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    New users, ethics, civility, threads, and you meta

Hey folks!

I was watching a thread yesterday and was frankly really appalled by the level of discourse. As we’ve grown in headcount (now over 10K lobsters, I think), it’s probably useful to bring that up for discussion.

Some observations, at the time of this writing:

  • The submission itself has no downvotes, and only 14 upvotes.
  • The top comment has 88 upvotes, and is entirely off-topic (by that posters own admission). Said poster is also omitting (or perhaps doesn’t know) that Palantir has been merrily assisting the police state and IC for quite some time predating Trump.
  • There is only one other top-level comment, from one of the maintainers, asking about feedback.
  • To that top-level comment, the top-rated comment is a really pointy question, which is still unanswered (big surprise). There is another comment that practically asks OP to blink twice if they need assistance. So, fully half of the questions to the maintainer have nothing to do with the submission or the code.
  • There is an entire subthread that devolves into slapfighting and navel-gazing on whataboutism.

Oh, and by the way–note the sheer volume of commentary (which is easy, and anybody can do it) compared with the tiny amount of useful technical discussion (which is hard, and apparently only a few people posting had the expertise required to engage productively).

It’s like folks are trying to get us onto n-gate.


This site is for practicing technologists and for people trying to learn about technology and better themselves as engineers and developers. The way that the community handled this submission frankly makes me disheartened.

Some questions worth reflecting on:

How do you think the person who submitted this neat project feels when only a tiny fraction of the replies to their submission even talk about it? Do you think that they’re likely to submit something else? Would you submit something else?

Assuming that open-source and sharing software is a good thing by itself, how do you think this sort of reaction encourages that for folks at Palantir? Will execs/teams-leads looking at this thread come away feeling like it’s worth the time to help empower their employees to release software?

Why wasn’t the off-topic flag used more? If the community can’t be trusted to police itself, do you think it’s going to be allowed to do so?

To what extent does getting into slapfights over “ethics” help the signal to noise ratio of the site? How can such discussions be structured in the future so as not to discourage the technical discussion here that frankly is endangered everywhere else.

I’ve got pointier remarks, but honestly I don’t think they’re germane to the sort of discussion I’d like to see coming from this, at this time.

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    Disclaimer: I’m one of the newest users here, so if my ideas about what’s on-topic don’t line up with the community’s, I understand that that indicates that I should move on, not that the community should change to suit me :-)

    How do you think the person who submitted this neat project feels when only a tiny fraction of the replies to their submission even talk about it?

    That person probably feels pretty bummed out about the lack of technical discussion. I understand and empathize with their disappointment. But I’m surprised that a discussion of the broader context around the submission would be considered off-topic. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

    We’ve seen throughout history that people who are willing to act unethically have an advantage over those who aren’t. Pragmatically, the main things preventing companies from behaving unethically or immorally are the threat of legal repercussions, the consciences of their employees, and the criticism of the general public. You could summarize the latter two as “shame,” and if our venue prohibits that mechanism then we’re effectively siding with the companies that are willing to get ahead at any cost.

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      Allowing moral policing in comments creates an environment where technical posts and discussion (the lifeblood and differentiator of lobste.rs) will suffer. Two ways this happens include:

      1. It discourages people from submitting interesting technical projects due to potential backlash. I wouldn’t want to miss out on good technical discussion.

      2. It discourages comments and discussion about the project. If the top comment has 95 upvotes and takes up 10 pages of scrolling, it will make it harder to justify commenting on the project technically. If I post, will anyone see it anyway?

      A deterioration in the quality of technical discussion will lead to users who care only about the technical content leaving, and thus further deterioration of content.

      Whatever your personal views are, I encourage everyone to take a moral nihilistic stance when it comes to making comments here. There are plenty of places to discuss morals, ethics, and politics on the internet, and turning Lobsters into yet another one of these rather than the best place to find and discuss technical articles on the internet would be a loss.

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        Moreover, articles on HN/reddit are usually a super set of what’s here. If an article appears here that you would like to make a political comment on, finding the same article on one of the other sites and joining in the discussion should not be too onerous.

        Of course, that robs those with a strong desire to proselytize of a potential audience so is unlikely to be welcomed.

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        But I’m surprised that a discussion of the broader context around the submission would be considered off-topic. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

        The “broader context” discussion starts with tangents and gets only worse from there. That’s why the SNR on HN is so low, and that’s why I barely read HN.

        When I joined lobsters, the unwritten rule was that the focus is (almost) exclusively on technical content. Maybe I imagined that rule? The way it was enforced was with relevant technical tags (and a bit of activism, not unlike what sock is doing here), but once you get broad enough tags (culture, practices, …) it’s bound to get out of hand. Worse yet, comments aren’t tagged like submissions so there was never a mechanism for enforcing on-topic technical discourse. So that’s getting out of hand too, as more people engage tangents. And now I’m seeing more and more people who think that anything they upvote or anything they find interesting belongs on the site. IDK what to think.

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          When I joined lobsters, the unwritten rule was that the focus is (almost) exclusively on technical content.

          Even if that’s no longer the case now - I’d certainly like that to become a rule (written or not).

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            I’d prefer not. Pure technical content is sterile and boring. Read a textbook or subscribe to a journal if that’s your bag.

            Technology is only interesting and valuable to humanity where it impacts and has interactions with the humanities.

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          Although I understand the fact, that its difficult to judge something without context, I also wish I knew where to draw the line of how broad or narrow the context can be discussed. I don’t think that it is even really possible when it comes to convictions and beliefs that are mostly subjective.

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          I find this oft-seen sense of wonder about lobste.rs drifting away from people’s ideas of what it should be, and the appeal to lobste.rs being a website only about technology, with absolutely every non-technical element of discussion being off-topic, a bit tiresome.

          Lobste.rs appealed to me – and a lot of the people I know – because of its focus on technical content, not the exclusivity of the comments to technical discourse. I don’t think discussions on ethics get you on n-gate: reinventing bad technology and misunderstanding good technology while drinking the Silicon Valley kool-aid might, and those are all things this community fairly successfully avoided.

          If the vast majority of people here do feel it’s worthwhile to discuss technology in complete isolation from its effects on the outside world, that’s fair game, as much as it might make no sense to me whatsoever, and as much as I might not want to have any part in that. In that case, though, I’m guilty of a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the website, and I believe this should be communicated and enforced far more explicitly, because the community obviously won’t “police” itself into it on its own.

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            What I love about your response is that it brings up some radical questions. What makes good technology? How can I, as a professional, dig deep to have creative solutions? Should I be problem solving, or problem finding?

            Turns out people really like their information bubbles. They are comfortable. Now that there have been some ethics discussions, they popped people’s comfort bubbles. This is a good thing for those asking the right questions.

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            Ethics are inseparable from technology, since technology enables and inhibits actions, which are subject to ethical consideration; ergo, the creation of technology is an set of actions subject to ethical judgements.

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              I’d go even further than that, attempting to exclude “ethics”, broadly construed, has helped to enable a social environment within technology circles that has legitimated a great deal of what people are now rightly reacting to, the surveillance, the effects the brain of using gambling machines as a design template for websites, the unwillingness of corporations to take any responsibility whatsoever for the effects that their products have on society at large, Uber (all of it), and on and on.

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                I agree with both of you. On the other hand, I also kinda see the point of wanting a space that’s focused in technical aspects, and understand OP’s fear of ethical/political discourse dominating this forum. And in the other other hand, I also feel that not speaking about the ethics of technologies, and actively discouraging this kind of discussion, is, in and of itself, a way of speaking about it, agreeing with it.

                So, yeah, that’s hard. I got no solutions.

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                  Regarding the “fear of ethical/political discourse dominating this forum”—I understand, but we wouldn’t have to have all of these discussions if people would just stop being unethical :-) The more discussions we have now on this topic, the fewer we’ll need to have in the future. But if we don’t talk about it then, as you point out, things are only going to get worse.

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                    I think there’s a bit of a difference between discussing the ethics of a company and aggressively attacking a person.

                    The main top comment raises some points and actually encourages discussion, which admittedly doesn’t really happen in that thread. A large portion of the top upvoted comments are people chiming in and (essentially) saying “me too”. The top comment responding to a maintainer is incredibly aggressive towards the maintainer who stepped forward, only tangentially relates to the parent comment, is arguably a personal attack against that person and discourages discussion through the tone. Yet it’s more upvoted than the technical comments below.

                    In addition. it’s easy to forget that there are people on the other side of these usernames. It reminds me quite a bit of This is Phil Fish, a case study on how people can associate people with something larger, sometimes in damaging ways. It’s not quite the same, but I see similar parallels in how the community tends to treat employees of certain companies (yes, like Palantir… but Google also comes to mind).

                    I’d like to see more comments that encourage discussion, like the most upvoted top-level comment, and less comments saying “me too”, “I agree with this”, or borderline attacking the poster, like the most upvoted response to the maintainer.

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                      The more discussions we have now on this topic, the fewer we’ll need to have in the future. But if we don’t talk about it then, as you point out, things are only going to get worse.

                      That’s an interesting theory. I haven’t seen any evidence to support it on any of the other discussion forums I’ve used, but I suppose it might be true somewhere. I think friendlysock’s take is more accurate: by encouraging (tolerating? normalizing?) aggressive and reflexive positions on non-technical issues, we will get more of them here, not less. And eventually, the “bad money” will drive out the good, just like it does everywhere.

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                        Indeed - I think we have a plethora of examples of politics taking over, and few (none?) of political discussion settling debate so that everyone can move on.

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                        The more discussions we have no on this topic, the fewer we’ll need to have in the future.

                        I disagree with this in so many ways. We cannot possibly come to some end resolution where everyone agrees on a certain set of ethics, and even if that magically happened, we cannot all agree on the best way to act upon those ethics. Political conversation already permeates way too much of society. I don’t need to see it in a forum for technical discussion. If we’re going to try to think of ways for technology to be abused, we’re not going to produce anything. Further, I think we’re totally dismissing all the great things that same technology has done and can continue to do because it can be abused. If someone wants feedback on their submission, I don’t personally want to see politically-oriented discussion around it in this particular forum.

                        If the broader group of folks here wants this to become a political-friendly abyss, I’m fine with stepping away. But I don’t get that feeling right now.

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                        This is basically my opinion, too.

                        (I haven’t posted more in this an the other meta threads this week because I’ve been very busy starting a new job, but as I’m catching up today I’ve really appreciated all the thoughtful discussion exploring these questions that don’t have easy answers.)

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                          I didn’t see this at the time, thanks for taking a moment to add to the discussion.

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                      I think you have a point here that is both truth and lacking utility, but may be getting upvotes because hey, who wouldn’t upvote ethics in technology?

                      Here are some of the practical issues with supporting debates about “ethics”.

                      First, what do we mean by “ethics”?

                      Are we just wanting to talk about right and wrong? That’s often a matter of aesthetics. When I was born, it was pretty commonly held that homosexual acts were Evil, that psychoactive drug usage was Corrupt, and that democracy was unquestionably Good. None of those things are unerringly true anymore.

                      You might say “But friendlysock, those are matters of morals, as opposed to organized systems of beliefs that are analyzed in the context of practicing agents!”, and I would agree. That being the case, what is the point of having discussions that end up going basically:

                      • “You’re immoral!”
                      • “No, you’re immoral!”
                      • “You both act in clear hypocrisy of your professed morals!”

                      That discussion leaves everybody angry, takes up a lot of space, and doesn’t teach anybody anything. Worse, it breaks the operating regime of the site, because people will inevitably just blindly upvote the folks whose aesthetic matches theirs, and downvote or flag those that don’t–or worse, devolve into namecalling.

                      Okay, well, what about big-E Ethics?

                      So, we skip out on thinly-veiled callout threads and we’re just gonna limit ourselves to talking about big-E Ethics. Academic/philosopher stuff like meta-ethics and normative ethics and subtopics like utilitarianism and virtue ethics and state consequentialism and so forth.

                      And those are really fun topics. We have problems with those as the basis for subthreads though:

                      • Hardcore philosophy (despite our having a tag by that name, since that usage is looser) is off-topic.
                      • Most users (myself included!) are completely underskilled to talk big-E Ethics without a lot of clarifying back-and-forth and education in threads. Even assuming we have the skill to do all of that in a subthread (we don’t) and that we avoid falling back into moralizing (we won’t), such conversations suck all of the air out of the room for the technical discussion. That Palantir thread had us scrolling to the very bottom to get anything involving code or tech.
                      • We’re gonna end up having the same discussions over and over again, as the big-E Ethics questions are, rather famously, undecidable.

                      Okay, fine, what about professional ethics?

                      Sure! If people want to talk about how a given thing violates professional ethics, then I think that is healthy. Here is the ACM Code of Ethics. Use that as a starting point in a subthread.

                      Note though that we still don’t have professional organizations in the sense of, say, Professional Engineers. Our profession isn’t organized enough for that. So, talking about “professional” ethics is kinda hard.

                      ~

                      Overall, I just don’t think that the “ethics” discussions are what people are actually after here. I think people want to callout and shit on other folks, and that they want to show to their friends solidarity in an aesthetic. This damages one of the only good venues for safe technical discussion on the ’net today.

                      And I won’t stand for that.

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                        I would, gently, point out that adjucating morals to aesthetics (the study of beauty, and of which the current post-Romantic admits a separate aesthetic for each individual) is not a stance that is particularly admirable.

                        Simply keeping “Lobsters about tech” is a big E ethics decision, with ramifications that ripple out.

                        If you want to demand that people treat other people well, that is a stable ethical choice that is supportable and relatively decidable.

                        ~

                        But to be clear, working for Palantir - or other major enabler of violence & repression that generates widespread sideeye, is both a technical and an ethical choice; pointing this out and pushing back against consuming technical material from such an enabler seems perfectly reasonable.

                        We can debate whether working for Palantir is ethical - it probably also enables benefits to LEOs working complex cases and addressing real social harm. Many times on other social media sites, employees of ethically tangled companies will comment and discuss the complexity and reality of working in these environments. There is a very real debate, it’s not an open and shut thing where some group of activists come in and screams.

                        I reiterate: technology and ethics are intertwingled. While some contexts are more neutral than others, very few are pure neutral.

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                          @pnathan I didn’t want to wade into this muck, but you seem genuine. In my mind is not whether debates about ethics is good or bad, but rather what is lobste.rs for? There are PLENTY of places on this big internet to get on a soapbox and yell about whatever gets your goat. I want a quiet corner where I can just read about technical things. Code, decisions behind code, some PLT, some math and the occasional bit of humor. Perhaps the people here saying, well Kaushik, its time to go away somewhere else because that’s not what lobste.rs is for any more, and I will join the stragglers as we exit out of yet another refuge inundated by the loud and obnoxious soap box crowd.

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                            I’m 100% with you here. I see way too much soap boxing and bickering pretty much everywhere else on the internet. This was a safe haven for technical discussion without the political theater. If it’s going to become that, I’ll be happy to leave and try to form yet another community where we are trying to avoid this kind of stuff.

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                              leave and try to form yet another community where we are trying to avoid this kind of stuff

                              I’ll wager that ethical questions will inevitably follow you there, as they are inextricably part of the human experience, whether or not the primary topic is tech.

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                                I’m not trying to avoid them entirely, I just want a forum for technical discussion. Not everything has to be polluted with other topics and agendas

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                                  You might find the more focused discussion you seek in a special-interest forum. General-interest fora will attract general topics of conversation.

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                                    Lobsters has been that forum for me until recently.

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                                      That’s interesting. I hear many voices in this thread expressing the same. I never saw this website as something like that, I just saw it as a place where some relatively niche computing topics are aggregated.

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                                        You’re also relatively new here compared to some of us, so that probably feeds into it. The site has grown quite a bit since I joined.

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                                          I was reading this website for a long while before I got an invitation, but it is fair to say my account history is relatively new. When I started reading, most posts seemed to get an average of 1 or 2 comments. It’s hard for me to reconcile this—some folks are lamenting that recent discussions are not in keeping with the historical tone of the site, but the site has been historically silent on most topics.

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                                            Try looking at it from a different perspective. Perhaps the absolute level of good quality comments hasn’t moved too much, but perhaps the absolute level of low quality comments has increased. If that’s true, it increases the signal-to-noise ratio and can lead to the “we used to have more good quality content here” observation.

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                                              I was being very generous with the comment count. Even today, when I posted that comment, half of the front page articles had zero comments. Perhaps the signal level is just too low to begin with. Maybe there’s no consensus on what the signal is.

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                              you seem genuine

                              That’s one of the nicest things someone not my wife has said to me for some time. :) Thank you.

                              My basic thought is that I also want a corner where we can seriously talk about highly technical things, but we should be aware and also talk about the broader ramifications of our work, because we have the technical background to get the implications of our work and be correct about how it works, and to talk about the ethical implications of how a specific capability works/doesn’t work (whereas I have deep suspicions of an arbitrary op-ed columnist whinging about tech and begging for regulation).

                              To ask for a soapbox free zone seems completely ok - to ask for an ethics-free zone is an ethical choice that selects for specific social choices (as non-obvious as that may seem). To be specific: I’m not sure discussing the ethics of a new compiler gets us anywhere, but if its produced by Dr. Evilheart Murder Enterprises, maybe we need to discuss if using it supports D.E.M.E., and if we can redeem the technology from its production in the context of D,E.M.E. I don’t think that this is some lefty social justice agenda I’m asking for…. Maybe I’m wrong.

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                              I acknowledge the intertwingling, abstractly. But it seems you’re not addressing friendlysock’s actual concern. Is an announcement thread by a new user who happens to be the maintainer of an open source project an appropriate place to have the “very real debate” about whether working for that person’s employer is an ethical choice? When a commenter on that post engages in a blatant personal attack and is rewarded with upvotes aplenty, is the “very real debate” being furthered?

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                                I would say so: it’s an opportunity for the software developers of Palatir to make a case that they are acting in an ethical fashion, that the world is complex and they are producing a net good. When I worked for a Famously Bad Reputation company, we were encouraged to defend the company. This would have definitely been a place where the maintainer could have defended themselves - if company policy allowed, of course.

                                One of the interesting bits of social psych is conformity matters. If the general community shuns X group, to the point where its a permanent black mark on the record generating firings/no-hirings and it’s not something anyone is comfortable around at church, marrying family members, etc, then the X group diminishes into the fringe. Whether you are conservative or liberal, you wind up having a conformity and a social order. I’m not personally sure where to draw that line and place the mark, but Palantir is a popular target for placing that mark.

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                                I would, gently, point out that adjucating morals to aesthetics (the study of beauty, and of which the current post-Romantic admits a separate aesthetic for each individual) is not a stance that is particularly admirable.

                                Why not? There’s a huge variation in morality within our own culture, let alone looking across cultures. You can find people that believe that it’s immoral for two people with the same groin-endianness to get married, and others who think that it’s immoral for to accumulate a large amount of money. You have people who think that allowing dictators to abuse their people is immoral, and others who think that intervention is a bigger evil. You have people who think that it’s important to protect the freedom of users with copyleft licenses, and people who think that copyleft immorally restricts commercial use of software. You have fights between which supposedly divinely inspired book written thousands of years ago by uneducated sheep herders/traders/warriors/… is the primary authority on how to live your life. The list goes on, and all of them have people who believe one thing or the other.

                                The shifting scene of prevailing ethical thought really does make it more like aesthetics than people are often comfortable admitting. Yes, it has longer term effects on people’s lives, and yes, it’s got some underlying principles, but it’s certainly not some sort of fixed beacon of truth.

                                Why do you think that there is a universal set of ethics that people subscribe to? And if you don’t, do you really want this site to be either the battleground for deciding this, or a community of yes-men who boringly signal that yes, they are indeed a part of the in-group?

                                There are lots of valid and interesting discussions to have on these topics, but to me, they detract from lobste.rs.

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                                The book that revived virtue ethics as a viable project, MacIntyre’s After Virtue, points out how (and explains why) contemporary ethical debates have a peculiarly shrill and interminable character.

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                                  This is a weird use of “aesthetics”. I don’t really know what you’re trying to say.

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                                    I read “aesthetics” as, roughly, “something that a group of people has decided to call ‘basic human decency’, with the various external trappings this entails”.

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                                  Yet I somehow suspect if I ask “What are the ethical implications of creating a webassembly backend for ocaml?” that I won’t receive quite as many upvotes.

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                                    If the answer to the question “What is it built for?” is “for missile guidance systems”, we are in a different territory pretty quickly, though! Nothing technology lives without context.

                                    To turn this into something more tangible: when DARPA invested around 10 million for https://c2rust.com/, it definitely raised some eyebrows and sparked a couple of discussions.

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                                      ARPA/military were behind the Internet, GPS, Tor, and (via defense contractors) majority of contributions to Linux kernel. Yet, most people discuss them without warnings or ethical debates in threads.

                                      It’s just specific things that are also talking points in liberal media.

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                                        You are making it seem like these things have not been discussed, which is definitely not the case. Also, we’re not liberal media, we’re a community.

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                                          Most of the statements read like they were pulled out of the liberal media. Pop-culture politics. People that actually care about popular politics here, say inclusion of under-represented groups, would have people from those groups, esp women, in the main teams (eg Rust compiler/libraries), be submitting work from such underrepresented people here to Lobsters instead of white/asian males, linking to write-ups by the same in the comments, and so on. There’s just one or two people doing that consistently off the top of my head.

                                          Inclusive politics here mainly equals writing comments and language policing to such people, not actually highlighting work by or bringing in underrepresented. Aka what they’d do if it really mattered. Same with employers, eco-friendliness, etc where someone could call out an OP in the majority of threads every day about the ethical ramifications of what they’re submitting. They only do on specific, popular, talking points, though.

                                          I make an exception for you since your community work probably does a lot of good in inclusion. A lot of good period. On Lobsters, though, most people voting for prioritizing politics for social justice certainly aren’t boosting minorities or even ethical suppliers. So, I call BS on it really mattering to them past ego value from social signaling, virtue and shaming.

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                                        So if somebody builds a webassembly backend for missile guidance and puts it on github, is it ethical to use it for protein folding research? Or is it forever tainted?

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                                          That’s a different question, and yes, it’s an interesting one. It’s also not like things on Github are just there. They still have a maintainer, a hosting organisation, and a leadership.

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                                        Thats a cute non-sequitur, given that no one is inserting ethical implications into things like that. Seeing as this thread was sparked by the discussion around the ethical implications of software labor being used to further the work of a surveillance contractor, its not just a worthless message-board retort, its actively muddying the waters around issues that are inseparable from ethical questions.

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                                        You’ve got to go about asking these questions in a way that actually enables the OP to respond. Instead, we got a massively passive-aggressive jab at the OP’s company:

                                        I guess it may be possible to work at a seedy company and still do good stuff […] Regardless, thanks for releasing this as free software.

                                        After which, the top commenter is hailed as a hero, and, to no one’s surprise, the OP didn’t respond.

                                        A reword that might have actually elicited a response might have started with “Thanks for releasing this as free software!” rather than the “yeah, your company sucks, but thanks anyway” angle.

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                                          the creation of technology is an set of actions subject to ethical judgements

                                          Assuming that it is true - is it possible to have a small place (e.g. lobste.rs) which is for discussing technology without ethical implications and all the rest of the net for discussing whatever you want (also ethical aspects of technology)? Is this something you can imagine being possible or do you think that such place can’t exist? (this is a serious question)

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                                            That’s certainly an important question.

                                            I think that it’s certainly possible to mention technology without explicitly mentioning ethics. I also think that engaging in that way is an ethical position. You can separate them at the surface level of discussion, but not in the substance.

                                            That said, I can certainly imagine a community in which technology is discussed but ethics is never explicitly mentioned. I would not want to be part of such a community; I would find it deeply unsettling. I do think that some people might like it, and there are a variety of reasons for that and I wouldn’t want to make assumptions about any particular person’s reasons.

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                                              I think the problem with ethical discussions on a technical forum is that there’s not really a shared basis for those discussions. We might have a bunch of members from various religions and cultures who subscribe to widely different ideological frameworks and ethical principles. These different backgrounds are likely to be incommensurate, incompatible, and irresolvable.

                                              In that way it’s similar to discussions like “Are static types good or evil?” or the famous editor wars—so called “religious flame wars” which are known to ruin communities if left to fester.

                                              So indeed it is a kind of ethical decision about the norms of the community—whether ethical claims and disagreements ought to be encouraged in comment threads. There are pretty good reasons against.

                                              Let’s say I’m a committed socialist or communist or anarchist. There are many such people who are programmers. Now I have very good reason to enter threads about commercial activity and ask the involved people to justify their clearly immoral participation in the tyrannical, plutocratic, deeply unjust system of capitalism. I would of course encounter a bunch of dirty capitalist apologists trying to argue against my ethical position… and we could go on for a long time… almost certainly to the detriment of the community.

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                                                “I think the problem with ethical discussions on a technical forum is that there’s not really a shared basis for those discussions. We might have a bunch of members from various religions and cultures who subscribe to widely different ideological frameworks and ethical principles. These different backgrounds are likely to be incommensurate, incompatible, and irresolvable.”

                                                You nailed it. That isn’t hypothetical: it happens in every political thread. The ending, minus rare exceptions, is everyone ends up believing what they already believed with some shunning their opponents in some way. Lobsters doesn’t work for political discussion that’s about actually changing people’s mind.

                                                Of course, many of you are starting with the foundation that people wanting politics want a political discussion. They mostly don’t as evidenced by their comments in such threads. If you’re curious, I just described here the evolution of politics and behavioral patterns on this site from when I first came to where we’re at now. Given the same environment, political discussion is and will continue to be impossible because the dominant group intends for it to be. They want compliance and conversion, not discussion.

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                                                  I don’t necessarily know that changing people’s minds should be the goal, but I also don’t know that it’s impossible. I think you’re describing what happens when everyone reacts defensively. It’s indeed not possible to change someone’s mind if they aren’t willing to open up and have a real conversation, so I wish the world in general would be more open to interacting in ways that aren’t so resistant to real dialogue.

                                                  I’m an optimist, and I believe that when people try, they can engage with the goal of at least leaving each other with something to think about.

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                                              I’ll suggest this (mainly tongue-in-cheek) but it might be a good solution: for every submission provide another link next to ‘reply’ called ‘ethics-reply.’ The links go to two separate discussion areas. That way, people can dip into the tech or ethics discussions as they like.

                                              1. 6

                                                If such a place did exist, I think you’d have trouble finding a lot of people who would want to hang out there. I’ll just jump immediately to the most extreme possible example: if someone posted an article about the technology used by the Nazis to organize the Holocaust, but discussing the attendant ethics was strictly forbidden, would you be happy participating in that discussion? Would you want to spend a lot of time talking to other people who would be happy participating in that discussion?

                                                1. 14

                                                  if someone posted an article about the technology used by the Nazis to organize the Holocaust, but discussing the attendant ethics was strictly forbidden, would you be happy participating in that discussion?

                                                  I am a jew who was raised by holocaust survivors. My answer is yes. In fact, I think it’s the only way that one could have a discussion about the technology used by the Nazis that wasn’t immediately dragged off topic.

                                                  And, honestly, an ethical discussion would either be abhorrent or boring, since a vibrant discussion implies a difference of opinion, and anyone who has significant differences in belief with me on the ethics of systematic mass murder is someone that I don’t expect to have a productive discussion with.

                                                  1. 12

                                                    Yes to both, to be honest. I did a bit of research for a point the other day, and something occurred to me.

                                                    Technology, especially computing, is all about solving problems at scale and efficiently. For the most part of the 19th and 20th centuries, the domains that actually had the scale to justify theoretical work and practical development tended overwhelmingly towards things like military applications (standing armies tending to be some of the largest organized groups around) and demographics/census/taxcollecting work.

                                                    For better or worse, note that IBM was really good at tabulating census data, something that the Nazis took advantage of. I personally would be happy talking about techniques for tabulating that data and managing it, in hopes that it could be applied to more positive uses. Similarly, I’d be happy to learn about rocketry from von Braun, even though most of what he learned he learned by dropping explosives on British civilians.

                                                    1. 5

                                                      Let’s take the specifics. Is Palantir stuff that remarkable to be worth the inevitable fallout in the comments and personal ethical compromises? Is it really that seminal and groundbreaking?

                                                      It is a dilemma when we talk about say an SS officer who also happened to run the US Moon programme. But Palantir is adtech’s meaner sibling, what is there that makes it worth picking the turd pile?

                                                      1. 9

                                                        The drop in the level of technical discussion is the issue, not the company being discussed. I’d prefer to let posts on unethical companies die in silence, rather than make this site a worse place to discuss technology.

                                                        1. 2

                                                          Another reason is highlighting the bad gives you less time to create the good. Most people that care can look up a company to see if there’s anything messed up. The bad or at least going with the flow are also the majority. If we’re talking companies, I’d rather people put more effort into highlighting ethical ones with useful tech or products. Basically, anything that can be a fit here on technical grounds with them also mentioning in a comment that the person, company, product, etc is good/beneficial for (reasons here). Maybe they mention some bad examples with it if trying to shame companies. Just optimize to promote more tech and examples of public benefit over just calling out bad companies who are the perpetual default.

                                                          Easy example: Prgmr.com over Digital Ocean, AWS, Google, or Azure if fits use case due to ‘straight-forward offerings, great service, some nice people, and freely hosting an excellent site for deep, technical discussion.” The submission might even be about something else entirely that’s merely hosted on the ethical product/service. Then, they add a quick note about it that barely distracts from the focus on technical content. Just all flows together for the reader.

                                                        2. 8

                                                          the inevitable fallout in the comments

                                                          The fallout is not “inevitable” - it is not a force majeure. Actual, specific, individuals CHOOSE to make it about the “ethics”. You’re asking people to appease these individuals.

                                                        3. 2

                                                          Would you be also ok to discuss methods of performing deadly medical experiments on people with Nazi concentration camps staff? Would you be ok to advise them how to improve the scale and speed? Would you still want to keep such discussions ethics-free? How about diacussing effectiveness of guns with the Zodiac Killer? Or advising Ted Kaczynski on bombs?

                                                          edit: Please note my intention here is not to seed outrage; I’m sincerely interested in your answer, as I find it hard to imagine setting really no ethics limits, so I’m curious to gauge where would you actually set them? Or would you really want no limits?

                                                          1. 6

                                                            I’ll pick on your first example, because I don’t see benefit in addressing the others (I read you as making the same category of point, with those added for emphasis).

                                                            Would you be also ok to discuss methods of performing deadly medical experiments on people with Nazi concentration camps staff? Would you be ok to advise them how to improve the scale and speed?

                                                            Let me turn that around on you:

                                                            Would you prefer they do them inefficiently, if you knew they were going to do them regardless? Would you prefer that the innocent lives lost in the nominal science of these experiments be done in vain because somebody screwed up their data collection? Would you prefer that, for the same data, they use extra prisoners because they suck at statistical power analysis?

                                                            I don’t support immoral behavior, such as mass murder and torture. I do recognize that whether such things are legally or ethically permissible (again, not morally) is something that transcends individual opinion, and that where those acts fall is a function of the zeitgeist of the times. Sloppy engineering, science, and math will always be sloppy, aesthetics of the time be damned.

                                                            We can’t get to identifying and fixing/discouraging/pillorying that sloppy behavior if we can’t engage with it. We can’t even get close enough to try and reclaim those lost souls if we can’t engage with them on (nominally objective) material civilly.

                                                            1. 6

                                                              Thanks for the interesting reply! So, I think in shortest words I could express what I think about this the following way: I would indeed prefer for them to do this ineffectively - I’d say that is the principle behind sabotage. As far as I know, sabotage works. And that’s indeed what I’d hope to be able to say I’m doing against actions I believe to be significantly unethical. (Though trying to keep my own integrity in means employed to that end.)

                                                              1. 9

                                                                I’m not sure sabotage always works the way one hopes. When you destroy the results of human experimentation, the data is recreated by repeating the experiments on a new set of humans. That seems like a bad outcome for those involved.

                                                                I think the problem is we too often define success as hurting the bad people, and yes sabotage hurts them, but we too should consider the collateral damage of our actions.

                                                                1. 6

                                                                  It’s not about hurting bad people. It’s about making their evil work harder and less efficient at actually hurting good people, while also trying to convince evildoers to not do the evil in the first place, and preferably do good instead and thus become good people. If doing evil is easy for them, it won’t make them do less of it, but rather more of it. They will always invent new experiments to do on a new set of humans anyway. Appeasement policy did not work on the onset of WW2. A bully must be stopped, not let continue the bullying. A child doing bad things must be reprimanded and informed/educated about bad consequences of their deeds, not spoiled.

                                                                  1. 1

                                                                    Well put.

                                                          2. 5

                                                            if someone posted an article about the technology used by the Nazis to organize the Holocaust, but discussing the attendant ethics was strictly forbidden, would you be happy participating in that discussion?

                                                            Interesting example - you are asking if I would be interested in (discussing) e.g. technological aspects of IBM products around Second World War. Yes, this might be very interesting. I can also imagine other Nazi tech related topics that I wouldn’t find interesting (but see no reason for others not to be interested in) and in such cases I would use the hide button. Hopefully such place wouldn’t be all war tech from Nazi Germany or modern day USA ;)

                                                            1. 4

                                                              I would absolutely be hanging out there. That was kind of how this place has been for the most part.

                                                              As to your question about Nazis, yes I would want to discuss the technology, and I’d be happy to discuss it with people in those threads. If it were completely neutral politically, there is the potential to have great technical discussion.

                                                              1. 3

                                                                I think you’d have trouble finding a lot of people who would want to hang out there

                                                                I agree, but that’s not a bad thing, is it? This is not some sort of mass movement.

                                                              2. 0

                                                                s it possible to have a small place (e.g. lobste.rs) which is for discussing technology without ethical implications and all the rest of the net for discussing whatever you want

                                                                No. Even if it were, this would not be it.

                                                                1. 1

                                                                  Even if it were, this would not be it.

                                                                  How do you know this?

                                                                  1. 0

                                                                    Because this site is full of intelligent people.

                                                                    1. 9

                                                                      Ah. You’re implying that “discussing technology without ethical implications” is exclusive to stupid people. Do I understand you correctly?

                                                                      1. 2

                                                                        I’m chewing on my keyboard right now!

                                                                        1. 1

                                                                          Discussing technology without coming up against ethical issues is impossible. I don’t think intelligent people would just skirt around them when they come up.

                                                                2. 5

                                                                  Do you have an example of an action that would not be subject to ethical judgements? In trying to understand your claim, but I don’t sufficiently understand the definitions you’re using to determine whether you’ve made a falsifiable statement or not. Will you spend a little time describing the limits of your statement or what empirical observations support it?

                                                                  1. 6

                                                                    I would argue that there is a class of actions, e.g., selecting one knife over another in the kitchen for cooking, that has neither inherent ethic or no ethical consequence. Now, the ethic selected for consideration will affect whether you consider something to be of consequence. If, e.g., there is an ethical judgment on the Proper Utensils To Use, then that becomes of ethical consequence. Generally, societies consider actions such as killing adult humans to have inherent ethics.

                                                                    Suppose we choose gcc or clang - then you are supporting, ever so mildly, one development philosophy & license over another. Those licenses are widely considered to have ethical entailments. The FSF has very strong ethical stances about licensing.

                                                                    Now, with respect to empirical observations, I suggest weapons systems: they are an obvious technology which carries ethical implications. Other technology might be: AirBNB (affects housing), Uber (affects taxi operators), factory robots (replaces factory workers). Each of those affects jobs and thus the ability of many members of society to be fed and housed, a clear ethical question.

                                                                    I hope those presents samples that adequately points towards the answer you are looking for.

                                                                    1. 7

                                                                      I would argue that there is a class of actions, e.g., selecting one knife over another in the kitchen for cooking, that has neither inherent ethic or no ethical consequence.

                                                                      Interesting. Why do you believe that the methods that knife companies use to exploit their workers and the labor conditions of their employees would not be something to discuss? Do you believe that the environmental implications of importing knives from China rather than buying them locally has no ethical impact? What about the historical implications of Western expansion and influence in Japan, and the resulting western style Gyuto knives supplanting Sujihiki style kitchen knives? In fact, not only are there ethical implications, there are deep historical forces involved in your selection of kitchen knives.

                                                                      Of course there are ethical considerations in picking kitchen knives. But you might not want someone to bring them up every time you try to discuss paring potatoes, because they may be considered to be off topic by some.

                                                                      1. 4

                                                                        Ah, this is the problem with language: I was contemplating grabbing one knife out of my kitchen bin versus another. “Selection” is a polymorphic verb over multiple objects dispatching… and yes, actual purchasing of knives exercises an ethical choice regarding the supply chain and who gets my infinitesimally small dollar choice.

                                                                        It’s a bit tiring, as a friend said to me once, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism(even if you disagree with my Lefty friend there, you can get the spirit of the statement) - sometimes you do just need to get the Thing done. One has to care the appropriate amount, and respond in the proportional manner.

                                                                        1. 10

                                                                          there is no ethical consumption under capitalism

                                                                          I’d go one step further: There’s no such thing as an unquestionably ethical action. The economic model doesn’t matter – everything is an ethical trade off. With that realization, it becomes clear that ethical debates can be shoehorned in anywhere, which is why a space where discussions on ethics are deemed off topic can be valuable.

                                                                          (Edit) High quality discussion on ethics would be interesting, but quality is subjective, and discussions are prone to turn into flame wars and shaming, especially in today’s internet climate, so I’d rather have them declared off topic, at least in this little corner.

                                                                          1. 8

                                                                            If politics is encouraged in every applicable thread (it is now) and I wanted to join that practice (I don’t), I could be calling folks out in many (sometimes most) threads here each day on ethics around employers, code maintenance, energy use, disposable products causing environmental harm, using tech that’s non-inclusive cuz few understand it or CPU/RAM requirements price out the poor, and so on. It would be ridiculous even when true since it distracts so much from the kinds of technical submissions that brought many people to Lobsters in the first place. Especially those actually building interesting stuff vs just submitting.

                                                                            It’s why I was for either ban on politics or a tag so it would be in specific threads folks could filter. Both got shot down. Here we are.

                                                                  2. 6

                                                                    You’re absolutely correct.

                                                                    Hell, Portland State University’s CS program even has a requirement class “CS 305 Social, Ethical, and Legal Implications of Computing”[0]. I suspect this is not an anomoly..

                                                                    1. https://www.pdx.edu/computer-science/cs305
                                                                  3. 28

                                                                    I don’t often agree with you @friendlysock, but I think I’m with you on this one. I’m really tired of the ethical shaming that the wider Internet has become obsessed with. I am baffled that a lot of the comments here appear to see no middle ground between “low effort shaming tactics” (as seen in the thread under discussion) and “ban all ethical discussion.” We’ve apparently adopted an unstated policy that it’s totally cool to pointedly make other members feel bad just as long as it’s in service to some higher ethical goal.

                                                                    Personally, I don’t think this is fixable in a community that is already as established as Lobsters. You need to start fresh and you probably need stricter moderation and stricter content guidelines. But I’ve said this before; the problem is getting people to play the role of the moderator, because it’s super hard thankless work. Maybe there are some incremental changes you could make to Lobsters (e.g., a cooling off period between comments), but stuff like that is pretty hard to introduce into an established community with strong priors about what participation looks like.

                                                                    Lobsters is still a place where I can find satisfying discussion occasionally, but that’s true even at places like HN. I’ve come close to deleting my account a few times recently because of how awful some of the comments have been. But then I realized that if I stopped setting my expectations so high and look at Lobsters as just another HN or another subreddit, then it’s much easier to stomach. Because, to me at least, that’s really all it is. But it didn’t start that way.

                                                                    1. 12

                                                                      You are absolutely right about setting proper expectations!

                                                                      I kind of want to elaborate on what you said. And it’s really directed towards the general audience and not you. My response is not going to be a feel-good comment about old Lobsters.

                                                                      I see a lot of people claiming that Lobsters used to be a place about technical discussion, and now it has too much talk about politics and ethics. This is simply a false claim at least as of 4 years ago when I joined. Maybe it was true 6 years ago?

                                                                      I have seen very little deep technical discussion in the last 4 years about anything here. I don’t romanticize the old Lobsters because it wasn’t that romantic. It was never say lambda-the-ultimate or the kind of technical discussion on say realclimate.org. If you want deep technical discussions, you won’t find too many in old Lobsters.

                                                                      No, Lobsters, similar to other tech sites I see has always been more about pop-culture. So, before, there was pop-culture discussion of tech, and now there is a political discussion of tech. I personally can’t stomach more pop-culture.

                                                                      If we want to get serious about technical discussion, let’s get serious about the technical discussion. What I don’t want is people to stop talking about ethics if it means going back to the “pop-culture” techinical discussion we had before. Because at least discussion about ethics is serious. What I don’t want is more talk about how I’m not unit-testing correctly. For the love of everything holy, please no more talk about how I’m not unit testing correctly.

                                                                      I’m going to highlight what I consider “technical articles” from today’s the front page. Notice the discussion…

                                                                      That’s it. Nothing else was really that technical. No discussion. This is not a new problem with Lobsters.

                                                                      Here is what I promise I’ll do.

                                                                      1. Submit technical stuff.
                                                                      2. Participate in the discussion.

                                                                      Problem is, most of the technical stuff I submit gets zero comments. and it always has. Let’s raise the bar, not go back to where we were before.

                                                                      1. 5

                                                                        I would add to that list:

                                                                        Those submissions have the same level of discussion but this is not a bad thing in my opinion. Most of the time only a small fraction of users should have anything to contribute in comments section - that’s how it should be with technical posts from many different fields when submitted to general site such as lobste.rs.

                                                                        1. 1

                                                                          I think you hit the nail on the head, this is a general site and always has been. Also, the SBCL thing was amusing, thanks, not sure how I missed that one.

                                                                        2. 4

                                                                          I am certainly not immune to the problem of looking at history with rose tinted glasses. Another possible explanation is that the amount of noise has dramatically increased over the years, even if the absolute amount of technical discussion hasn’t changed too much.

                                                                        3. 8

                                                                          Personally, I don’t think this is fixable in a community that is already as established as Lobsters

                                                                          Maybe there are some incremental changes you could make to Lobsters

                                                                          I believe it is fixable, and you even named how to fix it: incremental suppression of off-topic, inappropriate, or incorrect behavior and their associated impositions on our commons, leaving no alternative to constructive participation on the site.

                                                                          It’s even appropriate: moderation discovers and punishes known, demonstrably poor behavior (discovered, articulated and limited), leaving all other behaviors available. Anything not bad is good. i.e., not a topic for moderation.

                                                                          Incremental changes are the only thing works: via discovery of ‘bads’ and subsequent intolerance of them.

                                                                          Really.

                                                                          1. 4

                                                                            I’m happy to be wrong. I don’t want to get into the weeds, but my perspective is that changes like that would be a radical departure from how Lobsters has operated. On that principle alone, the social and cultural capital required to affect such a change is immense.

                                                                        4. 12

                                                                          Thanks for bringing this up. I, for one, really enjoyed reading and thinking about the pros and cons about using/contributing to software written by a company that many (including myself) would consider shady. I didn’t feel the need to comment myself as I had nothing of value to add to the discussion.

                                                                          I recognize that the ethics of a certain company is a topic that people tend to feel very strongly about (it hits their moral compass, which can be core to one’s philosophy of life) so discussions can get emotional and the quality of the comments suffers for it.

                                                                          I’m not sure how to control the quality of comments. One could berate the users who use language that’s too emotionally charged, but that might mean people aren’t even going to bring up the ethical implications, because that’s basically a value judgment of the company. If left uncontrolled it will spin out of control (like this thread did somewhat).

                                                                          The best solution would indeed be to simply reject all such comments in the original topic. When people really want to discuss it, let them start a new thread. The post itself wasn’t about the ethics, so all these comments are in a strict sense off-topic. Starting a new topic about the ethics (correctly tagged, of course! note that there currently is no “ethics” tag…) would provide a good place to discuss such things and people can decide to up- or downvote (or hide) the topic completely, so I think that would be the right thing to do in this situation (assuming such discussions are considered on-topic for the site as a whole, at all; and I certainly hope so!)

                                                                          1. 18

                                                                            The submission itself has no downvotes, and only 14 upvotes.

                                                                            Umm. I don’t even have a downvote button on a story. Am I missing something?

                                                                            Whenever I see a flamewar erupt about ethics and civility, I’m reminded of that brilliant crack from Flanders and Swann… “They’re all strictly apolitical. ie. They’re all conservatives.”

                                                                            I come from The Very Bad Old days of Apartheid South Africa… I remember all too clearly the endless “Why drag politics into this?” rants by those who desperately wished to operate in an ethical vacuum, whilst maintaining a deeply inethical status quo.

                                                                            To me a demand to “keep politics/ethics/issues of justice/fairness and equality” out of daily discourse is a huge red flag.

                                                                            After decades in that nightmare society, to me it’s like that rock you spot out of the corner of your eye, that seems to have too many legs…. you just know if you lift it there things will be crawling about under it…

                                                                            Assuming that open-source and sharing software is a good thing by itself, how do you think this sort of reaction encourages that for folks at Palantir?

                                                                            Ever had a look at Eric Raymond’s personal stuff? Now there is a dyed in the wool far right American red neck if I ever saw one!

                                                                            signal to noise ratio

                                                                            One man’s signal is another man’s noise.

                                                                            Someday I’ll get off my butt and create a redditish / lobsterish site that uses Singular Value Decomposition (SVD) to present to each user a personal ranking of articles and comments, that aligns to her own history of voting. ie. Make all these debates go away forever.

                                                                            1. 6

                                                                              “To me a demand to “keep politics/ethics/issues of justice/fairness and equality” out of daily discourse is a huge red flag.”

                                                                              We demanded it on one, tech-focused site. Many of us are either fine with it on other sites or even (my case) actual activists that just want a mental break via content or activities we can really get deep into. The technical stuff on Lobsters is like that. Kind of like reading a book, actually, without someone interrupting with a political diatribe every few pages.

                                                                              “Make all these debates go away forever.”

                                                                              We did suggest a politics tag so people can have both political and technical discussions here in a separate way for those that choose. That’s so much easier to implement even though your idea sounds cool. There were two, main objections if I’m not misremembering:

                                                                              1. The anti-political types thought it would legitimize politics increasing politics on the site. I thought that was funny reason to not add a filter given the upward trend. Politics is now default and higher priority.

                                                                              2. Some political activists wanted to be able to inject politics into every submission and thread to force others to see it claiming social value. Maybe it has value but I mostly see finger-pointing, fights, and metas like this. I opposed this practice but it’s the new, dominant position based on votes for people doing it.

                                                                              So, politics tag was reasonable. One side rejected it because it could be an enabler. One rejected it since they wanted to be enabled. Lack of mechanism enabled pervasive politics. Adding it could change that. Some people said they’d leave, though. Where we’re at was an intentional, successful move by activists plus a possible accident by those opposing them.

                                                                              1. 4

                                                                                “Make all these debates go away forever.”

                                                                                I think you missed the idea of SVD.

                                                                                If you think of each person’s personal biases as a vector in a high dimensional vector space…. and her vote on any particular item of (story or comment) content as a measure of her alignment with that content.

                                                                                Then everybody else’s vote on the same content allows one to infer the (relative) direction of each item of content.

                                                                                ie. The Zeroth Principle component is the “Hive Mind”, the average view.

                                                                                The result of this scheme is if you never want to see content type X, and you down vote it every time you do see it.

                                                                                Then if somebody who is aligned opposite to you submits or upvotes a new item of content.. that will receive a low ranking according to your alignment, probably below your threshold, and you simply won’t even see it.

                                                                                1. 3

                                                                                  That sounds both convenient and terrifying at the same time from my perspective. Like a simpler version of what those personal assistants in AI field were supposed to do for us. Just seems like it would create the same echo chambers algorithms at Facebook, etc are doing. Those have done a lot of damage. I’d rather avoid something that total in presentation if possible.

                                                                                  The reason I mentioned just politics tag is that it’s the main point of contention leading to many of these threads and fights. A good chunk of the members just want it to be invisible at least here. They want an oasis for tech-focused people. So, making it invisible with a tag per story or comment solves a lot of that with one feature. Maybe. People will probably still gripe about standards, languages/tools of choice, and so on. Filtering politics will knock down a lot of the worst.

                                                                                  There’s a saying in the South that many go by: “I’ll talk to people [in context here] about anything except politics and religion.” The reason being folks talking about those usually just argue or become enemies unless they’re already in agreement. Destroys lots of relationships, productivity, etc. So, such people attempt to separate it where possible from places or activities where we want focus, fun, etc. Usually works fine among all groups here. So, I pushed for a solution proven in one of most heated areas of America. Might work here.

                                                                                  1. 4

                                                                                    I’ll talk to people [in context here] about anything except politics and religion.

                                                                                    That was a very characteristic feature of The Bad Old Days of Apartheid South Africa.

                                                                                    Translated from the Original South African it meant “I’m comfortable with the status quo, don’t make me think about things that make me uncomfortable.”.

                                                                                    Personally I wouldn’t find the SVD ranked world an echo chamber, even in the Bad Old days I regularly listened to the ultra right wing radio station…. not because I agreed with them, but so I would know what they were up to / how they were thinking. (Well, to be honest I also do like Boere Musiek)

                                                                                    Useful.

                                                                                    So in a SVD ranked world I would often sort to display lowest ranked first.

                                                                                    Because in the SVD ranked world 0 means “Meh. I don’t care one way or another about that”

                                                                                    Very negative rank means “I really do care about and strongly disagree with that.”

                                                                                    Which is something very very different.

                                                                                    1. 4

                                                                                      Re feature of South Africa. I believe it. It’s used to reinforce the orthodoxy in the South, too. The other thing it does is keep the peace. Note that minority members I meet almost universally support the same rule for the same benefit.

                                                                                      Although it’s the default, we do talk politics periodically in the workplace and other public places. We just know folks can only handle so much. Someone will eventually draw the line where others then back off that topic to respect their boundaries. Alternatively, someone might cut it after it gets unproductive shifting to non-political, esp funny. Humor helps a lot.

                                                                                      Many of the Lobsters type of leftist talk like their method is the only thing that works for minorities or makes progress. Yet, selective, high-impact use of politics that we otherwise avoid has worked for minority members and gotten progress down here for years. That on top of occasional, legal action or protests. If anything, it worked better than what people here advocate since:

                                                                                      1. Government, schools, and many business were black controlled when I was in Memphis, TN. They were running it all their way with a focus on black issues and investment. There’s also a large segment of hispanics with their own businesses, areas and so on. There’s lots of everyone in most workplaces with a range of biases.

                                                                                      2. The companies and sites run by leftist activists often seem composed of white men and women, add indian or asian males for tech. For instance, I called out Rust compiler team about just being a bunch of white dudes despite talented women out there in compilers and them claiming to want inclusion if it’s words on a forum. Likewise, Lobsters is heavy on inclusion/outrage politics but there’s basically just one of them consistently submissing work by underrepresented folks (tagged culture). Most dont invest any effort in under-represented, minority submissions in various areas of tech but will in piles of comments about how important it is to help them.

                                                                                      Looking at the results, minorities are getting further ahead in one of the most-racist, least-PC areas of America than in most companies or sites with views similar to Lobsters majority, including Lobsters. So, although our “politics here not there” rule can be used to surpress dissent, it can also be used to get people ahead by focusing on their work/happiness in most places saving political effort for places & using techniques with high ROI. Which folks like me are doing down here in the Mid-South with better results at least for blacks and hispanics.

                                                                                      Re your preference on ranked content

                                                                                      That’s a really neat idea. You and I are more alike on some aspects of thinking than you might think. I always did something similar, last time on Facebook. Kind of like marketers or campaigners do, I had one of each type of person in my feed, blog roll, etc. Every significant group I could think of along with some oddballs who were just really interesting or fun. Plus family, friends, and other obvious.

                                                                                      When a media event happened, they’d all start talking politics. For each issue, I’d read their comments, follow each of their links with evidence, try to assess bias/reliability, and then try to combine it into truth. Id discuss it with them. Similar to what I did asking everyone questions when younger about many topics. Process turned me from Christian Republican about trusting markets to Agnostic Moderate Socialist. I could still be wrong: gotta keep listening even though painful.

                                                                                      Im still fine with a few places either politics free or isolate it in normal operation. Lets me shift into productive mindset with maximum flow. I mean, I doubt most folks here want to be told negative, political implications of actions every time they read a book/paper, write code, are hiking, and so on. You all already practice what I preach at work and in some hobbies. Then, many make an exception for Lobsters or forums saying we should get bombarded, attacked, etc there since we can never, ever leave out politics to focus on tech/fun/work. Inconsistent. Id rather focus here like most of you allow yourselves to do in other tech activities.

                                                                              2. 1

                                                                                Someday I’ll get off my butt and create a redditish / lobsterish site that uses Singular Value Decomposition (SVD) to present to each user a personal ranking of articles and comments, that aligns to her own history of voting.

                                                                                I like that idea. If it is something that each user can toggle, it could be genuinely useful (if untogglable then filter bubble, of course).

                                                                                1. 3

                                                                                  More useful than toggle is invert.

                                                                                  The closest redditish sites have is “sort by controversial”, they don’t have “sort by most down voted”, since that corresponds to “most regarded as trollish by the hive mind”.

                                                                                  The interesting thing is the idea of principle components of the content. The first one is typically the hive mind, the second one is probably the most popular topic on the site…

                                                                                  The next interesting thing are your personal principle components.

                                                                                  As I was saying nickp.

                                                                                  0 is Meh dont care.

                                                                                  Positive is interesting and I agree

                                                                                  Negative is interesting and dont agree.

                                                                                  So positive and negative is interesting.

                                                                                  1. 2

                                                                                    Negative is interesting and dont agree.

                                                                                    I kinda like that idea. When I’ve seen a really good film, I enjoy reading reviews from people that didn’t like it. They are often more precise than the positive ones.

                                                                              3. 10

                                                                                Can we separate (on voluntary basis or administratively) comments about ethical concerns into a separate mirror of the post discussion, explicitly marked so? Everybody would be free to continue discussions on ethics in a separate post without forcing anyone to read it along with the technical discussion. Not sure how practical this idea is, though.

                                                                                1. 5

                                                                                  That was actually one of the ideas for 2019 I alluded to in my comment. Ill be brainstorming on how to implement it conveniently with minimal burden to admins/mods. It’s a low-priority item to me, though, with stuff like search improvements being more important. Maybe tie-in to a feature improvement.

                                                                                  1. 7

                                                                                    Can’t we have tabs for the comment section?

                                                                                    Technical | Related | Other | Off-Topic

                                                                                    And switch through them if one wants to.

                                                                                    1. 4

                                                                                      Relatedly, we did previously have a feature called “dragoning”. A mod could click a comment and that tree would be collapsed and sorted below its siblings regardless of score. Users could click to expand the thread and interact normally, but anytime they reloaded the page they’d have to do it again. (This predated the Replies pages, so it was a deliberate inconvenience.) It was only used a few times on political/ethical threads before it was removed.

                                                                                      1. 3

                                                                                        I like this idea, almost like shadow comment threads instead of outright shadowbanning like Reddit. Since a comment thread could go off-topic anywhere, it would need to be a property that is inherited by any child comments as well.

                                                                                  2. 10

                                                                                    I don’t think the question here should be “is technology always going to be intertwined with ethics?” rather “is this the appropriate forum for discussing ethics and politics in relation to technology?”

                                                                                    Maybe we simply need a discussion about that. Get a consensus, add something to the site to say exactly what it Lobsters is and is not, and move on.

                                                                                    Personally, I come here for technical discussions that get me out of the constant politicization of everything right now. I tend to ignore anything that touches on political theater, but it’s getting more and more prevalent. If we can come to a group consensus here about what the site is and isn’t, I can make a more informed decision on if I want to stick around or not. I’d rather be told “we are encouraging political/ethical discussion in our comments” now than die the death of 1000 paper cuts where we tacitly encourage it by not moderating it.

                                                                                    1. 8

                                                                                      There are a lot of words on this page, so I’ll try to keep it short (and recommend you do as well!):

                                                                                      • I agree that the general tone of the entire discussion was not great (although I think that top-level post was pretty respectably written)
                                                                                      • Viewing the site as “technology without the humanity, unless that humanity is related to building more technology” is just denying reality. There’s a reason we’re not using ReiserFS anymore, and I think that particular reason is just as relevant to Lobsters as its metadata journaling.

                                                                                      As someone who’s participated in more than a few “ethical slapfights” on this site, I think the major problem is runaway threads, not the content that starts the threads themselves. One of the many reasons I like Lobsters is its slower pace compared to other sites (only a few new stories come up every day), so maybe a response cooldown really is the answer.

                                                                                      1. 8

                                                                                        Due to unintended effect of interaction with the software, the text of a story I posted (that should have been a comment here) got wiped. @pushcx was kind enough to resurrect the markdown so I could repost it here. This should make @friendlysock’s reply make more sense.

                                                                                        ===

                                                                                        I’ve seen a sudden uptick against new users, as if another Eternal September looms on the horizon. The regular approach to push September away is to just educate new users and guide them toward being productive Crustaceans, but a lot of the discussion lately is downright negative (to the point of a proposal banning new users altogether).

                                                                                        I don’t get paid to be on here. I come here because it’s interesting and fun, and I imagine that’s the kind of vibe we want to encourage on Lobsters. People are attracted to our stories, discussions, and general emphasis on technical or artistic topics (instead of, say, business success). Let’s keep that spirit in mind when interacting with new people so we can show them the right way instead of scaring them off. If the only nudges you get are negative ones, you may expect that’s all you’re going to get. If @friendlysock can make a conscious decision to be friendlier, so can you.

                                                                                        I’d like to specify that when I mean “negative,” I’m talking about negative reinforcement – “you’re posting wrong” instead of “you’re posting right,” or “this is the kind of content we don’t want” instead of “this is the kind of content we like.” There will always be a place for technical criticism, and I don’t want to say that we should always be upbeat happy people. I just think that we should always mention positive examples when demonstrating negative ones.

                                                                                        For a long time I’ve supported a “new poster’s guide” to bolster the rather technical about page. We tried to do this a while ago but that effort unfortunately lost steam. If we don’t have anything written down, we rely on people trying to post what they think is right while navigating the gauntlet of negative feedback until they “get it.” This is an extremely discouraging process. It’s also not really interesting or fun, both for the new posters and the people who have been here a while. If it’s not interesting or fun, why are we even here?

                                                                                        I’ll leave you with a _why quote that really guides my thinking on this: “when you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create.” Let’s create an encouraging environment for new users, and find ways to guide them toward sharing some really awesome stuff. Thanks.

                                                                                        1. 13

                                                                                          Thanks @friendlysock for bringing it up. I also found that thread appalling for its level of cheap potshots and general rudeness. Like, to the point where I’m already looking around for a better alternative.

                                                                                          Why wasn’t the off-topic flag used more?

                                                                                          Because it’s ineffective. In the post I just linked, the “top” (most upvoted) comment is from a moderator taking a side in the debate. I’ve said it before and will probably say it again: our Reddit-style voting system encourages Reddit-style behaviour.

                                                                                          1. 7

                                                                                            Because it’s ineffective. In the post I just linked, the “top” (most upvoted) comment is from a moderator taking a side in the debate.

                                                                                            That moderator took a side not as a moderator but as a human being, with personal opinions. I agree that the post friendlysock mentioned had some cheap potshots, but what you’re doing here isn’t different.

                                                                                            I do however agree with you about the voting system.

                                                                                            1. 5

                                                                                              what you’re doing here isn’t different

                                                                                              Can you elaborate? The difference seems pretty clear to me.

                                                                                              All moderators, hat on or off, are human beings and as such probably have opinions. I’m asking what responsibilities pertain to that role. If the answer is “none really”, then the role itself is not of much use. I would expect a moderator who is deliberately stepping out of that role to at the very least see that another mod actually moderates the discussion. @Irene, care to comment?

                                                                                              How many downvotes (raw numbers, or relative to page views or upvotes, or whatever) do you think should be required before a moderator takes action?

                                                                                              1. 4

                                                                                                the act of moderation deals with knows bads. A particular comment, account, thread, or story where evidence is available, a complaint can be levied via reference to those facts, and the matter settled by any necessary restitution: clarification, apology, demand for cessation of activity, or deletion.

                                                                                                By focusing on what actually happened you (hope, intend, ensure to) remove appeal to intuition, opinion, or preference and focus instead of parsimoniously resolving the matter at hand.

                                                                                                1. 4

                                                                                                  Ok, so maybe @friendlysock and I are just unclear on the procedure. When 25 users flag a story as “off-topic”, are you saying that someone has to additionally and explicitly call for a moderator and file a complaint? Where is this procedure written down? It sounds like you’re quoting some manual of conduct that I’ve never seen.

                                                                                                2. 2

                                                                                                  Can you elaborate? The difference seems pretty clear to me.

                                                                                                  Thank you for asking, you just made me realize that a) my statement was very ambiguous and b) that I was actually doing exactly what I wanted to condemn, mainly discussing the person and not the topic/post. I personally do not think the ethical discussion is the problem, in fact I’m very much for having ethical discussions, but my problem is with attacking people instead of arguing the ideas. That’s why I saw your comment also as a cheap potshot, because you didn’t provide much to why you think that comment was a problem, instead you focused on the human behind it, and that they were a moderator. This is also why I realized thanks to your question that mine wasn’t different.

                                                                                                  All moderators, hat on or off, are human beings and as such probably have opinions. I’m asking what responsibilities pertain to that role. If the answer is “none really”, then the role itself is not much use.

                                                                                                  The responsibilities can be none with the hat off, that doesn’t mean that they’re also none when the hat’s on. Are you of the opinion that every opinion a tech worker has should be considered the opinion of their employer? how is it different in this case? You can argue that moderators should be role models to the community, but I think that’s not necessary if the moderators can still be judged according to the exact same criteria as other users when the hat’s off.

                                                                                                  How many downvotes (raw numbers, or relative to page views or upvotes, or whatever) do you think should be required before a moderator takes action?

                                                                                                  Thanks for asking, I’d like to actually hear your opinion on this? I don’t wanna engage in any direct recommendations, because the last time I did, I felt very unwelcome.

                                                                                                  1. 4

                                                                                                    I’ll be as clear as I can: I was responding to one of @friendlysock’s original questions, and suggesting that Lobsters users, and especially users who have been around long enough to see how things actually work here, don’t use the “flag” (aka “downvote”) feature very much because they have very little evidence that it ever results in moderator action. In practice, it’s a “disagree” button with a little bit of extra ceremony.

                                                                                                    1. 3

                                                                                                      For flagging: ‘Already Posted’ flags very often result in a merge; ‘Bad Link’ is new but I hope it will usually result in the submitter editing in or resubmitting a working link before a mod gets the chance.

                                                                                                      I’ve been deliberately reluctant to remove stories that get ‘Off-Topic’ flags because the ‘hide’ link on stories also hides the comments from /comments and other pages, so it’s easy for someone to effectively remove it from their view. The site has never had an definition of topicality more specific “if no tags apply, it probably doesn’t belong”, so most of what I’ve removed for topicality is news and gossip about tech companies (the mod log has the full list, of course).

                                                                                                      The invite system has done a lot to prevent spam, so the ‘Spam’ flag doesn’t get used much. I’ve removed out-and-out spam, but because we get so little it seems to be mostly used as a more vehement “Off Topic” flag. But that’s me reading into it from my perspective; I haven’t messaged to ask. The use of spam flags has increased a bit this year:

                                                                                                      MariaDB [lobsters]> select *, n_spam_votes / n_stories * 100 from (select extract(year from updated_at) as y, extract(month from updated_at) as m, count(*) as n_spam_votes, (select count(*) from stories where extract(year from stories.created_at) = y and extract(month from stories.created_at) = m) as n_stories from votes where comment_id is not null and reason = 'S' group by y, m) q;
                                                                                                      +------+------+--------------+-----------+--------------------------------+
                                                                                                      | y    | m    | n_spam_votes | n_stories | n_spam_votes / n_stories * 100 |
                                                                                                      +------+------+--------------+-----------+--------------------------------+
                                                                                                      | 2012 |    9 |            4 |       436 |                         0.9174 |
                                                                                                      | 2013 |    2 |            1 |       150 |                         0.6667 |
                                                                                                      | 2013 |   10 |            1 |       216 |                         0.4630 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |    1 |            3 |       576 |                         0.5208 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |    2 |            1 |       467 |                         0.2141 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |    4 |            9 |       519 |                         1.7341 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |    5 |            2 |       509 |                         0.3929 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |    6 |            1 |       482 |                         0.2075 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |    7 |            6 |       623 |                         0.9631 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |    8 |           14 |       482 |                         2.9046 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |    9 |           11 |       435 |                         2.5287 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |   10 |           11 |       396 |                         2.7778 |
                                                                                                      | 2014 |   11 |            3 |       443 |                         0.6772 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |    1 |            1 |       509 |                         0.1965 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |    2 |            5 |       454 |                         1.1013 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |    3 |            9 |       584 |                         1.5411 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |    4 |            5 |       490 |                         1.0204 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |    5 |            3 |       424 |                         0.7075 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |    6 |            7 |       422 |                         1.6588 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |    7 |           12 |       608 |                         1.9737 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |    8 |            7 |       541 |                         1.2939 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |    9 |            2 |       549 |                         0.3643 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |   10 |           11 |       737 |                         1.4925 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |   11 |            3 |       791 |                         0.3793 |
                                                                                                      | 2015 |   12 |            6 |       761 |                         0.7884 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |    1 |           18 |       972 |                         1.8519 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |    2 |           12 |       849 |                         1.4134 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |    3 |            1 |       736 |                         0.1359 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |    4 |            4 |       739 |                         0.5413 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |    5 |            6 |       786 |                         0.7634 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |    6 |           16 |       798 |                         2.0050 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |    7 |            5 |       812 |                         0.6158 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |    8 |            5 |       797 |                         0.6274 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |    9 |            5 |       731 |                         0.6840 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |   10 |            9 |       779 |                         1.1553 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |   11 |           12 |       835 |                         1.4371 |
                                                                                                      | 2016 |   12 |            6 |       852 |                         0.7042 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |    1 |           10 |      1037 |                         0.9643 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |    2 |           13 |      1068 |                         1.2172 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |    3 |           28 |      1194 |                         2.3451 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |    4 |            4 |       947 |                         0.4224 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |    5 |           18 |       979 |                         1.8386 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |    6 |           10 |       941 |                         1.0627 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |    7 |           31 |      1109 |                         2.7953 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |    8 |           22 |      1111 |                         1.9802 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |    9 |           24 |       974 |                         2.4641 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |   10 |            5 |       985 |                         0.5076 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |   11 |           13 |       924 |                         1.4069 |
                                                                                                      | 2017 |   12 |           10 |       922 |                         1.0846 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |    1 |           10 |       961 |                         1.0406 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |    2 |            7 |       846 |                         0.8274 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |    3 |           20 |      1058 |                         1.8904 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |    4 |           33 |       983 |                         3.3571 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |    5 |           37 |       982 |                         3.7678 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |    6 |           22 |       886 |                         2.4831 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |    7 |            9 |      1017 |                         0.8850 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |    8 |           18 |       985 |                         1.8274 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |    9 |           21 |       869 |                         2.4166 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |   10 |           16 |       918 |                         1.7429 |
                                                                                                      | 2018 |   11 |            8 |       563 |                         1.4210 |
                                                                                                      +------+------+--------------+-----------+--------------------------------+
                                                                                                      60 rows in set (0.83 sec)
                                                                                                      
                                                                                                      1. 2

                                                                                                        That’s an interesting point. Up until recently I was under the impression that flagging isn’t used often so that things that actually get flagged are in fact dealt with. Specially since there’s a wiki on how and when to downflag, whereas there’s nothing regarding upvotes.

                                                                                                3. 6

                                                                                                  Its baffling to me that the idea that a company that does what Palantir does, and that people who choose to work there should somehow be treated with some abstract notion of dignity, is so prevalent. I’ve lost work, years of work for refusing to do things I thought were unethical. It drove me into homelessness. I have yet, really, to financially and emotionally recover. I have no sympathy whatsoever for individuals who choose to check their morals at the door. And similarly, I have no sympathy whatsoever for the attitude that we should police comments and whole tech communities into a tortured abstract “technology is science and science is value free thus any imposition of moral considerations is authoritarian mob mentality”. Its attitudes like that, a reluctance to confront the effects and interrelations of what we do that allowed me to be driven out of a very real community and out of digital labor generally.

                                                                                                  1. 6

                                                                                                    “ I’ve lost work, years of work for refusing to do things I thought were unethical. It drove me into homelessness. I have yet, really, to financially and emotionally recover. “

                                                                                                    Same here minus homelessness from that. Sorry to hear it came to that. Had to be rough. Im actually about to drop that policy soon since stuff is so pervasively evil that Ill have to work with evil companies or practices to do good in certain areas. Depressing.

                                                                                                    Just remember that many of us are not talking about entire tech scene ignoring politics, us getting jobs at Palantir, and so on. We’re talking about people who, under a range of politics, want one site to not have it or keep it in politically-tagged threads. One. Site. Some of you keep making a quantum leap from one site to saying we want no politics anywhere. No, this site or tech threads staying tech focused while politicking continues elsewhere.

                                                                                                    A break, more focus on stuff that might benefit folks, holding activists to account on doing work where it helps the most… many reasons to keep one site free of political fights even for a person that does politics. I voted no politics since Im a union guy doing activism in a company that’s an uphill battle with other sites, friends, and family always doing politics. Am I evil because I want a distraction or break in between political things I do? And one that’s consistently relaxing?

                                                                                                    And if I am, why are leftist Lobsters constantly telling us nice, relaxing things they do during the week or weekend that dont involve letting their political opponents call them out, say theyre racist/sexistwhatever, advise them to quit their jobs, and so on? They’re fine with doing non-political things or staying in political circles they like but think we reading papers on Lobsters must read shit that bothers us or some despise simultaneously? And here’s the kicker: they think something positive politically will come out of that instead of fights and metas that resulted for years. Telling them to 180 all their beliefs saying theyre evil sure doesnt work but telling us to will?

                                                                                                    Id rather us be a peaceful, technical community with a section dedicated to politics. That’s a long tradition on forums that let both types do their thing. Wont happen here but wouldve blocked a lot of damage.

                                                                                                    1. 4

                                                                                                      You’ve changed my mind.

                                                                                                      I was reluctant to open lobster.rs this morning, because I was being afraid of more of this instead of more threads about monads and cool ipfs hacks.

                                                                                                  2. 1

                                                                                                    I cannot find the comment you are referring too (possibly because it’s in a subthread that’s hidden by default due to downvotes). Can you provide a direct link to the comment in question?

                                                                                                  3. 17

                                                                                                    I strongly disagree with this. The original post is on topic; and discussion of the ethics of the project and its sponsors are entirely relevant.

                                                                                                    If the project generated racial slurs, but did so in a really cool new way, would you consider discussion of the ethics off-topic? If the answer to that is yes, then I think that’s a very bad thing.

                                                                                                    I say this as someone who will happily flag as off topic interesting non-technical content.

                                                                                                    I also note that most discussions on lobsters are not purely technical in nature. The claimed correct ethos already does not exist here.

                                                                                                    1. 10

                                                                                                      How can such discussions be structured in the future so as not to discourage the technical discussion here that frankly is endangered everywhere else

                                                                                                      All @friendlysock is pointing out, by my read, is that it’s possible to have discussions about ethics in a way that’s not passive-aggressive and is technically relevant.

                                                                                                      Still, we should try to prefer technical submissions over submissions that only discuss ethics, because the site is for technical discussion.

                                                                                                    2. 12

                                                                                                      I’m already disappointed with the level of technical discussion here, for some topics.

                                                                                                      I find it very hypocritical how Google, Microsoft, and Apple, to name three, are given passes on their behaviour so often by some types, but Palantir is a uniquely bad company by helping the government to enforce its immigration laws.

                                                                                                      Google apparently commits more spying than the NSA and is completely unaccountable, but many here use Google services, products, and excuse its behavior. Apple is supposedly one of the good companies because it hasn’t yet decided to switch over to a grotesque level of surveillance as the others have, but is terrible for the environment with its wasteful and purposefully broken hardware.

                                                                                                      Microsoft is unique in that it’s recently pretending to be good and this is commonly used to excuse its behaviour and lack of trust. The 90’s Microsoft is in the past is simply not true.

                                                                                                      Now, I understand that some of you are probably going to point out the age of my account or argue that just because other companies are immoral doesn’t mean one company can’t be singled out. I’m not defending Palantir and I understand that it’s frustrating to have a cause taken by this kind of questioning, but I can’t help but find it hypocritical that, so long as a company espouses certain political views, that somehow makes similar behaviour acceptable.

                                                                                                      I could go on and on, but I won’t.

                                                                                                      1. 7

                                                                                                        I find it very hypocritical how Google, Microsoft, and Apple, to name three, are given passes on their behaviour so often by some types

                                                                                                        I called them out for that specifically in the thread on the Never Again Pledge thread. Google and Facebook particularly were building the kind of profiles on people and databases that a rogue, minority/freedom-hating regime would dream of and find plenty of damaging use for. The NSA was vacuuming up all their stuff at the datacenter connections, too, per Snowden leaks. The Trump Administration must be assumed to have that data with hopefully sharing limitations reducing flow of info to FBI, DHS, and ICE. Some firms were cooperating in secret for mega money and/or due to secret orders with huge penalties for non-compliance. Google has been getting more people in Washington DC. Microsoft and Apple are big on patent suing innovative companies to prevent competition. Microsoft even sells out paying users with ads and privacy invasions. Most of the big firms also had a no-poaching agreement that intentionally suppressed the wages and benefits of those working for them.

                                                                                                        Yet, you don’t see a call out like yesterday’s on every thread involving people working at those firms or contributing to their code bases. Double standards like that motivated some of my counters. I hate double standards. As some on my side said, there’s actually quite a lot of jobs in IT any of these people could aim for which are either inconsequential in society or do fairly good things. On a daily basis, I use a lot of tech to do stuff that mostly benefits society. Someone built it and maintains it. It’s not “Surveillance, Patent/Copyright-trolling, Total Lock-in, or Unemployed” they’re choosing from in between supporting calls for Palantir people to quit their jobs. Maybe the money, perks, and fun work are more important. Some also say they can do good from within but make an exception for firms like Palantir where their employees are assumed evil/damaging no matter what. I just can’t help but notice certain, evil companies are favored and apologized for while others are shamed.

                                                                                                        Note: We do have people trashing Microsoft and Google in threads on stuff like privacy/security, corrupt practices, law, unionization, and so on. More importantly, we have people like the F-Droid thread giving us alternatives. Good for them. :)

                                                                                                        1. 5

                                                                                                          Double standards like that motivated some of my counters. I hate double standards.

                                                                                                          Some also say they can do good from within but make an exception for firms like Palantir where their employees are assumed evil/damaging no matter what. I just can’t help but notice certain, evil companies are favored and apologized for while others are shamed.

                                                                                                          I’m with you on this point about hypocrisy / double-standards. In that thing I posted on the Conjure thread, I was trying to point that out by mentioning some really cool software I use (SQLite and OpenBSD) that has been funded by the US military. We could add Lisp to that list. Theo de Raadt reflections on this: “I try to convince myself that our grant means a half of a cruise missile doesn’t get built.”

                                                                                                          I didn’t intend to derail the technical discussion, and I wasn’t expecting the following discussion to be so polarised. Thank you for your nuanced replies here in those threads.

                                                                                                          Regarding hypocrisy in general: I’m thinking it may perhaps be better to be hypocrite than nihilist (Not that those two are the only possible choices!), the reasoning being that it is better to act against one harmful issue and fail to act on others than not to act at all..?

                                                                                                          1. 1

                                                                                                            “I didn’t intend to derail the technical discussion”

                                                                                                            I know. I mentally made an exception for you after having a civil conversation with you. You’re doing the political actions I’d rather not be done here. Your follow-ups showed you were a reflective person who was about real discussion than the more common folks that only want to push a belief. That was interesting.

                                                                                                            “Regarding hypocrisy in general: I’m thinking it may perhaps be better to be hypocrite than nihilist “

                                                                                                            Better to just not be a hypocrite. ;)

                                                                                                            The real hypocrisy, which I retract in your case, is that the leftist activists on this forum keep calling out specific harms while participating in companies and/or behaving in a such a way that does similar harms. You turned out to be one of rare ones who is actually an activist trying to reduce a specific type of harm that’s close to home, something you do in real life, and with your comment being an extension of what you were already doing.

                                                                                                            So, not hypocritical so far: just something I’d rather not be on a technically-focused forum. :)

                                                                                                        2. 1

                                                                                                          Its very difficult for most to disassociate from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple or Facebook. Its very easy to disassociate one’s self from Palantir since they don’t offer a service for most consumers.

                                                                                                        3. 7

                                                                                                          @friendlysock, the post in question was going to be problematic regardless of our community health at the moment it was posted. Just look at the vote counts you highlighted. Crustaceans clearly have strong feelings about that company.

                                                                                                          That being said… yes, this would be a good time to inoculate new comers, re-inoculate old-timers, and push out those that resist.

                                                                                                          …I don’t know how to reply or otherwise respond to the chronologically first comment on your post. I have many skills, but not-making-it-worse is not one of them. Help? I want to say something like “No, just no. We’re doing a thing here. Watch us and do like us, or leave.”

                                                                                                          1. 11

                                                                                                            @friendlysock, the post in question was going to be problematic regardless of our community health at the moment it was posted. Just look at the vote counts you highlighted. Crustaceans clearly have strong feelings about that company.

                                                                                                            Having strong feeling is one thing, knowing which places are good to discuss them is another. It seems to me that with each passing month more and more people think that lobste.rs is good place to discuss anything they find interesting/important.

                                                                                                            Part of the problem, is that there are no explicit content rules - it’s hard to ask others to stop posting any kind of content if there are no guidelines what is and isn’t accepted here.

                                                                                                            1. 7

                                                                                                              One part of @friendlysock’s post struck me:

                                                                                                              This site is for practicing technologists and for people trying to learn about technology and better themselves as engineers and developers.

                                                                                                              I think it would be helpful if this or something similar was added to the story submitting guidelines on the Submit Story page. It would be more explicit than the current “if no tags apply, your story is off-topic” suggestion.

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                                                                                                                Keep in mind, that is @friendlysock’s line, not an “official” Lobsters policy. I happen to agree with them, but I think that the truth is closer to @tt’s remark that this has always been a “place to discuss anything [the users] find interesting/important. Unspoken rules have but little force.

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                                                                                                                  It’s his view, not Lobsters’. I think, could be misremembering, there used to be more people agreeing with his view. The submissions were consistent with it when I came in. The votes went the other way in a later meta after they did for representative threads and comments. I’m guessing most people doing mass invite brought in people like them. Most of people that came in have the newer leanings about political posts. There were many before, though.

                                                                                                                  Now, the majority opposes friendlysock’s position in day-to-day use of the site, votes, and comments. It’s why my welcomes that use the What Lobsters Is and Isn’t write-up don’t say it’s our rules or official policy: I just encourage them to focus on What Lobsters Is for high-quality, technical submissions that will be well-received by people focused on that.

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                                                                                                                  This only makes sense if that actually is the sole purpose of the site, but I don’t believe there’s agreement on that point, despite @friendlysock continually speaking as if there is, and as if he speaks for the community as a whole.

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                                                                                                                    for people trying to learn about technology and better themselves as engineers and developers.

                                                                                                                    In particular, the implication that bettering yourself as an engineer is unrelated to understanding the ethical implication of your work is deeply disturbing to me.

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                                                                                                                      Do you believe that the posts in question actually furthered our understanding of the ethical implications of the work? To me, it read more like low effort shaming, or an attempt to stroke a sense of moral superiority.

                                                                                                                      Out of all ethical discussions on this site, what portion do you think further our understandings of ethical implications?

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                                                                                                                        That is not the implication I get at all. What I read is that “understanding the ethical implication of our work” is something we could agree to do elsewhere.

                                                                                                                        1. 2

                                                                                                                          I don’t see how what you said can be true without what I said.

                                                                                                                          If understanding ethical implication of your work is part of being a better engineer, then it’s a suitable topic for a site whose purpose is “trying to […] better themselves as engineers”.

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                                                                                                                  when you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create.

                                                                                                                  That is one of my favorite quotes!

                                                                                                                  But, here’s the reality of what just happened:

                                                                                                                  1. New user creates something.
                                                                                                                  2. New user shares something.
                                                                                                                  3. Other new users immediately derail and shot in them because of their employer.
                                                                                                                  4. Voting occurs (probably fueled by new users, we won’t know without more analysis from pushcx) and further wedges attempt to share new thing.

                                                                                                                  A lot of our news users have not assimilated yet. Some of our new users frankly aren’t even technical. That’s fine!

                                                                                                                  There are great sites that constantly have new users! There are great sites that constantly don’t discriminate based on skill! In fact, if you want a model site that definitely doesn’t discriminate due to taste, there’s a really easy one to refer to!

                                                                                                                  /g/. On 4chan.


                                                                                                                  Part of the only reason I was able to reflect on my actions and stop being angersock here was the level of discourse and frankly the focus of the discussions here that kept from exposing me frequently to situations that brought out the worst in me.

                                                                                                                  Losing that culture is a very real concern.

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                                                                                                                    Alternate hypothesis: The low quality discourse is a result of showing karma.

                                                                                                                    I’ve been with HN since the very beginning, a total of 12 years. Most people believe HN hasn’t changed over time. But it had several important evolutionary shifts.

                                                                                                                    When HN reached a certain critical mass of users, the karma counter became detrimental to thoughtful conversation. HN became more of a tug-of-war for upvotes rather than a group of colleagues searching for truth.

                                                                                                                    So one day, pg turned it off. The conversations improved almost immediately. And so pg kept it off.

                                                                                                                    Look at the replies to this comment: https://lobste.rs/s/egbgwb/introducing_conjure_palantir_s#c_4lkqmt

                                                                                                                    The top three four replies by karma are little more than “Me too” comments, saying “Hear, hear!” And when people see that karma counter, they upvote it when they agree.

                                                                                                                    The solution is technological innovation, not shuttering the windows. Don’t display karma next to comments. I bet you if you implement this, you will see many of the (very real, very concerning) problems subside with time.

                                                                                                                    I leave it to you to lobby for this change. A forum that refuses to evolve, refuses to survive.

                                                                                                                    There is a deeper truth here, one that is slightly unsettling: HN has the right idea by manually slapping down low-quality comments. If the leader won’t lead, the result is a random walk through quality space.

                                                                                                                    Once karma is no longer displayed next to comments, there will be opportunities to adjust the ranking algorithm manually. I don’t think a clever algorithm will be enough to stave off human nature. Whereas a clever human who understands human nature can quite easily bury those me-too comments that add nothing to the conversation.

                                                                                                                    I’d like to point out one last thing: It took a lot of courage for pg to make large changes early in HN’s life. I remember when he flipped it from Startup News to Hacker News. It was high risk, high reward. Ditto for disabling karma, manually re-ranking comments, detaching offtopic subthreads and manually dragging them to the bottom, collapsing tedious flamewars so that users have to click to make them visible, and so on. HN wasn’t created with any of these features. Each of them was discovered (over many, many years), and each of them was introduced when it made sense in HN’s lifecycle.

                                                                                                                    If lobsters won’t risk changing the formula to reshape the audience, then the audience will reshape lobsters. As you’ve seen.

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                                                                                                                      Part of the only reason I was able to reflect on my actions and stop being angersock here was the level of discourse and frankly the focus of the discussions here that kept from exposing me frequently to situations that brought out the worst in me.

                                                                                                                      This is a very stark and candid admission. Thank you for posting it, it will be something I’ll think about for a while. I don’t have a quick reply, but I have to imagine that we can address your concern while lightening up the atmosphere at the same time. I refuse to believe it’s impossible.

                                                                                                                      Losing that culture is a very real concern.

                                                                                                                      I agree, which is why I think we should, at the very least, write it down.

                                                                                                                      Thank you for continuing to hang out on Lobsters, @friendlysock!

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                                                                                                                      Disclaimer: I’m a new user myself, only having been around for about a year.

                                                                                                                      I don’t think the question of human rights and technology is necessarily off-topic for Lobsters. It does, however, need the culture tag with the hotness modifier. However, that comment thread was off-topic to the story at hand. The culture tag exists for a reason, so that people can ignore non-technical aspects if they so desire.

                                                                                                                      Why wasn’t the off-topic flag used more? If the community can’t be trusted to police itself, do you think it’s going to be allowed to do so?

                                                                                                                      In my mind at least, flagging is the ultimate last resort. In debates about ethics, flagging and disagreeing can be dangerously close. That’s why I’d tend to abstain from voting on such threads entirely. I’d also argue that it is loosely (if not straight-up poorly) defined: Is it off-topic for Lobsters, the story at hand, both, neither?

                                                                                                                      At some point, it also just makes no difference anymore. When a comment is in the double digits, why even bother anymore?

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                                                                                                                        The issue here as I see it is multifaceted.

                                                                                                                        1. The submission in question is clearly on-topic.
                                                                                                                        2. There are ethical considerations surrounding the company which is getting publicity and attention through the submission.

                                                                                                                        The two points come hand in hand and we should find a way to tackle them together. I personally feel that ethical discussions should always be classed as on-topic, and then we can implement further rules to control the way that these discussions take place and the nature of them.

                                                                                                                        Discourse, especially on controversial topics, is how we will progress and better ourselves as a community.

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                                                                                                                          There’s another facet:

                                                                                                                          1. Due to its reputation as a place for serious, thoughtful, technical discussion, lobste.rs is a valuable billboard for ideas (and that includes both the submission space as well as the comment space).

                                                                                                                          If you encourage non-technical discussion in here, you are turning this site into a CTF - it (currently) has too much value for people to abstain from fighting over it.

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                                                                                                                          It’s a lost cause on politics, friendlysock. The vast majority of votes in most threads favor political activism in both submissions and comments. They also favor a specific kind of leftist politics over others with consistent responses, positive and negative, over about a year. The recent thread prioritized political action, up to pushing a person to quit their job, over the technical content by around 6 to 1 votes when I last looked. Situation is similar for others. Also, low-content, political comments get more support at times than high-content, technical comments.

                                                                                                                          Conclusion: the Lobsters community isn’t what it was when you wrote What Lobsters Is and Isnt. It is now a community that prioritizes leftist, political activism over all other activities with a small, chunk of dissenters. It’s also a link aggregator whose content is a mix of that, stuff in your Is list, and stuff in your Isnt list. It’s dishonest to say anything else that doesnt reflect what majority of voting users promote and commenters do here.

                                                                                                                          Ill be updating my description of the site in near future to match its current mix of deep tech, HN/Reddit-like news, and leftist activism. Im also going to stop all poitical comments counter to that leftist style of politics since the dominant group has consensus that they’re not welcome here and therefore too low-impact to matter. I will note they weren’t censored: a strength of Lobsters’ moderation. Ill only comment like that further where it impacted or is aimed at me. I might also modify my submissions to reflect this community’s priorities putting the others somewhere else (eg a blog). I’ll note the changes in my profile so people in Lobsters’ minority, folks like us, can still follow that stuff if they choose.

                                                                                                                          I’ll probably start the process next year since November and December are so busy for me. I have some other ideas that might improve things further for both political opponents and minority folks (esp anti-politics for Lobsters). I think 2019 will be an interesting time for Lobsters.

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                                                                                                                            Im also going to stop all poitical comments counter to that leftist style of politics since the dominant group has consensus that they’re not welcome here and therefore too low-impact to matter.

                                                                                                                            I don’t think this is true, especially since you are the one of the few who call out the inconsistencies when you see them. The marginal value is especially important when there are few, going down from 5-4-3-2-1 against the endless horde of leftist posturing and virtue signaling makes every step the more damaging to reasons and honesty.

                                                                                                                            The reasoning that the dominant group has consensus isn’t even an argument in my mind. To follow this line of reasoning, one should only voice one’s opinions, or the truths if they agree with the consensus view. That is clearly a bad place to be in.

                                                                                                                            At the end of the day ethical questions will always be more relevant and more voted on. Because it impacts everyone, while technical issue can be both beyond your grasp (i.e. you don’t know enough about this particular tech to talk about it) or simply boring. Add to that the highly emotionally charged nature of ethics and politics, we shouldn’t really count number of votes and comments as to be metric by which to value opinions and discussions. I’m not going to stop speaking English because there are 15 billions or however many Chinese speakers (in some timeline).

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                                                                                                                              Thanks for the encouragement. Especially from someone who doesn’t back down on their own politics in this space. I agree with most of your comment. I’m even continuing to do the dissent in places where it counts (aka mostly real life). I’m just cutting it off for Lobsters. Maybe most of these online forums with low numbers of people with leftist activists in control. Which they definitely are now.

                                                                                                                              You see, your post presumes two things: this is a place for actual, political discussion; the old Lobsters is worth fighting for. I disagree with both with the 2nd following from the 1st.

                                                                                                                              The site was a low-noise, technical site with occasional, political scuffles. The first meta where I put strong arguments for no politics or free speech had a huge number of people supporting my position. They were both putting time in with arguments (most important) and upvoting (peripherally important). There were many people on opposing side, too. Their side wanted specific kind of politics in every thread, mostly downvotes/insults anyone that disagrees (some were nice), and occasionally some would want a CoC that would let them ban dissent(ers).

                                                                                                                              During and after the mass invite, the people in the leftist activist crowd invited a lot more people. As I fought their false claims and demands for no dissent, more people on no politics and free speech sides droppped off in both comments and votes. Seeing patterns from other sites, they decided that Lobsters would be politically dominated and not worth further investment. Some for just politics, others for whole site. Eventually, we had a moderator and admin with similar beliefs as the crowd with most mindshare. Add to that some long-running members were telling them they’d quit Lobsters if (a) politics wasn’t allowed everywhere or (b) it became “like HN, Reddit, etc.” by allowing non-left folks to post their own links those leftist abhorred. What hypocrisy if goal is actual, political discussion and evolution. That overall combination sealed the fate of the technically-focused, less-political Lobsters.

                                                                                                                              Now, that site is gone. Look at the current vote counts and moderator statements on various positions here. Still consistent with my claim it’s changed. Now, if that is the environment, next question is, “Is political action worth effort?” Prior conversations indicate these people are not here for discussion. Their type of politics believes they’re already correct about the fundamentals (a religion), that people are getting harmed (mostly imagined) by every dissenting statement/action, and their moral imperative is to convert everyone to their beliefs to reduce that harm and promote the good they believe in. They’re evangelists, not philosophers or conversationalists, at least when it’s about politics. That kind of view is also why they act like a mob on anyone disagreeing even with civil posts, often with accusations of harm or discrimination. You’ll also see them throw low-effort comments while people like me in outgroup wanting actual discussion might put 30 min into making ours thoughtful and civil. That was really draining. Which was the goal, deterrence of dissent, which worked since the numbers shifted with high participation from people with their beliefs but almost zero participation from those of us with alternative beliefs.

                                                                                                                              Conclusion: the political aspects of Lobsters are now an echo chamber for a specific kind of politics with everything else to be heavily penalized and shunned. Most of their action is virtue signaling and/or outgroup shaming since it achieves nothing in the real world toward their goals. The actual, political discussion they intend is among people in their group evangelizing their beliefs, hashing out differences they tolerate within parameters of shared beliefs, developing plans for increasing conformance in more spaces (online/offline), and so on. Although for some it’s intentional, others seem to be just going with the flow since that’s what they believe. After increasing participation by non-leftist-activist Lobsters, turning the site around would require changing the beliefs of one moderator, maybe the admin, and maybe 40-80 voters based on last action I saw. Then, Lobsters would immediately loose key members who will quit on political grounds. The people you’re convincing value those members, too. So, that’s a monumental effort to either get politics off Lobsters or shove it into dedicated, political threads. It’s possible the latter happens as a compromise without monumental effort but I’m not holding my breath: admin probably won’t do something that makes the people who will quit follow through with their promise.

                                                                                                                              Conclusion 2: If I’m not extremely busy, you’ll see it by 2019. Meanwhile, I’ll be done discussing politics after a transition since Lobsters isn’t a site for political discussion: it’s a leftist-activist site dedicated to evangelizing their politics and correcting non-conformance while also enjoying reading and commenting on some technical stuff. There’s a dissenting group doing other things. They’re not in control or increasing in number, though. Do what you want on your end. Just know you’re doing it in a church expecting religious renouncement rather than a political conversation expecting evolution of thought.

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                                                                                                                                yeah, you convinced me.

                                                                                                                            2. 8

                                                                                                                              There are a string of sites that I’ve abandoned (Tumblr, Twitter, HN, Reddit) for similar reasons that you outline. Up until relatively recently, Lobste.rs. seemed to be a sane corner of the internet where most discussions could take place without devolving into moral posturing.

                                                                                                                              I’m unsure if ceding the territory to the hyper-political is the right answer. From a mental health perspective it certainly is, but from of societal perspective it appears to just lead to more isolation and polarization.

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                                                                                                                                The admin and one moderator support what I describe along with most of voters in those threads and comments. It’s already done. The environment is fixed to that situation at the moment. We have to integrate with or reject that situation. There’s at least two choices:

                                                                                                                                1. Ignore the politics to focus on the technical content.

                                                                                                                                2. Contribute to the politics to further the goals of the new, community politics while improving one’s standing in it. This will reinforce the current situation with that type of politics and focus going up from here.

                                                                                                                                I’m doing 1 for now after this thread unless pulled into a discussion. I’ll be doing some of 2 due to overlap between their and my politics in terms of benefiting people. Thinking about various possibilities. Retreating from political discussion in a place where it goes nowhere outside specific groups’ beliefs and practices, the community’s majority position, makes the most sense just purely on an effort/impact basis. There were some great moments that came out of all that work, though. I won’t forget them.

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                                                                                                                                For what it’s worth, I really appreciate your comments about security and building things that are reliable. I’ve learned a lot from your comments, and I hope to learn more in the future.

                                                                                                                                It’s pretty taxing for me personally to read your posts that go into politics. In my reading, your tone changes pretty dramatically from the endless-well of experience and good-natured sharing of knowledge to a more condescending, defensive one.

                                                                                                                                Things are more politically interesting than they were when I found this site a few years ago. Things are less stable, and we are in an increased state of conflict. Conflicts on this scale will permeate more and more of our lives until they are resolved. To the extent that this is a space of low-friction discourse, the conflict will act itself out when two sides decide to play the game. People are saying “oh, isn’t it such a bad thing that the palantir OP couldn’t respond to the top comment?” but It’s not. They chose not to play that particular game. I think you’re right to identify that your conflicts are those of your choosing.

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                                                                                                                                  “For what it’s worth, I really appreciate your comments about security and building things that are reliable. I’ve learned a lot from your comments, and I hope to learn more in the future.”

                                                                                                                                  Thank you! I’ll stay at it!

                                                                                                                                  “It’s pretty taxing for me personally to read your posts that go into politics” … “to a more condescending, defensive one.”

                                                                                                                                  I appreciate your honesty. Given you bring it up, I figure I’ll explain one last time unless asked again. I can at least tell you where that defensiveness comes from that ties into Lobsters in at least two, major ways:

                                                                                                                                  1. Black students and administrators at a black school with similar beliefs and practices, esp disagreement = offense or personal attack, used them to justify silencing, shouting at, slandering, and physically beating white students on a daily basis. I endured this for years like other whites did at every black school I asked about. I got PTSD from the effects of beatings, esp having to see them coming from a mere glance. They simultaneously talked up our privilege, their oppression, and so on despite them having all the advantages and power which they used to hurt us. That led almost all white students (except a few like me) to believe similar stories in media were lies perpetuated by an aggressive race of people. The few, really-good students and teachers plus me wanting to get along kept me non-racist (biased at worst). Liberals of Lobsters’ type and blacks told me from then onto today that structural oppression against whites doesn’t exist, our claims don’t matter, and/or just perpetuate “real” racism against minorities. So, the psychological damage, PTSD cases, discrimination, and resulting racism among white victims will continue until such systematic racism against whites is exposed, squashed where possible, and sympathy extended to victims rather than denial of their existence. People said same stuff here, too, so I fought it for a while. One that switched positions floored me: it’s so, so, so rare.

                                                                                                                                  2. Prior threads where I expressed civil disagreement with examples got me hit with personal attacks and people that misrepresented my comments on purpose. There were usually many of them at once with some having high upvotes. When a non-leftist or non-PC-leftist did that, they’d usually get slammed by the same people talking about comment quality and inclusiveness should stay up before the comment was collapsed. That difference happened a lot. Knowing there’s people watching with intent to do that either creates a chilling effect or increases agitation/resolve in most people who sense it. Even greater in me since I grew up in a murder capital with micro and overt aggression making me optimized to react fast and hard to it. I’m still so toned down compared to how folks in Mid-South, esp minority members, usually respond to personal insults tied into politics, esp racial. For the rest here, it was largely a chilling effect: many people contacted me over time after Lobsters got super-political saying they didn’t feel safe voting or commenting on political stuff since they thought they’d loose their account. A few thanked me for representing dissenting opinions. Some left.

                                                                                                                                  Put those two together and I was still getting personal attacks, I got a little defensive when talking about the same things with the same people. It’s only natural even though I hate it had to be painful experience for onlookers who weren’t involved in such behavior. I should mention that some people here put in a lot of effort to be civil. A few even would message me links helping me understand their side of things. @pushcx and @Irene particularly handled lots of tough situations well: their responses prioritized civil discussion, tolerance of dissent, and remedial action wherever possible. The political discussions (and battles) taught me which Lobsters had good to outstanding character in difficult situations. I’ll remember them in the future if opportunities knock.

                                                                                                                                  This is all historical, though, since I’ll be done with my form of politics on this site soon or by the end of the year. Could be a few more discussions left since there’s ongoing meta and transitional effects I might not see coming. I’m minimizing it, though, while still posting those security and reliability papers/tips yall love. We have a great, little, security/verification community here with folks good at theory, some at practice, and some that do both. Gotta keep building that up on top of other communities. There’s possibilities to bring in more experienced and CompSci people in things like UI/UX that are highly important, but get less attention.

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                                                                                                                                  “Leftist political activism” is a weird way to characterize caring about our social milieu.

                                                                                                                                  That said, I’ve seen a lack of engagement by those with contrary political views, other than to bemoan talking about any issue that isn’t narrowly technical.

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                                                                                                                                    The highest-voted, leftist views are about what constitutes racism/sexism, transgender identity, political correctness with language policing, focus on inclusive behavior prioritizing non-whites/males, and telling people to quit Palantir (but not Google or Apple/Foxconn). These kind of views are most dominant in terms of upvotes and replies. When described, most people say leftist, social justice, and so on.

                                                                                                                                    I’m open to other phrases so long as the label will indicate most or all of the above to a centrist, conservative, or other person that doesn’t closely follow such politics.

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                                                                                                                                      I would disagree with you on one premise. There are hardly any “leftist views” here. I would classify most of them as “right of center but not too right”. The discourse has gone so far right in the last 30 years, that fairly conservative views of old are now “leftist”. I would argue that most conservatives wouldn’t be able to identify leftist views. In fact, I find most conservatives are pretty comfortable with some of them. The ideals of freedom were often historically leftist ideas, for example. It’s pretty surprising to most Republicans that Lincoln corresponded and read Marx, and that communists joined the Republican party early on instead of creating their own. History is easily forgotten, especially in the tech world.

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                                                                                                                                        This is a semantic argument. I’m sure if you go back long enough white means black or w/e.

                                                                                                                                        Right now leftists are interested in what was described.

                                                                                                                                        1. 0

                                                                                                                                          It is a semantic argument, with substantial differences in perspective on how its decided. I happen to agree with mempko, there are hardly any leftist views here, either in an economic or cultural sense. Being of the left isn’t a free for all, it has very real and substantial poles around which it organizes its ideology, and I was actually taken aback to see mempko’s comment given that I agreed and usually (almost always actually) I feel very much alone in settings like this. Just because someone supports, say, civil rights does not necessarily make them of the left. Same I might add for gender issues.

                                                                                                                                        2. 2

                                                                                                                                          Of Democrats and Liberals in U.S., a huge chunk of them push these views. Some don’t. No Republicans or Conservatives do that I’m aware of at least for these contexts. It would be pretty fringe. The Democrats and Liberals are Leftists or Left-leaning. Therefore, they’re Leftist Views at least to Americans.

                                                                                                                                          The situation might be different to people outside of America. The Europeans on both Hacker News and Lobsters sometimes have interesting comments about what’s called socialist here vs over there.

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                                                                                                                                            It’s true that Europeans have different ideas of what leftist views are. But this is because Europeans still have a large base of leftists in the public sphere. But what I’m saying is that even by American standards, someone like Bernie Sanders would have been a moderate republican 50 years ago. That shift to the right has been so dramatic that people believe Democrats are “leftist”, when historically in America they are clearly right of center. 50 years of propaganda does a lot to change public views.

                                                                                                                                            So yes, you are right to say Democrats are “leftist” because that’s what convention says they are. But this almost blinds people to actual leftist views.

                                                                                                                                            I also think the newest generation will once again change what that means.

                                                                                                                                            1. 3

                                                                                                                                              That all makes sense. I have to use the current terms since that’s what everone is using. It enables wider understanding.

                                                                                                                                              1. 1

                                                                                                                                                My issue with a lot of conservatives is that they use the term “leftist” as a derogatory term. Which is sad because a lot of leftist ideas should appeal to conservatives. It’s almost as though words have the opposite meaning in the US as they do in the rest of the world. For example, the word Libertarian used to be synonymous with anarchist, and anarchists are strictly hardcore leftists. I feel the words “conservative” is similar now because to me a lot of modern conservative views are pretty extreme. I think conservatives have a lot in common with real leftists if they look closely. Many conservative talking points are basically Marxist! For example, the idea that you should be paid what you are worth. The ideas of freedom and individuality. Many leftists are against some Liberal ideas like cultural relativism. I’m sorry but genital mutilation is wrong.

                                                                                                                                                1. 1

                                                                                                                                                  I agree again that lots of groups are more similar than different in some ways and their classification changed over time.

                                                                                                                                                  Ill add to you first line that liberals bash conservatives incessantly in every forum I see, including here. It’s impossible for most of them to have a real, political discussion if things are that antagonistic. There’s a few of us doing actual discussion here now. Most threw votes for or against on reflex to push their views with the least participation and communication possible. People, esp on HN and Lobsters, have constantly reminded me it’s part of human nature (tribal instincts).

                                                                                                                                                  So, folks have to confront that part, say “it’s about us, too, not just them,” constantly read other side’s views/evidence, and constantly re-assess. Most important, they have to learn to fight the instinct to attack the other side in discussions. Second that happens, it becomes an emotional fight where rational arguments have no effect. If folks keep at that, they’re just bullying and dominating, not doing discussion.

                                                                                                                                                  I appreciate you mostly staying on actual, civil discussion in our conversations despite our beliefs being far apart. I always enjoyed them even if they got stressful. I still appreciate at least one person sets standard for science on improving people’s potential/happiness even though my view is more pessimistic. ;)

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                                                                                                                                        “Caring about our social milieu” is a weird way to characterize leftist political activism.

                                                                                                                                        I’ve seen a lack of engagement by those with contrary political views, other than to bemoan talking about any issue that isn’t narrowly technical.

                                                                                                                                        That’s pretty consistent, wouldn’t you say? Though “bemoan” is a rather impolite way of putting it.

                                                                                                                                        (edit: on second reading, the post I’m replying to is actually some sort of low-key insult. disgusting.)

                                                                                                                                        1. 2

                                                                                                                                          That said, I’ve seen a lack of engagement by those with contrary political views, other than to bemoan talking about any issue that isn’t narrowly technical.

                                                                                                                                          I don’t hold particularly contrary political views, but I have to wonder if you’d actually welcome this kind of discussion from people with opposing political views, varying views on ethics, and similar?

                                                                                                                                          1. 0

                                                                                                                                            Why not?

                                                                                                                                        2. 0

                                                                                                                                          Your comments in that thread were not ‘counter to leftwing activism’. They were counter to common decency. You accused someone of being a hypocrite with no basis whatsoever.

                                                                                                                                        3. 4

                                                                                                                                          Let’s look at another forum community that has also been trying to deal with this kind of thing.

                                                                                                                                          Topics, especially longer ones have a tendency to veer off-topic. When this happens, [moderators] can select posts to move to a new topic or an existing topic on the subject.

                                                                                                                                          I don’t think Lobsters codebase can do this, and I think it would be helpful. It gives the moderators a way to respond to off-topic discussions without actually stopping them.

                                                                                                                                          If discussion in a topic is no longer productive or discussion is no longer focused on the topic, but instead on “attacking” other users instead of ideas, moderators should step in.

                                                                                                                                          Make a staff post. Many times, a simple reminder is enough to solve the issue. You can create a post reminding users to be polite, warn them they’re talking in circles, etc, and then use the post admin wrench to mark the post a staff post. This indicates to users that the post is the official position of the site.

                                                                                                                                          Set a topic timer. If the staff post doesn’t help, or discussion seems so heated that a reminder won’t help, you can “pause” the topic. Use the topic admin wrench to set a topic timer for auto-open. This will immediately close the topic, preventing new posts, and display a notice when the topic will reopen.

                                                                                                                                          In other words, the community cannot be self-governing. Lobsters is already past Dunbar’s number.

                                                                                                                                          1. 1

                                                                                                                                            No. The community cannot be self-governing. Lobsters is already past Dunbar’s number.

                                                                                                                                            If “<=N members” is indeed the criterion for having a reasonable community, then that is the solution right there: “de-growth to <=N” :)

                                                                                                                                            1. 4

                                                                                                                                              I didn’t say anything about being reasonable. I said it couldn’t be self-governing. It needs active moderation.

                                                                                                                                              The about page for Lobsters described it this way:

                                                                                                                                              Invitations are used as a mechanism for spam-control, to slow registrations to a pace we can acculturate. and to encourage users to be nice, not to make the Lobsters userbase an elite club.

                                                                                                                                              Which means that Lobsters does not intend to be hard-limited at Dunbar’s number, since having a hard maximum userbase would make it an elite club. Lobsters also has votes, flags, moderation, officialness-markers, and other tools that are designed to keep the site from descending into chaos even when the human factors flake out, which only makes sense if you want to be able to go beyond the point where humans can naturally regulate ourselves.

                                                                                                                                              If Lobsters doesn’t want to be an elite club, and the admins have specifically said they don’t, it must have explicit rules, and they must be enforced.

                                                                                                                                              1. 1

                                                                                                                                                Sure, I drew that particular implication. I do not think that fixing cultural issues via law enforcement is possible, so for me “reasonable” = “functional” = “cohesive enough to not have to establish a virtual police state”.

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                                                                                                                                            It’s like folks are trying to get us onto n-gate.

                                                                                                                                            I like n-gate, too. I find the commentary snarky and funny, occasionally insightful, and I think it sometimes helps me with keeping a good perspective. I even throw a few token dollars their way each month via Patreon.

                                                                                                                                            I think you’re particularly alluding to their frequent “no technology is discussed” criticism of HN stories? If so, it might be good to make that clear; I wouldn’t assume everyone here knows what n-gate is and why it might be relevant to the rest of this post.

                                                                                                                                            But overall I don’t think the benchmark for whether this community is functioning well is whether we get singled out for criticism or parody by n-gate, which is hardly unbiased, and which cherry-picks targets from HN anyway.

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                                                                                                                                              I don’t think the benchmark for whether this community is functioning well is whether we get singled out for criticism or parody by n-gate

                                                                                                                                              Yeah, agreed, and I don’t think that’s what he’s fully saying either. It just doesn’t look great for us when we’re trying to rise above HN or reddit levels of discourse and have the same outrage-baiting style of commentary start to happen.

                                                                                                                                              In non-meta threads, the norm should be to put up something that’s technically relevant and furthers on-topic civil discussion or refrain from commenting. Or else lobsters is basically just going to repeat the mistakes of HN and proggit.

                                                                                                                                              Deciding when not to post something on lobsters is important for keeping the signal to noise ratio high. It’s also why we have things like reasons for downvotes that you’re encouraged to explain to the person you’re downvoting, so they don’t just see their comment score go negative without being told why.

                                                                                                                                              1. 3

                                                                                                                                                Yeah, agreed, and I don’t think that’s what he’s fully saying either.

                                                                                                                                                You’re right. It wasn’t my intention to try to reduce the whole post to just the comment about n-gate.

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                                                                                                                                                  I did read the second paragraph :-)

                                                                                                                                            2. 5

                                                                                                                                              How do you think the person who submitted this neat project feels when only a tiny fraction of the replies to their submission even talk about it?

                                                                                                                                              tldr: It drives new contributors away from the community.

                                                                                                                                              I came across a paper recently (Understanding lurkers in online communities) that covers this question and I quote below (poster refers to someone already contributing to the community):

                                                                                                                                              A lack of reciprocity also stops members from contributing. Lurkers were more sensitive to community reciprocity and out- come than posters (Fan et al., 2009), and the attitudes of lurkers were more influenced by reciprocity norms, whereas posters were more affected by social trust (Liao & Chou, 2012). Thus, lurkers are not aware of the benefit of participation in a community that lacks reciprocity norms, and they may think ‘‘posting is of no value to me’’ (Nonnecke, Preece, Andrews, Voutour, 2004).

                                                                                                                                              1. 3

                                                                                                                                                It’s like folks are trying to get us onto n-gate.

                                                                                                                                                “A lobster points to some software used by a lobster-boiling factory. Other lobsters take the responsible lobsters to task for their complicity in boiling hapless lobsters. In a new thread, one sage lobster decries the collapse of civil, technical discourse about lobster-boiling technology.”

                                                                                                                                                :-)

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                                                                                                                                                  Please, let me start by saying that nothing I write about in this post is ment personally against you. I really mean that. I have to make this disclaimer because I do think your ideas are simply abhorrent.

                                                                                                                                                  Your expectation that technology should exist in an ethics-free vacuum, stripped of any broader social context is not only wrong, we’re actually seeing legislation against that idea. The GDPR for example is mostly about forcing companies to do the right thing, that they should have been doing in the first place.

                                                                                                                                                  To illustrate this with an analogy, technology especially in SV feels like as if Dungeons&Dragons suddenly somehow became critical to running our society. You would then see a bunch of ethics related discussion and really important arguments about inherent biases and racism in D&D classes and how that universe is built and operates.

                                                                                                                                                  This would in turn generate a bunch of outraged responses from D&D fans, who “just want to play the game” without all this “ethics” stuff. In this analogy, those D&D players would be dead wrong, just as people who would prefer to ignore or divorce the ethical implications of technology from purely computer science / implementation details. It is inseparable.

                                                                                                                                                  lobste.rs is a technology site and that includes the ethics/societal implications of technology. Discussion and content about that is a tiny, tiny fraction of all content here and it probably should be higher. I am appalled at your strong expectation that it should be nonexistent or even lower.

                                                                                                                                                  To address Palantir in particular, the behaviour of such a company impacts and poisons everything. It doesn’t really matter what kind of open-source they produce. People rightly negatively judge their employees for working there. The most important question when someone from that company appears rightly is not about the code, but wondering how they can work there with a clear conscience.

                                                                                                                                                  In a more extreme case, there are people who would see no problem in having a white supremacist coworker and would be happy to discuss programming with a person like that. That is the same kind of wrong. I would immediately escalate this to as high in management as possible and if that person is not fired, I would force management to choose between me and that person. There are things that cannot be treated in isolation.

                                                                                                                                                  A couple of years ago there was a large developer conference where Palantir was also present. I was appalled at how many people treated their booth as just another regular company booth. We will never sponsor another conference that has Palantir on it’s sponsors list.

                                                                                                                                                  At the end of the day, it’s a privileged position if someone is less affected by the ethics implications of technology than most others. Many other people don’t have that luxury. Expecting to be able to ignore ethics from a position of privilege is what I find especially abhorrent about the line of thinking in this thread.

                                                                                                                                                  A word of warning about a position of privilege though. I’m hungarian by birth and you might be aware that Hungary has been on a downward slide towards autocracy since at least 2010. In 2014, the government there wanted to impose a hefty flat tax on consumer internet traffic. This triggered large protests, involving people who previously were mostly apolitical and utterly uninvolved in the civic life of the country. Funny comics were made about geeks appearing en-masse. By that time it was too late though, autocratic tendencies were under way in Hungary at that point for 4 years with little resistance. The government retreated on the narrow point of the specifics of the tax and simultaneously pulled all investment from internet infrastructure. Hungary today has one of the worst internet infrastructure in the EU.

                                                                                                                                                  As technology is eating the world, it’s downright irresponsible to ignore the broader ethical/social questions that it raises. It’s not just what the tech is, that’s the easy part. It’s also who is doing what with technology.

                                                                                                                                                  Thinking about these sort of things should be a mandatory part of every university level compsci/IT education. It should be legally mandated to be taken into account at tech companies and yes, it should be discussed on technology sites like lobste.rs.

                                                                                                                                                  1. 11

                                                                                                                                                    Your expectation that technology should exist in an ethics-free vacuum, stripped of any broader social context is not only wrong, we’re actually seeing legislation against that idea.

                                                                                                                                                    That’s not quite my point though. I actually very much think, at least for myself, that technology and the implications thereof are extremely important. My training is as a mechanical engineer, and frankly there’s a lot more concern there for morals and impacts on society (“paternalism”, some folks might call it!) than in our field.

                                                                                                                                                    That said, what I am objecting to is that there seems to be no forum to talk to others about technology in a safe place without people shrilly interjecting their own politics and morals. There are no end to the number of places where that conversation is available and encouraged–what’s concerning here is that, for a while anyways, we had a place where that wasn’t the case.

                                                                                                                                                    1. 3

                                                                                                                                                      If that thread would have been about some cool Google thing, or even Facebook or Uber, you might have a point about not always bringing the ethical implications up. I certainly don’t want to always view everything through that prism.

                                                                                                                                                      But Palantir? C’mon, there is no escaping that. It’s a “but other than that Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?”-type of thing. Asking people to sidestep that would have been amoral. How would you have expected people to not talk about the elephant in the room?

                                                                                                                                                    2. 6

                                                                                                                                                      “Please, let me start by saying that nothing I write about in this post is ment personally against you. I really mean that. I have to make this disclaimer because I do think your ideas are simply abhorrent.”

                                                                                                                                                      And then you think anything you say after that opening is going to be well-received by those that disagrees, they’ll change their mind, and join your refrain.

                                                                                                                                                      Let’s turn it around. You’re in middle of discussing a piece of tech solving a problem. Someone who is a Trump supporter shows up telling you that you’re an ignorant liberal who should say and do things they believe is righteous but avoid stuff that isnt. Says your technical comments tie into things ruining America.

                                                                                                                                                      You gonna fess up, thank them, change yourself, and vote Trump? Or you gonna fight with them with no change resulting? I have a feeling you dont want to read other side’s propaganda or accusations in any or every thread. Most here dont by votes. Yet, you think other side shoud and good will come from it? Wheres the sense?

                                                                                                                                                      And recall most of us want political discussion elsewhere but a break on Lobsters. Many aren’t anti-politics: that’s a lie people keep telling about us to tear down strawmen instead of addressing our actual want: one site politics free or a tag for optional filtering.

                                                                                                                                                      1. 5

                                                                                                                                                        Please, let me start by saying that nothing I write about in this post is ment personally against you. I really mean that. I have to make this disclaimer because I do think your ideas are simply abhorrent.

                                                                                                                                                        That in a nutshell is the issue. Many people are so sure of their own perspective that they find alternative views so abhorrent that they feel compelled to rebut them at every opportunity.

                                                                                                                                                        Personally, I find the promotion of socialist ideas dumbfounding and dangerous. I can (and have, elsewhere) made detailed moral defenses of democratic capitalism. But I have the humility to realise that a) I could be wrong b) interjecting my views into every conversation does not convince anyone c) I can learn from (even like) people I disagree with.

                                                                                                                                                      2. 4

                                                                                                                                                        How do you think the person who submitted this neat project feels when only a tiny fraction of the replies to their submission even talk about it?

                                                                                                                                                        That is mostly irrelevant. There are things at stake here more important than his feelings.

                                                                                                                                                        And it doesn’t even follow that if the ethical ‘derail’ didn’t happen, there would be discussions about the submission itself. The alternative to 2 replies about the submission + 50 relies about ethics isn’t 52 replies about the submission, it is most likely 2 replies about the submission, so there wasn’t any extra replies that were ‘lost’ to the horde of other posts.

                                                                                                                                                        1. 2

                                                                                                                                                          I would like to be able to ignore certain users, also to ignore their flags. That would require making flagging users’ list public, being able to leave a reason for flagging would also be nice. But I recall having seen this discussion some time ago.

                                                                                                                                                          1. 2

                                                                                                                                                            How do you think the person who submitted this neat project feels when only a tiny fraction of the replies to their submission even talk about it?

                                                                                                                                                            Assuming that open-source and sharing software is a good thing by itself, how do you think this sort of reaction encourages that for folks at Palantir?

                                                                                                                                                            Personally I assume Palantir is trying to engage in https://angel.co/blog/want-to-recruit-better-engineers-open-source-your-code . If so, if you don’t like what Palantir does you’re not the target audience anyway. They may be extremely happy about the number of comments since it gives their company more visibility, despite many of those comments being derogatory. That’s not exactly the Streisand effect https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect but it’s similar.

                                                                                                                                                            1. 0

                                                                                                                                                              Hi. I’m a total and complete n00b. I just signed up. I know nothing about etiquette… er, the official etiquette and typical expectations here. Just thought I would pop in and wave at the other folks here while skimming the About page.

                                                                                                                                                              /well meaning and friendly but probably bad behavior

                                                                                                                                                              1. 7

                                                                                                                                                                As much as I sincerely admire and respect your posts on HN, that was a really unlucky thread to choose as an entry point to this venue :) please don’t take the reactions badly, it’s kinda like somewhat blindly stepping into a heated parents quarrel and saying “I want to go play!” - you may experience a bit of over the top “Geez kid, not now!!!” :D

                                                                                                                                                                1. 2

                                                                                                                                                                  This is not a meet-and-greet thread.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. 5

                                                                                                                                                                    Sorry. Are there any meet-and-greet threads?

                                                                                                                                                                    1. 4

                                                                                                                                                                      Usually #lobsters on freenode is the closest you’ll get, though the weekly “What are you working on” threads serve a semi-related function.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. 5

                                                                                                                                                                        Thank you.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. 2

                                                                                                                                                                        Probably in here somewhere: https://lobste.rs/t/meta

                                                                                                                                                                  2. 0

                                                                                                                                                                    I think that a solution would be to

                                                                                                                                                                    1. reduce active member count (in reverse chronological order) until a consensus can be found, and then
                                                                                                                                                                    2. gradually increase while maintaining the obtained consensus as an invariant

                                                                                                                                                                    That is, temporarily disable accounts with age <= 2y and, if the problem persists, continue with <= 3y, etc., and then re-enable in reverse order.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. 8

                                                                                                                                                                      I think disabling accounts based on a metric possibly correlated with aberrant behavior (account age) as opposed to the actual behavior (violating the norms of the site) would have negative effects on community health.

                                                                                                                                                                      If someone’s account is suspended, are they likely to continue contributing to the site after their account is reactivated?

                                                                                                                                                                      1. 2

                                                                                                                                                                        Disabling accounts based on a metric possibly correlated with aberrant behavior

                                                                                                                                                                        Oh, “finding the bad apples” is not the idea at all! The idea is to revert to a known-to-be-functional state, then work out a consensus on culture in that (smaller, more effective) group, and finally grow back in a controlled manner.

                                                                                                                                                                        If someone’s account is suspended, are they likely to continue contributing to the site after their account is reactivated?

                                                                                                                                                                        I can only speak for myself (I’d fall in the first batch, <1y), but yeah, I would.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. 4

                                                                                                                                                                        I don’t think this is a good idea, but to be honest I prefer lobste.rs form time when I didn’t have an account. In fact I would happily delete it if I could get back that calmer and more focused site. One of the reasons I asked for invitation was to be able to use ‘hide’ and start voting to stop HNification.

                                                                                                                                                                      3. 1

                                                                                                                                                                        What’s “n-gate”?