Last month I saw this post: http://lesswrong.com/lw/kbc/meta_the_decline_of_discussion_now_with_charts/ addressing whether the discussion on LessWrong was in decline. As a relatively new user who had only just started to post comments, my reaction was: “I hope that LessWrong isn’t in decline, because the sequences are amazing, and I really like this community. I should try to write a couple articles myself and post them! Maybe I could do an analysis/summary of certain sequences posts, and discuss how they had helped me to change my mind”. I started working on writing an article.
Then I logged into LessWrong and saw that my Karma value was roughly half of what it had been the day before. Previously I hadn’t really cared much about Karma, aside from whatever micro-utilons of happiness it provided to see that the number slowly grew because people generally liked my comments. Or at least, I thought I didn’t really care, until my lizard brain reflexes reacted to what it perceived as an assault on my person.
Had I posted something terrible and unpopular that had been massively downvoted during the several days since my previous login? No, in fact my ‘past 30 days’ Karma was still positive. Rather, it appeared that everything I had ever posted to LessWrong now had a -1 on it instead of a 0. Of course, my loss probably pales in comparison to that of other, more prolific posters who I have seen report this behavior.
So what controversial subject must I have commented on in order to trigger this assault? Well, let’s see, in the past week I had asked if anyone had any opinions of good software engineer interview questions I could ask a candidate. I posted in http://lesswrong.com/lw/kex/happiness_and_children/ that I was happy to not have children, and finally, here in what appears to me to be by far the most promising candidate:http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/keu/separating_the_roles_of_theory_and_direct/ I replied to a comment about global warming data, stating that I routinely saw headlines about data supporting global warming.
Here is our scenario: A new user is attempting to participate on a message board that values empiricism and rationality, posted that evidence supports that climate change is real. (Wow, really rocking the boat here!) Then, apparently in an effort to ‘win’ this discussion by silencing opposition, someone went and downvoted every comment this user had ever made on the site. Apparently they would like to see LessWrong be a bastion of empiricism and rationality and [i]climate change denial[/i] instead? And the way to achieve this is not to have a fair and rational discussion of the existing empirical data, but rather to simply Karmassassinate anyone who would oppose them?
Here is my hypothesis: The continuing problem of karma downvote stalkers is contributing to the decline of discussion on the site. I definitely feel much less motivated to try and contribute anything now, and I have been told by multiple other people at LessWrong meetings things such as “I used to post a lot on LessWrong, but then I posted X, and got mass downvoted, so now I only comment on Yvain’s blog”. These anecdotes are, of course, only very weak evidence to support my claim. I wish I could provide more, but I will have to defer to any readers who can supply more.
Perhaps this post will simply trigger more retribution, or maybe it will trigger an outswelling of support, or perhaps just be dismissed by people saying I should’ve posted it to the weekly discussion thread instead. Whatever the outcome, rather than meekly leaving LessWrong and letting my 'stalker' win, I decided to open a discussion about the issue. Thank you!
It looks like the person who has been downvoting you is the same person mentioned in this thread. Follow-up queries also indicated that the same person had been downvoting several others who had previously complained of downvote stalking.
The said person failed to respond to my first private message on the subject; because there's the chance that they might have just missed it, I finally got around sending them another message yesterday, explicitly mentioning the possibility of a ban unless they provide a very good explanation within a reasonable time. I apologize for taking so long - I procrastinated on this for a while, as I find it quite uncomfortable to initiate conflict with people.
Just to encourage you, I want to put things in context:
This is one person that significantly destroys the social capital of the LW community. And in our community, social capital is scarce.
They probably do this to promote their political views; to silence perceived political opponents. (Including new users.) This is completely against LW values.
If you'd just block their account without further notice right now, I would say: "Well done!". It is extremely generous to give them a chance to explain themselves; and there probably is no good explanation anyway, so it's just playing for time.
I mean, really, if one person keeps terrorizing the community, and the community is unwilling to defend themselves, then all the lessons about how rationalists are supposed to win have failed.
A person who did so much damage does not deserve a second chance. If you decide to give them the second chance, I won't complain. But I would complain against inaction while they continue to do more damage. If you are the only person who has an access to the "Ban User" button, just press it already, before everyone leaves.
EDIT: This whole thread (and it is far from being the first one) ... (read more)
I agree, Rationalists should win! And in this case, winning doesn't mean turning into straw-man Vulcans who say "you shouldn't have any emotional reactions to people mass downvoting you" as I see a couple other places in this thread. Rather, it means that we should be able to design a community system that makes everyone feel cared for, and also provides them useful feedback for how they should or shouldn't post things.
Emotions matter, and making people feel valued and loved by other members is how a community thrives. (Thats why religions can do so well even though they make silly claims about the nature of reality).
I suggest that whether they're banned or not, unless they do provide a very good explanation their identity and a description of the mass-downvoting they've done should be posted on LW, and (if anyone has the bandwidth to do it) mass-downvoting should be exposed when it's done in the future, and it should be known that it will be.
Because otherwise the obvious response to "hey, we're banning you for abusing the system" is "OK, thanks. I'll make another account.".
I don't necessarily disagree, but given that the offender will lose > 9k Karma, and will have to grind a bit to be able to keep mass-downvoting, I'd say it is more than a trivial inconvenience.
You only need maybe 10 karma to be able to significantly hurt new users.
Maybe there should be some treshold, e.g. 100 karma before you can downvote. And then, you can downvote as much as you can today. This probably could be done by one "if" line in the code.
We need downvoting, but we don't quite need to have new users able to destroy other new users.
Yes, it came up here the last time someone made a Discussion post about retributive downvoting. Not to toot my own horn, but I feel I outlined some reasonable issues with that plan in my response.
(Short version: I feel that upvote-only systems encourage cliques and pandering, neither of which align well with LW's culture or goals.)
That depends on the comment. Some comments display so much ignorance, that they deserve to be downvoted and hidden.
Imagine a new user, who would just assert that theory of relativity is wrong, and provide their own "theory" based on some mumbo-jumbo or misunderstanding of the basic concepts of physics. That specific comment deserves to be downvoted below zero. It is not a spam, it is not offensive, so it should not be reported to moderators. It is just too stupid. Zero is for the "meh" comments, this would be below that level.
This is different from mass-downvoting all comments of other users because someone does not agree with them for political reasons.
It seems to me that many people are thinking in a direction "design a system that cannot be abused, and it will not be abused". But anything can be abused. Imagine that we would adopt a system with upvotes only, and then we would have a separate button for "report spam". Would this be safe against abuse? A malicious user could decide to mass-report all comments of their political enemies as spam. And then, what? If the spam reports are handled automatically, it would mean that new users would ... (read more)
I am now convinced that going negative is useful.
Around a week.
Can we please act like we actually know stuff about practical instrumental rationality given how human brains work, and not punish people for openly noticing their weaknesses.
You could have more constructively said something like "Thank you for taking on these responsibilities even though it sometimes makes you uncomfortable. I wonder if anyone else who is more comfortable with that would be willing to help out."
Thanks! Yes, that's a good point. On the other hand, willingness to confront problem users is one of the absolute minimum requirements for a forum moderator. I suppose Kaj was not expected to do the moderator's job, probably just behind-the-scene maintenance, and I assumed too much. Sorry, Kaj!
That said, a competent active forum moderator is required to deal with this particular issue, and I am yet to see one here.
Preferably more than one moderator.
That's interesting, and is causing me to update in the direction of thinking that this is a real problem that resources should be devoted to solving. I think I know of one other person who's not you who has left LW because of downvoting. It's interesting how seriously we take the arbitrary numbers associated with our profiles & contributions. (I do it too.)
And it looks as though there are many people who have reported similar in this thread. Maybe talk to Kaj Sotala? Perhaps he is privately reprimanding mass downvoters?
I do think this comment of yours was a reasonable downvote candidate:
Not because I think you are wr... (read more)
I don't believe that it's more than a day or two of work for a developer. The SQL queries one would run are pretty simple, as we previously discussed, and as Jack from Trike confirmed. The reason that nothing has been done about it is that Eliezer doesn't care. And he may well have good reasons not to, but he never commented on the issue, except maybe once when he mentioned something about not having technical capabilities to identify the culprits (which is no longer a valid statement).
My guess is that he cares not nearly as much about LW in general now as he used to, as most of the real work is done at MIRI behind the scenes, and this forum is mostly noise for him these days. He drops by occasionally as a distraction from important stuff, but that's it.
This sounds like moralizing to me. Of the following two scenarios, which do you have in mind?
Someone had an idea for a solution to the problem and ran it by Eliezer. Eliezer vetoed it (because he was feeling spiteful?)
Eliezer is a busy person trying to do lots of things. Because Eliezer has historically been LW's head honcho, no one feels comfortable taking decisive action without his approval. But folks are hesitant to bother him because they know he's got lots to do, or else they do send him email but he doesn't respond to them because he's behind on his email, or he skips reading those emails in favor of higher-priority emails.
I think the second scenario is far more likely. If the second scenario is the case, I don't see any reason to bother Eliezer. We just have to stop acting as though all important forum decisions must go through him. Personally I don't see any reason why Eliezer would know best how to run LW. Expertise at blogging is not the same as expertise at online community management. And empirically, there have been lots of complaints about the way LW is moderated, which is ... (read more)
If you are a busy person wanting to get a lot of things done, delegate tasks and give someone else the authority do solve the task. To the extend that he doesn't want to solve tasks like this himself, he should delegate the authority clearly to someone else.
Of course it's the second scenario. My point is that this forum has dropped in priority for Eliezer and MIRI in general in the last year or so. And, as I said, probably for a good reason.
This. Eliezer clearly doesn't care about LessWrong anymore, to the point that these days he seems to post more on Facebook than on LessWrong. Realizing this is a major reason why this comment is the first anything I've posted on LessWrong in well over a month.
I know a number of people have been working on launching a LessWrong-like forum dedicated to Effective Altruism, which is supposedly going to launch very soon. Here's hoping it takes off—because honestly, I don't have much hope for LessWrong at this point.
I'm not sure how to respond to this comment, given that it contains no actual statements, just rhetorical questions, but the intended message seems to be "F you for daring to cause Eliezer pain, by criticizing him and the organization he founded."
If that's the intended message, I submit that when someone is a public figure, who writes and speaks about controversial subjects and is the founder of an org that's fairly aggressive about asking people for money, they really shouldn't be insulated from criticism on the basis of their feelings.
Indeed, it is perfectly fine if someone downvoted that post. I probably deserved a -3 there. However, rather than be given the opportunity to learn from that feedback in the way karma is supposed to work, I instead received one downvote to every post I ever made on the site.
I suppose if you use comment karma to evaluate how people like what you write, blank downvoting masks the useful signal.
Yes. A while ago I suddenly lost like 50 points (which is a lot for me). The signal that gives isn't 'don't write stuff like this', but 'we don't want you here, go away', and I almost did.
I don't see the point in telling people that they shouldn't have the emotional reactions that they keep having. It may be possible to fade those reactions out in the long haul, but caring about karma is a typical reaction (and it seems to be at least common), then it's better to take it into account.
I hope you'll forgive me for reiterating what other commenters have already said, but I want to add my own voice here. The problem is not just serial karmakillers. The problem is the culture of using downvotes as a disagree button rather than as a moderation tool. I talked about it before, but ironically most of my comments got downvoted.
I've commented also that the karma system, as it is currently, causes less participation on the site. Just to save time I'll paste it here.
"The fundamental flaw that I see with LessWrong's main site is that its karma/moderating system has the effect of silencing and banning people for being disagreed with or misunderstood. This is a major problem. You cannot mix "I don't agree with you" or "I don't understand you" with "you will be punished and silenced."
People who spam, flame, or otherwise destroy conversation are the on... (read more)
Are you seriously implying that the facebook group for LessWrong has better discussions than the site? I can't say that I agree.
Would it be problematic to put a blanket ban on upvotes and downvotes of posts that are older than 30 days? Changes in karma to old posts are no longer an especially useful signal to their author anyway. Such a ban could be a cheap way to mitigate downvote stalking without significantly impacting current discussions.
An attacker could still use multiple accounts to mass-downvote everything from a user in the past 30 days. On the other hand, it's possible that some users' comments were uniformly bad. For the purpose of providing a useful signal, I think ... (read more)
This is one of those little things I really like about LW; I would miss it if it was gone. The best content here is on posts that are years old, and discouraging discussion/engagement there would just make the current content problem worse.
This doesn't do anything to solve the problem of one mass-downvoter.
The ones who matter wouldn't care anyways.
Do we have more than one downvote stalker? If true, it really sucks that it only takes a single person to bring down and entire community.
Your intuition appears to be good. There was a recent paper published on this very topic.