Recently on a women in tech facebook group, the subject of Hacker News came up. This is a troubling subject for a lot of us. I’ve been a reader and member of Hacker News for almost 6 years. It is an immensely valuable resource for software related information and news. On the subject of gender it remains embarrassing.
This should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the industry. Hacker News was created by startup incubator Y Combinator, headquartered in Silicon Valley and funded by venture capitalist Paul Graham. The startup, venture capital, and Silicon Valley tech communities are infamously unfriendly to women. Despite the occasional man complaining this sector of the world is too progressive, it is a place where crappy ideas about gender are endemic.
On Hacker News, it manifests itself in sexist comments. Many discussions about women facing sexism are either buried in these comments or “flagged.” Most online communities have a flagging system, it is usually used for spam or prohibited content. If content is flagged enough, it is removed. On Hacker News it is used to remove content from the front page that people simply dislike. Often this means content about sexism in tech or things written by women.
Think about the fact these are the people working on software you use every day. Now be unsurprised when that software has bias baked in. Hacker News itself does. Hacker News superficially looks a lot like Reddit. But a major difference is only users with a certain karma can downvote. I’d love to downvote comments like:
Males have evolved to extract resources from the environment. Females have evolved to extract resources from males.
But for a long time I couldn’t. I also couldn’t figure out how much karma I needed to earn this ability since that’s not a public number and I suspect it varies by time and member.
When I had more time on my hands so I decided at least earn this ability for myself. I did this by participating daily. I picked out threads on the “new” page I thought would be popular. And wrote the most pandering comments I could think of. I’ve read Hacker News so long I can already see the comments on this very article playing out…