Taking one's 120 Crayolas and going home February 28, 2010 9:45 AM   Subscribe

What is MeFi's policy when people quit the site and want all their posts + comments deleted?

No, I am not closing my account or wanting anything deleted; I'm a happy camper. But it is a dilemma I am curious about. I've seen some "I'm Taking My Ball And Going Home" syndrome going on at a couple of other forums, so it does happen.

From what I understand, when people interact with MeFi they've granted the site a license to use the writings, though I looked at the new user registration and I'm not really seeing a TOS where this is conveyed. I do see in the FAQ it says you can delete your account but "your existing posts and comments will remain". People will insist on deletion anyway.

If the admins refuse, this might spark a whole lot of drama and legal threats, and the person might go on to say their privacy is being violated. Caving in though means thread continuity in numerous threads gets compromised.

So I'm curious how MeFi responds to such requests. Barring that, what do other forums typically do?
posted by crapmatic to Etiquette/Policy at 9:45 AM (318 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

There is a previous thread somewhere about this. I think the answer is in super rare and compelling instances it will be done, since the bottom of every page says you own your content, but that it screws up the site, since responses and quotes lose all context though. I don't know that it's ever actually happened.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:50 AM on February 28, 2010


Also: what about someone who'd be willing to let their posts stand, but would request that they'd be changed in some way (removing the username, for instance) so that the personal info they posted does not come back to haunt them?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:57 AM on February 28, 2010


Our policy is "no, we will not do that".

Deleting a specific thing that you regret or that is causing privacy issues is one thing, and we'll accommodate that sort of thing generally when it comes up (whether in tandem with an account closure or not), but requests to wipe an entire account's activity are not something we're okay with.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:58 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


As far as a specific TOS, that's something we're actually getting back around to finally putting together, and having sort of edge-case stuff like this that's so outlier as to not really bear specific mention in the guidelines should hopefully be made fairly concrete in that document once it launches.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2010


What cortex said and to address what cjorgensen said about copyright, you still keep your copyright, but a TOS will make clear that posting to mefi gives mefi a license to display your content, regardless of who owns the words.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:04 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If "All posts are © their original authors" then it's safe to presume by posting you grant a nonexclusive license for metafilter to put your stuff online.

I can't find any text saying this is irrevocable that one agrees to before joining and posting/commenting. Saying "your posts/comments will remain" in another document somewhere else, not directly pointed to at the time you agree to the site's TOS, would probably not be enforceable under US law.

Maybe Mefi does get an irrevocable license correctly under US law, but I'm not seeing it.

However, I'm just doing a little bit of factual research.

Given the above & the real-life interests of people who close accounts, those who request their accounts closed and their posts deleted should get them deleted, irrespective of Mefi policy.

Near as I can tell they don't, one assumes in favor of site continuity.

This is a fundamentally broken area of Mefi policy. Even if long-time and frequent commenting members quit they should be able to delete the substance of their comments and have them replaced by a placeholder. Near as I can tell this might those commenters' actual legal rights if it were determined in a US court but also it's just, in my opinion, better policy (ie fuck continuity, if someone wants to erase themselves, Mefi should let them).
posted by herodotus at 10:05 AM on February 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


But even fairly innocent comments can lead to a situation like that creepy comment a few years ago where someone reconstructed a user's life, with something like 100 footnotes.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:06 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


'Our policy is "no, we will not do that".'

That's fine. Whether your policy is actually enforceable under US law if someone is sufficiently pissed enough to challenge you is another thing entirely.
posted by herodotus at 10:07 AM on February 28, 2010


Practically speaking, we don't run into many people making serious legal threats over the issue, which is nice. Agreed that if someone is that unhinged about it it becomes a different issue, but our general site policy and practice (and what is consistent with the site culture and practice here for ten years running now) is that such requests are not granted.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2010


So the policy is "no, unless you're willing to pay a lawyer to send a nastygram"?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:11 AM on February 28, 2010


Yeah, that's cool. (I'm not being sarcastic --- really I don't particularly care, I'm just making some comments)
posted by herodotus at 10:18 AM on February 28, 2010


(I also deny the existence of "em-dash" or whatever you sophisticated people use.)
posted by herodotus at 10:19 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just had a bag of the Cheeseburger flavored Doritos. They were good, in that good way.
posted by jonmc at 10:20 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Even if long-time and frequent commenting members quit they should be able to delete the substance of their comments and have them replaced by a placeholder.

Show me a community where this happens. I don't see Digg, Slashdot, or anyone else offering such a feature. It would be horrible for communities to do this.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:24 AM on February 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


Reddit does it, and it sucks.
posted by teraflop at 10:28 AM on February 28, 2010


Places with unlimited comment editing allow you to do that in a time-consuming way (just go over each post and "edit" it to erase its content). I've seen it happen.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:33 AM on February 28, 2010


Youtube allows it as well.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:36 AM on February 28, 2010


Mathowie, I am talking purely as a matter of US copyright law here. Whether or not it would be horrible is a policy decision.

If you want to discuss policy, I can't give you examples where other sites do this. But that's not what I was talking about.

As a matter of law if you say posts as (c) the poster and don't explicitly say you are taking an irrevocable license in a conspicuous way then you are running a risk that I wouldn't run if I ran a comment based website. That's all I'm saying.
posted by herodotus at 10:39 AM on February 28, 2010


So the policy is "no, unless you're willing to pay a lawyer to send a nastygram"?

When you get right down to it, that's the case for a lot of things in life. This is not something we approve of doing, at all, and we will argue very strongly against it to anyone who tries to make such a request. On most of the rare occasions that it has come up, that's been the end of it.

Ultimately, people can be nutters with lawyers, and how to deal with those thankfully-deeply-rare situations is a matter that's more or less separate from how we deal with general policy around here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:39 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is a bad idea and I'm glad the mods agree.
posted by languagehat at 10:40 AM on February 28, 2010


(This is something that could be fixed with a single sentence saying you take an irrevocable license in comments and posts. That's all I'm saying.)
posted by herodotus at 10:41 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey. I was publicly wrong! That's a first.

Ok, not so much.

I do remember this coming up before and was trying to find the said post and failed. My memory of what said post said was also a failure. Oh well.

I live in my own little world.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:47 AM on February 28, 2010


This is a fundamentally broken area of Mefi policy. Even if long-time and frequent commenting members quit they should be able to delete the substance of their comments and have them replaced by a placeholder. Near as I can tell this might those commenters' actual legal rights if it were determined in a US court but also it's just, in my opinion, better policy (ie fuck continuity, if someone wants to erase themselves, Mefi should let them).

More than likely, a US court wouldn't require that the comments and posts be removed. The comments and posts were originally posted on MeFi and the mere act of taking your ball and going home doesn't mean that those posts should or will be removed. There is no harm in allowing content created for MeFi stay on MeFi; harm would occur if the content were forcibly removed (i.e., discontinuity in threads, etc.). Any "(c)" each of us may have in what we write here wouldn't trump that and any attorney that wrote a nasty-gram demanding same would merely be wasting his client's time and money (not to mention Matt's time).

The Mods' policy of removing embarrassing, personal, etc., posts but declining to remove a member's (former member's) entire posting history is a good policy.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 10:49 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]



This is a fundamentally broken area of Mefi policy. Even if long-time and frequent commenting members quit they should be able to delete the substance of their comments and have them replaced by a placeholder. Near as I can tell this might those commenters' actual legal rights if it were determined in a US court but also it's just, in my opinion, better policy (ie fuck continuity, if someone wants to erase themselves, Mefi should let them).


I think that's kind of silly and may encourage long term bad behavior. "Hey I can act however I want, then delete it all by quitting, then sign up again, rinse and repeat". IF there is one thing I dislike about on-line content is how insubstantial people see it as and as a license for anything-goes-behavior. You don't get do overs in the rest of life, if you send a letter to be published in a magazine or newspaper you live with your words, if you say something jackassery to someone you don't have a magic eraser to make it unhappen. It's more than continuity, it is basic social structure imo. You can be responsible for your words but still not have the inalienable right to erase them from society.

(oh and .... Near as I can tell this might those commenters' actual legal rights if it were determined in a US court ... is a meaningless phrase.)
posted by edgeways at 10:52 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is something that could be fixed with a single sentence saying you take an irrevocable license in comments and posts. That's all I'm saying.

Right, and as we've already said, it will be in a TOS we're working on right now. Realistically, we'll probably be posting it to MetaTalk for comments when the dust settles after SXSW.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:55 AM on February 28, 2010


I think that's kind of silly and may encourage long term bad behavior. "Hey I can act however I want, then delete it all by quitting, then sign up again, rinse and repeat".

I doubt that if someone exercised the hypothetical "nuclear option" they'd be allowed back on the site.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:58 AM on February 28, 2010


So the policy is "no, unless you're willing to pay a lawyer to send a nastygram"?

The mods are kind of skating around it here but I remember a previous statement from the administration, which I am too lazy to look for, that this has actually happened at least once. So, you can get your comments deleted if you have enough money, like pretty much anything else. The rest of us were never going to run for public office anyway, I guess.
posted by enn at 11:00 AM on February 28, 2010


I doubt that if someone exercised the hypothetical "nuclear option" they'd be allowed back on the site.

(shrug) new name, different posting computer (library, school, friends, B&N wireless...) if there is an IP ban.
posted by edgeways at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2010


If all a user knows is that submissions are (c) the submitter and the user is not aware of the background policy of permanence they are probably not going to be bound by it. If you really want I can cite cases where TOS/click-through legal theory is discussed. I do this a lot and you're just wrong LOLAttorney2009.
posted by herodotus at 11:17 AM on February 28, 2010


New paypal account, too, for post-Nov. 2004 users. And trying to "fly under the radar" so that the mods don't realize you are who you are.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:20 AM on February 28, 2010


Only in cases of _________ will MeFi ________ a user's previous __________ and __________.
                (verb+ing)            (verb)                   (plural noun)   (body part)
posted by not_on_display at 11:21 AM on February 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


herodotus: Given the above & the real-life interests of people who close accounts, those who request their accounts closed and their posts deleted should get them deleted, irrespective of Mefi policy.

edgeways: IF there is one thing I dislike about on-line content is how insubstantial people see it as and as a license for anything-goes-behavior.

The real life/Internet life dichotomy has really got to go. Unless there's been some serious advancement of chatbot tech in the past few years, we're all people here. Wherever we are.
posted by carsonb at 11:22 AM on February 28, 2010


(verb+ing) (gerund)
posted by carsonb at 11:23 AM on February 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


carsonb, all I am saying is that telling users their submissions are (c) themselves and having a mostly hidden background policy of permanence is fundamentally bad practice.

I don't have an emotional stake in this. I am just extremely familiar with the actual US law in this area.

If Mefi made the license they are granted explicitly irrevocable and users affirmatively agreed to that, then it would be different. I recognize that the argument would be different for someone like jonmc or quonsar who have been around from the beginning of time and were thus presumptively aware of the policy.

But if a user signed up because he/she was attracted to Ask and made a few comments and then decided to delete his/her account? That's different and that is the situation I am thinking of.
posted by herodotus at 11:27 AM on February 28, 2010


What is MeFi's policy when people quit the site and want all their posts + comments deleted?

Just adding a "me too" Our policy is that you should post to MeFi presuming that you can't take things back. If your life circumstances change such that you regret some things, we'll work with you on a combination of some anonymization and deletions, but we hate doing it and if you're someone who does this post-and-regret thing often, we'll suggest you should not be posting anymore.

And yeah if you want to threaten us legally, at this point, we're more likely to not want to get embroiled in a legal fight that we're honestly not too certain of the outcome. If it really gets to that point, you've been banned from the site and have sort of kissed this place goodbye anyhow, so discussing "what if" scenarios in MeTa is not super useful.

This is something that rarely comes up [a few times in a decade, and we've handled it in different ways] and we deal with it, like any Big Issues we deal with on the site, on a case by case basis and not in a "let's bat around hypotheticals" sort of way. Things that affect the site's ability to... keep being the site ... are in some way the sole responsibility of Matt and like any legal issues probably need to be dealt with somewhat privately.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:27 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, as far as I can tell the official policy is, "We know we're breaking the law but we also know most of you can't afford lawyers that can beat up our lawyers, ha ha!" That's a shitty way to treat people.
posted by enn at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


having a mostly hidden background policy of permanence is fundamentally bad practice.

We're working on a terms of service. Our policy of not deleting all of a user's past history is in the FAQ and has been for years though we could possibly surface it more.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2010


I've bequeathed all of my favorites to my two adorable sockpuppets. That's cool, right?
posted by special-k at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2010


(verb+ing) (gerund)

I don't have any Madlibs handy to check, but I would be surprised if they ever used the term gerund.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:32 AM on February 28, 2010


Only as long as Uncle Matt gets the inheritance tax.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:33 AM on February 28, 2010


And herodotus, in your hypothetical... a brand new user, a few comments, we'd probably be fine with deleting those comments. We'd probably also prefer that user not come back.

Seriously, as far as I can tell the official policy is, "We know we're breaking the law but we also know most of you can't afford lawyers that can beat up our lawyers, ha ha!"

That's an incredibly uncharitable reading of how we interact with users on the site and not based, as near as I can tell, on anything.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:33 AM on February 28, 2010 [21 favorites]


Oh, hey, I'm not disagreeing with you herodotus. I quoted you and edgeways because those two thoughts prompted my thought on the slowly waning trend of maintaining separate Internets and reals life identities, and I usually try to lay out my (mostly brokedown) trains of thought. But if you wanna fighty, I'm in the mood. My cat disappeared this morning and my best friend left town.
posted by carsonb at 11:34 AM on February 28, 2010


I don't have any Madlibs handy to check, but I would be surprised if they ever used the term gerund.

Well, I have to hand my thick copy of MetaFilter MadLibs for the Puissant Pedant and, lemme check, yep!
(gerund)
is used inconsistently throughout.
posted by carsonb at 11:37 AM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Right, and as we've already said...

Ok. It wasn't said in this thread before my comment and I don't habitually search the comment/post history of the founder or the mods before making a comment. Also, that's probably not relevant to anyone prior to an enforceable TOS being posted.
posted by herodotus at 11:37 AM on February 28, 2010


That's an incredibly uncharitable reading of how we interact with users on the site and not based, as near as I can tell, on anything.

I think it's a fairly straightforward reading. Cortex wrotes: "Practically speaking, we don't run into many people making serious legal threats over the issue, which is nice." Mathowie is talking about writing a TOS. To me, this means that Matt knows that the current policy, in the absence of an enforceable TOS, is not really legally defensible, as pretty much everyone with a knowledge of copyright law who has posted in any of the numerous threads on this issue has agreed, but he also knows that "serious legal threats" are rare, so he doesn't care.
posted by enn at 11:38 AM on February 28, 2010


(shrug) new name, different posting computer (library, school, friends, B&N wireless...) if there is an IP ban.

The question of whether and how and how well someone who has been told never to come back can manage to sneak back under the radar is kind of it's own thing. We're fairly attentive to that stuff and have a decent toolset for keeping an eye out, and it doesn't hurt that the rare sort of person to get told to never come back is rarely the calm-and-collected type capable of a lot of careful self-control. That said, it's a given that anyone doing a sufficiently good job of slipping under the radar has, by definition, slipped under the radar.

Seriously, as far as I can tell the official policy is, "We know we're breaking the law but we also know most of you can't afford lawyers that can beat up our lawyers, ha ha!" That's a shitty way to treat people.

This is a ridiculous characterization of the actual situation. We have zero interest in seeing lawyers enter the question at all; our primary concern is not having the continuity and integrity of this site-as-community fucked up by a rash litigious powerplay by a departing embittered user, and that is really the only kind of situation where it's ever been an issue.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:40 AM on February 28, 2010


My cat disappeared this morning and my best friend left town.

Have you considered the possibility that your best friend took the cat?

But seriously that sucks.
posted by jedicus at 11:40 AM on February 28, 2010


Seems to me, if you post publicly on the Internet, you no longer "own" what you posted in terms of forcing someone to remove it. Just like if you send someone a letter, the letter no longer belongs to you and you can't compel them to burn it.
posted by tzikeh at 11:41 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, as far as I can tell the official policy is, "We know we're breaking the law but we also know most of you can't afford lawyers that can beat up our lawyers, ha ha!" That's a shitty way to treat people.
posted by enn at 2:29 PM on February 28 [+] [!]


Uhh...I think you're overdramatizing this. The sense they've conveyed is that they want to balance the copyrights of users with the utility of the site. Quite frankly, demanding that the mods remove ALL the content you've written into posts and threads and threatening legal action if they refuse is a shitty way to treat people.

The stated MeFi policy appears to be quite reasonable, though perhaps not legally airtight, whereas suing for the removal of your posts/comments is shitty, though legal.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:42 AM on February 28, 2010


he doesn't care

You're sort of coming over as a prick, and with poor reading comprehension to boot: "... as we've already said, it will be in a TOS we're working on right now. Realistically, we'll probably be posting it to MetaTalk for comments when the dust settles after SXSW."

It hasn't really been an issue but they acknowledge that some clarity would be beneficial for all involved and are taking steps to do that.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:42 AM on February 28, 2010


And herodotus, in your hypothetical... a brand new user, a few comments, we'd probably be fine with deleting those comments. We'd probably also prefer that user not come back.

Ok! I'm not here to start a fight with you or mathowie or cortex or vacapinta. Really, seriously, I am not about to start flying off the handle. I don't particularly care (except when people misstate the actual law).

You guys run a great show in the presence of what often seems 2 million 2-year-olds (myself included). This is a great place that I've been visiting for 10 years.

I am making a purely legal comment as someone who is familiar with it.
posted by herodotus at 11:42 AM on February 28, 2010


Well, real-life v. on-line-life is interesting, because from my point of view, it has changed quite a bit during metafilter's life. Back in 2003 or 2004, you may have thought about your employer googling you, but not about your mom contacting you on facebook. People might also have expected pseudonyms to be more anonymous than they actually were.

The end of the dichotomy (or the perception thereof) might be a reason someone wants to be "memory-holed".
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:42 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just like if you send someone a letter, the letter no longer belongs to you and you can't compel them to burn it.

But you can legally prevent them from publishing it under longstanding copyright law, at least until it passes into the public domain after many years.

You're sort of coming over as a prick, and with poor reading comprehension to boot: "... as we've already said, it will be in a TOS we're working on right now. Realistically, we'll probably be posting it to MetaTalk for comments when the dust settles after SXSW."

It hasn't really been an issue but they acknowledge that some clarity would be beneficial for all involved and are taking steps to do that.


I am kind of a prick, but I'm really trying not to be one here. But I don't see why I'm supposed to be mollified by a TOS that is posted many years after I became active on this site. It certainly was not clear to me when I joined that Matt considered me to be granting him an irrevocable license to publish my comments in perpetuity.
posted by enn at 11:46 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


enn, I feel like you're making a useful point but obscuring it with an abrasive tone. I agree 100% with the policy that sitewide profile erasure would be destructive to the functioning of the site. I'm glad that someone has never been so crazily motivated as to sue Metafilter for such erasure, but it does seem to this layman that they might make a plausible case out of the copyright they retain in their comments. Therefore, it's important that Metafilter protect itself against that eventuality. It would probably be prudent to make all users check off agreement to the TOS when it's completed.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:47 AM on February 28, 2010


To me, this means that Matt knows that the current policy, in the absence of an enforceable TOS, is not really legally defensible, as pretty much everyone with a knowledge of copyright law who has posted in any of the numerous threads on this issue has agreed, but he also knows that "serious legal threats" are rare, so he doesn't care.

I bring up the rarity of lawyer-hijinks because it's just plain nice that we don't frequently deal with angry litigious people. It's plain fact that the difference between principle and practice, as far as dealing with legal action, is a tremendous amount of time and effort and money and bad feelings. It's easy to say that the correct approach to a spurious legal threat is to say "I dare you to try", but in reality staking the health of the site and Matt's livelihood and ability to not live inside of a drawn out legal process just to prove a litigious jerk wrong is a non-trivial decision. That's why it's nice not to, in practice, see lawyer stuff happening.

We're implementing a TOS for essentially the sort of reasons herodotus is takling about: there are rare but potentially pain-in-the-ass edgecases that we'd like to have be more formally addressed in a document drafted/vetted by legal professionals for those cases where we do have to have a conversation with someone. Most of that is more about straightforward abuses of the site -- spammers and linkfarmers and so on -- as anything, but more clearly addressing what has been in fact a general site policy of not doing blanket removals of content is part of that list of stuff.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2010


Breaking the law? I guess the 300 blogs I follow along with countless thousands of other blogs I can comment on but lack rigorous legal documentation. When I leave a comment on a blog I almost never know what the policy is and that's ok.

I know MeFi is bigger than a blogspot site and the TOS is long overdue but we're getting close to done.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, to follow up, I absolutely understand why the mods would not want people do to this and would not welcome anyone back after they requested that their comments be deleted. But my understanding is that right now, even if you are willing to be permabanned from the site, you still cannot have past comments deleted.
posted by enn at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2010


I guess I'm coming off more abrasive than I mean to be. I get really frustrated on this issue because there is a lot of stuff I wish I could see disappeared from when I was a kid and it seems pretty cold for people — especially people old enough not to have to worry about things they wrote at 14 being googleable for all time — telling me I just have to suck it up in the name of some purism about the sanctity of long-dead threads.
posted by enn at 11:54 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


my understanding is that right now, even if you are willing to be permabanned from the site, you still cannot have past comments deleted.

We'll delete the occasional old comment for pretty much any reason, we'll also anonymize an old AskMe or two. An active user may have comments in 100 to 5000 threads and deleting every contribution they've made would very seriously screw things up. I appreciate that you're arguing principle here, and I suppose we could get into the minutiae of whether the FAQ entry was active when you joined the site, but it's one of those things that is so blindly rare that we don't have a ready-in-the-wings policy for it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:54 AM on February 28, 2010


We have talked about also having an opt-in for older members before we accept any future comments but of course someone could refuse and stay in limbo.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:58 AM on February 28, 2010


But I don't see why I'm supposed to be mollified by a TOS that is posted many years after I became active on this site. It certainly was not clear to me when I joined that Matt considered me to be granting him an irrevocable license to publish my comments in perpetuity.

*Cough*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:58 AM on February 28, 2010


I get really frustrated on this issue because there is a lot of stuff I wish I could see disappeared from when I was a kid and it seems pretty cold for people — especially people old enough not to have to worry about things they wrote at 14 being googleable for all time — telling me I just have to suck it up in the name of some purism about the sanctity of long-dead threads.

First, I sympathize. I'm not as old as maybe you think, and am perfectly capable of regretting teenaged internet outings archived by google. Nothing particularly interesting, but that doesn't mean I'm thrilled about it. I said plenty of stupid stuff on mefi itself as a 20-something with mouth than self-awareness.

Second, like I've said and jessamyn just hit on this again, if folks have specific, isolated things they regret having out there, they can talk to us about that. The distinction is not between never deleting and ever deleting, it's between deleting some specific regrettable thing and just blanket wiping large portions of someone's history on the site.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:04 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


especially people old enough not to have to worry about things they wrote at 14 being googleable for all time

If they ever digitize the back issues of my high school newspaper, I pray to God they have the decency not to tell me about it.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:09 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


About the FAQ: all it says is that closing your account won't delete your comments. I can't really see how you'd interpret it as a policy against blanket deletions of a user's history.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:16 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


enn, I sympathize but "We know we're breaking the law..." is, I think, not applicable.
posted by herodotus at 12:17 PM on February 28, 2010


Metafilter: I'm not as old as maybe you think
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:20 PM on February 28, 2010


Monday, stony Monday: the issue is a legal one which, you might reasonably think, is stupid. But if someone brought a claim it would probably be a very complicated case and based on specific facts. In other words, it would be expensive.
posted by herodotus at 12:21 PM on February 28, 2010


herodotus: are you responding to my "nastygram" comment?

And it does seem like a huge legal can of worms to me; there's currently no clear TOS, and MeFi's current policy is scattered in hundreds of mod comments and some FAQs.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:28 PM on February 28, 2010


enn, I think we're discussing two different things. If you want a few embarassing things deleted that you wrote ages ago, email us, but a wholesale whitewashing of every contribution including best answers, posts, and comments is a different animal.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:32 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Should be easy, though, if you wanted to do it - right? Isn't that the whole point of relational databasing?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:37 PM on February 28, 2010


Herodotus, you keep talking about knowing a lot about the law in this area. Is it because you have had your own legal issues in this department, or because you are an attorney who works in copyright?
posted by ishotjr at 12:39 PM on February 28, 2010


But as I pointed out earlier, there's the problem that while by itself, any comment might be fairly innocent, if you take 2,000 of them, your life is basically laid bare (see: the old creepy footnoted comments).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:39 PM on February 28, 2010


Metafilter: I'm not as old as maybe you think

Metafilter:I am older than I wish to admit at this time
posted by Sparx at 12:40 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


enn, I sympathize but "We know we're breaking the law..." is, I think, not applicable.

Maybe you're right. As you say, though, it's at the very least a legal gray area.

I appreciate that you're arguing principle here

Just to be clear, I'm not arguing principle for principle's sake and I don't care about hypothetical cases. I'm arguing because I would like to have all of my comments deleted and I can't. If I win the lottery I'm not above bribery but until then Metatalk is all I've got to work with.

enn, I think we're discussing two different things. If you want a few embarassing things deleted that you wrote ages ago, email us, but a wholesale whitewashing of every contribution including best answers, posts, and comments is a different animal.

There are not really any particular things I'm worried about. I'd just rather there not be a record of me on such a high-profile site, especially one from which, as Monday, stony Monday points out and as tamim (IIRC) demonstrated a few years ago, it's easy to derive a fairly complete portrait when considering that record in aggregate. I continue to participate because the damage is already done, but I'd happily be banned if I could erase the existing record.
posted by enn at 12:46 PM on February 28, 2010


Why do these discussions always seem to boil down to:

"Why is X policy?"

"We have a general guideline but we handle things on an individual case basis."

"But Y situation was handled differently from X!"

"Yes. We do things on a case-by-case basis."

"BUT WHAT IS THE POLICY!?"
posted by Scattercat at 12:47 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


My favorite TOS.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:53 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Should be easy, though, if you wanted to do it - right? Isn't that the whole point of relational databasing?

Easy to delete someone's whole history? Yes. The policy has nothing to do with the difficulty of crafting the SQL query. It'd be easier yet to drop every table from the db, but we aren't going to do that either.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:03 PM on February 28, 2010


And what do you do about people who do this:
cortex says: Easy to delete someone's whole history? Yes. The policy has nothing to do with the difficulty of crafting the SQL query. It'd be easier yet to drop every table from the db, but we aren't going to do that either.
Sure, when cortex leaves and takes his words with him, you might get the stuff he wrote, but what about quotes and such? Not so easy to craft that query. A person has to realize they will be leaving a mark on a site when they join.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:08 PM on February 28, 2010


My favorite TOS.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:10 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Horace, that TOS has many holes and inaccuracies, plus it tried to romance me!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:19 PM on February 28, 2010


cjorgensen: indeed, a complete and utter wipeout is probably impossible. Some people may even have quoted comments on other websites over which Matt has no control. But deleting every one of cortex's comments would make it much harder to do a "Josh Millard, a.k.a. cortex, is a moderator on Metafilter1..." comment.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:21 PM on February 28, 2010


Did somebody say they wanted to be obliviated?
posted by Afroblanco at 1:24 PM on February 28, 2010


Here is that tamim bio of thomcatspike based on thomcatspike's posting history, by the way.
posted by enn at 1:25 PM on February 28, 2010


So the policy is "no, unless you're willing to pay a lawyer to send a nastygram"?

When you get right down to it, that's the case for a lot of things in life.


I manage community relationships for about a dozen related sites and that's our policy as well. Because it screws things up. You delete someone's comments and all of the people who've responded to that person are now referencing no one. It creates orphan parent entries in the database. And it encourages people to be sloppy with the post button.

And they're already mighty sloppy with it.

I'd delete out of basic neighborliness or human compassion if someone asked me to, with good reason, and if I could do it without screwing up tons of threads, but a lot of people think this is an excellent way to cover up for having been an asshole in the past, or to smite their enemies (this argument never happened!!!), and that's not fair.

It might also not be fair that 'rich people are more likely to be able to get posts deleted because they can hire a lawyer' but that doesn't mean that people shouldn't be responsible for their dealings with the submit button, regardless of their economic circumstances.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:25 PM on February 28, 2010


Metafilter: making a useful point but obscuring it with an abrasive tone.
posted by jacalata at 1:30 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Did somebody say they wanted to be obliviated?

So I guess 'pulling a drakepool' never caught on?
posted by morganannie at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The policy is that there is no policy. The jwz thread no longer exists on the front page of MeTa, while mine remains despite requests to remove it.
posted by xish at 1:53 PM on February 28, 2010


I'd delete out of basic neighborliness or human compassion if someone asked me to

That's all anyone is asking for.
posted by enn at 1:56 PM on February 28, 2010


while mine remains despite requests to remove it.

I am sorry you fell into the when-all-mods-are-sleeping hole and that this caused you some level of anxiety, but if you need the thread to be deep-sixed you need to be clear and you need to email us. Deleting a high visibility MeTa thread comes with its own set of issues and we want ot make sure they've been considered.

I'd appreciate that until we've actually said "no" that you don't act like we've said no. Deleting stuff is tricky business, we don't approach it lightly, we opt for least-damaging when we can, I'm typing this from an airport [and I closed the thread before I left for the airport and before the other mods were awake] and you're not even logged in under your main username.

Please contact us over email and work with us on this.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:01 PM on February 28, 2010


Jessamyn, I emailed all of you and specifically requested in-thread that the post be removed from the front page.
posted by xish at 2:01 PM on February 28, 2010


Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.
posted by gman at 2:02 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


A Terrible Llama: a lot of people think this is an excellent way to cover up for having been an asshole in the past

Yes, that indeed sucks. But what about someone who didn't quite treat the submit button with the respect it deserves, and, comment by comment, put their life on your site for all to see?

Over the years, the internet has paradoxically become smaller: what you thought would be lost in the ocean of the net when you pushed Submit in 2004 has turned out to be easily findable and linkable to you.

We all have an interest in the integrity of Metafilter. Losing thousands of comments would suck. But we have to balance that against the interest of the people who made those comments.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:03 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jessamyn, I emailed all of you and specifically requested in-thread that the post be removed from the front page.

cortex emailed you back with some questions four minutes after you emailed him. Please get back to him.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:04 PM on February 28, 2010


Just looked, not in any spam folders. Please resend.
posted by xish at 2:07 PM on February 28, 2010


Sent. Please follow up with him.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:10 PM on February 28, 2010


Take it to MeMail, you crazy kids.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 2:14 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


It boggles my mind that there are people that think things they post on the internet are ephemeral or are going to disappear. It seems to me that anything posted on the internet becomes a permanent record, one which you generally have no control over after you hit post. That goes for the supposedly more private parts of the net too, I've seen too many private LJ entries reposted publically by so-called friends to think password protection means much. If people don't somehow get that this is how things are, and how they've been pretty much the whole time I've been using the internet (eight or nine years), then I don’t see what the rest of us can, or should, do about it.
posted by shelleycat at 2:19 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


enn - are you seriously saying that if only there had been a clear, unambiguous and legally enforceable TOS when you signed up, your 14yo self would have thought much more carefully and with a view to the future about what you were going to say on MeFi?
posted by russm at 2:23 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


For an example of how things may end up archived in ways you didn't expect see the NZ National Library's webharvest, where two years ago they decided to scrape every .nz domain while specifically ignoring robots.txt files. That was a conscious decision, they flat out said they were not interested in whether the domain owner wanted their site scraped and stored or not, and they're getting ready to do something similar again (I don't know what the status of robots.txt is this time around).
posted by shelleycat at 2:25 PM on February 28, 2010


I challenge the supposed "expertise" in intellectual property law being bandied about in this thread.

You automatically own copyright in any work you produce in any medium unless it is assigned elsewhere or the work is done for hire. You decide affirmatively to publish your work in a durable medium, with your words an integral component of a larger discourse in that medium You have no expectation of a right to recall or suppress that medium.

Or people would be suing Google right and left.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:28 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I doubt that if someone exercised the hypothetical "nuclear option" they'd be allowed back on the site.

FILIBUST-IT!

(Sorry. I may be following the filibuster - aka "the Tarantino" - more closely than is healthy.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:34 PM on February 28, 2010


I am older than you can possibly imagine.
posted by hermitosis at 2:42 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


ishotj, I am an attorney who works exclusively on tech stuff in silicon valley and I deal with this stuff a lot. Within the last 6 months I had to research and write a memo on pretty much this exact issue for a client.
posted by herodotus at 2:44 PM on February 28, 2010


Well, herodotus, I can't speak to the legality but as a matter of policy I could not possibly disagree more strongly with you that allowing people to send themselves down the memory hole is a good thing. It strikes me as terrible, awful, ridiculous, and absurd.
posted by Justinian at 2:48 PM on February 28, 2010


Sorry — youngster here. What exactly is this fear that people have of the Internet seeing everything they've said online? Are we not allowed to retract and clarify previous statements we find embarrassing? Must you sit and let other people look at your history without being there as a present-day indicator of yourself?

I mean, I was thirteen when I first started posting in forums, and I was so ignorant that I thought pretending to be fifteen would convince people I was old and wise. A lot of the things I said back then were pretty terribly stupid. (I'd like to think they were brilliant for thirteen.) But it's not like people are constantly writing me to talk about the stupid shit I said back in 2003. People just don't care enough.

In the same way I imagine in 2015 I'll think some of the things I said here were stupid. But I can't imagine wanting to go back and erase my presence online if doing so would be detrimental for the community. If nineteen-year-old me is a jackass, twentyfive-year-old me accepts the responsibility of saying that and apologizing somewhat. Unless the worry is that somehow personal information's been leaked? Like home addresses? But that's a very edge case. Most people aren't posting that in every comment they make.

If you don't like a comment because you falsified something in it, tell people that. If you don't like it because you said a truth you don't like, then either stand behind your words or pretend that you were being hyperbolic. But deletion of content seems to me excessive.

Some sites will keep the comments but replace the user name with [delected], which I think works nicely.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:50 PM on February 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here is that tamim bio of thomcatspike based on thomcatspike's posting history, by the way.

All those parents and teachers out there who want to warn kids about divulging information on the internet should use this as a prop. Not because the information collected there is necessarily bad or harmful, but it's a fantastic demonstration of how much you tell people about yourself when you're not really trying too.
posted by sallybrown at 2:51 PM on February 28, 2010


Justinian, that's fine with me. I'm not advocating a policy change and I actually agree with you*. I am only talking about legal issues in my above comments.

* = I think I agree at least. I am currently thinking about the idea of removing usernames from deleted account posts but keeping those words. This is obviously a different issue from copyright and a policy decision and I'm not sure how I feel about that option yet.
posted by herodotus at 2:52 PM on February 28, 2010


I like Canada's policy of beating the US!!!!!
posted by gman at 2:55 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


All my lies are only wishes.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:57 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hitting the submit button without giving it the respect it deserves is a clear mistake. Anybody who's been on the internet long enough knows that. Yet people treat it lightly every day.

People need to understand that hitting "Post Comment" is serious business, and will go on your permanent record. In an ideal world, everyone would have understood that in around 1984. But out in the real world, it's 26 years later, and a lot of people still don't get that. It's not Matt's fault, I know.

I also understand that opening up the memory hole could wreak havoc on MeFi: if you let users erase their contribution for privacy reasons, you open up the possibility for people who are just angry with the site.

The solution I see: let pre-TOS content be memory-holed, while possibly offering less-destructive options (anonymising, for instance). Make everyone agree to the new TOS before they can post new content, underlining the serious nature and permanence of posting. Thereafter, there will be no memory hole.

This SUCKS. Running a site as large as MeFi without a TOS for years is less than optimal.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:59 PM on February 28, 2010


What exactly is this fear that people have of the Internet seeing everything they've said online?

The people I work with don't spend a lot of time on the internet often, but they do google potential new hires. And they do judge those new hires to some extent on what google brings up (particularly when taking on students and suchlike rather than formal employees, places where there's more discretion to choose). If you're happy having someone pretty un-internet savvy pulling up something you said as a kid, taking it out of context, and deciding your future based on it then great. Personally I'd rather not have my career prospects based on something dumb I wrote down 10 years ago so I've made an effort not to write down stuff that's too dumb and that I'm not prepared to see survive forever, although it's probably debatable how successful I've been.

The people growing up today sharing their whole lives online will find it come back to bite them, assuming they haven't already. Eventually the youngesters will be the ones making the decisions so it won't matter, the mindshift will have become the norm, but right now it's people your parent's generation or older who are seeing this stuff and making decisions based on it and the seperation between what's out there on the net and what the actual person is like right now just doesn't exist to the extent that Rory at least seems to think it does. Note I'm not speculating, I've seen this stuff at work firsthand.

At the same time I'm all for metafilter not purging contributions. I've been interacting here with others in good faith assuming that both I and they will stand behind what is said, to suddenly have the other side of my reaction/interaction go away would be pretty disorienting. (Changing your mind is fine of course, but there's still going to be a record that that's what happened and expecting it to be erased just feels wrong.) If you're not prepared to be held accountable for what you say then don't say it, and definitely don't put it in writing where millions of people can potentially see it.
posted by shelleycat at 3:11 PM on February 28, 2010


Shelleycat: Well, yeah, but most people online are not operating under their full name. I don't know who you are from your name or from a cursory glance at your posts. I'm different, because I ran out of good nicknames, but the average Mefite isn't at risk from a Google search. (Neither am I, by the way, because I'm that big a whore online.)

The stuff getting kids my age fucked over isn't internet commenting. Not in a place like this. Even the worst comments I've seen here are pretty mild for, say, Facebook. And every story I've heard of where employers Google a kid either has to do with drunken Facebook/MySpace/Livejournal pictures, or with somebody else online blatantly gunning for them (see /b/). Google's not omnipotent.

Anybody operating under an alias is more-or-less safe. Anybody not under an alias need only spend an hour registering for ten sites with good PageRank — Facebook, Vimeo, Twitter, Tumblr, DeviantART, LiveJournal, Xanga, Digg, MySpace, and Bebo, are the first ten that come to mind — and then you're safely pegged by Google Search as an "Internet person" with no specific qualities unless the employer in question is really anal.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:20 PM on February 28, 2010


Somewhat related MeTa thread, previously.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:21 PM on February 28, 2010


There are not really any particular things I'm worried about. I'd just rather there not be a record of me on such a high-profile site,

enn, others who may share this concern, may I recommend a simple disclaimer on your profile which states something along the lines of, "I don't necessarily believe everything I say."

It works for me.
posted by philip-random at 3:22 PM on February 28, 2010


The people growing up today sharing their whole lives online will find it come back to bite them, assuming they haven't already.

I have already registered http://supremecourtnomineesboobsandwienerpicsfromfourtyyearsago.com in anticipation of this phenomenon.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:23 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


can we stop using the word 'awesome' as well. I hated it back in the 1980's as a kid and I like it even less now. Thanks.
posted by jonmc at 3:25 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, we can't. It's a decent word that fits certain circumstances fairly well.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:38 PM on February 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


*shrug*

I'll have to content myself with yelling at the TV every time that Lowe's ad with the douchey hipster couple comes on.
posted by jonmc at 3:39 PM on February 28, 2010


You know, jon, cynicism, hating youth culture, and hating hipsters are all signs of being a hipster.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:42 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Rory, using an 'I-am-rubber-you-are-glue' retort is a sign of being a moron.
posted by jonmc at 3:46 PM on February 28, 2010


at least it's not tubular.
posted by nadawi at 3:46 PM on February 28, 2010


And you use MetaFilter. I'm not suggesting anything, but I expect you've heard of plenty of bands I know nothing about. I'm also confused because you were the first person to use the word "awesome" in this thread.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:49 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I love to shit
posted by Damn That Television at 3:51 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Running a site as large as MeFi without a TOS for years is less than optimal.

Because a TOS has some magic powers that will protect against crazy people with lawyers or speculative edge-case "what if I wanted to post exclusively in Aramaic" nonsense?

MetaFilter works great for tens of thousands of posters and millions of readers, across millions of separate transactions every day without anyone worrying about a TOS, a crazy lawyer, or any other MeTa bullshit.

The idea that everything needs to be lawyer-ed up to the max, or that everything needs an Official Policy Statement (which is just a type of pre-lawyering-up) is less than optimal -- it instills a false sense of security, causes people to overthink routine transactions, and leads to massive waste.

All of which helps to employ lawyers like me.
posted by Mid at 4:04 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Running a site as large as MeFi without a TOS for years is less than optimal.

It's a minor miracle that it's worked this well, true, but it's taken a lot of trust and input from the community

But sure, let's talk optimal in a trust-no-one sort of world

- we'd have 24-hour mod teams
- we'd have, according to some, a crystal clear set of absolute guidelines that we always letter-of-the-law followed
- our ad coverage would look like BoingBoing's, to support lawyer fees and midnight mod snacks
- you could not ask a question about legal or medical topics in AskMe, ever
- we'd have a blacklist of Words You Could Not Say on MeFi with auto-bans
- auto-bans for hitting certain flag quotas also
- no one could register without a valid PayPal account
- no sock puppets
- no Music section at all, what if we pissed off the RIAA with people doing covers or sampling?

The fact that we have a living breathing mod team means that we can skip some of the more "optimal" [from whose perspective, really?] options and instead focus on trying to keep the community cohering, coherent and generally decent to each other.

Our hope is that investment in this aspect of the site will return itself as fewer necessary lawyer visits. A Terms of Service just means that the lawyers have some pre-written verbiage to disagree about. Our hope is that having a terms of service will not materially change the way people interact with the site.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:12 PM on February 28, 2010 [22 favorites]


Anybody operating under an alias is more-or-less safe.

Not so much. Based on what I've posted here pretty much anyone looking to hire me will be able to find me easily enough based on keywords in my posts, nothing to do with my username. I do work in somewhat of a niche area plus I choose to post about stuff that I'm actively working on and understand, but neither of those are uncommon things. Of course I would much rather be judged on my CV as I've done a lot more and know a lot more (professionally that is) than would be apparent from my posting here, but I'm also still careful when I post science stuff to make sure I'd be happy to discuss at a job interview why I thought whatever I posted at the time I posted it. Again, how successful I am is always debatable.

Also the situations I've seen with people googling potential students did not involve just googling their names. Email addresses and other things in their CVs were also used and occasionally weird things came up (and really, the things that were picked up as being reasons not to shortlist someone where not things I would have at all expected). Googling my address currently leads to finding my personal domain names thanks to some third party website scraping my whois information and reposting it illegaly, and that in turn leads to my username in several places thanks to an old blog listing service which refuses to remove my information. And googling certain family details also brings up stuff about me thanks to an errant family member submitting my personal information to genealogy sites without my permission. Add in how blithly young people post everything and anything to facebook, bebo and the like under their real names and I'm not imagining or overstating the problems here.
posted by shelleycat at 4:13 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was thinking about just MetaFilter here, which wouldn't come up in those searches. Certainly I understand the need for privacy in other areas online. But I'm testing looking for you, searching your first name and keywords on MetaFilter, and you're not coming up. Lots of Mary Shelley, somebody named Shelley Powers. The fact that from here you link to your personal site thanks to your email address means I could find your personal site, but that site says nothing more about you, and if I found it via Google I'd know nothing. In any event, it's easier to hide your email address on MetaFilter than it is to request your body of work here be deleted.

I'd be interested in examples of what got people de-shortlisted. (Also, which items were Googled.) Because frankly, I'm still not seeing how that would work. I don't think you're exaggerating, but I'd like some clarification.

Add in how blithly young people post everything and anything to facebook, bebo and the like under their real names and I'm not imagining or overstating the problems here.

But Facebook profiles default to privacy. Look me up on Facebook. All you should be able to see is a photo of me hugging a dog. Also my public page, but that I set up specifically for promotion, and that's heavily censored. So people leaking information about themselves online is easy to curb with some privacy restrictions. Same goes for Twitter, which is the other biggie.

Though I'm hoping that in this coming generation the procedures for hiring new employees are loosened immensely. I dislike any policies that would have people loathe to express themselves. I like that the Internet has everybody speaking their mind all the time, to some degree, and I'd hate to see that disappear for something stupid like getting a job.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:23 PM on February 28, 2010


Rory Marinich: "And you use MetaFilter. I'm not suggesting anything, but I expect you've heard of plenty of bands I know nothing about. I'm also confused because you were the first person to use the word "awesome" in this thread"


I lol'd awesomely, mate.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:27 PM on February 28, 2010


Most employers don't e-stalk their potential hires beyond a cursory Google/Facebook/Myspace (?) search. If you don't want your employers to find out things done under an alias, have a separate email for professional purposes that involves your actual name, NOT your alias, and then don't use your actual name anywhere else on the internet (beyond Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever).
posted by ishotjr at 4:44 PM on February 28, 2010



But Facebook profiles default to privacy.
posted by ishotjr at 4:45 PM on February 28, 2010


Oops, I meant to quote, but I hit enter too soon. I was going to say that Facebook profiles don't default to privacy anymore, last I heard.
posted by ishotjr at 4:45 PM on February 28, 2010


ishotjr: Just to check, I registered a new dummy account. It's semiprivate, meaning that anything you actively post is visible, but anything other people post on your wall is hidden. Similarly, your photos, videos, and political/religious views are hidden.

What that means, I guess, is that if you're the sort of Facebook user who likes updating your status with approximations of just how high you are, then yeah, you're screwed. But if you're moderately polite and it's your friends being immoderate, that part won't be seen.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:52 PM on February 28, 2010


jonmc, first fighty and now awesome . . . your inner curmudgeon is showing.

Kidding. I know you keep your curmudgeon on the outside.
posted by Nabubrush at 4:52 PM on February 28, 2010


Because a TOS has some magic powers that will protect against crazy people with lawyers or speculative edge-case "what if I wanted to post exclusively in Aramaic" nonsense?

I doubt there's any other [non-Biblical-studies] site on the Web that would be more welcoming of someone who posted exclusively in Aramaic than Metafilter.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:54 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


enn - are you seriously saying that if only there had been a clear, unambiguous and legally enforceable TOS when you signed up, your 14yo self would have thought much more carefully and with a view to the future about what you were going to say on MeFi?

I was 19 when I signed up, and, yes, I think I would not only have thought more carefully about what I was going to say, I wouldn't have signed up at all. Every other forum I use either allows you to remove your own posts or (if it's a listserv) makes the archives members-only and completely ungoogleable. Since MetaFilter makes its archives public it never occurred to me for several years — until the first MetaTalk thread along the lines of this one I stumbled across — that there would be any difficulty at all getting the mods to remove my posting history.
posted by enn at 4:55 PM on February 28, 2010


And, Rory, I can tell you from experience that posting under an alias is not proof against anything at all.
posted by enn at 4:56 PM on February 28, 2010


Mid: Because a TOS has some magic powers that will protect against crazy people with lawyers or speculative edge-case "what if I wanted to post exclusively in Aramaic" nonsense?

The problem, to me, is reasonable people who have commented about their lives, their kids, etc., and now realize they shouldn't have. And now they'd like this stuff to be scrubbed. This goes against the site's general guidelines. The mods have said so many times. The FAQ says closing your account won't delete your contributions. In other words: they should have thought more before hitting Post. Sucks to be them.

Giving Metafilter a "permanent" license to publish your comments is a very serious thing. People have to realize that, unlike other sites, Mefi does not allow its users to delete their contributions wholesale.

And there's the question: were the FAQ + mod comments explicit enough that those who unwisely posted details about their lives they wish they didn't should just buck up and deal?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:00 PM on February 28, 2010


I can understand why people think I should have thought of this sooner, but, honestly, I can't understand why people think the narrative integrity of ancient threads that might get read once or twice a year is so important that you can't cut someone a little slack when their livelihood is on the line.
posted by enn at 5:02 PM on February 28, 2010


Rory you don't find me because you don't know what you're looking for, a potential employer would. They'd also be starting from my name and trying to get here rather than the other way around (also note the email addresses aren't indexed and mine can only be seen if you're logged in, so again you're starting from the wrong end).

Also the kind of searches people at work have discussed doing would potentially bring up posts here, particularly when the people being googled use snippets of their various usernames in their email addresses (surprisingly common). Also note that even if it's a false postive, i.e. brings up someone that isn't you, some people don't care or know enough to realise and will discriminate anyway. I'm not going into any more details because other people's specific hiring decisions aren't my business to be posting about, particularly as much of it isn't related to a formal job search anyway. Certainly some potential employers do more than google a name and email (at the same time I know several recruiters who never google anyone, they're savvy enough to prefer references and qualifications).

My main point wasn't about metafilter anyway. Rory posted something about why should anyone care about everything they ever wrote being accessible and enn posted about being annoyed that stuff from their youth was still online. My point is that everything you put online stays online, it gets cross linked and distributed in ways you can't predict or control, and that the consequences of this are actually real (and again not what you'd necessarily predict as someone used to the internet). Which brings me back to being totally boggled that people think this stuff is ephemeral and thus unimportant
posted by shelleycat at 5:05 PM on February 28, 2010


i don't really understand why anyone would apply for a job with a personal email address. when i was 14 or so i registered my full name at hotmail. over the years i've had rocketmail, juno, yahoo, and now google. those addresses are only ever used for jobs and job hunting.

also: wrt facebook - sure, it defaults to non-private - but again, i realized that was my job to protect, so protect i did. it's easy to duck google searches from employers if that sort of thing is important to you.
posted by nadawi at 5:10 PM on February 28, 2010


People have to realize that, unlike other sites, Mefi does not allow its users to delete their contributions wholesale.

Again, I'd like to stress that "other sites" that allow this are pretty rare. I can't get a comment deleted from BoingBoing using any tools. I can't wipe my entire Digg history by clicking any button. Stuff I said in 1997 that made me sound like a jackass are still on slashdot, without any way to remove it.

In the web circles I run in, being able to remove anything you've ever said on another site is very rare. And for this community, it would be an nightmare to implement and see countless thousands of threads and questions and answers eradicated and made senseless by others (not to mention all the quoted mentions of other comments and weird grey line of why we don't delete those as well).

But seriously, most blogs, most communities, and most sites don't allow this.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:12 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't understand why people think the narrative integrity of ancient threads that might get read once or twice a year is so important

I'll just stick my used gum under this table. No one will ever notice, right?
posted by Rhomboid at 5:12 PM on February 28, 2010


Enn: If you're not clever enough to hide your words under an alias well enough to keep them hidden, there's a problem. It's a matter of making sure nothing you say can connect back to your name. There're a handful of things I've done online that cannot be traced back to me in any way. Furthermore, I've gotten in a handful of discussions under my full name that can't be found either. I don't think it's quite as difficult to hide yourself if you're really worried.

Shelley, would you be willing to cite these example in MeMail? Because I'm still having a very hard time picturing this particular scenario.

As for its being ephemeral: So what if it's not? I think there's a problem if you look at the Internet in fear of somehow being "caught" for what you say. Are the things you say really going to fuck up your reality? If so, you must work/live in a terribly conservative place.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:13 PM on February 28, 2010


I'm having trouble squaring the idea that a young person given to making rashly indiscreet and potentially troublesome comments born from the fevered callowness of teenagerosity would give much thought or consideration to a a comprehensive and legal-like TOS. But then again, I was a pretty dour young person, so what the hell do I know?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:15 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess I've always thought the template from most web discussion sites was USENET, in which everyone's college idiocy is on display forever and ever, typically under a real-name .edu address.
posted by Mid at 5:16 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


enn: honestly, I can't understand why people think the narrative integrity of ancient threads that might get read once or twice a year is so important that you can't cut someone a little slack when their livelihood is on the line.

It wouldn't only affect ancient threads, though. If you wanted to quit and get whitewashed right now, it would fuck up this active thread.

Plus, comments that quote you as a normal part of a normal conversation would have to go as well, if you wanted any meaningful erasure. Why should my comment get deleted on your whim, or someone else's on mine?
posted by CKmtl at 5:19 PM on February 28, 2010


Stuff I said in 1997 that made me sound like a jackass are still on slashdot, without any way to remove it.

Ah, so you're the "No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame." guy.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:20 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Matt: most vbulletins and clones out there run with editing enabled. LJ and reddit also have memory holes. Plastic.com is memory-holed to the public. You run in certain web circles. Mefi users can run in others.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:22 PM on February 28, 2010


"mathowie" on Slashdot
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:23 PM on February 28, 2010


Enn: If you're not clever enough to hide your words under an alias well enough to keep them hidden, there's a problem.

Hey, we stupid people have bills to pay too, what can I say. The thing is: it only takes one person to know that username joeblow is So-and-so in real life, and then it's completely out of your control.

I guess I've always thought the template from most web discussion sites was USENET, in which everyone's college idiocy is on display forever and ever, typically under a real-name .edu address.

Doesn't Google let you remove yourself from its old Deja News archive?

It wouldn't only affect ancient threads, though. If you wanted to quit and get whitewashed right now, it would fuck up this active thread.

So let people erase their contents only after a year, if that's a concern.

Plus, comments that quote you as a normal part of a normal conversation would have to go as well, if you wanted any meaningful erasure.

It's obviously ridiculous to expect the mods to find and delete every comment that quotes a deleted comment and no one has suggested that they should do so.
posted by enn at 5:23 PM on February 28, 2010


X-No-Archive.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:23 PM on February 28, 2010


Hah, and some googling shows me that one of the best ways to find this account is by googling the incorrect term for something directly related to somewhere I want to work. I should have known better at the time and definitely know it's the wrong term now, so that's kind of fun.
posted by shelleycat at 5:25 PM on February 28, 2010


(and by 'kind of fun' I mean 'cringingly embarrassing')
posted by shelleycat at 5:27 PM on February 28, 2010


I can understand why people think I should have thought of this sooner, but, honestly, I can't understand why people think the narrative integrity of ancient threads that might get read once or twice a year is so important that you can't cut someone a little slack when their livelihood is on the line.

Again, are we talking about a specific livelihood-risking comment or small set of comments? Or are we talking about just being young and foolish in vague aggregate? Because the distinction is important, and how we deal with it depends on that sort of thing as well.

"I regret this comment I made about [contentious topic x] in 2004" is a different beast from "man was I a loud-mouth in my early twenties", and the former is something we have been totally willing to talk to someone about if they have a specific concern. The latter is a systemic problem that is not Metafilter's, or any other website's, responsibility to fix in general.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:29 PM on February 28, 2010


In order to delete posts from Dejanews you had to have access to the email address used to post them. Many people no longer have access, or the addresses don't exist.

Also, why are you people still discussing ways to let people delete their comments? The moderators have made it very clear that this is not going to happen, and frankly that's a good thing.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:31 PM on February 28, 2010


Hey, we stupid people have bills to pay too, what can I say. The thing is: it only takes one person to know that username joeblow is So-and-so in real life, and then it's completely out of your control.

Haha. I know the feeling. Nothing like having your personal blog turn into a warzone between you and an ex. But even then, I find, unless that one person is directly related to you work-wise, there's not much of a chance of things bleeding out that much — unless said person is on an insane quest to shame you, which I guess happens more often than it should.

It's obviously ridiculous to expect the mods to find and delete every comment that quotes a deleted comment and no one has suggested that they should do so.

On Tumblr, which is where I blog, reblogging somebody else's post is a matter of clicking two buttons. Then a record exists that can never be taken down.

I learned this when a few of my posts got huge and I deleted my blog. Every word I've ever written is still online somewhere. The good thing is that such reblogging also dilutes authorship. I've had instances of people discussing my work without ever realizing who wrote it. I've had people take comments I left on Hacker News, for instance, and release it as their own blog posts, which I guess is oddly parallel to how I've quoted MeFi users over the years. But in the process individual names are lost, or at least a little buried.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:33 PM on February 28, 2010


Again, are we talking about a specific livelihood-risking comment or small set of comments? Or are we talking about just being young and foolish in vague aggregate? Because the distinction is important, and how we deal with it depends on that sort of thing as well.

This sort of assumes that only an individual or small number of comments can be livelihood-threatening, when, as I think the tamim thing shows, it's very easy for the whole of your comments to be greater than the sum of the parts. And I'm not concerned about coming off as a loud-mouth (or else I'd have shut up in this thread a while ago), I'm concerned that, over the course of hundreds of comments, I revealed in aggregate a lot more about my personal life than I was aware of at the time.
posted by enn at 5:37 PM on February 28, 2010


Copyright is copyright and the law is the law. If someone is attracted to Ask and makes 20 answers and deletes their account it's just not going to matter very much that digg or /. doesn't let you delete comments. Maybe you'd win in court-- who knows.

But the current regime is wrong if you want a perpetual license.

This is because most people will know only that they own (c) in their submissions. (I know that they would anyway and that transfer of (c) requires a written instrument)

This is easily fixed.
posted by herodotus at 5:37 PM on February 28, 2010


It's not about looking good or bad: it's about wanting out, as much as possible, of the Panopticon.

Mefi's current policy is that, by posting on it, we agree to let it stand forever, except when the mods agree to delete something here or there. We never explicitly agreed to that. And now some of us want out.

Let those who want out do so; make the perpetual nature of the license very clear from now on.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:47 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


But the current regime is wrong if you want a perpetual license.

I don't understand. MetaFilter lets you post comments, with no way of removing them yourself, and displays them in perpetuity. That's the entire purpose of the site.
posted by ODiV at 5:51 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This sort of assumes that only an individual or small number of comments can be livelihood-threatening, when, as I think the tamim thing shows, it's very easy for the whole of your comments to be greater than the sum of the parts.

The tamim thing shows mostly that a deeply dedicated person can make far more of incidental comments anywhere and everywhere than anyone in normal circumstances—up to and including things like job-related vetting for any but a tiny niche of fields—will ever bother with. He did it as much as anything to prove a point of what could, in theory, be done in the face of defiance about someone's trackability, but the practical import of that exercise is that everybody everywhere would have to remove their entire posting histories from the internet to be safe.

Just as we don't build our policy primarily around edgecase crazies with litigious inclinations, building general practices about data integrity around worst-case scenario stalker hypotheticals is not a great idea. That someone can in rare cases run into specific, concrete issues is something that we understand and try to accommodate, but the difference between that and just casually wiping large swaths of content on a whim is significant and from a community perspective important.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:58 PM on February 28, 2010


I think that, if you are worried about someone finding incriminating content about you online, going through and trying to delete comments you made 20 years ago is the wrong way to go about it.

I go for the, "Bury them in minutiae" method myself, in which I make so many comments on any given day that searching through them all just wouldn't be worth the time to any future searchers.

When I become Empress of the World, I'll have enough money to pay you all to keep your mouths shut, anyway.
posted by misha at 6:02 PM on February 28, 2010


you're safely pegged by Google Search as an "Internet person" with no specific qualities unless the employer in question is really anal.

I'm a nanny. You have no idea how anal future employers are. It's like the CIA. I practically have to give a DNA sample.

"Google search" doesn't cover the kind of fine-toothed internet combing that's been done on me. I have had potential employers bring up, on interviews, that I have epilepsy. Now, mind you, I do post to MetaFilter under my real name (because honestly, it would take so much effort on my part at this point to try and "go underground" that there's absolutely no point), but that's a SHIT TON of sleuthing to find me here and go through my comment history. Evidently, some people do.

And I'm ok with that. Like I say, it would be more work than it's worth to me to go covert. My field is way, way more intrusive than most when it comes to "Oh shit, what if an employer finds this thing?!" and yet, I'm fairly comfortable living my life online knowing that I can be accountable to what I say. I have yet to find a situation where I have actually been penalized for it, since whatever digging people come up with shows that I write a blog where I talk about Elmo and I have a bedtime like an 84 year old man.

That said, what shelleycat is saying about being aware of what you say and being aware that you will be held accountable for it, with or without knowing that this is actually happening, is totally spot on. If you choose to live openly online, that's awesome, but you absolutely can not pretend that "no one is going to see it" or "it won't matter."

The person you don't want to see it is going to find it and judge you. Harshly. This is my experience of having been online since I was fifteen (That was back in the days of dial-up, PS. I may be young for a MeFite, but I'm still old enough that Rory is tiptoeing on my lawn.) . Don't want your dad to find your blog? TOO LATE! Don't want your bitchy email that you wrote to a friend about how someone sucks to get back to that person? TOO LATE. (Ok, on that one, I kind of have also learned not to have shitty friends.) Don't want future employers to know that you have a pre-existing medical condition? TOO LATE! You type it, and they will find it.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:07 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Isn't it pretty basic that when you post something to a public web-page: (1) you lose control of it; and (2) it can be found by anyone? I thought that was baked into everyone's online participation. If you are worried about (1) or (2), I would think that you would want to be very strict about avoiding personal disclosure or investigate carefully whether the site has some exception or mechanism to protect you from the ordinary rules of the public internet. Any small amount of investigating here would reveal that the site has never allowed users to self-delete everything.
posted by Mid at 6:11 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm just thankful that, apparently, Barack Obama was not all over usenet or whatever in 1997. Because you know, one of these days, we're gonna have to read news stories about the junk some candidate posted when he or she was 13 pretending to be 15.
posted by JanetLand at 6:21 PM on February 28, 2010


It's obviously ridiculous to expect the mods to find and delete every comment that quotes a deleted comment and no one has suggested that they should do so.

How is it obviously ridiculous, when expecting them to delete your entire history when your livelihood may be a stake isn't?

My comments here aren't the only record of my homosexuality. Comments quoting me in topical threads would pop up in Google just as easily. Hell, a mere mention of my username in them would too. If I were suddenly very concerned about scrubbing out evidence, whether I was applying to some super-conservative organization or moving to Iran or Gambia, I'd have to go beyond just my own posting history.
posted by CKmtl at 6:31 PM on February 28, 2010


it's just not going to matter very much that digg or /. doesn't let you delete comments

My point in mentioning other similar sites is that I always thought MeFi followed accepted behavior, much like you see on other similar sites. I can't remove any comment I've made to blog on Movable Type, Typepad, or Wordpress blogs. I can't removed my submissions from other similar communities. I suppose I could legally threaten site owners, but the software doesn't posses the functionality and that's how it's been for ten years of blogging tools. I'm a little surprised people expect blog comments to be instantly retractable across thousands of instances without any sort of downside to the community members, the discussions that took place, or themselves. We're pushing for a perpetual license because threads don't make a lick of sense with missing answers, missing halves of conversations between two members, and missing clarifications from askers.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 6:31 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're from a blog background. Forums very often allow editing.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:36 PM on February 28, 2010


This is a community blog, says so in the title.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 6:37 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


If this becomes a forum, I request animated avatars and four-line signatures.

------
Rory Marinich
http://zombo.com
"There are 10 kinds of people: Those who can read binary and those who can't."
^^^ ancient Chinese proverb
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:39 PM on February 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


We also make a more-than-usual effort to allow users the level of anonymity they want for themselves. We specifically disallow linking real names to internet handles, or pulling people's profile information from their no-followed user profiles to any of the rest of the site. Someone's outing your personal information? We'll police that. We have assumed, and possibly wrongly so, that people who found their way to MeFi would grok the import of having personal information in profiles and choose a handle accordingly. Many people have come to us over the years with requests to take down sensitive information and we've done that.

I'm aware that MeFi straddles the line between Someone Else's Blog [where you'd never assume you could take down your personal content once you put it there] and a more social site where you own your profile [sort of] where you have something way out on one end like facebook in which you can delete your profile but your information is still owned by and hung onto by them. And then anothe rexample is Flickr where you can delete your profile and content but your comments are still there.

I'm just making a sort of mental list of social-content type sites and what their policies are as far as removing your content when you request it. I'm aware that this won't matter if someone decides to go after MetaFilter, but I think it does matter when we're trying to explain why our understandings of how the site works are reasonable relative to other similar sites and why we don't think we're being crazy with the current way we run the site.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:42 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tamim was working before ask.metafilter. There's a lot more personal information on the site than there was in 2002. If I've posted about my uncle Bob and my friend Jessica and my mom and Mr. Whiskers, and I'm now worried about having that information out there, I'm SOL unless I can produce a concrete stalker?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:51 PM on February 28, 2010


I'm SOL unless I can produce a concrete stalker?

No. You need to talk to us personally, over email, not through comments on MetaTalk, explain your concerns, why you have them, why you didn't have these concerns when you made the comments [i.e. what changed?] and let us know what you'd like us to do. It's a process, not a button you can click. This is, to my mind, exactly how it should be.

In some cases with people who aren't using usernames across multiple sites, we advise them to close the account, we'll remove some of the super-personal information from the old account's comments and then they can either move forward with a new really-anonymous account or without being on MetaFilter at all. We've anonymized old AskMe questions. We've removed boyfriends/girfriends names from comments. It's labor intensive and we don't like doing a lot of it because it can really screw up threads [and then we get email "what used to be here?"]. That said, there are things we can do.

This is really not something that we're going to have any more of a policy than "talk to us and we'll see what we can do, depending on what you want" We wouldn't tell anyone they're SOL but we'd prefer that people don't threaten us with legal action when what they're really talking about is deleting or anonymizing some old comments.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:04 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Herodutus, way upthread, you called me 'wrong'. I assure you, I am not.

I am a lawyer with several years of litigation experience and your understanding of how a Court would handle this sort of question varies from mine to such a degree that I suspect you may not know much about litigating or arguing case law or presenting a case to a judge or jury. Suffice to say that I disagree with your interpretation in the strongest way possible. Your view seems overly simplistic and far too black and white for reality.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 7:10 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why are you people trying to ruin Metafilter?

This is one of the worst possible features of reddit. I don't want AskMe's with a chunk of the answers missing.

As ironic as it is when discussing this, own your words.
posted by graventy at 7:10 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Y'all do realize that most of us here get quoted on the site as well? You could wave a magic wand and delete all your posts but most of you have been quoted fully or in part in someone else's post-and that won't be going ANYWHERE.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:11 PM on February 28, 2010


We're talking maybe 1 quotes per 10-20 comments here. Much less potential for problems.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:16 PM on February 28, 2010


Damnit, now I want to color.
posted by cashman at 7:33 PM on February 28, 2010


I don't want my comments deleted. I'd just like mefites to be made more aware of the perpetual nature of the license they grant metafilter. Websites have only existed for ~20 years. Massive internet use is more recent. I think people's attitudes towards the Panopticon are going to change a lot in the next few years. I've certainly become more prudent than I was a few years ago.

I understand you prefer to treat stuff case by case. But given (what I perceive as) the lack of warning, I'd prefer that you'd be a little less adamant about your guideline: your criteria seems a bit stringent to me.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:40 PM on February 28, 2010


I'd imagine, Monday s,M, that full deletions like that aren't common enough to warrant a system to handle them. If five people a day wanted hardcore account deletion help from moderators, then a system would arise to handle it. As it happens now, I'm sure they're responsive enough to handle any such requests in a timely fashion, and they've said they're willing to do so.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:42 PM on February 28, 2010


(For most fairly active askme users, seeing personal stuff is as easy as profile -> askme comments -> favorited -> popular). And Matt, sorry, but your community blog is also a forum.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:06 PM on February 28, 2010


My point in mentioning other similar sites is that I always thought MeFi followed accepted behavior, much like you see on other similar sites.

I get it. But this is almost irrelevant to the legal analysis. Consider the Ask participant who has only a couple of answers and who never reads Metatalk. How would he/she know anything more than they own (c) in their submissions?

Metafilter is wonderful and great. I love it.

It's also indefensible on this point.
posted by herodotus at 8:07 PM on February 28, 2010


And yet I still have no idea who thomcatspike is IRL, nor do I care (no offense). And I've even been to Texas! And owned a tomcat!
posted by unknowncommand at 8:25 PM on February 28, 2010


[comment deleted]
posted by fuq at 8:27 PM on February 28, 2010


I'd just like mefites to be made more aware of the perpetual nature of the license they grant metafilter.

This is so weird to me. I feel like within the first 10 minutes of using MetaFilter, and in the first half-hour of using the internet in general, the potential of perpetuity of content is very clear, even if it isn't explicitly stated.

My legal background is limited to a pathological enjoyment of the opening credits of Night Court, but isn't there a legal state of being when something is just inherently dangerous, like skateboarding, so if you are doing it you accept some degree of risk, even if you are doing it in a privately owned place? I think internet commenting, at least in the sense of "once it's out there, it's out there" is like that. Or should be.

Did you know the big five on Night Court - Harry Anderson, John Larroquette, Richard Moll, Markie Post, and uh, the other guy, all made it through the entire series run? Nine seasons.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:28 PM on February 28, 2010


For most fairly active askme users, seeing personal stuff is as easy as, "oh right, I've posted personal stuff too, best to give someone the benefit of the doubt for whatever they said 3 years ago..." Pret-ty easy.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:32 PM on February 28, 2010


The bad scenario isn't some other mefite taking some old stuff you wrote to attack you (although that's poor behaviour). The bad scenario is your neighbour or your coworker finding out your username and digging stuff up.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:38 PM on February 28, 2010


Everyone has different bad scenarios, I am certain.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:43 PM on February 28, 2010


LOLAttorney2009, that's nice and all except I have litigated and deal with these issues all the time in real life. In fact, I have researched and written a memo for in-house counsel for a high-profile client on these same issues less than 6 months ago and I am constantly dealing (on a non-memo writing basis) with these issues all the time. If you want some guidance look at the year-end issue of The Business Lawyer published by the ABA. Your generalizations about usage are just a part of the analysis, and not the way you presented them, and are therefore wrong.

I expect you to dispute the above because you're A Lawyer and goddamnit you Won't Be Wrong. Except I know more about this than you and you are wrong.
posted by herodotus at 8:44 PM on February 28, 2010


And Matt, sorry, but your community blog is also a forum.

Good of you to let him bask in your authority and insight.
posted by setanor at 8:50 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Has anyone ever managed to get their username changed?
posted by floam at 8:51 PM on February 28, 2010


We get it. You both know more about law than the other can possibly imagine.
posted by graventy at 8:52 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd just like mefites to be made more aware of the perpetual nature of the license they grant metafilter.

If you want to keep something secret, don't tell anybody. Easier to say than to do but there you go, welcome to the world.

Personally, I'm rather amused at the notion of some neighbor or co-worker with a grudge discovering my username and then trying to make hide nor hair of my accumulated rants, musings, ramblings, snarks, misfires, typos, outright lies.
posted by philip-random at 8:52 PM on February 28, 2010


Has anyone ever managed to get their username changed?

We'll do it for people who have almost no site activity and/or if they made a typo when they signed up [and still have very little site activity] otherwise the only thing we'll change is capitalization.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:53 PM on February 28, 2010


"I regret this comment I made about [contentious topic x] in 2004" is a different beast from "man was I a loud-mouth in my early twenties", and the former is something we have been totally willing to talk to someone about if they have a specific concern. The latter is a systemic problem that is not Metafilter's, or any other website's, responsibility to fix in general.

Worth repeating.
posted by setanor at 8:53 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I made a typo when I signed up, somehow the letters were rearranged, and I want a capitalization change. I intended to be LMFAO. Thanks!
posted by floam at 8:54 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I made a typo when I signed up, somehow the letters were rearranged, and I want a capitalization change. I intended to be I Needle The Mods Endlessly on Edge-Case Policy So That They Never Have Any Time to Moderate The Site and I Can Post Pictures Of My Feet All Day on Metafilter. Thanks!
posted by setanor at 8:56 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, I just want to say, the day I discovered my internet nickname is an anagram of lmfao was quite a shock. It must have been something like what that guy who found out his father is actually Charles Manson felt, but you know, with more serious implications.
posted by floam at 9:01 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes setanor, the mods and I don't seem to agree on the question at hand, and I'm a bit insistent, especially for a Sunday night. This seems to annoy you. But I don't see how making fun of me will do anyone any good.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:05 PM on February 28, 2010


We get it. You both know more about law than the other can possibly imagine.

I blew up the fucking Death Star. Twice. So step off, graventy.
posted by herodotus at 9:07 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I should also tell you that I have a HUGE penis.
posted by herodotus at 9:18 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I might have to ask the moderators to delete this comment later, but I feel like telling the world that I cheated on all my Metafilter spouses. I hope my mother doesn't Google this.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:23 PM on February 28, 2010


I'll bet no matter how long this gets discussed here, it ends up that users don't get all their comments deleted when they disable their accounts, no matter how much they ask. It just breaks the way MetaFilter works too much. However, eventually everyone will have this long history of saying powerfully stupid things on the internet, so the signal to noise ratio will help each indivdual hide their past sins. Don't worry about it.
posted by Nabubrush at 9:26 PM on February 28, 2010


Lawyer fight! Grab 'em by the mini ponytail thing!
posted by freebird at 9:33 PM on February 28, 2010


I'll bet that we get an entirely reasonable TOS after SXSW and then people will STFU.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:33 PM on February 28, 2010


oh boy, imminent lawyer dick sizes comparisons!
posted by edgeways at 9:37 PM on February 28, 2010


This being metafilter, I doubt the TOS thread will have less than 500 comments.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:39 PM on February 28, 2010


pjern changed his username here.

sometimes I'm jealous
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:48 PM on February 28, 2010


I'm surprised nobody mentioned what Reddit (at least as of a year ago) does if you delete your account: Your posts stay, but the username just changes to [deleted]. You could probably improve the understandability a bit by generating a unique ID for each user in each thread that has deleted users' comments and be more like

I support the Nazi Party.
posted by [deleted 0x01] at 2:13 PM on February 28 [+] [!]


That's whack, man! The Jews asked for it but the Nazis are not all they're chalked up to be.
posted by [deleted 0x02] at 2:19 PM on February 28 [+] [!]


Fair enough.
posted by [deleted 0x01] at 2:43 PM on February 28 [3 favorites +] [!]


or something so you could still follow the thread if there was more than one person gone. But it'd preferably be on a per-post basis so nobody could connect posts from all over the site once they've identified from context who some deleted-id was.
posted by floam at 9:51 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


That would be awesome
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:58 PM on February 28, 2010


pjern changed his username here.

Which was something I was actually pretty strongly against on principle (nothing personal, pjern), and it prompted a bunch of conversation on Team Mod that led to us agreeing on an overall firmer sense of policy on what was and wasn't okay that has landed us in our current policy position of really only making changes for new/unused accounts.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:59 PM on February 28, 2010


Don't understand why askme needs continuity...we're not supposed to engage other posters anyway

metafilter is not about the comments, it's about the ilnks, but then comments are super-important now?

I get it, but on the other hand, it seems like if people really want their stuff erased it sucks, but it's also the right thing to do considering that the abstract desire for continuity is not as important as an individual's real and personal need for privacy.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:04 PM on February 28, 2010


I'm surprised nobody mentioned what Reddit (at least as of a year ago) does if you delete your account:

Really? Because I've pretty regularly come across [deleted] posted by [deleted] type posts, which are fucking useless. Perhaps they go back and remove all of their comments before deleting their accounts. Either way, it interrupts the conversations and harms the usability of the site.
posted by graventy at 10:06 PM on February 28, 2010


Don't understand why askme needs continuity

Good answers would go. People ask questions and get answers. It's not like you could scramble up the any but the most simple AskMes and they'd make much sense.
posted by floam at 10:06 PM on February 28, 2010


dear everyone here: this site is an amazing space run by truly good-hearted people. it's not a place where you need to start with an assumption of bad faith about the moderators. they've explained over and over again that they will work with people on a case-by-case basis in the rare case when it's necessary.

i love and appreciate matt's approach here. it's beautiful that the moderators of metafilter are largely eschewing (or embracing ever so gingerly and reluctantly, due to the weird freakout here) the same legalistic bullshit that we all bitch about in the real world, and which constantly nudges our everyday lives further in the direction of "bland and shitty."

disagreements are cool, but being a dick about it isn't. please, don't be dicks to people who do good work.
posted by the_bone at 10:08 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Really? Because I've pretty regularly come across [deleted] posted by [deleted] type posts

You're right, it looks like they do that. All I know is that is what I thought happened when I deleted an account last year. Either I was wrong or maybe it changed. Anyways the behavior I described is the one I prefer, not what they actually do.
posted by floam at 10:09 PM on February 28, 2010


Yeah, one big problem with deleting askme answers is when on, say, an electrical question, someone says "yeah, just do X" and the poster who wants his stuff deleted came in and said "Don't do X! You might electrocute yourself" and was the only one to tell the asker X was dangerous.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:10 PM on February 28, 2010


disagreements are cool, but being a dick about it isn't. please, don't be dicks to people who do good work.

No one is being like that, really, except one comment above.

Good answers would go. People ask questions and get answers.

Those answers are given freely by the answerers. They should be punished because they gave good answers? Being helpful counts against you when you want your things deleted?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:10 PM on February 28, 2010


I fear that I've spoken about myself too much in public around the same few people. Could you please help me un-say these things, or at least make my companions un-remember?
posted by setanor at 10:14 PM on February 28, 2010


internet fraud…, what I actually meant in my second sentence is that commenters ask questions and get answers, in the comments. I was responding to your crazy claim that continuity doesn't matter. I say there is continuity and it would be lost if comments just disappeared all the time.
posted by floam at 10:14 PM on February 28, 2010


Monday, stony Monday: "Yeah, one big problem with deleting askme answers is when on, say, an electrical question, someone says "yeah, just do X" and the poster who wants his stuff deleted came in and said "Don't do X! You might electrocute yourself" and was the only one to tell the asker X was dangerous."

That's the risk we all take with AskMe. Dangerous answers happen.

Look, I have been stalked mildly via metafilter, and it really, really sucks. I have not asked the mods to delete all my comments (or any of them) despite the weirdness that has been directed at me. And there has been a decent amount of weirdness, which is why I sympathize with the posters who are pro-deletion.

The argument that it's necessary for site continuity doesn't seem that great to me when balanced against an individual's desire for privacy. It's easy from a technical standpoint and, while not ideal, doesn't seem like it would have a huge negative impact on a site that is about links, not about comments, where moderators already can and do delete comments on a wholesale basis based on their judgment.

Essentially what the mods are saying is that a derail is a good enough reason to delete comments but a user's privacy is not a good enough reason to delete comments. And yes, they will delete individual comments, which is great of them, but the effort that is required for a poster whose privacy is being violated to go through all of their comments to find the individual problem comments is enormous when compared to a simple wipe.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:18 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


internet fraud…, what I actually meant in my second sentence is that commenters ask questions and get answers, in the comments. I was responding to your crazy claim that continuity doesn't matter. I say there is continuity and it would be lost if comments just disappeared all the time.

Can you point to an askme where this is the case? Where one commenter's comments being deleted would have a signifigant negative impact on the usefulness of the thread that would outweigh a commentor's desire for privacy?

Really, what you're saying is that someone who is trying to be helpful by volunteering answers to a question should never have the ability to take those answers back. And I think that's jacked up and effectively punishes people for contributing useful answers.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:21 PM on February 28, 2010


I think it's pretty clear that a lot of things about this site have changed, since The Beginning, when it was running on a PC under Matt's desk, as a more or less hobby site for him and few intrepid fellow travelers. For one thing, it has become not a hobby, but a business, operated for the profit of Matt, employing his staff, under rules and policies he and they generally develop and administer. I think it's understandable that as the "mission" has changed from hobby to business, and as the site has grown and developed history, methods, and customs, that at some point, it was bound to need to reach some new understandings with its customers (ad viewing non-contributors looking for content to read) and contributors.

So, I understand how, at some future day, there will be a TOS, when it wasn't really all that important, in times past.

I do think that if a person is banned from the site, by the mods, TOS or no, that such a person ought to have a chance to take his contributions along with his/her unwelcomed persona, if they so choose. That's simply because chucking someone out the saloon door, while keeping his naturally copyrighted material on display for continuing reference and amusement in a commercial display venue (which is what MetaFilter has become), is pretty close to theft by taking. It makes that persona an ongoing object of reference, speculation and often ridicule, while removing the primary mechanism a decent, fair-minded, generally-peer community gives participants to defend their views, or change, explain or revise them, later, which is, to respond to further reference to them, or their postings, in the first person. If you're going to blackball a persona for the good of the site, then it seems reasonable to memory hole the contributions of that persona, and be done with it. Call it the "memorial sixcolors moderation principle": No more sixcolors, no more sixcolors in the database either, thus killing off-site sixcolors links like this, and eventually, Google links to the persona. As jessamyn herself noted in a later Metatalk thread, by a poster wishing to add sixcolors as a wiki entry under "in jokes," six months after sixcolors banning,
"Please do not turn users, especially sort of off-kilter users, into in-jokes, it's cruel and sometimes problematic for us."
posted by jessamyn at 6:52 PM on October 11, 2009 [13 favorites +]
I also want to suggest that taking down content, and replacing it with an appropriate editorial marker for persona that choose to leave on the adoption of a TOS which attempts to make users give MetaFilter a permanent display license ought to be a no brainer. As future opportunities present themselves to monetize and grow the site, it is in the current ownership's interest to have a bright line date of future and ongoing content use license, regardless of future use or value. Those past and current contributors, active or voluntarily inactive, who haven't thought about those implications pre-TOS, ought to be given a no harm, no foul exit date for all their content, if they don't want to continue, under new TOS terms.
posted by paulsc at 10:25 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


internet fraudster, I'm not going to go look for an example when I know you're just going to say "well that's not so bad it should outweigh a commenters desire for privacy."

People who contribute useful answers aren't punished, because nobody can delete their accounts and posts anyways, even me, with zero useful answers. The point isn't that you shouldn't have your content deleted because you've got good answers, it's that we shouldn't let content be deleted all the time. because there are good answers out there period, amongst other reasons.
posted by floam at 10:27 PM on February 28, 2010


The argument that it's necessary for site continuity doesn't seem that great to me when balanced against an individual's desire for privacy

This is the heart of the problem of running a community -- how do you balance the needs of individual members versus the community sphere as the sum of all contributions from everyone? I'm saying letting people remove their contributions to the sphere is a tad selfish (because you can make permanent changes on a whim) and disruptive because it can leave thousands of holes in the community threads, making them largely less understandable and at times incomprehensible.

Again, on a case by case basis, we've done our best to comply with requests but at a certain point (certainly when contributions number in the thousands and site history is over several years) it's not likely to happen because we don't want to add confusion or do anything else to make the site unreadable by others.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:27 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


internet fraudster, I'm not going to go look for an example when I know you're just going to say "well that's not so bad it should outweigh a commenters desire for privacy."

You're really assuming bad faith here when I am genuinely curious about an example because I can't think of any, as a very active contributor to askme since 2007. Possible that I am missing something and if so I'd like to know what that is. If so I have no problem hearing about it.

I'm not hugely invested in my position here, considering that I have been perfectly fine commenting under my actual name and I have never requested any deletions of my comments or posts.

Although, like I've said, I have been mildly stalked and it's creepy, so I sympathize on that level.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:35 PM on February 28, 2010


I'm also curious for the people saying that adopting a perpetual license in a long overdue TOS would be a dealbreaker for them: what would an acceptable license look like? One that times out after x years? One that requires both parties agree they want to allow display (letting users back out?)? Saying contributions can only appear as long as users want?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:35 PM on February 28, 2010


FWIW, I'm fine with perpetual. I just think it should be very explicit.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:39 PM on February 28, 2010


leave thousands of holes in the community threads, making them largely less understandable and at times incomprehensible.

I find that after a few years, threads become incomprehensible anyway, at least in MetaTalk. I used to read MeTa fairly obsessively, pre-signups. I knew who everyone was, and what the issues were. When I go back to these threads, I've lost all context, and, as they exist now, I can't really say I understand them. The in-jokes and reference to then-active users fly over my head.

It's probably different for people who were participants in those threads, though.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:46 PM on February 28, 2010


threads become incomprehensible anyway, at least in MetaTalk

In Ask MetaFilter, I think the norm is that they stay pretty consistently useful. Person asks question, ten people answer, one or more answer is likely the most correct, the thread stops being posted to and generally just sits there being useful for years to come.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:49 PM on February 28, 2010


I agree. But if one person's answer is removed, the thread likely remains useful and comprehensible. If you remove the "main antagonist" from a contentious MeTa thread, it stops making sense almost immediately.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:57 PM on February 28, 2010


If there were a perpetual license TOS but the moderators took a liberal stance towards anonymizing or deleting comment histories, I would be a lot happier with that. The current policy is very conservative about deleting prior comments which, combined with a perpetual license, is enough to make people very wary about commenting about anything personal. And that has the potential to be a huge damper on the usefulness of the site.

I think that's too bad, especially as it relates to askme. I, for example, have commented on several posts about a learning disability/mental illness of mine.* My comments have been very helpful to some posters, I have been memailed and emailed about them. I'm not a huge expert but simply the fact that I'm willing to put myself out there and talk about my experience with an (apparently) embarrassing disability has benefited several people.

At some point I might say--hey--moderators--I'm trying to get a job, and I don't want to be connected to that anymore. Right now my options would be to go through all of my old comments, specifically find the ones that bother me, put the moderators through a lot of work editing specific comments, and live with the fact that I may very well have missed a comment or two that could cause me problems down the line, because I wanted to put myself out there in a way that most people won't.

Of course there are sockpuppets, emailing the moderators, and other ways to maintain anonymity while sharing personal information. Maybe I should have made more liberal use of those options. Of course then I wouldn't have been able to get the follow-up memails and emails that gave me an opportunity to connect to other members in a way that I really value.

I understand that you would rather not delete comments wholesale, take huge chunks out of the site, make threads less useful. I respect that. I hear you. I know that it's important to you to maintain the integrity of the site and keep it as a valuable resource.

But at this point you're essentially saying hey, you contributed a lot, and that means we'll cut you LESS slack and make things harder for you. I know that it's not your intention, but in practice, the policy is starting to make me regret my prior contributions. As someone who has invested a lot in the site, but who is nowhere near perfect about maintaining my anonymity, that sucks.

As for metafilter and metatalk--I really don't get the current policy as it relates to those subsites.

*ADHD, sorry that it's not too exciting
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:58 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


i agree that ask metafilter retains its usefulness for years after the original post. just tonight i got a favorite from a comment i made in 2008 about ensuring success at a mall portrait studio. it's really not too rare that a long dead thread garners a favorite, which means people are searching through long dead threads.

but the effort that is required for a poster whose privacy is being violated to go through all of their comments to find the individual problem comments is enormous when compared to a simple wipe.

i consider this a feature, not a bug.
posted by nadawi at 10:59 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


At some point I might say--hey--moderators--I'm trying to get a job, and I don't want to be connected to that anymore

This happens every summer when members graduate from college and hit the job market. It'll start happening again in just a couple months.

Typically, we educate people on how to remove their full name from their userpage (which isn't supposed to be indexed by Google anyway) and other identifying info. That usually covers most peoples' needs. Sometimes we have to turn a borderline personal Ask MeFi question into an anonymous query to remove them completely from it. Sometimes there are a few specific comments they'd like removed and we'll do that.

We've done this behind the scenes for dozens and dozens of users and so far not once has it been a situation where wiping out 1,500 contributions was the only way to solve the problem.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:06 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


nadawi: "i consider this a feature, not a bug."

I really don't understand that point of view, which is that people who help other people should just suck it up and accept it if their good intentions are coming back to bite them in the ass. No one is entitled to have people answer their questions, nor are random internet people entitled to view those answers in perpetuity.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:06 PM on February 28, 2010


So... I'm curious. I know ways of outing me, and I'm not particularly worried about being IRLed... but I'm wondering how easy it is for someone to find me based on my posting here. Free web and e-mail hosting (with support) to the first person to contact me with my full name (including my middle name to keep it interesting).

Hosting for life, as far as I can assure. This offer is not legally binding in any way. My terms of service are that I'll hook you up if you're cool. My name is neither Rumpelstiltskin nor Mister Mxyzptlk.
posted by team lowkey at 11:09 PM on February 28, 2010


I really don't understand that point of view

I read that as saying such a wholesale change to a site that could have massive unforeseen repercussions shouldn't be easy and the alternative to picking and choosing your problematic comments is better in the long run for the site even though it's more work for the contributor.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:13 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


mathowie: "We've done this behind the scenes for dozens and dozens of users and so far not once has it been a situation where wiping out 1,500 contributions was the only way to solve the problem."

Could you make this more transparent? I can see how someone could easily panic at the semi-official policy that discourages deletions. It really seems like the official policy is mostly "too bad" mixed with "this is a huge hassle". It's not transparent or friendly.

While I understand this on a practical level, idealistically it's disappointing. No one and no site is perfect so whatevs, I still give everyone hugs, and I wish we lived in a different (and better) world.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:13 PM on February 28, 2010


which is that people who help other people should just suck it up and accept it if their good intentions are coming back to bite them in the ass.

not at all my view. my view is, specifically, that your privacy concerns are yours to govern before the horse leaves the barn. after the horse leaves the barn, you might have to spend some time looking in the fields for him. if you have specific concerns about specific content, find those threads/comments and request specific action. the mods have stated that they will absolutely work with you on those things. there's even a search your own comments/threads feature on your user page to make it easier (so you don't have to read every single comment you've ever made).

i've written amazingly personal things on this site. i've also tried to keep my privacy in mind. i'm sorry if you didn't, but that's a you problem, not a site problem.
posted by nadawi at 11:17 PM on February 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


and yes, mathowie explained better than me what i was trying to get at.

and, and, all it really takes is one email to one mod with one request of any kind to realize that the mods are totally freaking awesome when you need something done. once jessamyn anon'd an ask me for me on her way to get on a plane even though i didn't use the contact form, freaked out and memailed all the mods, and i was the dummy that made the mistake in the first place. she also took the time to ask if there was any way to change the post a question page to make it easier to find the anonymous poster link. they bend over backwards to be helpful to specific requests.
posted by nadawi at 11:22 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a matter of making sure nothing you say can connect back to your name.

I'm completely fucked, obv.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:23 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Could you make this more transparent?

90% of the graduating seniors problem is removing their full name from the name field in their settings. Sometimes we make a question anonymous after the fact.

You're disappointed this isn't somehow more transparent, but how should we make this more transparent? Put a big fat EDITED on their user profile page to show the name was removed? Make a new FAQ entry about people graduating from college?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:29 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not a point system, you don't get to fuck over the whole site because you answered someone's question. I would even go as far as to argue that answers in AskMe are NOT for the one person that asked the question but for the hundred people that searched google for the same thing and found the thread. These hundred people are, by the way, the ones that view the ads that pay all the bills that run this site and pay the moderators' salaries, not the measly registration fee of the one person that posted the question. By later deleting your answers the one may remain satisfied but you fuck over the future hundred. (This also fails the simple "what if everyone did this" test.)

If you aren't comfortable with a comment being public forever then you should not post it.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:35 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


You may also want to avoid using the same username on multiple sites, in case your ideas about perpetuity change.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:39 PM on February 28, 2010


This happens every summer when members graduate from college and hit the job market.

And again I'm boggled that people post stuff on the internet without thinking in advance if it's something they want to be associated with in different life situations. It seems so short-sighted. I don't see any reason at all why this site, or any other, should change what is the total standard way the internet works (i.e. stuff you post stays hanging around forever in ways you can't predict and without any avenue for control) just because people aren't capable of thinking more than a few minutes in advance.

I'm glad the mods here do as much as they do. But I'm with nadwai, how much you reveal and how you reveal it is something each person has complete control over right up until it's revealed, so take some responsibility for that process.
posted by shelleycat at 11:40 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You may also want to avoid using the same username on multiple sites, in case your ideas about perpetuity change.

Or, make sure you grab that username on every site so you have control over what it represents. There are one or two other shelleycat's on the internet I'd love to erase in case someone thinks it's me. Clearly doing so would be unreasonable (both the erasing and trying to get them all) and I should have chosen a better username, I don't even particularly like this one. But meh, whatever.
posted by shelleycat at 11:44 PM on February 28, 2010


team lowkey: it may be impossible to find your name from your posts. But if any of your coworkers know you frequent metafilter, they can easily out you.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:47 PM on February 28, 2010


Jesus what is wrong with you people.
posted by potch at 11:51 PM on February 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm sure people I'm personable with can identify me, but I'm not so sure about coworkers. That's what I'm curious to find out. How much can semi-strangers discover?
posted by team lowkey at 11:55 PM on February 28, 2010


I don't want to post here but I can tell you a few things about yourself. Nothing that would get you fired, though.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:04 AM on March 1, 2010


potch: "Jesus what is wrong with you people"

Wow, helpful.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:05 AM on March 1, 2010


nadawi: "i've written amazingly personal things on this site. i've also tried to keep my privacy in mind. i'm sorry if you didn't, but that's a you problem, not a site problem."

Obviously it's not simply me, and I have no desire to go back in time to erase things.

It just bothers me that it's not transparent. And no, it's not transparent. Multiple people in this thread have aptly pointed that out.

Anyway, whatever, anyone who has privacy concerns on metafilter is probably irresponsible and you're better than that. Congrats.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:09 AM on March 1, 2010


Sorry, it just feels like people are bound and determined to beanplate this whole issue to the point that this site is going to suffer as a result.
posted by potch at 12:09 AM on March 1, 2010


shelleycat: another shellycat that's from, say, Kalamazoo, MI, is clearly not you. But if you're pretty much the only shelleycat on the whole internet, and someone finds your contribution to one site High-Larious, they can go to every other Website you frequent and stalk you for the lulz.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:11 AM on March 1, 2010


Another shelleycat giving quack medical advice for disorders which I happen to specialise in isn't nearly so clearly not me. Unfortunately.
posted by shelleycat at 12:17 AM on March 1, 2010


internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 - if you're going to keep reading my comments in the least charitable way possible we can't really have a discussion. i would say the people who think it's not transparent that the mods are accommodating are also being as uncharitable as they can be (or they've spent zero time trying to get to know the community/mods). 13 minutes after this thread was opened, cortex said "Deleting a specific thing that you regret or that is causing privacy issues is one thing, and we'll accommodate that sort of thing generally when it comes up (whether in tandem with an account closure or not)" - yet here we are 250+ comments later, where the mods have restated this position in at least a dozen different ways, and now they're being accused of not being transparent/accommodating.
posted by nadawi at 12:26 AM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have to admit that I don't really understand what you mean by "transparent" here, ifds, sd9.

So you mean that the mods should advertise more clearly that they are willing to work with people on privacy issues? (in a FAQ, for instance?)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:49 AM on March 1, 2010


s/So/Do/. Good night.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:52 AM on March 1, 2010


I don't understand why this wouldn't be a good option. Continuity of threads is preserved, but people get to lose the gestalt effect that comes of having their comments collected in one place, which I think is what's scary to a lot of the people who want to be memory-holed.

Alternately, maybe people could have a setting to turn off linking to all their comments from their profile page? (Or even a link from each comment in your history saying "hide this comment in my posting history"?) It seems like there are a lot of finer granularities that could be explored here. Sure, this would make it harder for people answering RelationshipFilter questions to look at someone's posting history and see that they had asked twenty questions that were variations on "Does she like me??" but I for one think that's enough of an edge case that it's worth thinking about letting people control where their comments can be accessed from. Plus, there are really obvious positive use cases here - like AskMe questions where the mere fact of providing an answer is embarrassing. I bet people would get vastly better answers to some of those questions if people knew those answers wouldn't be one click away from their profile, and we wouldn't see so many "memail me, I can help" answers.

I think what worries a lot of folks is not necessarily the permanence, but the easy access to all of it at once, in some cases going back years, under a username that may be associated with you in other realms. There are a lot of ways to address parts of this concern without losing much at all, IMO.
posted by crinklebat at 12:54 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even if the profile page did not provide a way to do it, it's still pretty trivial to use Google to find every thread a user has ever posted in.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:14 AM on March 1, 2010


IANAL, so I don't think any airing of my views of individual copyright and DMCA and previous site administration practices, and such are useful to the general discussion. But to come back with some personal response to
"What cortex said and to address what cjorgensen said about copyright, you still keep your copyright, but a TOS will make clear that posting to mefi gives mefi a license to display your content, regardless of who owns the words."
posted by mathowie at 1:04 PM on February 28
and
"... We're pushing for a perpetual license because threads don't make a lick of sense with missing answers, missing halves of conversations between two members, and missing clarifications from askers."
posted by mathowie at 9:31 PM on February 28
and
"We have talked about also having an opt-in for older members before we accept any future comments but of course someone could refuse and stay in limbo."
posted by mathowie at 2:58 PM on February 28
and this, too, which is a decent plea from #1 for the interests of The Site and The Community
"This is the heart of the problem of running a community -- how do you balance the needs of individual members versus the community sphere as the sum of all contributions from everyone? I'm saying letting people remove their contributions to the sphere is a tad selfish (because you can make permanent changes on a whim) and disruptive because it can leave thousands of holes in the community threads, making them largely less understandable and at times incomprehensible.

Again, on a case by case basis, we've done our best to comply with requests but at a certain point (certainly when contributions number in the thousands and site history is over several years) it's not likely to happen because we don't want to add confusion or do anything else to make the site unreadable by others."

posted by mathowie at 1:27 AM on March 1
and
"I'm also curious for the people saying that adopting a perpetual license in a long overdue TOS would be a dealbreaker for them: what would an acceptable license look like? One that times out after x years? One that requires both parties agree they want to allow display (letting users back out?)? Saying contributions can only appear as long as users want?"
posted by mathowie at 1:35 AM on March 1
What I can say about the divisions of purpose and dissolutions of interests of parties in changing commercial and personal relationships, from hard personal experience, is that they proceed best when both parties are generous to the point of pain towards the interests of the other. "Give, and give, and give again, and finally, be done with it." as I think Danny DeVito as divorce attorney Gavin D'Amato counsels his divorcing lawyer client Mr. Oliver Rose, played by Michael Douglas, in The War of the Roses.

What's under discussion, apparently, by the Owner and The Mod Team, are some basic changes to perfect their rights to continue to display, to profit from, and to govern usage of contributed content in perpetuity, by asking of new contributors a non-compensated license for such, along with $5, for the privilege of making as many acceptable, pleasant, relevant, and generally useful contributions as a person wants to make. Old contributors will just be asked, by explicit TOS acceptance, to backward date that license to all contributions already in the site database, and prohibited from making new contributions until they do explicitly indicate that acceptance of terms for all previous contributions, as well as any new contributions made in the future.

I don't think that's going far enough Matt. I think you really do need, for the few that will exercise it, to offer the nuclear option for current members, at the time you introduce a TOS with those provisions.

It's that big a change, by my lights, and is explicit new grant of commercially valuable rights, as well as cover to you, it seems to me, against a lot of future grief. And that's after giving your points about thread continuity across the site, and the continuing usefulness of sub-sites like AskMe, a couple hours' thought.

Here's my reasoning: Locking accounts of existing users who don't tick off TOS acceptance is effectively a ban, and is pretty coercive, particularly for existing users who'd like to continue, perhaps with greater restraint, but have issues with content they might have once tried to take out, via DMCA or private pleading, at some future date, if they left the site - from their perspective, you're arbitrarily forcing their hand in this. Worse, continuing display of old content under that scenario isn't really explicitly granted, as you want, for clean operations in the future.

Even prolific thread dogs, like DU, represent, each, only a very, very small percentage of this site's overall content. Nuking their contributions, completely, on request, leaving behind editorial explanation markers, would, on average, really only affect a small percentage of the site's total content (under 1%, for even the most prolific folks).

It's not a technically onerous task to do via SQL.

It would be easily understood in the future by new users, even if old threads became marginally less valuable as a result of such deletions.

It's unlikely that a great enough group of existing users would choose to leave the site over this issue, within a short "accept/decline new TOS terms" decision period, that major content loss is probable (although I admit this is a commercial risk decision about which men of goodwill can reasonably disagree - but site history, shows, I think, a pretty low rate of voluntary turnover, for all reasons, combined).

And finally, it is the teaching of Danny DeVito, and It's The Right Thing To Do, to balance interests, which you obviously perceive as having changed. You could perhaps, offer not just a site wide purge to those so concerned, but, perhaps, a sub-site particular version, for those who have taken a consistently different, more generous tone in AskMe, than they might have on the Blue, as a means of allowing people to give you display rights to past content in those areas.

With any Great TOS Purge in the past, whoever continues thereafter, does so, explicitly in agreement with TOS. Although I still think, even after a Great TOS Purge, a killer stroke with the banhammer ought to come with a one time "and here's a chance to take your trash with you" option, on the way out, for reasons previously stated.

That, finally, leaves you with a clear path for perpetual commercial display of a constantly growing base of contributed content, and no ruffled feathers in the nest over TOS introduction. Pretty much, I think, all you could reasonably expect.
posted by paulsc at 1:28 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


i wonder if people trying to trap mathowie/metafilter in bullshit legalese ever makes him want to take his ball and just go the fuck home.
posted by nadawi at 1:38 AM on March 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


this thread is why we cant have nice things.
posted by Justinian at 1:56 AM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


HOLY BEANPLATING MOONJUICE, WE CAN'T STOP HERE THIS IS BATMAN COUNTRY, MAN!

*prints out thread, shreds it to bits with scissors, pulls out words at random*

Let see here. Boing Boing... reddit... penis... lawyer... ponytail thing... full moon... lawyers... TOS... copyright...

Oh, fuck.
posted by loquacious at 2:28 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the way deletions and anonymizations are handled here works fine.
posted by rtha at 5:34 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could you make this more transparent? I can see how someone could easily panic at the semi-official policy that discourages deletions. It really seems like the official policy is mostly "too bad" mixed with "this is a huge hassle". It's not transparent or friendly.

It's MetaFilter and people panic over everything. We can't make panic into a guiding principle over when things need to be done. Aside from the general "hey here's how to change your profile and of course we'll delete some old problematic comments for you" then yes, you do need to do the work of going through your old posts/comments and figuring out what's problematic and yes you need to talk to us about it and yes it will take some time. We've got time and we've historically been helpful about this.

Having a semi-official policy that discourages deletions keeps people from having a bad day/week and deciding to willy-nilly do something that has a huge effect on the community. This is our policy for a lot of things that are technically okay but that we'd prefer to see less of. It gives us the flexibility to be helpful when people are being internet stalked but also firm when someone's just having a bad day.

I'm aware that it's really hard to see how this works and looks from our end and that it's a whole different ballgame having the power to do this whenever you want to as opposed to asking us as if it's a favor, but we've mostly felt in that past that that's a decent balance for the site. It may be that the site is growing to the point where we need more crystal clear guidelines because people don't have a sense of us as mods and don't have a sense of site history. That would be a shame, from my perspective, but it is surprising to me how many people in this thread really think that we wouldn't do the right thing if someone was being harassed, stalked or looking for a job and wanted their pot smoking question deleted.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:23 AM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


> Why are you people trying to ruin Metafilter?

No kidding. This is one of the worst MeTa threads I've ever seen; if I were mathowie, I'd be considering just shutting the site down if it's going to lead to this kind of bullshit. Every petty legalistic shit-stirrer on the site is coming here to stick pins in him and try to change the site drastically and for the worse. If you don't like it here, go do something else. If you do like it here, stop trying to fuck it up. Thank you.
posted by languagehat at 7:04 AM on March 1, 2010 [44 favorites]


What languagehat said. Matt is being eminently reasonable, it seems to me. I'm not really sure what else he could do. He said they're willing to work with people if they have issues with this. I can't imagine anyone being extremely freaked out about having their words hanging about here and yet not considering getting in touch with the mods to see if there's a solution.

Going forward, take more time before you hit 'post comment', and when you're getting ready for your Supreme Court confirmation hearings, drop a note to Matt.
posted by Nabubrush at 7:11 AM on March 1, 2010


I don't think that's going far enough Matt. I think you really do need, for the few that will exercise it, to offer the nuclear option for current members, at the time you introduce a TOS with those provisions. -- posted by paulsc

Can I say that I think this is a stupidly terrible and unequivocally awful idea? I know it's appealing to some people to gain access to a screw-over-the-community button, but I'd imagine the vast majority of people who post and lurk on Metafilter would hate for this to happen.

Every petty legalistic shit-stirrer on the site is coming here to stick pins in him and try to change the site drastically and for the worse. If you don't like it here, go do something else. If you do like it here, stop trying to fuck it up. Thank you. -- posted by languagehat

Agreed.
posted by arcolz at 7:20 AM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


In my experience in other forums, the nuclear option tends to be exploited (it's used to conceal antagonism and trolling, not personal details) and annoying (there are huge holes in conversations, and things don't make sense anymore). It encourages drama, flameouts, and suspicion. In providing more transparency for the user, it makes the community entirely less so.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:36 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Everything2 has had an admin-only nuclear option for close to a decade. Although users can't delete their own writeups, every so often someone gets fed up, requests deletion of all their content, and changes their password to random gibberish while munging their email address to break even the password reminder. There is now a button to do this in one shot, after one user decided to, instead of requesting deletion of his writeups, merely emptied them of content and disappeared, leaving a mess to be cleaned up upon discovery.
posted by mkb at 8:25 AM on March 1, 2010


Oh, and the behavior in question is now called "pulling an Asamoth" after the inventor. It inspired several copycats even though the first occurrence was in 2000.
posted by mkb at 8:26 AM on March 1, 2010


I guess I've always thought the template from most web discussion sites was USENET, in which everyone's college idiocy is on display forever and ever, typically under a real-name .edu address.

I used to post to usenet from a work email account, at a company where your email address was (FirstInitial)(LastInitial)(last-4-digits-of-SSN). d'oh. There's no nuclear option for removing that, so thank goodness my name is nice and generic.

Doesn't Google let you remove yourself from its old Deja News archive?

They aren't the only usenet archive, just the most famous.

And just because you posted something to a friends-only section of facebook doesn't mean someone in that circle can't end up reposting it elsewhere.

Longtime member endquote gave an interesting interview where he talked about how little effect his highly truthful blogging had affected his career, as I recall, but can't find ATM.


Did you know the big five on Night Court - Harry Anderson, John Larroquette, Richard Moll, Markie Post, and uh, the other guy, all made it through the entire series run? Nine seasons.

Elen Foley and Paula Kelly were public defender for seasons 1 & 2, though Markie Post did make a guest appearance during the first season.

Also, tortious is not equivalent to illegal.
posted by nomisxid at 9:19 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


What the fuck, people? Almost 300 comments on this topic? I have a reminder and a hint for everyone getting upset at the mods: You're on the Goddamn Internet. If there's something--anything--that you don't want to be public knowledge about you, you shouldn't be typing it on the Goddamn Internet.
posted by Caduceus at 9:36 AM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I guess I've always thought the template from most web discussion sites was USENET, in which everyone's college idiocy is on display forever and ever, typically under a real-name .edu address.

Yeah, I recently rediscovered my college-era Usenet posts, now archived in perpetuity. The one benefit is that I will never be forced to have a political career, I guess.
posted by Forktine at 9:39 AM on March 1, 2010


The way things are now are fine and not unexpected for new users. Or at least they shouldn't be unexpected for users with enough history for this to actually be an issue.

enn quotes "Just like if you send someone a letter, the letter no longer belongs to you and you can't compel them to burn it.
enn writes"But you can legally prevent them from publishing it under longstanding copyright law, at least until it passes into the public domain after many years."

But if you send a letter to the editor with the understanding it'll be published in their paper (or maybe a better example is a personal ad) you don't get to come back to years later and ask for it to be purged from their public archives. Even if you own the copyright you've obviously given the paper permission to post it and archive it as that is the basis of their entire business. I can't see how Metafilter is any way different. It does exactly what is described on the package: Takes what you write in the comment/post box and distributes it on port 80 for as long as Matt can keep the server cranking.

Monday, stony Monday writes "Over the years, the internet has paradoxically become smaller: what you thought would be lost in the ocean of the net when you pushed Submit in 2004 has turned out to be easily findable and linkable to you."

It's always been this way. This was an endless flame war on USENET essentially forever that got reignited every time a new storehouse was set up. And it was worse because not only was the community much smaller than that with web access; the vast majority of USENET posters did so with accounts tied to their corporate identity. Here you can be one of many Bar Bazes, there you were one of one Bar Bazes at Foo Company. Users even went to the extreme of signatures with extensive disclaimers about not speaking for their corporate overlords.

enn writes "Every other forum I use either allows you to remove your own posts or (if it's a listserv) makes the archives members-only and completely ungoogleable."

I'm guessing you are either really careful on the last or just plain lucky. Most of the LISTSERVs I frequent have direct gateways to either USENET or the Web or both.

Monday, stony Monday writes "You're from a blog background. Forums very often allow editing."

I think you might mean phpBB and it's ilk. And even if it were wide spread, which I'll contend it isn't, there is a world of difference between "very often" and "so ubiquitous that every forum can just be assumed to support it".

internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 writes "The current policy is very conservative about deleting prior comments which, combined with a perpetual license, is enough to make people very wary about commenting about anything personal."

A feature not a bug.

internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 writes "Of course there are sockpuppets, emailing the moderators, and other ways to maintain anonymity while sharing personal information. Maybe I should have made more liberal use of those options. Of course then I wouldn't have been able to get the follow-up memails and emails that gave me an opportunity to connect to other members in a way that I really value. "

So now that you've gotten everything out of your comments that you want you are looking to deny the same for other readers?

paulsc writes "I don't think that's going far enough Matt. I think you really do need, for the few that will exercise it, to offer the nuclear option for current members, at the time you introduce a TOS with those provisions. "

I think your posting history is a great example of exactly how damaging a big red delete everything option would be. Huge chunks of fairly popular/meme-making/contentious threads that have become ingrained in the psyche of Metafilter cease to make sense if all your comments are deleted. The same goes for I'd say most if not all of the 20 in the 80/20 rule such as Wendell or amberglow or quonsar or Migs. Do you think if jessamyn has a falling out with mathowie tomorrow she should be able to nuke everyone one of her not-speaking-as-a-mod posts and comments from orbit?

Caduceus writes "If there's something--anything--that you don't want to be public knowledge about you, you shouldn't be typing it on the Goddamn Internet."

I use a church's public wifi, everything you see here is God Blessed.
posted by Mitheral at 9:41 AM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


You're on the Goddamn Internet.

I'm gonna start using that, really. If my Mom asks where I found the directions to the doctor's office, I'll say: "On the Goddamn Internet." If my boss wants me to look something up in the Code of Federal Regulations, I'll say: "I'll look on the Goddamn Internet."

This is going to be great. On the Goddamn Internet.
posted by marxchivist at 9:43 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you think if jessamyn has a falling out with mathowie tomorrow she should be able to nuke everyone one of her not-speaking-as-a-mod posts and comments from orbit?

Oh come on, now who's coming up with contrived hypothetical edgecases of edgecases.
posted by enn at 10:23 AM on March 1, 2010


Doesn't a lot of this also sort of ignore the fact that Metafilter doesn't operate in a vacuum? There are places like archive.org that'll maintain people's histories even if the Mods were to allow for something as disruptive as full comment removal. Once you say something on the internet, assume it is going to exist out there forever. It's the first thing every single person should learn coming onto the web.

The trick, if you worry about this sort of thing, is to make enough ridiculous claims that no one takes you seriously. I mean, I've obviously never actually hunted hobos for sport, but I did build that orbital death ray to get even with all those damned blue Renault Alliances.

And if that ever comes up in a job interview, I'll just have to fess up and own it.
posted by quin at 10:28 AM on March 1, 2010


I also want to suggest that taking down content, and replacing it with an appropriate editorial marker for persona that choose to leave on the adoption of a TOS which attempts to make users give MetaFilter a permanent display license ought to be a no brainer. As future opportunities present themselves to monetize and grow the site, it is in the current ownership's interest to have a bright line date of future and ongoing content use license, regardless of future use or value. Those past and current contributors, active or voluntarily inactive, who haven't thought about those implications pre-TOS, ought to be given a no harm, no foul exit date for all their content, if they don't want to continue, under new TOS terms.
posted by paulsc at 10:25 PM on February 28


Hmm, I can't imagine why you feel this way...
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:11 AM on March 1, 2010


I saw a crocus today.
posted by fixedgear at 11:40 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


A quick two cents about why things you post on a forum can be important (without regard to whether you can or cannot remove them at a later date): all it takes is one accidental information breach connecting your pseudonym to your email address for someone to learn a lot more about you than you might want known.

I know this because I did a little searching around while reading this thread and found that a site I comment on has had such a breach. I'm following up with them, and am grateful this pseudonym is common and used by a lot of people more interesting than myself.
posted by davejay at 11:46 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


and, and, all it really takes is one email to one mod with one request of any kind to realize that the mods are totally freaking awesome when you need something done.

a quick anecdote concerning my time as Program Coordinator of a small campus radio station.

I came into the job fully confident that if I (and my team of volunteers) could burn some midnight oil and define a few simple systems and policies toward defining "how things should work" and PUT IT IN WRITING, we would quickly resolve most if not all of the day to day hiccups, confusions, conflicts that were troubling us.

We had a few meetings. A lot of stuff got discussed. A few older, wiser (and jaded) politicos eventually got involved and brought up their experiences of the 60s-70s counterculture and its ultimately failed efforts to "organize" utopia. I remember one meeting in particular where I got shouted at, something along the lines of ....

"You are seeking to define a system that is somehow superior to everyday human nature! This is fucking idiotic! Any system defined by humans will be riddled with their nature! But because it is a system and it's IN WRITING, it will be worse than everyday human nature because it will APPEAR to be somehow more circumspect, more sober, more wise, and what's worse, at some point, some Machiavellian individual WILL figure out a way to put it to use for his/her own nefarious ends! THIS WILL HAPPEN!"

And so on. Nothing was ever put in writing. The station continued to stumble through its various everyday hiccups, confusions, conflicts mainly via the various concerned parties occasionally stooping to communicate with each other one-on-one. It wasn't pretty sometimes but now, some 25 years later, that radio station is still broadcasting, still good, still rocking the free world.

The moral to this anecdote: Metafilter's mods' unwritten policy of dealing with complicated shit on a more or less adhoc basis ain't perfect but it's better than anything else I'm aware of.

Keep on rocking in the free world.
posted by philip-random at 12:11 PM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


In the law school dorm we used to fight all the time about the "house rules" for the pool table in the lounge area. Someone tried to codify the rules. We would then fight all the time about interpretations of the codification. It was totally useless.
posted by Mid at 12:52 PM on March 1, 2010


Well this is all very interesting, but can we get back to the pressing issue here? What happened to carsonb's cat?
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:21 PM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


How about we purge the internet of all images of Matt Haughey? Each photograph found could be replaced with one that has removed his likeness. It's not a technically onerous task to do via the Photoshop Clone Stamp tool and nuking his image completely would, on average, really only affect a small percentage of the internet's total content!
posted by jabo at 1:40 PM on March 1, 2010


Why are you people trying to ruin Metafilter?

I completely agree with this comment, and with those who have also agreed with this comment.

If this is such a huge deal to you D&D rules lawyers who need every single aspect of your daily lives mapped out in 11pt Times New Roman, in triplicate, and vetted by at least three different lawyers then maybe you should go start your own friggin' site and stop trying to fuck up this one.
posted by Justinian at 2:14 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is paulsc even around after that "Fuck you, cortex. Fuck you, mathowie" outburst? As far as I know, he never even apologized.
posted by languagehat at 2:24 PM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


enn writes "Oh come on, now who's coming up with contrived hypothetical edgecases of edgecases."

I admit it is a thermonuclear impact level event but I don't think the example is contrived. Internet communities implode and/or fragment from a difference of opinion at the leadership levels all the time. Not entertaining at least the possibility of that happening and the consequences of a policy that would allow a heavy contributor to pull their comments is unrealistic. It sure isn't an edge case. We're explicitly talking about giving the power for a user, any user, to unilaterally pull all their comments from the site. The only thing that makes it unusual is I separated mod ex cathedra which could be arguably be considered to belong to her employer from her personal voice comments.

languagehat writes "Why is paulsc even around after that 'Fuck you, cortex. Fuck you, mathowie' outburst? As far as I know, he never even apologized."

Holy guacamoly, I missed that the first time around. I was thinking about the take off incident.
posted by Mitheral at 2:37 PM on March 1, 2010


My posting in this thread has been based on two things:

1) For me, the license under which the comments and posts are published is not something incidental or unimportant; it's the very basis of this website. Not everything needs to have written rules, I agree. But on a large site like this one, with thousands involved, I think clear rules are needed at least for the very basis of the thing.

2) The panopticon scares me. Yes, you'll find me saying things that I shouldn't have, given my fear (if I were 100% rational, I wouldn't have an account). I tend to be a bit scared of people, so finding the mods less accommodating than I'd like sent me grasping for something to hold, so to speak.

3) I've tried not to be a dick to anyone. I clearly failed at least once (sorry about the snipy forum comment, Matt). I hope I haven't failed too bad otherwise.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:31 PM on March 1, 2010


I also can't count, apparently.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:41 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


fuck all lawyers



... and I mean that in nicest possible way.
posted by philip-random at 3:50 PM on March 1, 2010


Oh come on, now who's coming up with contrived hypothetical edgecases of edgecases.

Honestly, it seems to me like everyone is.

MSM, I understand that you have The Fear. We're really accommodating in person almost all the time, but our fear is a different fear, it's the fear of saying something out loud that sounds like Policy and then having someone quote something back at us years later because we said it out loud and saying "here is the binding statement that you made"

As cortex has said in this thread [I think?] people have managed to pull out a bunch of edge cases which are things we have done that 999 times out of 1000 we'd prefer to no longer do [change the username of a user who had more than a few comments, delete more than a few posts by any user who wasn't in some sort of danger]. That said, we've done these things and we'll continue to do them but they're so edge casey as to basically define what is outside our usual policy except in extreme cases.

I was at work today talking to librarians about computers and talking about some internet too or other. And one of them said "well what do you do if cell service is down?" [vis a vis using Twitter for something] and I had to say that really, if the cell towers are down for any extended period of time, you're looking at a 911-level problem and probably have bigger issues than people knowing when the puppet show is happening.

I mean I get that people, especially anxious people, really like to feel that they have eventualities nailed down. This helps, gives comfort, calms the nerves. That said, we want people to move forward with the assumption that most of the time, nearly all the time, something you post here can not be removed at will. If this is something that people are not comfortable with, we'd prefer they post under a harder-to-crack pseudonym, do not post, or pick maybe the three most damaging things they wish they'd never said and let us delete them and then leave it. We'd rather have you not contributing to AskMe than contributing assuming you can remove what you say later.

Because if the rules say that you can delete your posting history, they also say that I can delete my posting history. We'd prefer there wasn't a rule that said this. The rule is we won't remove your posting history. The rule has some flex to it, but not much. We feel that the rule is consistent among other similar sites on the internet though perhaps not the ones users are personally acquainted with.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:24 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wish I never had joined.
posted by Scoo at 7:01 PM on March 1, 2010


I know when the puppet show is happening! Right after Spinal Tap finishes their space-jazz odyssey!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:07 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The three most damaging things I wish I'd never said, to a certain person in my past, would be "I love you." But deleting them now would serve no purpose.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:11 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


MeTa: bigger issues than people knowing when the puppet show is happening.
posted by moody cow at 7:50 PM on March 1, 2010


Whenever I read one of these long "the site doesn't work the way I think it ought to" type threads, especially with various slams against the mods, I think "have you never been anywhere else on the internet?" I don't believe I've ever posted to or read any other community site with more reasonable and patient mods.
posted by Nabubrush at 8:22 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The puppet show is on NOW!
posted by tellurian at 8:47 PM on March 1, 2010


I've given up trying to keep up with this thread but personally I think some sort of compromise keeping comments/posts but completely deleting all references to the user would be a good solution for most. I understand the desire to prevent threads from unraveling by making their content permanent. Nevertheless it is appalling to me that if I were to request that my account was deleted anyone would still be able to go to my profile page and see every post I had ever made down to the dates and times that I made them. Would it really be so awful to just unlink all the posts from a single personal identity if deletion was requested?
posted by 12%juicepulp at 9:01 PM on March 1, 2010


Yeah, that would be pretty awful. Did none of you see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?

Maybe this is yet another divide between people interested in community and people who see Metafilter as no different than Reddit, or Digg, or Slashdot. That is, some website they occasionally glance at full of anonymous pixels.
posted by Justinian at 11:13 PM on March 1, 2010


And I was collecting quotes through this thread (yes, I read all of it! Do I get a gold star for The Internet?) to rebut, but then I saw that Mitheral made my point for me, above, with "if you send a letter to the editor with the understanding it'll be published in their paper (or maybe a better example is a personal ad) you don't get to come back to years later and ask for it to be purged from their public archives. Even if you own the copyright you've obviously given the paper permission to post it and archive it as that is the basis of their entire business."

I really don't see the difference here: even though I own the copyright to this comment, by typing it into this box and clicking submit I am obviously giving permission to Matt to publish it on the site. The same is the case with any letters I might send to the newspaper. That Matt makes money with this site is irrelevant, just as it's irrelevant that newspapers make money with their content, including letters to the editor. That the content is permanent should also be obvious, just as it should be when you stamp an envelope for a letter to the editor and drop it in the mailbox. You send it off to someone else and it's out of your control.

I can understand people being embarrassed about past comments--hell, there are even things I've said on tape that I wish I hadn't said (the kinds of foolish things one can only say when snotty and hot-headed and self-righteous). But I knew there was a camera, and I knew what it was for, and I decided to say those things anyway. That's my fault, and my problem.

It's a credit to the mods that they are willing to remove specific limited content on rare occasions for specific and clearly stated pressing reasons. I doubt very much that I'd get the same response if I wrote the local paper and asked them to take down a letter to the editor that I had sent.
posted by johnofjack at 11:51 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


It depends on the terms under which you publish your letter to the editor. These days, it probably allows the newspaper to make it available in its archives, indeed. But before the Internet, freelancer's licenses (for instance) didn't take archive rights into account: e.g.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:21 AM on March 2, 2010


We are not freelancers being paid to publish articles on Metafilter. In fact, we paid mathowie - well, lots of us did, depending on when we joined - for the right to participate. Furthermore, we paid him for the right to participate in exactly the way we're participating. The paid freelancers in Tasini said hey, we agreed to be published in [foo] version of the paper, and now you want to re-publish us in [bar] version, which we didn't agree to. How is that even similar?

I had a few pieces published in various anthologies, years ago. Paid or not, if I had changed my mind after publication about appearing in the books, I can't imagine I have a right to call up the publishers and demand that the print run be pulped.
posted by rtha at 5:20 AM on March 2, 2010


How freelancing is and isn't like metafilter is irrelevant. All I mean is that a paper's right to post something in their archives may be more limited than people think.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:32 AM on March 2, 2010


LexisNexis is not the archive of the NYT. It is a different company entirely. The situation is not analogous.
posted by rtha at 5:48 AM on March 2, 2010


Obviously in '97 the NYT didn't make its archives available itself. The matter was form (electronic vs. print), not who ended up providing the service.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:58 AM on March 2, 2010


Archives of the Times were available in their own morgue, in hardcopy, and on microfiche. A freelancer would not have the right to demand that the Times go through every copy of the paper in its morgue and rip out the freelancer's article or recall over microfiche and do the same.
posted by rtha at 6:09 AM on March 2, 2010


How freelancing is and isn't like metafilter is irrelevant.

It's actually really relevant. If it's not relevant to the point you're making, that's fine.

However the difference between freelancing and a letter to the editor is that freelancers have rights, contractual rights, that letter-to-the-editor writers do not have. This is because of the complicated way something you write makes it to the pages and archives of the newspaper. The huge deal with the Tasini case was that the newspapers were paying for the right to publish content in a certain way and then they also published the content in another way, a way that the court case decided they didn't have the legal right to do. NYT was available digitially, in libraries, via the NYT themselves, in the early and mid-nineties.

When you publish content to MetaFilter, you're publishing to the web. If we, or anyone, tried to print a book of MeFi comments or posts, they couldn't legally. If you wanted to make a recording of comments and make it available, you couldn't. Again, we're sympathetic to people's concerns, but I feel that it's important to not conflate what happened in NYT/Tasini with what we are talking about here. They are very different.

There was a really interesting article, just yesterday, about how the Times and other papers "unpublish" [their words, not mine] things, even from the digital archives. It's really fascinating and timely.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:25 AM on March 2, 2010


This is good stuff deep into the discussion.

I'm personally very much in agreement with Monday's point that posting to Metafilter is analogous to writing a letter to the Editor. In doing so, you're committing something to the public record, with the added bonus that it's far easier to "anonymize" yourself on MeFi than with a newspaper. Just make up a user name, DON'T TELL IT TO ANYONE, and keep all personal info off your profile.

I've been trying to keep the world "childish" out of my few comments here but finally, I feel I've got to throw it in. It's f***ing childish to think that you can throw your words, ideas, rants around the world wide web and then, when you're tired of playing, grab them all back and take them home with you. This is not how it works. Please grow up. Own your experience. Take responsibility for your actions.
posted by philip-random at 10:48 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


My real name is Wayne Gretzky by the way.
posted by philip-random at 10:49 AM on March 2, 2010


That is an interesting article jessamyn and as you said, timely. I liked the phrase 'source remorse'.
posted by tellurian at 2:37 PM on March 2, 2010


I think this fits Metafilter perfectly: draw up a policy and choose several top executives to make decisions by consensus. They should be humane but not give in to “source remorse,” .
posted by tellurian at 2:44 PM on March 2, 2010


"... Because if the rules say that you can delete your posting history, they also say that I can delete my posting history. We'd prefer there wasn't a rule that said this. ..."
posted by jessamyn at 7:24 PM on March 1

I'm sure that this is what metafilter.com, et al, prefer.

What I'm not sure about is whether this is what the US DMCA and other legislation/case law provides, in a pre-TOS environment, as we, the pre and post $5 contributors, now find ourselves in, with the promise of a post-SXSW TOS, and methodology... I hope those of you still reading this thread can see this as a genuine, unafraid, difference of opinion, with the management (and staff) of a site that once had no such commercial concerns for continuity and ownership of content...

When ground changes under your feet, you know it.

Something changed on this site, with the posting of this question, that yet may be confirmed in followups, or new policies, or mandatory TOS agreements. To comment or disagree with what has been advanced in good faith by Matt, or other other members of the Mod Team, or other site members, in this thread, is not necessarily an attempt to be garrulous or quarrelsome or revisionist, as much as it is, to simply mark, that something, even in the pre-annoucement contemplation of it, has changed, for this site.

And, perhaps, to argue, however futilely, for a single use, one time open door, for those who once thought of this place differently, as a place where words once stood, as much as they certainly didn't, on voluntary terms.

But, we're getting the horse way in front of the cart.

There may be, at some future date, a TOS to be proposed, but that is not today. There may be, at some future date, perhaps, some acceptance/rejection action to be confirmed by existing site members/contributors. And there may be, according to the future actions of this site's owners/employees, as well as former or on-going contributors, some further issues to explore.

But, personally, I hold hope for sense, and sensibility, throughout those coming days, from all involved.

10+ years is a longer time, than Time itself, on the Internet.
posted by paulsc at 10:50 PM on March 4, 2010


a site that once had no such commercial concerns for continuity and ownership of content...

Hold tight, buddy, hold you just as tight as you can to that and never let it go.
posted by carsonb at 11:33 PM on March 4, 2010


"Hold tight, buddy, hold you just as tight as you can to that and never let it go."
posted by carsonb at 2:33 AM on March 5

One arm for the boat, and one arm for me, or you, as it were. Here's a one armed hug, from some one still hanging on, buddy, as waves of change threaten.
posted by paulsc at 11:44 PM on March 4, 2010


If you have a problem with your aggregate data being used for research, and if you have a problem with what you said still being here after you're gone, why on earth would you still comment here? If you hate it so much - with the "fuck you"s and so on, why still participate? Just go. No one will give a shit.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:25 AM on March 5, 2010


every time you use a comma, a little concern troll gets its wings
posted by chinston at 6:58 AM on March 9, 2010


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