Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I am actively developing tools for the purpose of evading censorship. I find it disturbing that people have stopped supporting free speech when they stopped liking its content. Disturbing because either these people have caved to yet another mob thought or never believed in the concept at all. I don't agree with most of the content I see on my platforms. The content doesn't change me, however-- and I refuse the premise that we tech workers know best and therefore must protect the fragile little minds of everyone else.

I really hate that these discussions always end up stopping at whether the idea of censorship is good or bad. One side will point out all the bad ways censorship can be used, and then the other side will point out the misinformation that spreads when there is absolute free speech.

The thing is, both sides are right. However, neither side ever talks about trying to take any steps to mitigate the negatives of their position.

I am anti-censorship, but I think that people on our side can't just ignore the damage misinformation is causing our society right now. We also can't just rely on the old adage that "the truth will win out in the end". Free speech advocates like to believe that is a truism, but the evidence keeps showing us that that isn't true. There is nothing inevitable about the truth, and lies have many advantages that can often prevent the truth from winning.

So what do we do? I am much more interested in talking about steps we can take to mitigate and prevent misinformation while preserving free speech.

Just because censorship isn't a good option doesn't mean we should just throw up our hands and allow misinformation to win the day. The truth needs allies, and allies with a strategy.

Misinformation, by mistake or intention, is bad. But without freedom to publish and speak, nothing can be done about it. This is especially true when the government is spreading the misinformation. Soviet Russia jokes aside, without freedom of speech and press, our soon to be former president would have been able to spread misinformation with impunity. It's really remarkable that this happened.

The other side of this, that most people don't like to discuss is that people are also free to believe misinformation and lies. It's hard, but that is actually part of the human condition.

I feel that solution is to build, use, and promote platforms that encourage dialog without censorship. A free exchange of ideas is still the right solution. This includes discouraging the practice of silence-by-mob. All these tactics accomplish is polarization and tribalism and don't do much to contain disinformation.

How do you have a platform that doesn’t do any censorship but also discourages “silence-by-mob”?

I feel like every platform that is focused on absolute free speech always ends up filled with racists and the like... that can’t be a coincidence.

That is a good question for which I don't have a good answer. A good first step would be to stop celebrating the aftermath of these actions. As to the racists part, I haven't personally seen the explosion of racism linked to free speech that keeps ketting implied. I suspect that some of this is hyperbole. This line of thought implies that ultimately anyone who seeks out a free speech platform is a racist or supports racism. I think this is dangerous.

I'm curious what platforms you're on that don't censor things where you haven't seen some bullshit stuff. I haven't sought out any free speech platforms.

I also don't think that line of though implies that everyone is a racist. The previous comment just implies that racists will seek out these platforms because it is the only platform that will accept them. Not that everyone who seeks these out are racists. Just enough racist and shitty people who got kicked out of the larger platforms will slowly fill up these free speech platform

Every other platform that doesn't publish racist publications is hiding from you the fact that there are many racists in our society.

Personally, I'd rather know and see what we're up against.

Every alternative platform that is focused on absolute free speech. If you found an anti-witch-hunt society, the population will be primarily witches, regardless of how bad witch hunts are. Not having free speech is detrimental if there isn't an alternative, and it's detrimental for any alternatives. The only solution that works out the best is having free speech.

> I am much more interested in talking about steps we can take to mitigate and prevent misinformation while preserving free speech.

How do you even categorize misinformation when western societies have decided that there is no such thing as truth?

Our crisis is far, far, deeper than what information can be published online. We are in the midst of an epistemological cataclysm.

The answer is probably not in building a system, but by individuals putting in the effort to challenge misinformation in the contexts where it is deployed. I feel the phrase “don’t feed the trolls” and XKCD 386 have caused a generation to give up on fighting the good fight, while the trolls have not given up.

I don’t think there is a lot of radical strategy needed here - just a lot of hard work and vigilance.

When you see misinformation, take the effort to call it out, and hope that your civility and reasonableness win over the silent audience.

Easier said than done when dealing with echo-chamber communities, but those communities have to spill out into your own world at some point, and I guess that’s the point to tackle it.

I don’t know, my wife spends literal hours a day arguing with people on Facebook about COVID-19, citing CDC statistics, sometimes arguing with 20 people at a time.

The problem is the flow of all this goes something like.

1) A friend of hers posts something factually incorrect about COVID or lockdowns.

2) My wife posts a carefully worded and cited response.

3) Four or five people react with laugh or angry emojis.

4) someone weighs in and tells my wife how stupid and dumb she is, and how she is completely wrong. They often say this in a very nasty way.

5) She responds in a firm but not rude way that she believes they are wrong. She cites sources.

6) This person never responds again, and drops off.

7) A new person weighs in, generally rudely, making ad hominem attacks about her weight or whatever else they can.

8) She argues with them as well, never personally attacking them. She focuses on facts and statistics.

9) Over the course of hours she starts to accumulate likes and a significant number of people thumbs up her responses despite not saying anything.

I don’t know how she manages it, honestly. I can’t argue like this at all, it’s completely draining. She likes to think that because the threads are so active that hundreds of people are watching and she’s helping to change minds to think more rationally. But it’s hard to know for sure, and I don’t think most people have the psychological wherewithal that she has to deal with how abrasive and rude all these people are to her.

> 2) My wife posts a carefully worded and cited response.

> 3) Four or five people react with laugh or angry emojis.

> 4) someone weighs in and tells my wife how stupid and dumb she is, and how she is completely wrong. They often say this in a very nasty way.

> 5) She responds in a firm but not rude way that she believes they are wrong. She cites sources.

> 6) This person never responds again, and drops off.

Happens to me as well in other forums.

I have decided I'm not doing it for those people, but rather for those who would otherwise read the post, see it was uncontested and think "therefore it must be true".

Kudos to her for trying. I’m sure it feels like picking up a single bag of litter while mass pollution continues all around us, but change starts small and if only more people put in the effort to contest nonsense when they see it, we’d be further ahead than any technological solution to misinformation.

I think we've seen that doesn't work. It's incredibly difficult to counter misinformation because there's SO MUCH OF IT. Plus you can't assume the general populace has the time or energy to do it. If I'm working 10 hour retail shift, help tuck the kids in, and then check FB.

Why do you think I have the time to check my friend's post for disinformation? Yes I can be skeptical of it but sometimes it's hard to decipher that especially when it may confirm to your own biases.

You can counter misinformation on a particular topic scalably by gathering a set of authoritative sources of information on it, and presenting them in places where there is discussion about that topic (ex. YouTube putting COVID info links on videos). Now of course some people won't believe that information, but those people weren't going to have their mind changed regardless of what you do.

> I refuse the premise that we tech workers know best and therefore must protect the fragile little minds of everyone else.

I quit my tech job and went into construction. Only in hindsight has it been glaringly obvious how egocentric tech workers are. High paid, wielding incredible power, and the praise from their managers/peers just reinforces delusions.

Try doing a hard days work in a skilled trade such as woodworking, electrical, or HVAC. Now that's humbling. It also exposes you to many different people and types of thinking, which IMO, promotes healthy self perspective. Echoing here even on HN just amplifies the dilemma.

more and more i've grown into the opinion that aspiring members of the professional class should be required to spend at least one year doing some form of ungracious working class labor. there are things you learn as a line cook or a garbage truck driver that not even the most elite school will ever be able to teach you. personally i think i would've become a real asshole if not for misfortune & hardship and learning exactly what it means to start over with nothing.

Yep, definitely. I'm very fortunate that I didn't discover coding until my late twenties. I worked odd jobs in several industries, and right up until I started in tech, I was working two jobs in order to make $30K per year. I feel unbelievably lucky to be in this industry and I try not to take it for granted.

Some professional classes in Eastern European countries used to have mandatory time they had to spend working in factories, probably for this reason.

Early high schools in the US had shop classes, too. It was still just a token effort at trade work but it was still something. Almost all of these classes have been cut due to budget.

I think 6 months around age 13. That way it also helps kids who don't really see the point of school and it helps ordering school tasks by importance.

I am not a trade professional, but I do a lot of physical building projects as an amateur. I find the work to be much more mentally stimulating than my job in a well-known CS/EE research lab. I think that it is because structures must be elegant, and every piece affects many others. This can also be true for code, but it often isn’t. At work I’m forced to take part in software monstrosities that any tradesman would laugh at if it were a piece of architecture. And it’s okay to laugh and be laughed at too.

I did it at an amateur level many years before depending on it to pay my mortgage. When you do it for a living it's very different. You no longer strive for perfection, you strive for expectations management.

Some things cannot be perfect due to prior imperfect work. For example if a room isn't square, or something isn't level, you build your new work to match previous errors or your work looks out of place.

I walk onto a jobsite and there are some unspoken rules. Learning these rules is part of the fun. At the end of the day it's just a bunch of people trying to get something done.

Working in trade also helps you accept the principle of "good enough". You should always try your best, never give up, but accept things aren't perfect. What you see as imperfect will likely never be noticed by the property owner.

Dealing with the customer has some quirks too. If you run a bundle of cat6 that looks like laminar flow then you will blow their socks off. They assume everything else is perfect. Meanwhile you could have wrapped cat6 around a/c ducts 10 times in the attic and they will never know.

Knowing where to put your effort is an art.

>never believed in the concept at all

New generations come and go. Nobody is born with pre-existing notions of what is right or not, including free speech. It's not a surprise that some values are replaced with others on a per generation basis.

It is worth examining why those values were not passed on, though, between generations; nature and nurture are both implicated.

> I refuse the premise that we tech workers know best

The only people worthy of wielding power are those that are humble enough to know they can't be trusted with it.

unfortunately this also seems to be why power tends to self select the exact sort of people who should never have it.

> I find it disturbing that people have stopped supporting free speech when they stopped liking its content.

I think the problem is that - in the west at least - we have fairly good free speech, and the governments do not routinely go around censoring discussion etc (obviously this is not true everywhere and varies from place to place).

So this means that people who want to say something can say something using the usual means/technologies. They do not generally need to resort to anything special to avoid censorship or consequences.

As a result, a large proportion of the people who do end up using the uncensorable/untraceable tech are the worst of society doing outright illegal stuff. Drug dealers, kiddie fidlers, murders, organised crime, terrorists etc.

I love the idea of decentralised web tech etc, but I do not want to spend my time facilitating the scum of society to break the laws in my country. I also don't want to host their decentralised content on my machines or waste my bandwidth transmitting their uncensorable porn etc.

Of course I realise that there are places in the world where there are not as many freedoms as I enjoy and people might genuinely need to use such technology to avoid oppression. I guess I am just selfish.

Tl;Dr - you can support free speech without supporting illegal activity.

> I find it disturbing that people have stopped supporting free speech when they stopped liking its content.

You're misunderstanding the argument. The argument isn't that they don't like the content. The argument is that it's a net-negative to society, and possibly an extreme-negative.

>when they stopped liking its content well when that content is "these people do not deserve to live, are degenerate, and need need to be killed" I think it is reasonable to protest against that.

I would love to find a censorship free version of this website hacker news.

Good tech content and discussion without the censorship.

You can't have consistent good content without curation and moderation, both of which are considered forms of censorship. The closest thing to what you're describing in the /g/ board on 4chan, except of course even they have a line.

There's a distinction between moderation and censorship. Moderation is just removing spam, comments that have no point, or personal attacks.

It crosses into censorship when removing alternate ideas even if the ideas are well sourced and logical and presented in a respectful manner.

Be sure not to confuse the two.

These are clear differences.

4chan let's anything go except, I believe, pedophilia, including personal attacks and comments with no point. Very little moderation.

Hacker News will actively remove posts that are counter to prevailing narrative even if well sourced and presented respectfully. So bordering on Censorship.

So something in between the two would be great.

It's sort of a form of the paradox of tolerance. If there is no moderation, the least pleasant/most abrasive people will drag the quality of discussion down, and drive everyone else away. That's not to say I agree with the conclusions of the author of the blog post

Moderation and censorship are radically different.

Moderation is just to prevent spam and personal attacks and things that have no connection to the conversation.

Censorship is manipulating the conversation by removing ideas that go against the conversation even if they are relevant, well sourced, and respectfully presented.

Be sure not to get the two confused.

The difference between censorship and moderation is entirely subjective. Censors always think they're moderators — that they're protecting the quality of the discourse rather than stifling ideas they dislike — because part of how they rationalize their dislike of those ideas is by believing that they harm the discussion.

I think there may be some grey area but a moderator vs a censor are very different.


But if (in the U.S.) you hollow out and defund the public education system

This has not happened: https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/education_spending

If it's increased, it hasn't scaled with population. Reagan was well known for cutting the Department of Education's budget[0], and the public school system in Florida is abysmal. In places like that, it's implied that, if you remotely care about your kid's education, you enroll them into a private school[1]. A lot of those are Catholic, too. No wonder the right likes them.

0: https://www.nytimes.com/1982/11/14/education/reagan-record-i...

1: https://time.com/5885106/school-reopening-coronavirus/

If it's increased, it hasn't scaled with population.

This is just not true: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_236.55.a.... One might call it "misinformation".

That's a grossly distorted, partisan, and inconsistent view.

The US spends a huge amount on education and the amount has increased over time.


Considering that textbooks now ship with software licenses, I'm not surprised. The education vendors are all-too-quick to find reason to soak up any available gubmint cheddar.

For the expense, where is the value? My kids' online curriculums are a nightmare. They're expected to keep track of arbitrary assignments across a litany of broken "apps" without any sort of cohesion. One of them is taking chemistry-- online!

And naturally, we need to redefine the way we teach things like basic math for every generation. Forced obsolescence rears its ugly head here too. My parents could never figure out my math homework. I can't figure out my own kids'. Thankfully we have Pearson's successive suites of books and erratic ActiveX plugins to show us what the ancients haven't.

Government spending should not be considered an indicator of progress.

Censoring ideas doesn't make them disappear. It only drives them to places where they can't be countered by other ideas.

just out of curiosity, have you ever made any effort to actually interact with the qboomers or is your view of them entirely based on the opinioneering of your preferred media personalities?

it's hard for me find them particularly threatening to democracy when really they're just a different partisan stripe of the burnouts who would tell you to 'just watch zeitgeist maaaaaaaaaan' in the early 2000s.

>The content doesn't change me

The content changes enough individuals that there is aggregate effect on larger scale social dynamics which impacts all facets of society. Unregulated free speech with wide reach over global media platforms is not standard human interaction. It is unnatural. It is new medium dyamamic with different messaging potential. Online censorship is not about limiting free speech, it's calibrating / optimizing the new medium for specific messaging goals. Right now it's money and eyes, maybe a more sensible one is political serenity. It doesn't have to be Chinese great firewall level of suppression, but more and more are realizing it can't be next to nothing.

Why can't it be next to nothing? How is freely discussing things with other people without someone policing that unnatural? You're making a lot of declarative suppositions that are self supportive, and you have to explain and justify them. A cursory look at least from my point of view shows that at least the two I mentioned are entirely unfounded.

Freely discussing in small human-social scale is natural. Ability to broadcast and disseminate information at instantaneous, transnational scale is as unnatural as printing press, radio and television. For individuals to do so via unfettered individual platform outside of existing power structures that's foundation to all large scale human governance systems since history even more so. Free speech + mass dissemination was conceived and rationalized as the ultimate democratic instrument, and it may very well be. But it is also an artificial instrument that was always going to disrupt. We anticipated it, an experimented with it for 15 years. The question now is whether this type of instrument is useful for governance and this type of democracy preferable. I don't think it is.

I don't think it isn't either, there could very well be a combination of factors like proper media and civil literacy that enables a society that could operate with unlimited speech. All I _feel_ is the status quo now is not working. Many feel the same way. It's not a hard why, it's a slowing growing consensus that does not feel misplaced. Information and ideas spreading faster than word of mouth and walking speed shapes society through each successive technological mediation that enables faster and broader transmission. Free speech in person with your peers is not the same as free speech online. Hence medium is the message. If the medium is the problem, than tweak it.

Optimizing for political serenity consisting of the views of which party?

Ideally none, I'm not against free speech, I'm against unfettered dissemination on default mass media platforms. I would like to see a system where no one is censored at all, but certain categories are suppressed below default public visibility. i.e. politics and things tangentially related to politics to be treated as NSFW tags. One tier above spam. Still viewable by those curious, but not elevated to current prominence. Ultimately a system like western TikTok, the default category is vastly apolitical content but you have to search for fringe partisan issues, and those issues are siloed from the greater user base.

>I find it disturbing that people have stopped supporting free speech when they stopped liking its content.

I think the issue is the current system seems to be pushing content people would usually avoid. My position is _edit: not_ pro-censorship, it's pro-moderation / curation / or suppression if we're being less charitable.

>I refuse the premise that we tech workers know best and therefore must protect the fragile little minds of everyone else.

I don't think it's the tech workers job to decide how to protect, but to implement protection based on what's good for mental health and not dark patterns for monetization. There's studies on the effects of social media out there, people are fragile. Current social media feels like it exist in pre traffic regulation and seat-belt era of safety. Not just for users, but for society.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2023

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact