A few weeks ago, my account on Hacker News, a Reddit like aggregation site for technology links, was banned. My five-year old account received zero warnings before I got a comment from a moderator. Recently, I also discovered from a friend that this website, BattlePenguin.com, has been shadow banned on Hacker News. To any user submitting one of my posts, the submission will look as if it’s successful and appear on the new page. However, if one switches to a private browser, they’ll find that the submission does not appear.
I cross promote new articles on this blog across several platforms, some that are even hostile to smaller websites. Typically, promoting on various platforms doesn’t guarantee additional clicks unless you actively participate on that social network. Hacker News was one of the few sites I enjoyed participating on. I knew it was heavily moderated, but I liked how it generally pushed articles specific to programming, hardware and technology, and avoided more controversial topics.
This started to change heavily last year around the beginning of the pandemic. Almost every tech news site on the Internet was flooded with stories on COVID. Hacker News began to allow some of these topics for a while. Over time, posts on COVID were heavily weighted, so they’d fall off the front page quickly. Certain political posts also started being allowed, some even restored after they had been flagged. These types of posts don’t stay up long, but I’ve found them invaluable since they often contain quite a few controversial view points, for various people in tech all across the world. As time went on, more balanced voices became drown out, and I found it was increasingly valuable to read controversial posts from the bottom
I’ve participated in Hacker News discussions for years, mostly to the detriment of my attention. The site is a terrible time suck. Although I rarely used sites like Facebook or Twitter, I assume my Hacker News usage would be similar the social media use of my friends who are not in tech.
My participation on Hacker News hasn’t been entirely one sided. Some of my own posts have done very well on the site, resonating with the thoughts of other professionals in the industry. Some of my largest traffic spikes came from making it to the front page, exceeding any traffic I’ve ever gotten from Reddit. Hacker News was a website I enjoyed having discussions on. I may not have millions of readers, yet being deplatformed from a microcosm of the Internet I typically enjoyed, did cut a little close.
I realize I could have simply made another account, but the moment I was banned, I stopped visiting the site entirely within a day. I started visiting other news sites and adding more tech news to my RSS feeds. And now, weeks later, I see that my blog itself has been banned from even appearing in the news feed.
I’m a small player in the world of tech giants; one small Hacker News user in a sea of many. Yet it was still one of the few platforms that gave me the opportunity to reach a wide audience with my writing. I’ve gotten e-mails from people who have read my posts, sometimes to offer up corrections, or occasionally to offer thanks. I’m saddened that my contributions may not have the reach they once had, and that one of the platforms I participated in has chosen to shadow ban my website with no explanation. I do fear this push to conformity and monoculture within the tech industry will drive any true diversity of ideas off most platforms; leading each new forum or platform to cater to specific ideologies with echo chambers, and very little cross-pollination.
I do not write for the masses. I write for myself, and whoever wants to listen. In the end, it is those that block out alternative view points that hurt themselves and their user bases. Although my readership may be a bit smaller in the future, at least my thoughts are preserved on a website I built myself. I do not mourn turning my back on Hacker News, but look forward to what newer technologies and platforms lie around the corner.