Can we focus more on the intent of a post, and less on the phrasing? February 22, 2015 8:08 PM   Subscribe

It seems to me that people are often attacked over a poor choice of words, while the rest of their post goes unacknowledged.

In a recent thread, I used the term "lynching" to describe a case of online mobbing that had real-world consequences. A few Mefites descended on me, inferring that I am completely ignorant of how terrible lynching actually was in American history. A second person paraphrased my post uncharitably, saying that I had said "We're all a little bit racist," which is not at all what I was trying to say. Someone else commented that "This may be the most disgusting thread I've ever read on MetaFilter." By proxy, then, I'm a disgusting person? I agreed that my choice of words was not optimal. That said, online communication is tricky for me, and I feel as if I've been burned. I am horrified and disgusted that someone's automatic revulsion to the hyperbole of "lynching" means that I am ignorant of history (hell, of current events, for that matter) or in any way trivializing a nightmarish cultural history of white supremacy.

Yes, I know that phrasing and framing matter quite a bit. But I didn't deserve the reaction I received.

So I chose the wrong word, perhaps because I see it used by others so often that I didn't even think twice. I would argue that my phrasing shouldn't automatically negate the rest of my post. On behalf of those of us who struggle with rhetoric and/or finding the right words, could people at least try to give problematic wording the benefit of the doubt? Which is not to say that we shouldn't call out offensive wording! It's just that I feel like people are clinging too strongly to phrasing that maybe doesn't tell you all that much about its author except that he or she might want to choose words more carefully in the future. It might indicate ignorance, but then again, it might not.

I don't respond well to in-your-face aggression, even though I know fully well that discussions can become hostile on the Blue. I respond better to people who call me out assertively but without dragging in a suitcase full of negative assumptions based on the merits of a single post. Can anyone else relate? What are your thoughts, and why?

How can people who are sometimes thoughtless in their wording learn to do better? Can we strive for more as a community without immediately reacting to poor phrasing with condescension and shaming?

I can't tell if I'm wrongheaded here. I can't tell if I'm being too sensitive in all the wrong ways. Still, I'd argue that people tend to assume too much and react with hostility too quickly, probably myself included, and it makes participation here that much less enjoyable. Maybe you disagree. Then tell me why. Help me to learn.
posted by quiet earth to MetaFilter-Related at 8:08 PM (64 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I think the response you got was essentially trying to help you understand why this would be a trigger word for people, and problematic. You're sore at not being given the benefit of the doubt - and that's totally understandable! I would be too. I'd probably feel kind of hurt and go away and lick my wounds. BUT!

But! You learned more about how this word is a big no-go area when you're trying to communicate - in fact, it makes your communication *less* effective, even when you think using it as an analogy is making your message more effective. In short, you're learning. We are all on that journey, believe me.

Don't feel ashamed, I'm sorry if you feel that way - feel like this was a great opportunity to learn something about language and its use on a community forum.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:27 PM on February 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Unless I'm missing something, the very hateful comment was "Can we stop verbally equating twitter scoldfests with horrible racially-motivated murders?", which frankly doesn't seem like such a terrible assault. Your response, on the other hand, was kind of nasty and dismissive: "Oh noes, you have single-handedly invalidated my entire argument. Rest assured that the colloquial use of "lynching" started with me and it will stop with me." So if what you're asking is whether you get to be as rude and dismissive as you want while being totally immune from criticism, then I think the answer is no. The person wasn't actually invalidating your entire argument. She was very politely asking you not to use offensive language. You could have said "oh, yeah, sorry about that," or you could have ignored the post but stopped using that word, and that would have been the end of it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:28 PM on February 22, 2015 [59 favorites]


Some words have a lot of baggage and are guaranteed to generate a strong reaction. We can only judge other people on the internet by the words they choose to use. If you don't want people to make wrong assumptions about who you are and what you believe, try to choose better words with less baggage that don't make you seem to be something you're not.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:30 PM on February 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Being charitable helps everyone out, but as for focusing on the intent of a post, how can you know a post's true intent? Words are how you communicate your intent. If the post contains a word that usually indicates, say, ignorance of historical racism, then a reader may guess that the intent is one that does not respect history or the burden of racism.

Hounding someone after they have acknowledged — in a straight-up, non-weaselly way — that the words they've used are bad, though: That's unreasonable. If they insist that their use of the word should be excused, then whatever the use of that word communicates is then reasonably interpretable as part of their intent.
posted by ignignokt at 8:31 PM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that people are often attacked over a poor choice of words, while the rest of their post goes unacknowledged.

I think it's a legit difficult thing about group conversation, yeah, and a complicated one to unravel. Because sometimes it's just someone being pedantic or pushy for no particularly good reason over something, but sometimes it happens because the thing they're grumpy about is a pretty charged subject and/or something with an outsized history of being a problem in discussion.

So I think it's good and worthwhile to talk about folks making the effort to, at least, respond coolly to bad word choices and try and route around that to the meat of a thought. And I don't think a conversation's ever been made worse by that sort of thing. But it's also a challenge when there's that charge to whatever the bad/transgressive word choice is, because folks objecting might have really compelling reasons to object.

And from there the potential for a feedback loop of escalation sort of kicks in for real: it can suck when someone latches onto a poor choice of words, but then it can suck in turn when someone responds to blowback on that choice of words by digging in or getting defensive about the blowback.

Being mindful about trying to de-escalate, even when you're frustrated by someone else's response, is I think the best tool all of us have. And sometimes what that means is being willing to walk away angry instead of sticking around to argue the point: even if you think someone's wrong to give you a hard time about a word choice or to fail to engage the substance of your point because of it, the conversation isn't going to get better if you get into a fight about it.

Sometimes a conversation just goes in a frustrating direction and it's better to just say to yourself, dang, this sucks, but I should let it drop.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:36 PM on February 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Dude, I am fairly well with you on this. Drinky Die politely mentioned that people find the word offensive, and I wish that could have been enough and everyone just moved on. Instead we get like ten more snarky and aggressive responses. Why make it a pile on?

However we also should make an effort to not continue the aggression by responding in an equally snarky and aggressive way.

I know it is hard, and I have been guilty of both transgressions, but we should all try to do better with this stuff.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:45 PM on February 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


If someone uses an inflammatory word, someone (ideally) should say: Hey, that's a problematic word.

Then (ideally) the person who used that word should say: Oh, sorry! I didn't realize! I won't do that again! I'm sorry I trivialized other people's history!

And then (ideally) everyone should say: It's ok!

Which totally could have happened here. If the second person actually says, in some form, "How dare you criticize my word choice!", things tend to go haywire. I don't think this is the first person's fault.
posted by jaguar at 8:46 PM on February 22, 2015 [25 favorites]


A lot of people on MetaFilter seem to make it a point to show others how enlightened/progressive/totally-not-racist/sexist/homophobic they are (using the word "USian", for example). I don't doubt that these people have good intentions but it does get a bit tiresome after a while.
posted by MattMangels at 9:03 PM on February 22, 2015 [26 favorites]


Thank you for your responses so far. I can see that I'm too touchy and I tend to take criticism personally. (I mean that sincerely.) That thread in particular was emotionally charged for me. I interpreted those posts as implying that I, myself, am ignorant of racism, which is awful. "Lynching" sounded to me like a commonplace colloquial term, so I hope you can understand why I didn't know it was harmful, even though I shouldn't have used it.

I have a long history of online mobbing/hacking/harassment. I can see why I didn't respond in a more levelheaded way. That said, I will try to do better in future posts. I don't think it will be easy for me, but I will try.

I understand logically that we only have a person's posts and posting history to judge by. Still, it might be good to also keep in mind that there's more to a person than their words on a screen.
posted by quiet earth at 9:08 PM on February 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


I was confused at first, thinking this was about the strongly worded responses to a poorly-thought-through use of the word in a MeTa thread. I'm glad these are getting some pushback, though as someone who has certainly chosen words inelegantly here before it's definitely no fun to have that pointed out.

I am horrified and disgusted that someone's automatic revulsion to the hyperbole of "lynching" means that I am ... in any way trivializing a nightmarish cultural history of white supremacy.

The point, that you don't seem to be quite getting, is that using the word "lynching" in that hyperbolic way is by definition trivializing the specific history of violence. Some words are more loaded than others, and you managed to pick one of those.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:08 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


> The point, that you don't seem to be quite getting,

Can we please avoid passive-aggressive insults? I may not "get it", but I'm trying.
posted by quiet earth at 9:12 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


quiet earth, that comment was not in any way passive-aggressive, and I think if you're reading it that way you may want to take a break and come back in the morning.
posted by jaguar at 9:29 PM on February 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


Also, while I totally understand that the specific use of "lynch" and the scrap following from that is the relevant thing that started the ball rolling on this, I think it's probably gonna be more useful to focus on the broader topic of strategies for making these situations work out well than to specifically dig in on that particular thing again. As a point of reference to general ideas, sure, but let's maybe keep it to that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:29 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am horrified and disgusted that someone's automatic revulsion to the hyperbole of "lynching" means that I am ignorant of history

Hyperbole will be the death of us all.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 PM on February 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm ok with the edited version also:

The point is that using the word "lynching" in that hyperbolic way is by definition trivializing the specific history of violence. Some words are more loaded than others, and you managed to pick one of those.

That said, I am enjoying the irony of creating a MeTa requesting that people focus on the intent rather than the phrasing, and immediately getting upset over phrasing.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:31 PM on February 22, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think people pick on a word or small phrase instead of addressing the intent of a comment to get favorites, incite a pile-on or bait a response, so ways to be helpful would be to not respond, not favorite, and not repeat what an aggressive, pedantic person has already said.
posted by michaelh at 9:35 PM on February 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


> if you're reading it that way

Proof in point: intent can be difficult to decipher from a few words.

Jaguar and Dip Flash, cut it out, please and thank you. Dip Flash, are you trying to be sardonic and aggressive? That's how you're coming across to me. People sometimes clash. We don't have to all be friends. But I don't know why you appear to be so intent on picking a fight.

I agree with Cortex. I'm going to drop that thread and take a break with my cats.

If you want to discuss that particular thread, you're welcome to MeMail me.
posted by quiet earth at 9:37 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am horrified and disgusted that someone's automatic revulsion to the hyperbole of "lynching" means that I am ignorant of history (hell, of current events, for that matter) or in any way trivializing a nightmarish cultural history of white supremacy.

Disgusted? Really? That sounds an awful lot like what you're reacting to is, essentially, the insult to your reputation or self-image. Your reaction is that you're mad that people think you might not be aware of history, ie, they're being charitable with you?

Yes, I know that phrasing and framing matter quite a bit. But I didn't deserve the reaction I received.

Yes, you did. MeFi as a whole doesn't deserve the reaction you're having, namely, covering your shame or rage at being called out with yet another ridiculous, whiny "you're all so nasty! be more civil!" MeTa.

Seventy seven thousandth verse, same as the first.

Can we please avoid passive-aggressive insults? I may not "get it", but I'm trying.

I'm not seeing that you are. You're not trying to get it, you're trying to get... vengeance? Validation? Lurkers to support you in email? Who knows, but I'm not seeing any evidence you're actually looking for understanding.

A lot of people on MetaFilter seem to make it a point to show others how enlightened/progressive/totally-not-racist/sexist/homophobic they are (using the word "USian", for example).

A lot of people on MetaFilter seem to take any sort of correction, criticism, or polite request to modify their behavior as a personal affront and throw temper tantrums about it.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 9:37 PM on February 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think people pick on a word or small phrase instead of addressing the intent of a comment to get favorites, incite a pile-on or bait a response, so ways to be helpful would be to not respond, not favorite, and not repeat what an aggressive, pedantic person has already said.

Or they genuinely object to the word or phrase, find it offensive, and want it to stop being used.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 9:38 PM on February 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


Someone else commented that "This may be the most disgusting thread I've ever read on MetaFilter."
This sounds a lot like my comment in that thread, which actually said "appalling", not disgusting, and was a response to someone saying no, we're not going to stop using that word, which is what I found appalling. And it wasn't even BY the OP of this post, which even if it were, saying the thread is appalling or a comment is disgusting is not the same as saying a person is disgusting. It makes no sense to me to read that sort of thing in comments here. If I'm in a disorganized meeting and someone says "that was a shitshow" does that mean I should consider myself a shitshow? Makes no sense and worse, kills conversation because instead of having a reasonable discussion about how to use words here, we have people redirecting to say "well if you say something I said is bad it's the same as saying I'm a bad person.
posted by zutalors! at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2015


The Master and Margarita Mix, I am trying to be civil. You are calling me ridiculous and whiny. That says more about you than it does about me. Does posting vitriol against strangers make you feel better?

I am not your personal punching bag.
posted by quiet earth at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would like to ask the mods for a mercy closing on this thread, please.
posted by jaguar at 9:48 PM on February 22, 2015 [34 favorites]


Jaguar: I asked you to please take it to MeMail. I am not at fault for your continued aggression.
posted by quiet earth at 9:49 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Or they genuinely object to the word or phrase, find it offensive, and want it to stop being used.

Right, I would assume everyone thinks they are replying for the right reasons. My suggestions were about what you do when you see someone replying like that. I think that if someone sees a problem, they should make sure to also address the meat of the post along with their pedantic reply (regardless of how justified is the pedantry.) To me, a fuller response seems more considerate, better for the entire conversation, and more worthy of being noticed by the other participants.
posted by michaelh at 9:51 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seriously, we can give this an honest go if folks will collectively stand down and try to have a conversation about the general interaction ideas and not just going down the road of rehashing and elaborating on that thread from last week. That goes for quiet earth and everybody else. But I don't want to see this just spiral down for no good reason.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:51 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Quiet earth, I am not being aggressive. I am not feeling aggressive. I am worried that you are misinterpreting everyone's comments in a way that is completely counterproductive and therefore opening yourself up for even worse criticism.
posted by jaguar at 9:51 PM on February 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


I've said this many times over the years, so feel free to just skip it, but: I much prefer a community where people choose their words carefully, and our base assumption is that they are doing so. If they use words that offend or upset us in some way, then -- in my perfect world -- we would not feel it necessary to tell them how offended or upset we are, or how they should not use the words that they did (while still operating under the assumption that they are choosing their words with care). We would instead take the opportunity to form a private opinion about that person and the extent to which we might choose in future to interact with them, and that would be that. We might, at most, if we really felt it necessary, reach out to them privately to find out if they didn't actually know that we and (presumably, thus our strong aversion) many others would be offended by the way they chose to express themselves.

I don't think Metafilter is, and maybe never was, that kind of community. That's not a happy thing for me, but, you know: shrug.

This breaks down, of course, in cases where people words that they literally don't know are deeply offensive to almost everyone else. I'd argue that this is very, very rarely the case. (Although I will admit, for example, I'm still kind of unclear about the 'right' words to use in discussions with and about trans people, which I one of the reasons I just don't get into those discussions here.)

There is also an argument to be made that not speaking up when people use language that we think is exclusionary or hateful or whatever is implicitly condoning it. I personally don't agree in most cases -- again, because I assume that people are using language in deliberate ways, most of the time -- but I understand the argument.

It's a messy thing, and it's strongly conditioned by the differences between interacting with people face-to-face and in text. For my part, I'm not nearly as strongly in the say-what-you-will-and-accept-responsibility-for-your-words camp as I once was, but I am still concerned at what I perceive to be an increase in going after people for how they say things as opposed to what they say, and a concomitant decrease in assuming the best of others.

Whether any of that applies to the case in hand, I leave others to decide, I guess.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:54 PM on February 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


You are calling me ridiculous and whiny.

I didn't read it that way.

I read it as TM&MM calling this ridiculous whiny thread ridiculous and whiny.

I can't tell if I'm wrongheaded here.

I say this with the greatest respect and not even a tiny shred of aggression, in the spirit of providing information apparently sought: yes, you do appear to be. You seem to be reading an underlying hostility into any form of criticism. That is not, in general, a helpful position to adopt.
posted by flabdablet at 9:58 PM on February 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


Jaguar: MeMail. For the nth time. Thanks.

Flabdablet: Still insulting and unhelpful. How are you helping to resolve anything? You just want to take cheap shots.

Cortex: I will ignore this thread for the next ten hours. Good luck.

I am sick of being the scapegoat for mistakes that anyone else is likely to get away with. I have too much self-respect.

But I'll take that break before I write off MetaFilter entirely as overly snarky, mean, and prone to pile-ons.
posted by quiet earth at 9:58 PM on February 22, 2015


posting vitriol against strangers

None of that was vitriol. Barely fell to the pH of citric acid.
posted by flabdablet at 9:59 PM on February 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


My favorite teaching fellow in university taught me, explicitly, that writing is not just about expressing your own opinions but about anticipating how your readers will take your words and writing in such a way as to account for that.

Which is hard work, but worthwhile, and which, I have found, has made my own communication much clearer. People may still disagree with my ideas, but less so with my framing (or, when they do disagree with my framing, it tends to be in situations where I agree my framing was less-than-ideal).

So I tend to believe that the responsibility for a poor word choice lies with the writer. I also think readers should read charitably, but a charitable response absolutely can include a heads-up that a writer's word choice is distracting from their point. I actually consider such a heads-up to be friendly, rather than hostile; left unchallenged and therefore unedited, the writer will simply continue to offend.
posted by jaguar at 10:00 PM on February 22, 2015 [22 favorites]


Sorry, I posted that before seeing your last comment, quiet earth, but I seriously have no idea what you think I should be MeMailing you about. Feel free to send me a message if you need to say something privately.
posted by jaguar at 10:03 PM on February 22, 2015


Right, I would assume everyone thinks they are replying for the right reasons. My suggestions were about what you do when you see someone replying like that. I think that if someone sees a problem, they should make sure to also address the meat of the post along with their pedantic reply (regardless of how justified is the pedantry.) To me, a fuller response seems more considerate, better for the entire conversation, and more worthy of being noticed by the other participants.

To me that seems way overly deferential of people on the wrong side of these kinds of issues. I don't really see any evidence at all that being super nice about it to people who take requests to stop using phrases like "lynching" or "hysterical" or whatever as a personal affront actually change their ways.

I am sick of being the scapegoat for mistakes that anyone else is likely to get away with. I have too much self-respect.

I'll say.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 10:10 PM on February 22, 2015


quiet earth criticized people who engage in on-line harassment. A lot of MeFites condone and engage in the kind of on-line harassment they were criticizing. So quiet earth was piled on by people using their use of the phrase 'lynch mob' as a starting-off point for attack.

I realize people have legitimate objections to lose metaphorical comparisons to lynching, but that's not what this was about. This was 'Oh, so you don't so you don't like harassment, do you? Well, how about this!

We could use less of this kind of crap here. The type of play-ground bullying (and worse) that a lot of people engage in on twitter and tumblr doesn't need to be here, and people who insist on engaging in it don't need to be here.
posted by nangar at 10:30 PM on February 22, 2015 [22 favorites]


I feel like MeFi has a specific culture that is confusing to less active and new users. I personally would never comment in any threads on certain sensitive topics because I have been lurking here forever but still am not confident that I can express myself without putting my foot in my mouth.

This is where it becomes difficult. Of course we want new users to come and share their opinions, but we can't expect every user to immediately understand the mores of the site and to use language that perfectly fits with our ideals. At the same time I know people get tired of telling users that we don't use that word here or we don't express ourselves that way.

So basically we have a pretty frigging high barrier to entry here, with a large number of shibboleths that make it almost impossible for new users to join. quiet earth's original comment was clearly in good faith and was then ridiculed because they unknowingly used an inappropriate term.

Basically I wish everyone would chill out and accept that everything was said in good faith, but people have been saying that for ages and it obviously isn't happening.
posted by Literaryhero at 10:40 PM on February 22, 2015 [20 favorites]


quiet earth responded in a pretty nasty way to a comment asking that we not use the term "lynching" to describe the twitter thing . It's quoted here and the original is right here. The request to not use the term did not mention quiet earth's historical knowledge or lack of it, which quiet earth knew because they directly responded to that particular comment.

I just came from seeing live theater but I swear there's more performance art in this thread.
posted by rtha at 10:40 PM on February 22, 2015 [14 favorites]


joseph conrad is fully awesome and jaguar, I don't understand why you're defending this pile-on. Do you really think quiet earth should driven off the site because they object to on-line harassment?
posted by nangar at 10:40 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wait, where did they say that quiet earth should be "driven off the site?"
posted by en forme de poire at 10:44 PM on February 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I realize people have legitimate objections to lose metaphorical comparisons to lynching, but that's not what this was about. This was 'Oh, so you don't so you don't like harassment, do you? Well, how about this!
That is not what is happening here. This is not because someone is against online harassment. I think most of us are against that, actually. There is a difference between disagreeing and pile-ons and harassment. I think a pile on happened a bit here. I don't think harrassment occurred, and I don't think the pile on was because the person in question is against online harrassment. It is because they used an incredibly loaded term - for which they have apologized - and people felt the need to talk about that. Not because they are against harrassment. I don't understand how one could get that narrative from the facts.
posted by sockermom at 10:45 PM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wtf? I think this thread should be closed because I think leaving it open might inspire quiet earth to flame out, which would be a stupid outcome.
posted by jaguar at 10:46 PM on February 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


nangar, Maybe people are coming from a place of "dude, 'lynching' was a really poor word choice, and the better path would have been to just acknowledge that rather than making it the hill you want to die on here."
posted by MoonOrb at 10:46 PM on February 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


joseph conrad is fully awesome and jaguar, I don't understand why you're defending this pile-on. Do you really think quiet earth should driven off the site because they object to on-line harassment?

That is a ridiculous misreading.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:47 PM on February 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


How are you helping to resolve anything?

By attempting to provide a straight answer to a straight question.

You just want to take cheap shots.

I assure you that such was not and is not my intent.

Based on the tone of your responses in this thread so far, I'm now faced with a choice between (a) attempting repeatedly to reframe what I said until I luck on a mode of expression that gets past your apparent "solicited criticism = hostile aggression" filter or (b) deciding that you'll just need to figure this thing out without my help.

Frankly, my best call at this point is that (a) is going to involve far too much work.

Best of luck with it.
posted by flabdablet at 10:48 PM on February 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


Setting aside that one example (which I think is probably the most productive thing to do), I think the point of "let's read charitably" is well-taken.

It's worth bearing in mind that most people are often just not great writers (and even good writers have busy or distracted times etc). I've taught a lot and written a lot, and you've all seen a lot online, and written stuff online yourselves, so I imagine many of you have the same observation. Writing clearly is hard, and if you can do it so that you're never misunderstood, that's a gift/privilege/hard-won competency that few people have.

Similarly, if you can always back down from a mistake without bridling when someone's been snarky or accused you of something you find horrifying, that kind of equanimity is something not everybody has in the moment. It's good if people can be graceful in accepting criticism, but criticizers can make that easier by how they approach it.

So it's good to read charitably and correct things without snark (even if you're annoyed), and it's good to try to read criticisms of yourself charitably and try to pass gracefully over the other guy's snark (even if you're annoyed), and so on. We all end up sounding a little more harsh or abrupt or sarcastic than we intend sometimes, and we're a more resilient community if we can absorb a little of that and let people make mistakes or point out mistakes or back down from mistakes without needing to microscope every bad phrasing or misstep.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:53 PM on February 22, 2015 [29 favorites]


And you, rtha? Maybe I'm missing something. But I think it's clear why the original pile on happened, and why people were angry.

> Wait, where did they say that quiet earth should be "driven off the site?"

Driving people off of the site is what pile-ons are about, and people seem to be clearly gunning for a flame-out here. Why are you doing this?

(I realize I'm disagreeing with a lot of people I like and respect. Maybe I really am missing something.)
posted by nangar at 11:04 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Another way to look at piling on is that the site has thousands of users who participate in any given month and lots of people who want to have the opportunity to say something, especially when they see something that they really really disagree with, so while it feels undeniably shitty to be on the receiving end of a bunch of pointed comments, inferring some kind of collective intent from it is a little dubious.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:10 PM on February 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


Last year I made some comments in a post about an article that upset me a great deal. The article's writer was female, and I referred to her as a "shrew" and a "harpy." Another Mefite called me out, justifiably, on my poor choice of words.

At the time, I was hurt. I was already upset by the thread's content, but I internalized the criticism and felt like I was accused of being misogynistic. After all, I had substituted "shrew" for some much more offensive terms, and now whatever insights I added to the thread would be overshadowed by this criticism.

So I cried for a bit, felt sorry for myself, and stepped away from the site until I calmed down. Once I did, I didn't feel angry; I felt ashamed. I needed to see that my language was offensive, and that, regardless of my intentions, my words had castigated the author not because of her ideas but because she was a woman. And I have been so much more aware of gendered insults ever since, both here and in my non-Metafilter life. It's been depressing to realize how much misogyny I've carelessly conveyed through my language, and even more distressing, how many of these sentiments I have internalized, so that I automatically use them to insult other women.

It's too easy to assume that you are being accused of holding the sentiments conveyed in your wording. But I am so grateful that I had that experience here, not face-to-face with someone who might have either silently assumed that I was misogynistic or, worse, used my wording to confirm their own prejudices. Like you, I take things very personally - it's one of the reasons I don't post frequently here, or anywhere online, for that matter - but I think it helps to remember that both my experience and yours are about our word choices, not about our ideas. Pile-ons will happen, here and elsewhere, but a quick "I didn't realize the word was offensive" and apology will go a long way to making future complaints, if there are any, look petty.
posted by bibliowench at 11:12 PM on February 22, 2015 [61 favorites]


FWIW, it looks like two different people in that twitter mob thread made the objectionable analogy before the first person to respond to it just said hey can we stop doing that. It's quite possible I've overlooked something, or maybe something got deleted, but up to that point, it seems like a normal, genuine, and non-personal interaction--no hugs but nothing problematic either. My read is that the double-down stuff after that is what set things off. "Oops, sorry" may or may not have gone over better, but I don't think it would have been worse.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:22 PM on February 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have a long history of online mobbing/hacking/harassment. I can see why I didn't respond in a more levelheaded way. That said, I will try to do better in future posts. I don't think it will be easy for me, but I will try.

I hope this will be helpful for you: I find a good holding pattern reply is, "I hadn't thought about that - thank you." It accomplishes several goals. The first is that it derails further responses; if you feel like you want your main point to be focused on, not your word choice, this would be high priority. The second is that it sidesteps an apology until you are in a proper place to make such an apology, but without falling into the "don't judge me" hole where one is prone to getting one's back up and digging for the earth's core. The third is that it sets you up to be as charitable as possible toward the idea that this may be an area that needs more thought.

Then take a break, do something nice for yourself, and come back in a few hours or a day.

I've spent a while practicing being open to criticism, and another helpful thing I've found is realizing that while my actions and words are a reflection of who I am right now, I can change then without necessarily changing me - and that changing them can be a pathway to changing me, if that's what I desire. Spending the last few years removing slurs and dismissive hyperbole from my language woke me up to how insidious and omnipresent they are - and how ultimately satisfying it is to address and change them. It's more of a challenge - but I think the challenge can be a lot of fun.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:53 PM on February 22, 2015 [53 favorites]


I believe I have more success when I think of myself providing new information or new perspectives to someone, rather than correcting someone. I don't always manage to come from that place, but it's a goal I try to remember.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:25 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I agree that framing on metafilter is incredibly important, and it's true that threads can be derailed quite effectively by the words that are chosen to express a point; and that it would be nice if people could let the first person to respond, as Dip Flash did in this instance, without worrying at something to the detriment of the thread. I even agree that sometimes when this happens, it's because it functions as a way for the site to enforce its group norms.

However, I do think that - in the main - it's a good thing. I like that we call out when things that the site has collectively agreed are beyond the pale.

I think that, in this case, your response exacerbated the perceived pile-on by doubling down. If you scour the site you will find myriad examples of people being called out for a poor choice of words, and the pushback dissipates very quickly when they say something like, "You're right, that was the wrong thing to say, I will be a bit more careful in the future" You didn't do that at all.

Finally, I also think a misstep on a comment on a website is not something that should be weighing you down. There are a thousand other threads and opportunities to be understood and appreciated. Ducking out is probably better for you, and better for the site, too, I must say. I do it all the time when I can feel myself getting het up over a thread. These people don't really know you, and they don't really need to. And you don't really know them. It just doesn't, and shouldn't matter that much - and I say this as someone who adores metafilter and to be perfectly frank gets a huge amount of my social interaction and satisfaction from the site.

I'm sorry this has upset you, but I think the original and subsequent responses are both understandable, and not a big deal in the scheme of things. This is one area where I feel like the site gets it right more often than gets it wrong. Best of luck to you.
posted by smoke at 1:37 AM on February 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


Last month I posted a pretty innocuous story. A fellow MeFite objected to my use of a word.

And then nothing happened. I didn't reply publicly to fffm's comment, and the thread didn't become a pile-on of people defending either my word choice or fffm's objection to it. I severely doubt that anyone thinks less of either of us (us included) for that.

There's a lot of meta-meta-arguing in this thread on all sides. That shit never helps anyone.

Walking away -- without a mic drop -- is a good skill to have on the Internet.
posted by Etrigan at 3:19 AM on February 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


Dude, I am fairly well with you on this. Drinky Die politely mentioned that people find the word offensive, and I wish that could have been enough and everyone just moved on. Instead we get like ten more snarky and aggressive responses. Why make it a pile on?

Yeah, that was a separate incident but I said it knowing this meta was still percolating somewhere. (And yeah, I see the framing issues with it now.)

As I said in the previous thread, there are actually some incidents of online harassment where lynching might be an appropriate word. When you see Adria Richards, a black woman, live in fear of a mob shouting violent threats for YEARS the word might actually apply. Otherwise, it's obviously hyperbolic and wrongly applied. There are other words you can use to criticize the way this stuff is handled that will have the right impact. "Mob Justice" is one. Mostly take "Lynching" out of the vocabulary unless it really applies.

When I looked at the history of the word on Wiki it was really interesting and actually pre-dated the use specifically to refer to violent mob justice against African Americans (And during the heyday of lynching many whites were lynched as well, often abolitionists) but that is simply not how the word is understood in modern America. Keep that in mind.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:41 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


And yeah, I hear you on wanting to broaden this topic onto the general idea that maybe you shouldn't pick out one word to discredit an entire post. I agree with that concept. Correct politely and assume good faith from the poster, but this word is kind of too explosive to expect it's not going to derail people off your larger point. Don't use it the way you used it.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:01 AM on February 23, 2015


Instead we get like ten more snarky and aggressive responses. Why make it a pile on?

Because multiple comments illustrate to the original poster that many people find the usage problematic. It's easy to ignore a word or two. It's a lot harder to ignore more comments, even if you disagree with them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:10 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


but that is simply not how the word is understood in modern America. Keep that in mind.
It would also be nice if people kept in mind that a not insignificant amount of people on Metafilter is not American though, and it's not reasonable to expect that everyone has any knowledge of American history. I did not get any American history in high school at all. Of course on a site with a lot of Americans it's a good idea to not use words that offend many people, but not knowing much about American history is not the same as "not respect[ing] history or the burden of racism." I wish more people would assume good faith. Then it's still okay to point out that the word is problematic for Americans so it would be better to use another word, but it would change the dynamic of the conversation a lot.
posted by blub at 5:16 AM on February 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


If you want to discuss that particular thread, you're welcome to MeMail me.

I'm guessing he knows this. You made a meta, which is generally accepted as seeking community input, and that's what jaguar was doing.

Jaguar: I asked you to please take it to MeMail. I am not at fault for your continued aggression.

Maybe he doesn't want to? I know I wouldn't. Why do you get to control how people choose to engage with you and the site? I know how I would respond to such a request and it would lack the level of politeness you're getting.

Jaguar: MeMail. For the nth time. Thanks.

Talk about aggression.

The only reason I see for your continued request for memail is because you don't like what he's saying and you want to stop him from doing so in public.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:51 AM on February 23, 2015 [27 favorites]


It seems to me that people are often attacked over a poor choice of words, while the rest of their post goes unacknowledged.

People who use the word lynching when talking about some Twitter spat, are rarely likely to have anything worthwhile to say, otherwise they would be clueful enough not to use that word.

Furthermore, it's usually used as a rightwing signifier, where criticism of rightwing people is equated deliberately to lynching.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:57 AM on February 23, 2015


It would also be nice if people kept in mind that a not insignificant amount of people on Metafilter is not American though

I'd be wary about using this as an excuse not to know lynching is somewhat of a loaded word to use out of its historic context and I say this as a non-yank. It's somewhat of a American rightwing verbal tic outside of this context, not something that non-yanks would immediately leap to to use to refer to online harassment.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:06 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


I can only speak for myself, but regarding "pile-ons": I'm much less likely to say "yo this part of your comment was bad" if a bunch of other people have already said it.

Consider that in a visible "pile-on" (a metaphor I think is actually pretty inaccurate in describing people's gut responses in a conversation), for every person who criticized a comment, there may be like five more who read it, said "eh, there's already four comments responding to this", and silently decided to refrain from responding.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:08 AM on February 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


Because multiple comments illustrate to the original poster that many people find the usage problematic.

Note also that in the original thread, the "pile-on" only happened after quiet earth had already ridiculed the original objection and that far from being silenced, they kept arguing about it much in the same way as here?

It therefore doesn't look like cortex's idea "it's probably gonna be more useful to focus on the broader topic of strategies for making these situations work out well" is going to be followed up on, because the premisse of the meta is wrong.

It's not "how to stop people from piling on somebody for their word choice"; it's "how to stop being defensive about criticism".
posted by MartinWisse at 6:11 AM on February 23, 2015 [10 favorites]

Someone else commented that "This may be the most disgusting thread I've ever read on MetaFilter." By proxy, then, I'm a disgusting person?
No, that does not follow. This is why people try to be so careful about saying "You said something racist" rather than "You are racist".
posted by dfan at 6:28 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


> Furthermore, it's usually used as a rightwing signifier, where criticism of rightwing people is equated deliberately to lynching.

Martin, I'm from the US and live here. I'm pretty familiar with dogwhistles used in US politics. Referring to people who engage in harassment as 'lynch mob' is not something I recognize as a "rightwing verbal tic" or "signifier". A loaded word, yes, a political signifier the way you're claiming, no.

We could do without made-up insinuations about the OP's political views. There's nothing to indicate the OP is right wing. Why are you doing this?
posted by nangar at 6:48 AM on February 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


Okay, so cortex and I spoke a bit at shift change about going ahead and closing this thread, and decided we would give it a bit first. I feel like the question of how we use this specific word has been pretty thoroughly addressed, and I also feel like the dynamic of this thread will be an ongoing problem in terms of many people weighing in and seeming like a pile-on attack thing, even it's really mostly people just commenting on the current issue before us. It was an aspect of the original submission that we were fairly keen to avoid, and I think we were right to be worried about that.

I think that if we want to continue discussion on words or terms that tend to be not well received on the site (among other places), and how we address that in threads, it might be best for someone uninvolved in a personal way to make that post a bit later. Sorry for putting it off if more people want to discuss, but I believe it will go better if it's more focused on how the site does and should talk about it, rather than focusing on a single person. Thanks, and closing this now. Contact us if you have questions.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:51 AM on February 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


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