Information Hazards and Community Hazards

In­for­ma­tion Hazards and Com­mu­nity Hazards

As as­piring ra­tio­nal­ists, we gen­er­ally seek to figure out the truth and hold re­lin­quish­ments as a virtue, namely that what­ever can be de­stroyed by the truth should be.

The only case where this does not ap­ply are in­for­ma­tion haz­ards, defined as “a risk that arises from the dis­sem­i­na­tion or the po­ten­tial dis­sem­i­na­tion of (true) in­for­ma­tion that may cause harm or en­able some agent to cause harm.” For in­stance, if you tell me you com­mit­ted a mur­der and make me an ac­ces­sory af­ter the fact, you have ex­posed me to an in­for­ma­tion haz­ard. In talk­ing about in­for­ma­tion haz­ards, we fo­cus on in­for­ma­tion that is harm­ful to the in­di­vi­d­ual who re­ceives that in­for­ma­tion.

Yet a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion at my lo­cal LessWrong meetup in Colum­bus brought up the is­sue of what I would like to call com­mu­nity haz­ards, namely top­ics that it would be dan­ger­ous to talk about in a com­mu­nity set­ting. Th­ese are top­ics that are emo­tion­ally challeng­ing and hold the risk of tear­ing apart the fabric of LW com­mu­nity groups if they are dis­cussed.

Now, be­ing a com­mu­nity haz­ard doesn’t mean that the topic is off-limits, es­pe­cially in the con­text of a smaller, pri­vate LW meetup of fel­low as­piring ra­tio­nal­ists. What we de­cided to do is that if any­one in our LW meetup de­cides a topic is a com­mu­nity haz­ard, we would go meta and have a dis­cus­sion about whether we should dis­cuss the topic. We would ex­am­ine whether dis­cussing it would be emo­tion­ally challeng­ing and how challeng­ing it would be, whether dis­cussing it holds the risk of tak­ing down Ch­ester­ton’s Fences that we don’t want taken down, whether there are cer­tain as­pects of the topic that could be dis­cussed with min­i­mal nega­tive con­se­quences, or if per­haps only some mem­bers of the group would like to dis­cuss it and then they can meet sep­a­rately.

This would work differ­ently in the con­text of a pub­lic ra­tio­nal­ity event, of course, of the type we do for a lo­cal sec­u­lar hu­man­ist group as part of our ra­tio­nal­ity out­reach work. There, we de­cided to use mod­er­a­tion strate­gies to head off com­mu­nity haz­ards at the pass, as the au­di­ence in­cludes non-ra­tio­nal­ists who may not be ca­pa­ble of dis­cussing a com­mu­nity haz­ard-re­lated topic well.

I wanted to share about this con­cept and these tac­tics in the hope that it might be helpful to other LW mee­tups.