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Ahmed H. '12

Oct 20, 2008

Flame War

Posted in: Life & Culture

The dust settles.

We the class of 2012 waged epic battle tonight.

It all began with the 2012 Class Council emailing everyone with the results of the class sweatshirt design contest.* In that email, they also sent a link to a Google Docs spreadsheet where we were supposed to fill in our names and sizes. I realized right away what they had done. They expected us to treat a completely unmoderated shared document with respect and dignity.

*To be perfectly clear, I don't want to discuss the merits of the hoodie designs. I just want to share a fun experience.

Of course, this did not happen. I wrote a message in the blank space to the right of all the ordering data. I don't remember what it was exactly, but it was something to the effect of “You should have used a Google Form instead of a Google Spreadsheet.” This was immediately deleted by someone, so I posted it again. People caught on, and all of a sudden people were going off on semi-anonymous tangents about how they didn't like the design.

Minutes later, every freshman got another email: “Since people are messing with the spreadsheet, there is now a FORM you MUST fill out if you want a sweatshirt.” So they deleted my advice, and then took heed of it. Whatever, anything to make the administration run more smoothly. Except that the link to the form didn't work. For anyone.

No big deal so far. No one revolting, just a couple of data-entry failures on the part of our class council. Then one brave soul went where no one else dared to go at the time. He dissented to the entire class of 2012 in a very politely worded email about how he disagreed with the choice of design. Another person replied back, agreeing. The only other option for the night being homework , I did the same, pointing out the complete lack of transparency in the selection process (Note also that I am now blogging about this; I really don't feel like working right now).

And so it continued, the messages getting more insulting as the thread snowballed. Someone made a secure poll where we could vote on whether or not we approved the design. Of course, people spammed the class of 2012 mailing list with spam against spamming, the irony completely lost on them. Someone pointed out that with so much dissent, our class leaders should at least reconsider the sweatshirt design. Another retorted, correctly, that this was a biased sample—only dissenters would get involved with the flame war.

Then our class president emailed me personally, saying pretty much that the decision had been made and that the executive board won't be reconsidering the decision. I posted a link to a design that my friend had entered to the contest, and a fair amount of people agreed that they would prefer his 300-themed design over the one that was chosen. In sending that design to the class of 2012, I effectively doubled the number of entrants to the contest that our class had seen (the other being, of course, the winner). This point resonated and I got a few favorable responses.

A faction of students set up a meeting place and time to discuss the production of their own independent design. The war also went on a mini-tangent of people cooking up copy pasta of entire Dostoevsky works from Project Gutenberg.The thread by now had garnered 80-some responses, and then the 2012 president went back on his word.

In a truly great show of compassion, sensibility, and reason, our president emailed his fellow classmates. He informed us that he has called a special meeting for our class council to discuss what action should now be taken. He admitted that there were mistakes in the way the selection was handled and that all decisions from now on will be more transparent.

For this, I would like to thank the president. He showed great humility and poise in dealing with massive hoardes of angry classmates. He owned up to the council's mishandling of the situation and he sincerely apologized. Frankly, I feel comfortable that future decisions regarding our class will be in safe hands.

Because you see, we've learned something today. If you disagree with your leadership, speak up! Get the snowball moving! I'm really grateful that the one person spoke up at the very beginning, because we started a flame war, yes, but at the end of the day, we did change something. The class council will at least reconsider not only the decision, but also the decision-making process. Even if we end up with the same sweatshirt, we did something tonight that will alter our next four years here at MIT. Not to mention the fun of a great flame war.

And that's all anyone can ask for, isn't it?

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

first!

Posted by: hopeful '13 on October 20, 2008

second!?

Posted by: 0 on October 20, 2008

ahmed you are so awesome (not)

Posted by: yiwen on October 20, 2008

Yay flamewar! Why pset when you can share in the pleasure of collectively insulting the intelligence of fellow classmates?

As for getting involved, complaining about things is always fun, especially for things that normally are right (that we take for granted) that are wrong just once!

Posted by: MIchael M. on October 20, 2008

i'm tired of people complaining about problems with class council. you all voted these people into office knowing fully what their platforms were.

Posted by: yiwen's neighbor on October 20, 2008

@yiwen's neighbor: Their positions against transparency didn't really show through in their platforms. Just saying.

Posted by: Ahmed on October 20, 2008

Demanding transparency of your leadership is always a good thing. We are told that we live in a democratic world, where everyone's opinion counts. If that's the case, then everyone also has a right to see the entirety of the process that ends in a decision that directly or indirectly affects you.

Posted by: Danbee on October 20, 2008

I wasn't kidding when I said the flaming helped bring us together. This is about as close as we in a modern society can get to the honorary democratic forums of ancient greece.

Posted by: Jeff on October 20, 2008

I would also like to point out the analogies of the lack of transparency with the class council and the lack of transparency with the administration in general. We already fixed one, let's fix the other.

Posted by: 0 on October 20, 2008

Okay now that I read the post I take that back. You are my favoritest blogger in the entire world!

Posted by: yiwen on October 20, 2008

Uhhh.....did you not just read about how Snively's previous blog on the 2011 RingComm flame war taken down?
The Tech: http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N48/mitblogs.html

Posted by: Ken Haggerty '11 on October 20, 2008

(and in response to this blog):

Transparency = Breaking down information barriers.
Democracy = Active participation by the people.

Don't confuse the two. I'm all for transparency, but in terms of efficiency, democracy and revolt are not always the answer. And even though you caused a minor flame war, what's the result? Did anything change? People at MIT too readily invest their efforts into communication as opposed to action. It takes more than e-mails to change the world.

Posted by: Ken Haggerty '11 on October 20, 2008

The term copy pasta is a noun. Your use of the term (copy pasta'd) is therefore wrong. fix fix fix.

If you wish to argue this further, email me. i was there when it was invented.

Posted by: Fred '11 on October 20, 2008

@Ken: The use of the word "transparent" has come to mean openness in the way a decision was made. Link. To this end, we did succeed. Without going through my emails and directly quoting, the president said something to the effect of "we didn't realize the response this would create; we didn't think of asking your opinion; we're holing a meeting tomorrow to discuss we can do to fix the situation." As far as I'm concerned, this was the result of a democratic process (people voicing their opinions) and a move in the right direction towards transparency. Clearly our flaming did accomplish something. As for the blog that was removed, this is an objective discussion about the flame war and its application to student life, not a sounding-off against the decision. I am fully aware of the post that was removed, and I hope I have crafted this one in such a way that it provides information about life at MIT, one of the ultimate goals of the blogs. If I'm asked by the powers that be to remove the entry, I will comply. I do, however, have the blessings of a blogger senior to me that I handled the topic well.

@Fred: As per this document, I will respectfully decline to use the accepted verb form of the word. I hope we can compromise on "cooking up copy pasta."

Posted by: Ahmed on October 20, 2008

Since when did flame wars become "Tradition"? I don't recall a single class wide 2006 flame war when I was there.

Posted by: 0 on October 20, 2008

I never understood why flamewars are even a bloggable topic...

but it does show how much of our lives revolve around it.

Posted by: mitanon on October 20, 2008

hey, you sound *a lot* like the 'next sniveley'. smile
good luck for the ad'bloggin' raspberry
cheers.

Posted by: mauritian_guy on October 20, 2008

I didn't really see anything wrong with this post, at all. While Snively whined and bitched and pointed fingers at people, Ahmed was a bit more objective. Besides, let him blog about his first flamewar; at least it was something other than one of those "I lost my pledge pin" emails.

Keep up the good work, Ahmed.

Posted by: milena '11 on October 20, 2008

Yeah, there's a difference between my ringcomm post and this one.

If Ahmed had paralleled the ringcomm post he would have posted a wanky e-mail about his class council last night, right at the start of the flame war. That's what I did with ringcomm (not a good idea in retrospect).

Also, @mitanon
Flame wars here are a pretty huge part of life. They're pretty relevant.

Posted by: Snively on October 20, 2008

Also, there was a freshman on my floor going through all of this last night and it was really entertaining for the upperclassmen watch this play out. The freshmen lost their flame war virginity last night, it was cute.

Posted by: Snively on October 20, 2008

Boy was that exciting. I had to stay up until 3 AM because of the flame war, but it was worth it. Nothing quite like a chain of 100+ messages slowly disintegrating into total absurdity.

Posted by: Yan Z. on October 20, 2008

Just saying, you voted for them. I hope y'all realized by voting for class council you were voting for the RingComm selection committee, because if not, we're going to have another sick shitstorm like what happened my year.

Posted by: Yiwen's neighbor '11 on October 20, 2008

The "reply" rather than "reply all" button is an amazing concept - you actually only send your reply to the person who can actually do something about your problem, without forcing 1/4 of undergrads to read an opinion they couldn't care less about.

Posted by: renacat on October 20, 2008

@ renacat:

There's also an interesting concept called filtering! Even computer-illiterate people like myself know of it. The way I do it is that I type the subject into my search bar on Apple, select all of them, and hit delete! And they're gone!

Posted by: milena '11 on October 20, 2008

@ Ahmed:
I wasn't saying that the blog should be removed, it just seemed ironic (?) that it would be posted RIGHT after the Tech ran an article about Snively's blog which, as Snively pointed out, was handled in a much different manner.
And in regards to the "success" of the flame war, I think it's just a personal tic (sp?)...I get very annoyed at how people treat e-mail as if it's instant messaging, and I don't think e-mails are an appropriate conduit for discussion. Call me old-fashioned.

Posted by: Ken Haggerty '11 on October 20, 2008

snively, flame wars are an unnecessary part of my life. they happen and i have my mail forwarded gmail so i just let it run its course. i would rather not see them, though.

"Flame wars here are a pretty huge part of life" is a huge overstatement and shows how petulant you are. Maybe if you spent the time that you spend on flame wars studying for 2.005 you wouldn't be failing, eh?

That being said, I'm surprised nobody's mentioned the Alpha Phi Homecoming CC/BCC email where Homcoming was spelled as such. That was funny.

Posted by: current '11 on October 20, 2008

@renacat: There's no reason to get your buns all tied up about this flame war "spam." You can integrate your MIT email with a service (web-based or client) that has threaded viewing. Then all the replies effectively appear as one email. Snively already posted how to do this with GMail.

@neighbor: Again, I doubt that the 2011 class council candidates used "no EC people in ringcomm" as main issues in their platforms. This discussion is irrelevant.

@Ken: No problem. And you're old-fashioned wink Seriously though, 2012@ is the only way to contact the entire freshman class unfiltered.

Posted by: Ahmed on October 20, 2008

Really liked this post.

Posted by: Reena on October 20, 2008

Oh, and the design you posted is AWESOME.

Posted by: Reena on October 20, 2008

The council gave plenty of transparency on the subject of the design selection. In the weeks leading up to the design deadline, weekly emails notified the class that THE COUNCIL would select the winning design, and yet nobody dissented then... Even after the deadline, we were notified that they were making a decision, so the comments regarding "lack of transparency" are completely ludacris! That coupled with the rude and disparaging remarks but many, including ~gasp~ some of our very own bloggers

(ex. **** ****---

"**** you Donald Guy, your last name is Guy because that's the generic name they give out at the hospital when no one knows who your real father is (though they have a list of suspects), and your mother's name is only known as "Cherry Forever"
With Love,
**** ****"

--- more **** ****---

"**** you Manishika! I hate everything you stand for and will personally be instrumental in your demise!

Flame on."

and of course, Ahmed, though less insulting---

"The kid across the hall from me designed a sweatshirt that doesn't look so kindergarten. With this sweatshirt being the winner, I don't know how he could have lost. His design was simple and mature.")

Personally, I'm embarrassed to have these people representing us to all of the prospective undergraduates, and more over I'm embarrassed that this sort of juvenile garbage happens at the top technical institute in the world. MIT is certainly not the place I expected it to be, what with the whining, name-calling, insults, and general prickish behavior. Perhaps Harvard would have been a more suitbale place to go afterall...

Posted by: 2012Observer on October 20, 2008

Flame wars are not a large part of (my) life (I spam filter all Class of 2011 mail).

The above poster makes a good point (intentionally?); everyone in your class has a record of you doing/saying/typing/anything particularly stupid if you do so, via email.

But seriously, do you expect some sort of perfect harmony? (Above poster)

Posted by: JRC'11 on October 20, 2008

@JRC '11:

I don't expect any such perfect harmony, though even a minor degree of respect and maturity would both be nice.

Posted by: 2012Observer on October 20, 2008

In going on about this "flame war" and how it started, you seem to be very proud of how you were so outspoken and seemingly clever (see: rude) on the Google spreadsheet sent out. I don't understand why you feel the need to make trouble for or try to embarrass other people? Are you so desperate to have everyone's attention focused on you? If you are trying to imply that you were simply genuinely interested in helping or concerned with the Google Form vs. Document, then it probably would have made sense to just email Class Council - what good for the situation does calling them out in front of everyone do?.

Posted by: MIT Upperclassman on October 20, 2008

The MIT blogs are not

@ 2012Observer: "In the weeks leading up to the design deadline, weekly emails notified the class that THE COUNCIL would select the winning design, and yet nobody dissented then..."

Good point, and this is how we learn from our mistakes.

Also...

You're not showing much respect or maturity yourself by trying to patronize others (by the way, I am now patronizing, thanks a lot) in a public MIT Admissions forum. You,re out of line with quoting the flame war in such a way. It all comes off the wrong way, and without hint of consideration or understanding. What you posted was pretty rude and instigating, and I'm fairly sure you're aware of it, otherwise you wouldn't hide behind an alias.

Posted by: Jeremy '12 on October 20, 2008

as other posters have stated, flame wars are not a huge part of MIT life. they definitely have their place, mostly for entertainment purposes so people can procrastinate on their work. yes, once or twice they've made a difference - in a relatively immature manner that ought not to be shown off without reservations.

there are upperclassmen who spent their first years without flame wars!! imagine that!

2012Observer: since I'm not a 2012, I LOL'ed at the emails you showed! I also agree with you that it isn't something to be proud of.

Of course, these blogs also show negatives about MIT as well. Take em or leave em is all I can say to that I suppose....

Posted by: MITanon on October 20, 2008

I feel like the Internet is destroying morals and people everywhere. :/ Anyone with me?!

Posted by: cristen '10 on October 20, 2008

What I really want to ask is: how relevant is this to prefrosh?

Posted by: Oasis '11 on October 20, 2008

This blog doesn't reflect well on MIT, and I don't see how this would help a prospective student decide whether to attend. What's the point?

Posted by: Parent on October 20, 2008

@Parent: I see where you're coming from. But I think this post helps show some of the decision-making process that goes on in student government at MIT. It's maybe not as important as answering application questions, but that doesn't mean it's not partially relevant to prefrosh. Remember, MIT is the school whose students once put a firetruck on our Great Dome - do you really expect us to be serious all the time? smile

Also, Ahmed did a good job of making an impartial blog entry about something he observed, as opposed to turning his blog into his personal soapbox. I think that deserves some credit.

Posted by: Paul on October 20, 2008

To be honest, I think some good points have been made here against the flame war, and if this type of flame war (as good-natured as it may be accepted to be) happens regularly, it's going to end up on my list of "reasons to reconsider applying." I would think that there are better ways to handle disagreements than mass-spamming, although I don't know what happens at every other college. I am glad, though, that the president handled the situation calmly. I don't think it's too much to expect out of college freshmen who may be future world leaders to handle disputes in a mature way.

That said, I'm glad the blogs don't only show the positive sides of MIT, or it would sound way too good to be true.

Posted by: Possible applicant on October 20, 2008

@ Possible applicant :

These types of flame wars don't necessarily happen "regularly." There have only been maybe 3 or 4 really big ones and maybe a handful of others since I got on campus last fall. Additionally, it's entirely possible to a) opt-out of mailing lists on which flame wars happen (primarily dorm discussion lists) and b) to set up your mail client (be it something like thunderbird/apple mail or gmail) to filter out all e-mails with a certain subject/etc and thereby delete the e-mails within a flame war. (You may have to set up a 2nd filter if the subject jumps, which can certainly happen).

E-mail is a big part of MIT, but it's not the only part, and making your APPLICATION decision (not even matriculation) based on a flame war is inevitably a bad idea

Posted by: '11 on October 20, 2008

@ yiwen's neighbor '11: wait..just to double check does that mean 2012 class council will decide the ring committee? or are we gonna get to vote again. ?

Posted by: carmen'12 on October 20, 2008

2012 CLASS COUNCIL DECIDES 2012 RING COMMITTEE.

YOU'RE STUCK WITH WHO YOU HAVE.

Posted by: yiwen's neighbor '11 on October 20, 2008

Hey all. This is getting just a bit out of hand. I know that we're all eager to share what we think, I know that we all have an opinion, and I know that we're all trying to clarify things, but lets keep things civil and in perspective.

1) Flame wars happen.
1a) Flame wars do not happen often.
2) Nothing said during a flame war is meant.
2a) People who expect what they say during a flame war to be taken to heart are going to be disappointed.
3) Taking things out of context is bad.
3a) Flame wars at MIT are a great way to procrastinate and see how creative people can get.

I wrote an entry a while back that tried to explain the intracacies of the flame war. It may not be a perfect entry, but it puts things in perspective.

Click, especially for the last several lines

What's happening now in the comments on this entry is angry, bitter, and not helpful. It's not in the spirit of flaming and is instead derogatory and unnecessary. If you have an opinion and actually want it to effect something, please e-mail Ahmed or nicely phrase your request in the comments. Nobody is benefiting here.

Posted by: Snively on October 20, 2008

@ Paul -

I'm going to play the devil's advocate here and say that, yes, although MIT blogs shouldn't be "serious all the time," I'm really starting to see a trend of blog entries that are straying further and further away from issues that prefrosh might be immediately concerned about.

(btw, equating hacks to spam wars aren't the same - hacks are a well-known MIT tradition in which there is a great amount of public interest)

I guess all I'm trying to say that I don't think prefrosh need to know everything that goes on at MIT, especially things about ringcomms and sweater designs and the internal politics of each class council.

Don't get me wrong, I'm in no way against this entry or Ahmed's (pretty non-partisan) portrayal of what occurred, but judging from the ratio of MIT student comments v. actual prefrosh comments, I think my point is evident. IMO, this is turning more into a MIT student forum rather than a place to help prefrosh.

Sure, this (and other such blogs) demonstrate that MIT is a school full of "vibrant" student discussions and such - but I don't think we need to exhibit the variety of our student discussions over and over again through ringcomm, sweater designs, and goodness forbid, perhaps in the future - pledge pins and brown sweaters?

Thus, I do have to say that Parent has a point.

Posted by: 0 on October 20, 2008

^ Oh, btw, that was me.

Posted by: Oasis '11 on October 20, 2008

it's interesting that, unlike most of the other blogs, hardly any prospectives commented on this blog.

but honestly, it's good to know that this page provides real perspectives, not just all the good. I'd be worried if every little detail at MIT was perfect.

Posted by: deng on October 20, 2008

I want to go on record saying that what Chris was saying was clearly in jest .. its part of flame war culture to include hyperbole. It isn't meant to be taken seriously. For the record, Chris was insulting me in response to insults directed towards him after he insulted Manishika after she complained about the lack of direct flames in the flame war. .. the point is .. it was a big joke, so don't judge Chris for insulting people who weren't offended by his insults.

As has already been stated, flame wars are fundamentally optional. You can always simply filter away and ignore the messages or unsubscribe from the lists.

They are not an important part of MIT culture, they are simply a small reflection of a habit of the greater net.culture and they are fundamentally an amusing distraction, nothing more.

Posted by: donaldGuy on October 20, 2008

Next time, it's going to be Tolstoy.

Posted by: JWC '12 on October 20, 2008

^Donald wins.

Posted by: Shannon on October 20, 2008

Flamewars are dumb. Freshmen are froshy.

and you all are taking yourselves too seriously.

Posted by: lulu on October 21, 2008

To all who think this post is likely to make prospective applicants shy away-

One of the things that actually attracted me to MIT was flame wars. Snively kinda described them in one of his posts - Studying For Finals- and from that point, I knew this was the place for me. So you see, it's not that bad after all- it's actually a lot of fun.

Posted by: The one brave soul who started the flame war : ) on October 22, 2008

I don't know about this whole flame war thing, but the president sounds like an awesome dude. I want to be his friend

Posted by: anonymous. on October 25, 2008

seriously guys, chill. almost every comment section of every post turns into a mini flame war of its own. i think we can all agree that 1. no harm was meant by Ahmed's entry. 2. wheather you choose to participate in or to ignore the flame war is completely up to you. and 3. people constantly ragging on each other in a public forum, especially one of this nature, is immature. you like snively, you don't like snively. you agree with the blogger, or you disagree. what does it matter? people have their own opinions and inevitably, not everyones will mesh perfectly with yours. you most likely will not change anyone's mind by (loudly) stating yours. you will simply cause animosity. please let the blogs fulfil their intended purpose and give it a rest. sincerely, A potential member of Mit class '13

Posted by: josh on October 28, 2008

Way to display polite rage against the machine, Ahmed.

Posted by: Arthur on November 4, 2008

Comments have been closed.

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