Allow "push back" comments to stand October 24, 2019 9:29 PM   Subscribe

In light of the deletion of a Metafilter comment that pushed back against a racist comment in the Frank Ocean thread, I am requesting that the community discuss the benefits of allowing "push back" comments to stand - especially when those comments are insightful, enlightening and challenge other Mefites to be better members of the community.

The longtime rule on Metafilter has been that when someone posts a comment that breaks the guidelines and that comment gets deleted, any subsequent comments that directly responded to it must also be deleted because those comments "don't make sense" and won't read as part of a cohesive thread for posterity/contributes to "noise."

I am proposing that we replace the above practice with a new practice that de-centers bigotry and re-centers the emotional labor that Mefites do to fight back against bigotry.

The new practice would involve the moderators deleting the guideline-breaking comment(s) and replacing it with a mod note that acknowledges the deletion and a brief description of why it was deleted. One example might be: [Comment deleted. If this thread isn't about a topic or subculture that you have a lot of familiarity, please consider skipping this one in lieu of leaving dismissive or bigoted comments.]

And then allow any comments that had already been posted (comments that push back against the now-deleted comment) to stand.

What qualifies as a push back comment, you ask?

"F*ck you" is not a push back comment.

"White people have been writing songs about banalities for decades but as soon as a black queer artist does it of course everyone from the peanut gallery has to chime in" (h/t JimBennett) is a push back comment and should be allowed to stand.

Why? Because this is a community that has already demonstrated that it needs to hear those comments. Because the community can and should learn from those comments; and because many of those comments are the direct result of emotional labor from Mefites who don't identity as white, cisgender, non-disabled or heteronormative.

I am not the first person to suggest this. It was discussed within the last year at the time of the first PoC thread, while the site's racist issues were coming to a head. Some Mefites who identify as PoC, non-white and/or racialized commented around that time that they felt that when their comments were deleted, the emotional labor they'd put into writing their comment was deleted along with it.

I fail to see the benefit in deleting comments that, with great power and insight, push back against the racist and sexist microaggressions that still pop up across Metafilter. We are at least intelligent enough to assume that if a moderator has commented that they've deleted one or a few comments for bigoted content, the subsequent comments where people are pushing back are obviously in response to the comment that was deleted. We certainly don't need to preserve the crappy comments that break the guidelines, but we should preserve and prioritize the wisdom and acumen of Mefites who argue back in response. They're doing important work on Metafilter - important work that is also emotional labor done without compensation. The least we can do is allow these comments to stand and act as a teaching moment for the rest of the community.

I understand that in the case of the Frank Ocean thread (I screenshot the comments so that they were preserved, but will hold back on sharing them initially), having the first comment in the thread be a push-back comment doesn't set a "perfect tone" for the thread. But not every thread is going to be tidy. If it's going to be untidy, the exception should be made for comments that wake everyone up.

I want to open it up to the community for discussion. I don't assume everyone is in agreement with me, but it's a valid concern that warrants discussion.
posted by nightrecordings to Etiquette/Policy at 9:29 PM (193 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

So, I think there are times when leaving pushback comments makes sense, and times when it doesn't.

This example is about this thread: Frank Ocean thread. The progression of events was this. Initial one-liner comment was posted:
Wow. Such insightful lyrics. Really shining new light on the human condition.
Three minutes later that comment was flagged.
One minute later it was deleted.

Three minutes after that, a second comment appeared... then the commenter realized they had replied to a deleted comment and edited their comment. The edited version was this:
white people have been writing songs about banalities for decades but as soon as a black queer artist does it of course everyone from the peanut gallery has to chime in. what insight are YOU bringing to the table? what’s the point of such meaningless snark? frank ocean has given us two of the greatest records of the millennium, if he wants to write a song where he just flexes he’s earned it - all of that is despite the fact that one of our biggest male pop stars putting out a song where he says “boy toy rides me like an uber” is quietly radical in its own way.

lol thanks mods never mind i guess
My feeling about cases like this -- where it's the first two comments in a slow moving thread -- is, it's much better if the thread can start off with comments about the actual subject, rather than needing to focus on someone's dismissive comment. The bulk of that second comment could be reposted minus the part that's replying to the deleted thing, and then we're starting a thread about what people like or find interesting here. I normally drop commenters a line about that but it looks like I didn't here and I'll do that now.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:40 PM on October 24 [9 favorites]


I 100% agree with this request/post, and I agree even when the anti-racist comments would somehow influence the direction of the thread. I think it's good that anti-racist comments influence the direction of a thread.

It also feels increasingly like fragility when the moderators delete comments that reference the moderators. I know that's been long-standing site policy, but I think it needs to change.
posted by lazuli at 9:51 PM on October 24 [27 favorites]


While I agree with the mods' actions in this particular case (it's much better to start off a thread with productive discussion rather than a hot take and ensuing slapfight), I am in favor of allowing more push-backs to stand in general, and I hope we can discuss the idea in those general terms rather than getting bogged down in the details of the inciting incident. Thanks for bringing this up, nightrecordings.

It also feels increasingly like fragility when the moderators delete comments that reference the moderators. I know that's been long-standing site policy, but I think it needs to change.

I'm not sure if you meant to imply it, but I don't think that the mods deleting the push-back here was an example of a fragile reaction to a comment about the mods. I interpret "lol thanks mods never mind i guess" as more of a "Whoops, the mods already deleted the comment, so now I just look silly :P"
posted by J.K. Seazer at 10:19 PM on October 24 [7 favorites]


Also, to be clear, we are letting pushback to deleted comments stand in more cases. That's one of the changes we made in response to the discussions this past summer. So, the general thing is already happening, it's just a matter of in which situations.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:23 PM on October 24 [5 favorites]


Are these new changes shared somewhere?
posted by iamkimiam at 11:22 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Not really, beyond what we talked about this summer and in the new guidelines, microaggressions etc docs -- we're still hoping to put together a kind of moderation process q-and-a or similar, but that is coming after guideline revisions and new user documents.

Instead we've just been doing it, case-by-case, and just seeing how it goes and adjusting. Many times it just goes unremarked, and sometimes people think we've gotten it wrong. It's fine to have a thread for people to talk more through this issue and where people think the line should be.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:43 PM on October 24


Hi, LobsterMitten, I don't mean to add to the load and I appreciate you in this discussion. When you or another mod has time (hah! time?!), it would be great to maybe highlight or point out a few recent examples of how the case-by-case is working out. Like, "Here's one that would have been deleted without batting an eye in 2018, but this time we thought about it and decided to change and let it stand." It might help us all to understand what y'all mods are dealing with and let people see how you have made some of the changes that people requested. I get the feeling you are doing a lot of what people asked for but we may not realize it.

And, nightrecordings, I agree that we need the work that goes into many of those pushback comments.
posted by Gotanda at 12:03 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]


I feel as though important community issues around race and inclusion are yet again being deprioritized or not taken seriously enough to result in transparent action or communication of plans with timelines. These issues have been going on for years now and have come to light in a major way this summer, thanks to the efforts of many, many MeFites. It is nearly winter.

I will return when the action plan for how to address these issues is visible from much further away. Thanks.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:29 AM on October 25 [13 favorites]


Great call out nightrecordings, and excellent framing.

In this particular case, I'm torn, as I really hate it when otherwise-upstanding posts get derailed by some idiot shitting up the thread in the first few comments, the post then becomes about the comment and it's just soooooo deflating, that we end up talking about some racist/ableist etc bullshit instead of something interesting.

However, that all being said, I do tend to agree that deleting offensive comments but letting pushback stand may send an even clearer message about what is or isn't tolerated on Metafilter.

I have seen cases where pushback went on for like twenty comments, and, again, threatened to overwhelm the threads. I'm not sure 1-5 pithy ripostes would do this, but I don't envy the mods as I suspect it's a fine needle to thread and the cut-off point may only be clear after the fact.

Really, I just wish people wouldn't drop turds in comments, especially in the first few. It's bloody annoying.
posted by smoke at 1:57 AM on October 25 [6 favorites]


Also strongly support this idea.

I feel as though important community issues around race and inclusion are yet again being deprioritized or not taken seriously enough to result in transparent action or communication of plans with timelines. These issues have been going on for years now and have come to light in a major way this summer, thanks to the efforts of many, many MeFites. It is nearly winter.

Not enough that things be done, but that they are seen to be done. I urge the mod team to keep these issues and intended progress front and center, and to be transparent about it.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:12 AM on October 25 [4 favorites]


I agree with this request. Assuming the pushback comment adds value that is. Oneliners that wouldn't make sense without a root/problem comment to push back upon should of course go away. This will encourage goodness in all quarters above and beyond simple deletion of badness.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:13 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]


I agree with this request and think it would make Metafilter better.

Thank you for raising it. This is important. I doubt it would have occurred to me otherwise.
posted by sugar and confetti at 5:20 AM on October 25 [2 favorites]


Agreed. It's time to move past "We don't like bad stuff when it's all up in our face" to "We actively push back against bad stuff."
posted by Etrigan at 6:02 AM on October 25 [17 favorites]


This is a great suggestion.

There's always been something that felt off about deleting righteous pushback. It's as though once the offensive comment was removed we were also deleting all evidence of it so that we could pretend it never happened. I don't think I fully understood or could have explained that feeling before reading this post.

Well said.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:23 AM on October 25 [16 favorites]


I would support this change.

I feel like during my first few years on Metafilter, there used to be fewer deletions and more opportunities for these sort of pushback comments to stand and thus to provide this sort of education, and that a lot of my knowledge of and active interest in social justice issues are a direct result of pushback comments on Metafilter.

Granted, Matt retired and gave the site to Josh largely because moderation stress was maybe ruining his life a little--at least that's been my impression--so I certainly understand how we got from there to here, particularly with the money and political issues of the past few years putting so much strain on the mod team. But I think this change would help continue to make Metafilter a good place to get that sort of... of feedback. (I'm not finding the word I want, too much insomnia. Feedback is close enough.)

I also feel like I've seen more than one MeTa comment from a person who deactivated their account in recent months saying that the last straw for them was a pushback comment of this sort being deleted.
posted by Caduceus at 6:47 AM on October 25 [8 favorites]


I also agree that not nearly enough has been visibly done to ensure that MeFi becomes a place more welcoming to BIPOC members. As others have said, if the moderators are doing things behind the scenes, you need to be more visible with them, because from this side of the screen, it seems like nothing at all has been done, and I totally understand why more and more BIPOC members have been leaving.
posted by lazuli at 6:55 AM on October 25 [6 favorites]


I am glad this MeTa was posted. I had no idea that mods were consciously attempting to keep any pushback posts or that the policy of insta-deleting replies to deleted comments was bending at all.
posted by Jpfed at 7:00 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]


I just want to add my support to the original post. Very well said, nightrecordings.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:53 AM on October 25


I originally came out to MeFi (and basically in general) about 10 years ago as a pushback comment.
posted by loquacious at 8:19 AM on October 25 [12 favorites]


I understand the concern about not letting one offensive comment derail the whole post, but maybe that can be addressed in a standard way when the mods leave a deletion note, like: "We've deleted this comment as [violating community guidelines/whatever]. We've left the responses intact, but it doesn't require further attention."? That might not be the most artful wording, but you get the idea.
posted by praemunire at 8:47 AM on October 25 [8 favorites]


I'm here for the flamewars so I'm also for this.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:22 AM on October 25 [5 favorites]


Really, I just wish people wouldn't drop turds in comments, especially in the first few.

I mean this is really at the heart of things. Because we can use different strategies to try and tackle what happens when someone leaves a crappy comment, and there's tradeoffs from one to the next but they all amount to the community and the mods trying to find a way to reduce the impact of a given shitty instigating comment on a thread. I don't think it'll ever be the case that a monolithic strategy is optimal; neither "always clean it up" nor "always leave things up" is going to work as well as finding a context-sensitive balance of the two, so we're gonna keep aiming to get that mix as right as we can.

We've been working on shifting the balance a more toward letting responses stand even when the discontinuity of people responding to a now-missing comment is more obvious and confusing than I'd like in a thread, to let some of the push-back type stuff come through where on the balance the value of the comment outpaces the confusion about the discontinuity. We've also been trying to reach out to folks in cases where the resulting thread confusion or the reply-centric framing of their response is messy enough that reposting a comment as a standalone rewrite would be a much better solution, to encourage 'em to do that.

I talked about some of that in one of the the Following Up posts earlier this year, saying that while it can be complicated depending on the context, it's something we were and are actively revisiting our practice on. We've kept at that, with what has subjectively felt like mixed but probably overall positive results.

When you or another mod has time (hah! time?!), it would be great to maybe highlight or point out a few recent examples of how the case-by-case is working out.

I'll see if I can wrangle some up, though part of the thing here for me is that my impression is we've been running into it one way or the other pretty infrequently; when it's a call we need to make in an already fraught and/or fast-moving thread it can end up being a high-visibility thing that feels like it's representative of a frequent site pattern, but in practice I feel like it's something that presents a tricky moderation decision every once and a while and otherwise doesn't really present a challenge very often.

Because mostly people flag crappy stuff promptly, we delete it promptly, and threads redirect. Or when I do see a comment that's crappy but only gets flagged after it kicks off some thoughtful replies, and I come in later and delete that initial comment and leave the replies, and then everything basically goes fine: it doesn't stay on my radar. System worked, move attention to whatever's next.

(The Frank Ocean example is a case of someone also managing to really promptly compose a reply; in most cases a quick flag and delete within a few minutes of a comment in a thread that's been quiet for hours would just mean that comment goes poof and doesn't muck up the start of the thread at all, but in this case everybody involved showed up immediately.)

And I get a little heartsick thinking about compiling high-notability examples and making folks page through them again: while they aren't real thick on the ground to begin with, the ones that are memorable tend to come out of difficult situations where there's no really satisfying solution no matter which method we use, because it's something going wrong in a discussion where people are already feeling stuff pretty hard, often about some prevailing issue of injustice or oppression, and that can't be fixed with moderation or with comments. And I kinda hate the idea of prodding folks into feeling secondary trauma about fucked up shit for the sake of pointing to a moderation example. But that might partly be where I'm at emotionally this morning; I'll try to put together some examples and think through 'em, see if I can find a decent balance.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:27 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]


And because everything needs comic irony, it took longer to get that composed than I'd hoped because I had to among other things stop a couple times to nix a couple comments in this thread, leaving the sort of confusing replies-to-a-ghost that felt like they were worth keeping around regardless and dropping a mod note in about the deletion.

That feels like a good example of a low notability case that I won't remember off-hand a week from now. I was able to get to the initiating comments relatively quickly: not fast enough to avoid quotations of or reactions to them getting threaded into the discussion some, but quick enough to cut off any more salvos from the commenter, and the conversation will mostly likely reroute around it in the next short bit and leave it as just a blip.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:37 AM on October 25 [1 favorite]


Would there be any merit to leaving the original comment intact with a mod comment added to it, such as "This comment breaks community guidelines on XYZ. Commenter has been warned/banned"? For the purposes of letting more of the pushback comments continue to make sense, plus it would serve to alleviate the curiosity of latecomers as well as serving as examples of "what not to do."
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:48 AM on October 25 [6 favorites]


If one is providing pushback against a bad comment, would it be better to quote the bad comment so that if it goes, the pushback is still comprehensible? My own personal opinion is that it's easier to read that sort of thing than it would be if people were gesturing vaguely in the direction of something that had been deleted, but (as someone who is privileged along many axes) maybe I'm discounting the harm of the quotations themselves.
posted by Jpfed at 9:50 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]


Would there be any merit to leaving the original comment intact with a mod comment added to it

I think at that point we're basically back to an older-school status quo of "shitty comment left up, replies left up, mod note later in thread noting that shitty comment was shitty after the fact". Which is one approach a site can take, but I don't think it's served MeFi super well a lot of the times we ended up taking that approach historically, and there's been a lot of community feedback in the years since saying "no, even if it's later on for whatever reason, consider nixing that stuff". If shitty comments are worth deleting, they're worth deleting, and MeFi is a moderated site where that is indeed the thing we are generally gonna choose to do.

My feeling is that leaving replies to it up more often than we used to is a shift we have been making to serve the purpose of keeping the content of those replies around, despite the need to delete whatever instigated it. That's a specific motivation that's about highlighting thoughtful comments. Keeping the instigating stuff around too as a record of its own shittiness feels like something else entirely, basically.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:55 AM on October 25 [8 favorites]


Ravelry has an interesting system where some rules-breaking posts get greyed out instead of deleted outright. I have no idea how feasible that is technically, and not saying it's necessarily the right solution here, but it is one way to compromise between letting bad comments stand, and breaking the continuity of the conversation.
posted by Glier's Goetta at 10:07 AM on October 25 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I've noticed that in a few different places, Glier's Goetta; I can see some of the reasoning for it so I get why people run with it, but I personally really dislike the combo of half-measure (if it's worth deleting, it's worth deleting) and anti-accessibility (screen text can already be difficult for folks with vision difficulties without throwing in an intentional major reduction in contrast).
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:16 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]


I kinda hate the idea of prodding folks into feeling secondary trauma about fucked up shit for the sake of pointing to a moderation example.

...

I had to among other things stop a couple times to nix a couple comments in [the white people doing yoga thread], leaving the sort of confusing replies-to-a-ghost that felt like they were worth keeping around regardless and dropping a mod note in about the deletion.

[...]I was able to get to the initiating comments relatively quickly: not fast enough to avoid quotations of or reactions to them getting threaded into the discussion some[..].


The white people doing yoga thread was about a museum that didn't want folks to feel secondary trauma about fucked-up shit, so they wouldn't let an artist trying to educate about fucked-up shit install "a Hindu-inspired shrine featuring photographs of a white couple as South Asian gurus" because “'This might be offensive to Indian people.'”

There's a Metafilter thread of people discussing that problem and somebody posts a kinda fucked-up and definitely tone-deaf comment, people push back in an educative, not at all fucked-up way, and the quoting of the tone-deaf language is a problem because it might be causing secondary trauma about fucked-up shit white people do? In a thread of people all talking about fucked-up shit white people do and how POCs trying to educate about that are getting pushback from white people worried about honesty about fucked-up shit hurting somebody's feelings? I... guh... wha...? It's breaking my brain.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:42 AM on October 25 [6 favorites]


it's like...is the goal for Metafilter to be an anti-racist (etc) space?

If so, then deleting racist (etc) comments makes sense. Because we don't want that shit around. But that only leads Metafilter partly to the point of being anti-racist. Because it isn't enough to delete expressions of racism if the members that think the racist things are still around. So part of the goal has to be the education of the community, and the shifting of community norms around what is acceptable. And that only happens when push back comments or educational comments or discussion comments (and I don't mean "but I just want to discuss if racism is bad actually") are not only allowed to exist, but allowed to thrive. Otherwise you fundamentally have a community that is still at the point of "let's say the racist things", they're just having their racism expunged. If you want to get the community to "let's think the racist things but not say them," or "let's not think the racist things", then when someone takes the time and energy to explain why something is racist, that should be a great comment, a comment people are excited for - because it's moving the needle of the community.
posted by arabidopsis at 11:18 AM on October 25 [16 favorites]


and the quoting of the tone-deaf language is a problem because it might be causing secondary trauma about fucked-up shit white people do?

No, and I'm confused that you're quoting my second comment about that so far pretty low-key situation in that current thread as relating directly to what I was saying in a prior comment about older threads of much higher impact.

I was talking in the earlier comment about misgivings about pointing people to long and often extremely painful and fraught past discussions that have been a point of pain for marginalized folks in the past, as a path to saying "hey but look we deleted x and not y in there". That's all; it can feel like opening an old wound on someone just to show off some good stitching work, and it makes me slow down and think about the the balance of talking about policy and practice details vs. revisiting a painful situation.

That second comment was about a case where nothing has gone so wrong or badly enough that it is likely to be a memorable bad situation a week from now. Frustrating that there was somebody being tone-deaf to begin with, but the system just sort of working well and trying to follow the path folks have talked in here about hoping to see followed.

Basically: I meant for the situations in those two comments to be contrasted, not treated as equivalent. I apologize if that was unclear.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:25 AM on October 25 [1 favorite]


So I get the sense that this isn't going to fly, but here's a data point from an informal survey of my queer POC friends who aren't on Metafilter (which is to say...all of them) about what they would want from a notional online community. I figured we might want to hear from people in that position if the goal is to grow our numbers.

The consensus was the progressive Facebook group policy of "no dirty deletes." Leave the problematic comments AND the push-back. That way there's a record of which users are being racist and the conversation doesn't have confusing gaps where no one is sure what incited the push-back in the first place. The drawback is that shitty comments stay, but a mod note chastising the poster without deleting the comment would make it clear that the comment breaks the guidelines. I realize deleting problematic comments is part of the culture here, but if you want feedback from the kind of members you are trying to attract, there it is.
posted by zeusianfog at 11:43 AM on October 25 [17 favorites]


But you're saying, right, that it's not good that you weren't "fast enough to avoid quotations of or reactions to them getting threaded into the discussion?" Well, if it's a case where nothing has gone so wrong, then why is the illustrative quoting of something that went a little bit wrong bad? It's not really all that surprising or frustrating that somebody's being tone deaf: people's extremely predictable first reaction to being confronted with why something they like and haven't thought about deeply might be racist is to take umbrage. That's what happened with the Asian museum board and that's what happened with the "what are we white people supposed to do now" comment in a thread about the Asian museum board. I get deleting the original comment, definitely. I don't get why getting to it so fast that nobody has time to push back would have been better, though. That just disappears it before anybody has a chance to learn from it. If you find it frustrating that people are still making tone-deaf comments, then it seems to me that leaving up enough quotey pushback to show them why the comments are tone deaf would be a success, not a failure.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:44 AM on October 25 [4 favorites]


But you're saying, right, that it's not good that you weren't "fast enough to avoid quotations of or reactions to them getting threaded into the discussion?"

I'm saying that's suboptimal for the goal of not having confusion about what got deleted be a part of the texture of the resulting thread. If my choice is messy cruft or no messy cruft, my preference is no messy cruft. If that's the only choice I have to make in a given situation, cool, it's an easy call.

Well, if it's a case where nothing has gone so wrong, then why is the illustrative quoting of something that went a little bit wrong bad?

It's a little crufty, is all. I feel like we're talking past each other: what I did in that thread earlier this morning was leave all of the replies, even though it was a little bit crufty. I prioritized keeping the replies up over avoiding a bit of messiness in the reply quoting, because that felt like the better outcome. My understanding of this whole line of discussion is that folks would like to continue to see that more often as a preferred outcome.

I don't get why getting to it so fast that nobody has time to push back would have been better, though.

Because the things folks are saying to push back on it are things they can say to push back on the general concept without a shitty comment prompting it, is all.

Like here's two similar situations:

1. A thread on the topic of some sort of injustice is underway. Someone says something shitty. Someone replies to that shitty thing with a thoughtful comment that counters prevailing systemic issues that the shitty comment is a touchstone for.

2. A thread on the topic of some sort of injustice is underway. Nobody says the shitty thing. Someone adds of their own volition a thoughtful comment that counters prevailing systemic issues that exist on the subject.

In both cases we get a thoughtful comment on the subject. In the first case, we also get a shitty comment, and maybe quotations of that comment, and the bad feelings that come from folks having to encounter that shitty comment or echoes of it, and people who agree with the shitty comment potentially feeling empowered by seeing it represented, and a good chance of a sense in the discussion that it has shifted from being a discussion about the topic to being a defense of the validity of the topic and the need to engage with and shut down some saying something shitty.

That doesn't mean the thoughtful stuff coming out of the second scenario isn't meaningful or worth trying to keep around. I am hearing this MetaTalk post as folks saying "please, prioritize keeping it around"; I am saying we have been making an explicit effort to do so more.

That I think skipping the part where someone says something shitty would be the ideal outcome is only that: it'd be the ideal thing. Sometimes we get that, just a good thoughtful thread where no one says anything distractingly shitty and folks can talk about a subject or their experiences because they want to in that moment. Sometimes we end up with the version where folks feel compelled by someone else's shitty behavior in the moment to engage. I think that's a crappier situation, even if though the resulting comments are also good and thoughtful.

The less visibility and longevity that shitty comments have on the site, the more the conversations happening can be about what folks actually want and choose to talk about, when, on their own terms, and less about feeling obliged to react to shittiness (or to feel burnt out or checked out from feeling obliged to do so in the past). That's I think worth chasing down where we can. That's in tandem with trying to be accommodating of the more pushback type situations when they come up, not instead of it. Both are going to be part of the mix.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:23 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]


1. A thread on the topic of some sort of injustice is underway. Someone says something shitty. Someone replies to that shitty thing with a thoughtful comment that counters prevailing systemic issues that the shitty comment is a touchstone for.

2. A thread on the topic of some sort of injustice is underway. Nobody says the shitty thing. Someone adds of their own volition a thoughtful comment that counters prevailing systemic issues that exist on the subject.


Weirdly, if the goal is improving behavior on the site, I think 1. is actually the more useful scenario. Because 1. provides a real object lesson from which those in the community inclined to make comments that are "shitty" can learn. Scenario 2. presupposes that the site is not in need of improvement because no one on the site makes "shitty" comments. But people on the site do make those comments. So the scenario 1. is helpful and allows people at least the opportunity to learn how to improve their site behavior.

And 1. is more effective both if the person making the comment is actually unaware that it's "shitty" and in a position to learn from the experience and if the person is trolling. If comments are deleted before pushback as if they never were, it allows trolls to lurk and hide on the site.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:39 PM on October 25 [6 favorites]


PS: I did notice and really appreciated the fact that you left up those arguments, btw. I missed the original comment but got enough from the quotes that I got the gist. And I don't know if there was any kind of defensive volley from the poster, but if there was one and if you deleted it, then thank you for that, too.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:44 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]


Weirdly, if the goal is improving behavior on the site, I think 1. is actually the more useful scenario.

It's the more useful scenario for the specific purpose of demonstrating thoughtful responses to shitty behavior. But that presupposes that the expected outcome will always be shitty behavior no matter what, and part of the goal of improving behavior on the site is to have fewer instances of shitty behavior, and to reduce the negative impact of shitty behavior on everybody in the community. Pushback when it does happen, but preferring for it to not happen in the first place.

I don't want "let's assume this is gonna go shitty" to be where folks set their expectations about every thread on the site, basically. I want folks to be able to reasonably hope it will go well most of the time. And it does go well a lot of the time, and when it does it doesn't become a topic of discussion because it's just a thread that went okay. That's what we should hope will be the case with most threads, and with more threads as time goes on. I want folks to be able to choose to engage with a thread on their own terms, to use their voices as they choose, to be able to be open and vulnerable and share for the sake of sharing rather than being forced to a defensive or reactive stance where the conversation becomes centered around something shitty someone else said. "Threads can be good" is an important goal and one that I want to achieve as often as we can manage.

And again that's a complement, not an alternative, to being aware and prepared for shit to sometimes go sideways after all, and being prepared as a community and as a mod team to deal with that as well as we can. And that includes things like deleting shitty comments when they do happen and trying to make space for thoughtful pushback when it in turn happens. It also includes eyeballing threads early to try and catch shitty stuff quickly, and folks flagging stuff up when they see it. It's not just any single one of these things as the solution to site problems or improving behavior, it's the whole mix of them, and that mix is gonna play out different from the thread to thread depending on timing and context and so on.

But hoping for threads to go well enough the vast majority of the time that nobody has to say "oh and there was the shitty comment(s)" about them is a big part of the improved behavior we're aiming for.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:07 PM on October 25


for threads to go well enough the vast majority of the time that nobody has to say "oh and there was the shitty comment(s)" about them is a big part of the improved behavior we're aiming for.

Well, yeah, of course! I agree with you that that's the ideal. And it looks like we've made a good start on the way to that ideal. The site has made a ton of progress, and many threads do go well, as you've pointed out. For us to actually achieve the ideal, though, when there are shitty comments, they should not be disappeared. That makes it look like we've achieved the ideal, but unless every time you delete somebody's racist comment you also ban that person or write them and put them on notice that next time = banned and then follow through, then disappearing the evidence that we haven't quite arrived at the ideal, yet, actually prevents us from ever getting there.

It's the more useful scenario for the specific purpose of demonstrating thoughtful responses to shitty behavior.
That's not its only benefit. It's also the more useful scenario for the purpose of demonstrating what precisely = shitty so that people can avoid being shitty. That's very valuable. It's kind of the whole point of the exhibit that got banned from the Asian museum.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:28 PM on October 25 [4 favorites]


For us to actually achieve the ideal, though, when there are shitty comments, they should not be disappeared.

I can accept that as a valid position to hold, but it's not MetaFilter's position. Deleting shitty comments is and will remain part of how this place works.

What we do after that is what nightrecordings was talking about in the post, and what we've been doing: making space for replies to deleted stuff, vs. the older practice of pretty consistently deleting both initial comment and replies.

That makes it look like we've achieved the ideal, but unless every time you delete somebody's racist comment you also ban that person or write them and put them on notice that next time = banned and then follow through

We've done a lot of that in the last few years. Or written to them to say cut it out and watched them walk out on their own. Or written them to say hey this has to change and seen them actually change. Or written to someone who is more at tone-deaf level than Proud Racist And Ready To Argue territory and laid out some boundaries. It's part of the process. Where the threshold of "keep an eye on" vs "explicitly warn" vs "ban outright" is for a given user and comment and site history is probably gonna be a point of debate sometimes, and one of the things we've moved on over the years is shifting those thresholds more toward concrete action rather than passive monitoring of someone with a history of sketchy or outright shitty behavior, but we haven't been operating on "delete comments and pretend everything's fine" as a principle. The reason you don't see a lot of the shittier old characters from the archives around anymore doing the shit they used to do is we banned them for it.

We're a site with open signups on the internet and we're always going to have a treadmill of new users, so there's always the potential for someone to show up and be unexpectedly shitty, and we'll have to deal with that. You won't find me imagining that'll ever not be the case. And again I agree that there can be value in visible pushback when that happens. But we shouldn't be hoping for shittiness just for the sake of the pushback; framing the content of what would have been pushback as just proactive "here's some thoughts" in shittiness-free conversation is a better ideal to hope for.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:46 PM on October 25 [2 favorites]


I agree with you. I think it's valuable to the community to keep those push-backs as part of the conversation.

If it seems confusing to leave them, I think that could be largely addressed by a mod comment saying "A comment has been deleted for [reason]. Some of the comments above this note were responses to that deleted comment."

I think the potential confusion is less troubling than the deletion of valuable and thoughtful replies.

Thank you for raising this issue, nightrecordings, and for the clarity of your post.
posted by kristi at 1:46 PM on October 25 [4 favorites]


So, I'm not really personally exercised (heh) about it, but I do disagree with the call to delete the "how should white people enjoy yoga?" comment in the #WhitePeopleDoingYoga thread. I didn't read that comment as particularly bad-faith, although it certainly was a (probably inadvertent) microaggression. I saw that comment as an opportunity to try to talk about how I understand the idea of cultural appropriation in a way that might take some of the burden off the Mefites of color who have talked about how exhausting it is to do this labor. I have absolutely no idea how successful I was, but I did put a lot of thought and care into my response, and I appreciate that it wasn't deleted. But more than my own comment, I appreciate the thoughtful responses from other Mefites, which I think were basically respectful, and responsive to the original comment while re-railing on the actual content of the FPP. My hope is that these kinds of responses do more than just offset the original microaggression but actually help make Metafilter feel like a safer space for discussion for everyone, but of course I recognize that I can't know if others experience it that way. I appreciate that these responses were left in place as well, but it is a little jarring looking through the discussion and realizing that the comment they're responding to is now gone.

The very fact that it was deleted may also give the sense that the deleted comment was more hostile/negative than it actually was. Don Pepino notes that they got the gist from the quoted bits in response, but the quoted bits were the entire comment, and while the quoted question certainly was problematic, I wonder if they're imagining something even worse.

Personally, on the spectrum between "doing nothing" and "deleting a comment and everything responding to it", I'd like to see the space devoted to "leave a polite moderator comment guiding the discussion back on track" expand a bit. It really seems like this is happening already since the close of the megathreads, and I appreciate it. I want to make it clear that I'm not opposed to deleting shitty comments: there's plenty of threadshitting, or personal attacks, or whatever that clearly violate the guidelines and/or will definitely always cause problems if left in place. But I think that right now the tendency is to err on the side of deleting borderline comments, and I think giving the community a chance to handle borderline cases via more natural discussion has some real benefits.

I recognize that there can't really be any hard and fast rules about what strategy to employ when, but in this particular case I think the original comment was mild enough, and not obviously in bad-faith, that a "remind-and-watch" strategy might have been better. That said, I understand that I don't have the same experience dealing with comment moderation that the mod team does, and it's entirely possible that I'm being naive in how well this approach can work.

Do the moderator tools allow for undeleting comments? I can also see this as a case of "Here's a comment that got a bunch of flags and I can see this going badly, time to delete. Oh dang, people got a bunch of responses in already. Hey, actually it looks like the discussion is reacting to that comment fairly well, maybe we can try leaving it and see if it continues to go okay."

Also, do the moderator tools allow for "inserting" moderator comments? Having the ability to post hoc add a mod response to a potentially inflammatory comment immediately beneath that comment might take some of the pressure to react as quickly as possible off the mods. It also means that anyone reading the thread can see right away that there's been an "official" response rather than feeling like a certain viewpoint is going unchallenged and leaving the thread before they see the response.

Anyway, thanks nightrecordings for raising the issue, and thanks cortex and LobsterMitten for the thoughtful responses so far.
posted by biogeo at 2:03 PM on October 25 [5 favorites]


Do the moderator tools allow for undeleting comments?

Yep; comments are just toggled out of visibility, not otherwise modified or removed from the DB tables. Deleting and then undeleting something within the space of a minute or two isn't super unusual if we're trying to clean up a complicated situation in a thread, probably the sort of thing that happens...once a week or so? and generally fast enough that nobody's going to notice (though every great once in a while we get email from an eagle-eyed MeFite wondering what happened). It's also nice to not have to worry about destroying someone's comment with an errant click.

We don't often undelete comments well after the fact, but it's happened now and then, generally after either an email discussion with an involved party or some community discussion in MetaTalk. It's not something I'd do in this case for case-specific reasons (see below), but it's not out of the realm of possibility that it'd happen.

Also, do the moderator tools allow for "inserting" moderator comments?

Nope, we'd have to rig up a whole new chunk of infrastructure for that kind of thing.

I recognize that there can't really be any hard and fast rules about what strategy to employ when, but in this particular case I think the original comment was mild enough, and not obviously in bad-faith, that a "remind-and-watch" strategy might have been better.

So this is part of the tricky subjectivity involved with this stuff when it comes down to the actual case by case. Setting aside for the moment the question of whether or not it should have been deleted, I can agree with the idea that that comment could have been tone-deaf but not made in bad faith. And at a glance, it was comment number two, ever, by a new user, so might be a "let's touch base with 'em about this situation, set some boundaries, and keep an eye on them for a bit" sort of deal.

But it's from an account that turned out to be the latest owned by a person with a history of bad behavior under other usernames, so the benefit of the doubt about the comment went away and with it any possibility of considering the comment in that light. More appropriate action in this case was to recognize this as a new dive into old patterns of behavior and shut that down immediately, so I closed the account and the older ones and said to 'em, nope, done with this.

But they also hadn't had any significant activity with this new account, and hadn't been active under older ones for years, so it wasn't a case of someone with any name recognition or recent pattern of behavior worth publicly addressing, so short of it coming up as a relevant case here it's not the sort of thing we'd likely end up discussing as a banning incident.

All of which is to say: there's unfortunately always, always going to be more texture to the moderation work on the ground than a top-level "let's do it this way instead of that way" sort of approach might imply. It's why a lot of policy priorities end up needing to be guidelines rather than absolutes, because it's never one size fits all.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:28 PM on October 25 [12 favorites]


Thanks for the response. Given that additional context that makes it clear that the comment was not in good faith, I can agree with the decision to just delete. I wouldn't have even raised the issue if it hadn't come up here already, but I hope my comments are useful as a general statement of opinion on this type of issue from one community member, anyway, to consider for decision making within the context of the necessarily-flexible guidelines. The one point I want to underline that you didn't already address is that leaving comments responding to a deleted comment may leave a perception that the original comment was even more hostile/negative/whatever than it actually was, making it seem as though there are even more hostile elements being kept barely at bay. Again, I recognize there can be no hard and fast rules around this, and I don't think it should change the decision here; rather, I just hope it's an element that will enter into the mods' decision calculus at some level.

Nope, we'd have to rig up a whole new chunk of infrastructure for that kind of thing.

That's too bad, it seems like it could be a handy thing to have in your toolkit.
posted by biogeo at 2:46 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]


The one point I want to underline that you didn't already address is that leaving comments responding to a deleted comment may leave a perception that the original comment was even more hostile/negative/whatever than it actually was, making it seem as though there are even more hostile elements being kept barely at bay.

Totally agreed, it can be another difficult part of the calculus sometimes. There are situations where I'd feel inclined to e.g. add some clarification in a mod note to make it clear (in either direction) what the tone/severity of the situation was. In this case it didn't really get there, but that's just this case; it's something mods do have to think about when we're making a call on what to delete vs. leave and how to note it up.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:50 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]


"Deleting and then undeleting something within the space of a minute or two isn't super unusual if we're trying to clean up a complicated situation in a thread, probably the sort of thing that happens...once a week or so? "

Or occasionally when a mod is reading on mobile and drops her phone and accidentally deletes something trying to catch it, um, not that I'd know from personal experience ...

posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:10 PM on October 25 [8 favorites]


Please delete this comment using that technique.
posted by biogeo at 3:15 PM on October 25 [4 favorites]


Also, to be clear, we are letting pushback to deleted comments stand in more cases. That's one of the changes we made in response to the discussions this past summer. So, the general thing is already happening, it's just a matter of in which situations.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:23 AM on October 25 [2 favorites +] [!]


Yeah, I thiiiiink I noticed mods doing that in the "The whitewashing of #WhitePeopleDoingYoga" thread, and (imo) it 1) made the conversation richer, and 2) didn't derail the thread (too much) from discussing the links in the OP. If that's indeed what happened in that thread, nice modding y'all.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:35 PM on October 25 [2 favorites]


by arabidopsis: So part of the goal has to be the education of the community, and the shifting of community norms around what is acceptable. And that only happens when push back comments or educational comments or discussion comments (and I don't mean "but I just want to discuss if racism is bad actually") are not only allowed to exist, but allowed to thrive.

I want to second this so strongly.

by cortex: "Threads can be good" is an important goal and one that I want to achieve as often as we can manage.

And sometimes a good thread is about a topic that is, itself, full of conflict and active discussion in the world, so when we talk about it in Metafilter, can't or shouldn't be scrubbed from conflict. I have posted pushback comments here that have been deleted. I have responded by re-posting the comment.

Instead, we could perhaps recognize that a healthy, good conflict is perhaps the most healing way to move forward. Let's not shy away from good conflict. If the issues hold conflict, then that's what is needed.

--

At the end of the day, I would like to hear, from the mods, a clear yes or no as to if this Meta suggestion is adopted or not.

Respectfully speaking, a "well, it will just always depends on context" is a non-answer. It is unhealthy for the community, as it frames the understandable need for mod flexibility as a reason for a non-decision, and ultimately makes it feel like no progress or communal decision is ever possible. I'd appreciate a "Okay yes/no, we will/won't shape our strategies to do that going forward, and of course there will always be exceptions".
posted by suedehead at 5:51 AM on October 26 [10 favorites]


I think we just got a 'Okay yes, we have in fact already started to shape our strategies to do that going forward, etc'. Did you not read it like that?
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:50 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]


Yes suedehead, to be clear we heard people over the summer, and we are doing this and will keep doing it going forward. And we're continuing to listen to feedback and adjust when people feel like we get those case-by-case calls wrong.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:22 AM on October 26 [6 favorites]


suedehead has a valid point that should not be overlooked or dismissed.

I want to reference a quotation from Kevin Shird's article in The Baltimore Sun, from 2017 shortly after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville:

The problem is that the white moderate will fight to keep social programs intact but won't speak too loudly about supporting the creation of black wealth, equality and inclusion. You must be committed to speaking out about an injustice, and it can't be a hobby or something that you do on the weekends when it "feels good." It also can't be something you do after you're riled up about an incident like the one in Charlottesville that left an innocent woman dead. There needs to be a full and unfettered commitment. It might be uncomfortable, and it might even raise your blood pressure. It's also possible that you could lose a friend, and you may be labeled a troublemaker.


Yes, change is slow and takes time. There are often set-backs and speed bumps as we continue the path to justice.

But the reason why Metafilter continues to disappoint its members who don't identify as white, and/or western, and/or cisgender, and/or non-disabled, is because Metafilter has continued to use moderate language to describe moderate approaches to dealing with racism and bigotry.

There needs to be fewer asterisks, fewer footnotes, and fewer "yes, but..." modifiers in both the language we use to describe the site policy and site goals in dismantling racism and bigotry, as well as in the concrete actions we take to bring those proposals to effective fruition.

Leadership means being bold. Leadership means accepting that when you take a hard line stance, you'll lose members, but this time the members you lose are going to be the bigots who can't take the heat and need to get out of the kitchen anyway - instead of losing the many BIPOC and other marginalized community members who have understandably left the site in droves the last year and throughout the years before. We need to stop protecting the fragility of our privileged members and prioritize the dignity, value and rights of our members who don't share those privileges. Now.

The moderate tone and even-handedness needs to come to an end.

Anything else is fence-sitting.

Whether you intended your words and actions as fence-sitting doesn't matter - it's coming across as fence-sitting, and it's having the same impact as fence-sitting.

Either we are active co-conspirators to dismantle racism and bigotry on Metafilter and beyond Metafilter, or we are not. There is no middle ground.

I'll conclude my comment with one more quotation from Mr. Shird's article:

The silence of white moderates who won't speak up when faced with extreme racism exacerbates the problems we have today. White moderates have become comfortable with their lives and don't want to "rock the boat" or make too much noise. To white moderates, I say that your silence is aiding and abetting their agenda and your moral leadership is needed now more than ever.
posted by nightrecordings at 12:03 PM on October 26 [19 favorites]


I have really complicated feelings about this. On one hand, it’s pretty clear that, in the past, the pattern of shitty comment and pushback has tended mostly to leave everybody angry and the given thread Seriously derailed. On the other hand, there is such a clear call for it That a change in policy is absolutely necessary.

I am concerned with the problem of “shitty comment right at the beginning of a thread,” because that’s likely to make the whole thread about that comment rather than the point of the post in the first place, which is not a great situation for the person who took the time and energy to create that post. I think keeping a close eye on the way those dynamics play out is going to be really important. Maybe it won’t be any worse than the current situation, and it should be useful and identifying bad faith participants.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:15 PM on October 26 [1 favorite]


On one hand, it’s pretty clear that, in the past, the pattern of shitty comment and pushback has tended mostly to leave everybody angry and the given thread Seriously derailed.

My thoughts on this are fairly simple. A mod deletes the offensive comment. A mod leaves a note about why the comment was removed. Another note about how there have been a few comments responding to the offensive comment and that discussion should not refocus/recenter on the topic of the thread.

Should someone continue to push back and refer to the now deleted offensive comment, a mod can delete that and advise them to either take it to MetaTalk or to step back from the thread.

This allows the member's reply to the offensive comment to stand, it respects their own push-back and the emotional labour they put into their comment in addressing the original offending comment and it also re-centers the conversation so that it can get back to the topic of the thread.

I don't see how that's complicated. It's very straight-forward.
posted by Fizz at 4:35 PM on October 26 [17 favorites]


Should someone continue to push back and refer to the now deleted offensive comment, a mod can delete that and advise them to either take it to MetaTalk or to step back from the thread.

This is the part I have questions about. Because, even if the original comment is gone, people will still respond to the responding comments, and the derail continues. Otherwise, the responding comments are left sort of hanging. I mean, favorites are nice, but the real currency on this site is feeling engaged with and seen.

I think this policy is almost certainly a step forward; it’s a huge improvement on some of the huge crapfests we’ve had over the last year, and I’m not sure how many more of them we can take. Really, the best solution to the “early shitty comment” problem is for members to refrain from early shitty comments. They are particularly common in music FPPs, and it’s never a good thing. I think we need to pay attention, as a community, to the phenomenon, and work at rerailing when we see it happen.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:06 PM on October 26


Personally, I'd quite like to see the mods being more heavy handed with "just speculating here/asking questions" type comments, and less heavy handed with responses to the same. The most recent trans thread was a good example of how not to do it ideally - righteous responses to shitty comments deleted, some shitty comments (of the "I'm totally just innocently raising that this is a COMPLICATED ISSUE which is why we can't straightforwardly support trans people btw I'm cis" type, from users with a history of doing exactly that on the topic) just allowed to stand.
posted by Dysk at 1:19 AM on October 27 [27 favorites]


I think we're talking about this Toronto Public Library thread, so I'd like to talk through some detail on that in terms of what was deleted, what got flagged, etc. to be clear about the mod decision-making in there and get some more concrete feedback on it.

The short version of my perception of it is (1) the mod team expected the possibility of blargy comments in there and so we kept a fairly active eye out, (2) there were in fact a few comments that had some elements of "sure, but..." or "I'm just confused about the premise because..." that we deleted, some of which were flagged and some of which we took out proactively, and (3) one early comment that I should have deleted early got missed in among some genuinely confusing/confused behavior by an infrequent user and I ended up deleting it later on while leaving pushback comments standing, and left a note saying as much.

The only three comments I'm seeing paging back through that thread right now that got flagged in that thread and didn't get deleted were (a) a display error flag where we fixed a URL issue, (b) a comment linking to details on the event listing itself, and (c) a bit of strong push back against the idea of using a thread about a concrete bad thing happening as a place for discussion of the broader ideas involved in abstract.

We deleted several comments that never got flagged but which if we had left them up would probably have eventually gotten flagged later and I think in a post-mortem conversation of the thread would definitely have been "wait why did you leave this up?" examples.

What all-told got deleted in there was: the aforementioned confused user, who left several comments over the course of the early part of the thread, which was keeping me pretty occupied before I got it sorted out with them; some back-and-forth with a user wanting to talk about free speech absolution from scratch without really engaging the actual topic at all; a one-word snark at a subsequently deleted comment; a couple different "here's a hypothetical comparison that uses a flawed and charged analogy" things we nixed; someone else wandering in late and asking to be filled in instead of reading up; someone full-on hollering at the mods; and the early comment I mentioned above that I deleted later on a left a note about. If I'd done the old-style cleanup of the comments chaining off that deletion, I'd have taken out half the thread in the process, almost all of it various aspects of push back or thoughtful conversation chaining off of the initial comment, replies to it, replies to that, etc. Seemed better to leave that stuff and leave a note. We could in theory have left more of the arguing-about-free-speech-in-abstract comments up, but they were pretty direct responses to deraily stuff rather than springboarding into any particularly on-topic or substantial territory.

There's a couple comments still standing in that thread that never got flagged but which I'm personally kinda hrm about based on my disinterest in seeing people getting into "well but it's complicated" territory in situations where, yeah, "well but it's complicated" can often also end up being cover for grosser or more worn thin bullshit, even if the actual commenter doesn't seem to be intending that. If it feels like stuff that should in fact have gone, I'm open to more of a nudge in that direction; that's where flagging and notes in the moment are helpful so it's not just literally my personal barometer (or whoever is on duty or revisiting a thread), but talking now about specifics of the thread as it stands now is fine too if you want.

For me that thread's an example of a thread that ten years ago would almost certainly have gone horribly by our current standards and which moderation practice and staffing levels weren't at the time equipped to intervene with to stop it from going horribly short of just nuking it from orbit after it blew up in a dozen gross ways. Today what we got was a thread that while frustrating and bumpy at times and requiring a lot of moderation intervention managed to go okay. Not ideal, not great, and it'd be fucking fantastic for it not to have required a bunch of moderation just to keep in okay-but-not-great territory, and I wish I'd not been so distracted by one thing early in the thread that I let another go by and cause some downstream mess before I caught up with it later.

But, again, that's my perception of it, and I know that from a moderator's view I've got a pretty specific take on it that's informed by watching the flags and deletions and notes over the course of it, seeing what went and when, emailing people, etc. And I understand that that perception's not necessarily gonna match up with other people's, one person to the next; and I know I might be snowblind at this point to some of the details of what's still standing in there. So feedback on the specifics is totally welcome.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:11 PM on October 27


This post's premise reminded me of a sci-fi short story, Robert Sheckley's "The Gun Without a Bang." (link to page with .mp3, link to text) I think that there can definitely be long-term merit in leaving a clearer record of what was removed and/or a rebuttal even at the short-term cost of a noisier thread.

The nature of Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings is the theme of multiple MetaFilter posts, for example. One thing you can set your watch to in those threads is someone sailing in and casually dropping a comment that boils down to "Don't worry, she probably enjoyed it!" ("It" being an extended sexual relationship that AT BEST can be described as "asymmetrical" in terms of consent and agency, and by modern standards is straight-up grooming, coercion and rape.) I tend to grit my teeth whenever I see those threads just because I KNOW it's coming, and even if it does get flagged/removed right away, waiting for the other shoe to drop every time really sucks.

"Just pretend you didn't see that" in the aftermath of mod editing is not a cost-free action for those of us who did see the removed comments, is what I'm trying to say here. There has been a lot of talk in the POC threads about the various chilling effects of those phantom comments, when I had thought it was just me. I can't see the mod side directly, but I think it's worth it for them to consider the external cost that some posters face with the perpetual "here's an insult/oh, it's gone/welp, countdown to the next time" cycle that the current policy tends to entrench.
posted by tyro urge at 5:36 PM on October 27 [7 favorites]


Whatever happened with that promised antiracism training for the moderators?
posted by lazuli at 5:48 PM on October 27 [5 favorites]


(I hope you'll excuse me posting this after saying I was leaving the site, but I didn't expect a thread about the exact dynamic that's made me leave. I'll be off after this.)

My comment was deleted from the TERF thread that Dysk is alluding to. Some guy posted a comment about (paraphrased, since it's now deleted) being an ally to trans people for over ten years, but feeling of entirely two hearts and maybe three or four brains about the TPL "debate." I quoted the part about his extensive history of supporting the trans community and replied with a single word:

"Nice!"

I posted that response to highlight the absurdity of allies centering their feelings and pointing to their credentials when they've been challenged. Even as a trans person, I have nonetheless consumed transphobic ideas - as I believe we all have - and am still in the lifelong process of unlearning these ideas. So I was naturally taken aback by the sheer arrogance of a cis person saying we ought to listen to him because he's been a consistent ally, his post not getting deleted despite having a history of saying shit like this, and even getting favorites. Is this how we're doing it?

My comment was deleted. I don't agree with the deletion, but it's also not very surprising. If I had included the above paragraph, it would probably still be there. But frankly, I'm not interested in providing insight, enlightening, or challenging some guy into becoming a better person any more than I'm interested in debating a TERF. My quip was not for him - it was for myself and for other trans members who might have felt similarly taken aback upon reading his comment.

My "one-word snark," I think, added more value to the discussion than any lengthy argument about how we should maybe consider letting TERFs organize. It was meant as a sort of antidote to the specific microaggression wherein someone hijacks a discussion and makes it all about them. I've snarked like this previously. Sometimes it's deleted and sometimes I get criticised by people who are surprised that I didn't center the feelings of well-intentioned ignorant people (oops!).

I just literally don't want to spend my time convincing people of my humanity, but participating in threads about race or trans issues seems to demand it.
posted by i like crows very much at 7:09 PM on October 27 [32 favorites]


I can't see the mod side directly, but I think it's worth it for them to consider the external cost that some posters face with the perpetual "here's an insult/oh, it's gone/welp, countdown to the next time" cycle that the current policy tends to entrench.

Yeah, I can appreciate that aspect, and I hope the move we've been making toward focusing more on leaving replies and adding a mod note vs. the older practice of more consistently cleaning threads up most of the time is helping with that.

Whatever happened with that promised antiracism training for the moderators?

I've talked with few folks in the last three months or so about the possibilities, a lot of schedule unavailability this year with the folks I talked to earlier on but more recently I've been able to talk with a couple different people who may have time and be good fits; I'm hoping to get something on the schedule before the end of the year there.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:10 PM on October 27


Yeah, i like crows very much, I feel you on the frustration with that comment; it's the one I had missed early in the thread when I was dealing with a different mess, and again I'm sorry I didn't catch it early and delete it right away.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:14 PM on October 27


Can I suggest you maybe stop with the "we're all reasonable people here, just give us the benefit of the doubt while we explain why you shouldn't be upset" vibe until you actually do the antiracism/anti-oppression training?
posted by lazuli at 8:36 PM on October 27 [26 favorites]


CRIKEY i like crows very much! Those retorts are eye-wateringly sharp. Dismissive and rude, for paragraphs at a time. Yet a one word comment from you gets deleted. So so disappointing.
posted by lemon_icing at 11:58 PM on October 27 [1 favorite]


someone full-on hollering at the mods

I saw these comments and I find this a really dismissive way to describe them.

I'll also note that one of the comments said that the poster was not comfortable bringing a complaint about how the thread was handled to MetaTalk because such MeTas tend to get bungled so badly by the mods that trans users end up leaving.
posted by lalex at 12:12 PM on October 28 [11 favorites]


No, I was the one who straight up hollered at the mods, not dismissive at all to describe my comment that way. And it had the intended effect of getting deleted AND the comment I was yelling about that had been allowed to stand ALSO deleted. I hate that I had to be so pissy about it, but Jesus fucking WEPT the fact that it was still standing that late in the game was terrible.

To be completely honest the cis-feelings centering that happens in those thread turns my stomach.

This website needs to do better if it is going to thrive ever again.
posted by bibliogrrl at 12:25 PM on October 28 [18 favorites]


I think we also need this site to move away from the type of moderation that operates on the assumption that everyone has the best intentions until proven otherwise.

If the last three years have taught us anything, it's that social media can and will be abused by bad faith actors. The user who got a lot of comments deleted at the beginning of the TERF/Toronto Public Library thread is a troll, full stop, and I don't understand how they're still permitted to participate on this site given the TERF comments + overall commenting history.

Also?

Personally, I'd quite like to see the mods being more heavy handed with "just speculating here/asking questions" type comments, and less heavy handed with responses to the same. The most recent trans thread was a good example of how not to do it ideally - righteous responses to shitty comments deleted, some shitty comments (of the "I'm totally just innocently raising that this is a COMPLICATED ISSUE which is why we can't straightforwardly support trans people btw I'm cis" type, from users with a history of doing exactly that on the topic) just allowed to stand.
posted by Dysk at 4:19 AM on October 27


QFMTF. And I will say it myself, if for no other reason than to back up Dysk and others who have said it too: one fairly early comment is still sitting in the TERF thread, from a user who loves to drive-by shit on social justice FPPs by asking "innocent" questions while coming back and responding to answers in such a way that makes it clear they don't listen/never cared to hear answers to their question to begin with.

Meanwhile, the list of users who have left Metafilter - because of the site's stubborn refusal to take a truly radical stance on bigotry - in the last year alone continues to grow. But we're too busy giving trolls the benefit of the doubt for the eleventy-seventh time.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:23 PM on October 28 [22 favorites]


I hate that I had to be so pissy about it, but Jesus fucking WEPT the fact that it was still standing that late in the game was terrible.

I get you there and as much as I'm gonna come out for basically any other option than "leave a comment you expect to be deleted" as a way to communicate with us, I understand where it came from and even where the other crappier ones not from you came from.

But that's part of the thing from my end: I'm frustrated that we had a comment that a bunch of folks felt absolutely should not have been there but didn't flag, didn't write us a note about it. There was one flag total on the late delete, and it didn't come in until hours later. The reason I say over and over again to please flag stuff early and often is that it works; we're able more promptly and more consistently to give a second look to and take action. And I don't put the not-flagging on any individual person because, whatever, the moment you find yourself in you do what you do and it's no single person's job to flag shit all the time every time. But flagging shit works, and there's this consistent pattern of people collectively seeing a thing, being bothered by it, not flagging it, and then being bothered that it didn't see action. And that's really frustrating to me because it's one of the key tools that helps us do the things folks want us to do in a prompt way.

We can do what we can to spot the stuff we spot, and we managed to have a closer watch on that thread from the get go because the feedback we've taken on over time from the community that these threads need the attention.
But keeping eyes on the totality of these threads and conversations on MetaFilter is a collaborative process and it depends as much on direct in the moment feedback and heads ups from the community as it does on the mods independently tracking every problem. Wanting us to get it right is totally reasonable and what we want too; helping us to do it with the tools available is part of that bargain and we cannot do as good of a job when that part is missing.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:07 PM on October 28 [2 favorites]


I had to give it a rest for a couple of days because I was turning into a human foghorn. This from upthread is a big pile of straw nobody even bothered to kick into a personshape.

"But we shouldn't be hoping for shittiness just for the sake of the pushback"

Has anyone here or anywhere on the site ever in the history of the site expressed in good faith a hope that people would post shitty comments just so that those comments could be argued with?
posted by Don Pepino at 5:10 PM on October 28


Has anyone here or anywhere on the site ever in the history of the site expressed in good faith a hope that people would post shitty comments just so that those comments could be argued with?

No, which is why I was confused that when I said that not having a shitty comment show up in the first place was an ideal outcome you wanted to argue the point. I don't want people to make shitty comments in the first place. I think people will make shitty comments sometimes anyway. I think trying to keep around thoughtful pushback in those cases is worth doing, per the proposal in this metatalk and the way we've been shifting moderation stuff. That was my whole thing and I am still confused that "it's good when people don't make shitty comments" was a point of dispute.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:18 PM on October 28


I mean sure, responsiveness to flagging is good. But like - it isn't hard for me, as a no longer very active user of this site, to see a post title or body and know it's going to have shitty comments, or even to predict the likely type of shitty comment it will have. A very common discussion point among marginalized users of this site is "yeah I avoid threads about X, because I know it's going to be shitty." It is also not especially hard for me, a person with a full time job on east coast hours, to keep up with new comments in such threads? Admittedly I am not trying to read every single thread on the site at once, but like - I checked the TPL thread in between meetings and while talking to other people and checking twitter and reading other metafilter threads and so on and I still saw a lot of shitty comments stay up for a long time. I don't think it's asking too much to ask the mods to be marginally proactive about modding shitty comments? Unless you're saying you would not have known the comments were shitty without flagging because they read as fine to you, in which case like wow sensitivity training is surely needed (although not enough, as people have pointed out previously).
posted by arabidopsis at 6:57 PM on October 28 [7 favorites]


A mod deleted my comment - which was a direct reply - and left the contentious comment by the contentious user in the contentious thread. So either you deleted my comment without thinking about what I was replying to - which seems unlikely - or you thought about it and decided to leave it.
posted by i like crows very much at 7:14 PM on October 28 [5 favorites]


our mods are good humans and i'm sorry to be so critical, but i would be a lot happier with the state of this site if in threads like this one, instead of convoluted multiple paragraph defenses of every past decision detailing why things went a certain way and how the site's culture results in blah blah blah, the people in charge would instead say something like: "We hear you, we're sorry things went this way, and here's what we're going to do differently next time." the "culture" of the site is created almost entirely by the rules the mods enforce and the way you enforce them, and it still feels like there is no real understanding or admission that the actual systems are flawed. there's never any admission of fault on the part of the people making the decisions here, and never any haste towards making things right. we had a meltdown in June about the difficulties marginalized communities have on this site and we're still at "hoping to get something on the schedule before the end of the year"?

of course this isn't the first comment observing this sort of thing in this thread. whenever someone points out systemic problems (see: nightrecordings' post about moderators fence-sitting) it gets no response whatsoever, while the mods are happy to get into the nitty gritty about why this particular post got deleted for this particular reason, or about how they're frustrated at us. okay, sure. literally if you just looked at the most favorited comments in this thread (and the threads in june) and ran the site based on their suggestions i think people would be less frustrated. seriously, what is going on in your heads?
posted by JimBennett at 8:11 PM on October 28 [29 favorites]


But flagging shit works, and there's this consistent pattern of people collectively seeing a thing, being bothered by it, not flagging it, and then being bothered that it didn't see action. And that's really frustrating to me because it's one of the key tools that helps us do the things folks want us to do in a prompt way.

OK, thank you for saying this, because it helps to know that this is going on and that I may be one part of that problem. It's fair criticism. I speak only for myself when I say that upon hearing this, I need to be a little less cynical and a little more pointed in what I flag and how often.

Just to try to make sense of why some things may go under-flagged:
- Metafilter's reputation is long and old and there is cynicism about the effectiveness of flagging (which is, again, why I'm glad you told us that you're seeing a disparity in comments we complain about and how many flags those comments received). There is a belief that nothing will be done about many flag-worthy comments because of a long history of non-action or under-reaction by the mods. Even if things are already in the process of baby steps toward change, some if not many users understandably don't trust the moderators or moderation system given past behavior and past opacity. This may change with time but the moderators need to be realistic and know that it takes time for people to see and trust in change; and that for people to trust it, they need to see that it's swift, consistent and firm.
- Concern that if a shitty comment is flagged, it will only serve to get the push-back comments deleted as well - and for some of us, we'd rather see the shitty comments and the push back comments stand than have all of it swept under the rug where most users will never see it or learn from it or understand that hey, it's not okay to say shit like that. It still wouldn't be ideal to have the shitty comments left standing alongside the responses, but transparency (usually) beats erasure
- As others already mentioned upthread, some folks understandably avoid certain threads because they already know the comments are going to be a shit show. Even if they go into the thread for a minute, they may understandably just leave the thread upon seeing a shitty comment. Sometimes even something as seemingly "small" as flagging can be too much for someone who already feels harmed by what they're seeing. So flagging isn't always going to be that simple.

I admit that in my last comment, I mentioned a comment that I had serious issues with - but I also didn't even see that comment until today and so because of how much time had passed, assumed that flagging it now would't result in a deletion. There are so many written and unwritten Metafilter bylaws about thread continuity that it just seems like it's pointless to complain about a comment that's already been up for a while. Given what you've said about flagging, I'll try to quit assuming what the moderators are going to do or not do, and just flag things regardless. Lesson learned, and again I'm happy that you provided that feedback.

I agree 100% that it should be our goal to reach the point where crap comments don't exist in the first place. I also think the way to make that happen is, in addition to more aggressive flagging, is for the moderators to be very, very, VERY visible and transparent about how the threads are being moderated, and to take a much, much heavier hammer against bigoted and bad faith comments.

I did notice how visible Eyebrows' modding was this past weekend. She left very clear and deliberate deletion notes, including at least one where she took a firm stance that comments disputing the existence of toxic masculinity and patriarchy would not be tolerated. This is a good first step toward the transparency people are demanding.

To go back to flagging: just like we have the option to see or not see if a comment has "likes", it might be helpful if we could see comments that have been flagged. I think there would need to be a threshold - for example, if a comment has received three or more flags but hasn't been deleted, it gets a red exclamation point next to it. People (other than moderators) shouldn't be able to see *who* flagged it, just that it's been getting flagged and that anyone else who is troubled by it should consider flagging it too so that it can be brought more quickly to the mods' attention. I think that visible flagging might also make some shit-posters think twice. It's not a fool proof system but it would REALLY help with the transparency side of things (not to mention it would improve site participation in flagging comments that break the guidelines).
posted by nightrecordings at 11:12 PM on October 28 [10 favorites]


I think that visible flagging might also make some shit-posters think twice.

It would replace shit-posters with shit-flaggers, who would now be able to do anonymously what they previously had to do openly; and allow them to express their malignancy with a single click rather than bothering to compose a reply.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:44 AM on October 29 [3 favorites]


I definitely anticipated that criticism and agree with it, Joe in Australia. I'm still thinking through solutions we could implement to improve our flagging system and its transparency / accountability. I am hoping others might have other/better ideas they'd like to throw in the ring, too?
posted by nightrecordings at 7:11 AM on October 29 [3 favorites]


The reason I say over and over again to please flag stuff early and often is that it works

I'm going to be blunt AF: the flagging system works FOR MODS. It places all the burden for getting something deleted on users, who aren't getting paid to be here. The flagging system doesn't work for lots of users, especially since the mod rule for deleting comments is that as little as one flag is required for a mod to look at a comment and then decide whether the comment needs to be deleted. Since one flag is enough for a mod to look at something and delete it, when any user flags something and it doesn't get deleted, the user knows that a mod looked at the flagged comment and disagreed that the comment was delete-worthy. I've flagged things before that don't get deleted, and I've flagged enough things that don't get deleted that I'm fairly confident that my idea of what is delete-worthy is completely out of step with what mods think is delete-worthy. Once Mefites come to this realization that mods are likely to not agree with their point of view about what's delete-worthy, it really feels like a waste of time to flag things. (I probably have flagged things in the recent past, I don't want a mod sharing my flagging history, thanks.)
posted by 23skidoo at 9:08 AM on October 29 [32 favorites]


A couple of thoughts:

1. A problem with visible flags is that flags mean a range of things: fantastic, double, noise, offensive, etc. I’d hope a shitty comment would get entirely the latter sort, but a lot of flags might not be calls for deletion. I’d like to think we can navigate that, but it’s still an issue.

2. I think # of flags before action is a bad metric, especially after this summer’s problems. Even one flag will hopefully draw moderator attention. Obviously, a lot of flags should maybe add more urgency, but I don’t want to be in a situation where people are trying to use flags as Anything more than “mods, you really need to look at this.“ Our goal should be to have mods that can actually thread through some of these needles, or some kind of other system that can assist them in doing that, Rather than just rule by flag.

3. I think the Toronto Public Library thread was a good example of an early shitty comment poisoning the whole thread. The best course, in my mind, would have been to delete the whole thread, with that commenter told to stay out (or given a day off) and maybe a note that the story is from Canada, so maybe back off on the US-centrism. Sure, people (including me) would have comments deleted, but, if it heads off a dumpster fire....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:54 AM on October 29 [5 favorites]


Apologies if this comment is too "white guy detached from the issues sailing in with a magical solution".

It seems to me that the mods are very reluctant to give up any autonomy to moderate comments on a "case-by-case basis". The feeling is understandable, as humans are complicated and it's difficult even in the best-case scenario to determine all the possible meanings and implications that may be present in a comment. However, if everything is done case-by-case, then in a practical sense, there is no such thing as policy. With no policy, the users have no choice but to trust in the (hopefully benevolent) dictatorship of the mods. The users have demonstrated over the past few years of increasing frustration and despair that this is not sustainable. Given this, I feel that any path toward restoring user trust that good policy will be implemented and enforced will require some system of transparency that is independent of mod control. For example, the users could elect ombudspeople who would be able to see flagged and deleted comments, and would write regular reports tabulating progress on whatever policy goals are active at the time. This is not a perfect solution or the solution I'm trying to push (e.g. it would not be acceptable for all of the ombudspeople to be white), but it is an example of the kind of shift in power that I think is necessary in order to resolve this ongoing crisis of trust.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:38 AM on October 29 [11 favorites]


I think a stronger solution would be for the moderators to actually understand power differentials and how they apply to marginalized groups in society in general and specifically on this site, how their roles as moderators make them people with power on this site whether they like it or not, how their various privileges tend to compound that power differential, and for the moderators to take an unambiguously anti-racist and anti-oppressive policy stance -- not just "not racist" or "not oppressive" -- with an understanding of how to leverage their power on behalf of generally marginalized/oppressed people in ways that works specifically and strategically to combat racism and oppression -- combat, not just "not have" -- on this site.

That is the policy I would like to see.
posted by lazuli at 1:31 PM on October 29 [21 favorites]


. A problem with visible flags is that flags mean a range of things: fantastic, double, noise, offensive, etc. I’d hope a shitty comment would get entirely the latter sort, but a lot of flags might not be calls for deletion. I’d like to think we can navigate that, but it’s still an issue.

Easily solved: get rid of the "fantastic" flag, which is rarely raised, useless for anyone except the mods, and which therefore communicates no useful information. Flags would then at baseline communicate "don't like that."

I am generally on the side of team "ugh, I will try to flag more, requests from mods for flagging are valid," but I gotta say, I share 23skidoo's apprehension with the system. When mods don't fundamentally understand the marginalization dynamics triggering a flag, users flagging run the risk of learning that their flags mean nothing and stop signaling to mods. If I need to pair flags with an emailed essay explaining why X comment is not okay on Y grounds, it is actually easier on me to post an (often waspish) comment. If I'm going to write the damn essay anyway, it might as well get read by the whole user base in the thread, and maybe next time someone will think twice. Or maybe someone else who sees what I do will chime in and back me up.

That doesn't mean that a "flag it and move on" system doesn't have many advantages of its own, if course. When it works, it really works! But the culture of flagging often deteriorates as new users join the site and don't notice flags exist, and flags that go (from a user perspective) unresponded to have a net effect of eroding motivation to flag. When mods don't have a gut understanding of certain specific marginalizations that drive flagging disproportionately from certain groups of users and therefore tend to ignore those flags, that means that those groups disproportionately learn that flagging is ineffective and become even less likely to flag in the future.

How do we fix this? I don't know. I really, really don't, not without scaling communication demands on mods well beyond what is reasonable to handle.
posted by sciatrix at 6:41 PM on October 29 [11 favorites]


When mods don't have a gut understanding of certain specific marginalizations that drive flagging disproportionately from certain groups of users and therefore tend to ignore those flags, that means that those groups disproportionately learn that flagging is ineffective and become even less likely to flag in the future.

I agree with everything in sciatrix's comment but especially this. Sometimes the comments that I flag are of the "sure, this person hasn't said an explicitly bigoted thing on the surface (yet), but in this comment they're laying the foundation for others to walk in to the thread and feel OK gaslighting other members who are dealing with the real life risks with which the post is concerned." As soon as other people enter a thread and see that one person is already openly ignoring the racism, sexism, transphobia and/or ableism that the FPP is rightly criticizing, that's when the snowball becomes an avalanche. It's those sneaky, "I'm just asking an innocent question" type comments that often seem to get left behind, despite flagging, and lead the thread to blow up. Maybe it causes the thread to blow up just a tiny bit slower than it would have if someone had just posted an outright slur, but it still ends up destroying the thread by causing harm to other users. Meanwhile, for the "I'm just asking an innocent question" person, it's no skin off their back.

I am seeing the mods already making some changes in how they respond to the super shitty comments, and I say thank you for what adjustments and changes you've already made since this Meta was posted. It is a process.

I still want to point out that sometimes the most dangerous comments are the deceptively "low key bigotry" comments that waltz into the thread like wolves in sheep's clothing. Similar to lying by omission, these comments are essentially bigotry by omission. There's a lot of willful ignorance. I have seen a few examples of this in the Katie Hill thread.

And that's why it can feel pointless to flag comments. We need the mods to calibrate with us more on what constitutes bad faith or dangerous / harmful commenting. There are a lot of subtleties and shades of gray, in addition to plenty of obvious things that still get overlooked.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:13 PM on October 29 [15 favorites]


I have seen a few examples of this in the Katie Hill thread.

*twitches slightly*

YEAH. When I posted that I was... not expecting... stuff. I will say the worst of them I flagged and within a minute were deleted so thanks mods? but JESUS. It's a complicated thing The Katie Hill stuff and I thought we as a community could appreciate the intersection of bi-phobia/revenge porn/abuse/sexual misconduct and honestly like 95 percent of everyone is getting that but holy shit some of the willful ignorance comment are willfully ignoring a lot.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:30 PM on October 29 [6 favorites]


This community does not understand biphobia. Full, motherfucking stop. I haven't seen the thread because I got caught in a rainstorm two weeks ago and my laptop has been in the shop, but... this community does not have any remotely functional understanding of biphobia, what it is, or any issues that bisexual folks face that aren't "lesbian/gay lite."

That's another one of those topics I do not trust either the mods or the community at large to be decent about. Sorry. And I'm fucking tired, y'all. I have a half composed post on biphobia and a specific research study but I'm not sure it's even worth posting here.

See, that's one of those topics I'm not sure it's even worth flagging any more, because attempts to do so don't fucking work. Too many attempts to good faith effort flag open biphobia that go completely ignored seriously erode my faith in flagging as a valid mode of pushback. Should I invest the energy to make flagging a habit, then?
posted by sciatrix at 4:48 AM on October 30 [17 favorites]


Thank you, nightrecordings, Don Pepino, suedehead, and everyone else whose comments speak my thoughts better than I have.

To connect J. K. Seaser's point explicitly to marginalization: it is a privilege to expect individual consideration to work out in one's favor.

For the under-privileged, individual consideration is only opportunity for someone in power to decide that today these pants are too baggy, these voices too loud, this applicant too one-dimensional.

How much time and money has been set aside for diversity training? How much time and money has been set aside for finding a diversity trainer?
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:30 AM on October 30 [7 favorites]


Easily solved: get rid of the "fantastic" flag, which is rarely raised, useless for anyone except the mods, and which therefore communicates no useful information.

Well, not so easy. If I remember correctly, the fantastic flags feed into what gets sidebarred, so it does serve a site purpose. There’s also the HTML error flag, Both of which could get rolled into the text box flag without too much trouble, I suppose, but there’s a bigger issue. At the moment favorites really only serve to say “I noticed this.” I mean, people use them for enough different purposes that I can’t say for sure what they mean. If we switch flags to a purely negative purpose, and made them visible, users would have a way to say “I hate your comment” but no sure way to say “I like your comment.” And I wonder how that would get used.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:48 AM on October 30


We're arguing past one another.

when I said that not having a shitty comment show up in the first place was an ideal outcome you wanted to argue the point.
No. What I wanted to argue was this point: of course it is better for people never to be shitty. However, people are occasionally shitty. When a shitty comment shows up and is seen by people and argued with, it is not better to have deleted the comment before the arguments against the comment. It would have been better had the comment not happened. But the comment happened. Given that, the next best outcome is that the comment is argued with and the arguments are seen.

I don't want people to make shitty comments in the first place.
We agree.


I think people will make shitty comments sometimes anyway. I think trying to keep around thoughtful pushback in those cases is worth doing, per the proposal in this metatalk and the way we've been shifting moderation stuff.

We agree, and I appreciate the moderation adapting to become better.

That was my whole thing
Nope; part of your thing was expressing disappointment that you didn't get to the comment in time to head off the pushback, and that is the part of your thing with which I quibbled.

and I am still confused that "it's good when people don't make shitty comments" was a point of dispute.
Let me clear up the confusion. It is good when people don't make shitty comments. We agree on that. What's not good is when they do make those shitty comments and you try to make it all better by disappearing the evidence. That prevents progress. If you could 1. leave pushback (which you're doing, and huzzah) and 2. when you do get to some shithead's derail before pushback in the thread but not before people have seen the derail, if you could post but the briefest of mod notes. It could even be an acronym: "SDD--shitty derail deleted" with additional details as warranted--"SDDUW (user warned) or SDDUB (user banned,)" I would be way less profoundly creeped out when this happens.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:12 AM on October 30 [11 favorites]


I haven't set foot in that Katie Hill thread partly because I don't currently trust this community to have its head on straight about biphobia either, so I don't go anywhere near that topic unless I'm in a place where I'm ready to tackle responding to shitty comments, and right now I'm not in that place. I'm glad to heard the mods are at least trying to keep that under control - thanks for that.

I do feel as if flagging at least sometimes seems to do some good when I do it, so I'll keep at it. But obviously there's going to be a problem if the topic is one that we're so notoriously bad about that the people most affected by it can't even venture into it or have no faith that their flags will be understood. I don't know what the answer to that is (except that maybe this would be a great place for allies to step up and commit to keeping an eye out for and flagging stuff like this) but I'll chime in that I do see it as a real problem here.
posted by Stacey at 8:44 AM on October 30 [8 favorites]


The moderate tone and even-handedness needs to come to an end.

Anything else is fence-sitting.

Whether you intended your words and actions as fence-sitting doesn't matter - it's coming across as fence-sitting, and it's having the same impact as fence-sitting.

Either we are active co-conspirators to dismantle racism and bigotry on Metafilter and beyond Metafilter, or we are not. There is no middle ground.


While I understand that is an important motivation, for me personally, coming from a complex racial background, I don't visit Metafilter to dismantle racism and bigotry. I wouldn't be comfortable on a Metafilter that loses its moderate tone and even-handedness. I wouldn't generally want to sort the people here on either side of a "racism and bigotry" divide.
posted by dmh at 2:15 PM on October 30 [2 favorites]


To me, it sounds like the comments here are at the very least unified in requesting that pushback comments should not be not deleted but preserved and supported, perhaps with a mod note.

LobsterMitten's comment implies that this has already been mod policy moving forward; however, some commenters here are saying that their comments have been deleted within the last week, in recent posts, so it feels unclear to me if everyone's voice is accurately being heard.

What would be helpful is a clear mod comment that we can point to that doubly clarifies definitively whether we're moving ahead with this or not.

We have a specific solution to this specific MeTa post that the community wishes for. Looks like we can have some sort of progress, however incremental! A step is a step.

How does this become policy or part of the mod process? Cortex, other mods, could you let us know conclusively and definitely if the mods will adopt this? Does this become part of the FAQ? Please let us know.
posted by suedehead at 12:36 PM on October 31 [4 favorites]


The situation before this Metatalk: Since the summer we’ve been doing this more (leaving followup comments when an originating comment has been deleted). It doesn’t mean we’re doing it always. We talked a little about some factors that enter into that decision, about when a followup might get deleted vs not -- for example, as the very first thing in the thread like the example that started this Metatalk.

People in here have said they feel that more followups should be left, in more cases, and with mod notes explaining. (I appreciate the people who have given examples of the kind of note they’d like to see, and of threads where they think this has gone in the way they’d like to see.)

So: Yes. We’re going to do this.

That is, we're going to leave followup comments in place in more cases, and be more explicit in notes when we’re doing that. This stuff is always going to be a process of adjustment, so it’s gradual and there will be ups and downs, and I appreciate people continuing to give feedback.

I can do a small update to the current FAQ tonight. The current FAQ is still in for a larger overhaul, but I can update the existing section on deleting followup comments.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:30 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


So: Yes. We’re going to do this.

Personally speaking, thank you for that clear message. An FAQ update would be very helpful - looking forward to it.
posted by suedehead at 1:33 PM on October 31 [1 favorite]


Ok I've made that small update. It's the second-to-last paragraph of this FAQ entry. The entry is about comment deletions on Mefi, why might a comment be deleted. This paragraph is where we talk about deletions of trailing replies, saying your comment might be deleted if it was replying to something that got deleted. The update just basically notes that there's a change underway in how we handle these cases.

My hope is we'll be able to iteratively figure out language for thread notes that will make it clear enough what's happening in the threads themselves.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:03 PM on October 31 [1 favorite]


Shouout to some very open and transparent modding by Eyebrows.

This is he level of honesty and communication I would love to see as a regular feature especially when we deal with race/sex/gender issues in future.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:20 PM on November 1 [5 favorites]


So there was just a comment in the thread about Catholic hospitals (left by a moderator but not a "moderator comment") that was completely oblivious to the racial aspects of what they were talking about (Latinx women being sterilized against their will) and there were follow up comments pointing that out and pointing out how problematic the moderator's comment was. The comment from the mod was deleted, as were the follow up comments. I'm trying to understand why this is the case when we just had this whole thread - I'm pretty sure it's important for the userbase to know when mods are making comments coming from a particularly clueless perspective, especially when there have already been so many issues brought up by BIPOC to the degree where we have monthly threads and still feel like nothing is being done? One of the pushback comments included the fact that it colored the commenters perception of the moderators to the point that they were thinking about buttoning. I quoted the comment and said "seconded" and mine was also deleted. I absolutely appreciated the pushback from the members who did so and I'm honestly feeling like if it was anyone other than a moderator who left the original offending comment, the originally comment might not have been deleted and the pushback probably would not have been as well.

Truly, none of this is sitting well with me at all and I think I'm done being a member here.
posted by primalux at 3:21 PM on November 2 [16 favorites]


Hi, I apologize, I've been taking time figuring out how to handle that case and have just left a note in there explaining and am mailing the commenters now.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:23 PM on November 2


I agree. If deleting a problematic mod comment and pushback is swept away without indicating who deleted them and a reason it appears as if the mods are hiding their own biases and not actually as invested in change as they state they are as well as driving away people who are pushing back in the way that is needed and has been requested.
posted by kanata at 3:25 PM on November 2 [6 favorites]


Posted before the above staff comment
posted by kanata at 3:26 PM on November 2 [2 favorites]


I've put back those replies.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:42 PM on November 2 [1 favorite]


I apologize for confusion I've created here.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:46 PM on November 2


I think it's a very good reminder that whilst mods don't have to elide themselves entirely from discussion on metafilter (as members, that is), that they should absolutely think twice when posting could reduce them as moderators.

Answering an ask.me on favourite pancake recipes is fine, I think. Something like what happened in that thread is really not fine, and it's a little disappointing as this has happened before.

There are lines that moderators have a responsibility not to cross, I think. It may be frustrating if you feel you can't bring your whole self to work or whatever, but actually many people have to curtail their opinions or oversight on certain topics/things at work. If Eyebrows doesn't want to, or is unable to do that, I think that's fine - it's not for everyone, but then I don't think it's okay to be a mod.
posted by smoke at 6:04 PM on November 2 [15 favorites]


1) I said earlier that shitty comments should be deleted. I'm no longer on board with that. It is clear that the modding practice is to delete shitty comments not to prevent further harm but to hide the evidence.
2) It is in no way acceptable for someone who has demonstrably needed modding of their own shitty comments in a specific thread to continue to retain modding authority over that thread (She apologizes and will refrain from commenting in this thread anymore, except as part of mod duties.).
3) Really it should not be acceptable for people who have demonstrated "poor judgement" on racism to continue to mod in general but that would disqualify all of y'all.
4) Have you noticed how nice all the POC users are being? How restrained everyone is while begging you to maybe do one (1) thing to be less obviously racist? Racism is not an incidental part of the MeFi experience, it is baked in, and it is honestly exhausting watching my fellows try to convince you of such. Maybe we should be a lot more honest and a lot louder but I mean also why bother at this point?
5) It's 2019. To be where Metafilter is now is pathetic. I've typed and deleted a lot here but that really sums it up for me.
posted by arabidopsis at 9:02 PM on November 2 [33 favorites]


The moderator silence in response to arabidopsis's comment is rather deafening. Are you working on something? Conferring? Ruminating? Ignoring? BIPOC Mefites have been bringing these issues to your attention over and over in a sustained way for months -- presumably years in less-sustained ways -- and the only concrete change I've seen is a page on microaggressions in the FAQ (which is not exactly high-profile) and a maybe-kinda we're-working-it-out thing about not deleting pushback comments, which obviously went really really wrong here. And a vague maybe-kinda scheduling of an anti-racism trainer.

I know that things take time, and I know that perfectionism is a symptom of white-supremacy culture that can get in the way of the actual messy, complicated work of change, in part because it prioritizes a united front of already-figured-out solutions rather than a collaborative approach to asking questions and listening. I'm not seeing much of anything coming out of all the work BIPOC Mefites have done, however, or any actual ownership/moderator commitment to making things better here.
posted by lazuli at 6:40 AM on November 4 [13 favorites]


We're really not willing to make promises we can't keep or announce things that aren't ready for announcement. That way leads to quite a bit more disappointment than dissatisfaction with the timelines. We talked about these issues a bunch at our team meeting yesterday and have some things in process, but until they're ready to talk about.... well, we're not ready to talk about them. I'm sorry that's frustrating.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:09 AM on November 4


I mean, y'all have already made a bunch of promises you haven't been keeping, so what's one more?

I STG the only thing keeping me here has been the friendships I've made along the way and Quonsar. That is not enough anymore. The mods need to do better.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:00 AM on November 4 [9 favorites]


Have you noticed how nice all the POC users are being?

I'm going to be the sacrificial lamb here, and I'll say what we've all been saying in private for years now. The site needs to take a hard-line stance barring Eyebrows from moderating any threads related to race. I've been helping run the MetaPoC slack for years now, and Eyebrows is the moderator we've gotten the most complaints about by an incredible margin over any other moderator, consistently over the years and from dozens of PoC members. She repeatedly acts patronizing towards PoC members, and has consistently made many racist remarks over the years out of ignorance and privilege, ranging from comparing PoC to elementary school children, to her recent remarks implying that Puerto Rican and Mexican-American women were sterilized for being Catholic rather than because of their race.

I'm fully aware of the consequences of triggering white fragility in the authority figures of this site. I'm posting this less than an hour after members were discussing how they were dancing around this issue, because they didn't want to make enemies of the moderators for attacking one of their own. I know the site and its users will make plenty of excuses for her in response to this, as they have before this: she's well-meaning, it's a tough job and PoC are whiny and will never be satisfied, she's a scapegoat for the entire site's problems with race, PoC are being vindictive because she was hired instead of a PoC moderator.

But the bottom line is: I get that race is hard and requires training and site dynamics are challenging and whatever other issues. But the elephant in the room that you need to address is that there is one specific member of your moderation team who lags behind every other member on their understanding of race (which is not saying that the other moderators are particularly good on race, mind you), and has consistently alienated and hurt PoC members. You cannot foster good will about your capacity to address more complex and subtle dynamics without showing that you are willing to address these more immediate concerns. Again, I'm not asking you to dramatically restructure the site or remove her as a moderator, I just want you to not have her moderate matters relating to race. I don't have very high hopes about this, because I've observed that the moderation team often seems to diffuse simple, direct requests like this under excuses of collective responsibility and complexity of site culture: it indicates to me that the priority of the site is more to protect the white fragility of its organizers, than to take any concrete immediate steps to make the site better for PoC.
posted by Conspire at 8:58 AM on November 4 [30 favorites]


Oh hell, I've been editing in the contact form and then in the comment flag form and finally I'm going to comment here.

There are two violations on the part of moderators to the newly created community guidelines, and one fumble on practices, in this latest wrinkle:

1. It sounds like (I didn't see the comment but I trust the community) there was a microaggression posted by a moderator in the Catholic hospital thread.

2. The editing was fumbled (easy go-forward fix: post that you are cleaning the discussion up and some responses will return, before you disappear any responses.)

3. I'm kind of stunned at the "too bad you're upset, we're having meetings, can't discuss' tone of the latest mod thread. Which is in violation of the accept feedback gracefully part of the new community guidelines. Like to the point I was flagging it with comment.

1. Most complex situation is the original comment, at the least there should be a timeout on that moderator moderating while it gets looked at. There should be assurance from cortex that this is being taken seriously. Definitely moderators should not moderate threads where they themselves have been moderated.

If this were a professional staff under my direction, this would be my #1 emergency of the day. The very least response I would have would be to set a date/time for the promised training /today/ and post it and stick to it. I have had to have this kind of discussion with clients about staff comments. You have to state that your staff did not act in line with your values and take ownership, if you want people to believe you are taking your stated values seriously.

2. I would repost both sets of apologies (from the original thread and from Lobster_Mittens), stating the moderators' collective commitment to the community guidelines as stated, to show the understanding of the team that this was a really bad misstep at a very critical time.

3. In no way would I address this community centering the challenges the mod team is having in responding swiftly. I believe the mod team has been having serious meetings, but because you have been having them I think you have developed some deafness about how that comment by restless_nomad is likely to fall on our eyes (has fallen on mine, anyway.)

Anyways I hope this feedback is helpful.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:22 AM on November 4 [14 favorites]


While we're talking apologies, I am unsurprised but disappointed that we haven't actually gotten an apology from EM herself - just a brief one from LM. This would be a great opportunity to model for the community how we expect people who make missteps to acknowledge those missteps and move forward having learned something.
posted by arabidopsis at 9:42 AM on November 4 [15 favorites]



A few months ago, I wrote: Here's a bet. We will be at this exact place in a year, on June 22nd, 2020, emptily talking about "how we need to talk about race" and "let's listen to our POC mefites" and "maybe we should have a non-white mod??" without any real change happening from white mods or white members. I dearly hope I am wrong. Let this comment stand in time to prove me wrong in the future.

It will be 230 days until June 22nd 2020. It has 2 days since a racist comment.

--

This site clearly has a structural problem in the way it moderates.

It is clear that the moderators want threads to "go well" based on their notions of what a "proper" discussion is. Maybe this strategy worked 15 years ago; now, it's clear to me that the moderation practices of 15 years ago amount to a structural tone policing of sort.

As arabidopsis says, It is clear that the modding practice is to delete shitty comments not to prevent further harm but to hide the evidence. I agree, and no longer think shitty comments should be deleted, but grayed out or collapsed from view until a user clicks on it.

Mods: currently it seems like you are doing what I've seen happen so often in white "leadership" spaces: people huddle out of fear, form enclaves of defensiveness and unified fronts, and essentially recreate a "gated community" mentality, of "trying to talk among 'us' so that we can better respond to 'them'". This needs to change. It harms you, and it harms us, and it harms the community.

You can listen and have an open dialogue to the community. You can apologize, show up as your true flawed selves, and have a conversation. You can actually incorporate some of the feedback the community is having, and share agency and power. You can be more transparent and vulnerable about your failings and receive support in return.

--

Overall I feel.. compassionate towards the white mods because I don't envy you at all. I'm done being angry, and now am sad for you all. I am a POC and I facilitate conversations and organize community spaces as part of my personal practice. I've seen this before when people who want to organize communities, or to teach a classroom, but the only tools they know are the tools of the police: the threat of punishment, policing behavior, exile.

Your racial challenges are going to be long, hard, and full of unlearning forms of harm that whiteness has historically done onto to others to maintain its identity. It seems that currently whiteness seems to me like a crazed person with a gun, so used to pointing the gun at others and yelling "stay back! stay back!", that when whiteness works with themselves, they point the gun at their own selves, also yelling "stay back, stay back!". Part of the answer is to drop the gun, and to examine where the fear of the other really comes from.

In Metafilter, the mod team is structurally the thread 'police', here to control what a good or bad comment is. Part of the answer here, is to drop the gun, stop being the white thread police and to examine the emotions that your motives are connected to. Why do you fear a "bad comment"? Why are you trying to sweep things under the rug? Are you worried about not being good enough of a moderator, or a white person? Is white guilt driving you? Do you feel like your tireless efforts aren't being recognized?

Mods, I strongly suggest you change the role of moderators away from police and towards facilitators. You should work with facilitators and community organizers: people whose work it is to care, to hold a safe and brave space, to support each others' voices, to engage in a dialogue, to make space for vulnerability and expression. This is the kind of structural change Metafilter needs -- not to have better 'police', but to create a site culture where we facilitate conversation for each other. The site facilitators set the tone, and others carry it together. It's happened in the past for Metafilter -- jessamyn was sometimes more of a facilitator than a police -- and it can happen again. But if it will, it will structurally look differently than how it does now, in terms of diversity, identity, roles, and process.

I wish I could help give to Metafilter a little bit of what I have in my daily life. I wish I could help the "mods" realize that they need to stop being the police and that they can to become facilitators and gardeners of Metafilter as a community garden. Most of all I wish I could help create a better space for all the community members who, like me, are thinking about leaving, wishing we could stay, craving community, but dealing with a site structure that is structurally unwilling to change its practices.

Imagine how great it could be otherwise! Imagine if you actually apologized, showed up, received support, made mistakes. Imagine if you stopped being the police, became facilitators, supporting people, not policing them. Imagine if you could ask for help from the community and receive it.

And for the community - imagine how exciting it would be to discuss and talk in a space where everyone is supporting each other. To me the POC threads are a glimmer of hope at Metafilter, where people can share thoughts and conversations and support each other in ways that are difficult and rare elsewhere on this site. This is the direction that Metafilter could move in.

This can start with apology, and acknowledgement, on behalf of the mods.
posted by suedehead at 10:05 AM on November 4 [35 favorites]

We're really not willing to make promises we can't keep or announce things that aren't ready for announcement. That way leads to quite a bit more disappointment than dissatisfaction with the timelines. We talked about these issues a bunch at our team meeting yesterday and have some things in process, but until they're ready to talk about.... well, we're not ready to talk about them. I'm sorry that's frustrating.
speechless.
posted by lalex at 10:23 AM on November 4 [10 favorites]


suedehead's comment should become the new Mission Statement for the moderation of MetaFilter.
posted by lazuli at 10:30 AM on November 4 [6 favorites]


y'all are really gonna burn this site down because you're too scared or stubborn to take any advice from outside of your inner circle, aren't you? that's been the recurring theme in every discussion this year. i don't even know what to say anymore.
posted by JimBennett at 1:40 PM on November 4 [5 favorites]


It's been 8 hours since a mod has bothered to interact with this thread. That is some real bullshit.
posted by bibliogrrl at 3:06 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


I fully understand that promising things before they're ready leads to disappointment, and MeFi is not going to reinvent its theory of moderation in an afternoon. I also acknowledge that for a lot of people in this thread, another "we hear you" from the mods is not meaningful anymore. But this silence is painful.
posted by zachlipton at 3:53 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


First, I am the one who was handling that thread the other night, and I think I screwed up in deleting the comment. Moderation often has this kind of situation where you have to find the least-worst of several options. I'll post the comments and then talk about my process in deleting.

Here's a link to the comment in the thread from just before the deleted comment. And here's the deleted comment:
"Because the problem here isn't that Catholic individuals are exercising legal powers that are not available to Jewish individuals, but that powerful Catholic organizations are exercising powers that are not comparable to organizations operated by any other religious entity."

And part of the vast irony of the situation is that Catholic hospitals are part of a parallel Catholic social services structure that was built when Irish and Italian immigrants began coming to the US in large numbers, the dominant culture freaked out, and began to impose demands that Catholics be less-Catholic to interact with government. For example, Catholic children in public schools were required to pray Protestant prayers, and sometimes to even repudiate Catholicism and profess Protestant beliefs. They were taught their parents were immoral and dangerous and unpatriotic. Catholics who interacted with social services would often lose their children, because all Catholics were considered drunks and therefore unfit parents. ("Rum, Romanism, and rebellion," as the old GOP line about the Democratic party went in the 1920s.) Catholics were often simply refused services at public hospitals, as were others at the time, particularly African-Americans. But to come to the main point, which will also be familiar to students of African-American history: Catholic women were sterilized against their will in staggering numbers at public hospitals. It was official government policy in Puerto Rico beginning in 1937; as late as 1965, ONE THIRD of Catholic mothers in Puerto Rico had been sterilized, typically without their knowledge or consent, often in coercive settings, often after being lied to about the procedure. This happened in the mainland United States as well (ESPECIALLY in California), as eugenicist doctors in public hospitals would decide that a Catholic patient had "too many children already" or "was obviously an alcoholic and unfit to reproduce" or similar reasons. While after WWII, Irish and Italian Catholics had largely become "white" and were safer at public hospitals, the problem was ongoing for Latinx Catholics. In 1975 (!!!!) a group of Mexican-American women brought a class action against a California hospital for sterilizing them by coercing consent to sterilization, in English, when they only spoke Spanish, literally seconds after they gave birth, and refusing to keep providing care unless they signed.

So the parallel Catholic social services system, including the Catholic hospital system, grow out of this social setting, where it WAS NOT SAFE for Catholics to interact with secular services, and Catholic hospitals in particular were a reaction to the abuse and assault of Catholic women by medical authorities at secular hospitals.

Which makes it both 1) understandable how reactive Catholic hospitals can be to demands of state control over their reproductive programs (especially when they're about sterilization procedures), but also 2) really frustrating that we're now in a setting where the Catholic hospitals have become coercive in deciding women's reproductive choices (among other things), because they're the only option available -- as public hospitals once were, and Catholic hospitals had to be founded in reaction. And yeah, refusing to perform procedures is a slightly different moral question than forcibly performing unwanted procedures under coercion, but the outcomes -- women (and men) denied agency over their reproductive health because of what men in positions of authority think is appropriate -- are uncomfortably similar.

A perfect storm of historical accidents created a monopoly of Catholic health care in huge parts of the country -- the creation of the parallel system for an underclass, the mainstreaming of (some) Catholics after WWII at the exact moment that public health investment started pulling back (so that non-Catholics were becoming willing to use Catholic hospitals), the emptying of rural America as knowledge workers such as doctors concentrated in cities, the Republican war on government-funded ANYTHING, and the GOP culture wars around sexuality that made it impossible for the government to fund reproductive health care. But now we're here and it's hard to figure out how to get out of the situation.
Then ArbitraryAndCapricious made their comment, and then homo neanderthalensis had a comment, and then Eyebrows posted a brief apology and clarification:
Sorry, A&C, I meant to be specific that forced sterilization was primarily inflicted on Puerto Rican and Mexican-American Catholic women, especially in Puerto Rico and California. Apologies if I was unclear. (Although hn is exactly right, many groups who are considered white today had to "become" white.)
and then she apologized in my mod note as well:
Eyebrows McGee had a long comment that was badly phrased; to be clearer, she agrees that racism is the central motivator of forced sterilization. That should never be in question.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:51 PM on November 4


My thoughts: I was initially going to leave the long comment and let the pushback and clarification discussion play out. It seemed like it could be clarified and then the conversation could proceed, as people talked about wanting to see happen more in the racism and first POC thread this summer.

But after a bit, a POC member flagged the long comment, and I was thinking about how some members in here have been saying they get discouraged when flags don't lead to action, and whether it would look like mods were giving Eyebrows special treatment by not deleting it. So I deleted. But then other members in here felt the delete was a coverup.

In retrospect I think I shouldn't have deleted it. I'm sorry, because I think it made this situation worse than it needed to be.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:57 PM on November 4


We're in the process of scheduling with a specific consultant now. That's one of the things in process that restless_nomad is referring to. We'll let you know when that is actually scheduled. We're hoping to be able to hire in the next [time period] but again, that's something we can't commit to until we can actually commit to it. We'll announce all this stuff as soon as it's ready; I know people want the timetable to be faster or more predictable and I'm sorry we haven't been able to do that.

The type of bigger changes that suedehead refers to are things we're potentially open to; that's well spelled-out so thank you. It's the kind of thing I've been hoping we can talk over more deeply with the consultant. This is why it hasn't been quick to schedule, because we aren't looking for some off-the-shelf corporate diversity training slideshow, we're looking to talk with someone in some depth about our very very small idiosyncratic organization and its very specific practices. It will take thinking-through and some non-crisis headspace, which these days is vanishingly hard to come by.

For all these discussions about nitty-gritty mod policy/process stuff, we need people to have accurate expectations: it's the nature of moderation that it's built of a thousand little specific situations, and any team of moderators is just gonna fuck up sometimes. The goal is to minimize those fuckups but we'll never eliminate them. So many of these things come down to trying to fing the least-worst of several bad options. There will be threads that don't get handled the way you think they should be, and in order to be able to engage, we need that to be something people are upset about in a proportional way, not to become a "burn the site down" ultra-high-stakes moment.

We definitely want to work with community members on this stuff, just as we always have historically -- but it really needs to be on a footing of: progress is possible, where we're looking at concrete things we can do, recognizing the actual constraints under which moderation is done, realistic expectations about what outcomes there will be, etc. We can take feedback and incorporate it and iterate. It's going to be gradual and slow and we will continue to fuck up sometimes. We're going to hire someone new sometime, and that person will fuck up too.

I want to make the site a reasonably good place for a wide range of people to have a wide range of conversations, and where people can extend to one another those supportive attitudes like you describe suedehead. (Just thinking that through: It's never going to be the same thing as a workshop with a single subject and a dedicated facilitator just for that subject, because we have to reconcile a lot of other things - people from wildly different backgrounds, with different reasons for being here, different levels of understanding of the site or of US cultural stuff, discussing different topics from sources that vary in their carefulness of setting up an issue, etc - so I think we can take some lessons from workshop facilitation but I also think that exact model wouldn't work the same here. But I'd be interested to talk more about this if you've thought about that.)

So: I really appreciate the people who are extending patience and continuing to try to work on this stuff. (Believe me I know that these days we're all absolutely wrung out, because of the state of the world, and I know what it takes to put on that diplomatic face.) I also understand the people who feel they can't.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:02 PM on November 4


Re: accurate expectations. Sure, moderation is complicated and nuanced and decisions can be controversial. I don't think that what you did, LM, in deleting EM's post, was unconscionable. It was according to the understood moderation guidelines, and it was a judgement call. Fine. I would consider my upset about that to be proportional, and I'm not especially exercised that you made a different call than I would have, although seeing that call be made has changed my philosophy about what I think the governing moderation guidelines should be going forward.

What I am upset about are EM's actions, and how the mod team followed up on them. And perhaps the mod team thinks it is disproportionate to call for her to be banned from modding threads that touch on race. But I want to dissect exactly what she did and why it is so upsetting to me, because I think perhaps there is a disconnect, and that's one reason why our distress is coming across as disproportionate anger.

1) EM posted a comment that had at its core, the thesis that the Catholic church's restrictions on people's access to reproductive care at their facilities was a justifiable response to the sterilization of Catholic women. Personally I find this a reprehensible argument, but also pretty weak given larger historical and theological context. But fine, everyone is entitled to have an opinion I disagree with - it was a poor judgement call to post it but maybe not unforgiveable.

2) Some users pushed back on EM's comment, pointed out some of the flaws, specifically the ones with racist undertones.

3) EM's second comment made it clear that she did not understand what the objections were to her first comment, and in fact doubled down in defending her race-free analysis of the sterilization issue.

4) After further push back, EM exited the conversation, with a non apology ("badly phrased"? Really?) to be conveyed by a friend. A friend who was a mod, and who combined the message with modding activity. So that non apology was given weight as representative of the mod stance on the conversation.

Here is what I would have liked to see happen:

- EM could have apologized properly in her second comment. Sometimes we say shit we don't realize is bad and someone helps us realize that it was problematic for whatever reason. As you say, everyone fucks up sometimes. Of course, a history of fuck ups is more complicated, but an open and honest realization would have been a good first step.
- When LM deleted EM's comment, EM should have immediately been recused from modding on that specific thread.
- LM should never have apologized for EM, especially not in language that excuses EM's fuck up as something we all just misinterpreted and misunderstood. No, it was a fuck up, and should be acknowledged as such.

If all of the above had happened, I might have retained a little more faith in the moderation team. And I personally don't feel that any of those actions are unreasonable or unrealistic or an expression of the desire for them is too burn it down-y. YMMV.
posted by arabidopsis at 7:34 PM on November 4 [14 favorites]


that had at its core, the thesis that the Catholic church's restrictions on people's access to reproductive care at their facilities was a justifiable response to the sterilization of Catholic women.

Wow, ok maybe this is the disconnect. That wasn't her thesis at all. She opposes the church's restrictions on women's health care, she thinks it's bad and wrong, and has had her own health care denied.

I read her comment as just neutrally (that is, not in support of any particular thesis) giving historical context about Catholic hospitals and describing this ironic situation where once, Catholic women of color were forced (due to racism) to have this operation, and now the church is on the other side of that (denying the operation to someone who wants it), and because the church has so many hospitals because of some of the other historical context, it's this shitty situation where sometimes a person's only option is a Catholic hospital.

I thought people were objecting because they didn't think it was clear enough that the women being forced to have this operation were Latina women and that race was a primary factor.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:48 PM on November 4


And I'm sorry for using the phrase "burn it down"; I was getting that from JimBennett's comment above and shouldn't have used it.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:50 PM on November 4


And now that I've gotten my nice, polite, tone policed response part A out of the way, I'd like to express some other thoughts.

1) You are responding to this as if it's an isolated incident. "Well, modding has a lot of nuance, and sometimes people disagree on what the best action is, and also sometimes people make mistakes, don't expect us to be perfect." What we are telling you is that this is not a single incident, this is a pattern of behavior and of lack of understanding of the mods. Honestly at this point I don't think sensitivity training is going to do anything. I'm not sure how an experienced moderator of internet communities could have failed to predict that people would be hurt by the sequence of events described above.

2) Your responses here are condescending and tone policing. But maybe you're right, and we can't reasonably expect any better from the current mod team. I'm starting to feel that way myself.

3) EM has a history of being, to put it nicely, a clueless white lady, and I echo everything Conspire said. However I'm sure you will close ranks on this so I'm not hopeful much will change.
posted by arabidopsis at 7:52 PM on November 4 [9 favorites]


I really get put off by the defensive phrasing that comes from the mods sometimes. This is not the first time this has happened with the same mod. They have clearly showed their unawareness of POC issues time and time again. They have had problems with modding trans issues. It just gets repetitive to hear the same excuses all the time. And it is like warriorqueen said .. making yourself a sacrifice to gods to speak openly about it. That's all I say on this as I'm not POC (but consider myself trans) and have disabilities that make it hard to even be this honest. This isn't a new thing. I just feel like if its frustrating me hearing wait, she made a mistake, we are thinking, be patient after so many chances it must be absolutely disgusting to POC.

Honestly if cortex just came out and said look I just wanted a community site and to make a little money and I like it the way is and I'm too tired, or don't care enough to put in the work I would be much happier as at least this gaslighting hope would be done with and people could move on. Course people are already moving on.
posted by kanata at 7:53 PM on November 4 [14 favorites]


I thought people were objecting because they didn't think it was clear enough that the women being forced to have this operation were Latina women and that race was a primary factor.

This was exactly why I was objecting, but people have all sorts of reasons to objecting to things and I can certainly see why arabidopsis would object on the grounds she did, because I also read it that way.
posted by primalux at 7:55 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


But also, why are you the one telling us what Eybrows McGee actually meant instead of her telling us herself?
posted by primalux at 7:56 PM on November 4 [16 favorites]


Yeah my point was not to relitigate the specific grossness of what EM said. I'm not going to do that and focusing on that is a derail to the larger issue being discussed. I brought up specifics to show that what we are asking for is not some kind of unreasonable impossible burden, but that it would have been quite simple to address.
posted by arabidopsis at 7:57 PM on November 4 [6 favorites]


Nthing the point that it's the culture here and a pattern of behaviors that's the problem. Litigating and rules-lawyering specific instances has become the moderators' way of ignoring larger patterns, and it's something you've generally been vocal about recognizing when users are doing it, so please take that same awareness and apply it to yourselves.

You need to understand that you have more tools at your disposal than deleting comments. I can absolutely understand why you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place if you think your only options are "delete" or "let stand." You have so many more tools! And that's what I meant earlier when I said that y'all need to develop an understanding of power differentials on this site and how your roles as moderators play into that. You can shape conversations. If you post comments in threads, your comments have more weight than most users' comments; because you're not only moderators but also all white and we live in a racist society, if you post anti-racist comments, your comments have much more weight than those made by a BIPOC MeFite. You have so much power here. And you seem to be squandering the opportunity (and I would argue, the responsibility) to use it to create a site culture that is not just tolerant but actively welcoming to all, and instead using it to swing back and forth between hiding evidence of problems and pretending those problems aren't problems. Which, again, if you've convinced yourself that you have only one binary option, it makes sense that you're alternating between two extremes. So take a breath, take a step back, and look at possibilities beyond that.

I don't mean to make jessamyn a lesson, but she changed the boyzone culture here not just by banning people or deleting comments but by participating in conversations, by making comments to make her point and to point out inequities, and by being crystal-clear about her intentions. As arabidopsis said, the internet culture has changed since then as well, and users generally expect a much more nuanced understanding of intersectionality and power dynamics not just "out there" when discussing politics but "in here" when interacting with other users in the moment.

The hierarchical, closed-ranks, "we'll only present fully formed plans" culture you currently have going is a huge part of the problem. It is steeped in white supremacy culture that is so terrified of getting it wrong that it won't risk getting it right. I suspect that each one of you individually would be willing, as suedehead has asked, to set down your weapons and your walls and start engaging as human beings, and I think something about how you're interacting with each other's fears is reinforcing them.

For the good of the community, I really encourage you to show up here as individuals, flawed and all. I promise that we all very much understand you're flawed, as we understand we're all flawed. It's not going to undercut your authority to be unsure on how to proceed. What is undercutting your authority is your unwillingness to declare your sincere intentions, to acknowledge that you're currently fucking up (as we all do), and to show that you're actively working to get better.
posted by lazuli at 8:25 PM on November 4 [20 favorites]


Please don't let suedehead's awesome comment and the ideas expressed within get lost in the micro-level response to any particular incident. It's worth reflecting on, on its own.
posted by Jpfed at 8:30 PM on November 4 [9 favorites]


I agree that we haven't been doing as well as we could, or as we have done at times, in terms of the kind of facilitator-ish comments that suedehead mentioned. I think it's been especially so since 2016, which was such a hard year and then the years in between have also been so hard (on everyone).

Starting back to that kind of comment is something we can aim more consciously for.

The thing about deletions is a fair point, just like suedehead's point; it will take some experimenting to get back to focusing on other tools. These bigger shifts are on the table, like I said.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:36 PM on November 4



and then she apologized in my mod note as well

Come on now. This is risible, and unlikely to be something you-as-mods would let go unnoticed if a user tried to pull it.
posted by Drastic at 8:56 PM on November 4 [11 favorites]


I think this is a form of progress, slowly.

Thank you for honestly explaining your process and feelings, and for your apology, LobsterMitten. That makes it very clear what happened. Honestly, I think you made a mistake. That's okay. I think people are upset, myself included. I think that's okay. I think it's even better that you apologized. This is good, a good learning step for all of us. Hopefully we can learn how to apologize and receive apologies, to express our anger and to listen to each others' anger.

Eyebrows McGee, as a member of the community, I also think you could show up if you wanted to. I don’t think you should apologize out of a sense of obligation, but rather express your true feelings as they are and how they’re sitting with you. Honestly, this might lead to a bit more conflict as other members express their hurt in turn. I do think that it’s better in the long run to be truthful to how you want to show up sincerely as a member of Metafilter, not to be a good mod police.

Conflicts are real and they happen all the time in community. We can move through it by acknowledging them and working through conflict.

--

I think the mods are caught being feeling like they should be police and wanting to be members. If you're police, you can never make mistakes, and if you do so, you can never admit to make a mistake. Denying a conflict through denying a mistake isn't healthy for anyone: it's unhealthy for the mods, because it increases pressure on you to be perfect, by making mistakes and ignorance into a bad thing, when it could be moments for humility and learning. Even worse, for the community, it sends the message that your mod stances are correct, and actually bolsters your power because you reinforce the notion of mod as unfailing authority.

Because the mods are mostly or all white or cis, this becomes more complicated. The mods make mistakes, which are also woven in with a lack of familiarity and ignorance of anti-oppression, racism and whiteness. This means that the mod's political stance implicitly sets the thread's stance. When a mod isn't anti-racist or anti-oppressive enough, because the thread's politics are tightly coupled to mod decisions, then the thread isn't able to become anti-racist or anti-oppressive, and can't follow what the community wants.

I see a community in Metafilter where people want to be having more careful, thoughtful, vulnerable, open discussions. This is what the POC threads and other threads show me. There's a yearning towards more community and more connection, especially in these hard years. That's why we're here. I see a community wants to able to have these discussions, that is often let down precisely because they have high hopes for Metafilter as being a safe and thoughtful space to say really deep thoughts and feelings and be supported in them. The community is also angry because the mod-police structure says “don’t worry, we will hold the power and take care of the threads”, but doesn’t have the capacity or deep knowledge to do so for several topics. Many of us with lived experience, who have been thinking about this for a while, find ourselves literally being silenced in the name of reducing conflict and creating a “good thread”. To me this is especially difficult, because one of the goals of good community is to hold spaces for conflict and speaking our truths.

I also see a group of mods who care about the community and are gripping tightly to the tools they know -- holding tightly to your moderation tools, to trying to be the best, unfailing, well-performing group of police that can weather us through a societal storm that's much larger than what's going on at Metafilter. I know that this comes from a place of care, and love for community. I feel full of compassion because I think you’ve set yourselves up for failure in some ways by trying to be perfect mods/thread police.

Again, I think the overall process involves dropping your guns, seeing Metafilter as needing facilitation rather than policing. I’m glad to see you acknowledge it, LM, and happy to share more. I’ve been thinking about this for a while.



To speak more about facilitation — isn't really about workshops, and the fact that you think so does make me think that it would be doubly helpful for the mods to look more into facilitation. It's about community organizing, about enabling collective decision-making, about creating and sustaining healthy activist or movement groups. And the facilitation in these contexts is created to work precisely with a variety of people with different ideas, backgrounds, experiences. Facilitation isn't about making things work a certain way; it's about channeling and supporting the power of the people, of the collective. Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown is a book that's often been talked about lately, for good reason; I recommend it.

The best facilitators I know are not performers or leaders, and they're never trying to be perfect, but rather show up as fallible humans. They hold space, they ask questions to the group, they listen. They share their emotions vulnerably and express them -- they're happy, nervous, hesitant, excited, apprehensive. They make space for people to be heard, and request that everyone support each others.

In other words, they help model and create the kinds of conversations that we want to have. This means that when they fail and make mistakes, they also model what we would want a healthy community to do -- for someone to apologize, to acknowledge and respect the emotions and thoughts of the hurt person, to be respectful of others' spaces, and to do it with grace.

I think that Metafilter needs a different kind of moderation technology to support facilitation. Currently the flagging pipeline is like calling the police, and the mods are judge & police in one, deciding to delete a comment, ban a user, etc.

Because the only way to respond to member feedback from flags is to delete a comment, you’re kind of stuck - you either delete a problematic comment, or keep it up and risk implicitly endorsing it. Currently there’s no easy way for mods to say “this comment is problematic but we’re keeping it up for the sake of avoiding erasure and holding conflict”. There’s also no way for the community to have our deep knowledge reflected in how the comment is displayed if a mod doesn’t get what we’re saying. The mod becomes a bottleneck.

I think there could be a process that responds to feedback from users. This might probably be best explored in another thread, but perhaps a comment is grayer when it receives enough flags, or maybe mods have the ability to “collapse“ or “fold” problematic comments instead of deleting so that it’s viewable in the thread with a click, but not immediately viewable.

These are just examples, but I do think that there need to be ways in which the site technology can support facilitation. When I facilitate or have seen facilitators work, the space and its tools are a crucial aspect of good facilitation. (Long story, but I once witnessed a piano and a wireless mic help turn a racially traumatic experience into a collective healing one for a hundred people.) Facilitation isn’t just about conversation, but the tools and mediums we use to communicate as well.

With some of these tools, as well as mods turning into facilitators, I have hope and optimism. I can imagine a form of Metafilter where mods loosen their grip, acknowledge mistakes, and are supported by the community. I can imagine a form of Metafilter where community members are forgiving and understanding because members have the power and tools to hold actively anti-racist, anti-oppressive, safe and brave spaces.
posted by suedehead at 11:20 PM on November 4 [30 favorites]


I’m glad it took me so long to compose a comment, because suedehead just said everything I was struggling to articulate with extreme clarity and grace. I have been trying to say these things for years in various MeTas. Showing up as community members with radical vulnerability and honesty and a true willingness and openness to naming and owning mistakes is in so many ways more valuable than a ‘perfect’ mod could ever be. Modeling what it looks like to be a good community member is truly something that jessamyn did that changed the culture of the site. I think for people who are used to being the smartest person in the room that is an intensely scary and brave thing to do. It becomes even scarier when you have structural power.

Some years ago, I was in a very difficult and complex interpersonal situation with someone that had much more power in the situation than I did. I tried to explain how this meant I could never be fully honest unless they acknowledged and accepted that they had more power than I did. Their response was to say to me repeatedly “I don’t know how to make you understand that I don’t have any power over you.” They were never able to understand that their power to unilaterally disengage from a conversation/situation meant they absolutely did have power over me. That same dynamic plays out here with some frequency.

A regular member not showing up to talk about one of their comments in MeTa - eh, that’s totally their prerogative. But this pattern of EM saying something that causes issues and then another mod doing all the navigation around it is really not ok. Being able to navigate a complex situation is pretty much exactly the job of a mod. And what we see over and over again is a demonstration that EM is not willing or able to engage at that level. Apologizing through someone else is an explicit demonstration of the structural power mods have. Other members don’t get to have the mods explain and apologize for them. Certainly not when they’ve had a comment deleted. That is the Good Ol’ Boys Network in action. It turns something that would have been a mistake and a misstep into the mods being used to exert structural power on behalf of white supremacy - however unintentionally.

It is one thing to have other mods backs on moderation decisions. I actually think that’s very much the right thing to do. It is very much an entirely different proposition to have mods explain as a misunderstanding when a mod gets called out for racism. Trying to explain and smooth that away is the wrong call. If y’all want to be treated as regular members who participate in discussions, which I think is the healthiest choice for the community, you have to act like regular members in threads. No back channel discussions. No pleas for someone else to go fix things for you. No getting to unilaterally walk away from a mess you made while someone else is left to defend you. All of those things are explicit demonstrations of structural privilege and power. They are an abuse of power.

It’s one thing for members to just walk away from a conversation where they screwed up. I don’t have to trust their judgment when I’m flagging things or asking for intercession. I don’t have to worry about what happens the next time I’m a little noisy. There’s an escalation path for dealing with that. There’s still not one for mods beyond another mod saying they’re sorry.

This cycle breaks down community trust.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:08 AM on November 5 [29 favorites]


So, I have a lot of feelings about a lot of stuff in all this, and I've been absent from this thread for several days because I've had to keep some distance just to manage my own mental health. That's not something I've really talked about on the site and don't feel like digging in on now, but I am gonna at least acknowledge it because (a) I feel like I've been maybe conspicuously absent as a result and I'm sorry about that, and (b) I want to ground some of this in the concrete reality of the strain of working here.

suedehead, really appreciate a lot of what you've said just above and I want to say thanks for outlining your thoughts on it at such length and with such care. And I want to be clear about this: I like the idea of a more facilitative mode of moderation. The spirit of it is good, for both the community and the mods: more of a focus on just talking stuff out, being open and vulnerable when something is problematic or goes wrong, less intervention and more conversation. Talking through stuff, and letting everybody learn and make progress that way; addressing hurts with ongoing dialogue instead of by trying to corral stuff off. Discuss instead of delete. None of these ideas sound bad to me, in principle, and I'm game to talk more about them and how they might work on MetaFilter in practice. To an extent this stuff is already part of the mix of what we do and have historically done, and talking about where and when that has worked (and not worked) would be really worth talking about as well.

But principle and practice are different and I think a lot of the above depends on some big assumptions. One very big thing: "be open, be vulnerable" implies that that will be received well and taken in stride. And I fully believe it would be taken in stride by some folks. I think it's being forwarded in earnest. But some is only some; if some folks are welcoming it and some folks are overtly rejecting it or dismissing it or using it against us, the actual experience isn't healthy or sustainable. So asking mods to commit to that different mode implies asking the community to do so, too, and expecting that to be taken up.

My experience as a mod trying to talk about my perspective and experience and feelings over the last several years has been having that repeatedly and explicitly shut down as a distraction or redirection or centering my feelings; that doing exactly that kind of talking stuff out and laying out my thinking and motivations and feelings in handling a messy site situations was unwelcome, was the problem. This is the message the whole mod team has repeatedly gotten for a while now from community interactions: that a lot of people feel we need to shut up and stay out of it other than the doing we're being asked to do.

That's a contradiction I personally (and the team generally, but I can speak best about my personal perspective) have been really struggling with, for a while now. Because a site/MetaTalk dynamic where just talking it out even when folks are gonna disagree and there's an aspect of social conflict in the discussion is basically how I would like to do things. I'm a talker, that's like breathing for me. But it's one thing for me to say, sure, I'm on board; it's another thing to expect everyone else on the site to be. And if I'm on board for that but my experience is being met in the middle on a conversation by half the folks involved but being told to shut up and sit down and stay out of it by the other half, that's not a healthy situation for me to try and be open and vulnerable.

The asymmetry of numbers in mod-community interactions has a lot of different implications, and we can and have talked about that in terms of asymmetry of power. But there's also a huge asymmetry of experience of critical reactions that can be uniquely shitty and isolating on this end, and it's making it hard for me to just show up at this place that I otherwise love and care about. And that doesn't come down to any one person having ill intent or anything like that, which is why I think most folks don't see any issue with their own individual behavior. But the cumulative/collective result of that can be a factually, concretely awful work experience. And it's a recurring one, and has been getting worse over time. And that's setting aside the actual genuinely intentionally hostile outliers, deliberately doing things like stalking and harassing mods. It's while looking at that overall experience that I have to weigh the idea of pushing for more openness and vulnerability.

I'm talking this all out because I don't feel okay about continuing to be absent from this particular discussion, and because I'm gonna try and roll with the idea that opening up on it might be a small positive step toward the idea of getting to a more open and discursive approach to some of this stuff. I'm doing it with a lot of trepidation because see concerns above; I expect some folks to take it in good faith and to want to talk through it, and I really really am here for that, but I don't have any confidence that I'm not also gonna be told, multiple times, that this right here is part of the problem.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:38 AM on November 5 [6 favorites]


Please take this in a spirit of genuinely wanting to make this place better:

Moderators: We have heard enough about how difficult your job is.

We know. We know that 2016 was difficult. We know that Megathread was difficult. We know that killing Megathread was difficult. We know that the entire Trump era is [looks around at everything] levels of difficult. We acknowledge that you are acknowledging how difficult everything is for everyone. But we've heard it enough.
posted by Etrigan at 6:39 AM on November 5 [16 favorites]


cortex, some of your concerns are why I think the anti-oppression/antiracism training/consulting needs to happen quickly. Because while it is about "talking it out," it's also about having the self-awareness to decenter yourself (editorial "yourself") and decenter whiteness/cis-ness/etc. It's a "let me understand you" rather than a "let me explain myself" when people are pointing out inequities, and it's a "let me hold others accountable" when they're being oppressive. It feels sometimes like the moderation gets that reversed right now.
posted by lazuli at 6:58 AM on November 5 [13 favorites]


Training and facilitation advisors and such should also help navigate contextual appropriateness.

Because here's the thing about the pattern of being absent for chunks of time, and then dropping big But Our Job Is Super Hard essays. Yes, of course: it is. Moderating is an art, a neverending chain of judgment calls and conflict management and gray areas of wanting to deescalate but also being willing to escalate to nuclear options on problem individuals, etc etc. Yes to all of that.

But. There's context, there's appropriate places. There's a reason the periodic Fucking Fuck! threads became a thing, because understandable fuuuuuuck moments showing up in other contexts of other threads wasn't great. Part of what to navigate is getting that, without privilege-fragility-ing (sorry for the verbing violence, English language: you don't deserve it, my bad) into Okay I Guess We Just Have To Shut Up Forever Then, FINE! Doorslam territory.

2016 was really hard for the site and users and mod team. Yes. But one thing that I, as a fairly comfortably straight white guy, with all that entails, have tried to get better at learning with each day is this: you know what other years were really hard for POC and marginalized peoples? 2015. Also 2014. Also 2013. Also. Also. Also. One lesson I picked up from shutting up (not as a negative, but in the sense of quieting that gives a space for yourself to get out of the way of yourself) and listening more is that for a great many well-meaning but still highly privileged folks was that as ugly as 2016 in the modern United States and spillover to the world is that it ripped a lot of veils right down about just how structurally, deeply, fucked the world is in so many ways for so many people. And I think what's behind a good chunk of what may look like and is certainly appears to being received as escalating frustration from POC members and others is that it's now years after (even more than just subjectively!) those veils have been ripped down...and the privileged seem to mostly be settling into But Our Lives Are Really Hard Too places.

It's hard to navigate, yes. Site finances make it even more so. But professional training and advisory tools and therapy where warranted (it occurs to me that good training is in its own way organizational therapy) is about navigating it...because mostly it's become very apparent rhetorical-you-guys-as-mod-team aren't navigating very well these days. And it'll be a real shame when (if, hopefully...but honestly I'm in 'when' camp at this point) the ship of site runs aground on Strained Metaphor Reefs.

Caveat: I don't mean to speak for anyone or put words in anyone's mouths, especially on frustration points.
posted by Drastic at 7:38 AM on November 5 [12 favorites]


Like LM nodded to above, we've finally been able to get properly into scheduling on the anti-racism consulting front recently. I wish I'd been able to move it along faster, but bumpy real-world logistics don't give much of a shit about my wishes, so here we are.

And I agree about the concept of focusing on "let me understand you" over "let me explain myself", but also this is part of my reservations in what suedehead was talking about above: it feels like there are contradicting vectors of want here, of simultaneously suggesting on the one hand that mods aim for talking openly and listening and fostering discussion instead of action, and on the other wanting to mods to hold themselves absent from that discussion. And I don't think that's any one person contradicting themself. It's just an overlap of a multitude of voices wanting to have differing wants satisfied simultaneously.

But, that's my perception. And I agree with some of what you're saying, and I agree with some of what suedehead is saying, and I feel like you two are substantially in agreement with each other. I also would like to better understand whatever path you feel there is through or around that contradiction. And maybe getting at that is down to me saying "help me understand" and stopping typing and letting y'all talk it through instead of trying to parse it myself or mediate that discussion.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:46 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


I believe this just happened here and I believe it needs to be noted:

suedehead made a strong, detailed, and impassioned argument for the moderators to show more human vulnerability as part of their moderator/facilitator duties.

cortex responded by acknowledging that he's been having trouble with his mental health recently, and that this has impacted his ability to engage as a moderator here. He noted that different people seem to have conflicting wants from the mod team. In particular: My experience as a mod trying to talk about my perspective and experience and feelings over the last several years has been having that repeatedly and explicitly shut down as a distraction or redirection or centering my feelings; that doing exactly that kind of talking stuff out and laying out my thinking and motivations and feelings in handling a messy site situations was unwelcome, was the problem. [...] I expect some folks to take it in good faith and to want to talk through it, and I really really am here for that, but I don't have any confidence that I'm not also gonna be told, multiple times, that this right here is part of the problem.

Etrigan responded: Moderators: We have heard enough about how difficult your job is.

Drastic also responded: Because here's the thing about the pattern of being absent for chunks of time, and then dropping big But Our Job Is Super Hard essays. Yes, of course: it is.

Honestly I don't know what to say about this. If I were cortex, this would have broken me.
posted by biogeo at 8:10 AM on November 5 [16 favorites]


I've been thinking about how to respond to this. I have simultaneously been thinking about how to respond to some comments in the Whiteness & Therapy thread. While I was thinking, the comment I was going to respond to was deleted. But I think many of my thoughts are applicable here as well.

It is hard, I think for people to hear about how they have inadvertently harmed others. Especially when it seems that harm is not directly their "fault"-- that someone else perhaps gave you an advantage you couldn't control, because of your race, or gender or so on. I think the path to "this space would be better off without me" is very easy to follow for a certain type of person. I personally have thought "it would have been better that I were dead than have to hear that my boss wanted me to elaborate more in the text of this proposal." And that's a mistake that harms no one, that is much less heavy than "I inadvertently silenced POC wanting to share about their lived experiences."

I think it is important for people to have spaces to express those feelings and to grapple with them. I have gone through a lot of therapy (and medication) to get to a point where I can handle my feelings of shame around for instance, not being detailed enough in a proposal healthily, and a large part of that is being able to share with my support network and talk through what I am feeling. I think actually, Metafilter could be a good space for some of this - it is after all a community. However, there are times and spaces where it is not appropriate to express those feelings. If, after my boss had said "You need to be more detailed about X and Y," I had burst into tears (as I very much wanted to do) and told him how hard it was for me to hear that I was not perfect, I would have damaged my reputation at work, which has all kinds of implications.

I think the comment that was deleted in the Whiteness & Therapy thread was a bubble case. The thread after all, was about how white people experience whiteness, and the harm it does to them as well. Perhaps we could have continued to discuss and support our members struggling with feelings of shame and guilt.

This thread, however, is not about that. This thread is about the material harm done to our marginalized members by members of non marginalized groups, and how to structure a modding practice that supports the former. In this context, I think it is derailing to spend time on the feelings of the moderators at being told their actions are harmful. Because in that case we are taking time and energy away from thinking about "how can we make the site a better place for all the members of our community," and instead thinking about "how can we make the feedback process a more pleasant experience for the mods."

And on preview: I think there is a mis conflation of what sudehead has been saying. I don't want to speak for them, but as I read it, the "call for vulnerability and openness" is not about hearing how difficult it is to hear feedback. But rather - we want the mods to feel comfortable admitting they have made mistakes. Admitting that they are learning. And be willing to have their minds changed and to learn. There is a distinction there.
posted by arabidopsis at 8:22 AM on November 5 [19 favorites]


Cortex, thanks for sharing - I personally hear you loud and clear. I think it’s a good healthy step to share where you are coming from - honestly, this feels good to me, and it feels like you sharing your personal relationship to modding is open and honest in a way I haven’t heard you speak about as much. I hear your honesty, and thank you for sharing it.

And yes, you’re right, I do think that there will also be comments from members responding to you with anger and frustration and hurt and disappointment. On preview, it looks like it happened. I think that’s okay actually. Sometimes when we’re vulnerable with how we’re feeling, other people respond with their feelings too. I bet it probably stings hard when people respond with frustration, and I think that’s really okay too. Sharing is important in of itself to build a form of trust.



Sometimes I think of communal or interpersonal conflicts like a tangled knot in string. Tugging hard on pieces often makes it tighter. It’s tempting to angrily cut it up. But if we look at the knot, see how the string is tangled, gingerly tug on parts of the string, wiggle and loosen parts, then gradually the whole knot brings to loosen, and you can really loosen and weave things around until the whole knot gradually clears out into one clear, simple strand of string.

I think we’re in a bit of a knot regarding moderation and deletion, Metafilter being able to become anti-racist and anti-oppressive and to support everyone’s voices, mods hoarding power to create “good threads” and thus being blamed for not being good enough on topics that you have less knowledge of, members feeling angry at the structural power of deletion and silencing that mods wield badly about certain topics, mods feeling incredibly unappreciated and isolating and unheard in their efforts to help and do the right thing.

Whew.

And so like undoing a knot, I think things will progress little by little, and a lot of it is looking and noticing the dynamics we currently have, loosening some too-tight things, starting somewhere. It’s good to share where mods are coming from, and for mods to be more vulnerable, to apologize. It’s good to acknowledge that members might not always respond so warmly at first.

Maybe it might also help to think that, for the mods, you can apologize or share or be vulnerable also because you want Metafilter to be the kind of place where members apologize to each other, share, and are vulnerable. And you will receive some pushback, anger, frustration, hurt — and you could receive member’s feelings in the way that you’d like other members to do so - with grace and care and understanding. Members being angry and disappointed is a good sign - it means that people really, sincerely care. So, it is healthy for the community in the long run to see you show up and share with honesty and openness, building trust and acknowledging that care.



Now, I think that’s asking a lot of the mods, to be emotionally resilient and honest. This won’t happen immediately. And crucially, I think you cannot do this as mod-police. This will be difficult while you are simultaneously deleting people’s comments and literally stopping them from sharing their own complex hurt feelings. Yet at the same time I know that deletion is the tools you have now, and know how to wield the best, and while I’ve also seen them be very harmful, I’ve also seen them work sometimes.

Another side effect of mods being the police is that it strips members of feeling agency to shape and facilitate a conversation. Members feel powerless to shape a conversation, partially because mods are sending the message that mods will hold the power to make things right. Members might then often default to anger, complaint, and attack, because it feels like those are the communication tools left. This happens to me - when it feels like mods or other members aren’t listening, then I’ll share something more pointedly or more sharp, because these are actual issues that need addressing and that I personally want acknowledged, especially in regard to racism or whiteness.

In facilitation contexts, what can happen is that the entire group begins to facilitate for each other. Everyone is more or less aligned with the same intentions of wanting to make a better space, not sitting in antagonism but in alignment.



Perhaps way to move forward is to ask the community for help and suggestions, help create a way to find communal consensus, and actually follow those suggestions, even if you might personally disagree with them. Following the trust of the community, rather than solely your own judgment as a mod.

This can feel very scary and reckless. I know this feeling very well, because I’ve personally gone through this many many times, being a facilitating member of cooperatives and following the group when it decides to go with a decision that I think is wrong. But Metafilter is ultimately a community site, and the trust of the community is one of the most important things we can have here, and trusting in the community is how we get there.

I think that’s what happened with EM’s comment and LM’s modding; LobsterMitten was caught between their personal judgment of what to do, and the near unanimous communal request for non-deletions — and they and went with their mod-judgment. This let the community down and was a momentary breach of trust, because it feels like all the thoughtful discussion doesn’t matter, is a waste of our time. I imagine, for the mods, situations like this feel urgent, and y’all are saying “yes, I know, but let me just fix this urgent thing the old way and then we can get back to planning things to be better.” That’s what I hear in a lot of your comments, Cortex, seemingly caught between an ideal that the community wants and the “practicality” of the day to day.

I think, though, that the day-to-day is where the work is. I think, if you let yourselves make mistakes, loosen your grip on perfection and policing, if you accept that everyone’s anger and frustration is a form of care, then things will be easier. This is the wiggling and loosening of the knot. And yes, it will take time and won’t be immediate. Rather than exhaustingly aiming for a conflictless perfection, it’s more important to be trusting and open in conflict, failure, vulnerability, and trust. And part of that will mean moderating and facilitating in the way that the community wants. Not policing it, but serving it.

This notion of servitude is something that I think is helpful. Instead of the police, you can be the host of a potluck or a community evening, welcoming people and bringing them tea. Maybe a group wants to play games in the corner - let them do that! Maybe a group wants to bake a pie - that’s great, you can show them the oven and pantry. Maybe a group has concerned issues about persistent racism or transphobia in the community space - oh gosh maybe they’re right, and you can ask them how you can help and if they’d like you to hold a town hall, or if you can help change how the space operates to better support them. Maybe someone comes in and antagonizes certain members, so you hold them to your code of conduct, helpfully and firmly see if you can mediate, and try to see where their knot tangles are at. Maybe everyone gets into a fight, and you realize it’s not personal, it’s because fighting is a way that people are trying to share their emotions, and you help guide those out. Maybe you are serving your community, and receiving gratitude and care in return.

This is what community can look like, and has looked like here at Metafilter, and can look even more like. This is what my communities look like. They’re always messy, and varied, and full of conflict. They never go the way you think they will. It involves a lot of letting go of judgment, and this is hard because the desire to care for a space is entangled with these things. Moving from ‘wanting to make sure that it turns out well’ to ‘wanting to support the community’.



One last thing. Members responding with anger or exasperation is because we care, and members responding with indifference is, I think, because members are disappointed, because members care. That’s why people are here, on this old school site.

Members, however, hold a lot of agency. Sometimes I think we forget that, understandably, because mods have held power in a way that frames members as “users”, and organizationally speaking, metafilter is a community site that is also run like a business. But we do hold a lot of agency, even if it takes a lot of our emotional labor. Quite frankly, it’s tempting for me, and probably for others, to think, “oh, this isn’t my responsibility; why should I (also as a POC) help educate or shape this space? It should be better; I’m tired of educating people, white people, cis people, about things they should know, be learning and teaching themselves.”

To some extent I do know this is true. BUT I also think this is a lost opportunity. We don’t have to see ourselves as “users”, reinforcing this antagonism born out of the idea that we don’t hold power. Instead we could become facilitators ourselves for each other, to hold space and be strong in our own ways — also for our own selves. To hold and create space around ourselves is to hold space for each other. Imagine doing this more, feeling knots loosen, open up, create slack and space and flexibility.
posted by suedehead at 8:36 AM on November 5 [20 favorites]


Cortex - I’m really glad you have someone lined up for hopefully soon. Because what you express in your comment about feeling like you are between a rock and hard place and just how emotionally difficult this all is? That’s something that training will help you navigate. This should be good for your mental health, not further destructive of it. The right training should take a weight off.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:04 AM on November 5 [12 favorites]


I really feel in my gut like I get where you are, cortex, and the team.

I also would like to better understand whatever path you feel there is through or around that contradiction. And maybe getting at that is down to me saying "help me understand" and stopping typing and letting y'all talk it through instead of trying to parse it myself or mediate that discussion.

...

Honestly I don't know what to say about this. If I were cortex, this would have broken me.

So there is space between cut-and-dried Robot Moderator and having your full self open. I generally agree with suedehead, but I also think there is a step you can go to in between.

I am trying to sort through so many experiences and pull out the best of what I have to offer as a bit of discussion in this thread (which is what we do here at MetaFilter!)

Basically this is what tends to get summed up as professional development, even though I know that's not a great phrase. You can be present and aware and emotionally available as a professional without bringing your Entire Person to work (or permitting work to judge your Entire Person.) It's really really hard to do when you're in burnout territory. I feel it like getting plugged into a kind of treadmill where you can't catch your emotional breath.

I think what the mod team may need in addition to the sensitivity work (or to understand it) is a bit of professional coaching/support. I was thinking on how when I started in online community, it was first volunteer and then barely professional, and how much I have appreciated being pushed to be my genuine but most professional self rather than just my genuine self.

As an example, I now work in an explicitly anti-bullying business. We had a staff member who gave a student what he thought was a positive nickname, but it became a situation where the student felt bullied.

What the student needed was to be heard, supported, and for action to be taken. We changed the staff schedule for a period of time and I expressed that we had failed to meet one of our core values and my genuine, emotional sense of frustration and sadness about that. What I left out of us was my own history of being bullied; although I was feeling it, it wasn’t relevant. (I did need to be sure to get extra support from Team Me about that.)

With the staff member, he also needed support from me recognizing his commitment to his job (this is a very hard worker and all-around great staff member) but also guidance. To be called a bully in our organization is really, really bad. I needed him to change his behaviour and to understand the impact he had had, all intent aside. But I also didn’t want to take him down. Complicating this, he and the student were in regular contact through another activity.

What made this discussion professional and helped us through was to focus on our mission, so to speak, and our stated values. We have respect for the individual as a value and so it was pretty easy to take that lens and say hey, out of respect for this individual, you have to do this. And I have to apologize on the organization’s behalf and when it’s appropriate, you will too and it will have to have no ‘buts’ in it. But also to have respect for that staff member.

What also helped is that the staff member in question was 17. When you have 17 year old staff members, it is crystal clear that they are learning.

But my big insight (ha) is...actually we all are. And if you focus on yourself and your team learning and improving rather than getting it right, I think it will be clear that...you are. Is it fast enough? Debatable I guess, and people will debate it with you for sure, but I mean...for yourself. You're learning. That's okay.

You don't have to share all your vulnerability. You can share your learning.

That’s why for me, I centered my feedback on the stated rules of the road. You have stated the rules! You can now lean on them! You and everyone will not always agree even with those lines drawn but it is a lot easier to say “yes, I can see how this was not in line with Point D” than “yes, that was Bad.”

Anyways, I have lots more I wish I could say over a few beers somewhere. I've gone from messed-up volunteer MUSH wizard in the 90s through running a 300,000 member political forum to media to a tiny business where each mistake means losing a student I care about. But humans remain humans and it's okay to be one. For me, I kind of set out the values I want to have and the measurable goals I want to get to, and focus on that, not the state of my soul. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 9:08 AM on November 5 [14 favorites]


Honestly I don't know what to say about this. If I were cortex, this would have broken me.

MetaTalk discussions in the latter half of the 2010s have been depressingly predictable:
  1. Mefite raises concern
  2. Other mefites agree
  3. cortex drops multi-screen I hear your concern, and this job is super hard comment
  4. Nothing happens
  5. Return to Step 1 (possibly the exact same concern, but there's a large enough stack of standard-issue concerns that we can rotate among them)
So far, we are still in Step 4. Maybe this time will be different, but maybe something needs to be broken.
posted by Etrigan at 9:09 AM on November 5 [11 favorites]


It's really really hard to do when you're in burnout territory. I feel it like getting plugged into a kind of treadmill where you can't catch your emotional breath.

In one of the first State of the Site or related threads at one of the flashpoints earlier this year, suggestions were made that it'd really, really serve the team well to close the site for a week or so to take stock, to make a plan of attack about potentially restructuring, about advisory resources, training, etc. To temporarily shut down the treadmill, in other words.

That went...pretty much in the way that factors into driving member frustration (earlier points about how people expressing anger and fed-up frustrations is actually from a caring place need to be kept in mind, because a distressing number of members have simply given up at this point, even if not actually buttoned and that's terrible...and terribly understandable). We can't possibly risk that. We can't stop the treadmill like that! What might happen!

It took a lot to pump the brakes on the rolling 24/7/365/term/kalpa US Politics Megathreads, which were a big part of The Treadmill on permanent flat-out-sprinting-till-you-vomit setting...except after vomitting the expectation was keep going. Finally they turned it down from the flat-out-sprint speed, and almost immediately realized (I'm pretty sure they'd all agree; maybe I'm wrong!) they should have done it ages ago.

Anyway: quatloos on finally-engaged training (knock on wood) telling them much the same thing. Job burnout and its effect on mental health is a very real thing--but one of the disconnects about the "if I were him, I'd be destroyed" framing is that maladaptive patterns and cycles of behavior around that burnout do more harm than good. IMO, YMMV, Other Acronyms.
posted by Drastic at 9:28 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


And I agree about the concept of focusing on "let me understand you" over "let me explain myself", but also this is part of my reservations in what suedehead was talking about above: it feels like there are contradicting vectors of want here, of simultaneously suggesting on the one hand that mods aim for talking openly and listening and fostering discussion instead of action, and on the other wanting to mods to hold themselves absent from that discussion. And I don't think that's any one person contradicting themself. It's just an overlap of a multitude of voices wanting to have differing wants satisfied simultaneously.

It is both. Part of the learning is when to step forward and when to step back. When to use your power to elevate a voice with less power and let that voice take the lead. When to use your power to help a different voice learn how to step back themselves and make room for less-heard voices. We all screw it up sometimes, often, but it's a skillset that allies need to develop and practice and use.

Where and when is my voice needed? Where and when is my voice talking over the people who should actually be leading the discussion? Where and when could my voice be used to take some of the burden off marginalized groups without speaking for or over them?

There aren't stable answers to any of those questions. But the process of thinking it through in each and every instance is part of the work required of us as allies.

People in marginalized groups do this sort of analysis all the time. What's safe to say? What's going to sound "too angry"? How can I phrase this in juuuust the right way to avoid too much blowback? How much blowback am I equipped to handle today? How much of this blowback could potentially land on others who may not be in the same emotional place I am right now? So I think it's reasonable for allies to do at least as much work and take as much care with what we say. And to be willing to learn, try, screw up, apologize, learn more, and try again.
posted by lazuli at 9:47 AM on November 5 [8 favorites]


cortex drops multi-screen I hear your concern, and this job is super hard comment

If this is all you're getting from cortex's long, detailed posts on the decision processes that go into modding and how he sees it relating to each individual case that comes up, then I can understand why you'd be angry. But that is not what I get from them.

I think a large section of this community seems to operate under the belief that there is a central conflict on Metafilter between a unanimity of opinion within the community at large versus the closed, opaque, conservative, unresponsive mod team. To me it seems obvious from the MetaTalks over the last decade that unanimity in the community is actually relatively rare, and often there are sizable groups of people who have needs or desires that are in direct opposition to each other. Sometimes these conflicts are quite visible, through drag-out arguments in MetaTalk. Sometimes less so, as the mod team often references receiving private contacts from people who choose not to state their opinions on MetaTalk which nevertheless enter into their decision making. It is quite literally impossible to resolve these in a way that makes everyone happy, and cortex has repeatedly described the process of addressing them as one of finding compromise solutions, or in some cases essentially picking winners. No matter what they choose, some sizable group will be unhappy, and often expresses this by asserting that the mods don't listen to the community.

In my opinion, cortex and other mods talking about this is not them complaining about how the job is super hard, or recentering the discussion on themselves. It's trying to help everyone understand how the decision was made and why they expect that some people will still not be happy. I don't always agree with the decision they reach, nor do I entirely agree with the process they use to make these decisions. There are many valid criticisms one could make here. But characterizing this openness as "this job is super hard" is not just massively unfair to cortex and the other mods, but actively damaging to the community as a whole. Because fundamentally it paints any complexity, any nuance, any attempt to compromise between competing needs, as nothing more than whining.

maybe something needs to be broken

I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that I was not clear. By "this would have broken me" I meant "this would have sent me into a mental health crisis and left me unable to function for a significant period of time". If that is in fact what you understood me to be saying and you still responded with that... that is abusive.
posted by biogeo at 11:00 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


on another note - is there a reason that EM has not spoken up at all, and that we have only heard about her thoughts through the words of other mods?
posted by bibliogrrl at 11:39 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


cortex drops multi-screen I hear your concern, and this job is super hard comment

If this is all you're getting from cortex's long, detailed posts on the decision processes that go into modding and how he sees it relating to each individual case that comes up, then I can understand why you'd be angry. But that is not what I get from them.


It's not all I'm getting from them, but it is a constant feature of cortex's comments in these threads, and it has been for years now. I buttoned two years ago over this exact thing, and sent an impassioned email to the mods begging them to get professional training in dealing with users from marginalized communities; cortex's reply was in this exact pattern: I hear your concern, and this job is super hard. There was also a promise that, as soon as he had a moment to breathe, he would digest what I said and take some concrete and visible action. As far as I know, no such action has been taken, but it has been promised. Again.

I do get something more than I hear your concern, and this job is super hard. from cortex's discussion of site policy. But I can't ignore the fact that those two parts are always there.
posted by Etrigan at 11:48 AM on November 5 [8 favorites]


So far, we are still in Step 4. Maybe this time will be different, but maybe something needs to be broken.

Maybe so, but it shouldnt be cortex's well being, and it doesn't need to be.

Lord knows I regularly give the mods a hard time, but I try to moderate my language when I'm doing it.

I've had jobs where people told me I was shit at my job either directly or heavily implied over and over again. It's a fucking horrible feeling that can leave you messed up for years.

Some of the interactions on MeTa are so hostile and they start at like eleven. I'm really grateful for suedehead's patience and grace in this thread. I sometimes wonder how people in this place talk to servers, subordinates, managers, acquaintances. Surely not the way they do in MeTa.

Come on, Etrigan. Dude is struggling. Whatever shortcomings the mod team has, no one deserves to be "broken", belittled, have their feelings demeaned like that.

Every day we face a number of choices about actively making someone's day a bit (not a lot) better or a bit worse. Let's take the high road, it doesn't cost anything.

Sheesh, if I were cortex I'd personally be on the cusp of shutting down MeTa if not the website altogether.
posted by smoke at 11:53 AM on November 5 [8 favorites]


i mean, i guess? someone always pays a cost though.

a lot of the more marginalized folk pay the cost every day, and i think the problem is that the site has a lot of rhetoric that suggests that it wants to be open and supportive and welcoming and if that's just too hard, that's okay, just don't pretend to be better or something you're not? at this point, it's not just second verse, same as the first, but nth verse instead.

maybe it is okay to not be better than reddit or pretty much any other "general interest" website out there when it comes to things like race and gender. there are other venues that so many of us who have some of these marginalized aspects to our identities go, anyway; we're used to being fractured in spaces where not all of us are completely at home. if we need to pay that extra cost here too, just be up front about it. we've already got the economies of scale, anyway.

moderating's hard. especially for a site like this. if you can't fit it onto your plate, just say so.
posted by anem0ne at 12:18 PM on November 5 [6 favorites]


on another note - is there a reason that EM has not spoken up at all, and that we have only heard about her thoughts through the words of other mods?

EM doesn't have the spoons to re-engage with this right now. I realize that's frustrating for some folks from a "this is how I feel this should play out" perspective, but it's also a good example of the significant gap between (a) abstract ideas of model moderator behavior and outcomes and processes and (b) the messy reality that we're people with shit going on that shouldn't have to be other people's business.

Folks being consistently willing to separate out the overall process ideas ("I think it'd be better if x happened in this kind of situation") from the specifics of a given scenario ("x has to happen, now, in this way, or else") is one of the things that'd make it easier to work on the process stuff long-term instead of freezing moments in amber and feeling unable to navigate out of them.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:27 PM on November 5 [2 favorites]


instead of freezing moments in amber

The community talked about some issues with EM's modding in January. Did anything happen on the mod side after that conversation?
posted by lalex at 12:46 PM on November 5 [10 favorites]


I'm sorry to hear that EM doesn't have the spoons to deal with this. You also just said that you are low on spoons to deal with this.

The POC of this community are once again doing the bulk of the work trying to get you all to listen and implement changes. Changes the community was told would happen MONTHS ago. The community is not getting paid for this work. You are. (heck, the community is doing the paying!)

EM's lack of spoons does not clear her culpability of screwing up (again), and once she has those spoons back it would be lovely if she would actually account for her actions and explain how she is going to do better going forward.

A lack of spoons is not a pass on accountability for bad actions.
posted by bibliogrrl at 12:50 PM on November 5 [33 favorites]


I stumbled across this article about white fragility and thought it was germane to this discussion: How White People Handle Diversity Training in the Workplace

I believe you all that you're doing the best you can. It's so painfully apparent that the state of things around here is taking a toll on the mod team and I'm truly sorry for that. But I don't think that can be an adequate response to POC concerns and I think the article above does a good job of outlining why. The lack of action thus far has made each successive incident seem higher-stakes than the last, which is one reason why folks seem ready to go to the mat every time something happens. In that way, I think the difficulty of these moments (quite apart from the other causes of the burnout you all are facing) is a direct result of how they've been handled (or not handled) in the past. I've personally dealt with it by detaching somewhat from this place, but the people who are angry aren't that way because they're trying to make your lives difficult or raring for a fight; they're directly reacting to past events. And while I think being candid about your mental state is a positive thing in a lot of situations that come up here, white fragility is a classic way of redirecting away from POC concerns and it's important to recognize that.

(For what it's worth, I was on team "take a break" when we were having those State of the Site discussions. I want you all to take care of yourselves and I also think planned time away at a time of your choice would be much better for the community than reactively disappearing when something is too much to deal with.)

suedehead is doing great work in this thread.
posted by sunset in snow country at 2:30 PM on November 5 [31 favorites]


*deletes a very long comment about white fragility that was mid-process*

Yeah, what sunset in snow country said. I'm honestly too tired of this to be very kind right now, so I appreciate the phrasing.
posted by mordax at 2:36 PM on November 5 [7 favorites]


And while I think being candid about your mental state is a positive thing in a lot of situations that come up here, white fragility is a classic way of redirecting away from POC concerns and it's important to recognize that.

Sure! I mean I think it's both of those things, right? The concept of white fragility is a useful one to recognize and try to work through and to mitigate, and that and the general territory it intersects with is something we've made some progress on over the years and have more progress yet to make. And I totally understand how that's an aspect of how people receive mods talking about our end of the experience of these site discussions and conflicts.

At same time, it is both of those things, not just the one. The conceptual usefulness of white fragility doesn't mean that there's no reality to the mods being legitimately badly affected by other people, negligently or willfully, being unkind or ungenerous or adversarial in a MeFi context on a regular basis. I know and accept that I've got plenty of shit to work on, but I'm trying very hard not to take that or my general frustrations with MeFi stuff out on anyone else. And it hurts a lot, every day, feeling like for some folks that's not a mutual intent. That if the mods are having a shitty time, so be it and stay quiet about it. It's hardly universal and I do really more than I can say appreciate the folks willing to be kind even amid their frustration, but, I dunno. It's hard, and I'm gonna be told I'm fucking up for saying so.

I dunno. I'm gonna try and zip it on this front now, and read along and keep an eye on the thread for not-about-me, not-about-this stuff I can be helpfully responsive to. I appreciate that this bubbling up in this context can feel like it's the wrong time for it, though part of how it ends up bubbling up now and then is there never seems to be a right time for it. Maybe something for a MetaTalk post of its own at some point, talking about mod experiences in isolation from any other ongoing issue. But I'll try and take it out of here in any case.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:46 PM on November 5 [5 favorites]


This is all good, and I am really glad to see this happening.

It can happen. Let's get some diversity mod training / counselling, let's all keep talking. This time can be the time for significant growth and change.

We are all here because we care. Especially the BIPOC people still here and engaging, and cortex. Thanks all of you.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:11 PM on November 5


yeah but we just keep talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and i was originally going to make those links to previous metas and posts where we talk about this and i honestly don't know if i want to be arsed to do so anymore because dollars to donuts in a few months the few of us that are still here will still be talking, just talking and talking and talking.

significant growth and change, maybe. but the question is for whom, because it doesn't seem like it's ever for the "bipoc people still here and engaging".

i don't meant to trash that comment which is very obviously done with the best of intentions and a lot of care, but every single time we have one of these talking and talking and talking threads this is where it ends up on; a thanks, a statement that we all care and feel connected to this place and want it to be better, which, honestly, do we?

it doesn't help that these threads provide a lot of material to gawk at from afar, in twitter accounts that loves to hate on mefi and then uses poc concerns as a cudgel in bad faith to shit on cortex and mefi further. the only way to starve accounts like that, of course, is either for mefi to be better... or for poc to stop talking about this shit like so many of us end up doing elsewhere too, so.

it doesn't seem like mefi's getting better. we just keep talking and talking and talking and talking about being better. i'm glad it's a time of significant growth and change for some.
posted by anem0ne at 5:47 PM on November 5 [11 favorites]


ok, that's not a fair depiction of mefi. it has gotten better compared to ten years ago, sure.
posted by anem0ne at 5:57 PM on November 5 [8 favorites]


but we just keep talking and talking and talking and talking...

That is all we do here, it is all we can do! This website consists of a group of people talking to each other. Talking better, together, is the goal. So we keep talking.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:17 PM on November 5


i mean, i guess? i'm not wanting to jump down your throat here but it's that these threads fall into a broader pattern, a rut. these talks and talks and talks and talks are just recurring periods where we bloodlet, and then a few of us all sorta just walk away after a few mumbled words and try to plaster over things with a bandaid, and at the end of it all, there's no healing, just more humours leeched out.

i wasn't kidding when i said it's okay to just admit that this place can't be better. i mean, i don't know if i'll stay, i'm already one foot out the door, but sometimes you can't just be enough of something for enough people. maybe it's time we all admit that for some things, this place just can't, won't get there, and we just move from there accordingly.

some of us will don the armor we wear everywhere else, avoid sharing too much, and let this place snooze on being awake enough to know things, but not fully awoken, and those who think that's good enough can just continue to pat themselves on the back. it's okay.

maybe we figure out a new goal.
posted by anem0ne at 7:26 PM on November 5 [14 favorites]


anem0ne, I know I am kind of cheerleading here and maybe not such a useful way to move things forward, I understand. I have also had my foot half out the door many times, over many years. I know that many of the BIPOC voices that have left were really positive contributors, and we make a better team with this kind of diversity, so that is why I hope this talking talking talking is going somewhere. I feel like the comments from cortex and suedehead and others point towards growth and change, and that makes me optimistic.

But yeah, I am just some guy, so I will stop taking up a major part of this thread now and just listen.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:38 PM on November 5


"i was originally going to make those links to previous metas and posts where we talk about this"

Good news, divabat put together a list of 43 such threads between 2001 and 2017. So you only have to fill in the last couple of years.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:20 PM on November 5 [10 favorites]


This continues this moderation derail but

Look, would the mod team accept any help from inside the community in addressing their burnout issues at all?

Because frankly, getting up and reading that the mental health of 1/3 of the moderation team is terrible and their work/experience on MetaFilter is partly to blame or at least something that they have to walk away from, is disturbing on a number of levels. It puts the community in a pretty terrible catch-22.

Success cannot depend on people being perfect all the time, at any end of the discussion. One clearly stated priority of the site is to examine these issues and deal with them. This thread doesn't have anything /that/ new in it.

And although there is a large community piece, to me, anyway, this is real-HR/management (not bullshit HR) stuff.

I'm available, lots of people have expressed that they're available.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:55 AM on November 6 [8 favorites]


The more I think about it, the angrier I get that EM gets to hide behind a "lack of spoons" for her racism and mistakes, and the POC community members just need to sit back and take it.

NO ONE in this community is given this kind of leeway. It's unconscionable.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:53 AM on November 6 [14 favorites]


No, I need folks to find a way to talk about this stuff that doesn't take the route of stoking public anger at someone and reducing the situation to absolutist declarations. You're angry and frustrated, that's valid and I can understand it. You want to translate that anger into making EM or anyone else a singular villain, that's shitty and I'm not okay with it.

A ton of what we do on the site is find ways to give folks throughout the community leeway to sort shit out, make mistakes, process anger or confusion, get space when they need it. We would never drag a random community member forcibly into a discussion, and we've had tell people to cut it out with that before; I absolutely cannot support trying to invert that with mods and pretend that there's some entitlement to drag someone in front of a crowd when they're having a shitty time as if that's the done thing around here instead of the opposite.

This specific kind of high-heat hostile approach to problems here is something that has to stop being part of how this place works. It's a site dynamic that's been a major contributing factor of the emotional and mental drain of the job the last few years that I talked about above, and I'm sick of it, increasingly literally so. This is also something that for EM in particular this last year has escalated to a months-long campaign of off-site harassment, which is fucked up in its own right, something which I presume and god I fuckin' hope has nothing to do with anybody participating in these actual on-site conversations but has definitely been fueled by these site discussions, and that underscores how toxic this kind of public enemy approach to site shit can be.

There is room to talk about what you think has gone wrong, what you want to go better, how to get there. About when you think someone has fucked up, and about what you'd wish would happen next. There's room to talk about anger and frustration, and those things deserve to be acknowledged as legitimate feelings. But fuck's sake I am done with the angry mob aspects of that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:09 AM on November 6 [8 favorites]


Cortex - and I am saying this with respect, I keep asking about EM because in this case SHE is the one who made the racist comment. Not you, not another mod. She has not apologized, she has been silent. I am being what you are calling hostile because BEING NICE GETS IGNORED. This is part of a PATTERN that has been pointed out again and again by many people other than me (some of whom are no longer here for this VERY reason), and you are ignoring it.

The ALL WHITE mod team is circling the wagons to protect EM. Again. You are protecting a mod and that is driving a lot of community members off this site because you are protecting white feelings instead of making amends and LISTENING.

I'm sorry your job is hard. But you centering your feelings and tone policing POC who keep asking and BEGGING you all to do better is only making it harder.

I really don't know why I expect anything to change.
posted by bibliogrrl at 11:40 AM on November 6 [20 favorites]


It’s also kind of gross to characterize the many members of color who are talking about Eyebrows McGees history of snafus on race and racists behavior, people that are being directly hurt by it (those that have decided to stay) being in any way characterized as an angry mob, even as just an “aspect”.
posted by ShawnStruck at 11:48 AM on November 6 [24 favorites]


Just unbelievable that you would characterize a longtime community member as an angry mob when it is *you* who, over many years, has provided no real meaningful avenue for change in the way the site handles race and marginalization. White fragility indeed.
posted by lalex at 11:53 AM on November 6 [16 favorites]


The excerpted essay sunset in snow country linked to (from Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility) is well worth signal-boosting. I mean...
The language of violence that many whites use to describe anti-racist endeavors is not without significance, as it is another example of how white fragility distorts reality. By employing terms that connote physical abuse, whites tap into the classic story that people of color (particularly African Americans) are dangerous and violent. In so doing, whites distort the real direction of danger between whites and others. This history becomes profoundly minimized when whites claim they don’t feel safe or are under attack when they find themselves in the rare situation of merely talking about race with people of color. The use of this language of violence illustrates how fragile and ill-equipped most white people are to confront racial tensions and their subsequent projection of this tension onto people of color.
I can hear the Well Actually defense circuits humming to life. I can cheerfully admit that hearing might be projection--those circuits are acculturated into me too. I have no pithy segue or connective tissue here so I'm just going to pretend there is some and blithely move on to:

The optimistic outcome of finally lining up and engaging with consulting and training is that there's going to be a fair amount of "challenging" embarrassment when confronting often recent past recollections of patterns and cycles and systems you've engaged in, defended, and promulgated as both organizational policy and just personal doings (or not-doings). There's going to be a fair amount of weary "we'd already told you that mutliple times for free" when you bring training-findings to the community. There's probably old jokes revolving around a good chunk of consulting and training and therapy rests on people not trusting what they're told unless they're paying someone to tell it to them.
posted by Drastic at 12:07 PM on November 6 [12 favorites]


To be charitable, the "angry mob aspects" may have referred to the off-site harassment EM was experiencing.

Looking at the situation through the EM-is-cortex's-employee lens, I wouldn't expect cortex to want EM to speak for herself. But through the EM-is-a-member-of-a-community lens, it does seem as though EM probably should speak for herself.

The lack of spoons means it may be appropriate for her to take a break until she can put those spoons together.
posted by Jpfed at 12:19 PM on November 6 [5 favorites]


I've been helping run the MetaPoC slack for years now, and Eyebrows is the moderator we've gotten the most complaints about by an incredible margin over any other moderator, consistently over the years and from dozens of PoC members. She repeatedly acts patronizing towards PoC members, and has consistently made many racist remarks over the years out of ignorance and privilege, ranging from comparing PoC to elementary school children, to her recent remarks implying that Puerto Rican and Mexican-American women were sterilized for being Catholic rather than because of their race.

The problem with framing this as "leeway to sort shit out, make mistakes, process anger or confusion, get space when they need it" is that there's a long history of this behavior, across many MeTas, spotlighted by many people risking/fearing retaliation. And yet, I can't recall anything changing on this front in any publicly visible way. And with the degree of people pointing out the cycle being what it is (and the sheer numbers of community members it's burnt out (to say nothing of people who've looked at us and noped right out)),

if theoretical changes/reactions aren't public, it's no better than if they don't exist, because in practice they don't.

I really don't like having to weigh in/amplify far better voices than I on this, I've been a big booster on mod-support and trusting the fuzzy process for years. But that all these beacons of the community (in my eyes, at least) are highlighting these patterns should really say something.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:22 PM on November 6 [11 favorites]


This is also something that for EM in particular this last year has escalated to a months-long campaign of off-site harassment, which is fucked up in its own right, something which I presume and god I fuckin' hope has nothing to do with anybody participating in these actual on-site conversations but has definitely been fueled by these site discussions, and that underscores how toxic this kind of public enemy approach to site shit can be.

Participants in the POC threads have also been dealing with offsite harassment (possibly by the same person) where screenshots are being posted from the POC threads with shitty commentary. It has led to at least one participant buttoning and also made a lot of us no longer feel safe participating in them. I certainly hope you're not seriously implying that one of the POC here speaking out about their problems with EM is that person.
posted by primalux at 12:24 PM on November 6 [13 favorites]


Cortex. I understand where you are coming from, but legitimate complaints about racism are not an "angry mob", full stop.

I think it's worthwhile to think: why do they feel like an angry mob to you? Why does that hurt? Do you feel like you're not being acknowledged? What are your expectations for how Eyebrows McGee's comments would be received or processed by the community?

If I'm to be honest, this situation (of you feeling like there's an angry mob) is created and/or enforced by the mods. This knot is created because of the way you and the mods hold moderation power, technically, socially, organizationally, financially over the site. The community isn't trusted enough to hold any power, in that the community's requests aren't being trusted at all by moderators to see any change happen.

Now. I imagine that the power you and the mods hold doesn't seem like power, or that you don't seem powerful. I imagine that it's partially because the power that you wield is done from intentions of care, or because it's exhausting to use your power, and that it's very difficult to moderate and use your power when it seems to respond with unappreciative and even hostile responses.

I think that's one of the truths of power that nobody talks about. Hoarding power often doesn't look like evil-villain power, actually -- it can feel stressful. Sometimes hoarding power can be exhausting and painful and feel like you're doing it for the Right Reasons, but you're never appreciated and people just seem like they're complaining. And conversely, the idea of giving power away and trusting others can feel like you're being risky or lazy or foolish or reckless, because it's your responsibility or duty to do the right thing.

This is a classic trap that I've personally been through. Structurally one of the ways to change this is to take a breather and loosen your grip over your power, share your power, lose your power.

Honestly I think white people, men, and also anyone living under capitalism have a real hard time sharing power, or having good models of what that looks like. In the community spaces I'm part of, people come and immediately try to become play the role of "boss/employee" or "leader/follower", because those are the strongest dynamics that they're familiar with. Instead there are other roles, like "facilitator, organizer, helper, supporter, volunteerer".

So. You all have got to share your power so that we can all unravel this knot. It's like the monkey trap, where the harder you grip your fist, and hold onto power, the harder you're stuck. If you loosen a bit, then suddenly your hand is free from the trap.

--

What does sharing power look like? Like what meatbomb says, I think it actually does involves more, better, optimistic talking. And especially like what anem0ne, sunset in snow country, bibliogrrl, and so many others are saying, it really involves actual change, also.

How do you know that you're sharing power? Here are at least three ways:
- Listening: Actually listening to those of us who are BIPOC, or trans, following, serving, apologizing, listening, asking questions.
- New Moderation Processes: Adopting new moderation policy or practices that the community suggests, and helping the community adopt them.
- New Features: Creating and changing site features and web technologies that change the way moderation is done, based on requests that the community has.
- New Mods: Having mods that are non-white and/or non-cis, and having the mods be trained in anti-oppression or facilitation training

You're good at listening. But you haven't changed how the site is moderated, and you haven't changed site features, and the mods are the same. Unless some of these changes, anem0ne is right: nothing will have changed.

Some of these can change very soon! It's your power to share. It will feel like losing power because that's what it needs to be -- you actually need to lose some power. It will be icky and difficult at first, the same way that untying a tangled shoelace knot can be hardest at the start .. but can loosen up easily.

If you see us as an "angry mob", maybe it's because you envision yourself as inside the mansion, the gated community, inside the control tower. One option that you've been doing so far is to be better.. better police, better authorities. Another option that I invite you to explore is... to dismantle the gates and to walk outside, to invite us all in, to share the mansion as a community space, to be facilitators and hosts.
posted by suedehead at 12:25 PM on November 6 [30 favorites]


To be fully, one-hundred percent clear: this is not a situation where someone accidentally makes a blunder and says something that could be construed as racist, and then an angry mob gleefully descends to use that as an excuse to rip them to shreds. This is a situation where someone who has been cluelessly racist in a sustained way over years, has said something overt for the nth time, and their racism this time around is the final straw for many of us. I get the feeling that a lot of white allies here are reacting out of defensiveness, because they imagine themselves in a similar situation where they might say something racist accidentally and get the same response. I can say that is rarely the case: if you've had a good track record of being a good ally otherwise, most people will write off the first or second time as "that was weird, but they must be having a bad day."

Eyebrows does not have a good record of comprehending or showing allyship on issues of race, and this is certainly not the first or second time. If you're the type of person that perceives the response she's getting as coming out of the blue, that should indicate to yourself that you have a lot of work to do, too: just because you miss seeing every incident of racism, and miss seeing how the PoC subject to it have strained to hold their reactions for prior incidents, doesn't mean that the one time they do speak up is impulsive and driven by anger over a single isolated incident.

To be blunt, EM is a missing stair on issues of race. She is consistently racist. She consistently drives the PoC that she has power over, off the site. No other moderator has as severe as a history of this as her. When you have a missing stair, the response is not, "well, we're all flawed and you're treating her unfairly, but don't worry, we'll all get training." The response is, to stop exposing PoC to the missing stair immediately, and then the rest of you get training because you were culpable and really need to examine how it was possible for you to overlook these issues for so long.

I honestly think that if EM is not ready to engage with these issues of community conduct, which is literally her job, she should resign.
posted by Conspire at 12:50 PM on November 6 [24 favorites]


I'm a white mefite who has not participated in these discussions before now but I will make this comment in the hopes of amplifying what the many mefites better qualified to speak have said: This is not an angry mob, and you need to do a better job of listening, cortex. The people affected most here have been very clear.

I don't think anyone here is making Eyebrows out as a singular villain, as you've said. Personally, I value her participation on this site - she frequently makes detailed and insightful comments related to her areas of expertise. Naming someone as a missing stair, especially when that person has structural power like a moderator, is not making a villain of them; it is correcting a problem. It is not making a villain out of her to say that she is not suitable to moderate race-related threads due to her history of mistakes in that area and general racism.

I understand that this poses structural issues due to how thin-spread moderator resources are, and that there are things that cannot be discussed publicly until they are finalized. Fine. But comments like your most recent one do not read as if they are reflecting those realities that make this discussion difficult from a site-running perspective. By rejecting the tone of the complaints without acknowledging their content, your comment reads as a rejection of the content of those concerns, which have been raised by the many people of color in this thread.

Demanding accountability from those with power is not mob justice. Being accountable to those you have power over is part of the responsibility of that power.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:30 PM on November 6 [16 favorites]


no, i'm actually not angry anymore, at least with respect to the site. i don't think i'm even really frustrated. to be either would mean that i still had hope, that i still expected better, and to be honest, i don't.

from 4 january 2019, 306 days ago:
I get that we don't want to have a Two Minutes Of Hate. I do think though that this MeTa was largely precipitated by a comment that Eyebrows McGee made and which at least some users think is illustrative of a pattern of behavior that we would rather the moderators didn't engage in. Can we maybe talk about that? Talk about the behavior and what we think of it, and what if anything we would like to see change there? I get that it's super uncomfortable to have that discussion and that it's rough on the mods and on Eyebrows in particular but I think we've been beating around this particular bush for a while now and if we're ever going to sort this out for real it's now or never. I for one would rather have the difficult conversation and then take whatever action is merited, rather than go back to just feeling increasingly uncomfortable and disillusioned.
posted by anem0ne at 2:48 PM on November 6 [11 favorites]


I am not trying to characterize the whole contents of this thread, or the legitimate desire to talk about site issues, as an angry mob. That's my failure to communicate, and I apologize for that.

There is absolutely a subset of stuff that happens in MetaTalk that moves beyond putting forward complaints and criticism and talking about it, which we can do and need to continue to do, to treating any form of push back as justification for escalating hostility. And that stuff happens, repeatedly, and it's not okay. There are some real basic boundaries that I need people to be willing to recognize, in and among everything else, about what's an okay way to treat folks. And those boundaries don't get suspended because someone's a mod, and they don't get suspended because a situation sucks.

bibliogrrl, I know you and like you and respect you, and I wholly understand that you are coming from a place of genuine anger and frustration. And I think wanting to express that in some way on the site is understandable. But this:
The more I think about it, the angrier I get that EM gets to hide behind a "lack of spoons" for her racism and mistakes, and the POC community members just need to sit back and take it.

NO ONE in this community is given this kind of leeway. It's unconscionable.
...reads to me as saying that your anger justifies denying EM a basic human boundary, that her not being up to engaging with this thread is impermissible. That's not okay with me. It's okay to be angry, it's okay to be frustrated, but it's not okay to take that and use it to dismiss the idea that people sometimes legitimately aren't in a place to wade back into a situation.

And absolutely this isn't a just-you thing, and it's definitely not a just-PoC thing on the site. Probably the most frequent vector of crappy boundaries-crossing hostile or verbally abusive behavior comes from white folks doing what's probably intended to be allyship but ends up taking the form of righteous crappiness by proxy, and the occasional bonafide unreconstructed internet asshole though at this point we've been just banning them and leaving it at that.

So I recognize that context, and I apologize for the crappy impact of my comment feeling like it's landing specifically on you and on the immediate context of this thread. I do very strongly disagree with your decision to post that comment in that way, and think it's pushing a bad precedent; I need people on the site to make their peace with the fact that demanding someone show up in a thread isn't an okay way to expect MetaFilter to work, for users or mods. But: I could have said that in a clearer and more self-contained way. I am upset myself, and this general issue of people not maintaining basic boundaries has been bubbling up a long time, and it came out there in a way up there that put you on the spot in turn in a way I didn't want it to. I'm sorry for doing that.

The general thrust of that comment is about a real systemic issue on MeFi, and not one that only affects moderators though it is having a pretty serious impact on us in particular. Whether it's an expression more of some folks' individual rhetorical boundaries or just the importing more generally of some of the crappier dynamics in social media and elsewhere on the internet, there is some toxic, emotionally traumatic shit that comes out sometimes with how people respond to site issues, to other users, to mods, that really has got to stop. I need people to be willing to recognize that some boundaries do need to exist, that there's a gap between just seeing a need to talk about something, and abdicating personal responsibility for the impact on other folks of how that stuff gets expressed. But as with some of the stuff I was talking about the other day that's probably something for its own thread.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:03 PM on November 6 [3 favorites]


Soooooo. It's not ok to single out a user, but you're gonna single me out. Cool cool.

I'm done. Bye.
posted by bibliogrrl at 3:11 PM on November 6 [6 favorites]


No one is pointing out EM's silence here to violate her boundaries. They're pointing it out because it's a case of a systematic strategy used to dodge accountability, that they've seen time after time again:
How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour


I mean, there are entire well-cited research articles on this if you don't believe me:
When White Women Cry: How White Women's Tears Oppress Women

We should be allowed to discuss the systematic aspect here. And on preview, you lost another person over this because your white fragility fails to let you see these issues over being too offended over the person's behalf.
posted by Conspire at 3:18 PM on November 6 [35 favorites]


from 4 january 2019, 306 days ago:

I get that we don't want to have a Two Minutes Of Hate. I do think though that this MeTa was largely precipitated by a comment that Eyebrows McGee made and which at least some users think is illustrative of a pattern of behavior that we would rather the moderators didn't engage in. Can we maybe talk about that? Talk about the behavior and what we think of it, and what if anything we would like to see change there? I get that it's super uncomfortable to have that discussion and that it's rough on the mods and on Eyebrows in particular but I think we've been beating around this particular bush for a while now and if we're ever going to sort this out for real it's now or never. I for one would rather have the difficult conversation and then take whatever action is merited, rather than go back to just feeling increasingly uncomfortable and disillusioned.

posted by anem0ne at 4:48 PM on November 6 [5 favorites +] [!]


Okay, this kind of points out how Metafilter's historical deletion policy can make it hard for users to notice patterns of bad behavior in others: I've followed the links that people have posted about how this current problematic comment is part of a ongoing pattern, but the links that people have posted to older comments are all discussing comments that have been deleted, so it can be hard to determine the pattern in the comments (since the comments have been deleted).
posted by 23skidoo at 3:50 PM on November 6 [4 favorites]


I believe that quote is referring to this comment.
posted by zeusianfog at 3:52 PM on November 6


I'm sorry for doing that.

And this is where I draw the line.

Your behavior in this thread has been unacceptable. If you were a user, I would've flagged you, for all the good it would've done.

As you are the site owner, I am constrained to leave.
posted by mordax at 7:45 PM on November 6 [6 favorites]


I really wish breweries would stop selling their fancy beers in four packs.

I hate only having two left over after pouring 'em out.
posted by anem0ne at 8:25 PM on November 6 [3 favorites]


suedehead, Conspire, anem0ne, bibliogrrl,...I honestly don't even have the wherewithal to find all the names at this point. So many people: thank you for your service.

cortex: good grief, man. Good grief!

It's kind of funny to write this while looking at the message under the preview:

Note: Everyone needs a hug.

It's meant, of course, to remind me to moderate my tone here. A reminder that whoever I want to yell at is fighting battles of his own. And I know that's true. It can't be fun to come in to work and find a dozen people calling you a racist.

But mostly, I'm thinking, I need a hug. We (not including you) need a hug.

When will it be time for our hug, cortex?
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:26 PM on November 6 [3 favorites]

But this:
The more I think about it, the angrier I get that EM gets to hide behind a "lack of spoons" for her racism and mistakes, and the POC community members just need to sit back and take it.

NO ONE in this community is given this kind of leeway. It's unconscionable.
...reads to me as saying that your anger justifies denying EM a basic human boundary, that her not being up to engaging with this thread is impermissible.
I recognize that there's a blurring between what's personal and what's professional for MeFi mods. Many (all?) started as ordinary members, commenting from a personal perspective. And now they have to put on the mod hat and respond from a professional orientation. I imagine that can make things a bit fuzzy and complicated.

But this isn't about a personal-level response. If it were — if this were a friend-group misunderstanding — it might be reasonable to say "no spoons available now, this will have to be addressed later." What people are asking for from EM is a response on a professional level.

If I made repeated errors at my job, especially ones that resulted in my employer losing members and angering a noticeable portion of our userbase, I wouldn't have the option of just not engaging with it. I'm pretty sure my options would be to apologize and explain what steps I was taking not to repeat the errors, or to resign or be fired.

Please listen to the people who've discussed white fragility and how important it is to be able to hear and accept criticism instead of getting defensive and using the emotional state of the person being criticized as a shield.
posted by Lexica at 9:45 PM on November 6 [28 favorites]


context, dude. Perhaps my intermittent metafiltering has given me the privilege of a distance you don’t have, so I beg you.. please reconsider.

The more I think about it, the angrier I get that EM gets to hide behind a "lack of spoons"
for her racism and mistakes, and the POC community members just need to sit back
and take it.

NO ONE in this community is given this kind of leeway. It's unconscionable.
...reads to me as saying that your anger justifies denying EM a basic human boundary, that her not being up to engaging with this thread is impermissible.


Diverse people in this thread have stated this is about systemic, ongoing problems with EMs behaviour on this site.

By focussing on this particular instance instead of the ongoing pattern of behaviour you are actively harming the folks who have been brave enough to raise these concerns to you.

This is causing enough harm to cause people to leave.

Perhaps that’s your goal, but I don’t think it is. I think you genuinely want to foster a happy, healthy, safe, diverse corner of the Internet.

As EM’s boss, it is your responsibility to take action. That doesn’t need to include summoning her here for summary mob justice, but it should include, as a very first step, acknowledging that, yes, there seems to be a pattern here.
posted by coriolisdave at 1:13 AM on November 7 [15 favorites]


I realize that this seems like piling on, cortex, but you don’t have a member problem or a friend problem, you have an employee problem; specifically, an employee whose behavior on site is causing lost members (and revenue). As a manager, you need to deal with this. I understand that it’s frustrating, because EM is generally a positive force on the site as a member and as a mod. But it’s also that she has a history of problematic and disruptive behavior on issues of race. And that is what you need to deal with. I think The best course would’ve been a frank and open apology for the behavior, but it should’ve been done days ago. If EM really can’t deal with this right now, she needs to go administrative leave until she can. We’ve lost good members in each iteration of this “discussion,” and I’m not too happy to be here myself right now.

The site improved when the mods started to take decisive action against problem users. I think you need to also take decisive action when mods are causing a problem; Not necessarily firing, but something open and public to show that this Is an understood problem that will be addressed in an open way.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:34 AM on November 7 [21 favorites]


I want to echo this:

> sunset in snow country: I believe you all that you're doing the best you can. It's so painfully apparent that the state of things around here is taking a toll on the mod team and I'm truly sorry for that. But I don't think that can be an adequate response to POC concerns and I think the article above does a good job of outlining why.

and this:

> Lexica: Please listen to the people who've discussed white fragility and how important it is to be able to hear and accept criticism instead of getting defensive and using the emotional state of the person being criticized as a shield.

In this thread, folks (suedehead, warriorqueen, anem0ne, Conspire, bibliogrrl among others) have done the site a huge service in presenting both concrete, actionable advice, as well as emotional responses to the ways current moderation practices affect them personally. I hope the entire mod team will take some time to fully consider the totality of the thread, and will use the lessons learned to improve MetaFilter for everyone, but that won't happen if the response continues to be defensive and privileged.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:25 AM on November 7 [9 favorites]


Wow, okay, what a mess.

First, it's not okay that EM is being harassed off the site or whatever is happening there. Speaking out of ignorance of the details, I've been the subject of a hate-thread on a forum and it really sucks. That's unequivocably uncool and it's understandable that it might colour where moderators are emotionally. And I'm personally not really comfortable with calls to fire a staff member or to have a staff member resign, so I'll get that bias out of the way, but it also is really, really common in public-facing media. If EM needs support because of this hate site or whatever, if your insurance doesn't provide EAP then maybe this is something to look at. And sorry to discuss her like this, but if she doesn't need that level of support then yeah, it's not okay to discuss that with the community as a reason for action or inaction. (I hope she gets the support she needs.)

That said, and not to pile on but to hopefully provide some bridgework here, in my opinion if you want MetaFilter to continue as a viable organization at its current staff and revenue levels, which will require that it continue to grow, it's essential that the whole team find their way to, or way back to, a more professional approach than this week.

Freaking out that people want an apology is not professional. All clients/customers/members/readers want an apology when something goes wrong. It is a basic tool in any kind of customer support or caring organization. A professional apology should be sincere but also low currency. I apologize several times a week on behalf of my team and I would say in 50% of those cases, if I were looking at the situation personally I would probably be rolling my eyes a little. But I'm not.

Professionally, I am sorry about anything that is impacting the relationship my members have to my organization. So I'm really unclear about where the recalcitrance to apologize is coming from here. Whatever the intention, the impact of EM's post was to contribute to the frayed relationship between a significant group on the site that you yourself have stated is a priority. Apologizing should have come easily in this case because you just published exactly how you want these discussions to go - stay aware of where people are coming from, issues of race, accept feedback gracefully.

I give a formula to my team for apologizing that goes like this:
- state one of our values: At MetaFilter, we are dedicated to improving the site experience for our BIPOC members
- state the point of failure: In this case, this post had the impact of contributing negatively, as did a few snafus in response
- express regret: I am really sorry about that
- state an action item: I will be talking to EM about this. (Or in EM's case, I will be thinking about that really hard.)
- state a system change, if required: As a team we remain committed to our sensitivity training and we have re-prioritized setting that date.
- if you can't fix it, say so: I need that training before I know what else to do, so this is all I can do right now.

Will this always be enough? No, but remember, your audience is not the most upset person in the room (although that is almost always to whom you are apologizing), it is everyone seeing/reading it and it is not a bad thing, it is an opportunity to re-support your core values explicitly.

Now, I was thinking about what my action plan would be for the tailspin of burnout we seem to be seeing here in this thread. Here it is.

1. I think the mods need a 6-week hiatus on participating on the site apart from their paid time and duties. 6 weeks is not that long in a professional context. If I were mentoring the team, I would ask/beg/plead/implore that every member of the MeFe pro team look at the site and related email only during their paid shifts during that time. Two weeks of detox, one month to form habits of looking for what fills their wells elsewhere, whether that's offline or on another corner of the 'net.

This is not a paternalistic approach; this is a well-documented recommendation for any staff suffering burnout - set clear boundaries between work and not-work.

2. During that time I would ask if they see threads they would normally want to participate in or even start during their work time, they throw them into a bookmarks folder. This is in order to spark joy later. Because change is hard and you have to sometimes be reminded what you're fighting for. This is not to negate the BIPOC experience of the site, it's a staff motivation thing.

3. For cortex as site owner, this process is more complex but it comes down to the same, creating structure in order to give the ability to regroup and re-ground. With all kindness, you can't be screaming fuck it at your upset community and hope that it grows in a healthy way. Before that can happen I (or anyone) would have to look at the current procedures and processes and see what cortex can outsource or let go of, even for a short period of time. I suspect there's a lot of discussion happening that feels very important but is a little bit noise and contributing to some bad feeling.

I also work very closely with a small business owner/guru and it is a very hard role and worthy of some additional supports, I just don't know what's in place now.

4. Then it's about these other things. I don't think the team can move forward without the training and the training keeps stalling, so that's a critical piece. There are probably a dozen other critical things behind the scenes, so it's sorting that all out.

I am concerned that this post will be taken as a pile on, or not sufficient, or whatever. I'm posting it knowing that there may be a few discussions about how stupid I am; no one likes that. In a way I'm like, hey, this is the kind of mess I decided to change my job to stay away from because I had spent over 20 years doing it, I'm not that personally connected to people here like some of you are, why am I spending my brief cafe time between dropping my son off and getting to work on this when I should be writing my book.

But I also know that at my worst moments, I didn't feel like there were any solutions...but looking back, there were so many ways to do things a little better, not just for the group but for me. Not perfectly. But better. Take a breath.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:50 AM on November 7 [51 favorites]


I want to say I really appreciate warriorqueen's comment. Because like, this is a situation that didn't need to spiral the way it did, and it doesn't need to continue to spiral. I think because Metafilter is both a community and a business the lines may be blurred, and that makes it difficult to see how to respond effectively.

But at its core, I think you need to realize that you are in fact a business, and therefore responsible to the site users as such. If Metafilter were simply a free volunteer service, I would feel much less justified in wanting the following actions. But you are in fact a business that not only makes money off of my engagement here, you additionally solicit donations. So that demands a certain amount of professionalism, both in conduct and in response to crisis. Gucci, to pull a semi recent example, were not able to simply put up a sign saying "sorry we don't have the energy to respond to this." I mean, they could have, and accepted the drop in brand reputation and sales and so on, I suppose, and you could do that too. But as anem0ne said, in that case you might as well just admit that that's where you're going, and that you don't care about the offense to this community. If you do care, and diversity is one of your values, as you've said, then you need to respond better. In order to protect your brand reputation if nothing else.

So in the spirit of helpfulness, here are some concrete actions I would like to see:
1. An official apology from the MeFi team, both for EM's actions and for how the mod team has handled the follow up. Ideally this would be placed somewhere prominent so that those of the community that aren't actively engaging with this thread have a chance to be apologized to as well. Note I'm not saying EM has to be the one to give this apology - in fact at this point I think it should be Cortex, as site owner.

2. A promise of ongoing policy change, both with respect to modding practices (don't delete comments, speak up strongly in condemnation of isms rather than leaving it to users alone, ban problem users) and in respect to mod behavior (limited participation as users in "controversial" threads, recusal from specific threads, changing approach to Metatalk maybe?)

3. Official update on training and what that is actually going to cover - generic sensitivity training is never going to be enough, so I'd like some details on what you'll be working on.

Other users may want other things, but the above would help me.
posted by arabidopsis at 8:44 AM on November 7 [13 favorites]


So like 60 comments ago I closed my comment saying "This cycle breaks down community trust."

This has played out in exactly the way that breaks trust, and extremely valued members are leaving because of it. The more engaged and involved a person is in the community, the more this kind of trust violation shakes you and makes you consider leaving. To use business speak, you're driving off your net promoters.

This is a cycle that I have seen play out so many times that I was able to lay out the steps and then watch them actually play out in real time in the thread directly under my comment about how it would play out.

This is not a one off. This is a cycle that has got to stop. It's bad for the community, and it's bad for mod health. Providing appropriate structure and procedures means that whether something gets dealt with appropriately won't come down to an individual having spoons and "violating personal boundaries." That's what structure is for. You don't have the procedures so this breaks down in the same way every single time.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:42 AM on November 7 [21 favorites]


As someone who left the site years ago due to not feeling comfortable here for entirely different reasons , and is reading this due to a a good friend of mine pointing me to it due to her own buttoning over this issue - good gourd, these conversations haven’t evolved one iota in the last five years.

Metafilter has a choice to make that it needed to make a long time ago, frankly. You either need to say “We value our BIPOC members and stand with them against racism” or flat out admit that you don’t. Simple as that. You can’t keep trying to be welcoming to “everybody” and throwing BIPOC under the bus in the process. It’s literally that easy. It might very well suck to admit that no, Metafilter isn’t a an antiracist community, but it’s better to admit it and sit with these uncomfortable truths than continue causing pain to BIPOC members who hear “oh we value you” and also “but our jobs are hard and your concerns are too difficult to accommodate.”

I say all this with love as someone who has done exactly that on a personal level and made drastic changes in my own life when I realized that what I was saying about being an anti racist ally and how I was actually living my life weren’t matching up. It’s not an easy process. It’s uncomfortable. It sucks to admit “I’ve been perpetuating racist patterns” and “I’ve unintentionally said racist things when I’ve spoken carelessly, and that’s hurt people.” If it sucks for me as one human being, it sucks even more for an organization.

But be real with yourselves. You have had not just months but twenty total years to learn from some of the most amazing BIPOC on these internets, and instead of implementing their suggestions, you give them empty promises. You can’t possibly do anything bc you can’t schedule anti racism training?! In 2019?! My Gd. Just reach out to your BIPOC users in private and really listen! Read a book! (I recommend White Fragility, it was a huge eye opener for me) Do anything to address this huge problem because you’re causing real harm to people. (And yeah, also get the training too.)

Unless, of course, that doesn’t bother you.
posted by sonika at 12:09 PM on November 7 [19 favorites]


I’ve been talking with the team and I know cortex is planning to close this up shortly, but I wanted to say I'm sorry I haven't engaged here the past few days. I am reading and learning, and spent part of today going through this thread comment-by-comment with a professional anti-racism educator.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:49 PM on November 7 [6 favorites]


I want to try and acknowledge a few things, and apologize about a couple things, and then I need to close this up.

There's some negative site dynamic stuff that has emerged over time that I'm really struggling with at a personal level, as is the team is in general, but: that's orthogonal to the central issues folks have been raising in this thread and I should find a different context and time to address them. I try to keep that stuff partitioned, but I didn't manage it here, and that's made things worse. I apologize for tangling things up like that, and understand why it can end up just adding frustration on top of frustration. I'm going to try to avoid letting things overlap like that in the future, and just stake out dedicated discussion space for it instead.

There are things we have made some progress on in the last few months, and over the last several years, and so it's hard to hear that dismissed or erased entirely in some comments here, and that contributes to the sense of insolubility I feel too much of the time these days. But it's also absolutely true that there's still a whole lot of progress we need to make, things we need to sort out better, visible modeling and signaling of what has changed and is changing over time. I think wanting and expecting more is justified, and I think frustration about that is an understandable basis for how folks end up talking about this stuff.

There are suggestions in this thread, and in some of the previous discussions, that I'm continuing to work through or trying to find an approach for exploring, and followup conversations that I still want to pursue with a few folks. There's ideas about changing the role of moderation and of community self-guidance that I think are worth experimenting with to see if they'd help resolve some of the structural tensions we're dealing with and help both the community and the moderation team feel better about how conflicts and concerns are navigated on the site.

And a lot of that is taking longer than I'd hoped, and I know that contributes to a sense of stasis and I understand the frustration with that. I'm sorry it's been slow; I'm going to keep moving forward as well as I can, and trying to involve community members where possible. I'll update when I have more on any of that, and I'll let folks know more about what's happening with the anti-racism/anti-oppression consulting and with possible hiring as that comes along as well. I've been talking with EM about folks concerns about some of her participation in particular, and I'm going to set aside some extra time to review people's concerns with the team as a whole and talk about how to better address those.

The degree to which some MetaTalk threads have been bad for my and for the team's mental health is a genuine, pressing issue. And again that's largely orthogonal to the specific topics being discussed here that deserve more attention. And the fact that I and the rest of the team are feeling so burnt out by general circumstances that it's getting in the way of us managing to consistently model the restraint and self-awareness we want to doesn't make it okay that we have failed to do so. It's important regardless of how burnt out we are. Again, I apologize for that. We need to do better, and I need to do better.

But that orthogonality doesn't make this MetaTalk dynamic or the damage it's doing any more emotionally tolerable; I need to close this thread up to not have it weighing down my ability to function and to do work on all that other stuff. I'm sorry for whatever additional frustration that causes anyone.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:51 PM on November 7 [5 favorites]


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