Out of our depth? January 23, 2014 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Hi. I do not intend this metatalk to be a re-argument of the very contentious and upsetting askme thread about a father saying he has a right to show porn to his daughter.

I do not wish to make the OP feel worse in what is doubtless a horribly stressful time. So I mean to leave the (sad) details of that thread out.

It is my understanding, maybe wrong, that questions about, for example, how to commit suicide are not appropriate for AskMe. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong. In a less serious vein, I suspect that "Where can I buy drugs in NYC tonight?" would also get deleted.

So here we have a case where one person is trying to address another's desire to do something that is illegal in many states (here, Massachusetts). And a child is involved. Even with all the good intentions in the world, is Metafilter really the right place for this discussion?

I am not there, I don't know what's up. But I do have a background in social services, specifically domestic violence. If a client came in with a similar story to the average, normal social services agency, I think there would be some discussion about making a report to child protective services. Who knows whether a report would get made?

I am just not sure whether child-protective-services-debatable material should be discussed here. If there is a standard, perhaps it should be more strictly applied when kids are involved.

Many thanks to the mods for their hard work. I know there are many, many difficult questions and judgment calls here.
posted by skbw to Etiquette/Policy at 5:06 PM (101 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

While this is a good point, i also think all of the "your a terrible mother" type of comments and judgement eye-lasers towards the mother for not immediately calling the police and playing along with the script several posters had come up with was also completely gross as fuck and didn't belong here.

I almost replied to that thread again like 3 or 4 times, and didn't bother knowing my comment telling OP not to get to burned out by those people and that i thought that was a bit over the top would probably get blammed while there's would stand.

What an upsetting thread though, from all angles, jesus.
posted by emptythought at 5:13 PM on January 23, 2014 [10 favorites]


I think there is a substantial difference between AskMes on how to do illegal things vs AskMes on how to address potentially or blatantly illegal things. Otherwise it wouldn't be appropriate to ask questions about what to do when your landlord is breaking the law, or your workplace, or what-have-you. That a child is involved just, to me, makes it a more important question for someone to ask, here or anywhere.
posted by davejay at 5:14 PM on January 23, 2014 [25 favorites]


Of course, the discussion may not go in the best direction, but if (for example) the OP ignores the noise and latches onto a few truly useful responses that help her and her daughter, I think the noise is worth it.
posted by davejay at 5:15 PM on January 23, 2014


Wait, what? The question isn't "how can I help the Dad do this illegal/harmful thing?": the two examples you analogize to are basically "help me do this illegal/harmful thing."

Also, I don't think questions about where to score drugs are deleted, are they?
posted by MoonOrb at 5:15 PM on January 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


Questions about suicide are expressly banned, yes. Questions about drugs are not, necessarily. Questions about illegal things are dealt with on a case-by-case basis depending on how much trouble for the site they're likely to cause.

The OP of that question has professional support, and seems to be actively using it. I don't personally have a problem with people wanting to get a general sense of the social consensus on a situation when they're so deep into it they've lost perspective, and the thread did that. It's a tricky and an unpleasant one (and has been no fun to moderate) and if it came through the anon queue we probably wouldn't have approved it. That said, though, it's not breaking any guidelines nor do I really think guidelines should be set up for this situation. This is definitely a case where specific human judgment is the way to go.

As MoonOrb points out, too, the OP is *not* the person doing something (arguably) illegal - they're trying to figure out how to deal with it. That's a totally different situation. If the father in this case posted, we may well have made a different call.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:17 PM on January 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


So here we have a case where one person is trying to address another's desire to do something that is illegal in many states (here, Massachusetts). And a child is involved. Even with all the good intentions in the world, is Metafilter really the right place for this discussion?
Yes. Yes it is. As a community, we need to be willing to help people with the difficult questions that make us feel uncomfortable, not just those that are easy/fun/make us Internet famous. It must have been difficult to ask this question of the community and difficult to answer without being super-judgemental. Personally, by the time I saw it, my opinion had been given by enough others that I didn't chime in, but I hope the asker got what she and her daughter needed.

It would be a real shame if members didn't feel comfortable about asking the hard questions because those are the important ones. I hope this thread doesn't end up making people less comfortable, but I'm not all that hopeful.
posted by dg at 5:43 PM on January 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


The OP of that question has professional support, and seems to be actively using it.

Agreed. The basic line regarding illegality is as restless_nomad outlined it. The OP is not using the thread to do something illegal, they are using it to get advice about a bad situation they are stuck in.

Some people are being decent about it and some people are being awful. Unless we want to start a "Don't ask questions that are going to get people all upset because they involve edge-casey situations that many people will interpret through the lens of their own experience" guideline, we are just going to have to, as a community learn to deal with situations that make us personally uncomfortable and trust that people can make their own decisions. As dg said directly above it, we want people to feel comfortable asking difficult questions. If people feel that they can't answer those questions without breaking the guidelines, they are welcome to move on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:45 PM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


That question was really hard to read. It's made me upset and anxious. That being said, I am glad the OP had a forum to ask a very difficult question and get some clear answers. Being in a relationship with a manipulative person can lead one to distrust his or her own gut feelings, and that AskMe provided the OP with a pretty unvarnished perspective, so that now I am hopeful for a better outcome for a little girl. I get the discomfort with CPS triggery questions, but I am glad there was a place for that question to be asked.

And once again so grateful there are people willing to be mods and they do a good job and I am glad I never have to do it.
posted by ambrosia at 6:03 PM on January 23, 2014 [16 favorites]


I was disturbed by that thread as well, both the pile-on, which was unnecessary and insensitive and in some cases blatantly shouty in ways I thought not worthy of AskMe, and the initial question itself, which was of course disturbing in its implications.

It seems to me the OP has said more than enough about her life to make her identifiable for a determined searcher, and more than enough personal exposure of delicate information across at least two AskMe questions to create a real problem for her legal situation, not to mention a potential problem of exposure down the road for her kid, not to mention a potentially actionable kind of exposure for the dad. Her presence as a participant in the thread makes it sort of impossible, I guess, to retroactively anonymize the whole thing. But if I were her lawyer I'd probably scream to discover she had posted this stuff publicly in a way that might be discoverable (in the technical legal sense, as well as the more stalkery sense).

There are all kinds of ways that thread could backfire to do more damage than good in the longer run, including for the child involved, even if the OP needed the strong advice so many gave her and presuming none of the professionals involved would have intervened. I thought it was "worst of metafilter" territory, just personally speaking. The OP is in a difficult situation, under intense stress, and facing various kinds of severe risk. The decision to air the details of that situation here under her regular username, with real time updates on her negotiations with her ex, may have been a considered decision on her part (I'm not trying to say it was irrational), but just as with the underlying situation, I worry that she (like many posters of intensely personal AskMe questions) may not be doing the best job of assessing long(er) term risks.

I really wish there were a way to retroactively anonymize such threads. I've occasionally written to mods with the suggestion to anonymize older AskMe threads that were obviously the product of people in crisis and where the OP has been elsewhere generous with identifying details. I think it's a real issue worth addressing.

I have similar views about some medical and legal advice threads on other subjects, but when it comes to divorce and child custody issues, the meter goes to red for me.

My two cents. I cringed for MetaFilter when I read that thread.
posted by spitbull at 6:31 PM on January 23, 2014 [17 favorites]


Yeah, that one was very very hard for me and it hit a lot of my buttons square on the head. I made a completely inappropriate but honest comment that was, thankfully, deleted almost right away. When my ex was doing and saying some seriously crazy things around and about my very young daughter, I kept making excuses for him. However, I had so many people in my life at that time who were helping me to say no, because I could not do it myself. The poster reminded me of a former self, who is better now because of the people around me who pretty much forced my head out of my ass. This is a real thing . This thread was not about me. I know that. But, damn, it set off all kinds of long-forgotten fires and I have to assume that it did the same for so many others. Are we out of our depth? Not at all. The poster is obv intelligent and caring enough and has enough support to make her own decisions! And I'm glad she posted, and I wish all of the best to her as she navigates this part of her life that I am sure she never expected to have to navigate.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:32 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]



I really wish there were a way to retroactively anonymize such threads. I've occasionally written to mods with the suggestion to anonymize older AskMe threads that were obviously the product of people in crisis and where the OP has been elsewhere generous with identifying details. I think it's a real issue worth addressing.


This is a great suggestion. My understanding is that this is already possible by request?
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:35 PM on January 23, 2014


I thought the question should have been deleted and I was surprised it stayed up.

If it had truly been an honestly posted "quick check in" as I've seen so often on AskMe, an update from the OP about 20 answers into the pile-on along the lines of, "Thanks guys for the info and reality check. I'll call my lawyer to discuss this, since it is serious and legally actionable," would have been sufficient and kept the whole thing from spinning up.

Of course showing pornography to minor children is illegal. If the OP truly had professional support, I doubt there would have been a need for an AskMe.

It was 90+ comments and several unclear updates from the OP until she finally mentioned she would be seeking legal intervention via her lawyer.

I would have preferred the question to have been deleted and the OP directed to seek professional legal guidance.

This was above AskMe's pay grade in every way.
posted by jbenben at 6:35 PM on January 23, 2014 [18 favorites]


Good point, jbenben.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:36 PM on January 23, 2014


I wonder if things would improve overall -- even if just a little bit -- if all AskMes were systematically anonymous, including comments from the OP. There would be a reduction in accidental personal disclosures, plus it might be a bit easier to evaluate each question on its own merits without the temptation to dig back through old questions from the same asker. Hm.
posted by davejay at 6:49 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think that she asked for a perspective check and that's what she got. Also, a lot of the time, we don't even know something is illegal until someone else tells us. It's not like she asked for legal advice on what to do next.
posted by cairdeas at 6:52 PM on January 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


Let me give another example of a situation I reported to Team Mod and they changed to Anonymous, without too much detail, just as a thought experiment. Another topic where I think MetaFilter is exposed both morally and maybe legally is when people in states of serious depression even *intimate* a wish to end their own lives. Granting that such a question may provide an occasion for a life-saving intervention, I can imagine being mortified to come out the other end of that tunnel a few years later and have one's darkest thoughts immortalized online in a way that will eventually, possibly be traceable to your meatspace identity.

Without giving too much detail, because I don't want to reveal the question, I work in a profession where I could potentially know (and be responsible for) someone who posted an AskMe expressing vaguely self-threatening thoughts (who lived in my city, self-revealed in their profile, along with other details that made my spidey sense tingle with suspicion I might know them when I read it).

Worrying I might actually know this person and thus feeling a duty to intervene, it took me ten minutes to go from a few details embedded in two prior AskMe questions to their offline identity via Google. Dead on, Facebook page and everything. Turned out I didn't know them, and it had been a while since the question was posted and answers had stopped (it may even have been archived already). I wasn't stalking them with ill intent. I have already forgotten both the username and the real name I discovered. I hope they are alright.

But what if I had been a crazy ex or a divorce lawyer or an employer etc. and had put the same two and two together?

Anyone who has ever been in a dark place and wishes they hadn't said things they said then -- which I think is anyone who has lived even a little -- can imagine emotions ranging from embarrassment to sheer terror about things they once posted on a public website which has a strangely intimate vibe and where long-term participation is self-revelatory unless one is scrupulous about such things. God knows it is hard enough to maintain that wall online for those of us who have public-facing careers and personalities, especially, and really for anyone (it only takes one stupid tweet to become a public-facing personality!).

I don't think it would break AskMe to either insist on anonymity for certain kinds of personal questions (which I suppose would have to be enforced with prompt deletion and invitation to resubmit as anon) or rigorously anonymize the occasional really concerning thread, like the one under discussion here. The OP's comments in thread might have to be deleted and summarized by a mod. I don't think it happens often enough to be a major burden.

Really, think 20 years out. You're the kid in the story. It got ugly between your folks. See what I mean?
posted by spitbull at 6:56 PM on January 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


Who is better now because of the people around me who pretty much forced my head out of my ass

This is kind of what I was thinking, too. The reality check of people around you can be what finally spurs you to question your warped internal measurements, or to confirm them when you're struggling through a long history of invalidation to be able to trust your own instincts. For people who have been abused or in very sick situtuations, that caliper might not function quite right on it's own. It didn't (doesn't) for me. Sometimes I need an outside stimulus for the lightbulb to go off. I feel like this thread is helping the OP by confirming her gut on this, confirming that her instinct to protect her child are not wrong or silly. I'm not sure how this is out of anyone's league? At least to provide a general suggestion, a word of opinion, a voice like a friend or sibling would do to say "oh no, this is really wrong, I agree, you definitely need to do something." If you were the OP's friend, I don't think you would say "I can't comment on this, don't talk to me about it, it's out of my league." You would say "holy f*** that's horrible" and start helping your friend figure out their options and resources. I could be wrong, but I feel like that's how I see the role of this site, in what I've observed at least.
posted by celtalitha at 7:21 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just did a cmd-F "record" just to make sure someone pointed out to her that -- state laws permitting -- she should seriously look into recording her conversations with him from now on. Thankfully several people have, because I really don't want to participate in that thread.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:26 PM on January 23, 2014


I'm fine letting Mefites manage their own individual anonymity for things like this.

I think the AskMe and the resulting thread needed to be closed or shut down (maybe with a deeper explanation by the mods on MeTa) when the OP in that thread started posting real-time updates of the conflict with her ex, and it was clear she wasn't communicating with him via professionals, but rather was using *US* as a weapon against her ex.

Had things between these two turned violent, MetaFilter would have been all over the news as some sort of Reddit-vigilante type factor in whatever tragedy ensued.

The subject of child abuse, the OP's relaxed position in the majority of updates, and especially that bullshit written agreement stunt at the end - that was some triggering shit.

I know sometimes these things on the green are allowed to play themselves out.

Maybe the benchmark for heavy moderation shouldn't be privacy concerns, but rather, safety concerns where minors are involved?

I'm so grateful for this MeTa. That thread stinks.
posted by jbenben at 7:27 PM on January 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


We will honor requests to anonymize after the fact (although always with a request to use the actual approval process - if someone makes a habit of it we will have a sterner talk with them) but we do not, and do not intend to, alter people's questions without their input. If you feel a question should be anonymized, drop them a MeMail (don't comment in the thread) and point them at the contact form.

Setting ourselves up as the arbiter of which kinds of questions must be anonymous sounds impractical and outside our purview. Everyone's kids are going to have to deal with the fallout of the current generation's internet use.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:29 PM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


The poster is obv intelligent and caring enough and has enough support to make her own decisions!

See, that's the problem as I see it. An op in this situation could be a great parent or they could be a terrible parent. That's almost beside the point. The whole purpose of a law guardian, an attorney for the child, is to represent the child regardless of parental decisions good or bad. Making one's own decisions may not be the prime concern in askme questions where minors are involved.

As for the distinction between an op asking how to do something illegal and how to deal with someone else doing something illegal. I don't know if there's neglect here. It doesn't sound like it. But I have no clue because I am just some internet person. Other people brought up the problem of being an accessory after the fact, a topic of which I know little. But where there is even a glimmer of it, I think the op as bad actor/op as bystander distinction is not too compelling. Is there a giant moral distinction? Yes. Does the whiff of accessory belong on askme? Fair question, I think.
posted by skbw at 7:34 PM on January 23, 2014


Also, as far as the ethics of allowing a question about (someone else's) illegal activity, I don't really understand the moral argument for deletion.

Here's the list of hypothetical options, as far as I can tell:

(A) The OP has a preexisting strong sense of appropriate boundaries, access and familiarity with the appropriate resources, and independently reports this to the appropriate authorities perfectly. The issue never hits askmetafilter.

(B) The OP does not have a strong sense of appropriate boundaries and/or familiarity with resources; she writes a question here, people confirm her suspicion that she is not crazy and this is absolutely not appropriate, the OP may get upset and defensive but overall moves forward with a greater sense of confidence in her instinct to protect this child. She moves forward with imperfect actions, we don't know whether the child will be helped or harmed.

(C) The OP does not have a strong sense of appropriate boundaries and/or familiarity with resources; she posts this question, which gets deleted, so she continues to question herself and think perhaps this is really not such a big deal. The child will most likely be harmed.

It seems like the "this question should have been deleted" people are assuming that the alternative to B is A, but it's not, it's C. Obviously, A is the ideal; but since A is not actually an option in the real world, B is better than C right?! I don't understand how B could not be better than C...
posted by celtalitha at 7:34 PM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


I was disturbed by that thread as well, both the pile-on, which was unnecessary and insensitive and in some cases blatantly shouty in ways I thought not worthy of AskMe, and the initial question itself, which was of course disturbing in its implications.


I agree with this. A wakeup call can be extremely helpful, but people should really consider whether they have anything new to add after a point has been made five to ten times. Sometimes it is tempting to repost what has already been said for our own sake because a question elicits strong feelings.

Threads like that risk becoming more about sharing feelings than answering the question.
posted by vincele at 7:44 PM on January 23, 2014 [16 favorites]


Restless_Nomad, with due respect, I will continue to disagree with that stance. It seems to me mods make much more granular judgments about appropriateness for each sub site routinely and intuitively, albeit with the occasional deletion scrum in MeTa. But since this would entail a "revise and resubmit" request it would not generate deletion complaints.

I am not, by the way, calling for deletion of the thread, or saying that thread would not have been concerning as an anon thread. I agree some purpose was probably served. But we live in times of change and I think considering mental duress and risk to third parties as factors in publishing such revelatory things is simply wise.

There's goofy Facebook pics with bongs in the background, and then there's what went down in the thread we are discussing. They seem quite different to me.

I'm glad for the chance to voice my critique, and take my leave.
posted by spitbull at 7:48 PM on January 23, 2014


Celtalitha, I do see where you're coming from, but I do not think it is a good idea for a q&a site to see itself as standing between children and harm. We are in this regard no better than Yahoo answers.
posted by skbw at 7:50 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Had things between these two turned violent, MetaFilter would have been all over the news as some sort of Reddit-vigilante type factor in whatever tragedy ensued.

While I very much disagree with that assessment, that is a risk that we have to take and have considered. I am sorry people found the question triggering. We rely on people to keep their own counsel about what threads they should spend more or less time in. There were several people who took strong stances in that thread that were deleted who seem to be rehashing them in this thread and that needs to stop.

I'm fine talking about different ways to moderate or deal with difficult AskMe threads and appreciate people's insight and opinions. I'm less okay with this becoming a place where people whose emotions are set on high because of that thread come here to continue to restate the question and the answers in their own words/emotions in ways that would not be okay in the original thread. Again, I'm sorry that it was upsetting. I find it upsetting also. Not everything that is upsetting needs a new rule created to outlaw it. And worrying about showing up on the news is really low on the list of "things we take into account when we moderate this site" We care about the people in this community and sometimes that means making tricky judgment calls like this one.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:09 PM on January 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


I do not think it is a good idea for a q&a site to see itself as standing between children and harm. We are in this regard no better than Yahoo answers.

I completely know what you mean, skbw.

But I think a world where people have access to ask an expert all the time about all of their important questions, and/or choose to do so, is something of an ideal world that we don't live in yet.

Some people can't afford that much of an expert's time. Some people don't have access. Some people don't know where to look. Some people are intimidated by "experts."

And then there is the simple fact that people have always just asked each other. Before the internet, you would just ask people you knew, or if you couldn't ask them, you might ask a priest, or if you were too ashamed to ask a priest, you might just keep it to yourself, hide it, and not ask anyone. And deal with the consequences as they come.

Having someone ask you something on Metafilter is kind of like a stranger asking you in a bar, or on a train. Much of the time, it is obviously not ideal. But I think it is possible to give someone something worthwhile in those situations, if you are, for whatever reason, the person who they have picked to ask. We are all just human beings. You don't have to be an expert in order to give a worthwhile perspective on very straightforward questions about child safety.
posted by cairdeas at 8:29 PM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Experts, no, but responsible human beings in the world who go about influencing each other and affecting things bigger than ourselves whether we like it or not - yes. Whether the OP is asking us, asking Yahoo answers, or asking her sisters/mom/friends/cousin/coworker, it's part of being human to sometimes come up against things that are outside your "pay grade" and a lot of times there isn't (and shouldn't be) an ignore button for that, you know? I have children myself, and it is my job to advocate for them, protect them, and teach them, so in that case, yes, I stand between children and harm every day; I also care about other people's children, because again, I'm human, and if the situation arises where I need to call for help, offer encouragement, give advice, etc I will absolutely do so, not because I think I'm the best qualified - but because if everyone waited for experts for everything, nothing would be done at all. If I have nothing to offer, I offer nothing (ok, that's not always true, I'm a hothead, but I *should* offer nothing). If I am the only person present at the scene of an accident, I'm not going to attempt to do medical procedures I'm not qualified for, but surely I am going to run get help, or assist in any way reasonable and possible.

As far as the thread in question, there are far better experts, of course - like the police, or CPS, and I was one of the first to suggest she call these, because they can handle it better. I'm still glad she was able to get basically a room full of people to say "yeah, call CPS."
posted by celtalitha at 8:42 PM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I live in a city where there is a rampant drug addiction problem (meth and heroin) that kind of overlaps with a population of very young, semi-homeless drifters. Many of both groups of people have young children. I also try to do my best to stand between the children and harm, when the situation has arisen, even though I am a stranger and not an expert. But when I can clearly see that a child is in danger, I can't say to myself, "this is above my pay grade, and I am not an expert, I should keep walking and wait for an expert to come along and give their expert opinion on this."
posted by cairdeas at 8:48 PM on January 23, 2014


Ok. I think I understand your argument. Then why not--I am asking sincerely--have metafilter "assist in any way reasonable and possible" with questions about suicide? Why must suicide be left to irl authorities, but child abuse is fair game for well-intentioned speculation? I do not mean this as snark.
posted by skbw at 8:52 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Because suicide questions make people freak out and hassle us to reveal anonymity claiming it's a matter of life and death and we don't think we can maintain posters' anonymity in such a situation. They become shouting matches immediately. We'd also obviously like people in this community who are feeling suicidal to talk to someone who is skilled in these sorts of things and not hang out on the internet and not getting help. We email people directly to talk to them if they use the anon form to ask questions about suicide.

child abuse is fair game for well-intentioned speculation? I do not mean this as snark.

I'd really like to not turn this thread into a referendum on that thread. Suicide is really our only big exception except for "I need to use AskMe for information on how to break the law, myself, right now" Getting advice on a tricky family issue is an okay thing to do here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:10 PM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


If you feel a question should be anonymized, drop them a MeMail (don't comment in the thread) and point them at the contact form.

Setting ourselves up as the arbiter of which kinds of questions must be anonymous sounds impractical and outside our purview. Everyone's kids are going to have to deal with the fallout of the current generation's internet use.


Responding to your first point, I'd go a step further and say there's nothing that should stop a mod from doing this as well if it strikes him or her as a sensible thing. I don't think you guys should make a habit of it but this is pretty clearly a case where you might and probably should be able to nudge someone in the direction of something that, at the very least, isn't going to hurt anyone or inhibit the nature of the question in any way. The whole "not our problem" thing fails the common sense test.
posted by dhammond at 9:24 PM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


I didn't see anything awful in that thread. Could someone point me to comments that are objectionable?
posted by jayder at 12:12 AM on January 24, 2014


I will admit that I thought more than once about commenting in that thread but refrained because others had already said what I wanted to say. And, because it was pretty obvious, that the poster wasn't going to listen to what most people had to say - the opening line is 'Should I pursue legal action?', and when nearly everyone said 'hell yes!' she twisted and turned and pretty much made excuses for why she had not done much. I know that she has a past history of extreme difficulty in the relationship etc. etc. and most people are trying their best to see this as a mother trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation but I don't see how having a thread like that, where the questioner obviously isn't taking on board the suggestions of the majority ESPECIALLY when we are talking about something like child abuse, is doing anything other than causing grar at this stage. Frankly, I would not be surprised if someone went ahead and reported this case to whatever relevant authorities at this stage (note - I live in a completely different country. I have no interest in reporting her. But how does this not fall under mandatory reporting of suspicion of harm to a child under US law?)
posted by Megami at 1:13 AM on January 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


cairdeas: Having someone ask you something on Metafilter is kind of like a stranger asking you in a bar, or on a train. Much of the time, it is obviously not ideal. But I think it is possible to give someone something worthwhile in those situations, if you are, for whatever reason, the person who they have picked to ask. We are all just human beings. You don't have to be an expert in order to give a worthwhile perspective on very straightforward questions about child safety.

You know, i think this is uncharitable to what this site is though. Yea, this is the internet and everyone could be a dog or whatever... but i like to think of this place as more of the bar near our house that we all hang out at. Not just some random bar.

Sometimes it's busy and you don't know everyone there. Sometimes it's just the regulars you always see on a tuesday night. There's some people who only ever sit in the back near the pool tables or out on the patio just reading and smoking. Sometimes some guy you've only seen once or twice butts into a conversation, and you realize he's like the janitor from scrubs character in your day and a complete expert on that obscure thing.

But most of the time, no, it isn't just like asking some absolute stranger. Even if you only really kinda-know a few of the people, you recognize a lot of them.

I don't really know entirely where i was going with this, but i just don't like it whenever someone asking a question on this site who has a semi-established account is equated with just asking a bunch of random strangers. Because it's not, it's a completely new type of social interaction that only really exists online. It's more personal than seeing someone in a bar once or twice a week since you can read tons of stuff by them and get a good idea of where they stand on things, maybe a bit of what they're like, how their personality seems to be. But at the same time it's less personal.

Definitely not just strangers though. Just because we wouldn't recognize each other if we passed on the sidewalk doesn't mean we're strangers.

Fuckin', future is whack, yo.
posted by emptythought at 1:23 AM on January 24, 2014 [19 favorites]


My view is, ultimately, the OP needed a check as to how off the wall her ex's behavior was. I have a feeling from the updates that the OP wasn't aware that this is in CPS territory, and with a wall of people shouting that yes, it was CPS territory, you got a pretty predictable wall of upset.

I'm glad the OP got to ask the question. Far better that she gets the 311 the behavior is ARGH NO NO NO at thus juncture than later, or not at all.
posted by angrycat at 4:27 AM on January 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


If it wasn't obvious to anyone with the perspective and judgement to see whether this was something AskMe is and is not capable of doing responsibly, that fucking thread should have made it abundantly clear. Our intrepid poster did not need a bunch of aggressively judgmental internet strangers lacking basic relevant competence, or a social network for triggerable not-friends, but a (second? fuck if we know) mandated reporter with a license to lose if they fucked up, at least a basic knowledge of family law, and an ability to call the police. Fuck how much trouble metafilter could get in with the media, or the law, or whatever and fuck the voyeuristic entitlement these questions attract. There is undoubtedly a real kid who may be in real trouble we have zero real ability to asses, and less ability to address, yet we've put ourselves in a position where that kid is relying on our necessarily incompetent advice along with our aggressively shitty 'support' for her mother.

Medical AskMes have already resulted in far worse things than us 'getting in trouble,' we don't need to add sexual abuse of children to the list.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:00 AM on January 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


yet we've put ourselves in a position where that kid is relying on our necessarily incompetent advice along with our aggressively shitty 'support' for her mother.

You give us far, far too much credit. The kid is relying on her parents. At least one of the kid's parents has a psychologist and a lawyer and other IRL people, in addition to askme. While you're asking people here to have some perspective, please also do so yourself.
posted by rtha at 5:17 AM on January 24, 2014 [16 favorites]


I'm glad that thread stayed up.


When someone needs perspective-and the poster of that thread needed it, knew she needed it and came to us for it-I think it is more than fine for this community to help her with that. We have a wide range of types of people here-and she knows that, presumably-and the fact our voices came together to point her in the direction of healthy perspective is a good thing, in my opinion.

I like to say that the internet is just for cat pictures, but that isn't really true. Sometimes it's for stuff like this. Uncomfortable? Yes, but sometimes that's just part of life. We can deal or skip the thread.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:43 AM on January 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's unfortunate that seeing this question and the poster's later updates cause some people serious pain. That's not a reason to ban it. The poster and her kid need help. Other people in similar situations who can read the thread and answers need help too.

That thread's existence isn't harmful. The poster has already talked to experts, such as the child psychologist. This was not enough to convince her to take sufficient action to protect her child. Deleting the thread would not have made things better. From her most recent update it sounds like she is going to talk to a lawyer, who will hopefully give her sounder advice.

Medical AskMes have already resulted in far worse things than us 'getting in trouble,'

Which questions do you mean, specifically? Are you saying someone was seriously harmed by a medical question here? Who and how?
posted by grouse at 6:03 AM on January 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


the mom's reaction could be because she overstated the issue in her question to get a specific response to relay to her ex to get him to do the thing she wanted him to do - lock up his porn stash - once she received that she didn't need the thread anymore. that was honestly my initial impression from the question which was only strengthened by her followups.
posted by nadawi at 6:22 AM on January 24, 2014 [14 favorites]


I more or less abandoned the thread after I posted my answer, but I went back and read her follow-ups just now and I'm not sure I see where she overstated - she seems pretty clear in her initial post and at least one of the follow-ups that the ex isn't just being "oh lemme leave my porn lying around" but is (or was, I guess) wanting to use the porn to teach the kid about sex.
posted by rtha at 6:32 AM on January 24, 2014


Sometimes it seem hard to believe exactly how much is not immediately apparent to someone else when it seems so utterly obvious ourselves.

People need the perspective of others. This woman did. I'm glad she was able to talk to someone about this, as rough as it was.

Being nasty when someone asks for help because you judge it to be unacceptable that they didn't just know how to handle it in the first place is unnecessary, cruel and in many cases unhelpful.
posted by h00py at 6:35 AM on January 24, 2014 [11 favorites]


rtha - yeah - that's the part i think she's overstating. as i said in my comment in the thread, i wonder if the situation was more:
"ex, lock up your porn"
"nah, it's hidden well enough."
"what if suzie finds it??"
"even if she does kids have been finding porn for a very long time and they're fine"
"omg my ex wants to show my little girl porn to teach her about sex!"

she never responded to repeated requests about how the conversation had gone, what his plans were, how the psychiatrist responded, what they thought she should do, etc. she seemed far more focused the entire time that the porn be locked up, not that her husband was preying on their daughter. either she's incredibly dim or we don't have the whole story and her focus has been the locking up because that was the point in the first place.

maybe i'm wrong, maybe she's releasing her daughter into a lifetime of sexual abuse. i know how this stuff goes down - i'm at least 4 generations in of repeated familial sexual abuse - i know that mothers and other caretakers not seeing what's right in front of their faces is how abuse carries on. i'm just saying that for me, something about the way she phrased her question and followed up makes me feel like she wasn't shooting entirely straight with us.
posted by nadawi at 6:42 AM on January 24, 2014 [21 favorites]


jayder: “I didn't see anything awful in that thread. Could someone point me to comments that are objectionable?”

Awful things in Ask, as a general rule, are deleted. Look for [small bracketed type] for mod messages about deletions; these will generally give an indication of what was deleted and why.

Reading the mod messages in the thread, it sounds like most of the awful stuff was of the "poster, you are a terrible person because you aren't doing enough to help your child!" variety.
posted by koeselitz at 7:00 AM on January 24, 2014


I'm uncomfortable with people yelling at the OP. I'm also uncomfortable with constructing behind-the-scenes scenarios about what has gone down. If nothing else, it invites a lot of scrutiny of the OPs posting history, and I think the OP has gotten enuf grief already.
posted by angrycat at 7:36 AM on January 24, 2014 [11 favorites]


People who ask personal relations questions on Ask.Me are unreliable narrators. People who answer personal relations questions on Ask.Me are answering questions through the filter of their own baggage. I don't know that any metafilter policy or moderation strategy is going to fix that.

I read the question, but not the thread. My initial reaction was horrified. I could not believe that a woman whose ex wanted to share porn with their child under the pretext of teaching the child about healthy sexual relationships needed to be told this was a dangerous situation.

My second reaction was calmer. I am a child of the 70's who had a friend with hippie parents who let us have sleep-overs in the basement which was stocked with The Joy of Sex and other hippie porn, which my friend had been told she should ask about if she was curious. While some of us were uncomfortable and all of us (even the daughter of hippie parents) thought that was super weird and a little gross (we were 12), none of us ever had our selves or our boundaries abused in that house.

My third reaction was that I had no advice for that woman because I had no idea where her situation fell on a continuum of "acrimonious split and my ex's attitude toward porn in the house is freaking me out" and "imminent danger to a child that needs strong professional intercession immediately". The question indicated that there was a therapist and lawyers already involved, so I felt like there was nothing to offer beyond: continuing listening to your professionals and following their advice as you seek guidance through this situation and be vigilant that your child is not harmed.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:40 AM on January 24, 2014 [15 favorites]


something about the way she phrased her question and followed up makes me feel like she wasn't shooting entirely straight with us.

Seemed less like Not Shooting Straight and more like Not Realizing The Full Depth of the Accusation she was leveling. She just wanted a chorus of "Yeah what an idiot! He is wrong you are right!" And for good reason. And she got it. And the outcome seems like it was positive. So, cool. Looks like a success story for AskMe if you ask me.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:46 AM on January 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


One of the most important things I learned from doing domestic abuse counseling is to know your limitations. It was drilled into our heads that we couldn't stop abuse or change the world. People could walk about the door and continue to make bad decisions and there was nothing we could do about it. It's all the more so in a community like this.

We need to remember there's no way to know what's actually going on. She could be changing facts to protect her identity or to find out something that she thinks would be useful to her and the child. We'll never know. We're not here to solve her real-life problems with her ex. We're just here to answer her questions.

We overestimate our abilities to read a situation if we believe get the full picture. It's easy to fill in the gaps with what we think could be going on, based on our own experiences and her past questions.

I can imagine that she was quite frustrated to the response to her followups. She let the community know she heard us, and she got highly critical feedback. Members told her that her support team might not be qualified and questioned why she had not taken action sooner, and others repeated what had already been said. There were a few great exceptions. But it was almost as if the community put her on trial.

I recently asked a family question on metafilter and it wasn't all that helpful. I understand the community urge to solve problems but that's not why individuals turn to the internet with questions. As a community we need to be aware of our limitations.
posted by vincele at 7:58 AM on January 24, 2014 [31 favorites]


I'd like to clarify what I wrote here:

I understand the community urge to solve problems but that's not why individuals turn to the internet with questions.

Some people do turn to the internet for just that, but that is not what askme is for. When members ask the community for help with personal problems, their posts can get deleted if they write long unfocused posts without a clear question, or if they threadsit. When you think of it, we ask a lot of the asker.

It's worth pointing out that the burden is not so heavy for community members. Everyone gets her say as long as it's on-topic. So x question becomes a place to share experiences and raise awareness about y or the consequences of not doing z. That's not so useful, and there's not much the asker can do about it based on the structure of the site.

In this case, the OP followed guidelines. She asked specific questions and she provided narrowly-focused followups based on the answers she received. But the community responded as if it were trying to solve what it believed to be "the real problem."

The slippage between problem/question and the unequal burdens on asker/answerer (community) are things we need to think about, especially the second one.

Ok, that's all I have to say. Sorry for two long posts.
posted by vincele at 9:26 AM on January 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


That's not so useful, and there's not much the asker can do about it based on the structure of the site.

To me, this has been tremendously useful, so long as the commenter is answering the question, and comments that don't answer the stated question typically get deleted (and rightfully so). The extra information or personal story helps me understand why the commenter is answering in a particular way, which may or may not be similar to circumstances the asker has not included for whatever reason. Context is everything.
posted by mochapickle at 9:53 AM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Upon first reading, I wondered if the question was fake - it seemed to so perfectly hit so many askme hot buttons. Looking that the asker had a history with other revealing questions about the daughter, I then became worried that the disclosure could come back to bite them.

Finally, I wondered if the ex was more doing this to troll the mom - from prior questions (as other commentators pointed out) it seemed like he had a history of manipulation in that regard.

Through all of that deliberation, I was certain that I wasn't comfortable putting an answer in the thread. I guess askmetafilter works because not everyone feels that way about questions like this, but I totally understand the hesitation about this being 'right' for Metafilter. Ideally, I guess, we were able to snap someone out of a worldview that had been warped far from the norm due to an abusive relationship. Worst case scenario, a dad loses custody of his daughter over a statement misinterpreted by his ex and her attorneys. Either way, the stakes are too high for me to participate.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:12 AM on January 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


That's not the worst case scenario here.
posted by grouse at 11:13 AM on January 24, 2014 [21 favorites]


Worst case scenario, a dad loses custody of his daughter over a statement misinterpreted by his ex and her attorneys

My son was about 7 when he asked how girls go pee and where babies come from and the usual. Not a big deal. And so, we (my now wife and I) busted out some anatomy pictures from the internet and gave some explanations and that was that. A couple days later, he goes to visitation with his mom.

A few days after that, CPS arrives with the police and has to have that talk with us, and the boy and the school and so on. And then a process server shows up and mom's filed a(nother) motion to get full custody and all that - and well, you know.

Now, yeah, that was a pattern with her. That was probably the 5th or 6th time I've had CPS over for coffee - and I don't even know how many times she had called the cops on me. It was a lot. I got custody when the boy was 3 1/2 and never lost it despite all that, so, you know, it was just so much bullshit.

So, yeah. The woman in that question ? I dunno. I don't even want to think about it. If my son had said just the wrong thing, or if his mother had been just a bit more credible...

What a goddamned mess.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:39 AM on January 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


That's not the worst case scenario here.

My language wasn't clear, I meant, the worst possible misinterpretation by trying-to-be-helpful mefites. In other words, the worst case scenario for misuse of ask metafilter. Obviously, sexual abuse such as potentially described in the question is terrible.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:21 PM on January 24, 2014


If Ms. Bellum is out there, reading this, I hope she finds the strength to do what she needs to do to set her world right.

I am glad she posted, especially because there will now be a record of this discussion when some gloogles up the question. It is a crisis situation and deserves an appropriate crisis response, rather than any interwebtube psychoanalysis. Kudos to the responses that advised getting help, not so much other responses.

I have an eight year old daughter and feel very strongly about the scenario described.
posted by valentinepig at 12:28 PM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


The context is that the asker was asking if she should seek legal intervention, and when the answer was a resounding "YES" the asker did and wrote other things not congruent with their own stated intent of determining whether it was time to call their lawyer or not.

I didn't see the deleted comments, but it's not hard to imagine they were reacting to the disconnect in the updates.

It wasn't a huge surprise when it turned out the OP had used a wall of concerned MeFite comments during an IRL (and undisclosed to the thread) DIY custody negotiation.

Honest questions and misunderstanding in Ask's deserve all the compassion we can muster. It's OK to note that this Ask was weird and hinky as it unfolded to the (inadvertent?) disclosure the whole thing was not as originally stated in the Ask.

I'm done with this here.
posted by jbenben at 12:53 PM on January 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Which questions do you mean, specifically? Are you saying someone was seriously harmed by a medical question here? Who and how?

If the reference is to what I think it is this is probably a discussion best had over memail. At best it would be a huge derail. At worst I believe it's a discussion people were asked not to have.

I could be wrong on all of the above.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:09 PM on January 24, 2014


I find the idea that we shouldn't be able to discuss some topics because of secret reasons incredibly problematic.
posted by grouse at 1:14 PM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I didn't see the deleted comments, but it's not hard to imagine they were reacting to the disconnect in the updates.

I'm really not trying to be weird about this but you made three of the deleted comments (out of ten total) and you're continuing to make comments about the content of what you saw as wrong about the AskMe thread in this thread, something I've specifically asked people not to do.

It wasn't a huge surprise when it turned out the OP had used a wall of concerned MeFite comments during an IRL (and undisclosed to the thread) DIY custody negotiation.

I'm now completely confused here. Do you know something about this situation that you are alluding to but not telling people? Or are you doing some sort of a close read of the situation that is causing you to read things into a situation that we have very little actual information about?

I find the idea that we shouldn't be able to discuss some topics because of secret reasons incredibly problematic.

It's not secret. People have strong feelings about some high profile AskMes including at least one member suicide and some other challenging mental illness threads. I'm not sure which ones are being referred to specifically, but my feeling is that bringing them up here as if they are specific evidence when they're still hotly disputed would not only be a mistake, it would be disrepectful to the conversation we're already having. People can make their own decisions, but there's a different between "secret" and "maybe not a great idea to talk about right here, right now"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:27 PM on January 24, 2014 [11 favorites]


I don't really have a problem with not discussing the specifics right here. But if the specifics can't be discussed, they don't have any persuasive value.
posted by grouse at 1:33 PM on January 24, 2014


Well, and notably it's not something mods brought up in the first place, for persuasion or otherwise. What she said, in other words.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:34 PM on January 24, 2014


It's not what mods have said that I have an issue with. Sorry I didn't make that clearer.
posted by grouse at 1:37 PM on January 24, 2014


It's so incredibly difficult to answer questions like that.

There's no way we, behind our computers, in our very different lives and houses, our very different schedules, involving far fewer regular meetings with lawyers and CPS agents and psychiatrists and psychologists, can really understand the sum total of context that SarahBellum has to deal with on a daily basis, can never know all the nuances of the problems she's facing, can never know all the details she's managing.

I guess it's courageous to try to answer the question. I thought about it and eventually decided not to.

But I think it's right for folks to use AskMe to try to get a bead on what a normal kind of reaction to a situation is. We often get caught up in weird alternate realities and we're not always well grounded enough to know the way out or even which way is up when it gets really intense and difficult.
posted by kalessin at 1:43 PM on January 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is a good case study in Internet solutionism.

If you genuinely want to intervene to stop child abuse, there's vastly more effective ways to do it than writing 10 comments in all-caps in a Metafilter thread. For example.

Why not consider like a real-world intervention instead of a keyboard-based one? It maybe doesn't feel as immediate and thrilling as a real-time interaction with OP, but it's actually going to help real kids, as opposed to making fuck-all impact on anything.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:26 PM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you genuinely want to intervene to stop child abuse, there's vastly more effective ways to do it than writing 10 comments in all-caps in a Metafilter thread. For example.

Why not consider like a real-world intervention instead of a keyboard-based one? It maybe doesn't feel as immediate and thrilling as a real-time interaction with OP, but it's actually going to help real kids, as opposed to making fuck-all impact on anything.


Your comment just there actually might drive people to follow more effective methods of intervening, in which case your comment wasn't an ineffective way to make fuck-all impact on anything. Or maybe it won't. You say your peace and hopefully it helps someone, I think.
posted by davejay at 4:51 PM on January 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Why not consider like a real-world intervention instead of a keyboard-based one?

For the same reason you're making the keyboard-based Save the Children suggestion to us instead of going outside and making it to people on the street?
posted by cairdeas at 5:07 PM on January 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


The responses from the OP there seem completely reasonable. If it were a MeTa is say we should close it up but AskMe doesn't work that way. It feels like further responses are just late to the party.
posted by maryr at 6:34 PM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I want to say that I am SUPER sensitive regarding how difficult it is to moderate highly emotional AskMe's like this one. I don't envy the gig the moderators have. It's a lot of responsibility.

I originally said up top that I was surprised the controversy in that thread wasn't shut down earlier. I also stated further down in the comment I thought that mod intervention maybe should have happened because the well-being of an 8 year old was the focus. The OP's updates were derailing the thread from the "asked and answered" point.

Specifically, it seemed like a lot of commenters were mimicking scenarios from their own childhoods, where they themselves had complained of abuse, but were functionally unheard.

Reading the thread, I felt it would have been fairly easy and reasonable when the pile-on started to add a sidebar that acknowledged both the commenters' and the OP's positions were noted and valid by simply reminding BOTH sides that the original question was asked and answered. The OP was flying off in one direction, the commenters in another. It gave me the squicks.

Actually, only 2 of my later comments after the DIY negotiation agreement update were deleted, the third was an accidental re-post that I flagged myself.

After about 20 or 30 comments in, it was very clear the vague updates from the OP were spinning people up. As stated in my first comment in this MeTa, an acknowledgement from the OP that her question was "asked and answered" would have gone a long way to shut down the shouty.

At almost the 80th comment, the OP's update:

"Thank you to everyone.

After a VERY difficult interaction involving telling her that I could not allow him to visit with her again until I had an agreement in writing, I have a signed document from him saying he will not show her porn.

He even admitted that - perhaps - his views on this issue need to change. That is amazing.
posted by SarahBellum at 5:13 PM on January 22"


It's not a "close reading" that the update relating the news of DIY custody agreement contained some questionable or misuse of pronouns and did not involve the "team" the OP touted. No amount of backtracking by the OP negates that.

The subject matter was too serious to let the usual playing out of threads go on when a simple "simmer down" + restating of the facts (asked and answered!) might have backed the whole thing into rational territory well well before that twist update by the OP.

Hindsight is 20/20. In my 2nd comment in that thread which got deleted, I expressed concern the OP's team had not already directed her towards a dispassionate solution involving her lawyer.

Asked and answered. The rest derailed the OP and the community.

It doesn't have to go down like this the next time, if there is one.

It's very on point for mods to direct Asker's to relevant professional intervention, rather than let it degenerate into a conflict in thread, whenever the serious issues of suicide OR child abuse are up for debate.

Truly, neither issue should ever really be, "up for debate," in an AskMe thread.

This is something to consider thoughtfully as we go forward as a community.

Thank you.
posted by jbenben at 9:05 PM on January 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


To clarify:

Of course suicide and child abuse can be subjects of AskMe questions, but when it gets hot and heated - professional help is out there and internet commenters are not professionals.

I'm not advocating the banning of such topics. They are an important part of the green! However, there is a point where professionals take over and internet strangers are not helpful.

Hope that is now clear.
posted by jbenben at 9:17 PM on January 24, 2014


In my 2nd comment in that thread which got deleted, I expressed concern the OP's team had not already directed her towards a dispassionate solution involving her lawyer.

Yeah, you told the OP that she needs a better lawyer and unless her therapist was telling her something very, very specific about the OP's "real" intentions, framed in your own words, then she needed to dump the therapist, too, and now you are relaying how moderation on the site should be done to your specifications as well, and using not-so-coded language to suggest the OP has been lying. You also peppered that deleted comment with rude imperatives and disrespectful framing.

I believe you do want to honestly help, but sometimes you overstep yourself, become hyper-focused and insistent on your own version of events, and tend to come across as overbearing and dictatorial, which causes problems in Ask Metafilter when you insist on "tough love" advice that can read a lot more like bullying than helping, which is why that comment was deleted.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:48 AM on January 25, 2014 [25 favorites]


This.
posted by the.carol.baxter.experience at 1:46 AM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, the thread was terribly upsetting, and the shoutiness, in my mind, was ill-considered, but well-intentioned.

The OP, for whom my heart breaks, communicated a kind of off, disconnected affect in her question and clarifications, which to me, seems like a symptom/hangover of the abuse she's suffered -- and she maybe does not realize that. She did mention working on getting over the years spent with this person, but it's possible her trauma runs so deep that she's still thinking of the ex as an idiot, not a systematic abusive sicko, which is what he sounds like to me. She's not a bad mother, that thought never crossed my mind, but I did wonder about her ability to assess the situation, and I wondered about the professional and personal support system that isn't acting swiftly and decisively to protect child and mother. I think folks were trying to "wake her up," and it came across as judgement.

Complex, harsh situation that the OP chose to share publicly ignited complex and passionate reactions. I truly didn't see anyone being mean (absent deletions).
posted by thinkpiece at 6:50 AM on January 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


tend to come across as overbearing and dictatorial

How could you see that wood in those trees?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:53 AM on January 25, 2014


I'm going to write this comment in the event that anyone is still reading in the hopes that this is something metafilter can do better. Not because metafilter is bad for not being an expert at supporting people in crisis situations (because that should be the assumed default) but because the better the general public is educated about these issues the better it is for anyone anywhere turning trying to navigate a system that is often failing them while coping with PTSD and the after affects of mindf*cks abusive people have played on them that and where the stakes literally can be children (and adults) being permanently traumatized or physically injured.

Human instincts do not supply the kind of long term and in depth thinking required to do the sort of thinking an outsider would think- BUT the kind of thinking an outside has about what is safe in these situations is itself often wrong. A lot of commenters simultaneously pressumed she needed to be using the system to keep her child more safe however she is already plugged into the system and what commenters are actually seeing is that our system itself is ineffective and a crude imperfect and sometimes ACTIVELY HARMFUL tool for helping in these situations.

Many of the comments imply simultaneously that she should be MORE TRUSTING of CPS and the courts to keep her child safe while telling her that she should be less trusting of the professionals she is already working with.

Which is it, does a professional title confer a responsibility for non-professionals to obey and trust or do we have a right and responsibility to think through the actions and objective and bias and classism and sexism and ablism that permeates "the system" that is supposed to be serving people in this situation and do our best to keep our children safe given that involvement with beuarocratic organizations can often NOT AT ALL have the interests of children at heart and rather have the interests of maintaining the ideologies of the bureaucracy and the prevention of being sued or social retaliation or losing a job etc etc come into play in decision making.

Professionals get jaded. Professionals have personal issues. Professionals have secondary trauma and get numb to seeing really awful behavior on a regular basis. Professionals often get used to facing situations in which they are helpless and there is terrible horrific suffering they want to stop but can't (not matter what because removals are painful for children as well) and get used to making painful decisions and become "impartial" to taking actions that seriously damage those involved.
This is not because they are bad people, it is because these are terrible situations and there are no easy answers. Sometimes they over or under react but there was really know what given the information they had they could have made an accurate decision to begin with.

When you're the parent of one of these children I would say you do NOT have an obligation to obey a harmful recommendation from a professional- neither do you have an obligation to follow a harmful recommendation from people on the internet with either intense personal baggage about the situation in question or no knowledge of the situation at all.

I don't think mefites are bad for not being domestic violence counselors, nor do I think they are bad for wanting to offer some advice. I do however think sometimes people's confidence in their answer as more right that the OP's to the degree of insulting her is a bit much. Yes many of us here have been through abusive situations and read books and received counseling (and some advice as a result of that is FANTASTIC and worth finding) but you can convey your PERCEIVED ideas about what the OP could do without blasting her with insults for how she's been coping with or understanding this thus far.

After all every mefite that has experience with this was once naive and too trusting as well, and they learned the hard way and to pretend that someone screaming insults at you (or making you feel more accountable or making you understand how much you're at fault if you do it wrong) would helped you get out of it sooner is a fantasy that often makes these situations worse and can actively become abusive- and abusive survivors with internalized guilt about having "let themselves be abused" can often be the worst offenders of this because they feel they have an innate right to badger other survivors for how they handle things in the interest of "helping". This can quite literally exacerbate long term emotional issues as a result of abuse and the aftermath of processing ones self and ones actions and picking up the pieces.

I have worked with families in crisis, dealing with homelessness and addiction- I've been present for (needed) removals- and I've also seen non-abusive parents be held to more scrutiny and blame for the other parents abuse than the abuser themselves (who will often manage to maintain custody and make the reporting parent look like a vengeful fake accuser) and assuming that removing ALL custody from an abusive parent is as easy as making a phone call and reporting they said something disturbing is not at all how it works unless you have a LOT of money and a good lawyer and the other person doesn't and you have a lot of evidence to demonstrate that your claims are accurate.

While good legal advice is what everyone needs in these situations, legal advice is not cheap and neither is it always good. Hence why checking in with other people about professionals you're working with is a perfectly reasonable and respectable thing to do.

These situations ARE scary and the consequences of not doing it right can be terrible. Emotions should be high, why wouldn't people care very much about others wellbeing especially if a child is involved? But sometimes a person has been using the system exactly as well as they can at present and working on a long term strategy is exaclty what they need to be doing.

Because if you rush to action to "save the child" and that results in an abusive parent using that against her to get MORE custody, that could cause worse harm than playing it safe, praying to the likely non-existant heavens for any blessings they might arse themselves to send down to us suffering mortals to keep your child safe, and working on a strategy to remove or reduce custody, or get supervised custody in a longer term strategy.

It is also really commong for people up next to abusers- including professionals sometimes- to have thismisperception that "keeping an eye on things" and using their own tools to manage dangerous people or help them become non-dangerous is a thing that will work. This perception is there because sometimes people do make changes. We all probably know people who have done some awful things somewhere in the past and yet here they are- for better or worse and seem to have grown and reflected and are an emotionally capable empathetic person at present. Most of us really want to make these situations ok and hope for redemotion for people who have done wrong-- unfortunately with certain personality styles/ideologies/abusive traits this is not necessarily the best way to handle the situation. It runs counter to most of our natures of goodwill and forgiveness and figuring out that no-- this is NOT a person you can do the extra chances with is a new and different thing for most of us with in tact empathy who don't want to harm others even when they make mistakes. Often what people mean by "accountability" is punishment and consequences and some of us don't have that view of accountability. I don't think punishing a person who is disabled for not being able to do a thing is anything but abusive and "accountability" that essentially means blaming people for not functioning better is not a value system a lot of people like to participate in.

Abuse throws a lot of really good compassionate practices people extent to each other all out of whack and it's very hard to figure out what is going on or what to do about it and change your whole value system to make it ok to do something horrible to someone else- like removing custody of their child- and be ok with it and see it as morally correct to be the one carrying out this harm. It can be the right thing when abuse is involved but defining abuse is complex and a large portion of people think their ex is "abusive" basically for things like being poor or having PTSD or being emotionally needy and undersupported- all of which can harm children but are really NOT the same thing as verbally or physically or sexually attacking a child and often can be worked with if we had a system that offered extensive and evidence based support to low income parents with needs for extensive support.

We don't actually WANT a system that removes children on the word of an ex saying the other parent said something disturbing. As a mefite mentioned above, the consequences if we were to take every accusation of abuse as worthy of removing children immediately could be devastating for the falsly accused and as an adoptee removed at birth who found my family and find them in innate part of who I am- I do not think the loss to the child of severing ties with their parents is a non-issue as many in American culture often think- that ancestry is meaningless and can easily be replaced by just about any nice person. That is true for some but not for others. In the case of abuse OF COURSE severing ties can be better, but we have a very imperfect court system that is not all that accurate at generate proof of what abuse isgoing on and has to make horrific decisions with far too little information. Asking parents to trust that process to work out "fairly" or in the interest of their child in particular is not really how the system actually works in practice. I'd like it to work better, but families have to work with what is.

I'm not actually writing this as any sort of "here is how to do this better"-- it's more of a- here are some ideas and food for thought that could at least help people think about the complexity of these situations beyond their black and white emotional reactions about immediate and correct solutions.

People in these situations are going to turn to their families and communities for support and I think peers and communities SHOULD have a role in these things and that role- and having a complex udnerstanding of how to provide the best advice a non-professional can- is important. I didn't speckle this post with research mainly because this topic exhausts me but it strikes me that I might should since evidence based solutions and understandings are often very helpful in coming to a better understanding of complex phenomena. They are imperfect and sometimes utterly wrong tools for understanding but it can still be helpful to examine the available research with a critical eye.

Think about how metafilter just plowed this woman over with accusations of poor judgement and low capacity to look out for the interests of her children-- THE COURT HANDLES ABUSE ACCUSATIONS SIMILARLY. Either seeing those who make them as suspects themselves, or using the person accusing their partners abuse lack of firm actions previously as proof either they were "part of the abuse" as well and therefore the parents are both equally fit to parent (or unfit basically but the effect is still allowing the abuser custody or unsupervised visits) or using the accusation as a sign the other parent must have sinister intentions and delving into any mistake they may have made in their story to proove they have sinister intentions in making such accusations. The courts are not a place where actual justice happens, they are a tool that we have in place which works better than every person for themselves at present but that has plenty of room for improvement and that makes errors and that sometimes makes things WORSE for the people it claims to serve.

A skilled lawyer can navigate this imperfect system much better- but a lawyer is often not given the task of "doing what is right" or even "serving child welfare" their task is to serve their client whether their client is good for their child or not and using whatever means they legally can to get their client what they want without regard for the child's actual welfare. These things can get very nasty and have nothing to do with the child involved. Lawyers themselves deal with lot's of angry parents making lot's of accusations of the other parent of poor parenting or abusive parenting styles and and they themselves are imperfect and have biases sometimes in favor of "imperfect" parents being given visitation no matter what. Like all professionals, a good lawyer(as per your own definitions and needs) is something you have to find, not something innate to hiring any lawyer.

The professionals this woman is working with might in fact HAVE some knowledge of that reality so to discount their expertise entirely without justification other than "I've been abused and I got out!" or "I know nothing about this but I feel strongly about it!" is not a sign of actually having a specific reason these professionals should be discounted. In fact a lawyer would probably be useful to have BEFORE reporting to CPS because once CPS is involved everyone is a suspect including the parent reporting.
posted by xarnop at 9:49 AM on January 25, 2014 [15 favorites]


Wow, I'm a parent and I don't even know how to begin answering that question. For as much as Tanazaki annoys the crap out of me, their advice on staying clear of askme's that you are not an expert on seems REALLY REALLY apt in this case.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:21 AM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


The responses from the OP there seem completely reasonable.

Well, I think therein lies the crux of the situation. I think any reader's response is going to hinge on whether or not they share this impression. Taking it a level further, whether or not they share this impression may depend on whether or not they have witnessed abuse or known an abuser.

I realize that I don't know the OP, and I'm only reading her responses on a screen (it's entirely possible she's only sharing a tiny bit of what's actually going on). But they errily reminded me, even using some of the same words, of what I heard from a woman who allowed abuse of her children to continue for years, making excuses for the father to the children. Even after the father was out of the picture, she wouldn't allow the children to say anything negative about their father "because he's still a part of you." It took a lot of years and a lot of work for the woman to repair her relationship with her children. (Of course, she had been abused herself.)

I have nothing but sympathy for the OP. She's been put in a terrible position, and I totally agree that comments calling her names or including personal insults or accusations needed to be removed ASAP. Personally, I don't see the comments that remain as "piling on;" I see them as an army standing behind her and her daughter while she walks out of the underworld. But, of course, it's impossible for me to separate that from my own RL experience, so I know that MMV.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:52 PM on January 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


jbenben: It's very on point for mods to direct Asker's to relevant professional intervention, rather than let it degenerate into a conflict in thread, whenever the serious issues of suicide OR child abuse are up for debate.

You know, the more i think about this the more i think this was the right answer.

What was the point of letting that thread rack up nearly 200 comments? A lot of the responses are not only essentially "me too!" duplicates, but pretty armchair quarterback-ish while also making a lot of unfounded, or even uncharitable assumptions that paint in large swaths of the unknown with projections from their own experiences or imaginations. The whole thing was just a bunch of wheel spinning in the snow, in a far higher percentage than it should of been. That kind of thing is unavoidable in ask threads because you can never have all the details and don't know anyone involved, but the high levels of that in combination with the upsetting subject matter just kind of brought out the worst possible response.

I really wish more of this discussion right now was about how this sort of thing will be handled in the future. No thread needs 200 people saying the same thing and hammering the OP who's already in a tough situation basically going "DID YOU DO IT YET??? DID YOU???". It's like the worst aspects of reddit type "op will deliver" badgering.

And i know i'm not alone in seeing the absolute worst of the human trafficking thread in this. This is not a "victory" for MeFi, even if it ends up having a positive outcome for the OP in the end. There's just too much gross "internet justice squad!" to this for me.

Basically, no, we are not an army standing behind her. We're just a bunch of sad fools on the internet who don't know half the details screaming at her to do it RIGHT NOW and do it exactly our way.

I also think Taz's response to you was unusually assholey for a mod on here, and is definitely readable as an outright personal attack. What the fuck? I mean i'm happy this isnt some site like a lot of other messageboards where i'd get banned for "mod sass" for saying that or whatever, but jesus.

I do not think it's wrong at all to say that you wish a multi-hundred comment pile on thread had been deleted if there isn't the facility within the site to close it, and that a meta had just been posted going "this was deleted and here's why. If the OP wants to post an update with the outcome to MeTa they can".

I mean i'm not telling you guys how to drive the bus here, but there is definitely a more ideal solution than that war torn battlefield of a thread where people are shouting over eachother to say the same things or even argue with eachother in slightly roundabout ways that may or may not technically pass the bar of "giving advice, not arguing with other posters duh!".

Dunno. I almost didn't post this. I just think that currently the responses to that thread are almost as upsetting as the actual OPs situation. It's like someone posted "i'm at work and i just found out my house is on fire and my daughter is upstairs, what should i do?" and everyone just screamed at eachother. The wishy-washy unclear updates from the OP that everyone read way too much into just cause more fighting, and then there's never any real resolution as to whether the house burned down or the daughters ok. I don't even know what should we do in these sorts of situations, but this isn't it.

Oh well, i'm basically repeating myself at this point. Fuck it.
posted by emptythought at 8:12 PM on January 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


We have mods. We have a website that has rolled along for years, with as few restrictions as possible and mods that guide with a deft touch that has made this a shining beacon of semicivility compared to the morass that is the rest of the internet.

My recommendation is that we all accept it the way it is. I am always dismayed when someone comes along and demands that this place be something different than what it is. You want more control, start your own website.


I don't mean that in a mean way but I do mean it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:00 PM on January 25, 2014 [10 favorites]


I also think Taz's response to you was unusually assholey for a mod on here, and is definitely readable as an outright personal attack. What the fuck?

Uh, yeah. Is it now a thing for mods to, publicly in front of the entire userbase, and apropos of nothing, direct outright, personal attacks on users about all their grievances about that person?

I mean if it is, so be it, but then it will be really weird to see mods get frustrated when that goes back in the other direction.
posted by cairdeas at 10:01 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


emptythought: "I also think Taz's response to you was unusually assholey for a mod on here, and is definitely readable as an outright personal attack. What the fuck? I mean i'm happy this isnt some site like a lot of other messageboards where i'd get banned for "mod sass" for saying that or whatever, but jesus."

cairdeas: Uh, yeah. Is it now a thing for mods to, publicly in front of the entire userbase, and apropos of nothing, direct outright, personal attacks on users about all their grievances about that person? I mean if it is, so be it, but then it will be really weird to see mods get frustrated when that goes back in the other direction."

Are we reading the same thread here? I'm honestly baffled by this weird accusation that taz's comment was a "personal attack" on jbenben. jbenben said one of their comments had been deleted. taz explained why, and gave some ways that could have been avoided.

Yes, this is a thing that mods do around here; they frequently say things like "you, user_x, have a tendency to get fighty with people on the issue of moustaches," or "you, user_y, have been getting into flame wars about dental hygiene, and it needs to stop." Yes, sometimes they do this "publicly," in Metatalk. That is part of how the moderation here works. They try to be direct, honest, and open, in a way that is neither insulting nor overly nice in a fake way. And I personally really appreciate that style of moderation. It takes some guts and some willingness to swallow emotions and be fair, and taz, like the other mods, is damned good at it.

I mean, we're talking about comments that were deleted. taz said they were deleted for being overbearing and for framing things in a way that talked down to the poster. Are you guys claiming that she's lying when she says that? Or are you saying that she shouldn't be allowed to discuss deletions that jbenben brought up in the first place? Or what are you saying?

I gather what's going on here is something that often happens when things like this are being escalated. Sometimes it's hard to get a read on the emotional underpinnings of a comment because it's just bare text; and a flat, honest recitation of the reasons why a comment was deleted can read a lot like an implicit insult. But really, if you go back and read taz's comment, you'll see that the tone there really is (I think) pretty dispassionate and direct. And it's essential that we not start assuming that there are implicit attacks hidden behind otherwise innocuous comments. Otherwise, there's nowhere this conversation can go besides an argument.
posted by koeselitz at 10:17 PM on January 25, 2014 [30 favorites]


Uh, yeah. Is it now a thing for mods to, publicly in front of the entire userbase, and apropos of nothing, direct outright, personal attacks on users about all their grievances about that person?

First, that's not my read on what taz said; second, it's not apropos of nothing since this is a pattern-of-behavior sort of thing; third, mods talking directly in metatalk about recurring issues with specific user behavior in the context of that user asserting the righteousness or whatever of said behavior is not a new thing.

It's fine in the general sense of "you are allowed to be who you are" for jbenben to have the opinion of this situation she has and the druthers about how to engage with Ask that she has, but it's also part of our jobs as stewards of this community to broach the subject of how that opinion or preference is not in line with particularly good use of the site when it isn't.

We're not going to actively try to be dicks about it, and I'd guess that most of the time the mod who fails most at not-being-a-dick there is me because good lord does stuff get up my shirt sometimes around here, but sometimes it's kind of impossible to address something that is off the mark without having to basically say "no, you're wrong about this and you need to stop doing the thing we've talked to you already about not doing" in a way that's going to necessarily read a little brusque. It's not the first recourse we go to, but we get there eventually sometimes. It's not a personal attack, it's talking about activity on this site, in this community, and it's part of our job even if it sucks to have to do.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:32 PM on January 25, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's not a personal attack, it's talking about activity on this site, in this community, and it's part of our job even if it sucks to have to do.

cortex said basically exactly what I was going to say. My read on what taz said was that it was totally appropriate given the outline of what we're dealing with here. While in theory most of the time we'd like people to get to "agree to disagree" modes about some of the stuff that goes off the rails here, sometimes we have to step in and say "You in particular could stand to do things differently" and/or "Your view of how things went down is widely divergent from the way we saw it" It's not a great thing to have to say but it's part of what we do here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:15 AM on January 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


I personally think that moderators having boundaries and expressing them very directly is a good thing. I deeply appreciate that both on a personal and professional level. My deep respect for how individual moderators and the team as a whole talk and act is based primarily on the boundaries they both have and express as well as how they express it.

These factors have remained near constant over the years they've added moderators and expanded the site and how they express and execute mod team priorities. That they're aiming the mod team flashlight at certain behaviors expressed by certain users and refuse to back down or stop articulating the problem is exactly how they work and should be doing it. It's not new, just perhaps new to certain users who are writing problematic things and holding difficult to work with opinions and perspectives.

I tend to take folks who are saying it's entirely new as folks who haven't been paying attention this whole time and are maybe just cluing in. Certainly I share some of that experience but I still think it is and comes off as being dishonest and portrays partly an inability to know how your behavior affects other users or where mod team boundaries lie. Both are a shame when it comes to folks who are clearly bright but whose values clash directly with community and individual expectation.
posted by kalessin at 7:55 AM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


jbenben has also been complemented by mods in front of the entire userbase.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:59 AM on January 26, 2014


With what?
posted by spitbull at 9:24 AM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Internet people!!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:34 AM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


oops, I meant condimented.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:50 AM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


I gather what's going on here is something that often happens when things like this are being escalated. Sometimes it's hard to get a read on the emotional underpinnings of a comment because it's just bare text; and a flat, honest recitation of the reasons why a comment was deleted can read a lot like an implicit insult. But really, if you go back and read taz's comment, you'll see that the tone there really is (I think) pretty dispassionate and direct. And it's essential that we not start assuming that there are implicit attacks hidden behind otherwise innocuous comments. Otherwise, there's nowhere this conversation can go besides an argument.

I guess my main issue is that it made me uncomfortable, regardless of how you read it, that the comment was a public statement and not memail. That kind of thing being public always seems like a conversation between two people I'm awkwardly listening in on, in which I half expect that person to "break the 4th wall" and turn to the audience and go "amirite?".

You can get all lawyery and say that nothing she said was exactly a personal attack, but I think the context of the post is what pushes it over that brink. I mean, I'm not a fan of the whole dictatorial line, but I have no real issue with it or the post. Made my eyebrow raise, but meh.

I just feel weird about a mod publicly calling someone out like that because it feels like a teacher calling out a student in class instead of talking to them after or something like that. It just feels weirdly out of place and like there's not much reason to make it a public conversation other than rubbing the puppy's nose in the poop.

I don't know though, if it doesn't bother anyone but me and cairdeas I'll let it drop. But it made me go "huh? Woah what".
posted by emptythought at 1:24 PM on January 26, 2014


But really, if you go back and read taz's comment, you'll see that the tone there really is (I think) pretty dispassionate and direct.

That's really not what I see.
posted by sculpin at 2:05 PM on January 26, 2014


I guess my main issue is that it made me uncomfortable, regardless of how you read it, that the comment was a public statement and not memail.

It's not terribly rare in meTas. I can think of a half-dozen times off the top of my head when a mod has said something similar to a mefite in a meTa. It's personal in the sense that someone is addressing someone in particular, but that doesn't make it an attack.
posted by rtha at 2:21 PM on January 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


I just feel weird about a mod publicly calling someone out like that because it feels like a teacher calling out a student in class instead of talking to them after or something like that. It just feels weirdly out of place and like there's not much reason to make it a public conversation other than rubbing the puppy's nose in the poop.


jbenben does a lot of good on this site and so does taz. Let it go. I'm sure they are still friends. I have yet to smell any poop here, but if I did, I'd put it in the proper receptacle and forget about it.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:30 PM on January 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


I just feel weird about a mod publicly calling someone out like that because it feels like a teacher calling out a student in class instead of talking to them

Without getting too deep into this, nearly always that I can recall this sort of thing occurs because we've passed the talking-to-users-privately point already and it is either not working or not continually working. This isn't something other users would necessarily know so it can look jarring and it's hard to talk about it in MeTa without it becoming a referendum on a user who is not the point of this MeTa and I'm very happy to not get into it. In a broad and general sense, talking to a user publicly in this way generally comes after many times of already having spoken to them privately.

MeFi users have grown to expect a certain level of transparency and so stuff like this falls into an awkward space where we're basically asking you to trust us so that we don't have to get into discussing our interactions with a user that would otherwise be private.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:47 PM on January 26, 2014 [6 favorites]


It sounds paradoxical, but I find AskMe to be proof of MetaFilter's libertarian, anti-"appeal to authority" leanings.

AskMe, especially for medical advice, but also legal and ethical advice, is basically like Craigslist, with better moderation: "we are not responsible for the answers found on this site."
posted by KokuRyu at 9:11 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


OK, I do understand the distinction made between risk of child abuse and suicide. I can agree to disagree there. I do not like this particular region of laissez-faire, but I don't have to like everything here...who does?

Just as food for thought. I am not asking for another response from Jessamyn or anyone else. Really, just to think on. Re: suicide-related posts, Jessamyn writes:

Because suicide questions make people freak out and hassle us to reveal anonymity claiming it's a matter of life and death and we don't think we can maintain posters' anonymity in such a situation. They become shouting matches immediately. We'd also obviously like people in this community who are feeling suicidal to talk to someone who is skilled in these sorts of things and not hang out on the internet and not getting help.

That's fine--but point by point, these are all concerns raised here on this topic. Anonymity, mod hassling, shouting matches, real person vs. website. Anyway. Food for thought.
posted by skbw at 9:30 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Forget me in all of this.

I'm pretty sure this is about how we interact with imminent or current severe child abuse on this site, and whether or not we see this as the same or similar to suicide ideation when expressed in AskMe's.

Obvs, I think it's super cool and useful to back off of conflict by directing to folks to professional resources since internet strangers, while well meaning, creates and FUELS (in this case, particularly) drama instead of helpful results.

I'll repeat it - this thread stank.

I'm still hoping this inspires a policy change.
posted by jbenben at 9:39 PM on January 26, 2014


I cannot forget you. The reason is you say stuff like this (which you said in your original comment on this thread):
If the OP truly had professional support, I doubt there would have been a need for an AskMe.

Which is a bullshit trap and is, to me, a rhetorical device for simply being right contrary to the express purposes and testimony of the OP.

I think it's sneaky and I don't like seeing that method used on anyone.
posted by kalessin at 7:29 AM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think the unfortunate reality is that "professional help" is a fairly broad and vague category. It makes the most sense in medical conversations, although even there the edges are blurred; would it be "professional help" for a doctor to tell a patient with a thyroid problem that they're just too fat and need to stop eating cupcakes? (Yes, I have known people who had that happen.) The realm of law has a huge amount of mission creep here, I think; there are all sorts of issues that ordinary citizens really need to be able to sort out on their own with the help of non-lawyers friends for which they're always hassled with this demand: "you must pay a lawyer to talk about this!" - which is clearly not always true, and is at least slightly self-serving. But more than either of these, mental health is probably the broadest category of human experience; how can we possibly reduce it to a profession and demand that only professionals deal with it? Even the licensing is broadly varied, to my mind much more broadly varied than it needs to be; and any good talk therapist will tell you that there are legions upon legions of bad talk therapists out there in the world.

Ultimately, professional specialization is useful only in a granular way. It's good that particular people in society are tasked with particular jobs; but human beings need to be able to talk to each other about questions that are important to them, need to be able to turn to their fellow humans and say "what do I do about this conflict I have with my ex - am I being silly when I say he's acting crazy and reckless?" Ask Metafilter provides a valuable service there, and even when the best answer really is "yes, he is being reckless, and you should talk to a lawyer and a therapist," just by giving that answer in a decent way and being a sounding board for the asker, we are a benefit. And I think it's absolutely essential that people be able to continue to ask questions like that, in an open way, and receive this kind of answer.
posted by koeselitz at 9:19 AM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well and then you get into "Well maybe you have what you think is professional support but your professionals appear to not be doing their job" conversations which are getting super duper off topic. Like, I appreciate that people might want to say "You know a good lawyer probably wouldn't treat you like this" but this thread in particular had a lot of people saying that the professionals that the OP was talking to--people who presumably had more facts, more data and IRL interactions with the people involved--were less qualified to give feedback than they were because they did not come to the same conclusions about the situation that the commenters did.

It's certainly possible that everyone else is wrong and you, internet person, are the only one who is seeing the situation clearly. And yes in cases of abuse and mental illness this can get sketchier and we have members here who have fallen through the cracks of such systems before and that's a really lousy thing. At the point at which you are making that argument you are getting pretty far afield of the original question and probably also getting argumentative. The OP is not anon. The OP can be MeMailed with off-topic commentary. Many people did not do this, did not pick up on mod notes to dial it down and contributed to the overall difficult aspects of that thread. People are going to make decisions you don't agree with, now and forever. If that is a fact that you have a hard time dealing with, AskMe is not a good place for you to be trying to be helpful.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:31 AM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think that mostly has to do with the way that we tend to personalize important topics. We look at a question where a child could potentially be abused, and we feel the pain of the situation; so we have some urgency, we insist in sharp tones that the right thing must be done, we attempt to rise above the flow of the other comments to demand firmly that the child be cared for; and we allow ourselves to become this loud and direct because we're thinking about the situation, which no one could deny is very important. In other words: we have forgotten the human being who posted the question, and who is asking for honest help; we're speaking emotionally because we personally feel the pain of the situation, not because we want to help the asker. And that urgent emotional need to help drives us to be a bit more controlling than we ought to be, telling the asker that they need a better therapist or lawyer, inserting ourselves into the situation and presuming to make demands about what they need to do. All the while, we forget the place the asker is in and forget what they need to get from us in order to make a good decision.

I think it takes some strength sometimes, particularly when (as I say) it's a really important subject, but in light of the way people deal with things we really have to have a light touch. All we can ever do is explain as eloquently as we can a simple, direct answer to the question they're asking. We can't coerce strangers to do the right thing over the Internet; and even if we could, it wouldn't be right, and it likely wouldn't end up doing any good. We can only offer the help they've asked for and try to be decent and direct about it, and then let them make their choice and try to do the right thing.
posted by koeselitz at 10:31 AM on January 27, 2014


All that was missing from that thread was the appearance of Lenin, Trotsky and the announcement of a four year plan.
posted by sgt.serenity at 12:22 PM on January 27, 2014


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