Please see the disclaimer.

Introduction

lobste.rs just celebrated their 10th anniversary, and I was just banned for being a “transphobic jerk.”

In reality, the head moderator is stifling dissent, which will lead to it becoming an echo chamber, and I will explain why.

It is the moderator’s site; he can do what he wants. But I can disagree with his decisions in public on my own site.

I haven’t posted this to Hacker News on purpose; I’m not sure if it would be something that “good hackers would find interesting.”

If any lobste.rs user wants to post this under a “meta” tag, or any other tag you think fits, be my guest.

However, be warned that @pushcx might ban you for it, and even if he doesn’t, you’ll probably get a lot of downvotes.

Also, he might proactively ban my domain from being posted on lobste.rs.

Background

It started when I saw an article about simplicity in software, and the comments. The article was good, though I disagreed with some parts.

One of the disagreements was with a passing comment:

While [Guy Steele’s “Growing a Language”] presentation is dated and some of the productions Steel uses don’t pass muster…

I thought I knew why the article’s author thought that way, but I decided not to assume. However, someone asked about it, and the author replied with exactly what I thought it was:

Defining person to be man or woman is obviously false and needlessly exclusionary. The talk is itself quite good and there’s a reason I’m working from it, but that production probably wouldn’t fly today.

Someone replied (correctly) with:

This is not false, exclusionary, or transphobic or any other sort of “problematic”. It was simply an illustrative example of defining a concept as a union of existing concepts, that everybody in the intended audience could easily understand. It is not, and is not pretending to, say anything at all about sex, gender, personhood, or anything else. Pretending otherwise is disingenuous at best.

The author replied (truthfully):

It’s worth noting that the production isn’t great, and Steele says so himself in the typed notes. There’s no need to accuse anyone of anything that the original author hasn’t already conceded.

And then quotes the typed version of the talk:

(I know, I know: this [defining a person as a man or a woman] does not quite give the true core meaning of the word “person”; but, please, cut me some slack here.)

I replied with a comment that said something like this:

While I’m not trying to be rude, I want to pushback on this. Steele’s definitions are not exclusionary and that the mere existence of edge cases means that there is an edge, a line between the genders.

Denying reality is one way to misery, and people living against their biology is one example of that.

I know this because I made that choice. I thought I would be better as a woman when I was younger because I had some feminine traits, but I eventually became comfortable as a man.

I challenge you to find a way to get rid of the “problematic” definitions. If you can, more power to you. If you can’t, don’t criticize.

That comment has since been deleted for “Leaps into an off-topic rant against trans people.”

@pushcx, it is not off-topic if it’s in the article under discussion.

Well, someone replied to me saying that I was “spout[ing] utter nonsense”, that my experience doesn’t generalize, and that I was being rude even if I did not intend to be.

I replied with something close to this:

I am not spouting utter nonsense. What is utter nonsense is thinking that people can change their sex.

Jeer all you want because I’ve seen what makes you cheer, and I want no part of it, nor am I willing to be silent about it anymore. I would rather tell the truth and be considered rude than conform to a lie and be considered polite.

Also, are you denying my lived experience? You wouldn’t do that if it went the other way.

Later, someone I respect replied to my first comment. He said that gender dysphoria is real and that it is brutal. He talked more about what he believes that means. He also mentioned that he saw that between 0.05-2% of people are intersex and that the existence of intersex shows that the line between the genders is blurry.

I replied with a really long comment, which I will try to reproduce here.

Gender dysphoria is real, and it is brutal. I know because I had it. That’s what I was trying to say.

I was also trying to say that I got through gender dysphoria by changing my habits and lifestyle. It was like getting through depression, which I’ve also done; I had to change my thinking habits and my lifestyle.

Both were hard; depression was harder, in fact. I actually had two involuntary trips to the hospital from the intervention of others.

But in the case of gender dysphoria, it took about five years, and I was done. It was about two years before it wasn’t hard anymore.

I’m tired of not talking about this because the way society treats gender dysphoria harms those who have it. That’s why suicides before and after transition are about the same.

But people don’t want the real treatment because it’s hard. It requires changing habits and lifestyle, which people don’t want to do.

That’s not to say that people need to be exactly what society says their gender should be. Society is not exactly correct on what the genders should be, and people should find what works for them.

For example, my way of being a man is to play second fiddle to my wife in most things because she is more skilled at me in most things, so she gets to play first fiddle.

With regards to intersex, the fact that intersex exists shows how bright the lines are. You’re either male, female, or intersex. And don’t intersex people have either mutations or deformities?

Also, I’ve read 0.02-0.05%, which is much rarer than 2%.

About an hour later, I was banned.

Aftermath

Now, don’t feel bad for me; I expected it because I knew @pushcx’s politics, and I suspected he would ban me for being “transphobic.”

The funny thing is that my comment to someone else very much applies to @pushcx: if my story had gone the other way, he would not have banned me. How do I know? Because he banned me for being “transphobic,” which is a way of saying that I spoke against the orthodoxy, his opinions, and he wasn’t having it.

Basically, you can’t have “transphobic” opinions on lobste.rs because @pushcx will ban you. Thus, there is no free speech on lobste.rs.

This is so sad to me because this one-sided discourse will end up doing more harm to people with gender dysphoria.

Consequences

Of course, that begs the question: if it would actually harm people it’s supposed to help, why is it done?

Well, I can’t speak to the intentions of @pushcx, nor can I speak to the intentions of any particular person.

But in general, I think it’s about power, the same way Codes of Conduct in FOSS have been about power.

Another sad thing about this is that it leads to self-censorship.

I had one person message me thanking me for expressing my opinion. They are not the only one who didn’t want to do so themselves, I’m sure, and I don’t blame them; such heavy-handed moderation always leads to self-censorship, which always leads to social cooling and echo chambers.

In fact, echo chambers tend to snowball.

Once people are banned for an ideological reason, any ideological reason, people with the banned opinion generally leave or go quiet. This leads to discussion becoming an echo chamber on that topic, but those people who left or went quiet would also go quiet about adjacent things. This will lead to less disagreement about those adjacent things, leading to an echo chamber, and echo chambers lead to radicalization, which leads to more banning on those adjacent topics, which leads to more echo chamber on adjacent topics, which…

You get the idea.

This means that, over time, lobste.rs will become a massive echo chamber. It will be slow at first, but near the end, it might happen all at once.

This is what happened to Reddit, and it’s why Reddit is so bad nowadays.

Hacker News

So it’s ironic that lobste.rs now has worse moderation than Hacker News and has for a long time.

If you didn’t know, lobste.rs was founded by someone (not @pushcx) who had a dispute with Paul Graham over moderation.

Paul Graham is the original founder of Hacker News.

I believe, but I’m not sure, that Paul Graham was moderating Hacker News himself at the time, but since lobste.rs was created in 2012, he has hired a paid moderator to do it.

That moderator’s name is Dan Gackle.

It appears that Hacker News has another moderator: Scott Bell. Whatever I say about Dan applies to Scott; I just see Dan’s handle, @dang, far more than Scott’s. I’m not even sure what Scott’s is.

But they both deserve credit for Hacker News as it is today.

Dan Gackle is the magic behind Hacker News, and it is a wildly different place from where it was under Paul Graham. It has its share of bots, paid shills, and wild folks, who are usually downvoted to oblivion quickly, but every community has that, even lobste.rs with its invite-only system.

But among actual discussion, @dang is incredibly even-handed. I have no fear that he would ban me for what I said on lobste.rs. In fact, I don’t even know what his political opinions are! I’ve seen him hand down all sorts of punishments to both sides of a lot of issues.

That is amazing. There is no doubt in my mind that @dang is the best moderator in the world.

So it is ironic that lobste.rs started because of poor moderation decisions on Hacker News, but Hacker News has much better moderation now.

An Example

I think the best illustration of the difference in moderation between the two is to relate two stories.

As I am outspoken, and I go against the prevailing orthodoxy, I tend to be attacked personally on both Hacker News and lobste.rs whenever one of my posts ends up on those sites. Such attacks almost never actually address the post, but go on to insult or threaten me.

Well, two separate times, I think on different articles, it happened on both sites, and I felt a need to defend myself because the attacks were libelous.

On both sites, the moderators correctly killed the attacking comment. That was great.

On lobste.rs, @pushcx also killed my defending comment. @pushcx’s reason: “You’re not a moderator, don’t try to boss around the comments thread.” Seriously?! I was just defending myself!

Okay, whatever. I would have fought harder if he hadn’t also killed the attacking comment. I was actually relieved to have mine down, but I didn’t like that a moderator did it because there was nothing wrong with it.

But on Hacker News, @dang left my comment up, even though it had the same tone. Once the attacking comment was deleted, I was delighted, and I decided that I would like my comment to be deleted.

I emailed the official Hacker News address asking for it to be deleted and saying why. @dang replied in less than a day. He explained that they usually don’t like to delete comments, but since no one had replied to mine, and because mine was referencing some sensitive stuff for me, he deleted it for me.

Absolutely wonderful!

In fact, there was one time I disagreed directly, in public with one of @dang’s decisions. What did he do? Absolutely nothing!

I haven’t felt comfortable doing that on lobste.rs for a long time.

Conclusion

lobste.rs will become a giant echo chamber with time, unless the moderation style changes. If you are on lobste.rs, I would leave if I were you. Don’t fall victim to self-censorship; it’s not worth it.

I have no such fear for Hacker News; I have actually seen the prevailing opinion on Hacker News change over time on several issues. This is a good sign of @dang’s subtle and incredible skill.

And finally, to end this post, I would like to end with this wisdom from @dang:

I was thinking about this this evening, and thought of another way to explain the “expected value of a thread” concept…which is really the prime directive of HN discussion.

The thing to understand is that HN threads are supposed to be conversations. A conversation isn’t a one-way message like, say, a billboard or a PA announcement. It’s a two-way or multi-way co-creation. In a community like HN, it’s a multi-way co-creation with a very large fanout.

In conversation, to make high-quality comments you have to take other people into account. If you treat your comment only as a vehicle for your own opinions and feelings—if you leave out the relational dimension—then you’re not in conversation.