Can we give a little more charity to anons? June 6, 2012 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Are we, as a community, doing the best we can in anon askmes?

It's something I've been circling around for a while, but seeing the emotional response from the OP in this thread resonated with me.

I asked an anon question once, and the responses - though nowhere near so intense - upset me at a vulnerable time, too. I'm not placing the blame entirely on the community here; anon questions are often very fraught emotionally for the askers, and also can often have feelings of shame or guilt wrapped up in them. Sometimes that's the reason why people ask anonymously.

However, having known what it feels like on the "other side", as it were, it was an unpleasant realisation for me, and really made me question and rethink a lot of my past responses to anon askmes. The oft-times reasonable things I said so very casually could have really visited emotional pain onto the people asking questions - just as some casual answers really hurt and upset me, when I asked my question, and they didn't get a nifty pile of favourites vindicating them, which would have made it even worse.

I recognise that it's also the nature of relationship askmes in general - of which anon question make a large proportion - to invite the more unsympathetic, "tough love" responses, but nonetheless surely we as a community can do a little better?

I see things in anon askmes that mefites would never say to a well-known username - and rightfully so. The remove of anonymity seems to give license to a freer, more authoritative response than is warranted, and if the goal is to help the OP, I don't know that those responses do the job. And I think they hurt members and in doing so can hurt the community.

I guess I just want to sound out if other mefites think I'm being over-sensitive here; if it's possible we could bring a bit more charity and a bit less judgment to anon questions; and failing that if the mods would feel comfortable being more aggressive with the moderation in those questions? Having felt the sting of tossed off responses to a difficult and searching question, the deletion of a few comments wouldn't have made a big difference to those making them, but would have made a big difference to me at the time.

When people ask a question talking about what kind of camera they should get, the responses are never judgmental, never "tough love", and never emotional. When they ask an emotional anon question, it's anything but.
posted by smoke to Etiquette/Policy at 5:37 PM (131 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I think the answers were fine and addressed the question the way it was presented. The OP admittedly had some baggage that showed up in the question, but I don't see anyone acting openLy obnoxious in the thread.

If you ask strangers for advice, it's because you want objective advice that maybe your friends or partner will not be as open about giving you. And a pile-on might be uncomfortable, but it can also be beneficial, because when you see so many people agreeing that you are in the wrong, you have to accept there is some truth in it. Hopefully, the OP realizes this.

TL;DR: No, I don't think there's a problem with AskMe. Whatever came out in that thread came out directly from the info the OP chose to put in her question, and it is all on target.
posted by misha at 5:44 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hardly pay attention to whether or not the asker is anonymous or not.
If you're asking a question on this site, you're probably familiar with the fact that most of users dont give fake advice. That's why I value this community- it's a reality check.
posted by KogeLiz at 5:45 PM on June 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


That thread is anomalous because the poster outted themselves after only a couple hours, and people continued to give them shit afterwards, because of what the OP wrote, not because it was posted anonymously. IMO.
posted by Edogy at 5:48 PM on June 6, 2012


if the mods would feel comfortable being more aggressive with the moderation in those questions?

We have been babysitting that thread most of the day. We've deleted a fair amount of comments. There has been a fair amount of flagging.

We've been talking on the back end about how those sorts of threads could go better where the solution can't be "Everyone on the site behave differently." At some level there are problems with the anonymity of the posters in the way you describe, but this question didn't have much of that. There are also problems, big ones, in the way people describe their questions versus what it turns out their questions actually are. I'm honestly not sure how to deal with this.

If you feel comfortable telling a bunch of people that you think that you are "disgusted" by flashy cars and talk about how humiliated and resentful you feel, I feel that there is already a strong attitude coming in to the thread that is going to cause people to react to what you've said. And when they give variations of "I disagree with you and your approach" answers and you say that reading the thread has made you "cry all day" I feel bad about that, but not responsible.

I feel like people need to be able to take their own emotional temperature and give a bit more forethought to how they're going to deal with a mixed bag of opinions or possibly the not-deleted-fast-enough crabby comment. When you say "Basically, we just want your thoughts." our literal minded nerds are going to take you at your word. The big thinking we've done on the mod end is more about how to suitably warn people about making sure they can manage asking an anonymous question and/or approving fewer anonymous questions with charged language.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:49 PM on June 6, 2012 [31 favorites]


I see things in anon askmes that mefites would never say to a well-known username - and rightfully so.

You must be new here.
posted by empath at 5:51 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Many people have frequently said "AskMe is not your talk therapy." And while on one hand, they say that to point out that you shouldn't post long, rambling AskMes that aren't about asking a quesiton but about working out the OP's personal issues, on the other hand, it's also important to keep that in mind because AskMe is not the place to converse with a validating, encouraging therapist.

Now, I'm certainly a bit... concerned ... that the answer which was the least charitable of all the comments I posted was the most heavily favorited. However, I think the OP entire premise was rather standoffish and argumentative. I don't think it's unfair to expect equally as harsh pushback from the commenters.

Also, to flip your question around, if the AskMe wasn't anonymous, do you think the OP would have said some of the things she said?
posted by deanc at 5:54 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My view is that the question was silly, and the responses (at least the ones that are still up) are wholly accurate. Sometimes, the truth needs to be bluntly expressed.
posted by dfriedman at 5:54 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, there's a lot of drek in there, still, even after what must have been a lot of clean-up. Bunches of people talking out of their asses. Some really sexist junk.

DarlingBri's answer near the end was kind of over-the-top.

Yeah, yeah, I get that folks are going to feel the poster was asking for it. Doesn't mean it can't rankle a bit that people can't contain themselves.
posted by batmonkey at 5:57 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess I just want to sound out if other mefites think I'm being over-sensitive here;

No. I specifically considered, and then dropped, an AskMe because I was sure it would generate a contentious response.

the way people describe their questions versus what it turns out their questions actually are. I'm honestly not sure how to deal with this.

This is a core conflict with the comment guidelines in AskMe. They are, succinctly, 'Answer the question being asked.' But people often don't ask the question they need to ask, or they do ask around the question they have inside.

Another problem is the relative difficulty of anonymous Askers to clarify, followup, or otherwise contribute to the question once it is released. The bar is higher (in that exists) for adding to the thread. This can require the anonymous asker to front-load the question with lots of information, information that may be unnecessary or distracting otherwise, attitudes and stray thoughts that are perhaps irrelevant,or may help the answerer's understanding.

My main advice to anonymous askers would be: Ask what you mean to ask. Think hard about the question you want the answer to.

My main problem with that thread is it apparently took 130+ comments of people saying the same thing. Even though every user is certainly unique, ever answer is . . . less so.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:57 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Edogy: "the poster outted themselves after only a couple hours"

No she didn't, that's a sock puppet that was signed up today.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:00 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The big thinking we've done on the mod end is more about how to suitably warn people about making sure they can manage asking an anonymous question and/or approving fewer anonymous questions with charged language.

Yeah Jessamyn, I agree it's a tricky one, and I think that sounds like a really good approach. I feel like a lot of people asking anon questions aren't really aware of what they're signing up to receive - I certainly wasn't, because when it's your question, you're gonna notice things you may never have seen before.

a pile-on might be uncomfortable, but it can also be beneficial, because when you see so many people agreeing that you are in the wrong, you have to accept there is some truth in it. Hopefully, the OP realizes this.

I dunno, I feel like there's a lot of assumptions in that statement. That a pile-on is merely uncomfortable when people might already be in a pretty fragile way; that will beneficial - which seems to go against pretty standard psychological that people dig in when threatened; that there is some kind of objective "truth" in a pile-on that is more valid than other truths that aren't necessarily contained in the question; and finally that the OP will realise it.

I guess I think all those things can be accomplished with gentleness, too, and indeed that gentleness can foster more positive responses from the askers - however negative or messed up their framing. Maybe I'm just a hippy. I think there's a perception where it's like, "Hey, I have the right to give a hard answer, that's the compact!". I don't dispute that at all, but being right, and doing the right thing can be different, I think.
posted by smoke at 6:00 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess I do associate deliberate anonymity with greater vulnerability, automatically. If you are taking an anonymous option than you are, to me, broadcasting greater vulnerability than if you are unmasked--sometimes that vulnerability is practical (public protection of finances), most often it is emotional. I also think that if the site offers anonymity as an option, the site is acknowledging the site's acceptance of greater vulnerability, of both stripes (practical and emotional).

For me, if two (theoretical) identical questions are asked and one is signed with a username, and one is anonymous, the signed question implies a greater acceptance on the part of the asker of the situation, the potential answers, and (most importantly) the community. I assume the anonymous asker may have problems or vulnerabilities associated with any of those three things and do tread more carefully in my response, keeping that in mind.

This seems rather self-evident, to me, as well.
posted by rumposinc at 6:06 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


No she didn't, that's a sock puppet that was signed up today.

Outed themselves in the sense of 'joined in the conversation as an individual', which is perfectly relevant if you're talking about whether people approach the question differently when it is Anonymous, and not just 'another anonymous username that I don't know'.
posted by jacalata at 6:07 PM on June 6, 2012


I don't think it's unfair to expect equally as harsh pushback from the commenters.

I agree, deanc, I don't think it's unfair, but it feels awfully 'bare minimum' to me. Yes, a badly phrased question can generate bald responses, but by the same token, I credit mefites - perhaps naively - with more sensitivity than that.

The people asking the questions are not the ones with a personal stake, hopefully not the ones who are emotional about the question's content etc. They can be equally harsh, but why would they? They are far better places than the OPs, generally, to give modulated, sympathetic, mature responses that may be better absorbed by the OP, and at least not leaving them feeling worse-off. I don't think that's a huge deal.

I feel like there's a perception here that "you pays your money and you take your choice" - I think we can and should do a little better than that. We're trying to help people right? Telling someone in so many words they're a fuckhead or thinking fuckheaded things is not really helping anyone, and I feel like anon askme's are too often used by the community as a way of enforcing group norms and scape-goating, i.e. more for each other than the OP.
posted by smoke at 6:08 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume the anonymous asker may have problems or vulnerabilities associated with any of those three things and do tread more carefully in my response, keeping that in mind.

As I said, the flip side is that the anonymity is about saying and revealing things about your personal beliefs and attitudes that you wouldn't want associated with your own name.

The respondents on that thread, unlike the OP, have to take personal ownership of what they said and their beliefs. We, on the other hand, have no idea who thinks you're a selfish, materialistic, right-wing prick who hates the environment because you drive a used sportscar.

a badly phrased question can generate bald responses

I don't think the question was "badly phrased." I think it was phrased precisely as the OP wanted it to be phrased. I repeat: "AskMe is not your talk therapy." We can give answers and explain what is wrong with your reasoning. It's too much to expect nurturing validation from the hive-mind. That's more of what Dear Prudie or Cary Tennis is for. The Hive is going to give a wide, wide range of responses.

(shoutout to sestaaak who I think gave the best answer)
posted by deanc at 6:14 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I asked an anonymous question about a sensitive and unhappy topic and people were marvelous and caring and kind. But it was about something that nearly everyone agrees is sensitive and unhappy, and it was pretty clear that anonymous me needed to be gently treated. I think folks are willing to treat anonymous questions kindly if they have a sense of the seriousness of the question. But few people are going to come into a question about a car or a less-than-inspiring engagement with that same feeling and consequent kindness and understanding. I don't know if that's a feature or a bug?
posted by ChuraChura at 6:15 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes an anonymous member is going to pose a relationship question in which they are having a dispute with their significant other--OP thinks X, and SO thinks Y. OP sometimes even articulates the reasons why OP and SO each hold their respective positions. And sometimes, perhaps rarely, but sometimes, OP will be deeply and profoundly wrong. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, it shouldn't be surprising that there are a bunch of answers pointing out the wrongness of X. And yeah, sometimes feelings are hurt. That doesn't mean AskMe handles the questions badly (outside of folks that can't help being dicks). Sometimes people are just wrong, and having that pointed out to them can cause anguish. Other than being polite about it, I don't see what can or should be changed.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:19 PM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


If this was one of the few occasions in which the matter was one of life or death...read as, if we as Mefites aren't delicate about the issue it might end in suicide or something, I would feel the same way.

In this case it was a matter of opinion and the OPer got opinions.

I too have asked anonymous questions and they have always resulted in very thoughtful and intelligent responses.

This case reminds me of the 1970's computing jargon adage, garbage in...garbage out.

(Yea, I'm old. :{)
posted by snsranch at 6:21 PM on June 6, 2012


I have a hard time imagining what kind of answers the OP imagined she would get other than what she got. The question was so thoroughly written so as to exclude a lot of car-specific answers that might otherwise pop up- they can afford the car, husband has been driving his current car for ~10 years and probably deserves a new car, it's a good car, they're buying it on sale from a friend who is ill. And the question was really focused on the car; it didn't really ask for marriage/relationship advice, so it would probably derail to go too much into that (and people didn't seem to).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:22 PM on June 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


The question was so thoroughly written so as to exclude a lot of car-specific answers that might otherwise pop up- they can afford the car, husband has been driving his current car for ~10 years and probably deserves a new car, it's a good car, they're buying it on sale from a friend who is ill.

The question was basically: "I'm being shitty about this, aren't I?" and the answers were all basically, "Yes, you are."
posted by empath at 6:23 PM on June 6, 2012 [26 favorites]


Telling someone in so many words they're a fuckhead or thinking fuckheaded things is not really helping anyone

But there's a pretty important distinction between telling someone they're a fuckhead (which is a no-questions, guaranteed deleted sort of answer) and telling someone that what they think is not what the answerer thinks or what the answerer expects most folks think. And part of the difficulty here is that if the answerer responds to an explicit or implicit "am I thinking about this right" question with a reasonably decent "no, honestly, I really really think you are not" and the asker reads that as "your thinking is fuckheaded", that's not really a problem that askme can solve for them.

I mean, I absolutely agree that erring on the side of being gentle and careful in responses is a good idea. And people are not always great about that, and we encourage folks routinely (in metatalk, in threads when something's going bumpy, in email when someone wants to know why their answer got deleted) to make the effort and try and be supportive and constructive. But there's going to be a gap sometimes between what was written and what was read that is on the asker to manage, as well, and part of that is recognizing that decent but critical responses are a normal and really basically okay part of the askme experience even if you end up being upset by them.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:24 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm curious as to how often people even notice whether the asker is anonymous. With 2 exceptions: if they put "anonymous because ____" in the text of the question, or there's some actual reason (like their location is missing but relevant) to check their profile, I just skip over the "posted by" parts of questions, at least before I answer. Do people really look, notice it's anonymous, and answer differently because of it? I feel like there are a lot of cases of exactly what you're talking about where the poster isn't anonymous, and of course that's a legitimate thing to talk about on MetaTalk, but if the comment here is about us treating anonymous posters differently, I just don't see it.
posted by brainmouse at 6:28 PM on June 6, 2012


The other problem that we've been seeing which is only sort of related is the "I've asked my question and gotten answers and now I don't want to see my question anymore, please remove it from the site" problem. This happens with both anon and non-anon questions but when it happens with anon questions we're sort of flummoxed because the only person who knows that the question is theirs is the OP and for some reason (I am fully willing to admit that there are some emotional issues I do not understand and this is one of them) the presence of the question on the site bothers them enough to ask for its removal. We'll do this, with some pushback, but it's really problematic and I think speaks to the same issue: the after-question regret or possibly the surprise and displeasure at the responses.

I know that some people are more and less good at sort of mapping a likely set of AskMe responses in their mind, but lately it's seeming that people, at least some people, are bad enough at it that it is becoming a site problem. Deleting or anonymizing too many questions because people had second thought is a site problem. These constant back and forths about "how harsh is too harsh for answers" is a site problem. Crying OPs in AskMe threads is a site problem (both the being upset and the sharing the upsetness are individual issues that have ripple effects in different ways). Constant MeTa threads about Ask MetaFilter is a site problem.

And again, to me this is people thinking they're signing up for something that they don't get and somehow not being able to adjust to the difference and blaming the site for it. And yes I agree with cortex a lot that some people could be a lot better about this. But short of deleting truly terrible answers and continually telling people, politely, "Hey you need to do less of the tough love stuff" we have a small toolkit and rely on the community to self-correct. Usually it's okay it this. Lately it hasn't been.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:28 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Like so many other long, rambling questions that are basically about relationships, I read that question and thought: "What is it you want from us?"

The question is basically an opinion poll where the OP asks us whether it is all right or normal to feel the way she does. What makes it even more pointless is coming in and telling people who don't agree with her why they're wrong. Jesus, if you're so sure of the answer then fuck off and don't bother us with the question, you know?
posted by atrazine at 6:28 PM on June 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Jesus, if you're so sure of the answer then fuck off and don't bother us with the question, you know?

Yeah, so that's pretty much exactly the kind of attitude I think is unhelpful.
posted by smoke at 6:38 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think I saw evidence of that attitude in the remaining AskMe answers. I suspect most people who shared atrazine's view simply stayed out of that AskMe.
posted by needled at 6:44 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


These constant back and forths about "how harsh is too harsh for answers" is a site problem... Constant MeTa threads about Ask MetaFilter is a site problem.

I sincerely apologise if I'm adding to your workloads or headaches. It's obvious we've both been thinking about this from different directions; I suppose this meta is my attempt to deal with it, with my own limited toolset, if you know what I mean.

If you don't feel it's a worthwhile discussion to be having again, feel free to close it. It wasn't my intention to create more issues for the mods.
posted by smoke at 6:44 PM on June 6, 2012


I asked an anon question once, and the responses - though nowhere near so intense - upset me at a vulnerable time, too.

I've seen this happen and I absolutely agree with you that the attitude towards anonymous questions often lacks the potential kindness that is not incompatible with difficult-to-swallow advice.
posted by steinsaltz at 6:44 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can't we all just SHUT UP AND JAM?!
posted by Nomyte at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2012


The wordsmith-y way the question was framed, plus the OP's followup defensive comments when she wasn't really getting the answer she wanted, made me think of this meme.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:49 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you don't feel it's a worthwhile discussion to be having again

Oh no, sorry didn't mean that. Just that there's clearly some sort of gap between what people are expecting from AskMe and what they're getting from it, on many levels. That indicates there's probably something that needs doing. I didn't mean "Oh man not another MeTa!" It's fine.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:49 PM on June 6, 2012


I disagree that we should change the moderation standards for anonymous posts. I do agree that it would be nice if people were a bit more charitable and a bit less harsh. But, then again, I think that would work great when we're driving, in line at the supermarket, and on the phone with customer service representatives, too.

The value of getting objective advice from a variety of perspectives is so great that we should tolerate that sometimes the OP won't like what they hear, and even that sometimes it might make them cry.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:53 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


(shrug) Yesterday, we had an anon whose partner we felt was a jerk, and they got 179 people mostly telling them their partner was a jerk. Today, we had anon who we felt was being a bit of jerk, and we have 133 people more or less telling them so. I don't think it's an anon thing.
posted by ftm at 7:00 PM on June 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


The value of getting objective advice from a variety of perspectives is so great that we should tolerate that sometimes the OP won't like what they hear, and even that sometimes it might make them cry.

Respectfully, I disagree. Personal experience suggests that sensitive anonymous questions tend to turn into echo chambers, in which everyone comes in and says what they think about the question, rather than giving relevant and actionable suggestions.

When I Ask anonymously, I am definitely not looking for responses like
  • You think your problem is X, but the problem is actually you.
  • Your question is wrong and betrays serious personal flaws. I will now soliloquize.
  • You don't have a problem. Stop acting like you have a problem.
I am extremely unlikely to act on responses like these. It's difficult to even call them suggestions, and they can only technically be called "advice."

With the exception of making an object lesson of the askers and their questions, I see little or no value in this kind of service.
posted by Nomyte at 7:08 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure an OP crying in the thread is automatically a bad thing. Sometimes, the OP may need to cry to realize that they are in fact wrong, or right, depending on the question. None of us get to go through life in an emotional bubble where our feelings are never hurt. If there is a responsibility on the commenter to be adult, then there has to be an equal responsibility on the OP to responsible for their own reaction to the answers. I didn't comment in the husband buying a Porsche because by the time I got to it what I would have said had been said, 50 times. But I don't feel particularly bad about how it turned out. She asked and learned that her position is overwhelming the unpopular position among MeFi users. That's how it works. You don't always get the answer you want.
posted by COD at 7:13 PM on June 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


These constant back and forths about "how harsh is too harsh for answers" is a site problem...Constant MeTa threads about Ask MetaFilter is a site problem...But short of deleting truly terrible answers and continually telling people, politely, "Hey you need to do less of the tough love stuff" we have a small toolkit and rely on the community to self-correct. Usually it's okay it this. Lately it hasn't been.

I said this in another Meta thread a couple days ago, but honest to God, I have never regretted that I wasn't meaner to someone. I know that some people who answer questions on AskMe are basically just tuned different emotionally, so they aren't intending to be harsh, but I suspect that there is a second, non-overlapping group of answerers who are basically posting- AdviceLULZ isn't quite right, because I don't think they are doing it to troll the site or the askers, but who feel that it is their personal responsibility to deliver the glass of gold water to some poster's face, lest the person sally forth and continue being wrong.

It makes me upset when I see it, but I do it myself pretty regularly, so I work on it all the time, and the biggest tool I have for not doing it is TIME. I have never regretted tabbing away from a particular question and coming back even three minutes later and rereading an answer. Many of my answers have gone from, "Are you fucking kidding me with this punkass bullshit?" to "Are you kidding me with this shit?" to "It doesn't sound like what you are doing is going to be productive for you in the long run, it may be time to think about some changes." in the span of about fifteen minutes of rereading and reconsidering.

Another thing you can cultivate is a sort of, I don't know, detachment? about questions or question types. I have a whole set of things I tell myself about why I don't need to answer a particular question or why I don't need to answer it in a harsh, "Let me give it to you straight" kind of way. They boil down to, "This is a big community, and it's likely that someone else here has more experience with this situation than you do, and the poster is more likely to heed their advice that comes directly from experience than yours that comes from snark, and besides, what does it matter to you if some yokel you've never met does something stupid even when they were warned not to? Answer: It does not matter even one little bit. You're a lake and they're a cloud passing by. Go look at some gifs."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:16 PM on June 6, 2012 [20 favorites]

When I Ask anonymously, I am definitely not looking for responses like
  • You think your problem is X, but the problem is actually you.
  • Your question is wrong and betrays serious personal flaws. I will now soliloquize.
  • You don't have a problem. Stop acting like you have a problem.
"You don't always get what you want. Sometimes you get what you need."

Sometimes a question is a categorical misunderstanding of the problem and situation.
posted by deanc at 7:18 PM on June 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Look, I agree with the conclusions reached in the thread, and also I think there are things about this question that seem like strange things to say and feel about someone you love. (Like that he may in fact be a repub bro exec on the inside.)

But! AskMe has an annoyingly predictable reaction to imbalanced-earning partnerships in which all earnings are treated as communal by both parties. There's generally a strong contingent that views the lower earner as owing, as someone who should just be grateful for their good fortune and the munificence of their partner. Like the assumption that he "works hard," whereas her work is classed as a form of consumption because it's at-home and creative. And that a baby will be another "status symbol" for her, instead of a joint project of their marriage! I find it weird.
posted by palliser at 7:20 PM on June 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


I see a lot of complaints and almost no solutions.

I really, really don't think much is wrong with the atmosphere of answers and questions. if this site were a lot more sensitive, honestly, I think it'd be a lot less useful. In fact, it would be a different site, missing a lot of what I love about it, and I doubt I'm alone.

And yes, I've asked questions, anon and not, and gotten a range of advice, some irritating, some insulting, some helpful, some painful, some awesome. I'm thankful for the general willingness to respond.

If what it takes is a big flashing red STOP! THINK! screen after you preview your anon (or any) question - a screen which says "People might not view this the same way you do. They don't know you and their answers might sound a little harsh. Before you click "post," stop and think about whether this might upset you, and please don't go forward if you aren't able to tolerate reading a wide range of responses," then I'm good with that.
posted by Miko at 7:20 PM on June 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


When I Ask anonymously, I am definitely not looking for responses like
You think your problem is X, but the problem is actually you.
Your question is wrong and betrays serious personal flaws. I will now soliloquize.
You don't have a problem. Stop acting like you have a problem.


What if the question is "My boyfriend beats me. What's a good way to cover up a black eye?"

Because even if we don't get that exact question, we get a lot of fairly equivalent ones.
posted by empath at 7:20 PM on June 6, 2012


What if the question is "My boyfriend beats me. What's a good way to cover up a black eye?"

I'm pretty sure everyone can reliably tell the difference between that kind of question and other questions.
posted by Nomyte at 7:29 PM on June 6, 2012


Well, I think the less-incendiary and more frequent equivalent, and this is the one that is most likely to make me GRAR, is "I'm going to do something ill-advised and poorly thought out, and there's no way I'm NOT going to do it because reasons, and I don't want it to blow up in my face. How can I make it not blow up in my face while still doing it?"
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:35 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, so that's pretty much exactly the kind of attitude I think is unhelpful.

In a way, I think that goes to the heart of the matter: Is the greater obligation for the answerer to be helpful or to be honest?

It is generally considered extremely unhelpful, in most social interactions, to hurt someone's feelings or make them upset. In life, however, not doing those things often requires us to be less than honest. Obviously this is not a black and white thing where there's no overlap between those values --- there's tons of overlap. And askme makes clear in its instructions that answers are supposed to be helpful.

But on the other hand -- one of the primary motives for asking anonymously is to get to hear answers that people wouldn't otherwise give, out of pity and/or fear of angering or hurting you. (the other primary motive is to hide the question from google/your boss/your spouse.) Being as euphemistic as you would be about an answer if you were giving it to a friend in that sense defeats the whole purpose of their taking the veil in the first place.

Of course, it's also probably true that people are more likely to get huffy and ignore someone who says, "I think you're off your nut," rather than someone who tells them they're awesome and brilliant but maybe there's just a couple little tiny issues with their preferred course of action.

But the two things often work against each other --- if the question is basically, "will people think I'm a weirdo if X?" and the answer is, "oh, hell yes" it's probably hurtful to simply say that but perhaps not ultimately helpful if the asker leaves with the impression that the answer is "maybe kinda sorta, who can say? You're great, though!"
posted by Diablevert at 7:38 PM on June 6, 2012


And the other frequent equivalent is 'What do you guys think?/Am I the problem here?/Please share your opinions or relevant experiences!'
posted by jacalata at 7:40 PM on June 6, 2012


Having read the responses in the linked thread, I find the OP's complaints befuddling.

The anon asked the human relations equivalent of 'what's 2+2'? and received a string of '4's, delivered with thoughtful, if blunt, good humour.

I don't know what on earth else he/she could have expected.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:50 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry, not "he/she": she.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:51 PM on June 6, 2012


Like the assumption that he "works hard," whereas her work is classed as a form of consumption because it's at-home and creative. And that a baby will be another "status symbol" for her, instead of a joint project of their marriage! I find it weird.

God, yes. What was that about? I thought we couldn't get enough of talking about the fact that people who don't make a lot of money also do work that's hard and valuable. Then there were comments about the houses like "Your husband's hard work pays for you to live in two houses" and "you're asking your husband to cut back on the things he likes (viz. the Boxster), when you're apparently not willing to cut back on the things you like (viz. two houses)" like the husband is doing his greedy wife a favour by this living situation we know nothing about?

Also, that thread opened my eyes to how politically-conscious people are prepared to rationalise the effects of things they oppose in principle for social and emotional reasons. Some people were talking like it was crazy for this lady to even think about not wanting her husband to make the purchase. Like he was the first man in the world to really want his gas-guzzling sports car.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:14 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


If a paying member decides to use the anon mask because they are embarrassed about their new flashy car, itchy STD, course material or unreliable editors we, the commenters, don't have the option to go anon, we have to 'admit' to our flashy cars, itchy STD's, course materials or unreliable editors. I think it is only fair if we can express our true feelings about those things without sugar coating it. But I also think there should be no difference how one answers an anon vs. a non-anon question.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:19 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Personally, I think the OP martyred themselves with their responses. She said at one point:

"BELIEVE ME, I know I am fortunate to be with this high-paid guy, which gives me the freedom to create. I am aware of this always and feel bad about it often. Reminding me sure doesn't help with the guilt factor."

which, the point of AskMeFi is not to help you continue being defensive about your hang-ups. If you have a "guilt factor", you need to explore that, and you need to be willing to honestly admit it and not make other posters responsible for your feelings.

And then comes the post about literally crying over the responses, which I think jessamyn nailed here. I'm sorry the OP is so torn up about this, but if that's the case, then the responsibility for those emotions doesn't lie with the responders. If something bothers you this intensely, you need to examine it head-on, not push it onto other people who have "been mean" to you.

Being mean and asking/encouraging you to be accountable for your feelings are different things. And I don't think it's unreasonable to ask OP to consider her feelings here, since much of the question is "how can I not be resentful about this car?"
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:19 PM on June 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


Abolish the anon!
posted by travelwithcats at 8:19 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Abolish the anon!

This certainly seems to be something that should be on the table. It would be a damn pity, but if we can't tolerate some good with the bad, it might at least prevent these episodes where people feel aggrieved on behalf of an anon, or an anon later wants to change or delete the question or object to the answers or weigh in.
posted by Miko at 8:29 PM on June 6, 2012


two or three cars parked under the stars your conspicuous consumption is galling.
posted by kate blank at 8:34 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't believe I get to say this twice in a week - The only think I learnt from asking an anonymous question was to never do it ever again.
posted by Admira at 8:36 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This comes down to the culture of mefi and if people posting to askme don't know what is on offer here, this is what can happen. The OP asked a question but she was really looking for empathy and support, but instead of that she got people's opinions on her question. Mefi is pretty analytical and doesn't really do empathy and support outside of people trying to recover from various forms of abuse.
posted by MillMan at 8:39 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wish I'd learnt to check for typos... damn answers to anon questions, its all your fault!
posted by Admira at 8:40 PM on June 6, 2012


Mefi is pretty analytical and doesn't really do empathy and support

This is why it's called AskMeFi. Not GetEmpathyAndSupportFromMeFi. That's why we keep telling people not to use AskMe as talk therapy.

Possibly I would be willing to entertain the idea that instead of picking apart her question and telling her she was wrong, the correct answer in that thread was for everyone to tell the OP to get therapy regarding her relationship with family purchases, her concerns about having children, and the reality of getting adjusted to her new social class and to leave it at that.

That said, another perspective is that the precise reason the question was asked was because the OP is in a position where she is quite culturally isolated and doesn't really have much experience outside of her personal/professional bubble and needed to hear that owning a 10 year old sports car is not some kind of severe moral transgression, even for liberals.
posted by deanc at 8:57 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I suspect that if the numbers were crunched - assuming there are crunchable numbers available - it'd show that the vast majority of Anon questions are posted under Human Relations, which I think are generally a drag on AskMe as a whole. I don't care for either, and demand they be eliminated!

Isn't there a AskMetaFilterFilter setting I can use to defacto block that category of question? 'Cause I could do that, too.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:02 PM on June 6, 2012


Isn't there a AskMetaFilterFilter setting I can use to defacto block that category of question? 'Cause I could do that, too.

You can go to MyAsk, check all the categories except Human Relations. Set MyAsk to your home page (you will have to do this with your own browser) and you are set. You're welcome.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:05 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


"you're asking your husband to cut back on the things he likes (viz. the Boxster), when you're apparently not willing to cut back on the things you like (viz. two houses)" like the husband is doing his greedy wife a favour by this living situation we know nothing about?

The point about having two houses versus having a Boxster has absolutely nothing to do with who earns what. Instead, it's about the fact that, according to the OP's stated rubric about environmental harm and conspicuous consumption, having two houses is much more problematic than having a used Boxster, and yet she's apparently fine with having two houses. It's a speck/mote issue.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:09 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wrote this the other day in response to the "trigger/pile-on" Meta, then shelved it as too late and too long. Which it might still be, but here goes anyway:

Something that I came across on an entirely unrelated discussion board that I have found enormously helpful personally and which I think might be relevant here:

According to some anonymous Internet person, there is some unnamed, uncited research or study somewhere that shows that, in general, positive feedback is read (felt) as neutral, and neutral feedback is read/experienced as negative. Negative feedback was not mentioned (as I recall), but by extrapolation would be read/felt as just plain horrible.

This intuitively makes sense to me, as I work in a job where I get a LOT of feedback. I am also a perfectionist who thinks I'm good at what I do and that I rarely make mistakes (in this specific work context). I HATE, I repeat HATE, looking at my feedback every day, as I am required to do, and have to steel myself to do it every single time. Because I hate making mistakes, but even more so I hate for them to be noticed. So, yes, I am embarrassed, even ashamed, by their being noted, even in a totally professional, neutral, non-negative way. For example, "you spelled this word wrong" or "you used the wrong style here" does not by any stretch of the imagination say that I am a horrible person or a bad worker or a lazy jerk. It simply says I made this particular mistake. The QA person might well be thinking "oh, I'm sure she knows better; she must have just spaced out for a minute, but I do have to mark and note this error because this is my job." Even if I agree – yes, I know better; I just spaced out for a second and therefore this particular correction is unnecessary in a teaching moment kind of way, I must admit that it is humbling to see that I DO make mistakes, even when I know better. I find that painful but also helpful, as it reminds me that I have to be vigilant all the time, and even though I think I am always very careful, the evidence shows that I definitely have some lapses.

And then I put myself in the place of the QA person, who is simply doing his/her job – finding errors and making note of them – as they have been asked/tasked to do. Every time I get feedback on a mistake I've made I have to remind myself anew: This is a NEUTRAL comment. This person doesn't know who I am and doesn't care and there is no emotional valence to the correction besides that which I myself provide. "You're an idiot, you're careless, you're a jerk.": Those are MY words, nobody else's. And of course the underlying point is that it's good that my work gets checked because it results in a better product. It's not about ME, it's about the work. Just like someone could be a brilliant surgeon or attorney or whatever and still screw up from time to time: Nobody's saying they are not brilliant or wonderful or sensitive or whatever, just that they screwed up, possibly for perfectly good and/or understandable reasons.

OK, so tl;dr: What this means to me is that this would be a great concept for AskMe querents to keep in mind when reading responses to their questions: Positive feedback, unless it's REALLY positive, can feel neutral, and neutral will often feel negative, which of course puts any negative feedback into beyond-the-pale territory – truly stinging and feeling terribly judgmental to the person to whom it's addressed, but quite likely not intended that way. I don't guess that there's any way to easily disseminate this concept, and – who knows, it may be irrelevant to many -- but for what it's worth, I have found it quite helpful.
posted by littlecatfeet at 9:13 PM on June 6, 2012 [25 favorites]


You can go to MyAsk, check all the categories except Human Relations. Set MyAsk to your home page (you will have to do this with your own browser) and you are set. You're welcome.

Ah, it would appear that I've already set MyAskMe preferences, but I always forget to click the My Ask tab when I visit the Green. Demand for elimination rescinded! And thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:17 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Like the assumption that he "works hard," whereas her work is classed as a form of consumption because it's at-home and creative. And that a baby will be another "status symbol" for her, instead of a joint project of their marriage! I find it weird.

God, yes. What was that about?"


I was fascinated by (but did not answer) this AskMe. Kept refreshing to read new answers.

I think what that was about was that she had status symbols of her own -- notably the hybrid car -- that made her feel good about her upper middle class lifestyle because they portrayed her as someone Who Cares About The Environment, and that it was clearly very important to her that she not be viewed as upper middle class by her impoverished-but-cool friends (Megan Draper, 2012). And she justified her opposition to the husband's sports car based on "it's not good for the environment" and "what will other people think?" So people were pointing out the much larger effects on the environment of a new hybrid (vs. a used car with okay mileage kept on the road longer), a baby (vs. no baby), etc. They were trying to get at, was she a True Environmentalist (in which case, she had bigger fish to fry, like owning two cars at all) or was she a Consumer In Environmentalist Drag. And I think some of this "my husband might be a republican on the inside" is about this larger problem I think she was expressing, that she lives a wealthy lifestyle in which she can afford to consume, and her self-definition revolves around environmentalism and non-consumption, and is uneasy about it.

I mean, I guess the question was about the car, but the problem underlying it is her discomfort with her current lifestyle and its disconnect with her values, and whether she's going to reconcile her lifestyle to her values or vice versa, and a lot of the fear of "how does it look?" is her fear that she'll be seen as a hypocrite by people who notice her lifestyle vs. values ... as a lot of AskMe posters did. I dunno, it was really interesting to read. Novelistic, even.

Different note, as the mostly-at-home spouse, I'm pretty sensitive to when people are like, "Your spouse earns all the monie$$$ and you should be grateful!" I think that first off, that's most often said in questions where it's a true fact: The Earning Spouse does earn most of the money, and the Home Spouse should be grateful that Earning Spouse does so. I'm grateful every day. But secondly, when Earning Spouse comes with a similar question, AskMe gets very, "You need to appreciate what Home Spouse does all day, Home Spouse works really hard, and you should be grateful for everything Home Spouse does." Also a true face. So it didn't actually bother me that much. (Where I think it can get difficult or snarky is when the family needs more money and one spouse is refusing to consider certain obvious solutions, and the question is about that.)

Also AskMe seemed to have an unusually high number of potentially troll-baity questions today that I'm sure the mods had to babysit all day. The Transit of Venus made people feel like they had to go inside, take stock of their lives, and post the questions to AskMe.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:20 PM on June 6, 2012 [29 favorites]


I just wish people would get that excited about the tax questions.
posted by michaelh at 9:27 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I asked a question about meeting my favorite actress, using this sockpuppet, and immediately got piled on by a couple of people who called me a creep and implied I would pose some kind of threat to this person. (Please, let's not talk about who, the experience already basically ruined it for me, I can no longer watch her TV show without feeling ashamed and embarrassed, even though I don't think I did anything wrong.)

One person was particularly cruel in how she replied to me, so I memailed her, still using this sockpuppet. I never called her any names nor did I swear at her, but I told her honestly that I was a long-time user with a sock who had a lot of respect for her, that she had really hurt my feelings, and there was no call for that.

She did not attempt to answer me at all but immediately went to the mods and told them she was concerned that I would harass her and she wanted all her posting history deleted, and left the site over it. (I never gave her any reason to believe I'd harass her. This was a one-time message to say look, you were mean to me and it hurt.)

I ended up being scolded by a mod over the situation. I was also told that using a sockpuppet was part of the reason I was piled on - I had no site history to show that I was a decent person. And then I was also told that it was "scary" for the other user to be contacted by a sock puppet because again, she had no way of knowing who I was on the site and if I might launch some sort of campagin against her. What? There are no rules saying a sock can't contact others, and again, I gave her no reason to fear harassment.

I think people definitely need to be kinder to anons/socks and especially don't make so many uncharitable assumptions. I don't understand why the community would jump to the conclusion that someone is up to no good from an innocent question. I don't even see how the community makes so many assumptions... for example, the OP of the Ask in question listed out several things that people assumed that were just not true... that the car was a BMW, that she drove a Prius, how old the used car is, why they have two houses... Yes, people make too many assumptions sometimes.

I have a terrible feeling that I'm going to get another talking-to for this post, but the message needs to be out there: Don't be mean (you can tell the OP they're wrong without being mean) and don't make so many assumptions.
posted by Socky McSockersons at 9:30 PM on June 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, I remember that. I thought that was totally fucked up and an excellent example of why a little more empathy wouldn't kill anybody.
posted by smoke at 9:34 PM on June 6, 2012


I have a terrible feeling that I'm going to get another talking-to for this post

With respect, it's challenging to manage a site full of people who have different emotional responses to things. This includes you and the person you MeMailed who left the site who are both members whose feelings we had to take into consideration. I won't talk about this particular issue in MetaTalk. If you have unresolved concerns about how we handled it, please feel free to contact us.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:45 PM on June 6, 2012


I did think that thread was really bad, but I don't know how relevant it is to this discussion. Aren't we assuming for purposes of this discussion that all comments that break the guidelines--whether made in response to a sock, anon, or other--are out of bounds and should be deleted by the mods? That's how I saw that thread, at least. In this thread, I'd frame the issue as, "Must we have even stricter standards for anon/sock threads because the poster's anonymity somehow lends itself to more generally unkind answers, even if those answers wouldn't otherwise break the site guidelines?" (Or perhaps because we are to presume that those asking as anon/socks are in an especially fragile state and deserve gentler treatment?)

But, Socky McSockerson, I think you raise another issue which I see come up here a lot, which is the tendency of responders to frequently draw outrageous inferences from the small amount of information set out in the OP. I think this all the time where people are willing (and I've surely done this myself) to conclude from one instance of behavior that a person's partner is a horrible person who must be divorced. This phenomenon can be particularly hurtful when the OP is analyzed in this way, and people conclude from the bits of information included in one question that the OP is abusive, a doormat, unworthy of their current relationship, and so on.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:46 PM on June 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


MoonOrb, I think you've outlined what I was trying to say far more succinctly than I did.

I guess also it's the power differential that bothers me. Deleting a comment that may be construed as unkind (and I think in general here the bar set by the mods is neither too high, nor abysmally low) is at worse a mild annoyance for the mefite who made it. We've just about all had comments deleted and most everyone manages to let it go. For the mefite who asks the question then reads the response, however, as littlecatfeed outlines, leaving it up can be far more stressful.

I think there's a perception that all things are equal here, people have a right to put up reasonable comments that can be tough, and others have the right to ignore them or not. But I feel like it's not even. Often, the people asking do not have the wherewithal to ignore or glide over them and it comes at the cost of hurt feelings and upset. And whilst it's true that we as a community aren't responsible for others' emotions, if you have an opportunity to make someone feel a bit better about things, especially when they're a bit stressed out already, why wouldn't you take it?

Given the relatively neglibile costs of raising that bar a little higher, and in the process averting what can be at times major hurt, I don't think it's outlandish. The unwavering focus some have on whether an OP is right or wrong bemuses me. It doesn't matter; we can never and will never know if they are right or wrong, and "need" a talking to, slap in the face, cold hard reality, whatever. That's not about them, it's about us.

From a strictly utilitarian perspective, I think being more assertive with regards to borderline comments in anon questions and asking for more qualified opions from the community would be a net positive in terms of emotional happiness.

For mine, I certainly can't see myself ever asking an anon question again, and seriously, the responses I got were not that bad. I think most people here, even those who would agree with my broader points, wouldn't like twice at em.

But I asked in a vulnerable state, they made some very uncharitable assumptions about my motivations and actions outside the question, and they hit me right in an area of great insecurity and stress at the time. Deleting them, or having someone phrase them better would have saved me a couple of days of feeling extra crappy, when I was already feeling crap. And I don't think the people giving me their pithy takedowns would have lost a lot of sleep over it.
posted by smoke at 10:04 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fair enough, but I would say that a better question might be whether we, as a community, should be asking fewer anonymous questions. Or whether, if we are going to ask the mods to enforce some new set of stricter "anonymous question" rules, if there is instead be some kind of screening process for anonymous questions. Like, any questions which are more or less "Hey, MetaFilter, let me hear your opinion on this issue," don't pass muster. Because when you ask for opinions, by God, that's what you'll get, and it isn't always pretty.

I wouldn't find that workable, since (A) people could just have an equally unhappy experience posting those Q's via a sockpuppet or (B) certain types of questions aren't going to go smoothly no matter who posts them and whether they're anonymous or not. And I also don't think we should burden the mods with any additional standards for anonymous posts. But I find it a better alternative than setting some kind of kinder, gentler standard for anon posts in general, because I think the primary responsibility in these cases rests with the questioner, not with the community at large.

I think one issue with asking "what should the community do?" in these situations is that the community is made up of thousands of people: getting everyone here to conform to a changing standard will be difficult. But it is a lot easier to get questioners, one at a time, to conform to some kind of higher standard for posting anon questions--a little bit like the scrutiny for FPPs on the blue. And, speaking generally, it is the questioner who puts himself or herself at emotional risk, and the questioner has much more control over managing that risk. While it's always great for an answerer to consider the most kind way to effectively make a point, the answerer is just trying to do a job--they can't know how fragile the questioner is, or what particular answer or tone might really set them off.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:23 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


As unlikely as people reading the guidelines is, adding a warning to the "anonymous question tips" might help.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:29 PM on June 6, 2012


Here is how I personally distill it:

Someone is asking for advice. I will take some time right now to give them advice. What do I want them to do with my advice?

If I want them to hear and consider my advice (because hey, I think it's good advice they should maybe follow), I present it in a way that they'll probably at least listen to it. (I can't ever 100% achieve this, of course, but there's no shame in a good-faith effort.) A powerful MeFi lesson, across the sites, is that framing is key.

If I don't make the effort to present my advice in a way that they'll probably at least listen to it, then isn't it a waste of my time to give them advice?

Well, it's a waste of my time if my goal is to have them hear and consider following my advice.

If I don't think it's a waste of my time to give advice that they are unlikely to listen to, then it seems my goal in giving that advice is not first and foremost to have them hear and consider following my advice. It's satisfying some other goal: probably a goal more focused on me, and what I feel and want to say about it, or how I want the advice-asker to feel about it.

If AskMeFi is a place where the main goal is to answer the question when someone asks for advice, then in my mind the spirit of that goal encompasses answering the question with useful advice. For the advice-asker to find an answer useful, they most likely have to be willing to at least listen to and consider it; to make my time invested in giving that advice worth it, I want to maximize the likelihood they'll be willing to hear me.

This doesn't mean I can't be honest with my advice, or let them know I disagree with their premises or that they're focusing on what I think is the wrong thing - it doesn't even mean I have to be particularly gentle to them - I just can't let my personal baggage or emotions or reactions get in the way of being useful, by giving advice that might meet some other goal instead. If I want them to hear me, I have to say it in a way that's likely to be heard.

And cold-glass-of-water advice can be very useful for sure, but I think you have to have a certain kind of cold-glass-of-water-ninja-fu to be successful with it - it's tricky. I think because it's so satisfying to throw that glass of cold water - a dramatic act of tough love - it's all too easy to overlook or disregard that one's cold-water-tossing abilities are usually not master-level, and often end up harming more than helping the situation.

To me, this whole line of thought is a variation on "would you rather be right, or be happy?"... I see this as "would I rather be right, or would I rather be useful?" or "would I rather be righteous, or do I want the other person to seriously consider my point-of-view?" What's my end goal? Once I focus on my end goal, it's on me to try to express myself in a way that facilitates that goal.
posted by flex at 10:31 PM on June 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


Fair enough, but I would say that a better question might be whether we, as a community, should be asking fewer anonymous questions.

MoonOrb, I completely agree and I think your other points are totally valid, also. I acknowledge there's definitely no bright line here, and definitely don't think more rigorous moderation, and/or pleading with the userbase to be nicer is the only way to deal with this issue, nor even indeed the best way of dealing it, necessarily.

I think we both agree there's a developing issue here, in one way or another. Despite my original post, I'm definitely open too any methods and means of dealing with it, and making the process a better one for everybody.
posted by smoke at 10:34 PM on June 6, 2012


Does this issue come up except in Human Relations with people trying to make it talk therapy?
posted by bongo_x at 10:56 PM on June 6, 2012


Deleting a comment that may be construed as unkind (and I think in general here the bar set by the mods is neither too high, nor abysmally low) is at worse a mild annoyance for the mefite who made it.

My feeling is that that's about as much as people probably ought to take from it—mild frustration or annoyance at having something deleted seems at about the right scale, to me—but in practice folks often take it worse than that. It's a little too easy to dismiss the negative reactions of folks maybe trying-and-failing at the answering side of things while defending or prioritizing by the same token the negative reactions of folks on the asking side. It's complicated stuff all around, and people have varying reactions to input all across the board.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:07 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hi all. I thought I would weigh in. (Which I hope is not a bad decision, since I have been making some of those lately.)

I'm like fifty-fifty glad I asked, because you really did change my outlook on the situation, and uncovered attitudes I very much need to work on. I thank you for that. There were also a quite few comments I felt were unnecessarily harsh (some that got deleted), as well as many that misjudged us or speculated total untruths about me and my marriage. Including some weird stuff some of you have pointed out -- like the houses being for me, not him (huh?) -- which made me feel very defensive, as well as stuff that felt (arguably) sexist.

But I should not have commented when I was feeling defensive. Or when I was crying. (Seriously sorry about that.) I also should have considered my wording more carefully, in both the question and my later comments, because loaded words like "resentment" are too strong and don't reflect my feelings correctly. (From now on I am going to take Snarl Furillo's advice and always walk away for a bit.)

As I told somebody privately over memail, so many of my issues come from wanting to do right by others, and not make my loved ones feel uncomfortable/alienated, and just generally trying to "live simply so others can simply live" and so forth. Deserved or not, I did not expect to get totally steamrolled, with all these people I've respected for years thinking I'm a gigantic, selfish asshole. Which is the exact opposite of the person I strive to be. And then of course, there was the collective weight of 100+ comments, particularly toward the end, when I'd gotten the point and had changed my view, but people still felt the need to repeat the same damn thing.

But I've been here long enough that I should have expected it -- I mean, it was an anonymous HR Ask, with both too many details and not enough. And truly, most of the responses were helpful, even if they were difficult to read. In particular, comments from smoke, sestaaak, tel3path and even Eyebrows McGee in this thread were extraordinarily insightful and helpful (also many others).
posted by sox! at 11:10 PM on June 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's a little too easy to dismiss the negative reactions of folks maybe trying-and-failing at the answering side of things while defending or prioritizing by the same token the negative reactions of folks on the asking side.

Fair enough; you guys would have much better visibility of that than any of us. Displaying some of my own biases there. Do you have a sense that would hold true for the "tough love" answers in anon askme's as well as more generally?
posted by smoke at 11:11 PM on June 6, 2012


(And in case any of THAT is misconstrued -- I really do understand now how I came off as an asshole, and the ways I was being an asshole, even if unintentionally. I am going to work on it, and ultimately I'm glad it was pointed out to me.)
posted by sox! at 11:14 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was fascinated by (but did not answer) this AskMe. Kept refreshing to read new answers.

I think what that was about was that she had status symbols of her own -- notably the hybrid car -- that made her feel good about her upper middle class lifestyle because they portrayed her as someone Who Cares About The Environment, and that it was clearly very important to her that she not be viewed as upper middle class by her impoverished-but-cool friends


This. It made for really compelling reading during my day.

But it was also an example of the kind of threads I am working to not comment in. Am I going to sound loving and caring, even if I disagree with the asker's premises? Then great, I should start typing. But if I'm going to sound harsh or lulzy, I should probably sit on my hands instead.

So that thread was compelling in large part because I have a lot of those same issues. I care about what people think in a really confused kind of way where my consumption should fit into that but often doesn't; I like cars but have strong opinions about certain sports cars being total douchenozzle-mobiles; etc. But in all honesty, that means that I'm going to come in with my personal baggage raised high, and that just isn't helpful.

Anonymous questions make that so much easier, because there's no history or backstory, and often no way to have any interaction with the asker. I don't know if there are too many or not, and there are apprently structural reasons for why there can't easily be more back and forth during the screening process.
posted by Forktine at 11:24 PM on June 6, 2012


Like the assumption that he "works hard," whereas her work is classed as a form of consumption because it's at-home and creative. And that a baby will be another "status symbol" for her, instead of a joint project of their marriage! I find it weird.

God, yes. What was that about? I thought we couldn't get enough of talking about the fact that people who don't make a lot of money also do work that's hard and valuable.


This was my comment, so I'll attempt to explain what I meant. It's not sexist. If anything, it's pro-equality because it's based on the assumption that both partners are equally capable of making a lot of money.

The combination of a job that is both low-paying and creative suggests that a greater portion of the compensation is coming in the form of non-tangible psychic benefits. In other words, my assumption (which was possibly incorrect, though I don't think so) is that the lower-paid partner would have no trouble finding a higher paying job, but, in doing so, would have to sacrifice some of the "creative" elements of the current job. The fact that the higher-paid partner's coworkers are "cliche repub exec" types suggest that that partner is not in a "creative" field but is probably in something demanding and stressful like finance or consulting. Presumably the higher-paid partner could find a job that paid less money but was more spiritually rewarding. Instead, the higher-paid partner has stayed in the higher-paying job that is paying for the lower-paid partner's Prius and their two houses.

In other words, the lower-paid partner gets all the benefits of the higher-paid partner's salary, but the higher-paid partner can't share in the psychic rewards of the lower-paid partner's interesting, creative work. Thus, there's a substantive unfairness.

Note that this dynamic is the same regardless of whether the higher-paid partner is a man or woman; it applies equally to straight couples and gay couples. Stretch it a bit, and it applies to parents and children.
posted by ewiar at 11:33 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


And then of course, there was the collective weight of 100+ comments, particularly toward the end, when I'd gotten the point and had changed my view, but people still felt the need to repeat the same damn thing.

I do think this is an area where AskMe could improve at times. I understand to a degree the argument that consensus adds weight to a particular viewpoint, but at some point it just becomes gratuitous.

If 163 people ahead of you have already answered a question in the same general way you were planning to, that is probably sufficient for the OP to get the message . At some point I suspect this becomes more about ego ("IT IS IMPORTANT MY OFFICIAL POSITION ON THIS SUBJECT BE STATED FOR THE RECORD") than helping.
posted by The Gooch at 11:38 PM on June 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


This question reminded me a lot of the marriage proposal questions from a week ago. In both cases I don't think the asker actually asked the question they wanted answered, but some other tangentially related question. It's not AskMes fault that people aren't mind readers.

The moral of the story is ASK THE QUESTION YOU ACTUALLY WANT ANSWERS TO.

Corollary: AskMe may tell you you're asking the wrong question. And usually will be right about that. As in the "My boyfriend beats me, can anyone recommend makeup to cover bruises?" example.
posted by Justinian at 11:48 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a little stunned right now because I went back to that thread just now and my comment there is gone now. I had no idea it had been deleted.

I say stunned because, as my spouse and I actually just went through this same issue, I felt my response was both relevant and could provide a different perspective for the OP. It definitely answered the question.

But the mods will want to delete my answer here, too, because I started this whole thread off on the assumption that the answers, including mine, were fine, and that was obviously so mistaken that frankly I have no idea what's actually acceptable any more.
posted by misha at 12:32 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't help but find it a little strange that people are still talking about them owning two houses like it's a big perk when sox! said in the thread that the "other home" is their first home, which is underwater, and that they would want to sell it but they'd be taking a loss on it, so they're renting it instead.

That's making the best of a bad situation, and certainly not at all akin to a summer house on the beach.
posted by visual mechanic at 1:08 AM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


For me, and probably for a lot of other commentors, that question was sort of frustrating because it was such a privilege-blind, rich person problem kind of question. Even if the OP didn't mean it that way and is not blithely blind to her economic privilege in real life, the way the question was worded was sort of infuriating. But ixnay on the sexism and unwanted marriage advice in that thread - some people love a soapbox!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:16 AM on June 7, 2012


You can go to MyAsk, check all the categories except Human Relations. Set MyAsk to your home page (you will have to do this with your own browser) and you are set. You're welcome.

That is so awesome. I might actually participate there now, instead of drive by once every couple months.
posted by BurnChao at 2:17 AM on June 7, 2012


Weeeeee! This is so much better!
posted by BurnChao at 2:25 AM on June 7, 2012


These two excerpts from previous comments are related:

"If I want them to hear and consider my advice (because hey, I think it's good advice they should maybe follow), I present it in a way that they'll probably at least listen to it. (I can't ever 100% achieve this, of course, but there's no shame in a good-faith effort.) A powerful MeFi lesson, across the sites, is that framing is key."flex

and

"I do think this is an area where AskMe could improve at times. I understand to a degree the argument that consensus adds weight to a particular viewpoint, but at some point it just becomes gratuitous."The Gooch

How are they related? Because while the ostensible purpose of AskMe is to helpfully answer people's questions, for a bunch of people, especially in the case of relationship questions, AskMe is more like the rest of the site: it's about having an opinion and a forum in which to express it. And, god, doesn't everyone have opinions on other people's relationships and enjoy expressing those opinions?

So that's why there's 100+ comments saying exactly the same thing. If it were about answering the question, almost all would be redundant because that answer has already been given. But if it's about the individual answerer expressing their opinion, well, if doesn't matter if someone else has expressed that opinion. The point is for that person to express it themselves.

Personally, I think a big part of these various problems could be solved on the answerer side insofar as we could find a way to move people toward the mindset of "it's about the person asking the question and providing an answer that is helpful to them" and away from "it's about the satisfaction of being a person who provides an answer" or "it's about expressing my opinion".

The last is often unhelpful on the blue or here, but in any sort of general discussion and gathering of people, it's entirely natural for people to speak up for no more reason than to express their own opinion. That is, really, part of the function of such places and most of the rest of MetaFilter is one of those places. But AskMe is not. AskMe has a different raison d'etre. It's not primarily about the person who posts an answer. Not really. It's about the person who posts the question.

I disagree fairly strongly with Nomyte and I think a lot of times it's appropriate and helpful, even necessary, for the kinds of answers that they described. But the way in which those kinds of answers are delivered will be pretty strongly influenced by whether the answerer approaches their answer in the genuinely helpful mindset that flex describes, or the "I have an opinion" mindset implied by what The Gooch describes. And when it's not merely about expressing one's opinion, then there will be much less piling-on and redundancy. While still, probably, room for the appearance of a significant and helpful consensus.

I'm not sure how to urge people in this direction. The current explicit ethos of "actually answer the question" is right and necessary, but it's also, ironically, more about form than function. Yeah, actually answering the question is a functional distinction. But one can answer questions in ways that are entirely useless and self-serving while still being technically conforming to the guideline. "Answer the question such that, as a practical matter, it likely will truly be helpful to the asker" would be better, if it were viable. Is it? I don't know.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:29 AM on June 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


I can't help but find it a little strange that people are still talking about them owning two houses like it's a big perk when sox! said in the thread that the "other home" is their first home, which is underwater, and that they would want to sell it but they'd be taking a loss on it, so they're renting it instead.

My understanding from reading MeFi over the years is that for the MeFi members from the UK, there is a lot of cultural and class baggage associated with being a landlord, owing especially to the differences in the real estate market, the (un)availability of land, and the sheer length of time some properties have been owned and had rent collected on them by the same families. In the US, basically the entry-level middle class aspiration is to have a rental property or two (which they will frequently lose money on) in the hopes of supplementing your meager income, while in the UK, saying you were a buying some rental properties would be akin to telling someone you were and aspiring sweatshop mogul.

I don't think AskMe handles class judgmentalism and moralizing about possessions very well, especially when it's directed at someone else. If an anonymous Asker posted, "my husband drives the same 4-cylinder Camry he's had since 1999 and has no intention of getting rid of it. Now that we've been married, have a family, and will be attending more school and community events, I would really feel better if we could drive there together in a nice Acura rather than having everyone think we're the local poor family in town," I can only begin to imagine the shitstorm that would ensue.
posted by deanc at 4:25 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


sox!: I really do understand now how I came off as an asshole, and the ways I was being an asshole, even if unintentionally. I am going to work on it, and ultimately I'm glad it was pointed out to me.

I get how an Ask like this one is a hassle for the mods, but if after sleeping on it for a night an asker comes back and says "I get it now, I was wrong, thanks" then the ask/answer process is working.

Where this thread got off the rails a bit was not in the responses to the question, but in the responses to the poster's defensive followup comments. I see that happen often, and the solution I would think is less about moderating answers to the question and more about moderating followups by the asker. Clarifying the question or providing asked-for detail is one thing, but often the followups are more about controlling responses. At best, "you made me cry!" doesn't add any information about the OP, and at worst it comes across as manipulative.
posted by headnsouth at 4:38 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't see responses to anon AskMes being any harsher than responses to non-anon AskMes, and I'm skeptical. I don't pull punches based on the OP's identity. Sure, there's a theoretical universe in which I would pull punches if the question was posed by that one girl I totally have an e-crush on. But for the most part? No.

I kind of think the issue in that thread was that the OP was so defensive. Sure, anonymization might signal that, but I think the solution to most of these issues is for people to avoid posting defensive in-thread follow-ups. That's the biggest thing that causes the big pile-ons.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:02 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's the biggest thing that causes the big pile-ons

I thought it was the great number of responses.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:04 AM on June 7, 2012


deanc said something in the meta about the recent engagement question that has really stuck with me:

I think a lot of Askers expect that answerers will put themselves in the place of the asker. In many cases, the reader puts him or herself in the place of the subjects of the question.

The thing is, if the question contains an element of "Am I right and this other person is wrong?" it isn't simple mean-spiritedness making people put themselves in the shoes of the person who's not the asker. A lot of times, if sounds like the asker is trying to gather ammunition on some level. That may not in fact be what they are doing; they may really just be asking, "Is it OK to feel how I feel about this?" But an answer that really addressed the question on that level would be apt to be somewhat condescending, in my opinion. To answer the question, you have to kind of assume that there is a practical deliberation going on; that the asker is going to do something as a result of the answers they get. Which is also a motivation for basically repeating answers that have been given already. If the question is "Am I right or are they?" it feels like a poll to some extent. You're not answering in the hope of saying something original; you're weighing in, in case the other party in the dispute is going to be presented with the results the next morning over their cornflakes.
posted by BibiRose at 6:05 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


But the mods will want to delete my answer here, too, because I started this whole thread off on the assumption that the answers, including mine, were fine, and that was obviously so mistaken that frankly I have no idea what's actually acceptable any more.

Yeah on second read I'm not sure what my concern with it was except that you told the OP to "lighten up" and I was giving more comments a close read. It was fine and I undeleted it. Apologies.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:53 AM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think Gooch's comment is spot-on, and Ivan Fyodorovich's elaboration insightful. As I was reading through above, it struck me: whether or not the AskMe thread is going well or going badly, how can it possibly be useful for a thread to reach 133 or 179 replies? I don't care if you're beating a dead horse or feeding tasty carrots to a very live one--at some point it is just too much. You are no longer answering a question on an Q/A site; you're using the question as a proxy to have a discussion about some Issue that you and so very many of your fellow readers have an Opinion about.

I think there is a time and place for the proverbial "cold glass of water to the face." But c'mon, guys. 100 glasses of water to the face?

(Ironically, here I am saying "me too!" to Gooch and Ivan Fyodorovich, which is pretty uncharacteristic of me. I typically leave at least a couple replies on the cutting room floor for every one I hit "post" on, often because whatever I want to say has been said already, and said better.)
posted by drlith at 7:44 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks, jessamyn.

Believe me, I know that sometimes I've crossed the line, and the next day when I realize I've been an asshat, I always appreciate how you guys saved my skin by deleting the evidence.

I just really wasn't feeling I'd done that in this case, and I appreciate your reversing the deletion. It means a lot to me that you went to the trouble to do that.
posted by misha at 8:28 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I disagree that we should be very concerned about pile-ons. I think there is a sense that at some point, the volume of responses is just too great, and people should just stop answering. There are some times this is true, of course, especially when the response is as short as "Your boyfriend is an asshole, DTFMA," or its functional equivalent in whatever thread we're discussing.

But it can also feel like a pile-on when people present essentially the same message in different ways. And who knows which one of those presentations will really resonate with the OP, or with a later reader who might find themselves in an analogous situation? Or perhaps a differently-delivered response might spark an even more insightful response by yet someone else. I think we've all seen threads where the OP has marked as best answer responses that were well down the line.

I would encourage responders to ask themselves whether they think they're adding value to the discussion, so any responses that are the equivalent of nothing more than "Yeah! Me too!" could be avoided. But I don't think it's those types of responses that really make people feel that someone is being piled on. I think it's the similar responses, each saying something more or less the same, but saying it in a slightly different way.

Not only do I think some of the later responses may have their own intrinsic value, but I think it would be unfortunate if we were to adopt any kind of rule or norm here--other than asking "Do I have something of value to add to the discussion?--that would make people feel it was inappropriate to respond because they weren't one of the first several dozen (or whatever) posters.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:28 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sox responding and defending herself is I think what turned it into a therapy discussion. I was surprised the mods didn't ask her to not respond so much.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:45 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was surprised the mods didn't ask her to not respond so much.

Didn't notice it until it was too late, honestly. In nearly every anon case the OP follows up through us which helps us keep an eye on how things are going with them. In non-anon questions it's visually obvious that the OP is commenting a lot. In this case it wasn't obvious and by the time we'd realized it had turned into a bit of a mess, it was already a bit of a mess. If we'd seen it yeah we would have stepped in and maybe said something, but I'm not sure that would have been a game changer in this instance.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:51 AM on June 7, 2012


Yeah, we've got a toolset and workflow that helps us out a lot with keeping an eye on and being responsive to the predictable bulk of situations, but around the edges stuff can sort of slip under the radar. The case of someone asking anonymously and then following up with a sock is one of those edge cases; it's not a problem guidelines-wise if they're being clear that they are the asker, but it does throw a wobbly at our expectations about intermediation or visual feedback with the asker's followups.

But it's also an odd enough occurrence that trying to build out the toolset to capture that exception case is probably not worth doing, so it's just something we'll need to keep in mind a little.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:06 AM on June 7, 2012


When questions are written in such a way that it seems like the asker expects people to agree with their point of view, it's very difficult to respond neutrally. When there is judgmental language in the question, I think commenters feel more free about being judgmental themselves. It also sets up a bit of an underdog situation, and I think people here are prone to be defensive of underdogs. Judgmental language also tend to offend- if you drive a sports car that you love, it is going to be hard to sit back and be gentle after hearing them described as "disgusting". Would you tell a room full of people you don't know that sports cars are "disgusting"? You'd expect pushback on that, I think. It seems like writing as neutrally-posed a question as possible heads a lot of brusquer behavior off at the pass. I know it's hard to write that way, but those questions really don't have people lining up to take sides as often.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:22 AM on June 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Having been name checked in both this thread and the other, I would like to make it clear that it makes zero difference to me if the poster is anonymous or well-known or whatever. Most Askers are functionally "anonymous" to me because I rarely look at usernames, and consequently there are only a handful of posters here who are distinct to me. I understand my answers are not always palatable and sometime fall more towards the "tough love" end of the spectrum, but that has nothing to do with the identity of the Asker. My advice does not vary because the poster is Anonymous.

Asking a question, anonymously or not, is never a risk-free endeavour. I think the OP in that thread maximised her risk by doing a spectacularly poor job framing her question, and then attempting to clarify in deeply problematic ways. I remain comfortable with my final comment in that thread. Whatever unclarified thing the OP is so attached to resenting, it's not the Boxster, and it isn't going to be addressed by buying or not buying this car.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:28 AM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


There was never a perfect way for that question to unfold.

I don't think the OP did all that bad a job of framing her initial question. She expressed her point of view in an articulate manner, she tried to be fair to her husband, and she very sensibly asked for a reasonable solution to the problem, as opposed to something like "tell me how to convince my husband that he is wrong."

As a matter of fact, this question seemed a bit like an attempt at dispute resolution through non-binding mediation: here's this problem my husband and I have, what's the advice of the Hive?

The "problem" was that the sweeping majority of people thought that the best solution was that the husband should be able to buy the car if that's what he wants. However, the OP never wanted a solution where the husband was able to buy the car if that's what he wants. Him buying the car was outside the OP's initial range of acceptable outcomes. Further, none of the solutions gave the OP anything extra in this "compromise". Indeed, many of them just gave her a brow-beating.

In other words, the sweeping majority of answerers thought that the OP was wrong, and on top of that, they didn't give the OP anything in return. Nobody likes being told they are wrong. Nobody likes a brow-beating.

So, anyway, after all that, the OP dug in her heels, and then everyone else dug in their heels right back. It's human nature.

People can always be nicer and more understanding, but that never would have changed the fact that the majority of answerers thought that the OP was wrong. There wasn't really anything more to "give" the OP, either. Just negative feelings.

If the wife and the husband had gone to a professional mediator, then that professional could have sold the solution to the both of them in a positive way that acknowledged both parties' needs. However, this is AskMe, where we can't do that. We can't do everything perfectly, and we can't make everyone happy all the time.

So, while the call to be kinder in AskMe is a valid one, at the same time, being kinder won't solve everything. Some questions will always wind up with the OP feeling dejected, and that stinks, and we can try to mitigate that, but you can never avoid it entirely.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:53 AM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


with all these people I've respected for years thinking I'm a gigantic, selfish asshole.

Oh no this is the most important thing ever. Everyone needs this periodically, especially from people one respects. It's the only sure guard against becoming a gigantic, selfish asshole.
posted by fuq at 10:12 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


My apologies. This thread is long, and I did not read all of it before dealing with the call-outs that addressed me. I did not see that sox! had added a comment here, and I should have read that before adding my comment above.

with all these people I've respected for years thinking I'm a gigantic, selfish asshole.

FWIW, since I am someone you named specifically in your thread, I want you to know I do not think you are a gigantic selfish asshole, and I didn't think that even in the thick of that thread. I thought you were being bizarrely irrational about a used car. That's totally okay. I have been bizarrely irrational about a cat, among other things.

Also, I am very glad you have decided that "resentful" isn't the right word. I don't want you to feel like I'm continuing to flog you over the head with a word you've since dis-avowed, and I'm sorry I didn't catch that earlier.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:59 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


My understanding from reading MeFi over the years is that for the MeFi members from the UK, there is a lot of cultural and class baggage associated with being a landlord, owing especially to the differences in the real estate market, the (un)availability of land, and the sheer length of time some properties have been owned and had rent collected on them by the same families. In the US, basically the entry-level middle class aspiration is to have a rental property or two (which they will frequently lose money on) in the hopes of supplementing your meager income, while in the UK, saying you were a buying some rental properties would be akin to telling someone you were and aspiring sweatshop mogul.

Sort of. It's not the land, though, nor the ownership, but the buy to let housing market that has priced literally millions out of home ownership. It's more that for the majority of regular people, home ownership is not going to happen. A friend today was telling me about a couple that were in a middle-class profession and earned about £80k between them, but they still couldn't afford to amass the deposit they needed. In London at least, you can earn an above average income (average income here is £26k) and yet be unable to save the deposit on an average property (£226k when I last checked, 30% deposit which is standard for most places would be about £70,000) Almost everyone I know who has bought their own place have only managed to do so because they had generous help from their parents or deceased relatives. Entry-level middle-class aspirations can't even stretch to buying a flat, unless you live in a part of the country with lower prices, where you would be extremely lucky to be able to hold a middle-class job.

(Also, renters here can be chucked out with two months' notice, we can't paint, put up shelves or in many cases use blu-tack, and owning a pet is near impossible if you rent. So there's that. I believe the lot of renters in the US allows much more autonomy.)
posted by mippy at 11:59 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyway, it's been something I've been thinking a lot about recently - I've just turned thirty and am aiming to be out of debt within the next year (yay learning that consumption and happiness aren't best mates) so I want to start thinking about what's going to happen in the future in terms of where I live and how, but the sheer impossibility of home ownership in the UK these days makes me feel like I might as well spend all my savings on boardgames and chocolate instead, as it will make me happier than reading newspaper articles about 23yr old lawyers who have a pied-a-terre in a part of London that's so posh I can virtually feel my vowels flattening whenever I walk through there. So I found it hard not to answer that question with 'BUT YOU HAVE TWO HOUSES WHAT THE FUCK' even before remembering that in the US it's not actually considered even slightly excessive or wealthy to own two cars.
posted by mippy at 12:05 PM on June 7, 2012


I understand my answers are not always palatable and sometime fall more towards the "tough love" end of the spectrum

Swearing at the OP goes beyond tough love. It's thuggish. The remainder of the comment was unnecessarily badgering as well. The end result is, any good advice that may be contained in the comment gets overwhelmed by the clenched-fist tone.
posted by quivering_fantods at 12:25 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


You think "fucking hell" as an exclamation is thuggish? How delicate of you. What about "cor blimey" or "flippin' heck" or "jeepers creepers" or "Strewth!"? In any case, whilst all of them are swearing, none is swearing at the poster.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:12 PM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


> FWIW, since I am someone you named specifically in your thread, I want you to know I do not think you are a gigantic selfish asshole, and I didn't think that even in the thick of that thread.

Then you might want to change your style of answering to avoid that impression. The person reading your answer can't read your mind and doesn't know you don't think they're a gigantic selfish asshole. It's one thing to be firm and direct, but if you go too far in that direction it's not easy to keep from being hectoring and/or insulting. This is something I struggle with as well, so I'm not giving condescending advice from on high, just offering friendly advice.
posted by languagehat at 1:26 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've found in sort of my own experimenting with answers that any cursing or even exclamations about the question ("Wow," "Oh boy" etc) frequently get read by the asker as expressions of astonishment that any human could be so selfish, stupid, and smelly, when I actually meant them more as a neutral expression that things sound shitty all around. They can't see that I'm basically doing the Jay half of a Jay and Silent Bob impression. I most frequently edit out "Christ," "Jeez," and "dammit." It seems to help.

To be sort of more completely on topic, as much as the anonymous feature of the question (which I do notice because I read on the site, not through a reader, and anon questions are the only ones that show up with an italicized username) can make things touchy, I feel like there is always a subset of askers who are going to use the site to ask touchy things and be generally touchy about the answers they get. My most hated questions are when a single user asks a series of questions over a month to six weeks in which it becomes increasingly clear that they ignore every piece of advice they get and keep digging themselves deeper and deeper into an untenable situation, all while flailing their arms helplessly and yelping, "WHO COULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING! IF ONLY SOMEONE HAD WARNED ME!"
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:29 PM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


The person reading your answer can't read your mind and doesn't know you don't think they're a gigantic selfish asshole. It's one thing to be firm and direct, but if you go too far in that direction it's not easy to keep from being hectoring and/or insulting.

Oh please. If the OP can say she's "disgusted by flashy sports cars," call her husband "extremely selfish" for wanting to buy a used car, and imply that he would be a "cliche repub exec" (whatever that is) if it wasn't for her presence in his life, then she's not a delicate flower who can't handle strong language.
posted by headnsouth at 1:35 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


she's not a delicate flower who can't handle strong language.

This is really the crux of the problem for me. We deal with this other places on the site from time to time. Sometimes the snarkiest members are also the ones who email us saying that someone was mean to them and please do something about it. I totally understand this perspective, headnsouth, but it has not been my experience here on MetaFilter that it's actually the case. I think it's more that "people who tend to feel strongly about things feel strongly about them" which can mean strongly negative about one thing but also sensitive to that same rhetoric turned against them. Not saying anything needs to happen, just saying that I haven't found your generalization to be the case.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:07 PM on June 7, 2012


Maybe that's the problem with the "anonymous" feature, Snarl Furillo. It's hard to distinguish between anon askers and so they get the compounded ire meant for the small subset of willfully obtuse. But even if a question really gets your hackles up, do you have to answer it, just to give the person a piece of your mind?

I have had one great and helpful experience as an anonymous asker, and one memorably bad one, wherein I had a similar experience to smoke. The bad, uncharitable answers which misunderstand your intentions and character really do stick with you for a bit. I wish people would think about that. In my opinion, 'tough love', as the phrase implies, should come from people you trust to an extent, who can be as tough as they know you can take, and no more--because they love you. It's not an umbrella term meant to protect the right to give unkind advice. Internet strangers who are not accountable for the effects of their words, in a great community like this one, should take more care, and err on the side of not knowing how tough is too tough. This unaccountability can be compounded when the asker him/herself is 'anonymous', and I do think they get much harsher answers than non-anon askers.

A partial vibe I'm getting about this issue is that it's the askers' responsibility to share every possible relevant detail and paint the clearest context imaginable, or get a thicker skin, since those answering can't read minds. This is fair, but I say the responsibility goes both ways equally: the people answering should always consider that they don't or can't know the whole story, that the asker may not have looked at all angles yet, and that asking for help with a problem can be a great sign of basic good intentions and an open mind. Not to mention the vulnerable state that the asker may be in, which can make clear communication difficult, and feelings more easily bruised.

Basically, you don't lose anything at all by trying to being considerate and empathetic, not even your ability to be honest.
posted by sundaydriver at 2:11 PM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe that's the problem with the "anonymous" feature, Snarl Furillo. It's hard to distinguish between anon askers and so they get the compounded ire meant for the small subset of willfully obtuse. But even if a question really gets your hackles up, do you have to answer it, just to give the person a piece of your mind?

Oh, no, my goal is generally to not answer those questions! I slip sometimes, but if a particular user or question is getting my goat, my policy is usually to just be like, "This question is not for you, questions that make you THIS angry are not in your wheelhouse, leave it alone." Sort of a modification of classic axiom to, "If you can't say something nicely, don't say anything at all."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:24 PM on June 7, 2012


Uh oh, double misunderstanding! I didn't mean you, specifically!
posted by sundaydriver at 2:35 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like Miko, I'd like more of a health warning in the guidance posters get before asking anon questions - something about being aware that you will not be able to reply easily and that others may make assumptions about you which are wrong or hurtful. A reminder that questions are not usually deleted might help. I also wonder whether it would be worth saying at that point that another option is to use a sockpuppet, but I realise this may not be something mods want to encourage either.
posted by paduasoy at 2:50 PM on June 7, 2012


I also wonder whether it would be worth saying at that point that another option is to use a sockpuppet, but I realise this may not be something mods want to encourage either.

I'd been wondering about this for a while. I'm certainly noticing more secondary/sockpuppet accounts all the time. At one point I had thought they were forbidden, but that's obviously not the case.

If they are considered to be an ok option, does the anonymous option need to continue to exist? Should people instead be told to pay $5 for a secondary account to use for their embarrassing or super secret questions? That would seem to avoid some of the issues with anonymous questions (such as being able to contact the asker) that have been pointed out, though potentially creating some new issues along the way.
posted by Forktine at 3:01 PM on June 7, 2012


The Earning Spouse does earn most of the money, and the Home Spouse should be grateful that Earning Spouse does so. I'm grateful every day.

I'm not saying she shouldn't be grateful -- we should all be grateful to our spouses! But the fact that spouses should be mutually grateful doesn't explain a comment like the one I referred to: "Your husband's high paying job allows you to have all the things and status symbols you want - low paying creative work-at-home job; houses; prius; baby. Would be extremely churlish of you not to let him have the car he wants and can afford." The baby is filed under "stuff wife wants," comparable to the sports car that really is "stuff husband wants," with no information other than that the OP said they were thinking of having children. That is sexist bullshit. Children are a mutual joy and burden, not a husband's concession to distaff interests.
posted by palliser at 3:24 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Children are the female's purview though because of biological necessity. I mean it is the woman who lays the eggs, and then the man who spits coins on them, or however it works, so I'm told, among the humons.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:52 PM on June 7, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm not saying she shouldn't be grateful -- we should all be grateful to our spouses! But the fact that spouses should be mutually grateful doesn't explain a comment like the one I referred to: "Your husband's high paying job allows you to have all the things and status symbols you want - low paying creative work-at-home job; houses; prius; baby. Would be extremely churlish of you not to let him have the car he wants and can afford." The baby is filed under "stuff wife wants," comparable to the sports car that really is "stuff husband wants," with no information other than that the OP said they were thinking of having children. That is sexist bullshit. Children are a mutual joy and burden, not a husband's concession to distaff interests.

It's not just sexist bullshit, it's inaccurate. Being able to support a semi-stay-at-home artistic spouse and a child is a major status symbol for successful men (and increasingly, successful women). Most of the things on that list, including granola car and organic baby, are status symbols for both partners. That's why the sports car is such a big deal for her -- it's the one piece of dissonance in a very harmonious status situation.
posted by Forktine at 4:30 PM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have asked one anonymous question. One of the responses was a little judgmental. I expected this possibility when I posted the question. Although I did not get a really good answer to my question, asking it and reading the responses was a useful step in solving my problem.

So I like having anonymous available although I can see how it's a pain for the mods. I wonder if the mod who approved that question was groaning when they posted it about how messed up it was likely to be?
posted by bukvich at 6:59 PM on June 7, 2012


A bit late to the discussion here but wanted to register my opinion with regards to what Jessamyn said as an aside earlier upthread.

Regarding deletion/removal of AskMe questions from the site upon the request of the Asker, anon or not:

We'll do this, with some pushback, but it's really problematic and I think speaks to the same issue: the after-question regret or possibly the surprise and displeasure at the responses.

I don't like the idea that an otherwise OK AskMe can or may be removed if the Asker simply doesn't want it to exist anymore. I guess it boils down to how the mods would qualify "with some pushback". I'm not asking for a change in policy here, or even a reply for that matter, I just wanted to mention it because I think that the removal of an otherwise acceptable AskMe for trivial or nonexistent reasons isn't a good thing and is borderline insulting to the people answering who have put time and, hopefully, thought into their answers.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:21 PM on June 7, 2012


I wonder if the mod who approved that question was groaning when they posted it about how messed up it was likely to be?

I approve almost all of them, and yeah we often know in advance that a question is going to be "bumpy" but we try to not let that affect our decision but I'll often check in with another mod if I'm concerned just to get a second opinion. We're fine with the anon feature being available since people having sock puppets is a bit problematic [they're allowed but sock puppets need to be pretty clearly sock puppets and not used as another user account] but sometimes people use it more problematically and sometimes less and there's not a lot of public discussion about it because a lot of people don't really like saying "Oh yeah I asked an anon account recently, let me tell you how it went" but it might be time for another thread specifically about the feature.

I don't like the idea that an otherwise OK AskMe can or may be removed if the Asker simply doesn't want it to exist anymore.

We're with you. This is the sort of thing that in the past was someone being like "OMG my crazy ex joined the site, I need to delete that old question about our relationship from five years ago!" and we'd be like "Oh, okay, this is a one time thing so please ask your questions more carefully in the future and use the anon feature if you need to..." and we'd do this maybe a few times a year.

Lately it's been more like a few requests a month with people who have already asked anon questions just not being able to deal with the question being on the site at all and wanting last weeks' question deleted. "With some pushback" usually means emailing back and forth with people and explaining that it's really not cool to delete a question after the people in the community have given their time and expertise to help them and so do they really want to do this uncool thing? And we'll leave a note to not do this again for the user if it comes up again. But at some level if we're dealing with someone who seems to be having a crisis, it's not great to just say "Well those are the rules" We try to be decent about that sort of thing.

And so we've been trying to think of some sort of advanced "You know you can't delete this later if it becomes inconvenient" checkbox or something before people ask a question. I know it sounds stupid but having the "I am not a spammer" checkbox that people have to check before they make their first post makes it a lot easier for us to uphold our general policy which is "We will ban you if you spam us" and I'd like to be able to be more clear with people "No, you said you wouldn't delete this, so this is not cool" Obviously if there's some sort of emergency we can be accommodating, but being a bit more visible about the general guideline seems like a good idea.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:33 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


*bangs stamp of approval that holds no weight whatsoever*

Thanks. That sounds completely reasonable to me, good luck with the quest for the best way to handle it moving forward. For what it's worth your checkbox idea passes my mostly uneducated, totally inexperienced with web moderation quality gate.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:39 PM on June 7, 2012


The problem isn't that 200 people thought the same thing, it's that 200 people wrote a couple of paragraphs about what they thought, creating a monolithic wall of harsh criticism that carried weight far greater than any one person's input could ever possess. Perhaps certain kinds of questions could use a different answering format—some way to express opinion without necessarily posting a comment.

The only alternative method that comes readily to mind is polls. Polls are just numbers; they never create that piled-on feeling. But that seems antithetical to the MeFi spirit of conversation and dialog.

Then again, a flood of comments generally saying the same thing is not so great for conversation and dialog either. Perhaps a poll that you can drill into and see which users selected what options, and some commentary from them on why they chose what they did? Then the dialog, and the flow of ideas, would still exist, but in a manner less likely to cause emotional distress.

Perhaps registered users could add and edit the options in the poll, wiki-style, with an edit history and some way to discuss whether or not an edit clarified the meaning of the option or changed it utterly.

There could be graphs.

polls.metafilter.com

Ever have a really bad idea that you just couldn't keep to yourself?
posted by jsturgill at 11:07 AM on June 8, 2012


> In other words, the lower-paid partner gets all the benefits of the higher-paid partner's salary, but the higher-paid partner can't share in the psychic rewards of the lower-paid partner's interesting, creative work

Not so. Mr Corpse brags about my interesting, creative, low-paying work.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:43 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


RE: treating anonymous askers differently: I also rarely notice who has posted a question though the kinds of questions I answer tend not to be anonymous. I wonder, assuming harsher answers for anonymous askers is actually a thing, that the reason people are see this coorelation is because those harsh answers get metamailed when the poster ins't anonymous.

If 163 people ahead of you have already answered a question in the same general way you were planning to, that is probably sufficient for the OP to get the message . At some point I suspect this becomes more about ego ("IT IS IMPORTANT MY OFFICIAL POSITION ON THIS SUBJECT BE STATED FOR THE RECORD") than helping.

I don't see the problem here as the asker is able to stop reading the answers at any point. It may be wasted effort on the answer's part but bits aren't limited in any meaningful way.

Also on at least a couple occasions I've spent a few hours composing an answer to a question, posted it, and only then noticed dozens of people have already said the same thing. There is a certian amount of momentum in answer posting.

I can't help but find it a little strange that people are still talking about them owning two houses like it's a big perk when sox! said in the thread that the "other home" is their first home, which is underwater, and that they would want to sell it but they'd be taking a loss on it, so they're renting it instead. That's making the best of a bad situation, and certainly not at all akin to a summer house on the beach.

Even so one assumes they are holding onto the property with the intention of selling it not for a loss at some time in the future. Large numbers of metafites are renters and not by choice and assuming they aren't actively loosing money on the rental the OP is still in a better position than people who can't afford to purchase a residence.
posted by Mitheral at 1:45 PM on June 8, 2012


I've seen quite a few of "Tell me, hive mind, am I justified in feeling like this?" kind of questions and they almost never go smoothly. It's either full on support of the asker and a pile-on of "That cad!" or whatever in reference to the other person in the question or telling the asker their premise is wrong and they're wrong for even asking. (Obviously this isn't true for 100% of questions, but is definitely the trend I've noticed.)

And I think the flaw mainly lies in the question being asked - or rather, the questions that answerers feel should be being asked - and not in the answers themselves. "Am I right to feel this?" is an almost impossible question to answer. To designate someone else's feelings as valid or invalid based on a few paragraphs of anonymous text is nearly impossible. Not only that, but it seems that quite often after getting a few (or many) responses, the asker realizes that they've gone down a horrible rabbit hole and it's not what they wanted to ask at all.

In general, when I see HR questions that are many paragraphs and the premise is "Am I being reasonable?" I feel quite bad for the asker that they very seriously want to talk about their problem but haven't been able to distill it down to a question that can actually be answered by the hive mind. These are questions better placed on people who know more of the scenario than what we can see. AskMe can be a tremendously awesome resource if you have a question that can be answered. These.... it comes back to what's previously been said about AskMe not being talk therapy and the desire on the part of some users to treat it that way.
posted by sonika at 6:26 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not so. Mr Corpse brags about my interesting, creative, low-paying work.

Mr. WanKenobi, too.

(Also "non-miserable spouse" offers significant psychic benefits.)

I once got into a bit of a MeMail back and forth with some peeps here about stay-at-home creative spouses that really made me suspect that though metafilter seems okay with certain homebound careers (I dunno, web admin stuff?) the creative ones still sometimes draw some ire and jealousy. Maybe I'm projecting, but thought I saw a lot of that here.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:30 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that makes you his status symbol. If you want one, I'm afraid you'll have to have a baby.
posted by palliser at 7:21 PM on June 8, 2012


Babies are the (literally) shittiest status symbols ever.
posted by sonika at 7:49 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


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