Crowdsourced Censorship: The Irony of Hacker News

Why the ability to “Downvote” on HackerNews results in censored opinions and should be heavily moderated

Avi Zolty
Avi Zolty
Jan 6, 2014 · 2 min read

For a bunch of tech advocates who oppose censorship, Hacker News displays an extreme double standard. Back in the day, Paul Graham created Hacker News to be a place for entrepreneurs/founders, tech-advocates and hackers to share relevant content. This was great. Knowing that with any forum, which allows any form of anonymity, trolls would soon ruin relevant content: Paul implemented an “up-vote”-only option. This was absolutely genius.

Now, people could only upvote content they found interesting. However, pretty soon came the necessity to add some form of moderation- which was solved by giving the ability to “downvote” once one reached a certain karma threshold. Ostensibly, this works great. Only those who spend ample amount of time on Hacker News were able to decide which content should be downvoted, therefore avoiding the everyday trolls. Additionally, the threshold would increase with more HN users- scaling properly. Awesome.

Except with a certain archetype of people spending more and more time on HN and therefore having strict opinions on certain subjects, this resulted in a really unfair rift.
Today and not for the first time- I was wary of posting my opinion because it disagreed with the masses. Posts which may be deemed politically incorrect or not having the same ideology as the usual HN sentiment are downvoted- not because they’re empty posts or because don’t add a new perspective to the discussion- but because they’re emotionally intrusive to HN posters who feel so strongly, so passionately about the subject, that they spend enough time on HackerNews to receive the necessary Karma.
What this means- is slowly but surely, HN is weeding out those with opposing viewpoints and becoming biased to the viewpoint of those who spend the most time on it.

In some ways this is great; it’s pruning a community of like-minded people. However this dichotomy results in censorship. If you’re building up Karma- you need to be careful about what opinions you share with Hacker News… or you’ll quickly lose it. Ironic for a community so intrenched in the fight against censorship.

So go ahead - Downvote this thread if it upsets you! Help aid in the censorship of HackerNews.

    Avi Zolty

    Written by

    Avi Zolty

    YC Alum with 3 large acquisitions. Founder @skurt