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Ask HN: Why are all the submissions about Bill/Melinda Gates being killed?
119 points by gnicholas 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 67 comments
It looks like about half of the submissions on /newest are about Bill and Melinda Gates divorcing. All of the submissions are flagged/dead. Why is this? I'm not looking to discuss the substance of the articles in this post — just trying to understand how the divorce of one of the biggest names in tech is not allowed on HN.

By contrast, there are many non-flagged/dead articles about Jeff Bezos' divorce.






For the obvious reason: the community is divided on whether it's on topic, so some users keep submitting the stories and other users keep flagging them.

I don't know that there's much here that's intellectually interesting. This is probably one of those moments where HN can distinguish itself by not paying attention to a story.

Regarding priors, the argument "$X1 got attention so why shouldn't $X2" doesn't work on HN, because there's a power-law dropoff in interestingness along any predictable sequence. So if Jeff and MacKenzie got a lot of attention, that's actually a reason why Bill and Melinda wouldn't.

I'm not really sure that was the case to begin with though—these threads look pretty uninteresting: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18868713, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18865291


I appreciate that this post was unflagged, after having been flagged. But it appears not to be listed on the front page anymore, or even on /ask. Is that on purpose? If something is not flagged and is popular, what would the reason be for hiding it?

People are not discussing the underlying article here — it is just a meta-discussion about what is allowed to be discussed on HN. It's a little surprising that this is being suppressed (either by community members or mods).


The [flagged] marker shows up on a post when there are enough flags to kill an item. Whether it's actually killed or not depends on that and a few other things, such as how active the discussion is. That's why https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27030269 shows [flagged] but not [dead].

But flags affect the ranking of a story long before they reach that fatal threshold. That's the case here. Moderators haven't done anything.


Thank you for the excellent job you do here, Dan, and for taking the time to explain decisions. I know from moderating another, much smaller community, how difficult and thankless of a task it can often be. But thank you.

Is there somewhere that the inner workings of HN upvoting, flagging and moderation are detailed so that people can understand how it all (or most of it) works?

I understand that some things you'd want to keep mum about to avoid vote manipulation.

In any case, I hope you have a great week.


Using HN Search on comments with "by:dang" and relevant words will bring up lots of past explanations. There's no document that attempts to describe everything comprehensively because I don't know that that's really possible, and it would eat my soul to try.

Thanks for the explanation. Is it only possible for people to [vouch] a submission once it is dead? If not, then it seems like posts can get caught in purgatory — not flagged enough to be dead (and therefore vouchable), but not alive enough to be seen anywhere.

In this case, it seems a reasonable compromise would be to keep the post on /ask, but let it fall off of the main front page. This is a respectful discussion about HN/moderation, and that seems appropriate for Ask.


That's accurate, except that upvotes also counteract flags, so posts don't necessarily get caught in purgatory.

Ok, it's on /ask now.


That explains why the story on Michael Lewis’ new book got sent to page 3. Seems to be controversial.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27030283


That one set off the flamewar detector.

Ahhh, I forgot about [dead]

I dunno, it seems like those that deem it purely personal and therefore uninteresting fail to appreciate the broader impact this can have. This kind of announcement isn’t for individual nobodies interested in gossip, it was an even-handed announcement designed to calm global markets, healthcare companies, and developing countries. The Gates Foundation has issued over 55 billion dollars in grants itself, and that doesn’t even cover all the other knock on effects. Not to mention the countless lives that have been saved by their direct help. This isn’t just gossip. But I realize that my thoughts have more to do with the substance/impact of the story, and you are doing a great job of explaining why the community has repeatedly flagged it. Thanks for the explanation.

While I agree it's probably uninteresting intellectually, it does have potential to be interesting emotionally. Not a lot of opportunities for HN to discuss topics such as divorce.

You're right that there are many kinds of interesting, but we mostly use that distinction to figure out what things aren't on topic. For example, celebrity gossip is socially interesting (I say that without judgment—gossip is an essential human activity) but not on topic here.

HN gets plenty of opportunities to discuss universal topics like marriage/divorce, parenting, and so on. But because those topics are so generic and so emotional, as you say, they tend to slide quickly into the unsubstantive-sensational sort of discussion rather than the thoughtful-curious kind that we want.

We've learned over the years that discussion on such universal themes tends to be better when the initial submission has a lot of information in it, and also is alloyed with something unexpected rather than entirely generic. I don't think the current story has those qualities. In the first place, there's literally only one bit of information—already fully communicated by the title—so there's almost nothing to discuss; and in the second place, the story type is billionaire-blockbuster, which is about as sensational as these things get.

Previous comments on this point, if anyone cares:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8348372

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23087737

There's also the old pg phrase "intensely but shallowly interesting", which I think probably describes this story, no?

The worst thing to post or upvote is something that's intensely but shallowly interesting: gossip about famous people, funny or cute pictures or videos, partisan political articles, etc. If you let that sort of thing onto a news site, it will push aside the deeply interesting stuff, which tends to be quieter.

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


I concur. Analyses might come along that will make this story a better fodder, but for now it's probably not substantiative enough.

I get wanting to keep HN from old-fashioned vulgarity and gossip, but I can't imagine finding it less-than-intellectually-interesting.

It's an improbably clean example of the conflict between modern and traditional religious views of marriage and money, and whether wanting divorce to be less traumatic can actually make it less traumatic. The symbolism is off the charts.

[Churches] all regard divorce as something like cutting up a body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some of them think the operation so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit it as a desperate remedy in extreme cases. They are all agreed that it is more like having both your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment.

What they all disagree with is the modern view that it is a simple readjustment of partners, to be made whenever people feel they are no longer in love with one another, or when either of them falls in love with someone else.

-- CS Lewis, Mere Christianity


You're making general points about divisive topics (marriage and religion in this case). The odds of interesting conversation on the open internet are low when the topics are intense like that. HN threads feel like an intimate conversation (something we all like about it), but they're really broadcasts to a large audience. On polarized topics, the odds that some message will land explosively in some portion of the statistical cloud are high. Some of those readers will rush into the comments to heatedly answer some provocation, and off we are to the flames.

We don't try to avoid divisive topics altogether, but we do to try to wait for solid opportunities - the ones where the odds are less skewed to flamewar. Threads are sensitive to initial conditions, the most important of which are the title and the article (in that order). If we start off with something substantive, where there's enough information for the mind to sink its teeth into [1], we're more likely to get reflective responses rather than reflexive ones [2]. In other words, it's best to play the good hands and fold the bad ones.

A blockbuster billionaire story with a sensational title and no additional information will probably produce discussion that burns hot, fast, and shallow. People will react reflexively with their pre-existing associations about the personalities involved and the generic topic (divorce, in this case). That is the sort of discussion that HN is not for. We want the kind that burns slower, goes deeper, and wends through unexpected places.

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

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


I think leaving one thread up, such as this one, would help the community discuss this story for a short time and move on. Instead half the new stories are this story at the moment.

Given the Gateses' roles in the tech world, venture funding, philanthropy, and Big Problems (scroll through BG's Twitter feed for numerous recent examples), including malaria, fresh water, sanitation, COVID-19, nuclear power, carbon emissions, global warming, disinformation, and more, the adjacency to numerous topics highly relevant to HN are high.

I say this as a very long-time critic of Microsoft and Gates, including on recent issues (patents as applied to vaccines).

Reader flags are a useful indicator, but can still reflect a minority quashing of a discussion that seems to badly want to happen.

Flagging also prevents tools such as Algolia from returning results of those discussions. That's sometimes merited, but not, I'd argue, in this case.


Sure, but what's there really to say about those things on the occasion of them announcing their divorce?

One obvious question would be whether high-profile marital status changes have been consequential, and how.

The case of Warrent Buffett. It was the death of his wife, and a sense of his own mortality, which inspired his own philanthropic bent.

There's the question of whether or not oligarchic philanthropy itself is a net good. There's much criticism of this, not the least of which comes from within the NGO sector. (See the Tiny Sparks podcast for significant discussion.)

Events are a foil. Life transitions become an opportunity to focus on what has been and what may be. Divorce isn't obituary, though it functions similarly, with the notable distinction that the principles aren't dead yet, and may yet do more.

(Uninformed speculation on why and wherefore does tend to be tedious, I'll grant that. I'm tugging out of that particular wallow, if possible.)


> there's a power-law dropoff in interestingness along any predictable sequence

brilliant quote. is there a name for this, or did you just make it up on the spot?



First application that comes to mind when trying to internalize this concept is drug usage.

Wouldn't marriage and estate planning be a serious consideration for tech founders?

The odds of a serious discussion of marriage and estate planning under these initial conditions are low. And the vast majority of HN users aren't tech founders.

More explanation here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27031522


I've seen you in threads defending the relevance of submissions. You even recently replied to me saying that: "That pattern still happens. At least I hope it does; we want HN to have weird articles." https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26814566

Maybe now is a good time to give the community the benefit of the doubt?


This story is the opposite of what I'd call weird. It's a major celebrity human-interest story, which must be all over the news.

And it's something I'd like to discuss with my fellow hacker news readers
ulfw 12 days ago [flagged] [–]

Fine. Gates bad. Bezos good. I get it.

That doesn't follow!

Could you please stop posting flamewar comments? Between this and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26939564 and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26849805, you've been doing it way too much lately.


Bezos is an active leader of a major company. Gates is a shareholder of a major company who has little if anything to do with it anymore. It’s not really comparable.

according to that link, the initial announcement is also [flagged] and has less points and comments than todays main thread about the Gates divorce announcement (which could comment in instead of complaing here). And the one post with >100 comments is as much about Bezos being even more rich as about the divorce.

I don't understand it either. I think it is relevant. This flagged post has over 150 votes: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27030269

That one was mine, from the original tweet about 5 seconds after it was posted. I was perplexed that it was flagged given the impact the news will have on a variety of tech issues.

Additionally, the tweet itself is a primary source - directly from Bill Gates' own verified account.

Did the Bezos divorce have any impact? Maybe on the stock market, maybe on the Forbes list of riches people, but when it came to any of the businesses I can't identify an impact. She donated a lot of money, that came months later in a press release. None of the Bezos stories today have any valuable details beyond the initial tweet in my opinion.

In this case they share a charitable foundation that contributes to lots of projects that are frequently discussed here.

Does it have to have an impact? There's so many trivial and inconsequential posts on the front page of HN every day, and they're not flagged to death. I thought the criteria for posts were interestingness, not impact to our daily lives.

>Did the Bezos divorce have any impact?

Of course it did!

Among other things, on the stock market, on the Forbes list of riches people, and then afterwards, she donated a lot of money.

Source: you.


I'm starting to wonder what's actually going on here. So many posts about the same subject from almost every mainstream source imaginable. But they're all getting flagged and killed. I understand why all of those submissions are getting this treatment, but why are so many accounts still trying to post this news? Do they not see the new queue? Are they bots?

If someone doesn't have showdead turned on, they wouldn't see all the dead posts on /newest. They would just see that it's not on the front page and think that no one had yet posted it. This would be an increasingly unlikely explanation as time goes on, but with breaking news it's possible to be the first.

Some might be bots, but also, HN allows easy posting via bookmarklet https://news.ycombinator.com/submit

People see it, go to HN, don't see it on the front page, hit submit and submit it, and then it gets flagged dead.

Part of it has to be for easy karma points. A lot of these headlines are specially crafted to arouse emotional responses from their readers especially if they are the "TV after work" kind of people.

My personal opinion is I wouldn't want HN to turn into a mainstream news discussion board. It's not only pretty boring, but will also eventually attract other people interested only in that and the good stuff will drown.


People who are flagging it probably consider the articles insufficiently deep for HN. Most of the significant details won't be known for a while. Not to say the initial articles on the Bezos' divorce were deep.

That's true. I would still say that there is something of interest to discuss here, which is the trend (if n=2 can be a trend) of ultra-wealthy tech moguls getting divorced after being married for decades. These are two of the five richest couples in the world, and they were both married before being ultra-wealthy.

Many people envy them for their wealth, power, access, health, etc. But apparently having all of these things does not secure marital bliss. And perhaps having access to everything under the sun actually makes marital happiness and security harder to come by.

This raises the question: if this is true for the wealthiest people, is it also true for 'mere' hundred-millionaires or millionaires? What are the actual impacts of achieving high levels of wealth, and should we actually be happier having less money/power because it means that we are more likely to have better relationships?


> This raises the question: if this is true for the wealthiest people, is it also true for 'mere' hundred-millionaires or millionaires? What are the actual impacts of achieving high levels of wealth, and should we actually be happier having less money/power because it means that we are more likely to have better relationships?

I don't think there's any difference at all between having a net worth of $100m, or tens or hundreds of billions. Once you're at a point where you know that you'll never worry about money, you have enough estates, you can do anything within reason, you're not that sensitive to the number of digits on your bank statement. Scope insensitivity.


I would guess that this is probably true, but then again I don't have $100M. It's possible that those people look up at wealthier folks in the same way that working wealthy look up at them (and working poor look up at working wealthy).

It is probably considered gossip to discuss such matters, though I often see "person X has quit Y" to which I would say is of similar newsworthiness.

Bill Gates is the most influential computer man alive. One wonders if he’ll go back to programming now he is single.

I was very confused reading this title - I thought Bill and Melinda Gates had been killed, or there was some spam campaign about them being killed..

This is very relevant. Many of us work in tech, are married, and know of this couple., just for starters.

It's so very sad every time there is controversial topics, out come the bot armies and flag/down vote them into oblivion. How can HN have such strong. encroaching censorship?

There doesn't even seem to be many people disagreeing that this is very much on topic.


Bill Gates famously listed pros and cons of getting married on a white board so the process of getting divorced is probably just as intellectual. They are still going to work together on their foundation work so they appear to be avoiding a messy emotional split. It may just be a tax strategy who knows.

Maybe because Bill started microsoft almost 20 years before they got married. So Melinda may have signed a prenup, and might not get as large a split as mckenzie even if she didn’t.

That makes me extra curious why she would be the one to initiate the divorce, at least on paper.

Cash value of a losing vote is nonzero before an election.

Sorry, too dumb to make the connection. Can you explain.

During the marriage, Melinda may get overruled in business matters by Bill. After exercising her option to divorce, she cannot be overruled on her portion of the wealth.

I don’t see a reason for the flagging. It is ‘news’.

Plenty of news is off topic on HN. Most, in fact.

I am very thankful that HN does not post this type of news.

In the same vein, HN has had very little postings on COVID. THANK YOU !!!!


Simple: it's just celebrity gossip and last I checked this wasn't People magazine.

Just because it's about Gates doesn't mean it's interesting or relevant for this site.


Because its celebrity news and people really shouldn't care at all

Have to admit my own knee-jerk reaction was to flag the article.

BUT when I got to the bottom of it (possibly the reason for divorce is to evade the new Biden's tax) - it is actually quite interesting.


Anything negative about gates gets automatically downvoted here. Some PR botnet maybe?

That's false, and please don't break the site guidelines like this.

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

"Please don't post insinuations about astroturfing, shilling, brigading, foreign agents and the like. It degrades discussion and is usually mistaken. If you're worried about abuse, email hn@ycombinator.com and we'll look at the data."


>usually



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