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[flagged] Ask HN: Has the HN entry about Sam Altman running for office just been removed?
98 points by camillomiller on May 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments
I'm sure it topped the home page ten minutes ago. I came back two minutes ago to see if there were any comments, and the entry is nowhere to be found. What happened?

This was the story: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/05/y-combinator-head-who-pushes-basic-income-is-reportedly-running-for-office/

I'll answer this in a few minutes. The answer is what it usually is (user flags and/or dupe) but I suppose a bit more explanation might be helpful.

Edit: ok, here you go:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14342198 was flagged as a dupe because it points to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14337507, which at 109 points and 41 comments clearly passes the 'significant attention' test for duplicates (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html). Did that story belong on HN in the first place? Yes and no. On the one hand it's sensational and super close to home. On the other, it's far from substantive. All that happened is a gossip column published one side of a conversation and then the click-starved trade sites farmed it out in their usual fashion. If there's an 'interesting phenomenon' in HN's sense here, I'd say it's that Willie Brown became an old-school, Herb-Caen-style society columnist after his incredibly long political career. I had no idea.

A couple more points about standard HN practice. First, when a story hasn't happened yet, there's usually little value in discussing it. Most stories that haven't happened, never do happen. We call this category "announcement of an announcement" and have learned over the years that it is the low-hanging fruit of offtopicness. Some recent comments on this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14311910 and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14314105. For HN purposes, there's no harm in waiting for the actual thing to occur. Patience is a virtue i.e. a strength.

Second, when stories about YC are involved, we moderate HN less, not more. That's literally the first principle of HN moderation: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20moderate%20less%20no.... This case is a funny one though. What does 'moderating less' mean? If we mark a submission about this as a dupe or penalize it as fluff, some say we're moderating HN to suppress an unwanted story. But suppose it spent the day on HN's front page instead—then others would say we were moderating HN to stealth-promote a political career. That's a classic Bateson double bind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_bind.

Also, in general when a story disappears while not being a dupe:

> Users flagged it. That's nearly always the explanation.


Ok, I'd love to understand why a perfectly regular piece of news was flagged, then. Definitively something not transparent going on, on a very sensitive subject for the community.

> definitely something not transparent

> something foul

I wouldn't be so confident.

The article doesn't have a lot of information, the article was posted before, and there's not a lot to discuss except maybe local Silicon Valley politics. It comes across as a "tame rumor" piece rather than an announcement of something factual.

It doesn't seem like foul play, or that anything is being censored. It just doesn't seem super noteworthy.

But it's not a perfectly regular piece of news. It's a rumor. Hacker News isn't a gossip site. If/when Sam announces he's running the announcement will not get flagged.

I think for better or worse, a lot of HN users don't like seeing politics on the homepage. Similar posts about other polticians get flagged quickly as well. I don't think it needs to be any more complicated than that.

I do think politics has some place on HN. Some of my favorite threads last year were after Brexit and the U.S. presidential election results, and I was disappointed to see that two of my recent submissions about the middle east were flagged as soon as they began to gain traction.

I agree it's not that uncommon to see stuff flagged and removed, especially of political nature, especially when it's something not viewed in a positive light by the moderators in HN. It's not exactly 'free speech guaranteed' on HN.

From guidelines: "Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. Videos of pratfalls or disasters, or cute animal pictures. If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic."

This allows them a lot of leeway to take stuff down.

The rise Of a political class bred by the technology capital. How is this NOT a new phenomenon worthy of interest for anybody who's into technology and its impact on culture and society?

That would certainly be an interesting new phenomenon if it existed. This article wasn't that. It's a rumor based on a hearsay report—in other words gossip. That kind of thing is rarely on topic for HN because it rarely has much substance.

This site exists to gratify intellectual curiosity (i.e. curiosity about how the world works), not the other, more highly stimulating forms of curiosity.



Maybe people flagged it as not all HN readers live in US and care about US politics.

Which was flagged... Why? Said dupe was ON TOP of the home page, whereas the other entry was definitively not popular. Result: the news has been buried. Am I allowed to say I smell something foul?

Of course you are allowed to say that, but at the same time, I would have totally flagged that story if I had seen it for the same reasons I flagged this one: I don't live in the US, I don't care about politics, and I have no interest in random rumors.

> I would have totally flagged that story if I had seen it for the same reasons I flagged this one: I don't live in the US, I don't care about politics

Why flag though? Is it because parent threads don't have downvotes so people opt to flagging?

Politics and rumors aside, I'm confused by why people flag something that they just don't care to read, instead of going onto the next story. If a post makes the front page, it's probably a good case that it's a subject people want to talk about. By flagging it because you don't care for it, makes no sense to me.

> I'm confused by why people flag something that they just don't care to read, instead of going onto the next story.

It's because the front page space is so limited. Each story there takes a place that could go to many other interesting things.

But "other interesting things" is subjective...

I don't know how many flags it takes for it to be taken down but if it makes it to the front page, does the number of upvotes change how many flags it takes?

It's subjective in the sense that people disagree about specific cases and that there's interpretation involved—that's true. But HN's notion of 'interesting' as described at https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and https://news.ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html is narrower than you might think. For example, it is not the same thing as 'like'—not even close.

Of course people use upvotes to signal 'like' all the time. That's inevitable, and one reason why both flags and moderation are necessary as counterweights.

Ah, makes sense. Thanks for clarifying, dang.

Plenty of other people thought the opposite and got this thread on to the front page though.

Brilliantly, this also got posted by the twitterbot before it was flagged https://twitter.com/newsycombinator/status/86414915600433561...

> the twitterbot

Your use of the definite article compels me to point out that that isn't official at all. Plenty of people do third-party things with HN stuff. We mostly don't mind and we also mostly don't know.

My apologies for making assumptions :)

This same thread has bene flagged after rising to the top of the home page... What the heck?

Before putting out a volley of "what the heck", "something smells foul", etc., posts, it might be good to familiarize yourself with how HN works. Users flag stories all the time. This is a community action. It's completely routine. So is moderators marking stories as duplicate when they've already had significant attention on HN.

The (non-)controversy here boils down to (a) users disagree about what belongs on HN, and (b) not every user sees every thread. Those are structural issues in the sense that they follow inevitably from the structure of the site.

It doesn't look like that particular link has been previously posted though.

Multiple articles on the same story can get flagged as dupes even though they come from different sites/links. The test isn't "is this URL unique", it's "does this story add significant new information".

That dates from the Snowden storm of 2013, when the HN front page was dominated by copycat articles that added nothing new, just pointed to other stories which had already been discussed. Many users disliked that and we realized they were right and came up with the 'significant new information' test in response. It works surprisingly well.

Interesting, thanks.

... of a submission which got flagged and disappeared

All in all I hope we can see Thiel against him to balance it out.

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