[Meta] No LessWrong Blackout?

by CaveJohnson1 min read18th Jan 201249 comments

23

Personal Blog

Our sister site apparently is:

Overcoming Bias will resume normal service on Jan 18 8:00pm (Eastern Time).

Today Overcoming Bias joins Wikipedia and many other sites in protesting proposed legislation — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECTIP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate.

If passed, SOPA and PIPA will give the US Justice Department and courts tremendous power to shut down entire sites. These bills endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, potentially setting a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world.

You can find out more about the impact of SOPA and PIPA from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Interesting, my model of Robin Hanson had him say something about the blackout and how it shows people are hypocrites. Though obviously he has strong opinions on intellectual property. I think it would have been a good idea to Blackout LessWrong today. It would have given us a status boost in most of the communities we frequent.

49 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:43 AM
New Comment

I applaud the sites that have blacked out and/or put up anti-SOPA messages. SOPA and PIPA are bad news, and the word needs to be spread.

That said, there are 2 very important differences between those actions and the hypothetical LW blackout:

1) The sites that are blacking out are by and large sites that could be directly and severely hurt by the legislation. This is why I consider it okay for Wikipedia to black out about SOPA, but would be furious if the site were to black out because the editors didn't like some piece of immigration reform. They're not simply choosing to use their status as a soapbox, they actually must defeat these bills if they wish to continue existing.

2) The community driven sites that blacked out (including Reddit and Wikipedia) did so only after a serious discussion with their userbase. LW falls into this category, but no such discussion has taken place. Community site = community decision.

So IMO, a LW blackout would be an arbitrary political stance on a non-particularly-related issue, and a total snub to the community since we weren't consulted about it. I wouldn't be too pissed, since SOPA really does need to be stopped, but I would definitely consider it tacky.

This is correct: for Wikipedia it was life or death, which is the only reason several hundred Wikipedia editors actually voted 85-90% in favour of it. (Which is remarkable. If you said "the sky is blue" to a group of Wikipedia editors, they would immediately produce a hundred pages of referenced counterexamples. Each with a little blue number after it.)

[Citation needed]

One of the key skills of Wikipedia editors appears to be generalised cross-domain bikeshedding.

You made the points I wished to better than I would have.

Another difference between LW and somewhere like reddit or wikipedia is they both have a large ratio of 'lurkers' to contributors, so there is a large number of users finding out about SOPA/PIPA for the first time today. Whereas my impression of lesswrong is that far more of the content is viewed by the same people who contribute content, so there isn't a silent mass of people who aren't aware of whats going on, as discussion isn't taking place in a less obvious subreddit or moderators section.

The answer is obvious: if you're in America, please phone, email and write a paper letter to your Congressman and Senator. Stop for a moment and do that now. Yes, you. Use the zipcode finder on Wikipedia. Then proceed with LessWrong.

(me, I've just had two days in the Wikipedia press storm. Apparently did well on BBC R4 PM yesterday evening (38:50 on). [That's second only to R4 Today for serious political impact.] I'm now doing coding for work to wind down. In Ant. It's like INTERCAL in XML.)

Don't mail paper letters to your representatives. Mail delivery to political elites in the US has been a nightmare ever since the anthrax attacks. Type and hand-sign a letter and fax it to your representatives if you want it to be read when it still matters.

Hmm, I'd say do all of those things. Then get back to bikeshedding on the Internet ;-p

Thanks for putting your effort where your mouth is!

Well, I'm not American so I can't take the direct approach :-)

[-][anonymous]10y 0
[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

I think it would have been a good idea to Blackout LessWrong today.

It would be a pretentious waste of time. Lesswrong isn't signficant or relevant to the SOPA issue. Wikipedia is.

Interesting, my model of Robin Hanson had him say something about the blackout and how it shows people are hypocrites.

My model of Robin Hanson has him do hypocritical things anyway and STILL talk about how hypocritical it is.

You don't necessarily lose status by admitting that you do things that people only do to prove how high status they are. Hanson uses himself as an example from time to time.

You don't necessarily lose status by admitting that you do things that people only do to prove how high status they are.

Interestingly, this seems to only apply in rationalist communities. While I think it's a good norm for encouraging truth-seeking, it seems bad for winning to let each-other off the hook too easily.

Interestingly, this seems to only apply in rationalist communities.

I wouldn't say that. It applies in a significant proportion of communities with a self help emphasis and the overwhelming majority of those that are focused on dating.

While I think it's a good norm for encouraging truth-seeking, it seems bad for winning to let each-other off the hook too easily.

There isn't any letting each other off the hook involved. Doing things just to signal your status is a basic social skill and not something to be ashamed of.

Doing things just to signal your status is a basic social skill and not something to be ashamed of.

Yes, but what I'm trying to get at is that if we started assigning status to people who actually accomplish things, we'd all start ... accomplishing more things!

[-][anonymous]10y 15

I'm glad we didn't participate. Doing so would have sparked an ugly political debate about censorship and SOPA and who controls LessWrong. Additionally, not participating signals being apolitical; though participating would raise our status in some communities, it also reduces our perceived impartiality.

To play Least Convenient Possible World:

What if Congress were considering the "Exterminate Less Wrong Act of 2012"? What kind of anti-ELWA speech or activism would you consider inappropriate here?

[-][anonymous]10y 2

In the LCPW I would consider discussion and activism completely appropriate. My argument is consquentialist, not deontological--if the legislation in question was damaging enough and discussion/protest of ELWA was useful enough that the expected value of doing nothing was less than the expected value of talking about/protesting ELWA, I would be fine with such discussion and activism. I don't think this is the case with SOPA.

It does worry me that Wikipedia quite definitely reduced its perceived impartiality. It basically had one shot. This sort of thing needs to be rare.

OTOH, in public perceptions: when Wikipedia says you suck - you really, really suck.

not participating signals being apolitical; though participating would raise our status in some communities, it also reduces our perceived impartiality

Like with Wikipedia, the legislation threatens the viability/legality of LW in the US (and this would likely affect every LWer, even us non-US readers). Also, although not being protested, the RWA threatens a significant portion of open science, which could be far, far worse than just removing a website here or there (EDIT, however, this doesn't directly affect the existence of LW, so I feel the need for LW as an institution to protest is smaller).

So these laws are not necessarily something LW should maintain an apolitical stance.

Upvoted for mindkiller link :-)

I'm not really sure that creating a "perception of impartiality" is a community goal. It certainly isn't what I care about. Mostly I think its just that there is a lot of value to the kinds of conversations that are possible here, and I think that talking about "normal" politics would do more damage to those conversations compared to the specific value that it would generate. And its not even that we don't talk a lot about politics here, its just that we're more likely to talk about them in a very abstract way...

I really appreciate articles about how to calculate the total expected value of a political action that coherently respects issues of self-reflective agency on all parties. My suspicion is that we'll get less of the really good stuff if we talk about run of the mill political topics, and I think that would be sad. If this makes me "look impartial" so be it, but I don't feel impartial and don't particularly want to give that impression. Personally, I feel (and for that matter would not mind appearing) as though I'm simply partial to sanity and clear thinking because it is so rare and so useful, and I'm willing to accept certain costs or constraints to protect what I'm partial to.

[-][anonymous]10y 3

I'm not really sure that creating a "perception of impartiality" is a community goal.

Agreed. However, it is one of my goals. One of the things I love about LessWrong is that there are very few political debates in the sense that most people recognize them, and this is a community norm that I would like to continue.

I'm not sure whether to be disappointed about LW's non-participation in the blackout.

On the one hand, it seems like a weird thing to pretend to be impartial about.

On the other hand, I doubt there are very many people who come to this website who don't already oppose this new wave of nonsense.

We did have some discussion previously, not specifically about blacking out the site, but about the issue generally. My position, there, was that LW is not a place for political issues no matter how much we're all in agreement on them. "Our kind" should co-operate on such issues but I don't think this is the place to coordinate that; I think there do exist plenty of other places that can serve as well for that, I think that what is here is valuable, and I think that adding politics to the mix risks disturbing it.

I am somewhat glad that the discussion wasn't had. Which is not to say I'm glad we didn't black it out. I would anticipate a discussion being highly divisive in the community, with no clear majority either way, between the two general ideologies of "No politics on LW" and "SOPA and PIPA need to be stopped at all costs". I think I would have a very slight preference towards a blackout of LW, primarily because I think the consensus (both on the general internet, and to a larger extent here) is so one-sided against SOPA/PIPA. Because of this, I don't think the mind-killing potential is as high as it normally would be.

That being said, I don't see much reason for a blackout. 1. SOPA/PIPA wouldn't affect LW particularly much. 2. I would be shocked if blacking out LW actually spread the word to any additional people who didn't already know.

But at the same time, it makes me a little sad to see websites not blacking out, today, for example Bing, by which I was very surprised. Almost all of my favorite sites have some form of protest going on.

[-][anonymous]10y 4

Then I'll truly have nowhere left to go. :-(