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Deleted comment cipher?
January 24, 2005 10:33 PM   Subscribe

In this post a number of comments that (at least in my opinion) were legitimately funny but a little tasteless were removed without notice. Two questions - (1) would it make sense to have a "comment deleted" notice so that meta-comments make a little more sense, and (2) why were they deleted if none of the guidelines were violated?
posted by thedevildancedlightly to Etiquette/Policy at 10:33 PM (53 comments total)

I don't want to question the wisdom of #1 here, but I'm a little curious as to what happened so that I can avoid it in the future. The comments didn't seem anything worse than what we see in political posts, and they certainly weren't directed personally at any MeFites.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:34 PM on January 24, 2005


jessamyn also has edit/delete rights and has been helping out, so I suspect she was the one that deleted the comments. I trust her judgement, which is why I asked her to help admin things around here (she's been helping for a couple weeks now).

In the past, I've usually deleted offensive, highly off-topic, or aggressive comments and felt the site was better off without them.

I have never thought that including a "comment deleted" feature was important, mostly because the next feature people would ask for is to see what was deleted, and we could argue endlessly about why each and every specific comment was deleted. I rarely edit comments and if jessamyn has been a bit too heavy handed here, I'll talk to her about it and see if she can scale it back.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:49 PM on January 24, 2005 [1 favorite]


Great to hear you've taken on some help, Matt. As point (2), above, illustrates, posting clearer guidelines helps people accept admin decisions, including deletions of their own stuff. Rather than step in to vouch for all of jessamyn's choices, you could publish more detailed guidelines, which would not only help guide her but eliminate a lot of debate over what's okay and what's not. If you trust her judgment, all the better, because she should be able to help you with said guidelines. Good luck jessamyn!
posted by scarabic at 11:22 PM on January 24, 2005


There was a pretty harmless comment deleted from this post as well.
posted by ascullion at 11:42 PM on January 24, 2005


Matt - sounds fair and reasonable. I'd love to see some more detailed guidelines (as per scarabic) since "good taste" is pretty vague, but I'' try to learn to trust the judgment of jessamyn. I would just lean more toward not deleting unless it starts to get personal between MeFites, in which case swift and decisive action probably makes sense. Comments which might be offense to some still might provide a laugh or value to others.

And just for reference it wasn't just my comment that was deleted, I was echoing a line of comments and was suprised when the whole thing disappeared.

Thanks for the heads-up!
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:44 PM on January 24, 2005


I have never thought that including a "comment deleted" feature was important, mostly because the next feature people would ask for is to see what was deleted

I disagree. Slippery slope fallacy. :)



jessamyn also has edit/delete rights and has been helping out, so I suspect she was the one that deleted the comments. I trust her judgement, which is why I asked her to help admin things around here (she's been helping for a couple weeks now).

I will also volunteer to help out. Please email me password details.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:46 PM on January 24, 2005


I suspect if comments were deleted in a thread about paraplegics, I'm going to guess they were making fun of people in wheelchairs. For ask metafilter, I've been a bit more judicious in deleting stuff because there clearly are guidelines printed below each and every form saying to post answers and refrain from off topic banter. Other than that, guidelines are just that -- guidelines and I can't define hard and fast rules besides "don't be a jerk"

Another reason why I'd nix a "comment deleted" feature: it would just draw more attention to stuff that doesn't deserve to be highlighted, but forgotten.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:09 AM on January 25, 2005


it would just draw more attention to stuff that doesn't deserve to be highlighted, but forgotten.

Now that's a much better reason. Gold star.

Now where's my password details?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:16 AM on January 25, 2005


"I'm going to guess they were making fun of people in wheelchairs"

It was the line of jokes about "what do you call a quarapalegic in -location-? -Name that sounds like something else-" (we'd gone through Stu, Art, and Russell). I'll give you tasteless, but I wouldn't go as far as "making fun of". I think that some people use humor to diffuse uncomfortable situations (eg, encourtering people with profound disabilities) and this was tasteless without advocating discrimination. It's a fine line to walk, but it seemed to be a new policy to delete things that were in poor taste. No worries at all if that's the new policy, but I wanted to clarify that it was.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:42 AM on January 25, 2005


jessamyn also has edit/delete rights and has been helping out

[this is good]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:08 AM on January 25, 2005


Thanks for letting us know about that.
posted by trondant at 1:44 AM on January 25, 2005


I tend to agree but not entirely. I understand quonsar's having been on a tear about deletions and thread closings and agree in part with him. I hate it when it gets ugly and people call each other names and demean one another but, all the same, enough gets left in the threads that you usually know who said the what that got cut by the asides of people not directly involved. I was pissed at Matt for closing that asparagirl thread and wrote him asking that he at least delete that thread as well as yurs about quonsar and he wrote back to me that ryvar had copped to what he said to him and apologized but yada yada, he didn't care and it was just petty bickering and he wasn't going to delete the thread. It wasn't entirely petty bickering for me for me when ryvar tried to put what he said off on me, so I didn't agree with Matt. I shouldn't have posted that little rant--when I saw ryvar's rant it pissed me off: why do people post such stuff anywhere on the net and not keep in the chatroom? That whole IRC quotes at freequonsar gives me the creeps--and I wished I hadn't posted it when I calmed down but at the time when the response was ryvar putting his words in my mouth, so to speak, I got my back up. Who wouldn't ? Thread closings and deletions can leave the wrong impression of what was said by who and how people felt about their part in it later as well. So my recent experience has left me uneasy.

So I guess its [this might be good but it might not] for me. jessamyn is not a bad choice and would be among my top five to do it but I think I would like a few more moderate hands on the tiller and some guardians to guard the guardians, or moderators to mderate the moderaters, so to speak. Two arbitrary hands is not exactly that much an improvement over one except in the sense it lightens the workload of the one.

I wouldn't want to be in that position of power over what gets deleted, myself. If power corrupts, then petty power corrupts pettily, as anyone who has worked in an office knows full well.
posted by y2karl at 1:51 AM on January 25, 2005


So I guess its [this might be good but it might not] for me.

So it is with most things. We can be but hopeful.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:56 AM on January 25, 2005


Perhaps this is not the appropriate forum, but:

1. [this is good], with respect to a figurative #2. No one wants to see the defacement of mefi-land.

2. However, there are certain threads that while not noble, can be fun. Perhaps some mere subset of us feel this way, but they can be fun. This is an extraordinary community here, and I feel the breadth, depth, and mirth of this community relies on a certain restrained hand.

3. The comments in the referenced thread may have entirely been appropriate for deletion, but trying to make this place too serious, or even the occasional too non-juvenile, may well ruin the quality of the community.

3a. As an example, one may not like quonsar in general, in practice, or even at all; but a metafilter without quonsar is no longer a metafilter.

4. Metafilter is mathowie's, but it is an organic being that goes beyond him, as well. A bonsai tree must be pruned to be beautiful, but too deep of a cut destroys the tree...
posted by theatrical matriarch at 1:58 AM on January 25, 2005


but a metafilter without quonsar is no longer a metafilter

Maybe we have different personal needs and wants from MetaFilter, but that's a bit much. There are some more visible MeFites that I quickly started recognizing by user name because their posts are always interesting and/or abundant, and quonsar is one of them, but I wouldn't say that q is the glue that's keeping it all together.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 4:54 AM on January 25, 2005


I took out the 5-6 "what do you call a paraplegic in a pile of leaves....?" types of lines since the thread was quickly turning into a "make fun of cripples" thread, and only that. Usually I IM mathowie if I decide to knock out a set of comments, but he was pissed and resting after all the hubub yesterday. I stay out of MeFi in an admin way generally, and usually MeTa as well except for cleaning up extreme messes. Mostly I just keep an eye on AskMe to make sure threads stay on-topic which I think [hope] we can all agree is a good thing.

Having a second set of eyes in a different timezone has proven useful lately. Incidentally, I don't have anything to do with anonymous posts, mathowie is still the only person who knows who you are if you use AnonyMe.
posted by jessamyn at 6:30 AM on January 25, 2005


I must agree with the devil. The worst possible thing you can do to a handicapped person is to pity, treat differently, or step around their feelings just because they have the handicap. My brother has been a quadriplegic for eight years after breaking his neck in a motorcycle race. Just try to leave him out of anything and he will "accidentally" run over your toes with his wheelchair. He has incredible aim.

... it would just draw more attention to stuff that doesn't deserve to be highlighted, but forgotten. But doesn't that also apply to Metatalk when every little whiny ass problem winds up here anyway? Personally I dont think any comment by a member of this website should EVER be deleted. It only goes to dilute it's substance.
posted by oh posey at 6:32 AM on January 25, 2005


jessamyn also has edit/delete rights and has been helping out...

This doesn't sound like a very good idea. I think even 15 minutes of admin rights is too much for Jessamyn. Oh and her profile is all messed up.
posted by lazy-ville at 6:48 AM on January 25, 2005


This doesn't sound like a very good idea. I think even 15 minutes of admin rights is too much for Jessamyn. Oh and her profile is all messed up.

Would you care to clarify? 'Cause right now, it just looks like you're mouthing off without any idea what you're talking about.
posted by gleuschk at 7:49 AM on January 25, 2005


Well, her profile page was messed up, but I think it has been fixed now, even though it, IMHO, still looks horrible.
posted by lazy-ville at 8:00 AM on January 25, 2005


Are we giving out style points now, too, then?
posted by chicobangs at 8:02 AM on January 25, 2005


Delete the comments but place them on a page which contains only deleted comments. Don't indicate which thread the deletions came from. People whose comments have been deleted could go to that page and see their comments there and know that they'd been deleted. They wouldn't come here with "I think my comment was deleted and blah blah blah". And I think that everyone would enjoy reading random offensive comments completely out of context. I know I would.

And thanks to jessamyn for pitching in and to Matt for handing off some of the burden.
posted by TimeFactor at 8:06 AM on January 25, 2005


What would Jessamyn's profile page have to do with anything? She didn't get to change it because she has admin rights; anyone can do that. (Besides, I think it's really pretty and has a cute photo of her on it!)

Jessamyn's been proven to be a very sober, rational voice on Metafilter and I think she'll do a great job helping out. The different timezones thing is a huge bonus, too. If mathowie had to share power with anyone, I think she'd be my very first choice. Now I sound like an ass-kisser, but I swear I'm not. ;)
posted by livii at 8:10 AM on January 25, 2005


I have never thought that including a "comment deleted" feature was important, mostly because the next feature people would ask for is to see what was deleted

I respectfully but strongly disagree. As uncanny hengeman pointed out, this is a logical fallacy. I've been in the forefront of those pushing for a "Comment Deleted" tag and remember the arguments of others who have argued for it, and this secondary request is absent from that more often than not. (On preview: Jeez, thanks a lot, TimeFactor - but I stand by my statistics.) Besides, even if the request were prevalent, that in no way means that fulfilling one request obligates you to fulfill another.

it would just draw more attention to stuff that doesn't deserve to be highlighted, but forgotten.

This is indeed a better argument, but the problem is that when a comment is deleted, usually someone downthread has referenced it, which raises a difficult issue of whether to delete that one. And if so there may be another comment responding to some completely separate point in the newly deleted one, making this a recursive phenomenon. One way or another, the deletion of the comment (and I'm not arguing that comments shouldn't be deleted) usually scars the thread in one way or another. The question is whether to have a simple indicator, "this is where the damage occurred," so that people can move on and focus on the rest of the thread, or to have it as now, where the incongruity actually draws more attention to the scar, in addition to infuriating those who have to work to figure out what happened and what comments still left in the thread are referring to.
posted by soyjoy at 8:10 AM on January 25, 2005


I think even 15 minutes of admin rights is too much for Jessamyn

I think this was sort of a joke based on something I said in November [linked beneath the period in lazy-ville's comment].
posted by jessamyn at 8:13 AM on January 25, 2005


Jessamyn is the one person on this site I would have trusted with admin rights, simply for her amazing contribution to this site ('specially AskMe).
posted by Quartermass at 8:13 AM on January 25, 2005


I can't define hard and fast rules besides "don't be a jerk"

I know it doesn't seem as important to spend a long weekend writing up guidelines as, perhaps, coding a new pony, but better guidelines could stem the nasty behavior, and make the admins' jobs a lot easier. If you tried, you could come up with more than "don't be a jerk."

You'd have to tackle some hard questions like whether race-sensitive cracks should be allowed, ever. And then you'd have to let everyone know that was a policy, deal with any backlash, and then enforce it consistently or risk more backlash.

That's why not to spend the effort. Not because more specificity is impossible.
posted by scarabic at 8:33 AM on January 25, 2005


better guidelines could stem the nasty behavior, and make the admins' jobs a lot easier

and perhaps allow some semblance of self-policing
posted by scarabic at 8:34 AM on January 25, 2005


I wouldn't want to be in that position of power over what gets deleted, myself.

Me neither, and I'm not crazy about jessamyn having that power. Nothing against her -- she's been a fabulous contributor to the site, and there's nobody I'd prefer if I had to nominate somebody -- but I don't like anybody having deletion rights. I reluctantly accept mathowie's deleting stuff because it's his site, but I dislike the new heavy hand, including more frequent deletion of comments (and I agree with those who favor some kind of notice). What's happening around here reminds me of what happened to the Mets after they won the '86 Series: the management decided to get rid of the "troublemakers," and the team went downhill from there. When you place too much of a priority on being nice, effectiveness suffers.

But don't mind me, I'm a free-speech absolutist and don't find cripple jokes nearly as offensive as most people apparently do.
posted by languagehat at 8:34 AM on January 25, 2005


I think this was sort of a joke based on something I said in November [linked beneath the period in lazy-ville's comment].

Ah. Sorry, I missed that. Apologies to lazy-ville.
posted by gleuschk at 8:38 AM on January 25, 2005


Now those are two can of worms opening sensible comments there, scarabic.
posted by y2karl at 8:39 AM on January 25, 2005


Your two above gleuschk's there, I mean...
posted by y2karl at 8:40 AM on January 25, 2005


But don't mind me, I'm a free-speech absolutist and don't find cripple jokes nearly as offensive as most people apparently do.

*cripples languagehat and steals his wallet*

Don't worry he won't get far on foot...
posted by jonmc at 8:48 AM on January 25, 2005


but better guidelines could stem the nasty behavior

I've worked on the site for almost six years now, and if I thought it was possible and would help, I would have done it but guideline stuff is really difficult to do because everything has exceptions and you can't really do hard and fast rules. If you think people whine too much on the site now, I couldn't imagine what things would be like with hard rules. It would be a nightmare.

But I could be wrong. I suggest anyone here on the new guideline bandwagon makes a new page on the wiki and takes a crack at some guidelines. I'm far too busy to devote any time or energy to this, but would really appreciate if someone made some headway and came up with some new ideas about that. If they were good and something that seemed helpful, I'd definitely consider working them into the site.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:51 AM on January 25, 2005


1. Be polite and civil to one another.
2. Respect the site.
3. Get over yourself.
posted by mcwetboy at 8:57 AM on January 25, 2005


Glad you got backup for when it is needed, but I'm another voice thinking that #1 (and perhaps #292) are a bit too casual in deleting comments. I respect the need to have the option, but for the little it is worth, I urge restraint whenever possible.

(I also think [comment deleted] marks would make sense, if for only that it makes the site very odd to read when you have no idea why people are referring to something you didn't notice)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:05 AM on January 25, 2005


Taking on a second set of eyes isn't necessarily a bad thing, particularly w/r/t to jessamyn, but I do think this sort of thing should be announced at the time or ahead of time here in the grey.

If it was and I missed it, disregard this.

And I 2nd or 3rd what JKF et al. have said about unmarked deletions. Lacking context in a face-to-face discussion is bad enough; here it's simply maddening.
posted by trondant at 9:14 AM on January 25, 2005


mathowie: I think jessamyn's promotion is a good idea. Finding a couple of more admins in Europe and Asia/Australia would give nearly round-the-clock coverage.

However, I disagree with you about a deleted comment marker. I think it would make edited threads easier to follow. Whether or not you make deleted comments retrievable is a whole separate argument.
posted by timeistight at 9:19 AM on January 25, 2005


I also agree that the reason presented for not having a comment deletion placeholder is a slippery slope argument, and that having comment deletion placeholders would be a good idea.

Right now, you get people complaining that there are no comment deletion placeholders.
If you implement them, you'll get people complaining that they can't see the deleted comments.

Either way, you're getting people complaining. But one way, you have increased clarity in threads, and the other way you don't.
posted by Bugbread at 9:32 AM on January 25, 2005


What languagehat said, almost to the letter, at least in terms of the blue and grey. I really don't like threads being closed and, to a lesser degree, I don't like deleted comments. And if there are deletions, I favor a marker, for readability issues such as those soyjoy described, if for no other reason. No retrievability needed - that seems to work ok for deleted threads in metatalk.

I see AskMe differently - information based, no goofing around. I support zero-tolerance there and the deletion of inappropriate and off-topic things, as needed.

All that being said, I respect the decisions made by #1, and I am thrilled that if anyone is going to be doing backup duty, it is jessamyn - couldn't be a better choice, imo. If another pair of hands is ever needed in this regard, I would nominate riffola.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:39 AM on January 25, 2005


Whenever I delete comments, I almost always delete the bickering followups or other comments that are just about the offenders.

So I don't think it results in disjointed comment threads that often. I'm sure someone could pull up an example, but I've been deleting comments for four years and no one has said anything about them until recently. I don't think the murderball thread suffers from a lack of childish "cripple" jokes. There's not a single reference to a comment that isn't there.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:01 AM on January 25, 2005


Thing is, not being a free-speech absolutist (though trending that way of late), I don't see it in black and white like many do. I feel there are some limits to free speech: I just don't see it consistently applied.

The cripple jokes: deleted for bad taste, or offence? Whichever it is, it's subjective. Me - I'd raise no arguments against deleting them, because I have no difficulty in imagining myself, or a loved one, in that condition.

But what about misogynistic or anti-gay, or racist comments? Someone on the left-liberal side may say "delete! They're in bad taste", a left-libertarian may say "yeah, but so what? Ignore them", and a conservative/libertarian may say "whatever. Let it stand on principles of freedom" - or because they just don't care about giving offence.

At the moment, with [till this month anyhow], we had complaints of inconsistency from mathowie: now we have two subjective opinions to be compatible with. Jessamyn has, deservedly, a huge rep on Mefi, and inasfar as she takes actions as she's described above - fine. No complaints from me.

Except: I really want a 'comment deleted' marker. I'd also go so far as to recommend any member who gets a comment deleted on grounds of offence or taste gets a time-out. My wielding of the blue pencil would be rare indeed - but I don't think that's enough of a consequence.
posted by dash_slot- at 10:52 AM on January 25, 2005


At the moment, with [till this month anyhow] just one moderator...
posted by dash_slot- at 10:53 AM on January 25, 2005


Forgive me if this has been suggested and considered already; I think this might work for a deleted comment marker, if such a thing were to be made.

[comment deleted]

where the link would be to a simple sub-guidelines page explaining that comments deemed delete-worthy for a variety of reasons will be deleted without further explanation.

It provides the clear marker of deletion; it also provides a very simple and direct route to the answers (however dissappointing to some) to the various questions people might have.
posted by cortex at 10:58 AM on January 25, 2005


The guidelines page that ^ links to could also specify that comments asking what the deleted content was will also be deleted without explanation (along with a timeout for the user?). I mean, in case the specter of people pestering for that info is so great as to call for this.

And mathowie, it would be silly to get into a "how about this thread, then?" match with you, but it's happened at least a dozen times that I've read threads with great frustration because I think there's something I'm misreading, only to gradually (or later, because it turns out to have been MeTa'd) discover that there was a comment or more deleted. And I'm obviously not alone.

I would suggest that you don't see this problem the same way because you're reading the thread before the comments are deleted, and I'm wagering you don't (and nor should you!) go back and reread the whole thread afterward to find out if there were any dangling remnants. Even if you did, it would be difficult for you to adopt the complete "unknowing" viewpoint of someone who never saw the deleted content, in order to gauge exactly how the thread would read for those of us who only happen upon it at that point.
posted by soyjoy at 11:19 AM on January 25, 2005


Firstly, I'd vote that nothing should ever be deleted, unless it's enormously ridiculous, i.e., spam.

Secondly, I'd vote for a [comment deleted] marker.

How about instead of immediately vanishing, the comment is marked with a time-to-live, beyond which it becomes simply the placeholder [comment deleted] text? This would give people following the discussion an opportunity to say to themselves "oooh, this topic isn't cool with the admins, it's going to permanently disappear in an hour," which allows further discussion to self-police and get back on-topic: "Hey, didn't you see that this subject is being deleted? Back on topic please."
posted by odinsdream at 11:23 AM on January 25, 2005


Wait, wait, wait....does jessamyn have the banhammer too? How long before she gets pissed and goes all 'Thor' on us?
posted by graventy at 11:31 AM on January 25, 2005


If another pair of hands is ever needed in this regard, I would nominate riffola.

My nominee would be vacapinta. He's well read, smart, not full of himself, I've never seen him get unpleasant with anyone here and I saw zero evidence of where he spent any time or ever ragged about other members here over on #mefi back in the days when I went there or when lazyville posted his little compendium of IRC logs. I want someone who's not associated with a posse.
posted by y2karl at 12:09 PM on January 25, 2005


"jessamyn also has edit/delete rights...she's been helping for a couple weeks now."

See, I knew something had gone all wonky, but I couldn't put my finger on it. The number of seemingly random deletions had gone up (as referenced in a number of other MeTa threads) for no apparent reason. And here we have it.

If there was ever a doubt that Matt's personality was what made this site, this proves it.

No offense intended to jessamyn personally, of course. It could have been anyone - the point is that the tone of the site changed, and it was noticeable to those who cared to pay attention.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:59 PM on January 25, 2005


madamejj said exactly what I was thinking, which is to say, what languagehat said :)

jessamyn, riffola & vacapinta would/do all seem like good choices, though, if more policing is necessary. I also agree with mr_c_d that something has seemed a little different lately. Just in a mighty agreeable mood, apparently...
posted by mdn at 1:17 PM on January 25, 2005


I'll just echo soyjoy's comments. If we're going to ban anti-gay comments then we need to equally ban anti-religion and anti-Bush comments. And that would be no fun.

The easist solution would seem to be to leave anything unless it is profoundly offensive (not something that reasonable people could disagree on), or spam, or an image link, of NSFW. Otherwise MeFi will turn into Disneyland.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:14 PM on January 25, 2005


Long lines for short rides and fireworks and an electric parade nightly ?
posted by y2karl at 4:58 PM on January 25, 2005


ps. When I was walking down Gilman, the road on which I yet live still for a few more days, and towards 15th Avenue West to catch a bus, around 2:00 PM today, I heard this cacophony of seagulls crying and these other unearthly fluting screeches of birdcalls overhead and looked up to see three bald eagles wheeling over Gilman and 14th West with a mob of seagulls whirling around them all.

They were all shrieking, gulls and eagles. The eagles were doing something with each other--I think it was either social, familial, mating or territorial related: two chased one for a few wingbeats and it split off and then the two whirled around each other while shrieking and crying. And it was like they could give a shit about the seagulls.

Now I have seen bald eagles now and then in my neighborhood and all over town for that matter but this is the first time I ever saw more than one at a time. It brought tears to my eyes to see them.

When I saw the eagles, there was a car coming up the hill. I pointed to the eagles and the woman driving the car pulled over, hopped out and watched them from across the road with me. We yelled at each across the road about how cool it was and thank you, thank you and don't mention it. I just had to share... It's like seeing an aurora or solar eclipse. It's a somatic experience, a natural high--you feel physically different.

Man, I have seen eagles but this was the first time I have ever seen so many or heard them cry. That was so cool. I'm still jazzed about it.

You know, according to the system of ancient Greek augury involving the interpretation of the flight of birds, it was about as auspicious a thing as one could see. So I bought two MegaMillion lottery tickets.

/chatfilter
posted by y2karl at 5:08 PM on January 25, 2005


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