Frontpage Posting and Commenting Guidelines

Welcome to the LessWrong 2.0 open beta! Our goal with the LessWrong frontpage is to host high-quality discussion on a wide range of topics, in a way that allows users to make better collective progress toward the truth.

Note that this guide doesn't apply to your personal LW blog - you can do whatever you like there. This post talks about the norms and epistemic standards encouraged on the frontpage of LessWrong.  

[During this point in the open beta, moderation will happen throughout the site including on personal LW blogs, just while we're building the tools for users themselves to do basic moderation in the comment sections of their blogs.]

1. Things to shoot for

1.1. Usefulness, novelty, and fun. The frontpage of this site is for serious intellectual engagement with interesting ideas, with a focus on ideas that are important but challenging to evaluate. Topics that lack inherent importance are OK if the discussion quality is high enough, and particularly if the discussion is useful for other purposes, like building skills; but the best topics will usually be consequential and neglected ones.

1.2. Accuracy, kindness, and relevance to the discussion at hand, in the spirit of the Victorian Sufi Buddha ideal.

1.3. Clarity and openness about what you believe, your reasons for believing it, and what would cause you to change your mind. Try to make concrete predictions and bets, and to note the cruxes for your beliefs, where possible. It’s not always easy to clearly articulate a belief, and it's great to note places where you’re uncertain about what you believe, about your reasons, and about your cruxes. We don’t want people to feel like they have to conceal or immediately abandon their beliefs whenever those beliefs turn out to be nontrivial to articulate or justify. But incremental progress toward more clarity and openness, even if it’s incomplete, is highly valued here.

A corollary of 1.3 is that we often prefer descriptive language (including language describing your current beliefs, emotional state, etc.) over prescriptive language, all else being equal. Prescriptions are obviously an essential part of communication, but descriptions are generally easier to relate to evidence, predictions, and cruxes. We encourage putting a focus on them for that reason.

2. Things to keep to a minimum

2.1. Community-focused discussion — i.e., discussion about the LessWrong/rationality community, as opposed to discussion about particular object-level topics. We want to avoid dynamics like (from Feynman):

When I was in high school, one of the first honors I got was to be made a member of the “Arista,” which was a group of kids who got good grades, hmm? Everybody wanted to be a member of the Arista, and when I got into this Arista I discovered that what they did in their meetings was to sit around to discuss who else was “worthy” to join “this wonderful group that we are,” okay?

If you want to discuss the community more generally, and you don’t expect the discussion to be of much interest to people who just want to talk about object-level issues (in psychology, or physics, or zoology, or cryptography, or…), then tag your post “community”. Questions about the site itself are welcome in the Meta section. Karma scores in “community” posts and Meta posts won’t be counted toward sitewide totals.

The tag system will be implemented during the open beta, and will be announced in Meta.

2.2. Crowdedness i.e., topics that are already really widely discussed in the public sphere, and where it will therefore be harder to say something new.

2.3 Things of fleeting importance — i.e., topics that will only be of interest for a couple of weeks, like discussions of what a politician has been doing. We want the frontpage of LessWrong to serve both as a training ground for aspiring rationalists and as an archive of accumulated collective knowledge. The ideal discussion will therefore both help build skills and help build knowledge that are valuable down the line. Not every discussion needs to achieve that ideal, but it’s a useful one to keep in mind.

We may build features in the future that are for more short-form and clearly ephemeral content on LessWrong. If so, this will be in a new section of the site built to be less like a repository of timeless information and discussion, and more like (e.g.) a Facebook feed.

2.4 Hot-button political issues Highly politicized issues tend to be very viral, which can often lead to them dominating discussion. These issues often (though not always) score poorly on tractability and neglectedness; they’re often emotionally charged in ways that make convergence and skill-building more challenging; and discussion is often triggered by transient news items, as opposed to deep new insights that will be equally relevant years down the line. “Politics is an important domain to which we should individually apply our rationality—but it's a terrible domain in which to learn rationality”. This means that highly politicized issues will often score poorly on 1.1, 2.2, and 2.3.

Of course, what counts as a “hot-button political issue” isn’t always clear, and we don’t want to encourage agonizing or arguing about what counts. (See 2.1.) We just want to encourage users to use their judgment and do their best to keep it to a minimum, so that other topics aren’t crowded out.

3. Off-limits things

3.1. Serious violations of discourse norms — Threatening behavior, needlessly harsh personal attacks, harassment, doxxing, and so on.

3.2. Consistently disruptive or low-quality content — Spam, discussion derailing, and so on.

A list of users with bans or public warnings can be found here.

4. How moderation works

Compared to moderators on other online forums, moderators on LessWrong are granted greater ability to change and improve the website, and are trusted with more information. These roles of responsibility are only given to trusted members of the community, and they are known as the Sunshine Regiment.

The new, weighted karma system is designed to bring good content to the top. However, this karma system is based on the voting patterns of many individuals, most of whom do not have the time to reflect on big-picture trends, nor the resources to substantially change those trends. In a classic tragedy of the commons, when there are thousands of people voting, no individual is incentivised to spend a lot of time considering their vote.

The incentives set up by the karma system can be considered the community’s System 1, and the Sunshine Regiment can be thought of as the community's System 2. Sunshines think about what incentive gradients are being produced, and are given the resources to influence the incentive gradients in a more substantial way (e.g. karma rewards on comments), allowing the community to plan around obstacles and achieve more complex goals.

There are no hard rules about what comments each member of the Sunshine Regiment will give karma rewards to. If your submission has received a karma reward, it will be signified by a small star icon on that comment or post. If your submission has been removed by a Sunshine, they will leave a note explaining why the comment was inappropriate or unsuited to the LessWrong frontpage.

Members of the Sunshine Regiment will have access to more information than other users, allowing them to notice negative patterns of behaviours, such as sockpuppet accounts and mass downvoting. The extra information is:

  • Access to the identities of voters on any comment/post, and to the voting history of all users.
  • The IP address a user wrote a post or comment from.

Sunshines of the 1st LessWrong Regiment are:

16 comments, sorted by
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Moderation Guidelines: Norm Enforcing - I try to enforce particular rules (see below)expand_more

I'm sad to hear that a short-form section is currently planned to be for ephemeral content. I was a person who expressed interest in the short-form idea, and I very much intended it to still be for archive-quality discussion; I was thinking of things like question posts, prompts, and the like. Still worth indexing, but not intended to make points, instead intended to explore them.

This makes sense, and plausibly the site should have something like that instead. In whichever world, I care a lot about there being some mechanism by which short-form ideas and writing bubble up into the indexed/archived ideas on the site; the reason that I might want to make short-form content feel more ephemeral is that it seems to me that people are very willing to write their off-the-cuff ideas into such a format, if they can generally expect not to be made to defend those ideas forever.

Two remarks:

1) Thanks a lot for fixing the speed issues. The site is now reasonable fast for me on both Linux and Windows 10.

2) It took me from the start of the beta test until just now to figure out how the content is structered. I was feeling a bit uneasy quite often because I didn't see a way to see all content, didn't know the difference between "featured" and "frontpaged" and on the bottom, I saw comments for posts which I didn't know how to access. I really appreciate it when the content is well-structered. I see the issue with avoiding too much meta discussion and don't have a good solution but maybe it's still useful feedback to communicate that I'm confused by the structure.

1) I notice that the norm of discouraging politics focuses on hot-button political issues instead of politics in general. Is this an intentional shift? For example, are general discussions of politics that stays out of controversial areas no longer discouraged? I'm also curious how this interacts with comments given that commentators may engage with these issues, even if the OP did not.
2) I feel that there needs to be a mechanism for sufficiently important meta posts like this one to appear on the front page. Otherwise only a few people will see this and it will take longer for the intended norms to be adopted by the community.

Personally, that seems to me to draw the right line. Discussion of (say) economics or alternate voting procedures, while clearly political, also feel to me like useful rationality content. On the other hand, a post about race or gender or Donald Trump would have to be really exceptional to be worthwhile.

I agree with ozymandias's comment. I don't expect the amount of political discussion on LessWrong to increase; there have been a few great posts that can be called political on this site (the first three that come to my mind are by Eliezer, Scott, and Hallquist), but these each navigate fairly well around causing the commenters to feel like (and read others as) soldiers for a side, and don't get heated as a result. And most importantly, they also make really good points.

Yes - these are guidelines for posts and comments.

As to (2) I basically agree and will do something about this in the coming weeks.

What about ostensibly apolitical posts that nonetheless use hot button issues as examples?

What about situations where a hot button issue comes up in the context of discussion?

>Note that this guide doesn't apply to your personal LW blog - you can do whatever you like there. This post talks about the norms and epistemic standards encouraged on the frontpage of LessWrong.

In practice, I was concerned about this issue and discussed it with a moderator ahead of time; they signed off on my plan of putting it on my personal blog feed without promoting it to the front page.

(Unrelated: HOW DO YOU FORMAT QUOTES)

(There's a quotes button in the editor bar at the bottom. Consider:

Quotes are indented and slightly grey like this.

If you for some reason don't have the editor bar, ping us in intercom, with your browser edition and what platform you're on.)

What are the norms/rules for commenting on older posts? Many internet communities forbid thread necromancy; I see no mention of it here, but thought it worth checking.

Also, if I'm reading a sequence as it comes out, of course I do not have access to future posts when I make a comment. But if I'm reading through several posts from a month or two ago, and I have a question about one of them, is there an expectation that I read through the rest of the sequence to see if it's answered later before I say anything, or should I comment as I go along, as would be the case if I'd been reading it as it came out?

For example - I'm reading Tensions in Truthseeking. Shall I reply to Writing that Provokes Comments? Should I read the rest of the sequence first? It's not so long that that's unfeasible, but trivial inconveniences could probably reduce my likelihood of commenting significantly.

Thread necromancy is explicitly encouraged! We generally want the content on the site to be a living repository of knowledge instead of just a news-based community, and so comments and concerns on old articles are definitely welcome.

I also think that asking questions before you've read the whole sequence is good. Other readers will probably have similar confusions and you writing them and others answering them either explicitly or pointing out that they are answered later in the sequence will help people stay engaged.

While I approve of the Sunshine Regiment I don't think "tragedy of the commons" is a good model for normal voting pattern. I would instead encourage people who downvote a post because they think it doesn't belong on the front page to write a comment outlining their reasoning.

Afterwards people who agree with that reasoning can vote it up while people who disagree can vote it down. That's the mechanism we used to build a sort of case law on the old LW and it doesn't feel like a tragedy.

The problem with writing a comment explaining a downvote is that comments draw attention to posts via recent comments, working against the intent; if that issue can be solved I think this would be good practice.

Both 3.1 and some of 3.2 should also be ground for moderation when it doesn't happen on the frontpage.

There was a time when we had a discussion about what's ban worthy on the old LW. We included the encouragement of illegal violence. I would like to have a section about this under "off-limits".

No blanket ban on encouragement of violence, because it should be okay to advocate for wars.

No blanket ban on the encouragement of illegal conduct because it should be okay to advocate consumption of illegal substances.

[I read the above as saying that we should have a ban on encouraging violence.]

I feel like this is just an ad-hoc ban, based on a general statement which doesn't actually seem to hold and then modified where necessary to accomodate public disagreement.