I feel kind of hypocritical here, as I ended up commenting on a bunch of the posts related to the drama of the day, but here goes anyway...
I think it’s important for people to be able to criticize Effective Altruism. One of the things I love about this community is its openness to criticism.
At the same time, I’m starting to worry that constantly having all this drama play out on the front page of the forum is very distracting. But what would be even more worrying is if we’ve now reached a certain size/level of attention where this is the new normal going forward.
So I guess I feel it’s gotten to the point where I feel that we have to discuss how to balance these twin interests. I think this is incredibly challenging. If we change how this site works to address this issue, I want to these policies be fair to people holding different viewpoints and on different sides of these issues. And this is tricky, if we decided “let’s move drama of the day discussion to a separate section of the site”, well then maybe that just leads to a lot of arguments about what counts as drama and people feeling their issues aren’t being heard or that they’re being treated unfairly.
I don’t actually know if there’s any policy or site mechanics shift I would reflectively endorse after thinking through the consequences. But maybe someone thinks that they have a solution to this?
I strongly agree and would maybe add that I think the “community” tab (as opposed to the “front page” or “personal” tabs) should actually be used to discuss community issues (such as sexism in EA, EA culture, etc), with the front page being reserved for more object-level discussion . I think the original vision for the forum was having moderators only select high quality, broad-interest posts to make it to the front page but it seems like everything makes it there now. Even if there is no quality selection for the front page, it seems far preferable to me to have a separate space (which there is already infrastructure for) to discuss community issues.
I think we should go back to having a community tab.
The default front page would be for discussing how to actually use our resources to do the most good (i.e. a focus on the intellectual project of EA and object level questions).
All posts about the nature of EA as the particular group of people trying to work together would go in community. This would include criticisms of EA as a community (while criticisms of specific ways of doing good would go on the front page). It could also include org updates etc.
I agree that this is a problem though I’m unsure how to solve it (or whether that’s even possible).
(The following is only tangentially related to the issue at hand.)
A related but broader problem I have with the EA forum is that it tends to incentivize participating in the discussion immediately, rather than taking a couple of days or weeks of reflection before contributing one’s point of view. (Needless to say, the EA forum scores much much better on this dimension than most of the rest of planet, especially Twitter.)
To give a concrete example of what I have in mind: Comments that were published on the same day as a given post often receive much more engagement than comments published a week later or so. One feels pressure to read the EA forum every day and comment on a post as soon as possible. I don’t think this sense of urgency is ideal for fostering discussions guided by reflection, nuance, and scholarship. (Of course, there are also downsides to always taking your sweet time and not being “up to date”.)
Again, all of this is probably unavoidable to a large extent but perhaps there are clever improvements to be made here. For example, perhaps comments on older posts could receive some sort of visibility boost.
Somewhat related is also Against News by Hanson.
I wonder if a degree of randomization would help. Instead of showing the top 10 posts on the front page, show a new sample of the top 50 to each user. Then the bonus given to new posts could shrink, and there would be more nudges to continue engaging with something over the course of a week or month.
I don’t think that would be a good idea. Instead, I would support there being an “EA controversy” tag that people can filter out. For example, as soon as the”FTX collapse” tag was made I filtered out all FTX posts and have continued to do so. I know users can make tags but something like a unified controversy tag would be a big enough change that I think forum moderators should decide if it’s worthwhile.
I think one thing that would be helpful is making it more obvious how to do this, or more broadly that it’s even possible. I did eventually find out how to do this, but it took some clicking and I wouldn’t have looked for it if I hadn’t seen comments saying it was possible.
When you donwvote a post, show a box saying “Want to see fewer posts like this? Click here to change the visibility of the tags on this post”
If a post is controversial (lots of both upvotes and downvotes) or has lots of controversial comments (mixed karma of either or both kinds), then offer a similar box at the top of the post.
I think that having to actively filter out controversy is the sort of trivial inconvenience that would lead to many people just not using the forum while there’s a controversy on (or, use the forum ever, if this is the new normal).
In spirit I think the answer is “yes”.
That said, a bad implementation could easily be worse than the status quo. Some obvious risks are:
It could seem like (and/or actually be) an unhelpful form of suppressing debate.
External critics will probably characterise it as such, no matter how well the relevant tradeoffs are struck.
There may be various other valuable functions (e.g. a read on community mood, a venue to let off steam) that significantly offset the cost of distraction.
I don’t have quick thoughts on what a good implementation would look like, beyond:
(a) The general view that it should exploit “the power of defaults”.
(b) Maybe look at what Hacker News does. From memory, their algorithm attempts to detect politically charged topics and emerging flame wars.
(c) On the posting side, perhaps there could be a “want to take a break before posting?” prompt, or even an enforced delay. This might increase the quality of debate without much downside risk. I have noticed social media platforms experimenting with UI features along these lines.
Strongly agreed that a bad implementation could be net-negative, which is why I didn’t float an explicit proposal myself.
I’m most worried about 1. Regarding 2, a bit of additional criticism isn’t that large a cost compared to how distracting the current situation is. Regarding 3, there definitely be somewhere to blow off steam, but I don’t think it has to be the front page.
I think this presumes an ability to understand what is drama which I am not sure will be accurate. Stories like Bostroms which I assume this is referring to are important reflections of how other people perceive this community, and of biases or problems within it, and trying to hide it feels an incredibly bad message.
I agree with the sentiment. However, I think the last few months have been particularly drama-heavy, both in frequency and intensity.
If things quieten down and regress to normalcy, would the amount of drama-discussion still be a problem? If there was less I’d be less confident there’s a need for a design shift (unless the discussion remained inappropriately high relative to actual drama).
If it doesn’t quieten down and the last few months are representative of EA’s future, it seems like that would indicate an ongoing problem with the movement. In that case, a design shift might be just hiding the deeper problem.
What if the constant drama on the front page is indicative that people in the EA movement have large issues with the trajectory the leadership has taken?
While it is distracting I also think sidelining community discussion entirely is a bad idea for movement cohesiveness long term. We could try to have a stickied weekly community thread as well, or have one day a week where community posts go on the front page.
Seem like decent suggestions.
I am actually surprised it isn’t set up that way already. Maybe it is. On LessWrong the frontpage/personal distinction is designed in substantial part to make this the case.
I actually feel that Less Wrong leans too much this way to the point of vital conversations not happening outside of possibly the Bay Area. I don’t think you want meta to be the emphasis, but occasionally there should be community-level discussions. As an example, “Where does this community want to be in another year?”. I’m sure Light Cone discusses this internally, but I suspect this would be better if there was more community feedback.
I actually agree. I just haven’t found a solution that strikes a better balance and prefer the LW over the EA Forum equilibrium.
I would be in favour of the Lightcone teaming driving the conversation. So figuring out what are the key issues that the Less Wrong community needs to discuss and starting a thread on that. If community members think something needs to be discussed, they can start their own threads, but they probably won’t be promoted to frontpage as per the present situation.
That does sure require me spending a lot of time driving conversations :P
It’s not a terrible idea, but I would sure love to find something that is more auto-moderated, so I don’t have to commit to a central coordinating role with a lot of my/Lightcone’s time.
I guess I see ensuring important conversations happening as a core function of the moderation team. And the most important conversations would occur only once every few months.
FYI, you can DIY this by just hiding the community tag + other distracting tags, which from my experience is pretty effective (I’d recommend trying this out if you’re personally finding yourself constantly sucked in by the drama of the day).
Maybe it is possible through Topic Filters to distinguish between 1) criticism of EA as a philosophy and 2) criticism of actions of people? It is possible for something to cover both, e.g. when EA principles led someone to do things that ended badly. This would mean both the FTX drama and the current drama are solely in that second category. FTX because fraud is against EA principles and as such is only the consequence of personal actions, Bostrom because what he said in that e-mail isn’t related to doing the most good possible (at all).
I think this is too much nuance to be well captured by a tag system. I think one function of discussing an event is trying to apportion blame between individual idiosyncrasies vs. a broader pattern of the movement. That kind of distinction shouldn’t precede the discussion itself.
No answer below this one ought to be done.
Strong disagree. There’s no such thing as “drama” that is distinct from important content. This drama is there because the things discussed are important to EA’s impact on the world, perhaps more than most other things on the forum.
Perhaps, although I do worry about the tractability of a lot of these disputes and I suspect that often leads to the expected value being much lower than you might expect.
IMO I disagree here. I think that the drama here is important for EA, but I don’t believe this is the norm at all. It took a vast amount of work to get to this point where drama reliably points to something important.
Most often, drama tends to bikeshed and ultimately not be that important relative to the conversation going on.