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I find this experiment a bit strange/disturbing, avoiding political subjects is a way of putting the head in the sand. HN is a community of hackers and entrepreneurs and politics affects these subjects one way or another wether we want to avoid it or not, and are an important component of entrepreneurial and technical subjects. It might be fine if HN was a scientific community, but it is not the case, and even then politics do interact with science, as one can conduct scientific experiments on government decisions, or politics can attack scientific community positions (e.g. climate change).

The way this sounds is that you are more concerned about politics as in people who take party positions and may feel excluded as a group when the majority of the community takes a different position. This is a slightly different issue i.e. party politics, and I think it is fine/a good thing, but it is also important to distinguish the two. This should essentially be under the same umbrella as personal attacks, as they are essentially the same thing.

I fully support this detox week. As someone whose political views don't align with the average HN reader, I often feel marginalized by unfair downvoting in political discussion, even though I have made my points in an informed and respectful way. It often feels like there is one prevailing slant on this site and those of the majority are free to push their views while the rest of us must either read it and ignore it or face the onslaught of downvotes if we express a dissenting opinion.

I'd rather see HN go politics-free forever. Political discussions do not enjoy the same level of objectivity that technical and business discussions do. Frankly, it may be impossible to expect objectivity within political discussion because our political feelings are so deeply-held and tied to our individual upbringings, culture, and locale.

Unless HN can figure out how to give fair treatment to minority opinions, it's best to exclude these discussions entirely.

The rub is, a lot of difficult conversations lead to what are effectively political answers. Take the amazon go which is on the front page right now. We need to be able to have a conversation about job displacing technologies, and hacker news has been a good venue for smart, civilized discussion on the topic.

I'm all for flagging uncivilized discussions, but eliminating discussions outright because they might make people feel uncomfortable or might turn uncivil seems like we are missing a really important piece to the news we discuss here.

Minority opinions are never going to have "fair treatment" by the majority. I've been down voted several times for my opinions and I'll take it again just to be able to have the discussion here.

Is political discourse in HN comment threads ever actually "effective", though? What actually results from having those discussions here that couldn't be accomplished just as easily in a forum where it's explicitly on-topic, e.g. /r/politics or similar? It's not as though policymakers or voters are looking to the HN comments section for guidance.

Yes, I generally think that the conversations here stay on the relevant technical topic and treat political explanations as just more evidence into an investigation instead of the end-goal. I don't want a board focused on politics, I certainly don't find this kind of civil discussion in reddit.

I also don't think that the hacker spirit responds well to barriers of thought and discussion.

It's just an anecdote, but I know my views have been greatly affected in part by hacker news. I was once a staunch libertarian, but reading a lot about universal basic income and other approaches people have offered to income inequality and social issues, while talking about the technology trends first and foremost, have convinced me to broaden my beliefs.

There is something about having a stated goal outside of political points scoring that helps everyone see themselves as part of the same team. I've always felt hacker news is largely about understanding things related to technology - trends, weird bugs, how startups work, etc. With that as our main focus we can defer to each other and learn from each other. When the main force is to debate the other side there is no room for concessions or finding common ground.

What I want in a community, is for people of all different views and backgrounds to think about a topic with the end goal of solving some problem. Hacker news isn't perfect there but it's close.

The basic income discussions are pretty pointless though. There is just a group of people who think we should have it and another who think it's a pointless thought experiment because it the economy is about an order of magnitude short of the output required for the numbers being proposed.

That's not pointless, those could be really good points! Maybe UBI is something we have to throw out for now, maybe it can be implemented in a way to get around those challenges.

But it's the same points over and over again. Every single time something about minimum wage or job automation shows up someone brings out the UBI horse to beat some more.

It is possible, if not probable, that each of those times you thought someone was beating the horse some more, at least one other person reading was unaware of and interested in the discussion. It may seem to you like all the stuff discussed here is common knowledge, but most of it really isn't, and this community grows all the time.

Maybe a way to flag topics to hide similar ones from yourself would be helpful, but applying this more generally to the entire community doesn't sit well with me.

Agree. If topics and comments are going to be hidden because they're "political", there should be a way to view and upvote these if you want to "opt-in".

There is. Set "showdead" to "yes" in your profile. You can "vouch" for comments made by banned users.

That's what "hide" does for a submission, though you have to do that on per-submission basis.

Those might just be today's lucky 10,000[0] who haven't seen the discussion up to that point, and a small price to pay for being able to discuss it at all.

I know I just learned something from this meta discussion, about the argument that the economy can't support UBI based on GDP numbers, and I'm eager to go read more. Most arguments I have seen say it won't work because of moral hazards and I haven't seen an argument that says it flat out can't be done, because there are so many different approaches and different ways it could play out.


> What actually results from having those discussions here that couldn't be accomplished just as easily in a forum where it's explicitly on-topic, e.g. /r/politics or similar?

So many of the technologies that we use have political consequences or undertones—the reason that we have these discussions here is that otherwise it's not possible to have a substantial discussion about the technology at all. We'd be reduced to meaningless small talk.

Meaningless small talk or an endless discussion about the latest and greatest JS framework. It's like watching TV while the house is burning down.

That kind of distortion of the importance of politics is the reason why many of us will appreciate taking a break from it here.

The reality is that the "latest and greatest JS framework" and how I can use it to make my clients happy is likely to have far greater impact on my family's situation than arguing endlessly about national and international politics. Arguing about politics online is about as useful to your personal situation as arguing about football team uniforms or Dancing with the Stars celebrity scores.

If you really think it is that bad, then maybe you shouldn't be here, but somewhere relevant to what you feel is important. This is a tech board.

I am very curious: are the impacts of technology and whether-we-should,-not-whether-we-can not appropriate discussions for a "tech board"? Because those are fundamentally political topics.

But they're not matters of red-versus-blue United States partisan politics, which is (as far as I can tell) what's being banned here.

That's not my understanding, though I can see how you might come to that conclusion, given recent events and the lack of detail in the submission. 'dang clarifies in this comment:


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.

It is an incredibly vague rule that probably just means "If this offends someone we want to do business with, we'll nuke it"

But it is no secret that US conservatives are a lot more pro-fossil fuels and US liberals are less anti-renewables. In that context, who is in power determines who is approving budgets and who is giving subsidiaries and incentives.

To remove the ability to acknowledge the political aspect of things would lead to

"I wish we spent more on wind power." being responded to with "Well, we would if <COMMENT REMOVED DUE TO RULE VIOLATION>"

I dunno. Facebook shapes epistemic closures for its users. The question of whether transgendered folks have the right to exist is one that gets a "no" in some of those groups.

I don't think that should be political, I don't think it should be red-versus-blue. But it is. Should that be banned?

Because they're political comments on tech issues. They have given me new insights on numerous occasions. And I love all counterarguments, especially when they go against beliefs I hold dearly.

And it's not just about finding out that I'm completely wrong. Sometimes it's just a new light, and sometimes it's just the reminder that really smart people too believe some things that I didn't think were possible for a "reasonable smart person" to believe (if you don't think you need constant reminding of this, ... well ... haha ;-) )

I agree with your sentiments. But this is only for one week right? Let's suck it up and see how it goes?

I trust that the admins want the best for the community.

And I don't envy the admin's job!

I know I could just be very sensitive to anything that smells like censorship right now, and that could be coloring my visceral reaction here.

Still, I afraid of this becoming a thing. One week is a while and while I don't think the mods would ever dream of intentionally doing this, it could happen during important events.

It is really hard for me to imagine what metrics after the fact would justify this. How do you measure the effect of self censorship has on influencing people's beliefs here?

I am worried that this will generate some numbers that seem to justify the practice and it becomes a regular practice around politically charged events.

> I agree with your sentiments. But this is only for one week right? Let's suck it up and see how it goes?

Yes, absolutely! I said this in another comment, I'm curious to see how this experiment goes but I'm also glad it's just for one week :)

Did you think talking about SOPA on HN makes sense? Talking about the legality/morality of NSA snooping?

What about Uber's woker policies? Facebook censorship/curation? Data privacy?

Hiring and firing policies in tech companies?

How to manage rogue IoT devices? ICANN domain policy?

This is just a sample of topics that feel pretty "Hacker News". They're all political (or at least have strong political angles), and they're all pretty popular topics of conversation here.

Now I've felt the moderation here has worked in good faith, and is likely trying to reduce flamewars here. But I'm a bit worried that the things that get marked political will mainly be around discrimination issues.

And considering the amount of SV "leadership"(scare quotes but you get the idea) on Hacker News, this is a _very_ effective forum to talk about the difficulties of certain people to get work, get funding. Talking about it here can jumpstart more ways of tackling these issues, and thinking about what the community as a whole wants to do

The old rule of not having discussions that reintroduce flame wars which arguments have been stated, restated, and re-restated is a rather useful criteria.

Unless grounded and significant structured, discussion about discrimination aren't going to bring any new ways of addressing things. What it commonly do is just expanding the battlefield and pushing people further apart. Even between those that agree on the goal, people can and do still disagree on how to reach it. I have described it in the past as comparing left and right politics, with both side wanting prosperity and liberty. Each side has fundamental different views and values for how that will be accomplished, so the discussion circles around the disagreement rather than the agreements.

I think maybe a trial week of "agreement awareness" would be a fun exercise.

On these sorts of discussions, talking about what is actionable, what we can do to reach common goals.

Though there are pretty fundamental disagreements among people on these as well, and I'm not sure where the discussion can go (for example University quotas).

But trying to get HN to be more positive overall would be encouraging. I believe this was done for Show HN stuff, having it done overall seems like an interesting next step.

Even just a msg above the reply box like "Hey, you're talking to another human being! And probably agree on a lot of things"

Doesn't this mean that to veto any topic, all you need to do is stir it up?

> Each side has fundamental different views and values for how that will be accomplished

counter this though: the left (at least at the moment) feel pretty comfortable flinging labels around? Is this just a vocal minority calling Trump/supporters a fascist(s)?

Is it really easier to ban the topic than to ban the flame war? Flame wars are already forbidden.

I think that's a fair question. That said, I think it's important to balance where the effort is expended. Cleaning up flame wars requires work on the part of the moderator at very little cost to those fanning the flames.

To perhaps abuse an analogy, when a neighborhood gets well known for arson, people will move away. At some point it may make sense to forbid certain types of structures in the neighborhood to see if it reduces the instances of arson. (okay, that's admittedly pretty tortured :)

It's a trade off, and while I'd like the world to be perfect and people talk about everything calmly and with respect, empirically this is very much not the case for certain topics. A limited test (detox week) makes sense to me. And it might not work, which is why it's a test.

If a conversation does nothing more than make someone think about their stance more than they have before, it's been wildly successful.

That's all you can ever really achieve with any online discussion about a topic that has no "right" answer.

To be blunt, /r/politics is full of groupthink and represses alternative opinions. HN is much better in that regard. Also, the fact that everyone here is united by a smaller set of common interests makes the discussion more relevant to me. I enjoy reading political discussions here and often find them though provoking. I don't on Reddit.

For what it's worth I find discussions centered on the same topic here to be much more civil, informative, and engaging than on most platforms (including /r/politics).

HN has exposed me to varied and critical political discourse that I would not find elsewhere in my life, and has on the whole been overly positive.

Places like /r/politics are often devoid of any real debate or critical argument, and are stressful and tiring to involve oneself in.

I do welcome a week without politics on HN, though I would not like to see it permanently in place such an exercise lets us fall back on what makes us happy.

Anything tech related on /r/politics gets deleted. So, yes, in this comparison it is more effective.

Spot on. To quote one of my favorite songwriters, Todd Snider, "I didn't come down here to change anybody's mind about anything. I came down here to ease my own mind about everything."

Detox week may be a good time to focus on non-political positions and views to problems like mass-job displacement. Are there solutions to these problems that don't fit neatly into a political ideology? Are there solutions that don't require government policy?

If the non-political solution antibody makes itself a permanent resident of the HN community as a result of detox week, I know I'd be pleased.

There's no non-political solution to a social problem. It's a contradiction in terms. "Non-political" just means "aligned with the political status quo".

The idea that major social ills can be solved with no governmental intervention is itself very political.

There seem to be multiple meanings to "political"; one in a broad sense (things pertaining to social governance) and a specific ideological axis along which certain general topics become polarized. The former is fine, the latter is damaging (at least in high concentrations or some such).

The appearance of a single overwhelmingly-dominant ideological axis is an artifact certain electoral systems produce in the societies that host them. The fewer axes of variation the electoral system supports, the fewer end up significant in discourse in the society.

The "broad" definition is the one in most dictionaries; the narrow one you suggest seems to be the overlap of partisan tribalism with a society with a single overwhelming axis for the reason described above.

In any case, simple utterances of tribalism are already clearly off-topic on HN, whether they are centered on political ideology or not, so clearly an experiment of the type here must be targeting something broader (though apparently also narrower than the dictionary definition of poltiics.)

> In any case, simple utterances of tribalism are already clearly off-topic on HN, whether they are centered on political ideology or not, so clearly an experiment of the type here must be targeting something broader (though apparently also narrower than the dictionary definition of poltiics.)

I think the better explanation is that a lot of tribalism is slipping through the filter, so the filter is becoming more strict for a time.

'"Non-political" just means "aligned with the political status quo"'

Is this a quote with a source? It's genius.

Not directly, but it's inspired by this excerpt of Red Mars: https://gist.github.com/andreparames/37844c65d918c89cce7d76c...

(Unsurprisingly, Arkady is my favorite character.)

Since mass job displacement is a problem that gravely affects our society, the answer is a political one - even if the answer is "no government policy" The view that government shouldn't intervene in itself is a political view. There's no escape from political views unless you want to discuss mere theoretical algorithms that have no applications at all in real life.

How on earth can one talk about labour displacement without involving political solutions? You could say "purely economic" or "purely technical" solutions only need apply - but by doing so you are taking an ideological stance, which is political.

Perhaps the upvote/downvote could be removed from political stories and in its place, an "abuse" flag could be substituted?

Perhaps upvote/downvote could be replaced with ontopic/offtopic. Or goodpoint/badargument.

Or remove comment voting altogether (a voting detox week experiment? :)). I'm a bit skeptic about how much comment voting improves the discussion quality... maybe it's completely useless, or maybe it harms more than it helps. A sort by responses may be enough if you are looking for interesting points.

Removing votes will transform this in something like the comment threads of youtube. The vote system is not perfect, but in technical discussions it usually is helpful to make the good comments float to the top.

The problem is defining good comments and having users actually follow that protocol.

To many, a comment that doesn't follow their personal logic or point of view is not a good comment. And you end up with echo chambers where only the comments that align with the majority of a community pop up, while the extremists (for lack of a better term) of a community are pushed to the bottom. Those extremists could easily be individuals sounding the alarm on something that's happening, such as skepticism for a story.

On Reddit and HN, I almost never downvote anyone because I think it's a terrible system that is too often abused and reduces the ability to have meaningful conversations about controversial topics.

As a personal rule I don't downvote grey comments unless they are very offensive or extremely wrong. And I usually upvote grey comments in spite I disagree with them, unless they are offensive or very wrong.

YouTube already has comment voting. So does Reddit. Doesn't seem to be a trend in regulating comment quality. OTOH a decade ago I found the lack of comment voting on FARK to be refreshing.

Comment voting is good to filter out spam/off topic and then sadly it can be used to create an echo chamber where dissenting opinions of all sorts gets shut down.

Track up and down votes separately. To compute the effective score, square the number of up votes and then subtract the number of down votes.

Sorting by responses just makes the controversial ones go to the top.

Or upvote/downvote could be replaced by two completely value-free congruent triangles, pointing in opposite directions.

Eventually we'll wind up with Slashdot-style scoring.

There already is an abuse flag on every comment. I think there's a karma threshold of 30 before it shows up.

I wouldn't think that a conversation about job displacing tech would be against the rules/political. I'd think that it would get political, in the sense that detox week is trying to avoid, if discussion turns to the president-elect or "partisan politics"

I agree with you and the first question that came to my mind was: what constitutes political discussion? I believe that, like it or not, the cat is out of the bag and Hacking/technology in general is very much entwined with politics. Thus I'm interested in the "hacker" point of view on these topics...

Yeah, it honestly seems like HN should split into two forums effectively.

Tech (No politics, etc.) / Not Tech.

The trying to force it all into a single view seems to be creating some friction.

Except, as tons of people have already pointed out, there is no way to talk about tech without talking about politics. Is research about how the Google search algorithm or Facebook's news feed shapes users' opinions tech or not-tech? Is a story about Uber researching autonomous cars with the intention of eliminating drivers in its own industry and industries like trucking tech or not-tech?

I think for HN becoming less political do not mean avoiding topics with a social impact, it means avoiding the display of personal political preferences in discussions.

For example "why did Trump win" is a political topic that can be discussed on HN the HN way: share confirmed figures and stats, links to informed opinions, bundle these together to form an explanation and test its predictiveness on other similar cases. All of that can happen without anyone ever stating their own personal (dis)taste for Trump. (Edited for typos)

The distinction isn't tech/notech. That's the most important thing to understand about this whole site!


I do think the purely political forum that a minority of users here seem to want, would best be served by a different site.

The very niche "I want to argue politics, but only with other hackers" site!

Which only applies to part of HN readers; from reading the comments here, many hackers appear to dislike the political arguments which take places on HN.

> I do think the purely political forum that a minority of users here seem to want, would best be served by a different site.

Privacy issues, opinions on hiring practices, etc. are all topics that have heavy polarized sides with little to bridge the divide and would likely benefit from a shift in separating those topics from the solidly tech related ones.

Although, to be honest, I'm more concerned with the fact you are oblivious to this than I am about the fact you call change ignorance. I guess it does not really matter, I'll be off HN for a long while.

As someone whose views don't align with a good chunk of HN readers (or don't align, period), I've grown to love reading about differing ideas through the eyes of others computing/tech enthusiasts. There's common ground to start from and most importantly, even if it turns out to be a viewpoint that deeply goes against my values I can still respect this fellow human because of their tech expertise.

I have to admit, it really irked me at first when I came here. How can all these people that like the same things as me, have ideas that are so ... "wrong?!" (just kidding, honest :) ) But then I learned to listen and realize that these opinions will be here whether I engage them or not.

Of course, I see subthreads that aren't very "objective in the way I want them to be". But I don't share your experience with downvotes. I try to refrain from trying to convince the person I'm directly replying to if their view is directly opposed to mine, that never works any way. I just state my own personal position and how it reflects. Sure I get the occasional downvote but that's almost always when I've let myself be confrontational about it. Also, there's a big difference between providing a link to some facts that a person might not know, and a very opinionated link (that may also have facts and numbers) that is arguing your point.

So yeah, while I support the experiment (it'll be interesting to see), I really hope they don't extend this to forever, but just occasionally after particularly turbulent US elections.


> fair treatment to minority opinions

Come on what does that even mean? I don't know what your opinions are. You don't know what mine are (you can read my comment history but good luck). I have no idea what "fair treatment to minority opinions" should even mean. My opinions are minority opinions too (I'll change them if you don't believe me), but I know this; People that complain their opinions aren't getting fair treatment are very rarely worth listening to, regardless of position. I prefer a better signal-to-butthurt ratio.

> Come on what does that even mean?

> People that complain their opinions aren't getting fair treatment are very rarely worth listening to, regardless of position. I prefer a better signal-to-butthurt ratio.

Downvoted comments are subject to being greyed out here, which is a stigma. Yes, it happens. The downvote in a political story has such a different meaning than downvotes in other stories. I feel like people use them as an agree/disagree vote in political threads, whereas they serve as an informed/uninformed vote normally.

I think you're taking these downvotes way too personally.

Also, yes, in a strongly charged political thread, up and downvotes are used very differently (compared to the wide variety of ways people use up/down otherwise, definitely not just "un/informed", take a breath and a step back and you can see that). I've seen it, and it seemed mostly there was wild voting going on, and if it changes the meaning in any sense, only to make the votes less meaningful, so just don't worry about it.

I've personally seen maybe two of those threads, cause as a non-US citizen I don't have much of a beef in it. I think stuff like that is what prompted this detox-week.

But from what I saw, the up/downvotes really went both ways. I know for sure, because that's when I realized the voting was going wild, reasonable comments on both sides voted in to greyness.

BTW the recent discussions about the new Macbook being sufficiently "Pro" or not, followed pretty much the same pattern and I'd love to have a detox week for those as well.

edit: Hey. So, we were explicitly not talking about our personal political points of view, but just about dealing with opposing views and reactions there on. Now I see you're getting greyed out. While I'm getting mad upvotes (you guys). Can we maybe agree that it's maybe perhaps not the political points of view that make the difference here, but rather the earlier-mentioned S2B ratio?

>think you're taking these downvotes way too personally

Whether personal or no, submarining comments simply because people disagree with them has always struck me as an intellectually awful "feature". I mean, think about that. People are actively encouraged to effectively censor comments simply because they disagree. What else can that do but encourage a pernicious group-think?

In fact, we should be doing the opposite: if it's stimulating discussion we want, then people should be encouraged to upvote well-made points, even if they don't agree with them.

And, if there's a downvote at all, then it should be for poorly constructed arguments that don't contribute to the quality of the discussion.

I agree that on the face of it down voting for disagreement is frustrating, though I have a hard time squaring that with the understandable desire to up-vote for agreement. I think most people know when they're making a potentially contentious comment, and in that case (just like in real life), should take far more effort in crafting their comment to be incredibly fair and charitable (while acknowledging disagreement) to those who might disagree. For one it makes it much more likely for those who don't agree to read the comment charitably themselves, it's more likely to lead to constructive discussion and have the benefit of being more immune to down votes purely on disagreement.

Edit: Looks like the two of us have discussed this before :)


And both times I've appreciated the civil discussion. Thanks for that!

I agree with you and I need to work on taking it less personally. But, can we agree that greying of posts is perhaps not the ideal way to treat downvoted posts?

I preferred when (way back when) it showed the actual vote totals (or up/down numbers, I don't quite remember). It also greyed posts btw. At some point they changed it, the justification was something about vote gaming/brigading and spam, which was reasonable but it wasn't a crucial fix to a very critical problem either (IMHO).

Most importantly, this change was made before dang became moderator, to try and fix certain ways the community worked, and nearly all of those ways have changed a lot because of the changes in moderation, so I wouldn't mind seeing that decision to be revisited. I doubt that'll happen though, it's just too safe and easy not to show vote numbers.

As for actual greying, I dislike the fact that it makes reading harder very much. If some people have downvoted it, doesn't mean I don't want to read it. For the same reason I have 'showdead' on in my profile settings (I really wonder how many people have this btw), also because (as I have explained in older comments of mine) I am very much against the concept of hellbanning as it is applied on HN. Again only last week I saw a few 'dead' accounts posting just reasonable (not super-informative or upvote-worthy, but just "fine") comments. Checking their post history I could see some "bad" comments that surely deserved all the downvotes they got, that probably triggered the hellban, but that doesn't excuse in any way to waste these people's time like that, writing reasonable comments, thinking they are participating in conversation, unknowing that the large majority of users won't even see their posts. There's no justification for that, if they need some kind of lasting sanction, have them be notified about it, maybe a posting timeout or something.

What would be better if comments with a certain number of downvotes would auto-collapse, like Reddit does. Even better, adjust the threshold per subthread so the total number of visible direct replies is between 10 and 15, or some number. I'd have locally scripted this myself a long time ago if the downvote-numbers were available.

However, you also seem to have a problem with the greying that it's signalling "unpopular opinion!" to other users, if I understand your remark about "stigma" correctly. Meaning that even if it didn't hamper legibility, if they used a different colour or perhaps a sad smiley in various states of desperation (I dunno), you'd still find a problem with that? Cause I'm not very concerned about that at all. IMO, the signal is the message, like say your posts in this thread, came off to me as somewhat whiny, regardless of the actual opinions in your post history that you were complaining about getting downvotes (which I still haven't looked at, btw, but I'm not sure I would want to), that kind of tone signals a lot stronger to me, downvotes or no, grey or no, opinion that I agree with or no. But maybe once you manage to take downvotes less personally, this particular side of the issue will become less of a concern for you as well.

> I feel like people use them as an agree/disagree vote in political threads, whereas they serve as an informed/uninformed vote normally.

That's the rub: political disagreements tend to go beyond facts and into the realm of values, at which point it's no longer a matter of informedness. This phase change in the debate can be hard to detect, as even the debaters might not realize they are no longer arguing from facts (since their deeply held values may 'feel like facts'), but IMO it's the reason political discussions tend to decay in quality at a certain point, because one side is no longer honoring the previous terms of the debate, knowingly or not.

For what it's worth, I think political debates on HN are worth having and can be very productive, because my subjective sense of the HN population is that a higher percentage of us are open to reevaluating our beliefs (and potentially our values) in the face of new information than the human population at large.

So you're saying it's difficult for you as a white male (at least according to your linked social media) to deal with the issues that you encounter related to grayed out HN comments about the president-elect? The same president elect who goes on TV and and threatens to ban Muslims from entering the US based on their religion. But you are really worried about the grayed out HN comments and the stigma they give you in this community?

This is exactly why people are compelled to speak up politically in every space they can. You are not affected by the policies other people are afraid of and you feel slightly inconvenienced by talk of them and want talk swept under the rug. Whereas the other side says "we cannot sweep this under the rug because of how important it is to our well being."

You remind me an Aristotle quote: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. :-)

That's a great quote! Thanks for sharing! That and the oft-attributed-to-Voltaire “I wholly disapprove of what you say—and will defend to the death your right to say it.”, though I temper the latter with a wholesome peppering of civility.

> People that complain their opinions aren't getting fair treatment are very rarely worth listening to

I feel this opinion falls into that category

That's a bit of a confusing, almost paradoxical-seeming statement :) I don't believe I complained my opinions are getting fair treatment. In fact, they almost always seem to get fair treatment. Even when they're ignored or downvoted, really, if the majority of HN-users are anything, it's an uncanny valley of faceless reasonableness :p

Unless you mean something different, maybe the line could have used some qualifiers. So it's not the opinions themselves that aren't worth listening to, to be clear. It's just that given two people of the same position, the one that's not complaining their opinions aren't getting fair treatment is usually one that can argue their position a lot more clearly and therefore is just generally more worth listening to. Although that's the less-accurate positive version of that preference of mine. In my personal experience, the negative version is almost always on point.

I meant the category of "not worth listening to"

> given two people of the same position, the one that's not complaining their opinions aren't getting fair treatment is usually one that can argue their position a lot more clearly and therefore is just generally more worth listening to

You didn't say "more" or "less" worth listening to, you said "not"

Hacker News is an unfair place for people to speak up about about the lack of racial and gender diversity in tech. I have been downvoted for comments where I felt like I was making uncontroversial critiques of the status quo. I have seen HN users say that black neighborhoods need more policing than other neighborhoods. It's not an easy place to be non-white or non-male.

I believe banning politics is a bad idea even for a week.

Some users will down vote comments not because they disagree but because from experience they know that any resulting discussion will be unproductive. Rehashing the same discussion again and again is actively destructive to the community as a whole. It decreases the signal-to-noise ratio, tacitly approves of the negative contributions, and increases the likelihood that those that contribute positively will leave, and the community as a whole will be all the worse for it.

I don't understand how your conclusion follows from the rest. The fact that your "uncontroversial critiques of the status quo" get down voted is evidence that we can't have unbiased and productive political discussions on HN.

This ban gives the status quo implicit support by stoping the discussion in its tracks. Our reality includes political discussion and I don't think we can cleanly make a divide between it and other things that spark interest in hackers.

That's why this is a good time to experiment with a ban. The USA is in a transition between two presidents of different parties and the UK has an unelected supremeo with two chaotically contradictory mandates.

The status quo is fuzzily defined at this moment so bias towards it is not as harmful as usual.

uncontroversial critiques of the status quo


Let me try to understand your reasoning. If everyone agreed with your critique of the "status quo", why would it be the status quo to begin with?

There are myriad ways the status quo can be at odds with people's values and desires. Sometimes the status quo remains so because we can't decide on the proper remedy or disagree on the proper remedy. Just because something is status quo does not mean critique is inherently controversial.

I would suggest, if your critique proposes a particular remedy, you should expect people to question whether your proposed remedy is a good idea. If it does not propose a remedy, you should expect people to question whether your critique is even useful.

A critique of the status quo that doesn't generate controversy is probably irrelevant.

How is that unfair? It's actually quite fair. We all have opinions and we can upvote, downvote, and comment equally.

The parent to my comment complains about HN being unfair to his political viewpoint and has a history of posting somewhat sympathetically about Trump. He seemed to assume that sympathizing with Trump or conservatives is the only way one could disagree with mainstream HN political views. "Unfair" is his term, I was making a point.

Saying "you were downvoted" doesn't mean all of HN is unfair. I've been here a couple years and overall the topic of inclusion and diversity is handled very well. I dont mean "well" in that every progressive claim is unilaterally accepted, either. I mean that we take the subject seriously and most of us are champions of diversity and inclusion.

This may be the most laughably wrong statement I've seen in this entire thread, and that's saying something.

Something that all discussions could benefit from, especially politics, is a clear distinction between descriptive and normative comments. For example, describing a bias in the status quo should not be equated with endorsing that bias.

We should probably try to stay on the descriptive side as much as possible. Whenever making normative statements, we should probably make sure they are based on an unbiased collection of facts (and not ignoring inconvenient facts), with solid and clearly explained reasoning, and assumptions made explicit.

> It often feels like there is one prevailing slant on this site

When people talk about "the average HN reader", or the "prevailing slant", I'm always curious what they mean.

For me, it's always felt more like a back-and-forth struggle between radical liberals and hardline libertarians. That's always been the general nature of pretty much every tech-oriented forum historically (e.g. HN, Reddit, Slashdot, Usenet, etc). When Mike Judge was once asked about the core insight behind his "Silicon Valley" TV show, he cited his belief that the tech ethos is a conflict between liberal and libertarian values.

As a pragmatist who just likes to read about tech, I find both sides annoying.

I'm also curious as to what the mean (or median) HN political viewpoint would be, and which is the majority/minority viewpoint.

Personally, I tend towards liberal politics. I interperent this statement as "Liberal politics dominates HN, and conservative politics is a minority that gets downvoted"

Even assuming that's accurate, I tend to find more conservative viewpoints on this forum, compared to other forums I browse, and I find those conservative viewpoints better argued, and more likely to affect my view.

Still, technologically minded liberals/libertarians, for all their differences, are not the only viewpoints, and even if there's disagreement along that axis it can still lead to a bubble. I doubt you'd see many people on HN advocating for a fundamentally Christian America, for instance.

Yes, liberal-libertarian is only one axis and this axis is different to the Democrat-Republican one. Both liberals and libertarians are socially liberal, as you imply.

I think that it's important to support minority opinions, sure. Civil discourse needs to be civil.

That said, not wanting to talk about politics is a political act. It's basically saying, "let's let the status quo keep going for now", because most things involve politics on some level.

Can we get away from namecalling and toxic behavior? Sure. But having a politics free space isn't the way to do that.

> It often feels like there is one prevailing slant on this site and those of the majority are free to push their views while the rest of us must either read it and ignore it or face the onslaught of downvotes if we express a dissenting opinion.

Are there any online communities where their political opinions match more with yours? Why don't you hang out there instead? I realize that's reinforcing an echo chamber, but it sounds like you're looking for more of an echo chamber, right?

> even though I have made my points in an informed and respectful way

Maybe an example of a time you made a point in an informed and respectful way only to be downvoted and derided would help clarify?

> Unless HN can figure out how to give fair treatment to minority opinions, it's best to exclude these discussions entirely.

I strongly disagree. I don't know what "fair treatment" means, but if enough people on the site feel a topic is worth talking about, we should talk about it. Specific incidences of abuse should be flagged, but again, it's hard for me to say one way or another without examples showing what you mean.

As to the overall question of whether politics should be allowed on HN, HN started as "Startup News". It's always been a site about entrepreneurship, mostly in the tech industry. Entrepreurship is intimately linked to politics in obvious and non-obvious ways. Politics has to do with taxes, healthcare, immigration, legality of certain types of research, market size and access, shifting demographic trends, financing sources, and much more.

Edit: I removed a final sentence because it's moot and doesn't add to my actual argument.

> To take this blanket approach of "No talking about politics!" is...

For one week.

> "Forbidden topics" because some people's feelings are getting hurt?

It's about a lot more than that, as I tried to explain in the text above. There are two different kinds of site—intellectually curious and politically combative—and we cannot be both of them.

> For one week.

Then I hope it's just for a week. I know HN weights certain topics down already. I think there's a good argument for some of that, but I don't see an argument for more of it.

> There are two different kinds of site—intellectually curious and politically combative—and we literally cannot be both of them.

FWIW, as a user, I have not noticed an uptick in politically combative discussion on HN, although I have noticed the uptick in political posts. If your target demographic is basically founders/hackers/entrepreneurs/whatever, having a place to find relatively sane discussions about politics is a good thing. HN is pretty much that, I can't think of a place that's better.

I do think having lots of strong opinions in one place is a good thing and helps those opinions evolve towards something better. Echo chambers result in the information equivalent of inbreeding.

But that's my point, I very much don't want HN to become an echo chamber by, for example, banning political posts for more than 1 week (which is a weird experiment, but fine).

> There are two different kinds of site—intellectually curious and politically combative—and we cannot be both of them.

I disagree. You cannot support intellectual curiosity without healthy, relatively unrestrained (in subject matter) debate.

Now, simply tribal displays that aren't debate where people engage with each other, are a problem and need to be corralled effectively to avoid becoming.the dominant form of activity.

But not only is "politically combative" not opposed to "intellectually curious" in a site, the former is essentially a necessitate to accept if you are going to have the latter.

From your profile, you've been around the block more than a few times here on HN. Your disagreement here has me puzzled, as it seems to be disagreement for its own sake rather than understanding the intent of the detox week and attempting to refine the language explaining it. I understand dang's "politically combative" to describe what you state as "tribal displays that aren't debate". Or am I completely misreading your comment? If that's the case, would you elaborate? Also, how would you handle behavior such as that displayed in

- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13095475

- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13041886

What actually constructive on balance came out of these discussions? How can we improve the signal-to-noise ratio/reduce the tribal displays? This is a topic I'm genuinely interested in, so your take on it given your experience here on HN is of particular interest to me. I think it's not putting words in dang's mouth to say reducing the tribal displays (as opposed to stifle intellectual curiosity) is exactly what detox week is attempting to accomplish.

> Your disagreement here has me puzzled, as it seems to be disagreement for its own sake rather than understanding the intent of the detox week and attempting to refine the language explaining it.

I'd love to understand the intent of detox week. I don't (either in terms of the intended scope of the policy or the motivation and intended goal state.)

And the issue I'm taking with elements of the description of either by dang (in a couple places in this thread) are both because I disagree with them phrased, and hope that pointing that out will lead to responses that better elucidate the whole picture.

But I suspect that the whole thing is trying to deal with a change in the political climate outside HN by modifying what is already a near-optimal policy in HN to one that is far worse.

Cool. So, from your point of view, the threads I linked to are okay as is?

No, from my point of view the exist guidance and policy on what is off-topic is the right way to address threads like that, and blanket bans on "politics", however defined, offer no additional benefit but do eliminate valuable conversation.

They through out more baby, but do nothing additional about the bathwater we want to deal with.

Now you've really got me confused. Other than the comment by dang at the top of one of the them that mentions the detox week, I provided them as examples of non-constructive threads on HN that are operating under the existing guidance and policies, which I understand you to say are near-optimal (and I agree are pretty good, and would like to see more enforcement of). With that in mind, are those threads okay, and to be expected as part of the current guidelines and enforcement (by mods and community)?

Both of them are general interest political news threads covered by the mainstream media (one was at the front of every mainstream report in every medium), and are already, as such, at the top of the list of things which are presumptively off-topic and suspect. While they are perhaps predictably problem threads, the politics detox doesn't actually change anything about them from the preexisting policy. It just cracks down on the kind of specific-interst-to-hackers political issue threads that were arguably on topic under the normal rules, unlike these. Which makes no sense.

they are perhaps predictably problem threads

Thank you! That felt like pulling teeth, and I didn't think was controversial at all. I'm not trying to score points.

[Edit to add: For me, this is part of finding common ground, and "they are perhaps predictably problem threads" is perfectly in keeping with your earlier statement about the existing guidelines and policies being "near optimal". No human social system is going to be perfect.]

I think that detox week (note: week, not permanent forever) is an attempt to reduce the problems these threads represent. You obviously disagree that detox week will do anything to improve this, which is fine. I think it's understandable that the mods would want to reduce these types of threads if they can.

You've also said that the current guidelines are near-optimal. Does that mean that any attempt to improve on the guidelines shouldn't be attempted? That's a legitimate position to hold. I think it's also understandable for the mods to try to improve the behavior on the site to more closely cleave to "civil and substantive". Hard to fault them for trying.

Thanks again for your contributing to this thread. I appreciate it.

I don't want to hang out in an echo chamber. I enjoy the diversity of opinions that I find among my coworkers and social media friends. However, neither my workplace nor Facebook feature the "downvote". Being downvoted for expressing an unpopular opinion here is the equivalent of being shoved out of a circle of friends. It doesn't feel good and I don't come here to feel like crap. I don't think I'm all that different than most HN readers when I say that I come here to escape from work or home life for a few minutes and learn about things. Exclusion because you're different has no place on a forum like this.

You've got over 2k karma. You can afford to lose some.

Even then, I scrolled back through your comments. The last time you got grayed out was over a month ago (although I'll agree that that thread was a little like what you describe, and I was really unhappy to see 'idlewords and 'tptacek say what they did, not least of all because of how much I respect them... I was in that thread too, and I'll remind you that the moderators closed it because it just turned into an all-out flamewar).

I agree with your political opinion, for what it's worth. But I don't agree that you should feel anything based on downvotes. Sometimes people will disagree with you. Sometimes they won't.

But never, ever let a little number next to your name control your life. Don't let it become who you are. Make your comments when you feel they're appropriate, and don't take it too harshly when you get knocked down.

I want you to know that you're welcome on HN.

> You've got over 2k karma. You can afford to lose some.

Consider how that would sound to someone who's "karma-poor," i.e. anyone new to HN.

> But I don't agree that you should feel anything based on downvotes....never, ever let a little number next to your name control your life. Don't let it become who you are.

Yes, Eleanor Roosevelt was right, of course. However, the fact remains that people are people, and people are social animals, and, despite being virtual, these are social interactions with real consequences.

One of the problems with downvotes is that they have no cost for the voter, but they inflict a social penalty upon the receiver. Their being anonymous-yet-public is part of that problem.

Imagine being in an office environment that had a corkboard on the wall divided into columns, one for each employee. Anyone can anonymously post a card, and anyone can read posted cards. Downvotes are the equivalent of someone posting a card saying, "You're wrong and stupid and you should feel bad for saying that thing you said earlier today at lunch." The person making the accusation incurs no social cost, expends no social capital, but the person about whom the comment is made suffers a social penalty, an anonymous-yet-public shaming, without even an opportunity to defend himself or face his accuser.

Would anyone deny that such an environment would have extremely negative consequences for social interactions in the group? Imagine walking up to the board and seeing a number of cards equivalent to over half the group in your column, all of them shaming you for something that happened earlier. Who in the group hates you now? When you interact with someone, and they seem nice, are they putting on an act? Are they talking about you behind your back? Are they one of the ones who posted those cards?

Yet here on HN, people think this kind of interaction is acceptable, even good. It makes no sense.

Another serious problem with downvoting (or, at least, the way downvoting is implemented here) is that it discourages discussion. Every time someone takes the time to write a thoughtful comment, and it gets downvoted into invisibility, that person is discouraged from doing so in the future, because it would effectively be a waste of his time. Why should he bother, when it only takes a few people to click a button and make his words vanish. And in this way, the whole community is worse off.

For example, see here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13118453 I made a relevant comment with a good point supported by a clear example. Then someone responds with a bunch of strawmen that have no relevance to what I said and my comment starts getting downvotes. His comment wasn't even relevant, which is exactly the kind of comment that should be downvoted--but does his get downvoted? No, of course not--he gets approbation, and I get shamed. A few more downvotes and my comment won't even be seen by anyone who might have something interesting to say about it, which disenfranchises me of the opportunity to have a discussion at all.

I wanted to have an interesting discussion on the topic, but a handful of people have the power to deny me that opportunity, while remaining anonymous and refusing to even engage in the discussion themselves. It's just plain cowardly. So why should I bother? It's a waste of my time. HN becomes a read-only medium to me. But of course, to them, that's a good thing, because I'm an outsider, and they don't want to hear from me.

> I want you to know that you're welcome on HN.

That's nice of you to say, but it's not the case according to the people who downvoted him, because such downvoting is directly discouraging further such participation, i.e. saying, "Don't do that again," which is exactly not welcoming.

> [...] despite being virtual, these are social interactions with real consequences.

... absolutely not. You can sign out of Hacker News whenever you please, and none of the people here follow you into your real life. Posting here has very few "real consequences". You might get a boost on traffic to your blog or find someone interesting to start a company with. But I won't pity you for getting downvoted. No one picks up a resume and says "that's interesting, but how much karma do you have on HN?"

> [downvotes] have no cost for the voter

Well, perhaps, but they're not free either. Voting down is a privilege, one that many people on this site have earned.

Also, many users will vote up a comment that's been grayed out if they feel that it shouldn't have been. If your comment is good, it will get rescued by passersby.

> Downvotes are the equivalent of someone posting a card saying, "You're wrong and stupid and you should feel bad for saying that thing you said earlier today at lunch."

Downvotes are the equivalent of someone posting "I don't think your opinion is valid/interesting."

And I scrolled back through your comments, like I did with the other guy. And I actually agree with many of your comments being downvoted. Being in the middle of a flamewar three weeks ago (and not stopping until 'dang prodded you), being factually wrong, and mentioning downvotes over and over again (seriously, I had to scroll back three pages of comments to not find "downvote" in the page somewhere): none of these things are interesting.

Especially amusing was the comment you posted before this. You posted four paragraphs that would have been better expressed with a downvote. There is a reason that they exist, and a reason that they have no cost per use. You can signal your opinion in a way that doesn't require you to post many paragraphs. (Humorously enough, I can't vote your post down, as it's in reply to me. I guess I have to post many paragraphs then.)

Sometimes you will randomly see a single downvote here and there on a comment that you thought might be legitimate. Don't overthink it. It's just a little internet number. Move on.

> For example, see here:

You post a relevant comment with a good point, supported by a clear example. Someone points out one way that your argument's premise might be flawed (although that person doesn't refute the argument you made).

Your mistake was posting an overlong recap of your previous comment, in a cynical and near-polemic tone, instead of pointing out the flaws in that person's argument. You get "shamed" for not furthering the discussion.

> [...] he gets approbation, and I get shamed.

The intent isn't to shame you. It's to filter communications that most people don't find useful.

People can still see your comments. They're not gone. If you feel disenfranchised, that's on you; you're still welcome to continue posting, just as long as you don't continue posting in the way that you did.

> a handful of people have the power to deny me that opportunity

Deny you what opportunity? You're still able to continue posting. In your linked thread, for example, you were the one who didn't respond.

> because I'm an outsider, and they don't want to hear from me.

It's not you, it's your comments. You're implicitly reading this as an ad hominem argument. I want you too to know that you're welcome on HN. You even seem like a reasonable person. But in my opinion, some of your comments are overlong tirades that generally don't lead to productive discussion (and I hope I don't offend you by saying so).

You're being told, both passively (through downvotes) and directly (by moderators), that certain kinds of comments are not acceptable here. Hopefully you'll see the pattern. I know it took me some time to find the correct commenting pattern too. Don't feel bad about it.


With that setup, we can finally tackle the first point you presented:

>> You've got over 2k karma. You can afford to lose some.

> Consider how that would sound to someone who's "karma-poor," i.e. anyone new to HN.

I wouldn't tell that to someone new to HN. If they haven't earned much karma, they probably haven't learned the ropes yet. In which case, they should learn to walk (make directly on-topic and guaranteed constructive comments) before they run (make comments that deviate slightly but still lead to respectful and interesting conversation).

Don't take HN too seriously. It's just a website that people talk to each other on.



> [...] all of them shaming you for something that happened earlier.

"Shaming" you for something that isn't related to your comment?

> Who in the group hates you now? When you interact with someone, and they seem nice, are they putting on an act? Are they talking about you behind your back? Are they one of the ones who posted those cards?

I'm trying to read this charitably and failing. Are you intentionally accusing people of voting your comments down because of the user they're attached to, or am I simply failing to read your comment in the way you intended?

Sometimes I get downvotes, it feels like crap, and I realize my comment deserved them.

At other times... well, as I once posted, "One thing I've learned around HN is that sometimes you have to wear your downvotes with pride."

It can be mildly entertaining to watch a post fluctuate from 1 to -4 to +5 and back and forth multiple times over the course of a couple hours.

They are just internet points, after all.

But... but...

Those who die with the most Internet Points win, don't they?

Being downvoted for expressing an unpopular opinion here is the equivalent of being shoved out of a circle of friends.

You should learn to take feedback less personally.

It doesn't feel good and I don't come here to feel like crap.

If someone uses emotionally charged language to denigrate you, then I think you have a valid complaint. But the interpretation you assign to a downvote is just that - your interpretation.

It's not about feelings getting hurt. Some of us just don't get any value out of the political discussion on HN. HN always had guidelines and moderation, this isn't exactly new.

>Are there any online communities where their political opinions match more with yours? Why don't you hang out there instead? I realize that's reinforcing an echo chamber, but it sounds like you're looking for more of an echo chamber, right?

Trying to diversify discourse here sounds like the opposite of looking for an echo chamber, and the 'tech community' is in dire need of it, at least as far as politics is concerned

I'd rather see HN go politics-free forever. Political discussions do not enjoy the same level of objectivity that technical and business discussions do.

I'd like to point out that this site is called "Hacker News", not "Technical and Business News". While there is no single "hacker political stance", there are ethical principles embraced by the community that can be applied usefully to policy questions.


As many have pointed out, it's really the subjective content of this site (here in the comments) that has the most value.

FWIW, I enjoy well articulated dissenting opinions, as well as experiences brought from sources external to a community's shared experience. It's instructive as well as frequently enlightening. That said, I do also appreciate tribal familiarity and the "relaxed state" that comes from friends who think alike.

A trouble I have with HN is the casual assumption that a subject actually has an objective truth that can be debated. Often we just don't agree on the basics of what is actually important in a philosophical sense. So every fact is just a proxy for a particular world view. It is better to question the underlying assumptions than the facts themselves. We don't need to do this with technology or buisness because we already share the same sort of world view.

You see this kind of problem on debates about climate change. Once people learn about environment and ecology they tend to assume that humans have an unavoidable impact on the planet. Climate change "deniers" simply have a different intuition. All the science in the world is not going to change that. Which is why it is political, and not objective.

Really the entire point of politics is to debate things that lack definitive truth. Of course that is probably true of anything that is discussed on a forum to a lesser or greater extent. Otherwise the answer would already be on Wikipedia.

I also often see this when someone argues that a certain action by a company isn't ethical--which has no objective truth, but that makes the debate only more fruitful, IMO--and someone else then replies that this company has every (legal) right to act this way, which has more of an objective truth by most standards, but isn't very interesting at all if you don't live in the same jurisdiction, nor has it much relevance to whether the action was "right" (in the ethical sense) or not.

But then, I guess, that person has every right to conflate moral and legal rights ... so sue me? :)

Yes, I have lost count of the rants against "natural products". People develop these buying habits in response to an inabilty to hold complete information about a product. So you have to have shortcuts based on your world view. For every organic lover there is someone slurping Soylant.

> Unless HN can figure out how to give fair treatment to minority opinions, it's best to exclude these discussions entirely.

Given that cultural and political values and assertions are diverse within relatively small communities, never mind a global audience, I'd suggest this would be very difficult to pull off.

For a moment, consider speaking about a topic that was settled decades or centuries ago in your community, but is still a controversial topic elsewhere. What topic are you thinking of? What other communit(y/ies) were you thinking of? What issues and communities do you think other people would offer? I bet there would be a lot of different perspectives on these questions, which is the reason political discussion should be limited.

> I'd rather see HN go politics-free forever.

I think that being able to discuss political issues such as regulations that impact startups is important, and will certainly resume after the political detox week is over.

You make some interesting points about non-objective discussions on HN. I think your reasoning could justify banning other topics too, so I'm wondering how you would decide that discussions aren't objective enough.

For example, you could use your justification for banning any discussion about HN's rules since that would also be subjective and have minority viewpoints unfairly downvoted. People are often passionate about any rules changes as we can see by the upvotes on this submission. Do you think discussion about this rules change should be banned too?

If your feel your perspective gets marginalized, shouldn't you want to be able to convince others of what you believe to be true? Removing all political conversation will perpetuate the status quo.

This assumes that humans put rational argument above tribalism; social psychology tells us this is not the case ("morality binds and morality blinds"). Excessive political discourse seems more likely to strengthen bonds within political groups relative to the bonds we have with those from rival political groups. Taking time to realize how much we have in common seems prudent.

I completely sympathize. The hate is real -- I myself often have to take a personal "detox break" from HN simply in order to feel human again.

It would be nice to be able to consider HN a welcoming, warm community but, on the other hand, I don't want it to be a fake sense of community -- I'm glad when people vilify me for my beliefs so that I can mark and avoid those people.

I thought there were rules established: upvote if a post is thought provoking and or informative; downvote if it's factually incorrect or doesn't contribute to the conversation.

The forums on the internet should not be solely to affirm your opinions, but also to challenge them and allow growth as an individual.

The problem isn't with politics -- it's with the people misusing the voting system.

> downvote if it's factually incorrect

I would be surprised if this had much of an impact. I've encountered a lot of people even on HN who truly seem to believe their ideology is somehow 'fact'. Those who are sufficiently self-aware in this regard are probably not abusing the downvote button to begin with.

The actual rule emerges from the code: upvote a post you want people to read, downvote a post you want made difficult to read.

>I often feel marginalized by unfair downvoting in political discussion

This is insane. Why are people worried about internet points. I'm guessing you are an adult right? and you don't want to express your points of views because someone might click the little arrow?

Why? Please, honestly, explain this to me.

I could care less about the "internet points". Look at my karma--I don't need them. My objection is to the greying-out/hiding of comments that are voted down. This is how a majority can effectively silence a minority viewpoint here on HN. It's easy to say "get a thicker skin" when it's not you that's being squelched.

Here are a few reasons someone might care:

1. Internet Points are a social signal.

2. Some HN features are restricted to users that have more than a certain number of Internet Points.

3. If you are expressing yourself in a comment with the aim of communicating, having the comment downvoted enough to grey it out (making it harder to read) will frustrate you.

I am sorry to hear you feel this way. as someone who has independent views, I have no idea what the views of the average HN reader are but I'll try to be more mindful of this in the future.


HN has sizable contigents of liberal, left-libertarian, right-libertarian, and conservative posters. And some that don't fit neatly into any of those groups.

It absolutely doesn't have an overwhelming majority favoring any one US political party or candidate .

Has there every been any survey about that?

That's probably the biggest disadvantage of the simple upvote/downvote moderation system. This is one area where I miss Slashdot's moderation and meta-moderatiom system (though I don't miss the continually degrading quality of the discussions).

It's a bit like the distinction between true democracy and a democratic republic. True democracy is mob rule. Democratic republics are slightly better at maintaining some sanity and objectivity.

Rational, polite, constructive, civil, objective discourse is possible on any topic. It just gets a lot harder.

I like the idea, but I don't see the rule to stand if something of importance happens this week.

I fully support this detox week. As someone whose political views don't align with the average HN reader, I often feel marginalized by unfair downvoting in political discussion, even though I have made my points in an informed and respectful way. It often feels like there is one prevailing slant on this site and those of the majority are free to push their views while the rest of us must either read it and ignore it or face the onslaught of downvotes if we express a dissenting opinion.

In recent threads, I've made some factual observations, only to have people imagine a slant or motivation, then argue with that commenter of their imagination. I think HN is succumbing to the "Arguments as Soliders" antipattern:


How is this any different than people getting downvoted for questioning the ability of Tesla to execute on an insane timeline or any of the other random things go against the HN hivemind?

I'd suggest not caring about downvotes.

Personally, I think that is quite a self-centered view. You don't want political discussions because you are in the minority? That's quite a myopic perspective to take.

I feel your pain, brother.

> I find this experiment a bit strange/disturbing, avoiding political subjects is a way of putting the head in the sand.

This community already has its head in the sand. Political topics are flagged to oblivion, and even those that aren't inevitably inspire so much discussion that the flamewar detector goes off and nukes the thread.

Imagine: in an era where we rail against filter bubbles, a website punishes threads that are too active!

The Devil's Advocate says "Hey now, there's certainly a time and place for political discussion, but HN is a tech forum, not a political forum." Good point, but HN is also a Third Place (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_place), and being a Third Place means promoting Civic Engagement. I agree that HN should strive to stay on topic, but there is plenty of overlap between tech and politics and I think that space deserves to be explored by the community.

I already get TONS of political crap thrown at me on facebook and reddit, why would I want my last bastion of pure, unadulterated technology news also tainted by the very thing I'm trying to avoid? I want to come here to discuss code and technology, not to argue about Trump or Clinton.

I think this is where good judgement comes into play. If there's an argument about Trump or Clinton, clearly it's off topic. If there's an argument about how a technology will be impacted by some element of the current political landscape, that seems reasonable.

Others have stated this elsewhere in the thread, but it's often impossible to avoid politics altogether. I'm completely with you about posts that are purely political in nature.

I guess I just interpreted "politics" to mean left vs. right bickering, not the nuanced ethics of self-driving cars or whatever. The left vs. right never-ending debates are what I want to avoid.

If an article clearly has a pro-left/right spin, I don't want to read it.

This leaves you in a place where it's very easy to fall prey to a really crafty spin and turn that into the norm against which you compare everything else. And suddenly you're seeing things that, hey, that's not spin. And bit by bit, you drift one way or another.

The world is political and everybody's trying to sell you something. You can't opt out of it. Sorry.

So, where would a story about the code in voting machines sit? Anathema?

I agree that HN does not need walls of bickering partisan flames, but outlawing discussions of politics and ethics is not the way to go in my mind.

I don't see any reason a story about voting machines couldn't be strictly technical. What politics would you even want to discuss?

That entirely depends on the requirement priority for the user experience being based on agnostic fact, not opinion.

But as we know, some parties prefer more stringer voter identification at the expense of supression, and vice versa.

You can have a discussion about how to implement voter ID without deciding whether it's a good idea overall, or whether it violates the VRA.

In fact, most voting machines don't check ID at all; they leave that to the humans. (If they did check ID, the machines could secretly match votes to names.)

Whether or not they have it now is irrelevant (it's an example) - any proposed technology would inevitably see this requirement, and others, being identified based on opinion, not fact.

Voter ID is not necessarily a bad thing and doesn't necessarily lead to suppression you just also need balances like making it mandatory for citizens over 18 to be enrolled to vote - that's what we do in Australia and it solves a whole bunch of issues.

You don't get problems with large swaths of demographic groups being disenfranchised/turned away from the polls, because everyone is on the electoral roll.

And oh look, this is how a technical discussion about voting machines will drift in to non-technical political discussion. Viva la detox week I say.

Well, for instance, one might want to discuss whether it would be right that an unaudited private entity would have access to voter data - or is that on the taboo side of the line?

Unless some actual, new technical evidence turns up - and there doesn't seem to be much sign of it so far - voting machines are a pure political football right now. There just isn't that much new discussion to be had outside of speculation and partisan bickering. It was certainly interesting watching them go from unhackable to insecure in the mainstream political discourse despite the actual evidence not changing, though.

I'm happy to see particularly interesting pieces that deal with politics here, but I've seen far too much "breaking" political news here for my tastes. I'd much prefer if HN's politics were more deep and analytical, rather than following the same reality show that I can watch on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter.

I've had a hard time finding a good place to have substantive political discussion outside HN. Anyone have suggestions?

The best I've found is reddit.com/r/neutralpolitics. It's strictly moderated, with minimum comment lengths and required source links when making factual claims.

I too have not found a good place to have any type of political discussion. Even on HN it's better but still almost impossible especially if you have any type of opinion or have done anything in the past that doesn't align with what the majority of opinions are on this site.

Politics seem to work like religion in the brain. I'm not sure it's possible to have a good discussion.

Agree. I would argue that the "don't discuss politics or religion" with family and friends is partly what got us into this mess in the first place. The United States has become a nation where you can't have reasonable political discourse, because we've been taught not to talk about it. We put our heads in the sand and repeat our same beliefs over and over without any external challenge or validation. When we try to have a discussion, we're so ill-prepared and we're so entrenched in our positions that we're unable to talk rationally or civilly about the topics.

I would argue that the opposite is necessary, as a general rule of discourse: we should calmly and confidently talk about politics with anyone and everyone. We should be able to have discussions about things like taxes, the military, and technology, without resorting to screaming and shouting names.

One could make the argument that Hacker News is not a political forum, but I think explicitly discouraging political discourse is not healthy in the long run.

> I would argue that the "don't discuss politics or religion" with family and friends is partly what got us into this mess in the first place

I don't think this is the problem.

The problem is the echo chambers people surround themselves with (and tech companies explicitly try to cultivate) and a slowly dying news media desperate for views, and whipping up outrage in order to get them.

And how do you dissolve -- or mitigate the effects of -- an echo chamber? By discussing contradicting views with those around you. The media has no control over that.

If this is a topic you're interested in, I think you'll find Jonathan Haidt's book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion" particularly useful. I've read it through twice and it's helped me better understand the nature of the issue.

I'm halfway through it now as a result of your recommendation of it a week ago. Thanks, I'm finding it great!

Very glad to hear it :)

Thanks for the recommendation!

I absolutely agree with this. What may have seemed like a good idea to avoid short-term arguments, has instead allowed differences to fester to a point where people barely even agree on the terminology used.

> head in the sand

There are a ton of other sites where you can follow and debate politics all you want.

I'm starting to stick my nose into local politics here in Bend, Oregon, but there's no reason I need to talk about it on HN. I'm ok with compartmentalizing things: HN for tech/startups/'interesting things', and other sites for other things. I love bike racing, too, and feel that it's the best sport in the world, but I see no need to introduce bike racing articles here.

>There are a ton of other sites where you can follow and debate politics all you want.

But where do you draw the line of what is 'politics' and what is 'cool nerdy tech stuff'?

Is a breakdown of 538's method of poll aggregation too politically charged, even if there's a perfectly good overlap of math and statistics?

If Trump makes an out-of-left-field statement about repatriating corporate money, are we prohibited from talking about how it will affect Apple?

A blanket ban of 'political threads and topics' seem harsh, even if just for a week. I personally haven't found the political content on this site to be out of bounds, considering the monumental political upheavals we've been witnessing over the past year.

I think dang and the other moderators are capable of making pretty good judgement calls.

It's often pretty obvious from the ensuing conversation what kind of post it is: are people discussing the politics, or the technical thing that's kind of related?

It's a lot like that classical definition of pornography. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. If a topic gets a lot of downvotes this week, it means it crossed the line for a lot of people. Simple :)

It's a definition that's ripe to be abused. It means topics can be censored and discussion silenced, not for breaking any specific rule, but by possessing too much of some subjective quality.

You'll just have to trust the moderators then. They're good people. Maybe they'll screw up a bit, but it's not the end of the world. Too much politics, OTOH, could easily lead to this site going down the drain.

> I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

See, that right there is a political statement in and of itself.

yeah, and in that case about pornography, censorship was shot down.

Politics is about who to blame and hacking is about solving problems. (Blaming is the opposite of solving problems.)

That reductionist view of politics is part of the problem. Politics is the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group. It's essential and a part of what makes us human.

Consider that the machinery to make group decisions and allocate resources already exists (laws, institutions, government, etc). It is imperfect and can be improved. But what is relevant here is that groups of people wish to alter the machinery in certain fixed (uncreative) ways. The unconscious motive is that of preserving their own identities.

An extreme case would be a Dr Evil figure who will not examine his own heart and needs the world to burn just so he can pretend to himself that he's a good person. So he makes the world burn. At every stage convinced of his own righteousness.

This explains why 'war is the continuation of politics by other means'. What passes for peace is trench warfare where the only progress is sideways. Improving the machinery may be desirable but in practice politics is dominated by preventing inevitable perturbations from escalating into open hatred and violence.

(More parochially one can tell when politics is influencing the discussion because there is always blaming going on.)

In modern vernacular it seems that that sense might be better expressed as "policy", rather than "politics".

Politics is the process to decide upon the policy.

Interesting world view, and not one that I share.

Politics is about how resources are allocated in society and can often be a very effective solution to problems.

Politics is even more about how society wants resources to be allocated than it is about how they are allocated. That makes it an important and all-pervasive topic

> but there's no reason I need to talk about it on HN.

If you start a business, politics impact you. If you are an employee, politics impact you. If you invest in businesses, politics impact you in a huge way.

Uber and AirBnB are no longer just startups, they are very politically active corporations. But they both started, if not from here, then from other communities just like this one.

Politics is way more important than most of what we discuss here. Think about topics like gay marriage: being able to marry who you want is a much bigger deal for most people than whether Node.js is better than Erlang (Erlang is way better!).

That's another reason why it should be banned, because it will crowd out other topics by dint of being more important to more people - which is also a feedback loop, as more people get drawn in for the politics.

"Why does calloc exist?" That's the title of one of the articles linked on the front page right now. I would challenge anyone to show us where the NYT, Economist, Drudge, Huffington Post, etc have anything like this. They don't. Why not? Because it's not what people come there to read about. I would argue this is "Hacker News". If you want politics, what's wrong with the 10k other sites dedicated to these topics? To note, all of the aforementioned have tech sections discussing topics like the ones you mentioned here, but none of them have anything like Hacker News does on a daily basis. This isn't censorship anymore than Cosmopolitan magazine not covering Nascar very often (if at all). Know your audience.

An audience can have more than one interest. For example, tech sections in newspapers are roughly analogous to political stories on HN.

I agree with the week detox but I also agree that it probably shouldn't be permanent.

The equivalent analogy might be that the HN magazine has published too many politically slanted stories in recent issues and worries about losing sight of their larger editorial goals.

It's too easy and too cheap to make another politically provocative cover story. It might make sense to totally stop writing political stories altogether for a bit to break the habit.

I actually haven't seen very many political stories on here. I've personally avoided most of the political crap too, so maybe I just didn't click on a lot of it (and therefore selectively un-memoryed it).

I don't feel this need to be an explicit policy. I mean it gets into the entire "what is politics debate."

Hackernews is about hacking (software, hardware, life), and I still see tons of that on here -- well that and Amazon spam, but that's mostly due to their recent conference/product announcements and will probably die down soon.

The problem I see is that everything is politics, because politics is the air we breathe as a society. It's asking the question of how we live in community.

I think what dang is after getting of is tribalism, where people show group membership with displays of insults, meme-dropping, etc.

Different things, but if any group can separate tribalism from politics, through thoughtful community-making, I'd say HN can.

Very useful distinction. One mark of tribalism is a set of knee-jerk responses and stock vocabulary. If people could at least check in their tribal phrases, we would have better conversations. For example: 'racists', 'crybullies', 'deplorables' and so forth. Although left-libertarian, I don't hold with all this 'no platforming' nonsense, for instance. Leave the words behind, and find less loaded terms in an attempt at recovering public discourse

Here's the thing though, what is a reasonable alternative to 'SJW' - those that employ deplorable, emotive tactics in progressive topics, with the implication of self-aggrandizement. Maybe we need a solid vocab with established definitions.

This is getting closer to the answer.

I second this observation. I've been frequenting HN probably 10x as much lately BECAUSE of the fact that I've felt that there has only been a slight uptick in political stories - vs. other outlets.

That is all anecdotal of course.

edit: grammar.

I got off Reddit completely about 2 months ago for the same reason. I have no problem with the density of political discussion on this site...probably because it's not Reddit. Sure some people get emotional...but I'm not seeing the baseless accusations and snark always seen on Reddit.

I think we should entertain this experiment of Dang's for the time being.

Yeah, I'm with you. Are there political threads here that I have been missing?

Many. They get flagged off the front page, but that doesn't mean they aren't still very active. Here's a recent example that helped convince me we needed to do this:


You'll need 'showdead' set to 'yes' in your profile if you want to see all the comments in it.

Oh wow. Hadn't not seen ANYTHING like that. A couple of threads right after the election, but that thread is just totally inappropriate for HN imo.

Thanks for the policy, although I honestly just thought this had always been the policy anyway.

I think this thread is actually a great example, though maybe not in the way you intend it.

When I look at the tone of the downvoted/flagged "dissident" comments (not a value judgment, just an objective description of perspectives that are not generally well-tolerated in intelligent, cultured, Western circles today), and compare it to the tone of the "normative" comments, I see very little difference.

They are both slightly snarky, hostile, exasperated and dismissive. If I was moderating on tone to oppose conflict, I would not like seeing either kind of comment. But I would not consider this tone level worthy of the Giant Banhammer.

But the banhammer is applied very asymmetrically -- both by voters/flaggers, and by moderators. Or so it appears to me.

The result is a context in which "dissidents" feel like they're essentially sitting in the back row next to the teacher's pet. Any time Jamal has a spat with Andrew, the teacher's response is the same: "Jamal, why did you hit Andrew!" "Jamal, stop being mean to Andrew!" But Andrew can say pretty much anything to Jamal.

And both sides argue vociferously that the teacher is unfair. Jamal feels it's unfair that the rules seem to be different for him and Andrew. Andrew feels it's unfair that Jamal, that annoying idiot, is even allowed to be in the same class as him.

It's relatively easy to adopt "both sides complain about the teacher" as the definition of "the teacher is just enforcing fairness and good behavior." But in fact, whatever the teacher draws the line, one side will always want it farther to the left, and the other side will always want it farther to the right.

> the banhammer is applied very asymmetrically

I think you missed the part where this was mostly one guy, evading their ban by re-registering new accounts. So it looks like dang was very ban-happy to just one of the sides, but it was one guy.

Apart from the multiple bans of one guy, I see comments from both sides of the argument getting called out about their tone.

These strike me as clearly separate concerns. The magnitude of downvoting and flagging is also quite different.

And of course, we'd never know if the people who aren't banned would stoop to the foul crime of ban evasion. As they used to say, the law in its majesty commands that neither the rich man nor the poor sleep under the bridge.

Moreover, I was describing a general pattern of discourse, not just this one thread. If you don't feel you see this pattern, there's not much to argue about...

And of course, it is not just the mods. Downvoting polite discourse for content is something some people feel a social responsibility to do. We certainly can't avoid the consequences of the secular growth in this popular sense of responsibility.

To be fair, if I had a solution to this problem, I would offer one.

Well, okay: one solution, if there's no practical way around the asymmetry, would be to make it explicit in the guidelines. You could say: when expressing unpopular views, make a quadruple-strong effort to ensure your perspective is presented clearly, sincerely, civilly and humbly.

What really rankles Jamal isn't even that he's a second-class citizen. He could deal with that. What rankles him is that everyone keeps denying that he's a second-class citizen, while in practice treating him as one.

> When I look at the tone of the downvoted/flagged "dissident" comments (not a value judgment, just an objective description of perspectives that are not generally well-tolerated in intelligent, cultured, Western circles today), and compare it to the tone of the "normative" comments, I see very little difference.... But the banhammer is applied very asymmetrically -- both by voters/flaggers, and by moderators. Or so it appears to me.

Very much agreed. I find dang having a problem with political accounts amusing, given it was dang's moderation that inspired me to make mine.

They seem to be flagged on this site. You rarely see them stay up for long.

> I find this experiment a bit strange/disturbing, avoiding political subjects is a way of putting the head in the sand.

I see this great move as a way of the community lifting its head out of a sandy quagmire to glance at the shining beacon, the vision on the hill, the where we want to be, unsullied by political nausea. Sure, in a week we can get back into the grim reality, the tech-noir crapsack future, but perhaps for one week we can focus on a positive future and its soaring aspirations. Go Dang!

> I see this great move as a way of the community lifting its head out of a sandy quagmire to glance at the shining beacon, the vision on the hill, the where we want to be, unsullied by political nausea.

The vision of where we want to be is the central political debate of all time, to which all other political discussions are peripheral appendages. So, no, banning political discussion doesn't let us focus on that, it prohibits even considering it.

Not all of us view political topics as nausea inducing.

I don't think politics have overtaken the site or even become a significant part of it, so I wonder why politics-averse individuals cant just avoid political threads?

It's in HN's DNA to have a single community. The path you're talking about leads to subreddits, which would make for a different kind of site. This is an important point, because it touches on the what-HN-is-and-isn't thing.

HN is a community for the the intellectually curious, who come here for a wide range of interests (some of which have political aspects, of course--there's no getting away from that). But there's a different kind of users, ideologically committed ones, who use HN primarily for political battle. That's not something that sits well with the purpose of this site, as I tried to explain above.

Those users really want a different kind of site than HN, and need to find another, or maybe start a new one. Plenty of new sites have spawned from HN; that's partly a function of our not trying to be all things. HN has always been in the lucky position of not needing to grow for growth's sake, so we're happy when people who want a different kind of community find it, or create it.

Can you carve out an exception for economic / startup relevant legislation please? As a UK based startup, I would really value HN support navigating Brexit and VATMOSS changes.

If one comes up this week, sure. Otherwise I doubt you need to worry.

(It's interesting how the "this is just for a week" thing hasn't seemed to enter the conversation.)

> It's interesting how the "this is just for a week" thing hasn't seemed to enter the conversation.

Because the YC/HN culture is to experiment to inform future direction. "just for a week" probably means "just for a week, so that we can see if it negatively or positively influences the quality of discussion... and, if the effect is positive, we may implement a similar policy for the long term"

Thus, "just for a week" doesn't appear to have much relevance since the experiment is (presumably) part of a longer term plan to curb hostile commentary.

You've explained that very well.

The long-term plan is to protect the values of this site (intellectual curiosity and thoughtful conversation), or at least, it's our intention to find such a plan. But there's no longer term plan to ban politics. I understand why people would react with that concern, of course, but it really is just an experiment for a week.

> there's no longer term plan to ban politics

That was definitely not clear to me from the post (although it is reassuring).

I did mean my original post to be a bit more reassuring about that than it came out as. But maybe that was for the best, because the reaction it provoked has been instructive.

Also, I've gotten in trouble using that word "experiment" before. It turns out to mean weirdly, wildly different things to different people. But I'm attached to it.

I think one of the reasons the time limit hasn't come up much in discussion is that it's hard to envision the data/information/knowledge that we might have in a week that we don't have today. I don't mean to imply one way or the other whether this experiment will have meaningful results, just that it's hard for me to picture myself, in a week, reviewing the situation and saying "wow, now I know X, Y, Z." I mean I'm not sure what those X, Y, and Z might be.

On the other hand, the idea of an interminable ban on political discussion has many obviously salient implications, emotions, and such. A sort of half-baked analogy is that it's like lighting a tiny, contained trashcan fire in the middle of a nuclear reactor--it's not really a big deal but it's easy to see how it could trigger high-magnitude reactions from onlookers.

I see what you mean, but we've already learned a lot just today.

That's a creative analogy though.

(It's interesting how the "this is just for a week" thing hasn't seemed to enter the conversation.)

I think that's just because people are natural cynics, and as such default to the assumption that a temporary state of emergency will be permanent.

Of course, News doesn't stop rolling in, and people love their hacker news :) I know I'm personally guilty of being really sensitive and reactive to anything that looks like censorship right now.

> so I wonder why politics-averse individuals cant just avoid political threads

It is indeed possible to avoid clicking on a specific kind of topic. From what I understand, the issue here is more that it just isn't a fit for the purpose of this community/website.

At least allow us to opt out of the artificial safe space.

Technology and politics go hand in hand, unless we'd like to head back into the dark ages.

EDIT: I'm not hear to offend or persuade with politics talk. I'm here to provide or obtain new perspectives and understanding. If I want an echo chamber that reinforces my perspectives and beliefs, I can head back to Facebook.

Technology and politics go hand in hand

This just reads like a cop-out to me, in the same way that large media orgs have been parroting the "it's impossible to be truly unbiased" line as if it were an excuse to throw up their hands and stop trying altogether.

Not that I'm saying you're being disingenuous here, mind, it just reads like defeatism. "All tech is politics so it's pointless to try delineating them". This mentality gets worse and worse as you go down the main thread...

Not all, or even most tech talk is political related. I'm just looking down the front page right now.. a new Golang web framework, Elixir and Ruby IPC, OpenAI, new SSDs..

Those topics aren't even tangentially political in nature.

> Not all, or even most tech talk is political related. I'm just looking dowen the front page right now.. a new Golang web framework, Elixir and Ruby IPC, OpenAI, new SSDs..

And these are the articles that matter the least to me. I come here to discuss applied technology, not theory. How can technology improve quality of life? How are we going to deal with automation replacing the need for jobs? How are startups and their culture effecting both their employees and society as a whole (I'm looking at you AirBnB and Uber).

To each their own. I don't believe it's a cop out, but that's my opinion. You can have your threads and I can have mine without any interference. That's my problem. There's no need to censor politics threads if you simply skip them because you have no interest.

OpenAI is one of the tools that might be used to replace whole swaths of people from their jobs. How can it not be political?

>How can it not be political?

Short answer: Because oftentimes a thread about a technology is about its concrete operational characteristics and applications, not it's social effects.

When you start dragging those into the topic, there's shockingly little depth to probe. AI will automate people out of jobs eventually - okay, and? You've moved the thread off topic. I came to read about how OpenAI works, not what the left, right, center, and upside-down think about the larger concept of AI, rather than the specific implementation called out in the thread title.

Here's the thread I was talking about: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13103742

A cursory reading suggests that somehow, that particular rabbit hole was avoided by everyone there. This kind of goes into what dang was saying, broaching the topic you just did in that thread would have just been unwelcome noise.

Do we really to relitigate "what about the jobs?" any time an AI or deep learning framework comes up? Is that really an interesting discussion to have in every thread?

One can refuse to approach the inherent political nature of the topic, but not deny it exists, which was what I was responding to.

That said, sure, not every thread should re-hash the same conversation, but that's neither exclusive to politics (see the discussions in every thread about JS frameworks) nor is it the problem being called out by the moderator.

If they go "hand in hand", they are inextricable in all ways that matter. Yet somehow, here is a very healthy discussion thread where it isn't brought up, at all, ever. That tells me that they are not as inextricable as people seem to think.

Again. Do we really to relitigate "what about the jobs?" any time an AI or deep learning framework comes up? What if there are sites that are not Hacker News that are better for that kind of discussion?

Sorry, I edit my post, so the answer to the relitigation problem is above :)

As for other sites, no, absolutely not. Politics is unavoidable. You can enforce a silent acceptance of the status quo, but that's in itself a strong political (reactionary) position.

And yet the other thread somehow managed to discuss the technical nature of OpenAI without touching any of this other stuff, absent any enforcement (the political cooling-off period was started after that thread was submitted), or obvious attempts to not touch it.

These two views are mutually exclusive. Either technology discussion can be separated from politics discussion (and given the other thread, we have evidence that it can), or it can not.

You're telling me that I can't discuss a topic without touching this other topic, and yet here that is happening right in front of us.

No, I'm saying that lack of discussion is a political position, and a community-wide ban, or even refusal to discuss it is yet another - in particular, one that silences everyone who is not okay with the social impact of the topic.

What if I am not interested, at a meta level, in discussion on the social impact of the topic? (Note: Please appreciate the distinction between topic X in general, and discussion of topic X on board Y)

There are times and places to have political discussions - the fact that I do not engage with my mom on political topics over Thanksgiving turkey does not mean I am not interested in politics, it means I am not interested in politics in that particular context.

Mostly because I know that the discussion will end in anger, hurt feelings, and not a single changed mind. It has happened enough on this board that people, myself included, start getting very flag-happy when they get a whiff of partisanship in the air.

I especially do not appreciate the implication that not wanting to have the discussion "here" is a political statement of anything other than wanting to avoid a headache. I must point out that insisting that X be talked about when someone has expressed disinterest in the topic is hard to interpret in any way other than hostile disregard.

It's the Internet. Opting out is the easiest thing in the world to do by going to a different web site.

Then just say "we're censoring these posts because reasons kthxbye".

EDIT: Which HN is totally within its right to do.

I'm just not understanding your complaint, then. Dang gave the reasons why they're doing this at the top of the post.

> the community lifting its head out of a sandy quagmire to glance at the shining beacon, the vision on the hill, the where we want to be

The thing is that we all have very different visions on the hill of where we want to be, and that friction is what's playing out in these threads.

This is some incredibly naive thinking. To build a 'positive future' you need to focus on the problems its facing - otherwise what are you building?

It's not like political affiliation is the only example of ingroup-vs-outgroup conflict on HN. I think it's an incredibly weak argument to even pretend like this is somehow a distinguishing characteristic of political discussion that makes it somehow more inflammatory.

If you want to enforce the code of conduct more strongly, fine. But highlighting political discussion as somehow worse than other kinds of discussion involving competing views is incredibly frustrating and only serves those who may benefit from engineers putting their political and ethical agency to bed in a work/work discussion context. Politics is about choice, its about reasoning out decisions and coming to a consensus on those decisions. Work life is not exempt from the scope of those decisions, and trying to keep that discussion out is a pretty questionable practice.

I'd suggest that the point of avoiding political discussion is not just because it's unpleasant or divisive. In my eyes, the problem is that politics has so much implicit back-end that it cannot be usefully discussed on an internet forum. In the several paragraphs (at most) that we write to another, we convey so little while disagreeing on so much. Besides that, there's the issue that we spend much of political discourse not actually explaining ourselves, but rather signaling to others what camp they should put us in.

My wife and I, on several occasions each day, will say to one another, "we're describing two different things. We need to take this discussion far deeper, or end it altogether." That's the person with whom I talk more than any other person, and we aren't on the same page on divisive issues tens of times each week.

Without unpacking an issue to a level far beyond the length of forum posts, we cannot possibly hope to be on the same page in our discussions here when they veer into politics. It's better to favor the format of discussing interesting issues about which most of us are unfamiliar. That way, we get fresh eyes thinking about the issue, more polite discourse, and a more educational experience.

This is one of the best comments I've read on HN recently. Thank you!

Thanks, that means a lot!

I think this is a fantastic idea -- it seems the trend today is to inject politics into absolutely everything. In the past, the prevailing wisdom was to avoid political and religious topics in the workplace and technical spheres (conferences, message boards like HN, etc.). Focus on the tech and just the tech and you'll be surprised how much nastiness is naturally eliminated from this board.

And as one, the community set down the Republican / Democrat placards they had so crudely been swinging against each other ... and picked up once more the placards for vi and emacs.

Seconded. Even the old M$ vs moms basement linux arguments would be better.

> I find this experiment a bit strange/disturbing, avoiding political subjects is a way of putting the head in the sand.

I wonder why it is called an experiment at all. In the end this just the mods upholding the part of HN guidelines [1] that I like the most:

    If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic.
The problem with having stories and comments about mundane politics is also that they bury the technically interesting comments and they make stories on the the front page go away quicker. There are plenty of other sites where one can discuss about politics. Only on HN can one discuss, for example, with Animats (John Nagle) about the shortcomings and the history of the Nagle's algorithm [2,3] or getting lessons of public speaking from patio11 [4].

Mundane politic topics interfere with HN being the exception place it is.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html [2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9050645 [3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10608356 [4] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6199544

The HN guidelines say most politics are off-topic, not all. So we are talking about a change here, though I suppose it's a bigger change in our (peculiar) world than in most HN users'.

Edit: but it's only a change for one week!

Meh. This is for a week.

Also, taking it to an absurd, think of /r/aww. Would you support having 50% of the stories on there be links to CNN/Fox/MSNBC? There's a line somewhere, and there are multiple ways to address it: have a separate section or site for political news (call it PHN), have specific days or a quota of political news, to try to keep on topic, allow it, but moderate it so it has something to do with the Hacker part of Hacker News, etc. Why not experiment. Even the most HN-addicted of us can probably live without this one part of HN for a week.

> think of /r/aww. Would you support having 50% of the stories on there be links to CNN/Fox/MSNBC? There's a line somewhere

Yet, that's the necessary result whenever declawing becomes a topic - /r/aww then becomes not just political, but even very tribal.

I find this experiment a bit strange/disturbing, avoiding political subjects is a way of putting the head in the sand.

To support your point, there's a press release circulating from Google and Facebook right now. They've launched a program to share hashes (fingerprints) through a database identifying offending ("extremist") content so it can be more efficiently removed from the web. Yet, we aren't allowed to comment on this - I just posted it and the story was flagged.

There's a huge difference between saying "No more gratuitous flamebait about the US Election", and "no technical discussion permitted about any topic that could possibly be controversial."


Prediction of any discussion on this topic:

- what's extremist? this is just going to be used to silence my particular views

- this is anti-free speech

- some mention how this is against net neutrality

- some mention of Trump and the cabinet

- some discussion on how Facebook is not taking ownership of the problem

- Facebook echo chambers

- diversity, racism, gender, safe places, identity politics (and likely bathrooms)

- how this is needed to create a safer online community

- something about how this ties in with the views of the MSM (and likely some misrepresentation of polls)

- something about how this wouldn't be an issue if the results of the election would have been otherwise

- something about the difference between the EC and the popular vote

All of these points have been discussed ad nauseum in other threads with no appreciably constructive discussion.

And for the life of me I can't think of any technical discussion that would be made on the topic other than possibly on how calculating all of these hashes/signatures isn't really going to be technically effective to catch everything.

What's useful about that?

mini-project idea: HN discussion generator, maybe markov chain based. Provide a topic, out comes a full-fledged HN-style discussion, complete with vote/flag estimates (not for posting to HN, of course)

mini-project idea: HN discussion generator

+1 - also an HN discussion auto-up/down-voter.

What's useful about that?

Personally, I've been struggling with the question of, are mega-services like Google and Facebook compatible with an open Internet? This helps to clarify my thinking.

Up to now I've been thinking about what evil they might do individually. Now I see the obvious: just like in any other industry, the objective is to reduce the market to a few major players (3-7). Then these become the only companies who can get "copyright clearances" or "non-fake news certification" in exchange for supporting their patrons' programs.

Maybe post it next week?

I too find this to be an argumentum ad absurdum.

    > The values of Hacker News are intellectual curiosity
    > and thoughtful conversation.

    > For one week, political stories are off-topic.
That said, I can support:

    > Those things are lost when political emotions seize
    > control.
This ban should be on political emotions seizing control; not on intellectual conversation surrounding political stories.

In theory, yes, of course.

In practice, that distinction doesn't hold up—not on the public internet and not at scale. The discussions are tribal.

I'd be happy to say "No Tribalism on HN" but how would we enforce it and how could anyone comply? Tribalism is not something people have conscious control over.

For many, HN is a source of news, not just conversation.

Perhaps a reasonable compromise could be to 'close' comments on such stories, rather than removing the links altogether?

In re your tribalism update - is 'tribalism' itself an issue? I don't think I personally mind someone being 'tribal' so long as their arguments are polite and reasoned.

> Perhaps a reasonable compromise could be to 'close' comments on such stories, rather than removing the links altogether?

It's an interesting suggestion, and of course one that major media sites have run with.

In an HN context, it feels to me like one of those 'easy' fixes that make short-term pain go away, but at the expense of something valuable in the long run. My sense is that, uncomfortable as it is, it's best to stay within the contradictory situation and look for small improvements.

HN is in a position to do that where larger sites are not, so we might be able to make a contribution here.

I think "tribal" in this case specifically connotes the lack of polite and reasoned argument.

What is the difference between "No politics on HN" and "No tribalism on HN" in terms of enforcement and compliance?

You can enforce "no tribalism" by (a) requiring all users to either declare a tribe, or neutrality; and (b) requiring all posts containing tribal content to be self-marked as such.

For instance, suppose users can select in their profiles that they are either apolitical, SJWs, or shitlords. When an SJW or shitlord posts, they are offered a check box which indicates whether the post contains any virtue-signaling or shitposting, respectively.

Obviously, shitposts should be seen only by shitlords and so on. Political signaling at your peers is normal discourse and part of benign human social behavior. Political signaling at your enemies, or at neutral parties who just don't care, is normal human warfare behavior.

So the box is a self-reported box. But etiquette can easily render it mandatory. The chimps on each side of the river can and must suppress their own tribal instinct to throw turds over it, or the gods will rain down fire on the offending chimps or possibly even the whole tribe.

And of course, apolitical users shouldn't see any political crap at all...

    > Obviously, shitposts should be seen only by shitlords
    > and so on.
Siloing political opinion is a terrible, even dangerous idea.

I couldn't upvote your comment fast enough.

This whole idea about avoiding political discussions strikes me as very counter-productive. It reminds me of a quote attributed to a well-known person who once traveled these parts: Those who feel too intelligent to engage in politics will be governed by the less intelligent members of society.

That's not the exact quote, but I think it captures it very well.

More than at any other time, this is the time to be very engaged in political discussions, because our future is being decided right now.

If intelligent people refuse to be part of that discussion, we won't like the result.

I think banning politics completely would be a mistake, but maybe I'm wrong. One of the bases for rational thinker is to admit one can be wrong, and to be open to change one's opinion according to available facts. So, from this POV running an experiment and seeing whether no politics makes it better or worse I think completely appropriate. Maybe it'll prove a big mistake - so we'd suffer for a whole week (oh horrors!) or maybe it won't be, and we'll learn something new.

I support political detox week in HN!! Great idea! I was just ready a story and someone got in a political jab and the comment thread was off to the races. I took refuge in HN to GET AWAY from the hateful and uncivilized ranting that other news sites tolerate. As cliche' as this might seem, it was once considered the height of politeness to leave your political and religious baggage on the front porch and not bring it to the dinner table!

Just for curiosity's sake, when exactly do you think it was considered polite to not talk about politics around the dinner table?

I agree 100%. Banning politics for any period of time just because it's not palatable to some does not mean that the world of politics has no value to hackers and entrepreneurs. Politics is a big part of the world and the real world matters. I've said it before and I say it again. Insulated geeks tend to created chat app # 1000 with little to no real world advantages over chat app #999. Putting our heads underground just because we don't like the real world does not help anyone. An example is the appointment of Myron Ebell to head the EPA. Purely political news but climate change is an important part of HN users. The advantage of having politics as part of the HN community is that we have a special view of how technology works and having a better view of the real world gives us a chance to better apply what we know.

In my opinion, the fix is to mark then as political and give the user the choice to bypass them. Either as a prefix such as in "Tell HN" or to flag it as such via a clickable option. Putting a defacto policy against political news is a bad idea.

I think it is reasonable to avoid political subjects that are off topic. Which is difficult, I know, because on-topic for HN is literally 'Anything that good hackers would find interesting.'

Perhaps, for politics, it would be good to try to limit political discussion to things that affect the technology world broadly, and startups specifically?

In the past, topics like those have been discussed here quite productively. Since the U.S. election, I've noticed posts getting flagged that seemed like they were worthy of discussion. I'm not sure if the flagging was ideologically motivated, or if it just happened because of election fatigue.

Even though I don't live in the U.S., I still like to see these discussions happen because the impacts of things that happen tend to have repercussions throughout the tech world.

Maybe limiting comments on political topics to people with 500+ or karma would make reasonable discussion more likely? It's not insanely difficult to react that level in a month or two if you're making thoughtful contributions to the community.

Limiting to "people with 500+ or karma" doesn't make for a reasonable discussion unless you like an echo chamber with 100% pure San Francisco values.

There's no reasonable definition of "pure San Francisco values" for which that would be true even with a 20K karma threshold.

HN certainly isn't a representative sample of the (global or US) population, ideologically speaking, but the idea that HN is a pure representation of any single ideology, either in general or at any particular karma threshold where there are more than a handful of users, is absurd.

Submitting about three, maybe four, good frontpage-worthy technical stories can net you 500 karma.

I see it more as "let's state that this isn't the appropriate forum for a political discussion for a week", as opposed to head-in-sand.

I'm okay with it, but would've preferred it in the weeks leading up to the election - I've got plenty of places for political news and discussion; that's not why I come here.

I don't think of it as an experiment. Just a quiet time to agree to focus on "hacking" and maybe remember there's more to life than politics.

I'm with you. Far too many technocrats simply go "politics are not my problem", and before you know it you've helped build a police state.

If we discuss and use technology without considering it's ethical ramifications then we are on cruise control to hell.

To those who will respond with "he said politics, not ethics" - prithee - where is the line?

Stifling one angle of discussion stifles others.

>and before you know it you've helped build a police state.

The hysteria of thinking that we (the US) are one or two steps away from a police state is exactly why I support the notion of political bans on my computer related news sites.

And if you live in a country that is approaching a real police state, I would guess there are more appropriate locations for discussing your political situation than HN.

>and before you know it you've helped build a police state.

this actually happened, as you know. "politics aren't my problem" should be called out as effectively authoritarian, as it's an admission that they'll do exactly as told.

Indeed - it has happened many times, and is happening now, precisely because the technocratic class wash their hands of politics and ethics, deferring responsibility infinitely upwards.

I'm of the unpopular opinion that we should each take responsibility for our own actions, and should not act on orders we consider ethically unacceptable. I could tell you stories about a great uncle who designed dams in Austria...

> avoiding political subjects is a way of putting the head in the sand

It's more like going on a week long vacation to a tropical island and deciding not to check email/go online for the entire time.

The rest of the world will still be there when you get back, and you won't have missed anything substantive by unplugging while you were away.

Well, this certainly trumps anything that Reddit is trying to do with out-right bans. They were like "Oh! BAM" A ban on /r/this and that. This election cycle felt like I was taking a lot of mesclin, ton of it too...

Anyway, I like the non-political week. Anyway... that's just my two pence...

I don't believe reddit banned any subreddits. Did they?

Reddit banned /r/pizzagate 12 days ago for permitting doxing:


I'm not aware of any other recent significant bans, so I don't know what user samstave means by ``They were like "Oh! BAM" A ban on /r/this and that.''

This is actually quite a significant in my understanding.

> [...] for permitting doxing

Given how much DNC/HRC was promoted on Reddit, I do not accept that reason without second thought. Some basic "education by moderation" would have taught the sub not to dox while enjoying the conspiracy digging. For more info no that Pizzagate is about, see /r/conspiracy.

It was word play... no talk of politics and all that. Maybe you missed the jest in my post

I get enough politics elsewhere. I'm looking forward to seeing how this experiment turns out.

I find it disturbing too. Right now one of the top stories on HN is about Amazon Go and the top comment is about whether the destruction of jobs it could cause is socially acceptable.

I don't know whether that is politics or not but I can't imagine discussing Amazon Go as a technology without having that discussion. In fact when you look at HN very little is about particular technologies. Most of our discussion is around the implications.

I've been attending a lot of AI/Data Science conferences lately, and it's incredible to me how this is not a major part of any conversation about AI and automation.

A talk I recently attended by a data scientist from Amazon had him gloating about how many jobs he could eliminate.

Ironically, the only speaker who brought it up as a major social problem we'll have to tackle is someone from Uber. His solution was less than satisfactory, but at least he recognized the issue.

I don't want to pretend we live in a world of algorithms without consequence.

As a "data scientist" myself and more importantly as a human being, I witness the same behaviour almost every day and it baffles me.

Yes, what we do can have consequences. We need to think about that!

I have friends working for weapons manufacturers. They don't gloat about building stuff that can blow children up!!! Why the hell should we be absolved from any moral consequences for our acts?

I am not equating elimating jobs and kill children, but I would prefer if our industry abstained from any thought on the consequences of its trades.

I once had to choose between working for a weapons manufacturers for a very nice salary. I chose not to work for them. But I thoroughly thought about it and I don't blame my friends for making a different choice. I politically object to that choice, but it does not mean I am some sort of white knight...and it does not mean that sometimes in the future, if presented with another opportunity, I wouldn't make a different choice...

It's the gun-manufacturer/shooter dissociation.

Anecdotally, I had a neighbor who programmed the guidance systems for bombs, and the only reason I remember him is because immediately after introducing himself as such, he followed up with, "But I'm not the one who's dropping them. By making them smarter I can save lives".

I think that no matter how technically intelligent a field's operators are, they are still subject to the same dissociations as everyone else.

You are absolutely right and I can totally relate to both your experience and your neighbor's.

I don't program guidance systems for bombs, but I program marketing tools which are, in essence, tricking consumers into buying stuff. I dissociate myself with that issue by considering that any commercial relationship is based on tricking the other party into buying more stuff, but I would totally understand if someone objected that my software is not morally acceptable to them (and I would politely suggest that they go bother someone else :p ).

Further down the line, we could end up discussing if living in a society based on capitalism is "right" or "wrong". I would totally understand if people considered that as "not an HN worthy submission", but I think that inside a thread on the moral, philosophical and social consequences of AI, it could come up as a subject...and be down-voted if need be, not flagged as off-topic.

I think we're still in the early phase of A.I. where things seem more theoretical and thus ethics is not included in the discussion. However, as we near the time when policies will have large scale implications for our society, those consequences will be measured out. This is why I do not think A.I. will be a revolution but rather a gradual process. Already, the automation of cars is subjected to government regulation.

We have been working on AI in one form or another for 50 years or more, I think it ought to be time for a serious debate about this.

Lisp date from 1958 and some would argue that rule-based programming is AI. Eliza is also more than 5O years old.

The ethics of AI have been extensively discussed for a very long time.

In essence, the debate taking place around AI is a heir of the 19th debate on automated looms. Karel Čapek play, Robots, has been written in 1920 and it was already an ethical discussion of "autonomous machines"...

My first introduction to AI and its consequences and dilemna come from Isaac Asimov Foundation Cycle and that dates back to the 1950s.

AFAIK, the 3 Laws of Robotics invented by Asimov are actually used by philosophers & AI practitioners.

(I added and then removed references to the Golem, but...it could be argued as relevant to this discussion)

I am quite vehement in this discussion exactly because I am currently debating whethever or not I should release a new AI software I have designed. From a technical standpoint, I am quite proud of it, it is a nice piece of engineering. From a political standpoint, I feel that tool could be used for goals that I am not sure to agree with...

True, that said, it's much less theoretical to the people doing it than the average blue collar worker whose lives they're disrupting.

That's why I think the industry has a moral and practical responsibility to push society to properly prepare for the results. Because we understand the implications better than anyone.

As technology inclined people, I consider it our duty to have that discussion.

We work on technologies that impact, in one way or another, other people's life.

As you correctly point out, the discussion of the social impacts of Amazon Go is currently open in another thread and I consider that a must.

Other example of the need of politics in here and in our heads when we design something is the case of Tristan Harris [0], as a former Google employee.

I am not saying I agree with Tristan Harris, or with one side or the other in the Amazon Go thread, but I consider HN as a place where civil political debate needs to take place, because we have a moral duty to have it.

We are, in a way, the 1% of "technologically aware people" (and probably among the world top 10% wealthiest...). We need to discuss these issues and we need to think before we act. I'm not trying to re-enact the 99% battle, but our privileges do come with a price and that price is thinking before we act...

I urge people on Amazon Go team to have that discussion. Do they consider working on that project socially acceptable for them or not, and why?

Do I consider, as a SaaS marketing provider, my job as socially acceptable, and why? That is something I, both as a citizen and a business owner, need to think about and openly discuss with my customers, shareholders and consumers/citizens if need be.

I will probably kick down an open door, but the etymology of politics is politika "affairs of the cities": aren't we all, as technology workers/operators/... all living in these cities?


I can't agree enough. I'm all for flagging uncivilized discussions, but preemptively censoring things that might turn into uncivilized discussions seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater - we need to be able to talk about difficult things.

We need to be able to talk about them, but it doesn't need to be here. There's value in places where you know you can come to discuss certain categories of things and avoid others. That is what's going on here.

It seems that because social implications of technology can lead to political discussion, it's out of bounds.

I'm not arguing for a free for all, I am arguing that the proposed ban on politics for a week is too broad a brush, because it catches several relevant conversations, and the serious offsenses are already against the rules.

With automation, robotics and AI the world does not need so many bio-robots anymore. Before we needed dumb people to do manual labor. Not anymore. Machines can do it. Most of people don't want to learn and change. What to do with the bio-mass that can only eat, shit and have fun?

To quote rms, "Geeks like to think that they can ignore politics, you can leave politics alone, but politics won't leave you alone."

Like it or not, politics affects all of us. We don't have anything to gain by ignoring it, and the more we ignore it, the easier it is for them to get away with things that are good for them and bad for us.

There as about 18 billion other places on the internet for useless political arguments. HN was much more informative and intellectually stimulating when the immune system response to even hints of political bickering was brutal and swift.

When was that, and can you link to examples? I don't remember it that way.

As long as it's only a week, I support it.

But your distinction is a good one regarding partisan politics, vs politics in general.

The tech community is already perceived as being out of touch, it's not going to help if we keep our head in the sand.

Where there are people, there is politics.

But that doesn't mean there should be only one kind of website.

I think the point is rather that any kind of website cannot avoid politics while simultaneously allowing for discussion.

Perhaps it can for one week though.

Agree, we should debate censorship!!

not talking about a specific topic for a week does not mean it's getting banned forever...

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