A poster named “Yabbadabbado” argues that Mel Lindauer (co-author of “The Bogleheads Guide to Investing”) is overly sensitive. The comment comes in response to a complaint by Mel about the Morningstar ratings boxes, which permit posters to give posts they like a thumbs up and posts they do not like a thumbs down. Mel has been getting a good number of thumbs downs at the Diehards board of late because of his long history of abusive posting there.
I see merit in what both Yabba and Mel have to say re this one.
Yabba is right that Mel and lots of the others who post on discussion boards are overly sensitive. It’s a good thing that they didn’t have those rating-box thingamabobbles in place when I was posting over there. I would have been piling up negative 40s! I would have been attracting so many thumbs-down ratings that I probably would have caused the Morningstar discussion-board software to crash! I would have had people urging that a policy be adopted that a bomb be dropped on the home of the community member with the most thumbs-down ratings! And the proposal would have brought crowds to the little yellow house across the street from the post office to hear the imminent “Ka-Boom!”!
Mel — I feel for you, man. I very, very much know how it feels.
But you gotta let it go. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. If you’re wanting to hear the applause, you’ve got to be willing to hear the boobirds too. It’s all part of the wonderful game.
I agree with Yabba that people take this stuff too personally. That causes a lot of trouble. Mel needs to chill out. Lots of others need to chill out with him.
That said, Mel has a point as well.
Mel has a lot of accomplishments to his credit in that board community. The Vanguard Diehards board was once the most successful investing board in the history of the internet. That was to a considerable extent Mel’s doing. He had put forward tens of thousands of helpful posts. Is he not entitled to some respect from his fellow community members in return for that? Should he have to listen to jeering?
Yes and no.
Mel is not being jeered because of the tens of thousands of helpful posts. He is being jeered because of the many hundreds of abusive ones. It’s taboo to say that. But he knows it, Yabba knows it, and every poster who has been paying even a tiny bit of attention knows it. To get back in the good graces of that community, Mel would need to do the things that humans do to get back in the good graces of communities they have harmed. But that would mean admitting the harm that has taken place. That cannot be done. That must not be done. Right?
I don’t think that’s right.
There’s a reason why it has become the cultural norm among all civilized peoples for those who discover they got an important number wrong in a study to correct it (Mel did not himself publish a study that got an important number wrong, but he cites without criticism the Greaney study in his book and has not done anything about the misimpressions he created by doing so since learning of the analytical errors in the study). There’s a reason why it has become a cultural norm among all civilized peoples for those who act rudely and abusively and do harm by doing so to apologize for the harm they have done. If the internet discussion board is going to achieve its potential (I very much hope that it does), the people who run the boards are going to have to start to take seriously their responsibilities for seeing that cultural norms are given the respect they merit.
Morningstar has rules prohibiting the tactics that Mel used to destroy the Diehards board. Had those rules been enforced in even a halfway reasonable manner, Mel would not be in the fix that he is in today. Had those rules been enforced in even a halfway reasonable manner, he would have been given a warning when he first began posting abusively. My guess is that he would have altered his behavior in response to the warning. He would have reined himself in. That board community would still be thriving today. Mel would still be loved there.
It’s Morningstar’s fault that it did not happen that way. Morningstar wrote its rules in the way it did to attract people of intelligence and integrity to its boards. Then it abandoned them by failing to administer its own rules in a reasonable manner. It did a whole big bunch of people a whole big bunch of harm by failing to do so. Morningstar should be ashamed of its behavior re this matter. That’s my take.
I can’t tell you precisely why Morningstar didn’t enforce the rules. It appears that part of it is that they thought that they might lose some posters if they did so and they didn’t want to lose those people. That’s wrong. That doesn’t work.
By failing to rein Mel in, Morningstar put him in an untenable position. He felt forced to become increasingly abusive to stomp out the efforts of the hundreds of community members who were interested in engaging in honest discussions of safe withdrawal rates and other valuation-related topics. Now there are hundreds and hundreds of abusive Mel posts in the files. Not good. Not good for Mel. Not good for Morningstar either (the abusive posting destroyed the board, so Morningstar ended up losing not the small number of posters who would have fled had they enforced the rules but pretty much the entire board community).
When a site owner publishes rules to govern posting at its site, it is making a promise to us to enforce those rules in a reasonable manner. We should hold the site owners to those promises. To fail to do so creates problems for everyone — for us, for the site owners, and for the abusive posters too. No one benefits from a failure to enforce the rules that prohibit abusive posting.
I admire a lot of what Mel has done. I of course do not admire his abusive posting one little bit. He’s a grown-up and he needs to take responsibility for what he has done. But Mel’s abusive posting is not solely Mel’s doing. Morningstar permitted it to happen; by failing to act, an argument can even be made that Morningstar encouraged it. We encouraged it too when we failed to speak up in clear and direct and firm terms. The Normals played a role in the destruction of that board too.
Mel blames his troubles on the ratings boxes. That’s not it. I’ve seen ratings features used well and I’ve seen them used poorly. In the days when the Motley Fool board was being built up, community members there used the recommendations feature responsibly; we used it to point other community members to the best stuff on the board. In the days when the Motley Fool board was in decline, community members used the recommendations feature to advance savage smear campaigns.
It’s not ratings features that make a board succeed or fail. It’s people. Attract people who love community and the community will grow. Attract people who hate community and the community will fail. Mel loved the Diehards community until the community expressed a strong desire to engage in honest posting re safe withdrawal rates and then he decided he hated it instead. That was his failing. Morningstar’s failing was not doing anything to rein him in until too many good people had left in revulsion and too many bad people had been drawn in by the out-of-control ugliness.
The Vanguard Diehards board was an amazing resource for middle-class investors for a long time. People insult it when they suggest that the adoption of ratings boxes is what did it in. The board was done in by one of the ugliest and most sustained rampages of abusive posting ever seen in the history of the internet. If we deny that, we fail to learn any lessons from the experience.
We need to learn these lessons. We need to stop hurting ourselves in this way. Mel deserves a lot more from us than what we have given him thus far.
And it’s not just Mel who deserves better, of course. Truth be told, we all deserve a lot better from us than what we have given ourselves thus far.
Love is the answer. Mel hates it when I quote from the lyrics of popular songs in discussions of investing. But I really do believe that Jackie DeShannon nailed it when she told us that “What the Vanguard Diehards Need Now Is Love, Sweet Love.” With a little more love, Mel never would have even considered posting abusively. With a little more love, Morningstar would have reined him in had he done so. With a little more love, hundreds of community members would have insisted that Morningstar act had it falled to do so. With a little more love, Mel would have responded to those thumbs-down ratings by acknowledging the problem and getting about the business of setting things right with his fellow community members.
Lord, we don’t need another SWR study.
We’ve got Old School ones and New School ones enough to read.
We’ve got calculators generating all the numbers you could want to show.
Lord, if you really want to know…
Today’s Passion: You can read my reaction to learning that I had been banned from the Vanguard Diehards board (now that’s a thumbs-down rating!) in a blog entry entitled Banned at Morningstar!