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The Lonely Work of Moderating Hacker News (newyorker.com)
1663 points by lordnacho 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 776 comments



I liked this article, though I think it missed the best part of Hacker News. To me, Hacker News can feel like walking through Dumbledore's office -- magical and mind-bending collections of incredible devices, ideas, and oddities.

Just yesterday someone posted a comment with links to UI design libraries that I've been subconsciously wishing for in my dreams (humaans, undraw.co), and I used it in a product demo. As a self-taught technologist, HN has exposed me to SICP, functional programming, and just yesterday someone posted a book about Data Structures and Algorithms that I started reading. Dang was quoted as describing HN as a "hall of mirrors" or "fractal tree."

The author's focus on the controversial political parts of HN seems to me like going to a music festival and commenting on the food trucks. Yes, it's part of the experience, but that's not why people go and not what makes it magical.

Communicating the beauty of unfamiliar technical topics to a lay reader is much harder than politics, but the New Yorker has done well at that elsewhere (I like the Sanjay and Jeff profile). Moderation is an interesting topic in its own right, though, especially in the age of the IRA and meme-warfare.


Since this comment gained traction, here are some better examples of what I meant by dumbledore's office:

A romp through approaches to generative adversarial networks described as if they are realms in a Tolkein world. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20251308

(This week's) complete guide to building a terminal text editor from scratch in C which gently holds your hand at each step: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14046446

Stumbling down the root domain of the above link leads you to the collected archive of _why_the_lucky_stiff, a hacker artist who created technical documentation as if it were a work of literature, animating and writing songs about ruby in a unique aesop meets kaftka meets neutral milk hotel style, and who then suddenly disappeared and deleted his whole internet persona, transmitting a 96-page oblique missive years later as individual PCL files. https://viewsourcecode.org/why/

Someone documents how using the 30+ year old, tiny awk language let him do what all the latest fad big data tools couldn't https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20293579

Several posts this past week from natashenka's Project Zero blog led me to her passion project of being the world's leading expert in hacking tamagutchis, which read as part instructional and part love letter to digital pets http://natashenka.ca/

Even though I'm ostensibly in the same industry as retail brokerages, I've never understood their business models as well as I did when I read this thread https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20276551

Not to keep going, but just to have a less lame example than a couple introductory textbooks -- I didn't mean to imply HN as a surrogate class syllabus


I think that the Dumbledore's Office analogy is perfect for my use of HN. Frankly, it is the ONLY reason I use HN as I find the discourse (mostly) elitist and exclusive (tiringly).

Agreed on the fractal tree. My favorite part is clicking on the comments of an article whose subject I have some experience in, and finding new areas of it I didn't know about before. I can't count how many rabbit holes I've fallen down following links to downloads, videos, and code repositories.


In defense of the article, what you are talking about is a different story more "finding the Internet and programming" that isn't really unique to Hacker News. It can surely be used that way, and people likely do, but you can also find those things by searching for "top programming books" (or hanging around twitter, quora, medium or other sites). They did sort of talk about that with the early motivations for Hacker News. And you could absolutely go to a music festival and write about the food trucks, the people and the atmosphere that if that is what unique about that festival. I think they did a good job in that regard. People don't obsessively read Hacker News to help newcomers, they do so because it is all in all a technical tabloid.


I don't see HN as an intro course to programming, but more of like that older kid on the block who you notice is listening to bob dylan, and then you try again, you start to get past that nasally voice, really listening to the lyrics this time, and now you're turned on to a whole world of good music.


Sure. I should clarify that I didn't mean "lmgtfy". There are five to ten books that covers things most programmers won't learn by practicing and therefor will uncover most of the mystery experienced by self-taught programmers. There is no need to listening really hard to the lyrics when you can learn how to play. You just need to go and read material that actually covers how to design programs, rather than are about "learning programming". And you will literally find those books about algorithms, design patterns, workflow, refactoring and whatever else by searching for "top programming books". Or in discussion on most platforms. I don't think it is as esoteric as you think.


And sometimes people think Bob Dylan is overrated, that's okay too.


I like this article as well.

But I think while it legitimately criticizes parts of the Hacker News and Silicon Valley culture of missing humanism and ethics (it quoted "they’re people who are convinced that they are too special for rules, [...] Society [...] is a logic puzzle where you just have to find the right set of loopholes to win the game. [...] Silicon Valley has an ethics problem, and ‘Hacker’ ‘News’ is where it’s easiest to see."), it also ignored the fact that Hacker News is not only a Silicon Valley backyard (although often is, but the matter of fact is:), it does attack unethical practices in technology as well, sometimes contrarian.

For example, just now, I saw a submission called "Western Academia Helps Build China’s Automated Racism", one comment says,

* There are almost no ethical uses for facial recognition. It is a technology for criminals.

* Is that racist? This algorithm seems to be specifically built to detect non-ethnic Chinese faces to further discrimination.

Also, yesterday's submission of "Can ads on a page read my password?", the top comment harshly criticized targeted ads:

* I really wish awareness of this reached a wider audience, third party advertising is a terrible blight on the web that has been allowed to grow and fester - it supplies no value and compromises both browser security and our peace of mind - being bombarded by these things constantly is training most of us to ignore a lot more and focus on short focused bursts of information...

If the article can add just a single example, it could make the story be more balanced, without affecting the overall theme and tone of the article.


This comment is a very measured critique of the article but one need not be so kind. I imagine you may not be doing it our of mere politeness, I get the sense some comments are bending over backwards as a means to not play into the perspective in this article. I won't be so kind: the author imputed every bias they have about a community they know nothing about and played on stereotypes from the beginning and didn't even shy away from saying it:

> Picturing the moderators responsible for steering conversation on Hacker News, I imagined a team of men who proudly self-identify as neoliberals and are active in the effective-altruism movement. (I assumed they’d be white men; it never occurred to me that women, or people of color, could be behind the site.) Meeting them, I feared, would be like participating in a live-action comment thread about the merits of Amazon Web Services or whether women should be referred to as “females.” “Debate us!” I imagined them saying, in unison, from their Aeron chairs.

Imagine wanting to write a piece about any group or any community and having such coarse ideas of who they are and what they believe before you interview them. Do journalists not care about things like biases, cognitive or otherwise and how they can color your opinion of the subject you write about? The sheer lack of self-awareness is part and parcel of the larger problem both people on the right and the left have with the news media in general.

I'm a leftist personally, I tire of the neoliberal bent towards this place too but I have some sense of context and at least try to be aware of how my own worldview can affect the way I understand others. It's always disheartening to read articles, even if they are opinion from authors that really don't even try, even a little--especially when organs like the media, just like tech companies, have a large amount of power and ability to shape public opinion. You have to be looking for toxic and overly reactionary opinions to find them; they do flare up but are generally downvoted/flagged, and given this experience I have, this article really serves as a great example of the Gell-Mann effect as others have pointed out.

Altogether, there are some interesting bits, I had no idea of the personal life stories around dang and sctb, but it was rather painful to wade through the constant recitals of tech bro stereotypes.


It is a pretty common way to setup these stories, to play into stereotypes to disarm the reader (basically acknowledging their fears) and open them up to something else. It just isn't written for this audience or from its perspective.


To be clear, I'm aware of the device your talking about. They did that for sure for dang and sctb's character to highlight how they in particular buck the stereotype but throughout the piece the author makes it clear their focus was essentially on the fringe of comments that occur on this site and how they fit into a larger narrative about silicon valley culture. I provided the quote because it is specific evidence the author approached the writing with this perspective towards the site, and should one be totally surprised it is the dominant narrative throughout?

This is not quite related to your reply, but I will say it's rather ironic that the author had this expectation of the mods in particular because in my mind they are often the ones rushing to defense of civility and often chide people making comments of the disposition that the author expected them to have. Of course, that might be because I use this site and see dang or sctb's replies to dead comments and they don't, but approaching subjects you intend to learn about in good faith instead of tired stereotypes would be best.


One thing that surprises me is that HN is in fact, full of humanities. The non-technical topics are just as rich and interesting as the purely technical ones. To paint the opposite as this article did makes me think that the world really just wants nerds to be exactly as their prejudices imagined.


The author is certainly bringing her own expectations about HN's common biases and attitudes into play, but some of those biases and attitudes are on slightly ironic display in this discussion, aren't they? For instance, there's a clear subtext -- sometimes open text -- of "this author knows nothing about the HN culture!", basically dismissing the opening where she mentions how she learned about Hacker News originally from her coworkers at the tech startup she'd moved to San Francisco to join. The bias of "I expected the moderators to be a couple of middle-aged white guys" doesn't come from her lack of knowledge of this industry and the HN crowd, it comes from her immersion in it. Also, the moderators are in fact a couple of middle-aged white guys.

It's true that HN readers are not the intended audience for this -- she's writing for the large set of people who have little to no idea what Hacker News is. But the story she's telling in the article is not "here's how cool HN is," nor is it "here's how terrible HN is." It's a story of how HN reflects the tech culture in Silicon Valley and beyond, how politics and our current culture war intersect with the tech sector whether or not we like it, how declaring a space to be non-political has become an implicitly political statement. And I think in that light, it's a pretty good article.

(And dang, I think getting a third moderator in who's non-white and/or non-male might not be a bad thing -- regardless of their level of balding.)


> I provided the quote because it is specific evidence the author approached the writing with this perspective towards the site, and should one be totally surprised it is the dominant narrative throughout?

At least partly that is about being topical for their audience. What I am trying to point out is that just because it is written from a different perspective or for a different audience doesn't mean that it is wrong. You and I might dislike things about Hacker News, but by being here we have accepted those things. But when they write about Hacker News, they don't have to fit into the Hacker News narrative like we do. They don't have to avoid calling out what they see as bad or find what we see as good.

That certain topics can't be discussed because they disappear from view is a defining characteristic of Hacker News. But on Hacker News it has always been justified by it not being moderation. "It was flagged by users" is the common explanation. But for someone coming from the outside, that isn't blinded by internal politics, it doesn't really matter as the result is the same. The same is true of other dogmas or faux pas. For their perspective to be damaging it has to go beyond valuing different things.

The other reason I have a bit of a hard time seeing it as judgemental is because they provided a lot of space for other perspectives (and even link to discussions). And those perspective seems consistent with the different positions. The article for example does not only address your perspective on the moderation, but conclude with it. They specifically and at length talk about the style of moderation and mention things like dead comments. You might even say it is the entire premise of the article.


> That certain topics can't be discussed because they disappear from view is a defining characteristic of Hacker News

What topics are those? When I hear claims like this, it usually turns out to be a topic that gets plenty of discussion on HN—just not as much as someone feels it should. It never feels like one's favorite topic gets discussed enough (see https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20scarce&sort=byDate&d... for why), but that's not "it can't be discussed".

> But on Hacker News it has always been justified by it not being moderation.

We answer questions about moderation all day. When asked what happened to a submission, we say what happened. If users flagged it we say users flagged it. If we moderated it we say we moderated it. How do you get from that to something sinister?

> "It was flagged by users" is the common explanation.

Yes, because it is the common reason.


I do not mind particularly if someone writes something from a different perspective, and I don't think I would have minded if that were so. The problem I have is that different perspective appears to be due to negativity bias, to be more explicit than my first comment. I say that because the bad bits (like sexist, racist comments) you point out are given more emphasis whereas in reality they are a fringe of the comments that occur and are, as I said, generally dead, meaning they aren't at all representative. That said, I don't know how their audience being different (New Yorker readers?) plays into that, you should seek to best inform your audience whoever they are, not potentially mislead them with a biased sample of a community.

Finally, I agree with your last sentences. sctb and dang are painted in the best possible light throughout apart from the paragraph of the author's expectations. I perhaps was much too mild with my praise at the end of my comment; I did find those parts important and interesting; I don't think I've ever heard of a moderator invoking actual philosophy in their methods of dealing with users. I still believe even if that was the conclusion of the article (the gallant mods fighting the hordes of tech bro sexists), the premise is still flawed because of what I've addressed above, the sexists, racists, etc are a minority contingent, just like there are in most of the popular forums on the internet.


In certain circles it's called racism and sexism.


> to play into stereotypes to disarm the reader

That's a nice way to put it. I'd have said it was a way of coloring the audiences' initial impression of the information with the journalist's own racist and sexist views.

Edit: And, I'd agree that it is a common practice in journalism these days.


Yes, it's an interesting article, but I was also disapointed that I'd never been emailed by Gackle and Bell. Then I remembered that I hadn't set an email address on my profile.


> he author's focus on the controversial political parts of HN seems to me like going to a music festival and commenting on the food trucks.

Excellent, lol. A very good way to describe it.


Don't suppose you saved a link to that comment?


Search works pretty well for this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20629871


Ah, darn, I was hoping for a whole bevy of cool links. Thanks! :)


HN is filled with Silicon valley nonsense, tropes, and hot garbage. But the things you describe are why I keep coming back. There's always something new to learn.


If I ever start another blog, would you mind if I titled it Nonsense, Tropes, and Hot Garbage?


I encourage it.


Honestly it is a bit weird how you seemingly jumped the thread to address my other comment. My point is still the same whether it is about programming or programming culture. This material is mostly produced elsewhere and present in all programming outlets. What makes HN different is to a large extent what they focus on in the article, including the mix of programming and mainstream news. Most other outlets don't allow this, especially not as liberally. It is easy to equate HN with programming culture, but I just don't think it is really how things are. Hacker News also has a specific different culture. Of course one might argue that allowing more popular content makes programming culture more accessible, and exposes more people to it. I just object to the slight dismissal of the article, because that is the topic at hand. But now below the fold.


It is technology + business, which is not well represented in other places.

Reddit/programming for instance is full of communists that just don't get it that somebody might be in it for the money (in part or in whole.)

LinkedIn is full of self-promoters self-promoting the idea of self-promotion and doesn't have much space for people who really care about tech.

slackfan 16 days ago [flagged]

Read Another Book.


This article does seem to get at the essence of HN, appreciative of dang and sctb's humanity while not ignoring the problems. Personally, I would actually consider it an excellent demonstration of the fallibility of one of HN's favourite tropes, Gell-Mann amnesia.

If there's one critique that I believe is paramount it's that HN has, due to its readership, an ethical obligation that goes beyond making discussions all nice and civil.

Political issues are obviously divisive and it's perfectly fine to keep stuff like the El Paso massacre of the front page. But when hot-button issues intersect with technology, the HN readership is in a position of power, and shouldn't routinely be spared the anguish of being reminded of their responsibility.

Yes, articles about, for example, discriminatory ML do often make it to the front page. But in my impression, that topic (as well as employment discrimination, culture-wars-adjacent scandals in tech academia etc) are far more likely to be quickly flagged into oblivion than similarly political takes that just happen to be in line with HN's prevailing attitude (e.g. cloudflare-shouldnt-ban-<x>).

The article impressively articulates what toll divisiveness takes on the moderators: Even if I read the same ugly comments, I am unlikely to experience the sharpness of emotion that apparently comes with considering the community one's baby, and making it's failures one's own. When such divisiveness is then reflected in the "real world" of mass media, the pressure only increases.

But as this article shows, abdicating the responsibility by keeping the topics sterile is similarly suspect, in the sense of fiddling while Rome burns. I believe a willingness to confront the ugly sides of technology with some courage of conviction would eventually be recognised, even if it may occasionally involve a bit of a mess.


The political discussions that make their way into HN are very US-centric and that excludes me and countless others who actively participate here. A lot of such discussions are not real enough to me - they are problems of a much more privileged world. If we were to have truly political discussions, we'll need to include all the other countries of the world, which none of us would want. There are other places where political conversations are dime a dozen, but no other place like HN for technology, and things that "gratify one's intellectual curiosity".


I was shaking my head in disagreement, until I read:

> If we were to have truly political discussions, we'll need to include all the other countries of the world, which none of us would want

That's a really, really good point, and I'll keep it in mind when political topics arise.


I do think it is an underappreciated point, but also arguably why politics should be part of discussions. Not having to talk politics is really something that is earned. It is when you have a solid enough foundation to your field or profession that you feel secure enough in to not have to address it. In computing or software, we don't really have that. So people run out of vocabulary rather quickly, ending up in arguments like nationalism or free speech because there often isn't an intermediate layer of something like regulation or duty that you can be discussed by everyone. That is ultimately more a factor of the "everything goes" attitude, because if "everything goes" everything is also relevant to the discussion.


Hear, hear. The job of HN is not to discuss every topic worth discussing. It is to discuss those topics (intelligently) which few (if any) other places on the internet have discussion of by an informed group.


That's like saying because we can't fix everything, we should fix nothing.

There's no need to include everything. HN is selective. It's in English. The reason it can't have posts about the responsibility of SV towards the tech and social impact they make is because that would pierce the veil of fake narrative that supports SVs continued unexamined influence.

The reality is the mods are not the tip of the spear. There are others mods above them who intervene to set policy and crush off plan posts. A truth this place can never acknowledge.


There are no mods above us and no one intervenes in that way.


... the HN readership is in a position of power, and shouldn't routinely be spared the anguish of being reminded of their responsibility.

What kind of power do you think we have? We can't even convince our friends and family to stay the fuck off of Facebook. Aside from the fact that some people from our industry have a shitton of money I don't see us having any kind of social influence.


I understood this to mean the power of appreciating the societal consequences of technology, and the responsibility of educating others about those consequences, both positive and negative.


That's not power, that's a curse!


Especially if nobody listens anyway.


Not much more than anyone else. The few people with power in the world are already known. The parent comment highlights the flaw of moral superiority common in the tech/HN crowd where people tend to feel far more important than they are.

In actuality we're no different than the billions of others on the planet and no amount of Silicon Valley startup experience is going to change that.


People like us, we are the trendsetters online. It won't be quick, but Facebook has signed its own death warrant.


Because we are busy building Facebook. Or some other similar facet of online life.


> What kind of power do you think we have?

Not having power, or having less power than before, makes the discourse even more important.

> We can't even convince our friends and family to stay the fuck off of Facebook.

The idea that people should stay off Facebook is part of that narrative. That is how the industry can claim that they are changing the world, but at the same time aren't to answer for any of the changes.

> Aside from the fact that some people from our industry have a shitton of money I don't see us having any kind of social influence.

Social influence isn't so much what is said and done in isolation, but what is and isn't accepted. Things like what you see as a problem, why it is a problem and how it should be addressed influences what happens next.


> HN's prevailing attitude (e.g. cloudflare-shouldnt-ban-<x>).

Funny, I thought HN's prevailing attitude in the case of the recent ban of 8chan was, hell yeah, good riddance to those reprehensible twats. (Which, personally, annoyed me, because I believe that even the deplored should have a space for communication.)


Could you clarify why you thought this? What evidence do you have that supports this? The big thread shows that the top comment agrees that 8chan should be left alone. [0] and the comment chain shows that there seems to be something like a significant minority against 8chan, but it doesn’t appear to be a prevailing majority.

0. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20610395


It’s a persistent Misreading of Internet forums as a mode of discourse, both in how people consume them and how people participate in them, that we tend to regard their discussion threads as a mechanism for determining group consensus on a topic. Cloudflare is dropping 8chan? Let’s get together and decide whether we collectively think that is a good thing or a bad thing. Once we’ve established that fact, we can move on and refer back to that decision in future discussions, like a mathematical lemma.

If you instead think of a forum thread as an airing of opinions - a chance to find out what is the range of perspectives on the topic that exist in the community, and be exposed to nuances you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, the exercise takes on a different tone. People who came to that thread thinking that it’s obviously a good thing are exposed to arguments that disagree, and vice versa; maybe some people are persuaded to shift their viewpoint, or maybe not, but everybody learns that a topic that they might have assumed was uncontroversial is actually one on which reasonable people might disagree.

It can be jarring for the nerd-inclined to accept that just because they have arrived at their opinions through, obviously, clear rational analysis of facts, that does not mean that everybody else, when presented with the same facts, will necessarily reach the same opinion. The illusion that you can read an HN thread and say ‘well, the pro arguments seemed more coherent and got more upvotes than the anti ones, so presumably the community consensus is pro’ ignores the fact that the anti arguments were also made by members of the HN community, and we’re not bound by collective decision making. You are allowed to read the thread and adjust your own priors and come to your own conclusions, having hopefully been exposed to some perspectives you might otherwise have missed.


Yes, I agree with what you're saying. But I'm asking why the person posting believes that the HN community overwhelmingly believes X and their evidence for that. I presume they do have evidence and conclusions and I'd like to know about it.


I think that people tend to perceive HN as overwhelmingly believing whatever the opposite of their opinion is any time there is a significant debate on something. Unless there is overwhelming support for our own position, we feel that we are in a hostile environment.


It's interesting how one or two dissenting views amongst a majority neutral or even supportive results in "This place is <insert bias> now!" I wonder why absolute agreement is required for some people to not feel attacked or marginalized.



Part of helping to work against this is to challenge and ask for genuine evidence with an open heart. I don't want to assume that that is what the poster is believing, but it also clashes with my understanding of reality.


I'll have a go at addressing this...

My assessment of that thread is the same as it always is when a thread gets a huge number of comments: sentiment fits a roughly normal distribution, with the mean position being something approximating "this is a really difficult question and either course of action has significant risks and pitfalls", and every step away from the mean point of view placing increasing importance on one particular aspect and decreasing importance on the other aspects.

If that weren't the case, there wouldn't be a huge number of comments, as we would quickly find consensus and move on to the next topic.

If you look at the top three root comments on this thread:

- The first one [1] points out that different standards are applied between 8chan vs Facebook/Twitter/etc, and disagrees with Cloudlfare's decision on free speech grounds. But then many people disagree and debate this position.

- The second one [2] asks a neutral question about Cloudflare's exposure to legal liability for content on its platform if it is making decisions about what content is allowable or not. Then people discuss that question.

- The third one [3] acknowledges the complexity of the topic, devoting each of the first two paragraphs to what the writer considers to be almost-equally meritorious but opposing points of view, then concludes that on balance the Cloudflare decision is right. But then many people disagree and debate that position.

To properly answer your challenge, one would have to examine all 1400+ comments and classify them by their level of support for/against the Cloudflare decision, which is somewhere between impractical and impossible.

But from my scanning through the comments, I don't see any "prevailing" or "overwhelming" position emerge, and I see many of the commenters wrestling with the inherently vexed nature of the issue.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20610548

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20610552

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20610453


Sorry, I’m not challenging that requires a thorough breakdown. The challenge is the low bar of whether or not a topic has an overwhelming majority of opinion. Which you agree the evidence doesn’t support on a fairly casual glance and analysis of top voted comments and their responses.


To be clear, my contention is that we should expect there to be no overwhelming or prevailing opinion, and that a quick look at the top-voted root comments and their subthreads seems to support this expectation.

For what it's worth, I think we're taking this discussion a bit too seriously, as the person you were initially replying to was being at least a little humorous and self-deprecating.

The parent comment they replied to made an assertion of the form HN's prevailing view on blah is X, and they replied to the effect of that's funny, my perception was that the prevailing view was opposite-of-X, which is a neat example of the hostile-media effect, and I think the commenter was aware of that.

It's interesting though, that it was the counter-point that you saw the need to challenge, not the original assertion :)

Do you assert that the prevailing or overwhelming opinion was in favour of one particular position? Can you provide evidence for that?

I'm very conscious that we could go around in circles on this :)


> Do you assert that the prevailing or overwhelming opinion was in favour of one particular position? Can you provide evidence for that?

I think like he's arguing exactly the opposite, as he's implied multiple times:

> The challenge is the low bar of whether or not a topic has an overwhelming majority of opinion.

> But I'm asking why the person posting believes that the HN community overwhelmingly believes X and their evidence for that.


If they are of the view that there was no clearly prevailing position on that topic, then we're in consensus and we're all done with the discussion :)

>> But I'm asking why the person posting believes that the HN community overwhelmingly believes X and their evidence for that.

My read on it is that the person wasn't making an assertion of fact on this, they were making a wry observation that their perception of a prevailing view was the opposite of their parent commenter's perception of a prevailing view, thus demonstrating the hostile media effect in action.


Is it reasonable to say that it is a hostile environment? I don't it takes too many vocally hostile people to create an environment that is hostile.


Perhaps the most insightful comment I have read here in weeks.


The current top comment. IIRC it was fluctuating wildly while it was on the front page. After it's gone, comments can get reshuffled, because some people might keep replying/reading/up&downvoting (arguably those with more of a "vested interest" - likely those that disagree with the original article)


The ordering is also not just by score. Newer comments get some time at the top as well and then decay to what I assume is their scored position.


Doesn't that provide more evidence that it is not the prevailing majority, then?


Also, does it suggest that the most engaged HN readers (who come early to topic discussions) have a starkly different opinion to late comers?


I'd approach it from a different point of view (Cloudflare can choose with whom it does business), but still got the same general idea. Interestingly enough, some of the highest-voted posts aren't always the "prevailing opinion" - some times. Lots of comments get ranked highly because others recognize they are cogent and support them. They may disagree, and so comment, but might still vote in favor if the argument is well-reasoned. I do this personally, when I can.


Hacker News doesn't simply arrange comments by the number of upvotes they receive, it also considers the karma of the commenters and the freshness of the comments. Also, when submissions aged and comments settled, the current top comment would always get a lot of upvotes due to its position, and lock them "in place" by the strong positive feedback.

So I doubt if reading the top comments is a very objective method for evaluating controversial discussion (it has a strong correlation, but maybe not the best). Often, I see very heated discussion and competing comments moving up and down until nobody is interested in spending more energy in the debate.

P.S: Invasive profiling and tracking can be a very effective (and possibly, the only) method to uncover insights on the dynamics of online forums like Hacker News. If we track users' every move, it could make great contribution to sociology and psychology researches, and may even help answering unsolved questions in order to building a better community for everyone. Unfortunately, it's too dangerous and unethical to use, I won't support it, but I'm always curious to know the results.


> it also considers the karma of the commenters

Karma doesn't affect ranking on HN. This comes up often enough that I wonder where the idea came from. Do other forums work this way?


Thanks for the official statement ;-)

Interestingly, I originally believed HN is pure-upvote based, then I learned it from other HN comments that says karma affects ranking and I believed it.

So I'd say it's just an unsubstantiated rumor/misinformation getting circulated in the comment section from time to time, combined with the impression of HN having a "magic algorithm", so many believed it without any fact-checking. Also, the quick-moving nature of HN comments somehow created a confirmation bias that makes the idea appeared to be true.


I would have believed you, since I feel often the same names are highly upvoted. Though this can have natural causes. Like them writing better comments. Or just popularity based on name recognition. Such feedback loops naturally existing without being explicitly implemented by HN sounds highly plausible.


/.


Slashdot karma affects ranking? Good to know.


Is looking at what the top comment says a good way of gauging consensus? I read that thread and walked away with the impression that the majority view was that "deplatforming" 8chan was mostly OK. This because most of the on-topic comments seemed to hold that viewpoint.


> Could you clarify why you thought this?

I learnt of the news about 8chan from this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20616055 — which was on the HN’s first page before it was replaced by the slightly longer thread you linked to. The top comment in that thread is decidedly against the chans.

There’s also been a lot of mentioning of Popper and his paradox of intolerance in these threads. A post [1] in the thread you referred to (it also was among the top ones when that thread appeared on the front page), for example, began by saying that "Popper taught us that we can't be tolerant towards intolerants" ("taught us" implying that this statement has grown to become general wisdom).

If HN’s prevailing sentiment has since turned in favor of 8chan, I am very happy to hear that.

1 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20611816


Top comment in this big thread argues the opposite: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20616055


You'll probably find with some digging that the "prevailing" attitude depends on time of day, changes completely from similar submissions from one day to the next, and might start out one way in a story only to wildly shift after a certain amount of time or comments.

This is likely for any of the following (non-exhaustive) reasons:

-Different prevailing opinions of people in different parts of the country/world combines with common participation times.

-How likely the title is to attract a specific ideology (or both).

-How long or dense the article is combined with when it hits the front page, as it may get passed around some subgroups informally prior to that point.

-The lag time between early comments and quick agreements and the group of comments that come later in response to those comments with deeper thinking of the topic and/or substantive facts or anecdotes that crystalize opinions on the subject.

Just think, how many times have you read comments about how "all the comments here seem negative, but..." only to count only 3-4 negative comments out of almost a hundred by the time you're reading them? That's because the nature of the discussion changed over time or as people decided it was worth posting that positive comment they hadn't thought worthwhile. It's fairly common.


2019 is the year when reality caught up with the Internet in a way that it hasn't since before social media. Internet culture was never really about unequivocally accepting things, but about thinking for yourself. The need to rationalize the Internet only happened once the Internet started to mean money. Which resulted in many holding opinions that are more the idea of an idea, rather than the idea itself. That will usually mean, at least perceived, "flip-flopping" once something is challenged. And that is to some extent what is happening now.


I've seen both opinions, and many more nuanced variants thereof, argued in a well-reasoned, persuasive manner here on HN.

Adding my voice to the "good riddance" side of the aisle: thanks to what freedom of speech, association, etc. actually mean in the legal / constitutional context, said twats are guaranteed a space for communication - the real world! They can stand on a corner or picket their local City Hall and spout all the hateful nonsense they want.

(They can't, however, verbally assault bus drivers / police officers, or yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, or directly incite violence, or disturb the peace at all hours of the night, or needlessly interrupt judicial / civil proceedings, or...point being: even in the US, the exercise of free speech comes with limits and responsibilities.)

Like publicans of yore banning rowdy drunks from the premises (which itself came with political / legal overtones; see https://www.amazon.ca/America-Walks-into-Bar-Speakeasies/dp/...), many owners of online spaces are deciding - as is well within their rights as owners of a private space - to ban users and groups who disproportionately degrade the experience for all others.

(This is my general surface-level opinion, without getting into discussions like https://gimletmedia.com/shows/reply-all/rnhzlo around the amplification of extreme voices by short-sighted metrics optimization, or debates on whether providing space for hateful voices effectively denies free speech to the targets of their hate, or explorations of the tradeoffs different open, democratic societies have made around hate speech.)


Private entities can put restrictions on their private space, but doing so implies that they no longer provide the same freedom of speech guaranteed to citizens on public spaces, so they are indeed restricting the freedom of speech.


...and now we've touched on a fundamental philosophical question: is freedom of speech a natural right or a legal right?

There's also potentially an assumption here that free speech is overall reduced through restrictions on it. As a thought experiment: suppose that, within a society of _n_ people, some small _k_ of them are "louditarians": they believe that part of the right to free speech is the inalienable right to speak as "loudly" as possible (for whatever value of "loud" matters over various media) so that no one else can effectively speak. This raises a few difficult questions:

1) To what degree the free speech rights of louditarians and non-louditarians mutually exclusive? 2) If you were a non-louditarian in this society, what would you do? 3) If you had control over this society, would you let the louditarians speak? Would you limit their speaking rights?

My general position here:

1) Almost entirely: when louditarians speak, they prevent the effective exercise of free speech rights by non-louditarians; non-louditarians can only meaningfully have free speech if louditarians are carefully managed. 2) As a non-louditarian, I'd advocate for limits on louditarianism (as best I'm able; this may first require the creation of non-louditarian-only spaces where I can be heard). In the absence of those limits, I'd probably feel like I was being effectively silenced by louditarians. 3) This is the difficult one, and I lean towards "yes - reluctantly, warily, and with limitations". Some examples: maybe louditarians can only speak at certain times (see: nighttime "disturbing the peace"). Maybe the practice of louditarianism is banned from certain spaces, like offices and legislative chambers (see: contempt of court, noise bylaws). My reasoning is utilitarian: I'd rather _n - k_ non-louditarians be able to speak, even if that means curtailing the rights of _k_ louditarians.

In other words: I strongly believe that, by imposing limitations on louditarians, I'm increasing the overall freedom of speech in this hypothetical society. (Not to mention the quality of life, mental health, and vitality of public discourse.)

My secondary reasoning is that louditarians seem to think that speech is a right without responsibilities - in effect, they believe that their right to free speech is more important than that of non-louditarians. IMHO, this violates the social contract of functioning modern societies, and for what? So an obnoxious fringe group can be really, really loud?


Yes may be for vocal speech, but for platforms build around written forms of speech like most online forums, how does that analogy hold since then the right of one to say a thing does not restrict another body's right to say a different thing at the same time.

Generally freedom of speech issues arise largely for written word, than the spoken word.


This metaphor might be saved if you consider amount of (limited) public attention to be analogy to amplitude of sound. You can softly type in your niche forum all you want, but nobody will hear you if there is somebody else screaming into the twitter megaphone nearby.


But readers have a real choice and freedom on what to read, in that situation, what benefit does restrictions on writers bring?


Ah - the goal is not necessarily the choice / freedom of readers, but that of other writers who might be drowned out, intimidated, or otherwise coerced into silence.

When this happens across a large and popular enough cross-section of media, though, it could easily start to have a noticeable effect on readers.


Pardon me for stating a related opinion here - I tend to like to let my thoughts on these things churn around for a few days before expressing opinions rather than scream immediately about the obvious side.

Something that bothers me about this whole trend of "deplatform everyone whose opinion I don't like" - once some person or group is near-universally deplatformed, they become sort of a boogeyman. You can attribute any position you want to them, and they have no way to confirm or deny that they believe that. You can accuse anybody of secretly agreeing with them or being one of them, and there's no good way to refute it. You can claim that they're secretly everywhere and all-present, and there's no data to confirm or deny that. It feels kind of like a 1984 2-minutes-hate thing where you're expected to scream outrage at something that you can't prove even exists in a meaningful way.

If we expand this thought, we get that even the most outrageously extreme opinions should be allowed to exist and operate openly. If only so that there is a real source that anybody can go to in order to see what they really do and do not believe, in their own words. So they can have an authoritative way to be for or against a person or thing or policy. So anybody can create a estimate of how big and influential they really are, based on objective data.

Going further, certain people in power like to have a voiceless boogeyman that they can use to scare everybody with. What better way to get everyone running around in fear, and getting them to get off of their butts and pull that voting lever for your side, or else those scary boogeymen might get them?

Note that this could apply equally well to a number of different things that have been treated this way over the years, including communism, nazi-ism, Islamic terrorism, white supremacy, etc.

Do I seriously believe this and want to go with it? I'm not completely sure right now. I'd like to let it churn around some more and see if anything else comes out.


>(...) once some person or group is near-universally deplatformed, they become sort of a boogeyman. You can attribute any position you want to them, and they have no way to confirm or deny that they believe that.

Except that hasn't happened, and doesn't happen. No person or group which has been deplatformed is incapable of communicating publicly, and most, if not all, have simply moved to the dark web.

>You can claim that they're secretly everywhere and all-present, and there's no data to confirm or deny that.

Plenty of data exists. Deplatforming doesn't remove all data about a person or group from the entire web in perpetuity, that's not how the web works. Remember "once it's on the web, it's there forever?"

Hell, 8chan is already back online.

> It feels kind of like a 1984 2-minutes-hate thing where you're expected to scream outrage at something that you can't prove even exists in a meaningful way.

You're ascribing an all-consuming and existential power to deplatforming that it doesn't have.

>What better way to get everyone running around in fear, and getting them to get off of their butts and pull that voting lever for your side, or else those scary boogeymen might get them?

But isn't this argument trying to get everyone running around in fear of platforms that remove extremist content, or else the slippery slope of censorship will eventually get them? Why is it that we're not supposed to fear the unchecked spread of hate speech or the ability of extremist groups to organize online, but we're only supposed to fear anyone who wants to stand in their way?

Consider the ulterior motive when the false dichotomy we're presented with in these discussions is always "let the nazis say whatever they like, on all platforms, without restriction, in perpetuity throughout the universe, or else suffer the boot of Orwellian fascism stomping on your heads forever."


> Hell, 8chan is already back online.

Where do you see this? I checked their Twitter and normal URL, and they sure seem to be currently down, and no indication that they've been up since the last set of deplatformings.

Regarding the rest of your post, I get the feeling that you're being intentionally obtuse in order to avoid the point. No thanks on debating with that.


There was an HN post only yesterday about the community moving to the dark web[0,1]. Being "back online" doesn't necessarily mean returning to the same URL and host.

[0]https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20656342

[1]https://www.thedailybeast.com/8chan-users-migrating-to-zeron...

>Regarding the rest of your post, I get the feeling that you're being intentionally obtuse in order to avoid the point.

And I get the feeling you were being intentionally hyperbolic in order to make a weak and poorly supported point seem stronger than it was, by appealing to fear and cynicism rather than data.

You're probably right that further discussion wouldn't be productive, though.


That wasn't my attitude at all, it was that it was mixed for the most part. You had to just scroll down a bit, which I do admit takes time and a while.

People are subject to various sampling biases, recentism, and other such biases and give can give them a non-representative sample of any forum. I will admit that HN has become more political since 2013 or 2014 when I joined, but still, compared to any other subreddit or forum it is still mostly better.


>Funny, I thought HN's prevailing attitude in the case of the recent ban of 8chan was, hell yeah, good riddance to those reprehensible twats.

Those threads wouldn't have passed the thousand comment mark if HN had anything close to a prevailing attitude on the matter. As with many contentious issues, people tend to believe HN is unilaterally biased against them, sometimes to the point of that bias being enforced by the moderators.

>Which, personally, annoyed me, because I believe that even the deplored should have a space for communication.

8Chan and its contingent of neo-nazis were free to communicate as they wished until the site started to become a cultural nexus for racially motivated mass shootings in the US. I don't think deplatforming them was unwarranted. They have the right to their views, but not the right to force any establishment to host those views, even when people start dying over them.

Also, there are still plenty of places on the internet for such people to congregate and communicate. They can start a private Discord server and post manifestos from the race war there if they want.


Yes, and the reality is also that, if you run a company, you sometimes have to do what you have to do. If popular opinion turns on some policy or employee, you may have to make a tough decision whether or not it's something that you would necessarily do in the absence of potential business consequences.

It's easy to second-guess or criticize such actions from the outside, but sometimes you just have to be pragmatic.


Shouldn't they do a bit of research instead? Like, research whether the people attacking your company/employee/policy are actually customers who'd have an impact on your business if you ignored them? The problem with a lot of social media controversies is that no one actually asks whether the people complaining are actually representative of either the majority of the population or the userbase for the affected service or company. In a lot of cases, I suspect if they did ask that, they'd realise that a few people getting annoyed online can be safely ignored and that doing so may earn you more not less business. Or not change a thing.


Why do you think this? Almost every top comment was critical of cloudflare's response for a variety of reasons.


"whiteopinions", really?


What are you inquisitive about?


For starters, why did you choose this username? From your comments it seems like you've been here for a while. Why a new account?


Because I like the username. What's wrong with it?

>Why a new account?

Because I wanted the username.


> What's wrong with it?

Well, it's certainly going to cause many people to discount your opinion because they presume you have an racist agenda. It looks like a username consciously chosen to create offense while being plausibly deniable. Please be cautious of causing harm to a community for sake of social commentary. Needlessly creating offense is a negative, but maybe you can figure out how to use the dissonance to turn it into a net positive.


[flagged]


I chose it because it was first initial - last name, although I did have a tall German speaking friend who would always say "Nicht lang, aber ganz kurz" every time he'd see me. It took me a while to figure out what he meant. So depending on what you are into, maybe.


A good test to see if a topic make sense to discuss on HN is if people are willing to calmly discuss the merits of it.

The author says they are interested in the humanities and like to see articles focus on structural barriers faced by women in the workplace. I doubt however they want to see article discussing the merits of the topic, i.e. if women does face barriers in the work place. The result is that anyone who does not share the same perspective is not welcome in the discussion and the environment from that confrontation produce the opposite of thoughtful and substantive discussion.

Political discussion does not need to end like that and many topics which does not have the above property do pop up in HN.


That might have few false-positives (being wrong when we say "this is good for HN"), but the false negatives would be huge. There's plenty on topic that still devolves into flame wars. Off the top of my head, these seem clearly on topic but discussion devolves: Vim vs Emacs. Javascript vs anything. Static vs dynamic types. Apple's keyboards. OpenAI.


I don't think Hacker News is diverse enough for most political conversations to be useful. There's biases just because we're heavily skewed towards engineers, but there's subtler problems too. For example, how everything gets filtered through the Californian perspective.

Hacker News cannot solve all the world's problems. Not even all the problems related to technology. It's ok to focus on the things we can do effectively. HN isn't the only forum to discuss important issues.


> how everything gets filtered through the Californian perspective.

I can't say I know what that is, but are you sure about this? The HN community is overwhelmingly not in California, and comments about California seem to me to skew to the critical and negative.


I'm not sure, but I would eat my hat if it's not the single largest voting block. The influence is not about praise or criticism, but what is easily understandable or what resonates with lived experience.

There's a lot of different people on HN. I don't mean to say we're all the same. It's just that voting is a low-pass filter.


I was going to say it's for sure not the single largest voting block (but don't eat your hat! that can't be good for you). But I suppose it depends on how you define "block".


Inverting the question, do you think it would be possible to do accurate geographic clustering based solely on HN voting patterns (ignoring time of vote)? I'm doubtful. I think the problem with calling California the "single largest voting block" is that it's so far from homogenous. While California probably has a slightly different ratio of clusters than other states/countries, I suspect the clusters themselves are essentially non-geographic. It would likely be the biggest fiasco in the history of HN, but it would be wonderful to see what patterns could be pulled out of the private voting data if you were to make it available to researchers.


Totally agree, my only wish is the mods would 100% stop editing the original link titles. They should respect the original authors title for starters, and the new title isn’t always better. Whether or not the title is click bait-y, well leave they to the community to decide (aka if the article has merit etc)

It’s also confusing if you've already clicked on it and checked it out - suddenly there is another similar interesting story - oh wait nope it’s the one I already checked out.


>...while not ignoring the problems

I find this the crux of the issue at large, there is no such thing as "no problems".

Therefore, what was the point of this criticism in the first place? (in the article, not your comment)

It seems to me, the author didn't like that HN actually allows open discussion and respectful (mostly) sharing of opposing views.


> Personally, I would actually consider it an excellent demonstration of the fallibility of one of HN's favourite tropes, Gell-Mann amnesia.

Indeed, I will happily fan-boy for the New Yorker here, they usually succeed in capturing the nuances of topics I happen to be familiar with. Gell-Mann seems more applicable to mass market news outlets; whereas NYer writers will often spend months -> years researching a subject.


> But as this article shows, abdicating the responsibility by keeping the topics sterile is similarly suspect, in the sense of fiddling while Rome burns. I believe a willingness to confront the ugly sides of technology with some courage of conviction would eventually be recognised, even if it may occasionally involve a bit of a mess.

Absolutely true. The failure of mods (and even pg?) to recognize this is the single disheartening and cynical thing about HN.

PG gets it half right in his advice to "keep your identity small" when he observes that people cannot argue rationally about something that touches on their identity.

But the other half (which PG and the mods get spectacularly wrong) is that what we think of as "political" beliefs, characterized by groupthink and lack of scrutiny/falsifiability, are typically held about every topic other than an individual's area of expertise.

A mature HN reader skilled in technology, is least likely to undergo an emotional/identity-driven flight of fancy about political issues pertaining to technology. An immature HN reader will either be naively apolitical ("Oh, I just build AI tech, it isn't my concern that it's being used to round up refugees for execution") or will turn off the technical insight in favor of loyalty to some political group (repeating talking points, etc.)

Of any community I've been a part of, HN offers the best hope for grounded, rational discussion of important political topics surrounding technology.

Just as someone who stands by and does not try to stop a lynching is guilty of doing nothing, the HN mods ban on politics and punishment of those who try to discuss political topics are in fact making a very strong statement of their political preference, which is that controversial or troubling aspects/implications of technology or tech firms simply be ignored.

With the advent of Palantir (which has had lots of stage time at Startup School), defense technology became cool. Google under Schmidt became a major lobbying force and defense contractor. Facebook is not far behind, etc. HN mods are constantly surrounded by stories of "successful" firms in the defense contractor space, and just as it is viewed as cynical to be dismissive of the worth of "another startup doing social picture sharing", it is similarly viewed as cynical to question the good citizenship and motives of a firm in the defense/surveillance space.

HN (and HN mods) are a product of the surrounding culture. As a share of GDP, surveillance and defense spending has never been higher during peacetime. In other words, it's a bull market and HN is ultimately a beneficiary of the growth of surveillance and defense tech. Hence its interests are overwhelmingly right wing when it comes to suppressing criticism and threats of that tech.

There are other politically relevant areas for discussion besides the ones I've focused on in this comment. I chose them simply because I think they are top of mind for a lot of people even though the difficult philosophical and political issues relating to them are under active suppression by HN mods.


Nobody's "keeping the topics sterile". Threads about "the ugly sides of technology" are common on Hacker News. Of the topics you mention, surveillance is frequently and massively discussed; as for Palantir, https://hn.algolia.com/?sort=byDate&dateRange=all&type=story....

You may feel it's not enough, but nothing is ever enough: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20scarce&sort=byDate&d....


"More is never enough." Mae West


You have focused on the stories being allowed on HN. My issue is with the aggressive throttling and shadow banning of users who post polite comments in support of unpopular* views (rather than just letting the upvote/downvote system do its job).

I'm sure being a mod on HN is difficult, but by punishing users with throttling without explanation is not only rude, it creates the wrong incentive, turning HN into a game of avoiding the throttle bully rather than just participating in discussions with an open heart and mind.

Please add features to make moderation decisions more transparent to the victim and also to the rest of the HN community, so that we can all have more trust in what is going on.

* by unpopular I do not mean abhorrent, racist, or other such content, I mean views that do not fit into the normal left vs right political spectrum or which may require more than one comment to articulate to someone who lacks the required background.


Oh, I didn't realize (and if you said it, sorry I missed it) that you were talking about comments rather than submissions. We rate-limit accounts when they have a history of posting too many unsubstantive comments too quickly, and/or getting involved in flamewars. I know it's annoying and a crude tool, but it's one of few ways we have to address that problem in software. If I knew a less rude way to do it, I'd love to replace it. The overwhelming majority of these cases, though, are ones in which accounts really were abusing the site.

We're happy to remove rate-limiting if people email us and give us reason to believe that they won't do those things in the future. Moreover, we take the penalty off accounts when we notice that they've been contributing solidly to HN for a while, as opposed to whatever they did earlier to reduce signal/noise ratio. Not that we catch every case of that.


Late to comment here, but wanted to throw in something I haven’t seen in the article or scanning the comments.

I appreciate the virtue of trying to carve out a space in the internet for a forum that is polite like a Tibetan monastery. I do.

However I don’t think that is a realistic goal to have when there is so much fake/misinformation floating around the world, and there are bad actors looking for every opportunity to spread misinformation into legitimate channels like HN in order to further their particular narratives.

Being patient and polite is one method to deal with misinformation, but a skilled actor is adept at spreading the misinformation while being equally polite and dragging out discussions to the point of attrition.

Unfortunately the Tibetan monastery falls apart when a bad actor like China decides to intentionally take advantage of these polite rules of discourse through subtle manipulation via misinformation, institutionalism, and other means to influence/protect a status quo with false narratives.

It is unfortunate that the HN rules value politeness, tolerance, and patience above eradicating misinformation and ignorance. Bad actors will intentionally take advantage of Tibetan and westernized rules to their own benefit.

We should not restrain ourselves in discourse with one hand tied behind our back when we encounter parties that spread misinformation and perpetuate more ignorance. Identifying individuals that are being less than honest in a firm, direct, and fair manner is more constructive than allowing the charade to continue. Sometimes those comments are flagged as inflammatory or offending the individual spreading bad information because their poorly informed ideas are under attack (rightfully so).

We can’t protect ignorance. All we can do is act with good intentions correspondingly exchanging information. When that like correspondence is repeatedly abused to ignore facts or spread misinformation, we must act instead of wait for good intentions to reveal themselves (a bad actor has no intentions of changing) and meanwhile hundreds or thousands of people have read and latched onto their misguided theories.

If the individual is being above the board, the facts will come to light and the situation is usually self-resolving. If the individual cannot defend their position, that is a good indication the HN community is perhaps better without that individual.

You may say that we should strive to create a culture of politeness and respect. I agree in so far as we must then come to terms with the fact that culturally, deception and dishonesty are also taken as being impolite and disrespectful—which presents a bit of a conundrum if we are paying close attention to our virtues.

Random downvotes without comments say you can’t think of a good response or reason to support your opinions.


There are a number of problems with this, but the main one is that people's perceptions of dishonesty, disingenuousness, and manipulation in others are terribly exaggerated. Odds are that the other person simply disagrees with you—and if their view seems obviously outrageous, wrong, or stupid, this is because people are much more divided than we realize. Disingenuousness exists, but the assumption of disingenuousness in others is nearly always wrong and comes out of a failure to understand how different someone else's experience is.

Users are much too quick to reach for explanations like "you must be a foreign agent" when even the public record of the other user's comments—let alone the private data we look at—show that to be trivially unlikely. Foreign agents exist, of course, but foreign agents as an explanatory device for things one finds provocative online is, to a first approximation, a fiction. Same for astroturfing, shills, and the other things users accuse each other of in arguments.

That doesn't mean ignoring the possibility of manipulation—it just means that we should look for evidence. I can tell you that when we look for evidence, we basically never find it. Even if we're being fooled by clever manipulation in some cases, it's painfully clear that in the overwhelming majority, there's no there there. What there is, is people reaching for 'disingenuousness' as a simple explanation for what they find painful and offensive. That assumption blocks any solution. There's no way to resolve pain and offense without recognizing the experiences of the other side.

You mention China. I can tell you that all the flamewars I've seen about China since they started blazing in the last year or so have been examples of what I've said here.


China was chosen as the example “agent” in this case because they are a nation that is emblematic of manipulation (in currency, IP theft, free markets, etc.). China was also chosen for the historical imagery, forcing the Dalai Lama to flee while capturing a peacefully sovereign Tibetan territory in 1959 and killing 87,000 directly in the conflict and 430,000 dead in the ensuing occupation.

That is to say that China was chosen for reasons beyond the literally obvious example of state agents. I know from experience state actors are rare, as well as being rare to detect. My rub is that latching onto China or Russia state agents as the only concerning actors that spread misinformation is not accurate. Somewhat more common are paid or unpaid social media shills/trolls that have many generalized accounts to forcefully influence topics.

But in my experience misinformation is spread most by those with vested interests, deeply gross misunderstandings of the world, strong attachment to personal biases they only believe and never bother to confirm or disprove empirically, reductionist and oversimplifications and un-nuanced tidbits learned from an introductory course of some topic, and so on.

These individuals overwhelmingly choose to ignore facts presented to them and espouse their incorrect views (perhaps hiding behind politeness or qualifications or an institutional authority). The view that such an individual will eventually with enough patience, see truth... is rather intractable and untenable.

I’m afraid you have latched onto but one example, possibly missing its purpose of imagery in the comment and neglecting to consider the other examples of bad information and bad actors which are actually fairly common that spread damaging tropes (that while inaccurate, continue to circulate nonetheless).


You've made this so general that it applies to literally everyone in every contentious argument. We all have vested interests, deep misunderstandings, strong attachments, personal biases, oversimplifications, and everything else you mention. So in that sense, yes: there's falsehood and misinformation all over the place. But I don't think seeing others as the problem is going to get us very far; seeing others as the problem largely is the problem.


That really doesn’t get to the heart of the issue, I’m afraid. It seems to offer a form of cover and protection for views that are known the be problematic and continue to spread. Partisanship and hyper-focus on views corresponding your identify are bad, we should not provide cover for it and partisan views not supported by facts via polite discourse. We should not allow these poorly supported views to spread. It seems HN has no actual stance or response that directly addresses this issue. Some of HN’s guidelines provide shelter for enabling unsupported views. Choosing to the focus the light inwards on yourself doesn’t really solve or address this issue in the modern age of misinformation, and the Tibetan analogy was chosen to illustrate the dangers by turning inward too much and ignoring the dangers. Does that make sense? I think I’m being fairly direct and specific here.


Of course people post "unsupported views". We don't ban users for being wrong—who would be left if we did?—and we don't have a truth machine.

When people argue like this, in my experience, what they mostly want is for us to ban the views they disagree with. We can't do that. Running a complex community like HN is nowhere near that simple.


I agree that is not a good reason to ban everyone that is simply mistaken. But I have seen users flag one another for absolutely no reason other than they dislike their views being colored as incorrect, or dishonest when the behavior is repeated again and again. That is rather absurd and provides shelter for ignorance. I’m sure those people are very intelligent in their actual area of expertise, but their immaturity shows through in other areas and it’s rather toxic to witness a mod stepping in to say their pride has higher priority than letting someone directly confront their ignorance with facts and truth. Yes this is the internet, we all have better things we could do with our time than debate with strangers. However this also one of the most intellectual and influential havens for discussing tech and nearly anything else found to be interesting.

Modern times have also brought on about a host of new issues where technology can be both beneficial and a detriment to society. The rapid spread of misinformation is a major technological and social issue. How are we going to navigate the new era that is becoming more complex, conflicts are increasing, and people are becoming more partisan and incorrectly reinforced because technology and modern life makes it very easy to filter out the inconvenient facts that they need not be confronted with?

My point is we should not be assisting the enablement of misinformation. Being a hotbed for powerful people and powerful ideas, there is a certain amount of responsibility that needs to be accepted in preventing the spread of misinformation. Rules of discourse that prevent resolutions is something I believe is harmful rather than helpful at HN, and enables the spread of misinformation.

Alternatively, those that don’t like an atmosphere where less than well informed views are actually challenged may very well choose to leave on their own accord, and they will no longer be spreading misinformation here. Bans are probably not needed at all really, we just shouldn’t be enabling.


> Rules of discourse that prevent resolutions is something I believe is harmful rather than helpful at HN, and enables the spread of misinformation.

Very well put. This is my biggest concern as well. HN mods prevent resolution by punishing participants in back and forth discussion for being part of a “flame war”. It is an incredibly coarse and un-nuanced view of debate.


Most back-and-forth discussion here doesn't get moderated. The ones that do are not the kind that usually end in resolution.

I think each account should show its history of being rate limited, and the mod who initiates it should cite specific comments that were used as evidence of wrongdoing, as well as describe the nature of the wrongdoing.

The mechanism itself isn't necessarily a problem, it's the arbitrariness of it and the lack of accountability. Most people have some degree of accountability in their job. I think HN mods are an exception.

> whatever they did earlier

It would be impossible to audit whether this is being done judiciously or fairly without a page listing all such moderations, their context, etc.

> whatever they did earlier to reduce signal/noise ratio

I'd argue that moderation itself reduces the s/n ratio. If I notice a pattern where one user continually posts low quality comments, I'll be inclined to ignore or downvote that user. If the user got throttled, then it removes my ability to notice the pattern.

Similarly, if stories are re-titled (a common abuse of moderation) I may not realize I've already read the discussion or the linked content and read/click it again.

Worse yet, re-titling submissions often removes any clue about what made the submission interesting. Ironically the moderation practice of titling the HN submission with the article title introduces more click-baity titles into HN than would exist due to submitters' tactics.

No offense is intended by my feedback. I do think the moderators have a few pretty glaring blind spots and I am hoping that my feedback is well received.


> Most people have some degree of accountability in their job. I think HN mods are an exception.

I might have thought that too before working with a community this large, but the degree to which we're accountable is much more intense than anything I've experienced in a job before. When every misstep is met with instant outrage and hard pushback, you learn to adapt to feedback quickly.

People think we control HN, and to some extent we do, but we are controlled by HN to an even greater extent. This is maybe the most important thing for understanding how HN works. HN consists of a big system (the community) and a little system (the moderators) and the two interact via reciprocal feedback.

There's a third system too (the software), but I left it out for simplicity.


A mature HN reader skilled in technology, is least likely to undergo an emotional/identity-driven flight of fancy about political issues pertaining to technology

Heh, except for anything programming language related, what the best web framework to use is, whether end-to-end encryption actually works or is just security theatre, etc.

There are lots of technical topics that people attach their identity to and would look indistinguishable from politics to outsiders. And it's the same in any industry. Look at some of the debates in the educational world.

I think pg's "keep your identity small" essay is one of the most insightful and influential (on me) essays I've ever read, and believe it or not (probably some who review my comments history won't) but I try to practice it in daily life. But it argued to choose what you care about carefully, rather than incorporate nothing into your identity at all. It also didn't argue that people can't debate those issues rationally, if I recall correctly, just that it's harder to do so.

the HN mods ban on politics and punishment of those who try to discuss political topics are in fact making a very strong statement of their political preference

Come now. I'm one of those naughty troublemakers who has sometimes felt that the mods here enforce a particular line of thinking (e.g. Damore is awful and so controversial he can't be talked about, wtf) but you can't possibly claim HN bans politics when maybe 20-30% of the stories discussed here are political in nature.


Emotionally heated technical discussions are perfectly fine though since they are so inconsequential; at the end of the day no one is going to be ostracized or violently attacked someone over their shit choice of spaces over tabs.


> but you can't possibly claim HN bans politics when maybe 20-30% of the stories discussed here are political in nature.

Well, many of the most crucial stories have been nipped in the bud when speculation is flying every which way. I'd argue that the brief moment of uncomfortable uncertainty, when speculation is flying, is actually the most valuable point for analysis in the trajectory of any issue... before those with the power to influence have had a chance to frame the issue the way they see fit, not letting it go to waste to further their goals, etc.

HN mods find this kind of unmoored analysis very discomfiting, and they act with a nearly instinctual zeal to put a stop to it. Political discussion is fine as long as it is in the shadow of a conceptual framework that is considered authoritative. This is by definition a highly conservative, top down, anti-intellectual view. That mods view comments that contradict it as "flame wars" (rude acts) illustrates that they are anchored in an archaic manners culture that worships hierarchy and authority. FWIW we all know there are HN users who can send a message to a mod and get a user shadow banned no questions asked.

Since there are so few mods it is totally plausible that their own psychological quirks and desire to fit in would have a significant impact on their moderation patterns.

> except for anything programming language related, what the best web framework to use is...

I don't think this disagrees with my point, since most often the thing that is being objected to has not been used extensively by the objector. Bike shedding is less a form of political discussion than it is a result of tech culture that seeks authoritative absolutes in a world that only offers relative trade-offs. The worst offenders I've worked with are the sort who really wish there were a religious leader who would declare that programmers who use Mongodb are going to hell :), and they are not people I want on my team.

For moderation, the only fair system is one where all moderation decisions are backed up by a public note explaining what happened and why, both for story promotion, burial, and penal decisions about users such as shadow bans.

Surely being a mod is challenging. I'd expect that combining the challenging roles of judge, jury, and executioner into one would exact an emotional toll.


> FWIW we all know there are HN users who can send a message to a mod and get a user shadow banned no questions asked.

That's false. It's remarkable how something false turns into something "we all know". How you can imagine HN is run that way, let alone declaim about it publicly, is beyond me.

Anyone can "send a message to a mod" (just email hn@ycombinator.com). No one can "get a user banned". All anyone can get us to do is take a look at what they're concerned about—and that we do for everyone.

Your psychological analysis of us as discomfited anti-intellectual authoritarians (with quirks) is remarkable too, as it suggests that you have a mind reader. If you had a mind reader, though, you'd have known how false the above smear was, so the odds are that your voyage into the depths of our unconscious is imaginary as well.


To be fair, "Act with a nearly instinctual zeal" is a terrific daily affirmation.


I fully agree and I think you're making a much more nuanced argument now.

I think HN's moderation has problems with certain topics that have mysteriously become high-voltage in certain social circles, like Damore/men's rights/etc. But crucially, no worse than other general purpose discussion sites and mostly it's still better. You can show dead, view flagged stories etc. The problem is comments that trigger Valley liberals tend to be criticised by the mods on the grounds that other people would respond badly to them, which is annoying, because it's actually those who respond badly that should be given a finger-wag, you'd imagine.

But still that's a far cry from banning politics, which HN doesn't do, and it doesn't even ban discussions on those hot topics, they're just much more likely to be flagged by users. I read HN with showdead turned on and by starting at the (oddly hidden) /active URL, which shows flagged stories, so I have a pretty good sense of how much stuff gets flagged and why. It's a mix of things and not entirely easy to predict. It's not politically biased in exclusively one direction either. To some extent what gets whacked seems to depend on what time it gets posted, ditto for comments. Try criticising the EU on any HN thread during the European daytime and lots of outraged Europhiles will vote you down to -2. Then when the Americans wake up and the "EUropeans" go to bed, the same post will get positively re-rated. It's clearly a matter of voter identity and not the wording of the posts themselves that are the issue.

I used to love Slashdot's style of user-driven moderation. It did require people to pick adjectives to justify their mod decisions, and then the meta-mod process helped weed out abusers. It's a pity it never caught on outside that site. HN's approach is very different, and some days I think it's worse, other days I think it's better. I'm not sure Slashdot had to deal with the same kind of political problems we have today though. Perhaps the closest was open source vs Microsoft, or something like that. I don't recall the same kind of extremist social positions that burn so much bandwidth on all discussion platforms (that don't ban them).


> As a share of GDP, surveillance and defense spending has never been higher during peacetime. In other words, it's a bull market and HN is ultimately a beneficiary of the growth of surveillance and defense tech. Hence its interests are overwhelmingly right wing when it comes to suppressing criticism and threats of that tech.

I've seen plenty of criticism of the defense industry here.


Mostly focused on the old, incumbent firms like Halliburton.

Google is the Halliburton of information, Facebook is the Halliburton of surveillance.


> But when hot-button issues intersect with technology, the HN readership is in a position of power, and shouldn't routinely be spared the anguish of being reminded of their responsibility.

Which is exactly how we end up with endless articles and 'discussions' of boeing 737s on 'hacker' 'news' by people who think they are pilots and aircraft designers (hint: they are none of those). I would bet the vast majority of people on 'hacker' 'news' are not responsible for any of this, they just like to beat these topics into the ground, uncorrecting each other along the way.


I really dislike this gatekeeping. Threads on aviation in particular seem to draw people with a phenomenal amount of knowledge. Even if they're not professional pilots/plane designers, just very well-read amateurs, why is their information less valuable? Encountering people with insane amounts of niche knowledge is one of my favourite aspects of this site.


Shout out to dang! You're doing a great job! Thank you!

Strict moderation is the reason HN is the only reasonable discussion forum remaining on the internet. I wish good moderation was a skill that more people learned - would you ever be interested in writing a guide or teaching a class on moderation?


This. I've been put in the corner by dang more than once, and I like to think that it made me a more considerate commenter-on-the-internet. Maybe even a more considerate person. Thanks!

Also, I think that it's pretty special that the vast majority of the comments on this article is people disagreeing about what HN's prevalent opinion is. It's easy to have all kinds of opinions when you don't moderate (eg 8chan), but it's hard to moderate a forum and at the same time not let it become a monoculture.

I've seen comments claiming that HN is a neoliberal / libertarian cesspool, and I've seen comments claiming that anything mildly non-PC gets downvoted into oblivion. If both the far left and the far right feel like HN represents the "other side's" opinion, then maybe there's a pretty decent middle ground being struck.


> I've been put in the corner by dang

Same. Thanks, dang. I deeply appreciate your work here.


I wouldn’t call it strict at all. He’s actually way more liberal about stuff than most over-bearing Reddit mods who think it’s their job to be editors of their own private newspaper rather than helping only when there’s no other option.

This is why dang is so good at what he does as it draws a difficult balance.


I know it's anecdotal and people live their own experience, but in my own experience dang is the only moderator I can recall having a conversation with where it WAS a conversation and not some authoritarian declaration. He even seems to go out of his way in comments to explain his thoughts and I have seen him change his mind and admit things as well. I wasn't aware he was Canadian but it funnily feeds the positive stereotype of politeness in our northern neighbors. Most people in positions of power online seem to be little Joffrey types with take it or leave it attitudes regardless of how you speak to them.

Also add me to the people who didn't know it was "Dan G" for the longest time and loved "dang" as a name.


I'm of the opinion that it is best to err on the side of strictness. Once you make a reasonable exception, you open a precedent, and some people are very good at digging up and pointing out precedent.


There should be some fuzziness about decisions otherwise you encourage gaming to see what can just get past censors. It sounds unreasonable but it works well in practice.


> and some people are very good at digging up and pointing out precedent.

As one of the people who loves being that guy in another community: They're not only very good at digging up and pointing out precedents, they likely have systematic archives of everything that remotely relates to the decisions they wish to see made.


The guidelines of the site I think are the ultimate precedent. If Dang dont get ya the rest of the community likely will. HN is somewhat self-moderating after all. I have seen users point out to abuses of the community guidelines.

I feel like sometimes users with negative Karma like crazy become even more obvious to mods. Sidenote: I still yearn to see what HN looks like to mods and what not. Not to cheat the system but to understand the system more (I love knowing these sorts of hidden details).


Out of curiosity, what brings you to be 'that guy' in the other community?


The mods should keep an archive of decisions that go the other way. This would keep a balance.


To do that, the mods need to keep an archive of all decisions, because the bias they'll be accused of is unknown until the accusation is posted. That archive probably looks something like https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20please&sort=byDate&t...


I don't think you realize what you're advocating for. There's protection from the hate that lives on the internet, and then there's grooming a narrative. What you're asking for is the latter, not the former.


no, you just don't fall into the cracks that dang dislikes. I've seen him go after people who aren't causing problems because he doesn't like what they're saying. I've seen it multiple times actually.

His go to is to call it conspiracy regardless of what's actually being said.


Where did I do this?

When I get something wrong, I'm happy to admit it and correct it. At the same time, people make all sorts of claims about horrid things we supposedly did, and most of those leave out important information.

Either way, if you're going to make claims like this, you should supply links so readers can make up their own minds.


In the other thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19984428

you state that asking for sources is, and I quote: "a rather unsubstantive contribution".

You are now telling me I should be citing a source.

If I were being snarky I would ask if you would mind raising your signal/noise ratio as you did with the other poster.

I mean, which is it? Is asking to source the claim unsubstantive or not? Is it only unsubstantive if there's a claim against you personally?

As for allowing others to make up their mind, that would be what the poster in the other thread was presumably trying to do, and you shut him down. And that's really the point.


A comment consisting of nothing but "got any sources for that?" is certainly "rather unsubstantive". But that is not why I replied to it. Had that been the only thing wrong with the comment, I wouldn't have. It was the following:

> Edit: lol, downvotes for asking for sources? "Hacker" "news" is just full of gems!

... that caused me to reply as a moderator, because that breaks more than one of the site guidelines, as well as being lame. This is routine moderation.

Both the original commenter and now you have given a distorted version of what happened there, as anyone who looks at the original thread can easily see. If that's what you have to resort to in order to come up with examples of moderator abuse on HN, we must be doing pretty well. Better than I'd have expected, in fact, given that we've posted 38,000 of these and no one bats a hundred.


also, since I forgot to address it in my other response.

asking for sources is not unsubstantive, not in the least. It's one of the most substantive things you can do, both as someone providing information, and as someone trying to evaluate the information being provided.

The fact that you've come to feel that asking for sources is less important than not making others feel uncomfortable goes a long way towards why I don't view HN as a place for decent discourse.


I didn't say any of those things. I'm afraid we're going in circles now.


That doesn't pass the reasonable person test.


and now you've chosen to be unfair. I don't have access to the original comment, something you know, yet you accuse me of distorting facts. You've also lumped me in with the other poster as if we're the same person or the same group.

The only thing we have in common is not really liking your work as a moderator, and the way it's stifled discourse on HN. You have to go to other places for that, I mostly use HN as a news source.


By original comment I mean https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19984428, the one you linked to upthread. I just clicked on it like everyone else.


A comment like "got any sources for that?" without adding additional context is low effort and inching towards trolling. Another difference is while the parent post of that person's comment it would be nice to include sources, it is about a general topic people can attempt to look for public sources themselves. Your comment you are accusing a forum user (dang) of something and there is no reasonable way to look for sources backing up your opinion/claim.


no, asking for sources is legitimate, it's a crazy world you live in where being asked to give a source for information is low value and/or low effort.


> Strict moderation is the reason HN is the only reasonable discussion forum remaining on the internet

Not at all. It's rather the community that makes it a reasonable discussion space. Most people here understand that this is not Reddit and that proper answers are needed when you interact with other members. Of course moderation is useful and necessary in certain cases, but it's certainly far from being the key factor here.


When I first started commenting, I remember being shocked (and annoyed) at how downvoted I got for making the kind of reply-snark that gets tolerated (if not upvoted) on Reddit – and that tone-setting is certainly a function of the community.

But that was almost a decade ago. The mindset of the tech community has gotten far more political (not a bad thing, but a natural consequence of "software eating the world"), and it's really hard to imagine that HN would have turned out like it is today through self-policing alone.

Even if we assume HN were to collectively agree on taking a hard stance against anything political in nature (which still seems to be the case sometimes, given that the mods have to occasionally step in and manually de-flag and protect threads), that would've likely turned off a number of current HN users who see HN as a great place to discuss tech's greater implications and role in society.


I agree and want to put /. as an example. In the 2000's I used to visit /. as much as I visit hn now. At that time there were plenty of great comments and sometimes even people like John Carmack posted there. Sure there was GNAA spam and similar, but the mod system took care of that.

Nowadays the mod system remains but the community has moved on and although the stories are good, there is no intellectual discussion.

A similar thing happened to OSNews. Another news aggregator I used to visit a lot.


what's happening here is reddit-style comments have been slowly but steadily creeping in. I dont blame the mods directly, but indirectly they should have just capped membership once the tone lost its tech edge and comments began to drift to "me too!/relevant username/orange man bad/etc" about 30-40% (by my estimation) of HN comments are what reddit comments were a few years ago. The only way to fix that is to throttle membership.


Why do opinions like yours always seem to come from accounts less than a year old?

Unless you're presenting yourself and your own comment history as an example of the problem... in which case, the opportunity is always there to try a bit harder.


Absolutey irrelevant to my point. Why do so many of your comments in your post history denigrate women and minorities?


If you continue to break the site guidelines, we're going to have to ban you again. Could you please not do that? Using HN as intended is not hard if you want to.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


>Absolutey irrelevant to my point.

It isn't, because unless you've been lurking for years or have an alt account, you're just being an elitist poser. People have been complaining about HN "turning into Reddit" for so long that it used to be listed in the guidelines as a common, semi-noob delusion.

>Why do so many of your comments in your post history denigrate women and minorities?

Point them out to me, please. I'm usually defending women and minorities here, and often getting downvoted for the effort.


The moderators help determine the community. Insufficient moderation changes the community: the most obnoxious voices drive away reasonable ones. New users who prefer that mode of discourse stay; users who want "reasonable discussion" are discouraged and go elsewhere.

It's easy when a community is small. The more prominent the community gets, the more it tempts people who enjoy stirring things up.

In the end I'm not sure if any moderation scheme can prevent that, to be honest. There will always be people who consider it a challenge to see what they can get away with, either by trying to stay just under the moderators' radar or by returning every time they're banned. Provocation makes people defensive, and then their own replies turn harsh, contributing to a negative perception of the community.

I do hope that this community avoids it as long as possible. I've discovered it only recently and am enjoying it. But past experience suggests that it, too, will one day degrade.


HN has been around a looooong time now. Sure, some people will pine for the good old days, but as far as I'm concerned, HN is fairly stable.


No, it really does make a difference. I've got a close friend who's been involved in many discussion forums, both as user and mod. His experience is mods are the critical link that prevent the community from descending to ugly chaos.

The community helps... but someone needs to be doing some policing to limit the effect of the bad actors or the community starts to get pissed off/wander off/degrade into pettiness.


> who's been involved in many discussion forums,

in many discussion forums... that are not HN. There is only one HN, so you can't make comparison with other communities out there.


all mods believe they're the critical link. That conceit is why the mods on reddit started making subreddits private for a day in protest.


Without the moderation the trolls take over, and then it doesn't matter what most people here understand.


I highly doubt "2 moderators" would be able to do anything if half of the community was composed of trolls. The fact that trolls are very few in the first place, and not welcome by other members who flag them and downvote them to hell, make it possible for it to work even with a low level of moderation.


1 moderator is infinitely better than 0.

I run a group of 20,000+ people, and if I didn't set the tone on what the group is about, regularly, the value of it would drop to nothing.

I love my community. But I absolutely recognize the role I play in keeping it a nice place to visit.


Making trolling less visible / viable practice is the work of moderators.

Enough HN members are happy to feed the trolls (even if unwittingly) and encourage more without removing them.


> Making trolling less visible / viable practice is the work of moderators.

Downvoting, flagging works even when the mods are not around. I am pretty sure that a comment flagged too many times is greyed out and almost invisible (and that happens without mods).

Again, if we are to believe there are only 2 full time moderators on HN for the amount of comments going every single minute, it's virtually impossible to rely on mods alone for proper discussions: simple maths.


I've been waiting for an excuse to compliment the mods here, without it being off-topic. They do a great job! Of course, it also helps that the community here is more reasonable than most.


I don't see the moderation here as particularly strict nor as the original source of all the goodness.

I think having the right set of rules for the site's discussion (maintaining of which is a moderator job) and having a generally "good" population as an initial condition were the keys to setting the mods up for success. The mods' job then becomes to maintain the community's high level of discourse.

I see a lot of comments which violate the site guidelines in a fairly minor way. To me, strict moderation would involve curtailing those (to the site's detriment in general, a la Reddit, Wikipedia, or stackoverflow). Instead, I think we have strict guidelines and fairly tolerant moderation thereof. (I also find it interesting and telling that I felt normal to say "we have" in the previous sentence, rather than "news.yc has".)

PS: This is not meant to take anything away from what the mods do. It's critically important and they do a good job from my viewpoint. I think I got my hand slapped once in a decade (and I don't even now recall what it was, but I do recall that I agreed that I deserved it and it was handled reasonably).


I've been here since 2013 and I noticed a massive improvement in the submitted articles and comments once dang became a moderator. Thank you dang and sctb.


I strongly agree. Although, to quibble, I think calling it strict moderation is selling it short. In addition to having coherent standards, dang is thoughtful, fair, and tolerant. I say this having been on the wrong end of quite a few warnings. If this forum is ruled with an iron fist, it sure has a thick layer of velvet around it. All moderation is subjective, but dang does a great job of staying intellectually honest and true to the site's mission. I very much get the old school hacker vibe.

Thanks dang for doing a great job.


Is it just Strict moderation or Members with a common goal of making this place a good / fair place?


From the article, quoting @dang:

What does seem to work better is personal interaction, over and over and over again, with individual users. That, case by case by case, seems to move the needle. But it’s very slow.”

I think the guidelines are a great way of encouraging us all to be more thoughtful to others comments, and have noticed a difference in the way I might comment HN.

Often I kill my comment before I actually click "Reply", especially if I know my comment will be too divisive, or if it doesn't add to the quality of previous comments.

Sometimes I upvote a comment because it helped me question/ change a personal dogmatic view.


> I think the guidelines are a great way of encouraging us all to be more thoughtful to others comments, and have noticed a difference in the way I might comment HN.

The guidelines are somewhat of a joke, and are only followed (even by mods) when it is convenient to do so.

For example, I've been repremanded in the past by our supreme leader dang for posting comments like "do you have a source for that?", because he assumed it was too hostile while he completely ignored his own 'hacker' 'news' guideline of 'assume good faith' (I was literally asking someone to source the information/argument they posted here.. but hey good job on completely derailing that discussion dang!)


Where did I do that?


Ironically, the source of said admonishment wasn't forthcoming, by GP...

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19984428

> Ok, but "got any sources for that?" is a rather unsubstantive contribution, and then going on tilt about getting downvoted breaks the site guidelines outright. Would you mind raising the signal/noise ratio of what you post here?

It seems the attempt to correct a low "signal / noise ratio", in this instance, seems to be back firing.


I'm not sure what you mean, the link you posted showed itself to be 100% accurate with the claim.


The claim is lopsided. @dang implies how the original comment wasn't all that great... but wasn't a real problem, & it wasn't until the comment was edited to include the downvotes that @dang intervened. That the commenter re-raised the issue again here as the reason for @dang intervening in the first place seems to be incorrect, as I read it.


The issue in that case was more the added bit about downvotes, which broke the site guidelines.


The claim of the other poster was accurate. The question of whether you were being fair or not doesn't change that.


It wasn't accurate. They mentioned the lesser part of why I moderated the comment and omitted the greater part, which is what most people do when telling a story about how we suppressed them unfairly. That's presumably why such stories never come with links, which would allow readers to decide for themselves what happened.


> That's presumably why such stories never come with links

No, I didn't include a link because I was posting from my phone, and "hacker" "news" doesn't include a sane way to search through thread history for specific comments. I'm glad someone else went through the trouble.

But hey, you're free to continue to not assume good faith, right?


I said most people and presumably as a way of not jumping to that conclusion about you. The pattern in general is very consistent. But I can see how it would be annoying to read that, if your preference really was to provide a link.


"do you have a source for that?", especially when phrased that way, is a statement made in bad faith, because it indicates that you believe that there's a chance the statement is unsourced (as opposed to "can you please cite this?").


I find it very difficult to believe that is a direct quotation from dang. Not only that, your parent called dang "supreme leader" (i.e. dictator, guilty of atrocities). This is clearly absurd and hyperbolic verbiage. Extremely "colorful" language is modern rhetoric of the worst kind.


I think both combine to form a culture.

(In your HN settings, you'll see there's the ability to see deleted posts and shadowbanned users, and if you turn that on you'll see that most posts have a load a crazy people and trolls posting on them that the mods have cleaned up.)


Definitely the members IMO; a moderator can snipe out the occasional troll, but if all members are being pricks there's nothing that can be done about that. What you need is to maintain an atmosphere, a culture, etc. You need the community to call one another out and keep one another accountable. And you need to nip any broken windows in the bud - Reddit's comment threads often spiral out of control and into a spammy mess of memes and references for example, simply because that's part of their culture. It's harmless enough on Reddit, but if that happened on HN the comments section would diminish greatly in value.


Not the members.

One of the other forums I frequent would be chock full of pricks by HN standards. They are known for being jerks on other forums that cover the same interest. It's still a very good community as long as you don't take everything personally.


Bit of both. The moderation is necessary for keeping the community whole when we get influxes of trolls or redditors.


> Strict moderation is the reason HN is the only reasonable discussion forum remaining on the internet.

Don't you find it a bit suspicious that the forum you happen to like is "the only reasonable discussion forum remaining on the internet"?


I don't know what you mean by "suspicious." I'm part of a ton of other forums and communities, and over time almost all of them have devolved into complete and utter dogshit, just an endless stream of memes and screenshots of Twitter posts. The communities that remain successful either have total strict moderation or a "shitposts" section where all of the garbage ends up, but even then the quarantine zone ends up sucking up a lot of the forum energy. I think it's best to just not have it at all.


> I don't know what you mean by "suspicious."

I mean that, maybe you should distrust your own judgement that "HN is the only reasonable discussion forum remaining on the internet". Perhaps other places have environments that you don't like but other people feel that they are "the only reasonable discussion forum remaining on the internet".

> I'm part of a ton of other forums and communities, and over time almost all of them have devolved into complete and utter dogshit, just an endless stream of memes and screenshots of Twitter posts.

In my experience this has a lot more to do with algorithmic instead of chronological ordering. Facebook for example, where a lot of communities have gone to die, is a context-destroying engine. Only memes and shitposts can survive. What is the point of writing something thoughtful if you don't know if anyone will even see it?

Otherwise, online communities have a lifetime. Before HN there was Slashdot and Kuro5hin. They were nice at some point, then devolved into shit. Same thing will happen to HN and everything else, of course.

> The communities that remain successful either have total strict moderation or a "shitposts" section where all of the garbage ends up, but even then the quarantine zone ends up sucking up a lot of the forum energy. I think it's best to just not have it at all.

My favorite community uses a completely different strategy: there are no moderators but it is relatively obscure. Shit posters come and go, nobody reacts, all is fine. It has been going on for more than two decades. I will not disclose it because I do not want to ruin it, but I bet lots of things like this exist. They don't make money nor are they advertising arms of money-making operations, so nobody really cares. No newspaper will ever write an editorial about them -- this is why they are so great!


I'm sure there are plenty of reasonable discussion forums, mailing lists, etc. And the more gated and the more obscure they are, the more reasonable (and insular) they are.


> I will not disclose it because I do not want to ruin it

I'm glad your favorite community has sustained itself for 20 years, but with this statement you remove it so far from the category HN belongs to that it's incommensurable.

It's great that there's room for lots of different internet communities to thrive with different strategies. I've always felt there's room for many more—there are lots of opportunities for communities to start with different initial conditions and grow into qualitatively different things. I wish people would start them. But let's not pretend that they all have the same problems. HN's category is that of the large, public, anonymous internet forum, and all its hard problems stem from that category.


Reddit is actually pretty great. It's easy enough to evade the more-less-desireable parts of it. I can assure you some of the best textually-based content the last X years have happened there.


I agree. Unfortunately, I have the impression it is already going in the downwards trajectory. The new redesign contains all the red flags. When "old.reddit.com" stops working, I suspect it's over for me.


What you're saying is 100% true. I personally dislike HN moderation because it stifles discussion in a big way.

A perfect example is the other poster who basically got called to task by dang for asking for sources to a claim. Dang characterized it as "unsubstantive" and lowering the signal to noise ratio.

For myself, a reasonable discussion is one which it's expected to be asked to cite sources. A community in which not doing so gets you called out.

Discourse on HN is too touchy feely, people are generally afraid to challenge others in a straightforward manner, so they end up using a lot of words to do so. It's like being in that meeting where the manager is using flowery language to extol the virtues of the company, when in reality everyone is there for reasons that don't involve the company itself.

I just kind of tolerate it, but in no way, shape, or form, do I view the discourse on HN as generally being honest or useful.


That's not a perfect example or even an example at all. The comment explicitly broke the site guidelines, as I explained here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20648370.


You might like Tildes. Here's their blog and docs which describe what Tildes is about.

https://blog.tildes.net/

https://docs.tildes.net/

You may also like Lobste.rs https://lobste.rs/


Tildes is a bit ironic.

Overall it is a lot better. The topics, timeline, moderation, structure and even comments. And a think some people might enjoy that.

But it also sort of highlights the greater problem which is that most people who frequent these forums these days just aren't that interesting, or interested. Or it is at least hard for those who are to show that and get something out of it.


Plenty of folks consider HN to have devolved into complete and utter dogshit; there aren’t many memes but there is a pretty heavy whiff of the Californian ideology, and given the choice I’ll usually take the memes.


Who likes a forum they find unreasonable? That's hardly "suspicious", it's a statement about taste.


It's interesting to compare HN with attempts which claimed they were striving to create an inclusive space but which failed.

I'd encountered one such newly-launched site, heralded as "a kinder, gentler Reddit" in 2016. Not only did the site itself collapse and fail a year later, but it failed, in the extreme, to live up to its promise, in part through the user community (always a confounding factor) but also through exceedingly poor moderation both by volunteer user mods and the site's paid staff and management.

I'll note: I was largely in agreement with the site's stated principles and politics, and still found myself very much on the dark side of it. Contrast with HN where I consider myself frequently contrarian and yet reasonably well tolerated.

In writing on the experience I called out the contrast with HN specifically. In part:

The really striking thing for me is that a bastion of one representation of what Internet critics, erm, criticise, HN, is proving much more effective at accomplishing and embodying the goals which Imzy, a "kinder, gentler" place, has set out to achieve.

... with a longer discussion of the things that seem to work particularly well. See:

https://old.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/500ysb/the_imz...

I disagree with dang and sctb on occaision. I am disappointed that there are topics that HN doesn't seem able to discuss (and have called these out). I've been admonished a few times.

But on balance, the site works, and rewards time spent on it. And credit must go to dang and sctb.

Thanks, guys.


I disagree with dang and sctb on occaision. I am disappointed that there are topics that HN doesn't seem able to discuss (and have called these out). I've been admonished a few times. But on balance, the site works, and rewards time spent on it. And credit must go to dang and sctb. Thanks, guys.

Same here. I believe I have been throttled unjustifiably on a couple of occasions, but so what. They responded quickly to my pleas for help and I also learned stuff. I feel very grateful to have this site as part of my life.


I've been enjoying the "Against the Rules" podcast [1] hosted by Michael Lewis [2]. It's related to moderation so I'll post it here.

The show is series of stories/reports on the work of refereeing fairness in different parts of life. With views into how those referees are changing, and in some cases, outright disappearing.

Fascinating stuff from an author who really knows how to tell an engaging story about a potentially dry topic. (Moneyball, The Big Short, Liar's Poker, etc.)

[1] https://atrpodcast.com/

[2] https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/776.Michael_Lewis


I've been on a bit of a Michael Lewis binge myself recently, just finishing his book "The Undoing Project" - would definitely recommend if you're even tangentially interested in human psychology. It's a great introduction into why we make errors on a cognitive level and is a great follow-up to some of the concepts discussed in Moneyball.


AtR is a really good podcast, I agree. Lewis is great at writing/ presenting in an engaging manner. Listening to the podcasts felt to me like listening to short audio books of his. Who knows if moderation in the way he analyses it will rebound again in the future, one can only hope...


One thing the article got wrong is that the Hacker News community is not limited to Silicon Valley.

For instance, the person who has the highest karma is in Brazil. Very few of the people I have met on Hacker News are in the Valley and San Francisco, but I have met people from North Carolina, Philadelphia, Portugal, India, Singapore, ...

If you're interested in both technology and business and you've had enough of the self-promoters promoting self promotion that dominate LinkedIn and other social media places, Hacker News is a refuge.

What is missing from Hacker News is a handful of sensationalist topics that dominate the mass media but lead to discussions that never go anywhere and never terminate.

That's what they are designed to do. Neither the democrats or republicans want the situation with guns or abortion to change dramatically because it would disturb an ecosystem where they can count on a large proportion of the population to vote for them automatically, thus they can get elected while promising less.

What both sides have in common is they look at a place like HN and think that their side is being discriminated against because they are special snowflakes who really have something to say that matters about fake controversies and they don't seem to be satisfied posting to the 99.99% of forums that are choked with that stuff.

The real difference between HN and the social media giants is the business model. I believe Y Combinator runs HN to extend it's reputation, attract startups to join Y Combinator and otherwise participate in it's ecosystem. To do that it has to have quality.

Facebook, Google and other companies based on advertising pretty much have to be merchants of outrage because that is what people click on.


> One thing the article got wrong is that the Hacker News community is not limited to Silicon Valley.

From the sixth paragraph of TFA, while we're still in the introduction:

The site has become a regional export: ninety percent of its traffic comes from outside the Bay Area, and a third of its users are in Europe.


>One thing the article got wrong is that the Hacker News community is not limited to Silicon Valley.

I thought the article was pretty clear that Hacker News user base is predominantly North America and Europe, not just the valley?

I don't have any data to back this up, but based on the sources that are posted and gain traction in the community, I suspect majority NA & Europe is accurate. But that's just an observation based on my personal experiences that different regions of the world view information sources differently in terms of reputation and trust.

Has HN or anyone else ever tried to aggregate stats on content sources or user location data?


For one thing, all content on HN is English, which is well-known to people in NA and Europe.

Japan is famous for its indigenous forums; Japanese people seem to sneak some English words into every anime theme song, but they do awful on the TOEFL.

When you look at South America and Africa I think that educated people are often good at English but even though there are a lot of people in those zones, the size of the "startup sector" or even the "modern sector" is small compared to NA/Europe. (e.g. look at GDP as a proxy)


>not limited to Silicon Valley

"Silicon Valley" is more of a state of mind that a physical location.


Australia here, the entire tech industry in this country reads HN


(ok that's exaggeration but you get the idea)

Very commonplace, especially at large tech firms.


> N-gate, a satirical Web site with the slogan “We can’t both be right” (a NAND gate is a kind of logic gate that only outputs “false” if all of its inputs read “true”), offers a weekly summary of Hacker News discussions, dubbed “webshit weekly.”

I always find these critics a little funny. It's like the classic Beatles joke about record burners: They're still buying the record. If you're writing weekly newsletter about how Hacker News sucks, you're still reading Hacker News every week.

Seems like every internet community has some form of built in hatred of itself as a gestalt. Redditors bemoan how much the "hivemind" sucks. There's endless Facebook posts about how Facebook is so terrible.


From the N-gate proprietor

> these are people who spend their lives trying to identify all the ways they can extract money from others without quite going to jail

I don't think this individual understands how diverse this community is. I was a teacher when I started reading HN, and now work in the charitable sector (albeit tech centered).

I know musicians, educators, academic scientists and historians that read and participate here. We're not all founding or working for startups.


Thanks to Dan and Scott for their moderation, and whilst the article highlights some of negative aspects of discussion on HN, I for one keep coming here because it's still on average the most reasoned and thought provoking part of the internet I'm aware of - so, thanks to you all for your positive contributions :)


> Gackle is drawn to healing workshops; Bell, to Indian philosophy. They seem, at times, to be applying old, humanist techniques to a culture obsessed with the future.

I wouldn't have guessed that. What's next though is even more interesting:

> “Something that’s deeply interesting, I think, to both of us,” Gackle said, “is the way in which one can arrive at a nonviolent reaction to somebody by having greater awareness of the—” He paused. “I’ll say violence in oneself. By which I mean the kind of agitation and activation that is causing people, including ourselves, to react in a kind of fight-or-flight way that leads to misunderstanding, conflict, and, ultimately, Internet flame wars. This seemingly trivial stuff, about people getting mad at other people on the Internet, is actually tied to this much deeper and more fascinating process of what goes on between people and what goes on in oneself.”

Essentially, the task of Dan and Scott is akin to the task of a (good) teacher. A communication teacher, perhaps?


This also caught my eye and it would be something I'd like to read about and discuss here too!


I was taught a metaphysical law (a psychological heuristic, if you prefer) called "the Mirror Principle" (it has other names), to wit: When someone has some behaviour or quality that irritates or upsets you, you will often find that you have that behaviour or quality yourself but are unaware of it. Becoming aware of it helps to "move your energy" on the underlying issue or tension.


Has anyone ever seen an online community (with more than a handful of users) that focuses on more than cute puppy pictures and that is not described as "toxic" by "critics"? I'd say that HN does a great job at avoiding that. The article is titled "moderating hacker news" but fails to describe just how good a job the moderators and owners are doing. The moderators for moderation, and the owners for (as I perceive it) giving the moderators the freedom to try things that are best for the community (such as the politics-free experiment).


Metafilter certainly comes to mind. Though I believe it's well below HN in scale.

On Reddit, there are several immensely moderated subs with persistent high quality, and millions of subscribers, notably /r/AskScience and /r/AskHistorians (though also numerous others).

Smaller subreddits are relatively easy to maintain at quality, though sustaining engagement is hard (much of the Reddit dynamic actively works against this). Keeping large subs sane is exceptionally difficult. Getting "defaulted" (being added to the list of default-subscribed subreddits) was long seen as the kiss of death for smaller, quality, subreddits.


I've seen some extremely toxic political discussion on metafilter.


Are they commonplace, moreso than most / many other sites, and is MF otherwise restricted to cat pics?

Or are many discussions on MF generally constructive and productive?

My experience, dipping into it (I'm not a member/regular) is the latter. Backed by some quantitative/qualitative research:

https://old.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/3hp41w/trackin...


I don’t think LessWrong [1] is described as “toxic.”

1: https://www.lesswrong.com


The "rationalist community" are pretty obviously a cult. They live in group houses, use logic to convince their partners to be polyamorous, have a religious obsession with superintelligence, stuff like that.

Although I can't find the story I know I read a woman's experiences with sexual abuse and Yudkowsky's BDSM habits there sometime in the last year. Actually I believe she posted it then committed suicide; people on LW responded by complaining this was an unfair way to start an argument.


Depends on who you mean by "they", no? I'm pretty sure the people who do any of those things are a small minority of Less Wrong regulars. (But there are indeed "rationalists" who live in group houses, are polyamorous, are obsessed with the threat and promise of superintelligent AI, etc. Not that any of those things seems to me to imply being a cult in any useful sense.)

I read LW pretty regularly (FWIW, I don't live in a group house, am monogamously married, and expect superintelligent AI to arrive slowly and be less exciting than many LW types hope or fear) and don't remember seeing anything there that matches what you describe -- though of course maybe it was deleted or something.

But there is this: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/s93F5JmhCxKDxWukD/rememberin... concerning someone who committed suicide and (though this isn't mentioned there) left a suicide note describing her experiences of sexual abuse in the rationalist / Effective Altruist community. Nothing to do with Eliezer Yudkowsky in there, though, so far as I can see.

There is a comment in that thread that could very uncharitably be said to match your description. It's a response to someone saying "she complained about such-and-such failings in the rationalist community; let's change for her" (the failings in question aren't, or at least don't appear to be from the description in the thread, about sexual abuse), and the reply is concerned that spreading the message "if you complain about things and kill yourself then that's an effective way to get the things addressed" is dangerous because it might encourage people to kill themselves. Which might be wrong, but is pretty different from complaining that committing suicide "is an unfair way to start an argument".

Anyway, this is all a bit of a digression. As to whether Less Wrong is a counterexample to the claim that every online community with active moderation gets described as "toxic": no, it certainly isn't, and plenty of people have called it toxic. For what it's worth, I think it's a distinctly less toxic place than it was (say) three or four years ago. (The website was rebuilt from scratch and a new team of moderators installed, and both of those made it much more feasible to deal with the small but vigorous group of neoreactionary loons who had been making things unpleasant there for everyone else.) And for sure it's much less kooky than the real-world Bay Area rationalist community is alleged to be.


I don't like singling out bad stories about one person on a larger website that is part of a larger philosophy. And more generally, you seem to think very badly of those people that try to improve the world in their way. That's more than can be said about the vast majority of other communities.

This is probably a hammer and nail thing, but having just heard a podcast about disinformation campaigns (https://samharris.org/podcasts/145-information-war/), your comment shares some traits. The podcast discusses that one of the main things "they" (those behind disinformation campaigns) do is putting groups up against each other in various ways, highlighting the differences rather than the similarities. Regardless of whether you're actively trying to do that (I would assume not, you're probably unaware of the effect this type of comment has), this is exactly the type of comment that creates an us vs them environment and highlights the very, very worst stories of what you perceive to be the other side. It's one of the least constructive things you can do online.


Yes, I have.


Traditional forums are usually strictly moderated and are not toxic. (eg. Resetera, Somethingawful)


On SA the mods were the toxic people. Do you remember Helldump? It was a forum dedicated to stalking random users and getting them banned by proving they weren't cool enough in real life to get to hang out on SA.

I think one reason for this is that to be a mod, you needed to have tons of free time and be friends with the admins already.


It's not up to The New Yorker to give praise to moderators or owners. That's inserting bias.

It's up to the readers (us) to determine whether the moderators are doing a good job.


> That's inserting bias.

Are you implying that this article was trying to be bias-free? The author spent entire paragraphs just cherry-picking "toxic" things that have been said on HN to make discussion here look bad.


That's a very good description of what I mind about the article. Cherry-picking "toxic" things, that's exactly it.


I agree with you, but this article certainly had plenty of bias


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