Three ponies for remembering things August 5, 2020 5:08 PM   Subscribe

I would like to request that, when considering how to delete things and preserve privacy, we adopt these three practices:
  1. Deliberately leaving empty spaces / blanked comments / deletion notices as replacements for comments in threads that have been closed to discussion and have additional comments removed (e.g. via an account purge). This will help keep discussions that have faded into site history in order while also preserving privacy
  2. Provides some means -preferably not entailing any kind of download or export- for users to access their own comments on posts/questions/etc. that have been purged. This will let folks remember their own contributions, even if the context has necessarily been lost
  3. If user A sends user B a memail, user B keeps that memail even if user A purges their account.

posted by Going To Maine to Feature Requests at 5:08 PM (269 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Just a quick note that per restless_nomad's outlined new process for MetaTalk policy discussions, the expectation is folks can discuss thoughts about this but mod involvement will involve daily updates; please try and keep the conversation community-centric and constructive and be kind to each other, and we'll follow up in the morning as is doable. Summaries:

August 6, 2020
August 7, 2020
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:10 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


I would also like to see a function where someone could retroactively anonymize their participation in a post, so the post and/or comments were still present but attributed to an anonymous username, and there was no way for anyone but the user themselves and the mods to know who the user was or to connect the dots across multiple anonymized posts from that user. Ideally this would be self-service.
posted by expialidocious at 5:32 PM on August 5 [38 favorites]


I would strongly prefer to go further than 2) - we can use the deletion notices from 1) to extend to the post itself rather than deleting all comments in a post. In that scenario, a post that's deleted would simply indicate the post is deleted, but leaves the comments - similar to what Reddit does. We should never have cases where an account wipe mandates excess deletion outside the contributions of that particular user.

Implementing account wipes as full post deletions erases the work of contributors to MetaFilter involuntarily. In cases where user safety is truly at risk, that might be a cost we pay. However, rather than considering actual user circumstance, MetaFilter has taken the position that any user concern (legitimate or not) warrants drastic involuntary deletions of site contributions. Saying the site prioritizes user safety is a cop-out - it prevents actual analysis of effects of user needs against harms to MetaFilter's contributors. When the site prioritizes any perception of safety concern over the contributions of diverse populations, the site isn't helping anyone and is actively harming those who take a significant amount of their time, energy, and expertise to make the site what it is - including from the sort of marginalized populations I think the site is trying to protect.

MetaFilter is built around user contributions, the vast majority of the site is user contributions, and those user contributions are what drive traffic (and hence, revenue) to the site. I really want to see some indication the site values my contributions rather than deleting them at the whim of another user.
posted by saeculorum at 5:36 PM on August 5 [27 favorites]


I would strongly prefer to go further than 2) - we can use the deletion notices from 1) to extend to the post itself rather than deleting all comments in a post. In that scenario, a post that's deleted would simply indicate the post is deleted, but leaves the comments - similar to what Reddit does. We should never have cases where an account wipe mandates excess deletion outside the contributions of that particular user.

There’s something of a push-pull here. Hypothetically, let’s say a user posts a question that reveals that they live in Cincinnati (“I just moved here; what should I do this weekend?”). Later, they want to purge their account for privacy reasons. It’s not inconceivable that that the responses might themselves de-anonymize that this user lives in Cincinnati, rendering the purge moot. I too would prefer a stronger version of 2) that preserves the original thread in as much of its entirety as possible, but I think that has to be decided on a bit of a case-by-case basis. 2) is what I would consider possible to settle for.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:49 PM on August 5


I guess I'll repost here my request for a statement of the current policy?

I hope y'all understand my frustration that the mods are very pointedly refusing to even tell me what their current procedure is.

As before, I would appreciate the help of any white allies in pushing for a response from the mods on this point.
Hey, if I request that my account be wiped, what exactly do I get and how do I get it?

Ideally I would like
- posts
- comments
- memail to and from me
- favorites to and from me
with metadata like timestamps

in a structured format like JSON or SQL or something.

(Not exactly on topic, but I don't see a better place to ask.)
posted by d. z. wang at 9:04 PM on August 3 [+] [!]


Drop a note to the contact form? Getting your account wiped and getting copies of your data are two separate things.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 10:40 PM on August 3 [+] [!]


I'm requesting a public statement.

Good to know that I can request the export without wiping my account, though, thank you.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:23 PM on August 3 [+] [!]


d.z. wang, I'll get those details, update the FAQ, and let you know. As Jessamyn said, the export is a separate thing (you can get that from the bottom of your Preferences page.)

Everyone else, if there's something you need that would make the most sense in this thread, now's the time! Otherwise I'll close this up tomorrow.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:40 AM on August 4 [+] [!]


I would like you to keep this thread open until I have had a chance to review the updated FAQ. I would prefer not to scatter this discussion over multiple threads.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:32 PM on August 4 [+] [!]


Oh, wait, are you saying the extent of the export is what is provided by the existing export comments and export favorites links on my Preferences page?

I would like a way to export my posts and my MeMail as well.

For AskMe posts, I would like a way to export the answers I have received.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:36 PM on August 4 [+] [!]


Hey all, I don't have power today (or an ETA) so I'll come back either later today or, more likely given the state of the northeast, tomorrow and round stuff up.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:42 AM on August 5 [1 favorite +] [!]


I haven't heard from the mods yet on whether they will provide a way for me to export

- my posts
- my MeMail
- responses to my AskMe questions

If the answer is that people who choose to wipe their accounts will lose those things, I would like to hear that said explicitly.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:44 AM on August 5 [+] [!]


Oh, I didn't see r_n's comment two minuses before mine.

Is there any other mod who will reply to my question?

To be clear, I'm looking for a statement of current policy, not a promise to discuss the question someday.

I have more than a decade of posts, comments, and MeMail on this site. Most of it dates from before I knew not to talk about personal stuff on the internet.

Now that I know there are people specifically using mefi to harass people, I want to wipe my account on the next few days.

Is the current state of play is that people who wipe their account loose their posts, MeMail, and responses to their askme threads?

If so, please say that. We can go from there.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:55 AM on August 5 [2 favorites +] [Flagged]


Could white allies join me in asking for a statement of the current policy on export of

- my posts
- my MeMail
- responses to my AskMes

? Maybe you will get more traction than I have.

Again, I'm happy for you to reconsider later. I just want a statement of the current state.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:31 AM on August 5 [+] [!]


d. z. wang, I've flagged two of your comments (1 and 2) to request that a mod answers your questions.
posted by minsies at 11:51 AM on August 5 [3 favorites −] [!]
posted by d. z. wang at 5:55 PM on August 5 [7 favorites]


At the very least, rather than uniformly deleting all posts and comments a user is involved in, we can anonymize their posts and then require the user to identify specific posts that should go to the "full delete level". If my answers are going to be deleted, I really want some consideration from the poster to delete them. I don't want them to be able to wipe all of my contributions with no work and no justification whatsoever.

I guess I'll repost here my request for a statement of the current policy?

The mods have made clear in the process for new policy MeTas that engagement other than from restless_nomad will be limited. She has also indicated she has no internet access. Also, your request for an account wipe will delete at least two of my site comments. I will not name you here out of respect for your perceived privacy needs, but I want you to know that you are harming me.
posted by saeculorum at 5:57 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


What’s the difference between deleting the account that said they lived in Cincinnati vs creating a whole unrelated account without deleting? The information is out there and related to the old account and likely saved as webpage or screenshot in cases of harassment. Along with any identifying aspects. I understand the benefit of deleting the “account” but do not understand deleting the posts or comments associated.
posted by one4themoment at 6:04 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Also as I read rn’s later comments, metas would not be as hands off as the one that ... that one. So there will be moderation outside of the daily update?
posted by one4themoment at 6:07 PM on August 5


Also pro anonymize vs delete
posted by one4themoment at 6:08 PM on August 5


Also pro anonymize vs delete

I strongly agree with this. There are specific comments or posts that will need deletion, but the collateral damage of deleting so many other's contributions seems like a terrible approach to a problem that needs sensitive solutions.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:12 PM on August 5 [19 favorites]


What’s the difference between deleting the account that said they lived in Cincinnati vs creating a whole unrelated account without deleting? The information is out there and related to the old account and likely saved as webpage or screenshot in cases of harassment.

Assuming that a harasser “likely” has some data is very different from “definitely” saying that they have data - especially since there are some mefites who like to purge their identities on the site every few years just to reduce their attack surface. The Cincinatti example is a toy for one post in isolation; in practice, user A who asks to be purged may have all kinds of PII, or nuggets that add up to PII, split across many posts and comments- there may be all kinds of links to off-site content as well. While I like the cleverness of simply assigning all of user A’s posts to some user A'. To delete is the only way to really make sure that your content is as close to forgotten as possible, and it seems like we should respect that need.

I’m not sure if that’s hit your particular complaint; I might have misread you.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:19 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


So there will be moderation outside of the daily update?

We'll make an effort to do deletions and interventions for course correction when needed, yeah. The expectation there needs to be that that's for stuff where there's a situation the community can't manage and a mod will come help with based on flags and contact form stuff (so, handling things like deletions, time off, warning notes). That doesn't include stuff like 24/7 mod responsiveness to policy questions or on-demand back and forths about stuff, etc. This is a course of direction I'm trying really hard to stay out of r_n's way in managing, so I'm not going to get into it beyond that and she can elaborate on it from there as she sees fit. I'd ask that folks keep this thread focused on the actual discussion raised in the post.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:20 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Also, to perhaps clarify something: in specifying these desires for things to remember, I strongly believe that MetaFilter should consider the right to be forgotten as more important. The former lets me ruminate. The latter keeps people safe.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:22 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


I think that there may need to be a slight shift in policy between different sub-sites. I'd prefer that posts on the blue and grey get anonymized--all to the same, "anonymous" account--so as to maintain the discussions that came out of that post. (I think this is especially important here, where we don't want to wipe out any history of discussion). Same goes for Fanfare--given that a handful of users do a lot of the posting (again, not commenting), a few people wiping their history would have a huge impact on the site's history.

But on the green, I can get behind a straight-up delete. Yes, the benefit of Ask is that people don't need to ask already answered questions. Yes, Ask is the place that already has anonymous posting. But people can reveal more of their personal details than they may intend; commenters may use the user's original name (or misspell it!), or violate the rule on referencing profile data (it's happened to me, but the data was out of date at the time). Given that people are answering the original poster's question, if the poster wants that thread deleted instead of anonymized, we should honor that preference.

(As for the other sites, Jobs doesn't have comments, and Projects is pretty straightforward that if the user leaves, the post should go too. For Music, I don't interact there enough for my opinion to matter).
posted by thecaddy at 6:25 PM on August 5 [11 favorites]


"That doesn't include stuff like 24/7 mod responsiveness to policy questions or on-demand back and forths about stuff, etc."

It would be reasonable to say, "we aren't staffed to entertain hypothetical discussions of new policy at all hours of the night."

That's not what I'm asking you to do.

I'm asking, when I ask for my account to be wiped, you either will or won't let me keep my MeMail. Can you please tell me beforehand which it will be?

Ditto for my posts, ditto for responses to my AskMes.

I'm asking, What is your current policy, the one you already have and will enact?
posted by d. z. wang at 6:39 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


d. z. wang; as someone who has done a wipe: i did not get an export of mefi mail and i'm planning to request it. I documented every step of my communication with mefi from the moment of being aware it was an option to getting it done here. I hope your process is smoother.
posted by trappist system at 6:51 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


d. z. wang, I am guessing that maybe there isn't a policy yet. And to my reading your questions fall under the sort of thing that will be addressed in the daily update.
posted by schroedinger at 7:05 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


I'm asking, What is your current policy, the one you already have and will enact?

This is an extremely reasonable question that deserves an answer (at least the current policy—I think we're here to discuss some of what the new policy should be). As far as I can tell, r_n commented in yesterday morning's reply promising you an answer, and then was unable to work today due to a very large storm that has left millions without electricity. I would hope that your question about the current policy would be answered in tomorrow morning's update. Since it seems like r_n is the person to answer your question, and her process is to address these things in the morning updates, and today's morning update was derailed due to a freak storm, I'm not sure what you'd like to happen tonight?
posted by zachlipton at 7:19 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


To delete is the only way to really make sure that your content is as close to forgotten as possible, and it seems like we should respect that need.

Then let the person who wants the wipe say so. Let them do the work. When the person in this post completes their wipe, they will have deleted 3,271 comments from MeFites, mostly from other MeFites (including me). That's an incredibly blunt move when the person hasn't actually identified what content is a problem.

The site is moving towards a perceived right to wipe every post from a website with all associated fallout without any corresponding responsibility on the poster to identify what needs to be forgotten. I maintain that's incredibly disrespectful to the people who put in the effort to add content to this website. Why don't they have any input to this process? To me, this is equivalent to a person demanding every library burn every copy of every book that contains the person's name, without the person saying why they want their name gone, or the person even identifying which books (or which pages) have their name. I just don't get why anyone would tolerate that. In that scenario, I think there's an equivalent right for the authors of those books to preserve the rest of their books that have nothing to do with the person in question.
posted by saeculorum at 7:46 PM on August 5 [22 favorites]


To me, this is equivalent to a person demanding every library burn every copy of every book that contains the person's name, without the person saying why they want their name gone, or the person even identifying which books (or which pages) have their name.

I don’t think this is true though? An account wipe seems more analogous to a person demanding that one specific library (MetaFilter) destroy every copy of the books they personally authored for that library, and also to remove quotes they contributed to other authors’ works. They don’t have to identify either the books or the pages with their quotes because the library already has that information. Will this mean some parts of some books won’t make much sense any more? Yep, probably, and the extent to which that matters vs someone’s right to be forgotten is definitely something to consider.
posted by zebra at 8:09 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


I don't enjoy seeing people wipe their accounts -- IMHO, it's better to do targeted deletions of personal information like name/family/hometown/job/etc. -- but if they feel it necessary for personal safety, that's their right. But extending that to every thread they posted and all the content from others in those threads is several steps too far. That's literally thousands of other people's contributions being erased without their knowledge or consent on the whim of one person who can request it for any reason or no reason at all. It's especially overkill on MeFi proper (where threads are by definition not supposed to be about anything relating to you personally) and on MetaTalk (where important policy discussions happen).

Ideally, the process should allow users to:
  • targeted/blanket delete (or anonymize) all their comments, with visible placeholders for deleted comments
  • targeted/blanket delete (or anonymize) their Projects/Music/Jobs/IRL posts
  • targeted delete or targeted/blanket anonymize their Ask posts. No blanket deletion because plenty of Ask questions are non-personal and get lots of answers useful for others; people should designate specific Ask posts as personal instead of wiping them all with the push of a button. The overwhelming majority of users have less than 100 questions, so I don't think this is much to ask for such a disruptive step.
  • targeted/blanket anonymize (but not delete) their MeFi/MeTa/FanFare posts. Not even soft-deletes, so that they still show up in search/archive/favorites. If a particular post is problematic from the user's POV, they can request targeted deletion, but it should be a high bar, like an older FPP where they mentioned personal stuff in the lede or a MetaTalk about their own conduct.
For additional security, users could request mentions of their username be anonymized in threads that they posted. Also, while the site isn't threaded, I use the GraphFi userscript which can recognize and mark when comments are quoted, so it should be possible to detect and edit out most text quoted from wiped users if that's an issue. Lastly, I think users should be able to request copies of their comments and comments they favorited from hard-deleted threads (not ones from the deleted user, obvs).

IMHO, something like this would strike a good balance between making it easy to remove personal info and still preserving non-personal and unrelated content for everyone else.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:09 PM on August 5 [19 favorites]


An account wipe seems more analogous to a person demanding that one specific library (MetaFilter) destroy every copy of the books they personally authored for that library

The original poster of each post is not the author of the entire post. The distinction is quite clear to me. Right now, we eliminate the post and the comments, even though the original poster is only responsible for the post. That's the point of this MeTa - the approach is broken.
posted by saeculorum at 8:11 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


The original poster of each post is not the author of the entire post.

It is very commonplace for writers to incorporate others’ thoughts and words into their work. That doesn’t mean every person whose words appear in a piece get author credit or receive equal consideration or compensation. I hear what you are saying, and I understand the frustration you are feeling at the idea of someone else wiping your thoughts off the site. My point is, even in your own analogy, there is precedence for some people receiving different / more consideration than others. I would be sad to have some of my content removed, but I also think that the personal safety of other MeFites (which is the driving force behind current account wipe requests) should be afforded greater consideration than my ability to retain access to every word I’ve ever written on this site.
posted by zebra at 8:22 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


Then let the person who wants the wipe say so. Let them do the work. When the person in this post completes their wipe, they will have deleted 3,271 comments from MeFites, mostly from other MeFites (including me). That's an incredibly blunt move when the person hasn't actually identified what content is a problem.

To return to my position as stated at the top of the post in 2), I am explicitly requesting that MetaFilter develop a way for comments to be preserved. I would like it if it were possible to preserve the context of said comments - that is, the thread itself, but if it is impossible to do so then I am happy to limit what is saved to my own work. to my mind, each comment and post is the right of the individual who posts. The thread is the property of the community, as administered by the mods. If the thread must go, fine, but please preserve the comments somewhere.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:25 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


I agree with saeculorum's concern. I sometimes write lengthy, detailed comments about topics on which I have expertise, which other members appear to appreciate. I put a lot of work into these comments and post them here because I believe in this community. However, knowing that these comments may be completely deleted, without my input or knowledge, because another user, who created the FPP in which the comment appeared, has requested an account wipe, gives me pause when thinking about whether it is worth putting so much work into a comment, and impacts my willingness to participate on Metafilter in this way.

I do not know what the best way is to balance some individuals' desire to be forgotten against others' desire to have the work they put into this site be preserved, but I also think there must be a better balance than wholesale deletion of threads based solely on the original poster's choice. As it seems there is a significant portion of the community that feels very strongly that they need to be able to remove any record of their presence from this site as rapidly as possible for safety reasons, I can accept a fairly draconian approach to deletion as a temporary measure, but moving forward I would like to see something like Practice 1 from the OP implemented.
posted by biogeo at 8:26 PM on August 5 [61 favorites]


To remember a previous contentious issue around comment ownership, when someone scraped the Emotional Labor thread to turn into a shareable PDF, the verdict the community ended up settling on was that each person quoted in that PDF was to be asked about whether they wanted their comments to remain in there, and eventually control over the cleaned-up Google Drive link was turned over to Cortex to steward.

This seems consistent, after all even though there's no way to prevent someone else from hitting "Save as PDF" on that (or any) thread now, there's still a point of respecting people's attachment to their comments.

Which I think gets to the salient point in this case. If, heaven forfend, sciatrix were put in such a position that she were to feel that she needed an account wipe, would we require losing all 2113 comments, of which sciatrix contributed the link & prompt-quote and 18 comments? (and how would this handle her fantastic takedown of Damore, of which FPP she's a subject of but not the author of)

(Not that I like this scenario in the least, but given it was a strong case of precedent both in "people owning their comments" and "thread identified as significantly valuable", it seems like it might make for a clarifying example)
posted by CrystalDave at 8:46 PM on August 5


If, heaven forfend, sciatrix were put in such a position that she were to feel that she needed an account wipe, would we require losing all 2113 comments, of which sciatrix contributed the link & prompt-quote and 18 comments?

The correct general question, I think, is: what would the user require, and how can it be accomplished so as to remove as little of other people’s content as possible? The need that has to be met is that of the user, particularly if failing to meet that need might result in legal troubles for MetaFilter, Inc.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:23 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


Dang some of the responses in this thread are really frustrating. I think we should be discussing options for anonymizing comments but I'm tired of people arguing against deletion, when deletion currently represents the only path to privacy on this site.

Did any of you read the Metatalk about MetaFilter's approach to trans issues? I'd recommend going back and reading it again. And again. And again. Try to follow it. Take note of how mods respond. Read it again. And again. Then read the thread about Twitter harassers. See how trans people and their perspectives are treated and how they are ignored.

Think about safety. Think about people. Are people more important than an internet archive? Answer that question with a definitive yes. Are trans people more important than an internet archive? Answer that with a definitive yes.

I want to echo what Zebra said again, on behalf of probably many other extremely frustrated people who are tired of arguing: The personal safety of other MeFites (which is the driving force behind current account wipe requests) should be afforded greater consideration than my ability to retain access to every word I’ve ever written on this site.
posted by sweetjane at 9:26 PM on August 5 [27 favorites]


I'm kinda gobsmacked that I own all of the comments and answers on every FPP and Askme I've made.
posted by maxwelton at 9:34 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Would it make sense for users to have the option to make any or all things they write on the site, indicated as done by Anonymous?
posted by NotLost at 9:36 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Some people in this thread are really outing themselves as Cis men who’ve never been stalked/threatened/assaulted and therefore prioritizing an “archive” over peoples safety and it’s just super disappointing.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:48 PM on August 5 [29 favorites]


Feelings of your words being wiped out etc aside, is this actually going to be a problem at scale? It seems, unless there's a secret modmail groundswell, that only a handful of mefites are going to request account wipes in the near future, and I would guess that after an initial spike it will drop right down subsequent to that.

Whilst it might be frustrating etc to think that a comment you've written several years ago on an internet forum might be deleted, I think outcomes from this would easily result in less than 1% of any mefite's contributions being involuntarily removed.

Alternately, why not just do what reddit does and replace user content with "deleted", and leave other contributions as they stand? Yeah it might be confusing on a few pages, but is traffic to years-old askme questions really that high?

In regards to exporting, I kind of feel like if you want to wipe your profile from the face of the earth, it's really on you to get the data you want to keep, not metafilter. There's a range of export options available already that seem pretty decent.

I think in these het up times, and metafilter's general love of digging into edge cases and what-ifs, we may be borrowing a lot of trouble here. I'd love to see a trial to explore actual impacts before we get at each other's throats. I suspect they will be smaller than many are guessing.
posted by smoke at 9:49 PM on August 5 [16 favorites]


sweetjane, I don't think anyone here is arguing against user-requested deletion, except possibly one4themoment whose position is not totally clear to me and who can speak for themselves if they are. I think this MeTa and the bulk of the comments here are about requesting some way of mitigating the damage that such user-requested deletions can do, and/or providing alternative solutions that are less damaging that some users may be willing to choose. That is all.
posted by biogeo at 9:49 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


I would really like this not to become a thread where trans users have to argue yet again for their own safety here. With that in mind, I would very much like to see the moderators list a set of bright line principles for how deletion will work so that trans users and other marginalised people who may need content deletion are not once again put in that position.
posted by death valley compound at 9:59 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


sweetjane: "Think about safety. Think about people. Are people more important than an internet archive?"

Homo neanderthalensis: "Some people in this thread are really outing themselves as Cis men who’ve never been stalked/threatened/assaulted and therefore prioritizing an “archive” over peoples safety and it’s just super disappointing."

I really resent this framing. One can care about both the safety and well-being of users and maintaining the site's contents as much as possible. They're not mutually exclusive. And arguing against maximalist account wipes that delete everything a person ever posted *and* everything everyone else said in response is not equivalent to disregarding people's safety. It's possible and preferable to take a more targeted approach than that.

I mean, would y'all be in favor of deleting the whole site, since that would guarantee nothing on it could ever be used against anyone else? You don't think words are more important than people's lives, do you?! Of course not, but at that point we're just arguing degrees. Trying to make it a moral suasion thing where any disagreement with an extreme approach = you're selfish/thoughtless/don't care about people is gross.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:01 PM on August 5 [88 favorites]


It's possible and preferable to take a more targeted approach than that.

A more targeted approach might be preferable, for you. We have heard from at least one member of the community who said her safety required a complete wipe of her activity. I trust her to know her needs and preferences better than I do.
posted by zebra at 10:10 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


zebra: "A more targeted approach might be preferable, for you. We have heard from at least one member of the community who said her safety required a complete wipe of her activity. I trust her to know her needs and preferences better than I do."

Her activity, though -- not other people's. And I fail to see why, say, a popular MeFi post or an important MeTa policy thread with zero personal information must be auto-deleted instead of anonymized (or even just selectively deleted) to ensure anybody's safety. Nobody's arguing against deleting personally revealing posts or comments, but as it stands the process is sweeping up way, way more than that.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:21 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]


The mods are being mostly hands off in this thread, so I would kindly ask that people please try to frame things pretty specifically around what they would like in a remembering and forgetting policy? I don’t think that folks fighting with each over representation on the site is going to do a great job of justifying my making this thread. Please let’s all try to phrase things in terms of specific wants?
posted by Going To Maine at 10:21 PM on August 5 [18 favorites]


I want MetaFilter to prioritize user safety above all else. Some folks may be fine with having their activity anonymized rather than wiped, and we should respect that.

Other people whose safety is in danger may not have the capacity to go through every single post or comment they have on this site to determine which ones must go and which are safe to stay. If they ask for a complete wipe, they should get a complete wipe.

Those MeFites who are concerned about the sanctity of their comments can make a note on their calendar to run an export once a month.
posted by zebra at 10:32 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


Nobody's arguing against deleting personally revealing posts or comments

This is the internet. Everything is personally revealing in aggregate.
posted by death valley compound at 10:42 PM on August 5 [12 favorites]


If they ask for a complete wipe, they should get a complete wipe.

To return to my points above, since I want to keep framing things around them:
  1. I believe that deleting comments from old threads while leaving gaps would solve this, since the comments would be gone. ( There is a risk that other comments in the thread might jeopardize that, and I suppose that within a particular thread where a comment by user A is routinely quoted or obliquely referenced, the thread might have to be lost. This is hypothetical, and would surely be a niche case. I would suppose that such a situation would be covered by 2.)
  2. I think that providing individuals access to their own comments in threads that are completely wiped out would let us have our own work and thoughts while also preserving user A’s wipe.
  3. I construe memail as private correspondence, which is why I would like to hold onto a copy of the memails sent to me by user A. However, perhaps that’s the wrong way to think about email, and I’d be amenable to knowing that that was the case.

posted by Going To Maine at 10:56 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


If an AskMe post asking for the best restaurants in Cleveland is turned into a post by Anonymous, what does that reveal other than somebody in Cleveland was hungry at some point? If a post contains personally identifying details in itself, that's one thing, but random data points like that are useless when anonymized and combined with countless others. If somebody feels the details in a single post can help dox them, they should of course be able to delete it, but making it a blanket-delete process would destroy tons of useful info and the contributions of thousands of people without any additional benefit to security.

To circle back to the original ask, I think the best compromise is let people erase what's personal to them -- their own comments, and posts with personal info like IRL, Jobs, Projects -- but default to preserving non-personal MeFi/MeTa/Ask posts (in anonymized fashion) for the sake of other people's contributions. And for the rare post in that set that does have personal info, let them delete that as well. Just don't make it the default for everything.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:12 PM on August 5 [12 favorites]


If somebody feels the details in a single post can help dox them, they should of course be able to delete it

Cool. What about the people who say that's everything? Are you suggesting they shouldn't have that option? Should they have to individually justify each one? Do you really expect someone who may be actively being harassed to comb through their entire post and comment history to do that?
posted by death valley compound at 11:45 PM on August 5 [7 favorites]


We are talking about people’s safety and y’all are really like “well how about this compromise?”
posted by zebra at 11:48 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


My position, if we're outlining them:
  • All of a wiped user's comments are deleted. I'd prefer to see [deleted] as placeholders in the various threads, but that part isn't critical.
  • Asks should be deleted, they are inherently personal in a way posts are (hopefully) not. Aside: Why not anonymize all asks? There isn't a ton of value knowing who asked a particular question; personal notes to the asker could be sent via a re-mailer (ie, you memail "ask347894" if you have a private answer for the person asking the question, and behind the scenes that's forwarded to the asker, who can reply or not as they choose). That said, users who commented on wiped asks should still be able to find their work somewhere in their own history, visible only to themselves, perhaps.
  • FPPs are NOT deleted, but are anonymized.
  • Memail sent to a wiped member...dunno. My sent mail is my sent mail. I'm fine with killing the username it was sent to. Memail sent to me...it's mine, isn't it? Again fine with killing the username it was sent from. My main concern here is my safety. If a "wiped" user takes with them a note I sent, and then that note is removed from my sent mail, it's possible that at some future date my note is published elsewhere without context, or altered, and I have no way of demonstrating that wasn't what I wrote. (Note, I don't use memail much, so maybe this isn't a concern.)
  • Favorites from the user should be removed.
  • It should be possible to wipe your account, with the above constraints, as part of leaving the community, without mod involvement. I'd prefer it to be presented as a choice the user closing their account makes:
    • Leave my account profile and page, as well as my posts, comments, and favorites, with this username intact, as part of the site archive
    • Leave my contributions, but anonymize them, and remove this profile page
    • Remove my comments and asks, anonymize my posts, and remove this profile page

Data dumps provided to users should only be their original content, period. So they get the comments they made, the posts they created, but not the comments on those posts. They get the favorites they gave but not the favorites they received. The exception is memail, where the user gets the contents of their inbox and outbox.
posted by maxwelton at 12:03 AM on August 6 [11 favorites]


Good grief. This thread is a disappointing reminder of how many mefites value the sanctity of their comment history over the safety of marginalised members.
posted by Mauve at 12:10 AM on August 6 [17 favorites]


death valley compound: "Cool. What about the people who say that's everything? Are you suggesting they shouldn't have that option? Should they have to individually justify each one? Do you really expect someone who may be actively being harassed to comb through their entire post and comment history to do that?"

If they choose to claim every single post as personally revealing, they should be able to do that. It just shouldn't be the default over anonymization or targeted deletion.

zebra: "We are talking about people’s safety and y’all are really like “well how about this compromise?”"

Mauve: "Good grief. This thread is a disappointing reminder of how many mefites value the sanctity of their comment history over the safety of marginalised members."

Even with a 110% unconditional wipe, users might still be quoted or name-checked or obliquely referenced in threads they didn't start. Guess we'll have to take the whole site down, it's the only way to be absolutely sure there's no avenue for harassment. And you can't disagree with that or else you're valuing a blog over people's safety, right? Sheesh.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:24 AM on August 6 [26 favorites]


I mean, it sounds like there's competing interests within people's desires to protect themselves, here. To d.z. wang's repeated questioning above & in other threads, they're looking for
- posts
- comments
- memail to and from me
- favorites to and from me
with metadata like timestamps

in a structured format like JSON or SQL or something.
At the same time, others are calling for an account wipe to be comprehensive & inclusive of related data (and irrevocable, vs. a soft-delete). These aren't 100% compatible requests, but I think there's room to find something that gets everybody as much of what they need as possible. (Setting aside dev resources for a moment, since I know all of this is complicated there but hopefully not infeasible)

"I want to have a complete record of my interactions on the site without needing to trawl through the Internet Archive//Library of Congress archives to manually piece it together" is protecting people's peace of mind.

"I want to know my interactions on the site are deleted to the extent that this site can promise" is also protecting people's peace of mind.

Sometimes those are even the same person.
I'm hoping there's room to protect as many members of our community as possible, in ways which don't borrow more harm upon other members than is necessary to achieve that goal.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:30 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Forgive me if I'm wrong but I thought this post was a place to work out how these account wipes should work? Like we all and the mods have agreed that account wipes are good and necessary. This is a new thing for the site and this is a new process and details of how this will happen need to be ironed out. People putting forth ideas for how this could work with both maximum focus on personal safety as well as minimizing damage to the site are not (I hope, I cannot read their minds) taking other people's real life safety as a trivial thing.

I absolutely see the argument that an archive of random people's comments from the internet should not be prioritized over people's safety. However, I feel that account wipes that remove entire threads would change not only the way the site looks, but also probably change the way some people contribute. Why spend time and care to craft a well thought out comment if it could be deleted at any time? If there is no value in having an archive-ish site like this, why aren't we just a chat site where nothing is saved?

At the moment, the account wipe is taking an axe to the site. We need to figure out how we can do this with a scalpel instead. Given that we all agree that allowing people to be forgotten here is going to happen/is happening, having a discussion to figure out the best way to maximize both safety and maintaining site culture is not a bad thing.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:33 AM on August 6 [29 favorites]


having a discussion to figure out the best way to maximize both safety and maintaining site culture is not a bad thing

The voices that need to be heard about what maximising safety belong to those who are unsafe. What tends to happen in these discussions is that many people want to tell people who are directly affected that they are wrong about what they need to be safe.

And the thing people keep doing where they imply that people who want their data removed want to "take the site down" or are "taking an axe to the site" aren't helping me to perceive any of this as good faith.
posted by death valley compound at 2:22 AM on August 6 [16 favorites]


Just a quick clarification as I dont seem to have worded my comment in a way that makes the point I've intended.

And the thing people keep doing where they imply that people who want their data removed want to "take the site down" or are "taking an axe to the site" aren't helping me to perceive any of this as good faith.

What my intended meaning was that the way the account wipes work right now is a very blunt instrument. We need to decide if this is ok or if we should use something with more precision. This was not intended as a criticism of people asking for account wipes, this is a question about the tools/process. Again, this is not an argument for whether or not account wipes should be allowed. That has been settled. I'm not the OPP, but I think this is the thread where we are supposed to be working out the best way to do this in the future.
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:54 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


We need to decide if this is ok or if we should use something with more precision.

Trans MeFites in this thread (myself included) are saying that a blunt instrument is sometimes necessary for our safety. The needs of those who have been actually and materially endangered — as at least one trans MeFite has experienced — should be prioritized.
posted by zebra at 4:46 AM on August 6 [7 favorites]


Trans MeFites in this thread (myself included) are saying that a blunt instrument is sometimes necessary for our safety.

But this is incorrect. We haven't seen anything like this, where the blunt instrument approach--i.e., deleting an entire thread of other people's comments--increases anyone's safety over a more delicate approach. We do know, however, that the blunt instrument silences other voices, an effect I would hope marginalized mefites would be very wary of.

Being silenced is not safety. Having your words wiped away because of someone else's decision is not safety. I do not like the dismissiveness on display when someone would simply like the words they have written not to be erased, as though this were the only possibly tool to use to keep someone safe. And there's a real thread here of, "everyone who is complaining about it must be a cishet white guy"--but if history teaches us anything, it'll be our marginalized groups most negatively affected by the forced silencing.
posted by mittens at 5:17 AM on August 6 [56 favorites]


We do know, however, that the blunt instrument silences other voices, an effect I would hope marginalized mefites would be very wary of.

I reject the premise that having some small portion of one’s comments deleted from a single site on the world wide web can be accurately labeled as “silencing.”
posted by zebra at 5:29 AM on August 6 [11 favorites]


I think silencing is loaded terminology, playing into ideas of censorship. And, in fact, comments are frequently censored here in a much more active way than as a side effect of post-deletion: Moderators remove comments for many reasons. The simple fact is, anything you write here is already at risk of being censored.

I do think there's a reasonable argument for anonymising posts on the blue rather than deleting them, but I don't think that necessarily extends to other subsites.
posted by death valley compound at 5:33 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


Full account delete, with mod intervention, was the only technologically available means at the short notice time necessary to protect users who were suddenly made aware of a danger they hadn’t know about.

There are still short term questions about how what material a user gets to keep when they choose to use this process (regarding memail and ask questions/answers). I hope these questions are answered by a mod in the next mod update.

Separately however, I think it is useful to ask what a better long term process would look like. From the users who have requested wipes, one big request is to be able to wipe without mod intervention. Some others wanted to be able to remove some content but not all content. The current process, by my understanding, doesn’t allow for such precision, and *also* has the side effect of removing large swathes of archive that may not have been dangerous.

A possible option that would let people have control over the removal of material needed for their own safety would be a button for each activity item, allowing the user to 1) delete the content, leaving a blank space with no username; 2) anonymize the content, by putting it in the general Anonymous account that already exists for Ask, so that it can’t be traced to a specific user; 3) anonymize by replacing the username with anon###### where the #’s are a random number generated for that specific post or comment only and never repeated, this preventing correlation of information across comments. 4) ask for some other action that would require mod intervention (basically this final option would revert to what we have now where a wipe needs the user to contact the mods, but allow for individual content removal; this is already doable via the contact form if I understand correctly).

Adding such a tool, in addition to the options for site-wide wipes that we have now, would give users that have safety concerns but who don’t want to wipe all their data the option to do so. And it would have the side benefit of preserving more of the site content, because users whose safety is at risk wouldn’t have to grab for the only current option that exists (the site wide wipe, export before which may not allow said user to even keep all of their own content).

There is a risk that bad actors could use a per-comment tool to cause harm, eg posting a shitty comment and then deleting it before mods could see, so we would have to come up with a way to prevent that (maybe preserve data on the backend for one week, not publicly but only to mods, so if there’s a problem with this sort of abuse then it can be dealt with).

But I think those problems are solvable, and I think having a user accessible tool to remove/anonymize content on granular level is functionality the site should add, for the long term. I haven’t needed it yet myself, as my own harasser has no idea what Mefi is, but if that were to change I would want this functionality.

I should also add that part of the problem that led to the need for immediate site-wide deletion for some users was that there is no current process for informing users when there is a known risk to their safety. We should fix that issue too, but it isn’t really related to what options we give users for how to respond to safety concerns, other than that the need would be rarer if we built a pathway for alerting users to such safety problems much earlier.
posted by nat at 5:36 AM on August 6 [10 favorites]


How deleted is deleted, in this case?

Regular FPP deletion preserves comments, and you can still link to them. One of my most popular comments is this silly comment on a silly deleted post (which accumulated most of its favorites after the post was deleted). But if they're deleted, and purged, and no longer linkable, then, yeah, they're no longer accessible.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:08 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Small request: if you're adding a comment here and haven't spoken with anyone who's had to request a wipe, consider that you are lacking insight into what this feature fundamentally needs to be built to support. This is user story 101.
posted by trappist system at 7:02 AM on August 6 [18 favorites]


I think it's incredibly difficult to argue against anyone's need for safety, since different people have different risk profiles and different levels of risk tolerance. What feels like a safe level of risk to me might feel unsafe to you. Moreover risks are not static but evolve over time. Sometimes quite suddenly. If someone feels unsafe because their contributions to Metafilter are publicly accessible, then they should be able to wipe their account quickly and thoroughly. That's incompatible with requiring them to first sift through all their contributions to mark them for anonymization, obliteration, redaction, de-indexing, and what not.

On the other hand, if we want to continue sharing observations, stories and experiences with each other in a space that anyone can read/archive/cap, that always implies some risk, if only the risk of embarrassment, disagreement, or hurt feelings. To eliminate fully every sort of risk is to eliminate our vulnerability, our need for connection, our very humanity.

So whereever possible I am in favor of tools that allow people to manage their own level of risk, including account wipes. To mitigate splash damage, perhaps those contributions that were orphaned as a result of an account wipe could remain accessible for the user who made the contribution, either as an export or in an "orphaned comments" section on their profile.

I don't support the idea, floated in some recent MeTa threads, that the overriding concern of participation on Mefi should be risk elimination, and/or that the mods are culpable when risks materialize outside their control (ie. off-site harassment).
posted by dmh at 7:23 AM on August 6 [16 favorites]


I support targeted deletion of posts and comments, in addition to full account wipes. A few years ago, in the midst of another internet harassment campaign, I redacted some specifically identifiable information about a specific thing, somewhere else on the internet, so I could speak more freely without worrying that it would easily be found by the harassers. I was able to edit my posts and do that. If I hadn’t been able to edit my posts, I would’ve wanted to delete them. If I hadn’t been able to delete individual posts, I probably would’ve created the equivalent of a sock puppet to talk about that issue (and if it had been a true immediate threat to my safety I would have gone for an account wipe). I realize that’s a different scenario because I was not fearing directly for my life, but I do feel that it might be worth having a similar spectrum of response here, at some point. There are probably other things that protect peoples’ safety more that should be a higher priority, but once those are done, more surgical “I want to make this bit of info harder to find” tools are probably worth looking at. There will probably be people who feel that they need to remove their entire history, and I believe that should be respected, given the kinds of self-disclosure that can happen in AskMe, etc. But I think that in less-immediately-dire situations, more targeted interventions like deleting specific posts or comments, could be worthwhile. I think there’s an argument for both deletion and anoymization in different contexts, especially in Ask. A thread about the best hot dogs in Cincinnati could probably be anonymized safely (but that should be left to the person making the request), whereas a post about some personal issue seems more likely to remain problematic even after removing the posted-by due to personal details in the post text or comments that were informed by knowledge of the poster. So we need different tools for those different contexts, eventually. Let’s not let any of this thinking get in the way of as much safety as possible, now.

For what it’s worth, I reject the position that peoples’ comments are worth more than others’ safety. Preserving site history is nice, if we can do it in a way that people are comfortable with, but if we can’t, it’s just text. I’ll get over it if some of my comments are collateral damage in an account wipe, personally.
posted by Alterscape at 7:30 AM on August 6 [9 favorites]


saeculorum: it seems you are fundamentally not understanding what deleting does? Those are my comments that were deleted. Not other people's comments. If you're talking about FPPs that were deleted, I would point out that me, as a user who asked for those to be deleted, asked for the content of the post to be deleted but what was offered was for them to be removed entirely. I am glad to discuss ways to bridge this divide but you're starting from a fundamentally hostile position and that doesn't feel so great.
posted by trappist system at 7:31 AM on August 6 [9 favorites]


[Couple comment deleted, one that listed a number of comments deleted in the process of wiping a former account, then a reply. I'm not clear whether that specific number allows connecting the new account to the old account but let's not do that? It's fine to make this kind of point (the current version of account wipes ends up removing a lot of comments made by other people than the requester) with obfuscated numbers so as to not make it about an individual.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:38 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


To eliminate fully every sort of risk is to eliminate our vulnerability, our need for connection, our very humanity.

Literally no one is suggesting we can or should eliminate fully every sort of risk. I personally am saying, for some people and in some cases, a complete account wipe might be the necessary solution, and it might mean some comments written by other people also get deleted. On the scale of justice, preventing actual material danger to someone who is being stalked and harassed outweighs the desire for some people to have a complete record of their entire comment history at all times.

By the way, as I have pointed out previously, it is currently possible for each and every user to retain a complete record of their comment history by exporting that information on a regular basis. Anyone who wants ongoing and uninterrupted access to their intellectual property should be doing this for themselves anyway, regardless of any account wipe policy.
posted by zebra at 7:45 AM on August 6 [8 favorites]


“Full deletion” is never going to be possible. The content is going to remain on archive.org (and likely elsewhere) permanently.

To me, a “Comment Deleted” placeholder will just become a reminder to reload the post from archive.org. It’s an inconvenience that doesn’t seem like it will actually improve user safety.

If we’re going to implement full account-wipes in the name of promoting safety, I’d prefer to see some sort of investigation into whether or not that’s actually going to improve user safety.
posted by schmod at 8:03 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


Seems like the most effective way to keep yourself safe is to just not participate here.
posted by all about eevee at 8:12 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


[ disgusted noise ] There's a thing called mitigation which allows people to participate in somewhat unsafe activities with a modicum of confidence that they will not be harmed. Throwing up your hands and saying "well just don't fucking walk outside your door if you're scared of the big scary world" is an actively hurtful comment.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:15 AM on August 6 [23 favorites]


“We can’t make it even a tich safer so you should leave” is just so unbelievably gross. Its also gonna push out a lot of marginalized folks but the way some folks are talking in here it sounds to me like the only thing that will make some of y’all happy is a return to the 2003 boyzone.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:16 AM on August 6 [16 favorites]


“Full deletion” is never going to be possible. The content is going to remain on archive.org (and likely elsewhere) permanently.

MetaFilter is indexed and searchable via Google et. al. The Internet Archive is not.

No, we'll never be perfectly safe online, but if we keep fighting for preservation of MetaFilter's past instead of improving the safety of current and future MeFites, we might as well shut this down and turn it into an archive.

Also, there's no reason for anyone to expect that what they've written on MetaFilter is saved forever. MetaFilter could have a catastrophic data failure, or the there may be some problem with site finances and no one pays to keep the site online. Or the site could get hacked. I'm sure there are other catastrophic scenarios that could quickly put an end to MetaFilter, and everything is gone. And if someone puts up a Robots restriction on MetaFilter, *poof* that content is also not visible on Archive.org.

Which is my long-winded way of saying no one should believe that the time and effort they've put into this site will remain forever. And I write that as one of the more prolific posters, who has really enjoyed this platform and community. But if it's all writing in sand, it was fun while it lasted.

We could each archive our own contributions and discussions, just in case. I think that's the best action a user could take if they're worried about their personal contributions and archives here.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:18 AM on August 6 [12 favorites]


Morning, folks. I want to remind everyone that you do not have to - and in fact it may be an active waste of your time to - try to change every other users' mind in this thread. We've got a couple problems on the table and folks are coming up with potential solutions, and that's helpful. Let's try to keep it that way.

Problems:
- Wiping accounts as it's currently set up has a ton of collateral damage in the form of other people's posts and comments
- User safety is variable both over time and across users and no one mitigation strategy will cover every case

Solutions:
- Leave space to indicate a comment has been deleted
- Allow users to see their own comments in deleted threads
- Allow users to access their sent and recieved memail regardless of the other user's account status
- allow anonymization of comments, especially self-anonymization
- wipe the post but not the comments on account wipes
- add a per-comment/post tool where users could choose between the above

One of the very next things on frimble's list is a dive into our current deletion technology, so this is a timely thread and will give us a lot to chew on. Thanks!
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:19 AM on August 6 [17 favorites]


I personally am saying, for some people and in some cases, a complete account wipe might be the necessary solution, and it might mean some comments written by other people also get deleted.

But there's no reason it has to mean that, at least not automatically.

In the case of trappist system (if I understand correctly), she requested that all of her contributions be wiped, and the mods decided that to do that by deleting not only her own posts and comments, but also everyone else's comments on her posts. I can totally understand them making a decision like that in the interest of expediency, given that (being charitable) they had apparently never given this situation much thought and were figuring it out on the fly. But we can still have a discussion about what kind of policy makes sense for the next time that situation comes up.

I think it's totally reasonable to take the position that having your own posts and comments erased is an unequivocal right*, whereas asking to have someone else's comments removed is handled on a case-by-case basis, using the moderators' best judgment.

* With the caveat that just like the edit window, comment deletion could theoretically be abused by trolls, and a pattern of obviously non-good-faith deletions could still be grounds for some kind of talking-to.

On preview: restless_nomad, I'm very happy to see your response. I think one of the main reasons discussions on this topic have been so fraught is because privacy is a very personal, situational thing. Adding some technological flexibility to the site will go a really long way toward removing the need to find a one-size-fits-all solution, which should hopefully make everyone happier and safer.
posted by teraflop at 8:34 AM on August 6 [12 favorites]


But we can still have a discussion about what kind of policy makes sense for the next time that situation comes up.

Yes and that is what I am doing. I believe it is important for site policy to address the possibility that maintaining user safety may necessitate deleting some content not owned by the requesting user — not as the ONLY option, but as AN option.
posted by zebra at 8:43 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


I believe it is important for site policy to address the possibility that maintaining user safety may necessitate deleting some content not owned by the requesting user — not as the ONLY option, but as AN option.

I think this especially applies to AskMe questions where answers (alone or in aggregate) may well reference personal information of the poster and provide enough information for the poster's identity to be inferred.
posted by death valley compound at 8:51 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


I think this especially applies to AskMe questions where answers (alone or in aggregate) may well reference personal information of the poster and provide enough information for the poster's identity to be inferred.

Or even just quoted comments.
posted by mittens at 8:53 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, I am not advocating that people leave or that we should do nothing about this problem. That couldn't be further from the truth. What I AM saying is that, to me, it feels like many people in this thread and others are pushing back against what marginalized people on the site are asking for in order to feel safe. And to me, if we aren't willing to help marginalized people feel safe because we prioritize the archive over safety, then yeah, marginalized people are going to leave to find a place that will listen to them and WILL make them feel safe.
posted by all about eevee at 8:53 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


For deletion of other peoples' content, I think the burden should be on the person requesting deletion to identify what content is identifying. Allowing whole-scale account wipes inclusive of other peoples' content puts too much power in the hands of someone that is currently allowed to do so for no reason at all.

I'm much more comfortable with allowing whole-scale wipes if the user provides a reason or rationale for the action. Right now, that does not appear to be required.
posted by saeculorum at 8:55 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


My opinion is always going to be that we should elevate the needs of marginalized users over the preservation of the archive.
posted by all about eevee at 8:56 AM on August 6 [12 favorites]


There might be a valuable distinction between posts (as distinct from comments) on different subsites. A post on the Blue or on Fan Fare likely shouldn't contain information about the poster, because the post should be about the subject of the post not the poster. This is very different from AskMe where the post is usually about the Asker.

I still don't object to users who feel a strong need to wipe everything being given that opportunity, but if we're looking to develop a more nuanced set of choices so that there is some option that falls between "go through all your content and decide individually what is and isn't problematic for you" and "nuke it all from orbit", then I think that's one area where the mods / frimble should consider differentiating.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:06 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


I'm much more comfortable with allowing whole-scale wipes if the user provides a reason or rationale for the action. Right now, that does not appear to be required.

Do you really want the mods to be deciding whose reason for wanting their account wiped is good enough? I mean that both in the sense of "is that very uncomfortable decision something you want to force the mods to make" and in the sense of "is that a decision you feel comfortable with the mods making on someone else's behalf".
posted by jacquilynne at 9:09 AM on August 6 [15 favorites]


I think the burden should be on the person requesting deletion to identify what content is identifying.

I don't think the appropriate response to a person who feels unsafe is to increase their burden.
posted by solotoro at 9:09 AM on August 6 [10 favorites]


This framing of "if you don't want other users to be able to delete your site contributions, you don't care about the safety of marginalized users!" is really gross. The pony request, as I understand it, is literally just: can we preserve the safety of marginalized users without also deleting whole comment threads by hundreds of other posters? Is there a reasonable way to do that?

And yet there seem to be people in this thread who have already pre-determined without any input from the mods (or better yet, frimble) that the answer to that pony request is "no", and have also gone the extra step to deciding that if the answer is no, everyone asking for that pony will care more about comment histories than user safety. I can't speak for everyone, of course, but I think it's worth asking for that pony and if it does turn out not to be possible, then okay, that sucks, but if that's how it's gotta be, that's how it's gotta be. But 99.9% of this site is "an archive", and acting like any interest in preserving that 99.9% of this website can only come from a place of disregard for other users' well-being is a really shitty way to approach this discussion. Honestly, if you think that little of other Metafilter users and also don't value the site as an archive, why do you even value the ability to participate here?
posted by mstokes650 at 9:19 AM on August 6 [85 favorites]


I agree with jacquilynne: if total account wipes are part of site policy, as they now are, then it should not be in the hands of the mods or anyone else to determine whether someone's reasons for doing so are good enough. This seems like a separate issue from the question of how to preserve others' work around the deleted content.
posted by biogeo at 9:21 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


At this point we're only really talking about account wipes and comment wipes and MAYBE that a couple of quoted comments in another comment might get nuked. might. And yet folks on here (the same folks in each MeTa...) are acting as if someone's gonna send the FBI to their house to wipe their hard drives. And it is very telling that the most strident posters (one of whom got a comment deleted in this very thread trying to out a trans user who deleted an old account- hmmm that's not transphobic at all) are almost all cis men for whom the threat of stalking and doxing has never been a huge deal. I care about archives- I care about my site contributions. I would be pretty upset if IDK some of my better fpps got nuked because of another user- but the odds of that happening are vanishingly small and not the point. The initial thrust of this MeTa is a good one about balancing these needs. But that some users have starting immediately constructing strawman of how no one should expect safety ever/how dare you steal my words is...
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:28 AM on August 6 [14 favorites]


The former lets me ruminate

Not saying that you, specifically, do this, but "rumination" includes going back to years-old threads to dig up information on people in order to interact with them physically outside the site, against their will.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:35 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


Members who are at specific risk for harassment or violence should be fully respected when it comes to their own safety and their experiences in protecting it.

If people outside those groups are domain experts in things like online harassment, the safety or marginalized community members, and/or internet privacy, they can say so when posting; and I would welcome that expertise.

Otherwise, if you aren't either, your experience of the internet is likely a privileged one. People don't call your family to out you, sent SWAT teams to your home to bust in, doxx you so you can be harassed en masse, etc.

Calling into question the validity of the experiences of others based on what you think and feel without any reference to facts is centering your privilege. Just because you are ok doesn't mean everyone is.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 9:36 AM on August 6 [11 favorites]


Honestly, if you think that little of other Metafilter users and also don't value the site as an archive, why do you even value the ability to participate here?

Also- I do think very highly of my fellow mefites. You know- all of them. The women and men who don't want their abusive ex's finding them but would like to ask a question now and again, maybe about something sensitive like custody or when to go to the police. The trans folks who aren't out IRL and would like a place to read and discuss their truths without having to worry about physical violence or getting fired because someone forwarded their comments about their true gender(s) to their boss. The queer folk and POC and Jews and Muslims and etc. etc. worldwide who can't be seen IRL as having a single radical thought without jeopardizing their precarious positions but who can talk freely about politics here without worrying that someone might forward their comments to someone who might disappear them/attack them/harass them. The vast majority of the deletes were going to have to live with are edge cases. It sucks- but I'd rather my other metafilter users be SAFE then have a pristine archive.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:37 AM on August 6 [18 favorites]


I am trans and I research the impacts of digital surveillance on marginalized groups, especially Black people, trans folk, women and femmes, and people who fit into more than one of those categories.
posted by zebra at 9:40 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


At the very least, rather than uniformly deleting all posts and comments a user is involved in, we can anonymize their posts and then require the user to identify specific posts that should go to the "full delete level". If my answers are going to be deleted

Any comment you wrote that is important to you, you can save either at the time you wrote it or right now. nobody can delete your stuff for you in this manner if you have any concern for keeping it.

if you want to put power into the hands of the people by having a handy X box show up next to everything we write so that comment-by-comment self-deletion is as easy as a click and no moderators are involved, AS WOULD BE OBVIOUS AND GOOD, that's great. if, for as long as we have to go through moderators, you want to punish people for frustrating you by asking them to check off on a check box each one of several thousand comments or posts instead of being able to just say "all of them," enjoy that want, I guess. anybody who cares to make the request in the first place will certainly go to the trouble, but you will have had the satisfaction of giving them several minutes' extra aggravation.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:44 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Regular FPP deletion preserves comments, and you can still link to them. One of my most popular comments is this silly comment on a silly deleted post (which accumulated most of its favorites after the post was deleted).

I'd completely forgotten that two character SLYT post (the video in the link is ironically no longer available), which was a stunt post trying to be as minimalist as possible (I think it lasted seven minutes before it was deleted). Yes, you can still see it, plus the comment by huffy puffy which bloats the thread up to a server-straining three characters (I guess the moderator deletion explanation makes it four). Quirkily you can also - still! - favourite the comment but not the post.

My ex, after reading most of my FPPs, said it was the only one that didn't need editing. I was saddened it didn't make the monthly podcast roundup.

frimble: if you need to experiment with deletion tech tools on FPPs, then happy for you to use that FPP (if huffy puffy is happy too). Not exactly a loss of Library of Alexandria proportions if it disappears forever.
posted by Wordshore at 9:49 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


I presume someone just had their account deleted since I noticed 17 "favorites" vanish from my count, which I admittedly follow with unhealthy regularity. It is a little disconcerting as a user to have my own comment history destructively modified for reasons beyond my control, but if the reason is for the safety of others, it is an acceptable state of affairs. This site is not "an archive." It is a community with archival functions, which said functions must work in a way that balances historical fidelity with community mores.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:50 AM on August 6 [10 favorites]


At the moment, the account wipe is taking an axe to the site. We need to figure out how we can do this with a scalpel instead. Given that we all agree that allowing people to be forgotten here is going to happen/is happening, having a discussion to figure out the best way to maximize both safety and maintaining site culture is not a bad thing.
posted by LizBoBiz


thank you, LizBoBiz for saying what I came here to say.

I guess the only thing I'd add is that nobody (almost nobody anyway) opens a Metafilter account assuming that this is a one hundred percent safe place, which is fine because they don't need that. They don't need hundred percent anonymity etc. But things change. Peoples' circumstances change in vital ways. Suddenly (and sometimes it is very sudden) they do need that anonymity. They do need to disappear. And it has to happen fast. There can't be a bureaucratic process that has to be negotiated first.
posted by philip-random at 9:51 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Leaving blanks spaces in threads make sense.

Beyond that I'm a deletion maximist it seems, which surprises me because I'm *not* a knee-jerk supporter of deletions or forgetting . But people have good reasons for this and the collateral damage is small.

IMHO the default for a deletion request should be deletion of everything they wrote, including FPPs and MeMail. If it's easy for a mod to give the option of just anonymizing these things that's fine obviously. But 100% up to the requester.

I think deleting entire threads including their comments started by a user who wants to be forgotten is valid too. Especially on Ask. Maybe on the blue. It's possible to reverse engineer posts from the threads.

Sure, it's annoying to have a resource I bookmarked, like a good post or thread, suddenly vanish. And to have comments I made go with it. But MeFi is (1) not primarily an archival site for my produced content, (2) there are plenty of ways to easily save comments, or even entire threads floating around out there and (3) 99.9% of what I wrote will be completely unaffected by this regardless of how total the forgetting is.
posted by mark k at 9:59 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I presume someone just had their account deleted since I noticed 17 "favorites" vanish from my count, which I admittedly follow with unhealthy regularity.

I thought I was bad. I noticed it. I noticed it was a lot because I was getting pretty close to a certain threshold. But no, I could not tell you exactly how many I lost.

And more seriously, I've noticed a few such "purges" over the last while. No, it doesn't bother me to lose a few favorites. Yes, it does bother me that we're losing people who I've clearly had some kind of connection with. So maybe it's a good thing that we do notice, that it is quantifiable ... for those who pay attention to the relevant quantities.
posted by philip-random at 10:03 AM on August 6 [7 favorites]


zebra, that's probably why you have been so on point in this thread; people should heed your words.

I'd like to reiterate that anyone can export all their comments and favorites by going to preferences and scrolling to the bottom. If you are concerned about losing comments, you might find that useful. I'm a little unclear if that includes deleted comments or not.

As the MeFi FAQ says though, if you want other people's writing, you should contact the author as the person who wrote something on here retains the copyright to their own writing.

I think the best way to maintain site culture is to prioritize the safety and well being of community members. Most people come to this site to see what's current and comment, not for archival research, which is good because links in old posts are never guaranteed to work. if you want to save anything off of the internet, it's better to download and preserve it locally, which every major browser can do.

You can't download and preserve active community members though.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 10:20 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


And yet folks on here (the same folks in each MeTa...) are acting as if someone's gonna send the FBI to their house to wipe their hard drives.

Will you please fucking stop that?

And I'm a woman who has been stalked, abused, and more! Yet, I completely agree with the request outlined in this post. Please stop putting people on blast because they're not 100% on board with your perspective. Believe it or not, we do have a common purpose here: to help those who need it and to do that in the least damaging way possible for everyone. Adults can have such discussions without hating or dismissing the concerns of trans members/people with opposite perspectives/whatever/whomever. I get that you're anxious, and I'm sorry that's the case, but we're not on opposite sides. We're just trying to do less damage overall if possible.
posted by heyho at 10:26 AM on August 6 [52 favorites]


I do believe that anyone who needs an account wipe should get one, comments and posts and all, and shouldn't have to justify it to the mods. Obviously safety is the priority.

But it seems like it would be just as safe if, instead of deleting a metafilter fpp wholesale along with the comments, it was anonymised and stripped of all text but the links. That would maintain the post and the comments, but leave no connection at all to the original poster. Is there a reason why people are against something like this? Is it just too much of a pain to automate?
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:29 AM on August 6 [12 favorites]


Personally (as in if the new policy allows it, I'll probably request it for my old account), I'd want AskMeFi posts and comments completely deleted, same for MeFi comments. Everything else I'd be happy with them being anonymized.

Post on the blue have never allowed personal info and the policy is strongly against editorializing so... why should they be deleted wholesale? I do like the alternative stillnocturnal presents though, deleting everything but links so it still makes some sort of sense.

The one problem I see is that some people mention the creator of the post by username in their comments, and I'm not sure how that could be solved without deleting everything.
posted by simmering octagon at 10:39 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


Various users in this thread have suggested that it is each individual user’s responsibility to export their own content, and that if they really care about their own content it is their own job to take care of such exporting. If that’s to be the case, the site needs to state that explicitly, and I would suggest two new ponies as well:
  1. MetaFilter should facilitate comment exporting by allowing users to request a weekly / monthly export of their comments be sent to them via MeMail.
  2. MetaFilter clarify what it means that users own the copyrights to our own comments in light of purging that may make such comments entirely inaccessible.

posted by Going To Maine at 10:45 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


mention the creator of the post by username in their comments

This is an ideal situation for a regex.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:46 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


The one problem I see is that some people mention the creator of the post by username in their comments, and I'm not sure how that could be solved without deleting everything.

Manual username sweeps (regex, yep!) by moderation staff when an account deletion occurs, replace username/identifying content with [redacted] or whatnot. That's extra workload, yes. When resources are stretched thin, place account-deletion-action-in-progress threads in a non-viewable-to-users state until finalized.

If there are technical architectural obstacles in the way of any of that, review them and get a remediation and development plan in place to remove those obstacles.
posted by Drastic at 10:47 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter clarify what it means that users own the copyrights to our own comments in light of purging that may make such comments entirely inaccessible.

Users owning copyright to their comments/posts doesn't give MetaFilter the obligation to display them. Much as I agree with you in general for this MeTa, copyright is a right to copy, not an obligation to copy.
posted by saeculorum at 10:48 AM on August 6 [9 favorites]


This is an ideal situation for a regex.

Generally speaking, yes, I agree. Some of us have usernames that are very common words / phrases that would require knowing the linguistic context of the phrase, which a regex can't consider.
posted by zebra at 10:54 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


A system of tagging users by their usernames with an @ or something like many modern websites allow wouldn't help with past threads, but could make cleanup easier going forward. It might also facilitate name changes for people who have transitioned.
.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 11:00 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


I like and support Going to Maine's three suggestions in the original post, and two more recent points.

As a MetaFilter user I had a general assumption that I would be able to browse the comments that I personally had made, via the website, for as long as the website would be up, and that I'd be able to see the context they were replying to. Browsing my past comments has helped me think about things I want to say elsewhere; sometimes I've expanded thoughts from my individual MeFi comments into blog posts or parts of public conference talks. I've pointed other people to particular comments I've made here and I've been glad that my help, arguments, links, articulations would be available for others to benefit from in the future.

It sounds as though that assumption, about browsability, held generally true, but it will possibly hold less true in the future, to the extent that I commented on posts by users who choose to wipe their histories. And I want to be able to revisit, reuse, and republish my work. So I've run a comment export and downloaded my own comments (I'm not clear on whether that includes comments on posts by users who have already wiped their MeFi histories).

As I browse my own words via the export, I notice that I've written more than 120,000 words here. I am glad that I've done this export, and I'm glad for all the conversations and prompts that have led me to write so much stuff. I hope everyone else who's done an export has also gotten to have some nice moments looking at their own contributions to MetaFilter, concentrated.
posted by brainwane at 11:52 AM on August 6 [10 favorites]


At this point we're only really talking about account wipes and comment wipes and MAYBE that a couple of quoted comments in another comment might get nuked. might.

At this point I think I need some clarification about what's actually being done with deletions? The main issue in question is what happens to the other comments in a thread when an account wipe deletes FPPs, no?
posted by atoxyl at 12:52 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Yes, that was the motivating tension for myself, ditto memail.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:56 PM on August 6


restless_nomad, I think there's another 'problem' item not listed in your summary.

That is, currently, users who need to remove some content for their safety have to contact the mods to do so. Additionally, users only have the option to ask for deletion (whether wholesale or individual comments/posts); they currently have no option to choose anonymization instead.

We should let the user who needs to remove/anonymize content make that decision for themselves, and allow them the option to do at least the per-comment style delete/anonymize on their own, without requiring mod intervention.
posted by nat at 12:59 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


And how does it work right now? My impression was as a temporary measure it's basically the same as a mod deleting the post? Which doesn't exactly remove the comments but makes them harder to find? I also think we should favor removing user names or FPP text and, um, un-favor perma-deleting comments not by the OP, except perhaps if they are quoting the OP. In some ways that outcome can be favored just be giving people better partial deletion options earlier, which I extremely support, but if there are going to be perma deletes of other users' content that doesn't connect directly to the OP I think we do need to talk about the policy for that.

So I've run a comment export and downloaded my own comments

Wait is this a thing we can do on our own now? Without asking the mods or writing the script ourselves?
posted by atoxyl at 1:05 PM on August 6


So I’ve run a comment export and downloaded my own comments

Wait is this a thing we can do on our own now? Without asking the mods or writing the script ourselves?

Yes, it’s a button on your “Settings” page. (Another small pony is that I would like it to be on the profile page when I’m logged in.)
posted by Going To Maine at 1:08 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I also understand the viewpoint that a fair policy for Ask might be different than for MeFi.
posted by atoxyl at 1:09 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Yes, it’s on your “Settings” page. (Another small pony is that I would like it to be on the profile page when I’m logged in.)

Sweet, now I can train a text generator on myself and I won't even have to write comments anymore.
posted by atoxyl at 1:10 PM on August 6 [13 favorites]


Manual username sweeps (regex, yep!) by moderation staff when an account deletion occurs

[redacted] measures like this may have unintended side effects.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:17 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


And how does it work right now? My impression was as a temporary measure it's basically the same as a mod deleting the post? Which doesn't exactly remove the comments but makes them harder to find?

Normally when a post is deleted for breaking the guidelines in some way, the thread no longer appears in listings, but if you know its URL (or can guess the number) then the post and comments are still accessible, with a note showing the deletion reason. (This is how the various "deleted thread" blogs over the years been able to operate.)

When trappist system requested deletion of her previous account, there was a brief period of time where her posts were semi-"deleted" in the same way, but now those links just return a "file not found" error.
posted by teraflop at 1:20 PM on August 6


I'm jumping in to re-iterate that I would have been fine with a whole host of other options if it hadn't been handled in such a ham-fisted way to begin with.
posted by trappist system at 2:11 PM on August 6 [10 favorites]


if you know its URL (or can guess the number) then the post and comments are still accessible, with a note showing the deletion reason.

This is no longer true for Ask and IRL.
posted by zamboni at 2:12 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


trappist system: Yeah, just to be clear, I absolutely didn't mean to drag you personally into the discussion -- I only brought it up because it's the only example I know of how the current "temporary" process is supposed to work. I'm sorry that I phrased it awkwardly enough to imply otherwise, and thanks for clarifying.

zamboni: Ah, I must have missed that in the site update! Good to know.
posted by teraflop at 2:28 PM on August 6


So I’ve run a comment export and downloaded my own comments

Wait is this a thing we can do on our own now? Without asking the mods or writing the script ourselves?

--Yes, it’s a button on your “Settings” page. (Another small pony is that I would like it to be on the profile page when I’m logged in.


yeah, it doesn't work though. doesn't pick up any ff comments, just ones made in the other three places. if it does work for everyone else, that would be good to know.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:40 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


For anyone who doesn't know how to find the "settings" (which I did not, until like ten minutes ago): go on your profile, and next to your name you will see an "edit profile" link. Scroll all the way to the bottom and you will see a link to export your comments (and another link to export your favorites.) The comments download into one long text file.

Exporting favorites gives you a long list of links to Metafilter posts, so maybe that will be less useful for preservation purposes as presumably the link will go nowhere if the post is deleted.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:17 PM on August 6


For even simpler access to a comment export, click here (the link will be the same for every member). Favorites export is here.
posted by saeculorum at 3:19 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


heyho: Believe it or not, we do have a common purpose here: to help those who need it and to do that in the least damaging way possible for everyone. [...] We're just trying to do less damage overall if possible.

Yeah, no. I am not advocating for less damage overall or for everyone to take on the least damage possible. I want MetaFilter to prioritize one group's potential needs (i.e. people whose personal safety is at risk) above others. I want us to do a complete job of that, even if it means that other people need to absorb damage (i.e. the loss of comment history stored on the site) to make that happen. As all about eevee said earlier, "my opinion is always going to be that we should elevate the needs of marginalized users over the preservation of the archive."

To be crystal clear, in every single one of my posts on this thread I have advocated for this approach to be AN OPTION. Not the only option, not a mandatory option, but an approach that remains available for those who need it. This is likely to be a very small number of people, and it is likely to have an extremely small impact on other users of the site, IF anyone ever needs to employ it. Yet even this very small possibility is too much for some in this thread who argue that, no, this should not be an option because their desire to keep their comments is at least equivalent in priority to others' safety.

In summary: no, we do not all have a common purpose in this thread.
posted by zebra at 5:49 PM on August 6 [9 favorites]


I want MetaFilter to prioritize one group's potential needs (i.e. people whose personal safety is at risk) above others. I want us to do a complete job of that, even if it means that other people need to absorb damage (i.e. the loss of comment history stored on the site) to make that happen.

Another possible pony related to this:
  1. In the event that a user requests some sort of complete wipe of all thread content, everyone who participated in those threads is immediately sent an export of all of their comments before the purge goes through.
This is somewhat in competition with my original pony 3, since I’d like to be able to access my own comments without having to navigate a text file. However, automating that export would still guarantee that everyone could keep their individual comments while at the same time removing the public record that puts the user at risk.

All of that said, it seems like there is an assumption that this scenario is a special case, and I would like to think that MetaFilter, Inc. is a small organization that can cope with special cases. (Recent evidence, perhaps to the slightly contrary.)
posted by Going To Maine at 6:11 PM on August 6


I am generally supportive of what you've said here Going To Maine and I also appreciate your effort to keep the discussion here focused and constructive, but I think that export before purging idea is a bad one. It's certainly plausible that a deletion would be requested because of the negative actions of a site member that a user has interacted with and the type of broad export you suggest would undermine the whole point.

I'd also like to add my vote to those asking r_n to prioritize clarifying what the current deletion policy is, even if it is changing, and what is feasible to get as an export.

Also this may not be the thread for it but in the original thread that had the mess about the twitter harrassment and such at least one subject area expert weighed in on various ways Metafilter could handle privacy and protect users. It's a big job and I personally didn't understand or agree with everything that was said but can r_n include in the to do list for site updates whether any of that is being considered?
posted by Wretch729 at 8:04 PM on August 6 [6 favorites]


I'm gobsmacked to see comments here along the lines of it you want to be safe, don't leave your house. Please don't be shitty to people with safety concerns.
posted by medusa at 8:16 PM on August 6 [6 favorites]


[deleted a minor derail and response]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:16 PM on August 6


Just fyi, folks currently have the option to forward Mefimail to their personal mail.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:16 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


medusa: There's a subsequent clarification saying that exactly the opposite is what was intended.
posted by russilwvong at 9:53 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


One has to laugh. As a consequence of looking through some older accounts to download my comment and favorite histories (super cool to be able to do that! Is that new?) I discovered a ten-year-old thread about ...this exact topic...complete with some shenanigans where they replaced a couple usernames with "[deleted]" reddit style. I think to make fun of the idea? Which specific implementation didn't, uh, age all that well. At all. (Content warning: humor was just really different on the internet in 2010 and stuff that was self-evidently jolly good fun among friends is just no longer fucking funny on the internet of 2020.)

Aaanyway, we have been so shitty at letting people control the content they create for so long. But if you take the long view, I guess we've made a little progress. Back in 2010 the answer to some of the "we're thinking about it, stay tuned" requests on this thread was a whole lot closer to "shut up, bad idea, no way."

For the record, I'm apparently documented as having wanted self-serve tools to anonymize and delete individual comments since at least 2010. Having to ask the moderators is not a solution. We should not have to go on bended knee to ask mods to take our names off something we wrote and shared here. Shouldn't have to give a reason, shouldn't have to interact with a human, should just be able to go in and do it. I've never thought it was okay that this was impossible, and I still don't. I am less sure how I feel about whole-account actions or whole-thread deletions, as in I would be fine with those but it isn't as high priority to me. I would pledge actual dollars to get someone working on self-serve anonymization/deletion of comments and self-serve anonymization of posts. This is an idea whose time came a long, long time ago.
posted by potrzebie at 10:15 PM on August 6 [9 favorites]


I’d be very much okay with a more ephemeral version of metafilter.

Our posts and comments here aren’t sacred, we’re just here messing about and bantering mostly.

I’d love to not have this corner of the internet taking it’s text history so seriously. The world has moved on and metafilter is not at the forefront like it was in 2001.

I’m certainly a minority opinion here, I’m not looking to get into a big discussion about it, just offering my perspective on things.
posted by noiseanoise at 10:41 PM on August 6 [9 favorites]


Look, I’m not out of touch. It’s the other online communities who are wrong.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:45 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Yet even this very small possibility is too much for some in this thread who argue that, no, this should not be an option because their desire to keep their comments is at least equivalent in priority to others' safety.

I'm not going to say it shouldn't be an option, but I do think it needs either a policy - which then runs into the "who gets to decide who has a legitimate need?" problem - or some ideas to alleviate the issues with impingement on other users, because I do think those issues are significant.
posted by atoxyl at 12:02 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Sometimes on a site like Metafilter the policy can be "trust the mods" - after all if there's one condition of using Metafilter it's that it's run by the Metafilter mods - but I think we have some recent examples of why that might not be enough for this...
posted by atoxyl at 12:21 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


we should elevate the needs of marginalized users over the preservation of the archive

The golden rule
posted by daybeforetheday at 3:01 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


What if when a person requested an account wipe, every single one of the bylines in every post and comment across the site was randomized?

So comment 1 would say "posted by User12412919"

Comment 2 would say "posted by User3928dk"

etc, etc.

Or

Just have a bank of say 100 seemingly normal looking usernames and when a user requests a data wipe, the system randomly chooses between those 100 premade usernames for the byline.

Both these techniques are intended to destroy any link between the user's comments and posts, while preserving the archive.

Is there any reason why this couldn't be a compromise between all parties?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:42 AM on August 7 [28 favorites]


And yes, a person should be able to "wipe" their account as described above without having to contact a mod. Ideally they'll have to click a button to do so, then the button makes them wait 60 seconds to confirm and then an option to export all their posts, comments, and Mefimail, and after that's done, then one final button to wipe their account. Once done, it's final, no take backs.

Regular users should also be able to export all their posts, comments, and MeFimail at any time, say once per week or whatever the server can handle if 500 people want to do it at one time. Or something like that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:51 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Just chiming in to say a thread deletion doesn’t logically require a deletion of all comments; you can have the thread deleted entirely but as part of the deletion process reassign all comments to a global virtual thread specifically intended to store orphaned comments. Thus, if I have comments I value because of the time it took to write them, and their parent post was deleted, they would still included in an export of all my comments - it’s only the context that is lost, and if I cared about those comments as much as is claimed then I’ll either remember the context or be willing to schlep over to archive.org and dig it up for myself.

Point is, this assertion that enabling users to delete their own posts is an infringement on the rights of the commenters doesn’t really hold water with even a modicum of thought put into the implementation. C’mon, y’all.
posted by Ryvar at 7:50 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Morning all! Thanks for keeping this on track - there are some good ideas here and frimble is looking into some possible implementations.

Problems:
- Wipes have the potential to be abuseable

Solutions:
- Make the policy and/or default options different on different subsites
- Allow regular scheduled auto-exports
- Delete all comments referencing a wiped user
- Make comments in deleted threads accessible to original posters

Other:
- What does "users own the copyrights" mean in this context? (I can't answer it in detail off the cuff, but I can confidently say that users retaining their copyright does *not* create an obligation on the part of Metafilter - or anyone - to publish that content, in perpetuity or indeed at all. So in this context, I don't think it's especially relevant.)

I've also noted the bug report that the auto-export doesn't cover FanFare, thanks for catching that.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:22 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


Seems like there are several separate issues getting conflated here, we have
- should post deletion by the author also remove all comments on that post automatically
- should post deletion by the author also provide the option to remove some or all comments
- should there be a "special request" process by which to remove comments by one person that reveal personal info about another person (I believe this is already a thing).
- should these policies vary by subsite, since the odds of personal info about an asker showing up in AskMe comments is significantly higher than other subsites.
- would a selective wipe option, or anonymisation option, allow some users to choose to remove sensitive info while leaving other contact intact, even if other users need or want a more comprehensive option.

It's not obvious that one solution fits all, and it's also really not obvious to me that "complete disappearance of all authored content as well as comments by other users on posts" is necessarily something that every wipe-requesting user would prefer if there were less aggressive options available.

(Yes all this requires development effort, so it is probably impractical to offer every possible option that people might like, but that doesn't mean there can't be options).
posted by quacks like a duck at 8:53 AM on August 7 [8 favorites]


One of the recurring points of discussion in POC threads was that it fell upon POC site members to do thankless and emotionally exhausting work in some threads to push back on racist comments. Sometimes responses from POC members would be deleted along with the comment they were replying to, and this is one of the things that makes (made?) the site hostile to POC. Honoring a user's request to wipe the posts they have created and all the comments on the posts without requiring any justification would be another way for non-POC members to erase the anti-racist work of POC. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it—it's the most effective way to protect our users' safety—but the harm of deletion is more than just losing the integrity of the archive.
posted by jomato at 11:39 AM on August 7 [12 favorites]


I'll lay out how I feel about it more specifically:

"I don't want my name on this comment anymore" is a good enough reason to be allowed to take one's name off a comment.

"I don't want this text online anymore" is a good enough reason to be able to blank some text.

Thus there should be acceptable implementations of these features that don't go through mods. Having these options also reduces the need for more drastic options.

"I'm being stalked" is, of course, a good enough reason for the site to delete some other people's comments as collateral damage.

But "I don't want this text online anymore" is not a good enough reason to automatically delete other people's comments (here I mean post replies, not e.g. named quotes).

Does that make sense?
posted by atoxyl at 12:19 PM on August 7 [21 favorites]


That's just how I feel about it but there it is. As I said earlier I also do understand the issues with mods approving such requests but in general it is the mods who are allowed to delete anybody's comment whenever, that's already part of the user contract.
posted by atoxyl at 12:23 PM on August 7


I'm a bit surprised not to see any mentions of the California Consumer Privacy Act in this thread. It seems like it would provide a useful (and legally required for CA residents) framework for thinking through these questions.

My personal position is similar to atoxyl's. I think people should be able to exert control over their own personal information (including text they have written), but not other people's. In particular I vehemently disagree with the idea that comments to a deleted post should also be deleted. I think a Reddit-style [deleted] for the post is a much better solution.
posted by crazy with stars at 12:26 PM on August 7 [8 favorites]


It's not a question of whether mefi is subject to CCPA rules, I don't think anyone is asserting that, just that these are questions we are not approaching for the first time; at this point there is prior art in the form of US and international law to help guide our thinking on the details of these features.
posted by potrzebie at 12:38 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


Ok, the "keep up" was not warranted, I was just trying to clarify what crazy with stars was saying. It seemed to me you'd misread what they said if you thought they were suggesting mefi was actually affected materially by CCPA rather than just trying to bring up a useful example. I didn't realize your tone was intended to be "annoyed and dismissive of someone offering help you consider redundant" rather than "genuinely confused by someone trying to be helpful". Sorry.
posted by potrzebie at 1:17 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


anem0ne: "- not sure if mefi buys/sells data on 50k+ cali residents and devices, but i doubt"

CCPA applies to businesses which buy, receive or sell information on 50,000 people or more (no requirement to be CA residents) -- which certainly does apply to Metafilter.

Anyway thanks for reminding me why I don't participate in these threads or Metafilter very much at all anymore.
posted by crazy with stars at 1:40 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


The 50,000 person requirement in all of those links you provide says "consumers, households, or devices" rather than "California consumers, households, or devices".

I mean, I don't think MeFi buys, sells, or shares info on members for commercial reasons, so I don't think CCPR applies regardless of how many members there are. However, CCPR is pretty clear that the 50,000 people don't need to be from California.
posted by saeculorum at 2:30 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I mean, I don't think MeFi buys, sells, or shares info on members for commercial reasons, so I don't think CCPR applies regardless of how many members there are. However, CCPR is pretty clear that the 50,000 people don't need to be from California.

Assuming that we’re talking about this ABA link I was going to make just this comment. But then I read a bit further and more carefully and saw that
The term “consumer” is broadly defined to include any California resident (see Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.140(g) (defining “consumer” as any “natural person who is a California resident”))
So it’s confusing! But “consumer” apparently just means California consumer, as anem0ne has stated. (IANAL, etc.)
posted by Going To Maine at 2:41 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Huh, yep, I'm wrong. That's an interesting definition of "consumer", although it has the advantage of avoiding regulating people in different states. I learn something new every day.
posted by saeculorum at 2:44 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons people may ask for an account wipe is that their current username has become known, or is linked with other similarly named accounts on other social media websites.
This makes me think there may be a middle ground option worth offering to people:
e.g.
- Close Your Account (keep post/comment history)
- Close Your Account and anonymise (keep post/comment history but randomise username)
- Wipe Your Account (delete post/comment history)

If we do remove a username, I'm wondering if that should make the old username available for a new signup?
My first thought on this was no, why would you allow that, but then if the signup form rejects a username, say Fred123, then that is telling people that Fred123 has or once had an account here.

Perhaps what's needed is to first rename the account and then create a new/empty account with the old name and which is then immediately closed. That way there will appear to be a user profile but it will have absolutely no connections to anything else on the site.
posted by Lanark at 3:54 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


On the Archive of Our Own, there are three levels of account and/or content deletion available: complete deletion of an account and all the works associated with it (though comments left on other people's works remain, and are just anonymized as "Deleted Account"), "orphaning" an account, where the works remain, but are no longer associated with the user name, and individual comment deletion both by the person leaving the comment, and by the person whose work a comment was left on. (There is, admittedly, a loophole where if you delete your comment on someone else's work, that doesn't impact that person having already gotten an email notification about the deleted comment if their preferences are set up that way. I'm sure there's a way to exploit this for abuse purposes, but it's only ever happened to me in the case of someone erroneously leaving a comment that was meant for another fic or comment thread.)

If a whole work is deleted, then it sucks that all the comments on that work are also gone, but AO3 provides options for users to have copies of their own comments on other people's works emailed to them. Thus, should it matter to you, your own content is never totally inaccessible to you and you have a copy of it without any special effort undertaken on your part.

Could Metafilter have a similar set of options for deleting/anonymizing? Could Metafilter have a "send a copy of all comments you make to you" setting available the way AO3 does? That way the people who do want to maintain a record of their own contributions to posts can have that automatically without regularly exporting their own user data (which could get annoying, and could still conceivably lead to losing comments from wipes, depending on the timing of one's exports, though yes, in all likelihood you would only lose a trivial amount of writing/data).
posted by yasaman at 4:40 PM on August 7 [10 favorites]


I don't think anyone here is arguing against user-requested deletion, except possibly one4themoment whose position is not totally clear to me and who can speak for themselves if they are

I'm anti wipe. I'm not arguing against user-requested deletion, which has always been available by contacting the mods.

I'm also not NEVER wipe. There are times when it's necessary.

I'm a 99.9% reader of mefi and a 0.01% really awful contributor... my preference is that there be options other than a complete wipe. But I am not a NEVER wipe. Metafilter is full of people that would support a wipe under *circumstances* even if they tell you now that they don't want wipes at all.

Also [user] has outed themselves via other means which have been linked to this metatalk as well as others, so it's super weird that a comment was deleted because it may have been linkable to the old profile based on [numbers].
posted by one4themoment at 4:41 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Reading this thread has been a wild ride of emotions.

On the one hand, it's very heartening to see a lot of people emphasise that marginalised and vulnerable members feeling safe on Metafilter is more important than preserving every pixel punched into the site.

On the other hand, it's a kick in the gut to see so many members who I thought had my back pouring so much energy into dismissing, downplaying, and reacting with outright hostility to this notion. People I thought I could trust. Like how are you going to "preserve" the site when you actively drive people out?

I know I'm not a top shelf contributor around here but I'm teetering very close to one side of a cost-benefit analysis of sticking around here. Not that this carries much weight or anything; just up to my eyeballs in cis bullshit and trying to prioritise.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:01 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


Is there a community website that's broadly publicly available that allows users to delete their content and any response to that content for no reason whatsoever?

I'm not aware of any, other than the website MetaFilter loves to hate - Facebook.
posted by saeculorum at 5:20 PM on August 7


[One deleted; this isn't the thread for an argument about the word cis.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:02 PM on August 7 [8 favorites]


for no reason whatsoever

is this a real comment
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 6:03 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


Facebook, metafilter argument of scathes-03' I'm with you but I did find deleting two pictures were personal stuff was included to be helpful.

restless_nomads last bulletin point was helpful, in fact, IMO, good and needed so the last one...

"Problems:
- Wipes have the potential to be abuseable"
I mention this and speak for myself that it is of concern to me. I'm assuming this is an if or when, more when policy concern. the metric that has swayed me towards damn the archive when people are at risk is the trust placed in mods position as mediator and arbitrator as the rest of community is not directly involved in said situation and decision making. So I think it is important to talk about potential harm someone can do down the road when that persons safety is not at risk.
posted by clavdivs at 6:23 PM on August 7


is this a real comment

Charitably, I think that comment is supposed to be addressing what I was trying to address - the gap between things that the site should be willing to do for people who particularly need them, versus things that people should be able to do with a button/no questions asked. But having established that few people are likely actually to mean "no, we should never allow a wipe to delete another user's comments, even if they quoted your name and SSN" I don't think it is helpful to write comments that assume that people are arguing for a button that automatically deletes every comment on your FPPs, either.
posted by atoxyl at 6:56 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I don't think it is helpful to write comments that assume that people are arguing for a button that automatically deletes every comment on your FPPs, either.

Indeed, if someone is arguing this (I assume not), I would ask that they unambiguously write out that they are doing so.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:01 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Is there a community website that's broadly publicly available that allows users to delete their content and any response to that content for no reason whatsoever?

Any blogging site AFAIK.
posted by mark k at 11:36 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I don't think it is helpful to write comments that assume that people are arguing for a button that automatically deletes every comment on your FPPs, either

If you mean “a button that allows me to permanently erase all of my interactions on this website” then yes, I would like that button.
posted by noiseanoise at 9:08 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


(Meaning anything I created here, only my content, no one else’s)
posted by noiseanoise at 9:10 AM on August 8


Speaking for myself, I was meaning a button that would destroy all of your own posts and all of the comments on those posts, and that the destruction would be so thorough that all commenters would be denied access to their own comments.

I’m trying to draw a distinction between “a button” and “the ability to do this via a more complex process that requires mod interaction”
posted by Going To Maine at 9:33 AM on August 8


Reddit, the cesspool MeFi loves to hate, has posts all over the place by users named [deleted] whose body text is just [deleted] that still have the remaining users’ comments. The bar is on the floor here.

I'm just baffled that this isn't the solution of choice. Yeah, it's not perfect, but it's an easy SQL query and gets us like 90% of the way there. Let's save 169+ comment threads for the last 10% of the way.
posted by hoyland at 9:46 AM on August 8 [25 favorites]


If folks are generally good with the reddit style solution to start this does seem like an argument that really doesn't need to happen.

(And I will reiterate I think a button that keeps the text and drops the name would be a great feature, too.)
posted by atoxyl at 12:30 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


If you mean “a button that allows me to permanently erase all of my interactions on this website” then yes, I would like that button.

Meaning anything I created here, only my content, no one else’s)

Then that is not what I meant - saeculorum's whole issue was with post deletions rendering other users' comments on those posts inaccessible.
posted by atoxyl at 12:44 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Like how are you going to "preserve" the site when you actively drive people out?

I had a lot of "but integrity of the site" type thoughts at first, and after reading people's responses the last few weeks it's now crystal clear to me they were likely motivated by a pernicious sort of Village Preservation Society conservatism that in a physical community I'd have little but frustration and anger at - an anger and frustration that I am in fact seeing, and that is entirely justified. If people's safety is the #1 overriding concern of any policy changes, then sure, maybe some words will be lost, but we'll have kept where the real value is. So I'm personally all for the user-controlled perma deletion of anything they've authored, now. Could it be abused? Possibly, though personally it seems unlikely to be a major issue. Let's give people the tools they need to be safe first, then deal with the fallout if there is any, later.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:09 PM on August 8 [18 favorites]


I'm in favor of MetaFilter providing a variety of options so people can manage their own footprint on this site. Options like:
  • Anonymize: content stays in place but is attributed to an anonymous username
  • Redact, or Delete with placeholder: like the Reddit approach, where a deleted post would still be reachable but any content by the user would be blanked
  • Wipe: wiped posts would not be reachable by anyone (except mods)
Any of these options could be made available per post, per subsite, or account-wide.

As much as possible, these should be self-service. Maybe anything that doesn't actually delete data could be self-service. If the data isn't deleted, we can take some time to work out how other members can maintain access to the content they've posted in wiped threads. We'd also have to work out how to handle quoted content and username mentions.

Question for the mods: What happens on the back end to content when a user requests an account wipe? Is it deleted from the database, or just not-displayed-publicly, or some other situation?
posted by expialidocious at 3:29 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Same, I've come all the way around from value-of-the-archive on this. Valuing a static archive over a dynamic and diverse community is ridiculous. What good are the words, if we try to keep them at the expense of the people who wrote them?

To the extent that my opinion matters on this -- which is to say, very little -- I would like to see two self-service options and a mod-assisted option. Self service option 1 is anonymity: selected posts or comments authored by you have your username replaced with an anonymized handle, either the same generic one for everyone or generated randomly, whatever's easier. Self service option 2 is deletion: selected posts or comments authored by you are removed entirely from the site, leaving the surrounding conversation intact. Both options have a 'select all' button, and the big red button comes with selectable options to do either of these things. Mod-assisted option is for anything else, including any request that would involve the removal of contributions by someone other than you.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 3:31 PM on August 8 [10 favorites]


I can't think of a single comment or post that's worth jeopardizing peoples' well-being, safety or lives.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:11 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Is it an either/or situation? If the comment or posts are anonymized and revealing info stripped, then is it still placing anyone in jeopardy?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:17 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


I'd be curious to hear the positive argument for deleting all comments in a thread posted by a fully-deleted user. I'm still not sure how there's a significant safety risk that's fixed by doing that, other than quoted comments.

Is that the main concern, quoted comments? Otherwise, I'm not seeing what the issue with a reddit-style model where all contributions from a user are removed, but the thread is otherwise left intact. I've got no problem if this includes the entire content of any post they've created, as opposed to the comments on a post.

I'm thinking entirely about Metafilter proper for all of the above.
posted by sagc at 4:32 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


sagc: "I've got no problem if this includes the entire content of any post they've created, as opposed to the comments on a post.

I'm thinking entirely about Metafilter proper for all of the above.
"

Making a post about something you have a personal connection to, or even something a friend or family member has a connection to, is perhaps the most well-known bannable offense on this site. If posts are properly anonymized, I don't see how they could pose a doxxing/harassment threat to anybody.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:42 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Could it be abused? Possibly, though personally it seems unlikely to be a major issue

For you personally to see this as not problem is ok, I get that but I do on 4 different levels and think it is the key to why I'm still not on board for full wipes even though its an option today. If there is a "button' to button user contribution, I think mods should be involved in the process.

The potential for abuse is of utmost concern for me as a policy. To rely on deal- with- fallout is not an option for me as it shows no thinking ahead to meet both goals safety and preservation moving forward.
posted by clavdivs at 5:15 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


I’m in favor of replacing usernames with [deleted] and keeping all the content, only upon request. Deleting the content should continue to be an absolute last resort action that comes with a ban so it happens as little as possible.
posted by michaelh at 6:10 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


I second that. A ban perhaps but at least a month if those folks want to come back. Deleting all contribution then resigning up quickly is of concern but that might be a mod call.
This is a request feature of decade level proportion and a decade long over due.
Perhaps jumping into problems of abuse before this matter is settled could be another thread. I'm not computer person which metafilter has an abundance of. The subject matter is ones contribution deletion, a question of computation but really it's history. The two subjects are separate but in this case(s) using a "new" tool to use another's history for harm.
posted by clavdivs at 7:11 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Deleting the content should continue to be an absolute last resort action that comes with a ban so it happens as little as possible.

Given the context in which we're talking about this--where users are stalked without their knowledge, so need to ditch the content for their safety--the idea of a punitive approach like banning should be off the table entirely.
posted by mittens at 7:25 PM on August 8 [30 favorites]


"getting stalked? Folks calling your bosses and trying to get you fired because you're trans/leftist/queer/etc online? want to protect yourselves and your children? better be real sure you want that deletion- because we'll ban you if you want to protect yourself and remove you from a community that could help you as a punitive measure for daring to think your safety is more important than your past words!"

But hey- I'm just "anxious" when I point out how fucked up some of the rhetoric some of y'all are using around this pony is. The dog whistles in this thread are increasingly disgusting- and I'm not even someone who wants to use this delete button! I'm just someone with the empathy to see why it's needed. My god- this is the freaking nuclear option- no one is going to abuse this, and if anyone tries to- have enough faith in the mods to detect that! The fact that some of you care more about hypothetical edge cases of hypothetical abuse when folks are in physical danger is...
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:27 PM on August 8 [22 favorites]


Yep, banning someone in this situation is a terrible idea and hopefully it’ll never be in the house, let alone on the table.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:04 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


yeah, ban is not right. Though if someone wipes, resigns with bad intent. A ban is, I'd venture, gonna happen.

when I worked in Family Law, I advised attorney that if internet activity is used to do harm, close or suspend the account give some distance for an appropriate time. We would monitor the accounts because, we could, it's the clients right to be protected. When told this, the Clint causing harm usually ceased but not always.This distance also protected the attorney fighting to protect them. In this case, going against attorney advice which is a serious thing in the real world when this stuff does become part of a legal case.
posted by clavdivs at 8:09 PM on August 8


My preference is to preserve content, not get people banned, so if there’s a better way to keep account wipes extremely rare, I’m in favor of that instead.
posted by michaelh at 8:22 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


god- this is the freaking nuclear option- no one is going to abuse this, and if anyone tries to- have enough faith in the mods to detect that!

This is support of why I believe any option to wipe should have mod interaction.
posted by clavdivs at 8:23 PM on August 8


Preventing abuse does not necessarily require every account deletion request to go through the moderators.

For example, even if there's a big "delete" button that removes all of a user's contributions from the publicly viewable version of the site, that doesn't mean they have to be immediately and permanently deleted from the database. It would be straightforward to keep the data around internally for a while and allow mods to review (or even undo) the deletion afterward if necessary.

(Straightforward in principle, that is. Not being privy to the details of MeFi's codebase, I can't say for sure how much actual work would be involved.)

The point is, keeping the ability for mods to make case-by-case decisions does not have to be a constraint on what options are available "by default".
posted by teraflop at 8:46 PM on August 8


I am all for a button that notifies the mods one wants to wipe.
posted by clavdivs at 9:18 PM on August 8


Are anonymization or reddit-style deletion (which just blanks your own text) really a big concern for you? There's certainly some potential for abuse (to obscure misdeeds etc.) but they're probably going to be a "soft delete" in the database anyway so presumably mods can handle that.
posted by atoxyl at 10:15 PM on August 8


I thought concerns about deletion methods that effectively disappear other users' content deserved to be taken seriously (and that in the cases where it is necessary it should probably go through mods) but at this point it feels like most people are basically on the same page about this and have their needs 99 percent covered by the more self-contained options I listed above so if that's what we're going for anyway I kind of regret distracting from focusing on implementing it.
posted by atoxyl at 10:35 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


My preference is to preserve content, not get people banned, so if there’s a better way to keep account wipes extremely rare, I’m in favor of that instead.

Maybe find a way to reduce stalking and harassment of people for things they post on the internet, then.

I've had to go through sanitising my own internet presence once, after an incident with an inappropriate colleague who was subsequently fired. As you might imagine, this involved some level of urgency, since I didn't want him to connect the dots to the area I lived in. Like most people my internet presence is in more than one place, so I was hurriedly combing through a whole bunch of spaces where I'd left personal info, figuring out the least harmful-to-me way to delink them from my IRL identity as fast as possible. I was doing this while trying to calm myself down from the adrenaline I had from the whole situation, which had been dramatic - but understanding that HE was probably full of adrenaline too, and potentially that adrenaline might lead him to some Google stalking, so there was a sense in which it was potentially a race.

It was not a fun experience. I didn't want to become invisible any more than the next person - just because of one individual with an anger problem who lacked boundaries! That was completely infuriating.

I can't possibly imagine the logic for putting roadblocks in the way of people like me doing this emergency cleanup, just because you'd prefer to live in a world where we didn't need to.

Banning people for controlling their own content is certainly some next level heartless shit.
posted by quacks like a duck at 11:32 PM on August 8 [21 favorites]


There's certainly some potential for abuse (to obscure

is that for me? I've stuck green exhibit stickers on hard copy heinous emails

"certainly some potential" does not factor into clear cut cases of humans bashing another with a tool, in my cases, they had little knowledge of. If asking if tags replace comments, fine. Going To Maines' framework/thesis stands in my view.

history is instant, tools to prevent history are not.
posted by clavdivs at 11:34 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


There are real risks associated with one's RL identity being found out/doxxed, up to and including hate crimes. All it may take is one or two clues. People wanting to anonymize/delete are not the one's being disruptive, it is their lives being disrupted and put at risk. People value their own and other's contributions on this site, but real life existence/safety is of greater value. People who want to delete shouldn't be assume to be doing something wrong.

I think therefor the focus on potential "abuse" fails to honor fellow users. I don't think anybody in this thread would abuse it. Some imagined bad actor could theoretically post amazing content that is worth people engaging with, only to destroy it to cause harm. But is that at all realistic, much less probable enough to base decisions around? We should believe people. Fellow users are real people who deserve our trust and respect.

Ultimately I think it would be better for there to be a multitude of options, both user and mod controlled, so that people can be in control of their content and be safer from risk. If there is every any misuse of such systems, which would seem unlikely, you can flag it/contact the mods just like you can now. I fail to see how that's not enough.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 1:54 AM on August 9 [14 favorites]


The only thing that gives me pause is wholesale deleting of all comments in a notably valuable thread by the poster of that thread who wipes. Sometimes the poster doesn't even comment in the thread.

To be sure — and this is very, very important — the big exception to this is AskMeFi where both the posts and the responses often contain personal information, especially in reference to the poster. So it seems to me that, if there's going to be an indiscriminate, blanket wipe (both posts and their comments) then it's more than justified and best for Ask MetaFilter.

Other sections of the site are arguably ambiguous.

Worst case scenarios in my opinion are, for example, that the posters of the emotional labor thread or the 9/11 thread wiped their accounts and all those threads' comments were gone (even though the post themselves were not personally revealing, as is usually the case on the blue). Those two examples, especially the EL thread, are extreme outliers in which an absolute wipe does more harm than good — that's not really hyperbole with regard to the EL thread, which to this day continues to be life-changing for people who discover or revisit it.

However, I really do understand that pointing put these two notable hypotheticals could justifiably be taken as a bad faith attempt to diminish the safety benefits of wipes and to implicitly be dismissive of the fears of those most at risk.

I am listening to, empathizing with, and fully support those members who are hurt and angry because of these kinds of comments. I do feel that those of us who have expressed any reservations or concerns like these have not nearly been as kind, gentle, and careful about what and how we've expressed ourselves. People online, including mefites, are stalked, outed, beaten, and murdered — transgender folk, certainly, but also cis women and activists and political dissidents and many, many others. This is real in the very worst way.

The bottom line for me, at least, is mefite safety. It's a no-brainer to err on the side of maximalist wipes because that recognises safety as the overriding value. If that's what we need to do, I will fully support it.

But my hope is that we can achieve maximum safety while avoiding nuking entire threads like the EL and 9/11 examples. More generally, I'd like to see some means of retaining comments in deleted posts, but only if doing so doesn't compromise safety.

I'm hearing the pain and anger in these threads and working hard to respect it and respond as it deserves. It's a bit more difficult for me today, as I've both been bedridden by a flare-up of pain and, sadly, my favorite uncle is dying from COVID-19 tonight — I expect to get the terrible news within hours. I don't, as they say, have any spoons left at all — but if I can manage the effort to state my concerns and suggestions in this thread with the care, gentleness, and love which the endangered mefites here deserve, surely we all can.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:49 AM on August 9 [11 favorites]


I have a suggestion...for an account wipe that provides anonymity, yet preserves content/continuity, might it be possible to remove usernames from comments (ie replace with 'user deleted') and then replace the text of the comment with an auto-generated image of the text, similar to a captcha. This would render the text non-searchable/indexable/copy-pasteable/etc, though, to be fair, it would still be legible/screenshotable. Does that seem like enough of a barrier to any continued stalking/harassment?
posted by sexyrobot at 6:25 AM on August 9


Does that seem like enough of a barrier to any continued stalking/harassment?

No.
posted by death valley compound at 6:34 AM on August 9 [6 favorites]


I have a small suggestion/observation as well.

It seems there is a general consensus of:
a. checkbox for anonymizing/deleting user's own comments (per comment) w/o mod intervention
b. full wipe of all user content with a simple check box.

I hear the other needs and those definitely need to be acknowledged. I am wondering if putting as much support on a and b to actually get some incremental improvement here makes sense over infighting about x,y,z.

We absolutely need to talk about c-z, as well.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 7:22 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I think the edge-case "but what if" speculations on potential for abuse are total red herrings. This site is already rife with the potential for abuse. Hell, the abuse is already happening by external actors using the site's own current structure to harass and abuse members around here. So I don't get why, in the cost-benefit analysis, there's folks falling on the side of "the stalking and harassment is unfortunate, but I fear that initiating some of these measures would lead to a loss of some comments or posts". It's literally siding with the protection of wordswordswords over the protection of real live human beings based on some speculative potential for "abuse".
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:32 AM on August 9 [9 favorites]


I neglected to mention that what I label as b does not necessarily include deleting other user's comments from an FPP that the user made. I would argue the post should remain, anonymized, with comments intact, except for the user's requested deletion/wipe.

Again, I think that is a derail of simple things that can be addressed immediately to make MeFi better and we can focus on those after we get the barest minimum of progress.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 7:51 AM on August 9


Forgive me, this thread is long and I just don't have the bandwidth to read it all. I have a question regarding account wiping. I used to participate here under a different username (now disabled) and while there is nothing about my contributions to FPPs or Fanfare that I want wiped, I do want my AskMe questions to be wiped - not for harassment reasons, but because in a couple of cases there was actual legal action happening behind the scenes that in fear I was asking about without asking anonymously. If I had it to do over again, I'd have used the anonymous question option more frequently, but I can't do that now. I would like to do, like, a "partial wipe" just to remove all of my AskMe activity due to a not-insignificant fear that the legal stuff may come back to bite me, even though those cases are long resolved. Is that a possibility for the account wipe option, or is that going to cause issues for the mod team? I can live with those questions still being out there, but would ultimately prefer not to if possible.
posted by nayantara at 8:05 AM on August 9


[Hi there! If y'all have questions regarding your account(s), please contact staff through the contact form and we'll get back to you shortly.]
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 8:18 AM on August 9


Worst case scenarios in my opinion are, for example, that the posters of the emotional labor thread or the 9/11 thread wiped their accounts and all those threads' comments were gone (even though the post themselves were not personally revealing, as is usually the case on the blue). Those two examples, especially the EL thread, are extreme outliers in which an absolute wipe does more harm than good

The emotional labor thread was important, but you're kidding yourself if you think the comments in it were not personally revealing, and when I see it pop up elsewhere on the internet, it's usually the compilation file that's being shared, which is more concise and has already been redacted or anonymized as contributors wanted. Deleting the original thread would be a loss but not an irreparable harm.

The 9/11 thread is historically interesting but already full of holes from broken images and other links that have long since disappeared from the internet. The occasional Reddit-style [deleted] comment adding a few more holes would not cause any worse damage to the thread. Perhaps there could be a mechanism for anonymizing the poster and all comments in a significant thread like this, or turning it into an archival document like the emotional labor thread.

I agree with earlier posters that one thing Reddit does right is to allow comments to be attributed to [deleted user] or removed altogether. Does it sometimes make conversations hard to follow when they flow from [deleted]? Yes, but I assume the poster had their reasons and use my context clues like I learned in grade school.

Eons ago there was a kerfuffle in the Salon forums that led to a polarizing user leaving and starting her own forum, and her big thing there was that writing anything online was a form of publishing and nothing should ever be deleted. Does MetaFilter management view this as a publishing platform, with preserving the archive as the highest aim, or a form of social media, with preserving user engagement (and safety, because users who feel unsafe will leave) as the highest aim?

I support an automatic button for "delete my username and attribute all my activity to [deleted user] or [anonymous]" and a mod-alerting button for "nuke all my activity sitewide" with the understanding that it would trigger a high-priority response from the mod on duty to contact that user and confirm.
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:22 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


I think the edge-case "but what if" speculations on potential for abuse are total red herrings.

How so?

This site is already rife with the potential for abuse. Hell, the abuse is already happening by external actors using the site's own current structure to

This is the forumn to discuss, help create and implement tools to help. And the contact form is running to report these things. Agreed, abuse is concern down the road but priority should be creating the tools now.
posted by clavdivs at 8:49 AM on August 9


Theft of their emotional labor on this site? Participation here is voluntary. In fact, most people paid for the ability to contribute.
posted by heyho at 9:12 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


does this community of this site actually believe these two things: that the content is owned by the creators? that the community should not be entitled to the emotional labor on difficult topics like race, ethnicity, gender, sex, neurotypicality, and so many other axes, which on this site remain uncompensated?

For me the only sticking point here is what wiping means.

A. Is it removing their entire posts and comments?
B. Or just redacting their username to every post/comment made by the user?
C. Or removing the entire verbiage of their posts and comments, leaving the comments in their posts intact?

I'm for B or C, while opposed to A, if it means removing an entire post and its comments. Except for for AskMeFi, which are usually personal, those can be wiped completely if requested.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:13 AM on August 9


And to clarify, I'm not asking you for help (that would be asking you to do labor, if I'm understanding correctly) but rather verbalizing that this might be a critical point of misunderstanding.
posted by heyho at 9:14 AM on August 9


but all this fancy footwork to justify preservation reeks of that ownership, that entitlement.

30 spokes share one hub.
It is common sense to preverse aspects of life worth preserving. As to proity of said preservation, solutions are here now in a framework ready to move forward.

Instant History is when your home but typing in someone else's house.

Instant History records mistakes before one realizes they were made.

Instant History is collating data on almost every human and when cognizant of that, even more data is added.

Instant History is when an event occurs were
traditional history itself cannot keep pace.
posted by clavdivs at 9:38 AM on August 9


if someone who participated in the el thread chooses to leave and ask for a wipe of all their comments, including those in the el thread, their comments should be removed.

anem0ne, the comment by Ivan that you were quoting is not talking about commenters in the emotional labor thread. Or the 9/11 thread. To be clear, because I genuinely wonder if some of the people commenting in this thread understand this: if karen were to request the mods wipe her account, the way things work right now, the entire 9/11 thread and every comment in it wold be deleted. If sciatrix requests an account wipe, again, the way account wipes are currently implemented, the entire emotional labor thread vanishes, never to be seen again. That's what Ivan was talking about when he referred to those things as a worst-case-scenario. That's what many of us have a problem with. Talking about how commenters are entitled to their own comments has nothing to do with someone who's talking about how the author of an FPP should not be entitled to unilaterally delete everyone elses' contributions to the resulting thread.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:05 AM on August 9 [19 favorites]


The 9/11 thread is historically interesting but already full of holes from broken images and other links that have long since disappeared from the internet.

Gotta be honest, it's not even that historically interesting unless you were part of it. There is an entire museum in New York City devoted to 9/11 and there you can experience the complete timeline of unfolding events, reams of personal narrative, individual perspective, and multimedia accounts of the events. The world loses nothing, nothing, by not having a MetaFilter thread about 9/11. If it were on paper, it would be called exactly what it is: 9/11 ephemera. It is not any kind of important document in its own right.

As a public historian, I am going to argue that we should never overstate the value of this "archive." It is only as useful and interesting as any other place people write things down. It's not that unique as a place where people reacted to 9/11. It's mostly just chatter. it's not actually that substantial. You might remember it with some sentiment if you followed or contributed in real time, and if you weren't there, you might find it mildly interesting to see how people reacted in the moment, but you can see that in a whole lot of places and honestly the thread adds very little, if anything, to the dimension of the historical record.

Let's not climb too far into our own navels.

If the site were dissolved, we could hand over that thread to the 9/11 museum, if we were so concerned.
posted by Miko at 10:31 AM on August 9 [22 favorites]


So much talk of entitlement. I understood Ivan's point fine even though my comment focused on commenters more than posters. I don't think anyone's labor is being disrespected if comments they made years ago disappear from the internet. The labor served its purpose as part of that discussion in that time and space. Nothing needs to live online forever. Or does it? Hence my request for the site to pick a side on publishing v. social media.
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:33 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


[comment removed - this is a difficult discussion with a lot of moving parts. Sincere questions are fine. Gotcha questions, less fine.]
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:20 AM on August 9


going to argue that we should never overstate the value of this "archive

Agreed. There were two 9/11 threads that day.

one was deleted.
posted by clavdivs at 11:21 AM on August 9


sincerely i have been told repeatedly by both mods and other users that there's no point in deleting comments for safety because they exist elsewhere. I'm getting real tired of people's obviously disingenuous comments being allowed to stand while me pointing out their absurdity is seen as a derail.
posted by trappist system at 11:24 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


ok...jessamyn, I posted before your note.
Miko, my comment is fully support for your comment, no gotcha here. So I'm going liftt my nails off the chalkboard as the separation of history and computation is established, at Ieast with me and this feature request most likely could use computer folks work/contributions at this point to implement a system of user history deletion.
posted by clavdivs at 11:39 AM on August 9


Didn't cortex say recently that the site is regularly "scraped?" I don't have a strong computer background but my impression was he was saying that content here does get reproduced elsewhere.
posted by tiny frying pan at 11:53 AM on August 9


Flannery Culp: If I understand you correctly, you would not find it to be the case that your labor was disrespected if comments that had you made to MetaFilter years previously disappeared from the Internet, because you make your comments focusing on the immediate discussion and not particularly caring about whether they will be of interest or use to future readers. I'm thinking about whether the same is true if a commenter did/does write on the assumption that the discussion might be useful for folks in the future, and about the difference between deleting words entirely versus concealing them from others' view.

When I wrote my past comments, I made them under the assumption that they would be available for public view for as long as the site would be up, and that I could link to them years later. In some cases I did write them with an eye to them being useful years later to readers in the future, including myself. I have been and am more interested in participating here than on other platforms because of that durability aspect, being able to link to them and say, in a personal blog post or in another MetaFilter comment or in any other medium, "here's what I said." I get that there's a strong chance we're moving to a model where I can depend a lot less on that being true, and as we figure that out I'll figure out how to adjust.

My current thinking is: if we are moving to a more chat-type, ephemeral model where MetaFilter as an institution reduces how much value it places on all people (MeFites and strangers alike) being able to read past discussions (but I can still read and access my own past work, such as via "Export Your Comments", in case I want to republish it elsewhere), then that means I should change my expectations accordingly, but it's not disrespectful of my labor. I tentatively think I would find it disrespectful of my labor if MetaFilter were entirely deleting (as opposed to concealing from others' view) some of my comments, wholesale and regardless of whether I had said something that is now seen as infringing on someone else's privacy, and without notifying me and without giving me a chance to access them via export. And this is why I'm in favor of Going to Maine's suggestions.

Also, if we want to move to a more ephemeral model of MetaFilter discussion, then I'd like to be able to write a comment at my own personal blog and self-link in a MetaFilter thread, as in: "I wrote a few paragraphs in response to this discussion: [link]."
posted by brainwane at 11:54 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


If the site were dissolved, we could hand over that thread to the 9/11 museum, if we were so concerned.

I am a historian and I often end up using documents that in their day seemed ephemeral. It is only by chance that they were preserved and I am grateful that they were. From my perspective, there is great value in all of Metafilter as a historical document, especially the 9/11 thread.

I sometimes think the best course of action is to hand over Metafilter to a museum or university library for preservation. Such an institution would be better able to deal with the thorny questions we are trying to answer here about comment ownership.

If Metafilter as it is were scrapped, a new iteration could be formed with the expecations of the community today built into it. I think the comment above that posed the problem of Metafilter as archive vs. social media was very perceptive. Going forward, I think Metafilter will have to functon as a social media platform. That is not what it was in the past perhaps.

My comment is not meant as criticism of anyone or any point of view in this thread. I had a number of personally identifying comments deleted about a decade ago from a different account here and I do not post very often online anymore due to privacy and safety concerns. I have very much lived with the issues discussed in this thread and have made my own decisions about how to deal with them.
posted by CtrlAltD at 11:56 AM on August 9 [13 favorites]


Is it fair to ask how people who've personally had an account wipe recently feel about this question of "what should happen to comments on posts made by wiped accounts on the blue?" A lot of us can have Internet Opinions, but they're the people who had threats to their safety. I understand that the mods did things a certain way due to [circumstances] but if we had everything we wanted and a pony, what would have happened?
posted by Alterscape at 12:02 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


"So much talk of entitlement. I understood Ivan's point fine even though my comment focused on commenters more than posters. I don't think anyone's labor is being disrespected if comments they made years ago disappear from the internet. The labor served its purpose as part of that discussion in that time and space."

My concern about the EL thread was not about the annoyance of each individual commenter finding their comments deleted if the poster wiped, but rather that the thread even now, years later, educates and inspires people who read it. It's a small loss for an indidual commenter, a greater loss for all the comnenters collectively, but a substantial loss for all the people who could have been helped by discovering or re-discovering it.

I recognize that some people here have raised concerns out of a sense of "entitlement" to having their comments preserved indefinitely, when whatever value that has to them is, at most, trivial compared to the safety of people who request a wipe. I get why you and others are pissed about this in general, but not every concern that someone raises is of that nature and with that intent. I resent being dumped into that category. That wasn't at all where I was coming from in my comment — I was very careful to make that clear. Safety is easily the dominant consideration; I believe that strongly. I'd just like to see an attempt made at a less scorched-earth solution, one which fully protects people's safety while limiting collateral damage.

Regardless, I don't have any more energy to attempt at being constructive in a thread that asked for ideas and concerns about how to proceed, and to do so with great care to avoid hurting those who have already been hurt and have fully justified fear — only to nevertheless find myself accused of callousness and entitlement. As I was writing this comment, I got the text about my uncle dying a few hours ago and at the moment I can't manage to navigate around all the bad feelings in this thread. I hope everyone here works this out and leaves those most at risk happy with the conclusion.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:05 PM on August 9 [13 favorites]


Oh, and on failure to preview: yes, tiny frying pan, the contents of MetaFilter that are viewable without logging in can be and are regularly scraped (saved somewhere else) by plenty of people/organizations. Search index robots, the internet archive, RSS readers, who-knows-who-else. That's true of everywhere on the public-facing internet, so most of those entities don't mean MetaFilter or anyone on Metafilter harm in specific. MetaFilter appears to have a couple of bad actors who could as part of their bad actions also be scraping it. We don't/probably can't know.

That said, I don't buy "the site has been indexed/scraped, there's no point in deleting" as an argument. It's true that the contents have been indexed/scraped/copied. We shouldn't try to claim that deleting content on MetaFilter entirely vanishes it, because that's not true and would be dishonest. Deleting or redacting the text here on the site still incrementally reduces the visibility of that deleted content and increases (at least a little) the effort required to find it. It's not much, and if someone wants to, they can probably go find that text somewhere else, but it does raise the bar at least a little, and I can see that having value to users who may have threats to their safety or other similar concerns. I don't think we should let perfect be the enemy of good here.
posted by Alterscape at 12:09 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


If I understand you correctly, you would not find it to be the case that your labor was disrespected if comments that had you made to MetaFilter years previously disappeared from the Internet, because you make your comments focusing on the immediate discussion and not particularly caring about whether they will be of interest or use to future readers.

Right, possibly due to reading here from day one, when things were taken more lightly and long posts or responses were likely to be received with "get your own blog" rather than thoughtful discussion. I do like the trend toward thoughtful discussion that has evolved since then! But I've also seen many BBSes/online services/message forums fold and take their archives with them over the years. Sometimes this is good (no one needs to read my early 90s fangirling), sometimes I feel a loss and wonder "whatever happened to..." years later, but All Internet is Ephemeral is etched in my brain, and even when there are things it would be nice to be able to go back to, overall I think that's preferable to All Internet Lives Forever Somewhere from a right to be forgotten standpoint.

(On rereading I can't tell if this makes any sense, but yes, I assume everything is subject to the vagaries of time and server space, and losses are inevitable.)
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:34 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


>> Ultimately I think it would be better for there to be a multitude of options, both user and mod controlled, so that people can be in control of their content and be safer from risk. If there is every any misuse of such systems, which would seem unlikely, you can flag it/contact the mods just like you can now. I fail to see how that's not enough.

This is also my hope, and with such a solution in place, I think that this fight over the extremes of deleting everything or saving everything is largely moot. With a range of options, people could erase as much or as little of their personal interaction in the site. It seems that the option to delete all of a person's contributions, including posts to MetaFilter and the comments with it, are currently available because that's the most straight-forward way to remove one's interaction on the site with the current structure.

In other words, it sounds like anything with nuance would require the development of a behind-the-scenes structure to facilitate such options. My question for cortex, or probably frimble: what would it take to develop a nuanced system to allow users to anonymize or delete their contribtions across MetaFilter, from a bulk delete to allowing a user to personally go through their history and selectively delete, anonymize or retain content? Is this something that could be sped up with the community funding additional for person-hours or additional temporary staff to make these additions?
posted by filthy light thief at 12:51 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Is it fair to ask how people who've personally had an account wipe recently feel about this question of "what should happen to comments on posts made by wiped accounts on the blue?"

Please understand, those are people who took a drastic step of deleting their own opinions to protect their safety and anonymity, and you're asking them to break their anonymity by answering your question. If someone wants to present themselves and say "I'm UserX but I used to be UserY" then that's their business, but it immediately links them to their post history -- which is the exact thing they were trying to undo.

it sounds like anything with nuance would require the development of a behind-the-scenes structure to facilitate such options.

It would mean that Metafilter would need a completely different underlying system. Top-to-bottom redesign for something it was never originally built to do, running on a platform that hasn't been updated since the administration of Bush the Second.

Not to say it's impossible, other sites have had this for over a decade at least: Reddit, Slashdot, any site running Livejournal's code... Heck, phpBB has been around 20 years and had it's most recent major update in January 2020. It's just that implementing these features means the end of the site's current design iteration, and the mods know it, and committing to it means a site-wide redesign.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 1:13 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


I'm afraid I don't have the energy to do so myself, but if someone wants to look for points of general agreement in this thread, that might be good.

filthy light thief: I've personally found that, with the light moderation of policy metas, it's better to message the mods directly with any questions. I think your question is important, because a lot of suggestions in this thread including my own are effectively moot if they are too much work to be implemented anytime soon.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 1:19 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


implementing these features means the end of the site's current design iteration

What if the entire site got a Brand New Day? Sunset MetaFilter 1.0 and let MetaFilter 2.0 on a different platform with all new user registration and post history rise in its place? (Offered more as a discussion prompt than a suggestion, certainly "burn it down and see what rises from the ashes" is extreme.)
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:23 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure everybody here is engaging in good faith but I have to say, talking about safeguards and mod approval and punitive measures to address potential abuse feels (to me) a lot like the folks up in arms about trans folk and bathrooms and won't someone think about the children.

Maybe let's let people tell us what they need to feel safe, and leave that determination exclusively to them? And maybe let's hold off on preemptive restrictions or automatic bans or penalties for abuse unless/until there's actually some reason to believe people are abusing the system?
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 1:30 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Someone saying "I wiped a previous account" doesn't tie that user to any particular account, does it? It does link that account to having had an account wiped but I was not asking for anyone to identify their previous account! If that question came off that way, I'm sorry, and I'll step away from that angle in the discussion. I was hoping it was a question more in line with what Two unicycles and some duct tape is saying -- letting people who are impacted tell us what they need to feel safe. If I crossed a line, I didn't mean to, and I apologize.
posted by Alterscape at 1:34 PM on August 9


Y'know, a thought, after reflecting on The Pluto Gangsta's reasonable reply: how would the mods feel about comping users who've wiped their accounts a MeTa specific sockpuppet to contribute to these discussions without linking their activity to their new name, if they want? (Or, alternatively, a new non-MeTa sock for accounts who've already posted about belonging to someone who got wiped?) That way, those people could say things in an entirely anonymous way, if they wanted to. The idea would be to 100% isolate the user's comments on this issue from anything else. I think you'd have to agree not to use that sock for anything but these conversations, to keep things safe, but it might work.

Hell, I'll put up money for that, if there's some objection to doing it complimentary.

Then again, I realize that's asking people who are already in a shitty place to do work for us, so, I 100% understand if the response is "hell no." Just figured I'd throw it out there.
posted by Alterscape at 1:47 PM on August 9


I think it would be nice to have a no-questions-asked button that instantly and uncritically *hides* all of the user’s content but preserves it in the DB for a waiting period. Unsafe folks don’t have the luxury of thread-by-thread or comment-by-comment disposition. But total deletion is irrevocable. So if everything could be inaccessible to everyone except the user and the mods immediately: safety problem addressed. But then give 30 or 60 or 90 days for the user come back and maybe decide on what to anonymize and what to nuke. If the 90 days expires without this or an extension, then all the content is handled by whatever default (nuking, say), so the unsafe user doesn’t need to sweat it if they aren’t ready/able/willing/interested in reviewing the specific content.
posted by janell at 1:50 PM on August 9 [12 favorites]


What I want (for myself - I'm not trying to say that this is an all-inclusive list of what should happen) is the option to request a certain number of one-off comment or AskMe post deletions without having to send an email to mods. They say that it's always been allowed, but the one time I tried, I got an email talking about how this shouldn't happen again. You don't have to deal with that on FB or Reddit or Twitter, and that makes me feel comfortable that my words aren't etched in stone forever. I mean, it's the internet, so maybe they are to a certain extent, but let's minimize that.

I also support complete account wipes by others even if that takes my comments with them. I've written like four total comments that I reference or point others to, so this could be my warning to download those. (I could also support a solution that deleted the text of an Ask, and removed the username from the Ask, but left the comments. I do think that on-request deletions should delete the whole thing though -- but this could be the default approach for those who want to wipe everything immediately.)
posted by slidell at 1:54 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


If, heaven forfend, sciatrix were put in such a position that she were to feel that she needed an account wipe, would we require losing all 2113 comments, of which sciatrix contributed the link & prompt-quote and 18 comments?

*eyebrow* I'm. Really tired right now*, but since I got invoked this week...

I don't know whether karen is still an active member, but I am. If I am going to be a go-to example, I may as well share my thoughts on what I would personally want for me if I was to feel that I needed to disassociate myself from my comments here. I don't think I have good objections or well thought out feelings about what site policy should be, so please do not mistake any of this for sweeping pronouncements on that. This is me talking about me.

I am an odd case because I am very identifiable: I have used the name sciatrix since 2007, when I was seventeen, and in 2017 I accepted that it was getting entangled fairly closely with my legal name. And Metafilter was actually a big part of that, particularly through the Damore debacle. My full legal name is also very identifiable--not quite unique, but close--and there is maybe one place on the internet I've ever seen the word "sciatrix" that isn't me. I also have a very uncommon study system, a very specific career, and generally am very, very findable. So if I ever need to go into hiding, it will not be easy for me to do. I generally act under the presumption that going into hiding--deleting my entire Internet presence, for example--is not necessarily a thing I could do, at least not very easily. I am... ambivalent about this. There are things I am not always sure I want to be always out about that I have discussed under this name**, and the relationship between this pseudonym and my legal name is surprisingly porous. I know people with similar backgrounds to me who have had some horrifying repercussions from being targeted by stalkers, and while at this point I have more or less decided that the best answer to that is to simply nod, own what I say, and appeal for the mercy of the audience, I cannot in any way say that the trauma of those of my friends who have been targeted is unfounded or irrational.

On the gripping hand, I have also absolutely had something I said on the Internet, under this same pseudonym in fact, come twisting around to bite me in the ass in a personal matter. The relationship involved was completely dissolved in a much more painful way than it needed to be, and while the thing I said is still up publicly, I'm not sure whether I would have left it be if I hadn't already paid the costs of saying it on the Internet.

For myself, the most likely thing that I would want to protect myself if the worst was to happen to me is the ability to orphan comments. I often read at the Archive of Our Own, which has had similar discussions about the works it hosts: what if someone finds my writing, tracks me down, and publicly shames me over it? What if I write something and post it and wish to take it down? What about readers--what if a beloved work vanishes overnight, and fannish history is lost as a result? The Archive has chosen to allow writers who no longer wish to be associated with their work on the site two options: writers may delete the work itself altogether, or they may orphan works, such that the work remains but is left without an author. If I left today, I would probably err towards an option that orphaned my writing rather than erasing it.

I find from observing the Archive and works I have loved over time that works are far less likely to be deleted, these days, than orphaned. It's much more difficult to assemble the kind of corpus of information that allows someone to be stalked and doxxed if suddenly no one can piece together which ORPHANED comments were left by which ex-user. But I also understand the right to be forgotten and the desire to pick up one's contributions and carry them away with themself, and in some situations perhaps that is the smartest move, or the most healing. I just think that if both options are available, even if only for comments, the same thing would be likely to continue: I think most people who needed to go underground would prefer to orphan their contributions rather than to delete them wholesale, as long as the choice is present.

Regardless: the emotional labor FPP is safe. Please remove the fear of losing the whole of it as a central subpoint in this argument. I have no plans to delete it. It is not a thing I can envision happening. Just... I am tired. I'm not a rhetorical device to score points on. I'm not a public resource. Please do not treat me like one.

*non-mefi-related reasons
**For example I do try not to put "autistic" and "asexual" on my business cards, largely because I don't need to be dealing with the reactions I get from strangers about those parts of myself more generally. Might change as I age and become less precarious, but might not.
posted by sciatrix at 2:02 PM on August 9 [36 favorites]


I had a different account that I used regularly for 5+ years. I had accumulated several hundred asks and comments, which revealed a great deal about me. I did not believe there was any way to link my Metafilter account to my IRL identity. (Didn't link to my Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Very unexpectedly, I became a semi-public figure. During that time, Someone I didn't know managed to connect my Metafilter profile to my real name, via a website I'd included on my profile. They combed through years of comments to find references to my sex life, times when I'd acted poorly, etc., then quoted and linked them. They created a website in which they selectively quoted my comments along with obscene commentary and images. They included my full name, my partner's name, the town where we lived at the time, etc. I believe it still shows up in my Google results.

When I discovered this and contacted the mods, they were sympathetic, and told me I should close the account I'd used, and they'd comp me a free user signup.

I closed my new account, and started a new one, but transitioned into becoming primarily a lurker. I don't contribute much anymore. My old account is stlll up.

Despite what happened, I still think the fact that you can read threads from years ago and still have continuity and legibility, and you can track users over time, is valuable. By that, I don't mean "more valuable than people's safety" but simply part of the reason it is useful to me; how it distinguishes itself from other websites like Reddit that I can (and do) use for other purposes.

I've read this discussion and given it a lot of thought. Given my own experiences and what everyone else has said, this is what I think should happen. If you have concerns for safety or privacy, and you contact the mods, they should offer you the following:

1. To delete or anonymize specific comments you have written.
2. To delete or anonymize full threads you have written, even if deleting them includes the removal of other people's comments.
3. If neither of the above will serve, then to delete or anonymize the full account of the user, including all threads and comments, and to then close the account.

If 3, then the user should be welcome to open a new account.

I know there is potential for collateral damage here, but I think this it necessary to preserve privacy and safety. For what it's worth, in my case, even though the harassment was fairly extreme, I would only have deleted one thread and maybe 5-10 comments, and then closed the account and started a new one, without requesting a full wipe. I value the writing I did on the site, and also have an interest in preserving it.

I think these requests should go through the mods. I don't think there should be a 'delete' button. The assumption should be that this is a rare step, to be used in specific circumstances, and rarely by a single person more than once. Of course the assumption is that the mods will do what the user requests. If a user is returning multiple times, requiring deleted threads and wipes, then that suggests they may need to handle their internet presence in a different way, one that's not suited to Metafilter. I don't think there's a sense that it should be punitive, just that the default assumption is that what one posts will remain visible, and you should strive to post in a way that allows that.

I think the fact that there is a serial harasser of Metafilter users should be addressed separately. That is, I don't think we should revamp the whole site to adjust to the threat of this stalker, nor do I think that the assumption can be if you post on certain subjects, you just have to assume you're going to be harassed. I think Metafilter can increase the safety protections it offers users, maintain its core identity, and take targeted action against a specific stalker, who has threatened many people, including the mods. I hope that is the subject of a later thread.

Those are my opinions. Reasonable people may have different ones.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 2:27 PM on August 9 [18 favorites]


I'm not a rhetorical device to score points on. I'm not a public resource. Please do not treat me like one.
Entirely fair, my apologies for making you feel roped-in by my invocation. I was angling for something along the lines of "what the community hopefully decides in a way everyone (particularly targeted members) are alright with, we should be ready to apply in the strongest case possible (and maybe this might help clarify thoughts)", but clearly I mistargeted that, and worse I did so in a way that placed a burden upon you.

I defer to your observations & expertise.
posted by CrystalDave at 2:57 PM on August 9


If Twitter didn’t allow account deletion then this would probably be a very different discussion. But they do...

So we’re having a discussion about the future of a site that’s very important to a lot of us.

A site that is so different from most other sites that we are here instead of there.

I haven’t seen a single argument against anonymization and I propose that be an option that’s worked upon asap, not instead of having this hard conversation but as something available.
posted by one4themoment at 5:30 PM on August 9 [6 favorites]


The only other site I've participated in as much as I have here--Ravelry--allows users to delete individual comments or posts in the forums. It also allows people to delete their profiles, and once their account is deleted, their forum posts and comments are deleted as well, replaced with the text "This comment was from a deleted user" or similar language. I always thought that was a good way to handle things.

If I am understanding trappist system's comments in this thread, she would have been fine with options other than the delete it all approach that was taken by the mods, but those options weren't offered to her and she was treated as a nuisance to be scolded and chided and made to feel like she was being granted a giant favour. If I have one request, it is that cortex and the mods make a vow that they will never use that scolding, patronizing approach again with someone who is asking for an account wipe. It was horrible to see it as an observer, and I can't imagine how it felt to be the person treated that way.

I think it would go a very long way towards increasing people's sense of safety here if they knew they had access to user tools to quickly delete or anonymize their own comments and posts, the way you can on other sites. When you are being terrorized by a stalker, it feels very urgent to make yourself as safe as possible, and I think the least we can do is provide someone with a sense of control over their own information, since stalkers like to torment their victims by removing that sense of control.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:59 PM on August 9 [26 favorites]


I am a historian and I often end up using documents that in their day seemed ephemeral

Sure, we all do, but that's definitely not an argument for preserving everything. Historians work with what's available, and that always represents a very small fraction of what was produced. The fact that you can work with a document and gain some insight from it definitely doesn't mean that everyone's grandma's WWII letters are honestly adding much to the historical record. The fact that Laurel Ulrich can get a dissertation out of an 18th century grocery list is not an argument for preserving literally everything, which as we know, does not and cannot happen and, in fact, which the field of history does not go so far as to advocate. If it goes, it goes.

9/11 is one of the most exhaustively documented events ever to happen in human history, perhaps the most. The thread here sheds less light on the events than my own personal email threads from those days or the other community blog I was part of. If that's our best case argument for preservation, we don't have a very strong case. Most things talked about on MetaFilter have not been particularly unique. Many wonderful pieces of internet writing have disappeared in the cratering of BBSes, Usenet, MySpace, LiveJournal and a hundredfold others. Value to history is not an argument for preserving everything on MetaFilter. It's honestly a bit grandiose; there's sentimentality here because it's an archive of us, but I am really skeptical about the arguments for the future or a wider value. That is a self-referential standard. Much of what is here will in the future be equivalent to the bins of slide negatives, used postcards and old Texaco maps you can find at any flea market.

In any case, we have no ethical obligations to hypothetical researchers in the future - but we do have them to living people in our midst right now.
posted by Miko at 6:10 PM on August 9 [11 favorites]


These are not arguments against anonymization so much as recognition of the impacts of anonymization:

-If a random handle is assigned to anonymized user, and it is consistent post to post and comment to comment, little has been done to protect identity. All the material is still there and still tied to a single name. With available identifying data, it would be trivial to connect that to the same IRL identity as the original name pointed to. In other words, that's useless as a screen.

-If the handle changes with each and every post and comment, there will be no way to recognize that the same user is commenting within a single thread; the pattern of comment-response will be much harder to reconstruct and in some cases nonsensical; it will also be impossible to recognize the same user again in another thread, if, for example, they have a particular expertise they have credibility on, an identity issue they are commenting on regularly, or are asking sequential Asks.

-There are in-comment references people make to their own posts, Asks, and comments ( see "as I said here" above; also common to link to previous Asks on the same subject, or "previously" comments). These would still link to one another and create some atoms of cohesive identity.
posted by Miko at 6:19 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Most things talked about on MetaFilter have not been particularly unique

But they've been talked about uniquely. That's the treasure.

And I shouldn't have to say it but I'm going to otherwise I'll be accused of being such. I'm not NEVER wipe.
posted by one4themoment at 6:24 PM on August 9


Those are arguments against anonymization as the only option... Which I haven't seen anyone propose...
posted by one4themoment at 6:31 PM on August 9


No, as I said, they are not arguments against anonymization.

But they've been talked about uniquely. That's the treasure.

Eh. They're unique and special...to MeFites. Because MeFites wrote and read them. Beyond that, significance is minimal. Let's just not get carried away with this notion that this site is some sort of invaluable hoard of insight into 21st century society. I think it makes sense to argue that people here don't want to lose aspects of it because they're invested in it. But that's all sentimental and insular.
posted by Miko at 6:47 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Eh. They're unique and special...to MeFites. Because MeFites wrote and read them.

Exactly
posted by one4themoment at 6:54 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Following on Miko’s comment:
a random handle is assigned to anonymized user, and it is consistent post to post and comment to comment
Yeah, I would find this useless. Especially because other comments in a thread might quote the user and name them, as I just did, removing even the semblance of anonymity.

So I would advocate for option b:
the handle changes with each and every post and comment, there will be no way to recognize that the same user is commenting within a single thread. Or for that matter across several threads.

To me that’s the point of a randomized per comment anonymization; to break the link between comments so that it is much harder to use the individual atoms of non-anonymity to figure out who a user is. Yes it might make the context of a thread more obscure, yes it might still be possible to rebuild an identity from these separated atoms (and for this reason the option of actual deletion should still be available, because it might be necessary for safety, at the user’s request), but it would provide a real benefit in the form of breaking the complete picture that currently exists for longtime users. (I think there’s a similar benefit to dumping all anonymized comments into one Anonymous account, but that would only work if enough people used it, so per-comment is likely better).
posted by nat at 7:08 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


So an interesting thing the discourse platform does is, you can delete a comment, which immediately hides it. But it replaces it with a notice that it's been deleted, and that notice is flaggable. I suppose if you really had some reason to need to know what the comment said, you could flag it, and a mod could either tell you or not, depending on your reason.

I'm not saying I recommend that, but it is a thing on the menu of possibilities I guess.
posted by ctmf at 7:12 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


So I would advocate for option b:
the handle changes with each and every post and comment, there will be no way to recognize that the same user is commenting within a single thread. Or for that matter across several threads.


I think there's value in the reputation-building (positive or negative) feature of persistent usernames and would not want to go to randomized identifiers like 4chan. A 4chan system would result in 4chan behavior, and I don't think the mods are a big enough force to moderate 4chan.

Not that I think that's more important than people's safety, and there can be good case-by-case reasons for wanting to break the history or even totally wipe it. But as a default expectation, it sucks.
posted by ctmf at 7:17 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I wasn’t clear, I was not proposing a general randomization. Only for per-comment anonymization for users who request it, with some backend way of mods still knowing which comments were all from the same user so abuse can be prevented, and with the idea that most users will never need it, and even most who need it will not need it for all of their comments (although global request should be possible, and hopefully user-doable, for emergent situations).
posted by nat at 8:28 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


If the handle changes with each and every post and comment, there will be no way to recognize that the same user is commenting within a single thread; the pattern of comment-response will be much harder to reconstruct and in some cases nonsensical; it will also be impossible to recognize the same user again in another thread

I agree that this is essentially the point of a useful anonymization system. I don't know that there needs to be a randomized handle even so much as a shared anonymous handle. It would be as if the comment was posted anonymously in the first place.

(The downsides of this, then, are similar to the downsides of anonymous posts/comments in general - not 4chan-style anonymous, as I'm assuming the user ID would remain in the site DB, but Ask-style anonymous. I had originally envisioned a button to anonymize select comments nonetheless but people are really worried about shenanigans it could be left as a "whole account" option or the use on single comments could have some strings attached.)
posted by atoxyl at 3:54 AM on August 10


There are nice things one could do with reusable temp handles - i.e. free sock puppets - but that's another whole ball of wax. Present discussion is primarily supposed to be about ways to help people avoid being identifiable based on existing comment history, no?
posted by atoxyl at 3:57 AM on August 10


clavdivs: lecturing me about "Preservation 101" and my "not interesting or relevant argument" is mansplaining and dismisses my expertise. It is also outside of your expertise, as the content of the comment itself reveals. Stop it.
posted by Miko at 7:02 AM on August 10 [11 favorites]


[One deleted. Let's refrain from derailing the thread and dismissing other users' comments and insights. Please be respectful here. ]
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 7:20 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


For those who don't actually know much about archives:

Archives don’t keep everything.
“Everything” doesn’t exist to keep.


Of particular relevance to any notion of MetaFilter as an archive important to anyone other than us, a couple of the appraisal factors grandma's letters and MetaFilter would fail on:
A connection to the archives’ collection mandate (in other words - someone has to want it)
Rarity: Rarity. Because there’s a premium on archival storage space, we’re more likely to keep records that are unique or rare – that is, records that are one of the few sources of the information they contain. Many archives only keep published resources if they shed light on a larger body of records since the information they contain may be widely available elsewhere.

I have worked in many museums with archives and have witnessed bags of Grandma's letters and the equivalent being turned away by professional archivists abiding by ethical guidelines and collections policies.

To be very clear, my point is not that MetaFilter's archives are not of interest...to us. We are, in fact, just about the only people they are really of anything other than glancing interest to. They are just not very important to the historical enterprise, generally. The analogue might be to the archives of a social club because we are, in effect, a social club. Could it interest someone in the future studying emerging digital culture? Sure it could. Is that person even born yet, and do we owe them and their completely hypothetical needs the weight of obligation, against those of people who are in trouble among us right now? No.

People worried about what the future will make of the existence of MetaFilter are placing emphasis in a region where even contemporary archivists and historians and collections managers today are coming down against: that the hypothetical future purposes are worth less than the use value, health and safety of living people today.

I say this not to denigrate what the archive is, but to keep the focus where it belongs, on the value to us as a community, as long as the community exists. I am sorry for the derail and am just hoping we can dial down the arguments about value to Hypothetical Future Historian and focus on the issue at hand, people in our community who are actually being threatened and harassed, and how we prioritize that over our desire for an unbroken record of our interactions.
posted by Miko at 7:25 AM on August 10 [12 favorites]


Or as they say over at Awful Library Books: hoarding is not collection development.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:49 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]


This may be trivial compared to people's very real safety concerns, but I have been thinking about it for quite some time while following these threads so here goes: Would it make sense to consider changing the description/mission of Metafilter to be more in line with how people are actually using the site? It seems to me that at this point people are generally using Mefi more like a social network than as a weblog (as it's described in the "about" page). I think it would make sense to formally acknowledge this, and the attendant need for allowing users more freedom to delete their own content, rather than continuing to define the site as a blog, which seems, at least to me, to be a more archive-centered purpose. (I am sorry if anyone else said this already and I missed it; there's a lot here.)
posted by ferret branca at 7:53 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Morning, everyone! Now that I'm caught up, I think what's needed from me is less bullet points, as we're mostly discussing the same issues we were on Friday, and more explanations.

The main thing seems to be that the definition of "deletion", both as it works now and how it might hypothetically work in the future, isn't clear, so let me try to break it down:

- As of right now, nothing is deleted from the database. The only things actually all-the-way deleted are some things from *very* early in site development, before the current tools were built. This may change in the future as we do the long-overdue analysis of what requirements the GDPR imposes.
- Deleted posts on every subsite except AskMe and IRL are not searchable on the site, are deleted from users' Recent Activity, and are set to noindex so Google will remove them from its search when it re-indexes the site. If you have the URL, the whole thread is still visible. (There are a couple of exceptions based on specific user requests - those are right now a frimble-requiring manual process.)
- Deleted posts on AskMe and IRL are made admin-only, as are posts on other subsites that have had that exception applied to them.
- Deleted comments, on every subsite, are made admin-only.
- Comments on deleted posts are still available to their posters via the Export Comments tool. (I need to check on how this interacts with the AskMe and IRL changes - I'll do that by tomorrow.)
- As of right now, there's no distinction between "deletion" and "wipe". A "wipe" just means that we delete all a user's posts and comments, which applies all of the conditions above.
- "Anonymizing" a post is currently a tool only available to AskMe, and only to posts. Right now what it does is reassign the post from the user who made it to the account named Anonymous. We do this on request and, previously, sometimes in conjuction with deletion, although that is unnecessary now that deleted Asks just aren't viewable at all.

Hopefully that helps folks focus the conversation a little more on what's actually happening now and how it could change in the future. Thanks, and be kind to one another.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:58 AM on August 10 [6 favorites]


Eh. They're unique and special...to MeFites. Because MeFites wrote and read them. Beyond that, significance is minimal. Let's just not get carried away with this notion that this site is some sort of invaluable hoard of insight into 21st century society. I think it makes sense to argue that people here don't want to lose aspects of it because they're invested in it. But that's all sentimental and insular.

Yes, exactly, and when people get over their skis about the historical significance, it causes problems. Remember after the emotional labor thread began to pop on the larger stage there was a person who republished a bowdlerization of it in a pdf? As I'm recalling it, anyway, there was a breezy, upbeat afterthought of a MetaTalk thread about it in which everybody who wrote comments cherrypicked for that pdf was retroactively given permission to opt out. So after the horse was long out of the barn and running all over the Internet, we got grudging permission to beg the person who took our material to please delete our grandmothers' suffering from the publication that bore that person's name. The no-permission-asking credit-taking publisher obligingly joined Metafilter for a hot second so that we could all write beggy memail asking for control over material that the site insists we own.

Irritating. And for some people devastating and for others terrifying.

I was then much much more angry about the prospect of republication without my knowledge or permission than I am now angry at the prospect of unpublication. I'm now not angry at all about the idea of being unpublished because I happened to comment in the thread of someone who's being targeted by bad actors. Whenever I want to retain the ability to gaze lovingly on my witticisms, I keep copies of same, which I then never look at. Who has time to go back and look at their old crap? I, for one, am an endless font of evermore crap. Delete all my crap, christ almighty, my right to navel gaze does not trump somebody's right to be forgotten.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:14 AM on August 10 [13 favorites]


(I need to check on how this interacts with the AskMe and IRL changes - I'll do that by tomorrow.)

Based on my experiences in a recently deleted AskMeFi, my comments are still available to me (or anyone) in my recent activity). This makes me somewhat happier that my content is not being involuntarily deleted by other MeFites. I still think it'd be preferable for MetaFilter to continue to host as much content as possible from MeFites other than those requesting a deletion/wipe.
posted by saeculorum at 9:14 AM on August 10


Metafilter: an endless font of evermore crap
posted by noiseanoise at 9:51 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


Answering (some of) my own question by re-reading r_n's comments in this thread -_-

filthy light thief: My question for cortex, or probably frimble: what would it take to develop a nuanced system to allow users to anonymize or delete their contribtions across MetaFilter, from a bulk delete to allowing a user to personally go through their history and selectively delete, anonymize or retain content? Is this something that could be sped up with the community funding additional for person-hours or additional temporary staff to make these additions?

restless_nomad: One of the very next things on frimble's list is a dive into our current deletion technology, so this is a timely thread and will give us a lot to chew on.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:22 AM on August 10


Thanks for the clarification, r_n. I think a lot of contention had come from different understandings of what is meant by "deletion." But I've seen accounts who have had all their posts, including MeFi FPP's and all comments, completely removed from the site, not merely soft-deleted. IIRC, comments by others in those threads weren't appearing in search, either.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:55 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I find the generic Error page kind of misleading for deleted threads, since it could correspond to either a situation where a correct link went to a deleted page or a situation where the link itself was malformed and the user can't tell the difference. It makes me think 'oh, I must have a bad link, let me go look for the thread using google', whereas if I knew the thread had been deleted, I would not waste my time. I would find it helpful if there was a differentiation between the two situations.

Unless there's a security (site or user security) reason why it would be better to treat links to deleted threads exactly the same as bad links, in which case, that overrides my mild preference for more robust error messages.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:27 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter's a funny one for error messages. On the grey, looking for future posts (ex: add another 4 to the end of this post number, for 256344) comes back with:
Nothing to see here, move along...
You've stumbled upon a non-existent post, or one that was deleted for various reasons.
Music post 256344 and Jobs post 256344 both have the same error message, and add another 4 to the end of the post number for AskMe, and you also get the same message.

But on the blue, we try 256344 and you get:
No Post Found

The thread you are looking for does not exist at the moment.
That's the same message for IRL post 256344

Post 256344 on Projects, on the third hand, spits out this more serious-looking error:
We're Sorry — A Server Error Occurred
The details of this error have been sent to a site administrator and we'll try to fix the problem quickly. This might be a one-time thing, but if you consistently have this problem, please contact the MeFi Admins with a description of your problem and the following information:

Date and Time: [dd/mm/yy ti:me AM/PM] -- always in Pacific Time, but it doesn't mention that
Your Browser: [browser details]
Your Location: [your IP]
Including the information above with a bug report can help us diagnose the problem, thanks.
Fanfare post 256344 gets you the same error message.

I'm sure there's some technical reason why there are three types of error messages, and there might be a reason we shouldn't only have one. But if it's just a fact of different legacy systems, I think it would a bit cleaner, message-wise, to have a standard error message that could also be applied to posts deleted for user privacy. The first message seems like the best fit for all instances, IMO.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:01 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I think, and I'm speaking with my UX hat on, I'm seeing user stories that look like:
  • As a MeFi user, I want to remove any way to connect a closed MeFi account to me personally so that I can live without fear of someone connecting it to me for malevolent purposes.
  • As a MeFi user, I want to be able to view posts I've made without posing harm to another MeFi user so they can live without fear of someone connecting content to them for malevolent purposes.
  • As an archivist, I want to review posts and comments so I can use MeFi comments and posts in my research.
  • As a MeFi mod, I want to manage creation of new accounts by users who delete their accounts so that I can prevent someone "gaming" this process for malevolent purposes.
Is this about right? I'm seeing a lot of ideas and hypotheticals being thrown around without a sense of the very real problems we're trying to solve (but this thread is very long now so it's hard to tell). I hope that clarity around the problems may help the group un-spin.

I'm using "malevolent purposes" as a catch-all for stalking, doxxing, etc.; I'm assuming based on experience and all these discussions that the behavior here of mining info to identify/out/stalk someone is similar. Please correct me if I'm off.
posted by dw at 3:33 PM on August 10 [7 favorites]


I think you're mostly on target but couple additional/finer points:

As a MeFi user, I would prefer that as many of my own comments as possible remain visible not just to myself but to others, unless I independently make the decision to remove them.

As a MeFi user, I would appreciate mechanisms to proactively distance myself from comments about sensitive personal topics, so as to be able to contribute personal insight on certain topics more freely.
posted by atoxyl at 4:06 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


Just like I could close my account by clicking the link in my preferences page I think there should be automatic ways to anonymize everything I've posted here and also to delete every comment I've made with my posts on the blue, green, and grey becoming anonymous and on the other subsites becoming deleted as well. I think we have enough safeguards in place already to avoid identifying information getting into MeFi and MeTa posts or AskMe questions so anonymizing them ought to be sufficient. If there are specific posts or questions that need to be removed then mod intervention could be requested for deleting them.

I don't know how many people have closed their accounts or requested deletions so perhaps I am underestimating what the effect of making this available would be but I don't think it would be such a big problem as far as the site as an archive or resource is concerned. Like I figure that in some threads there might be a couple of users who are now going to show up as "deleted user" or whatever name is given to all anonymized accounts but it isn't going to be every second comment and if you're reading the thread you'll be able to roughly figure out how many different anonymized users were participating in it. Similarly as long as there's some notation in the thread showing that a comment was deleted a future reader will be able to figure out enough of what was happening for the thing to still make sense. I also think we owe more to the users who felt the need to delete or anonymize their contributions than to some potential future visitor to the site so if we need to weigh interests those are the ones that should be given more weight.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:49 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


Wait. Fanfare posts get obliterated after a wipe? Surely we can find a better approach for that? Seems like it would be perfectly adequate to anonymize the post, and replace the post’s body with a placeholder.
posted by schmod at 8:36 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Morning, all!

I've noted the discrepancies in error messages for frimble, thanks.

We should have a bit more information about what's technically feasible on a short timeline in this Friday's update. Thanks for all of this, it's been constructive and useful!
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:41 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Yeah, you're right, it makes more sense to anonymize any Fanfare post instead of deleting it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:33 AM on August 11


Fanfare posts get obliterated after a wipe? Surely we can find a better approach for that? Seems like it would be perfectly adequate to anonymize the post, and replace the post’s body with a placeholder.

Maybe, but it's not your call to make. If a user believes they revealed information about themselves in the text of the post, then the post may need to be edited or removed entirely. If the site can't defer to the judgment of the user, then the mods are interpolating their own evaluation of safety vs. exposure and substituting their judgment for the user's own. That's (a) how we got into this mess in the first place, and (b) possibly illegal by GDPR and the laws of California.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 11:03 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Why not leave the post up as a pointer to the episode, without the text? This is what people are getting at in the thread - there are different ways to delete things!
posted by sagc at 11:09 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Part of my suggestion was to completely wipe the content of the post.

I don’t think the existence of a Fanfare post about a popular TV Show, Book, or Movie is going to reveal anything remotely-identifiable about the user who created it (but, of course, I’m sure the admins are willing to be flexible if there are any exceptions).

There are a few fairly large Fanfare threads (ie. Avengers: Endgame), and it doesn’t seem like it would ever be necessary to delete the entire thing to ensure somebody’s safety.
posted by schmod at 11:12 AM on August 11


FanFare posts could all be anon, as was floated upthread for AskMe, and for that matter could be empty since they're usually just a short plot synopsis with maybe some links to reviews and interviews inside - you don't really need framing content or the poster's name in something titled 'X-Files episode whatever' to know what the discussion will be about.
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:48 AM on August 11


Lots of FanFare posts are actually pretty amazing in their own right. The Star Trek Voyager rewatch summaries have been my go-to for figuring out what the hell was going on in an episode when I wasn't following it closely and didn't want to go back and rewatch.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:01 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Ah, I didn't realize that from the threads I've followed. Maybe that content could be reformatted as an anonymous first comment if anonymizing the post isn't enough.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:37 PM on August 11


Just checking in, carry on. I'm not going to have too much more to note until we've got the next steps mapped out on the dev side.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:19 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


There more I think about this, the more I think we owe Mefi's Trans community a huge debt for having to fight for what will ultimately benefit everyone here.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:19 AM on August 15 [12 favorites]


Realized I should have hopped back in on Friday with the update content, just for completeness. Sorry!

The current plan of action is that frimble is building out the anonymization system so we can use it as an option for privacy-related deletions across the site (instead of just on AskMe, where retroactive anonymization has been an option for a long time.) It's a fairly big job - frimble says a couple of weeks is likely - but it definitely seems like the solution that will solve the most problems, so we're doing that first. Once that's up and working, we can talk about further refinements.

Thanks, folks! This has been a very productive thread from our perspective.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:54 AM on August 17 [2 favorites]


Ok, going to close this one up. I expect we'll have more to talk about when this round of development is through. Thanks, all!
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:03 AM on August 19


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