Tech's Grossest Website Hits a New Low

When Aussie abomination Titstare went on stage yesterday, the internet collectively retched. But at Hacker News, an erudite discussion board run by the venture capitalists at Y Combinator, discourse is a special kind of toxic—and its users rushed to defend Titstare.

It's silly to argue about which online community is the worst, because they're almost all heinous. Can you compare the quasi-literate xenophobia of CNN.com to the racist spurts on YouTube, or to the Ayn Rand Spark Notes of Reddit? It's miasma versus miasma. But Hacker News stands out from other cesspools—it has the Silicon Valley cachet of perhaps the most prominent, exclusive startup incubator in the world. It has a geek-smart curriculum, a pro-privacy agenda, and a pro-business, pro-"entrepreneurship" consensus. It's hugely popular, and often surfaces an interesting link or two before the day is over. It's a place for people who hope their Thing is the next Big Thing to talk about other things to pass some time. It's mostly men—the oblivious, money-hungry, self-righteous men of Northern California—and they didn't see anything wrong with Titstare. The rest of us were the problem.

After the Titstare team left the TechCrunch stage, the boys of Hacker News issued a collective What's the big deal?

I don't see the problem. Pornography is perfectly legal and big business.

I think it's hilarious. At the same time, they make fun of stereotypical phone applications and people staring at tits. Also, I don't believe it actually exists. They only show a screenshot and the presentation is way too funny.

There is a lot of sexism out there for sure, but is this app doing any more than poking fun at men who were caught looking at womens' breasts? Are men out there really going to say that we never sneak a peek at a woman's cleavage? Is that sexist?

I understand that there are a lot of different perspectives though, so maybe some women out there could explain what I'm missing.

The event is keep us abreast of the new products, as it were.

Male sexual desire is healthy. Heterosexual men like tits - deal with it. There's nothing "objectifying" or "misogynistic" about it. Jesus, what's wrong with you people? Is a man allowed to even look at a woman or is even that considered misogyny? I like women and no amount of buzzwords will make me ashamed of it!

- Women who wear clothing designed to show cleavage

- Men who stare at cleavage

Discuss.

Wait, just to make it a little more useful:

- Men who giggle like children about their project aimed at the above two groups

Is staring at tits sexist, or is it just a result of human evolution that affects us all, regardless of how sensitive we are to gender equality issues?

Those who maintained that the stunt was idiotic and insulting—to the credit of the site, there are some good eggs—were dismissed as "puritanical," in needing of "loosening up" or respecting "parody." Then, only a few hours after the dustup started, all discussion of Titstare was disappeared from the front page of Hacker News. The comment threads weren't deleted, but rendered invisible, as if they'd never been written at all. Y Combinator's FAQ section says the message board is maintained by "About 30 YC alumni," who "can kill stories and edit the titles, and in extreme cases (e.g. spamming or deliberate trolling) ban users." I emailed the investment incubator asking about the site's editorial policies, and haven't received any reply.

I'm not expecting any reply—the status quo at Hacker News, of insularity and aloofness in the defense of monoculture, is lucrative. When your firm can take partial credit for the success of Reddit, Dropbox, and Airbnb, you don't need to defend yourself—it's easier to make a sexist apologia just vanish. Unlike other internet communities that are obviously, openly bad in some way, Hacker News will remain a silently diseased place for any outsider. It's a should-be-Superfund site that continues to ooze, too far under the radar to catch the public flak of Reddit, and too important to the tech community for any internal mandate. It'll remain a safe zone for Y Combinator's accent-phobic chief Paul Graham to propagandize, for his acolytes to defend that phobia, and for talk about Michael Arrington to get the whitewash treatment. It's a mental bubble within the economic, and for a group that needs so badly to be bubbled, it's precious.