Taking Care of a Fruit Tree: Moderation on Metafilter March 26, 2018 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Bingo and I are Human-Computer Interaction researchers in Bath, UK and Vienna, AT, who are looking at moderation on web forums and how it shapes discussions. Over the past several months, with permission from the site staff, we have been examining moderator comments on MetaFilter in order to answer several questions.

Specifically, we looked at which behaviour attracts moderator interaction, which strategies they use to engage and how members react to moderation.

In our reading, moderators engage with egregiously offensive behaviour (e.g., name-calling, personal derails, trolling, *-isms) by deleting the respective comments. In other cases, they remind members within threads of best practices (e.g., put in NSFW links when appropriate) and site guidelines (e.g., no rehashing of previously discussed topics) in a preventative mode.

Moderators also engage with the community in more pro-active ways. They shape the discussions by bringing in their individual perspectives and they care. They point out that people should look for help if needed and where to find it, they show solidarity and they appreciate content posted by others.

In interviews with some of the moderators, we could refine these themes and find out more about the tools they use (mostly flagging), their personal and collective strategies (turns out, everyone reads a lot of the comments), their understanding of the staff as a subcommunity on MetaFilter (with complementary roles between them) and how they conceptualise moderation from their perspective (instead of pulling up weeds, taking care of a fruit tree).

We chose to look at MetaFilter because the quality of discourse here has been applauded when it comes to people discussing controversial topics on the internet and the moderators appear to be a core reason for the constructive conversations on the site.

What we are currently missing is the more explicit opinion of the community. How do members experience moderation (also in context to other sites)? Do you think it’s fair? What are the points you especially appreciate or points you feel should be changed?

Anything you might want to share here or via the MetaFilter Mail system is highly appreciated. Feel free to MeFiMail me directly. We’ll monitor this thread as well and will also answer any questions you may have about our research. Comments made here are considered public and will be subject to paraphrasing and anonymisation as quotations in academic publications. Contributions sent via MeFiMail are treated as confidential unless indicated otherwise.
posted by katta to MetaFilter-Related at 7:27 AM (131 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

A little context: katta got ahold of me last fall about doing some work on this, and together with bingo_yu they've been looking at dumps of thread content over the last several months and more recently did some individual interviews with various MeFi moderators to get some qualitative takes on how stuff works and why from our perspectives.

Thoughts from non-moderator MetaFilter members on moderation—ranging from memorable personal experiences with it to your impressions of moderation practice or policy or philosophy—would be a helpful additional aspect of their qualitative look at the whole MetaFilter dynamic.

Chattering in here is fine; also fine to mefimail katta if you'd prefer to comment out of a public channel for any reason. And if you have any questions about the study or this thread itself, fine to ask away in here as well.

I've talked with katta and bingo several times about the goals and procedures of the research they're doing and have 100% confidence in how they're handling it, and am really interested to see how the project comes out. If you feel like helping out with some thoughts, great, though obviously there's no obligation to do so.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:51 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I am very happy with moderation (and the quality of discussion) here; it's the key selling point of MetaFilter compared to similar general-purpose discussion sites like reddit or hackernews.
posted by Jpfed at 7:57 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


I feel like the mod team is "on my side" (as part of the Metafilter community), and think about flagging things to bring to their attention as trying to make their jobs easier.
posted by quaking fajita at 8:00 AM on March 26 [27 favorites]


The moderating on MeFi - from the earliest points when it was led by mathowie - has been a masterclass in hands-off, gentle guidance of the community. The tone and manner have been carried through by jessamyn, cortex, and the other mods such that this is the only online community where it is a pleasure to read the comments and engage rather than a trial. The entry fee to the community certainly helps ensure that those committed to discussion will tend to be here in the first place but the clear and thoughtful curation of norms helps nudge conversation along the right lines when it might easily go awry. The post by cortex on how political threads should continue is a remarkable piece of clarity in one of messiest and angriest areas of discourse possible.
posted by giraffeneckbattle at 8:41 AM on March 26 [17 favorites]


Metafilter’s mod team is significantly more visible, heavy-handed, and actively involved than any other website I can think of.

To be clear, these are all positives.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:47 AM on March 26 [46 favorites]


To begin: Metafilter is not a perfect place, and I have no doubt contributed my share of problems, but the moderation is not an area that I have many complaints about. However, I'm a white, able-bodied, cishet, male American who speaks English as a first language, and I recognize that people of color, people with disabilities, LGBT people, women, non-Americans, and non-native English speakers may have very different experiences, and I am absolutely speaking only for myself.

How do members experience moderation (also in context to other sites)? Do you think it’s fair?

I have experienced moderation several ways. I've had anonymous questions approved and not approved, and in the latter case I received an explanation that I found fair. I've had some of my own comments deleted, and it's always been fair (e.g. I was getting fighty, contributing to a derail, or starting to monopolize a thread). In my experience the moderators have been very responsive to flags and the contact form.

There was one instance where, in hindsight, I wish the mods had saved me from myself by not approving a certain ill-advised MeTa post, but I don't think I could say that was unfair. The rules for MeTa are looser than the rest of the site for good reason, and sometimes people do stupid, hurtful things. It's an important safety valve that (most of the time) keeps the worst of those stupid, hurtful things off of the rest of the site, and sometimes the only way someone can learn an important lesson is to royally screw up and be subjected to correction by the community. I think that process has driven a lot of the improvements in community attitudes, behaviors, and norms here over the ~13 years I've been a member.

In context to other sites: Metafilter has by far the best moderation of any site I've interacted with, and it greatly influenced how I've moderated my own blog. I feel like it gave me permission to take an active hand in moderation, and it taught me how to head off issues like fights and derails.

Sites like Slashdot and Reddit have pretty well demonstrated the limitations of self-governance by users, and sites like Twitter, Facebook, and most blogs show that a pure "the solution to bad speech is more speech" approach doesn't work either.

What are the points you especially appreciate or points you feel should be changed?

The Metafilter convention of the moderator leaving a note after substantial moderator activity provides a great way to see "okay, this is where they drew the line." Those explanations and the transparency afforded by MeTa are a key part of what makes Metafilter's moderation work. They give the moderators' work legitimacy while still allowing efficiency and discretion. For example, I think it's a very good thing that users can't see the flag queue. Otherwise I think there would be endless second-guessing and complaining.
posted by jedicus at 8:51 AM on March 26 [10 favorites]


Something I feel like I noticed a lot in the past, and that I have used as an analogy offline in unrelated conversations with people who don't use Metafilter, is that aggrieved people would come into Metatalk threads because they felt that the moderation was out of control or too heavyhanded and that people were being silenced by the mods for voicing unpalatable opinions, and they'd come in and list all their complaints. They'd talk about how Metafilter is getting worse and worse and it's PC gone mad and it's a bunch of whiners not like in the good old days and they'd end with "...and I'd leave if this weren't the only community on the internet that isn't a cesspool."

And they never seemed to make the connection.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:52 AM on March 26 [53 favorites]


Metafilter has moderators?
posted by cjorgensen at 9:03 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I work professionally in community management (now a Head of Community at a company where the community is the business USP) and often cite metafilter as one of the case studies for quality moderation (and also a personal favourite). This is extremely my thing.

I have a lot of opinions on this topic as it relates to metafilter and general industry best practise but it's all based on working in the field and academic interest more than personal experience so not sure how valuable that is for your purpose. Let me just share a couple of quick things that I think are key to moderation that metafilter gets right (in no particular order):

1. Barrier for entry adds weight to participation (or did at a formative time)
2. Guidelines/rules are primarily enforced through peer pressure/approval
3. Enforcing culture is explicit part of culture
4. Moderation is focused on education of the impact of negative contributions over punishment
5. Size of community allows for personal 1-2-1 conversations with moderators
6. Clear distinction between staff and members: no tiered levels of access/responsibility
7. Public recognition of positive contributors and contributions

I could expand on each point quite a bit and there's a one thing I disagree with but shall leave it there for now, pending feedback/desire from folks to hear more about my perspective.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:17 AM on March 26 [7 favorites]


I think of Metafilter and it's moderators as a college level course on Improved Internet Communications. All are committed to keeping the social discourse at a higher, more focused level, and helping to dissect, and encourage members to discover, ways of thinking that may be a little outside their own ken. That is invaluable.

The fact that it is done with a gentle touch and a caring heart and mind reminds me of all those truly great teachers we remember for teaching hard things that stay with you for a long time. I have learned a lot, and I appreciate it, and most of it didn't hurt at all.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:18 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


I've been a member for a while.

In the early days I was an anti-moderation absolutist. Let people say whatever dumb shit they want! It gives others the chance to refute them publicly! And their dumb words will be preserved on the site forever and that will be their punishment!

What can I say; I was young. So was the site.

Now I understand that that pruning function is necessary for online conversation not to devolve into local paper's facebook comment babble: at minimum to weed out the spam; or to snip things off when they get too hot, before the whole conversation catches fire; or to cut off the endless circular arguments about undecidables; or just to keep things generally on topic. Pretty much in that order of complexity, and the more of those that get done the more enjoyable / useful / informative the conversation tends to be.

Pruning is necessarily also shaping. Over the years MetaFilter, as a whole, has evolved toward a pretty distinct, identifiable consensus reality. This is pretty much how things play out naturally anyway -- if you're frequently in conflict with a community online, you're a lot less likely to stick around, and thus over time every community asymptotically approaches lockstep echo chamber la la la -- but moderation by its nature accelerates that. MeFi has a particular ideology and viewpoint that has always pretty closely tracked my own (and the cause-and-effect relationship there is something I wonder about a lot.)

(And I think it's interesting that that doesn't come from the mod team deliberately shaping the conversation according to their personal biases. Even if the intention is generally coming from a place of "what moderation decision is going to cause me the least hassle here; what can I do that will get everyone to like just calm down", this ends up being as close to the midpoint of the userbase's opinion space as possible: moderation ends up reinforcing what's coming from the users, it almost has to, because trying to push things in a particular direction would get noticed, and pushed back on, by the users.)

Some of the things about MetaFilter's approach to moderation that I think work particularly well are:
transparency: Mod actions are noted on the spot; big ones are explained here in metatalk; deleted threads still exist, and are explained
consensus: most of the broader discussion about what sort of behavior should be in-bounds and what should not happens here in metatalk. And site moderation has very clearly always taken that feedback into account.
mods are people too: they're users of the site as well as mods, with human faces and human names and personalities and everything, and there are few enough of them that they are all familiar to everyone. And they'll sometimes be honestly visibly exasperated instead of customer-service bland. Which in general I think makes everybody more cooperative than if they were dealing with Anonymous Staff.
posted by ook at 9:24 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


firstly: thank you so very, very, much moderators, your efforts are valuable and worthwhile and appreciated.

secondly: my personal experience with moderation here has been positive; they've never done anything I disagreed with, to the extent that I've been aware of what they've been doing.

thirdly: I think the (nominal!) payment we all make to get access to this comment box is a big part of what makes Metafilter what it is. The need to pull out a credit card and literally put your money where you want your mouth to be stops a bunch of the more egregious kinds of online behaviour; metafilter cannot be invaded by the chans as easily as a free board could be.

third-and-a-halfly: that can't be the whole story, because the Something Awful forums are similarly heavily moderated and charge a similar fee and are a much less adult space to have a conversation in.
posted by Fraxas at 9:41 AM on March 26


Metafilter has moderators?

And vice versa!
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:51 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


I recently learned that 1% of communities initiated 74% of all conflicts on Reddit according to this paper "Community Interaction and Conflict on the Web" (which I mentioned in Twitter in case anyone is feeling deja vu) and that totally makes sense to me after being a moderator here. I think some of the slightly more heavy-handed modding of the last few years especially in terms of getting rid of long-time slow burn agitators who don't seem to want to be part of this actual community has been, while controversial, hugely useful for the general feel of interactions here. I feel like getting rid of ten assholes has made 10,000 people happier.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 10:39 AM on March 26 [93 favorites]


This is a good topic for research, and I'm glad you are doing it because a lot of places could stand to learn from Metafilter.

In answer to your posted questions:
- How do members experience moderation (also in context to other sites)?

In most spaces I've participated in as either a member or an authority figure, leadership was on a volunteer basis, and volunteers sometimes worked at cross-purposes. Metafilter's investment in a paid moderating team with a shared vision of how the site should work is one of the key elements in this place working better than other communities, IMO. The very first thing I'd tell anyplace else trying to improve is 'find some decent people and pay them.'

- Do you think it’s fair?

Yes. I wouldn't say Metafilter is perfect, and I sometimes disagree with specific calls moderators have made, but I do feel like the place is fair. When I have concerns, I feel like they're heard even if they're not acted upon.

- What are the points you especially appreciate or points you feel should be changed?

Hm. That includes, but is not limited to:
* Rapid feedback. When I flag something or hit a contact form, the response time is typically minutes. This has led me to flag stuff and use the form a lot more than I might if turnaround were longer. (If I thought things would wait hours, I'd be much more inclined to button or argue.) Said responses are always professional and thoughtful.

* The mods take feedback here at MetaTalk. Having a space to criticize, discuss or praise community standards is really important, and something I couldn't point to much elsewhere. Our ability to hash stuff out as a community is part of why this place feels like a community to me. I have changed my own behavior and/or opinions about a number of topics based on discussions here simply because we have a place to work things out.

* I appreciate the bans and deletions. When I was younger, I was a lot more into the idea of free speech is great, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and so on. As I've gotten older and learned more, I've come to appreciate how letting a place devolve into a free-for-all results in a tyranny of the loudest voices. I value efforts made here to combat that, even if it means my comments might get slashed or people might get booted.

As for changes I'd like to see... I don't have any big impositions I'd make from above. I more want us to continue to change gradually via the mechanisms that we presently possess. I have faith in our messy, imperfect process, or at least enough faith to feel like we can do things better as a group than I could as an autocrat, even if it means I don't always get my way. (I really couldn't say that about other spaces I frequent online.)
posted by mordax at 11:24 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


My job involves a lot of continuous improvement and change management, and I also fall down metafilter holes semi-regularly and end up reading a bunch of old threads, mostly on the green and the grey. And I am constantly blown away by the extent to which the tone of the interaction and discourse here has steadily improved over the years thanks to proactive moderation.

I agree with all of the positive things people have said so far about the site moderation, but the most impressive thing for me is that relentless, long-term drive towards the idea that we can still do better.
posted by terretu at 12:04 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: getting rid of ten assholes has made 10,000 people happier.
posted by Melismata at 12:07 PM on March 26 [20 favorites]


I've always appreciated how fair and open the moderation on this site has been. And there have been times where I've sort of bristled at certain situations, but I've also learned that this is a part of being in a larger community, that I might not like all decisions. That there are also things I do not see or information I do not have access to. It's a living and breathing thing that has changed and evolved over time. I like this part of MetaFilter and how our moderators work with us to help set the tone so that everyone can engage and interact in a friendly way.
posted by Fizz at 12:11 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Call me 99.5% satisfied...

- How do members experience moderation (also in context to other sites)?

I absolutely 100% think that the mods are why this is a site that is a true community.

- Do you think it’s fair?

I think Jessamyn phrased it exactly how I would: "I wouldn't say Metafilter is perfect, and I sometimes disagree with specific calls moderators have made, but I do feel like the place is fair." There have been maybe, like, three instances where I had a comment deleted because it was contributing to a derail, but the original comment that prompted my comment stayed (and continued to prompt others); I admit that when this happens, I do sulk a little for about 20 minutes, but then I get over it because the mods are trying to satisfy the entire community, and that means sometimes other people get the last word, that's all (a mod did once point out I do fall prey to "someone is wrong on the Internet" and that's usually what is at the heart of such instances, so my problem is probably my own attitude anyway).


- What are the points you especially appreciate or points you feel should be changed?

Heh; this actually is a nice segue from my previous comment - the mods are very approachable and listen to feedback. Also - they consider the nuances of a situation and I especially appreciate that many things are handled on a case-by-case basis. There was indeed once instance where I had a comment cut for being generally derail-y, but a comment responding to mine, and quoting it, was allowed to stay. I sent the mods a quick email asking "by the way, any reason for that ruling there?" And within minutes they said "....huh, good point" and removed the other comment as well. There have also been times when I've asked for something and the mods refuse, but explain why.

I also appreciate the exact rules regarding banning - there are some very specific offenses which lead to an automatic permanent ban, and in all other instances, people who are banned are usually given many chances to turn it around. Which is good - because sometimes they do.

It's as fair as it can be - given how many people's viewpoints have to be considered, ye gods - and the mods deal with the users as individuals rather than sending out form letters in response to comment. This is all good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:24 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


I recently learned that 1% of communities initiated 74% of all conflicts on Reddit according to this paper "Community Interaction and Conflict on the Web" (which I mentioned in Twitter in case anyone is feeling deja vu) and that totally makes sense to me after being a moderator here.

Interestingly, from the paper, there's further detail; 38% of conflicts are from the top 0.1% of communities, which means that communities in the 1%-0.1% range start conflicts at about 150x the rate of 99% of the communities, and communities in that last 0.1% start conflicts at about 1450x the rate of the 99% majority of communities. Ten assholes for ten thousand people, indeed.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:31 PM on March 26 [6 favorites]


I was a very active user on Discogs on the database side, less so the forum side, but I became even more involved with users when I was promoted to "moderator" when the site required volunteers to review and approve releases before they were publicly visible. I dealt with some irate users, but mostly I felt bad for interacting with users who knew little or no English, because there was no translation of the rules into other languages at that time. When I could suss out a user's likely language, I'd ask another mod who spoke that language to assist them.

But from my (narrow) point of view, the biggest issue was the lack of transparency from the site owner, who would suddenly make changes to the system without working with us moderators, who felt we were the heaviest users and those most involved with the site. Five years after I joined Discogs, I joined MetaFilter, and as Discogs turned into a marketplace first and foremost, shifted my online time to MetaFilter, where I was (and continue to be) impressed by the transparency and honesty of the site owner, which helps form the site policies and general attitude. That transparency translates to the mods, who are (in my experiences) great communicators.

Before the Political Shitshow of 2017-?, there were some users I considered to be problematic, but they'd generally get dealt with in what appeared to be a very fair fashion by me, an outsider to the practices of working with such individuals. In fact, they were allowed to stay around long after I would have booted them, not because I have a lower threshold for trouble-makers, but because I have less patience and optimism than the mods.

My only other online large social experiences were on iRC channels, where some mods would wield the banhammer with glee, so maybe that shaped my perception of what it was like to manage jerks.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:01 PM on March 26


What are the points you especially appreciate or points you feel should be changed?

Well, we all finally need to vote #1 quidnunc kid. That's been dragging on for a while.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:06 PM on March 26 [23 favorites]


I once had a fairly shitty (and personal problem/mental health fueled) mod interaction with jessamyn in which she PEBKAC'ed me, which is unfortunately the exact wrong thing to say to anyone who has ever worked in the IT support and help desk field, and, sadly, I blew the fuck up at her.

It was very much a PEBKAC error. I can't even remember what it was about, and I don't care to be reminded because it was probably something stupid and pointless where I was tilting at some dumb windmill at a full gallop.

On the upside I still sometimes use this interaction (and the shame of it) as a self parity test and reality check. "Are you PEBKAC'ed? Back the fuck up and check."

Sorry, jessamyn, and thanks.

Protip: Don't fuck with librarians. They have entire ontologies of ways in which to fuck you up that you've never heard of.
posted by loquacious at 1:20 PM on March 26 [19 favorites]


And to elaborate further on the quality of the moderation here: It's top notch. It's human and finite, but it's very likely the best of the web.

I have some experience with moderating stuff like BBSes, mailing lists, usenet groups and even some major reddit subreddits. It's a huge pain in the rear end. People can be amazingly shitty even with just a text entry box.

I have no idea how the mods here keep so zen-cool about some things, and I hope they're all making a more than simply living wage doing it. Even with my (admittedly hotheaded) moderation experience, I often find myself using them as examples and for guidance.

I think MetaFilter is a very special edge case in a lot of ways and that part of it is that it's always kind of had this positive, progressive living room or coffee house vibe and had a good tone and general mission set from the beginning that helped differentiate it from a lot of other similar sites from the era, whether it was BoingBoing or FARK or memepool. (And FARK has a pretty strong community, even still. I know some great FARK folks who feel similar things about FARK.)

Part of this differentiation was the early adoption of general conversations in a simple linearly threaded format. MetaFilter was amongst the first of the actual blog/web sites to do this well that wasn't a BBS or Usenet or something, and it wasn't this weird dense tree like forum/interest/SIG type sites.

Another part of the differentiation is how much creative and community space has been hacked out, from Ask.Metafilter, Music, Projects, Fanfare and the other subsites. Many, many site features and projects have been cultivated right here. There has been a lot of room made for people to express themselves in different ways.

Another huge, huge part of it is MetaTalk which used to be a nearly completely free and open "almost anything goes" communication channel from the community to the site owners and staff, as well as from community to community.

While it's more moderated now, it still serves this function of general water cooler or crossroads where people vent, new ideas are developed and the users, site and community can communicate and self-reflect and so much more.

Oh, and there's also been a lot of transparency and discussion about ad revenue, with the tacit understanding and acknowledgement from the site staff, moderation and ownership that our comments and participation have value and we have a say in it. That, as far as I know, we still own our own comments as copyrightable material, too.

And as such, we should have some say in what ads are shown to us as users and even what ads should be shown to non-users, and that the general consensus is that we don't want shitty or exploitative or clickbait garbage ads here being served from our community and collective efforts.

And this esteem and respect of the users as valued contributors and the reason the site exists at all is very good for building rapport and mutual respect.

So there's always been much more carrot than stick. It's why we've been able to have some pretty nice things.

VOTE #1 QUIDNUNC KID FOR A BETTER YESTERDAY.

Also, like a lot of people here apparently I don't really fit in anywhere else. I'm too old, nerdy and strident for reddit, too woke for digg, too weird and counter-culture for BoingBoing (IKR?) and too silly and not vigorous or dedicated enough for something serious like being a wikipedia editor, and, well, I got kicked out of everywhere else so apparently you're stuck with me.
posted by loquacious at 1:48 PM on March 26 [10 favorites]


A lot of what makes MeFi unique is, in my opinion, closely interwoven with its history. In the early to mid-2000s, it could have made the decision to really focus on scaling and it did the exact opposite, intentionally making it difficult for new users to join.

That intentionally slow growth meant that the community continued to function as a community--you recognize usernames, you develop friendships. And importantly, most of the moderators came up as active users during that period of time. When cortex deletes a comment, you recognize the actual person behind that decision and the decades-long commitment he has to keeping this site the kind of site we all like.

That said, I definitely have a fear that praise for smaller web platforms is going to be used as ammunition for calls to regulate moderation at all platforms--an issue that must be addressed with extreme caution. You can't legislate Facebook into acting like a small town, and attempts to do so would end up silencing thousands of innocent people. You're already seeing this in the effects of SESTA/FOSTA, and I worry that it's just the tip of the iceberg.

Metafilter gets a bunch of stuff right vis a vis transparency in moderation. Most of the time, when a comment is deleted, there's an explanation of why, and that explanation is signed by an actual person. You can then reach out to that actual person if you want more information. This transparency is all done in the context of the way users and moderators interact with each other on the site; it's not some welded-on feature, like some other online platforms' moderation seems to be.

One other thing I'll say that I'm surprised not very many people have mentioned. When it comes to banning or otherwise disciplining members, MeFi is very admirably cautious. There are several examples of people who skated just along the border of the rules for years. It always causes the admins a lot of grief when people get angry demanding swifter action against someone, but MeFi has been a better place for having some of those edge cases around (calling out names seems inappropriate here, but I'd be happy to privately).
posted by roll truck roll at 1:52 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


How has it made it a better place? These edge cases made their targets feel miserable and unsafe. In many cases, they had to leave the site either temporarily or permanently because the mods' lack of concrete action led to some truly horrendous attacks on marginalized mefites that went unanswered until far too late.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:02 PM on March 26 [6 favorites]


cortex sent me a memail several years ago suggesting I maybe, maybe just a little bit, about just a part of a thing because mostly it's cool but just this thing maybe tone it down? a bit? but like mostly I'm about 99% ok.

I'm sure I've been deleted a pile of times but I think that's the only mod scolding I've received.

Anyway, tl;dr, SILENCED ALL MY LIFE 10/10 would get called out by mefi mods again.
posted by phunniemee at 2:09 PM on March 26 [6 favorites]


Most of the time, when a comment is deleted, there's an explanation of why

That is surprising. Based on how often I've seen comments disappear from a thread without comment or explanation, compared to the probability of my reading closely enough at that moment to notice it, I assumed that the great majority were deleted silently. Also, those few of my own comments that've been deleted never got a comment or explanation. Not that any was needed, it was usually obvious why they were stupid. I never did say thanks, so: Thank you, mods.

Mostly I see the heavy moderation as a necessary evil that allows things to keep working long after time and growth would've otherwise seen the noise take over. Works okay so far.
posted by sfenders at 2:18 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I wondered what the mod crackdown lately was all about.
posted by petebest at 2:48 PM on March 26


When it comes to invisible people, there's a lot of there there.

The mods have always answered my notes to them promptly and in a human way; no canned responses, ever, and many times there's something along the lines of "Yeah, the other mods and I talked about this a bit, and..."

They're present in the podcast, and in the Saturday night MetaTalk community open threads, and in the day-to-day explanations. I appreciate their notes, especially the ones that make me laugh. The mods are part of the community, too, and they post and favorite and comment and even occasionally solicit our help in Ask MetaFilter.

I've met one of the mods, and enjoyed our conversation about many things not MeFi-related; they were just as smart and thoughtful in person as they are here. Even if I never meet the other mods, I still have a mental model of them as decent, thoughtful people trying their best to make MetaFilter an interesting place to hang out. And that is in part because they are visible on the site and responsive.

The phrase "ambient humanity" popped up on my radar recently, and I think it's a good way to describe this place, as well as the mods' efforts: the feeling that somebody is out there, engaging in this space, invisible but there, with you. Thanks, all.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:55 PM on March 26 [10 favorites]


One reason Metafilter works is because it's almost all left-of-center. That would be a big caveat if the researchers, say, wanted to write a How To Moderate Your Site guide for newspapers or classrooms or company websites. Even if you had moderators as great as Mefi's, it wouldn't work with the general public.
posted by zompist at 3:18 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Most of the time, when a comment is deleted, there's an explanation of why

From the mod side, I'd say in sheer numeric terms it's probably the opposite: most of the time if we delete something, we won't leave an explicit note. But most of the time when we delete something it's a pretty one-off sort of situation where it's more a case of some individual making a bad call about whether/how to comment rather than a larger problem situation actively developing in a thread, or it's a procedural thing (double comment, wrong thread, response-to-a-deleted-thing).

That said, we leave a fair number of notes specifically in cases where there is likely to be either some confusion about a deletion, or a thing-going-wrong that needs some active steering the other way. And I think those tend to be more broadly notable/memorable deletion and moderation scenarios, so they stand out as kind definitive of how deletion works. This leads in turn I think to confusion sometimes when someone first notices a case where there isn't a note; in fact there's a MetaTalk just this afternoon asking about that (and helping to periodically clarify/reiterate what these moderation practices are is part of the value in my mind of having MetaTalk available).
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:18 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


I wondered what the mod crackdown lately was all about.

Fwiw, there hasn't been any mod crackdown lately other than the big politics reset last November, which is almost entirely confined to trying to cut down on noise in the recurring US politics catch-all threads on the blue. I don't know if you're referring to that or thinking there's something else on, but in any case I can assure you, with all apologies to katta and bingo_yu, that their research project doesn't factor the least into the politics reset; that has instead everything to do with the community and moderator burn-out issues discussed in that MetaTalk post.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:23 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


The moderation is quite heavy-handed. The mods tend to moderate reasonable, non-aggressive disagreements way too much. Sometimes it is as though the mods (general, some are better than others at this) cannot tell the difference between legitimate attacks based on bigotry and, you know, people just disagreeing in an interesting way. I feel that this has led to lower engagement with the site overall for me personally, because the chances of a social pileon + deletion (and, way too often, a personal and public shaming) is way too high for me to invest much of anything in my comments.

I also feel that the Metatalk queue is unjustified and really stifling. The site has always had a tendency to be really rah-rah about moderation, which was already somewhat stifling for anyone who wanted to complain. Now any metatalk complaint goes into a queue and is usually answered first by a mod who says, in great detail, what the moderator party line is. Frustrating, not transparent, and (IMO) the relative lack of community discussion of moderation (and related feedback) that results is a huge reason why moderation has gone so far in the wrong direction in terms of stifling disagreement.

Relatedly, moderation here, for better or for worse, tends to be very personal. This is fine when the mods are relatively fair and don't take things particularly personally. It is really not fine when particular mods seem to hold grudges and/or indulge in unnecessary shaming. (I would argue that the fact that this thread has people falling all over themselves to qualify anything that might possibly be read as a criticism of the moderation should be a signal that there is something not quite right about the perceived openness of the moderators and the community to negative feedback.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:57 PM on March 26 [16 favorites]


I vote for 25% more tolerance for disagreement and conflict, 31% more unpopular opinions, 40% fewer low-quality appeals to doctrine, 120% more freedom to wander off-topic, and free ice cream for everyone.
posted by sfenders at 4:21 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Question for mods:

This isn't meant to sound accusatory or snarky but is it an intentional choice to call out users by name when you do "[x you need to cool it] / [y you are threadsitting]" type comments?

I'm probably just being overly sensitive but even when I see those types of comments happen to other people I sort of wince. The reason I ask if it's intentional is because maybe you guys have discovered this kind of public shaming is useful in deterring troublemakers? Personally though I can see that backfiring. A user with a generic bad comment now becomes a user seething over being tut-tutted with total final control by the mods for what seems like having a bad opinion. I know you guys have to control side derails and cut off arguments that are heading to "fuck you" exchanges but sometimes it seems like the mods are trying to make a point about "this is who Metafilter thinks won this argument" through comments and deletions. If that's by design then I get it. There is no law written in stone that mods are supposed to pretend to have zero personality/opinions or that they mod with total impartiality.

This comment is mostly a long winded way of asking have you ever considered moderator comments that can only be seen by the users being moderated? Maybe when back and forth derails break out that aren't totally destructive consider deleting the last comments by both participants as a show of good faith?
posted by laptolain at 4:29 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


There aren't a lot of other open forums that I participate in. I'm a member of some facebook groups that are moderated, and even those I limit my exposure to. I'm a member of some special-interest forums, and those have been fine. Back in the day (before I was on MeFi, even) I was a member of Plastic, which had an arcane moderation policy (really, more of an editorial workflow) that resulted in very high-quality content, but which resulted in a much statelier rate of new content. I'm a dilettantish member of a Stackexchange site that uses community-based moderation pretty well (in my experience).

Here on MeFI, I've participated in a few thread derails that got deleted. I can think of exactly one time when I made an earnest (but perhaps too terse) comment on AskMe that got deleted; I asked about that, and got a very thoughtful reply. I try not to be a jerk here, and I have no complaints about the times when I've been on the receiving end of moderation.

What's different about Metafilter is that the mods are trying to create and maintain a positive community and culture here. I think they're doing a good job. As someone who kind of plays that role in an IRL community, I know it's hard.

For a long time, my instinct was that when someone takes a dump in an online forum, it should be obvious to everyone that the shame is on them, even when they're trying to demean someone else, so you could just leave that there as evidence of the poster's shittiness. But my instinct was wrong. Those turds pollute the atmosphere, and in order to maintain some level of discourse (and a clean living room) you need to get rid of them.

I don't think you can have the positive community without someone playing the role of judge to set and enforce ground rules for that community. You can't let shitposting stand without it eventually degrading the community. Metafilter has a pretty strong community with well-understood norms right now. If the mods all absconded to Bora Bora tomorrow, the culture would persist here for some time, but eventually the increasing number of broken windows would cause the old-timers to leave the place.
posted by adamrice at 4:37 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Also I just want to add something about the favorites system on Metafilter.


I think that favorites make it easy to find the most interesting comments in a thread and to understand its general gestalt. I also think they're fundamentally detrimental to real conversation between users on metafilter and the admins should strongly consider removing them again.
posted by laptolain at 4:53 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


One thing is, the moderators and some of the regulars are really cliquish. Who you are does in fact matter to how you're treated, but you'll never get anyone to admit it.
posted by adrienneleigh at 5:03 PM on March 26 [16 favorites]


Replying to laptolain - Yeah, I definitely know names in mod notes is a hot button thing. Some people are ok with it or even prefer it, some people are really bothered by it.

I'd say we use names relatively rarely, for exactly this reason, but offhand here are some cases:
-- If someone is sort of taking on the whole thread, the way to de-escalate is to make it clear to both them and to other participants that the one-person focused dynamic has to stop; a private message to the person won't work for this because it won't get the other people to drop it.
-- If someone's having a meltdown, e.g. rapid-fire commenting after we delete a comment, or flagging a bunch really fast, sometimes it's the fastest way to get them to stop short of temp-banning them.
-- If we've warned someone about something previously, and usually this is the one-last-chance point. This is rare.
-- If a note will be ambiguous otherwise -- it can be tricky to write a mod note that's clear about what it's asking people to stop doing, while at the same time not extending the fight or reiterating the problematic statements or whatever; sometimes the fastest way to make it clear is just to say who you're talking to. In my own modding, I more-often err on the side of no names, and the most common problem is when I end up being unclear as a result.

And yeah, we do Mefimail and email with people. I prefer this when it's possible. Often it's a much better way to de-escalate because of course, being called by name publicly gets the adrenaline going in a way that doesn't happen as much with a private conversation (which can also be longer and more tailored).

As far as "deleting the last two comments" scenarios - it's tough, we try to cut off exchanges in the most fair way we can that isn't going to lead to further continuation of the discussion, and there isn't always a good way to do that cleanly. I know people really feel frustrated by it though.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:05 PM on March 26 [8 favorites]


On at least one occasion I’ve had a comment deleted because a portion of it addressed another deleted comment... but simultaneously received a note from the mod on duty inviting me to resubmit the rest of my text, even providing it to make that easy for me. I appreciate that.

I also appreciate that when mods post notes asking participants to lay off some behavior (e.g., riffing on a joke), they often don't delete the one or two stragglers that come in afterwards, presumably because those members were crafting their quip while the mod note was being published. That’s kind and reasonable.
posted by carmicha at 5:22 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


I'm largely an outsider in this community and while I have been coming here for a decade, much of that (half?) was spent as an unpaid lurker. This is my context.

I'll state up front that I don't comment here much, or soberly, because I live in fear of the moderation team. It does come across as heavy handed to me, often without explanation, in my experience. I'm not suggesting that I'm being personally targeted/"silenced all my life", merely that maybe I just don't respond well to scolding from professional internet forum moderators, which when I put it that way does sound kind of lame. I fully realize I'm hardly important or insidious enough to warrant that kind of personal targeting. However, in their defense, the comments i've made that have been deleted I usually don't have a problem with the reasoning behind the deletion, if it is offered (50/50 chance). My major gripe is when I'm posting something, part of my soul, a personal experience of some sort, and that gets deleted.. But again that's just me. I feel like it can't be wrong if it's my lived experience but that's not always true and I have trouble with that. Of course I don't generate much content so my value here is probably seen as limited, and rightly so, from a commercial perspective. That being said, I'm not anti-moderation, at all. I agree with everyone when they say it is probably MeFi's biggest significant differentiator. It was refreshingly unique 10-12 years ago and there was a wide variety of interesting content and sane voices that drew me here. I just personally don't like being judged by some .. stranger on the internet. It's not you it's me ok?

I have seen what looks like quite reasonable moderation in threads where it comes up, and on the whole, as an outsider, it seems to be working well at keeping the discussions from quickly deteriorating into a shitfest. That is a HUGE accomplishment in my opinion, and despite my seeming down on the mod team, I have to say, you know, show me someplace that does it better than here? Good luck with that. Lots of round-and-round arguments that go nowhere except down are cut short, re-litigation of well-trod ground are nipped in the bud, obvious trolling and hate speech is quickly removed, and in my opinion this is what makes the comments section here so SO good compared to everywhere else on the web outside of heavily moderated topic-specific forums.


However I've definitely noticed the trend from "pruning" discussion over the past ten years or so has gone from basic landscaping to more of a banzai-tree type of "pruning". Discussions are running the risk of (and have fallen to in many cases) a real echo-chamber style that involves less actual discussion and more a collection of people repeating much the same point of view, and this seems to have influenced (or has been influenced by, who can tell?) the moderation team. Again, I do not blame the moderation team, they are doing their jobs as best they can and I can only imagine it must be difficult for them. Though I am seeing more and more of the same 20-30 people's user names here and less variety in the overall site. But maybe that's what the market wants? If so, the site management might want to consider paying these high word count users for their time (and transparently disclose this of course), otherwise they might be headhunted out from under you and they you're left kind of holding the bag as it were. At least consider making them comfortable when making moderation decisions.. oh wait I think I just stumbled onto something there.. Naww probably just coincidence. It's usually coincidence... isn't that how the saying goes? I dunno MeFi, you seemed to be so close to being great. I know you can do it if you tried. I'd be crushed if you went away.. does that make me codependent? probably. But what do you expect, I'm just...
posted by some loser at 5:42 PM on March 26 [7 favorites]


…it is a pleasure to read the comments and engage rather than a trial.

Good insight. That’s how I feel about most of the comment threads here too. On MeFi, I read comment threads for sheer pleasure. Sometimes I don’t even bother to click through and RTFA because the comment threads interest me much more than the article. Considering what a cesspool most comment threads are elsewhere on the web, that's remarkable.

I’ve been reading MeFi pretty much every day for over 15 years now, and I’ve been an active member for almost 10 of those years. I keep coming back because I know I’ll always be able to find high-quality, insightful, helpful content and a sense of community engagement here. MeFi is a real online community, with a definable identity. I think of us as a bunch of nerds who are so prone to “overthinking a plate of beans” that it’s an affectionate in-joke.

Recently, in a private Facebook post explaining why I spend less time on Facebook these days, I mentioned that I strongly prefer MetaFilter. A couple of my Facebook friends had never heard of it but were intrigued, and they asked me about it. I wrote:

“Can’t recommend MetaFilter highly enough. It’s not just an old-school text-only web discussion forum for nerds, although it’s flexible enough to be used that way if that’s what suits you. It’s also a real online community. There are real-life MeFi meetups all over the world. The members do kind things for one another. One member gave me my first freelance writing job. And I’ve learned more from MetaFilter than anywhere else online. Some people say it’s kind of like reddit, but more approachable and less rough around the edges. I think that’s pretty accurate. It was the Ask MetaFilter section that originally drew me in. It’s much better than what you’ll find on Quora.”

My experience at MeFi has also shaped the way I serve as a volunteer moderator elsewhere. I’m now in the process of helping to start a public web forum for a well-loved Facebook group I moderate. The group I’m working with has already decided to charge $5 for new signups, and we’re also hoping we can figure out a viable way to pay the admins and mods for their work, because we think that’s important for long-term sustainability. I agree with mordax:
“Metafilter's investment in a paid moderating team with a shared vision of how the site should work is one of the key elements in this place working better than other communities, IMO. The very first thing I'd tell anyplace else trying to improve is 'find some decent people and pay them.'”
MeFi is the only public online community I know about where a famous and life-altering thread like the Emotional Labor thread could have transpired the way it did. As a feminist in a patriarchal culture, I felt I could truly speak my mind and participate in that thread without being shouted down, derailed, belittled, or harassed into silence. I attribute that to top-notch moderation.
posted by velvet winter at 6:41 PM on March 26 [12 favorites]


I have a deep appreciation for the moderation and the moderators and my only wish is that the community would have been quicker to come around to a "your asshole behavior won't be tolerated here" place. Even though I don't participate as often, I've noticed what I feel like is a really positive improvement in discourse in the last 2ish years and can't help but think that being less tolerant of assholes here has played a big role.

For what it's worth, I think what is gained in this approach far outweighs what is lost and the opportunity to hear voices who have been driven off or silenced by asshole users more than makes up for whatever marginal benefits may accrue from having a greater diversity in viewpoints. In my view "greater diversity in viewpoints" manifests itself here as arguing so much of the time and adds way less value than we might imagine it does.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:55 PM on March 26 [7 favorites]


I've has a comment deleted from time to time with no explanation, and swiftly concluded okay fine. If I want to say all the things I want to say on the internet I can get my own blog.

However, the staff as a subcommunity on MetaFilter is proof of CABAL.

Cannabis And Blood Alcohol Level!
posted by vrakatar at 7:06 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I feel that over time there has been a shift from "we are in a community that mods are part of and everyone talks about stuff with the community, together" to "users are potential problems to be moderated."

I also dislike the MeTa queue largely because, in my fairly extensive experience with MeFites offsite, people still talk about site issues all the time. They just don't do it here anymore and I don't think that's healthy for communities.

I mention these items together because while I'm not thrilled about them, I'm not sure if there's any other avenue for a site where the staff seems to be chronically understaffed/overworked.
posted by lalex at 7:14 PM on March 26 [9 favorites]


This is the only site, literally anywhere, where I don’t have to scold myself for being stupid enough to read the comments. That’s due to the mods. I could be really off-base, but I look at the comments on BoingBoing as a “there but for the grace of whatever go we” scenario. Pretty liberal, similar types of posts, but there’s always at least one comment (and frequently many) that make me regret opening the link.

I’ve been deleted in the past, and have occasionally felt bad about it. But then I have to take a step back and realize that the world will keep spinning without my stupid opinion in it. Somebody decided that my opinion was not making the site a better place, and as long as that’s happening relatively infrequently, I’m fine with that. If it happens a lot, then I’ll have to assume that I’m not a good fit for the community and it’s time to move on. May that day be many many years from now.

What would improve my experience slightly is if when a comment of mine was deleted, some auto memail was shuttled off to me to alert me. If I’m not thread sitting, I may not even notice that I did something wrong.
posted by greermahoney at 9:22 PM on March 26 [6 favorites]


Moderation is why I'm here. I've deleted my accounts on pretty much every other discussion/social site on the internet.
posted by potrzebie at 11:10 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I feel like getting rid of ten assholes has made 10,000 people happier.

This is a fascinating statement and I think maybe key to understanding the gist of the site. Most people have some bit of ‘those ten assholes’ playing a greater or lesser role in their personality but as long as it stays in check (and you keep it in check because you’re not a dope who wants to just rage at the world all day long but a thinking human who wants to interact with other people thinking about things) everything’s cool. Of course the bulk of members here are all roughly politically covalent and that helps. But the moderation keeps nudging things back from the edge of stupid ‘shitcock!’ blather.

I haven’t researched how other communities handle moderation but I know that some things I’ve looked at on reddit were just fine and the comments on Facebook/YouTube etc are not worth the time.
The moderation here enables a febrile, interesting discussion of some thing that popped up on the Internet. Sometimes reading a thread I wonder why some aspect of the topic at hand is not being addressed and I might try to be the change you wanna see but sometimes I also just read it and figure, you know, not every conversation gives you all you want.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:36 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I would argue that the fact that this thread has people falling all over themselves to qualify anything that might possibly be read as a criticism of the moderation should be a signal that there is something not quite right about the perceived openness of the moderators and the community to negative feedback

Or just that we generally like the moderation overall.
posted by lazuli at 6:42 AM on March 27 [16 favorites]


My experience with moderated/unmoderated discussions includes alt.usenet groups under siege, the late Television Without Pity, disenvoweling, and some local Facebook groups which are strongly moderated.

Occasionally I find that one of my comments here has been deleted silently. I usually interpret that as pruning. Volume here seems relatively manageable; my sense is that the moderation team is comfortably in control here.

From time to time they do call posters out publicly, but with at least a little restraint. And the platform design seems to allow nuance in mod activities, a plus over attempting to have moderated discussions on hostile social media platforms.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:14 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


One thing I wonder about are moderator assumptions of being able to read, interpret, and express 'tone' in written form. I'm not saying that it's something to be guilty of; more that differences in language skills and ability don't make grokking 'tone' a universal thing.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:28 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


The overall caliber of comments/discussion here is miles above anywhere else I can currently find on the web; it is one of the few places that I trust to keep things by and large civil, well-informed, and worthwhile, and moderation is key to that.

I've had very few interactions with the mods, but they've largely been positive.

That said, I still wish the mod crew were more diverse and I think that issues involving race is still often handled poorly (or slowly) on this site. But maybe it's just me that finds this site exhaustingly white too often.
posted by TwoStride at 9:46 AM on March 27 [11 favorites]


My experience with the moderation has been mostly positive. I've had comments deleted, but almost always for participating-in-a-derail or should've-flagged-it-and-moved-on reasons, and while the latter does kind of bug me sometimes (because sometimes people are extremely wrong and everyone should see that!), I accept that it's better for the community to delete the comments rather than let it all descend into the Discourse and argument. In a perfect world, I'd appreciate a heads up about that, but I accept that the mods' time is limited, and it's not like I generally don't know why a comment was deleted.

Probably it's just a being in the right place at the right time thing, but I feel like I've more often noticed mods deleting or cutting off threadshitting derails early in threads, and that's a thing I really appreciate. I hate it when an interesting post is derailed by some bad faith or threadshitting tangent.
posted by yasaman at 9:51 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Far too often, moderation here drives conversation to consensus.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 10:08 AM on March 27 [8 favorites]


Pruning is necessarily also shaping. Over the years MetaFilter, as a whole, has evolved toward a pretty distinct, identifiable consensus reality. This is pretty much how things play out naturally anyway -- if you're frequently in conflict with a community online, you're a lot less likely to stick around, and thus over time every community asymptotically approaches lockstep echo chamber la la la -- but moderation by its nature accelerates that. MeFi has a particular ideology and viewpoint that has always pretty closely tracked my own (and the cause-and-effect relationship there is something I wonder about a lot.)

I agree with this. Let me describe the regular instance in which I come into conflict with this consensus:

AskMetafilter Question That I Stumble Across Every Month Or So: I'm already pretty wealthy, but I have received a windfall and now I'm *very* wealthy. How should I invest it?
Me: Congratulations on your windfall! You should consider giving it away, in light of your preexisting strong financial position.

These answers are quickly deleted, because the the moderator consensus is that the use of AskMe as a platform for capitalists to learn how to more easily accrue even more capital is not an area of moral concern. I went back and forth on this issue privately with the moderators, and they were as always, polite and sincere and kind and thoughtful, and also firm that this kind of answer is not appropriate for AskMe.

I continue to answer in this way, because my hope is that as the moderators delete them, they feel a little queasy about it in their stomachs ("Maybe AskMe's role in the massive redistribution of wealth towards the wealthy isn't as morally neutral as I'd like it to imagine that it is") and that over time the consensus can be moved.
posted by Kwine at 10:21 AM on March 27 [13 favorites]


One thing I wonder about are moderator assumptions of being able to read, interpret, and express 'tone' in written form. I'm not saying that it's something to be guilty of; more that differences in language skills and ability don't make grokking 'tone' a universal thing.

It's absolutely not a universal thing, and I think the failure to grok tone is probably the primary driver of conflict on this site. It is, however, something I have no freaking idea how to *teach*, and I've spent a decade trying to figure it out.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:26 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


I think the failure to grok tone is probably the primary driver of conflict on this site.

For sure, just as it's the primary driver of conflict where any conversation conducted via any form of digital text is involved. Digital text is just inherently poor at communicating tone, and it takes the kind of exceptional sensitivity that can really only develop with long and dedicated practice to pull anything resembling an accurate reading out of such low-resolution cues as it does manage to provide.
posted by flabdablet at 10:32 AM on March 27


Totally. It's also *tremendously* culturally mediated, and that's another challenge that is very tough to solve.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:40 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I’ve had comments deleted, at least once Very Unfairly (but I have since forgotten the specifics), and I have occasionally asked for my comments to be deleted. I have flagged and moved on, flagged and contacted, and occasionally thought hard about Buttoning. I don’t think I would have made 9.5 years here without the strong moderation.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:37 AM on March 27


because the the moderator consensus is that the use of AskMe as a platform for capitalists to learn how to more easily accrue even more capital is not an area of moral concern.

That's one way to read it. I think if you are serious about raising this as an issue of moral concern, there are ways--we all know them--of answering an AskMe question so that your answers are not deleted. That you are continuing to post your deleteable answers and not, instead, working on ways to actually make good answers that are not deleted indicates that this is more of a mod grudge issue than an actual "I want to save the world from capitalism" issue.

And, just to prove I am not bullshitting and idly cranky, here is my suggested phrasing for the future:

"Hey congrats on your windfall. There are a lot of different things you could do with your money that will have varying rates of return. These are often contrasted with having your money be put to work for more people than just you. So while the general answer is something like Vanguard Index funds, just set it and forget it, as outlined in this article, you might also want to think about a diversified approach that includes investments, charitable giving, and community investment as a way to mitigate taxes, earn you a decent rate of return, and keep the place you live being a good place to live. Suggestions follow...."

Try it next time, I bet it will not get deleted.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:51 AM on March 27 [26 favorites]


These answers are quickly deleted, because the the moderator consensus is that the use of AskMe as a platform for capitalists to learn how to more easily accrue even more capital is not an area of moral concern. I went back and forth on this issue privately with the moderators, and they were as always, polite and sincere and kind and thoughtful, and also firm that this kind of answer is not appropriate for AskMe.

Well...yeah. You're not answering a question, you're using AskMe to make a comment upon their financial status. It's like the personal-finance equivalent of someone asking how to de-bug their Windows computer that they were issued by work and someone else saying "just get a Mac".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:58 AM on March 27 [24 favorites]


because the the moderator consensus is that the use of AskMe as a platform for capitalists to learn how to more easily accrue even more capital is not an area of moral concern.

I'd characterize this as a pretty deep dive to take on a pretty shallow behavioral conflict; as Jess says, there are usually ways to manage a this-AND-that style answer where you both address the asker's stated question and broach an alternative/contra approach to the thing they're asking about. Simply declining to answer their question, however, is basic bedrock grounds for deletion.

Which, you frame it as an issue of moral concern, and I can totally get that framing but it mistakes the role of moderation on Ask as somehow being foremost about enforcing a moral stance rather than pushing for utility. "Answer the question asked" is something we've said in one way or another a thousand times over the years when folks ask about how to successfully interact on Ask MetaFilter as designed; "be morally correct" isn't and in fact we've had to have a number of MetaTalk discussions (and more private ones) when folks couldn't abide the idea that their personal moral objection to a question wasn't sufficient to quash the question or excuse their non-answer engagement with it.

As a general observation from moderating this place over the last decade: individual folks often seem to run into conflict with the site when they start from the conviction that they have the moral/ethical/righteous high ground on a matter and presume that any behavior that follows from that conviction is therefore correct or justified or excused from site rules and guidelines. That because one is sure of one's rightness, one's behavior is ipso facto correct. In practice that doesn't work in a shared community; it leads to things like people refusing to answer the question in Ask, or refusing to leave space in the conversation for others on the blue, or refusing to abide by guidelines about fundraisers or self-linking, or flouting general expectations about civility because the person they're angry at (or the outside group or issue that person is being taken as proxy for) is so self-evidently wrong, or or or.

It's one of those things that is totally parsable as a sequence of events, and something I can generally empathize with on a person-to-person level as far as when and why it happens, but is nonetheless basically just people giving themselves permission to ignore site guidelines and community expectations based on their personal sense of moral rectitude. And it inevitably leads to conflict with the moderators and the community, because by definition the site is bigger and more complicated than any given person's personal moral compass and personal priorities.

And people will have personal moral/ethical convictions at odds with this or that community expectation, and that's okay. Navigating that at a personal level—figuring out where the line is between you and the site and to what extent you're willing to work within a compromise with the site vs. deciding that your participation with this or that part of the site/community is incompatible with that personal conviction—is a challenge I think everybody has to deal with in one way or another, and one I sympathize with greatly. I have to manage it for myself as well. MetaFilter can't be all things to all people, and I think spending time here long-term partly just comes down to embracing that and partitioning out the MetaFilter parts of one's on- and off-line life from the others.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:15 PM on March 27 [17 favorites]


I've had comments deleted, but almost always for participating-in-a-derail or should've-flagged-it-and-moved-on reasons, and while the latter does kind of bug me sometimes (because sometimes people are extremely wrong and everyone should see that!), I accept that it's better for the community to delete the comments rather than let it all descend into the Discourse and argument.

This comment got me thinking: one somewhat unique thing about Metafilter as compared to some similar sites is that conversations aren't threaded. In a place like Reddit, a two-person debate doesn't spoil the conversation for everyone else in the same way that it does here. But the unthreadedness is part of what people love about Metafilter. It's a blog, not a forum. So it calls for a different type of moderation.

That said, I will admit that for me, this structure really fails in the politics threads. A good MeFi discussion is about one thing, more-or-less, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. With these running threads that are about a lot of things at the same time, it's hard to know where to enter.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:19 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


(I certainly have things to say in response to cortex but I’ve said my bit and he’s said his and people (including sociologists!) can reflect on it without me dominating this conversation)
posted by Kwine at 12:48 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


(I didn't mean to erase the other respondents but I only brought this up in the context of me delivering my feelings and opinions to sociologists about moderation here, not 'Metatalk, please help me solve a problem I am having with getting my comments deleted' or 'please allow me to complain to the community about my hobbyhorse for a few minutes')
posted by Kwine at 1:06 PM on March 27


Sure, and to be clear in turn: that long response is very much a general one for the most part, not a "talking to Kwine but not using Kwine's name" dance. I think the issue you raised falls into that rubric and I'm addressing it in the first paragraph, but the general phenomenon goes well beyond you or that specific commenting conflict, etc.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:10 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


It's kind of weird to have the moderators responding to users' comments in this thread, if the point of this thread is for researchers to get insight into users' feelings about moderation here.
posted by lazuli at 2:00 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


It's kind of weird to have the moderators responding to users' comments in this thread, if the point of this thread is for researchers to get insight into users' feelings about moderation here.

I had thought about this in depth, but in our reading, MetaTalks are for the community as a whole to discuss things and moderators are part of the community as evident in our reading of the comments, the interviews we conducted and also comments made above. So, if our post leads towards the community discussing things live as they are, this is also helpful. Or phrased differently: Whatever happens, happens. Oh, the joy of exploratory research.
posted by katta at 2:12 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


I got started commenting today because it seemed like folks had direct questions for us, but I do get how it could seem like too much, and we can totally take a step back.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:16 PM on March 27


Or phrased differently: Whatever happens, happens. Oh, the joy of exploratory research.

Ha, ok. As a user, I'll just say that it feels weird to me, then. Not horrible or anything, just a little weird.
posted by lazuli at 2:19 PM on March 27


I would describe MetaFilter's moderation as benevolent and heavy-handed. There is a community; the mods enforce community standards; if you don't agree with those standards, you may find your comments deleted a lot.

I've had several comments deleted; only once did I get memail about it. I've been namecalled for overposting, which seemed reasonable. Mostly they get deleted without mention, or as part of a general "we're done with this derail now." I thought they were fair, with the caveat that they've helped me sort out what the community standards are.

Conclusion: My political commentary is welcome, if occasionally prone to getting sidetracked; my religious commentary is generally not. So I've pulled back and tried not to mention religion, and tried not to mention religious concepts without labeling them, because experiences says that no, those generally aren't welcome either. Exception: religion-based advice in response to AskMe is generally welcome, especially if I don't label it religious.

It puts weird schisms in my head; I have to stop to think about whether a particular comment has strong religious overtones (whether or not anyone else here would realize it) before posting.

This is disappointing but survivable, and hardly unexpected. I'm in a small enough religion that just being able to say, "I am a member of this religion" and still be considered a valid participant in the discussions is delightful. I can cope with MetaFilter not being a platform for What My Religion Means To Me, even if I sometimes want to grumble about "... but people of other religions get to discuss their religious take on things..."

Yeah, they do; no, I don't; this is part of being in a minority religion. (This is part of many minority identities.) There's so little general awareness that bringing it up at all seems like an off-topic derail to most people, and MeFi is pretty strict against those.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:22 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


That's a good point about other sites being threaded and MetaFilter not. That's one of the best things about the format at MeFi, I think. It's also the case that there are only "upvotes", which I like, regardless of how they're used or intended to be used.

The difference in moderation between standard threads vs sub-filters vs megathreads is also interesting. I agree(?) almost all the time with mod actions, that are visible, in all except the megathreads. I think it's a philosphical difference and not a practical one. How does one manage a barrel full of monkeys?

Almost any aspect of American life, and much of life life can be fodder for the megathread at any given time, often with multiple jaw-dropping, life-altering, societally-impacting events occuring simultaneously. The megathread serves multiple purposes, as opposed to being "simply" subject discussion or community advice. It's those things too, but there is a significant quality of talk therapy there that the rest of the site doesn't have (as much of). Moderating that is especially tricky, and, well, still a work in progress really. The home team doesn't always win, but it's a long season and they've got a great bench.
posted by petebest at 3:19 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I just want to mention that I got into a major, public beef with the mods at one point that ended with me disabling my account. When I eventually decided that I wanted to come back, they were perfectly decent about it. It was what I pretty much expected (I'vr never known them to hold a grudge) but it mattered to me.

While I don't agree with all of their decisions, I've always found them to be very humane and civil about their work and it's inspired me to try to act likewise. I haven't always succeeded, but then I probably don't have the temperament to make a good mod.

If I were to venture a criticism, it would be that I sometimes wish they would be quicker to acknowledge and correct their mistakes. They don't make a lot of them (imo) but when they do I think they sometimes get a little defensive rather than just apologizing and taking corrective action. I realize that just caving every time a user levels a criticism against them isn't a workable practice, but I think they err a little bit too far to the opposite side of things.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:23 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I would like to emphasize that I've had many small one-on-one interactions with the mods over the years (generally springing from my sending them a message on the contact form to e.g. explain a flag, or point out what I think might be a bad situation developing in a way that might not be obvious to the scanning eye of a busy mod) and they've always been consistently polite, responsive, and helpful. Never mind community forums, I can think of no other institution that I regularly deal with where my official interactions are so uniformly positive.

I know it's been said lots of times, but if you find yourself wanting to contact the mods but you're worried that you'll be bothering them or making a nuisance of yourself, don't. Shoot them a quick note. It's a good experience.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:51 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


My belief is that the anonymity of online communication, and the lack of accountability that brings with it, tends to keep much of it at a rather immature level. I would put the majority of message boards and other anonymous public communication spaces I’ve participated in (twitter, for example) at an elementary school or junior high level. The moderation at Metafilter absolutely raises the bar for the level of engagement to at least what I would consider, say, a high school level.

If one spends even a small amount of time here I think it is rather easy to get a sense of what the expectations are as a participant. I’ve been a member since 2006 and I think I’ve only had one comment deleted (for responding to a comment that was deleted). I’m always surprised when people mention having comments deleted frequently since, to me at least, the expectations set by the moderators for what is deletable is pretty clear, and absolutely keeps my behavior in check when commenting here. I’ve absolutely started to write comments in the past and felt like I had the perfect zinger or comeback and realized “This is just going to get deleted” and let discretion be the better part of valor. This type of “think before I comment” behavior, which frankly doesn’t happen in many other online spaces, is to the credit of the moderation here and is what keeps civility here at its current rather high level.

If I have any issue with the moderation here it is that I do think there are still some blind spots. For example, and I’ll acknowledge this is a bit of a “pet” issue for me, despite a number of Metatalks about the subject and some progress in this area, I still don’t think the mods are as great at recognizing anti-Semitism as they are as recognizing others forms of prejudice.

Also, while I applaud the effort to take a bit of a stronger hand a few years back and “purge” Metafilter of folks who seemed to be members simply to troll, I do at times wonder it perhaps the pendulum has gone too far in the other direction. It sometimes feels like there is now an attempt to avoid conflict of any sort, on any topic, so posts today often feel like they have fewer comments, total, than in years past and are often just several people finding different ways to agree with each other or argue over the smallest of differences. I do miss the more lively discussions of years past, though that may very well have to do much more with a lot of the discussion on Metafilter moving over to the single-politics thread than moderation behavior. But I do agree with the theory that on a number of topics there is a sense sometimes, perpetuated by the way the threads are moderated that “This is the acceptable Mefi position on this topic, please do not stray too far”.
posted by The Gooch at 5:11 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


This is the acceptable Mefi position on this topic, please do not stray too far

I see this view thrown around fairly often on MeTa, and I think it's a misinterpretation of the dynamics here.

I have yet to see any minority position shut down by the moderation team that has been (a) expressed clearly and civilly and (b) not fruitlessly hammered to death within any given thread in an apparent attempt to force other participants to concede that it might have some form of merit.

I've had my own minority views shut down a few times, and in the moment it does initially feel like this is because I'm expressing something at odds with the prevailing rough consensus view, but on considered reflection after Team Mod has taken action it's always been because I've been falling into trap (b).

Learning to say my say in public and then take the conversation private if I think I've been grievously misunderstood has been one of the most useful skills my years on this site have taught me. It's made me a much better listener.
posted by flabdablet at 3:09 AM on March 28 [19 favorites]

"Far too often, moderation here drives conversation to consensus."
As moderation has slowly gotten more intensive over the years, this I think has been one of its most notable impacts.

While I think one of the great strength of the moderation strategy of metafilter is just how proactive it is able to be with addressing problematic behavior in a comprehensive way that becomes remarkably effective in how emotionally available and time intensive responses often are, moderation is still necessarily fundamentally reactive in nature. Squeaky wheels get grease, as is appropriate, but one thing I've been often disappointed by is the way in which a critical mass of mefites being shitty to one person either attracts no mod attention or sometimes attracts attention to the person being attacked. I don't think that this is an intentional effect, and over the years I've gotten to see significant and self-aware efforts from the mods to keep this from happening. For example, before maybe five years ago or so, threads even tangentially related to religion would often get clogged with a critical mass of mefites getting unselfreflectively shitty about how much they hated religion in general, as well as blandly hostile towards any religious mefites who dared show up, and part of how that dynamic changed came from a clearly conscious effort by mods to problematize it.

But, at the same time, I think a lot of how metafilter has gotten so intellectually homogeneous has come from even small and subtle amounts of this very easy kind of uneven enforcement getting reinforced by user policing. There is now a huge array of genres of threads where functionally only one perspective is allowed, even if represents a vanishingly small amount of the global community we claim to select from, no matter how well or valuably other perspectives are communicated. As it stands now, I often see commenters get piled on and get identified as a problem because they've been piled on - if only because *they're* making thread all about them rather than identifying the piler's-on as the more fundamental root problem. As the Metafilter consensus, whatever it is today, starts to become institutionalized as a Führer for the mods to work towards, it becomes clear that users with particular perspectives are fine to be shitty towards in ways that would otherwise break site norms. Even though I think moderation has gotten a lot more self-reflective and subtle over the years, the sheer volume of it still magnifies the effect. At the same time, as metafilter has continued to mature, it has accumulated the impacts of this pruning over the years as we've only gotten more cliquish and rooted in habits of mind that have only gotten easier to define as distinctively ours.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:21 AM on March 28 [12 favorites]


Because bringing up Hitler is always a great way to make your point about moderation.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 7:49 AM on March 28 [24 favorites]


>Because bringing up Hitler is always a great way to make your point about moderation.

Normally I would agree but when Metafilter allows some of the more ridiculous "XYZ is a nazi. Period." comments to stand I think it's fair to hold moderators feet to the Godwin flame.

There are too many "Gross", "Weird", "Icky", type personal attacks on this forum that are allowed to stand because they're favorite bait. The whole immediate shutdown of anyone asking a question in good faith because "it's not my job to educate you" gets out of hand way too often.

These comments should be deleted not because they're wrong but because they're self-aggrandizing righteous indignation callouts that are almost never conversational. You can communicate the same thing without needing personal attacks just short of "go fuck yourself."
posted by laptolain at 8:24 AM on March 28 [8 favorites]

"Because bringing up Hitler is always a great way to make your point about moderation."
Metafilter has become an echo chamber that increasingly only prints what we as a userbase want to see and thats a phenomenon that pretty fundamentally has some uncomfortable parallels, and is kinda worth talking about, particularly when we're being asked as a community what aspects of the moderation here we appreciate or feel should be changed. The people who were convinced that you are Literally Hilter are indeed for the most part all gone, and that is indeed for the best. But I think the perspective that a lot of people in this thread are communicating is that there are things we lost along the way that maybe we didn't need to.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:45 AM on March 28 [7 favorites]


I agree with all three previous comments - click the link, read the section. My question becomes wether the direction really is fixed or if it isn’t mutable? This goes to my comment about sometimes when a thread doesn’t go the way I think it could (sometimes it will emphasize something in the FPP I think only tangential) I make the decision to try and nudge it or else leave it. It doesn’t happen all the time, metafilter isn’t my only source of socialization and I might find the discussion I wanted to have later on elsewhere.
The direction things have been trending here have been positive ones - from where I sit. And if at times I don’t get it, well I can live with that. I agree, Blasdelb (4 comments now) that some things have maybe been lost but maybe the way they were brought up (the ten assholes) was the problem and there is still the opportunity to see them here.
I know a lot of people here are vociferously anti gun and others are not, yet the discussions around this point have been, as best I can tell, civil. I’m saying there’s a chance to bring back some pepper to the mix.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:54 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Human-Computer Interaction researchers in Bath, UK and Vienna, AT, who are looking at moderation on web forums and how it shapes discussions.

Based merely on what's been written here, the questions posed seem remarkably vague. It isn't clear to me that you will extract any very meaningful conclusions from a collection of anecdotes. And frankly,
Moderators also engage with the community in more pro-active ways. They shape the discussions by bringing in their individual perspectives and they care. They point out that people should look for help if needed and where to find it, they show solidarity and they appreciate content posted by others.
reads like appalling ad-copy/HR-speak. That said, a few observations:

Structural impact on discussion:

Fundamentally, I think, Metafilter's discussions have been shaped by the structure of Metafilter itself, a structure that originally envisioned threads of topical commentary devoted to some discrete item or items of interest. None of those discussions could last longer than 30 days and none of the them could be re-opened or returned to after they closed. That's the bedrock. Metafilter was that way (if the conventionally told story is correct) because "the links are more important than the discussions."

Users, however, have pretty nearly always wanted to use the Metafilter spaces to write/chat in ways unrestricted by the topical outlines of any given discussion, often/usually even in disregard of the topical outlines of any given thread. Metafilter accommodated that by becoming more forum-like, but within the hard limits of its own structure. A key example: endless arguments over "double posts" have been largely the result of users wishes to return to some topic versus the inability of Metafilter to handle "rolling" discussions. It's been the wish to discuss a political crisis in general and the structural difficulty of accommodating that, that's finally pushed the site to a breaking point. I've observed before, and I think it's true, that many of Metafilter's problems (and virtues!) are the result of trying to run a globally accommodating forum on the chassis of a blog built for some guy and his friends.

A more thorough look at the structural impact on conversations would look at aspects like the non-threaded discussions, the design of the front page, the relationship between "the blue," "the gray," and the other sub-forums, favorites, etc.

Moderator impact on discussion:

A couple of years ago I proposed
... that the moderation policies here—such as they are—[do not] consciously push a specific agenda, a specific ideology or specific beliefs. I do believe that in aggregate, the moderation policies tend to enforce certain rhetorical styles over others: the confessional tends to be preferred over the confrontational, the anecdotal over the argumentative, the silly over the caustically sarcastic, for examples. Even people who are by and large philosophically congruent with much of the rest of the forum will tend to run into trouble if they write too much outside those lines.
and post-Trump/post-Venting/Happiness/Open-threads, I think that's more true than ever now. And, of course it makes sense that attention to the modes of speech would be instrumental in "shaping a discussion" in exactly the same way that it makes sense to make a bus full of unruly children sing songs or tell stories. Certainly in the politics threads there is an increased emphasis on "just the facts, ma'am," but based on deletions I think I've gotten in non-politics threads, I feel like there's less tolerance for non-topical jocularity in general.

Another observation: IMO, an emphasis on an ethos of "community" and a sense that the staff constitute the outward-facing intermediaries of that community—characterized and signified by the podcasts, the state-of-the-forum updates, the staff tags, the use of an editorial font—have definitely delimited a sort of indistinct but existing boundary. There's much more of a sense of a "Metafilter brand," IMO, and much more Metafilter talking about Metafilter.

Moderation

Do you think it’s fair?

Other than "everything the owner and staff of this forum do is legal and not defiantly unethical," it isn't clear to what "fair" means on the moderator-user/moderator-comment level. Is it unfair to delete non-offensive comments simply because the moderator thinks some conversation has run its course? That happens routinely; and more routinely now, than ever, I imagine. Is it unfair to tell a user to drop some particular subject or stay out of particular discussions? Is it unfair to do that when the possibility exists that some user might be merely campaigning or proselytizing or propagandizing? What's the "fair" amount of speech everyone's entitled to?

I'm not sure of the answers to any of those questions. It's depressing that I can't come up with any really "fair" answer to any of them. Many of my deleted comments have seemed perfectly innocuous—just wrong place, wrong time. None of that thrills me, but, you know, it's a big forum. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ And in most cases I have not known why, precisely, why they were deleted. (OTOH, sometimes I've written sentences and paragraphs here that I thought would be deleted and which were not. So I've got that going for me. Maybe it all evens out.)
posted by octobersurprise at 9:03 AM on March 28 [4 favorites]


I’m saying there’s a chance to bring back some pepper to the mix.

Unfortunately, the “pepper” is very often, “Why can’t I act like an asshole without any repercussions?!”
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:05 AM on March 28 [14 favorites]


“This is the acceptable Mefi position on this topic, please do not stray too far”

I don't at all disagree that this is often the case, but I wonder to what extent, if any, moderation is the cause of it; and to what extent it's MeFi-specific rather than just how communities are. The users are the ones doing the piling-on, the mods are mostly cleaning up the vitriol (sometimes, admittedly, pre-emptively.) And a lot of the staking-out of the Acceptable Positions has been explicitly user-initiated -- think back to all the "boyzone" discussions for example; that was all driven by users IIRC.

You could make the case that the existence of moderation makes the users more willing to engage in that piling-on and vitriol, because they know the mods have their back, I guess. (But you could also point to literally any unmoderated discussion space as counterexample.)

Moderation is selective. By definition. I have the impression that, especially post-Trumpocalypse, moderation here is more on the selection axis of "will calm shit down and make the moderator's job easier" than on the "will steer the conversation toward the moderator's personal ideology or biases" axis. The "calm shit down" strategy does still end up helping to solidify a position, but a consensus one rather than a personal one. Which is... better, I guess? More fair?

I mean: I wouldn't call MeFi "homogenous", but it does very much have a viewpoint. Some topics of discussion just won't fly here; some opinions aren't acceptable; some things have been hashed over so finely that it just isn't fun to do it anymore. Is that necessarily the mod's fault? Is it necessarily a bad thing? Is there any conversation space on or off the internet where that is not the case?

I hear your echo-chamber concerns, I really do, but I also kind of feel like you have to be able to set some things aside in order to get anywhere interesting on the stuff you do focus on. If every conversation has to argue everything from first principles, nyurrrgh, it's just who wants to sit through 101 every single time? Total lockstep agreement on everything would be just as terribly dull as a free range shouting match would be; all we can do is guess at what point along that spectrum would be ideal.
posted by ook at 9:17 AM on March 28 [9 favorites]


>Unfortunately, the “pepper” is very often, “Why can’t I act like an asshole without any repercussions?!”

If the definition of being an asshole is that common and obvious then it should be enumerated and banned outright as a rule. Trolling is the most broad asshole behavior I can find explicitly in the rules and I've seen many comments deleted that were obviously not trolls. The mods aren't doing themselves any favors playing fast and loose with metafilter culture as rules for deletion.

My suspicion though is that the most universal asshole behaviors are already against the rules. A thought: maybe the unspoken rules of Metafilter culture should become the explicit rules? I say that completely without snark. If Metafilter is already enforcing a certain pattern of behavior then why not make it law? That would make things easier for both the mods and potential assholes I think.
posted by laptolain at 9:42 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


The mods aren't doing themselves any favors playing fast and loose with metafilter culture as rules for deletion.

One person’s “playing fast and loose” is another’s “recognition that real life is more complicated than D&D rules lawyering, and you can’t have vibrant culture without flexibility.”
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:59 AM on March 28 [16 favorites]


I believe the moderation here to be the best I have experienced in my twenty seven years participating in multi-user networked environments. It has created a place with a diverse background of users who interact in mostly positive ways a vast majority of the time.

My perception of many moderation complaints is that they come from either individuals who want the site to be something different than it is (such as an opportunity for fighty political back and forths), want it to be more about what they personally have to say, or who have mutually exclusive life experience sensitivities ("people keep using framing X and it bothers me, can we please not" vs. "denying that framing is denying my life experience and anyone who fails to address it is denying me.")

The moderation is imperfect, but still the best. And, it has continued to grow, evolve and respond to our changing world in the over fifteen years I've lurked and then been a member here. I'll admit, I still think the golden years of moderation here were when Jessamyn had a strong presence due to a preternatural ability to discern the sensitivities of a situation and then put them into words the rest of us can follow. It helps to understand how moderation can help us all have a better community.

In short, I've learned a lot about life and how to be a good person from Metafilter, and I credit the active moderation style for that.

Finally, fwiw, I'm not a fan of the term "heavy handed" to describe the moderation here, because to me that implies that mod actions routinely go beyond the specific. In contrast, I think the moderation here tends towards strong, firm, but very precise. From my perspective, for the most part it addresses specific instances and only calls out users when they are 'on tilt' about some topic.
posted by meinvt at 10:01 AM on March 28 [5 favorites]


I like not seeing the flags. I am divided on the "like" feature. I enjoy seeing where people come from, geographically, and what ever they decide to put in their personal info, but I don't want to get caught up in writing for any specific reader. I wouldn't like to see a "dislike" feature. I'd rather read a responsive comment, or a memail, to deal with a point of contention.

Moderation keeps us civil and on topic. Well, mostly. The moderators set an example for us, reminding us that we can disagree with respect, and that rules don't have to be constrictive. They communicate with one another in backchannel, and I'm sure they sometimes disagree, but they show us a clear vision of how they believe MeFi should operate. I believe that vision is a product of the community itself, not just a whim of the moderators. MeFi has evolved quite a bit during the short time I've been here. I am nearly overwhelmed at the talent and knowledge of the members. That we can all inhabit this site so well together is a function of rules we agree to try to follow. Otherwise we'd be Reddit.
posted by mule98J at 12:27 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


The easy avenues for pointing something out to the mods is really helpful. If I see something that just makes me thing "oh, this may not go well", I can flag it so they can keep an eye on things. I've had a few comments deleted, and I'm mostly okay with their choices.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:33 PM on March 28


Metafilter's aggressive push towards preemptively quashing user conflict, confrontation and individuals sucking the oxygen out of the thread/room is absolutely a reason I still read MeFi daily in 2018. Drive-by debates are a dime a dozen on virtually every other web platform, so I find any trade-off in the heterogeneity of expression or opinions worth it because of the enhanced quality of signal over noise in comment threads.

I read a lot more threads than I comment on, and I think one of the ways the moderation here is unique is that there's a lot more consideration of the experience for individuals reading a thread in addition to just the individuals actively participating in that thread. I'd be curious to know how much MeFi's distribution of user comment frequency differs from other online communities, because I feel like it's easy and welcoming to be an occasional commenter here, and there are many individuals whose usernames I recognize for the quality or unique perspective of their very sporadic contributions.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:53 PM on March 28 [21 favorites]


I think it’s hard for members to assess the moderation properly, because most deletions pass unnoticed. You have to take into account also that the people who are still here are by and large the ones who were happy with the moderation!
With that said, I’ve found the moderation a bit erratic at times, sometimes too slow, sometimes too quick (and often just right). It’s a difficult job, so that’s wholly understandable. I think it would be easier to moderate consistently if there were clearer rules and standards, but in practice it seems to me there are few that are consistently enforced and exceptions on the fly are pretty common. Mods often appear to be making it up as they go along, for better or worse.
None of that actually matters too much in most cases, because after all it’s just a blog. A few lost comments or bad ones that got left don’t really signify, and the overall effect is to facilitate decent discussion. It may be true that the tolerated range of opinions has got narrower over time, as mods find life easier when everyone agrees and are understandably tempted to be tougher on outliers than folks within the consensus.
I think the queue for Metatalk has worked well. There used to be a regular trickle of people who were naive about the site asking to have their supposed grievances addressed, unaware that they had zero chance of being upheld, but being allowed to make fools of themselves at length. I’m glad that doesn’t happen any more.
What is a continuing ethical concern is the lack of adequate rules on AskMefi specifically, where it’s not just blog discussion but actual advice on relationships and even medical issues being provided by completely unqualified randos. Mods have too often, imo, been incurious or dismissive about the actual harm this may sometimes cause trusting members - but happy to accept the praise of those who feel they were helped (those who got advice that turned out badly are, I think, less likely to come back and talk about it). The poor woman who was talked into getting unnecessary rabies shots and then more or less told that people who take advice off the internet deserve all they get, remains a nadir in my memory.
posted by Segundus at 1:29 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I gotta be honest, I think the community does a fine job of encouraging dissenting views, as long as folks are polite. Are conservatives in the minority? Yeah. But those who are here are not "tolerated," but are very welcomed. In particular, I recall multiple times when Corb was praised for bringing the conservative viewpoint, especially in politics threads.

If there's a consensus that we've really been driven hard toward, it's one of "community matters." It means we have a hard time empathizing with Internet shitposters and Libertarians and that ilk.

If you see a political slant out of the "community matters" bias, I think it may say more about one's politics than it does about Metafilter.
posted by explosion at 1:57 PM on March 28 [5 favorites]


Based merely on what's been written here, the questions posed seem remarkably vague. It isn't clear to me that you will extract any very meaningful conclusions from a collection of anecdotes. And frankly,
Moderators also engage with the community in more pro-active ways. They shape the discussions by bringing in their individual perspectives and they care. They point out that people should look for help if needed and where to find it, they show solidarity and they appreciate content posted by others.
reads like appalling ad-copy/HR-speak.


You may not understand the underlying research questions and you may not like the way they're being asked, but that's ok! This is sometimes the nature of qualitative research. I am sure that katta and bingo are capable of extracting the meaningful insights they're seeking and I look forward to hearing their analysis.

Doing this kind of work is really hard and I've no doubt that they (and the mods) have put a lot of time and effort into presenting this in a succinct way to get the best results. It's a balance — saying too much up front runs the risk of their approach being deemed as appalling textbook/academic-speak.

It's feels very vulnerable to a request like this out there publicly. When I've asked a question on any part of MeFi, I've hoped that the community would respond with questions over judgement, curiosity over criticisms, respect over dismissiveness. I think it's a testament to how great this place is that in most cases, I got the former. I am always grateful for that.

I love that this is place where we can still ask all manner of questions, and that there is so much freedom to respond candidly.

Thanks for all the work on this so far, katta and bingo. And thanks to the mods for keeping the dialog possible for us all!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:02 PM on March 28 [17 favorites]



I gotta be honest, I think the community does a fine job of encouraging dissenting views, as long as folks are polite. Are conservatives in the minority? Yeah. But those who are here are not "tolerated," but are very welcomed. In particular, I recall multiple times when Corb was praised for bringing the conservative viewpoint, especially in politics threads.

If there's a consensus that we've really been driven hard toward, it's one of "community matters." It means we have a hard time empathizing with Internet shitposters and Libertarians and that ilk.

If you see a political slant out of the "community matters" bias, I think it may say more about one's politics than it does about Metafilter.


Poor libertarians! Good thing I'm not one of those ilk...

As long as we're attributing beliefs to people, my typical issue is not a conservative / liberal one. Instead, it's nuance vs. party line. I typically get into far more trouble when disagreeing with people who I see as being to the "right" of me, but who are unable to understand that disagreeing with them does not mean that I am taking the standard conservative position.

To be fair, it is probably annoying to have someone who has thought about something much more than the commenters in a given thread dominating the discussion with explanation after explanation of a relatively niche view. So, mea culpa.

But it is a depressing and long-commented-upon feature of the site that the things you know the most about become nearly impossible to discuss here. (And it's really frustrating when, in askme questions, mods who don't know anything about a given topic simply moderate a disagreement away or allow someone who knows much less about a topic dominate the answers because they...feel more reasonable to the moderator? Who knows.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:05 PM on March 28 [6 favorites]


I enjoy visiting because, as much as the structure of the site invites users to drop a hot, steaming take on an issue and leave the thread without learning anything, the culture of the site and its moderating style encourages users to stop, look, listen, and learn before responding, speaking only when you truly have something to add to the conversation. At least if you want to be a participating member or avoid developing a gimmick or reputation. Of course, this is mostly in regards to the blue, and every thread will still have its own tone.

Pretty sure my "favorite" comment is still one from the thread where I took a turn at being the ignorant asshole who needed to shut up and listen to the perspectives of others regarding why I could be coming from/going in the wrong direction on an issue. No moderation was directly involved (i.e., my comments weren't deleted), but you could tell this was a community that has had practice slow-roasting ignorant people until they stopped being ignorant. The heavy-handed moderation is obvious if you catch it when it occurs, but I would argue exposure to the light touches is a "death by a thousand cuts" that helps shape the community response in instances lacking moderator intervention.

And because I never mentioned it before and don't favorite anything, honorable mention goes to Artw's illuminating comments regarding a certain miserable worm who has holed himself up in the Ecuadorian embassy and whom I will not stop hounding until he is brought back out in to the open and melted by the sunshine.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 4:44 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I think the perspective that a lot of people in this thread are communicating is that there are things we lost along the way that maybe we didn't need to.

I don't know if that's true--I am not sure there is any way to be more tolerant without slipping into allowing assholes and trolls. It may be that the constant re-railing of conversations back to the original topic, deleting sarcasm, and disallowing FPPs that are too similar are all absolutely necessary to maintaining MetaFilter's general tone, and in that case, I am more than happy to cope with the mod judgment calls.

Maybe those deletions aren't required, or the standards could be loosened in some areas without making the site less pleasant for a majority of participants. But I don't know, because (as mentioned several times), there is nothing else like MetaFilter anywhere on the web. There are similarly large, active, multifocus communities - but they either don't have moderation (reddit), or the site isn't discussion-based. (E.g. tvtropes - whatever methods they use aren't going to apply here.)

And there are groups that manage polite conversations with careful moderation, but they are either small, or limited focus. I was a regular on Mobileread's forums for a long time, and there are some similarities in mod styles - but if your topic of interest isn't ebooks, you're not going to have much use for the site.

I think the moderation habits here could use some consideration - are the mods too quick to delete some kinds of comments, too strict about limiting some conversations? But I don't automatically conclude that the answers are Yes and Yes, just because I am constantly aware of the current restrictions.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:44 PM on March 28 [4 favorites]


I love the moderation here. It's why I am still here. Metafilter has managed to maintain civil discourse despite so many people's tendency to be a least a bit ass-ish online.

I've been here since the early years (mostly lurking, even once I finally got a user name) and have watched this community improve even as the quality of conversation in *every other* public forum I've been a part of deteriorated to the point of me not wanting to be around.

And for the record, I rather like the public callouts. It makes me feel like something is being done. I also like how easy it is to report things to the mods.
posted by mkuhnell at 6:12 PM on March 28


Metafilter has become an echo chamber that increasingly only prints what we as a userbase want to see

To the extent that what echoes around this chamber is fact-checked civil discourse, I am more than happy to put my hand up and say yes, that is indeed what I as a member of the userbase want to see.

Also, I have trouble understanding why that's problematic. If a point of view is valid, it doesn't need help from people uninterested in putting it in good faith. Those people have every other forum on the Web and 90% of the mainstream media to do that in, and it's so goddam tedious watching the same goes-nowhere talking-past bla bla bla bullshit just go on and on and on and on. I'm over that. Which is why I hang out here for my daily dose of civilization.

Team Mod does not set the agenda here, just the tone. And if a particular agenda has indeed emerged amongst a group of people with a shared interest in respectful interaction, then perhaps that agenda is actually correct.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 PM on March 28 [11 favorites]


lots of good stuff here.

I suppose that my basic take is that, if there are problems with Metafilter's current state of moderation (and could there not be some?) the way out of them lies in moving forward, not back.
posted by philip-random at 8:38 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I have trouble understanding why that's problematic. ... if a particular agenda has indeed emerged amongst a group of people with a shared interest in respectful interaction, then perhaps that agenda is actually correct.

"Interested in shared respectful interaction" does not translate to "accurate understanding of nuanced, complex issues." Plenty of majority-white majority-male forums, especially academic ones, insist on "respectful interaction" in which they have all agreed, very politely, that there is no wage gap and microaggression is just a word for "didn't get the joke" and anyone who is unhappy with their living circumstances can just work harder and make things better.

Metafilter doesn't fall into that particular trap, but it is prone to turning away from some contentious topics that are just not considered important by the majority of the active membership.

This isn't a bad thing in abstract - any group that values amicable discussions is going to run into some topics like that. But the fact that a large number of intelligent, cooperative people can agree on a set of topics that are Not Worth Discussing Here does not mean that those topics are, in fact, unimportant.

This is the conundrum of any open-discussion website; it's always a balancing act between "interesting conversations" and "community harmony."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:02 PM on March 28 [7 favorites]


That's a fair point; I'll just make one clarification and bow out, lest I fall back into the aforementioned trap (b).

When considering the likelihood of correctness emerging from civil discussion, I was thinking of "a group of people with a shared interest in respectful interaction" more along the lines of a diverse group held together specifically by a shared interest in respectful interaction, rather than that being a norm adopted by some group formed for some other primary reason.

I've participated in majority-white majority-male forums where the prevailing view includes both that there is no wage gap and that microaggression is just a word for "didn't get the joke", and found those forums to be characterized by an insistence on "free speech" über alles rather than good faith discussion; where strangely enough, what's meant in practice by "free speech" is an entitlement to spout bad-faith bullshit in support of ill-conceived garbage. I've never seen anything like the degree of commitment to good faith and genuine communication that prevails around here.

the fact that a large number of intelligent, cooperative people can agree on a set of topics that are Not Worth Discussing Here does not mean that those topics are, in fact, unimportant.

Fully agree, the Metafilter population being no more able than the wider community to remain civil on Israel/Palestine being a notable case in point. But again, I'm not sure that this is actually problematic: no digital forum, MeFi included, ever has been or ever could be the solution to all the world's intractable problems.

The only time I've ever seen shifts in a position so passionately held as to render online civility infeasible has been after face-to-face conversation in small groups, not via digital text online. And the List Of Topics MeFi Doesn't Do Well serves as much, I think, to provoke that kind of face-to-face conversation as the vast pile of stuff that does get a good run here.
posted by flabdablet at 11:02 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I think the Metafilter moderation seems amazing and like a force for good. The thing that bothers me about 2018 Metafilter is the relentless malice and dehumanization directed at people who have consensus-unacceptable beliefs (I'm mostly talking about third parties being discussed, rather than conversations between disagreeing users) but I don't think anything the mods did caused that, nor do I know how to fix it with moderation.
posted by value of information at 12:45 AM on March 29 [4 favorites]


To be fair, it is probably annoying to have someone who has thought about something much more than the commenters in a given thread dominating the discussion with explanation after explanation of a relatively niche view.

I just find it remarkable that you can even fit your head inside a metafilter thread.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:39 AM on March 29 [10 favorites]


Fair enough, but you quoted the least smug part of a very smug comment!
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:10 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


I think this is a difficult one, because I've had some really good, supportive experiences on Metafilter, and at the same time I've pretty much stopped coming here in the last few years, a lot of which is due to the comment culture. It's difficult to pin down how much of this can be chalked up to the moderation policy, and I think the best answer I can come up with is a handwavy 'probably some of it'. One thing that's turned me off, for example, is that as a British person I feel, in a way that I didn't always, like this isn't a place for non-Americans, and while I'm sure the 2016 election frenzy had a lot of influence on this (I think there was even analysis at the time of the way in which the election threads starved the rest of the site, so that even if you turned off their visibility what couldn't be concealed was how little interest there was in anything else) it probably goes back at least to the Thatcher death discussion threads. I think I've also become more insensitive to what I guess I'd characterise as 'high levels of individualism' within the user population. I come from a position where I'm more interested in ethics of care and community, and I don't find that here. Writing these two issues out, it occurs to me that they are almost certainly not unrelated.
posted by Acheman at 7:17 AM on March 29 [13 favorites]


My direct encounters with moderation on Metafilter have been few and fair. Because of the nominal membership fee, I spent a long time as a regular reader before joining and commenting. That helped familiarize me with community standards in a casual, gradual way--primarily through seeing moderators' notes and commenters' own use of terms like "derail" and "threadsitting"--so by the time I joined, I more or less knew what to do and what not to do.

The tone of the moderation here is generally informative rather than scolding/condescending and community-oriented rather than person-oriented; I see moderators talk about the general goal of keeping a conversation focused on the original post topic but I rarely see them call out specific problems with a particular individual's deleted comment. I've noticed scolding/condescending moderation on other sites--mostly progressive political forums where I find it impossible to keep up with the Right Language of the moment despite an earnest desire to do so--and I think that tone is profoundly counterproductive since it has no effect on the fundamental nature of the 10 unrepentant assholes who can ruin a site but scares off the 10,000 well-meaning commenters who would rather say nothing than risk a scolding.
posted by xylothek at 7:31 AM on March 29 [2 favorites]


as a British person I feel, in a way that I didn't always, like this isn't a place for non-Americans

/me waves at Acheman from Australia
posted by flabdablet at 7:46 AM on March 29 [2 favorites]


The thing that bothers me about 2018 Metafilter is the relentless malice and dehumanization directed at people who have consensus-unacceptable beliefs (I'm mostly talking about third parties being discussed, rather than conversations between disagreeing users)

I'm not sure I've seen this. I've seen malice directed at people who exhibit consensus-unacceptable behavior, but I'm pretty sure MeFi is actually pretty live-and-let-live for people who are "strange but harmless."

"Punch Nazis" and "Guillotine the Rich" gain traction because "being a Nazi" and "hoarding wealth" aren't beliefs, they're behaviors.

We're cool with people believing abortions and same-sex attraction aren't for them. We're not cool with fighting to remove people's rights to an abortion or a loving relationship. Belief versus behavior.
posted by explosion at 8:09 AM on March 29 [5 favorites]


Because I don't linger on MetaFilter for extended periods, my opinions are largely based on "snapshots": the state of the front page, the comments on posts I visit, and any mod notes.

Kvell:

I definitely appreciate MetaFilter moderation of the posts themselves.

Looking through the Metafilter Deleted Posts blog and most of what gets through, they are pretty effective at judging framing, tone, topic. I'm not always interested in what's shared, but I rarely (aside from the CuteFilter-type posts) go "what is that even doing here?" AskMe replies are generally helpful, so mods must be working some magic there.

Moderators have been quite responsive via MeMail the few times I've reached out. I don't believe I've had more than a couple of my comments deleted.

Mods are certainly doing more than I'm aware of (you only notice what's broken). If there's a reason I still regularly visit MetaFilter years later, the mods definitely play a role.

Kvetch:

There's a range of allowed user behavior that doesn't quite flout the rules, but nonetheless worsens my experience of the site. I've taken to visiting MyMeFi exclusively, because there are some topics (that I care about) that just attract the worst behavior:

- Not RTFA-ing
- Using the post as a jumping off point to get something vaguely related off their chest
- Arguing with some imaginary foe
- Reading other users' comments as uncharitably as possible
- Hyper-vocal users tokenizing themselves, thereby erasing other MeFites
- Gratuitous swearing, often when replying to other users. I honestly made a greasemonkey script to swap "fuck" with "poop," because I got so tired of seeing it. And Malcolm Tucker's one of my favorite characters!!

Sometimes it seems like only MetaFilter could make a post about cheese miserable.

MetaFilter is not really built for discussion, but that's how it's used. Because there's no threading (unlike Reddit), lousy comments poison the whole well. A good discussion moderator helps steer it along.

But mod powers here are largely reactive, i.e. removing what's already been said. I think that's due to a belief that commenters will 1) take their cue from the poster and 2) act charitably towards others.

From correspondence and observation, it seems like mods aren't equipped to deal with such bad-but-non-rulebreaking behavior.

I still love y'all, though.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 10:00 AM on March 29 [3 favorites]


One thing that's turned me off, for example, is that as a British person I feel, in a way that I didn't always, like this isn't a place for non-Americans.

This is a big problem for me as well. And it definitely discourages me from engaging fully in any UK-focused thread, because I can put a lot of effort into a useful comment, and it gets the same weight as someone jumping in and saying (less concisely) "well, Britain's just like Downtown (sic) Abbey anyway". The most egregious example of this (10 days after the EU referendum, so when a lot of people would've been feeling pretty sore, anyway) - when a black journalist from the UK writes about racism in football, and the first comment is an American saying British people don't have a leg to stand on when talking about racism.

So yeah, there's a lot of "they do [x]" going on when whoever they is could actually be contributing in the first person. And if what has to be one of the least stigmatised minority groups on the site feels othered like this, then lots of other people probably are, too.

That's maybe going a little off topic, and as far as I'm aware, there's never been a MeTa about it, much as I've wanted to write one. If there is anyone who'd like to take up that mantle, please, please do.
posted by ambrosen at 10:05 AM on March 29 [7 favorites]


- Not RTFA-ing

I recently got a private mod spank for doing this very thing, so there may be some legwork going on to correct this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:12 AM on March 29 [5 favorites]


R.I.P. Faze :(
posted by cj_ at 11:05 AM on March 29


I am here at all because of the moderation here. This is one of the very few places in my life--possibly the only space in my life--where I feel able to relax, participate as an observer, and just be myself without worrying and watching for the community waters, because I can trust the mods to already be doing that for me and keeping an eye on it. I'm terrible at doing this--I mean it when I say that it is very important for me that Metafilter lets me sit back and relax like that.

(Most of the other spaces where I can be are places I have made. That creates some bad habits for me, and I'm really grateful to Metafilter for just--for having my back in a conversation, for creating an ethos where I feel safe being here. I actually feel more comfortable saying things I might not say elsewhere, disagreeing or going against general gains, because I trust the community to help de-escalate and support conflict as long as I'm acting and speaking in good faith. I feel like this is a place where I can have a hard discussion and say hard things, because I feel like this is a place where mods will enforce the insistence that I be treated respectfully as long as I am treating other people with respect--and I feel like that includes things beyond bullshit like tone, that "respect" here means respecting the personhood of others in a way that is not the case elsewhere.)

I have had comments deleted here, and I nearly always cheer the deletion--I'm terrible at flagging and moving on without mouthing off first, but I often flag my own comments for deletion when mods miss them. I have had mods email me to check in, and I have had a mod tell me that my behavior was unacceptable in one particular thread and tell me to take some time and not do it again. (To be honest, that was the right call.)

The moderation here is a feature. That's all.
posted by sciatrix at 11:58 AM on March 29 [15 favorites]


Like a lot of others here, I cut my internet teeth on another system that's pretty much the Wild West; they have "hosts" instead of moderators, and deleting posts is considered absolutely unacceptable except under the most extreme circumstances; it's viewed as denying people their right to free speech and free expression. Also, discussion can get very heated, to the point of a long thread where people don't do much other than insult each other, but that's considered par for the course. If it goes on for too long, a host might say "take it to email, you guys" but that's it.

So when I got here, it was culture shock. I was appalled at how mods deleted posts at the drop of a hat (it seemed to me), and I thought the moderation was ludicrously heavy-handed. After a while, though, I came to really appreciate the moderation, not only because it stopped discussions from devolving into insults (although it did), but also because the discourse here was just so different with firm, visible moderation. On the other system, the most strident voices tended to be amplified, and not surprisingly, those were almost always the voices of white het men.

And the universe, being the funny thing she is, played a joke on me: the PTB at other system asked me if I wanted to be a host of the most active and one of the most contentious conferences over there, and I agreed. After participating in Metafilter, it's incredibly frustrating to be over at the other system. People do things like scoff at the notion that a teacher might be disciplined for making a Nazi joke, because, you guessed it, it abrogates his right to free speech and free expression and the only appropriate antidote to bad speech is good speech. People also do a lot of the "ironic racism" or "satirical anti-Semitism." I just don't have the stomach for that anymore.

So yeah. Started out as a moderation skeptic, and now I'm a true believer.
posted by holborne at 1:40 PM on March 29 [8 favorites]


…as far as I'm aware, there's never been a MeTa about [US-centrism on MetaFilter]…

There have been many. I don't recall a recent one though. Maybe we're overdue. But it's a topic that has definitely been discussed, albeit it remains a problem.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:30 PM on March 29 [5 favorites]


My major gripe is when I'm posting something, part of my soul, a personal experience of some sort, and that gets deleted.. But again that's just me. I feel like it can't be wrong if it's my lived experience but that's not always true and I have trouble with that.

It's probably not that anyone thinks that your living experience is wrong. It's much more likely that there is something wrong with the way, place or time you post about it. If it's, for example, wildly off topic... it may well get deleted. But not because it's wrong.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:35 AM on March 30 [6 favorites]


My major gripe is when I'm posting something, part of my soul, a personal experience of some sort, and that gets deleted.

Back when web browsers were much less good at saving state across crashes than they are now, I got in the habit of using an external text editor to compose comments I care about. I still do that, and I save them locally before pasting them to MeFi.

But if you don't do that, and something you really put a lot of work into gets baleeted, Team Mod will send you a copy if you ask them nicely via the Contact Us link at the bottom of every page.
posted by flabdablet at 3:42 AM on March 30


One of my favorite things about moderation here is that I have been given chance (having joined in 2002 when I was 17) after chance to grow and get better at moderating myself. The mods have patience for run of the mill numbskull behavior which is really something special. I'm glad to still be here, and to have learned soft skills that I probably would not have learned otherwise.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:07 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]


re: the moderation -> echo chamber idea --

When I get to explain Metafilter to someone who has never heard of it, I tell them that it's like Reddit, but with three differences. One -- pay $5 to join. Two -- no reordering of posts based on popularity, or threading. Three -- paid, expert human moderators.

A lot of sites try to use popularity in lieu of moderation, and that creates an echo chamber even more quickly. I have faith that on Metafilter, even if my opinion is unpopular or non-mainstream, as long as I say it in a way that is relevant to the question, it will still render in everyone's browser instead of staying tucked beneath a fold. Human moderators (aside from everything else they do) are able to discern what's relevant, apart from what's most agreeable; this is where 'upvoting' falls down.

(I don't post enough to have had many interactions with the moderators, but they seem like cool people!)
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:09 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]


>“This is the acceptable Mefi position on this topic, please do not stray too far”

>>I don't at all disagree that this is often the case, but I wonder to what extent, if any, moderation is the cause of it; and to what extent it's MeFi-specific rather than just how communities are


I wanted to follow up on this a bit. I think this is likely true; I agree the fact that Metafilter posts tend to come to an opinion consensus is, indeed, likely much more a function of the userbase rather than the moderation, I’m only focused on the way this is reinforced by the moderation here since that is the topic of this specific post. I do think the moderation does effect this in a couple of ways:

1. A few years ago (thinking about the time of the “Tramp Stamp/Boyzone” Metatalk thread), rightfully in my view I might add, there was a call from the userbase for the mods to be more proactive in deleting questionable content and more quickly banning users who were causing problems with consistency. For obvious cases, this has worked out well, since Metafilter no longer seems to have members who appear to have joined Metafilter for the sole purpose of jumping into threads about, say, sexism/misogyny to take the “Listen, ladies, there’s nothing to see here, let me enlighten you” viewpoint. Where this has become a problem to my view though is that the general attitude of “let’s be quicker on the draw to remove content that is upsetting the majority of the userbase” occasionally seems to be carried out as, “Let’s prune that totally non-offensive content, warn that user who is posting opinions that run counter to the consensus view, but not in any sort of offensive or hurtful way, because people simply don’t like to see it here”

2. Much like parenting, sometimes the moderation here is done in a way that is exemplified by a “I don’t care which one of you started it, I just want it to stop!” attitude. Which I can totally understand! Again, though, if you are following all of the site guidelines and behaving within the rules but sticking to an opinion that runs counter to the Metafilter consensus view, this still means you might end up getting a lashing for causing a problem because other people react poorly to them.
posted by The Gooch at 8:45 AM on March 31 [10 favorites]


I like the moderation. I feel like the staff does a great job at keeping it about behavior and not viewpoint. I think they do a great job of keeping internal consistency. There is a vision they are all working toward, and furthermore they talk to each other. The moderation does not vary widely by individual staff member.

I think there are valuable points above about inclusion of minority opinions and non-US members. I feel like that's more of a case of "haven't solved every possible problem yet" than one of values.

I couldn't more strongly disagree that "unpopular opinions" are unwelcome by the mods. Unpopular opinions tend to get more reaction and response from the user base, that's true. It can definitely feel like piling on when thirty other people want to respond to that same thing. But in every case of "silenced all my life" drama I've seen, it has been about the behavior, not the content, and the author can't see that.
posted by ctmf at 4:10 PM on March 31 [4 favorites]


Far too often, moderation here drives conversation to consensus.

Maybe? But while I was introduced to MetaFilter as the blue, the site gets far more traffic on the green as AskMetaFilter. Once I discovered Ask I fell in love. How much do I love the moderators for deleting answers that do not answer the questions posted? Soo much! Ask is the only question forum I know of that kneecaps those annoying people (I can sometimes be one of them) who wants to lecture people about having asked the wrong question and answering that question instead. Or not even answering the question but just being all lecture-y in general. I hate that, that is rampant throughout the universe, and all hail our moderators for making AskMetaFilter actually useful in a way that would be impossible otherwise.

Also, a general observation: Some of us are not big fans of/drawn to the shouty, debate-type discussion sparked by posts about touchy/upsetting/outrageous/sucky current and past events. Awhile back I posted a FFP about a super-small living space in Seattle and a few other links to innovative/unexpected housing solutions. There were a few disagreements but they were civil and it was fascinating to learn about other people's housing adventures and challenges and to discover stuff that was new to me on a shared topic of interest.

So it may be true that moderation drives conversation to consensus in touchy/upsetting/triggery threads, but one of the things I love about MF is that so many threads are not about those topics. Also, I probably feel the same way about so-called MF consensus as I do about so-called political correctness: To me they are both about protecting and promoting good behaviour rather than asshole behaviour. So if that's the great sin of MF moderation, I am a fan.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:00 AM on April 1 [11 favorites]


Well said, Bella Donna. I agree that the way the mods handle AskMe is worth celebrating. I've had a few comments deleted on the green, and in the end I've always been glad of it because I saw that it was done in the interest of preserving a high signal-to-noise ratio.

There are plenty of places to engage in debate-type discussion and arguments. Like pretty much the entire internet. That kind of discourse seems to be the default. People who seek forums that are free enough from asshole behavior that they can ask difficult questions in earnest - and receive useful, relevant answers - have very few options.

AskMe is the best. There's nothing else like it.
posted by velvet winter at 12:56 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


Mefi is great. I'm surprised you can't flag a comment for being factually untrue. I understand this could easily be contentious, but often someone will be mistaken in a rather obvious way (e.g. a wrong date, etc.) and there's no way to call that out.

What I most like on MeFi is the respectful tone here. I would say it's almost unique.
posted by xammerboy at 1:36 PM on April 2


> I'm surprised you can't flag a comment for being factually untrue. I understand this could easily be contentious, but often someone will be mistaken in a rather obvious way (e.g. a wrong date, etc.) and there's no way to call that out.

That's been a perennial issue on MeTa. The moderators can't be expected know about everything users ask questions about (and even checking people's answers would be time really consuming and take away from the time the mods have to moderate the rest of the site). If you see a wrong on AskMe about a subject you know about, you can 'call it out' by explaining why it's wrong in the thread, with links to factual information about the subject, if that's relevant. (Please try to do this without attacking the other user for being wrong. Insulting other users is not helpful to asker, but an explanation of why another answer is wrong can be very helpful, and is a normal part of AskMe threads.)

Basically, the model of AskMe is that there are a lot smart people on MetaFilter, and if you ask a question here, somebody will probably be able to answer it. We also assume that askers are intelligent people and can read through a bunch of divergent answers follow the links they provide, and figure out who seems to know what they're talking about, and which answers make more sense.

(I realize I just said 'we'. I've been here since 2009. I guess I really identify with the site now and how we do things here.)
posted by nangar at 6:46 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


Coming to this very late -

As someone who's never been subject to active moderation, that I've noticed, but probably should have been a few times, I've been incredibly impressed by the thoughtfulness that goes into most decisions here. Compared to other forums with too little moderation - reddit, slashdot, every newspaper, radio, and podcast comment section - they do a great job of steering the conversation in a useful direction. Compared to forums with too much moderation - most software and science-and-math-related question and answer forums - they don't shut down useful conversations in order to maintain rigid guidelines.

There are a few social and political arenas where the moderation seems a bit heavy handed to me. Criticism of mainstream religion and Israel get shut down more quickly than I'd like. But, I also realize there's a non-trivial population of vocal conservatives here who are guaranteed to turn any such discussion into a poo-slinging festival. I can't blame the mods for heading off such events before they happen.

The one area where I genuinely disagree with the mods is the degree to which they refuse to allow criticism of the dead. Demanding that every obituary thread remain "respectful" seems heavy handed and weirdly superstitious. It makes all such threads a lot less interesting than they might otherwise be. It's the one arena in which the moderation specifically seems inconsistent with the global tone of the site. (Margaret Thatcher sticks out as the most obvious example.)

In short, the bits I don't agree with are so minor compared to the benefits I receive from the moderation here that I'll happily celebrate the mods, even when I bristle at their resolutely moderate politics at least a few times a year.
posted by eotvos at 8:43 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: Not horrible or anything, just a little weird.
posted by chavenet at 6:33 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]


Super late to this, but why not.

Having inadvertently made a couple of FPPs on topics that turned out to be unexpectedly controversial, I really appreciate the job the mods do. Having them involved made it feel like what it was: a topic about which people have strong opinions, rather than me having done something wrong or being personally attacked. I've had notes from mods that are friendly and warm, and when I had a post deleted and got a bit upset about it (mostly because I was upset by the topic of the post, which was a Bad Thing that had happened) the mod in question wisely interpreted my response as me being upset rather than trying earnestly to explain things in a way that probably would have just made me more upset.

I do feel the overall tone of the site has shifted - one of the FPPs I made which got out of hand I think would go down very differently if it happened today - and it's hard to say whether that's down to cultural shift or moderation or both.

However, like others have said, it would be really nice if deleted comments got an automail of some description. Last time I had one deleted I spent ages searching for it and the post I'd made it on before finally realising what must have happened. Still not entirely sure why it got deleted, but eventually concluded that the point I thought I was making was not the point that came across and I was harshing everyone's bliss. Which, whatever. I don't require an explanation for everything - I can imagine how much work that would be! - but yes, an auto-notification just to save the "did I post that or did I just think about posting it?" would be nice. Not exactly my top pony request though.

Having tried moderation to an extent both online and IRL I know what a thankless and difficult task it can be, so thank you for all the work you do.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:03 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone for your contribution to this! We really appreciate your help. We are and we will do our best to work on it!
posted by bingo_yu at 4:44 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


A bit late too, but fwiw:
I am very much a lurker on Metafilter. I’ve never made a FPP, ask only the odd question, and answer far fewer. But I spend a LOT of time reading all Metafilter mostly because it’s interesting and informative and feels like a community. So my thoughts here are more as long time observer, rather than someone engaging with the site and experiencing being moderated.

My experience of the moderators is that they are the reason Metafilter feels like a real community, not just a simulated one.

Any time I read a well-reasoned, thoughtful explanation from a mod on some topic or other, I think holy crap this person really thought this through, whether or not I agree. They demonstrably care about how their actions will affect the group as a whole. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and transparency that goes into moderation. It makes me feel like someone is taking care of us, as a group. So it’s the quality of moderation that sets us apart from say Reddit or HN.

One thing I would love to see is Mod Duty.
Like Jury Duty.

Like if you’re going to belong to the site you should have to experience being a moderator for at least for a short time (hour/day/week). Maybe this person takes on a single Wildcard username so no one knows who it really is (ok, yes, that has associated problems) but I think it would be a neat experiment. This is probably not doable in reality (maybe just as a fun sim game and not on the real site). But hypothetically, anyway, it would address the one thing I believe is missing here which is a way for everyday posters to really understand (like by doing it for a day) the effort that goes in to moderation.
I hope that is helpful to you.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 8:42 PM on April 15


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