15 votes

The lonely work of moderating Hacker News

4 comments

  1. [2]
    nacho Link
    This piece is a description of Hacker News that is both very Hacker News and perfectly explains Hacker News to people completely unfamiliar to Hacker News. These two guys being who they come...

    Hacker News readers who visit the site to learn how engineers and entrepreneurs talk, and what they talk about, can find themselves immersed in conversations that resemble the output of duelling Markov bots trained on libertarian economics blogs, “The Tim Ferriss Show,” and the work of Yuval Noah Harari.

    This piece is a description of Hacker News that is both very Hacker News and perfectly explains Hacker News to people completely unfamiliar to Hacker News.

    “The only way to learn it is to get it wrong, and, when you get it wrong, you get flamed,” Gackle said, in the conference room. “And you get flamed so hard that it’s like being stung by a swarm of bees. It’s sort of like operant conditioning. If you put yourself in that position, where you’re getting stung on a daily basis, you’re soon going to start learning what makes the bees less likely. . . .” he paused. “Or, actually, I like bees. I would say ‘wasps’—what makes the wasps less likely to bite you.”

    “The other way to learn is to let someone else get stung first,” Bell said, quietly.

    These two guys being who they come across as in the piece just seems to explain the culture of the site. And that they're both the entirety of moderation on the site also explains a lot about the automatic modding systems running so haywire so often.

    Still, as an occasional reader, I have noticed certain trends. When stories that focus on structural barriers faced by women in the workplace, or on diversity in tech, or on race or masculinity—stories, admittedly, that are more intriguing to me, a person interested in the humanities, than stories on technical topics—hit the front page, users often flag them, presumably for being off topic, so fast that hardly any comments accrue. When I shared these impressions with Gackle and Bell, they looked distressed. I asked if these were problems that they felt they could, or should, be controlling or trying to change on the site.

    And with that astute identification of serious core issues with the community, the conclusion to the piece was surprising to me.

    I thought about the relentless patience and good faith that this style of moderation work required. I pictured Bell and Gackle as swimmers in a resistance pool, doing slow crawls against the currents of online discourse. I hoped the project of Hacker News was worth the effort. I wondered if their work might show that tech really does need humanism—that better online communities can be built one relationship at a time.

    I may be a broken record, but doesn't the culture of Hacker News and its moderation show that their approach and low staffing means that you can't possibly live up to all the ideals, thoughts, fantasies or basic concerns one would morally have running a social media platform? It seems the conclusion ties so closely into what the guy from N-gate was quoted as saying:

    “Almost every post deals with the same topics: these are people who spend their lives trying to identify all the ways they can extract money from others without quite going to jail,” he wrote. “They’re people who are convinced that they are too special for rules, and too smart for education. They don’t regard themselves as inhabiting the world the way other people do; they’re secret royalty, detached from society’s expectations and unfailingly outraged when faced with normal consequences for bad decisions.

    This goes for both the culture of the site, and for the running of that (and many similar) social media platform.

    Silicon Valley has an ethics problem, and ‘Hacker’ ‘News’ is where it’s easiest to see.”

    12 votes
    1. hamstergeddon Link Parent
      What kind of unethical things are being seen on Hacker News? I'm not a very consistent user of the site so I'm not sure what's being alluded to there.

      What kind of unethical things are being seen on Hacker News? I'm not a very consistent user of the site so I'm not sure what's being alluded to there.

      3 votes
  2. [2]
    Deimos Link
    Huge discussion of this article on HN itself (of course): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20643052

    Huge discussion of this article on HN itself (of course): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20643052

    6 votes
    1. emdash Link Parent
      Thanks for implementing repost detection! I was just about to submit this to Tildes.

      Thanks for implementing repost detection! I was just about to submit this to Tildes.

      3 votes