We can clarify, though. The main concern here is pure politics: the conflicts around party, ideology, nation, race, gender, class, and religion that get people hot and turn into flamewars on the internet. We're not so concerned about stories on other things that happen to have political aspects—like, say, software patents.
Those stories aren't going to be evicted from HN or anything like that. For this week, though, let's err on the side of flagging because it will make the experiment more interesting.
I feel like trying to ban discussion of these conflicts will lead to the same outcome that reddit's weird "free speech" policy had, if more subtly. If Hacker News is the place where racist, misogynist, fascist hackers can feel particularly safe, that's going to be the kind of people you attract, at the expense of marginalized hackers.
There is no neutral option around this kind of politics and I'll be sad to see HN throw marginalized people under the bus to ensure the comfort of the privileged.
I appear to be the top ranked openly female member here and my experience of HN dramatically improved when Dan Gackle (aka dang) took over the role as lead moderator of the site. I have faith in his judgment, plus I have substantial soft skills myself. I do not believe he is going to do anything to shape HN into the sort of thing you are positing here.
I have no idea why you feel so much more comfortable at this place than MeFi - MeFi isn't good, by any stretch of the imagination, but at least when people get banned for horrific misogyny or anti-Semitism people don't come along later and say "but they had great technical contributions!"
I do not need to justify to you why I think mefi is far worse than hn. Feel free to go hang there and stop adding your toxic comments to hn, like you said you would prior to deciding to come back and dump on me some more.
The comments you claim would not happen on mefi would likely get deleted. They don't here. That does not make mefi better. It just makes it easier to pretend it is or to be fooled by appearances.
There are other things that I am not willing to comment on publicly, but which inform my opinion.
I am sorry your experience has been so negative. I certainly had a pretty difficult time at one time, but I have always had a pretty good opinion of HN and I felt I had reason to work on the problem from my end, since I am good at certain things. I believe it is generally getting better and women are generally being received differently here than what happened at one time.
This undermines the progress that some people here have work incredibly hard for.
I think the idea is, basically, that rather than "calling out" these things and getting into a big argument about them each and every time they happen, you just (indicate to the mods that you want to) blow them out of the sky.
No offense to the HN moderation team, but I have very low confidence that this is going to be how it works out. :/
How are marginalized people "thrown under a bus" here? Not allowing discussions about race and gender is not equivalent to that at all.
I can barely tell the gender or race of anyone here.
Consider an article about discrimination in the hiring practices of startups. Is that "political" under this policy? My guess it is. And so out come the flags and the status quo is reinforced by the thunderous claim that it's Just Not A Problem--because, whether or not flags mean "this is bad and obviously unimportant" to 'dang, that's what they mean to the audience. And so, incrementally, the culture here gets worse. And worse. And worse.
And those issues are not just a one sided affair. It is politics after all. HN is impartial in that it silences both sides of that story (the other side being affirmative action or racial discrimination in favor of those who are supposedly oppressed).
Is the incipient problem, for those not so fortunate as to be born white and male, perhaps a little clearer now? (And, to be clear, I am a white male. I'm just not blind to the concerns of others.)
I'm not a white male and I never think to bring up issues affecting my group to the discussion. It doesn't brother me that those issues are barely brought up.
I would suggest that maybe this isn't true for people who aren't you. And who aren't me. Many things, like getting a job as a software developer or talking to my boss--things I think you and I can probably agree are likely shared experiences?--feel very apolitical for me. And it is understandable that they feel that way: because I am the beneficiary of the biases extant in society. I get the breaks. It's "normal" for me to look around and see nobody having it easier than I do and when I fuck up (god, do I fuck up!), I am not othered so that my actions reflect on my race or gender, but on me specifically.
Such an "apolitical" world, such an "unbiased" world, may not exist for, say, women or African-Americans or trans folks. And sweeping that realization under the rug is, by itself, a political act in favor of the continuation of the incentives and the policies that create that situation that lets me be comfortable and "apolitical" and ensures that other folks cannot be either.
Nothing is apolitical: it just may work to your benefit. And it usually works to mine--I am fortunate to have the grace to understand just how lucky a dice roll I got, and that's why I can't be on-board with policies that want to prevent discussion of whether the dice are loaded or not.
Note the "most". Pointing out one counter example where discussion barely shows up isn't a counterpoint. I would also argue that those experiences are shared but that is its own political discussion.
> Such an "apolitical" world, such an "unbiased" world, may not exist for, say, women or African-Americans or trans folks. And sweeping that realization under the rug is, by itself, a political act in favor of the continuation of the incentives and the policies that create that situation that lets me be comfortable and "apolitical" and ensures that other folks cannot be either.
I don't think it is reasonable to feel uncomfortable about not being able to discuss two sided issues on one board out of millions on the internet.
Political discussion is inherently caustic and damaging to discussion boards. Only small, heavily moderated boards can produce productive discussions. It is in the nature of simple user registration and no posting restrictions.
Virtually any interaction between two people could be put into this bucket. If you want to just talk about adjust-your-pince-nez tech stuff, Lambda the Ultimate exists. Pretty much everything with more of a human element than that is intractably political--you just may not have a dog in the fight.
Hiring is political. Firing is political. Performance reviews are political. Getting funded is political. SOPA is political. Hate speech is political. Wikipedia NPOV is political. The surveillance state is political. Facebook's content filtering to show you what you want to see is...political.
This isn't stuff that "barely shows up". It's the core of the culture. Computers, ultimately, barely matter to tech--people do. And people are intractably political.
> I don't think it is reasonable to feel uncomfortable about not being able to discuss two sided issues on one board out of millions on the internet.
I'm being careful not to frame your arguments poorly; I would appreciate the same charity. I feel uncomfortable with tacit support for a white, male status quo on one of the more read, more important culture sites that are in the tech community of which I am a part.
The words people pick tell you a lot about them, don't they? ;) Almost like they mean things...
Thank you for saying this.
It feels like what we're seeing here from HN leadership is denial - or abdication – of moral responsibility. That's a choice you can make, and it's known to be an argument going on within Facebook right now. It doesn't impress me much, but in all honesty, HN doesn't; this place has real problems with sexism and racism.
Speaking personally, I guess it means I'm unlikely to ever apply to YC, because I weigh these moral – call it social justice, that's fine with me – considerations pretty highly in choosing who I work with. Other people will find different personal calculuses here. Many YC founders are my friends and they speak highly of the people involved; this just happens to be over my personal line.
Nevertheless, I'm still just... disappointed.
But, yeah, you're welcome. I've been here long enough that not saying anything was untenable. Email's in my profile if you'd like to talk further.
For example, a story about a new data analysis tool or technique used by police would presumably still be on topic. Would a comment discussing how this tool might disproportionately affect minorities be considered off-topic politics? If that story is allowed but the discussion about race is not, the marginalized people might feel like they need to go elsewhere.
1. Present a new data analysis tool used by police
2. Comment about disproportionately affect minorities
3. Response with FBI data explaining it's because certain minorities commit more crime
4. (devolves into flame fest)
n. Complains marginalized people might not read the site
n+1. That's their personal choice
n+m. (more flame fest)
And hence why suggesting the content here stay technical instead of political is the best of several non-perfect choices.
It's sort of like saying "oh, I don't see race". Well, everyone else does, and not acknowledging racism is just about as bad as actually being racist. Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away.
And another analogy, telling people there are more appropriate places to discuss politics is sort of like people telling Black Lives Matter/Colin Kaepernick/etc. to please protest in a more appropriate manner. There's no point in "appropriate" protests and appropriate forums, they are ignored. You have to bring this stuff up in places where people want to ignore it, otherwise nothing will ever change.
HN will get really messy if the comment board becomes a place to protest.
IMO bringing your political grievance de jour to a tech site like HN is a sign of immaturity. Telling these people to grow up or leave isn't a bad thing. Conservatives lived through Obama and liberals will do fine under President Trump.
All I'm trying to say is that it's important to recognize that you are adopting a political position here, even though it doesn't feel like it. I'm not trying to say you're wrong, just that you have to acknowledge you have a position, and you can't escape by calling something a "political grievance de jour". That itself is a political statement.
Thank you for the good conversation.
The intention here is simply to treat political stories as off-topic for a week. The question of what counts as a political story vs. not, is pretty much an impossible one to answer in the general case, so I probably shouldn't have tried.
I agree hatefully ranting is not working but I don't think politely steering away from the difficult part of the conversation is prudent either. I'm looking forward to hacker news being a place we can still have these difficult discussions in a civil tone after this moratorium.
Am I to read that as "No Stories or Comments about Trump"? Maybe that wasn't the intention, but the specific hot buttons seem curiously chosen.
Edit: class, too.
Perhaps I should make explicit what seems obvious (to me) and say no, this doesn't have to do specifically with Trump. This whole year has been a political game-changer—think of Brexit before it. Perhaps our societies are becoming increasingly polarized, I don't know, but lots of things are going on in the outside world and Trump is just one of them, though of course a major one.
I wonder if developments on other online forums might be characterizing how this one seems to some users, but the truth is pretty mundane: I don't know about those other online forums because I don't have time to look at them. What we're talking about here is purely HN-grown.
Removing political discussions is in itself tricky since the definition of what is political is subjective. But removing certain kinds of political discussions is even harder to do well, if not impossible. If it's still going to be allowed to post things about housing markets, education, economics, regulation or other areas where social science arguments are relevant. You must also be able to express arguments or submit stories that uses subjects like class or gender. Otherwise you are removing certain perspectives from the discussion in favor of arguments outside those perspectives, which is censorship.
I don't think polarization is the problem, nor even that society is more polarized now than before. In many way it's the opposite. Subcultures and large dividing issues are to some extent a thing of the past. People tend to have less developed views and less experience with other peoples views. Which makes disagreements more personal.
When I say slow, I mean slow. I see part of my job (and it's my temperament anyway) as taking care to understand what this community is and how its system functions, and then to protect that and help it thrive. In practice this means that we take a long time (especially by startup standards, not that HN is a startup) to make changes, and have a strong preference for subtle changes. If we do make a significant change, you can be sure that we waited a long time for the need for it to develop.
But this isn't a significant change, not yet; it's a one-week experiment to see what happens.
"A story about systemic gender discrimination in tech should be flagged under this policy."
"A comment regarding a person's startup experience that describes how their experience has been impacted by their race or gender identity should be flagged under this policy."
"A discussion of the sociological impact of Facebook's news curation tools should be flagged under this policy."
I'm not sure what you mean by "this policy". Do you mean this one-week experiment to try something for a week and see what happens? I wouldn't call that a policy. To me that word implies something intended to be permanent, which is precisely what we're not proposing.
Either way, though, the answer can only be "maybe", because any one of your descriptions could cover a huge range along the axis we're talking about (intellectual interest vs. political battle). So it would depend on the specific stories.
Since we've asked people to err on the side of flagging for just this week, obviously the odds of a story being flagged become higher, for just this week. That doesn't make those odds 100% on those topics. And since the way things normally work is erring on the side of not flagging them, it's hard for me to see this week as very significant. That's actually why we're doing it this way: a week should be enough to learn something and not enough to be that big a deal, even in the worst case.
I hope you take it in good faith that I'm not saying this in anger or in any way except a desire to make this community something worth continuing to participate in: you've made it, and publicly trumpeted that you've made it, more risky and more difficult for someone to be something other than a straight white male here. (That's not one from me; I am paraphrasing a friend who has pulled the ripcord. She expressed to me that the alt-right movement here would use telling you this herself as a way to hurt her either personally or professionally or both, because that's the world she has to live in because of how tech works.) You're tacitly accepting that this helps to silence those folks because their lives are inherently and inescapably "political" due to the deviance from the straight-white-dude status quo represented in tech. That's why I formed those questions as I did. They're not "gotcha" questions. They are hard questions in the gray areas of what you're saying, where you are--I believe not with malice, but you are--giving people who wish those elements of your community would go away forever can under your own policies (and I did use the word intentionally, because "experiment" is much more innocuous than I think this effectively becomes) silence them. Because when you aren't a straight white dude, your life is "political" by the standards of the tech world.
People look to this place for a kind of cultural leadership in tech. (Whether or not you want them to or whether they should!) You're taking a stand on the issues of the marginalized and the underrepresented whether you want to or not. I would ask that you consider whether it's the stand you actually want to be taking. 'Cause, I mean...silence means status quo wins.
The problem I have is that you seem to set at zero the other set of concerns here—the ones I described at the top—intellectual curiosity and civil, substantive conversation. Those things are the raison d'etre of this site. Do you think I'm wrong that political flamewars don't threaten them? Or that they don't matter?
I understand why a politically committed person might say "screw those values, the cause is too important", but that amounts to a scorched earth approach that doesn't see this place as much worth protecting and can easily progress to other battlefields for further scorching. My job is to make sure this place doesn't burn, so it's hard to take advice from that quarter. I'm all for suggestions about how better to serve the site's values—and by the way, 'civil' includes being welcoming to others—but objections that don't think they matter are harder to credit. It's pretty easy to say what we should do if you don't share our goals; not so easy to struggle with the tradeoffs if you do.
It's my view that for all its flaws, this community has something worth protecting. Perhaps it only lives up to 40% of its values, but that's still a lot, and it's the reason why people are attracted here to talk about things, some of which are inevitably political, in the first place. If you think significantly better is possible on the open internet, show me where; from what I've seen, everyplace else is so much worse that this one is clearly worth protecting, in the hope of achieving better. And if you think we're not interested in welcoming people who suffer from social or political disadvantages, I don't know what to tell you, other than that you'd be misappraising well-wishers. I hear you that it might happen anyway as an unwanted effect, maybe even is happening, and we care about that and take it seriously. But that information tends to come in complex political and ideological packages, and it can be hard, even for a well-wisher, to decipher signal from noise. The discourse around these things tends to be all-or-nothing, indeed extremely so. For us that's a double bind, because HN can't be either.
So...I can't come up with a better way to put this: do you really think that there are intellectually satisfying, civil discussions to be had when your existence is a matter of debate? Like... 'hga wasn't alone. You know that. He was just an idiot who went straight at it straight instead of hiding behind cites of The Bell Curve, instead of "but why should there be programs for black people or women?". I get your focus on "civil, substantiative conversation" and I respect that, but you gotta know as well as anyone that harm happens behind the "civil, substantiative conversation" of just-asking-questions and oh-it-can't-be-that-bad,-can-it?, the soup of toxic sexism and racism that's all over here over the last year or two. The functional result of "no politics" is that that won't be challenged, not that it'll go away. I agree with 'tptacek when he says that most political comments on HN are alt-right trolls; "hey guys, subtext rather than text" leaves a lot of shadows.
You and I are effectively re-litigating the same arguments that have come up in many other places. What would be awesome and a change of pace would be to learn what HN plans to do to make itself civil and welcoming to underrepresented folks, if that's the ethos you want to have. And you say you do, so I believe you. I mean, hell, I'd love to help out if I can; you have a bigger stake, but you're sure not the only person who thinks there's something worth having here.
(As far as other places on the internet--I have a few that come to mind. Open ones, but not ones on which I want to sic the jerkier part of HN just to prove a point in an argument. Shoot me an email if you're curious.)
This is true. However, you can observe here that one side petitions you; the other bullies you. This would be unusual in a genuinely symmetric situation...
One side wants to exist. The other side wants the other to stop existing. It's about as symmetric as lions and buffaloes, although a buffalo will kill a careless lion now and then...
The equation in their minds is essentially power == good. They want power over you, and over us, so that they can use this power to do good -- for the quite large set of human beings they feel themselves the protectors of (pretty much anyone but a "straight white dude").
No one has really found a limit on how much power they want, or how much good they think they can do. What we do know is: when you feed them, they get hungrier.
Don't know about you, but I always trust content from Teen Vogue...
not that you asked, but both as a clearer moderation policy than we've seen before and as an experiment, I think this is a good move. there is some regret that you're lagging well behind Reddit's knowledgebase, as this sort of thing has been done many times there, and there's not much new information to be found.
That said, it does exacerbate the filter bubble of this place: based on how subreddits' experiments have gone, expect the moderate center to support you and press to make it permanent, expect a little bit of grumbling that might make you think that you've made your point and don't need to make it permanent, and expect... a few more people to leave silently.
You're a prop for the VC establishment, but damn if you aren't an earnest human, too.
I wouldn't support a moratorium forever, because there are topics that are both of perennial HN interest and also overlap politics, like intellectual property law and things specific to the tech industry. But I would support bumping off a lot more of the marginal stuff permanently. In general I would say that I see very little HN-specific contribution to most of those topics. (Not quite none, but hardly worth poking through the dross.)
How are things like job displacement and social media not simultaneously political and fundamentally products of hackers?
The official press has committed collective suicide, and the whale-sized corpses are rotting in the street. Sometimes they twitch.
Things get pretty insalubrious.
I mean, you clearly don't think that we have "gotten by"; generally a moratorium on a topic isn't required unless something is going wrong.
Quick question for clarification - would http://www.wsj.com/articles/tech-companies-delay-diversity-r... fall into the kind of race and gender issues that you'd block this week?
Also: HN threads on that particular topic (statistical evidence for diversity in the industry and its impact) are invariably a shitshow here. I am guessing your political leanings w/r/t/ industry diversity are identical to mine, and I do not see what HN generally gains from the trolling and nastiness that occurs on "diversity as a phenomenon" threads.
But I think that in large part the value of HN is in the comments. If HN isn't able to discuss a story productively, what's the point of that story being on HN?
Since we asked people to err on the side of flagging for just this week, I don't think we can ask them not to flag that one. It would be fine to post it next week though.
It will be nice to see HN minus the outrage and Twitter/social media drama/witch-hunting.
I'm very sad to see this, dang. Complaining about identity politics is a form of identity politics. Because we white people are the default, banning discussion of non-whiteness reinforces whiteness. Banning discussion of gender similarly favors men, especially in tech.
You and I might experience this experiment as a detox. But it is increasing toxicity for those whose identities and concerns you are trying to erase.
In normal times, I might shrug. But these are not normal times. Tech companies are having to consider whether they'll be making lists of Muslims and turning them over to the authorities. We are having to ask ourselves, "Do we really need to store all this user data if we might have to give it up in secret?" Refusing to discuss politics when these issues are on the table is actively supporting a side.
I object in the strongest terms and will not participate. I won't be back for a week. If it keeps up, I'll be closing my account.
If the story gets big enough, the articles about Amazon Go's impact on workers will move from the tech section to the politics section of the newspapers. Where do you draw the line on HN in that case? Once they have move in the WaPo, we should stop talking about them?
I agree with others that moderating such a large online community is probably very hard and that dang and others probably experience bad times when comments thread inflame, but I think that a blanket ban on affairs of the cities is not the way to go.
Actually, I find it quite funny that we are having this debate, because in essence that is a political debate. Some US posters will consider it as hampering their right to free speech, some others will consider that making that space void of any political discussions is fine, some (as myself :-) ) think it is impossible and impractical... Debate around the frontiers of that is admitted here is entirely political, in the noble sense of the word.
As long as our debate is civil (and as far as I can see, it is), I think we should be allowed to have it. And what if my comments are not interesting and bring nothing to the debate? They will be downvoted to hell. HN, in contrast with Reddit, has apparently a very good track record with karma. It seems that brigading is not practiced around here.
I think it is probably linked to the fact that under a certain thresold, you cannot down-vote. My karma is indeed too low to downvote for instance and at first I was uneasy with the fact that I couldn't downvote...but I think I am starting to understand why it is actually a good rule for the board ;-)
No Trump/Clinton stories for a week.
These are the ones that are the major trouble makers. And since there is no chance of an article on the culture war not mentioning those people - this will rid of the second tier stories too.
What should we do? I don't know, but I don't think a week off is going to hurt anybody.
Are those all in the vein of things you think we should take a break from?
The idea that it's not possible to be thoughtful and political at the same time (and thus we should just cut out all/most the political stuff) is disheartening.
The problem isn't the politics, the problem is the lack of thoughtfulness.
I'm deeply ambivalent with this as an experiment. I hope it achieves what you're interested in without compromising the things I worry it will.
> The problem isn't the politics, the problem is the lack of thoughtfulness.
Politics is tribal, so we're talking about something that profoundly undercuts thoughtfulness. I don't know if it's impossible to have the two together, but I'm pretty sure it's impossible at scale.
Politics isn't always tribal and many people on HN are capable on thoughtful arguments on politics. HN suffers from the "LKML-effect". Few people can or are interested in following the linux-kernel mailing list, so naturally it only gets attention when Torvalds is screaming at someone. It's the same with politics.
When "diversity in tech" became more popular on the Internet it would get flagged off HN repeatedly. Some stories would get through and thoughtful discussions would start, but people quickly learned (maybe without knowing it) that if you just flame the story it would hit the controversy algorithm. So people would submit more sensationalist stories so it could get more upvotes to counter the flags and flame. Now the level of discussion is set and people don't mind how they express themselves on the topic.
If instead HN would have owned the issue and moderated it heavily it would increasingly have gotten better. People would have learned that flagging or flaming wasn't a good idea and those with more reasoned arguments would formed a critical mass to self moderate comments.
Programming is often tribal, yet there aren't a lot of flame over things like Erlang on HN. Because even if not a lot of people know Erlang, we haven't alienated all the Erlang programmers. So Erlang stories are generally advanced enough to not attract bad arguments and even they would someone would presumably challenge it.
Yes, there are political stories that aren't relevant and/nor thoughtful. But those aren't the stories that could, presumably, be categorized as "fit for HN" anyway. But by just banning entire segments of political but relevant stories is letting the "unthoughtful" people win at the cost of the thoughtful ones.
It might not be relevant enough to fight for discussions about Trump in general. But are we going to avoid to talk about e.g. surveillance, like we always have, just because the president is controversial? That would, if anything, be changing HN.
But personally I think all of the topics you mentioned are likely to lead to flame wars in the comments about Trump, considering that all three are likely to be significantly affected by him once he takes office. Discussing those topics is still valuable, but unless there is some important development in one of them in the next week, taking a break seems pretty harmless to me.
In practice, that's going to be grey. But it gives a kind of guideline that may (or may not) be what the moderators are trying to do.