Hacker News has never been an anything-goes site. Tight moderation, considerate rules, and low tolerance for bullshit have made this a great site to talk about interesting technical topics and ideas. Remember that we all abide by the rules of the site, and that this isn't a magic free speech zone. If you want to talk political topics, the Internet has more than enough outlets.
Political discourse is antithetical to rational, intelligent discussion. This is not an opinion; look only to sites that allow political discourse (Slashdot?), or even our own comments to see how quickly rational discussion can devolve into flaming. One of the major selling points when I introduce HN to other people is the _absence_ of political topics or discussion: leaving the politics out just produces better technical content.
Also, please consider the idea that politics are regional and differ between countries. In Canada, where I'm from, many of the US political topics would never come up; many European countries might feel even more strongly. As a Canadian, I find American political musings and arguments even less relevant and noisy. By contrast, technological topics are always interesting to me - I can appreciate these, and I love that there's this corner of the Internet where I can participate in a reasoned, interesting technical community. Please don't ruin it with politics, especially the polarizing American variant.
I appreciate that the site is willing to take this step, and I sincerely hope it can keep this site useful, interesting and level-headed for the future.
In fact, what is antithetical to rational, intelligent discussion is: emotionally charged, poorly-considered, and dishonest discussion. The topic doesn't matter: health fads, operating systems, or taxes. I agree, many people have terrible style in their approach to political discussion - but see also, e.g. Hobbes and Rousseau for more thoughtful representatives.
Technically true. But practically speaking, I'd wager political topics lead to emotionally charged, intellectually devoid arguments (much) more commonly than others. If that's true, then this moderation should boost the general quality of HN comments and topics, which is why most of us come here in the first place. As a comparison, I was initially annoyed that simple jokes / witty remarks that were void of other content were down voted on HN. But long-term I compare it to reddit and agree with the method: I can still go to reddit if I want wit (I often do). I (ideally) come here for high quality technical content.
This may be partly because so many thoughtless people feel qualified to enter a political discussion (e.g., about basic income, or immigration), whereas they couldn't even pretend to understand real-time operating systems or functional programming enough to have an opinion.
Part of the beauty of HN is getting opinions about things that matter in the real world, from people who really think about things.
This is true, but I suspect the biggest reason is that politics is more prone to Crony Beliefs ( http://www.meltingasphalt.com/crony-beliefs/ ) than almost any other field of discussion.
You jumped to conclusion about what "matter in real world" actually means that wasn't in the comment.
There's a severe danger that you would lose. For a commentary on emotionally charged and intellectually devoid arguments about a technical subject, I give you http://uselessd.darknedgy.net/ProSystemdAntiSystemd/ (discussed at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8488235).
But that's not the whole of it, by a long chalk. There have been "the OS Wars", "the editor wars", "the archiver wars", and others. One particularly extreme example that I personally encountered was a group of people in comp.os.os2.advocacy . They did all of the petty and stupid Usenet tricks such as rudely and impatiently splitting paragraphs and sentences to reply to all of the individual words. Much of the level of "argument" was the sort of thing that I'd expect from six-year-olds in a playground: parroting, insults, and general childishness.
I didn't read the newsgroup for the better part of a decade. When I went back to look at it I was astounded to see that the group was still at it, in (as far as I could tell) the same threads with exactly the same content-free taunting and rubbish.
Going back to that newsgroup again today, and picking stuff at random, here's an example of this sort of discourse. From 2011!
Here's a comparison thread randomly selected from the 1990s.
I come to Hacker News not only for the submissions but more so for the discussion. I find as of late discussions populated with meaningless content. It seems people feel a need to communicate what they are thinking regardless of the comments usefulness.
I fall prey to this too. If my comments are short I do try to make sure they are helpful in some way. I will try to keep them on-topic and not filled with worthless opinion.
Yep. I feel like my first mistake on this site was to argue with every comment I disagreed with. Unless the comment leads to an instructive discussion, it's OK to just downvote it.
For a site that is ostensibly focused on intellectual curiosity, this is antithetical to that goal. A robust, informed discussion requires exposure to a variety of perspectives, especially ones that seem challenging or uncomfortable.
If you do not agree with a comment--so what? Either refute it or move on. Just because you are unable or unwilling to refute it does not mean that someone else will not come along after you and do so. Downvoting should be reserved for comments which are truly useless, not comments that you merely disagree with.
And, yes, I am aware that downvoting for disagreement has been promoted and accepted by some on HN, but it's wrong--at least, it is if your actual goal is to have robust, informed discussion of intellectually interesting topics.
(Wallis was a political adversary of Hobbes, in case that's not clear)
It would be interesting to know how they will judge the results of this experiment when it concludes.
I respectfully disagree that discussion of politics on HN cannot "meaningfully change or move forward the debate and is unlikely to be instructive". Indeed, I have witnessed proof that this is not so. I have seen numerous occurrences in comment threads where there has been spirited factual debate which ended up informing both sides. I have seen minds changed. I have experienced my own mind being changed.
I don't deny, of course, that there has been some...less useful discussion, as well. But I feel that overall, it has been positive.
I say this as someone whose been that spectator.
I feel like healthy political discussion would be a meaningful change. If thoughtful people all abstain from the topic, it will surely get worse. The immediate goal isn't to "win" arguments. It's not to be confused about why someone would disagree. Or even agree! Maybe they do but there's no place to say that.
Personally, I don't plan to discuss politics any more or less than when this topic was posted, so I guess I'm not part of the experiment.
From a British perspective, I find most of the political discussion on HN to be useful, although perhaps I just instinctively avoid some topics. There are a lot of global issues which are being discussed, whether that's climate change, transport, tech and data regulation, job automation, money in politics, licensing and intellectual property, electronic surveillance, global trade, etc.
These are all issues which are relevant to the technology community, as big social issues which are targets for innovation, as moral issues which we have to grapple with, or as concrete barriers which directly impinge on us. I'd say having a space for the technology community to discuss these things is a source of a fair amount of the value of this discussion board.
Having said that, political discussion does have to be subsidiary to technology discussion. Once political discussion gets over a certain level, you're just appealing to a general audience and the forum loses its distinctiveness.
So I sympathize with the moderators. You always have to draw a line in the sand, unfortunately attempting a total ban is going to be just as subjective as what goes on at the moment, which is moderators removing or flagging thread-by-thread (presumably to avoid general topics dominating, or to kill off those particular comment threads which have become toxic). I suggest they just keep on muddling through, and we just acknowledge the process is necessary but messy, and cut them some slack.
HN doesn't add much to politics (it looks just like that kind of discussion would look anywhere else) but politics does detract from HN (firstly because you get less of what HN has that is less prevalent elsewhere, and secondly because politics is great at distracting attention from everything else.)
This would not be a controversial statement if "politics" were replaced with "pornography" and I think the two are, in this context, very much a like - you can have none, or you can have just that one thing as they do in many places and that too "works" in its own way, but having a little works badly.
(And if anything, if HN had porn it'd be easier to ignore it than politics because with politics, not only do you need to avoid the temptation to read about it but also to argue with the harebrained viewpoint in the comments that threatens your family, country and the entire humanity, and then they have to avoid the temptation to push back against my harebrained arguments threatening their family, country and the entire humanity. And just standing there and doing nothing when humanity is at risk, for the sake of a goal so narrow and insignificant as keeping HN about one thing and not another, is very, very hard.)
(While you're here I'll remind you about turning off flagging on some overly-politicised stories that were being flagkilled earlier this year - if you're worried about HN becoming overly political then that sent the opposite message)
In the longer run, I think it is good to have some politics on the site. Technology doesn't exist in a vacuum and has a huge amount of intersection with politics. In the past, it has been possible to have rational and nuanced conversations about political issues on HN.
In the recent election cycle, that's been destroyed. It seems to have emboldened people to derail threads with political mud-slinging and the crazies have come out of the woodwork.
To put it simply, I never thought HN would be the place where I was first told to leave the country or get killed. The fact that it was (and not Reddit) honestly depresses me, and I hope that a detox period will force the worst politics out of the forum.
That being said, I see a lot of people pointing to "incivility" as a problem in political threads. That is incredibly wrong. The problem in political threads is twofold: (a) people civilly arguing without actually acknowledging each other's points at all, (b) hateful rhetoric which destroys a sense of community.
If you want evidence of how civility is not the problem, take a look at this thread where a long-time commenter (with >12k karma) civilly, calmly proposed the mass deportation and/or murder of Jews: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13056816
I think you're right that both of those are problems, but they're not the only problem. Incivility is also a problem in political discussions here lately. Another problem lately is that discussions to which a political discussion is only tangentially relevant get derailed by political discussions that exhibit these problems.
> If you want evidence of how civility is not the problem, take a look at this thread where a long-time commenter (with >12k karma) civilly, calmly proposed the mass deportation and/or murder of Jews: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13056816
I disagree with this for two reasons. Firstly, if people could civilly propose the mass deportation and/or murder of Jews, then that wouldn't show that people proposing either that or innocuous things incivilly is not a problem (only that incivility is not the only problem). But here specifically, I don't think that commenter spoke civilly, any more than "No offense, but <some insulting or offensive thing>" is polite (indeed, less so, as the commenter made even less pretense). The civility of discourse isn't independent of the content of that discourse.
This statement should probably become a part of civility rules in most communities.
How to compose a successful critical commentary:
- You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
- You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
- You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
- Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
Nonetheless, both of them make object-level claims about exactly the same sorts of stuff: which way the markets will go, public policy, etc.
We need a clear, courteous way to talk about situations in which more than one person is trying to predict or prescribe the same object-level thing, but each person in the conversation is bringing completely different paradigms, assumptions, and prior knowledge to the table.
Or to cut to the example that made dang put in the moratorium, an everyday person and a white nationalist are living in extremely different worldviews with extremely different paradigms. This would also be the case where I want content to count for civility: if one side of the conversation is trying to make a courteous, civil, well-written case that the other side should cease to exist, then the line of incivility is crossed, period. There's just not going to be any way for a non-white-nationalist to restate the white-nationalist (ie: neo-Nazi) worldview eloquently, give credit to neo-Nazis where credit is due, and then deconstruct that worldview.
Maybe, in an ideal society, we would expect every citizen to be able to eloquently refute every bad idea. However, in our existing society, our heuristic is to require that citizens only put in the effort to politely discuss or debate content that does not incite or entail violence. When it comes to violence, our heuristic as a society is to protect people first, and ask for justification only much later if at all. We assume that somewhere a philosophy professor, a priest, or a public official can retrieve the arguments against mass violence.
And nowadays, I'm worrying that with the living memory of such violence dying, people are starting to slip into forgetting that there are very good reasons we don't ask for counterarguments against violence.
That actually could be a good way to moderate political threads by requiring an even higher standard of conduct. So you must not merely be civil, but actively apply Rapoport's Rules.
I can imagine pushback along the lines of enforcing speech rules, which I'm somewhat sympathetic to. That said, I think keeping them in mind is worth it.
That's why I suggest this higher standard for only political threads. It's a lot better than banning them entirely.
I understand it's a little contentious to remove an entire topic of discussion, but I also welcome this and if the experiment goes well I would like to see it go longer term. I'm guilty of engaging in political discussions on HN but I try to moderate my words, but I know there are many who don't moderate their words in part or at all and especially because of how polarized politics seems at the moment (in the US at least) it's maybe a smarter decision to not allow people the opportunity to not moderate their words.
One benefit of this community is that technical discussion is exclusive. Not everyone is ready to understand why a relational database might be better than a key value store. This hopefully results in discussion that is based on experience earned expertise.
Politics has virtually no barrier to entry. Consequently, the comment quality declines.
This is obviously false. For example, plenty of democracies have flourished despite having libraries where silence is golden.
> One could argue, that when you live in a democracy, politics are a necessary duty for every citizen.
HN is international and if I recall correctly, more than half of users are not from the USA. Some users don't live in a democracy and some don't believe in it.
There is a difference between "not allowed to speak" and "not allowed to speak about politics". You can't speak under water, but a pond isn't the proof that democracy can't exist.
> Some users don't live in a democracy and some don't believe in it.
I look forward to arguing with monarchists about their views at some point in the future, then.
Not terribly different from discussions of MongoDB, is it?
The only people who care about flaming are the flamed. They should be able to take a good argument, and besides the flamers get modded down. Slashdot is a great example that HN would well to emulate in my opinion. It is in no way an echo chamber.
I don't agree that everything is political, unlike most of the protesters above. We have sister sites like lobste.rs that have even less politics than we do and seem to have some useful dialog.
I have always missed the less political atmosphere we used to have and am really glad to see this "cleanse." I hope it helps reinstate some of our culture, even if it is temporary.
1 I only refer to myself as part of the unwashed masses because: A) I am not actually a programmer B) I am incredibly poor and C) I literally do not bathe frequently due to said extreme poverty as I am homeless. ;-)
2 Evidence of total support: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13108692