26 votes

Is Hacker News suppressing leftist articles? Or just a conspiracy of poor point scoring?

There was a story posted to Hacker News, The Return of the Super-Elite from Jacobin magazine. It was on the front page for a little bit of time. I refreshed and it was on the 2nd page.

5 hours later and it's down to #113, page 4. It has 88 points. The second youngest submission on page 4 is 16 hours old. On page 3, the youngest item is 6 hours old, and has only 7 points. So this article is newer, has a respectable amount of points but within 5 hours has been relegated to page 4, whereas an item that has fewer points and is 1 hour older is sitting on page 3.

edit: the rank keeps dropping, when I first wrote this post it was at #111, then #112, and when I submitted it was at #113, I just refreshed and it's at #114. Other submissions near the range of points and hours are ranking on page 1. On page 5 all items are from 1, 2 or 3 days ago.

I've noticed that any pro-unionization talk seems to disappear much more quickly than other stories.

So let's get our tinfoil hats on and ask is Hacker News suppressing leftist articles or suppressing articles of a certain type altogether?

Or maybe it's just a conspiracy of a bad algorithm for determining where submissions rank?

29 comments

  1. [9]
    clerical_terrors
    Link
    I don't like to subscribe to these kinds of conspiracy theories unless we have more compelling evidence: can we show this to be a systematic occurence? (and is the methodology for doing so sound?)...

    I don't like to subscribe to these kinds of conspiracy theories unless we have more compelling evidence:

    • can we show this to be a systematic occurence? (and is the methodology for doing so sound?)
    • Do we have any statements, on the public record or otherwise, of the people in charge talking about supressing leftist views?
    • is there any prior history of manual tampering with submission ranks from HN?
    31 votes
    1. [3]
      Amarok
      Link Parent
      Oddly enough, I've seen this happen before. When Deimos posted the Tildes announcement there, it was up to around 100 very fast, and on the front page. Then they changed something about the title,...

      Oddly enough, I've seen this happen before. When Deimos posted the Tildes announcement there, it was up to around 100 very fast, and on the front page. Then they changed something about the title, and it dropped to the bottom of page 2, and continued to bury itself rapidly.

      If the HN crew is saying they don't fiddle with rankings, they are full of shit. There's some kind of system in place, be it mods or just the code penalizing submissions that have elements changed. Submissions don't just jump down two pages in five minutes.

      26 votes
      1. bme
        Link Parent
        This is absolutely true. Can't offer more than that without putting employment at risk.

        This is absolutely true. Can't offer more than that without putting employment at risk.

        6 votes
      2. delicious_grownups
        Link Parent
        I only browse this place by new. That's not something I'm used to.

        I only browse this place by new. That's not something I'm used to.

    2. SourceContribute
      Link Parent
      I'm kinda more interested in what kind of ranking algorithm they even use. In 2014 it appeared the ranking was "magic" and hidden to some degree.

      I'm kinda more interested in what kind of ranking algorithm they even use. In 2014 it appeared the ranking was "magic" and hidden to some degree.

      3 votes
    3. aphoenix
      Link Parent
      I believe that the Tildes announcement there had some strangeness as well, but I could be misremembering or just flat out incorrect. @cfabbro any recollections?

      can we show this to be a systematic occurence?

      I believe that the Tildes announcement there had some strangeness as well, but I could be misremembering or just flat out incorrect.

      @cfabbro any recollections?

      3 votes
    4. [3]
      super_james
      Link Parent
      Given it's owned by PG's ycombinator who describes his ideal founders as having: Paul Graham on founders I would expect that he'd be up for a bit of light manipulation to stack the deck in his...

      Given it's owned by PG's ycombinator who describes his ideal founders as having:

      ...they tend to have a piratical gleam in their eye. They're not Goody Two-Shoes type good. Morally, they care about getting the big questions right, but not about observing proprieties.

      Paul Graham on founders

      I would expect that he'd be up for a bit of light manipulation to stack the deck in his favour. He is a proponent of free speech but I don't think he's an absolutist about really anything.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        clerical_terrors
        Link Parent
        Several people in the thread have mentioned the possibility of user flags sinking these threads, which seems entirely plausible to me. It's possible that PG is even aware of it but tacitly...

        Several people in the thread have mentioned the possibility of user flags sinking these threads, which seems entirely plausible to me. It's possible that PG is even aware of it but tacitly condones it.

        5 votes
        1. Crespyl
          Link Parent
          I recall the mods there mentioning flags being a frequent cause of posts rapidly dropping off the front page. There's a handful of topics that the HN community seems particular allergic to, like...

          I recall the mods there mentioning flags being a frequent cause of posts rapidly dropping off the front page.

          There's a handful of topics that the HN community seems particular allergic to, like classism/sexism/discrimination issues, and those posts tend to quickly attract lots of flags. This is particularly the case when the post in question has little or nothing directly tech or startup related.

          To be honest, I kind of like HN being that way. I can get more than my fill of those topics from plenty of other sources, and I mostly visit HN for the technical content and discussion.

          3 votes
  2. [2]
    talklittle
    Link
    They have always denied manual changing of rankings by moderators. A more pertinent set of questions may be: What do they do to deter voting (including downvote/flagging) rings? Do they have any...

    They have always denied manual changing of rankings by moderators.

    A more pertinent set of questions may be: What do they do to deter voting (including downvote/flagging) rings? Do they have any incentive to invest resources into this? What about when the story involves YCombinator portfolio companies?

    As far as I know, Hacker News only has a small handful of moderators (probably fewer than half a dozen) and maybe one or two full-time engineers. There is so much incentive for companies to have voting rings on an influential discussion board like HN. We don't know to what extent HN is combating this.

    17 votes
    1. SourceContribute
      Link Parent
      Probably they don't care; the echo chamber is the point perhaps. I remember when I was sucked into it, I do enjoy some of Paul Graham's writing and some of the earlier comments and submissions and...

      We don't know to what extent HN is combating this.

      Probably they don't care; the echo chamber is the point perhaps. I remember when I was sucked into it, I do enjoy some of Paul Graham's writing and some of the earlier comments and submissions and discussions were insightful but now it's just a filter bubble of a different sort.

      10 votes
  3. [6]
    jmillikin
    Link
    Hacker News is a specialty forum for posting stories relevant to the tech industry, with a focus on the California Bay Area startup scene. A political filler piece about where wealthy people live...

    Hacker News is a specialty forum for posting stories relevant to the tech industry, with a focus on the California Bay Area startup scene. A political filler piece about where wealthy people live is off topic there, and I'm glad to see such stories drop quickly off the front page.

    15 votes
    1. [3]
      Comment deleted by author
      Link Parent
      1. jwr
        Link Parent
        Yeah, it's more likely a result of user flags rather than moderator interference. Occam's razor.

        Yeah, it's more likely a result of user flags rather than moderator interference. Occam's razor.

        5 votes
      2. jgb
        Link Parent
        Hacker News politics are actually quite interesting because there's a very visible fusion of the 'tech-left' (think Steve Klabnik, Brianna Wu) and the 'startup liberterians' (think Elon Musk, Paul...

        Hacker News politics are actually quite interesting because there's a very visible fusion of the 'tech-left' (think Steve Klabnik, Brianna Wu) and the 'startup liberterians' (think Elon Musk, Paul Graham). While these groups are in some ways politically aligned, in others they're quite opposed, and the effect is very much a 'Meeting of the Waters' (in the literal sense, not the Animal Collective record).

        2 votes
    2. [3]
      Pugilistic
      Link Parent
      But why don't the mods just remove the post for being off topic then?

      But why don't the mods just remove the post for being off topic then?

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        jmillikin
        Link Parent
        Many internet forums prefer downranking to total removal, to preserve users' discussion and commentary.

        Many internet forums prefer downranking to total removal, to preserve users' discussion and commentary.

        6 votes
        1. Pugilistic
          Link Parent
          I'd bet that its because they'd rather not deal with the flak that a transparent removal would cause.

          I'd bet that its because they'd rather not deal with the flak that a transparent removal would cause.

          2 votes
  4. [4]
    IncreaseTheDosage
    (edited )
    Link
    It's a libertarian hellhole with a history of selective censorship, so I wouldn't be surprised if this was true. EDIT: Someone documented HN's moderation behaviors here, and they include "Implicit...

    It's a libertarian hellhole with a history of selective censorship, so I wouldn't be surprised if this was true.

    EDIT: Someone documented HN's moderation behaviors here, and they include "Implicit Downranking of Politics".

    9 votes
    1. [2]
      merick
      Link Parent
      To be fair, it's a tech forum. If I were a regular user, I'd be glad to see politics buried very quickly.

      To be fair, it's a tech forum. If I were a regular user, I'd be glad to see politics buried very quickly.

      4 votes
      1. danjac
        Link Parent
        There are cases when politics and tech merge, e.g. Net Neutrality or GDPR. The article in question is not that, and as someone who does not have libertarian views it's nice to have places...

        There are cases when politics and tech merge, e.g. Net Neutrality or GDPR. The article in question is not that, and as someone who does not have libertarian views it's nice to have places generally free of politics.

        5 votes
    2. SourceContribute
      Link Parent
      Awesome find! Going to take a read of that.

      Awesome find! Going to take a read of that.

      1 vote
  5. dredmorbius
    (edited )
    Link
    I've raised this question with HN admins, via email, repeatedly. They're responsive, though they deny any bias on their part or the site users. I'm dubiuos.

    I've raised this question with HN admins, via email, repeatedly. They're responsive, though they deny any bias on their part or the site users.

    I'm dubiuos.

    7 votes
  6. panic
    Link
    This is caused by user flags. The "flag" button acts like a downvote, and articles with a political bent tend to attract flags.

    This is caused by user flags. The "flag" button acts like a downvote, and articles with a political bent tend to attract flags.

    5 votes
  7. Deimos
    Link
    Just as a specific example of how fast individual stories can be pushed down by flags, I loaded up HN about 15 minutes ago, and this post was #1, with far more points than any other post from a...

    Just as a specific example of how fast individual stories can be pushed down by flags, I loaded up HN about 15 minutes ago, and this post was #1, with far more points than any other post from a similar time range: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17598113

    About 5-10 minutes later, I refreshed and it had been pushed down to #17. I just refreshed again now, and it's now not even on the first page at all, down to #35.

    This happens often with political or otherwise controversial stories. Even if they get to the top of the site, most people won't even see them unless they visit the site extremely often, because they can get pushed down so quickly.

    5 votes
  8. [4]
    est
    Link
    Political topics on tech-focused communities often end up badly.

    Political topics on tech-focused communities often end up badly.

    2 votes
    1. [3]
      SourceContribute
      Link Parent
      "Political"; I guess techies still prefer their ideology to be hidden and unchallenged, heh.

      "Political"; I guess techies still prefer their ideology to be hidden and unchallenged, heh.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        Crespyl
        Link Parent
        Or, perhaps they don't mind at all, but prefer to keep ideological and political discussion to forums better suited to the purpose? Not all discussion spaces must cater to every possible subject.

        Or, perhaps they don't mind at all, but prefer to keep ideological and political discussion to forums better suited to the purpose?

        Not all discussion spaces must cater to every possible subject.

        5 votes
  9. spctrvl
    Link
    As someone not familiar with the site's culture, might it just skew (right) libertarian? I remember back in the day that was basically the default political leaning for techies, I figure there's...

    As someone not familiar with the site's culture, might it just skew (right) libertarian? I remember back in the day that was basically the default political leaning for techies, I figure there's got to be some places where that's still the case.

    1 vote