Twitter harassment from Mefi Outsider & Go Mefi July 12, 2020 6:33 PM   Subscribe

There are at least 2 prolific Twitter accounts that have been actively harassing Mefites (including myself): Mefi Outsider and Go Mefi. It's high time we actually talk about them.

In the trans thread, cortex claims that ignoring them will make them go away and they thrive on attention. I can tell you from experience that this doesn't work. They've been after PoC and trans Mefites (and possibly) more for years.

They also often delete and undelete their accounts on a whim - making it look like they've been banned when that's not really the case. I don't even know what their Metafilter handles are or if they have sockpuppets.

They're an open secret, a missing stair. Not addressing them is letting them continue. I'm not sure what needs to be done exactly, but ignoring them certainly isn't helping.
posted by divabat to Etiquette/Policy at 6:33 PM (650 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

To be clear, I don't think ignoring them will make them go away. I think Twitter, specifically, is the only entity with the power to actually make them go away and Twitter has for years now declined to take that action despite a lot of direct reporting of their transphobic and homophobic and racist horseshit and their attempts to dox users and mods alike. They're terrible people. I don't know how to make Twitter act on that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:34 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


Are mods monitoring the tweets? Are mefites being notified when their usernames are mentioned, so they can go to twitter and do that direct reporting? Or is it just...sorta...randomly finding out someone was talking about you on this other platform?
posted by mittens at 6:40 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


mittens: in my case, Mefi Outsider tags my Twitter account directly. It's a different handle to my Metafilter one but it's not hard to find, I mention it in my profile.
posted by divabat at 6:43 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


TIL that there's also a twitter account that just retweets every single AskMe. That creeps me out.

Divabat, I'm sorry for the harrassment you and others are facing. Shit like this makes me want to button and I really think that Metafilter needs to consider letting people completely delete their accounts and all posts for more safety.
posted by TwoStride at 6:44 PM on July 12 [17 favorites]


Please remember that anything you do or post can be used to link your account to your real identity. Be careful if that could cause problems or harm to your life. Metafilter is a public site and anyone can read everything we post. There's a setting to hide your profile details ("Minimal profile for non-members") but that doesn't help when the danger comes from within, like those twitter accounts.

I made a new account and have been careful about posting personal details this time. It won't work for everyone but it's worth considering.
posted by simmering octagon at 6:45 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


Huh. I can't find either of those Twitter accounts. I can find replies to them, but the original tweets say "this tweet is from an account that no longer exists."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:45 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I'm absolutely not going to tell mefites to go look at people hurling abuse at them, no. I don't know if folks have some sense of a safe and caring procedure to approach that sort of thing, if you want to talk that out then please go for it but I can't imagine "hey, here's a transphobic/homophobic/racist sociopath tweeting about you" as a healthy thing to unilaterally impose on someone. Folks who want to look, or be notified, can opt in to that but I won't volunteer anyone for it.

We check in on the accounts periodically, and take reports from users when they notice something, and report tweets and the accounts. Twitter may have, selectively/temporarily, acted a couple times, but they have never done so consistently or long-term and I'm unconvinced that many if any of the deleted tweets or account disappearances (they are, once again, offline at the moment after having been active shortly earlier) have been from Twitter acting rather than defensive moves by the shitheels.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:47 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Do we know anyone with connections at twitter? Tech-famous alums? "Knowing someone at twitter is a strategy" that has worked for others before. Have we tried that?
posted by bleep at 6:47 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


I am just going to say that I second anem0ne's suggestion in the current trans Meta that MetaTalk be for logged in members only. This section of the site is specifically for site issues. It's not like non-members have any say in that, or that this is super hot reading for them, or that it's a section of the site that draws people to become members. (If anything I would think it would make them not want to be members honestly.)
posted by primalux at 6:49 PM on July 12 [83 favorites]


I really think that Metafilter needs to consider letting people completely delete their accounts and all posts for more safety.

For folks who have concerns here, you can reach out to us. As much as we don't routinely or casually do account wipes, the mod team is willing and has many times before worked with folks to redact or remove material or otherwise deal with safety- and privacy-endangering account stuff to help someone deal with a situation. If that's something you feel you need, write to the contact form or to me directly and we can discuss it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:49 PM on July 12 [15 favorites]


I think Twitter, specifically, is the only entity with the power to actually make them go away

I deeply disagree with this. Sure, we can't do much to change Twitter. However, the fact that they're targeting Mefites in particular means they're primarily a Metafilter problem, and it's on us to work out ways to keep Mefites safe.
posted by divabat at 6:49 PM on July 12 [14 favorites]


I was actually thinking about finally getting a Twitter account in hopes I could read Sarah Taber's threads, though I couldn't tell for sure whether that would be enough, or not.
posted by jamjam at 6:51 PM on July 12


I am just going to say that I second anem0ne's suggestion in the current trans Meta that MetaTalk be for logged in members only.

It is impossible to secure text from bad actors by putting it behind an account; all they need is an account and then it's all accessible again. MeFi is an open signups site, and while we can monitor for lazy bad actors the difficulty of signing up sufficiently anonymously to be a passive monitoring entity is low to the point of not being a meaningful barrier.

Do we know anyone with connections at twitter? Tech-famous alums? "Knowing someone at twitter is a strategy" that has worked for others before. Have we tried that?

I don't have any personal high up connections there; I have reached out to folks within the company and connected with higher-tier support staff and reported on the issue in detail. That hasn't borne any fruit, but anyone else with an inside line is heartily welcome to give it a shot and I'm happy to provide whatever details I can.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:52 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I have many thoughts.

One, I’m online enough that I have haters.

Two, I knew when I came out that trans people’s lives were collected into dossiers by TERF’s and that being trans meant I would be unsafe

Three, I feel pretty damn unsafe, see number two

Four, I’ve been lax in my OpSec

Five, I’ve been lucky

Six, I need to make some changes to how my real life and online life coincides.

Seven, I can’t do shit about online haters but I do need to figure out how to better protect myself from folks who are showing some seriously rude patterns of “toes just on the line” enough of online stalking and harassment to avoid legal action.
posted by nikaspark at 6:57 PM on July 12 [16 favorites]


These accounts have targeted me too and it’s a chilling feeling to know someone — two people, I guess, though it seems likely it’s the same person — is so deeply hurt that they obsess about metafilter and post incessantly about if for years . That’s not normal or healthy behavior. It’s pathetic, but that kind of focus and harassment is really something else. Ignoring it hasn’t made it go away. That’s actually not how bullies work. And they shut down their Twitter accounts whenever they’re brought up here and then bring it back. Let’s discuss them and stop repeating falsehoods about how that discussion eggs them on. Let’s examine them instead of being content to let them examine us.

There’s the risks you take posting to a public site and then there’s people outright stalking and discussing people on another social media site. The latter should be something we think about limiting. I agree in the strongest terms that MetaTalks — ALL of them — should be members-only. I regret that means people not logged in won’t be able to read along, or lurkers who haven’t signed up will miss out. But it keeps some of the rawest, most private threads out of the sight lines of people doing their best to harm our community.

It also seems like if people sign up and start posting on Twitter about what’s going on here then we have more of an idea of who is responsible. I don’t think sign ups being public is a good reason not to take this step.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 6:59 PM on July 12 [34 favorites]


They've been pretty terrible accounts for a while now, agreed. Every time I remember they exist (and aren't currently self-deleted, as they are now) I sweep through & flag the stuff that's blatant enough I think it may hit Twitter's anemic threshold (there's never a shortage).
Twitter's sent the automatic alert saying it's taken action on the accounts a couple times now, but I think that just means they had to delete those specific items.

Near as I can tell the biggest thing that boosts the odds of even minor Twitter action is a whole bunch of flags on specific items, so consistency in flagging is about all I have on that front.
posted by CrystalDave at 7:00 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


It also seems like if people sign up and start posting on Twitter about what’s going on here then we have more of an idea of who is responsible.

How would this work? I doubt we could get IPs from Twitter or anything.
posted by ODiV at 7:01 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


And honestly in terms of flagging, I’ve been doing that for ever and Twitter does nothing. I personally think we should start flooding their account with replies whenever they start up again instead of thinking attention is what they want. It’s obvious, like cockroaches, they scatter whenever the light is turned on.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:02 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


As much as we don't routinely or casually do account wipes, the mod team is willing and has many times before worked with folks to redact or remove material
Orrrrr we could just make it simpler? Like, the vision of a permanent Metafilter posting history from when the site was founded doesn't seem to match the needs or issues in the current state of social media.
posted by TwoStride at 7:03 PM on July 12 [22 favorites]


ODiV: I mean from the Metafilter side that it might be clearer if it’s someone previously banned trying to sign up again and putting it together. I have absolutely no hope Twitter would be helpful. And I recognize it’s a loooong shot.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:04 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


DMCA takedown notices of copied and pasted comments?
posted by nikaspark at 7:05 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, duh I wasn't even thinking about previous bans, good point the thorn bushes have roses.
posted by ODiV at 7:06 PM on July 12


It’s obvious, like cockroaches, they scatter whenever the light is turned on.

They have a very specific pattern of hyper-engagement whenever they hook someone. I won't tell folks not to try whatever you feel like might be useful, but engagement is engagement and they've never shown any disinclination to reveling in it. This isn't new behavior and it's not the behavior of people operating with a functioning sense of shame or self-awareness. That's why I recommend folks mute and report instead. But that's my take.

I mean from the Metafilter side that it might be clearer if it’s someone previously banned trying to sign up again and putting it together. I have absolutely no hope Twitter would be helpful. And I recognize it’s a loooong shot.

For context: we actively monitor signups and cross check a few different things to look for evidence of previous members rejoining the site. These folks are to the best of our knowledge not on the site and we'd ban 'em in a heartbeat if we found a link to past accounts.

But a dedicated shithead doesn't have to try that hard to quietly sign up, take no visible actions on the site, and just float under the radar. That's seemingly their MO on at least one off-site place that is notionally explicitly private that they've done their screenshot and giggle bullshit with multiple times.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:08 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


Or we could just ask KPOP fans to put their accounts under the deluge
posted by nikaspark at 7:08 PM on July 12 [25 favorites]


Wow, yikes!

I really think that Metafilter needs to consider letting people completely delete their accounts and all posts for more safety.

I agree. If this isn’t possible, some other means to obscure usernames so people who are being targeted on other sites can unlink the username that’s being mentioned from their comments?
posted by sallybrown at 7:10 PM on July 12 [11 favorites]


Also you could probably cross reference join times with Twitter posting times.

It's fairly trivial for spammers to pay the $5, sign up, and post Pepsi Blue. There are methods to stop them anyway. Why is this suddenly too hard?

Besides, open-membership sites with users-only threads isn't that new a concept. Isn't that a part of core functionality for phpbb boards of old?
posted by divabat at 7:10 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


FWIW on the subject of self-deletion of personal material, the GDPR (though it doesn't apply to mefi which is outside the EU) has a 'right to be forgotten' as part of its framework:
The right to be forgotten appears in Recitals 65 and 66 and in Article 17 of the GDPR. It states, “The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller the erasure of personal data concerning him or her without undue delay and the controller shall have the obligation to erase personal data without undue delay” if one of a number of conditions applies. “Undue delay” is considered to be about a month. You must also take reasonable steps to verify the person requesting erasure is actually the data subject.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:10 PM on July 12 [15 favorites]


These folks are to the best of our knowledge not on the site

That's even more reason to make MetaTalk logged-in-users only. If they're that determined to make accounts to log in, you can just block them. Unless you don't want the extra work?

Seriously, I don't understand this logic.
posted by divabat at 7:13 PM on July 12 [18 favorites]


cortex, I have them muted and have previously reported them on Twitter. But after years and years of this not doing shit it feels frustrating to think it’s actually working. I see them brought up on a regular basis here to know they’re up to the same old shit.

I hope as we continue discussion here that you and the mod team are open to considering different approaches. Not necessarily mine.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:13 PM on July 12


Well hmm. Dang. If I'd known someone was doing this, I never would have joined
posted by captain afab at 7:15 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


At the very least, going log-in only for MeTa feels like locking your front door. No, it won't prevent someone bound and determined to break in, but it does dissuade more casual offenders.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:15 PM on July 12 [27 favorites]


It's fairly trivial for spammers to pay the $5, sign up, and post Pepsi Blue. There are methods to stop them anyway. Why is this suddenly too hard?

When spammers are very obvious, we do stop them up front. When spammers take sufficient care to not reveal their spammy intent up front, we don't know they're spammers until they spam. Trust me, I have 13 years of opinions and practice behind that. I'm pretty good at smelling spam coming, but I can't detect a spammer who is careful.

A lurking bad actor doesn't even have to take action on the site, which makes them harder to find than a low-key spammer, because a spammer has to take visible action. Someone lurking and reading and screenshotting doesn't register. It's a hard problem, and one I've thought about a ton over the last thirteen years; I'm not casually pessimistic about this, I'm not waving it off lightly. I don't want people fixating on a solution that does not actually work, because that will not make anyone safer.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:15 PM on July 12 [25 favorites]


How do you know it won't work unless you try?
posted by divabat at 7:16 PM on July 12 [14 favorites]


PEN America publishes an Online Harassment Field Manual, which includes a section on Legal Considerations, that includes reporting resources, and links to legal organizations.
posted by katra at 7:21 PM on July 12 [9 favorites]


There is zero downside to making MeTa users-only. None. It may not work for this, but it won’t hurt anything else.
posted by Etrigan at 7:21 PM on July 12 [54 favorites]


Is anyone reaching out to Twitter that I can join in with on this? Is there a form email I can crib or a Tweet I can Retweet or something? While I'm not optimistic about a solution from them it seems like they are the ones with the most power to effect one.
posted by ODiV at 7:24 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Is it typical for banned users to try to come back? I thought we already had tools to prevent that.
posted by bleep at 7:39 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I agree. If this isn’t possible, some other means to obscure usernames so people who are being targeted on other sites can unlink the username that’s being mentioned from their comments?

There are limits to this. IE: While changing the name on the Mitheral account to ANON1648945148 or some such would effect the comments I made, it wouldn't touch every comment that refers to me and the comments I've made.

Also you could probably cross reference join times with Twitter posting times.

It's fairly trivial for spammers to pay the $5, sign up, and post Pepsi Blue. There are methods to stop them anyway. Why is this suddenly too hard?


Shitheel signs up to Metafilter. Never so much as comments once. Uses account to clip private threads. Uses clips to harass on Twitter. Unless they sign up with MetafilterOutsiderFUCortex there isn't anyway to tie them to the twitter accounts.

Metafilter doesn't track who loads what when. There is no link between viewing the thread and a screen cap hitting twitter. How do you determine which of the accounts that signed up in the last FOO months is the account screen capping Metafilter?

There is zero downside to making MeTa users-only.

Lurkers don't get exposed to explicit site culture. EG: they wouldn't see that even right now we are attempting to be be better on myriad issues.

Also it would make it impossible to search for Meta threads with web search engines which for me at least would be a severe negative.
posted by Mitheral at 7:39 PM on July 12 [44 favorites]


Also it would make it impossible to search for Meta threads with web search engines which for me at least would be a severe negative.

If you mean that users won't be able to look up threads - that points to the internal search system needing a revisit. Because I don't see why outsiders (ha) need to search through MetaTalk. When I did my big "all the times we've talked about racism on MetaTalk" comment I relied on tags and the similar posts links.
posted by divabat at 7:42 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


Is it typical for banned users to try to come back? I thought we already had tools to prevent that.

They are thwart-able, especially by the sort of users being discussed in this thread. If a new user doesn't comment the tools that exist to pick up on users behaving badly don't work because they aren't behaving badly on Metafilter.
posted by Mitheral at 7:43 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


How do you determine which of the accounts that signed up in the last FOO months is the account screen capping Metafilter?

Compare their post & comment history. See what tracks timing wise. We won't be able to nab them right away, but it's enough of a hurdle that we could at least slow them down.
posted by divabat at 7:44 PM on July 12


If you mean that users won't be able to look up threads - that points to the internal search system needing a revisit.

Yes and yes. But there must be about a 1000 things frimble should be doing rather than implementing web search.
posted by Mitheral at 7:45 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


They never post here. There is no post/comment history.
posted by Mitheral at 7:46 PM on July 12 [9 favorites]


The downside of locking portions of the site to the public would include reducing the public footprint of the site, which would seem likely to lead to less engagement with the site by people who might join the site and participate. The whole “community norms” aspect of MeTa is/was one of the major distinguishing characteristics of the site. If there was some reason to think that locking MeTa would actually prevent a bad actor from reading it, perhaps the downside would be outweighed by the upside, but it’s hard to see how we would prevent a bad actor from signing up for a “silent” account from which to lurk.

Also, on preview, there’s no reason to assume that a bad actor signed up for their account recently. There’s thousands of dormant accounts that are many years old.
posted by Mid at 7:47 PM on July 12 [27 favorites]


Mitheral: "They never post here. There is no post/comment history."

I don't think we know this, necessarily.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:51 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Did those two Twitter accounts go private/closed or did they just block me? I can't see them.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:57 PM on July 12


Well exactly. Why are these accounts weirdly quiet? Plenty of people lurk to read the Blue/Green/etc but you don't need accounts to do that. Why would you go through the trouble of making an account but not say anything?
posted by divabat at 7:58 PM on July 12


DirtyOldTown: they come and go, looks like right now they "go".
posted by divabat at 7:58 PM on July 12


23skidoo, neat, I didn’t know you could see past tweets from deleted accounts that way! What do you search for on archive.org to do so, if you have a sec to share?

Also, the thing about lurkers not being able to read MetaTalk to learn site norms: I hope it prompts people to sign up, then. Especially because now we’re clear that if $5 is a barrier to entry that it’s not mandatory to pay it to become a member.

I like that Metafilter is open and you can read it without being a member. It’s so refreshing that’s the case from every other social network (like reddit and the incessant nagging to download their app to read). But MetaTalk, specifically about site issues and culture, seems like it should be a benefit for members.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:59 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


They go dark in cases like this as mentioned in the post, DirtyOldTown.
posted by ODiV at 7:59 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


23skidoo: I see the time stamps based on the timezone in my profile. Possibly they're obscuring that to hide their location.
posted by divabat at 7:59 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


Why would you go through the trouble of making an account but not say anything?

It happens a lot. Sometimes people take years to make their first comment/post. As to reasons: it lets you suppress ads; it lets you customize the interface; it lets you develop a contact network; it lets you favourite things and flag things.
posted by Mitheral at 8:01 PM on July 12 [57 favorites]


I thought logins were connected to PayPal accounts. I thought this was how a number of folks got banned back in the day. For example, certain “celebrity” (I use this term very, very loosely) trolls who made accounts to promote their own work. I won’t name them but I can think of at least two, maybe three. Has the nature of PayPal accounts and/or paying for Metafilter changed so much that a formerly banned user can easily hop back on again?

Also, there is always a reason to not do something. If you want to find a reason to not do something, you surely will. There is a pattern on this site of the moderation team always finding reasons to not do something. And it’s not working out for the well being of the community, so maybe it’s time for the mods to try something new, like not focusing on the seventy-eleven reasons why we shouldn’t make MetaTalk users-only.
posted by nightrecordings at 8:02 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


Sorry, that seemed a little harsh, wasn't my intention, DOT.

I recall at least a couple lurkers signing up to make really great contributions in previous MeTas, for what it's worth. I'm not saying that outweighs the potential benefits of taking MetaTalk members only, just mentioning it as a data point.
posted by ODiV at 8:05 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I mean I get that you can't detect bad behavior if there is no behavior but don't we also ban by IP? And the PayPal thing mentioned?

Given that the financial strategy of the site is to become member-supported then maybe the decisions should also be focused on supporting the existing members.
posted by bleep at 8:06 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


I think they're trying to obscure something by hiding the time stamps, but I can't figure out what exactly

Wait. How long are the timestamps? Because in the threads directly it's a specific time, but in the Recent Activity page it's a longer phrase like "5 minutes ago". And I think that's the only page that does them like that.

Are they obscuring the fact that they're following the threads via Recent Activity? Because that can help narrow down who they may be.
posted by divabat at 8:07 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Not being able to search Metatalk effectively is a significant barrier and the proposed change is unlikely to have any effect on the activity of concern.

I mean I get that you can't detect bad behavior if there is no behavior but don't we also ban by IP?

No.

And you don't have to use paypal to sign up. I don't know what sort of information cortex requires when someone pays by cheque, cash, stamps, or chickens.
posted by Mitheral at 8:10 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Just a flat "No." from someone who doesn't work here, is that supposed to help? How?
posted by bleep at 8:12 PM on July 12 [9 favorites]


I mean I get that you can't detect bad behavior if there is no behavior but don't we also ban by IP? And the PayPal thing mentioned?

Those can work, if the bad actor (a) reuses a known-bad IP or (b) reuses a known-bad PayPal, respectively. We watch for those, and other things. Those are as Mitheral said thwartable.

I'm not saying this to dismiss the idea of trying; I'm trying to be clear that we attempt to be extremely thorough about identifying and banning returning bad actors with the limited tools available, but there is a real and very low ceiling to the efficacy of this stuff. It works on the lazy and clueless. It does not work on dedicated sociopaths.

That is an ugly and frustrating reality of having an open-signups community; as it is, MetaFilter is far more aggressive about this than most sites whose administrators I've talked to about it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:14 PM on July 12 [33 favorites]


Just a flat "No." from someone who doesn't work here, is that supposed to help? How?

Metafilter doesn't ban by IP. I didn't realize that was anything but a yes/no question. What else was expected?
posted by Mitheral at 8:19 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


ResetEra won’t even let you sign up if you have a free email provider. Maybe it’s time to shift to that model + the $5 fee. It worked (and is working) for ResetEra.
posted by nightrecordings at 8:21 PM on July 12


I want to support everyone who's suggesting a registration wall for MetaTalk. I've seen what those two accounts say about people here. I've seen what they say about site leadership. And I've seen the particular hate they have for trans people. It's vile.

The current solution, ignoring the harassers, enables this harassment. It's hurting people, and in the transphobia thread right now it's causing us to lose members I'll really miss.

A registration wall on MetaTalk reduces this harm. It won't stop 100% of offsite harassment. It's vulnerable to lurkers. But it makes the lives of harassers harder. And it signals to people in this community who are being harassed that the site is willing to take action to help them. That's worth it even if it doesn't stop these two particular harassers.

We didn't need a perfect technical solution for taking a harm reduction step when we blocked posting the n word. We don't need one here. We can figure out the details -- like how it's possible to allow search engines even if we require membership -- after we commit to harm reduction and taking care of each other.
posted by amery at 8:22 PM on July 12 [32 favorites]


Metafilter doesn't ban by IP. I didn't realize that was anything but a yes/no question. What else was expected?

Well for one thing it's apparently incorrect. For another thing we're trying to have an adult conversation here about ways to protect actual human beings from harm. What was expected is factual information from someone who knows what they're talking about or actual suggestions about solving the problem. Just flat shutdowns of everything we're trying to talk about is cluttering up the conversation.
posted by bleep at 8:26 PM on July 12 [11 favorites]


Mitheral's correct that we don't generally ban by IP. We can use IP info as a detection thing, and do. Outright IP bans themselves are incredibly ineffective in general and bring on a lot of potential collateral damage, so we use them very sparingly and generally for large-scale automated DDoS type events where the site will go down without an IP subnet block.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:29 PM on July 12 [13 favorites]


So you can and do, that means it's a tool in your toolkit. Why act like it's not?
posted by bleep at 8:35 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I think if they shut down every time we talk about them them perhaps we should just be very frank and open about their behavior at all times.

Other than that, I think the site needs to go membership+subscription only and put every bit of data and information that comes from an interactive form field behind a monthly paywall and go fully community-supported.
posted by nikaspark at 8:35 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


ResetEra won’t even let you sign up if you have a free email provider. Maybe it’s time to shift to that model + the $5 fee. It worked (and is working) for ResetEra.

How the heck does that work? Half the people in my address book have gmail accounts. Add in outlook and yahoo and it's like 70%.
posted by Mitheral at 8:35 PM on July 12 [21 favorites]


There’s no reason to think that locking MeTa will reduce offsite harassment. We might hope that it will, but why would it? People interested in harassing MeFites very likely have some connection to MeFi, such as an existing account or the knowledge and motive to get one. On the other hand, there is a trade-off in making the site harder to access to the public: less engagement from the public and new potential users. Those are important things to sustaining an online community.

Also, requiring special emails or any other identifiers for MeFi would not address the central problem that an account that is “silent” on this site may be used by someone who is a bad actor on another site.
posted by Mid at 8:40 PM on July 12 [12 favorites]

ResetEra won’t even let you sign up if you have a free email provider. Maybe it’s time to shift to that model + the $5 fee
On this one, I can think of a lot of very good reasons why someone wouldn't want to have their mefi identity (or any internet handle) tied to identities used in other places. Sometimes it's lovely for mefi to be a Cheers! bar where 'everybody knows your name', other times, as we can see above, it's definitely not and dangerously so. There's absolutely a place for letting people shut down their accounts and start again with $5 and a new burner email account, it isn't just for mischief.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:42 PM on July 12 [19 favorites]


So you can and do, that means it's a tool in your toolkit. Why act like it's not?

because IP bans are not an effective method to prevent individual bad actors.

they have tremendous splash damage (what if the bad actor is a university student who shares an IP with an entire campus?), banning individual IPs generally doesn’t work because most people’s internet service doesn’t assign them a static IP, and banning entire netblocks is killing flies with a buick. they’re only useful if you want to ban huge chunks of the internet due to currently-occuring mass abuse like botnets or DDOS

i want to punish these assholes too, but let’s not act like failure to use ineffective/inappropriate tools is a failure to act
posted by murphy slaw at 8:44 PM on July 12 [108 favorites]


Okay. To the folks with strong opinions about how everything suggested won’t work, if you have ideas about what you think will work, could you be so kind as to share with the community what those ideas are?
posted by nightrecordings at 8:48 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


Most internet user's are behind some sort of DHCP and/or NAT which means that their IP can change from day to day. When you block a single IP, you might be taking out a whole corporation (behind a firewall) where all the people come from the same IP. Or on a Cable/DSL/etc. home service, you'll block somebody for a day, but tomorrow that IP belongs to a different person (who now can't get to Metafilter) while the bad actor has a new IP address that is not blocked. This is just a reality. IP blocks are full of collateral damage and only applicable when under a dired DoS attack or when you've found some ISP that's a hive of scum and villany (then you block the whole range). It's basically blocking a random group of people over the actions of one and the group probably doesn't even know each other and has no control over their IP address.

This is solely university network administrator/security wrote the software to do the blocking that we did do hat speaking.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:50 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


Jinx murphy slaw.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:53 PM on July 12


Just flat shutdowns of everything we're trying to talk about is cluttering up the conversation.

The Internet has been facing bad actors since before there was an Internet. The particular issues faced by Metafilter are in no way unique, and in fact there are regular technical papers put out about how to address them. At Metafilter itself there is significant technical knowledge built up over 20 years but what works and what doesn’t.

If you come in to make technical suggestions maybe you’ll strike gold: maybe you will have come up with an idea that is unique and different than everything that has been tried before. But the overwhelming majority of the time what you’re going to hear is we tried it and it doesn’t work.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:53 PM on July 12 [62 favorites]


I don't think going users-only is something that MetaTalk can really "try" and then undo later without it feeling like a major rug-pull for the community. It seems like a one way street to have us all making comments behind a login with no real avenue back that doesn't cause a lot more problems. I'm not saying at all that it shouldn't be done, maybe it should, but I don't know that it can be tried and then changed back later without being a big problem.

nightrecordings: Earlier I had asked about reaching out to Twitter where the harassment is happening, but no one replied so I wasn't sure if it was just a stupid idea or what. the thorn bushes have roses has said they have gotten nowhere with flagging/reporting, plus Twitter is kind of huge, so maybe it's pointless, but I think it's worth trying. Is there an email we can all send or tweets that people have made that we can amplify or something?
posted by ODiV at 8:55 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


CrystalDave wrote...
Every time I remember they exist (and aren't currently self-deleted, as they are now) I sweep through & flag the stuff that's blatant enough I think it may hit Twitter's anemic threshold


So do we need to wait for KPOP or do we have enough Twitter accounts to get these people regularly whacked on the nose by Twitter? I think having their posts removed will be far more discouraging than having people interact with them, but whatever works.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:11 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Okay. To the folks with strong opinions about how everything suggested won’t work, if you have ideas about what you think will work, could you be so kind as to share with the community what those ideas are?

I don't think there is anything that can work, if by "work" you mean completely solve the problem of off-site harassment without requiring intervention from Twitter, and without shutting down the ability to have meaningful discussions here. Even more "closed" platforms like Discord and Slack have this problem, because information inevitably leaks once a group gets big enough, and MeFi is way past that point already.

But of the suggestions that have been made so far, making MetaTalk only visible to logged-in users seems to me like the best partial solution. A login wall won't prevent anybody sufficiently determined from seeing what's posted here, but it will make it harder for them spread those discussions to an audience.

It might even make sense to go with a compromise: make threads publicly viewable, but only after some period of time has passed. That allows Google to index old stuff, while still making it harder to harass people in real-time.

And yeah, seems like more people reporting the malicious tweets can't hurt. I have done so a couple of times in the past when the MefiOutsider account was mentioned, and would do so again now if it wasn't currently disabled.
posted by teraflop at 9:11 PM on July 12 [18 favorites]


I think taking Metatalk to logged-in only would make a lot of sense. Like the $5 signup fee itself, it’s a speed bump rather than a locked door, but making life harder for the bad actors is generally a good move. If nothing else, you would know that anyone screenshotting Metatalk is part of the set of currently-logged-in users, rather than “someone on the Internet”.

I don’t think preventing search engine access should be a dealbreaker, unless there’s a good reason to think people are using that access regularly and that it’s much better than the internal site search.

I get the impression that Metafilter also doesn’t do much logging of user activity. That’s a wonderful thing compared to the major social media platforms, but takes away a major tool for tracing bad actors. I certainly don’t want adtech-style detailed activity logging, but if basic webserver logs exist for page loads, it might be worth at least associating a user ID with those for later tracing.

Also: to the extent there are harm-reduction steps for individual users that require mod action, such as full account deletion, those should be documented somewhere like the FAQ. I wasn’t aware that kind of deletion was even an option.
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 9:14 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


Let me game out what I think would go into this process so maybe it will be clear why cortex is saying that Twitter is the one who can stop this:

Suppose MeTa requires a valid user account to login, and suppose I'm a total shithead. I want to create an account to continue screenshotting things and being a shithead. I use a VPN to grab a random IP number (this is very easy, you can get a VPN that will let you do this for peanuts). I use a credit card that does not have any history attached to MeFi (neither name nor number; this is even easier with visa gift cards which have no name). I pay my $5, create my account, and never post. Lots of people don't post, the mere fact I'm a lurker is not alone cause for suspicion. I post my screenshots with the time zone blocked out so I'm not leaking any information about where I live (or I could go a step further and constantly and randomly change my time zones, but blocking it out leaks the same amount of information -- zero).

What can the mod team do (unilaterally) to catch this person? Well, they post on twitter so it's at least timestamped, the mod team can tell a point in time at which the screenshot was taken (rather, specifically, they know by the timestamp that the picture was taken BEFORE that point in time). They could get a list of all the accounts that looked at that page in that timeframe. There's a bunch of hay in that stack and a single needle. They could repeat this over and over, eventually sifting out the needle. They could then ban that account, at which point I, a shithead, goes back to my bullshit from above and repeats this process. It's very low bar for entry on the part of the shitheads and (I would think) a very high bar for mod effort.

If I'm a particularly evil shithead I use multiple accounts, I wait a random longish-time before I hit post to generally try to hide in the biggest haystack I can. If I'm really really evil I don't even lurk, instead sticking to innocuous commentary -- lots of periods on obit posts and "thanks for posting this" and generally try to camouflage myself as a boring-if-sane member, in order to paint my needle as hay-colored as possible.

Somebody let me know if I missed a step, but this is the basic roadmap to defeating a members-only MeTa.
posted by axiom at 9:18 PM on July 12 [71 favorites]


I don’t think preventing search engine access should be a dealbreaker, unless there’s a good reason to think people are using that access regularly and that it’s much better than the internal site search.

preventing search engine access to the blue and the green will decimate incoming non-member traffic to metafilter, reduce ad views, and probably require the site to go to a 100% member-supported model to make up for lost revenue.
posted by murphy slaw at 9:20 PM on July 12 [24 favorites]


To the folks with strong opinions about how everything suggested won’t work, if you have ideas about what you think will work, could you be so kind as to share with the community what those ideas are?

One can't stop people from commenting on metafilter comments/posts/users on sites not controlled by Metafilter. Twitter especially doesn't give a shit in general about bad actors; or people spreading false information; or harassment; by design. All you can hope for is minimizing it to the limits of resources. Twitter elected for massive growth over effective moderation and it shows (on top of the owner being a horrible human being who would have a different idea what harassment is than we do even if they had effective moderation).

Metafilter is already dealing with a shrinking user base; going subscription only would likely exasperate that problem. It would also be counter productive in trying to diversify the user base because many of the people we'd like to recruit don't have disposable income for something like this. Heck it's not uncommon for me to not have disposable income to spend on a web site month over month. Especially at a time when a pandemic has seen unprecedented unemployment in the USA.

ou would know that anyone screenshotting Metatalk is part of the set of currently-logged-in users, rather than “someone on the Internet”.

Logins are cookie based; we don't know who is currently logged in.

I don’t think preventing search engine access should be a dealbreaker, unless there’s a good reason to think people are using that access regularly and that it’s much better than the internal site search.

I do a metafilter site specific search on google at least a half dozen times a week on average (I'm not sure how many of those are metas); the internal search is pretty much useless. It's a single data point but it would significantly degrade my interaction with the site.
posted by Mitheral at 9:21 PM on July 12 [14 favorites]


murphy slaw, I don't think anyone has suggested requiring logins or blocking search engines for any subsites except MetaTalk.
posted by teraflop at 9:22 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


Axiom, that all sounds correct but I would add that someone who has been a shithead to MeFis for years is extremely likely to already have an account here, probably more than one. So skip most of the first stuff.
posted by Mid at 9:28 PM on July 12 [11 favorites]


Parts of metafilter are archived by the Library of Congress (and other libraries) for their cultural significance. It's interesting (and foreign) to compare the language of the extremely open internet that mefi was part of, expressed on Matt Haughey's 'new signup' page in 2001:
One of the guiding principles here is trust in each other. The index page of metafilter.com can be added to by almost everybody that has signed up, as there is very little editing or deleting going on. Anyone can post a comment in a thread, and say whatever they feel.
I give you the ability to do this because I trust you. I trust that you'll act in a civilized manner, that you'll treat others with opposing viewpoints with absolute respect, that you'll contribute in a positive way to the intelligent discussions that take place here everyday.
I give you the benefit of the doubt, because I trust you, so all that I ask is for you to honor that trust and promise to become a good contributor.
It's obvious that we don't have that internet any more, nor that metafilter, particularly where it intersects with twitter, which is now little more than a commercialised vector for harassment and abuse. It's always going to be a matter of degree, we are already on a far more closed internet than existed twenty years ago. Metafilter can't be what it was, but if it becomes a completely closed bulletin-board, it will have become something quite different again. Maybe that's where we are on 2020's internet, certainly, I'm not on twitter anymore. It's really only about making choices of what level of restriction-of-content-to-community works, both for protecting people as best we can, and for retaining the public function that draws the community in the first place.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:29 PM on July 12 [24 favorites]


Yes exactly. Why would MetaTalk threads need searching from the outside?

How many people have held back from being honest on MetaTalk threads because of people watching? Especially those two trolls that stalk the page looking for outspoken people to harass? If we made MetaTalk login-only, I dare say you'll have more people willing to speak up about site issues, because the potential for bad actors is lessened.

And sure, there are ways around it. But the way axiom describes it is A LOT of work and I feel like anyone willing to go through all that trouble will leave breadcrumbs and/or is likely more malicious than just screenshotting on Twitter.

The search engine thing is a derail - you can still make it work for literally every other subsite. If it breaks because one subsite has decided to be non-indexable then there are bigger issues. Some profiles are login-only; has that broken the site?

I don't want to be all conspiracy theory, but I can't help but feel that some of the people pushing against this are in some way invested or involved with some level of trolling and mockery of outspoken marginalised Mefi users, that locking this up will make their work harder somehow.
posted by divabat at 9:30 PM on July 12 [9 favorites]



Somebody let me know if I missed a step, but this is the basic roadmap to defeating a members-only MeTa.

Considering it required three paragraphs of description to illustrate said roadmap, it sounds like enough work that it would, at a minimum, slow down the flow of shitheads into Metafilter. No one here is so naive as to believe that we can make trolls vaporize into nonexistence. We’re also not so cynical as to handwave away any efforts to minimize trolls. I think all that most folks here are asking for is to make it more difficult to troll, and you just described the extra steps that could make at least some trolls more reluctant. In other words, a form of harm reduction.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:31 PM on July 12 [9 favorites]


(the "yes exactly" was to teraflop)
posted by divabat at 9:31 PM on July 12


Axiom, that all sounds correct but I would add that someone who has been a shithead to MeFis for years is extremely likely to already have an account here, probably more than one. So skip most of the first stuff.

That's true, but I was working under the assumption that either (a) those accounts had been found and removed before or (b) all that stuff about haystacks would be used to find them. It's a bit of a chicken-or-egg discussion. Once you have a mechanism for finding even (new, devious) shit heads presumably you also apply it to the old ones. The problem then becomes can the shitheads come back and for how long before they're found again. Rinse and repeat in an asynchronous war.

Considering it required three paragraphs of description to illustrate said roadmap, it sounds like enough work that it would, at a minimum, slow down the flow of shitheads into Metafilter.

Chalk some of that up to me trying to be exhaustive about explaining, and probably also somewhat pedantic. I do not agree that it amounts to much in the form of harm reduction, because the shitheads have to do very little to renew their 'lease' on an eventually-detected mefi account while the mods have to do a lot more work (even if automated, it lets those accounts in for a while before figuring them out which amounts to the same problem).

On the third hand it is monetizing giving shitheads access to MeTa so maybe that make it all worth it, I can't weigh in on that aspect of it.

Edited: possibly cringey word choice fixed
posted by axiom at 9:35 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


I'd just like to say - I wasn't aware this was going on in any organized fashion, it's extremely shitty, and my heart goes out to everyone impacted.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:35 PM on July 12 [44 favorites]


I almost certainly meant asymmetric war, though asynchronous isn't really wrong either.
posted by axiom at 9:40 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Okay. To the folks with strong opinions about how everything suggested won’t work, if you have ideas about what you think will work, could you be so kind as to share with the community what those ideas are?

I suggested the PEN America Online Harassment Field Manual, which is "based on extensive research and interviews with writers, journalists, technology experts, editors, newsrooms, and advocacy groups," because it contains a lot of information that may be relevant to the discussion here, including about how to report to social media platforms, how to report to law enforcement, how to contact lawyers, how to engage in self care, and how to prepare and deploy support communities, etc.

I think it could be helpful to sic some lawyers on this, and to continue talking about the deployment of the online community, because there already is talk here about mobilizing the community and that seems like it could be a related part of the response.
posted by katra at 9:40 PM on July 12 [25 favorites]


axiom: I think your process looks reasonable. Since we’re talking about Metatalk specifically, I think the haystack might not be that big — my understanding is that the Gray has generally had the lowest traffic of all the sub sites. But it would still be a pain to sort out potentially-bad-actors.

The one addition I would make on the mods/defensive side is that once the user has been banned once, you may be able to block new account creation at the payment stage based on paypal account, name on the payment, etc. I would also say that any other accounts paid by the same person should get auto-banned at the same time.

Again, a determined and sophisticated attacker can get past this kind of thing. But in general, once you make their lives frustrating enough, most people will eventually go away. These particular Twitter-trolls seem to have an axe to grind and may be persistent, but I also don’t see any reason to think they’re so devoted they want to play the game of VPNs and burner Paypal accounts.
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 9:47 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


When I was going through some legal trouble myself (I still can't speak openly about it but in broad terms I was falsely accused of defamation via social media for speaking up against injustice) I asked some legal advisor types and they told me the first course of action was to lock my accounts. Given that some of the posts were already friends-only, locking them further would just mean privatising the posts, but that was their first recommendation.

We can try talking to lawyers about this if we want. But I feel like their advice is going to be "first, lock this up".
posted by divabat at 9:51 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


It has always, always been my dream to figure out how to sic a top notch team of lawyers onto some random internet troll who thought they could get away with harassing non-rich, non-famous people; if there is ever a way to make that happen, or a fund to donate to, I would be 100% there.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 9:54 PM on July 12 [17 favorites]


Threads about making MetaFilter better have a deep conservatism to them, and one of the ways that conservatism manifests is people overselling the technical difficulty of making things better.

There were lots of technical objections to filtering out the n word. The filter we put in place was not a unique and different solution. We didn't 'strike gold' with a design that suddenly transcended all the well-known impediments to solving racism.

We took an imperfect harm reduction step, and then improved it later. This is the same kind of situation.

It's true that the problems of harassment are hard and have existed for a long time. But a large part of the reason that the internet makes harassment so easy is that people who work on this stuff are generally comfortable finding reasons not to prioritize these problems unless compelled. Twitter can ban Nazis just fine in Germany; they choose not to elsewhere.

We can choose to do better than ignoring harassers. Later, when whatever we do isn't enough, we can do more.

(I don't want to get sidetracked by technical details, but I also don't want folks to walk away thinking some of the technical objections to walling are as strong as they may seem. So: the proposal is walling MetaTalk, not the whole site. Yes, this won't stop 100% of harassment; the goal is harm reduction. No, this doesn't necessarily mean keeping search engines out: you can write a wall that permits search engines by checking the User-Agent request header against an allowlist. Yes, that's vulnerable to spoofing. No, that doesn't make the solution worthless since, again, the goal is harm reduction and when you make harassment harder, you get less of it. If you want to make it even harder, you can do a reverse DNS lookup to verify the User-Agent. And so on.

Litigating all these details now is bad because forging the agreement that we need to do something about this harassment is the critical point. Perpetually ratholing on technical details without offering solutions is just one way to effectively shut down a discussion of whether we should harden MetaFilter against offsite harassment.)
posted by amery at 9:59 PM on July 12 [45 favorites]


I don't want to be all conspiracy theory, but I can't help but feel that some of the people pushing against this are in some way invested or involved with some level of trolling and mockery of outspoken marginalised Mefi users, that locking this up will make their work harder somehow.

I think that is very uncharitable, especially given that bad actors on internet platforms are an issue that, unfortunately, is widespread - a wicked problem that many people have attempted to address.

I think it's worth remembering that this is particular issue is 1) likely one, at most two people. 2) They are pretty goddamned obsessed with metafilter, and have been tweeting angry stuff for like - what - ten years? I dunno, i remember seeing outsider posting ages back, I think they even had a blogspot blog complaining about metafilter at one point in time? This, I think, is why the efficacy of "speed bumps" may be limited; this person is obsessed with mefi, so a speed bump won't really bother them.

We're not dealing with a phenomenon here - it's not a systemic problem, I think so behavioural or systemic changes may not be the right tool for the job. It's an individual person/problem, and I think solutions that try to target that individual/s are likely to be more effective. Does mefi have an ongoing relationship with a lawyer, or lawyer adjacent folk who could point in the right direction?
posted by smoke at 10:04 PM on July 12 [68 favorites]


I’m not opposed to making MeTa members only or even blocking search engines from it

Can someone who has actually seen the abusive accounts in action clarify: is the bulk of their abuse based on MeTa? Or is that just perceived to be the most personal material on MeFi?
posted by murphy slaw at 10:05 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


That's a good point amery, and I definitely wasn't trying to Engineer's Disease the discussion. In this specific instance a lot of folks seemed to not to be clear on why IP bans wouldn't be helpful, and also in this specific case we're talking about motivated antagonists rather than drive-by assholes. I do think making MeTa community-only and preventing it from being indexed are reasonable first steps, but I also don't think it will do much to stop this specific group of Twitter shitheads, if they are as psychotic as cortex (and others) seem to think they are.

I don't know that they wouldn't get tired of doing the reregistration song-and-dance after a few iterations. But there were a number of folks who seemed to think cortex was dismissing the idea out of hand, when in reality I thought it's because those types of checks are defeatable and these are exactly the people who would go to the trouble. I won't pretend to speak for cortex.

By the way, my 3 graf explanation took 3 times longer to type out than it did to think up. If you've got any background (like me) in how these sorts of things work, the failings are really obvious in a way that they're sometimes not for everyday people.

I'm going to step away from the thread now, anyway.
posted by axiom at 10:09 PM on July 12 [19 favorites]


Whenever I've been tagged by Mefi Outsider it's usually been in relation to a MetaTalk post.
posted by divabat at 10:09 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


I'm still confused why this isn't a Twitter thing. You have two known anti-trans shitposters who repeatedly have targeted users on Twitter. Why not just mass report them on Twitter?

I'm not against MetaTalk getting locked down, but it's a band-aid on two people (or one?) engaging in targeted harassment. They need to be dealt with as the harassers they are.
posted by dw at 10:11 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


I think if you haven’t been targeted for you what you’ve said on Metafilter, or if you’re of a particular group that generally doesn’t need to worry about internet privacy as much (e.g. you’re a white guy with stable employment prospects), it could be helpful if you acknowledge those privileges as you engage in this conversation. (This isn’t directed at any one person!)

On the flip side, I don’t think anyone should have to disclose past harassment in order to participate in this conversation. I do feel like those of us who are throwing out ideas and asking for a change are the ones who have experienced online harassment (not limited to the Twitter trolls) and it might be helpful to understand why we see more benefits than tradeoffs to a change like making MetaTalk registered user-only. It would also be nice if you believed us when we say we know this isn’t going to solve the issue, but we’re thinking of one way to make MetaFilter safer.

As far as the Twitter Troll(s) go, I think they’re chickenshits who get nervous every time we talk about them. If you’re on Twitter, consider ratioing their tweets with comments. I think there’s this idea that they really crave attention but based on the constant shutting down and restarting accounts, it’s pretty clear they crave a way to control the narrative and cannot get over feeling silenced by all us “SJWs.” There’s at most two of them and many more of us.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:12 PM on July 12 [14 favorites]


axiom, probably on the dedication spectrum, but I'd figure most really bad actors already had multiple VPN accounts around the world. They would have a stack of CC or GiftCard numbers. And a few shell accounts spread around the world paid for with Bitcoin. Metafilter probably isn't their only target. Depends on how organized they are. I guess I'm not buying the assumption that they're just Metafilter trolls.

And ditto, Metafilter search isn't very good in my experience. Search is hard and Google/etc. throw 100x the indexing/algorithm/compuing-power into a Metafilter search than Metafilter uses to host the site in the first place.

I don't know if the Grey should be indexed or not, but think it's a good thing to have available outside of login so browsing lurkers know how things work, what is open for discussion, how we handle problems, and the like. It might take them a while to get past FanFare and other sub-sites before they hit the Grey but they should be able to check it out as part of their decision process. It's moot if they pony up the $5. People are eventually going to run into a Meta link and not be able to follow it because they're not a user yet. Or they're going to hear about the Grey and can't find it, and they can't even ask because they can't comment. That's a good way to just confuse people.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:14 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I definitely don’t want MeTa paywalled. It should be open for anyone to read, just like the rest of the site.
posted by michaelh at 10:21 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


think it's a good thing to have available outside of login so browsing lurkers know how things work, what is open for discussion, how we handle problems, and the like.

Honest question: if you have no idea how Metafilter works and you're mainly relying on MetaTalk for this information to glean this, what impression would you get from the site?

Because right now it just seems like "the website is going through some hard yards around race & trans issues which seems to be linked to a lot of inside baseball stuff"

I mean, we've talked before about the site culture on here potentially being impenetrable by new members because of all the in-jokes and jargon and unwritten norms. Just recently we've talked about how the new mods have an uphill battle against existing site culture due to them being new. How is MetaTalk being open to strangers any help with that when it's devoid of context half the time?
posted by divabat at 10:22 PM on July 12 [15 favorites]


Can someone who has actually seen the abusive accounts in action clarify: is the bulk of their abuse based on MeTa? Or is that just perceived to be the most personal material on MeFi?

They have tended to move from fixation to fixation, pretty much site-wide, latching on to one or another user or topic for as long as it holds their attention, as well as trawling off-site stuff and social media. More specifically they tend to fixate on one or a handful of users at any given time and latch on to whatever they can find on and off the site, including some pretty open attempts at doxxing.

I think they follow MetaTalk as much as anything as a likely surfacing of site conflicts they can attempt to wedge themselves into, whether by clumsily appropriating social justice language or going full-on mocking bigot, or sometimes a confused slurry of the two. They're opportunistic and not even internally coherent about the things they pretend to care about, when they bother to pretend at all. Folks who haven't been tracking the whole thing may not realize they started as a shit-stirring pro-EM account before flipping the script and stalking and doxxing her. There's no motivation here other THAN an obsessive desire to troll and harm and get attention from MeFites, and they got a bunch of people scrapping with them in the early days before folks more or less figured out how full of shit they were.

I want to basically second what smoke is saying. The question of trying to generally harden the site against casual abuse is separate from the place this thread started, which is: what to do about these particular individual, long-time obsessives who behave outside of the parameters of casual or drive-by abuse.

I'm okay with discussing general strategies as a thing, but this isn't a general situation at all and that's why I've been trying to be clear about specifics and efficacy: there is not an easy solution to this specific problem, and it's a problem and an attack surface I've spent a great deal of time working on over the years. It sucks! It really sucks. But it's a problem of X and a solution that addresses Y doesn't address it.

And I know there is a desire to find a solution, find some thing to do that will address what is a shitty and protracted situation. I have been waist deep in that question for years now. But I don't want to latch onto ideas that feel like they'd be doing something but are utterly porous to the actual bad behavior we're talking about. We can talk about those things in their own right but they won't fix this thing.

Organized mass reporting on twitter feels like it would be worth a shot. I think if folks are up for that, report in numbers and don't engage whenever they pop their heads up, it might have an impact on twitter's enforcement that past efforts to report and contact twitter haven't. If someone has a good sense of how to make that work without also exposing a bunch of people to extra gross bullshit, I say talk it out.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:24 PM on July 12 [36 favorites]


zengargoyle, I think they are just targeting Metafilter. They feel deeply wronged by the site. (To be clear, the two Twitter accounts in question are also virulently transphobic even when not talking about Metafilter. However, both accounts exist specifically to talk shit about the site and have mefi in the name.) They rail against the moderators, they clearly follow every move made on MetaTalks — they’re convinced any progress made on the site is silencing the poor, oppressed white male voice, etc. Their obsession with me comes from their hatred of fat people. They post about well-known users. They are most focused on trans folks, but for anyone who hasn’t seen their content, it should be clear they are nursing a very long-standing grudge against the site.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:24 PM on July 12 [11 favorites]


Can someone who has actually seen the abusive accounts in action clarify: is the bulk of their abuse based on MeTa?

Yes, definitely. They go to town on Metatalk threads, especially the ones about site racism (their “style”, if you will, is one of bad faith where they mock the moderators for racism/transphobia but then turn around and post racial slurs, pro-police brutality nonsense and TERF propaganda). Occasionally they pepper in things they find on the green and the blue, as well as the Politics Filter slack, but it’s overwhelmingly Metatalk.

I reported over 30 of their tweets earlier this morning, and like others here, this is something I do from time to time. So it would seem many of us are reporting their tweets on the regular and yet Twitter allows it to stand.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:27 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


I get pinged by them as a really weird example of a PoC they support despite not agreeing with me. They complained that I didn't get hired as a mod despite being active against racism on Mefi and that I was the better candidate. Then they complained about the new mods being non-binary (they haven't kept up with me enough to know about my gender). I feel like I'm some weird pet of theirs - they've been supportive but in a way that's creepy and throws other people under the bus. I've RTed them before when I thought they were commenting in good faith but after that mod post I got super creeped out and blocked them.
posted by divabat at 10:29 PM on July 12 [13 favorites]


We could even use meta to help co-ordinate when flagging is warranted etc.

As the thorn bushes says, if you haven't seen this person/s activity over the many years, it may be difficult to appreciate how deranged they are. Like, legit, I think this individual is obsessed - there's isn't a whole lot of rationality, or even necessarily a common thread to what they say. It's about hate, and causing the maximum about of hurt.
posted by smoke at 10:31 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


the thorn bushes have roses , I was just trying to say that they probably have other Twitter accounts used to harass members of other sites. Mefites would know their MeFI twitter handles, OtherSiters would know their OtherSite twitter handles. Or... they may actually be Metafilter Only.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:32 PM on July 12


Something about those accounts that makes me curious is they don't operate in a total vacuum; they have engagement - not necessarily critical - from users whose names I recognize or with whom I share mutual contacts. Anyone who's participated here long enough will have baggage, but it's weird to see people basically commiserating with a total creep whose only consistent/coherent position is that the website and the people associated with it are idiot scumbags.

Also, I'm just a nosy tool, so I'd love to know who they were.

I get pinged by them as a really weird example of a PoC they support despite not agreeing with me.

To be blunt, they give a shit about you or anyone or anything else insofar as it is useful to them as a cudgel.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:32 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


zengargoyle, gotcha! I certainly wouldn’t be too surprised they have other accounts for other sites since apparently the whole world is oppressing them, but I don’t know where they’d find the time. They seem to be reading Metafilter more than basically any active user here and tracking the moves of us all (especially mods) in order to come up with conspiracy theories.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:37 PM on July 12


To be blunt, they give a shit about you or anyone or anything else insofar as it is useful to them as a cudgel.

Yeah, I've become more aware of that lately, which just adds to the creepiness factor. At least if they were just blatantly complaining about me being a SJW or something then I could file it with all the other complainants. But to be singled out by them like this for years...eurgh. Makes me wonder if they've tried to reach out to me or look me up some other way.
posted by divabat at 10:42 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


For those of you who are all "this is a Twitter problem":

Suppose we chase them out of Twitter. What's stopping them from setting up accounts on other social media platforms and continuing the harassment through there? It'd be a lot easier than the ploys to thwart MetaTalk being locked down.

Blogspot got mentioned earlier. There's also PoFi. Where else may they be?
posted by divabat at 10:51 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I'm just not sure what locking down MetaTalk would accomplish. It feels a lot like a "something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done" move rather than anything that would stop harassment from happening. Going through twitter at least would have a chance of stopping harassment based through twitter.
posted by Justinian at 11:15 PM on July 12 [28 favorites]


So it would seem many of us are reporting their tweets on the regular and yet Twitter allows it to stand.

One of them used to have a hate-on for me in particular, and may still, but I quit monitoring the accounts when it became clear that Twitter wouldn't remove even explicitly-racist posts. This is Twitter's responsibility, and if everybody here started flagging their crap then maybe Twitter would actually ban them. I'm not holding my breath.

Also adding a vote to make MetaTalk visible to logged-in users only. As divabat mentioned earlier, it's not a way to attract new members (probably the opposite).
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:19 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


Additional legal organizations, beyond the ones listed in the PEN America manual, although also mostly US-focused, are listed on the MeFi Get a Lawyer wiki, including in the Bias / Hate Crimes section, and the LGBTQ+ section. I don't know what the legal options are in this particular situation without further information about the applicable laws and what may be possible to accomplish, but there may be a need for community fundraising in the future if it turns out that there is an option that can be pursued. But this isn't a bad faith defamation claim - this is an action against long-term harassment and intimidation.

When I look at legal information linked from the Best Practices for Allies & Witnesses page at the PEN America Manual, from the Cyberbullying Research Center, it says "In Wisconsin, for example, it is a misdemeanor if someone uses computerized communication systems to “frighten, intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass another person,” so this situation seems like something that could be reviewed by an attorney with experience in these issues to figure out possible options. There is also a list of links to US laws here.
posted by katra at 11:21 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


I have been harassed for years by Mefi Outsider, I am definitely looking into my local laws regarding harassment and cyber stalking.
posted by nikaspark at 12:31 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


Personally, I spent a lot of time reading MetaTalk before I signed up to be a member. I'm not sure it's that easy to say what is or isn't of interest to potential future members.

I think it'd be a shame if we have to make it members-only, but there's a lot of things we have to do online because of bad actors. It would neither be the first nor last defensive measure it'd be nice not to have had to take, on Metafilter or elsewhere.

Given the size of metafilter, members-only meta threads would not feel any more private to me.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:49 AM on July 13 [16 favorites]


I'm in Australia so my legal options are very limited in this regard, unless magically it turns out they're Australian too.
posted by divabat at 2:15 AM on July 13


How is MetaTalk being open to strangers any help with that when it's devoid of context half the time?

Speaking as someone who has been lurking for almost 10 years before making an account here, I found having access to MetaTalk very helpful for developing a feeling for site norms. Being able to follow discussions on MetaTalk is probably also what kept me lurking for so long, because it ingrained a habit of thinking twice about whether I would be contributing anything to a given discussion with my perspective and I think that has been a good thing. Without reading Meta all these years I would have felt ready to post a lot sooner and stepped on a lot more toes in the process. I'm probably still stepping on toes and making unhelpful contributions, but I am at least aware of some potential pitfalls, and I'm glad I didn't have to learn about all of them by trial and error myself.

Piecing together site norms from MetaTalk does require a certain investment, and probably doesn't work well for many people. Jury is still out how well it worked for me; I'm admittedly a biased judge of my own grasp of the matter. I can see that lack of context can be an issue (my context was also lurking on the site in general, observing interactions there, reading the older MetaTalk threads usually linked in a current one, etc. - I did have to spend many hours reading to make sense of it). I do think lack of context might also be an issue with other alternatives (eg. a sort of user's manual, etc.) though. My personal view is that developing a feeling for site norms is always going to require a fair amount of reading and lurking. There may be better more efficient ways to promote that learning process, but so far reading MetaTalk has done the best job for me.

There's however absolutely a question whether this potential benefit for lurkers really applies to enough people to outweigh the harm of keeping MetaFilter open to all. As far as I am concerned, I suppose I would have eventually become a MetaFilter contributer anyway.
posted by sohalt at 2:40 AM on July 13 [33 favorites]


So I went looking for those two twits in the small hours this morning after reading the trans thread. Both came up in the first page of results, can't remember the search terms, probably something simple like twitter #anti trans metafilter. Both 404'd as I was reading, maybe around 1.30am? First one, then the other.

What are they like? Both are hateful, one is more hateful and scary than the other, on the subject of reporting to twitter there is probably enough, not just about metafilter but other topics, in Go Mefi to get taken down with concerted reporting to twitter. Maybe this could be a strategy.

Mefi Outsider is completely obsessive, confused and random, spiteful and also pathetic? And obviously dedicated to stirring up internal trouble among members here, using internal mf developments and discussions to amplify conflict. I think it's really worth taking this on board in discussions of how to deal with them. They will feel they have achieved exactly what they were going for if discussion here starts getting accusing and acrimonious.

And another thing, they really, really, really hate cortex. He also has grounds to complain to twitter about threatening behaviour, defamation and a threat to his livelihood, and cortex, I think you should do this.

The object of both of these accounts is plainly to destroy metafilter. And, not coincidentally, to put the owner & mods out of a job. This while directing grievous harm towards trans members and any minority they imagine might be vulnerable to them. But in this, some metafilter admin are specially vulnerable because their identities are officially known. They CANNOT be anonymous and the harassment directed at them is targeted to an outcome. If these clowns' actions 1/ put an insupportable resources and/or administrative burden on the forum or 2/ cause metafilter to lessen its reach impacting the site's finances, the people behind those two accounts will be hugging themselves.

So I don't know about restricting Metatalk. Since those people are likely members it won't make any difference anyway. I certainly used to read metatalk before I joined and yes, seeing community standards working in action through dialogue was a very strong incentive.

Metafilter is one of the last places online that I visit. No it isn't perfect, yes it drives me mad sometimes, I still respect it and respect the effort and responsiveness that has gone into making it the worthwhile place that it is. I don't have solutions and have stated objections to restricting metatalk here as part of an ongoing discussion but guess what, I bet at least one of the shitheads is reading comments here as they are posted. Which is why I've removed my personal information, as I suppose they target anyone they think they can take a shot at, for any random thing they imagine might strike home.
posted by glasseyes at 2:57 AM on July 13 [51 favorites]


And obviously dedicated to stirring up internal trouble among members here, using internal mf developments and discussions to amplify conflict.

Yes. So far, we've fed the troll a 127-comment MetaTalk thread.
posted by Klipspringer at 3:00 AM on July 13 [13 favorites]


TIL that there's also a twitter account that just retweets every single AskMe. That creeps me out.

Me too. Is that an official MeFi Twitter account? If so, could there at least be a way to opt out?
posted by xchmp at 3:04 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Suppose we chase them out of Twitter. What's stopping them from setting up accounts on other social media platforms and continuing the harassment through there?

People said the same thing about kicking Nazis off social platforms, but it turns out that Nazis are less effective when they're mostly talking to themselves. I'm not on Twitter, for all I know these guys (?) talk about me constantly, but I wouldn't know and it wouldn't affect me. If they could be kicked off Twitter and had to set up shop on something like Gab, it would make many people's lives better.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:08 AM on July 13 [20 favorites]


Klipspringer that is true but it needs discussion.
posted by glasseyes at 3:09 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


"if you haven't seen this person/s activity over the many years, it may be difficult to appreciate how deranged they are. Like, legit, I think this individual is obsessed - there's isn't a whole lot of rationality, or even necessarily a common thread to what they say. It's about hate, and causing the maximum about of hurt."

A silver lining in this is that it's a specific person with a years-long history of obsessive and harassing behavior — if someone's going to have crossed some legal red lines, this is the kind of person who will have done so. There's a high probability that they were someone notable on Metafilter in the past and a high probability that they've engaged in stalking and harassing behavior elsewhere.

There's kind of a general principle of criming and doing non-criminal but harmful things — the more important it is to you, the more likely you're going to get caught. The continued investment creates an ever-increasing vulnerability.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:12 AM on July 13 [17 favorites]


My feeling is it's much better to concentrate on action against these two rather than limiting and constraining metafilter. There's a slow change in the atmosphere generally with regard to hate speech and reporting now might go differently than it has in the past. One can hope. But there is also a case to be made that the actions constitute some kind of commercial damage and afaik that's taken more seriously than even threats of physical harm.

it's a specific person with a years-long history of obsessive and harassing behavior :-( That is a very hard to change thing.
posted by glasseyes at 3:29 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


So far, we've fed the troll a 127-comment MetaTalk thread.

I'm concerned that if things go badly, I would be blamed for speaking up. Their bad behaviour is on them, not me.

Re Twitter: this is not analogous to kicking Nazis off Twitter. I'm not saying don't try, I'm saying Twitter is just the tip of the iceberg and thinking that getting them off Twitter will stop them effectively is folly
posted by divabat at 3:39 AM on July 13 [10 favorites]


divabat I meant to post thank you earlier for starting the discussion, it's important.
I agree with Joe in Australia about twitter. Deplatforming from major sites is a great outcome. Let this person go shout on Livejournal as much as they want, good riddance.
posted by glasseyes at 3:55 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


winterhill: "let's deliberately derail by getting into the technical long grass"

I really don't think anyone is doing this deliberately. I think they're trying to help. It's fair to say that it's not working, of course.

I'm not on Twitter. Is there anything I can do to help? Because I, too, want to help.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:19 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Surely it's the technical long grass that's partly going to solve the problem?

The threat and harassment from the two twitter accounts is directed at trans members and also at mods and at members who are not trans. I don't want to amplify the details of what I read last night here in this thread so won't give examples. Also there is a threat to metafilter as a whole and tremendous animus against cortex in particular going back years. Which he doesn't seem to recognise as being strongly abusive against himself. In short I think this is a thread all mefites have a reason to comment in.

And as that is the case I hope we are not going to get into the position on this thread of accusing mefites of colour of posting stuff that sounds like nobody could have known they were of colour and that's why what they said was dismissed, as with the racist slurs thread of June 26. I will point out the 2nd iteration of that thread was much more constructive.
posted by glasseyes at 5:02 AM on July 13 [7 favorites]


divabat, I’m glad you started this thread. I had no clue this was going on and I’m sure that’s true for many other users, and we should all be aware of it. I don’t care if it feeds the trolls, it’s a major safety issue for lots of our fellow users and mods, so it should be a problem for all of us. I hate that Twitter has done nothing even though these people have been individually attacking cortex and trans users, creeping out divabat, etc.

We didn't need a perfect technical solution for taking a harm reduction step

Yep! Could the nitpickers please try putting the energy they bring to shooting down other people’s ideas to helping find a solution?
posted by sallybrown at 5:05 AM on July 13 [13 favorites]


There may not be a solution. I don't object to making MetaTalk members-only but there's a good chance that the twitter users already have accounts and if they don't, it's trivial for them to get one.

The problem is with Twitter, not Metafilter and Twitter has shown zero interest in solving it. I personally been harassed by one of the accounts and reported it and nothing happened.
posted by octothorpe at 5:35 AM on July 13 [36 favorites]


(I recognize that this is not a solution, but when they are come back, memail me and I'll rustle up a bunch of people to report them.)
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:06 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


The threat and harassment from the two twitter accounts is directed at trans members and also at mods and at members who are not trans.

The threat and harassment is not exclusive to trans members or the mods; it's against members of color as well.

For instance, the mefioutsider account has repeatedly posted articles of crimes allegedly committed by people of color with the #poctakeover tag, asking "how #poctakeover has been going", and only started to do this after members of color on this site began using the tag in an effort to increase FPPs from diverse sources. There have been numerous instances where they've screencapped and gone after specific handles involved in pushing for anti-racist action on this site.
posted by anem0ne at 6:22 AM on July 13 [12 favorites]


I think site search sucks and value having google search for MeTa threads. I also value the principle of as much of MetaFilter as possible being part of the open internet, though that has less practical impact on me as a member.

But I don't think either of those things should are more important than the fact that vulnerable members of our community are being harassed in a huge way, and if losing them helps lessen the harassment then that's a good choice to make.

This doesn't help answer the question of whether blocking MeTa for non-logged users is actually helpful, but if we have to choose a principle, then I'd rather we choose "kindness and support Mefites" over "keep MeTa open".

MeFi is old school enough that there's still sometimes a sense that things that happen here aren't happening IRL. I think that's part of what makes it easy to argue for open web principles over the personal safety and comfort of individual members. But the internet is real life now, and the people being harassed are real people who are really being hurt.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:31 AM on July 13 [10 favorites]


I honestly feel kinda groomed now I got taken in by them and thought they were genuinely supporting me when I first caught their attention and even more recently they still used me as their favourite cudgel ughhhh
posted by divabat at 6:34 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]




Wouldn't surprise me if it was the same people behind this.
posted by divabat at 6:50 AM on July 13


Ok fucksake people stop telling me things about poc as if i woudn't know . if i had posted examples of the shenanigans on that twitter you wouldnt have made that assumption anem0ne. I didn't repeat them because they didn't need amplifying and they are basically shit.

anem0ne i recognise your voice and i respect it but there needs to stop being a default here that posters justify comments by stating their race up front because that is also shit.

And also as I said above those shitheads are probably watching this thread and taking notes for shits and giggles. We should assume good faith in each other before we go giving them ammunition.

Taking a break from the thread because posting while angry is a bad idea.
posted by glasseyes at 6:54 AM on July 13 [10 favorites]


It only takes a quick search and a few minutes of sleuthing to find out who the "attaboy/attagirl" Mefites that pop up several times in harassers' replies. Several of them still have open accounts here, and at least two of those have bigoted content or are defending bigotry on their recent timelines.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 6:55 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


i wanted to reiterate that the accounts are not exclusively targeting trans members and moderators, not calling you out or in?

re: "another stalker", i don't get the same sense of axe-grinding from that account as i did the other two.
posted by anem0ne at 6:58 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


I unfortunately have experience in this area, including having banned members of a community drive 6 hours and walk into my work to demand they be un-banned, fortunately without guns. I'm posting here in support of victims.

I don't personally believe, from experience in other fora, that locking MetaTalk will materially help. If I did I would be right behind it, but it's a very small change in behaviour that would be required on the part of that member to get around it, and I actually think that treating non-private spaces on MetaFilter as if they have a degree of privacy is misleading and leads to larger issues.

Things do change, so I'm thinking on it, but this is a solution that I've tried in my professional life and it ended up worse, because the very concept of 'safe' space depends on a degree of control that wasn't possible. And I'm a bit concerned about trying to hold the moderation team accountable for Twitter, both in general and because they themselves have been attacked there quite brutally.

What I would like to do, even though it seems very inadequate, is state my support for everyone who has been hurt, and to state that racism and transphobia are wrong and unacceptable. I would like to continue to build a community of understanding, thoughtfulness, and empathy.

I was thinking about the "." tradition here to express sorrow and sadness for loss, and I'm wondering if there's an equivalent that we could come up with to express that we stand with each other against this kind of attack, to at least feel the strength of community. I dunno, these are my thoughts.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:28 AM on July 13 [82 favorites]


I have a Twitter account but I don't link it here. If Divabat or other targets want to pm me I will send notices to Twitter about the abuse.

Divabat, thank you for starting this thread and my heart breaks for all the users and mods affected by this.
posted by biggreenplant at 7:34 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


I don't know how to make Twitter act on that.

You sue them. In court. Like an adult.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:57 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


divabat, thank you for posting this. Per usual, the conversation here has underlined how important it is that we actually discuss this. It's really frustrating for me to see people calling harm reduction a "band-aid." It's like, if a friend comes to you bleeding with a deep cut, you don't say "no, I won't give you a band-aid, what you need are stitches." What you do is administer immediate harm reduction measures--first aid--and then you go from there.

I strongly agree with those here who suggest making MetaTalk login-only. I don't love the internal search function but web search for MetaTalk is really a tiny benefit to lose in favor of making abusers' work more difficult (and even absent the abuse, I don't think the "how the sausage is made" subsite needs to be open to nonmembers). At the very least, the hurdle of signing up makes future trolls and abusers just a little less likely to bother.

In response to this comment above:

Metafilter is already dealing with a shrinking user base; going subscription only would likely exasperate that problem.

Metafilter is facing several issues right now. A shrinking user base is one issue--hardly the only one. Safety of users is another issue, and one that contributes to people leaving or disengaging with the site. I am pretty skeptical, for what it's worth, that putting MetaTalk (and only MetaTalk) behind a login wall, is going to contribute to a shrinking user base. On the other hand, we have people right here in this thread who are saying they're concerned about commenting or engaging because of abuse and bullying. Seems like not addressing that issue is the bigger concern w/r/t a shrinking user base.
posted by sugar and confetti at 7:59 AM on July 13 [11 favorites]


There is a norm in technical circles that it's considered an appropriate contribution to show why something cannot work so that energy is not wasted pursuing a bad strategy. It sounds like there's some social friction between the what the userbase wants to happen and that norm. I don't know how to reconcile it. I am firmly convinced that everyone in this conversation is attempting to engage in good faith, despite their discontent with one another.

My guess is that this will be solved, to the extent that it can be, with social measures: engaging on Twitter, engaging with Twitter, or siccing lawyers.

Occasionally they pepper in things they find on the green and the blue, as well as the Politics Filter slack, but it’s overwhelmingly Metatalk.

That's interesting. My only experience with Slack is with workspaces, not visible to the public, invite-only. Presumably an admin would be able to pull up the membership of any given workspace. If this is the sort of setup the Politics Filter slack has, the fact that they posted content from there places a constraint on who it might be.
posted by Jpfed at 8:00 AM on July 13 [29 favorites]


If anyone who wants to continue saying that this thread is feeding the trolls can come up with any evidence that never talking about harassment is the way to getting it to go away, please do so. Otherwise, maybe it’s time to accept that this conversation is long overdue (and to listen to those affected instead of leaving a comment about how we’re feeding the trolls).

Also, I want to mention again that these accounts target a broad range of issues and mefites.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:06 AM on July 13 [13 favorites]


speaking as someone who was harassed i would have appreciated:

ANYONE letting me know that this was going on
ANY apologies or well-wishes from mods about this shit
posted by trappist system at 8:08 AM on July 13 [14 favorites]


I am dubious that locking MetaTalk would do much to stop this pair, but there are enough voices calling for it that I think it would be worth at least looking into the feasibility of doing it, and enacting it if it is relatively simple to do.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:09 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


even speaking up i'm painting a target on my back again
posted by trappist system at 8:09 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


What I would like to do, even though it seems very inadequate, is state my support for everyone who has been hurt, and to state that racism and transphobia are wrong and unacceptable. I would like to continue to build a community of understanding, thoughtfulness, and empathy.
____
Divabat, thank you for starting this thread and my heart breaks for all the users and mods affected by this.


Me too! I haven't directly seen any of this but very sorry we have this kind of garbage person messing with our community.

I am also super n00b / non-user of Twitter but I do have an account, and would also like to help with flagging, if anyone is making mass flag of these guys a thing.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:11 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


I, too, have some experience with this, and I just want to say: it's awful. I am so, so sorry for everyone who is going through it, and I think it's incredible that you are here trying to fix the problem even knowing it's making you a target for more harassment - I think it's incredibly brave.

This affects everyone in the community: not only does it mean that valuable voices are lost, or quieted, it has a chilling effect on the conversation as a whole It makes it harder to speak with openness and good faith: not only is there the fear that your words might make you a target for harassment, but - when the harasser is anonymous - there's a sneaking doubt whenever you talk to anyone who disagrees with you that they might actually be the anonymous harasser. It erodes the good faith that's necessary for a community like this. It makes the trust that Mathowie talked about impossible.

Cortex, I would like to know if you have ever looked into taking legal action against these users, and if you would be open to taking that step with the practical & financial help of the user base. I know that stopping internet harassment via legal means is an uphill battle, but I think there are some aspects that make this different. It's a single user, maybe two, not some kind of 4Chan army. The harassment has been sustained over time, and is significant enough that it's materially affected the way people interact with the site. The question of where the user is located geographically is moot, because the first step is to get Twitter to turn over their identifying information so that we can determine what laws apply. It also seems to me that Cortex, as a business owner, has some standing to claim that he's been materially harmed by this harasser.

I have more thoughts about this but I am also talking far out of my area of expertise, so I'll pause and let people with more knowledge weigh in.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 8:23 AM on July 13 [16 favorites]


Presumably an admin would be able to pull up the membership of any given workspace. If this is the sort of setup the Politics Filter slack has, the fact that they posted content from there places a constraint on who it might be.

PoFi has been discussing this since the accounts first indicated that they were members of PoFi. Unfortunately, PoFi has more than 600 members, and many of them are lurkers (or signed up long ago and then departed without actively leaving the Slack), and there is no proof of identity requirement, or vouching, or linkage between Slack identity and MeFi identity. We don't think either of them is an active user of PoFi, but we can't tell.
posted by Etrigan at 8:29 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Yeah it’s one thing to link to mefi on twitter and complain about things, getting on twitter and expressing dismay is fine, but this is a multiple years long harassment that’s not okay at all, these user(s) don’t ever link back, and seemingly only exists to intimidate metafilter users. It’s a grey area but they are so obviously beyond the line of complaining.

I just wanna point out the difference here because I don’t think talking about metafilter on Twitter is harmful, I do it, a lot of us do it, but we don’t attempt to hide who we are like these two accounts.
posted by nikaspark at 8:32 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Should we be warning users in some way? I know the site’s pretty good about reminding users that this is a public website and anyone can read the comments, but it’s a level up from that to know there’s a stalker/harasser who has specific categories of targets here.
posted by sallybrown at 8:43 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


I have a Twitter account but I don't link it here. If Divabat or other targets want to pm me I will send notices to Twitter about the abuse.

Co-signed. And adding the note that I kind of have a weird success rate with getting Twitter to listen to my reports.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


This has been going on for ten YEARS? And we are just now discussing it? Ding dang.
posted by all about eevee at 8:45 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


If we made MetaTalk login-only, I dare say you'll have more people willing to speak up about site issues, because the potential for bad actors is lessened.

If that's true than that is an argument for not doing it. Making Meta user only does not make it private in any sense. 300,000 people give or take have logins to the forum. It wouldn't even provide the weak protections of an invite only Facebook group. No one should think that anything they write here isn't being published to the world.

There is a norm in technical circles that it's considered an appropriate contribution to show why something cannot work so that energy is not wasted pursuing a bad strategy.

This is especially true in the case of suggestions of IP banning. It hasn't been effective at curbing abusers since at least the September That Never Ended and non persistent telcom dial up access. I think that the general public equates it to a quasi unique identifier probably helped along by a clueless press reporting on technical stories but that just isn't true. This despite having to actually go out of your way to get a static IP and often having to pay money for the privilege.

Could the nitpickers please try putting the energy they bring to shooting down other people’s ideas to helping find a solution?

From what I've seen there have been three proposed solutions to the problem of a determined long term metafilter stalker
  1. IP Banning
  2. Reducing access to parts of the site
  3. engaging with Twitter to deplatform the stalker
The first just straight up won't work while creating a lot of undesired effects. The second provides at most the minorest of speed bumps while degrading the site experience for some users (and obviously the public). I have no idea whether the third will work because Twitter's enforcement of their TOS is capricious and ineffectual. Pointing out the deficiencies of one and two isn't nitpicking; providing other ideas isn't going to make the weaknesses of ideas one and two go away. And without discussion of the weakness and drawbacks some users are going to go away angry that simple proposed solutions weren't put in place to combat the bad behavior and support their community.

As cortex mentioned some of us have put decades of thought into curbing bad actors like this. I was running a BBS before the web was even invented let alone an open community commenting forum on it. This is not a new problem. We've discussed it on Metatalk before. Every community of any significant size I've ever invested in has had discussions about this sort of thing. On USENET alt.syntax.tactical was a group (one of many) specifically set up by the griefers to combat steps taken by other groups to suppress trolls. There maybe a magic bullet solution that no one has yet thought of; it may even appear in this space. But for the most part we are going to be rehashing and adapting known techniques to the Metafilter system and enumerating the disadvantages of those solutions is part of the process.
posted by Mitheral at 8:46 AM on July 13 [50 favorites]


Yeah I think we're at "talk about it, be aware of it, take sustained actions with twitter over a really shitty long period of time to build the case and look into legal remedies but that's a long shot".

And finally, personal OpSec is and has always been, a must.
posted by nikaspark at 8:50 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


Litigation has been mentioned a few times, so I think it's worth pointing out that Twitter has been very successful in defeating both direct lawsuits (under the CDA) and subpoenas (under the SCA). Any detailed discussion of those issues is probably unhelpful here so I'll leave it at that.

We do know that these person(s) are very skittish of scrutiny, to the point of shutting down their Twitter accounts whenever they are mentioned here -- could there be useful ways to turn that scrutiny up over the long haul?
posted by Not A Thing at 8:54 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


This has been going on for ten YEARS? And we are just now discussing it? Ding dang.

No, it is a recurring/ongoing problem that has been discussed with variation on numerous occasions (not an exhaustive list). Brought to you by the power of Google Metatalk search
posted by Mitheral at 9:07 AM on July 13 [20 favorites]


From what I've seen there have been three proposed solutions to the problem of a determined long term metafilter stalker
1. IP Banning
2. Reducing access to parts of the site
3. engaging with Twitter to deplatform the stalker


4. Making it easier for users to mass delete their comments
5. Some way for users to change or obscure their usernames, if being harassed offsite
posted by sallybrown at 9:07 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


I am just going to say that I second anem0ne's suggestion in the current trans Meta that MetaTalk be for logged in members only.

CORTEX RESPONSE: It is impossible to secure text from bad actors by putting it behind an account; all they need is an account and then it's all accessible again.


Sure. But really, MetaTalk is mostly of interest and concern to "core" members. Newbies or people with zero activitty don't particularly need MetaTalk. So you can go beyond "all they need is an account" and limit MetaTalk to members who have engaged in a certain amount of credible activity on the site, like having 2-3 posts and 10-15 comments, over some set period of time. Yes, dedicated spammers will take the trouble to get past that hurdle, but it makes it much harder than just signing up for an account. Sort of a probationary period before you get into the inner sanctum. While on probation, people with problems can always contact mods. (Also, with this kind of limitation, the numbers probably get down low enough to permit individual approvals by mods to progress from probation to initiation.)
posted by beagle at 9:09 AM on July 13


I didn't know there was an ex-mefite stalking the site when my comments in a Metatalk last summer were screenshot by mefioutsider and mefi_golightly. Most likely they are the same person who was banned from Metafilter. I found out about them in the PoC slack from other PoC members. I immediately stopped sharing more personal info in that Metatalk because of this. And i buttoned. I emailed Cortex that was the reason I buttoned last summer and he already knew about these two accounts on Twitter.

We need a multipronged solution:

Metatalk should be members only. I do not participate very deeply anymore because I know mefioutsider and mefigolightly screenshot or comment on what I say in Metatalk and at varying times makes fun of me and my son(!) And at other times pretends to support me to get back at cortex. Surely, Cortex has a case against mefioutsider's harassment and cyberbullying even if I don't.

We should organize to figure out who the person(s) behind these accounts are. Cortex and a few other longtime members have some ideas about who it might be. And take legal action against harrassment and cyberbullying.

It's also weird and unsettling that they have been able to access the PoFi Slack because they posted a screenshot of a convo in the PoFi slack. I'm not in the PoFi Slack but that alone makes me not want to join. Have people organized to figure out who has access to the slack or who may be sharing with the person(s) behind mefioutsider?

Metafilter and Cortex should have an organized strategy to deal with this specific person. We can work on Twitter but it's not only Twitter's problem to solve. Too many mefite members have been harassed to make it now a Metafilter problem.
posted by jj's.mama at 9:12 AM on July 13 [17 favorites]


i'm going to ask again that terfs be banned explicitly
posted by trappist system at 9:13 AM on July 13 [14 favorites]


Yes, mefioutsider is a terf, racist, bigot. Surely there's grounds for more than enough here to take legal action regarding harassment. They are a bigot.
posted by jj's.mama at 9:15 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


Mefi_golightly too. Terf, racist. Bigot
posted by jj's.mama at 9:16 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


For purposes of the discussion, I remember a long-ago Meta about a user who went through another user’s site history and built a long comment full of links showing all the specific facts about this user that could be gleaned from their prior comments. And while one of the lessons from that was “remember all your stuff here is public and be careful,” I think we also concluded that doing such a thing—even with solely public info—was not acceptable and not something we want happening under site norms. So I do think we can acknowledge that people here use this site knowing that it’s public, while also having some site expectations that their contributions won’t be picked over like a game of Guess Who? The fact that someone offsite appears to be doing a version of that, or is bad-intentioned enough that we suspect them of it, maybe calls for a more explicit warning for folks here who are at risk, which currently appears to be trans users and users of color.
posted by sallybrown at 9:16 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


the only other option I see is doing away with direct authentication to metafilter and forcing auth to happen via keybase.io or some other flavor of SAML/OpenIDConnect with twitter, google, facebook, what's app, etc

That would fundamentally re-write the architecture of the site and is pretty much a non-starter I know, but thinking about it, at a root level the anonymous user authentication pattern requires a shitload of effort to secure and maintain against bad actors, and this whole issue is partly a tech-debt pattern because identity management has become more and more difficult to deal with over time as more and more of our online and IRL lives blend together. This problem will only magnify over time on metafilter as IRL and online merge further and metafilter will have to address this eventually in order to remain a viable online forum.
posted by nikaspark at 9:33 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


the only other option I see is doing away with direct authentication to metafilter and forcing auth to happen via keybase.io or some other flavor of SAML/OpenIDConnect with twitter, google, facebook, what's app, etc

Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc all allow you to create effectively an infinite number of more or less anonymous accounts. I think I'm missing something here - why would that help?
posted by saeculorum at 9:36 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


Oh, let me be more clear, it's more that you bind a paid mefi account to a OIDC/SAML federated account, it would be much like how keybase.io works to build a "proof" of identity.
posted by nikaspark at 9:39 AM on July 13


And I also think anonymizing usernames and user data for non-paying, non -"proofed" people is probably going to have to happen eventually as well, there's just no way metafilter can defend having these kinds of multi-decade identity traces out in the open like this, what qualifies as PII will become more strict in the coming years and I can see GDPR and CCPA eventually putting a site like this completely out of business if there's no change to the fundamental way that the site works.

It's a lovely anachronism from an internet that doesn't exist anymore, and metafilter is at a scale where it either adapts or slowly dies...
posted by nikaspark at 9:48 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


> But really, MetaTalk is mostly of interest and concern to "core" members. Newbies or people with zero activitty don't particularly need MetaTalk. So you can go beyond "all they need is an account" and limit MetaTalk to members who have engaged in a certain amount of credible activity on the site, like having 2-3 posts and 10-15 comments, over some set period of time.

I just want to point out that there are multiple comments from users in this MeTa who have nicely explained how they appreciated reading MetaTalk before they were members or before they were very active here.
posted by desuetude at 10:04 AM on July 13 [58 favorites]


if we have to choose a principle, then I'd rather we choose "kindness and support Mefites" over "keep MeTa open".

QFT. What prevents us from experimenting with closing MeTa to non-members for 60 days or 90 day or 120 days and tracking the results in terms of Twitter harassment? It won't work? Okay, let's prove that.

I, too, search MF with Google. Closing MeTa to the public will be less convenient for me than keeping it open. But right now PoC, trans people, cortex, the new moderators and maybe others are being shit on in horrifying ways. I understand that closing MetaTalk to the public is not necessarily an effective fix. But why not try and see what happens?

I am virtually never on Twitter but am willing to volunteer to track the results of this experiment as part of a group if others are also willing to step up. The convenience of some members (including wonderful folks here who read MetaTalk for years before becoming members) is all good and well but we have other members who are being harassed based on access to MetaTalk and these wonderful folks are suffering as the result of horrifying and bigoted attacks.

Attempting to address actual suffering by existing members has got to trump convenience for non-harassed members and/or the potential loss of new members. Otherwise, this isn't MetaFilter, IMHO. If closing MetaTalk to the public for six months, say, makes no difference, we should have plenty of proof of that by the end of the year, and MetaTalk can get opened up again.

I don't understand why we can't try a bandaid (in addition to pestering Twitter as much as possible), if a bandaid is all we have. Unless it is the world's most expensive bandaid but that doesn't seem to be the case.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:08 AM on July 13 [19 favorites]


But why not try and see what happens?

If MetaTalk goes users only as a trial and people are commenting under the impression that it's for logged in users only and then it gets opened back up, that seems like it could be pretty harmful. I can't see going users only and then undoing that later without it feeling like a betrayal to at least some people.

If it's determined it needs to be locked down, then lock it down, in my opinion.

(Not that I have any actual authority.)
posted by ODiV at 10:23 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Had no idea this sort of abuse was occurring (I'm not saying I'm surprised - just disappointed and hadn't seen some of the previous threads on it specific to the Twitter abuse). I hope we can find a solution - -Nthing that I'm happy to help in any way that regular users can

I was going to come in with a lot of suggestions on various things - but on reflection of comments so far - some likely won't work/have been discussed already. But I do think this site can work with more anonymity (even if there were "anonymous commenting allowed / but mods know who you are" for selected posts were there is more likelihood of targeted abuse given the topic). And I do wonder if there should be a data retention period or some other mechanism that allows for older data to be delinked from the user's involved - there is obviously a lot of value in keeping old Ask-Me's that have good answers....but not sure if the historical record really truly needs to know who posted the best answer for a question X+ years ago.

Edit: I forget if the Infodump is logged in people only. But as much as I love analytics - not sure given this discussion having all that data sitting out there is likely to result in more harm than good.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:25 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Yes, to respond to how Bella Donna mentions the lurkers who joined after reading MeTa: I am really glad that folks read MetaTalk to understand site norms and did so before they made an account. Some truly wonderful people have joined and dived right into conversations in part because they made the effort to understand how things worked and I really appreciate that! But I also wonder, for those people: if you couldn’t read MetaTalk as a non-user would it really mean you just give up and decide to never read? Or would you just...sign up for an account?

Not a single person here who is saying they’re in favor of closing MetaTalk to non-members thinks it’s going to fix every issue in regards to harassment. Everyone who is against it and has posted repeatedly about the internet works realizes that we know that, right? That we also have been online for a long time and thought about these issues? (The harassment I experienced from the Twitter creeps has been from things I’ve posted both on the Blue and the Grey, I think, of course we realize it’s not just here that they obsess over.) But it would cut down on the feeling of voyeuristic people who enjoy seeing site issues hashed out and then trying to drum up controversy on Twitter with that info. It's a very small step. It’s something, which is more than the absolute nothing that’s been done so far. We should keep thinking about what can be done.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:32 AM on July 13 [11 favorites]


This thread is a really patronizing experience for someone who is actively being stalked online.
posted by trappist system at 10:38 AM on July 13 [11 favorites]


there's just no way metafilter can defend having these kinds of multi-decade identity traces out in the open like this

I agree completely and would prefer a conversation about the option to anonymize to start sooner rather than later.
posted by lalex at 10:41 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


I worry that the intense focus here on what to do about securing or limiting access to MetaTalk is misplaced. If we make changes here and they cut off bad actors, why would we assume they wouldn't just move to pulling material from AskMe or the main page instead?

To take just one example of a topic this person seems to focus on, based on a Google search, the word "trans" has been used 689 times on Meta and 3,050 on Ask. There's no shortage of material for them to pull from elsewhere, and to assume they wouldn't simply shift to another part of the site seems illogical.

The majority of ideas being discussed and proposed here - though absolutely coming from people with the best of intentions - strike me as nothing more than security theater.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:45 AM on July 13 [14 favorites]


There's no shortage of material for them to pull from elsewhere, and to assume they wouldn't simple shift to another part of the site seems illogical.

We'll just shift those to our walled garden too and then they'll be secured against this exploitation too.
posted by Mitheral at 10:47 AM on July 13


Okay, can we not do the slippery slope arguments, Mitheral, and again, instead of shooting down every proposed solution, either propose solutions or your own or keep criticisms constructive? Your replies have felt extremely patronizing. I recognize you feel your experience with online communities means that this is an unsolvable problem but I also feel that, since online communities are ever changing, what hasn’t worked in past isn’t inherently going to fail now, that we can continue to talk this out, and prioritize those being harmed instead of explaining to them that there is no way to avoid the harm.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:51 AM on July 13 [22 favorites]


I echo the thorn bushes have roses. I'd prefer it if you kept the patronizing snark out of the conversation, Mitheral.
posted by sugar and confetti at 10:53 AM on July 13 [12 favorites]


[To emphasize what's already been said; Mitheral and others, please take care when commenting here. It's an extremely uncomfortable and difficult conversation especially for those who have been targeted. Now is not the time to insert not-helpful and patronizing commentary. This is a necessary space to discuss options, concerns, and more. Please be mindful of the impact of your words. ]
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 10:58 AM on July 13 [21 favorites]


People advocating for no change to the site because you prefer the current site experience, but who aren’t in the groups being targeted by the Twitter user(s), you’re asking other users to bear a large burden so you can continue to enjoy your web experience preferences at zero cost to you. You have no real skin in the game here.
posted by sallybrown at 10:58 AM on July 13 [33 favorites]


I’m seeing no reason not to make all meta comments viewable to logged in accounts only,

From my observation of trolls of various stripes they will abuse every last thing they can but throwing extra steps in their way can be effective way of tripping them up. Make it an effort for them.

Locking down the text of the metas themselves is trickier as some of them are announcements that should be public, but that seems handleable with a flag (or by user admin status), and besides I’m not sure that is where bad actors are causing problems.

I don’t see a slippery slope argument as valid.
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


This is a tough one for me because I also have decades of experience to share, both professionally and what's happened in multiple support communities - which, if there's any group that it's more okay to beat up on and make fun of than trans people for their relationship to their internal experience and bodies, it's multiples, not that I am playing the pain Olympics, just saying that if you want a group that regularly reads that we don't exist or know who we are, and where abuser shits love to come in and manipulate and attack us, there's one.

Also, as someone who has made that reality available here well enough that I could be harassed for it (knowingly, especially since I have been in the past elsewhere), I do have skin in the game to lose, although I haven't (to my knowledge, I have looked at those Twitter handles once in my life) lost any.

But I definitely don't want to cause people to feel that their experience is being negated.

So, I don't know - do we want action to be taken just to demonstrate support, regardless of anything else?

Maybe it will be different this time, because things do change (for example, with Facebook Groups permissions etc., there is more understanding of the different levels of visibility possible) but I know I'll feel kind of bad if it goes the way it has in other areas in the past and I didn't share the pitfalls that have destroyed groups I've cared about and hurt people I've wanted to protect.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:07 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


I too am surprised that it's taken this long to discuss these accounts here. They're toxic.

I agree that we should take the effort to make MetaTalk move behind a login wall, but as other have said it won't stop these people/this person at all. They clearly know what they're doing a little bit by deleting & undeleting their twitter account when things get too hot. I'm sure they know how to use a lurker sockpuppet account.

The only real way to make some actual action against these people is to break the fourth wall and as someone else noted file a lawsuit to try to get twitter to divulge their identity or at least their identifiers - IP addresses, etc. But that's expensive & time consuming and it's probably beyond cortex's abilities to execute.

My suggestion is that mefites who aren't directly being stalked should watch these twitter accounts and flag them aggressively to ensure that twitter does what it can to block them. I have flagged them on numerous occasions but hearing how much more widespread their harassment is I will flag them much more often.
posted by GuyZero at 11:11 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


I worry that the intense focus here on what to do about securing or limiting access to MetaTalk is misplaced. If we make changes here and they cut off bad actors, why would we assume they wouldn't just move to pulling material from AskMe or the main page instead?

They already pull material from the Blue and the Green; however, they seem to gravitate towards the Grey.

They enjoy drama, it seems, and the TNT network isn't enough for them.
posted by anem0ne at 11:15 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


I'm feeling so bad for everyone who has been affected by the shitheads. Just as an fyi, I deactivated my previous MeFi account of several years, because I read MeTa discussions about race, identity, and culture, and I concluded that my previous account name could be construed as cultural appropriation. I created that account after lurking for, oh, about 5 years, and MeTa was definitely a big part of why I joined the site.
I'm not on twitter but I will ask close friends to flag those accounts.
posted by winesong at 11:16 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


But really, MetaTalk is mostly of interest and concern to "core" members. Newbies or people with zero activitty don't particularly need MetaTalk. So you can go beyond "all they need is an account" and limit MetaTalk to members who have engaged in a certain amount of credible activity on the site, like having 2-3 posts and 10-15 comments, over some set period of time.

I just want to point out that there are multiple comments from users in this MeTa who have nicely explained how they appreciated reading MetaTalk before they were members or before they were very active here.'

I also really enjoyed reading MetaTalk before joining the site, and it made the community seem much more real and substantial. I would be sad if they went members-only and it accomplished nothing.

I also think it’s really great that we are overtly discussing the apparent problems with these one/two particular sociopaths/insider threats, so thanks very much for raising the topic. I don’t suppose anyone has a good story about successfully beating back an internet sociopath from some other forum that we could use as a template?
posted by Going To Maine at 11:24 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


I was discussing this with friends who are all current or former MeFites, and one of them pointed out that a technical solution like making metatalk only visible to members is unable to address the problem that MFO has gotten a year and a half out of harassing people like Max Sparber, John Leavitt, Anil Dash, and others, all without ever referencing or screenshotting anything they write on the site.

This isn't an argument that MetaTalk should or shouldn't remain visible to the public, just that solving the MFO problem can't only be technical.
posted by Lexica at 11:26 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


Here are my two recommendations, based on actually having to do this stuff for a living for very large global companies that have had serious issues with fraud and abuse:

1. Update the Mefi AUP (acceptable use policy) to explicitly state that copying and pasting user-contributed comments to other sites without linking back to metafilter is a violation of the AUP
2. Subscribe to a takedown service such as Mark Monitor to send DMCA notices to any websites where users copy content off metafilter.

And long term, to ensure that identity management is moving into the future:
1. Require Mefi Accounts to use OpenIDConnect to bind to other public profiles in the same way that Keybase.io requires "proofs" (or just require keybase.io as a proof)
2. Anonymize all usernames on every comment from metafilter epoch to now
3. Allow "proof" accounts to see usernames
4. Allow users to permanently anonymize their history regardless of a proof
posted by nikaspark at 11:26 AM on July 13 [80 favorites]


If we make changes here and they cut off bad actors, why would we assume they wouldn't just move to pulling material from AskMe or the main page instead?

I agree with this. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the "recent activity" of a few of the people arguing in favor of locking MeTa and saw many comments with personal-type information about the commenter's background, experiences, etc. on the Blue and the Green. And that's totally appropriate! I am sure I have the same in my own comments. But it's very hard to see how locking down MeTa alone would protect anyone from harassment. You would need to lock down the whole site and even that would have the problem that the harassers either have accounts or could get them easily.

At bottom, each of us makes a choice to participate on a public website, which comes with the inherent risk that some jerk will use our comments to try to hurt us. Nobody is forcing us to post here as opposed to a private forum. It sucks that someone can act so abusively, and I'm all for solutions that balance a greater degree of protection against the downsides of changes to the site, but I'm afraid that locking down MeTa does not seem to balance those competing issues. It seems to offer virtually zero protection at the expense of making one of the most distinct aspects of the site non-public.

I think the best available solution likely involves greater anonymity and/or the ability to delete for people who are vulnerable or uncomfortable with the information they have made public. That and whatever can be done to identify the culprits or convince Twitter to shut them down.

I'm sorry that this person has been so hurtful to so many here.
posted by Mid at 11:27 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


(If the consensus change is that MetaTalk go private, I would ask that a good subset of MetaTalk threads remain public just so people can get an idea of what site governance looks like. I leave deciding what threads should be public as an exercise for the mods and future MetaTalks.)
posted by Going To Maine at 11:28 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


I don’t suppose anyone has a good story about successfully beating back an internet sociopath from some other forum that we could use as a template?

I have many of them, but they required strong AUP's, strong identity management, Mark Monitor or other services, entire fraud departments, automated DMCA notices and corporate legal council being right bastards about going after people.
posted by nikaspark at 11:29 AM on July 13 [34 favorites]


It's really frustrating for me to see people calling harm reduction a "band-aid." It's like, if a friend comes to you bleeding with a deep cut, you don't say "no, I won't give you a band-aid, what you need are stitches." What you do is administer immediate harm reduction measures--first aid--and then you go from there.

The issue is that a number of the things proposed here aren't even band-aids, in this sense. It's more like a friend came to you with a deep cut and your first-aid response was to take their temperature and give them a suppository. Yeah, those measures are useful in the right circumstance, but they're, at best, tangentially related to the problem at hand.

I say this as someone who's been part of the Internet anti-abuse community for almost a quarter century - a determined abuser will not be stopped, or even inconvenienced, by any of the MeFi-centered solutions proposed here. They're great for stopping drive-by abuse, for sure, and there should be some discussion around risk/reward for some of them (IP blocks have high risk for little reward, for example) to see if any are worth implementing, but someone who is determined to be abusive in the way these Twitter accounts are will continue to find a way and spend the time and effort to do it. But, at some point, automated defenses become ineffective.

Right now, it's a Twitter problem - Twitter should be acting, in some way, to either stop this or to facilitate MeFi taking legal action against the abusers. Until they decide that they want to do something about this abuse, though, it is going to continue. Even if Twitter takes some action and they stop posting the abuse *directly* to Twitter, do you think Twitter will care about links to the livejournal they end up setting up to post the abuse to (to use glasseyes example from above)?

Those of you who have been or are targeted by this abuse - the thorn bushes, trappist system, divabat, cortex, and others - I'm so sorry you're dealing with this. It's scary when people who've probably never actually met you find something about you to be 'hateful' enough to focus on you, and frustrating and overwhelming when you can't find help to stop it, isn't it? I've been the target of similar but smaller-scale harassment, and I've watched friends and coworkers deal with it throughout my anti-abuse career.
posted by hanov3r at 11:36 AM on July 13 [45 favorites]


I like the idea of being able to anonymize past comments in cases of harassment, if it is something that could be done simply (change all comments labeled as by User X to be Anonymous instead) rather than on a comment-by-comment basis (which it sounds like the mods are already willing to do if you contact them).

The user seeking anonymity will be balancing the personal cost of losing connection to past comments against the benefit of privacy. Is there a larger cost to the community if, say, comments from years back weren’t labeled with a particular username? Beyond “we’re the kind of site that doesn’t do that”?
posted by sallybrown at 11:42 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


The issue is that a number of the things proposed here aren't even band-aids, in this sense. It's more like a friend came to you with a deep cut and your first-aid response was to take their temperature and give them a suppository

What I see is a number of people coming here and saying that locking MeTa to non-members would make them feel safer and lots of people arguing that this can't happen because it would be inconvenient, and anyway you're never going to be safe.
posted by xchmp at 11:45 AM on July 13 [14 favorites]


It has the serious problem that only the bylines change and none of the usernames in comments change. If my account was changed to ANON0001 site wide in bylines I'd be immediately outed by people who have quoted and referred to me by name in this and hundreds of other threads site wide.
posted by Mitheral at 11:46 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


What I see is a number of people coming here and saying that locking MeTa to non-members would make them feel safer and lots of people arguing that this can't happen because it would be inconvenient

They might feel safer; they wouldn't be safer. Unlike most security theatre it would actually make them less safe because they might post comments with the expectation they'd be viewable by only the community when that wouldn't be the case.
posted by Mitheral at 11:49 AM on July 13 [29 favorites]


I think the concern is that it would make people feel safer, which may cause them to act as if they are safer, when they are not. Thus putting them more at risk, because they may be more open in their comments while not being any more protected from harassment. So the worry is that it could actually cause more harm, due to the illusion of safety, if I am understanding correctly.

Not saying whether I agree or not but that is what I have gleaned from this conversation.
posted by brook horse at 11:49 AM on July 13 [15 favorites]


Ah, should've just waited a few seconds, clearly.
posted by brook horse at 11:50 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


@mitheral come on, you know the difference between symmetric and asymmetric keys right? Every comment with an anonymized number at a high enough SHA256 entropy to avoid collisions.
posted by nikaspark at 11:50 AM on July 13


For folks who insist this is a Twitter problem only, maybe one way you could help out is to get together and organize a Twitter flagging campaign against both of these accounts. I did see some people up-thread suggest this and I am grateful to them.

If you're not willing to do that, or to be helpful by proposing additional/alternative solutions (as opposed to coming in here with the solitary motive to poke holes in everyone else's proposed solutions), then this isn't the thread for you.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:51 AM on July 13 [7 favorites]


The issue is that a number of the things proposed here aren't even band-aids, in this sense. It's more like a friend came to you with a deep cut and your first-aid response was to take their temperature and give them a suppository

What I see is a number of people coming here and saying that locking MeTa to non-members would make them feel safer and lots of people arguing that this can't happen because it would be inconvenient, and anyway you're never going to be safe.

It seems like what they’re saying is that the placebo won’t help your cut, even if you want it to. Feeling safe is a real benefit in this context, but I would say that -if we do block access to MetaTalk, the mods should make it clear that the benefit is psychological and of limited utility.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:51 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


I'm on twitter and I would also absolutely participate in a twitter flagging campaign.
posted by sohalt at 11:52 AM on July 13 [7 favorites]


If my account was changed to ANON0001

Which it wouldn’t be, because that wouldn’t be anonymous. I mean everyone who went through this process would have their comments dumped into one bucket as Anonymous (you know, the anonymous tag we currently use in AskMe?).
posted by sallybrown at 11:52 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


You know how we have the option to limit user profiles to logged in users? To me, it feels like that. Obviously people can still login and click on my profile and harass me, but I also feel generally okay with sharing what I do on my profile because it's not something anyone can see.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:54 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


@mitheral come on, you know the difference between symmetric and asymmetric keys right? Every comment with an anonymized number at a high enough SHA256 entropy to avoid collisions.

I misinterpreted the proposal. Are you saying there would be a different user name for every single comment the anonymized user posted? Because if so then that would a significant degradation of the site. We don't have a real name policy here but are instead known by our comment history.
posted by Mitheral at 11:54 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


If MeTa goes to logged in users only (a low risk change), we can solve the "what if users think this will be private forever" by changing the note from "Everyone needs a hug" to something reminding them that the comments might not always be behind the minor screen of "needs an account". I don't know if it will help, but I don't see significant harm in trying it. (I'd probably suggest IRL get the same treatment, while we're at it.)
posted by jeather at 11:54 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


I am for whatever makes people feel safer. I don't understand why some people are fighting against any possible changes to the site that would help members of our community feel safer.
posted by all about eevee at 11:55 AM on July 13 [10 favorites]


What I see is a number of people coming here and saying that locking MeTa to non-members would make them feel safer

... which falls into the larger risk/reward point that I was trying to make. There are risks here - there's anecdotal evidence that (some) users have read MeTa for a long time before actually ponying up and joining - and rewards, too - users have expressed that they would feel safer.

I like the idea of users feeling safer, and lean towards locking MeTa. But I'm also pretty certain that requiring membership to read MeTa will not stop the current set of abusers as the current barrier to membership is very very low. Stronger identity verification requirements to become a member would help that, but those would likely significantly impact disadvantaged would-be members (I'm thinking along the lines of the requirements when I first signed up for a GEnie account in the late 80s and had to fax them a copy of my ID).
posted by hanov3r at 11:55 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


Also the username data is a known quantity, just anonymize that shit in the comment data stores as well. Yeah it would be a lot of work, but it's searchable via database queries.

This is basic GDPR hygiene. Companies have to do it. Metafilter can do it.
posted by nikaspark at 11:56 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


Because if so then that would a significant degradation of the site. We don't have a real name policy here but are instead known by our comment history.

If someone on this site is experiencing harassment linked to their username, and it’s bad enough that it’s worth it to them to lose that link to their comment history, I don’t see how it’s really that much of a problem for the rest of us. This seems like a fear about change more than anything.
posted by sallybrown at 11:57 AM on July 13 [13 favorites]


To me the "people might feel safer and post more things" argument against putting Metatalk behind a login firewall is kinda... weird and condescending? Assuming we made Metatalk available to logged-in users only, we would make that clear to people commenting here, similarly to how we make it clear that logged-in users can see certain profile items depending on your settings. I think people are able to understand what that means and make decisions accordingly.
posted by sugar and confetti at 11:57 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


I am for whatever makes people feel safer. I don't understand why some people are fighting against any possible changes to the site that would help members of our community feel safer.

^This.

Also, sign me up for Twitter flagging.
posted by cooker girl at 11:58 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


I like nikasparks' suggestions above.

Yes, the harassers may have accounts here, but I think these steps would help some of us feel safer. We'd have more control over our information, too. I really don't like the permanence of comments on MetaFilter. I know users deleting or anonymizing past comments could be somewhat disruptive, but I think people's safety and privacy is far more important than preserving comment and thread history.
posted by Stoof at 11:58 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Making MeTa members-only is equivalent to putting orange cones around a construction site. They don't actually stop anyone from going in there, but they symbolize that this area is Off-Limits to Unauthorized Persons. It would make it more of a social violation to repost screenshots from here outside the site. I don't know if that's necessarily helpful, but it's worth acknowledging that adding a login wall is more than just an insignificant technical barrier.
posted by theodolite at 11:59 AM on July 13 [10 favorites]


I don't understand why some people are fighting against any possible changes to the site that would help members of our community feel safer.

We aren't fighting against any possible changes. We are arguing that a very specific change won't accomplish what it was proposed to do and instead would degrade the usefulness and accessibility of the site.
posted by Mitheral at 12:02 PM on July 13 [16 favorites]


To me the "people might feel safer and post more things" argument against putting Metatalk behind a login firewall is kinda... weird and condescending?

I feel like some people said they would feel more comfortable posting about certain topics if Metatalk was members-only but I'm not in a space to go back through all the comments to confirm. But that's at least where the idea came from for me, I could have misread something though.
posted by brook horse at 12:02 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


The first line of defense is a well-defined AUP that describes what constitutes violations of acceptable use. With that you can at minimally attempt to legally enforce things. Without that you can't do shit. At the very least start with a policy. Then you can mature into using tools like Mark Monitor to defend your brand and protect your customers, then after that you can architect the long term evolution of the site to protect the customers even more. It's a process, one that is achievable, one that many many many other internet businesses are having to do. Metafilter isn't unique here. Yes it's a lot of work. I don't know what else to say.
posted by nikaspark at 12:03 PM on July 13 [24 favorites]


would degrade the usefulness and accessibility of the site

In relation to comment anonymization specifically, I would suggest that the site is less useful and accessible to people who cannot use it or have to limit their participation because of legitimate concerns about harassment

Exactly whose accessibility are you prioritizing here?
posted by xchmp at 12:06 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


Non-logged in Meta access.
posted by Mitheral at 12:07 PM on July 13


I don't understand how I would be safer if MetaTalk was login-only?

It would only take $5 and no remarkable behavior to get into the walled environment in that case. I could be the mystery tweeters (I am not), any user - including someone posting in this very thread - could be them. Is this based on the assumption that the person/people running those Twitter accounts can't possibly have the self control to maintain a quiet account?

My follow-up question may just be my ignorance because security isn't my area of expertise, but if there were additional identity-based features added, how does that stop a login with an unremarkable behavior pattern here (so, not under any suspicion) from screenshotting or copy-pasting text from anywhere on the site onto Twitter or anywhere else? How do those features make it easier to prevent or catch a malicious logged-in user?

I want there to be an answer to this, but I have never felt that kind of safety on any website I use.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:07 PM on July 13 [50 favorites]


Anyway I got distracted by stupid and not necessarily helpful "synthesize and clarify!" brain, when I was actually here to throw my support behind allowing users to delete their entire posting history. "It's not what the site does" okay. Is that more important than people being harassed? I have more complex thoughts about it that I don't think I can properly verbalize it right now, but I want to let it be known where I stand.
posted by brook horse at 12:07 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Mitheral, my personal priority as a member of this community is the safety and well being of other community members. If people participating in this site are being harassed, stalked, and doxxed to the point that they feel they can no longer safely participate here, then I feel that gravely harms the usefulness of the site.
posted by all about eevee at 12:08 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


The anonymization talk is a serious derail of the original topic of the meta.
posted by Mitheral at 12:08 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


It is the only solution that directly addresses the concerns of the original topic, actually.
posted by brook horse at 12:09 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


I've seen previous remarks about conflicts or assholery on Twitter, but I had no idea that there were these sort of specific long-term harassment and stalking accounts. I'm not on Twitter or any social media, I don't generally join chatrooms or whatnot, and I'm not trans or afab or poc. This is a very distressing situation and - for what little it's worth - my sympathies to anyone being targeted, which that and five dollars will get you a coffee at Starbucks so congrats.

I feel like there should definitely be more explicit and specific PSAs about this sort of activity (the personal long-term stalking, not every drive-by bigot), and I appreciate learning that it's been happening. I have no expertise to speak of for finding solutions, so I won't talk out of my ass, but I'll note that I feel ensuring the safety and security of members should be a priority over convenience or ease of access, particularly for folks like myself who aren't forced to be aware of these things.
posted by Scattercat at 12:09 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


I don't understand why some people are fighting against any possible changes to the site that would help members of our community feel safer.

I don't want people to just feel safer, I want people to actually be safer.

Giving someone the impression that they are safer without actually improving their safety has the potential to create situations where they are at greater risk in the future.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:09 PM on July 13 [41 favorites]


@mitheral the point here is to add a point of non-content generating interaction between meta and the rest of the site that provides a way to tag users in order to gain better log fidelity for research purposes when the harassment activity starts back up again.

It's about winnowing down the problem space to be more searchable for patterns over time.

This is UBA type shit, I do this for a living.
posted by nikaspark at 12:10 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


I suppose so, but right now, we are bleeding long-term members because those users are afraid. How can we immediately stop the bleeding?
posted by all about eevee at 12:11 PM on July 13


It is the only solution that directly addresses the concerns of the original topic, actually.

How is anonymizing the data going to stop the twitter accounts that are the subject of this thread from cutting and pasting comments to their twitter to be ridiculed?
posted by Mitheral at 12:11 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


The anonymization talk is a serious derail of the original topic of the meta.

How so? divabat, who wrote this post, proposed in one of her first comments here that we can’t leave it to Twitter to keep our users safe and have to think of some things Metafilter itself can do. Anonymizing past comments to cut off harassment is one idea for that.
posted by sallybrown at 12:12 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


it stops the potential for doxxing.
posted by nikaspark at 12:12 PM on July 13 [12 favorites]


If someone on this site is experiencing harassment linked to their username, and it’s bad enough that it’s worth it to them to lose that link to their comment history, I don’t see how it’s really that much of a problem for the rest of us. This seems like a fear about change more than anything.

Reiterating this. I left an account of nearly 20 years of usage because of this shit, and I'm going to have to abandon this one or consider it temporary because I've dipped into this thread to merely mention that I was one of those targeted for abuse.

I have asked for very simple things:

People to acknowledge when abuse is happening rather than fucking shrugging and just assuming everyone knows about the apparent DECADES of abuse.

SOME kind of personal response from mods about "sorry you got harassed off our site" or something. Note: It is *too late* for this part now.

Banning terfs.

I'm not asking for people to rework the fucking auth system, though I would whole-heartedly support nikaspark's suggestions on it. I'm asking for some centering of the victims of the abuse and some kind of process towards justice, not just "oh well, people are mean on the internet, are u butthurt???" shit.
posted by trappist system at 12:12 PM on July 13 [22 favorites]


Mitheral, if you think it's a derail, then...

stop.
posted by sugar and confetti at 12:13 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Putting MeTa behind a login banner would _absolutely_ improve detection of users, and would _absolutely_ make members feel safer. I say this as someone who does log correlation and OSINT work as a significant component of his job. Nikaspark nailed the why a couple comments upthread.
posted by bfranklin at 12:13 PM on July 13 [19 favorites]


OK.
posted by Mitheral at 12:13 PM on July 13


Like, I still can't get over this. I was enough of a character in these abusers' world that it was like "oh you know who is at it again..." for YEARS???

And I'm finding out about it NOW? By happening to be paying attention to MetaTalk at just the right time???

Why wasn't there ANY notification of this to the affected parties?

Let us fucking decide what to do. I would've canceled my account years ago if someone had just memailed me and been like "hey just fyi, there's a creep creeping on you on twitter"

LIKE WHAT THE FUCK, Y'ALL.
posted by trappist system at 12:14 PM on July 13 [34 favorites]


How is anonymizing the data going to stop the twitter accounts that are the subject of this thread from cutting and pasting comments to their twitter to be ridiculed?

This is a moment to consider the fact that you understand the main problem to be "Twitter accounts are ridiculing MeFi comments." This is not the main problem that divabat and others are concerned about. The fact that this is what you think of and conceptualize as the problem, speaks to how this problem may or may not relate to you, and whether you should consider taking a step back and re-evaluating how you're interacting with it.
posted by brook horse at 12:14 PM on July 13 [19 favorites]


I don't even have a clear idea of what level of stalking I'm dealing with here. I'm still trying to piece it together and I have had NO HELP from this site.
posted by trappist system at 12:15 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


I mean I'm definitely wiping out my entire past history as soon as I finish downloading my comment history.

But I only learned that was a thing like. Today.

By accident.

And I'm sure it'll be some bullshit when I email mods where it's like "oh we will redact Specific comments if you have a Concern"

No. I want my entire dataset wiped clean. Y'all can't be fucking trusted with it. Y'all are incompetent.
posted by trappist system at 12:20 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


Oh wait I did everything out of order so I can't download my comment history cause I already deactivated my account and this is a FUCKING NIGHTMARE DO YOU NOT UNDERST?AND PEOPLE??

Trans people aren't like. In the best place all the goddamn time mentally. This is adding to a pile of shit I didn't need to be dealing with.
posted by trappist system at 12:21 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Putting sensitive forums behind login is some basic-ass site functionality that I would be shocked if the Metafilter engine couldn't already do. Who gives a flying fuck about anonymous Metatalk access? Why should non-members even have access to Metas? Put Metatalk behind login. At that point site administrators have a log of everyone who views Metatalk, which can only help with sussing out the troll.

To my mind Metafilter is here for the members. That the public can see parts of it is great. But Joe Websurfer doesn't have some intrinsic right to peer into discussions about site mores that trumps the right of the members - who do a lot of emotional labor keeping this place from degrading - to some modicum of privacy.

PUT. METATALK. BEHIND. LOGIN. NOW.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:21 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


Maybe like. Add something into the flowchart between "PERSON IS BEING STALKED OFF-SITE" and "DO NOTHING"
posted by trappist system at 12:22 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


nikaspark, this seems like a good place to say that I’m incredibly grateful for you. And divabat, for starting this and sharing your experiences.

And thank you, brook horse, I agree completely. Mitheral, do you have direct experience being harassed, stalked, or doxxed online? Are you a member of a marginalized group who is well aware that every comment you make online has a risk? Are you here mainly to reiterate that you’ve been online for a long time and shoot down ideas? There are people with similar bonafides who are weighing in here that are proposing ideas, I do not understand why you’re not listening and asking yourself whether your voice is essential here.

I don’t think my voice is essential here either, so I am going to bow out for awhile.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:22 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


Beyond any safeguards to implement here, is there any value in boycotting Twitter? (I don't mean your own accounts there, as many people use them for work.) I mean
-never directly linking to Twitter on MetaFilter (the thread reader unscroll app is independent of Twitter),
-never driving traffic there as a site policy,
-keeping a running list of abusive accounts for members to report to the service, as a community-wide project, until those accounts are permanently banned, &
-whatever formal legal action the site administration can take against these accounts.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:22 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Absolutely feel what trappist system is saying. This is also a problem that Metafilter has not done well to manage at all. Last summer, I was like, so cortex knew about this, even possibly knowing who they are for real (!) Yet I just found out and here we are a year later..... we are not safe on this site. Like, ok maybe cortex feels because he's one main target, if he deals with it in his own way (ignoring, trying to get Twitter to help but not getting much there, then kinda just going that's all and moving on) like, fine. But metafilter as a community is not safe. And I'm not ok with that.
posted by jj's.mama at 12:25 PM on July 13 [19 favorites]


I think there's an assumption that because it's online we are all Extremely Online and must know about it. Or something.

I don't even really understand that. If I saw some shit directed at a member I'd fucking *minimum* report it to the member. Minimum. That moment.
posted by trappist system at 12:27 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


It is very, very hard to get Twitter to do anything. The two things that seem to work are celebrities getting upset (not really a thing here) and sufficient reports being made on a bad acting account that a human actually ends up looking at it and bans it. Anything that increases the chances of the later is good.
posted by Artw at 12:27 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


This has been happening for >.....> YEARS <.....< and I'm finding out about it BASICALLY BY ACCIDENT.
posted by trappist system at 12:28 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


hi. i’ve been doxxed, threatened, and put on sites like nametheproblem by TERFs. it sucks, it’s scary, and it’s traumatic. i gotta say i feel really unsafe and unwelcome here given all the people advocating we do nothing and pushing back on every suggestion.

secondly, at the very least, it would be nice to update an account name with all past post/comments updated to that. (this should be a no-brainer for trans people who don’t want to be deadnamed.) even though this account is somewhat pseudonymous for me, i think it’s time to find a handle even more obfuscated. but buttoning and re-signing up doesn’t fix all the past posts/comments.

i’ve been a user since the late 2000’s and i’ve already had to give up one account because of this problem. i want to be clear it’s not the $5, it’s the having to give up my entire history.

at this point, between the inability to get traction on race issues, the hostility to trans people, and inability to have site changes or tools so we can manage our opsec better, i think i’m out.
posted by kyliej at 12:31 PM on July 13 [17 favorites]


it would be nice to update an account name with all past post/comments updated to that

Linking a new account to the activity of an old account? I can see the circumstances where it would be cool to be possible, but then anyone with text of an old comment would be able to link it to your new account. Or am I misunderstanding the point?
posted by hanov3r at 12:42 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I'm going to ask the obvious question - why is the discussion about putting ONLY MeTa on lockdown? Couldn't these shitweasels get their ya-ya's out by switching to a different page on Metafilter, and maybe start trolling AskMe or something?

Maybe it's time to make ALL of Metafilter Members Only.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:43 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


I would absolutely co-sign that request, knowing full well the gnashing of teeth it will cause.
posted by trappist system at 12:45 PM on July 13


I belong to another "Old Internet" site, where user names are only pseduo-anonymitized, and access is partially paywalled.

There was an incident in the last year or so, where a user's information was made public; this was information only available to logged in members.

The site owner...

1) Put more things, including the site message board, behind a paywall.
2) Reduced the amount of information about users that was available to logged in users--instead of permanent records, you only got a snap shot. This was something that really had a potential to materially affect how users used the site, but the change was made. (User information was already not available to non-logged in users.)
3) Made it clear that harassing users would lead to a perma-ban, period.

The site also allows for user names to be changed/made more anonymous upon request.

The holes are still there--again, this was a leak from a fellow logged in user--but it least felt like there was a reaction from the site owner to what had happened.
posted by damayanti at 12:45 PM on July 13 [14 favorites]


I would be happy to take part in a coordinated twitter flagging / reporting effort. One of those accounts follows me, I don’t follow them so I don’t know what they’re saying and I don’t think they have ever targeted me. Don’t much care, either, which, yes, is old cis white lady privilege in action. I would love to use it for good, just let me know how.

That said, I am gently going to push back on the closing Metatalk idea, primarily because I think it’s a waste of time. I believe it is naive to think these two? - I suspect actually one - harassers don’t already have accounts that go back years and years. Someone who is this invested in metahate is almost certainly a longtime member, probably with any number of alternate accounts. It would be nice to think they’re permabanned accounts but I doubt it. There are 20 years of dormant or mostly dormant accounts, all of which would have access to a locked Metatalk, and I would be very very surprised if the troll in question is not one or five or ten of those.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:46 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


Typing 'golightly' in to search brings up 2 users: MsHollyGolighty and HollyGolightly2, from 2015 and 2016, obviously associated by name and both of them suspiciously with zero activity.
That took like one minute.
Why don't you run go try those passwords on the offending twitter account, I know you dont hash them.
That would take like another minute, right?
posted by sexyrobot at 12:47 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


That would be against the law?
posted by Mid at 12:48 PM on July 13 [19 favorites]


Just speaking for myself, the reason I recommended locking down MeTa specifically was because a)it seemed like it would cause the least pushback because it's not a big draw for non-members (or members to my knowledge) but mostly b)the specific users I know who were being harassed were mainly being harassed based on things they said in the POC only Metas so that's what I was specifically aware of. (I have actively avoided looking at the twitters in question for over a year - one of them followed me last year, I followed back, saw the gross terf shit as well anti-semitism and assorted other harassment, and unfollowed.)
posted by primalux at 12:49 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


No it would be confirmation to turn over to the FBI.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:50 PM on July 13


I know you dont hash them.

Passwords have been hashed for quite a while (at least half a decade).
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:50 PM on July 13 [23 favorites]


We're going to report to the FBI that there are two unused twitter accounts that use the name of a character from Breakfast At Tiffany's?
posted by Lyn Never at 12:52 PM on July 13 [29 favorites]


Mine was cut and pasted into a non-automated email, less than 5 years ago.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:52 PM on July 13


Those are metafilter accounts, and way to be dismissive, bro.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:53 PM on July 13


While I like the idea of locking down metafilter behind a membership wall, wouldn't that go against the "mefi needs new members to survive" thing from last year?
posted by simmering octagon at 12:54 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


If those accounts are stalking people on this site and committing hate crimes, that's exactly what you do.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:54 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


What I see is a number of people coming here and saying that locking MeTa to non-members would make them feel safer and lots of people arguing that this can't happen because it would be inconvenient, and anyway you're never going to be safe.

I think what you're seeing is debate, and people trying hard to engage with a problem without just throwing a solution at it. However, real people are getting hurt right here, right now. We need to find a way to balance identifying/understanding the problem with empathy and support for victims.

This is also a problem we've been trying to grapple with, on the entirety of the internet, since the days of the Usenet. The more closed a place like MeFi gets, the more it will shrink and die. The more open it is, the more vectors there are for the shit trolls to attack the vulnerable, which will also threaten its viability. It's no-win here.

Like I said, I have no problems with closing MeTa to outsiders. My concerns are two-fold: This is merely a roadblock that won't deter the determined abuser (which I think mefioutsider has demonstrated themselves as), and ultimately this is a problem that will take a lot more than just blocking one point of access. We're going to have to deplatform these shits and throw them out of every platform they try to set up in. Closing MeTa is a start, but there's a lot more to do, and I really hope that no one thinks this is a one-and-done to protect our community.
posted by dw at 12:56 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


Count me as confused as to how you got from the Twitter accounts Mefi Outsider and Go Mefi to MsHollyGolighty and HollyGolightly2. But then again I can't see the (currently inactive) Twitter accounts, so is there something there that made you connect them?
posted by anastasiav at 12:56 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


(There was a metatalk, wasn't there, about the switch from plaintext (!) passwords to hashed passwords by matt...er, a long time ago?)
posted by maxwelton at 12:57 PM on July 13


[trappist system and anyone else trying to navigate a change of account vs. downloading their old comment history etc: Please write to us using the contact form and we can help you sort that out.]
posted by loup (staff) at 12:57 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Friendly reminder from one of the people harassed that we're STILL NOT TALKING DIRECTLY ABOUT THIS.

I STILL don't know the extent of this stalking.

I STILL don't know what MetaFilter employees know.

I am sitting here like. Welp. Guess the nerds are going to talk about websites some more.
posted by trappist system at 12:57 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


Why don't you run go try those passwords on the offending twitter account, I know you dont hash them.


I'm very in favor of doing what can be done, here, but recommending felonies is probably not net-beneficial (especially since we have to assume that they're watching everything that's being said here & thus would be very inclined to weaponize any legal missteps like that)
posted by CrystalDave at 12:58 PM on July 13 [13 favorites]


Its" mefi go lightly" on twitter. That's why. Why are ppl shitting on others trying to be helpful???
posted by jj's.mama at 1:02 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Is no one worried about all the personal information they have on their Metafilter profiles? I'm seeing real names, location, email addresses and photos, just to name a few. That's the first thing I'd lock down if I was worried about getting harassed/doxxed. Just sayin'.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 1:02 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


IS it a felony or are you just assuming that? The intent isn't felonious, but for safety and security reasons. Then you turn it over as evidence. Or, if you wanna go the roundabout way, you turn those passwords over to a judge and get a warrant. Like...TODAY!

One of the twitter handles is mefi_golightly.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:03 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I've already deleted my entire account and moved to a new one, dude.
posted by trappist system at 1:03 PM on July 13


(There was a metatalk, wasn't there, about the switch from plaintext (!) passwords to hashed passwords by matt...er, a long time ago?)

November 2007.
posted by zamboni at 1:04 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


This just shows what a shitshow this is! I hope cortex et al reaches out to trappist system now to apologize. I got an apology from cortex after i emailed him last summer regarding it.
posted by jj's.mama at 1:04 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I STILL don't know the extent of this stalking.

Well, I don't track them closely, but the posts I've seen are screenshots of comments from metafilter with lulz commentary. I've never seen doxxing from the accounts. Here's a cached version of the account if you want a general flavor (trigger warning: TERF, bigotry, etc.)
posted by bfranklin at 1:04 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I have been harassed and targeted for years in several other ways by many other people in more malicious ways than just these two asshats on metafilter.

I work as a security professional at a director level building security programs for global multinational companies to detect, deter and neutralize threats. And my success rate is pretty goddamn good.

Everything I have suggested has been for a reason based on my actual professional experience and having spent a long enough time here to understand the risks that are unique to metafilter culture, history and actual risk.

So, not only am I myself one of the targets of these two asshats, I am also an actual professional in this exact line of work providing steps to resolve this problem that will actually work, provided metafilter puts an ENTIRE PROGRAM in place that includes people, process and tech.

So I really really really deeply deeply understand the nature of the problem and I need you all to recognize that I'm not just throwing shit out there. I'm giving metafilter my extraordinarily expensive consulting time for free here.

I'm also not getting paid to do this so my comments do lack a lot of detail as to WHY I'm making suggestions and hoping that people are able to go do the minimal amount of pondering on what I'm suggesting and considering HOW it could work as opposed to just assuming that I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about and just tossing out random ass ideas.

So, interact with my comments with a little more effort please, because I am ACTUALLY WORKING right now, here, in these comments. This is not only to protect myself, it's my actual job.
posted by nikaspark at 1:05 PM on July 13 [75 favorites]


IS it a felony or are you just assuming that? The intent isn't felonious, but for safety and security reasons.

Maybe you should walk away given that you don't have any experience with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or interfacing with the FBI on cybercrime? Yes, this is a felony, and people have been charged for less. It's an overbroad law that the information security community is very concerned about.
posted by bfranklin at 1:07 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


Anyway I got shit to do I guess I'll check in later on this and see if anyone's fucking done anything about the actual real world stalking that has been going on for years apparently.
posted by trappist system at 1:09 PM on July 13


please no grey hat hacking please.

The only different between pen testing and prison is a well-written contract followed to the letter.
posted by nikaspark at 1:09 PM on July 13 [21 favorites]


What bfranklin & nikaspark said. The status quo & the broader path-dependency that has led to this being the state of things is terrible, and "intent isn't felonious" doesn't mean anything in this context, and really listen to nikaspark. They're awesome & know what they're talking about.
I only know a bit around the edges, and what doxing I've faced has been relatively light by comparison with others.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:10 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


IS it a felony or are you just assuming that?

In the US, it is a criminal act to "intentionally access a computer without authorization or exceed authorized access and thereby obtain any information from a protected computer". Using someone else's password without permission is going to be a violation of that (that's 18 USC § 1030(a)(2)(C), btw).
posted by hanov3r at 1:11 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


As another suggestion to let users more easily control their data, could we at least have user pages excluded from the internet archive (via a robots.txt I believe). We have the ability to remove stuff from user pages (or set visibility to logged in users), but if these are archived that's of limited value.
posted by xchmp at 1:11 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


So it took less than two hours to start descending that slippery slope.

I've already deleted my entire account and moved to a new one, dude.

I didn't think this is possible. cortex can we delete all our comments and posts here?
posted by Mitheral at 1:14 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


At this point I feel really discouraged by all of this. I'm going to walk away.
posted by dw at 1:15 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Metafilter is for the public at least as much as the members. Or at least there are members who greatly value the public reading all of the site they belong to. That counts just as much for the gray as the green and blue.

Also, I don’t want any of the enterprise IT stuff mentioned above to be implemented (appreciate the expertise though.) I’d like the site to stick with the immutable username + $5 system both for current and new members.
posted by michaelh at 1:17 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Just want to say that I have worked with nikaspark professionally, and nikaspark absolutely knows this shit inside and out. I would take nikaspark's technical and professional advice in a heartbeat.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:17 PM on July 13 [27 favorites]


michaelh: "Also, I don’t want any of the enterprise IT stuff mentioned above to be implemented (appreciate the expertise though.) I’d like the site to stick with the immutable username + $5 system both for current and new members."

Are you personally being targeted by online harassment?
posted by Chrysostom at 1:19 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


michaelh, have you even bothered to read what anybody being harassed said here?
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 1:20 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


Just a thought, but what if we use up as many Mefi$ usernames on Twitter as possible while the troll is dormant? The downside would be that if they don't have mefi in their username when they come back it would make them harder to track but the upside would be giving them less reach and recognition.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:21 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


While I was trying to avoid this thread, I thought it’d be interesting to share what I found when searching the web to see if the Twitter twerps posted elsewhere: This GoFundMe started by mefi_outsider.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:22 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


So it took less than two hours to start descending that slippery slope.

Mitheral, if you want people to believe you're acting in good faith at this point, please do better than cherry-picking two users' opinions (which they may have come to today, or may have held for years, I'm not a mind-reader) and presenting it as evidence that Metafilter has descended a slippery slope.
posted by sugar and confetti at 1:24 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Here's a cached version of the account

Wow, that was way worse than I thought is was gonna be. I expected it to be more along the lines of the stuff Mitheral linked to upthread or how the r/Metafilter sub used to be. I'm honestly shocked by how nasty that is. It's hard to believe someone like that would ever have been a MeFite, but what do I know?
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 1:25 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]



I didn't think this is possible. cortex can we delete all our comments and posts here?


Don't get too excited. I haven't actually *accomplished* this yet. It was offered by cortex in another thread and I am planning to take up that offer. If you would, please, explain why your worship of the precious data we created here is more important than the real safety of the people who created it. That would be great. Thanks. Friend. I really cherish you. Hugs.
posted by trappist system at 1:33 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


So do people not hear me/us when we say this person behind these Twitter accounts is a terf (anti-trans), racist, and all around bigot? It is not hard to believe this person used to be a Mefite. I would like some organized response from the metafilter team on what resources and next steps are being discussed and planned. If there needs to be created a private slack for ppl interested, that might be a good idea. So discuss those in there. Metafilter needs to get legal advice on next steps. This is unacceptable.
posted by jj's.mama at 1:34 PM on July 13 [14 favorites]


I'm giving metafilter my extraordinarily expensive consulting time for free here.

Just one heart-of-it line not intended to be taken out of context from nikaspark's several posts here, that really made a thing jump out at me all over again. Namely: there is a pattern here of problems festering in status quo Let's Try Doing Nothing We're Sure Nothing Is The Best Course for years until a flashpoint occurs, and amidst the heat, subject matter experts offer free help with increasing desperation to get through to site ownership before finally throwing up their hands and giving up. I recall it happening with the initial painful foot-draggings about reluctantly adding in user donations to supplement ad revenue, happening multiple times over with the metafilter's ongoing problems dealing with racism threads, now here, and I'm sure there's others.

Probably a good idea to require less user-loss flashpoints, on this and other topics, to happen before starting to move forward.
posted by Drastic at 1:37 PM on July 13 [39 favorites]


So now Mitheral has moved from nitpicking any idea proposed for protecting users who are being harassed to nitpicking those harassed users themselves. Really not cool.
posted by sallybrown at 1:37 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Agreed entirely. It is completely unacceptable. It is dangerous. It is really happening and something actually needs to be done.
posted by trappist system at 1:37 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


It's hard to believe someone like that would ever have been a MeFite, but what do I know?

Based on a number of things, including timing of various account closures and openings and textual analysis of comments, I feel pretty confident in saying that MFO was a former MeFite who got banned for habitual abusive behavior.

I did not at the time create a collection of the details that caused me and some others to come to this conclusion and do not intend to speculate about who it is (if the mods want they can contact me, but I'm pretty sure this former user is already on their radar).

There have been some utterly shitty people who have been MeFites. It's a mistake to think that we ("we"? who's "we"?) are somehow better than that.
posted by Lexica at 1:40 PM on July 13 [33 favorites]


"That took like one minute.
Why don't you run go try those passwords on the offending
"

I think this proactive, one reason why meta is here. The wannebe archivist balks at first...but at a university archive, you have to sign-in in some form and that's an assumption but the 6 I've visited needed credentials to gain access. So, is metatalk like an archive, you betcha.
so, what about log-in for singular posts, for now at the posters discretion.

in counter intelligence, a few negative/vile accounts or pages start hurting folks, pop up twenty to assail said sites with what works to thwart their momentum, it also makes bad actors realize 10 good folk are on YOU. But that is tricky and could grow into a tumbleweed.

by positing a solution might not work and having that being equated with no concern or support is damaging to the open forumn.
IME.

the best thing is to wipe your profile page concerning safety.
posted by clavdivs at 1:40 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


"It's scary when people who've probably never actually met you find something about you to be 'hateful' enough to focus on you, and frustrating and overwhelming when you can't find help to stop it, isn't it?"

Those who haven't experienced this should take a step back and listen to what those who have are saying — as opposed to participating in this thread as if it were a thought experiment. I have privilege on numerous axes, unlike many people here, and even then I've found it deeply upsetting and infuriating to be targeted like this. All of us in this community participating in this thread need to be as mindful and sensitive as we are able while we're discussing this.

My previous comment was intended to point out that this person(s) has probably crossed some actionable lines and, if not, probably will. Solving the general problem would be extremely difficult, but this isn't the general problem. This is someone with a long history of harassment. Law enforcement is notoriously uncooperative in cases like these, but civil legal action is possible and can be very effective. The focus here should first and foremost be about dealing with this specific instance. We definitely should be listening to the expertise and personal experience that nikaspark is offering.

I wasn't aware of these Twitter accounts until a few weeks ago when I noticed they followed me and I took a look at their tweets. It was extremely depressing and discouraging. Just in what I saw, there was doxxing of the mods and really personal animosity expressed against numerous mefites.

My mind has been blown by the fact that this has been going on for years. People have good reason to be angry and upset. I think we all understand that the general problem is longstanding and very difficult to solve, but the perfect is the enemy of the good. We should do what good we can.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:41 PM on July 13 [31 favorites]


I have worked as part of massive internationally coordinated security incident where a web platform I was in charge of securing was used to stage the terrorist attacks in 2015 in Paris. The kinds of forensics I have done on web platform risks and business logic flaws on that incident plus dozens more non lethal incidents of harassment and online abuse since then leads me to the following professional conclusion:

Metafilter is putting marginalized people in harm's way by not looking at the underlying architectural framework of how identity and content history is handled and making changes to the site's interactive model.

I am a target, I know how to protect myself, I am offering actual solutions. I need them to be taken seriously.

Eventually someone will get seriously hurt or perhaps killed because of the interactivity model of this site and this metatalk will be a somber reminder of who we were. I don't mean to be alarmist and I don't think a threat is imminent, but I have personally worked on incidents where I've witnessed websites be used as ways to plan terrorist attacks, mass murders and assault, intimidate and harass hundreds of thousands of people and it's only a matter of time before someone weaponizes metafilter beyond this current level of basically rude and obnoxious intimidation and harassment.
posted by nikaspark at 1:42 PM on July 13 [45 favorites]


If you would, please, explain why your worship of the precious data we created here is more important than the real safety of the people who created it.

Allowing users to delete the entirety of the their history would be a change to a long standing policy. I was just looking for official word if that change had been made.
posted by Mitheral at 1:43 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Cortex & other mods, listen to nikaspark. And don't listen to [name redacted but you can probably guess.]
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:45 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Ah, you're Just Asking Questions, got it.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:45 PM on July 13 [12 favorites]


You're just asking questions. Right, Mitheral?
posted by trappist system at 1:46 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Thank you, nikaspark. Mods, please hear nikaspark and your users who have been harassed.
posted by jj's.mama at 1:47 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


Mitheral must have missed cortex’s earlier comment in this very thread where he explains that the mods are willing to work with users on deleting and wiping comments in specific situations, which has always been well known site policy as long as I’ve been around.
posted by sallybrown at 1:48 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


Just gonna leave this here, since we're wading into "but won't someone think about the DATA's feelings...":

Article 17, GDPR - Right to Erasure

I swear to god if someone at Metafilter Inc. fights me on this we are going to the mat.
posted by trappist system at 1:49 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


I think meeting the principle of GDPR and asymmetrically anonymizing all instances of the person's username in the comments sections would meet the spirit of the "right to be forgotten". And completely delete the userpage. Technically metafilter's data doesn't qualify as PII, but the GDPR data handling principles are good ones if you really sit down and noodle on them. (The cookie thing though, ugh what, anyway that's a derail)

As for the wayback machine and all other 3rd party instances of data being shared, well, they would need to follow those requests as well, or perhaps they should be asymmetrically anonymized from point of data collection forward and all past data collections be deleted.
posted by nikaspark at 1:49 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


the real safety of the people who created it

I'm not speaking for Mitheral. My own response, though, is that many of the user-supplied suggestions here will not enhance the real safety of any one. They're either VERY bad (trying MeFi user passwords against the Twitter accounts "just to see") or they're as much security theater as TSA checkpoints. Without a retroactively applied very high bar for identity management, "members only" will not prevent members from scraping the site, nor will it prevent someone using information posted here against the poster, the site, or others. And even WITH that high bar, those things CAN. STILL. HAPPEN. It just becomes easier to find out and punish whoever did it.

nikaspark's suggestions represent an excellent path to take. One of my jobs used to involve suing spammers - sometimes, legal action is the only thing these people respond to, and those suggestions really strengthen MeFi's position in anything like that.
posted by hanov3r at 1:50 PM on July 13 [15 favorites]


I am sure there are at least some people on Metafilter who know who is making these Tweets, or could take a pretty good guess.
posted by all about eevee at 1:50 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


It just becomes easier to find out and punish whoever did it.

Right. I totally understand that nothing is certain and all of life is but a mote on chaos' wing and all that shit. Victims are not, like, unaware that systems are stacked against them.

We know it really. Really well. We know systems will fight *us* first. We know systems will guard *abusers* first.

This is the default state we exist in. What we're asking for here is a change to that. To do better.
posted by trappist system at 1:55 PM on July 13 [14 favorites]


Like I appreciate that this is all a lot on the mods shoulders and cortex specifically but maybe we could've spread out that work over SEVERAL YEARS DURING WHICH HARASSMENT WAS APPARENTLY ONGOING
posted by trappist system at 2:05 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


I'm hoping someone can translate nikaspark's suggestions into somewhat less technical language for me and others who may not quite know exactly what OpenIDConnect and Keybase.io are.

1. Require Mefi Accounts to use OpenIDConnect to bind to other public profiles in the same way that Keybase.io requires "proofs" (or just require keybase.io as a proof)

So I, as a long time user, would have to do .... something? A verification step. .... in order to verify my account here? And doing so ("bind to other public profiles") would connect my Mefi account in some way to another account? Or my other online activity?

It sounds like this would make it functionally impossible to have a truly anonymous online presence on Metafilter, is that correct? (Mine is not, but I know some people have valued the ability to pop in and comment on a specific thing.)

2. Anonymize all usernames on every comment from metafilter epoch to now
3. Allow "proof" accounts to see usernames


If I am not logged in, I would still see comments, but not the usernames associated with them? Is that correct?

If I am logged in, I could see both the comments and the user names?

4. Allow users to permanently anonymize their history regardless of a proof

This part I understand and makes total sense.
posted by anastasiav at 2:07 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


Metafilter tshirts that say "I got harassed off the site and all I got was $5 less dollars in my bank account"
posted by trappist system at 2:09 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


If implementing nikaspark’s suggestions will cost significant cash (I know nothing about ye price tags of things like Mark Monitor), it would be nice to see that mentioned. Paying for good services is nice, and doing so (and advertising the fact) would be a nice selling point for the site.

It is a moderate derail -and not one meant to trivialize any of the experiences of harassment that have come up in the thread- but I think it is a telling point that these incidents appear to be countably small in number. (There will probably never be a MetaFilter version of Redditships or Best of Nextdoor, which can get into this territory.) It’s good to be small, and to be able to try some new fixes while the site is small.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:14 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Cortex, I'm having a bit of a hard time reconciling this statement of yours:

I can't imagine "hey, here's a transphobic/homophobic/racist sociopath tweeting about you" as a healthy thing to unilaterally impose on someone. Folks who want to look, or be notified, can opt in to that but I won't volunteer anyone for it.

With this one:

We check in on the accounts periodically, and take reports from users when they notice something, and report tweets and the accounts.

What I'm confused about is: You say that you take reports from users about the accounts on the one hand, but on the other hand you say that you....don't indicate to users that there might even be a need to monitor these accounts?

I understand your not wanting to alarm anyone, but I personally would at least like the option of checking out what another entity was saying about me (others in this thread have also made their opinions very very clear that they would have appreciated this option as well). Perhaps at the very least there could be a checking-in with someone, when you discover that the Gimlet Eye Of The Shitheels is upon them, so they have the agency to decide what to do about it. If they want to just lock their personal data down, great. If they want to go see it, they can. At least they have that knowledge, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:15 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


1. Require Mefi Accounts to use OpenIDConnect to bind to other public profiles in the same way that Keybase.io requires "proofs" (or just require keybase.io as a proof)

You would have to link your Mefi account to other social accounts. This "proves" who you are by owning a password to other accounts.

So I, as a long time user, would have to do .... something? A verification step. .... in order to verify my account here? And doing so ("bind to other public profiles") would connect my Mefi account in some way to another account? Or my other online activity?

One time verification to move into a validated state.

It sounds like this would make it functionally impossible to have a truly anonymous online presence on Metafilter, is that correct? (Mine is not, but I know some people have valued the ability to pop in and comment on a specific thing.)

Not necessarily. The proof accounts might only be visible on the backend to the mods for situations like the one spawning this MeTa.

2. Anonymize all usernames on every comment from metafilter epoch to now
3. Allow "proof" accounts to see usernames

If I am not logged in, I would still see comments, but not the usernames associated with them? Is that correct?


If not logged in, you'd see surrogate pseudo-names. Posted by An Anonymous User 12345.

If I am logged in, I could see both the comments and the user names?

If logged in AND you've done the one-time proof, everything looks like normal MeFi.
posted by bfranklin at 2:16 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


You would have to link your Mefi account to other social accounts. This "proves" who you are by owning a password to other accounts.

This amounts to abandoning open sign-ups. If that's the solution, just require a photo of government ID and a notary.
posted by PMdixon at 2:19 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


michaelh, have you even bothered to read what anybody being harassed said here?

Of course. We all get to weigh in though.
posted by michaelh at 2:21 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


These accounts have targeted me extensively -- and not just on twitter -- for over 18 months. It has been relentless. They doxxed me, my extended family, harassed relatives of mine at work. They have spread outright lies about things they claim I said and did. They have sent me death threats, and threats relating to my children.

I have spoken with several lawyers, law enforcement (before this year), and a cybersecurity investigator. I have been told, repeatedly, that a) this is a person who will redouble their attacks if I respond at all, and it will only get worse for me and b) my best option is to subpoena Twitter so I can get proof of their identity and begin civil harassment proceedings, but Twitter fight those subpoenas like crazy, and basically, I can't afford it.

A very, very few community members know this has been ongoing, and while most were supportive, a couple basically told me I deserve it and that my safety is not important. I am traumatized, demoralized, and so very, very exhausted.

I don't want to talk a lot more about it or get more specific, because even just saying this will dramatically increase the harassment. But it's been absolutely awful and suffering it mostly in secret has also been awful.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 2:22 PM on July 13 [177 favorites]


Apparently it is possible to sue a Twitter user and subpoena Twitter to get the user’s personal information. If in fact these accounts have been around for years, then Twitter should have plenty of information about them. Maybe a gofundme is in order to hire a lawyer to go after these accounts. I can’t imagine Twitter is invested in keeping these two around.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:24 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


> This amounts to abandoning open sign-ups. If that's the solution, just require a photo of government ID and a notary.

No. Many, many people log in to sites using Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. There are large, successful websites where those methods are the only way to login. It's not at all like requiring a government ID.

Jesus, the slippery-sloping in here is nuts. And the Metafilter-will-lose-its-mojo-if-the-secret-sauce-changes is the stuff stodgy conservatism is made from, plus insulting to Metafilter. The secret sauce is us, not the $5 signups or whatever antiquated policy.
posted by thoroughburro at 2:24 PM on July 13 [21 favorites]


(Jinx, apparently I was typing while Eyebrows posted)
posted by Autumnheart at 2:25 PM on July 13


I'm sorry that happened to you, and I empathize. No one should suffer that.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:26 PM on July 13


> I understand your not wanting to alarm anyone, but I personally would at least like the option of checking out what another entity was saying about me

You have that option now; these things are being posted in public.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:27 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Look, you enable the auth and give people a sparkly tag or something as an incentive and phase it in over a year and ALSO do the other stuff nikaspark mentioned and things vastly improve. you don't have to have shitty tools to track people internally, and things improve dramatically for abuse targets. But it won't happen. because something.
posted by trappist system at 2:27 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


So I, as a long time user, would have to do .... something? A verification step. .... in order to verify my account here? And doing so ("bind to other public profiles") would connect my Mefi account in some way to another account? Or my other online activity?


Basically it would be a thing where all users are forcibly logged out, and there would be a workflow you step through where you perform an extra level of account validation with 3rd party authentication systems that further identifies you only to metafilter mods and and owners. There is risk to this, namely that metafilter accounts are now at risk of that authentication system being compromised, and also, depending on the extra level of validation required, could put people at risk of insider threats from Metafilter employees, but that risk could be mitigated with internal employee processes and policies. There are risks to each of these vectors which needs to be looked into, but steps can steps taken to address them.

The idea here is that users should be required to supply more dimensions of identity beyond a username and password. Another option would be to force something like google authenticator or some other mechanism that provides additional dimensions of data for metafilter to trace account activity on. This, in conjunction with periodic authentication checks would provide telemetry to metafilter moderators to be able to look within a smaller data set to find users who are logged in and tying usernames to content. The whole point here is to put a system and process in place to provide a slightly higher level of protection around identities being tracked.

If I am not logged in, I would still see comments, but not the usernames associated with them? Is that correct?

If I am logged in, I could see both the comments and the user names?


Correct. Again, this doesn't protect the content, but it does help further protect identity.

The thing I am most concerned about here is the ever blending space between IRL identities and online identities. That said, if someone wants to talk shit about my content on the internet, that's fine. That's where the AUP and takedown services come in. What I am mostly concerned about is harassers bringing my comments AND username into that kind of harassment technique and making my online activities visible to people who do want to harm people like me where they can then use my username as a vector for building a more complete dossier on me.

Think of metafilter as a multi-decade identity store that can be scraped and combined with other sources to build identity profiles on all of us that can be used for further harm. Everyone is at risk here.
posted by nikaspark at 2:27 PM on July 13 [25 favorites]


What Eyebrows McGee has been through is terrible and I'm so sorry that this happened to you.

This makes the question of why users being targeted by people known to escalate their harassment in this way weren't informed of the risk they were being subjected to. Seriously, that seems absurdly negligent.
posted by xchmp at 2:28 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


oh fuck that, if cortex knew i was an abuse target FOR YEARS and didn't say anything it's not somehow MY fault for not.... knowing about a random twitter account????
posted by trappist system at 2:28 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


A very, very few community members know this has been ongoing, and while most were supportive, a couple basically told me I deserve it and that my safety is not important.

I hope these people have been permabanned. This is not appropriate as a reaction to harassment.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:32 PM on July 13 [34 favorites]


now i'm supposed to like opt-in somewhere to be notified when mods become aware of a threat? or something??? it's honestly very hard to tell what's going on right now and, again, i'm still trying to actually identify what the stalking behavior's scope is. for me personally.
posted by trappist system at 2:32 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


> now i'm supposed to like opt-in somewhere to be notified when mods becomes aware of a threat? or something???

Yeah, this is tricky -- there are some people who would want to be told, and some who wouldn't. If someone was just talking shit about me, I wouldn't want to know; if someone were threatening me, I would.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:36 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


for the last goddamn time we are not talking about people being mean on the internet
posted by trappist system at 2:37 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Using archive.org, I can't find any tweets from mefioutsider or go_mefi. Someone who has previously succeeded at viewing their archived content, can you still view it? Am I just not searching correctly? Or has archive.org itself removed that content? (and if so, does archive.org have some mechanism like "forget all my tweets k?")
posted by Jpfed at 2:39 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


There’s also a question about what kind of liability Metafilter has to individuals who are being harassed, if that info is being acquired from MF’s network and used for purposes of harassment, and MF doesn’t do anything about it.

In other words, maybe Twitter isn’t the organization to sue here.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:41 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


If Metafilter wants to be a real business it needs a product manager or pm team to actually manage getting this work done.
posted by bleep at 2:46 PM on July 13 [14 favorites]


I'd argue that the blame lies with the shitheads, not the mod team. They're MetaFilter moderators, not moderators of the entire internet. For crying out loud, part of the understanding everyone has (or damn well should have) is that you're talking publicly on the internet. You run the risk of shitheads, whether on Twitter or Reddit or whatever other forum, finding what you say in public and being shitty about it. That sucks, and it sucks Twitter won't do anything about that, but blaming metafilter is way out of line.
posted by axiom at 2:47 PM on July 13 [38 favorites]


This stuff shouldn't be hashed out on big crazy threads like this anymore. We need experienced professionals to do things the right way if we want things to get done.
posted by bleep at 2:47 PM on July 13 [25 favorites]


All of which is not to say MeFi can't do better, but I hardly think suing metafilter is a reasonable response.
posted by axiom at 2:48 PM on July 13 [14 favorites]


This place is just a playground for the privileged. So many queer relationships have been fragmented over time, due to accounts having to close down from harassment. I have had to re-learn people's handles so many times and sometimes people just finally have enough with all of it and fuck off altogether.
posted by trappist system at 2:48 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


I am floored by the number of people trying to say that Metafilter hasn't been doing anything about this or is ignoring or minimizing it. That's...not...at all...what cortex said.
posted by desuetude at 2:49 PM on July 13 [56 favorites]


for the last goddamn time we are not talking about people being mean on the internet

Honestly, I don’t necessarily know what people are talking about anymore, no. This thread began with folks discussing some abusive account that we’re apparently posting very nasty stuff about individuals using screenshots of site content and tagging people into it. trappist system, reading your comments it seems like you’ve gone through some very terrible real world stalking that also apparently you are just finding out about that at some point caused you to delete your entire history. It is honestly very difficult to keep track of all of the threats that people are concerned about on here, especially since it keeps evolving. One of the nice things about nikaspark’s suggested remedies is that they are being fairly precise about the threat model and the things they are trying to prevent, which I quite appreciate. I’m not saying you must provide details about your specific circumstances, but in general this thread feels like it contains a number of imprecise desires that still need to be categorized.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:51 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


Really, bleep said it best.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:53 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I am not trying to be intentionally obtuse, Going To Maine. I was a target of the harassment and abuse in the accounts that you mentioned, and I am trying to get a handle on the scope of the stalking (because that's what this is, I was a character to them, a running theme, for YEARS) and that's proving really difficult to do because 1. There is radio silence from Mefi about this and 2. The accounts keep getting deleted.

It sounds like there's lots of "institutional knowledge" about the threat models, but it's spread out over various Slacks and multiple mefites.
posted by trappist system at 2:54 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


I also want to point out that I've put up with gaslighting and abuse in this very thread.
posted by trappist system at 2:55 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


The problem here at metafilter is we don't understand that threat increases as a result of risk over time.

A point in metafilter time, such as a single FPP or long metatalk thread is actuality a very small risk to manage, but a 20 year span? That's the risk we have to manage here.

You can't build a dataset like metafilter and expect a 20+ year dataset to remain secure on the basic principles it started as. The site principles have to change to address the risks over a long period of time which are dramatically increasing the blast radius of the threat.
posted by nikaspark at 2:56 PM on July 13 [23 favorites]


So Eyebrows McGhee was doxxed, threatened, etc. I don't know why she had to do all this on her own which is what it sounds like... if she is an employee of Metafilter. The organization needs to take a stance so that it's not just one person filing a lawsuit.
posted by jj's.mama at 2:56 PM on July 13 [36 favorites]


Question: what steps has Metafilter taken to protect employees who, in their role as Metafilter employees, have been subject to doxxing, harrassment, and threats? This is legitimately a workplace health and safety issue. I realize there's a level of detail, depending on certain things, that you might not be able get into.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:57 PM on July 13 [20 favorites]


> for the last goddamn time we are not talking about people being mean on the internet

I apologize: I was talking about people being mean on the Internet and should've been more clear about it, so I didn't minimize what you were talking about.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:59 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah like metafilter's own employee has suffered the worst of this and like, you would think that would have changed something.
posted by jj's.mama at 2:59 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


> I understand your not wanting to alarm anyone, but I personally would at least like the option of checking out what another entity was saying about me

You have that option now; these things are being posted in public.


They are being posted in public, but most people are not aware that they should be looking AT the place where they are being posted. The average person does not make a regular habit of spelunking on Twitter all "la la la, let me see if anyone I've never heard of is targeting me".

They're "in public" the way that the plans for the bypass to knock down Arthur Dent's house were stuck in a file cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "beware of the leopard".

Maybe a gofundme is in order to hire a lawyer to go after these accounts.

I'd contribute.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:59 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


The holes are still there--again, this was a leak from a fellow logged in user--but it least felt like there was a reaction from the site owner to what had happened.

I believe you have summed up the purpose of this thread.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:59 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Can MeFi afford to take nikaspark as a consultant to work on this problem? Could a fundraising push do it? I don’t necessarily object to closing MeTa but tbh this feels like telling someone experiencing IPV not to walk home late at night — maybe that will help at the margins in a “stranger danger” way but I would be so very shocked if this particular threat were not coming from inside the house. Paying money to someone who knows the field seems like a no brainer. I’d throw in some money. I’m so sorry you all are experiencing this.

I’m interested in the possibility of anonymizing past posts. I’m not someone who’s experienced this kind of threat, mind, but I can imagine a use case for myself. It’s an affordance that I’d be happy for the site to have.
posted by eirias at 3:00 PM on July 13 [12 favorites]


Question: what steps has Metafilter taken to protect employees who, in their role as Metafilter employees, have been subject to doxxing, harrassment, and threats?

Yeah, I have to say, I feel some kinda way about this.
posted by eirias at 3:01 PM on July 13 [14 favorites]


20 years is a good run but it might just be time to pack it up. That seems like a reasonable solution to me. Delete all backups, shut it down, call it a day. Maybe start up a new site with 21st century technology.
posted by some loser at 3:01 PM on July 13 [12 favorites]


It's enormously disappointing that someone harassed as EM describes is unable to get relief. The whole idea that doing anything other than remain silent will only make things worse is toxic and needs to die in a fucking fire.

The victim is never responsible for an abuser's behavior and all messaging to the contrary, no matter how well-intentioned or "realist", is bullshit designed to provide a rationale for those who are empowered to stand by and do nothing.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:02 PM on July 13 [18 favorites]


You can't build a dataset like metafilter and expect a 20+ year dataset to remain secure on the basic principles it started as.

I keep starting to type things, then along again comes something much more coherent and helpful and I have to lean on the backspace key!

Amplifying that. It's often been correctly noted, and in this very thread, the strong conservatism running in the site; there's a tremendous amount of Old Internet energy and nostalgia right in site policy (sometimes "policy") DNA. Over short periods of time, that's been quaint and charming. Over longer periods, it starts becoming toxic in its own right.
posted by Drastic at 3:02 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


I'm willing to donate my time in exchange for a few dinners and beers from Cortex once this COVID (non-ableist edit:) ridiculousness ends.
posted by nikaspark at 3:02 PM on July 13 [43 favorites]


So wait IS THERE ANY LEGITIMATE REASON NOT TO DO A GOFUNDME?
posted by bleep at 3:03 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Are there any MeFite lawyers who'd be willing to take on a suit like this pro bono?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:05 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee, I am so sorry, that is just damn unacceptable that someone put you through that. There has to be a better solution than nothing!
posted by sallybrown at 3:05 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


I would love to see nikaspark hired as an expert consultant on this. I would be appalled if the compensation were something symbolic like a few dinners and beers.

Value experts and pay them what their time is worth. Especially when it's about something this important, where the consequences of getting it wrong are so bad.
posted by Lexica at 3:06 PM on July 13 [12 favorites]


Honestly I could just write up all my comments here and email them and that's about as useful as I could be from a time perspective. I can provide periodic guidance and advice but my time for actual hands on engineering and development work is very very thin.
posted by nikaspark at 3:10 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


And worth considerably more than a few dinners and beers.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:12 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


Cortex, you are out of your depth here. You have been out of your depth for a very long time.

I'll echo what others have said in the past: It's time to step down.

And I agree with all the other comments about hiring nikaspark, stat, as a consultant.
posted by nightrecordings at 3:20 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


nikaspark, any chance there is a developer in the field who you could recommend we as a community hire? I know frimble’s time is eaten by other things and this seems like an emergency (a bit of a perverse one given that it has lingered for years, but I am not sure what else to call this).
posted by eirias at 3:21 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I personally, for a long time, assumed that ignoring it would mean the harasser got bored and went away, which is often the given advice and where the experts I sought advice from started from when I first sought advice. Over time their advice to me changed as the situation became more clear. It's a bit of a frog-in-the-pot situation where most jerks you DO ignore and they go away, and by the time you realize this one isn't going to, you're pretty traumatized and distressed and decision-making gets a lot harder -- and I have definitely struggled to think through this situation clearly, just for my own reactions. (I'm sorry to be vague and semi-incoherent -- as I said, a lot of distress that makes it hard for me to express myself clearly, and I really, really want to avoid misspeaking because the consequences of that feel dire.)

It's easy to look back and see things I wish I had done differently, but I had no idea when this started how it would develop, and I'm trying to be generous to myself and not use hindsight as a cudgel. As someone else said, I don't think there's anyone to blame here but the harassers, and I don't want anything I've said to be used as fuel to get mefites to attack each other, which is the harassers' favorite thing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:26 PM on July 13 [86 favorites]


just to be transparent here, my request to wipe my old account will need to wait for some reason.

"... we need to get back to you tomorrow; I've put your request on a ticket list.

In the meantime you can take the basic privacy steps on your account page:
1. remove any content you've put into the user-editable profile page fields
2. choose the "show minimal profile to logged-out readers" option on the preferences page"
posted by trappist system at 3:27 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Long since time that light was shone here; divabat's description of these accounts as "missing stairs" is apt.

I wasn't aware of these Twitter accounts until a few weeks ago when I noticed they followed me

Yeah, if you're on Twitter check your followers and block appropriately. MeFi Outsider in particular did a lot of bulk-following of MeFites' twitter accounts when they started up their harassment campaigns; including accounts that weren't linked from MeFi profile pages.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:27 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Datapoint re: nikaspark's suggestion: requiring a 3rd party account linked to your MF account, in any way, will drive away some users. I struggled with this a bit with Secret Quonsar as I worked to accommodate users' requests to be completely anonymous, as we were using Gmail services to manage the package tracking and most of the emails.
posted by curious nu at 3:32 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


yup, the balance between complete privacy and abusive bastards is definitely something to consider. You can't change the site without change happening to the site.
posted by nikaspark at 3:36 PM on July 13 [17 favorites]


I don't want anything I've said to be used as fuel to get mefites to attack each other, which is the harassers' favorite thing.

This is also a notable thing to highlight a bit. These accounts have particular focuses on EM, on Cortex, on mocking various Mefites particularly with a "hey say they're marginalized, but look at them" lens and various TERF-y talking points. As divabat has noted, they'll spotlight one person if they think they can use that to beat on someone else rhetorically.

Ultimately, they want the site to tear itself apart, and for Cortex to step down, and for us to be revealed as hypocrites which are simultaneously "too woke, going broke" and too intolerant of the things they thing we should *really* care about.

This is not to say that people in here aren't being earnest, but that even with our failings & harm caused, the semi-shared identification of this place as a community to rally around is the thing we do have over them.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:37 PM on July 13 [37 favorites]


Consider that what was happened to eyebrows McGee is a also risk to the entire user base. Something has to be done.
posted by nikaspark at 3:38 PM on July 13 [19 favorites]


I can think of like, 5 people that buttoned due to harassment just off the top of my head. How many more people are we going to throw on the gears?
posted by trappist system at 3:40 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


"But the precious data, the precious thread consistency"
posted by trappist system at 3:41 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


These accounts have particular focuses on EM, on Cortex, on mocking various Mefites particularly with a "hey say they're marginalized, but look at them" lens and various TERF-y talking points.

That's exactly what I was coming in here to say.

It looks as though this person is operating two twitter accounts with different forms of concern-trolling. Mefi Outsider adopts the identity of a SJW calling out cortex for racism. Mefi Golightly adopts the identity of a TERF calling out the behaviour of various trans members on the site. There are other snipes at MeFi members but that seems to be the basic pattern: Mefi Outsider is the 'anti-racist' concern troll, Mefi Golightly is the 'anti-sexist' concern troll. The aim seems to be to exacerbate existing tensions on the site, and if that is the aim, I must say it's a pretty clever strategy. A Russian troll factory couldn't have done it better.

The last time Mefi Outsider was discussed on MetaTalk, it was in the Jan 2019 thread about Eyebrows McGee, which took a sideways turn into a discussion of a mysterious twitter account that everyone agreed was 'weird as fuck'. Given what we've now been told about the appalling harassment directed at EM, I don't think this can be a coincidence. Without the twitter accounts it's impossible to reconstruct exactly what was going on, but when the concerns about EM's moderating style first came up, I assume our troll was watching from the sidelines and following the same modus operandi: taking existing tensions on the site and trying to amplify them.

In other words: we are dealing with a clever, manipulative individual who knows this community very well and knows how to play us. We need to be aware of that and try to resist being played.
posted by verstegan at 3:57 PM on July 13 [47 favorites]


i don't think hardening metafilter's authentication and user tracking and implementing robust anti-abuse recommendations of an expert in the field is exactly "getting played"
posted by trappist system at 4:02 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


nikaspark: I'm a developer but not really a web developer and my knowledge of security best practices can be summarized as "use https; don't store passwords in plaintext". I don't know anything about Keybase. How complex is it to implement something like the solution you outlined? I'm wondering about the feasibility of doing it quickly given MetaFilter's backend limitations and single, part-time developer, especially given other pressing concerns such as setting up a page for the Mefi Global Race And Ethnic Issues Board.

This is by no means meant to suggest that it can't or shouldn't be done, but it might help give non-technical MeFites a very rough sense of a timeline. If, for example, a typical rollout might take a couple of months with a larger team than MeFi has, then that might suggest that other efforts should definitely be undertaken in the meantime (crowdfunded lawsuit, coordinated Twitter flagging, changing MeFi account names, etc) given the serious nature of the harassment.
posted by jedicus at 4:04 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


Mefi Outsider has posted plenty of terfy shit, plenty of racist shit, anti-semitic shit, etc. That account *specifically* harassed POC members that I know of. I really don't think there's much rhyme or reason to anything they're doing other than straight up harassment.
posted by primalux at 4:12 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Well, I don't track them closely, but the posts I've seen are screenshots of comments from metafilter with lulz commentary. I've never seen doxxing from the accounts. Here's a cached version of the account if you want a general flavor (trigger warning: TERF, bigotry, etc.)

Here's a cache of Mefi Go Lightly. CW: Same terfy racist bullshit.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:12 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Just read through this whole thread and, goodness, that was emotionally exhausting. I'm so sorry so many of you have to deal with this bullshit.

Some of the posed actions seem more or less feasible, and I won't necessarily comment on them per se, just because I'm not really affected by the issue. But, just spit-balling here, I wonder if it may be possible for probably just MeTa, to have the option (whether automatic, or easily requested) to comment as some kind of anonymous. Like, maybe have a button that says "Tag this anonymous," that treats the comment the same as anonymous functionality in AskMe (or have a way to quickly ask a mod "Hey, I'm TKTK, you know I'm [trans/gay/marginalized, etc], can I comment here as anon?). Also, have it append some kind of auto-generated anonymous name, ie. AnonBearTB, etc., so people can respond to specific people tagged as anonymous. I know this is no grand slam, and doesn't do literally anything about the real issue of harassment, but it does seem that people are concerned that MeTa is a place where people share very personal information for good reason, and it's become as such a source of real harassment.
posted by General Malaise at 4:12 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Honestly we've given those TERFy sociopathic shits enough fodder here that they'll be happy and emboldened for months to come. This is exactly what they wanted, and on top of it we're completely derailed from the fact there are real victims here of harassment we're all just talking over. This is painful to watch between the talking over victims and the wild solutioneering.

I think to go back to the top of this entire discussion that the mods should step back, talk to nikaspark and other resources, figure out next steps, and make a goddamn plan.
posted by dw at 4:19 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


I'm starting to also think like "hmmm, MeFi figured out the Kaycee Nicole thing through collective crowd research, maybe those who feel like they're up for it can try to watch for clues to ID these folks."

I've got ideas for an avenue of research for one already.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:23 PM on July 13 [13 favorites]


It’s 1 am in Sweden so I’m off to bed. I keep thinking 2020 can’t get worse and then I start reading a MetaTalk thread and discover it is worse, a lot worse. Thank you for this post, divabat. I am so so sorry to hear that you and so many others here have suffered from such vile harassment. I get that my feelings are virtually useless and pretty much empty words but apart from becoming a twitter monitor I don’t know what else to offer right this minute. That is inadequate, for sure.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:23 PM on July 13 [12 favorites]


To be fair to your request, Eyebrows McGhee, if this were any other organization, one would ask the leadership to provide support and reduce the harm from harassment for its employees through various means. It sounds like you were not provided the support needed and it's a problem. Now, it's effecting the userbase. So, no one here is trying to create tension that hasn't already been created. You have been harassed and that is not OK. You should feel safe at work, and it's clear you are not.

Btw, do traveling thyme and loup know they were mentioned as well? Protect your mods if not your members, Metafilter!!!
posted by jj's.mama at 4:26 PM on July 13 [15 favorites]


Hey, Eyebrows, when you get a chance, I would like the cost estimate you were given to subpoena Twitter and obtain the harasser's identity. Or if anyone else has an idea of the ballpark figure to get something like this started.

I'm so, so sorry this has been going on, to everyone. It is evil and wrong.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 4:46 PM on July 13 [10 favorites]


i assumed Mefi_Outsider was jayder; he was a real piece of shit back before his account here got deleted!
posted by Greg Nog at 4:55 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


I CTRL-F'd Crash Override Network and did not see it mentioned -- could this group be of use?
posted by eirias at 4:57 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Crash Override Network may be helpful, and there are additional resources listed on the MeFi Wiki ThereIsHelp page, in the Online Harassment and Abuse section, which includes links to international resources.
posted by katra at 5:03 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Honestly we've given those TERFy sociopathic shits enough fodder here that they'll be happy and emboldened for months to come.

Well, it's worth noting that the attention of this thread seems to have made them deactivate the accounts. Probably temporarily, but it's not nothing.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:05 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]


My suggestions are on the terms of 2 quarters of feature delivery and migration from start to finish and even that I would consider fast.

I think the first step is that eyebrows McGee needs legal help ASAP, prioritize that.
posted by nikaspark at 5:07 PM on July 13 [17 favorites]


Honestly we've given those TERFy sociopathic shits enough fodder here that they'll be happy and emboldened for months to come.


This is victim blaming, please stop
posted by divabat at 5:14 PM on July 13 [35 favorites]


Honestly we've given those TERFy sociopathic shits enough fodder here that they'll be happy and emboldened for months to come.

They would have fodder regardless. They’re obsessed and stalk people here, just because we’re explicitly talking about them now means fuck all — except now, people who are affected by them get to talk about it together, maybe figure out a good plan of action to mitigate the harm they do, and in the meanwhile they retreat for awhile and shit themselves worrying about the consequences of their actions.

Eyebrows McGee, sending love to you. I had noticed not seeing you around the site as much but didn’t know why. I truly hope you get more positive out of sharing what you did in this thread than negative.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 5:17 PM on July 13 [33 favorites]


Well. I'm gobsmacked. Years on Mefi and I had no clue that members here were being harrassed on other sites. I feel terrible for those who have suffered such invasive trauma and find it hard to understand why on earth anyone would feel the urge to do such a thing. So sorry for everyone who has felt unsafe because of these shitty actors.
posted by jokeefe at 5:23 PM on July 13 [22 favorites]


For reference, I have been tagged by this user several times before. Also, I hope EM's story discourages people from acting like the mods have laid low on this because they aren't affected or just don't care. AFAIK all the mods, including the new ones, have been harassed pretty viciously in one way or another.

As somebody who's thought a lot about growing MeFi's userbase and reach, I'm extremely wary of any changes that make it more difficult for people to sign up for, read, or share content from the site. Especially if those changes don't actually prevent a determined troll from accessing it. Any set-up that could do that would be so fragmented, restricted, and memory-holed that the community would suffer, and it certainly wouldn't be able to survive financially being so walled-off from the outside world. We shouldn't put time and effort into impulsive overreactions that just play into their goal of tearing the community down.

That's not to say that the damage from trolling and harassment doesn't matter. But it needs to be dealt with in a way that actually addresses the problem, instead of futilely and self-destructively sidestepping it. And the problem here isn't "outsiders can read the site," it's "one particular outsider is committing criminal doxxing and harassment of users." So IMHO solutions should focus on stopping that directly. Mass flagging the account to shut it down permanently, and MetaFilter LLC subpoenaing Twitter and GoFundMe for their identity to enable legal action. EM certainly has a case.

If MeFi was the target of large-scale organized anonymous harassment from the likes of GamerGate or 8chan, then radical structural changes in response would make sense. But this is one troll we're talking about; we should focus on bringing the consequences to them, not rewarding their efforts by destroying the site's archives or encouraging a suffocating lockdown mentality. (Of course, users should be able to wipe or anonymize their accounts as a last resort if they choose.)
posted by Rhaomi at 6:01 PM on July 13 [91 favorites]


I feel like we’ve heard suggestions from a number of people affected by this troll. Thank you.

Eyebrows, in your best world, what would you want us to do? (Besides not tear each other apart)

Cortex, in your best timeline where we’re on the road to solving this, what would the users be doing to help right now?
posted by eirias at 6:22 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


Bear in mind that they're not the only people keeping tabs on metatalk and using it to connect people and metafilter handles. After someone made a "Metafilter's Own" post that used my full name on metatalk, one of the conservative/alt-rightish wikis that has a metafilter page added me to it with a link to my graduate program (they also said that despite my liberal tears and cries of sexual assault, I was a scientist of some note, which made me laugh sort of, but the whole thing was disconcerting. I can't find it anymore, though, which is good).

It's very easy to forget that metafilter is part of a wider internet and while it can feel like a small, somewhat insular community, there are a lot of people who can read and find out lots of information. I am not a hard person to connect to my real life from metafilter, and I have shared a lot of things on metafilter that are sensitive or could be used against me personally and professionally. I consider myself lucky that that's the only time that's happened (so far) and that I didn't suffer any actual repercussions. I don't say it to victim blame, just as a reminder that the reach of metafilter is much bigger than the people who post.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:23 PM on July 13 [44 favorites]


As somebody who's thought a lot about growing MeFi's userbase and reach, I'm extremely wary of any changes that make it more difficult for people to sign up for, read, or share content from the site.

Is a site that puts growth ahead of the well being of members and mods one you want to be joining? The need for this thread surely does more damage to the site’s growth (is it even growing?) than anything we do in response, short of shut down.

Any set-up that could do that would be so fragmented, restricted, and memory-holed that the community would suffer

It genuinely hadn’t occurred to me until someone mentioned it up thread that cis people aren’t trying to keep track of the repeat user name changes that the trans people are to attempt to maintain some sense of community here. Ironically, I don’t remember who said it because they’ve felt the need to change their username as a result of this latest fiasco.
posted by hoyland at 6:34 PM on July 13 [10 favorites]


I think it's also worth considering whether keeping indefinite archives (especially of comments) is a good idea at all, or whether at some point they become more of a liability (both for individual users, and for the site as a whole) than a benefit.
posted by Pyry at 6:57 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


My apologies, Eyebrows, for misspelling McGee above.
posted by jj's.mama at 7:01 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Divabat, thank you for making this post. I am so sorry you and other posters and mods have been dealing with horrible harassment from these Twitter accounts. I am sorry that trans members have been made to feel even more unsafe and vulnerable than they already do. The harassment of members of colour makes me sad and also afraid, as I have self identified as a PoC many times on this site and have spoken out in Metatalk about racism.

I do not have a Twitter account but now I think I will make one so I can flag tweets from these harassers.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:11 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


Skipped down so apologies if I missed someone mentioning it earlier:

It seems like whoever it is is afraid of getting caught. They lie low when people start talking about them, and they bother to obscure time stamps. Presumably the time stamps is in case cortex and frimble start matching time stamps to server logs.

It's very hard to defend against a determined adversary who doesn't care about getting caught, suicide bomber-style. But there must be a reason for that fear, like not wanting to be outed to friends and co-workers. That fear can be exploited, since internet doxxing is not a difficult task given a large group of people who want to enough.

To that person, since I'm sure you're reading: keep it up. You're making a large group of people want to enough.
posted by ctmf at 7:12 PM on July 13 [18 favorites]


Why not create a new section of metafilter for topics that are at risk of being screenshot (like contentious, personal topics) and create a high barrier of access to post or access it? Like a government ID or something. The suggestions here do not have to be universal to the entire metafilter.

Some people spend 10 minutes on metafilter and only read a section, some people spent 10 hours and access all sections etc. Wide user variance. I would likely not sign up for something which requires personal data that could be easily compromised because I know how flimsy internet security is.
posted by kinoeye at 7:39 PM on July 13


I wish internet technology were such that screenshots had a unique watermark visible only to certain parties (the way some IRL government issued ID are). That way any screenshots could be traced back by mods to a unique identifier. But I guess someone would create an app that could scrub those watermarks.
posted by kinoeye at 7:45 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


On that note, ctmf...I got messages from a couple mefites with some exploration of figuring out the identities behind these accounts after I posted the GoFundMe link above. Asking those who know more about this: is it worth compiling this stuff privately, or is amateur detective work not useful?

I appreciate having my opinion about the way forward become more informed by the experts weighing in, and thank you all for the free labor of sharing that expertise (specifically nikaspark). It’s really nice to get this far down in MetaTalk and see solutions being floated instead of incessant shutting down any ideas at all from those less invested in the safety of others. Hearing more of what Eyebrows has been dealing with makes me feel strongly about exploring/funding legal action. It does a lot for the good of us all to be clear that none of us are being left to deal with this shit alone. I want to hear more from the mod team about what they’ve done and discovered during what EM has gone through, if it’s possible to do it without it making things worse.

I still think MetaTalk should be closed to non-users. As with the option to restrict user profiles in the same way, it doesn’t make sense to me why the more intimate areas of the site are open to the public. MeTa is where the majority of people casually looking to whine about SJWs come to gawk, it’d be nice if they at least pony up the fee and the tiny ad revenue to do it. Like folks have pointed out above it’s unlikely they will — it will deter a good bit of it, especially if we work towards better practices in how sign ups are handled. There are times when I have wanted to be voyeuristic about online communities that baffle or amuse me. Signing up, especially when I have to tie my identity to the login, has stopped me every time.

I don’t think it’s worth continuing to let people sign up with absolute anonymity to the mods when we consider the harm that can be done. It’s not that I think that is the anywhere near the only solution or that it will stop those obsessed with harming mefites, but I also don’t think it’s worthless.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:47 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


(I've had a bad couple of days and it seems likely to get worse. As much as I am fond of any amateur detective solving I don't know if I'm in the right headspace to keep tabs of things right now. Thank you to all of you that have reached out for support)
posted by divabat at 8:20 PM on July 13 [12 favorites]


What if a thread could be marked "members only" by the author, and any member who opened it automatically got noted on that page? I suppose you could even extend the mechanism to comments as well.

Would be absolute torture to evil lurkers.
posted by nickggully at 8:21 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


Eyebrows, I’m really sorry to read about what you’ve been going through. No one should have to deal with that.

Over the years, I had picked up a little hints that there was some kind of offsite nastiness going on here and there. But I had no idea until reading this today that it had ever hit this level.

I don’t know enough about Internet security or legal options to be able to offer any solutions. But this does sound like some thing where additional resources and support are needed. This has crossed the line from just low grade nastiness into causing harm.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:33 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Delurking to say a few things. I didn't know how bad this had gotten. EM's post is horrible. Everyone else being targeted by these people has dealt with something horrible. I don't know that one or two dedicated stalkers can be got around with code.

I do know this. I've been around here more or less since 2005. I love you weirdos. But look. If Mefi as a whole entire entity does not lawyer up and take actions to protect its own users and employees from this/these specific individual(s), I'm fucking done here.
posted by cmyk at 9:44 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


if we let two twitter accounts fuck up the whole of metafilter, then we should just surrender now.

i've always been proud that we teach here, instead of giving up.

i just edited my profile page, because i don't want any blowback. I guess I'm a coward.

i considered it back during that last thingy, and i went and looked at some members who kept their shit static. i respect them for being bold.

i love this place. mathowie made it, and cortex has continued in the best possible way. to say he's out of his depth is crazy... it's like blaming him for Tucker Carlson.

the fact that metafilter has been a place that has tried and tried hard to build a certain amount of safety for whatever human being you are should be saluted, and not thrown down as they are failing because the world is fucked up.

Those twitter beings aren't metafilter.
posted by valkane at 11:23 PM on July 13 [28 favorites]


if we let two twitter accounts fuck up the whole of metafilter, then we should just surrender now.

They're just a symptom. The open web is not a perfectly safe playground - that's hardly a controversial fact that we are just learning. This is a discussion of what changes we can make to make mefites (including the mods) safer. No one is 'surrendering' or whatever.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:34 PM on July 13 [12 favorites]


We’re doing due diligence and care.
posted by nikaspark at 11:35 PM on July 13 [18 favorites]


> I think it's also worth considering whether keeping indefinite archives (especially of comments) is a good idea at all

Not just a good idea but the soul of the site, I'd say. Old threads are part of ongoing conversation here and make MetaFilter a deep repository of knowledge.

I could go on in this vein but I don't want to distract from the main conversation. Just wanted to make a quick plea for not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
posted by aws17576 at 11:59 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


If I remember correctly, the AskMe archives were at least at one point a big part of attracting new users. I don't know if that's still the case with Google changing things around.
posted by Jpfed at 12:02 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


> if we let two twitter accounts fuck up the whole of metafilter, then we should just surrender now

"Let" seems like an odd choice of word here, since they have already, demonstrably, fucked up Metafilter, as evidenced by numerous posts in this very thread.

The real question is what to do about them fucking up Metafilter - so far the conclusion seems to be "hope they will go away on their own if we wish hard enough."
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 3:10 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


I don't see that conclusion forming. I see people talking about several courses of action, but not that one.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:42 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Ivan Fyodorovich and We had a deal, Kyle pointed out upthread that they were followed by these troll accounts on Twitter without knowing it.

I was going through my followers a couple of months ago and noticed that one of the trolls was following me. I'm not a big poster on the sites (this is my sock account), and I rarely post on Twitter, but I did have Metafilter mentioned in my Twitter profile, so I assume that's how they found me. They got blocked immediately.

The offending Twitter accounts are dormant for now, but if anyone else mentions Metafilter/AskMeFi in their Twitter bios, you should keep an eye out for them resurfacing.
posted by Orkney Vole at 4:06 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


Fuck them. I'm here to fight those assholes and get justice for all the wonderful trans and POC mefites who have been doxxed, harassed and targeted. Eyebrows, I had no idea of what you'd been through. I am so so sorry.

If you are cis and white, could you please stop thinking of this as a technological problem to solve and instead listen to all the mefites who have been actively harmed?
posted by daybeforetheday at 4:07 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


I am trans, for what it's worth, and have posted here about that. I am so incredibly frustrated by the way this discussion has been derailed into endless discussion of something that won't solve the problem. We're talking about people who got into the private PoliticsFilter slack. They are already here. Making MeTa logged-in users only will accomplish nothing at all to prevent any of the actual abuse that has happened. It will make the site worse and make it seem like something 'has been done' when nothing has in fact 'been done'.

I also want to say that if there were a requirement that Metafilter accounts were linked to some kind of 'real name' or whatever, I would be 100% out of here. The risk of doxxing goes up, not down, when things are connected to real-life identities. It would also not solve the problem which is people screenshotting comments and posting them to an anonymous twitter account.

I think that it would be great to reroute this back towards discussing how the Metafilter community could coordinate a campaign to get Twitter to ban these accounts and possibly take legal action for harassment.
posted by Acheman at 4:07 AM on July 14 [101 favorites]


daybeforetheday: If you are cis and white, could you please stop thinking of this as a technological problem to solve and instead listen to all the mefites who have been actively harmed?

Listening is vital, and it needs to be done... but at the same time: how is this not a technological problem to solve?
I'm hoping we can do both. Solving the problem will protect people from further harm. It's not either/or.

If someone I care about gets stung by wasps, I'll want to comfort them and relieve the pain from the stings. But I'll also want to get rid of the wasp nest. Not because I don't care, but precisely because i do.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:16 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]


If the site doesn’t plan to implement the advice of nikaspark and others to better secure its content and protect the users, I (and I’m sure others as well) would appreciate a mod comment explicitly confirming that choice. I also continue to think this warrants some kind of warning to the existing userbase detailing the known harassment and noting the particular groups the Twitter accounts are appearing to target, beyond a MetaTalk post that only happened because of the effort of a user.

Cortex definitely appears to have been targeted by the trolls, and may have gone through the same/similar hellishness as Eyebrows. As a victim you get to choose how you want to deal with the harassment directed at you. If you feel ignoring it is the best way for you to protect yourself, the quickest way to shut it down, or the most effective way to handle it emotionally, that’s your right as a victim. But that’s not the same thing as making a choice on behalf of users as the site leader and owner, or on behalf of your employees as their boss.
posted by sallybrown at 4:19 AM on July 14 [10 favorites]


About the proposal to have metafilter accounts tied to public account profiles, how would that intersect with privacy concerns that have to do with user safety? I'm thinking mostly about governments that track residents' online activity, countries (like the US) requiring that even visitors entering their borders disclose social media accounts, and so on.

To be clear I'm not trying to argue against taking these steps necessarily, I want to understand how it would work and what the tradeoffs would be specifically in terms of user safety.
posted by trig at 4:31 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


About the proposal to have metafilter accounts tied to public account profiles, how would that intersect with privacy concerns that have to do with user safety?

It would intersect extremely badly! The issue here is emphatically not 'MeFi users taking advantage of anonymity to post abuse'. The issue is that there are at least two dedicated trolls/harassers/abusers, at least one of whom has registered for the PoliticsFilter account, and both of whom almost certainly have Metafilter accounts, which they've managed to keep off the radar of the mods by not using them to post anything incendiary on MetaFilter itself. Instead, they take screenshots and post them to Twitter. If people are aware of how we might be able to trace these accounts back to MeFi accounts then that would be great, but I'm guessing that the mods have already looked into this especially since at least two of them have been targeted by the harassment. It's quite likely that they would be able to tie these MeFi accounts back to their own identities without much issue since they are currently not doing anything on Metafilter itself which would allow people to recognise them for what they are. Again, what we know for sure is that they have infiltrated a Slack group with 600 members and it hasn't been possible to find and ban them.
posted by Acheman at 4:58 AM on July 14 [7 favorites]


Sorry, I realise I didn't make the main point, which is: if you tie things to 'Real Identities', you don't stop harassment (look at the horrible things posted every day on Facebook and Blue Tick Twitter). What you do instead is make marginalised people more vulnerable because they don't have a safe place to talk without risking their identities being revealed to harassers and/or law enforcement.
posted by Acheman at 5:01 AM on July 14 [27 favorites]


Again, what we know for sure is that they have infiltrated a Slack group with 600 members and it hasn't been possible to find and ban them.

I don’t think we know yet what’s possible—it sounded like both cortex and Eyebrows got advice that the best approach was to ignore the harassment, so I don’t know that there’s been an effort to figure out the identity of the troll(s). (Although from jj.’s mama’s posts it sounds like cortex may have some guesses about who it is.)
posted by sallybrown at 5:10 AM on July 14


Sleeping on this, I’ve had a realization that may make it easier for folks to understand: Our usernames are something of a key to the rest of our lives which can be thought of analogously as a kind of password. A password that allow bad actors to gain access to other parts of our lives that we may not intend or comprehend that we’re broadly leaking.

What I’m getting at here is that the actual weakness that is enumerated by the inherent site design here is a large, non-contained “unintentional information disclosure” that is a co-owned problem by both metafilter operators and owners AND us, the users and customers.

So, the way to contain an unintentional information disclosure is to stop showing the sensitive data publicly.

I think the “proof” idea could be replaced with something else (trying to figure that out, give me a little while) and hiding all comment data and username info from any non-logged in user or any non-interactive data source.

Basically we have to contain the unintentional information disclosure and provide more dimensions of telemetry data for users interacting with the site. The proof idea was my first though but there are other avenues that could be explored as well.
posted by nikaspark at 5:12 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]


Nikaspark, none of what you're saying has bearing on the situation being described, which is that a couple of people who almost certainly have accounts are screenshotting comments to harass people. Meanwhile, hiding usernames from non-logged in users would make the site less usable overall, and make it harder for non-registered users to identify patterns in commenting, and, for example, note whether a comment about trans issues is coming from a user who is actually trans.
posted by Acheman at 5:27 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]


Also just everyone is clear the “proof” idea was mainly to provide an OIDC (OpenIdConnect) token to metafilter backend services only and is not something that should be ever surfaced in the UI for anyone, not even viewable in the clear by metafilter operators, which would be encrypted in transit and stored in a token database using Argon2 or PBKDF2 encryption.

What then would happen is that a backend “token refresh” would occur for a time being with less periodic logouts (once a week logouts?) to increase the telemetry data for UBA (user behavioral analytics), all of which can be anonymous to metafilter operators. All that’s needed at that point, when OPERATIONALLY (meaning a people process has to be put into place) a bad actor is identified, is for a mod to revoke the access token.

The other method is to force auto-logouts every few hours but that’s disruptive as hell and would increase the noise ratio beyond any way to capture signal.

Anyway, I think people are confusing my proofs idea with a real names policy and that’s not really what I’m getting at, I’m more interested in interleaving a token provider into the metafilter identity management service as a way to provide a more modern method of handling session management, which gives more ability to protect the user database.

But first, eyebrows needs legal assistance, badly.
posted by nikaspark at 5:29 AM on July 14 [23 favorites]


acheman: the alternative is that I am going ask for my entire account history here to be erased. I’m one of the trans people being targeted. My safety is at stake. What solution do you have to protect me?
posted by nikaspark at 5:33 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


the only method which seems to actually work is to continually delete and re-create new social media accounts across the board every few years.

At metafilter, I’m going to become invisible again soon and I’ll privately message folks my new username. And I think this time I won’t out myself as trans again, not at least until metafilter has some method of containing usernames. This site design from the ground up is unsafe.
posted by nikaspark at 5:41 AM on July 14 [11 favorites]


Honestly, I think at the moment, if you won't feel safe unless these people can't read your comment history, then that might be the best option. I don't say this lightly, and I think it's a great loss to both the individual and the community when this stuff happens, but I think it would be better to do that and be actually safe than rely on measures that look like doing something but are unlikely to stop them from reading your comment history and continuing their campaign of harassment. All the evidence we have suggests that they're in here already, they have user accounts. They're under the radar and it's pretty easy for them to stay under the radar. It's also worth noting that anything we suggest in this thread as a way of identifying them (eg timing of twitter posts compared to site access) is going to be visible to them and they'll potentially use that to stay under the radar going forward.

I'm aware that by outing myself as trans in this thread and others I've probably made myself vulnerable as well. Not really sure how to feel about that, to be honest.
posted by Acheman at 5:46 AM on July 14 [9 favorites]


Allowing users to anonymize their past comments and posts would both manage to preserve that content on the site and reduce the risk of doxxing individual users (not just as to these trolls but also if we were to face similar bad actors in the future). The user would lose the credit to their work and would be choosing this course rather than asking for deletion (once the comments are anonymized it would be tough to sort them back out), but they’d be the one voluntarily requesting the change. The site would lose the cohesive identity of that user, which could impact attractiveness (“oh this person sounds like an expert in something I’m interested in, too bad I can’t see the rest of their contributions stored in one place”) or credibility (“too bad I can’t check out this person’s other comments and see if they’ve been right in the past or if they have expertise”). But balanced against a risk of doxxing and the fact that not too many users would likely take this drastic step, (and the ethical issue of whether users of a site deserve a right to remove contributions), it seems like a worthwhile sacrifice to me. (And again, like I stated above, if there’s some technical reason it would suck up an unacceptable amount of site resources to do this, I’m definitely interested in that aspect.)
posted by sallybrown at 6:02 AM on July 14 [11 favorites]


This was a really upsetting thread. My best wishes to anyone who's had to survive any of this crap. I've locked down my profile here, removed as much data as I can and checked my twitter followers.

I would suggest that we can't move forwards without comment from the mods, who have a lot to get through a discuss before they can reply.
posted by Braeburn at 6:08 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


There appears to be a single person at the intersection of "IT security expert" and "harassed by these accounts," and they have gone above and beyond the call of duty several times in this thread. We should honestly consider ourselves lucky that nikaspark is offering hundreds of dollars of consulting without asking for anything beyond drinks and a meal, and in their extremely valuable free time. It is way beyond the time that this should have been wrapped up by the mods, who should have already formally committed to actions that involve expert analysis of those proposals. They can bring this back to the table once they have concrete information on the cost, level of effort, and potential impact that isn't crowdsourced by amateurs. There's really no use in a back-and-forth about "what Metafilter might lose" when what that is are completely unknown to us, especially when it is clear that the targets of this are telling us they are what Metafilter might lose.

We also have to prepare the (very likely) possibility that these accounts will come back, emboldened and better educated on how to toe the legal and technical lines or find loopholes in the various systems involved. We can't have a productive discussion (if such a thing is to be had) on what the userbase can do to help as long as there is hand-wringing about technical solutions that haven't even made it out of the "comment on a web forum" stage, and which are dependent entirely on mod actions. Whether this happens onsite or offsite, it needs to be separated out from the technical discussion ASAP, at least in the short term. Having both these discussions going on simultaneously and out in the open will not end well, and at this point it is completely understandable that those with the most to lose feel like they are being sacrificed for the comfort of a group that is largely Mefites who have nowhere near the amount of skin in the game.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 6:10 AM on July 14 [19 favorites]


acheman: my advise to you is to read my comment over threat increasing as a function of risk over time and take to heart how to manage that risk as a trans person online. The social web was built largely by cis white men and unfortunately for everyone else we’re stuck with that version of conway’s law, and in metafilter’s case that appears to be “for the entirety of metafilter’s data existing in any form, anywhere”
posted by nikaspark at 6:22 AM on July 14 [7 favorites]


Specifically on the identity verification / Keybase / OpenID Connect stuff:

Aren't the vast majority of Metafilter accounts already tied to real identities? Paypal provides its merchants, such as MetaFilter Network LLC, with access to purchasers' real names and addresses. At the time of Paypal account creation, Paypal verified those names and addresses against credit-checking databases or ID documents. There are some specific, limited caveats to that.* But, in general, Metafilter (as in, the company) already knows who its users are.

Some of the buzzword-heavy schemes for identity verification that are discussed above seem to miss the point that:
  1. Metafilter has basically had identity verification since 2004; and
  2. It hasn't worked at stopping off-site harassment.
* such as pre-2004 signups, users who paid via mailing in a check, personal details could have changed between Paypal signup/verification and Metafilter signup, etc etc.
posted by Klipspringer at 6:26 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


Hang on, don't we have confirmation that they are one of the members of the Politics Filter Slack?

And didn't someone say that there was a much smaller group of people on that Slack?

Could we not use that to figure out who they might be without having to subpoena Twitter?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:30 AM on July 14 [7 favorites]


I've tried to report both accounts but Twitter doesn't allow you to do that with deleted accounts, not even when you use their report form. Please let us know how we can help.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:35 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


The Slack is not a friendly place for trans people either.
posted by trappist system at 6:44 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


There are two related but separate issues that I think are being discussed here - I think it would be worth being clear about which we are discussing, since they have different costs and benefits. As someone without any technical background, I'm not sure if nikaspark is suggesting methods for both or just one of them.

1. Whether and how to allow users to opt-in to anonymize their past and/or ongoing comments (those comments would be anonymous to everyone). It seems like this would prevent even a very dedicated harasser from linking comments to usernames or irl identities.

2. Whether and how to hide all usernames from people who are not logged in - this would presumably deter future drive by harrassers, but not the current Twitter one.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:46 AM on July 14


Hang on, don't we have confirmation that they are one of the members of the Politics Filter Slack?

And didn't someone say that there was a much smaller group of people on that Slack?

Could we not use that to figure out who they might be without having to subpoena Twitter?
PoFi has been discussing this since the accounts first indicated that they were members of PoFi. Unfortunately, PoFi has more than 600 members, and many of them are lurkers (or signed up long ago and then departed without actively leaving the Slack), and there is no proof of identity requirement, or vouching, or linkage between Slack identity and MeFi identity. We don't think either of them is an active user of PoFi, but we can't tell.
posted by Etrigan at 6:52 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


the political
posted by trappist system at 6:52 AM on July 14


PoFi has more than 600 members, and many of them are lurkers

600 members is a more manageable number to sift through for clues than however many people have accounts on MeFi proper. If any volunteers are needed to help try to sleuth out the identities of the harassers I am happy to raise a hand here. Not sure what data the Slack mods can pull that we can cross-reference with MeFi data to try to solve this, but I'd be more than happy to do some of the grunt work to help solve this.

I'm not sure who I know at Twitter these days but I may know one or two people at Twitter or formerly at Twitter who could help on that side and will put a few feelers out to see if there's a chance to nuke those accounts permanently.
posted by jzb at 7:00 AM on July 14 [7 favorites]


nikaspark, I want to thank you for the time and care that you've taken in answering questions here. As a woman online, I've had a tiny taste of the kind of harassment that trans folks go through, and I would not wish that on anyone. I'm all in favor of Mefi doing work to make people safer.

That being said though, having thought overnight about your very kind and detailed responses here, but also assuming these two Twitter slimemolds are already 'inside the house' (as it were), I guess I don't really understand how these steps would actually achieve the goal of a) stopping this specific harassment, and/or b) stopping others from doing this same kind of harassment in the future.

I'm also a member on another site that uses the kind of "tied to another account" verification you describe. It was pretty easy for me to create a new, clean Google account, create a "clean" username that I don't use elsewhere, and be relatively anonymous there. I do practice, as you say, good data hygiene control there - I'm not nearly as upfront about things like my hometown (or even my gender) in that space. As it stands, I'll never really feel like a true part of that community because I can't build the same relationships that I can here. On the other hand, in reflecting last night, I realized that if I wanted to be a bad actor there, it would be very hard for anyone to trace that account back to me. (Not impossible, I'm aware, due to IP logging, but much more so than I am here.)

You yourself have noted that the only way you'll feel totally safe is to have the mods basically nuke your comment history and start again. I hate that the world is in a place where you have to do that. But I also worry that if we do the kind of verification you describe we'll give users the illusion of safety (and perhaps inadvertently encourage them to share even more personal stuff than the do now, under the guise of "only this community will know who I am") rather than actual safety.

Even if Metafilter transformed itself into a $5 Discord, a completely walled garden, bad actors could still dox and harass members if they wanted. Doxxing is an actual crime, and I think part of the conversation we're seeing here is everyone's incredible frustration that it is not a crime that law enforcement apparently wants to do the work to solve and prosecute. In an ideal world, EM's report (or another similar report) would be taken seriously, and law enforcement would be contacting Twitter to track these jerks down.

So, anyhow, the point of this long comment is -- assuming even under your plan people can still join Metafilter, can you elaborate a bit on why you feel doing the work you recommend would, in fact, make people safer from determined actors?
posted by anastasiav at 7:11 AM on July 14 [11 favorites]


nikaspark disabled her account.

her comments are continually being misread.

using paypal as a payment processor is actively harmful to trans people because it's very difficult to get them to change the name on file.
posted by trappist system at 7:14 AM on July 14 [12 favorites]


Always lose trans people.
posted by kanata at 7:28 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


There's a lot of confusion over the proof thing. The goal of the proof is not primarily to prevent. The goal of the proof is primarily to speed up response. Having authenticating details does a lot to make it easier to identify and evict bad actors.

As it stands, we'd have to do a whole bunch of correlation between different logs to just get an IP address right now. With a linked identity, you could probably boil the list of offenders down to a handful based on logs for a single thread that gomefi and/or outsider were monitoring.

It puts bad actors in the situation of needing to create multiple "clean" accounts and pay $5 for each round of eviction. 1 clean account is easy, but the more you create the more you run into anti-bot and anti-fraud mechanisms on the side of the identity provider. You increase the cost, which increases deterrence, which effectively becomes a "soft" form of prevention.

Prevention is best, but detection and response is not a bad compromise where prevention is difficult.
posted by bfranklin at 7:29 AM on July 14 [16 favorites]


I'm asking this from a place of zero knowledge, much less expertise, but would there be any value in allowing members to change their userids without having to disable their accounts and start a new one? At the very least, that might make it more difficult for a troll to trace someone's history across the Internet, and it would allow people to have a clean username, as anastasiav states above.
posted by holborne at 7:30 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


it's almost like nikaspark DOES THIS FOR HER JOB and Knows what she's talking about
posted by trappist system at 7:30 AM on July 14 [13 favorites]


it's almost like nikaspark DOES THIS FOR HER JOB and Knows what she's talking about

Yes, I'm aware of that and respect her work. Which is precisely why I'm also asking what the expected outcome of the recommendations would be.
posted by anastasiav at 7:35 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


bfranklin: that is not true.

The mods have shared screenshots of the "mod view" of the site before. Every comment already has the IP address recorded next to it.

Identity verification (via linked accounts or via PayPal) has very little to do with IP addresses.
posted by Klipspringer at 7:35 AM on July 14


bfranklin: that is not true.

The mods have shared screenshots of the "mod view" of the site before. Every comment already has the IP address recorded next to it.

Identity verification (via linked accounts or via PayPal) has very little to do with IP addresses.


What you're suggesting I said is not what I said.

From a network forensics perspective, right now the best route to identify gomefi or mefioutsider would be correlating IP addresses in weblogs for threads from PoFi and MeTa we knew they were monitoring.

From a network forensics perspective with nika's method, you wouldn't be dependent on an IP. You'd be looking for a specific identity hitting the logs. It would greatly simplify the analysis.

So, in short, I think we agree.
posted by bfranklin at 7:41 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


I am only half-following this thread.

But I am severely disappointed in the lack of response by the staff, mainly cortex, whom we haven't even heard from since July 12.

Nikaspark has offered expert expert suggestions. But they are not being taken up, apparently because they are general strategies, in contrast to solutions about these specific Twitter accounts. But that's what people are calling for, that's what appears doable, and we are losing people here and now, in this thread.

What we have here appears be a lot of discussion, and some direction, among members. But little follow up from the staff.
posted by NotLost at 7:48 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


If I am reading Nikaspark's comments correctly, she is changing her account, not leaving the site. While I respect her reasons if she has left, I hope I am correct and she is still on site.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:54 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


i'm out, y'all, until there's action towards justice
posted by trappist system at 7:54 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


I don’t have a whole lot to add here, but it’s worth mentioning:

1) It’s trivially easy to obtain a prepaid debit card under a pseudonym. As long as a malicious individual wanted to continue throwing $5 at the site, they’d be able to continue creating new accounts as necessary. (Suppose we determine the Bad Account’s identity..... then what?)
2) It is also trivially easy to use a VPN that randomizes/anonymizes IP addresses.
3) Virtually any kind of identity-verification system is going to be potentially problematic for trans people.

If somebody wants to build a novel web-of-trust social network and blogging platform, I’d encourage them to follow that dream! It sounds like a neat project that would ultimately yield something that looks an awful lot like Diaspora and Mastodon.

However, I can’t envision any sort of transition path for fitting MetaFilter into that kind of model. The plans sketched out by nikaspark are interesting, but also extremely ambitious, and fairly novel.
posted by schmod at 7:54 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


changing accounts IS HARM
posted by trappist system at 7:54 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


Speaking as one of the NB/trans targets of these two accounts who's words on PoFi were taken wildly out of context and order and splashed on twitter in order to paint me as some sort of slavering aggressive idiot- The whole thing has made me pull farther away from MeFi not PoFi. After all- the stuff that was taken out of context was some issues I was having with racist modding and a racist/anti-semitic user- and once I realized I was being painted as such I realized that my out of context words might be used as an excuse to get me banned by the mods instead of dealing with their shit. I can't talk about that on MeFi- until recently complaining about moderation was an easy way to get banned. Now that we have two new mods and might actually be getting some transparency- I still don't trust them. Way easier to get rid of me then the twitter accounts after all! So I pulled back from posting on MeFi. As someone who's not on twitter/facebook and is anonymous online- the bad accounts never went after me again because I have no breadcrumbs for them to follow. That didn't stop me from feeling very very violated. What are they gonna do? Troll my garden blog? Zachlipton is the owner of the slack- and since it's a free one- he is very limited in his modding tools- and he is not paid or getting paid to do any of it. It's a passion project of a guy who is working full time in this crisis, and I've found a real community there. The fact that some of you are targeting PoFi rather then the mods here who are PAID to moderate and are doing it badly is very weird. I'm sure Zach is going through what tools he has on the slack, but he and PoFi shouldn't be the targets here. Metafilter is the genesis of these trolls. One of the reasons I have been spending more time there then here though IS the fact that you can lock channels and make channels private. SO I think the idea to lock MetaTalk to members only is a great idea. Also yeah- we should be listening to nikaspark because she actually does this for a living. Maybe not all of her ideas could be implemented, but I bet a few of them could.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:00 AM on July 14 [18 favorites]


Sorry if I was mistaken about people leaving.
posted by NotLost at 8:13 AM on July 14


Can we stop with the "ackshually" unless you're a security engineer? Technical objections stated as fact from people that don't understand the space aren't particularly helpful. Schmod, your #2 objection is directly addressed as a primary function of nika's design. That suggests you don't really understand the design.

I have yet to see a technical objection to nika's suggestion that actually indicates something unworkable.
posted by bfranklin at 8:14 AM on July 14 [10 favorites]


Identity management, in this case, is primarily about forensics. The relevance to this specific case is that it would provide improved methods for identifying the bad actors, and also for helping to identify new bad actors, earlier. In the future, improvements in identity management would make this kind of abuse somewhat harder to set up and somewhat easier to trace.

It would not be a silver bullet, which is not what is being suggested. Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets in online security. It also shouldn't be the first thing attempted, as nikaspark clearly addressed. That should be increased efforts on the legal front to protect people being targeted right now by bad actors already in place.

Nikaspark was talking about strategies and tools. They each have their merits, costs, weaknesses, and downsides, but there will be no one, single solution, and the current path has clearly not been a successful one. So we need to balance the options against the costs, and adjust our strategies in a way that best protects the community.

We need to step up in the current fight, which will likely require a legal solution, and also prepare against the next one. That's where creating a roadmap for phasing in technical solutions needs to happen. And there will almost certainly be some impact to usability in any solution, but protecting the community, even with imperfect measures at a usability cost, has to be a priority.

I am so sorry for everything people here have been going through. It is unconscionable that you have been targeted as you have.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:35 AM on July 14 [18 favorites]


As an immediate step towards harm reduction*, can there be some sort of sitewide notice that this harassment is happening? As we know, not everyone reads MeTa. And, also as we know, some people who have been subject to this harassment are not aware of it. I suggest that people need to know so they can take whatever personal steps feel right to them (changing info on their profile, asking for comments to be deleted, limiting what they post).

I would also suggest that there be a notice when people sign up for a new account warning them that members have been subject to this sort of harassment and that might inform their decisions on here.

*To be clear, I don't think these steps on their own are sufficient but are, rather, initial actions to take.
posted by mcduff at 8:37 AM on July 14 [7 favorites]


Can we please be careful about next steps that out everyone?

I think this must be a generational thing, because I would absolutely not want a sidewide notice to go out if someone was posting things about me, because I would not want the entire f'ing site to go on archive.org to read it. I also am torn about whether I would want to be contacted personally...maybe? If doxxed, yes, but, but if someone's just saying "look at what warriorqueen said !!$$&&" on a public website, I'm not entirely sure I would want to know.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:40 AM on July 14 [38 favorites]


bfranklin, thanks for clarifying, and sorry I initially misread your IP address comment.

If you want to answer questions along the lines of "which users visited a given set of threads", the raw data to answer that is already available to Metafilter — and doesn't really have anything to do with external identity verification schemes like Keybase. The site backend already knows which logged-in user it is serving a page to, and any web server (even a setup as old as Mefi's) can be configured to log that info. Associating a user account with a Keybase identity adds nothing to the process.

The interesting part is the tools to process the large amounts of raw data into some meaningful actionable information.
posted by Klipspringer at 8:42 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


@bfranklin – I am a software engineer, and although “Security” is not in my title, I routinely work on authentication/identity systems.

I could have done without that callout, TBH.

My comment was not necessarily aimed at Nikaspark – other users (you, in fact!) had once again brought up the topic of IP addresses, and I wanted to dismiss it as a viable mechanism for identifying users who do not want to be found. That’s it.
posted by schmod at 8:46 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


I have yet to see a technical objection to nika's suggestion that actually indicates something unworkable.

I think people are not so much concerned that the proposed design doesn't work, but that the proposed design doesn't really solve the core of the problem. There's a large implementation and integration cost to do what Nika is proposing and I feel like people are weighing that against the potential effect it's going to have on the troll, and are suggesting that effort may be better spent in other areas.

Internet harassment and stalking is a complicated problem that's not easy to fix, and technical approaches often have limited effect, so it's fair to weigh these concerns when a technical approach is suggested.

Can we stop with the "ackshually" unless you're a security engineer?

Can we stop with the gatekeeping while we're at it? The only way people will learn these sort of things is if they're not treated in a dismissive manner and their question gets answered. In this case it's because the additional layer of Identity will tie any IP address to the account that's using it.

My question would be, how is that different from what Metafilter has today? We should already be able to correlate a logged in user against the IP they're using when they make a request, so I'm having a hard time understanding how keybase helps? Things like Keybase are primarily for federated identity, meaning I can keep the same 'identity' and use it across multiple web sites without having to establish multiple individual accounts.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 8:46 AM on July 14 [21 favorites]


Can we stop with the gatekeeping while we're at it? The only way people will learn these sort of things is if they're not treated in a dismissive manner and their question gets answered.

Read through the thread again. Questions are getting answered. The pushback is against statements of the sort "X is unworkable for simplistic reason" coming from people that don't understand the problem space.
posted by bfranklin at 8:57 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


I am extremely disappointed (and honestly a little disgusted) by how this discussion is going, but I am also not surprised. Several marginalized members have left. This is what happens EVERY time. Any time there's a meta that is trying to address the safety or pain or comfort of marginalized people a bunch of people who are wholly unaffected by the issue jump in and think they somehow get a "vote" as to whether we even need to do anything to help. People's actual safety and mental health is at stake here - this isn't just "Oh I like Metafilter the way it is, don't change it!" This isn't a thought exercise. Is it too much to ask that if you don't have a stake in this, and if you do think it's worth it to speak, you at least speak with care and try to collaborate to find solutions?

I feel like this is a conversation that could have benefited greatly from moderator participation and guidance and instead it's just running off the rails to the point where trans members who have been put in danger by this person are leaving. Is it really so hard to say "Here is what we are taking into consideration, please stop debating over whether it's ok to even consider these solutions" and leave it at that?

Honestly, the lack of support and collaboration I feel from moderation and members who are not marginalized here is one of the biggest reasons I have pulled back on my participation greatly and have no interest in being a part of site efforts for things like a BIPOC advisory board. Every single ask for compassion and thoughtfulness and respect and maybe" taking a step back if something causes other people pain but doesn't actually affect you at all" feels like the biggest uphill struggle. It's exhausting.

(I do realize that obviously there have been other people affected by this particular issue like moderators who are not marginalized, but I feel like overwhelmingly these issues overall get taken less seriously when the ask comes from marginalized members and communities.)
posted by primalux at 9:02 AM on July 14 [40 favorites]


What are other community sites doing about this kind of problem? I've never seen anything like nikaspark's suggestions implemented anywhere else but we can't be the only ones dealing with external abuse.
posted by simmering octagon at 9:04 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


What are other community sites doing about this kind of problem

Well for starters many other community sites give users control over their comments and profile so they can delete themselves if they want....
posted by TwoStride at 9:07 AM on July 14 [13 favorites]


warriorqueen wrote: I also am torn about whether I would want to be contacted personally...maybe?

I've been going back and forth on this--because god knows none of us need one more thing to be anxious about--but I keep landing on the side of "would want to know, or at least would want the information available somewhere." It's strange to me how many people did know this was going on, that it was sort of institutional knowledge, and yet how were its victims to find out? There's a painful irony in a thread where we're talking about the need to preserve all these conversations with names intact, to keep all this institutional memory, but how good a memory is it, if there's no mention of the missing stair?

In various slacks I'm on, it's very straightforward. Hey, you might want to look at this, somebody's talking about you. It feels better to have that knowledge, than to be surprised by it later. But I can certainly see where people might not want to be aware if abusive things were being said about them.
posted by mittens at 9:22 AM on July 14 [7 favorites]


We have a flag that turns on IRL alerts and ask updates, surely you could flag to turn on/off mefi mail about warning notice about external harassment.
posted by jeather at 9:30 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Just in case - Homo neanderthalis, if it sounds like I was mentioning the Political Slack as a sort of "hey let's make more work for the moderator," then I REALLY mishandled what i was trying to say and I apologize.

Rather, the particular nut I have been trying to crack is "let's see if we can figure out who the perpetrators are IRL so we can sue them like whoa". The biggest problem at present is that right now, Twitter is the main gatekeeper to "who they are IRL", and they're not all that excited about giving up that info. So I've been trying to help brainstorm alternate ways to figure out who the perpetrators are.

My bringing up the Poli Slack was simply because I'd heard it said that a) the perpetrators had access to it, and b) there were fewer members there than there were on MeFi proper. Which meant, a smaller number of names to sift through. I was envisioning some kind of Mefi/PoliSlack joint mod collaboration of some kind, and I was not advocating shifting all the burden onto PoliSlack; if it sounds like that's what I was suggesting, then I really mis-spoke and I apologize.

I have not been targeted by these people, but I am infuriated nonetheless, for putting others through this - and also because it's just a profoundly shitty thing for them to be doing. They are doing something they think they can get away with, and I do not want them to get away with it. I am offering ideas to help find out who they are so they can't get away with it - ideas which anyone is free to say they'd rather not try, of course.

But "how can we quickly find out who they are if Twitter is gonna be a douche about this" was my ultimate goal. Apologies that I mis-spoke and that was therefore not clear.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:34 AM on July 14 [17 favorites]


It should be noted that this/these arsehole(s) have only ever had a fairly small following on twitter (or they did the last time I looked, which was a few months ago now because one can only read so much puerile shit without getting bored by the transparent attempt to get people to look at them and their feeble spewings) so one way of looking at it if you've been personally targeted but not doxxed is that there are very few people who will ever see the inane rantings of this/these deadshit(s). That doesn't mean they shouldn't be reported by everyone who is now aware of their existence anytime they raise their pathetic heads again. In fact, I'll be checking on their accounts from now on just to do this very thing.

What Eyebrows has experienced (and anyone else who has received the same kind of treatment) however is something that is illegal and it should be followed up with lawyers and subpoenas and everything that can force Twitter into handing over the identity of these dickheads in order for them to be prosecuted. I'd be more than happy to throw money at this.

I think it's important to look at security issues through 2020 eyes, as sad as it is to have to give up the idea of trusting this to be a really special site because it's filled with excellent people from all backgrounds and experiences. I agree with extra security measures being implemented to help avoid this kind of thing in the future because people are being targeted now and we don't know who the fuckers are but they're here amongst us. I lurk a lot so I'd like to send out a particularly loud FUCK YOU to them for bringing us into such disrepute.

I can't bear the idea of Metafilter being brought down by these fucknuts so if we all have to be held accountable as members of this place then so be it.
posted by h00py at 9:36 AM on July 14 [11 favorites]


Thanks for the clarity Empress. I get what you're trying to say- I was also trying to note that I find PoFi much safer than Mefi these days- these shitbirds on twitter among the reasons for that. If I can have a private channel on a free slack- I don't see why MeTa can't be made as such.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:38 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


I agree strongly with everything Empress has said.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 9:47 AM on July 14


There have been oblique hints that cortex may know who the perpetrator is, or at least has a short list of possibilities. It'd be a shame for the community to organize around finding the identity of someone known to the mods.

This is another aspect that needs a mod response. At this point, the silence is deafening. I can only assume a case of "what can we possibly do or say about this that won't make things worse," and I sympathize with that. All the same, we can surely at least pool our knowledge and work together to hold this scumbag accountable, right? Even if Metafilter doesn't want to bring a suit, the individuals being harassed should have that option.
posted by thoroughburro at 9:48 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


In this case it's because the additional layer of Identity will tie any IP address to the account that's using it.

My question would be, how is that different from what Metafilter has today?


IP address provides some information, but is definitely not enough to isolate individuals. As you say, we have that information now. It's not enough.

The suggestions to add additional layers of Identity Management are intended to provide just that - additional data elements to improve analytic capabilities. What new data elements we would have access to would depend on which solution is considered. And how well we would be able to process that new data would depend on what tools are put in place for analytics. If access to MetaTalk were limited to members, that combination would further improve our ability to isolate bad actors scraping that data. It wouldn't solve the problem, it would improve our capabilities. The improvement would likely be commensurate with what we could afford to spend on that vector.

All that said, in my opinion, legal protections and methods for members to better manage their identities should be where initial efforts are focused, as those efforts are likely to have more immediate impact on those currently suffering.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:54 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


I've been struggling to figure out how to word this in a productive way, but here goes. I've run across these accounts in the wild (just by randomly searching for metafilter on twitter, some time ago) and tried to figure out wtf at the time, and if there's a more preferred outcome for X than site membership holding cortex responsible for X's actions, I don't know what it is. To the point where I would not be surprised if this were an outcome they have been explicitly targeting, essentially setting up a bunch of double binds that lead to this kind of situation.
posted by advil at 9:57 AM on July 14 [41 favorites]


Thoroughburro, you're not wrong, but there's a weirdly unique situation in that the mods are ALSO among the people being targeted. And honestly, the final say when it comes to "should anyone proceed with a suit" is the people being targeted. And if I'm being honest, my own drive to get these guys is more projected delayed justice against my 3rd grade bullies, so I need to abide by the wishes of those with the primary stake in the situation.

I am willing to help. I have ideas and desire to help (y'all, I didn't think I had an inner "Karen" until this started happening), but I also do not want that to cause additional headaches on top of what people already have. All I can do is assert that my ideas are coming from a place of wanting to help, and offering that help and hoping it gets taken up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:05 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]


It'd be a shame for the community to organize around finding the identity...

I’m going to strongly push back on the idea of any sort of community-organized whodunnit. That sort of thing has an extremely bad track-record, and usually ends with multiple innocent people being doxxed.
posted by schmod at 10:08 AM on July 14 [16 favorites]


Okay, but this is giving me strong MsScribe vibes.
posted by all about eevee at 10:12 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


IP address provides some information, but is definitely not enough to isolate individuals. As you say, we have that information now. It's not enough.

My point is Metafilter already has this information - every request for a logged in user should be associated with both their user identity and their IP address. It should be possible today to create a log of what user looked at what page at what time. Adding Keybase support or additional IAM infrastructure doesn't seem to provide any additional analytic information, it just offloads the authorization step from Metafilter to a 3rd party and could potentially allow you to do something like link your reddit alias to your Metafilter alias in a non-repduidable way, which feels like it actually could potentially make it easier to track identities across multiple sites.

The suggestions to add additional layers of Identity Management are intended to provide just that - additional data elements to improve analytic capabilities.

What additional elements are provided by integrating with Keybase for Identity Management that improve analytic capabilities using metrics that are unavailable today from Metafilter's existing IAM implementation?
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 10:16 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Internet harassment and stalking is a complicated problem that's not easy to fix, and technical approaches often have limited effect, so it's fair to weigh these concerns when a technical approach is suggested.

nikaspark very clearly, repeatedly, and explicitly outlined an approach that prioritized legal action, then a technical approach to facilitate more legal action, and then more legal action. I would urge anyone who is engaging with those remarks as if they are primarily or only technical in nature to re-read them.
posted by solotoro at 10:26 AM on July 14 [21 favorites]


And for the record, as a person who has never experienced this sort of harassment and very likely never will given the identities I hold, I am very damn near buttoning over the number of people wringing their hands over potential problems with the user experience or whatever. Our community is currently suffering a severe user experience problem, and I care a hell of a lot more about people who are being hurt today than I do about future people who have a sad that it's hard to read old threads.
posted by solotoro at 10:29 AM on July 14 [27 favorites]


I've had a mild bit of creepiness happen because of my posting here and I would love to be able to retroactively anonymize parts of my history. Ideally, I could go through my posts and AskMes and click a "make this one anonymous" button. I know it wouldn't be totally anonymous, since they'd still be read in context, but it would be something.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:33 AM on July 14 [23 favorites]


Ideally, I could go through my posts and AskMes and click a "make this one anonymous" button. I know it wouldn't be totally anonymous, since they'd still be read in context, but it would be something.

I know we can ask the mods to anonymize older questions but the thought of having to justify why I want to do it is enough to give me pause. A button would be perfect. Same for comments, I'd love to be able to transfer comments to the anonymous account.
posted by simmering octagon at 10:43 AM on July 14 [16 favorites]


I agree with simmering octagon and The corpse in the library.
posted by brook horse at 10:44 AM on July 14


It could be mildly helpful to remove or obfuscate ALL usernames on posts once they come to be a certain number of years old. Being able to track any one person's comments over the course of 10+ years is an unnecessarily granular archive.
posted by xo at 10:44 AM on July 14 [14 favorites]


And for the record, as a person who has never experienced this sort of harassment and very likely never will given the identities I hold, I am very damn near buttoning over the number of people wringing their hands over potential problems with the user experience or whatever. Our community is currently suffering a severe user experience problem, and I care a hell of a lot more about people who are being hurt today than I do about future people who have a sad that it's hard to read old threads.

I came here to say this, but you said it better. Thank you.

I'm angry, sad, and exhausted by the lazy and/or bad-faith readings of nikaspark's (many, many) (extremely detailed) (expert) comments above.
posted by sugar and confetti at 10:45 AM on July 14 [7 favorites]


simmering octagon: "I know we can ask the mods to anonymize older questions but the thought of having to justify why I want to do it is enough to give me pause. "

FWIW, I did this once, and it was as simple as asking. Maybe it would have more of a barrier if I was asking for dozens of them, but I just asked, and it was done.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:49 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


I feel awkward that we haven’t heard from cortex on this recently. At the same time I understand that he’s a target too and that it might not be realistic to expect a dispassionate and immediate response.

Does Metafilter have any kind of governance structure that would allow the chief to step away when he needs to, but make us all a bit more secure that someone is here, listening and thinking about how to address this? Is there someone who could at least fill this role informally?
posted by eirias at 11:00 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


One of the sidelines in this thread is concerning how and whether to notify people who've been targeted. Here's something concrete that I'd like to propose as a solution: follow the model that is used for information breaches.

Post a header announcement that says something like "some users have been targeted for harassment recently. Click here to find out more". On click through, first a reiteration of site policies and a summary of tools the site provides. Below that, a way to find out if I specifically have been targeted: "Have I been targeted"? It's linked to your login, so you can only see your own status.

I think this solves all the problems noted above: it's opt-in, it doesn't out anybody, and if a user hasn't been targeted, then the tool doesn't even need to provide details about the harassment, which will prevent the problem of bringing even more eyes to the shitty behavior.

The downside, as always for things like this, is people-power. Someone then would need to take responsibility for updating the list of people who are being targeted. And there would need to be a tool for reporting abuse to that person as well.
posted by dbx at 11:02 AM on July 14 [24 favorites]


I think this must be a generational thing, because I would absolutely not want a sidewide notice to go out if someone was posting things about me, because I would not want the entire f'ing site to go on archive.org to read it. I also am torn about whether I would want to be contacted personally...maybe? If doxxed, yes, but, but if someone's just saying "look at what warriorqueen said !!$$&&" on a public website, I'm not entirely sure I would want to know.

Warriorqueen, I apologize that my comment made it sound like I was suggesting that. Perhaps it isn't any better but my thought was something along the lines of "Metafilter is a public forum and users/mods have experienced harassment on other sites because of their posts here. All posters might want to consider this when deciding what, when and how you disclose information about yourself in comments and your profile."

Just basically a heads up this this happens in general, not linking to or mentioning specific harassment.
posted by mcduff at 11:12 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


> It could be mildly helpful to remove or obfuscate ALL usernames on posts once they come to be a certain number of years old. Being able to track any one person's comments over the course of 10+ years is an unnecessarily granular archive.

Unnecessary to whom? It's a pretty foundational aspect of being part of a community. A whole lot of Mefites are real acquaintances and friends to each other (whether met IRL or not) and I would personally howl with outrage if the history of their participation here was zapped into anonymity because someone considered their identities to be an unnecessarily granular detail.
posted by desuetude at 11:20 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


I’ve had my comments on Metafilter reposted offsite so that a large group of non-Mefites could collectively mock them/riff on bad-faith readings of them since 2003 or 2004 and continuing for at least a decade after that. The few times that group actually crossed over to MeFi to antagonize me, cortex has always been extremely responsive and helpful despite my relationships with non-Jessamyn/cortex mods being ...adversarial on a good day. This is nowhere remotely near as bad as what EM has experienced (that shit is flatly illegal but also never ever prosecuted unless there’s a bodycount attached), nor what many trans posters are experiencing right now; I’m just noting that this type of thing is nearly as old as the site itself.

Also: Nthing nika’s getting EM legal assistance is the higher priority, FWIW.

I used to do freelance network penetration and I’ve found two SQL injection attacks against Metafilter, one without permission that nearly got me banned and the latter with written permission after which Mathowie began using me as his point of contact with the old-school #mefi troll brigade (long story for another thread). I am both out of practice and never got anywhere near nikasparks’ level of technical expertise, but I do know enough to opine with relative certainty that their proposal will a) help provide forensic tools that would vastly increase the chances of identifying the accounts responsible, and b) not actually stop them in anything but the shortest term because of the ease of creating new accounts and relatively easy circumvention via waiting a few weeks between victim’s post and corresponding tweet. It’s also an enormous, daunting task given the resources cortex has available and would bring progress on the many other top priorities to a crashing halt. Again for emphasis: it’s a *lot* of work that might help address this issue somewhat but at the end of the day it is literally impossible to run a public messageboard that isn’t vulnerable to this category of attack.

There have been several comments from non-technically inclined users asking those with technical skills to stop saying it won’t work and to start making suggestions for what will, and the bitter truth is that Metafilter is already doing more than any other public messageboard I know of and there’s very little more it can do, though nikasparks’ suggestion is the best additional measure on merits despite the labor costs.

My only suggestion might be to use userids/sessionids as a seed value for introducing very minor but visually distinguishable differences in comments. Ie an extra space here, a dropped punctuation mark there, a single-letter barely noticeable font change elsewhere. This would allow both screenshots and text scrapes to be traced back to the clientside view they came from and enable identification of the user or the non-Mefite’s session and corresponding IP (it’s just the old CIA error fingerprinting technique for outing moles). But! This also doesn’t really solve the problem for the same fundamental reason that nika’s suggestion can’t: nothing can truly solve this except law enforcement taking this seriously, and historically that almost never happens.
posted by Ryvar at 11:21 AM on July 14 [58 favorites]


...but I keep landing on the side of "would want to know, or at least would want the information available somewhere." It's strange to me how many people did know this was going on, that it was sort of institutional knowledge, and yet how were its victims to find out?

I don't think this is exactly what Conway's Law means; the less formal tangential "when all you've got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail" probably applies better. For a very long time, it seemed the primary and sometimes only public-facing moderation tool to problem things was comment deletion. There were (and are) good reasons for that; some comments are best sent to the cornfield. (A hammer is a good tool for many applications!)

But when it's the only approach, it spills over into paralysis in navigating the problem-space of when and how to notify users of this class of ratfuckery. (dbx's comment a bit above is on point on a useful and better approach that's not a site-blaring These Users Are Now In $Shithead's Offsite Burn Book! or having it be a super unpleasant surprise for those who do want to know.
posted by Drastic at 11:25 AM on July 14


Our community is currently suffering a severe user experience problem, and I care a hell of a lot more about people who are being hurt today than I do about future people who have a sad that it's hard to read old threads.

Yes, preventing user harm beats preserving user enjoyment, but, as a user who spends a fair amount of time rereading old threads, I'd rather manage both than pit them against each other. I've been here for more than a decade, and I'd rather not have chunks of that erased. On the other hand, I also don't want our members (and especially our trans members) exposed and harassed.

I really do not like the idea of user-controlled comment deletion. It could be weaponized pretty easily. There were some shenanigans with the 5-minute edit window, not all of them light-hearted. It's hard to hold bad actors accountable when they can remove the evidence, and, while I feel that site behavior has improved in, say, the last 5 years, that happened largely because people were held accountable and the number of second chances was greatly reduced by the mods.

As for the other suggestions, I'm not even sure what is doable. I like the idea of obscuring user names on comments for people who aren't logged in; it wouldn't solve the current problem, but it would make the site a little less friendly to harassers. But how possible is it? How much time would it take? Is that time already committed to the slur filter? Building the BIPOC advisory board? I don't want those initiatives and momentum to die, either.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:34 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


So Eyebrows McGee was doxxed, threatened, etc. I don't know why she had to do all this on her own which is what it sounds like... if she is an employee of Metafilter. The organization needs to take a stance so that it's not just one person filing a lawsuit.

This comment has stayed on my mind. If MetaFilter the company isn't going to take action on behalf of multiple users being harassed because it's happening on a different site and haters gonna free speech, is it at least going to stand by an employee receiving death threats related to their work here? And if not, does EM have grounds for some kind of unsafe workplace claim? IANAL but IAA troubled site participant. Not to detract from extremely valid complaints from others in this thread - I've followed those Twitter accounts occasionally and they're horrid - but if this site is going to not just sleep on user-raised issues but also be a bad employer while priding itself on having paid professional mod staff, maybe it deserves to fold.
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:40 AM on July 14 [7 favorites]


I really do not like the idea of user-controlled comment deletion. It could be weaponized pretty easily.

Not really? Deleted comments stay in the database, so it's not like mods wouldn't take action if the feature is getting abused.

In any case, I'd be happy with deletion still needing mod approval if anonymizing gets to be user-controlled.
posted by simmering octagon at 11:41 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


desuetude: " I would personally howl with outrage if the history of their participation here was zapped into anonymity because someone considered their identities to be an unnecessarily granular detail."

I'm reserving my howls of outrage for the fact that people are being targeted for harassment and doxxed.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:46 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


Following up. I've been communicating with the team and with folks over email the last day, and I'm now fully caught up on this thread and want to sum up the "what now, what next" stuff:

1. Immediate things users can do individually about privacy/identity concerns:

a. There is a "minimal profile" option in Preferences that obscures activity and identity fields from non-logged-in users. FAQ on that here. That plus omitting optional fields in your user preferences is the most direct way to reduce the casual visibility of identifying info.

b. If you feel you need to close your account, temporarily or indefinitely, that's okay to do and the mod team can facilitate reopening it later if you want or help work out a new account situation. Reach out and let us know, we'll take care of it.

c. If there are specific comments or posts you want removed or AskMe questions anonymized, let us know, we'll take care of it.

d. While we have not historically done account wipes casually, it's become increasingly clear over time that for some folks that will feel necessary. Contact us if you need to do that; it's a nuclear option that I want to avoid when other more targeted solutions will suffice, but we can do it. It's a somewhat manual process at this point and will take some time process requests, and frimble is doing some prep and test work now. This is a potentially really consequential move on a site made up of interpersonal discussion so I may need to talk clearly about future expectations about site participation when taking this route.


2. Legal and organizational responses to the twitter folks.

a. Legal response to this stuff is something I need to discuss with legal representation, not something I can hash out in thread. If you have specific thoughts or input on that, that's welcome but best to reach out to the contact form or me directly. We've been discussing this more as a team yesterday and today I'm doing some work on this today.

b. Please be cautious and check your aim with any speculation about identities of bad actors or twitter accounts. We know these two, specific and momentarily dormant accounts are long-time bad actors and focusing on reporting them makes sense. Open speculation about other parties is dangerous and should be done with care. Again, checking in with the mod team privately about details there is probably the best plan.


3. Future development or changes to MeFi functionality or site visibility.

There's a lot of stuff here being discussed in the thread, some of which is potentially workable and some of which is not so much. I appreciate the detailed input from professionals in security and harassment management in particular and especially want to thank nikaspark for the detailed proposals.

We will try and follow up on those as we can, as a secondary priority to the more immediate stuff above. As nikaspark notes, some of this stuff is expensive and time consuming to accomplish even if it does ultimately make sense as a strategy to pursue, and even some of the simpler sounding proposals would take a lot of work and have far-reaching implications for the site, so I can't offer any kind of immediate response or timeline on those. The mod team will continue to work to sort through and assess this stuff, and it'll take some time.


This situation sucks. I know it's having a shocking and harmful impact on folks to whom the scope and nature of the whole thing is new; it's been having a harmful long-term impact on folks on the site and the mod team for something like a year and a half now, and I am sorry we haven't been able to find an effective solution to these dedicated bad actors to date. They're a case study in the worst of the internet and of willful, sociopathic behavior, and navigating through it is going to be shitty no matter what, and I'm sorry for everyone who is in this boat with us.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:02 PM on July 14 [86 favorites]


Hey Cortex, one thing you didn't touch on - what about notification of folks targeted by this account because of their participation here? Is there anything you guys as mods can do on that end?
posted by all about eevee at 12:07 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]


With the accounts currently dormant that'd be difficult to do in a useful way, but we can monitor them for a return and look at trying to reach out to individual folks with careful warning. I still have serious misgivings about the balance of putting trauma in front of someone and essentially doing some of the harasser's work for them, but I hear folks on feeling there's a balance to strike there.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:11 PM on July 14 [11 favorites]


Thank you.
posted by all about eevee at 12:11 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


I really appreciate you weighing in, cortex! For what it’s worth, I took the mod absence in the last part of this thread to mean you all were discussing it as a team, but based on the number of comments speculating, in the future could a mod leave a short in thread note to say that you’re catching up with things and will check in later? (I know you do this sometimes and then it leads to more gnashing of teeth about how long it takes you to weigh in but I think it helps people know that the mod team IS following along.)

I want to say that I have been thinking and reading along even as I have left numerous comments in thread. I really appreciate folks taking the time to explain why things wouldn’t work or wouldn’t have the intended effect. I recognize a number of things I thought were a good idea weren’t. I think there’s a lot of people worrying that we’re all convinced that ideas we may have discussed earlier are ones that we’re all fixated on but actually, I assume I am not the only one who had an open mind throughout. (On that note, hi, popular Mefite & co. on Twitter that I saw discussing this thread in unkind terms! We can discuss solutions that might be shitty and learn why they’re shitty, but when you mock that process publicly it makes it less likely we feel comfortable learning.)
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:12 PM on July 14 [17 favorites]


For what it’s worth, I took the mod absence in the last part of this thread to mean you all were discussing it as a team, but based on the number of comments speculating, in the future could a mod leave a short in thread note to say that you’re catching up with things and will check in later?

You're right in that presumption and also right that a check-in would have been good. We let ourselves get too busy catching up and hashing stuff out, I'm sorry about that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:14 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


cortex, I totally get it. And I think you’re often damned if you do, damned if you don’t — people are angry, we both want a response quickly but want it to be substantial!

For what it’s worth, I’m really sorry to learn how you’ve been affected by these accounts, too, and seeing that the new mods have already become targets in addition to EM’s atrocious dealings with them. I hope whatever solutions are implemented also help you all.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:20 PM on July 14 [20 favorites]


Just getting into a groove for this kind of thing of every X hours for especially velocity-heavy threads of quick(ish) boilerplates like

"Mod notes: be assured the mod team is following this discussion closely and taking notes. There are internal discussions both proceeding and further scheduled; expect a fuller update on current state of mod team stance and thoughts by $date."

Or you know, rather less obviously dashed-off than that not-an-actual-quote, would probably do well. It won't do perfectly and will attract some frustration of its own of course, but on balance, less than radio silence will.
posted by Drastic at 12:22 PM on July 14 [4 favorites]


I remain nonplussed by the veneration of the data over the safety of real users. I don't care what kind of holes my request might leave in the historical threads. I am being stalked and my safety and that of my family is more important, by far, than the cohesiveness of a discussion thread, or the existence of my questions over time. Yes, i do have a sad for losing nearly 20 years of interactions but I'm doing a cost-benefit analysis here as an ACTIVELY stalked person, and what I don't need right now is to justify to someone why they should pretty please run some database statements to help me out, even though it will make some nerds mad.
posted by trappist system at 12:27 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


trappist system, we are prioritizing your request in particular.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:29 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


thank you
posted by trappist system at 12:31 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


(On that note, hi, popular Mefite & co. on Twitter that I saw discussing this thread in unkind terms! We can discuss solutions that might be shitty and learn why they’re shitty, but when you mock that process publicly it makes it less likely we feel comfortable learning.)

i find it really weird that in a thread that's trying to resolve an issue regarding two toxic twitter accounts, @mefioutsider and @go_mefi, you'd refer to two trans mefi users who buttoned over this very thread discussing their frustrations on twitter, and complaining that they're not helping you 'learn'.

just reads weird to me is all.
posted by anem0ne at 12:48 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


i'm not on twitter, just fyi
posted by trappist system at 12:51 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


like i have an account but it's empty
posted by trappist system at 12:51 PM on July 14


of course, if you're not referring to those two trans former mefites, it's probably useful to clarify.
posted by anem0ne at 12:54 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Guessing some wires are going to get crossed pretty quick without clarifying who is referring to/quoting/replying to who.
posted by Jpfed at 12:54 PM on July 14


i find it really weird that in a thread that's trying to resolve an issue regarding two toxic twitter accounts, @mefioutsider and @go_mefi, you'd refer to two trans mefi users who buttoned over this very thread discussing their frustrations on twitter, and complaining that they're not helping you 'learn'.

I suspect that thorn is speaking of a different conversation than you're thinking of.
posted by Etrigan at 12:55 PM on July 14


I think subtweeting etc is going to be a real source of frustration here and I'd ask folks to either be explicit about what they're talking about it if rises to the threshold of addressing it in here or try and avoid going there. A lot of people use twitter.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:56 PM on July 14 [20 favorites]


No, didn’t realize there was more than one thread going on Twitter, sorry, super shitty of me and I should have known better than to mention it like that. I was pissed at the thread which seemed to be white cis folks poking fun at us and wasn’t sure if directly calling it out was going to be useful. Which means I shouldn’t have been passive aggressive in the first place.

To clarify, it was Bondcliff mentioning the thread in a way I felt misrepresented what is happening here. There's some back on forth on there now and I don’t recognize who is who. You can find the thread if you search Twitter for “metafilter,” I saw it late last night but looks like it’s an active thread.

Thank you for asking for clarification, anem0ne.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:05 PM on July 14 [5 favorites]


Also it seems like I am misrepresenting my own identity as a white cis person and I don’t want to abuse the edit button to obscure my poor phrasing, so leaving this comment to clarify.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:07 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Can we all agree that the real problem is a person(s) on Twitter who is harassing our members? That the enemy is not the mods or other mefites or people who have chosen to button or take a break? Almost all of the comments in this thread are trying to help, some more successfully or expertly or gracefully than others, but still trying to support the community.

And yeah, this is a shit year, and there are a lot of reasons to be angry and upset and anxious, but if we are going to rip bits off each other, we are really just doing the Twitter asshole's work for them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:09 PM on July 14 [54 favorites]


Actually between my comment and now, it looks like Bondcliff deleted the original comment so you won’t see it.

I should have engaged with you directly, Bondcliff, thanks for reading here and engaging with folks on your Twitter thread in a way that I think brought more nuance into what I felt you were saying when I saw it last night. Since you’re reading here it seems even more passive aggressive not to address you but I will drop it now!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:12 PM on July 14 [10 favorites]


To clarify, it was Bondcliff mentioning the thread in a way I felt misrepresented what is happening here.

Hi. Yes, I was discussing the thread on Twitter, as I sometimes do, and a somewhat lively discussion occurred as a result. I have deleted my tweets. FWIW, the main point of my tweets was questioning Metafilter's responsibility for things that occur off the site. I was not mocking people's genuine concerns. I blocked one of the accounts in question a while ago, but it sounds like things have gotten worse since then.
posted by bondcliff at 1:21 PM on July 14 [13 favorites]


Cortex: Legal response to this stuff is something I need to discuss with legal representation, not something I can hash out in thread.

Thank you for clarifying this. Let us know what you decide to do, if at all possible. Mefi isn't required to look out for its members, legally, but I hold this place to a higher standard than Facebook or Twitter and would expect folks here to do the right thing and look after the community.

Which is probably naive of me, given the givens, but let me have that.

As part of the twitter discussion thorn bushes mentions - I responded there before reading here, which is why I was flippant and dismissive at first. I knew about these accounts, but my info was well out of date and I had no idea how bad things had gotten. That's entirely on me.

I do think this specific situation calls for legal action, not code. The barn is on fire and the horses are counties away. We need a bucket brigade, not better locks.
posted by cmyk at 1:27 PM on July 14 [7 favorites]


> I'm reserving my howls of outrage for the fact that people are being targeted for harassment and doxxed.

I am outraged by that as well. The ramifications of massively and systemically changing the context of the content contributed here, and the safety of the members of this community, are not mutually fucking exclusive concerns.
posted by desuetude at 1:37 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


A legal fund for Eyebrows McGee is the priority. The abuse and intimidation they have endured is appalling.
posted by noiseanoise at 1:38 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


I'd appreciate an update from a mod on the guidelines with regards to bringing in offsite material into MeTa threads. I don't think it was appropriate for the thorn bushes have roses to have brought up bondcliff's Twitter thread and directed people reading this thread to go search for it. Frankly anything discussed offsite is offsite. Unless it rises to the level of harassment and needs mod intervention, at which point the contact form is likely the appropriate channel, it seems weird and gross to compel a user's participation here to defend themselves on stuff they say elsewhere.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:45 PM on July 14 [6 favorites]


I think talking about low-grade offsite chatter and gossip and whatnot is something we can do in the future—my general take is I would like for people to not be crappy when doing so, and for folks to mostly avoid dragging it back to the site unless it's really an issue (and maybe let us know directly instead in that case)—but I don't think that stuff is really a priority right now in here and I'd like folks to let it lie. Everybody's on edge, let's try and take a step back.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:50 PM on July 14 [12 favorites]


lazaruslong, it shouldn’t have happened, I appreciate you making it explicit. I am responsible for the very behavior we’re trying to avoid. I am positive the mods will say the same but in case there was any doubt, I recognize that it wasn’t okay, that cortex’s comment was clear to me that he agrees, and that it put bondcliff in a shitty position as well as causing people to wonder if I was talking about them. I am sorry.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:52 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


Just FYI, the thorn bushes have roses has reached out to me. Everything is cool. Any question of appropriateness about me being called out in this thread is cancelled by the appropriateness of me tweeting about the thread. It's all good. Y'all can stop talking about me now or just delete the whole derail.
posted by bondcliff at 1:52 PM on July 14 [10 favorites]


Even with preview, at the end of this longer thread it didn't load so I didn’t see cortex’s comment until after I posted — I see it now and wanted to acknowledge stepping back.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:53 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Having experienced offsite, real-world harassment personally, I would happily contribute to a GoFundMe or other fund to help pursue hard legal recourse against whomever(s) are behind this or similar efforts. It is the feeling of helplessness that is the worst.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:55 PM on July 14 [5 favorites]


Cool, thanks the thorn bushes have roses. All good.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:58 PM on July 14


Adding my voice to the call for a legal fund to help EM deal with this situation.

EM and cortex and others, my heart goes out to you. You do not deserve this.

Once there is a fund established, I'll be happy to contribute to it periodically. This is some seriously criminal behavior, and it needs to be stopped. My god, people have it hard enough in life. Why is that so invisible/delightful to some?
posted by heyho at 2:08 PM on July 14 [11 favorites]


"This is some seriously criminal behavior, and it needs to be stopped. My god, people have it hard enough in life. Why is that so invisible/delightful to some?"

This is what I've been feeling, too.

Like some others here, fifteen years ago I was doxxed and biographied and viciously mocked offsite and then, in an unrelated incident, stalked around the web by someone, all related to MetaFilter. It was very disturbing — animosoties and arguments are inevitable to some degree in social interactions, but that some people are motivated enough, and enjoy it, to engage in long campaigns of it? That's really dark stuff.

I and other people like me, with relative privilege and rarely targeted, might easily and wrongly think of this as unusual. But for a variety of groups the threat is an ever-present fact of online life.

Maybe I'm misguided about this, but it seems to me that when members of our community are targeted and stalked and harassed like this, all resources available should be utilized immediately to protect the specific people targeted and to stop the harassers. Yeah, we should work on long-term strategies — but shouldn't all the immediate focus be on the proximate threat?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:11 PM on July 14 [11 favorites]


I was kind of a shitstain of a human before I found medication that worked and could move forward with non-psychiatric aspects of mental health. Because this was all pre-2006 and identities were mostly obfuscated I don’t get many opportunities to apologize for the harm I caused, so: I’m deeply sorry for whatever part I played in trolling/harrassing you on #mefi & spinoffs, Ivan.

I’m fairly certain that’s not the specific thing you’re talking about in this case but I recall that we treated you pretty fucking awfully at the time and I apologize for whatever part I played in that.
posted by Ryvar at 3:23 PM on July 14 [22 favorites]


That's kind of you, Ryvar, and thank you and it's long forgiven and forgotten. I was more of an asshole in those days and I regret it and I've tried to be a better person here. I've said this before, but I thank the community here for this — I've learned and grown a lot thanks to the people here who have also, not coincidentally, learned and grown.

I'm really upset at how unsafe trans mefites have felt and I really hope we can substationally improve things.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:33 PM on July 14 [28 favorites]


Why does the profile page even have links to other sites, social media, etc.? If someone’s profile page links to another account, which lists that person’s “real name” Metafilter’s already doxxed them.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:35 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]



Why does the profile page even have links to other sites, social media, etc.? If someone’s profile page links to another account, which lists that person’s “real name” Metafilter’s already doxxed them.


It's a choice the user make to fill those links out?
posted by lalochezia at 3:37 PM on July 14 [28 favorites]


Well, it's voluntary. There was a burst of efforts for widening the mefi community within the context of the rest of social media about ten years ago, around when I rejoined.

On preview: what lalochezia said.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:39 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


I guess where I'm the old school weirdo is that I wish Metafilter were more "what happens on Metafilter stays on Metafilter," even the innocuous stuff. I absolutely hate that many users, even the innocuous ones, cross post/reference metafilter to their other social media accounts. And it sort of seems at odds with the way that "$5 keeps the randos out" is heavily promoted. But it all seems somehow related to the philosophical divide between those who think comments should be forever and those who want more power over their history, maybe?
posted by TwoStride at 3:48 PM on July 14 [6 favorites]


There *was* a time, back when the advertising crunch first happened, when facilitating sharing of MetaFilter content onto Twitter and Facebook seemed like a good thing for driving traffic here.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:23 PM on July 14 [4 favorites]


Have comments in this thread been deleted? I'm noticing one in particular that was there and is now gone, and there's no indication of why. Isn't there usually a mod note if something is removed?
posted by scrump at 4:25 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]


At least one comment from trappist system has been deleted (referring to an email from cortex). I don't know how often mods put mod notes, but it's definitely not 100% of the time.
posted by saeculorum at 4:35 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


They have been banned
posted by noiseanoise at 4:38 PM on July 14


It’s your site cortex, you make your choices for reasons and set your boundaries. This one stings not gonna lie.
posted by noiseanoise at 4:39 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


I deleted one comment, and I've closed their new temp account and am gonna correspond with them over email. There's more context there than is appropriate to get into in detail, but this is following on granting their request for a significant account wipe earlier today.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:44 PM on July 14 [7 favorites]


Of which, frimble has gotten that process into better shape now; it's still fairly manual, so they'll be following up on the rest of the requests tomorrow, but we did get that one account wipe through as a priority and I've emailed other folks to let them know about the timeline on processing their wipes.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:49 PM on July 14 [9 favorites]


Seems straightforward enough. Sorry to create a minor uproar and derail.
posted by scrump at 4:53 PM on July 14


I want to respond to the effects of comments like:

There have been several comments from non-technically inclined users asking those with technical skills to stop saying it won’t work

I'd encourage all of us who spend our time on engineering to be respectful in our assumptions about the skills and opinions of people who disagree with us, or spend their time on other things.

Problems like online harassment are an intersection of many domains: technical, social, legal, personal. Unlike some pure technical problems, solutions tend not to be binary -- working versus not working -- and instead tend to be a series of trade-offs that mitigate some harms but come at some costs.

Engaging with these solutions as if they are binary can be an oversimplification that shuts down problem-solving. Framing the problem as if engineers are the adjudicators of what works and what doesn't excludes people who can help -- including people with firsthand experience of harassment, which engineers may or may not have.

Having experience in one of the domains of the problem does not necessarily make us experts in the problem as a whole, nor does it make our judgments necessarily better than those of people with different experience. If instead we act as a community and pool our expertise, we'll do a better job taking care of each other.
posted by amery at 5:02 PM on July 14 [35 favorites]


trappist system has been in touch with me and shared correspondence between them and cortex. cortex is misrepresenting the ban on their account, it's not just due to the request for a wipe. They are understandably quite upset.
posted by divabat at 5:10 PM on July 14 [24 favorites]


This site helped me realize that I’m trans, and it’s been slowly breaking my heart ever since. I guess I stopped being angry or sad about it a while ago. All that was left was resigned disappointment.

And today I find out an active staking campaign has been targeting vulnerable members, taking their words (often out of context), and offering them up for further stalking and harassment, all while the people we trust to run this community all but sat on their hands. What a fucking shitshow.
posted by WCWedin at 5:14 PM on July 14 [7 favorites]


In the full knowledge that I will be banned for this—

cortex, you are wildly out of line. The user who was recently banned has shared the private exchange at https://deletemefi.com and I volunteered to share it here in thread. I concur with divabat that you have misrepresented what happened.

Frankly your behavior in this thread makes it clear that you don't understand how the Internet has changed since MetaFilter was established, and you won't be taking the steps necessary to assure users' safety going into the future.
posted by books for weapons at 5:18 PM on July 14 [40 favorites]


I still have serious misgivings about the balance of putting trauma in front of someone and essentially doing some of the harasser's work for them, but I hear folks on feeling there's a balance to strike there.

A number of people have said explicitly, in this thread, that they would have wanted to know about the stalking. I'm struggling to think of any good reasons you wouldn't respect that. Surely people can make their own decisions about what they choose to learn about?
posted by johnofjack at 5:28 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


I'm not trying to misrepresent anything, I'm refraining from digging in on a public discussion about someone's history on MetaFilter right when they're specifically upset about feeling exposed to a harassing asshole by their MetaFilter history.

I don't think it's appropriate to get into the details of someone's activity on the site after they've explicitly asked to have that activity removed for privacy reasons, and I'm not comfortable putting them in the position of getting into it any further than that.

There's not a workable model for this place that involves there being zero boundaries on someone's behavior or consideration for whether participating on the site is healthy in either direction. Those boundaries apply even to folks who are hurting or marginalized, even if we try to extend extra space and flexibility because of those factors. I'll talk with trappist over email when and if they want to, but making an end run around that here is deeply inappropriate and I need people to stop it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:29 PM on July 14 [69 favorites]


Your behavior in that exchange was entirely inappropriate, cortex.

It's been a good 14 years, folks. I'm out.
posted by sugar and confetti at 5:36 PM on July 14 [13 favorites]


Is MeTa not the place we're meant to talk about mod actions?

More than happy to jump somewhere else, but I'm pretty sure that place doesn't exist so it's kind of a non-starter that you think it's deeply inappropriate.
posted by SpiffyRob at 5:42 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


was entirely inappropriate

I'm confused how so, or at least how you can determine that. There's clearly some history that both participants are aware of that we aren't, and that cortex isn't going to go spreading all over metatalk.

I guess it feels like when management takes action against someone at work. They get to go saying anything they want, while it would be extremely inappropriate for us to talk about it at all, even to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion.

Which is not to say I know it was for good cause. That's my point; there's no way for me to know from that.
posted by ctmf at 5:47 PM on July 14 [21 favorites]


This is not the place I joined any more, and this latest action/misrepresentation by cortex proves it. I’m out, too. This sucks.
posted by Weeping_angel at 5:47 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]


> upset about feeling exposed
> zero boundaries on someone’s behavior

I owe you an apology, cortex. The other day I replied to one of your comments with “you’re better than that.” I was mistaken about that, and I’m sorry.
posted by this one sparks joy at 5:48 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


Is MeTa not the place we're meant to talk about mod actions?

The mod action is I closed their account based on recent and long-term history, despite having made a lot of effort to make it work for them over the years here. If you want to talk about that, okay, we can talk about it, see comment above about boundaries.

But I'm not going to go over their behavior or discuss private details of their on-site interactions or anything like that. I'm not going to post private correspondence, and it's pretty well known as seen in books for weapons' comment above that doing that sort of thing is broadly a banning offense on the site. I'm not gonna do anything other than say books for weapons shouldn't have done that and more so neither should have trappist, but it's a real stark violation of the site guidelines and one we very clearly tell folks not to do, for everybody's protection and sense of safety. "Unless you're upset with the mods" isn't an asterisk on that.

I was clear that this wasn't some lightly or happily, and I don't feel good to have needed to go there. But this is a moderated site and we have to make hard moderation decisions, and it's often impossible to actually unpack those in public without violating someone's privacy significantly. That's inappropriate and I'm not going to do it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:48 PM on July 14 [61 favorites]


There is a harassing set of psychopathic assholes on twitter who will be patting each other on the back about how much damage they've caused, and how much damage they've induced us to do to each other.
posted by lalochezia at 5:50 PM on July 14 [23 favorites]


Uh-uh. Nope. Banning someone and then alluding vaguely to past actions after you have wiped their history is too much.

Good-bye.
posted by Etrigan at 5:52 PM on July 14 [9 favorites]


folks, we don't have the full context of that exchange, or of the user's history with the site, and it wouldn't be appropriate to air that context here, especially in light of what the whole thread is about in the first place.

i don't like anything about this but i don't think it's fair to make assumptions based on fragments of a story. on preview i agree with lalochezia that this is exactly the kind of drama and infighting offsite folks are looking to foment and enjoy. everything about this sucks.

is there any good reason to keep this thread open?
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 5:52 PM on July 14 [12 favorites]


no, closing the thread would only stiffle the conversation.
posted by clavdivs at 5:59 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


holy shit cortex.

You and a couple other mods wildly misrepresenting private conversations with users has happened a lot a lot a lot over the years. We don't really talk about it too much here because posting private conversations is bad! But we do talk to each other, in small and large groups.

I have never noticed that [banned user] has been any kind of problem. From over here it basically just looks like:

1. you have not gotten the site up to date with modern safety and user account management options.

2. [banned user] is targeted by a sociopath and no one tells them.

3. they ask to have their history deleted because there’s no other reasonable option atm - please do not say that sifting through all comments trying to identify some they want deleted is a reasonable-feeling, urgently-available option when someone has just found out they've been targeted by a sociopath; it is not.

4. you banned them.
posted by new acct for internet sociopaths! at 6:02 PM on July 14 [15 favorites]


so offer to delete and help people say you prioritize them and then make them feel like shit for doing so and then ban them. a trans person. real good look there.
posted by kanata at 6:05 PM on July 14 [13 favorites]


that's how it comes across. to me. sorry we ruined your day by being harrassed.
posted by kanata at 6:06 PM on July 14 [6 favorites]


Mods, has the GoFundMe account for EM been set up yet? Or should one of the users set that up?
posted by kinoeye at 6:17 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


[One comment and a reply removed. Do not turn this into a referendum on the user's behavior; stuff doesn't work out sometimes and that sucks, but I'm specifically avoiding and asking people to avoid making the details a thing in here. I don't need that kind of defense, cut it out.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:24 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Good god, and the smug “Oh no, it’s against the rules to link to what actually happened, but I’ll allow it this time because deleting a post that calls me out would look extra bad”

Fuck this place.
posted by WCWedin at 6:25 PM on July 14 [7 favorites]


And to think an hour ago I was was trying to be measured in my response. What was the point.
posted by WCWedin at 6:29 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Did cortex say ' ban' even in the deleted account leaked memail over email, I read that cortex was firm at this point but willing in the future to open the door.

I've had my account longer then cortex too so can we not 000 another, here, please.
I never wanted these profile bells and whistles and took a hiatus then because, THIS. But I saw the argument for updating the community with locale, contacts, favorites etc.
not like I had any say, few did. But participation brings accountability and the archive helps more to maintain that openness then it does not.
in my humble opinion.
posted by clavdivs at 6:35 PM on July 14 [6 favorites]


You and a couple other mods wildly misrepresenting private conversations with users has happened a lot a lot a lot over the years. We don't really talk about it too much here because posting private conversations is bad! But we do talk to each other, in small and large groups.

There is this interesting substrata to the site of how some users (a countable subset? the references are obviously always imprecise) have interactions with the mods that they consider to be presented inaccurately and as unjustified. An interesting part about reading the correspondence mentioned above is that it doesn’t help much - it alludes to a bad history without providing any kind of window on it. It feels like there is a kind of shadow history of Metafilter that’s been written. The user who left was, as far as I knew, someone who had seemed to be a strong member of the community who contributed a lot to it. It’s extremely jarring to find out that there was apparently a rich hotbed of conflict between the mods and them, and I wish that it were not something exactly confined to the shadows. I wish everything that people wanted was in the open.

MetaFilter is a good website, and it’s worth fighting for. If fixing it so that some online dicks can’t mess with folks as easily requires re-engineering big chunks of its architecture, we should try to do that. If the moderators that we generally think quite well of are being harassed to hell by some weird trolls, we should support them.

Anyway, I’m sad now.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:37 PM on July 14 [22 favorites]


Amery: just wanted to say that I very much agree with the spirit of your comment and the reminder is appreciated. My neuroatypicality should not be your - or anybody else’s - burden. If the desired outcome is a return to users feeling safe against the kind of threats discussed in this thread then I am reasonably certain technical solutions in isolation will not suffice and only a legal approach can achieve that, but I’m happy to discuss what hybrid solutions might work. About three minutes after posting the comment you quoted I suddenly realized a way to trivially defeat both my own suggestion and nikasparks’ with extremely little effort (which I will not post here), and I’m reasonably certain that a motivated attacker would figure it out as well in fairly short order.

It’s clear that this thread has taken a sharp turn in a very different direction and out of respect for trans users I won’t clutter it further, but I hope we can talk about this in a future iteration.
posted by Ryvar at 6:40 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Either this user's behavior was egregious enough to be worth a ban or it was not.

If it was egregious enough to be worth a ban before now, they should have been banned previously. Because they were not, one of two things happened. Either:

1) Asking for the account to be wiped was the last straw and made them ban-worthy.

or

2) They were ban-worthy previously for [undisclosed reasons] but were not banned for [also undisclosed reasons]. Since the user was asking for their history to be deleted, Cortex took the opportunity to ask them not to return to the site.

One is problematic. Two is equally problematic, because the mods should know better than taking advantage of a moment in which a victim of abuse is trying to keep themself safe. There is no reason that this needed to happen at this moment (unless the act of asking for history deletion was the catalyst, as in 1, which would be its own problem but cortex insists is not the reason they were banned) other than it was convenient for the mods. Doing so at this precise moment was wildly insensitive, particularly when the user posed no immediate harm to the community. Think about why people are banned, and think about why we might need to right now, in this moment, say, "Do not come back." It's because we think they are damaging this community. Cortex has said that this user is damaging this community and that they are not welcome back. Why, in this moment, and not others, did that need to be said?

Did cortex say ' ban' even in the deleted account leaked memail over email

We can debate the semantics of it, but the clear message is "we do not want you on MeFi" and whether that is a permanent ban or a temporary one doesn't change why people find it problematic, really.
posted by brook horse at 6:45 PM on July 14 [31 favorites]


I had a bit written about the ban, but on preview Cortex would prefer not to be defended.

--

Taking a broader view of this thread, I'm struck by a particular dynamic that we've seen before in the recent past here on MeTa. It's a play in 3 acts:

I. A (social) problem is identified,
II. Some technical solutions are put forward, and
III. When those solutions aren't immediately adopted, a chorus of anger erupts.

Fixing problems is hard! Fixing some problems is harder than others. When the problem is human behavior, that adds to the difficulty and complexity. I'm relatively confident, after reading this thread carefully, that there is essentially no technical solution (on Metafilter's end) to the problem identified in the first post of this thread. The closest thing here to a solution, federated identity tracking for forensic use, is basically a complete overhaul of how the site works. And there's reason to believe it still wouldn't solve the problem (and it definitely wouldn't solve it for a long time).

It's a maddening situation. Anger about it is justified, and righteous. The thing about anger is it looks for an outlet, and that outlet is in some part becoming moderators and fellow users of this site. None of us in this thread wants to see that awful and illegal behavior continue. And it must be shattering to find out retroactively that one's self was a target. Again: anger about this situation is righteous. Righteous anger can be a force for positive change, but it needs to be coupled to a clear purpose and course of action. If there were a technical solution to the problem, I have no doubt it would be implemented as quickly as possible. As it is, we'll need to figure out what the best response really is. But now there's all this rage bouncing around in the thread, and it's not doing anybody any good.
posted by dbx at 6:48 PM on July 14 [121 favorites]


I read that cortex was firm at this point but willing in the future to open the door.

This was my interpretation as well. Also, I don't know that you can hold it against the mods that the accounts' histories have been deleted when that was what the account holder had specifically requested. Never mind whatever other correspondence might've taken place in the past (which obviously the mods know about, they can't Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind themselves). You can read that as cortex twirling his moustache and then banning the user, but I don't think that's fair.
posted by axiom at 6:49 PM on July 14 [23 favorites]


(I agree the conversation has moved on and I don't want to clutter it. So, quickly: I appreciate your comment, Ryvar. Thanks.)
posted by amery at 6:50 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]


Also, I don't know that you can hold it against the mods that the accounts' histories have been deleted when that was what the account holder had specifically requested.

The problem is not that their history has been deleted but that they have been told not to come back. My impression was that this user was hoping to return to MeFi under a new account with which they would more carefully handle their personal details to keep themselves safe.
posted by brook horse at 6:51 PM on July 14 [11 favorites]


To add some more context, the account wipe that was implemented here was highly disruptive. Unlike some of the anonymization/member's-only options suggested above, all the user's comments have been completely erased. Their posts still exist, but they're all deleted, so they don't show up in site search and have been removed from people's favorites. Even posts with hundreds of comments' worth of discussion stemming from them -- even important policy discussions here -- are pretty much unfindable now unless you have them bookmarked externally. For a user with hundreds of posts and thousands of comments, that leaves a pretty large void in site history that affects everyone who even tangentially interacted with them, or who would have ever read anything they were associated with.

I don't know and won't speculate on whatever prior history this user had, but based on this alone I can understand cortex warning that this kind of move is a last-resort nuclear option, not something that can be done casually, and that it would probably not be workable to expect that kind of memory-holing on the regular going forward under a new account.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:52 PM on July 14 [51 favorites]


Man, if we have to have an ugly fight could we not do it on the site’s birthday? could it wait for tomorrow? I feel sad.
posted by eirias at 6:54 PM on July 14 [7 favorites]


But maybe some kind of meaningful defense is actually in order, cortex. You're standing on principle while the ship sinks around you. This isn't just about your honor- valued community members are buttoning all around us because you haven't really offered even vague explanations for the kind of behavior that resulted in a long-term member being banned while in crisis. I don't need specific details and don't want them, but it feels like more is in order, given the context of this thread. I'm on my way out of here, too. Less in protest than exhaustion. I don't normally say anything on my way out the door, but wanted to ask you to please try again to explain this decision. The community deserves clarity on this. Thank you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:56 PM on July 14 [16 favorites]


Cortex, you've got multiple members of very long standing who have made significant positive contributions to the site buttoning over how you have handled this. Maybe consider that what you've done may not be the correct course of action?
posted by Chrysostom at 6:59 PM on July 14 [19 favorites]


Yes, I think it would be very good to think about whether this decision is ultimately good for the community, since I assume that was the purpose of the action in the first place.
posted by brook horse at 7:01 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]


…last-resort nuclear option, not something that can be done casually, and that it would probably not be workable to expect that kind of memory-holing on the regular going forward under a new account.

Last-resort: ✔️
Casual: ❌
Regular: ❌

So, uh…
posted by WCWedin at 7:02 PM on July 14


Fizz and I have canceled our monthly support payments to Metafilter, which we should have done a long time ago, and neither of us really want to be here much anymore. The owner of this site is not cut out for the job, and it is actively harming the community's transgender and racialized members, as well as members of the moderation team. It is not acceptable.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:04 PM on July 14 [16 favorites]


I don't understand what you're saying there, WCWedin.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:04 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Man, if we have to have an ugly fight could we not do it on the site’s birthday? could it wait for tomorrow? I feel sad.

Good day for MetaFilter to do twenty-one shots, though…
posted by Going To Maine at 7:09 PM on July 14 [7 favorites]


Having transparency in terms of why someone gets banned seems desirable. Having the ability to delete your past comments seems desirable. Those two desirable things seem mutually exclusive, though. If there's a desire or a strategy for reconciling those it might be appropriate for a new MeTa?

Cortex won't be able to publicly point to specific comments that [deleted account] said as justification. I suppose he could say "[deleted account] frequently made such-and-such kind of problematic comment" or something, but I'm not sure that helps? What information would actually make it possible for someone not happy with the ban to say "yeah, cortex had a point"? I'm not sure there is any... we're in the realm of non-falsifiable narratives here.
posted by Jpfed at 7:11 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


also, Bastille Day. But to be cleer. Wiping ones whole data set history affects other users interaction...how?
posted by clavdivs at 7:14 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure there is any... we're in the realm of non-falsifiable narratives here.

That bothers me, just in the contemplation.
posted by clavdivs at 7:19 PM on July 14


What information would actually make it possible for someone not happy with the ban to say "yeah, cortex had a point"?

I am unhappy with the ban, or...lack of invitation back, or whatever it is. It would take a lot of information to counteract that unhappiness, especially knowing the extensive contributions she had made to MF--contributions that were wiped out, sure, but that suggested that more posts and comments that I found valuable, would return one day. And it wasn't just her comments--valuable as those were--but now those of other members who have buttoned because of the way this was handled, and when it was handled, during a discussion of harassment.

There are a lot of us here, and a lot of commenting on any given stressful thread, and I know that adds to the overall stress, and the sense that something must be done immediately, but like...how many of these metatalks have we had in the past couple of years, that have resulted in people leaving?

Actually, holy shit, I just looked back at my comment history, and one year ago this week, July 16, I made basically the same comment. So I'll just repost today what I said then: I want to ... say just how distressing it is that every big thread we have where we discuss marginalization, ends up with people leaving. It's so predictable, so common, has happened so many times even in the relatively short time I've been here. I don't understand how people can talk about "community" when these threads are well-known to cause mefi to shed important and valuable voices. How is it that there's not already a strategy in place to deal with that? We see it happening, we know it's going to happen, it's happened many times before...how come it keeps happening in exactly the same way?
posted by mittens at 7:34 PM on July 14 [25 favorites]


I find it completely absurd that Mefi doesn't give users control over the life of their content.

I've had this account for 20 years (yes, I've been around longer than cortex, or at least his account), though I spent the last ~5 years not really interacting with the site, and mostly came back to it so I could wipe out any potentially identifiable information I may have left behind. I have no idea how careless I may have been with my personal information roughly half a lifetime ago. This account was created before I graduated high school - today I'm pushing 40. Back then the Internet - and MeFi in particular - seemed a lot smaller, and a lot safer. I have no doubt that I left a trail of breadcrumbs that's far easier to follow in 2020 than it was at the turn of the millennium.

I am completely incensed by having no direct control over that fact. I would happily go through my 1,449 posts and comments and click a "delete" or "anonymize" option next to the ones I'm uncomfortable leaving around, if only I had the option to do so.


Seconded.

cortex, you’ve been vague on what suggestions in this thread you’re considering implementing—will you give users the ability to anonymize past comments and posts? You said above that you’re willing to work with users on deletions and wipes, but then made it a condition for at least one user now that they can’t return to the site unless they promise not to ask for a wipe in the future. So you’re not really that willing, are you?
posted by sallybrown at 7:40 PM on July 14 [16 favorites]


will you give users the ability to anonymize past comments and posts

This seems more practical than deleting past comments, and could be a reasonable compromise. It would preserve conversations while providing some more security for users who feel like their past comments will be weaponised against them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:43 PM on July 14 [4 favorites]


I understand that listing other social media sites on the profile page is a voluntary choice, but were the mods so naive to think no one would notice that? For example:
LINKEDIn
I’m not defending nor excusing the Twitter posters, but as someone who has been harassed for her work online, in print, and in person, I think the mods have had a very unrealistic notion about how easy it is to track down anyone.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:46 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


I would LOVE the ability to anonymize past comments and posts. Please. I would gladly manually click through all of them and do it manually myself.
posted by Maarika at 7:48 PM on July 14 [10 favorites]


they can’t return to the site unless they promise not to ask for a wipe in the future

If this is referring to the emails published offsite, it is incorrect. But this is a fast moving thread, so perhaps I missed something.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:49 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]


I am usually pretty on the mods' side of things and try to assume good faith. I've done that job, and it can be awfully thankless and sometimes you make hard choices, but this just appears really awful. In a thread where you invite people to contact you about cleaning up their past user history and even talk about frimble building new tools to make that possible, to then ban someone because they wanted their past user history cleaned up seems ... random? really inappropriate? actively mean-spirited?

I get that there's a lot of other history there and we maybe don't know some important parts of it, and their posts in this thread were not exactly in control, but it seemed pretty obvious to me that a fellow member of the community was going through a pretty major emotional crisis. The official response to that was "okay, we've erased you, now go away." I've tried to give a charitable read to that choice and I just can't get there.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:52 PM on July 14 [31 favorites]


It would preserve conversations while

but forcibly "preserving" someone else's words is something anybody who has figured out screencaps can do already. Any comment not already saved is perhaps not that important to a person who didn't write it.

the argument that I mustn't have the ability to take a bit of writing down because you might want to look at it later is a very strange one. it would make some sense if this were a publication that had paid good money for all our terrible, terrible thoughts, but it isn't.

the site declares the right to retain & display everyone's comments forever, so everybody knew what they were getting into, and knew that they would never ever have a way out again. but the site does not have an obligation to maintain this bad practice just because it has the power to. it can stop any time it chooses.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:54 PM on July 14 [14 favorites]


> > they can’t return to the site unless they promise not to ask for a wipe in the future

> If this is referring to the emails published offsite, it is incorrect.

cortex allegedly said (emphasis added): "If you come to feel in the long run that that's not the case and think there's a way that you can participate on the site in the future such that ... you'll regulate your behavior on the site better as well as guaranteeing not repeating this wipe-my-account circumstance ..."
posted by thoroughburro at 7:55 PM on July 14 [5 favorites]


Oop, missed that, thought it was only for this most recent account.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:58 PM on July 14


they can’t return to the site unless they promise not to ask for a wipe in the future

This is a general point of expectation for it this process, really. Folks wanting to do this now as a last-resort, nuclear-grade corrective for previously not accounting for the privacy concerns of posting in public on the site, I'm accommodating the request even though it's a massive break from past expectations on the site.

But in turn we need folks not to operate on the expectation that they will do so repeatedly; having done it once, you're forearmed about the risk assessment required for posting in the future and while we'll work to deal with small issues of after the fact regret that are bound to come up, repeatedly zapping an entire posting history isn't an okay expectation.

Wiping an account is an extraordinary measure and one we have historically just not allowed. I'm making the call to throw off that historical principle to support folks' need for a different level of safety in 2020 than they had when they signed up five or ten or fifteen years ago, but it's a major decision to ask us to make and it needs to be taken with care and consideration and not expected to be a repeatable act. Deciding to not post on MeFi in the future if you don't find that okay is a reasonable call, different people want different things from the internet, but that's a decision you'll need to make if you're going to take the nuclear option.

cortex, you’ve been vague on what suggestions in this thread you’re considering implementing

Like I said earlier, it is going to take time and work to make decisions about what we can consider from all the suggestions in here. I am aiming to better accommodate people's desire to have control over their content here but what forms that takes besides now accommodating wipes along with the selective deletions we'e always allowed I do not know yet and can't give an answer on right now.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:58 PM on July 14 [32 favorites]


> massive break from past expectations on the site

oh god please no, anything but a break from the status quo

this is pure conservatism
posted by thoroughburro at 8:02 PM on July 14 [9 favorites]


A GO Fund me to help cover legal costs of suing the harassers is something I'm down for.

Learning that the harassment has been going on for while is eye opening.

Mefi probably needs to revamp/harden its walls, with users understanding that there's only so much they can do. But yeah, Mefi needs a massive security overhaul. Perhaps a board of users need to be set up for that?

I don't have the full story of happened between the mods and the user who asked for their existence to be erased from the site. The only story I do have is from their side of it and I'd prefer to have both sides if I'm going to be judging of what's what on that subject.

I was alerted to this thread in the morning and read it pretty obsessively, off and on, for several hours. Doing so did not make happy. So I walked away from it for a few hours. Hopefully others can do the same if they feel the thread stressing them out.

this is pure conservatism

Choosing to repost one phrase from a sentence in a long post to fit a certain viewpoint is an interesting choice to make here.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:06 PM on July 14 [30 favorites]


If replacing a comment with the words “comment deleted” can give peace of mind to someone being slagged by a sociopath, that seems ok. Deleting a post that I commented on would make me sad, but replacing the body text with “body deleted” beats having a bad thing happen to someone.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:09 PM on July 14 [7 favorites]


The corpse in the library: "I don't understand what you're saying there, WCWedin."

I reckon they were saying it wasn't casual or regular in this case, which, yeah. But my understanding of trappist's comments is that they were *livid* with how the site handled this problem in general and would likely want to be able to do a similar reset again in the future. Per cortex's response, he was open to them staying if they acknowledged this wasn't going to be easily repeatable, as well as working on reigning in behavior that I assume included stuff like the 40+ really angry comments in this thread.

(On this I also want to reiterate, again, that cortex and the other mods have themselves been targets of the troll in question, moreso than pretty much anyone else as far as I can tell. So it really bothers me for people to react with hostility that they didn't handle this situation right in their estimation, especially when subject-matter experts were telling them behind-the-scenes that the best thing to do was ignore it. They obviously care about the site and its members and understand the deep harm caused by this trolling on a personal level, but there aren't any easy answers here and I can't really fault them for not, say, proactively informing people about it if they felt it would only make things worse.)

clavdivs: "Wiping ones whole data set history affects other users interaction...how?"

Past conversations don't make sense when one participant is missing. People who favorited posts or comments of theirs can't retrieve them now. Threads they started (and the myriad discussions they contain) are no longer accessible, and don't show up in search or tag pages. The site as a whole is just the record of our interactions with each other; totally removing the sum total of one user's contributions like that (and every contribution stemming from them) leaves a lot of holes. Have more than a few prolific users take that route and our collective memory becomes seriously impaired.

It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite things I've ever read here, or on the internet in general: TIME FOR SOME STORIES. This was a collection of absolutely fantastic short slice-of-life stories posted by a guy on a random forum, told in a breathless ALL CAPS STYLE. It went viral at the time (or as viral as things could get circa 2005). At some point years afterward, the original author decided to actively take down every copy of it that existed on the web. It's an ethical question I still wrestle with (having a copy of the original thread saved). Once you put something out there in public, especially something other people find truly valuable, to what extent should you be able to take it back? Our words are ours, but when we put them out in public for others to see and interact with and remember, they have some stake in that, too, and it does real damage to a community to just erase it altogether. Obviously in a case like this you want people to feel safe, but there's a very real cost to indiscriminately destroying absolutely everything a person ever contributed to a place like MeFi, and as stewards of the site the mods have to strike a balance between removing personal information and preserving the deep value of the site for everyone else.

As somebody who has derived life-changing benefits from reading old threads here, I earnestly hope people do not push for erasing their entire history blithely, especially in response to a troll that is both inactive and usually gets their kicks from live-tweeting ongoing threads, not diving into people's old comments. If you are concerned about that, I'd recommend searching your own profile for references to sensitive things like your name, hometown, place of work, family members, etc., and selectively deleting those rather than just nuking everything. I value y'all's contributions too much to want to see huge chunks vanish because of some Twitter shitheel.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:14 PM on July 14 [99 favorites]


Every online posting system is doomed to repeat the decisions of The WELL for better or ill.
posted by aramaic at 8:19 PM on July 14 [12 favorites]


Yeah, god forbid someone get angry when they’ve been cyberstalked for years and people they thought they could trust keep that info in their pockets.

Also, like, maybe don’t chide us for our anger when someone fucks up royally like this.
posted by WCWedin at 8:24 PM on July 14 [13 favorites]


while we'll work to deal with small issues of after the fact regret that are bound to come up, repeatedly zapping an entire posting history isn't an okay expectation.

They wanted their account scrubbed because their posts were being used against them as harassment. It is possible that the harassment would CONTINUE even after the new account, because that's how these trolls work. Are you saying that if they (or anyone else who requests an account wipe) get harassed AGAIN, whether it's by the same trolls or not, they have no other recourse? They just have to deal with being harassed again and again because they used up their one chance at safety?

That is messed up. That shows that you don't actually care about people's safety, that it's such an inconvenience to you. You're blaming them for potentially being harassed again. You're saying that there is now an EXPECTATION that posting on Metafilter will lead to harassment, and that if people already asked for help once and are just unlucky (which is not uncommon for harassment victims, it's hardly ever a one and done deal), too bad.

I can't. Already people I thought I respected on Twitter are mocking this thread. Already I'm being blamed for giving these trolls fodder despite being the target of their weird grooming-like obsession. Unless there is a change of management, this is not a space for me anymore.

(I won't button solely because I do want to keep PMs open and my other accounts are locked down for unrelated reasons at the moment. But I am out.)
posted by divabat at 8:26 PM on July 14 [21 favorites]


If I had known this site had its own stalker who hated trans people, I would have never been openly trans - I am sorry I can't take the risk. I am not doing this frivolously. I don't enjoy this at all and I may not return knowing I caused such an inconvenience I had to be warned not to do it again. I really enjoyed my time here, I read the site for 10 years before finally joining because of the call for diverse voices. Love you all, so long and thanks for all the fish
posted by captain afab at 8:32 PM on July 14 [25 favorites]


cortex: Folks wanting to do this now as a last-resort, nuclear-grade corrective for previously not accounting for the privacy concerns of posting in public on the site, I'm accommodating the request even though it's a massive break from past expectations on the site.

MetaFilter just turned 21. Members may have been actively posting here for two decades or more, and within that time the internet has changed A LOT. MetaFilter is older than Twitter, than YouTube, than Facebook. MetaFilter has outlasted a number of social media sites. And people have literally grown up on and with MetaFilter, potentially changing their thresholds for what they're willing to share, or coming in (virtual) contact with people who find some sick pleasure in causing them and their families grief.

There is no warning when you join MetaFilter: "watch out, there are some real dicks out there who read this site, and if you say things they don't like, they'll make your life a living hell, so don't say too much." And there shouldn't be. Yes, the internet is part cesspool of the worst sort of people, but it also has The Best of the Web, whatever that may be for each person. Connections are made on this site because people can be, to a degree, honest about who they are. If we say the only protection we offer is when you say nothing about yourself, this site will appear even more homogeneously white, hetero, cis, male than it really is, because that's how you can stay safe here.

So MetaFilter has to change, or MetaFilter will die. Looking at the active user statistics, and more tragically, the number of people buttoning in the last few years, you could say MetaFilter is already in its slow decline.

But there are SO MANY PEOPLE who want this site to improve, and they've offered their technical expertise, or offered to pitch in financially, or both. Even as they're on the brink of leaving, they're offering to support and help this site improve.

Yet there appears to be no hand reaching back from cortex and the moderators, saying "yes, let's work together." So those members on the brink chose to leave.

It was just over a year between the "retire 'outragefilter' " thread and hiring two new (part-time) mods (with current mods getting some training earlier). About a month later, travelingthyme is now starting a BIPOC advisory board, and frimble added a new slur-block to the site. What will it take to do better for those users targeted on Twitter and beyond, and trans members in general? I hope it's not another year, because I worry about all the trans, marginalized, and other targeted users on the site.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 PM on July 14 [38 favorites]


We have lost so many prolific members just in the last 48 hours. I shudder to think about how many will be gone a year from now. A truly sad situation.
posted by all about eevee at 8:40 PM on July 14 [7 favorites]


Are you saying that if they (or anyone else who requests an account wipe) get harassed AGAIN, whether it's by the same trolls or not, they have no other recourse? They just have to deal with being harassed again and again because they used up their one chance at safety?

I'm saying that operating with the knowledge that MetaFilter is a public site and doing risk-assessment up front is a necessary part of posting here or anywhere else public, one that needs to be the long-term strategy for people.

We have always worked with folks to deal with exceptional cases, and will continue to do so. Exceptional cases are exceptional and I can't make a general case about them other than to say we try hard to accommodate people as the need arises.

Offering wipes is an extraordinary change, to account for folks feeling like they weren't able to make that risk assessment in the past; that's why I'm saying, okay, however much I dislike the archive damage it does, we'll do it now. I'm explicitly prioritizing that need over whatever site historical principles.

But proceeding from there with up-front risk-assessment is important. Not realizing it was an issue or being able to predictively account for it in the past is understandable; the internet has changed from under us over time, even if it was a reasonable assessment ten or fifteen years and whatever life experiences ago. Going in with a new account with that knowledge up front means being able to do that risk assessment ahead of time and plan for something other than expecting to wipe your MeFi history all over again at some arbitrary point.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:42 PM on July 14 [41 favorites]


especially in response to a troll

you can't think that's the only reason anybody would. continued association with this site is humiliating or harmful to people for too many reasons to think about, let alone list.

and look, you wrote a lot of lovely words about how much you like being able to access things other people wrote. if they don't mind, that's just great. if they do mind, very much, what is it you think you're doing?

It's an ethical question I still wrestle with...Once you put something out there in public, especially something other people find truly valuable, to what extent should you be able to take it back?


That sounds like an ethical question for people who want to take things down! You're not such a person, so why not ask the ethical question that actually applies to you, if you're in the mood for wrestling? why not instead ask,

If I really want to read something on the internet, like really REALLY want to, but the person who wrote it doesn't want to have it archived on the internet, to what extent should I (me) be able to disregard their urgent but powerless wishes and do what I like, because I've never heard of screencaps and because it makes me feel real good to have what I want?

This is an ethical question of some urgency for those who hold your view of things.

blithe

people who write such WONderful smart personal things that you feel entitled to have continued access to are probably too smart to delete it all in a fit of carefree giddiness without good reason. don't you think?

I value y'all's contributions

well, yes, anyone who hangs onto something you would prefer to withdraw is doing it because they value that thing. that was not in doubt. they value, not you perhaps, but certainly the thing you "contributed."
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:50 PM on July 14 [13 favorites]


Maybe it’s because I’m a younger MeFite, but I’m baffled at this worship of ‘the archive’ over the living future of this community, which we are watching disappear in front of our eyes.

Allowing people to delete their accounts will damage the community. Personally, though, I think not doing so will damage the community more. Sometimes it is easy to get into a place where you see that change will hurt, and you go, “Oh shit! Let’s not do that!” Except you don’t realize that staying on the same path will hurt in a different way, possibly much worse, it’s just not as visible because you’re focusing on the big scary change.

I’d ask people to think about that.
posted by brook horse at 8:51 PM on July 14 [61 favorites]


Path dependency will be the death of this site.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:06 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


Metafilter(paraphrase): "hey there's a pair of obsessive stalkers targeting trans members and doxing people, they can't be stopped"
Me(paraphrase): "oh shit, my username outs me, I want to be sure they don't go after me, please delete my stuff even though I really would prefer not to do this because my shit could be at risk"
Metafilter(paraphrase): "well, all right, you clearly weren't being careful, don't do this again, let us know when you pick a new username and be careful what you talk about online, ps this was super inconvenient for us"
Me:
Metafilter: "I value y'all's contributions"
posted by captain afab at 9:07 PM on July 14 [35 favorites]


queenofbithynia: "If I really want to read something on the internet, like really REALLY want to, but the person who wrote it doesn't want to have it archived on the internet, to what extent should I (me) be able to disregard their urgent but powerless wishes and do what I like, because I've never heard of screencaps and because it makes me feel real good to have what I want?"

I'm not making an argument for people not being able to delete anything, but pointing out the harm that comes from deleting everything, indiscriminately. People should be able to remove personal information they've shared, but IMHO it's better to do so selectively rather than just nuke it all from orbit, since that both silences years of participation and causes a lot of collateral damage to the wider community.

queenofbithynia: "well, yes, anyone who hangs onto something you would prefer to withdraw is doing it because they value that thing. that was not in doubt. they value, not you perhaps, but certainly the thing you "contributed.""

captain afab: "Metafilter: "I value y'all's contributions""

That's kind of uncalled for. I'm just saying that you don't necessarily have to wipe away everything you've ever shared to be safe online. Valuing a person's participation here and urging them not to totally erase themselves from a community they've been an important part of does not equal indifference to their well-being or safety, and it would be nice if people wouldn't imply that.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:20 PM on July 14 [19 favorites]


Among other things, this thread has exposed some rather profound rifts in people's basic ideas of what MetaFilter is for and why we add our contributions to this website / participate in this community.

This long and deeply troubling thread, which addresses a specific urgent concern, does not seem like a good place for a conversation on this topic. (Among other things, because any such conversation distracts from the urgency of people's safety concerns.) But if this site is actually going to survive at all, such a conversation seems necessary.
posted by Not A Thing at 9:22 PM on July 14 [17 favorites]


The right to be forgotten is now seen as fundamental. MetaFilter must defines what that means for itself. It may mean that wiping your account is hard or exceptional, but this thread has surfaced that this issue is real and it is a right that MetaFilter users don’t really have. Right now, Reddit and Twitter are apparently doing a better job of giving their users that right then we are. That’s depressing. We should be better then the places we generally slag off.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:26 PM on July 14 [31 favorites]


Why is preservation of the archive so important? Is it really MORE important than the physical safety or emotional well being of the members?
posted by all about eevee at 9:27 PM on July 14 [13 favorites]


captain afab, I have a question for you, and with the current tone of the thread and also because you don't know me, I want to preface it by saying that I'm honestly not asking this to bait or trap you, but I really do want to hear more about your perspective.

You said above that you read the site for a long time - 10 years? - before you created an account.

You've also said that you feel it was a mistake to be so public about personal things, because you're now realizing that your username and things you've posted could put you at risk.

I see a kind of a disconnect there, I guess. I would love to understand more what your expectations of privacy were about your username and posts when you joined.
posted by anastasiav at 9:28 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


captain afab can engage with that if they want obvs. but under the circumstances of the fraught feelings in this thread I'd like to avoid putting folks in a position where they feel like they need to justify those expectations or risk assessment. The whole point of moving over to "we will wipe your account if you want" is that we'll wipe your account if you want. People's assessments change, new information shocks old assumptions, etc. It doesn't need justification.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:30 PM on July 14 [16 favorites]


Valuing a person's participation here and urging them not to totally erase themselves from a community they've been an important part of does not equal indifference to their well-being or safety, and it would be nice if people wouldn't imply that.

I value everyone’s contributions, and I also really enjoy looking at old posts, if just to know what this place was like in the past. I also don’t think we will be bombarded with mass account deletions. I think a small number of users who consider themselves under threat will purge their content, and it will suck, but by and large the repository of site history will be unchanged. Indeed, the archive is already fragmented because moderators have the right to delete comments. Our archive is already curated. We should be able to curate our own bits of it, especially if we are afraid it could bring us harm.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:32 PM on July 14 [15 favorites]


Cortex, if you want to delete my comment, please do. I don't mind.
posted by anastasiav at 9:32 PM on July 14


I'm sure they weren't imagining they would be the target of an offsite psychopath just for participating here. JFC
posted by primalux at 9:35 PM on July 14 [16 favorites]


I had a conversation today with a leader of another community I am a small part of, one which I almost left, recently enough for that to still sting. We were talking about coronavirus and risk and emotions and, underneath it all, belonging. And here were the through lines that mattered: the risks of covid are uneven and we need to support community members in making the choices about participation that they think best for their safety; we need to keep the door open for them to choose again down the line as their circumstances shift; to the extent that this means massive, unprecedented change to the institution (it does) and massive expense (it does), that is work we accept and undertake now; and mindful of this work we need to accept help from each other where it is offered. The contrast with what is happening here today is painful.
posted by eirias at 9:35 PM on July 14 [9 favorites]


I've stopped my monthly contributions to the site until something useful is done to meet the needs of our most vulnerable users. However, I will give a fuckton of money to a GoFundMe to track down and prosecute those two shitbirds.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:36 PM on July 14 [21 favorites]


I think the conversation about deleting comments and wiping accounts should happen in a new thread. Right now all this thread is doing is providing more material for Mefi Outsider to screenshot.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:39 PM on July 14


I recognize the archive is important to some folks, and I do enjoy going back and looking at old stuff every once in a while. I also think that those moments of enjoyment are just... not as important as people's ability to control the exposure of their personal information. There is just no number of times smiling at "Okay. Awkward." that can add up to the same utility as someone's safety.
posted by Jpfed at 9:39 PM on July 14 [16 favorites]


Going To Maine: Yeah, I was just about to bring up Reddit as a point of comparison. For those who aren't familiar, Reddit provides a couple of different options for scrubbing your history. You can delete individual posts/comments, in which case they are replaced with a "[deleted]" marker. Or you can delete your entire account, which doesn't actually delete your content, but anonymizes it (your username shows up as "[deleted]" and your profile page disappears).

Both of these options are available to every Reddit user, with no human intervention or approval required. They aren't treated as "exceptional cases", and there is no rule that says they have to be. For as (justly) maligned as Reddit is around here, I think MetaFilter can at least aspire to provide the same level of user control.

You can add me to the list of people who are baffled and troubled by how technically conservative and resistant to functional change this site has become over the years. I can understand when minor feature requests fall by the wayside due to lack of resources, but this is something that is really important to a lot of people, and it seems like the main justification for not improving it is "because that's not how we've done it before".
posted by teraflop at 9:39 PM on July 14 [51 favorites]


Hey, cortex, I think you should step away from this for a while — you're making irrevocable decisions under extremely difficult circumstances regarding a situation where you also have been personally stalked and harassed. Especially vulnerable people are angry and frightened about how they've been targeted or may be targeted and because of this they are understandably holding your feet to the fire. This creates a hugely volatile situation where it becomes tragically easy to do more harm than good.

The only thing that needs to happen right now, aside from the usual mod workload, is addressing this particular ongoing case of harassment. And you don't have to figure everything out today and announce specific actions, but just be receptive to the discussion and complaints here and let people know that you're working on a plan to deal with this specific long-term harassment campaign.

It's easy for all of us to get bogged down in trying to debate ways to ameliorate the overall vulnerability and you've enough experience to understand that the community is going to do so, whether you want them to or not and whether or not it's actually productive. You've enough experience to know that wounds are fresh and tempers frayed and some members are going to have meltdowns. It's your job to keep some equanimity and good judgment in such situations and a good rule of thumb is "first, do no harm". Getting into arguments with members and banning people who aren't harassers and stalkers is harmful at this exact moment in time, as is your well-known impulse to over-explain. Probably the most important lesson I've learned from my sixteen years here is the value of restraint and discretion. That really apllies double to mods and triple to you because of your vastly greater influence. Mefi is a car on black ice right now — more is not better, a very light touch is the best way to avoid a crash.

There are almost certainly some irreconcilable differences brought to the fore by this thread. You won't be able to find a path forward that makes everyone happy. This is a damage-control situation and it requires a lot of restraint and mindfulness.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:41 PM on July 14 [73 favorites]


I read some of the comments here and part of me wants to say, you know this is the internet right? Things you write on the internet are public. Even deleting them doesn't necessarily make them go away (we've already had several links to archived tweets in this very thread). That's a core expectation that everyone using the internet should have, especially in 2020.

On the other hand: if I say something on Twitter that I later regret, I can delete it. If I post something on Reddit or Facebook and realize later that it's something that can hurt me or people I care about, I can delete it. Immediately. No questions asked

The modern web comes with expectations that everything we say is public, sure. But it also comes with expectations that we can manage the content we post. That tradeoff exists pretty much everywhere I spend time online, except for Metafilter. Here we get the one half, the public permanence, without the other half, the personal safety valve.

And to be fair it's not that no safety valve exists, it's just that we can't touch it ourselves. Glad it exists, but that is a critical difference. It's the difference between having a fire extinguisher on hand and having to wait for the fire brigade to come and save you. You might still need a fireman to help but if something is on fire *right now*, you can at least attempt to put it out yourself, no questions asked.

The permanence model (with possible mod intervention with mod approval and on mod schedules) made sense 21 years ago. It worked well for a long time. But with all respect to cortex and team, I'm not sure it makes sense anymore.

And yeah, I don't know what Metafilter looks like with holes in the archives. Probably pretty shitty, if it happens a lot. That's on us, to be mindful of what we say in public and to minimize the mess we cause when we have to take something back. Maybe repeated posts and deletions should be a problem, maybe they should get mod attention, maybe a timeout if it seems like folks are doing it in ways that are abusive or overly disruptive. But I don't see a good way forward for us as a modern site without users having the absolute ability to remove a thing that they once posted in good faith but now feel is unsafe to have sitting there in public indefinitely.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 9:42 PM on July 14 [42 favorites]


I'm taking a break from the site. I hope this place can heal.
posted by Fizz at 9:43 PM on July 14 [24 favorites]


betweenthebars: "I think the conversation about deleting comments and wiping accounts should happen in a new thread. Right now all this thread is doing is providing more material for Mefi Outsider to screenshot."

I'm unclear how putting in a different thread would prevent them from screenshotting from that thread.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:44 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


There's been many posts made here over the years that have entertained me, and ones that edified me from every level from "that is neat! I'm glad I learned that today!" to ones that grabbed hold of my worldview and snapped it into a new frame and new focus. (Many of the latter type are from voices that are no longer actively here.) Some of them, the memory of still rings years later. I'm grateful to every person who wrote those words, who put their energy and work into it.

But they don't owe me a single thing. In a larger sense, pretty much the exact opposite of that. That includes keeping any writings they don't care to have kept. Is that disruptive, to let go of (the illusion of) permanence? Of course. So's life.
posted by Drastic at 9:45 PM on July 14 [27 favorites]


(No judgment against anyone else, but I'm not going to cancel my monthly contribution right now, because monthly contributions are a big part of keeping the site afloat and I can't expect the team to jump on new features and revise a bunch of low-level site functionality while also struggling to pay the team. Folks who do decide to suspend their payments, I absolutely understand, but the car doesn't go anywhere without gas in the tank. I'll cancel my monthly contribution when I've given up on the site.)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 9:47 PM on July 14 [38 favorites]


Hello friends. I'm going to close this thread. Thank you as always for everyone watching out for each other and trying to find positive ways in this really crappy situation.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:48 PM on July 14 [23 favorites]


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