Hacker News News

Sounds Like Not Even Paul Graham Is Sure WTF to Do About Hacker News

"I apologize to the world for this thread."
Mr. Graham (flickr.com/pragdave)

Mr. Graham (flickr.com/pragdave)

Some days, it’s really hard to repress the urge to raze Hacker News and sow the ground with salt. But hey, at least we’re not alone in our frustration. It seems even Paul Graham gets piqued with his community of angry nerds every once in a while.

Like, for instance, when the response to accusations of sexual assault at a Ruby conference is just a big, ugly screaming match.

This weekend, the Daily Dot reports, a graphic designer named Justine published “Because it needs to be said,” a blog post alleging that she was sexually assaulted at a Ruby conference called CodeMash. During a boozy networking event, she writes, she was encouraged to do a body shot and was subsequently groped by a supervisor. (“Joe began to put his hand down the front of my pants and finger me,” she writes.)

Two developers have written their own posts corroborating the basic events, though one’s more ambivalent than the other.

The story quickly hit Hacker News, and Hacker News began its usual race to the bottom. Forget any skepticism about Justine’s account; many respondents went straight for her behavior at the bar: “The problem is that what is considered ‘sexually assaulting people’ is relative to one’s culture, education, religion, etc,” and “She cannot possibly do a body shot without expecting a fully grown alpha male to take his chances.”

After this had raged for a day, PG descended from on high and lo, he actually spoke of disappointment with his unruly flock:

I apologize to the world for this thread. There are clearly topics that an open forum, or at least this one, can’t be trusted with, and this seems to be one of them.

We have some ideas for new moderation features that we hope will make comment threads more civil. I don’t know if they would have helped in this case though.

The “solution” was pretty problematic, though: “The one thing that did work here is the flamewar detector,” Mr. Graham wrote. “This story dropped off the frontpage extra fast, after which the only people seeing this discussion were people who sought it out.”

But the problem isn’t flamewars. The problem is that the tech business can’t pull its head out of its own butt long enough to take stories like this seriously, without throwing up a bunch of strawman defenses and victim blaming (or, for that matter, simply rolling out the old guillotine, taking a head and packing the guillotine away again).

It takes a lot of hard, unglamorous work to make conferences feel safer. But it’s not going to happen if no one can listen long enough to understand why the work matters in the first place. As one HN commenter put it: “I’m glad this is out there. It’s a tragedy that it happened at all, but it would be an even bigger tragedy if nobody else knew the consequences.”

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com