taz's profile (website)

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Name: taz (staff)
Joined: August 2, 2002

About

What's the deal with your nickname? How did you get it? If your nickname is self-explanatory, then tell everyone when you first started using the internet, and what was the first thing that made you say "wow, this isn't just a place for freaks after all?" Was it a website? Was it an email from a long-lost friend? Go on, spill it.

I am the Midnight Moderator What Mods at Midnight

I'm usually on Mefi late night, U.S. time, but if you have a moderation problem or request, it's best to use the contact form so that whoever is on duty will see it.

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I posted about a few aspects of creating FPPs that we look at that may be helpful for some of you when thinking about how to put something together for a possibly contentious topic (with the proviso of "this is not comprehensive, these are not 'rules' and we still and always take things case by case").

Some of the points we consider for topics that tend to create a lot of anger, recrimination, digging-in, misunderstandings, flame-outs, Metatalk threads, account-closings, etc.:

Is it a situation of "aaaargh, this really makes me MAD; I need to post this at Metafilter!"? In itself, this is not always necessarily going to lead to a bad post or bad thread, but it's much, much more likely to. Sometimes it can be the beginning of a good post if care is taken with presentation and content, but just seeing something that makes you furious doesn't mean it's going to be a great post here. "I'm really angry, and I want other people to be angry with me" is an understandable impulse, but if that's the main goal, it's probably not going to be a thoughtful or useful discussion.

So, is there content included that offers a reasonable range of thought and discussion (and possibly education) aside from people expressing outrage? Because if there isn't, we have a thread full of angry, frustrated people without a lot to do with that energy aside from turn it on each other, sometimes quite viciously, sometimes over relatively minute differences.

Is it presented with an outrage-inducing (or possibly misleading) quote offered as the introduction to the topic? Sometimes, in an effort to grab attention, folks will choose the most provocative, wtf?, or fury-producing part of an article to use as the blurb content of a post, and this will be a) the content that people will focus on / respond to the most, even if it's not ultimately the main message of the entire article, b) the element that is most likely to set the tone and atmosphere of the thread. It also would be unrealistic to say that some people won't read no more than that quote before hopping in to comment, so it's worthwhile to consider this carefully.

Have we had a lot of fraught posts on this topic lately? The bar can be higher when we've recently had (or still have open threads for) very similar posts in order to avoid an almost exact repeat of the very same arguments that we just had (or are in fact still ongoing). People's feelings are already high and primed for automatic anger; some folks want to pursue fights on the same issues with the same people as a carry-over sort of thing; some people didn't see the other posts and walk in sort of unprepared for what might be a barrage of fury that isn't so much the product of discussing this one linked article as much as a well of frustration or anger already engendered in other threads. If you feel like the content is different enough to distinguish it from recent posts and sustain a discussion that isn't a repeat or continuation of earlier arguments, it might be worthwhile to spend a bit of time thinking about how to make that really clear in the post.

Is it a single link Op/Ed? These tend to be more highly charged links because the author is, by definition, expressing their strongly felt personal opinion about an issue or topic and isn't constrained to a more neutral or objective presentation – it's "this is my opinion, take it or leave it," and opinions can engender more nitpicking and annoyance than more objective articles. This can still be okay sometimes, but often tends to create a more fight-prone situation when people take exception to how the opinion is voiced, or respond by wondering who this person is to be making absolute pronouncements, or people just react to an angry opinion piece by feeling anger in response, etc., which is why it's often wiser to include either more context around why that person's opinion is especially noteworthy, and/or include other material about the topic so that this single writer's possibly very heated or reactive point of view doesn't have to carry the entire discussion.

Does it include sarcastic, angry or "championing" commentary by the OP or include their personal thoughts at all on the topic? Some otherwise good posts can be sunk by the poster inserting their personal opinion into the title, tags, and/or description. While everything posted here will reflect each OP's interests as well as maybe being just something that particularly caught their personal attention, Mefi is not a personal blog where people come to find posts that express how you, personally, feel about an issue, and up with that our members will not put, generally speaking, especially on news/political/social justice topics. Making a post that avoids OP editorializing, but then flooding the thread with your argumentative, agenda-driven, steer-the-discussion comments is another way to ensure that things will probably go badly.

Is it a situation of "People Need To See This!" rather than "People Might Be Interested In This"? Agenda posts are less likely than other posts to go well. They are more likely to include one or more of the aspects listed above, more likely to read as axegrinding, less likely to result in good discussion unless, for some unlikely reason, nearly all the site members are in complete accordance with the position being promoted, and there's some aspect that hasn't already been discussed the same way a hundred times already. It's much harder to craft a good post from the position of "I want to promote my personal cause here," than from a desire to share something interesting.

Is it a bare cut 'n' paste link to a news article? These are extremely likely to be deleted. Metafilter is not a news aggregator or news/politics special interest site, so posts need to be much better than "here's a headline: discuss."

All that said, I'd like to stress this: Most Well-Meaning Deleted Posts On Difficult Topics Can Be Reworked and Reposted. If it's not a double or something that will split discussion from a still open thread, not a self/friend-post, not spam, not a point-and-laugh mean spirited sort of thing, not racist, sexist, etc., or maybe something like rubbernecking an internet spat, or purely HERE'S A HORRIBLE HORRIBLE THING THAT HAPPENED, chances are that it can be adjusted and posted the next day (or even the same day, if someone else picks it up).

I also understand people who might feel like they don't want to have to police their posts for all these points, and that's perfectly okay and not a problem from our point of view, but you might get a post pulled occasionally – which you can then decide to repost with some alterations or not. It's not a black mark against you at all from our perspective. While people often tend to read deletions as "you are not allowed to talk about this," or "mods don't personally like this topic" the truth is that a deletion is much more likely to mean "try again," than "shut up," and emailing us can also clear that up right away.

Finally, I'll say that while I'm offering these items as possibly helpful considerations folks may want to think about that also happen to be some of the aspects that we look at, this is in no way an outline of "posts that every moderator will delete automatically." Some posts that might have been deleted have been saved by good early discussion, some have just been overlooked because something else was going on, some might be edge cases that we happen to have more time and people to be able to monitor comment by comment... and of course, some perfectly well-formed posts can also end in rather terrible threads for whatever reason. So these are just tips, not rules, or promises.

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I once posted some tips for writing Ask Metafilter questions:

I imagine that posters who've had the experience of asking a question and having their character impugned in the answers are much more likely to extend the benefit of the doubt when answering other people's questions, because they realize how easily questions can be misread, and the impossibility of providing all the back story necessary to reassure everyone that you are really not the worst lying, cheating, narcissistic person in the world who is abusing your spouse/child/dog/cat/goose.

For asking questions I suggest a few tactics:

Try to be really super clear about what the question is. Make it absolutely impossible to miss. Sometimes I have to read over questions several times just to figure this out. I often literally Control-F for the question marks. Sometimes there are no question marks. The benefit to doing this is that not only is it more likely to result in answers that actually address your question, but also, if they don't, it's much easier for moderators to axe the derailing comments. If we can't figure out what your question really is, we can't help as much. Sometimes the title is a question, and there's a different question in the body, and they are not the same question at all.

Don't be too self-effacing, jokey, ranty, clever, casual, demanding (as in I ONLY WANT ANSWERS FROM X, AND DON'T MENTION POLAND). Whatever is oddish or nonconforming about your phrasing will get waaaaay more attention than it should and is very likely to lead to assumptions. Most of us are writers and communicators of some stripe and don't like to be mundane in our speech, but if your question is sensitive at all, this is probably the time to forego wit or drama in favor of as much simple, boring clarity as you can muster.

If your question is complex at all, hang around to answer questions if they come up, or settle any confusion. It's easy for a thread to get steered in the wrong direction, so if you are on the spot to say something like, "sorry, I see that many of you are assuming X, but actually..." you can more easily head things off.

Unless you really, really mean "all/any advice appreciated," please don't say that. It's fine for something like "I don't know anything about [hobby], but am thinking of learning; where should I begin and what are some good resources? All advice appreciated." but when your question is a lot more sensitive, it sort of opens things up to a lot of the presumptuous answers that may otherwise not be okay re moderation. Likewise, requests to be abused in any way (like, "tell me how stupid/awful I am for doing/thinking X").

Try to be as calm as possible in the framing of your question, and in your responses. Often people are posting because they are very upset/angry/hurt/scared about something, but since most commenters aren't going to know how you are when you aren't under this sort of stress, they may conclude that you are an angry and aggressive person, for example, if your question is ranty and your responses are hostile, and this sort of thing will adversely affect the sort of advice you get.