April 20th, 2011

Why does “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams still have a MetaFilter account?

By now, you may have heard about the latest from “Dilbert: creator Scott Adams. No stranger to controversy, Adams set the pot boiling once again when he wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal ruminating about the “real education” for B students, concluding with, “Remember, children are our future, and the majority of them are B students. If that doesn’t scare you, it probably should.” Some people took offense to the piece and posted comments in response, both on the WSJ site and on a group blog called MetaFilter.

It’s pretty much a given that when you post your thoughts and opinions on the most public forum in the world, someone, somewhere will disagree with you. However, one user by the name of plannedchaos seemed to take the comments to Adams’s op-ed especially to heart. In the thread of responses, plannedchaos reminded other uses that Adams has a genius I.Q., suggests sarcasm is best left to professional, accused others of ‘masturdebating’ and generally insulted and condescended to anyone who disagreed with Adams. Plannedchaos was such an Adams defender that a couple of other users began to call him Scott Adams (plannedchaos: “How many people think I’m actually Scott Adams writing about myself in the third person?”). Then, last Friday, plannedchaos let it all hang out and admitted that yes, he is Scott Adams. His apology for the whole thing was, “I’m sorry I peed in your cesspool.”

What follows in the thread of users on MetaFilter responding to the revelation is mostly a mixture of “I knew it all along” to plain outrage at what can only be classified as willful deception. As user Eidetecker said, “I wish you wouldn’t swoop into our community…and summarily judge it based on one post on one issue…I don’t come to your community (wherever you live) and call the place a cesspool just because your municipal government, HOA or what have you adopts some resolution that’s personally offensive to me.”

And therein lies the heart of Adams’s offense at playing plannedchaos. He didn’t just flat-out bully people who didn’t like his views, he violated the general trust that must exist for an online community. In fact, that expectation is explicitly spelled out in MetaFilter’s new user message: “I trust that you’ll act in a civilized manner, that you’ll treat others with opposing viewpoints with absolute respect and that you’ll contribute in a positive way to the intelligent discussions that take place here every day.” Adams complied with none of those points, so why is he still able to keep a MetaFilter account?

I know, I know–people violate terms of service agreements every day, but this was not a minor infraction, nor was it a technical misstep made by someone with poor tech skills. I would usually agree that any disciplinary action between MetaFilter and Scott Adams is really none of my business, but this is all being played out in a very public sphere, and, as Eidetecker said, a fundamental and communal trust was abused. I did some of my own searching to see if I could find anything about the plannedchaos account being disabled. I came up with nothing, and plannedchaos’s profile appears to remain in place.

Healthy digital relationships are a cornerstone of The LAMP’s media literacy workshops. Hiding behind an online identity to insult and harass others is absolutely cyberbullying, and especially when it is an offense committed by a public figure, that figure must be held accountable for their actions (you know–like an adult). MetaFilter owes it to its community to disable the plannedchaos account, and further, to publicize that action as an example of what happens when its community principles are violated egregiously. Efforts and calls to end and combat cyberbullying among teens continue to grow, as they should. But how can those efforts mean anything when an adult is called out for cyberbullying, and gets away with it?

–Emily Long
Follow me on Twitter: @emlong

2 Comments

  1. Josh Millard says:

    Hiya, Emily. I’m cortex over at Metafilter, one of the mods.

    The banned-or-not thing didn’t come up in detail in the original Metafilter thread, but it was discussed in the Metatalk thread that came out of that; I wrote up a few paragraphs about it in this comment.

    The short version is that banning is a utility driven thing, not a symbolic thing; if Adams had been unresponsive but kept acting up on the site, we’d have banned him to make him cut it out by force. As it is, his account is open on the off-chance that he chooses to come back to the site to discuss any of this, though I don’t think it’s all that likely that it will happen.

    “Getting away with it” implies that Scott will have any sort of further chance to muck around with that account; on the contrary, he’s on the shortest of leashes, and we have an effective set of admin tools to keep an eye out for any further blips of activity, good faith or otherwise. He’s functionally “banned” from the problematic behavior and the damage is done; formally closing the account just to make a point of banning him would be a bit of spectacle that doesn’t materially accomplish anything, is the mefi policy view on the whole thing.

  2. The Lamp says:

    Hi Josh,

    Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate the clarity, and have a great deal of respect for you guys for giving him the benefit of the doubt. I do also see the side of not wanting to do a “public hanging,” so to speak (and in most circumstances I tend to agree). It is ultimately your community and not mine to manage, and you know what you’re doing. Your decisions are way more informed than my opinion. From my perspective in working with young people, I’m concerned about the message they may get about cyberbullying, and its ramifications. That said, I’ve been impressed by your ability to keep cool throughout this, and by the measured responses I’ve read in the thread. Thanks for stopping by and contributing.

    –Emily

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