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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:


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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