Proposed Ask MeFi Guideline Addition/Flag Reason November 14, 2018 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Proposed addition to Ask Mefi guidelines, removal FAQ, and flags: "questions for which a layman's answer is dangerous." There are occasionally situations where it can be inaccurate and potentially dangerous to crowdsource an answer.
posted by WCityMike to MetaFilter-Related at 2:19 PM (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Can you give an example?

(Pet peeve btw: “layman’s”. Layperson is a word. Carry on...)
posted by billiebee at 2:41 PM on November 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


Over the years the issue of "this needs an expert" questions has come up occasionally. They sometimes get deleted, tho (more often?) anything borderline may stay; like most things it's very case-by-case. Our basic stance is has been, we'll delete stuff that is clearly dangerous, but we're not experts on everything, so once we get past basic sanity-checking in a more gray area, there may be questions that stand and kind of hope there's a commenter who pops in to say "i'm an expert in this subject and the previous advice is dangerous because of x; instead you should y." In general I think people are pretty good about this, and pretty good about saying "this is a question for your doctor" or whatever.

Deletion on this basis is rare enough that we don't have anything explicit in the FAQ about it, partly because articulating the exact bounds is tough and it's a pretty common-sense thing to understand when we explain in a deletion reason. Tho we can think about adding something if folks feel like this has been a problem or a point of confusion.

We don't need a separate flag for it; folks can flag as breaks guidelines or leave us a note explaining their concern.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:45 PM on November 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


A question of mine from long ago stuck in my memory for the dangerous and illegal advice I was given, by someone who flat-out admits they do not understand what I was asking, or ever recognize the terms I was using.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:47 PM on November 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


Every question for which the only reasonable answer begins with "I am a doctor, but I am not your doctor" and finishes with "in short please get yourself to your doctor post haste."

Also, possibly, every question that should only be answered by a lawyer admitted to the local bar.

I guess any question phrased in a way that a "real answer" requires malpractice insurance.... said insurance which would also prohibit giving said answer to an unidentified stranger on the internet.
posted by mce at 2:47 PM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


Can you give an example?

Basically, situations where people are asking for medical, legal, construction, or technical advice that could potentially have the questioner's physical well-being in the balance or could very seriously damage their life's state of affairs.
posted by WCityMike at 2:47 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Pretty much all questions that suggest a homeowner may be contemplating doing their own electrical work. If you're asking about it on AskMe, you should be hiring an electrician.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:01 PM on November 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


Well, if that's so, then feel free to close and/or delete this question -- sounds like the answer's already been considered and settled.
posted by WCityMike at 3:03 PM on November 14, 2018


A question of mine from long ago stuck in my memory for the dangerous and illegal advice I was given

"Hmm. Interesting, I wonder what the bad advice was."

*checks thread*

"Holy shit, WTF, no. No, no, no."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:50 PM on November 14, 2018 [16 favorites]


Pretty much all questions that suggest a homeowner may be contemplating doing their own electrical work. If you're asking about it on AskMe, you should be hiring an electrician.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:01 PM on November 14 [+] [!]


Truth. AskMe kept me from running a flat screen tv power cable behind a wall in my house. I hired an electrician.
posted by 4ster at 7:54 PM on November 14, 2018


A question of mine from long ago stuck in my memory for the dangerous and illegal advice I was given

I checked this question and I was just relieved that this comment wasn't referencing something I wrote.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:11 PM on November 14, 2018 [10 favorites]


I can think of a few construction-y questions, one or two of which I've responded to, where the only sensible answer is "That is an insane idea, please don't. Talk to some experts in your area." But I'm glad they got asked because the prospect that the poster cobbles together an answer from ten year old Ask Yahoo answers and whatever else in the absence of Mefi is not an improvement.

I think questions like this are more likely to get the non-answer of "don't" than dangerous "here's how to go for it" answers.
posted by deadwax at 3:54 AM on November 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


I completely disagree. I've gotten plenty of crappy medical advice from doctors, and I know there are equally incompetent professionals in all fields of human endeavor. Suggesting that someone ask "a doctor" or "a lawyer" is just as irresponsible as answering the question, unless you are also including a recommendation of a competent professional.

That's without mentioning the fact that seeing a doctor for a non-life-threatening emergency or hiring a lawyer at all is financially impossible for many people. I think we would be doing a huge disservice to folks that are already struggling to tell them that their questions are no longer welcome here, and that they better be prepared to pay up if they want any help at all.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:42 AM on November 15, 2018 [17 favorites]


Hope you don't mind me pushing back on your phrase "non-answer", deadwax. People saying "here's why this is a terrible idea" are providing an excellent answer. It might not be what the asker thought they needed, but that doesn't make it a non-answer.

Another voice here valuing the discussion being visible!
posted by freethefeet at 4:45 AM on November 15, 2018 [9 favorites]


I think it’s more that - anyone who is asking a “you need to see a doctor” question knows they should see a doctor. But seeing a doctor is hard, requires time off and a doctor that can schedule sooner than a month away, and often money that people don’t have. Yes, it’s preferable to see a doctor, but advice is often better than randomly googling, which is the other option people often have.
posted by corb at 6:25 AM on November 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


Wow, that answer to the man of twists and turn's question. That's.. wow. A lot of things that are possible are really really not smart things to do for various practical and legal reasons, and ... wow.

Y'all just made me feel better about all the garden-variety wrong I deal with on a daily basis.
posted by Alterscape at 8:01 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think that answers that are dangerous if followed should be at least considered for deletion, but I don't agree with disallowing the question in the first place. There's huge subjectivity on what's thought to "need an expert" for one thing (half of AskMe thinks you need to go to the ER every time you have a hangnail), and for another, the poster may not actually be aware that they need to see a professional, so advice to do so may be helpful for them.

I do think questions that are asking for advice on how to do something inherently dangerous or illegal should be deleted, but I suspect that already happens as I can't recall seeing any.
posted by randomnity at 8:37 AM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I also agree that the questions should be allowed because some people genuinely don't have an internal barometer of when they should go see a doctor. I know someone who, other than required immunizations, their parents never took them to the doctor as a kid. As an adult, they have NO CLUE when something is serious enough to warrant a trip.

I feel that their situation is more common than I wish it would be, so I think AskMe is helpful for that.
posted by kimberussell at 9:26 AM on November 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


I found a recent question Electric Dryer: Old Outlet for New Plugs an interesting read for the clairty of don't burn the place down responses.
posted by readinghippo at 10:26 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


hiring a lawyer at all is financially impossible for many people.

I'll take this opportunity to remind readers that (1) this is true, but (2) it's not as true as most people believe. There are many, many resources available that offer free or low-cost legal aid or advice.

We have two problems. The first is that even those "many, many" resources aren't enough to meet current demand—and that's even before factoring logistical problems like geography, availability, and language barriers. As members of the general public, you can be helpful here: call your local, state, and federal representatives and tell them that legal-aid funding is important to you. Look for fundraisers or opportunities to donate. Help us get funded.

But the second problem is more pertinent here: most people don't know about the resources that exist. Legal-aid organizations usually don't advertise. (It's a complicated and separate discussion.) As members of the general public, you can be helpful here, too. Learn what resources exist in your community. When you hear someone needing legal help, you'll be able to tell them, for instance, "Hey, the Mass Bar Association offers free legal assistance over the telephone on the first Wednesday of every month. Just call 'em up and ask!"
posted by cribcage at 12:40 PM on November 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


"Breaks the guidelines" will get a mod looking at these answers and can determine if they're too dangerous to stick around.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 1:12 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think this might be of interest to readers of this thread:
"In a recent study, Radford et al. (2013) found that users saw virtual reference services as authoritative and objective, more synchronous, and as receptive to more complex questions. Social question and answer services, however, were viewed as asynchronous, less authoritative, having simpler questions, and providing more opinionated answers. In terms of performance, Shah and Kitzie (2012) found that virtual reference outperforms social question and answer services in the following aspects: customisation, quality, relevance, accuracy, authoritativeness, and completeness. On the other hand, social question and answer services outperformed virtual reference in the following areas: cost, volume, speed, social aspects, engagement, and collaboration. Some additional differences between virtual reference and social question and answer services recognised by previous research include the dyadic reference encounter vs. teamwork, relevant boundaries vs. blurred boundaries, limit of authority vs. empowerment of authority, and institutional human and information resources vs. volunteers and free online information (Shachaf, 2010)."

And this one:

"Women are quite likely to (a) search for health information online and (b) use multiple sources, both formal and informal, in combination (AlGhamdi and Moussa, 2012; Blanch-Hartigan, Blake and Viswanath, 2014). When seeking information for intimate personal health issues, such as menopause and fertility, they tend to favor respectful community norms, privacy affordances and factual data (Genuis, 2012; Slauson-Blevins, McQuillan and Greil, 2013). Simultaneously, women value direct and interpersonal support. For example, Kratzke, Wilson and Vilchis (2013) reported that when using mobile technologies in breast cancer information seeking, rural women prefer direct, interpersonal cell phone communication over texting in any format. As might be expected therefore, women tend to feel comfortable in using social media platforms for health communication, including for cervical cancer information (Thorburn, Keon and Kue, 2013; Tran et al., 2010; Koskan et al., 2014)."

For more research on social question sites, see here
posted by CMcG at 4:14 PM on November 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


What I'm saying is that I think this metatalk gets a very interesting question: why do people ask questions on askmetafilter? We might assume it's "for advice," but I think there are a lot of complicating factors at play.

In other words I vote: don't delete questions.
posted by CMcG at 4:17 PM on November 15, 2018


Now that we have freeform flagging, it's possible to flag things as dangerous/illegal.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:27 PM on November 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


This has come up before and I reiterate my opposition, and further think that it's a pernicious idea that seems to carry with it the suggestion that people are not capable of weighing the advice from a bunch of anonymous strangers on the Internet. In which case the whole premise of AskMe is flawed and we might as well shut it down.

One of the things I've always liked about Mefi (and this is not exclusive to Mefi, but it's exclusive to what I'd call The Better Parts of the Internet) is the extension of good faith that most people extend to each other. It's the assumption that we are all adults, or close enough, and not complete dipshits, or close enough. Which includes the ability to think critically about advice gleaned from other people, who are presumably also acting in good faith but may be misinformed, and then act on that advice accordingly (or not).

Beyond that, there's no way to tell a priori whether a question is high-stakes or not. Someone asking whether the foul-smelling sore on their foot might be pretty important, or maybe they're merely curious, or maybe it's a hypothetical, or research for their true-crime novel. We don't know. Conversely, questions that might seem innocuous might be very high stakes indeed, but we would never know. If someone asks the fastest way to get from Shreveport to San Antonio, and somebody tells them to take I-35 through Waco when really they should have taken US-79, and they miss their kid's wedding / dog's birthday / arraignment hearing, it could be bad news. We don't know, and can't know, to what purpose someone is going to use a piece of information, and how heavily they'll rely on it uncritically.

I also find it a bit ironic that the standard examples of "it's too dangerous to give advice" are typically health issues, given the state of the healthcare system in the country where the majority of site users probably live. "Go see a doctor" for a non-emergent health issue is, bluntly, a ridiculous suggestion for many people in 2018; you might as well tell them to fly to Greece and consult the Oracle at Delphi—it's probably cheaper, and compared to throwing yourself as a charity case into a meat-grinder ER for a vague subacute or chronic problem, about equally likely to give you a satisfactory answer.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:45 PM on November 15, 2018 [18 favorites]


I'm going to try to remember Kadin2048's comment above so that I can link to it the next time someone suggests deleting health questions.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:06 AM on November 16, 2018


Please let health questions stand. Every doctor visit I have results in weight loss advice, despite the facts that: I happy exist in non-plus-sized clothing; I lift super heavy weights three times a week; I take drugs for a cancer diagnosis that are often prescribed to the elderly to help them feel hunger and gain weight. I hate going to the doctor for that reason. Here on MeFi, you might not know I'm a little chubby and therefore will respond to my requests for cough remedies with that actual thing instead of a handout about how walking 30 minutes a day and cutting out soda and sweets will fix me.
posted by donnagirl at 3:46 PM on November 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


I find the "go ask an expert" answers incredibly frustrating. At best, they dismiss the Asker, the worse ones berate them for asking the question in the first place. Only rarely do they explain why the situation is more complicated/dangerous than the person imagines, nor do they provide guidance on what or how to ask said expert who is obviously at hand.
posted by hoyland at 2:20 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


« Older It is Wednesday my Meta......   |   MST3K Turkey Day 2018 Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments