Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask pg: why have hellbans become so widespread on HN?
131 points by anigbrowl on July 18, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 114 comments
Having Showdead enabled in m HN profile, I see comments and submissions from banned users as well as those which are flagged by mods and HN users. Many users, unaware of being banned, continue to post to HN. Over the last 3 months I have noticed a significant uptick in the number of banned 'regular' users (as opposed to spammers, SEO bots and so forth).

Almost every day I see worthwhile comments and submissions made in good faith that have been automatically flagged. Now, I know that on a site called 'Hacker News' informing users that their username or their IP has been banned or restricted is asking for trouble, but on the other hand there's a lot of valuable content posted in good faith that is being hidden, and the amount seems to be increasing.

Can this policy be reviewed or clarified in some fashion?

As I said 4 weeks ago, the reason you see good comments from banned accounts is that people who behave abusively don't do it 100% of the time:


If my proposed plan for a new "pending" state for comments


works out, we'll just unban most of the accounts that were banned for being garden variety idiots or assholes, and their good comments can be promoted individually by other users.

Incidentally, when a comment is dead, it's not always because the user is banned. E.g. the comment that seems to have set off anigbrowl


was not killed because the user is banned, but because it was a dupe.



When you see stories that are killed rather than comments, it's usually because they've been submitted by sockpuppet rings. There are quite a lot of those accounts on HN now, and many of them are smart enough to mix a variety of other sites in with the sites they're promoting. Benologist, who helped us catch some of them, has more details here:


Thanks for the clarification pg. I was inspired to start the thread by virtue of a different post altogether, but it's good to have a clearer picture of how things work behind the scenes.

When you see stories that are killed rather than comments [...]

That I've been less concerned about, as I spend a lot of time on the New page and flag there pretty frequently, so those patterns are more obvious.

There are a lot of spammers either automatically submitting links or manually continuing to do so long after being identified and they're not always obvious. The other week I found a network of ~20 accounts that had each been submitting one generic tech link a day for up to 1.5 years, if you browse when that network does their daily submissions you'll see almost a full page of dead links that look legitimate.

The ability to upvote dead comments out of oblivion would be useful for commenters.

Edit: as luck would have it that group is submitting a batch right now - http://i.imgur.com/MVvfoaC.png - all those dead accounts (+ aynlaplant, flag to help kill it) are spam though they don't look like it at first glance.

Is that a Chrome extension or Greasemonkey script you've written to do analytics on top of HN? It looks cool.

Greasemonkey script + optional server:


He may have tightened up the restrictions on voting rings. I know one YC user who was banned, and the only issue was that he'd send out links to a couple of friends asking for upvotes.

I feel that there's Catch-22 here - so few people browse/upvote in `/new` that one's practically forced to get friends to upvote, but then runs the risk of automated banhammer. More transparency would be great. It's ironic that pg calls for openness in government but governs HN behind closed doors.

>It's ironic that pg calls for openness in government but governs HN behind closed doors.

It may be ironic, but it's not hypocritical. Rules that apply to governments need not, and should not, apply to private citizens or corporations. Government can't endorse a religion, but people are free to. Similarly, it would be bizarre if CEOs were voted for by employees.

Government needs to be transparent in order to live up to the maxim that government should operate with the informed consent of the governed. Private entities have no such moral compulsion.

Every social website (I include forums in this category) is, at its core, someone's experiment in autocracy. There's no escaping this, however much power users might appear to have, the admin will do what the admin wants and mods are gods.

Whether this implies anything by extension about the nature of governments or militaries I leave as a futile thought exercise for others.

You are right, but I am not sure which social model would fit to everybody as comforting. Many people are offended by Anarchy and it remains a question to me if communities would actually be able to manage themselves or not. Do you have some more food of thought to share, that's quite interesting? :)

I don't have any real insight. If any user at all could ban or unban anyone else then it might be chaos. The autocratic nature of it comes from the fact that someone and not everyone controls the code and the server. How could you have true equality on a social site without giving users a dangerous level of privilege?

Very good point. pg's not under many of the compulsions that our government is, but I at least would like to see him live this one by example.

Besides, this is Hacker News, shouldn't we strive for openness/tweaking?

I have made it a point to always visit the /new page when I stop by HN. (I also have show-dead enabled, but I've not really considered what it means that so many submissions are dead. I had thought that was caused by accidentally submitting something that had been submitted earlier.)

Frankly, I find the /new page at least half as interesting as the front page, which is to say, quite interesting indeed. I recommend it to anyone looking for another bit of entertaining news on each visit.

If you accidentally re-submit an article you get taken to the previous submission, which now also has another upvote from you.

I've posted a link from a banned domain before, and it was dead on submission but my account was ok.

I strongly agree about /new - I feel it's important to visit and to upvote the interesting articles.

(Sorry, my sentence structure sucks.)

Giving the 'showdead' option is a form of openness.

Anyone posting a new article gets dumped to '/new', so it may get visited more than one would think; it would be interesting to see some data on how frequently it gets hit (or on upvotes originating on /new vs on the main page.)

What are the rules on asking friends to vote? I am a rookie HN user and have heard rumors that it is looked down on, but haven't seen any official word.

It's really obvious when a bunch of brand new accounts post comments like "Great Work!" and nothing else.

My own personal opinion (and I have no connection to the site or understanding of the rules) is that good, insightful, comments are welcome. So, people upvoting an article is okay, and those people making good interesting comments is okay. But a ring of people only ever upvoting articles from one site is bad. Again, this is just my opinion.

Welcome! I hope your stay here is enjoyable and expands your knowledge. The FAQ/Guidelines, accessible at the bottom of the page, are a little shaky on voting rings. Try to avoid it if you can, and don't be disappointed if your submissions don't get upvotes, just keep shipping!

Thanks RKoutnik. I like that. Just keep shipping. :)

"It's ironic that pg calls for openness in government but governs HN behind closed doors."

Even if I accept the Alanis Morrisette definition of irony I still have trouble finding the irony in this situation. Administering a nation-state and administering an online community seem like two entirely separate endeavors.

The NSA stands behind PG's shoulder and forces his reluctant finger onto the "hellban user" option.

I used to have a different HN account. At some point I realized that I stopped receiving points. I looked at my comments and someone had commented on my last comment, "Is this spam?" and then like 4 other people concurred my comment was spam. But it wasn't spam. I got bullied out of my HN account. 120 karma points down the drain.

I got bullied out of about 6,000 karma points on what I considered an unjust hellbanning. There's nobody to talk to about it, there's no real recourse. There isn't even a warning or probation system, which makes a lot more sense than destroying a user account because of one comment judged purely subjectively by one mod.

Hellbanning is not applied by "mods", it's the algorithmic result of the community downvoting you, or you being caught in vote-ring detection.

The small warning period you get is a flurry of downvotes. I accept that's not much use if you can no longer edit / delete that down-voted comment, or if you're not online at the time.

I've heard that you can send a short email saying something like "I got hellbanned after {URL:this comment} - please consider un-banning me and I won't be a dick in future".

I didn't get a flurry of downvotes. It was one comment that got me banned. In fact my comment had at least a neutral karma rating at the time I was hellbanned.

My questionable comment was replied to by someone claiming to have moderator powers here, and the mod / person said that I was an example of unacceptable behavior on HN. After that my user account was hellbanned.

Would you mind linking to the thread where you were banned?

Would you mind linking to that account/post? I don't doubt your story, I'm just curious to see the comment that people perceived as spam (maybe it included some words or phrases that triggered the algo?).

After receiving 5000 karma points in June alone, due to the intersection of Snowden news and my 27 years researching China - I noticed that my posts started getting downvoted heavily by HN management.

HN management apparently does not believe Snowden news is hacker news. Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, and Snowden have more than proven their hacker skills in software, and censoring that news is not tolerable to me. All the YC companies combined are insignificant compared that important work.

Personally, I believe we've already reached "peak" Hacker News and "peak" Y Combinator. Even though I respect YC, HN, and PG, the main problem is that the number of users continues to grow, and the basic code behind HN hasn't changed in years. Indeed, what new code there is seems to be refinement in excluding people.

Journalists worldwide are descending on HN as a clear cut seminal news source, and no software is being written to maintain the integrity of HN, given the new influx of lay users. Banning is a blunt, ineffective tool to manage HN growth.

I am one of the earliest software engineers on earth (42 years), and remember/prefer the early pure days of HN (as we all do). I have many ideas how to solve that, however more and more hell banning wont do it. Give a man a hammer and everything looks like a nail. Ward Cunningham's (inventor of the wiki) new work on federated wikis is excellent, trailblazing work on maintaining purity in an fast growing editorial environment. Allowing multiple "views" of HN is a better approach. Google Search does it well - every Google user has a unique "view", even on identical search terms.

Partly, I think PG would rather maintain his personal bully pulpit (he's earned it) than build a better mousetrap at HN. Editorial monoculture is always easier to build than an open multiview.

Funny part is, an open design would allow the original pure HN to be one of the "views" (and likely the main view). HN will never ban its way back to purity.

Attempts to return to purity via downvoting, censorship, and hell banning alone are bad software. The fact that HN leadership thinks this way is the primary reason for the fall in quality at HN. The growth in readership does not have to dumb down HN. Write better software.

I've contributed solidly to the HN community, especially with early breaking news in China technology, censorship, and gov't sponsored hacking. Yet, I'm 80% banned, even though my careful submits ranked #1 on the HN leaderboard in June.

I have never spammed, never organized up voting, and have abided by the the rules as I understand them.

The ban hammer is a tool, but a relatively an ineffective tool. It won't solve the problem.

> getting downvoted heavily by HN management.

Do you mean your posts were turning grey? Or that your submissions were being flagged?

Because neither of those is necessarily done by "HN management". This is something that is done by the community.

Many people - I'm one of them - were flagging the Snowden posts.

By the way, this "ask PG" post just dropped from #5 on HN to #32 in just a few minutes. Management at HN, if you can't stand the heat, why build the kitchen?

"Management at HN" is probably just pg rolling his eyes and muttering "not this shit again..."

Not true, I've received a letter from HN management, and have witnessed a subtle, concerted effort to censor content.

Meta posts, and posts about hellbanning, are common and unpopular. They always get flagged pretty heavily.

The goal of HN is post quality.

One potential explanation is that false positives (banning a good user) don't bring down overall post quality, false negatives (not banning a bad user) do.

I'd say that's more of a theory than an explanation. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, and when people like I get hellbanned or whateverbanned for long periods of time, it hurts the sense of community and erodes confidence in the management of it.

That is true (assuming it's random). However, it's also unjust and harms the community simply because this issue exists. The goal is to hellban only people who deserve it.

EDIT: I just realized I have showdead on and I've barely seen any, so this may not be a big problem.

Hellbanned people may also get upset of not receiving any feedback from the community from good comments, conclude that the community is not for them and quit which may explain that you only see a few.

Banning good users does potentially bring down post quality, but other users would remain unaware of that without showdead on.

Maybe that's the same logic used explain the no fly list.. "The danger of someone being on there that shouldn't be is outweighed by the 'safety' gained." Traffic cameras, NSA surveillance -- the parallel is pretty clear.

One solution is to simply use the down voting system already in place, so posts (and people) are judged by the community in a transparent way. Perhaps require a minimum karma limit before being allowed to post; new users can earn karma through comments. Then "bad" users would lose the karma through down votes and the community would have effectively "banned" the user from posting. I'm not familiar with the hell-banning system (I have better things to do than study HN minutia ,) however it seems like, to be banned there ought to be perhaps some more transparency. Or at least a warning system. If there is and I don't know about it, please disregard previous..)

If they were aware of they ban, they'd just create a new account and circumvent it.

Wouldn't that theoretically even help creating much better predictions about that user and make auto-banning possible?

Maybe you've recently read the post about browser-fingerprinting. That could help to "anonymously" ban this person/bot.

i) sometimes the domains, and not the users, are what is banned.

ii) Some hellbanned users know they are hellbanned but continue to post anyway

iii) The recent uptick may be connected to the flood of piss-poor threads about politics. I'm not sure. I'd like to see some kind of numbers to confirm that there are more hell-banned users.

There are several things you can do with hellbanned posts. You could check the user's post history and try to work out what got them banned, and then send them an email to let them know they're banned. That's one reason why it's important for people to have an email in their "about me" section of their profile.

It might be worth-while investigating a tweak, because it seems HN is reluctant to flag and downvote poor content, and that might be because HN users are reluctant to cause a hellban.

I agree, I spent over a year posting regularly (1-2 times a week) on an account that was hellbanned before I finally found out nobody could see my posts.

It also bothers me that downvoted posts have lighter/more transparent text. It makes it really hard to read, and most downvoted posts are interesting to read, so it's damaging to my eyes to have to read those posts with some weird text editing on it.

hmm, yeah the typography used on HN is very poor, that's true. I think that's intended, but it would have been possible to mark such posts differently and less disturbing to the eye. (Personally I don't think that the HN UI is going to get some overhaul anytime soon though.)

Speaking hell banned users. Here's a comment from one of them right here! Sometimes they scare me a little. This is an example of it doing its job. Sadly we do have false-positives sometimes too.


TempleOS 27 minutes ago

God is perfectly just. Niggers deserve hell. Hell is the absence of God. God says... by_the_way no_more_tears middle_class thats_just_wrong little_buddy test_pilot not_in_my_wildest_dreams this_might_end_badly catastrophe husband good talk_to_my_lawyer ohh_thank_you thats_right au_revoir so_let_it_be_done off_the_record like_like experts ridiculous

TempleOS isn't a standard by which the utility of hellbans should be judged. He's pretty much the definition of edge case.

Most hellbans are probably spam, followed by people unaware of what random and arbitrary rule they broke at some point in the past, followed by trolls.

For those not aware, he's a paranoid schizophrenic who believes that God lives in the OS that he wrote from scratch. He's fairly well known around these parts as TempleOS/SparrowOS/LosethOS.

He's a racist schizophrenic religious fanatic who never, ever posts remotely on topic. Some of his posts advocate death and violence. How in the world could this be considered an edge case? It's the definition of creepy. Isn't Losethos/TempleOS/whatever more like the reference case for hellbanning?

The way I understand it hellbanning is supposed to protect us from both spam and abusive content. TempleOS is both.

It's an edge case in that he doesn't represent the typical hellbanned user. I agree that in his case, it's for the best that his posts aren't public.

I'm also convinced most or all of his posts are script generated anyway, not that it really matters.

You're right, but I don't have a clear picture what the typical hellbanned user looks like. There are spam bots submitting stories, but you don't see them in discussions. Hellbanned users you actually meet in threads are, at least as best as I can recollect, most often posting normal stuff that wouldn't rank as low quality. Sometimes I click on their history to see where things went wrong and it's usually not hard to find this one post that ended their account. It doesn't matter if all the rest of it was pretty good, that's all it takes: one glitch.

I'm not sure if I'd say this is a good system or not. Maybe it would be more productive to have a time limit on bans that result from one-time offenses.

Agreed. I just couldn't help point out a some-what famous example right here. Sometimes I convince myself that it's just random garbage, but then I find comments that are a little bit on topic but still are incoherent rambling. I can't help but be intrigued.

I remember one of his comment being dead on (IIRC about system programming in the 80's), followed by the usual ramblings.

TempleOS / SparrowOS / LosethOS / Terry knows he's hell banned, but continues to post anyway.

His OS is interesting. His posts are scary. He's looking for help with art and logos.

Terry's been discussed a lot by now, he has schizophrenia. It seems he went through clinical treatment but sadly that didn't help him. Really just a tragic thing... I wish he could have been better helped because he seems like a smart individual otherwise, what with having made his own operating system and all.

I saw a post of his the other day--it mentioned he might be in jail. Is he okay?

I read this too. I really hope he's ok. I wish we had contact with someone who knows him personally...

He's a nutter, but he's our nutter.

The false positives are kind of the point.

Case in point: https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=loginalready

I reported it to info@yc, two days ago, but I didn't get any answer.

Yeah, I actually find his/her comments intelligent, but maybe too political. If he/she restructured the wording, he/she would be getting huge karma.

Maybe hellbaned was extreme, but HN is not a place for political commentary.

Do not talk against the lefties or any vocal group you will be ok.

Because there is no 'disagree' people down vote.

As a "lefty" and someone with enough karma to downvote comments. I will only downvote for three reasons:

1. Comments beginning with "I will probably be modded to oblivion for this, but ... " Where " ... " Is usually some schizo, racist shit. 2. Show HN-comments like "Why did you spend hundreds of hours building this useless hack when you could have contributed something useful to humanity instead?" 3. Terrible "in soviet russia" jokes and other slashdot-originated garbage.

As of yet, I've never downvoted someone for any other reason, but I'm tempted to start downvoting all those "hn mods are in a big communist conspiracy and are censoring the truth!" comments because proving paranoid people right seems like fun.

Hacker News is leftist, but they are not too quick with the down votes on dissidents. This is not reddit, yet.

I prefer to keep all politics off of HN, because otherwise this will become another site where leftists pat other leftists on the back and no real discussion is permitted.

Are you guys joking? I've been reading Hacker News on and off for years and the majority of the people here are squarely center-right. I can count on one hand the number of regular commenters that I'd consider to be on the Left.

Hacker News is for the most part a forum for pro-Capitalists interested in technology.

The construction of any political spectrum depends upon the time period over which you define it. The political poles of the last six months are a lot closer than the political poles generated from data collected over the last six decades.

Me, I've been reading a lot of Mencius Moldbug lately, so my political ideas are going to be fairly abnormal. Discussing politics with me is going to be like discussing colors of a painting with a gentleman on DMT.

The down votes are faster and hides the posts. So people use it as censor. As all lefties like censorship.. Want votes? Talk how bad USA is but forget what European countries do that are worse. (Ask the African continent )

You write posts like this, but complain that it is "lefties" that are censoring you?

I really hate the attitude of "the downvotes prove me right". :-/

Haters gonna hate...

:) ok this was a joke ;)

Also, don't criticize Go (the language). It seems to be one of several sacred cows around here. I think that's what happened to my original CamperBob account.

Oddly, it also seems that anyone who uses any of several terms for, well, "the sin of Onan," is likely to be hellbanned for it.

Someone could get at least one thesis in linguistics out of reverse engineering all of the undocumented HN pitfalls that lead to hellbanning of otherwise-legitimate users.

If people upvote for agree, then...

Happened to me. I was a member for a long time. On a single occasion I believe I accidentally responded to the wrong comment and I got banned. I was posting for a long time before an admin informed me I was banned. I had no idea why until I looked back at my responses and I noticed one out of context.

I had always been a fan of this site and try to join in a discussion once in a while to be part of a community. It really ruined my day when I found out I had been banned. I felt betrayed and lost my 100+ karma.

I also have showdead on, and sometimes I consider turning it off, as some people really do warrant it. It is indeed sad to see some other people railing against the wind though.

I turned it on after reading this askHN and it was interesting, but I think I'm more thankful for not seeing a bunch of the dead links and comments.

Interestingly, this post had 8 upvotes, now it's only 6 - I thought posts could not be downvoted?

HN is very intransparent when it comes to their rules or karma system. I'm aware that the code is in github, but we're talking about formal rules, not algorithms (and we don't know if that's all the code or only a part).

  * How can a user find out if he/she is "HellBanned"?
  * Is HN afraid of getting gamed?
  * How is pg using the data generated at HN?
  * Would HN/pg sell it's users if they were forced by the Government?
Questions I don't know the answer to.

> * Would HN/pg sell it's users if they were forced by the Government?

isn't all information on HN publicly viewable?

Sorry, I don't mean the links someone posted. But the IP and other "meta-data".

You can downvote once you've reached a certain karma level.


Ah, I wasn't aware it was different for submissions. My bad.

I have over 13k yet have lost the ability to flag posts and articles. Quite mysterious.

Do you know which karma level?

500 for user comments, as far as i know submissions can't be. That being said i know there are voting ring checks and other fuzzing going on where it might not actually be someone downvoting, but votes being counted differently all the sudden.

Is there actually any discussion among those who are hellbanned? Otherwise it could be argued that if somebody keeps posting without noting the lack of interaction they probably aren't that much socially aware in the first place.

"I know that on a site called 'Hacker News' informing users that their username or their IP has been banned or restricted is asking for trouble,"

Does PG have a policy against this? I seen people point out that so-and-so was hellbanned before and never noticed any repurcussions and I have also seen people repost useful comments from users who were hell banned.

Or do you think "the trouble" stems from the word hacker in the site name?

There are more users.

Instead of hellbanning, couldn't the site just rely on more extensive algorithmic ranking of comments and submissions? That way comments that are probably low-quality will only appear to a small number of users.

And why haven't I been hellbanned yet? Look at my comment history! Look at it!!! Did I get grandfathered in or something?

I find it interesting hell banned users are still posting. For instance, i'm sure TempleOS is aware he's banned.

So what stops everyone from protesting and using showdead? Doesn't that basically depower mods?

How are you able to tell whether you've been hellbanned or not? Have I, for instance?

You can tell if you post links and comments that never get voted on or replied to (I presume, unless hellbanning reports false votes). If you have showdead enabled, which is an option after you pass a certain karma threshold, you'll see posts and comments from hellbanned users. Most of the posts are simply spam, which is fine. Many of the hellbanned users, however, don't appear to have done anything wrong. You can pinpoint when they were hellbanned by checking their comments until you find one that isn't dead. Either that or one of the comments immediately preceeding it, or a post that tripped the spam detector, is usually responsible.

Hellbanning is done both by the spam detector as well as by mods. Unfortunately, there really isn't any transparency in the process, nor is there much anyone can do to reverse it. You can send an email to info@ycombinator.com, but I don't know of anyone successfully being unbanned by doing so.

Load up your comment in an new incognito-mode browser window and you should be able to see whether you are not.

You're not hellbanned.

But of course, you're not supposed to be able to tell, that's the entire point.

is it IP based, or will chrome anonymous window be enough to always reliably tell my status?

I don't think it's IP based, no.

i'm waiting to see how long it takes for my username to get me hellbanned

I doubt the username will ever get you hellbanned. The useless comments might.

honest question to you and YC hellbanners:

"why so serious?"


omg. you can be banned but still allowed to post?!

how do I check whether my account is banned?

Like someone else commenting on your post said, the entire idea of being hellbanned is not knowing that you are. For the sake of humanity around here, let's not start tonnes of threads asking whether you're hellbanned.

The fact that people are replying to you shows that you are not. Besides that, just keep on commenting and assume everything is okay.

I was as surprised as you were! Would never ever post to HN personally if I knew that.

Not letting people know that they are banned, but still allowing them to post is very egoistic.

Egoist? Why?

As far as I can tell it is somewhat distasteful but ultimately too useful to not use. It's pragmatic, I don't see how ego is involved.

What if you were banned from school and still had to pay them without knowing that you got banned. Even worse, what if all of your schoolmates would ontop of that start ignoring you and nothing you do could change it? Wouldn't that be an egoistic act?

    Legend: pay = posts; schoolmates = HN people/investors

You're not paying to use HN, so the analogy is a non-sequitur.

You're a guest in pg's house; hellbanning is a generous form of dealing with the unruly by at least letting them visit and talk to those who want to hear the unruly, without either letting the unruly annoy all the guests or throwing some out entirely.

>> hellbanning is a generous form of dealing with the unruly by at least letting them visit and talk to those who want to hear the unruly, without either letting the unruly annoy all the guests or throwing some out entirely

That argument is convincing, but I still believe that it's not fair treatment to not letting them at least know about their ban. I didn't know that the unruly can still talk to others. That's changing things completely!

Somehow can't reply under your post. By egoistic I mean that someone can continue profiting from the time you take to write posts or submit links without letting you participate with the HN users.

> Somehow can't reply under your post.

The [reply] button takes longer to show as threads get deeper. This is because deeply nested threads tend to be flame-bait and argument, and slowing down posting is meant to help with that.

Usually clicking the [link] button gives you a text box.

Thanks, yes makes sense, didn't know that :)

I would have a problem with that practice, but my problem would not be that it is egoist... Are you using egoist as a drop in replacement for "bad"? What do you mean by egoist?

It is pretty passive-aggressive. An outright ban would get the point across, rather than this weird toying with people that we see in the form of hellbanning.

It's supposed to be passive aggressive. That's the point. It's not supposed to get any point across. Hell-banning is a form of "do not feed the trolls".

Some people enjoy making useless posts. They can continue making useless posts. Just with hellbanning most people no longer see those useless posts.

Some people are accidentally hellbanned. It sucks for those people. But they can sometimes become unbanned, or they can start a new account.

you're not banned

You must be banned because I can't read what you post.

Well that's interesting. I didn't even know there was such a thing on this site.

All net forums have owners, and almost all have defacto restricted topics - things the owners simply won't allow. In many cases, one of the restricted topics is what well known 'cultural entity' the owners are members of.

What does differ is the degree of sneakiness in what's forbidden, and the methods used to enforce the restrictions.

In a few cases it's forthright - there's a FAQ listing forbidden topics; you say what you're not supposed to, and you're banned. But that's rare. It's more often the case that forbidden topics are so forbidden that they aren't even mentioned in the rules as forbidden. And the site's operation is structured to provide means of quietly removing offending comments from public view.

It's all about controlling the perception of common public opinion, while avoiding being seen to do so. There are many tricks used.

In almost all sites, there are cliques of semi-official mods, with the power to remove/alter what's visible. The Wikipedia global warmist clique being a prime example. Even when the clique isn't officially part of the site's control system, Megaphone-like back-channel organization makes very powerful manipulation via mass down-voting and pile-on criticism possible. Then there's the HB Gary-esque 'multiple personas' methods, by which groups of paid shills can exert far more web influence than they should be able to.

But what's really disturbing, is when forums that pretend to be open and politically unbiased, are structured to provide hidden methods of control - and they are clearly using them.

For instance, on reddit the '500 visible post limit' provides a way of vanishing politically unwelcome posts. On 4chan, the ephemeral nature of everything makes it easy to vanish posts faster than they otherwise would.

With ycombinator I thought the control method was pretty obvious, and I'd experienced it myself. Make any mention of anything related to 'topic-Y', and get instantly downvoted into the negatives. OK, I could live with that. It's a pity, but then hardly anything unique in this sadly upside-down, tiny-dot ruled world.

Now it turns out... that ycombinator is also applying 'holo-net' techniques? Am I understanding this right? A hellbanned person sees their own posts appearing normally, but they are hidden to everyone else (unless they turn on 'showdead' - and now I have to go find out how to do that.)

You know, that's a _very_ immoral and deceptive facility to implement in a forum. It almost reminds me of... stereotypical behavioral characteristics of... something I can't mention here, for fear of being hellbanned.

My gradually recovered vote count is now 54. I expect it to now suddenly go negative. Again.

I hope you guys realize that free, open and unrestricted public debate is crucial to the maintenance of civilization? And that deploying means of distorting and controlling debate will achieve only one thing in the end - the collapse of civilization into a hell of violence and insanity. It takes time, but it's inevitable. Special interest groups, whether ideological or ethnic, are never capable of acting rationally in the interests of the greater good. They always behave like drowning persons - strangling those who are keeping things afloat.

Of course, whether certain special interest groups actually want to bring down civilization - that's a fair question.

> It's all about controlling the perception of common public opinion, while avoiding being seen to do so.

No. It really is much simpler. Some people make intensely but shallowly interesting posts. Some people respond to those posts because intense posts cause that kind of reaction. Other people downvote that kind of post because they recognise its toxic to the community to have that kind of discussion here. Eventually a poster learns to avoid that kind of post, or they get hellbanned.

(But yes, there are false positives and that sucks for those people and the community.)

> I hope you guys realize that free, open and unrestricted public debate

I look forward to visiting the fork of HN that you put up. On your website. At your expense.

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