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Why HN is the way it is, and why we hope it will stay that way (ycombinator.com)
349 points by jacquesm 15 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 183 comments

I thought I clicked the wrong thing at first. In case an explanation helps: this is another comment thread where dang (HN's moderator) has a long and deep conversation about HN and why it is the way it is.

Great comment by @dang downstream in that thread. I missed it the first time around. Thanks @jackquesm!

My little bit to add here, for what it's worth. (I've been here since the first few months or so). Good conversations don't have to involve a back-and-forth with your ideas always being involved. In huge groups of people, many times I find it good enough to try to add something useful to the discussion, provide a link for more depth if necessary, and then shut the hell up. It's not the "me" show.

I post stuff I've created all of the time here that doesn't get traction. As the old saying goes, thems the breaks, kid. Every now and then some oddball thing I've said or posted will take off, and that's a pretty cool feeling, but I learned not to chase that feeling. Instead just try to be a decent and respectful participant and delete more content before you hit the "send" button than you actually post. The rest of it is pretty much effectively random. (Insert discussion here about how some folks have such a good reputation that it doesn't matter. I don't like it. Many of them don't like it. But it is what it is)

Quoth dang:

> Quite a few HN users, including some of the most prominent ones (and some of the best writers too), started off with a pugnacious commenting style and learned over the years to modulate that in the interest of curiosity, both in themselves and others. That's the learning curve we all have to go through here, and are still going through.

Not saying I'm prominent or a great writer, but here's an example from my own posting history showing two comments with the same general message, but the first one done in an unnecessarily provocative and condescending way, and the later one done after learning how to tone things down:

Score: -2, confrontational, no productive discussion generated: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27581452

Score: +95, modulated, resulting in better discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27997427

It's interesting. There _is_ a monoculture here, perhaps even an echo chamber, but it doesn't break down along the usual lines.

I like good conversations, like most. Not arguments, but folks simply talking and asking questions about things that they have massive internal disagreements about. I find such conversations useful to understand better both others and myself. (And I don't mean necessarily politics. Anything, really, except perhaps for that tabs-versus-spaces thing. Ain't going nowhere near that one)

In that spirit, I remember posting links to essays I've written like "Does God Exist?" (It was a recap of a Summer spent reading and listening to essays and lectures on the subject)

I would not do that today. In a big way, the site has gotten more, well, mediocre. It has somewhat unwritten standards and dang and the bunch do a great job of helping us keep them. But there's this huge list of rules and topics about content that are strictly enforced by the mob, and they wax and wane throughout the day. For instance, I am more likely to get a lot of traction on an interesting article if I post early in the morning, when my European friends are starting their work day. I get better traction on comments later in the day, when my California friends are finishing up their day. Beats me why and I haven't looked into it.

About every month or two I get a comment downvoted. The last one was back in March when I pointed out that types can completely replace unit tests for pure FP code.

I used to consider such downvotes an indication that I had misread the room, I was venturing somewhere I shouldn't. I would delete them if I could. Then I noticed some getting downvoted a lot only to come back with a positive score after a few days. There was a big element of randomness to it and not much useful signal in all of that noise. Now it's about 50/50. Half the time I delete those comments if I can. The other half of the time I wear that like a badge of honor. I meant no disrespect and was only trying to move the conversation along. Hell if I'm going to read a lot into what's mostly noise.

I've been on the net since it went public. I'm a slow learner, and it's taken a lot of time, but I no longer worry about all of the wrong people on the internet. I still wonder where the guardrails are, and how groups of people solve problems, but I'm much happier watching than I am adding to the noise.

> Good conversations don't have to involve a back-and-forth with your ideas always being involved.

That's a great point. Generally my favorite part of the comments are all the little atomic nuggets of wisdom that folks post in one-off comments that are just tangentially related to the topic. To be honest I find most of the "conversation" threads to be tiresome as the typically just consist of 2 or 3 people talking past each other until the thread peters out.

Forum moderation is... fascinating complex. Because not only do you have a complex immediate system: you have a complex system with memory (i.e. individual posters stick around).

As a consequence, moderation (the verb) has tons of second+ order effects, as all interventions ripple out into future posts and attitudes. Sometimes in an opposite way to what you intended with your intervention (e.g. so angry about being moderated that my next three comments are written in anger).

> The problem with provocation and flamebait is easy to derive from first principles: you can't provoke or flame others into curiosity. (dang)

As clear a description of "why" as I've seen. And the statistical argument is a good one, because moderators never control who shows up. [0]

If a comment has a 60% chance of attracting a flame in response, then that comment is dangerous to the forum as a whole, and a responsible commentor will write it to decrease that as much as possible.

Personally, I find myself paring down my comments to minimal kernels, when commenting on hot button topics, because any excess verbiage is a potential target for a flame to notice and attach to.

[0] My quintessential example of this was putting in hours of moderating a touchy topic on the EVE forums, IMHO doing a decent job getting every calmed down, with good feelings all around, only for some jackass to pop into the thread for the first time with a borderline (non-moderatable) comment that lit everything back on fire. "I am Jack's broken heart", indeed.

> you can't provoke or flame others into curiosity

dang's first law of online comment moderation?

Do you know how many writers are boring? Most people don’t read books. The books are boring, the awful writers became authors of books. Truly dreadful and boring writers. I don’t think people realize why people gravitate to ‘flammable’ writers on the internet. It’s the most interesting shit they ever read, literally, ever. Can we respect that on some level?

only for some jackass to pop into the thread for the first time with a borderline (non-moderatable) comment that lit everything back on fire.

My dear friend, I suffer from serious depression, and whatever chaos one person can create with words is pure joy to me. Do not moderate my happiness.

> whatever chaos one person can create with words is pure joy to me. Do not moderate my happiness.

Perhaps online communities which share those values would be a better fit for you than one that explicitly stands against those practices.

I disagree, Mom. Also, 90% of what makes Eve fun is the arbitrary chaos humans create amongst themselves. It’s all in good fun and quite interesting.

Things are certainly getting weird, the more I live, the more I realize I relate to the Joker.

How did EVE online even show up in this discussion? Oh, you brought it up, and turns out I used to play it. Do you see? I can’t leave this place because you guys are just too much fun.

I hope you can find some peace, but please understand that for many other people that type of thing is extremely draining and exhausting. It's really stressful to come home after a long day of putting out fires at work just to see more inflammatory things happening online. Doubly so if people are spreading flamebait and misinformation that happens to be about you or your work. I actually completely quit online gaming because the toxicity is out of control, I couldn't seem to join a game without someone eventually tossing around insults or being casually racist/sexist. I really don't need that in my free time.

Internet flaming is only interesting for a little while, and then it gets boring and a little sickening, like a sugar high. Actually, it's usually not even interesting (in the intellectual sense) to begin with. It's exciting, agitating, activating—things that are easy to confuse with interest. Real interest is quieter and a little more stable.

I'm a big fan of classic hard-hitting literary wit, but it doesn't work on the internet. You need a smaller, closed system for it to work—like the literary salon Monty Python were making fun of here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uycsfu4574w.

Sugar is a great analogy, because frequent exposure to flaming does appear to adjust people's tastes, until they seek it out.

RIP pre-Internet discussion methods.

I've always had a vague sense that there's an underappreciation of the damage Starbucks did to American discourse by destroying the most widespread social forum: the coffee shop.

I'm going to use the adjective "flammable" now to describe people who can be easily riled up into political rage. It's great because it emphasizes that not only is there a match, there's tinder.

Agreed! I feel like it is also a good term for a psychologically disarming recognition. I am flammable about certain topics, and having that word now makes it easier for me recognize my flammability (and hopefully tone it way down), if that makes sense.

It's also great in that the same piece of wood can be more or less flammable given environment. Social media is a like change in climatic conditions leading to less rain and more evaporation.

> It's also great in that the same piece of wood can be more or less flammable given environment.

imo, it is not just the wood, but the environment too, which matters perhaps more:

>> But there’s nothing natural or inevitable about the specific ways that Facebook and YouTube corral our attention. The patterns, by now, are well known. As Buzzfeed famously reported in November 2016, "top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined."

>> Humans are a social species, equipped with few defenses against the natural world beyond our ability to acquire knowledge and stay in groups that work together. We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite. And Facebook gorges us on them...

>> The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself. As a result, they don’t look much like the old forms of censorship at all. They look like viral or coordinated harassment campaigns, which harness the dynamics of viral outrage to impose an unbearable and disproportionate cost on the act of speaking out. They look like epidemics of disinformation, meant to undercut the credibility of valid information sources. They look like bot-fueled campaigns of trolling and distraction, or piecemeal leaks of hacked materials, meant to swamp the attention of traditional media.


I agree. It's a great metaphor. I'm also going to start using flamebait more frequently, where previously I just lumped it under the more generic "clickbait" (a flamebait headline is a clickbait headline but a clickbait headline is not a flamebait headline).

It's actually quite a modern idea that instead of controlling your own response to someone, you are better off responding as poorly as possible and blaming the person who you're responding to "for making you do it".

It's not good. Any gamers here will be familiar with the new "tilt" slang and how it actually places the blame on anyone but the person doing the wrong deed.

I do not enjoy this new world of blaming imaginary catalysts instead of blaming bad actors.

> It's actually quite a modern idea that instead of controlling your own response to someone, you are better off responding as poorly as possible and blaming the person who you're responding to "for making you do it".

I disagree. Almost no human behaviors are "modern" -- sometimes frustratingly so.

Historically, authorities would often blame those they subjugated for "making them" do something (monarchs, jailers, armies, etc.) It's also a very common model of spousal abuse.

In general, it's easier to blame someone else when you overreact than to face your own mistakes and apologize. I don't know any reason modern society would have invented that. The impulse to shift blame is intrinsic to having the human set of emotions.

Yeah, everyone conveniently forgets what is the second sin of Adam from the Bible (if they're subscribed to that belief system)

Nope. There's a difference between having the power to rewrite an idea and actually appealing to others to follow suit.

In one case the other is rewriting what happened, the other is claiming that what happened was done only for the reason of _____.

I don't know any logical reasons why someone would invent this. I know a fair few illogical ones. We don't really live in a logical world, constantly inventing idiocy.

Another group I'm in calls it an inflamed amygdala.

>Another group I'm in calls it an inflamed amygdala.

Is that medically speaking a thing? People who might be more emotional might just have an inflamed amygdala?

Given enough heat and suitable environment, virtually anything is flammable.

@dang - big thanks for all you do to help keep this site relatively sane, civil, thoughtful, and relentlessly curious. Having moderated online communities before I know it’s not easy, but you do it better than any moderator I’ve yet seen. Big kudos, big respect, and big thanks.

I like HN because the quality of discussion is consistently high. I wondered how is HN doing that, but always suspected its all about moderation.

Seeing the thought process of a moderator explained in such way makes me realize how low my bar for "good moderation" was. Thank you dang.

Cultural moderation/curation like the one at HN leads to more discourse. After participating in online forums for 20 or so years I always feel more inclined to partake in forums in which the tone of discussion is friendly and level of discussion is high.

Free-for-all or laissez-fair moderation leads to a race to the bottom in the quality of posts.

Thanks for keeping HN a nice place everyone.

This, along with @dang's link to his past posts about "expected value" (found in the discussion linked to above) [1], was like reading Bartosz Ciechanowski's post on internal combustion engines [2] but for HN.

Thanks for all your work, @dang. Good to see that there's a philosophical soul at the helm. Would love to meet you in person one day.

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

[2]: https://ciechanow.ski/internal-combustion-engine/, which I learned about from HN

Honestly, I’m here because I want to hear from people smarter than me (on certain subjects) what they think on those subjects, and in so doing maybe I’ll become a little more smart. I do not care what those people think about me thinking about their discourse, quite the contrary, I wish they’d state their opinions/facts like I wasn’t even reading. The same goes for me, of course, I really don’t care how my opinions/statements are received by those reading them, they might be seen as true, false, or a combination of the two, but I do not really care what impression they (the statements made by me) leave on the persons reading them.

Of course, I’m writing all these assuming the discourse is quite neutral, i.e. that it doesn’t involve personal attacks or the like.

The weird things about personal attacks are that sometimes it can be very difficult to figure out what might be perceived as a personal attack by someone else. Which is why a certain amount of conservatism in your communication is so important when you are participating in large public forum of semi-random people. Pretending like your words won't be taken exactly as you meant them means you won't learn how best to communicate in that context. You won't pick up on the cues showing you perhaps accidentally crossed a line with some portion of audience.

If you then blame the audience for how they reacted to the communication and don't adapt but instead dig in even more then a flamewar happens and your opportunity to communicate disappears.

Keep reading to dang's second level comment. It's even better than the first, and I thought the first was great. He put words to an intellectual journey I traveled as a poster here on this forum and didn't even realize it.


> If that's too strong a metaphor

I see what you did there!

My favourite HN moments are chains of discussions, as if involving two people with opposing views, except every comment by a different person. As if someone else responded instead of you while you stepped away, knowing exactly what you meant earlier. All respectful and upvoted.

HN the best place to be a fly on the wall especially on topics i dont know a lot about. I always learn a lot haha.

The thing I really like about HN's commenting system is that it's explicitly designed to discourage flamewars -- the way heavily downvoted comments end up "dead" means that "edgy" content is quickly buried.

Contrast that to Facebook or Twitter, where only positive signals exist, and the entire system is designed to surface "edgy" content as much as possible (because it gets the most engagement!)


One of the things I've learned over the years on HN is that I don't appreciate comments that are generic expressions of identity. That is, if somebody posts a comment that contains nothing specific to the subject at hand, that boils down to "I am progressive" or "conservatism is good" or "X is evil" I downvote it. That sort of comment is the bread and butter of so much internet discussion; we don't need more of it, and it doesn't contribute to what I enjoy about HN.

> “…generic expressions of identity… I downvote it.”

yes, please. identitarian comments are often some of the least reasoned, and therefore the most uncurious and banal.

Alternatively: it enourages brigading and group think. Controversial opinions, even wildly incorrect ones (think: conspiracy theories and ideological nutjobbery) are also heavily upvoted, and it's the discussion that gets buried, since the only ones voting on comments are the people invested in the discussion.

So it's routine here to find topics of general interest, and click on them to find some kind of broad conspiracist screed at the top of discussion, try to reply, and discover yourself rapidly buried.

It's a real problem. And, yes, it tends to have a decidedly partisan bent to it. There are lots of perspectives you just can't get in front of eyeballs on HN in a meaningful way, you just end up rolling in the slop with the pigs.

>Contrast that to Facebook or Twitter, where only positive signals exist, and the entire system is designed to surface "edgy" content as much as possible (because it gets the most engagement!)

But that's the same system used for link submissions? you can upvote them but not downvote them.

You can flag submissions, which works sort of (but not quite) like a downvote. Plus, there are some mechanisms limiting "edgy content", e.g. if the comments/upvotes ratio starts screaming "flamewar!", the submission will drop off the front page like a brick.

So basically all anyone has to do to suppress a topic is engage the flamewar detection mechanism?

What could possibly go wrong on a site where getting an account doesn't even require a pulse. I'm pretty sure I didn't have to fill out a captcha.

You're assuming what you see (eg lack of capcha) is all the protection that exists, and that there's no other protection. It's kind of like Disneyland - a lot of work goes into making the site what it is, and you don't see even a tenth of the work that goes on into making it look so good.

True but links are sorted in competition with other links with a zero baseline. Comments piggyback on the link popularity will always show up on the page. Exception of course the massive 100+ comment hot topics.

Thus links resting state is a quick falloff and death. In contrast comments tend to hang around, even bad comments if they are part of an interesting conversation.

There are so few votes per view that I'm not convinced that matters at all, not upvoting is enough of a signal.

Contrarian legitimate and respectful views are downvoted constantly and at an ever increasing pace. Let’s not pat ourselves too much. Comparing with FB is a low bar. I am not a fan of self congratulatory rhetoric when evidence doesn’t support it. HN’s quality of discussions are getting worse, more emotional and less objective. Party lines are clearly drawn. Anyone that wants to challenge this view can just browse threads from 2015 and see it for yourself.

I’m the guy that goes around and vouches for flagged comments if they’re not obviously vile/disrespectful/rude even if I disagree with it completely. Society functions because we allow voices that we obviously disagree with. Lines drawn today are getting closer towards center and the extremism is widening the spectrum.

This is a consequence of scale. The larger the community, the less you see each individual, the less you are able to understand the other person. One of the most important posts I read on here was on weirdness budgets. Most people want to speak with people with opinions +/- 5% of their own. If you go beyond that limit, people will ignore you and seek feedback from those within their circle. If someone like TeMPOraL makes a weird argument I am going to pay attention, because he has proven himself as a member of the community.

One of the big related problems I've found is that people are replying wrong.

You should almost never reply to the person that you are disagreeing with. If you do so, and your argument is a good one, the most likely result is that the person you disagree with will be down-voted(even if their argument was in good faith and is their viewpoint was common beforehand!), and your post will follow their post all the way down the page, and no one will see it. This is much worse on reddit, where your post will be hidden.

Instead you should reply to their parent, so that your comment and their comment are at the same level, and by up-voting and down-voting you get to compare the different viewpoints directly.

> If someone like TeMPOraL makes a weird argument

Well, speaking of weird arguments... the one you make in the last two paragraphs is very weird to me. It's like... not how this is supposed to work, dangit!

My take has been: you reply to the person whose comment you want to address. You reply in parallel if you want to present your point standalone - as a counterweight to a sibling comment, but not something to be read as a direct reply. I like it when discussions follow a nice, logical order in the tree (hence I'm replying to you, and not to your parent).

Not sure how upvote/downvote tree pans out in practice - myself I upvote high-quality comments that I disagree with, and doubly so if someone else replies to one with a quality rebuttal, as to keep the whole subtree up. But I guess others have other patterns.

HN threads are usually small enough that I don't think it matters where a given discussion subtree is happening on the page. But I see the pragmatic value of your suggestion.

I mostly agree with your reply, and can thus, using my own rules, reply to you. I don't think I am 100% right. I don't think replying is 100% right. At this point the only person who will ever see this message is you, so it's clear that my reply should 100% be to your comment.

I've picked up habbits on Reddit, and on Reddit replying like this is absolutely correct. On here it matters less(perhaps not at all), but the more people join, the more it matters.

I've got a feeling this is result of the reply system having a single option. It's to simple, so we get issues like this. I look to sites like StackOverflow that have Answer - Comment - Chat hierarchy for guidance here. I think if someone is going to over-take Reddit, this being done correctly will play a big part.

I’m the guy that goes around and vouches for flagged comments if they’re not obviously vile/disrespectful/rude even if I disagree with it completely.

I do some of that as well. "Corrective upvotes" and vouches for things that have been penalized, but which appear to me to have been penalized purely for partisan reasons. It's not much, but we do what we can.

I agree that there's plenty of room for improvement but I wouldn't say that most of the downvoted comments I see are just “contrarian legitimate and respectful views” — usually the ones I see heavily downloaded are also things like standard issue talking points repeated with no additional contribution and/or especially those containing falsehoods or material omissions.

Sometimes. I often see weirdly dead posts making reasonable points, which I vouch for (and then upvote).

But yeah, a lot of the dead stuff is flamebait, but it doesn't tend to be equal opportunity flamebait.

For an example, if you say positive stuff about Facebook in the latest Facebook bad thread, you'll get downvoted. The converse is not true.

I have seen some oddly flagged posts which I tend to assume are people going through someone's history in reaction to a different thread.

Re: the Facebook effect, some subjects are definitely heated but I tend to see that tracking how genuine someone sounds — it seems like people do okay if they, for example, are talking about how Facebook is helpful for communities they're part of and don't sound like they're doing pro bono PR. One challenge I think certain topics get is that they've been rehashed enough that a lot of people are quick with the downvotes if a comment opens with something which sounds predictable so there is definitely something be said for making sure that the initial opening doesn't sound cliched.

There are some users who were banned because the repeatedly broke the guidelines but continue to post, and that they got banned doesn't mean that all their comments are bad, just too many of them.

Ok, you’re right. Not all are legitimate and should be downvoted for not adding too much intellectual curiosity.

> Anyone that wants to challenge this view can just browse threads from 2015 and see it for yourself.

Yeah, the entire (English-speaking) internet went crazy that year, and it hasn't really improved since.

HN has another issue, though: anyone expressing an opinion that goes against the HN "group-think" (for lack of a better word) gets downvoted to oblivion as a result, even if no participants go on a flame-bait mission. Most common topics that inevitably end in such downvote-fests are free speech (which is a minefield in itself, given that the US and European notions about free speech are radically different), nuclear energy, genetic engineering, government regulation and social security systems (with the exception of US healthcare, which seems to be generally hated).

A democratic debate based on facts or legitimate political differences (again, this is really prevalent in issues that have different mainstream viewpoints between the US and Europe) but still civilized in tone should not result in half the comments being greyed out or flagged.

> HN has another issue, though: anyone expressing an opinion that goes against the HN "group-think" (for lack of a better word) gets downvoted to oblivion as a result, even if no participants go on a flame-bait mission

This really isn't true, and the people who argue that it is will often argue that the group think takes diametrically opposed positions to those attributed to it by other people making the same argument.

HN has large factions on multiple sides of most issues, which mostly offset each other in pure-disagreement based moderation (though moment to moment it can vary). Mostly, if someone is getting consistently downvoted, its more about approach than opinion, though people strongly-enough biased toward the opinion that they can't see the approach issues through their affection for the position will tend to attribute it to hostility to the opinion. (You can often see this occur on opposing sides in the same thread.)

Are you saying HN is evenly populated and has no main faction?

If so I'd like to direct you to any post which brings up income inequality, or anything about any of the FAANG companies.

Too many times has correct, factual information been greyed out.

Quite often I call out 'feels>facts', where correct info is dead/flagged simply for telling the truth.

For specifics you are welcome to peruse my comments, I like to comment when I find these occurrences to 'stamp' them for future use.

Don't forget cryptocurrency related threads.

Dutch site tweakers.net has an interesting solution to this. When you engage in excessive opinion voting, where you downvote only because you disagree, whilst the comment in itself is valid (not harmful, high quality)...you get a voting ban.

The voting ban is handed out by volunteer moderators whom scan for such comments. They tend to stick out, so easy to find. Likely a relatively small group is so emotional in voting.

The only problem of such an involved system is that it may take a day before comment votes are returned to their "fair" state. The question is if it still matters then, as people have moved on to the next topic.


HN doesn’t work like that (technically). Unlike on standard forums, a comment can only get -4 and the next upvote starts at that, preventing the “oblivion” state. If a comment doesn’t take off the gray area, that means it really has zero support.

It seems to work for flamewars and trollbait, but it also gets used to downvote opinions people disagree with even though the content itself is ok and that's a bit unfortunate.

> Contrast that to Facebook or Twitter, where only positive signals exist

i've never seen a downvote button on HN. Is my browser to old or not supported?

>i've never seen a downvote button on HN. Is my browser to old or not supported?

You have to get enough upvotes first.

you need at least 500 (or 501?) karma

Ditto. Social disapproval seems to actually work here. Piss off too many people and you disappear.

I think it works here when it works, and it doesn't when it doesn't.

If you're a straight white male (note: I'm not), then I think social dis/approval works well for you.

I think that conversations about privilege are hard and, unfortunately, often times the social majority is united against the implications that they might be part and parcel to the inequity in our systems.

This isn't specific to this site, but I'm frequently appalled by what I see in posts regarding race, gender, etc. and there is no social repercussion for people who post in bad faith simply because it is in the majority's best interest to self-regulate in a meaningful way.

(And now here I am, worried about the "social disapproval" of this post, even though I think that the contents are worthy of posting and the tone is respectful)

I don't think this post will have social disapproval. I appreciate your comments.

>I think it works here when it works, and it doesn't when it doesn't.

Isn't that how everything works? Even the best of things?

>If you're a straight white male (note: I'm not), then I think social dis/approval works well for you.

I think that's a stretch. The west coast where SV is based is full of LGBT+ people. Sure, it's probably mostly white but I don't think I've ever seen a case of racism on here and if it existed, dang probably nuked it from orbit.

> Isn't that how everything works? Even the best of things?

You're right, I think I was using that to ease into my argument in a delicate way.

> The west coast where SV is based is full of LGBT+ people.

To be clear LGBT+ != !straight-white-male (the set !straight-white-male includes but is not equal to LGBT+). I've seen really problematic racism on hackernews. Problematic not because it's extreme (slurs, lynchings, etc) but because it's "logical" in a way that disenfranchises black people (for example).

An example (and I don't keep tabs of this, so I don't have a link, but it was in the past month or so) was of someone saying, with respect to a racially sensitive topic "As a black man I think... about this topic." and the replies were overwhelmingly "That you feel the need to qualify with 'As a black man' proves that you are racist. I, on the other hand, do not consider race, ergo I am not racist".

These are well-suited-to-hackernews arguments that invalidate the perspective of anyone outside of the accepted majority and thus perpetuate racism.

I think this is the last I'm going to say on the matter. I'm not trying to argue with you, and I have no evidence that you have done anything like what I'm talking about here. I just think that it's important not to ignore what other people might perceive, especially those with different contexts & experiences, who might perceive things that you do not.

exit: removed unnecessary parenthetical about Dave Chappelle (for obvious reasons) and clarified a bit.

Those aren't well-suited-to-hackernews arguments—they're shallow, reflexive flamebait, and we ask people not to post like that when we see it.

> “This isn't specific to this site, but I'm frequently appalled by what I see in posts regarding race, gender, etc.”

frankly, i can’t even engage in, nor even charitably characterize, most discussions about privilege, race, and gender on hn. which is fine, but it’s a curiously significant blindspot (for reasons you raise, and beyond).

How many is too many (people to piss off)? Take your statement in another context.

Say native dissidents pissing off local government / foreign natural resource exploitists.

Or, americans of african ancestry attempting to be heard / get equal rights in 50's america. They were certainly socially disapproved and silenced by society at large.

Social oppression is the most insidious form of censorship. It needs to be combated with the most vigor and rigor.

I don't disagree with you to an extent, but humans are wired for social behaviors and there is a positive social pressure to be had. Of course your examples are real and pervasive, but we can't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

That being said, this is hacker news which definitely seems more composed than most online forums so I think social pressure here is useful.

The only problem I noticed a few times on hn is that some comments go dead even if they are right on the money. Edgy or not is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things if the content of the comment is correct. I didn't end up down the oblivion hole just yet but I did see some that had good points... just not mainstream. Like round earth and trepanning used to be. One is mainstream while the other is now gone and considered barbaric. Some things take time to prove... or dissapear.

On the positive side: You don't have to content with baiting and such things for long.

I like Dang's comments on the idea that the presentation of the information is just as valuable as the information itself. Much like your round Earth example, sometimes stating the objective truth isn't enough to win over an audience. This isn't a flaw in HN so much as it is a flaw in the way people behave. We all operate with partial information and when new information conflicts with what we know (or sometimes what the collective authority seems to know) we reject it.

In general there are two options to this. You can fully commit to your views, and get 10 responses where opponents fully commit to theirs. Or, you can consider the general views of the community your in, and adjust your comments to challenge and question without provoking, usually getting a small number of considered replies in return. The latter tends to be the harder of the two and the less noticable. I think this is why larger discussions with more approachable topics seem to turn toxic faster.

>The thing I really like about HN's commenting system is that it's explicitly designed to discourage flamewars -- the way heavily downvoted comments end up "dead" means that "edgy" content is quickly buried.

It's sad that it goes well beyond that. You don't just remove edgy, you also remove anything controversial or dissenting. You end up with an echo chamber.

The question, how do you minimize cost of moderation while allowing discussion under hostile conditions? Nobody has an answer to this question.

That's how you get echo chambers actually, quite far from actual discourse. An echo chamber definitely cannot contain flamewars though.... so there's that.

My understanding is that YouTube will even interpret a dislike as positive feedback. It’s all about engagement as you said.

Curious that this is also the strength of tiktok algorithm, because you're able to send it negative signals

On a side note - does HN feel more "downvotey" lately?

I feel like I'm seeing more comments that are grayed out but seem perfectly civil and reasonable. Often they're back in the black soon after, but I'm sure the time period when they're greyed out influences the discussion. Of course, I don't have any way to measure this.

I wonder if some of the thresholds need to be tweaked.

My opinion is downvotes should require a reason for downvote. Upvotes imply aggreement of the original post therefore do not need further explanation.

Getting in the weeds here, but then if others agree with the downvote rationale, they can upvote the downvote which can be used as some metric. This already happens on HN and reddit - people downvote all the time then provide a reason, but not all people provide a reason for their disagreement, allowing for useless downvotes that dont help the community in any way - for example an "ad hominem" downvote. What this means is that disagreeing opinions are allowed attacks without any risk of retaliation, and in what game is that ever fair?

Yeah, I agree it would be interesting. Very often I'd like to be able to reply to everyone who brigade-downvotes things on reddit when for example they don't have some context or something counterintuitive is actually true according to reputable source.

> Upvotes imply aggreement of the original post therefore do not need further explanation.

Agreement isn't useful feedback. An upvote implies that the comment is funny, a virtual laugh if you will, which is useful feedback to allow you to hone the entertainment value of your comments.

I suspect the next person will have a different take, though. Which ultimately means that the votes mean nothing at all beyond that someone, assuming no bots are at play, pressed a button.

Therefore, votes are just a poor man's analytics system. They give some vague feedback that someone was near your comment and nothing more. Which button was pressed makes no difference.

The downside of that is increased meta.

And the reason is simple:

They did not agree and or lack shared perspective before the down vote and that being true after the downvote starts another disagreeable discussion.

It all gets worse when people know who downvoted them...

Only the initial downvoting commenter would have to reveal his name. Then others can just bolster the downvote which harms the rating of the original comment, sort of like a "let him without sin be the first to throw the stone" situation. Then others can join in if they agree. And that might hurt if they're throwing stones at us but at least we get to see where the stones are coming from. Currently we dont, we just get stoned and dont know why.

Secondly, being told why doesn't help as much as you would think. That itself is another meta discussion. People won't take the why as given. They will want to argue it, challenge the qualifications of others, and you can go down the list. It all happens.

People I see taking that feedback to contemplate is rare.

The number one reason why people want to be told why so they can argue their case. And that's what's going to trigger The Meta.

On Quora this problem happened and a bunch of us created a court where someone could appeal downvotes, and sort of argue their case. That discussion would involve feedback to the person who got downvoted, and if it all didn't warrant being downvoted, a whole bunch of people would up vote, basically correcting a wrong.

It was a super interesting exercise in the genuine ambiguity text communication has. The fact is we really can't determine intent from text. People can, and we'll take things all sorts of interesting and crazy ways.

And whether they are correct in doing that or not, the discussion to sort it out is laborious and time-consuming.

Now I will tell you, a bunch of people working hard on this problem and sort out a disagreement or downvote that shouldn't have happened. And maybe a third of those were worthy exercises in that the person who initiated the process took away something that genuinely help them to improve.

Another big percentage, were just fixing bad down votes. But it cost a lot to do that.

The rest were fairly painful meta discussions. Unproductive.

No the reason that all made some sense on Quora was the downvotes had Fairly severe consequences and fairly rapidly.

Here, it's not such a big deal. Anyone who makes more good decisions about what they say and not will gain karma. That's all that's required.

So rather than Stones, it's more like little Pebbles.

Frankly, the easiest way to get past this here is to just not worry about it, and try to be a good human.

In a lot of cases, people who get some downvotes here probably weren't trying their best to be good human. If they try harder they get less downvotes. Good As It Gets.

I'll end with this:

The reason why moderation works here as well as it does, is because dang and others actually care, actually spend the human time interacting with people, and spend time cultivating norms and culture that leads to more decisions that are good than not.

This is a human problem, not something we fix with a rule or algorithm or clever metric.

Someday, maybe when machines can derive real meaning from text, we can revisit this discussion and be productive.

And I even have an indicator for you.

A while back the decision was made to include one space between the period at the end of a sentence, and the capital letter at the beginning of another one. The result of that is also a capital letter after the period required for an abbreviated word.

This ambiguity is why those of us who prefer two spaces at the end of a sentence do so. It is so software can understand when a sentence actually begins. As things stand now, there's no real distinction between the abbreviated word, and the legitimate end of a sentence, meaning we get autocapitalization wrong.

When machines can understand meaning well enough to sort this out, is also the time that we might revisit moderation. Cheers

( going back to two spaces would be really nice, but this discussion just gave me a reason to prefer one space now for the indicator purpose mentioned above.)

Thanks for the write up, just wanted to note that I read through all of this. I get what you're saying about the meta now, clearly I didn't fully understand why that was bad thing.

Speaking of meta though, I have to say, I still stand by my initial thought that an alternate rating mechanic is at least worth exploring, as the upvote/downvote feels like a system from an earlier era before anyone realized how large its social impact could be. I'd be interested to know what the ideal system that promotes a healthy convergence to the center (rather than one that increases polarization) would look like.

I can't deny the effects of great moderation/cultivation, that they are the most important part, but being a technologist I still want to see what happens when the variables are tweaked.

Well, for example here, just how large is the social impact?

And where it is large, and here it just isn't, why?

As for tweaking...

What center? Along how many axis?

I have similar thoughts and have had the pleasure of participating and or moderating in a few very different scenarios.

Frankly, the product of that in part validates your desire better means and methods. There probably are some, and I believe analysis of higher order effects can filter many out.

I shared the other product, which is our ownership of our conversations. Shockingly low numbers of people understand the options available to them, and shockingly high numbers desire control of others as a potential solution to conversations they find disagreeable.

Norms are quite possibly the most powerful tools available to us because those speak more to what people can control.

The various systems we can invent tend to put an illusion of control over others, and or where they do actually control others they tend to be very expensive.

Consider the block.

Block someone and suddenly they just are not a part of your conversations, or your club, if say the block is to a group.

The blocked person, when individually blocked can basically carry on talking with everyone else. Often, that conversation is both invisible to the blocker as well as about them. The meta resulting from that is amazing! See Twitter.

Frankly, the block is more for the blockers benefit than it is for the person so blocked.

Where group blocks happen, they overlap with bans. This does a far better job of controlling others, but it then can involve others who had no part otherwise. Can force people to pick their friends, maintain confidences, lose touch with family, all sorts of higher order effects in play. All generally expensive.

Worse, is the reality of being offended, or breaking a rule, perhaps unclear, like "be nice."

We are each as offended as we think we are. There is no objective measure beyond coarse boundaries we find the hard way and those tend to propagate as norms. Interestingly, people will form clubs to avoid norms. See Reddit. Discord.

As I wrote earlier, and as a proponent of taking ownership of my conversations, I weigh speech and am difficult to offend and or angered by what basically rando people my tell me online.

When a clown calls you out as an ass, that is as laughable as it is low value. Who are they and what do they really know? Here is the insight hard won:

A good chuckle, coupled with a meaningful response that gives the clown an out to up their game is powerful and resonates in a community positive way.

Cries of righteous indignation also have power, but resonate in a community negative way.

The former meta has value and can yield insight and set strong norms community wide. Entertaining too.

The latter meta is low value, is a who is the bigger asshole type chat, and will set strong norms that offer future low value. Can be entertaining.

Negative entertainment is super easy because of how those play out.

The common thread here is meaning and how we come to know our minds and those of others through ambiguity. Text is pretty terrible. Understanding intent is difficult.

Norms are used here to great effect. There are a list of rules and I confess to not reading them. I do not have to. The norms here are very clear, and consequences generally scaled to feedback, but not harm, or be expensive.

So people can explore a little and find their way with few worries.

Here is an observation:

Moderate on value.

A troll, for example, can obtain high value for a very low investment in many places.

One post can get thousands involved and the troll is entertained for a song.

To the community, that one post was expensive!

So what to do?

I, with some others, employed the concept of value and norms to pretty great effect.

We required toxic people to include a benign phrase in their posts, which were otherwise allowed.

They hated that, but also talked about it. The norms were to help people add value, not be toxic.

It also inverted the entertainment. Suddenly the troll was not entertained and many members were!

If it escalates, then deny them 4 letter words. Five, three, less? More? Ok. Just no 4 letter ones.

And so on.

With the right norms, a group very quickly becomes inoculated against the worst, yet can still converse and ideally gain a member in good standing.

The concept was simple: they paid a tax when their contributions cost the community more than they were worth.

The moment they end that practice, no more tax!

This kind of thing works best when a significant body of members knows how to own their conversation. They know to laugh, or advise one to reconsider and know when to avoid pages of righteous indignation and or who is the bigger asshole.

Sidebar: all members of a conversation about who is the bigger asshole deserve that conversation. (Very strong norm to establish there)

Sorry, but my ramble does get back to your tweaks:

Rather than upvote/downvote on agreement, do so on value.

Any system that can collect value may also have resonant higher order effects and I will leave you with the idea of healthy resonance, that is appropriately damped as "the center" you seek.

Undamped resonance is an echo chamber.

No resonance is a support forum.

Here we see things resonate, but not as one thing, more like chords, somewhat harmonious, not discordant.

Simple up and down, coupled with norms can do that. And one secret here is the non obvious dampening.

High value resonant speech happens and is encouraged. Discordant things are not denied, just nudged away.

I personally never downvote. It is not needed. I like flag to get at speech with toxicity potential, but my own bar is high.

I also like vouch. Same reasons.

These hint at ways to communicate value and I very strongly suggest value is where the better systems exist, if they do exist apart from skilled humans who, unlike machines, can deal in meaning and come to know minds.

And third, discussions are at least two way affairs.

Often, moderation is seen as the objective parent that keeps everything in bounds.

The reality is, our individual boundaries very considerably.

We all have a shared responsibility to not allow discussions to go bad, and how we respond to text we don't like determines whether they go bad.

Fact is, very few of my discussions go bad, because I don't allow it. Importers not allowing it is not worrying about the downvotes, and instead focus on what I can control. And I control me, not anyone else in the discussion.

Someone tells me to fuck off here for example, I'm going to ask him why. I'm also going to advise him to edit that away before they get down voted, because we've got more productive things to talk about.

There are many similar ways to handle these things, in very few people actually employ them.

I feel spending time on that is as productive, if not more than time on more effective moderation.

First, As soon as we introduce who, then we introduce meta about them. And doing that ends up a discussion that all of us will be impacted by.

There aren't easy answers. Pretty much everything in this whole discussion has been done, impacts easy for anyone who wants to look to see. And I have. This is a topic of great interest to me. I have moderated in the past, and found it difficult and challenging. I've learned more here than anywhere else.

( I did three, now four, replies here, partially because I'm using voice dictation, and partially because there are three major, potential points of discussion.)

Tildes.net tries something interesting here: there is no downvote, but users can flag comments with one of the provided negative attributes (offtopic, noise, malice)[0]. This discourages "downvote to disagree", and provides enough signal to e.g., sink an off-topic comment, but summon a moderator for malicious comments.

[0] https://docs.tildes.net/instructions/commenting-on-tildes#la...

Thanks for sharing, this is a really interesting thought and its very close to one I had based on this thread, with the one difference being that instead of letting others decide what kind of comment one makes, we should really lean into thinking of commenting as a sort of game and let the user decides what kind of comment they are making, by letting them choose to attack/defend/support a position.

We've seen how the upvote/downvote w/ranking systems play, I'm not a big fan of what reddit has become lately, and I wonder where HN would be without great moderators. At the very least it would be refreshing to see how alternative mechanics lead to different communities.

Sort of related is this thought, Wikipedia is an MMORPG: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_is_an_MMOR...

I have never downvoted anyone on HN; whatever miniscule benefit there may be to having a downvote feature is more than offset by the chilling effect and perceived nastiness.

We are beginning to see that all these years we thought it was our constitutional right to free speech that was the major thing. Yes, it would be and will be if the government takes a turn for the worst, but really what we're seeing in the US is an erosion in the ethos of free speech, an attitude that in our society you are welcome to say something that I heartily disagree with.

> an attitude that in our society you are welcome to say something that I heartily disagree with.

That's not the ethos of free speech, the ethos is the recognition that we don't have the right to silence the other fellow.

You've got to keep in mind the context of the formation of the country and the writing of the Constitution: we had just ditched the King, eh? (And by "we" I mean the wealthy land-owning (and in some cases slave-owning!) ex-Englishmen who were in the room at the time.) We decided that we didn't have the right to abridge the freedom of speech of each other.

So it's not that we welcome speech we disagree with, (e.g. see the reception of Abolition or Women's Suffrage), it's that we mustn't use the force of law to silence those we disagree with.

These days, with the rise of social media, people are communicating en mass with each other over systems that are privately owned and built in such a way that the owners feel the need to moderate and even censor some speech. That puts us in a weird situation, one that didn't tend to apply to ostensibly private communication (mail, phones). (But radio and TV and movies have always been moderated (George Carlin - "Seven Words You Can't Say On TV" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyBH5oNQOS0 ). Heck, comic books used to be moderated!)

> So it's not that we welcome speech we disagree with, (e.g. see the reception of Abolition or Women's Suffrage), it's that we mustn't use the force of law to silence those we disagree with.

We mustn't use the force of law to silence those we disagree with? Is that all? If we didn't in our heart of hearts welcome speech we disagreed with, I think we at least acted as though we did.

In my view the idea that freedom of speech just means that we can't or won't prosecute you for what you say is a sad declension from how Americans at their best thought about free speech. I won't prosecute you, but I will rile up my friends online and get you fired for what you said? That is the very attitude that I think violates the historic ethos of free speech in America.

> We mustn't use the force of law to silence those we disagree with? Is that all?

Isn't that enough? (Not to get ahead of myself, but no, I don't think it is anymore.)

> If we didn't in our heart of hearts welcome speech we disagreed with, I think we at least acted as though we did.

It was Voltaire who said, "I wholly disapprove of what you say — and will defend to the death your right to say it." (Actually it was Evelyn Beatrice Hall writing as S. G. Tallentyre who put those words in Mssr. François-Marie Arouet's mouth. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/06/01/defend-say/ What a world!)

But I feel it's not really how most people have behaved in practice over the years (or else why would that right need to be enshrined in the Constitution, eh?)

> ...I will rile up my friends online and get you fired for what you said?

As I alluded to above, it seems to me that the rise of online speech and social media puts us into a strange new world. I find twitter hate mobs and the ilk frankly terrifying.

It used to be pretty difficult to get "forbidden" knowledge or opinions in front of a massive crowd. Mass media has pretty much been effectively moderated and even censored from early times. (Movies, Radio, and TV all had their gatekeepers.) Nowadays if you do something stupid or reprehensible (e.g. Lisa Alexander or Amy Cooper) it can rebound on you magnified a million times in a matter of hours.

Is that a violation of the ethos of free speech?

So it sounds like you are in favor of free speech! Good for you.

> We are beginning to see that all these years we thought it was our constitutional right to free speech that was the major thing. Yes, it would be and will be if the government takes a turn for the worst, but really what we're seeing in the US is an erosion in the ethos of free speech, an attitude that in our society you are welcome to say something that I heartily disagree with.

When did American society have an 'ethos' of free speech (let alone an ethos of universal free speech)?

The '70's, '80's? Of course this is a matter of opinion, and yours is different from mine. Would you at least agree that there is less of a free speech ethos than there was 10 years ago? If not, it may just be an issue of whose ox is being gored, if you follow me.

I’ve noticed this too. I’m nervous HN will turn into Reddit, where the downvote button is the same as an “I disagree” button or a “I don’t like the reality your comment explains” button.

As somebody under whatever karma threshold (500?) is required for downvoting, that should serve as a decent protection. 500 is fairly significant to achieve, and will require learning how the community works, unless you have quite a few lucky/high effort posts.

I think this is just because HN is getting bigger, and people downvote comments that don't necessarily warrant downvotes, and one or two downvotes will probably attract more people to read a comment and disagree with the downvote.

What flagging achieves in many cases is nothing more than turning this site into an echo chamber. One can choose to throw the baby out with the bath water, but let’s not pretend that’s the best approach. It’s a bunch of people nodding at one another all the time.

Dunno, Reddit and other platforms are much more of an echo chamber. You see dissenting opinions on HN far more often.

I think I'd struggle to find five threads in all of reddit for which "sort by top" and "sort by controversial" don't yield dissenting opinions.

More about how some subs ban the hell out of dissenting opinions.

Look how r/politics morphed in the last 6 or so years. A few regional subs I frequent are the same way and are completely unrepresentative of the actual region. The Alberta (Canadian province) sub for example is basically just a bunch of kids who've never left home that think communism is a great idea lamenting why the rest of the province does want to leave their homes. It's such an un-representative sub it's actually hilarious, these days I basically only go for the Covid updates.

Yes, some subs are OK, I mean, Reddit's model is that each sub is its own world and moderators can more or less do what they want. But on the whole, HN has more (respectful) dissenting opinions versus Reddit's most subs are echo chambers and the rest are anarchy.

Look at the discussion thread Dang waxes poetically in and note that he doesn't moderate several significantly more flamebait-y, political comments that happen to be on the others side of the political fence.

Example: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27164027

Yes, Dang misses some, but I think the idea is that some posts fall through the cracks but if you routinely break the rules, you're going to eventually get flagged/banned. That way, we avoid a lot of false positive flags/bans that would otherwise be unjustly punished on Reddit.

Yes, Dang is a good moderator and HN is still my favourite discussion board on the internet in large part due to their approach to moderation.

I feel fairly strongly that r/politics is fine the way it is. If you sort by controversial, you're still free to peruse uncensored dissenting opinions. Sure, there may be some astroturfing and sure, the articles may be cherry-picked, but the sub overall is welcome to healthy debate.

Contrast this with r/conservative, where > 50% of threads are locked to members only where membership is gained by demonstrating that you only express right-wing opinions (I'm not making this up). Even further, you can still be banned as a non-member for expressing views too far outside right-wing orthodoxy. r/politics seems like a shangri-la for political debate in comparison.

> I feel fairly strongly that r/politics is fine the way it is.

> Contrast this with r/conservative, where > 50% of threads are locked to members only where membership is gained by demonstrating that you only express right-wing opinions (I'm not making this up).

Did you frequent r/politics circa 2016? There was a very obvious point when Bernie supporters and Trump supporters alike were driven out, and where all views essentially became pro-Clinton and pro-establishment overnight.

Before that, it was a place that was pretty inclusive of views from the whole spectrum.

Let's agree to disagree on that, shall we?

Can't tell if written ironically or not. :)

I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

If you're on a knitting forum and people keep talking about fantasy football, they deserve to be flagged.

The problem with my analogy is that hobbies aren't opinions, but I think that's a great reason for people with different opinions to start their own discussion forums.

Is that acceptable or does this site have to be all things to all people?

>If you're on a knitting forum and people keep talking about fantasy football, they deserve to be flagged.

That doesn't seem to be what the parent poster is talking about? I take his comment as talking about certain opinions (on a given topic) being flagged, not random off-topic discussion getting flagged.

Ah good point: I guess I'm talking about "offtopic" vs what "flamebait". Hmmm... How about if I shoehorn my argument into that shape though: if the problem is constructing an echo chamber by downvoting differing opinions, is that OK? Can we have a board that is predominantly one set of opinions? Again, I'm not entirely sure that is a bad thing all the time. (Putting aside the opinions of sociopaths and other universal unsavories.)

The difference is political articles are allowed, but political comments aren't.

Well, it depends when they are allowed, sometimes.

Political comments are very much allowed. The issue is how people present political comments. Most people present them in the same way they would on a subreddit for their particular political ideation, which is more akin to an echo-chamber and not conducive to the conversation that HN is trying to accomplish.

High quality, well intended comments are fine, but people have trouble making high quality well intended political comments, and even more trouble realizing that their comments are not high quality or well intended to others.

No, they aren't allowed, but it depends on when the wind blows.

Even if you are cordial and present your point perfectly dang may hit you with a:

> Please don't use Hacker News for political or ideological battle. It tramples curiosity.

When it comes to the user moderation, it really doesn't matter how you present it, if the political comment goes against the grain, it will be flagged and it will be deleted.

You've been here just under two months and I've already noticed that you tend to be, in my opinion, a culture warrior. I usually don't look at usernames when reading comments, but I found myself downvoting at least a half-dozen of your comments in the last week or so. If you want to fight the culture wars you can do that on e.g. Twitter or Reddit. If you want to have a deep and nuanced conversation about your politics here you can do that, but you're gonna have to adjust your style or take the downvotes.

There are folks here with all kinds of different political views (communist, capitalist, socialist, left wing, right wing, discordian, etc.) who express themselves in such a way as to avoid the ban hammer.

I comment on many things that matter to me, I do find myself having to represent the "other side" a lot of the time in some political submissions. But I also found myself on that same opposing side when defending crypto in Brave the other day, it's not just politics.

I wouldn't consider myself a "culture warrior" whatever that means. I might consider myself a contrarian :)

I comment on issues I know about, whether it's programming or a political event / issue, though there have been a lot of political submissions as of late.

Thanks for verifying there are people that mass downvote, even when you unlock downvote I think it should be limited.

> I wouldn't consider myself a "culture warrior" whatever that means.

I'm suspect you do know what that means, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. The rhetorical style you use here on HN makes you seem to me to be a "culture warrior".

> A culture war is a cultural conflict between social groups and the struggle for dominance of their values, beliefs, and practices. It commonly refers to topics on which there is general societal disagreement and polarization in societal values. The term is commonly used to describe aspects of contemporary politics in the United States.


You seem (to me) to be more interested in battle than in having a constructive conversation. Maybe I'm reading too much into your comment history, if so let me know, I'm open to feedback. Really I'm just trying to elucidate why you might be catching so many downvotes on this forum.

> Thanks for verifying there are people that mass downvote

Are you really grateful, or is this just poor rhetorical style?

In re: "mass downvote" I want to be clear that I didn't downvote comments because they were made by you, I downvoted some comments and then noticed afterwards that several of them were by you.

FWIW I went and checked which comments of yours I downvoted:






I downvoted these comments for poor rhetorical style combined with anti-vax sentiment.

Gee, you're not wrong. Most of those deserve flagging I'd say. Flamebait city.

My understanding is there are two phenomena here in play: forum rules and aggregate forum political culture.

Forum rules will generally discourage any political commentary that doesn't fit extremely unambiguously into the curiosity mould (because observation of how political discourse goes on other sites leads to some pretty strong prior beliefs that both assertions and "just asking questions" can create a climate that rapidly degenerates into useless flamewar). By the rules, plenty of discourse in the political space should probably be discouraged; it's default thin ice.

But moderators focus on threads that leave a big flag / downvote wake, and there aren't very many moderators (one?). So in general, a subset of commentary will have the "eye of Sauron" drawn upon it, and that's the subset that the average reader with more than N-hundred karma finds objectionable.

>Political comments are very much allowed.

Do you feel like controversial subjects on HN are allowing dissent?

If a post about climate change, death penalty, abortion, womens rights, vaccines, etc is posted?

Going with the first one, especially in context of google banning climate deniers recently. Do you see anyone from the climate denial crowd being allowed to comment?

In my experience you're not allowed to discuss denial. You will be called a climate denier or other unflattering names and them removed.

The approach to avoid flamewars is to ban dissent and not the attacks. If everyone agrees with each other, you don't get flame wars.

The obvious problem is that you also don't get discussion.

I'm not sure what 'climate [change] denial' means:

A. There is no measurable climate change.

B. The causes of the planet's climate change are cosmic, not human made.

C. Industrial activity is causing climate change, but it's unclear how to limit industrial activity without vast increases in poverty.

D. Industrial activity is causing climate change, but the extent of the negative consequences is unclear.

I'm pretty sure all these opinions are allowed, especially if backed by evidence. Though I would expect A. and to a lesser extent B. to require quite a bit more of a thick skin. There is plenty of readily available data that indicates climate change is already happening.

>I'm not sure what 'climate [change] denial' means:

I think climate denial is much simply defined than your well laid out levels.

>I'm pretty sure all these opinions are allowed, especially if backed by evidence. Though I would expect A. and to a lesser extent B. to require quite a bit more of a thick skin. There is plenty of readily available data that indicates climate change is already happening.

The thing is, go check out the daily climate change topics and you won't see any of those. Why is that?

AOC says we have about 10 years left until 'world is going to end'

Todays climate post has a DEADline clock of 7 years 281 days. Even sooner!

The reason you're not allowed to be a science denier is because you are literally trying to kill humanity.

There are plenty of vax-hesitant, anti-anti-anti-vax, and anti-vax comments in every HN thread on the topic. Most discussion in those threads is centered around those topics. If dissent weren't allowed, that wouldn't be true

>There are plenty of vax-hesitant, anti-anti-anti-vax, and anti-vax comments in every HN thread on the topic. Most discussion in those threads is centered around those topics. If dissent weren't allowed, that wouldn't be true

Vax is interesting. The hivemind here seems to be undecided on this one. I actually attribute this to a single thing, Fauci's lies. He has admitted to lying how many times now? He has been caught lying how many more times?

The cost of those lies has created this hesitancy.

Yeah, I don't get that either. It feels like a Roreshach test and I never know the answer.

I'd prefer if there were fewer discussions on this site about issues where the stakes involve oppression, persecution, and death, and more discussions about text editors, frameworks, and infosec.

But the last one in that list makes a big Ouroboros out of my argument...

"Echo chamber" is meaningless nonsense at this point. That's just a phrase people throw out to indicate displeasure with any conversation that doesn't cater to their particular biases. It's basically become another "thought terminating cliche"[1].

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28246850

Not really, or rather, it depends on who's calling what an echo chamber. If someone's using it to shut down discussion, then yeah sure. But if you can't recognize when you're in one, then you're the one losing out. This is especially important when interacting with sales people, who benefit greatly from customers who won't or can't or don't look critically at their product offerings, and if their prices are at all reasonable.

I would prefer something like “heat” instead of “flamebait”, which usually implies way too much intent and responsibility.

Of course sometimes “flamebait” is exactly the right word, sometimes people subconsciously want to provoke fights, and so forth. But it often feels like the word is defined arbitrarily by the majority side of arguments here, and so guidelines should definitely not use a word with those connotations.

Otherwise, 10/10, great work as always.

Flamebait is irrelevant as a word anymore. It's the same thing as "troll". It used to be a great verb for a very specific thing. But since ignorance and fear of missing out on using it have meant it has lost near all meaning. The "troll" word just means anyone who you disagree with to lots of people now. Shame really. Same with flamebait. It's just anything you don't like, or might upset you. It's not actually the quality of the comment that is being criticised.

> I would prefer something like “heat”

There's a great expression, said of flame-y conversations, they:

"Generate more heat than light."

I just noticed this comment and you touched on an interesting point. I use the term "flamebait" because it doesn't imply anything about intent—only effects. If someone drops a lit match in a dry forest, that's flamebait (because it increases the probability of a fire), but that doesn't mean it was arson. It could just be negligence.

"Trolling", on the other hand, does imply intent. If you ask someone not to troll they will usually reply "but I wasn't", meaning that they had no intent to derail discussion, and since there's no way to refute that, it's a moderation dead-end. So I tend to only use that word in the most blatant cases.


The important thing for moderation is that intent doesn't matter much—what matters are effects. Our goal is to preserve and develop community, and for that it doesn't much matter whether a flamewar was intentional or unintentional. The important thing is to keep the site from burning in the first place.

Intent is almost useless for moderation because it's impossible to read: only you can know what your intent was, so if you say "my intent was X", no one can prove it wasn't. More deeply, basically everybody believes that their own intentions are good, regardless of how badly they behave. Whatever darker forces may be motivating us, we keep them in the shadows, so we can sincerely say "I was just trying to do $benign-thing" regardless of what the outcome was. Everyone feels themselves to be innocent this way.

The solution is to say: everyone who posts here is responsible for the effects their comments have on the thread. This goes against atomic ideas of responsibility. Most people would say "wait, how am I responsible if others react badly?" But in fact you are, because the mechanics of internet discussion are largely predictable. It's each commenter's responsibility to learn enough about those mechanics for their posts to likely have good effects, rather than likely bad effects. (By 'good' and 'bad' I mean in keeping with the site guidelines or not: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.)

This is what led to the principle that the goodness or badness of a comment is the expected value of the subthread it forms the root of: https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&sor.... In other words, you actually are responsible for the effects your comments produce—not in a deterministic sense, but in a statistical one. (By 'you' I of course mean all of us.) If others respond badly in a way that could have been anticipated, the bulk of the responsibility lies with the root comment.

I think this principle is interesting because while it points to a notion of communal responsibility which is counterintuitive in our culture, it didn't originate with that. It originated purely out of moderation practice—just observing what works vs. what doesn't work while trying to have an internet forum that doesn't suck.

One core problem is that any discussion of a non-technical topic must choose between being “edgy”/“inflammatory”/etc. (I.e. people express beliefs that differ from the standard issue) or being a completely useless echo chamber. Wanting to avoid inflammatory discussion is fine, but in that case HN should just ban non-technical topics entirely rather than mandate useless tepid discussions.

It's not inflammatory to express beliefs that differ from the standard issue. Just be civil about it.

That doesn’t work. You’ll be accused of flame-baiting.

@dang runs a great site here.

I will admit, I haven't always been the most level headed commenter all the time, but I've been trying to improve where I can, and I think what he says resonates with me.

I try to pretend I'm in an actual room with actual people IRL when I write. Being mindful of my tone and never name calling is always a great start.

HN certainly does a better job than reddit or facebook. Is it just because HN is smaller or more niche? Some subreddits are tiny and operate well.

I compare r/netsec to r/sysadmin. Netsec is about 426k members with 375 online. Sysadmin is 641k and 2.9k online. The difference tends to be moderation; r/sysadmin does moderation significantly better than r/netsec. Hence the much better community.

The challenge that HN has over r/sysadmin however is rigid topic. You're never going to see climate change or religion in r/sysadmin. That makes their job much easier.

Which makes HN so much more interesting because it tends to allow the challenging subjects like climate change. In fact you tend to get climate change as a subject almost every day. How does it work? Those challenging subjects simply don't have conversation. No risk for flame if everyone agrees with each other.

Does this site's comments sections, in general, really merit a self-congratulatory self-post like this?

For every instance of laser-guided micro-moderation, there's a dozen threads filled with reams of inane flamebait / people that merely have no idea what they're talking but sure act like they do. In practice, overall discussion quality across hackernews is no better than the next /r/tech-culture-general.

The only worthwhile comment threads are for links to the most technical/niche topics, where the site's audience has some actual hope of bringing relevant expertise/insight/experience. Those clearly aren't what attracts the majority of commenter activity, though.

This will likely be shadowbanned for whatever inscrutable reason that simultaneously allows all the flamebait by accounts named throwaway20321 though.

It is indeed a difficult balance to strike between keeping things cohesive and keeping them from becoming an echo chamber.

There is something to be said for allowing "flamebait". What's flame to one may be a welcome splash of water for another. Matter of fact, it might be that people who espouse so much "flame" may have legitimate issues fueling that flame.

There is absolutely also something to be said for wrangling conversation so as to keep it constructive. It's the balance of the two that achieves a community that remains healthy over time and not just healthy according to the popular values of any given time.

The problem with that argument is it doesn't take into account the existential risk. Sure a few flames may be stimulating but at some point the house burns down.

Wow, I can’t believe this gem is hidden and it isn’t a part of the FAQ or guidelines. Thanks for surfacing this jacquesm!

Makes me think. edw519's comments on programming and business have been turned into a collected work; perhaps we need a collected work of dang's comments on maintaining an Internet community. I for one would love it.

"Curious discourse in the 21st century" by dang. Title writes itself.

I as well! I’d pay towards such an effort.

I landed on HN after more or less knowing/using almost all existing social media at that time. So would be the case with many other avid HN users if I have to take an educated guess. I admit that the transition to this culture took a while. Many 'flamebait' comments and several accounts later, I'd like to think I improved. Not just on HN but overall - real and virtual lives. This does not mean that my intent earlier was to create toxicity on all the other platforms I had been on. Atleast as far as I know. It was mostly about letting the anger out while being mostly ignorant about the bigger picture and consequences. I am still the same person with similar values. I would still be enraged by the things I was back then. Only the way I react and communicate changed and is still changing. All I mean here is, HN is a growing community where most new comers would have experienced culture on other platforms before they discover HN. While that is no excuse to tolerate flamebaitedness, there is a good chance that the person is still learning HN culture. But honestly and gratefully, dang and other 'caretakers' make HN what it is. I sometimes think there is too much control on how communication happens here. With every passing day, I can clearly see why it should be that way.

It is interesting how one's behaviour is dictated by the social network they're participating in.

I've recently deleted my ten years old Reddit account because I was getting into fights with everybody, and to this day I can't spend 10 minutes on that site without feeling the need to comment "what the fuck are you talking about you dimwit" to some random poster, while I'm finding much easier to be civil on HN, and while I get my downvotes here as well sometimes, I'm on my best behaviour, and proud of the wonderful discussions I've had over the years.

I've tried getting into Twitter, and I feel I would soon turn into the most toxic asshat on the Internet like many over there are, so perhaps it's best I don't.

I have a similar experience, though I learnt my civility faster and was never banned from HN.

To leave Twitter is a question of seconds. To leave Twitter toxicity behind and start arguing in good faith instead of coming up with the smuggest takedown and expecting likes ... well, that takes much longer.

Here and conversation are the keywords in those points by dang. I come here, to HN, to have discussions/conversations about topics I'm interested in and to see other's viewpoints.

An easy example to frame a discussion about discussions here would be to set aside any political or other easily flammable topics (because unless it relates to tech/software/hacking its not really content for HN in my opinion) and pick the cliche of developer flame wars: vi vs. emacs

At HN I would expect curious dives into features, functions and reasons why people love one or the other, why they dislike one or the other or if there was something fundamentally new/different. If the discussion about vi vs. emacs was just inflammatory statements, its just not interesting for this audience, here.

Taking other viewpoints into consideration when you write comments in a discussion is just part of being a good online citizen.

The most insightful part is probably the 2nd to last paragraph of dang’s 2nd comment (the very long one) about trying to disambiguate your own intention in writing.

However, it’s not particularly easy to always disambiguate your intention in writing a comment. Writing too long of a comment and saying the same things multiple time just ends up with people skipping the latter part and arguing with you anyway. So I guess there should be the other half of the equation: if you can’t be bother to try to assume the commenter is talking in good faith, and spending (may be tens of minutes) understanding him, then just walk away and don’t flame back :-)

Asking sincere questions or making naive point is always suspiciously similar to being sarcasm or disingenuous, but when I don’t know something, I really can’t do better wording.

I've realized over the years that most negative comments either don't originate from good faith, or are interpreted as bad faith, and that a majority of moderation is probably just reacting to these comments. In addition, it's less likely we will perceive comments as good faith if we can't identify with the commenter. Seems like there is still a big opportunity to iterate on these properties, like a system that highlights similarities between commenters, or reframes positions and backgrounds to be more in line with good faith.

I'm never in favour of downvote/upvote mechanisms. Moderators should remove repetitive spam and illegal content. Everything else can, and should, be addressed by counter-comments and discussion.

There's an asymetry. It's harder to refute a claim than make it. Also who has time to correct someone wrong on the internet for free.

People want to express their reactions. Without an explicit feature, reactions get posted as comments, and these comments are basically spam. You'd get a thoughtful engaging post, and then myriads of spammy "+1", "this", "I agree!!", etc.

I would, however, like to sort by most commented.

I think more explicit features would (positively) transform the conversations. I think all of us that have used Slack have noticed how useful it is to put various Slackmojis on comments at different times... Seeing "+1", "1000%", ":questionmark:", ":thumbsdown:", etc on a comment doesn't detract from the comment, nor elevate it, but it does show you what people think.

Similarly, HN could have 'reacts' that express a psychological or emotional state, or an opinion, or quality. Slashdot has forever had moderation points that have qualifiers like "Funny", "Insightful", "Flamebait", etc. This tells you why something has the points it has, which can lessen the emotional panic and internal threat you experience when you get downvoted to hell, or enhance a feeling when you get upvoted. This, on a large scale, changes how people act, by allowing them to receive and give qualitative comment feedback.

And it should be trivial to add sorting/filtering of any of those things. (That's another feature Slashdot has since forever... you can hide comments below a threshold of points)

(And yes, Slashdot is a tire fire of a "community", it's just the example that comes to mind. GitHub comments also have reacts!)

Yes I support these features as well. Reactions work well to gauge popularity, interest, morale. And makes for a less cluttered interface as well.

It's interesting that this got flagged off the homepage, in a way that is testimony to how many people are here just to wreck things.

FWIW, there's a long-standing bias here against "meta" discussion. Arguably, talking about HN isn't really "on topic" on HN. Obviously some such "meta" discussion still happens (I mean, here we are, right?) but a lot of people seem to still believe in discouraging it. Not sure how dang and the other mods feel about that point.

In this case I think that Dang's writing should be more or less required reading, it is good enough to be added to the guidelines and it is an eye-opening piece as to what good moderation looks like from the other side.

I think this is a wonderful time to do some community education on the principals of good conversation. Our broader society is going through a very difficult and polarized moment and that has been spilling over to HN recently. I think the temperature on threads has been getting hotter and hotter. This comment from dang is the perfect cool splash.

Very thoughtful and genuine comment, as we say: Living and learning. I’m glad to be here and to learn ways towards mine and others’ curiosity.

HN is sort of like Go and C. It's simple and it just works. Let's not make it complicated.

The thing is, it's not simple due to the massive human factor involved. Ultimately, the vast majority of people need to deliberately be on board with HN guidelines and actively follow them for HN to remain as high quality as it is.

It's so strange to see the same people denouncing censorship everywhere celebrating censorship here. I know, I know. Moderation isn't censorship. Moderation is censorship you agree with. Censorship is moderation you disagree with.

Also, there is plenty of flamebait on HN - especially "cultural" flamebait. Some of which the moderators actively participate in. HN seems to be good at keeping certain types of flamebait in check - the national/racial flamebait ( which may or may not be a good thing ).

If people truly took a step back and assessed this post, they'd realize how sad and dystopian it really is. But people don't like to think. An entire post dedicated to praising the censorship of fellow HN poster.

> plenty of flamebait on HN - especially "cultural" flamebait. Some of which the moderators actively participate in

could you provide a link to an example?

> people don't like to think

solipsistic flamebait, and a universal negative you can’t possibly prove.

I leave showdead on while browsing hn and can tell you that the vast, vast majority of killed comments i’ve read are absolutely vulgar, or at best wildly off topic and really not worth the time it would take each individual to evaluate them, because we all have limited time to spend on hn and the opportunity cost of missing other, better comments or creating one of your own would lead to intellectual bankruptcy in this site. i leave it on because i’m curious about moderation outcomes here and about the entire distribution of thoughts going on in people’s minds (well, at least those people that’ve found their way to hn)… is that not “thinking” enough?

have you considered that a position of “no moderation” is in and of itself a moderation strategy? anarchy can be dystopian, too…

> could you provide a link to an example?

I was going to link to an example but removed it before posting because I'd get in trouble. It's the "chilling effect" of censorship. You probably think I'm lying but actually searched on algolia and got the precise thread/comment. But edited it out because of censorship.

> solipsistic flamebait, and a universal negative you can’t possibly prove.

No. I didn't say only I think. I made a general statement about people. You are reading into things.

> I leave showdead on while browsing hn

So do I. You know, it's not that bad. The world didn't end.

> anarchy can be dystopian, too…

Who is advocating for anarchy? I'm for blocking spam. I'm for giving more power to the community/user. Give users the tool to block content/speech/users they don't like. For example, give users the option to set comment thresholds to view the comments.

> I was going to link to an example but removed it before posting because I'd get in trouble

I sincerely doubt you would, since I asked you for the citation and we're discussing moderation in this thread.

In the absence of this, what is anyone reading your original comment to do with your assertion? Are we supposed to take some random internet person at their word?

If it can be used as an example to discuss further, whether for or against moderation, then I think the community here will be better for it.

Maybe you'll prove yourself wrong, and not be censored.

> I sincerely doubt you would, since I asked you for the citation and we're discussing moderation in this thread.

I will if I get assurances that I will not be penalized.

> In the absence of this, what is anyone reading your original comment to do with your assertion? Are we supposed to take some random internet person at their word?

Yes. Because it's an experience many shared. You've used this forum for a while now. You don't think there is a particular bent here? Noticed a lot of cultural posts that lean a certain way? No?

> Maybe you'll prove yourself wrong, and not be censored.

I was proven right many times already. Seems like you want to get me in trouble.

How about this, in a few weeks or maybe months, I'll get bored of HN and then I'll post it.

It's so funny people think that mods are beyond flamebait. Think about why you would want to be a mod? Especially a "tech/business" forum which is at the forefront of political/cultural issues.

I think that's an interesting perspective, you're right that this is a post praising moderation (a form of censorship.) I don't find it dystopian/thoughtless however, because the outcome of this moderation philosophy is visibly better than the vast majority of other forums I've partaken in. The forums that were better were small, and did not scale as well as HN because moderation is very hard to get right. The better part of HN also isn't seeing more of what I agree with, but seeing different perspectives presented in a way that yield actual discussion.

Moderation is censorship you agree with. Censorship is moderation you disagree with.

Not quite. Moderation works at a place to form its shape. Censorship is total. At the dawn of modern internet it was an issue, because people “lived” at specific places and wanted to discuss all topics. Some places made exceptions, some were strict, some turned to the mode of no rules except legal. Bringing topics that people do not want here is just rude, because either one wants to annoy people or couldn’t find them elsewhere, where they consciously do not visit, for that exact reason. Or they do visit, but behave differently. Figuratively, nobody wants to discuss shit at the dining table, but that doesn’t mean they do not go vent out from time to time. There are enough places full of these discussions, why not enjoy it there? HN is a rare island of calmness, and you can’t take it from people in the name of something already ubiquitous. Without moderation you’ll get fed with it in a couple of months and will go look for another good place to lash its “censorship”, which is the cause of its goodness, and not an issue.

By “you” I mean average users and their usual forum dynamics, not you personally.

Weird. I had to scroll right to the bottom to read this.

Surprised it's not downvoted and flagged. I said something similar and I won't be surprised to see it gone in 5mins.

Flamebait is such a bad word. Flamebait puts the onus on what is bad and good based on the reader's reaction to it.

I reject the thesis of this comment: moderation is not the same as censorship. If I host a private party and eject someone for being unpleasant, I am not practicing censorship. How is moderation on HN (or any other private platform) qualitatively different?

The downvote mechanism is sufficient. just remove the "flag" option and a lot of this unnecessary babysitting would not be needed.

I am about to post a Flammable comment

Schrödinger's (flammable) comment.

Because dang censors anything remotely close to a negative opinion?

I don't think that's why. The guy uses "flamebait" as a reason for not posting (or for flagging) something that might not be popular.

That's fundamentally broken and will lead to problems eventually. Not problems for HN or dang though, or most people.

It's almost like blaming the human for eating ice cream in front of a monkey, because the monkey can't eat ice cream too, and the human should know that/better. Poor monkeys.

HN is great for a lot of reasons, dang's moderation included, but not because of this example or solely based on his moderation.

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