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My Penis is Anonymous But Yours Isn't
November 26, 2012 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I love Ask and I embrace the legitimate need for anonymity, but I seem to be noticing an increasing number of questions where the asker is abusing Ask by hiding behind anonymity while expecting forthright and revealing answers from other members.

This question about penis piercings is a good example of what I mean: a poster is too embarrassed to tell us he wants to have his todger bedazzled but expects other people who have had theirs done to step up and share their experiences. Going through recent Anon posts, I am similarly irritated by posts like "I don't want you to know I read erotica, but please tell me what erotica you read" and to a lesser degree, "My IUD is TMI but yours is not."

The theme that links these together for me is "I'm too embarrassed to ask but you shouldn't be too embarrassed to answer." I understand that individual members may post or not post replies as they wish, but I respectfully submit that overall, the bar for anonymous Ask should perhaps be higher.

Alternatively, maybe someone could help me re-frame this kind of very unbalanced post in a way I find less grating. Because I'm totally open to "it's not me, it's you" here and would like to be less irked by these questions.
posted by DarlingBri to Etiquette/Policy at 10:58 AM (102 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

I see what you're getting at. However, personally, whether or not a person has an IUD seems like private health information to my mind and I think it's legitimate to want to ask related questions without disclosing your identifying information. In those cases, it makes sense for a poster to include a throwaway email address for responders who also think that their IUD is TMI.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:01 AM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


The theme that links these together for me is "I'm too embarrassed to ask but you shouldn't be too embarrassed to answer."

I think this is injecting a sort of demand that doesn't really exist in the questions in general, really. It's not "you must be more forthcoming than me, because of reasons" so much as it's just a natural consequence of someone having personal privacy concerns while asking about something sensitive.

In practice, some folks are more willing to discuss this stuff publicly than others are, and that's fine. No one has to answer a question they don't feel comfortable answering; folks who want to answer anonymously can use a privacy sockpuppet if they have one or just drop us a line at the contact form. Anyone who personally feels like they shouldn't have to be more public on a topic than the asker is totally welcome to just not answer.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:02 AM on November 26, 2012 [18 favorites]


The theme that links these together for me is "I'm too embarrassed to ask but you shouldn't be too embarrassed to answer."

I suspect that most MeFites would disagree with this assessment, however, and have sufficient willpower to resist answering if they truly feel they do not wish to share this detail about themselves.

Honestly, some people don't mind talking about this. In fact, talking about it MORE openly can feel more anonymous, somehow; I briefly was on a mailing list that discussed different sexual matters, and someone asked a question of the women and we were all answering - but then the guy emailed each of us privately and asked us to elaborate on our answers. Discussing things publically had a sort of "we're all adults and this is just discussion" feel, but him asking us privately is what tipped over into feeling, "okay, now the guy's just trying to get his rocks off."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:03 AM on November 26, 2012


Anyone who wants to answer these questions can also make a sockpuppet for embarrassing/personal/TMI answers, though. Also I think the OPs are likely aware that there are plenty of mefites who will not find their questions embarrassing to answer.
posted by elizardbits at 11:04 AM on November 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


It seems (and maybe this is just my perception and not reality) that there is much less use of throwaway email accounts for anon answers these days than there has been in the past. Maybe a note on the anonymous ask page that says something like "if you're asking a question about potentially sensitive information, consider including a throwaway email account for replies." Or something.

Not that I care really. I'll tell you all about my IUD. It's my BFF.
posted by phunniemee at 11:09 AM on November 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


the asker is abusing Ask by hiding behind anonymity while expecting forthright and revealing answers from other members

Other members of the site are not obliged to provide potentially embarrassing answers. If it bothers you, just move on.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:09 AM on November 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


At one of my previous jobs, my boss read MeFi, and probably had my username, or at least would have recognized it if he'd seen it. Now like he's cool enough that objectively I wouldn't have a problem talking about getting my scrotum pierced with him, but at the same time I would prefer to bring it up with him in person if at all.

It's not necessarily "I'm too embarrassed but you shouldn't be", but maybe that "I'm contemplating making a change and want to bring it up with my real-life people in real life." Which seems fair.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:12 AM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


What it seems like you're concerned about is that some people are willing to make the sacrifice of sharing personal information while others aren't. But – if sharing personal information on ask.metafilter is in any way a sacrifice, people shouldn't do it. Some people are cool with sharing that they have a penis piercing; that's fine. Some other people would like to have a penis piercing, but don't want the world to know about it. That's fine, too.

People make sacrifices and learn to adjust to rules in order to be part of a community; they do this because a community needs certain things to survive. Communities require a certain level of respect and goodwill; so even in moments when they aren't feeling particularly goodwilling or respectful, people make the sacrifice required and at least fake it for the sake of the community. But complete openness in every respect is not something that helps the community. In fact, there are cases where openness can hurt people. And there's nothing wrong with wanting certain things to be yours and yours alone.

The surrendering of one's privacy shouldn't be a threshold for community participation.
posted by koeselitz at 11:13 AM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The theme that links these together for me is "I'm too embarrassed to ask but you shouldn't be too embarrassed to answer."

I mean, even if that is true, that's acknowledging a really good thing about AskMe: you don't have to be afraid. I mean, the resource is here, anonymity is available, so why shouldn't someone be able to get help for something they'd never admit to? Because, honestly, one of the reasons they're on AskMe in the first place may be that they're too embarrassed to ask people IRL. And that doesn't really give them any less of a right to try to get help to solve their problem.
posted by griphus at 11:18 AM on November 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Posts are tagged and appear on the front page. Comments aren't, so there's less visibility; going through a person's post history is likely, on average, to be less daunting than their comment history. That's a small factor but it sprang to mind.

More importantly, though, is that I always think of it like, "I want to keep this anonymous for whatever reason (too embarrassed, too private, pending legal action, that art heist gone wrong in Munich, whatever), but if some brave soul out there doesn't give a shit, I'd love to hear from them," because the world is full of people who are paralyzed at the thought of exposing anything private about themselves in any but the most tightly-controlled circumstances and it is also full of people who just cannot wait to tell you, possibly with visual aids, all about the new stainless-steel genital adornment they bought themselves as an early Secretary's Day present. And the Ask format allows the former to ask and the latter to answer and if someone's too shy to talk about these things then they don't answer. Basically no one's doing anything they don't want to do.

But most of all - for me anyway - being in the position of answerer affords you a layer of plausible deniability that you don't have as an asker. Asking about the penis piercing you're going to get is pretty revealing and doesn't afford you a lot of wiggle room, especially since the cover of "I'm asking for a friend" is generally frowned upon. So the spotlight's on you, like it or not. On the other hand, if you're answering the question, you're under no special obligation to disclose how you came about this knowledge. That makes things a bit more free in terms of what is or isn't embarrassing.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:19 AM on November 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Also, this sort of brings to mind a lot of AskMe questions along the lines of "I tell this person EVERYTHING and they never tell me ANYTHING are they a bad friend?" and the answers are almost uniformly "respect their privacy; what you tell them may have zero bearing on what they feel comfortable telling you for reasons that have nothing to do with you at all."
posted by griphus at 11:19 AM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Alternatively, maybe someone could help me re-frame this kind of very unbalanced post in a way I find less grating. Because I'm totally open to "it's not me, it's you" here and would like to be less irked by these questions.

Some people are embarrassed by certain topics and prefer anonymity. Others aren't and thus comfortable answering questions about said topic.

That's about the long and short of it and it works for all parties involved.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:20 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alternatively, maybe someone could help me re-frame this kind of very unbalanced post in a way I find less grating. Because I'm totally open to "it's not me, it's you" here and would like to be less irked by these questions.

I think the community is better served by giving questioners more options to make them comfortable asking their questions. This is possibly true for answerers as well but there have been many discussions about anonymous answering and IIRC the technical barriers are high, so sockpuppets are what we have to work with. But I think maybe you are reading more into the act of asking a question anonymously than you really should in the context of this semi-permanent imbalance -- there is no expectation from this kind of act that everyone who can will answer, and there is no "you should answer" component inherent in e.g. the piercing question.

Perhaps you should reconceptualize this from "I'm too embarrassed to ask but you shouldn't be too embarrassed to answer." to: "I'm too embarrassed/uncomfortable/whatever to ask non-anonymously but if you are willing I'd be grateful for some help with this issue."
posted by advil at 11:21 AM on November 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


"I'm too embarrassed to ask but you shouldn't be too embarrassed to answer."

That's an unnecessary, uncharitable interpretation of what's going on with anonymous questions, particularly the implication that the asker is suggesting others "should" answer their question non-anonymously. That only exists in your head. Maybe thinking of it as "I'd prefer not to link my name to this question, but if there are people here who don't have that issue and would like to help me with this I'd appreciate it greatly" would be better?
posted by mediareport at 11:35 AM on November 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Alternatively, maybe someone could help me re-frame this kind of very unbalanced post in a way I find less grating.

Assume that literally every anon askme if being posted by a member of the Clinton family -- Bill, Hillary, or Chelsea -- and that the public scrutiny they face is simply more overwhelming than yours or mine. The fun here is trying to figure out WHICH Clinton posted each question.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:35 AM on November 26, 2012 [76 favorites]


(Or, what advil just said.)
posted by mediareport at 11:36 AM on November 26, 2012


Another factor within all of this is that some people are more or less easy to connect to their real world selves.

Someone who uses a relatively anonymous handle on MeFi, doesn't use it elsewhere and can't readily be traced back to their real existence might have a lot easier time answering questions about their piercings or other TMI-ey medical issues than someone who, say, posts with their real first name which is unusually spelled and also links to their Linked In profile, blog and the website they work for in their profile, you know?

Everyone gets to decide their own level of comfort in asking and answering embarassing questions. If you don't want to answer using your primary account, there are alternatives -- sockpuppet, asking the mods to post for you, asking the asker to MeMail you, moving on to the next question and not answering, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:53 AM on November 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


The theme that links these together for me is "I'm too embarrassed to ask but you shouldn't be too embarrassed to answer." I understand that individual members may post or not post replies as they wish, but I respectfully submit that overall, the bar for anonymous Ask should perhaps be higher.


I think that not only are you assuming an implicit demand that is not there, you are leaving out literally hundreds of reasons why someone may need to ask something anonymously that other folks might be able to answer not so anonymously. Not only do people's comfort levels differ, their baseline levels of anonymity differ on the site. It's quite possible that people may elicit what are essentially anonymous responses to anonymous questions.

But, more to the point, why does it really matter in these cases? No one has to answer a question as posed, and everyone is free to skip any questions they don't like. Your post reads a little bit like you are the one who wants to know "embarrassing" details about other users, rather than that those posters are trying to elicit those details under bad pretenses. I can imagine situations in which anonymous questions might be an abuse of the community, mostly fictional questions, I guess, but these are not those.
posted by OmieWise at 12:15 PM on November 26, 2012


Alternatively, maybe someone could help me re-frame this kind of very unbalanced post in a way I find less grating.

It's just that not everyone finds the same things embarrassing, or is comfortable with the same level of self-disclosure, or has the same personal, social, or professional limitations whether online or off. Same as other stuff, like how comfortable an individual is with various clothing configurations, or how comfortable they are putting forth an opinion in a meeting or at a family gathering.

There's a really wide range of comfort levels and it's probably not realistic to expect quid pro quo, especially when you consider that AskMe functions best when it's in service to others.

I don't think there's a moral requirement of 'if I show you mine, you have to show me yours' sort of thing. Everyone is fighting their own great battle, I guess.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:16 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, what advil and mediareport said - I think it's more "I am uncomfortable answering this with my real profile attached because of reasons, but if you don't have the same discomfort I would like some help with my issue/question/dilemma." I mean, I don't have a penis, but I know a lot about all the various and sundry ways to put additional holes in them, so I answered the question. I am not uncomfortable answering body modification questions in general, no matter how personal they may seem to others. I also don't see questions like this as a demand for anyone to answer, more like a request for anyone with information to braindump it on the asker if they want to.

Sure, maybe a suggestion to include a throwaway for anon questions would be good, but other than that I don't see a problem here.
posted by bedhead at 12:18 PM on November 26, 2012


Assume that literally every anon askme if being posted by a member of the Clinton family

I like to assume that the super embarrassing anon questions are posted by one of the mods.
posted by elizardbits at 12:20 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I disagree with any attempt to assign motivations to posts. That's just a can of worms rabbit hole I don't want to open go down. Because the core germ of almost all assumptions of poster motivation is that they are coming from a place of bad faith in one form or another. That's a recipe for toxicity.
posted by absalom at 12:31 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


And, ultimately, who cares? Reciprocity is not fairness and fairness is not equity and equity doesn't even assure usefulness.

Which are we aiming for with AskMe?
posted by absalom at 12:34 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Remember, everyone who is too embarrassed to answer those questions can just write:

"A friend of mine has his cock pierced and reads erotic literature but has no use for an IUD. A FRIEND OF MINE!"
posted by crossoverman at 12:35 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


This question about penis piercings is a good example of what I mean: a poster is too embarrassed to tell us he wants to have his todger bedazzled but expects other people who have had theirs done to step up and share their experiences.

The only person who knows what an anonymous poster expects is the anonymous poster. Obviously, they'd like answers, or they wouldn't post on a q-and-a site, but there is no way to know that the person who wrote that question actually expects anyone to answer it.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:37 PM on November 26, 2012


Perhaps you should reconceptualize this from "I'm too embarrassed to ask but you shouldn't be too embarrassed to answer." to: "I'm too embarrassed/uncomfortable/whatever to ask non-anonymously but if you are willing I'd be grateful for some help with this issue."

I think that's really good advice.

And for the record, I posted this MeTa waaaaaaay back when. So I'd say two things to the OP here. First, your perception of these questions "increasing" might be just perception bias, like being unable to stop hearing that high-pitched air-conditioner squeak once you've noticed it. It's a longtime phenomenon here. And second, you're definitely not alone in feeling this way. I did, I reframed my thinking (as Advil suggests), and mostly I don't think about these questions that way anymore.
posted by cribcage at 12:50 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I sort of get what Darlingbri is suggesting. It is almost the equivalent of the playground trick where one kid says he will show his if you show yours first.

I personally wouldn't answer a question that I did not want to regardless of the anonymity of the asker. Using your real name is not going to make me feel more comfortable answering a question I feel uncomfortable answering using my user name. I always assume that there are plenty of people who send answers to those throwaway email addresses, but who knows? I don't think it is necessarily taking advantage of the good nature of other members of the site to ask about their members if you are not willing to openly talk about your own member, but I assume you will get an appropriate level response whatever that may be.

Don't answer if you don't want. Heck, there are regular questions I avoid answering because I don't like the attitude of the asker.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:52 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


"A friend of mine has his cock pierced and reads erotic literature but has no use for an IUD. A FRIEND OF MINE!"

Also there's the "I'm writing a novel and the protagonist needs to..."
posted by griphus at 12:53 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


If they're asking anonymously they're uncomfortable with the topic. And I would prefer askers have the freedom to ask about things they're uncomfortable about without people assigning motivations or needs that possibly aren't there. (This is an overarching problem with AskMe that I fight about internally on bad days, and not just about anonymous questions at all.) Basically, I know that AskMe is not a safe space, but it is a space where people can put a query out there to see if anybody is willing to respond. And putting any sort of real kibosh on that, whether it's in attitude of the responders or pre-established and discussed cultural norms (like how we all became better feminists, for example) is shutting down something that could really help people to be more comfortable with themselves, perhaps enough to answer other AskMes in the future.
posted by Mizu at 12:56 PM on November 26, 2012


I feel like it's a really good thing for as many people who feel they can be open - even with a sock puppet - to have a chance to answer these questions openly. I'm glad to let the world know that there are people with serious mental illnesses who are competent enough to use MetaFilter, and who want to help other people. I don't feel safe enough to do that super openly, any more than I feel comfortable being a peer advocate giving speeches in front of a NAMI convention audience - but I'm glad to have the opportunity anyway.

The tension between "I cannot be as free as I want to be without putting myself at personal risk" and "I really feel like it's good for society for these things to be discussed publicly" is pretty much exactly why I take plenty of advantage of the sockpuppet/MeMail/anonymous mail options.

(I set up an anonymous email account of my own, just to send emails to the anonymous email addresses posted in the anonymous threads.)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 12:59 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There have been unnecessarily anonymous questions, though I think there has been a slight tightening down on those. The linked examples seem fine to me; it's up to the respondent if they feel comfortable talking about how they used an iud to pierce their penis or not.
posted by Forktine at 1:04 PM on November 26, 2012


Alternatively, maybe someone could help me re-frame this kind of very unbalanced post in a way I find less grating.

I'd go about assuming that the anonymous poster recognizes, when posting, that some people who are able to answer might choose not to due to their own embarrasment, and the poster knowingly accepts that as a limitation on the answers they receive. In fact, the anonymous poster might be more aware of that limitation on answers than someone else who would post the same question non-anonymously.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:08 PM on November 26, 2012


Askers, especially folks who find a need to use the Anonymous function, shouldn't have to guess about how the folks answering their question are going to feel about it. Guess culture is sort of antithetical to the nature of AskMe.
posted by carsonb at 1:18 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


As jacquilynne pointed out, some people use their real life name for their handle. I can imagine that being quite a different threshold for asking questions anonymously than someone that already uses an obscured connection to their IRL self. I wouldn't want my full name attached to a question about IUDs forever more, but I'd be fine answering one under this handle (even though I make no real effort to conceal my identity).
posted by stoneweaver at 1:22 PM on November 26, 2012


it's up to the respondent if they feel comfortable talking about how they used an iud to pierce their penis or not.

I'm not sure how this isn't blindingly obvious -- everyone has different levels of comfort with different types of information. The OPs you linked have a low threshold but still want information. The intended audience for the question is people more comfortable / public than they are willing to be.

You're working from the assumption that there is an objective good / ideal to strive for with respect to privacy. There's not. Everyone has their own limits.
posted by toomuchpete at 1:42 PM on November 26, 2012


I think that maybe a helpful re-framing of this is not necessarily "I'm too embarrassed to talk about my private details, but expect other users to do so" and more "I have a need for secrecy at the moment, and am going to my community, where I know they will help me. In turn, later, when my community members need anonymity, I will help them when they need it."

Another thing to remember is that a lot of times, anonymous AskMes are in the now. "This thing is happening to me NOW and I am freaking out and don't want anyone to know!" Sometimes people, once the issue is resolved, would have no problem reattaching the question to their username, but there isn't an option for that. Answers, on the other hand, are usually in the past. "Well, sure, I did have crazy bleeding A LONG TIME AGO but now it is done and I survived." Things that, by their nature, provide a reasonable distance from which judgment cannot be hurled.

So basically, the very same person using AskMe anonymously may be the same person answering another user's question all about their various bits and baubles.
posted by corb at 1:44 PM on November 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Alternatively, maybe someone could help me re-frame this kind of very unbalanced post in a way I find less grating.

Even though we know the reasons, most of the time, for why questions are anonymous, a good deal of the time it amounts to "I have something I am considering and I'd like to get information about it while I make my decision and if I decide not to do it, I'd prefer to have the fact that I was considering it not affect people's opinions of me here or in the world at large." So my reframing is more of a "it's sensitive AT THIS TIME for me" thing, and not overall. So, other people answering is totally fine.

Other popular reasons include

- grad school thinking
- privacy of other people in my question [often friend or family or partner]
- money stuff
- early pregnancy or family planning stuff
- lady/boy parts stuff and/or sexytime stuff
- relocation or changing job stuff
- I made a big fucking mistake, help me out here

and then waaaaaay down on the bottom of the list of reasons we have is "I am sort of squirrely about this issue for no real reason" and sometimes we approve those and sometimes we don't. it's worth remembering that we don't approve maybe 30% of the questions asked overall and sometimes it is for this sort of "I still don't know why this is anonymous even though you've filled out the box" reason and other times it's for the "You asked people to give you very embarrassing and very personal information and have not provided a throwaway email address" reason.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:06 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is this where I can mention my amusement at the question a few days ago about reestablishing an identity when one has no form of id whatsoever, that was posted anonymously? (It probably isn't the place, is it)
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:14 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a personal crusade to talk as much and as openly about my mental health stuff as possible. I want to normalize it because I want no one, ever, to be as ashamed and confused and alone as I was at the worst of my crippling depression.

To a lesser extent, I also want everyone to know and be unashamed about their reproductive health options, so I will also talk wherever, whenever, about my IUD, because that thing is awesome.

If someone else has questions and I can answer them that doesn't feel unfair, it feels like a chance to help them and maybe others, and that's awesome.

There's other stuff I won't answer here publicly but that's cool, I bet someone is as psyched to post about their pierced privates as I am to tell you about how depression tried to kill me and fucking failed, and how it doesn't have to get you, either.
posted by Stacey at 2:31 PM on November 26, 2012 [24 favorites]


Metafilter: Your Todger Bedazzled
posted by 4ster at 2:36 PM on November 26, 2012


Yeah, I think Stacey gets at something important, which is that a lot of anon askmes are anonymous because on some level the asker is ashamed or scared or unsure about being public about something stigmatized, and a mighty and major accomplishment is to convince them it's not like that, or doesn't need to be. Especially on the subjects of physical and mental health (of all sorts, including sexuality), so many people live in situations where they feel stigmatized or afraid and seeing other people be willing to open up about it without too much concern for anonymity can be helpful in itself. Nowhere is this more true than for the ubuqitous, near-daily posts that say "I am deeply depressed and need help but don't know what to do" (which takes many forms, of course).

Also consider MeFi has an international and multicultural user base. What is stigmatized or deeply private in one setting might not be in another.
posted by spitbull at 2:58 PM on November 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Feature not bug. It's GREAT that people who are embarrassed about things (often so that they can't ask people around them IRL) have a way to ask questions of people who don't mind answering.
posted by fleacircus at 3:01 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'd like to post a unanimous question to AskMe, but first we all have to decide on a topic. Please MeMail me your suggestions, and after I've heard back from all 49,000 of you, I'll come back to this thread and post the full list.

Then the first round of voting can begin.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:02 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


An ask is not a demand.

Has tangerine taught us nothing?
posted by inturnaround at 4:05 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


there is much less use of throwaway email accounts for anon answers these days than there has been in the past. Maybe a note on the anonymous ask page that says something like "if you're asking a question about potentially sensitive information, consider including a throwaway email account for replies."

I asked an anon question (once!) with a throwaway email account and I'd be very hesitant to do it again. All the helpful answers appeared on the page with my question, the e-mails that were sent to my throwaway account were horrible, cruel and harassing (for example, several news articles were sent to that address with insulting and offensive names as the name of the sender). Then someone used some sort of anonymous message-sending service to send it a message that said something that I wish I could block from my memory because it was so hateful. I had no idea people like that were reading AskMeFi.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:01 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


AskMetafilter: an unnecessary, uncharitable interpretation of what's going on
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:35 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


That makes me very sad.
posted by absalom at 6:05 PM on November 26, 2012


I'm sorry that happened to you, Treehorn+Bunny. I've had similar experiences making my email address visible on this website, so I don't do that anymore. You're not the only one who has experienced it, if that helps at all.

Having said that, I will occasionally turn on MeMail to privately answer an AskMe question where I think I can be helpful but I don't want to participate publicly. Based on that I have to assume that some people do receive well-intentioned and helpful answers via throwaway emails. I'm not sure it should be a criteria for whether an anonymous AskMe gets posted, and I didn't realize that was true until this thread, but I'm sure it does work for some people.
posted by cribcage at 6:14 PM on November 26, 2012


I've had similar experiences making my email address visible on this website, so I don't do that anymore.

That's so weird. My email address has been in my profile for god knows how long and not only have I never received an abusive or harassing email, I've never received an email of any kind related to metafilter. And I don't think anyone would accuse me of being reticent to engage in a full and frank exchange of views on some topics.
posted by Justinian at 6:22 PM on November 26, 2012


I think, in the end, I don't care whether an OP is anonymous or not. That's a matter for the OP and the mods to decide. Likewise, my decision to answer is my decision and is pretty much unaffected by the name or lack thereof of the OP. why would I care?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:22 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm happy to talk about my experiences of having abortions and associate those experiences with the nym I've used online for 20+ years (and my full legal name, which is in my profile), but I understand why someone living in Ireland or Nicaragua might not be.

I'm glad to talk about my experiences in the swing and kink scenes under my own nym/name, but I understand why someone working as a kindergarten teacher or for the NSA might not be.

Perfectly delighted to share all about my perimenopause, but I can think of lots of reasons why others might not.

I'll show people mine if they ask; if they don't show me theirs, I don't feel cheated.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:46 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


I dunno. Penises and health questions seem like exactly the thing anonymous posting was made for. Perhaps this analogy isn't apt, and maybe it's just me, but it's like when someone comes back to the office after taking time off for a medical appointment/surgery/health check-up - I would never, ever ask them what they went in for, and would be a bit shocked if they went into detail about how the doctor poked this, prodded that, and thinks that Condition X might be the cause.

I might be weird, but I always thought health issues should be treated as fundamentally private things (unless the person with said decrees otherwise): because sometimes people treat you differently if they know you have a chronic condition or are sick, because sometimes you don't want to deal with the dramz of people reacting to news of your condition, because you don't want your boss to get wind and fire you (without cause and illegally, of course, but they could still fire you, anyhow), because body parts are squishy and strange sometimes, etc...

And, I guess, because penises and sex bring out the teehee, teenage awkwardness in tons of people.

A throwaway email or sockpuppet question seems like a good compromise, though.
I do think that it's totally cool for you to not want to put yourself out there and reply to anonymous questions along those lines; I just think your assessment of the situation isn't shared by everyone.
posted by vivid postcard at 7:06 PM on November 26, 2012


I think the reframing you're looking for is "I'm too embarrassed to ask, but I hope you're not too embarrassed to answer." Then some people think, "No. I'm too embarrassed to answer." And other people think, "Sure, I'm okay with answering that one," so they do.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:14 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think penis piercing is a great example of anonymity used right. I know very little about the topic and don't know if I would carry through with it -- I'd like to hear from some proud proprietors of pierced penises, and frankly I would trust the information I got from somebody who was open about it much more than from someone who felt the need to hide.

Seems like a win-win to me.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:16 PM on November 26, 2012


Would it be possible for the throwaway email addresses to be visible only to logged-in users? I would like to think that the people who were so cruel to treehorn+bunny weren't members.
posted by janell at 7:23 PM on November 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Would it be possible for the throwaway email addresses to be visible only to logged-in users? I would like to think that the people who were so cruel to treehorn+bunny weren't members.

This is a pony I would ride, anonymously or not.
posted by vivid postcard at 7:28 PM on November 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Perhaps this analogy isn't apt, and maybe it's just me, but it's like when someone comes back to the office after taking time off for a medical appointment/surgery/health check-up - I would never, ever ask them what they went in for, and would be a bit shocked if they went into detail about how the doctor poked this, prodded that, and thinks that Condition X might be the cause.

Tweak the analogy a bit: it's fine with me if other people want to keep their reasons for going to the doctor confidential. At the same time, I'm still free to volunteer that information about myself, if I want to. By the same token, people with medical questions (for instance) can post them anonymously to Metafilter. Other people are free to answer non-anonymously, if they want, but they don't have to. They can also answer anonymously, either by commenting through a mod or using the OP's email address.
posted by John Cohen at 7:51 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I totally get where DarlingBri is coming from and I've thought the same from time to time. Though I mostly chuckle. And then I think, 'well, I'm certainly not going to answer this one.' There will always be different lines of decorum for different people. I think it mostly works out.
posted by amanda at 8:01 PM on November 26, 2012


Actually, I think this is one of the greatest services of Mefi. People can ask questions that they could never ask anyone in their real life - not even their doctor or best friend. I often think that anon questions are just the way that people sound out what's going on, the alternative next steps, and the possible consequences. It's a low risk way to think through a problem or condition.

That said, I wonder if there's a script to block anon questions. Maybe someone could develop one.
posted by 26.2 at 8:12 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I totally get where DarlingBri is coming from and I've thought the same from time to time. Though I mostly chuckle. And then I think, 'well, I'm certainly not going to answer this one.'

Yup, this is pretty much exactly how I feel. Not about most anon questions but there are some that I do feel that way about, and deliberately not answering them feels like enough.

Would it be possible for the throwaway email addresses to be visible only to logged-in users? I would like to think that the people who were so cruel to treehorn+bunny weren't members.

I think this is an awesome idea to have as an option. But I think it would be good to have it be an option rather than a set thing you can't change, because you can get great and amazing emails from the internet at large sometimes and I would regret losing that as a possibility. Personally, the only hostile MeFi related email I have ever received to my gmail account was definitely from a member, though it definitely wasn't anywhere near as hostile as what treehorn+bunny describes.
posted by cairdeas at 9:02 PM on November 26, 2012


The theme that links these together for me is "a poster is too embarrassed to tell us he wants to have his todger bedazzled but expects other people who have had theirs done to step up and share their experiences."

So wait ... you only answer questions in the hopes that the asker will reveal something about themselves? Like it's some kind of currency, or an "I show you mine if you show me yours" kind of thing?

Cause dude, that's fucked-up.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:59 PM on November 26, 2012


Have other people had this experience of harassing emails to throwaway addresses they use with anon questions?

If you prefer not to say so here, you can let us know via the contact form (bottom right corner of every page) or Me Mail.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:01 PM on November 26, 2012


sorry to hear that anyone else had that sort of negative experience as well. I like the idea of having some contact option only visible to logged in users - any thicker-skinned person who wanted to have the throwaway visible to all of the internet could probably get around it by using one of the anti-bot formats like "throwaway (at) gmail (dot) com" or something?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:14 PM on November 26, 2012


"Anyone who wants to answer these questions can also make a sockpuppet for embarrassing/personal/TMI answers, though."

mine is named elizardbits
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 PM on November 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


Todger Bedazzled is definitely the name I'm going to use for the next RPG video game I play.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:29 AM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I pretty much always say this, but to me getting a second account with absolutely no identifying info that you use solely for asking/answering sensitive questions is the best and easiest way to go... with this option you can receive mefi mail, comment in your own threads directly, post without waiting, etc. If you have an established account and it's a question of just not being able to spend the $5 for a sock (and please believe me when I say I know what that's like), contact us.

This allows you to get mail from members only and doesn't require us (by which I mean pb!) to come up with a workaround that might not even be such a benefit, since any logged-in user can leave an Ask Me page open on their computer or a public computer. Any logged-in user can copy/paste a question anywhere (in an email, in a blog post, on their facebook) that would include the visible email address. Not every single system will necessarily recognize special code to hide the info (I assume). So then one gets a nastygram via (supposedly) hidden throwaway email, and the natural assumption is that it's from a mefite – which could not be the case at all – and that gives you an creepy feeling about the site, suspicions of other users, and so on... when this could very well be not the true case at all.

We already have the existing buffer of mefi mail where we can determine who's sending the mail if necessary and further track down if it was really an accident, if that is claimed, or, in fact, a user problem, plus it's connected to activity *on the site,* which is within our realm of influence/authority, while emails that people send on their own outside of Metafilter is not.

The anonymous feature is great for limited usage, but for more complex issues that you'd like mefi-only message availability, or the ability to interact in the thread if necessary, socks are super helpful. Just keep track of what info your are exposing so that the combined details from different questions don't end up pointing to you (and here is where you can combine the anon question feature or email the mods to add an anon comment if the detail would add too much info to that sock account).
posted by taz (staff) at 2:49 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


post without waiting

I need to specify that by this I mean "posting without waiting for the anon question to clear"; you still need to wait the regular week between questions, even with a sock, since the waiting period between questions is per user, not per account.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:53 AM on November 27, 2012


Way I see it is if you're too embarrassed to identify yourself in a question, don't. If you're not, do. Then, if you're too embarrassed to answer the question, don't. If you're not, do.
posted by Decani at 5:53 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have other people had this experience of harassing emails to throwaway addresses they use with anon questions?

I get occasional shitty/harassing messages sent to me from mefites (or at least referencing things I've said here in comments and AskMes) via comments at other websites on which I am active, which tbh is pretty hilarious to me since it's not like I have memail disabled. The nastiness of the comments pales in comparison to my amusement at their cowardice so I guess it's all good.
posted by elizardbits at 7:00 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obviously I can't speak for other people's interactions on MetaFilter, but I have never felt pressured into talking about my penis here.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:07 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I get occasional shitty/harassing messages sent to me from mefites (or at least referencing things I've said here in comments and AskMes) via comments at other websites on which I am active, which tbh is pretty hilarious to me since it's not like I have memail disabled. The nastiness of the comments pales in comparison to my amusement at their cowardice so I guess it's all good.

This is amazing to me. I've read comments to this effect before, but it always surprises me. I've written things here that have pissed folks off, but I've never once received an email or MeMail that was anything but polite and (often) kind. It's really depressing that this kind of thing goes on. I know some men have gotten shitty emails, but I wonder to what extent this is gendered?
posted by OmieWise at 7:24 AM on November 27, 2012


The content of these messages has thus far been very, very gendered.
posted by elizardbits at 7:27 AM on November 27, 2012


I've gotten a couple nasty MeMails, but never anyone tracking me down off-site. (MeMails can be blocked, and that's sufficient for me.)

Sending a nasty note to someone's throwaway email after an anonymous AskMe just seems like a whole other level of evil, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've gotten shitty MeMail, but fortunately it's been vastly, vastly outnumbered by the amazing and thoughtful responses. And the one time I raised one that was just awful, the mods were very responsive. So ultimately, still positive trending in my mind. Can't say if it's a gendered thing or not, though I do have girly bits.
posted by corb at 7:30 AM on November 27, 2012


The content of these messages has thus far been very, very gendered.

Same with me, sort of. I realize this is different because I'm a mod, but the "OMG I am now sending this person's email to /dev/null from here on out" folks have all been dudes and have all been inappropriate in an "I am clearly writing this to a woman" way. This hasn't happened very often at all (three, maybe four times in the wholetime I have been working here?) and most of the time the GRAR-y MeMails are just like "You suck and are bad at your job" but the rare times they aren't they are awful in a very particular and predictable direction. And we usually ban those people.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:43 AM on November 27, 2012


I haven't received a single nastygram (yet), and I would bet serious money that the distribution of them is extremely gendered.
posted by Forktine at 7:48 AM on November 27, 2012


The content of these messages has thus far been very, very gendered.

Oh man... my first thought was that the hostile message I received wasn't gendered because there were no references to any of my body parts and I didn't get called any curse words.

But uh... upon reflection it was from a man who I had said was behaving in a sexist way on MeFi, and how indignant he was that I would say such a thing to *him*, and various reasons that he shouldn't have his sexism or lack thereof be questioned.

So... there's that.
posted by cairdeas at 7:56 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mine haven't been gendered - in fact, the only ones having to do with gender topics have been from other women.

Hi, I'll be your "exception that proves the rule" this afternoon. Would you like to hear the day's specials?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


And we usually ban those people.

Oh wow, it just occurred to me that some of these messages are maybe all from the same banned mefite.
posted by elizardbits at 8:14 AM on November 27, 2012


What's odd is how little hate mail I've received over the years, especially considering the bluntness with which I express my opinions. If anything, most of the MeMail I've received has been of the "I'm sorry they were so mean to you in that thread, you're really not so bad" variety.

I don't think I've posted anonymous since the mods clarified their stance on privacy sockpuppets a few years back, so I've had no reason to make an off-site disposable email. I wonder if people are better-behaved on MeMail than they are on off-site email? I'd suspect they would be, although I have absolutely no evidence to back that up.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:20 AM on November 27, 2012


As Stacey pointed out, one of the topics I've seen anonymized is mental health - some people are genuinely concerned that it will affect how they are seen by other members of society (in general, in real life, AND in MeFi), some are concerned that it could affect practical real life concerns like job security and insurance premiums, and some barely want to admit that they have a problem to themselves. Others, probably the majority of MeFites, are very open and willing to share their experiences with both drugs and therapy.

That's a situation where the asker is trying to retain their privacy and expecting revealing answers from the userbase, but I think it is ABSOLUTELY an essential service of the site. The ways that people become comfortable with talking about their mental health is by a) improving it, obviously, and b) seeing other people comfortable talking about it. Discovering that you are not a unique fucked-up snowflake is an invaluable step toward doing something about how terrible you feel.
posted by maryr at 9:06 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been told to fuck myself via MeMail -- rather, I received a MeMail telling me to go fuck myself. I'm a woman.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:08 AM on November 27, 2012


Keep in mind that if you want to report that stuff we will time-out or ban users who use MeMail to harass other people. Totally not okay.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:28 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


If anything, it points out that those answering may need anonymity, too. Given the system, that would be a major pain for the Admins and is probably not an achievable goal. That said, no one is forcing anyone to answer, so it's not a huge problem.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:42 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only concerted, ongoing email asshole campaign I remember being waged on me was from a long-banned user, who kept at it enough that I created an auto-forward that just sent his emails back to him and deleted them on my end. While some other folks have memailed to call me an asshole, generally I think of that as just taking my licks and it's a vast, vast, vast minority of the mail that I get. (The majority is book recommendations, I think.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:05 AM on November 27, 2012


Now I sort of wonder if the anonymous asshole email problem was just That One Guy. (Or two or three, or whatever.)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:24 AM on November 27, 2012


Metafilter: taking your licks and book recommendations.
posted by Melismata at 12:22 PM on November 27, 2012


wow. I'm pretty mouthily opinionated, and pretty openly female, and have on retrospect done some shamefully misguided shooting-from-the-hip in heated threads, and I have never, ever gotten any nastygrams of any sort. 99% of the MeMails I get are cool people asking good questions about bike related stuff and the other 1% is related to Denver/Boulder local info.

I have both memail and my regular email account readily available on my profile. And while I know "gee that sucks" isn't helpful at all, that makes me really sad to hear. It's one of the things that's kept me coming back to this community, really - the level of tolerance and guidance and well-intentioned stewardship that has really made me a kinder, more thoughtful and tolerant Internet user in general.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:18 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: todger bedazzled!
posted by Splunge at 7:08 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I kind of want to MeMail people and call them assholes now just because it's fun to get MeMail for something other than meetup notifications. Y'know, like, "Dear klangklangston, how ya doin', ya asshole? Hope all is well! Luv, maryr."
posted by maryr at 7:16 PM on November 27, 2012


I like to think that maryr just got a bajillion memails.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 7:23 PM on November 27, 2012


I am pretty sure my asshole and klang's asshole are two different assholes, tbh.
posted by elizardbits at 8:27 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


wow that sentence didn't really come out like i planned it to
posted by elizardbits at 8:27 PM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


i have some regrets
posted by elizardbits at 8:28 PM on November 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I am pretty sure my asshole and klang's asshole are two different assholes,

Keep telling yourself that buddy.
posted by 26.2 at 8:35 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I have learned one thing from MetaFilter, it's that we are all just facets of one cosmic asshole.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:12 PM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


wow that sentence didn't really come out like i planned it to

It was even better reading it from Recent Activity after forgetting which thread I was looking at.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:20 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I am pretty sure my asshole and klang's asshole are two different assholes, tbh."

"And what's the $50 for?"
"Oh yeah, and he shit in my pants."
posted by klangklangston at 10:12 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I kind of want to MeMail people and call them assholes now just because it's fun to get MeMail for something other than meetup notifications. Y'know, like, "Dear klangklangston, how ya doin', ya asshole? Hope all is well! Luv, maryr.""

Cortex already did. Q _ Q
posted by klangklangston at 10:15 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kinky Friedman once wrote that there are two kinds of men who wear cowboy hats.


Cowboys . . .

and assholes.
posted by spitbull at 11:16 PM on November 27, 2012


Have other people had this experience of harassing emails to throwaway addresses they use with anon questions?

I asked an anon question about a sexual issue, and got several helpful responses. But like a month later, when I checked the account out of idle curiosity, someone had sent me a several-page-long rambling missive about how exactly they would love to do [sex thing] with me. In EXHAUSTIVE detail. I did not read it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:34 PM on November 28, 2012


Stacey writes " I want to normalize it because I want no one, ever, to be as ashamed and confused and alone as I was at the worst of my crippling depression."

I'm in agreement with the anonymous askmes contributing to normalization. There's a section on the wiki collecting some of the weirder ones.
posted by Mitheral at 6:34 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


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