Aanimosity & Antaganism on the Blue May 12, 2001 7:30 AM   Subscribe

i'm kind of shocked by the amount of animosity & antaganism in the past couple of days.

there's the guy with the famiy tree website

the tasteless thread about Douglass Adams' death coupled with the personal attacks on the dissenting poster

...and i haven't got the stamina to sort throught the fetus is a person thread -- but something's going on over there too.

...and while we're at it, i'm also troubled by the fact that no-longer can there be any kind of thoughtful discussion in a transgender thread.
posted by palegirl to Etiquette/Policy at 7:30 AM (44 comments total)

I did not think the transgender comment was so bad. True, the humor was slight, but I don't think it is an entirely unreasonable point to bring up. It certainly did not derail the conversation to the point where thoughtful discussion was made impossible
posted by thirteen at 7:52 AM on May 12, 2001

The pile-on in the Douglas Adams thread is totally uncalled for. The whole thread ought to be cancelled even though the topic is noteworthy.
posted by briank at 8:03 AM on May 12, 2001

I know what you mean, palegirl.

The ttrendel's initial comment ("C'mon....are you a retarded monkey?") was just as antagonistic, but I don't understand why people have to retaliate or respond. Some of these "I don't like what you said, so fuck you" comments seem like something my younger brother would say. How old are some of these posters? Or maybe a better question--how mature?

I found the transgender comment totally out of line. Maybe we need to invent some new SARCASM or SATIRE tag, that makes your text yellow and bold, or something. Cause if this is sarcasm, well, you could've fooled me.

Or maybe some guidelines about how to participate in an online discussion/dialogue/debate?
posted by gramcracker at 8:41 AM on May 12, 2001

The ugliness in these cases seems to boil down to mob mentality. Rational people do & say things they normally wouldn't out of a sense that they've been given license by some higher authority. It's a very basic part of human nature, and a major reason that I'm usually wary of large organizations. The thread that resulted in the attack on me myself and i's site took a turn when Matt voiced a valid opinion about what he saw as design theft. After what happened before with the 123cheaphosting melee, I wasn't surprised to see later that mm&i's site was under attack. How would you like to be in Matt's position? He should not have to self-censor to avoid touching off this sort of thing. He should be able to enjoy his creation and just be "one of the guys" without fear of unleashing untold fury at any moment.
posted by gimli at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2001

As far as the Douglas Adams case:

I think the quality of the statements is the problem. Chances are, there will be no other time on MeFi for people to speak their mind on Douglas Adams-- and really what better time to discuss the merits of an artist at the time of his or her death?

While this may raise the ire of some fans who don't want to hear anything negative on what for them is a sad day, I think it's valid for debate on that person's art to take place.

However calling people idiotic monkeys or what have you is pointless in any context.
posted by chaz at 8:52 AM on May 12, 2001

I concur.

I read through the Adams thread and thought, "Good golly, is this Slashdotesque or what?" It's very disheartening to me. And I'll point out that a lot of the knee-jerk "you suck"-type responses are coming from relative newcomers. That's what's really sad.

The Family Tree thread? Well, I put in my two cents just now. If those spams came from a MeFi member, that really reflects badly on things, not to mention that it's just plain wrong. The quality of arguments in that thread, even from old timers, is getting down there.
posted by hijinx at 8:59 AM on May 12, 2001

Regardless of how one feels about MMI's page, flooding his inbox and signing him up on unwanted mailing lists is unacceptable. How do we make it clear that this sort of vigilantism is not appreciated around here?
posted by Aaaugh! at 9:33 AM on May 12, 2001

I know! Let's turn vigilante on his ass!


I think panning an artist in an obituary thread is extremely tasteless, and the pile-on is perfectly understandable -- this guy WANTED a reaction, and got it, and shouldn't complain. By that measure I think he edges very close to the definition of a tr*ll ... "I think I'll tick off all the distraught fans" is not exactly high-minded discourse. A polite poster who doesn't like the subject could simply skip that thread.

On the other hand, such peanut-gallery jeers are not unknown in online forums, so fans maybe could be more thick-skinned. MeFi is a general membership kind of place so you can't expect full-on hagiography to escape criticism.

Bottom line: yes, the influx of new posters seems to be dragging down the overall level of discussion and infecting the tone of more conversations.
posted by dhartung at 9:44 AM on May 12, 2001

i think the issue is probably confused by the fact that when the mefi design gets ripped off there is a call to arms for members to register their opinion of the sitch w/ the culprit
posted by palegirl at 9:47 AM on May 12, 2001

there sure are a lot of people acting like jerks lately (and a lot of them have ID's over 7k, which doesn't mean all new posters suck and should be shot, it means whatever old vibe there was isn't being communicated very well to these new people).

Have you noticed how one stupid or insensitive comment brings out 2 or 3 replies in agreement from people you've never heard of? (thinking of some of the death penalty threads here).

the doug adams thread reminds me of being at a crowded party, everyone starts talking about star trek or something geeky, and one person won't stop saying "I think star trek sucked!" No matter how much the rest of the crowd wants to talk about it, that person keeps repeating it. Now, if this person were considerate of others, they'd bow out of that conversation early and move on to something else. Some people don't get it though.

And like I've said a million times before, I'm most afraid of what the douglas adams thread does for future threads. You have to admit, that thread could be perfectly at home on slashdot right now, and when the next person dies with mixed reactions, we may very well see similar activity.

I'm sorry I linked to the family tree guy's site in a comment. I thought it was worth looking at for the people in the thread, but I had no idea he'd get flamed over email for it. I was trying to make the point that the author of that site put so much effort into copying amazon's look that I'm surprised they didn't come up with their own (what woudl be less work?). Weird.

It certainly sucks all around.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:55 AM on May 12, 2001

[just to confirm my suspicions about the transsexual thread, i dug up some old mefi threads on similar issues. for example, check out the interesting conversations: sept 2000 - transsexual child and december 2000 - Lynn Conway]
posted by palegirl at 10:02 AM on May 12, 2001

See also this post. On top of being a double post of a thread from yesterday, it's (imho) needlessly inflammatory.
posted by snarkout at 11:04 AM on May 12, 2001

I'm in agreement with the general thrust of this thread, but have to insert one note. ttrendel's original post in the Douglas Adams thread was rude (the retarded monkey bit) but the substance of it was not a troll, I don't think, or even "I'll tick off all the distraught fans." Someone previously had called Adams "the single most talented man on the planet," and I had a similar reaction as ttrendel (though I kept my mouth shut). I think the escalation of ttrendel's rhetorc in subsequent posts was just a spectacularly bad way of responding to the backwash of nastiness he provoked.

I went through a similar flame war on Usenet when Gene Rodenberry died--I finally snapped when someone said "here's to the Great Bird of the Galaxy, the greatest human who ever lived" and I said "oh come on, he was a TV producer, for god's sake." (Yes, I was stupid) I got literally *months* of hate mail, late-night phone calls, and even practically a relationship with a woman who threatened to kill herself because she was so wounded by my words. I'm wiser now--I would never do that again--but my original post wasn't intended as a troll and I'm still bemused by how strong the reaction was.
posted by rodii at 12:13 PM on May 12, 2001

Wait, was the problem with the transgender thread that she is not a real woman, or a value judgement about what people should want? The answer might make me want to change my posted opinion.
posted by thirteen at 12:44 PM on May 12, 2001

I am patiently twiddling my thumbs til the bozo filter comes online.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 1:08 PM on May 12, 2001

My bad idea, born of frustration: let each MeFi member pay 1ยข x their MeFi number to gain or retain posting privileges. Recent and new users with little stake in the community will by and large demur; the ten or twenty thousand dollars this might raise could buy another server, or provide some emolument for user #1, or endow another scholarship.

Yes, I know how terribly elitist this is, but something must be done or this will be the September that never ended at MeFi.
posted by nicwolff at 1:47 PM on May 12, 2001

Forgive me, but I went to a business school so I have to relate this back to that. It just seems to me like we're having trouble communicating the "corporate culture" to the new people. And we're even a bit self-defeating in that we feel we shouldn't have to communicate it - it should go without saying that you don't act like an ass, that you think for a sec before you post. I've often thought of asking Matt to start recording all the posts that make it to preview stage and are then canceled, simply because the person smartened up and decided not to post.

But there's the problem as I see it - we're stuck in a catch-22 of sorts. Implementing a moderation system would just slashize us, but something needs to be done so that we don't need to make a drastic change like that. What's the answer? 5-minute delay on posting so people have a chance to change their mind? Shouldn't the preview bit offer them that all ready? Is it possible that these people are just jerks, and can't be reasoned with? I'd like to think not.

Looking back on things, it seems like things _are_ working. When someone violates the culture, they are corrected by those who "get it." The actual problem here is that there are many more people than normal, and it's not as easy to correct. So the solution, it seems to me, would be to increase the efficiency of the "corrective process." Perhaps a page could be constructed that would kindly demonstrate the expected behavior, and violators could be gently nudged through an email or post to the offending thread, to go to that page.

Sorry - I'm one of those idiots who likes to restate and clarify all the time...
posted by jwells at 2:30 PM on May 12, 2001

While the "retarded monkey" comment was a bit much, let's at least keep in mind that it the poster was responding to a jaw-dropping, mind-boggling piece of hyperbole ("Adams was the most talented man on the planet"). I'm not at all surprised that the thread fell apart immediately after timbooker's comment. When someone says something silly, they're going to get called on it. On this point, it doesn't really matter that it was in a thread about someone's death.
posted by aaron at 2:33 PM on May 12, 2001

jwells, have you checked out the newuser page, the guidelines and the about page lately? matt obviously put a lot of thought into them and it shows; they're great. one assumes that new uses read these documents. but maybe that's not a safe assumption.

i'm thinking that its time again that the barriers to participation be increased. i've noticed that a lot of the idiotic comments lately have been first posts by users registered that day. perhaps a waiting period just to comment?

...or nic's buy-in idea maybe
posted by palegirl at 2:54 PM on May 12, 2001

Without wanting to defend him, could the 'retarded monkey' thing be a Zaphod paraphrase?
posted by southisup at 4:26 PM on May 12, 2001

Palegirl: I had something more personal in mind. Such as "You've been sent here because someone's pissed at you and just wanted to remind you of a few things...". But I thought about it more and would like to kill the idea as at that point the offending post would have been made already and ruined the thread anyway. We need to reach people before that point.

You said the comments are made by first-day users - do you see them straightening out later on? Why? Maybe the comment waiting period is a good idea...
posted by jwells at 4:53 PM on May 12, 2001

What I found amazing was a question of how many nasty letters should qualify as bad.

It just takes *one* letter to ruin someone's day. Usually written by a spineless @-hole who would never say it to that person's face.

I'm glad no one brought up my "Zeldman Fan Page"... you hypocrites would be kicking my ass next.

posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 7:59 PM on May 12, 2001

Eric, what's with the attitude? What "hypocrites"? Why? This is the second time lately you've told a whole group of people how much you dislike them.

My question wasn't "how many nasty letters is bad," it was "was this really a spam attack or just a few people expressing their displeasure?" I agree, getting angry letters can be a bitch; I'm not minimizing that. My question was about whether this was a campaign of harassment or just a few stray jerks. It wasn't some kind of attack on Sean, I just wanted to know how bad it was. Chill.
posted by rodii at 9:58 PM on May 12, 2001

Is EricBrooksDotCom a dissenting poster? Should I pile on? Better wait & see so I don't get singled out.
posted by sheep at 7:39 AM on May 13, 2001

I think that if you use the phrase "retarded monkey," the you can expect some adverse feedback. However, ttrendel did post immediately afterwards to soften his original statement. I got the impression that some people saw his initial post and responded without reading the rest of the thread. That is always a bad idea. It doesn't give you time to think, and you almost always end up saying something that someone else has already said.

I also think some of the recent animosity is an inevitable result of rapid growth; however, I don't think it's a permanent problem. I have seen numerous examples of people coming on here, posting foolishly and/or rudely, and then learning to post more civilly. There is an awful lot of rudeness on the net, and some people may not have had much experience with this sort of community. My impression is that people either learn to play nice or they leave. I don't see a lot of people continuing to act aggressively. There are exceptions, of course.

I think that if you see someone post something that raises your hackles, you should wait. I would be embarrassed to admit how many times I've had to delete a comment, either while I was writing it or when I had previewed it. And then if your hackles are still elevated, you might want to consider sending the person an email. And if the person doesn't have an email, you might gently mention in the thread that you'd like to speak to him privately.

Escalation is generally met by further escalation. Nobody wants that. Well, almost nobody. There are people who will never play nice, and they should probably be encouraged to find a place that is more in keeping with their personalities.

posted by anapestic at 9:41 AM on May 13, 2001

aaron, rodii, anapestic et al, I agree with your comments.

I thought ttrendal was quite justified in his comments, at least in the intention of his meaning, if not in his actual wording of his posts. I do not intend to infer that I agreed with everything he had to say, but that I support his right to say it.

I think it's important to see Douglas Adams and literary career (and in some circles, I would be paid out for using the word "literary") in perspective, and for everyone to be able to state exactly what Adams meant to them. I also don't think that ttrendal was the only person who kept the topic going.

As soon as the comment:

"Wow.... He was the single most talented man on the planet. An that's no exaggeration."

....was posted it was only a matter of time until someone reacted to it, tried to balance it.

In some threads disruptive, manipulative, and at times malicious posters are easily identified, however I don't feel that about this particular thread, where there was a lot of unpleasantness. I agree with the person who commented that it is a regrettable thread in parts, which is a shame.
posted by lucien at 9:48 AM on May 13, 2001

Hi, I posted the comment on the transgender thread that you all didn't like. I thought it was an interesting point. I didn't mean to be insensitive.

I am indeed new to this site (through no fault of my own), and I didn't realize that my input was not wanted. Although I like this site, and I plan to continue visiting, I'll avoid posting from now on. Sorry.
posted by kingjeff at 9:55 AM on May 13, 2001

kingjeff - More and more these days I'm asking myself,

"is there no sense of humor at all left on mefi? who ARE you people?!"

I like self policing, but it's sad if that means we all become humorless and fearful of saying anything that might offend anyone.

It's a tough balance. I'm sort of on the fence with your comment. If you'd said it to a bunch of coworkers around the water cooler, I'm sure several would have giggled and one or two might have been offended.

On the other hand I'm sure MeFi wishes to rise above the level of watercooler chatting.

I guess I just feel that we can have our highbrow discussions interrupted by a few Beevis moments without going all ape shit. Know what I mean?
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:01 AM on May 13, 2001

I don't think that's the feedback people are trying to give, kingjeff. It's not that your input was unwanted, or that you should avoid posting.
Give your input. Tell us what you think! Your comment about getting the "real thing" just soured me--as if the person that the millionaire chose to marry wasn't good enough.

And it is a tough balance, y6y6y6. I don't know where to draw the line, either. But it's possible to be funny withouth offending anyone. I really think part of it's the fact that the Internet is text-based. You can't hear voice inflection, or see someone roll their eyes. Is there a better way to do this than: "God, I hate white people" versus: *SARCASM* God, I hate white people. */SARCASM* ?
posted by gramcracker at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2001

Somebody restate Mo's Law for us again?
posted by rodii at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2001

I was reading some really old threads a while back and caught one where CrazyUncleJoe used this.
posted by gimli at 3:38 PM on May 13, 2001

Yeah. So I'm the retarded monkey in the Adams thread.

I didn't reply to his comments for several reasons. Considering the situation, it was pointless getting into a debate regarding Adams' greatness. I expressed my opinion, and he expressed his.

It is a shame that on the morning of his death, this thread went in the direction it did.

Here's an idea: perhaps there should be an "initiation" section on MetaTalk, where new users can get all their ridiculous, unsubstantiated comments off their chest!

posted by timbooker at 3:47 PM on May 13, 2001

I thought it went without saying that I don't actually think less of J'Noel Gardiner for living an alternate lifestyle. I think less of her because she's a gold digger who married an 85-year-old millionaire. I was trying to point out the oddity of such a rich fogey marrying a self-made woman, instead of the usual blonde trophy.

But what if I did think she was less than a woman because she was born a man? Would that make me unwelcome here?

The feedback I'm getting is that if my opinions threaten to differ from those of the old-timers (or aren't sensitive enough), then I need to keep those opinions to myself. That's no problem; I'm perfectly happy to lurk.

This is a remarkable site. "The Plastic.com it's ok to like" -- Heh.
posted by kingjeff at 4:40 PM on May 13, 2001

Post away, kingjeff. Your opinion is just as valid as anyone else's. I don't think a comment like that would make you unwelcome. And least, I hope it wouldn't.

A comment like that might be questioned, and some people may take offense to it, but that doesn't mean you're not allowed or welcome to post it. I think most MeFiers are much more open to differing opinions than most people; it's just that we tend to want to know the rationale behind the opinion, and discuss it. We like to know why people think what they do. That's all.

I've read plenty of threads where people have good dialogues about issues, without name-calling or personal attacks. Don't take the examples in this discussion as the norm.
posted by gramcracker at 5:46 PM on May 13, 2001

My knee is jerking...

But what if I did think she was less than a woman because she was born a man? Would that make me unwelcome here?

Negative attitudes towards minorities of all kind are a reality of life. They crop up everywhere and often by both nimrods and intelligent, sensitive people alike. At what point does an attitude like kingjeff's (sorry to pick on you exclusively -- and welcome to MeFi:) leave the realm of "well, that's just my opinion on this controversial issue" and enter the realm of "derogatory utterances against people of an oppressed minority"?

When I find myself making statements akin to the above quote, I do a little test. I replace the potentially offending words that don't spark my emotions but spark other's emotions with words that I know I am sensitive about....for example:

But what if I did think she was less than a person because she was born a jew?


But what if I did think he was less than a man because he was born a fag?

As Audre Lord said, "There is no hierarchy of oppression"

posted by Ms Snit at 9:08 PM on May 13, 2001

Something for us all to think about: When people in our real lives die, we generally go to mourn them in an appropriate place, such as a church or funeral home ... a place away from the world at large. But when someone famous dies and people want to mourn online, they have their funeral right in the middle of the street, metaphorically, by creating threads about the person on discussion boards and in mailing lists. Then they expect everyone around them to automatically assume a funereal attitude in that spot. And that's just not going to happen, just as it wouldn't happen if you held a funeral in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park on a Saturday in July.

As such, it's the creators and participating mourners in such threads that need to be on their best behavior, because if they're not, it's a near certainty that one of the many hundreds of others passing by are going to see something hyperbolic and are going to react to it.

Even better, just accept that there are going to be people who check in on said thread to register their DISlike for the deceased, and learn to live with it (no pun intended). When your funeral's in public, the public will attend.
posted by aaron at 10:58 PM on May 13, 2001

But what if I did think she was less than a person because she was born a jew?

Wouldn't a better example be

But what if I did think she was less than a cat because she was born a dog?

Can we surgically change a dog into a cat? I have no problem treating this person like a woman, and would give her no grief, but we are what we are, and it is social nicety to ignore the facts in favor of individual desire. It borders on mysticism, to demand that we believe a real transformation has occurred, and that the person is an actual woman. I will believe she is a real woman, when she comes up with two X chromosomes.

Alchemy run amok.
posted by thirteen at 12:31 AM on May 14, 2001

When people in our real lives die, we generally go to mourn them in an appropriate place, such as a church or funeral home

when the funeral procession blocks an intersection for a while and we're held up at the light, that doesn't mean we have to fall in with the procession, then when we arrive at the cemetary complain about the detour to the mourners. no, we wait patiently and move on to the next light once the mourners have passed.

may i refer to another MeTalk topic that came up recently while saying that if there's a post one feels one cannot contribute to in a meaningful way, there are probably 10 others where one can make a good point, &c.
posted by carsonb at 4:56 AM on May 14, 2001

Then they expect everyone around them to automatically assume a funereal attitude in that spot.

Which is unreasonable. This is a discussion forum, not a funeral home. While some of the comments about Douglas Adams and people mourning him were obnoxious, it's ridiculous to expect that online discussions about a death should be limited to positive commentary.
posted by rcade at 6:32 AM on May 14, 2001

Mo's Law of Poorly Timed Levity (paraphrased, because no official definition's ever actually been decided upon :-): Generally speaking, when people are having a serious discussion random sarcastic comments, while potentially funny, aren't much appreciated.

Mo's Corollary of Poorly Timed Seriousness (same disclaimer): Occasionally there are threads that are all about the funny. Disrupting them with actual thought is a good way to burst the bubble.
posted by cCranium at 6:59 AM on May 14, 2001

Wouldn't a better example be

But what if I did think she was less than a cat because she was born a dog?

Can we surgically change a dog into a cat?

totally different matter. changing a dog to a cat would be altering a creature's species, not it's gender.

I will believe she is a real woman, when she comes up with two X chromosomes.

what about people born with XXY (Klinefelter Syndrome)? and of course, what about those who are physically female, but carry a male XY genotype?

posted by tolkhan at 11:27 AM on May 14, 2001

How about turning a collie into a lab?

Are you arguing against my position, or the casual science I posted? Aspects of our sexuality are purely behavior, and that is why I respect the sex choice of the person I am talking to. I can admire the lengths to which people will go to to simulate these choices, but we cannot change people to the point where their true physical sex could not be determined (assuming we are talking about people who have made a switch, and are not hermaphrodites).
posted by thirteen at 3:59 PM on May 14, 2001

wrt to the transgender discussion, perhaps it's our language getting in the way of our opinions.

I would feel icky, but I would not challenge the statement:
"She is less of a woman, because she was born a man."

I would not be okay with, and would challenge, the statement:
"She is less than a woman because she was born a man."

Big difference between those two statements.
posted by acridrabbit at 1:20 PM on May 15, 2001

Regarding the DNA threads, I'd like to think that if Douglas Adams were to read the threads in question, and were he alive you'd probably have to offer him a lot of Bovril sandwiches to convince him to read all of it, I'd like to think he'd get a chuckle out of it. And then not give it another thought.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:42 PM on May 15, 2001

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