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Poll: Are there too many NSA stories on HN, or not enough?
313 points by sinak on Sept 11, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 200 comments
There's a recent pattern where stories related to the NSA are being given reduced visibility, either the result of flagging by users, a change to the algorithm (which seems unlikely), or otherwise.

A few examples:

- A Guardian post today [1] about the NSA sharing unfiltered intelligence data with Israel languished on the second/third page for hours (despite 50 upvotes in three hours). It then jumped up to the first page after the flagging was removed.

- Another Guardian post today [2] containing a "memorandum of understanding" between NSA and Israeli intelligence forces is on the fourth page despite 6 upvotes in 2 hours.

- A post yesterday [3] I made about DNI releasing hundreds of pages of FISA court decisions as a result of an EFF received 17 upvotes but never made it to the front page (despite lesser-upvoted posts making it on)

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6367465 [2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6368388 [3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6364053

The NSA stories haven't gone away, and leaks from Snowden seem likely continue for the next few months. I've personally taken a break from entrepreneurship to be involved in anti-surveillance activism as a result of the leaks, but it seems based on comments on previous posts, a significant number of users want fewer NSA stories.

I'm curious as to whether it is a vocal minority who are flagging NSA stories and pushing them off the homepage, or whether the Hacker News community at large wants fewer NSA stories to rank.

I want more NSA news. NSA stories should be allowed to rank naturally, with less filtering/flagging.
1593 points
I want less NSA news. NSA stories should be filtered/flagged, and fewer shown as a result.
596 points



The subject is vast. The subject is technical. The subject is on-topic.

Beyond all that, the subject rises to a level of fundamental importance to a degree few others do. Certainly more than 99% of topics that find their way to the front page of HN (feel free to quibble with that percentage).

I've said it before on here. I don't think the conversation on this issue has gotten loud enough, or lasted long enough, and HN is one of the few communities on the net where it is not only happening, but happening with a greater degree of insight, acumen, and creativity with regards to solutions and future actions.

I say carry on, upvote, comment, and ignore those unconcerned people with short attention spans.

Edit: And most importantly for the Americans here, call your representatives and tell them, in your own voice, exactly what you think. This has to happen at a minimum.


The subject is vast, and it is occasionally technical, but most of the discussion on HN is Frist Post and Natalie Portman/Hot Grits with a veil of legitimacy.

There's a population of maybe 50-100 people on here who are obsessed with the subject, and they're spamming every thread with off-topic NSA posts on the theory that they know better than everyone else what people should be talking about. It's no different than any other form of trolling, and it should be managed accordingly.


This, 1000% this. The infection of non-NSA threads by the NSA commenters is a much bigger problem than the front page.


Yep. To demonstrate, I present Exhibit A:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6361558

A news headline about the Apple iPhone event, completely overshadowed by NSA speculation. The first threads spans 1/2 a page to 3/4 a page and is entirely argumentative speculation with no real benefit to the discussion.

I for one, just wanted some discussion about the phone moving over to 64-bit architecture. But, no, NSA speculation (read: not even new information, rehash) took over.

EDIT: Also, in before -- yes, I know I can scroll down the page. But the point is that in principle, you shouldn't have to scroll down half a page just to find the meat that's actually relevant to the discussion. It's not like we're saying the NSA news is unimportant -- just don't hijack threads that are about other things with obsessive privacy speculation when there isn't any empirical evidence or information to offer. For example, Apple's fingerprint scanning TouchID could be compromised...or maybe not. We don't know. But let's not destroy entire threads speculating about it.


I disagree completely.

The fact that a news headline about the Apple iPhone event got overshadowed by NSA speculation should tell you something. It should tell you that the NSA is fucking everywhere now, in everyone's life, and knows - or can learn - virtually everything.

This should worry you. It should worry you SO MUCH that you should be thinking about it all the time, and you should also be talking about it in every single context that is even remotely relevant to NSA's perpetual and eternal spying efforts.

I don't know about you, but when the true extent of the scandal was revealed, my modus operandi changed completely, including the way I live my life and the way I communicate with people. I moved all my data overseas. I encrypted as much as I can. I stopped posting jokes on Facebook that could even remotely be construed as suspicious by an over-zealous NSA agent. At work we use Microsoft Office Communicator, and even there I am censoring myself when it comes to non-work talk with co-workers because I have no idea what kinds of backdoors could be installed on its server software.

Right now when I evaluate new technology, the first and foremost question on my mind is this: can the NSA use this to spy on me? Therefore it made me very happy that the top comment in the iPhone 5S story was about the NSA. That is the way it should be.


In other words: you can't even complain about comments about the NSA infecting non-NSA threads without that thread itself becoming infected with NSA comments.


You didn't expect NSA comments in a thread about NSA comments?

The fact is, a lot of stuff we talk about is being influenced by the NSA, in a very negative way. The solution isn't to ignore it and go back to talking about the cool shiny color of the new iPhone.


N S A C E P T I O N


please go back to reddit with that crap.


Does it blow your mind that I posted about a topic in a meta-discussion thread about that topic?


Okay. I get your point. The NSA is terribly flawed and out of bounds, and we need to raise hell to fix America. We're in agreement that the NSA is a problem we should care about.

One question: where does it end? I cede the point that Apple and the iPhone are part of tech news. So is the NSA. So they could conceivably be on topic together, especially with regards to privacy concerns.

My friends and I have a fantasy football league running through Yahoo. Yahoo could have backdoors from the NSA! I could be putting my entire online identity at risk by participating in fantasy football.

That's all speculation. I have no proof, just like the fingerprint TouchID theories had no real proof yesterday. Do I tell my friends this?

Instead of enjoying fantasy football, do I interrupt my friends' trade and persistently warn them about the NSA? When they tell me I'm being annoying, that they know already, that they heard me the first ten times, and that I am not offering any evidence or proof, just paranoid speculation, do I begin afresh in my spiel, like some crazed zealot touting Jesus on the street who can't let his friends just enjoy fantasy football? Do I make the sole decision that they need to hear this because I know what's best for them?

Like I said, I get your point. I understand that this is an important, sensitive topic. But again, some of us like Hacker News to aggregate tech news without NSA news necessarily being in front of our faces.

The perspective that I have to read about the NSA instead of the iPhone moving to 64-bit architecture because you know what's best for me is dictatorial. I understand if the democratic system of Hacker News demonstrates this is what the majority cares about, but at least you'll understand our perspective as well. Believe me, we get yours.


"My friends and I have a fantasy football league running through Yahoo. Yahoo could have backdoors from the NSA! I could be putting my entire online identity at risk by participating in fantasy football."

I would say that the reasonableness of that discussion would depend on the sort of otherwise private information your participation in fantasy football compromises.

Does this fantasy football program encourage you to install a phone application that requires far more permissions then a fantasy football program has any business requiring? Then perhaps a discussion about privacy is warranted (I mean, assuming we were discussing Yahoo's fantasy football program in the first place).

Does this fantasy football program just let you use a psuedo-anonymous handle and doesn't ask you for anything personal anyway? Then the discussion is probably a distraction.

Smartphones have a unique/unprecedented amount of access to our personal lives. Discussions about smartphones and privacy should be considered natural because of the properties that smartphones have. If other things share similar properties, they'll get that discussion too.

(As a non-smartphone example, I recall some discussion about privacy and the Xbox One and its (at the time) 'required' kinect sensor.)


As a military officer who has stood the watch, yes, please, do everything in your power to pull every string and lift every stone. As depicted, the NSA's behavior is very much not what I swore to defend.


  my modus operandi changed completely
    the way I live my life
    the way I communicate with people    
    I moved all my data overseas
    I encrypted as much as I can
    I stopped posting jokes on Facebook
I wouldn't sweat the jokes, my friend. :-)

</suddenly realizes humor helps prove Tom's point>


While I sympathize with those who find it disconcerting that the iPhone 5S news was hijacked by conversations about the NSA, I personally agree with those in this thread who have pointed out that the severity of the NSA situation is, at least until something fairly substantial changes, great enough that it can trump nearly anything.

Given how the NSA has turned the table on conspiracy theories--proven many wild theories actually or plausibly true--those of us who would like to cast conspiracies with a healthy dose of doubt need to keep an open mind to even those theories that strike us as outlandish.

I am personally strongly opposed to flagging submissions. I have written elsewhere [1] that I find flagging a measure of last resort. It bothers me that so many people flag submissions as if it were equivalent to a downvote. It's not.

However, with all of that in mind, some NSA threads cause my brain fatigue. They generally make me sad about the deeply immoral state of the US government and the undermining and impotence of technology. I can only take so much NSA-caused despair. I don't have a short attention span, but honestly, fully comprehending how much we have been hurt by the NSA is a deep emotional burden. Sometimes I need a break.

So for those times when you too need a break and want to just think about technology, I'd recommend installing a collapsible comment user script [2] to allow you to just hide the NSA sub-threads until you're in the mood to dig into that fray.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6293034

[2] http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/138037


Re: Exhibit A

pilif has an average karma score of 7 and that post got a ton of replies and obviously a lot of upvotes. Those three factors are what led to the top spot on the comment page. If you're going to try and convince "us" not to hijack threads with baseless NSA speculation, then you've got to persuade the users with high average karma scores to not make such comments.

Edit: for the record, I welcome NSA related comments on any and all posts. Very, very few of my friends are willing to discuss anything other than the details of Snowden fleeing the U.S -- it'd be sad to see the 'ignore it until it goes away' mindset also happen here on HN. I'm willing to trade an inane iPhone incremental vs revolutionary argument for speculation of potential NSA abuse of a phone feature any day, and I'm willing to bet a large amount of other HN users do too.


Fuck Apple and iPhone. I don't care about it and I don't want to read about it. Apparently most people on HN agree. Now you can kick and scream or read other site. It is just how it is.

> and is entirely argumentative speculation with no real benefit to the discussion.

Like a chat by the water-cooler you mean. I would love more Snowdens and leaked documents to come out. Unfortunately there aren't at the moment, so we are left discussing what is there. Talking about the future, the implication to US businesses, implication to what it means for this country, the Constitution, privacy, and so on.

I understand that is not interesting for most people, especially non-Americans. Well c'est la vie, a good majority of HNers are Americans.

The rage and indignation about this is quite strong (and it should be so). These revelations, have shattered the perceptions many have been brought up and believed in for most part of their lives. It is hard to deal with that so well you get lots of discussion.

You have the downvote button, click it if you don't like the topic. But stomping your feet about hoping maybe moderators will notice and will start pushing Apple related stories higher might not work.


It's also worth noting that that thread was overwhelmed with meta-discussion about the validity of NSA comments in that thread, not the NSA discussion itself. If you take out the comments complaining about the NSA comments, that thread would be significantly more trim.


Maybe we need another poll to tell us what the HN comment voting system already told us: that discussion about the privacy implications of a new Apple device in a discussion about said new Apple device is on-topic and valued by the community. Oh oh, for that matter, lets get some polls about polls, where is the fun in derailing meta-conversation if we only stop at one level of recursion? /s


> A news headline about the Apple iPhone event, completely overshadowed by NSA speculation.

Discussion on articles of one topic being completely overshadowed by tangential other topics is a problem with the way HN's commenting system works (Reddit does this much better, folding certain comments away, based on votes and nesting level), not at all specific to the NSA discussions.

It happens for every topic on HN that receives a lot of mindshare over a longer period of time. It annoys me there too. Thankfully I have a bookmarklet that allows me to collapse threads on HN :)


You don't mention the fingerprint-reader. Why not?


Reddit posts often get one off-topic top level comment that spawns a huge subtree, but it's easy to deal with there because the uninterested reader can click the [-] button to collapse the whole mess. I wonder if HNers would stop viewing the NSA threads as such a problem if HN implemented comment collapsing.


There's a third party implementation of that (https://github.com/jaekwon/HNCollapse), but I that doesn't really help a commenting culture that is shaped by not having it built in. HN commenting threads are winner take all with respect to the top level comments. Once one gets entrenched the others die on the vine. To a lesser extent the same thing happens at subsidiary branches as well. It makes for a very unbalanced tree.


HN Collapse is an absolute must and should be implemented by default, IMO. Whenever I'm on a machine/tablet without it, my reading experience is much poorer.


When I'm on a phone or tablet I use http://ihackernews.com, which has comment collapsing.


hah, I forgot about this thing. does it still work? :)


There's a Firefox extension that does[1], I believe there is a Chrome one as well, and there used to be other bookmarklet(s) that worked too.

[1]: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/hn-utility-su...


>The subject is vast, and it is occasionally technical,

I'm saying the subject itself is technical, but I think it's worth pointing out two things:

1) The conversation surrounding it is still more technical here on HN than almost any other community on or off the web.

2) The subject and/or conversation surrounding it need not be technical in the first place to qualify as a legitimate HN post (though we know this will greatly increase the number of people that don't wish to view the content).

>and they're spamming every thread with off-topic NSA posts,

This is a perfect example of where you should flag comments, as opposed to just flagging links to NSA stories on the front page. No argument there.

>but most of the discussion on HN is Frist Post and Natalie Portman/Hot Grits with a veil of legitimacy.

Getting back to point #2 above, this is OK. There plenty of users on here that are not experts enough to comment on the technical intricacies of some of the information, and it runs the full range from slightly out of the loop to ignorant of the technical details. But there are intellectual (and yes, political per the HN FAQ) responses that are valid to voice here. Some of the technical users on here may find it low value, but I'd argue it is extremely important nonetheless, but most importantly, squarely on-topic per the HN FAQ.

My two cents anyway...


Interestingly, this post appears to have been flagged or relegated in some way. It has 141 points in one hour at 10th place, while the Steam Family Sharing post has 150 points in first place and is two hours old.

Certainly some of the discussion on other threads should be filtered. But the moderation on stories themselves appears to be heavy-handed right now. Many significant new stories aren't making it to the home page (see above).

A proposed solution: If the reason for this in fact flagging, and not moderation by admins, then perhaps showing the guidelines and possibly requiring users to give a reason for flagging might reduce the number of wayward flags. The official guidelines for flagging are: "If you think something is spam or offtopic, flag it by going to its page and clicking on the "flag" link"


HN has had a long-thread penalty (since well before the NSA scandal) to prevent flamewars from taking over. That's probably what's happening here.


91 comments doesn't seem like that many, but that's definitely a possibility.


I think there's a rate calculation. It wouldn't make sense to just arbitrarily penalize long threads. It's postings per unit time or somesuch.


This thread is meta, and is thus discouraged by the guidelines.


There is a much simpler explanation: it's a poll, they're weighted differently.


If the subject is not technical, it should be removed/flagged. I'm immensely interested in the specifics of which algorithms the NSA has cracked and how, but I'm absolutely not interested in what Obama or Snowden has to say on the topic. They're completely irrelevant, and the ensuing discussion is decidedly not a technical one.

That's how this should be decided - would/does the ensuing conversation stick to the technical or entrepreneurial aspects of this submission? In particular, does the discussion devolve into an, "Everybody's got a valid opinion" kind of discussion? If so, drop it, and drop it fast. [0]

There's this mistaken notion that, just because a person works with computers for a living, or owns a computer related business, that their opinion on ANY political topic related to computers is a valid or even privileged one, when that's absolutely and demonstrably false. This crowd is a technical crowd, not a politically savvy crowd.

People talking out of their wheelhouses should not be promoted.

Edit:

[0] - http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html

Wanted to cite where I got this idea. This essay informs heavily on what I believe HN should be about.


If the subject is not technical, it should be removed/flagged.

There is a ton of content here that is non-technical and relevant. Steve Jobs death covered the entire front page, there is policy and regulation, general startup stories, stories of developers in need, etc. Those all get an equal opportunity - so why is there a technical requirement now and only within the context of stories that are related to, dare I say it, the NSA?

The thing is - the very foundational components of everything posted here, technical or not, can/could be impacted by news around this topic. Like I've stated before, it's not that I want more, but I don't want the stories to be buried. I want the good stories with good content and relevancy to have a fair shot.

Your comment around people talking out of their wheelhouses is highly subjective and seems to me, personally, to be rather ignorant. If you constantly stated things about iPhone hardware, but were not a hardware engineer for Apple then you shouldn't be able to comment with that line of thinking. People can talk about whatever they want and people who don't have foundational expertise on a topic can, and do, contribute positively to topics outside their wheelhouse. In some cases those people bring new and interesting perspectives.

Unfortunately the political perspective has irrevocably been tied to the technical one for now. Take what you can from it instead of touting on a soap box that you know better what other people should be talking about and what content should be on HN than the next guy.


I don't think all political discussion should be banned from HN (I do but it's an unreasonable stance, I get that). This NSA story is a unique case, however. It's purposefully being dragged along for the explicit reason of keeping political discussion active, and it's doing that job very well, and for a good cause. I'm highly glad this is how Snowden and Greenwald decided to release this information.

HOWEVER, this is not the only website on the Internet. There's nothing special or novel gained from posting these stories to HN. No one here has any extra or particular insight into these stories.

Please read the essay I linked to. In a conversation about iPhone hardware, a person making a comment will be stating facts, with conclusions and verifiable information. That person is either wrong or right, with little grounds for confusion or grey-area. It's not up to how I feel how many hours of battery life the iPhone is going to grant a user.

Political discussions and religious discussions do not have the benefit of this rigor. Everyone's opinions end up being treated equally, even when they're absolutely not equal. It's a terrible place to try to conduct an intellectual discussion, and I'd like to see this place maintain its reputation for a high level of discourse.

This is currently the first comment on the latest Snowden development (nontechnical), here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6369472

Compare this to another submission comment (technical), here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6367943

The nontechnial comment provides me nothing but an individual's viewpoint. I can't take that anywhere, I learned nothing except that one individual thinks something, and I'm in no way a better engineer or entrepreneur for having read it. The technical comment, however? Now I have a better understanding of the submission as I've gotten an alternative (slightly different use-case) implementation. That's what HN is here for.

I want things I can walk away from HN with, as I'm here to learn. Nontechnical Snowden stories, as it turns out, aren't stories which provoke any kind of interesting comments on HN, and are therefore interfering with a person's ability to use HN to learn and grow effectively. Therefore, they should go.


I'm curious why then these stories should all be classified as political? If Microsoft was doing this - by itself, it would be a different story, right? Then, and only in contexts like that of which are deemed and vetted as technically founded, can this discussion continue? I get it - the politics of the conversation "get in the way" per se. However to address your point - there is no way to vet a lot of this information as it's not verifiable, that's the problem. If the iPhone had an embedded back door and now documents came to light showing how a new kind of processor has been hidden in the silicone, yet Apple wouldn't provide documentation around it - that conversation can't happen because there's no verifiable yes or no answer? There's a million ways you can spin a closed minded approach. It seems to me as if you're trying to build a box around very static content, of which HN is not.

I agree that HN is useful when you can take something away from it, learn from it. However, in all fairness, the essay you linked to says nothing about a strict guideline about "technical" discussions. It's also not addressing this grey area where technical problems, that are not verifiable, and are tied to government all intersect. To me that makes this topic not a closed case of binary true or false regarding it's place on HN.

That's why I like HN though, there are a lot of smart people to discuss these sort of issues - technical or technically related.


If you can't see the difference between a political/religious discussion and a technical discussion, then we will never come to any kind of agreement on this topic, because my entire basis for thinking submissions should be removed is because they're too political and not technical enough.

If you're just arguing a level of degree, then that's a non-starter; the HN admins are the arbiters of degree, and will decide which discussions to keep around and which not to. That's how it's always been. In fact, this whole discussion is at least partially moot, given the fact that this very poll was created by a user. There is no indication that the people in charge of HN care about this issue, at all.

HN is useful because the commenters are highly knowledgable in their technical field, and the comments these people leave and the discussions these people foster are unlike anywhere else on the Internet. These technical people are not useful for political commentary. Politics is hard, and HN turns into an echo chamber very quickly. It's useless, and should therefore be stopped.


I would just say that it's unfortunate you're unable to concede that technical and political items can and will intersect.

Good luck in your quest for a binary reality and acceptance of the current state of affairs based solely in the fact that an ideal should be preserved for reasons of technical merit alone. Unfortunately for you political commentary will continue, especially along the lines of this topic, and if it is pushed into submission I would gather the majority would call it out for what it is.


You're generalizing, when I haven't been. I'm speaking very specifically about individual stories related to the Snowden leaks.

This isn't about my life outlook or my political views or if my daddy loved me when I was a kid, it's about the flood of nontechnical stories being submitted, and the worthlessness of the subsequent comments sections.

What you don't seem to understand is that nothing on HN is going to change as a result of this poll. HN admins are holden to no one, they act independently of HN users.


I do not think the opinion of a person who works with computers for a living has a more privileged opinion than anyone else.

I do, however, enjoy coming here very day and reading the opinions of that subset of the population. That's why I continue to upvote NSA-related threads and voted "I wanted more."


Why stop there ? I definitely want to know HN's opinion on knitting, kite surfing, food preparation, Game of Thrones, car maintenance as well.

They are equally relevant to worldwide "hackers" as US-only politics.


Knock yourself out, submit articles about those things.

One of the most interesting articles I've read from HN was about citrus fruit and polar exploration. Real enlightening stuff. If you've got good kite-surfing articles, submit them.

(https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1174912)


I agree. When I say "technical" I don't mean "computer science" specifically, although I was leaning that way when I originally wrote the comment. I hadn't thought of stories like the one you linked to, but those have a place here, most certainly.


So you might say you allocate additional "privilege" to this subset of the population's opinions?

I don't think it's wise to do that, but I understand why one might think it a good idea.


> So you might say you allocate additional "privilege" to this subset of the population's opinions?

Not in the slightest.

I checked the definition of "privilege" - a special right, immunity - and I have no idea why you think I communicated that at all.

All I said was that I enjoy reading the opinions of the Hacker News population on topics that go beyond startups/technology.


I think when you say "enjoy" you really mean "value". Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how it reads, to me. I think valuing these opinions is a bad idea, because they're not special.


I think that is a stretch. One can certainly enjoy reading opinions from people they place no special value on. I enjoy reading the opinions of idiots just for comedic value. ;)


>If the subject is not technical, it should be removed/flagged.

Incorrect. See the HN FAQ. Political discussions are allowed (saying only that most are discouraged implies that certain ones are. If there ever was one, this is it).


It's not incorrect that I feel that way about this specific story, which is the question being asked.


Of course you can feel any way you wish, but please realize that per the first line of the HN FAQ, this is on topic, and your assertion that valid topics you don't wish to see should be flagged is an abuse of the feature and rules of the site.

I hope you can see the distinction.


> but please realize that per the first line of the HN FAQ, this is on topic

Hang on - there's a big difference between saying "not all political stories are off topic" and saying "this political topic is on-topic".

Many of the NSA submissions are clearly off topic and have no purpose for HN.


>Hang on - there's a big difference between saying "not all political stories are off topic" and saying "this political topic is on-topic".

I'm saying both.


I don't think the HN FAQ was written with this situation in mind, and thus don't consider it a useful reference when determining a course of action for this specific problem.

Perhaps one submission should contain the sum of political discourse on the topic, and all other submissions should contain the technical discourses.


ignore those unconcerned people with short attention spans

This is what I would like to see less of... the pointless name calling. Saying this is no better than someone else saying "ignore those paranoid people with tinfoil hats." Not everyone is at DEFCON 1 over this. Some people are just as informed/intelligent as the others yet make the decision that they are not concerned (or just less concerned). It doesn't mean they are simpletons with short attention spans.


Good point. I think "ignore those unconcerned people and those with short attention spans" would have been a better way to phrase it.


I also hope that the discussion continues here.

I see this community as being uniquely qualified and positioned to discuss the technical aspects of these issues.

When knowledgeable people have a discussion in public about an important topic, there is opportunity to educate or be a resource to, people who have the power to effect change. Creating that opportunity is a good thing.

The people who have the power or opportunity to effect change in the U.S. government are probably not here among us today, but they're a Google search away from finding the thoughts and opinions of a large collection of thoughtful and well educated technologists.

I'm happier knowing that.


I agree. The general public does not know much as much as they should about this topic, and the tech scene needs to be saturated before the information can spill out vastly enough into the general public. And there is a fundamental issue that's important to continue discussing, and that is all the logical answers to potential questions that the general public may have that even we don't have precise, logical, and unarguable answers to...such as "I don't have anything to hide, so why do I care if they're spying on me?"


The general public knows as much as they want to know about the topic.

And wake up and smell the coffee here. Nobody cares what you, me or the rest of the "tech scene" thinks about politics. It's the pathetic arrogance of people in the "tech scene" who walk around acting like they are the only enlightened ones and they are somehow uniquely qualified to educate people on the subject.


See, that makes some sense to me. On the other hand, rayiner's constant calls to people in tech to stop being apathetic or even hostile to politics and actually flex the muscles our economical standing affords us makes more sense to me. Tech is huge, but we have less influence than special interests groups that represent far smaller industries (Apple alone nearly has enough cash to swallow the US music industry). That sure as hell isn't because we've been trying to hard.


I am sorry but nobody cares what a bunch of computer nerds thinks about politics.

And remind me again why they should ? What because there is money in technology ?

Great. Next time I am looking for help fixing my car I will ask a florist.


> "I am sorry but nobody cares what a bunch of computer nerds thinks about politics."

Currently? You're right, they don't. That is the problem. A problem that is not solved by saying "shut-up about politics and go back to your programming caves you nerds."

Why is it important that they care? Well, here is rayiner's comment that I am thinking of:

""Wahh wahh we're too busy running a business to make our voice heard in Congress, wahh wahh."

The cost of a successful lobbying presence is measured in the tens of millions of dollars a year, which is chump change for an industry as big and influential as the tech industry. Heck, construction companies have a much more organized and effective lobby, and they basically make no money at all (see the article on the front page about their 1% margins). Really, it's not that much money. Raise it on Kickstarter or whatever.

There is a bizarre mental block/persecution complex/"I'm going to take my balls and go home" phenomenon at play in the tech industry that's makes no sense to me. Silicon Valley isn't a special snowflake and Congress isn't going to divine its needs and tend to them. You've got one side telling Congress that absolutely everything needs to be patentable to keep the Chinese from stealing all our technology, and nothing but deafening silence in response. What exactly do you expect to happen in that circumstance?"

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5935469


> nobody cares what a bunch of computer nerds thinks about politics.

Until nerds produce something that changes the political game.

PGP, Bit Torrent and Bitcoin are three examples.


Tools are tools, it's how they're used that is political, not their mere existence or creation.


PGP and Bitcoin were specifically created as responses to political environments. They're political tools by nature.


And the gun was created as a response to the political reality that it's hard to fire a bow.

There is nothing inherent in being a maker that gives said maker any special understanding or say over political aspects of the tools that maker creates.

And no one knows why Bitcoin was created. No one's sure who created it, and that person certainly hasn't provided any concrete motive. I don't know enough about PGP to say the same, but don't try to shoehorn a tool into your argument just because you don't think I'll notice.


I don't know, guns do seem pretty political in the US. The "gun lobby" is pretty influential; far more influential than tech.

If guns can have lobbies, surely PGP can as well.


It's an example, don't miss the forest for the trees.


I think it's a good example.


It's a good example of how you can make the usage of a tool a political issue, but the tool itself is agnostic to its use.

A tool does not care why it was created. A hammer won't refuse to bash in a skull because "that's not what it was built for".


The creator of Bitcoin was quite clear of his political motivations [1]:

[1] http://www.mail-archive.com/cryptography@metzdowd.com/msg099...

As for PGP, Phil Zimmerman was even clearer in his intentions [2]:

[2] http://www.pgpi.org/doc/whypgp/en/

Technology is a response to politics as well as a catalyst for political change. To attempt to "de-politify" technology as a matter of course is like castrating a prize bull.


Death of the author. What a tool is made for is irrelevant to its use.


Without a SOPA style blackout campaign by the major players, the message will never reach the masses, which is unfortunate. But this time the major players are not only in bed with the government, they've been caught with their pants down.


I just wish it wasn't all over HN. There isn't enough real new information coming out to justify the quantity of linking and discussion that is going on here, so the community (to me at least) appears to be spinning its wheels and rehashing everything over and over. As someone who is not obsessed with the issue, that gets tiring.

It also distracts from good technical discussion. For example, when the new iPhone was announced, instead of an interesting technical discussion of the merits and problems with biometric authentication we get "OMG the spooks are going to steal your fingerprint"


As someone who has fled (multiple!) other online communities due to them emphasizing things which truly do not matter (eg, a minor update to a product that was never all that revolutionary to begin with), I can only commend attitudes like this. Of course, perspective being what it is (ie, the horizon of most people being effectively zero), I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the status quo.


So much of what the NSA does is enabled by high technology, and their continued disregard of the US Constitution will continue via digital channels. We as technical experts of the younger generation (mostly) have a civic obligation to be informed, and as long as the conversations stay in-depth and not one-liner potshots, it's useful to have it everywhere.


Again, third-party doctrine. The US Constitution as read by the Supreme Court does not protect communications carried by third parties. NSA surveillance is legal and Constitutional.

You are unlikely to find a technological solution which prevents a sovereign government from doing something it is entitled to do. If you find one, its use will be criminalized.

We can talk all day ever day about how disappointed we are in our technology companies for obeying the law, but realistically we can't stop them. We can push for more awareness and respect for privacy issues and try to push Congress to give electronic communications the protection we think they deserve. But that's not what we're doing here.

I like it when we get new information, but I can't stand that we spend all day talking about how cloud computing is idiotic, sharing I-told-you-so blog posts, and rehashing our displeasure with Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft ad nasuem for their cooperation with binding court orders. Badmouthing manufacturers every time they make a new product that dares to touch the network in any way, shape, or form.

This site used to be about making; now it's about impotent rage against government. I miss the days when the first comment on everything someone created wasn't "You shouldn't have made this because it makes it easier for the NSA."


I whole-heartedly agree, and think this also hints at another issue: as technical experts, we often just don't care about the politics side of things (I think most of us here would align best with a technocracy). We just want to assume that the politics side of the equation will be taken care of by democracy, and we can just invent and code and not have to worry about red tape.

And now, we've found out about the extreme invasions of privacy. The relentless, secretive gathering of information, of which we aren't even allowed to know what information is being gathered. Something clearly went wrong somewhere, which poses a drastic and invasive problem to every single Hacker News reader, regardless of country.

In my honest opinion, I think the backlash against the NSA has been losing steam. So let's throw some more coals into the boiler ladies and gentlemen, because this is something that we not only have a fundamental obligation to discuss, but something we have to fix. Let's keep the steam up.


In particular, a discussion of the technical aspects of each leak is something that can uniquely happen on Hacker News.


Does that happen though? Is there deep analysis of the technical aspect of the leaks?


I'd be welcoming stories doing technical analysis of what has been going on, but there hasn't been. I'm tired of just seeing repeated stories over and over about every detail of what they've just learned the NSA is up to. That isn't hacker news, it's mainly just complaining.


The trouble is that the anti-NSA leaders are mostly politicians, and HN readers are meant to be just another single-issue voting bloc. I'm all for political analysis, even on HN, but real analysis involves looking at the actions and motivations of all players. What we are getting is pseudo-analysis that ignores the motivations and conniving of, say, the publishers.

For example, questions like "Was this Snowden release timed to get Putin's Syria victory out of the headlines?" or "What is the social context for Power Point slide 15? Were they actually trying to subvert Petrobras or is it just a convention where you have to put on your war face to express your personal commitment to the program?".

I have been repeatedly censored for trying to discuss the context, so now I have given up and flag most of the NSA stories. As usual democracy has served its purpose and made the scariest storyteller the winner. All we lack now is how defeating the NSA is for the children—when those stories show up you'll know the evil anti-liberty NSA bogeyman is about to fall of the radar.


The stories are fine, because I don't have to click on them. And it's one of the most pressing technological-communications issues, so it belongs here.

BUT, it's getting really tiring people making NSA-related comments in other stories, and expanding into huge threads, like the iPhone article yesterday. Please, let's just keep the NSA discussions within the articles themselves, and stick to facts instead of conspiracy theorizing. Otherwise it just seems like trolling.


The stories are fine, because I don't have to click on them.

Well yes & no. When I come here, there are essentially 30 stories that I see. When every other one is something about NSA (and more often than not, it's a wild extrapolation rooted in probably-facts but is a stretch to get to "the NSA is watching everything you do"), I go to other places for news. I've read a few of the articles, but I'm sick of them now. One or two a day isn't bad, but when it's 10-15 of the front page, I get annoyed. Just my opinion.


Stick to facts? How to? When the relevant facts are classified State Secrets and the whisleblowers are jailed or pursued to the ends of the Earth... Are we not supposed to even talk about it? Should be just hang our heads lower and carry on?


Since I am apparently in the minority on this one here's my two cents.

First, there's a finite amount of actual news here. When there's a new revelation, I want to see it. "More NSA news" sounds to me like exactly what I don't want: every programmer's personal outrage, every major news outlet's take on the latest revelation, and so forth. I don't want to see every story's comments degenerate into NSA discussion. Having a story about the NSA on the front page in perpetuity puts it in the back of everyone's mind.

The level of discourse has, mostly, been high and valuable, but I worry that we're inviting in people who only want to talk about politics, and that's going to drive me and every other technically-minded person with limited energy away.


and that's going to drive me and every other technically-minded person with limited energy away.

Too late I think, unfortunately. I'm pretty much here out of habit now (and was one of the earliest users so kinda feel attached) but I know so many friends and peers on Twitter who've basically jumped ship (or claim to have) because it's so often "US Politics News" around here nowadays.


Consider me one of those people. I used to be on here all the time, but now I've only been checking here maybe every few days. I'm tired of seeing "outrage tourists" (thanks tptacek) and frothing adolescent anger.


Until there's somewhere else to be I probably won't leave. I am trying to wait it out.


I wouldn't mind if NSA-related articles are restricted to those published by theguardian.com or sometimes nytimes.com & washingtonpost.com. Essentially, the primary source for newly leaked information.

What I hate seeing are articles from blogspam institutions like forbes and businessinsider, or others, that digest the primary source with a snazzier headline.

As far as frequency of NSA stories, this is obviously the strategy of the sources: leak bits and pieces over a long period of time. And, I don't mind that as long as there is just one copy of the information being voted up.


To me, your poll choices don't seem totally binary. I'd take the hidden third option: "I wish there were fewer NSA-related stories, but I'll accept that they should be allowed to rank naturally."

Generally speaking, NSA-related topics tend to do well here. This is a free market, more or less (presuming, as seems reasonable, that any gaming or rigging of votes is an inconsequential factor in this case). If the market seems to want NSA-related topics, then that's what it upvotes, and that's what it gets.

I'm fine with that dynamic, even if I'm a little tired of the topic myself. I'm not apathetic to the topic; quite the contrary. But I feel as though it's been crowding out other topics on HN, and I wish that weren't the case. But I wouldn't go so far as to actively limit the topic through some sort of filtering mechanism.

In general, I find this community's concern with the topic healthy and commendable. It's a serious fucking issue, and it's not being made a serious enough issue by the court of public opinion. But I get tired of the endless rehash and remixing of the same coverage. I'd gladly cast a million upvotes, if I had them, to any HN submission that proposes to do something about the NSA surveillance.


I'll be honest and say that I'm a bit mentally exhausted from the NSA stories, but I think it's really healthy that they stay in the news so that people don't forget about the issues, and that we remain motivated to get those issues resolved. Flagging is the wrong solution, in my opinion.


> I'll be honest and say that I'm a bit mentally exhausted from the NSA stories

This is my problem. It's fine to cover the NSA, but I'm tired of seeing 5 stories a day. Worse it's usually the same story discussed from 4 different outlets, so it's not even new information.

I'm also exhausted with NSA comments. I know they're out there, but I feel like the almost reactionary sounding 'but the NSA can see the cloud' or 'Apple may be working with the NSA' comments are drowning out real discussion on security issues.

    'I've come up with a new way to manage bandwith'
    You're probably helping the NSA
    'New cryptography scheme is more secure than SSL'
    Except it's probably backdoored by the NSA
    'How to use Puppet to setup 1000 servers'
    The NSA can watch for your master passwords!
At this point most of it doesn't feel like discussion, but simple noise. That's generally the sign that things have been over-discussed and need a little cool down time.

It's an important topic, but it shouldn't be only one. I would have liked to be able to read some nice analysis of Apple's new fingerprint sensor without 2/3rs of the discussion being about if they are stealing your fingerprints for the government. Maybe just 1/4.


Ya. "Bringing up the NSA" is the new "bringing up Nazis".

Damn it... now I've done it. My bad.


My problem is that NSA stories (of what I've seen) is that any NSA story will get voted up ad nauseam, and so people just try to post as many as possible, regardless of quality. Again, this is just from what I've personally seen, it may be different on a case-per-case basis, and I've definitely noticed the amount of this has decreased since the initial explosion of NSA topics after the initial Snowden leak.

Edit:

I also want to just express that this poll is kind of biased, because it seems to be implying that every NSA article that doesn't make it to the front page must have been flagged. While I don't like the sheer quantity of NSA articles, this doesn't mean I want to flag all of them.

I'd prefer a system in which articles were ranked naturally without flags, but less low-quality NSA articles were posted in general.


Keep 'em coming. The more educated the tech community is, the greater chance we have of finding viable technical defenses to mass surveillance.


This is highly subjective per user - keep that in mind. We could do polls like this that are Apple, Android, Node, Ruby, etc.

I think, if HN is actually filtering content based on NSA tagging - then that is censorship regardless in my book. I don't care about the iPhone news, but I acknowledge the fact that on a release it's going to bubble up. If there's real and relevant NSA content - then let it, if you don't like it I say ignore it. While I don't agree that I want "more or less" NSA related content the reality is I want to know when good and interesting content is out that I may have otherwise missed.

For those who have the ideal and perspective that the NSA related stories are getting "annoying" keep in mind that's your opinion and perspective. Mine would be that that particular view of this topic suits those who don't care how much control the government has over the industry that we all seem to live and play in. I, personally, care and would like to see these articles, if worthy, given the same level of treatment as a product release.


I think it should rank naturally - even if some people would rather it didn't - if it's ranking, then people must want to see it.

IMO, if people are flagging articles to get rid of them, just because they don't like them - rather than just downvoting, then this seems like an abuse of the flagging system and there should be some sort of repercussion (flags/day? lower?)


People are supposed to flag submissions that do not belong here. It's obvious that many of the NSA articles didn't belong here - there was nothing intellectually stimulating about them and they contained no new information. The discussions didn't have any useful advice about protecting your information, or about what to do as a startup if a government agency requested your data, or etc.

There are repercussions for too much flagging - you (so I've been told) lose the ability to flag anything.


You can't downvote submissions (or at least, I can't. If you can it must require a certain karma threshold). So perhaps some see flagging as the only option for expressing disapproval of a given story.


To downvote comments, you need to have a certain amount of Karma though I don't remember the exact number.


There is no "downvote" for submissions. Your options are: upvote, ignore & flag


I don't care so much about the articles.

I do get bored with the number of comments about NSA that are shoe-horned into comments on submissions that have zero connection to NSA / GCHQ spying. And it's frustrating to see those comments with upvotes or no downvotes.


I would just be happy if NSA coverage wasn't brought up in the comment section of unrelated articles. Most of the conversation about the new iPhone 5 revolved around the NSA and I found that very disappointing.


Don't you think that they are related? iPhone knows who you are and where you are at all times. Apple cooperates with NSA. NSA is found to abuse the data it collects from computer companies, probably in ways that infringe on the constitutional rights on Americans. Follow the logic, and pretty soon you have the NSA tracking you and recording audio, video, with fingerprints, and it all goes in a large government database to be mined by who-knows-who and who-knows-when, for who-knows-what reason.

Improbable you say? Welcome to the magic of software, big data, and billions of dollars worth of computers.

Essentially, whenever you snap a photo with that new shiny iPhone, you have no way to know that a US, Canadian, British, Australian, or Israeli agent isn't going to look at that photo in the future. And if they, why not also other-state agents, such as the Russians, the Chinese, or, God forbid, the French!

The NSA is tasked with protecting us, no? Not endangering us. And we fund it with our tax dollars.

Granted, what is said about the iPhone is also quite applicable to other technologies such as Android and the other remnants.


This is pure speculation, neither original nor insightful, and like the parent I'm tired of it.

Now, in light of the recent revelations and since we don't know what we don't know, these comments probably can't be labelled as complete garbage like your regular conspiracy theories. But instead of idly speculating about the same things in every single comment thread it'd be far more useful, both for this cause and for the people who want a saner Hacker News, to do some actual technical analysis. Which in this case isn't that hard.

If you're really concerned about your smartphone spying on you, just hook it up to a packet sniffer and analyze the data it transfers over the internet. Since image and audio files will have to be of considerable size in order to be useful they should be fairly easy to spot, especially in the upload direction.

I'm sure nobody here would mind a submission or comment with any kind of technical analysis. Actually I don't even mind speculation, but the constant repeating of the same points, without any technical basis, in almost every single comment thread is what gets annoying for me.


How do you hook up the phone to a packet sniffer if they want to upload the "extra data" via 3g/4g/4gLTE and not make that appear on your bill, and specifically not go through wifi. Also, 3g/4g is encrypted.


So disable all background services and don't access anything that uses data on your phone and see what the carrier bills you? Unless you believe that Apple somehow has secret arrangements with every mobile operator... in which case you could simply get a MiFi and tether all your smartphone traffic through that, problem solved.

In the end, if you really believe something malicious is happening in this regard, you can either prove (if said data is actually transferred over WiFi) or prevent (if it's only transferred over mobile data) it, rendering mere speculation about this issue useless.


The carriers are also in cahoots with the NSA.


Did you read my response? Connect your smartphone to a MiFi (which establishes a mobile data connection and shares it through a WiFi hotspot) if you're concerned about that.


Ah, sorry.


No. The biggest attack surface for the iPhone is Apple/telco insiders selling data to private eyes, who sell the information to stalky psycho exes.

You are not going to be killed by Mossad or even the FSB. Your iPhone killer will be a garden variety serial killer or spurned lover.


Granted, but since that's google and facebook' business model, it's hardly secret.


That's whats so disgusting about the situation; NSA has its fingers in so many places that questioning everything is not wrong. But it's so sad and disgusting when that is done. I hope we can return to normalcy soon enough where everything doesn't need to be analyzed for a NSA angle.


What I would like to see would be a comprehensive list of confirmed NSA practices that have been revealed since the start of the Snowden leaks. One of the problems that I have (and I feel that the majority of people have) is "crisis fatigue"- that is, an inability to appropriately judge the severity of an ongoing problem in the context of its continued development (and also within the context of the noise of other news that it has to compete with).

So, the best thing that could be provided, IMHO, would be a list describing CONFIRMED NSA practices that have been revealed. This would aid by filtering out the noise of continued speculation (will the NSA have info from iphone fingerprint scanners, etc. etc.) such that readers may be sure that what they are reading is relevant and factual, and may make better informed decisions based on it.


I really enjoy the more technical NSA commentary and discussion found here and not on many other sites.


"It will eventually blow over." -NSA


The two options aren't really fair--I want less NSA news, but I still want them ranked naturally.

I think it would be best for everyone to concentrate any given topic (not just NSA stuff) to at most a couple of threads at a time. This way discussions are a bit less disjoint and there's more room for other topics. In fact, this is exactly what's happening right now, but we have certainly been oversaturated with NSA topics in the past.

Also, I think artificially changing the algorithm to deal with any particular topic is probably not a good idea. I believe it's better to let the community implicitly choose what to talk about. Trying to work around a specific topic is going to obscure useful signals from HN readers and will only help until the next hot topic arrives.


Keep in mind that a lot of the NSA coverage is highly correlated to topics that would naturally rank high here, and many of our colleagues are involved in one way or another. I'm as happy to read about applied cryptography, law & policy, cyberwar, data mining, and other IC goings-on, as much as I am about how they pertain to any other industry.


The NSA stories have to do with some of the most important changes in the world since the last world war.


3. The content to date has been good and informative. I'm satisfied with the current amount.


NSA broke the Internet. Our jobs are heavily Internet related. So there's no way this will go away until we find a way to make the web safe again.


I am thinking that this whole narrative, this whole development needs thorough and detailed documenting. Humans in general have a hard time recalling all the facts and future humans, aka, kids are not going to be told about these events or that the compromised technologies exist or even if they are told about it it will be a story that is molded and dressed as to not make the good ol' USA look too bad.

I don't think people, even here maybe, have yet fully internalized what these developments mean to all of humanity. We are entering a post-national age and the enemy is that which poses a risk to the system that is barricading itself behind financial, legal, and political walls.


[deleted]


Considering the number of votes to see the content I find it odd that people wouldn't be willing to show the distaste within the poll and not flag down.

Pretty lame and trivial to pick off a hot topic - there's also no public way to showcase that this is in fact real people or artificial flags that slowly sink it. Unfortunate drawback in transparency by design.


It happens more often than you might think. A lot of relevant content gets flagged off HN very quickly.


I'd rather see some kind of clustering -- I don't like seeing a NYT, Guardian, etc. article all on exactly the same document with separate comments, as none of the journalists are actually adding any value to the raw documents. It'd be nice to see one meta-story about each new revelation, with subsidiary URLs for each article about it. Ultimately I'd be happy with 3-5 stories on the front page at any given time being about NSA/spying/privacy, until it is resolved (probably not this decade).


++++Keep 'em coming!!!++++

The validation of all those tinfoil-hats out there is big news and it should be continually covered as long as there are leaks & snowden isn't dead & the NSA hasn't changed their ways... even though I don't see how I'd believe them anyway, so...


Some public visibility of the number of flags, with tunable viewing parameters, might be interesting.

Flagging has its place, and HN isn't Reddit; reactionary stories aren't the same as reasoned discussion. Algorithmically preventing activist flags while effectively suppressing true garbage from reaching the front page is hard.

I'd love to be able to tune the decay time constant for articles on HN. All scales, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years would offer new insights.


It seems particularly valuable for guidelines on when it's appropriate to flag a post to appear before you flag a post, and for a reason to be given for each flag.

Abuse of the flagging feature seems to be a big part of the problem here.


Abusing the flag seems to result in losing your ability to flag. I think that problem is addressed silently.


I have tried to be careful to only flag the NSA stories that are overtly and unhelpfully political, or rehash content on other stories, precisely for this reason.


Why do you assume that flagging is being abused?

That's clearly one viewpoint - rightly upvoted submissions are being wrongly flagged.

But some people would say that wrongly upvoted submissions are being rightly flagged.

I'd be really interested to see a breakdown by age of account for different viewpoints.


We need more NSA stories.

If anyone is going to "fix" this in the next 1-5-10 years, it will be the kinds of tech people that read sites like HN.


Third option:

I want HN'ers to submit less NSA stories that are just conjecture/opinion and more about concrete information as it is released.

Information is what we need right now - and is what we so desperately lack.


Another third option: change HN to allow tagging, or sub-boards, or someplace for all the politics to go.


What the deuce is it to me? You say that we go around the sun. If we went around the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work. -- Sherlock Holmes, "A Study in Scarlet"

That's just how I feel about NSA. Don't wanna waste time even thinking about something I can't change.

So, less stories, I ignore them all, anyway.


I think the NSA stories are mostly interesting. I'd only flag the obviously duplicated ones (there's not much need for five different newspapers' stories on the same news item, based on the same sources). However, I can understand why people might flag stories like the ones you cited about Israel: important as they are, these are mostly political issues, and have no obvious technical angle. People who are interested in that kind of news probably read about it in other news sources. HN readers are probably more likely to want to see stories about how the NSA broke TLS, how internet companies cooperate with (or resist) the NSA and what the ramifications of NSA spying might be on the ability of U.S. tech companies to compete.

When in doubt, read the HN guidelines:

http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I feel like the types of people more likely to do something about this are those who read hacker news. If we decide to stop talking about it, who is left?


This is not my primary news source; I've been reading about the NSA elsewhere - yes, directly on the websites of the Guardian, NYT, etc. I've read very few of the blog entries, though I've sampled a few. Having said all that, I believe that the NSA stories should be allowed to rank naturally. And I do enjoy the more technical comments found here.

In response to some of the comments. . .the tech community is not the only community (within the general public) with a high level of interest in the stories. Even if you leave out "conspiracy theorists", there are privacy advocates, advocates of limited government in general, advocates of limited government at the federal level, . . .


I think the conversation has turned into an echochamber where everyone rehashes the same old arguments and complaints as before. I don't get anything new out of the newer NSA stories. No one seems to be really ready for a real debate about privacy.


It's interesting to me that every time another company is discussed, we usually get posts by a few people who work there, and often even have relevant information about the subject at hand. I don't know that I've ever seen a post here start with "I work at the NSA..." even though we know that the NSA must have a substantial staff of experienced technologists.

So, do they just not wish to identify themselves, or is it an agency-wide prohibition against revealing employment? (I realize they couldn't reveal any details about the issues that concern us here, but they could comment in general)


I voted on both because I want to see less NSA stories which don't bring anything new (vast majority), but I would like increased visibility of those which contain new information.


Too many from linkbait websites peddling clickthroughs and eyeballs on a controversial subject.

Not enough stories with real journalism, real technology discussion, and real political philosophy.


More and less filtering. NSA is directly related to the future of tech and not just US startups.


There are many stories about what we know but not enough about what we don't. Put me in the camp of more disclosure, even repetitive, is better than none.


This is not a good poll. The answers are too weighted. I want less NSA news, but I don't want any topic singled out by the ranking algorithm. I just wish people would talk about the NSA elsewhere, by choice. My opinion is not represented in either option because you're forcing me to choose between "Less NSA news and a change to filtering algo." or "More NSA news". I want neither.


I think this issue is of a huge importance, not only to mankind but specifically to those of us working in the tech industry.

The technology they are using to create a massive dragnet for our data has only become possible relatively recently. As a culture we've haven't widely thought about and discussed the potential for abuse of this technology at this scale and how to prevent it.

We've talked about it a lot at the small level but nothing like what the NSA has been doing. And the fact is those of us in technology are the ones that are actually implementing these systems so as a community it's important to figure out where we stand on it and then as individuals to do what we can in our daily jobs to prevent and expose these abuses.

What happens as a result of the Snowden leaks could very well define our attitude towards privacy and security for decades to come. We should realize how important this is and talk about it for the next several years forming a vision for what sort of privacy and security we want for the future and how we will use technology and politics to get there.


I would be very happy if we could get over the things exposed by Snowden et al. and we get back to our normal lives. Sadly that doesn't happen by sticking our heads to the sand, so I guess the NSA stories must be let to continue plague our frontpages even if the stories are repetitive and chip away my faith in modern society. There just aren't good solutions.


I think there is just the right amount.

It seems like NSA stories kind of take over when a lot of interesting things are happening, and then they kind of taper off when nothing new is happening. There is a crisis happening now with all the spying, and this crisis is very relevant to this community. I would therefore expect to see lots of articles here when something new is revealed.


Where is the "I am fine with the status quo of NSA stories on HN"? I'm sure there are others like me that do not sit on one side of this imaginary fence.

I personally have enjoyed the continual information on NSA through HN, and there are still plenty of other topics being discussed on the front page when the NSA stories do not interest me.


This is a pointless poll - it's like asking if there are too many Ruby stories on HN.

It's not the keyword that matters - it's the content and importance of the story itself. Let the story live or die on its own merits, not on the matching keyword.


The problem is, like almost any other issue of our times, we are rapidly getting desensitized to it. Our society has been jaded to suffering and injustice for decades, even as our awareness have gone up. It's like in Hotel Rwanda where Joaquin Phoenix reporter goes, "I think if people see this footage, they'll say 'Oh, my God, that's horrible.' And then they'll go on eating their dinners."

So when do we stop being outraged yet complacent? We should try to promote stories that focus on some sort of activism, even meager ones, to try to address the problem. That doesn't just apply to NSA surveillance, but any challenge.


We see HN differently. To me, this place is a lounge. I come here to recuperate, waste a few minutes with like-minded people. I don't see HN as a political vehicle, a place to take my Cause, or a group of people who could effect positive change or whatever. It's just where hackers hang out, in whatever sense of the word you favor. But "Complacency" isn't a crime you can be found guilty of in your lounge.


I'm deeply interested in the NSA stories, although I'm becoming fatigued by the continuous stream.

Mostly I want to see meaty technical discussion of these stories, not political opinions. That fact that someone likes/dislikes NSA surveillance is uninteresting.

What fascinates me, for instance:

Which chips are backdoored? How is it done technically so that normal function isn't compromised? What protections are in place to stop a "fourth party" from exploiting the back door?

Isn't it amazing that none of these back doors came to light via the "geek community"? Maybe it's because the chips involved are relatively rare, only used in specialized crypto hardware.


The NSA subject, when there's actual news, is on-topic and relevant. But most of what makes it to the front page of HN is gossip and speculation and tinfoil-hat conspiracy.

And the results to this poll aren't going to indicate anything useful, because there's an asymmetry of interest -- it's like setting up a poll to ask if there should be more Libertarian stories. The few people who really, really care will find a way to make their obsession "win" the popularity contest. Everyone else yawns and walks away, knowing that Eternal September is already a few months in the rear-view mirror.


I want less, but I don't want none. NSA stories should be flagged and/or filtered if they're not technical in nature.

But this has never been a democracy, I hope no one thinks that's what HN is.


NSA and related abuse of civil liberties stories are the most important news of our century. And tech is at the heart of the issue. We need thorough coverage, incisive analysis, and intelligent discussion.


The revelations about abusive, prima facie unconstitutional behavior by the United States government is massively important. The more information that the we as the public have on the irreparable harm that has been done to us, the more effective we can be pressuring Congress to change misguided policies.

And more directly, the business and technical work we can all do to mitigate the risks. This is too important to let slide.

To put another way, deprivation of rights under the color of authority is a really, really big deal. We should not let it slip away into obscurity!


Can't there be a third option: Neutral. I want the news stories to get up/down voted naturally without ranking manipulation.

(Which doesn't mean I'd want more or less NSA stories per se).


Flagging on Hacker News is too powerful - I've long thought that. Anything discussing the forbidden G word is flagged from the front page in seconds - it looks like NSA articles are receiving the same treatment.

That said, I don't want all NSA, all the time. When Snowden was on his way to Russia the front page was literally over 60% stories repeating the same information. If we can settle on one article for each major news story and flag the rest, I'll be happy.


Essential news that affects us all in our jobs and in our lives. They should be as visible or more so than just about any other topic for the time being.


This is sort of a push poll, in that it implies a point of view--that "ranking naturally" means "less filtering/flagging."

But flagging is a standard and valid component of the way HN ranks all stories. So in what way would its use on NSA stories be "unnatural?"

If the point is to measure sentiment, the poll would have worked better worded simply "I want more" vs. "I want less."


Privacy is overrated.

People like to feel persecuted, and they enjoy drama. I can't blame them, but I won't be part of it. All these stories simply confirm things we already knew. Acting like any of this is surprising only makes you look foolish.

Not only is privacy an extremely unsustainable model, but it's rapidly becoming obsolete. The future is public and transparent, and you probably should adapt to it.

You have been warned.


There was a story over the last few days about widespread successful man-in-the-middle attacks on SSL. this absolutely should be top of HN. It's on topic and very serious.

But it wasn't even on the front page. Yes, it was an NSA story - maybe that's why. Imagine if it was about Mafia black-hat hackers, to pick some other random group.

For links to the story, google "flying pig ssl"


If it's on a technical topic, then I say post it. But, we've seen a lot of repetition and hand-wringing on the subject. If it doesn't add anything new to the conversation, whether that conversation is about the NSA or any other topic, then I say to ditch it. With the NSA stories, the signal is unusually important, but the noise is also unusually high.


So much that I considered learning how to write Chrome extensions just to hide anything that contained the words NSA or Snowden


Many people here work for (or even own) companies that are enabling this sort of data collection to happen whether or not they take responsibility for it. We as a community are burdened with this issue and it is our responsibility to be knowledgeable about what is going on in an attempt to understand/deal with it.


It would be interesting to know the poll results if we weighted the votes by karma or time-since-created. (Come to think of it, it would be interesting to know what the front page would look like if we weighted the votes by karma or time-since-created.)


lots of stories are flagged off after hitting the front page. That's not unusual.

I'd personally prefer less on the NSA, especially if its news I can readily find in a national newspaper. But I definitely could do with less meta discussion about it.


It's a long running story and it's natural to develop a sense of fatigue about it. On the other hand the ramifications of the story could be immense to all of us who make a living directly or indirectly from the internet.


This subject is what a "hacker news" site should exist for.

Those complaining about the Apple thread takeover failed to mention the new finger-print reader. It's an unfortunate? coincidence that can't be ignored.


The big problem for me is that 'flag' is the new downvote (only with more power).

it shouldn't work like this. if people are up voting a story its relevant and flags shouldn't drag it down.


Make a subreddit or something about NSA related stories. Maybe launch nsa.ycombinator.com or something. I'm done with seeing the same articles reposted here from reddit.


Until things change, this is arguably the most important US issue we are facing right now, and is thus always relevant. So no, there are not too many NSA stories on HN.


This is important, and HN is my main channel for staying on top of the news. That said, the discussion leaking into the other threads is getting a bit tiresome.


Spread/publish as much as possible as widely as possible. Detail is subject to the interest and focus of readership. Thus, no discriminatory actions.


For such a simple filtering methodology, it seems to be satisfactory. Some low-quality links get through because everyone is excited about the NSA leaks.


I am personally for less NSA news. BUT I don't think they should be filtered out! HN is should be self regulating and not controlled by any 1 entity


Flagged? Yes, that's a right that (some) users have after all. Filtered? No, that would be replacing natural selection with groundless censorship.


Ironically, it seems that this precise submission is getting flagged a lot, seeing as it is rapidly being dragged down the first page




The link fittingly replies: "Unknown."


I don't think the damage being done by the NSA should be easily forgotten. Keep the news coming!


6 upvotes in 2 hours isn't likely to get on the front page no matter the subject.


It's a fucking vote-based website, why is this even being asked?


The stories aren't so bad, but the paranoid comments in every single thread are becoming too much.

If you have info, then fine write about it. But we don't need a comment wondering what the NSA will/can/did/does do in every single story.


Why not both? It's a shame we have to talk about it.


What if I want fewer NSA stories but ranked naturally.


That's an important issue.


There are NSA stories on HN?


"Just right"?


Nice try NSA.


too many


I think we should keep them coming. Don't like them? Scroll down. Don't like them SO MUCH? Write a script to filter anything NSA out.

C'mon people, this is HUGE. One of the biggest scandals in the history of ever.

Poor you, are your rights getting in the way of browsing HN?


One of the biggest scandals in the history of ever.

No it's not. It's big, sure, and terrible, but history is long and nations have done much, much worse than this. At least, it would need to be at the bottom of a pretty long list of atrocities, scandals and war crimes to even be included (yes, including by the US.)

Personally, I think that concentration camp we're running in Cuba is still a bigger deal.


Internet is still in it's very early stages.

Whatever are the laws, policies and culture that we create now can have effect that is felt hundreds of years from now.

Now is the defining moment. This issue should be pushed more and more and not just with more articles.


I have only one karma point, and my vote doesn't seem to count. However, for the record I think the NSA revelations are on-topic and should be welcome.


Why is it that these articles with new information are being flagged and kept off the front page?




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