Hellbanned from Hacker News

posted to this is not a weblog on jun 13th, 2012 at 09:25 with tags drama and nerd and commented on 53 times

Yesterday I submitted a post on Hacker News out of frustration at moderators pedantically changing post titles. After quickly rising to the number two spot on the front page with 482 points and 37 comments, the post was deleted by a moderator, presumably the operator of the site, Paul Graham. Since you can't read the text of it now, here it is:

I would ask that the unknown mysterious moderators of this site stop changing post titles long after they hit the front page.

The guidelines at http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html state: "You can make up a new title if you want, but if you put gratuitous editorial spin on it, the editors may rewrite it." but this should not apply just because the title submitted does not match the article. When the actual article's title makes no sense or provides no context, it should be allowed to stay changed.

A story is currently on the front page with a title of "Where the Heat and the Thunder Hit Their Shots" which was just changed from its previously edited title of something about visualization.

"Where the Heat and Thunder Hit Their Shots", while actually the title of the article, says absolutely nothing about the content of the article. Is this an article about weather? Photography? Nope, it's about basketball. Why is it on Hacker News? Oh, the submitter liked the visualizations, which is exactly what the previously edited title said before it was changed.

Another example: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3875857 was a story about Light Table and the title was edited to reflect that until it had at least 100 points. Then a moderator changed it to the story's actual title of "On concepts and realities" which said absolutely nothing about it and probably caused lots of people that had already visited the link once to read it and think it was something else.

Moderators, please stop doing this.

As soon as the post was deleted, I received an e-mail from Paul Graham:

 From: Paul Graham <pg@ycombinator.com>
 Sender: cryptograham@gmail.com
 To: jcs@jcs.org
 Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2012 14:09:12 -0700
 Message-ID: <CAFMqLCjhQn6x8LwrH6JtLG7=s8f_icoti-Lh3Adi799o+RonRw@mail.gmail.com>
 Subject: guidelines

 The guidelines (as you probably already knew) also say that if you
 have a question about moderation, send us an email instead
 of posting about it on the site.

Soon after my post was removed from the front page, other users started creating posts asking where it went, one of which was also deleted by a moderator after it made its way to the front page. Paul finally responded in one quoting the guidelines and nothing more.

I tried to respond to one of the new posts to explain that I didn't delete the original, but I received an error "You're submitting too fast. Please slow down. Thanks." whenever I would submit a comment, despite not commenting previously for at least a half hour. I waited some more and tried commenting again, then tried commenting in other posts but kept receiving the same error. The site was also responding much slower than usual.

While I am able to post comments now, I have been childishly "hellbanned" from Hacker News. My comments appear to be posted to the site, but nobody can see them except me. When others view my profile or posts where I've commented, my recent comments simply do not appear:


If a user turns on the "showdead" option, usually only used to see spam, my comments will be visible, but unreadable and marked as dead:


I've also apparently been "slowbanned", as the site now takes between 10 and 20 seconds to respond to anything I do in attempt to get me to stop using it:


I've verified that this is not just usual slow behavior of the site, as logging out makes the site respond instantly, as well as when viewing from another logged-in account.

While these methods are usually used for spammers, as you can see from my profile, I've been a Hacker News contributor for over 4 years, and have a karma score of 17,803 which ranks me 42nd among the thousands of users on the site (edit: my account has since been removed from the automated leaderboard - clearly indicating I've been banned or otherwise flagged). I've attended Hacker News meetups and built an auxiliary site for Hacker News users to trade things (hntrades.com, since taken down). Apparently this means nothing in the face of submitting public feedback to the moderators of the site, the identities of which are still kept secret. So long, Hacker News.

Update: I've since created lobste.rs based on some ideas I've had for a tech news site.


md (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 09:55:18:

Come to Reddit, its more fun.

Tommy (not authenticated) on august 29th, 2012 at 16:41:53:

Reddit, especially /r/programming, is far, far worse than HN ever has been when it comes to moderation. The downvoting from fellow users is especially atrocious, especially for anyone who doesn't toe the Ruby/JavaScript/NoSQL/Mac OS X line.

Blah (not authenticated) on october 8th, 2012 at 23:28:31:

If by fun you're referring to the phrase "ignorance is bliss" then yes, I agree, Reddit is a place full of appalling ignorance and infinite bliss.

jim (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:09:06:

Hacker News has become a circle jerk. I was slow banned and hell banned for...I'm not even sure.

I use it to look at links. Conversation there is pointless now unless one is a circle jerker.

md (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:10:59:

Welcome to HN. Stray off the path (tightrope) and you'll be treated like crap by the various sneaky mechanisms they have in place to make you go away.

Anon (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:20:21:

Sorry to hear this, I have been a long time lurker on HN, but I don't like their reaction on this matter at all.

Michael Robinson (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:24:49:

md is right. HN is the SV bubble. Reddit is all the bubbles you want on one page. And you can collapse comments and limit by comment rating.

Anon (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:24:57:

Looks like this post was deleted as well. I think a lot of people saw it while it was up though, as it quickly shot to first.

I'm saddened and sickened to see such censorship on the site.

The pg cult of personality needs to be aware of this.

@eventi (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:25:21:

Meta conversation sucks though... HN is unfocused enough as it is

Anon (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:26:26:

It would seem the story was submitted to HN, and then killed shortly after.

someone (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:28:10:

I was hellbanned a while back for being critical of a YC backed startup.

It's extremely rude and childish behaviour in my opinion to treat people like that (I've been on HN for 4 years+).

I think the problem is that there's a big conflict of interest. HN is not an open discussion forum for interesting startup/tech news. It's a heavily regulated and censored forum for YC.

jeff (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 12:00:39:

Same thing happened to me. I'd been a user for years and was critical of the name airbnb for being impossible to read and pronounce. Stupid of me to say what I thought on a post from pg which was just plugging his startup http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1187522

While I love hearing what others have to say, and even going to Startup School was great to see and hear from lots of great people like Mitch Kapoor, Ev & Biz, Zuck...

But you're right it's a heavily censored forum for YC. Same story for TC right? I guess this is the prob with SF ever so happy in it's bubble...

So don't count on community and freedom of expression at HN.

John (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:28:34:

And of course, the post linking to this article was deleted as well. Only saw it through the iGoogle page which presumably cached the feed.

A couple of thoughts:
It looks like PG or other mods were pretty clear in wanting to ban such metadiscussions on HN. I guess they want to keep it on-topic of tech & startups and avoid the noise. While you may disagree with their handling of it, looks you can't use their soapbox to do so. That makes HN loosely editorialized. I'm not sure I like it any more than you do, but that's how it is.

They have given warning against your posting. (deleting it, messaging you about it, and commenting on related postings before deleting those as well). It looks like you thought that your high standing in the community put you above further punishment. Clearly PG or other mods thought otherwise.

Remember, this is just the Internet, where everything's made up and the points don't matter.

Michael Robinson (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:32:55:

I'm fine with people who've made exceptional contributions using HN to soapbox about HN.

People do it in comment threads all the time. What's so different about this?

Anon (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:35:07:

Sure, okay. It's one thing to delete a thread. Happens. It's another thing to ban someone for it. Kinda tacky.

It's a heckofanother thing to 'hellban' a guy. That's just wrong.

Anon (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:29:18:

Hello /etc/hosts, bye-bye hacker news.

Anon (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:31:56:

Well, this post has been submitted to, and subsequently killed, on HN as well: http://hackerne.ws/item?id=4108008

It looks like PG isn't going to let this one go.

PGs alter ego (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:32:36:

I noticed the story made the top of their site:


But as people were commenting on it, it was swiftly pulled.

PGs alter ego (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:35:00:

Ooh - it just appeared back on the main page. Looks like the karma effect of the net sometimes works...

sadfdsa (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:41:12:

I have been on HN for more than 5 years and have more than 1000 karma. I have always contributed in good faith and have never made comments about the site itself.

I have been hellbanned multiple times and had to ask to be re-instated. I am not doing it again, because if they don't want my contributions, then I'll got elsewhere.

Here's my account if you want to see whether my comments seem worthy of hellbanning:

bob (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 10:59:28:
Anon (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 11:02:06:

Is there any good alternative site to HN? And yes, I know about reddit.

Chris Lomax (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 11:06:01:

I have found HN very clicky since I started using it. You generally find some clever ass who thinks they know more having a bite at you then everyone who loves this person responds with them and you end up getting marked down for nothing.

When you ask people why you have marked it down they have no good reason, just because they can because they have enough karma to.

Bollocks, I have stopped commenting as I can't be assed with it.

not_a_fan (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 11:12:47:

To the first poster...Reddit invented this kind of stealth censorship...

You are best not commenting on any sites run by fascists, it is a waste of time.

Leon (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 11:26:57:

Yeah, HN is pretty fast with hell banning. I think I got hell banned for criticizing LISP or whatever.

But fuck them. Those are only wannabe Zuckerbergs playing the startup lottery.

Vanni Totaro (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 11:31:29:

My thoughts about this affair in a Google+ post.

Jeff (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 11:39:24:

I was recently hellbanned. Apparently, I'd been slow-banned for awhile, but of course this is indistinguishable from site overload.

I have around 4k comment karma and generally found the community to be challenging and interesting to engage with. Unfortunately, the rules that PG plays by aren't all that well published, and I seem to have run afoul of them. Specifically, the community in general values explaining downvotes, but the site rules state that one should never 'complain' about submissions. So it's a gray area, do you never explain your flagging of submissions, and when does criticism of an article's content cross over into 'complaining'?

While HN expanded my horizons considerably (functional programming, web frameworks, VIM tricks), I've come to realize that I have no practical application for any of it. It's just a huge time sink that's largely tangential to my career focus. Additionally, lately it's become swamped with TechCrunch, Forbes, and "are we in a bubble?" posts.

This, combined with the passive-aggressive and sociopathic way in which PG handles the enforcement of rules has led me to simply stop visiting the site entirely.

Dan (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 12:31:41:

I realized I was hellbanned after my first few comments in the community. I started getting suspicious as to why no one was ever responding to my (what I believed) to be serious and thoughtful comments.

I have no idea what I did to instigate this. I don't think I've ever even submitted a link to HN, and my comments were certainly not spammy. The most I can figure is I jokingly called Linus Torvalds an asshole in a comment, but I believed it was clear it was tongue-in-cheek.

This type of behavior is really regarding to someone who was just trying to get involved in the community. There should at least be a warning given.

i48998 (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 15:46:40:

A long time ago you couldn't talk negatively of Posterous at HN.

A long time ago I made a comment in disagreement with someone and realized later that I disagreed with the owner of HN. I was down-voted severely and realized that whatever little karma points I had were all gone and my counter went into negative within few seconds (couldn't be possible for whole bunch of people to downvote so severely in few seconds).

Did I care? No (I created a new account and started over). The point is, HN is not for community-making, it is not a social network, unless you want to convert to that specific tribe.

br549 (not authenticated) on june 13th, 2012 at 21:55:18:

You dont have to participate, go somewhere else if you dont like their rules. They obviously do not want the type of participation that you are bringing to the table

jim (authentic) on june 13th, 2012 at 23:28:43:

I too was hellbanned after about six comments. No idea why. Haven't bothered to set up a new account since then. Could be time for a "hellbanned from hn" site. Probably would be better conversation than what's on the actual site.

Mike C (not authenticated) on june 14th, 2012 at 16:04:09:

If you make a similar tech news site, I would read it daily. There is a lack of a decent tech news site with the capability of user up-voting. Slashdot has old news and HN is busy advertising their selected startups. I therefore claim the username MC if you do... :)

Brian C (not authenticated) on june 16th, 2012 at 08:20:50:

Ive never been a big fan of HN or it's clones but if you are looking for alternatives lamernews.com isn't bad

Sojourner (not authenticated) on june 17th, 2012 at 08:29:28:

Thank you for posting this. I've often found that content on sites employing these kinds of tactics stale. HN is no longer on my reading list.

Vicar (not authenticated) on august 6th, 2012 at 22:33:16:

No matter what people say, Reddit is not even CLOSE to being a decent alternative to HN, as far as actual discussion vs. "circlejerks" go. I'd actually go as far to say that it's the other way around.

Glad I'm a lurker, though, and judging from this post, I shall continue to be a lurker. Funnily enough, I only came here because I kept seeing "user: you are hellbanned for [reason]" being inserted into some other people's posts (not connected to the aimed user) the past week (or two). I finally got curious tonight PDT and searched "hacker news hellbanned" and this was the first result. And now here I am, posting this comment.

Ashish (authentic) on august 8th, 2012 at 17:24:31:

Hey, (I just discovered) that happened to me too!

Seems like quite a passive aggressive way to deal with disagreeing opinions - doesn't surprise me. Well, at least we have good company.

mp (not authenticated) on august 22nd, 2012 at 19:05:13:

Got hellbanned for linking to metaoptmize. Also from reddit for the same thing. I have nothing to do with metaoptimize, and it's a tiny site anyway started using a week ago for couple of questions. It's quite childish of these two sites to feat the tiny specialist community most people would never visit.

mp (authentic) on august 23rd, 2012 at 01:07:07:

Also, hacker news is a circlejerk - important news in machine learning is filtered out. A huge story about the google brain i put up got to the top for hours, then the title was changed by pg to create disinterest. I'm pretty sure pg is a technical fool (lisp - no one in academia takes it seriously - since like 30 years), and his understanding of machine learning is nonexistent - spam filtering using naive bayes - that's joke if you know any machine learning. His main thing is he's a hustler who pretends to be a nice guy - just like pretty much every other kingpin in the valley. He made his money tricking yahoo (who in turn tricked retirees out of their pension funds). We'll find out soon if the current bubble is just a bubble. Facebook's already shown it's true colors.

Marak (authentic) on august 29th, 2012 at 16:38:31:

A similar incident happened to Nodejitsu http://betabeat.com/2011/10/paul-graham-publicly-releases-nodejitsu-from-hacker-news-jail/

Since HN "released the ban", I suspect they imposed some additional limitations, since any *.nodejitsu.com posts will now dead out after an hour and will never go to the front-page of HN regardless of the amount of votes.

Pierre (authentic) on august 29th, 2012 at 22:10:22:

Hey love your Lobster, please send me an invite! I'll play nice and contribute, I'm sick of HN.

Max (authentic) on september 1st, 2012 at 07:42:29:

Yes, Lobster looks great – how can we get an account?

Bob (not authenticated) on september 17th, 2012 at 22:43:10:

I searched for why HN was telling me I was submitting too fast. I found this post, and go figure, I am also hell banned.

I complained about one site that was always being posted to HN. It was about a Game Boy emulator in javascript. It seems that every once in a while some genius discovered it and thought no one else did so posted to HN.

I also posted some comments that may have been more politically conservative than the HN community in general, and I think that may be the reason I was hell banned.

It's a shame really, censorship for your opinions.

Michael Edgar (not authenticated) on september 23rd, 2012 at 06:34:50:

Yep, just got hellbanned myself. It looks like it was because I pointed out somebody was whining because someone "had an argumentative tone." Paul Graham "doesn't like assholes" - it seems more now like he's afraid of conflict. Oh well. I'll check out lobsters.

Michael Edgar (not authenticated) on september 23rd, 2012 at 06:36:41:

Actually, tracing it back, it turns out it was because I mocked someone sticking up for Diaspora.

Andrew K Kirk (authentic) on october 16th, 2012 at 09:09:19:

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm sure it can be tough to speak out about the such a large and powerful existing system.

I too have been banned from HN. It's tough and I've learned from the experience. But, it's disappointing to know I was putting effort and time into using the site, all for naught.

Bob (not authenticated) on october 25th, 2012 at 00:41:26:

Looks like you're not alone:

Hellbanned from Hackernews:

A disgruntled developer (not authenticated) on october 31st, 2012 at 07:45:49:

Everything that shines ain't gold - the lesson I learned from HN and other "social news" sites.

At the outset there is a lot of new information, opinions and perspectives. After you dig in you realise that the voting systems are primarily used to reinforce groupthink and that creativity in such places is miserably low. Fads spread like wildfire and ignorance reigns supreme due to the creativity-killing constraints imposed on participants.

A new paradigm in online societies is coming, folks. This time WITH SCIENCE driving the design decisions. Stay tuned.

m (authentic) on november 14th, 2012 at 16:01:30:

Hellbanned because there are some actual assholes on there. PG claims he hellbans assholes, but total dicks like Evbn are on there. If you correct the over-inflated egos on there they turn in crybabies holding grudges for weeks. HN is a cesspool of groupthink idiots. This dumb fuck DHH always gets his spam on the front page while any actually interesting stuff is immediately killed by the retarded moderators of the site. I used to think HN was smart people but when you grew a little wiser, boy, is a shithole. PG's trying to do good work and he seems like a nice chap, but he's got too to ban DHH and Evbn and maybe ban social network silliness. Maybe even ban any programming language talk too. The site should be about hacking, that is, using ingenuity to create world-changing inventions, not the current crapfest of Zuckerburg clones.

m (authentic) on november 14th, 2012 at 16:20:58:

If someone can build it, I think there's a great idea where people can be overly critical as they want on what gets posted and commented on in hacker news. So, whatever gets the front page there and it's comments, have any easy way to shit all over it from a the new site. Also get rid of up/down buttons, it just encourages groupthink and mediocrity. Maybe do this for commenting against reddit too. There's a lot fucking of idiots on the forums that pretend they're not idiots, like r/machinelearning, r/artificial, r/compsci. The hivemind of pseudo-intellectual fucktards is stifling proper conversation that might lead somewhere.

Platypus (authentic) on january 10th, 2015 at 08:34:44:

I got hellbanned once, for arguing that VCs statements about software patents are at odds with their actions. If I'd modified my statement to be about how YC was the one shining exception, I probably would have doubled my karma instead. They try not to be obvious about it, but it's pretty clear that HN exists as a platform to promote technologies and attitudes that are helpful to the YC portfolio. Anything contrary to that will be punished.

As for PG's supposedly not liking assholes, that's not true. He only dislikes assholes *he can't control*. He's absolutely delighted to support and promote assholes who are saying the things he wants said (including himself since he's not always a model of decorum either). The world would be a better place if he had never tripped over a big pile of money.

techtics (authentic) on february 21st, 2015 at 18:37:35:

To curb procrastination I don't have a regular account on HN anymore, I'll just create a new one from time to time. Lately I keep getting hellbanned within a couple of messages when someone decides they disagree and downvotes one or (often) more of my posts. Of course I know about it, but I still pretty bad. I wonder how many new users never come back. With such a penelty you would assume every triggering would go through moderation. But no.

I wouldn't mind something slower paced, but I can't seem to find a invite to lobste.rs. The reverse invitation system seems broken too. If you want to hook me up you (hopefully) have my e-mail :)

Christian (authentic) on march 19th, 2015 at 07:13:16:

The filtering functionality is a much needed and useful way of creating a smaller set of news, avoiding information overflow. Just wondering, as I saw Lobste.rs featured on the latest Panda plugin/app, is there any way to get an invite?
Greeting and keep up the great job!

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