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I was hellbanned for a while without realizing on a different account. I was incredibly upset when I realized: a bunch of posts asking or answering meaningful on-topic questions had been blackholed, wasting a lot of my time, and (in my view) lowering the value of this site to everyone.

I never did figure out why I'd been hellbanned; my (polite and apologetic) emails were never answered. I'd never been impolite, trolled, or called people names, and although I was a fairly new user, I'd built up karma quickly in that short period. (Around 100 karma in 30 days; not too bad I thought.) I'd hardly ever been downvoted, and even now, looking back, I have absolutely no idea what I might have done to warrant a hellban.

Hellbanning "normal" users is just cruel. If your spambot/troll problems are so bad that you need to resort to hellbanning, it should be used rarely and sparingly. But on HN, apparently, it's not. If you browse with show dead on, I'd say 9 times out of 10 the hellbaned people you'll see should never have been hellbanned. And, take it from me, it really really sucks to realize that someone you don't even know has taken a couple seconds out of their busy day to screw with you and waste hours and hours of your time, without any possibility of recompense, or even a dialogue.

shrug Of course, I'm still here. HN has a great community. But I question if we need quite so much arbitrary cruelty to enable that community.

I browse with showdead on, and it seems to me that most people I see that are hellbanned got there seemingly innocently. Mostly it's that they said something mildly controversial in one of their first posts. Once they go negative karma on the account they can never get back. I'd say people like that outnumber spammers and wackos 4 or 5 to 1. Plenty of them have been posting straight into the wastebin for months or years. Seems like a broken mechanic.

Really? I have showdead, and rarely see hellbanned people. When I do, it's normally pretty obvious from their comment history why they got there.

UPDATE: did a quick scan through a couple of recent articles and only found two hellbans (as opposed to comments which have been retracted/deleted):

http://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=tonio09, apparently banned for this post: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3107413

http://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=chadmalik, apparently banned for his reaction on this thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1702447

Who both seem to have deserved it, ie. they have a long string of inflammatory, poorly thought out one line posts which will never see the light of day.

UPDATE 2: http://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=eurohacker is another one, for: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3278165 or http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3278149

I only looked at tonio09, but I feel he is a good example of what I'm talking about.

The post he got hell-banned (without any notice visible to him) was:

ok. wtf is going on. why does this story have 314 points? it's about a man taking a photo of a couple. Is this supposed to be a top quality post or what? Why does it matter that the man was Steve Jobs and not some random dude? Did you get more out of this story one way or the other? HN FAIL.

Ok, clearly not a high quality post, but far from something I would consider worthy of a ban, especially in the style that will encourage him to keep contributing and yet trash anything submitted.

The only other post he ever made that was voted negative was: <blockquote> Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced iPad 2 which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices. </blockquote> I just wanted to highlight this segment as a perfect example of media neutrality.

It's not a random event that both of his down voted posts relate to apple. In my experience at HN posts about apple or Steve Jobs that fail to adopt a complimentary tone are often down voted. I have every confidence that if he had made those posts about Microsoft, Yahoo or Facebook he'd still be posting freely now.

In contrast, here are some of the posts that HN has "saved itself" from seeing by hellbanning him:

I'm taking a Masters Machine Learning class at a top UK university and I must say that I'm sure the lecturer is an expert in ML but he's got absolutely no teaching skills. 90% of the class has absolutely no idea what's going on, and the 10% has extensive previous ML experience. Professor Ng's lectures are like a life savor to me. They help me understand the basic concepts of ML so that I can go on and study in the deep waters.


Every generation thinks that they are somehow unique. That they face problems that could mean the end of humanity. That they reached some kind of singularity and at this stage evolution stops unless they somehow do something about it. I think the current age is no different than any previous age. Sure we have a different set of problems to cope with, but in the end we will advance and get over them. There's really nothing extraordinary. There will be humans in 100 years time and they will more developed than us. Some people will retreat into virtual realities and be entertainment junkies. Some won't and will make the world go forward. Just like some people took drugs in the 60s and got high all day, and some people didn't.


I don't think this is a viable strategy in the long run. He managed to make it work for now because of all the media attention and sending it viral on social networking sites. In addition, he puts lots of moralistic pressure on the buyer which may work for him because it fits his comedy style. Also, with this experiment we prove a point to the public that this model can work, so that we, the consumers, can continue to torrent high quality entertainment material for free and not having to pay for it. Yes, it's pure selfishness. In all other cases for all other "content producers", making it easier for people to torrent your stuff is equal to shooting yourself in the foot. That's the only reason people still pay for stuff like this nowadays anyway: (1) They either haven't got a clue what torrenting means or (2) they're too lazy to do it or (3) they're feeling morally generous. You can combat (1) by keeping silent about it, (2) by putting as much protection on it as possible, (3) having skill in manipulating masses. Yes, it's manipulation. YOU'RE NOT PAYING 5 DOLLARS FOR THE SHOW, YOU'RE PAYING 5 DOLLARS TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF BEING MORAL. Thanks but no thanks, I can feel good about myself whenever I want to, I don't need to pay 5 dollars to a dude for it. His show is great by the way but let's face it, it's essentially free.

Not sure why I'm getting downvoted for this. Anyone care to shed some light?

Oh... so [dead] means the person is hell banned?


This poster is perhaps an example of your category -- someone who is a cultural misfit and is banned before their Karma has a chance to recover?

[dead] can mean hellbanned, but can also mean a duplicate post, it tripped a spam filter, that sort of thing.

I was hellbanned for a few days. I only noticed because I'd read an article on it and recognized the symptoms. I emailed info@ycombinator.com and they said I'd been banned by accident. I think hellbanning is only appropriate for egregious trolls who are actively making the site less valuable for other users. I don't think it should be used by an automated system.

"Dr. Strangelove: Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, EH?"

I tend to agree with the subby. Shadowbanning, slowbanning, hellbanning are petty, vicious, and passive aggressive tools.

Before you implement them, you should make it clear that the person is treading on thin ice, and why.

Yes there are spammers and worse.

But the silent treatment and similar is recognized as a form of psychological abuse (remember that in your relationships folks. Someone giving you the silent treatment is abusing you as much as physical abuse is.)

So if you're going to implement hellbanning, shadowbanning, slowbanning, I really urge you to implement one or more intermediate steps like

    + warning
    + coloring/greying/dimming/shading/collapsing the post
    + limited time timeouts.
Some of us are well meaning, but dumb as dogs, and we need and even deserve to have our errors pointed out to us to help us learn.

Hmm. You know, I've got 3483 karma as I read this, and I get upvotes and downvotes and responses to my comments...but I get the exact same "instant loads while logged out, slow as hell page loads logged in" behavior as described in the linked blog.

Now, at some point I got barred from flagging articles, so I don't know whether this is some sort of mind-gamey attempt at community management or just a simple bug.

HN implements both hellbanning and slowbanning[1]. Slowbanning makes the pages load very very slowly, and it's used as a warning step before hellbanning.

You've almost certainly been slowbanned. To check, create a throwaway account, and log in - you should find HN is fast. Log out, log in as your main account - you should find HN is slow again.

If so, then cnsider this your one and only warning. Someone didn't like something you did. You'll probably never know what it was exactly, but if you do it again you'll likely be hellbanned.

[1]: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2011/06/suspension-ban-or-h...

Yes, I just tried this.

A "warning step", I suppose, absent anything like a warning. But then, a warning would imply that a human being made a choice, as opposed to some arcane calculation in the backend of the server that's hidden from the user by design.

Yes, slowbanning seems to be what has recently happened to me. I was wondering why my connection had gotten so slow on this site alone over the past few days. Why in the world?? I try to be polite always, although I don't hesitate to disagree with someone with facts and politely. If I was slowbanned because I made a comment about the Google Mocality issue, I'm going to be very, very sad about this wonderful community I thought I had found. Please look into my history and tell me why I've been slowbanned. My connection is super-fast when I'm logged out, and super slow when I'm logged in. I find this very distressing, particularly since I have been so happy about finding this community.

Doesn't it make sense that the website loads quicker when you're not logged in? Not only will the caches be hit more frequently, but the queries are likely simpler than having to include lookups to see which articles on that page you've already upvoted, etc..

Why would the caches be hit more frequently, particularly with the continuations-based setup of the site?

And seriously, it applies to the list views, too. All the same things, including the links to upvote articles, get generated when you're logged out. You just get redirected if you actually click on one.

And worse, I just created a new account, and everything is lightning fast. (Yes, I'm Semiapies.)

I may just have to dump this account that I've had for three years.

Sorry, I wrongly assumed that the front pages like Top on Recent were the main slow pages. Also I have definitely seen slowdowns on my two week old account, and I only have one comment that has zero points (and none with negative.) I haven't submitted any links or anything so I dont know why HN would care to intentionally slow down my pages, if that is what's happening.

I view with 'showdead', so I see posts from hellbanned accounts, and I'm sure many others do as well. So any effort wasn't completely wasted.

For every comment that takes you a minute to write, thousands of people take seconds to read it. In total they spend far more time reading than you spend writing.

I don't know what your comments were like, but evidently users didn't want to read them. So although hours of your time were wasted, tens of hours of other people's time was saved. The good of the many outweigh the good of the few.

You should seek out an online community where your contribution is appreciated.

In addition to hellbanning, another fun trick is to view your submitted links to see which links have been removed without your knowledge. View your links in one window while logged into your account, then view the same page on another browser.

In my case, I view http://news.ycombinator.com/submitted?id=jonmc12, I see link #25 as http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2007314 while logged in. When I am not logged in this link is missing, and the URL contains blank content.

No idea why.. I skimmed the article, thought it would be of interest and submitted. Maybe it was omitted because it mentions a YC founder? no clue really. This was the original link: http://opensource.washingtontimes.com/blog/2010/jan/8/how-we...

I don't pretend to be an expert on community moderation, but I find these practices disingenuous. Why not just expand the guidelines page to include these things? issue warnings?

When I worked at Kink.com (NSFW), we implemented hellbanning for when people would repeatedly make mean comments about the models. That said, I think it definitely has its place because we would often get a few people who would really try to abuse the comment system and the only way to effectively deal with them was to make them think people saw their comments.

For the last few months, I've been making a small range of comments here just to kind of test the waters and see what people react to. It has been a really good personal learning experience because it is almost like people are telling you something to your face, instead of what they'd normally say behind your back or just keep to themselves.

In general, I really like the community here, mostly because it favors positivity. I wish it favored a bit more humor and sarcasm, but those are two things that are hard to convey as text on a page.

I appreciate that there is no humor... I think it's hard to allow humor without allowing puerile puns or rage comics. It's nice that if there's a good article on the net, there's usually better commentary on HN than there is below the article. If I want something funny I know where to find it, but it's much harder to find relevant, intelligent discussion.

Considering most users of the site can't even downvote, it is pretty tough to rack up -6 karma in your first 2 posts. Especially 18 months ago when the userbase was much smaller.

Not commenting one way or another on the validity of hellbanning, just making an observation on the linked article.

I think it's pretty easy to get negative karma if you don't comply with this community's unique etiquette.

Yep. It's entirely possible to say one unpopular thing, or something too reddity, and end up with a pile of downvotes.

I've seen some well-meaning people post friendly explanations to such comments by new users and to "not worry about it", but apparently such new users would be better off starting another account by that point.

ETA: One of the things I don't like about HN is that it's so opaque in that regard. It has secret rules that only exist in the Arc code and get hinted at randomly in threads, not put together somewhere a new person could read them. (No, the Guidelines are not those rules.)

My stuff always gets upvoted or downvoted. If I see even one of my comments not voted on, I discard the account and move on to a new one.

PG et al do not value your time and contributions, so it's best not to get hung up on karma or handles. Say what you want, and change accounts regularly.

Can't some users see hellbanned comments? I frequently see comments telling someone that they've been hellbanned, and although I don't fully understand it all, I'm surprised that you have been hellbanned for so long without knowing it.

You can see hellbanned comments if you have showdead on.

Thank you, I have turned this option on to try it out. I do have an immediate question though: what does it mean if a thread on Recent, for example, is marked as dead?

Generally, it's because it got duped or otherwise hit a spam filter.

Did you notice something suspicious when none of your comments were voted on (left at 1 karma)? Or does hellbanning on HN have some sort of fake random voting?

That would be a cruel system; where you believe the community is having a positive view on you while being actually invisible.

Making drama-queen flame posts like this doesn't really make the case that you're the kind of person we want to keep around. Flagged.

If he mentioned what his original handle was, and so provided some evidence, he might get some more sympathy.

What is hellbanning?

"A hellbanned user is invisible to all other users, but crucially, not himself. From their perspective, they are participating normally in the community but nobody ever responds to them. They can no longer disrupt the community because they are effectively a ghost. It's a clever way of enforcing the "don't feed the troll" rule in the community. When nothing they post ever gets a response, a hellbanned user is likely to get bored or frustrated and leave. I believe it, too; if I learned anything from reading The Great Brain as a child, it's that the silent treatment is the cruelest punishment of them all." from coding horror...

neat idea! never heard of it until now...

I didn't know of that practice before now.

Personally I love the quality of HN posts and comments and I feel the crowd here is one I love being part of. If hell-banning contributes towards that then it's working.

After all like mentioned you can always send an email asking for the action to be revoked.

The crucial detail is that the author didn't know he was hellbanned, so he didn't know to look into it.

It's an old idea, but one usually dismissed as ill-advised BOFH tactics which you shouldn't really implement. It's less "don't feed the troll" than "let's troll the troll at the expense of community trust."

I'm disappointed to learn that it's in use here.

If you're hellbanned, other people can't see your comments.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellbanning and http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2011/06/suspension-ban-or-h...

On one hand, hellbanning does waste people's time (perhaps even well-intentioned people) and it is regrettable.

On the other hand, pg has no obligation to publish your comments on his website.

On the other other hand, if he wants to maintain a site that attracts users, taking their feedback into account is probably a good idea.

(notice how no-one said there was an obligation to publish things -- read this article as a piece of feedback, not a demand)

I wasn't directly replying to the OP.

  > pg has no obligation to publish your comments on his
  > website 
That's true, but 'hellbanning' isn't the only way to achieve this. It's not a "hellbanning" or "publish all comments" decision.

Without visitor input, PG has no website.

There's a few examples of HN undead, e.g. jcitme. Unfortunately I've lost my list of other undead users.

Your vitriol against pg is pretty unwarranted though. You have to admit that spam is a big problem for a site like HN, and the automated tools to detect it will inevitably have some false positives.

True, but if a user is notified of getting banned, then the user can work to get the false positive reversed.

In this case, the system is setup to let the user continue to post, without knowing that (effectively) their posts are doing to /dev/null.

Yes, I agree. I think it sucks to have these hellbanned folks who didn't actually do anything wrong.

The vitriol is unwarranted, for sure.

But I can't help but feel sad and sorry for jcitme. He's a bit abrasive, but so are non-hellbanned folks sometimes. I think 198 days in purgatory is a long time and it starts to seem a bit cruel.

losethos is another fairly tragic case: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3465559

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