Lincoln told no yo momma jokes against Douglass February 14, 2001 11:04 AM   Subscribe

"Can't you folks simply address an issue and tell us what you think without attacking the poster rather than what has been posted?" A few threads have featured variations on this sentiment, so I figured the subject was worth a longer look here.
posted by rcade to Etiquette/Policy at 11:04 AM (23 comments total)

Agreed. Going back to an earlier thread that you began about posting a link to extend a conversation, I think that we touched on a few topics that don't seem to have a server-side fix.

Matt's improvements including filtering options, sideblog, and even the donation hyperlink (putting a little more community ownership into MeFi) have worked famously to decrease noise-to-signal. However, we still don't have a troll filter, or a personal-attack filter, or even a duelling ideologies filter.

cCranium's FAQ will help, but I don't think that it could aid people in discerning the difference between a political post that's meant to raise a serious issue, or one that is meant to troll (for example).

So how can we raise the general level of civility?
posted by Avogadro at 11:33 AM on February 14, 2001

Whoops. I posted in the hate crime thread shouting at people to just stop bickering at each other, I didn't realize a MeTa thread'd been dedicated to it. Sorry for splitting the conversation, I caught it with a link to this thread before anyone else posted.

Caution: long post

My biggest beef about personal attacks is that the whole point of the debate - because they really only come out when people are debating - is to express ideas, opinions and try to open someone else's mind just a smidge (okay, in some cases a whole lot) more.

These two threads have two different kinds of personal attacks though. The first-linked thread (regarding Jorn's pay scheme) the personal attacks strike me as a fairly blatant troll. If rodii == dhartung == jpolous == whomever else's nickname was tossed in there, then my ass == monkey cave, watch for low flyers.

I think in those cases we have to hope that people realize it's a troll and don't bite, or that if they do, it's difused fairly quickly. I don't mind when someone throws a troll warning into the thread, but when that starts happening, people begin wanting to throw the word troll at everyone who disagrees with them, which bugs me just as much as actual trolls.

I think also it's likely that with Matt's new job he won't be able to devote as much time to moderating MetaFilter. At the very least not until he's comfortable enough in the new environment to slack off every now and then, which means there'll be a good 10 hours a day (not counting that other unimportant stuff, like sleeping and enjoying life :-) where Matt won't be paying much attention to the site, so we'll almost definitely have to come up with some kind of agreed troll-snare. (I don't think "How much is 10 gold pieces?" will work, either)

In the hate crimes thread, the personal attacks were a direct result of a post that wasn't a troll. It was obviously controversial, since people took issue with it, but I think since aaron took so long to respond - not aaron's fault, just one of those unfortunate coincidences - people built on other peoples' assumptions until suddenly aaron was this gay-bashing homophobic ass. By the time aaron got back into the thread, there was this great big pile of "You're a gay-bashing homophobic ass" dumped all over [appropriate pronoun. Sorry aaron, but I'm not 100% certain of your gender and would rather not guess].

Natyuraly, aaron responded to those accusations angrily - and I think quite skillfully, actually, with very little if any personal attacks - which only fed the already huge fires. Yay, downward spirals!

Now, I've got some (bad) first-hand knowledge of responding badly, and attacking a specific person intentionally. It's a really easy thing to do when you're arguing with someone who just. won't. budge. When you disagree with someone strongly, it's easy to fall into the "Yeah, well you're a stupid-head" attacks.

I think the appropriate thing to do if we see personal attacks happening is to tell the combatants to just back off for a day or something. The many facets of communication that we're just not getting through our monitors makes it rediculously easy to take things out of proportion.
posted by cCranium at 12:00 PM on February 14, 2001

Bad juju today--yikes. It's weird; we've been able to discuss both of these topics recently without such vituperation (yes, I am too lazy to search for and link the older threads). I agree with cC; the first was an obvious troll that had my eyes rolling immediately. The second though, concerning aaron . . . wow. Where did all that come from? I didn't catch anything in aaron's posts that was gay-hating; the most "controversial" term he may have used was "pro-gay," which, if that offends people, I just don't get. Anyway . . . if history holds, these are just flare-ups that occur when people are arguing passionately. The number today was a statistical anomaly, I hope. I hope.

The older I get, the more I realize just how dumb I am about a lot of things; it is with this in mind that I try (if sometimes unsuccessfully) to apprehend an opposing viewpoint. And if someone's getting pissed off at me in a thread (something I try to avoid, for the record ;), I tend to just call it a day and opt out of that one for a while.
posted by Skot at 12:21 PM on February 14, 2001

I didn't know about that usage of apprehend (to understand), Skot. That's nifty!
posted by cCranium at 12:32 PM on February 14, 2001

Maybe I'm too accustomed to people playing for keeps when they discuss politics, but I don't have a problem with the occasional low blow here on MetaFilter. There's almost always someone who speaks up quickly to condemn the remark.

This shouldn't be an environment in which people are afraid to express contempt for ideas they find abhorrent.
posted by rcade at 12:36 PM on February 14, 2001

rcade: i respectfully disagree with you. i think people can play for keeps without low blows.

in your mind, when those people speak up to condemn, is that a good or a bad thing, and why?

people can express contempt for ideas they find abhorrent. however, how many ideas fit in such a category? we should be cautious about extremes. we should think about the people behind the comments. for my part, i exercise a lot of caution before i tell someone i abhor their idea, even if i do. if they don't have much impulse control, it just leads them to flame.
posted by Sean Meade at 1:28 PM on February 14, 2001

in your mind, when those people speak up to condemn, is that a good or a bad thing, and why?

A good thing. I'm not trying to excuse personal attacks, but I think people who argue strongly on MetaFilter should be willing to disregard the occasional cheap shot instead of responding in kind.
posted by rcade at 1:36 PM on February 14, 2001

I dunno; I've toyed with building a realtime kill-filter -- I've got a Perl HTTP sniffer that could be modified to strip any MeFi post written by someone I don't like (the sniffer masquerades as a proxy, so you'd never even see the stripped post). It's reasonably feasible, I think, and wouldn't break unless the MeFi HTML post structure changes. With a little creative javascripting, you could probably add to the killfile on the fly, as you browse.

...except that killfiles didn't save the Usenet. I'd argue that this was because killfiles don't really kill anyone, but I won't get into that right now...the practical upshot is that there will always be insipid morons, kneejerk posts that you can't take back, and so on. Trying to fix these problems would just create larger problems.
posted by aramaic at 2:22 PM on February 14, 2001

"Bashed", in the context (I keep having to say that word) of an online discussion forum is exactly what's happening to aaron. He's being personally insulted and attacked for making what's essentially a statement of fact.

Although you said this on MetaFilter, cCranium, I'm replying here because the topic belongs here ...

Give me a break!

Bringing up a hypothetical example of a gay man murdered for coming on to a straight person is not a statement of fact. It's inflammatory rhetoric that trades on the great fear of the homophobe -- "those deviates want to convert us!"

I think there's a place for rhetoric like that -- James Lileks posted a brilliant example of it today. But if you engage in that kind of argument, you should expect to receive it in return.
posted by rcade at 3:30 PM on February 14, 2001

rcade, you've shifted the focus of the debate from the phrase "pro-gay" to the hypothetical anecdote.
The "statement of fact" was that if such a thing were to happen, then it would not make news unless people took a specific interest in the poor man. Surely you would agree to this.
As for the "hypothetical" part, I remember fairly clearly at least two examples of just such a thing. (Whether the victims actually "propositioned" the assailants is certainly debateable, but this was the reason given. This includes a fairly-well-publicized case involving Jerry Springer guests or something.)

Nice use of the phrase "inflammatory rhetoric" as rhetoric.
posted by sonofsamiam at 4:36 PM on February 14, 2001

Nice use of the phrase "inflammatory rhetoric" as rhetoric.

Thanks. I readily admit to being a serial offender, which is why I'm asking -- no, I'm begging -- for my people to be more thick-skinned.
posted by rcade at 4:45 PM on February 14, 2001

Speaking as one of the acused "aaron bashers" I'd just like to comment on why it got personal.

I read aaron's comment "Or is it just that one of the goons didn't like being propositioned and wanted this specific gay man dead?" not as a hypothetical situation but as a homophobic justification of attacking gay men who proposition straight men.

hence the 'bigotted arsehole' comment.

I've apologised to aaron off the board.

he's still wrong though ;)

on an aside, can I change my username to "evil fullerine"?

As for the greater view of "personal attacks", rcade has put it more eloquently, but I agree that the proliferation of "guys guys, can't we all just get along" posts are becoming tiresome.
posted by fullerine at 4:53 PM on February 14, 2001

Kind of off topic, given where this thread has gone, but ojsbuddy's bizarre identification of me and dhartung and jpoulos was probably a response to something I implied about him. I shouldn't have said it and feel like an asshole. I didn't realize it would trigger the persecuted response it did, but nevertheless, the incivility in that thread started with me.
posted by rodii at 8:18 PM on February 14, 2001

It's difficult to know what to do when confronted with a thread that might seem to set up the stage for a complete troll-fest. Ignore it or try to put one's opinion and somehow risk adding legitimacy to the initial post?

If you scan mefi once or twice a week you are faced with that choice. With so many posts seemingly culled from the [insert title, i.e. Netscape, yahoo] "Weird news of the week" it's easy to be diverted from the reason one choose to frequent mefi in the first place. Good links are dotted here and there, but are sometimes lost in the noise.

Then there are the threads, which seem to be calculated to set people up. These threads I certainly try to avoid, simply because something within me senses that, and I dislike what I (perceive to be manipulative posts).

So we have the weird, the political, the trolls, and the America-specific posts. Amongst them, almost buried sometimes it seems, are the posts that deal with interesting news about the Internet. Occasionally interesting links to (intelligent) human interest stories and articles dealing with exciting developments in technology, science, and medicine.

I'm not sure if I am dreaming or not, but I recall somewhere reading an instruction aimed at new mefi users to "note which posts create the most discussion" before considering posting themselves.

Whilst that may once have been true, and I agree this is a subjective call, I don't think it's true anymore. To me the best posts often have the least responses, and that signals that mefi might be growing and changing in a direction that might be significantly different from the initial vision of it's creator.

Often in a community like this, a small minority might seem to have a louder, more strident voice than the majority. While it might seem in isolated occurrences that these people may have been unfairly dealt with, the same nicks would crop up time and time again in the same tired old way. Stepping back, viewing things from a distance, is often more instructive than getting bogged down in specifics - who said what, who meant this, or that, or intended something other than what it seemed they were saying.

Is this ok, does it simply reflect the “real” world, that we all have to learn how to deal with?

Actually, I don’t think it’s ok, I think that’s a spurious argument, because from what I can see, nothing good comes of these discussions except a post-discussion discussion about etiquette which achieves little. But that’s my call.

Moderation, the ability to entirely ignore certain people (makes for some confusing threads and responses, but I have seen it work at least to some degree)
posted by lucien at 3:14 AM on February 15, 2001

rcade: Good point on thick-skinnedness. Also, sonofsamiam pretty much responded to your point as I would've.

And, to be honest, I'd rather figure out how we want to deal with personal attacks then continue with that particular debate, here at least. If you really want to continue, feel free to e-mail me.

I really don't have a problem with an occasional personal attack, which is why I stayed out of that particular thread for so long, you and aaron (and others) are both quite capable of defending yourselves.

It had gone from the two of you sitting at a bar arguing with each other to standing up, nose-to-nose with fists clenched, and I'd rather try and diffuse that sort of thing then play a game of pool while ducking flying bottles.

When it becomes all about personal attacks, the whole point of this place is lost, and it becomes noise. I probably wouldn't have said anything if it had stayed in that thread, but the attacks were going on elsewhere, and frankly it was really starting to piss me of.

I don't want this to turn into candyland MeFi where we all give huggles and smoochies to each other in the morning and sing and dance and blog nicely, I like the fact that there's a diverse selection of personalities, some of whom I butt heads with on a regular basis.

A good jab now and then keeps all of us on our feet, I just fail to see the point in reducing it to plain ol' boring mudslinging.

Lucien, I'm not ignoring your post, I'm probably going to revisit it in a few hours, but my fingers and my brain hurt from two overly-long posts first thing in the morning.
posted by cCranium at 6:36 AM on February 15, 2001

I readily admit to being a serial offender, which is why I'm asking -- no, I'm begging -- for my people to be more thick-skinned.

Rogers, why should others become thick-skinned when it is just as simple to have a general expectation of civility? I read aaron's remarks, and did not see him as engaging in inflammatory rhetoric any more than anyone else. While it may be accepted that you and aaron will have heated debates, for the rest of MeFi, it appears that "open season" has been declared on the small politically conservative contingent. No wonder aaron and Dreama (among unnamed others)are defensive.

It is good and proper to have spirited arguments, but by condoning personal attacks and low blows, there is no possibility of a fair fight taking place. The minority will always get buried. This isn't a matter of "why can't we all get along", but one of attacking the argument, not the person.

I've apologised to aaron off the board.

Wouldn't have it been better placed on the board so that there would be some possibility for the diffusing of tension?
posted by Avogadro at 6:41 AM on February 15, 2001

It had gone from the two of you sitting at a bar arguing with each other to standing up, nose-to-nose with fists clenched ...

Aaron and I have corresponded amicably in e-mail. People are reading personal stuff into this when it isn't present.

While it may be accepted that you and aaron will have heated debates, for the rest of MeFi, it appears that "open season" has been declared on the small politically conservative contingent. No wonder aaron and Dreama (among unnamed others)are defensive.

I have respect for the guy's convictions, but frankly I'm tired of the constant kvetching about how he and other conservatives are the victims of persecution here.

A lot of that is horseshit. If you're going to jump into new threads simply to call them "conservative baiting," even when you're dead wrong, and you characterize a mild bit of teasing as an accusation of bigotry, you're being a drama queen.
posted by rcade at 7:57 AM on February 15, 2001

I agree with your point about this thread. But, I think that if the mild bit of teasing wasn't within the context of this and this (sorry bucky, I know that you already talked to aaron), he wouldn't have reacted so strongly.

And Rogers, while I agree with your worldview much more than I do aaron's, my impression is that aaron's "drama" is warranted. That thread became needlessly personal and aaron reacted accordingly.
posted by Avogadro at 8:33 AM on February 15, 2001

A post titled "How to buy the new Republican party" isn't baiting? Especially when the actual article was really fairly even-handed?

I really can't think of a regular MeFi poster whom I would categorize as thin-skinned. And yes, I do agree that aaron has a tendency to adopt a "poor us" strategy with regard to politics, but when we drop to the level of simply yelling "Asshole!", we've officially entered the Land of Crap. It really is possible to be civil while at the same time cutting one's opponent off at the knees. In fact, it's more fun, and takes more skill.
posted by Skot at 10:10 AM on February 15, 2001

It wasn't baiting -- the title is close to the actual subhead of the article: "How to buy the Republican majority of tomorrow."
posted by rcade at 10:27 AM on February 15, 2001

Yes, but you're forgetting that I can't read.

Point taken. I didn't notice the article's subhead at all.
posted by Skot at 10:44 AM on February 15, 2001

Aaron and I have corresponded amicably in e-mail. People are reading personal stuff into this when it isn't present.

Okay, but how are we supposed to know this?

It's fair to say "Well, I wasn't attacking you, so why even say anything?" but this is a community, and when we see things we consider transgressions, we're going to point them out and say "Uh, hey, don't do that..."

Except probably much meaner.

Like I've said before, I don't care if you and aaron are best friends or arch-enemies off-board, that's your business. Please keep it that way.
posted by cCranium at 1:14 PM on February 15, 2001

Okay, that was poorly phrased, ew.

It's an icky situation. I think the real problem is that when someone's personally attacked, they're pften on the defensive outside of the thread they were insulted in, and are quicker to read badness into a different post, and respond in kind.

I question whether or not the fallout's worth the jab, really.
posted by cCranium at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2001

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