Hacker News

How I Got Unbanned from Hacker News

Dear Internet Gods of Technology,
Forgive me for I have sinned.

Now that I’ve said my repentance, allow me to explain how I got my account unbanned from Hacker News.

Tech Sanctuary

For those who don’t know, Hacker News (HN) is the Mecca of sharing all things nerd, tech, and science. Thousands of users go here daily to share the latest and greatest from the world of technology, computer engineering, and startups.

In addition to sharing, users can comment and vote-up articles, all of which can lead to your article landing on the coveted front page. There is great interest in it because a front page mention for your site can attract a large volume of traffic and expose your ideas or app to tens of thousands.

Like any popular system, it has attracted abusers. People looking to gain off the eyeballs of Hacker News, have submitted articles outside the scope of the site. Doing so, among other activities, can get you banned from the site. But in the land of free accounts, this outcome is of little consequence to the user who can simply create new accounts ad nauseam.

As result, Paul Graham, Venture Capitalist Y Combinator co-founder, and HN administrator, has put in place an intelligent, and some would save devious, system for dealing with abusers: hellbanning. As a hellbanned user, you can continue to use the site as normal, but without other users seeing your submissions or comments.

Think of it this way: Basically, your Bill Cosby in “Ghost Dad” right after the car accident – everything feels and looks perfectly normal to you, but to the outside world of HN you’re invisible. Nonexistent.

ghost-dad

My Sins

How did this happen to me? It’s pretty simple: I broke the HN rules. As a marketer, I signed up for HN and used it to submit articles I’d written for my blog or customers. My posts were off-topic and I became hellbanned. I had no idea.

When I began my learning to program project, I wanted to share my articles about learning programming as non-technical person. However, after a friend was unable to see my post on HN and much searching, I realized that I was hellbanned.

I immediately felt embarrassed and bummed; I’m working to become actively involved in the developer community and here I was banned from one of it’s most popular community sites. I had to make things right and get my account back.

Repairing The Damage Done

I discussed it with HN super user and Rails Apps creator Daniel Kehoe. He’s a really smart guy and incredily well-respected in both the Rails and HN communities. He kindly suggested I considered it a wash and create a new account.

But, I didn’t think all hope was lost. The internet is supposed to bring us together, to connect us on a human-level, right? Couldn’t I profess mea culpa, reform my behavior, and become a positive contributing member of HN?

So I found Paul Graham’s email and sent him the following note:

Paul,

My account on HN news, andrewkkirk, has been hellbanned. And rightfully so, I wasn’t following the guidelines and submitting off-topic posts.

I’ve read the guidelines, understand the errors of my ways, and would now like to contribute in a positive manner to HN.

Other developers advised me to just create a new account, but I believe in the power of connecting personally and asking for a second chance.

Thanks in advance for the consideration,

Andrew Kirk

To my surprise, the following note landed in my inbox the following day:

paul graham email

Lessons Learned

Clearly, I wish I hadn’t have been banned in the first place. But, I did take away a few important lessons.

#1 Don’t Abuse Sacred Communities

These communities are desirable because the collective value input by it’s members. Abusing their standards devalues their work, angers community members, and puts you in a bad spot.

#2 Admit Wrongdoing; Ask for Forgiveness

It’s not to say all wrongdoings will be forgiven. We should still act with decency. All to often online communities become outlets for free-range bad behavior.

#3 Make a Personal Connection

Our online worlds are bustling with social-integration and real-time communication. But, we can still lose sight of the personal aspects of the web. Don’t let technology become a barrier to interacting on a personal level.

Unbanned from Hacker News Conclusion

I can only speculate as to why I was unbanned. I imagine Paul Graham responded to my honesty and appeal that people can correct mistakes. Or maybe anyone can get unbanned from Hacker News.

Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below. Also, join the discussion on Hacker News.

  • http://www.codeconquest.com/ Charles @ CodeConquest.com

    I submit all of my blog posts to HN. I’ve got onto the front page once, and my visitor count shot up to 7,000. But I’ve never heard of this hellbanning business, now you’ve got me worried!

    It doesn’t seem like a good system to me. If you don’t even know you’re banned, you can’t learn from your mistakes. I guess though they’re not going to hellban you unless you’re purposely abusing the service.

    • http://andrewkkirk.com/ Andrew K Kirk

      I’m not sure whether it’s a good or bad system; it’s certainly a controversial system. On one hand, the community has the right to do what is necessary to keep out people who abuse the system.

      Bit. the problem that I see is that banning is based on getting down votes. Down votes can be for abuses, but they can also be for providing unpopular viewpoints. This setup dissuades users from providing dissenting viewpoints and can create a heard mentality.

      • http://twitter.com/statspotting Statspotting.com

        ‘heard mentality’ :-)

        • AK

          Yes. You see one downvoted comment and then it goes into oblivion. Just because some people didn’t agree to it initially and then everybody followed suit.

    • AK

      > you can’t learn from your mistakes

      Yes. I still don’t know what got me banned there.

  • http://zrdavis.com/ zrdavis

    +843 points for Ghost Dad reference.

    • http://andrewkkirk.com/ Andrew K Kirk

      I’m all about the 90′s pop culture references. Now I have to write posts where I can throw in Pogs, “Saved By The Bell”, and Super Nintendo.

  • http://twitter.com/onreact_com Tad Chef

    They banned me on “Hacker News” back in 2009 for expressing the wrong opinion. I won’t beg to get back until 3009. Maybe until then some real hackers appear there or they change their name to fit their worldview. Btw. I’m quite happy as one of the top users over at Inbound.org

    • Guest

      Inbound.org is a blast and a very different community than HN.

    • http://andrewkkirk.com/ Andrew K Kirk

      Inbound.org is a blast and a very different community than HN.

    • AK

      Though I am not an expert on pretty much anything and used to(and still do) go to HN mostly to learn things and contribute wherever I could. I was banned after I made a “political” comment on a “political” thread. Looks like somebody didn’t like it. It wasn’t abuse. I checked my last 60 days comments there and looked for any of their “guidelines” violation but I didn’t find a match other than one comment which might have been where I used the term “Islamophobia”.

      I thought I should write to them and request to be unbanned but then I thought it will be like begging them even though I really didn’t do anything wrong and there are chances they won’t even review my request or may as well reject it and can tell me to politely **** off.

      I had opened a throwaway account but then discarded it. I still read stuff on HN but I restrict it just to reading. I treat it like sth where I might not be accepted for whatever reasons and though I feel I should be able to comment there I told myself to let it be.

      What is really mean is that the user is clueless about it and in most scenarios they are innocently submitting comments. I am not saint but I never tried to troll or start a flame war anywhere and I think I didn’t deserve and I feel I really shouldn’t blame those people who create throwAway accounts just to troll or make some risky comments.

      I am active on reddit and quora for the first time I was banned there and I like it more there. Participation is lively and I love the witty remarks as much as I love some fine and detailed answers. At least there are open set of rules and mods are known and if you are misunderstood then you are heard too. It’s actually open.

      PS. Thanks for Inbound.

  • http://lostpr.es/ David Iwanow

    Oh Reddit had a similar feature which I managed to get applied to my account ages ago but only really clicked recently when I explored this in more detail. I think it related to submitting self promotional links… meh….

    • http://andrewkkirk.com/ Andrew K Kirk

      It’s always a delicate balance in these types of communities. You don’t want them to become spam-filled and overrun with self-promotion, but on other hand people want them to a place to promote their work.
      Inbound.org and hub.startuprev.com both have great balance of material.

  • http://alexwebmaster.com/ Alex Garrido

    I love hacker news, I made it to the front page one time, since then I have become very careful not to get banned.

  • Metapony

    I discovered (due to someone telling me) that I was hellbanned a little over a month ago. I think it’s rather unfair! I’ve had my account there over 2 years! Yet a single small non negative comment has gotten me banned. With no notification or avenue of redress. Like you, I’d rather not have to create a new account!

    • http://andrewkkirk.com/ Andrew K Kirk

      It is a tough and often unfair system, that doesn’t seem rooted in any particular rhyme or reason.

      If you feel strongly about keeping your original account (I would if mine was 2 years old), try you’re luck at reaching out to Paul Graham via email.

      • AK

        He should keep some way to let it possible for users to get unbanned via some channel rather than emailing him directly? Is this the email: info@ycombinator.com?

        I might ask this email on what could have been reason that got me banned so I might avoid it in future.

  • Jamal McRoadhousen

    I got hellbanned on Hacker News for commenting in support of equal rights for both genders in programming circles. I don’t know who the moderators are, but they are doing a terrible job, and are clearly bigoted against females too.

    • http://andrewkkirk.com/ Andrew K Kirk

      The system is broken and hidden behind a cloak of secrecy. However, they who has the users, has the power.
      Sorry for your tough experience :(

  • Salman Abbas

    lol at least you guys know why you’re hellbanned.. I have 0 submissions and my last comment had tons of upvotes. No cock-sucking from me to get unbanned anyway. I’ve never felt more insulted by any other site on the web.

    • http://andrewkkirk.com/ Andrew K Kirk

      The shadow of darkness around the site does seem to alienate many users. But, it’s also extremely popular so it’s tough to argue against the methods employed.

      • AK

        One benefit. I spent less time on Internet because of this ban :-).