Downvoting considered harmful

I was just testing out the theory with a sample size of one with the control group being all those that were not subjected to the test.

I don’t see how, with the protocol they say they are using, they can tell the difference between would-be trolls who become “better” at trolling via the feedback, and proto-trolls who become more trollish due to the isolation. (And presumably many people are some mixture of both, as well). Furthermore it’s not clear that the would-be trolls are actually getting better at trolling; it could also be that other users are just recognizing their names and cutting them less slack. And it’s not clear whether isolation is causative in turning a proto-troll into a troll, or just a natural step in the process.

The model here is one very big black box and I don’t see how one can get much out of it.


I really like the sound of the Ars system. Upvoting is of completely zero value without downvoting, and hiding posts once a certain ration of downvotes is reached seems to be awesome troll-control.

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The two systems I most like are slashdot and stack-exchange. Both give some kind of reward for positive contributions. In slashdot posts start out with a score of 0 or 1 and need to get upto 4 or 5 votes to be seen by readers on the default setting. Only about 10% of posts get this many votes which creates an incentive to write good posts so they will get seen. Getting upvoted posts gives you karma points and with enough karma you get to be a moderator.

Stack-exchange is similar gaining points for good answers give an increasing set of privileges on the the site. You need to gain a few points from good answers to even get the power to up-vote or add comments. Point in the thousands allow reasonable use of the site and point with 10K up give superpowers like closing threads creating a class of uber-users.


If I may forge a metaphor:

YouTube is one of the gas stations of the internet. Everyone must use it, everyone passes through it pretty often. And like gas stations in the real world, the bathroom walls have nothing good to say. Don’t read the comments. It’s mostly vacuous praise, inane insults or spam.


Hey! watch who you’re calling literate, articulate and coherent, mate.

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I like slashdot style systems: A set maximum of +5 and a set minimum of -1, usually reserved for trolls and spam. You pick the threshold you want to read through at - you can pick the cream of the crop and only see +5’s, you can wade through the sludge at -1, or you can pick a middleground.

It also has a bunch of features designed to make you take moderating a bit more seriously (metamoderation, intermittently supplied mod points, karma boost, etc) but it boils down to: modpoints are scarce, you get a small supply occasionally. If you don’t use them, they expire. If you misuse them, you will be given less. If you use them thoughtfully, you’ll get more. When you can only hit ‘like’ 10 times over the next week, you’re a bit more careful with them.

I was always surprised by how few people copied that system, but it does make sense: but it’s very complex for what’s basically an afterthought for most websites.


I think we may have discovered a (generally unspoken) reason why ‘martyred’ has historically involved being killed in some more or less gruesome manner. If perception of martyrdom makes people even more insufferable, well…

I moderated a very large forum for a period when discussion boards were all the rage. We used to have a lot of fights over the fact that I never posted a “rules of the road” post, because I felt that pointing at rules just turned people into lawyers and didn’t help to change the tone of the conversation, only heat it up. If someone was an asshole, we didn’t use tools to ban them, except perhaps in one case. Instead, we had a CONVERSATION with them about the behavior that we liked to have on our discussion board. And one of the things that people always said about our board is how wonderfully pleasant it was compared to so many others.

Look, upvote, downvote, sideways vote - it doesn’t really stop people being jerks or encourage them. It’s the conversation that matters.

And some people who are jerks do really make you think; and every forum has that guy who’s half the time acting like a troll and half the time the reason people come to read it.

Sure, I appreciate what technology can do to help people know you like what they are doing or don’t, but call someone to the mat in a nice way when they are screwing up your pleasant valley and keep talking to the people you’ve made friends with.

Forums aren’t popularity contests.


Oddly enough, that’s exactly what our pediatrician said yesterday morning: praise my son for the good things he does, and try to ignore the bad (unless it’s really bad, like hitting or pushing). Constantly critiquing the bad leads to a spiral where it becomes an attention-seeking strategy, instead of a negative reinforcement.

But, hey, adults are totally different from kids.




As a quality rating perhaps, but I think upvoting can have another purpose. If the upvoter is visible, then it offers an alternative to low-content approval posts. It’s not just the infamous “This.” or “+1” comments, but very often there are good reasons why some form of acknowledgment seems necessary in the course of a discussion. Even when they are worded more creatively and serve a legitimate purpose, they are often not very interesting to read for third parties.

I had this advice from a therapist who was helping us with my stepson, and it completely changed my life. Of course I was very angry when he first suggested it, but then I thought about it and knew that is how I would want to be treated.

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My first two attempts at commenting on YouTube pretty much left it dead to me. The first time I was censored by the company I gave feedback to. The second time I was down-voted by rabid fans. I couldn’t even try to take it seriously after that. So, yeah. Down-voting doesn’t work. Unilaterally removing posts doesn’t either.

D’oh, that didn’t feel very random…

Over on /r/Libertarian, they’ve put this in practice – it ensures that everyone can voice their opinions. 1 point means zero. Zero means negative.

I’m guessing this is why Disqus have hidden the downvote counts on posts.
You can still downvote, and posts with many down votes will be pushed to the bottom of the comments, but you only get shown the upvotes.
What I really appreciate nowadays is comment systems that give me one place to view all the responses to my comments across many threads. Often I’ll read an article, comment, and then never check the article again to see if my perfect gem of a comment was picked up.
BB have it [can’t link easily], Disqus have it, but I wish a few more sites would as well.

I’ve noticed a decline in the quality of Disqus-based comment boards since they removed downvotes. Anyone can garner three or four ups no matter what hateful bullshit they spew, but without negative community feedback those posts appear to have as much support as someone writing “I LIEK TACOS,” which will also get three or four ups. The hateful bullshit person benefits from being immune to downvotes, as it appears to validate his point of view, whereas nobody was going to bother downvoting the taco person anyway.

…and yet Slashdot is now a cesspool inhabited by Libertarian shitheels.

Voting systems for online forums are universally terrible. Moreover, I don’t see the point. Posting is not democratic. Nobody wins by getting the most internet points. There is no reason to promote or demote content in a medium with such an infinitesimally short shelf life. There is little to no correlation between a post’s quality and its popularity (are dissenting opinions ever popular?). There is no good justification for artificially promoting competition between forum members.

Fostering a diverse/interesting online community is both difficult and time-consuming. It requires sensible rules, discerning moderators, and devoted administration. None of these are obtainable by voting.


I agree.
Liking a post is not the same as participating in a conversation.
Too many people don’t have their assumptions challenged and go on believing crazy things, they’ll like a post that says what they feel they think but would be hard pressed to be able to put into words their own position in a manner that makes sense to other people.

I’ve been on the Internet for quite a while now, and one of the things I’m sure of is that on the Internet, getting your point across is hard and trying to win an argument is silly.

You had bad experiences in the YouTube comment section and you’re writing off downvotes forever?