HackerNews banned me in 2020. How I got unbanned.

Start marketing any new product or service that you created or some article you wrote and the experienced will say that you should post it on HackerNews for the world to know.

HackerNews or HN, as it's called inside the community, is a social news site operated by Y-Combinator where users (known as hackers) post interesting stuff across Internet. The submissions may be a link to your blog article, an announcement of your new product launch, or a simple question. Based on how others respond on that submission tell you if it's good, bad, or ugly.

I also heard the same and started posting about the products I've been creating here, here, here, and here. So far, so good. People hitting the site, downloading the product, some even commenting on the submission. Happy Face :D

Then I posted this, thinking that people might find it an interesting read. BTW, did you visit that last link? Yeah, it's flagged.

[Flagged]

I didn't know what that was. It wasn't obviously a bug, and my gut told me that something was not so right. So I contacted HN (more on that later) and they explained to me what it means.

Flagging is a system in HN that allows users with good reputations to flag a submission that they don't find interesting. Once flagged, means that the post will not be visible to other hackers or in public. A string [Flagged] is prefixed to the post to indicate that. A sophisticated way to say that you are a spammer.

I write so well, why would anybody flag it? (I don't know why I wrote this line; I am still learning; see?)

Maybe it was not that good for an article. At least that was my instant feeling when this happened. I will write another after a few days and try again to see if that works. I will submit it the same way on HN like the last one. This time it's better and even tells more about my product.

[Flagged] again.

Now, this is harsh. Something must be 'really' wrong with me. Is it the content of the article or my low reputation on HN that I'm being flagged again?

Fair enough, I thought. I will refrain from posting any links now. Maybe it's with the links. Otherwise, I will be at the risk of getting my account blocked.

But you know what, it was already too late to think that.

On a sidenote, I regularly visit HN but submit occassionally. In fact when I was banned, the total post count was actually 8.

I got banned

There is no way HackerNews is going to let you know that you are banned. You'll be visiting the site as usual and probably posting like you normally do. Only you'll be seeing what you are posting. Others won't even know about that. The automated system has already tagged you as a spammer.

Now when you are tagged as a spammer (known as ShadowBanning in their terminology), you won't be able to submit links to articles or products. You won't be able to submit anything for that matter. And even if you are able to submit a link, only you would be (the only one) seeing it. And you will never know that.

I thought maybe because I was posting articles from my domain (low authority), they are getting banned. So why not share an article from a more authoritative domain. So this time I shared a Medium article.

It was submitted. There was no [Flagged] this time, so the submission must have gone through and people will be able to see that now...Except that when I opened HN in Private Mode, the submission was not visible.

Again HN will never tell or show you that you are banned. You won't know that when you are logged in but for others, you don't exist at all. To do anything better with your account, you'll need to contact them via email. It's like their way of saying You did a mistake, now visit principle's office with your parents.

Learning: Relying entirely on technology to fight spam may occasionally result in missing out on some genuinely interesting stuff. And robots can't entirely replace humans for the lack of empathy.

How I got unbanned?

I tried to email HN support to inform them about the issue. I was not expecting a reply. Why would they care to? But I was wrong. Within 24 hours of sending the email, I got a reply from Daniel, a moderator at HN. He, very politely, explained to me why my submissions might have been flagged and what I should avoid doing at HN. Noted, HN is not just another community site to submit your links.

People at HN expect high-quality content, (way above what the general public perceives normal) and anything below that par might result in your submissions being [Flagged] and ultimately getting your account banned.

After explaining to him my point of view and politely requesting him that I was a newbie there, he accepted my request and unblocked my account.

Learning: Being polite and respectful is very important in life. The person helping you at the other end is also a human. Help them help you and things work both ways.

Conclusion

HN is not just another community site. It's different. Be cautious when you post something there. It should provide enough value to the community. I feel lucky that my account was unbanned. I'm more cautious now at HN. If you are a newbie, you should be too.

PS. This article was not shared on HN for obvious reasons. :).