Can social media even exist without political debate? What about trolls?Hacker News, the social news site run by Y Combinator, is trying to find out.
The head of the Hacker News community since 2014, Daniel Gackle (whose HN handle is dang)on Monday initiated a site-widePolitical Detox Week.
To introduce the temporary ban on political content, Gackle wrote:
For one week, political stories are off-topic. Please flag them. Please also flag political threads on non-political stories. For our part, well kill such stories and threads when we see them. Then well watch together to see what happens.
Why? Political conflicts cause harm here. The values of Hacker News are intellectual curiosity and thoughtful conversation. Those things are lost when political emotions seize control. Our values are fragiletheyre like plants that get forgotten, then trampled and scorched in combat. HN is a garden, politics is war by other means, and war and gardening dont mix.
When users sought more detail on what, precisely, would be defined as politics and blocked on HNthis week, Gackle elaborated:
Pure politics: conflicts around party, ideology, nation, race, gender, class, and religion that get people hot and turn into flamewars on the internet. Were not so concerned about stories on other things that happen to have political aspectslike, say, software patents.
The post about the detox or cleanse, as Gackle called it, has drawn hundreds of comments on Hacker News since it posted this morning.
Many users said this effort, even if well-intentioned, amounts to censorship. Manywarned it would have the unwanted consequence of silencing the views and experiences ofminority users, including women and people of colorwho comment on the site.
Y Combinator CEO Sam Altman tells TechCrunch,We dont want to be the day to day US politics site. There are a lot of otherplaces for that. And this just shuts down the lightning rod for a few days.
The CEO alsoacknowledged that, as is happening on social networks like Twitter, Reddit and Facebook,bigots have infiltrated the Hacker News community of late.
Still,every social network going back toUsenet in the 1990s faces the same problem in abating trolls and maintaining a high level of discourse. Telling people they cant do or say something online never seems to make things easier, or improve the quality of discussions, for the moderators of theseonline communities.
Well see how Hacker News fares.
Gackle wrote in an e-mail to TechCrunch to emphasize that the detox is just a one-week experiment, and hes not sure what Hacker News will learn from it.
The idea came about because there has been an uptick in political flamewars and, worse, accounts that use the site exclusively to argue about politics and dont appear interested in anything else. We already ban such accounts, but the trend in that direction made it seem like a good time to clarify what HN is and what it is not, he wrote.
We asked Gackle specifically for hisresponse tocritics who believehis projectwillsilence underrepresented people on HN, and is essentially a form of censorship. He said:
Words like silence, underrepresented, and censorship, are highly charged, and people use them to mean a lot of things,even opposite things. So before trying to answer such a criticism, Id want to make sure I understand, and for that its best to be talking to a specific user about their specific concerns, not arguing in ageneral debate.
HN has developed and integrated software that tries to detect patterns of abuse on its site, but hasnt written anything specifically new for the Political Detox Week or around political content.
Gackle had plenty more to say to HN users.You can read his comments here on areverse chronological thread ofhis answers to their questions.