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[flagged] Ask HN: We're being censored. Why?
40 points by Sone7 on Mar 13, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments
This article (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16576569) was flagged and removed from the news pages.

Not even a flimsy excuse was given.

It is such an important topic - a person who ran a black site and destroyed the evidence before Congress could see it is now able to look at all our dick pics. This one shouldn't be shoved down the memory hole.

My comment on it is permanently compressed (even when the thread is opened in an entirely different browser) and has been stuck on 11 points. It's fucking weird, and I've never seen that on HN before.

As another commenter pointed out, informative and well sourced comments on the thread are flagged and grayed to oblivion. While most commenting has stopped since the page disappeared, there are a number of suspicious commenters still deflecting and inciting people in dumb directions.

Is this who you are HN?

Users flag stories that they don't think fit the site guidelines. That's all that happened here.

I get that you disagree. People disagree about this all the time, often strongly. I doubt there's a single story that every user agrees belongs on HN.

The only unusual thing in this case is the drama you've created about it. We can debate whether a CIA director nomination belongs on HN, but there's no question that the above submission and your comments are breaking the site guidelines. Those are at https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. Please read them and follow them when posting here. They're written the way they are for good reasons, based on over ten years of running this place.

No one's questioning the importance of major political stories, by the way. Of course they're important—much more important than most of what gets posted here. That's why we need flagging. Otherwise they would take over the site, and HN would be a completely different place.

HN's mandate is to gratify intellectual curiosity. Not all political stories are off topic, but the ones that only stir up outrage, however justifiably, and don't also gratify intellectual curiosity, are not a good fit.

There's a problem here which perhaps someone would like to step up and solve. HN is the most popular news aggregation site. A lot of people only read HN for their daily news.

Stories like the one being discussed are important, and need to be heard. There could be a compromise solution where everyone ends up happy.

> HN is the most popular news aggregation site.

I'm pretty sure Google News and, even though it's not it's main purpose, Facebook are far more popular news aggregators, and even if the latter isn't intended as a news aggregator, both are deliberately more general focus than HN.

For news discussion platforms, Facebook (again) and Reddit are bigger than HN.

HN is distinguished by it's focus.

I think you are right, I had a weird feeling about my comment while writing it and I felt I was missing something. I don't think I'm wrong however. Perhaps it is that readers of hackernews are more in touch with certain things than the general public. I read HN specifically to avoid the noise and nonsense of the sources you named, for example.

That doesn't mean I only want to read tech news or things of "intellectual curiosity", it just means that the news sources the two organizations you named draw upon are in the business of publishing garbage. The up/down moderation and flagging of a real aggregate site like HN makes a huge difference in quality of content, when it's used properly. Reddit users abuse it to vote their feelings which defeats the benefits.

The thing is, the readers HackerNews attracts are a result of its focus; weakening the focus invites HN gaining the character of the sites you don't like (some of which, as you note, have similar community moderation mechanisms bit different results, compared to HN.)

>>Not all political stories are off topic, but the ones that only stir up outrage, however justifiably, and don't also gratify intellectual curiosity, are not a good fit.

So does that mean I can flag anything that doesn’t gratify my intellectual curiosity?

Because I personally find it very intellectually curious what is currently happening in the United States, but when those stories get buried by a few overzealous people then I feel like I should do the same when someone else posts a story about the latest JavaScript framework. Yet I feel like if I started flagging them I would probably lose my privileges here.

No, I definitely wouldn't say that that follows.

It sounds like you might want a different kind of forum than HN. If every political outrage made the front page, that would change HN into a forum about "what is currently happening in the United States". Such a site could be valuable, but wouldn't be HN. HN has a different mandate, which it's our job to stick to.

There's room for lots of kinds of website. I think a forum dedicated to intellectual curiosity has a right to exist, among others; and if HN is to be that, it has to be preserved actively, since the default forces all point the other way. User flags are part of how HN preserves itself. Yes, there are exceptions, but those need to be infrequent and have some unusual quality that raises them out of the category of latest outrage.

The supply of outrages outweighs the capacity of this site to accommodate them. Rather than calling that disgusting and despicable (as happened a lot today), it would be better to find a different kind of site that can accommodate them, or perhaps even to start one.

It could be time to specify the meaning of "gratify intellectual curiosity" further than it has been.

What enraged camel said.

Also, it's messed up that a HN mod would accuse a user who wants this story unflagged and discussed of "creating drama".

Your reluctance to state exactly which guidelines OP broke is telling, as is your open contempt and patronising attitude to the many HN users who have expressed that they want to be allowed to discuss this. Regardless of how much "outrage" it might generate (seriously that's gotta be one of the stupidest dang things I've ever read) we need to talk about this.

>The only unusual thing in this case is the drama you've created about it.

I haven't created any drama at all. Many people feel strongly about this and have said so, are they all "creating drama" as well, or is it possible people really give a fuck that this torturer will have an incredible amount of power?

>there's no question that the above submission and your comments are breaking the site guidelines

The only guideline I have broken is the one about vote totals, which I was unaware of and which has special relevance here. You could have asked me to remove it, there was no need to allow the whole thread to be flagged over a straw-man.

It is telling that you claim there is 'no question' about this, when people are questioning it all over this thread.

>Not all political stories are off topic, but the ones that only stir up outrage, however justifiably, and don't also gratify intellectual curiosity, are particularly important to flag.

What?? So, no matter how important a story is, if enough people pretend to be 'outraged' the story must be flagged? Please tell me you see the many things that are wrong with that line of argument. What a despicable thing to say.

There are many comments that agree this is worthy of discussion, the least you can do is allow the conversation to happen - the very least.

This is a critical discussion to have. As it stands, conversation on this topic has been strongly suppressed, and rather than being concerned about that, you're patronizing me, accusing me of creating drama, and implying I want HN to work according to my political views. Please take this all a little bit more seriously and recognize that it's nothing to do with me; but all of us, globally.

I don't doubt that your strong feelings on this topic are sincere and justified. And yes, the word drama is a bit harsh—which I normally avoid. But you really did do some egregious things. You posted 18 fulminating comments in a row, some of which would normally be bannable offenses (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16577259), sent us demanding and even threatening emails, and posted this off-topic meta-thread trying to gin up outrage about moderation, all because of a routine community action that happens every day on HN. That's what I meant by drama. I'm not going to ban you for posting things like "feck off ya mook" today. Everybody goes on tilt sometimes. But getting banned is the expected outcome for behavior like that, so please don't do it again.

You felt this story should be on HN. Other users felt it shouldn't be. That's normal. The flags won over the upvotes, indicating that the bulk of the community doesn't agree with you. I don't see why your preference should matter more than theirs, especially since the mandate of the site (intellectual curiosity yes, political flamewars no) at first blush points rather in their favor than yours.

We're always fine to hear counterarguments, but when the 'counterargument' consists of calling names like despicable, etc., merely because HN is behaving the way it always has, you actually create a persuasive reason not to give you what you want: you're showing what kind of discussion would result from doing so.

If you want to influence what discussion takes place on HN, you need to do two things. First, you need to really grok the mandate of the site and make your case based on that. Otherwise your argument will amount to demanding that HN be a different kind of site than it is, which doesn't hold water. And you also need to really grok the values of the site (civility and substance yes, snark and attack no) and demonstrate how the discussion you want can adhere to them by adhering to them yourself. Otherwise you'll have influence all right, but in the reverse direction.

I understand how strong these feelings can be and why. Torture is wrong. If we were to let that determine HN moderation, though, HN would soon become only about that and things like that, which would kill HN. We work to make sure that doesn't happen, but not because we don't care about more important matters.

Characterising this incident as "a routine community action" is concerning.

Can you name one other topic that had repeated flagging like this, while this many HN users expressed concern?

Is this really a "daily occurrence" here now? Allowing stories like this to remain flagged despite many users polite and passionate protest?

Of course it's routine, and you guys mostly showed your unfamiliarity with the site by acting like you uncovered some shocking new scandal in Hacker News users flagging the political news of the day off the front page.

You'd do better to familiarize yourselves with what HN is and how it works before jumping to confrontational conclusions, stimulating though that is. It's not as if any of this is secret.

I don't know why people flagged that link, but I'll tell you why I'm flagging this one: because you have to have flagging or crap takes over the site, and if you also allow protest posts from people upset about things that got flagged, then those take over the site.

I don't complain in Ask HN posts when stuff I upvoted is flagged off the frontpage. If you have a problem with moderation, email the moderators, like everyone else.

I don't have an issue with flagging dumb stories.

I have an issue with flagging active and important stories, hiding upvoted comments, silently de-ranking stories without any notification, etc.

Straw-man all you like, there's no justification for this.

By flagging this thread you are effectively suppressing a very important discussion about the tech community's roles and responsibilities in the social and political worlds. As I mentioned in another comment, this industry tends to eschew political awareness. Which is ironic, because that passivity enables some of the biggest issues that we in the tech industry oppose (surveillance, irresponsible data collection, etc). There is real, visible, connective tissue between politics and technology and while ignoring may be the most comfortable thing to do, it's also the most irresponsible.

Thank you for your support.

I also believe this is a terribly important topic to discuss, with special relevance for the HN community (not that I need to prove that, the number of comments speaks for itself).

I have emailed the mods, and will update with the reply I get (if I don't end up banned).

Do you know where to find their emails? I'd like to weigh in as well.

Our email address is all over the place but the best way to find it is via https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html, so you get a refresher on the site rules before you email us. Sometimes a question will answer itself along the way.

I think (but don't take my word for it) it's because it has nothing with tech/startups/whatever AND is related to politics/trump.

Back during the US election, HN became mostly news like this, and if I remember correctly it was decided it wasn't the purpose of HN to link to such news. It does not mean that these news are considered false, or not important, it does not mean censorship, it just means that HN is for a rather specific kind of stories.


This story from 3 months ago is as tech-related (Google changing their algorithm) as you can get. It wasn't visibly flagged, but was almost certainly de-ranked, and it wasn't just me who commented about it.

Even if you can buy the excuse that this isn't related to tech or start-ups, and ignore the very active commenting on it, you're still left with the utter refusal to allow any transparency about what is flagged and de-ranked. Why shouldn't we demand better?

In a word, yes.

Many of us (including me) find this matter interesting, but HN is designed to allow a tiny minority to flag content. Whether that's wise or not is another topic. It's always been HN's design.

You can't do much about other commenters, even if they are professional trolls paid by the post. Nonetheless, political matters (which this arguably is) are considered by many to be off-topic. That's why you're getting squelched.

There were plenty of active commenters, most of them considering this a very serious issue.

And no one has been able to offer any explanation why my comment is permanently collapsed even when opened on a different browser, despite no obvious flag and a healthy amount of positive votes.

Finally, as I've said elsewhere here, there appears to be evidence of "silent de-ranking" where stories like the one about Google's censorship are not flagged in any way but won't show up on the front pages.

As a community HN deserves better, by far. Normalising this behaviour will lead to dark and bad places.

I go to HN to read tech related things, not more political drivel. I'm glad it got removed.

The prospect of a torture technician being appointed to one of the top positions in the intelligence community is "political drivel"?

Jesus christ...

To call this drivel is specious. It's not a political cartoon, it's about illegal torture methods. The tech industry, with its tremendous growth and influence, has a responsibility to pay attention to these things.

What other things do we, as an industry, have a responsibility to pay attention to? Environment? Health and sanitation in developing countries? The civil war in Syria? HIV? There are a variety of areas where tech could play an important role in changing the lives of (b|m)illions of people. How do you draw the line? What makes torture (which I would argue is completely unethical but directly affects few people) more important than hunger (which isn't an ethical issue but which clearly affects millions)?

It says a lot about what America has become that torturing people illegally and then destroying the evidence to cover your ass can be written off as just political issues.

Oh look it's happening again. The people who think this article might not be "drivel" are being grayed within minutes.

And by the way, this censorship happens on tech stories too. This article from three months ago wasn't even flagged, just didn't show up until page 3 or 4 despite being new and having tons of comments - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15745363.

> 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.

From the guidelines. (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html)

I often find this response in threads like this, and often see it as both a cop-out, and unfortunately "cherry-pick-able" as a guideline.

Spectre/Meltdown showed up on the news. Does that mean it's not relevant? Same goes for the Broadcomm purchase blocking. Same goes for whatever statement Elon Musk made this week, or the current SF housing policy. (I chose examples intentionally in "Decreasing-tech-relevancy" order, and could probably go even further and still be picking recurrently front-paging-topics.)

I would also argue that openly placing someone with such a history in charge of an agency we're all under the purview of, one with already such iffy history, is both interesting and new, and to echo my post from the thread in question, the prevalence of corporate governing boards to take members with iffy track records on these subjects to my eyes links the relevance directly with our purview as tech entrepreneurs. (see: Uber Board) I do not believe we (members of the tech community) can abscond the responsibility of involvement that our position affords us.

The "hide" button exists as well, and I've become somewhat saddened by the extent to which HN seems to lean on "flag" for topics which, in an interconnected world, I consider very worth discussing in a tech context. I have a fundamental mental dissonance with the pattern this enables, that "I don't want to see this topic discussed" turns into "I don't want others to see/discuss this topic." HN (and the startup/tech community as a whole) is not a monolith, and if the mechanisms of voting try to structure it that way, I see that as highly unfortunate.

(I don't mean to "complain about points" but it's rather absurd to look at the wild swings from +8 to -8 and back again for any of my posts on this topic. It speaks to me that there are at least two "factions" with very polarizing opinions on this, and the context has turned less from discussion into silencing vs vouching. I certainly don't remember seeing these patterns as strongly 5+ years ago.)

> Spectre/Meltdown showed up on the news.

well it didn't at the beginning. hn readers at least had one or two days in advance.

IMO HN should stick to tech. And even if there is an argument over between Python or GO, I am fine with it.

Politics shouldn't be discussed at all.

It has been understood that thing don't go as smooth as in a community like these. I personally think that the story about Trump and Broadcom or endless parade of bitcoin at $x price shouldn't be voted up at all. But, somehow people feel value in those. I tend to skip those stories.

The CIA employ what percentage of the tech community again? Maybe this shouldn't be considered an entirely political story, given the ramifications it has for all of us.

I am sorry but no one is stopping you from discussing the ramifications on other platforms like Reddit etc, or messaging like whatsapp or on phone with friends or family. What you are currently asking is HN to enforce you viewpoint on what should be discussed.

> My comment on it is permanently compressed (even when the thread is opened in an entirely different browser) and has been stuck on 11 points.

You pointed an inconvenient fact about Obama and a lot of people are not going to like that. They could discuss it or flag and run away quickly. Flag and run away is too easy, so that's what ends up happening.

One time I criticized the obsession with Russians. A user went and start digging through my comments to determine that I speak Russian (which I do) and that meant proof I was a Russian shill, paid by Putin presumably to subvert Democracy right here on HN. Which is doubly creepy given that the Russian government deported and persecuted members of my family in the past.

Didn't we specifically tell that other user this was a bannable offense on HN? I vaguely remember this.

Remember the warning and thanks for keeping an eye on things. HN is a rare phenomenon these days compared to other sites. People including me, mostly complain, and not much said when things work well, but everything is working very well. As for banning, I don't necessary would want them banned, hopefully they can continue participating, sometimes people have bad days and such.

Yes, that's why we put it that way. "Bannable offense" is more "please don't do this so we don't have to ban you" than "we'll ban you".

Any topic mentioning negative aspects of the tech community related to race are also usually flag bombed to death. Mistreatment of women in the tech community still get flagged pretty regularly but they seem to be getting vouched for more regularly now.

Maybe it is off topic? But, on the other hand, this unflagged:


Seems pretty arbitrary to me. That's the internet, I guess.

... And everything flagged and downvoted for asking a question.

I understand what you mean, but political content is just not allowed.

Perhaps for the good ;)

Ps. I posted it

Update, 52 mins in:

This thread is not appearing anywhere on the front pages. With 31 points and 18 comments in less than hour.

What the Fuck?

You have to understand that HN is an artificial environment, specifically curated to dictate the behavior and thought processes of its users. It is a safe space for nerds who don't want to think about scary things like politics. If it causes heated "uncivil" conversation, it's off-limits here. Especially if the conversation is about civics.

I reject your condescending characterization of HN readership as "nerds who don't want to think about scary things like politics." I think about "scary" politics all the time, thank you, but I still don't want these discussions on HN.

HN is not Reddit. HN is not Twitter. HN is not Facebook. HN's readership is making it clear through the site's moderation tools that they, to some critical degree, do not want content such as this on HN. There are plenty of other forums for the politically-minded to be activists.

This type of behavior should have been expected from the day HN announced they weren't allowing political news on their site, just over a year ago.

It's pretty irresponsible: Primary news outlet for an industry that is already noticeably lacking in social and political responsibility decides to put up another set of blinders.

Low EQ Silicon Valley refuses to use its influence to affect political change in any meaningful way. Or even just political awareness. Ironic when you consider this political/social passiveness enables the same surveillance capitalism that this community is constantly complaining about.

"No politics" was an experiment that lasted less than a week. It was clearly labeled as an experiment at the time. I don't think that it's current HN policy.

Is the experiment really over when politically-adjacent threads are still getting flagbombed and removed? Just because it's not in the site guidelines doesn't mean it's not being actively enforced.

> Is the experiment really over when politically-adjacent threads are still getting flagbombed and removed?

Yes; that was happening before the experiment, too. Most general political news has been officially OT on HN long before the experiment, and remains so under the general guidelines. The experiment was effectively a ban on that small subset of political content that would otherwise be generally within the guidelines.

Yes, the experiment is really over. It lasted 3 days I think.

Some political threads get flagged and others don't. There was a thread about austerity and Nazis a couple days ago.

If you're looking for a blanket rule ("all politics" or "no politics"), we don't have those.

OK, but you talked about "the day HN announced". That's different from user behavior. (And I'm not sure user behavior changed all that much. People flagged political threads before the short-lived official ban, too.)

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