The Election Year That Never Ended

Usually, at 18-year-old online community MetaFilter, a U.S. presidential election year means a big increase in heated political discussion. But once a victor is declared, and the transfer of power occurs, things go back to normal.

Not this time. The 2016 presidential election – MetaFilter’s fifth – has created a situation where, six months after the election, they are still dealing with far more political discussion than they would normally be seeing. For a community that isn’t focused on politics, this is an incredible burden on moderators and has “measurably affected both the distribution and tone of discussion,” according to owner Josh Millard.

It has become the election year that will not end.

We also discuss:

  • MetaFilter’s recent ownership transfer from Matt Haughey to Josh
  • Member suicide deaths and the impact they have had on the community
  • How MetaFilter has addressed casual sexism, racism and transphobia

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Big Quotes

“‘How did this happen? How did we not know? Is there something we could have done?’ [Suicide in an online community] can leave people rethinking their assumptions about the place as a community. You stop and think, ‘This person, who was a long time contributor here, it turns out that they were suffering. They were really not doing well, and we didn’t know.’ Or maybe, there were signs. [They left] comments that they were maybe struggling a lot lately, but we didn’t really know to do something. We guessed that something was up, and then this happened. That can be really challenging. That can be really emotionally devastating to find yourself second-guessing your relationship with that person.” -@joshmillard

“As much as we’ve been getting steadily better on [casual sexism and misogyny at MetaFilter], in general, it has remained an incremental process because you have to get people on board. You have to set that expectation, you have to do education. You have to teach people to question things that they had taken for granted previously and that includes things like, who is impacted when you’re just joking? Who actually takes the brunt of your disinclination to re-examine the stuff that you learned in middle school? It’s very step-by-step. Every once in a while it feels a little three steps forward, two steps back, because you can’t teach everybody and new people join and some people come out of the woodwork and something sets someone off. Even when people are trying, it’s really easy when you’re dealing with discussions of isms, in general, for someone to have a fairly defensive reaction to being told that they’re doing something, even if their intent is reasonably good, even if they aren’t a real jerk.” -@joshmillard

“The last thing we want [at MetaFilter] is to say, ‘Good enough. We’re pretty not sexist, we’re pretty not racist. Everybody just chill. I think we found a good compromise.’ It’s going to keep being a thing. It’s going to be an ongoing, difficult effort because that’s how improving at this stuff works.” -@joshmillard

About Josh Millard

Josh Millard is an artist, musician, programmer and generalized weird-creative-stuff-maker from Portland, OR. Josh is the owner and manager of the 18-year-old web community MetaFilter, where he’s worked for the last ten years as a community moderator.

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