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Some people are abusing "show dead" on HN
46 points by SeanDav on Jan 20, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments
As we know HN uses hell banning to deal with trolls.

As we also know, people are not perfect, both moderators and the general public, so for that reason sometimes people get hell banned that probably don't deserve it. Sometimes for a single bad post, sometimes for a post that isn't that bad but for some reason rubs a moderator the wrong way. Mostly however people that are hell banned, deserve it.

For various reasons (mostly related to the above) I like to have my "show dead" setting on so I can see dead posts. Now some people know they are hell banned but keep on posting as normal, probably because they know that quite a few people, like myself, will see their posts, but also because they are trying to prove a point. No problem here so far.

There are a very few idiots however who know that they are hell banned but post just to annoy people that have "show dead" on. They post huge walls of completely OT, and sometimes utter nonsense, text that take up a whole page and they do it often. I won't name names and give them any recognition but perhaps the time has come to implement total bans so that these trolls cannot post at all or limit post lengths for people with only 1 karma or negative karma.

I never cease to be amazed out how some people will go out of their way to be annoying and disruptive, fortunately they are a very small minority.

I think we need to err on the side of caution here.

In particular, we need to carefully distinguish between (1) those users who post maliciously/troll, and (2) those users who suffer from mental illnesses.

I don't know which user(s) you have in mind, but there's a well-known, regular HN poster who posts on a 'dead' account---or accounts---and suffers from severe schizophrenia.

When I see his posts, I---as a member of the community---feel quite guilty. He has been ostrasized through no obvious fault of his own. In fact, I use 'show dead' in order to assuage that guilt. Although his posts don't add to the discussion, they are, at the very most, an inconvenience.

I worry about the psychological toll that permanent bans could have on such people. With the recent suicides of both Jacintha Saldanha and Aaron Swartz, I think caution is advisable.

We often underestimate the effects of our actions.

Losethos, I believe. His accomplishments are greatly regarded in the community.

His comments, not so much. It makes me sad when people with such talent are hindered through an illness they didn't deserve to get. He has an extremely bad reputation in the community from people too immature to understand schizophrenia or mental illness.

That said, the "show-dead" option is there for a reason. Posts that do not add to the discussion will get downvoted whether the commenter is schizophrenic or not.

I do think that sometimes HN goes a bit over the top in some aspects of authoritarianism, but for the most part, HN is pretty fair and square.

Now SparrowOS.

Some of his comments are actually pertinent. Notably regarding OS design.

Certainly. Just by looking at his website you wouldn't even tell that he had a mental illness.

Rename "hellban" to "probation". When on probation, your posts get hidden. If three of your posts get upvoted while on probation, you are restored to normal status. If three of your posts get downvoted while on probation, you get banned permanently. Those who have "show dead" are like the Hacker News PO squad.

I agree. I see thoughtful posts from hellbanned users and wish there was a way to help them restore full posting status.

When looking through their post history, it looks like one post that the community didn't like was enough to get them hellbanned and there's no recourse once it happens.

Hellbanned users can create a new account.

Sometimes hellbanned users can write a short email to PG, with a link to the post the triggered the hell ban, and ask for an unban. (If it appears to be a mistaken ban.)

But only if they are aware of it. That's kinda the point here. It's not a regular ban, so you don't know.

That's why it's important to have contact details in your profile.

People who see someone who has been unfairly hellbanned send email to let them know.

The possibility of rescuing hellbanned users is interesting.

But "banned permanently" is possible only for usernames, not actual users, and certainly isn't a punishment more severe than hellbanning. A "permanently-banned" user will presumably be notified they've been banned immediately... so instead of wasting time making posts that are hidden, they'll switch IP addresses and grab a new username immediately. And presumably they'll get some posts seen by normal readers before the new username is banned as well, unfortunately.

Let me get this straight. HN has a mechanism to deal with abusive users. You deliberately disabled that mechanism so that you see posts from abusive users. And now you're complaining that you see posts from abusive users?

I was wondering if/when someone was going to make a post like yours....I believe you missed the point entirely - HN does not always get it right and on many occasions hell banned people still make posts worth reading.

There are reasons why HN allows the "show dead" ability and probably none of those reasons have to do with people trying to punish themselves by seeing "abusive users'" posts.

If people are being banned when they shouldn't be, then that's the problem. Adding two levels of banning won't fix it. What next, somebody gets really banned and you want a way to reverse that so you can still see their stuff, but then it turns out that the "really banned" section is also full of crap so you need a third level?

If hellbanning is being abused, then that should stop. Adding a second banning mechanism doesn't seem like a useful fix.

I agree with mikeash here. If a hellbanned person still wants to remain part of the HN community, it's really not that hard to create a new account. Sure, sometimes they get it wrong, but the vast majority of the case, they get it right.

That means, that by you turning on dead posts, you are subjecting yourself to the 80% case where they get it right. If one of them is spamming with huge blocks of text, etc... well, you signed up for it in the low-probability case that one of the dead posts actually contained valuable information.

Keep it simple. Don't start adding multiple layers of hellbanning protection just to fix a low-probability edge case.

Perhaps a simple solution would be to allow down-voting on dead posts (I only seem to be able to upvote?) This would allow such users to continue losing Karma, and give a way of distinguishing users who gain karma and should lose their hellban, and those who need permanent banning?

Do upvotes have an effect on dead posts?

Total banning is unnecessary; there's already a mechanism to avoid seeing hellbanned users' posts. If people like me and you choose not to use it, that doesn't worsen the experience for anyone else; besides, I like to see the Amazon-length screeds now and then. It reminds me to take my meds and go to bed on time.

Agreed, and also: total banning is on balance less effective than hellbanning, because it's obvious to a troll when they've been banned... and they immediately get a new username to start afresh (via a new IP if needed -- you don't have to be highly technical to know restarting your DSL router will often let you back into sites that banned your IP...).

The whole point of hellbanning is that it's not immediately obvious to trolls that they have been banned at all; so they keep on trolling (in the hellbanned account) without troubling other readers.

Obviously some trolls are clever enough to grok hellbanning, but it still weeds out quite a few. Total banning is simply whack-a-mole.

Ironically, SparrowOS makes a good point about Don Quixote here...although in his usual cryptic religious incantations.

I see losethos has made a new account...

He renamed his OS, and his account, accordingly.

    ---- For those without showdead: ----	
SparrowOS 2 hours ago | link [dead] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5086744


God says... C:\Text\QUIX.TXT

ced into execution.

Andres went off rather down in the mouth, swearing he would go to look for the valiant Don Quixote of La Mancha and tell him exactly what had happened, and that all would have to be repaid him sevenfold; but for all that, he went off weeping, while his master stood laughing.

Thus did the valiant Don Quixote right that wrong, and, thoroughly satisfied with what had taken place, as he considered he had made a very happy and noble beginning with his knighthood, he took the road

He didn't use his random Bible verse generator in this case. That is a bit unusual.

If you're referring to SparrowOS/losethos I hope you know who it is and why he posts like that. He should definitely not be banned.

I think hellbanning is a useful solution for his posts; for now he is not posting content that adds to the discussions, but he is compelled to post what he does, so it's fine with me for him to post as hellbanned -- enough people keep showdead on that it will be noticed if one day he manages to surface enough that his posts would be positive additions to the conversation again... and his account can be restored to normal status.

Agreed there's no good reason to try to block him from the site.

I can show what it takes to be "hellbanned" so you can decide if you might miss out on good posts by turning off show dead.

I created an account for work to post open jobs on monthly "Who's Hiring" post. I literally made 2 comments that weren't job posts (I'm assuming job posts don't get you banned) - so those must be the ones that got me banned?

you can see them here, halfway down: https://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=ginkgoo

I'm pretty sure there were 3 or 4 months of job postings that were hell banned before I figured it out. Moderating sites is hard (I've been there), but this is a bit extreme IMO.

I'd say it is a lot more likely that your account got "banned" because you posted the exact same thing several times. HN has a dupe checker. If you post the exact same message twice, it assumes you screwed up, and kills the second one.

This is something that really bugs me about these meta threads. People attribute really heinous motives to the maintainers around here without knowing all the facts.

Hellbanning seems to be very passive-aggressive, for better or worse. The person being banned not only doesn't know they are banned, but they won't necessarily know why they were banned to begin with.

To be frank, I'm not even sure what gets you banned around here (as in, what are the standards, or is it arbitrary?).

Another idea: people who are really annoying get double-hellbanned, and there's a checkbox that says "show very dead"!

Sounds like a UI issue more than anything else. Auto hide most of the text in long wall of text posts with a "view more..." link which expands the post to view all of the text.

This could be implemented with very little javascript or using a separate page load for large comment threads (similar to how reddit does it)

Its ironic that HN is a discussion forum, but plenty of websites are banned by default:

From: Audrey To: Joe Sent: Saturday, December 29, 2012 5:56 PM Subject: Re: dead account

Hi Joe,

That post was killed because it came from prisonplanet.com, which has been the source of too many inappropriate or off-topic stories in the past.



2012/12/27 Joe

my article was killed. why? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4974986

Given what I know of the site, it's absolutely appropriate for it to be autokilled. (It's a pretty well-known right-wing conspiracy-theory site.) If the subject of the article is significant, there will be better articles about it on other sites which you can submit instead.

This is essentially an argumentum ad hominem. It is an irrational position to take. Arguments should be judged on their merits, not who's mouth they came from. I'm quite disappointed to learn that HN is censored in this way. I had no idea.

Does anyone know of less draconian social news sites which still try to maintain a high quality discussion?

I don't have an answer to your question. A subreddit with quality moderation could be an answer, but the readership is probably going to be much lower, to the point that it isn't useful.

I am probably more turned off by anything coming from Techcrunch, for intance, than anything related to Alex Jones (for whom I have my own reservations, to say the least). But I tolerate it. Anything that I find to be truly inappropriate, I flag.

In this case, why free press exists at all? Government could come up and say: "it's absolutely appropriate for us to ban all press as they are known of twisting words and create conspiracy theories. If the issue as stake is significant, we as the Government will post appropriate information instead."

This is not China. I think you should have a freedom of posting from wherever you feel like, as every site will have their own POV on the case. Saying that if the issue is significant, you will hear it from other place, you would have never heard about Lewinsky scandal which was brought to daylight by Drudge where no-other newspaper had published it beforehand.

I will leave my opinion about the site to myself, as it would not bring any value to this conversation.

The press is free, and so is Hacker News: in this case free not to syndicate fringe political stuff the majority of its members detest. It's not necessarily even bias: the submission guidelines are pretty clear on the site being about startups and "anything that gratifes ones intellectual curiosity" and not about current affairs.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said "every site will have their own POV on the case". If you want to read the POV of people who think Sandy Hook was a government conspiracy or the POV of antivaccine fraudsters on Obama's "Psychiatric Police State" and "Nazi healthcare system", you can probably go to Prison Planet and find it syndicated there.

If you personally own the press, you can publish almost anything you like (in the United States and other free countries). The Hacker News siteowner owns Hacker News, and part of supporting freedom of the press is letting the person who pays the server bills for Hacker News decide what gets posted on Hacker News.

> sometimes people get hell banned that probably don't deserve it.

Speaking about that...

There are also accounts that have their comments show up just fine, but all their submits get "hell banned"... That is, you think your submit is shown on the new page, but it's really "[dead]" and you can't see that unless you have "show dead" turned on.

If you have "show dead" on in your account, see my submits history for an example of this - http://news.ycombinator.com/submitted?id=powertower

Right after I submitted an article that criticized Apple stock, all new ones became dead.

Would love to know why 1) my account is like that and 2) what happens when I upvote someone elses submit (if my upvote hurts them, or even counts).

There are also accounts that have their comments show up just fine, but all their submits get "hell banned"... That is, you think your submit is shown on the new page, but it's really "[dead]" and you can't see that unless you have "show dead" turned on.

Are you sure that that kind of autokilling is by user, rather than by site submitted? There are quite a few story source sites that are autokilled on submission because experience has shown that those sites consistently produce blogspam, political rants, or other kinds of stories that violate the Hacker News guidelines. It may be that some users have preferences in what they submit that happen to coincide with sites that are on the Hacker News autokill-on-submission list. Or it may be, as you surmise, that some users have a partial hellban that allows them to comment but not to submit new stories. You asked us to look at your own submissions list


for an example, and it may be that your submission history was evaluated (algorithmically?) as a submission history that makes it more likely than not that any of your newer submissions would be off-topic or otherwise contrary to the HN guidelines. Over the years, I've observed some users become very astute at submitting that which is well liked here, and they don't have any problems making new submissions.

I'm glad I saw your comment, as this is an interesting meta-question. AFTER EDIT: It occurs to me, while we are in a thread engaged in meta-discussion of HN moderation, that I would like to know why one of the recent submissions I made


is dead. If I remember correctly, the link was live as I submitted it (in other words, it wasn't autokilled), and yet a while later I looked for it, and saw that it was dead (as I too have showdead turned on in my user settings). I'm not sure why that happened. The last time I had a submission, from a source that I was sure was an acceptable source for HN, autokilled, I asked pg about it by email, and his response was that a text string in the URL tripped a spam detection algorithm. That submission was restored to life, but by then the submission had sunk out of view on the new page, so there was never any discussion of that submission here.

Your dead submission certainly isn't very good on its face. I might flag it if I saw it. And I have no difficulty believing that some people would always flag it.

However, the answers are certainly worthy of consideration.


"Are you sure that that kind of autokilling is by user, rather than by site submitted?"

If you look at his submission history, you can see that every single one of the 18 articles he submitted in the last 154 days is "dead". This includes articles from sites like cnet.com, wikipedia.org, serverfault.com, etc. from which many other articles have been successfully posted recently. This would suggest that the user is banned, not the specific content he posted.

Sampling the submissions which are dead, there are a few sites which I could see being on HN's blacklist. The blacklist appears to be fine grained enough to block particular authors. Compare your CNET submission on the Star Trek Fusion Engine to the story which made HN.


I wouldn't be surprised if there was a combination of factors involved. Flagged submissions such as the "iPhone 5 is crap" linkbait. Dubious sites like vice.com. Political sites like america.com

You might be right but...

I've seen too many anti-Microsoft cnet submits hit the front-page for cnet to have anything but a positive weight on HN. Also duplicates and shorts and blog-spam hits front page all the time. And I don't see anything to indicate that Author having a negative weight here.

As for all the other referenced submits, they were automatically dead-on-arrival.

And I'd imagine whatever happened to my account, happened right-on, or right-before the last good submit.

I do remember that my "H.265 is so slow that it's impossible to even test (multimedia.cx)" went to the front-page quickly, and while completely accurate, was flagged off quickly because some people in the comments decided that because it was 2 years old it was no longer valid, and clicked the flag button (which is quite effective at taking submits off front-page).

In combination with that, I'll admit I had 1 or 2 front-page hitting submits disappear before too.

And that could be the reason, but I can only guess, and not knowing why your penalized, or what you can do about it, really sucks.

P.S., that's a really nice 'Star Trek' engine article, you should submit it. I'll upvote it.

"that's a really nice 'Star Trek' engine article, you should submit it. I'll upvote it."

A pointer to another possible reason that your submissions are killed.

Never heard about that type of hell banning before on HN. I must admit I am not a fan of people getting hell banned on 1 post or submission, unless the post truly is grossly over the top. I see a lot of hell banning as a result of a single post where I often wonder what exactly was so wrong about it.

Moderation on HN is not transparent at all and very subjective, yet I still think the quality of the posts on HN beats every other site out there. Not sure if that is because of, or despite the moderation, hard to tell with such little transparency!

IIRC, you can also be selectively and silently prevented from flagging, if you abuse the feature.

Can you be less vague? If you're talking about SparrowOS/losethos, then you ought to try to learn about who that person is. Otherwise, I have showdead and I've seen ONE or maybe two troll posts every few weeks from people who are hellbanned and most of the time it's what I would lovingly call a reddit-style-comment rather than an outright troll.

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