On Cooling Off MetaTalk Threads August 19, 2022 8:18 AM   Subscribe

MetaTalk threads often generate a lot of heat. I’ve seen more people button from MeTa than elsewhere on MeFi. How can we cool off threads about community concerns?

The difficulty of moderating MeTa threads has been noted by taz.

Another option, suggested by geoff, is getting rid of MetaTalk altogether.

I would like to suggest giving MeTa threads a 24-hour window, and then closing them. Maybe that is not enough to have some conversation, but cuts down the potential for any disagreements to get too heated.

But maybe you have other ideas?

NOTE: This post is very deliberately not about any specific threads or comments. This is post is based on a pattern. Please, for the most potential to be constructive, let’s just talk about potential solutions.
posted by NotLost to Etiquette/Policy at 8:18 AM (130 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

MetaTalk, at least in part, serves an important function for top-down communication/announcements that are about the site itself (really putting the "meta" into action). I don't think it would be a good idea to lose that.

as painful and heated as they can be, I also think the other conversations that happen here are important ones, without which you would be liable to have just as much (if not more) attrition and buttoning with even less context to understand why it was occurring. in general I think it's hard to expect people who make MetaTalk posts for that reason to be "calm" about it if you want them to also be honest, and honesty should be the top priority if you're trying to have a conversation about how the site actually works (or fails to work) for its user base.

the closest thing to an idea/solution I have would be to come up with templates or more prescriptive guidelines for MetaTalk threads -- guardrails to allow those who are feeling frustrated, hurt, or otherwise negative to express the cause of those feelings without kicking off firestorms. perhaps a subdivision of MetaTalk "categories" to both formalize how it's already used, preempt certain harmful derails, and to give tools and models for clear communication that lets even the unhappiest topic have some way to become goal-oriented.

but I don't think you can remove the possibility entirely that the firestorms will still happen. it's part of the nature of people who invest emotionally in a community discussing that community.
posted by Kybard at 8:31 AM on August 19 [8 favorites]


I've learned a lot from reading MetaTalk, and that learning doesn't always happen in the first 24 hours. Learning can be uncomfortable.

I think a lot of the heat on MetaTalk is the community variant of what it looks like when conflict happens in my relationship with my partner: "I care about me. And about you." "I care me. And about YOUUU". It helped a LOT when we realized that, even in our most tense moments, we're usually arguing from a place of caring about one-another. I think that happens here a lot, too.

Move up move back is another useful concept.
posted by aniola at 8:34 AM on August 19 [5 favorites]


I don't have an answer here beyond ongoing tweaking of the way things currently are. Sometimes when humans are involved, things just have to be messy.

Another option, suggested by geoff, is getting rid of MetaTalk altogether.

I am reminded of something I once heard from a neighbour who was a cop. "If you gave us complete control of everything with the mandate that the streets be peaceful, the extreme tactic would be a 24/7 curfew. Everybody indoors all the time. That would definitely keep things peaceful ... indoors."
posted by philip-random at 8:39 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I would not pretend to be able to speak to the entire spectrum of MeTa fights, which are varied in subject, in tenor, in style, and in roster. There are, within this spectrum, specific subtypes of Meta disagreements related to identity and/or bad treatment that I cannot speak on with confidence and that exist outside the bounds of the point I am about to make.

But I would say that, for me personally, the MeFi community has more ability to forgive/forget isolated kerfuffles in a MeTa than people upset in the moment might assume. I hope people realize they can be wrong sometimes, and even piss people off, and that other people can be wrong and piss us off without it necessarily meaning their or our connection to the MeFi community is somehow damaged beyond repair.

This site is long-lived and the permanency of bad feelings from MeTas can easily be overestimated.

Some of my favorite people on this site have usernames I first became familiar with during disagreements. Later, I realized these usernames belonged to good people I agreed with far more often than not.

Maybe I have a tendency to be a naïve Pollyanna about these things. Certainly I often operate under the debatable if not blithely wrongheaded notion that I can generally assume other MeFites to either be friends, potential friends, or friends of friends. And I am of course, a cishet Gen X US white man who has the luxury of not having skin in the game on some of the thorniest MeTa debates. Again, those are kind of not in my lane.

But on a long enough timeline, I find many, many (not all! not all! but many, many) of the more run-of-the-mill infighting MeTa blowouts fade away.

We could stand to remember that, I think.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:00 AM on August 19 [14 favorites]


This is a terrible idea! What are you even talking about?!

Just kidding. Someone had to do it.

I've seen this happen, and generally, I think it's when a couple of people start going back and forth. This is a solution that would obviously take some work to implement, but I think you could solve a lot of the heat by limiting the number of comments (maybe two or three?) from a user in a single thread. Kind of similar to the old post limits on Ask - you'd have to decide whether your comment is worth hitting your limit over. It wouldn't solve the problem completely, and there are some obvious drawbacks, but I do think it would cut down on what you're talking about, at least. It might not be a bad idea site-wide, since (I assume) a lot of the problem threads on the other subsites are ones where people come back in multiple times to address responses to their original comments. (I'm guilty of this, full disclosure.)

And if you guys disagree with my suggestion, I'll leave.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:04 AM on August 19 [18 favorites]


I was trying so hard to address a broader point about people being hurt by fighty MeTas that I kind of did not get around to addressing the actual post.

A 24 hour window does not make sense to me. The world has 24 time zones and there are MeFites scattered around it. Some work days, some work nights, some get to visit the site only during certain hours or on certain days. People deserve to get to speak their piece on site issues and we have to allow time for people to do that.

That said, I do agree that it's worth thinking about how we approach MeTas might affect how fighty they end up. I just don't think a tight time limit is the answer.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:10 AM on August 19 [11 favorites]


Another option, suggested by geoff, is getting rid of MetaTalk altogether.

Geoff, hopefully you see this - you're a regular participant over at /r/MetaFilterMeta, which I would consider to be very similar to MetaTalk in that it's a place outside of the Blue/Green/etc to talk about MeFi-related things.

You said in the other thread: I do not know of any sites that have anything like MetaTalk and there's probably a good reason for that.
Most online communities I'm a part of have some sort of way to have discussion about the community in a way that's separate from the day-to-day conversation of the group. This might be a way to tag a Facebook post in a group or it might be a different channel in Slack or Discord. Stackoverflow has had a meta section since 2009. I think that idea is incredibly important and healthy, personally, and with your participation in the subreddit I assume that you find value in that sort of "side conversation" as well.


You said: I've just seen countless flameouts and hard feelings over the years and I can maybe think of only a few constructive Metatalk threads in literally the last several decades.
Do you think this same description would apply to the subreddit? Why or why not?

Like I said, I find incredible value in the concept of MetaTalk, and I think it would be great if we could learn from any successful attributes of other communities that have side discussions outside of their main topic.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:14 AM on August 19 [8 favorites]


I think getting rid of Metatalk entirely would mark a real shift in the underlying ethos of the site. It could be done, but it would invariably mean that those in the know would bitch about everything on Reddit and those who are not would have fewer opportunities to engage. I don't think it is the best solution.

A time limit on how long a Metatalk post is up before it is closed and/or a limit on the number of comments an individual Mefite can make in a thread seem to be suggestions that might have merit. But also, I don't know whether multiple comments from a few users or a lingering thread inciting irritable comments are properly problems.

Maybe we're just pissed off when people are wrong on the internet, and that's always going to come out a bit fighty.
posted by plonkee at 9:31 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


(One, er, comment on my above comment: I just now saw that there was recent conversation about the subreddit in the steering committee MeTa. I want to be clear that I'm not trying to restart that conversation, I'm just looking for some clarity about why someone might find value in "Meta Conversation Tool A" instead of "Meta Conversation Tool 1")
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:45 AM on August 19


I haven't been to Stackoverflow in years so I can't say why other sites do or don't provoke the same level of hostility. In my mind I was thinking of social sites as loosely Twitter/Reddit/TikTok/Facebook and not necessarily having the ability to see people talk about how say a Facebook Group is or is not doing.

I guess that's because I get a lot of my interesting links that I used to get (~10 years ago) only from Metafilter, now I get from the aforementioned social sites. I think of Metafilter as more akin to a social site rather than an old school message board, those of which tended to have more Metatalk sections. Is that a fair comparison? That may be out of scope for this thread, but I think yes given that a large falloff of users corresponded with the rise of aforementioned social media sites.

And those old school message boards that did have a lot of Metatalk like sections or ran threads like that, like, TWOP and other old school forums did get really toxic, and don't exist.

So that kind of leads into your next question, why Reddit? Well the subreddit is smaller, so it feels more like a chat room. As one user pointed out there were people that came over there to just complain when it opened up but for whatever reason they were ignored. I personally have not seen any flameouts or anywhere near the same level of infighting. Again, I think a large portion or even a majority portion of that is that it is small. Agree to disagree but I don't think there's outright complaining but rather constructive dialogue, but I guess it depends on how you look at it.

For me personally I started to use it out of convenience. Reddit is easier to use on mobile, it alerts you if people reply to you. Threaded conversations are good for the type of conversation flows that Metatalk or the subreddit promotes. Usually you're responding not to an article or link but to a user here and on reddit. If people want to go back and forth with sniping it is easier to ignore it in a threaded conversation. Here you're forced to see everyone's opinion in a chronological fashion.

There's all kinds of other features that I think helps Reddit overcome things, like promoting comments algorithmically by "best" and not necessarily by date which lets users who are not prolific get a lot of say. I've seen this work really well on active subreddits and I've also seen this work really poorly. A quick example being on other subreddits if you don't toe the line you're downvoted really, really quickly. One stupid example is in the Missouri reddit there's a thread for a marijuana legalization vote. I asked simply if there was any polling data for it and was heavily downvoted and accused of "brigading" and told polls don't matter I should just vote. Well I'm close to Missouri but not a resident and can't vote there, and I'm for the initiative but yeah pile-ons and bad shit happens over there and when you get downvoted too much you're just invisible.

Again Reddit and the other sites are multi-billion dollar companies and Metafilter isn't, and I can only really go on what makes them different since in the sense of the subreddit in question it quite literally is or was the same people from both sites.

I think of the subreddit as akin to Andy Cohen talking about a show after the show aired. I know it is a joke but people love to do it and they're not sitting there making fun of the show. There's a certain official air to Metatalk and I don't think it'd be a bad thing if it splintered off into a bunch of different discussion groups on Twitter/Reddit/whatever. I'm sure people will vehemently disagree with me, but I want to be clear as in my first comment we should have microsites and things for "official" business like voting or SC nominations. If people want to talk about the site unofficially with like minded people splinter off into that.

I'm sorry for being lengthy but I really don't know why it works, at least for me, but it does. It is probably a combination of a lot of things both technical and social.

I'm a fan of Lobster.rs and maybe that's a better comparison? They have Metatalk like commentary inline with regular comments and it is very infrequent. It doesn't get fighty as far as I can tell, but it has a lot of technical similarities to Reddit in that it isn't so chronologically based and promotes good content and doesn't let angry comments kind of sit there with the rest of the comments -- or at least be as visible. And it has a moderation log.

But if I had to summarize it in one sentence: I'm not hesitant to post in any of those places above yet anytime I post to Metafilter I have to really be careful and be ready to have thick skin. That's a big complaint in the survey so I'm not alone. I can't unfortunately articulate why only to say that's how I feel.
posted by geoff. at 9:49 AM on August 19 [9 favorites]


One thought I've been kicking around is turning MetaTalk into something like Projects. It would essentially add a public queue. You'd still have a private queue, so someone couldn't just post something terribly racist or transphobic or something, but after that you'd need some threshold of community members to say, "Yes, I actually do want to talk about this and think this is important." I don't know if that's the BEST idea, but I've been mulling over ways to structurally change MetaTalk for awhile, especially in regards to Transition Team work, and that feels the most MetaFilter-like solution, given current site code.

There's always the option to totally jettison existing structures and make a new thing, though! I'm hoping the SC takes this on as one of their projects.
posted by curious nu at 9:53 AM on August 19 [7 favorites]


Thanks for the thoughts geoff.!
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:54 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Before this dissolves into debating the merits of the various solutions already proposed (or adding new ones), what problem do we think we're solving here? I'm not sure that's clear or agreed yet.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:04 AM on August 19 [17 favorites]


I've come to think that MetaTalk does much more harm than good, but eliminating it is contrary to this important shift toward community governance and transparency.

The only thing that can fix what's wrong is a shift in what the community considers acceptable behavior here. I'm not sure how to motivate it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:12 AM on August 19 [15 favorites]


I think Meta should be left as is. Mandating the avoidance of conflict or shutting down avenues of discussion that may lead to conflict makes no sense to me. It is the ostrich concept. People disagree. The important thing is that members treat each other with civility and respect while disagreeing.

I am not on reddit and I just now found out there was a subsite or whatever it is called for MetaFilter discussion. I looked at a few threads. Definitely some angry people there with valid points and some just angry people. Some supportive people too. I am not sure that a reddit subsite should influence what happens here.

There is no doubt in my mind that this place, MetaFilter in general, does not tolerate dissent from the prevailing group think. I do find myself biting my tongue at times. I have always looked at this site as either Mathowie's site or cortex's site and it is their sandbox and I play in it under their terms. Now that it is becoming more of a group self administered site, I see where getting to consensus can be problematic, but I still will continue to participate or not under whatever the prevailing terms are. There is no right to participate. There is the option to under these X terms. I do object, here or anywhere, that the loudest or most frequent win the day because of appeasement or to just stop the conflict.

People get angry and button. Some do so publicly, some do so silently. I don't see any way to prevent that. I am not sure we want to prevent it, but if kumbaya is the goal, I think by eliminating metatalk, you push the conversation or argument back into the thread that lead to the issue. That is not good.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:13 AM on August 19 [17 favorites]


what problem do we think we're solving here? I'm not sure that's clear or agreed yet.

My guess is that the target problem to solve is people buttoning because of what happens in MetaTalk. So then, if we want to solve that, we might want to find out whether there's something about MetaTalk or our patterns of behavior here that causes those users to leave.

My own suspicion is that people button when they don't feel listened to or that they have no/insufficient hope that whatever issue they're experiencing might improve.

The only thing that can fix what's wrong is a shift in what the community considers acceptable behavior here.

I think I agree. MeTa is less moderated than other subsites, and I think that this has led some to believe that this means that MeTa should correspondingly have looser standards of behavior. I believe the opposite is true- the fact that this is less moderated, plus the fact that people bring contentious issues here, means we should ideally be at our most careful here.
posted by Jpfed at 10:22 AM on August 19 [16 favorites]


why do we have a button at all? if you don't want to post any more than don't - why do we need the drama of a big red button that everyone's going to see that you pressed it when you leave?

(and how many people have just stopped posting without pushing the big red button? - are we as concerned about them?)
posted by pyramid termite at 10:34 AM on August 19 [17 favorites]


what problem do we think we're solving here? I'm not sure that's clear or agreed yet.

My guess is that the target problem to solve is people buttoning because of what happens in MetaTalk. So then, if we want to solve that, we might want to find out what it is about MetaTalk that causes those users to leave.


It's good that iamkimiam asked the focusing question, cos that's not what I was thinking at all. :D

My general impression of a lot of issues-prompted MetaTalks (choice of language, site/mod policies, community norms, etc) is that they get so fighty that all they really do is cause a lot of bad blood. I skip most of them not because I'm not interested, but because I cannot imagine that anything constructive is going to come out of it, and I'm going to have to wade through some seriously toxic shit in the process.

I don't think the site owes anyone a public release valve to just dump every thought/feeling with no care for how that affects others, including the mods, and would prefer to see something more solutions-focused take its place. (separate from the usual chats and check-ins and events and so on)

At the same time, the site doesn't owe me that every space be an emotionally safe space -- that is, I think it's necessary that certain attitudes are 100% not tolerated, but that doesn't mean those attitudes can't be talked about. I've got thin skin on some issues and that's up to me to take care of. So it's not a request that every MetaTalk be 100% prim and proper, either. (I know I've contributed to the problem over the years)

I think the biggest question is what is "What should MetaTalk be for?" and then see if the current culture here is supportive or harmful of that.
posted by curious nu at 10:36 AM on August 19 [14 favorites]


I think of Metafilter as more akin to a social site rather than an old school message board, those of which tended to have more Metatalk sections. Is that a fair comparison?

Ooh! So I personally would disagree with that statement - I think MeFi is very much not primarily a social site in the way things like FB or Twitter are, the social features here IMO are kind of a side effect of web links bringing people together. I think I grok why you'd say it's a social site - there's probably an eternal conversation asking if MeFi is a "group of X number of people who happen to post on a ColdFusion message board, but could just move over to Slack tomorrow and still be the same?" or is MeFi "a blog that happens to allow the internet at large to write posts and comments, and the membership will change over time?" I lean mostly towards believing the latter but absolutely see the appeal and reasoning behind people who lean towards the former.

Frankly though a lot of my time online has gone towards a massive (23k+ people) Slack group where the social features are a bit nicer. (That too has MeTa equivalent spaces, FWIW). But I still read MeFi regularly even if I don't comment.



That may be out of scope for this thread, but I think yes given that a large falloff of users corresponded with the rise of aforementioned social media sites.

And that's the crux of it - if people leave for social sites, does MeFi need to become one? (And maybe lose things like MeTa that Twitter doesn't have?) Or is MeFi the "community weblog", and if people don't want that, they can go elsewhere for what they want?


I'll close with Zawinski's Law (mentally substitute "social network platform features" for "read mail", if y'all like):
Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.
Along with Zawinski's elaboration:
My point was not about copycats, it was about platformization. Apps that you "live in" all day have pressure to become everything and do everything. An app for editing text becomes an IDE, then an OS. An app for displaying hypertext documents becomes a mail reader, then an OS.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:50 AM on August 19 [12 favorites]


That's really well-written, NSAID, lots of think about there.
posted by curious nu at 11:04 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I don’t think it makes sense to consider making MeFi more like social media when so many of us are now fleeing social media and the youngest generation is avoiding it entirely. New online socializing is more likely to follow a private-ish discord style model, which is a lot closer to what MeFi already is.
posted by rikschell at 11:17 AM on August 19 [11 favorites]


My two cents - I'm fairly young in MeFite terms (joined 2018) and I really like MeTa. It's been a helpful way to learn a lot of things about the norms here that would have taken me loads more time to figure out implicitly. Things that get talked about here go right to the heart of the community part of Metafilter: Who does this place want to be for and who actually feels at home here? What are the gaps and how can we address them? Where are we failing, and where have I failed? And the grey also works to build up the community by giving us space to talk about our lives regularly, and to advertise community exchanges like Card Club, and to express appreciation, and to announce when people die. Where would all that stuff go, if there were no grey? It functions a little bit like a family meeting and yeah, those sometimes suck, but better to have an organized structure for dealing with difficulties than not to have anything. I'm reminded of Exit, Voice, Loyalty. MeTa lowers the barrier to the voice option. Without it, or something like it, I have to believe we'd see more exit, not less.

I love the idea of adding some technical dampening to slow down heated exchanges, though. I was thinking along the same lines as DirtyOldTown. Edit: nope, it was actually kevinbelt that proposed it (but I agree with DOT too).
posted by eirias at 11:21 AM on August 19 [16 favorites]


I think MeTa is healthier when there are more posts and more general goof-off threads, like Cortex' game threads, weekend polls, and personal announcements. It gives users something else to look at and maybe celebrate, rather than grit and keep up with the one active and increasingly contentious policy discussion. Policy threads are valuable, too, but when they co-exist with a variety of MeTa posts, it's easier to chill out and remember more of what MeFi can be about.
posted by michaelh at 11:34 AM on August 19 [12 favorites]


I think it's important to have places for us to engage with the moderators and each other. And the more we work to become a more community driven site, the more critical such spaces will become. So I am not in favor of closing down or default timeboxing of MetaTalk discussions.

But I am absolutely in favor of working together to establish and enforce new community norms for how we interact.

But it will not be simple, because tone policing and privileging some voices and communication styles over others is absolutely also part of the problem. Setting expectations for respectful dialog can't become just another cudgel. It's... messy. I can't pretend that I have a solution, but I'm listening.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:36 AM on August 19 [17 favorites]


I kind of don't think that people button because of shouty MetaTalk threads.

I think that people get into shouty MetaTalk threads because they're upset because of things that happen on the Blue or the Green or perhaps elsewhere on the site, or because of a vibe they get about the overall culture or direction of the site. And they get into shouty MetaTalk threads hoping for validation, or backup, or reassurance that their concerns are taken seriously - and they don't get the reassurance they were hoping for, or the shouty MetaTalk thread confirms their worst fears about the direction or culture of the site, and that's where they decide they're done with MetaFilter for good.

I don't think that's true for everybody. I think it's true for some people. I think those people are the people who would rather quit after trying really hard to get their concerns taken seriously, instead of just quietly quitting the site without saying anything.

That's not to say that MetaTalk (as currently constituted) is the optimal way to deal with those issues. I think there are probably fights that would have died out with a few slightly frayed tempers that get blown up big because there is a space for people to keep on poking at each other and doubling down on their comments. But I think there is a huge value in people being able to bring their community-related concerns not to a mod, or the site owner, but to the whole community.
posted by Jeanne at 11:49 AM on August 19 [44 favorites]


The way to turn down the heat on community discussions is for people to feel listened to and like they know what's happening and what to expect. I think the work toward regular site update MeTas, and codified self-governance for the site are the right solutions.

A time limit or shutting down MeTa are bandaids, there are other off-site communities where people can discuss but don't benefit from having input from as much of the MetaFilter community wants to participate, so I think limiting MeTa would lead to more divisiveness as those conversations begin to happen in silos instead.
posted by momus_window at 12:20 PM on August 19 [6 favorites]


If a time limit ends up a serious consideration I'd argue for a longer one than that to be sensitive to time zones, different communication styles that need a bit more time to process and write, etc. Seems like a detail that could be fine tuned if it's decided that the overall idea is a useful one, though.
posted by Stacey at 12:32 PM on August 19


I don't think there's outright complaining but rather constructive dialogue, but I guess it depends on how you look at it.

The occasional time I've looked over there, I've seen a fair amount of shit-talking from people who don't wish the site well, and a number in particular whose main issue seems to be "wokeness" and the tragedy of leftist white guys leaving.

Obviously, you can post wherever you want, geoff, but I have to admit I'm side-eyeing someone who's cool with that forum, but thinks metatalk should be vaporized as too contentious. At least people here have to attach their site identities to their posts.

(saying this as someone who rarely participates in metatalk herself)
posted by praemunire at 1:09 PM on August 19 [27 favorites]


If a time limit ends up a serious consideration I'd argue for a longer one than that to be sensitive to time zones

Speaking only as a former mod here, I kind of like the idea of some sort of time limit for threads that are contentious, but agree it has to be more than a day because of times zones; people shouldn't have to feel like they need to live in MeTa to know what is going on.

MeTa has some problems. I personally also feel like it's essential to what MetaFilter is. It's a place where you can interact with and give feedback to the mods (or owner, or developer), publicly, and talk with the community about things requiring community input.

There's a real continuum of perspectives on whether people buttoning is a site problem (MeFi did this to them), a personal problem (people can choose to leave any time and we should respect their choice), or something in-between (people who might otherwise be happy here had some incident or a string of incidents which ultimately made them unhappy here, things that could have perhaps been mitigated or addressed).

One thing that I have noticed (not about any recent discussion, and not with any specifics) is that we do often see people who have buttoned or even (rarely) had account wipes then come to MeTa under new not-very-used accounts to comment, interact, or possibly air grievances but without the personal profile/history that would give some context to their concerns.

And this isn't against the rules, there are certainly reasons why a user might want to do that, but I do also feel it can shape the conversation in a way that can be less helpful because it can sometimes mean mods have a lot more information and background than other MeTa participants and yet there's no real way to bridge that gap or talk about that. I've seen loup finesse it once or twice but it's tough stuff.

From a mod perspective only, that can create odd awkwardness and situations that can make it hard to see a path to effective community governance even though I really think that is what most people at some level would like to see.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:20 PM on August 19 [16 favorites]


I just want to say I'm not a fan of any move to restrict or close down MeTa. Shutting contentious threads when they get too much has been the policy for years and should stay that way, but having a fixed time limit strikes me as too much.
posted by knapah at 1:32 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


MetaTalk shouldn't be eliminated, but perhaps it would be beneficial to have fewer posts. Maybe some of the contentious discussions would have been better as a discussion between the user and the mods.

I don't think Reddit should be getting dragged into this discussion, especially when it's not the only place toxic Metafilter venting happens. It's kind of something to see someone advocating kindness here while spewing bile on the Twitter that's linked on their profile. We have salty ex-members here & there & everywhere, so it's probably better to keep the conversation focussed on what's happening in the room with the people in the room. Btw, I'm not on Twitter and my Reddit is only for anime shitposting, so I have no skin in the socials game.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:52 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


I'm not proud of this about myself, and I am not saying it to advocate for any changes. But just as a data point, I do find myself being drawn to reading long, fighty MetaTalk threads, often about topics I don't care that much about. And they do sometimes make me angry, or feel worse about Mefi than I previously did. I realize that the answer to this lies within me: either avoid MetaTalk entirely, or at least skip posts that I think will give me negative feelings. But it's easier said than done (maybe this should have been a "how do I stop doing that?" Ask...).
posted by primethyme at 3:47 PM on August 19 [16 favorites]


MetaTalk shouldn't be eliminated, but perhaps it would be beneficial to have fewer posts.

Fewer posts, and posts that get closed more quickly.

I don't think a set time limit is necessarily the right solution, but I do think significantly more aggressive closing of threads when it's clear that their useful life is over would help a lot. When I think back to the worst MeTa threads, the ones that result in so much animosity and angst and buttoning and frankly just harm the site, one of the frequent factors is a thread that just won't stop even though nothing of value is being achieved.

Posts on the grey should have a purpose and a goal, and if it's clear that the goal is achieved or that the well has been poisoned and movement towards the goal is impossible, the thread should be locked/closed. If the topic really warrants more discussion, a new one can always be opened in the future when people have had time to think more about the topic and cool down. Leaving threads open indefinitely just invites a long tail of unproductive fighting.
posted by a faithful sock at 4:27 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


“...one of the frequent factors is a thread that just won't stop even though nothing of value is being achieved.”

Yeah, that's when things get really bad. There's the inevitable arguments that arise in a new MetaTalk thread of a certain kind, but then there's the arguments that never stop — and get more vicious — later on. It's almost always a few people who are digging in, too-often some joker with a drive-by inflammatory comment, and other people provoked by this core that create a toxic thread that drags on and on. Then these flare-ups sort of continue in cycles until everyone is exhausted. This is a very harmful dynamic.

At the very least, I'd like to see us work very hard to stop thise threads from getting to that point. Probably by a combination of mod action and a community effort to change things.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:13 PM on August 19 [12 favorites]


I think that threads on MetaTalk serve a variety of important functions for the community as a whole, and eliminating them or scaling them back too much without considering how each individual thread is going and what it's contributing would be a bad idea. At the same time, I think a lot of the site's norms around how to engage with each other on a MetaTalk thread can become toxic very quickly.

A few years ago I tried out posting a series of MeTa threads on the topic of how to have productive arguments, with the aim of trying to improve the health of contentious discussions on MeTa. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about how it went, and after two or three of them I got caught up in life and never got around to continuing the series. I'm not sure the approach I was trying to take there was the best one, but I firmly believe that we need to do something to improve the expectations and norms around engagement on the Grey (and to a lesser extent on the Blue as well). I don't think this can be an entirely top-down thing from the moderation team, or some strict set of rules that we have to adhere to. Rather, I think it needs to be a more bottom-up process. If enough people buy into the idea of trying to consciously change the way we approach disagreement on the site, to make it more productive and respectful for everyone, I think that change in tone will consciously or unconsciously encourage other people to raise the tenor of their participation as well.

Unfortunately, I don't really know how to achieve this goal, and perhaps it's too idealistic to work in practice.
posted by biogeo at 7:22 PM on August 19 [11 favorites]


Ctrl+F “recipe” 0/0 results

There remains value in the old ways…
posted by Mizu at 7:41 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I'm working on learning a new (to me) facilitation and group decision-making model, Sam Kaner's "Participatory Decision-Making." He talks about how we often expect groups trying to solve problems to methodically laying out suggestions, and those suggestions methodically being considered, and then the right answer being determined. And he says that's not at all how groups work. For hard problems, group engage first in "divergent thinking," generating lots of creative random incompatible ideas. The goal is to move into "convergent thinking," where those ideas are sorted, but the only way to achieve that in real ways is by going through "the Groan Zone," the place where conflict is expected and encouraged and everyone is fostered in working toward fully developing their ideas, because groups can't move into consensus until everyone actually understands where everyone else is coming from.

He talks about how there's a huge tendency for leaders to see things moving into the "Groan Zone" and just make a decision, any decision, to move out of the discomfort. That results in poorly thought-out decisions and a lot of disgruntled people.

I think that's where MetaTalk has been stuck with mods participate. I think it's been stuck in earlier stages when they don't.

I think we need to work on not only honoring but valuing conflict as a healthy community process. I think MetaTalk could be the perfect venue for that. I don't think we're there yet.
posted by lapis at 8:01 PM on August 19 [18 favorites]


there's always going to be a tension here between:

Metafilter is a safe space
Metafilter is a free space

Until something better comes along, MetaTalk seems the best we've got for reconciling said tension.
posted by philip-random at 8:53 PM on August 19 [11 favorites]


There remains value in the old ways…

choose your own adventure plate of beans recipe
posted by aniola at 8:55 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


This is probably a bit contrary to the prevailing thought here, but I think that tone matters a lot in setting the course that a MeTa thread takes. There are many things going on in the world now which are causing legitimate anger and frustration among all people who care about social justice, and the people who are in the groups most directly effected by events are understandably the most angry/upset and have the fewest spoons left. Having said that, dumping that anger and upset in raw form in a MeTa is still not cool, is not good for the health of the community and engenders further angry/reactive responses.
I'm not sure what the best solution is. Mods could hold MeTas in a queue and require rewrites. If users posting a MeTa aren't in a mental place where they can deal with editorial nudges from mods (or the delay while mods review stuff) they're definitely not in a place to engage with with the wider community directly. Users could pause a beat and try to get their point across without being inflammatory. We're all guests/users of a struggling website with limited resources. I believe that the vast majority of MeFites are good faith actors and decent people. I hope we can make things work.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 9:14 PM on August 19 [8 favorites]


So also there's a possibility that people here could evaluate an idea based on its merit, rather than the tone in which it's presented. That seems like a reasonable suggestion to me, too.
posted by lapis at 9:18 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


Someone mentioned above that MeTa threads might become more inflamed due to the lack of threading. The lack of threading also can make threads harder to follow. I often get lost and don’t know who is talking to whom about what.

MeTa threads can remind me a little of sprawling talk pages on Wikipedia. I used to be a regular contributor to Wikipedia a number of years ago. The talk pages there sometimes get “refactored” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Refactoring_talk_pages).

That is: “Good refactoring practices are an important part of maintaining a productive talk page. Discussion pages that are confused, hostile, overly complex, poorly structured, or congested with cross-talk can discourage potential contributors, and create misunderstandings that undermine fruitful discussions.”

Not all WP-style refactoring is possible or even suitable. But perhaps MeTas can use the general idea of facilitating the conversation. For example: Once in a while, someone can try to summarize what’s been said so far. When they’ve run their course, someone can ask a mod to close them.

I will try here to list the highlights of this discussion so far.
* No one is in favor of a 24-hour window for MeTas.
* A limited number of people see potential in having MeTas run for a limited time, but more than 24 hours. Other people want no time limit.
* A number of people think MeTas serve an important community function.
* Kybard suggested “templates or more prescriptive guidelines for MetaTalk threads”.
* KevinBelt suggested limiting the number of comments from a user in a single thread, to maybe two or three. That idea received several favorites.
* A comment by geoff explained why it is easier for him to discuss Metafilter on Reddit (https://metatalk.metafilter.com/26138/On-Cooling-Off-MetaTalk-Threads#1406580). Several other people thought offsite discussion is not a helpful alternative.
* A suggestion from curious nu is to turn MeTa into something like Projects, where threads would need a threshold of community members.
* Ivan Fyodorovich think MeTa is a net negative and “The only thing that can fix what's wrong is a shift in what the community considers acceptable behavior here.”
* JohnnyGunn supports leaving MeTa as is but also said, MeFi “does not tolerate dissent from the prevailing group think.” His comment also received several favorites.
* “MeTa is healthier when there are more posts and more general goof-off threads,” according to michaelh.
* Jeanne said people who button are likely not doing so because of the gray, but because of what happens on the blue or green, then they don’t get satisfaction on the gray. This comment appears to have the most favorites so far.
* Limits might actually make for more divisiveness, says momus_window, who also says the solution is regular site updates and codified self-governance.
* Other suggestions include closing posts more quickly and having fewer posts (including making some discussions between a user and mods instead of among the community).
* Lapis suggested a new group decision model and needing to work through conflict, the “groan zone”.
* Larry David Syndrome suggested MeTa posts be rewritten, if needed, to set a good tone for the thread.
posted by NotLost at 9:20 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


So also there's a possibility that people here could evaluate an idea based on its merit, rather than the tone in which it's presented.

tone vs merit

art vs science.

I think we're both.
posted by philip-random at 9:30 PM on August 19


Wanted to echo eirias about the value of Metatalk for new people like me, to understand the culture and etiquette of the site.

I'm really surprised that people are OK with having conversations (about this site) that happen on other sites be part of the conversation here. It's one of the standard rules on the other communities I'm part of, that "what happens elsewhere, stays elsewhere".

Several times I've read threads here that don't quite make sense to me, only to realise that there are all kinds of veiled references to what x person said on y other place. To me, that's Not OK, and never going to be constructive.
posted by Zumbador at 9:51 PM on August 19 [20 favorites]


24 hours? Uh, not everyone has the opportunity to stop what they're doing and check MeTa every! single! day! and immediately be ready to share a thoughtful viewpoint. We'd hear from the squeakiest wheels and the opportunity to further develop a discussion would be cut off.

I am often frustrated with the way that MeTa is used and people's expectations around it, but I also think that having a discussion outlet about the site itself is a concept worth saving.
posted by desuetude at 10:10 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


I’ve seen more people button from MeTa than elsewhere on MeFi.

What sort of numbers are you talking about here, has that number fluctuated over time, and if so how?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:15 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Problem analysis:

(A) Too many cooks spoil the broth.

(B) Regardless of its benefits anywhere else, the flat-file commenting structure here doesn't lend itself towards easily seeing if you're repeating already spoken viewpoint without reading 500 pages of comments already posted. Unlike threads on other subjects, reading such comments is not incentivized by virtue of being "fun", i.e. on the topic chosen to be discussed.

(C) Because of (B), the problem is vicious-circle reinforced when someone then makes their comment without checking if it's a retread.

This is the same problem behind politics megathreads, incidentally.

(Above all meant with the prefix "IMHO", not to imply facthood.)

Problem potential solutions:

(A) Temporarily offload Metatalk into a hierarchical structure site, i.e. private subreddit, until such time as site can selectively implement hierarchical comments, even same is done by implementing existing software for same.

(B) Increase barrier to entry for Metatalk not so much by virtue of a blocking, but by implementing more than the existing requiring community input checkbox. Elected SC develops questionnaire of sorts (perhaps soliciting community input) for MeTa not to filter away questions but to stage them better upon release for success. I.e., end result being that MeTa has more of a post structure. Think how Bugzilla asks certain questions and then posts that as a form. Research made into existing sociological or psychological study on questions that best stage problems for solutions, or questions that best frame a brainstorming problem-solving session in a positive manner.

(C) Seeing if tech solution exists that could see comment(s) that are most textually in common (i.e. fuzzy search) with proposed comment, and double-checking prior to posting, "has your viewpoint already been expressed?".

Just blueskying.
posted by MollyRealized at 11:47 PM on August 19


It’s the site’s reverse mullet: party in the front yard, business in the back. If we try to keep the site all sweetness and light, I think MeTa will suffer as people will be less inclined to state their real opinions. As noted above, sometimes it gets messy and that’s fine. Humans are messy and, theoretically, we’re all human here.

Theoretically.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 12:02 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


I usually ignore MetaTalk because I look at the number of comments and think "who has the time?!"

Having a fixed time limit (longer than 24 hours, for those who don't live on here) or a policy of "mods will close this as soon as they feel the discussion has run its course, their decision is final" would be good.

Limiting the number of times a person could comment on a single post (2 times?) might help, and would reduce back and forth arguments. Might have other side effects though.

Limiting the number of characters per comment would reduce some walls of text.

Some threading (not too deep) would make posts more approachable. If I see 48 comments I'm usually unlikely to post, because I feel I should read everything first. But if I see a handful of thread-starting comments, and one is particularly interesting, I could only read, and contribute to, that thread.
posted by fabius at 12:19 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


I should add that after organizing my thoughts better whether we like it or not Metatalk already has a hierarchical comment structure. People quote and talk to each other all the time. I never participated in the megathreads but I'm guessing it is the same.

I say this as someone who did not like the idea of threaded comments.

Also I randomly saw this on Twitter, but someone mentioned that the "Best" comment filter on Reddit in general as getting rid of noise vs Metafilter. And I agree with that too.

I look at Metafilter like a classic car. It gets you to where you need to be. It is beautiful, it sounds great on the road, but it gets 9MPG, it doesn't have ABS, traction control, bluetooth, backup cameras, heated seats and all he things we'd expect out of a car in 2022. Newer cars don't create better drives, but they prevent a lot of wrecks.
posted by geoff. at 1:37 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Overall, it would probably be better to have the SC help monitor the Metatalk queue and/or posts. This could include closing a MeTa once it seems as though things have been resolved or get to heated.

Might also be good to have the ability to "pause" the ability for a users to comment if things are getting too heated.

Otherwise I'm leery of technical solutions from Reddit posted by people who feel that Reddit is much quieter/calmer/, especially when they feel free to make all sorts of nitpicking comments over on Reddit which demonstrate a contempt for Metafilter.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:42 AM on August 20 [17 favorites]


Brandon, it is okay to just address me by my name. I like you and I think you're fair, and also I'm the only one in the thread that was asked specifically to talk about how Reddit was different. Frankly given that it is all Metafilter people both there and here, the only difference I can come up with is technical solutions. If there's people talking about Metafilter somewhere who weren't or aren't on Metafilter at one time... well that's really strange. Like people showing up for a Star Wars convention without having watched the movies. So the only difference is technical.

That said I would not think of offsite banter as contempt. Go into any forum where people talk about anything they enjoy and you'll see the same kind of back and forth. We even have a section of the site, FanFare that's kind of dedicated to people talking about shows and other media. I've even said things like I don't like what the showrunners did with this episode or whatever, and I still like the show.

There's a neighborhood association and I think they have a message board. It feels like any complaints there are "official," and there's two neighborhood groups about the same neighborhood on Facebook. It is a little bit more relaxed. I think if anything it shows people are interested in the same thing and you know good ideas are hashed on Facebook groups and then percolate up to the "official" forums. I don't think there's an either or, nor am I saying Metafilter is just a technical solution.
posted by geoff. at 4:35 AM on August 20 [9 favorites]


I tend to think of MetaTalk as a place where meta discussions can take place so they aren’t derailing threads on other parts of the site. This seems pretty useful to me.
posted by snofoam at 4:56 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


People don't button "from" MeTa, though - they button from Metafilter. MeTa threads just happen to be the catalyst, because the freer-form nature of the threads are probably more prone to stirring up long-standing dissatisfaction.

But that long-standing dissatisfaction was likely fostered on the blue and the green as well as the gray. Someone who has no quibble with Metafilter would probably not suddenly be all "Well I never!" about a MeTa thread and bounce.

If we get rid of MeTa, we'll still have people leaving, and the threads on the blue will get more shouty because there's no other pressure-release valve, and the mods will have to do way more cleaning up of threads on the blue. Because MeTa threads don't always result in people leaving - sometimes they lead to people finally raising a long-simmering issue; early on, it was in MeTa that someone first asked the "is this site a boyzone" question, and the ensuing discussion started to shape the site. It may have triggered a few people quitting as well, but - some of those people who quit may have liked the "boyzone" Metafilter, and well, too bad so sad....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:03 AM on August 20 [15 favorites]


You seem to prefer direct communication, geoff. You should understand that your behavior is unambiguously two-faced to those of us who view Metafilter as a real community. Your approach is “Why shouldn’t I discuss who I want with who I want where I want?” Our approach is, “Absolutely do that, but don’t act surprised when you get uninvited to the parties of the people whose backs you’re talking behind.”
posted by thoroughburro at 5:09 AM on August 20 [12 favorites]


I checked out the subreddit. Read through two posts. It seems to be dudes decrying what's wrong with cancel/woke culture and dispassionately wondering why people can't just get over things and move on. Oh, and a decent helping of the mods should quit whining and just do their jobs. It's old school internet gross, full stop. If you'd like Meta to be more like that you'll have to escort people with melanin and/or uteruses out the back door.
posted by donnagirl at 5:17 AM on August 20 [17 favorites]


> dispassionately wondering why people can't just get over things and move on

At least, when they aren’t obsessively dissecting our incidental phrases and rhetorical missteps. Almost seems inconsistent, when you think about it.
posted by thoroughburro at 5:31 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


About buttoning, and doing so via MeTa -- What sort of numbers are you talking about here, has that number fluctuated over time, and if so how?

I don't have any numbers, just my perception.
posted by NotLost at 5:50 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


decrying what's wrong with cancel/woke culture and dispassionately wondering why people can't just get over things and move on.

Seems like a very uncharitable take. Makes it sound like everyone (or even anyone) there is some Republican/Tory/right-winger railing against "wokeness" which is so, so far from the truth.

I've found it a very thoughtful and pleasant place to discuss something most people there care about a lot - MetaFilter. It certainly seems more pleasant than MeTa recently.
posted by fabius at 5:54 AM on August 20 [17 favorites]


Metatalk isn't the problem. It's some of the people posting in Metatalk who are the problem.
Closing a thread after 24 hours is, to me, nonsensical as that means only the most constantly online and prolific posters get heard.
People get heated therefore they need cooling down. Time outs do this and don't seem to be used vey much, if at all.
I an against deletions especially when not noted. A poster can always apologize. That will then be in their history too.
Political apologies which aren't apologies should be called out, and maybe warrent a time out.
A technical solution could be to prevent people posting in thread x times in a given time span.
Meta is important. It is an integral part of the site and should continue to be so. Statistics to me seem lacking and a subsite for data crunching could be useful.
How many current users post on Meta as opposed to the Blue or Green? Who are the most prolific posters ? Back in the day it was Delmoi by a country mile.
To understand the problems we need to understand the metrics. Meta acts as a pressure relief valve at times. Gone it seems are days of play, alphabet and longboat threads among others.
If the release valve is constricted it will only blow elsewhere and the fall out will probably be greater. I frequently think that those who button are on the point of leaving anyway.
Do leavers get a goodbye note? something along the lines of 'Sorry to see you go but maybe a change is as good as a rest and you can always return as you or a Brand New Day'.
posted by adamvasco at 5:57 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


I've found it a very thoughtful and pleasant place to discuss something most people there care about a lot - MetaFilter. It certainly seems more pleasant than MeTa recently.

It's easier to be "pleasant" when issues don't affect you directly. Pleasantness can fuck right off when peoples' actual lives and well-being are on the line.

And I don't think the people there are all Republicans/Tories; they're predominately self-proclaimed leftists, which in a certain type of person can be lot like self-proclaimed allies. No thank you.
posted by donnagirl at 6:33 AM on August 20 [5 favorites]


My desires for MetaTalk in its current form would be:

1. Commentary stays generally on topic to that post and if people want to start a new topic, they do. I think there's been some movement in this direction lately. This is where some volunteer work could potentially help although I would recommend it be for brief stints (like max one month).

2. This goes for the whole site - assumption of goodwill-ish. By that I don't mean assume everyone is friends or that we all agree. I just mean in general, assume the people who have paid their $5 and are participating here in general are not like, the Trump social media team. If there is the odd bad actor, that will come out over time. Which relates to -

3. If we all slow down a bit I think it will help.

If you look at timestamps in MetaTalks I think the harshest stuff goes down when it's really quick. The best comments are often, I think, the ones where someone's taken a breath first.

For working on important trends for diversity and equity, I think the work the BIPOC board is doing in this regard is very helpful especially in doing it by looking at historical examples. To me this is the ideal - to be aware and analytical and lay out roadmaps so that when/if things do go down, there's a depth of information and consideration that really is almost impossible to do when in the thick of a situation. Which comes to -

4. I'm not sure how to put this but...maybe I'll make it super personal. Sometimes in the past I've been my worst self with my spouse, because I trust him and because we're married and because he's readily accessible when I've burned myself out all week and it's 8:30 pm on Friday and he leaves his pizza crusts on the table for reasons unclear to me as there's a compost bin 8 feet away.

We can absolutely have lines around pizza crusts on the table. Because ew. And ants.

But coming at him as if the pizza crusts on the table are the living end because I can't yell at Doug Ford although a camp counsellor dislocated his knee just by not rotating his foot and he had to wait 11 hours in the ER to see someone to put it back in, and I was there and then monitoring and it's freaked me out because I can see the collapse of emergency medicine in real time. is - not cool. That's toxic to our relationship.

Sometimes I think the caring, amazing group of people we have here are occasionally burning steam off in a way that burns others. That's a no-shame-no-blame statement because it's so human and normal. And all I can do -- because I'm not going to yell at someone, not only do I not know what they're dealing with that day but it just makes it worse -- is to be calm myself or not fan the flames.

So I'd just ask we all keep that in mind.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:20 AM on August 20 [33 favorites]


I wonder if most non-silly, non-obituary MeTa threads should have a -comment- limit. After the first hundred or hundred-fifty comments, most of the time the discussion has drifted. Sometimes this goes in useful and interesting ways, and the work is hard and takes more discussions. Those ones should get a fresh start in a new post with a (possibly revised) problem statement - from the OP or the SC or the mods, whomever.
But the ones that are just doing something else are ripe for the secondary fights. New voices are less likely to wade that far to catch up, and the fewer voices that have gone that far can be both really dug in on their position and hair-trigger ready to react.
So maybe have a comfortable length cap and when we reach it, start a new one- with the queue posting delay/rewrites/etc - with the aim of bringing the conversation back to the broader community as well as redirecting and cooling the conversation.
posted by janell at 8:40 AM on August 20 [4 favorites]


Frankly given that it is all Metafilter people both there and here, the only difference I can come up with is technical solutions.

I question this. There's a difference between Mefi and Reddit in the number of active users. A Huge Difference. And chaos does love economies of scale. Not to mention, it's something of a leap to assert that the Reddit crowd are somehow representative of Metafilter as a whole.

They aren't.

And I have been there. I'm not a member but I do check in every now and then. That said, I do tend to concur with fabius, that it tends to be a

thoughtful and pleasant place to discuss something most people there care about a lot - MetaFilter.

dismissing it all as "dudes decrying what's wrong with cancel/woke culture" is about as reductive as dismissing Metafilter as a hotbed of cancel/woke culture. There may be grains of truth in both assertions but only some ...
posted by philip-random at 8:49 AM on August 20 [21 favorites]


Your approach is “Why shouldn’t I discuss who I want with who I want where I want?” Our approach is, “Absolutely do that, but don’t act surprised when you get uninvited to the parties of the people whose backs you’re talking behind.”

don't act surprised when the number of people who go to those parties decreases even more - which seems to be happening right now ...
posted by pyramid termite at 9:34 AM on August 20 [16 favorites]


OooooooOooo
posted by tiny frying pan at 10:16 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


At least, when they aren’t obsessively dissecting our incidental phrases and rhetorical missteps. Almost seems inconsistent, when you think about it.

Alternate theory: there are multiple people there expressing multiple points of view
posted by skewed at 11:07 AM on August 20 [19 favorites]

The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future — must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.

Aristotle
Of the Epidemics
posted by y2karl at 11:52 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


No idea if it's it's left or right leaning but that subreddit gives me the absolute creeps, just people obsessively watching the site and thigh rubbing over any struggle or difficulty that's going on here. The vibes are so bad there. Literally get any other hobby
posted by ominous_paws at 12:26 PM on August 20 [10 favorites]


Well, once again I’ve come away from MetaTalk with mixed feelings and an overall sense that I’m too involved, or too absorbed is maybe a better way to put it.

My instinct is that MetaTalk is, in one form or another, necessary. Yet, I almost always wish I hadn’t made whatever point I felt needed to be made… even though my actual opinions and stances and consistent, and I’m not ashamed of them, the behavior I exhibit is less refined than I usually expect of myself.

I guess that’s what we’re talking about here, so why is that? I won’t say I’m always at my tip top best on the blue, but certainly I’m more consistently how I want to be. Hm.
posted by thoroughburro at 12:38 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]


Shortening discussion time to 24 hours or abolishing MeTa poses access barriers to disabled folks or folks with limited time.
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 1:27 PM on August 20 [8 favorites]


I am not really in favor of any artificial or imposed limits on Metatalk threads. In the past, mods have closed them when they have devolved, and I think they have a good handle on that, and when it’s time to close the (for the most part). An artificial limit means comments left unanswered, or viewpoints left out of the record, such as it is. The point of meta, to me, is that voices get heard, that people are allowed to say their piece, and that it is a valuable tool to discuss the site, and bring about change. Without meta, none of the changes taking place now would have happened. Discussion will still happen, if there is a site for it or not. It would either spill into the front page or ask, neither of which are the places for it, or take place on other sites.

The other sites thing, man, I gotta say, don’t thrill me. Subreddits about metafilter have always struck me as odd. It’s not like Reddit is any less public, or Twitter for that matter. If you feel the need to talk about metafilter, it’s right here. I guess that’s the kind of thing, though, where a person decides if they want to be part of the community, or if they just want to talk about the community with other people.

On a very different note, but maybe tangentially related:

As Jessamyn noted: One thing that I have noticed (not about any recent discussion, and not with any specifics) is that we do often see people who have buttoned or even (rarely) had account wipes then come to MeTa under new not-very-used accounts to comment, interact, or possibly air grievances but without the personal profile/history that would give some context to their concerns.

I remember when Brand New Days were a thing, a thing new and uncommon enough to be a matter of contention on the site. And I’ll be honest, I can’t keep track of the different accounts the same people have, and it always mystifies me when someone says, oh, yeah, (user X) is actually (user Y), just a new account. I know that there are solid, good reasons for people to change to new usernames and accounts, and there have been people who’ve left behind old accounts and opened new ones for personal reasons, but at some point, this breaks the fundamental idea of (as someone unthread mentioned) tying our comments to our persona, to keeping ourselves and the discourse of the site honest and genuine.

Again, there exist some very good reasons for people to close accounts and open new ones, but i feel it shouldn’t be as casual and simple as it seems to have become. While the mods tend to have a clear idea of who is who, it’s hard for me (and I imagine, others) to know if I’m talking with someone with whom I have interacted with in the past, and with whom, lacking that understanding of past interactions, I am at a distinct disadvantage.

I realize this is a pretty significant derail, but it does feel like account changes and username hopping have gotten a lot more casually allowed, and it feels like it breaks a sense of continuity on the site. I don’t like the feeling like I should be trying to keep a scorecard of who used to be who.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:39 PM on August 20 [7 favorites]


Seems like if we artificially shorten or somehow limit discussion here, it will just go elsewhere, like Reddit, where there is less or no moderation. At least here, we can impose a bit of civility.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 1:56 PM on August 20


I realize this is a pretty significant derail, but it does feel like account changes and username hopping have gotten a lot more casually allowed, and it feels like it breaks a sense of continuity on the site. I don’t like the feeling like I should be trying to keep a scorecard of who used to be who

As far as I know, this is still the policy on one main account/transitioning user names/sockpuppets/Brand New Days. Is this still accurate?
I thought that it was more recent, but it was linked to recently and that's why it's fresh in my mind.

All about sockpuppets, privacy accounts, Brand New Day, and other multiple-mefi account things
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:18 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Disclosure: participate in both.

The other sites thing, man, I gotta say, don’t thrill me. Subreddits about metafilter have always struck me as odd. It’s not like Reddit is any less public, or Twitter for that matter. If you feel the need to talk about metafilter, it’s right here. I guess that’s the kind of thing, though, where a person decides if they want to be part of the community, or if they just want to talk about the community with other people.

... or a community gets to a size and scale where it forms tendencies, to borrow from the left. You don't go to lunch or happy hour with every coworker, or even every person on your team. You don't invite every extended family member to every gathering that has some family members. I am guessing not many men turn up at the women's congressional caucus.

If you're part of a group of friends, and one of them has annoyed, confused, or upset you, it is not inappropriate to pick a very close friend out of that extended group and discuss the matter with them. The analogy fails (all analogies do) because you wouldn't tend to do that in the middle of that group's Superbowl party, and you probably wouldn't cc: the person who aggrieved you.

If you're on a team and the team has a process or practice that seems odd or inefficient to you, you might talk to a trusted teammate to workshop an improvement before you share it with the wider team, especially if you have teammates who aren't super charitable or if the team culture is resistant to change. You might even talk to the manager about doing that work before doing it, with full knowledge from everyone that you want to make a proposal they might not like.

And finally, if you think the moderation on a site is hostile to a mode of conversation you consider normal, but want to continue to participate on the site in a manner the site is willing to permit, then it seems pretty natural to find spaces where you're both around people with a common frame of reference and where you're not worried about getting slapped with a "didn't read the room" deletion.
posted by mph at 2:52 PM on August 20 [22 favorites]


I don't participate in many metatalk threads, but I do read a lot of them.

Threads feel more productive (to me) when a lot of different people get to voice their opinion. Having a lot of back-and-forth comments between a small number of commenters feels like it can prevent the conversation from moving forward, especially if it's one or two people defending the same position, or rehashing the same conversation, over and over. The most active participants keep refocusing the conversation on the aspects that they're interested in, which can distract from what others want to say about a topic.

I know that some people like threading as a solution to this, but I'm not a fan of threading. I feel like it replaces one set of problems with another. I also don't feel like it actually diminishes the "fighty" kind of back-and-forth, it just moves it somewhere else (where users can kind of ignore it, but mods probably can't).

So, coming from that perspective, here's the technical change that I'd be curious to try. In certain threads, give each user a timed comment limit within each thread. Once you comment in a "patient thread", you can't comment again in that same thread for a while, say 24 hours maybe. Maybe each person gets a couple comments before the limit kicks in.

My hope is that this could help slow down some kinds of fast-moving threads, make space for more people to contribute in large threads, and also disrupt some kinds of argumentative escalation by lightly enforcing an automatic cool-down period.

I realize that this would have its own side effects, wouldn't solve every problem, and requires some non-negligible development effort. But it's still something I'd be interested in trying out, personally.
posted by Lirp at 4:40 PM on August 20 [21 favorites]


account changes and username hopping have gotten a lot more casually allowed

The vibe I have is that this isn't the case, but that the site is just so danged old that some people have closed old accounts intending to never come back and come back years later and opened new ones. Some people are more open about their previous accounts than others, and I feel it's a current site value that it should be okay to come back and be a new person here as long as you're not deceiving people in any other ways. But at least in the recent past, if mods saw people signing up with new accounts regularly, they'd say something to the user.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:57 PM on August 20 [13 favorites]


If MetaTalk is a place to discuss as a site, then it seems reasonable to limit comments in some way, like you wouldn’t keep giving the mic to the same person over and over in a town hall situation. I think it would be fun if, after your first comment in a thread you need to wait for at least one other comment before posting again, then after your second, two comments, after your third, three comments, etc. Punishment could be the comment interval doubling each time instead of going up by one.
posted by snofoam at 5:07 PM on August 20 [5 favorites]


I think we’d be better served by allowing MeTa conversations to happen *in the threads that spark them* rather than having them shunted off to a separate local. Two reasons:

First, I think it’s helpful for the reparative conversation to happen in the context and with the people it’s actually about. When there’s a hurt feeling or want for change, having that conversation dragged out in front of people who weren’t there to begin with (moving it to the gray with a whole new thread) isn’t particularly helpful. Context gets lost, people don’t follow and …

Secondly, a separate thread whips things up into a froth. Instead of having a contained conversation about how we can have *this particular conversation better* it becomes a grudge match. People who weren’t originally involved, see the fight and go read the thread and circle around with a pile on. It guarantees that things are only talked about when emotions are high enough to go create a boxing ring (a MeTa post). Only talking about things when they’ve reached an incendiary flash point is practically the best way I can think of to make sure hard feelings abound.

Yes, it may derail a thread but I think it would allow better relationship/community forming. MetaTalk existing for things like site updates is great, but making it so things can’t be resolved in a thread means that everyone and everything gets amped up.
posted by Bottlecap at 5:15 PM on August 20 [7 favorites]


Another option, finances permitting, would be to pay someone - not a mod- to actively facilitate MeTa threads.
posted by janell at 5:40 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


I missed the fights, don't know how but I did. But looking at what our world is like right now, and the wretched professional spinmasters, looking to get up a posse or choir, this is not the place. Metatalk, Metafilter is organic sorta, there is a concentrated center, the charter and culture and rules, and suggestions and the moderation, hold it together enough that it doesn't become a cacophony. There will be troops of those who would like to see an ideological shift in one direction or another, and, because of the security this site offers for reasonable, accountable, discourse they will want to differ, sell their brand of soap. People will listen here, but they aren't going to migrate en mass to what, Truth Social? People in discussions will learn how it is done, how communication works. Closing one hallway of a place won't make it a better place. People learn a lot of stuff in conversation, including how to converse. They button, OK. They come back, OK.
posted by Oyéah at 7:16 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]


If I've learned one thing the problem with making rude assumptions about a group of people and being wrong is the people you are wrong about know how much you're talking out your ass. Making polite assumptions seems to be a better way to go. I'm gonna give it a try.
posted by Jarcat at 9:15 PM on August 20 [6 favorites]


When I read the initial suggestion to close MetaTalk I had to fight hard not to further detail the thread and post a "nooooo"

To me,the grey is the true heart of this place, for better or worse. This is were the community happens. For me, I came to the site via the green, discovered the grey when someone posted a "meta" link comment and then wound up on the blue. The gift swap, the podcast, the in-jokes, the thoughtful discussion (and yes, they are often thoughtful!) All outweigh the angry flamey stuff, which I agree there could be less of.
posted by freethefeet at 10:46 PM on August 20


I think we’d be better served by allowing MeTa conversations to happen *in the threads that spark them* rather than having them shunted off to a separate local.

Bottlecap, how would this work for AskMeta?
posted by Zumbador at 11:31 PM on August 20


Like primethyme I find myself getting emotionally engaged with MeTa threads even when it's not something that I'm personally that interested in. I think MeTa is really valuable - and I agree with biogeo that it has to be a bottom-up process where community members decide to take a step back and not let their contributions get too heated.

But I think there's a place for top-down(ish) steers as well. For instance, members who voluntarily come into MeTa threads to interact in a calm and reasonable way, acknowledge frustrations and steer towards the questions of the thread. I could see this being an important part of what volunteer mods might actually do - basically be examples of quality discussion that might help to steer a thread in a positive direction. Elsewhere (and on my profile) I also suggested that one or more volunteer mods could also be designated to watch over a thread. Perhaps the queue could also be used better to suggest edits (with reasoning for the edits) to the question. And finally I agree with more aggressive timeouts and closing down of threads, though I'd say 4-5 days seem more reasonable than 1 and should be accompanied with more assertive and systematic mod-led notifications of the existence of the MeTa thread in the concerned sub-sites/ posts.

And for tech fixes - MeTa does seem to be a place (like politics threads) where threading might keep discussions on track, though I'm still not fan. However I think it would be worth exploring comment limits as Lirp has suggested, say 5 comments per user per thread per day.

As for the reddit, I have to say, my only response is a big shrug. This is a public site, and people are free to talk about it as they wish. It's not to my taste, and I find it a bit weird, but whatever.
posted by tavegyl at 12:02 AM on August 21 [3 favorites]


I feel like two things in particular lead this site (or any discussion anywhere) towards feeling viscerally unpleasant. They happen in MeTa way more than they happen elsewhere, and I feel like they're both things that can be dealt with.

The first is intense outbursts of emotion. If someone comes in absolutely seething, viscerally upset, and insists on framing the discussion in terms of how pissed-off they are, it's hard for other people not to follow suit. We absorb and reflect emotions around us. Furthermore, attempts to ignore someone's anger tends to make them even angrier.

The second is terse judgment and dismissal. People reduce nuanced things down to capsule summaries that are self-evidently not worth discussing. It's impossible to have a discussion after someone goes here, because the argument being made is literally "This should not be discussed," with a subtext of "...and if you want to discuss it, you too ought to be dismissed entirely." It's the paradox of tolerance: if someone's opinion is "nobody should disagree with me that X," it becomes impossible to really talk about X meaningfully.

The tricky thing about both is that anger is often justified and dismissals are often against perceived intolerances. This leads to mindsets of: I'm angry and I'm right to be angry, and if you don't want me to be angry, I have the right to be angry at you. And if you think my behaviors are discouraging healthy discussion, well, the fact of the matter is that I'm correct to shut down those voices, so clearly you're the one discouraging healthy discussion by taking fault with me here.

I consider myself on the pretty extreme end of the wokeness spectrum, and MetaFilter's attempts to push in that direction is one of its major appeals to me. But I think that MeFi (and especially MeTa) does run into one of the toxic trends that a lot of queer and feminist circles do, which is to get so absorbed in cathartic anger and us-vs-them thinking that it sometimes gets pretty black-and-white in a very heated way.

I don't use Reddit and I think the MetaFilter subreddit is a bit of a circlejerk, but I empathize with a lot of the complaints that get made there. Not because I think that wokeness is a disease or whatever, but because I think that wokeness, by being such an important cause, sometimes leads people to permit or justify pretty anti-social behaviors, allowing rude treatment of individuals or vented emotions because the rudeness and the venting are done in the name of a good cause. It's a slippery slope from "I'm righteously angry" to "I'm righteously angry because of certain people or attitudes" to "I have deemed you to be one of those people or hold one of those attitudes, and therefore will treat you like scum."

There's an awful lot of tolerance, at times, for talking to people like they're idiots or villains or both, in a way that flat-out precludes a sense of meaningful community. Rather, it creates an in-group and an out-group, and declares that only the in-group deserves to be called part of the community. The grousing I see on Reddit feels like a direct response to that; I think it takes an anti-wokeness bent because wokeness is the agreed-upon set of values that the site holds, and therefore the thing that justifies "acceptable" instances of the in-group/out-group thing. (Just like a stubborn resistance to wokeness used to be the in-group signifier back in, say, 2007.)

Basically, I think it's possible for a community to firmly stand behind intersectional, inclusive beliefs and policies without indulging in the kinds of behaviors that leave people feeling severely alienated and attacked. I feel like the intense anger and the cursory dismissals go a long way towards creating that hostile environment, when it arises. And I think that pushing back against those attitudes is important, though it's also important to push back against the kinds of low-key bad behaviors that incense folks into acting like that: too much JAQing off or bad-faith questioning or digging in heels and stubbornly continuing a "debate" that nobody else really wants to have, and eventually users are going to feel like getting mad and loudly refusing to engage are the only options they have left.
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 7:59 AM on August 21 [40 favorites]


I think that a lot of the tension on MetaTalk (and on MeFi in general) stems from differing assumptions about what MetaFilter is (or ought to be).

To me, MetaFilter has always been a place to post (and discuss) interesting links found on the web. Nothing more; nothing less.

It should go without saying that, in the course of that mission, MeFi should also be a place that is inclusive, welcoming, built around good-faith interaction, and quick to show bad actors the door.

However, a growing number of users seem to believe that MeFi's mission extends beyond this (or ought to extend beyond this).

Depending on who's opining, those additional parameters might include:

– MeFi must become a space that emphasizes socialist perspectives to a greater degree than it currently does

– MeFi must become a space that emphasizes non-US perspectives to a greater degree than it currently does

– MeFi must ensure that discussions avoid any topics which might trigger someone's anxiety

– in threads pertaining to specific identity groups, only members of that group are entitled to participate

– people who missed a memo on some minutiae of meme-culture activism are fair game for dogpiling

etc. I'm sure you can think of your own examples.

I'm not at all opposed to hearing more socialist voices, or more non-US voices (for example).

But I'd like to see the Steering Committee establish an official stance on these issues. Are these things explicitly part of MeFi's mission? Or are they just the opinions of particular subset of users?

Whatever decision the SC makes, it should be clearly communicated on the registration form. And discussion on MetaTalk should be handled accordingly.

For example, if the SC decides that MeFi is not an explicitly socialist space, then people who complain that there isn't enough socialism on MeFi should be reminded of such – and invited to explore the many other, more socialist-friendly communities that exist on the web. No one is entitled to demand that the MeFi community as a whole conform to any particular orthodoxy or demographic breakdown.

MeFi cannot be all things to all people. Again, it should (of course) be inclusive and welcoming. But if MeFi is (or isn't) something beyond that, then it should be made explicit.

The fact that some users will (somehow) interpret this stance as antagonistic is part of the problem. I think the vast majority of MeFites want to be decent to each other.

I do think that throttling MetaTalk in some fashion (time limits; a higher bar for posting; etc.) is a good idea. Often, I think people just get caught up in tit-for-tat sniping, which only causes animosity to spiral on both sides. Those individual incidents then harden into grudges and factionalism. Applying some drag might soften this dynamic.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:27 AM on August 21 [25 favorites]


I do think that throttling MetaTalk in some fashion (time limits; a higher bar for posting; etc.) is a good idea. Often, I think people just get caught up in tit-for-tat sniping, which only causes animosity to spiral on both sides. Those individual incidents then harden into grudges and factionalism. Applying some drag might soften this dynamic.

I like that. Analagous to the limits on how many times you can speak in Robert's Rules. Say, two comments per thread, or one comment per thread per day, or something like that.

Also it wouldn't hurt to adopt the convention from Robert's Rules avoiding speaking directly to other members or naming names when speaking about them.

It feels kind of silly and archaic sometimes, but it helps keep tempers in check when emotions are high.
posted by ctmf at 1:28 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


By my understanding of the metaversal facts of situation past present and future -- not yours: Human beings must behave angelically at all times. Or as much as possible. Not an unworthy goal.
posted by y2karl at 1:44 PM on August 21


Also it wouldn't hurt to adopt the convention from Robert's Rules avoiding speaking directly to other members or naming names when speaking about them.

I strongly disagree with this idea. In fact, I think MetaFilter already has a norm for avoiding speaking directly to or about other members in many cases, which is a soft rule sometimes backed up by moderation on the Blue. Indeed, every comment box on MetaFilter is followed by a reminder of this norm: "Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site." This is the only norm which is given such prominence.

This norm is by no means universally followed, but it is very common to see people speak in generalities about behaviors they have a problem with, rather than directly pointing to examples of those behaviors. The result, in my opinion, is that there very often feels like there's an undercurrent of passive aggression, where people are sniping about other MeFites without naming them directly, and often it's not even clear who they're actually upset with.

Contrary to ctmf's opinion, I think this already-existing norm on MetaFilter actually has the opposite effect, of tending to ramp up the temperature and lead to long-running resentments. While I think in the short term, directly engaging with people and behaviors that have upset you can lead to unpleasant arguments, in the long term, discouraging or disallowing people from doing so leads to exactly the kind of blow-ups and pile-ons that happen all the time on MetaTalk. In my opinion, it would be preferable to allow, even encourage, people to specifically identify behaviors or patterns of behaviors that they have a problem with, including by commenter user name if needed, rather than have them complain about it in vague terms that make it hard for people to know whose behavior they actually have a problem with.

More generally, I think things like Roberts' Rules are designed for facilitating debates. But I don't see MetaFilter as a debate club, I see it as a conversation space, and the rules that work well for conversations are very different from the ones that work well for debates.
posted by biogeo at 3:16 PM on August 21 [18 favorites]


The cheese threads, what about the cheese and pun threads, no cheese in the pun threads, no puns in the cheese threads, members will limit themselves to the discussion of five cheeses only, with an international assortment with no less than two distinct cheeses made in the USA. The rules for punning threads or punning in general, punnitive discourse, will result in putative hilarity, of course unless it doesn't and then we can gnash our teeth on reddit, and cry in our beer, but only in our personal beers, and not the beers of others, except in beer threads, where the water is open, as well as the range, where we will avoid the ducks, cattle and chickens.
posted by Oyéah at 4:10 PM on August 21 [3 favorites]


My guess is that the target problem to solve is people buttoning because of what happens in MetaTalk

I don't think this is actually a problem, although I get why it may be perceived that way. A person pushing the big red button after participating in MeTa is definitely more visible in that it's obvious when it happens, but I don't see people doing so because of a MeTa thread. They're doing so for lots of reasons, but often because they are unhappy with one or more interactions that happened elsewhere, are brought to MeTa and doing that doesn't bring the hoped-for result.

MeTa is and always has been the place where we try and hash out disagreements about things that happen here. Often that works, but sometimes it doesn't and people leave. My feeling is that almost all of those people were leaving anyway, but MeTa gave them a last chance to reconsider. I don't have data on it, but I'm pretty sure the number of people that have buttoned is far greater than the number of MeTa threads, so it's not accurate to blame MeTa itself. Not to say that's never happened, but I really believe it's exceedingly rare that MeTa is the actual cause.

I agree with biogeo in that it may be better for people that bring issues to MeTa to be more specific about who and/or what is bugging them, rather than less. Personally, I'd prefer to be able to discuss specific issues that bother someone than vaguely-worded concerns that leave everyone guessing. I don't think trying to limit that discussion beyond 'don't be an arsehole' is helpful in a space where we should be able to speak our mind, as long as we do so with respect for others.
posted by dg at 4:22 PM on August 21 [3 favorites]


Contrary to ctmf's opinion,

I see what you did there, lol (and I don't mind)

But I don't see MetaFilter as a debate club, I see it as a conversation space

But that's the thing I think is not working out so great, the free-for-all.
posted by ctmf at 4:23 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


I think it's usually when people have said their piece, but then feel like they should keep talking and defending and taking on all comers, that it get out of hand. There's the occasional one that's a conflagration from the get go, but usually it's once everything has been said that people start attacking each other.
posted by ctmf at 4:31 PM on August 21 [9 favorites]


I hadn't read through the whole MeTa thread linked at the start of this one, but having read through it since, I feel like I want to double down on what I said here earlier.

The initial request there was pretty reasonable: using "my body, my choice" as a way to defend people not masking or getting vaccinated is a trollish right-wing rhetorical move that isn't great. But the poster expressed this angrily (and not unjustifiably so!), they used the word "fascist" in a more-accusatory-than-strictly-necessary way, and they also framed their request in a way that didn't differentiate between the right-wing anti-vax use of that phrase and more progressive, well-meaning uses of it.

On one level, you can say: aww, gee, well I wish that had been stated less antagonistically or with more nuance. But it's really not fair to pin all that on the initial post. Because people took the use of "fascist" or the insistence that the phrase should only refer to abortions, created dismissive and antagonistic interpretations of the post, and replied defensively and angrily and dismissively back. Which led to people more sympathetic to the initial post to rightfully accuse those people of not being fair, only those accusations were made in angry and dismissive and un-nuanced ways, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

People have a tendency to "choose sides" based on who they think is making the most correct argument. But in situations like that—and in a lot of heated arguments here—I find myself thinking that everyone involved is pretty much correct, only they've chosen to interpret each other in the meanest and least fair ways and are cyclically angering and polarizing one another for absolutely no damn reason. And what gets me is that at literally any point in that thread, anybody on either "side" could have gone: "Hey, I think some things were said brashly or heatedly or not as well as they could have been said, and they rubbed some people the wrong way, and now we're jumping down each other's throats. How about we do less of that?" Only that doesn't happen, because when the only framework we operate under is "right" and "wrong", people stop asking how they can treat each other charitably.

If someone had jumped in and gone: "Well, I think vaccinations are a violation of my rights. My body, my choice!" I think there'd have been good reason for people to go, "This is a right-wing talking point and also viruses don't work like that." But nobody did that. Instead, everybody involved was making different intersectional claims about why the other people involved were awful: Side A was misogynist, Side B was ableist, Side C was fascist, and so on and so forth. (This is an oversimplification: pretty much everyone involved in that thread was accused of ableism by somebody else by the end.) Again, while I'm not a huge fan of the MetaFilter-gripes subreddit and am pretty staunchly pro-intersectionality, I totally get why some people are exhausted with this circular-firing-range aspect of "wokeness," and don't think it actually has anything to do with whether you're pro- or anti-"woke." It's like the old Onion article about hipsters angrily calling each other hipster, only it's everyone calling each other misogynist simultaneously. (Mark Fisher also comes to mind.)

It's that combination of "all anger is okay so long as it comes from an understandable place" and "it's okay to summarily reduce and dismiss what other people are saying" that winds up being toxic. Because, well, you can do that to basically anything at any time. And it's not even that people intentionally do that in bad faith (though some surely do)—it's that we project our moods and neuroses onto the world around us, and somebody somewhere is always going to be able to find a reason to get grouchy.

Just as there's that adage that peace is a positive presence rather than mere absence of war, I think that community has got to be more than mere absence of conflict. It has to be something active and intentional and labored on, a continual effort to find the best way forward. I don't think that's undoable here, but it's more than incidental. All this makes me think of how Buddhism speaks of suffering as cyclical: we inflict suffering on others because they inflict it on us. The only way out is to intentionally set that aside, and act to reduce the amount of suffering in a space. (The Christian idea of mercy works the same way. Really, every religious faith and most philosophies land on basically this idea, and I think there's a reason they do so, and it's the same reason that The Golden Rule and Mr. Rogers are so damn popular. Or as Vonnegut put it: "Goddamn it, babies, you've got to be kind.")
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 5:32 PM on August 21 [27 favorites]


(Also, apologies for leaving two very long comments in what's already been quite a long thread. I'll shoosh and duck out, I promise.)
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 5:33 PM on August 21


But that's the thing I think is not working out so great, the free-for-all.

I agree with you there. But I also think there's different rules needed for productive conversation spaces versus debate clubs. There's nothing wrong with debate clubs, and there's nothing wrong with Roberts' Rules, I just personally think that MetaFilter generally, and MetaTalk specifically, need different solutions. That said, there may be some specific types of threads which are better conceived of as debates, such as "should we adopt policy X", and I can certainly see a case for employing versions of Roberts' Rules for those specific threads.

Also I do think that within the last few years, MetaTalk has become much less of a free-for-all than it used to be. I have mixed feelings about comment deletions on MeTa, but I do appreciate the effort the mod team makes to try to keep things from blowing up too much on the Grey. But like I said before, I think top-down interventions by the mod team can only go so far, and in my opinion the only real progress we're going to make in cooling off MetaTalk threads is by a critical mass of participants making a conscious effort to change how they engage with each other here. My concern about very simple rules like "don't directly address other commenters" or a blanket cap on the rate at which people can comment is that they don't really address what I perceive as the root problems, which are (a) people failing to engage with a presumption that others are acting in good faith, and (b) people failing to engage in a way that makes it easy for others to presume good faith from them. Like I said before, I don't think I've got a great positive solution to offer, but I do think that an explicit rule to not directly engage with other commenters would make things worse, not better.

In the interest of trying to model the behavior that I'd like to see more of myself: ctmf, while I disagree with your suggestion, I appreciate that it's an attempt at a positive solution, and I'm very glad you offered it up for discussion. I'm also open to hearing further disagreement from you or others, and will gladly change my mind if someone makes a convincing argument. As someone who cares about this community, I'm glad you do, too.
posted by biogeo at 6:05 PM on August 21 [5 favorites]


While I like the idea of taking some hints from parliamentary procedure, if the UK parliament is anything to go by, this just results in the ways in which people are utter dicks to each other being metaphorically dressed up a silly hat.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:01 PM on August 21 [7 favorites]


Completely agree with biogeo that there is a culture of making vague, generalised statements when people have particular issues and people in mind, and that it's not helpful.

Very often it leads to misunderstanding as the very people who are being defended by the vague statement, think it's aimed at them and get angry and defensive in turn.

The person who is the actual target either remains utterly oblivious that they are the bad actor according to the vague comment, or they know very well who is meant, and feel extra aggrieved by what seems like a passive aggressive attack.

There's a difference between an ad hominem attack, and being specific about who or what you are talking about.
posted by Zumbador at 9:45 PM on August 21 [3 favorites]


I would just like to register that to me it's really execrable if Metafilter is, or thinks it should be, the kind of community that trashes & polices its members with smug, insidious shade like "your behavior is unambiguously two-faced to those of us who view Metafilter as a real community". Indeed, I would suggest that this sort of response has a lot to to with why people button or stop participating.
posted by dmh at 6:28 AM on August 22 [26 favorites]


TL;DR
Depeche Mode - People Are People (Official Video) - YouTube
All y'all tend to fight tooth and nail over your particular hill. A lot of y'all need to drop some acid or shrooms and find your inner peace and learn to enjoy the infinite diversity of human kind. Stop being a cult leader fighting for your cause with your followers while breeding hatred for every other human that isn't perfectly aligned with your very narrow and specific goals.

The world exists. You don't really get anywhere by fighting or thinking ill of your fellow humans in the long run.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:33 AM on August 22 [3 favorites]


> everybody involved was making different intersectional claims about why the other people involved were awful: Side A was misogynist, Side B was ableist, Side C was fascist, and so on and so forth

I think the idea that pointing out ableism or misogyny is a personal attack is a big part of why things sometimes get more heated than they should. Another community I'm part of has some explicitly lightweight social rules:
One thing that often surprises people about the social rules is that we expect people to break them from time to time. This means they’re different from our code of conduct, which covers behaviors that are never acceptable, like abuse, discrimination, and harassment.

[…]

The social rules are lightweight. You should not be afraid of breaking a social rule. These are things that everyone does, and breaking one doesn’t make you a bad person. If someone says, "hey, you just feigned surprise," or "that’s subtly sexist," don’t worry. Just apologize, reflect for a second, and move on.
That kind of culture is one that I'm sort of useful to as a default, at this point, so it's sort of surprising to me to see pointing out -isms positioned as saying "other people involved were awful" — that's not how I conceive of that at all. Looking at what people are saying here and (especially) on Reddit, though, it seems like it's common to equate those things.

I do think that pile-ons are a part of this — having one person point out that something you said is problematic in some way is useful, but having multiple people say that before you've had a chance to respond can feel like you're being attacked, because clearly the second (and third, fourth, etc) person to bring it up has some motive other than just pointing out that what you said could be hurtful, and I think to the person who's being corrected, that motivation can often feel like scolding.
posted by wesleyac at 7:10 AM on August 22 [15 favorites]


I will probably regret posting here, but whatever... I have also not read this thread yet, but will comment anyway.

I think MetaTalk is the most toxic part of Metafilter. I love metafilter, specifically the green, but also get value from the blue. But I read the grey because I can't look away - it's like slowing down to watch a car crash. Site status updates, sure - that makes sense here. The never-ending discussions of how things are moderated, how things are ableist, racist, full of micro-aggressions, etc - I get the need to have one's point heard and discussions can lead to us learning and improving, but this is a toxic pile-on of a way to do it.

I work for a large company that is, to be frank, hated by a very large number of people. Why and how aren't important here. But our community managers watch the socials, take that feedback when it makes sense, and let the rants exist on a platform other than their own. But they absolutely do not engage. If there's something to be replied to, the folks responsible for communication do so on their appropriate forums. I think metafilter needs a version of this, scaled down appropriately for the size of the site.

I'm gonna get so much heat for this, but if you have an issue -- contact the the mods directly, or take it to twitter and reddit. Know that folks are listening, and will respond if needed (or possible). If you don't like it - leave. It's what is happening already anyway. But having these toxic conversations that cause so much anger and stress right on one of the site's landing pages? That's just not healthy, and at this point no longer productive either.
posted by cgg at 9:25 AM on August 22 [17 favorites]


I don't really understand having conversations about the site with the intention of achieving change that are off the site. I guess if you just want to vent then it makes sense to take it somewhere else, but Metatalk is here so we can discuss the site. There's already a drop off between the number of people who go to MeTa versus the green or blue, so adding another layer by moving it offsite seems like we would just be further limiting who is in those conversations.
posted by brilliantine at 9:55 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]


That kind of culture is one that I'm sort of useful to as a default, at this point, so it's sort of surprising to me to see pointing out -isms positioned as saying "other people involved were awful" — that's not how I conceive of that at all. Looking at what people are saying here and (especially) on Reddit, though, it seems like it's common to equate those things.

I think a lot of that is generational. My impression is that generally the youngs (and I'm avoiding choosing specific named generations here on purpose) are much more comfortable with the idea that they can occasionally do insensitive things, be called out on them and then legitimately plan to do better in the future and still be a good person, while the olds (and I would include myself as a mid-40s person among the olds in this equation) are much more likely to react as if being told we committed a microaggression means we are (or have been accused of being) a racist, terrible person who can never be redeemed.

I have been slowly shifting my mindset on this issue, but it has been difficult. I am now at the point where I can usually ignore the racist terrible person alarms ringing in the back of my head and respond as if I am comfortable with the idea that I can occasionally do insensitive things, be called out on them and legitimately plan to do better in the future and still be a good person. But that's not quite the same thing as not hearing the alarms in the first place.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:08 PM on August 22 [14 favorites]


Is there still a rule against re-litigating AskMe threads and deleted comments in MetaTalk? The gray thread in question seemed to take a bad turn when it became the place where everyone put all the things they weren't allowed to say in the original green, and ratcheted it up. And it became less and less about policy.
posted by meowzilla at 12:30 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


... a culture of making vague, generalised statements when people have particular issues and people in mind, and that it's not helpful.
Very often it leads to misunderstanding as the very people who are being defended by the vague statement, think it's aimed at them and get angry and defensive in turn.
The person who is the actual target either remains utterly oblivious that they are the bad actor according to the vague comment, or they know very well who is meant, and feel extra aggrieved by what seems like a passive aggressive attack.


This. I feel like it used to be the norm on MeTa to be specific about calling out perceived bad behaviour along the lines of 'x user said y (linked) and I don't like it and here's why'. Even when people more recently are specific about their actual concern (not that often), they seem reluctant to point the finger at anyone in particular. It seems this often leads to misunderstanding about what the issue is, with lots of guessing and finger pointing in all directions and the inevitable drama. If a specific comment/s by a specific user/s is problematic for you, say exactly that so a whole bunch of people don't get fingers pointed at them for no reason.
posted by dg at 2:52 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


I think that the vagueness, rather than more direct call-outs, leads to broad escalation and has made things worse.

I also think that people who jump in with inside jokes from the dawn of Metafilter, general snark, or satirical comments add to the overal sense of aggro that can lead to the last straw for those who button.

I also also think that the nature of metatalk is far more likely to encourage a sense that you have to announce your buttoning rather than just quietly deciding you're done after a jerkish comment in one of the other sections. By which I mean I don't think that Metafilter necesssarily causes more buttoning, but rather it makes it much more visible.
posted by TwoStride at 3:27 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


it used to be the norm on MeTa to be specific about calling out perceived bad behaviour along the lines of 'x user said y (linked) and I don't like it and here's why'

I’m just one person, but I would really not like to see posts like this on MetaTalk. In thread? Sure. But if the problem with MetaTalk is that emotions run too high and people feel called out, making a post titled “look what so-and-so did!” is really not going to solve it.

No matter how vague a post may be, you know if it’s something you do or not. If it is something you do, adjust. If it’s not, don’t worry about it, and don’t be a gossip about other people.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:32 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


making a post titled “look what so-and-so did!” is really not going to solve it.

That has not been suggested.

I understand that you're reacting and objecting to a tone that could crop up in such posts, but I think this is a (mild) example of the behavior some folks are talking about, of people assuming the worst about anyone or any comment they don't agree with. I feel like this happened a lot in the demographics thread, too, where people were jumping to conclusions about what other posters meant or what they were suggesting rather than either (a) just asking for clarification or (b) stating their underlying concerns. And so then the extreme-interpretations snowball in each interaction and suddenly it's a debate between privacy-invading-corporate-overlords and White supremacists.

If we could avoid doing this, where we assume we know that someone else's suggestion is the worst possible version of that suggestion we can imagine and then starting from that assumption in our response, I think that would help a great deal.
posted by lapis at 3:46 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


I hadn't read through the whole MeTa thread linked at the start of this one …

The gray thread in question …


As I said in the OP, this issue is not about any single thread. This is about a pattern. There is no thread in question.
posted by NotLost at 4:08 PM on August 22


That has not been suggested.

The comment just above line said “calling out perceived bad behaviour along the lines of 'x user said y (linked)…’” That’s not a bad faith interpretation; that’s the literal text of the comment.

I’m now violating my own suggestion, and we’ve turned the thread into what the original post was trying to avoid, so that’s cool.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:57 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


'x user said y (linked) and I don't like it and here's why are different words than look what so-and-so did!
posted by lapis at 5:03 PM on August 22


I'm the one that wrote 'x user said y (linked) and I don't like it and here's why' and, while I understand the concern about personal call-outs, my view is that it would be less problematic (acknowledging the possibility of bad framing making it read nasty, along the lines of 'look what so-and-so did', which I agree would not be acceptable framing) than a vaguely-worded 'I don't like it when people do [hand-wavey thing]' because, as others have mentioned, the 'people' actually doing the hand-wavey thing are often oblivious or don't care and others will assume it's them being called out and react to what amounts to nothing. If you have a problem with a specific repeated behaviour, point it out in a way that everyone can understand the problem rather than making up what they think it might be. Make a case for the issue based on repeated behaviour and state it as clearly as you can, then the diversion into never-never land of assumptions is less likely to happen.
posted by dg at 5:12 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


I'm the one that wrote 'x user said y (linked) and I don't like it and here's why'

I think the proper social behavior should be reaching out to the user privately and if that doesn't work to perhaps escalate the behavior. I can count on one hand the number of times I've ever had to send a message to someone and everyone has been exceedingly nice and usually it was just a misunderstanding. I think when people are not pinned against the wall in a public forum you'll get a better response.

I don't know why people are afraid to talk to each other anymore.
posted by geoff. at 5:18 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]


I think the idea that pointing out ableism or misogyny is a personal attack is a big part of why things sometimes get more heated than they should.

Yes. And addressing the characteristics of the behavior vs. commenting on the nature of the person and taking a little care to make that distinction clear can go a long way. It requires something of the person making initial comment on someone else's behavior, and it requires something of the person hearing it and responding when an effort is made to separate what they did or said from who they are.

I recently chatted with someone who caught a deletion for calling someone a hypocrite.

"But their behavior was hypocritical!"

Sure, but there's a difference between "that behavior was hypocritical" and "you're a hypocrite." So, too, is there a difference between "that kind of thinking is misogynist" (or even "that's a line of thought I've heard in misogynist circles,") and "you're a misogynist."

Taking care with these choices is important because language about racism, sexism, misogyny, etc. is not as completely settled across as many groups as people like to believe. For instance, "racism" and "sexism" respectively mean "Nazi" or "Klansman" and "unrepentant male chauvinist pig" to a lot of people. You can't wish that away if you want to be understood or have any agenda other than punishing or shaming someone. If this is going to be a place where the members get to punish or shame each other and the mod team's view is that some people just need to get punished or shamed, it won't last.

I was certified to facilitate a particular kind of ally skills workshop and delivered a number of them to people in the tech industry, both in general sessions and also in sessions targeted at more senior manager types. The framework we used spent a lot of time sweating these distinctions because it was super easy to completely lose the room expecting people to just jump, conceptually, to slide 15 of the deck before they got to see and hear some ideas laid out, and even get a chance to push back.

For instance, a lot of them needed to hear me say things like "I know that even though good allyship is something I think about a lot and try to be mindful of, I still realize sometimes that I've got sexist ideas." The slide that gave everyone the most heartburn was the one suggesting usages besides "crazy" or "insane," and we often had to just cut off the processing and pull a "for our purposes in this workshop" to move things along. All of that time was a good investment, though, in helping make ourselves understood to people who just hadn't been exposed to the ideas with any rigor or detail before.

Also, people who use social justice language a lot and think about social justice a lot forget their own journeys, and also -- in my observation as someone who facilitated sessions with better versed allies in the mix -- tend to use neutral or less judgmental language for themselves when describing their journey ("I had a lot of sexist thoughts" or "I'd internalized a lot of racist thinking") and were not always as charitable or careful to pick apart the cultural conditioning from the, I dunno, moral state of the person reflecting the conditioning, and they'd use far more violent, judgmental language to describe people they'd encountered, whom they would describe as "a racist" or "a sexist" or "a misogynist." We'd gently steer back to the behavior instead of the moral, political, philosophical, or theoretical state of the human.

I suppose I also want to add that I was doing all this during the period White Fragility was making its way from relatively obscure paper of several dozen pages to bestseller. We didn't tend to have the big fragile meltdowns, and I think that is in part due to the wisdom of the person who wrote our curriculum and chose not to do the whole shock therapy thing some DE&I facilitators favor.

I don't have any policy prescriptions to offer for the moderation team, but I think these are things they ought to be thinking about when they're performing their "UN blue helmet" role in a thread gone wrong, and assessing a post in the first place. If a vote came up, I would vote in favor of "a personal attack is a personal attack and nobody gets a pass," and I'd vote in favor of "if a person took a modicum of care to tease out the behavior from the human, people who can't make that distinction should get a time out and piece of boilerplate explaining the distinction."
posted by mph at 5:33 PM on August 22 [13 favorites]


I think a big chunk of how "-ist" declarations get framed has to do with the manner of the person saying it. "I am LIVID at the racist horseshit I have to deal with from you" is going to come across differently from "I get what you're trying to say, but possibly you haven't considered this dimension to what you're saying, which is pretty racist, even if you didn't mean it that way."

Again, I think that intense emotions and dismissiveness are the issues that recur again and again, regardless of whether it's expressed via "racist/ableist/etc" or by other means. For me, the question is: should a user be allowed to get publicly furious and vent at another user? Should a user be allowed to tell another user that, for XYZ reasons, nobody else should pay attention to or respect anything that they just said? Because if public fury is allowed, people are going to spiral into anger, and if it's acceptable to claim that people's thoughts ought to be dismissed altogether, you'll get a mix of some users feeling sour when it happens to them, and other users being a bit too trigger-happy in dismissing others.

I feel like these are the two elephants in the room where "acceptable behavior" is concerned. And I think they got shepherded in, in part, as a response to how commonplace tone arguments were, and how frequently threads spiraled into infuriating reiterations of 101-level discussions as certain people brought up problematic or dogwhistle talking points again and again and again.

It's important to establish norms by not allowing dogwhistles and 101-level stall-outs, or giving oblivious people the rights to walk into conversations about heated issues and derail them endlessly. Otherwise, the only responses will be angry and dismissive, and for good reason. But I think it's important to establish that anger and dismissal are really not conducive to healthy community, and that the goal has to be to avoid the stuff that leads there while simultaneously trying to nudge the idea that, hypothetically, we all like and respect (or at least tolerate) one another. When it's completely acceptable to drastically raise the heat and draw lines between positions as "sides," things go haywire, and people wind up either demanding that the site officially mark their position as "correct" or storming off altogether. (From my limited perspective, that appears to be true of virtually every stance anybody's ever taken on any subject, though I try not to burrow too deeply into MetaTalk and can't cite sources there.)
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 6:02 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


For me, the question is: should a user be allowed to get publicly furious and vent at another user?

In theory: maybe, in the right circumstances? But not frequently. And unfortunately that means that, in a discussion forum with more than a handful of users, the real answer is "no". If everyone is allowed to dump their rage on another user "once in a while", the site ends up with a constant level of furor being delivered by a rotating cast of users.

This, to me, is one of the fundamental shifts required for site culture to improve. People need to recognize that being a righteous asshole is still being an asshole, and even the righteous get their targets wrong at times. I also think we need to stop being so afraid of a hypothetical bad faith tone argument being made that we demand users pretend tone doesn't actually exist when another user rage dumps on them.

Tone is a real thing. It matters. It's hard to build a healthy community while pretending it doesn't. And yes, we shouldn't take [pick an actual bad faith actor group] seriously when they disingenuously whine about the way a message is delivered, but that doesn't mean there's no such thing as a disproportionate response, even from someone who has a good point.

We can be kind to one another, and we can take actual concerns seriously, without accepting a site culture that normalizes and rewards the constant escalation of conflict.
posted by a faithful sock at 6:53 PM on August 22 [21 favorites]


We can be kind to one another, and we can take actual concerns seriously, without accepting a site culture that normalizes and rewards the constant escalation of conflict.

I wonder if some of the middle ground is stopping the tone debates when someone's upset. Take the content of the complaint seriously if it warrants, also ask the upset user to take some space to breathe, and shut down the endless variations on "I would have listened if you'd said it nicely." Because I think there's also issues where people haven't been particularly inflammatory but people react as if they were, even in good faith, and then we lose the substance of some absolutely valid issues because we get stuck in tone arguments.

I wouldn't want this to apply to comments that are absolutely abusive, though we'd need agreement on what that means. I also wouldn't want it to become a "one free pass" to being nasty to other users.
posted by lapis at 7:15 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]


In theory: maybe, in the right circumstances? But not frequently. And unfortunately that means that, in a discussion forum with more than a handful of users, the real answer is "no". If everyone is allowed to dump their rage on another user "once in a while", the site ends up with a constant level of furor being delivered by a rotating cast of users

This is the most concise synopsis of the Roman Senate.
The frequency of the rage.
Tone is a real thing. IMO, the most important aspect. But it is not the metatalk of old as someone described above. but there is one aspect of the older threads, when it really got out of control, someone might make a joke or kind remark and that would really change the tone maybe not all of it but if it changed just a little bit then it was for the better. no moderation, no flags. and there's only one common denominator I can think of that enhances that and that would be time.
posted by clavdivs at 9:13 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


No matter how vague a post may be, you know if it’s something you do or not.

Nope! I don't and I'm sure I'm not the only one 🙂 I'm often oblivious of how I come across, and extra worried that I might be doing something wrong without realising it.

Probably because I am from a wildly different cultural context than most people here, but that's not the only reason that happens.

I agree it would be a mistake to have a situation where people make new posts on the Metatalk aimed at particular people eg " Zumbador keeps dragging neurodivergent issues into every discussion"

That would be better dealt with through a mod or as a direct message.

But a post like "Can we not make everything about Neurodivergence" with a link to one of my comments as an example of a broad trend, and calling me out in the thread directly, "Zumbador, I'm sure it's all very new and exciting to you but you are part of a pattern on this site which is harmful for x and y reasons" would be much better.
posted by Zumbador at 9:28 PM on August 22 [5 favorites]


Hm, well I seem to be in the minority, and that's fine, but I can't think of a thing I would like this site to be less. I have learned plenty from "Can we stop doing X, generally" posts in the grey. Sometimes I've been (one of) the people doing the thing. This is just to say: I don't have a solution.
posted by ctmf at 12:35 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


I don't think you are in the minority, ctmf, and I definitely would not enjoy being called out directly in this way.

It would be very stressful! But isn't that my own problem to manage? Hopefully I would respond in a civil way.

Maybe that's the rub. Are we maintaining the level of civility there is, (thin though it may be) by not being quite so direct?

I'm learning to deal with conflict, and part of that seems to be speaking clearly and directly, and accepting that might make others angry. Hugely uncomfortable for me.
posted by Zumbador at 2:05 AM on August 23


Speaking for myself, I don't want to call out people specifically, except when they've done something egregious. I'm a bit baffled at the support expressed for being personally specific — in my experience, that ends up making it as much about the person as the behavior. However, I'd be more willing to see being personally specific as a good thing if there was great care and consideration in how the criticism is expressed. I don't think you can productively have the former without the latter.

A big problem with being specific is that it's much easier to notice patterns: that a particular person criticizes another person repeatedly. Certainly the target will notice this. But other people will, too, and over time that makes easily identifiable cliques more likely to appear.

In my own life — except when setting needed boundaries — I try to be obliquely critical, even to the extent of pointedly criticizing myself. I try to do that here when I'm calling out patterns of behavior, partly because I always try to be self-aware and avoid hypocrisy, but also because using my own mistakes as examples emphasizes that the criticism is about the behavior and not about the person.

Conversely, I do try to be personally specific in my praise. This is most especially the case in situations where someone has taken a risk or otherwise not taken the easy way out. I think public admission of errors and apologies are courageous, and far too rare, and it's important to me to publicly, positively acknowledge them.

In my opinion, there's an unavoidable tension between the conflict-avoiding, productive social niceties of "tone" and social justice. Those who lack privilege are expected to default to this, while those with privilege can ignore it with little consequence. Misuse of privilege results in these niceties leveraged to reinforce privilege and injustice. Yes, all things being equal, being considerate and diplomatic and assuming good-faith produces much better discussion and outcomes . . . but in practice all things are rarely equal. For this to work where there's systemic inequality and a mix of those with privilege and those who lack privilege, it's essential that those with privilege (in a given context) be self-aware and avoid weaponizing these practices as a means of protecting their privilege. Given that often what's going on is a call-out of an abuse of privilege, you end up with a catch-22.

I don't know how to reconcile this tension except incrementally. I do think it's possible through increasing community awareness and cultivating good habits. But it's not something that changes overnight or merely by fiat.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:16 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


(I'm commenting a lot on this thread, hope that's not a problem)

Ivan Fyodorovich those are very good points.

My impression, when reading through fighty conversations here, especially the ones about calling out, is that everyone feels that they are being silenced.

When someone is told that they sound too angry, that person usually feels that is a way to avoid dealing with the point they were making.

When someone is told to just accept that something they said is abelist, racist, homophobic, sexist, etc, and that the only acceptable response is an apology, they also feel silenced.

It's not always easy to tell who has more privilege.

I have an immense amount of privilege as a white, educated, middle class person, and I tend to respond to being called out with a fair amount of fragility, that is, I get instantly defensive and angry before I'm able to take the time to reflect whether or not I'm actually in the wrong.

But I'm also autistic and non binary, and only recently realised that I was accepting accusations of being dishonest, rude, a gender traitor and so on, accusations rooted in prejudiced, ignorance and abelism.

By "just apologising for stepping on toes" I have been harming myself by accepting those judgements. And not standing up for others like me.

So I don't know what the answer is either.
posted by Zumbador at 9:19 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


quoting myself from not too long ago ...

my not entirely inexperienced take on this is that one's political goals are indivisible from one's tactics*. If you're willing to utilize force-ridicule-violence to achieve your ends, don't be surprised that things end up forceful, ridiculous, violent.

So I guess I'm arguing that one way to make this place more pleasant, less threatening, more tolerant for everybody is to take an overall dim view of the notion that high minded ends will somehow justify unpleasantness, intolerance etc. In other words -- let's endeavour to be intolerant of assholism, regardless of what wing or faction or ideology it's claiming to serve.

* ends do sometimes seem to justify means in situations of war, but who the hell wants this place to be a war zone?


On review, that * at the end is doing some heavy lifting. Or as Ivan put it --

Yes, all things being equal, being considerate and diplomatic and assuming good-faith produces much better discussion and outcomes . . . but in practice all things are rarely equal.

I guess what I'd genuinely like to see happen more here is for users to lean toward the impression that none of us here (particularly deep inside a Meta) are bad actors. This is not a war zone. We're not trying to destroy each other. If it suddenly feels that way to me, maybe it's time I disengaged for a while, went for a walk, worked on my breathing ...
posted by philip-random at 9:03 AM on August 24 [5 favorites]


I almost never read MeTas anymore - believe me, however strongly any of you feel about the subsite, you weren't required by the terms of your employment to read every contentious MeTa for almost ten years - but I have a couple of points I want to make.

On buttonings: it's important to note that MeTa is literally the only subsite in which you can announce that you're leaving because you're mad. If it happens somewhere else, say, on the Blue, we would delete it. (Dunno if that's still true, but it was true during my tenure.) So of course it looks like this is the place that causes the most buttonings. I don't think it's true at all - most people who close their accounts either don't say why, even in the private space available, or were involved in a conversation on another subsite that seemed relevant - but since there's no, like, scrolling banner of who's buttoned, that's invisible to the community.

On threading: proposing changing to threaded comments is a huge enormous site-dynamic-changing alteration. It changes everything. It's my opinion that it's much too huge a change for an established site, let alone a site old enough to vote. Personally, I find threaded comments nigh-unreadable, and would leave Metafilter forever with great sadness. I couldn't read Livejournal comments and I really don't understand how people follow conversations on Reddit. I think it's a change that would largely abandon the audience the site has in favor of an audience that is already well-served elsewhere.

On MeTa in general: during the nine months or so in which I managed operations, I tried very hard to do more facilitating of MetaTalks, and I think that did help. The biggest problem is that without someone with some kind of official status coming in regularly to say "I see these arguments, these points have been made for and against, here's the expectation you can have as a result", there's never any closure. No one wins the argument, no one feels like they've said enough, and everyone yells at each other because other community members are the only people handy to yell at.

That said, it was definitely the hardest and most time-consuming part of that job (in which I was not taking moderation shifts; I was just doing behind-the-scenes work and MeTa.) I've seen the Transition Team doing this kind of work collectively and I applaud them for it, and hope the Steering Committee has the resources to do some of it, but do not be mistaken - it is work. If MeTa gets better, it's going to be because the site governance structure makes room and allocates resources for that work to get done. I hope they do!

This isn't a problem with a technical solution. This is a problem of conflict resolution in a community more than large enough for the simplest conflict resolution structures to be irrelevant. Government is hard, y'all. I've been delighted to see that work get spread out more, and I hope that helps, because there is never going to be a silver bullet that makes a couple thousand people suddenly get along smoothly with one another.
posted by restless_nomad (retired) at 12:03 PM on August 27 [31 favorites]


On threading: proposing changing to threaded comments is a huge enormous site-dynamic-changing alteration. It changes everything. It's my opinion that it's much too huge a change for an established site, let alone a site old enough to vote. Personally, I find threaded comments nigh-unreadable, and would leave Metafilter forever with great sadness.

Quoted for truth. I've tried reading Redit, I really have, but I find it impossible to figure out where the new comments are.
posted by DanSachs at 2:09 PM on August 27 [8 favorites]


Bless you and thank you RN, for chiming in!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:40 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


The biggest problem is that without someone with some kind of official status coming in regularly to say "I see these arguments, these points have been made for and against, here's the expectation you can have as a result", there's never any closure.

I'd also like to note that the farther the display of comments is from chronological, the worse these summative comments would be able to work. I'm very comfortable with Reddit, and this is a key weakness for it. Most platforms for conversation just don't have an explicit way for one comment to tie together multiple sub-conversations, but that capability is essential for MetaTalk (and it's nice for other subsites, too).
posted by Jpfed at 9:57 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


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