Site Update March 29, 2023 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Following up on some concerns raised in MetaTalk threads from a few weeks ago about the role of the Steering Committee and having volunteers working for a for-profit company. This is not the outcome we were hoping for, but it's the one we got.

I heard from legal counsel on Sunday night who advised me to stop having volunteers (aka the Steering Committee) doing work for MetaFilter. They also felt that there would be some ways to restructure to make this kind of model work.

I did not post sooner because I needed to have conversations with the SC and with staff about what this meant for them.

What this means in the short term:

- No changes to staffing or to the BIPOC Board are expected.
- The SC is not going away, we just need to iron out the compliance part for them to be able to contribute in the long run. SC elections are on hold. Thanks to everyone who stepped up to help with this.
- I will keep working on ways to restore MeFi to a community-governance model because that is what everyone, including me, wants. This will likely involve consultation with outside experts. This will likely occur more slowly than people, including me, want and I ask for your patience.
- The Steering Committee will still maintain their communication networks and access but will not do work for the site. The specific parameters will be the subject of a follow-up conversation with my lawyer. They have done amazing work and literally saved the site from the precarious place it was when I stepped in. They deserve all the gratitude here.

I'm here to answer questions, though please understand there are some things I can't talk about and many things not yet known.
posted by jessamyn (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 2:26 PM (89 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

Thanks for posting this, jessamyn, and letting us know what was going on. I imagine none of this has been easy and you keeping the site going means a tremendous amount.

Thank you, Steering Committee and other volunteers, for keeping the lights on. You were handed an extraordinarily difficult task and succeeded far above and beyond what anyone could've expected.
posted by curious nu at 2:40 PM on March 29, 2023 [42 favorites]




Thank you so much for providing this update, Jessamyn, and for everything you're doing, visible and unseen, to sustain MetaFilter and move it to more solid footing.

I'm sorry the lawyer's answer was not what you all were hoping to hear, but it's good to have more certainty, anyway.

I hope we all can help step up and provide extra funding to pay people to do the work that needs to be done.

Seconding curious nu in thanking you, everyone on the Steering Committee, and all the MetaFilter volunteers who have helped so much.
posted by kristi at 3:00 PM on March 29, 2023 [9 favorites]


Thank you for the update, Jessamyn, and thank you to the SC and all of the volunteers who have helped in the transition and financial crisis. It’s good to know what’s going on. Fingers crossed for finding a way forward.
posted by cupcakeninja at 3:22 PM on March 29, 2023 [5 favorites]


Thank you Jessamyn and the Steering Committee, who really have done heroic work to keep this place running.

I look forward to the process of figuring out what community governance looks like for MeFi and what kind of roles we want and need going forward. I think it will be an interesting opportunity for everyone to figure out some shared values and priorities and work on the fundamental question of what it means to keep this piece of the web alive in an era where the internet is increasingly a very different sort of place.
posted by zachlipton at 3:26 PM on March 29, 2023 [13 favorites]


Good work! Lawyers are paid to give you answers you don't want to hear but which keep you out of trouble.

Thanks also to all the commenters who raised this issue as a potential problem; being the voice of caution during times of enthusiasm isn't always easy or appreciated.
posted by benzenedream at 3:32 PM on March 29, 2023 [61 favorites]


Thanks for finding out!

As a follow-up question, did the lawyer have any guidelines for what "work" is?

Also, the BIPOC board is paid for their time; is that an option for the SC?
posted by zompist at 3:52 PM on March 29, 2023 [3 favorites]


Adding my thanks to the pile and waiting patiently for things to resolve at a slower pace than we'd all like.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 3:55 PM on March 29, 2023 [3 favorites]


Two, four, six, eight
Who do we appreciate?
LAWYERSSSSS!!!

Not sarcasm! Glad you are getting some good help!
posted by HotToddy at 4:10 PM on March 29, 2023 [3 favorites]


This is not the outcome we were hoping for, but it's the one we got.

I mean, “The last vestiges of progressive American labor law still has enough teeth to protect the exploitation of Labor“ is more or less exactly the outcome I personally want, and I would hope a lot of MeFites would agree.
posted by bowbeacon at 4:48 PM on March 29, 2023 [45 favorites]


To Buntastic, Miko, gd779 and any other members who flagged the potential legal issues: thank you for your service!

Addressing these issues is a significant step toward ensuring Metafilter’s ongoing viability.
posted by lumpy at 5:02 PM on March 29, 2023 [25 favorites]


I hugely appreciate your transparency here, jessamyn, and your choice to take this problem seriously enough to ask the lawyers. Good luck in finding a solution that keeps MeFi, MeFi, but also keeps you (and us) safe.
posted by eirias at 5:28 PM on March 29, 2023 [15 favorites]


Thanks for the update! It is great to hear that there seems to be a way forward that does work. All things considered, it seems like a good time to implement things that get the site on firm footing for a cooperative model. Big thanks to the first SC for getting us here!
posted by snofoam at 6:37 PM on March 29, 2023 [3 favorites]


I'm glad to see you got a definitive answer, and are looking at a way forward. The site will be stronger for everything that is happening now.
posted by rpfields at 7:30 PM on March 29, 2023 [6 favorites]


- I will keep working on ways to restore MeFi to a community-governance model because that is what everyone, including me, wants. This will likely involve consultation with outside experts. This will likely occur more slowly than people, including me, want and I ask for your patience.

This is why when I learned that the new site owner was jessamyn my reaction was 🎉
posted by aniola at 8:05 PM on March 29, 2023 [29 favorites]


Seconded! The site is in the right hands.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:56 AM on March 30, 2023 [6 favorites]


I think this could end up a good thing if it lets us improve the processes.

First thing: don't let another funding crisis creep up. If there's going to be an annual Summer Fundraiser, someone should be planning for it as far in advance as possible.

Second thing: responsibilities for volunteers or SC members have got to be clearly defined.

As someone who runs a small team, one thing I have to do for junior developers is to try to stop them working evenings and weekends. Capitalism isn't just about evil bosses forcing their subordinates to do things. Everyone has internalized values from living under it. The juniors "know" that they're supposed to hustle and grind: I don't have to force them to do it, I have to try to stop them doing it. If you don't set boundaries and responsibilities it doesn't make you a "cool boss" who's not pressuring people. It means you are putting people under the stress of uncertainty. Some people will self-motivate to do a reasonable amount of work under those circumstances: others will feel anxiety and that will push them to do too much.

If a junior works too hard I can easily justify myself by saying "I didn't tell you to work all weekend". But what I ought to have done is explicitly told them not to, or better still extended the deadline so that they don't have to. To do that I have to stay on top of what they're actually doing, and what they're supposed to be doing. Even in a voluntary, non-hierarchical organisation that's a coordination task which somebody has to do.

This "the role is what you make of it" stuff has to stop. If someone has particular skills and volunteers to do a particular thing: great! But that's what they do and no more.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:53 AM on March 30, 2023 [17 favorites]


Thank you, jessamyn for this update. Wishing you the best and much strength,
posted by 15L06 at 3:17 AM on March 30, 2023 [2 favorites]


I'm relieved. The situation, once pointed out, felt really wrong to me (volunteers for a For Profit), and the mission creep of what the SC was supposed to do felt wrong too. I look forward to a different approach.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:09 AM on March 30, 2023 [12 favorites]


While this is disappointing, it's also not a huge shock. The idea of transitioning to a non-profit or other community-run model has been kicking around for years, but the foot-dragging on it was never about monetizing MeFi for profit. It was always more "there doesn't seem to be a good way to do this." What a surprise that in the USA a community can't legally own and govern itself! I am glad the site ownership is in the hands of the most trustworthy steward one could imagine, and I'm sure there will be any number of creative ideas about how to make this work. If we have to register as a church, I'm happy to help design the habits.
posted by rikschell at 5:19 AM on March 30, 2023 [12 favorites]


Ah, a bummer. I am also not super surprised but I'm glad y'all are taking it seriously and figuring out how to set something up that doesn't open Metafilter up to liability.
posted by restless_nomad (retired) at 6:49 AM on March 30, 2023 [7 favorites]


Incredibly proud of the maturity of response to first go to a lawyer and second actually act on the legal advice. Thank you for doing the right thing here, jessamyn!
posted by Bottlecap at 7:52 AM on March 30, 2023 [7 favorites]


Pretty much the main reason I haven’t gotten involved in any volunteering stuff here was my spidey sense going off about this issue. I didn’t have the terminology or wording to express my gut’s concerns so when it came up in the previous thread I was really pleased. I’m gratified that you are taking steps to do things the best ways you can and consulting professionals. Hopefully once things have been addressed my volunteer exploitation spidey sense won’t be blaring and folks like me can lend Mefi our time.
posted by Mizu at 8:22 AM on March 30, 2023 [7 favorites]


As mentioned in other threads, I think it is worth exploring whether a "Friends of MetaFilter" NFP/501(c)(3) could be a helpful mechanism here. I don't pretend to know all of the rules around this, but some googling suggests that it may be permissible for a NFP/501(c)(3) to make grants to a for-profit business, so long the purposes of the NFP/501(c)(3) are appropriate. Also, it would be fun to be a member of "Friends of Metafilter."
posted by Mid at 10:30 AM on March 30, 2023 [10 favorites]



As a follow-up question, did the lawyer have any guidelines for what "work" is?
Jessamyn is still working through this with the lawyer, this will likely take a while, but it will help us a lot to achieve better structure and will allow us to plan and organize better.

Also, the BIPOC board is paid for their time; is that an option for the SC?
This has been discussed in the past. Thanks to the SC's help with both fundraising and budgeting we have way better finances now and ideally, we will soon be at a point where this can happen. For now, we need to work though the compliance component regardless and keep working on sustainability for the site in the long term.
posted by loup (staff) at 10:31 AM on March 30, 2023 [10 favorites]


Thanks so much for working on this and for your transparency.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:58 AM on March 30, 2023 [6 favorites]


Also, it would be fun to be a member of "Friends of Metafilter."

I personally love this idea and will look into whether it's practicable along with other ideas. I just want to let people know that I hear them and that I appreciate the people who brought up this issue initially as something needing attention, even though it was difficult.

This is maybe the hardest post I have ever made to MetaTalk. Thank you so much for your kindness.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:15 PM on March 30, 2023 [102 favorites]


I just want to openly complain that it is a bizarre and unfortunate world where people cannot volunteer for anything they want to volunteer for. Good luck and godspeed Jessamyn and MeFi.
posted by fake at 12:30 PM on March 30, 2023 [8 favorites]


Thanks to everyone involved for having, and doing, the difficult work of keeping this place moving forward in a healthy way, especially the challenging conversations and decisions.
posted by nubs at 12:44 PM on March 30, 2023 [2 favorites]


"I just want to openly complain that it is a bizarre and unfortunate world where people cannot volunteer for anything they want to volunteer for."

Yes, it really is unfortunate and bizarre that I can't volunteer to work at Chipotle, or that companies can't make their hourly employees come in on a saturday to "volunteer" for eight hours, or that the friends of the children of a family that runs a landscaping business can't "volunteer" to spend a few hours cutting lawns.
posted by jonathanhughes at 12:53 PM on March 30, 2023 [28 favorites]


"I don't think that's what fake was talking about. I'm not the boss of you or anything, but given the circumstances, I suggest we maybe take it down a notch and solve america's fucked up labor issues in another thread."

It sure seems like what was being talked about, but regardless, thankfully one labor issue we don't need to solve in this or any other thread is that there are regulations that prevent companies from getting free labor. And if you were the boss of me, neither of us would be doing the work for free.
posted by jonathanhughes at 1:11 PM on March 30, 2023 [5 favorites]


Speaking as one of the said volunteers, I wouldn’t have agreed to participate if it had been a paid position. While I was willing to donate my time and expertise to the site, there is no way I could have been paid enough to do it as a job. I can’t speak for anyone else on the Steering Committee, of course.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:11 PM on March 30, 2023 [15 favorites]


I don't think that's what fake was talking about

Of course it wasn't, but that's why the laws are there. That's not a "fucked up labor issue"; that's exactly the problem the laws are there to solve. "If men were angels..."
posted by kevinbelt at 1:18 PM on March 30, 2023 [10 favorites]


I'd hazard a guess that most people here would agree with a statement like "state and federal labour laws in the U.S. should be tougher than they are now," but notwithstanding that, the site owner's decision to comply with existing ones that apply to Metafilter based on its current state, and based on legal advice she's solicited and received, is a good one, and mitigates a real risk.

Of course it's disappointing and upsetting in terms of the site's newfound ability to harness volunteer work and advice to support it, and it's understandable that it seems needlessly bureaucratic to stop that work in its current form.

One of the logjams that Jessamyn broke was the willingness of the site to take on the volunteer assistance that people had been enthusiastically offering for ages, but who had been, quite frankly, dismissed out of hand in the past.

Having this relatively new effort stopped short (especially at a critical time for the site's survival) in this particular way creates a whole new set of problems.

At the same time, though, having a clear (if disappointing) picture of the legal issues involved as things stand now is at least the starting point for having a constructive discussion about what solutions to this could realistically look like.

As Jessamyn put it, "They [legal counsel] also felt that there would be some ways to restructure to make this kind of model work."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:43 PM on March 30, 2023 [7 favorites]


Just rename the volunteers to be "Interns" and give them class credit.

Joking not joking, there are numerous industries that have a steady non-volunteer (not paid) workforce. Film, documentary, fashion.

(sorry this is a strain on Jessamyn, I was working on a joke about SC granting her a huge golden parachute to save us from a muskian takeover, but couldn't quirk it up funny enough, although a good idea:)
posted by sammyo at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2023 [1 favorite]


I remember a couple decades ago there was a pizza place in Portland, Oregon that had a homeless man wear a sandwich board in front of the restaurant, advertising them in exchange for free pizza. Briefly, because it was illegal. Metafilter volunteers obviously were not coerced in any way, but the law that covers one of these ends up covering both, I guess, since otherwise it would be harder to apply the law in cases that are clearly wrong.
posted by snofoam at 1:48 PM on March 30, 2023 [1 favorite]


I hope we can find a not-too-painful way through this.

I think someone brought this up in another thread on the topic, but what is the implication of this vis-a-vis volunteer mods at Reddit? Isn't Reddit a for-profit business that is actually profiting (in a way that MeFi isn't) and may be out of compliance with labor laws?
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 1:55 PM on March 30, 2023 [1 favorite]


I think Reddit is a platform where people can create their own subreddits and then manage them. Sort of like having a blog hosted somewhere doesn’t make you a volunteer for the company hosting it.
posted by snofoam at 1:59 PM on March 30, 2023 [7 favorites]


I remember a couple decades ago there was a pizza place in Portland, Oregon that had a homeless man wear a sandwich board in front of the restaurant, advertising them in exchange for free pizza. Briefly, because it was illegal.

Yeah, that was Pizza Schmizza; early 2000s, I was working downtown at the time. I'm pretty certain the real reason that plan didn't last is that it quickly shuttered by the company after basically everybody in town told them it was fucked up and exploitative on the face of it. The question of the actual legality of it probably never finished tying its shoes in the morning, because "hey don't fucking used the living breathing unhoused people as props in a marketing stunt" came down from the court of public opinion loud and clear and pretty much immediately. It'd be a fucked up thing to do even if it was ruled legal, in the same way that some clearly non-exploitative, genuinely voluntary volunteer things can still be legally messy or worse. The law exists an an imperfect model for regulating and safeguarding against known wrongs; we have it because the imperfect is far better than nothing, but it's still just a tool and sometimes an overly blunt one.

One of the logjams that Jessamyn broke was the willingness of the site to take on the volunteer assistance that people had been enthusiastically offering for ages, but who had been, quite frankly, dismissed out of hand in the past.

I'll have to take my lumps on public perception because I can't really do anything about what people took away from my time running things, and I know the lack of more and more visible volunteer work on MeFi was a major point of frustration for some folks.

But I'll say from a personal perspective that it was a major point of frustration for me as well, and the issue was the difficulty of managing to find a way to do it, not a disinterest in the idea. It'd feel a lot better to not have "couldn't find the spoons and funding to make large-scale volunteering work in a way that felt ethically and legally sound and could be managed and supported well" transmogrified into "dismissed out of hand".

I'm deeply grateful to Jess for finding the time and energy and will to dig in on this in a way I never managed to to my satisfaction or others'; and to the SC and the BIPOC board and the Transition Team for putting in the time and effort they have to help this place change and grow toward the future. I share Jess' hope that there'll be some good way forward for making community governance and volunteered time and effort a more permanent part of how MetaFilter operates. It's a good change to aim for, and it sucks that it's such a thorny path to navigate.
posted by cortex (retired) at 2:47 PM on March 30, 2023 [60 favorites]


Thanks for the update. It's a shame, although not surprising, that this was the outcome. It's also understandable and, broadly speaking, a good thing that corporations can't exploit unpaid labour for the purposes of making a profit. Being a corporation doesn't seem right for MetaFilter, but you will undoubtedly end up with a clear picture of viable options to move forward.

Please do let us know if the cost of getting all this sorted out properly requires some financial assistance. I'm sure I'm not the only one that would chip in if needed.
posted by dg at 3:54 PM on March 30, 2023 [6 favorites]


Yeah, that was Pizza Schmizza; early 2000s

A June 2003 piece Homeless hired to advertise pizza on pizzamarketplace.com is certainly a read about that.
posted by readinghippo at 4:06 PM on March 30, 2023


I appreciate the update, and while it wasn't the answer that was hoped for, this sounds like another part of what are overall very positive moves forward.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:11 PM on March 30, 2023 [2 favorites]


Thank you, jessamyn, for following up on this. Thank you, Steering Committee, for the work you did. Thank you, everyone who brought this up as a probable legal issue even through all the pushback you got.
posted by lapis at 7:42 PM on March 30, 2023 [10 favorites]


Has anyone yet articulated what the potential harm to Metafilter is for not being in compliance with these laws? In my stretch of I-94 the speed limit is 55 but absolutely everyone exceeds that speed limit because they judge, correctly, that there are no consequences for exceeding the speed limit. Of course if I consult with a traffic attorney, they are going to advise me to comply with the speed limit on this stretch of I-94. Is the DOJ threatening action against Metafilter for labor law violations? Can a member of the steering committee bring an action against Metafilter for back pay for violating FSLA or whatever? Metafilter is not a big evil corporation with a lot of assets that makes for an attractive or sympathetic target for technical labor law violations. It seems to me that a lot of positive momentum is grinding to a halt for, as far as I understand it, technical compliance against an imaginary bad outcome.
posted by Kwine at 3:33 AM on March 31, 2023 [2 favorites]


If one did’t take their lawyer’s advice, there would be no point in having a lawyer. Maybe the downside for the site was sufficiently bad that even a small risk of being caught was not worth it. Maybe the personal risk for Jessamyn as owner were not worth it to her. Maybe she didn’t want to continue doing something that is not allowed for the sake of doing the right thing, not just because the site could be caught. Any of these would be good reasons to put volunteering on pause temporarily. Especially the lawyer recommending it.
posted by snofoam at 4:10 AM on March 31, 2023 [15 favorites]


There's an active group of angry ex-MeFites out there. They're been known to harass current leadership and other users on other social media sites. If one of them had the money and the gumption to sue MetaFilter Inc. for real and/or perceived injustices now or anytime in the future, it would be even MORE of a shitshow if they actually had a legal leg to stand on.
posted by rikschell at 5:03 AM on March 31, 2023 [12 favorites]


Kwine, I am sympathetic to that position. There is an old expression that the average American commits three felonies a day - ie, few of us would stand up to a close legal review of our every action. I also find it somewhat annoying that many people have taken a strong pro-legal-compliance perspective here who, I think, don’t actually think that every law must be complied with scrupulously. Because this particular issue codes as “labor versus owner,” people have strong pro-law views, but if this was, like, a law against using drugs in public or a law requiring people to do tax reporting for payments to their babysitter, many people I think would be less enthusiastic about making sure every person strictly complied. Many legal compliance issues code as oppression or technicalities to different people, but this one does not to most of the voices here. Like, why can’t I donate my time if I want, as a fully informed and non-exploited person. This isn’t Chipotle and it’s silly to say so. I don’t expect everyone to agree with that position, but my point is that the righteousness of this particular legal issue on these particular facts is not beyond debate. Any more so than a zillion other legal requirements that people do not think twice about disobeying.

Anyway, I think the big difference here as compared to your example of everyone speeding on I-94 is that, in this instance, we have a public discussion all about the potential legal violation, and we have multiple people expressing a strong view it should be stopped. In that circumstance, the risk of enforcement is much higher than, for example, the tax violations that could be found in just about anybody’s return. Even if there are legal defenses (there usually are), getting wrapped up in some kind of claim or inquiry is expensive. It makes sense to be conservative here given those facts.
posted by Mid at 6:00 AM on March 31, 2023 [7 favorites]


Has anyone yet articulated what the potential harm to Metafilter is for not being in compliance with these laws?

I also find it somewhat annoying that many people have taken a strong pro-legal-compliance perspective here

Seriously?

Respectfully, I hope neither of you nominated yourselves for the next round of Steering Committee elections. This is not the leadership this site, or any other organization, needs.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:16 AM on March 31, 2023 [14 favorites]


Because this particular issue codes as “labor versus owner,”

"codes as" is one hell of an interesting way of saying "is".
posted by bowbeacon at 6:19 AM on March 31, 2023 [14 favorites]


One thing that has happened already is that disgruntled ex-members have been filing DMCA takedowns against Metafilter, which threatens that the site's web hosts will take it down.

(These people appear to have a sincere belief that because Metafilter says they own the copyright to their comments, that means Metafilter must take their comments down upon request, and has violated their legal rights by not doing so. This doesn't seem to be actually true but they believe it and the lack of any detailed legal agreement like makes it hard to explain. Most sites have some kind of "pretend to read these 20 paragraphs of legalese and click OK" thing at some stage in the sign-up process, but not Metafilter as far as I know).

So it does seem like a plausible scenario that an ex-volunteer or SC member gets annoyed over something and sues Metafilter for missing wages.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:25 AM on March 31, 2023 [3 favorites]


The rhetorical tactic of snipping one half of a sentence (or less) and refusing to engage with the rest of the thought expressed is not awesome.
posted by Mid at 6:28 AM on March 31, 2023 [4 favorites]


I've said it before, but it seems like this is an opportunity to bring Metafilter as it exists legally/on paper closer to what Metafilter is in the hearts and minds of the members and management. It will take some effort, it's causing a pause in some good things, but I think it will be positive in the end. There has been a mismatch between the technically-a-business structure and the more like a club/coop/nonprofit nature of the site for a while (at least since the googlebucks dried up). Even if it is a pain to do some restructuring or whatever is necessary now, I think it could actually open up a lot of potential in the future, especially for people who might love the site, but feel better about volunteering and donating to something with a different structure. I really think this is a good thing.
posted by snofoam at 6:41 AM on March 31, 2023 [15 favorites]


My rule of thumb is if you hire a lawyer, take their advice, so well done.

This got long but I offer it because I think sometimes the detailed stories help to navigate. I have confidence in all the navigating to come! Especially if we approach it positively.

I tried in the last thread to express some complexity and I don't think I got it across. But to speak from my own experience, my industry is in tradition and often in practice absolutely at odds with labour laws.

As one example, at my academy we used to have a staff class. In the martial arts tradition one of the highest forms of compensation is special training time with the grandmaster. The idea of paying people to attend it is - like incredibly poor taste, like paying your friends for coming to a party run by a really great DJ to celebrate them.

But of course under labour laws, training related to your job has to be paid. It just does.

And yet paying everyone that should be invited -- every person who is employed, whether part time or full time, because those classes were like, the good stuff -- cost the equivalent of 8 students' tuition a month, with taxes and vacation pay etc. Which for us is significant in that it might mean not paying for other things including staff development.

We got some similar legal advice. So, we stopped having them while we thought it through...before Covid. We haven't restarted them yet.

Another example is volunteer help instructing. I don't know any martial arts places (although I'm sure they exist) where there isn't some kind of tradition of the more experienced students starting to teach, even if it's just a move or two here and there.

It's one of the fundamental ways to both recognize and build expertise and community. But a lot - seriously, a lot - of martial arts places start to rely on that help being built into their business model, usually mostly from teenagers but also from the guy that has a C-suite job but comes in every Thursday night to help out.

This has a lot of rolling effects:
- places that rely on volunteer help can charge less, which is good for the community
- but it means places that don't have to charge more, which means you have to offer something visibly better
- weirdly or not, the places where the students feel their expertise sometimes actually end up being better, or more cohesive, or more fun, or more motivating, than the places where it's more clearly transactional
- so the cheaper places can become more fun and the places that adhere to the laws close
- so the people in that industry tend to become more conservative

I can talk about this because we have mostly squared the circle but it was and is painful. have literally had CEOs of reasonably big companies ask me for months if they can just come in and teach, who will not accept payment for the same reason expressed above - it would make them feel bad.

So...that's my experience - I'm not saying there are other things. I will say that what has worked in our place for the last few years is to genuinely want to provide good employment, a good community-focused service, and follow good advice...all with a spirit of building things better, not tearing at them.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:06 AM on March 31, 2023 [7 favorites]


The fact is that once the question of legality was brought to Jessamyn's attention, she had to deal with it, and now that she has professional legal advice, she must act on it. Sure, it's always possible that a person in her situation might get away with noncompliance, but that's a big risk to take. The consequences of being caught doing something that you can be proven to know was illegal can be quite high.

I'm referring to Jessamyn by name because she is the site owner and, under the current structure, most of the legal responsibilities and consequences fall on her. Ignoring legal advice could have tremendous consequences, not just for the site, but also for her personally if, for example, she ever wants to own another business down the line. It's extremely unfair to ask her to take such a risk.

Doing things the proper way might take more time and resources than we would like, but Metafilter will be stronger for it. As others have also said, if additional funding is needed for this, I'd be happy to contribute.
posted by rpfields at 8:09 AM on March 31, 2023 [13 favorites]


When you say people have pro-law views because this is a labor issue, well, yes. People care much more about things that matter (the potential exploitation of workers) than they do about things that don't matter (someone smoking some weed).

I think that's fair. My only point is that deciding what "matters" and what does not is something of a subjective and often politically motivated inquiry. So it's fine to say "I care about issue X and I think you should conform to law Y because that's important to me." I certainly couldn't argue with that. It's less fine in my view to say "You are breaking the law and that is intolerable to me, because it is the law" - which is my reading of at least some comments that I was reacting to - unless you have a pretty uniform view that everyone must always comply with the law (which I think few people do). I.e., using "you must follow the law!" as a rhetorical device to support what is ultimately a position that is more driven by personal beliefs/policy choices than by a view that all laws must be followed. Or put another way, I think many people here do not think that all laws must be followed -- e.g., some laws "don't matter."

I think all of this is further colored by the point that many regulatory legal violations are not clear-cut, so there is often a lot of nuance around whether something is really a violation or just close to the line, etc. So, saying "it's the law and you must follow the law" isn't always super clear, and how you assess that uncertainty/risk/"doing what's right"/etc. is complicated. I think it's very fair to take all of that and say "I think the best thing to do for the site is X." But I think it's less fair to ignore the complexity and element of subjective decision-making around these types of issues that all of us engage in everyday in our own lives.
posted by Mid at 8:31 AM on March 31, 2023 [2 favorites]


there are numerous industries that have a steady non-volunteer (not paid) workforce. Film, documentary, fashion.

These industries are all notoriously exploitative, abusive, and inaccessible for people who can't fund their professional lives through family money or second jobs. Unpaid internships are bad for a whole lot of reasons.

the issue was the difficulty of managing to find a way to do it, not a disinterest in the idea.

Truly, supervising and managing volunteers is a ton of work, sometimes more than just doing something yourself.
posted by Mavri at 9:11 AM on March 31, 2023 [12 favorites]


It's not only metafilter that would be affected if we didn't follow the guidance: If you're a disabled SSDI recipient in the US (like me), there are regulations about how much you can work/volunteer before being reclassified as able to work and therefore losing your financial lifeline. We have to report all activity either monthly for paid work or as part of a formal periodic medical review for volunteer work and everything else. SSI has some similar regulations.

If the SSA finds you're doing substantial work for free or working below market rate, that can impact your benefits determination. So for people like me, it's usually considered fine and good for us to volunteer on a casual basis, but a sustained 30-40ish hours a month of unpaid work for a for-profit company (or anyone else, really) would be much harder to explain.

Anyway.

Jessamyn, thanks again for looking into this, for addressing this so candidly and transparently, and for taking immediate action. I know this hasn't been an easy thing.

I remain heartened by this thread and by the continued support for metafilter.
posted by mochapickle at 9:34 AM on March 31, 2023 [18 favorites]


Speaking to one of Warrior Queen's points, having students teaching students was part of the training in all five dojos I've attended over the years. Teaching sharpens one's skill, and no less importantly, it builds and affirms a sense of community. I won't equate a role on the SC to being a martial arts student, but volunteering probably works the same way, whether one contributes their energy to MetaFilter, or sends a check to PBS. It expressing a proprietary sense of the volunteer. Wouldn't this be similar to earning the "I Help Support MetaFilter" tag on one's login page?

Once again reality bites back. Kudos to Jess and the SC for their efforts. Complexities mentioned in the thread are not ambiguous, just messy. Laws often challenge reality. I look forward to Jess' lawyer finding a way for our community-based website to conduct its affairs without exposing those who (wo)man the helm to lawsuits by unprincipled ne'er-do-wells. In any event, Jess should not face a rat's nest of liabilities for providing a vehicle for community support.
posted by mule98J at 9:35 AM on March 31, 2023 [1 favorite]


Students teaching students is much more like volunteer moderation than a committee that does all the business functions of the site. I think it’s worth remembering that this all came up in response to a post that was a part time job description for ten hours a week of highly skilled labor that raised flags for people as being core business functions. Speaking about this issue in the hypothetical instead of the concrete context that’s very available does a disservice to the conversation and to the many people who had valid concerns AND to jessamyn who did a hard, good thing and is taking a pause. We don’t need to Monday morning quarterback this decision. We can just be supportive of her doing the right thing.
posted by Bottlecap at 10:03 AM on March 31, 2023 [31 favorites]


For sure, Bottlecap, your point is valid.

And yet, I don't think it does a disservice to the conversation of "what is the way forward" to discuss various aspects and experiences with the issue. Mine was more commiserating that these things can be really tough, because while the law is clear, the way that rolls out has different impacts.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:51 AM on March 31, 2023 [2 favorites]


It seems like "give away the site" is a thing that can be done, it has already happened twice.

So think about this: we do not need to turn MetaFilter LLC into anything.

1) Where is a jurisdiction that is very friendly to coops or worker joint ownership type structures? This could be anywhere, Iceland, Spain, wherever. We might also consider, do we want to be in a jursdiction that has strong net neutrality rules (e.g., EU), or that might be a roadblock to future US based harassers?

2) We work out the $$$ costs of setting that thing up, in that place. We work out an equitable cost - sharing deal where anyone active enough to step up and say "yes, I am part of the MF community" is in as part of the co-op (and possibly pays a part of these needed costs).

3) Once new utopia socialist MF thing is structured, Jessamyn gives the website to that new org.

Hey presto! Look how easy!
posted by Meatbomb at 11:24 AM on March 31, 2023 [4 favorites]


also find it somewhat annoying that many people have taken a strong pro-legal-compliance perspective here

Ha. I think it says something about the trajectory of my legal career that at almost 20 years out, I find this viewpoint to be very understandable.
posted by haptic_avenger at 1:33 PM on March 31, 2023 [3 favorites]


What is to stop Metafilter being incorporated in a jurisdiction other than USA?
posted by adamvasco at 4:26 PM on March 31, 2023


I would imagine incorporating in another country could be more complex than changing form in the US, where presumably the stuff for employment is already worked out. I mean, the French association structure under the law of 1901 could be a good fit for something that is already kind of a membership organization, and the association model definitely has community governance built in, but I don’t know if it would work for, for example, employees that are not eligible to work in the EU.
posted by snofoam at 4:53 PM on March 31, 2023


What is to stop Metafilter being incorporated in a jurisdiction other than USA?

Taxes and regulation around foreign workers, mainly.
posted by creatrixtiara at 5:35 PM on March 31, 2023 [1 favorite]


i can't believe that someone actually compared metafilter to i-94
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 PM on March 31, 2023 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure why anybody thinks that a business being incorporated in one jurisdiction means that labor laws in another where the worker actually works don't apply.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:45 PM on March 31, 2023 [7 favorites]


Do owners have to be paid for their work? My guess is no. If no, then make the SC members some 2nd class Members of the LLC. Each contribute a nominal amount, say $5. Then they donate their time to their business. THen at the end of their term, they resign from the LLC and get their capital ($5) back. I am not a lawyer, but that is one way I would look at what is possible.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:18 PM on March 31, 2023


One thing that has happened already is that disgruntled ex-members have been filing DMCA takedowns against Metafilter, which threatens that the site's web hosts will take it down.

Your comment suggests that people are doing this out of spite, to harm metafilter. My experience is that it is done by people who have been asked to leave the site, who then ask for their comments deleted - which has happily been done for several people on request - and use the DMCA route as a last resort when they get no response.
posted by Dysk at 1:00 AM on April 1, 2023 [11 favorites]


I imagine it is a mix of both, Dysk. From reading the other site, it seems there are people with salty wounds, people gleefully spiteful, people who have been treated poorly and don't want to just let it go, and the typical percentage of "assholes on the Internet"... Who knows what internally motivates each individual?
posted by Meatbomb at 1:38 AM on April 1, 2023 [1 favorite]


Your comment suggests that people are doing this out of spite, to harm metafilter

Is it Selective Quotation Day again already? My comment said exactly why I think they're doing it.
These people appear to have a sincere belief that because Metafilter says they own the copyright to their comments, that means Metafilter must take their comments down upon request, and has violated their legal rights by not doing so.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:28 AM on April 1, 2023 [3 favorites]


LOLing at the supposedly liberal/leftist members of Metafilter brainstorming on the best ways to skirt labor laws .
posted by octothorpe at 5:16 AM on April 1, 2023 [24 favorites]


given that the context of this thread is that jessamyn has consulted and is listening to her lawyer, I don't think it's necessary to play Amateur Lawyer like this is an AskMe question

jessamyn, I'm sorry you're having to carry the stress and burden of the logistics, implications, and consequences here. thank you so much for doing the work on behalf of the community.

thanks also to members like Miko, who took a lot of abuse while persistently and generally raising the possibility of this kind of issue and the need to discuss it with counsel.
posted by Kybard at 5:50 AM on April 1, 2023 [33 favorites]


LOLing at the supposedly liberal/leftist members of Metafilter brainstorming on the best ways to skirt labor laws.

I dunno; it looks to me like a couple of posters, so maybe your brush is a bit wide. Additionally, Jessamyn has shown every intention on following her lawyer’s guidance. There’s possibly a discussion to be had over what should constitute legal “volunteer labor,” but that’s separate from the exact legal advice to the site, and not really a subject for a MeTa anyway. MetaFilter, with or without the SC, is not, to the best of my knowledge and belief, going to knowingly violate labor (or other) laws, so I don’t even know why this lengthy derail is happening.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:08 AM on April 1, 2023 [9 favorites]


I believe there are appropriate and compliant ways to do what’s desired and that they can be found, even within US law. This is one step closer to getting there and the exploration will surface some possibilities and give time to create sustainable governance. And just morally, the idea of a MetaFilter the law protects but doesn’t bind doesn’t square with the values I think the leadership and membership generally hold.
posted by Miko at 9:37 AM on April 1, 2023 [23 favorites]


Is it Selective Quotation Day again already? My comment said exactly why I think they're doing it.


These people appear to have a sincere belief that because Metafilter says they own the copyright to their comments, that means Metafilter must take their comments down upon request, and has violated their legal rights by not doing so.


I got that, and that is part of what I feel is an unfair characterisation. It has seemed to be policy to do this - several users had their posting history deleted on request. They're falling back on this "sincerely held belief" (which, it should be noted, could just be ignored if it is bullshit as implied) when they feel failed or ignored by the standard processes that are available to them, as far as I can tell.
posted by Dysk at 10:26 AM on April 1, 2023 [1 favorite]


In my stretch of I-94 the speed limit is 55 but absolutely everyone exceeds that speed limit because they judge, correctly, that there are no consequences for exceeding the speed limit

Well, there is a consequence. Some random day the highway patrol could set up a speed trap, and 1 car per 1000 could get pulled over and be issued a ticket that costs a couple hundred bucks.

I imagine the consequence of a labor law lawsuit would be multiple orders of magnitude higher, up to an existential threat, even if the odds of being prosecuted are equally small.

If speeding tickets cost $20k, I suspect more people on the interstate would be going 55mph.
posted by hwyengr at 10:50 AM on April 1, 2023


I hope we all can help step up and provide extra funding to pay people to do the work that needs to be done.

I fully expected to have to do another round of 'please save the site funding' but not this soon.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 2:48 PM on April 1, 2023 [1 favorite]


There is a potential consequence to getting into a car at all in the first place. You could hit someone. The higher the speed, the more likely someone will die when you hit them. I have to ride my bike on 55 mph highways where people are routinely driving at 75 mph sometimes when I want to get from A to B. I'm out there because there's no alternative route. There are consequences to speeding. I bike past roadside memorials every time I'm out on a highway like this. I could die. Please follow the speed limit.
posted by aniola at 3:22 PM on April 1, 2023 [12 favorites]


"I Can't Drive Fifty-Five." --Sammy Hagar

Sheesh.
posted by mule98J at 4:31 PM on April 1, 2023


Doing something The Right Way is usually slower and more work -- but, well, it's the right way to do it.

Thanks for filling us in; hang in there.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:38 PM on April 1, 2023 [7 favorites]


They're falling back on this "sincerely held belief" (which, it should be noted, could just be ignored if it is bullshit as implied)

If there's a competition for "worst way to respond to a legal threat" then "just ignoring it" comes a close second to the "think up a clever loophole" ideas which seem to be other angle in this thread.

The web hosts aren't interested in the objective justice of the case. If they get enough complaints that they think the risk to them outweighs the income from hosting this rather small site, then they close down the hosting.

Just ignoring legal actions against you is a really bad idea.

Yes, as an alternative Metafilter can challenge these DMCA takedown requests, but that carries legal risks to your "safe harbour" status, and if you've got any sense you'll have to hire a lawyer to do it.

In general (unless you're rich enough to afford massive legal fees), having a dispute in civil law is a bit like having a hand grenade fight in an elevator. The cost in legal fees, time and stress of actually going to court is immense. It can hurt almost as much to be the winner as to be the loser.

So a lot of the time, if someone is threatening you while fingering their hand grenade, the smart thing to do is just to give them what they want if you can afford it. You don't actually want to throw your own hand grenade and go to court if you can avoid it.

That can work very well for the hand-grenade-fingerers, up to a point. If they keep trying that tactic again and again, eventually they meet someone who actually throws their own hand grenade.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:09 AM on April 2, 2023 [5 favorites]


Regardless of the legalities, their "sincerely held belief" that they can get their comment history deleted is backed up the FAQ.
posted by Dysk at 3:57 AM on April 2, 2023 [3 favorites]


since we're doing cross talk, i'm happy to be a bridge - i hang out on the subreddit, you may have even read my comments over there. it's mostly pretty chill group of folks with a couple of annoying exceptions, just like any other forum. notably the posters over there - who, by the way some people talk about them over here, are the worst of the worst of spurned ex-MeFites who present a danger to the very existence of this site - get along pretty well and have had (as far as i can tell) literally no spats that required moderator intervention - there is only one moderator over there btw.

i think some of those folks are pretty angry about the way they were treated over here and may say things that come across as unreasonable, but at the end of the day people are people and ex-MeFites are not that different from current MeFites. i get annoyed at people over there because they display the exact same attitudes and biases as users here. i suspect the way the community has historically insisted on Othering people who disagree with them is a major reason why the site is in the place it is today. i hope we can move out of this mindset in the future - this feels like a good moment to do so - and if anyone would like to discuss what's going on over there i'm happy to try and answer some questions!

thanks again to the steering committee for their hard work in the last however many months and to the site leadership for making this tough decision.
posted by JimBennett at 7:54 AM on April 2, 2023 [25 favorites]


Damnit Jim, that's reasonable and well thought out, as well as fair and humanizing. How dare you?! /s <3
posted by Jarcat at 10:13 AM on April 2, 2023 [3 favorites]


jessamyn has always been my favorite. cortex is more like a weird older brother.
posted by slogger at 12:33 PM on April 4, 2023


Hey, the sidebar on the Mefi homepage highlights this update from jessamyn, but then links to the Metatalk home page instead of this thread. I'll flag this comment to the mods so that someone can correct. And then show myself out :)
posted by intermod at 2:47 PM on April 6, 2023


This thread is closing very soon - but I just wanted to say I am very, very grateful to Jessamyn for stepping in, making difficult calls and stopping work. The work/volunteer-arrangement situation (and my own level of work) was unsustainable, and I could not have personally gone on the way things were going on.

I'm also very grateful to the community for emphasizing the importance and urgency of addressing these issues and starting these public conversations, and the BIPOC board for their counsel and advocacy re these issues. I'm thankful people spoke up, and I'm thankful to Jessamyn for listening, caring and making tough but necessary and responsible decisions. It is a step in the right direction - if we want people (staff, volunteers, community members) to be contributing to MetaFilter in a sustainable way, we need to make sure their efforts are supported by healthy organizational structures (and just from my personal perspective, what was happening to a few of us on the SC was not the way to go about it). I really appreciate that Jessamyn cared about this, sought legal advice and wants to make sure things are being done right in a legally compliant (and more sustainable) way.

MetaFilter - its admin, staff, community - is full of tremendously good-hearted, well-meaning people, but somewhat terrible structures (organizational, labor, policy, workflow) that have tended to guide/incentivize good people towards less optimal collective outcomes while reinforcing certain inequities and impacting some of its own people in their ability, morale and potential to contribute. These structures, internal culture and processes have been largely inherited - and are somewhat entrenched, having been there for many years. They are not easy to change or to transition from, but I'm hopeful progress is being made.

At the beginning of the fundraising drive last year, I mentioned there was much reason for optimism even in the face of the site's dire financial situation because - along with a move towards a more community-driven model - Jessamyn was the site's new owner. And everything Jessamyn is doing now - in making hard decisions, following through on her word and taking action to do what's right for the long run - has shown this optimism was not misplaced. Thank you Jessamyn. I'm so glad MetaFilter has you - and so glad you're MetaFilter's owner.
posted by aielen at 2:03 PM on April 28, 2023 [12 favorites]


aielen, I've appreciated your candor in these threads. And I appreciate the unpaid work that people have put into MetaFilter. I have just wanted to make sure we're not exploiting that good will as a community, legally or ethically. I hope everyone can find a good way forward.
posted by lapis at 8:33 PM on April 28, 2023 [5 favorites]


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