Metafilterians extensively quoted in today's Sunday NY Times Magazine April 5, 2015 7:47 AM   Subscribe

This thread, which discusses the NY Times article on raising teenagers is extensively cited in today's NY Times magazine. In particular, GuyZero, Sangermaine, Sys Rq, and Corb's comments are quoted!

Hello and welcome NY Times writer, whoever you are!
posted by jasper411 to Etiquette/Policy at 7:47 AM (452 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

Hey, I have a name, The New York Times Magazine, ya buncha jerks!
posted by Sys Rq at 7:53 AM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, more seriously: As much as it's flattering to have a random zinger of mine quoted by a major media outlet, this article is like sub-sub-Wolf-Blitzer-reading-tweets level "journalism." Isn't the NYT supposed to be, like, good?

(I now expect to see the above snark quoted in an article about what people are saying about this article about what people were saying about that article.)

Anyway. Hamster cages, here I come!
posted by Sys Rq at 8:05 AM on April 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


MetaFilterFilter
posted by Roger Dodger at 8:29 AM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Tell me more about these teenager storage pods.
posted by arcticseal at 8:42 AM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


MetaFilterFilter

Surely MetaMetaFilter?

(I suppose we should take this to MetaMetaTalk, though, before the MetaMods tell us to.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:48 AM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's interesting that article is not about the harsh criticism of the navel-gazing piece which was the bulk of the thread, rather they included only reactions which buttressed the thoughts of the original author.

I'm not sure what it says that such was the decision made by the NY Times Magazine writer, but it does interest me.
posted by winna at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


"Love often doesn’t arrive at the right time or in the right person. It makes us do ridiculous and stupid things. But without it, life is just a series of unremarkable events, one after the other."

Meghan Austin, Style Section

This quote out of a NYT article today was just right. The article was about a doomed, long distance love. I rarely just resonate with line, but this end quote was sublime.
posted by Oyéah at 9:25 AM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why didn't they link to corb's comment? It had more content than they quoted, while the other linked quotes were entirely reproduced. I was interested in corb's anecdote, but I had to go to the thread and find it myself.
posted by Weeping_angel at 10:25 AM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nice of those quoted to provide some copy for the NYT for free.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:39 AM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's interesting that article is not about the harsh criticism of the navel-gazing piece which was the bulk of the thread, rather they included only reactions which buttressed the thoughts of the original author.

You are learning the perfidious ways of journalists! When quotes are from randoms rather than public figures or subjects of the story, I think it is best to look at them as approximately written by the journalist, who can simply keep getting quotes from more randoms until they find one they like.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:05 AM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Nice of those quoted to provide some copy for the NYT for free.

Are you under the impression that journalists usually pay people for quotes?
posted by neroli at 11:27 AM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are you under the impression that journalists usually pay people for quotes?

No, they wouldn't. But don't they usually tell someone that they will be interviewed or ask a person if they would like to be interviewed for a piece.

One would hope that there would be some etiquette involved.
posted by Wolfster at 11:53 AM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


> But don't they usually tell someone that they will be interviewed or ask a person if they would like to be interviewed for a piece.

Are you under the impression that an interview is equivalent to a quote?

Sheesh, some of you people are really determined to hate on the Times.
posted by languagehat at 12:19 PM on April 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


"Quotation".
posted by boo_radley at 12:39 PM on April 5, 2015


Sys Rq: "Isn't the NYT supposed to be, like, good?"

The NYT Mag is generally not good.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


> "“Quotation”".

ftfy
posted by scruss at 1:51 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Man, I don't know. I guess things you say in public are public, but I'm kind of angered that the author chose to quote corb's comment about her daughter's weight gain presumably without her permission. Even if it is pseudonymous, it's one thing to have a comment out there before an audience of a few thousand MeFi readers, and another thing entirely to have it reposted in a publication with a circulation of a few million.
posted by drlith at 1:52 PM on April 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


> One would hope that there would be some etiquette involved.

Do we ever do this here? Ask permission to link to a site before making an fpp, or write to an author of something before we quote them in a comment? This isn't a journalism site and most of us aren't journalists, but quoting is quoting, I would think.
posted by rtha at 2:01 PM on April 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


Why didn't they link to corb's comment?

Offhand guess, because the entirety of her comment was a lot more nuanced than just the one slightly-out-of-context quotation? I don't hate in the Times in a general sense but I find this "Here is what people on the internet say about a topic I have to write 800 words about" style of journalism sort of lazy/uninteresting.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 2:04 PM on April 5, 2015 [29 favorites]


The NYT Mag is generally not good.

Did you see the bunnies? The bunnies are excellent.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:28 PM on April 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


"Here is what people on the internet say about a topic I have to write 800 words about"

More specifically, it's "Here's what people on the Internet say about an article we published." The "Threads" page is what the NYT Magazine has been doing lately in lieu of a Letters to the Editor page. Which doesn't mean it's not perhaps ethically ambiguous to mine Twitter and Facebook and MeFi for reactions -- just noting that original journalism is not quite the goal here. (I am professionally connected to the NYT, but had nothing to do with the page referenced, and hadn't seen it until it was linked here.)
posted by neroli at 2:30 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


corb in the New York Times, what a day. Those were good quotes from an interesting thread, so if you gotta do this form of journalism at least they picked a good source. Considering how many New York Times articles get posted here I figure we owed them one article where they mined us for interesting content instead.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:35 PM on April 5, 2015


When did we become Metafilterians? I thought we were MeFites.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:34 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


"MeFites"? How would one even pronounce that?
posted by uosuaq at 4:39 PM on April 5, 2015 [33 favorites]


10,070 comments on MetaFilter and I get quoted in the New York Times with that.

Fuck my life.
posted by GuyZero at 4:39 PM on April 5, 2015 [29 favorites]


And yeah, for those who don't get this piece, it's letters-to-the-editor that no one actually sent to the editor.
posted by GuyZero at 4:42 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't hate in the Times in a general sense but I find this "Here is what people on the internet say about a topic I have to write 800 words about" style of journalism sort of lazy/uninteresting.

I have the same general frustration with the occasional bit of exceptional laziness on Talking Points Memo, with the "company/person does thing on social media, but it blows up in their face!" non-story where somehow the fact that snarky people can publicly at-reply a public tweet is mistaken for some sort of substantial folk-media event.

Like, okay, it's news-ish if your candidate or company page actually gets compromised and filled with goofy/antagonistic nonsense; but if you tweet "show me ur #patriotism" and some guy who isn't going to vote for you tweets that "ur #patriotism is suckballs" and thereby subverts your hashtag, that's not fucking political news. That's every single day on twitter. Blarg.

In summary, I look forward to TPM mentioning Metafilter's best three or four Ted Cruz jokes.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


"MeFites"? How would one even pronounce that?

"Meef" has been approved. Someone should do a PhD on the spontaneous origin of silent letters in English.
posted by Rumple at 4:55 PM on April 5, 2015


I look forward to TPM mentioning Metafilter's best three or four Ted Cruz jokes.

MORE LIKE TED LUZ AMIRITE
posted by Sys Rq at 5:05 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ted Cruz is the biggest Cuban-American joke since Ricky Ricardo.

Ted Cruz couldn't win an election for dogcatcher if he was running against Mike Vick.
posted by box at 6:37 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I heard that Ted Cruz has people disappeared for claiming that his dental records prove that he's an alien. I think it was Ted. I could be wrong.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:44 PM on April 5, 2015


I heard Ted Cruz came from some god-forsaken place called Canuckistan.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:48 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


MeFi was also mentioned in the very first of these columns in the relaunched magazine. Which I love, by the way. I'm so used to redesigns sucking, and am over the moon with how good it is.

And I really enjoy that column. It's an imaginative replacement for the snippets of comments from the Times site by people with embarrassing handles. I don't think you can evaluate it without understanding (a) its function within the larger magazine and (b) what it replaced (in part, the execrable "one-page magazine," itself the living embodiment of the meh list). I'd much rather see a smart person who reads in good places on the internet summarize and relay the general gist of the online reaction to their (increasingly wonderful) pieces than a traditional 'letters to the editor' column that relies on only direct communication between a reader and the magazine. This is much more reflective of the way we talk about things these days. It's a meta-media column.

I was always a Times fan, but this latest approach is more encouraging than anything in years, maybe decades. Now wit h more MetaFilter? Sign me up.
posted by Miko at 8:23 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


don't they usually tell someone that they will be interviewed or ask a person if they would like to be interviewed for a piece.

Don't look now, but you're writing in public on the internet.
posted by Miko at 8:27 PM on April 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


A guy from the Washington Post once contacted me about a comment I had made (not Ferris Bueller, actually, but one about morning exercise). I ended up getting quoted in his piece, but he didn't mention MeFi.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:52 PM on April 5, 2015


Quite a few years ago a comment I made on MetaFilter was quoted in the New York Times. They didn't use my MeFi handle, though. They looked in my profile, found my e-mail address, googled that to figure out my real name, and then attributed the quote to my real name. That seemed strange to me. But I was still pleased because the comment was a fun fact® about Helen Keller's foray into plagiarism.

I think their current take is handled better (ha ha) and completely fair use.
posted by alms at 9:02 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


alms that is absolutely terrifying.
posted by Corinth at 9:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [31 favorites]


I've been contacted by NYT writers twice over the years regarding things I've said on MeFi. In both cases for interview for a possible story. Once I told the editors I was a publicist and could only be quoted in print anonymously, the offer was withdrawn. Potential conflict of interest, of course.

It's very nice to see MeFites quoted there. Thanks for posting this.
posted by zarq at 9:36 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


MeFi was also mentioned in the very first of these columns in the relaunched magazine. Which I love, by the way.

Whoa really? I feel like it's a shift in the focus of the magazine away from long-form journalism towards personal profiles and first-person writing. The same thing is happening to the Sunday Op-Ed section too: less political analysis and more human-interest pieces, stuff that ought to be in the Style section. Maybe it's the inevitable consequence of all those cuts to the news staff we keep hearing about.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:36 AM on April 6, 2015


alms that is absolutely terrifying

It's probably pretty simple, too, even without having an email address. in most cases where people post a lot (here or anywhere). Years ago there used to be a member here who could quickly assemble detailed dossiers on members based on their posts and comments (he wasn't doing anything nefarious with them, people were volunteering for this treatment). A determined person could probably start from there and cross-reference other Internet or social media and get the identity of whoever they wanted, if they had enough activity online.

It is a little scary. Maybe more than a little.
posted by thelonius at 4:20 AM on April 6, 2015


Luckily we are all dogs, you know.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:50 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Whoa really? I feel like it's a shift in the focus of the magazine away from long-form journalism towards personal profiles and first-person writing.

Really? The long piece on Norwegian prisons? The consideration of adolescence? We're only at the 4th or 5th issue of the relaunch. Maybe you're reacting a lot to the Karl Ove piece, but the magazine has improved greatly IMO. International journalism is not my greatest interest - I recognize its importance - but the NYT plays a lot of other important roles, and presenting great reflective writing on culture and ideas is one of those.
posted by Miko at 7:14 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I feel like it's a shift in the focus of the magazine away from long-form journalism towards personal profiles and first-person writing.

What Miko said. The Mag has gotten a lot better (and I say that as someone who is reflexively prepared to dislike attempts to revamp periodicals).

> Years ago there used to be a member here who could quickly assemble detailed dossiers on members based on their posts and comments (he wasn't doing anything nefarious with them, people were volunteering for this treatment).

That was tamim. (Come back, tamim!)
posted by languagehat at 7:44 AM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Quite a few years ago a comment I made on MetaFilter was quoted in the New York Times. They didn't use my MeFi handle, though. They looked in my profile, found my e-mail address, googled that to figure out my real name, and then attributed the quote to my real name."

Wow, really? I was quoted by real name in that article, too, but my name was right there in my profile. I had no idea that they shouldn't have known your real name. Did you mention that in the MetaTalk thread about the article? Maybe you did and I forgot.

But that was wrong. They shouldn't have done that. It was almost nine years ago and I have to believe that journalistic ethics have gotten more in-tune with the internet. Maybe that's why in this case they used only the screennames. Which is almost certainly better for these sorts of pieces and probably only when someone is more extensively quoted and where there's maybe some presumption that they're writing from authority or something, would it be appropriate to use their real name. In my case, though, I preferred and was pleased that they used my real name -- but I basically don't ever write publicly on the internet in true anonymity.

There's a number of issues implicit in quoting corb's comment and with those in mind, I think this might be why they didn't link to it directly and certainly why it's better to use screennames and not real names.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:13 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I expect that back in 2006 the NYTimes didn't have any guidelines for quoting people who wrote under handles on the internet. It's more likely they were applying the standards of old fashioned print journalism, which encourage or even require that quotes be attributed to the people i.e. real people with real names. At the time I didn't hold it against them. It was just a sign of a general cluelessness about the mores of the Internet.

Now they almost certainly have policies for how to handle things like this. We could likely find out what they are and engage them in a conversation about it by contacting their Public Editor (what other papers call an ombudsman). That could be interesting.
posted by alms at 8:38 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I happen to be reading the NYT Magazine now and I just got to "Stranger Still" ("Kamel Daoud and Algeria, caught between Islamist fervor and cultural flowering"), by Adam Shatz. Read that and tell me it "ought to be in the Style section."
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, I don't know. I guess things you say in public are public, but I'm kind of angered that the author chose to quote corb's comment about her daughter's weight gain presumably without her permission. Even if it is pseudonymous, it's one thing to have a comment out there before an audience of a few thousand MeFi readers, and another thing entirely to have it reposted in a publication with a circulation of a few million.

Yeah, I'm kind of not happy about that myself and struggling to know what to do about it. I'm kind of tempted to ask the mods to delete that comment, but now it's super-public, and I'm kind of tempted to write an Angry Letter to the magazine, but I'm not sure it would get anywhere. I'm just kind of...bleaargh.
posted by corb at 8:58 AM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Hey, at least your comment doesn't make you sound like a hyper-controlling sociopath.
posted by GuyZero at 9:05 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Your comment doesn't do that. It is what you meant and it's true, you have to micro the living shit out of most kids and that's how you end up getting complimented when they behave at a restaurant and yeah mine are still young so that's all I got.
posted by aydeejones at 9:12 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Because "living shit" is the worst shit and my comment is crazier sounding I realize)
posted by aydeejones at 9:16 AM on April 6, 2015


Here's what I don't quite understand: your comments are already public. They are already viewable by anyone, on the internet. They have been published. For this reason, it's hard for me to identify any ethical boundary the NYT has crossed, because they are using public speech and in a fair-use way. If it isn't okay for Times readers to read it, it probably isn't okay to be on MetaFilter, either. Conceptually, there is little difference between publishing here and there, except that the Times is edited and the reporter is visibly accountable by name. I think people may often forget how very public this site is.

I agree that this would be a fascinating discussion to raise with the Public Editor - if only to learn more about how the Times policy about quoting online commentary, with attribution, has evolved.
posted by Miko at 9:19 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is one of those things that sits pretty weird with me, as technically, discussions happen on a public forum here and on other parts of the internet and are observable to the general public, and as such, are perhaps quotable. But it often doesn't feel like a public conversation to me, it feels like a private conversation between members that happen to be in a public place, and as such, there are issues of politeness. Like a news reporter was eavesdropping in on a personal conversation in a bar about personal family dynamics and decided to quote it non-anonymously without asking first. It might technically follow some standard, but it feel as weird and inappropriate, because there is an expectation of some privacy (public privacy?). Perhaps it feels like a different dynamic because we've created something of a "short-walled community" here that is intentional (in vs. out) but also pretty accessible by design, so that people can observe, then join. The ability to come by and observe before being allowed "into the house,"so to speak, gives the impression that it's also in the public in a morally accessible way. Perhaps it technically is at the end of the day, but it feels like a different type of thing than quoting a public debate or something that hasn't an expectation of some privacy. It feels like someone was outside, looking in through the windows of your place (because hey, you leave the shades open to be friendly), and decided to quote what they were lipreading.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:20 AM on April 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


Like, okay, it's news-ish if your candidate or company page actually gets compromised and filled with goofy/antagonistic nonsense; but if you tweet "show me ur #patriotism" and some guy who isn't going to vote for you tweets that "ur #patriotism is suckballs" and thereby subverts your hashtag, that's not fucking political news. That's every single day on twitter. Blarg.

Agreed 1000% percent. Sick of "People Say Terrible Things on Twitter" stories presented as news.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:21 AM on April 6, 2015


Your comments are public but there are different forms of public: if you think posting a comment on MetaFilter is equivalent to having them published in The New York Times, I've got a lovely golden bridge in San Francisco to sell you.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:21 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, exactly, for SpacemanStix's commentary. Yes, it's public, in the same way that I will also talk about my kid in a coffeeshop, but if a NYT reporter were at the next table and chose to publicly quote it I'd still be furious.
posted by corb at 9:22 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


it often doesn't feel like a public conversation to me, it feels like a private conversation between members that happen to be in a public place

But..it's really not. Maybe the takeaway is that we should be clearer about that in MetaFilter as a community. This isn't a private conversation at all.

Like a news reporter was eavesdropping in on a personal conversation in a bar about personal family dynamics and decided to quote it non-anonymously without asking first. It might technically follow some standard, but it feel as weird and inappropriate, because there is an expectation of some privacy (public privacy?).

A bar is a public place, so technically, you're right, there is no real breach there. The question is more one of newsworthiness. The 'expectation of privacy' is a fuzzy boundary but in general, most courts have upheld the notion that actions that take place in public are fair game for journalism.

if you think posting a comment on MetaFilter is equivalent to having them published in The New York Times, I've got a lovely golden bridge in San Francisco to sell you.

Functionally, it would be best to think of them as similar, because both are accessible by any interested reader.
posted by Miko at 9:23 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wait, I'm probably wrong about the bar because it's privately owned even if a place of public accommodation, so there is a stronger expectation of privacy. But MetaFilter is not analogous because it's not functionally similar to a bar, with an "inside" and an "outside." The commentary is almost all visible on the outside.
posted by Miko at 9:28 AM on April 6, 2015


But it often doesn't feel like a public conversation to me, it feels like a private conversation between members that happen to be in a public place.

What is the ratio of members to non-members viewing Metafilter and reading the threads? I don't know the answer to that question, but my guess is that there are a lot more non-members than members. If you throw in members who lurk but hardly ever comment, you have to conclude that our conversations here really are public performances for non-participating observers.

I'm really surprised that people are surprised by this in 2015. What's the old saw, don't say anything on the Internet that you wouldn't want published on the front page of the paper? Well, here you have it, it just got published albeit not on the front page.

Back in the days of Usenet lots of people relied on security through obscurity. Who would ever read those discussions? How would my employer/parents/children ever even know about alt.sex.bondage.weasels? But those days are long gone, and it's good to be reminded of the fact. I find myself engaging in self-censorship pretty often, not because I'm worried about being quoted in the Times but because I know there's a decent chance that one day in the future my son (currently 9 years old) will decide to read through the Collected Comments of alms on Metafilter. When it really matters, we can always resort to sock puppets.

Of course, there are still lots of reasons to get mad at reporters. They slice and dice, they quote selectively, they take things out of context, and they highlight the points that support their narrative. That happens, and it sucks. But it's part of the very nature of reporting, and unless your meaning really gets twisted into the opposite of what your original statement intended, you don't have much recourse.
posted by alms at 9:41 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Yeah, I'm kind of not happy about that myself and struggling to know what to do about it. I'm kind of tempted to ask the mods to delete that comment, but now it's super-public, and I'm kind of tempted to write an Angry Letter to the magazine, but I'm not sure it would get anywhere. I'm just kind of...bleaargh."

There's a lot of complex stuff going on about size of audience, degrees of anonymity, confidentiality, and especially how that involves information about third parties (like your daughter). On one extreme is me anonymously telling one other person something about myself. The other extreme is me telling a national television audience something private about another person when their identity is known to that audience. The problem is that those two extremes are connected by a continuum where there's no obvious dividing line that completely changes the ethical considerations.

"Here's what I don't quite understand: your comments are already public. They are already viewable by anyone, on the internet. They have been published. For this reason, it's hard for me to identify any ethical boundary the NYT has crossed, because they are using public speech and in a fair-use way."

I think you're quite wrong about this, and in a way that surprises me. I'm sure we've discussed this here on MetaFilter in numerous contexts in the past -- you're marking off one absolute dividing line ("public"), that actually is itself quite ambiguous, and disregarding all the other ethical considerations that are obviously involved.

There's practically no end to the examples I can come up with that I feel you'd not end up feeling comfortable applying the principle you're arguing. I mean, seriously, I began to do so and I quickly got bored with it. So many of the difficult discussions we're having lately in our society have everything to do with the fact that what is legally "public" should not necessarily be equivalent to "it's okay that at any moment one fourth of the world's population might suddenly be made aware of it". Whether it's something you wrote on MetaFilter or the movements of your car on public streets during 2014 or the video of you taking a bath that your parents shared on Facebook. No, just because it's public doesn't automatically make ethical concerns irrelevant.

It does seem to me that publishers of technically public information have an ethical responsibility to consider possible harm to a subject with regard their audience size, what is disclosed, how much effective anonymity the subject has, to what degree the subject had an expectation of limited dissemination in its original context, and then weighed against the public good served by airing/printing it.

"I'm really surprised that people are surprised by this in 2015. What's the old saw, don't say anything on the Internet that you wouldn't want published on the front page of the paper? Well, here you have it, it just got published albeit not on the front page."

I am very much unpersuaded by the "don't write anything on the internet that you wouldn't want a billion people to read" because that's just as true about anything you say while you're walking down the street -- in principle, as we see from Miko's argument, that applies to everything you do and say in public. And, also, as just a hard-headed argument about the nature of the Internet, then the legal notion of public/private doesn't really enter into it, either, and it applies to every email you ever write, every text you ever send, every photograph you ever let anyone take of you because, in the smartphone and internet age, there's always the possibility that someone will put it out there and it will go viral. This defensive view about how to behave and which completely places all the burden on everyone except the person who publicizes something is crazy. It's not a way to live and it's not how we should organize society.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:56 AM on April 6, 2015 [16 favorites]


But..it's really not. Maybe the takeaway is that we should be clearer about that in MetaFilter as a community. This isn't a private conversation at all.

I think that an argument can be made about things being technically correct. My concern is that an additional takeaway should be an issue of journalistic politeness (even if the reporter is on the side of truth) over things that aren't national security issues and have the potential to embarrass people. Some handbooks on journalistic ethics deal with the question of potentially embarrassing quotes, and it's actually something that can be philosophically tricky, weighing potential harm with balanced reporting, the question of anonymity, does it serve the public good, etc.

Here, for example, is a quote from NYU's journalism handbook (p. 12) about publicly accessible information about people:
A question journalists often confront is how much of a person's private life should
be revealed in an article. Just because a reporter can pull up a source's
mortgages, stock holdings, or perform a Google Earth flyover of his home doesn't
mean that's ethical practice. It also doesn't necessarily mean it's unethical either.
The key is whether a person's private life—his personal habits, sexual
preference, medical condition, odd interests—is newsworthy and should
therefore be published. These can be vexing decisions to make.
So, I grant that it might not fall under unethical practices (and we should perhaps be more wary as a community), but I disagree that this was a good place for a journalist to decide that particular publicly accessible (and potentially embarrassing ) information fall under a rigorous standard of "newsworthy". For such a fluffy piece of journalism, perhaps those competing concerns could have been given more attention. It might be less than charitable, but I get the feeling that these issues were hardly even grappled with at all. That is the part that rankles, not as much the issue of technical correctness and whether internet users should know better by this point than to have an expectation of privacy.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


you're marking off one absolute dividing line ("public"), that actually is itself quite ambiguous, and disregarding all the other ethical considerations that are obviously involved.

I am sorry that we disagree but I feel that this is objectively true. Your comments here are publicly accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

On one extreme is me anonymously telling one other person something about myself. The other extreme is me telling a national television audience something private about another person when their identity is known to that audience. The problem is that those two extremes are connected by a continuum where there's no obvious dividing line that completely changes the ethical considerations.

The problem in the premise is that the first communication would be subject to an expectation of privacy - the last, none at all. It's not truly a continuum; one is just out of bounds in reporting ethics.

Because I used to work in journalism, and continue to have a high degree of interest in it, I've read a lot of ethical debates about privacy. I tend to come down pretty strongly on the side of journalism to represent actual events in the real world that happen in public.

The NYU thing raises the question of "newsworthiness" as an important criteria, and I agree with that. The "Threads" column is based on the premise that something from the magazine has become newsworthy because people online are talking about it. What they can glean from public websites to add to the reporting on the reception of that content has been deemed by them (and at least some readers, like me) newsworthy. It's nowhere near the same as looking up someone's private identity and personal information; they are quoting material that has been made public, under the handle with which it was made public.
posted by Miko at 10:08 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


What's that line from the Big Lebowski? That's how I feel a bit about journalists who might technically be correct, but aren't thinking very carefully about the lives of other people as they write fluff pieces. That's the sticking point, in that all "true reporting" isn't by definition a virtue, just because you can.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:11 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


a.s.b.w represent
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:12 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


aren't thinking very carefully about the lives of other people

Well, for me, I don't think this column in particular is all that trivial - I don't find media reporting to be "fluff." The Times itself considers media to be one of their core beats. Threads is the print equivalent of elements of On The Media (which frequently does roundups of online reactions to news, as news itself) and other roundups of online events.

But in any event, barring clear ethical breaches, I don't think the responsibility to determine what content is shared lies first with a news outlet. I believe it lies first with us when we choose to make our commentaries publicly, or not.
posted by Miko at 10:15 AM on April 6, 2015


By the way, here was the first The Thread column that MeFi turned up in.

Threads/The Thread: oops, getting my apocalyptic melodramas mixed up with my column titles
posted by Miko at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2015


Metafilter is an interesting case for considering this public / private boundary.

On the one hand, it is a community, where people interact and get to know each other. It is a conversation, a big social gathering where people have shared histories, ongoing dialogs that continue across threads, and where trust develops.

On the other hand, it is a Community Weblog, not a Community Forum. Things that we write here are published. The whole premise of Metafilter is that articles will be posted and discussed by the few, and the read by the many. One can imagine a site similar to Metafilter where the FPPs were visible to the public, but the discussions were members-only. That's not what we have here. The discussions are part of the content, part of the reason that non-members come to Metafilter. That ad revenue from non-members helps support the site.

If the NYTimes were to published attributed quotations from a private online forum, I'd feel very differently. While it's true that the same adage applies ("never write anything on the Internet that you wouldn't want to see printed in the paper"), there is some expectation of privacy in a private forum. But Metafilter isn't that. We write here knowing that lots of people will read what we write, include many many people who will never do any writing here at all.
posted by alms at 10:28 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


If the NYTimes were to published attributed quotations from a private online forum, I'd feel very differently. While it's true that the same adage applies ("never write anything on the Internet that you wouldn't want to see printed in the paper"), there is some expectation of privacy in a private forum. But Metafilter isn't that. We write here knowing that lots of people will read what we write, include many many people who will never do any writing here at all.

I feel as if a particular sticking point is getting missed. It isn't an issue of being technically correct in my mind. Lack of privacy is not equivalent to expectation of something being full-on public. There are lines that even reporters don't cross. For example, NBC will never be TMZ because you become morally sleazy at some point by taking advantage of everything that is technically publicly accessible. I'm not saying that this article is sleazy like TMZ, but I am saying that I have a hard time envisioning a more impoverished media by taking into account the good of an individual as much as we take into account the good of the public to know. I'm not sure that embarrassing individuals without at least having a discussion with them serves the public good more, or protects a utilitarian ideal that says a strict divide between reporter and quotation must be maintained although it sometimes throws people under the bus. Reporters think carefully all the time about the balancing interests between 1) their media institution; 2) public right to know; and 3) the private lives of individuals. Those are three competing interests that often create a lot of conversation before publication. (I just saw All The President's Men again this week, so it's on my mind!) What I see happening here is much more attention to the first and second variable, and no so much for the third. I'd like to push back on the idea that the third is not important at all and automatically becomes subservient to one and two, simply because something is "in the public." In this particular case, I think the third wasn't considered at all, and that media actually has a responsibility to do better. As things become less private and more public all the time, this is actually a pressing concern.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:49 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


But comments made in public are not "part of the private lives of the individuals" any more.

Also important to questions of legality is cause of action - assessment of harm. What is the harm caused by quoting someone's words, said in public, with their handle, used in public? This information is already public.

SpacemanStix, I just can't go very far with your argument. I am puzzled about what you're asking for. Let's say I have a blog, a widely read blog about my field, say. And I want to talk about how a certain event or new policy is being received across the field, and to talk about that, I gather some comments from Twitter and from public discussions on Facebook and other blogs, and I include them in my piece and cite their source. Having done the due diligence of crediting the sources, why would I need to secure permission from the individuals? They have already published their comments, and I am making fair use of them. (This is general for the purposes of the hypothetical, but also something that happens routinely).

Or, let's say I want to write about online harassment. To do so, I quote some horrifying Tweets from harassers, and I also quote what others have written in public places online about their harassment experiences. I quote them all correctly and cite the sources. Would you see this as wrong?
posted by Miko at 10:56 AM on April 6, 2015


> you're marking off one absolute dividing line ("public"), that actually is itself quite ambiguous, and disregarding all the other ethical considerations that are obviously involved.

I am sorry that we disagree but I feel that this is objectively true. Your comments here are publicly accessible to anyone with an internet connection.


I have to agree with Miko here, and frankly I find it bizarre (and surprising) that anyone thinks things said here are private in any sense whatever. This is not our secret clubhouse, this is a public space, and a reporter has every right, both legal and ethical, to quote anything said here. Furthermore, in the specific case linked here, I find it hard to understand why anyone would feel compromised or betrayed by having what they wrote quoted. What, exactly, is the harm done?
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm also curious to know whether people think there's a difference between a reporter quoting a tweet versus quoting a comment made on Metafilter.
posted by alms at 11:11 AM on April 6, 2015


> Lack of privacy is not equivalent to expectation of something being full-on public.

This site is full-on public. I know we talk to each other like we're all in a room that has doors and walls and so on, but it doesn't and we're not.
posted by rtha at 11:20 AM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think I see it as an issue of politeness and looking out for the good of the individual when they had 1) an expectation that something is wasn't meant to be broadcast in an unlimited fashion through the airwaves, because it was a more privately held conversation between individuals (albeit in a publicly privately owned space); and 2) there is a private individual good that can be served by not embarrassing someone for reasons that aren't automatically subservient to the public interest. In terms of online harassment, there is an obvious public good. In terms of parenting difficulties that are potentially embarrassing, not so much.

I have a feeling that we'll continue to disagree on this because of the way that we define publicly accessible information and to what extent there is an expectation of privacy, even here. I'm cool with that, and I see what it's important to others to think about it differently. It protects something important. I find the imprecision about it a little bit troubling, though, as not only does the media make these distinctions all the time to respect individuals and not embarrass them unnecessarily already (there is a precedent), but there are seriously sleazy forms of media that happen when we don't ask where the line is drawn. I like asking where we draw the line on accessing personal and public information. What I hear happening here, though, is that we're saying we shouldn't ask it (although to be more charitable, perhaps I'm just missing that people don't think it's important in this particular case).
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:22 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure where I stand on this. On the one hand, I understand what alms is saying, and agree with some of those points. On the other hand, it's scary to think that comments made here can be reproduced in other publications without notice or approval of the commenter. Something about that seems wrong. People have written here about deeply personal experiences - mental illness, family issues, rape, incest, abuse, medical issues, miscarriages, substance abuse, PTSD, etc. There are a lot of users that, while not providing contact information in their profiles, have been on here long enough to have enough comments out there to figure out their true identities (me included). Given that, on some of these issues, quasi-public commenters have been doxxed/SWATed/otherwise harassed, the stakes for being associated with one's online comments are higher than they may have been even a few years ago.

In light of the real, actual harm that some online commenters have experienced, I think I fall on the side of "the reporter/editor should have asked the user for approval to include their statement." It's really not that a high of a bar to pass and the issue (reactions to an article) is not one that would require undercover investigative journalism. I understand the argument about assumption of risk when you speak in public, but I think publications that want to be respected as pillars of journalism should strive for a higher standard than "well, it's not explicitly unethical."
posted by melissasaurus at 11:31 AM on April 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yes, it's public, in the same way that I will also talk about my kid in a coffeeshop, but if a NYT reporter were at the next table and chose to publicly quote it I'd still be furious.

And yet it's a written comment on a public forum. The more ethically dubious habit of hunting down the writer of some comment and publishing their given name aside, it isn't as if a reporter used an overheard remark in a coffee shop; it's as if a reporter quoted a sentence you wrote for a 'zine that was left in a coffee shop.

Now the value of calling attention to some random internet comment is arguable—see also the value of making the wisdom of taxi drivers a staple of op-eds—but merely quoting a written remark from an open forum in another publication and attributing it simply to the named author of that remark seems about ethical as it gets from a journalistic perspective.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:36 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


seems about ethical as it gets from a journalistic perspective.

If your point is "because they have none", then I agree: otherwise, no. This may meet legal standards of fair use, but it does not meet moral standards of it.
posted by corb at 12:06 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Corb, do you feel this way because of the nature of the comment, that it was about your daughter? Or the fact that it was a snipped taken out of context? Or would you have felt the same way if it was a comment about the price of fish in Calcutta and they had quoted the whole thing? I'm trying to understand how you see this. I mean, Metafilter gets quoted and linked to a lot.
posted by alms at 12:19 PM on April 6, 2015


"And yet it's a written comment on a public forum. The more ethically dubious habit of hunting down the writer of some comment and publishing their given name aside, it isn't as if a reporter used an overheard remark in a coffee shop; it's as if a reporter quoted a sentence you wrote for a 'zine that was left in a coffee shop."

But at this point you've already conceded the argument I've been making. Miko and LH and rtha have all been arguing simply on the basis of what is legally public -- and not about determining what's okay and what's not okay to publish within the context of everything that is technically public.

You and I may or may not agree that there's a line between the coffeeshop example and the MetaFilter example. For the sake of the argument, let's say that we do agree that somewhere in there, what isn't acceptable becomes acceptable and that quoting MetaFilter comments is fine. But if you accept the argument that quoting the coffeeshop comments isn't ethical, then we have to talk about what it is that separates the coffeeshop from MetaFilter. And when we do that, we end up talking about the scope of effective privacy within a public space (and as contrasted in scale to the larger, secondary audience), and we'll talk about triviality versus importance and within the context of the public good being served by printing something, and we'll talk about how this affects third parties -- people about whom things are being discussed that aren't present in the conversation and never made any explicit or implicit agreement about having details of their lives being made public. And probably some other things.

But we're not talking about those things. Instead we're talking about whether it's okay for the NYT to quote someone on no other basis than simply whether it was said in public, as defined legally. That's a deeply impoverished basis upon which to make such a decision and I'm surprised that anyone would argue that it's all that really matters. Maybe, when it comes down to it, no one here really wants to say that it's that simple and they'll allow that it's more complicated. I'm fine with that. But there've been a number of arguments that either resolve to, or are just plainly "it's public so it's okay".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:19 PM on April 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think I feel this way - mostly because it is a personal anecdote about a minor, which usually needs a higher level of scrutiny, but also because I am not a public figure and so my least utterance is not fair game for the press. I've been a little bothered by 'The Press Quotes Twitter' as well, even though it's far less of a community than Metafilter - I think basically the idea that everything written down is somehow something being Published, instead of a conversation, is the problem.
posted by corb at 12:26 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists provides some relevant points under the heading Minimize Harm. Most notably: "Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast."

If the two options here are:
1. People can't comment anywhere online unless they are ok with being quoted, without their permission, in a widely-distributed publication; or
2. The publication can't quote online comments without obtaining the commenter's permission;

option 2 seems like a better path. The NYT has never, to my knowledge, had a dearth of Letters to the Editor, or even comments on its own website (on which it can adequately disclaim/warn), on any of its articles. What is the overarching journalistic need that would be undermined by asking for permission first and, assuming such a need exists, does the benefit that flows from that journalistic need outweigh the potential harm that may befall the commenter by publication?
posted by melissasaurus at 12:29 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm fascinated with this discussion. It reminds me of what I love about Metafilter, that I learn new perspectives on issues. When I posted this, I was all "wow! look everyone! the NY TIMES is paying attention! Whoo!" and didn't give any thought to the privacy / ethical issues raised.

I can easily imagine how queasy I would be feeling if I'd written something personal and private here, with the sense that it was a discussion among a relatively small group of friendly like-minded people, and then have that comment blow up on some national forum. Having said that, I must say that I would come down on the side being articulated by Miko and others above. The only mechanism to make Metafilter comments private is through my choice of username and what I decide to disclose or not disclose on my profile page.

This NYT "Threads" feature is unattributed, but it would certainly be interesting to get someone from there to give us their perspective on the ethical issues involved here.

Now I'm wondering if *this* thread is going to show up somewhere!
posted by jasper411 at 12:39 PM on April 6, 2015


we're not talking about those things. Instead we're talking about whether it's okay for the NYT to quote someone on no other basis than simply whether it was said in public, as defined legally.

Ethically, strictly speaking, there's nothing improper about the NYT simply quoting a remark by J. Rando Internet Commenter, given, of course, that they treat the quote as any good journalist would treat any quote. Whether there is any value to quoting that particular comment, whether the NYT should be doing something else with its time and space and effort, is another discussion to have. Something can be ethical, strictly speaking, and still not be worth doing by the NYT.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:45 PM on April 6, 2015


Conversations on Metafilter aren't private conversations in a coffee shop. They are more like panel discussions, with half a dozen people on stage and a hundred in the audience. Moreover, it's a panel discussion that's being taped, and the tape will be available in the university library forever.

I can understand that there's a question of sensitivity here, especially where people's kids are involved. But it's an oversimplification to say that the two choices are "everything written online is fair game" and "nothing written online can be quoted." There are private forums that are very specifically private. You agree to that when you enter and participate. Metafilter is the opposite. We all visited this site as non-members before becoming members. For many people Metafilter is like a collaboratively written magazine -- they visit, they read, and they do not write.

Setting aside the question of the New York Times, I think it's important for people to remember this. It may feel like a private conversation, but it's not.
posted by alms at 12:50 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


corb, if you would like to contact the Times' Public Editor (ombudsman), Margaret Sullivan to register a complaint, here's how to do so.
posted by zarq at 12:52 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not that nothing can be quoted, it's that nothing should be quoted without first contacting the speaker/author for permission.

There are many analogies that might be relevant to quoting any given FPP topic. Would it be ethical for a journalist to quote someone's statement at a support group or AA/NA meeting without their permission? What if it's a small town and there's only one person named Nancy (or whatever) in that town?

It's not difficult and, in most cases I can think of, would not undermine the journalist's goal (to get a true, accurate, and complete report on xyz issue), to simply ask for permission first.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:09 PM on April 6, 2015


I can understand that there's a question of sensitivity here, especially where people's kids are involved.

Not just people who write about their kids, but the kids themselves. I just briefly looked for the age minimum for Metafilter and couldn't find it (I assume it's at least 13 for COPPA purposes). Some users here may be under the age of 18.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:18 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know the answer to this, but I asked it above and I'm wondering what other people think: Ought we ask permission before we quote someone? Before we link to their blog? Blockquote something from something they wrote on their blog? If this is something we would ask of journalists, do we ask it only of journalists/journalism sites? What makes putting a quote from someplace else different if we do it here?
posted by rtha at 1:22 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


"If the two options here are..."

I don't think it should be limited to those two options. That there's a section titled "Minimize Harm" and the items listed within it collectively make it pretty clear that one or two simple, hard rules is insufficient. Individual cases are different and they require individual judgment. I think that parents writing about their children on a web forum implies some greater scrutiny about how, when, and where to reprint those as quotes, for example. And, more generally, the content of what's being quoted matters a great deal, of course. Someone who writes here about their experiences as a survivor of sexual assault, and when their real name is in their profile, absolutely shouldn't have that account printed in the New York Times attributed to them under their real name without permission. Of course not. On the other hand, I don't see an ethical problem in that 2006 NYT piece quoting me by name. Different things are different, and an ethical standard necessarily must recognize this.

"I don't know the answer to this, but I asked it above and I'm wondering what other people think: Ought we ask permission before we quote someone?"

My own answer is in accordance with what I just wrote. It would depend upon the content of their quote, whether it's effectively anonymous or not, the relative sizes of the audience where it originally appeared versus the size of the audience here, how much the quote involves a third party (especially someone like a child), and some other things.

I don't see that the choices are "always" or "never". Not for us here on MetaFilter and not for the New York Times.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:33 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I really do understand the tension on this, and I love that about this place. Thanks everyone on engaging this topic and helping expand my horizons.

I don't know the answer to this, but I asked it above and I'm wondering what other people think: Ought we ask permission before we quote someone? Before we link to their blog? Blockquote something from something they wrote on their blog? If this is something we would ask of journalists, do we ask it only of journalists/journalism sites? What makes putting a quote from someplace else different if we do it here?

I don't know that I do either, but a standard that (I think has) served me well is treating people who are publicly disconnected from me online like I'd be treating those close to me. I'd think most things quoted online wouldn't require getting permission. But if I knew someone here and wanted to do some research that included their metafilter quotes, and it had the potential to be embarrassing and it would be read by millions of people overnight (rather than the smaller group of people I was having a public discussion with in a lesser known forum), I'd feel like an jerk if I didn't consult that person first. If it was one of those things that would be inevitably published because it serves some public good (and I think the standard on this has to be high, not just a public service of sorts curating pieces of information), I can't imagine at least not giving a heads up or finding out how someone would feel about that. I think that others here would extend the same courtesy to me, because it's a kind thing to do. So it's about asking reporters to be courteous and to compel them towards empathy as part (but not all) of the equation. Newsworthy stories should serve people as a whole (balancing public good with individual good), not the other way around.

It reminds me of a standard that I've often seen in journalism where you at least invite people to comment on what it is that you have discovered about them before going to publication. It goes something like this: "Just so you know, we are going to be publishing a story about [this public piece of information about you]. Would you like to comment?" Even here, where the negative publishing may be inevitable for the public good, there is a common courtesy that allows the other person to give feedback or provide further context. Even if it's not about being kind, it's about making sure that we get the context right. I'd like to see that happening at a bare minimum, especially if we selectively use parts of quotations by people to drive a particular narrative which has a vested interest in that narrative being cohesive and entertaining.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:52 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Tell me more about these teenager storage pods.

They're called "barrels" -- see Mark Twain (scroll down).
posted by Rash at 2:21 PM on April 6, 2015


if you think posting a comment on MetaFilter is equivalent to having them published in The New York Times, I've got a lovely golden bridge in San Francisco to sell you.

Of course not. On MetaFilter you are free to post that comment unedited, whereas in the New York Times, the expectation is that there would be framing information or analysis like "[the 'Golden Gate' refers to the strait connecting the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean; the bridge that bears its name is painted International orange]."
posted by psoas at 2:24 PM on April 6, 2015


I don't think that re-publishing a MeFi comment is particularly problematic although digging up a user's real name and using that instead of their username seems too far to me. Pseudonymous comments can be attributed pseudonymously.

They did edit my comment however which is too bad. Maybe there are people who do love having shit everywhere and now they feel slighted.
posted by GuyZero at 2:28 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


arcticseal: "Tell me more about these teenager storage pods."
Whatever they cost, I'll take three, please.

Miko: "Here's what I don't quite understand: your comments are already public. They are already viewable by anyone, on the internet. They have been published. For this reason, it's hard for me to identify any ethical boundary the NYT has crossed, because they are using public speech and in a fair-use way."

melissasaurus: "In light of the real, actual harm that some online commenters have experienced, I think I fall on the side of "the reporter/editor should have asked the user for approval to include their statement." It's really not that a high of a bar to pass and the issue (reactions to an article) is not one that would require undercover investigative journalism. I understand the argument about assumption of risk when you speak in public, but I think publications that want to be respected as pillars of journalism should strive for a higher standard than "well, it's not explicitly unethical."

I'm a little puzzled about this. MetaFilter attracts something like, what, a million unique visitors a month? I don't see a fundamental difference between comments (potentially) being read by a million or more people and being (potentially) read by a few million. If you are publishing comments on MetaFilter, I feel like you've crossed some threshold between a semi-private conversation akin to a coffee shop and a full-on public discussion that's more like a public debate in the local park and need to accept that the expectations of privacy are different and this includes any expectation that you will be asked for permission to reproduce your comments. There's no doubt this place often feels a lot more private than it really is, but anyone concerned about who might see and use what they write would do well to remember where they really are. There's also a whole can of worms in the matter of jurisdiction - does US copyright law apply to my comments, or Australian copyright law (which has no specific 'fair use' provisions but does have more broad 'fair dealing' (.pdf) allowances?. The FAQ does say that '...limited content quoting is considered fair use and will be treated as such.' and I don't think the quoted article could be considered anything other than 'limited content quoting' no matter how you look at it.

From an ethical standpoint, I think it's fine to quote comments and attribute them to the user name they were published under (with or without permission), although I think the original content should be linked to, either in the body or as a reference. I think searching out and publishing a user's 'real' name as per the example above is definitely unethical. Thinking back to when people wrote actual letters to editors, newspapers would (in my experience) definitely want a 'real' name on the letter, but would often publish the letter over a pseudonym if asked to. Searching for a person to verify they actually exist doesn't seem too bad (however unnecessary) - it's the publication of that information I find unethical.
posted by dg at 4:11 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


If they used a person's profile info which is only public to other members and not publicly available, then I have a major problem with their ethics.

It's "outing" someone's name which I think is a bannable offense here and akin doxxing.
posted by mightshould at 4:28 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


When did we become Metafilterians? I thought we were MeFites.

We've always been "Metafilterians", clear back to 2000-2001; the term arrived around the same time as "MeFite", maybe a month or two earlier. "MeFite" has clearly won, but I've actually always found it a bit cutesy and preferred "Metafilterian". I don't abbreviate "MeFi", either, so maybe that's why.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:05 PM on April 6, 2015


"If they used a person's profile info which is only public to other members and not publicly available, then I have a major problem with their ethics."

All or almost all of the profile page stuff is available to non-members and the only restriction I'm aware of is a robots.txt one against search engine indexing. Specifically, real names and the g+ profile link are visible to non-members.

I agree that looking at the profile and through history and profile links to determine a mefite's real name and publishing a quote with attribution to that name without permission is at least ethically questionable and at worst moderately unethical. But then I would agree with this because my argument is that this is about degree and not about kind.

What puzzles me is how anyone would argue for acceptability on the qualitative grounds of a "public" status while also objecting to a real name attribution on the basis of publicly available information. (That's assuming anyone here does hold both of those positions -- maybe that's not the case.)

If your standard is simply "public", then not only can the press ethically publish anything and everything that it discovers about you through public sources, but that the journalistic status of the publisher itself is irrelevant and therefore only the public availability of information is a necessary requirement for something being ethical -- which would mean that almost all examples of doxing, by anyone, for any purpose, is also "ethical". Because the only requirement is that it's public and not private.

I imagine a world where everyone thinks and behaves according to such a standard, and it seems like a truly awful place. A kind of place that we actively oppose here with our ethos against doxing or even of posting profile info into threads such that it ends up in search engines.

I'm okay with arguing that it's a matter of degree involving numerous variables and that almost always a comment in MetaFilter is on the "it's okay to publish without permission" side of the ethical spectrum. That makes sense to me. It's just that I really feel like a number of people are making much stronger arguments that effectively just reduce to something's public status and defending all possible quotes on that basis alone. But that argument has vast implicit consequences that I am certain almost no one here would actually defend.

As far as I can tell, it negates our own cultural ethos about numerous things regarding privacy. What we write here is public! Put it together, make a dossier on someone's life, connect it with other publicly available information, make a MetaTalk post with all this information about that person. How can that be wrong if the fact of it being publicly available information is the only thing that matters with regard to the ethics of publishing that information and that -- notably -- the real onus is on that person to have protected all that information from being within the public view in the first place. That's not how anyone here actually thinks or behaves, it's self-evidently unethical by our own standards. So it's not simply about whether something is public. It's much more than that.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:23 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


All or almost all of the profile page stuff is available to non-members and the only restriction I'm aware of is a robots.txt one against search engine indexing. Specifically, real names and the g+ profile link are visible to non-members.

The visibility of social stuff and email are also explicitly toggleable; they may be visible to non-members, or not, depending on the user's preference settings.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:51 PM on April 6, 2015


Ivan Fyodorovich: "What puzzles me is how anyone would argue for acceptability on the qualitative grounds of a "public" status while also objecting to a real name attribution on the basis of publicly available information. (That's assuming anyone here does hold both of those positions -- maybe that's not the case.)"
Well, as a data point, I think it's generally acceptable for commentary in the public space to be quoted (with attribution). I don't think it's as black and white as just stating that, though - ethical considerations must be taken into account and those are very grey. I also believe, on the basis of nothing more than my own sense of what's right, that attribution should be as per the author's original byline. So, if someone publishes something under their username here, that's how it should be attributed, because that's the identify it was written by. If it's fair to trawl the Internet for a 'real' name, then it's equally fair to do the same and publish a quote of information published under someone's 'real' name or even a username on a completely different forum and attribute it to any one of those other identities. It seems clear to me that this would be ludicrous and unacceptable to all but the completely unprincipled, so the principle must also be applied to using a 'real' name for something published under a pseudonym.
posted by dg at 6:27 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just a reminder, the case where the NYTimes dug up my real name was in 2006. That was just two years after TheFacebook.com launched, when the whole idea of "social media" was a new thing. I thought it was weird because "alms" made the comment, not "Mr. MyReal Name". But I didn't feel particularly doxxed. It felt more like a faux pas on their part than anything malicious. In any case, that was nine years. It's pretty clear that now they understand the distinction and are quoting people by their site-specific names.
posted by alms at 6:31 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


One thing that crossed my mind, is MeFi has great Mods. So the comments on particular NYT articles are clean already and they get a wealth of poinion without a lot of trolling. Seems like a timesaver to me.
posted by Oyéah at 7:08 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yup, no edition my poinion.
posted by Oyéah at 7:27 PM on April 6, 2015


This is such an interesting question. To me, the character of this site is so clearly oriented around being a community and a safe discussion space where people feel able to share incredibly personal anecdotes that even though I know rationally that it's public, it doesn't feel public in the same way that Reddit or Twitter do. I think this is in large part due to the moderation on the site; people get comfortable posting stuff that might get them trolled into oblivion elsewhere because they know there aren't any trolls to feed here. As rtha said upthread, we talk to each other within the space of the site as if it were a room full of friends. Maybe this is naive, but this is the culture we've built here over the years.

To me this unusual openness is super obvious on even a casual read of the site, and it seems to me that as a corollary a reporter ought to feel less free to take quotes from MeFi out of context and quote them elsewhere because it's not really in line with our community norms. But of course, it also means that people are so much less filtered here, and so I imagine delving into our threads for quotes must be incredibly tempting because our reads of articles tend to be deeper and go more interesting places, because unusual or deeply personal takes don't get shouted down in the same way they do elsewhere.

I do feel like this site would *really* lose something if every time we discussed a NYT article we were all thinking, "Would I be upset if I saw this comment in their The Thread feature?" And I guess I'll be reminding myself to think that way from now on. I think it's one thing to ask, "Would I mind if this were on the front page of the Times?" knowing full well that that's highly unlikely. It's another thing to know there's a reasonable probability that if you write an insightful comment on a good thread, the NYT is liable to direct major attention your way, because they have an occasional feature dedicated to doing exactly that.

Ultimately I guess I feel like basically the NYT is just free-riding on the community we've built and our excellent mods and mining us for thoughtful and insightful quotes. I don't like it. Build your own comments section and moderate it yourselves or sift through Twitter like everyone else, jerks. Or at least ask first, especially when you're quoting a parent talking openly about her child.
posted by town of cats at 9:43 PM on April 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


I've written f/t for three daily newspapers, a magazine anyone in the USA can find on a magazine rack, a couple popular websites, one of which you've almost certainly visited.

This strikes me as the NYT person being rude, lazy and unprofessional.

It would take a miniscule measure of effort to contact people here and ask permission for their comments to be used.
posted by ambient2 at 10:25 PM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


How many people here ask permission before quoting other people's words in their FPPs or comments? Virtually none. I don't see this as different in kind. Scope, maybe, but Metafilter surely gets enough views that one can't simply wave away the number of eyeballs which will see any given FPP. That something is likely to be read by 75,000 people instead of 2,000,000 people doesn't change the ethics of it.

Stuff you post on Metafilter is public. It's not quasi-public or sorta-public, it's just plain ol' public. Same as if you spray painted it in ten foot letters on the side of Mount Rushmore although less likely to get you put in jail.

The stuff I posted on Usenet was also public. I am thankful every single day that much of it is lost to time, because I was a dumb little shit. You think I'm bad now, you should have seen Usenet circa 1994.
posted by Justinian at 4:13 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


For example I just quoted one or two sentences from Nick Mamatas in a comment I made not 30 seconds ago. Should I have asked permission? Of course not. The NYT quoting corb or the others was no different in my opinion. Both of us quoted a brief bit of public writing made with no reasonable expectation of privacy.
posted by Justinian at 4:18 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: a wealth of poinion without a lot of rotlling.
posted by Segundus at 5:27 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


How many people here ask permission before quoting other people's words in their FPPs or comments? Virtually none. I don't see this as different in kind.

Agreed, and it's a good reminder that this is a general interest site open to the public and not a safe space.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:06 AM on April 7, 2015


How many people here ask permission before quoting other people's words in their FPPs or comments?Virtually none. I don't see this as different in kind.

If I'm quoting them in the same conversation, of course I'm not going to ask permission. That's the only way any conversation, public or private, could work. But offsite? That's totally a difference in kind.

I'm not saying there's any legal issue, and my metaethical stance is such that my being skeeved out doesn't mean I can say with any "authority" that there's an ethical issue. But here I am, skeeved nonetheless.
posted by Jpfed at 7:20 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


It would take a miniscule measure of effort to contact people here and ask permission for their comments to be used.

How many people here ask permission before quoting other people's words in their FPPs or comments? Virtually none. I don't see this as different in kind.

It's completely different. For one thing, it's being used by a journalist off site at a for-profit publication, not within the same conversation on MeFi. The NYT post is a use of someone else's words to make money for the paper. For another, it's not an outright ethics violation, per se, but I think it's bad netiquette for a journalist to include chat transcripts from private figures without first asking for permission.
posted by zarq at 7:38 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Ultimately I guess I feel like basically the NYT is just free-riding on the community we've built and our excellent mods and mining us for thoughtful and insightful quotes.

How often do we link to NYTimes articles in our FPPs? Are we freeloading on them? The Times would be freeloading if they didn't include a link to Metafilter, but they did include a link. The Times is bringing Metafilter traffic, they are bringing us new visitors, those visitors view ads, those ads help keep the site running. This is how a lot of the Internet works. It's not freeloading, it's linking.

Clearly there is disagreement about whether the NYTimes reporter should have contacted people before quoting them. Some of us feel that's not necessary and wouldn't have expected it. Some of us think they should have.

But even if you're in the latter camp, and think it is best practice to ask permission (and unethical not to ask permission), I hope you no longer expect reporters to ask permission. If half the world thinks it's not necessary, there are going to be a bunch of reporters, publications, etc who think it's not necessary.

It is great that people feel comfortable and open up about themselves and share on Metafilter. I really don't want that to change. But I also don't want people to be lulled into a false sense of privacy by the quality of the discussions here. There is nothing private about Metafilter discussions, and you are setting yourself up for trouble if you participate in these discussions with an expectation of confidentiality.
posted by alms at 7:44 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


"How often do we link to NYTimes articles in our FPPs? Are we freeloading on them?"

I see this as a false equivalency and am puzzled by those arguing that similar standards that apply to journalistic integrity and practices should be observed by people on Mefi (or any other community forum). zarq already mentioned the for-profit angle, I might remind people about the huge power imbalance there is: do you think Mefi has the same readership as the New York Times magazine? How comfortable do you think you are getting a correction made to your quote from the mods here as opposed to say the ed of the NYT Mag? How accessible is the hierarchy here as opposed to standard print journalism?

I am amazed that people are trying to say that being part of the internet community and pointing to good stuff to read is equivalent to what journalism does, which has a much, much longer history and entirely different purpose.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:49 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Last I checked, Metafilter was a for-profit business entity. I believe the majority of Metafilter's revenue comes from advertising that is viewed by non-members visiting the site and reading threads. The attraction of Metafilter is the quality of the links that appear on the front page, and the quality of the discussions of those links. That's the product that Metafilter offers the world.

So I guess we are freeloading off all those other sites that we link to and send traffic to, just like the New York Times is freeloading off us by quoting and linking to the material that we put out for the world to read.
posted by alms at 7:49 AM on April 7, 2015


(There's kind of an odd fixation on the word 'freeloading' as well which I don't understand. *shrug*)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:51 AM on April 7, 2015


(There's also the question of professionalism and being paid and having a career. We're doing this voluntarily as opposed to a paid professional journalist who is held to certain standards and had been to school learning how to *be* a journalist, etc.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:55 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Last I checked, Metafilter was a for-profit business entity. I believe the majority of Metafilter's revenue comes from advertising that is viewed by non-members visiting the site and reading threads. The attraction of Metafilter is the quality of the links that appear on the front page, and the quality of the discussions of those links. That's the product that Metafilter offers the world.

Interestingly enough (and I mention this to add info to the discussion, not to disagree with the point you're making,) AskMe is actually the biggest revenue builder for the site and has been for many years. I believe that the ad dollars it pulls in are greater than any of the other subsites including the front page, possibly combined.

The collective wisdom of our hive mind is a greater financial resource than the links we post.

So I guess we are freeloading off all those other sites that we link to and send traffic to, just like the New York Times is freeloading off us by quoting and linking to the material that we put out for the world to read.

It's a bit of a symbiotic relationship, yes. But there's certainly a difference between news sites and group discussion blogs. For one thing there is an expectation that journalistic articles will be read, linked to and quoted. They're being published with the express intent of generating page views and ad revenue for their host site. People who post here probably have little to no expectation that their words will be posted elsewhere or be used for financial gain by the site owners. We own the copyright to our comments and FPPs. A journalist publishing at the Times usually does not.
posted by zarq at 8:24 AM on April 7, 2015


Also, to second what 'joseph conrad is fully awesome' said: publishing sites typically pay their editors for the privilege of hosting their articles, and the expectation is that they will generate revenue. No one pays any of us to post to MeFi. In fact, site guidelines pretty much forbid it.
posted by zarq at 8:27 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


To me this unusual openness is super obvious on even a casual read of the site, and it seems to me that as a corollary a reporter ought to feel less free to take quotes from MeFi out of context and quote them elsewhere because it's not really in line with our community norms.

Good lord, reporters don't give a damn about our community norms, nor should they. Newspapers are in the business of reporting news, not making sure everyone feels comfortable. It is clear as crystal: if you don't want things you say publicized, don't say them in public. If you say something here and it gets quoted elsewhere, those are the breaks.
posted by languagehat at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


Do reporters have to ask before quoting? No. Officially my words here are public.

Would I be happier if any reporter asked before quoting me? Of course. It's not a matter of legality, it's a matter of niceness.
posted by nat at 8:40 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Reporters, like lawyers and policemen, are by profession not "nice," and one would be foolish to expect otherwise.
posted by languagehat at 9:08 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Police officers.
posted by ODiV at 9:38 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Reporters, like lawyers and policemen, are by profession not "nice," and one would be foolish to expect otherwise.

But they aren't indiscriminately "not nice," either. They choose what gets attention and what gets reported out of the many possible things they could be focusing their attention on. They choose what is newsworthy, and part of the calculus is how people are affected within that context. They think about implications for the news agency (and the reporters there), for the public good, and how reporting affects the individual being investigated. Sometimes the needs of the public trump the individual, but in a case where this isn't true, it's unconscionable to throw someone under the bus for titillation simply because it was technically observable in the public. That can become tabloid trash at that point, and worse.

I think interesting discussions of journalistic ethics investigate the interface between those three interests closely and deliberately. It's not true, from what I've been able to discern, that everything is open game because it's technically observable. It might be a matter of ethical deliberation, but it's also a matter of pragmatics. How many hard-hitting interviews do we think TMZ could get? Practically zero, because they've positioned themselves in such a way that they do not have the public trust in the way that they do gotcha journalism, although technically, they might be on the right side of the law. Public perception of how news agencies use public information is formative to their methods and whether they have the public trust to keep going. They don't exist in a bubble that is immune to people's irritation or displeasure. This is how it should be, or else they would stop getting interviews and access to information that they need.

On a fundamental level, interpersonal considerations are very important, which includes not being "not nice" in cases where it can be avoided. Of course, it also includes intentionally being not nice in cases where it is absolutely necessary, and that has been a hallmark of really, really good journalism. I just don't think it has to be the default mode for journalism to work effectively.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:43 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is an interesting set of conversations. I can't help thinking that what makes Metafilter work is partly that it produces a sense of intimacy, and that the NYT has violated that a bit. Sure, anyone can read what we write here, but we know that most people don't. And so we write for each other. We act as if we're alone in a room together, even though we're not.

That doesn't mean the NYT is wrong: they operate on their own ethical codes. But I do think it's okay for us to say: "Not cool, NYT!" if that's what we feel. They've violated our community's norms: as outsiders, they can do that. But because they're reading us in the first place, it makes it seem like they're not just outsiders... some of them are insiders. So as insiders they should know better, they should ask permission, etc.

None of this rises to the level of law or universalizable morality. But it's at least a tension when conflicting spaces having conflicting etiquettes. And to refer to some hypergood like journalistic truth-telling in this context is just weird: we're not negotiating a nuclear deal, here. We're talking about child-rearing, and the article is completely one-sided in its quotation choices: it's marketing, not journalism.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:46 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


if you accept the argument that quoting the coffeeshop comments isn't ethical,

So, I don't accept this. When I was a reporter, I attended a lot of events that I had to report on. Sometimes I would ask people for an interview and ask them to go on record, and other times I would simply report snippets of conversation going on around me. An example might be at the county fair, where a little kid says something about a goat and a mother responds, and I include that language as representative of the kinds of things people are saying in this public place that helps characterize the experience for those who were not there.

1. People can't comment anywhere online unless they are ok with being quoted, without their permission, in a widely-distributed publication; or

This is completely reasonable to me with the simple addendum of "can't comment anywhere publicly accessible online." Having to track down people and ask for permission to use something already public places an undue burden on a journalist trying to characterize a larger event by collating a range of reactions. What a tremendous time-suck; journalism is under no obligation to protect the sensitivities of people who are offering public speech. There is also another pernicious result: it brings the journalist closer to searching out RL identities by people who, at present in this instance, are protected by their use of handles. I would rather be quoted without permission by my handle than sought out to go on record and create a permanent linkage between my handle and my RL identity.

almost all examples of doxing, by anyone, for any purpose, is also "ethical".

I personally think there are ethical examples of doxxing. The internet's allergy to the practice is something that has always squared badly with me, coming from a journalistic perspective, where tracking down the source of something is often necessary and important public information.

To me this unusual openness is super obvious on even a casual read of the site, and it seems to me that as a corollary a reporter ought to feel less free to take quotes from MeFi out of context

Flabbergasting. How is a reporter supposed to know the community norms, or that some people here like to think of it as some kind of "safe space" even though it is totally public? It is in no way different from reddit, and unreasonable to expect someone looking for samples of discussion on the internet to appreciate the self-defined nuances of every quirky internet community?

I'm really stunned by some of the reactions here. It's not that there aren't legitimate debates about privacy and fair use, but to me, this is very distinctly not one of them, and whether or not MetaFilter is private is not at all an ambiguous question. There is a reasonable degree of public interest in summaries of online reaction to an ideas piece that newsworthiness is established to a sufficient level, and the quotations are well within fair use guidelines. There are ethical gray areas in journalism, but this is far from being one of them. I blame a couple of things - the decline of civics education, which used to help people understand how their lives interacted with media ethically and legally and also helped them understand the rationales for constructions of codes, and also the current level of general media illiteracy today, caused in no small part by journalism itself entering a period of chaos during the technological transition, but also by apathy.

What strikes me as most important for us here, internally, is communicating more forcefully the understanding that almost no content you put on MetaFilter or find on MetaFilter is private, no matter how personal an anecdote it is, how tender your feelings, how revealing you have been, how radical your opinions. Remember that the Times is a relatively benign place to be requoted; others might be equally interested in your comments - enemies, stalkers, identity thieves, the FBI - and they can easily find them all. If anyone is at all operating under the fiction that your words here are protected by some special magic because of community and trust and personal and relationships and safe space, it would be a good idea to disabuse yourselves - and, whenever possible, for our mods to make that abundantly clear, because it's staggering how many people seem to think that there should be some special category of protection to their speech here that would not apply in any other public space.
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


It's not true, from what I've been able to discern, that everything is open game because it's technically observable.

Everything is open game if an outlet has considered newsworthiness and public interest. Those are the criteria by which such decisions are made.
posted by Miko at 9:57 AM on April 7, 2015


They've violated our community's norms: as outsiders, they can do that. But because they're reading us in the first place, it makes it seem like they're not just outsiders... some of them are insiders. So as insiders they should know better, they should ask permission, etc.

But I'm an insider, and I wouldn't have agreed that (a) this is a community norm - it's obviously a point of disagreement, and after all, we have been quoted plenty of places elsewhere without permission and generally made gleeful MetaTalk posts about it; or (b) that I should ask permission.
posted by Miko at 9:58 AM on April 7, 2015


There is surely a difference between 'if you put it on the Internet you should remember anyone can read it' and 'if you put it on the Internet anyone can use it however they want including publishing it in an international publication without asking your permission'.
If I post a photo on my blog does that mean the NYT can use that photo without asking my permission first? How is that different?
posted by Megami at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, I also don't agree that it's a community norm. To me Metafilter is part of the public internet. That makes it quotable.

I've participated in other online communities that were not public. Their guidelines were very specific: conversations that take within the community should not be forwarded or reproduced elsewhere. Those guidelines were, by and large, respected.

Metafilter's guidelines don't say anything like that. They don't say that comments on the site are private or that discussions on the site shouldn't be linked to or quoted from elsewhere. There's no way for anyone visiting the site to know that some members have that expectation. Heck, I've been hanging out here for about a decade and I'm surprised that some members have that expectation! How's a poor reporter stopping by to know?

If people do have that expectation and they want that to be the truth for Metafilter, then something should be put on the site guidelines. I don't personally see how that would work, given the public nature of the site. But other people apparently think it makes sense so maybe there'd be a way to do it.
posted by alms at 10:15 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Everything is open game if an outlet has considered newsworthiness and public interest. Those are the criteria by which such decisions are made.

But there are very real consequences for media doing this indiscriminately without thinking about the results, and the discussion hinges on whether or not there should be push back in certain instances. The part of the discussion that is frustrating is those who act as if there shouldn't be, or that it's a protected privilege with no utilitarian concerns. In reality, it affects journalism decisions all the time, and we should be able to look at any particular instance and ask as if media should have been thinking more carefully about it for reasons that are humane, pragmatic, or ethical.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:22 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


A MeFite once emailed me, to ask about quoting me. It was cool. For a moment there I felt like a real MeFite.
posted by Oyéah at 10:30 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Public/private is not binary in our actual human experience. (I think this is an issue with public records of any sort; there's a big difference between "anyone is allowed to physically go to courthouse X and get records" vs. "anyone with a computer anywhere in the world can request records sitting in their pjs at home". I think it's entirely possible to have a reasonable expectation of privacy value that isn't at 0 or 1, although our legal sphere mostly hasn't caught up to how technology has moved the goalpoasts here; our societal ethics haven't either.)

Personally my own privacy setting here is something like a big dance party. I assume anything I say could be heard by anyone, but I assume it is unlikely to be heard by everyone (probably not even by everyone at the party, much less a sizeable chunk of my demographic in the country). My expectation of privacy isn't exactly 0, it's more like .01. (I expect a little but not very much at all.)

If I decide to dance on my cul-de-sac naked, that's one thing; but dancing on national TV naked would be entirely different. And of course if I dance in the street naked there's a chance that may turn into national TV; but I don't think it's a mental error on my part to be less scared of dancing naked on my cul-de-sac than on TV. (In this awkward analogy, MeFi's more like Burning Man than my cul-de-sac, but my point is it's a spectrum; also I haven't danced naked anywhere but the shower since I was 21, so yes, sorry, this analogy isn't so great.)
posted by nat at 10:47 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


But I'm an insider, and I wouldn't have agreed that (a) this is a community norm - it's obviously a point of disagreement, and after all, we have been quoted plenty of places elsewhere without permission and generally made gleeful MetaTalk posts about it; or (b) that I should ask permission.

The whole point of Metatalk is that community members violate community norms all the time. That doesn't make them *not* norms. If you quoted me without my permission in some mass-market space, I'd feel aggrieved, especially because it would be easy enough to ask me, we know each other on Facebook, etc. I'd probably do the normal thing and write you a slightly pissy email, and then possibly you'd make a pro forma apology, and all would be forgiven. That's how these things usually work with community norms.

I'd also challenge the claim that any of what was quoted was newsworthy or in the public interest in the relevant sense, but that's a side point. My main point was to highlight the tension between community norms.

We're not really talking about the difference between right and wrong here: we're talking about the difference between right and rude.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:52 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


If Metafilter doesn't want its threads quoted without permission of the original authors then it should say so. That doesn't mean people will always ask for permission -- they can still be rude and get away with it within the bounds of fair use -- but at least they'll know that's what we want. Right now we don't say anything about that on the site.

I'm sure some people will say, "but it should be obvious" to which I'll reply that it's not obvious to me or languagehat or a bunch of other people in this thread, so we sure shouldn't expect it to be obvious to non-members who are just stopping by.
posted by alms at 11:08 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


If Metafilter doesn't want its threads quoted without permission of the original authors then it should say so. That doesn't mean people will always ask for permission -- they can still be rude and get away with it within the bounds of fair use -- but at least they'll know that's what we want. Right now we don't say anything about that on the site.

We kind of do say so:

© 1999-2015 MetaFilter Network Inc. All posts are © their original authors.

Obviously, quotation in a journalistic context is fair use. But fair use is a legal right, and we're talking about community norms. That is: we're not going to send a cease and desist letter to the New York Times (though they did violation corb's moral rights as an author) but we didn't post our comments to the New York Time's crappy comment section, we posted them here, so we'd like it if they stayed here unless we gave them permission to reprint.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:24 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


When did we become Metafilterians? I thought we were MeFites.


I'll be damned before I stop saying MeFitoi.

It's like people don't even learn Classical Greek anymore!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:39 AM on April 7, 2015


I'll be damned before I stop saying MeFitoi.

Does that sort of rhyme with repertoire?
posted by Mooski at 12:06 PM on April 7, 2015


this is very distinctly not one of them, and whether or not MetaFilter is private is not at all an ambiguous question.

As I see it, this is the key characteristic here: that metafilter is a very public and openly accessible forum. Everything written here can be read simply for the looking, no membership needed, no cost to access, no hacking required, nothing. If metafilter was a closed forum, then the ethical bar to reproducing content might be higher, but as it isn't simple fair use standards should suffice (tho the question of differing fair use standards in differing jurisdictions is an interesting one). Any other standard is just hopelessly vague and seems to boil down, basically, to a desire that everything written here be "off-the-record." That's a standard that a lot of groups and fora would like to be entitled to, I'm sure, including many which we'd all find disagreeable, but I don't know why any of them should be entitled to it.

I'll repeat for the sake of repeating that I think it's obvious that "merely ethical" isn't the only bar journalism should rise to. Much of what passes for journalism under the guise of "what are people saying on the internet" seems particularly lazy and pointless—the piece in question is banal, but I see how it functions as "what our readers are saying" fluff—but mere laziness is not, necessarily, unethical.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:08 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is surely a difference between 'if you put it on the Internet you should remember anyone can read it' and 'if you put it on the Internet anyone can use it however they want including publishing it in an international publication without asking your permission'.

I don't agree that this difference exists.

If I post a photo on my blog does that mean the NYT can use that photo without asking my permission first? How is that different?

Yes, they can, if it meets criteria for fair use. If it is a fair use, then it is not different.

But there are very real consequences for media doing this indiscriminately without thinking about the result

Again, you're invoking a standard of harm. What are some of the consequences?

That doesn't make them *not* norms.

To me, 'norms' implies a majority view (that seems implicit in its definitions, which include synonyms like "typical," "standard"). I'm not sure this orientation to/expectation of privacy on MetaFilter is a majority view, typical, or standard. Also, even though something might be the view, there are good, pragmatic reasons why perhaps this should not be the view.

I'd also challenge the claim that any of what was quoted was newsworthy or in the public interest in the relevant sense

It's entirely newsworthy in the context of a media column about how work from that magazine is being discussed in the public sphere. It is the very subject matter of that column, as that column is about online, public discussion. Newsworthiness is always going to be somewhat subjective based on outlet - Fox and Friends is going to have a different definition than the Times - but a newspaper that covers media and public opinion to report on how a piece of media came into contact with public opinion, using only publicly available content, can make quite a strong argument for its newsworthiness. Whether it interests you, or any individual, is a separate question from whether there is a public interest, and whether it is newsworthy.

we're talking about the difference between right and rude.

This thing about "niceness" and "rudeness" just befuddles me. It just isn't at issue for me. Yes, it is a courtesy to ask someone if you can use material that is public, but it is not rude not to do that, especially when you have already agreed to the structures around sharing it by virtue of, well, sharing it. One of my colleagues just quoted something I said in a LinkedIn discussion in his book - he told me after the fact, noting that LinkedIn rules are that content is public (I haven't checked). I'm fine with not having been asked. I already shared the content publicly and I understand what public speech is.
posted by Miko at 12:12 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


This thing about "niceness" and "rudeness" just befuddles me. It just isn't at issue for me. Yes, it is a courtesy to ask someone if you can use material that is public, but it is not rude not to do that, especially when you have already agreed to the structures around sharing it by virtue of, well, sharing it. One of my colleagues just quoted something I said in a LinkedIn discussion in his book - he told me after the fact, noting that LinkedIn rules are that content is public (I haven't checked). I'm fine with not having been asked. I already shared the content publicly and I understand what public speech is.

The rudeness concern, though, isn't about fair use in general, but about cases in which people might be embarrassed or disparaged without a better reason than simply being unfortunate enough to be in public. I think a relevant context might be the example you gave about covering the fair:
An example might be at the county fair, where a little kid says something about a goat and a mother responds, and I include that language as representative of the kinds of things people are saying in this public place that helps characterize the experience for those who were not there.
If you overheard someone share something intimate and personal and potentially life damaging, would you have just published it, along with the name of the person who had said it? Is there any point at which it would have been inappropriate to do so? If the answer to this question is yes, I think that's where the question of rudeness comes from. I get the impression, though, that you would have chosen quotes based on a criteria that better serves the public good and the good of your article, and without the intent to embarrass people unnecessarily, if the article didn't call for something like that, with some stringent controls in place. Lack of this kind of discrimination is where the question of "moral behavior" vs. "technically allowed" comes from, and whether or not someone can be a jerk while being technically correct.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:31 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


"I think this is an issue with public records of any sort; there's a big difference between 'anyone is allowed to physically go to courthouse X and get records' vs. 'anyone with a computer anywhere in the world can request records sitting in their pjs at home'. I think it's entirely possible to have a reasonable expectation of privacy value that isn't at 0 or 1, although our legal sphere mostly hasn't caught up to how technology has moved the goalpoasts here; our societal ethics haven't either."

Our societal ethics very much haven't, that's why you see people appealing inappropriately to some formalism, such as the legal notion of private/public. For unfamiliar or rare situations involving privacy ethics, people tend to look to something external and formal and simple to adjudicate, or they look to technological solutions.

But even these formal rules about privacy are far, far more complicated and ambiguous than people suppose (or misrepresent) -- appellate courts and the Supreme Court regularly hear cases where they have to tease out notions of what is public and what is private, even after all these years. There is no simple rule to determine this; any given situation is evaluated on the basis of a large number of interacting variables.

Likewise with privacy and journalistic ethics. Journalistic ethics with regard to privacy does not amount to a rule about legal privacy or even a simple formula about newsworthiness and public interest and privacy -- it's a big and thorny portion of j-school ethics classes, as well as an ongoing topic in professional organizations, watchdog orgs, and in newsrooms. A good editor is going to evaluate county fair quotes from adults and children differently, and according to the content of the quote and the nature of the piece.

The reality of privacy, though, is that the vast majority of privacy concerns are negotiated daily on the basis of informal, cultural norms and with shaming of those who violate them. We don't require or appeal to a law or a formal code of ethics when we evaluate the ethics of reading someone's diary, or eavesdropping on a conversation. Or about disclosing someone's else's secrets. We don't require or appeal to a rule partly because as children we necessarily began with simple rules about these things and then slowly developed a more flexible and widely-applicable intuition that, mostly, involves commonly shared expectations and notions of potential harm.

Not to belabor the point, but even in strictly legal terms, there's no clear binary distinction between what's private and public. The law does sort of begin with an assumption that we can distinguish between the two, but then in attempting to do so, it ends up elaborating on how to make this distinction such that in many situations it's either absurdly complex or it's intractably ambiguous. But this is just reflecting social reality. Privacy and public life have always been a continuum, and a particular social situation slides between these poles depending upon context as that context changes. Between different social situations, this is even more the case.

One thing that's certain is that a proposed ethical code that requires an affirmative defense of privacy as a prerequisite for the legitimacy of any claim of harm is an ethical code that isn't. Or, rather, it's stupid and offensive and obtuse and something I expect from an Ayn Rand loving electrical engineer and not from a genuinely thoughtful person who, you know, actually understand ethics to be fundamentally concerned about things like "people" and "harm". I don't need to lock my diary, or hide it in a drawer, for my claim against someone who read it without permission to be valid.

Saying that "expectation of privacy" is the crux of it is begging the question of the nature of privacy itself. The privacy I expect in the bathroom is a different degree or kind of privacy I expect in the bedroom with my partner, and again that's different than the privacy of gatherings with friends and family, which is distinct from such gatherings in public view amongst strangers, which is distinct from small public meetings, which are not the same as sporting events or appearing on national television. Each of these situations have certain expectations -- expectations that shouldn't be characterized as being about privacy so much as being expectations about reputation and social identity -- both in terms of benefit/harm and scope. It is deeply false and dishonest to characterize such expectations as being divided between those things that are within a small circle of controlled reputation ("private" as in an email or a meeting among friends) or those things that are utterly uncontrolled ("public"). Just within the context of those social situations most of us would agree are private there's a huge range of expectations about privacy and this is even more true with those situations that people here are calling "public".

We can develop shared societal standards of privacy etiquette with regard to situations that are nominally "public", like web discussion forums, because we've done so already about many other more traditional social contexts and we apply those standards every day. If we do develop such standards -- such as that it's not okay to google someone in a deep web search just because you can -- then we'll certainly have fewer arguments about this stuff. That there's some ambiguity with regard to privacy that we all recognize about real name and screennames and that, between 2006 and 2015, there's an evolving standard of not connecting screennames to real names without good reason -- well, that's an example of just such an evolution of a social standard about privacy expectations in a public context. We can and will develop other such standards, including about quoting people's personal anecdotes that are available on the web.

In the meantime, though, in the absence of some widely-understood standard, a good rule-of-thumb is simply the utility of promulgation weighed against the degree of potential harm. Quoting or repeating something someone wrote elsewhere on the web is fine when it's generally valuable to many people that they learn this, and when there's little or no harm that could result to the person quoted as a result. Conversely, when it's not valuable but there is a lot of potential harm (as, again, I think is exemplified by a parent discussing certain intimate things about their child), then it's not okay. Maybe you shouldn't quote it at all, maybe you should ask permission, maybe you should obfuscate the identities involved. And this is true for journalists and of course it's true for journalists, because it is pretty much the prism through which they understand privacy concerns in journalism, that of public benefit versus potential harm.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:31 PM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's also worth thinking about how this standard should be applied here on MetaFilter, if we actually believed it. If we accept this standard, do we extend it now to all other blogs and online sources of commentary, and ask permission of everyone first? No more FPPs about things that happen on reddit or other blogs - or posts to stories like this one about violent racism, which quote from reddit and mention usernames? What about posting a story from Gawker or the Guardian or the BBC about social media, like this one about reddit's interaction with the Boston Marathon bombing? No more discussion of Twitter, including trending fun hashtags and political movements? Like this one about the Egyptian uprising, which quotes plenty of Twitter folks? No more posts about snarky Amazon reviews? No more pointing and laughing at YouTube comments?

The standard people are asking for seems to me not only impractical and antithetical to the notion of public speech in a free society, but also as totally hypocritical, given the way we generally behave as the entitled magpies of the internet, comments and all.
posted by Miko at 12:33 PM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


you would have chosen quotes based on a criteria that better serves the public good and the good of your article

Yes, which is what the reporter here did.

I'd still like to see you talk about what you call the potential "consequences" of quoting someone on a public internet site using their handle. What harm do you see ensuing?

Ivan F's last, long comment goes on about how privacy is deliberated in newsrooms and "j-schools" (hideous term), and in fact, it is; of course I'm well aware of this (anyone who likes to get into those nuanced debates should certainly read the Columbia Journalism Review and listen to On the Media for plenty more). But given plenty of experience at a personal level with that discussion, I would still say that this incidence is not one that would arouse a great deal of debate in those settings - not many people would identify a reasonable claim to privacy on the part of the aggrieved MeFites. It is an interesting intellectual issue that so many people seem to object, but the journalistic purpose here pretty well outweighs any "harm" - if there is any; I'm still not sure what the "harm" is, here.

I would say that if MeFites really want a private space, it is incumbent on them to create one. Make this like The Well, password-protect it and have a terms of service agreement that stipulates that no content here may be repurposed under fair use or any other doctrine. Otherwise, I simply find assertions of a right to privacy here without merit.
posted by Miko at 12:42 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


...given the way we generally behave as the entitled magpies of the internet, comments and all.

What a number of us have said upthread still applies. We're not journalists. We're not a "trusted news source" with a reputation and standards of practices to uphold. We don't report the news, aren't held to or responsible for adhering to their standards or those of a parent news organization, and a crucial difference: we don't get paid to create content on Metafilter to bring in ad revenue. We can conceivably create an FPP plagiarizing dozens of news stories and the only repercussion would be that a mod might delete it. A journalist who did the same would get fired. With good reason.
posted by zarq at 12:47 PM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Although I really wanna see

Metafilter: Entitled Magpies of the Internet

On the site logo. :D
posted by zarq at 12:49 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I understand that difference, but if the question is centrally ethical and not legal or professional (as some are insisting), then it is relevant to ask MetaFilter: do we have a sincere belief that when people make comments on public internet sites, those are for circulation within their community only, and may not be copied and used in other discussions? Even ours? Because those are private?

Are we also ready to say that no media outlet - no BBC, no Guardian, no Washington Post, no Gawker - can ever quote from a comment in an internet community, regardless of relevance or news value?

And of course, we are responsible if we have violated copyright. I'm not sure how our use of copyrighted material would be evaluated, given that we are not a nonprofit but also not a public service or journalistic enterprise.
posted by Miko at 12:51 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey, has anyone ever created a Metafilter: logo generator? You enter the text and it churns out the logo?
posted by zarq at 12:52 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


We're not journalists. We're not a "trusted news source" with a reputation and standards of practices to uphold. We don't report the news, aren't held to or responsible for adhering to their standards or those of a parent news organization ...

Well, "we can behave how we please, we don't have reputations to uphold" is an argument of sorts.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:52 PM on April 7, 2015


octobersurprise: Well, "we can behave how we please, we don't have reputations to uphold" is an argument of sorts.

No, no. I'm not saying that. I'm saying that circumstances dictate what is and isn't acceptable in the real world. We hold some people to different professional standards than others.

There's nothing wrong with crying foul if someone's behavior seems to clash with ethical journalistic practices.
posted by zarq at 12:54 PM on April 7, 2015


There's nothing wrong with crying foul if someone's behavior seems to clash with ethical journalistic practices.

Agreed; but in this case, it does not seem to violated journalistic ethics to quote (and link) from a publicly available bit of text. There are cases where do so might violate those ethics, but this doesn't seem to be one.

And I don't see what the relevance is regarding mefites being paid or not to contribute content here. This site is for-profit; we can participate or not in that as we wish. While we don't have to act as journalists unless we are actually journalists doing journalism, a lot of the objections to what the Times did seems to revolve around this notion that so many more people will see it than its author might have anticipated- the same is often true for things we link to. Given that concern, is it rude to not ask before linking or quoting and linking?
posted by rtha at 1:03 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is something that we've talked about in a number of threads, and it's a little surprising to see no reference to them in this thread. For example, the most recent thread about Shanely had a lot of discussion about how linking from journalistic pieces could increase visibility in undesirable ways. (And yes, I recall how that all shook out. It doesn't make the discussion in that thread moot, though.) Or the discussion in the thread about Justine Sacco, and how increased visibility and a stripping of context isn't awesome. (Again, not uncomplicated. This is hard business from every angle.) Even the last thread about Monica Lewinsky talks about how being shoved in the spotlight is rough.

It's not unreasonable for people to become uncomfortable with their words getting put into the paper of record. It is entirely reasonable to feel like that adds what may be potentially problematic visibility to something that was meant to be seen by a couple thousand people at most in a highly contextual manner.

Norms are evolving not just here, but across the whole internet about what to do with conversations that happen in the semi-public. There are a lot of norms about it being slightly weird and maybe rude to butt into a twitter conversation, for example. There are similar examples for tumblr and any other social media site you can think of. Here's a list of ways people are creepy on the internet that one could argue are in public, so why is it creepy? And seriously, if you've ever had those things happen to you - they FEEL creepy.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:06 PM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


I understand that difference, but if the question is centrally ethical and not legal or professional (as some are insisting), then it is relevant to ask MetaFilter: do we have a sincere belief that when people make comments on public internet sites, those are for circulation within their community only, and may not be copied and used in other discussions? Even ours? Because those are private?

*nod* OK. I was thinking in terms of professional standards.

The things we say here are clearly not private. And I think it should be okay to repost things said on MeFi in other forums if original credit is given. If an outsider were to make money by reposting something we post here, that would rub me the wrong way. Even if it's not illegal to do so, it feels ethically skeevy.

Are we also ready to say that no media outlet - no BBC, no Guardian, no Washington Post, no Gawker - can ever quote from a comment in an internet community, regardless of relevance or news value?

I vote no. But perhaps a journalist should at least make a token effort to ask permission to repost. Maybe that's ridiculously idealistic of me, tho.

And of course, we are responsible if we have violated copyright.

Please excuse me a moment. I need to ask cortex to scrub all of my megaposts from the site. :D

I'm not sure how our use of copyrighted material would be evaluated, given that we are not a nonprofit but also not a public service or journalistic enterprise.

A very good question. I'm not sure either.
posted by zarq at 1:07 PM on April 7, 2015


anotherpanacea: "We kind of do say so:
© 1999-2015 MetaFilter Network Inc. All posts are © their original authors.
"
In which jurisdiction does this copyright get judged? One thing that I think is missing in the 'about' part of MetaFilter is this information. Copyright, particularly concepts such as 'fair use' vary dramatically or simply don't exist in any meaningful way. There's no indication on comments where they originate, making a minefield of any attempt at establishing what rights apply anyway. I don't know that it makes a difference, but a CC license applies to all my comments, so it's explicitly clear that it's OK for them to be shared under certain conditions (not that I expect anyone to have any interest in doing so).

Maybe this is at least a partial solution for those that specifically don't want their comments shared? Add a note to their profile stating under what conditions their content can be shared. If the user owns the copyright, they also have the right to explain the terms of use of their material. I'm not confident that people generally would observe this, but I would hope journalists would at least do a cursory search for whether they are able to use the content, even if just to protect themselves from angry litigants.

Miko: " One of my colleagues just quoted something I said in a LinkedIn discussion in his book - he told me after the fact, noting that LinkedIn rules are that content is public (I haven't checked). I'm fine with not having been asked. I already shared the content publicly and I understand what public speech is."
From looking at this myself a while ago, I think all content posted on LinkedIn belongs to LinkedIn exclusively and permanently and that, by posting it, you relinquish all ownership and rights to that material.
posted by dg at 1:09 PM on April 7, 2015


Maybe this is at least a partial solution for those that specifically don't want their comments shared? Add a note to their profile stating under what conditions their content can be shared. If the user owns the copyright, they also have the right to explain the terms of use of their material.

Even beyond the question of whether anyone would see such a note, there's the issue of fair use. What the NYTimes did here seems pretty solidly fair use to my layman's reading.
posted by alms at 1:22 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


"I understand that difference, but if the question is centrally ethical and not legal or professional (as some are insisting), then it is relevant to ask MetaFilter: do we have a sincere belief that when people make comments on public internet sites, those are for circulation within their community only, and may not be copied and used in other discussions? Even ours? Because those are private?

Are we also ready to say that no media outlet - no BBC, no Guardian, no Washington Post, no Gawker - can ever quote from a comment in an internet community, regardless of relevance or news value?"


Yes, sometimes a media outlet ought to ask permission or not publish the quote at all, per standard journalistic ethics that takes potential harm into account. It depends upon who is being quoted, what is being quoted, and where it is being quoted from. Maybe there's been one or two people in this thread who advocate for some hard-and-fast rule that would require journalists to always get permission, but I disagree with them just as much as I disagree with you, and for the same reasons.

One thing that I think has been somewhat obscured in this discussion is that the only person here who raised any strong objection to these quotes was corb, and she was quoted as discussing how her young adolescent daughter gained a great deal of weight in two years. That is absolutely not the equivalent ethical context of the NYT quoting my thoughts about plagiarism nine years ago. And it's not the same context as most or all of the other quotes in this piece. Which is why, I suspect, they chose not to link to that particular comment of corb's when they quoted it, unlike in the other cases.

Likewise, no one has seriously proposed that MetaFilter (or equivalent) cannot quote other web content without permission but, whatever, my response is pretty much the same -- it depends upon who is quoted, what is quoted, and from where it is quoted.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:29 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


rtha: Agreed; but in this case, it does not seem to violated journalistic ethics to quote (and link) from a publicly available bit of text. There are cases where do so might violate those ethics, but this doesn't seem to be one.

Yes, agreed.

Worth noting (and I see on preview that Ivan also touched upon this) that the journalist quoted but didn't link to corb's comment, and I suspect the reason for that was that the comment was of a more personal nature than the others. Still not an ethical violation, or even of standard practices. But the fact that it's a more personal revelation about a minor might still cause an editor to pause and assess before including.

And I don't see what the relevance is regarding mefites being paid or not to contribute content here.

Sorry if I'm not being clear. What I mean is, posts are made here without responsibility or financial obligation. Metafilter is a for-profit site, but those of us who help create its content do so voluntarily (as you mention). We neither make money from it nor are responsible for whether our posts generate ad revenue.

By contrast, journalists are employees (or perhaps freelancers) and yes, the difference in dynamic can impact intent, motivation and whether ethical standards are treated as a job-imposed responsibility or a moral value adhered to voluntarily when creating a post or article.

Given that concern, is it rude to not ask before linking or quoting and linking?

I think it depends on the context. If the overt intent is to create something for public consumption, then asking before linking is probably not necessary. If it's hard to determine intent or what is being spoken of could be considered intimate or private, then perhaps asking would be polite, if not a good idea. I'm not sure if it's possible or desirable to establish firm guidelines outlining when someone should be obligated to ask permission.

For example: every time I have created a post on Metafilter from Projects, I have asked permission over memail of the creator. (At least, I'm pretty sure I have done it every time.) In three cases, people have asked me not to post their projects to the Blue, so I didn't. Asking just felt like the right thing to do and it certainly wasn't difficult.
posted by zarq at 2:22 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


The norms within a community may be different from the norms across communities. There's going to be greater conformance and tighter norms within communities.
posted by alms at 2:27 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


>If I post a photo on my blog does that mean the NYT can use that photo without asking my permission first? How is that different?

Yes, they can, if it meets criteria for fair use. If it is a fair use, then it is not different.


That's a pretty weak retort. Don't act as if you're the only person who's heard of fair use. In particular, while newsworthiness is a consideration in determining whether something is fair use, I'd like to see the argument that this kind of article is newsworthy.

(I mean, I'm not an intellectual property lawyer. It's possible this is settled and I'm totally wrong. But linking to some sites telling people not to randomly copy images from the internet and then trying that the NYT magazine of all things (and not, say, the front page with its actual news) clearly falls under fair use is a bit bizarre.)
posted by hoyland at 5:24 PM on April 7, 2015


The New York Times had an article about teenagers. Then they had a follow up story about how people had reacted to the original article. Why is that any less newsworthy than most of the other parenting/styles/health/real estate/sports/gossip types of articles that appear in newspapers?

I disagree that copying a photograph would be fair use, or that it's similar to what was done here. The New York Times didn't reproduce a complete work. They pulled out short quotes. In my experience that's exactly the type of of thing that is typically covered by fair use. You reproduce enough to illustrate your point, but you don't abscond with the whole piece. If that's not fair use, what is?
posted by alms at 6:25 PM on April 7, 2015


I'd like to see the argument that this kind of article is newsworthy

I made that argument a couple of times in this thread, and everyone blew right by it, but that's enough times. Seems obvious enough to me, but I care about media coverage. It's newsworthy to me and other people who care about media coverage, and that's why the Times, one of the best outlets in which to read media coverage, publishes this type of roundup. For readers like me who care about media coverage, the responses in the broader public conversation to the ideas it puts forward are newsworthy indeed.

trying that the NYT magazine of all things (and not, say, the front page with its actual news) clearly falls under fair use is a bit bizarre

No, it's not at all bizarre. It doesn't sound like you really understand fair use, even though you have heard of it. Newspapers, magazines, TV shows, teachers, newsletter writers...all of them get to invoke fair use. In fact, they rely on it - it's a basic principle underlying education, as well as journalism in the public interest. The magazine is part of the Times and is doing news reporting, even if some people think that kind of news is trivial. However, it wouldn't even matter if we were debating stuffquoted in freaking Glamour or Seventeen, or in the recipe column. As long as it's relevant and fits the Times' guidelines, it's still overwhelmingly likely to qualify as a fair use, by which it is meant that a challenge to the right to reproduce it is likely to fail if tested in court. It is an important principle in open culture and one it's worthwhile to be familiar with.

the paper of record

Ugh, this always drives me nuts. Let's clear it up. The New York Times is a paper of record, not the paper of record. The latter is a total colloquialism that has taken on a life never intended for it. The Times has no special responsibility among newspapers. From the Public Editor:
No one I queried nailed a plausible ambition for The Times more accurately than managing editor John Geddes: ''I don't think there can be a 'paper of record.' The term implies an omniscient chronicler of events, an arbiter that perfectly captures the significance and import of a day in our lives. I don't work at that place. I work at a newspaper that exists in a world where there are constraints of time, resources and knowledge. The wonder of the paper is that knowing the everyday limits to our ambitions doesn't prevent us from trying to exceed them.''
posted by Miko at 7:47 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't doubt that it's legally permissible for the NYT to publish comments, but I also think it's fine to ask for polite engagement. I agree with the commenters upthread who talk about how limiting it could be for the community if it becomes routine to be quoted in a paper of record without notice or permission.

The NYT likely wants to have great comments from MetaFilter to showcase in the future. Reprinting comments without notice or permission is stressful for some and may discourage participation, so in the interest of seeing as many great comments as possible, maybe they will ask commenters for permission in the future.

Perhaps MetaFilter could add a request to news media in the FAQ. It's no guarantee that anyone would follow it, but it might encourage more respectful behavior:
I'm a writer for a news organization, can I reprint user comments without permission? We ask that you contact a commenter directly to request permission to reprint their comment. If you have difficultly reaching a commenter, please contact a mod.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:12 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Comments on a section of the site that can be viewed by anyone shouldn't need consent to be given to be quoted in a relevant news article.

how limiting it could be for the community if it becomes routine to be quoted in a paper of record

It hasn't limited the community so far.
posted by dazed_one at 1:30 AM on April 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ultimately I guess I feel like basically the NYT is just free-riding on the community we've built and our excellent mods and mining us for thoughtful and insightful quotes.

Unlike the content created by other people in other places that is posted to the front page of Metafilter everyday, right?

Or at least ask first, especially when you're quoting a parent talking openly about her child.

I feel like if you're worried about the things you're writing being read by people who haven't paid $5 to join Metafilter, you probably shouldn't be writing them on parts of the site that are viewable to everyone with an internet browser.

Despite how one might feel about the atmosphere of this site, never forget that most of it is open to be read by anyone. It's only the ability to respond to what we say that is limited by the $5 gate and the mods, and even that limit can (and I think this is a good thing) be circumvented by people continuing the conversation in other forums.
posted by dazed_one at 1:45 AM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know we talk to each other like we're all in a room that has doors and walls and so on, but it doesn't and we're not.

Fairly often, the site reminds me of when I'm in a department store or supermarket and people are having one of those oddly-loud but also supposedly personal conversations near me and you can't figure out of they really are oblivious to all the people around them trying hard not to eavesdrop, or if there's a disconcerting performance aspect to the TMI blabbing.
posted by aught at 8:10 AM on April 8, 2015


how limiting it could be for the community if it becomes routine to be quoted in a paper of record

It hasn't limited the community so far.


It's not currently routine. If we start seeing Mefites in the NYT Magazine once a week, I think the character of conversations about NYT content in particular is quite likely to change.
posted by town of cats at 9:05 AM on April 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Comments on a section of the site that can be viewed by anyone shouldn't need consent to be given to be quoted in a relevant news article.

I'm not saying that consent is required for the NYT to reprint public comments. Despite a lack of legal enforceability, MetaFilter could still ask news organizations to extend professional courtesy to comments here.

It hasn't limited the community so far.

A comment above by melissasaurus states that "commenters have been doxxed/SWATed/otherwise harassed." The doxxing/harassment phenomenon does often seem to be related to what town of cats describes, which is that publication of a comment in a paper of record is "liable to direct major attention your way." In addition, corb is tempted to ask for the comment to be deleted. From this view, the publication of comments without notice or permission appears to risk contributing to chilling effects [PEN American Center] on writing and participation at MetaFilter.
posted by Little Dawn at 10:11 AM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


A comment above by melissasaurus states that "commenters have been doxxed/SWATed/otherwise harassed." The doxxing/harassment phenomenon does often seem to be related to what town of cats describes, which is that publication of a comment in a paper of record is "liable to direct major attention your way." In addition, corb is tempted to ask for the comment to be deleted. From this view, the publication of comments without notice or permission appears to risk contributing to chilling effects [PEN American Center] on writing and participation at MetaFilter.

And a non legally binding request to journalists to ask for permission to reprint comments is going to prevent SWATing/doxxing (events which are, keep in mind, extremely rare on metafilter)? I think perhaps a better preventative measure is for posters to remember that this site is a publicly readable site on the internet, and post accordingly.

Posts on metafilter show up on Google searches. Surely that should be more worrying for people concerned about their public comments being viewed by the public.
posted by dazed_one at 11:22 AM on April 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, did you really just compare fair use of public comments to NSA surveillance?
posted by dazed_one at 11:29 AM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, did you really just compare fair use of public comments to NSA surveillance?

I believe there are useful comparisons between doxxing/harassment and government surveillance, and I've previously made the comparison in a discussion about risks in the online environment. I also think we can disregard my rhetorical flourish and still consider the issue of chilling effects in a discussion about norms of polite engagement.

I think perhaps a better preventative measure is for posters to remember that this site is a publicly readable site on the internet, and post accordingly.


I agree that we should all be writing with a recognition of the obvious fact that our comments are public and may be reprinted without notice or permission, and that this amplified attention may lead to doxxing and harassment. However, I also think it is possible to be cognizant of the risks, and due to the existence of these risks, simply ask that news organizations show more respect in the future for comments posted at MetaFilter.

I don't really see this as an issue of 'prevention,' because we're not talking about a legally enforceable request. Ultimately, a request for news media to ask permission before reprinting comments is a way to help news organizations interpret their own policies - commenters above have referred to NYT policies, and Miko has asked:

How is a reporter supposed to know the community norms

I think an addition to the FAQ could help make the community norms more clear, and serve as guidance for news organizations in the future.
posted by Little Dawn at 1:35 PM on April 8, 2015


I think the doxxing argument is irrelevant insomuch as posting to the publicly available parts of this site opens you up to the possibility of that kind of harassment whether or not the eye of the harasser is drawn to you through the NYT, Google searches, personal blogs or any other random manner in which Metafilter posts are shared with the rest of the internet.

Metafilter is a way of sharing other people's ideas and content. I don't think most posters contact the creators of the content they share on the front page here to see if it's OK that they do so. I'm pretty sure that you didn't contact PEN American Center to see if it was OK that you quoted their study. Why should we act differently in our interactions with people who share content we've created on this site?

I think an addition to the FAQ could help make the community norms more clear, and serve as guidance for news organizations in the future.

Eh, I guess you could do that, but seeing as it's unenforceable, unlikely to be read or followed by non-members and ultimately pointless considering members of this site should be fully aware they are posting publicly viewable material that could and will be used under the auspices of fair use, what difference will it make?
posted by dazed_one at 2:17 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hey now, leave us out of this.
posted by NSA at 2:20 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


That would be a first... if it could be done.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:29 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


what difference will it make?

I think a FAQ addition could make a difference when a news organization makes a decision about whether to contact a commenter for permission to reprint a comment. The request could encourage polite engagement, because it specifically states a preference. The articulation of a community norm could also become part of an ongoing and wider discussion about online communication and the news reporting process.

I'm pretty sure that you didn't contact PEN American Center to see if it was OK that you quoted their study. Why should we act differently in our interactions with people who share content we've created on this site?

I think Miko's reference to a paper of record is helpful for distinguishing between MetaFilter and a news organization, and for articulating why it is reasonable for MetaFilter (or any website) to indicate a preference about reprinting comments.

I think the doxxing argument is irrelevant insomuch as posting to the publicly available parts of this site opens you up to the possibility of that kind of harassment whether or not the eye of the harasser is drawn to you through the NYT, Google searches, personal blogs or any other random manner

A paper of record is distinguishable from MetaFilter, a Google search, personal blogs and other random websites, in part because of the visibility, and also due to the role served by papers of record in our society. A MetaFilter comment is much louder when broadcast by a paper of record, and that kind of attention could create a greater risk of doxxing and harassment. Doxxing and harassment often seems intended to silence people, so the risk seems greater when a comment is published by a large and authoritative news organization. Even if a troll is only doing it for the lulz, it may seem much lulzier when the target is so prominent in the media landscape.

Comments above have also noted that papers of record have ethical standards, which is part of how a news organization develops and maintains credibility. A news organization's commitment to ethical conduct is essentially an invitation to state the preference of the MetaFilter community, and the news organization can then take that preference into account when deciding whether to ask a commenter for permission to reprint a comment.
posted by Little Dawn at 4:11 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is probably along the lines of a technical solution to a social problem, but how hard would it be for users to nominate a CC licence to be applied to all of their published work here, with a link to that licence under each comment/post? I don't think a FAQ or similar would work, as journalists would have to know that it existed and where to find it (they could and maybe should, but deadlines, laziness etc). There would have to be a default for users that choose not to nominate a licence and there is the issue of how to deal with previous comments/posts (I'm not sure if copyright conditions can be imposed retrospectively).
posted by dg at 4:14 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, I don't think it's practical to insist that individual users be contacted for permission to re-publish comments/posts - many are not easily contactable (often by design) using published information and expecting the mods to act as a clearing-house for this sort of thing doesn't seem workable (plus, see some not contactable).
posted by dg at 4:17 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have Metafilter members ever been doxxed, harassed, or SWATed because of comments made on Metafilter?

FWIW, the only accusations of harassment I've heard have been accusations against other Mefites, not people who saw comments that were reproduced on other sites. Maybe we should require permission of the poster before other Metafilter members are allowed to read their comments.
posted by alms at 5:43 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought I'd heard of a MeFi member getting SWATted, but I think that was by another MeFite. I could be wrong, though. Don't recall where exactly I read this.
posted by dazed_one at 6:11 PM on April 8, 2015


I think this discussion has become the definition of a moot point.
posted by dazed_one at 6:14 PM on April 8, 2015


Have Metafilter members ever been doxxed, harassed, or SWATed because of comments made on Metafilter?

One woman has and has subsequently left the site. I pretty much operate on the assumption that if I catch the attention of the wrong person I will be doxxed and harassed, and have taken steps to lock down some of my information based on this. It's a major barrier to full participation to a bunch of things online, but feminist women are increasingly being targeted by an organized force of people who have done all of the above.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:16 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, I don't think it's practical to insist that individual users be contacted for permission to re-publish comments/posts - many are not easily contactable (often by design) using published information and expecting the mods to act as a clearing-house for this sort of thing doesn't seem workable (plus, see some not contactable).

I've been thinking that the request encourages a journalist to at least make an attempt - if they can't reach the commenter, then that can be taken into consideration when making a decision about reprinting the comment.

My thinking about the mods as a clearinghouse is essentially that if it is feasible, mods could forward a message to the user. I don't think the mods would be contacted frequently, but passing through an official channel could help discourage people who might otherwise pretend to be a journalist in an attempt to doxx or harass a user.

I like the CC license idea, and maybe this concept could be adapted into a badge or profile preference (e.g. any comment is fine to reprint; contact me at this email address; contact me through a mod; don't bother trying to contact me, I won't grant permission). The FAQ page could then suggest that a journalist check the profile to determine the preference of the user. If the mods are willing to serve as a clearinghouse for users who don't want to post contact information, this could give an option to users who appreciate the extra layer of privacy and the opportunity to state a preference that depends on the comment.

I think this is a very interesting conversation, and I can understand how doing nothing new may be the most workable option. I do like the idea of MetaFilter contributing to ongoing and wider conversations about norms and customs, especially because as noted in the MetaTalk thread about The Virtues of Moderation, MetaFilter gets a lot of attention for how it promotes a vibrant online community.

Have Metafilter members ever been doxxed, harassed, or SWATed because of comments made on Metafilter?

I think it is enough to know that doxxing and harassment does happen, and that the risk exists even if it hasn't yet occurred on MetaFilter. Publication in a paper of record has the potential to amplify that risk, and this is something that a news organization could consider when deciding whether to ask for permission to reprint a comment.
posted by Little Dawn at 6:16 PM on April 8, 2015


My thinking about the mods as a clearinghouse is essentially that if it is feasible, mods could forward a message to the user. I don't think the mods would be contacted frequently, but passing through an official channel could help discourage people who might otherwise pretend to be a journalist in an attempt to doxx or harass a user.

If the original point of worry about MeFites being quoted regularly by papers of record stands, then having the mods being the clearinghouse for requests would be a rather time consuming position.

Maybe if you don't want a comment becoming a matter of public record, not posting that comment would be the best solution.
posted by dazed_one at 6:25 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Would this request only apply to papers of record, or would it also apply to papers not of record? How about websites that reach a huge audience but aren't associated with papers? How about websites that reach a smaller but very extreme audience? I'd be more concerned about having FPPs linked from various subreddits of Reddit than having individual comments mentioned in the NYTimes. We have all sorts of politically charged FPPs here, and those often contain opinionated comments. It may be polite and nice to ask the NYTimes to attempt to contact people before reprinting their comments, but it's not going to do anything to reduce the chances of people being harassed for their views.
posted by alms at 6:26 PM on April 8, 2015


Would this request only apply to papers of record, or would it also apply to papers not of record?

It could apply to any organization, but I think it makes sense to focus on organizations that derive credibility from ethical standards that include encouragement to get permission from sources under certain conditions. I've focused on papers of record because they derive credibility from their ethical standards.

It may be polite and nice to ask the NYTimes to attempt to contact people before reprinting their comments, but it's not going to do anything to reduce the chances of people being harassed for their views.

I think it could be encouragement for news organizations to take the risk into account before reprinting a comment without permission. The risk of being targeted for harassment may increase if the comment is reprinted by a news organization, especially if a troll feels entitled to doxx and harass because of 'journalism ethics'...

Maybe if you don't want a comment becoming a matter of public record, not posting that comment would be the best solution.

Sure, but we could also ask news organizations to consider this kind of chilling effect on participation, and to incorporate this issue into their decision about whether to ask for permission before reprinting a comment.

If the original point of worry about MeFites being quoted regularly by papers of record stands, then having the mods being the clearinghouse for requests would be a rather time consuming position.

One of my concerns is that it may become routine for comments to be reprinted without notice or permission, so this could be a good time to state an objection and request polite engagement. I see this as part of an ongoing conversation about norms and customs, so I think it could be worthwhile to state a preference.

I also think that dg's idea about giving users an opportunity to state a personal preference could reduce the potential burden on mods. It also seems workable to allow users to state preferences without having the mods involved at all - profile preferences could be limited to 'yes, always reprint,' 'maybe, please contact me' and 'no, please do not reprint.' Since it would be an expression of a preference and not an assertion of a legal right, it could also apply to past comments.
posted by Little Dawn at 7:15 PM on April 8, 2015


The NYT likely wants to have great comments from MetaFilter to showcase in the future.

Mmm, we're not that amazing. I think if we become difficult and a bother to them they will just pick comments from other places; there's no shortage of great commentary on the internet. We're just a place that's unequivocally public, so we're much easier to use.

Perhaps MetaFilter could add a request to news media in the FAQ.

How would a media person know that there is an FAQ? Why would they find it? Why would they read it? Why should they care? I mean, reporters are not reading the FAQ. They are simply not going to do that. They understand that this site is public and accessible and they're invoking fair use; it's all they need. You can see by the column itself that they're surveying dozens of sites. There's no way they're going to see a dig into the nuance of how each community likes to think of itself, be concerned with understanding its special non-legally-binding requests.

, the publication of comments without notice or permission appears to risk contributing to chilling effects [PEN American Center] on writing and participation at MetaFilter.

Perhaps there should be a chilling effect, if people currently feel encouraged to write things here in public that they really don't want to stand by later and don't want to be quoted anywhere, even when it is totally unconnected with their RL identity. It seems that at least some people, upon realizing how very public this site is, are rethinking their contributions. Given that they didn't understand the realities of what they were doing before, that's a good thing.

A MetaFilter comment is much louder when broadcast by a paper of record

This is another thing I was thinking about. It seems like a lot of folks think the Times'readership represents a special new degree of fame, an order of magnitude larger than MeFi's readership. But it really doesn't. The daily print circulation is under two million. Online impressions for certain widely shared articles are higher, but their digital readership is still only about on pace with print; but at the same time, digital readership is probably pretty tiny for something like an inside-baseball column about online responses to stuff in the magazine; a minority of Times readers are even reading this thing. Metafilter's userbase is pretty big (at least 100K, right?), its readership is much, much bigger, and its searchability just as infinite as the Times'. We're not like the David to their Goliath, in terms of eyeball count. it doesn't really represent a larger degree of visibility to be quoted there - what it represents, instead, is visibility among a different kind of community that does not have background on the site and its norms, and should not, cannot, be expected to.

A news organization's commitment to ethical conduct is essentially an invitation to state the preference of the MetaFilter community

No, not at all. That's really stretching the concept of news ethics to a point where it expects journalists to be sympathetic to sources to take their part in a way, and that can't and shouldn't be the default case. News ethics might consider the preference of a cited source, but decide there is little merit to those requests. Imagine that we were a white-supremacist site, somehow involved in promulgating violent rhetoric about a racial incident. The news organization could easily say "their preferences about not being quoted don't have merit in comparison to the import of this event to the readership and to public understanding of the issue." They really don't have any obligation to abide by our preferences, or report our preferences to others, unless it's somehow material to the story. They might consider them, if they know about them, but they're going to be considering them against public interest, and there's no reason to think our preferences would win the day in that contest. Lots and lots and lots of communities have preferences about not having much light shed on what they're doing and saying. If journalists let that degree of sensitivity guide their decisions, we'd have an awfully poor excuse for journalism in this country.

how hard would it be for users to nominate a CC licence to be applied to all of their published work here, with a link to that licence under each comment/post?

Interesting; works for Flickr. I don't think it would solve the problem at hand in a way satisfying to people who don't want to be quoted, though. Fair use would still apply to excerpts of comments.

Doxxing: the risk exists even if it hasn't yet occurred on MetaFilter

The risk exists without newspapers getting involved. News issues have nothing to do with that. The risk exists by virtue of being a presence on MetaFilter. The risk exists on the internet.

Publication in a paper of record
Would this request only apply to papers of record, or would it also apply to papers not of record?

So, I tried to clear up the use of this term but I have succeeded in only confusing people. There's nothing special about being "a paper of record" so there's no basis for making distinctions and no reason to. You can just say "a newspaper" or better, a "news outlet" (not every outlet publishes a paper). Most newspapers are the paper of record for some municipality or other - that term, used accurately, just means "this is where the town agrees that we publish legal notices and real estate prices and town meeting dates and times." There's nothing about being a paper of record that means anything special, ethically, journalistically, historically or in any other way. It's not a different category in terms of archiving, or seriousness, or responsibility, or anything. It's a term of art that also has picked up a colloquial meaning, and it's often confusing, and people often think there's something special about the Times because the phrase "paper of record" has attached to it - but there isn't. Remember, our words can be published anywhere if fair use is invoked - and they have been. The thing that I find somewhat amusing here is that usually we're thrilled when some other outlet takes notice of us, and we post on MeTa and congratulate the person quoted - we got noticed! Woo hoo! This isn't really different. The same standards apply everywhere. Because journalism has a complex , nuanced, robust legal/ethical tradition and is linked in interesting ways with the Constitution and has a long history of testing in court and has special privileges because of its public service, journalistic outlets think a lot harder about this stuff than most bloggers and aggregators and other content users . They're already doing better than the rest of us, not worse, and there are really good reasons they take the liberties they do and invoke the privileges they do. I applaud any journalist's use of MetaFilter as a source of public opinion and encourage it to continue.

Honestly, if we really don't feel comfortable with it, we should be talking about password-protecting the site and setting privacy controls for its membership. Those that are concerned about this incident should be horrified that MeFi is a whole lot less privacy-optimized than Facebook, for instance.
posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on April 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


we could also ask news organizations to consider this kind of chilling effect on participation, and to incorporate this issue into their decision about whether to ask for permission before reprinting a comment.

As alms pointed out above, however, it's not really news organizations that represent the full spectrum, or even the most likely vector of a harassment threat against a member of this site. FPPs and comments found by other forums, specifically smaller forums that nurture more extreme, less accepting viewpoints are far more likely to be the origin of harassment.

As I'm writing this I've noticed miko has written a far better response as to why trying to get news sources to ask for permission in the case of fair use of comments is a waste of time.
posted by dazed_one at 7:51 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I mean, reporters are not reading the FAQ.

We can barely get mefites to read the damn thing!
posted by rtha at 8:10 PM on April 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hell, I have to admit I didn't really know we had one.
posted by Miko at 8:17 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Because journalism has a complex, nuanced, robust legal/ethical tradition and is linked in interesting ways with the Constitution and has a long history of testing in court and has special privileges because of its public service, journalistic outlets think a lot harder about this stuff than most bloggers and aggregators and other content users.

This is exactly why it seems reasonable to ask for the norms of the site to be considered by journalists - they think a lot about these complex, nuanced and robust legal/ethical issues, so they can think about this.

They're already doing better than the rest of us, not worse

I don't think anyone at the NYT intended anyone any harm. Linking and quoting appears to be a compliment to great comments at Metafilter, without any offense intended. It also raises interesting questions about emerging norms and customs in social media, and I'm glad we're talking about it here.

News ethics might consider the preference of a cited source

That's why it seems worthwhile to state a preference as a matter of site policy, if the site has a preference.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:08 PM on April 8, 2015


Little Dawn: "I also think that dg's idea about giving users an opportunity to state a personal preference could reduce the potential burden on mods. It also seems workable to allow users to state preferences without having the mods involved at all - profile preferences could be limited to 'yes, always reprint,' 'maybe, please contact me' and 'no, please do not reprint.' Since it would be an expression of a preference and not an assertion of a legal right, it could also apply to past comments."

I don't think that publishing this as a 'preference' would be at all useful, simply because it's clear people quoting or reproducing content don't care about the preference of the author (and I don't see why they should). In any case, once you make something public, I don't think saying 'I'd prefer you don't repeat this' is useful, although it might encourage some not to link back to it which I think would be worse if only because it's less likely to come to your attention.

I'm not a lawyer, yours or anyone else's but, given copyright is already vested in the individual, which by default means it can't be reproduced at all without permission*, applying a less restrictive licence retrospectively is unlikely to cause any grief, although I can't find any clarification as to whether the rights can be changed after publication. I don't see any valid distinction about who or what reproduces material and don't get the focus on 'a/the paper of record' - you don't get to choose who can and can't quote published material.

I guess if this idea were ever to become reality, the same level of restriction that currently exists would need to be the default setting, with users able to apply a less restrictive licence as they see fit. I'm still of the view that a link under each comment would be a good way to be clear about the copyright status of each comment and I would think be a good guide for ethical journalists and others that it's OK (or may not be) to re-use content. Including this sort of guidance in a FAQ or similar may make some people feel good, but people external to here (and likely anyone that doesn't read MeTa) will likely never find it even if they bother to look.

Something that's not clear to me is whether each comment/post is a separate 'thing' in and of itself or if a user's entire contribution would be considered a single work. This would change how fair use/fair dealing applies, I think.

*yes, fair use/fair dealing aside, which means it's not really possible to stop people quoting from here anyway
posted by dg at 1:30 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


"One woman has and has subsequently left the site. I pretty much operate on the assumption that if I catch the attention of the wrong person I will be doxxed and harassed, and have taken steps to lock down some of my information based on this. It's a major barrier to full participation to a bunch of things online, but feminist women are increasingly being targeted by an organized force of people who have done all of the above."

then, from Miko

"It seems that at least some people, upon realizing how very public this site is, are rethinking their contributions. Given that they didn't understand the realities of what they were doing before, that's a good thing."

I'm genuinely angry about Miko and other people's comments in this thread which argue that public is public and people should recognize that what they say in public is up-for-grabs for any use without their permission and therefore they should regulate what they write accordingly. That argument totally, completely, unquestionably applies just as much to mefites doxing the public information of other mefites and certainly applies to other sites harassing female mefites or women in general by doxing them and otherwise conglomerating all personal information they've ever disclosed publicly and publishing it. Because, hey, it's public. If you don't want your words spoken in public misused, don't speak them. That's a simplistic, morally bankrupt argument that we easily recognize as victim-blaming when used elsewhere.

And of course it is a familiar argument, and it comes from exactly the same visceral, unthinking emotional response of "d'uh, you shouldn't have done that, it's your fault". But it's not your fault, you are never responsible for someone else's harming you. And journalists do harm people by reporting publicly-available information about them -- that's why there's journalistic ethics and that's why journalists worry about things like reporting the names of child victims of crime and sexual assault victims and why the Grantland reporter shouldn't have outed Dr. V.

An adult, ethical argument would be that privacy is complicated and the ethics of using someone else's public speech is all about where that public speech appeared, where you're publishing, how you're using it, and the content of that speech. Oftentimes, there's no ethical problem. Oftentimes, there is. And that applies to journalists as well as anyone else. An adult, ethical argument wouldn't valorize people becoming more discrete about what they say online as the solution to the problem, that's a "women have learned to dress less provocatively" bullshit argument. People who misuse others' public speech are fully responsible for the harm they cause in doing so, period. It's not our job to defend ourselves from this misuse, it's their job to fucking stop doing the harm.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:05 AM on April 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "If you don't want your words spoken in public misused, don't speak them."
I don't know how you could take what people are saying here and end up holding that position. There doesn't seem to be any way you could get that more wrong no matter how hard you tried.
posted by dg at 4:23 AM on April 9, 2015


This has not been a good thread for Metafilter comments in large part because people are talking past each other in their invocations of legal, moral, and social rights.

Basically every exchange has some mixture of commenters responded to "I want X" with "The law doesn't require X" or "Maybe it's wrong to do Y" with "Codified journalistic ethics don't require Y."

We're also seeing a lot of people moving back and forth between particularist and universalizing conceptions of morality and social mores.

There is not a complete overlap between these spheres. Many things are legal but immoral. Many things are moral but impolite. Many decisions are particular and contextual and not subsumed under a universal rule.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:48 AM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


> then, from Miko

"It seems that at least some people, upon realizing how very public this site is, are rethinking their contributions. Given that they didn't understand the realities of what they were doing before, that's a good thing."

I'm genuinely angry about Miko and other people's comments in this thread which argue that public is public and people should recognize that what they say in public is up-for-grabs for any use without their permission and therefore they should regulate what they write accordingly.

You are taking what she said as a moral argument rather than a statement of this-is-how-it-is, which is how I (and other people, it seems) are reading it. I don't believe you would argue that it's *not* a good thing that people are really realizing just how public everything they write here is, would you?

You object specifically, I think, to the "rethinking their contributions" thing, as if Miko and others (and me) are being like "nyah nyah!" or something? But people *should* think about how and what they say here if they've only just now really realized how very public those things are. This isn't, to me, automatically some kind of moral "you deserve to be doxxed!" bucket of cold water on speech. I get that the situation can be angrifying; I don't understand why you are angry at some of us who are describing the situation as it exists (or as we see it, anyway).
posted by rtha at 5:41 AM on April 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


This isn't, to me, automatically some kind of moral "you deserve to be doxxed!" bucket of cold water on speech.

It's important not to confuse descriptions of the situation with a celebration of the situation, either. But I can't help thinking that the description of Metafilter's publicity frequently does rise to the level of celebration: the situation is valorized and concerns (even just: "this sucks, but I get that we're powerless to stop it except by altering our own behavior") are pushed to the side.

Perhaps it's inappropriate to conflate quote-without-permission with doxxing; I find Ivan's comments here pretty clear and careful, usually, but his most recent comment seems a little less so. But I also understand where he's coming from, because it has been a more-than-usually frustrating exchange, and the concerns and anxieties of community members here deserve more than just a "well, you ought to have known you were speaking in public, and hopefully in the future you'll keep that in mind" when they are enunciated.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:14 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


think a lot about these complex, nuanced and robust legal/ethical issues, so they can think about this.

They have thought about it.

I'm genuinely angry about Miko and other people's comments in this thread which argue that public is public and people should recognize that what they say in public is up-for-grabs for any use without their permission and therefore they should regulate what they write accordingly.

I disagree with your take on this because I don't think it's ever untrue that anyone can grab this information and use it in either benign or pernicious ways. The accountability for the use of the information is entirely on the person who's using it; if it's used in criminal ways, it's a criminal act, but if it's not, it's not. But the accountability for the initial speech is on the speaker. We have to be responsible for our own speech. Part of that is understanding something of the legal and ethical frameworks, with long precedent, that apply in our governmental system and our media universe. Knowing this stuff is part of media literacy, and it's important.

it comes from exactly the same visceral, unthinking emotional response

It's really very uncharitable to suggest that I'm coming from a "visceral, unthinking, emotional response." I've been thinking about these issues since I could think and have been immersed in them via personal relationships throughout my life. The use of "adult" in your "adult, ethical argument" is a no-true-Scotsman way of implying that I'm not an adult. Please stop these attempts to undermine my position by suggesting that it's not thought-through or that my runawau emotions or childlike worldview are impeding my ability to understand the issue.

a statement of this-is-how-it-is, which is how I (and other people, it seems) are reading it

Yes, that's how I mean it. I'm also speaking mostly to this incident, where I think there is no strong argument of an ethical breach whatsoever. Should we have nuanced discussions about privacy online and when, how, and where it's okay to quote someone's words? Sure, and we do, as do others. No argument there. But in this incident, there's just not a lot of evidence to muster in support of an argument for privacy or honoring an individual or site preference (which, if it exists, is invisible), and a whole lot of evidence in favor of the fact that public speech is quotable, in pubic service journalism, with attribution, under fair use.
posted by Miko at 6:17 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


the concerns and anxieties of community members here deserve more than just a "well, you ought to have known you were speaking in public, and hopefully in the future you'll keep that in mind" when they are enunciated.

From my point of view, it is important that people know about this stuff. I'm sorry others are finding this frustrating or upsetting (I'm not, except to be surprised how little understood this is), but I'm not trying to brush people's concern off so much as advocating that they develop a better understanding of this landscape so they can make informed judgments about what they share and how they handle their identity. Again, I think that if the community wants more privacy, that is a possible thing but would require some structural changes that could, at the very least, bolster any future claims in favor of speech here being treated as private.
posted by Miko at 6:23 AM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


"If you don't want your words spoken in public misused, don't speak them."

Are you trying to misrepresent what's being written here, Ivan? Because you'd have to try very hard to come up with a less charitable reading of what some people, myself included, have been saying. Maybe you should be a little less angry and a little more attentive.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:31 AM on April 9, 2015


advocating that they develop a better understanding of this landscape so they can make informed judgments

To me, this looks like the kind of discounting that Ivan is worried about. This is exactly the kind of framing that looks like Ivan's gloss:

"If you don't want your words spoken in public misused, don't speak them."
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:33 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Perhaps it's inappropriate to conflate quote-without-permission with doxxing

I disagree strongly that there is any "perhaps" about this; they are two different things. Doxxing can happen without quoting at all, and quoting certainly happens without any doxxing. There's a thread over in the blue about the latest Hugos scandal and it's full of mefites quoting from blogs of people who are not on metafilter and from whom I am sure they did not ask permission - this is not doxxing.

This is not to say that a shithead can't use the (public) words of someone to do something nefarious, like encourage other people to harass that person (see: apparently any woman who writes about sexism in video games), but that is not simply "quoting," that is doxxing. Expanding the definition of doxxing in this way is unhelpful.
posted by rtha at 6:59 AM on April 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


"You object specifically, I think, to the 'rethinking their contributions' thing, as if Miko and others (and me) are being like 'nyah nyah!' or something? But people *should* think about how and what they say here if they've only just now really realized how very public those things are. This isn't, to me, automatically some kind of moral 'you deserve to be doxxed!' bucket of cold water on speech. I get that the situation can be angrifying; I don't understand why you are angry at some of us who are describing the situation as it exists (or as we see it, anyway)."

Because the effect of this realist argument is to implicitly place the moral responsibility on people to prevent themselves from being harmed rather than on people to not cause other people harm. It's usually (but not always) well-intentioned, but it's toxic. When someone says that they've been wronged, it says a lot when the discussion begins with a technical defense of the accused, but then is dominated by assertions of how foolish someone was that they placed themselves in a position to be wronged and, furthermore, it's very important that people recognize this and be realistic about their choices in such matters in the future.

One of the things that is happening when people feel pretty strongly about this realist stance is that they are implicitly arguing that the status quo is inevitable. I mean, that's why they believe they are being "realistic". The assumption that the status quo is inevitable implicitly invalidates all efforts to alter things for the better.

But of course things can be made better -- for example, that's partly the function of the Public Editor at the NYT. Is it unrealistic to expect that if my profile includes my real name that a newspaper won't quote something I've written here under my real name and instead quote me under my screen name? Well, some people would say I've made my name public. Other people would say that there's an evolving standard that tends to avoid real name attribution unless it's strongly warranted -- a standard which has resulted from some people, somewhere and somewhen, pointing out that there are reasons why this would be a better practice.

And more broadly, and more to the point with regard to the larger part of what's upsetting me so much, people and specifically women shouldn't have to affirmatively protect their identity with regard to public speech online but, instead, we need increasing scrutiny and sanction (legal and cultural) against people who misuse that speech and cause harm. And we are seeing some improvement in this area, and it's because of the activists and certainly not thanks to those who counsel "realism".

"The accountability for the use of the information is entirely on the person who's using it; if it's used in criminal ways, it's a criminal act, but if it's not, it's not. But the accountability for the initial speech is on the speaker. We have to be responsible for our own speech."

It's notable that in this quote, the place where you draw a line of responsibility for the person using another's speech is criminality, which marks out a relatively small territory of restriction, while you discuss responsibility of the speaker much, much more broadly, as also seen in this quote from one of your earlier comments:
What strikes me as most important for us here, internally, is communicating more forcefully the understanding that almost no content you put on MetaFilter or find on MetaFilter is private, no matter how personal an anecdote it is, how tender your feelings, how revealing you have been, how radical your opinions. Remember that the Times is a relatively benign place to be requoted; others might be equally interested in your comments - enemies, stalkers, identity thieves, the FBI - and they can easily find them all. If anyone is at all operating under the fiction that your words here are protected by some special magic because of community and trust and personal and relationships and safe space, it would be a good idea to disabuse yourselves - and, whenever possible, for our mods to make that abundantly clear, because it's staggering how many people seem to think that there should be some special category of protection to their speech here that would not apply in any other public space.
And, on preview:

"I'm not trying to brush people's concern off so much as advocating that they develop a better understanding of this landscape so they can make informed judgments about what they share and how they handle their identity."

But you are brushing off their concerns when 90% of what you've written has been, first, to invalidate those concerns on the basis of the formalism of legal privacy, and then, second, argue that what's really important is that people are more careful about what they say in public.

"I disagree strongly that there is any 'perhaps' about this; they are two different things. Doxxing can happen without quoting at all, and quoting certainly happens without any doxxing."

Doxing is comparable when it uses publicly-available information on identity and, especially, when it is limited to collating information about identity that a person has publicly written online about themselves. Closer to home, MetaFilter's own standards against doxing are very broad in this respect, and it includes (rightly) a prohibition against, say, repeating someone's real name in this discussion even though they themselves have included it in their profile.

It's a completely legitimate comparison when the ethical defense is built on the basis of the legal idea of private/public and it's a completely legitimate comparison when the discussion is centered around people "develop[ing] a better understanding of this landscape so they can make informed judgments about what they share and how they handle their identity".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:12 AM on April 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have a nine year old son. Sometimes when I'm commenting in the blue or the green there's a relevant story about my son that could shed light on the subject being discussed.

I don't always post those comments, because I know this is a public site and my words will be around forever. Before posting a comment about my son, or myself, or the other members of my family, I think "would I be okay if my son read this? would he be upset that I'd shared this story about him, or said this thing about him? would it embarrass him or make him doubt my love and respect for him? would I be okay if other members of my family or community read this?"

I ask myself those questions because I know this is a public site. It's not a private conversation, and any words I write here could be read by anyone in the world. Sometimes that fact influences what I write, and what I don't write. You can call that a "chilling effect" if you want. I call it being appropriately thoughtful about my participation in this public forum.

Because I take this approach I'm not particularly concerned about being quoted by Slate or someone on Reddit or the NYTimes. Sure, they might take my words out of context but I'm confident I can clear that up with the people who matter. Meanwhile, I understand the role of a free press in our society and I appreciate the value of the open web, and so I'm happy to support the rights of websites to quote from and link to other websites.
posted by alms at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


Meanwhile, I understand the role of a free press in our society and I appreciate the value of the open web, and so I'm happy to support the rights of websites to quote from and link to other websites.

Amen, and thanks for expressing it with such clarity.
posted by Wolof at 7:21 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is exactly the kind of framing that looks like Ivan's gloss:

Anotherpanacea, the word "misused" isn't in my framing. There's been no misuse in this incident.


Doxing is comparable when it uses publicly-available information on identity

It's still an enormous conflation. Both use publicly available information, but that's where the similarity ends.

Because the effect of this realist argument is to implicitly place the moral responsibility on people to prevent themselves from being harmed rather than on people to not cause other people harm.

Again, what is this harm?

Also, people can be said to have responsibilities. I'm not going to touch the sexual-harassment analogy because I think that has too much valence for you, but if we want to work with a choice-of-dress analogy, I would say this situation is more like someone in a sleeveless top about to go to a daylong music festival on a bright sunny day. If they have not thought about it, it might be reasonable to say "you might want to wear something to cover up with because there's a risk of sunburn." The conditions in the surrounding environment are such that the person is the only one who can be responsible for whether or not they are protected. If that analogy doesn't work because the sun is a force of nature and can't think ethically, then maybe let's try a movie theater where the same sleeveless-top-wearer goes to see a movie. When they get there, it's freezing inside because the air conditioning is cranked. They can ask the manager to turn up the heat, but the manager can reasonably say "Our heat is set at a temperature we've researched that turns out to be optimal for the greatest range of our audience members. If I turned it up, everyone who wore something warmer is going to be too hot. Weighing all of their preferences against your preferences, I am going to leave the temperature the same, and perhaps you'd like to bring a sweatshirt next time." There's no real principle at stake for the manager as there is with the flow of information and ideas in a free society, but I think the responsibility falling on the individual to decide what is appropriate to wear is similar, given the conditions in the surrounding environment. It's not the manager's responsibility to adjust the environment for the benefit of that person, because the manager has a larger responsibility to the whole. Unless and until things change really dramatically in our surrounding legal and ethical and social environment, the ability to quote the words of others uttered in public with attribution and under fair use is going to be the air conditioning.

I don't disagree that standards evolve when people push back. Push away. But I'm not obligated to agree that this standard needs changing at this time for any reason given here. I have heard the concerns and I just don't find them as having a great deal of merit when weighed against the freedom of reporters to report on public discussions. Again, if we want the discussions to no longer be public ones, we would need to put more barriers than none in place, to communicate clearly that they are not public.
posted by Miko at 7:29 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is it unrealistic to expect that if my profile includes my real name that a newspaper won't quote something I've written here under my real name and instead quote me under my screen name? Well, some people would say I've made my name public.

No, you haven't: profiles are not public, the rest of the site is.

Closer to home, MetaFilter's own standards against doxing are very broad in this respect, and it includes (rightly) a prohibition against, say, repeating someone's real name in this discussion even though they themselves have included it in their profile.

That's because profiles are not public, the rest of the site is. You're mystifying something that is actually quite clear-cut.
posted by neroli at 7:29 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's not accurate. Profiles can be seen when you are logged out, and therefore by non-members. They are not search engine indexed, and the social links/email may be hidden, but are otherwise open (see cortex's earlier comment).

You don't have to put anything in your profile, of course, but then we're back at the earlier discussion.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:38 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Because the effect of this realist argument is to implicitly place the moral responsibility on people to prevent themselves from being harmed rather than on people to not cause other people harm.

Ok then. In future, when I see someone forget to lock their door when leaving their dwelling, I won't point out they might want to lock it because if I did, clearly, for some reason, I would believe it was entirely the fault of the person who didn't lock their door. I'd be in the wrong to point out they might want to lock their door.

If I were to be disingenuous, I could characterize the argument that though this is fair use, it's not moral as Metafilter: Fuck Fair Use. Not helpful.

profiles are not public

How is this true? I can visit any profile when not logged in and see whatever details are there, including, in my case, my real name. I don't have to login at all. It's not protected content.
posted by juiceCake at 7:59 AM on April 9, 2015


"I have heard the concerns and I just don't find them as having a great deal of merit when weighed against the freedom of reporters to report on public discussions."

I understand that and I have no quarrel with you either about that approach to the discussion, nor -- as it happens -- with your evaluation in this particular case, with the possible exception of corb's comment about her daughter, which I think is more ambiguous.

But you have almost not at all engaged on that basis and, instead, have emphasized repeatedly and at length an essential right to quote public speech (an emphasis which implies that no such weighing is actually necessary) and the importance of the speaker's discretion and responsibility. Also, while you sometimes implicitly acknowledge the possibility of harm when you discuss weighing these concerns and such, repeatedly you come very close to arguing that no harm is possible (short of criminality).

Bottom line -- it's well within standard journalistic practice for a sexual assault victim to only have their name printed with consent, and this is not essentially different from corb wanting to have her comment about her daughter printed only with her consent. You're right when you argue that each case should be evaluated with regard to potential harm versus public benefit, and I agree. But a great deal of what you've written at the very least seems to invalidate corb's position in principle, or implicitly does so by switching to the alternative framing that what's most important is that corb understand that newspapers might quote what she writes and choose what she discloses on that basis.

"Ok then. In future, when I see someone forget to lock their door when leaving their dwelling, I won't point out they might want to lock it because if I did, clearly, for some reason, I would believe it was entirely the fault of the person who didn't lock their door. I'd be in the wrong to point out they might want to lock their door."

The correct analogy would be that after someone has been robbed, you lecture them at length about how they failed to lock the door. Conversely, I don't really have a problem if you, while sitting next to someone on MetaFilter as they type a comment, say to them, "hey, you're disclosing a lot of personal information -- are you sure you want to do that?"
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:06 AM on April 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think people are confusing profiles not being indexed by search engines with profiles not being publicly viewable by a person. The first is true; the latter is not.

> Doxing is comparable when it uses publicly-available information on identity and, especially, when it is limited to collating information about identity that a person has publicly written online about themselves.

So, do you consider what the NYT did in quoting/linking (they did both) in this case doxxing?

> And more broadly, and more to the point with regard to the larger part of what's upsetting me so much, people and specifically women shouldn't have to affirmatively protect their identity with regard to public speech online but, instead, we need increasing scrutiny and sanction (legal and cultural) against people who misuse that speech and cause harm. And we are seeing some improvement in this area, and it's because of the activists and certainly not thanks to those who counsel "realism".

Jesus, these are not mutually exclusive. I can - and do - recognize both that I may be subject to unwanted attention because of what I publicly write here and also acknowledge that some kinds of that attention ought to be culturally and (depending) legally beyond the fucking pale and work towards making it so. God.
posted by rtha at 8:07 AM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've lost track of what we're arguing about here. Could someone remind me? There seem to be several different discussions going on, each defining its own terms.
posted by alms at 8:16 AM on April 9, 2015


Anotherpanacea, the word "misused" isn't in my framing. There's been no misuse in this incident.

This seems like a pretty narrow and uncharitable response, miko. The sense is still there when you alter Ivan's gloss thus: "If you don't want your words spoken in public misused, don't speak them." It demands that MeFites conform their expectations to the norms of the New York Times rather than feeling like we are justifiably a separate community with separate norms.

Just as some of the things you probably ought to do at a party are things that you probably ought not to do in church, it's possible for norms to differ. In general, you are celebrating journalistic norms over Metafilter norms. That's fine: you've made it clear that your first loyalty is to that community and not this one. Here, the norm is: please ask permission before pulling our comments here into the larger publicity of the New York Times. Here, the norm is: please cite comments by their username rather than the legal name of the speaker (and generally don't make reference to profile information in public spaces.)

These norms bear no force of law. You will not be punished or fired for transgressing them (though the mods do sometimes ban users who violate them, as well as issue DCMA-style cease and desist letters to outsiders who violate them.) For the most part, they are simply norms of good behavior in our small, shared community.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:40 AM on April 9, 2015


"So, do you consider what the NYT did in quoting/linking (they did both) in this case doxxing?"

No, but what they did when they quoted alms by name nine years ago, when the writer found his email in his profile, googled it, and found it connected elsewhere to his real name -- I think that's pretty unambiguous according to the present definition of "doxing".

His comment linked to his profile, which included his email address, which he'd used elsewhere alongside his real name and was googleable, all of which was public. His was public commentary on a contemporary news story, which is newsworthy, and his real name was publicly connected to the identity under which he wrote the comment. That's within the ethical guidelines sketched out by a number of people in this thread, and yet I think many of us agree that the writer shouldn't have done this, or should have gotten permission.

Yeah, it was nine years ago and, clearly, standards have evolved. But that's the point -- standards have evolved and they will continue to evolve and some people are arguing that a better standard would handle differently some of the quotes we're discussing now, particularly corb's.

"Jesus, these are not mutually exclusive."

I wasn't arguing they were. My argument was against the tendency that effectively makes them mutually exclusive, in that discussions about that issue are invariably hugely dominated by the realist position -- I think there are reasons why this is so often the case, and I think it has a negative effect on efforts to actually do something about the problem.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:43 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


anotherpanacea: "In general, you are celebrating journalistic norms over Metafilter norms. That's fine: you've made it clear that your first loyalty is to that community and not this one. Here, the norm is: please ask permission before pulling our comments here into the larger publicity of the New York Times. "

You are asserting that those are the Metafilter community norms, but I don't know that that has necessarily been shown. I think it's perfectly possible to be "loyal" to Metafilter, but still not have a problem with your comments being used without express permission.

I've seen a couple of people in this thread who very firmly feel that what the NYT did was not okay, and I respect that. I don't think it's been proven that is the prevailing opinion among members as a whole, or even people who hang out in MeTa.

FWIW, I'm unsure how I feel about it.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:51 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


an essential right to quote public speech (an emphasis which implies that no such weighing is actually necessary

No, it doesn't imply that. I'm generally assuming that, in the case of a major news organization, the weighing has happened.

you come very close to arguing that no harm is possible

I've asked a lot of times what the harm is in quoting the comments quoted in the Times piece. I still don't understand what harm people see ensuing from that.

this is not essentially different from corb wanting to have her comment about her daughter printed only with her consent.

It is different. The practice with sexual assault is a very, very longstanding tradition (and even that tradition has its exceptions) but it's still an exception to the general rule. Corb's comment is not about a victim of sexual assault, and names no one.

This seems like a pretty narrow and uncharitable response, miko. The sense is still there when you alter Ivan's gloss thus: "If you don't want your words spoken in public, don't speak them." It demands that MeFites conform their expectations to the norms of the New York Times rather than feeling like we are justifiably a separate community with separate norms.

I see what you're saying. I wanted to avoid the word "misused" because it's distracting; quoting isn't synonymous with 'misuse.' But I do agree with the sense of the statement , with an important clarification: I'm not expecting that MeFites conform to the norms of the NYT. This could have been the LA Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The Economist, or Slate or Salon or the Huffington Post. It could also have been reddit or Twitter (does everyone know about the Twitter account Flagged as Fantastic, which highlights users, quotes content and links to comments posted on MeFi?) or any of these communities. The principle that public speech is public applies because it's been upheld more often than not. I'm not narrowly expecting anyone to conform to the norms of the Times; I'm just suggesting they may want to understand the norms of the society when it comes to public speech.

Here, the norm is: please ask permission before pulling our comments here into the larger publicity of the New York Times. Here, the norm is: please cite comments by their username rather than the legal name of the speaker (and generally don't make reference to profile information in public spaces.)

I still don't accept that these are norms. Your saying they're norms doesn't mean they are norms. But even if they are norms, and even if I accepted them myself, I would still recognize that no one outside the community is obliged to also accept those norms or could even be expected to know what they are. That would be unreasonable.
posted by Miko at 8:55 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


"This seems like a pretty narrow and uncharitable response, miko. The sense is still there when you alter Ivan's gloss thus: 'If you don't want your words spoken in public misused, don't speak them.' It demands that MeFites conform their expectations to the norms of the New York Times rather than feeling like we are justifiably a separate community with separate norms."

I'm not comfortable with framing this as a difference in community norms and which will take precedence; rather, my thought when reading your comment was that Miko's distinction between use and misuse is begging the question that we all agree upon that distinction in any given case. Which of course we don't.

If the conversation is about journalistic ethics, then the discussion is about what is or should be a standard that makes that distinction in the cases we're discussing. Maybe we don't all agree, but we can talk about how we might come to some agreement.

If the conversation is about the choices we make about what we say and write in public, then this use/misuse distinction isn't helpful. In realist terms, it doesn't matter because uses and misuses by whomever's definitions are going to result. If Miko was saying that we're responsible for how our words are used, but disavowing the argument that we're responsible for how our words are misused, then that's just begging the question because most of the people who we complain have "misused" our words are going to defend themselves on the basis that it wasn't a misuse. In the end, such an emphasis on our discretion in our public speech results in making us responsible for however our public speech is used, regardless.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:08 AM on April 9, 2015


an emphasis on our discretion in our public speech results in making us responsible for however our public speech is used, regardless.

Well....Iet's be careful about the word "responsible." You're responsible only for the speech itself, but you accept by default that by speaking publicly any number of further uses become possible.You open the door to any kind of use that may result, with or without your knowledge or further consent. You aren't responsible for the act of creation in those uses, though. That use might end up being declared legal or illegal, or ethical or unethical, and that's going to vary at different times and places and with different consequences for the users, for which they are responsible; but you have spoken, and the outcome of your speech is no longer in your hands. So you can't be directly responsible for those outcomes. Your responsibility begins and ends with the decision to speak or not to speak.

As things stand these days in this society, there is a lot of latitude for a wide range of parties to use public speech in legally defensible ways. We might prefer that it doesn't get used by some parties or in some ways, but that preference is not going to stop it from happening - it can't stop it. This is something I believe everyone benefits from thinking about. Yes, it might mean that you choose not to say certain things publicly, recognizing that there is simply no way to control ultimate uses.

That's a separate question from journalistic ethics. If we're talking about journalistic ethics, then yes, it is important, in determining whether to print something, to make distinctions between what would represent responsible use and and what would represent misuse. Responsible use is, at a minimum, legally defensible, but even when very well-thought-out and sympathetic to the source and supported by tradition and precedent, it can still be counter to the preferences of the person being quoted and. at the same time, be ethical. I argue that the use that has happened in this instance is ethical as well as legally defensible as well as reflecting conditions of reality.
posted by Miko at 9:22 AM on April 9, 2015


I think for the most part, journalists get this stuff right. I'm encouraged by the increasing attribution with screen-names because that's an acknowledgement of the social reality that these are legitimate public identities but that they are also (often) distinct from real-name identities. This recognizes some of the nuances of privacy within the context of public speech on the interent; it balances public interest against these privacy concerns and in accordance with evolving social standards.

Other public speakers are not doing so well, and I think this reflects the simple fact that journalists are professionally and necessarily cognizant of the ethical implications of what they do while, in contrast, most of the rest of us speaking publicly about other people, are not so aware and don't feel the same kinds of responsibility. But we should.

With regard to us here at MetaFilter, I think we ought to be more careful about how we quote and link than we presently are. In no way am I arguing that we should greatly change how we link and quote, I think that in the vast majority of cases we can link and quote as we have in the past, and without permission. But I do think that we ought to be evaluating our linking and quoting with regard to the considerations I've listed in earlier comments, and that would result in sometimes choosing not to link or quote, and sometimes asking for permission.

I think the biggest issue is potential harm to someone's offline identity -- which may or may not be the person we're linking or quoting. That doesn't mean that there won't be examples where we decide that some other consideration outweighs that potential harm -- but I think when we quote a random racist YouTube comment, which are (usually) connected to real-name google identities, we ought to be going through this thought process. Could there be harm? Is it worth it? Would getting permission help?

The background perspective from which I've been arguing in this thread is that I think that many of the qualitative distinctions that culturally we've assumed in the past to be self-evident and operative are already hugely ambiguous and getting increasingly so every day as a result of information technology -- more and more of people's lives are spent in online spaces where there are ever more fine gradations between public and private, and the persistence of data and the rise of the surveillance society mean that increasingly everything and anything that is not explicitly carefully protected as private (which is a tiny portion of our lives) will be available to anyone who looks, for indefinite periods of time into the future. These changes in our society require corresponding changes in formal institutions with regard to the ethical implications, such as in law and journalistic ethics and business practice, and more broadly in our informal institutions and customs and etiquette.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:02 AM on April 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't disagree with any of that. I do think that we tend to overstate the degree to which new technologies impact the privacy paradigm because we are not linking elements of that conversation to their precedents in the past and the histories of other technologies, but for the most part, I'm in agreement with you generally. In this particular case, though, I still come down in favor of MeFi content on public pages being treated as public speech, and in favor of journalistic uses like this one being totally fine, both ethically and legally.
posted by Miko at 10:11 AM on April 9, 2015


> I wasn't arguing they were. My argument was against the tendency that effectively makes them mutually exclusive,

This strikes me as a distinction without a difference. If I can't say "This what I am typing is public, and people outside this site may quote it, link to it, or use it as an excuse to harass me" without this somehow excluding the idea that the harassment portion of that is unacceptable and making it worse for anyone (including me!) to fight against that, then what is my option? I guess to not say that at all?
posted by rtha at 10:28 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that one major divide over this is about a particular instance here, and I'm actually okay with disagreeing about that. What I think is important, at least from my view of the discussion, is the answer to this question: is there ever a point in which it is inappropriate for a journalist to repeat something that they hear in public? I'm actually way-okay with disagreeing whether or not corb's instance reaches that level (sincere and well-intentioned individuals can disagree). I think it probably does, but saying I agree that it does vs. it doesn't suggests a breach of moral obligation is at some point possible. If we admit that there is a point, that's where the discussion is interesting, and it really isn't interesting at all to simply default to a public vs. non-public rationale.

I think that there is a theoretical point in which a journalist can be a jerk, immoral, inappropriate, hurting the common good, by repeating things that are hurtful to people when broadcast much wider than the source's expectations. This is in theory possible. I don't think there is (or should be) an absolute utilitarian principle of "greater good for the public interest" at the possible expense of the unaware that allows the observable world to be subject to the media indiscriminately. Otherwise I guarantee that we can come up with hypothetical scenario that would make our skins crawl if taken to the logical extreme, especially with our always-improving surveillance capabilities and the increasing easy by which we can intrude into people's lives. I'm not arguing for a slippery slope that will happen, but showing where something can go is a good tool for determining whether or not we have sufficient conditions for the integrity of something.

I think it makes a lot of sense to talk now about whether or not journalism should continue to think about developing norms of behavior in general, self-policed by a sense of common decency, as has already been happening as the world has been changing. I don't think it makes sense to say that this discussion can't go even further because of a theoretical journalistic carte blanche access to public information (which is a sacred cow that needs some push back, I think, and should not be assumed as a fundamental axiom that is unassailable), and which in reality is already more self-policing than that anyway because of all of social nuances that the media itself has been observing over time regarding developing expectations for appropriate media behavior.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:35 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


What I think is important, at least from my view of the discussion, is the answer to this question: is there ever a point in which it is inappropriate for a journalist to repeat something that they hear in public?

I haven't been engaging this question, but the answer is yes, there is, of course, and this decision not to report stuff is made all the time (I mean, the vast majority of public speech is not reported simply because it's not newsworthy). But even when there's a strong argument for public interest, I don't actually find that larger discussion all that interesting because it's pretty short: yes, there are times when it's inappropriate. The interesting discussions are all about specifics, about how to apply the general principles. But I would discourage thinking about using content or not using it as something that falls along a continuum and can operate formulaically. Journalistic decision-making is very much done on a case-by-case basis and conditions are different in most decisions, so have to be weighed uniquely. It is a process of judgment calls, and professionals also can disagree. That's why one of the most common forms of journalism on journalism is the article that surveys ten or twelve editors and asks 'what would you have done in this case.' There is no playbook or point-value system for determining when it's inappropriate to give further exposure to something already public.

a sacred cow that needs some push back

It's a sacred cow for really good reasons. People say the same about the ACLU: too extreme, needs its wings clipped. What's important to me is starting from the principle of broadest possible princples of first amendment free expression and asking for really, really good reasons why and when we shouldn't allow that, not starting from the other end, assuming that the default is that we should not allow it and carving out ever smaller, constrained, burdened spaces in which we allow journalism to do its extremely important work. You can certainly assail the extreme position, and of course it is constantly modified in practice, but I prefer to argue from that extreme in the effort not to yield ground that, if it were loss, would threaten public interest in deeply concerning ways.
posted by Miko at 10:49 AM on April 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I haven't been engaging this question, but the answer is yes, there is, of course, and this decision not to report stuff is made all the time (I mean, the vast majority of public speech is not reported simply because it's not newsworthy). But even when there's a strong argument for public interest, I don't actually find that larger discussion all that interesting because it's pretty short: yes, there are times when it's inappropriate. The interesting discussions are all about specifics, about how to apply the general principles. But I would discourage thinking about using content or not using it as something that falls along a continuum and can operate formulaically. Journalistic decision-making is very much done on a case-by-case basis and conditions are different in most decisions, so have to be weighed uniquely. It is a process of judgment calls, and professionals also can disagree. That's why one of the most common forms of journalism on journalism is the article that surveys ten or twelve editors and asks 'what would you have done in this case.' There is no playbook or point-value system for determining when it's inappropriate to give further exposure to something already public.

That's actually really helpful to hear you say that, and I think that's fundamentally what a lot of others in the thread have been arguing to affirm. I'm not sure anyone would argue that it's formulaic, only that you can point to instances when you think you see it, and it's worth discussing. So in corb's case, it is worth discussing, even if we disagree about whether or not it rises to a particular level. It also can at least serve as a springboard about what is proper journalistic practice, with the kind of discretion that you mention above, even if we disagree.

It's a sacred cow for really good reasons. People say the same about the ACLU: too extreme, needs its wings clipped. What's important to me is starting from the principle of broadest possible princples of first amendment free expression and asking for really, really good reasons why and when we shouldn't allow that, not starting from the other end, assuming that we should not allow it and carving out ever smaller, constrained, burdened spaces in which we allow journalism to do its extremely important work. You can certainly assail the extreme position, and of course it is constantly modified in practice, but I prefer to argue from that extreme in the effort not to yield ground that, if it were loss, would threaten public interest in deeply concerning ways.

I totally agree with you here. I wonder if much of the cross-talk in this thread is that there are some who think that others want to make changes without really, really good reasons, and others who think that we are being encouraged to not have conversations at all about ways in which things could be (carefully) modified, as is already happening in practice.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:11 AM on April 9, 2015


Corb's comment is not about a victim of sexual assault, and names no one.

No, but it is about a tween who is already feeling insecure about her weight, in a time when rampant anorexia abounds. And the quote is incredibly specific - not a problem on Metafilter, where I make thousands of comments and it would actually be difficult to read through them all, but maybe a problem when it's the incredibly-well-read NYT.
posted by corb at 11:26 AM on April 9, 2015


The analogy that strikes me is to security-through-obscurity - Metafilter seems like privacy-through-obscurity. It feels like a conversation between a (large) group of (mostly) friends, but it's not. It's as public as a billboard.

I don't think there's really any solution to the dilemma for corb (sorry to talk about you in the third person) - for Metafilter to be truly private it would have to be structured very differently in a way that would also obstruct free expression by making people jump through hoops to read what we're all saying. Instead what we have is a place where people don't (and on some level, shouldn't) feel totally express themselves because anyone and everyone can show up and read it.

On some level you have to treat everything you write on MeFi as if it's going to not just show up in a back-page summary but on the front page of the New York Times. For me I feel OK because of pseudonymity although that too is a low bar given how frequently people get doxxed.

So... hm. This didn't conclude as neatly as I had hoped. There's no clean solution.
posted by GuyZero at 12:16 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The principle that public speech is public applies because it's been upheld more often than not.

You're still acting as if the only relevant norms are legal or at least legalistic professional norms (norms that can be "upheld") which is just odd and obviously wrong. There are other kinds of norms: moral and social ones. The norm that you don't post self-links to the front page has never been "upheld" in any court of law. Yet it's still our norm. The same goes for the norm that you don't post MeMails, or the Treaty of Westphalia.

We don't use the @ sign to address our comments, and we don't sign them: authors from the New York Times have absolutely no obligation to observe these norms, but we'd still be warranted in complaining when they failed.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:22 PM on April 9, 2015


And the quote is incredibly specific - not a problem on Metafilter, where I make thousands of comments and it would actually be difficult to read through them all, but maybe a problem when it's the incredibly-well-read NYT.

This is the distinction that I think is not as strong as you may perceive. Metafilter has a huge readership, and while articles on the NYT eventually slip into obscurity, comments and posts on Metafilter will always be subject to the public eye.
posted by dazed_one at 12:54 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's actually really helpful to hear you say that, and I think that's fundamentally what a lot of others in the thread have been arguing to affirm

It's probably one of those cases where this seems so obvious to me that there's no need to say it, but of course others aren't in my head and it may not be as obvious to them and I could have made it more obvious. I still think at least some others in the thread are looking to go beyond affirming that and arguing that the present standard of practice needs to change further in response to this incident and others like it, but I could be wrong.

No, but it is about a tween...

But nobody knows who she is. Or who you are. I know a lot about you from interacting here, but I could not pick you from a lineup, have not the foggiest idea of your name, and don't know where you live, and even if I read this in the Times (which I did, and thought nothing much of it other than 'nice! MetaFilter represent!') I am no further informed about your identity and can't possibly connect your comment to an identifiable person. YThis is why I have a hard time seeing how harm can result. Your reputation cannot have been harmed, because you already shared the content with us, and only we know you as "corb." I understand the emotional need to protect one's daughter, but I feel like in your position I'd be far more worried about the possible harm from my kid paging through my comment history (easily done if you stay logged in on a shared computer), for instance. If I don't know who you are, and already know what you said by virtue of being here, I'm not sure in what way I can harm you, let alone someone with even less background.

The only scenario I can think of where you might experience "harm" from such a thing would be if someone who read this in the Times took exception to your statement, and came here and made a user account and started harassing you with it, in which case I would expect the mods to shut that right down because it's a violation of the community standards. And they'd be right to do that, but that doesn't mean the comment shouldn't have been in the Times - the responsibility for that behavior is on the harasser. And as far as I am aware, nothing like that has happened, so it's a hypothetical at this moment.

You're still acting as if the only relevant norms are legal or at least legalistic professional norms (norms that can be "upheld") which is just odd and obviously wrong.

I'm not acting as if they're the only relevant ones. I just don't know what other ones you would appeal to to someone from outside our community, if you feel that being quoted was wrong. Our norms on MeFi are only be relevant to us - no one else cares if we use the @symbol, for instance. In this discussion, you might appeal to a broader social norm ("be nice" or "consider how people will feel") but then we get back to where I was in my last comment, which is that yes, journalists recognize those norms are weighing them against other norms ("have a free flow of ideas," "help people understand current events," etc.). So I don't feel like this "norms" thing is a point to get hung up on.

we'd still be warranted in complaining when they failed.

Well, we could complain, but what does "warranted" mean? I'm not sure they'd be warranted. I personally wouldn't assign much weight to the complaints. I mean, anyone can complain about anything. I suppose if someone is just saying "I dislike that" without asking for wider changes, then there's no real problem with that complaint. It's when "I dislike that, therefore it should not be allowed" becomes the argument that we're thrust back into discussing ethical expectations, professional standards and legal rights and freedoms. That's why I come from there in the first place.
posted by Miko at 12:56 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd like to echo the last part of what Miko said.

Norms exist within a community. The social norms of Metafilter apply to members of Metafilter when they are interacting inside Metafilter. A reporter from the New York Times who scans the site can't be expected to be aware of those norms, and shouldn't be expected to follow them. Rather, the reporter should be expected to follow the broader norms of American journalism or American society as a whole.

This front page post about cultural conflict in air travel highlights exactly this distinction. Here you have some ultra orthodox men who assert that it's not appropriate for them to sit next to women. For them, the social norm is "men don't sit down next to women they aren't married to." That's fine when they're hanging out in the orthodox community. But on an airplane other people don't have that expectation. For other people on the plane, it's totally normal for unrelated men and women to sit next to each other. At first these people don't understand the expectations of the orthodox men (confusion), then when they understand they think the men are presumptuous and rude for wanting to impose the norms of their social group in this larger social context. The feeling is you don't just get to impose that unilaterally.

The same thing is happening here. Metafilter may have some customs and norms. But we can't expect other people to know what those are, and we shouldn't presume that other people will immediately agree to follow them once we explain them. That doesn't make the other people rude, per se. They aren't part of our community, and they haven't bought into any of it.
posted by alms at 1:37 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


anotherpanacea: "The norm that you don't post self-links to the front page has never been "upheld" in any court of law. Yet it's still our norm. The same goes for the norm that you don't post MeMails, or the Treaty of Westphalia.

We don't use the @ sign to address our comments, and we don't sign them: authors from the New York Times have absolutely no obligation to observe these norms, but we'd still be warranted in complaining when they failed.
"

I think it's important to distinguish between norms and rules. Not posting self-links, huge batches of text, and MeMails are rules, enforced by the mods. Violate them, and you will be punished. Not using the @ sign or signatures is a norm - you can do it, if you really want to, people may just look at you funny.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:55 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I suppose if someone is just saying "I dislike that" without asking for wider changes, then there's no real problem with that complaint. It's when "I dislike that, therefore it should not be allowed" becomes the argument that we're thrust back into discussing ethical expectations, professional standards and legal rights and freedoms. That's why I come from there in the first place.

But when has anyone in this thread ever argued that quotation without permission should not be "allowed"? Who here even has the power the enforce such an allowance? We're strictly at the "I dislike that" stage.

That doesn't make the other people rude, per se. They aren't part of our community, and they haven't bought into any of it.

Perhaps we disagree, but my sense is that it is the height of rudeness to go into another person's community to appropriate some important aspect of it, and then ignore the norms and mores of that community while you're stealing from it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:28 PM on April 9, 2015


but my sense is that it is the height of rudeness to go into another person's community to appropriate some important aspect of it, and then ignore the norms and mores of that community while you're stealing from it.

They're not stealing anything. They were quoting publicly made comments that are viewable by the entire internet. There is a vast and yawning gap between stealing and fair use of a public statement.
posted by dazed_one at 2:34 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


appropriate some important aspect of it ... you're stealing

Are you just against the concept and existence of fair use at all? Language like this makes me think so. Attempts to have a conversation about the nuances and grey areas of this issue are not at all helped by stuff like that.
posted by rtha at 2:35 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Furthermore, anotherpanacea, by your definition, Metafilter is a community built on the concept of "going into another person's community" and "stealing from it".
posted by dazed_one at 2:39 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


OMG IT'S NOT ABOUT LAW.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:53 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


What?
posted by dazed_one at 2:56 PM on April 9, 2015


> OMG IT'S NOT ABOUT LAW.

If it's not about the law and it's not about your hyperbolic framing about what it means when a non-metafilter entity quotes something someone said on metafilter, then what is it about?
posted by rtha at 3:00 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


What?
posted by dazed_one at 5:56 PM on April 9 [+] [!]


Eponysterical!

I'm not talking about law; I'm talking about social norms. I'm not talking about fair use (no surprise, since that's a legal concept and I'm not talking about law); I'm talking about our preferences about how we interact with each other, and about how journalists interact with us.

A lot of people seem to think that there's something weird about stating non-legally-binding preferences about how strangers interact with us. So how about this: if the interns or journalists at the New York Times who keep quoting us in the Thread are are regular readers, then they're not just outsiders. As frequent visitors or perhaps even members, then, we can address them, and say: they should ask permission before quoting.

The "should" here is not--NOT--a legal "should." It's not a "should" that tracks journalistic ethics and so could lose a journalist her job. It's--wait for it--a Metafilter "should." In my view, it's one of the "shoulds" that makes Metafilter worth quoting in the first place.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:21 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Other people quoting MetaFilter = stealing
MetaFilter quoting other people = MetaFilter
posted by neroli at 3:24 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eponysterical!

Thanks. I try to live up to the hype.

if the interns or journalists at the New York Times who keep quoting us in the Thread are are regular readers, then they're not just outsiders. As frequent visitors or perhaps even members, then, we can address them, and say: they should ask permission before quoting.

And if they're not regular readers (what is the definition of regular reader anyhow?) then things should just continue as they are? What would this non-legally binding request accomplish? What's the point of it if it doesn't make us safer from harassment and if it can be ignored depending on a personal definition of regular reader? Should MeFites follow the same policy when we quote someone/some site in an FPP or comment?
posted by dazed_one at 3:30 PM on April 9, 2015


> The "should" here is not--NOT--a legal "should." It's not a "should" that tracks journalistic ethics and so could lose a journalist her job. It's--wait for it--a Metafilter "should."

And it is for mefites to adhere to and argue about. Which is what we're doing. Do you think we ought to extend the same treatment - ask before linking/quoting - to all the things we link to and quote from that are not metafilter? Does it depend? On what?
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on April 9, 2015


Given the entire premise of Metafilter is linking to, quoting from and otherwise discussing things from the internet - and not always doing so kindly or with respect to other community norms - it seems more than a little churlish to get upset when others do the same to us.
posted by deadwax at 6:56 PM on April 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Actually the mods here are pretty firm on suggesting not linking to other places' comment sections.
posted by corb at 8:11 PM on April 9, 2015


What? I mean, I've seen them ask that people not do so when it's just "look at these assholes!" kinds of links, or when it's dragging an offsite argument to this site for no reason, but there are a bunch of threads happening right this minute where people are referencing comments from other places (quoting them, linking them) and it's fine. It's not a blanket prohibition in the least.
posted by rtha at 8:27 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have never seen the mods object to linking to other comment sections privately or publicly, except for the reasons rtha gives. I could probably dig up dozens of those links in my own fpp/comment history.
posted by zarq at 4:16 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course, I'd forgotten that the other Metafilter social norm is "contrariness."

I think knowing that zarq won't complain when I steal zir excellent posts and comments really makes this thread worth it to me.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:27 AM on April 10, 2015


Can you please define how you are using the word "steal"?
posted by rtha at 5:46 AM on April 10, 2015


Can you please define how you are using the word "steal"?

Like that.
posted by alms at 6:06 AM on April 10, 2015


Steal:

to appropriate to oneself beyond one's proper share; to use, profit from, or take credit for something without permission or against the will of the rightful owner.

I'm using it colloquially, of course. If it helps, you can substitute "bogart."
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:46 AM on April 10, 2015


Bogart means to hog something, thereby depriving other people of it. If the New York Times had technology that copied all the best comments onto their site, simultaneously removing them from metafilter.com, they could be accused of bogarting. Otherwise not so much.

(As you pointed out previously, the other Metafilter social norm is contrariness.)
posted by alms at 7:20 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually the mods here are pretty firm on suggesting not linking to other places' comment sections.

No, to be clear, we have no general objection to linking to comments on other sites; the thing we've had to discourage on occasion is the specific strategy of basically going "hey, you know what's a terrible thing to write about this topic we're discussing here? These comments that I found on another site, check it out" and dragging the awfulness of some other conversation into a Metafilter thread.

I am sure if we sifted the whole of the archives we could find other one-off examples of where pulling specific comments from, or cross-linking to, some other site's discussion was problematic for more idiosyncratic reasons—I mostly avoid saying "thing x is literally never a problem" because context does matter—but it's not generally an issue from a mefi policy or practice perspective.

More generally, I think the discussion of what you can vs. should do is an important one and and interesting one, and I find I agree with aspects of arguments in either direction on some of these points of disagreement.

Fundamentally I think that we have a great deal more capacity to reasonably drive internal site culture and practice about commenting and quoting and disclosure than we do to drive practices by folks external to the site. I both think there is value in the thought that someone quoting from Metafilter should extend a little thoughtfulness to the whether and why and who and how of taking something from here and repeating it elsewhere, and think it's impractical to expect Metafilter as a site that is content-wise essentially entirely public to have any reasonable expectation that it can proactively or preemptively guide the decisions that outsider readers and writers make on that front.

The can vs. should question is something we think about a lot when looking at candidates for the sidebar, and I think it touches on some of the same stuff people have talked about here: there's a lot of interesting comments we don't put on the sidebar, because they're interesting but they're also of a pretty personal nature, or about something tied to a really difficult or ugly topic, or both, and to take that and say "we should make this person's comment the subject of waaaay more attention than they could reasonably have expected when they were just typing away in a random Metafilter thread" often feels sort of irresponsible even if our intention is to be laudatory.

And on the one hand, I think that's a thing that doesn't require one to be a Mefi mod or a mefite at all to really comprehend: that actively blowing up something personal or charged that was posted in a fairly innocuous way rather than as a press release or broadcast announcement by rebroadcasting it in a high profile way merits some careful thought. But on the other hand, we as mods here have a different perspective on the balance between raw interestingness and community concerns than someone who, by definition, lacks those community-specific concerns; it's not surprising to me that the decisions I make are different from the decisions a reporter or blogger who isn't steeped in Metafilter culture would make.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:30 AM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think knowing that zarq won't complain when I steal zir excellent posts and comments really makes this thread worth it to me.

LOL :)

Well, to clarify, I'd prefer an original attribution listed somewhere, but obviously have no way of enforcing that. Linking and quoting is fine with me.

I have zero problem with my posts being linked to or cribbed from or quoted or whatever. Just please link back to the original mefi page. And I can't emphasize this enough: I don't care if I'm mentioned by name or not. If someone links to one of my posts on twitter or Facebook or whatever, please don't bother to mention my name or social media handle. A link to the original is enough.

But as I said above, if a comment seems to be personal or intimate, it would be polite and easy to ask first, and I'd personally prefer people do that.
posted by zarq at 7:44 AM on April 10, 2015


> I'm using it colloquially, of course.

This is exactly what I'm asking about, though - how your colloquial definition differs (if it does) from the definition you quoted (I assume it's a quote because it's styled as we style them - in italics - but there's no link, so I can't tell where it's from, and I can't tell if the lack of link is a deliberate poke on your part or what).

You seem invested in other places following mefi's norms, but our norms have not included the concept that linking to or quoting comments from this site is "stealing." At the very least, you could talk about your definition of this term, why the site should adopt it, and how it could be enforced, and if it should be enforced when we link/quote from other sites.
posted by rtha at 7:58 AM on April 10, 2015


Isn't the New York Times doing precisely this: "use[ing], profit[ing] from, or tak[ing] credit for something without permission or against the will of the rightful owner"?

I mean, I get that it's fair use. I'm not demanding compensation. I think of this more like a cultural appropriation, like what you hear ethnologists worry about. I think it's a little disruptive to our community to put specific users and their personal stories in the New York Times. It's not doxxing, but it's something that gives me pause. Of course, it's good to know that's a risk, but that kind of "don't go down the alley and you won't be mugged" harm reduction in this case makes Metafilter a less intimate and welcoming place. The law here doesn't matter; I acknowledge the law. I'm just saying that it's a harm, and there's a nice, polite way to reduce or prevent that harm: ask.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:09 AM on April 10, 2015


I think the question a lot of people are asking you is: how is that different from what we do here every day?
posted by neroli at 8:14 AM on April 10, 2015


I think the question a lot of people are asking you is: how is that different from what we do here every day?

There are a bunch of answers that have been given to this question upthread. One of which is the Times has a much larger audience. If it helps, here are the numbers:

Per their media kit, last September the Times Online was claiming 28 million unique visitors each month. Which is 336 million unique readers per year. Paid subscriptions: 1.09 million between Monday to Friday. 1.06 million on Sundays. Those overlap, they also include people who pay for both the print versions and online. Paid subscribers to digital-only products (Mostly to content-specific apps) was 831,000 at the end of 2Q 2014.

Last year, 86,774,487 unique visitors viewed 225,111,833 pages across MetaFilter sites. Around 7 million unique viewers per year. Mefi had 37,078 active paid accounts in 2014.
posted by zarq at 8:43 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, and I'm sure there's a similar asymmetry between MeFi's relatively large audience and the much, much smaller audiences of some of the blogs we quote in FPPs and comments. So, again, are we stealing from them?
posted by neroli at 10:38 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


28 million unique visitors each month. Which is 336 million unique readers per year.

I see that the source I pulled from had the online impressions wrong, so sorry about that, but just a quibble here: 28m unique each month does not directly translate to 336m unique each year. It could equally be 28m unique each year as well; if there's one thing Times readers are, it's regular, so it's likely there's a massive overlap each month of the same users reading. Still agrees with my point; there's a difference in impressions, but not an order-of-magnitude difference.

there's a nice, polite way to reduce or prevent that harm: ask.

Well, that's going to come down to being kind of an undue burden on reporters, and it isn't too likely to start happening any time soon in any way you can consistently control. So, how do you feel about knowing that it's highly unlikely that this will become the journalistic norm for pulling content from public sites? That despite your preferences and invocation of norms , this kind of thing will happen, and you are probably powerless to stop it from happening? I mean, I understand you're not going to make a legal or professional-ethical claim that this "should not be allowed," since you're ruling that out, so how do you plan to deal with the understanding that something is likely to continue happening when you don't like that it happens?
posted by Miko at 10:50 AM on April 10, 2015


So, essentially it'd be nice if journalists requested permission to quote comments from Metafilter, but it's not going to happen with any kind of regularity, it would be dickish and hypocritical of us as a community to insist upon it and not even everyone in this community thinks there's even a point in adding a note about it to the FAQ that nobody reads.
posted by dazed_one at 11:00 AM on April 10, 2015


28m unique each month does not directly translate to 336m unique each year.

Logically, yes. I agree.

Worth noting that those numbers (including quarterly and annual figures) are used in sales pitches by their ad reps, and are the party line they used to sell potential and current advertisers. (That's what has been said by them to my clients, and they always emphasize "unique page views" not monthly visitors.) No surprise there, of course. Their goal is to sell ads, so of course they're going to give the rosiest possible picture.
posted by zarq at 11:04 AM on April 10, 2015


I see that the source I pulled from had the online impressions wrong,

Amusingly enough, Vocus doesn't list readership at all. According to one of the largest media databases available to PR professionals, no one reads the Times. :)
posted by zarq at 11:06 AM on April 10, 2015


Worth noting that those numbers (including quarterly and annual figures) are used in sales pitches by their ad reps

I see the 28m but I was assuming you came up with the 336m unique by multiplying 28*12. I don't see them claiming 336m unique on their site - am I looking in the wrong place? We buy with them too, but I haven't heard that figure, though I am at second hand in those discussions.
posted by Miko at 11:12 AM on April 10, 2015


I see the 28m but I was assuming you came up with the 336m unique by multiplying 28*12.

Oh, I've heard "over 300 million annually" on calls with them, so I multiplied for a more exact figure, yes. Wasn't off their website.

According to compete.com (sorry, you may need a subscription,) nytimes.com has had the following unique visitor counts for the last 13 months:

Feb 2014: 17,996,381
Mar 2014: 17,863,509
Apr 2014: 17,434,454
May 2014: 17,661,232
Jun 2014: 18,917,462
Jul 2014: 20,618,254
Aug 2014: 22,288,693
Sep 2014: 24,101,500
Oct 2014: 32,834,540
Nov 2014: 43,726,194
Dec 2014: 33,480,832
Jan 2015: 34,030,383
Feb 2015: 37,979,872

Total: 338,933,306
posted by zarq at 12:04 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah ha! Ok, compete defines unique visitors as follows:
"A Unique Visitor can be defined as a person who visits a site at least once within the month being researched. The Unique Visitors metric only counts a person once no matter how many times that person visits the site in a given month."
Which strongly supports the idea that it could be the same people visiting on a monthly basis.
posted by zarq at 12:10 PM on April 10, 2015


What a climb, though. Wow, good for them. That digital strategy seems to be paying off, huh.

I feel like, anecdotally, the Times has its massive regulars who read online, read in print, use the apps, etc. But then it has these spikes out to other audiences via their most e-mailed articles and Facebook mentions and the like. So I'm sure there's really more of a mix of regulars + people who see something when a reader posts or emails it to them, but I'd guess that most people who see a Times piece aren't seeing a Times piece for the first time in their life or even their year. Really interesting stats, though, thanks for pulling.
posted by Miko at 12:23 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I still don't accept that these are norms. Your saying they're norms doesn't mean they are norms. But even if they are norms, and even if I accepted them myself, I would still recognize that no one outside the community is obliged to also accept those norms or could even be expected to know what they are. That would be unreasonable.

There is definitely a cultural disconnect here. Asking for permission to use someone's online quote is definitely the norm here. I get calls monthly from our local paper asking if they can use an online comment I made to an article. It seems like basic journalistic courtesy 101.

So I guess I would say that you saying they AREN'T norms doesn't mean they aren't.

This is especially true if it's a real business doing the quoting, as opposed to Joe Schmoe on his blog saying "check out what John Doe said about XYZ! Bonkers, eh?". Of course there is a difference between those two things. It sounded like people are saying there isn't, but there is.

But even if it weren't the social norm, those of us who would like it to be SHOULD be kicking up a fuss. It is possible to change social norms. We've seen a bunch change just in the last decade, having to do with the online treatment of gender and sexual orientation.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:48 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's a little more likely for a local paper because (a) they have the time and (b) they are much more dependent for their survival on their local reputation and the cooperation of people in their own locality, and often more soliticous in general.
posted by Miko at 4:00 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


> So, how do you feel about knowing that it's highly unlikely that this will become the journalistic norm for pulling content from public sites? That despite your preferences and invocation of norms , this kind of thing will happen, and you are probably powerless to stop it from happening? I mean, I understand you're not going to make a legal or professional-ethical claim that this "should not be allowed," since you're ruling that out, so how do you plan to deal with the understanding that something is likely to continue happening when you don't like that it happens?

I'd feel pretty good about making the statement, because it might lead to changes in behavior that work well for both journalists and commenters. Even if nothing changes, I still like the idea of encouraging journalists to think a little more about the power they have, and about ways to evolve while protecting their core function in a democracy.

> So, essentially it'd be nice if journalists requested permission to quote comments from Metafilter, but it's not going to happen with any kind of regularity, it would be dickish and hypocritical of us as a community to insist upon it and not even everyone in this community thinks there's even a point in adding a note about it to the FAQ that nobody reads.

I don't think we can know if journalists will be more inclined to seek permission if we don't ask first. I also don't necessarily see a contradiction for MetaFilter to make the request to news media, because news organizations are different due to things like visibility, authority and ethical standards. Ultimately, I see the idea of stating a preference as a way to encourage polite engagement, not demand it.

Also, I'm fairly new to having an account here, so I have read the FAQ, because I've been trying to figure out how everything works. I don't think it's unreasonable to imagine that some journalists might have a similar idea about exploring site policies, especially when the link to the FAQ is at the top of every page.
posted by Little Dawn at 4:02 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


> So I guess I would say that you saying they AREN'T norms doesn't mean they aren't.

It's clearly not the norm for the NYT, and it's not the norm for a bunch of other publications that have shown up with metatalk posts framed as "Hey look, someone knows we exist! Neat!" and it's doesn't seem to be the norm for mefites to ask permission to link/quote from other sources. How is something a norm if it is clearly not so widespread?
posted by rtha at 4:04 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think we can know if journalists will be more inclined to seek permission if we don't ask first

So....have you asked?
posted by Miko at 4:05 PM on April 10, 2015


Oh, never mind, I see you were just talking about the idea of putting something in the FAQ, not talking to the Times specifically.
posted by Miko at 4:09 PM on April 10, 2015


small_ruminant: "This is especially true if it's a real business doing the quoting, as opposed to Joe Schmoe on his blog saying "check out what John Doe said about XYZ! Bonkers, eh?". Of course there is a difference between those two things. It sounded like people are saying there isn't, but there is. "
I'm curious about what this difference is, apart from perhaps an awareness of what's considered 'polite'. In any case, it's harder and harder to tell what a 'real business' is these days - there are plenty of what would be considered personal blogs that represent actual businesses in one way or another or are themselves actual businesses.

The weirdest thing here, to me, is people saying others should ask users of MeFi before quoting their content elsewhere in an environment that primarily exists to quote and link to other people's content (to the extent that a user putting forward their own original content is a bannable offence). I'd be incredibly surprised if more than a tiny fraction of the links and associated material reproduced here has explicit permission from the content owner. Especially if you take the 'real business = different rules' line. MetaFilter is a real business by any measure.
posted by dg at 4:18 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


and it's doesn't seem to be the norm for mefites to ask permission to link/quote from other sources. How is something a norm if it is clearly not so widespread?

As I said, there is a distinct difference between a business doing it and an individual doing it.

On preview: there have always been different rules for businesses than for individuals. I feel like we're somehow buying into the "corporations are people" bullshit here, or something. Corporations and individuals have always been held to very different standards.

Many many papers do ask whenever it's possible. It is more than possible on metafilter- it's easy. Pointing out the papers that don't ask doesn't make those papers the universal arbitrar of norms.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:22 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


And even our small papers (which ask) are serving a few million readers. (I'm referring to the San Francisco Chronicle and the East Bay Express, both of which have contacted me in the past.)
posted by small_ruminant at 4:25 PM on April 10, 2015


As I said, there is a distinct difference between a business doing it and an individual doing it.

No, I don't think there's any appreciable difference. If there ever was any doubt, Citizens United doesn't either.

Also, MetaFilter is a business.

The weirdest thing here, to me, is people saying others should ask users of MeFi before quoting their content elsewhere in an environment that primarily exists to quote and link to other people's content

Yes- let's hear some more talk about this. Are we ready to change our standards on linking to content we have not asked permission for in FPPs and comments? To revise the norm to include some such principle as "always do your due diligence to identify the author/owner and ask permission to use outside content?"

After all, if this place is a business, that's where this argument leads. That's where it would lead even if we were a nonprofit, or just a community.

I find this idea of a permission-based society where no speech even in public is fair-use without special request a little totalitarian, and can immediately see how quickly it would quell inquiry into and awareness of serious social problems like racist institutions and the like, but I'd like to hear people who think this is a great idea talk about whether they will accept that standard for MeFi.
posted by Miko at 4:37 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd just like to say that I find this whole "they should always ask" discussion to be completely pointless and unproductive. That's not the standard and it's never going to be the standard. And a discussion about these issues in those terms completely distorts it -- the same sorts of considerations that the mods here have in mind when they decide whether to sidebar something is the same sort of considerations that everyone, everywhere ought to be applying when they quote someone's public speech. Usually the result is going to be that doing so, and without permission, is totally fine. But sometimes it won't be. Sometimes it would be better to ask permission, or not quote at all.

These absurdly extreme hypotheticals are not helpful. And it's not about competing community norms. The only truly authoritative thing that anyone has linked in this entire thread that deals with journalistic ethics in this context explicitly talks, at length, about balancing public utility against potential harm. It's false to claim that newspapers don't or won't or shoulnd't consider these issues, it's false to argue that someone who feels wronged by a newspaper is prima facie wrong to complain about it because reasons. And it's false to argue that the same sorts of considerations don't or shouldn't apply to we here at MetaFilter.

I don't understand what all this arguing is about when I think it's certain that almost all of us will agree that both the New York Times and MetaFilter should ask permission for a quote or not quote at all given some sufficiently extreme example of potential harm. Almost no one here actually believes that these considerations are irrelevant in principle. The disagreement is about when that threshhold of potential harm is exceeded. And we're bound to disagree about that, that's fine. But taking some time to consider these issues, or someone complaining to the NYT about this particular case, is not some slippery slope that's going to somehow end up destroying the sanctity of American journalistic freedom or the open web.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:41 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Again, IF, you're doing a great job being angry about stuff we don't disagree on. But this last bit:

not some slippery slope that's going to somehow end up destroying the sanctity of American journalistic freedom or the open web.

I do disagree with that. We live on this slippery slope, we've never been off the slippery slope, and in recent years, we've been sliding further and further away from open culture, a free press, and free speech. That concerns me, and I'm not wrong to share those concerns, either. If it's okay to take time to consider these issues, then let's take time, but not expect that "considering" will equal "we all reach agreement."
posted by Miko at 4:45 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


> On preview: there have always been different rules for businesses than for individuals.

When I post something here, I know that it has great potential to be read by far, far more people than it would if I had my own blog (I don't). So I am an individual, but I am posting on a site that is definitively a business, and me not getting paid to post here doesn't change that - it doesn't make mefi not a business, and it doesn't alter the increased number of eyeballs that read it and not my hypothetical blog.
posted by rtha at 5:24 PM on April 10, 2015


> Also, MetaFilter is a business.

MetaFilter is not a news organization. Previous comments make it clear that journalists have distinct standards of ethical conduct, and that the preference of the source is sometimes taken into account. That's why it may make sense to state a site preference, so journalists can have notice that this source has a preference.

I find this idea of a permission-based society where no speech even in public is fair-use without special request a little totalitarian, and can immediately see how quickly it would quell inquiry into and awareness of serious social problems like racist institutions and the like, but I'd like to hear people who think this is a great idea talk about whether they will accept that standard for MeFi.

I don't see anyone in this thread suggesting changes to the laws regarding fair use, so accusing people of advocating for totalitarianism and racism seems unfair. My comments have talked about the idea of expressing a site preference, with the awareness that journalists would still (and must) be free to quote whatever they wish - all it would be is encouragement for journalists to ask for permission. I don't see how that could possibly stop anyone from reporting on serious social problems.

However, if there is a concern that a FAQ addition might create a chilling effect on journalism, the FAQ could encourage journalists with questions about the legal significance of the preference to Get a lawyer, just in case there is a journalist who doesn't fully understand their rights.
posted by Little Dawn at 6:24 PM on April 10, 2015


So, do you think this FAQ should also include guidelines about how MetaFilter should deal with content from other sites quoted here? Or are we allowed to do whatever we want, regardless of the preferences of sources we use?
posted by neroli at 7:27 PM on April 10, 2015


MetaFilter is not a news organization.

Totally debatable. It's definitely a news source, just an unprofessionalized, distributed one.

the FAQ could encourage journalists with questions about the legal significance of the preference to Get a lawyer, just in case there is a journalist who doesn't fully understand their rights.

This reads as naive. Journalists, for the most part, aren't going to have those questions. The legal significance of such a statement is nil, and they know that. Journalists don't need educating from MeFi. They also (if employed by a professional news organization) already have lawyers, and they also have advocacy groups and professional organizations with legal departments. That's why this stuff isn't terribly fuzzy in my mind. In general, even a relatively inexperienced journalist at a major news outlet's level of legal understanding is a lot more developed than anything currently in evidence on this site in this discussion. Journalism trains people in ethical and legal frameworks and thinking; heck, that's why I understand it. If you wanted to take some action against a journalist who quoted stuff from this public site, it would be you that needs the lawyer.

My comments have talked about the idea of expressing a site preference, with the awareness that journalists would still (and must) be free to quote whatever they wish - all it would be is encouragement for journalists to ask for permission.

Express away. I want encourage something, as well, and that's the understanding that no one outside of MeFi has an obligation to respect that preference.

So, do you think this FAQ should also include guidelines about how MetaFilter should deal with content from other sites quoted here? Or are we allowed to do whatever we want, regardless of the preferences of sources we use?

Yes. Let's talk about this. I sense that this is an uncomfortable question naturally raised by the conversation that no one wants to engage, but how about turning the kleig lights on ourselves? If we believe individual persmission for content use is critical, are we going to put it into practice? Are we saying that we expect every other individual who wants to quote MeFi in any other context anywhere should be asking our permission, but we're not going to be willing to engage in the same practice ourselves? Seriously, let's talk about it. When do we start?
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


small_ruminant: " I feel like we're somehow buying into the "corporations are people" bullshit here, or something. Corporations and individuals have always been held to very different standards."
Well, while it hasn't always been the case that corporations and individuals are held to different standards, it's only during relevantly recent history that they have been considered the same in a legal sense, under certain circumstances. There are perfectly valid reasons to treat corporations as people in a legal sense to stop people hiding behind corporate structures to avoid their legal obligations. I do this every day in my work and it has had real and measurable impacts on reducing harm to individuals.

I do agree, though, that this should not be taken to be a blanket 'corporations are people', as much as corporations would like us to do so. Corporations do not have the same rights that we accord to individuals and those rights needs to stop somewhere around ensuring they have access to procedural fairness and no more.

"Many many papers do ask whenever it's possible. It is more than possible on metafilter- it's easy. Pointing out the papers that don't ask doesn't make those papers the universal arbitrar of norms."
But it's not easy, at least not always. Whether it's easy to ask permission or not shouldn't be the deciding factor as to whether a quote is published, of course, but it's definitely wrong to throw a blanket over MetaFilter and say that every user under that blanket is readily contactable by an external agency.

Ivan Fyodorovich: "the same sorts of considerations that the mods here have in mind when they decide whether to sidebar something is the same sort of considerations that everyone, everywhere ought to be applying when they quote someone's public speech. Usually the result is going to be that doing so, and without permission, is totally fine. But sometimes it won't be. Sometimes it would be better to ask permission, or not quote at all."

This is pretty much where I'm at - the vast majority of the time there's no harm whatsoever in quoting someone without permission (and most of those times, the user would be pleased to be quoted) and, in general, I don't see any obligation to ask first in the vast majority of cases. I do think there's a moral obligation to think about what the effect of doing so might be, specifically, what is the risk of harm being done by quoting the person? If there is a heightened risk, the right thing to do is contact the person and ask, if only to confirm whether that risk is real.

There are, though, circumstances where quoting someone without permission and in a way they may object to is also the right thing to do. Miko has pointed out the importance of a free press and freedom of speech more broadly. The only way to protect these is to allow the same freedoms that can harm people unfairly if mis-used. Unfortunately, the line between good and evil here is extremely broad and there's a lot of room for inadvertent damage in that grey area.
posted by dg at 8:12 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Miko: "Are we saying that we expect every other individual who wants to quote MeFi in any other context anywhere should be asking our permission, but we're not going to be willing to engage in the same practice ourselves? Seriously, let's talk about it. "
Well, my take is "hell no". Quite apart from the fact that adopting such a practice would quite literally kill MetaFilter, we have no obligation to ask permission for what people re-publish here. We do have an obligation to think about the impact of bringing some pretty big guns to a Web site in traffic terms and what other impacts there might be, but I'm reasonably confident that is already the case and, should that fail, the moderation team are pretty good at axing things that are problematic from that perspective (and lots of others). So, nothing broken here.
posted by dg at 8:21 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do think there's a moral obligation to think about what the effect of doing so might be, specifically, what is the risk of harm being done by quoting the person?

For the record, in the case of the current discussion in the Times I feel sure - and have good reason to believe - that thought did happen, and that the determination was that in this instance there was no appreciable risk of harm. From personal experience I know well that in a professional news organization, this kind of quoting rarely happens without a discussion or an existing articulated understanding representing careful thought. That's why I feel comfortable totally defending this use.

There are of course hypothetical scenarios where there might be greater risk of harm to someone commenting - if their comment both reflected negatively on them as an individual and posed a threat to reputation or earning power and also made them RL-identifiable, for instance. But in this thread I've pretty much focused on defending the kind of use the Times made for this recent column as pretty clearly unexceptionable based on the law, on professional ethics, and on personal moral standards. I find it very hard to argue that this incident crossed the lines people are so worried about having crossed. Could those lines be crossed, hypothetically, in a case of poor news judgment? Sure, be aware of that and know that it has happened. Were they? Not here. I'm perfectly willing to agree with everyone that news judgment, personal and professional ethics, and legal standards all apply when considering whether a comment online can be requoted in a news piece - that to me is obvious. At the same time, unpopular an opinion as it may be among laypeople, I am repelled by the idea of pleading for special protections on speech that is public.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Are we saying that we expect every other individual who wants to quote MeFi in any other context anywhere should be asking our permission, but we're not going to be willing to engage in the same practice ourselves? Seriously, let's talk about it.

Of course we're not going to do that. This is what I find so incongruous about the argument for getting journalists to ask permission to quote us.

Yes, consideration of the possible consequences should be given when quoting someone, and I'm 100% positive most journalists have a better understanding of those possible consequences than members of a link sharing website, but for some reason some members here think journalists should be asking us for permission to quote our public comments while we don't have to reciprocate. Bizarre.
posted by dazed_one at 8:40 PM on April 10, 2015


I agree, Miko. Because this type of activity is acceptable, there is also an obligation on people to think about where their words might end up (not just here on MeFi, but everywhere). While it may seem antithetical to the concept of freedom of speech, individuals need to consider to whom they are speaking and who might also be listening. In the same way you wouldn't speak about your deepest, darkest secrets that only your best friend knows in a public space, things that you wouldn't want repeated need to not be published on the Internet.
posted by dg at 8:48 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


> This reads as naive.

Sorry! I forgot to close the sarcasm tag.
posted by Little Dawn at 10:14 PM on April 10, 2015


I've been saying some kooky stuff online for something like 25 years now which is 60% of my life, mostly either under my real name or (as with Metafilter) under a pseudonym easily connected to my real name with a single mouse click, so I think this ship has pretty much sailed for me. Maybe it means I'm never gonna be president but I can live with that tradeoff for not having to worry much that what I'm saying might end up broadcast more widely.

I don't have kids, though. I do understand why somebody with kids might feel differently.
posted by Justinian at 2:06 AM on April 11, 2015


I don't think Metafilter should instruct people or businesses to ask permission before linking to our site. That would be silly, naive, and show a basic misunderstanding of how the web works. Plus it would be hypocritical, given that the founding premise of Metafilter is linking to other people's content.
posted by alms at 6:49 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree. I think it would reflect pretty badly on MetaFilter.
posted by Miko at 6:51 AM on April 11, 2015


I think linking would be better than quoting. The selective quoting thing is super obnoxious, even if it IS a journalistic norm.

I am grateful that journalists exist. Journalism is fundamental to a functioning society. However, I have never had a positive experience with a journalist. I am fodder, full stop.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:59 AM on April 11, 2015


You can't link in print, and the column in question also runs in print, so it has to make sense without linking.
posted by Miko at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2015


Are we saying that we expect every other individual who wants to quote MeFi in any other context anywhere should be asking our permission, but we're not going to be willing to engage in the same practice ourselves? Seriously, let's talk about it.

There is stuff I won't link on MetaFilter because I am protective of those things, aware of the scrutiny and cruelty MeFites can bring to a discussion of things, and know the effect that a larger audience can have on members of marginalized populations. A certain amount of my current ethical work is about understanding and incorporating concepts of ethics-as-relationships and ethics-as-kindness because I think those systems are superior to the current ethics-as-"rational". This plays into how I relate to those communities and people as, almost always, I don't have a reciprocal relationship with them, and so I can't assume their consent.

I am concerned with the argument that "published on the internet" might equate with "consent for use in any way we want". I think this ignores a lot of power dynamics in play and presents interactions as if they were between equals when there are often significant differences in reach, authority, and social capital between individuals on the internet which the internet doesn't actually get rid of, jokes about no one knowing you're a dog notwithstanding.

If there's anything the last four years of violent threats against woman has brought home to me, it's that the prejudices of offline society are replicated and even intensified online, and are often excused by statements like "if you don't want people to react to it, don't put it on the internet". In the context of very public white women getting repeated death threats with not only no consequences for the threateners (usually) and also frequent dismissal of those women's concerns by law enforcement, this is an argument structure that I can no longer stand behind. Consent is, and should be, more nuanced than this, and should take into account the power disparities in place.

I also think there is a difference between "posted on the internet in discussion" and "posted on the internet as statement." By and large, MetaFilter is more likely to link to the latter, which are usually a bit more polished and meant to be linked to. Conversations, like the conversations in threads, are usually much more contextual and relational, and I think removing statements from that context is far more likely to do harm than, say, linking to a private citizen's blog post. The former is in the context of a discussion, the latter is meant to stand alone.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:18 PM on April 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


In the context of very public white women getting repeated death threats with not only no consequences for the threateners (usually) and also frequent dismissal of those women's concerns by law enforcement,

I think this again conflates criminal/unethical use with ethical uses. We can all agree those things are terrible, but I'm not arguing that people who do those things shouldn't face consequences, and I don't think anyone else taking the open-culture, public-speech POV is saying that they shouldn't. They're one possible result of public speech and they happen to be a result that sucks, but the speech already happened. We need to place blame on the people who misuse the speech, but that doesn't mean we need to prevent anyone and everyone from using the speech appropriately (for instance, if (as I exampled above) I were writing an article about the harassment of women on the internet and needed to quote those women's speech to make an incident clear).

I also think there is a difference between "posted on the internet in discussion" and "posted on the internet as statement."

I would have no idea how to identify this difference. It seems entirely subjective.

I am grateful that journalists exist. Journalism is fundamental to a functioning society. However, I have never had a positive experience with a journalist. I am fodder, full stop.

Well, that's a shame. But journalism is one of those professions where you kind of get used to people hating you, or thinking they hate you; it's part of the gig. Like lawyers, they perform an essential service but our personal interactions with them aren't always pleasant, because they are not aiming for a customer-service sort of interaction much of the time. Also, they're increasingly pressured and rushed so don't have time for niceties, but that's a different story.
posted by Miko at 1:48 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is stuff I won't link on MetaFilter because I am protective of those things, aware of the scrutiny and cruelty MeFites can bring to a discussion of things, and know the effect that a larger audience can have on members of marginalized populations. A certain amount of my current ethical work is about understanding and incorporating concepts of ethics-as-relationships and ethics-as-kindness because I think those systems are superior to the current ethics-as-"rational".

I like this formulation. I think it showed poor judgement for the reporter to include Corb's comment about her daughter, specifically because of the nature of the comment. These are judgement calls that reporters make, and they don't always get them right. I think it would be fine to give the Times that feedback.

Still, providing that feedback is a long way from a blanket admonition that other websites shouldn't link to Metafilter comments. Indeed, a blanket statement against such linking would be the "ethics-as-"rational"" approach, while instead appealing to decency and thoughtfulness when linking to Metafilter would be more of an ethics-as-relationships and ethics-as-kindness approach.
posted by alms at 8:01 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I believe there is no true equivalence between how people link or quote on Metafilter, and the job that professional journalists do. (See, 'What is journalism?' on this page for a reasonable definition.) No one who creates posts here does so in a professional news reporting capacity. Few if any mefites who post or comment here will have their words held to ethical and moral news media standards for interactions with the public, that can be enforced by their employers. To a journalist, mefites are by definition members of the general public and are for the most part not public figures.
posted by zarq at 8:12 PM on April 11, 2015


I think it would be fine to give the Times that feedback.

I don't think anyone has so far.

I believe there is no true equivalence between how people link or quote on Metafilter, and the job that professional journalists do

I've never argued that MeFites are journalists, just that MeFi is a news source (it is). There doesn't have to be to talk about whether we allow use of other people's content.. If we expect others (any kind of other) to ask before using our works or comments, on principle, then we should also ask before using theirs, whether on the front page or within our comments. If we don't do as we say others should do, we've got a double standard.

The hitch for me, even though we aren't journalists by virtue of being here, is that our ability to link and quote and share and borrow from other sources rests on the same principles that enable journalism.
posted by Miko at 8:34 PM on April 11, 2015


See, 'What is journalism?' on this page for a reasonable definition

OK...

There will be citizen journalists and bloggers in the newsroom, or closely associated with the newsroom. Many contributors will work from countries around the world. Some will write for free, some will be equivalent to paid freelancers, others will be regular commentators.

So being paid isn't what makes one a journalist. And the size of one's audience isn't what makes one a journalist -- there are many journalists, clearly, who have much smaller readerships than someone posting an FPP here would have. So where is that bright line makes us different and special, that allows people here to comfortably ignore the expectations some feel should be extended towards us?
posted by neroli at 8:51 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Size matters:

New York Times : Metafilter :: Metafilter : JoeLittleSiteWeLink.to

Or is that wrong, and it really is that some people want to hold the New York Times to a higher standard because the Times claims to have standards, so there's some hope they'd listen and not just laugh? How would this discussion have gone if these quotes had made it to the front page of Reddit?

1. Cool, we're on the front page of Reddit!
2. Ugh, I wish they hadn't included that thing about my tween daughter, how embarrassing.
3. There is no 3.

Does this mean we want to referenced by Reddit and not the NYTimes?
posted by alms at 9:01 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Few if any mefites who post or comment here will have their words held to ethical and moral news media standards for interactions with the public,

But you can absolutely get a post deleted for being badly framed, inaccurately framed, or inflammatorily framed. These are standards that we hold members to. Standards include editorializing as little as possible in fpps, at least for potentially hot-button topics. The exact same doesn't hold true in the same way for comments, but if you incompletely quote something to make it seem like it says a thing it doesn't, people will call you out on it, and it f the misrepresentation is bad enough, it might be deleted.
posted by rtha at 9:21 PM on April 11, 2015


> I think it would be fine to give the Times that feedback.

I don't think anyone has so far.


How would you know if someone contacted the NYT?
posted by Little Dawn at 10:16 PM on April 11, 2015


I'm not sure whether you're saying that you have contacted them? If it's a veiled accusation that I'm the speculative secret reporter-MeFite, for the record, I am not the reporter-MeFite and I do not work for the Times and never have.
posted by Miko at 8:33 AM on April 12, 2015


Your comment seemed to imply that you could become aware of complaints or other feedback to the NYT, and particularly in the context of your behavior on this thread, it seems a bit intimidating for anyone considering whether to contact the NYT.

For example, if Corb wanted to contact the NYT, this might be done "off the record" and with an expectation of privacy for Corb's RL identity. Your comment seemed to suggest that you have an ability to become aware of such feedback, and in the context of the hostile insults and inconsistent arguments made here, it seems to represent a potential risk of harm to anyone who might otherwise rely on confidentiality granted by a news organization.

The suggestion that you could know about someone's communication with the NYT seems even more intimidating due to your assertion that you are not held accountable by the NYT. You clearly are very passionate about the issues raised on this thread, and if you have no ethical or professional constraints on your behavior, it seems unwise to give you the benefit of the doubt as to what you may do with information about a commenter here, if you are able to obtain it.

My general thought was if you confirmed or refused to deny this kind of access, anyone considering whether to contact the NYT could take this into account and consider making a specific request that this potential risk to confidentiality be addressed by the NYT.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:15 AM on April 12, 2015


FWIW I took that as "I don't think anyone has [said in this thread that they've contacted the NYT to give feedback] so far."
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:28 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also Miko has been around here for a long time and is a pretty known quantity, so unless there are major developments I'm unaware of, I don't think there's a special risk of her being an undeclared NYT informant or something.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:30 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


[One deleted; please don't use edit to add content, and maybe let's walk this back from being a personal thing?]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:33 AM on April 12, 2015


For example, if Corb wanted to contact the NYT, this might be done "off the record" and with an expectation of privacy for Corb's RL identity.

That's true. There'd be no way I could know such a thing, you're right.
posted by Miko at 11:36 AM on April 12, 2015


> The suggestion that you could know about someone's communication with the NYT seems even more intimidating due to your assertion that you are not held accountable by the NYT.

This is a strange and deeply uncharitable reading of Miko's comment.
posted by rtha at 12:12 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


You clearly are very passionate about the issues raised on this thread, and if you have no ethical or professional constraints on your behavior, it seems unwise to give you the benefit of the doubt as to what you may do with information about a commenter here, if you are able to obtain it.


This is a deeply uncool thing to say about someone, especially someone who has been a member of Metafilter for so long and has maintained a steady and level headed tone throughout this conversation.
posted by dazed_one at 1:45 PM on April 12, 2015


> FWIW I took that as "I don't think anyone has [said in this thread that they've contacted the NYT to give feedback] so far."

I thought that could be a possibility, and I figured it would be clarified if it was true, and then I could reply with thanks and explaining that the comment seemed open to multiple interpretations, including ones that could feel intimidating to anyone thinking about contacting the NYT. My concerns were also influenced by this similarly vague previous comment:

> For the record, in the case of the current discussion in the Times I feel sure - and have good reason to believe - that thought did happen, and that the determination was that in this instance there was no appreciable risk of harm.

My concern was related to a possible interpretation that could be read as intimidating to anyone thinking about engaging directly with the NYT on this issue, because it seems possible to read that comment as implying a special kind of access to the NYT writer and their thoughts on quoting commenters. But maybe not, so I decided to ask.

> This is a strange and deeply uncharitable reading of Miko's comment.

I am fairly new to having an account here, so I'm offering my view as someone without an extensive understanding of the history and context. This is the first MetaTalk thread that I've participated in, and from my view, it looks like several people who were trying to have a civil and thoughtful discussion were shouted down and driven away from what otherwise could have been an interesting and productive conversation. When it seemed possible that commenters might also be intimidated from contacting the NYT, I decided to seek clarification as a way to hopefully make this thread seem a little less hostile than it appears from my new-to-the-thunderdome view.

I do appreciate everyone's patience while I try to get oriented to having an account at MetaFilter - I feel like I have learned a lot in my relatively short time here, and I obviously have more to learn, so I am thankful for any constructive feedback that anyone has to offer.
posted by Little Dawn at 2:00 PM on April 12, 2015


I find this pretty weird, too, and am definitely going to fade out due that factor. My "good reason to believe" comment comes from growing up around and working in journalism. I have good reason to believe that the Times or any other major outlet has had or is having this conversation, because it's what they do. I feel sure that it happened because it's what happens. I have no "special kind of access" to any NYT writer.

When it seemed possible that commenters might also be intimidated from contacting the NYT

I actually really support people contacting the NYT if they want to converse with them about this or even about wider issues of internet community/journalism intersections. I don't think I've represented any other view than that.
posted by Miko at 3:04 PM on April 12, 2015


it looks like several people who were trying to have a civil and thoughtful discussion were shouted down and driven away from what otherwise could have been an interesting and productive conversation

I didn't see any "shouting down" unless you mean more people voicing disagreement rather than agreement with their viewpoints.

Also, Miko, your input here has been well reasoned and respectful (and put in better terms than I could). Don't stop voicing it because someone misunderstood you, please.
posted by dazed_one at 5:53 PM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


> I am fairly new to having an account here, so I'm offering my view as someone without an extensive understanding of the history and context.

To me, this means you should be defaulting to more charitable rather than less. Most of the people in this thread are not new to the grey, and this has been, to my eyes, a thread with very little or no shouting/GRAR/stomping out. Some exasperation or impatience, perhaps? But really, it's been low-key and interesting.
posted by rtha at 6:05 PM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thank you, rtha - I reread the thread, and your comment reminds me of an interviewing maxim that I really like:

we must expect to be misunderstood, we must expect to misunderstand

I definitely plan to keep it in mind during future visits to the grey.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:21 PM on April 12, 2015


If I were new I'd have the same reading that Little Dawn has. I know Miko (from online) so I was fairly sure that she wasn't the secret reporter but her comments suggesting she's Knows How Things Are Done could definitely give that impression.

I think Miko's comments get the benefit of the doubt because she's been such a long standing member who posts in good faith, but in this thread some of the comments have come across as the taking on of all comers, with a side dish of speaking from the podium. I don't know that that counts as shouting down but I could see how it could be taken that way.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:28 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not to be difficult, but I thought any disrespect came from the people Miko was disagreeing with, rather than Miko.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:58 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


unless there are major developments I'm unaware of, I don't think there's a special risk of her being an undeclared NYT informant or something.

Honestly the whole 'X Established Member is secretly a Agent on Metafilter' thing is kind of a little weird. We all love Metafilter and rightly think it's the best internet community site in the world, but I promise you, nobody's paying any money for Metafilter infiltration, seriously.
posted by corb at 10:44 AM on April 13, 2015


Oh, that's exactly what you'd LIKE us to think, isn't it?!?
posted by Chrysostom at 11:18 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Miko: I've never argued that MeFites are journalists, just that MeFi is a news source (it is).

Our comments and posts may be a resource for journalists, yes.

But ultimately, Metafilter is an aggregator. One may learn about news from an aggregator, but that doesn't make it a news generating site. Our FPPs don't break news. We don't do original reporting. Our posts are not vetted for accuracy by staff or site management before they are made public. If an FPP or comment turns our to be inaccurate, no one holds us professionally responsible or forces us to issue retractions. Our members find links to other stories, information and resources online, aggregate them, present them on the public face of the site and discuss them amongst ourselves. Sometimes our posts and discussions get picked up elsewhere.

Aggregators function differently than news media outlets. Metafilter is not the latter. Never has been. And while we can voluntarily adopt the standards and practices of a news media outlet, we are under no obligation to do so.

There doesn't have to be to talk about whether we allow use of other people's content.. If we expect others (any kind of other) to ask before using our works or comments, on principle, then we should also ask before using theirs, whether on the front page or within our comments.

As far as I am aware, online aggregators that do not have established, paid arrangements with copyrighted news sources generally do not ask permission before linking to publicly accessible published works. We can discuss whether they should, of course.

I think you're assuming something that not only doesn't apply to Metafilter, it actually can't be applied to us.

If we don't do as we say others should do, we've got a double standard.

The hitch for me, even though we aren't journalists by virtue of being here, is that our ability to link and quote and share and borrow from other sources rests on the same principles that enable journalism

Again, I believe this is a false equivalence. For example: If you and I have a conversation via memail, I would never expect that you would potentially reprint it elsewhere online. They would be considered private communications unless I gave permission for them to be shared. However, if you identify yourself as a journalist and ask me specific questions, as a member of the general public I would automatically have an expectation that any answers I give you would be on the record unless I request otherwise.
posted by zarq at 11:40 AM on April 13, 2015


And while we can voluntarily adopt the standards and practices of a news media outlet, we are under no obligation to do so.

However, some in this thread are asking for news outlets to go outside the scope of their standard operating procedures by requesting that they ask permission to quote public comments - comments that the posters knew were going to be viewable by the entirety of the internet and should be quotable by anyone under the auspices of fair use.

Using the threat of 'chilling effects' to restrict fair use seems strange, as does asking news outlets to operate under a different set of principles for fear of irresponsible reporting because they differ from us in that they are vetted for accuracy, have editorial standards and conform to a set of ethics. If anything, because of these responsible standards and levels of accountability, we should be more lax towards news agencies with regard to the quoting of comments and posts than we are towards other forums, blogs and aggregate sites.

Holding journalists to a tougher standard because they have codified ethics and accountability seems contrary to how it should be; we lack that accountability and therefore we should be the ones to ask for permission to quote external sources, if any form of restriction on fair use is going to be enacted.
posted by dazed_one at 3:52 PM on April 13, 2015


Again, I believe this is a false equivalence. For example: If you and I have a conversation via memail...

I think what you're talking about here is something completely different. What I mean is that the fact that have the freedom to quote, cite, and post from sources that we have not originally created, without being concerned about legal action, rests on the same philosophical and Constitutional underpinnings as journalism. That has nothing to do with a public/private debate or MeMail (much more clearly private from a legal and ethical standpoint, but still not sacrosanct, as a Google will tell you) - I'm just pointing out that the very reason we can quote and repost news and information from public sources under fair use is that we are supported in doing so, just as journalists are.

it seems unwise to give you the benefit of the doubt as to what you may do with information about a commenter here, if you are able to obtain it.

Nastiness aside, my point has been that I don't believe in giving anyone the benefit of the doubt, no matter how long someone has or hasn't been here. We're all unable to control what someone might do with information they find here, and there's no reason we should expect someone to observe strictures they might or might know about or buy into. If they do something we don't like and there's an authority we can appeal to who hassome sort of jurifiction over their speech or action, then we can appeal to it - but outside of such structures, no one should get this benefit, because we're in public.
posted by Miko at 6:02 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I should add, in case it's not completely clear our freedom to do the quoting/posting/citing without permission rests on the same foundations as any other aggregators', and on the Times' as well. So those principles do apply directly to MetaFilter - we all rely on the same principles.
posted by Miko at 6:09 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dear journalists,

I continue to hold that my comments are my own and that you should ask my permission before publishing them.

I will do almost nothing to enforce this, however, except the interpersonal stuff: email you angrily, call you out on Metatalk, and generally be snippy towards you for failing to do this simple thing.

That said, I well recognize that I'm boring and that you probably don't want to publish my Metafilter comments anyway. This mutual indifference seems like a great modus vivendi and I hope it can continue.

Best,
anotherpanacea
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:00 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Do you ask permission before publishing other people's words in your FPPs? If not, why not?
posted by Justinian at 12:18 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Justinian, the argument seems to be that only professional journalists are required to do this. Other people/sites/etc don't have to. I don't think it's really possible to make that distinction in 2015, and don't understand why professional journalists should be held to a more difficult standard than the rest of the world, but that's the distinction that people seem to be making.
posted by alms at 12:52 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't see how that could possibly be reasonable.
posted by Justinian at 12:56 PM on April 14, 2015


"Justinian, the argument seems to be that only professional journalists are required to do this. Other people/sites/etc don't have to."

That's not my argument. I've explicitly said otherwise, and I'm not alone in having done so.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:00 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I.F., I was responding specifically to Justinian's question, "Do you ask permission before publishing other people's words in your FPPs? If not, why not?"

I interpreted that as a rhetorical question, namely "shouldn't Metafilter members be held to the same standard as journalists when considering what to post and whether to ask permission before linking to something?"

From your previous comments, it sounds like sounds like you agree with Justinian and me, that one shouldn't make such a bright line distinction between Metafilter posters and professional journalists. In one of last comments you said, "it's false to argue that the same sorts of considerations [faced by journalists] don't or shouldn't apply to we here at MetaFilter."

Where's the disagreement here?
posted by alms at 1:27 PM on April 14, 2015


Do you ask permission before publishing other people's words in your FPPs? If not, why not?

This question or some form of it has been asked numerous times in this thread and I still have not seen a good answer to it.
posted by dazed_one at 2:38 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Me either, which is why I asked it again.
posted by Justinian at 2:47 PM on April 14, 2015


I.F., I was responding specifically to Justinian's question, "Do you ask permission before publishing other people's words in your FPPs? If not, why not?"

No. Primarily because when I link to written works in my FPP's, they're essays, stories, etc., that people have either deliberately published publicly on the web or are otherwise obviously intended for public consumption, such as a blog post. Again, to restate the obvious, my Mefi FPPs are not news articles. Heck, most of the time when I quote someone I'm probably doing so thirdhand from an actual news article.

FWIW, I do try to take care not to quote more than 1/4 to 1/2 of articles, to help preserve copyright for offsite content hosts, like a newspaper or online magazine. I'm under no obligation to do so, but it strikes me as polite. In the past, on occasion, I've notified companies and people when I've linked to them in a post on Mefi. Authors, especially. However that's not to ask for permission, but rather to let them know they're being spoken about here if they would like to join in the conversation.
posted by zarq at 2:58 PM on April 14, 2015


"Where's the disagreement here?"

Well, you wrote that "the argument seems to be..." when I guess you really meant "anotherpanacea's argument seems to be..."? But it's not clear to me that Justinian or, particularly, dazed_one and others don't think that everyone who has said that sometimes journalists should ask permission don't think that we and other non-journalists never need to ask permission because they keep asking this as if they think it's some sort of gotcha proving inconsistency even though I and at least some others have quite explicitly argued that the same sorts of considerations that we think apply to journalists also apply to us.

"This question or some form of it has been asked numerous times in this thread and I still have not seen a good answer to it."

I've answered this question numerous times and I think my answers have been good answers. Here's the first time I answered it. I answered it more broadly in this comment. Then again more specifically in this one. At length in this one. I mention the matter again here.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:02 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


And, yeah, in case it's not clear, I don't think that journalists should be held to a higher standard about quoting than we are. But I also don't think they should be held to a lower standard, either. I don't think that something being public speech makes it ethically fair game -- we have an ethical responsibility to consider when and how we publicly repeat other people's public speech and it is reasonable for anyone to expect journalists to quote people according to these ethical considerations. It's reasonable for anyone to expect MetaFilter to quote people according to these ethical considerations.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:08 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


No. Primarily because when I link to written works in my FPP's, they're essays, stories, etc., that people have either deliberately published publicly on the web or are otherwise obviously intended for public consumption, such as a blog post

So, they're like MetaFilter comments.

it is reasonable for anyone to expect

I don't really agree that it's reasonable, and that's not going to change. I think it's something some people wish for, and think is lovely and considerate, but is not actually a reasonable, workable solution to the conditions of 21st century communications. It is something that, at a personal level, some people might wish to observe, but it doesn't seem to be something that even (at a site level) MeFi, let alone every other blog and news outlet and web community is going to observe.
posted by Miko at 3:13 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


they're essays, stories, etc., that people have either deliberately published publicly on the web or are otherwise obviously intended for public consumption, such as a blog post

Much like Metafilter comments and posts which are 'deliberately published publicly on the web' and are 'obviously intended for public consumption'.

we have an ethical responsibility to consider when and how we publicly repeat other people's public speech and it is reasonable for anyone to expect journalists to quote people according to these ethical considerations


Ivan Fyodorovich, I think I'm mostly in agreement with you with regards to the standards we hold journalists to, but one must consider that the person speaking publicly must also be aware of the forum to which they are speaking, especially in accessible places like Metafilter. I don't think that an NYT reporter who saw the public comments made in the Metafilter thread mentioned in the NYT piece could reasonably expect that people wanted to keep those comments private, considering the public nature of the place and context in which they were posted.
posted by dazed_one at 3:17 PM on April 14, 2015


Really it boils down to the concept that if you don't want your thoughts to be discussed and shared publicly, don't announce them publicly. You can expect that the contents of a private correspondence or conversation with someone remain confidential, but you can't stand on a soapbox and yell things at a crowd and then expect them not to talk about those things with other people.
posted by dazed_one at 3:25 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


they're essays, stories, etc., that people have either deliberately published publicly on the web or are otherwise obviously intended for public consumption, such as a blog post

>Much like Metafilter comments and posts which are 'deliberately published publicly on the web' and are 'obviously intended for public consumption'.


There's a difference between posts and comments, in all places online, whether that's FPP vs comments here or an article vs. comments on a local news site. There's a reason people can say "don't read the comments" on a piece they still like, because the piece is expected to stand alone, while the comments are a separate thing without which the original article should still be able to stand. I do think it's worth treating them differently when deciding if and how to quote them.
posted by jaguar at 3:35 PM on April 14, 2015


There's a difference between posts and comments

Tell us about that difference. What makes them different?
posted by Miko at 3:37 PM on April 14, 2015


So, they're like MetaFilter comments.

Much like Metafilter comments and posts which are 'deliberately published publicly on the web' and are 'obviously intended for public consumption'.

No. Conversations in this space are not the same as those published in a news article. They're not the same as essays that are vetted by a site's management for content and accuracy. Etc. And as Ivan has said repeatedly and I said upthread, context actually does matter on a case by case basis. If for example, someone posts a comment here, in a discussion forum to a "small" group of members about their intimate experience being raped, they should have a right to expect that their words will not be reported on a news website and given a huge public spotlight without a journalist asking if they're okay with it. That would be the ethical thing to do.

I'm officially bowing out. Am tired of repeating myself endlessly. If you disagree with my assessments, that's fine. But I don't really see the point in continuing. Feel free to have the last words.
posted by zarq at 3:37 PM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Tell us about that difference. What makes them different?

The structure of pretty much all websites.
posted by jaguar at 3:37 PM on April 14, 2015


I do think it's worth treating them differently when deciding if and how to quote them.

I don't, if both the post and comment are being made in a place accessible to public scrutiny.
posted by dazed_one at 3:38 PM on April 14, 2015


If for example, someone posts a comment here, in a discussion forum to a "small" group of members about their intimate experience being raped, they should have a right to expect that their words will not be reported on a news website and given a huge public spotlight without a journalist asking if they're okay with it. That would be the ethical thing to do.

I feel you may be operating under the false assumption that the blue is a discussion forum to a 'small' group of members. Despite how it may feel to some, it is not a discussion site to a small group of members, it is a publicly indexed and viewable site to which only a small group of members (read; people who have paid $5) can respond. If you forget this and post information or stories that you would rather not share with the internet at large then it would be nice if people took that into account and did not quote you, but it cannot be expected nor asked with any reasonable chance of being followed without changing how Metafilter operates at a fundamental level.
posted by dazed_one at 3:45 PM on April 14, 2015


They're not the same as essays that are vetted by a site's management for content and accuracy

Why does that matter to whether or not they can be quoted and used freely? Some sites are edited, some are not, some are sort-of edited (curated but not fact-checked, badly edited, etc).

If for example, someone posts a comment here, in a discussion forum to a "small" group of members about their intimate experience being raped, they should have a right to expect that their words will not be reported on a news website and given a huge public spotlight without a journalist asking if they're okay with it. That would be the ethical thing to do.

It's not small (you gave us the staggering figures: "86,774,487 unique visitors viewed 225,111,833 pages across MetaFilter sites"). And it's not private. That's why they should have no such expectation. It may be that some wonderfully ethical people come across that content and ask before quoting it. But there's no requirement to ask to be found anywhere. And not everyone who comes across it will be wonderfully ethical. Finally, claiming a "right" there is pretty strong.

The structure of pretty much all websites.

From an availability-of-information point of view, what makes them different? Why is one type of content different from the other?
posted by Miko at 3:48 PM on April 14, 2015


From an availability-of-information point of view, what makes them different? Why is one type of content different from the other?

The author's perceived audience and newsworthiness, I think. And as most sites don't publish reader comments as individual front-page posts, I think there's a general understanding that there's a distinction.

I think care should be taken with posts on smaller blogs, or Livejournal posts, or similar sites as well. There's a spectrum between "This is intended to be shared with as wide an audience as possible" and "this is part of a conversation among a smaller group of people," and I think it's an ethical responsibility for anyone to pay attention to where the source material falls on that spectrum and where their republishing will put the source material and to think about the pros and cons of that for the original author, and to maybe get permission (or ask for a comment) if there's a reasonable chance of harm.

People navigate that kind of thing all the time, in mentally sorting what might be a secret shared by a friend versus what's share-able among friends versus what's a story from a friend that could be repeated at lunch with coworkers versus what's a story that could be told in front of that friend's mother, etc., and in asking the friend what level of "public" the information may be if it's unclear.

The pros and cons are going to look different depending on context and newsworthiness, of course, and there's not necessarily a black-and-white distinction. It's more a question of awareness and responsibility, not just for journalists but for everyone.
posted by jaguar at 4:35 PM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's a spectrum between "This is intended to be shared with as wide an audience as possible" and "this is part of a conversation among a smaller group of people," and I think it's an ethical responsibility for anyone to pay attention to where the source material falls on that spectrum

Yes, and part of indicating that material is meant to be shared with a wide, public audience is by posting it to a publicly viewable location with a wide audience. The author has a responsibility to pay attention to what they are saying, where they are saying it and and who they are saying it to.
posted by dazed_one at 4:41 PM on April 14, 2015


The author's perceived audience and newsworthiness, I think

Perceived by whom?

I think there's a general understanding that there's a distinction

There's a distinction, maybe, in who wrote it, whether it was edited, and whether the host site endorses it. There's not a distinction in terms of whether it's worthy of noting and writing about elsewhere. It might be quite material to an important discussion, as in some of the examples I've given above in which content from comments or other user-originated material online becomes part of a larger public discussion.

It's more a question of awareness and responsibility, not just for journalists but for everyone.

I think it's great that people feel these personal, self-imposed moral and ethical constraints on different kinds of content online, and of course you should behave accordingly - steer by your own lights. I think that problems arise when you expect other people to evaluate those situations in exactly the same way you do, and behave exactly as you would. Other people simply don't share these same moral constructs. They are personal. To my eyes, for instance, someone on livejournal wants to be in public. Someone who makes a comment on MetaFilter wants people to see what they have to say.

There might be other constructs at the level of an organization, or at the level of a profession, or at the level of the law, each of which represents some form of consensus and serves certain ends. Sometimes those construct are going to be in conflict with the moral constructs of content originators. It's great if you choose never to re-post people's content in any way, citing a personal moral code about that. But I don't think it's reasonable and fair to expect others, who don't share your moral framework, to behave as you do or even to see things the way you do. And I don't think there's much of an argument for making individual, idiosyncratic constructs of privacy a matter of policy here as long as this site remains openly accessible.
posted by Miko at 6:25 PM on April 14, 2015


Wait: why can't we make a site policy that says, "Dear professional journalists, please ask permission before quoting comments."?

You say: "I don't think there's much of an argument" for it. But isn't the argument: "Cortex makes site policy based on his whim and user desires. In this case, our policy is: professional journalists are requested to ask permission before quoting comments."?

All the legal stuff still applies. But there's no reason not to have site policy be the thing that site users and site administrators prefer, is there?

Put it this way: in my personal life, I have a policy that you shouldn't call me after 9 pm. I recognize that there's no legal enforceability to that policy, and in fact I get calls after 9 pm sometimes. But it's still my policy, and I don't really need a universalizable justification for it. I just prefer that phone calls happen earlier, is all. It's idiosyncratic and some people don't know about it, so when I answer the phone and am a little irritable, they learn about my policy. But that's okay! It's not an ex post facto law, it's just a personal norm. And it's not about fairness! Nobody is losing their livelihoods or their liberty for calling me late.

I see no reason why the site can't have that policy. It's a reasonable one, and there are plenty of precedents:

1. Reporting embargoes.
2. Background/Not-for-attribution interviews/quotes
3. Right of reply/Audi alteram partem
4. Right of publicity/Personality Rights

There are plenty of journalistic norms that rhyme with what I'm asking here. But even if there weren't, it wouldn't hurt to have the policy, would it? The worst that could happen is that professional journalists ignore it!
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:36 PM on April 14, 2015


Wait: why can't we make a site policy that says, "Dear professional journalists, please ask permission before quoting comments."?

Such a request could be made, but for reasons listed throughout this thread I think it would be hypocritical, unread, unenforceable and ultimately pointless.

I'd vote against it.
posted by dazed_one at 8:53 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wait: why can't we make a site policy that says, "Dear professional journalists, please ask permission before quoting comments."?

Well, I'm not the one to ask.

But obviously, I agree with dazed_one - and, more to the point, my own ethical/moral constructs value open culture, and I would not feel good about enacting that policy or sending anyone else online or offline the message that I/we expected them to observe it. To me, doing so would represent a moral and ethical wrong.
posted by Miko at 9:04 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your moral and ethical sense is blinkered and results in the very opposite of an open culture and free speech. It fetishizes a notional purity of unrestrained public speech while contradictorily admonishing public speakers to always keep in mind caveat loquens and that therefore discretion is the better part of valor. That is not a society of free speech, that is not an open society, it is a society of suppressed speech where the watchword of the so-called realists like yourself is one of supreme caution. You have written 52 comments in this thread, and in more than half of them you have emphasized that we cannot have expectations about how others will use our public speech, that we should therefore choose our words with care. You have, in fact, repeated and emphasized this more than you have the importance of a free press in a democracy.

My observation is that the defense of an abstract principle for fear of a slippery slope in preference over individual human welfare as evaluated situationally, using judgement, is a powerful force for moral and ethical wrongs, especially so when it centers the defense of that principle in institutions and not people, and it's egregious when this principled defense is used as a means to invalidate individual accusations of harm. MetaFilter merely asking a newspaper to request permission before reprinting a quote is very far from an affront to the freedom of the press or an open society while, in contrast, hectoring public speakers that they ought to be cautious in their speech is self-evidently an affront to the freedom of the press and an open society. You remind me of a man I once argued with -- he was adamant that the safety of his family was dependent upon his being armed at home. You are not the stalwart defense against the threat, you are the threat.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:51 AM on April 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would support an FAQ that said something like this:
Q: Is it okay to link to or quote specific comments in Metafilter?
A: All comments are © their original authors. In general it's fine to link to anything in Metafilter. However, we ask that you use sensitivity when linking to comments that reveal personal information. Such comments, made within the context of an ongoing conversation, could have unintended consequences when reproduced outside that context. When in doubt, please contact the person who made the comment for permission. Contact information is often included on the member's profile page.
This is asking people to be civil and to use common sense. It doesn't arbitrarily single out paid journalists. It applies a standard that we would also apply to ourselves when linking to material on other sites. Plus it's optional; we're just asking people to be courteous. The reality is that we've often been quite happy to have people link to specific comments on Metafilter.
posted by alms at 5:16 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is where I'd make a joke about ask vs. guess culture but I haven't had enough coffee yet.

> You are not the stalwart defense against the threat, you are the threat.

Rude, and false.
posted by rtha at 5:38 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your moral and ethical sense is blinkered

Unlike everyone else's? Say more, All-Knowing One.

You have, in fact, repeated and emphasized this more than you have the importance of a free press in a democracy.

Indeed. That's because most folks with the opposing view are happy to pay lip service to the idea of a free press, but are unaware of, or uncomfortable about, the costs of having one.

My observation is that the defense of an abstract principle for fear of a slippery slope in preference over individual human welfare as evaluated situationally, using judgement, is a powerful force for moral and ethical wrongs

Convesely, the elevation of individual sensitivities over wider public good is just as easy to use as a justification to enact great civil wrongs. Ask a monarch or a dictator or a child molester or a Jim Crow congressman.

And yeah, IF, can you tone it down a little? I can smell your disdain from here. It's really gross and unfair to frame me as you're doing. I've done nothing of the kind to you.

I'd have no problem with alms' proposed statement of preference in theory, as long as people understood that it is a preference, with no legal weight, and offering minimal basis for appeal within any context outside of MeFi. But I still have concern about how this appears to the rest of the web, unless we actually did institute the expectation that we ask permission whenever we quote comments from elsewhere - which brings up the prospect of a lot of case resolution for things like Instagram, Twitter, reviews, etc. Also, what kinds of outside expectations and communications would that invite onto the mods? When reddit and Twitter users comment on our comments (which they do), and so on?
posted by Miko at 5:41 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


And yeah, IF, can you tone it down a little? I can smell your disdain from here. It's really gross and unfair to frame me as you're doing. I've done nothing of the kind to you.

Speaking just for myself, I've been really disappointed by your apocalyptic and sneering tone in this thread, Miko, not to mention your insistence on taking all comers and responding in massive, dismissive, I-know-more-than-you comments rather than actually responding charitably or carefully to people's concerns.

I've tried not to respond in kind, but you're not making it easy. For instance, in earlier comments you've had an apocalyptic tone, and you're constantly shifting the goal posts. In your latest you compare us to child molesters, tyrants, and racists.

Think about that.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:59 AM on April 15, 2015


Maybe my FAQ wasn't clear enough. It doesn't say people should ask permission whenever they quote comments. It doesn't even say that they should ask permission whenever they quote comments containing personal information. It says they should use sensitivity (i.e. think twice) before linking to comments that contain personal information. Then, after thinking twice, they can still link/quote without asking permission. We only instruct them to ask permission when their own conscience tells them it's the right thing to do: When in doubt, please contact the person who made the comment for permission. My intention was that the weight of the FAQ very much favor the free and open exchange of ideas.
posted by alms at 6:32 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your moral and ethical sense is blinkered

For a disagreement over what's largely a point of etiquette, you've really rolled in the vitriol, Ivan. Everyone needs the exercise now and then, I guess. But I'm surprised the mods haven't issued you a chill pill. God knows they've stepped in for less.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:43 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


massive, dismissive, I-know-more-than-you comments rather than actually responding charitably or carefully to people's concerns.

I gave up this discussion when it looked like it was moving from silly to idiotic. Personally, I think Miko's been a trooper just for staying in it all. If there's been any "apocalypticism" here it hasn't just been from one side of the debate. There is, however, only one person who's been accused of being a secret agent for Big Journalism.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:53 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, maybe everyone just takes a breather? People are getting oddly shouty.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:54 AM on April 15, 2015


[Yeah, this feels like it does not need to be a heated discussion, so that it sort of is at this point is an argument for folks just kind of respectively chilling a little and resetting things. If nothing else, a week and a half into a fairly academic discussion should probably agree-to-disagree territory if you're clearly disagreeing with one another, etc.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:07 AM on April 15, 2015


But Cortex! What about a child's right to the free play of signifiers!
posted by octobersurprise at 7:11 AM on April 15, 2015


Seeing Miko of all people suggest that a request that people voluntarily try to be polite and considerate to each other could conceivably be compared to the acts of "a dictator or a child molester or a Jim Crow congressman" has to be one of the biggest WTF moments I've ever had on this site.

Am I parsing your comment wrong? I'd really like to think so. Please tell me I'm misinterpreting your meaning?
posted by zarq at 7:37 AM on April 15, 2015


Since people don't seem to be willing to follow cortex's excellent suggestion, I move that the thread be closed; otherwise I'm going to have to defend Miko (and the others I agree with), and this whole shitfest will keep going for the entire month.
posted by languagehat at 7:39 AM on April 15, 2015


Yeah, the thread has been hovering around the Godwin asymptote. It just feels like there's this limit that online text-only discourse can run into, and I think we're there.

Personally, this thread has helped me understand these issues in a new way and I appreciate the contributions.
posted by jasper411 at 7:56 AM on April 15, 2015


languagehat, you're going to defend the child molesters comment? I mean, I'd be happy for this thread to close: it seems pretty intractable, and not particularly polite or charitable. I'm not comfortable with the comments by some of the folks I agree with, either, so it's hardly a one-sided thing. I've tried to make my position clear without that kind of rhetoric, but it doesn't seem like we're achieving a meeting of the minds because the nonsensical commenters would rather snipe at each other. Perhaps it has been helpful for lurkers, as sometimes arguments on the Internet can be, to see the positions staked out and defended.

But I'd kind of like the thread to stay open long enough for Miko to apologize about the child molester comment, just because it was so over the top. I understand that she's frustrated, but that was bullshit.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:58 AM on April 15, 2015


Since people don't seem to be willing to follow cortex's excellent suggestion

OK, so I have no plan to continue the useless argument we've been having in this thread. I said I was bowing out of that and meant it.

But I'm one of the people implicated in Miko's statement, and I gotta say, I found her comparison rather insulting.

How is requesting clarification while admitting I may be misreading what she said(!) not fair or reasonable?

I'm totally capable of making interpretation mistakes, after all. If I'm off base and wrong then great! I'll immediately and sincerely apologize. It also wouldn't surprise me to be wrong, because the comparison strikes me as out of character for Miko, whom I actually very much like and respect.
posted by zarq at 8:43 AM on April 15, 2015


Yeah, I don't think miko was comparing anyone here to a child molester, etc.

It looked to me like she was mirroring Ivan's comment that "defense of an abstract principle for fear of a slippery slope in preference over individual human welfare as evaluated situationally, using judgement, is a powerful force for moral and ethical wrongs, with a sort of "the other side of the coin" construction: "Convesely, the elevation of individual sensitivities over wider public good is just as easy to use as a justification to enact great civil wrongs. Ask a monarch or a dictator or a child molester or a Jim Crow congressman.

I definitely didn't read that as "and if you don't agree with my view, you are like a monarch or a dictator or a child molester or a Jim Crow congressman."
posted by taz (staff) at 8:58 AM on April 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Dudes, honestly. Namaste. I am baffled by how smart people could read that comment and take away the impression that anyone was being called (or compared to) a child molester or a dictator or a Jim Crow congressman. I take it as obvious that the point was that such a principle as "the elevation of individual sensitivities over wider public good" can be used as easily in defense of the unsavory as in the innocent. Now I can see someone failing to find that a compelling objection, but an insult? Like I said, I'm baffled.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:01 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Convesely, the elevation of individual sensitivities over wider public good is just as easy to use as a justification to enact great civil wrongs. Ask a monarch or a dictator or a child molester or a Jim Crow congressman.

Miko and I disagree on some fundamental things here, but I didn't see this comment as being a direct comparison to those on the other side of the argument. I'd think that her social capital with us would allow us to extend her the benefit of the doubt much more readily that we have. She could correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe she's simply making a pretty typical "serious potential schenario" comment that is intended to show the possible social conclusion of allowing for an argument that may not be immediately apparent in the argument by itself. Those kinds of comments are rhetorically valid, and aren't intended to make a comparison to the audience with which she disagrees, or necessarily saying things will for sure degrade to that level. She quotes things that have happened (and thus gives them some weight), but a reductio ad absurdum can be used to show whether an argument or moral position has sufficient conditions, or whether it needs more work.

I argued for something similar here:

> I don't think there is (or should be) an absolute utilitarian principle of "greater good for the public interest" at the possible expense of the unaware that allows the observable world to be subject to the media indiscriminately. Otherwise I guarantee that we can come up with hypothetical scenario that would make our skins crawl if taken to the logical extreme, especially with our always-improving surveillance capabilities and the increasing easy by which we can intrude into people's lives. I'm not arguing for a slippery slope that will happen, but showing where something can go is a good tool for determining whether or not we have sufficient conditions for the integrity of something.

Miko just named where she thinks things can go, if I understand her correctly. You kind of have to do that if you want to emphasize why a position is morally weighty. We can disagree with whether those kinds of conclusions will necessarily follow from making certain concessions (and I do disagree in this particular case), but they aren't intended to be direct comparisons to people. They are intended to show possible unintended consequences to a moral argument in the hands of those who cannot be trusted.

Miko doesn't need me to defend her, but I don't think that has been a fair reading of her comments regarding the above quote.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:04 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Consider that she follows that comparison with the statement that IF should "tone it down." I think she intends the rhetorical brinkmanship in her comment deliberately, the way we all do when we say "Hey, don't mess with me, or you'll get a little more of this!"

Ultimately, I think the parallel is a good one: to show that while universalizing-but-ignoring-subtleties can go wrong, so can particularizing-but-ignoring-rules. (The solution is reflective equilibrium!) But she goes beyond IF in her examples, quite a lot really. And the examples aren't just randomly chosen: they're the worst of the worst, because they express something about her feelings about her interlocutors in that moment. There are plenty of less weighty (and more effective!) examples available, but she chose the triptych of evil.

I dunno. If I don't hear from Miko soon I'll likely unfriend her on Facebook, just to express my general distaste for her tone. (Plus she's suggested she may not treat my posts and comments there with what I believe to be the appropriate level of privacy, and many of them star my daughter.) This is what I always said I'd do if a social norm is violated: call it out in Metatalk, express my disapproval, and then basically leave the wrong alone in their wrongness.

But I still kind of expect her to apologize, and I hope her defenders won't close the space for her to do so. Even smart people we like say intemperate and mean things. That's part of the problem with treating everything written here as equally public, without allowing for clarification or context: it reduces the richness of our relationships and back-and-forth to the juiciest, most damaging things we say.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:24 AM on April 15, 2015


I'm actually pretty relieved to see that other people felt I was misreading her comment, and your collecive explanations make sense to me. Thank you.

If that's the case then Miko, I'm sorry I interpreted what you were trying to say so poorly. My apologies.

anotherpanacea: (Plus she's suggested she may not treat my posts and comments there with what I believe to be the appropriate level of privacy, and many of them star my daughter.)

I am extremely picky about whom I friend on FB for exactly that reason. And even then, some folks are filtered out. My account is locked down, too. People can't click-to-share posts containing photos and stories about my kids. Friends of friends are barred from seeing them, etc.

What you do is entirely your choice, of course. But in your place, I'd ask before going nuclear, so to speak.
posted by zarq at 9:44 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


> This is what I always said I'd do if a social norm is violated

You have no evidence that she has violated a social norm; you just disagree with her tone. She has said nothing that indicates she does not understand or recognize the differing kinds of contexts that online conversations take place in: the one we're have here is available for reading and linking by anyone with an internet connection. The posts on your fb page are not, depending on what level of privacy controls you have within your power to establish. Friend or unfriend as you wish, but I think you are being insultingly unfair here.
posted by rtha at 9:51 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Am I parsing your comment wrong?

Yes, you absolutely are.

In your latest you compare us to child molesters, tyrants, and racists.

As others have pointed out (thank you) you're making a big leap and it really is surprising that you'd be willing to read mycomment that way. I'm not comparing anyone here to those people. I'm stating that it's because those people exist that we have established the principles we have about the use of public information. That's why we need the freedoms and standards we currently have about speech. If our general standard were one of first protecting sensitivities, those ill-intended people would certainly invoke that standard (and have) and use it to obstruct the attention that it's right and good that they should get. And if our system of handling speech began with principles of protecting their sensitivities, most injustices would never come to light. I'm sorry that this means that all of us must face the knowledge that there is no special protection for us *in the law* about our own public speech, but it does come with the territory.

Plus she's suggested she may not treat my posts and comments there with what I believe to be the appropriate level of privacy

Facebook has much stronger privacy controls than MetaFilter, and I would never make the same argument about Facebook that I would have made here.

I don't know, I'm kind of baffled, too. For one thing, I reread my contributions last night and I have a hard time finding many places where I lost control and made things personal in the way some have here; I've had some really pretty shitty things said about me in this thread, and that seems weird, because I agree with cortex that this does not need to be heated and am befuddled as to why it's not. F If you think you hear 'sneering,' try reading again in a tone of earnestness. This is an issue I'm steeped in and care about, and I have definitely chosen to occupy a position that seems to some extreme because I was, truly, shocked that people were unaware that there is a lot of protection for the freedom of others to take and use their comments, journalistically or elsewhere, in ways that will make them uncomfortable, and not a lot of protection for their right to claim privacy about those comments. To me, it seems like a terrible situation for someone to reveal deeply personal and perhaps identifying things on MetaFilter that they did not realize could be legally re-used or even misused in ways that would allow them no legal standing to address. Since we can't protect them from that, not with any number of requests or preferences, I feel we are obligated to be clear that we can't; that our wish for our comments not to be used without permission is just a wish. I feel it would be an act of bad conscience to let people hang out there thinking they have a legal expectation of privacy here that they really don't. Folks seems to have decided I am coming from this place because I somehow don't care about others, but in fact, it's because I do care, and I want them to understand where they stand when they speak, so they don't get taken advantage of or taken off guard, and don't start enacting policies that close down the flow of information for the greater good, including our own greater good on this linking-and-posting site. I feel like this is a pretty benign motivation, and have trouble understanding why I've been characterized as the living epitome of evil.
posted by Miko at 10:07 AM on April 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


If I don't hear from Miko soon I'll likely unfriend her on Facebook, just to express my general distaste for her tone.

It's no "I'll cut off my hand."
posted by octobersurprise at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


But I still kind of expect her to apologize, and I hope her defenders won't close the space for her to do so.

I certainly hope there's no apology, as there's nothing to apologize for. Only one person in this thread has had their integrity called into question repeatedly and for no reason, and that's the person you're demanding an apology from. Despite being put upon in such a way they've kept discussing the issue with a respectful and moderate tone. Now the accusers are demanding an apology for imagined slights?

Fuck that.
posted by dazed_one at 10:26 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


A really disappointing thread, and a really disappointing response.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:10 PM on April 15, 2015


A really disappointing thread, and a really disappointing response.

At least there's something we can agree on. I'm quite disappointed in the response well reasoned debate elicited in some folk.
posted by dazed_one at 2:22 PM on April 15, 2015


I am having a very hard time understanding how I can have "disappointed" anyone - when you disappoint someone, it means you had expectations for them, and they did not meet them. Well, I don't understand what the expectations of me were. If there were personal expectations, I was never privy to them. I don't think I've done anything wrong, so I can't see a reason to apologize, and I'm at this point just really stuck trying to understand the reactions. It seems like it's gone beyond the realm of ideas and into some other area of grievance, so I don't see potential for resolution at the community level, either.
posted by Miko at 2:44 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's what I found disappointing:

I'm not comparing anyone here to those people. I'm stating that it's because those people exist that we have established the principles we have about the use of public information.

This is highly disingenuous. Sure, it's not a comparison, it's just that the FAQ change we're discussing would help child molesters, racists, and tyrants. So we're either with you or with Hitler.

But of course no one is invoking a legal standard here, just a rule of etiquette. So child molesters who post about their acts on Metafilter would get no protection, as is pretty obvious. Clearly you know that, so why are you arguing it at such length? And why even invoke child molesters when we're talking about the FAQ?

I am disappointed that you don't see that as a serious error, that you wouldn't want to walk that back. We can disagree about what should go in the FAQ, but we're not, either of us, giving aid and comfort to terrorists by our positions.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:04 PM on April 15, 2015


Sure, it's not a comparison, it's just that the FAQ change we're discussing would help child molesters, racists, and tyrants. So we're either with you or with Hitler.

I think this is a disingenuous reading of what was written. An argument was made saying that certain principles should be disregarded in favour of situational evaluations of an individual's personal welfare. Miko countered that point by illustrating, through certain strong examples, how abandoning one's principles in such a manner can have results that most people find objectionable.
posted by dazed_one at 3:20 PM on April 15, 2015


Also, I think the official Godwin moment just happened.
posted by dazed_one at 3:22 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Could it be -- maybe, just maybe -- that all this hostility and aggression and covert name-calling you're attributing to Miko are the result of your misreading her tone? And picking up on things that really aren't there? Other people seem to think so. I mean seriously, her examples secretly "express something about her feelings about her interlocutors in that moment"? You know what her feelings are? You know? Really?

Please at least consider the idea that you're mistaken about how you're perceiving things.
posted by neroli at 3:25 PM on April 15, 2015


> This is highly disingenuous. Sure, it's not a comparison, it's just that the FAQ change we're discussing would help child molesters, racists, and tyrants. So we're either with you or with Hitler.

Look, Miko said, right here:

> I'd have no problem with alms' proposed statement of preference in theory, as long as people understood that it is a preference, with no legal weight, and offering minimal basis for appeal within any context outside of MeFi.

So I don't know why you're insisting that she's insisting that no change can be made to the FAQ without "yay molesters" or something. The words are right there and that is not what they say.
posted by rtha at 3:30 PM on April 15, 2015


If I considered the idea that I might be wrong, I'd be the first one to do it in this thread.

Why isn't it equally likely that we all like Miko and if you already agree with her you're likely to find a positive spin for her comments? In any case, her own clarification confirms the negative implication of the initial invocation, so there's little room for misinterpretation any longer. We know what she said because she said it, and then she clarified it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:30 PM on April 15, 2015


rtha, read the rest of that comment. She takes it back in the next line: "But I still have concern...."

Which is fine. It certainly doesn't put her in league with racists.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:31 PM on April 15, 2015


I'd have no problem with alms' proposed statement of preference in theory, as long as people understood that it is a preference, with no legal weight, and offering minimal basis for appeal within any context outside of MeFi.
Except that it would give people upset because something they published got shared without their permission a place to hang their hat and complain that 'the FAQ says they're not allowed to do that!'. If there actually is a problem that needs to be solved (which I don't think there is), it would be far more useful to include a FAQ reminding people that everything they say here is public and they shouldn't publish anything here they wouldn't want to see shared more widely.

I don't get the bitching at Miko here at all. She has been forthright and expressed strong opinions, sure, but has not at any time attacked anyone or anything in any way personally. It's most puzzling to me that the people bitching have been around for long enough to know better than to think that's what she meant in any way to do. This is someone with a long history of interacting positively with the community and deserves to be given at least a little benefit of the doubt with regard to intent. I'm particularly disappointed that the very people who would shout the loudest against someone attacking a person because they don't agree with their opinions are doing exactly that here.
posted by dg at 3:33 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


She doesn't. Here, I'll quote.

> But I still have concern about how this appears to the rest of the web, unless we actually did institute the expectation that we ask permission whenever we quote comments from elsewhere - which brings up the prospect of a lot of case resolution for things like Instagram, Twitter, reviews, etc. Also, what kinds of outside expectations and communications would that invite onto the mods? When reddit and Twitter users comment on our comments (which they do), and so on?

Where is the takeback? Where do you see something like "actually, don't change the FAQ"? I read "Here are some additional questions and concerns I have." Why are you reading that as a takeback?
posted by rtha at 3:35 PM on April 15, 2015


Ah, you edited your comment while I was typing.

I don't see how you are possibly reading expressing concerns/asking questions as an explicit takeback.
posted by rtha at 3:36 PM on April 15, 2015


My phone is not letting me cut and paste, but she calls it an act of bad conscience in her next comment, too. I mean, this is not going to resolve the thread or anything, but you're clearly misreading her if you think she approves of a FAQ change to request that quoters ask permission.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:42 PM on April 15, 2015


If there actually is a problem that needs to be solved (which I don't think there is), it would be far more useful to include a FAQ reminding people that everything they say here is public and they shouldn't publish anything here they wouldn't want to see shared more widely.

Quoted for emphasis. Hopefully it would prevent some people's post-posting (as in after commenting - is there any neat way to say that?) regrets, which may be the real problem here.
posted by dazed_one at 3:43 PM on April 15, 2015


I don't want to put words in Miko's mouth, but my reading of Miko's comment was that she said that abandoning one's principles in favor of situational assessments of each case can lead to negative consequences as illustrated in the case of Jim Crow laws, monarchy, molesters, etc. She also said that she disagrees with changes to the FAQ as proposed because that would fly in the face of her principles. She did not say that if you change the FAQ you support child molestation. That equivalence was made by you.

There were two points being made, loosely connected by a shared subject matter. The examples used to illustrate one point do not necessarily bear all the weight of the second.
posted by dazed_one at 3:55 PM on April 15, 2015


Look, dazed_one, thanks for trying. But as rtha put it:

The words are right there

I don't see a lot of value in reparsing a comment that has been clarified by the author. Miko clarified that she meant that the kinds of norms we're discussing would lead to injustice directly:

If our general standard were one of first protecting sensitivities, those ill-intended people would certainly invoke that standard (and have) and use it to obstruct the attention that it's right and good that they should get. And if our system of handling speech began with principles of protecting their sensitivities, most injustices would never come to light.

So she literally means that requesting that quoters ask permission will lead to child molesters, not because the FAQ changers are themselves child molesters, but merely because they'll help cover up for the child molesters or keep their crimes from coming to light. This is just absurd in the context of a FAQ entry, as I think you recognize (which is why you're trying to construct a version of her comments that doesn't say that, where the equivalence is mine and not Miko's.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:35 PM on April 15, 2015


Sorry, but I still read the quote you cited as an (albeit extreme) illustration of the negative outcomes of putting other individual's sensitivities ahead of principles rather than a statement claiming that a change of the FAQ equates to protecting child molesters.

if our system of handling speech began with principles of protecting their sensitivities, most injustices would never come to light.

This illustrates the flaws inherent to the idea of changing the current societal system of handling speech. If we were to change our site policy towards handling speech in a similar manner, we invite those same flaws into our system. If a journalist wants to point out that someone on Metafilter said something stupid or hate-filled, they should have the ability to do so without us being able to hide behind some FAQ saying that permission needs to be given before what is said can be quoted because things said on Metafilter (aside from the private areas such as MeMail and MeTa) are spoken in the public sphere.

Of course, it's highly unlikely that someone on Metafilter is going to so thoroughly swallow their own foot because we're all such nice, intelligent people, but the possibility exists and by changing the FAQ in the proposed manner we are inviting that kind of behaviour.
posted by dazed_one at 5:03 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I literally don't understand what you're talking about. In what way are we supposedly hiding behind the FAQ? I mean, the law remains the law, right? We're not amending the constitution, just the FAQ.

If we were to change our site policy towards handling speech in a similar manner, we invite those same flaws into our system.

At this point you're saying the same thing as Miko: if we change the FAQ, bad people will get away with their badness. (Which entails that FAQ-change advocates are in league with the segregationists?) This is an impressive reversal since at the beginning of your own comment you claim there is no connection between the FAQ and the negative outcomes of sensitivity to the nuances of situations.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:30 PM on April 15, 2015


I literally don't understand what you're talking about. In what way are we supposedly hiding behind the FAQ? I mean, the law remains the law, right? We're not amending the constitution, just the FAQ.

Perhaps I haven't been explaining myself adequately then. Let me try again; if I were to say in a Metafilter thread that Chinese people are cheapskates and a journalist wants to quote that, they should be allowed to. If the FAQ were amended in the manner proposed, I would be able to tell that journalist that they should not be able to quote what I said. I would not have to stand by what I said and thus would be hiding behind the FAQ despite it being fully legal (although wrong and unpleasant) for me to say what I said.

At this point you're saying the same thing as Miko: if we change the FAQ, bad people will get away with their badness. (Which entails that FAQ-change advocates are in league with the segregationists?)

I am and have been saying the same thing as Miko for pretty much the whole thread, but this statement you just made illustrates the false equivalence I tried to point out earlier; perhaps the people advocating a change in the FAQ were focused on things like not wanting personal stories about their kids becoming public and did not realize that by changing the FAQ in the suggested fashion they would also, as you put it, be letting bad people get away with their badness. Overlooking such a consequence does not make FAQ-change advocates segregationists. That equivalence was made by you.

A square is always a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square.
posted by dazed_one at 5:46 PM on April 15, 2015


I'm not comforted by the claim that I'm merely accidentally in league with the segregationists, child molesters, and tyrants.

Because I'm not at all in league with those people. Nothing about this FAQ change would shield you from the consequences of your anti-Asian prejudices or child molesting confessions. Nor does it keep you from standing by your words. It would just express the sense of the community about how we would like folks to behave, in much the same way that we express our sense that racist and misogynistic speech is unacceptable even though it is still legal.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:57 PM on April 15, 2015


I'm not comforted by the claim that I'm merely accidentally in league with the segregationists, child molesters, and tyrants.

I'm not trying to comfort you, I'm just trying to point out that I'm not saying you're a segregationist, monarchist or supporter of child molestation.

Nothing about this FAQ change would shield you from the consequences of your anti-Asian prejudices or child molesting confessions. Nor does it keep you from standing by your words.

Except, as I tried to demonstrate in my previous two comments, it would shield me in that I could prevent further commentary upon and criticism of my loathsome ideas by refusing permission to quote my words.

I'm not sure if I can explain it any more clearly.
posted by dazed_one at 6:06 PM on April 15, 2015


It would just express the sense of the community about how we would like folks to behave

Furthermore, as I think this thread has demonstrated, I don't think there is a unified sense in this community about quotations and how they should be dealt with, so an amendment to the FAQ with that in mind would be false.
posted by dazed_one at 6:11 PM on April 15, 2015


I could prevent further commentary upon and criticism of my loathsome ideas by refusing permission to quote my words.

You're operating under a fundamental misunderstanding of how FAQs work. They don't have the force of law.

Remember way up thread when I said it's not about law, and you responded "huh?" Well, I thought you were kidding, but it looks like you were really confused.

So the problem is that you can't explain yourself any more clearly because you don't know what you're talking about. You've just demonstrated that. In fact, your efforts at clarity help make it obvious.

This does help explain why you are so worried about the proposal: if it really had the consequences you describe, we'd have good reason to reject it. But rest easy, it doesn't.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:20 PM on April 15, 2015


You're operating under a fundamental misunderstanding of how FAQs work. They don't have the force of law.

Except that I've been saying repeatedly throughout this thread that any change to the FAQ would be unenforceable and mostly pointless. A change to the FAQ would not illustrate any kind of community consensus (because there isn't one) nor any kind of legal security (because there isn't any). So why make the change? This has been my argument from the start. What's more, it would be hypocritical because Metafilter is a site all about sharing content created by other people and we have been doing this sharing without asking for permission since day one and the cat scans.

If we tried to enforce the FAQ changes that are being proposed then yes, it would open us up to the negative consequences I have been talking about in my more recent comments. It also (and IANAL) would be legally futile. But I think it's the hypocrisy that bugs me the most.

Why are you so insistent on the FAQ changes if they are unenforceable, non-representative of community opinion and ultimately pointless?

If the answer to that is some sort of security from doxxing or the idea that it would help prevent personal details about members and their families from being spread, rest easy. The simple solution is not to share those personal stories and details on parts of the site that are accessible to the greater public. Perhaps the FAQ should be amended to remind members of that?

So the problem is that you can't explain yourself any more clearly because you don't know what you're talking about. You've just demonstrated that. In fact, your efforts at clarity help make it obvious.


This kind of patronizing crap is uncalled for but I'll let it slide. I may have used too many long words for you and left you flustered.
posted by dazed_one at 6:34 PM on April 15, 2015


I withdraw my proposed FAQ addition. It has already been misunderstood in such a variety of ways that clearly it's not helpful.

I think we're all taking this way too seriously. Corb made a comment, it got quoted, she got annoyed. Maybe that should be the end of it.

I don't think we are successfully communicating here, it doesn't seem like that's going to change. Maybe it's time, as LH suggested above, to close this up.
posted by alms at 6:38 PM on April 15, 2015


Except, as I tried to demonstrate in my previous two comments, it would shield me in that I could prevent further commentary upon and criticism of my loathsome ideas by refusing permission to quote my words.

Except that I've been saying repeatedly throughout this thread that any change to the FAQ would be unenforceable and mostly pointless.


Which is it?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:41 PM on April 15, 2015


If we tried to enforce the FAQ changes that are being proposed then yes, it would open us up to the negative consequences I have been talking about in my more recent comments. It also (and IANAL) would be legally futile.

I'll quote myself there so you can reread it. People don't necessarily have to take things to the legal level to get desired results. If I were to contact the person quoting me and tell them they did not have permission to quote me, point to the statement on the site reflecting that, and threaten to take it further, many may not want to go through the hassle and would then cave to my wishes. It would then act as a shield.
posted by dazed_one at 6:47 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


No one is suggesting that journalists could or should be banned from publishing comments without permission. No evildoers will be shielded from having their dastardly comments publicized. All an FAQ entry would do would be to remind journalists not to assume that all MeFites expect or would be happy to have their comments broadcast to the widest possible audience, and so they should keep that in mind in their ethical balancing test about whether something's worth publishing, so that if there's potential harm and minimal good in publishing a particular comment, they consider asking first. To me that feels like just basic decency, and it's unsettling to me that so many people here deny that there's a difference between a MeFite in a conversation with other commenters whose goal is discussion with a particular group of people, and someone who writes a blog post or publishes a story or otherwise clearly communicates "My desire is for this thing I'm writing to be read as widely as possible." If it's the latter, there's no ethical need to ask permission to post it on Metafilter or otherwise share it; if they may not want it shared, there's a moral balancing act about whether the public good of disseminating it is worth the potential harm from sharing that particular thing against the person's preferences. (The answer can often be "yes, it's worth it," which is why all this concern about letting the child molesters and racists off the hook seems misplaced. But that's no reason to say journalists and Metafilter posters shouldn't be expected to do that mental calculus every time, being mindful that a person talking on the Internet doesn't automatically want or expect their words to be widely broadcast any more than a person talking to their friends in the park does.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 7:11 PM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Other people simply don't share these same moral constructs. They are personal. To my eyes, for instance, someone on livejournal wants to be in public. Someone who makes a comment on MetaFilter wants people to see what they have to say.

This is not a personal moral construct. If I'm reading this right, it seems like basically willful blindness to the feelings and perspectives of others. You may think that people shouldn't comment on MetaFilter if they don't intend to express a desire for their words to be spread as far and wide as possible, but are you really trying to deny that many of us do not have that desire? (For the record, I really, really don't. My commenting on MetaFilter is an expression of my desire to talk to MeFites.)

There may be moral differences on how strongly we should consider that lack of intent in weighing publishing a comment like Corb's or similar where there's minimal value in publishing and significant possible harm, but it seems like a basic fact that commenting on MetaFilter does not equal "wanting as many people as possible to hear this thing I'm saying. "
posted by EmilyClimbs at 7:42 PM on April 15, 2015


My commenting on MetaFilter is an expression of my desire to talk to MeFites

Despite how you might feel, that's just not how the site is. If the site was about discussion restricted to members only, then the comments section would be hidden to all but other members. We're members of a community weblog here. You yourself said "someone who writes a blog post" is communicating that they want "this thing I'm writing to be read as widely as possible". The comments on Metafilter are a part of that blog post. If they weren't, they'd be hidden.
posted by dazed_one at 7:50 PM on April 15, 2015


it's unsettling to me that so many people here deny that there's a difference between a MeFite in a conversation with other commenters whose goal is discussion with a particular group of people, and someone who writes a blog post or publishes a story or otherwise clearly communicates "My desire is for this thing I'm writing to be read as widely as possible."

I'm one of those people and I find this conversation as frustrating as you do. I'm sorry I disagree with you so radically, and I realize your feelings are as equally as valid as mine. But to me, it sounds like you're saying every comment on the internet should have a volume knob attached, and it's up to the person posting to determine how widely it can be spread. To me, that seems ridiculously unrealistic. The volume control is in the hand of the receiver, not the sender.

To people like me, I think, here is how the conversation sounds:

A: I have a magic hat, and when I walk into traffic, cars won't hit me.
B: There is no such thing as a magic hat. You should be careful when you walk into traffic.
A: You are blaming the victim!

C: I understand that the hat isn't magic, but cars should still stop when they see it and let me cross.
B: Why should they do that?
C: Because I am better than the bad cars.
B: Do you drive a car?
C: Sometimes.
B: Do you think people should be able to walk across the road whenever they want?
C: No, of course not.
B: Why are you in your car different from the bad cars?
C: My car is smaller so I can do what I want!

B: If everyone in car had to stop whenever anyone in a special hat walked across the road, trafffic would be terrible and no one would get anywhere.
D: Why are you on the side of the cars and not on my side?
posted by neroli at 8:07 PM on April 15, 2015


I think there's a disconnect here in that some people are pursuing an-almost-exclusively legal "This is how things are" argument and others are pursuing a more "This is how I would like things to be; are there ways we can nudge things that way?" more-focused-on-ethics argument. I think those of us uncomfortable with across-the-board republishing are completely aware that legally, all comments published online may legally be reproduced elsewhere. I think we're taking that as a given and using it as a foundation for talking about what might be a more ethical way of treating published comments, given that legally they can be reproduced.

I think people presenting the legal argument are assuming that the ethics-argument people are unaware of or unaccepting of the legal issues? I don't think we are. I think the deadlock may be happening because both sides are arguing different aspects of the issue but think we're talking about the same thing.
posted by jaguar at 8:15 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


(And I don't mean to say that my ethical lines should be everyone's ethical lines.)
posted by jaguar at 8:16 PM on April 15, 2015


My viewpoint isn't legally based, although I'm glad it has that precedent. It's based on my repulsion to the hypocrisy inherent in 'we can quote and share content generated by others with only our consciences as the limiting factor, but we best remind everyone else that they should ask before sharing the content that we generate'.

Especially because the content we generate is spawned, in most cases, from the stuff we found elsewhere on the internet and turned into a comment or FPP.
posted by dazed_one at 8:23 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's like a music producer making a song comprised of samples from many other records getting their hackles up when someone samples their stuff.
posted by dazed_one at 8:26 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


dazed_one, I don't understand your comment, are you claiming I'm wrong in describing my motivations for commenting?
To state it again, my goal in writing on MetaFilter is to communicate with MeFites. I accept that an unfortunate side effect is that my words could be quoted and disseminated more widely. But that is not my goal or desire. And I'm pretty darn sure I'm not the only one. Hence, the fact of someone commenting on MetaFilter posts should not be interpreted as that person desiring their words be spread as widely as possible. Comments are often much more about wanting to engage in a particular conversation that happens to be happening in public. It's like the difference between quoting someone's speech standing on a stage in the park (posts) and quoting what people in the audience say to each other afterwards (comments)... you can do both, but the speaker on stage clearly expressed their desire to have their words spread, whereas there's an ethical balancing act about the newsworthiness of the latter. That's why it's not hypocritical to not ask permission from many FPP subjects, because they're the equivalent of the speaker on stage in that they obviously want more attention. Some FPP subjects may be more like the audience in the park, and then you ought to do a moral balancing test about what's the ethical way to proceed, just as you should in deciding whether to quote comments.

neroli- all I'm saying is that I feel like people should think about where someone's preferred volume knob setting is when weighing the other factors (public good, potential harm, etc) in making a decision about whether it feels moral/ethical to bring wider publicity to something. And it feels to me like other people are saying "there's no volume knob, it's an on/off switch, if you wrote something publicly accessible on the Internet you obviously really want everyone to read it. Or else you must be a hypocrite for posting FPPs from The Toast without asking first, because that's the internet and you're on the internet so you both have exactly the same goals for how public you want your writing, right?"
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:39 PM on April 15, 2015


Sorry for the misunderstanding EmilyClimbs, but while I only quoted a segment of your comment I was responding to the whole. The segment I quote below is highly applicable to my response as well.

but it seems like a basic fact that commenting on MetaFilter does not equal "wanting as many people as possible to hear this thing I'm saying. "

While it may seem like a 'basic fact' to you, I think that the basic fact at hand is that you are posting a comment on a part of the site that anybody can read, so whether or not you want as many people as possible to hear this thing you are saying, by posting it to a place where the public can view it you are indicating that you do not mind that potentially as many people as possible may read what you write.
posted by dazed_one at 8:47 PM on April 15, 2015


I don't find the hypocrisy charge particularly relevant. It just doesn't look like the kind of performative contradiction you're claiming it is. People keep bringing it up like it's a trumping objection, and I just don't see it. Maybe it's too much Emerson: "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." But I don't think it's that, because I do worry about some cases where we see materially relevant performative contradictions: closeted homophobes, for instance.

I guess the thing is that there are a lot of ways that the analogy the hypocrisy depends on just doesn't hold up:
1. Posts aren't comments.
2. Links aren't quotations.
3. Web links aren't newspaper publications.
4. Metafilter is not the New York Times.
etc.

In addition, I'm not convinced that we're so cavalier about linking and quoting as everyone claims. We are a moderated community and a lot of stuff just doesn't last if it's motivated by that kind of "look at the assholes" thing that sometimes prompts posts and comments.

If a website didn't want us to link to it, I'd think a poster or commenter would be kind of assholes to link it, anyway, unless it was important in some way that trumped that desire. I think the mods actually prune that stuff when it comes up. And you can easily imagine spaces on the web that might prefer not to be linked on the front page, for fear of the other kinds of attention that would bring: rape survivors, for instance; or a parenting group. In my profession there are certain blogs that are public and anonymous but it's a professional norm that you don't link to them because you shouldn't give them attention.

One example that struck me as helpful was the celebrity cell phone hacked photos: that stuff is out on the internet, fair use and all applies, but I think it's morally wrong and super-rude to link to it, and I'm pretty sure Metafilter policy is to delete links to that material. (If it's not, I'd argue that SHOULD be our policy.)

Another example: if a comment was posted to the Best of Metafilter blog, and the commenter asked the mods to take it down: I'd expect them to follow the commenter's wishes. (And they've said that's a consideration.)

All of which is to say: I don't think there's a real hypocrisy problem here. You can kind of squint to make it a hypocrisy problem, but for the most part we're actually respectful of the kinds of norms I'm asking for us to publicly proclaim. That is: those norms are actually mostly tacitly accepted here, and I'm just suggesting we make them explicit.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:51 PM on April 15, 2015


FWIW, a post about the hacked photos stayed up. MeTa thread.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:55 PM on April 15, 2015


Oh, wow: that's the Sony hack, though, right? Not the photos, but that actually makes it more relevant to this discussion, because text.

I should probably dig into that thread and see where it went, but the first few dozen commenters are all expressing distaste at discussing the content of the emails. My original claim was that the cell phone photos should be absolutely off-limits and not posted here. I tend to think that's true of the Sony emails, too, but I see the mods didn't agree, or at least they saw it as a security story and not a gossip story.

That's the kind of balancing I'd expect of a major outlet, too: I mean, the hack was clearly newsworthy since the President discussed it and it was a major international incident, but it's not clear we really needed to discuss the contents of the emails themselves, just of rubbernecking's sake.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:06 PM on April 15, 2015


I guess we'll have to agree to disagree then, anotherpanacea.

Just looking at the front page now I can see this post about people's pictures of weight loss; do we know that the people who posted their pictures there wanted their site posted to the front page of a blog with a large readership? We can only assume they don't mind because they made their site publicly accessible. Does Mr Statham care that a 20 year old video of him oiled up and in a speedo was reposted by a youtuber and then distributed here again? Does the subject of this post care that we're discussing her in full view of the public eye?

Because these things were posted to places that were publicly accessible, we assume that it's OK for us to disseminate them further, yet here we sit discussing the possibility of attempting to restrict the further dissemination of our publicly posted commentary on such subjects. To me, that is very much hypocrisy.
posted by dazed_one at 9:11 PM on April 15, 2015


I guess the thing is that there are a lot of ways that the analogy the hypocrisy depends on just doesn't hold up:
1. Posts aren't comments.
2. Links aren't quotations.
3. Web links aren't newspaper publications.
4. Metafilter is not the New York Times.
etc.


Part of the reason people are frustrated is that when they ask: How and why, exactly, are these these things different? The answer is: because I say so and the difference is obvious. But why? Because I say so and the difference is obvious.
posted by neroli at 9:13 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, no. I'd be happy to elaborate any one of the disanalogies there. I do think they're mostly kind of self-evident, but that doesn't mean we can't explore them. Is there one disanalogy in particular that you think is irrelevant to the question of hypocrisy?

Or, well... I say I'd be happy to elaborate. But I guess I'm kind of tired of the thread. If it really feels important to you, I'll go down this road a little bit, with the caveat that it's after midnight here and I might get sleepy.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:18 PM on April 15, 2015


Because these things were posted to places that were publicly accessible, we assume that it's OK for us to disseminate them further, yet here we sit discussing the possibility of attempting to restrict the further dissemination of our publicly posted commentary on such subjects. To me, that is very much hypocrisy.

Well, I take it that a lot of this can happen post-posting. That is: we can do the most important norm enforcement after the post occurs and we discover a problem. If there's an initial sign that we shouldn't disseminate, then that's the answer. But sometimes a poster might honestly believe that a website is intended for dissemination, and then discover later that it was not. In those cases, it's possible for the mods to delete the post, no-follow the links, and generally correct the mistake.

There's got to be room for transgression and remedy in all this. That too is part of the nature of norms: reprobation.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:22 PM on April 15, 2015


The same applies to MeFites getting quoted. If the commenter really has an issue with it, can't they go to the quoting source and request the quote be removed? No need to try and speak for the whole community by saying that Metafilter prefers posters be contacted prior to quoting; just contact the offending site/source if it should happen, and continue letting people assume that because we're posting things for the public to see that we don't mind the public seeing them - just like we assume for other sites.
posted by dazed_one at 9:29 PM on April 15, 2015


We could do that, sure, though the New York Times Magazine is a little harder to delete and no-follow than a Metafilter post or comment. (Another important disanalogy, I think.) Alternatively we could offer the initial request, since it doesn't hurt anyone and helps some (Pareto improvements ftw).

At the very least, we're not being hypocritical by asking for it, since we would respect that ask if we received it.

(Digging further into the Sony thread, there seems to be a widespread agreement that we and the media had fucked up there. So: norms work even in the breach.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:38 PM on April 15, 2015


I do think they're mostly kind of self-evident

Well, yeah. And other people don't think that. And that's sort of the point. This thread has turned really ugly, and I'm trying to figure out why. I mean, honestly, you told Miko that you'd unfriend her on Facebook because you didn't trust her around pictures of your children. I don't think that's much of interpretation on my part -- that's pretty much exactly what you said. That's not using "child molesters" as an extreme example for an abstract argument -- that's a straight-up character accusation directed at someone else here. And personally, I think that's both an awful thing to say, and totally bonkers.

I don't get the sense that you're an awful or crazy person though, and I'm wondering how the conversation took this turn. Clearly you feel very strongly about all this, and the whole thing seems personal to you. Really, I want to understand.

A while back, you quoted Miko and said "she literally means that requesting that quoters ask permission will lead to child molesters." I think this is one of the ways you are misreading things. This statement is not about causality. This is not about what will "happen" if we change the FAQ. Nothing we do "will lead to child molesters." (That seems too obvious to be worth pointing out, but this thread is a lesson in just how much "obvious" is subjective.)

Child molesters are there. They are a fact. And they are on the internet just like us. And they may look like us. And they may, in fact, be some of "us." (No, I am not accusing anyone here of being a child molester. I think that should be obvious too, but who knows at this point?) Child molesters are there. They are a fact. I am not unaware how people with children must feel about this. It must be an wrenching, intolerable fact, but it is a fact.

The reason child molesters entered into this conversation, I assume, is because they are the most over-the-top example of "them." "(Probably too over-the-top, but this whole thread has been about escalating hypotheticals.) "Them" is defined, circularly, as not "us." And I think at its core, this has been a conversation about "them" and "us" and how you delineate the expectations you assign to each. Maybe the reason it's gotten so personal and uncomfortable is that the opposed camps have divergent levels of identification with "us," and divergent thoughts about how clear is the line that divides "them" from "us."

This conversation started with the New York Times. And some people said that the NYT should not quote us without permission, even though we quote people without permission all the time. Why? Because they are "them" and we are "us." There is a difference. What is the difference? They are a for-profit operation. Well, MetaFilter is a for-profit-operation too. They are bigger than us. Well, we're not so small, and and the people we comfortably quote are smaller than us. Their writers get paid. Yes, they do, but not all journalists get paid. And on and on. Some of us kept asking, over and over: well, what's really the difference between what they do and what we do? And to me at least, asking, again and again: Why are we so special? without a convincing answer was really fucking frustrating. On the other side, I imagine, the difference between them and us was so obvious, it wasn't worth explaining.

But for me and other people who identify with the mission of the New York Times as much as they identify with the mission of MetaFilter, this seemed troubling. Troubling because we think of the Times -- and other organs of the press-- as a (not always ideal) force for good, not as some big bad corporate meanie sticking its nose in our conversations. The very fact that the Times et. al. can stick its nose anywhere is precisely why it can be a force for good, why it can, potentially, expose child molesters -- for example.

This is why the suggestion that -- Well, you shouldn't shouldn't stick your nose in our business, NYT! -- felt kind of abhorrent. And why the claims that we are special and should be treated with special courtesy received so much push-back.

I think on one side, the escalating examples were meant to push thing more towards general principals: if you say we're exempt from the courtesy we want people to show us, are "bad" people equally exempt? What is a solid, non-subjective distinction between them and us?

On the other side, it just seemed like people were reading that as: I think you're Hitler.

This is why I, at least, have found this conversation maddening. Does that make any sense to you?
posted by neroli at 9:45 PM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


> We could do that, sure, though the New York Times Magazine is a little harder to delete and no-follow than a Metafilter post or comment.

So what if it's harder? The principle, as I understand it, is that asking before quoting is the ideal. If that is the principle we want others to adhere to with regard to comments on this site, then it ought to be a principle this site should adhere to. Or, at least, that mefites who adhere to that principle would be willing to adhere to when operating here on metafilter.

Also, I give up already wrt to your determination that Miko has compared you to child molestors. Give. Up. Don't agree, will never agree, but give the fuck up.
posted by rtha at 9:45 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Okay, while I'm willing to look at some specific dis-analogies that might drive the hypocrisy issue, I don't really know what part of that wall of text you'd like a response to. I mean, we've hashed it out at length and you're acting like we haven't said anything. You've definitely got the "child molesters" analysis wrong with your discussion of "us" and "them." My general take is that you've got it right on the child molesters existing independently of our policies, but the rest is wrong: Miko wasn't saying we ARE child molesters, just that the FAQ policy would enable child molesters to continue to molest children while bragging about it here. That's this bit here:

If our general standard were one of first protecting sensitivities, those ill-intended people would certainly invoke that standard (and have) and use it to obstruct the attention that it's right and good that they should get. And if our system of handling speech began with principles of protecting their sensitivities, most injustices would never come to light.

But I've already gone through that passage pretty closely with the other guy, so please read that discussion and let me know if you think I've gone wrong somewhere.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:58 PM on April 15, 2015


anotherpanecea: I've tried to engage with you as sympathetically and as specifically as I can. If you're going to dismiss my response to you as "a wall of text" -- as if it's something not worth your time to even look at -- then clearly I've wasted my time talking to you. I'm sorry we can't have a conversation.
posted by neroli at 10:07 PM on April 15, 2015


I should say that the best response to the whole child molesters, segregationists, and tyrants issue is actually not from me but from EmilyClimbs here. I also think it's worth looking at jaguar's most recent comment for an alternative formulation of why this disagreement seems to involve so much mutual misreading and general intractability.

Generally speaking, I think there are others here who can speak for me. It's 1 am and it's time for bed.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:08 PM on April 15, 2015


Also: you really should stop editing your comments after you've posted them.
posted by neroli at 10:10 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's not at all specific or sympathetic, though, neroli. Weird that you'd call it that. It doesn't sympathize, at all. (I mean, it's nice that you say I'm not crazy or awful. But that's a low bar.) And it's not very specific; it's also obviously wrong in several places, just as a description of what the words say. So I dunno: like I said, I'm happy to engage, but I'd like to see engagement on par with what I'm offering: textual analysis that doesn't ignore everything I've already written on the subject.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:11 PM on April 15, 2015


Eh? I don't think I've edited any of these.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:11 PM on April 15, 2015


I'd like to see engagement on par with what I'm offering: textual analysis that doesn't ignore everything I've already written on the subject.

The feeling is mutual. This 'other guy' (I'm assuming you meant me) responded to both EmilyClimbs and jaguar's comments with points that went unaddressed.
posted by dazed_one at 10:14 PM on April 15, 2015


> Miko wasn't saying we ARE child molesters, just that the FAQ policy would enable child molesters to continue to molest children while bragging about it here.

Did you forget that thing you said

> I've tried not to respond in kind, but you're not making it easy. For instance, in earlier comments you've had an apocalyptic tone, and you're constantly shifting the goal posts. In your latest you compare us to child molesters, tyrants, and racists.

Think about that.


Or do we now have to parse the difference between "compare" and "ARE"?
posted by rtha at 10:17 PM on April 15, 2015


We are totally talking past each other.

And some people said that the NYT should not quote us without permission, even though we quote people without permission all the time. Why? Because they are "them" and we are "us."

Maybe some people have focused on the "them vs us," but it feels like most of us have been talking about the "what"... that someone's super-sensitive comment about complicated issues relating to their teenager's weight (which could have really profound consequences if there's anything about the comment or the username that makes it identifiable to the kid) is different than posting an article or an ad or something else whose primary purpose is getting as many eyeballs as possible. Most of us have said that when it comes to sensitive stuff MeFites ought to consider asking permission too (balancing against other factors like shining a light on bad stuff, etc.)

And I really don't think anyone's suggesting Miko is a child molester, but I totally understand the feeling of "These people don't seem to understand or respect that I would prefer my most sensitive MetaFilter comments not to be publicized more widely. I wonder if they understand and respect that I don't want Facebook pictures of my kid shared more widely?" Miko seemed to think that the latter was super-obvious, but to many of us the former seems obvious too yet we're told many of you guys are assuming we obviously wouldn't mind you sharing any of our comments far and wide because we chose to put them on the internet. It feels really unsettling and like people are not respecting that people could possibly prefer a smaller audience but be willing to tolerate the tiny risk of a bigger one while desperately hoping that won't happen and hoping for a little human kindness from the potential disseminators.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 10:17 PM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or do we now have to parse the difference between "compare" and "ARE"?

No, not at all. I revised my understanding of Miko's meaning on the basis of her clarification. I don't think it's a marked improvement, but it's at least clearer.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:19 PM on April 15, 2015


EmilyClimbs, people can restrict access to Facebook pics of their kids and it would be very bad form and a huge breech of privacy to share those beyond the restrictions set by the poster. Posts on parts of Metafilter that aren't MeMail or Metatalk are not restricted in who can view them. Hence people posting to those parts that are publicly accessible should be aware that not only can the greater internet public view these posts and comments, it is part of the site's design and concept that they should be able to.
posted by dazed_one at 10:26 PM on April 15, 2015


Alright. Good night folks: I'm up way past my bedtime and my two year old is going to be awake in four hours. If the thread is still open tomorrow afternoon, I'll try to respond. If not, you can MeMail me if there's something left to discuss.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:27 PM on April 15, 2015



The feeling is mutual. This 'other guy' (I'm assuming you meant me) responded to both EmilyClimbs and jaguar's comments with points that went unaddressed.


What are you waiting for from me? It feels impossible to make headway. I say "Many of us don't desire wide dissemination of our words just because we are commenting here, so don't assume that we're cool with it just because we post here, rather than tolerating a small risk of something we're not cool with at all. It is a fact that not all of us are cool with that." You respond with stuff along the lines of "the reality of MetaFilter is that it's public." That is true, and also besides the point. And then, I think what you're saying is "because MetaFilter is public, you must be fine with your words bring spread far and wide, and it's fair for any reader to assume that." No, not true, you can accept the risk of something undesirable without desiring it (lleaving aside the people who forget the undesirable thing is even possible.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 10:30 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, not true, you can accept the risk of something undesirable without desiring it (lleaving aside the people who forget the undesirable thing is even possible.)

But you're not accepting the risk, you're arguing to change how the site works (albeit in a manner which, as has been said, won't really have any effect and makes us look like hypocrites).
posted by dazed_one at 10:35 PM on April 15, 2015


Can you imagine talking to a friend who's convinced he's invisible because he puts a blanket over his head? Really, this is what it feels like for some of us.
posted by neroli at 10:37 PM on April 15, 2015


> I say "Many of us don't desire wide dissemination of our words just because we are commenting here, so don't assume that we're cool with it just because we post here, rather than tolerating a small risk of something we're not cool with at all. It is a fact that not all of us are cool with that."

I get you. But what you desire is already a non-reality: what you say here is as widely disseminated as widely disseminating gets. You get to feel whatever you want about that, but all your words here are indexed by search engines and preserved for however long everything gets preserved by the wayback. You don't have to be fine with it, but your ability to change it is extremely limited, and the most effective way to limit how your words are reproduced without your explicit consent is to always keep in mind where you are speaking them.

I have a set of expectations for what I say on facebook to a limited number of known people; yet another set for what I say in my office; yet another for when I'm at a loud bar; yet another for when I'm speaking into a microphone in a public space. MetaFilter is the latter, and I set my expectations accordingly.
posted by rtha at 10:48 PM on April 15, 2015


Of course I'm accepting the risk. All I'm doing is putting in a plea for people (including but not limited to journalist-people) to remember that other people who write things on the internet are also human beings and to make their decisions accordingly. And maybe put in a reminder along those lines in the FAQ, including a reminder that not eveyone on this site is necessarily super-excited to have a comment a lot more public. That's really it.

(And neroli, I have no idea why you think we think saying "hey, it would be awesome if you considered how it might impact our lives before deciding whether it seems like the right call to publish it without asking" will protect anyone from anything. No one thinks this gives us a magic hat. Why do you think we think it does?)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 10:50 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


All I'm doing is putting in a plea for people (including but not limited to journalist-people) to remember that other people who write things on the internet are also human beings and to make their decisions accordingly

This request is different from the request that has been re-iterated throughout this thread that people should ask permission prior to quoting someone from Metafilter.

It's still not going to really change anything, and it seems strange that people might think a journalist won't recognize that words come from people (twitter bots being the exception), but the goal posts have shifted.
posted by dazed_one at 10:58 PM on April 15, 2015


I have no idea why you think we think saying "hey, it would be awesome if you considered how it might impact our lives before deciding whether it seems like the right call to publish it without asking" will protect anyone from anything. No one thinks this gives us a magic hat. Why do you think we think it does?

This has come up before in this thread, but I (like some other people who have expressed this opinion) actually think that people in the quote-unquote mainstream press do in fact think about how it will impact people's lives before they quote anything. From my experience, they think about it more seriously than anyone here. And they don't quote everything they can. At the same time, I do believe that to post something here -- and yet to hope that it won't go further than here -- is precisely to believe in a magic hat, to think that this is somehow "the Internet but not really." It's not like there aren't designated private places online, where conversations can be shared among limited groups. Those are great and I hope they never go away. But this isn't one of them. It really isn't. I don't think that posting here is about the "risk" that someone might possibly repost your words any more than I think that leaving a five dollar tip with my restaurant bill involves the "risk" that my waitress might pocket it. If I didn't want her to take it I wouldn't have left it. Posting words in a public place means those words are public. It's honestly astonishing to me that this is a controversial idea.
posted by neroli at 11:12 PM on April 15, 2015


Posting words in a public place means those words are public. It's honestly astonishing to me that this is a controversial idea.

It staggers me that people are staggered by this. Furthermore, asking people to be considerate when quoting MeFites won't change anything because the people who are considerate aren't the ones who will create the issue, and the inconsiderate ones aren't going to listen to a plea on an often unread FAQ. The only surefire way to prevent the situation that seems to cause such consternation is to not post things in a public space that you don't want to be seen by the public.
posted by dazed_one at 11:19 PM on April 15, 2015


It really feels like many of you are asking for explanations of how some of us feel about reality X and then immediately telling us we're stupid for feeling that way because reality X is reality (which we're not debating) and it's exhausting.
posted by jaguar at 6:41 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


At the same time, I do believe that to post something here -- and yet to hope that it won't go further than here -- is precisely to believe in a magic hat, to think that this is somehow "the Internet but not really." It's not like there aren't designated private places online, where conversations can be shared among limited groups. Those are great and I hope they never go away. But this isn't one of them. It really isn't. I don't think that posting here is about the "risk" that someone might possibly repost your words any more than I think that leaving a five dollar tip with my restaurant bill involves the "risk" that my waitress might pocket it. If I didn't want her to take it I wouldn't have left it.

Do you really believe this, that everything posted everywhere on the internet is seen by the same number of people? And so regardless of where something is posted or published, it's as near-certain that everyone on the planet will read it as it is that a waitress will take a tip you left her? So republishing something has zero impact on the chances of whether a particular someone will read your words?

If so, I understand why we're miscommunicating, but it's pretty mind boggling to me that you don't see shades of grey in the risk of, say, my grandma reading something I write on my new little blog with no Google juice vs MetaFilter vs the New York Times. To me, it's obvious that while it's possible she could read any of them (because yes, they are all "public", no one is denying that) some are a hell of a lot more likely than others, and it's not stupid of me to make different risk assessments of what I say where. Or to want to brainstorm if there are ways to keep that risk slightly lower on MetaFilter. Or to be able to say "Whoops, it got quoted in the NYT and my grandma read it, that sucks" without a chorus of "You're not allowed to be unhappy about that, you knew that could happen!"
posted by EmilyClimbs at 9:45 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


to be able to say "Whoops, it got quoted in the NYT and my grandma read it, that sucks"

If it ended with a "that sucks" I don't think we'd be having this conversation. Instead the people who think it sucks are trying to change how the site works in the hope of affecting the chances of grandma reading it again. Our disagreement stems from the aspect that you think is a bug being a feature to me. I think it's great that the things we say on this site have a wide reaching audience. I think it's great that people who are not members can continue discussions we start here - we continue discussions that began in other places all the time. I think it would be bad and counter to how the site is designed to try and get people to ask for permission from us before being able to quote things that we have said on the public part of our website.

I understand your concerns about the varying shades of risk involved, EmilyClimbs. It's true, were my grandmother alive, she would be upset to see me swear in some threads. I do not, however, think it is worth changing the site, especially in a way that will achieve next to nothing besides making us look hypocritical, in the hope of mitigating that risk. Instead, I think people should be aware of the place and audience that they are speaking to.
posted by dazed_one at 10:02 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


we're stupid for feeling that way because reality X is reality (which we're not debating)

Except you are debating it. You're suggesting we try and change things to remedy your upset. It's exhausting that you don't understand this.
posted by dazed_one at 10:08 AM on April 16, 2015


Is it really a change to site policy to say, essentially, "You are free to link to anything you want to in Metafilter, but please be thoughtful when you link to comments that contain personal information."? I'm fine with the way things are, but I'd also be fine asking that for that courtesy. It's interesting to me that some people find it to be outrageous and hypocritical.
posted by alms at 11:53 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


As I said earlier, Alms, that is not what the original debate was about. I'll quote my response from earlier:

This request is different from the request that has been re-iterated throughout this thread that people should ask permission prior to quoting someone from Metafilter.

It's still not going to really change anything, and it seems strange that people might think a journalist won't recognize that words come from people (twitter bots being the exception), but the goal posts have shifted.

posted by dazed_one at 11:57 AM on April 16, 2015


If you're just asking people to be considerate when quoting, I responded to that as well with:

asking people to be considerate when quoting MeFites won't change anything because the people who are considerate aren't the ones who will create the issue, and the inconsiderate ones aren't going to listen to a plea on an often unread FAQ. The only surefire way to prevent the situation that seems to cause such consternation is to not post things in a public space that you don't want to be seen by the public.
posted by dazed_one at 11:59 AM on April 16, 2015


dazed_one, you are splitting this discussion into two polarized sides that have, I suspect, entirely more overlap and nuance than you think.
posted by jaguar at 12:10 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think I am. I just recognize the difference between asking people to be considerate when thinking about quoting someone and telling them to ask for permission before quoting someone. I recognize they share subject matter, but the propositions have key differences. One is hypocritical when applied to the context of this site, both will be ineffective. I take issue with the one that is hypocritical while I just don't see the point in the one that is simply ineffective.

That seems to be recognition of nuance, does it not?
posted by dazed_one at 12:21 PM on April 16, 2015


I just recognize the difference between asking people to be considerate when thinking about quoting someone and telling them to ask for permission before quoting someone.

Yes, so do I. And I am not arguing for telling journalists anything, while I am arguing for consideration. So you've got me, at least, pegged on a different side of the debate than you think I am arguing for. You seem to have also lumped some other posters together and assumed they are all arguing for things they might not actually be arguing for. There's not some party platform at work in this thread; individuals have individual opinions, and I think some of the hyperbole and heatedness has been coming from people splitting everyone into two camps.
posted by jaguar at 12:31 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


asking people to be considerate when quoting MeFites won't change anything

I disagree. For the instance in question -- Corb's comment about her daughter -- I think a simple admonition to be thoughtful when linking to comments about personal information might have been enough to get the reporter to think, "oh, this is a quote by a parent about her daughter's weight gain. Sensitive topic. Maybe I shouldn't use that one, or I should ask first." It might not have made any difference, but I don't see how you can say with such certainty it wouldn't make any difference.

Is it a magic hat that will protect people from getting hit by cars when crossing traffic? Of course not. Will it have the effect of shutting down the shared conversations that take place across websites and media outlets? I don't think so, though maybe you disagree.
posted by alms at 12:33 PM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fair enough, jaguar. It's just that you said "I think people presenting the legal argument are assuming that the ethics-argument people are unaware of or unaccepting of the legal issues? I don't think we are" earlier, and by doing so you split the discussion into two polarized groups and placed yourself on the one opposed to mine, so you'll have to forgive me if I took that as your position.
posted by dazed_one at 12:38 PM on April 16, 2015


It might not have made any difference, but I don't see how you can say with such certainty it wouldn't make any difference.

I'm sorry that it came across as if I was speaking in absolute terms. If I could I would go back and insert 'most likely' and 'probably' into my comments.

It probably won't make any difference, as the FAQ is not read by members all that much, let alone by outsiders. Putting a request on the FAQ that people be considerate will most likely be ineffective in remedying the issue that Corb had with her comment being quoted. The only absolute way of preventing the issue is to not share personal or sensitive stories in public spaces. I don't really have an issue with putting a reminder for people to be considerate when quoting MeFite's public comments into the FAQ, I just don't see the point because it more than likely won't be read, let alone followed.
posted by dazed_one at 12:49 PM on April 16, 2015


I do have an issue with putting a note in the FAQ saying that people need to ask permission prior to quoting a member's public postings because to do so would be hypocritical, despite the fact that such a request probably would not be read nor observed and is almost entirely unenforceable.
posted by dazed_one at 1:01 PM on April 16, 2015


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