks.
posted by Songdog at 9:39 AM on February 14, 2008


:: takes a long, deep breath ::

Don't criticise when you contribute so regularly to the problem, you sanctimonious hypocrite.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:06 PM on February 14, 2008


And the irony award could also go to y2karl for posting this thread a petty and flat-out-wrong sockpuppet allegation. Or was that intentional irony? I can't even tell anymore.

You can't tell anymore. For the record, it was pretty much an intentional irony. I mean, it would have been the equivalent of buying a winning lotto ticket if it were true.

Apart from dhoyt, whose sock puppetry was so obviously self-referential as to be ridiculous, I can't tell who is a sock puppet. And even with dhoyt, I got a hint. All that was needed then was to look at the details, where, in a fish in the barrel equivalent of flaming bold and underlined capitals, all was spelled out.
posted by y2karl at 3:15 PM on February 14, 2008


Bora, I don't get what's wrong with dios' comment. Except for the ungenerous "complete waste of my time" characterization (which followed from the previous poster's similarly ungenerous "nutjob" language), the comment seems perfectly civil. I don't see any name calling that might merit the sanctimonious hypocrite label. Did I miss something?
posted by onlyconnect at 3:58 PM on February 14, 2008


Yes, you missed that dios is EEVIL and anything he says is ipso facto EEVIL and can be trotted out and thrown in his face to dismiss anything else he might say. If you doubt that... frankly, you're helping the terrorists.
posted by languagehat at 4:58 PM on February 14, 2008


Yes, you missed that dios is EEVIL and anything he says is ipso facto EEVIL and can be trotted out and thrown in his face to dismiss anything else he might say. If you doubt that... frankly, you're helping the terrorists.

Can we sidebar this comment?
posted by nightwood at 8:40 PM on February 14, 2008


People who use the phrase "ipso facto" only do it to make ME feel STUPID for NOT KNOWING their LATINATE and UNFATHOMABLE purposes. I am DISAPPOINTED in you, languagehat, for making me feel STUPID.
posted by cgc373 at 11:22 PM on February 14, 2008


I think maybe Bora just misread dios'** comment and thought dios was both calling someone a nutjob and saying s/he was wasting his time. (And maybe even took "dildo case" personally if s/he didn't know that's what the court case was actually about.)

** I apologize in advance if I've gotten the possessive form wrong here; having to make a personal name ending on an "s" possessive always makes me feel stupid.
posted by onlyconnect at 4:50 AM on February 15, 2008


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