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confused about how to successfully ask anonymously
March 27, 2012 12:40 PM   Subscribe

If asked anonymously and waited for more than 4 days, and your question does not show up, does that mean your question was rejected? or it means you need to wait even longer. There got to be some response to it so you can decide on what to do next (rephrase your question, ask again using userid, or rephrase question, ask anonymously again hoping to get it pass through the second time). Please explain the policy to me.
posted by akomom to Etiquette/Policy at 12:40 PM (62 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Under any normal circumstances, an anonymous submission will get approved inside of a couple days if it's going to be approved at all. Usually it's a bit faster, but sometimes the queue gets filled up or mod attention is thin on the ground for random real-life reasons, and we don't like to post a whole ton at any given time or when we can't keep an eye on them, since they're a bit more work than non-anonymous questions for various reasons.

The way the system works, we don't actually know who submitted a question once it's submitted, so there's no trivial system for contacting folks about questions that haven't been approved. It's totally fine to drop us a line at the contact form if it's been a couple days and you haven't seen your question go up; we can let you know if it's just a very busy queue right now or if there was something about the question that was a no-go.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:44 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


We try to approve anon posts in 48 hours unless it's over some sort of vacation weekend or something unusual. And yeah the system relies on you asking us if something wasn't approved and giving us some information about your question. We literally don't know who asked what [though we can look that sort of thing up in am emergency] but the trade-off for that is that we can't auto-notify people about this sort of thing.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:48 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cortex, where to find the contact form? Couldn't find it after quick searches. Thanks
posted by akomom at 12:51 PM on March 27, 2012


Bottom right of every screen -- "Contact" link.
posted by brainmouse at 12:51 PM on March 27, 2012


The way the system works, we don't actually know who submitted a question once it's submitted.

Is there a reason that this is not mentioned on the Anonymous posting page?

I am sure there are private people who have refrained from posting anonymous questions because they don't want even the mods to associate the question with their account.
posted by gauche at 12:53 PM on March 27, 2012


Yeah, it even suggests the opposite:

Your question will be anonymous to MetaFilter readers but mods can determine who has asked a question.

posted by modernserf at 12:57 PM on March 27, 2012


Cortex: The way the system works, we don't actually know who submitted a question once it's submitted

Jessamyn: We literally don't know who asked what [though we can look that sort of thing up in am emergency

Um...
posted by andoatnp at 12:57 PM on March 27, 2012


There's no contradiction between what Cortex says and what Jessamyn says. All they're saying is that the information that could identify an anonyous asker is not presented to them when approving or not approving the anonymous questions.
posted by dfriedman at 12:59 PM on March 27, 2012


As it exists, the anonymous system is for what-the-server-knows purposes anonymous, but it is not robustly anonymous; like Jess says, if we need for some extraordinary reason to figure out who submitted a given question, that's information we can retrieve indirectly through checking email records. And folks who want to follow up on an anony need to contact us directly, which can be anonymous via a throwaway account but is usually just contacting us with their normal email or something.

And we keep any of this knowledge anonymous as far as non-mods are concerned, but it's not totally anonymous to us and we can't make any practical guarantees about what happens when rich lawyers or the full weight of the US Government has a differing opinion.

So, it's complicated. To some extent we think people need to go into the system with an understanding that the anonymity is not complete and total; explaining the fine details of the limits of that is kind of a long-winded thing to do, so erring on the side of just providing the system for not-under-my-username posting but not promising the moon is the simpler approach so folks don't have to read a novel. We don't run a paranoiac-friendly service when you get down to the brass tacks.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:01 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


To put it another way, someone compromising the metafilter database would not be able to trivially determine who asked what anonymous question. Someone compromising both the database and the mods' email accounts would be able to figure that stuff out if they were so inclined. As always, that's a scenario in which the site has bigger problems than the anonymity of a question should that ever happen.

Barring that sort of thing, we can't automatically or easily determine the identity of an anony asker. We have to go looking on multiple independent systems.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:03 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I ask about 83% of the anonymous questions if anyone is keeping track at home.
posted by Justinian at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


Justinian, we need to talk about your relationship choices. And get you a new job.
posted by gauche at 1:06 PM on March 27, 2012 [45 favorites]


To some extent we think people need to go into the system with an understanding that the anonymity is not complete and total; explaining the fine details of the limits of that is kind of a long-winded thing to do

That makes sense. Thanks.
posted by gauche at 1:11 PM on March 27, 2012


Don't judge me.
posted by Justinian at 1:11 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I ask the other 34%. Yes, I checked the math.
posted by mochapickle at 1:13 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah the question and the asker are not linked. We can determine who asked what through a mechanism we've explained in the past... The system sends mathowie and I [I think? maybe cortex too?] an email that says "Jessamyn asked a question, go to the queue to approve it" but it just links to the queue and not the question. We can match timestamps if we needed to figure out who asked something for emergency or "Hey there are some small problems with the question" but we wouldn't do this just to send a "Hey we didn't approve this question" email. We approve about three out of every four questions, sometimes less if there's a crazy glut of questions, sometimes more if the opposite is true.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:17 PM on March 27, 2012


There needs to be some sort of auto reply when a question is rejected.

"Sorry, your anonymous question will not be posted at this time. However, you should consider DTMF already and getting that looked at by a doctor. Thank you, Metafilter."
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:38 PM on March 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


(rephrase your question, ask again using userid, or rephrase question, ask anonymously again hoping to get it pass through the second time).

The other, perfectly valid option that isn't listed here is to have a sockpuppet account for asking questions you don't want attached to your regular online persona. You'll have to resist the temptation to use it in conjunction with other accounts to ask more than one question a week though, 'cause that's a bannin'.
posted by carsonb at 1:55 PM on March 27, 2012


Actually it's usually a stern talking to the first time and a banning the second time because we are softies.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:56 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, for Christ's sake, Justinian, DON'T EAT THAT!
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:05 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


DTMFA (Dump The Moldy Food, Already!)
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:05 PM on March 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Don't answer if it gives away a trade secret, but the replies above leave me wondering how you get those follow-ups from the anon posters, confident that it comes from the same sender as the original query?
posted by Abiezer at 2:06 PM on March 27, 2012


We can check the email folder to see if that person had asked a question recently and we figure who is going to try to game that system. There have been a few really odd cases where we've dig more specifically, but they're pretty rare.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:11 PM on March 27, 2012


that's a scenario in which the site has bigger problems than the anonymity of a question

The site would have bigger problems, but the person who asked the question might not.
posted by DU at 2:14 PM on March 27, 2012


Thanks jessamyn.
posted by Abiezer at 2:16 PM on March 27, 2012


The site would have bigger problems, but the person who asked the question might not.

Which is why it is not advertised as a hardcore paranoid's service. The nice thing is that most people don't seem to wildly misestimate the appropriateness of questions for askme's good-enough type of anonymity; the things where that's not the case are also often things that just won't get approved for anony askme in any case.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:21 PM on March 27, 2012


cortex: We don't run a paranoiac-friendly service when you get down to the brass tacks.

Hey!

On second reading, never mind.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:39 PM on March 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


NotMyselfRightNow: "There needs to be some sort of auto reply when a question is rejected.

"Sorry, your anonymous question will not be posted at this time. However, you should consider DTMF already and getting that looked at by a doctor. Thank you, Metafilter."
"

Don't forget to check with a lawyer about suing the motherfucker who gave you "that".
posted by deborah at 3:16 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


As it exists, the anonymous system is for what-the-server-knows purposes anonymous, but it is not robustly anonymous; like Jess says, if we need for some extraordinary reason to figure out who submitted a given question, that's information we can retrieve indirectly through checking email records.

I actually think this should be included in the anonymous post form.
posted by lalex at 3:34 PM on March 27, 2012


Currently it says "Your question will be anonymous to MetaFilter readers but mods can determine who has asked a question." Which is concise and functionally accurate for folks who might have greater demands of anonymity than that suggests.

And not to be cruel-hearted about this or whatever, but at this point we already have more anonymous submissions than we'd really prefer most of the time, so trying to specifically woo edgy folks into submitting when they otherwise wouldn't by splitting that hair more finely (and more wordily) on the posting form is not really on the todo list.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:40 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I actually think this should be included in the anonymous post form.

We feel that we've been really clear when people have asked, and on the posting form. There have been a few people who go to somewhat absurd lengths [at least as far as asking us, or asking anonymously with a sock puppet] to be anonymous and our feeling is that if you require absolute anonymity for something, there is a huge chance your question is the type that we wouldn't approve anyhow. And yeah for some people that sucks because they don't want us to know stuff and we sympathize, but we're very good with the short memory thing also.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:10 PM on March 27, 2012


We feel that we've been really clear when people have asked, and on the posting form.

Currently it says "Your question will be anonymous to MetaFilter readers but mods can determine who has asked a question."


Believe it or not, I actually went and looked at the anon posting form and somehow completely missed this line. Apologies, and I agree that warning is more than adequate.
posted by lalex at 6:33 PM on March 27, 2012


No sweat. And that kind of emphasizes why we're shy about adding more text to posting forms; even as it is we're in a place where with an effort at maximizing key big-deal information while minimizing total text to make someone read, it's still easy for someone to miss a detail here or there.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:30 PM on March 27, 2012


I'm totally cool with the long-standing practice of "it's anonymous, but the mods can figure it out if they really need to," but I'm curious what the retention period is for that mapping information. Perhaps people would feel better if that kind of thing went away after a month or two if that's not happening already. That way the situations where someone needs emergency assistance or mod action can still be handled as they are now, but the fact that user such and such asked embarrassing question Y isn't lingering out there for eternity.
posted by zachlipton at 8:43 PM on March 27, 2012


How long does it usually take for a followup to be posted to an anon thread once the mod receives the email?
posted by Night_owl at 10:14 PM on March 27, 2012


Usually pretty darned quick. Minutes to maybe an hour unless we're exceptionally distracted.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:36 PM on March 27, 2012


Minutes to maybe an hour unless we're exceptionally distracted.

Yeah, usually we see and deal with most email within an hour and this is especially true now that taz is around. There are rare exceptions [I thought I'd posted a follow-up last night when I'd closed my laptop before it got posted. Ack!] and this can also depend on how the update is sent to us. If you send it directly to one mod, you'll have to wait for that mod to get the email and update it (so if one of us is on vacation and that's who you opt to send it to, it will take longer) but we do updates as soon as we get/see them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:42 AM on March 28, 2012


"Sorry, your anonymous question will not be posted at this time. However, you should consider DTMF already and getting that looked at by a doctor. Thank you, Metafilter."

As well as the lawyer bit, this message also needs something about considering finding a compatible cognitive behavioral therapist, understanding that it may take you a while to find one with whom you click, and in the meantime, read Feeling Good.
posted by smirkette at 9:28 AM on March 28, 2012


Also, "cognitive behavioral therapy" needs to be written as "CBT" to create some troubling ambiguity.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:42 AM on March 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Actually it's usually a stern talking to the first time and a banning the second time because we are softies.

And I'm glad you are softies, as I think I accidentally did this once because time makes no sense to me and I forgot about my previous question.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:15 PM on March 28, 2012


Why does the anonymous form ask why you want to be anonymous? To me, that should be irrelevant. If a question would be approved when asked normally, it should be approved when asked anonymously. (Especially since someone asking an anonymous question may not want to explain their reasons.)
posted by spaltavian at 5:58 PM on March 29, 2012


Why does the anonymous form ask why you want to be anonymous?

Because we would get a lot of questions where we would wonder "Why is this anonymous?" and where if we posted them people would ask (sometimes in MeTa) "Why is this anonymous?" and we felt like introducing a bit of friction, to make people think for a sec "Does this need to be anonymous?" would be helpful.

And really at some level we wouldn't necessarily approve all questions that would be okay if asked non-anonymously. We approve about 75% of anonymous questions but we don't want AskMe to get glutted with anonymous questions. We feel that people should ask if it's important, but otherwise we want the anon function to be a "Once in a rare while" thing and not something that people just use because they don't want their name on something.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:38 PM on March 29, 2012


we don't want AskMe to get glutted with anonymous questions. We feel that people should ask if it's important, but otherwise we want the anon function to be a "Once in a rare while" thing and not something that people just use because they don't want their name on something.

I don't understand why this is a priority.
posted by spaltavian at 7:51 AM on March 30, 2012


Because anonymous questions are more work to deal with in a handful of ways, have a less direct channel for feedback between asker and answerers, seem to produce a larger share of dysfunctional in-thread behavior probably because of the previous issue, lack any sense of continuity over time with who is asking questions, etc.

Anonymous Ask Metafilter is a feature we keep around because we think it's important that it be available for when folks actually need it. It is not how we think AskMe works best. Keeping the overall share of anonymous questions low is a priority because we don't think AskMe would be improved, in basically any way whatsoever, by having a larger share of anonymous questions.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:56 AM on March 30, 2012


I don't understand why this is a priority.

Because the anonymous feature takes time and energy on our side and there's a limit to how much of it that we have to support this feature with the staffing that we have and it's not a core feature of the site as we see it, so not something that we're really going to ramp up staffing just to accommodate. So, not complaining but these are the ways in which the anon feature is costly.

- all questions must be pre-approved and we don't have a mechanism to go back and forth with the OP with edits. Questions are, in almost all cases, approved or not. People sometimes email us to ask about whether their question was approved [sometimes this takes a few days] and we don't know which question they're talking about. This generates some back and forth email.
- the nature of many of the questions means that most anon questions are by-definition touchier dealing with stuff that is embarassing, touchy or otherwise something that might get people het up about it. We moderate the way we always do, but the OP can usually not be part of the discussions without involving us. This generates flags, "Why was this anonymous" MeTa threads and emails to us. Even though they are against the rules, sometimes people use the feature who are suicidal or suicidal sounding. This puts us into crisis-response mode
- questions are often incomplete leading to problems with follow-ups [either the OP doesn't follow up and left out some critical information or the follow up with a "thanks for nothing assholes" response where we have to step in] and there's often more speculation about the asker because people can't look up their past questions/answers and speculative stuff can often get other people ornery.
- lack of community cohesiveness. As cortex says above, these questions are not how AskMe is designed to work, the site is not just a question answering machine it's also a thing that helps the community solve each other's problems and builds site cohesiveness and relationships between site members in a way that is overall helpful for how the site functions in its entirety. Anon questions are often not a part of that since we don't know who the people are with the issues.

So again, we want to have the option available to people who need it but we try to keep the ratio of anon to regular questions way down because they're labor intensive on our side for not as much benefit for the site as other types of questions. I'm sure people have suggestions for how to address some of these issues [and we've thought about some, about how to have anon commenters be able to do their own follow-ups, etc] so it's still a bit of a work in progress, but people absolutely need to not be using the feature more than a few times a year or we'll politely ask them not to, usually in a "You seem to be using this feature a lot. We don't know what questions you've asked but we know you've asked six this year. You may want to consider getting a sock puppet for asking these sorts of questions in the future, please be mindful of the "one question per week" limit. Thanks"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:04 AM on March 30, 2012


From my first anonymous posting experience (apparently rejected), I first felt confusion (am I being rejected for asking anonymously? Do they think my reason for feeling shameful about the things I want to ask is not a good reason to ask anonymously?), then I wanted to know more about the reason of rejection and why other anonymous questions got accepted to get an idea of fairness and the rule. But after a few days, I think I need to move on. I understand that asking anonymously is highly discouraged. oh, fine. I don't have time to figure out the criteria for rejection. But I just wish there's a place where TITLES of rejected anonymous questions can be looked at. That way, I know for sure my question was rejected, no need for reason of rejection even. Just the fact at least somebody checked my question and rejected it is good enough, like NotMyselfRightNow is suggesting.
posted by akomom at 9:28 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, like I said up at the top of the thread, it's totally okay to drop us a line at the contact form to ask about your specific question. We don't know who asked what by default so I don't know what your question was to give you any guidance on this specific case; if you still want some feedback there, write us a quick note with a real basic summary of what the question topic was and we can look through the archives and talk about it with you.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:39 AM on March 30, 2012


The system sends mathowie and I [I think? maybe cortex too?] an email that says "Jessamyn asked a question, go to the queue to approve it" but it just links to the queue and not the question.

Wow, that's a lot less anonymous then I thought it was. As long as the queue isn't that big, that makes it pretty obvious who asked the question, if you follow the link fairly quickly. Is there some reason that the username would be in the email? That doesn't seem very anonymous to the mods at all.

I had thought you needed to check the logs and such to get any idea of who asked, and this is a significantly lower bar than that.
posted by smackfu at 9:52 AM on March 30, 2012


Is there some reason that the username would be in the email? That doesn't seem very anonymous to the mods at all.

One word: suicide. And we've been clear every time we discuss this that the level of anonymity in this system is less than complete and that's by design. If that's not okay with you, it's okay for you not to use the feature.

We basically do have to check the logs to do the matchup after a question has been approved. The email doesn't link to the exact question, it just goes to the queue page. And I don't know about the other guys but I just let the emails collect and I never look at them when they come in. I do most of the anon question work. The queue usually has several questions in it [we get maybe 3-6 questions every day, sometimes many more] and the queue itself has no usernames in it. So the email literally says "New anon askmefi question from jessamyn" and then a link to the queue where there are a group of questions that we often approve out of order. So you're in the job of matching timestamps between the emails and the queue questions. Once a question has been approved [i.e. is out of the queue] its original timestamp is no longer associated with the question and the only way we could after-the-fact match them up is by sending pb to the server logs [or possibly matching IP addresses].

So we try to be accurate: we can figure out who asked the questions if we need to. We don't do this most of the time. We understand that this may not be okay for some people and there is a level of trust you have to have both with the system and with our integrity relative to the system. It's definitely not going to work for some people but we think it will work for most of them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:03 AM on March 30, 2012


As long as the queue isn't that big, that makes it pretty obvious who asked the question, if you follow the link fairly quickly. Is there some reason that the username would be in the email? That doesn't seem very anonymous to the mods at all.

Without the username, it'd be impossible rather than just difficult to put the connection together after the fact. The email would be pointless and submitter ID would be totally unverifiable.

And, again, the key thing is that this is stuff that just gets filed, not something that actually gets looked at and clicked on and actively correlated in real time. The "an anony question was asked" emails aren't daily time-killing reading, they're an essentially automated side-channel that none of us has any interest in except in the specific odd occasions where we have to actually go looking.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:06 AM on March 30, 2012


Because the anonymous feature takes time and energy on our side and there's a limit to how much of it that we have to support this feature with the staffing that we have

Fair enough; the other reasons are "cultural" and we just don't share those priorites. But this one I understand.

The system sends mathowie and I [I think? maybe cortex too?] an email that says "Jessamyn asked a question, go to the queue to approve it" but it just links to the queue and not the question

Yikes. Did not realize that (which is my fault). That isn't anonymous at all. Not that I've asked a lot of anonymous questions; but for me, this makes it unusable. However, I'm sure other people still find a lot of utility in it.
posted by spaltavian at 10:35 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If that's not okay with you, it's okay for you not to use the feature.

Understood. I just feel like I misunderstood how easy it is for the recipient of those emails to see who asked an anonymous question, at the time it was asked. Email comes in with a username, they can click on it and can probably tell which entry is new since the queue is not that high volume. So it's not anonymous to them.

And that's fine, but just means I will never use the feature.
posted by smackfu at 11:33 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I trust the mods, but not with my deepest darkest secrets. No offense intended.)
posted by smackfu at 11:35 AM on March 30, 2012


None taken. I think the system we have strikes a really good compromise for typical use of the feature, but like we say, if what you need is absolute anonymity you need to be using something else to accomplish that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:42 AM on March 30, 2012


I just feel like I misunderstood how easy it is for the recipient of those emails to see who asked an anonymous question, at the time it was asked.

Yeah there's how the feature works and how it actually works in practice. Realistically we just let the emails pile up in a folder and don't make any effort to link user and question unless we have questions or concerns, but we could change that practice at some point in the future (can't see why, but it's a possibility) and then yeah, we would know. And I sympathize, none of us can really use the feature either without the possibility of letting all of our colleagues know whatever it is we're asking about.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:06 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The system sends mathowie and I [I think? maybe cortex too?] an email that says "Jessamyn asked a question, go to the queue to approve it" but it just links to the queue and not the question

Frankly, now that the process has been more clearly spelled out, I do think this additional information should be included in the anonymous post form. It's clear that at least a couple people still following this thread will not use the feature based on this information.
posted by lalex at 4:38 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The form states that we can figure out who asked a question if we need to. As I said above, I don't see that there's a concise way to meaningfully split that hair finer on the posting page; without going into a lengthy breakdown of exactly how the system works (which we're happy to do periodically when it comes up in Metatalk) folks need to just sort of work with the reality that "the mods can figure it out" means exactly what it says.

I mean, the thing that we run into most often with folks contacting us about anonymous questions is the assumption that we in fact already do know exactly what they asked and when, and consequently they tend not to bother mentioning what question it is they're talking about. There's a range of different assumptions folks make about this stuff.

We are very seriously dedicated to maintaining folks' anonymity as far as the public is concerned; we're the vast majority of the time ignorant of who asked what ourselves, and prefer it that way, and the current system works well for that; and the current content of the posting page makes it clear that that anonymity is not absolute. That's pretty much it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:46 PM on March 30, 2012


Asking an anon question is often so emotionally fraught that I think it's best to err on the side of full disclosure.

There is a huge difference between this:

As it exists, the anonymous system is for what-the-server-knows purposes anonymous, but it is not robustly anonymous; like Jess says, if we need for some extraordinary reason to figure out who submitted a given question, that's information we can retrieve indirectly through checking email records.

and this:

The system sends mathowie and I [I think? maybe cortex too?] an email that says "Jessamyn asked a question, go to the queue to approve it" but it just links to the queue and not the question. .

With respect, sometimes I feel like the mods over-rely on their MeTa comments to explain various site policies (see also: good times to make a MeTa post).

Not everyone reads MetaTalk; certainly not everyone reads deep into the weeds of the comments. I'd bet if I made a post about anon questions to MeTa right now, spelling out exactly what you've said here, that a fair amount of people would be surprised, possibly upset, and potentially reevaluate their willingness to use the feature.
posted by lalex at 5:21 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd bet if I made a post about anon questions to MeTa right now, spelling out exactly what you've said here, that a fair amount of people would be surprised, possibly upset, and potentially reevaluate their willingness to use the feature.

You're more than welcome to if you feel that needs to happen for some reason. "Mods can figure it out" from our perspective is accurate without being overly verbose and reflects the real way that the system is currently working. If you need to be totally anonymous, this will not allow that. If users have questions that are more specific than that, they can ask us.

The emails that we get from the server go into a folder that we don't look at unless we have a question about something and go back to look. We don't use it for at-the-time assessment of who is asking a question and that's the way it's been since we've had this feature and every time it's come up in MeTa we've been clear about how the system works. That's not going to be okay for everyone and we're okay with that. If it makes people squicked out to know that we can figure out that it was them asking an anonymous question, then it's probably not a feature that they should be using and they should go with an anonymous sock puppet or another site entirely.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:32 PM on March 30, 2012


There is a huge difference between

There really isn't. The email record is literally the only thing that we can go to to verify identity in the rare cases where we need to; that Matt and Jess get those emails is the only reason there is an email record.

They do not monitor those emails. They do not sit around waiting for a "there's an anonymous question" email to be prompted to check the queue; the queue is active daily, with usually several questions per day, enough so that it's a check-in-a-few-times-a-day thing, no prompting needed.

I don't know if there is a perception here somehow that some significant fraction of the mod workday is spent reading through form emails for usernames and thinking about who submitted what as an anonymous question. It isn't. We would have trouble even finding a way to spend less time thinking about this stuff than we already do, or to be less aware in practice of who asked what than we already are.

sometimes I feel like the mods over-rely on their MeTa comments to explain various site policies

I think that can be an issue sometimes, sure, if a policy or guideline coheres or evolves through discussion and practice but doesn't get updated in the FAQ or something. But in this case, we're clear on the posting page that it's not anonymity-from-the-mods, and the FAQ entry is also very clear that (a) we can establish who asked what when needed and (b) this is a basic anonymity function, not a robust or absolutely anonymous thing.

This is the way it's been basically as long as the feature has existed; we've taken pains to avoid having it become any less anonymous because we honestly don't want to have it be any more visible to us than it already (and necessarily) is in the form of straight-to-archives form letter emails for the rare verification issue.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:32 PM on March 30, 2012


Ok, I have get ready to run out, but neither of your responses address the fact that mods get an email saying "lalex has posted a question." This is the salient point that should be addressed in the FAQ and the anon post form.
posted by lalex at 5:38 PM on March 30, 2012


The mods get that email because that information doesn't stay in the database, at all.

That information doesn't stay in the database at all because that's a better situation for anonymous askers in the unlikely but possible situation where a malicious party gets unauthorized access to the database.

The alternative would be us have precisely as much access to the same info, but storing it in the database where we'd only rarely look at it for specific necessary cases instead of storing it in a separate system where we only rarely look at it for specific necessary cases.

There's literally no distinction in potential mod access to this information; if we were the sort of folks who wanted to look at who is asking what recreationally, either system would let us do so. The difference is that with the current solution, in case of a catastrophic db compromise, the notional third-party snoop would still not be able to retrieve that info, because we store it in external emails that we basically never look at instead of in a db table that we basically never look at.

And, again, this is fiddly sausage-making stuff that is hard to explain clearly and concisely in a way that doesn't dwarf the frankly way more important basic information about what the feature is and how it broadly works. Fundamentally, the anonymous feature is as anonymous as we can practically make it while still having any way to deal with misuse or abuse when it happens; fundamentally, to use it is to trust us not to abuse this knowledge, just as with anything else that involves moving data through this site.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:49 PM on March 30, 2012


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