A plea for the end of conspiracy theories February 24, 2020 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Conspiracy theories: please stop. Between coronavirus and the primaries the conspiracy theories have been ranging far and wide. Before writing up that comment with the latest conspiracy you found on Twitter, please get some evidence of it besides Random Twitter Person or WhackadoodleNews.net. If said evidence does not exist, maybe sit on the comment until something manifests from a reasonable news source. If your argument for posting without evidence is that said evidence will not manifest because The Man is suppressing it . . . well, maybe your comment would work better as a rant on Medium or Twitter. It is really tempting to post things that confirm our existing biases but c'mon, a little skepticism and basic media literacy in this day and age never hurt anyone.
posted by schroedinger to Etiquette/Policy at 3:17 PM (378 comments total) 125 users marked this as a favorite

Thanks for this. As we head into Super Tuesday this is especially useful.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 3:22 PM on February 24 [29 favorites]


I regret that I only have one favorite to give this.
posted by octothorpe at 3:25 PM on February 24 [11 favorites]


Maybe people can talk a little about some strategies that are helpful for fact-checking on stuff like this, or related resources?
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:26 PM on February 24 [23 favorites]


I am 1000% behind both the original post and LobsterMitten's suggestion.
posted by blurker at 3:30 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


I think in general Twitter is not a great resource unless the person is verified and has a history of fair, accurate reporting. Ideally one would not use Twitter at all and wait until actual sourced articles come out. This means a person won't be the first in a fast-moving thread to drop information about something . . . But it also makes it less likely that the thread will get clogged up with misinformation. I would personally rather a discussion be slower and good quality than filled with every other hypothesis or take found on social media.
posted by schroedinger at 3:33 PM on February 24 [16 favorites]


Agree. I would also like people to realize that getting together to talk off-site about how to direct threads, counteract people saying things they don't like, etc. is bad behavior and makes these threads massively us v. them in a way that is entirely unnecessary. If you don't like something someone says, it's always an option to just...scroll on by instead of deciding that you're the opinion police.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:34 PM on February 24 [19 favorites]


This is a much better framing than I would have managed, so thanks for that.

The problem, I think, is that people posting conspiracy theories don't recognize that they are conspiracy theories. But perhaps like you said just doing the bare minimum of checking out the facts before posting randos on twitter will help.

Some strategies I would recommend are checking with professional news sources or from twitter people with at least some expertise or knowledge in the related area. If, say, Jon Ralston said the Nevada Caucuses were riddled with errors favoring one candidate you could probably believe it at least bears looking at. If user DUDESTAN88 says the same, maybe don't repost it? (I choose Nevada here because AFAIK nobody has alleged any shenanigans seriously).

But the sourcing is the most important part. And if you find yourself deciding that WaPo or NYT are not reputable sources then maybe take a step back and recalibrate? I'm not talking about their editorial or headline slants, which can be quite problematic, but simply factual reporting.
posted by Justinian at 3:37 PM on February 24 [24 favorites]


caveat: sadly in this day and age, certain high level sources in the US government cannot be relied upon to not be spreading conspiracy nonsense. I don't know how to deal with that but we should be aware.
posted by Justinian at 3:43 PM on February 24 [27 favorites]


I am 1000% behind both the original post and LobsterMitten's suggestion.

I always knew it was you! They tried to silence me but the truth will win!

...and also this is a good post. Might help slow down some of the reactionary commenting as well. There are a number of users that seem to try and post multiple sources for developments and I really appreciate that.
posted by curious nu at 3:50 PM on February 24 [6 favorites]


And if you find yourself deciding that WaPo or NYT are not reputable sources then maybe take a step back and recalibrate?

OK as long as you realize that part of media literacy is understanding the role that major papers play in shaping news cycles, framing stories, choosing what to cover, etc.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:05 PM on February 24 [60 favorites]


I think what the post refers to is more the stuff that's just factually wrong rather than opinions that people might find dubious about the media being for/against certain candidates. Those aren't really conspiracy theories the way I understand the term.
posted by Justinian at 4:17 PM on February 24 [4 favorites]


And if I have rock solid proof that schroedinger and octothorpe are card carrying members of the Illuminati?

(oh, actually, good on both of you, but between the russians and fox news it's a sisyphean project)
posted by sammyo at 4:24 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


I think what the post refers to is more the stuff that's just factually wrong rather than opinions that people might find dubious about the media being for/against certain candidates. Those aren't really conspiracy theories the way I understand the term.

I agree, just like I agree that people should avoid posting conspiracy theories, so it sounds like we are on the same page and hopefully there is no felt need to discuss me in any backchannels.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:29 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Where do cryptic 4chan posts stand, reliability-wise?
posted by factory123 at 4:45 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Where do cryptic 4chan posts stand, reliability-wise?
Between Harley Quinn fan fiction and rejected Star Trek spec scripts?
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:52 PM on February 24 [17 favorites]


So, you're saying there's a continuum?
posted by factory123 at 4:53 PM on February 24 [8 favorites]


I don't know what this is about, ifdssn9. But I'll clearly say: people shouldn't be organizing/encouraging "brigading" or cross-site dramaz. It's juvenile and hurts the ability to have reasonable conversations here. If someone's doing that, please take a hard look at yourself and stop. If people want to dig into that further, bring it to the contact form.

Let's allow this post to be about how people should be more critical/cautious before posting conspiracy stuff.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:55 PM on February 24 [13 favorites]


I think this stuff also comes out most often when threads are following a live event and information is flying around the internet everywhere. That is probably when it is especially important to be cautious that what you're posting can be sourced.
posted by schroedinger at 5:02 PM on February 24


Not going to lie, coming to MetaFilter to read hot takes on the barbershop pictures thing or the veracity of the Bloomberg vandalism and not finding anything was disappointing. But yeah, probably for the best.
posted by ODiV at 5:06 PM on February 24


I'm really glad you posted this. This got really bad around Iowa in particular. I feel like we're all responsible for what information we choose to share and distribute to wider audiences. I've certainly messed that up before, and I regret that, but I don't always feel like everyone who posts information that turns out not to be true feels like they've made an error or will try harder to avoid that next time.

For me, the first thing is going beyond the initial "someone I don't like/trust is connected to something that appears bad and I must share that" instinct to take a second to think more critically about what information I have and whether I'm doing a disservice to the community by spreading it without knowing more first. That doesn't automatically mean everything posted by a capital-J Journalist should be swallowed uncritically or everything posted by Random Twitter Person is garbage, but looking at the source is a good first step, as is reading beyond the headline.

If it's a video clip, looking at who is posting it and how much context they've provided is really helpful. If the clip doesn't seem like it provides enough context (for example, it's a partial snippet of an answer but doesn't include the actual question or the rest of the answer), that's a good signal that it's probably worth finding a longer video or the transcript and honestly evaluating for yourself whether the clip is being fairly characterized. And fortunately, this is MeFi and not Twitter, so you have as many characters as you want to put something into a reasonable context if you think it's still worth sharing. Twitter often strips away nuance, but you can add it back in before you share something here.

On Twitter, I try to check the replies quickly. If someone's got it horribly wrong, the top few replies may contain enough information to give me pause about sharing it. Consider if the information is coming from a generalist who is posting about something that's a particularly specialist issue. For example, if someone is upset that caucus math was done incorrectly, how sure are you that they actually understand how it's supposed to be done when the rules are complicated?

Sometimes, it's just worth having a bit of doubt and laying out what you do and don't know. Instead of jumping right to "this is the worst thing ever" or "it's all rigged" based on a random tweet, it's ok to say something looks weird and ask if anyone knows more or has better sources of information.

Finally, as someone who was in Nevada this weekend, I'll say that political institutions often involve a lot of under-resourced overworked very tired people, a number of whom are volunteers, trying to make important things happen very quickly. Before you jump to concluding something is a plot against everything you hold dear, try to consider whether Hanlon's Razor is a better explanation until you get further evidence of malice.
posted by zachlipton at 5:18 PM on February 24 [35 favorites]


Sorry to derail.

I think too that it's worth being gentle with people when they get stuff wrong. A lot in our modern media/political ecosystem is designed to trick people (think tanks with vague names, stuff like that). People will be a lot more amenable to correction if it comes with a "hey I looked and that doesn't seem right" attitude and it keeps the conversation in a space where we're all working towards a common goal (discussion, interesting disagreement).

Basically, I think it is really important to avoid taking a tone and approach to correction which comes from the belief that "you (or people like you) are always doing this stupid thing which I would never be stupid enough to do." For one, that's not the case, and for two, it's just a kind of noxious way to treat a fellow community member.

If you find someone repeatedly doing the same stuff and it seems disingenuous, then by all means, contact the mods about it. But for the most part, I would like to see people avoid taking a sort of position of superiority or team-sports/us vs. them attitude to this stuff.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:33 PM on February 24 [33 favorites]


Why the 2020 Election Will Be A Mess: It’s Just Too Easy for Putin (Alex Finley, John Sipher and Asha Rangappa, Just Security)
[...] we can be confident that the 2020 election cycle will provide the Kremlin opportunities to pursue further subversion, disinformation, and deception. We should expect to see a barrage of disinformation, from fake think tanks, fake media outlets, false social media accounts, false identities, trolls, and bots to launder fringe narratives into the mainstream and hijack the public discourse. Lies will target the Democratic nominee (as the corruption conspiracy about former Vice President Joe Biden shows, this step began long ago), as well as seek to divide the Democratic vote.

While we are more aware of the existence of this manipulation than we were in 2016, it will remain difficult to separate fact from fiction and to critically assess information. Russian disinformation efforts will be hidden amidst the flood of angry partisan wrangling spread organically by Americans.

[...] The recent foibles surrounding the Iowa Caucus, and subsequent comments from Trump and others seeking to delegitimize the outcome, provide further exploitable fodder for Russian intelligence operatives to manipulate and amplify. As we approach the 2020 election, it is becoming clear that the mere perception of a problem can be used to undermine confidence in the outcome of elections. In this sense, Putin doesn’t need to do much to manufacture trouble, he merely needs to “nudge” a population already inclined to believe the worst about their domestic political opponents. Like the devil on Bluto’s shoulder in “Animal House” imploring him to follow his base instincts, Putin doesn’t have to do much to set us against each other.

[...] But it is also incumbent on us not to overreact to Russian actions aimed at outraging us, or to become so despondent by assaults on our institutions that we give up. The only defense against the onslaught of disinformation and fomentation—no matter the source—is a return to provable fact. And the only antidote to the political situation we find ourselves in is informed participation in the political process.
posted by katra at 5:57 PM on February 24 [14 favorites]

Finally, as someone who was in Nevada this weekend, I'll say that political institutions often involve a lot of under-resourced overworked very tired people, a number of whom are volunteers, trying to make important things happen very quickly. Before you jump to concluding something is a plot against everything you hold dear, try to consider whether Hanlon's Razor is a better explanation until you get further evidence of malice.

this this this this this
posted by lalex at 6:14 PM on February 24 [21 favorites]


I think being more concerned about Vladimir Putin's facebook ads than what the Koch-funded orgs are up to is part of the problem. If you don't know what they are doing, to what extent, but you absolutely know for sure they are doing it to benefit your candidate's nemesis, you might wanna take a step back from lecturing about how to properly consume news.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:12 PM on February 24 [10 favorites]


I don't know how 'conspiracy theories' are to be defined (or if it's even possible to draw a bright line between a political belief and a delusion), but I will come here to defend, let's call it 'heterodox interpretation' of news and current affairs.

The formative experience of my early adulthood was the leadup to the 2003 Iraq War, and realising that the entirety of the press and political leadership in my own country, in the United States and in Britain, was lying, and lying in a coordinated, particularly shameless way, to an extent that the ordinary commonsense call of everyone I knew—that win or lose, such a war would be an atrocity—started to seem radical and weird. It wasn't even that the 'facts' began to be contested, it was further, that we lost track of the concept itself of a reportable fact having a relationship to a point of view: I completely believe that the people who told us that the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators were sincere (if shamelessly disingenuous with 'facts'). If a decoupling of ontology from politics was the strategic aim—Mission accomplished! I am completely in favour of people not posting things that are obviously factually incorrect and disingenuous, but that boat has sailed. The fundamental suspicion of political-institutional-media authorities that we live with now is a lot older than the 2016 election.

Maybe a sense of informed incredulity is a better ethical way to put it. An acceptance that peoples' interpretations of events, of paradigms, even of 'facts', are likely to differ, and that that's an unavoidable media-environmental evil. We just don't have to be dicks about it.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:39 PM on February 24 [39 favorites]


how to properly consume news , consume a Mediterranean diet, mostly from plant sources, drink lots of water, breathe deeply and consciously, then consume news at your own risk, if you develop the shakes, or outright delusions, cut down on your coffee consumption, at least while consuming the news, if you must consume the news at all. I only read the news. I don't allow digitally imaged humans the opportunity to insert their opinions as fact, through the holes in my bucket. I would never sleep on the news, given enough time there is no telling what illness you might catch.

They night before "the evil they," bombed Baghdad, I cried in my near beer, right here.
posted by Oyéah at 7:52 PM on February 24 [7 favorites]


I want to thank you, too, for posting this. I mean, it's cheesy to talk about the good old days, but there's still a part of me that remembers looking to MetaFilter because the signal to noise ratio was often better than other sources, and that during significant events, rumors and factual errors tended to get caught and debunked faster than most national news sites. Specifically, for me, the Fukushima earthquake/tsunami was one of those events, where it ended up that I could get more accurate information here than elsewhere. I've also heard others talk about the 9/11 thread in a similar light. Maybe I'm misremembering, or rose-colored-glassing things, but I always sort of felt like this place was good at this sort of thing, and recently, yeah, not so much.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:09 PM on February 24 [9 favorites]


(1) If the apparently breaking news seems JUST LIKE WHAT THEY WOULD DO, pause and reflect. That is, the truthier it feels, the more cautious you should be in giving it credence.

(2) Fake signals of authority are big red flags. I disregard anyone who's not a well-known pro journalist who posts anything on Twitter with a BREAKING: prefix. Similarly, citing to media sources or people you've never heard of? There's probably a reason you've never heard of them, and it's not because you're not au courant.

(3) There are very few rapidly-developing situations where there's a real need to pass on hot tips uncritically. You will not die of not repeating something. Even the pro media often gets things badly wrong in the immediate aftermath of, e.g., a mass shooting. Once misinformation starts getting put about, it's very hard to call it back.

(4) Anything that seems outrageous, you should read/watch in full context.

(5) Every once in a while, you're still going to get tripped up, it's inevitable, but if you're paying attention, the rhetorical and narrative tricks become pretty obvious. These are not master manipulators, they're just good at pressing the buttons linked to the moron hardwiring in our brains.

(huh, seems like humanities aren't obsolete, after all)
posted by praemunire at 8:45 PM on February 24 [31 favorites]


I don't know how 'conspiracy theories' are to be defined...

Great question. The only theory I studied was Kennedy assassination and I read alot even found a few things but going through sources, one can start knocking those away. Seems like a waste of time but not really, l learned something about the analytical process.
For example. The US has been a perpetual war for resources since 1990. Hot, cold, asymmetric, low intensity.
Is that true?

What I love about mefi is that is enough collective intelligence to knock that stuff out. Heck, stuck on a comment that is possibly a conspiracy, ask MetaFilter.

And yes, im watching 'Mr.Robot' season 3. Right know...which is ironic as a co worker and I were discussing Malek and his great acting and he mentioned that Malek told jokes about his family and 9/11. So I did a search, found nothing but didn't search far enough...and I questioned what I was searching for, the truth or the median between recollection and perception.

There is no cable.
I see a white dress
posted by clavdivs at 10:14 PM on February 24 [5 favorites]


i'm going to make two main points in this post.

a.) while there is certainly a tendency among some users to post conspiracy theories, often any rhetoric that is critical of the connections between our financial and political elites gets branded as conspiratorial thinking.
b.) often the distinction between "conspiracy" and "not conspiracy" seems to be driven by partisan leanings.

so. we are living in an era where the connections between the elites of our political, financial, and media machinery are being laid out more clearly and plainly than ever before. the republican party is letting our grifting president do literally whatever he wants without consequence. a billionaire pedophile with connections to prominent democratic and republican leaders killed himself in his jail cell and no one can explain how it happened. the two leading "papers of record" are, respectively, responsible for starting an illegal war and owned by the richest man in the history of the world. one of the major cable news outlets is literally a propaganda machine for the republican party, while the other two have spent an entire election cycle openly ignoring and diminishing the only two anti-billionaire presidential candidates.

it's all out in the open. nothing in that paragraph is hearsay as far as i'm aware, it's all facts, or at least my interpretation of the facts. those aren't conspiracy theories. they're connections. i see users doing this a lot more than i see users posting outright lies or falsehoods, and yet often when you point out those connections, people interpret you as promoting conspiracy theories.

let's use a recent example to illustrate this point. in the Iowa thread (which i am not going to dive back into at the moment), i saw maybe a couple of users posting "conspiracy theories" and a LOT more people saying "man, the connections between mayor pete and the company that made this app are super weird, and not okay." the implication there to some people is that we think mayor pete hacked this election (which some people do believe, sure, but it was certainly a minority of the people in that thread). the implication to me is more that, well, despite the fact that there's no evidence of the election being rigged none of these connections are okay to begin with. the connections themselves, between the wealthy donors and the political elites, between the app makers and the candidates, between the newspapers and the billionaires, between the billionaire pedophile and all the notable people on his flight logs, the connections are the problem. there doesn't need to be a conspiracy for that to be true! in fact, most "conspiracies" happen because those connections enable them to happen. that's how dark money and influence get spread in our political system. and those connections are strong enough to keep shady and untoward dealings a secret when they do happen, sometimes for years or decades or forever, which is where the conspiratorial mindset is born.

i think that especially in america it is critical to point out these connections, and point out when they smell fishy. this is a country where conspiracy theories are proven true years later. COINTELPRO happened. CIA drug trafficking happened. an illegal war built on a web of lies happened live on television in front of our eyes. to step away from the world of the political (somewhat), this is a country where the entire entertainment industry knew that the guy at the top of the tower was a serial rapist (only one of many!) and it took two decades for anything to be done about it. power protects itself however it can. power will intimidate, bribe, and even murder to keep a secret.

i don't believe it's conspiratorial to look at the world this way. it is important and noble to be skeptical and critical of the people with their hands on the levers of power, and to consider who they associate with and why.

to make my second point a bit more succinctly, i think a major human impulse is to speculate about those connections where shady dealings would validate your worldview. if you're convinced billionaires are our One True Problem, maybe you spend a lot of time thinking about jeffery epstein. if, like many metafilter users, you think most of our issues are caused by the republican party, you'll focus there.

this might be why one of the defining conspiracy theories of our era is widely promoted on metafilter with little pushback. here are some circumstances and connections that we know to be true: president trump is known to have had shady business relationships with russian and ukranian individuals in the leadup to the 2016 election. we know that the russian government used social media and propaganda to boost trump, and that they hacked into the accounts of democratic staffers and volunteers. we know that when these connections were being investigated, the trump administration tried to obstruct said investigation.

all of that is absolutely fishy! we should talk about it a lot, and we do! despite that fishiness there is little to no evidence that the russian government hacked actual US election mechanisms in 2016, or that donald trump in any way works for vladimir putin or the russian government. despite that lack of evidence, there are still regularly comments on this site purporting both of those things to be true, sometimes with a hint of irony, sometimes without. if we're calling out conspiratorial thinking, consider that my contribution. personally i would also be fine with us all acknowledging that we view this stuff through different lenses, and try to be more accommodating when people don't share our worldview but uh, that seems unlikely to me.
posted by JimBennett at 12:10 AM on February 25 [59 favorites]


Seconding that what counts as conspiratorial thinking is informed by your partisan sympathies. Something like 2/3rds of Democrats believe that Russia directly tampered with the vote tallies in 2016, but when I pointed this out as an example of discourse-damaging conspiratorial thinking (i.e. there's zero evidence of it) comments in response to the effect of "well, you don't know they DIDN'T!" got faved and agreed with. I was a fan of Tulsi and saw the Russophobia machine turned against her pretty early on; now that Bernie is getting similar treatment I hope that people can recognize it as a total dead cat maneuver.

In general, I would also second not treating the American national security apparatus as a reliable source of unbiased information.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 12:34 AM on February 25 [15 favorites]


Yeah, for a website which has been overrun with "but the Russians!!" conspiracy consensus for years now, this is somewhat amusing.
posted by Dysk at 2:49 AM on February 25 [15 favorites]


pretty sure this metatalk wasn't created for the purposes of dunking on each other
posted by um at 2:57 AM on February 25 [46 favorites]


As a person in a huge Asian city being very negatively affected by coronavirus, I just want to say that it is exhausting refuting whatever nonsense conspiracies are out there, both here and what I hear from friends and family in the US and other places, and I simply don't have time while we get online teaching at a school of 10,000+ students, some of them four years old, up from zero to functional in ten working days, watch our social lives shrink to basically nothing and see different jurisdictions make travel difficult or impossible, all while the local retail economy implodes and with virtually no trust in the government.

I mean, it's a community weblog; I get that people want to chat. Please don't stop doing that. But there are real MeFites living with this crisis right now and I would like to think I should be able to trust folks here to do their due diligence before posting things that don't help. That said: I've had some lovely MeFites reach out to see if I needed anything shipped over and I know I'm not the only one.

Please keep talking about reality. Please visit us when things are better. Thank you.
posted by mdonley at 3:54 AM on February 25 [48 favorites]


FWIW, I find the Guardian a very reliable news source. Once in a very great while, they publish a retraction, but I have never seen them publish a story that turned out to be a fabrication. It's true that they have biases. Those biases are uniformly aligned with what I perceive to be reality. I can't honestly say any of that about the NYT, WaPo, CNN or MSNBC.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:09 AM on February 25 [4 favorites]


I realize this metatalk is about conspiracy theories within MF threads, but lord, how I wish I had a good resource for debunking conspiracies in real life, preferably one that didn't reference mainstream media sources, since the people who come to me with their theories view the NYT and other papers as irrevocably compromised. But there's such a filter there: "I only believe sites I see as reputable, and those just happen to be the ones that agree with me." It's hard to know how to have a conversation like that.
posted by mittens at 5:19 AM on February 25 [3 favorites]


It is so obvious how wrong conspiracies are when they pop up about your area of expertise, but so easy to fall for them when you know just enough information about an issue to spot all the coincidental connections that conspiracy mongers rely on, without being able to see the leaps of logic or the misunderstood concepts.

The worst conspiracy thread I’ve seen on this site in a long while was Epstein’s death.
posted by sallybrown at 7:27 AM on February 25 [8 favorites]


Not a MetaTalk-y comment but maybe interesting anyway: George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia talks about what we would call fake news, going back to the 1930s, when it was already all-too-familiar. (Content warning: graphic descriptions of violence.)

"This, then, was what they were saying about us: we were Trotskyists, Fascists, traitors, murderers, cowards, spies, and so forth. I admit it was not pleasant, especially when one thought of some of the people who were responsible for it. It is not a nice thing to see a Spanish boy of fifteen carried down the line on a stretcher, with a dazed white face looking out from among the blankets, and to think of the sleek persons in London and Paris who are writing pamphlets to prove that this boy is a Fascist in disguise. One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. The P.S.U.C. militiamen whom I knew in the line, the Communists from the International Brigade whom I met from time to time, never called me a Trotskyist or a traitor; they left that kind of thing to the journalists in the rear. The people who wrote pamphlets against us and vilified us in the newspapers all remained safe at home, or at worst in the newspaper offices of Valencia, hundreds of miles from the bullets and the mud. And apart from the libels of the inter-party feud, all the usual war-stuff, the tub-thumping, the heroics, the vilification of the enemy - all these were done, as usual, by people who were not fighting and who in many cases would have run a hundred miles sooner than fight. One of the dreariest effects of this war has been to teach me that the Left-wing press is every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right*. I do earnestly feel that on our side - the Government side - this war was different from ordinary, imperialistic wars; but from the nature of the war-propaganda you would never have guessed it. The fighting had barely started when the newspapers of the Right and Left dived simultaneously into the same cesspool of abuse. We all remember the Daily Mail's poster: 'REDS CRUCIFY NUNS', while to the Daily Worker Franco's Foreign Legion was 'composed of murderers, white-slavers, dope-fiends, and the offal of every European country'. As late as October 1937 the New Statesman was treating us to tales of Fascist barricades made of the bodies of living children (a most unhandy thing to make barricades with), and Mr Arthur Bryant was declaring that 'the sawing-off of a Conservative tradesman's legs' was 'a commonplace' in Loyalist Spain. The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours. Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet-hole in him.

...

* I should like to make an exception of the Manchester Guardian. In connexion with this book I have had to go through the files of a good many English papers. Of our larger papers, the Manchester Guardian is the only one that leaves me with an increased respect for its honesty."
posted by bright flowers at 7:38 AM on February 25 [21 favorites]


how I wish I had a good resource for debunking conspiracies in real life

Where did all the efforts and big good talk about building fake news validation into the system? Too expensive? Too hard? Stomped on by the trumpian illuminati? No one cared?

I just remember around late 2016/17 a number of commentators and news pundits planning new initiatives that would put a green or red bar along the edge of news articles hinting at the level of lying in the article, or something like that. Did they just give up?
posted by sammyo at 7:39 AM on February 25


sammyo, Twitter is testing something like that.
posted by sallybrown at 7:43 AM on February 25


ಠ_ಠ

This sounds like exactly the sort of thing the cabal would suggest.
posted by Mayor West at 8:43 AM on February 25 [3 favorites]


Question for the mods: would the mods be willing and available to take a more proactive role in deleting fake news comments? There's currently no flag reason like "probably fake news". What should we do, if anything, if we come across a comment that is almost certainly fake news but isn't actually bigoted or inflammatory?
posted by bright flowers at 8:56 AM on February 25 [5 favorites]


That's not a bad idea - have a "false/ inflammatory" flag alongside the offensive/racism/sexism one. "It breaks the guidelines" seems a little vague for a problem that is only getting worse.
posted by Think_Long at 9:05 AM on February 25 [7 favorites]


"There's currently no flag reason like "probably fake news". What should we do, if anything, if we come across a comment that is almost certainly fake news but isn't actually bigoted or inflammatory?"

Flag with note and point us in the direction of something explaining its fakeness, if you can.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:06 AM on February 25 [9 favorites]


it is important and noble to be skeptical and critical of the people with their hands on the levers of power, and to consider who they associate with and why.


You understand that no one is saying not to do that, right?

This is literally about saying "Well the Russians totally owned the last election and they are going to own this one. Give up now." Pointing out connections that are sketcho is fine. Presuming those connections are always real, valid, and the reason it's okay to just be assholes to each other is less okay. Because part and parcel with the conspiracy theory stuff is the conversations that go "And you're an idiot if you don't believe Russia already has this election sewn up" If you feel that is an undeniable truth, it's really on you to have something more than a bad feeling about it and a general tendency towards doomsaying.

Or, as another example that may be a little more grounded in science. I think no one here disbelieves global warming and climate change. That is factual. However if you start saying that the mortgage lenders are already pushing low-rate mortgages in places that will be underwater in ten years so they can make out like bandits on insurance claims, you have a burden of proof that you're not just shooting your mouth off (as I just was, I have no idea how mortgage lenders are responding to climate change). As we say in the library world, and many say elsewhere, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" If you want to talk conspiracy theories, come prepared to show your work. And, as this thread asks, understand that showing your work is more than linking to a conspiracy theory website.

This is especially true because conspiracy theories about things affecting people in this community have a tendency to be alarming and upsetting and, again, no one is saying don't be skeptical about the mainstream narratives, but be mindful and compassionate towards your fellow MeFites.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 9:20 AM on February 25 [59 favorites]


jessamyn's comment tl;dr edition: bring receipts
posted by Fizz at 9:31 AM on February 25 [9 favorites]


As we say in the library world, and many say elsewhere, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

I'd be entirely okay with "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" becoming a deletion reason, or certainly a turn of phrase that gets used enough around here that many (perhaps the majority) internalize it.

That would feel like progress.
posted by philip-random at 9:37 AM on February 25 [8 favorites]


and providing that evidence doesn't just mean you get to dump a pile of links on somebody and say, "read it for yourself"
posted by philip-random at 10:08 AM on February 25 [5 favorites]


As we say in the library world, and many say elsewhere, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

I am broadly sympathetic to this idea. One twist that might make things a little more challenging is that which claims are considered extraordinary can vary from person to person. So others might ask for evidence even for something seemingly straightforward, and that's okay.
posted by Jpfed at 10:10 AM on February 25 [3 favorites]


You understand that no one is saying not to do that, right?

I mean...there are a lot of favorites on that comment for a reason. This kind of stance---of objective reasonableness in the face of misinformation---is a rhetorical tactic that gets used here a lot to try to shut down ideas that people don't like. That is why people are pushing back against it here and responding that, yes, conspiracy theories are bad, but it needs to be said that x,y, and z are not conspiracy theories.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:38 AM on February 25 [18 favorites]


Look, first they said jessamyn retired. Now she's back but with a 'temp' sign on her signature.

I'm not saying aliens aren't involved but it is a bit fishy.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:45 AM on February 25 [28 favorites]


I mean...there are a lot of favorites on that comment for a reason

Bookmarks?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:06 AM on February 25 [7 favorites]


Pointing out connections that are sketcho is fine. Presuming those connections are always real, valid, and the reason it's okay to just be assholes to each other is less okay.

The line between 'connections that are sketchy' and 'presuming those connections are...real' is, to point to a recent example, a lot of what went badly in the Iowa caucus thread. There were a lot of insinuations about the Buttigieg campaign and the Iowa Democratic party and the DNC, and a lot of pointing to 'weird' connections without specifically alleging an actual conspiracy.

Conspiratorial thinking is a harder problem to tackle than the promotion of conspiracy theories proper. It's the alembic by which non-specific allegations are distilled into a nimbus of distrust that, once presence, can never be dispelled, and which makes the idea of a conspiracy that can unite those disparate ideas into a coherent narrative a persuasive, welcoming one.

As we say in the library world, and many say elsewhere, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

A thing that I think happens just as often, and which I think is a recurring issue across social media these days, is people offering evidence without making an explicit claim. 'Check out these mortgage lender payments!' in the context of a thread in which people were accusing mortgage lenders of a climate-change conspiracy is evidence that makes an implicit, unstated but clear, claim that can't easily be responded to or refuted, viz, that there is evidence of impropriety and/or of a conspiracy.

Which is to say that, in terms of 'how do we stop ourselves spreading conspiracy theories,' beyond looking to sourcing, one of the questions I ask myself is, do I think a story or a piece of evidence feels weird or do I think it speaks to a specific issue? Does it explain a particular thing? Is it the best and most likely explanation for that thing? What is that issue? Lots of things 'feel weird' or 'seem fishy' because our world is huge and coincidences and connections just happen without the need for conspiracies to explain them.
posted by cjelli at 11:09 AM on February 25 [14 favorites]


To address what internet fraud detective squad is saying, though:

What if, in addition to asking, "does this seem plausible? how is it sourced?", we also asked ourselves "why do I think this is a conspiracy theory? what steers me in that direction?"

Here's an example that's low stakes and happened to me which sort of illustrates what I mean.

When the ACA was first being mooted, I looked at it and immediately said to myself, "there are going to be a lot of people who make too much money to get any meaningful subsidies but don't make enough money to easily pay the insurance premiums, and this is going to be a problem". I took this idea to a group of middle and upper middle class educated professionals whose judgement I trusted and they one and all said that this was a silly worry and would not happen. I allowed myself to be reassured against my better judgement and told myself that obviously these educated people from various financial, education and medical fields would have agreed with me if there was anything in it. And lo! Years on, we see exactly the problem that I anticipated.

Now, no one told me, "ah ha that's conspiracy thinking", but they did take a relatively plausible worry of mine and totally dismiss it, and I accepted that dismissal. I accepted it because I was scared and was happy to believe that my worries were the result of my lack of knowledge and lack of brainpower.

Another thing I remember was in 2016 when the October but-her-emails thing happened, and several people here immediately said, "this is ratfucking, it's going to sink the election", and a lot of people including me said that things would be fine, that we shouldn't overstate the case, etc. I said that because I was scared and wanted to believe things would be fine - don't know about anyone else.

On the one hand,there's obvious in-the-moment panicky conspiracy things that do get passed around here, and I think all the stuff about waiting to post, looking for reliable sources and trying to reason closely instead of making tenuous connections is very good. It's not like any catastrophic thing is going to be less true the next day when more reporting is in.

But on the other, I think it's useful to ask ourselves whether we're immediately assuming something is a conspiracy theory because it would be really scary if it were true.

Shit is really scary right now. Scaring ourselves worse over nonsense is the wrong thing to do, but so is hiding our heads because we're not sure how to proceed.
posted by Frowner at 11:22 AM on February 25 [35 favorites]


I think we should also remember over the coming season that making comments that are meant to be funny and sarcastic and over-the-top related to conspiracy theories tend to fall flat when there's a lot on the line. Remember Poe's Law: some people are so out-there that parody and actual opinion are indistinguishable on the internet.

So while you can still be snarky about flat-earthers and whatnot, for the next 9 months everyone would appreciate it if you didn't make stuff up about Bernie or Trump or other US politics in the service of joking or pointing to absurdity. We know how awful things are: please don't make shit up. The [fake] tag is so old and so not funny.
posted by rikschell at 1:36 PM on February 25 [13 favorites]


rikschell,

Thank you for saying that. "Hot takes", snark, being "over the top", etc. have become so, so tiresome. I can't count how many Twitter explosions I've seen started by someone dropping some inflammatory comment leading to 1000+ replies about how it's not true, or only partially true, or unfair, etc. only for the original poster to eventually step in and feign surprise since they were "just joking". Or, even more loathsome, "just joking...unless it made you mad, then good".
posted by star gentle uterus at 1:58 PM on February 25 [5 favorites]


It feels like we're taking a ton of things and lumping them into "conspiracy thinking". From flat out falsehoods of a conspiratorial nature to, well, obvious facts. Like Frowner's anecdote about the ACA. I absolutely do not doubt that happened, but the idea that there would be a segment of the population (HI, ITS ME) who don't qualify for subsidies but would be paying a very high fraction of their income to premiums was something that was widely discussed at the time, IIRC! I mean even if it wasn't, how is that a conspiracy theory?

It feels like we're broadening the term so much that this topic becomes a bland, generic "be careful about posting stuff". Which, hey ok, but you could say that about anything.

The kind of thing I believe this Meta is in reference to is primarily comments like those in the Iowa thread where folks posted that California was sabotaging Sanders by leaving his name off the ballot there. This was a serious allegation made in the thread. Any amount of actual investigation would have revealed it to be wrong and a possibly deliberate misunderstanding of the process. But it still stands in the thread.

That's what a conspiracy theory is: false (in this case obviously so) allegations which generally serve to either prop up a viewpoint or make the conspiracy theorist feel smarter because they're "in the know" unlike the rest of the sheeple. But it's hard for me to see how a bunch of the stuff (like the ACA example) fit in here?
posted by Justinian at 2:56 PM on February 25 [15 favorites]


If the OP wanted this discussion to be more specific they should have been specific about what they were talking about, preferably by linking to specific comments. The actual language of this post is so vague that it's not a surprise we are talking about anything and everything in this thread.
posted by enn at 3:04 PM on February 25 [8 favorites]


Also: claiming that a group of posters are engaging in "deliberate misunderstanding" instead of making mistakes or being overly credible is pretty much the essence of making a conspiracy claim.
posted by enn at 3:06 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


re: deliberate, I was referring to the twitterers who started the rumor rather than posters on Metafilter necessarily on that specific point.
posted by Justinian at 3:12 PM on February 25


It's a conspiracy theory either way, unless you have evidence to share.
posted by enn at 3:13 PM on February 25


... that's not what a conspiracy theory is but ok.
posted by Justinian at 3:14 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


It seems like some folks in this thread are basically saying we should draw the line between "true conspiracies" which are okay, and "false conspiracies," which aren't. And that the way we would distinguish between those cases would be by linking to reputable news sites.

In addition to the problems with making these distinctions that JimBennet elegantly summarized above, I have two philosophical problems with the idea that we can only share information we "know" to be true.

First is that in many situations where powerful people are trying to hide something, the real objective truth often becomes, practically speaking, unknowable. Facts get obscured, the water gets muddied, eyewitnesses turn up dead.

Second, it is often only by talking about something that at first seems like a conspiracy too big to be real that we give it the light and air it needs for information-gathering to happen.

For example, I believe Trump and his lawyers are engaged in a conspiracy to cover up his rape of advice columnist E. Jean Carroll. I don't know for a fact that he is guilty, but I believe that he is and I believe that I should be able to talk about it on metafilter. I can line up reputable news sources that have printed the allegations against him, but none that have proof, because there currently isn't any.
posted by mai at 3:16 PM on February 25 [12 favorites]


Certainly there are gray areas but the existence of those gray areas don't IMO imply that there aren't also times when stuff it getting shared which should not be. We can make room for nuance, I think.
posted by Justinian at 3:19 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


So if the rich and powerful are always hiding the tracks of their nefarious schemes, should we also seriously consider the Comet pizza and Q conspiracies? Comet pizza was very much built on tenuous links and handwaving about powerful elites.
posted by factory123 at 3:24 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


I am not saying you have to seriously consider anything. You are always free to evaluate claims for yourself and reject whatever you want to reject.

I am just concerned that this could have a chilling affect on the sharing of ideas which might seem to some like "conspiracy theories" just because they don't fit a dominant narrative of what "everyone knows." I'd rather someone share the Comet pizza conspiracy here and have others ignore it or debunk it, than have a situation where people aren't allowed to share unpopular ideas or where any time they do, a consensus of people shouts them down for conspiracy theorizing.
posted by mai at 3:31 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


Conversely, I think shouting people down for something like Comet Pizza is appropriate and the right thing to do. Do you feel something like conspiracies about the Holocaust should also be ignored rather than shouted down?
posted by Justinian at 3:34 PM on February 25 [9 favorites]


Do note that a dude actually went into Comet Pizza looking to rescue the kids with a loaded firearm and it could have ended quite badly.
posted by Justinian at 3:34 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


I think it's fine to ask people to acknowledge the evidence or lack thereof for their claims. I think it's fine to tell people that you think their claim is bogus. I guess what I'm saying is that I'd prefer people engage with the substance of what someone is saying rather than just shout "NO CONSPIRACY THEORIES" at them.
posted by mai at 3:38 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


it is important and noble to be skeptical and critical of the people with their hands on the levers of power, and to consider who they associate with and why.

You understand that no one is saying not to do that, right?


i mean, my entire post is about people doing this exact thing lol. i wouldn't have written ten paragraphs about it if it wasn't happening to me.

Do note that a dude actually went into Comet Pizza looking to rescue the kids with a loaded firearm and it could have ended quite badly.

was that man a metafilter poster? are people seriously spreading comet pizza conspiracies here? if neither of these things are true then what is even the point of bringing it up?
posted by JimBennett at 3:43 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


Because mai literally said somebody should be able to share comet pizza conspiracies without being shouted down? It was like 3 comments ago?
posted by Justinian at 3:45 PM on February 25


after someone else brought it up despite it being completely irrelevant to the current discussion, sure.
posted by JimBennett at 3:48 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


Because mai literally said somebody should be able to share comet pizza conspiracies without being shouted down? It was like 3 comments ago?

Well, that's not exactly what I said. I said I didn't want a situation where *any time* someone shares an unpopular position they are shouted down for conspiracy theorizing. The comet pizza conspiracy is obviously an extreme case. But I stand by my previous comment that I'd still rather people engage with the substance of a comment than just shout NO CONSPIRACIES.
posted by mai at 3:50 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


Oh look the cabal doesn’t want competition.

THE EARTH IS FLAT SHEEPLE.
posted by spitbull at 3:54 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


But I stand by my previous comment that I'd still rather people engage with the substance of a comment than just shout NO CONSPIRACIES.

Again I think that it depends on context. We're probably not going to engage with the substance of a pizzagate conspirator any more than we should do so with a Holocaust denier. But there are less odious situations where it may well be appropriate, sure. I'd agree with that.
posted by Justinian at 3:56 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


I think part of the distinction is explaining what we know, how we know it, and what we don't know. I don't think anyone is arguing to never talk about E. Jean Carroll or that it's a conspiracy theory to believe her. But there's a difference between talking about a specific named credible person making an allegation while acknowledging the lack of proof and things like Comet Pizza and Q, which are just entirely noise. And if someone wants to come here and espouse their belief in QAnon, why put the burden on the rest of us to ignore it (allowing it to spread unchallenged, which is dangerous) or go through the pain of debunking it?

The kinds of conspiracy theories I'm seeing here are the ones that don't really have any "substance of a comment." There are plenty of "unpopular position[s]" that are broadly supported by facts and reasoning: even if others are going to disagree, we can discuss it by pointing to other facts and logic and evaluating the available support for the differing positions. But when it comes to something serious like insinuating that an election has been rigged, I think we should have more evidence than "I don't like the look of this group of rich and powerful people."

I'm not even opposed to pointing out that something looks bad, as long as there's honesty about what we actually know.
posted by zachlipton at 4:06 PM on February 25 [12 favorites]


Comet pizza is an example I like because most Mefites don't have a dog in that fight. They know it's nuts. The Comet conspiracy also features an abundance of sinister inferences based around the shop's connections to powerful people. In the real world, the Podestas held events at the place - John Podesta talked about the spot in his leaked emails. That thin sliver of evidence, that connection, was enough for the conspiracy-minded. To the conspiricists, the proven connection to the Podestas was enough to implicate the spot in all sorts of crazy shit.

My point is that connections are both powerful to a receptive audience and terrible as proof of a conspiracy. While I prefer to talk out most things, if we want norms for discussion on the Blue, I think it's good to adopt a norm against a tinfoilist attitude of "...you connect the dots, ho ho ho!"
posted by factory123 at 4:31 PM on February 25 [10 favorites]


If y'all have a very specific situation in mind (election rigging) then can you just be completely upfront with what you think the problem is so we can discuss it? And be clear that you think that is the main problem here and not general "conspiracy theories."

Talking around it, then when people talk about other stuff, trying to shepherd the discussion back to the specific thing you have in mind is making this discussion weird. I get it, seriously, you're trying not to single people out or whatever, but it makes it really hard to have a productive conversation when some people have a very specific issue in mind but are trying to make it into this general thing.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:56 PM on February 25 [10 favorites]


Certainly I don't think its exactly a secret that the Iowa thread was chock full of rigging conspiracies. I haven't seen as much with coronavirus on metafilter (as per the meta post here) but I haven't been following them as closely so perhaps those threads were and I just didn't see it.

There's problems with singling people out and there's problems with not singling people out, honestly.
posted by Justinian at 5:14 PM on February 25 [8 favorites]


First of all, Ghidorah's "rose-colored-glassings" is absolutely in the wrong thread.

Okay but hi, it's been a few months but I've definitely speculated about (content warning: it's not super graphic, but it does involve sexual assault via coercion) what I think happened between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin behind closed doors here on MetaFilter-- more than once, in fact! It was clearly conspiracy-theory territory when I posted, but I still don't see it as implausible in any way: I fully appreciate the "extraordinary claims" quote (which I came to by way of Carl Sagan personally), but there are also times where, as I mentioned in the second post I made on this topic, possibilities that are improbable but not impossible deserve consideration. I can't prove a damn thing, but whenever I think through that scenario it all sounds more credible than any other theory that I have heard, so if that counts as gullible in your minds, I can't even contest it.

In cases like this I try to start with Craig Ferguson's checklist: does this need to be said, by me, right now? If you're at the point where you're blowing through a fourth potential checkpoint-- "Does this need to be said AGAIN, because I didn't get the proper reaction the FIRST time?" then I'd say that you're probably at the stage where you need to ratchet back and let the thread breathe. Maybe let it drop entirely until more evidence surfaces elsewhere! MetaFilter is a good place for discourse and consideration, but try not to treat it like a life-or-death, consequences-fraught struggle (except it occasionally maybe is! There are no one-size-fits-all answers here that I can see). Please try to approach other users with an open mind, and an awareness that your own understanding of a situation may not necessarily contain the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and be willing to go forward from there, with all the caveats and openness to criticism that any sort of text-based internet conversation will demand.

(Also recognize that MetaFilter is full of stubborn goofs who absolutely fail to realize how wrong they are sometimes. Maybe today you are one of those goofs! It's a real conundrum, that's for sure.)
posted by tyro urge at 5:43 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


.. that's not what a conspiracy theory is but

It seems like some folks in this thread are basically saying we should draw the line between "true conspiracies" which are okay, and "false conspiracies," which aren't.


for clarity (for me anyway), a conspiracy theory is (according to the wiki) ...

an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful actors, often political in motivation,[2][3] when other explanations are more probable.[4]

I don't even agree with this necessarily, but at least it reflects what might be called common ground -- something we can point at occasionally ... for clarity.
posted by philip-random at 10:08 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


Interestingly that doesn't seem to require that the theory be false.
posted by Justinian at 12:03 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Oh, I missed #4. Yeah it does. That makes a lot more sense now.
posted by Justinian at 12:04 AM on February 26


It really does turn on #4 though, doesn't it? For some people Occam's Razor cuts one way; for others, another; and that's informed by your politics blah blah blah. It's easy to discard as improbable obviously absurd theories like Pizzagate, but it's exactly that politically-informed difference in opinions about what is probable that gets people het up about Iowa shenanigans, zee Russians, Epstein, etc.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 1:46 AM on February 26 [5 favorites]


If y'all have a very specific situation in mind (

There was a speculative post about coronavirus that was nothing but a conspiracy theory that really should have been canned. I regret not flagging it.
posted by smoke at 4:02 AM on February 26 [6 favorites]


For purposes of metafilter conversation, I think the truth value of a theory isn't so important as opposed to a theory being proposed without regard to its empircal support. "XYZ happened, obviously the cabal is trying to take down PQR as usual, denying it at this point just makes you a credulous dupe" is the type of stuff I think is causing problems here. It is an extraordinary claim asserted without really any interest in backing it up, and the thread then unavoidably devolves into arguments about that thing.

For me personally, it has been enough to make me avoid engaging in politics threads and even limit my reading of them past the first 50 or so posts. Like sallybrown mentioned, the Epstein threads in particular made me seriously think about whether this is a healthy place for discussion, as well as the Buttigieg coin-flip drama. If that became a regular metafilter occurrence, I wouldn't keep participating here, it's just unhealthy for everyone involved.

Conspiracy theorizing isn't directed at revealing truth, it's a way for people with anxiety about a particular subject to deal with that anxiety. It recasts the narrative as one in which they at least understand the hidden power dynamics, who is really in control, and consequently, making sure that their personal narrative doesn't involve themselves being duped. That's a way to manage anxiety, but it's not healthy and it is super, super damaging to the community because it alienates anyone who is not in on the theory. Even if by luck the theory asserted ends up mapping well onto actual reality, it's still bad. Broken clocks and all.
posted by skewed at 6:40 AM on February 26 [17 favorites]


"Conspiracy theory" is a thought-terminating cliché. There's simply no way to evaluate "conspiracy theories" as a class, unless you're defining them as spurious theories with no legitimate value. If you say a theory has no value and the person espousing it says it does, you're just having a substantive disagreement. So...just address the cases in their specificity.
posted by dusty potato at 7:17 AM on February 26 [12 favorites]


A short discussion about Biden possibly having dementia was deleted by LobsterMitten, see here. I started this discussion by linking to this video on Twitter, linked yesterday here by MisantropicPainforest. This was in an effort to explain why Buttigieg might not have gone after a particularly ridiculous claim by Biden about gun deaths.

This seems like a good case study for this thread. Personally I think anyone watching that video would come to the same conclusion as me. factory123 responded here that maybe the video was taken out of context. Maybe so.

So, what exactly happened here? Is there literally anything Biden could say or do in a 22 second video that would let us describe the behavior as mental illness? Is there a certain number of "gaffes"-per-minute required and this video didn't measure up? Is there an informal site rule specifically against speculating on mental illness, under any circumstances?

Absolutely not trying to start a fight here, to be totally clear.
posted by bright flowers at 8:10 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


I find it helps to go back to how Science* does it.

Fact: something is observed to have occurred

Hypothesis: an idea is proposed as to the reason for the fact (the "what if" phase)

Theory: the hypothesis is rigorously tested, substantiated, confirmed

Law: a definitive statement is arrived at based on all of the above -- a certain something has happened and continues to happen, and this how it happens (note that "why" is kept out of it)

My guess is most of what we're calling conspiracy theories don't get past the hypothesis point. Or more to the point, they haven't got past it yet, and proceeding as if they have is where the trouble starts.


* all apologies to science types who might find this level of reductiveness annoying. But trust me, as someone from the arts side of the campus, I need occasionally reminding that just because I intuit something, it isn't necessarily so.

** and on preview, I notice Bright Flowers comment, which I'm not specifically responding to here.
posted by philip-random at 8:11 AM on February 26 [4 favorites]


Is there literally anything Biden could say or do in a 22 second video that would let us describe the behavior as mental illness?

Mefites have disagreed over questions like this in the past quite often (including the issue of medical questions on AskMe) and I think people have good reasons behind different stances. For me, best practice is not attempting any diagnosis of medical stuff, especially mental health related, over the Internet. Goes double for people who aren’t trained medical professionals. Pictures and video can be deceptive, people sometimes act way out of character for more mundane reasons like tiredness, and lots of diagnoses are complex. I feel the same way about the common discussion of whether Trump is ill / has dementia.

The one case in which I’ve felt differently was John McCain’s questioning of Hillary Clinton which led to his glioblastoma diagnosis. Maybe because I find it’s less conspiracy-ish to react “Something seems really wrong/unusual” than “Specifically, he has XYZ.” Most of the comments I recall were more like “What the heck was that?” than “He might have brain cancer.” Or maybe it was just so obviously strange?
posted by sallybrown at 8:18 AM on February 26 [4 favorites]


Is there literally anything Biden could say or do in a 22 second video that would let us describe the behavior as mental illness?

No? I don't think most (all?) people are qualified to make medical diagnoses based on 22-second video clips.
posted by lalex at 8:20 AM on February 26 [15 favorites]


bright flowers, yeah, we have some members who really don't want speculation about any kind of diagnosis (physical or mental) under any circumstances. Even if one doesn't share that stance in the abstract, it's not hard to see why that speculation can quickly go to gross places that're harmful to people other than the one speculated-about person. It's come up many times over the last four or five years, as people speculated about Clinton's health stuff, and Trump's, and Biden's, and and and. I think people have a range of feelings about it and maybe it feels more ok to some people in different circumstances, but armchair diagnosis in general is definitely a Thing here, in that even if you think it's okay, it tends to run away with a discussion (because it turns into debating over the diagnosis or whether it's ok to speculate). So in general we broadly discourage it here, even in cases where it might seem like "it's just obvious".
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:26 AM on February 26 [17 favorites]


I think for me, an armchair diagnosis of a mental/physical disability is at best useless conjecture, and at worst misinformed and stigmatizing.

Politicians have doctors, families, handlers, advisors, etc. You can see things that would make you suspect that maybe that person is suffering from X, but you are not that person's doctor or you are a bad doctor. I know this because medical professionals are ethically barred from making that kind of conjecture publicly, much less an actual diagnosis. And even WITH an actual diagnosis from a professional in hand, a person with a given malady is as functional as they present and decide. It is not our place to decide for another what they can and cannot do, especially if that person is surrounded by advisers and professionals to help them make that decision.

Second, it is highly stigmatizing to blame weird behavior (or sometimes just behavior a critic doesn't like ) on some secret disability. Like if a candidate is dumb it must be cause they are one of the multitude of folks living with disabilities, and by implication those folks with disabilities must be dumb. If a candidate rubs creepily against little kids, I guess it must be because they're one of those disabled people. It's plain offensive.

And please don't think this is a defense of Joe Biden. I despise that man on a personal and professional level. But even I get squikked out reading people pontificating about the state of his body and brain.
posted by FakeFreyja at 8:27 AM on February 26 [13 favorites]


Is there literally anything Biden could say or do in a 22 second video that would let us describe the behavior as mental illness?

If he bit the head off a bat and then started singing Iron Man, I'd probably start leaning hard toward mental illness. But then, if Trump did the same, would I even be surprised?
posted by philip-random at 8:51 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


The specific word I used was "dementia", which is defined at Wikipedia as "a broad category of brain diseases that cause a long-term and often gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember that is severe enough to affect daily functioning." To me this is the most general term I could use that meant "something wrong with the brain, probably due to old age". I had also considered "cognitive impairment". It was as generic as I could think of, like seeing someone grabbing their back and mouthing "ow" and then speculating they have a "back problem".

So, was the problem the specific word "dementia", or in suggesting any medical issue whatsoever?

Also, my comment was specifically in response to a comment expressing surprise that Buttigieg didn't go after Biden for some weird comment. If I had said "Maybe Buttigieg thinks Biden has some kind of mental issue", would that have cleared the bar?

Another thing, I posted a comment here about Sanders' health, particularly survival statistics given his heart attack. Was that crossing a line?

FakeFreyja: It is not our place to decide for another what they can and cannot do, especially if that person is surrounded by advisers and professionals to help them make that decision.

In this particular case we are trying to decide whether they can be President, which is a stressful 4-8 year contract with high physical and mental demands. In a hiring context we can approach this like any other ADA situation: does the person have a disability and if so, can they do the job with reasonable accommodation? If a person comes into an interview using a mobility aid, then we can't and shouldn't ask what their specific condition is but if the job usually requires climbing ladders then some discussion is warranted, I think.

Again none of this is to say that I think we have an inalienable First Amendment right to blather on about whatever we want to here on MetaFilter.

Thank you for the responses so far.
posted by bright flowers at 8:58 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Example of stuff we should consider critically if not avoid all together.
posted by Mitheral at 9:10 AM on February 26


I flagged that one too. If you google, you’ll see that the only news source reporting this is the Law & Crime blog a couple days ago (the other articles refer back to that).
posted by sallybrown at 9:17 AM on February 26


(And by that I mean, it’s not even clear that this collision happened, let alone who the driver was, let alone whether the driver hit her as payback for her testimony.)
posted by sallybrown at 9:19 AM on February 26


Personally I think anyone watching that video would come to the same conclusion as me.

I have watched the clip and did not come to the same conclusion as you.

factory123 responded here that maybe the video was taken out of context. Maybe so.

And, thus since that is a possibility that you have not explored, I would say that it shouldn't be posted. (Plus, also all the stuff everyone else has generally about diagnosing vs. specifically the comment.)

Another thing, I posted a comment here about Sanders' health, particularly survival statistics given his heart attack. Was that crossing a line?

I would say that is not crossing a line since they are objective stats and not a subjective opinion of a a random video.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 9:20 AM on February 26 [3 favorites]


On the Weinstein "payback" comment: I think that's a case where it might be useful to say that in the thread? I can definitely see both sides here (a preference for deleting it vs a preference for explaining in thread why it's not well sourced) but I think that's how I'd lean on this.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:20 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


So, was the problem the specific word "dementia", or in suggesting any medical issue whatsoever?

To me, the difference is between “that answer was bizarre/bad/loopy” and “that bad answer was caused by a medical problem.”
posted by sallybrown at 9:21 AM on February 26 [15 favorites]


I can definitely see both sides here (a preference for deleting it vs a preference for explaining in thread why it's not well sourced) but I think that's how I'd lean on this.

To me, this is clear cut conspiracy thinking worthy of deletion. There is literally no evidence that this very common occurrence (pedestrian hit by car) was a payback hit by powerful people.
posted by sallybrown at 9:25 AM on February 26 [4 favorites]


Is there literally anything Biden could say or do in a 22 second video that would let us describe the behavior as mental illness?

In those words? Of course not. However I don't think discussion of a 77-yo candidate's episodes of incoherence as an overall trend in context of the possibility of cognitive decline ought to be off limits, any more than the discussion of a 78-yo candidate's heart attack in context of the possibility of... having another heart attack. Neither requires an armchair diagnosis, they are just common issues with implications for the presidency. It's not quite like speculating about a candidate's psych meds.

(And of course that discussion includes pointing out when something like the "running for Senate" clip is actually schtick.)
posted by atoxyl at 9:29 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


it is important and noble to be skeptical and critical of the people with their hands on the levers of power, and to consider who they associate with and why.

But that's the thing. It's never limited to only folks in power or only the bad folks in power. It spreads and begins to corrode trust in other institutions and people. Mistrust, doubt, and paranoia (the drivers conspiratorial thinking) are infectious, particularly on the internet. An obvious example is the coronavirus stuff. There's just so much misinformation out there. And some of it is directed at the Communist Party of China, a powerful entity that should be scrutinized. But a lot of it is also either totally baseless (e.g., that it's a bioweapon), to outright harmful (believing that any Asian person in the West is a carrier of the disease and thus they all should be ostracized).
posted by FJT at 9:38 AM on February 26 [6 favorites]


Ok, I've zapped the Weinstein comment for now. In case a summary is useful for discussing it in here: it was that anti-Weinstein expert witness Barbara Ziv was hit by a car for payback. If there end up being better sources or more info on this to support an intentional/payback theory, people can repost over there.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:39 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


I think for me, an armchair diagnosis of a mental/physical disability is at best useless conjecture, and at worst misinformed and stigmatizing.

I think this is an important point. Comments that point to a supposed thing along these lines and then turn into endless pixel-scrutinizing to try to prove the point are not only not great for community discussion generally (a lot of this stuff is fundamentally unknowable by people with only an internet-level of access to information) but can also turn into shaming/stigma for people with adjacent issues. This community is decent at being kind to our members who struggle, but people aren't always mindful of how talking about someone else in this way can also throw unintentional shade on to the people we are talking with.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 9:53 AM on February 26 [20 favorites]


I'm the one who posted the original (non-deleted) comment about Biden and the 150 million gun deaths. I watched the live debate, so I heard it in as much context as you can hear a thing. But I didn't claim he had dementia. All I was observing was:

1) He said a thing that was outrageously wrong, then kept talking about it and basing further statements on it.
2) Given how fighty and nitpicky the candidates have been about much smaller mistakes, I'm surprised no one challenged the statement in real time.

I might personally think that's dementia, Gaffe Disease, nervousness, or something else, but "why did he say that" is totally separate from "what did he say".

As to the bigger context about conspiracy theories, there's no bright line between those, mistaken claims, and just plain biases. But I'm thinking of the dictionary definition (Merriam-Webster):

Definition of conspiracy theory
: a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators


I would add to that "Adherents are usually unable to produce documented facts that prove the existence of the plot, and discard all well-sourced evidence against it."

So there's a huge difference between:

"A lot of centrist Democrats and related organizations really do not want Sanders to be the nominee. Mainstream news also seems to downplay his successes, and opinion writers have attacked him in unreasonable ways."

and

"They [the man] aren't going to let Bernie win. Just you watch. You'll see. Also Pete rigged the Iowa primary!"

The second statement has two problems. First, if Sanders doesn't win for some other reason (like not every voter is a leftist Twitter user), it's a ready-made prophecy that explains the loss as a conspiracy. Second, there was obviously a lot of hot-taking about Iowa, but since then it's become clear that a lot of people didn't understand the delegate allocation rules, people made math mistakes, the app was hot garbage, other people besides Pete gave to the app developer, the app developer does other stuff which is what people were paying for, etc. I've had so many conversations on other sites about this and there's a core of people who will call you a corporate stooge if you point any of that out. I've been called that for preferring Warren, of all people.

I'm all for speculation as long as it's in good faith, but I try to be clear when I'm doing that versus making an unwarranted accusation. A good rule of thumb is, "Is there provable evidence of this that would enable someone to win a lawsuit in front of a neutral judge? Or are there documents or recordings that a respected journalist could review and that could be corroborated by other sources and news organizations?" If the answer to either is yes, why do you think that those things haven't happened?

I'm not saying that the courts or the news media are perfect (not even close in the second case), but I also don't believe there's some secret agreement between every major news source to cover things up. Every journalist straight out of school must dream of breaking the next Watergate. And they wouldn't just tweet it out. I think of Ronan Farrow's reporting on all the #metoo stuff. There were some attempts to bury or ignore the story, but it got out eventually and was backed by a huge number of meticulously gathered data points.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:59 AM on February 26 [14 favorites]


However I don't think discussion of a 77-yo candidate's episodes of incoherence as an overall trend in context of the possibility of cognitive decline ought to be off limits

The comment in question was specifically and intentionally discussing it based on a single 22-second video clip, not "an overall trend".

Also, the candidate in question has openly discussed his experience with stuttering. Framing it as "incoherence" from the comfort of the Internet is a little insensitive at best.
posted by Etrigan at 10:01 AM on February 26 [11 favorites]


Ok here's another example question. Comment in the Disney CEO departure thread saying "this is too close to the Weinstein verdict for me". I've deleted it because it was picking up flags from people reading this thread... but let's talk about it a bit, is that the kind of thing people want to see deleted? It's not making a specific unsourced claim, it's not reposting some twitter rando as if it were fact, and the connection it's suggesting (that a high-placed entertainment industry man could be connected in some negative way to the case) is IMO not outside the realm of plausibility. It's the kind of thing it seems natural to kind of wonder about, in a general discussion like we have here. I guess that whole thread of "CEO departs suddenly" invites speculation about secret explanations/motives, so it's hard to get away from.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:14 AM on February 26 [3 favorites]


The problem with a post like that is that people in the rarefied air of Fortune 100 CEOs could plausibly be connected to dozens or hundreds of other shady people and things, because those people are constantly surrounded by shady people and things as part of their job responsibilities and their social class. Speculating without evidence about a criminal connection to any one of them is both (a) sensible and (b) likely to overwhelm any discussion of other aspects of the story.

Or, to put it another way, plausibility is too low a bar, while evidence that would hold up in a court of law is probably too high a bar. The judgement call as to where between those extremes it should be is likely to be informed by the moderator's perception of how the thread is going, how the user base tends to respond to speculation along those lines (e.g. "things MeFi doesn't do well"), and perhaps the user's history (if any) of axe-grinding in the form of connecting similar dots in other threads.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:22 AM on February 26 [10 favorites]



It's not making a specific unsourced claim...the connection it's suggesting (that a high-placed entertainment industry man could be connected in some negative way to the case) is IMO not outside the realm of plausibility.

I kind of think it is making a specific unsourced claim -- which you just detailed.

'They might have had a crime connection which led to Iger's departure' is completely unsourced. It's an implicit, unstated claim that you nonetheless got from that comment. I don't know if that's what was meant -- I could also possibly read it as the Weinstein verdict being a reminder that harassment can be kept secret a long time -- but reading it as making an accusation also seems reasonable.

Wondering whether Iger's departure could possibly be related to a scandal/harassment claim/etc generally is totally reasonable and there are a bunch of comments doing that which I assume haven't been flagged in the same way. There is a difference between alleging or wondering about some kind of elite coördination between Iger and Weinstein in committing crimes and wondering about Iger himself committing crimes. Which is to say: one posits a conspiracy, the other does not.
posted by cjelli at 10:46 AM on February 26 [6 favorites]


The comment in question was specifically and intentionally discussing it based on a single 22-second video clip, not "an overall trend".

The first line of my comment addresses this distinction. It's self-evident that nobody should be diagnosing anybody with anything based on 20 seconds, but that's not the only version of this conversation that happens.

Also, the candidate in question has openly discussed his experience with stuttering. Framing it as "incoherence" from the comfort of the Internet is a little insensitive at best.

The last line of my comment addresses this i.e. the possibility that there are harmless reasons that he says things that are hard to parse. But this is not a question that's impossible to investigate one way or the other - has he always sounded just like this, or does he moreso now? - and I fundamentally do not believe that question should be off-limits.
posted by atoxyl at 11:17 AM on February 26


But that's the thing. It's never limited to only folks in power or only the bad folks in power. It spreads and begins to corrode trust in other institutions and people. Mistrust, doubt, and paranoia (the drivers conspiratorial thinking) are infectious, particularly on the internet.

Assuming this is true, the solution isn’t to pretend that institutions have more legitimacy than they actually do. The people doing the lying are fault for making people miserable and paranoid because they feel like they are being lied to. Weinstein and Epstein and Lauer weren’t protected by me or anyone else here. Nor did we lie about Iraq. The answer to powerful people lying can’t be “ignore it” or “pretend that it doesn’t provide us with information.”
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:33 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]


I'm assuming people commenting here have watched the Biden video. I stand by my interpretation but I'm not going to die on the hill of trying to convince people what it means.

It is frustrating that we can't discuss the topic more openly. Etrigan wrote that maybe it's tied to Biden's history of stuttering. The defense on Twitter here is that it's an eccentric signoff he does at all his events. Someone else responded on Twitter by saying they hadn't heard of that before. Of course I can do my own research but it would be nice to get MetaFilter's take. There are a lot of people here who are way more informed on politics than I am.

I'm reminded of the 2016 campaign when Clinton near-fainted and it became a huge right-wing talking point. If the left self-censors themselves then the discussion is entirely ceded to the fearmongers and professional liars on the right. That's not good.

My takeaway from this discussion so far is that almost all speculation about medical issues is off-limits for reasons that are idiosyncratic to this particular site. If that's what it takes to keep the mods from being overwhelmed then so be it.
posted by bright flowers at 12:33 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Nah. Speculating about medical diagnosis/attributing things to mental health is ableist and is therefore off limits like any other form of bigotry. Hardly idiosyncratic.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 12:42 PM on February 26 [29 favorites]


Another thing, I posted a comment here about Sanders' health, particularly survival statistics given his heart attack. Was that crossing a line?

yes, your repeated speculation and catastrophizing about sanders' health is majorly gross. this was not just you obviously, i would generally like to see less comments shitting on people for supporting candidates with "bad tickers" in future election threads, but specifically trying to scope out and predict his likelihood of survival in the future? disgusting.
posted by JimBennett at 1:03 PM on February 26 [4 favorites]


So we’ve gotta rein in the brain worms thing, huh? :c
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:13 PM on February 26


I mean, the thing is we've already reached a societal low point where having it off-limits does as much to fuel the conspiracy as talking about it. And I'm not talking about only the health thing (whether for Biden or Sanders), but just how a lot speculation and conspiracies grow and take shape in the public these days.

The default now is that someone is always trying to hide something.
posted by FJT at 1:22 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Regarding Biden, it may be a thing he does, but it wasn't a thing he did here. See the full clip: https://youtu.be/bUhLeAaG9Sk.
posted by nequalsone at 1:23 PM on February 26


The defense on Twitter here is that it's an eccentric signoff he does at all his events.

This is easily substantiated, as shown here in a 2019 clip. "My name's Joe Biden, I'm runnin' for this case -- runnin' for President of the United States. Look me over. If you like what you see, help out, if not, vote for the other person"

Earlier in the month this year he's quoted as "Check me out, If you like what you see, help me out, if not, vote for the other guy.”

Again in 2019: ""Look me over, I need your help," Biden said in this closing statements during a presidential candidates forum at the conference on Wednesday."

He's probably said this line or a variant of it literally thousands of times.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:23 PM on February 26 [4 favorites]


Talking about he life expectancy or possible mental acuity of a candidate based on publicly available health information may well be gross as JimBennett says, but it's definitely not aconspiracy theory. That's true for Sanders' heart or Biden/Trump's brains.

The Weinstein thing was a little weird but I'm bothered less by one-off speculation than patterns where certain topics are repeatedly the focus of conspiracies like with coronavirus or the primary. Epstein stuff would be an interesting case. I'm not sure where the line between a conspiracy theory about his death and just a sarcastic "dude didn't kill himself" lies but surely it exists.
posted by Justinian at 1:28 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]


Homo neanderthalensis: I don't think it's ableist simply to suggest that someone looks or is acting unwell, especially someone who has voluntarily put themselves under one of the brightest spotlights in the world and is asking for my support. I can respect if there is an implicit MetaFilter contract not to do that, though.

JimBennett: My understanding from the Slate article I linked was that the author was an doctor with a specialization in risk assessment who was essentially reading off some actuarial tables. If he was just spitballing based on personal politics then I definitely misread the article.
posted by bright flowers at 1:30 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


The ableist practice I see most frequently is the use of the language of mental illness to discredit and dehumanize someone. For example, disagreeing with somebody by saying they have "brainworms" or are "crazy." From my perspective, if you wouldn't use the r-slur, you shouldn't use any of the other similar terms.

FWIW, the defense of Biden isn't just some twitter rando. It's the reporter for Politico who is assigned to Biden and therefore has heard many, many speeches (which are not all available online).
posted by factory123 at 1:44 PM on February 26 [9 favorites]


Talking about he life expectancy or possible mental acuity of a candidate based on publicly available health information may well be gross as JimBennett says, but it's definitely not aconspiracy theory. That's true for Sanders' heart or Biden/Trump's brains.

i agree, but since the user in question decided to step in here and ask if their behavior is okay, i took the opportunity to tell them how i felt about it.
posted by JimBennett at 1:54 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]


FWIW, the defense of Biden isn't just some twitter rando. It's the reporter for Politico who is assigned to Biden and therefore has heard many, many speeches (which are not all available online).

But this one is online. The question isn't whether he said it eloquently in the past, it is whether he jumbled it up here. Is anyone suggesting that he actually thinks he is running for President of the Senate?

What the reporter said Biden has said in the past is not what he said in this instance. He clearly misspoke in this instance.

Also FWIW, Biden says when he gets stuff wrong it is just that he sometimes gets stuff wrong or he is tired. He doesn't attribute it to stuttering, which he sees as no longer an issue for him. Being tired seems reasonable.

I started a longer comment about how this whole trend started with the book Bush on the Couch, got sidetracked onto Bush the Younger's role in the War on Drugs versus his own rumored cocaine use and... well, probably no one, even me, wants to read that. My .02 is that it makes sense to be very circumspect about (and suspicious of) armchair diagnosis, but it would be absurd to ignore obvious signs of physical or mental health problems. Isn't Biden's performance par for the course for him?
posted by nequalsone at 2:11 PM on February 26


If the left self-censors themselves then the discussion is entirely ceded to the fearmongers and professional liars on the right. That's not good.

I appreciate that you are making a good faith effort to engage here, but I think you're really trying to make a case for the thing you want at the expense of the larger community after people have told you that they feel that this direction is one that isn't good for this site for a number of reasons.

This is not "the left" self-censoring because of fearmongering, this is about being one place on the internet (if possible) where discourse doesn't get way into the weeds over minor details of a large and exhaustingly complex situation. And it's okay to want that, should be okay, without people making accusations of this site caving in to the desires of assholes.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 2:13 PM on February 26 [25 favorites]


If something was "I feel news event X is related to news event Y" then that goes to show how newsfilter has been normalized so much that people don't wait until more has developed before posting about something from the news cycle. This is what's driving attention and thus speculation especially under a fog of uncertainty.

So we can ask people individually to regulate themselves and use information literacy best practices, but it can help to attend to structural causes of this as well.
posted by polymodus at 2:34 PM on February 26 [2 favorites]


Nah. Speculating about medical diagnosis/attributing things to mental health is ableist and is therefore off limits like any other form of bigotry. Hardly idiosyncratic.

This isn't Thomas Eagleton's depression. Age-related dementia obviously deserves to be a protected category in some respects - one does not make fun of a person for having it, and people have certainly made unnecessarily mean jokes about Joe Biden. But the possibility that a candidate for office at that age might be experiencing significant cognitive decline - as a substantial percentage of people do - isn't just a mean joke, it's a completely serious concern about how the course of an irreversible disease might affect their ability to execute the responsibilities of the office.
posted by atoxyl at 3:49 PM on February 26 [14 favorites]


I think there are both ableist and ageist issues with how people talk about candidates. It's much better to talk about observed behavior than to try to use it to prove or define internal mental state, medical issues, or age related infirmity.

Returning to conspiracy theories. I think plausibility is too low a bar. There needs to be some expectation of evidence, some real meaningful thing that suggests a shared interest or goal or effort, beyond a correlation/connection between different people in power, or between specific associations between individuals and between groups in which they belong, are meaningful in a specific context.

Example: Mitch McConnell and Amy Klobuchar, not only work in the same building, but work together directly, on two of the same committees! Michelle Obama called George W. Bush her partner in crime! Astounding, right?

That's not enough to imply a past and current conspiracy between both major US political parties in my mind, and I hope not in any of yours.
posted by gryftir at 6:15 PM on February 26 [5 favorites]


[Tosses anti-masons and whig on the house floor.]
posted by clavdivs at 8:33 PM on February 26


Forgot the context, as in same fog new Fleas.
"The Democratic-Republican Party invented campaign and organizational techniques that were later adopted by the Federalists and became standard American practice. It was especially effective in building a network of newspapers in major cities to broadcast its statements and editorialize its policies. Fisher Ames, a leading Federalist, used the term "Jacobin" to link members of Jefferson's party to the radicals of the French Revolution. He blamed the newspapers for electing Jefferson and wrote they were "an overmatch for any Government.... The Jacobins owe their triumph to the unceasing use of this engine; not so much to skill in use of it as by repetition".
posted by clavdivs at 8:39 PM on February 26


Is there a reason why "conspiracy theorizing" is particularly harmful more than people being wrong in other ways? I am all for people trying to not write false things in general, but I don't really get why this is an especially important category boundary.
posted by value of information at 10:27 PM on February 26


It's a very seductive variety of being wrong. And while it's not always wrong, it's easily wrong because a signature characteristic is that it explains too much. It's often somehow baroque and reductive at the same time. Frequently, it evolves into something effectively unfalsifiable. The way conspiracy theory functions and the typical forms it takes correlate strongly with highly motivated reasoning.

I don't think it's particularly helpful to focus in particular on the truth value of conspiracy theory—we care about that, obviously, but being untrue is not a necessary or sufficient characteristic of a "conspiracy theory". It's much more salient how conspiracy theory functions in individual psychology, sociologically, and in discourse.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:04 PM on February 26 [12 favorites]


I'd say they can be more harmful in two ways, value of information, when compared to other ways of being wrong.

One, they can be broadly damaging to us all in significant ways. Spreading conspiracy theories about coronavirus can reduce trust in the people or institutions we need to combat it. Spreading conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton was one way that her candidacy was damaged and therefore helped get us into the shitshow we're all experiencing. Spreading conspiracy theories about the current blue primary serves to de-legitimize the entire process and give folks license to sit politics out entirely with a-pox-on-both-their-houses attitudes. I could go on.

And, two, they are annoying as hell even compared to other ways of being wrong.
posted by Justinian at 1:37 AM on February 27 [11 favorites]


Ok here's another example question. Comment in the Disney CEO departure thread saying "this is too close to the Weinstein verdict for me". I've deleted it because it was picking up flags from people reading this thread... but let's talk about it a bit, is that the kind of thing people want to see deleted? It's not making a specific unsourced claim, it's not reposting some twitter rando as if it were fact, and the connection it's suggesting (that a high-placed entertainment industry man could be connected in some negative way to the case) is IMO not outside the realm of plausibility. It's the kind of thing it seems natural to kind of wonder about, in a general discussion like we have here. I guess that whole thread of "CEO departs suddenly" invites speculation about secret explanations/motives, so it's hard to get away from.

For all the reasons you list this is exactly the kind of comment I don't want to see deleted. The fact that it was "picking up flags from people reading this thread" is itself pretty disheartening.

Given that there is no public information about what actually caused the departure (and we may never know) how can it be discussed in anything but the vaguest terms if this deletion is to set the standard? It's not clear to me why the many other speculative comments in that thread would not also get deleted. Would the comment "Steven Spielberg will no longer direct Indiana Jones 5." get deleted as speculation about a connection to Iger's departure? This lack of public information showing direct causal relationships will be the case for many news stories.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 4:22 AM on February 27 [5 favorites]


Given that there is no public information about what actually caused the departure (and we may never know) how can it be discussed in anything but the vaguest terms if this deletion is to set the standard?

As I recall, this was exactly one of the objections to soi disant Newsfilter back in the day. I don't think it was incorrect.

The Iowa nomination thread was gross and I hope has reminded me why I should not bother to try and discuss electoral politics with people who manifestly don't care to understand how the process they're wildly speculating about is supposed to work in the first place, let alone how it's worked in the past. If you need to posit shadowy malefactors because a baroque process being carried out by undertrained volunteers and requiring members of the general public to all please behave the way they're asked for hours on end in order to not have inconsistent results had exactly the sorts of failure modes I would expect, I really don't know how you function in society. The "coin-flip was rigged!" nonsense was truly ridiculous in terms of people being willing to postulate bad acts being performed that have vanishingly marginal rewards in exchange for absurd levels of risk.

I don't understand this idea some of y'all seem to have that the battle for the heart of the democratic party will be won on Metafilter. Even if every single person with an account here was brought into agreement with you, so what? What do you think you are accomplishing with long repetitive posts about connections and perceptions that apparently aren't meant to be understood as claims about the world but rather "just asking questions"? The comparisons to the Iraq War are frankly question begging bullshit. We know and knew there was a concerted effort to fabricate a case for invading Iraq because there was substantial contemporary evidence of that concerted effort and more since then. What evidence is there for any malign efforts in the Dem primaries? If the party is so all powerful and so set against Sanders, why is he in the lead and Biden tanking? Where is the payoff to the coin flip kid?

Cosplaying citizen journalism by breathlessly repeating everything you read on Twitter that feels right is not significantly better than cosplaying institutional journalism by endlessly interviewing Trump voters.
posted by PMdixon at 6:01 AM on February 27 [34 favorites]


If you need to posit shadowy malefactors because a baroque process being carried out by undertrained volunteers and requiring members of the general public to all please behave the way they're asked for hours on end in order to not have inconsistent results had exactly the sorts of failure modes I would expect, I really don't know how you function in society.

Shit like this is (imo) a billion times worse than having to read or scroll past a conspiracy theory. Saying "I don't know how you function in society" about any Mefite is unnecessary and fighty, even if you're describing a Mefite who posts things that you don't like, and even if you didn't have a specific Mefite in mind when you wrote "I don't know how you function in society".
posted by 23skidoo at 6:11 AM on February 27 [11 favorites]


Like, if you choose to talk about Mefites who post conspiracy theories in hyperbolically negative terms, I have a pretty good idea of how you function in society, and I'd prefer if you choose a completely different way to function on Metafilter
posted by 23skidoo at 6:23 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]


Like, if you choose to talk about Mefites who post conspiracy theories in hyperbolically negative terms, I have a pretty good idea of how you function in society, and I'd prefer if you choose a completely different way to function on Metafilter

What expectations do I get to hold of other Mefites, IYO?
posted by PMdixon at 6:25 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]


What expectations do I get to hold of other Mefites, IYO?

You're changing the subject. I wasn't talking about expectations that you hold, I was talking about opinions of other Mefites that you choose to express in a comment.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:29 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


You're changing the subject. I wasn't talking about expectations that you hold, I was talking about opinions of other Mefites that you choose to express in a comment.

My opinion is that people who are willing to believe that Buttigieg rigged the coin toss are not applying the same standards they would to a belief that, say, a coworker stole their lunch. I will express that less hyperbolically in the future. I'm still uninterested in other people's Dem primary fanfic.
posted by PMdixon at 6:34 AM on February 27 [16 favorites]


Fair enough.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:36 AM on February 27


(Honestly I think "would this be sufficient evidence to accuse a coworker of stealing my lunch" is probably a pretty good litmus test for any conspiracy theory.)
posted by PMdixon at 6:41 AM on February 27 [17 favorites]


Is there a reason why "conspiracy theorizing" is particularly harmful more than people being wrong in other ways? I am all for people trying to not write false things in general, but I don't really get why this is an especially important category boundary.

I mean, in the context of MetaFilter discussion threads, it adds noise and turns the heat up. We got rid of politics MegaThreads for several reasons, and if someone posts a poorly-sourced or just personal opinion "Group X is working against/for/with Person/Group Y!!!!!" comment then people feel the urge to respond pro or con and then people respond to those comments and tempers flare and pretty soon we're re-litigating the 2016 election for the umpteenth time and having the 15,000th version of the "practical political compromise vs. standing for your principles" argument and people are accusing others of being, like, secret Trump voters, and the threads fill up with all the stuff that made MegaThreads unsustainable.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:04 AM on February 27 [12 favorites]


someone needs a hug
posted by some loser at 7:07 AM on February 27


"Cosplay" and "fanfic" are dismissive, condescending, belittling, bullshit ways to talk about the political beliefs of people you disagree with and in a better Metafilter would merit instant deletion.
posted by enn at 7:17 AM on February 27 [12 favorites]


Would a variation on On The Media's Breaking News Consumer's Handbook be helpful?
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:53 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]


I don't understand this idea some of y'all seem to have that the battle for the heart of the democratic party will be won on Metafilter.

I kinda get it. People deep down all want to feel that they matter, and they want to feel that they are right. And they also want other people to know that they matter and they are right. And maybe it's not always in that order for everyone, but those three things are always going to be at the top of the list.
posted by FJT at 8:51 AM on February 27 [7 favorites]


I don't understand this idea some of y'all seem to have that the battle for the heart of the democratic party will be won on Metafilter.

I see this as going along with why some people are attracted to conspiracies. In the face of something absurd, anxiety-provoking, upsetting, frightening, confusing, etc, it lets you feel a sense of control over the situation, however minute. It makes the unknowable knowable.
posted by sallybrown at 9:24 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]


If the party is so all powerful and so set against Sanders, why is he in the lead and Biden tanking?

Reminds me of "if there's so much racism, how did Obama win?" Just because it's not totally effective doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Maybe it doesn't, but that isn't proof.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:34 AM on February 27 [11 favorites]


If the party is so all powerful and so set against Sanders, why is he in the lead and Biden tanking?

At the risk of getting into non-Meta issues here, lots of individual people with a role in the Democratic party don't want Sanders, but they are not positioned correctly, or are failing to coordinate with one another correctly, in order to stop him.

Also, on one hand, Biden has historically been the 1990s Buffalo Bills of primary candidates- perennially incapable of sealing the deal. On the other, Biden is doing very well in SC; if his showing there causes other moderates to drop out, he can still revive his campaign.
posted by Jpfed at 10:02 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


I am in fact gonna ask that folks try and figure out if they want to discuss something other than the actual specifics of the current electoral season in here, because I'd rather we not have this be just another thread for that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:09 AM on February 27 [18 favorites]


jessamyn: I appreciate that you are making a good faith effort to engage here, but I think you're really trying to make a case for the thing you want at the expense of the larger community after people have told you that they feel that this direction is one that isn't good for this site for a number of reasons.

This is not "the left" self-censoring because of fearmongering, this is about being one place on the internet (if possible) where discourse doesn't get way into the weeds over minor details of a large and exhaustingly complex situation. And it's okay to want that, should be okay, without people making accusations of this site caving in to the desires of assholes.


I'm not exactly trying to make a case for doing a particular thing, or, if I was, then I retract that. We can try to consider the problems censorship introduces as separate from the benefits, such as avoiding upsetting people who may not be prepared to randomly discuss medical issues, and making it easier to shut down trolls. There might be ways to thread the needle and lessen the problems without removing the benefits.

One particular problem is that I don't think this site would be in a good place if something catastrophic happened, for example suppose the Democratic nominee is hospitalized for long time for unknown reasons in September or October and the entire news cycle is dominated by that. We don't need to sketch out now how discussions here might go, in fact I would prefer that we didn't, but I encourage the mods to privately explore that scenario.
posted by bright flowers at 10:48 AM on February 27


For all the reasons you list this is exactly the kind of comment I don't want to see deleted.

Yeah if that's really all it was...

I think there's a difference between speculation and conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theorizing generally involves drawing a narrative line through multiple events, circumstances and actors - "connecting the dots/corkboard pins" - without strong evidence. The hazard of this kind of thinking is that once you have a complex narrative that make some internal sense, it starts to feel as good as external evidence, regardless of how many plausible narratives actually exist.

Saying a studio head might have resigned over the possibility of a more public reckoning for something he did might be unfair to the specific person but it's not a huge stretch from recent events so I mean if you're open about the fact that you're speculating... I don't think the thread was made just to wish Bob the best in his future endeavors.
posted by atoxyl at 10:59 AM on February 27 [6 favorites]


I think there's a difference between speculation and conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theorizing generally involves drawing a narrative line through multiple events, circumstances and actors - "connecting the dots/corkboard pins" - without strong evidence.

Yeah, going back to my Science comment, I don't mind the "what if" sort of stuff. As long as it's presented as such. It's when "what if" gets present as "obviously so" that things get squirrelly.
posted by philip-random at 11:27 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]


Saying a studio head might have resigned over the possibility of a more public reckoning for something he did

I mean, it doesn't even require that he did anything untoward necessarily. Could just be the board thought he was bad PR due to connections to Weinstein in the past. Out of interest I just Googled "weinstein iger", the 1st result is:

De la Huerta filed her sexual assault lawsuit against Weinstein last year; her new complaint, which adds Disney, Iger, and former Disney chairman Michael Eisner, says Eisner and Iger “made a series of decisions that allowed a range of actions by Harvey Weinstein that unacceptably harmed certain employees of Miramax.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 11:31 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


We can try to consider the problems censorship introduces as separate from the benefits

If we're going to consider moderation on MetaFilter akin to censorship, I don't think we can do this.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 12:07 PM on February 27 [28 favorites]


My opinion is that people who are willing to believe that Buttigieg rigged the coin toss are not applying the same standards they would to a belief that, say, a coworker stole their lunch. I will express that less hyperbolically in the future. I'm still uninterested in other people's Dem primary fanfic.

this is an instructive example. i don't think buttigieg rigged the coin toss, i think the guy who flipped the coin who supported buttigieg rigged the coin toss, as evidenced by the video of him clearly rigging the coin toss.

this thread feels less and less like anything to do about conspiracy theories and more "anyone who sees the world differently than me is a fool". i watched that video and saw one thing, you watched it and saw another. we don't have to reconcile these views, we can just have different opinions. but you're basically saying here that my opinion should be moderated out of existence because... well, no one has presented a credible reason, in my opinion.

this is why the political discourse on this site has gotten so absolutely toxic. can't help but quote a user who has posted a lot in this thread and in the other politics threads saying How They Really Feel in the politicsfilter slack: "I think the conspiracy shit is the worst. At least the other stuff is just people having Wrong Opinions." it's pretty clear to me that's what this entire thread is actually about: Wrong Opinions.
posted by JimBennett at 12:21 PM on February 27 [17 favorites]


i think the guy who flipped the coin who supported buttigieg rigged the coin toss, as evidenced by the video of him clearly rigging the coin toss

He was not a Buttigieg supporter, he was “a student from Florida who came with his dad to Iowa to get an up-close look at the caucuses. He was picked by the precinct managers because he was an ‘impartial observer’” for a toss up between Pete and Klobuchar. (original source)

This isn’t quite a conspiracy but a variant of that—believing something is rigged or done with ill intent when it’s random stupidity.
posted by sallybrown at 12:40 PM on February 27 [27 favorites]


can't help but quote a user who has posted a lot in this thread and in the other politics threads saying How They Really Feel in the politicsfilter slack

I'm pretty sure that bringing in comments from other spaces, particularly semi-private ones, is Not Allowed.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:48 PM on February 27 [8 favorites]


He was not a Buttigieg supporter, he was “a student from Florida who came with his dad to Iowa to get an up-close look at the caucuses. He was picked by the precinct managers because he was an ‘impartial observer’” for a toss up between Pete and Klobuchar. (original source)

This isn’t quite a conspiracy but a variant of that—believing something is rigged or done with ill intent when it’s random stupidity.


not as instructive an example as i thought then. i will eat crow here and admit i was wrong. i remember there being a second coin toss video from Iowa that read to me as more egregious but i can't find it now, and it's certainly possible that was also a case of stupidity over malice as well. i don't really feel like that invalidates the rest of my post, because in this circumstance someone came in to provide evidence showing i was incorrect, which is how these issues should be handled IMO.
posted by JimBennett at 12:52 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


can't help but quote a user who has posted a lot in this thread and in the other politics threads saying How They Really Feel in the politicsfilter slack

I'm not clear if this is just confusing phrasing or if you're porting someone's comments from a non-public space into this thread. If it's the latter, absolutely do not do that, even in mild contexts it's crappy boundary-breaking and in less mild contexts it's the sort of thing we've gone as far as banning folks for doing.

If it it is just confusing phrasing and you mean that you're quoting someone from here, who also happens to hang out in the politicsfilter slack, saying something they said here, please keep the above in mind and communicate more clearly about what's going on with quotes and attribution so folks don't worry you're trampling site privacy expectations.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:54 PM on February 27 [12 favorites]


Well ok- in this instance the debunking was pretty quick- but how many people did you spread that falsehood too? Are you gonna track them down and tell them the truth? What if something very damaging gets spread and by the time a correction is posted (if it ever gets widely disseminated) The damage to a person or campaign is done?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 12:55 PM on February 27 [13 favorites]


Coin Toss Kid is just such a good example because it’s a collision of things that all seem too dumb to possibly be real: that we use coin tosses in our official process, that some elections official thought it was a good idea to hand this process over to a random teenage tourist, that the clearly awkward teenager couldn’t flip the coin right and panicked like a deer in headlights when it lodged in his hand, that the international press was there to record it, and on and on.
posted by sallybrown at 12:56 PM on February 27 [22 favorites]


Comment deleted. JimBennett, I don't know what your thinking is here, but you need to set down this whole "here's what's happening on politicsfilter" thing right now and step away. I don't make the rules over there and will leave folks to figure out whatever the deal is on that end, but I'm gonna be real clear here that you need to stop taking stuff either to or from there and MeFi or you won't continue to have an account here. Cut it out.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:04 PM on February 27 [13 favorites]


Well... that explains a lot. I wondered why we got this big meta seemingly out of nowhere and within minutes dozens of users are like "well of course there's a well known issue with conspiracy theories on mefi", huh..

Oh, I see it got deleted.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 1:04 PM on February 27 [6 favorites]


The PoliticsFilter is definitely unique in the history of the site as the only other place where users talk about Metafilter. Definitely does not happen on Twitter, etc.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:06 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


The coin toss mistake falls into a pattern that I would not call conspiracy theorizing, but would certainly call a two-step of politically-motivated reasoning followed by swift and unapologetic goalpost-moving.

The Nevada thread has several others in which a broad, sweeping claim of malfeasance involving the deck being stacked against Sanders by one or more of the DNC, superdelegates, the media, big business, etc. is made, promptly proven false, and then the argument is rephrased / narrowed in some way to fit in with the facts as we know them. Often it's different users executing the first and second steps in sort of a DGAF-about-the-facts cop / willing-to-acknowledge-a-shared-reality cop routine.

Examples that come to mind are the "anyone who stays in the race is working to elect Trump" claim, which was eventually reframed / rescoped by several others into arbitrary benchmarks for when a candidate should, for the good of the party, pack it in and support Sanders. The latest iteration is some kind of actuarial nonsense whereby actually, Warren's best chance at the presidency is to join Bernie as Veep and wait for him to die, which is quite a needle to thread.

Then there was this horseshit, where it was alleged that "major Democratic leaders" believe Trump would be better than Sanders. When it was pointed out that this was horseshit, others stepped in to try to ret-con in Bill Gates and Joe Manchin as "major Democratic leaders". Really embarrassing stuff from MeFites whom I usually have a lot of respect for.

Good on JimBennett here for not executing the second half of this two-step here, but others in the Nevada thread have not shown the same level of restraint, and it's kind of frustrating to have to debunk the same things over and over again without so much as an acknowledgement that the initial claims were wildly off base.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:10 PM on February 27 [14 favorites]


Well ok- in this instance the debunking was pretty quick- but how many people did you spread that falsehood too? Are you gonna track them down and tell them the truth? What if something very damaging gets spread and by the time a correction is posted (if it ever gets widely disseminated) The damage to a person or campaign is done?

i don't really feel like metafilter is the place where that damage happens tbh and i'm more interested in open discussions that may include falsehoods than i am about everyone being vigilant about presenting "the truth" all the time.
posted by JimBennett at 1:11 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


There is kind of catch-22 where if we’re talking about banning conspiracy theories, the mods get roped into judgment calls they don’t want to be involved in. If we see this thread more as a “heads up, can everyone please be more careful not to post inflammatory things before making sure they’re real” and assume users will continue to operate in good faith, that seems more workable and closer to what this post actually is—it’s asking users to quit doing this, not asking the mods to quit allowing it.
posted by sallybrown at 1:18 PM on February 27 [15 favorites]


I don't understand why it can't be an institutional/site policy to state what *appear* to be pretty clearly enforced attitudes. Most of the people on this thread are extremely online enough to understand the gap between these two propositions.

Jill Filipovic / Ryan Grim is a Truth Teller
Jill Filipovic / Ryan Grim is a Grifter

(feel free to assign the names per your bias)

These is a massive, years long discourse that under girds those two poles and it spans a number of different axes of traditional social theory / progressive activism / etc. and of course it was heightened and sharpened in 2016 primary. And it's hard because lots of very thoughtful and committed people on both 'sides' believe their praxis is the better path towards realizing a lot of what are often shared goals. And both sides have some notable outliers who are seen to be irredeemably poisoning those efforts.

I think the topic of this meta is on its face interesting and worth talking in detail about (not just for the site but as a larger issue of personal epistemology and modes of social interaction) but most of the interactions just seem to be a rehash of what feels to be pretty calcified restatement of the above.

My personal bias / assumption is the structural / institutional stance of the site is anti-Team [my bias which is like evident] Grifter and I wonder is that belief is mirrored by Team Truth Teller and if the site leadership has data to either effect. Progressive media outlets have always operated with the knowledge that their audience may well be limited by a self selecting bias. On Twitter, I've just narrowed my bubble and my time there is more pleasant because of it, even as I'm aware of the inherent issues of this type of self selection.

I think the most important conspiracy to the people active in these sorts of metas is there is a definite bias in one direction and they are just trying to prove it (like i am here!) and then it will all be sorted. I don't feel as if there has been a workable solution (squashing the megathreads just pushes the friction elsewhere) and it's one of the things driving retention issues and inhibiting growth.

I've been active is various forms of progressive communities for decades I honestly can't remember a time when it felt as polarized. I guess that there are enough people to even have the argument is a good thing? But I don't think either side brigading with a notion of total victory is going to work or have the long term benefits people envision. There will be gradations of opinions on either side. Personally I find all the 'bend the knee' stuff incredibly off putting, but I also don't think that's the entirety of my community.
posted by 99_ at 1:29 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


i don't really feel like that invalidates the rest of my post, because in this circumstance someone came in to provide evidence showing i was incorrect, which is how these issues should be handled IMO.

Right, sure, that's your opinion - and others have the opinion that it's adding noise and heat to threads for little to no purpose, and that folks should maybe think twice before posting that kind of comment. Why are you asking people to be your personal Snopes.com, spending their time and emotional & intellectual energy debunking poorly remembered things you picked up from wherever or came up with on your own? And you can't just say the onus is on people who object to this to move past it without responding - you made that comment, you bear some of the responsibility for how people react to that comment, when you could have just done better research before commenting.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:41 PM on February 27 [23 favorites]


JimBennett: you've gone in this thread from first asserting that actually a lot of these things aren't conspiracy theories, it's just people not liking certain opinions (gee I guess whose/which?), to throwing down that there totally was rigging of a thing, to now admitting you're wrong, but hey it's no big deal because you don't think it's important for people to value truth and that "open discussions" (read: discussions full of half-remembered bullshit and lies) are more important, and besides you're totally right even if it did turn out your example was you half-remembering or making something up.

At some point, do you even remotely begin to think that maybe your participation in this thread is proof positive of the very problem you're trying to downplay?
posted by tocts at 1:46 PM on February 27 [21 favorites]


no because i don’t believe anything i’ve said constitutes a conspiracy theory. watching a video and drawing an incorrect conclusion isn’t propagating conspiracy theories.
posted by JimBennett at 1:53 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


it's just people not liking certain opinions (gee I guess whose/which?)

i mean this is the crux of it to me? i don’t like people’s opinions but i don’t label them as conspiracy theories? when they parrot facts that are incorrect or misremembered (and they do) i give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re merely misinformed and not trying to sabotage the discussion, because this is a community and i think we’re all better than that. it would be nice to have that same benefit of the doubt applied both ways.
posted by JimBennett at 1:58 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


What’s dangerous isn’t the one or two people who fervently believe in nonsense- it’s the thousand otherwise reasonable people who pass the nonsense along saying “I don’t know if it’s true but it’s interesting...”
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:58 PM on February 27 [15 favorites]


watching a video and drawing an incorrect conclusion

lmao dude you didn't draw that conclusion because of the video. you had that conclusion and cast around looking for something to support it. it's not like you woke up the morning of 3 FEB and said "I sure do love the DNC!"
that's why "i don't really feel like that invalidates the rest of my post," because it doesn't support your post and was never intended to.

it was used to convince. See The Argumentative Theory of rationality.

This is a real pitfall! I don't want to be all "filter bubbles!" yet people inhabit an informational milieu that tends toward reinforcement and hides disconfirming information, and even if we get it we can't integrate it so it slides right by.

anyway for myself when I start using "clearly" and "obviously" I've learned its because I'm substituting the works for actually being clear, or actually stating the obivous (like for the deuteragonist group in Person of Interest was a bunch of backstabbing disloyal jerks, despite calling themselves "The Brotherhood.")
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:02 PM on February 27 [14 favorites]


jessamyn: If we're going to consider moderation on MetaFilter akin to censorship, I don't think we can do this.

By "censorship" I mean "deleting what someone has said" or "someone doesn't say something because they know it would be deleted." Perhaps "censorship" is too charged a word, if so I'm sorry and please feel free to mentally substitute some other one.

In fact my assumption has been that the mods are anti-deletion and would prefer to allow as many conversations as possible, but feel they need to shut some conversations down for reasons unrelated to the actual content of those conversations, perhaps because they are upsetting to some members. For those conversations there might be other solutions, such as having the discussion in a separate post that members can engage with only if they choose.
posted by bright flowers at 2:14 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


> for reasons unrelated to the actual content of those conversations, perhaps because they are upsetting to some members.

The content of the conversations is what's upsetting to some members. You can't wish that away, nor can you dismiss it unless you're willing to show your work on how the benefits of allowing the things that are being censored outweigh the potential harm to the community. Given that you couldn't be bothered to do this for the very simple example of speculating on Biden's medical diagnoses vs. focusing on the things we can see with our own eyes without needing to wade into ableism, I don't hold out much hope that you'll solve this problem in the general case with this hand-wavey "censorship" discussion.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:24 PM on February 27 [17 favorites]


lmao dude you didn't draw that conclusion because of the video. you had that conclusion and cast around looking for something to support it.

this sort of attempted mind reading is one of the main things that make this site so frustrating to participate in.
posted by JimBennett at 2:48 PM on February 27 [7 favorites]


I believe others are available.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:00 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


this sort of attempted mind reading

I mean, you were posting slams of Buttigieg at least a year ago which precedes the current primary by quite a lot, so it's not like he's coming out of nowhere with that belief?

Not that Buttigieg doesn't deserve a slam or two but c'mon man you didn't just arrive at the notion that things were being unfair the day after Iowa.
posted by Justinian at 3:00 PM on February 27 [13 favorites]


I believe others are available.

there’s that warm and welcoming attitude this site is known for!
posted by JimBennett at 3:17 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


When multiple people suggest I am engaged in the same behavior and I don't think I am, I have frequently found it fruitful to consider why they might believe that.
posted by PMdixon at 3:28 PM on February 27 [13 favorites]


Suggest we bring it back to the broader issue -- what kind of things do people think are a problem, and what resources/heuristics people use to evaluate some of these sources/rumors/etc.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:32 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


to bring it back on track, I think that "conspiracy theorizing" is basically a product of
1) increased complexity of world and systems in world, including knowledge needed to navigate the world and its systems
2) the whole "1 km deer" idea, in which we have and take in much more information than is strictly needed for our day-to-day surviving and thriving
3) a whole pile of cognitive biases / thinking heuristics that work well for the vast majority of information the vast majortiy of the time, but fail spectacularly in certain specific instances

and it's not really going to be a solvable problem.
how I deal with it is basically the application of banal platitides and cliches, like "if you're reading it, it's for you" and "cui bono?" and "5 whys" and others. I deal with it by slowing down, by thinking about how I know what I know, by going back and checking between my memory of what happened and what really(lol) happened, to stop and think about how I'm thinking about things. Journaling helps with this, because reading my old journals has surprised me with the things I dont remember, or remember differently, now - because memory is inherently an act of creation and experience, remembering that time we remembered that time we remembered that time, and filtered though lots of common and local and personal (bio)processes, how remembering something when I'm anxious now will color future recollections.

It's hard, it's a lot of work, it may not even be worth doing - that's the use of a viewpoint, an ideology, a way of understanding that lets us take in information, determine which is valuable , and discard the rest. It's useful! And we have to do it anyway, to make sense of things.

good luck out there everyone.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:32 PM on February 27 [11 favorites]


anyone who stays in the race is working to elect Trump" claim

Some of these conversations feature a bit of "fuck me? No, fuck you!" in disguise. Accusations that Sanders or his supporters spoiled the 2016 election by hanging on too long were plentiful at one point, so now that he's the frontrunner, people are enjoying the opportunity to flip the rhetoric/concern troll in the other direction. Like a lot of "by your own logic" owns the logic is there on some level, though, if you really believe in party unity. It's just that the usual outcome is to reveal that everybody is a hypocrite about "unity" and nobody really knows or agrees which end is up strategically.

Maybe we could do just to skip to the conclusion of that argument, then, but it's not a "misinformation" issue, it's an intractable clash of premises and perspectives and personal biases. We have a lot of those, which tend fundamentally to stalemate in similar ways - and yet we seem to like coming here to have them anyway. So I'm not sure we need a guideline other than the usual "be nice to each other, operate in good faith, and don't rehash the same old points for the thousandth time."
posted by atoxyl at 3:33 PM on February 27 [9 favorites]


> It's just that the usual outcome is to reveal that everybody is a hypocrite about "unity" and nobody really knows or agrees which end is up strategically.

Your both-sides analysis conveniently omits the very simple fact that calls for Bernie to step aside were not happening to any significant degree after 3 primary contests. If people had begun calling for Bernie to drop out on Feb. 20th 2016 after Clinton won the Nevada primary, you'd have a case, but the calls for him to drop out did not escalate until mid-March, well after Super Tuesday.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:45 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


tonycpsu: Some conversations can be upsetting without being inherently problematic, on a sort of continuum with for example "scariest spider you've seen" on one end, "some blatant racist/sexist/etc trolling" on the other, and "Is Biden unwell?" somewhere in the middle. We'd all agree that the spider question would be okay in a separate post and the trolling is never okay. For the Biden question, we all seem to have different opinions. Some people think it's reasonable to ask, other people consider the question itself inherently offensive. I can respect that, we all have different opinions and backgrounds. I'd really prefer to move on from the Biden question specifically.

As far as benefits to allowing discussion, I suggested earlier that I think the site is particularly vulnerable to a situation such as for example the Democratic nominee becoming seriously ill shortly before the election. This can be generalized to any situation where one crucial and time-sensitive "conspiracy theory"-adjacent topic dominates the news and people's lives. By vulnerable I mean an overwhelming flood of posts, many thousands of comments very quickly, super fighty MetaTalks etc. At that point allowing some conversations with content that upsets some members might be necessary, or the lesser of multiple evils. I'm not sure. I think it's too speculative to explore now, in public, but again I hope it's something the mods will consider among themselves.
posted by bright flowers at 3:59 PM on February 27


I understand this is a thing you want to talk about, bright flowers, but for now (based on a lot of evidence about how these discussions go on Metafilter, and for the reasons I said above about how it ends up hitting people you don't intend to hit), it's something we generally ask people to leave alone.

In terms of planning, not really - a lot of possible events could lead to a spike in discussion on the site, and we don't try to plan a response unless there's some very specific thing we can anticipate. Our plan is basically to deal with things as they come up using good sense and community input.

But all that said, it's kind of a side issue from the main point of this Metatalk, so let's steer back toward that -- namely about conspiracy theories or being too quick to believe/spread/link to rumors, misinformation etc.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:00 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


allowing some conversations with content that upsets some members

The conversational dynamic we are discussing here is rather more complex than "content that upsets some members."

For some perspective on this, I suggest you take a look at Resetting expectations about U.S. political discussion on MetaFilter from late 2017, and the very long MeTa ending the MegaThreads: Decommissioning the US politics megathreads
posted by soundguy99 at 5:05 PM on February 27 [9 favorites]


LobsterMitten: It's funny you say that, and I'm not sure what you mean by something I want to talk about, but I've been trying to extract myself from this conversation for a while now. Both paragraphs in my previous comment ended with me saying I didn't want to talk about that particular thing any more. It's strange seeing a disconnect happen between what I think I'm saying, and what other people seem to be hearing me say. In any case, I will drop out of this thread now, with some relief.
posted by bright flowers at 5:11 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


I find that when trying to extract myself from a conversation about something, the most effective action is to stop talking about it. Let somebody else have the last word.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:16 PM on February 27 [32 favorites]


no because i don’t believe anything i’ve said constitutes a conspiracy theory. watching a video and drawing an incorrect conclusion isn’t propagating conspiracy theories.

watching a video and drawing an incorrect conclusion propagating my knee-jerk theory about a perceived conspiracy isn’t propagating conspiracy theories.

FTFY
posted by sugar and confetti at 5:55 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


This thread is really depressing. It's not necessary to be shitty to people who you disagree with. It's not necessary to say ablist shit like "I really don't know how you function in society," it's not necessary to tell people to go post on other websites, it's not necessary to do the passive-aggressive "I find that" condescension. It's a shitty way to participate here and on the site at large.

It's also not necessary to say that anyone thinking something that isn't true is a conspiracy theory. And it's ESPECIALLY not necessary to do so in order to try to connect people who disagree with you politically---and therefore annoy you--to racist/xenophobic Coronavirus conspiracy theories in order to give your pet peeves some kind of moral import.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:52 PM on February 27 [22 favorites]


David Malki retweeted one of his old Wondermark strips a few days ago and it seems fairly on point.

I'm a bit bemused by the number of people asserting (with an apparently high degree of confidence!) that objections to conspiracy and conspiracy-adjacent speculation is primarily motivated by not liking the conclusion. I mean, maybe for at least a subset people the "annoyance" comes from what they say it does, the level of evidence?
posted by mark k at 8:00 PM on February 27 [15 favorites]


This thread is really depressing.

Try to see the humour in the situation. This thread was apparently started as the result of a literal offsite conspiracy. Actually... that's really depressing.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 2:38 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


It's also not necessary to say that anyone thinking something that isn't true is a conspiracy theory.

The "something that isn't true" in this case is that $group is coordinating in secret for $nefariouspurposes.
posted by PMdixon at 5:45 AM on February 28


I find it hilarious that some of the people in this thread are arguing so HARD (imo) that anything even close to a conspiracy theory is bad for the site, but they'll defend mind-reading and putting words in other Mefites mouths, as if "I know you didn't say these exact words, but I'm pretty sure I know what you *really* meant" isn't a conspiracy theory just like all the other conspiracy theories they claim to be against, lol
posted by 23skidoo at 5:59 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


It does feel like lots of users carry around a mental bag of grudges from past politics discussion interactions and look for opportunities to catch users they dislike/disagree with in mistakes or what not, and I wish people could let personal grudges go a little more. That’s not to say we should ignore past history because we know from the discussions on the site about racism and sexism that it doesn’t work to act like every day is a new day for every user. But there’s a big difference between “user has a history of saying hate-based thing” and “user’s politics have annoyed me for the past five years.”

There’s almost always going to be an opportunity to pick on small mistakes in a comment or do a “Well actually” or bring up a failing of someone’s chosen candidate, because this is a quick moving discussion site and politics is filled with, maybe not hypocrites exactly, but people who are willing to change positions or take conflicting stances. Maybe the right litmus test is “would you jump to do a call out or correction to this comment, or view this comment as engaging in conspiracy thinking or some kind of bad faith, if you couldn’t see the username?” At this point I feel like I have more space than someone like JimBennett to muse on election hypotheticals because my candidate preferences have been a confused mess for the past two elections. I don’t think that is really right or fair.

I don’t engage in off-site discussions about on-site issues and I really don’t like the idea that people might be doing that, but how do you square some rule against that with the need for the Slack channels after the politics threads were shut down? They exist for good reason. But planning how to structure a post seems very different to me than using the off-site space to gripe about certain users or groups of users—if the latter stuff is going on (and again, I have no clue), it should stop.
posted by sallybrown at 6:18 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


they'll defend mind-reading and putting words in other Mefites mouths, as if "I know you didn't say these exact words, but I'm pretty sure I know what you *really* meant" isn't a conspiracy theory just like all the other conspiracy theories they claim to be against, lol

Or, y'know, you could, for example, take a look at Justinian's comment a little ways up, wherein he points out that he remembers a user's past behavior and comments and extrapolates from there, which is a perfectly normal thing to do. Past patterns of commenting can certainly be remembered and recognized and provide clues to current comments. No "mind reading" required.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:20 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of needing evidence and receipts about Epstein. And that deletion. That is the same sort of thing said to millions of survivors every day of their life and was one of the ways Epstein and his abusing friends got away with it.
If that was not what was meant could someone clarify it for me?
posted by kanata at 6:21 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


I don't know that anyone can answer your question, kanata, because it's not clear what you're asking.

The only comments in this meta about Epstein are in regards to people spreading conspiracy theories about the nature of his death, and not anything to do with his crimes or whether victims should be believed.

It's also not clear what you mean by "that deletion".
posted by tocts at 6:27 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


> This thread was apparently started as the result of a literal offsite conspiracy.

This may be apparent to you, but it's not to others. Comments like this keep coming despite the warning above from cortex about not dragging in discussions from another space. I did not see JimBennett's deleted comment, and most of us aren't in a position to independently verify the connections being made here, so I believe comments like this are out of line, and, quite literally, propagating a conspiracy theory without evidence. I know the bar for MeTa deletions is high, but this is a very strong accusation to hurl at another MeFite without supporting evidence.

I say this despite being on record as saying that I don't like the idea of people on another MeFi-adjacent space outside of MeFi itself doing a significant amount of planning / collaboration to address site-wide issues. If the Slack is just a space where MeFites talk politics in a post-megathread era, that's fine, but when it goes beyond that, people are going to think the worst, even if what's happening is completely benign.

To that end, I think it would be useful if the OP of this MeTa could weigh in with what their motivation for posting this was, and whether there was any off-site collaboration that led to it. If they choose not to, that's fine, but I think the mods need to head some of this "it's been proven that there is a cabal" stuff that's blooming since the accusation was originally made.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:30 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


>>LobsterMitten: It's funny you say that, and I'm not sure what you mean by something I want to talk about, but I've been trying to extract myself from this conversation for a while now.

One extracts them self from a conversation by leaving. You can stop writing at any point.

Both paragraphs in my previous comment ended with me saying I didn't want to talk about that particular thing any more.

Then, just fucking do so.

sigh

More to the point:



>>He was not a Buttigieg supporter, he was “a student from Florida who came with his dad to Iowa to get an up-close look at the caucuses. He was picked by the precinct managers because he was an ‘impartial observer’” for a toss up between Pete and Klobuchar. (original source)

This isn’t quite a conspiracy but a variant of that—believing something is rigged or done with ill intent when it’s random stupidity.

not as instructive an example as i thought then. i will eat crow here and admit i was wrong. i remember there being a second coin toss video from Iowa that read to me as more egregious but i can't find it now, and it's certainly possible that was also a case of stupidity over malice as well. i don't really feel like that invalidates the rest of my post, because in this circumstance someone came in to provide evidence showing i was incorrect, which is how these issues should be handled IMO.


No, this is exactly the stuff that needs to be cleaned up and moderated around here.

1. I posted something wrong. I was corrected.
2. I swear I saw something just like my wrong post, so just believe me.
3. Believe the rest of my post even though I was wrong about #1 and have no proof for #2.

hi. HAPPY FRIDAY! If I started it wrong for you, I apologize. memail me and I'll send you an e-card at some point for being all grumpy

eta: links to prior comments
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 6:34 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


Or, y'know, you could, for example, take a look at Justinian's comment a little ways up, wherein he points out that he remembers a user's past behavior and comments and extrapolates from there, which is a perfectly normal thing to do.

Yeah, I already did that, as that was the comment I was referring to. That kind of extrapolation is mind-reading.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:37 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


23skidoobut they'll defend mind-reading and putting words in other Mefites mouths, as if "I know you didn't say these exact words, but I'm pretty sure I know what you *really* meant"

lol dude you even hear yourself?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:39 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


lol dude you even hear yourself?

Yes, I do. Can you stop talking to me or anyone else in such a condescending tone?
posted by 23skidoo at 6:41 AM on February 28 [7 favorites]


"connections being made here"
"quite literally, propagating a conspiracy theory without evidence"
"this is a very strong accusation to hurl at another MeFite"
"'it's been proven that there is a cabal' stuff that's blooming since the accusation was originally made"


I think you're putting an awful lot of words into my mouth if you think I'm the one accusing anyone of anything.

Also, "apparently" was not meant in its archaic usage:

apparently (comparative more apparently, superlative most apparently)

1. (archaic) Plainly; clearly; manifestly; evidently.

2. Seemingly; in appearance only.

3. According to what the speaker has read or heard.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 6:42 AM on February 28


And in addition to not speaking in a condescending tone, can you actually explain what your problem with my previous statement is instead of just implying that there's something wrong with it without actually saying what's wrong with it? It's fighty and unnecessary.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:43 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Past patterns of commenting can certainly be remembered and recognized and provide clues to current comments. No "mind reading" required.

With the exception of a history of abuse/racism/sexism, I think most comments should be taken at face value and presumed to be made in good faith. There shouldn’t be a substantially difference experience reading a post and comments for a new user and one who’s been on the site for years. Politics discussions here should not be like a bad family dinner where you think “there he goes again, being a fatalist” or “you’re always catastrophizing like this” or “this reminds me of last time you made that argument when you were completely wrong.” Don’t pack the baggage.
posted by sallybrown at 6:44 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


You are accusing someone of mindreading and putting words in someone’s mouth- by mindreading and putting words in someone’s mouth.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:45 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


That's a weird and wrong take, but okay *shrug*
posted by 23skidoo at 6:47 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Asserting things are "unnecessary" without any kind of established agreement on what the aim of a discussion is (which would seem to me to be a logical precursor, a necessity even, to establish what is and isn't necessary) comes off pretty condescending and passive aggressive to me. You do not get to decide what I think is important.
posted by PMdixon at 6:47 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Hey uh- Can you stop talking to me or anyone else in such a condescending tone?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:48 AM on February 28


There shouldn’t be a substantially difference experience reading a post and comments for a new user and one who’s been on the site for years.

This is not a realistic expectation, nor one that I support.

If a user has previously expressed X but now says they've reconsidered and now don't agree with their prior assessment, that's fine, and I would agree that it's not fair to hold onto baggage about it (i.e. you shouldn't converse with them in a way that assumes they really still do believe X). People are allowed to change.

However: if a user has previously expressed X and is now expressing X again and when they do so they tend to say the same things / lean on the same rhetoric / espouse vague insinuations about conspiracies surrounding X, I'm not going to pretend like I don't know that, and frankly asking me to do so is inappropriate.

This site is not a place for pure comment-to-comment anonymity like a chan board (and thank god for that). The entire point of pseudonymous and long-held accounts is that while nobody knows who you actually are off-site, they do know that if you're speaking on the site today you are the same person speaking on the site yesterday with the same name. You can be held accountable to your past actions. People can remember what you've said before, and use that to help understand what you say in the future.
posted by tocts at 6:57 AM on February 28 [21 favorites]


On preview, yeah, what tocts says.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:59 AM on February 28


Hey uh- Can you stop talking to me or anyone else in such a condescending tone?

I'll certainly try. Look, here's the comment I was talking about:
this sort of attempted mind reading

I mean, you were posting slams of Buttigieg at least a year ago which precedes the current primary by quite a lot, so it's not like he's coming out of nowhere with that belief?

Not that Buttigieg doesn't deserve a slam or two but c'mon man you didn't just arrive at the notion that things were being unfair the day after Iowa.
That's someone denying that mind-reading is taking place with regards to a coin flip because the user posted slams a year ago about Buttigieg. Posting slams a year ago about Buttigieg is not enough to know everything about how a user thinks about everything Buttigieg-related- it's an attempt (imo) to justify mind-reading instead of just making an effort to mind-read less. I don't feel that I've mind-read anything or put words in anyone's mouth by my comments here.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:59 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


The "something that isn't true" in this case is that $group is coordinating in secret for $nefariouspurposes.

Who in this thread has made any such assertion? The only assertion that was made here (and then almost immediately retracted) was than an individual Buttegieg supporter, acting alone, rigged a coin toss. That is not a conspiracy, there is no coordination, nobody said that anybody did anything in secret. You are wildly extrapolating beyond the facts.
posted by enn at 7:02 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


The ifds,sn9 comment that was in reply to was kind of all over the place, so I wouldn’t be surprised if multiple people are reading “something that isn’t true” as referring to completely different things.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:18 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Oh, never mind. I didn't realise this was a rehash of the political debate you Americans partake in.
posted by kanata at 7:32 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


So it’s really not supposed to be which is the problem- could you link to the thread that had the deletion you mentioned- because with regards to Epstein there are conspiracy theories but there’s also the fact that he was a monster and depending on the comment I could see a good deletion but also one that could stay up.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:36 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


23skidoo: can you actually explain what your problem with my previous statement is


I could and it's going to be a long derail. I have a lot of regard for you based on your comments over the years, memail me and I'll memail you back if you want to continue.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:44 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


First, I want to apologize for posting something incendiary and sweeping last night. I should have been more careful with my words, and I apologize.

Second, I lost my temper because (1) I felt like people were piling on and being nasty to jimbennett and picking at him, his posting history and his comments in a way that was really shitty; I still feel that way, and (2) the whole “I don’t know how you function in society” dig was incredibly upsetting and I kept waiting for people who were calling out ablism in other contexts to say something and I didn’t feel like they were.

Look, I’m sure I’ve said some horrendous shit here, and I’m not perfect. At the same time, as someone who cares for multiple people who don’t function in society, it’s just such a shit thing to say in order to score points over some bullshit.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:24 AM on February 28 [16 favorites]


Also people being wrong about something—and then later admitting as much— or posting a news story that isn’t well-sourced is not a conspiracy theory. If you tend to think any news in the “it’s rigged against Bernie” genre is a conspiracy theory, okay, but you are wrong. Some of it is bullshit, some of it is true.


I also think that “it’s rigged” shit gets old. At the same time, it is very possible to just be like “that doesn’t sound right” instead of using it as an excuse to be a jerk.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:31 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


> and then later admitting as much

And what about when this part doesn't happen?
posted by tonycpsu at 8:38 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


Ok, you got me. I still think that people are being extra af and petty.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:55 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I see it more as people exhausting their ability to assume good faith in an environment where we are required to do so. The effect of a rapid stream of flimsy accusations is that the community has to invest resources debunking them. The community matters to so many of us, and seeing the political environment create incentives for a group to exaggerate in ways that always align with their political preferences is exhausting. If being perceived as "petty" and "extra" is the price to be paid for loudly raising objections when a group is repeatedly twisting the facts and not owning up to the mistakes, well, I'm okay with that.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:03 AM on February 28 [11 favorites]


I could and it's going to be a long derail. I have a lot of regard for you based on your comments over the years, memail me and I'll memail you back if you want to continue.

Yeah, the last thing I want is a private conversation about it.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:05 AM on February 28


"a group"

Who? Again, I'm dismayed that there seems to be a target for this metatalk and that for at least some people here, it's a political-shitfighting thing that is being given Epic Significance instead of acknowledged as the typical eating-crackers intrasite beef that happens to all of us.

(This read may not be fair for some of the people here just trying to talk about conspiracy theories, and I apologize if you're in that group.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:05 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


I see it more as people exhausting their ability to assume good faith in an environment where we are required to do so.

To me, when I reach that point it’s time to take a break from the thread. Assuming good faith of other users is an important part of engaging here.
posted by sallybrown at 9:06 AM on February 28 [11 favorites]


for myself, I know that when I drag out my thinking like I'm about to do, that also gets called condescending, so I hope you'll give me a little forbearance on this part.

I thought about this more, and I think you're probably skeptical of my offer. you may be thinking
- this guy has been a jerk to me recently, pretty sure he's going to continue, I don't really know or trust his intentions, and also this offer to go to memail looks like an attempt to move from a public, accountable space into a private, less accountable space, so: no thanks

I think that communication is hard and follows a five step process: have a thought, encode it into language, transmit language over a medium, recieve message, decode language into thought.
and this process can break down in a bunch of different ways.

I think that what some people here are calling "mindreading" is a thing that basically everyone does basically all the time - it's the process of thinking about how someone else is thinking, and considering what they meant by what they said or wrote. And that in other contexts it's thought of as a much gentler and kinder 'putting myself in someone's shoes' or 'considering their point of view'.
I think that it gets called mindreading because people's prior information is unknown, their chains of reasoning are opaque, and we disagree with their conclusisons: they must be attepting mindreading!

And similarly, if I attempt to sum up my understanding of someone's comments, or characterize how I understand what they're communicating by repeating it back, this can get called 'putting words in people's mouths,' but mostly only if those people disagree with that summation, or its not flattering, or its been misunderstood. And so you don't think that writing
putting words in other Mefites mouths, as if "I know you didn't say these exact words, but I'm pretty sure I know what you *really* meant"
is putting words in peoples mouths, even though that the same behavior you're objecting to, because our own prior information is available to us, we know and have construicted our chains of reasoning, and we agree with our own conclusions.

on preview: yeah ok.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:10 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


is putting words in peoples mouths

No, it's not. I've already explained this.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:11 AM on February 28


I didn't realise this was a rehash of the political debate you Americans partake in.

It's not really supposed to be, so if you'd like to help get it back on track, kanata, please do tell us which deletion you're referring to. And also, please do clarify your feelings/reading of the Epstein thing, too. I'm sorry, I couldn't parse what your meaning was.
posted by cooker girl at 9:12 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


> Who?

I've been quite clear about that in my posts here. Other people can speak for themselves as to which conspiracy theories / unsubstantiated allegations they're talking about. The MeTa itself was vaguely-framed, and my interpretation is not automatically right or wrong just because yours is different.

> To me, when I reach that point it’s time to take a break from the thread. Assuming good faith of other users is an important part of engaging here.

Sure, but (a) not everyone does, and (b) the effect of forcing a bunch of people to take breaks is that the site is less hospitable to them. My enjoyment of the site is decreased when people spout of unsubstantiated nonsense. "Someone is wrong on the Internet" is easy to say until the subject matter and the community in which the wrongness is being propagated is important to you.

Policy has to be made for the members we have, not the ones we might want to have. Asking members who act out to take a break is one way to react, but so is asking the people who consistently manufacture bullshit to take a break.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:13 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


Comments like this keep coming despite the warning above from cortex about not dragging in discussions from another space.

Yeah, all that shit should be scrubbed from this MeTa or allowed so people outside of the respective circle jerks have some bare hint of a clue as to what's going on. This conversation has veered so far from Hey If You Have Some Sort Of Claim You Should Be Able To Back It Up (No duh) to some sort of inchoate bad faith crypto-fight grudgy jamboree which isn't even coherent enough to be amusing.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:52 AM on February 28 [19 favorites]


Agreed Alvy Ampersand, I don't know what the hell is going on with the subtexts in this thread but it feels like people are using a pretty straightforward MeTa as a proxy battleground for some cold war that's of interest only to a small minority of users. I have no idea whether schroedinger intended it to be such and I don't especially care. All I know is that a straightforward, good-faith reading of the post requests that people exercise better judgment and media literacy when considering posting conspiracy theories, which should (and does) provoke a discussion of what constitutes a conspiracy theory and what should be the boundary of what's acceptable. Instead a subset of commenters want to have a flame war about US politics and/or just snipe at each other over old grudges or slights that happened off-site, crowding out whatever good-faith discussion there was to be had. This kind of behavior is why I've largely given up on political discussions on MetaFilter for now. This kind of noise drowns out the signal.
posted by biogeo at 12:16 PM on February 28 [18 favorites]


This is not a realistic expectation, nor one that I support.

(re: every comment being taken in essentially a vacuum).

Me neither, obviously. The whole point of a "community weblog" is the community part. And an important aspect of a community is that your identity is a through-line that affects how people view you over time. The idea that we should read comments from a brand new user in exactly the same way we read comments from an established user we've had decades of interactions with is a non-starter.

Metafilter is pseudonymous but not anonymous and that's a really important distinction. We don't care if user X is a dogcatcher, an artist, or the president of Mars in non-metafilter life but we do care about what they said last year in regards to what they're saying this year! And that's how it probably should be.
posted by Justinian at 1:04 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


lmaooooooooooo I love that this Meta was posted and allowed to devolve into this absolutely incoherently petty inside-baseball squabble that approximately 10 people on this site actually care about, when requests for updates on how the mod team is fulfilling promises they made about anti-racism training or improving the site culture are met with delaying tactics "because we want to make sure we can tell people we did something even though we didn't until you asked" (not a direct quote) and then posted as an afterthought to other updates without allowing for community input or requests for clarification. Really shows you where everyone's priorities are.

Also really shows how few of the people pontificating about the importance of progressive values and the dangers of disseminating inaccurate info actually care to engage in actual justice work. Especially love the use of site racism and ableism as your little rhetorical screen for pretending this isn't just about picking a bone with the same 5 people you've been tangling with for the last 4 years.

Love this site, really can't get enough of it.
posted by arabidopsis at 1:10 PM on February 28 [26 favorites]


The mentions of the politicsfilter slack remind me, I still have yet to see any follow-up from said group regarding last year's mentions of A Plan to address anti-racism on MetaFilter. If people are going to go ahead and bring up off-site discussions here anyway, it'd be great to hear about any constructive discussions, rather than just dumping additional grudges and other negative passive-aggressive (or regular aggro) baggage over here.
posted by rather be jorting at 1:21 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


It's alright. Up above in this thread a mod I think mentioned it. However if 2 people can't understand it is just my brain then. My illness is making hard to understand this site. Not a lot of spoons today.
posted by kanata at 1:23 PM on February 28


The mentions of the politicsfilter slack remind me, I still have yet to see any follow-up from said group regarding last year's mentions of A Plan to address anti-racism on MetaFilter.

That was the POC Slack, not PoFi.
posted by Etrigan at 1:29 PM on February 28


kanata, I did not find it that hard to follow what you were saying -- or I don't think I did.

Is this accurate?

LobsterMitten linked to a now-deleted comment in the Disney CEO thread that posited a connection between the Weinstein case and the departure of the Disney CEO. This then led to discussion of conspiracy theories around Weinstein and Epstein and other powerful sex offenders. People seemed to think this was an interesting edge case, and I believe kanata was arguing that people should not need receipts in order to discuss their abuse by people in power. Things were muddled a bit because the specific deleted comment was about Weinstein, not Epstein, but the two are connected in theme and in the earlier discussion.
posted by arabidopsis at 1:31 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Etrigan, I'm part of the POC Slack and not PoFi. In case you need a refresher, here's the link to Autumnheart bringing up the politicsfilter slack in last year's outragefilter thread.
posted by rather be jorting at 1:34 PM on February 28 [5 favorites]


It very much was not the PoC slack.

Many PoC members objected to the plan as presented by the members of the politics filter slack, which at that time was largely considered an example of people using PoC as a proxy to grind their own axes about the site...shockingly similar to what is happening now. In fact many of the same people were involved.

How...funny.
posted by arabidopsis at 1:35 PM on February 28 [5 favorites]


Aye like so it's really interesting to me how often people are turning around and saying "No that wasn't the Politics Slack! That was the POC slack!" when something comes up. Like, y'all might want to examine that. Turning to point at the group of POC when something not so great has gone down is certainly a look.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:43 PM on February 28 [12 favorites]


If there's a meta to be made about off-site slacks, somebody should probably make that metatalk post rather than post it all in here?
posted by Justinian at 1:49 PM on February 28 [10 favorites]


The mentions of the politicsfilter slack remind me, I still have yet to see any follow-up from said group regarding last year's mentions of A Plan to address anti-racism on MetaFilter. If people are going to go ahead and bring up off-site discussions here anyway, it'd be great to hear about any constructive discussions, rather than just dumping additional grudges and other negative passive-aggressive (or regular aggro) baggage over here.

We've discussed a couple of times that the politics slack (there are other off-site spaces I can't speak for) should not try to become some sort of backchannel MetaTalk, because that's not fair to anyone and those sorts of off-site discussions have already been hurtful to others in the exact instance you're describing. So if there's something related to the conspiracy theory discussion or anti-racism planning or anything else falls under the umbrella of MetaTalk, let's do that here on the site where everyone can participate.

Nobody on the politics slack is creating "A Plan" for MeFi because many important voices wouldn't be a part of that conversation and it would be wildly unfair to everyone on MeFi that doesn't participate in that slack. That exact discussion last year, the one where having off-site discussion of the topic (a brief conversation among maybe 2-3 people, but based on the discussion, it appeared to be a larger more organized endeavor to those who weren't there) caused harm and everyone stopped, is precisely why that conversation hasn't continued on the politics slack.
posted by zachlipton at 1:50 PM on February 28 [5 favorites]


Yes that's what I meant. The mod said the comment was "this is too close to the Weinstein verdict for me".. so isn't that user just expressing frustration about there being so many abusers? Anyway, I'm going to leave as I think I assumed this was about conspiracies in general and to pause and think before posting outrageous twitter things but it seems not. Sorry for the derail. Guess my fibro is making to hard to keep up and parse the undercurrents here.
posted by kanata at 1:52 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


🙂Thanks for the update, zachlipton. That earlier contentious discussion was the first I had ever heard of the politics slack, so it had colored my impression of said slack ever since. I appreciate the reply.
posted by rather be jorting at 1:58 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Don't apologize kanata, in a lot of cases like Weinstein's people have been quick to ask for "real proof" so it's not unreasonable to assume someone talking about a conspiracy theory relating to him would be about the legitimacy of his accusers and not something tangential. It's good to keep in mind that we should believe victims and I'd like to reassure you that this MeTa was not about that.
posted by ODiV at 2:00 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


well, I'm certainly confused now. I suppose I should expect no less from a META entitled:

A plea for the end of conspiracy theories
posted by philip-random at 2:05 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


Anyway, I'm going to leave as I think I assumed this was about conspiracies in general and to pause and think before posting outrageous twitter things but it seems not.

I thought that's what this Meta was about too, and have subsequently been super confused.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 2:19 PM on February 28 [6 favorites]


kanata and See you tomorrow, saguaro, you are exactly right on your read of what this MetaTalk was supposed to be. Much like every other MetaTalk, though, it has veered wildly off-course and honestly, I'm not sure why the mods haven't stepped in more to keep it on track. I'm not complaining, seriously just confused.

It's branched off into off-site slacks and member fights and so many other things I can't keep up. It's really, really frustrating.
posted by cooker girl at 2:44 PM on February 28 [7 favorites]


It's branched off into off-site slacks

I, for one, welcome our new I EAT SLACKS overlords
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:56 PM on February 28 [6 favorites]


Much like every other MetaTalk, though, it has veered wildly off-course and honestly, I'm not sure why the mods haven't stepped in more to keep it on track. I'm not complaining, seriously just confused.

Honestly, it's reminded me of what the old megathreads were like, so it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if the mods haven't decided to simply throw up their hands and treat it like a thunderdome where the same several people all rehash the same tired ongoing arguments, under the principle that at least it'll be confined to one space.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:03 PM on February 28 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure why the mods haven't stepped in more to keep it on track.

Honestly, I'm tired and I'm not even sure how to do more than we already have that'd accomplish something meaningful at this point. If MetaTalk is where people talk about the site, that can't be solely by mod edict and most of the time it's just gotta be folks figuring out what it is they want out of it together. I too find the results confusing and tiring and frustrating a lot of the time and this thread's been a specimen of that, but "let's stop having MetaTalk entirely" doesn't seem like a great plan and "people only talk about what the mods specifically say to talk about" doesn't either and absent either of those, *waves hands around*.

Chunks of productive discussion above about thinking about how we do sharing of news and talking/arguing about speculative stuff aside, maybe this thread's just done as far as its original intended purpose. If so, other strings of stuff folks have brought up that actually merit some kind of at-all-likely-productive thread could be rebooted as their own posts. I'm not slamming the gates on this right this minute because I'm tired and clocking out for the day and will leave it to the next mod if that feels like the way to go, but, yeah.

I've talked about having a hard time with stuff with the site and one element of that is the impossibility of wrangling sprawling multiple-priority conversations into some coherent herded cat formation matched with the expectation that that will somehow nonetheless happen. I don't want MetaTalk to be a thunderdome but I also don't think we can hack making it laser-focused every time and a lot of the effort in organizing and guiding things on that front is gonna have to come from within the community itself. And sometimes it's probably just gonna be a mess. Figuring out together how much of a mess is workable and how to avoid the stuff that isn't is a community project we're never gonna be done with.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:09 PM on February 28 [10 favorites]


I'm definitely not saying we shouldn't have MetaTalks, and I appreciate the modding that was done in here. I'm also not saying that the mods should dictate what we talk about, but this Talk in particular was very specific. And it went completely off the rails because apparently some people have beefs with other people? Because of off-site stuff? I think that should be nipped in the bud immediately, if it's true. Honestly, I'm not even sure at this point how/why/when this went off the rails. It feels different from other MetaTalks, or maybe I've just forgotten how they usually go.

So, please, everyone. Let's get back on track. The request was to be less trigger-happy when posting conspiracy theories. Is that doable? Is that something the community as a whole wants? I think it is, and I do.
posted by cooker girl at 3:19 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


I agree that posting conspiracy theories is bad, but the problem is that the people who post conspiracy theories don't recognize them as being conspiracy theories. I run into this problem with conspiracy theorists in the real world all the time. They have no self-awareness about it. They see people asking to curtail the theorizing as malevolent agents out to censor their important truth-telling.

On the other hand, situations like the Iowa clusterfuck and the Epstein suicide are highly suggestive, even if there's more smoke than fire. People are naturally going to ask suspicious questions about those events. All the news about coronoavirus right now is getting people into a very frightened, emotional place and that only makes conspiratorial mindsets more likely.

I don't think the comment contrasting Weinstein's conviction with Iger's departure should have been deleted. Bringing up a possible connection is different from claiming to KNOW THE REAL TRUTH. Then again, I didn't see the full text of the deleted comment so it's possible it was more the latter than the former.
posted by zeusianfog at 3:34 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


And it went completely off the rails because apparently some people have beefs with other people? Because of off-site stuff? I think that should be nipped in the bud immediately, if it's true.

problem is, from my perspective, it just sort of crept in. That is, I had no great problem tracking what was going on for a while ... and then, it occurred to me that I did. I suppose I could go back and re-track things, do my version of a post mortem, but … my everyday life seems to be demanding other things of my time.

Honestly, I'm not even sure at this point how/why/when this went off the rails. It feels different from other MetaTalks, or maybe I've just forgotten how they usually go.

I definitely resemble this comment, so you're not entirely alone. Much earlier in the thread, the man of twists and turns dropped a couple of links that I think went a long way toward explaining (to me anyway) how it is that reasonable discussion seems to go so wrong. I'd call them required reading if I were running this joint.
posted by philip-random at 3:37 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I know I came up back in the old thunderdome days so my view is probably skewed but while this metatalk went kinda off the rails in terms of who knows what the hell its even about anymore, it didn't seem as brutally contentious as stuff in the past used to get? I mean, nobody hurled any expletives, nobody flamed out, nobody buttoned. But like I said maybe that's no longer a good measure of acceptability.
posted by Justinian at 3:50 PM on February 28 [7 favorites]


Yeah, this thread could have gone a lot worse than it did. But that doesn't mean it has gone well. Actually, like phillip-random I think it was mostly going fine for a while, maybe a little weirdly heated and with some comments obliquely referring to past disagreements or stuff in threads I hadn't read that didn't seem relevant, but those side arguments didn't seem to drown out the main discussion too badly. Then suddenly the only comments were all fighty barbs having only the most tenuous relationship to the stated topic of the thread. I don't think the mods needed to step in or anything, but yeah, there was a lot worth talking about here that didn't get discussed, which to my mind actually dovetails pretty nicely with why conspiracy theory comments are damaging to the site: like the fighty, off-site drama pulled in here, they turn up the temperature without actual illumination, and force conversation away from the real matter at hand to more emotionally resonant but less materially relevant ideas that only superficially resemble the original topic. And in so doing, they create self-sustaining dynamics which resist progress or resolution: conspiracy thinking begets conspiracy thinking, just as axe-grinding and grudge-nursing begets more of the same.
posted by biogeo at 4:47 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, situations like the Iowa clusterfuck and the Epstein suicide are highly suggestive, even if there's more smoke than fire. People are naturally going to ask suspicious questions about those events

Right, but I think part of the problem we're trying to discuss here is that (using those threads as examples) there was maybe not enough "asking suspicious questions" and a little too much "SMOKE MUST MEAN ARSON!"
posted by soundguy99 at 5:11 PM on February 28 [8 favorites]


Yeah, this is one of those those things that appear to be anodyne ("propagating conspiracy theories is bad" ) but the only reason anyone would bother saying this unremarkable thing is because there's actually substantial disagreement about whether certain things repeatedly appearing on the site are or are not conspiracy theories. So it's inevitably kind of a trojan horse for bringing in those theories and arguments.

I almost never participated in the politics megathread and don't much lurk or participate in politics & current events threads on the blue, but I was immediately uncomfortable when I saw this post because, although I wasn't much involved, I'm aware of how conspiracy theories and accusations of conspiracy theorizing played such a huge role in how horribly acrimonious the 2016 threads were, particularly with regard to Sanders vs Clinton. And I'm very aware that these battle lines still exist and these battles are being fought here viciously to this day, so...

This really, really upsets me because I very much don't want to be a partisan in that argument, but when it happens in threads I read, as in this one, I feel implicated and forced to feel as if I have a strong position because I do lean in one direction and the hyper-polarization itself pushes me into stronger feelings and positions than I otherwise would have done.

And it makes me angry with all the people being angry and shitty to each other.

I do think, per my previous two comments, that the category "conspiracy theory" is meaningful and that these constructs tend to be destructive to reasoning and discourse, but that talking about the appropriateness of conspiracy theorizing is so fraught that it's best to avoid it for the same kind of reasons that it's best to avoid discussions about "bad faith". In both cases, the meta-discussion basically can't avoid being implicitly accusatory.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:27 PM on February 28 [7 favorites]


"because we want to make sure we can tell people we did something even though we didn't until you asked" (not a direct quote)

For the record, this was the direct quote from Lobster Mitten to me over email:

We've been trying to get our session rescheduled so we can give that as status update. Hoping we will hear from the consultant tomorrow.

I'm guessing arabidopsis was remembering also the eventual update,

have completed the preliminary work for them, but we've had several scheduled group sessions that had to be cancelled, so the upshot is: we're still re-scheduling.

So I suppose it's not literally true that the mods said "we didn't [do anything] until you asked." They've just been unable to meet with their consultant for...eight? months.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:30 PM on February 28 [9 favorites]


I do think, per my previous two comments, that the category "conspiracy theory" is meaningful and that these constructs tend to be destructive to reasoning and discourse, but that talking about the appropriateness of conspiracy theorizing is so fraught that it's best to avoid it for the same kind of reasons that it's best to avoid discussions about "bad faith"

Isn't this just a reworded missing-stair argument? That, yes, conspiracy theories are bad in a ton of ways but that people called out on them tend to react so badly that we should just let them do it and warn others to let it slide?
posted by Justinian at 7:52 PM on February 28


"Isn't this just a reworded missing-stair argument? That, yes, conspiracy theories are bad in a ton of ways but that people called out on them tend to react so badly that we should just let them do it and warn others to let it slide?"

Well, yes, if you recognize that there's no easy way to differentiate a conspiracy theory from an ordinary argument. I suppose that hugely elaborate conspiracy theories are recognized by their advocates as" conspiracy theories" in the most literal sense, but almost all the conflict in discourse is going to be about arguments that are genuinely ambiguous in this regard because to be arguing about them means some sufficient number of people involved consider them to be plausible and thus, in this pejorative sense, not "conspiracy theories".

So it really isn't that productive to discuss their appropriateness as a class.

That leaves one or both of two possibilities:

1. Simply define and form a consensus about which specific arguments are acceptable and which are not; and/or

2. Identify some specific shared characteristic(s), such as "insufficiently sourced" and/or "things that cause shit-shows" and/or "arguments promulgated by source x" and deem them unacceptable.

I mean, I basically agree with your sentiment and aim. As I said, I think "conspiracy theory" is a thing and that it's bad but I don't think we're going to agree on what that label applies to in almost any situation where we are arguing about what's acceptable. The term itself is pejorative and therefore very fraught.

With something like your "missing stair" example, we in this community mostly agree upon the actual predatory behavior that involves.

My above suggestions, in practice, will force and maintain a consensus in ways that some will find hostile, but it won't be by way of invisibly begging the question about what is or isn't a conspiracy theory. Compare to "people shouldn't post hurtful things". Well, yes, that's not controversial on its face. But deciding what is "hurtful" often is. So there's no avoiding getting specific, anyway. In that case, why use a term with so much baggage as "conspiracy theory"?

In this way I think it's very much like "there should be fewer bad-faith arguments". "Bad-faith" is pejorative and implicitly accusatory—if one way or another we're going to be forced to determine which specific behaviors are bad-faith and which are not, then why should we start the process on such a destructive footing by using a term so accusatory and polarizing?

Again: I get it. I'm quite hostile to "conspiracy theorizing", much more than I'm letting on, not the least because I do think it can be characterized. The problem is that I have almost no hope that I could ever get someone who believes x to agree that my criteria describe their argument x.

It's useful, maybe, if we're all in a very analytical mood with little tendency to make normative arguments. It's also useful if we're all quite like-minded about what specific arguments qualify. But if neither of those things are true, then we're screwed.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:47 PM on February 28 [11 favorites]


adjective
The definition of slack is someone or something weak, slow, relaxed or careless.
Slacks. Casual Trousers....
"As the Roman Empire expanded beyond the Mediterranean basin, however, the greater warmth provided by trousers led to their adoption.[16] Two types of trousers eventually saw widespread use in Rome: the Feminalia, which fit snugly and usually fell to knee or mid-calf length,[17] and the Braccae, a loose-fitting trouser that was closed at the ankles".[18]

(This section needs additional citations for verification.)

Preliminary investigation, Alvy, finds no Trouser overlord connection, if fact it's diversity, through time and culture almost prevents something akin to "The Secret History of Trousers" from ever being written:)
posted by clavdivs at 9:07 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Thanks for explaining more, IF.

I think I find your argument convincing re: calling out specific arguments rather than the more broad "conspiracy theories". However, it's also probably too late in this thread with too much baggage to do that now. Throwing in a bunch of commenters and examples would bring more heat than light this late in the game IMO.
posted by Justinian at 10:21 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


offsite slacks: no cabal
posted by mwhybark at 11:32 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


(ffs, really? jesus)

SLACK IS FOR WORK

THEY STOLE THE NAME FROM BOB TO FUCKING FOOL YOU

obvs
posted by mwhybark at 11:34 PM on February 28 [8 favorites]


The term itself is pejorative and therefore very fraught.

This is pretty much the bottom line. It's become a synonym for bullshit, even though (as is often pointed out), some conspiracy theories turn out to be largely or wholly true. To say "Let's stop citing conspiracy theories" is akin to saying "Let's stop telling lies." Using it as a label has become a convenient way of attempting to discredit an argument. Sometimes, there's no further effort made to substantiate that. Sometimes, highly partisan sources are cited as substantiation. And sometimes, credible support for the falsity of the subject claim is offered. But that could be done without using the pejorative term at all.

So. Using the term conspiracy theory, please stop. It's a sock filled with sand, not a persuasive argument.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:15 AM on February 29 [2 favorites]


That's Horsepucky. I'm not going to stop using a perfectly cromulent word because you don't like the accurate meaning of it. Conspiracy theories are bad. If they're true- they aren't conspiracy theories! And if something outlandish isn't- there should be plenty of secondary sources. Even if it's not totally proven just dropping in a couple more sources then an inflammatory tweet would be more then enough. Just a tad more internet literacy and vetting a source on facts not feelings should be possible on this site right?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:40 AM on February 29 [12 favorites]


Agreed, “conspiracy theory” is a term of art in scholarship, not just political discourse. Why is it any more hurtful to the delicate sensibilities of the theorizer than just saying “your explanation is wrong, illogical, and posits a level of coordinated actions and collaborations and confidences that would not be invisible to all but a few believers if it was true.” The key thing about “conspiracy theory” is that it not only posits a hidden intentional collective agency behind a phenomenon In the world. It argues that conventional explanations from what appears to be solid evidence about the nature of such phenomena are themselves products of the conspiracy working. So a conspiracy theory, promoted and expressed in discussion, insults MY intelligence too. Shall I choose to be offended by that? I shall, and I shall brand your bizarre theory unsupported by any evidence we can agree on as factual a “conspiracy theory” until you can prove your claims without insisting that you can see or discern things I can’t.

Reasonable, civil, productive discourse can’t proceed if you place the avoidance of hurt feelings above the pursuit of truer understandings of reality. “Conspiracy theorists” cannot be a collective protected class.

Tell an unlikely story that only you and fellow believers can see is true, expect to be challenged on your evidence.
posted by spitbull at 7:58 AM on February 29 [12 favorites]


If they're true- they aren't conspiracy theories!

No, you don't get to redefine the meaning of perfectly descriptive words to suit your inclinations. If there was a hidden collaboration to effect an outcome, that's a conspiracy. Theorizing that there was such a collaboration -- well, that's a conspiracy theory. If it turns out to be true, that does not alter the conditions that made it a conspiracy theory.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:08 AM on February 29 [3 favorites]


If they're true- they aren't conspiracy theories!

I think this is an idiosyncratic use of the term and not one that is widespread. To me, and I think to most English speakers, a conspiracy theory is a belief that several actors are conspiring in secret to cause some outcome. There is no denotation of truth or falsity in the term. When the Chicago Police Department assassinated Fred Hampton, that was a conspiracy. When the CIA covertly backed Pinochet, that was a conspiracy. It doesn't become not-a-conspiracy because it actually happened or because documentary evidence exists. It was a conspiracy both before and after the Church Commission report came out documenting the conspiracy.
posted by enn at 8:12 AM on February 29 [3 favorites]


If there's a meta to be made about off-site slacks, somebody should probably make that metatalk post rather than post it all in here?

There is zero chance such a meta would make it through the "queue," so let's not feign surprise when people try to use a tangentially related thread to talk about the issue, especially when there are claims that the thread in question arose from discussion on off-site Slacks.
posted by enn at 8:15 AM on February 29 [2 favorites]


yes it was a conspiracy- but it wasn't a conspiracy theory. Once a conspiracy is proven correct- "Theories involving multiple conspirators that are proven to be correct, such as the Watergate scandal, are usually referred to as "investigative journalism" or "historical analysis" rather than conspiracy theory.[38] By contrast, the term "Watergate conspiracy theory" is used to refer to a variety of hypotheses in which those convicted in the conspiracy were in fact the victims of a deeper conspiracy.[39]"
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:15 AM on February 29 [7 favorites]


> There is zero chance such a meta would make it through the "queue,"

Wheels within wheels, amirite?
posted by tonycpsu at 8:22 AM on February 29 [3 favorites]


It would take about 60 seconds to create a such a MeTa. Why not do it and find out, rather than trying to read cortex's mind?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:33 AM on February 29 [10 favorites]


There is zero chance such a meta would make it through the "queue,"

This is an extremely confident statement. I think I would only make such a statement if I had made or heard of an attempt to post such a meta. Is there some history of attempts to discuss off site pseudo-MeTas that I don't know of? The first I had heard of it as a significant aspect of the politics Slack channel was in this thread, but I'm happy to believe I've missed something since I wasn't reading the site as much in 2017 (at least partly because of the aspects of the megathreads that the Iowa caucuses thread replicated).
posted by PMdixon at 8:36 AM on February 29 [6 favorites]


I'm not going to stop using a perfectly cromulent word because you don't like the accurate meaning of it.

I mean, use the phrase if you like, but I think one of the reasons why this thread had many suboptimal moments is that "conspiracy theory" and "conspiracy" are words which have lots of different accurate meanings to different people, which makes (imo) this conversation harder to focus, and then when the Meta winds down, people walk away from it with wildly different ideas about exactly what kinds of comments are classifiable as "conspiracy theories".
posted by 23skidoo at 8:43 AM on February 29 [4 favorites]


To me, and I think to most English speakers, a conspiracy theory is a belief that several actors are conspiring in secret to cause some outcome. There is no denotation of truth or falsity in the term.

I see it as, before anything is proven, the idea is a “conspiracy theory” (so it might be true or it might be false, but it hasn’t been substantiated), and after it’s proven, it’s just a plain old conspiracy—a real one, like Watergate. But people also use “conspiracy theory” more descriptively to refer to unusually outlandish theories that are unlikely to be true (which is where the pejorative comes in).

Another aspect of this we haven’t discussed much is that a lot of times, the discussion of a conspiracy theory in a thread goes hand in hand with arguing that users who don’t believe or accept the conspiracy theory are being deluded, are naive, sheeple, etc. That was a major problem with the thread on Epstein’s death—some users not only jumped to the conclusion that it was a coordinated murder, but also asserted that anyone who believed otherwise was falling for a coverup, naive, not looking at reality. Those who pushed back weren’t (that I recall) saying “it’s impossible this was a murder” but rather “it’s possible this really was a suicide, wait for more information.”
posted by sallybrown at 8:50 AM on February 29 [9 favorites]


Wheels within wheels, amirite?

Learning information about the world and then making predictions about that information is not actually a conspiracy theory move. In case this was serious and/or an attempt to be productive, instead of snitty and insulting for basically no reason.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:55 AM on February 29 [4 favorites]


> Learning information about the world and then making predictions about that information is not actually a conspiracy theory move.

On what rational basis does one conclude that a direct suggestion from cortex that break-out MeTas might be welcome actually means "don't even bother posting a MeTa about the Slacks, because we'll totally kill it"?
posted by tonycpsu at 8:58 AM on February 29 [8 favorites]


Agreed, “conspiracy theory” is a term of art in scholarship, not just political discourse. Why is it any more hurtful to the delicate sensibilities of the theorizer than just saying “your explanation is wrong, illogical, and posits a level of coordinated actions and collaborations and confidences that would not be invisible to all but a few believers if it was true.” The key thing about “conspiracy theory” is that it not only posits a hidden intentional collective agency behind a phenomenon In the world. It argues that conventional explanations from what appears to be solid evidence about the nature of such phenomena are themselves products of the conspiracy working. So a conspiracy theory, promoted and expressed in discussion, insults MY intelligence too. Shall I choose to be offended by that? I shall, and I shall brand your bizarre theory unsupported by any evidence we can agree on as factual a “conspiracy theory” until you can prove your claims without insisting that you can see or discern things I can’t.

I agree, and yet a lot of people in this thread are really digging into the idea that being wrong, interpreting facts differently, or alleging that people are working together when there are facts that indicate as such = conspiracy theory.

Reasonable, civil, productive discourse can’t proceed if you place the avoidance of hurt feelings above the pursuit of truer understandings of reality. “Conspiracy theorists” cannot be a collective protected class.

The idea that the pursuit of reality is the same as what people will consider "reasonable, civil, productive discourse" is very funny to me.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:59 AM on February 29 [1 favorite]


On what rational basis does one conclude that a direct suggestion from cortex that break-out MeTas might be welcome actually means "don't even bother posting a MeTa about the Slacks, because we'll totally kill it"?

Cool strawman, and I can't believe you were serious. Pessimism about the likely behavior a mod/the mods is not a conspiracy, my dude, even if it's inaccurate (which it might not be). Applying spitbull's definition, there is evidence that supports the idea that it would not go through the queue in this very thread; there is a comment about things not going through the queue. 🤷🏻‍♂️ It's also not really bizarre to assume that a busy mod who said he was "tired" and has repeatedly shown frustration over the discussion of side channels to decide that such a metatalk isn't appropriate or a good idea.

I mean, really, your problem with this is that you don't like enn or see enn as on the "other side" (a common thing for you) and you disagree with their evidence-based prediction. (A prediction can be wrong and based on evidence.)

I suggest either not adopting such a sneering pseudo-rational posture or combining it with a higher quality of reasoning.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:09 AM on February 29 [2 favorites]


I agree, and yet a lot of people in this thread are really digging into the idea that being wrong, interpreting facts differently, or alleging that people are working together when there are facts that indicate as such = conspiracy theory.

Can you point to examples of this in the thread? I have read the whole thread and I do not have the impression that "a lot of people" are doing this. I would like to see what comments we are interpreting differently.
posted by biogeo at 9:09 AM on February 29 [5 favorites]


Maybe you're right that it's just a few people, actually, but I do think that they have trouble understanding that "conspiracy theory" isn't just code for whatever they decide is irrational based on a dubious standard.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:12 AM on February 29 [1 favorite]


> Pessimism about the likely behavior a mod/the mods is not a conspiracy, my dude,

The poster said "zero percent chance". That's not pessimism, it's a clear allegation, along with the snide use of scare-quotes around the word queue, that the staff is lying when they say they would even consider letting such a MeTa through.

> I mean, really, your problem with this is that you don't like enn or see enn as on the "other side" (a common thing for you) and you disagree with their evidence-based prediction. (A prediction can be wrong and based on evidence.)

I can say with certainty that I do not recognize the user in question, and am simply responding to the dripping condescension of their post, not any past interaction. If we've had negative interactions in the past, I do not recall them. If you're going to speculate about my motives and reasoning, at least try to be informed about it.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:14 AM on February 29 [13 favorites]


Man if there’s anyone in this thread who’s declared other mefites “the enemy” it’s you.
I mean, really, your problem with this Is textbook mindreading in bad faith and it’s super gross.
I do not care about anything other then the stated purpose of this MeTa- we should be more cautious about spreading things we do not know are true- and we shouldn’t allow conspiracy theories.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:15 AM on February 29 [7 favorites]


I mean, really, your problem with this is that you don't like enn or see enn as on the "other side"

I don't really give a shit about arguing semantics of whether such a thing is a "conspiracy theory" or "mindreading" or whatever, because frankly that does not seem productive since that just leads to hairsplitting.

I will simply say that this kind of statement, right here, is bad for metafilter, and you should stop doing it.
posted by tocts at 9:17 AM on February 29 [12 favorites]


I'll just leave this here.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:20 AM on February 29



The idea that the pursuit of reality is the same as what people will consider "reasonable, civil, productive discourse" is very funny to me.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9


It isn’t funny to me. But then I’m a scholar.

I mean “pursue truth” in a very broad sense — achieve broader understanding, develop consensus of opinions, act effectively on our principles. I’m waxing a bit Habermasian, but Metafilter has historically been a rather Habermasian space. You want gaslighting, bullshit, one-upsmanship, constant jockeying for status and dominance, bullying, shouting down — there’s a whole damn internet for that.

For me, for 15 years, the appeal of the place has been that it broadly entails people of goodwill trying to achieve rational agreement or principled and civil disagreement. I’d just note that it’s toxic to such a community ethos to extend the protections rightly extended to certain classes of users and certain classes of interpersonal dynamics to the principle that you can’t tell someone you think they’re wrong using a widespread term of art in political science as well as popular discourse because it’s mean.

I guess I don’t mind circumlocuting around it with “your extraordinary claims require some bit of evidence we can mutually agree is dispositive given that you are asserting that the facts I perceive to be true are in fact meant to deceive me.”

Basically, someone who insists that Jews control the world economy or the earth is flat and that the media and science and my friends are all in on the con to keep me from seeing this supposed phenomenon, if only I would open my eyes to the alternative facts they assert but cannot prove, might as well be calling their doubters “sheeple.”

The other side of the expectation of “good faith” in discourse here is the imputation of intelligence and rationality to your interlocutors, and those to whom you appeal as an implicit overhearing audience (the real source of so much mefite drama is that exact dynamic). If we can’t agree that up is up and ice is cold and that extraordinary claims require requisite levels of proof, we might as well be 4chan.
posted by spitbull at 9:22 AM on February 29 [10 favorites]


Another aspect of this we haven’t discussed much is that a lot of times, the discussion of a conspiracy theory in a thread goes hand in hand with arguing that users who don’t believe or accept the conspiracy theory are being deluded, are naive, sheeple, etc.

There are good reasons we haven't discussed that. How about we leave the goalposts where they are?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:27 AM on February 29


What are those good reasons?
posted by Chrysostom at 9:41 AM on February 29 [2 favorites]


I’m not trying to shift any goalposts. The fact that conspiracy theories usually come along with crappy assertions about other users is not the only reason I think they’re bad for the site. The other reasons discussed above (confusion, derailing, etc) are also bad.
posted by sallybrown at 9:43 AM on February 29 [4 favorites]


Is there some history of attempts to discuss off site pseudo-MeTas that I don't know of? The first I had heard of it as a significant aspect of the politics Slack channel was in this thread, but

I'd certainly be interested in some illumination as to the functioning and intentions of these off-site channels that apparently seek to exert an influence on how things go on the site known as Metafilter ... speaking of conspiracies.

In fact, there is a Slack, it seems. Nobody seems to be disputing that. So yeah, call that a fact.

Is this Slack a meeting ground for those who would seek to impose their will on the overall slant of Metafilter's take on certain issues? Maybe. But also maybe not. Call it a theory of possible conspiracy.

Prove that the above is so (ie: beyond a reasonable doubt) and it's not a theory anymore. It's a fact.

Or am I doing this wrong?
posted by philip-random at 10:47 AM on February 29


I went to the politics Slack because we killed the megathreads. It's really discouraging and feels really shitty that you all told us to find somewhere else to talk about politics, we did, and now people are complaining about that.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:55 AM on February 29 [3 favorites]


And there's a link to it in every political adjacent post I've seen lately, so it's not exactly like it's a secret cabal or anything.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:57 AM on February 29 [3 favorites]


What are those good reasons?

It makes the people doing it angry.
posted by Justinian at 12:19 PM on February 29 [1 favorite]


Again, off-site discussion of MeFi members and policies long predates any Slack.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:28 PM on February 29


It's really discouraging and feels really shitty that you all told us to find somewhere else to talk about politics, we did, and now people are complaining about that.

reading back on what I just wrote -- that feels condescending on my part. Sorry.
posted by philip-random at 12:30 PM on February 29


"It isn’t funny to me. But then I’m a scholar."

Your superciliousness is not helping. I don't quite understand how you advocate for productive discourse while undermining it.

At a first approximation, I agree with almost everything you've said and share your sentiment about conspiracy theories. I've repeatedly said that conspiracy theorizing is both dubious, motivated reasoning and functionally harmful to discourse. I think I understand why you'd be very irritated at what seems to you to be a request to be tolerant of people espousing harmful bullshit.

But no one ever self-applies the term "conspiracy theory" to their own argument. To insist that it be okay for you to apply that term to someone else's argument necessarily means that you and your opponent disagree about a fundamental assumption in a nearly unresolvable manner. I don't think ever in my life have I witnessed one person accusing another of conspiracy theorizing and, in the end, they walk away having come to an agreement that one of them was wrong. No one ever says, wait, you've convinced me, my argument actually is a conspiracy theory which, by definition, is outlandish, false, and toxic. No one ever says, wait, you've convinced me that what I previously thought a "conspiracy theory" is actually a reasonable argument. The term is inherently pejorative, by your definition, and as an accusation produces maximal defensiveness and polarization.

As I've written these comments and tried to understand positions like yours, as a test I've repeatedly translated the argument into the version of it with regard to racist or sexist or similar speech and everytime I do, I'm struck by how much I agree that we should identify unacceptable and toxic things for what they are. I have a strong record, I think, of taking that position in those discussions. So my initial response, repeatedly, is to be strongly persuaded to agree with your position.

But when I think about it further, I recognize that the rightly desired end-goal of those discussions has been to drive racists and sexists and the like away from the site. I'm entirely okay with this; it's the outcome I desire. I'm entirely uninterested in tolerating their presence even if they are sufficiently well-behaved in the name of, what, free debate? No. And that has worked here because most of us are like-minded about these things.

I don't think this community is nearly as like-minded about what, in particular, is and isn’t a "conspiracy theory". This discussion and every one like it has been extremely contentious among those who otherwise think of themselves as largely in agreement.

Let's be clear: we're not having this discussion because there are holocaust deniers here. We're having it because of left-of-center politics in the US. And it's been demonstrated repeatedly in the last six years that there is wide and very acrimonious disagreement among mefites in this regard—disagreement that has been repeatedly proven to be almost unmanageable in its propensity to degenerate into outright hostility and aggression.

I don't think that a desirable outcome here is to drive away half this community, whichever half, over this disagreement. If, in practice, you're arguing that we shouldn't tolerate shit like holocaust denialism here, I'm in complete agreement. But that's just not at all why we're having this argument. We're having it because left-of-center US politics. People involved in that intramural argument being allowed to accuse each other of "conspiracy theorizing" is a really terrible hill to die defending. It's not worth it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:40 PM on February 29 [16 favorites]


What would a useful callout look like to you, then? "User X's argument in (linked thread) is dangerously bad and lacks any reasonable foundation" but repeated for every such occurrence?

I'm not trying to be argumentative, as I said in my previous comment I find your point about calling out blanket "conspiracy theorizing" as being less than useful fairly convincing, I'm just trying to get a handle on how you think such things should be done moving forward. Calling them out in Metatalk for every occurrence seems like shifting an awful lot of the emotional labor and effort onto the people not posting the totally-not-conspiracy-theories?
posted by Justinian at 1:26 PM on February 29


Look- conspiracy theories are conspiracy theories- IDGAF if they come from left wing or right wing or whatever wing. If your argument is “we can’t have a blanket ban on conspiracy theories because it’s targeting left of center beliefs” that’s a smear on the left because you’re saying that left of center beliefs are inherently conspiratorial which I think is heavy BS. But honestly if we can’t stop posting @weeddude420’s hot twitter takes as bona fide facts then I don’t see the point of MetaFilter as a FILTER for the web.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:32 PM on February 29 [11 favorites]


I don't think that a desirable outcome here is to drive away half this community, whichever half, over this disagreement.

I do agree that it's not a desirable outcome, but we've been at this juncture before with previous issues where two (or more) parties in the community are in disagreement. And in past instances there was a decision or just a kind community consensus not to make a choice about it, because doing so would alienate one party or the other. But not making a decision doesn't resolve things, it just builds pressure and leads users (from both sides and those caught in the crossfire) to leave anyway, or at very least start paring back their participation.
posted by FJT at 1:58 PM on February 29


A good reason we're not talking about supposed conspiracy theorists also being all "wake up sheeple" is because Mefites don't do that. If you think they do, you're going to have to bring up examples. Absent examples, you're saying we should argue about a straw man.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:03 PM on February 29


I thought that's what this Meta was about too, and have subsequently been super confused.

I originally just came here to say something about the Joe Biden discourse, to be honest, because somebody posted a link suggesting that such discussion be taken here. Maybe it isn't always such a good idea to follow such links and respond so narrowly without reading the rest of the thread first. But I thought most of the sidebar fights here were predictable from the topic, if not quite strictly on topic, until people started talking about stuff that happened in Slacks of which I was blissfully unaware.
posted by atoxyl at 2:04 PM on February 29


Ooh, “superciliousness.”

Forgot that metatalk was for fighting, and why I tend to avoid it, like most members of this site. Pointless.

Carry on.
posted by spitbull at 2:26 PM on February 29 [1 favorite]


Maybe at least we could have the takeaway: when posting news, show some discretion, make sure it is well-sourced, etc.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:28 PM on February 29 [6 favorites]


We could do that...or we could sell Metafilter-brand “Jump To Conclusions” mats.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:03 PM on February 29 [2 favorites]


"Look- conspiracy theories are conspiracy theories- IDGAF if they come from left wing or right wing or whatever wing. If your argument is 'we can’t have a blanket ban on conspiracy theories because it’s targeting left of center beliefs' that’s a smear on the left because you’re saying that left of center beliefs are inherently conspiratorial which I think is heavy BS." [my bolding]

No, my argument is that it is being used to target one portion of the left by another. All the rancor here, including the examples given, have been about what I'll broadly characterize as "Sanders vs Democratic Establishment". I barely followed the megathreads but I know enough to recognize some of the people who have been partisan on both sides.

I am so fucking tired of this vicious bickering for the last six years and I hate this thread because it demonstrates how it infects almost everything here. What I've wanted to say is a pox on both houses.

What I've worked very hard to say, instead, is that regardless of the abstracted, analytical discussion of what conspiracy theories are, how they're harmful, and whether they should be called out, in practice here on MetaFilter the term itself is used as an incendiary accusation predominately by two partisan groups within MetaFilter against each other and these accusations turn the heat up to 11.

I don't for a second believe that people here would be attacking each other and getting angry over the general claim that "conspiracy theories are bad". I do believe that it's being used as cover to have a proxy argument between two groups who have been fighting each other in community-destructive ways for six years.

Given that, and given that we're still nominally discussing conspiracy theories, I've been trying to suggest that in this particular community context that we avoid the explicit accusation for purely pragmatic, communty-protecting reasons.

If this weren't a proxy fight between two established partisan groups well known to each other—groups which don't include me—this thread would have a starkly different character. I really wish they'd stop sniping at each other and bringing their conflict to the rest of MetaFilter; short of that, and given the ostensible topic of this discussion, I've thought that suggesting people (which are these people) not explicitly throw that accusation (at each other) is a reasonable, productive suggestion.

And, as a sidenote, I'd like to apologize for my many, many comments here in MetaTalk during the mid-00s that were exactly like spitbull's "but then I'm a scholar". I know what it is to be supercilious while taking an august tone—I wallowed in that shit. I thought, generously to myself, that I was being academic and promoting a properly elevated standard for discourse, but really I was just being an intellectual bully. That should make me forgiving of this in others; sadly instead it tends to cause me to be intolerant of this because I feel like if I learned that this was very off-putting, anyone else is just as able.

Maybe I'm imagining the heightened rancor in this thread because I have my own bugbears and sensitivities and I'm completely off-base in my sense that it's not really been about what it's supposedly about. But others have also expressed this impression and, anyway, there have been numerous specific example brought up which all originate out of that long-running internecine conflict. I know jack-shit about the politics Slack channel, but if it's just the megathreads with the same partisans and spills over into the rest of MeFi, then I don't see that much has changed. That's certainly the impression I get from this thread.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:19 PM on February 29 [16 favorites]


The idea that the pursuit of reality is the same as what people will consider "reasonable, civil, productive discourse" is very funny to me.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9

It isn’t funny to me. But then I’m a scholar.


The fact that you thought this was a response is also funny to me. People very often consider the full-throttled pursuit of reality to be uncivil, unreasonable, and/or unproductive. That is part of why we have entire portions of society, entire massive, protective institutions, that are set apart from specific kinds of social political pressure, intended specifically to support the "uncivil" pursuit of truth.

There is, in most places, a bit of a balancing act between social grace and bold truth-telling.

I’d just note that it’s toxic to such a community ethos to extend the protections rightly extended to certain classes of users and certain classes of interpersonal dynamics to the principle that you can’t tell someone you think they’re wrong using a widespread term of art in political science as well as popular discourse because it’s mean.

Yeah, I mean, IF is clearly making a practical argument: that "conspiracy theory" is impossible to define or enforce socially. You're responding as though he's making a normative argument, that we should protect people from being accused of conspiracy theories. Your response is not wrong, it's just not responsive to IF's actual (very nuanced and smart) description of the relevant social dynamics.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:25 PM on February 29 [6 favorites]


I can say with certainty that I do not recognize the user in question, and am simply responding to the dripping condescension of their post, not any past interaction. If we've had negative interactions in the past, I do not recall them. If you're going to speculate about my motives and reasoning, at least try to be informed about it.

I was not saying you have some kind of persistent grudge against enn, rather that you tend to pick a side in threads to a fairly extreme degree, and I feel like you're doing that here. Regardless, I should not have said that I knew that was your motivation, and I apologize.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:43 PM on February 29


"Yeah, I mean, IF is clearly making a practical argument: that 'conspiracy theory' is impossible to define or enforce socially."

I think you've understood me, but just to be clear: I think it's possible to define and even enforce, but the definition provides mostly for a useful analytical tool after-the-fact and enforcement in real-time is, in practice, a broad-brush that will sweep away both the sorts of things larger society considers conspiracy theories (which will include those considered such by academics using the term well-defined as an analytical tool) and everything else that any given community forms a consensus to which they apply the term. We don't have that latter consensus in this community; the shape the discussion here has taken demonstrates that if we did go that route—disallowing "conspiracy theory" as this community would be forced, in practice, to come to a consensus about—would mean we'd drive away everyone who won't agree to that consensus. Which, as this discussion has proven, would be an entire group of partisans in an internecine left-of-center years-long argument. In practice, here, given the context in which this discussion has taken place and how it has proceeded, doing this would be damaging to the community in ways that are far from warranted.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:27 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


> I was not saying you have some kind of persistent grudge against enn, rather that you tend to pick a side in threads to a fairly extreme degree, and I feel like you're doing that here. Regardless, I should not have said that I knew that was your motivation, and I apologize.

I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to do with this open-faced apology sandwich, but the phrase "pick a side" suggests a capricious attitude toward these conversations that I assure you I do not have. I will not extend this derail any further except to say that I accept the apology part, but firmly reject the "but this is what you did that made me do the thing I'm apologizing for" part.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:15 AM on March 1 [4 favorites]


Ivan F - thanks for your contributions here. They've definitely helped me put into a few words something that I've noticed going on for way too long not just here at Metafilter, but all over my personal internet and beyond:

an internecine left-of-center years-long argument

which, to perhaps oversimplify, often manifests in one side branding (and dismissing) the other as either "centrist" or "extremist" (or words to that effect) ... and so on.

I could go on at length about this schism but that's not really the purpose of this thread. Although I will say, I have very much appreciated the input of both so-called centrists and extremists in my time, I suppose because I've got a little of both inside me. Anyway, didn't Ecclesiastes say there was a time for both? Well, he should have.
posted by philip-random at 8:35 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


but that's not really the purpose of this thread.

unless perhaps the purpose of this thread is to conclude, as Ivan has, that

... the shape the discussion here has taken demonstrates that if we did go that route—disallowing "conspiracy theory" [...] would mean we'd drive away everyone who won't agree to that consensus.

that is, a consensus as to what constitutes as conspiracy theory as opposed to "the truth".

In practice, here, given the context in which this discussion has taken place and how it has proceeded, doing this would be damaging to the community in ways that are far from warranted.
posted by philip-random at 9:00 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


that is, a consensus as to what constitutes as conspiracy theory as opposed to "the truth"

I don't think this is a useful framework to try to discuss these issues.

The problem with a conspiracy theory isn't that it can't ever turn out to have been true. The problem is that it's an extraordinary claim that is not backed by evidence. Even if years later it turns out to have been right, the fact that the person saying it had no basis for it other than a feeling means that no, they are not vindicated, they were in fact still damaging the public discourse by polluting it with unfounded claims.

So, it's not about "the truth" -- it's about, if you can't back up an extraordinary claim with solid evidence, you should not be making it. Otherwise, you're the equivalent of a blindfolded person hurling darts while spinning. Sure, one might hit a bulls-eye, but that's not because you were totally on point, it's because if you throw enough darts wildly it may turn out one hits.

In the case of conspiracy theories, though, we won't actually know what hits till a long time later (if ever), and in the meantime all those other darts are flying around the room, causing damage.
posted by tocts at 9:35 AM on March 1 [4 favorites]


tonycpsu, I mefimailed you a better apology (or given my recent track record of sucking at apologies, it might just be different, you be the judge ⚖)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:55 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


So, it's not about "the truth" -- it's about, if you can't back up an extraordinary claim with solid evidence, you should not be making it.

I've read the comment several times. I tend to agree though there seems still to be no resolution to current MOD practice of in-line comment, directional in context or deletion.

My second year at college, a friend and I took an extraordinary ordinary teacher of History. Modern American. He would talk on points in a voice and calm manner like: "Did you know we had plans and designed nuclear powered bomber planes and tanks."
It was tone and inference, a parlor trick that ended with the ICBM. He wasn't a rocket scientist, but his dad was. Lesson being the inner connection of "fact" and history colliding with the present makes strange ideas and this is not speculation like in big news threads or criminal conspiracy. It's using theory to advance without thesis...at best, at worst, sow fear and doubt with a cocktail of time and history. It has been articulated far better then I throughout this thread. The hundreds of comments seem to reach a definitional standard for the term, MetaFilter even has a button for it. Perhaps the only reason to write anything, myself, is to observe the analytical process of the thread at its close and I'm not advocating that, now. I think it is interesting in so far as to hold rationale discussion, even a bit fighty, and reach a general consensus and that's something.
posted by clavdivs at 8:40 PM on March 1 [2 favorites]


I think you're saying that the history teacher was spouting conspiracy theories. If you are, this may interest you: Nuclear-powered tank. Nuclear planes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:48 AM on March 2 [5 favorites]


The poster said "zero percent chance". That's not pessimism, it's a clear allegation, along with the snide use of scare-quotes around the word queue, that the staff is lying when they say they would even consider letting such a MeTa through.

I made that statement based on years of attempting numerous Metatalk posts since the "queue" was instituted and seeing zero of them go through. Over the same several years the mods at various times have claimed that the queue is not used in this way, that it's only used to control the timing of Metatalk posts or to allow the mods a chance to address the poster's concern privately but that if the poster really wants to make a post they will allow it, etc. I don't want to get into a semantic argument about whether that constitutes "lying" but yes, my experience has been that the mods say one thing and do another when it comes to the "queue."

I didn't attempt a post on this particular off-site-Slack topic myself because I have long since given up trying to kick that particular football. Maybe this is the one time they would in fact let it through, who knows. I know what outcome I'd be betting on.
posted by enn at 6:07 AM on March 2


I made that statement based on years of attempting numerous Metatalk posts since the "queue" was instituted and seeing zero of them go through.

Two. Over the course of several years. We emailed you about both of them. One was you wanting to pick a fight about an already-deleted Ask on the basis that it was bad, which, yes, that's why we deleted it. The other was you missing a mod note in a megathready discussion and wanting to know why the thing we left a note about already was what we did.

You have a years-long axe-grinding fixation on the mod staff here and it has lead to you making multiple outright horseshit claims about what we have and have not and will and will not do and ignoring any contradicting evidence or attempts to actually talk through the things you're upset about. I've tried to be minimally polite about this pattern over the years by at least mostly just letting the horseshit go by without comment, but I'm one hundred percent done with it now. Go find a new place to aggressively dislike being at and make up unkind shit about, it's not here anymore.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:18 AM on March 2 [20 favorites]


think you're saying that the history teacher was spouting conspiracy theories. If you are, this may interest you: Nuclear-powered tank. Nuclear planes.

You think wrong sir. I'll admit, he collected conspiracy theories as a hobby but they have no place in the circulate nature of his discourse. Really, Is it a good ideas to put a nuclear powered engine in a plane. Thats the point, history shows how insane ideas are actually planned out.
posted by clavdivs at 7:19 AM on March 2


Is it a good ideas to put a nuclear powered engine in a plane.

It is if your plan is for the plane to drop to tree-top height once the bombs are gone and vent the reactor core over any poor bastards left alive below. Which it was.
I agree with what I think is your point though - most conspiracy theories are banal compared to what people actually get up to when the adults are MIA.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:31 AM on March 2


You think wrong sir.

Then I suggest you write in less baroque language. For instance, I have no idea what "the circulate nature of his discourse" is intended to convey. It may just be me, but I don't have time to spend translating exercises in creative writing.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:38 AM on March 2 [3 favorites]


I mean, we've had almost twenty years to become accustomed to the abstruse musings of clavdivs. Would you expect Miguel's comments to unaffected, languagehat to be nescient, quonsar to be pious? Of course not. Some things just are.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:23 AM on March 2 [15 favorites]


I will admit that "write in less baroque language" got an involuntary bark of laughter from me.
posted by ODiV at 10:48 AM on March 2 [5 favorites]


With Clavdivs, you know who the author is before you get to the "posted by." Very few users have that level of distinct voice, for good or for bad!
posted by Mid at 11:05 AM on March 2 [2 favorites]


I'm sticking to my prose, Kay. Not about me here folks though thanks Ivan. I think bringing old user patterns while amusing and reminiscent of days old, by that measure, is ok. I do believe, then, this thread would have been ugly, it's not ugly. I agree with spitbull who has tossed me around like a nerf in the past, trying to be nascent here, but carry- on. iMO, I believe community and current mod standards take care of this stuff ala this meta, now I really have to sharpen knives now, I'm low on onion.
posted by clavdivs at 11:31 AM on March 2 [6 favorites]


gotta hang an onion on your belt, as is the style of the time where you're from eh?
posted by Justinian at 11:32 AM on March 2 [3 favorites]


METAFILTER: low on onion
posted by philip-random at 11:33 AM on March 2 [2 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "I mean, we've had almost twenty years to become accustomed to the abstruse musings of clavdivs. Would you expect Miguel's comments to unaffected, languagehat to be nescient, quonsar to be pious? Of course not. Some things just are."

...Ivan Fyodorovich to be concise?
posted by Chrysostom at 11:49 AM on March 2 [6 favorites]


I started to write it that way but decided I don't belong in such august company. And the newbies won't get it, seeing as I'm no longer such an outlier. And, at any rate, loquacious wears that mantle proudly. Possibly scarabic coined a term for that.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:57 AM on March 2


Quick thank you to jessamyn for shooting down the fact-free assertion made by a Sanders supporter that Warren was going to offer her delegates to Biden. There have been a lot of comments in the last 48 hours based on little or no evidence speculating about Warren's devious plan to hurt Bernie's chances of getting elected, but it's good to see that there's a depth to which the mods won't let that thread sink to.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:02 PM on March 2 [8 favorites]


You're welcome. When I offered to take a few of restless_nomad's shifts so that mods could have a bit more hiring lead time, I did not look at my calendar and realize I'd be working on UnSuperMonday.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 12:05 PM on March 2 [18 favorites]


sorry not sorry
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:49 PM on March 2 [10 favorites]


anyone else get called into work?
posted by clavdivs at 3:00 PM on March 2


> mdonley: "As a person in a huge Asian city being very negatively affected by coronavirus, I just want to say that it is exhausting refuting whatever nonsense conspiracies are out there, both here and what I hear from friends and family in the US and other places, and I simply don't have time while we get online teaching at a school of 10,000+ students, some of them four years old, up from zero to functional in ten working days, watch our social lives shrink to basically nothing and see different jurisdictions make travel difficult or impossible, all while the local retail economy implodes and with virtually no trust in the government."
You've been so informative. mdonley. thank you.
posted by theora55 at 3:03 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]


You know those credit card machines at gas pumps that tell you to quickly remove the card after you insert it? I have a theory that that message is for psychological rather than mechanical purposes. The machine isn’t affected by swipe speed, it’s just a benign trick to reduce the likelihood of someone leaving their card in the machine by accident.

It’s kind of the world’s most boring conspiracy theory.
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:31 PM on March 2 [10 favorites]


dephlogisticated: some machines beep if you forget your card. Such a useful conspiracy.
posted by jb at 8:24 PM on March 2


Oh, at self check-out, 14 seconds after you pay, it asks you to please take your items.
So put the cash in but don't pull out change until after loading bag. You might get please take your change but that just frees up about 7.1 seconds.
posted by clavdivs at 8:43 PM on March 2


I've got at least one card that if you don't whip it out of the reader like Usian Bolt running the 100 the machines won't read it.

Also here the pumps won't start dispensing unless you have removed you card. Same thing with ATMs; you have to remove your card before the machine spits out cash.
posted by Mitheral at 9:57 PM on March 2


sheeple talking about swiping speeds when the real conspiracy is money itself -- what is it ... really?
posted by philip-random at 11:41 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]


"(Remember) Time is money"

-Ben Franklin.
posted by clavdivs at 8:12 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Pink Floyd asserts that money is a gas, while Bowie tells us we are all under constant pressure (pushing down on me, pressing down on you). Therefore, per the ideal gas law, we may conclude that wallet thickness varies as a function of temperature.
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:00 AM on March 3 [7 favorites]


Money is frozen desire (James Buchan).
posted by Chrysostom at 10:05 AM on March 3 [5 favorites]


I adore that book. It was where I first learned about John Law, the eighteenth century economist they don't teach you about in college.
Buchan write a whole book about the man later - gambler, murderer, economist, once so wealthy he loaned the King of France enough to pay off the national debt.
Law used up the entirety of the discipline of economics allotment of interesting characters, almost before it got started.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 11:30 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]




Yep. That's precisely the kind of stuff we've been seeing. And rather than taking a step back people will just memory hole it and move on to the next one.
posted by Justinian at 2:57 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]


It's a good example because the initial claim is presented without a link or context. Obviously, it stands to reason that MisantropicPainforest got the information from somewhere, so it would have helped if they linked that at the time they were sharing it, which would have been a first step toward evaluating its credibility.

If step one here is "please have some reasonable evidence for claims you put in a thread," can step .5 be "at least link to the thing you're talking about?"
posted by zachlipton at 3:12 PM on March 3 [11 favorites]


JFC that thread continued to be toxic. Glad I removed it from recent activity
posted by PMdixon at 3:32 PM on March 3


And rather than taking a step back people will just memory hole it and move on to the next one.

Or apparently they'll propose without evidence a new conspiracy theory that the original unsourced claim was a product or Russian disinformation. Sigh.
posted by biogeo at 3:43 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]


Yeah, Occam's razor suggests that some people irrationally hate on Warren and will pass along any ol' bullshit that they come across if its negative about her. No Russians needed.
posted by Justinian at 3:55 PM on March 3 [11 favorites]


I think it would be good not to have a new thread for Super Tuesday results because we’re getting so many conspiracy theories in this old one. (And it’s not the topic of this thread, but the “I can see the future and Your Candidate can NEVER win” is also rife.) I suspect it will get worse tonight as more results come in, because (at least for me) conspiracy theories hold more appeal when my emotion is high.
posted by sallybrown at 4:23 PM on March 3 [6 favorites]


Agreed. I see zero benefit to MeFi in a Super Tuesday thread at this point. There will not be any information in that thread that isn't already plastered all over every news site in the world. Meanwhile, it will immediately become a hotbed of anti-anti-Sanders conspiracy theories, like basically every thread about the primary has been and likely will continue to be.
posted by tocts at 4:37 PM on March 3 [6 favorites]


I think it would be good not to have a new thread for Super Tuesday results because we’re getting so many conspiracy theories in this old one.

This makes practical sense to me, but I wonder if there might be benefit moving forward to making a change to how long threads stay open when they are about US Political Events (like Super Tuesday, or a primary in a specific state). Like, (imo) a thread about the Nevada Primary starts to get really unfocused once the primary is over and the results are finalized, and maybe part of that unfocusedness could be mitigated by closing threads about US Political Events early instead of letting them run their course and stay open for the full 30 days. The unfocusedness seems (imo) to contribute to comments getting added that contain conspiracy theories (for some definition of "conspiracy theory").
posted by 23skidoo at 5:18 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


Every Thursday, close all the political threads and ban us all for 24 hours. Then we can start over with the next round of elections the next Tuesday.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:08 PM on March 3 [6 favorites]


Leave the banning, take the thread.
posted by clavdivs at 9:53 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


So, serious question, are just OK now with someone casually musing that their preferred candidate could take the nomination by showing up to the debate with a gun and murdering all the other candidates?

Because while yeah, I don't really believe this is a serious statement of a threat, I do think this is the kind of thing that does real harm to MeFi by being allowed to stand.
posted by tocts at 5:00 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I do think this is the kind of thing that does real harm to MeFi by being allowed to stand.

(It's since been deleted, thankfully)
posted by cjelli at 6:50 AM on March 4


I think a number of the more center right people are, with greater and lesser degrees of malice, willfully misinterpreting the left talking about very open and acknowledged efforts to deny anyone you the left of Bloomberg the nomination with conspiracy theories.

It isn't a conspiracy theory when the big players openly say they have a preference and intend to use their positions to advance that preference. And it isn't conspiracy mongering to observe that the Democratic Party leadership loathes the left.
posted by sotonohito at 7:20 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


> I think a number of the more center right people are, with greater and lesser degrees of malice, willfully misinterpreting the left talking about very open and acknowledged efforts to deny anyone you the left of Bloomberg the nomination with conspiracy theories.

Please cite literally any example to support this assertion.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:28 AM on March 4 [12 favorites]


Go to the latest thread and search for the word conspiracy. All the people using it against Sanders supporters there seem to be doing so in bad faith form my POV
posted by sotonohito at 9:58 AM on March 4


Stop. Just stop. There was an earlier linked and then debunked conspiracy theory in this thread- and then one in the thread you mention that was only left up as an example of what not to do. "cite your sources and consider their biases before posting" is not a bad faith attack against Sander's supporters- and if you think it is it's incredibly insulting to Sander's himself.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:18 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I just did a search, and, among the results, I see multiple Sanders supporters, including you, sotonohito, as the very first one to invoke the word in the thread, acknowledging that there has been a conspiracy theory vibe coming from leftists. I assume these aren't the ones you wanted to highlight?
posted by tonycpsu at 10:21 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


If someone calls your thing a conspiracy then provide evidence. It's that simple. It's not a conspiracy when there's valid evidence.
posted by schroedinger at 7:50 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


[Comment removed. Cut the shit with the arch people-who-disagree-with-me-are-like-Nazis stuff. There's enough actual nazi horseshit around these days without appropriating it for inter-lefty posturing.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:22 AM on March 5 [14 favorites]


Thank you very much Cortex.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:26 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Is it maybe time this got closed up? It seems to me that there's very little chance of the key issues this post was raised to discuss being resolved at this present time.
posted by Chairboy at 3:15 PM on March 5


Just a moment ago, in a thread about the presidential campaign, LobsterMitten deleted a passing mention of Hunter Biden's role in Burisma, saying "If you know a claim is bullshit, don't use it to stir the pot here", (and gave the commenter a tempban!) despite not really mentioning what the "bullshit" aspect of the comment was. Another commenter had said it was a "conspiracy theory," despite not really saying what parts of the fairly vague comment were a conspiracy, exactly. It seems like a small and clear example of how incredibly unworkable the ask in this metatalk is; we're all working with different ideological presuppositions about what exactly counts as a conspiracy theory, what exactly counts as bullshit, and what exactly is allowed to be discussed as a news story that will almost certainly keep popping up over the course of the next year.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:03 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


I feel in that exchange it came from a user who'd been dropping bad stuff and getting shit deleted for days so it was less that the latest comment was that bad- it was just the last straw.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:13 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


I think we can all agree that, regardless of its merit, the Hunter Biden stuff was not appropriate for that thread.
posted by Justinian at 5:29 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Yeah, today's been a dike-breaker in terms of letting people try and do better on their own. We've given several people a day off over the course of the day and honestly I kind of doubt we're done. Mostly orthogonal to the discussion in here, but also not totally unrelated in terms of some of the longer-view challenges of these kinds of problems, because there's "what sort of comments are causing problems" and then there's "what sort of behavioral patterns are causing problems" and they're not quite the same thing.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:38 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


I'm going to try harder to not let myself get sucked in by trollish behavior and ending up contributing more to the morass than helping anything. I'll just flag with a note and move on.
posted by octothorpe at 6:49 PM on March 5 [6 favorites]


Can we include "don't post deceptively edited Youtube videos" along with the "conspiracy theory" stuff? I would have thought that went without saying but apparently not?
posted by Justinian at 9:41 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


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