Rules of Relationship Filter October 28, 2009 8:07 AM   Subscribe

A few recent threads on MeTa have made me wonder, what's the stance on relationship filter questions in AskMe?

I should maybe include a disclaimer: I don't like relationship filter-y questions. I feel like they take up more than their fair share of AskMe and often wish there were some negative tags feature, like "All but relationship-related posts". That said, I'm not trying to really shake things up or change things.

I'm just looking for an official word on what the stance is so that I know what to flag and what are reasonable questions for me to ask. I've read the FAQ and I've searched the site but I haven't been able to find any official word as of yet. Maybe because exactly what defines "relationship filter" is kind of arbitrary? Or is it too polarizing a topic to try to regulate at this point? This could have been a private message to one of the mods, but I figured I'd make it public for any discussion or thoughts.
posted by battlebison to Etiquette/Policy at 8:07 AM (37 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I don't think posts on polarizing topics should not be moderated, and I don't think this topic is overly polarizing in and of itself.

Maybe just treat it like any other subject. Does it break the guidelines or do you think it needs moderator attention? Flag it. Is it a question you really want answered, you really believe can be answered, has not been beaten to death before and otherwise adheres to the guidelines? Post it.

I 'm not sure I understand what (if anything) rubs you the wrong way about relationship questions. There are a lot of questions about Apple computers, and I don't feel any need to read or answer them but I don't have to.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:13 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

This could have been a private message to [fill in blank], but I figured I'd make it public for any discussion or thoughts.

Pretty much sums it up.
posted by Dumsnill at 8:14 AM on October 28, 2009

It seems to me that "Relationship Filter" is the binding agent that holds AskMeta together. Without R-Filter, there would just be a bunch of random "questions" looking for "answers" flying off in other directions.

RelationshipFilter prevents entropy. And plaque.
posted by joelhunt at 8:14 AM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

and often wish there were some negative tags feature, like "All but relationship-related posts".

By tweaking your MyAsk settings, you can accomplish this very thing.

Relationship questions tend to bother me as well, in theory, and yet, I find myself reading and answering them a lot more lately.

Perhaps I am just a glutton for punishment.
posted by quin at 8:18 AM on October 28, 2009

I'm just looking for an official word on what the stance is so that I know what to flag and what are reasonable questions for me to ask. I've read the FAQ and I've searched the site but I haven't been able to find any official word as of yet. Maybe because exactly what defines "relationship filter" is kind of arbitrary?

A recent MeTa thread about "when should I flag" in general seems to sum this up quite well -- flag a thread if you think the mods should look at that particular thread.

Conversely, your just plain not liking a particular thread isn't sufficient cause.

In other words: if it's a RelationshipFilter question about "honestly, what's wrong with beating my wife", then the mods should look at that to figure out how to handle the ensuing shitstorm, and you can flag it and move on. But if it's just a garden-variety RelationshipFilter question which all things being equal is okay, except you just don't want to read it, then DON'T flag, and move on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:24 AM on October 28, 2009

It seems to me that "Relationship Filter" is the binding agent that holds AskMeta together.

It seems to me that RelationshipFilter is the binding agent that holds human society together.

Battlebison is way ahead of the anti-RelationshipFilter pack here in recognizing that he brings a certain pre-existing aversion to the topic. That's fine, and what you do is that you don't read those questions. What always stuns me here on MeTa is the number of people who hate relationship questions and who seem to believe that their deep reluctance to read or discuss the most difficult, nuanced and ambiguity-laden aspects of human existence points to a problem with AskMe. I'd look closer to home...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:27 AM on October 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

Relationship questions are often some of the more interesting questions on AskMe. They tend to draw a lot of concerned comments with specific, useful advice, which the OPs often seem very grateful for. For instance, I remember seeing a poster asking how to handle his discovery that his wife was planning to cheat on him; he said they went through a long, painful, restorative process of working through their problems and that the AskMe thread helped them with this. If even 10% of the relationship threads have such an effect, aren't they worth it?

It's totally understandable if some people find them uninteresting. I find questions about PCs and meat and Canada uninteresting. I just don't read them. Likewise, you don't have to read the relationship questions.

There doesn't seem to be any rule against relationship questions, and I don't see why there should be a rule against them. What am I missing?
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:28 AM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Relationship questions are an odd beast because, unlike almost every other sort of question, a lot of them are by definition internal and fuzzy. What is or is not important to someone, how Alice or Bob actually feels about the situation, how much of what's being asked is an objective picture of reality vs. a restatement of things flattering to the asker's position: all of these sorts of things can come into play when the question is not "how do I fix x / locate y / research z" but rather "how do I deal with person p", which makes navigating the question and providing an answer a weird and complicated process.

That said, they're also questions that are generally driven by some pretty legitimate (if sometimes misguided) human need or vulnerability, and as far as that goes AskMe provides a relatively safe and broad-spectrum place to try and get some answers or insight into how the hell life works.

Which is all to say that some of the objections we hear sometimes to relationship questions would ring more true if instead of actual personal relationships all these questions were about e.g. turtle shopping or something equally emotionally neutral. But it's not turtle shopping, it's people confused about their lives and their relationships and what to do, and there's a lot of arguable value in being able to try to get help with some of that. And as there's no particularly clean and objective way to approach the sort of existential fumbling that comes with folks trying to figure out what the hell to do with situation x in their personal life, they tend to be a bit more of a mess than questions on other sorts of topics, and from a moderation perspective we keep that in mind and grant a certain amount of leeway to imperfectly-framed things.

My practical advice is to flag things that you think are problematic given your understanding of the guidelines. No harm done, and if the question stays as is maybe take that as a bit of calibration for future flagging. You're free to ask us an opinion on any specific case if you like, as well, if you're curious whether it's something we thought was awesome or was just not so problematic as to need outright deletion.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I mean, bloody hell, this is getting a little overly pedantic, no? A MeTa thread that's little more than your personal vent space for a certain type of AskMe?

Look, I get what you're saying - but take a step back. Is it really worth getting all in a tizzy about too many relationship questions on AskMe? No one is forcing you to read them. No one is forcing you to respond to them. They are not inviting themselves over for dinner. "We've had more than 10 relationship questions today" is not a reason to flag.

Let it go, man, let it go.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Depends. I'm tired of the "We went on one date and it has been two days and he hasn't called - does he/she like me?" questions. But honestly I find most of them fascinating to read, so I have to agree with Jaltcoh's comment above. Except for the second last part. I love PCs and meat and Canada!
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:37 AM on October 28, 2009

Oh, just to clarify, I'm not willing to avoid all questions in the Human Relations category since I do find some interesting, and I do just ignore and move on past questions I don't want to read. The same way I don't want to read about mac anti-viruses I don't want to read about someone's depressed girlfriend. But some people will! And that's great!

I'm talking more specifically: When does one of these questions become chatfilter? Or a double post? i.e. Is your depressed girlfriend question essentially the same as the other user's/what mitigating circumstances make this worth posting? Is it a question that can be answered by anyone but the OP?

Jaltcoh, I saw that thread too and found it very inspiring and moving. That's not necessarily what I'm talking about here. I would link to the types of threads I'm talking about, but feel like, especially given the topic, it would be insensitive, cause a derail, and call individual users out.

I also am not with the rest of the anti-relationship filter pack on doing away with it, I'd just like maybe some official word on all of this so as to try to tidy things up a bit.
posted by battlebison at 8:41 AM on October 28, 2009

I like RelationshipFilter, not because I think that the people asking the questions will find solutions, but because it can provide so much insight into the personalities of the respondents. I see a RelationshipFilter question and I start hearing the beep ... beep ... beep of MeFites backing up to the loading docks with U-Hauls loaded down with all of their personal issues.
posted by adipocere at 8:46 AM on October 28, 2009 [16 favorites]

Should have previewed: cortex, thanks for your thoughtful reply on the admins' stance.
posted by battlebison at 8:47 AM on October 28, 2009

When does one of these questions become chatfilter? Or a double post?

I think cortex addressed this pretty well. Basically, this type of question is a bit of an exception to the rest of AskMe questions - because you are dealing with relationships, and, as we all know, relationship issues don't usually have one best answer, nor is any given relationship issue the same as another. Lest we forget Wittgenstein when he said of a symphony, "How could I say I liked it? Give me another! They are not the same."

Yeah, I can totally see why the 'he hasn't called' and 'my girlfriend is depressed' questions can seem like double posts...but there's a reason that these sorts of questions are notoriously long - because they are each unique in that way that every question on anti-virus software is not unique. The answers these people seek need be necessarily nuanced and situation-specific. I don't think there' anything wrong with that. Flagging for double posting, I would imagine, would probably be rare. Flagging for chatfilter? Well, if they are looking for specific advice for a specific situation, then no, it isn't chatfiter. If the question is, "What's the best first date you've ever had?" then it's chatfilter, but that seems pretty obvious.

I like the subtle differences between long relationship questions that are similar. I think they're revealing of both the complexity and simplicity of human relationships.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:49 AM on October 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm talking more specifically: When does one of these questions become chatfilter?

Generally, when there's no real question of any kind in the post. Folks will sometimes post something like a rant (less "what do I do about x" and more "x happened, that's fucked up amirite") or post more of a Let's Just Talk About Relationship Thing Foo without any clear indication that they have a personal situation they're trying to grapple with.

So we see chatfilter stuff in the relationship category just like anywhere else, and remove things along those lines occasionally. But it's decidedly muddy water at times, and, again, we tend to be permissive when it looks like someone is making a good faith effort to understand something confusing about their life.

If you can link to a couple specific examples of things that have caught your eye, that might help hash out some of what you see as borderline situations.

Or a double post?

Pretty much never. Not because we believe that there are no similarities between folks lives but because we don't usually see questions like this that are so totally reductively simple that there's no difference from one question to another. We remove very few askme questions as doubles in general, and those that we do are generally perennial trivia questions.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:49 AM on October 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

When does one of these questions become chatfilter? Or a double post?

We delete plenty of AnonyMe questions that just seem to be excuses to outline the decline and dissolution of a relationship and end with a sort of non-question like "Advice?"

Generally speaking these problems don't fall along general chatfilter lines because there's a problem to be solved, they're not excuses to just talk about a topic.

Generally they are not double posts for two reasons

1. there's almost no double post removal in AskMe anyhow
2. relationship questions really are special snowflake situations in most cases [details don't always match up, etc]

Many people like them a lot. Many people don't. If you do not like them, please do not read them.

Put another way, there are different types of questions in AskMe but two main types are

- my question needs one specific answer [i.e. how do I set the clock on my car radio]
- my question needs a lot of answers to help me choose the best course of action [i.e. most job questions as well as most relationship questions] and give me help making up my own mind

And then there is, of course "My question isn't really answerable but I would just feel better if we could talk about a topic I like" which is often what chatfilter is, alternately surveying the audience or just asking an open-ended question and letting people gab about it.

I think people get frustrated looking at the second type of question which needs a set of answers and feeling like it should be the first type of question with a single answer. Different people seem to be better at different sorts of questions. I see a lot of great relationship advice as well as a lot of sincerely meant advice and the occasional clunker.

People who are having a hard time in one way or another make up a lot of the population of AskMe. We don't have many really specific contraindications about relationship questions. I know to some people they really seem like they're the same thing over and over but they've never really seemed that way to us.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:56 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

And here I keep wishing the moderators could move Halloween forward a few days to get it over with already.
posted by effluvia at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2009

Flag what you think needs to be flagged?
posted by chunking express at 9:10 AM on October 28, 2009

I would link to the types of threads I'm talking about, but feel like, especially given the topic, it would be insensitive, cause a derail, and call individual users out.

So ... just the act of linking to the questions would be "insensitive" ... but actually deleting them (with the inevitable note about how this-is-not-what-Metafilter-is-for) wouldn't? Considering how long and heartfelt and personal many of the questions are, I'd think most OPs would be more hurt by a mod deleting their question than a random Mefite linking to it.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:13 AM on October 28, 2009

I'm not a big fan of the relationshipfilter either, but I think it works OK as long as a couple things are avoided:

Jeopardy!/"In the form of a question": As Jessamyn mentioned, those that describe a scenario and then say "Advice?". The asker should do more to fit the question into the acceptable model of askme: "a problem to be solved." (How much is 'plenty', I wonder, that is, how many anon relationshipfilter questions don't get promoted?)

Dr Laura Questions: My father would listen to Laura Schlessinger's show, but always complained that the callers knew exactly what she would say before calling. Similarly, relationshipfilter questions that touch askme hotspots - where the asker knows, or should know, exactly what the community will say - frustrate me. (Often, but no always, 'DTMFA'.)

Really, though, as long as there's a thread on MeTa three or four times a year for those of us who don't like relationshipfilter to vent, I'm happy.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:47 AM on October 28, 2009

Jessamyn: If you do not like them, please do not read them.

Marked as best answer.
posted by bru at 10:00 AM on October 28, 2009

what's the stance on relationship filter questions in AskMe?

AskMe's stance on relationship filter is DTMFA, duh.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:46 AM on October 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

We should have
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:59 AM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

The biggest problems humans have are RelationshipFilter. The fact that we many have a problem with it itself is RelationshipFilter. And that most of the problems are complex and able to be viewed and resolved from multiple angles is testament to the value of RelationshipFilter.

I don't know. I like the world where RelationshipFilter exists and serves a purpose for not only the poster, but for all of those that can share their experiences and learn from others' experiences.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:03 AM on October 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some days I use Metafilter/MetaTalk/AskMetafilter to waste a whole bunch of time, and I read pretty much every question on AskMe. Some days I have lots of stuff to do (that I'm actually willing to do), and I don't check out the site at all... or else I'll only check out AskMe "Human Relations" and "Pets & Animals." If I can only check one, it's Pets & Animals.

From reading a lot of Pets & Animals questions, I know that people have a lot of trouble with their pets not eating/throwing up/peeing or pooping inappropriately/licking themselves bald or bloody. I don't care that I'm reading the 500th question having to do with any of these problems; the specifics are different, the proffered solutions are sometimes different, I frequently learn something new or get a new behavioral or medical perspective on a common problem - and I'm interested every time. I feel pretty much the same about relationship questions. I'm usually interested... and this just happens to be my preference, over, say, legal or computer or travel queries.

You probably also have similar tolerances for your own areas of interest... but now that I look - and I'm honestly not trying to be snarky here - you've not really answered that many questions... so, I'm not understanding the intolerance, or pickiness, or whatever it is. Just go to My Ask in the tabs, set your preferences, and never worry about relationship questions again. If you only want to read new and unusual relationship questions... well, that's not so easy. Use an aggregator, and only click on the ones that strike you as out of the ordinary, I guess. It seems to be more a question of your reader's-desire for unambiguous novelty than a site problem.
posted by taz at 12:02 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

This thread is making me laugh, because I took part in almost exactly the same discussion at reddit, except that one was, on the surface, about the show "Mad Men." Someone suggested that on that show "nothing happens" and wanted to know why it was so popular. (To me, on that show something amazing happens about once every five seconds!)

Aside from its appeal as a historical drama, I suspect it's largely popular -- and unpopular -- because its about relationships. Is someone falling in love something happening? Is someone worrying that they might lose their job something happening? To me, yes. To me, these are the most important events in life. To others, something only happens when one physical object pushes against another physical object.

Some people think Raymond Carver stories, Chekhov plays, and Merchant/Ivory Films are boring because nothing happens; some people think they are fascinating because SO MUCH HAPPENS!

To use a sexist metaphor, some people like "chick flicks" and some don't. (I'm a guy, and I love them. I also love car chases.)

I don't want to play armchair psychologist and suggest that if you don't like relationship-filter, it MUST mean that you don't like subtle, emotional problems. Maybe you dislike them because you respect the rules of AskMe and feel like these questions break the rules. I do suggest that you do some soul-searching about them, though. Is your major gripe about the subject-matter or the (potential) rule breaking?

I'd be curious to see a breakdown of male/female membership correlated with who likes relationship filter and who doesn't. I'm sure there are plenty of guys who like it (there are plenty who post relationship questions) and plenty of girls who don't. But I'm curious as to whether more girls like relationship filter than guys.

I do know this: I've seen variants of this debate many times in my life. For instance, I remember lit classes in which some people wanted to discuss characters while others rolled their eyes and while they waited to discuss theme and historical context.

This is a basic, human, character-trait difference.

For a while, I was deeply confused about the rules on AskMe. What I heard most often was that anything was chatfilter unless it had a concrete answer. But that ruled out many allowed questions, such as "I like Star Wars. What other movies should I watch?" That's going to court opinions. How is it not chatfilter?

Polling questions seem to be okay, as long as answers can have some reasoning that can be applied to someone other than the responder.* In other words, "What is your favorite color?" is chatfilter, because I can only say, "green" or "blue because I like the sky." My answer can conflict with your answer, and there's no way of judging between them.

Whereas "You'd like Aliens, because it's sci-fi and has lots of fighting in it!" is part opinion, but it's backed up by reasoning that could be external to the person making the claim. Same with "You shouldn't cheat on your girlfriend, because she'll probably catch you."

[*The reasoning doesn't always get explicitly stated in the answer, though it probably should be. If someone likes 'Star Wars' and wants to know what else they should watch, most people would accept 'Star Trek' as an answer and assume that the reasoning is that they are both space-opera stories.

I do find it problematic, in those recommendation threads, when people don't list reasons, because too often it turns into people just listing their favorite books and movies. At least relationship-filter answers are more on-topic than that.]
posted by grumblebee at 1:18 PM on October 28, 2009

That was beautiful Cortex.

The other thing is that you can learn a lot from reading other people's relationship questions and the answers they get. The collective wisdom can be enlightening. We also have a few people who routinely provide valuable and insightful answers (like PinkSuperHero, she should be a relationship therapist) and I always learn a little something from them even if the issue being discussed is not ever going to be my issue. I think you can get some insight into the human psyche from these questions.
posted by caddis at 1:51 PM on October 28, 2009

Everything I learned 'bout twitterpatin' I got from The Metafilter Ask!
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:11 PM on October 28, 2009

I like Relationship Filter questions because they're more interesting than, to use someone else's example, "how do I set my alarm clock?" The rare times I've asked a human relations question, I consider that this is Metafilter, and I try to format my question to be less "what should I dooo, hellllp??" and more "what steps could I take to achieve x?" or "do you have any tips for avoiding a bad result from y situation?" That seems to get better answers and fits more in the format of AskMe.
posted by ishotjr at 4:56 PM on October 28, 2009

I don't want to play armchair psychologist and suggest that if you don't like chat-filter, it MUST mean that you don't like subtle, whimiscal problems. Maybe you dislike them because you respect the rules of AskMe and feel like these questions break the rules. I do suggest that you do some soul-searching about them, though. Is your major gripe about the subject-matter or the (potential) rule breaking?
posted by afu at 10:41 PM on October 28, 2009

I feel like this thread is my fault because I was bitching about RelationshipFilter in another thread. For the record, their existence doesn't bother me at all, I just skip them (unless they look particularly juicy, of course). More people should skip stuff they don't like instead of frame a callout about it. I was just giving my opinion, not pushing some "we should have less of these/they should be subject to more strict moderation" agenda.

So with that disclaimer aside..

> Is your major gripe about the subject-matter or the (potential) rule breaking?

First off, I don't think Rules Lawyers come about because they are overly worried about the rules. I think what happens is something they like gets smacked down over a rule, and then they see something else which seems to violate it but is accepted. It's natural to be a little irritated by the perceived unfairness and demand either an explanation or that the rule be enforced fairly. In general, people don't react well to unfairness, even if it's only in their head. Honestly, I like chatty hypotheticals, and I think most relationship questions fall in that category, so it does grate a bit that one is given so much leeway while the other is summarily executed. It doesn't keep me up at night though, and I feel the moderator's explanation is sufficiently well-reasoned.

But no, my gripe, personally, about R-filter questions is mainly that I think the vast majority of people giving advice aren't qualified to do so and give some pretty disastrous/bullshit answers or use it as a place to stridently assert how they think the world should be. The thing about relationships is almost everyone thinks they are an expert on the subject just because they've dated or had a crush on someone. Pretty much any other subject, if you go in pretending you're an expert, people react negatively. Try giving bogus medical, legal, or computer advice and the community will come down on you hard. But you can totally (hyperbole warning!) tell someone they should do get a divorce/sever all ties/get a TRO because they left the toilet seat up and no one is willing to disagree because relationships are just about individual perspectives. The whole affair makes me pretty stabby, which is why I skip them.

I understand a lot of people love them and have no desire to take that away. Just so we're clear on that.
posted by cj_ at 11:22 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't want to play armchair psychologist and suggest that if you don't like chat-filter, it MUST mean that you don't like subtle, whimiscal problems.

For what it's worth, I like hypothetical chatfilter stuff but care very little personally for relationship questions. I chalk that up as two different categories; the former I love in the geekish, argumentative way that I love abstract discussions/arguments about anything under the sun, and the latter I put on having grown up in a busy family with more than enough drama both direct and ancillary such that I don't care to be exposed to any more of it at this point than I have to be.

I think by and large people react to either of these things for a pretty wide variety of reasons. Certainly there are some folks who are primarily working in some sort of rules-lawyering mode; others are primarily concerned with a dilution of or transgression against what they see as the proper use of askme; others still just plain don't like certain styles of question; and on again for other motivations that I can't manage to enumerate right now. It's not a cut-and-dried, binary question in any case, or even something that can be cleanly partitioned into some small set of discrete camps—any given person has some overlapping set of factors that they react to here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:22 AM on October 29, 2009

Projects was red back when it launched, but then Matt caved under pressure listened to community feedback and changed it to the dull, non-retina-searing teal it is today.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:05 AM on October 29, 2009

Cj_, there are actual people more qualified than other to answer relationship questions; moreover, not all relationship questions are the same.

People who have experienced those exact situations first-hand and can share their own outcomes or decisions with the poster are one example; with enough people doing that, a quorum can be achieved, which may help the poster realize the best course of action.

Also, there are actual relationship experts on the site. Therapists, psychologists, advice columnists, authors, sociologists conducting studies on human behavior, writers who have done extensive research into the chemical reactions in the brain when experiencing love...

I'm not sure how people like that wouldn't be qualified to answer R-filter questions, unless you think that long-term studies into the science of love and human interpersonal relations are by their very nature invalid.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:34 AM on October 29, 2009

I like to read, more than ask or answer relationship-filter questions. As someone often accused of being slightly Aspie (though I think they're just joking, not literally suggesting I go get diagnosed), I like to see what the general consensus is in hypothetical (to me) social situations. I find it helpful even when someone suggests something off the beaten path, and then others critique.

It's not just morbid entertainment for me. I think I've actually steered around a relationship disaster or two from the understanding I gathered from AskMe and not from real life.
posted by ctmf at 5:48 PM on October 29, 2009

what's the stance on relationship filter questions

The stance is wide.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:27 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like how 4 different people's answers about a stupid argument over a water bottle was to end the relationship immediately. Good stuff.
posted by cj_ at 5:51 AM on October 30, 2009

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