The [flagged] annotation only shows up on stories that are heavily flagged, i.e. enough to kill the post. User flags have downweighting effects long before that.
Story rank on HN is determined by upvotes, flags, software, and moderators. Moderators downweight stories to the degree that they don't fit the site guidelines. This doesn't happen by upvotes alone, unfortunately; certain stories routinely get tons of upvotes regardless of how good they are for HN—e.g. anything sensational, indignant, or meta. If we didn't have a compensating factor, those stories would dominate the front page every day and HN would no longer follow its primary rule: "anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity". Of course that means HN is subject to our interpretation of what counts as "intellectual curiosity". HN has always worked that way; before we did it, pg did, and he trained us to do it so it would work as before. There's no way around the need for moderator intervention on a site like HN—the clue is in the word 'moderator' itself: left to its own devices the system runs to extremes and it needs a negative feedback loop to dampen it.
When YC is involved, we do this less than usual as a matter of principle. When HN itself is involved it's a little bit different, because the hypnotic power of all things meta causes HN upvoters to go into an upvoting trance. Meta is basically crack, so we routinely downweight such posts—but only so much, to compensate for the crack effect. That's what I've done here, which is why the post is now at #7 rather than #1. It should probably be lower, but I want to illustrate the point that we intervene less, not more, when judgments about ourselves are involved. As a further example, a moderator actually turned off software penalties and user flags on this post this morning, which is probably why it went to #1 in the first place. That's more than I would have done but it shows how seriously we take that principle.
None of this is new information, btw. I've posted about it plenty over the years and am always happy to answer questions.
I appreciate the straight talk. I had some questions about the above. Suppose there was a post on the front page that was popular, and "gratifies one's intellectual curiosity", but it happens to conflict with the interests of
B) YC, or
C) Specific individuals within YC, such as sama or pg
Can you guarantee that such stories will not be negatively moderated for that reason alone?
In the interests of transparency, can posts that are negatively moderated be publicly flagged, so that people can form their own opinions on whether the mods are using their powers in a fair and unbiased manner?
Most of us HN readers appreciate the work you're doing in moderating this forum. We're all in favor of mods using their powers in order to further the site's stated goals, but we're also very wary of mods using their powers in order to further their own personal agendas. We're worried that without sufficient transparency, it's only a matter of time before mods start abusing their powers. Hence why posts like this, and accusations of censorship, are such major topics of interest.
An example: the other day someone reposted an old (2011) controversy article about Airbnb. It was a me-too post of the kind users frequently submit in response to something currently on the front page, which tends to be bad for HN because it's repetitive. Also, the article was misleading in several ways (as I understand it) and long out of date in others. Our usual moderation practice is to penalize such stories—i.e. that are derivative of something else or clearly misleading—but we didn't do any of that because it was about a YC-funded startup. We're very clear about this with all YC founders and everyone who works for YC.
Stories about HN itself are a little different because of the evil catnip power of meta, but it's still the same principle: we don't suppress stuff because it's critical of us.
The idea that more data would clear everything up is a fallacy. "Just make everything public" is the sort of argument that sounds great on paper, but I think it would more likely cause just the opposite. People already take things out of context and construct fun, rage-inducing narratives about how awful we are—not because we're special, it's just a fact of life on the internet. Why would it ever stop? Of course it will never stop. What it would do is consume far more of our time and energy than it already does. That would steal resources from the things we should be doing to make HN better, basically giving a small number of users (some well-intentioned, others not so much) the power to do a giant DoS attack on the good things of HN. Hacker News doesn't magically self-regulate, unfortunately; it takes a lot of work to keep it interesting and stave off entropy, and that's what we need to focus on. Every time one of these things comes up, it takes hours, sometimes a whole day, to answer people's questions about it. There's a burnout risk too.
So I think the balance we gradually arrived at over the years is the right one: be open about the principles we use to moderate HN and answer questions in specific cases. Unless something big happens to change my mind, that's how HN will continue to work; I believe it's what serves the community best as a whole.
HN is quite well moderated, IMO (and I have been a moderator, and I spend a LOT of my time rolling my eyes at how most mods are doing it wrong, damnit). Your comment is a kind of comment I see a lot on HN that sticks in my craw. I blogged about that very recently, so, it isn't you and I don't want to get into a pissing contest, but this is my cranky feeling about remarks of this ilk:
"Get a clue, people. Hacker News is an awesome discussion forum because it serves a business purpose. Please stop acting like there is something bizarre or ethically questionable about the mods making sure that this free service actually serves the business that pays all the bills for it. Geez"
I don't agree with the the assertion that HN mainly "serves a business purpose", perhaps in its early days its main purpose was to funnel prospective people into YC (second step from pg's essays, I stumbled on HN this way back in the day).
While you consider the arguments as "inane", I think there is merit in people trying to understand the mechanisms on which HN is being moderated. The "Don't worry your pretty head, it's being done right" argument only drives up more suspicion, because this is exactly the way less than savory practices in government and elsewhere are hidden. I don't think this is the case with HN but trying to argue that the suspicions arise not (just) because people are just jerks or stupid.
If HN serves no business purpose, why does it employ full-time paid moderators?
There seems to be this assumption that good only occurs when some Christ-like martyr falls on their sword for the benefit of other people. The entire world seems to think that the only good men are dead men who died as martyrs to a cause and if someone is getting something out of the deal, they are evil predators.
I loathe this idea with every fiber of my being and would like to see it wholly stamped out of existence. I believe HN is as high quality a forum as it is because it has a purpose that serves the needs of the people who created it and run it.
I have done moderating for free. At the scale of HN, unpaid mods would absolutely not work. I wholly approve of them having a personal agenda here. I think the fact that they need to meet a standard of enlightened self interest is part of why they do so much better than most moderating teams.
Is that clearer?
Secondarily, HN has job ads and (more recently) 'Launch HN' startup launches that get special treatment. The job ads are written about in the FAQ and the launches eventually will be, but we're still figuring out the best way to do them. These are concessions HN grants to YC in return for being funded by YC, and our intent is to have them be both secondary and obvious. I agree that it's fair for HN to make these concessions and especially with your reason for saying so: it's the way to have a sustainably high-quality site, which does not come free. What HN doesn't do is make non-transparent concessions, like moderating anti-YC stories differently. But I've covered that elsewhere in the thread.
Any forum with a policy like that will never gain the credibility and respect that HN currently enjoys. If someone wants to create a private forum and moderate it in a way that furthers their personal agenda, as opposed to the community's interests, more power to them, but they should disclose it publicly. As community members, it is entirely reasonable if we ask them whether this is indeed the case.
Thankfully, Dang disagrees with you and isn't moderating HN in a personal-agenda-driven manner (see his post above).
Given "ourselves" is all of us here, a way to illustrate that in a trustworthy way would be to expose the meta data around the story. Which articles were flagged and removed, who flagged, how much it mattered, etc. If not in real time, due to possible exploitation for ranking tweaks, then perhaps in an acceptable offset of time.
I also recommend implementing a cost of suffering flag type for articles which use negative emotional responses to spread the information in the article, especially when it is dissonant and viral in nature. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE3j_RHkqJc for context.
This article seems reasonable, but here's one indication it's flirting with recursive irrational behavior:
> I have to admit that I found it a bit comforting that I wasn’t the only one who thought this all seemed a bit fishy.
Confirmation bias is still a bias. Making an argument with bias prevents exploring other explanations, such as errors in HN code, activity periods (lunch for example) and sharing of stories within other aggregates which elicit a negative response (a large company monitoring the comments may not agree with post, and consensus there effectively moderates it down).
Publicly pointing out who flagged a story seems like a bad idea. I think the data should always be anonymized. I just think it will lead down a bad path to ostracize people for specific votes or flags.
I do however think it would be interesting to see some data after the fact for some stories say ones that reach 500 points or greater.
Possibly better idea:
Moderators could take a look at unfairly flagged stories and silently adjust flag weights for flag-abusing users.
This is of course based on my unscientific thought that the majority of interesting (IMO) stories flagged of the frobt page are removed by competitors (political or business-wise) rather than moderators.
If, like you say, the moderators never saw the story then who made these changes? I find it hard to believe that foob would put the wrong year in the title of his own post.
Edit: ok, I think I know what happened now. A moderator put 2010 on the title by mistake. I haven't checked the timestamps on the user flags, but it's possible that people flagged the article because they thought it was old, in which case the title change would have acted as a moderation penalty even though obviously we didn't mean it that way. I was wrong to say "moderators never saw it" because I checked the log for moderation penalties, found nothing, and didn't look for title changes. So I made a mistake too.
We're sorry for the mistake. I don't recall this particular thing ever happening before, but plenty of other moderator errors have. We try to admit them and correct them as soon as we know about them.
Look at just the stuff from this case - heavy handed uneven constant moderation (you claim moderators dont see a bunch of stories, but those that you do see like this one, often get adjustments), misreporting, questionable transparency, too much hardly visible power of flags, etc.
I know the rules, but It really seems like at best we are a few moderator changes from having this place turn to something that wouldn't be valuable to people like me.
From the ones I frequent, HN via Dan and team is the only one I've come across which frequently and directly engages the community in a detailed and genuine way about their policies.
There's been times when an older article is posted and adding the year in the title might give better perspective. Or other times where it's clearly a PR post for a company and we just want it off the front page.
And besides, if a submission is flagged off the front page by that point I would think the damage is done short of resetting the gravity of the post to allow it to be in the same position on the front that it "should" have been. I'm not even sure if this is something they can do.
Talk to them... they're people.
In any case, someone other than HN (e.g. Algolia) could construct a page/queue of flagged posts for review. It would be used by a subset of the audience for the "new" page.
No permission needed from HN moderators. Users already have the power to vouch for stories, they only need a timely way to review.
Technically and opinion aside, given the weighting function, what is supposed to happen when someone vouches for an eight hour old thirty-five point story? Does it move to page the middle of page two? How is justice done?
To quote Dennis Moore blimey, this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought.
I don't think flagging is creating problems in terms of HN's quality. As I indicated, there were lots of reasonable criteria under which to flag the previous post. To me, this post has characteristics that meet those criteria as well.
Where vouching might have a role is a quality story with very few points that is flagged dead based on misunderstanding or malintent. A story that hits the front page has had many eyeballs upon it and if it is killed from there by organic means, that's the way the system is supposed to normally work. Even when I think the story does not deserve it.
I assume that similar to HN meta stories resulting in upvoting trances, seeing [flagged] leads to ignoring the submission.
2. Flags _soft_ downvote people unlock easiers
3. Mods have a ""super"" flag which is the ranking equivalent of aging a post pre-maturely. So the weighting algorithm calculates the post as being much older then it actually is allowing it to slide off the front page faster.
There's no reason why a few people clicking 'flag' should ruin the experience for everyone else.
It's true that the effect of flags isn't perfect in every way, but we have to evaluate this on a whole-system level. I'm not aware of any way to make the whole system work significantly better (otherwise we'd have done it already) and certainly getting rid of flags wouldn't be one.
There's no reason to have a 'flag' link once a story hits the main page, for example.
Anything is preferable, at this point, to the methods used. Perfectly good articles are getting dropped and it comes across as censorship.
Is the secret handshake that important to the success of HN? Why throw newbies for a loop or make them have to think about this?
Uh... not really?
Left to its own devices, the system will include both extremes and non-extremes. In order to cut extremes out you have to sample what the extremes are, detect them and then minimize them.
The sampling comes by letting extremes pop up. The detection comes by letting users tag stories by content and emotional weight. You can minimize them with moderation tags and meta-moderation flags and automating balancing algorithms.
Currently you support story flagging, comment flagging, up/down voting. You have no way to identify what the significance of these are, though. Without better tools for your community maintain itself, of course you need moderators. But there are simple ways around this that would cut most of the moderation out and allow the system to simply re-weight stories as they become more obviously extreme in one or multiple tag/flag configurations.
Here are the categories of the 30 newest stories at time of writing: social media, privacy, programming, sysadmin, espionage, consumer products, politics, health, games, science. The stories vary in emotional rating (1-5, meh -> i am upset). As tags come in for any given story, trends emerge about how that story is perceived: it is relatively emotional, it is political and science based, and it is upvoted very quickly. Clearly, this is more likely to be controversal than the low-emotion programming topic that takes an hour to reach front page, so the latter should get higher priority, because it is less controversial and more "important to HN".
Notice that no moderator is needed to figure out what is controversial and change the balance, and we didn't even need to do something complicated like analyze speech patterns in comments or story content.
So what's to stop malicious users from tagging a post they don't like in such a way that the system sees it as controversial?
Interesting that you make a drug analogy. What's wrong with letting HN users have their crack? Unlike actual crack, there's no danger of side effects, dependency, withdrawal, etc. Maybe the "upvoting trance" is the expression of a sincere communal desire? It's not like it's "trashy" content... meta is simply self-reflection. Why penalize it?
Maybe the fear is that the front page will be overrun with meta content... that makes sense, but I feel like one or two meta posts couldn't hurt. I think self-consciousness is a positive attribute for a community.
> Unlike actual crack, there's no danger of side effects
There's a big danger of side effects to HN itself. When taken excessively—the natural tendency—it makes the site less intellectually interesting, which alienates the best kinds of user (and attracts the less best kinds). Maybe if we could be like David Cross and just do crack once each...
> one or two meta posts couldn't hurt. I think self-consciousness is a positive attribute for a community
This I agree with but HN is extremely well-resourced in this area. The intention behind penalizing such stories, as I tried to explain above, is not to suppress them but to countervail.
How about if there was a bit associated with every post that indicates whether it's meta or not. A submitter can set it when they post if they like; a mod can set or clear it later. Perhaps users could flag posts as being meta as well, i don't know.
Then we just take all the meta posts off the main page, and show them on another top-level page like Ask HN or Show HN.
I i think i'd be happy for meta posts to appear on the 'new' page. There aren't that many of them, so they won't flood it. If they get upvoted, they get promoted to a different place to substantive posts, so they won't clog it.
It's a bit like a GC which allocates large objects in the nursery, so you can still, eg, create a scratch buffer quickly, but promotes them to a large-object heap instead of the normal tenuring generations.
Aka, I've noticed that most of my stories I submit never reach the front page, but a nearly identical, or sometimes the exact link will make it to the front-page. I can only speculate that there is some high karma aspect to the ranking algorithm that works against high karma HN users.
Kind of seems opposite of how it should be but maybe there is a good reason for this approach that the mods can share.
I take a little bit of offense to this statement. The article identifies stories that had sudden extreme drops in position and then speculates that this could be caused by a hidden flagging threshold and/or moderator intervention. I strongly suspected that moderation was responsible in some of the cases but I also emphasized that this was because I didn't expect those stories to get heavily flagged and that we couldn't know for sure. All of these stories were effectively removed from the front page whether it was due to a hidden threshold or a moderator. I thought it was interesting to look at which stories were removed even if we could only speculate on the mechanism in each case.
You've confirmed that there are hidden thresholds in place that severely penalize stories and that the moderators make manual adjustments. I don't think that that makes the post completely wrong even if the moderator adjustments tend to be smaller and all of the stories I looked at were affected by automated means.
Do you have any thoughts on whether any of the listed stories are appropriate for the front page? As I said before, a few of these stories seem like "bad" posts but most of them appear fairly typical to me. Flagging is obviously necessary but maybe there is an issue with the user-specific weighting or how one of these thresholds kicks in if there seems to be a high percentage of collateral damage? I'm sure that you've spent a lot more time thinking about this than I have so I'm genuinely very curious to hear your opinion.
Edit: I took a look at your list and don't see any pattern in those stories. Some belong on HN and indeed got a lot of time on the front page. Others clearly don't belong on HN. In a few cases moderators intervened to penalize the story or turn penalties off, but in a solid majority moderators didn't intervene at all. In a few cases a bunch of points were dropped by the anti-voting ring software so the 'real' score wasn't as high as it seemed.
To me all this shows, and the reason I described it as 'completely wrong', is that you can't reconstruct what's going on from timestamps, point totals, and story rank. There's simply too much data that isn't public. I know that's frustrating to the large section of HN's userbase who love to know what's going on and figure things out. But I don't believe making it all public would be helpful, so here's the balance we've arrived at over the years: we make public the the principles of how the system works, including moderator intervention, and we answer specific questions about specific cases.
Make it public?
The upside is that it is easier to see who is gaming the system. Or that could be another downside if the answer is "the moderators".
> Or that could be another downside if the answer is "the moderators".
To me it seems like an upside if we know when moderators are gaming the system.
But you're right, there are some forms of security that don't require obscurity. For voting systems though, I would categorize them as "cat and mouse" systems, which unfortunately fall into the obscurity category.
Someone finally has enough data to confront your obvious bias and enough people saw it that you had to back up and apologize but this is a rare exception.
Mods removed submissions and individual posts they find distasteful and it has nothing to do with HN guidelines, they are applied unequally just as some members get special treatment. hN is just not that honest of a place to have an open discussion on a variety of topics.
no administration leads to 4chan like boards and newsfeeds
/b/ is the best known and least moderated board of 4chan; only child pornography and brony stuff is removed.
Then maybe the system needs to be changed?
> None of this is new information, btw. I've posted about it plenty over the years and am always happy to answer questions.
Is there anything in particular that should make us trust the information you provide? You could be lying for all we know.
Without sounding too snide, it sounds like what's happening is that we do all of the work by posting articles and comments, and hacker news controls the narrative.
Shows stories which have hit the front page ever, in the order of their posting. If it's currently on the front page, the link is orange. If it's not, it's black. It's very interesting to watch how frequently highly upvoted and commented posts turn black, while their temporal peers remain.
Anecdotally, there appears to be trend of positive/neutral news about YC companies remaining on the front page the longest, the latest shiny technology sticks around for awhile longer than average, and pretty much any negative news disappears almost instantly.
For example, as of this instant in time, there is an article about Angular2 which remains on the front page while more highly upvoted and commented articles about laptop security, AT&T discrimination, and a Nintendo Switch CVE discussion are all gone from the front page.
For front page rankings time matters more than total votes. A submission with 10 votes can be ranked higher than one with 50 if those 10 votes came in minutes rather than over the course of a day. It's not surprising that controversial submissions that get less up-votes (and more flags) don't get ranked as high.
Yes, but it's not the only thing at stake because you often see more recent and more up-voted posts being below older and less up-voted ones.
I can understand they might want to keep the ranking algorithm and anti-spam techniques secret, but stuff that are manually censored by a moderator should be indicated as such, maybe by some automatic message like "This post was removed due to [reason]".
Some websites manage to fight spam while remaining reasonably transparent (eg. StackExchange, where pretty much everything is documented - flags, closing reasons, edits, etc.).
This feels pretty transparent:
Which is down to the varying desires of the community and the administration. The admin/mods have at least in part a goal of promoting their commercial ends whilst the community in general are neutral wrt those same ends. If the mods upgrade YC companies visibly and downgrade competitors, for example, then the chances are that will cause problems between the admin and the community.
Based on that I can't see YC ever agreeing to do their moderation in public. I think we have to remember that this is not a neutral forum but has an inbuilt bias, through moderation, towards the administrations benefits.
I'd be all for tagging a generic "Downvoted by moderation" onto any article this happened to. The poster will probably still be annoyed, but I imagine most would agree with moderation most of the time. And if they like, they can contact.
What they're less likely to agree with is this happening invisibly. And if it's invisible, then how do we know whether we (as a community) agree with it or not?
PS: Side note, strongly against "toggle a non-default option" as a solution. Filter bubbles are incompatible with democracy and true, diverse community.
I was really disappointed as the comment I was looking for wouldn't even show up in search.
I think you've unfairly jumped from the evidence you see (I don't recall receiving any warning) to an accusation that Dan was lying. Since lying about this doesn't seem to be to Dan's benefit (why risk adding false information?) it seems more likely that Dan may have confused you with another user, or that you may not have seen (or remembered) the warning.
Scanning back through your comments, I fairly quickly found the warning from a couple months ago that I think Dan was referring to: [redacted]. Likely you didn't notice this (or didn't consider it to be a warning?) but even if he's wronged you elsewhere, you probably should apologize to Dan for the false accusation.
while some of my comments might be harsh
Having just scanned through a couple months of your comments, I think that's unfortunately an understatement. A surprisingly large percentage of your recent comments are, as Dan warned, "personally abrasive". If your intent was to cause offense with each of these comments, I think Dan was right to ban your account. If the offense you were causing wasn't intentional, then there would appear to be a cultural misunderstanding that would be to your benefit to address.
the most annoying thing was the comment left by moderator "we banned". How about "I banned"? Faceless corporate "we" does not look well.
I agree with you about the use of "we". It often comes across oddly when it seems clear that the decision was made by an individual. I don't think a blanket switch to "I" solves it, but it seems like there should be a better phrasing.
Second, it is a bit of a stretch to call Dan's (I still have no idea who 'dang' is, there is no name or personal address on his profile, but based on your doxing skills I will believe you) comment a warning. You can see that in other cases he's a bit more explicit ("stop doing that or we will ban you"). Also, I may be wrong, but if you read his comments a bit of different treatment is applied, I guess this is up to personal likes and dislikes.
As for offensive comments… well I am firmly in a camp of thinking that offense is taken, not given. Sure, one can be excessively rude, but I do not think this applies here. Calling opinion you consider bullshit is worth banning? Well, sad day indeed, then. More so because you can find plenty of stronger expression here which are posted without repercussions—likely because mods agree with them?
Cultural differences? Close enough I guess. I am still not sure if shaping this place into a Stepford where everyone is all fake smiles and nods in agreement is a best way, but it is not up to me to decide.
I am glad that at leas on topic of "we" we are in some agreement. As I've mentioned previously there may very well be solid reasons for this kind of anonymity, but it still feels very inhuman.
I've had dang detach a post of mine, and IIRC give me a few other similar warnings. In the case of the detach, I was way out of line based on a misunderstanding of the original article (in my defense this misunderstanding wasn't cleared up until after my post).
But what it might come down to is, I'm from New York and a lot of people running HN are, if not actual San Francisco flower children of the 1960s, then perhaps their spiritual descendants.
And to flower children, the tone matters. They don't like you 'harshing' them. The opposite of how in-your-face New Yorkers often communicate. The HN moderators want you to make your points in a more subdued and less personal manner than New Yorkers might want to.
And it's not just dang. I've often been downvoted because of the tone of my posts, rather than because of (and even in spite of) the content.
So, if you want to play on HN, you need to play by their rules. It's their site.
In credit to HN, I'll mention a book written by Ken Hamblin, supporting the USA. The title is "Pick a Better Country" (if you don't like the USA).
So, pick a better alternative to HN? But I don't think there is one. HN probably is as good as it is because of, rather than in spite of, pg and dang and all the other (oppressive?) overlords?
You clearly didn't. I happened to recall your comment about "we" from the thread where that account was banned, and thus knew where to look. I thought at the time about commenting to agree with you, but decided I was too late to the party for anyone to notice.
this kind of exposing does not sit well with me at all
I think there's a difference between "doxing" and a link showing that a warning was given to the other account, but I don't know where the line should be. I'll ask to have the link removed.
I still have no idea who 'dang' is, there is no name or personal address on his profile
I'm not sure why he's chosen the ultra-low-profile approach, but at this point it's clearly something that he's consciously chosen. Here's the official post introducing him several years ago: https://blog.ycombinator.com/meet-the-people-taking-over-hac....
Second, it is a bit of a stretch to call Dan's ... comment a warning.
Arguably, but I was only aiming for the lower bar of showing why Dan might have considered himself to have given you a warning, and thus might more charitably be considered to be mistaken rather than "lying". And while he didn't use the words "this is a warning", I do think most people would have correctly taken his admonition as a warning.
Calling opinion you consider bullshit is worth banning?
No, disagreement is fine, even if it involves telling someone that something they said is completely wrong. The moderators are (properly I think) very sensitive to the difference between saying that a particular idea is stupid and foolish, and claiming that person who said it is a stupid fool.
It's possible this distinction is considered more essential in North America than elsewhere. Personally, I'd suggest writing to 'email@example.com' and asking if they would unban your previous account. If nothing else, you'll probably get a better explanation of where the line is between acceptable and bannable.
More so because you can find plenty of stronger expression here which are posted without repercussions—likely because mods agree with them?
I'm sure there is occasional bias in this direction, but I'm also sure that there is a conscious attempt of the moderators to compensate for this by being more forgiving to those whom they personally disagree with. I don't know what the end effect is, but I'd guess that (by design) the two effects mostly cancel out in the long run.
I am still not sure if shaping this place into a Stepford where everyone is all fake smiles and nods in agreement is a best way, but it is not up to me to decide.
While there are probably companies and even governments that have fallen prey to this problem, I'm doubtful that excessive civility has ever resulted in the downfall of an online community. It's fun to envision the endgame, though, with the "moderators" desperately trying to goad people into being more assertive and combative, and being met with unflappable peace and harmony.
(They might of course still have an internal disagreement over an issue, and maybe take internal action for bad decisions, and might overthrow that decision if warranted, but not by blaming it on one individual.)
I made some experiments. Mix of fear of cross voting and anti spam technique I guess.
Plenty of users have gone from being banned or penalized to being positive contributors on HN. Once someone understands why the rules and moderation are the way they are, things almost always go fine. It's not, for example, about "needing to sugarcoat everything", "avoiding uncomfortable truths", or any of that kind of explanation. It's about the extreme weakness of the social contract on the internet.
While I realize I'm not entitled to explanations, some transparency would be appreciated. Maybe it could even be automatic, whenever a mod removed something forcibly from front, they could leave a comment and it'd show up on some page?
[EDIT] - After reading the article, if a mod did indeed take down the post because it discussed reverse engineering the rank algorithm, I think that's pretty naive. Security through obscurity isn't a thing, and the better response is just to make a better algorithm, not try and suppress knowledge about it.
I say this naively myself, as I've never had to maintain a ranking algorithm with these many users who depend on it (or any at all for that matter), but surely the problem isn't intractable?
Obscuring an algorithm or making it more tedious to reverse may not make it perfectly secure, but that's not the goal. It's not like actual information security, where loss of the encryption keys means your product is broken or your database is on the Internet. You're just trying to minimize the workload on humans who act as a back-up for the few posts that slip through.
If an email spam detection algorithm was public, spammers could precisely craft their content to slip through. If the heuristics for showing a CAPTCHA were public, bots could automate their requests to avoid it. If a ranking algorithm was public, people who might financially benefit from the front-page traffic could force content there through vote rings and sock puppets.
If the algorithm is secret, far fewer will be able to do so, and this small fraction of abusers can be handled by humans.
If the algorithm can be reverse engineered then trying to suppress the knowledge that is already "out there" will only create an illusion of it being a secret, and the fewer people know about it the more damage they can potentially do (i.e they more they can financially benefit from their knowledge).
It's the same as with information security - if you discover an exploitable bug then chances are someone else has already discovered it too (or can discover it any time) so making it public is one of the most sensible things you can do.
As I outlined in another comment in this thread, algorithms that do not offer or adopt significant authorization constraints (as quantified by time/monetary costs) cannot be "fixed." This is fundamentally why reverse engineering e.g. HMAC signing algorithms, search results ranking, spam filtering or front page listing algorithms is possible. The generous usability requirements do not allow for authorization that would mitigate reversing the algorithm, even when it's not embedded in an untrustworthy client.
Suppression is essentially all you can do to prevent reverse engineering, and suppressing the knowledge of how to reverse engineer an algorithm is in effect the same as suppressing the algorithm itself.
First establish an upper bound, worst case scenario cost (as a function of time + resources) to fully reverse engineer the algorithm. Use that as the comparison benchmark, and if you can come up with a design that eliminates any reverse engineering efforts with fewer costs than worst-case, you've done it.
Here's where that breaks down: "ungameable" is not precise enough to establish worst-case bounds for, in the same way that we can establish worst-case bounds for breaking an MD5 hash (brute-force it - what does "brute-force it" mean for gaming a ranking algorithm, or reverse engineering more generally?). Other than that, were you to come up with such a measurement, it would almost assuredly increase the costs of reverse engineering to infeasibility by increasing the authorization controls in place and decreasing the usability requirements.
Honestly, it's why I like it, but I also recognize that behind all of this is a business, not a chatroom.
Edit: To clarify: there are so many places online to speak whatever is on your mind. What's lacking are places to have a decent conversation, any conversation, that can remain a conversation. How many places like this, with this many users, exist? I can't think of many.
I wonder how responsive the mods will be when I publish just how hackable the YC infrastructure is next week.
To heck with responsible disclosure since HN mods apparently don't believe in such a thing.
It's fair game, boys. This is how the mods want to treat us, the users can respond in kind.
Mods (as far as I know, I'm not one) never forcibly remove things from the front page. These are almost always the result of user flagging.
This article however is about stories that disappear without receiving either.
Here's an example of a submission that does not include the [flagged] label, but which has a moderator saying it got flagged, and that the flags are the reason it's not on the front page. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13741276
Many months ago, I had several submissions that were visible when I was logged in, and yet when I accessed HN as a guest, they were not in the submission ranking.
From what I've seen mods are happy to fix any problems.
The moderators bury things on the front page pretty routinely.
That's a pretty big (and vague!) accusation to just throw out there, especially in light of this comment elsewhere: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13858327
dang 6 minutes ago
As others have pointed out, the [flagged] annotation means heavily flagged. A story can be downweighted off the front page by user flags long before [flagged] shows up. Indeed that's what happened to the submission the OP is complaining about. Moderators never saw it.
You use the word "suppress", but we generally can't use words stronger than that in security. We deal in abstractions that are hard to reasonably quantify, so we do so by approximations of monetary or temporal costs, and frequently both. We also try to limit absolutes. Reverse engineering exists as a discipline because 1) contrary to popular opinion, security through obscurity is valid, if incomplete and 2) there's frankly not much more that you can do in many cases other than obfuscation.
There are situations where algorithm secrecy gains you nothing defensively and is actually a strategic disadvantage, such as in encryption or hashing. But in situations where you fundamentally cannot discriminate between authorized users, such as in email (spam), search results (SEO) or, here, Hacker News (front page), you cannot rely on the strength of the algorithm to properly discriminate between users, because that's not its intended purpose. In these situations, obscurity is essentially your only remaining option.
To be fair the Hacker News moderators have more control of the ranking algorithm being reversed as it's on a remote server they control, as opposed to embedded in a client deployed to inherently untrustworthy hands. And once the information is out, it's out. But I don't agree that they have a trust or transparency imperative to keep that sort of submission on the front page. Even if the information exists, there's no reason to make it even more accessible. They can remove it and also improve the ranking algorithm.
If you want to design a general purpose web application without significantly reducing usability, functionality that is not restricted through authentication or higher levels of authorization is susceptible to reverse engineering. Being that the ranking algorithm is not client-side, there are fundamental protections we cannot bypass, but much of it is still inherently obfuscation. There is rate-limiting of course, and you have to log in, but the inherent inputs and outputs can still be somewhat flexibly assessed over reasonable timespans because there are hard usability requirements in place.
The tl;dr: algorithms which cannot be gamed because their inputs have significant quantifiable and controllable time/monetary costs do not require secrecy - these are excellent for implementing authorization. Algorithms which do not have such costs are not appropriate for authorization and, unless also paired with significant authorization constraints, require some degree of obfuscurity.
No, as a community we are all owed a public explanation.
And if stcb and dang can't provide it, they need to step down and make room for someone who can.
I've learned that it's best not to jump to conclusions based on what you think is true (however sound your analysis might be). Always ask the other side(s) for an explanation. In this case, you could have sent an email to the mods asking for an explanation. If you find their response unsatisfactory, go ahead and write a post explaining why.
> There are also a few articles that are thinly veiled affiliate spam. For example, the ShelfJoy links about books that Aaron Swartz and David Bowie loved fall into this category. They get called out in the comments for being very low-effort lists of Amazon affiliate links.
If what is being said in other threads is true, high karma accounts clicking flag could push a post off the front page without showing the "flagged" tag, then that could be an explanation instead. Which would then mean that maybe these high karma users have too much power.
And on top of that are allowed to use HN as a platform to ask other users to jump to their aid in flagging stories they don't like.
- This is a bug / happens randomly; you just noticed it because you were looking (i.e. as you analyse this data); all the posts it's happened to before and since went unnoticed. That's supported by the evidence of your analysis; most of the results don't look any different to other posts.
- It's not the link, but the related activity. Presumably if you're running analysis on HN data, there are a lot of HN requests coming from your machine. Maybe any posts made by your IP are therefore treated as suspect (i.e. the sort of protection you'd expect to avoid automated posting or upvoting... just without that extra sophistication). Perhaps the other posters had something similar... Would be good to see if any of those posts were by the same author; as that may add weight to this theory.
- Other variables... Maybe the algorithm has rules which cause this behaviour under some conditions; e.g. posts made the previous day (not 24 hours ago; but rather before midnight UTC / something like that) lose weight when midnight hits; so posts made moments before suddenly lose enough score to knock them off the top spot; whilst those which had more score before midnight, or were posted just after survive... Many other possibilities such as this may exist; and we'd only know by looking at those variables in the data... What else is common about the posts which are in your post's club vs those which aren't?
You're definitely right about there being miscellanious rules in there. Something that I mentioned in passing in the article is that many stories exhibit a significant drop in position once they're 15 hours old. If you look closely at the typical story trajectories you can also see various other jumps of about 10-30 positions which I would guess are triggered by these various rules.
The stories listed in the article exhibit very different behavior where they jump hundreds of positions instantaneously. It's absolutely possible that this is triggered by some automatic mechanism but if that's the case then there's an enormous amount of signifance being assigned to the corresponding rules. If there's some random component to the ranking then I highly doubt that it would be responsible for jumps of this magnitude.
I try to emphasize in the article that I do think it's possible that there's a hidden flagging threshold that's responsible and that the data can't tell us with certainty whether or not that's the case. I just personally find it unlikely that that's what happened for all of these stories. If you ran a site like Hacker News then would you put an admin link next to each post that pushes it off of the front page? I know that I would.
 - https://github.com/HackerNews/API
I thought that the point of HN was auto-moderation? Perhaps now that HN has seen great increases in popularity, the quality of content has to be more carefully controlled, lest the quality of posts on the HN front page slowly enter a death spiral towards that of reddit.
“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” ― George Carlin
The author's meaning of "remove from the frontpage" means abruptly disappearing from the front page and you still don't see it in the subsequent 6 or more pages.
In the end, the absence of detail meant there was no actionable information in the post, just 'Paypal sucks'. And I did not find that intellectually interesting.
If there's interest, I can put this back up and start pruning old data so it's more maintainable. The data I collected shows a lot of questionable moderator activity and a lot of abuse of flagging. I'm also unhappy with HN sending all comments on paywalled posts (which are against the rules) to /dev/null, when they're usually at least willing to talk about things.
Sounds great! It might be good to distinguish between "moderator activity" (which to me implies that a human reads and makes a decision) and "moderation activity" (which covers automatic adjustments such as the frequently faulty "flame detection algorithm").
If there's interest, I can put this back up and start pruning old data so it's more maintainable.
Yes, I think it would be very useful to have this available.
Unfortunately this information isn't made available. More analysis of the data is necessary to identify trends that can be used to distingish these.
Indeed, HN recently allowed a post that advocated gaming the system because it encouraged debate: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13676362
A conspiracy theory, even backed by data, is not the best application of Occam's Razor.
The point is that the post wasn't swallowed in the usual sense. We now know that the original post fell drastically because it was being flagged by users.
So some articles might simply disappear because the OP asked too many friends for upvotes or because of false positives.
I was hoping that HN's flag system would sufficient for the community to self censor. Perhaps we need a flag on comments too, something you can't see. I would also prefer that posts don't transition through the lighter grays as they get down voted but disappear completely once the dead threshold is met. That would prevent some piling on that does happen
Oh yes. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13749685
I think there's a small karma threshold for flagging - something like 30 or 50 karma.
See dang's comment in this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13741276
If you take a look at the comments, it's theorized there that the story got pulled not because of moderator action, but because people abused the flagging mechanism. Given the content, and given the principal person under discussion, this seems pretty likely to me.
> It is the usual tug of war between upvotes and flags
The tug of war between upvotes and flags, as commented by dang, seems a strong sign that the article is very much political in nature. The question is if it also gratifies one's intellectual curiosity, but personally, in this case it did not do that for me.
A good test for this that the moderators could run is to see if those that flagged this article flagged any other articles about LambdaConf's policies and if so, which.
Another one is to compare its performance to other, similarly political articles by the same author (e.g. his free software posts) and see how they performed.
When you then secretly censor stuff, because it doesn't fit your agenda, be it politically or financially, it makes you look even more like a hypocrite.
Branding yourself liberal while employing fascist methods (censoring and banning) seems to be a trend, not only on the internet.
CIA Vault 7, like 1 thread or something, yeah right.
Edit: to be clear, with common pattern I mean the topics of the submission (obviously they have one common pattern, which is dropping out of the front page quickly). They do not reveal some secret agenda moderators might follow or something like that.
More often than not, keeping a community from turning into 4chan requires some heavy moderation (reddit's AskHistorians comes to mind, with entire threads nuked at once), and it's often a thankless job. I'm happy that HN managed to keep it's overall spirit, and I thank the mod team for that.
Silent curation and other practices like shadow-bannning are unethical and symptomatic of a mentality that seeks to avoid confrontation. If things go well we'll see more transparency over time. A good start for a site like HN would be to create another page that shows just the titles of the submissions rejected (no links). People can google for those titles if they are interested.
Interestingly, my 2013 article also suddenly dropped off the front page. Apparently it somehow triggered "voting ring detection" and was penalized. (I'm not part of a voting ring of course.)
Here is an example of three submissions, two flagged enough to get kicked off the front page (for poor use of sources on a contentious topic) but not get marked as 'flagged':
If something popular (and surely by definition of being on the front page it is) is suddenly removed, people are bound to be interested in the reason why? Was the source discredited? Was it just a copyright issue? A simple filter for spiked stories would be good, just with a note on the reason why.
Of course HN don't have to implement this, but it would be of benefit to the community.
HN doesn't have to be transparent, it's just a site with it's own agenda (by that I don't mean evil agenda, but it is there for a reason) but if you want to grow the community, I think clearly identifying why things were removed is a reasonable thing to ask. If every one it marked "flagged by users" I'd worry that there is no manual intervention.
This was during the time of the election so I was thinking along the lines of political astroturfing, but also to guard against companies unfairly promoting their products or suppressing posts related to a rival company. For instance, if someone really wanted to keep a discussion off HN, all it would take is to tangentially start a flame war over some sensitive issue and watch the ranking algorithm punish the ensuing vitriol.
I don't think being "bored" by something is generally considered a good reason to flag content. I don't see how it could possibly be considered off-topic either.
There are way to many toxic users, trolls, shills, astro-turfers, voting rings, paid advertising, political organisations, disinformation campaigns, and other 'special interest' parties on the Net to be able to do without strong moderation.
That you worry about these things on the internet instead of real life (like the ones in our government) is rather telling.
is : http://sangaline.com/post/reverse-engineering-the-hacker-new...
Edit: Thanks all. I get it now :)
Old explanation by dang: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10705926