Follow-Up to Petrov Day, 2019

by Ben Pace 2mo27th Sep 20192 min read21 comments

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Hurrah! Success! I didn't know what to expect, and am pleasantly surprised to find the Frontpage is still intact. My thanks to everyone who took part, to everyone who commented on yesterday's post, and to everyone who didn't unilaterally blow up the site.

Launch Attempts Results

I said I would share usernames and codes of all attempts to launch the codes. Others on the team told me this seemed like a bad idea in many ways, and on reflection I agree - I think many people were not aware they were signing up for being publicly named and shamed, and I think it's good that people aren't surprised by their actions becoming public. Though if someone had successfully nuked the site I would have named them.

Nonetheless, I’ll share a bunch of info. First of all, the button was in a pretty central place, and it turns out you can hit it accidentally. Ray built the button so that you could only hit it once - it was forever after pressed.

  • The number of logged-in users who pressed the button was 102.
    • (Ruby made a sheet of times when people pressed the button, redacting most of the info.)
  • I have no number for logged-out users, for them pressing it brought up a window asking them to log-in. (Er, I'm not certain that's the best selection process for new users).
  • The number of users who actually submitted launch codes is 18.
    • 11 of those accounts had zero karma, 7 accounts had positive karma. None of the users were people who had been given real codes.
  • Several users submitted launch codes before clicking through to find out what the button even did - I hope this initiative serves them well in life.
  • A few accounts were made on-the-day presumably for this purpose, I'm happy to name these. They include users like "bomb_presser", "The Last Harbinger", and "halosaga", whose codes were "00000000", "NL73njLH58et1Ec0" and "diediedie" respectively.

LW user ciphergoth (Paul Crowley) shared his launch codes on Facebook (indeed I had sent him real launch codes), and two users copied and entered them. However, he had actually shared fake codes. "The Last Harbinger" entered them.

A second user entered them, who had positive karma, and was not someone to whom I had sent real codes. However, they failed to properly copy it, missing the final character. To them, I can only say what I had prepared to say to anyone who mis-entered what they believed were correct launch codes. "First, you thought you were a failure to the community. But then, you learned, you were a failure to yourself."

Oli and Ray decided that anyone submitting launch codes deserved a janky user-experience. I hope all of the users enjoyed finding out that when you try to nuke the site, regardless of whether you enter correct or incorrect launch codes, the launch pad just disappears and nothing else happens. (Once you refresh, the page is of course nuked.)

Last night during my house's Petrov Day ceremony, which ran from about 8:10-9:10, I nervously glanced over at the LW frontpage on the open laptop as it refreshed every 60 seconds. Some small part of me was worried about Quirinus_Quirrell following through on his threat to nuke the site at 9pm. I honestly did not expect that someone could create a character hard enough that it would leap out of the book and hold us all hostage in a blackmail attempt. Damn you Eliezer Yudkowsky!

Looking Ahead

I thought the discussion was excellent. I mostly avoided participating to let others decide for themselves, but I might go back and add more comments now it's done. As Said Achmiz pointed out, it'll be better next year to have more time in advance for people to discuss the ethics of the situation and think, and that will be even more informative and valuable. Though I still learned a lot this year, and I think overall it turned out as well as I could've hoped.

I'll think more about how to do it next year. One thing I will say is that I'd ideally like to be able to reach an equilibrium where 100s of users every year don't fire the launch codes, to build up a real tradition of not taking unilateralist action - sitting around and not pressing buttons. Several users have suggested to me fun, gamified ways of changing the event (e.g. versions where users are encouraged to trick other users into thinking you can trust them but then nuke the site), but overall in ways that I think decreased the stakes and common knowledge effects, which is why I don't feel too excited about them.

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