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PG: The biggest source of stress for me at YC was running HN (twitter.com/paulg)
482 points by ilamont on July 11, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 426 comments



I think there's a larger point in what he said. Basically all current social media ends up optimizing for creating outrage, spawning mobs, less thoughtful discussion and more vitriolic arguments, etc. It's becoming a real concern to me that this is going to drive us into some kind of civil war or something if we don't find some way to check it.

The outrage seems to be like a drug. Nothing generates engagement quite like it, even if it's toxic in the long-term. So all social media platforms that embrace it grow bigger until they become near-monopolies, and all that don't so far have had a hard time growing userbases, making money, and generally fade into irrelevance.

It would be a real service to society IMO if we could find a way to somehow generate enough engagement and energy to challenge the big players without the outrage culture.


A little over 10 years ago I started a social network for neighborhoods. Instead of people joining the network, houses would join, and people proved they lived in a house by having us send them a postcard with a code on it. Incidentally, while searching for a domain, I even tried to track down and buy "nextdoor.com," which I learned a year or so later had been in stealth mode.

I first did a small launch in my own neighborhood to tune the product before going broad. It was during this phase that I discovered the toxicity of social networks. I was either a witness to, or drawn into, every petty bickering match on my side of my zip code. I am certain my product gave a wider voice to the wrong people. I should have known; ten years earlier I was an officer of my homeowners association, and it was the same thing, but face-to-face.

This wasn't the only reason I shut down the project, but it was the biggest. I thought I'd be bringing people together. I was right, but I had incorrectly assumed that doing so would be a good thing.


bringing people together is right, but it's not enough. you also have to set the tone, and block out hostility from the start.

one way to do that is to make friends with neighbors, one at a time. if there is a conflict, help solve that conflict friendly and peacefully. develop a reputation for a friendly atmosphere. have neighboorhood activities, for adults or children, work on causes such as cleaning up the neighborhood, fixing play ground equipment, helping neighbors with difficulties. effectively you need to build the community.

the thing is, this can only be done by people who live there, and the tools used are almost secondary. any chat room will do. the barrier to join is not a proof of address but a proof of goodwill, verified by an existing member.


You're right. While I'm sure the project could have been better designed to at least facilitate those sorts of constructive interactions, it was, overall, yet another technical solution to a social problem (YATSTASP, if that's not already an acronym). We engineers are fond of such solutions, even if they don't work, because they're what we know how to build.


Even with those filters, there seems to be a pretty consistent tendency given scale, or topics, or simply social interactions with time, that leads to toxicity, or stasis.

I'm offering this not just from 30+ years of online community experience, but from observing and studying histories of other groups --- offline / IRL, epistolary communities, clubs and organisations, shared. housing situations, families, neighbourhoods, academic departments ....

Look at long-lived groups, and how those are structured and function. I'm not saying this from the position of "I have done this and I know what works", but from a strong suspicion that at least part of the solution (and many of the pitfalls) will be found there.


> I should have known; ten years earlier I was an officer of my homeowners association, and it was the same thing, but face-to-face.

I think this is a big part of it; it's not intrinsic to the technology, but the techology is a magnifier and accelerant for everything that humans do.

The operators of social networks are dishonest in claiming credit for the benefits while disclaiming responsibility for the fact that they've also accelerated the harms.


>I am certain my product gave a wider voice to the wrong people.

I think normal balanced people are not that talkative in public forums.

It's us, the slightly broken ones (and the totally unhinged idiots and bigots and so on) that comment much on social media...


I wonder if there’s a fair way to throttle people to make them think a bit more about whether it’s worth it.

The first couple I can think of could be gamed or result in metric dysfunction.


"One reply per post."


I'd say:

- Using one's actual name AND photograph (to introduce some exposure and shame into the game)

- In-group ramifications for in-group bad behaviour


Facebook is a pretty good example of how neither of those things actually help, and if anything only amplify the harm that comes to marginalized people who have good reasons to not use their real names or faces.


I wonder if that’s due to everyone ending up in bubbles on FB.

I can’t prove it, but it seems to me that a social network where the social graph is optimized for minimizing physical distance has more potential to encourage good behavior.

I’d also note this has been done successfully before, for example with non-denominational churches. Of course some basic shared religious beliefs help, but I’d argue that many/most of congregants who attend regularly are primarily motivated to do so by the social aspects.


Interestingly, I joined Nextdoor expecting to see exactly that: complaints and bickering. I was surprised that most people in there are nice and supportive of each other. I'm sure there's some kind of moderation.


>> I was surprised that most people in there are nice and supportive of each other.

Well in my experience this is only true if you're exactly like them. different color/religion/landscaping views == the toxicity alluded to by the parent.


I vaguely remember a stunt where Koko the Gorilla was used in a mass-chat on AOL. The crowd, enthused at talking to another species for the first time, would ask things like, "Is there a god?" and "What is the meaning of love?"

Koko would reply, "Apple juice" and wander away.

Social media is a bit like running this experiment with "the mob." Maybe it has a mind and profound thoughts and we can have a discourse with it?

Our expectations for enlightened dialogue are sometimes a bit too high.


“Apple juice is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” - Koko the Gorilla


>I should have known; ten years earlier I was an officer of my homeowners association, and it was the same thing, but face-to-face.

This is the thing that baffles me the most from these discussions about the toxicity of social media. It's not social media, it's people. Everyone knows someone with an HOA horror story, or a story about a horrible, lazy, shitty neighbor. It's confusing to me that so many people are surprised that humans at shitty to each other on the internet, when we have decades of recent memory of humans doing just that in real life.


Bringing people together aka social networks, shouldn’t have been the ideal. Telephone was not a social network itself. It was a tool which gave people the opportunity to communicate - come together. Wish we had stayed with the similar ideology of providing just the tools. Email was/is there. But then, Facebook happened.


people think it's the social networks that are toxic. It's not. It's people. People are.


If I design a city whose main artery is a highway where traffic grinds to a halt for two hours every day at 6 o'clock, I'm going to see frequent incidents of road rage. The takeaway there isn't "people are toxic", it's just "people can be toxic when they're stuck in traffic"

People behave in predictable ways in specific environments. Social media brings out the same side of human nature as does a blank wall and a Sharpie in a gas station men's room.


Just turns out there are a tonne of environments that make people behave in toxic ways.

People pretty much are toxic.


There aren't a tonne of environments on the internet today, though: there's effectively one.

It's generally: normal people thrown into a garbage dump with a few psychotic basket cases, some attention-seeking ten-year-olds, some bots, viral-marketers, narcissistic grifters... all with pseudonymity, and scant moderation.

If you were to lock twenty Tom-Hanks-level-affable people, into a room with three people who continually rant, push buttons, interrupt you, tell obvious lies, and spout inanities, eventually you'll have 23 badly behaved people.

The design of the internet, especially its current incarnation, incentivizes stupidity and vitriol.


I had to stop frequenting the r/amitheasshole sub for this very reason. Getting outraged at the assholes, and then having my comments about the assholes get hundreds of upvotes, was too rewarding. It was certainly drug-like.

It is strange, too, because I am normally an extremely forgiving person, and am often criticized for giving too much of the benefit of the doubt to people. Even if I am like that in real life, I was still able to be sucked into the outrage cycle.


That is a truly bizarre subreddit. It’s exactly what you say, people love to go there and get on their high horse.

I also suspect there are a ton of troll posts there. Too many “I am the asshole” questions that seem perfectly aligned to the politics of the day. And the stories seem perfectly written to create conflict.


This is almost any Reddit "advice" sub, like /r/relationships. People write stories for fun and to create conflict.


One of the /r/relationship_advice moderators answered to PG's tweet


It probably doesn't help that a huge portion of the content is just fictional outrage porn. So instead of a real person posting their mistakes, you are seeing a caricature of a person crafted to accumulate internet points. This caricature, of course, is optimized to make you feel angry at that "person" for their actions. These days it might as well be /r/amitheangel+creativefiction


I wonder how many families have been broken by people following the advice they got in AITA or relationship advice. Everyone always suggests the nuclear option.


I think about it quite differently —- “outrage culture” has always existed. White flight, lynchings of black men suspected of rape, “mob justice”, “community justice”.

Because we saw that this was a dead end, we created institutions whose purpose was justice. Their mission was unfulfilled because the justice was not meted out equally, and this racist backlash in the form of outrage culture fought against it strongly (still does).

A few things have changed though — before 24/7 news we didn’t have constant, unfiltered access to a stream of all that was wrong in the world. People with differing opinions to us ranging from benign to hateful, constant tragedy, etc.

And additionally, due to the rot of our democratic institutions (unions, etc.) and the growing imbalance of power between everyday people and elites, people are starting to turn towards outrage culture as a solution to societal ills again. And so the calls for “community justice” and the sort return as well. The difference this time is that social media has democratized access to a voice. So now anyone and any cause can be fought for, and with minimal effort.

Fixing social media won’t fix outrage culture, it will just mean that the only people with the power utilize it will be financial and racial elites.

If we want to get rid of it entirely, we need to make our society more democratic.


> social media has democratized access to a voice

Social media could be better at democratization by increasing transparency and building better moderation tools.


agreed!


This outrage is neither happening in a vacuum, nor is it simply a reflexive reaction to outrage on the opposite side.

Real actions in the physical world are at the root of this outrage.

The internet, in all of its forms, simply increases awareness of what's going on around the world.

In the past, there was a relatively miniscule amount of information you could get about what was happening, and you could only get it through some gatekeepers. Now you can see what's happening, often as it happens, in cell phone camera footage and in direct reporting from people who are there, and the opinions of your fellow men are not filtered and reduced to a trickle by gatekeepers.

A pessimistic view is that, like the babel fish, such increased communication will only lead to increased conflict, yet there is evidence that increased understanding and compassion can come from it too.


It's not just that by any means.

I think it's largely a communication problem. People are reacting to what they perceive the other side is saying, without actually taking the time to hear what the other side is saying. They're encouraged both by their side and by the inevitable outrage from the other side. There is also an incredible amount of intentional misrepresentation of the other side (for and from both sides).

If someone posts "B" in response to "A" they're usually doing so because they don't really understand what someone means by "A". They're looking at things at face value while adding in their own filters and biases and respond to that mess, instead of asking questions or seeking out information elsewhere.

On the other hand, the counterresponse to someone posting "B" is often also tone-deaf. It is either assumed the person ought to know what "A" means (even if the people run in different social circles, have access to different news sources, or don't have as much free time to educate themselves); or it is assumed they person does know what "A" means and is being intentionally (as opposed to ignorantly) inflammatory.

Seldom does someone on either side ask for clarification from or help to elucidate the other side.

All of this seems to happen much more on the internet than in "real life."


In my experience, asking people for clarification, regardless of which side of a discussion they are on, leads to inflammation. People seem to be attached to the idea that they perfectly understand the others point of view and therefore the other perfectly understands their own point of view. To them, more talk will not help.

Typically i find when you ask for clarification you find the person doesn't even understand their own point of view. Probably also partly why they react so badly to being asked for clarification.

Unfortunately, we are stuck in this world where most do not actually listen to, let alone evaluate, the content of arguments, just the context. And in online discussions the context is diminished. What to do apart from wait for the world to catch up?


As the years wear on, I find Reddit, FB comments, and Twitter (and in my decade of lurking, HN less so) to be great examples of the importance of the Nonviolent Communication framework.


True, but kind of misleading, at least in my opinion.

One of the issues with social media is that it's too easy to promote and share information about real-world events that provoke outrage, while paying no attention to broad-level statistics that give a better representation of what's really happening overall.

The greater truth IMO is that, in a large society, a massive number of essentially random things happen every single day. Plenty to construct any type of narrative that you want. If we want to have unity, there is no way around having to sweep some individual events that are outrageous under the rug to some extent.


I find it helps to compare against causes of death such as lightening strikes, falling out of bed, pools, Tylenol overdoses, and car crashes. None of those generate outrage. People worry so much about various violent acts (terrorism, school shooting, police shooting, etc.), but do they wear Faraday cages with lightening rods? Do they stay clear of cars and swimming pools? Do they own a bed or a bottle of Tylenol?

Social media is but a small part of the problem. Traditional media is still largely deciding which issues will be part of today's buzz, and it is those issues that determine elections. The degree of power here is astonishing and disturbing.


That's ignoring how easy it is to be inundated with extremist views and the speed of information overload with no verification.


So thinking about that... One the one hand, suppose I log into reddit and see police officers clubbing some people drinking beers (this specific instance was in a foreign country).

Yes, on the one hand, I'm just more aware of a bad thing in the world. But on the other, if a million people get outraged watching a clip like that, it seems it does create a "magnification" effect where potentially the outrage is entirely disproportionate compared to crime that isn't brutal and on video (e.g. rich avoiding taxes) but may actually be much more important.


> compared to crime that isn't brutal and on video (e.g. rich avoiding taxes) but may actually be much more important.

You must have missed all the posts from /r/aboringdystopia and /r/latestagecapitalism that regularly show up on /r/all


> The internet, in all of its forms, simply increases awareness of what's going on around the world.

The internet is not just a signal booster, but also an amplifier. Ideas which would otherwise be fringe become quickly mainstream. That's not always a bad thing, but it often is.

The echo chamber effect is also incredibly powerful, psychologically. Especially through social media, outrage begets community. At first, you're a person who is angered at something that's happening in the world, but then you find others who feel similarly. Now you're a part of a community. Not only that, by discussing it in public, you're taking action. Now you're part of a movement! Now you're fomenting real change and making a difference in the world!

This is true no matter where on the political spectrum you lie. No matter what opinions you're defending, those dopamine hits feel the same.


> The internet, in all of its forms, simply increases awareness of what's going on around

I think this gets overlooked too much by people in tech sociological bubble.

The shape of the world is at any point in time a function of (1) the various frictions to information flow that are present, and (2) exploitation of the same by the powerful.

The shape of the pre-information-age world in particular contained within it latent sources of conflict and instability (examples abound, I won't specify here) that could only be maintained by keeping some people voiceless and others in the dark.

What we're witnessing now is a tumultuous transition period as we reach a new equilibrium.

Two of the forces that will determine the shape of that new equilibrium: (1) People acting in their interests based on new information and (2) new restrictions on information transmission better adapted to the evolving state of technology.


I think it's very much both: you're right that awareness of what's going on is increasing and the GP is right that social media is optimized for outrage, and we can add a third thing that the circulation of misinformation is also increasing. I'm not talking about deliberate misinformation, just that people repeat things so quickly and interpret them through the prism of their own assumptions. e.g. the Covington kids case. Correction of the misinformation may follow, but it never spreads as far or as quickly, and in many cases may not bother existing for all the good it does.


There have been so many hoaxed outrages and fake news, that's very clearly not the case.


Basically all current social media ends up optimizing for creating outrage, spawning mobs, less thoughtful discussion and more vitriolic arguments, etc. It's becoming a real concern to me that this is going to drive us into some kind of civil war or something if we don't find some way to check it.

Outrage-driven profit models existed before social media as such. Once known as tabloids and the guttered press, this kind of media existed a while before Facebook. William Randolph Hearst was credited with starting the Spanish-American war back in the day (as fictionalized in Citizen Kane). This is to say the "outrage complex" extends well beyond social media platforms though such platforms certainly serve to accelerate it.


Yes.

The discussions on HN dont go deep enough to look at the antecedents of the current imbroglio.

Human brains are weak to a variety of manipulations. Media manipulations are one of the oldest, and have been going on for ever.

The 24/7 news cycle preceded the net and created the exact same issues.

Right now what we have added is mobile internet which means people can access the material all the time, and we've added algorithmic creation of inciteful content.

We've gone to the industrial complex era of outrage creation.


Even HN has this problem where the users themselves stoke outrage in certain topics. For example, 99% of threads are see are great with in-depth discussion and nuanced opinions, even on topics that get flamed on other social media: climate change, gender issues, divisive art and personalities. However, lately I've noticed a huge disconnect between these threads and anything that mentions China/TikTok or solar/wind energy. For some reason, these two specifically seem to push people into baring their teeth.


Wholly agree on the first part, HN is a great place for good discussions and insights.

For me the discussions about Corona has been the most controversial, as we simply don’t have a good understanding of it yet. It tends to lead to not very constructive discussions.


> or solar/wind energy

Oh, wow, really? I'm sure it is a topic that is debated, but you would put that approximately on the same level as China/TikTok? (Not disagreeing, I just don't follow HN as closely as I used to.)


They sure did. None of this is really new in concept, but it seems to be amplified quite a lot by modern technology. If it can already be credited with starting real hot wars, what will happen now that we've ramped up that same effect hundreds of times or more?


I ran (and wrote the software for) a forum for a number of years circa 2003-2012, FWIW. Did some things well and did some things poorly.

    It would be a real service to society IMO if we could
    find a way to somehow generate enough engagement and
    energy to challenge the big players without the outrage 
    culture. 
It's not too complex to run a mostly-positive community. It's not easy, mind you. It's just not complex. Sort of like running a marathon - it's not complicated, it's just really really hard. =)

As far as shaping a positive community, you attract good people and reward good behavior and disincentivize bad behavior.

This is at odds with things you might reasonably do to "challenge the big players" (if by "big players" we mean Facebook, etc) in my experience, though. It's hard to scale up because it's labor-intensive.

Camaraderie is relatively easy in small groups but tough in large groups. Not sure what HN's size is but I suspect it's right around the tipping point.

Reddit shows one possible solution to scaling up: you scale horizontally. Each subreddit is a semiautonomous "shallow silo." It's partially successful at this: you have a lot of shockingly supportive and positive subreddits and some absolute dumpster fires.

FB sort of does this well, with their groups feature.

Ultimately a challenge faced by those two is their revenue model. It you don't charge users directly, you are either going to be privately funded (HN) or ad-supported. Relying upon ads is the kiss of death as far as sane discourse goes. It means you crave engagement and eyeballs and pageviews above all else. It is how you survive.


> Basically all current social media ends up optimizing for creating outrage, spawning mobs, less thoughtful discussion and more vitriolic arguments, etc

This is my impression too. What should we do or even think about it ? I tend to go slightly radical and cut socnet while allowing a few IRC and a bit of reddit.

I think our understanding of 'social' is incomplete, as if social bonds without simple and clear goals (important tasks to be done, or sharing moments with people we have deep bonds with) leads to degenerate noise tsunamis like we're seeing.


> It's becoming a real concern to me that this is going to drive us into some kind of civil war

I'm more inclined to think that social media is where people go to let off steam. Most people I know have full lives outside of social media, and just get online to relax a bit, if at all. Many people I know have stopped using it at all. The ones who do vent and rant online are the minority, and they are more likely to be doing it online than in person. Of course, there are plenty of trolls and shills who join them, and together they make our society look more ready for conflict than we really are.

Now, it is true that we have some serious problems going on, and are vehemently divided in the USA at the moment, with some actual riots and violence. I don't want to be dismissive of that. But I believe social media is still a magnifying glass over all our troubles, not a true barometer of our collective readiness to get into physical combat over our differences.


If this were true, people would feel better after being exposed to social media. The evidence has shown that, instead, their anxiety increases as they are fed a stream of conflict, injustice, and sometimes even violence.


Your thesis is true, but we should keep in mind that outrage almost always comes from a perceived injuste in the world.

We have always and will always disagree about political issues. Issues that from our subjective appreciation are destroying many people's lives, so it's not surprising that we resort to all sorts of toxic behaviour in order to "help the cause", whatever it might be.

This emotional need for justice (even when misdirected) can not be discarded in the discussion about toxic behavior. Sometimes it takes the form of physical violence, sometimes it's an insult, a threat, doxxing, etc.

We should strive to channel these desires and differences of opinion in healthy ways. "just ban all heated political discussions" is a good enough workaround at the forum level, but not a noble solution to the root problem at a societal level.


Have read comments on journalism sites? It looks like CNN got rid of it a while ago but it’s still there on Fox News. It’s a cess pool. Even on ArsTechnica which skews towards a more educated audience the comments are often mindless trash.

It’s not about outrage or any kind of drama. It’s achieving or supporting agreement and like-mindedness, which is a mob. Any outrage present is a secondary consideration of potential challenges to the agreement at present.

So long as people are coalescing into groups out of mental laziness others people will be there to manipulate the mob for some selfish reason. The problem isn’t big players or media. The problem is foolish people.


What's different about HN is the only ads are basically promoting YC companies, so outrage doesn't feed any internal engagement metrics. Any outrage you see here is what we've brought on ourselves.


Take the profit motive out and then you do not have this constant need for "engagement".


> The outrage seems to be like a drug...

I like to use a phrase I got from the Simpsons years ago: “Addicted to rageahol”

https://youtu.be/kCUIzs8i9EU


A few years ago I helped build a large social media site that had discussion threads at its core, and we quickly discovered how much time and effort it took. We quickly realized that so much of the grief was coming from the, ah, older generation — people over the age of 50 just loved to escalate things.

For many of these people it seemed like they hadn't ever used the Internet for communicating before, and for us employees it always felt like supervising children. Sometimes they would dig up the phone number of the CEO or some poor developer, and call them with some angry complaint. Their anger died down somewhat when they got a human to talk to. I suspect a lot of the heated discussions stemmed from people's inability to see the other party as a real human; people behave online with a completely different level of respect than in real life.

One of the most amusing experiences I had was hearing about how the "like" button next to comments had become a form of bullying. People would (rightfully, it would appear) complain that other people "liked" their comments ironically, and asked us to remove the likes. People in their 60s being bullied by other 60-year-olds through "likes". Both hilarious and sad.


> It would be a real service to society IMO if we could find a way to somehow generate enough engagement and energy to challenge the big players without the outrage culture.

I'm not being cheeky (see below), but this already exists. It's talking to one another, person to person. :)

Social media, at its core, targets the very primal part of our brain and bodies. This is my feeling and observation, and I would be very interested to see if there have been studies that show there are fundamental differences to how people communicate online, primarily via text, versus communicating in person. I would suspect there are differences in that our brain literally responds differently.

As I type this, you can't see me. You don't know me. And I can't see nor do I know you. We can't respond to facial expressions or hear the cadence and tone of voice. Many, many times on the Internet, conversations get sidetracked by someone making a joke and then someone taking it too seriously. That's a simple case of online social media interaction, and there are far more complex examples. It's the same thing as working at a company. Often times you hit this moment where you just stop typing a message or an e-mail and just call the other person or go over to their desk. Even with just voice-to-voice communication, things are communicated much faster, and in person is even faster.

A lot of this has to do with the process. Online, someone types something and then someone else types another thing in response and so on. In person, it's a more dynamic exchange.

So at the core, my hypothesis is that almost all media (such as news) and especially social media are doing nothing but bypassing our natural filters and sensors for understanding things and try to directly target our inner primal self. As we can see online, humans are innately primal, especially when you remove all of our other evolved methods of understanding and empathy. When people see someone online say something they vehemently disagree with, they immediately ignore all possibilities and empathetic responses. We go straight to the core of finding the thing we hate about what they just said and then let them know that. However, if a stranger on the train says something like this, we often let it go. If we do engage, we are much more empathetic about their feelings and thoughts, both for human and societal reasons.

Given this, I think it's essentially impossible to build an online community that is directly based upon this type of communication. It's tough enough to build one in person with people you know. And as we've all experienced over the past months, even digital face-to-face communication is hard. There's still dynamics missing like low-latency, body language, tone, hand motions, subtleties of voice, etc.

I view it as an API or architecture diagram. If one drew one out for human communication, there's a lot of abstraction built upon our inner primal workings. But modern media, the Internet, and now social media has given a way to bypass all of that. The inner core can be accessed directly via advertisements, news, social media, propaganda, forums, etc., and now the Internet is like a connection between all these primal cores. It's why it's so insane.

Adam Curtis' documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace covers this.


I agree with pretty much all of this.

The difference in what I'm saying is that I'm starting to think that it's just not enough to tell people to interact face to face instead. We've built all of these outrage-amplification machines that work so very well at demanding our attention. Requests to be nice to each other or abandon them have the problem of not being outrageous enough to stick in our minds and spread on a large scale.

What's the solution then? I don't really know. Maybe we'll all just get tired of it at some point. Maybe some unforeseeable event will happen that will make us put the worst of it aside and unite after all. Maybe the Government should regulate it all somehow - though in the climate they've created, it's hard to hope that we'd be able to do something that's a net benefit overall. Or maybe it'll all just keep growing until it blows up in our faces somehow.


I think the main issue is that we have simply outpaced ourselves in that our technological progress far exceeds our emotional progress, which is essentially locked in to our biological makeup. So I think your latter point is on point. I don't know how to solve these issues, and I don't think we can.

Humans were not made for the technology we've gifted ourselves. I am reminded of Christmas Island that is mentioned in Planet Earth II, episode 1. It describes an island with a crab that flourished there for millions of years. Human settlers brought a type of non-native ant to the island, the yellow crazy ant, and it turns out that the ant can easily kill the crabs, which have zero protection against the ants' attack. This shows there are moments in which life presents change in which there is no going back. The crabs are not able to evolve quickly enough against the ants, and the ants must be controlled by humans to even give the crabs a chance.

Why I was reminded of this is because I feel technology is the ant, and us humans are both the crabs and humans who brought the ant. There's a quote by David Attenborough that stuck with me: "the greatest threat they [the crabs] face is change".

I feel we've reached a turning point in which we've changed things forever, and I see no indication that things will get better or that we'll be able to adapt. I feel we are simply biologically limited, both in intelligence and emotional composition, to handle the worlds we continue to create.

And now I am reminded of a speech by El Jefe in The Counselor, written by Cormac McCarthy. It shouldn't be surprising that McCarthy is a resident scholar at The Santa Fe Institute, the only author to have such an appointment to my knowledge.

> Actions create consequences which produce new worlds, and they’re all different. Where the bodies are buried in the desert, that is a certain world. Where the bodies are simply left to be found, that is another. And all these worlds, heretofore unknown to us, they must have always been there, must they not?

> Counselor, at some point, you have to anknowledge the reality of the world you're in. There is not some other world. This is not a hiatus.

> I would urge you to see the truth of the situation you’re in, Counselor. That is my advice. It is not for me to tell you what you should have done or not done. The world in which you seek to undo the mistakes that you made is different from the world where the mistakes were made. You are now at the crossing. And you want to choose, but there is no choosing there. There’s only accepting. The choosing was done a long time ago.

> I don’t mean to offend you, but reflective men often find themselves at a place removed from the realities of life. In any case, we should all prepare a place where we can accommodate all the tragedies that sooner or later will come to our lives. But this is an economy few people care to practice.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_crazy_ant#Impact_on_C...

https://youtu.be/X89AXNO6TBw


it already has. ref: arab spring.

perhaps social media was not the proximate cause but it certainly was enabling.

even civil war in the US was a good thing. whose to say a next civil war won’t also be.


It is nothing less than exhausting to watch how people who frequent various types of social media have been driven to devolve into the worst humanity has seen in a long time short of causing physical harm to each other. I have watched as a couple of local FB groups that I used to just monitor for local information go down to the gutter on almost every single post.

People who live locally and send kids to some of the same schools say the most vile things imaginable to each other. I have no clue if they realize they are doing so with their full identity on display to the world (a lot of people have no sense of privacy settings and so their entire FB profile and posts are there for the world to see).

I am convinced that this has played a part in the insane behavior we have witnessed during the protests of the last several weeks. I have no problem with protests of any kind and for any reason. It's important to be heard. However, when the behavior turns criminal, with destruction of property, private or public, violence beatings and full-on anarchy, well, there is no society on earth and across history where that is considered legal or even acceptable behavior. Even stuff like invading restaurants and yelling at people with megaphones inches away from their ears.

It's only a matter of time until those on the receiving end of this behavior respond with equal or greater (likely greater) brutality. Where do we go from there?

Notice that I am not taking any sides here. These statements apply to all players in this sick game, regardless of affiliation.

And then you have politicians and professional manipulators pinging segments of the population into resonance every day in support of political goals. Political goals, BTW, don't necessarily align with what is good for a country or a region. All they align with is being elected, reelected, obtaining or maintaining power. They could not care less about any of us.

And so, the internet, that thing that most of us thought would bring forth a new age of enlightenment is being weaponized in unimaginable ways. If there was a bill to shutdown Facebook and Twitter tomorrow I would vote for it ten times if I could. As I have said in other posts, they should be shutdown until they can prove their algorithms stop driving people into dark caves of hatred and outrage. That's all they do.

The have optimized their platforms to shove someone into whatever it is they are looking for deeper and harder, without regards for what the content can be. No problem if you are researching home remodeling or how to sail, huge massive problem if you are clicking through political crap (which is usually negative and hateful) and end-up in a deep dark cave of hatred. I've written before about a couple of members of our family who have been driven so far and deep into these caves (one on the left, the other on the right) that it is now impossible to pull them out. It's a drug, and we are powerless against it.

I am for small government. Definitely. However, there are cases where use of force through government is justified. I believe this to be one such case. These companies need to be put on hold until they become good citizens of the world and that needs to happen very soon.


> I have no clue if they realize they are doing so with their full identity on display to the world (a lot of people have no sense of privacy settings and so their entire FB profile and posts are there for the world to see).

I believe they are aware, because I sometimes read various country's leaders and diplomatic corps on twitter, and it's very clear that some of them word things in ways that show they're speaking to a global audience, and some of them word things in ways that show they're preaching to the choir back home.


I honestly think the only solution is for individuals to recuse themselves from those networks (I say on one of those networks), lower the trust they place in digital information, etc. It's become clear that the downward spiral is intrinsic to the medium itself (or possibly just the scale). I don't believe that any amount of technology, or product-rethinking, or UX will change that. We just weren't meant to interact this way. My only hope is that people eventually get disenchanted or burned-out enough that they simply stop engaging.

I replied to the original tweet too ("what would you do if you were Jack Dorsey?"). I said I'd shut the whole thing down.


Sadly, the level headed people recuse themselves which only adds to the toxicity.


Actually what happens is the level headed people on one side of an issue divide recuse themselves, leaving a "seemingly level-headed consensus echo chamber" behind. IMHO, that's worse. This account exists largely to counter exactly that trend. It's important (to me) that newcomers to the site don't get the idea that "hackers" are all fringe libertarians on every non-technical subject.


This site may feel like a "consensus echo chamber" but in reality it is nothing remotely close to that. I think you may be running into the notice-dislike bias: https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que.... Since you report noticing fringe libertarians, we can be sure that you dislike fringe libertarianism. We can also be sure that they have just the opposite picture of HN, since everyone crafts their picture in the image of what they dislike, without realizing that they're doing that. It just feels like an objective picture. I can list dozens of examples of this, but I'll restrain myself for once and spare you.

Unfortunately, these extremely contradictory subjective images of HN seem to be a consequence of its structure, being non-siloed: https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que.... This creates a paradox where precisely because the site is less divisive it feels more divisive—in the sense that it feels to people like it is dominated by their enemies, whoever their enemies may be. That's extremely bad for community, and I don't know what to do about it, other than post a version of this comment every time it comes up.

Thanks for caring about level-headeness, in any case.


Dang, I respectfully disagree.

Just the other day I noticed HN take a heavy hand on removing an article that hit the homepage about a virologist publishing a paper that suggested the only logical explanation for COVID is that it’s manufactured.

There are absolutely topics and perspectives that are not welcomed on HN, as the lead moderator it would be unwise in my opinion to think otherwise (given your biases would be the most threatening to an open forum) and you naturally would have a tough time identifying the absence of a perspective you don’t share.

As an example, I would challenge you to pick five articles that discuss unions that hit the homepage on HN and see what % of threads (and how much of the up vote they accounted for) were inherently anti union. I would also be sure to give only partial credit for threads that added boiler plate sentences saying something along the lines of “while I believe in the value of XYZ” because that’s basically a requirement to take any contrarian (to liberal / Silicon Valley ideology) or conservative view on this site. I can give you a laundry list of topics that will show this trend.

From my (biased) perspective (and from someone outside of the valley reading this site religiously for 13 years) HN is increasingly hostile to certain perspectives (and I’m not talking about social issues here). I don’t care much about it - I just opt out - which is the point.

Why not run a poll about it?


It seems to me that you're confirming my point by making a strong generalization about HN based on what you noticed and disliked. I assure you that the people who dislike the opposite things notice the opposite things and make the opposite strong generalization.

If you're talking about the covid submissions that gus_massa came up with, they were flagged by users. In one case we lessened the penalty and the other looks like one we didn't see. I do think that it's unlikely that HN can have a curious conversation about that theme, much as we might both prefer otherwise. I don't think you can validly draw significant general conclusions from that.

A poll wouldn't convince anybody. It would just reconstitute the same disagreement at a meta level. I wrote about something similar here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23239793. (Edit: and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23808089 in this thread, as it turns out.)


For the record: I rather think that comment validates my view. This is what you're hearing: "This guy is complaining that you took down a winger conspiracy theory that got upvoted, therefore HN must be balanced."

Here's what I hear: "A winger conspiracy theory goes to the top of the HN front page before being taken down! That means that the voting population of HN is horrifically skewed."

See the difference in perspective? I'm happy you take conspiracy stuff down, I really am. But I'm not happy about the population that pushes it finding a home here, which they clearly have.


That's not what I heard.

You're drawing extremely skewed conclusions about the "voting population" of HN. One of those posts made it to #16 before being flagged, the other did not make the front page at all. It takes only a handful of votes to make the front page (much of the time, anyhow—it's complicated), and #16 is not high—any sensational story can easily get that far before being flagged down (and by the way, it was users who flagged it down, not us).

HN is a large enough population sample that you'll find that scale of upvoters upvoting anything, some of the time. You can't conclude anything significant about the "voting population" of HN from that, and the fact that you're doing so strikes me as an indication of what I'm arguing—that your generalizations about HN are determined by your own ideological priors, just as people with opposite ideological commitments arrive at the opposite generalizations, and by exactly the same mechanism.

I think you'd arrive at the same conclusion that I have, if you were forced as I have been to look at all sides of this under unrelenting personal pressure. I also think that I'd be arriving at your conclusion if I hadn't been forced to have this experience. That's a pessimistic conclusion—it means that rational discussion of this is probably not possible. (I mean that structurally—not a personal swipe but exactly the opposite, and I hope that's clear.)


I really appreciate the time you put into hashing this out Dang (And newacct583), on a Saturday night no less. I love and am grateful for what you and this community do for me personally. I have a lot to reflect on and will drop the point. Good night team.


> One of those posts made it to #16 before being flagged, the other did not make the front page at all.

Well, presuming we're talking about the minervanett.no article, there's also this submission that made it to #2 with 24 votes and 18 comments in the 10 minutes before it was flagged to death:

[flagged] The most logical explanation is that it comes from a laboratory (minervanett.no)

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23738545

http://hnrankings.info/23738545/

Then there was also a version a week earlier that got to #3 in 5 minutes before it was killed:

[flagged] [dead] Norwegian virologists suggest Coronavirus originated in a laboratory (minervanett.no)

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23738264

http://hnrankings.info/23738264/

> You'll find that scale of upvoters upvoting anything, some of the time.

I found that to be a surprisingly high number of votes in a short period of time, likely indicating that there is a substantial population on HN who would have liked to discuss that story but were prevented from doing so by a (presumably) much smaller number of flags. Is it actually common for stories without a broad degree of interest to get that many votes in their first few minutes?

> it was users who flagged it down, not us

Technically, but I'm hoping that you try to review the flagged stories and recover the ones where you disagree with the flagging? Otherwise this would seem to allow a "tyranny of the minority" where a small number of people who want to prevent a discussion from taking place are able to enforce their beliefs on the rest of the larger group. I'm a lot more comfortable with you using your expert judgement than with trusting that flags will always be used appropriately without review.


Ah, that was the one I remember seeing. In such cases, if (a) article is substantive and (b) there is a chance of an intellectually curious discussion, we turn off the flags and (probably also) downweight the article as a counterweight to sensationalism, which always attracts extra upvotes. In this case (b) seemed hopeless, so I didn't.


Sorry, I kept editing, probably after you had already posted. And I should be clear that I don't have a strong opinion on whether this particular article is actually appropriate for discussion here. I do think it's an example, though, of how certain topics are "off limits" because a small group does not want them to be discussed. For me, it exacerbates my long standing worries that abuse of flagging (or the counter-reaction thereto) may be the eventual downfall of HN.


> I do think it's an example, though, of how certain topics are "off limits" because a small group does not want them to be discussed.

> For me, it exacerbates my long standing worries that abuse of flagging (or the counter-reaction thereto) may be the eventual downfall of HN.

It doesn't really worry me, but topics that I may have wanted to discuss on HN long ago and try to today on some posts, I usually spend more time elsewhere discussing them now and less time on HN doing so because they usually have a very short shelf because of the above and that's fine for me, but maybe not HN.


I wonder if it would be useful including fact checker information next to some of these controversial articles?

The FullFact check is rather good: https://fullfact.org/health/richard-dearlove-coronavirus-cla...

Maybe it's just impossible to discuss a deeply politicised topic like this usefully here though.


Who will fact-check the fact checkers?

The typical ones are horrific, with many having been started explicitly for political battle.

The common tactic for something like "virus from a lab" would be to move the goalposts and hope the reader doesn't notice. Breeding coronaviruses in a lab actually happened, with scientific papers published about how genetically engineered cells with both human and bat traits were used to help the bat coronaviruses adapt to growing well in human cells. A typical fact checker tactic would be to purposely confuse that fact with the claim that the virus was created from scratch, modeled in a computer and assembled by a machine. Supposed experts say that this is impossible, and so the fact checker can claim that the fact was proven false... but it was a straw man.

The URL you gave is not quite so directly misdirecting, but still vague and IMHO just wrong. I've looked over the scientific papers, and I think the evidence is clear.


> In such cases, if (a) article is substantive and (b) there is a chance of an intellectually curious discussion, we turn off the flags and (probably also) downweight the article as a counterweight to sensationalism, which always attracts extra upvotes. In this case (b) seemed hopeless, so I didn't.

That's the point, in my opinion at least.

Above you say:

> This site may feel like a "consensus echo chamber" but in reality it is nothing remotely close to that. I think you may be running into the notice-dislike bias...

If a certain class of articles get flagged by a large number of people who have a strong dislike for the topic, and you as the moderator are ok with it because here at HN with the culture being the way it is you allow it to be removed because it won't generate "intellectually curious discussion", then how can you say that HN is not a "consensus echo chamber" when it comes to these particular topics?

It seems to me there are some very obvious errors in your explanation above. You can run this forum however you want, but being aware and transparent about what topics are and are not allowed seems like a better way to do it than disingenuously explaining away flaws. No person is omniscient, however it may seem that way. Just as you can observe flaws in other people evaluation that they themselves cannot see, is it not possible that you too may have some flaws that you cannot see?


It's more complex than just "what topics are and are not allowed". Threads are extremely sensitive to initial conditions. One thread might discuss a topic within the site guidelines while another thread on the same topic might turn into a massive flamewar. Subtle (or not so subtle) differences in article, headline, URL, site design, and who knows what else can make the difference too. The decision I made was based on the thread, not the topic. As I mentioned above, we reduced the penalty on one of those threads. We wouldn't do that if the topic were "not allowed".

Is it possible that I may have some flaws that I cannot see? That is beyond possible, it is certain. The trouble with these arguments though is that operating this place is a lot more complicated than people assume it is, and so they say oversimplified things like "aha, you are suppressing topic X so HN is an echo chamber after all" and I have to try to fill in the information gap before we can have a sensible conversation about what the actual flaws might be. I'm super interested in the flaws—but first we have to be talking about the same world, which unfortunately is already not so easy.


I am well aware that it is complicated. When a controversial thread is reported, a rather large number of variables are referenced by your mind - some of these you are aware of, some of them you are not.

But at the end of the day, in the aggregate, either there is zero slant (by topic) whatsoever, or there is greater than zero. Based on my anecdotal observations over a long period of time, my perception is that there are indeed certain topics that are less welcome than others, and the assurances I've read, while plausible, do not seem adequate. If we were able to see a log of removed topics it may be more reassuring.

I'd rather HN had more freedom of topic discussion at least occasionally as an experiment, and then perhaps we could see if some modifications to guidelines (perhaps just on those threads) could keep things a bit more civilized. If no site is willing to put some effort into finding a workable approach to this problem, it seems reasonable that the world is just going to keep becoming more polarized as people spend more time at sites that are designed from scratch to be information bubbles.


First of all, I'd like to thank the moderator dang. I don't always agree, nor do I expect to agree. I'm comfortable with disagreements.

If we are serious about avoiding echochamber effects, then we shouldn't take voting so seriously. What is wrong with having a polite disagreement? Why should we value popularity?

Have we reached a point where we cannot discuss certain topics as adults? If so, can those individuals not simply choose to opt-out of the discussions?

I didn't read the discussion in question, but I don't understand what stopping a discussion solves. From my perspective discussions should be stopped when they are needlessly toxic, when participants can no longer advance their ideas politely. Humans have limitations, sometimes emotions become too hot. I appreciate when dang closes these types of discussions.

An illegitimate reason to censor would be to remove ideas which cannot be countered, but the reader disagrees with. Some people find disagreements and discussions disturbing. Others enjoy the opportunity to challenge their ideas, as a matter of 'intellectual curiosity'. Some simply relish in the tactics of formulating arguments, regardless of the underlying position.


> I didn't read the discussion in question, but I don't understand what stopping a discussion solves.

The explanation dang gives above is that it prevents discussion that is not "intellectually curious". This type of discussion occurs on HN on a daily basis, but some topics seem to have an extra layer of moderation filters to go through, presumably because they are nearly guaranteed to create significant disharmony. Which is fine - if optimizing for community harmony takes precedence over free discussion of particularly controversial topics, so be it. I just don't like that combined with a claim that HN is in no way an echo chamber.

But of course, transparency and honesty are simply my personal preferences, and HN can't cater to every individual's personal preferences. Surely there are some people here that would not enjoy having a list of blacklisted topics explicitly published, perhaps because it would give the impression of false equivalency or some other perception like that.


I'll agree that it is an echochamber. Voting/flagging will always cause that. In someways this brand of moderation cements that. Perhaps the lack of willingness to have an explicit list of verbotten topics is a way to avoid ossification or deny that it has happened?

Mises.org and their lengthy critiques of MMT/UBI are shadowbanned. In my reading of what you've explained, it sounds like this is banned because users are incapable of discussing it in good faith?

For me that is a poor reason, we should strive to be better. Moderators should be able handle it. After all if the goal is intellectual curiosity, but the community can't accept critical articles of a heterodox economic theory...

Issues surrounding the CCP are another divisive topic. These threads are usually invaded by pro-CCP trolls and whataboutists.

I agree that it would be nice to have an admission of topics or domains which moderators feel HN is incapable of discussing. I expect that this would challenge users to discuss these topics civilly.


I think the most obvious bias/skew is towards defending the merits of upper middle-class western lifestyle rather than any particular subject in itself. Obviously that will cause certain subjects to be more vehemently defended than others.

An obvious example is where there's a collective disbelief, or perhaps just avoidance, of the bad side of the gig economy since it improves the upper middle-class lifestyle so much that defending it comes naturally even if it's not grounded in social justice.


What was the article? Now I'm curious


Probably "The most logical explanation is that Covid-19 comes from a laboratory" https://www.minervanett.no/corona/the-most-logical-explanati...

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23725966 (flagged, 18 points, 8 days ago, 4 comments)

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23727763 (10 points, 8 days ago, 3 comments)

[Personal opinion: The evidence is not enough to prove that is was created/improved/selected in a lab. It has a few "lucky" features, but normal coronavirus don't cause pandemics, so we already know it is a "lucky" case.]

18 points by haltingproblem 8 days ago | flag | hide | past | favorite | 4 comments

"


I've seen an article claiming that it spread from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But not in the sense that they created, improved or selected it. I gather that they were simply isolating and studying viruses from bats that had been collected in southern China. And they were doing that based on concerns about new pandemics, given experience with SARS and MERS, and the expectation that there would be more zoonotic jumps from bat populations.


I would not dismiss his arguments at first sight. but they are presented as anecdotes, not as convincing proof. his gut instinct might be right, because he is experienced, but there should be a proof. And genomics proofs are actually easy nowadays. everybody is familiar with neural networks and how long it needs to come up with optimized mutations. I just miss the mathematical proof of the low likelihood of natural mutations in x generations to come up with that special spike. Note that the period of 10-14 days per generation is extremely fast. Like with the drosphila. extraordinary claims need better proofs.


Google around and you will find it. To me it makes no difference whether it was or wasn’t, what was eye opening was the speed of it hitting and being removed.

It’s the unwillingness to even allow the topic on HN which intrigued me. Believing what I believe (ie my bias) I was surprised it got as far as it did - because I know that’s not the HN community party line - and then noticed it disappeared within seconds of me seeing it on home page. I was the first to comment on it so it couldn’t have been because the threads descended into a flame war and I was unaware of which other guidelines it could have broken given it was a legit site referencing a legit paper in a legit journal (but taking a perspective the broader Hn community won’t tolerate).


> it was a legit site referencing a legit paper in a legit journal

It wasn't. the article explained how they couldn't find a publisher for it. That's why I flagged it, because that's a red flag.

It was also based on the statistical fallacy that Feynman once summed up with "There is a car with license plate GH02B [a sequence with no meaning] outside. What are the odds?!"



I dislike fringe libertarianism but my experience here is the opposite - I notice posts, sometimes I reply to them, I'm often downvoted by those commenters, but it's not a central element on HN, and I don't feel it dominates the narrative.

There is a silent upvote majority here who will un-down almost anything that isn't clearly toxic or counterfactual.

So I certainly do appreciate the level-headedness here.


The sensitivity with which you replied just tells me I'm probably right about this. I assure you that, having dealt with HN readers in real life contexts on both sides of that divide, that the perception absolutely isn't symmetric. HN is seen as a "safe space" for some demographics and definitely as hostile by others. (Edit: I'll just say it. I've had multiple conversations with real life women where I have to make excuses for the perspective of posters here and explain why it's still a valuable forum anyway.)

I mean, I agree with you that we all have biases and blind spots in our perception. Which means... so do the mods. I comment because I want HN to continue to be a site that people like me want to comment on. The site that "people whose comments dang likes" want to comment on surely looks different.


I totally empathize with what it's like to try to defend HN as a worthy place to participate when you're talking with someone who has extremely strong feelings about how awful it is, and the fact that you're willing to do that makes me feel much more sympathy and common ground with you than any disagreement we may have on other points.

But I think your explanation of why this is is much too simplistic. The difference seems to be that you aren't being bombarded every day with utterly contradictory extremely strong feelings about how awful it is. If you were, you wouldn't be able to write what you just posted. Your judgment that the perception "isn't symmetric" is wildly out of line with what I encounter here, so one of us must be dealing with an extremely skewed sample. Perhaps you read more HN posts and talk to a wider variety of people about HN than I do. From my perspective, the links below are typical—and there are countless more where these came from. Of course, there are also countless links claiming exactly the opposite, but since you already believe that, they aren't the medicine in this case. I sample that list when responding to commenters who see things this way:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23729568

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17197581

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23429442

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20438487

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15032682

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19471335

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15937781

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21627676

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15388778

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20956287

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15585780

https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=BetterThanSlave

https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=slamdance

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15307915

A sample email, for a change of pace: "It's clear ycombinator is clearly culling right-wing opinions and thoughts. The only opinions allowed to remain on the site are left wing [...] What a fucking joke your site has become."

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20202305

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18664482

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16397133

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15546533

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15752730

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20645202

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21325122

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23719343


I think there is a solution to this problem. If moderator decisions are made and recorded publicly then the data can at least be analyzed objectively. If there is indeed a bias then someone should be able to sit down and do the statistical analysis and show that "Yes, X type of stories / comments are more consistently flagged / removed / downvoted / etc." or "No, there is actually no bias in this instance".

I think there is contention right now because moderator decisions are opaque so people come up with their own narratives. Without actual data there is no way to tell what type of bias exists and why so it's easy to make up a personal narrative that is not backed with any actual data.

User flagging is also currently opaque and a similar argument applies. If I have to provide a reason for why I flagged something and will know that my name will be publicly associated with which items I've flagged then I will be much more careful. Right now, flagging anything is consequence free because it is opaque.


I completely understand, believe me I get it—but based on everything I've seen, it's a hopelessly romantic view. If I've learned one thing, it's that people are going to "come up with their own narratives", as you aptly put it, no matter what we do. Adding energy into that would only create more pressure and demand on a system which is maxed out already.

Making this mistake would lead to more argument, not less—the opposite of what was intended. It would simply reproduce the same old arguments at a meta level, giving the fire a whole new dimension of fuel to burn. Worse, it would skew more of HN into flamewars and meta fixation on the site itself, which are the two biggest counterfactors to its intended use.

Such lists would be most attractive to the litigious and bureaucratic sort of user, the kind that produces two or more new objections to every answer you give [1]. That's a kind of DoS attack on moderation resources. Since there are always more of them than of us, it's a thundering herd problem too.

This would turn moderation into even more of a double bind [2] and might even make it impossible, since we function on the edge of the impossible already. Worst of all, it would starve HN of time and energy for making the site better—something that unfortunately is happening already. This is a well-known hard problem with systems like this: a minority of the community consumes a majority of the resources. Really we should be spending those making the site better for its intended use by the majority of its users.

So forgive me, but I think publishing a full moderation log would be a mistake. I'll probably be having nightmares about it tonight.

[1] https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23656311


I merely outlined what I would want if I was a moderator. I would rather receive email with statistical analysis than be compared to Hitler and Stalin without any data to back it up. It would be way funnier if someone proved statistically that I was Hitler and Stalin at the same time. They'd have to go through a lot of trouble to actually do that and if they managed to do so then that would be some high art.

Any complaint without data to back it up would be thrown in the trash pile.

In any case. It's a worthwhile experiment to try because it can't make your life worse. I can't really imagine anything worse than being compared to Hitler and Stalin especially if all that person is doing is just venting their anger. I'd want to avoid being the target of that anger and I would require mathematical analysis from anyone that claimed to be justifiably angry to show the actual justification for their anger. Without data you will continue to get hate mail that's nothing more than people making up a story to justify their own anger. And you have already noticed the personal narrative angle so I'm not telling you anything new here. The data takes away the "personal" part of the narrative which I think is an improvement.


Alas, there's no way to avoid being the target of that anger. It's inevitable in the system. You're right that one has to develop strategies for managing one's reaction to it. I don't think requiring a mathematical analysis would work in my case. It might not work in any case; I expect most angry people would probably get angrier if told that their anger is invalid because not backed up mathematically, and the dynamics of escalating mass anger could end up destroying the whole system.

There's a deeper issue though. Such an analysis would depend on labeling the data accurately in the first place, and opposing sides would never agree on how to label it. Indeed, they would adjust the labels until the analysis produced what they already 'know' to be the right answer—not because of conscious fraud but simply because the situation seems so obvious to them to begin with. As I said above, the only people motivated enough to work on this would be ones who would never accept any result that didn't reproduce what they already know, or feel they know.


Hey dang, first, I appreciate all of your comments in this post and your deep commitment to both HN and the state of online discussion. I'm learning a lot from reading your comments.

I'm curious if given all that you've shared, you think it's even _possible_ to scale a "healthy" discussion site any larger than HN currently is? It's clear that HN's success is in no small part due to the commitment, passion, and active participation of the few moderators. Contrast that with some of the top comments, which describe how toxic Twitter is, and I wonder if there's some sort of limit to effective moderation, or if we just haven't found more scalable solutions to manage millions of humans talking openly online sans toxicity? cheers


I'm not dang, obviously, but I think it's a testament to his hard work that HN functions even as well as it does.

Most sites its size are far, far worse, I think.

I personally believe that is due to human nature.

I think that is what dang has observed and is trying to articulate - no matter how smart or rigorous or mathematical you are, you still are human and thus subject to the human condition.

One way that manifests is this persuasion that the Other is winning the war (and that there is a war, for that matter).

I take it as almost axiomatic that a site with Twitter's volume cannot be anything but the cesspool it is.

It's too big for a single person to even begin to read a statistically-significant fraction of the content.

That means moderation is a hilariously-stupid concept at that scale. Any team of moderators large enough to do the job will itself suffer the fragmentation and conflicts that online forums do, and find itself unable to agree on what the policies should be, let alone how they should be adapted in contentious cases (and by definition, you only need moderation in contentious cases).


I agree with a lot of this, but the things you're talking about already apply to HN, so the argument can't really be used to show that a larger site would necessarily fail to work as well as HN (however 'well' that really is—I'm not making any grand claims here).

For example, the human nature you're talking about is by far the strongest force on HN, and the scale (though tiny compared to Twitter or Facebook or Reddit) is already beyond what one would suppose possible for a forum like this.


Very good point.

I would agree that HN is far too big for moderation alone to save it, though I hadn't quite put that together when I wrote my first post.

I think pg's original guidelines managed to capture enough of a cultural ideal that much of the original culture has been preserved organically by the users themselves (though I'm not qualified to speak to the culture of the early years, or how much it has changed since then).

You and the other mod(s?) have done a great job of being a guiding hand, and of understanding that it's too big for anything other than a loose guiding hand to be relevant, from a moderation perspective. You can remove things that shouldn't be discussed, show egregious repeat offenders the door, and encourage people to behave well and be restrained (in large part by example).

Twitter is so much vaster, and grew so fast, that even a guiding hand and good founding culture could not hope to save it. I suspect the way its design encourages rapid-fire back-and-forth also really hurts the nature of interaction on the site.


Hey, when you say “already beyond what one would suppose possible.” Could you describe it. And to promise that this in good faith - a personal example of when you stood on the precipice and saw the scale of the yawning depths below.

I’ve found that clear vivid examples from people are crucial torch lights which can be shared around to give people a snap shot into what mods feel or witness. This then allows the conversation with non mods to progress faster, since this type of story telling is what people are best optimized to consume.


I don't mean anything fancy, just that HN is a large-ish (millions of users, but not tens of millions) completely open, optionally anonymous internet forum, and it's not obvious that one of those could function as well as HN does. When I say "as well", I don't mean "well". This place has tons of problems. But it could be a lot, lot worse, and the null hypothesis would be to expect worse.

I wrote about this a bit here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23727261. Shirky's famous 2003 essay about internet communities was talking in terms of a few hundred people, and argued that groups can't scale beyond that. HN has scaled far beyond that, and though it is not a group in every sense of that essay, it has retained, let's say, some groupiness. It's not a war of all against all—or at least, not only that.

As we learn more about how to operate it, I'm hoping that we can do more things to encourage positive group dynamics. We shall see. The public tides are very much against it right now, but those can change.


Oops - s/adapted/adopted/.


Not Dang.

No.

We haven’t really found it before the internet (these problems are endemic to human/sentient nature.)

The internet only makes things industrialized.

There are things you can do, that reduce the number of friction points, thus making it possible to self govern

1) narrow topics/purpose - the closer to an objective science the better.

2) no politics, no religion - as far as possible.

3) topic should not be a static/ largely opinion oriented. More goal driven, with progress milestones easily discussed and queried (lose weight, get healthy, ask artists, learn photoshop.)

4) clear and shareable tests to weed out posers - r/badeconomics, askhistory

5) strong moderation.

6) no to little meta Discussions

7) directed paths for self promotion

8) get lucky and have a topic that attracts polite good faith debaters who can identify and eject bad faith actors (the holy grail.)

Each of these options removes or modulates a source of drama. With enough of them removed, you can still get flame wars, but it will be better than necker having done these before.


I don't know. I think it might be on the unlikely side of possible, but I don't have any compelling reasons for saying so. It would require a lot of learning, but it's possible to learn. It's hard and wouldn't happen by default though. You'd be attempting to induce a group into functioning in a way that that no group that large has ever done before.

NateEag makes some good points in the sibling comment. You'd have to create the culture at the level of the moderation team, and that's not easy. The way we approach this work on HN has aspects that reach deep into personal life, in a way that I would not feel comfortable requiring of anybody—nor would it work anyhow. If you tried to build such an organization using any standard corporate approach it would likely be a disaster. But maybe it could be done in a different way, or maybe there is an approach that doesn't resemble how we do it on HN.

Would it be possible with the economics of a startup, where the priority has to be growth and/or monetization? Probably less.


Absolutely not.

There are 2 mods running HN. Responding to people is TAXING - as in its hugely costly. And it has some terrible edge cases which destroy the process:

The costly occasions are when you meet people who are either

a) Angry

b) Rule lawyers

c) malignantly motivated

AT this point their goal is to get attention or apply coercive force on the moderation process.

These guys are an existential threat to the conversational process and one of the win conditions is to get people to turn against the moderators.

Social media is a topic that HN gets wrong so regularly, and without recourse to research or analysis so frequently that I would avoid discussing moderation in general here.

The fact is that if people are arguing in good faith, we can have some amount of peace, and even deal with inadvertent faux pas and ignorance, provided you never reach an eternal september scenario.

But bad faith actors make even this scenario impossible.


If you know of research or analysis that is essential on this topic, please tell us what it is. I'd like to be sure I'm aware of it, and other readers would surely be interested also.


Hmm. Given the broad range of topics "social Media" covers, there are vast numbers of papers on it.

For people who have NEVER thought of social networks and conversations online I find this site to discuss some of the blander but more game theoretic elements of networks/trust and therefore online conversations:

https://ncase.me/crowds/

https://ncase.me/trust/

-----------------

For you guys (HN Mods) I'd bet that you in particular are abreast of stuff.

- I'd ask if you have heard/seen Civil Servant, by Nathan Matias - its a system to do experiments on forums and test the results (see if there is a measurable change on user behavior)

https://natematias.com/ - Civil Servant, Professor Cornell. He probably has an account here

https://civilservant.io/moderation_experiment_r_science_rule...

- Books: Custodians of the internet.

------

Going through some of the papers I have stocked away, sadly in no sane order. I can't say if they are classic papers, you may have better.

- Policy/law Paper: Georgetown law, Regulating Online Content Moderation. https://www.law.georgetown.edu/georgetown-law-journal/wp-con...

- NBER paper on polarization - https://www.nber.org/papers/w23258, I disagreed/was surprised by the conclusion. America centric.

- Homophily and minority-group size explain perception biases in social networks, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0677-4

- The spreading of misinformation online: https://www.pnas.org/content/113/3/554.full

- The Uni of Alabama has a reddit research group, - https://arrg.ua.edu/research.html, they have 2 papers. One of which explores the effect of a sudden influx of new users on r/2xchromosomes. https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/10143/...

-policy: OFCOM (UK) has a policy paper on using AI for moderation https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0028/157249/...

- Algorithmic content moderation: Technical and political challenges in the automation of platform governance - https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2053951719897945

- The Web Centipede: Understanding How Web Communities Influence Each Other Through the Lens of Mainstream and Alternative News Sources

- Community Interaction and Conflict on the Web,

- You Can’t Stay Here: The Efficacy of Reddit’s 2015 Ban Examined Through Hate Speech

Papers I have to read myself,

- Does Transparency in Moderation Really Matter?: User Behavior After Content Removal Explanations on Reddit. https://shagunjhaver.com/files/research/jhaver-2019-transpar...

- Censored, suspended, shadowbanned: User interpretations of content moderation on social media platforms: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/146144481877305... (I need to read that paper, but I expect it to be a good foundation of knowledge and examples)

Other stuff:

- The turing institute talked about Moderators being key workers during COVID - https://www.turing.ac.uk/blog/why-content-moderators-should-...


Hey really big thank you for posting this! I'm working on a new discussion site and so much of this is pertinent. I may return with some follow-up commentary once I've read through some of it, thank you.


NP. If you find any interesting papers, do share.


What papers/articles/sources do you guys read?


Not just made and recorded publicly, but easily searchable and aggregated.


Yes. That's what I mean. If there is an API then we can use mathematical models to answer questions about bias or lack thereof.

I also don't think that it's possible to have any forum without bias so the data I'm certain will indicate bias but at least it will be transparent and obvious so people can point to actual data to make their case one way or the other. It's hard to improve a situation if there is no data to point to and argue about. Without data people just tell stories about whatever makes the most sense from whatever sparse data they have managed to reverse engineer from personal observations.


Kudos for having those links easily available, or easily searchable, even though (and I say this with all of my good-heart) I'm not sure how "good" they are at keeping one's mental sanity intact (only by reading a few of them I sort of became agitated/semi-outraged).

I find that a good rule/compromise was to almost never talk about HN per-se, i.e. to avoid almost all meta discussions (I think that rule would have avoided many of the comments present in your list of links), but I am aware that that sort of thing is less and less easy to accomplish in this day and age.

Later edit: Saw your comment bellow about the rationale of collecting those links, glad that it works for you and that it helps you, sincerely.


Dan, I assume you quickly pulled this list of URLs out of a huge bunch of bookmarks related to how hn functions and is perceived by its users. (the alternative, that these mostly negative comments related to your moderation etched themselves in your memory in such a way that you were able to search them out quickly, seems both sad and highly unlikely)

I wonder if you've got a plan for the knowledge and information you're accumulating related to the function and moderation of hn, and sites like it. Have you written about your experience moderating hn?


I started collecting them years ago after posting https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13110004. After a while that joke felt a little mean, but I kept adding to the list because I found it to be a stabilizer for my own sanity. When someone accuses you of Hitler it helps to review the Stalins and vice versa. It frames the situation differently and makes it a little easier to calm down and hopefully react better.

I haven't written much about my experience moderating HN because I don't want it to be about me. Occasionally little blobs squeeze out under pressure. Also, I'm not sure I could describe it very well. It might take more of a novelist's skill to explain the experience. I'd probably just use a lot of words like "surreal" that don't say anything, or come up with metaphors that are good for venting but again, don't really explain much.

What I do want to do is distill the moderation explanations I've posted over the years into a sort of expanded FAQ or commentary. If anyone has noticed how often I post HN Search links to past explanations (which I hope is not too annoying), that's because the explanations have converged over the years, on I'd guess at least a couple dozen different significant issues. Things like how we moderate politics on HN, how it's not ok to insinuate astroturfing, how we handle reposts, and so on.


> What I do want to do is distill the moderation explanations I've posted over the years into a sort of expanded FAQ or commentary.

I think that might be very interesting, and potentially pretty valuable to people working in a similar position.

> If anyone has noticed how often I post HN Search links to past explanations (which I hope is not too annoying)

Those are not annoying. (although I do not doubt you could introduce me to someone who says they are...)


> I'd probably just use a lot of words like "surreal" that don't say anything

Here's one to add to your list from today (now flagged dead) that I thought was particularly surreal in its logic: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23808107. It's short, so I'll just quote it in full:

Hacker News pays close attention to the content on the main page. They purge anything that doesn't trend left leaning or counters the standard left's corporate interests.

For example, I posted a link to Michael Moore's film in which he eviscerates bio-fuels. This post was mysteriously removed. It was also removed the second time I posted it. This was despite the link the "A year wearing shorts to work" as another HN article link at the time continued to exist.

A link to a Micheal Moore (the quintessential 90's leftist documentarian) film "eviscerating bio-fuels" is "mysteriously removed", but a fluff piece about shorts remains: Collect underpants, ?, profit!


Quote seems fairly accurate to me if you just replace "Hacker News" with "Users of Hacker News." It's a forum that's populated heavily with Silicon Valley tech liberals (basically fairly left leaning with a libertarian streak, and minimal exposure to the working class demographic Moore is involved with).

On top of all that the forum is skittish about embracing controversial political topics in general, because many people would prefer to just talk about tech.

Why wouldn't HN users flag some Michael Moore content to oblivion?

What is wrong with this? I'm a far cry from a Silicon Valley liberal, and nothing's wrong with it that I can see. There is no One Forum To Rule Them All, and there shouldn't be. Let a thousand forums bloom their own way.

The one thing I'd like to see is a franchise model based on HN - this place pays just enough attention to civility and topicality to promote good discussion without feeling Orwellian. If only that magic could somehow be replicated.


> It's a forum that's populated heavily with Silicon Valley tech liberals

That's mistaken. Users in SV are about 10% of the population here, last I checked, but that was for a very wide definition of SV, and by any measure some chunk would not be "tech liberals", so the number is significantly less than 10%.

This site is far more geographically and culturally distributed than people assume it is. I've written about this in several places; one is https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23308098 if anyone is interested.


> What is wrong with this?

I mostly agree with you, there's nothing wrong with it. What's happening is the same thing that goes on everywhere in social media. People projecting their worldviews, opinions, and believing that their opinions are special and The One view that should prevail. That they should have a right to be heard everywhere, that their opinions should carry weight everywhere (regardless of the forum).

It's like we're dealing with a very emotionally & intellectually spoiled generation, brats. The everyone gets a trophy generation. People that can't accept that their opinions don't govern the universe and are not important everywhere; nor are all opinions equally important everywhere. Social media has warped all of that severely. It's almost like it has deluded a mass of people into thinking their opinion broadcast inside of their home/space, has (or should have) the same weight when broadcast outside to the world and that the two should be given the same kind of consideration.

I think this is a very common logic failure. They're unable to mentally separate concepts effectively. In my observation very few people actually invest into thinking, how to think, how to use logic, how to reason. It takes a lot of effort to get good at it.

Critically people need to learn that their opinions do not always matter and are not valuable all the time. It's a concept that the woke, cancel culture generation can't tolerate. I think the US culture needs a hefty dose of this right now: your opinion is not as important as you think it is; your feelings are not that important; feelings are not more important than facts.

It really is the fragile, coddled generation. They can't live with the notion of the lack of their importance. It makes perfect sense though, it's also the hyper narcissistic selfie / influencer generation. It all goes together.


> On top of all that the forum is skittish about embracing controversial political topics in general, because many people would prefer to just talk about tech. Why wouldn't HN users flag some Michael Moore content to oblivion? What is wrong with this?

There's nothing necessarily wrong with the flagging itself (well, except in this case I believe a lack of awareness of the content of that documentary likely contributes to ongoing destruction of the earth's ecosystem)...but there is a problem where the moderator of HN claims that what you say above is outright false. Purely a misperception on your part.

Another way I can see it being harmful: a never-discussed here (or anywhere else that I know of) topic that I believe may be a key issue with the growing polarization in the world (in turn increasing danger across multiple dimensions), is that there seems to be certain topics that render the human mind unable to sustain consciousness and rational, unbiased thought. Of course Reddit and Facebook are full of this sort of behavior, but there is no shortage of it here on HN either. If solutions to existential threats like climate change require public consensus (do they not?), and even we here on HN are unable to behave in a conscious, logical manner (or even try), then how do we expect the general public to do so? And if no one here is even willing to consider the potential importance of this idea, then those same people shouldn't be too surprised if people like me (and I'm far from unique in this respect) have about as much respect for them as they have for Trump supporters, and roll our eyes at the low-dimensional thinking behind climate change hysteria. If it was really that important to people as intelligent as HN'ers, they should be willing to think - or at the very least, consider the notion of thinking.

As for how this general phenomenon may be dangerous: as a mental experiment, let's assume that it is a very real phenomenon, that does occur in objective physical shared reality. That's bad enough. But now imagine if one or more powerful entities were able to realize that certain things are virtually guaranteed to sink humans into subconscious, unthinking, tribal, non-cooperative behaviour. Could this knowledge be used for nefarious means, and what might the techniques look like? Now, look around the modern world - do we see any new (in the last decade or so) phenomena that have become quite common that may plausibly be invocations of these techniques, to achieve certain goals? Might that perhaps go a little ways to explain the inconceivably irrational behaviour of people on certain topics?


Thanks! I missed that one.


hahaha, the forum apocrypha!

I've found that having some amount of time spent to just keep a timeline of notable events on a forum is extremely crucial for any forum that lasts a long time and has political discussions on it.

This should probably be a feature for all subs/forums.


Just out of curiosity, what is your Hitler/Stalin accusation ratio? Do you get many Mussolinis?

PS: Thanks for keeping the trains running on time!


The problem is that as a moderator those type of posts get your attention. The outliers are the ones you worry about. As someone who participates I basically ignore those. There will always be complain posts even when everything is perfect. People might have had a bad day or there might be another reason for their reaction.


They are outliers in intensity only. They are not outliers in terms of the underlying phenomenon of how users arrive at their generalized perceptions of HN. On the contrary, the phenomenon itself is routine and typical. I would even call it universal.

If you see a comment complaining about "(Apple|Google|Microsoft) fanboys", that's much the same thing. The only actual information in such a comment is about the commenter—specifically, what they dislike (in this case, (Apple|Google|Microsoft)) and therefore what they notice and assigned greater weight to.

Such commenters routinely produce entirely opposite outputs about the exact same input set. Indeed their complaints are interchangeable except for the direction of bias they're complaining about. This phenomenon is so reliable that I'm not sure I've seen any more reliable phenomenon on HN. There is clearly a deep cognitive bias underlying it. I've done my best to try to explain what that is. I'd be interested in hearing other explanations, but so far most responses seem to deny the phenomenon, which from my perspective can't possibly be correct.

Where I think being a moderator makes a big difference is that we get bombarded with these contradictory complaints every day, often in personally abusive ways. You can't help but notice the contradictions when you're getting bashed for one reason one minute and than bashed for exactly the opposite reason the next. When one side calls you Hitler and the other side calls you Stalin, and each side complains bitterly how you ban everyone they agree with and moderate in the other's favor, the only sane response is to become curious about how the exact same thing can result in such an extreme variance in perception.


The question I would put to you is how do you guys maintain zen?

Sure HN isn't as bad as some places on the web, but tech still has its subcultures, blind spots and tribes - not to mention politics.

The biggest strain is mod burn out in many places, or even mods getting influenced by the content they police.

Do you guys have any plans or issues like that?


Sure, that's by far the biggest issue in my working life and therefore one of the biggest in my life. My approach is to try to take it as an opportunity for growth. I've spent a lot of time with forms of therapeutic process work that have affected me deeply and which overlap in some ways with the challenges of moderation. I sometimes imagine that there is also a spiritual aspect of sorts (I hesitate to use that word because it sounds inflated in an internet comment, but you touched on something similar when you said 'zen')—something that allows for an intense and crazy-making situation to perhaps be a catalyst if you use it in the right way.

Two simpler factors are (1) I'm paid to do it and (2) I have creative freedom, which is important to me. Just remembering those two things reminds me that I'm choosing to do this. That sounds so trivial but psychologically it's a big thing.


No I can see why it works for the situation you are in. It's sort of artisinal work in this case. Plus the act of moderation and just speech online is nearly 0 steps removed from they original techie ideals of exchanging and encouraging good ideas.

Plus its HN, so the mission is matched by positive history within the community.

Part of the reason I ask is because the handling of the mental costs of such a job is not something covered in the content/research on moderation. We know that employees at firms get PTSD for example, but that's also from staring at the highest levels of radioactive content. Those people need therapy.

For something much milder (hopefully), what do mods do to make peace with things and not lose their minds?


> When one side calls you Hitler and the other side calls you Stalin, and each side complains bitterly how you ban everyone they agree with and moderate in the other's favor, the only sane response is to become curious about how the exact same thing can result in such an extreme variance in perception.

As another commentator has said, being a moderator means you only see a certain side of the equation. Users don't see the amount of abuse or nonsense that gets thrown at moderators because a lot of that is invisible or removed, that's just the unfortunate nature of running a forum. Even worse when it devolves into threats or actions against moderators.

But it also blinds you to the smaller shifts in the userbase because the larger conflicting voices are the main thing you hear. It becomes harder to notice when women feel less comfortable posting here because other posters chase them off. Or when minorities have trouble sharing their experiences because any mention of their race triggers a flamewar.

That ends up cultivating a certain level of bias on the forum where only individuals who either silently agree with or add fuel to the fire rotate in and other users rotate out. I mean I've fought with you before because you had to remove the word 'Black' from a story because it caused some users to lash out at the fact that black people were sharing their story.

You did so in order to stop a flamewar, but why did you need to do so in the first place? If a small subset of users can poison a discussion as a result, then you have a problem with the overall bias of the forum.


There are lots of different small subsets of users who can poison or destabilize the system, and yes, that is a huge problem with the forum. It doesn't follow that any such subset dominates the site's overall userbase. Each certainly believes that the opposite subset does, though. That's the phenomenon I'm trying to describe.

It's not true that what I'm arguing for or perceiving is based only on extreme comments. I tried to explain this in the very comment you replied to. It's based on massive numbers of comments, some extreme and most not. I probably read more of this forum than anyone, for the simple reason that it's my job. I've also spent thousands of hours working on evaluating it as objectively as I possibly can. That does not mean my perceptions are correct or that I'm immune from bias; au contraire. But it's not nothing either.

Based on feedback I've gotten and posts I see, I don't believe that women feel less comfortable posting here than they used to. I believe there has been a slow trend in a better direction, though not everyone agrees. Race is a harder issue to assess because that issue has flared up so massively in society at large lately that the macro trends simply dominate whatever is specific to HN. We can't expect this site to be immune from that.


Somehow it is popular to adhere to binary thinking.

Eg.

- For operating systems: only apple is good, the rest is bad.

- For politics: choose a side

Also the "if you are not for me, then you are against me" kind of trope.

That's just how it is, I don't think you can change that.

Some people have made their mind up and are only willing to make you change your mind and not listen to any reason from another point of view.

Then there's the abuse.

Where somebody is no longer debating a topic, but start getting personal. That's almost always a sign of acting in bad faith. Those are the type of posts that have a likely hood of needing some moderating. Once somebody like that pops up, they are likely to have crossed a limit that makes them easier to show up on your radar. Sometimes it is an accident, but other times it is a pattern.

It can be interesting to know why somebody acts like that, but perhaps it is better to not know that. Especially when they are not willing to change their behavior.


First: those are hilarious, thanks. Second: I don't see how "Look at all these crazy reactionary right wingers" is really evidence that the median poster here is not skewed. Again getting to sampling error: you're a mod, you see the complaints more than the signal.

I'm talking about the skew of the people in the actual threads, and what opinions become acceptable consensus. And that's not the same population. Frankly most of us never see the garbage like that, because you flag it.

But what remains isn't "balanced" just because you find jerks on both sides. It's just as likely that one side is working the refs better.

Now again, I don't expect you to agree. But I see what I see. And I post to make sure that others don't see the same thing.


I have to say, that first one gave me a laugh. HN is a "leftist echo chamber?" Considering how the political range of HN runs from center left to bordering on far right, that doesn't hold water. You can't talk about anything on the political spectrum to the left of Bernie Sanders, who, in Europe, would be a rather tame social democrat. But, I guess y'all like UBI and land value taxes, so, sure, it's totally a leftist echo chamber. :P


> You can't talk about anything on the political spectrum to the left of Bernie Sanders, who, in Europe, would be a rather tame social democrat.

I hear this repeatedly, and I'm not sure this placement of most American politicians on the same dimension as European politicians (if there's even a single dimension there) works very well. I would certainly agree on fiscal issues, for example, but on social issues, at least compared to the western European country in which I live, I suspect Sanders or other far-left US politicians would be on the far-left here as well.


You want to get downvoted a lot by all sides be a BLM supporting, anti-regulation, pro strong safety net bleeding heart capitalist like I am.....


>That's extremely bad for community, and I don't know what to do about it

If I were to start a site for online discussion, I would probably not even try to foster a sense of community in the participants.

Although is quite unhealthy for most people not to belong to a community, the human need for belonging is not so pressing that the average person cannot afford to participate a few hours a week on a site that has no hope of ever providing belongingness.


One advantage of having a T/V distinction in a language is that one can set the tone of a site by the address used, informal for "chummy aligned community" (belonging over contributing) and formal for "respectful diverse community" (contributing over belonging). Fortunately english has a formal "you" which we could use to demonstrate that this site is a community of inquiry among diverse opinions, not a community of like-minded folk. Unfortunately english no longer has the informal "thou"[1] so that signal is worth exactly zero bits.

[1] Don't thee thou me, thee thou thissen, and 'ow tha likes thee thouing.

Also, in the old days, T/V was asymmetric. If A V'd B, B T'd A. These days we use symmetric address, so either A and B T each other or they V each other. (if A are a business advertising, the choice of V or T implicitly segments their market. Some businesses wimp out and advertise in english to avoid making any decision.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T–V_distinction


As a German speaker, I can assure you that T/V doesn't necessarily say something about the level of politeness or respect in a discussion. I have witnessed newspaper comment sections or Facebook threads where people would V each other but still say very rude things.


Very true. A single advisory bit, itself interpreted by primates with iphones, only goes so far.

"Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden."

(I'm trying to think of how one might translate the T/V lines in "Küss die Hand schöne Frau" into english, and failing...)


I'd have to disagree. I've noticed a growing trend of comments like [1] getting upvoted rather than flagged despite making some awful remarks. I don't think it has anything to do with HN being 'non-siloed' because that would be the same argument as on Twitter or Facebook which mostly lack silos as well.

To make an unflattering comparison, Gab and the like are also non-siloed. But that doesn't stop a site from having an innate level of bias to the userbase. The nature of any forum on the internet is that it will cultivate a certain type of userbase over time. Obviously I'm not the greatest one to speak here because I definitely trend more towards the asshole side of the spectrum but I think it's something to be aware of.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23743914


We must understand the word 'silo' differently. Twitter and Facebook are the leading examples of siloed sites in my sense of the word. Twitter has follow lists, Facebook has the social graph. Similarly, on Reddit there are subreddits. HN has no mechanism like any of these: everyone is one big room, for better and for worse.

I think this has significant effects, which I wrote about here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23308098

Re 23743914: I've banned that account. We didn't see that post at the time. I don't think it's typical for such a comment to get upvoted. From what I see, the vast majority get downvoted and/or flagged and/or moderated.


The site is anchored to YC and PG's perspective. I don't agree with them the majority of the time, but that's what gives this place an identity and a location in the world to draw it's internal culture from. This place is always going to lean into predictable US tech politics. A website detached from a real world purpose accumulates so much more moderating requirements, simply being a part of YC and means that a lot of the public self-selects not to be here.

And boy it does get too repetitive sometimes, but it's not all things to all men, it's a US tech forum.


I assume you're using "this account" to mean some series of accounts you've created over time, since it's only about 80 days old, and the days when libertarianism was arguably a majority view on HN had been long gone for years by then.

In this respect HN is about ten years behind the trend of the rest of the web, culturally; even r/libertarian comments in 2020 are probably less reliably libertarian than comments on not-explicitly-political forums anywhere on the web in 2000.


I agree, but unfortunately a lot of our culture and society revolves around these social networks right now. It drives the culture at this point, and having reasonable people disengaging from the platform en-masse might accelerate the toxic effects these social networks are having on our society even more. The toxic network effects have need to be identified, quantified and stopped. By regulation most likely.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23806806.

(Trying to prune the larger sub-subthreads.)


Mods, thank you all for saving the day every day. Thank you a hundred times. (On behalf of these 99% of lurkers that benefit your work the most but never say anything.) (Flag this.)


Yes! Dang is doing such a great job. We tend to have really awesome discussions here and for the first few months on this site, I didn't even realize it was moderated. Hats off to him.


I want to chime in and agree with this. Thank you dang and sctb. You guys are amazing.

(Is sctb still a moderator? Looks like his last post was 8 or so months ago.)


Alas, Scott left. Normally we'd both have posted more prominently about that, but it happened at an especially difficult time and that simply wasn't possible. (He's fine, I'm fine, and we're fine, in case that suggested otherwise.)


Sad that Scott left, but happy to hear the circumstances are ok now.

Nevertheless, thanks to you dang for the amazing work you do, and to Scott for the work he did do.

Is there now (or will there) be a new person on the team?


Thank you for everything you do, Dan. Many of us spend our precious time here because of you. It is deeply appreciated.


Dang does a good job? He does a good job of shutting down discussion that strays from the leftist agenda. Deleting anything that doesn't conform to the SV brand of wokeness while leaving up comments from leftist extremeists.

It has become impossible to talk about anything slightly controversial that detractors don't even try since they'll just get downvoted and flagged into oblivion.


> since they'll just get downvoted and flagged into oblivion.

That's other users, not dang.


This generally occurs after Dang has shut down the discussion for an arbitrarily reason, usually for “being inflammatory” when more “inflammatory” leftist commentary, usually in the same thread, are left untouched.


I sort of agree, he's definitely trying to enforce policies to advance an agenda while claiming pretty subjective justifications [1] for any action that he takes to shut down discussions. But to me that agenda looks like it's just about rich capitalist interests - just trying to make this place mostly corporate, capitalist friendly, not satisfy anyone's interests and "intellectual curiosity" as he likes to claim.

[1] Subjective justifications cannot teach anyone anything, as people can't know what exactly is the problem, only that they have to shut up, because moderator doesn't like what they are discussing.


Honestly, in a sea of internet cesspool, HN consistently shines.

Importantly, I have changed my opinions on certain aspects of technology or politics based on rational civilized discourse that happens here. Disagreement is actually an active and important part of such discussions.


On the flipside - Let's not act like ycombinator doesn't benefit from hn. YCombinator gets free advertising to a TON of good engineers for their companies roles (the posts that you can't comment on that mention X random ycombinator company is looking for Y role). Surely that has to be worth something...

I don't disagree with pg's statement here, but IMO yc gets pretty big benefit from running the forum.


Presumably one or two good hires would more than compensate for years of running HN, but forum moderation is still a difficult and stressful job.


Interesting. How do you account that? Two good hires can probably repeatably be obtained for under $100k in spending or giving away $100k of your company. Since Daniel G (dang) works on HN full time, and almost certainly makes more than $100k, that doesn't make sense to me.


is dang paid to do this? how does it work?


Yes.


What does that have to do with how stressful he found it relative to other things at YC?


The key to getting good discussions is to not have a profit motive coupled to eyeballs.

HN doesn't show ads, doesn't care about growth.

Large newspapers had strict firewalls between advertising, journalism and opinion -- but smaller papers had to fold to pressure from advertisers.

Subscription services need eyeballs badly -- but they need paying eyeballs, which means that they need to offer more than just outrage -- but if they don't show at least some of their content for free, they can't grow.


That is plainly insufficient. There's serious outrage, polarization, and lack of nuance on this site about a variety of topics. Privacy, anything google, amazon, or Uber, gender and racial politics, Facebook, etc. There's more going on here than the profit motive.

The problem isn't that these companies want to make a profit. The problem is they make it easy for people to get what they want, and users seek out outrage and polarization. I think that combined with the globalizing tendency of ubiquitous, high bandwidth, low latency, broadcast-capable connections is a real problem. But since I believe it's a human nature thing, I'm much less sure of how to solve it, especially while respecting the free speech value.


Using the fact that CmdrTaco commented in that twitter thread, i want to bring into comment slashdot moderation system. I always thought it was better than simple upvote/downvote because the "tags" (insightful, interesting, flamebait,troll) enticed you to think twice about the modding, preventing knee-jerk nodding reaction.

The fact that often the most voted comments on hacker news are the most extreme (saying something is completely wrong) shows that we love correcting people and will discount a good conversation in place of some virtual approval.


> Using the fact that CmdrTaco commented in that twitter thread, i want to bring into comment slashdot moderation system. I always thought it was better than simple upvote/downvote because the "tags" (insightful, interesting, flamebait,troll) enticed you to think twice about the modding, preventing knee-jerk nodding reaction.

I to would prefer the feedback mechanism on HN be more informative than a simple upvote downvote - it would be nice to know for example if downvotes are due to objective disagreement on facts vs ideology, things like that. Yes there could be negatives with this change, but there could also be positives...at the very least it would be nice to know the reason why we don't allow voters to attach reasoning to their vote.


Sometimes I vote something up because I want to see a good counterargument in the replies. Should I not be doing this?


I've done this at times to a well-written argument that I disagree with. Could be just basic fairness, hoping to attract somebody to counter-argue, or possibly to help it rise above more poorly-reasoned arguments for the same thing, or even to make my own counter-argument post more visible.


Why don’t you offer your own counter? Just curious


Sometimes I do. If I don't, it's probably because I just don't have the time or energy to write a well-reasoned counter-argument at the moment. Or maybe because I don't know enough, and don't feel like doing the research to support what I think. Getting sucked into internet arguments at work or while working on my own projects is just terrible for productivity and focus.


> Sometimes I vote something up because I want to see a good counterargument in the replies. Should I not be doing this?

I usually will up vote something if I can't see an obvious reason why it was downvoted...I've seen too many downvotes for dogmatic reasons and don't really post much here because of this.


I've done this too. A thing to note is that complaining about downvotes or how you expect something you posted to be downvoted tends to attract downvotes. Kind of weird, but just the way voting forums tend to go.


you should vote however you think will foster good discussion, and that sounds like as good a reason as any. another would be voting based on how you think the posts should be ordered from best to worst, regardless of agreement with individual posts.


'voting' doesn't foster good discussion it harms it.


There are many discussion sites without voting, and yet you are here.


sure, voting can sometimes hinder discussions by collapsing the many dimensions of judgement and value into a single binary, with loads of information loss on the way, but indistinct pronouncements like that are exactly why mechanisms like voting are implemented in the first place, to weed out shallow submissions to give space to more considered ones.


The trouble is normal people are turned off by being downvoted and never post another considered comment.


downvoting is dimensionally-collapsed feedback and requires nuanced examination to internalize well. so it makes sense to self-examine a bit, then dampen the internalization to account for ambiguity (rather than quitting). that builds both flexibility and resiliency.

sometimes you get no feedback at all, which is even more ambiguous. feedback always exhibits degrees of ambiguity, so we gotta figure these things out at some point in life (well, we don't, but that's worse), and this is a great place to practice.


Most normal people correctly assume that the culture is toxic and move on.


The problem is not with the upvotes, but with the downvotes. These have the effect of silencing any oppinions that the majority of voters don’t agree with (as the message gets invisible). This should only be used with low quality messages, otherwise the result is that there will only be a single line of thought, like a broken record.

Unfortunately, this happens here a lot.


Voting something up because you want it to appear higher on the page seems like about the most rational way to use voting. :)


> There's serious outrage, polarization, and lack of nuance on this site about a variety of topics.

That doesn't feel like a huge issue here. I see tough topics brought up often and them being passionately discussed, but it generally goes quite civilily. I would not say there is lack of nuance at all - I learn a lot from reading people's counterpoints.

I mean, it's not perfect, but compared to other online discussion areas, it doesn't feel like a total waste of time to get into a nuanced discussion here.


I'm not saying it's relatively terrible here compared to the rest of the internet. I'm more thinking about the stridence of typical discussions, say, pre-1980. Simply, there was not a context where the typical person could go to have or witness aggressive partisan argumentation, be it about a company, a political system, whatever. Certainly, very, very few people could cause their statements to be broadcast to more than a handful of folks. Whereas your humble correspondent has probably gotten hundreds of impressions on these modest thoughts he has posted here. Another thing that wasn't present was the space for those views to feed back on themselves and become more intense, more passionate, and more aggressive.

That doesn't mean everything about the world was better back then. But this one thing was different.

I think it remains to be seen how much all this really matters. We probably won't know until they're writing the history books about this time.


Partisan argumentation was f2f, in self-selecting meetings. I suspect some of the things said in some of those contexts were far more extreme than is common today - but the median today is likely more polarised and heated.

I was on AOL in the mid-90s, and some parts were at least as toxic as Facebook.

Ultimately it's set by the quality of the moderation but also by the quality of the people. You need people who have some self-awareness and restraint, and who can tolerate dissenting views without exploding all over them.

I've just watched a music forum explode. The mods couldn't quite work out how to handle a difficult situation, there were wildly polarised views, and virtually everyone seemed to be operating from negative assumptions and bad faith without actually listening to what was being said.

It was honestly one of the ugliest things I've ever seen online.

Does it matter? I think it does. Civility is the foundation of culture. Most people at least attempt it, with varying degrees of success - but some people really aren't interested in it, because they prefer their hit of outrage.

I can't see how that can possibly be a good thing. Even if the aims are good, the means are mean and there's a general reduction in empathy and collective intelligence. None of these are good.

I really don't know how we get past this. Maybe we don't, and various bad things have to happen before that becomes an option.

But I am absolute sure now that the influence of mass social media is almost entirely toxic - like tobacco for the mind. The industry badly needs regulation, de-monopolisation and federation, but it's very hard to see that happening.


Sure it's uncharted territory and we've run into some issues but it's not all downsides. One upside of such easy communication is the unprecedented availability of knowledge.

Discussions on topics for which HN has a significant number of users who are experts are almost always incredibly insightful. The same mechanism that allows for broadcasting a view to a much larger number of people is also what facilitates that outcome. It does so by allowing us to fit more people into the same context (in a functional manner) than ever before.

Historically the best a room with more than ~15 people or so could do was to host a lecture of some sort. Now we occasionally manage to achieve productive and insightful discourse involving hundreds of people simultaneously. (The dynamics are a bit different of course but that's not the point.)


As much as I resist futile internet arguments, I find that I can't help myself when I read someone being blatantly wrong about something I know. I feel some nearly irresistible urge to "correct" them, knowing fully well that my arguments will have no impact.

Here's the thing: before the internet and social media, you simply didn't encounter that many patently false arguments in your day to day life. Everything you read or saw was produced by journalists and writers (not bloggers) who had access to their parent organization's resources. Political bias aside, if a TIME or NYT editor let something go to print, it meant that it had gone through at least some basic fact check.

But that's not true online. Anyone can write anything, facts be damned. And worse, in your social media feed, a carefully researched article occupies the same space as some random guy's harebrained conspiracy theories.

We can't limit the amount of "wrongness" online. Best we can do is learn to live with it


It’s no longer true at those media organizations either, if it ever was.


I can't speak for Time, which has gone through a lot of ownership travails recently (albeit not as dire as Newsweek), but there are certainly still magazines and newspapers that do fact-checking. Some have full-time fact checking departments; the New Yorker in specific and Condé Nast publications in general are historically known for that. Newspapers may not employ people with the title of "fact checker" (although the New York Times has at least one staff reporter who does, in fact, have that title, Linda Qiu), but it's something that's generally the job of the editorial staff to do fact-checking.

Sure, newspapers fail at this occasionally, especially with articles that get rushed due to timeliness -- and unless it's a big long-form investigative journalism piece, it's quite likely only what editors consider the major elements have been vetted. (The old saw "if the paper got this small detail wrong, how can I trust them on the big claims they're making" largely has it backward: the big claims are the ones they want receipts for, whereas the small details are more likely to get passed through without due checking. This is, at the least, what I was told by a newspaper editor many years ago!)


> HN doesn't show ads, doesn't care about growth.

Nit: Hacker News shows job ads, and is interested in attracting new users. Just not like your typical VC-funded social media website.


I think that’s beauty of hackernews


HN does care about growth as it does have moderators and methods to make sure that it is engaging with the right audience for Y combinator. And the profit motive is there, as a pipeline into YCombinator, you can see from many of the well integrated ads. Just because it is done so well, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Having been someone who has benefitted hugely from this I have no problem with it however


The best conversations I had on the internet predate the like/upvote button. As soon as conversation became about scoring points and not engaging with an individual in a discussion it went to hell.


There is also the era before smartphones vs after smartphones.


I don’t really think you can maintain a social media company at scale without having revenue to pay the people that maintain it.

HN doesn’t have ads because they are running HN at a deficit to get eyeballs on YC. Granted, to my knowledge, they haven’t suppressed any threads in their competitors; kudos.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23806806.

(Trying to prune the larger sub-subthreads.)


I don't think YC really has "good discussions" as much as "A large group of people that already agree on most topics, communicating about those topics." And this site breeds just as much outrage as the next.

This is a pretty textbook look into a very unreflective echo chamber.


As someone who started reading HN specifically because outrage tired me out on other sites, I have to disagree on the "just as much outrage" point. I would say markedly less outrage on average than other popular social media platforms


And, I would add, you can't have any significant discussion about topics which this group of people disagree on. For example, you can't say:

* The "free market," even suitably regulated, is not a good allocator of resources.

* Anything about the actual accomplishments of the Soviet Union or China, such as the USSR going from a purely agrarian society to putting a rocket in space in under 50 years, even while criticizing them for their failures (Uyghur concentration camps, etc.)

* Capitalism is not the best economic system, because it leaves too many people behind.

I could go further, but then I'd be accused of "nationalistic flamebait."


People say things in buckets 1 and 3 all the time. You've got a stronger point in bucket 2 - that one is a lot harder.

The trouble with 1 and 3 is that people often want to make big generic ideological arguments about capitalism or whatever, and the medium of a large, public internet forum is simply not capable of sustaining interesting threads about that. They inevitably become predictable and nasty, the two things we most seek to avoid here. So I spend a lot of time asking people not to do that, as you know. But that's not because of an ideological disagreement, either at the moderator level or at the community level. It's at the level of the medium itself. McLuhan was right.

It's still possible to say things in more specific contexts though.


I think you can say those things and rightly expect to be challenged.

Downvotes are what they are. For me the discussion is more interesting than Internet points. There's also a polite way to say something and a more provocative way to express the same idea. HN doesn't value snark the same way other forums do.


I don't think that's an HN-specific attribute. That's how political correctness rears its head from the right side of the US political spectrum. I've long noticed critical responses to ideas like you described and many others. It's an unfortunate way discussion is suppressed. This is equally true of political correctness from the left side of the US political spectrum.


Even after all these years I have no idea what Y combinator is or does, nor do I care to learn. I just come here for news stories.


Not that there's anything wrong with just reading the stories, but I'm a bit incredulous that you haven't passively picked up the thesis, from the stories about the investment changes, demo days, and all the uh... YC startups that get discussed and front-paged.


There were some years when there were a slew of "Here's what I learned from applying to YC" stories, but those have mostly faded, and so have most startup-focused stories.

Now HN is a mix of tech news and politics, and I'm not surprised that some HN readers who are not interested in startups have no clue what YC is about.


This has been a big concern of mine lately. I spend more time here than I used to, but I increasingly get less and less value out of the time I spend here. I used to come here to learn about bleeding-edge technology and startups and cool ideas and things that geniuses were working on. Now when I come here I almost always end up arguing politics, not because I want to but because those are the stories that people actively comment on and I have poor self control.

The few tech stories that do make it through are far more pop-tech article (right now NPR, BBC, New York Times, MSN, and Haaretz are all on the front page... absolutely nothing to do with hackers or gratifying intellectual curiosity) or talking about startups that are shutting down.

I'm tired of collapsing the inevitable "Macbooks are bad" thread and finding out that was literally the only conversation under the article. I think the mods do a great job of keeping the conversation civil, but a poor job of enforcing "intellectual curiosity" like the guidelines call for.


If I can offer advice, give your piece if you feel it matters and then move on. One of the nice bits of HN is you can say your opinion and move on. There are no reply notifications. I definitely ended up engaging on forums way more than I should have. I quit one and used that to push myself out of commenting. Now I spend some time commenting here but don’t let myself get pulled back in to needless arguments. There’s a bunch of topics you can skip here and I generally guess at the sentiment of the comment before jumping in. There’s a few things that just end up rehashing the same arguments. Skip them and move on.


> There are no reply notifications.

That's mostly true. It doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere and is not very well-known, but dang maintains hnreplies.com, an email notification service for HN. Apparently only 1860 users are signed up, but it's there.

In general, I agree with your advice. Very often I get halfway through writing a comment, but delete it because I don't think it will spawn useful conversation or be appreciated, whether it's because I'm being needlessly argumentative, or the person I'm replying to is.


I think that has to do with a general souring of opinion on the tech and startup space, including by the people in it. And we're in one of those times where politics and current events are so heavily impacting everyone in every way, including tech and startups, that it's impossible to ignore or avoid talking about, especially when some of the people who have fallen out of love with tech are politicians who want to regulate it.


Can I suggest the app "materialistic"? It doesn't show votes and, unlike the website, there's no easy way to see other people's replies to your comments. Also, being on mobile makes me less inclined to write essays. Overall this cuts the engagement feedback loop, and the result is that I mostly only contribute when I feel my comment makes a meaningful contribution.

...until recently, when I discovered that the website has a way to list your comments and their replies. Since then I've been using the website more, and I don't like how it's changed my engagement patterns. More looking at and thinking about karma, more replying to someone just because they replied to me. I guess generally more "social", in the bad (for me), human-level meta communication (ego, drama, etc), instead of with the more interesting content / ideas.


Not that you asked, but, in a nutshell, they invest in and advise early stage startups.


I would strongly suggest looking through some of Paul Graham's essays [1]. Doesn't matter what Y Combinator is or does but the founder of Y Combinator has some interesting opinions and writes about them a lot and some of them may enrich your life.

[1] http://paulgraham.com/articles.html


I got internet when I was 10 years old. I was one of the first ones in a small city, Brazil. We had our first computer when I was about 4 or 5. So, when the internet came, I already had 5 years of experience with computers. We all had nicknames and IRC handles to talk anonymous on the internet. Eventually came ICQ and we start having people as contact. I knew almost everyone in my city who was on the internet. It didn't took long to understand that I was not anonymous anymore. Although I had a nickname, I had also real connection with my contacts and I knew who they were. When I was 17 internet was a thing most people have, including people who never had a computer before. This people would say things online that they wouldn't in the real world. I remember an very rude email I got that someone sent my from their workplace. I just use whois to get a phone number from the company, I then call them and explained what happened, 10 minutes after the person who sent the email sent another apologizing. As someone said in the comments: this "rage" you see online is because we still can't punch each other through the screen (or cause it's very rare when a shit thing someone does online have a real backlash). Me, who grew up with a computer and in forums, IRC channels, regular chat rooms... already had some kind of ethics. When my father (that besides being the one who got us the computer) got on Facebook he had a fight with a lot of relatives because of politics or some other nonsense like that. (imagine fighting someone over a shitty politician who will never give a shit about you). I always wonder how would I manage a social network or online community - I would try to have well established rules and try my best to enforce them. But in the end on the day I guess I would ban a lot of people and excluding a lot of groups. anyway, I love HN and I think you are doing a great job, both you and Dang. Keep it up.


> Don't start a forum.

HN certainly has its faults, but it has also helped numerous people improve their skills, find better jobs, share insights, start startups, build companies. There should be no doubt that HN is a net positive, and if you can't see that, then you are part of the problem with social media: you're so focused on the negative aspects of a subject that you've lost perspective.

We need more and better forums, not fewer.


PG's advice is to each person. You can rest assured that I have no desire whatsoever to do many things that are net positives to the world and are, nonetheless, deleterious to my life.


You'd be surprised reading Twitter. There's a large group of people that seem to hate this site (usually calling it the orange site), and I'm not sure why. Every site will have people you disagree with, but unlike sites like reddit, people seem to be genuine more often. Also ironic Twitter is being used as a platform to say HN is bad.


> Don't start a forum

...working on new forum ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I agree with your sentiment, we need more/new options.


I do like hn promotes ShowHN. Seeing the mammoth projects, new startups, weekends hacks, parodies is a lot more entertaining than the polarizing discussions on the other social networks.

I just get a massive kick out of people building things and sharing them with the world.

I’ll leave HN the day Show HN stops being a thing and all we see is how Google released their new chat app or some company FAANG acquired for a bajillion dollars.


Having run communities and forums in the past, it's definitely a lot of thankless and time-sensitive work.

I'm reminded of this post: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/tscc3e5eujrsEeFN4/well-kept-...

I think HN's done a reasonable job at keeping the community stable (thanks @dang) but the recent backlash over the press incited by SSC and Clubhouse has made see that the darker side of mob mentality exists on HN, too.


I can certainly see his point. The more I grow older, the more I am convinced to spend less time on internet interacting with people. Not only the anonymity or pseudo-anonymity is a magnet for toxic people, it also brings out the worst in people. Even disregarding the outright abuse or outrage, the opinions I see on the internet is very hard to meet someone in real life who has that kind of opinions.

Every Google related thread immediately becomes a thread of bashing Google's history of killing products. I don't know how many times people need to have the same conversation again and again. This has gotten to the point that I don't open any Google related threads. I am here to read thoughtful discussions, not some broken records again and again. Internet forum is hard.


> Not only the anonymity or pseudo-anonymity is a magnet for toxic people, it also brings out the worst in people.

For one, yes, but Facebook has clear names (usually) and still it degraded quite a bit and hosts obscure trends such as flat eathers. So I don't think anonymity is really all too important. Maybe it's rather that you can now find like-minded people to strengthen your opinion, even when there are actually really few overall.


I don't think it has anything to do with anonymity. Most people are using their real names on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But quips and outrage get more attention and engagement than serious discussion (and none of these platforms are conducive to long-form discussion).

The biggest problem is that replying to a post makes it appear in more feeds. Never in the history of debate and discussion has "add more people!" led to more effective communication. Think of your own work experience - how many meetings were useful when they grew and grew every week?

HN benefits from the lack of a feed but also suffers from the inability to continue discussions over long periods of time between a few users. Something like slack's threads would be useful for a forum, as well as more permanent (old school) topic-based subforums and threads.


> "I don't know how many times people need to have the same conversation again and again."

such an oddly particular criticism. don't you have the same conversation with certain people all the time offline too? it seems completely unavoidable if you have other people in your life. that it happens online too should be thoroughly unsurprising.

it's like thrift store shopping. you wade through all the same boring stuff to get to that rare new (to you) thing that makes it all worth it. focus on the payoff, not the rummaging. and certainly no one is so learned that nothing new can be found in many, if not most, of the discussions.


HN is full of bandwagons where every thread about certain subjects is identical to the last. Some topics are impossible to discuss here (e.g. anything related to Google).


Well, the thing about Google dropping products keeps coming up because ... they keep dropping products. I'm not sure every google-related thread goes that way.


So, I run a company called https://www.localhalo.com/ it builds local communities a bit like discord/slack but all geo-fenced.

We found that social utility is how you solve a LOT of these issues. If someone is going to be negative on your platform then give them the 'action' instead for that pain.

In local this is normally an issue with a neighbour, something for the HOA or something for Local Gov't. Just make them slackbot-esque buttons/commands. Give reacting features for others to support and you've turned decenters into your most active patrons.

The trick with social utility is only giving access to solutions that better everyone. People are lazy and if they can find a single way to do 80/20 of their community wants it normally produces good-actors.


You should post this as a Show HN when you're ready. I think the community here would be interested to discuss it. See https://news.ycombinator.com/showhn.html and the tips at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22336638.

If you want, send a draft to hn@ycombinator.com and I'll try to help you with feedback similar to how I help YC startups with their launches (https://news.ycombinator.com/launches - that's a YC-only thing but Show HNs are similar). Just realize that I can't necessarily reply quickly. The inbox can be brutal.

Same offer goes for anyone who wants some advice about how to present their work to HN.


I agree with his ultimate conclusion -- don't start a forum.

It is no fun being an internet referee.


Regardless of the value it brings to society, I believe Hacker News brings much value to YCombinator and the startups associated with it. Or at least it did up until recent years. I’ve never been part of a YC class, but I was kept abreast of many companies and changes to the program throughout the years largely because of it.


Does PG actually modertate HN?

I thought he had mods like dang to take care of it for him.

I'd be more interested to hear what dang thinks of HN than what PG thinks.


You could read "The Lonely Work of Moderating Hacker News". It is a great article.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-silicon-valley/th...

Discussion at the time:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20643052


It's rather silly, but until I read this article, I'd always assumed dang was Asian.


The Chinese Da Ng?


I'd picked up from context that it was his real name, and had assumed it was his surname. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dang_(surname)


Isn't Ng a Vietnamese name?


I thought so too, but Wikipedia said Chinese, so I went with it.



He did early on; not anymore.


It is no fun being a sports referee either. One has to pay constant attention and remain detached, all the while hearing from both sides what lousy calls one has made. (A legal judge's opinion, on which I model referee'ing: "be just, and if you can't be just, be arbitrary")

(or, more frequently, failed to make. in the old days one could ask "have you ever gone fishing? Well, did you catch all the fish?" What would be a modern equivalent?)


> It is no fun being an internet referee.

Put so simple makes it a fascinating puzzle that I will need to ponder for years to come. Why is it the case, what can be done, who is up for it, what will they turn into, what happens with the subjects if done right/wrong?


It is fun if you are seeking status or power, and thus it ends up attracting similarly inclined people.


It was amusing to me watching this comment turn grey when first stumbling upon it, I wonder if some apparently think entithas is just lying about it or if they’ve truly never come across a moderator or group of moderators who were just a power-tripping JERKS in their internet lives, and so thoroughly disbelieve there are people out there who just want power over a measly phpbb message board or subreddit that they just downvoted this and ran away.

I envy everyone who has yet to come across it, yours is truly a blessed internet experience. Those kinds of rulers just sap the joy out of communities and lead to splinter after splinter.


I imagine it was downvoted because it came across as a jab at the HN moderators.

Looking at the bigger picture, yeah, I have to agree. I have seen a virtual coup d'etat on a subreddit dedicated to fast food. (One moderator got kicked out. He responded by creating his own subreddit. He actually got 90% of the posters to come with him, leaving behind an empty husk of a subreddit.)


I imagine it was downvoted because it came across as a jab at the HN moderators.

Interesting. The comment seemed quite broad and generalized for one to come to that specific assumption, just because HN happens to be the where the discussion is being held, but appreciate the insight. Maybe I’m projecting a bit, since it’s not a conclusion I would have arrived at, but that’s for me to own and work on.


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