Why do I find HN toxic?
I have been a long-time reader of HN since probably secondary school. I remember on January 23-24, 2011, just before the Egyptian government blocked the internet across Egypt, I spent most of these two days going through HN posts and reading comments as usual. The discussion in the submission reporting the block was frustrating, as most people had very strange takes on the matters. Anyway, that was in the distant past; at that time, I rarely posted anything on HN and was just a reader. I actually did not have an account whose password I remembered, and I didn’t care much about it then.
When I moved to the US and became more isolated as a PhD student, especially during the pandemic, I started spending more time on HN and began to post more. I have to confess that sometimes I spent more time on HN than I should have. I barely had any social life before, and I was always that weird geek, a trait that hasn’t changed much since then. I understand that many people there are like me and probably suffer from a
know it all syndrome. But that was part of the problem. I learned many things from HN, especially the golden comments that introduce you to some niche solution to a problem you have. The smart ideas that you see from your fellow HN members are amazing. However, the problem is that there are many toxic aspects in the community that I started to notice more and more. I am not sure if it’s because I am spending more time there or because the community is changing. I think it’s a combination of both.
Before I start to talk about these problems, it’s important to clarify that they are from my personal perspective, with all my biases, and I am not trying to generalize. I am just trying to explain why I find HN toxic for me. I am not attempting to convince anyone to stop using it or to change their behavior. I am just trying to explain why I am not enjoying it anymore and why I am trying to spend less time there.
In HN, there are many topics where you get the feeling that you can list the arguments and the heated discussions about them. You would avoid these if things are direct, but usually, even indirect posts lead to the same arguments. To give you an example, I am not sure how many times I have seen the same arguments about the following topics:
- Chrome’s monopoly and Safari being the only iOS browser.
- Apple’s monopoly and the App Store.
- Google Search and the quality of the results (including the same discussion about Kagi).
- Any topic about copyright and intellectual property.
- Firefox discussions, which are often dominated by comments about Mozilla and their decisions, even if the topic is about the technical aspects of the browser.
- CERN topics, which lead to heated discussions about the LHC being a waste of money and the same arguments about the benefits of the research.
And the list go on..
HN is a community predominantly comprising members from the Western Hemisphere; that is a fact. However, I really dislike that most discussions about matters outside the US often turn into discussions about the US. Even direct news about other parts of the world, with no US involvement, is usually dominated by topics related to the US. While this can sometimes be useful, the problem is that you will find this pattern annoying. Do you remember the submission about the internet block in Egypt? It is a prime example of this US-centric problem. For instance, there might be news about a famine in Africa, and yet you will find discussions about water problems in California.
“There is a problem of racism against Muslims on this platform. I don’t think Dang is doing a good job of getting it under control, especially during heated discussions about politics in the Middle East, and particularly during active conflicts. This makes the platform very toxic for me personally. However, to be honest, in normal times I rarely see it, and it is usually flagged. Intervention from other users puts things into perspective. It feels weird, and sometimes I might be overreacting, but at times your words might convey a different meaning than what you intend to say. For example, I saw a comment from a user stating that he hadn’t seen any contributions from Muslims to the development of the world in the last century. Although this can be taken as an opinion (which is obviously wrong at best), in the context it was pure racism.
Know it all
Do you think that the best way to get an answer to your question is to provide a wrong answer? This is typically what you will encounter from many aggressive people who will downvote and reply in the same aggressive tone that you are wrong. This approach is usually effective in technical discussions, but outside of that, it can be hellish
These issues might not be what many people consider making a place toxic. However, for me, they do, and I might at best return to being a silent reader, albeit with a much more aggressive filter. I wrote a userscript that I sync via iCloud to my iPhone, which blocks specific topics, domains, and users. The list is increasing every day, and at some point, I might just stop reading HN altogether. But I still derive some value from HN and will continue visiting it until I don’t.”