Downvoting considered harmful



Further, it appears that if you want to maximise awesomeness, you complement folks for the behaviour you want to see from them, before they’ve even forked it out.


Which is to say, people suck. The answer is Ars “ignore” option and hide-on-excessive-downvote formula . If someone is clearly just posting to be a dick, regardless of why, then ignoring them allows them to be stupid and self-destructive without bothering anyone else.

I used to find considerable annoyance on Ars’ comments threads, but when they implemented their new system, I found I could go intentionally to things like climate change threads, scroll through a few pages clicking “ignore” on denialist accounts, and as a result, my Ars experience has been radically more positive.

Occasionally I’ll go through a thread and check out the comments that have been hidden because of excessive downvote. In every case to date it’s been an incontrovertible douchbag. I say the system works.

And I get downvoted occasionally! Maybe I’m some kind of neuro-abnormal freak, but generally that makes me stop and think about whether it was worth posting my comment.


I downvote this.

Ball’s in your court Doctorow, what’s it going to be? Three posts about bananas? You haven;t got the grapes.


This doesn’t seem like a very strong study to me.

It seems that they rated the quality of posts using a machine-learning algorithm that they trained to recognize “good” and “bad” posts. They then found that people who wrote posts with a scored quality x that received upvotes went on to write good posts, and people who wrote posts that were also scored x that received downvotes went on to write bad posts.

They say that the two groups of post writers are essentially the “same” before they were voted on, but the key thing is that they are prioritizing their own algorithmic scores over the actual votes that the posts received.

In actual fact, the reason the posts either got upvotes or downvotes is more likely because the posts themselves were worse or better for reasons their automatic-scoring couldn’t recognize.

That people who’s posts were downvoted (i.e. people who actually wrote crappy posts, whatever the algorithm says) then later went on to write posts that were scored poorly by their algorithm is not a surprise.

In order to do this properly, they would have to experiment with randomly-selected groups and controls, a la Facebook or OK Cupid. They would need to randomly assign people up- or downvotes regardless of the actual quality of the post, and then see what it did to the person.


Or it could be that some people are just assholes and proud to be one.


Some sites only count downvotes if the comment has positive votes, they never go below zero or show the number of downvotes, only the number of upvotes after the downvotes have been detracted. this is also an excellent way to allow quality comments to rise to the top without inflaming or encouraging trolls. It isn’t an issue if done right, they things they point to as negative are easily neutralized while keeping all the benefits of the vote system.

also, i personally -LOVE- sites that have the IGNORE feature where you can click on an extra annoying user and make them disappear from all your comment thread views, and they no longer see yours either, it is like they aren’t even there anymore. I never use it for contrarian opinions that are intelligent, as I appreciate those, but it sure comes in handy weeding out the a-holes or trolls that have absolutely nothing of value to add without further inflaming or encouraging them. More sites need to utilize this feature.


Reminds me of John Gardner’s landmark “Grendel” which revisits “Beowulf” from the monster’s point of view. Grendel ventures into the world of man, against the advise of much of the wildlife, in search of meaning and a sense of self. He is frustrated by the egotistical, futile obsessions that pass for menaing in man’s world (The Internet in this metaphore I suppose). Worse, his intelligent inquisitiveness gains him only constant treatmean as a monster. In the end Grendel is killed by a true monster but manages a run home to his mother, who would have nothing to do with mankind, before bleeding out.


The downside is that some people just blaze through the comments and downvote everyone who disagrees with them. It’s a bit disheartening to see posts that are in no way trolling or rude or even very controversial sitting in the -6 votes total category just because they’re sitting on the wrong side of the iOS/Android wars. Whatever the wrong side is today, maybe MacRumors linked to it, so any mildly pro-Android comment gets downvoted, or maybe Phandroid linked to it so vice versa. Then you notice the trend, and oh, okay, it’s just some tribal dopes.

But I think it’s pretty discouraging to the occasional commenter who said something reasonable and is now mentally sitting in the ‘a pox on you’ hole.

Now the ignore option, that’s pure gold.


Why is it surprising that upvotes don’t make users post “better?” Raising quality takes more effort than lowering it. In fact, if information can be measured as entropy, you could prove this with a little math.


That’s a great thing though! If you’re willing to listen, it tells you, “don’t waste your time commenting on sad-sack 14-year-old fanboi threads”.

And yeah, those are invariably the threads where I’ve gotten downvotes.

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Off-topic-ish: I was very impressed with this movie when I eventually bothered to check it out:

Beowulf & Grendel (2005) (IMDB)

Gerard Butler is a surprisingly appealing, if incomprehensible, Beowulf, while Ingvar Sigurðsson is an unbelievably great Grendel.

Well I mentioned it specifically because it was about Ars, which usually (usually) has better comments than someplace like Boy Genius Report or MacRumors. If you’re posting there, or youtube, then yes, you just expect it or should learn fast.

Most such voting is based solely on how well the contents of the post match the opinions of the voter.


This study seems kind of odd to me. They’re suggesting that previously good posters got that 1 downvote and it was like that 1 hit of the Mary-ja-wana Cigarette in a DARE PSA. Next scene they’re shooting heroin into their eyeballs or posting racial slurs just to reap maximum negative points.

Personally I think that sites that only have upvote buttons are a little too vulnerable to trolls and tend to suffer from excessive flamewars once the site grows too large to effectively moderate with traditional moderators. On the other hand, unlimited downvoting also has the downside of encouraging the kind of people described in the article: the negative vote collector. They are guaranteed to post only useless and usually vile material. I prefer systems like Slashdot and Ars where negative votes end up auto-hiding the material ones it goes far enough into the negative.

I also like sites that put a strict and smallish limit on up/down votes, as this makes the system harder to game and the rewards less sweet.

IMHO, BB mostly gets by because the number of active commenters is fairly small and they have a reasonably responsive mod staff, but it’s not a solution that scales well if each article starts generating hundreds of comments or BBS threads start exploding. Even Somethingawful’s famed mod staff eventually got overwhelmed and now their General Discussion forum is worse than /b/.


I don’t really like the voting system myself. I’d rather someone tell me off if I say something stupid and offensive than just get a thousand downvotes and not necessarily know why.

That’s one of the reasons I comment on BB. In most places, if I say something offensive or stupid without thinking, I just get a landslide of bad karma. Sometimes I don’t even know what I said. Whereas on BB, people won’t hesitate to explain to me like I’m five why I need to think before posting. It at least gives me the chance to learn something. And when someone tells me off about something I think is fine, it gives me a shot at stepping back for a few days, hashing over what I said and seeing if the objection actually makes sense and I really am wrong, or if they’re being too sensitive.

Comments are much better in my humble opinion. Upvotes and downvotes transmit so little information, and in reality just telegraph what a community agrees with or disagrees with, without enriching your brain. In that way the voting system contributes to the internet filter bubble on a community level.


“Your father’s kill file. This is the weapon of a Web Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a downvote button. A more elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”


There is also a powerful need to create “in-groups” and “out-groups” or otherwise engage in favoritism. Anyone that has ever worked in an office has experienced this and knows this childhood/schoolyard dynamic seems to grip most people their entire lives.

It also is not news that criticizing someone leads to a decline in their attitude and performance, and this is how a productive employee can be coached and coerced into the role of the black sheep.


Some time ago I pondered BBs lack of any downvote. IIRC, at the time I was particularly annoyed with some idiot I wanted to ‘punish’. After a time I realised that only having + votes creates an overall better experience; the punishment on BB for an idiot post is the outcasts postion of having no votes, and probably not many or any replys. Social ostracism is a powerful force. Meanwhile, granting upvotes (or hearts) adds to the positive karma in the world, with no buzzkill able to negate someone else’s love.

It’s a good system, I think.

It’s probably aided by a generally literate, articulate and coherent audience, a fair bit of self-policing of community standards, and some reasonably sane moderation. I’m not sure if it’d work on Youtube, for example.