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I’m a (relatively) new user here, so I’d like to hear from users who have been around for a while (or mods). There have been a few recent posts about (or on) social media, which were not removed, but were both flagged and upvoted by a significant number of users:

For what it’s worth, I did enjoy reading both of these threads—but I also recognize that the culture of lobste.rs is formed primarily from users who have been around much longer than I have. If these posts are indeed off-topic, should they be removed? If they are on-topic, should a new tag (social-media) be added? Given that a large amount of users are flagging these stories, there is a strong case for wanting to filter them out. A disclaimer would probably need to be added (similar to merkle-trees), stating something along the lines of non-technical discussions on social media or general business news of social media is not allowed.

I double-checked the about page, and although many things are explicitly off-topic, social media is not mentioned:

entrepreneurship, management, news about companies that employ a lot of programmers, investing, world events, anthropology, self-help, personal productivity systems, last-resort customer service requests via public shaming, “I wanted to see what this site’s amazing users think about this off-topic thing”, and defining the single morally correct economic and political system for the entire world when we can’t even settle tabs vs. spaces.

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    I flag those all with extreme prejudice.

    Once normalized, they attract the worst sort of circlejerking and navelgazing, because everybody has an opinion about them and few people will learn something “new” technically. Social media stuff, especially the monetized kind, tends to function off of network effects and pulling people in to add to the collective. I don’t like feeding Moloch here in such a way.

    Posts about the implementation of social media, of course, are something I totally dig. Things like dealing with fan-in/fan-out, subscriptions, realtime analytics, how X solved production problem Y at Z scale…all that stuff is great. I just can’t abide by the non-technical stuff that tends to accumulate like plaque from sugary foods.

    Just because something is interesting to you or you have an opinion about it doesn’t automatically make for a good Lobsters submission.

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      This. I come to lobsters to learn cool things, not ponder the social issues of the day.

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        Maybe social issues are part of technical issues?

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          If there are interesting technical solutions to social issues, I’m all for it. But I have less than zero interest in Twitter drama, Mastodon evangelizing, or any other non-technical discussion of social issues when I come here.

          I care deeply about many social issues but I don’t come to lobsters to discuss them, and I don’t want to.

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        From Cambridge Dictionary

        the activity of spending too much time considering your own thoughts, feelings, or problems

        At least I learned a new word :)

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        I have flagged all of them as off-topic. As for why they have not been removed I can’t say since I am not a moderator. I have my say with the flags.

        To answer your question, I think many submissions about social media are off-topic, but they must be judged on a case by case basis.

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          I wrote the “Three things to like about the Fediverse”.

          Some say it is low quality because it only contains three bullet points. But it took me quite a while to distill the essence of what is good about the Fediverse down to what I consider the three main points.

          The reason I posted it here is that all three are benefits for developers.

          Owning your identity like you own your domain is something easy for developers. Not so easy for regular users. Although that will probably change over time.

          Fully customizing your experience can only be done by developers. As it means you have to customize the code of your instance.

          Building cool stuff on top of it is also something that can only be done by developers. As it means to build new software.

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            The three “main points” are devoid of any meaningful content, personally:

            • Do you “own” a domain? You’re registered as the owner of a domain, but it’s not really ownership, it’s a lease from IANA or whoever. So what does it actually mean from a technical perspective to “own” your federated identity? There is no knowledge gained from reading this bullet point.
            • “Fundamentally open” would be cited as weasel words on Wikipedia. What’s open? You don’t need a FOSS instance to have a federated instance. So the ActivityPub protocol is open? That’s great, but ActivityPub is a standardised protocol - “customise your experience” doesn’t particularly mean much in regards to that. It’s a point that’s been distilled of all information.
            • I guess you can “build cool stuff” on top of anything with a big enough hammer, but on ActivityPub/Mastodon/Pleroma that’s fair. This again though is a point distilled of all information, there’s nothing you learn, nothing one gains from reading it.

            Hope this gives some perspective on why people, or at least I, would have downvoted your submission or considered it off-topic (lacking technical content). It’s nothing personal, I’m sure your tweets are great and you have technical information, technical knowledge etc. you could share in the future.

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              There is a lot to unpack here. Let me start with the first point:

              You are always at the mercy of some infrastructure providers. That is why in my Tweet, I wrote “You can own your identity to the same degree you can own a domain”.

              IANA, ICANN, your registrar, browser vendors, operating system vendors .. they all have the power to interfere with how available a specific domain is. But these infrastructure providers are generally orders of magnitude more trustworthy than social networks. How often did you hear that one of these infrastructure providers interfered with a single domain? I can remember almost no such events. On social networks on the other hand, interference with visibility is the norm. Even outright deplatforming is pretty common.

              So owning your identity to the same degree you own a domain is a big step forward.

              When decentralized domain name systems like .eth become supported, you can own a domain to an even higher degree. By being the only one who knows the secret key that holds the power over your domain. That would cut IANA, ICANN and your registrar out of the loop.

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                How often did you hear that one of these infrastructure providers interfered with a single domain?

                It happened to a website which shall not be named just the other day (recency bias? I’d have to look for other examples.) Your identity is now also subject to potential hijacking or squatting. Not having a process you can turn to and recover your stolen identity is a huge step backwards.

                Side note: I think it’s a good thing that social networks interfere with visibility of certain content, and federated social media does so in very broad strokes (example). De-platforming and censorship are social debates, and debates not solved or avoided through federation.

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                  Can you elaborate on what you mean by potential hijacking or squatting?

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            As for why they have not been removed I can’t say since I am not a moderator.

            When I ask whether they should be removed, that is more so a metaphorical question (to everyone but the admin) as to whether the community would appreciate those topics being submitted. I especially wanted to hear from people who had been around for a while, because there was a significant amount of disagreement between users upvoting and flagging the articles. A better question to ask would have been: Should I, and other newcomers like myself, be submitting stories related to social media?

            Your answer, as I understand it, is: No, unless there is heavy technical content within. For example, an article describing the logistics behind running a social media database would be okay.

            If you have a moment, I’d also like to ask about the nuances of your answer. I’ve also run across a few similar, older posts with no flags:

            Do you think these posts are on topic? If so, what makes them different from the posts in my original post?

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              The first is more a community information exchange than anything else, so I’m okay with it. It’s analogous to a bunch of us meeting up and informally exchanging business cards,

              The second is off-topic to me. I’d flag it, but it was submitted two years ago so there’s no point. I don’t think this is the place to be discussing the distribution of Mastodon and what it means for online communities.

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            Yeah. Some rich guy started to demolish a social network popular with programmers a couple hours after I went mostly offline for a vacation. Rude of him, tbh. I’ve cleaned up a bit.

            I’m working on improvements to the mod queue and going to take another run at bringing on mods, probably later this month.

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              I marked the last tweet as off-topic because it was so low content. I don’t have a problem linking to Twitter, but to an insignificant tweet with 3 bullet points? I’ll just use Twitter for that.

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                I believe that kind of stuff is very offtopic… tho perhaps the first one (“Are you still active in any social media platforms”) falls into the “let’s talk with other users” buckets which seems reasonable, especially if it avoids veering off into flame wars.

                As usual, the “would this make you a better programmer” reference point is such a good default that it makes this kind of stuff obvious. …probably the biggest reason for the other two not being deleted is that we are graced with one overworked moderator who does take time to sleep and live their life. Probably the most thankless job out there!

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                  Lobsters is a social medium. Threads about other social media are only off-topic to the degree that we can’t compete for attention.

                  There is a known but unnamed phenomenon where a subculture is divided into two groups, which I’ll call “exploitative” and “moderate” for description. The exploitative group is blatant and harmful in their expression of subcultural values, while the moderate group is insular and focused on intracultural experiences. There are others in the subculture who identify with neither group. Then, there can be a great embarrassment when the moderate group observes behaviors from the exploitative group; in their zeal, the exploitative group has brought shame upon the entire subculture, and the moderate group responds by altering its values and shifting the subculture. This might sound vaguely like a motte-and-bailey pattern, but it is not. (There is a great video by hbomberguy analyzing this pattern across several subcultures.)

                  In our case, because Lobsters is solidly part of a moderate social-media subculture, the exploitative behaviors of Facebook, Twitter, and others are not just harmful to emulate, but embarrassing to examine.

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                    I think your comment is interesting, high-quality, and off-topic. You’re talking anthropology, or if you prefer, sociology: the study of what people do together.

                    I would support a change in the rules to allow it, but I don’t know how to phrase it.

                    We should talk about:

                    • exploitative technology
                    • building well-functioning technical culture
                    • fostering good discussion
                    • ethics in technology
                    • moderation

                    We should avoid:

                    • gossip
                    • inane comparisons
                    • marketing
                    • business and politics that just happen to feature a tech company
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                    Any media with a comment section is going to have some form of social element, and I think all of these threads are fine. I use twitter / fediverse / orang site as link aggregators as well as lobsters, so occasional discussions of big shifts to neighboring platforms seems relevant. Especially when many of the authors who reach the front page here are switching from twitter to fediverse, cohost, etc. It feels like culture is a relevant tag for all of these since its description reads “Technical communities and culture”.

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                      It’s definitely not what I come here for. I would vote to make it off topic.

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                        I vote posts off-topic when they don’t contain any significant amount of original technical content, be it code, analyses, advice etc.

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                          I’m here to talk about programming. Full stop.

                          The hell if I’m going to play that game “But this isn’t programming” I’ve been down that road too many times. It always ends up being about programming anyway. So I try to assume positive intent.

                          I think it’s fair to say that coders who post such things might need to reword them. For instance, I commented on “Are you still active in any social platforms” to mean “How are you changing the way you leverage social platforms to be a better coder/communicator?” because social platforms let us talk, enable our programming skills, and so on. It’s very much a programming practices question, perhaps the most important programming practices question many coders will face.

                          Yeah, I get it that current events may cause such questions. That makes them tricky and I don’t like that. It’s too easy to drift into stupid human tricks. I usually try to make sure the questioner understands that yes, I got the current events angle, but no, that’s not the important thing. There’s actually something very important here that has nothing to do at all with politics, current events, or whatnot. It’s just that perhaps those things brought the topic up for them.

                          So yup, I understand folks having a fun little flagging party. I’m also just here for programming. But I’m not playing that short-sighted, lets-assume-the-poster-is-just-trolling-us game. Be nice. I’d like lobste.rs to be a place to talk about programming, real people struggling to do a better job creating solutions for other people. That means a messy people element is always going to be part of the conversation.

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                            I guess I’ll chime in as the most flagged user on this site (currently) (edit: hopefully this will clarify my intent and give people a chance to correct my behaviour).

                            It is quite clear what kind of posts are off-topic and it has been said several times by others in this thread. Twitter threads or some “about”ism is not interesting. We’d like to see things that will also be interesting in many years or that further our understanding of system design and programming.

                            The thing that I find concerning is that incentives are a part of the implementation of social media and as such are a technical issue. We must be allowed to discuss incentives as they relate to programming and the programs we use to communicate. Such discussions (like all discussions) should not enforce that people argue from first principles in every comment but rather should build context via queries for missing context and principle of charity.

                            However what I experience is more of a preconceived notion based flagging. Where people get triggered by the conclusions I’ve reached and rather than querying for context they flag with prejudice.

                            I will fully admit to sometimes making low effort comments but they are caused by my mental state deteriorating from complete lack of engagement and de-facto rejection by a significant part of society (not just online). I have yet to see anyone actually make a convincing attempt at refuting my arguments and meanwhile the silence is deafening.

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                              One of my first posts after joining was similarly both popular and heavily flagged as off topic. At the time, I felt a similar confusion as to what you expressed here. Since then, I’ve read and re-read these submission guidelines. In hindsight, I find them helpful and wise:

                              Will this improve the reader’s next program? Will it deepen their understanding of their last program? Will it be more interesting in five or ten years?

                              I’ve come to embrace lobste.rs narrow scope. I won’t presume to tell you what to value, but if you’re also interested in embracing this ethos, one additional guidelines I’ve given myself is to measure the value of a post more in its topicality and technical usefulness than how many upvotes I think it will get. I frequently post stories that I find interesting but that garner tepid interest in pure numbers. I’m fine with that so long as the few people who do upvote them find them as interesting and useful as I did.

                              Did my post about the ethics of AI meet these criteria? No. Do posts about which social media platforms to use and how meet these criteria? No. The irony is that it’s precisely lobste.rs’ intentionally narrow scope that saves it from turning into the very social media site you criticize. Regardless of whether you share that sentiment, these posts are not compatible with the spirit in which lobste.rs was created.

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                                That’s an interesting perspective; thanks for sharing. I did address the “rules of thumb” you mention here in another comment. I understand that limiting the site to strictly technical content helps prevent meaningless drivel and flamewars that frequently start on other (unnamed) social media sites. The challenge I had is in understanding the line between allowed content about social media vs that which is unwelcome here.

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                                  I concur with @GeoffWozniak’s response to that question and upvoted it. I recommend favoring the language of the guidelines in making those judgements over the consistency of their enforcement. We have one volunteer mod and, like any community, many biases. I won’t excuse them, but the solution is to participate in enforcing the guidelines fairly (e.g. with flagging), not by treating enforcement (or lack thereof) as a kind of precedent.

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                                Technical details about the implementation, design or operation of social platforms are on-topic. I can have an objective conversation about how a thing works and the details behind it.

                                Discussions about social media habits, current company news and controversy are off-topic. That doesn’t mean they don’t matter (the Twitter situation is absurd and incredibly worrying), but that they aren’t suited to this forum.

                                The technical criteria is relatively straight-forward.

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                                  Stop writing Twitter threads was just a bad post, that only got interactions for being both wrong and somewhat inflammatory.

                                  I find offensive to the concept of post to even call Three things to like about the Fediverse a post. It got downvoted to oblivion, deservedly so.

                                  The Are you still active in any social media platforms? though … maybe it is off-topic, but it has 58 comments, and a lot of them are just straight out answers. I wonder if it’s really worth pursuing an standard of on-topic purity when the community seems to signal that things are not so black and white.

                                  In the end, this is a sort of community, and people in a community want to interact with each other. It’s kinda the whole point, arguably. So maybe defining an acceptable style of “what do y’all think” post, and making a tag for that, could be a more constructive endeavor.

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                                    I think this is a good question.

                                    I can only speak for myself, but the post “Are you still active in any social media platforms?” struck me as particularly low quality.

                                    I flagged it “off topic” because it felt like the most appropriate thing to do with the way I felt about its quality. I don’t think social media is off topic, but there’s no flagging action more in line with the way that I feel than “off topic” for content of that caliber.

                                    In my opinion, a post with the title “Are you still active in any social media platforms?” would be been better served with an ask post.

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                                      I believe it is off-topic because it falls into the “I wanted to see what this site’s amazing users think about this off-topic thing” category mentioned above.

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                                        this off-topic thing

                                        Your suggestion kind of presupposes that social media is off topic. It is definitely true that if social media is off-topic, then the first post I mentioned (“Are you still active in any social media platforms?”) would be off-topic as well. However, it doesn’t really clear up my original question.

                                        The consensus from other users so far definitely seems to favor social media being off-topic (with some making exceptions for intensely technical discussions), though.

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                                          Lobsters is focused pretty narrowly on computing; tags like art don’t imply every piece of art is on-topic. Some rules of thumb for great stories to submit: Will this improve the reader’s next program? Will it deepen their understanding of their last program? Will it be more interesting in five or ten years?

                                          Right from the paragraph where it explains what is off-topic https://lobste.rs/about

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                                            I read this paragraph before I made this post, but I don’t think it answers my question either. I’ll give a short list of reasons why I thought social media could be on-topic (simply because you think it is off-topic; I have other thoughts as to why social media could be off-topic).

                                            Lobsters is focused pretty narrowly on computing; tags like art don’t imply every piece of art is on-topic.

                                            Social media is only possible because of computers and software. Many developers post technical content on social media. A great example is this quine (posted on lobste.rs).

                                            Some rules of thumb for great stories to submit: Will this improve the reader’s next program? Will it deepen their understanding of their last program? Will it be more interesting in five or ten years?

                                            I saw these rules and thought… they’re really general. There are so many highly upvoted topics with no flags that I could only answer “no” to all of the above.

                                            Examples of recent, good posts for which the answers would be “No, no, and no.”:

                                            You could argue that the vintage pinball game will be more interesting in the future, or that the pick and place machine would improve one’s hardware design skills (and that “program” should implicitly include “PCB”), but I think I’ve made my point that, as written, these rules of thumb are not hard-and-fast rules to decide what belongs here.

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                                              Social media is only possible because of computers and software.

                                              Literally every aspect of modern life does that.

                                              Many developers post technical content on social media. A great example is this quine (posted on lobste.rs).

                                              Sure, then the technical content is on-topic, the usage of social media is not. Note that posting links to twitter is not per se banned or off-topic. A certain Billionaire buying twitter and ruining it certainly is off-topic. (btw I say that with a 14 year old twitter account that has 700+ organically grown followers, so I am not anti social media or anything like that).

                                              I too would sometimes like to hear what the many smart folks over here think about thing or other thing, but I think keeping certains things from this site is actually a feature and a good thing.

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                                        All three are off topic because they have no technical content or really any relation to technical content.

                                        The first post might get a pass because it’s an ask post.

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                                          I would vote for 2 types of additional flags (or may be tags?)

                                          • unreasonably click-bitee title
                                          • low technical information content

                                          I understand that different users perceive the above 2 metrics differently, but I would prefer to have these metrics aggregated (for a given submission) – and let me choose if I want to filter out that submission or not based my own filtering criteria using the aggregate metrics for the above.

                                          essentially it does not matter the ‘source’ of those articles (social media or not), but the opinion of others is what I would find useful.

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                                              Thank you for the reference. I agree that not all ‘content-evaluation’ attributes are effective. But in the above suggestion, I tried to narrow down the subjectivity to very specific attributes of an article:

                                              • title’s ‘honesty’
                                              • and the density of technical content compared to the amount of text.