The day r/AITA may have saved a life
January 11, 2021 9:39 AM   Subscribe

A woman wrote into Reddit's "Am I The Asshole" with a question about whether she and he husband should take in his younger brother who displayed some disturbing behavior the last time he was living with them. Her husband's family was trying to gaslight her into taking him in, claiming that the brother's fucked up behavior wasn't so bad and he had grown out of it. After receiving many comments from people screaming that said brother was dangerous and unwell and she should stand up for herself, including some harsh, nasty DMs from awful people, she had a heart-to-heart with her husband who heard her and vowed to address things with his problematic brother. What followed was a crazy, traumatic harrowing set of confrontations and realizations where the whole family needed to reckon with how much they had enabled said brother through denial and not understanding how dangerous he was. [CW: animal abuse, mental health, threatening behavior, violence, bodily fluids, and a minor who is involved but unharmed.]

This is a disturbing story on many levels and not for the weak of heart or stomach. However, it does seem like the first time that the Am I The Asshole sub may have saved a life by providing the OP and her husband a massive wakeup call.
posted by nayantara (129 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is my first FPP ever after ten years on Metafilter (under two usernames as I recently did a BND). I hope this isn't too upsetting. I think it's a fascinating story about cycles of abuse and how a hive mind helped someone in legitimate danger.
posted by nayantara at 9:41 AM on January 11 [42 favorites]


Great first post!
posted by XMLicious at 9:51 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


Hoooooooly shit, the OP. There are layers of dysfunction built into her husband's family there.

Layers and layers and layers. The story of the seventh brother's "college" experience is also kind of illuminating.
posted by sciatrix at 10:04 AM on January 11 [16 favorites]


Cripes. Just...Cripes.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 10:14 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Hoooooooly shit, the OP. There are layers of dysfunction built into her husband's family there.

Man, yeah. Like certainly Ash's disfunction could be partly chemical/physical, but it sounds like this family also developed a kind of internal culture that really really made it worse. And the lack of specificity about the bullying Ash experienced is kind of scary - being bullied/abused certainly wouldn't absolve him of his behavior but I can't help wondering just how far it went, for how long.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:17 AM on January 11 [22 favorites]


the lack of specificity about the bullying Ash experienced is kind of scary

Right?? Being bullied by EIGHT OLDER BROTHERS from the day you were born up until god knows when, and in god knows what kinds of ways, is bound to lead to psychological dysfunction to a massive degree.

And like where is the dad of all these brothers in this story? Why no mention of him anywhere? What was he doing when all the bullying was going on that the mother was too busy to stop due to having ten children holy shit? His absence from the OP's tale is as ominous as anything else in there. *shudder*
posted by MiraK at 10:29 AM on January 11 [26 favorites]


I'm not going to say that this story is fake or that stories like this don't happen in real life. I'll just say that, first, stories with disgusting and lurid details like this one tend to be the ones that live on in Reddit legend for years afterward, and second, I personally know someone with a hobby of making up ridiculous stories that get thousands of upvotes on r/AITA.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 10:35 AM on January 11 [59 favorites]


>I personally know someone with a hobby of making up ridiculous stories that get thousands of upvotes on r/AITA.
Are they the arsehole?
Narrator: Yes, they're the arsehole.
posted by k3ninho at 10:40 AM on January 11 [28 favorites]


You really think someone would do that, just go on the internet and tell lies?
posted by deadaluspark at 10:40 AM on January 11 [72 favorites]


Yeah...this seemed a little fakey to me too. Every now and then a viral AITA post gets a follow up news story and that's what I was hoping for here. AITA and advice column stories in general require a big grain of salt.
posted by emjaybee at 10:41 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


I'm not going to say that this story is fake or that stories like this don't happen in real life. I'll just say that

Yeah...this seemed a little fakey to me too.

All the personal stories on AITA or other such forums could be true or untrue, what difference does it make? Either way these stories will never have an impact directly on the reader's life, unlike, say, political stories and scientific claims whose veracity does directly impact all readers. Like even if there was a way to instantly and conclusively verify the truth and accuracy of these stories on AITA, what would you do differently due to possessing that information?
posted by MiraK at 10:43 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


Yeah, great post to the OP and don't want to discourage you from posting at all, but I believe this story is fake.
posted by all about eevee at 10:43 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


It did cross my mind that this may be an epic writing excersize. But the OP seems so earnest and considerate, and her initial question (AITA for not wanting Ash to move in after he repeatedly peed on my stuff?) seemed so indicative of someone who has been experiencing years of gaslighting (intentional from the mother, varying degrees of intentional from the brothers, and unintentional from the husband who is also a victim in this story) that I am inclined to give this the benefit of the doubt that this actually happened. Not to mention that I know people IRL who have had similar experiences with this type of dysfunctional family and dangerous relatives. It's a wild story but doesn't necessarily ping my "obviously fake" radar.
posted by nayantara at 10:47 AM on January 11 [20 favorites]


Like even if there was a way to instantly and conclusively verify the truth and accuracy of these stories on AITA, what would you do differently due to possessing that information?

Well, I would rather not waste my time on someone's creative writing exercise. That's just me, though.
posted by all about eevee at 10:52 AM on January 11 [17 favorites]


Well, I would rather not waste my time on someone's creative writing exercise. That's just me, though.

I guess I do understand the sentiment that some people may feel it's a waste of time to talk about this story if it is a lie.

But look, there is literally no way to know if these stories are true. No way we will ever know. So every such thread will be doomed to arguments between people who FEEL it's true vs. people who FEEL it's fake. Isn't that an even bigger waste of time?

So I'd like to humbly propose that if you feel like this story is fake and therefore it's a waste of your time to discuss it, maybe just ... don't participate in the thread? Pass it by. Let those of us who feel differently (either because we think it's true or because we think it's interesting to discuss regardless of whether it's true) have this space to actually talk about the OP. Thanks!
posted by MiraK at 10:56 AM on January 11 [28 favorites]


Fake or not, this whole exercise still gives off a technologically updated version of the "let's all stop and stare at the circus" vibe you'd get from daytime shows like Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Steve Wilkos, Montel Williams, Ricki Lake...
posted by Arson Lupine at 10:56 AM on January 11 [18 favorites]


Without reading the link, it doesn’t seem that far off from Tara Westover’s memoir “Educated”, which had prodigious gaslighting, which includes minimizing and denying others’ reality. Dysfunction happens. People try to outsmart it without addressing the cesspool buildup which can morph it into situations that multiply in toxicity. If the family is lucky, it collapses toward health with no fatalities.
posted by childofTethys at 11:02 AM on January 11 [17 favorites]


But look, there is literally no way to know if these stories are true. No way we will ever know.

A legitimate news source might contact the person and follow up on it, and either verify or debunk it. Or the person writing the story might admit it was fictional. Or the story might turn out to have been plagiarized from an older work. Or the other family members might step forward and corroborate the story. Far from being 'literally no way', there are many ways the truth of such a story could be established.
posted by Pyry at 11:03 AM on January 11 [16 favorites]


Fake or not, this whole exercise still gives off a technologically updated version of the "let's all stop and stare at the circus" vibe you'd get from daytime shows like Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Steve Wilkos, Montel Williams, Ricki Lake...

What a condescending and judgmental thing to say, wow. This thread went from reading and reacting to a harrowing and shocking story by a fellow human being, to harmless (but imo tiring) speculation about whether the story was true, to straight up shaming anyone for being interested at all. I'm outta here.
posted by MiraK at 11:04 AM on January 11 [20 favorites]


>have this space to actually talk about the OP

How is talking about whether it is a real or fake story not actually talking about the OP? Why is it important to you that people do not express their opinion that it is fake?

For me personally, the issue of truth or falsity in what we read online is more interesting than the story in the OP. Which is so fake.
posted by ericost at 11:07 AM on January 11 [16 favorites]


I mean, you just said it doesn't matter if this is made up to generate sympathy!

I think that Arson Lupine was referring to a lot of the instinct that gets these things shared widely and gives /r/AITA such a big draw - There really is a pretty broad urge to spectate these things after the fact.
posted by sagc at 11:07 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this sort of thing is why I stopped visiting AITA and other related subs a while ago. It went from a small(ish) sub of people genuinely seeking some balanced opinions to an environment of either almost competitive trauma sharing or obvious fake stories trying to get to the point of trending on Twitter/getting into the news.

This story is sad but I fail to see the benefit to anyone of pouring over this family's intergenerational pain like this. It feels sordid to be speculating over a (potentially) real person's history of abuse and psychological breakdown, especially on a site like Reddit, which actively encourages communities which contribute to bullying and harm. Reddit directly makes money from these sorts of posts getting views, they slap ads into the comments and profit from people giving the posts/comments themselves awards. Nobody wins here besides the corporation (which lest we forget is also a long time habit of neo Nazis, among others), least of all the victims of whatever's happened.
posted by fight or flight at 11:08 AM on January 11 [21 favorites]


Dear Penthouse
posted by Wood at 11:09 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Fake or not, this whole exercise still gives off a technologically updated version of the "let's all stop and stare at the circus" vibe you'd get from daytime shows like Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Steve Wilkos, Montel Williams, Ricki Lake...

I understand this perspective, I do. I don't like the rubbernecking aspect either. But for me stories like these feel more like a whisper-network-by-example.

People who were socialized as women often are taught not to heed their own instincts, that gut feelings are "illogical," that their actions to ensure their own safety are taking up too much space in the world. In other words, that women's or more feminine people's safety is less important than men's comfort.

So when I read things like this, true or not, it's a reminder to myself that I deserve to act based on my own desires, safety and instincts.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 11:12 AM on January 11 [69 favorites]


And like where is the dad of all these brothers in this story?

Well, you know, it's up to the mom to do all the child-rearing and stuff. /sarcasm
posted by hydra77 at 11:32 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


The comparison to Jerry Springer is apt... the woman's empowerment angle seems like a stretch given that the story is about a woman's husband and his brothers defending her and a young girl from their "psycho" brother who was enabled by his clueless mom. Is that ... empowering anyone?

I don't have an issue with creative writing but one should approach these salacious reddit stories with skepticism. The main giveaway is the implausible amount of activity/resolution/drama that always happens within one or two days, in addition to every detail being designed to perfectly produce a given reaction (much like any fake news.) There's a reason the AITA moderators declined to publish her update.
posted by Emily's Fist at 11:35 AM on January 11 [15 favorites]


Treat it as real when giving advice, but treat it as fake when dwelling on it needlessly after.

Someone peeing on other person's stuff more than once should be treated as if they're a sociopath that will escalate. Exception for someone who is blackout drunk maybe.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:43 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


I hardly ever visit Reddit, but I follow both @redditships and @AITA_reddit on Twitter, and I saw this one when it appeared on the latter account. It's not even the wildest one that I've ever seen on there. I like reading and responding to those posts because I have an unholy love of the spectacle of people behaving badly, and because I enjoy the mental exercise of assessing the situation and figuring out what could be done to resolve it.

And I can tell you it is very, very common for women to post to AITA asking if they are the asshole for objecting to actual abuse, while men who post there will often blithely recount their own abusive behaviour as though it were all completely reasonable and unobjectionable, and then complain that someone called them an asshole.
posted by orange swan at 11:49 AM on January 11 [75 favorites]


I liked very different comments above because things can be both a Jerry Springer-like circus AND help people trapped in dysfunctional or abusive cycles to recognize them. It's not an either/or situation. Definitely I watched trashy talk shows in the 80s and I did actually learn from them in significant ways that helped me identify some pretty terrible dynamics in my life - and feel okay about seeking help, which is ultimately what actually helped the most.

I'm not sure about amplifying the raw stories without some additional commentary. I would be interested in a thoughtful exposition about the dynamics in this story (not sure it's real), and I am often interested in people's own memoir writing after the fact when they've had time to absorb their experiences a bit.

I admit that when it's a media personality pushing their own story for profit and audience share I also feel differently but I'm not sure that always comes from my higher self.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:50 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


I enjoyed the thoughtful framing of the FPP, nayantara!
While I'm not a fan of AITA for all the reasons mentioned, I hope we'll see more posts from you. I like your empathetic and thoughtful approach.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:59 AM on January 11 [29 favorites]


You really think someone would do that, just go on the internet and tell lies?

Hell yes - someone made up a story a couple days ago about Armie Hammer sending her some DMs professing to a cannibalism fetish. It happens a hell of a lot.

However, this doesn't have the same kind of "something seems off" tone for me and this feels legit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:02 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Thanks Omnomnom!

I hear everyone who is questioning the veracity of this and wondering what the value is in staring at a bunch of lurid details. But I posted it because I know people - women - who have experienced so much gaslighting in their life that they genuinely believe that being bothered by abuse means they are being "dramatic" or making a mountain out of a molehill or ruining their loved ones by bringing ugly facts into the light. In fact the latter is one of the pieces that rang true to my own family - the idea that hiding painful truths or bad behavior or mental health issues to preserve "the good of the family" is more important than protecting the safety of others in the family - including the one who is mentally ill. If true, Ash is a monster, but he became that way due to a long history of abuse from his family and enabling by his mother. He's also a victim.

So I was interested in the story as it seemed a good example of a woman (and her husband) understanding the gravity of a situation after having their problems thrown into the light, after years of being gaslit by a dysfunctional family system. That stuff happens, a lot, in real life.

At any rate, I found it fascinating and sad. And if it's true, I hope OP and her husband find some peace.
posted by nayantara at 12:09 PM on January 11 [40 favorites]


Mods please add CW: animal death to the tags and the FPP. Animal abuse and animal death are two different warnings; one does not necessarily describe or include the other.
posted by tzikeh at 12:16 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


I've heard enough crazy shit that I believe this happened. And what orange swan said.

That said, HOLY SHIT THIS GUY IS A CRAZY PEEING STALKER.

Ted is doing everything right. (I do not like the blame that went towards Ted for not 100% taking care of Ash, or whatever, though, that's not reasonable.) However, I admit if I were the OP I'd consider divorcing Ted even though he doesn't deserve it, specifically because I am screaming inside so hard at the idea of being legally connected to Ash and Ash clearly has "YOU STOLE MY BABY" going on towards the OP because of Ted. I don't know how the hell I'd continue to deal with the in-laws at all from now on if I were her, honesty.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:19 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


MiraK: So I'd like to humbly propose that if you feel like this story is fake and therefore it's a waste of your time to discuss it, maybe just ... don't participate in the thread? Pass it by. Let those of us who feel differently (either because we think it's true or because we think it's interesting to discuss regardless of whether it's true) have this space to actually talk about the OP. Thanks!

Not sure if you've noticed but determining the veracity of stories found on the internet is sort of a vital skill at the moment and it doesn't matter what the content of the story is. "Well *this story* isn't important so who really cares if it's true or not" is ...bad. Like, that's a bad attitude to have, and a bad way of engaging with world. If something isn't passing the sniff test for so many people, maybe you should ask yourself why you're so willing to entertain something that is potentially all lies as if it doesn't matter if they're lies or not.
posted by tzikeh at 12:24 PM on January 11 [29 favorites]


Speaking only for myself, I'd rather know whether stories are true because true stories help me build up my ideas of how the world works.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:25 PM on January 11 [26 favorites]


You really think someone would do that, just go on the internet and tell lies?

Hell yes - someone made up a story a couple days ago about Armie Hammer sending her some DMs professing to a cannibalism fetish. It happens a hell of a lot.


Empress - I think they were making with the fun on that first comment ;)
posted by tzikeh at 12:26 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Empress - I think they were making with the fun on that first comment ;)

oops
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:36 PM on January 11


On the other hand, without your response, I never would have learned that useful piece of true information about Armie Hammer!
posted by sagc at 12:38 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


jenfullmoon I think the only way to salvage their relationship is if Ted is willing to go full no-contact with his entire family. Plus a restraining order against Ash. And maybe even moving away without telling his family their new address so Ash can't find them again.

Look, it's not a one-to-one comparison, but last week my aunt was found dead in her apartment, and the cause of death very clearly seems to be complications from COVID. She was afraid of doctors her whole life and would never have gotten tested or agreed to a hospitalization. She dealt with health issues by going to a homeopath. She was also depressed for at least the past 20 years with no treatment, and seemed to become agoraphobic after she retired. My other aunt is on a massive campaign to convince the rest of the family that my aunt died of a heart attack, and wants that to be the official story we tell those who knew her. Other Aunt has already emailed friends of family to say her younger sister died of a heart attack. The report from the medical examiner in no way indicates that it was a heart attack. This is because Other Aunt doesn't want people to know her little sister was mentally ill and refused to take COVID symptoms seriously enough to go to a regular doctor. My dad privately thinks it was COVID but is going along with this fiction to "keep family peace" and protect his little sister's memory. Other family members are falling in line to agree to this collective lie. It's frustrating as hell, but my family does this all the time - my cousin is bipolar, had been in and out of institutions her whole life due to suicidal ideation, and suffers immensely as she is treatment resistant, and everyone just says well she'd feel better if she got more excersize, and refuses to acknowledge her mental health issues. She is now being tasked with taking on the burden of planning my aunt's funeral despite her obviously not being able to handle it. My uncle has PTSD from being attacked at gunpoint in the workplace by an unhinged co-worker and the whole family pretends it didn't happen and judges him for being fragile and unable to advance in his career. I have four different mental health diagnoses and my father has flat out refused to allow me to reach out to my cousin or uncle to be a source of support and commiseration because he thinks my mental illness reflects poorly on him (no surprise, he's a huge contributor to my own trauma).

Dysfunctional family systems bury unpleasant truths all the time. Sometimes the results are merely annoying, othertimes they are actually harmful. The fact that this story that is largely about a family covering up the truth about a very mentally ill family member resonated heavily with me this week given the insanity happening in my family right now. For whatever it's worth. If I were to write an AITA post about my father's family (this barely scratches the surface) you may think I'm making it up too.
posted by nayantara at 12:39 PM on January 11 [64 favorites]


This read as real to me, initially (even the absolutely bonkers follow up), but some of the details in the follow-up feel like a tad too specific and on-the-nose, like Ted having to use Ash's en suite because the guest bathroom was locked. The animal abuse, aside from being maybe a marker of "insanity" also seems a little weird and out of place.

Still, I read this as true so either this person is an amazing fiction writer or they've been through some shit and either way I'm sitting here in a sort of stunned awe, albeit for very different reasons depending which scenario is ultimately true.
posted by asnider at 12:39 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


nayantara: I totally agree. They need to GET THE FUCK AWAY from his family for good for her own safety. I just don't know if Ted's gonna go that far. Most people wouldn't, I fear.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:41 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Someone peeing on other person's stuff more than once should be treated as if they're a sociopath that will escalate.

Speaking as someone from a family where spite-peeing-on-things from one family member has occurred... you’re not wrong.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:53 PM on January 11 [24 favorites]


Can we also throw in lessons about toxic masculinity? Many men suffer from mental disorders and addiction that get hand waved away as “something to grow out of.” Or something that can be worked on if we all just focus on their pure hearts. It’s unmanly to ask for help. It’s unmanly to tell a fellow male friend or brother that they look like they need help. It’s mom’s job to prop up their male children until their wives can take over. Like, in what world is urinating on the floor of your dwelling not considered a huge flashing sign of mental illness? In what world is it not assault and stalking and abuse to target someone explicitly with that behavior? Our world.
posted by amanda at 12:55 PM on January 11 [21 favorites]


Like even if there was a way to instantly and conclusively verify the truth and accuracy of these stories on AITA, what would you do differently due to possessing that information?

Either be genuinely concerned for the real problems or the real people, or applaud the author's ability to give psychological verisimilitude to fictional characters, depending. But I do think that it's necessary and useful to distinguish between truth and fiction, cf. James Frey.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:11 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


This family has problems well beyond Ash. If they believe that placing him in psychiatric care is going to fix everything they're sorely mistaken. I wish them the best, they all have a long road of recovery ahead of them.
posted by tommasz at 1:12 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Someone peeing on other person's stuff more than once

Take me through how doing it deliberately even once isn't sociopathic. Because it feels like a red line to me, but I'm pretty unforgiving.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:13 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


I think that there's a huge difference between caring about whether actual news is real vs caring about whether a q on an advice subreddit is real, and it's fine to not care about whether any given AITA (relationships, JNMIL, etc) is real and doesn't imply that you don't care if actual news is real or not.
posted by jeather at 1:18 PM on January 11 [15 favorites]


Not sure if you've noticed but determining the veracity of stories found on the internet is sort of a vital skill at the moment

But you aren't doing anything to determine the veracity of this story. To some it rings false, others think it could be true, some think it's interesting to discuss regardless because there are key interpersonal relationship dynamics and themes that resonate (much like in works of both fiction and non-fiction). I don't think there's really a high horse here.
posted by JenMarie at 1:58 PM on January 11 [13 favorites]


Lentrohamsanin, once intentionally is probably sociopathic, but I would not be terrified of escalation to battery or murder until the second time. I'm not a psychologist though so maybe i should be terrified the first time too?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:00 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I want to weigh in, as a casual follower of AITA for over a year now (and in the past, other subs like /r/justnomil and /r/raisedbynarcissists [RBN]) and who also believes the spread of mis- and disinformation is dangerous in general. Yes, veracity is important, and news organizations and publishers and the like have a huge duty to fact check, fact check again, submit corrections when necessary, etc.

But for a place like AITA or other internet spaces where people might share stories of abuse, I think there's a different calculus. What's more dangerous: spreading a fake story and having it be believed, or someone telling a story of their own abuse that sounds too outlandish and they are not believed?* Where does Metafilter usually stand on things like this: are we more worried about people scamming the system and getting help undeservedly (like the party of Reagan and his despicable lies about welfare queens), or those who need the help having to jump through so many hoops to prove they "deserve" it that they fall through the cracks?

In this case, what's at stake if this story is false? Internet points, a bunch of virtual Reddit gold, people spending time giving advice to someone who didn't need it (and yes some people who are upset by reading the story--thank you for including CW tags, nayantara). Even if it's false, someone reading it might see echoes of their own family and take the advice. If it is true, though, and this person instead had enough people doubting their story, how likely are they to seek more help? It's possible a bunch of internet strangers really did open this woman's eyes that how this family operates is not okay, and stopped her letting someone stay at her house who would harm her and face no repercussions.

At some point, I think around the end of 2019, Rule 8 on r/AITA (no shitposts) used to say "No validation posts". There was a lot of discussion about whether the mods should allow stories where the person "had to" be aware they couldn't possibly be the asshole.** This post gives some more insight clarifying what they mean by that rule, and the explainer text gets at what I and others are saying here.
"For me personally, if there is even a little chance that OP is being truthfully conflicted about a situation, I would not remove the thread...Abuse victims, for example, often think they're assholes for triggering the abuser, when in reality they are not."
I agree with orange swan that abuse victims are so frequently unsure if they're being an asshole, because they get so much pushback just for sticking up for themselves. I also really appreciate childofTethys bringing up Tara Westover's Educated. I'm sure even now she doubts some of the things that happened to her, because some of them do sound so outside the norm (as did this story). In Westover's footnotes she's so careful to point out how she checked with various other people, like the brothers who got out, that she remembered things correctly, and noted where there were discrepancies.

Anyway, thanks for coming to my Ted talk.

*Of course, there are exceptions. When someone spreads lies about a person who is famous or identifiable, that can lead to QAnon stalking, doxxing, swatting, and with the target being harassed or even killed. That's not what I'm talking about here.

**See: meta jokes of the ilk, "AITA for breaking a window" and the body of the post explains how the person had to break the window to rescue the orphans from the burning building. There's also an entire meta subreddit that was originally devoted to snarking on AITA posts that fit this mold, and has expanded to discuss other common behavior that annoys those subscribers.
posted by j.r at 2:13 PM on January 11 [48 favorites]


I can easily see this being true. Both of my parents came from very different but very dysfunctional families, and the stories I could tell about my extended family... well, I know it wouldn’t sound believable because it’s Just. So. Much.

My point is, if you come from a Just So Much place, it’s a different perspective. There’s little things you recognize from your own experience. There’s always a lot of little things. So many that it would make a really unbelievable book. And regardless if this particular story is true or not, I find it helpful when dysfunction is put out there on display. It makes it easier for one to talk about one’s own experience.
posted by Ruki at 2:20 PM on January 11 [15 favorites]


I agree with orange swan that abuse victims are so frequently unsure if they're being an asshole, because they get so much pushback just for sticking up for themselves.

Right here on Metafilter, I once asked a post that could be distilled down to "am I the asshole for not wanting contact with my mother?" I got a bunch of responses, including one that pointed out that I'd made an FPP about abusive parents that was useful reading, and that I had to know I was justified in cutting contact. I wasn't hurt by that comment, but also:

No, I didn't know. No, I still don't know. Yeah, I still grapple with this. The last time I read that thread of comments to remind myself that I wasn't completely crazy for being hurt and angry and wanting to not deal with it anymore was less than a month ago. I still don't know; right now, I'm just hoping.

Every time I am in a conflict, I can (and frequently do) run through the list of all the reasons that I might not be a reliable narrator, okay? Just in case I'm missing some, because I habitually treat myself as deeply untrustworthy because your trust in your ability to demarcate what is and is not okay is the first thing any abuser targets. If you have that ability, and you use it, you leave--so eroding your sense of whether abusive behavior is acceptable and normal or whether it's pathological is the first thing an abuser will do. It's normalized to you, it's just what you live with, and no one seems to react and everyone else is acting normal, so you just kind of figure it's about right, and possibly everyone on the television or whatever is just lying.

I have carefully talked friends through things like "yeah, it is not okay to be forced to live with a kitchen so filthy it has an active infestation of slugs" and "yeah, it's fucked up that your parents figured you could do homeschooling by buying some homeschooling books and leaving you with them under the age of ten while they worked full-time" and "wow the thing where you lived with no inner walls for ten years in your house because your parents took them down "to restore" and never got around to fixing them actually was not okay." Especially if you grow up with this shit, it seems normal. And if no one believes you--or even believes you aren't exaggerating--and you do try to share and get a reality check, that is incredibly damaging.

It's nice to imagine this doesn't happen to real people, and that weird and strangely specific stories of abuse are just made up for the clicks and the outrage, but that's all it is: imagining. You don't actually have any more evidence than your gut about whether this lady is lying or not than I do, because there just isn't context for evaluating her experiences beyond her own account of her experiences. All any of us has is our belief about the way the world works, and about the ways people tell stories when they are lying and the ways we believe people tell stories when they are telling the truth.
posted by sciatrix at 2:37 PM on January 11 [71 favorites]


If you find that an improbable story, then I am very glad for you. It would be an amusing anecdote for my family of origin. Glad the woman is getting distance and boundaries.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:50 PM on January 11 [20 favorites]


But for a place like AITA or other internet spaces where people might share stories of abuse, I think there's a different calculus. What's more dangerous: spreading a fake story and having it be believed, or someone telling a story of their own abuse that sounds too outlandish and they are not believed?

Yeah, this! One of the reasons I was so put off by the "this sounds fake/this feels true" discussion above is because I identified with the position of the person who posted to AITA - someone who has been treated abysmally and is not believed, can never hope to believed, even though they patently have nothing at all to gain from lying.

This panic of "people posting just for the attention" honestly comes across as a tad misogynistic, given its roots in all the hate women get on forums like reddit whenever they post a picture of themselves with a thing they made. "Oh noes," goes the cry, "here comes another girl looking for ~attention~!" As if that person is stealing irreplaceable lifeblood from our very veins. And similarly, to denigrate anyone who empathizes or resonates with the story enough to respond to the story itself, as if the capacity to feel a sense of recognition with that kind of scenario is something we ought to be ashamed of.

There is STILL a voice in my head that says I'm silly for feeling insulted by the implication that anyone's interest in this can only be... prurient. That this story would never matter to dignified, mature people, that dignified, mature people are the ones who are too cool for school, that if I were dignified and mature I would be smoothly pronouncing this story to be fake... never feeling any emotional resonance with any part of the story, never tempted to respond, empathize, or share. I agree so hard with sciatrix above that this voice is difficult to overcome.
posted by MiraK at 2:58 PM on January 11 [41 favorites]


The Reddit OP is unlikely to read anything here, but the way we respond absolutely has an effect on ourselves and each other. The OP has either been subjected to an extended period of misogynistic abuse from the younger brother and his family, or they're desperately seeking attention. We're not being asked for money or indeed anything at all; there's literally no downside in behaving compassionately as if the OP was aware of our response.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:00 PM on January 11 [35 favorites]


It's less that people think, "this could never happen," and more that /r/AITA is notorious for sensationalized fake stories designed to generate outrage, like any other fake internet content -- it's the equivalent of sharing an expose from the National Enquirer or a celebrity tabloid. I'm sympathetic that this resonates with people; I hope that explains some of the lukewarm responses.
posted by Emily's Fist at 3:37 PM on January 11 [17 favorites]


nayantara, I'm sorry for your loss and that you're having to deal with additional family frustrations on top of that.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:23 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


thanks evidenceofabsence. it's been a surreal week over here trying to process what happened to her, reconcile my anger that this is how it ended for her, and then also have to be reminded so starkly the dysfunction of my dad's family. Working on keeping my boundaries firm and staying true to my own values about honesty and respect, but it's hard when I'm faced with 8 other relatives on an international Zoom call spanning 5 time zones who are so willing to agree that lying about the cause of death is an appropriate response. Other Aunt has managed to gaslight one of my other cousins, who is a frikken DOCTOR, into disregarding the report of the medical examiner and buy into the heart attack story. I mean... that kind of gaslighting takes skill. Anyway. Thank you again.
posted by nayantara at 5:10 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


Good lord. I spend way too much time on AITA, especially since March and have a reasonable feel for patterns of "creative writing" there. This may or may not be true, but it is terrifying and written from the kind of vantage point (especially the update) that definitely feels very different from the pages and pages of usual posts on that sub. I feel like I need several types of unicorn chaser after reading all of that.
posted by 41swans at 5:27 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


It's not the basic content that's unbelievable. My family of origin is full of wild levels of dysfunction and seemingly* improbable events. (*What skeptics fail to see is that once you're in the tail of the "normal family" curve, the number of outrageous developments becomes exponential, due to escalation among increasingly unstable, outre, and/or traumatized people.)

What flags this as another entry in reddit's creative writing hall of fame, for me, is:

- excessive length. Most non-writers don't have the stamina to narrativize their lives in so many words. Especially not with so many appropriate paragraph breaks and so much narrative rhythm. (Not that talented writers aren't allowed to have wild things happen, but, statistically...)

- excessive detail. When I read honest cries for help on reddit, they usually fail to provide full context. In general, the more stressed and confused a person is, the more disjointed and inadequate their account. Creative posts, on the other hand, anticipate questions. They eliminate all gaps of logic, even when the explanation is so detailed or convenient as to become suspicious. (Creative posts also love to include unnecessary details such as, "brother one has a pet bearded dragon." Like...okay?)

--speed of events. Someone else mentioned this, and I think it's true. Creative posts tend to post an update in which events explode with a. supernova-like speed, and b. symphonic levels of detail, movement, and completeness. All questions are answered, all consequences meted. Everything happens over one or two days.

--a terminal resolution, period. In real life, situations may not resolve at all. Or the outcome is perplexing, dissatisfying, etc. And very often, no matter what happens, a real OP won't bother to report back.

--tone. Creative posts have this air of calculated ignorance. It is quite different from posts I read in subs where people are genuinely likely to be suffering intense events or abuse, esp. in conjunction with familial gaslighting, low self-esteem, poor support, etc. In the latter posts, people really don't know what to do. They have limited context for what's abusive. They are so mired in their situation that they're operating with a number of faulty ideas, including the assumption that they are somehow to blame, and/or that they are disempowered with zero options.

In fake posts, the writer has an improbably keen understanding of what is outrageous about their situation, even as they insist there's a possibility it is not outrageous. They are also quick to accept reader input, especially if it reinforces the "yes, this is outrageous" stance that the story invites. In real situations, the OP tends to be resistant, even if they ostensibly asked for advice. OP is likely to do everything that a character in a story wouldn't, like saying, "no that's impossible," or "no he's not really like that though," or "idk i'd have to ask my mom but i'm not going to"...basically, anything that does not involve "plot movement" or "character development."

(I find the issue of fake posts in AITA and relationshipadvice really interesting, so I hope this doesn't read as a takedown of the fpp. I just wanted to explain why someone would consider this post clearly fake. The implication is not that its fakeness makes it unworthy of discussion, or that people in AITA shouldn't give the benefit of the doubt and respond accordingly--because yeah, I think they are obligated to. Obviously the worse outcome is an abused person being invalidated, not a creative writer getting unjustly earned internet points.)
posted by desert outpost at 6:23 PM on January 11 [25 favorites]


Consider how utterly bananas the last 4 years have been, and especially 2020, and then think of the fact that Trump is only one of tens of millions of people just like him. He's just arguably the most powerful and visible example.

People like this do INSANE things. They do them in large part because they are nuts, but also because they know perfectly well that "of course" no reasonable person would believe that someone filled your bathtub with cockroaches on one occasion and then tried to sell your niece in exchange for a new car. If the truth is too crazy to believe, you can get away with anything.

It's perfectly reasonable to employ a healthy skepticism, but again, imagine reading a history book about 2020 and trying to believe one minute of it. It was so crazy we suffered mental damage trying to make sense of it all. So do people who endure their own human 2020 in their family or social circle.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:24 PM on January 11 [9 favorites]


Lentrohamsanin: Because it feels like a red line to me, but I'm pretty unforgiving.

Or a yellow line in this case....
posted by dr_dank at 7:04 PM on January 11


My SIL is a narcissistic psycho who excelled in gaslighting her family for decades. She progressed through ripping off her cousins as a teen, through faked college attendance, identify theft/ credit scam, faked illness to garner money, extortion. I am sure my husband and I only know a fraction of it because we lived abroad.What we do know, we actively found out ourselves and were the only ones to call in the authorities. Additionally, until our involvement, she absolutely avoided any real comeuppance or confrontation with other relatives who, despite being victims, scrambled to sort out and cover up the shit storm she left behind. Oh, and she STILL is supported/ sympathised with by most of these people. I cannot say this story is CLEARLY fake.
posted by genuinely curious at 7:42 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


It's not the *actions* that seem unbelievable, but the way it's written and how the events unfold.

I guess I've read a lot of very amateur fiction, aka a lot of fanfic, and I've aaalso read probably too much ask metafilter, and other boards where people are genuinely looking for advice and help. I have friends on facebook who keep sharing screencaps of things that seem to shout 'fiction' at me, even if I have trouble articulating every one of the paragraph by paragraph cues, but some are pretty clear, particularly the satisfying-ending trope.
The other week I was shared one where the denouement included the already-established-asshole-protagonist being thrown out of the bar by the hero ex-girlfriend while the gf was dressed as Harley Quinn.
I don't think people would share them in the same way if they were also recognising they were fictional.

I don't think they are helpful though, partly because I think that those fictional abusive situations make people think real abusive situations are going to have this kind of 'arc' to them, that there's going to be the same kind of cues you get from a narrative story, the right turning point, and that there's going to be a redemption narrative, or a satisfying denouement. Real life is a lot more confusing, and a lot less satisfying. I like fiction, but when you mistake fiction for real, you are more vulnerable to staying in a situation waiting for narrative hooks that are never going to come.

Luckily, desert outpost laid it out pretty well above. Seriously, every point there.

Additional details that I see far more often in fanfiction than real life:
* Most characters are laid out with a character description that is both utterly unnecessary and ignores privacy, including not just the bearded dragon, but "B#6 doctor, single and ready to mingle", and kind of fiction-go-to job descriptions - Doctor, Surgeon, Engineer, Teacher - rather than the weird or boring jobs people actually have.

* The male asshole antagonist, immediately sent a bouquet of sunflowers and card to her husband/his brother - it's not just that that's a far more common gift between characters in fanfic than in real life, particularly between male siblings, but mostly that the timeline is off. The brother would have to order them *immediately* for them to arrive in time to be part of the drama, the author realised there would be a bit of a timeline problem, so had them arrive while the narrator was travelling, and conveniently has a camera and neighbour to provide all the photographic proof, but they haven't really thought about why the asshole-brother would send the flowers to the husband's house when they know the husband is at their own house?

Story needed a beta reader.
posted by Elysum at 8:38 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


In fake posts, the writer has an improbably keen understanding of what is outrageous about their situation, even as they insist there's a possibility it is not outrageous.

Citation needed. Eg. are you speaking from experience as a mental health professional here?

I have more than one intelligent, articulate friend with ptsd or cptsd or bipolar disorder who have been through lots of therapy and who absolutely have a keen understanding of what is outrageous about their situation that they are able to articulate very well, and even entertainingly at times for close friends (because that is one of many possible coping mechanisms, and one that articulate people in particular maybe tend to apply) - yet who also don't know or understand. Sometimes it's the difference between intellectual understanding and emotional understanding; especially with gaslighting and abuse, someone can know that something is true in general, but not really know or believe that it applies to themself specifically. Sometimes it's that that's just how brains work when you have mental health issues that can have elements of psychosis.

Communities do tend to develop common story-telling conventions, phrasing, pacing, etc. over time. I imagine that in a newer online community, one might be able to do some machine learning analysis and pick out traits that tend to distinguish real stories from fiction. I suspect those distinctions either get harder to make with reasonable reliability over time, or that the distinguishing features would shift over time.

There's a lot of overlap between the alleged traits of fictional posts that you describe and the alleged indications of false stories told to police or pop psychology/pop criminology claims about how to tell if someone is lying. Regardless of how accurate or susceptible to interviewer bias the in-person contexts are, there's major difference in that, unlike in internet communities like AITA, your average person who doesn't work in law enforcement doesn't get to hear or read lots of allegedly false narratives. Thus there is at least likely to be more stability in any traits to predict whether a given narrative is true or fabricated in the in-person contexts, if such traits do verifiably exist.

I like to think that I have an objective lost of characteristics that help me distinguish truth from fiction as well. But I am fully aware that I have no objective evidence to verify that any claims I might make in this respect are, in fact, true.
posted by eviemath at 8:40 PM on January 11 [13 favorites]


The longer I live, the more convinced I become that "forgive and forget" is primarily used to perpetuate abuse in families and communities by protecting abusers.

Having found myself as a frog-in-the-pot of boiling crazy and witnessed the familial denial and coverup, I do actually believe this story is real. I don't think my experience was quite a this level, but then again there are some fake identities and secret account rabbit holes I only peeked at before noping out for my own sanity.

Still, the crazy WAS crazy enough for me to see how this story hits all the right notes of drama and denial that exists in these circumstances.

A few random thoughts:
- I bet the family is well-to-do to wealthy. Think old money. If not that, then politically connected. They likely have been hiding things for a long time to protect reputation or money.

- The OP STILL doesn't know the whole story. Ted probably withheld and changed some details out of a misguided notion of protecting her or Ash, or both.

- Ted went into Ash's bedroom not because the downstairs bathroom was locked, but because he knew something wasn't right in the home, yet couldn't figure out why, and felt the need to explain why he'd snoop. (He was probably observing something he wasn't directly aware of).

- When the raw shock wears off, there is going to be a circling of wagons, and the OP is likely to be somehow blamed, especially if Ted does stick to his guns.

- Someone, maybe a few someones, knew more than they have thusfar admitted to.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:22 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


If you described the events of 2020 to now to someone living in 2019, I'm pretty sure they would've said that that was fake too.
posted by Aleyn at 9:43 PM on January 11 [20 favorites]


If you described the events of 2020 to now to someone living in 2019, I'm pretty sure they would've said that that was fake too.

Yeah this too. When it's happening to you, you feel incredulous too. It's really easy to think YOU must be the one going crazy when things go that off the rails. As if casting doubt on victims's stories isn't difficult enough, when events are fantastical and far fetched, its super easy to not believe your own reality.


Seriously, tho. I saw a bald eagle in my city two days after the attack on the capital, and couldn't help thinking how the writers really screwed up on this one. That eagle was just too on the nose.

posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:25 PM on January 11 [10 favorites]


I always assume there's solid chance anything on AITA is fake or at least presented in a particular way for effect. However, I also think the forum does present an interesting and perhaps even actively useful lens into human relationships and the incredible number and variety of ways we will fuck with each other.

This one didn't even ping any of my fake buttons, but then I remembered that I come from a family of such deep and wild dysfunction such that this would only be Top 5 (but not Top 3) crazy stories of legend. Nobody ended up dead or even injured, the poster is in a better situation, and can have a happy ending where she (with husband or no) heals from this experience. That's a win!
posted by mostlymartha at 12:26 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


This whole conversation has been interesting and illuminating for me. Like mostlymartha and others, I could see this happening in my own family. The tone of the story didn't ring any false notes for me--I can easily imagine myself telling this sort of story.

The only details that gave me pause were:

•. Ted finding the guest bathroom locked, which must have been from the inside. I've never seen a bathroom that locks from the outside.

•. The description of the printed out photos of the niece. I don't know many people who print out photos nowadays.
posted by tumbling at 1:50 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Yeah this too. When it's happening to you, you feel incredulous too. It's really easy to think YOU must be the one going crazy when things go that off the rails.

Absolutely this. I've been in a few dysfunctional situations, and one of the primary things I felt throughout most of them was just sheer disbelief. Like, was this really happening? Was I going crazy? In fact, the feeling like I was going crazy -- doubting my own interpretation of events, because they were so different from what I was used to -- was probably one of the things that kept me stuck in these situations for so long. I began to second-guess myself constantly.

When you're used to normality you don't recognise dysfunction for what it is. All you notice is that suddenly things don't make sense and your existing tools for understanding the world no longer work. You begin to doubt yourself, your interpretations, and even your sanity. These doubts are exacerbated if there is gaslighting or lying. After long enough of this, the dysfunction starts seeming normal and you no longer trust yourself at all. Then you're really stuck.
posted by forza at 1:53 AM on January 12 [9 favorites]


I want to say something in defense of trashy talk shows - my Oma used to watch a fair bit of those, and they somehow made her .... less homophobic? She was a kid when the Nazis took over, a farmer's daughter raised deeply catholic, certainly not educated to be in any way open-minded on these matters. Non-straight people on trashy talk shows in the nineties were often encouraged to lean into the stereotypes; one would find much to object in that sort of "representation". Still, seeing them helped normalize non-heteronormative lifestyles for my Oma.

Because that can also be in an important function of that sort of spectacle - trashy talk shows, AITA, advice columns, wild gossip at the water cooler or at the kitchen table - these are places where we dicuss norms, define our standards and (re)calibrate our sense of what's normal/can be/should be expected/accounted for.

I get the discomfort with the lurid, scandalous, often fake or at least artificially heightened/dramatized aspect of it. We're invited to judge, and there can be something ugly about that - but also something very instructive/illuminating. Let's not forget - it's a free for all: We judge each other other on how and whom we judge and fail to judge (I'm not really terribly conviced by "Judge not lest you be judged" because, let's just face it, you're always going to be judged - I just had a shouting match with my Dad because he was insufficiently judgmental about the "more casual" Trump supporters who might not be too committed to the violent overthrow of democracy but somewho got a bit caught up in the general excitment of storming the capitol) - we judge the people in the stories and the people who judge the people in the stories.

So that's were the real usefulness is generated - in the discussion. Sure, it often starts in the spirit of "Look at these freaks! Who does that?" But what will often happen is that then someone pipes in, "Actually, that sort of shit is not that rare, something similiar happend to me..." Hear that often enough and it might give you some pause before you dismiss the next account you hear. If you've been fortunate in your own life in certain regards, you often can't even begin to imagine what other people have/had to struggle with, and there's a certain temptation to dismiss their accounts out of hand (what must not be, cannot be), because you don't know if you could cope in their place, and it can be unsettling to contemplate your own sheer luck in so far avoiding such a fate.

Then again, for people who have had similar experiences, it can be illuminating to see other people's shocked reaction to stuff they themselves have already gotten numb to. In that sense, these discussions can provide an important reality check, and you never know who among the audience might just desperately need one. Because most people's sense of normalcy is extremly elastic. When I think about the one bad job I had to quit, the dysfunction seems extremly obvious in retrospect, and yet I agonized so much about that choice, wondering whether I was just being overly sensitive. It's very common to not see the forest for the trees when you're caught up in a situation and it's terryfying what you can get used to. We desperately rely on each other to provide common sense to get out of these scraps. And sometimes random internet stranger can fulfil this function better than people we actually know, who might be too entangled themselves.

And lastly, even if some of these stories (at least those which go viral) seem rather transparently designed as outrage-bait, it has to be said that even then, the outrage, while ultimately overwhelming, usually does not start out as universal. The designated assholes do generally find their defenders. And sure, those defenders might be trolls, playing advocatus diaboli. But it don't buy that it's just for the lulz - they're testing boundaries, so it's important to show them where those boundaries are, what you can not (no longer) get away with. And if that results in a pile-on, that's maybe not aesthetically and intellectually pleasing, but some points, even if they seem trite, need repeating.

But sure, that same mechanism can absolutely work in harmful ways, when people spread conspiracy theories and prejudice. So yes, it's also very important to have the discussion how to distinguish the more from the less plausible accounts.
posted by sohalt at 2:06 AM on January 12 [14 favorites]


When one reads a lot of r/AITA (uh, not that I do or anything) one notices that the posts come in waves. Of course, it's entirely plausible that one post makes another poster think of something in their life, which makes another poster, etc. But lots of r/AITA posts seem to be "rules lawyering" to get the commenters to agree to some proposition like,

* "AITA for abandoning my daughter?" "Yes YTA."
* "AITA for abandoning my daughter since she's being a real bitch?" "Yes YTA."
* "AITA for abandoning my daughter, when she's not really my biological daughter and her mother tricked me about paternity, and my daughter is 24, and my daughter stole from me, and my daughter went no-contact with me, and I've already spent $30K on rehab, and she expects me to pay for an elaborate wedding and IVF treatments?" "No NTA. That bitch."

It's basically, "I'm going to come up with an elaborate scenario under which I can get r/AITA's blessing for doing something." Often that thing is agreeing that some girl or woman is, in fact, being a bitch.

Or there are obvious trolls being like, "Should I tell my stepchildren that they're ugly and stupid." "No YTA!" "But they are ugly and stupid and I need their college money for IVF treatments." "Omg YTA!" "But they'll never be my real children, especially after the chemotherapy made them so pudgy." "Madam you are an awful person!"

Or there are situations that just seem to repeat themselves over weeks like ... an elaborate situation between a rich, conservative, stay-at-home beautiful stepmother and a younger, unattractive career-oriented daughter-in-law. Last week it was hair fetishism.

I'm sure many posts are real people asking for real advice.

And I actually know someone who had a friend in a creepy-possessive-roommate-peeing-on-clothes situation!
posted by Hypatia at 6:02 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


Just wanted to pop and in and say really enjoying this thread and appreciating those sharing about their lives and experiences. This discussion is unpacking a lot of interesting things about r/AITA and its milieu, in a way that is timely and thoughtful (considering the possible emotional context / needs of the people posting in r/AITA).
posted by snerson at 7:07 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


One of the reasons to ask whether or not anecdotes like this are true is because anecdotes like this influence how we think about other people in society--as much as what we see in the news or directly experience. How we treat strangers, how we think about policies proposed by politicians: they are influenced by one-off, compelling examples. What policies on crime were supported by voters because of the story of Kitty Genovese? Of the Central Park 5? Of McDonald's hot coffee lawsuits? The accuracy or even entire truth of a story like that, whether it's in a subreddit or on a newspaper page, affects our perception of the world.

The point isn't to either establish hard truth of the thing, or to ban the publication of stories of uncertain truth; it's to make sure that we don't unconsciously base our sense of reality on stories without accounting for the possibility that they're fiction.
posted by pykrete jungle at 7:16 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


You can't guarantee that any personal story on the web is true. For many ask.me's, it's very clear that there's another side to the story story; we all see the world through a lens. So take any story at face value - even made-up stories usually reveal something.

Ash sounds significantly impaired by mental illness. I had a family member with schizophrenia and many family members enabled weird, dangerous, abusive behavior for many years. It's very difficult to get someone diagnosed in families with severe denial and enabling, but people with schizophrenia or other mental illness can be helped a lot with medication and good psychiatric care. Once Ash's Mom knew he wasn't getting real therapy, the kindest thing would have been to find a PhD Psychologist or Psychiatrist, and get Ash some real help. Peeing on your brother's gf's stuff is quite aggressive, along with the animal abuse, Ash is at risk for continued violence. The poster is not an asshole. (Potential) mental illness doesn't make Ash's behavior acceptable, but it suggests what should be done to deal with the problem
posted by theora55 at 7:40 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


One of the reasons to ask whether or not anecdotes like this are true is because anecdotes like this influence how we think about other people in society--as much as what we see in the news or directly experience.

Yes, I agree! That's one of the reasons I find the rush to dismiss many of these stories as fictional based on how well we feel it fits our sense of drama so troubling.

Stories do influence how we see the world. They help us decide what to do when we find ourselves in loaded situations. They teach us what warning signs to look out for. They show us what is and is not acceptable behavior.

When someone tells a story of abusive behavior, dramatic abusive behavior indeed, and the response is to say "oh, you couldn't possibly be confused about that being okay; this is too dramatic, in real life your husband wouldn't have gone and looked, in real life you wouldn't mention all those specific details, what lawks!" we are also telling ourselves a story. We are telling stories about how people who speak of having experienced abuse are often liars taking stories for our entertainment. We are teaching ourselves to be skeptical of stories about abusive and strange behaviors based entirely on how a story is told, as if we can tell whether a person is lying or not from how they tell us a thing.

Humans are often very confident about being able to tell whether someone is lying or not by focusing in on subtle details of their presentation of events, but the same very confident people who know they can spot liars are frequently wrong. Many of the tells people rely upon to identify lies are in fact markers of fear and anxiety, especially anxiety that the person speaking will not be believed. When you have been trained to doubt your own perception of reality and your own judgement about fairness, what kinds of emotions do you think are likely to be present in someone asking for a reality check?

I invite the thread to consider what we are training ourselves to do as we rush to spot lies in personal stories of abuse. What stories are we telling ourselves about this woman? What are we teaching ourselves to believe about the world? And, in the event that we are wrong about whether we can tell truthful questions from stories written for entertainment?
posted by sciatrix at 7:46 AM on January 12 [25 favorites]



I've never seen a bathroom that locks from the outside.


When I was a kid I saw a house where it was not only the bathroom. I told my mom and I think it triggered something. My mom was in denial for another 15 years or so. I trace my "powers" to all the years that didn't quite make sense.

Unbelievable things happen when I need them to. I kicked a door in. The guy had a gun and no pants. I had pants and no gun. The bolt from the door flew across the room and hit him in the head hard enough to stun him and I got the kid out of there. And all of that because I had a bad feeling watching the guy in a hardware store. Plenty of people saw what he bought. I gave up on most cops a long time ago. I have no adult criminal record.

Unbelievable.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:47 AM on January 12


When one reads a lot of r/AITA (uh, not that I do or anything) one notices that the posts come in waves.

One of the points I meant to add and then forgot is this: when we use external evidence about the presence of stories that may or may not be true to evaluate other stories, it helps to have context. I agree that the kind of patterns your describe might indicate untruthfulness in some of the stories that fit them.

Here's my question, frequent /r/AITA readers: Does this story happen to fit the current ebb-and-flow of the patterns of stories on the subreddit? What's the context of the recent patterns of the site? Is this a new entry in a meta-conversation about social norms (in what situation would I, the perspective telling you this story, be the asshole?) or is it disconnected from the current meta-conversation about social norms on the sub?
posted by sciatrix at 7:54 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Here's my question, frequent /r/AITA readers: Does this story happen to fit the current ebb-and-flow of the patterns of stories on the subreddit?

To me, this is not in the "current ebb-and-flow" of topics but it is not an unusual type of post. That is, there are a lot of posts of "I've been treated outrageously by a certain person for years and years, I broke contact, and now my family wants them to move back into my life / house because of COVID" right now, and there have been for a few months. But the "ebb and flow" of topics seems to get a little more specific than that. That is, there haven't been a lot of pee / semen related stories right now. Lots of stories about girls' hair and menstruation this week though!

Just in my opinion, I don't see anything particularly outrageous or untruthful-seeming in the actual AITA post. There are honestly people out there like that. COVID is making things crazy. But regarding the followup post, (which the AITA mods did not allow, and they often allow followups) I agree with many commenters above that the details given there make it seem very tropey, very quickly-resolved, and very likely to be a fake story. Particularly "You’ll probably have a thousand questions by this point and I don’t know how to answer any of them since I’ve just been waiting to post all of this, maybe I won’t post it at all and keep you all wondering, I will say both this situation and some of the messages I’ve gotten have made me lose some of my faith in humanity but I guess that’s part of what makes us human."
posted by Hypatia at 8:28 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


Ok, since I've already brought up my dad's family (note that I refer to them as that because it helps me mentally to sort of separate myself from them because a few years ago I realized that the dysfunction within was beyond the pale and I needed to stay away), here are a few scenarios that I could have asked AITA that may be questioned as "NO WAY THIS STORY IS TRUE." I assure you, these stories are true:

Other Aunt (heretofore known as European Aunt) - born in India, lives in Europe, married a white man and has a half-white son. She is the second-oldest in my dad's generation, has lived in Europe for nearly 50 years, and is used to the rest of the family based in India deferring to her opinions, agenda, and authority on everything entirely due to the fact that she lives in Sophisticated Europe and is married to a white man because colorism and imperialism is still very much a thing in India. She exploits this dubious power she has rather successfully. She is currently the mastermind of the falsehood that Younger Aunt did not pass away from COVID-19 but a heart attack, despite the medical examiner determining cause of death as COVID-related complications. She backs up this theory by saying that even her husband (her white husband) is convinced that it wasn't COVID. European Aunt and Uncle are not doctors. European Aunt and Uncle have not seen medical examiner's report or spoken to medical examiner. This is the latest in a slew of weird secrets she wants to keep - for instance, her son and DIL had a complicated first pregnancy due to them having twins, babies were born very early and one had a congenital heart defect, but survived and both kids are thriving ten years later. However, with her DIL got pregnant a second time, she told NO ONE in the family DIL was expecting, and we were all surprised by a random birth announcement, followed by nasty guilt trips in years following for failing to recognize surprise!baby's birthday as if we're supposed to remember the birth of a child who was barely acknowledged to us. Also, she has never shared a photo of this child, who is now 4 years old. This is totally whack-ass bizarre to me.

My dad - born in India, has lived in the US for nearly 50 years and in California for over 20. He used to have massive rage issues manifesting in broken plates and glasses and remote controls and cordless phones and denting radiators and punching walls when I was younger. Anger was directed at me and my mother, who passed away from cancer when i was 12 (he and I were also her primary caretakers and he did love my mother and took care of her very well; people contain multitudes). I was never given counseling to deal with my mother's illness or death and was diagnosed with CPTSD last year because I had been maladaptively coping with stress, was hypervigilent, and experiencing anxiety attacks and flashbacks. Dad has always displayed narcissistic tendencies and has a major White Knight complex (he dated a series of women who he treated as "projects"). Dad had a massive nervous breakdown about 15 years old due to unprocessed grief during which he blamed me for everything wrong in his life, told me I was a worthless piece of shit as a daughter who didn't care about him, and literally abandoned me in the parking lot of a Red Lobster in a dangerous neighborhood at 8pm one night and drove away. This is another facet of my CPTSD - my dad's vicious treatment of me lasted more than a year before I gave him an ultimatum and told him he needed therapy or he would never see me again. He did therapy, which didn't help. He then met my stepmother, who is a yoga teacher (and a super cool lady), and started doing tons of yoga, which did help mellow him out considerably. That being said, he is a major drama llama - he claims that the philosophy of yoga and the spirituality he has found has made him a truly enlightened human being and thus he no longer cares about family drama refuses to get involved in the machinations of European Aunt, but this is a massive lie as he LOVES talking smack about her. In fact, despite his professed not-caring about family drama he stays constantly up-to-date on all of the latest drama and frequently calls to give me "updates" that are always extremely appalling. When I say "Dad, what you just told me about what's going on with your family is very appalling," he then gives a pompous lecture about how he's so above it all and doesn't let himself get bothered by such things, I am his only family and he's happy with that blah blah blah and then I'm like "If you're so over your family why do you call and give me excruciatingly detailed awful stories about them?" and he gets majorly defensive. Last year pre-COVID I ended up in an intensive outpatient psychiatric program at a famous-ish hospital in the northeast doing 8 weeks of DBT. Dad had never heard of DBT before and did some cursory reading on it and now considers himself not just an expert on dialectics, but says things like "They key to happiness is a dialectical approach to life. I have always lived my life that way, as it comes very naturally to me." Which is self-glorifying, pompous, UNTRUE, and kind of insulting considering I was literally planning to kill myself before ending up in the facility and DBT helped me immensely so like, thanks for shaming me for not having a natural ability to live with a consciousness of dialectics? Like I was talking about jumping off subway platforms and/or swallowing every pill in the house. Thanks for bragging about your enlightenment and how it means you are totally happy (even though he's been low-key depressed basically always as well as totally a drama llama; my best friend refers to my dad's condition as "caffeinated depression" which is hilariously apt). Dad is currently urging me to buy into the family lie that Younger Aunt died of a heart attack because "it doesn't really matter" (the TRUTH doesn't matter? in a pandemic that has been as badly managed in India as it has here?) and "let's not cause stress with the family." Okay, dude.

This brings me to my family in India, who I am not as close to. My dad, the aforementioned drama llama who is also an unreliable narrator, has conveyed the following upsetting stories to me:

Uncle with PTSD from being attacked at gunpoint in the workplace - everyone is sick of his lack of ambition and depressive phases; also he smoked too much and now has COPD so this is further proof of his worthlessness.

Bipolar cousin, who cannot work, threatened suicide so many times that they were considering putting her into a group home permanently and sending her daughter to boarding school since her husband is incapable of childcare on his own (cue eyeroll). Bipolar cousin ultimately was not sent to group home. Bipolar cousin is still actively suicidal. Bipolar cousin is on a ton of medication that is not working for her and some of it has made her gain weight. Everyone says Bipolar cousin's issues are due to the fact that she is fat, and if she would stop whining and get some excersize she'd be fine.

Bipolar cousin at one point went to Younger Aunt's house and asked her for money, saying that her husband was abusing her and controlling her financially and not allowing her to have even a bit of money of her own for groceries or to replace her worn out shoes. Younger Aunt felt awful and gave her money. Two days later, Infuriated Husband of Bipolar cousin stormed into Younger Aunt's apartment returning the money and telling her to mind her own fucking business. Younger Aunt doesn't know what to do, calls my dad. Dad IMMEDIATELY calls me to regale me with juicy gossip. When I say "Holy shit, if cousin is being abused we have to help her, can we figure out what's going on?" Dad says "YOU KNOW, Nayantara, I try not to get involved in this stuff, no one knows what goes on in a marriage, maybe she was acting out because she's mentally ill." I reply with "Holy shit are you seriously saying cousin deserves to be abused by her husband because she's mentally ill? And why are you telling me this story if you don't even know if it's true?" Dad gets BIG MAD. At me.

Doctor cousin was struggling to get pregnant. She got pregnant and suffered a miscarriage at 5 months. Was devastated. Went to confide in Younger Aunt (she was sweet and a sounding board for all of her nieces and nephews) her grief and pain. Two weeks later, she calls Younger Aunt and tells her "Don't ever talk to me again, and don't come to our house, you are no longer welcome." Younger Aunt is baffled, doesn't know what to do, calls my dad. My dad calls with this story and says Doctor cousin must be embarassed because she had to get an abortion, how else do you get rid of the contents of a miscarriage. I am horrified because what he just said is just barely inches away from extreme right wing rhetoric in American that wants to prosecute women for miscarrying, explain to him what a D&C or D&E is and how it is used in both miscarriages and abortions, explain to him the DIFFERENCE between a miscarriage and abortion (something I never thought I would have to do for my father, who has a PhD in English literature and has lived in the United States for decades and has always identified as pro-choice). Dad gets BIG MAD and defensive. I say "I do find it strange that Doctor cousin is going no contact with Younger Aunt, it's not like Younger Aunt did anything." "YOU KNOW, Nayantara, I try not to get swept up with family gossip..." (EYEROLL OF THE CENTURY)

Dad and Doctor cousin got in a big row when my grandmother was in the hospital in a coma due to a stroke many years ago. Doctor cousin was trying to be helpful because she is a doctor. Dad, who's sense of entitlement to authority is almost as bad as European Aunt's, gets annoyed and threatened by Doctor cousin (he believes he is an expert, despite NOT BEING A DOCTOR) and tells her to back off. Doctor cousin gets angry, yells at him in hospital, accusing him of thinking he's a big shot because he's from America, and hurls all sorts of cursing invective at him. Dad responds by telling Doctor cousin that she's an ungrateful brat who shouldn't interfere in matters that don't concern her, with more cursing. My dad gleefully calls me to tell me what happened and then refers to Doctor cousin as "confused". I don't know what "confused" means. I tell him that it sounds like both him and Doctor cousin behaved inappropriately. Dad gets BIG MAD because I'm not taking his side, declares he is washing his hands of his whole family. Within a month he's back in touch with all and sundry and the feud with Doctor cousin is swept under the carpet like it didn't happen.

Dad says he will no longer speak to me if I even subtly indicate that I suffer from mental health issues to anyone in his family, despite at least two of them also suffering from mental health issues. Dad is getting old and I don't know how many years we have left, so I follow his instructions, because I know that if I slip and tell one of them, the whole damn family will know within 20 minutes and I'll get a phone call from European Aunt with unsolicited medical advice (remember, she's not a doctor) and a BIG MAD call from my dad for making him look bad in front of everyone especially European Aunt, who he claims he doesn't care about but always defers to as well.

That's only the stuff that's happened in the last 20 years. If I were to ask AITA or even AskMe "Hey, am I awful for limiting contact to my father's family because they are full of drama and minimize serious issues and stress me out due to my mental health issues? Here are some examples," I can easily envision someone saying it's FAKE FAKE FAKE (how can one family have so many mental health issues, there's no way the uncle was attacked at gunpoint in the office, there's no way the dad would have abandoned their daughter in a parking lot, there's no way anyone is stupid enough to conflate a miscarriage with an abortion).

I also was raised within this family system, and for years thought:

1) All dads got mad and broke things and yelled
2) All families trample on each others boundaries, that's how you know they are family
3) Maybe I am a bad daughter and deserved to be abandoned in a parking lot
4) Maybe I am a failure at life for being suicidal
5) Maybe my cousin who is also suicidal deserves to be abused because mental illness sucks for family members
6) Maybe my boyfriend wants to leave me because suicidal people are worthless

And if I wrote an AITA or whatever with that framework of "normal" in my mind, I would probably sound as implausibly clueless as the OP in this scenario.

I'm putting this stuff out there because, to echo what others have said above, when you are talking about abuse, maybe it's best to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who is potentially in an abusive situation and might need help and support. It took years of therapy and the support of my boyfriend to understand not just how messy my dad's family is but how much it had poisoned my mind and perception of how the world works. This scenario was a HUGE wake up call for the OP and her husband. If it's true, it likely saved the OP's life. If it's fake, is it really that big of a deal that Reddit gets some more pageviews? If it's fake, it's not even remotely in the same tier as the lies that Donald Trump and his sycophants peddle every day. If you want to equate the two or say it's a slippery slope I would say that that is hugely melodramatic and also how nice it must be to not have experience toxic family dynamics in your life.

Back to trying to help Bipolar cousin plan a funeral long distance because she's getting overwhelmed and texted me saying she was going to have a panic attack and no one in the family has offered to help, not even her siblings.
posted by nayantara at 10:14 AM on January 12 [21 favorites]


These days I only see an r/AITA post if it bubbles up to my personalized front page, so I probably don't see a lot of the microtrends. Of the posts that get so much traction that I see them, though, lately I've noticed a lot of:

"My husband isn't doing his part to take care of our [newborn/toddler/household chores] so I [snapped at him/kicked him out/yelled insults]. But I [work full time/am still recovering from the birth/am tired of living in filth]. AITA?"

There's probably a lot of that, though it may be exacerbated by COVID and being unable to hire cleaners/childcare or have family come and help. Some other trends I can remember from the past:
  • "I proposed at someone else's wedding," or "I hogged the dance floor/karaoke mike at someone's else's wedding," or "My female relative asked me to do some outrageous thing for her wedding and I said no. AITA?"
  • "I asked my girlfriend to stop throwing away her tampons in the bathroom where there's a small chance I might see them and get grossed out. AITA?"
  • "I'm a thin person and my friend/coworker is fat and always harasses me and comments on my body, so I insulted her and maybe called her fat. AITA?"
  • Families with multiple children who get uneven financial support from parents, from college/scholarships, wedding funding, cars.
  • "I threw away my SO's/child's/roommate's possession that was bothering me. AITA?"
posted by j.r at 10:30 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


For the AITA post, she mentioned that her family (of some privilege) discovered the post which may have influenced the lack of follow up.

For lawsuits and criminal matters, people swear to the statements that support next steps, sometimes after hours of “working with police” or dealing with family members who insist that Something Must Be Done. Two books that lifted the veil on how flawed this system is, are Krakauer’s “Missoula” and Chanel Miller’s memoir “Know My Name” look at how flawed criminal processes are, and neither story encompasses the experience of victims that are below middle class, who experience the most sexual assault, violence and atrocities and are referred to the same police and court system. I’ve worked in volunteer mediation and restorative justice circles, which is a heavy lift, and see many resort to family and inner-circle social systems for a semblance of being fully heard and get gaslit when the silenced details could change outcomes.

Yes, we need to be critical thinkers, but taken out of context (this was A or not), or to an extreme (critical analysis subverted many elements of inclusion under ADA which now has ADAAA, continuing the struggle for people with disabilities in the US) can lead to a continuation of a bad situation or further disastrous results.
posted by childofTethys at 10:56 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


I believe this story because it is the level of insane that I have heard about from other families, and occasionally mine. But I will not consider myself stupid if I am wrong.

I find that the fake ones are either a) some kind of disguised fetish material, b) melodrama or c ) pure comedy, like the magical Soup Tube, which made me giggle for days.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:57 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]


I WANT TO BELIEVE IN SOUP TUBES
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:05 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


If Soup Tube Guy was for serious real, the business would instead be pneumatic tube delivery. It could indeed deliver tubular cannisters of soup to keep the SOUP TUBE moniker (angel investors agree, Soup Tube has more zing than Soup Pipe) but could also deliver cannisters of other food.

thwwoooooMP. Soup's on!
posted by Drastic at 11:22 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Nayantara, I believe you. I'm sorry for your loss, and I'm sorry about all the things you're putting up with.

It's not to the same degree, but I have a few difficult relatives who absolutely do not fit the cultural mold people expect those relationships to be. I've had to grieve the loss of those idealized relationships I'm "supposed" to have, and a lot of my family has had to deal with fleas to some extent. No doubt those dynamics could take over and cause more harm if left unchecked.
posted by j.r at 11:32 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


In fake posts, the writer has an improbably keen understanding of what is outrageous about their situation, even as they insist there's a possibility it is not outrageous.

Just to chime in on what other people have said on here, this is a really bad guide as to whether someone is or isn't in a bad situation. I was in a relationship that got incredibly toxic, posted a couple of anonymous AskMe posts that would probably fall into your 'improbably keen' above, and had months of therapy before I could face the reality of where we'd ended up.

People tie themselves into knots very easily.
posted by MattWPBS at 11:40 AM on January 12 [14 favorites]


There is one weird troll who posts regularly about stepdaughter/stepmother drama. A common troll is a gender flipped version of a question to prove everyone hates men. There was a memorable troll where someone was going to have a Harry Potter themed wedding and wanted to seat people by house (the author admitted it). I like the fakes where roommate drama is about a pet described as roommate instead.

I agree that the speed at which everything happened here was a bit suspicious, but not proof of anything, and the post otherwise didn't really hit the troll buttons (the follow-up was long, but the original was not). And as people have said, the story itself is not impossible at all.
posted by jeather at 2:54 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I also have a hunch that a lot of fake stories are true in their core. They're embellished to various levels, the author hid or changed details to stay anonymous, the story mirrors a similar situation or emotional state that the author is in, or they're written from the perspective of another person. I notice the latter on Ask A Manager a lot (people write in as their evil co-worker or boss, or as a witness to the situation).

My point is that I think a lot people are getting valuable feedback, support, and perspectives from writing these stories, even if they're not 100% true.
posted by Stoof at 4:21 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]


Again, "It's not the *actions* that seem unbelievable, but the way it's written and how the events unfold".

I don't find anything implausible about someone maliciously pissing on someone's stuff for months, blaming the cats, and having a co-dependent family still trying to make them move in.

That's nothing.
I've got a dozen stories from my own life that are far more ridiculous, outrageous, implausible or abusive than that.

So, Nayantara - just a reassurance. As you've made clear, when growing up in dysfunctional environments, you've probably been gaslit into thinking both some abusive situations are normal, and *simultaneously* that *no outsiders must ever know*, and that you *won't be believed*, right?
So, when I or others think a story is fictional *not because of the abusive situations*, or "abuse doesn't happen", but because they're *written with certain tells like fiction*, that is not a threat to your own truth being believed.
All the stories you've mentioned? Sure, the way you've written it, entirely believable. No big payoff, or bunches of details with a fast conclusion.
But, more importantly, the part of you that thinks you won't be believed because those events are too *dysfunctional*? The "NO WAY THIS STORY IS TRUE." reaction?
Nah, I was expecting some far far weirder stories for you to be thinking that anyone would find the *events* implausible, the events themselves are, dare I say, totally mundane dysfunctional family shit. Then obviously I caught myself, because yep, a common symptom of being in a dysfunctional dynamic at least in the ones that successfully pass as middle-class etc, is keeping that shit buttoned up and thinking no one will believe you.
There's no weird details in any of those stories. That's just run of the mill dysfunctional family.


It's really not the weird elements themselves, it's that *especially* that followup, is written like fiction.
Wamt weird elements?

Drama: Friend's first wife had an affair with his own father, she left him for his Dad, they got married, got custody of the kids, cut off all contact (he moved countries) and they told the kids that their actual bio Dad (not their Grandad, who they were raised with as a Dad) was Dead, until they were teenagers and found out themselves.

Implausible details: I'll skip the whole story, but turns out the person I hadn't heard from in a while had joined the French Foreign Legion.

Mental health: Yeah, I've spent far more time supporting loved ones in locked psychiatric wards than anyone wants to, and things get a lot weirder than anything above before someone gets involuntarily committed as a harm to themselves or others.

I absolutely believe in crazy shit happening.
posted by Elysum at 4:36 PM on January 12


But the thing is, as much as you tell yourself you're sure, you never really can be. You can decide that stories with characteristics A, B, and C are true while stories with characteristics X, Y, and Z are fake, but without some kind of outside confirmation that's still just your own decision. Unless you've investigated all those stories with characteristics X, Y, Z, you're concluding that they're fake because they sound fake to you.

A lot of able-bodied people don't believe the stories I've told them of work and school discrimintations I've experienced because "that can't happen; it's against the ADA." Because, what, nobody in authority would ever contravene an act of government if they were pretty sure they could get away with it?

People who didn't grow up with a smart deadbeat dad tend not to believe the lengths my father went to to hide assets and refuse to pay child support, because they never experienced that themselves.

People don't believe the story of my classmate whose disability was caused by an adverse reaction to a vaccine, because "adverse reactions are so rare." Well, I never claimed it wasn't rare - rare things happen to somebody, or else they wouldn't be rare, they'd be impossible.

I'm not saying it's good to believe everything you hear, but some people practice doubt like it's a religion, and I don't think that's necessarily always a whole lot better.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:44 PM on January 12 [13 favorites]


"Doubt" isn't even the right word, though, because that means you're not sure. This is more like confidently writing off anything that doesn't fit your preconceptions.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:54 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


some people practice doubt like it's a religion, and I don't think that's necessarily always a whole lot better.

Context makes all the difference. It IS good to practice skepticism like a religion when reading scientific claims or news stories from unverified sources. That's because false science and false news stories have a direct impact on us if they're believed willy nilly.

But this? Personal stories people tell on the internet about their family situations, where they are asking for help and advice? What possible harm is there in going along with a false story here? The stakes are nil.

And in fact, there is a ton of potential harm caused by dismissing these stories out of hand as obviously untrue or even improbable. You're directly contributing to a culture where victims of family abuse are by default disbelieved when you do that. Even if the original story is untrue, you're teaching everyone else who truly is living in those conditions how people will react to them if they dare to speak up or ask for help.

Honestly, before we even get into the discussion of that harm, it's beyond me why people think it's productive to hash out the possible truth or falsehood of AITA posts on this thread. What possible mechanism do we have to determine that anyway, here on this thread? We might as well be arguing about how the room smells right now, completely ignoring the fact that we are all in totally different rooms at the moment.
posted by MiraK at 9:52 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]


And in fact, there is a ton of potential harm caused by dismissing these stories out of hand as obviously untrue or even improbable.

If we are going to roll with that, we should ban AITA posts. Because large numbers of the most dramatic ones are fiction, which is acknowledged on the group itself and by the moderators. Things get regularly deleted for that. Others aren't provable in the same way, but contain a whole lot of tells. If the policy is going to be to yell at people for skeptically analyzing the posts, then they don't belong here.
posted by tavella at 10:35 AM on January 13


I'm seeing more "disagreeing" than "yelling" here.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:44 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I am unable to translate "You're directly contributing to a culture where victims of family abuse are by default disbelieved" as anything else than that. If the stance is going to be that anyone who doesn't naively accept AITA accounts is an accomplice to abuse, we need to ban them.
posted by tavella at 10:48 AM on January 13


If the stance is going to be that anyone who doesn't naively accept AITA accounts is an accomplice to abuse, we need to ban them.

I don't think that's the stance at all. Look what we do in AskMe. There is plenty of critical assessment of questions going on there. For instance, I think it's virtually impossible that this question is an accurate description of a real situation, but in my answer, while I pointed out that the scenario described by the OP was implausible, I still acted on the presumption that the person was in genuine need of help and gave what I hoped was useful advice for someone in that sort of situation. I think the guiding rule should be... be respectful, be open to the possibility that the post may be entirely true, and don't behave in a way that would make things worse for the victim if it is, because a lot of the AITA OPs do track down the viral non-reddit internet posts about them and read them. And yes, the mods can delete AITA questions from the front page if they seem too much like a shitpost to be worthy of discussion here, as that's no disrespect to the poster.
posted by orange swan at 11:03 AM on January 13 [7 favorites]


If we are going to roll with that, we should ban AITA posts.

Why, though? What harm would *this AITA post* being false cause, to deserve a ban? I have no sense of this danger you seem to think we are in from false requests for advice about familial abuse... so much danger that relentless skepticism and even a ban such stories would be necessary for our protection.
posted by MiraK at 12:37 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


It's not about the post being false, it's about the fact you are accusing people who do not naively accept it as true of being accessories to abuse. If people cannot freely discuss the post in question and skepticism is going to be treated as condoning abuse, then it has no place here and should stay on Reddit.
posted by tavella at 1:06 PM on January 13


tavella, I didn't accuse you of being an accessory to abuse, nor did I say anything about people having to naively accept AITA stories as true.
posted by MiraK at 1:20 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


To be fair, there's quite a bit of ground between "naively accepting it as true" and "vehemently denouncing it as having no possibility of being true."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:18 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I am talking about how you are treating other people in this thread, to wit:

"And in fact, there is a ton of potential harm caused by dismissing these stories out of hand as obviously untrue or even improbable. You're directly contributing to a culture where victims of family abuse are by default disbelieved when you do that. Even if the original story is untrue, you're teaching everyone else who truly is living in those conditions how people will react to them if they dare to speak up or ask for help. "

I object extremely strongly to that, as someone who has watched a) the evolution of AITA i.e., as it became more high profile the amount of high profile posts that were either obviously or likely fiction skyrocketed and more important b) someone who has watched the acceptance of ludicrous fictional accounts on the internet in general turn into a hideous cancer that has helped feed an actual coup attempt in my country. Anonymous shitposting should be treated more thoughtfully and skeptically than ever before.
posted by tavella at 2:20 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


a. orange swan broke this down pretty well, viz., in case of obvious shitposting the mods are free to remove FPPs and when it's *not* an obvious shitpost we should be more responsible than to cast doubt on stories of familial abuse, lest we contribute to real victims being disbelieved.

b. People posting in advice forums about fake familial abuse was, definitively, not the cause of this coup attempt.
posted by MiraK at 2:27 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]


To be clear, I have no objection whatsoever for people pushing back and arguing that it sounds true to them, but when you hit the line of saying that people analyzing it differently are causing harm, that they are contributing to a culture of abuse, that even if the story is a lie you shouldn't say so because it hurts victims - if that is going to be the rule, then the discussion needs to be somewhere else.
posted by tavella at 2:27 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


if that is going to be the rule, then the discussion needs to be somewhere else.

... because???

I've given the reasons why I think posts which are not obvious shit posts should not be dismissed as fake. The harm here is so straightforward. It's telling that you haven't addressed it at all, but rather jump straight to, "well if I can't call plausible stories of family abuse fake, nobody should be allowed to talk about family abuse stories, ever."
posted by MiraK at 4:42 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I'm very clear about it: I believe all anonymous stories should be treated with a certain amount of caution and thought, and that when they are from a wildly unreliable source, as AITA has turned into over the last few years when large parts of it became a contest for fiction writing and getting said fiction writing to go viral, you should be extremely skeptical. And I think current events have demonstrated why you should take such care with people trying to craft viral narratives.
posted by tavella at 4:52 PM on January 13


I'm trying to understand your pov, that you sincerely believe that if you are unable to call a plausible AITA story fake, you feel that will contribute to a general atmosphere where fake news is accepted as true. However many steps there may be inbetween those two events, to you the threat is real enough.

Can you, in your turn, understand the direct harm your professions of skepticism and casting of doubt are causing?

Nobody is asking you to believe everything you read! We are only asking you to hold your expressions of disbelief in check when a story of family abuse told by a victim (with no possible ulterior motive beyond "attention") seems plausible. Think what you please, just act as if the possibly-real-victim who told the story might be reading your response here - as she might well be.

When it's not an obvious shitpost, when there IS a chance it's real, the harm you potentially cause is big and immediate. Can you understand this? Can you address this concern?

It is heartbreaking to read the stories of our own families that we are forced to tell on these threads because some people insist on pronouncing these stories fake. Everyone who is telling their family stories of abuse here, they shouldn't have to do that. They shouldn't need to make themselves vulnerable to you calling them liars too. But they're doing it because they see in your calls of "fake!" the same resonance of what the world always tells abuse victims.

Can you understand this? Can you address this?
posted by MiraK at 5:04 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I'm beginning to feel slightly trolled here, as many many people in this thread have pointed out why it reads as fake to them and why they think it is important to analyze that; I would particularly recommend rereading tzikeh's comment. Any number of them have noted that in fact it is not the events of the story that are the tell, but the way the narrative is crafted and the context within AITA's history and trends; no one needs to tell their story for said people to believe the events could have happened. There's a certain aura of faux-ignorance that is beginning to appear in this exchange.

As someone alluded to above, it's rather like a story from the National Enquirer being posted and getting hurt when people view it skeptically. If it is posted to the news page, people are going to consider the source. Now, if someone posted that post as an Ask, I would simply ignore it or at most flag it for the moderators, rather than express skepticism to the poster, because that is not the place and purpose of Askmefi. But this is the news and analysis side of MF, and analysis is what you are going to get.
posted by tavella at 5:42 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


No I do comprehend why people might think this is fake. I was asking whether you can understand and address the concerns of harm I brought up.
posted by MiraK at 5:54 PM on January 13


I thought I made it clear, but if not: if someone is distressed by the discussion in a National Enquirer-sourced post because the article is treated skeptically, then the solution is not to ask people to treat the National Enquirer credulously, it is to ban stories from the National Enquirer.

Now I would suggest, for the sake of anyone still subscribed to the thread, that if you want to discuss it further that you make a MetaTalk post, I will be happy to discuss it there.
posted by tavella at 6:11 PM on January 13


when they are from a wildly unreliable source, as AITA has turned into over the last few years when large parts of it became a contest for fiction writing and getting said fiction writing to go viral

I am very curious what the evidence is for this conclusion beyond “Some of the stories are written in a style which seems fake to me.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:26 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


if someone is distressed by the discussion in a National Enquirer-sourced post because the article is treated skeptically, then the solution is not to ask people to treat the National Enquirer credulously, it is to ban stories from the National Enquirer.

Proposing a blanket ban as a solution for the concerns being brought up is neither understanding nor addressing the concerns being brought up. Someone asks you to stop stepping on their toes and your solution is to ban feet!
BTW this isn't the National Enquirer. Nobody on AITA gets paid for their stories. Try again.
posted by MiraK at 6:37 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


I think metafilter is a place where people post links to things on the web, and then we discuss them. I don't think the truth or falsity of the thing is or should be off limits for the discussion.

I do understand your concerns, MiraK, and TBH, the empathy you are showing is something I value a lot in metafilter in general, and I've definitely learned to be a more empathetic person from posters like you. But I think it is placing too high a burden on the discussion here to take into account every possible bad outcome of reasoned discussion. If this were in ask.metafilter, then yeah, I think everyone would agree with you, and in fact I think calling out fakes is outlawed by rule there. But here we're just discussing a thing on the web.
posted by ericost at 6:48 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I am very curious what the evidence is for this conclusion beyond “Some of the stories are written in a style which seems fake to me.”
There's been interviews with some of the more prolific writers on there I'm pretty sure. The house style gets refined a fair amount, as the tools which help boost engagement the most are also the tools which people start to notice and get a sense for picking out.

One of the big ones is the "Hey, the original premise is interesting but not *really* out there; but then the update after seeing everyone's reactions goes really far in another direction". That one's been explained as how a writer has a general idea for the story they want to tell, what beats to hit, etc. But watching the reactions lets them know "Hey, this is what'd make it even better". Wit of the staircase, except if you leave a gap in the original comment you *can* go back and make that witty remark!

There's also a lot of reactionary posts you'll see. One genre of story pops up, and then you get a bunch that are 'flipped' because the writer's sure that the audience is biased in favor of women/against men, etc. Those, I think, have a bit clearer of a case for being harmful when not named as fictional. Or the ones that're pretty clearly someone indulging their fetish & getting an audience for it who isn't informed of what they're participating in. There's a danger in the reinforcing loop of "This is what I think the audience would be outraged by" // "Even if it's not real, it's believable, and that's what's important" // repeat, further drifting away from things-that-are, I think.

And all of this is troublesome, because actual people are caught in the midst. They grant cover/that frisson of "but this is an actual case of someone being a jerk to their kid!", but they also start getting questioned more than they need to because they're in a market for lemons. This isn't the first venue this's happened, advice-columnists have written about fantastical repeat writers for as long as that's been a thing, I'm pretty sure. I'd love for there to be spaces that don't have this as an issue, so people can get their questions asked without having all this hanging overhead.

But I don't think the fault is in the people who've seen fake stories rewarded; but the people writing the stories and feeling rewarded for doing so.
posted by CrystalDave at 7:01 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Just in case anyone reading this thread might find it useful, there is a MeFi wiki page called ThereIsHelp with links to resources around abuse and other issues. I haven't checked the links there in a long time, but just dropping it here in case it is helpful.
posted by Miko at 7:27 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I honestly wasn't expecting this to become so contentious. I thought it was an interesting story about the intersection of dysfunctional/toxic family systems and online communities and that was why I posted it, thinking that was where the discussion would go. I feel pretty foolish now.
posted by nayantara at 9:19 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]


I don't think you should feel foolish. It was a good post. And thank you for being so honest in your contributions in the thread ❤️
posted by ericost at 10:01 PM on January 13 [6 favorites]


It was a good post! I think the strong feelings it elicited are a sign of that.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:15 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Great post, please don't feel bad about posting it.

I do think many if not most of the popular AITA posts are more creative writing than they are documentary, but that doesn't mean all of them are or that even the fake/embellished ones aren't interesting.
posted by chaz at 11:20 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


nayantara, lots of hugs to you. You did nothing wrong.
posted by daybeforetheday at 11:42 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


It's a great post Nayantara. Look at the about page here:
MetaFilter (MeFi) is one of the longest-running online communities.

MeFi isn't only a community weblog where anyone can contribute, it is also a place where you'll find some of the most interesting stuff on the internet.

Here you can expect thoughtful and varied discussions. Since 1999, we've been focused on fulfilling the web's potential to bring people together and create genuine, vibrant, good-hearted community spaces.
You posted something interesting, which sparked off a genuine, vibrant and I think generally good-hearted discussion between people.

There's two things I'd gently say if you feel like the discussion went the 'wrong' way. First is that once the post is made you don't own the discussion - it goes whichever way people take it, and everyone's responsible for that. Second is that a genuine discussion is not a bad thing - being able to have disagreements on here is part of what keeps MeFi vibrant. Like The Underpants Monster said, it brought out strong feelings from people, and I reckon that's one of the best types of post on here.
posted by MattWPBS at 10:27 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


side note: typing something sincere with the phrase "Like The Underpants Monster said" will never cease to be funny to me. I love usernames.
posted by MattWPBS at 10:29 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


Nayantara, you did a pretty good FPP, about a dramatic situation. Is not your fault that it's a quirk of Metafilter that stories about the CIA and UFOs immediately get "I want to believe" pays and stories of familial abuse get "This is so fake it's an outrage" responses.

Remember, Metafilter is the place where Kanye West putting nude dolls of the women he was harassing in a video was considered an act of satirical brilliance and not as something profoundly creepy. So it's unsuprising there's going to be a contingent whose going to be unsympathetic to abuse stories.

But this is incredibly valuable, because it does give us a look at how communities respond to potentially fraught issues. If you wonder just how Trump supporters can talk about morality, just consent the responses here. "Oh Trump walked into a room of teenager beauty contestants? Well you know how often sites like that post fake news." "Those contestants are obviously exaggerating to get publicity." Which leads to "How do I know it's fake? Well let me do a 20-item bullet list of why that "grab em by the pussy" story sounds sus."

I see it time and time again in communities, especially when it's stories of harassment and abuse, boiling down to "Let's overanalyze this report looking for discrepancies. See? Frank Mentzer and Zac Smith are totally being framed."

So anyway, that was a valuable story thanks. And incidentally, I was going to say this isn't the first life AITA saved, but then I realized the "wasp sandwich" guy was r/relationships.txt, and the "mushroom allergy" story was Ask Polly.
posted by happyroach at 11:27 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


We never know how threads are going to go, like everything else in life.

I enjoyed reading it, at least. Hopefully the OP will have a happy ending in which a restraining order is gotten, mind you...
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:46 PM on January 14


MattWPBS, you seem to have missed that nayantara introduced themself as having been in metafilter for 10 years, albeit under other aliases.
posted by eviemath at 11:00 PM on January 14


MattWPBS, you seem to have missed that nayantara introduced themself as having been in metafilter for 10 years, albeit under other aliases.

Nope, hadn't missed that, and wouldn't change anything I was saying. Still think it's a great post, and that along with the discussion it fits well within what makes MeFI a great site to me. If I felt someone was being too hard on themselves on their 10th day on the site or their 10th year on the site, I'd still try to help reframe it in the same way.
posted by MattWPBS at 2:42 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


I appreciate all of you! :) Thanks folks. It is a bit nerve-wracking making a FPP for the first time but reassuring to know that you all didn't find it to be unworthy of being on Metafilter. I constantly second-guess myself so I am grateful for your kindness.
posted by nayantara at 6:30 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


« Older Voices from vehicles   |   Take it slowly, this book is dangerous Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.