Are you shadow-banned from Hacker News?
Date: 2023-12-01 | create | share |
Hacker News is an incredible site for finding / discussing interesting news / articles on tech-related things. It also doubles as a great way to lose track of a few hours =).
For creators, it can be a great way to get a lot of eyes on your posts if it receives the community's blessing. My most popular post in 2019 drove 40% of my total site traffic that year, largely due to an HN repost.
Alas I've recently discovered that I've been shadowbanned from the site. I'm still able to read and comment but all my posts over the past 3 years have been shown to exactly no one.
In this post I wanted to lay out some simple ways to check if you've been shadowbanned so you don't waste years like I have sharing into the abyss (insert cry emoji here).
Q: How can you easily check if you've been shadowbanned by Hacker News?
There are three main types of banning that you'll need to check. Each has a different simplest path for checking so we'll go over them in rough order of least bad to most bad.
- IP Banning
- Site Banning
- User Banning
Note: here I'm only going to go over shadow banning. I think if you do something super bad they'll probably fully kill your account but in most cases sites do shadow bans so that bad actors can't easily detect / optimize their strategies. Source: My past experience fighting fraud / bots at Instagram.
This happens when an IP makes too many requests in a given time period so HN rate limits them. This typically happens if you're using a client (like an HN aggregator) that may send off a ton of requests to download the latest posts.
You can check this easily by trying to access the site from a different network (like some else's wifi or if you're banned on a computer trying with your cell network or vice versa).
This one isn't bad as there's an official unbanning feature (linked from HN FAQ).
Essentially you can unban yourself by filling in your ip address here and navigating to the url:
Site banning happens when an entire site is seen as too "spammy" with low quality links or high prevalence of rule breaking. HN deals with this by shadow banning these links or allowing them to be seen but heavily punishing them in the algorithm.
You can find out if a site is shadow banned by:
- Open an incognito browser (so you can see HN as the rest of the world sees it)
- Search for the target site in the form of
- Compare the results with what you believe they should be
Searching for my site
hamy.xyz we can see that logged in (left) I have a bunch of submissions. But logged out (right) there's only four submissions. The latest submission was 4 months ago so it seems my site at least wasn't banned 4 months ago but it does seem like some sort of banning is in effect as we'll talk about next.
How to unban a site: There's no clear way to do this. You would have to talk to the mods and convince them.
User banning happens when a given user is flagged as doing bad things that break HN rules. Could be spammy posts, maybe mean comments, etc. Theoretically the policy is that the mods will comment to warn you before banning you. Anecdotally I did not get a warning so YMMV (to be fair - I'm a pretty small account with small usage so possible I didn't warrant a warning).
It seems like banning affects posts / comments independently so you could be banned from one and not the other. In my case it seems my posts are banned but I'm still allowed to comment.
To check if your posts are banned:
- Log in and look at your own submissions by filling in your user id:
- Open this link in an Incognito window so you can see what the rest of the net sees
- Compare the two lists. If your posts are banned, the incognito list will be much smaller
Looking at my own submissions (left side), we can see that I last tried to post a link about 2 hours ago with a post every few months before that. So this means my latest post is sometime in November 2023. Now looking at the incognito view of my submissions (what the rest of the world sees), we can see that my latest submission seems to be way back in October 2020. So from this we can surmise that I was shadowbanned sometime in October 2020 and thus my last 3 years of posting was all for naught (insert another cry emoji here).
Further, we can see a hint of my account being flagged as early as January 2020 by the observation that those posts do not contain a Discussion section.
To check if your comments are banned you can do something similar:
- Log in and look at your comments by filling in your user id:
- Open this link in an Incognito window to see what the rest of the world sees
- Compare the two lists
In my case it seems like my comments are shared as normal. So even though I'm banned from posting, I can still join discussion on the site. At least my last 3 years of commenting weren't for naught (insert smiley cry emoji here).
How to unban a user: Again, no clear way to do this. You'd have to talk to the mods.
Fraud / Risk controls are an interesting space I've had the pleasure / horror of building myself in my last few years at Instagram. I don't blame HN for banning me at all - there's always some degree of error in these systems and in my case I probably broke several rules around self promotion from posting my own articles so much. Hopefully this helps you better understand your own account status on the site and prevents you from sending countless posts into the abyss like I did.
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