[moderator action] Eugine_Nier is now banned for mass downvote harassment

by Kaj_Sotala1 min read3rd Jul 2014368 comments


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As previously discussed, on June 6th I received a message from jackk, a Trike Admin. He reported that the user Jiro had asked Trike to carry out an investigation to the retributive downvoting that Jiro had been subjected to. The investigation revealed that the user Eugine_Nier had downvoted over half of Jiro's comments, amounting to hundreds of downvotes.

I asked the community's guidance on dealing with the issue, and while the matter was being discussed, I also reviewed previous discussions about mass downvoting and looked for other people who mentioned being the victims of it. I asked Jack to compile reports on several other users who mentioned having been mass-downvoted, and it turned out that Eugine was also overwhelmingly the biggest downvoter of users David_Gerard, daenarys, falenas108, ialdabaoth, shminux, and Tenoke. As this discussion was going on, it turned out that user Ander had also been targeted by Eugine.

I sent two messages to Eugine, requesting an explanation. I received a response today. Eugine admitted his guilt, expressing the opinion that LW's karma system was failing to carry out its purpose of keeping out weak material and that he was engaged in a "weeding" of users who he did not think displayed sufficient rationality.

Needless to say, it is not the place of individual users to unilaterally decide that someone else should be "weeded" out of the community. The Less Wrong content deletion policy contains this clause:

Harrassment of individual users.

If we determine that you're e.g. following a particular user around and leaving insulting comments to them, we reserve the right to delete those comments. (This has happened extremely rarely.)

Although the wording does not explicitly mention downvoting, harassment by downvoting is still harassment. Several users have indicated that they have experienced considerable emotional anguish from the harassment, and have in some cases been discouraged from using Less Wrong at all. This is not a desirable state of affairs, to say the least.

I was originally given my moderator powers on a rather ad-hoc basis, with someone awarding mod privileges to the ten users with the highest karma at the time. The original purpose for that appointment was just to delete spam. Nonetheless, since retributive downvoting has been a clear problem for the community, I asked the community for guidance on dealing with the issue. The rough consensus of the responses seemed to authorize me to deal with the problem as I deemed appropriate.

The fact that Eugine remained quiet about his guilt until directly confronted with the evidence, despite several public discussions of the issue, is indicative of him realizing that he was breaking prevailing social norms. Eugine's actions have worsened the atmosphere of this site, and that atmosphere will remain troubled for as long as he is allowed to remain here.

Therefore, I now announce that Eugine_Nier is permanently banned from posting on LessWrong. This decision is final and will not be changed in response to possible follow-up objections.

Unfortunately, it looks like while a ban prevents posting, it does not actually block a user from casting votes. I have asked jackk to look into the matter and find a way to actually stop the downvoting. Jack indicated earlier on that it would be technically straightforward to apply a negative karma modifier to Eugine's account, and wiping out Eugine's karma balance would prevent him from casting future downvotes. Whatever the easiest solution is, it will be applied as soon as possible.

EDIT 24 July 2014: Banned users are now prohibited from voting.


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Upvoted because moderation is hard and I get the impression it's more responsibility than you thought you were signing up for.

Especially since I never actually even signed up for it - I was just told one day that "hey, you're a mod now". :-)

That increases my trust in you.

Ouch. Well, I'm not sure you can say that anymore. I don't envy you your new position as Garden Keeper.

0orthonormal7ymoderator : Garden Keeper :: Confessor : kiritsugu?

Huh. So I WASN'T paranoid.

That's actually a good feeling.

I don't feel even a little surprised - the one contrary hypothesis that seemed worth considering was someone personally close to, or weirdly obsessed with, Eugine Nier. But yes, this is good news.

Well, the last time I brought it up, there was quite a bit of controversy about whether I was imagining things... so I somehow feel vindicated. (But not TOO vindicated - it's important to note let those probabilities peg to 0 or 1)

I didn't really approve of this when you posted it, but for what it's worth I just upvoted it as a correct prediction.

Thank you, Kaj_Sotala, for taking decisive action in the face of social awkwardness.

I'm sad to see Eugine_Nier go, but it sounds like a win overall.

I seem to be the lone dissenter here, but I am unhappy about the ban. Not that it is unjustified, it definitely is. However, it does not address the main issue (until jackk fiddles with karma): preventing Eugine from mass downvoting. So this is mainly retribution, rather than remediation, which seems anti-rational to me, if emotionally satisfying, as one of the victims.

Imagine for a moment that Eugine did not engage in mass downvoting. He would be a valuable regular on this site. I recall dozens of insightful comments he made (and dozens of poor ones, of course, but who am I to point fingers), and I only stopped engaging him in the comments after his mass-downvoting habits were brought to light for the first time. So, I would rather see him exposed and dekarmified, but allowed to participate.

TL;DR: banning is a wrong decision, should have been exposed and stripped of the ability of downvote instead. Optionally, all his votes ever could have been reversed, unless it's hard.

EDIT: apparently not the lone dissenter, just the first to speak up.

This should be considered as a possibly better solution. People who can't be trusted with algorithmic control of visibility of others' posts may still have worthwhile posts of their own to contribute.

That said, I'm not sure I can wholeheartedly endorse it. Well-kept gardens die by pacifism. A person who has demonstrated active hostility toward others in the community perhaps shouldn't be regarded as a good-faith contributor. Kaj has construed this as a harassment problem rather than a bad data problem — it's not that Eugine was feeding erroneous data into a ranking algorithm whose output we care about; it's that he was (admittedly) trying to drive people off the site whom he didn't approve of.

Kaj has construed this as a harassment problem

Right. And it seems like a non-central application of the harassment clause. As a result, he applied the measures standard for a harassment, which are not the best ones in this situation.

Part of the problem is that the cited policy is phrased as a nonbinding "deletion policy" (a discussion of cases when moderators might delete posts or comments) and not a "conduct policy" (discussing acceptable use of the site in general). The closest we seem to have to the latter is the "Site Etiquette and Social Norms" section of the FAQ, which does discuss some unacceptable uses of the voting mechanism but does not contemplate that someone might go so far as to use it to intentionally drive users off the site. That may not be a failure of imagination — it may be an avoidance of the "Don't stuff beans up your nose!" problem. Spelling out lots of ways to abuse the system provides a malicious or mischievous user with a list of things to do.

In any event, it's a bad idea to cooperate with a defectbot.

[-][anonymous]7y 20

So this is mainly retribution, rather than remediation, which seems anti-rational to me

Retribution can serve as deterrence.

4Emile7yYep, suboptimal in many cases but often better than nothing.
9shminux7yWrong comparison. I was not proposing doing nothing. Making the culprit's name public should have been the first step.
1JoshuaZ7yIn this case, many people had already expressed strong confidence that Eugine was a major source of mass downvoting- some we're quite certain of that and said so publicly. So it doesn't look like that matters.
-1VAuroch7yIt was public, several times over.
9shminux7yThe suspicion was public, sure. There was no official confirmation and no indication that Eugene is the only one.
1EGarrett5yHe didn't just mass downvote. He purposefully attempted to remove other contributing members from the community. He also did not confess to it indicating both dishonesty and that he was aware that his actions were unacceptable. He also multi-accounted and still does and posts absolutely disgusting and logic-free racial comments and trolling (referring to black scientists to "dancing bears." You're welcome to demonstrate what's rational or constructive about that). You don't just undo those actions, you punish the person who takes part in them in order to deter the action occurring in the future. So that there can be civil discourse going forward. This is rational and a standard part of human social requirements.
0RichardKennaway5yNever publicly, but I believe that (when he was posting as "Eugine Nier") a moderator did question him privately about it and he said that was his intention.
0EGarrett5yYes, he confessed to it when confronted. My understanding was that there were posts about mass downvoting and people asking who was doing it and if it was happening and he never admitted it or posted in them to confirm it, whereas if he thought it was okay there was no reason for him not to.

I'm also unhappy with him being banned from commenting but not downvoting. While I frequently found his comments obnoxious and annoying in their connotations, they definitely served a net positive on the site.

That said, his moderation practices clearly served a larger net negative, so if there are technical reasons why it's difficult to undo his moderation and ban him from moderating in the future, I suppose this is the best we can get.

3tsathoggua7yI think the end goal is to stop him from down-voting as well as commenting as mentioned in the last sentence of the post.

I'm glad this was done, if only to send a signal to the community that something is being done, but you have a point that this is not an ideal solution and I hope a better one is implemented soon.

EDIT: apparently not the lone dissenter, just the first to speak up.

Yup, I endorse this. (Pretty sure I've been one of Eugine Nier's targets at one time or another.) I am wary of silencing those who don't share my politics (even if they stink up the joint with links to Vox Day).

So, I would rather see him exposed and dekarmified, but allowed to participate.

If it were technically feasible, I'd say let him keep the karma score, just throttle or cut off his downvote button.

That said, I also endorse this:

Thanks, Kaj, you are a hero!!!

And this:

So far I think Kaj has handled this well, whether or not I agree with the specific punishment handed down. He's acted with both weight and care.

The ban made me uncomfortable, and the talk of Eugine as being "guilty" makes me even more uncomfortable. My take:

Perfect is the enemy of the good. If we expect massive downvoting to be a recurring problem, then maybe it would have been worth waiting until the development of non-voting accounts or dekarmification mechanisms. As an ad hoc solution to the problem du jour, banning a user is fine.

2tsathoggua7yI guess the question is whether someone who took action by themselves to mass down vote for the express purpose of removing other users from the site would stop simply because his primary method was removed. If I were doing the down-voting, and was then de-karmified, it would be the next logical step to find another way around the system such that I could continue my actions without the use of karma.
3CCC7yHopefully, preventing him from commenting will mean that he begins to be less personally invested in the comment threads on the site, and thus more likely to spend his time doing other stuff instead of downvoting comments.

I seem to be the lone dissenter here, but I am unhappy about the ban.

I am also a lone dissenter who is unhappy about the ban.

Why not just ban him from further karma voting? Why ban him from posting? His posts and comments were good enough to get him plenty of karma which was required for him to even mass downvote other people in the first place.

2drethelin7yAs the topic seems to imply: they don't actually seem to have a way to keep him from using his karma.

They are quite capable of removing all his karma, or even setting it very negative, which would remove his ability to downvote. To the extent there are technical problems, they could give him a temporary ban while these are worked out.

Perma-ban is a deliberate choice by the moderator(s), not something they were forced into.

5Viliam_Bur7yBy the way, what are the consequences of low karma? Not being able to downvote, not being able to post articles... anything else?
9Emile7yBelow some negative karma threshold, there is a forced delay between comments (after posting a comment you have to wait a few minutes before you can post again).
8IlyaShpitser5yHi. I don't care about karma very much (and thus about downvoting). I am ok with my comments standing on merits not on numbers, and people using my name rather than a number as a quality shortcut if they really want one. I am perfectly happy to see that dude "not here," just based on the type of dude he is (not even based on his ideas). These types of dudes will ruin a community in a hurry, both by attracting more like themselves, and encouraging the more reasonable to leave. This is why I kept saying he needs to find another place on the internet to debate his politics. I have zero (0) problems with virtue ethical banning.
6someonewrongonthenet7yAs long as we're giving opinions on that: While many of his comments were interesting in an idiosyncratic, contrarian sort of way, I can't claim I've ever actually gained any insight from any of his comments. I agree that the ban won't help, though - what has happened is just a natural consequence of people upvoting "interesting" instead of "rationality-improving" (which, paradoxically seems to have created userbase shifts which cause things to ultimately be less interesting)
6NancyLebovitz7yI've wondered about what those who liked about Nier's contributions liked about them. Was he doing decent work on the technical topics I don't follow?

A decent fraction of his posts hard hitting and solid, usually saying something in a way that clearly and effectively got the point across. However, a much larger fraction of his posts were one-liner quips and thinly disguised political screeds. I ended up downvoting more than upvoting, but I did upvote.

7someonewrongonthenet7yTo be honest, I think people enjoyed his style more than his substance. The core lesswrong community (at least, back when I was more active) don't downvote to disagree. They upvote when something is thought provoking (as contrarian politics tends to be), they upvote novelty (again, contrarian politics) and they are more tolerant of critical tones than other parts of the net. So even though there wasn't much true insight and most people disagree with most of his opinions, it was interesting enough to read. I know I really enjoyed the influx of reactionaries for the first few months because it was a new and exciting thing...but then it kind of got tiresome - especially when reactionary voices started dominating completely unrelated conversations and influencing votes completely out of proportion to the number of members who actually held those views. Somehow, the reactionary users we had were also among the most active users, and naturally, they liked talking about politics. (Please note: While I did not explicitly say it, the above implies by connotation that Nier and his unethical practices are reflective of reactionaries in general. This is unintentional. What I AM saying is that the reason Neir was upvoted is the same reason that reactionaries were upvoted, and the things I disliked about Nier's writings is the same thing that I dislike about many but certainly not all of the reactionary user's writings - in short, compelling style and novelty but failure to use parsimony and substance, too much confidence in opinions reached via long chains of mostly inference - even when they wrote on non-political topics. What I'm NOT saying is that all reactionary users are behaving unethically in the manner of Neir.)
7Nornagest7yHis stuff was occasionally interestingly contrarian. I think it's useful to have a few people around with political/social opinions outside the usual LW space of lukewarm leftist to libertarian to technocrat, if only to help avoid groupthink. On the other hand, while it's nice to have someone to point out that the emperor is naked, it usually needs to be done in a way that's relatively hard to dismiss as a hateful diatribe.
3falenas1087yAgreed. Though, getting any change to this site (minor or major) has proven to be extremely difficult. I approve of this step over nothing, though I do hope dekarmification does happen.

Thanks, Kaj, you are a hero!!!

Sorry for the pressure; I have already removed my post. Some clarifications: (1) It was not aimed only towards you personally. I know you hate some aspects of this job; and perhaps that is a good thing. But if you would hate it too much, then the logical solution would be that the Powers would appoint additional moderator, less averse against this kind of dirty work. (2) I was afraid that the actual result would be something less than ban and disclosure. A quiet solution behind the scenes would leave too many open questions, e.g. did we have only one mass downvoter, or more of them? The victims deserved an answer. Leaving the decision to community could lead to a popularity contest between political factions. (3) I believe than banning a user from logging in to LW should be very easy: just go to the database and change their password, that's all. If there is a chance to regenerate the lost password by e-mail, then remove their e-mail too. Or just change their password to "xyz", log in under their username, go to preferences, and click "Delete".

I hope this will lead to better trust and relationships among the LW users.

Thank you!

Though the biggest part of the credit belongs to jackk, for doing the technical work that allowed us to actually establish Eugine's guilt and for helping with the technical process of banning him.

6tut7yWe still don't know. But now there is a precedent for what to do about them, which might act as a deterrent.
1MugaSofer7yWell, there were at least two. [Cite.] [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kfq/moderator_action_eugine_nier_is_now_banned_for/b2jr] But that individual only targeted me, so I suppose every other mass-downvoter could have been Eugine.

I'd like to just add a quick note that I think is worth emphasizing for people reading this thread: there's an obvious temptation to read Eugine's actions as reflecting his political and philosophical viewpoints here, and it wouldn't even be that hard to think of post-hoc hypotheses connecting them. Please don't do this. I caught myself starting to do it, and it really isn't helpful. Events like this say more about individuals than their belief systems.

Connecting a specific political view point to this behavior is a post-hoc hypothesis.

But perhaps it was possible to predict in advance that if this happens, it will more likely be done by a person with strong political opinions (of any kind).

However, that lesson is already included in understanding that "politics is the mindkiller".

8VAuroch7yHis downvotes were certainly largely politically/philosophically motivated; I and several other people (off the top of my head the only other name I remember was daenerys) noted the downvote floods beginning specifically after debating "Culture War"-type topics; LGBT issues, feminism, racism, etc. I don't think that's what you intended to say, but it's an easy misreading, so clearing that up.
5JoshuaZ7yOh sure, (I was potentially downvoted for the same reason). The point isn't that they weren't politically motivated but rather that one shouldn't think the inclination to defect in this fashion is somehow more connected to a specific political viewpoint. Someone on the end opposite Eugine on these issues could easily be motivated to do the same thing.

For the sake of completeness:

other users whose downvoters I asked Jack to look at were brazil84, Desrtopa, NancyLebovitz, and JoshuaZ. A couple of them might have been the targets of mass downvoting (by other users) as well, but I did not feel that the pattern of downvote totals was sufficient to establish this beyond a reasonable doubt. They're encouraged to contact the moderators in case they seem to be targeted in the future, however.

Fair enough. The period when I was suspecting that I was being mass down-voted was relatively short-- possibly less than a year. I could have been wrong, or your methods might have been suited for detecting longer term patterns.

Thanks for dealing with Eugene.

His comments showed a strong tendency to oppose empathy-- offhand, I can't think of anyone else at LW who went as far that direction. I'm proposing that anti-empathy attitudes might correlate with willingness to hurt people.

I have mixed feelings about Eugine's banning, since he was a member with whom I experienced friction more than most, possibly any others outside a short time frame, and I often considered him to be aggressive or uncharitable in his general demeanor to other members, but on the other hand, I considered him to be an occasional source of valuable input.

Although it's probably an ignoble motivation, I think I'm also influenced by the fact that I still occasionally frequent other sites online where Eugine is likely to still frequent, and the prospect of hearing him, or more likely other reactionaries, complaining about how his banning is a symptom of Less Wrong shutting out reactionary voices, is liable to be obnoxious.

6brazil847yThank you for letting me know about this. Also, even if you are not sure beyond a reasonable doubt, would you mind undoing the mass downvote? I realize it's a bit immature and shameful for me to care about it, but if it's not too much trouble I would prefer to have my karmassassination undone. It seems to me that the standard for banning someone should not necessarily be the same as the standard for undoing a mass downvote. It's not that big of a deal to me. (If it were, I would have set up a sock puppet account to boost my karma score.) But still, I care a little bit. Also, in another exchange, another poster (I believe it was Jack - hopefully not the same Jack) seized upon my negative karma ratio as a justification for not answering a question I asked. I realize that this was just a rationalization, but it's still annoying.

I don't think that I'd feel comfortable reversing someone's votes if I wasn't reasonably certain that they had actually been abusing the system.

2brazil847yWell what exactly is the source of your doubt? As I recall, somebody down-voted most or all of my posts in the space of a few hours. Do you agree that this happened?

So with several of the other users that Eugine had hit, the difference between his downvote total and that of the second-highest downvoter was quite drastic: in one case, there were 26 times as many downvotes from Eugine as from the second highest downvoter.

The pattern is different in your case: the top ten downvote balances against your account are 150, 74, 55, 36, 32, 31, 28, 20, 19, 17. (Eugine doesn't appear to have hit you, as he isn't included in this list.) It's plausible that the 150 person is a mass downvoter, and also that the 74 person is, given that the 74 person also had a suspiciously high downvote count towards another person. But at the same time, it also looks like there were a lot of people downvoting your comments. If I assume that most of the users in this list were "legitimate" downvoters, then I'm unsure of whether this data alone is sufficient to indicate exactly who the mass downvoter(s) was. The 150 person is the most likely culprit, but maybe it was several of the lower-ranking ones acting independently from each other, and the 150 one just happened to see a lot of your comments that he didn't naturally like? Whose downvotes should I have reverse... (read more)

Just based on brazil84's karma total, the 150 number seems unlikely to be more than 50% of brazil84's posts. It seems very much within the margin of statistical error that there would be a number that high, especially given the other users with large numbers of downvotes against brazil84. I think reversing the votes on this amount of evidence would be a pretty big stretch, fwiw (despite being strongly in favor of the earlier ban as well as reversing all of Eugine's votes).

2brazil847yWhen the mass downvoting took place, I had a lot fewer posts.
2brazil847yDoes the system tell you when the downvotes were made?
0Kaj_Sotala7yThe report jackk gave me doesn't, at least. I don't know whether that information would be available aomewhere.
0brazil847yFollowup: So will you take the actions I suggested? They seem pretty simple and easy and I can't think of why you wouldn't do them if your true reason is doubt. Thank you :)
5Kaj_Sotala7yThe main reason is that digging up the information about the specific downvotes would be more work for jackk and I'm not sure how burdened he is with the work that he's already doing. (Also more work for me.) But I'll ask him once he gets done with the current stuff he's doing for this whole thing.
0brazil847yHave you asked him? It's been a couple months now. TIA.
5Kaj_Sotala7yNo, I'm sorry. You could ask Viliam_Bur to do it [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/kza/meta_new_lw_moderator_viliam_bur/].
-4brazil847yI did, but why not? I have a hypothesis but it's not very flattering to you.
8Kaj_Sotala7yGeneral ughy [http://lesswrong.com/lw/21b/ugh_fields/] feelings around doing anything related to downvote investigations and an unwillingness to do anything that would cause me to spend more time doing them. Possible reasons for those ughy feelings include an aversion to doing anything confrontational (including punishing mass downvoters), a high uncertainty of what should be considered unacceptable behavior and low confidence in my ability to accurately determine what counts as karmassassination, and an unwillingness to bother people (including jackk) unless absolutely necessary. Not all of those reasons necessarily applied in your case, but it was close enough to trigger the emotional association.
4brazil847yI'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the persons who downvoted me a lot have significantly more popular views than those of Eugine_Nier.
2Kaj_Sotala7yI don't actually remember who the people who downvoted you are. I'd have to look them up again.
-1brazil847yThen what I would do is this: First, ask if there is a record of the time of the downvotes. If there were a large number over a short time period, you can be very confident that it's karmassassination. If that information isn't available, then just look at my posts which were downvoted by Senor 150 and compare it to my actual chronological posting history. If there is a long string of chronologically uninterrupted downvotes, you can be very confident that it's karmassassination.

What about the attack on MugaSofer from May 2013 (ticket on the issue tracker)?

I just logged back on after a brief absence from the site (a few days) to find I seem to have been genuinely karmassassinated. As far as I can tell, every comment I ever made has been downvoted, which was apparently enough to put me from 1200+ karma to -80

I missed that. I'll ask Jack to take a look.

A couple other cases, if they're worth looking at —

http://lesswrong.com/lw/9l7/whats_going_on_here/ (RobertLumley, January 2012)

http://lesswrong.com/lw/ir4/open_thread_september_30_october_6_2013/9uv4 (me, October 2013 et seq.)

9Kaj_Sotala7yYou have 1579 downvotes from Eugine. Robert looks to have a number of downvotes from several low-karma (20ish) users who, based on the style of their usernames and comments, look like they were all socks of a single person. Not sure what to do about that.

MugaSofer does have a lot of downvotes from Eugine, but Eugine doesn't seem to be the main culprit; there's another user with a downvote balance of 1625 votes against MugaSofer.

Given that I'm not aware of this other user having engaged in a systematic downvoting of anyone else, and given that MugaSofer expressed a preference for not having the mass downvoters banned, I will just issue that user a warning as well as let MugaSofer know who was downvoting him. MugaSofer may choose to make that information public or keep it between the two of them, as he wishes. I'll also ask if the downvotes of that person could be undone.

Thank you, Kaj. I really do appreciate your handling of this, if I haven't said that already; I know these things can be difficult.

I will just issue that user a warning as well as let MugaSofer know who was downvoting him. MugaSofer may choose to make that information public or keep it between the two of them, as he wishes.

I got your message, and I've received an apology and explanation from the person in question. I think I'll keep their identity quiet, although - in the interests of lessening wrongness - anyone who cares, if such a person exists, should PM me and we can talk about it.

(I think Eugine's downvotes are just that: a whole lot of downvotes. We've disagreed a few times, I'm not too surprised. Still, it's a shame to see him go.)

Eugine_Nier was exactly who I was referring to in the other thread about mass downvoting when I said I had noticed certain members who had a long string of "-1" votes on comments they were replying to and with which they disagreed.

I think he was a perfect example of the flaw in the karma system, but to see him investigated and removed for this behavior is very encouraging.

Thank you for doing this.

I was still posting on LW after the downvoting started, but I was definitely coming to the site less, reading less, and especially posting less. I'm not sure if was entirely due to the downvoting, as it started about when people were saying the quality of posts started to decrease. But for me, just going on to LW and seeing the decreased karma became a bit of an ugh field.

Question: Daenarys rarely posts now and by her description part of that was due to the systematic downvoting. Has someone contacted her ourside LW to let her know this has happened?

I believe that she is aware of it thanks to someone sharing the link to this post on Facebook.

3Stuart_Armstrong7yYou want to check to be sure?

Hi Stuart! Swimmer is correct; ChrisHallquist posted a link to this on my facebook wall. Personally, I'm glad Eugine is gone, because even without the downvoting he was an asshole. And having anti-feminist or biorealist assholes running around is a great way to drive off women and minorities.

Anyways, I prefer the walled garden, and the conversational tone, and the positive emotional support that Facebook provides, so I doubt I'll come back to posting here.

I'm still extremely active in the meatspace community though, and I have a friend who will be posting some very exciting news here in a couple days about a new rationality non-profit! Also, I'm moving to NYC, and a group of us are starting up a new rationalist house there.

ETA: Another upside of posting on facebook is that it does a better job of raising the general sanity waterline than posting here. It exposes rationality ideas and conversations in a friendly/humanising way to people who would never have sought them out (all my non-rationality friends), and it allows them to participate and interact with those ideas in a much more supportive way. :)

Personally, I'm glad Eugine is gone, because even without the downvoting he was an asshole. And having anti-feminist or biorealist assholes running around is a great way to drive off women and minorities.

I applaud the decision to ban Eugine_Nier for abusing the karma system, but I'm a bit disturbed by the idea that espousing certain views could be a valid reason for banning a user. I agree with the goal of attracting more women and minorities, but I think there are good reasons to believe this is not best accomplished by thought policing.

(Upon reading your comment more carefully, it is now unclear to me whether you are saying that having anti-feminist and biorealist views could be a valid reason for banning someone. It seems you are kind of suggesting that, though I'm not sure.)

I'm currently driving cross country and typing this on my phone at a rest stop so I can't comment as much as I would like, but I DO want to clarify that my post meant what it said and nothing more. Eugine himself was an asshole. He ALSO was a biorealist and an anti feminist. When you combine those traits in a prolific user they're likely to drive away women and minorities.

Even if it's epistemically true, discussing those issues in an assholey way is instrumentally unhelpful (for people with goals at all similar to mine).

3Sophronius7yToo much censorship is dangerous, but too little censorship is dangerous too. It's true that Less Wrong would die if every dissenting opinion were to be culled. However, if Less Wrong were to be overrun by irrational jerks without moderators taking some sort of action, Less Wrong would die too. Would you really oppose banning literal Nazis from posting their views on this forum? Because if so, I find your lack of censorship disturbing. Asking "should we ban people for their views or should we have freedom of speech?" is a false dilemma. The correct question is: "how much censorship should we have relative to freedom of speech, and which views should we ban if any?"

which views should we ban?

I nominate socialists. Socialist regimes killed more people than nazi regimes.

(Just joking. I mean, the numbers are correct, but I actually don't support censorship.)

-2[anonymous]7yPer unit time per capita or totally? Also, the ones the Nazis killed [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust] were better [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkenazi_Jewish_intelligence] ;-)
4V_V7yI think that the Khmer Rouge hold the per capita record, and the Soviets (*) the total one. Dunno about per unit time. ( * I'm not counting the Great Chinese Famine, since it was apparently caused by incompetence rather than deliberate malice.)
-4Sophronius7yJokes aside, I actually think it's that kind of post that we should have a community norm against. Saying "Neo reactionaries are evil racists" or "Socialist regimes killed the most people!" is just as inflammatory as "black people are less intelligent than whites". And what use does it serve? A single comment is no cause for a ban of course, but if someone will look for any excuse to say that neoreactionaries are evil or blacks are inferior or socialists suck, and they post about it in every thread they can, then don't you think they should be banned?

Let me explain my background. I grew up in a socialist country. Luckily, no one from my family or friends was a target of the regime, and it ended when I was 13. Only then I learned about what happened to other people. (You know, stuff like: secret police knocks on your door at midnight, they take your family member away, and you never seem them again. Later someone unofficially tells you they died during interrogation. They warn you that unless you shut up, you could be next. Also, you, your children, and your grandchildren will never be allowed to get to university or have a decent job, because you are relatives of a traitor, therefore politically unreliable. The regime hates you, but you are not allowed to leave the country, and will be killed if you try.) There was censorship to prevent me from learning sooner. I believed I was living in a happy paradise. Many people believe it today. (Many people also believe holocaust was a hoax, for similar psychological reasons.)

I remember a teacher at elementary school telling me: "Viliam, you think independently. You will have a lot of problems when you grow up." I didn't quite understand that, then. Now I do. So I guess I was l... (read more)

3Sophronius7yThank you for taking the time to write all that, it helps me see where you are coming from. You clearly have a large framework which you are basing your views on, but the thing you have to keep in mind is that I do, too. I have several partially-written posts about this which I hope to post on Less Wrong one day, but I’m very worried they’ll be misconstrued because it’s such a difficult subject. The last thing I want to do is defend the practices of oppressive regimes, believe me. I’m worried that people just read my posts thinking “oh he is defending censorship, censorship is evil, downvote” without thinking about what I’m actually saying. “Censorship” is just a word. All of my arguments work just as well for “having a community norm against” something as opposed to “censoring” it. The problem is a framing issue, I think. People keep seeing something like censorship as a bad thing period, because it is something that’s used by oppressive regimes. However, killing people is also used by oppressive regimes, and yet I still wouldn’t promote total pacifism. Your post reads to me like Ghandi saying that the Nazi’s should be opposed non-violently: I do believe that there is wisdom in what you say, but that’s going much too far. The thing you have to realize is that if all the nice and reasonable people in the world go around worrying that if they fight monsters they will themselves become monsters, the monsters always win because they’re the only ones willing to fight. My view on killing is this: The crucial issue is who is being killed and why, and what principle you are using to determine who to kill. My view on censorship is this: The crucial issue is what view is being censored and why, and what principle you are using to determine what to censor. Censoring a view just because you disagree with it is just as wrong as killing someone just because they disagree with you. Getting everybody who disagrees with me to shut up wouldn’t actually make for the kind of world I
7Viliam_Bur7yUhm, no. I mean, this is exaggerating; we are not having any physical violence here. Worst case: poisoning of minds. (I believe Yvain handled [http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/10/20/the-anti-reactionary-faq/] the case of neo-reactionaries sufficiently, if that's what we are talking about here.) What if there are two competing religions; each one of them evil in a different way. And one missionary approaches you with an offer that if you help him establish the holy inquisition, he will rid you of those evil heretics from the other side. Is it a good idea to give him the power?
3Sophronius7yYes of course it's an exaggeration, but it's the same meta-type of error: Seeing X used for evil and therefore declaring that all X is evil and anyone who says X isn't always evil is either evil or stupid themselves. It's the same mistake as the one Neoreactionaries always complain about: "Perceived differences based on race or sex have been used to excuse evil, therefore anyone who says there are differences between races or sexes is evil!" And poisoning of minds is very, very bad. People always seem to assume that physical violence is somehow worse than mental violence, but it's just not true. Ideas can can be a lot more dangerous than guns. (of course all of this is a bit moot since I'm not actually proposing banning democrats/republicans/race research/feminism or anything like that) Of course not, why would I? Why are you asking this? Are you implying that in the real world, both sides to any conflict are always equally evil? Because that definitely isn't the case in my experience.
7Viliam_Bur7yDidn't say "equally". Seems to me that so far we had two significant attempts at suppressing opinions on LW. 1) Eugine's one-person guerilla war of mass downvoting. Had some success for a few months, resulted in a ban. 2) Repeated suggestions that we should remove politically incorrect speech, because allegedly women don't like it. Multiple proponents, no success yet. I'm not sure which one of these is more dangerous; I could find arguments for either side. Eugine actually did censor the site for a while. However, he was finally banned, and if someone tries to do the same thing, they will probably get banned, too (hopefully much sooner). Also, his actions didn't have popular support. On the other hand, censhorship of politically incorrect ideas is proposed repeatedly, by multiple people, openly in public. They demand that their norms become the official norms of the website, enforced by moderators. Then I believe most people here want to have a debate without any political group dominating the website. About half of them don't want to see here any politics at all, and I guess the other half would be okay with occassional, as rational as possible, polite debate about political topics.
4Username7yIf the religion is so obviously harmful why is it catching on? To paraphrase Kaj, why is it the place of individual people to decide that this religion needs censorship?
9jsteinhardt7yFarmville must be an excellent game because so many people play it.

Saying "Neo reactionaries are evil racists" or "Socialist regimes killed the most people!" is just as inflammatory as "black people are less intelligent than whites". And what use does it serve?

Well, two of those three statements are falsifiable statements that are useful for making predictions about the future.

9MugaSofer7yWell. All three of them are falsifiable, barring quibbles over definition. "Socialist regimes killed the most people!" may or may not be useful for making predictions - it's not useful for making predictions about, say, the USSR - because it doesn't exist now. But on the other hand, it created chains of cause and effect still in existence, and we would like to predict those. "Neo reactionaries are evil racists" seems the most subjective, in that we are more confused about "evil" than "killing" or "intelligence". But as long as we taboo "evil", I don't see how it could possibly be a useless-for-prediction, impossible-to-falsify statement. "black people are less intelligent than whites" pretty clearly has the most confounders and controversy, but it's certainly falsifiable in principle, and both sides would argue that it has already been tested, I think. On the gripping hand, all three seem like prime candidates for political mind-killing.
0[anonymous]7yYou'd have to taboo “racists” too though. (And tabooing “evil” is an almost FAI-complete problem, anyway.)
6Pablo7yFair enough--the value of free speech needs to be weighed against other values that might be promoted by censoring specific viewpoints. Still, I think there are good rule-utilitarian grounds for making free speech the default position and for requiring a high standard of proof for deviating from that default in a particular case. The considerations for censoring nazism probably meet that standard, whereas I don't think that standard is met in the case of anti-feminism or biorealism. (The latter, in particular, seems to consist primarily in certain factual rather than normative claims, and there are particularly strong reasons against censoring views of that sort.) Note, too, that the karma system might in most cases allow the community to discourage certain viewpoints from being expressed without the need to resort to censorship.

If I understand it correctly, the tradition of "not providing Nazis platforms for free speech" came from history when Nazis used violence against their opponents. I mean... it sounds crazy if you are polite and fair enough to invite them to a debate table, they use it to debate with you and express their beliefs... and on the way home from the debate they kill you.

So it's something like: "Don't try to cooperate with a known DefectBot".

The question is, these days, which people use extra-debate tools to silence their opponents?

7Sophronius7yYes, precisely! This is what I think should be the golden standard for censorship. Ask yourself if the other person would try to censor you if they thought they could get away with it even if you were nice to them, and if the answer is yes it is acceptable (but not necessarily desirable!) to censor them. So an honest and reasonable bio-realist should not be censored, but Eugine Nier should be. It's simply a matter of memetic self-defence.

The problem is how does one distinguish someone defecting because he's dealing with a DefectBot with someone defecting because he is a DefectBot.

6Sophronius7yThe same way you distinguish between someone who murders a person in order to steal their money and someone who kills a person in self defence: By evaluating on a case-by-case basis to the best of your ability. It's not always easy, but it sure beats not bothering to make the distinction. (In this case I think it's quite obvious that Eugine Nier is the DefectBot and not Kaj_Sotala.)
1Username7yAnd it wasn't the people Eugine Nier was downvoting?
6pragmatist7yNo, it wasn't. Do you have any reason to think it was?
1Username7yWell Eugine seemed to think so.
3pragmatist7yHe seemed to think they were not rational enough to participate on this site. That's not the same as being a DefectBot.
2drethelin7yImagine the distance to the "cooperate" button is slightly higher than the "defect" button. Someone who can't reach the cooperate button might not mean any harm. But from your point of view, they might as well be a defectbot.
8MugaSofer7yThat isn't what a DefectBot is. A DefectBot is an agent that would defect in every position, including this one. For example, the Nazis might do everything in their power to hurt you now (such as attacking you on the way home), and when they are in power (such as, well, I think we all know the canonical example of that.) On the other hand, they might act nice now but, you suspect, defect when they find themselves in power. Or they might attack as hard as they can now, but be generous in victory. Neither of those are DefectBot.
3drethelin7yThat's funny because I view progressives as the exact group that would instantly throw me under the bus the moment I didn't want to help them against someone else. Neoreactionaries at least propose to leave me alone.
8[anonymous]7yI'm not excited about the NR plans for gay people if they ever come to power. Moldbug is charmingly neutral on the issue, but many of the others most certainly are not.
2Jiro7yIt is my impression that neoreactionaries want a non-democratic government. Surely this non-democratic government will make laws that you are required to obey, right?
3drethelin7yMost neo reactionaries I read believe in something called Exit whereby if you want you can get the hell out. Contrast this to the ussr or how America will continue to tax you for something like 10 years if you want to emigrate.
2Jiro7yExiting isn't cost-free, though. Most people won't even exit by moving to a different state in the US, just because of all the direct and indirect costs of moving.
3drethelin7ythis is true, and one reason why I'm not a neoreactionary. But I'd still rather be deported than gulagged.
-2pragmatist7yI think you're confusing progressives with Stalinists.
3drethelin7yI think you're confusing "responding to a point someone is trying to make" and "making fun of someone". Maybe the average progressive has neither the power or the inclination to put me in a gulag but the side of things that they historically have lent their power and rhetoric to sure does. I don't feel it's particularly likely to happen in the near future but I also recognize that no one seemed to have predicted the outcome ahead of time the last time. Or to put it another way: Stalinists are on a continuum with progressives. They are not a different kind of thing.
4pragmatist7yFair point. My comment was unnecessarily snarky. There have been sections of the progressive left that lent their power and rhetoric to support Soviet communism. There have also been significant sections of the progressive left that lent their power and rhetoric to vociferously oppose Soviet communism. Andrei Sakharov, Vaclav Havel, Isaiah Berlin, Albert Camus and George Orwell -- a few big names that come to mind immediately -- all had political views that would probably classify them as "progressive" in today's political climate. In addition, progressives have been at the forefront of most movements to expand civil liberties in the 20th century. If you just focus on progressivism's criticisms of capitalism and conservatism, then yeah, it doesn't seem like a different kind of thing from Stalinism. But that ignores another prominent tendency in the history of the movement -- a strong strain of civil libertarianism (the ACLU, for instance, is regarded by many as a progressive institution) -- which is qualitatively distinct from Stalinism.
2V_V7yI'm not sure what you mean by "progressives", but it seems to me that "liberals" or "social-democrats" are actually closer to libertarians in terms of personal freedoms, while Soviet-style socialists are closer to fascists and theocrats on these issues. The political spectrum has at least two dimensions: personal freedoms and economic freedoms.
2Lumifer7yI would probably put it as "The more power progressives get, the more they tend to evolve towards stalinists". After all you've got to protect the people against the horrors of capitalism.
0[anonymous]7yI was under the impression that "Exit" was the means by which they were going to establish their own utopia [http://anarchopapist.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/subvert-or-exit/], that is, by exiting whichever one they were living in currently, rather than a fundamental right for us unlucky proles.
2JoshuaZ7yI think you are going to run into problems here. I suspect that most adherents of many ideologies would censor opposing views if they could get away with it.
6Sophronius7yYes, that's a very reasonable position to take, and I'm leaning the same way. I see the issue as being very similar to the question of whether or not a society should condone killing people: It makes perfect sense to have a general rule that says you can't, but sometimes you have no choice. Pacifism [http://lesswrong.com/lw/c1/wellkept_gardens_die_by_pacifism/] is not the solution here. The karma system does not solve this problem because a small number of people can have a disproportionate impact simply by voting more. And of course, extremists care more and so are more likely to vote. My post above is now at -3: Is this because the community disapproves? Or is it because 3 bio realists felt threatened by the notion that we should ban literal nazis because it might extend to them as well? I am not at all convinced it's the former.
-4buybuydandavis7yBut the clear implication is that people having those views are "assholes".
4MugaSofer7yDaenerys, since there seems to be some uncertainty: Are you saying that you would prefer if LessWrong increased the height of it's metaphorical wall, keeping out "anti-feminist or biorealist assholes"? Or are you saying that the model of a public forum is inherently "a great way to drive off women and minorities", and thus you don't use LessWrong and don't care about the moderation policy much? I've seen different people reading your comment different ways.

Daenerys, since there seems to be some uncertainty:

Are you saying that you would prefer if LessWrong increased the height of it's metaphorical wall, keeping out "anti-feminist or biorealist assholes"?

Or are you saying that the model of a public forum is inherently "a great way to drive off women and minorities", and thus you don't use LessWrong and don't care about the moderation policy much?

I've seen different people reading your comment different ways.

Much closer to the latter. I am not making any policy recommendations about LW moderation. I don't really care, since I'm not on LW anymore (except for things like this where people ask me specifically something).

I said that one of the reasons I prefer Facebook is that it's a walled garden. I did NOT say that I want LessWrong to be a walled garden. I would think neo-reactionaries would support the idea of just going to the place that has the rules you like/ voting with your feet.

I do think there can be public forums that do not drive off women and minorities, which is where I disagree with your second statement.

I do not think all biorealists or antifeminists are assholes. I thought EUGINE was an asshole. He ... (read more)

9MugaSofer7yExcellent, I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you for clarifying. Now, in fairness, I wouldn't characterize people misunderstanding as willful, assholeish misunderstanding. Applying the Principle of Charity is the reason I understood you in the first place, right? As I said, different people interpreted your phrasing in different ways; your phrasing was genuinely ambiguous regarding whether the operative word was "asshole" or "biorealist". I guess this shows our default assumptions about ... sentences? Thanks for the Rationality Compliment, I'm flattered :)
0[anonymous]7yETA: Another upside of posting on facebook is that it does a better job of raising the general sanity waterline than posting here. It exposes rationality ideas and conversations in a friendly/humanising way to people who would never have sought them out (all my non-rationality friends), and it allows them to participate and interact with those ideas in a much more supportive way. :)
-1Daniel_Burfoot7yHeinrich Himmler is a racist. Eugene_Nier, not so much. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/10860492/Are-we-all-racist-now.html]
5JoshuaZ7yNon-central fallacy or focusing on disputing definitions possibly?
5daenerys7yI'm pretty sure (but don't feel like spending time tracking down examples, so I could be wrong) that I've seen Eugine saying biorealist things. I changed "racist" to "biorealist" in my comment, if you don't think the two should be equated.
7Daniel_Burfoot7yI commend you for your reasonableness, which quality seems increasingly rare in the modern world.
4[anonymous]7yAre you implying that none of EN's contributions were much more problematic than saying “Negro spirituals”?
-3buybuydandavis7yMy laugh for the evening.
-3buybuydandavis7yA fine example of "asshole" = "those who disagree with my values". Should those who disagree similarly start whooping it up for banning feminists and biodenialists? Or should they just be similarly denigrating them as a matter of course? More and more, I'm thinking they need to fight back in kind. It's strange that the supposedly evil, nasty reactionaries are social pacifists who refuse to respond with a little tit for the incessant tat they receive. Charming to see all the karma upvotes going to a post which denigrated a whole swath of users as "assholes" because of their beliefs. Real "friendly/humanising".
8MugaSofer7yNo way you could have seen this comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kfq/moderator_action_eugine_nier_is_now_banned_for/b3iu] when you wrote this, so here's a heads up - it turns out that's not how it was meant. The emphasis was intended on "asshole", not "biorealist", if you see what I mean - "biorealist" is the reason it drives off "women and minorities" specifically, not the reason he was an asshole.
2Lumifer7yYes, but I get the impression that the assholiness threshold/criterion is different for biorealists and antifeminists on the one hand and SJWs on the other.
0Risto_Saarelma7yI just realized the non-asshole examples list didn't include an attempt of naming a non-asshole biorealist. Then started wondering how it would go if you tried giving examples of non-asshole biorealists or even assert the possibility of one existing on a SJ-friendly forum.
-3buybuydandavis7yI did not. I had a lot of direct replies that were taking my attention. That's an inference you might make from the available data. Perhaps it is even true. I think that by the ordinary usage of the English language, my interpretation of the text is more consistent with what was written than the interpretation you quote. If you really want to hear my close textual analysis, I would oblige, but I don't see a lot of mileage in it. (Penn Jillette an asshole? Really? To me, he seems incredibly gracious to others, often to the point of being overly deferential.)
3MugaSofer7yAlso, it was posted three days after you wrote your comment. I can see how that might present a bit of a challenge. I was genuinely confused to see someone interpreting it another way, if that helps your analysis - the other interpretation hadn't occurred to me. But yes, I suppose it's definitely possible they simply leaped on a convenient excuse.
5Nornagest7yNot that I'm a fan of the asshole == ideological opponent mentality, but we are talking about a guy who spent probably cumulative days of his time downvoting people in a self-confessed effort to drive them away from the forum. That doesn't sound like the behavior of a social pacifist to me. Indeed, it sounds quite a bit like the behavior of an asshole.
2buybuydandavis7ySee the original quote: We're not talking about downvoting, we're talking about biorealists and antifeminists. They're the assholes.
2Nornagest7yHow peculiar. I could have sworn I quoted you talking about "evil, nasty reactionaries", as typified in this context by Eugine_Nier. I'm not trying to endorse Daenerys' apparent opinion re: biorealists and antifeminists, as you may have gleaned from the fact that I directly said I disagree with it. But you're going too far in the other direction. You may, of course, make whatever assertions you please regarding the general behavior of groups he may belong to, but I feel it's somewhat disingenuous to cast any of those groups as entirely innocent of social wrongdoing ("social pacifists") when this entire friggin' thread is about social wrongdoing by a member of those groups. If you're instead going for some kind of No True Scotsman deal, it'd help to say that Eugine's not a true Scotsman.
-1buybuydandavis7yThe sarcastic, not using my own voice tone didn't come through, even from the context? Did you genuinely think I was earnestly calling reactionaries evil? If not, this seems like a complete red herring. He's a member of LessWrong too. Is everyone here an asshole? Two very different cases. Eugine, at least by his own argument, was voting down people with a low rationality quotient. He has been widely condemned by all, including the evil reactionaries, and was banned. daenerys called a lot of people on the list assholes based on them having opinions she disagreed with, and suggested they be banned for the same. She was widely upvoted. Generalizations are about general trends, and not absolute truths admitting of no exceptions. Which side heaps abuse on the other, and suggests sanctions against the other? Which side defends their own? What's the broad trend? You keep coming back to Eugine, but neither daenerys nor I were predominantly talking about Eugine. Go to my previous comment in this thread. Currently, two downvotes for an accurate correction of your misrepresentation of her original statement. Do you want to further debate that point, or will you grant my reading? If so, isn't it odd that a couple of people on the list are downvoting a clearly accurate interpretation of the text that corrects a clearly inaccurate misinterpretation. Upvotes for calling people assholes and suggesting they be banned for their beliefs, downvotes for accurate analysis. The voting seems to align better with ideology than truth, and is positive for one ideology, and negative for the other. Which is the trend I'm pointing out.
5MugaSofer7yPoint of order: can you quote where they said being reactionary should be a banning offence? Because I don't see it.
2[anonymous]7yThat's because it's not there.
1wedrifid7yI'm not sure what 'biodenialists' are exactly but on the basis that the word ends with "ists" it's reasonably unlikely that any particular social-politically active '*ist' will be of net value, given the change such agendas have on thought.
0buybuydandavis7yPost I was replying to used the term

I endorse this decision and think more mod action in general is good

I had a brief period of block down votes (it was obvious, as only old comments were being downvoted, and it was a continual, regular process), but it passed quickly.

I think the ban was justified because of the number of people targeted. Going after one person is bad, but vendettas are understandable (if not approved). But going after huge amounts of people... Well, there we have to multiply.

As for those deploring the ban, I can see your deontological position, but do you think that Less Wrong is going to become measurably worse because of this decision?

As for those deploring the ban, I can see your deontological position, but do you think that Less Wrong is going to become measurably worse because of this decision?

I've been thinking of the ban as deontological-- the premise is that Eugene has shown himself to be a sufficiently bad sort of person that he just isn't worth having around.

Perhaps it's a matter of competing deontological frameworks.

5Nornagest7ySurely that's virtue-ethical, not deontological?
1NancyLebovitz7yYou may be right. I thought deontogical covers all "do the right thing no matter what happens" systems.
1MugaSofer7yWhy? Seriously asking. I see no evidence that we were somehow powerless to stop this without banning him. But if that were the case I would definitely be in favor of doing so. Well ... yeah. Worse by one user. (It's not as if his contributions were terrible, remember, a troll that we're well rid of - Eugine was a high-karma user, that's how he was able to downvote so many comments.)

Unfortunately, it looks like while a ban prevents posting, it does not actually block a user from casting votes.

Is it not possible for an administrator to change the password on Eugine's account to something that would take Eugine a few decades to crack? Is it not possible for an administrator, having done that, to log on to Eugine's account and reverse the now-defined-against-the-rules votes, if not by script then by hand?

3shminux7ySeems like the best possible way to enact a ban, yes.

I'm pretty sure I was also a victim, if a rather recent and relatively small scale one, and I'm glad to see something was done. However much I told myself it wasn't really important, that karma's a horribly noisy measure, with a few slightly funny comments gaining me the majority of my karma while my most thoughtful contributions usually only gathered a handful, the block downvoting really did make me feel disinclined to post new comments. Banning seems like an extreme measure, and I guess I can see where people who think there should have been warnings are coming from, but I'm actually kind of surprised that it was all or nearly all one person, and given the amount of distress it seems to have caused, I think we can do without a person like that around here, even if he did sometimes contribute good comments.

5VAuroch7yPrecisely the same situation here. I almost stopped posting entirely after the first wave of downvotes he dumped on me.

Well, it's unfortunate that it came to this, but thank you for resolving it.

I do think it would be useful to update the stated policy with this piece of "case law", as it were; or with the principle that the voting system is intended to express comment on the content, not the contributor.

Have you guys given any thought to doing pagerankish stuff with karma?

2ChrisHallquist7yCan you elaborate more? I'm guessing you mean people with more karma --> their votes count more, but it isn't obvious how you do that in this context.
6gwern7yEver since https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advogato [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advogato] there have been a lot of proposed trust metrics. Many of them function like Pagerank: you start off with a set of 'seed' users and then propagate influence based on how well users match them.
5IlyaShpitser7yI agree, it is not obvious. Unlike morality though, this seems like the right application area for pagerank ideas. Example: if you want to know about someone in academia, you ask the top 20 people in a field to get a sensible idea. So it seems worthwhile to think about/experiment with. I think one would need to iterate, I don't think one can get a sensible system from the armchair.

This decision is final and will not be changed in response to possible follow-up objections.

How could you possibly know this?

I would interpret it as signaling the mod's resolve rather than expressing an iron-clad precommitment. Changing one's mind based on new information is certainly not a trait Kaj lacks.

I read it as specifically resolving not to be moved by a Clever Arguer, or even many clever arguers; i.e. precommitting not to cave to political pressure. That is exactly the position a mod should take.

Moderation doesn't have to be perfect, but it should not be fickle. Walking the line between being authoritative and being authoritarian is difficult. If a mod shrinks back from that, you get a failure mode where mod actions are reversible by pressure alone, and mod authority carries no weight. Of course, you can also have an opposite failure mode where the mod behaves dictatorially or else simply uses their power too lightly.

So far I think Kaj has handled this well, whether or not I agree with the specific punishment handed down. He's acted with both weight and care. Here's hoping that continues.

I read it as specifically resolving not to be moved by a Clever Arguer, or even many clever arguers; i.e. precommitting not to cave to political pressure.

It is also a disincentive against possible hundreds of comments debating what should have been done differently, etc. I am sure Kaj does not want to spend the rest of his life debating that.

Just remember the situation with the "basilisk", where Eliezer removed a few comments, and then years later we had threads after threads debating whether Eliezer should or shouldn't have done it, what he should have done instead, etc.

We should not punish moderators for making any decision by wasting additional hours of their time debating how wrong they were. I mean, we have less than one such decision per year, so it's not like we are living under a horrible oppressive censorship. Moderators have to make decisions, and of course someone will disagree. Especially on a website full of contrarians, saying that things should have been solved differently will always be the popular thing to do.

-3lmm7yIn fairness this seems like a sensible move, whether you agree with it or not. Whereas the basilisk handling was stupid any way I look at it.

Partially, I agree with you. Partially, I think it depends on how people spin it.

Many people disagreed with how the basilisk affair was handled, but I believe it was only two or three people who made an extraordinary effort to remind everyone about this incident for years, to write about it wherever Less Wrong was mentioned describing it as the most important and most characteristic event of the whole website, and maintained the hatchet job at RationalWiki.

If someone decides to invest the same amount of time and energy describing the censorship of the politically incorrect Eugine as the most important and defining moment of Less Wrong, they could also achieve impressive results. I am sure some neo-reactionary blogs will be happy to publish an article about how this totally proves their prophet Moldbug was correct, and Eugine became a victim when the always-moving-left Cthulhu swallowed the whole Less Wrong. Then the question is whether they will keep telling this to everyone for years, at every opportunity when Less Wrong will be mentioned; and whether they succeed to have as many readers as RationalWiki. It would only take one person or two.

2MugaSofer7yHere's a thought: would such a campaign funge against the RationalWiki thing? Because that seems important for considering the risks involved in these sort of moderator actions.
1Viliam_Bur7yYeah, maybe. Thanks for a positive thought. :)
3mwengler7yI think Kaj is trying to do a job he does not particularly want to do. I think that because he has said that is what is happening and even though he might be signalling, I tend to think that rationalists I respect are usually telling it straight. I think he is acquitting himself honorably and intelligently, even if I don't particularly agree with the result. My own values around rationality include the avoidance of stating inaccuracies in the name of signalling. They include not going "over the top" in response to "rule breaking" especially when the rules were not incredibly clear ahead of time. They include living by the consequences of the rules you do set up, so if people need to earn the right to downvote, and having earned it do something which is unpopular but was not explicitly against the rules, then going for a permanent ban AND pre-committing to hold your hands over your ears and scream (so you can't listen) if people start discussing why this might be a bad idea would seem to me to be a bad approach. If I were the mod, and I'm not, and I will never have nearly enough popularity/karma to be tapped on the shoulder, I would ban Eugine until he agreed not to do massive downvoting anymore. If he chose to stand on principle (whatever principle that might be) and refuse, then he would be banned as long as he felt that way. Another advantage of an approach like that is Eugine could be asked as part of staying on site to go through and reverse all of his own downvotes. It is not that hard to page through your own comments, see the ones you have downvoted, and click your downvote, cancelling it. If he were willing to agree not to do it again, and to go through and reverse what he had done, that would seem to suggest to me he should stay around. It would also solve the problems "we" still have of 1) how do we stop him from doing it again and 2) how do we go about reversing what he has done.
8Error7yI have a major problem with this approach. He believes those downvotes are merited. Attempting to compell him to act against that conviction would be...well, Very Not Cool with me. [ETA: I'm not sure how to phrase that as strongly as I mean it without also suggesting that I have a serious problem with you for suggesting it. I don't intend offense.] I'm not sure what else I can say without getting into arguing for or against this specific act of Kaj's, which I'm trying to avoid doing.
2MugaSofer7yHmm. Interesting. Why?
0mwengler7yLet me see if I have this straight. You would not want to "compel" Eugine to choose between being banned and reversing votes, but you are OK with him being compelled to not post on the site any more ever again without having a choice? Please tell me I drastically misunderstood you.
9CCC7yIt makes sense to me. Error is okay with preventing someone from acting when those actions have been shown to have negative consequences (driving people away from this site), but objects to the idea of someone being pressured to explicitly act against his convictions.
7Error7yThis is the correct interpretation, yes. I have similar issues with things like forced apologies. In general I hold compulsion to a much higher bar than restraint.
1mwengler7yCompulsion? Restraint? Act against convictions? Compulsion: I suggested offering Eugine the choice of leaving the site or behaving according to the finally-defined rules. I'm pretty sure it is the choice we all have. Restraint: I have a choice of posting here and following the rules and norms or not. You have that choice also. How is it restraint if we offer the same choice to Eugine? Act against convictions: At no point did I suggest that Eugine must agree or state he agrees that he shouldn't have downvoted people. I'll state myself without much fear of banning that I don't agree he shouldn't have downvoted people. But it is NOT against my convictions to behave in a certain way in order to participate with other people in something. It is NOT against my convictions to follow rules which are not precisely what I would have defined. I am offering the same choice to Eugine. As things stand now, from what has been stated, Eugine has not been offered a choice, he is being compelled to not participate. If he has been offered a choice, and he has chosen to not participate, we have not been told that, and for someone such as myself, that would be a very different outcome from one as described on its face, where a previously undefined rule is used for permanent banning ex post facto. I'll leave it at this, amazed that what seems so incredibly clear to me is the opposite of what at least 4 others (assuming no sock puppets involved in voting) on this site. I wonder what a CEV made from the 3 of us in this conversation would wind up looking like when it comes to these values. Would it come down to majority rules?
2CCC7yNo, but you did suggest that he might be asked to take action to explicitly reverse the effects of downvoting people: I would agree that merely asking him to refrain from mass downvoting would not constitute pressure to act against his convictions; however, asking him to reverse his previous downvotes would. Yes; he is being compelled to take the null action. The ability to post a comment on a given web site is not a right that can be fought for - it is a privilege that is extended at the whim of the administrators and moderators of the website in question. Removing that privilege from someone who has shown a pattern of abusing it does not seem unfair. Hmmm... it would probably be more complicated than that. I highly value the ability to express one's true opinions, and in case of trouble I prefer to minimise damage if possible. I highly disvalue social pressure to express, through words or actions, an opinion different to one's own as if it were one's own. It seems that you highly value freedom of choice, and are willing to accept a compromise in the opinions you express as long as you have the option of choosing that compromise. It also appears that, in case of trouble, you prefer to give other actors the chance to self-modify to reduce future trouble, and highly disvalue removing the freedom of choice from someone. I think Error's values may be closer to mine than yours; I don't see, in this conversation, any major differences between myself and him (probably mainly because we agree on the correct action in this situation) If you put all of those together, I think you'll end up with a values function that highly values both freedom of choice and freedom of expressed opinion (both important freedoms) - but which of those two would be the most highly valued I cannot say (due to insufficient information).
4jsteinhardt7yI think the reason he finds it Very Not Cool is that compelling Eugene to reverse the downvotes is basically trying to blackmail him into admitting that he was wrong, which he presumably doesn't believe, so you would be forcing him into lying (as well as renouncing beliefs that he presumably holds relatively strongly). I agree with the grandparent that this would be a bad thing to do.
2ChristianKl7yIf Eugine would have prefered that course of action like that he could had offered it himself in his response to Kaj. Eugine is smart enough to be able to have responded to Kaj's inquiry in a way like that if he wanted to do so. If he would have I doubt that Kaj would have banned him.
2NancyLebovitz7yConsidering how much mass downvoting he did, having to reverse each of the downvotes would have been a considerable punishment, though perhaps there would be some way to automate it.
0ChristianKl7yThe point is that Eugine could have responded very differently to the inquiry for his motivations if he would have wanted to avoid getting banned. Eugine isn't stupid. Don't treat this like Kaj having the full responsibility of finding a solution that wouldn't result in Eugine not getting banned even if you would have prefered Eugine not getting banned.
5NancyLebovitz7yI really like Eugine getting banned. This is a description of my emotions, not a guarantee that I will continue to think I'm correct. I was just considering what that particular punishment would be like.


If it's easy to tell whether Eugine was mass-downvoting me for a while, I'd be interested to know. I estimate p~=0.8. (But it's not worth a lot of effort; I can't have lost more than a hundred points or so.)

I'm in favour of reversing all Eugine's votes. Reversing just the "mass" ones might be even better; I'm not sure.

I hope this will help establish a new moderatorial norm that suspected mass-downvoting incidents (if there are any more) will be investigated and publicized.

8Kaj_Sotala7yYour account does seem to have about a hundred downvotes from Eugine.
6gjm7yThanks. (Feeling smug about my estimation skills now.)
0evand7yWhat would you think of just reversing all the downvotes, but leaving the upvotes?

I would rather see all votes removed completely. If he's willing to downvote en-masse for political reasons, he would also be willing to upvote en-masse for political reasons. If his voting patterns are abusive or politically motivated to the extent that he can no longer be allowed to vote, then his entire history should also be considered untrusted and politically motivated and removed for that reason.

4hairyfigment7yRarely do I feel so sad about upvoting.
4gjm7yI think I agree with Dentin. More abstractly: just reversing downvotes introduces a bias, and usually that's a bad thing. But Dentin's more specific reasoning is good too.

First, thanks Kaj for doing your best out of a complicated situation. I'm op on some IRC channels, and I also know how difficult it is to take such decisions.

I don't think the ban was a mistake as a penalty (nothing prevents Eugine from creating another account, so it's not that harsh a penalty) but I do think it doesn't solve the main problem. The most important remediation would be to undo all of Eugine's mass downvotes, and if not easily possible, all of Eugine's votes. Any chance of that to happen ?

Huge props and many thanks for doing this, Kaj!

I'm not upset about the ban but I'll chime in and say in terms of comments rather than mass downvotes I think Eugine Nier was net positive.

The Less Wrong content deletion policy contains this clause:

Harrassment of individual users.

If we determine that you're e.g. following a particular user around and leaving insulting comments to them, we reserve the right to delete those comments. (This has happened extremely rarely.)

I don't think this really helps you. As you acknowledge, this clause does not actually imply that downvoting is harassment at all. Nor does it imply that blocking users is the appropriate response!

Indeed, the fact that explicitly mentions some crimes (leaving rude comments) and punishments (deleting comments) is probably evidence against this moderation action. If the policy had been totally non-specific, it would imply a wide degree of moderator discretion. The more specific it is, the stronger the implication that things left unmentioned are not actually verbotten.

Furthermore, consider that in the case mentioned in the policy (harassing comments) deleting them is a coherent response which addresses the underlying issue, without very much collateral damage. In this case, banning Eugine from posting does not actually prevent him from downvoting, so the objective is not achieved, but considerable collateral damage is inflicted, by ending his often interesting comments.

This is true. OTOH, dicks gonna be dicks, and trolls regard rules as playground equipment.

(I have been on communities where "don't be a dick" is an explicit rule. Guess what? Users who zoom in on this rule and try to argue it ... are pretty much all dicks.)

This, this, 1000 times this. If you tightly police the actions of moderators, who are constrained already to act in good faith, to follow only and exactly the letter of the rules, you will never get a good result. (Because the bad faith users can always find a way around the letter of the rules.)

5Error7yThis is a major failure mode of law in general, IMO.
2AlexSchell7yIn practice we avoid this problem by granting a lot of discretion to judges and prosecutors (i.e. mods).

The more specific it is, the stronger the implication that things left unmentioned are not actually verbotten.

The specific circumstance is explicitly offered as one particular example of a general policy (it's preceded by "e.g."), so I think there's a pretty strong implication that there are other things left unmentioned that are in fact verboten.

It's pretty much always a mistake to apply legal-style reasoning to moderator actions on an Internet forum, anyway. The job of moderators is to keep the forum working, not merely to follow previously published procedures. Legal rules such as nulla poena sine lege don't apply in this context. They're supposed to wing it a bit when necessary.

"It's like a bar. The idea is to maintain a good time. If you are asked to cool it at a bar, and you start debating the precise details of the rules and the wording thereof and who can eject you when and so forth, the large fellow with the number on his shirt will be guiding you to the exit in short order, possibly with a humorous CLANG off the bins opposite." (from a Facebook group; doesn't quite apply to LW directly)

  1. I'm not a dick!
  2. What's the actual detailed definition of being a dick anyway?
  3. You can't prove I was being a dick.
  4. You just call people dicks so you can kick them.
  5. I wasn't even there when my account was being a dick.
  6. I'm only a dick because it's necessary to be a dick. Which I wasn't. And you can't prove it.
5Larks7ySure, but then they shouldn't pretend to be justified on the basis of rules that actually do no such thing. I'm happy with Eliezer's dictatorship, but it should be an epistemically honest dictatorship.
-1Username7ySpeaking of which, Eliezer has been strangely silent throughout this whole affair.
6Larks7yEliezer has been silent on LW in general; I'm pretty sure it has little to do with this.
0[anonymous]7yHe last commented on June 27, so it's entirely possible he hasn't seen it yet.
3Larks7yUnfortunately the origional rule was not really grammatical enough to establish a general policy. If you remove the 'e.g.', as you should from a valid sentance, all we're left with is Which doesn't even vaguely hint at a general policy!

Therefore, I now announce that Eugine_Nier is permanently banned from posting on LessWrong. This decision is final and will not be changed in response to possible follow-up objections.

Unfortunately, it looks like while a ban prevents posting, it does not actually block a user from casting votes. I have asked jackk to look into the matter and find a way to actually stop the downvoting. Jack indicated earlier on that it would be technically straightforward to apply a negative karma modifier to Eugine's account, and wiping out Eugine's karma balance would prevent him from casting future downvotes. Whatever the easiest solution is, it will be applied as soon as possible.


  1. How are you going to deal with socks?

  2. Are you going to be implementing a more systematic process for detecting karma abuses?

  3. Can those who have been negatively affected by this receive an adjustment?

    3a. If you are considering karma adjustments, could you please do them in a way that restores percentages rather then points? I, for one, don't care about my "fake internet points" very much, but the ratio of upvotes to downvotes is VERY useful to me as a barometer for the overall integrity of my thought processes. (If others who have been affected by this disagree, please speak up.)

Does the system keep track about individual downvotes (who downvoted what)? If yes, then it could be possible to simply revert all votes ever by Eugine. Which should solve all the problems: everyone would have the same total karma and comment karma as if this whole thing never happened.

It has to - otherwise you wouldn't be able to see what YOU upvoted/downvoted.

Also, otherwise you would be able to upvote or downvote something multiple times.

So clearly, it has to track somewhere.

If you guys need a SQL guy to help do some development work to make meta-moderation easier, let me know; I'll happily volunteer a few hours a week.



I was scrolling through, saw this comment and reread ialdabaoth's comment and upvoted, which I wouldn't have without yours. upvoted.

Well, that explains a couple of things.

Maybe that's why volunteer dev work for LW is so hard to come by. Everybody takes one look at the DB and decides they would prefer a very long vacation in Sarlacc, Tatooine.

8KnaveOfAllTrades7yDidn't even get to the point of getting the DB up and running when I looked into it before I ran out of motviation (at that time). LW-hacking is not particularly accessible, though it's not clear how high making it more accessible is as a priority.
8jackk7yWhen did you last try? You should be able to more-or-less go git checkout -> vagrant up and have everything pretty much ready to go. https://github.com/tricycle/lesswrong/wiki/Development-VM-Image [https://github.com/tricycle/lesswrong/wiki/Development-VM-Image]

The Reddit guys really, really dislike doing schema updates at their scale. They were getting very slow, and their replication setup was not happy about being told to, say, index a new column while people are doing lots of reads and writes at the same time. So they eventually said "to hell with it; we'll just make a document database, with no schema, and handle consistency problems by not handling them. Man, do not even ask us about joins." This seems to have made them much happier than the 'better' database design they used to use, which is important when you're a too-small team dealing with terrifying scaling issues, and you know that a lot of people are watching you because they are the ones causing the scaling issues.

This design sure does make writing SQL queries a pain, though, and it's less than ideal for a site like Less Wrong, which doesn't do much changing the code.

7Luke_A_Somers7yBeing fairly ignorant of databases... how would you have laid it out better, in a general sense?
7lmm7yStructured tables. One for posts, one for comments, one or more for karma and so on, with appropriately typed columns for each attribute such things have. Alternatively if the data really is unstructured then I'd use a key-value store like Cassandra or something. (For the record many modern key-value stores didn't exist when the Reddit code was originally written).
9ialdabaoth7ySeconding this. A proper relational database would look something like this: CREATE TABLE Users ( id INT NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY, username VARCHAR(250), passwordHash VARCHAR(250), firstname VARCHAR(250), lastname VARCHAR(250), description VARCHAR(MAX), dateCreated DATETIME NOT NULL DEFAULT GETDATE(), dateLoggedIn DATETIME NOT NULL DEFAULT GETDATE(), active CHAR(1) ); CREATE TABLE Themes ( id INT NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY, name VARCHAR(250), description VARCHAR(MAX), css VARCHAR(MAX), dateCreated DATETIME NOT NULL DEFAULT GETDATE(), dateEdited DATETIME NOT NULL DEFAULT GETDATE(), active CHAR(1) ); CREATE TABLE Forums ( id INT NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY, name VARCHAR(250), description VARCHAR(MAX), users_id_owner INT NOT NULL FOREIGN KEY REFERENCES Users(id), themes_id INT NOT NULL FOREIGN KEY REFERENCES Themes(id), dateCreated DATETIME NOT NULL DEFAULT GETDATE(), dateEdited DATETIME NOT NULL DEFAULT GETDATE(), active CHAR(1) ); CREATE TABLE Posts ( id INT NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY, forums_id INT NOT NULL FOREIGN KEY REFERENCES Forums(id), posts_id_parent INT NOT NULL FOREIGN KEY REFERENCES Posts(id), users_id_poster INT NOT NULL FOREIGN KEY REFERENCES Users(id), title VARCHAR(250) NOT NULL, text VARCHAR(MAX) NOT NULL, dateCreated DATETIME NOT NULL DEFAULT GETDATE(), dateEdited DATETIME NOT NULL DEFAULT GETDATE(), active CHAR(1) ); CREATE TABLE Votes ( value INT NOT NULL, posts_id INT NOT NULL FOREIGN KEY REFERENCES Posts(id), users_id_voter INT NOT NULL FOREIGN KEY REFERENCES Users(id), dateCreated DATETIME NOT NULL DEFAULT GETDATE() ); -- constraint: only one vote per post per user ALTER TABLE Votes ADD CONSTRAINT pk_Votes PRIMARY KEY (posts_id,user_id) With that schema, all you'd have to do to see someone's effect on another person's karma is: SELECT SUM(VALUE) FROM Votes WHERE users_id_voter = @Voter AND p

It's heartwarming to see off-the-cuff SQL that includes foreign key constraints.

It's heartwarming to see off-the-cuff SQL that includes foreign key constraints.

Heartwarming enough to offer me a job? ;)

EDIT: Downvoted? Ouch...

How are you going to deal with socks?

I'm hoping that the fact that your total karma restricts the amount of downvoting that you can do would limit the usefulness of socks for this purpose. Of course there are ways to get around that, but it's an inconvenience for the downvoters. If there looks to be a problem anyway, we'll try to figure something out.

Are you going to be implementing a more systematic process for detecting karma abuses?

Would need to figure out one first. Many of the proposals I've seen so far require code changes.

Can those who have been negatively affected by this receive an adjustment?

jackk mentioned the possibility of reversing Eugine's votes by running a script to upvote the comments that he had downvoted. We can do that if the people who were targeted have an interest in it.

It's better than nothing, but as mentioned before, I'd prefer something that systematically eliminates the downvotes rather than upvoting over them:

Let's say I've made 1600 comments, received +2400 "legitimate" upvotes, and -400 "legitimate" downvotes.

Thus, I should have a karma of 2000 (86% positive). But along comes Eugine, and downvotes everything, giving me another -1600. This puts my karma at 400 (55% positive). You then run a script to upvote everything he downvoted, giving me +1600 karma. This puts me at 2000 (66% positive).

As you can see, I'm STILL below the 70% positive that Eliezer mentioned as his intuitive threshold for "quality contributors", even though in reality I should be well above that threshold.

This is, in fact, what pissed me off about my karmassassination in the first place - my 'fake internet points' don't matter to me, but my ratio of upvotes to downvotes DOES, because I use it to track how likely it is that I have systematic flaws in my reasoning. This breaks down when the majority of my up- and down-voting comes from one or two concentrated sources, even if one of those sources is directly countering the other.

Ah, I see. That's a reasonable request, I'll ask if there's anything that can be done about it.

Places to start looking:

I don't know how extensively this site's source code has been modified from the reddit default, but in r2/models/vote.py we have:

class VotesByAccount(tdb_cassandra.DenormalizedRelation)

class LinkVotesByAccount(VotesByAccount)

class CommentVotesByAccount(VotesByAccount)

Python isn't currently in my active language cache, so I'm a little rusty dragging through all the dependencies; I'll try to spend this weekend getting up to speed with Python and see if I can help sort out a generic "wipe out a user's full voting history" script that can be safely run.

jackk mentioned the possibility of reversing Eugine's votes by running a script to upvote the comments that he had downvoted.

Villiam's solution is better, I think. The system certainly keeps track of who downvoted what and allows reversions, because I can see and revert my own up or downvotes.

Further improvement: Remove only downvotes against users he specifically targeted. Whatever remains is probably still a valid signal. That might be a more complex script, though.

4Nornagest7yFind all sets of Eugine's votes on comments by particular users, filter out any sets such that there are less than ten votes within that set or the ratio of upvotes to downvotes is greater than, say, 0.2, and reverse any downvotes in the remaining sets? That sounds like it should be compactly doable with SQL, although I don't know a thing about the LW database.
4Error7yThat's why I hedged a bit. I know SQL is capable of doing such a thing, but I don't know anything about the LW database either.

Total karma won't restrict people like Eugine at all. The vast bulk of his karma seemed to come from the monthly rationality quote threads, where ten minutes of web surfing and copy/paste can get you 10-100 positive karma. You can even loot old monthly threads if you want, people will still think it's worth upvoting if they even remember it's been posted before.

IMHO the monthly quote threads (and possibly other similar types of thread) should not contribute to karma total.

How are you going to deal with socks?

Not really a problem. To gain a lot of downvote power, short of creating a bunch of circle-upvote socks, you'd need to comment or write a lot, and longtime commenters like Eugine are generally easy to spot: everyone has idiosyncratic ideas, ways of phrasing things, writing styles, references and calculations... (without even getting into stylometrics). For example, if I were banned today and surfaced under another sock a month from now, I'd be spotted quickly - just look for the new account that uses lots of hyphens, semicolons, lists, quotations and paraphrases, etc in discussing topics like statistical & experimental methodology. Similarly, Eugine has a lot of idiosyncratic interests (global warming, the fall of the west, conservative family values and so on).

This is the same reason the worst special-interest trolls on Wikipedia didn't benefit much from socking: they had too clear a fingerprint in their arguments and writings.

8ialdabaoth7yTrue, but in my experience, Eugine's primary karma engine was karma-mining the Rationalist Quotes page; someone could simply commit to ONLY posting there, and build a pretty substantial resource pool rather quickly.

Eugine's primary karma engine was karma-mining the Rationalist Quotes page

Nah. The quotes make up <1/5th of his top-ranked comments, and you can see for yourself: load http://www.ibiblio.org/weidai/lesswrong_user.php?u=Eugine_Nier , wait for it to fetch all his comments, "sort by: points", "hide parents", copy-paste down to, say, his comments with +9 karma, and then look at the composition:

$ xclip -o | fgrep -e 'In response to' | fgrep -i -e 'quote' | wc --lines
$ xclip -o | fgrep -e 'In response to' | wc --lines

Of his comments ranked >= 9 points, 20/108 or <1/5 were on rationality quote pages. I suppose he could be getting much more karma from masses of lower-ranked comments on quotes pages, but that seems a bit unlikely and more work than I want to do at the moment.

gwern: Testing our hypotheses since 2009.

Thanks for the info; I was not expecting the data to show that. It does indicate that the problem will be smaller than I feared.

Even a casual inspection of his comments page will reveal that he posted a lot in threads other than quote threads, that his comments were of reasonably good quality, and that they were frequently upvoted (and occasionally downvoted). I don't think there could be any system that would have stopped him from mass downvoting people by manipulating what counts for karma, as he was basically a contributing member of comment society.

He did have a lot of good comments, but he also had a lot of very negative comments. Hypothetically a system could look for people with a very wide range of scores and flag them for deeper inspection.

Now rewrite what you said as an SQL query...


The serious answer is that the people who were downvoted noticed that they were downvoted. That was the whole point. At that moment, they should contact a moderator and report a suspicion. And we should make this visible somehow...

Anyway, the main damage was from knowing that someone mass-downvotes you anonymously, and you don't know who, and you can't defend. (And that it keeps happening to multiple people, for months.) This shouldn't happen again, because it would be easier to fix the next time.

5ialdabaoth7yUsing reddit's database schema? Challenge accepted. I'm at work right now (writing SQL queries for my college, in fact), but I'll gladly contribute something useful when I get home. EDIT: This is a lot more difficult than anticipated. :( I'm going to have to do some serious research before I can produce something useful, given reddit's flat kvp schema.
5JoshuaZ7yInteresting- I don't think percentage is a useful metric (it can easily be a metric of controversy rather than thought quality). The really concerning thing about mass downvoting is what it can do to the perception of comments when they are being initially read- retroactive adjustments will not matter as much.

Yeah, I noticed a lot of that - if Eugine was the first person to get to one of my comments, it had a lot higher chance of being downvoted further, even if it was similar to other comments that got upvoted when he didn't get to them until later.

Herd mentality is scary.

I share the concerns voiced by buybuydandavis, Salemicus, larks, and nywracu.

This isn't necessarily to say I disagree with the banning decision. And I know it must be tough to be a mod, especially when you hadn't planned on becoming one.

But Kaj_Sotala's decision looks like a good case of mission creep. His powers as moderator were originally just for deleting spam; now he has used them for something different. And the behavior of Eugine_Nier does not appear to have clearly broken any rules; Kaj_Sotala has still tried to justify his ban under a very liberal... (read more)

But Kaj_Sotala's decision looks like a good case of mission creep. His powers as moderator were originally just for deleting spam; now he has used them for something different.

LW had a problem with not being moderated enough and Kaj was at a place to do something about that issue. He asked the community for feedback and then went ahead. If that's mission creep than I like mission creep.

7MugaSofer7yInteresting point. (Just so you know, the formatting is broken on your comment - I think you need to put a backslash before your _ symbols in names, looks like they turned into italics.)
0fortyeridania7yFixed, thanks.
[-][anonymous]7y 9

First of all: I agree with shminux. If the point of the site is to create a community that can produce high-quality discussion, rather than one that's full of cooperatebots, banning users who make quality contributions for defecting from social norms that don't directly involve their contributions seems contrary to that point. Maximizing discussion quality requires tradeoffs: if the presence of someone who produces high-quality discussion is so opposed by others who produce same that the town isn't big enough for both of them, someone has to go. But was th... (read more)

8shminux7ySimply knowing that you would be outed is likely to be enough of a deterrent, no need for advanced technical solutions.

I am puzzled by the technological limits suggested in this post.

Can an administrator not change the password on a user's account?

If so, a solution would be to change Eugine's password to something Eugine doesn't know. Eugine could then not log on and would not be able to either post or upvote/downvote other users.

3David_Gerard7yIt appears to be a cross between a lack of manpower and a truly terrible codebase and data structures. (I haven't looked at either myself, for much the same reasons I've so far successfully avoided Two Girls One Cup.)
1mwengler7yI also meant to mention that administrators could log on to Eugine's account and revert manually all the now-officially-disliked downvotes. If years of working with coding have taught me one thing, it is that sometimes the fastest way to do something is to do it manually.
1shminux7yGiven that mass downvoting continues, it apparently is extremely hard.

I am glad to see this decision.

It is odd, though, that the effect of the banning is apparently to prevent him from doing anything on LW except the conduct for which he was banned. Everyone is a hero to himself, and there is no reason to expect him not to carry on this behaviour while he can. I hope to see a technical resolution of this in the near future. I am surprised that access to his account was not simply removed. That is what banning seems to have meant in the past.

As for his past votes, reverting every one of them would be the simplest action. The ... (read more)

I am surprised that access to his account was not simply removed.

I checked my recent comments, because I was planning to say that so far he doesn't seem to have offended after the banning, however I found no evidence of that. The two comments from the last 2 days, which I had noticed did't get any downvotes initially, now had one (as do my other comments). This doesn't prove much, so I checked all the other users who were getting mass downvoted for extended periods (the list in the post) and it seems like all their recent comments had at least 1 downvote as well.

The above is not definite proof, but what I suspect might be happening is that Eugine's bot/script is still running, despite him leaving the site.

8MugaSofer7yI can't help but feel threatening Eugine with a ban might have been better than summarily blocking him for past offenses. I mean, this is his first time breaking the rules, right? And he can't have known this would be a banning offense before it was declared one. He might well be willing to obey the new edict if given a choice between that and punishment.
0RichardKennaway7yI am not party to the conversation that took place between Eugine and Kaj, but there was a conversation and I would be surprised if it was not clear to him that his membership of LessWrong was on the line. "First time" is not a good description of a persistent pattern of behaviour over a substantial course of time. He was publicly named some time ago but laid low: he knew that what he was doing was not going down well, and not just with those he was downvoting. No-one has spoken up in favour of his activity; the nearest thing to that is weak remarks about downvoting being about whatever the downvoter wants to see less of, which sounds more like obsessive adherence to an imaginary rule than any positive defence of the practice. I often see people publicly saying that this or that post is downvoteworthy, but I have never seen anyone say that this or that person is, not even the most egregious intruders that lasted no more than weeks or days before being thrown out. It appears (but is so far unconfirmed) that he is not willing to cease the systematic downvoting of persons even after "banning". If so, how would he have been willing to stop on threat of it? So no, he had already burned all those bridges before the axe fell.
6wedrifid7yThis is not a difficult question. If Eugine assigns value to not getting banned then the threat of banning represents a disincentive. If the banning has already occurred that disincentive does not exist and all spite related motivations are likely to increase and any respect for the moral authority of the powers that be obliterated. What remains is the trivial inconvenience [http://lesswrong.com/lw/f1/beware_trivial_inconveniences/] of continuing to downvote via other mechanisms. Not actually having the power to stop a threat is a reason to use the power that you do have wisely. Were this just about influencing Eugine's voting patterns then it would be a poor decision. But such actions are made more to establish precedent and influence others. Disclaimer: I was largely indifferent to Eugine being banned. He certainly would have been on my block list were this forum not crippled in that regard. But the parent ask a rhetorical question with a straightforward decision-theory related answer.
6MugaSofer7ySorry, I meant that this was the first rule he had broken. You're right, he was not a "first offender" in the sense that leniency is often extended to first offenders. True, but there's a significant difference between "this will make me unpopular" and "this will get me permabanned". What possible benefit could it do him, to stop after being banned for life? ETA: Are you serious, or is that some sort of hyperbole?
6RichardKennaway7yI am serious. By his activity, I mean specifically his mass downvoting activity. It is possible I have missed someone defending this action. Show me some examples, if there are any. I have seen people opposing the ban. I have seen people querulously quibbling, "ah, but suppose I find everything a user posts bad and I downvote each of them, is that a bannable offense and if not how are you going to tell, eh?" But I have not yet see anyone saying, Eugine was right to downvote everything that these people posted, regardless of what it was, and everyone else should do the same until they are driven away.
8MugaSofer7yAh, I see. There's defending it and then there's defending it. Some people think it's a bad idea to mass-downvote, but not banworthy. Some people think it is/was sometimes a good idea to mass-downvote - that's what I was thinking of. But you meant more along the lines of "Eugine was right to downvote everything that these people posted, regardless of what it was, and everyone else should do the same until they are driven away"? You're right, I haven't seen anyone who claimed that.
3randallsquared7yAh, but it's not clear that those are different activities, or if they are, whether there's any way in the database or logs to tell the difference. So, when people "quibble" about the first, they're implying (I think) that they believe that in the future someone might be right to downvote everything someone posts, because that person always posts terrible posts. Part of the reason this is coming up is a lack or perceived lack of transparency as to exactly what patterns "convicted" Eugine_Nier.
8RichardKennaway7yIn the present case, there was enough evidence to raise a reasonable suspicion, whereupon Kaj approached Eugine, who confirmed that he "was engaged in a "weeding" of users" (quoted from original post). Rules come from judgement, not judgement from rules. Any bad post is worth downvoting. If someone writes nothing but bad posts, and there have been a few examples, every one of their posts gets downvoted. Such people are rare and they never last long. When an obvious moron or crank pops up here, I have myself on occasion systematically read their entire comment history (it's never very long) and judged every comment. But I am always voting on the individual comment, never the person. I am certainly not going to downvote a meetup announcement because the poster is a Bad Person who must be spat on wherever they show their face, let alone write a bot to do the spitting for me. The transparency of how this case has been handled seems sufficient to me.
2wedrifid7yI wouldn't say that about all of Eugine's targets. There are some other users (or accounts) for which it would have been entirely appropriate. Particularly given that there were no moderators preventing sockpuppet abuse by trolls.
1RichardKennaway7yThe no longer mysterious downvoter strikes again. An immediate downvote on this [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/kg4/link_claustrum_stimulation_temporarily_turns_off/b2n0] is just bizarre. We have scotch'd the snake, not killed it. ETA: And a downvote here too! Well, what a surprise!

Just wanted to note that giving Eugine -20,000 karma penalty (effectively a 3-year no-voting sentence) instead of the permanent ban (a forum equivalent of the capital punishment) would have worked so much better and is probably trivial to implement. And you guys who upvote the OP for more than simply outing the perp are effectively supporting incompetence. How disappointing.

I think supporting mild competence is an important step on the path to supporting actual competence. This is a LOT better than the doing nothing that was going on for months even if it was the sub-optimal solution.

1Username7yWe all agree that mild competence is better than none at all. That doesn't explain why shminux's comment has received downvotes.
9hairyfigment7yEh? The expected result of punishing/insulting people for doing something is people doing nothing.
4MugaSofer7yAnd the expected result of never pointing out when things can be done better is people doing things incompetently. There's a difference between attacking a person and suggesting an alternative course of action for them to take.
-1drethelin7yShminux was suggesting a different course to Kaj but attacking people who upvoted the OP.

And you guys who upvote the OP for more than simply outing the perp are effectively supporting incompetence.

I want to have someone at LW that moderating and who has the authority to make moderation decisions. Even if I might have done things differently, I'm very grateful that Kaj takes the role of moderating.

2MugaSofer7yI upvoted this, but I think it's reasonable to "support" incompetence. Nobody's perfect, and Kaj seems far better than the default.

Wow, I picked the culprit.

(I have no signed prior statement to prove this, but I certainly guessed it.)

Edit: And there's my points going up already!

8ChrisHallquist7yEveryone following the situation knew it was Eugine. At least one victim named him publicly. Sometimes he was referred to obliquely as "the person named in the other thread" or something like that, but the people who were following the story knew what that meant.
3David_Gerard7yAnd I just dropped from 9800ish to 8909. But still at +269 last 30 days. What?

30-day karma counts karma on comments made in the last 30 days, not the delta in your total karma over the last 30 days. It's somewhat counterintuitive, yes.

4gjm7yThat doesn't explain what caused David to lose 900 karma points abruptly. (I don't think it can be that all Eugine's votes have been reversed because (1) I'm pretty sure my losses at his hands haven't been undone and (2) I'd be rather surprised if Eugine gave David 900 upvotes in the history of ever. Not least because that would mean 10% of David's karma is upvotes from Eugine.)
6Nornagest7yOh, I thought that went without saying -- elsewhere in the thread, several of the people that have been targeted for block downvotes have said that they've continued, so chances are David's having the same problem. I was only trying to explain the difference between the changes in his total and 30-day karma.
5gjm7yOh, I see. But the usual pattern of block-downvoting has been much less abrupt than that. (In my case it was, I think, somewhere in the range of 1-10 downvotes per day while it was happening.) I suppose it's possible that Eugine is trying to do as much damage as he can before his ability to downvote finally goes away, but that seems obviously pointless (it's just asking to have all his votes reversed) so I'd guess it's someone else. This seems like a particularly stupid time to be engaging in obnoxious downvoting patterns, though -- much more likely to get caught, probably more likely to get slapped down hard for it.

Thank you. That's all I ask.

[-][anonymous]7y 5

First, I'm not sure if I agree with the ban, but I would allow EN to post one last apologia at least.

Second, considering karma as a property of users rather than of comments is toxic. Let's stop it. Let's consider the sum of all comments and post that happen to be written by the same person no more meaningful than the sum of all comments and post that happen to be posted the same day.

If we must rank users, e.g. to decide whom to allow to post articles, let's have a system where users can rate each other directly (but anonymously). Maybe make higher-ranked users' ratings count more (i.e. each user's score is proportional to the component of the eigenvector of the matrix of ratings with the largest eigenvalue).

3Dentin7yIt may be interesting to have comment rank be the sum of positive and negative votes, while user rank counts only the positive votes.
1buybuydandavis7yI'd personally like that, and think it's a great point. Where we disagree is much more interesting than where we agree. That's where we can really learn something.
3Viliam_Bur7yIf he sends it by e-mail to Kaj, I am sure Kaj would publish it (using Kaj's account).
3RichardKennaway7yLet him whine somewhere else on the Internet if he wants a parting shot, if he's not doing so already. He's active enough elsewhere.
4David_Gerard7yA google on "Eugine Nier" for the past week brings up "Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more" Well, that's interesting.
9[anonymous]7y(In any event, that's not his real name [http://lesswrong.com/lw/8nq/more_personal_introductions/5dch?context=1] FWIW.)
4Tenoke7yIt says that for most (it is supposed to be all) name searches, when you are googling from Europe, except when the name is too ubiquitous
4David_Gerard7yDoesn't show up for "David Gerard" or "Eliezer Yudkowsky".
2RichardKennaway7yIt does for me if I include the quotes.

And for me, with all of: my own name, "David Gerard", "Eliezer Yudkowsky", "Eugine Nier" and "Eliezer Arbuthnot" (a fake name I just made up, for which Google finds no results with the quotation marks, offers me results without them, and again gives the "data protection" warning).

So I think this is a bit like searching for "rat vomit" and getting "Buy Cheap Rat Vomit now" ads from eBay: it's just an algorithmic thing that gets inserted into certain categories of search.

2[anonymous]7yIt shows up for me even with "Mencius Moldbug", whether with or without the quotes.
2Nornagest7yA game I used to work on did something like this to gate content that was considered more advanced or more susceptible to balance problems. It caused an astonishing amount of drama between users and didn't seem to work very well as a gatekeeping mechanism. I'm against it, pending details.
1ChristianKl7yWhat makes you think that Eugine has any desire to post one last apology? If that's what I would have wanted to do, he could have acted differently if Kaj would have queried him.

I think (p~=0.7) you are interpreting "apologia" to mean "saying sorry", and I think (p~=0.95) army1987 meant it in the sense "statement of self-justification".

6[anonymous]7yI did (otherwise I would have spelt it “apology”).
3gjm7yYup, that's what I thought. (I'm not sure that with the "apologia" spelling it even can mean "saying sorry", but I was too lazy to check and of course for all I know you might have got it wrong, hence only p~=0.95. ... I've now checked, and I think it can in principle mean "saying sorry" but I bet it basically never does. Because every path by which people come to know the word "apologia" goes back to Newman's book where it's very clear that the meaning is "self-justification" rather than "saying sorry".)

Like shminux, I am unhappy with the ban, which I consider both disproportionate and ill-advised. Eugine didn't break any specific rule, has (as far as I am aware) never been warned about his conduct by an admin, and yet you jump straight to the ultimate sanction. In my opinion, the correct moderator response is to tell him "Don't do this again." If he doesn't agree with that, or that is considered too lenient, the correct response is to remove his karma privileges. What purpose is served by banning him entirely?

Eugine is one of the highest quality posters here and the site will be poorer for his loss. I am not defending his behaviour in this instance but the punishment does not fit the crime.

Eugine is one of the highest quality posters here and the site will be poorer for his loss. I am not defending his behaviour in this instance but the punishment does not fit the crime.

Many many people have been complaining about mass downvoting for a long time now. A couple of people have also indicated that it has contributed to them not wanting to participate on LW any more. There have been multiple threads with hundreds of comments about this. Eugine is a very frequent visitor to this site, so I'm sure he was aware of all this. Had he stepped in to one of these threads and defended his actions, or apologized for them, or even discontinued the down-voting without admitting to it, I would agree that banning is disproportionate. But he simply ignored the whole discussion and continued surreptitiously block-downvoting people, despite all the disquiet it was causing.

That shows an almost pathological disregard for the well-being of this community and the opinions of its participants. I don't think banning is an inappropriate response.

That said, I also disagree with your opinion about the general quality of Eugine's comments, and it is quite probable that this is coloring my judgment in this matter.

2Salemicus7yI agree that it would have been better had Eugine defended himself, because he was obviously aware that he was making people unhappy. But from the sounds of it, he did try to justify/defend his position when contacted by the moderators. Therefore we shouldn't assume he was acting in bad faith; it is just as likely that, in the context that the downvote threads existed in, he didn't think he'd get a fair hearing or that discussion would be helpful. To be clear, I don't agree with his actions, but I don't see them as evincing a "pathological disregard" (your words) or anything like it. To give an example: gwern has repeatedly insulted me, and recently made a subtle, but personal, jab at me in an Open thread comment. What should my response be? I don't see myself as morally obliged to respond in kind and get into an argument in hostile circumstances. I think the correct behaviour is to rise above it and ignore him . Yet that will also have the effect of confirming, in the mind of gwern and his sympathisers,that I am indeed a troll as he says. I would not like my silence (out of genuine concern for community harmony) to be used against me, particularly by a poster as(IMHO) intellectually bankrupt as gwern. But by the same token I think we shouldn't hold Eugine's public silence against him.

There is a pretty big difference between ignoring one commenter who doesn't like you and ignoring the complaints of a large proportion of the community. This wasn't just one or two people kvetching. It was a large number of people, including many (like me) not directly targeted by the behavior. I don't think you have any obligation to respond to gwern, but if a significant segment of the community objected strongly to your allegedly trollish behavior, and some valuable contributors said they no longer felt comfortable participating on LW because of that behavior, I would consider it "pathological disregard" for you to continue what you were doing as if none of this was happening, without addressing it in any way.

Keep in mind that Eugine continued (surreptitiously) with his block-downvoting not just after a number of users expressed their dissatisfaction, but also after the administration of this site made it clear they disapproved of the behavior. First Eliezer said that he was trying to track down the block downvoter (he failed for some reason), then Kaj put up this post. And Eugine kept down-voting. I don't see how this doesn't read as disregard for the community.

Perha... (read more)

Perhaps he thought he was somehow making the community better by his actions (although it's much more plausible to me that he was just ridiculously mind-killed

I don't see a contradiction here. If someone is mind-killed, then from inside it seems like all people with different political opinions are idiots, and the debate would be more rational without them.

Thus in my opinion Eugine completely failed in the lessons about mindkilling and ethical injunctions, and was incompatible with the spirit of Less Wrong.

Great job Kaj and Jackk, congrats!

I hope this sets a good enough precedent that this won't be needed again; Eugine had plenty of warning both that this was frowned upon by pretty much everybody, and that he could be identified.

I asked Jack to compile reports on several other users who mentioned having been mass-downvoted, and it turned out that Eugine was also overwhelmingly the biggest downvoter of users David_Gerard, daenarys, falenas108, ialdabaoth, shminux, and Tenoke.

Is this a criticism of Eugine or a criticism of others for neglecting their duty? I don't know all of those users but in some cases the only way Eugine could have been "overwhelmingly" the biggest downvoter is if all the people with decent standards realised they had better things to do than fix p... (read more)

2RichardKennaway7yOr if no-one else thought that botvoting of people was a good idea. Or did Eugine manually perform all those downvotes himself? Where were his standards when he downvoted the good and neutral as well as the bad?
1wedrifid7yI had presumed so. When I was active I read every comment and a vote is a single click so 'botting' would change little. Eugine was fairly active so is more likely than not to have applied the votes manually. Not that it particularly matters. I have no idea, Eugine was an assclown. But even assuming every voting decision he ever made was based on dickishness I can still conclude that it is impossible to have been 'overwhelmingly' the biggest downvoter of some users based on some suitable definition of 'whelm', comparison with the proportion of quality posts and the realisation that "100%" is the upper bound on how many of another user's comments a single account could have possibly made. Eugine, his actions and his psychological motives are actually irrelevant for the purpose of the reasoning in the grandparent.

With all the karma talk, all sorts of interesting analyses pop into my head.

What are the karma stats when A replies to B? Upvotes, downvotes, totals, percentage upvote, and how do the karma stats of the initial posts correlate with the replies? And that's all just using anonymous karma votes.

So, I am curious about the new legal regime on LW :-/

It seems that the rule "karma vote the post, not the user" has been made explicit and the breaking of it is a bannable offence now. Is that so?

Let's say I think user X is a troll, and idiot, and a disgrace and so should be encouraged to remove himself from LW. Can I use karma voting to express my attitude? Let's say it's a new user who posts a lot, so at pretty much every post of his I facepalm and downvote. Is that fine? In a couple of months it will look like I mass-downvoted him (and under s... (read more)

3Kaj_Sotala7yDownvoting someone's all posts because all of the posts are genuinely bad is fine; downvoting them all (even the good ones) because the person just happens to annoy you in general is not. Of course telling the two cases apart can be difficult, so in practice people won't be banned unless it looks particularly obvious that they are engaging in indiscriminate mass-downvoting.
-4Lumifer7yI don't know what that means. As an example, consider this recent spat [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/kgy/consider_giving_an_explanation_for_your_deletion/] . The reason the (far away over the internet) person annoys me is because his posts annoy me. Can I downvote them? In large numbers? The great majority of that user's posts? In grading terms, you're thinking in terms of grading on a curve and I'm thinking in terms of grading on an absolute basis. By the way, making it so that no one can downvote a post more than a couple of months old (but can upvote it) is one way to solve or at least mitigate the karmassasination issue.

the posts are genuinely bad

I don't know what that means.

I guess a simple test would be: "if I saw this post and didn't know who had written it, would I still downvote it?". If yes, then it's fine, even if you did do the downvoting in large numbers. Because you'd be making your decision based on the quality of the specific comment rather than e.g. a general dislike of the person's other comments.

(This heuristic isn't quite perfect, given that knowing the writer of a comment does sometimes provide information that helps evaluate the comment better - e.g. if there's someone who I know to have a background in physics and they tell me that I'm wrong about a question of physics, I have more reason to take that seriously than if the comment came from the Time Cube guy. But the rough idea should be helpful anyway, I hope.)

As for the question of "how do I tell whether someone really has applied that test"... well, I have some thoughts about that, but I'm not sure whether it's a good idea to give a detailed explanation of the methodology, since that would allow people to game whatever tests I have in mind.

This solution does not seem scalable: it is going to require an amount of moderator effort proportional to the number of crazy people the site attracts.

We're a growing site, but we're not growing that fast, especially in the last year or so. Historically we seem to have attracted a crank every few months or so, which should be handleable by a mod staff of any size so long as it actually, you know, moderates stuff. At linear growth rates that should hold for years, longer if the mods are willing to name new mods from time to time.

7NancyLebovitz7yTracking excessive downvoting seems like something that can be pretty well automated.
0wedrifid7yOr, if the rule for how much you are allowed to downvote (something like 1:4 on karma?) isn't the right rule, change it to something else explicit.
1ChristianKl7yPart of this solution is that it has a deterrence effect. That doesn't need much moderator effort. That said, if the forum grows there isn't much of a problem with recruiting additional moderators.

How bad does downvoting have to be before it's not allowed?

There's a thread where everything I say has been downvoted. This amounts to a loss of 14 karma. Because of the pattern of downvotes, it appears it's all from one person. I highly doubt that that I'm saying things ten times as worse in this thread than I am anywhere else, so it seems that I've been downvoted for expressing an unpopular view.

Eugine admitted his guilt,

Did he admit his guilt, or his actions? From the outside, it sounds like the latter.

Although the wording does not explicitly mention downvoting, harassment by downvoting is still harassment.

Begging the question that mass downvoting amounts to harassment. Downvoting is downvoting. Votes can be positive or negative. Would he be similarly banned if he had karma bombed positive votes and it made people feel all warm and fuzzy?

Needless to say, it is not the place of individual users to unilaterally decide that someone else s

... (read more)

Instead of social shunning, would you perhaps prefer the situation where Eugine was allowed to single-handedly send away new users he personally didn't like? Because that's what we had here until now. (i.e. Kaj's solution may not be perfect, but it's a huge improvement.)

I consider mass-downvoting of new users to be much worse than mass-downvoting of old users. Old users usually (1) have enough karma to survive the attack, (2) understand what's going on, even if they don't know who exactly did it, and (3) if they complain, they are guaranteed to have our sympathies, and they know it. New users don't have a clue; they may believe they are disliked by the whole community.

Imagine if Ander, instead of complaining publicly, just walked away. Should we feel less sorry for him than we feel for Eugine? Also, some other users may have had the same experience and just walked away silently; we wouldn't know about this.

-4buybuydandavis7yEugine expressed that he found certain people MoreWrong. As far as I know, that's it. Isn't something of the point of this place, to distinguish LessWrong from MoreWrong? But not if some people feel uncomfortable thereby? But I was incorrect. Eugine engaged in a very weak and cowardly shunning - anonymous karma bombing. But he hasn't really been shunned in turn, because people don't seem to have the stomach for it. He's been banished through technical means, and had his "anonymous" karma votes similarly exposed through technical means. Instead of shunning, power was used against him because people said they felt bad from being downvoted. Is that the kind of list you'd like, people complain about their hurt feelings from someone else's evaluation of them, and he's banished? Think you never "make" people feel bad? If people wanted to shun him, and ignore with a public plonk, that would have been fine with me. Good, in fact. Call him out for being an ass, if you think he was one. Great. But instead, let's not actually deal with the person, let's just excommunicate him if we have the ear and sympathy of he who wields the kill switch. Seems to me that there are some very different cultures here on the list. We can cut each other some slack, or we can fight for control of that kill switch. The world is full of people who were never here in the first place. I don't lose sleep over it. And if some guy leaves because he can't handle the thought of someone thinking him incorrect, I can live with that too, as I doubt that he has the right stuff to benefit much from this place, or benefit others here much in turn. But note that I, softy that I am, wasn't thereby telling him or anyone to get lost, I was trying to encourage him and others to get over their dismay at being thought wrong by others, which, IMO, would be good for them personally, and good for the function of the list generally. But apparently that suggestion makes me a horrible person in the eyes of m

Eugine expressed that he found certain people MoreWrong.

And the proper way to expose the fallacies in someone's opinions is downvoting all their comments, both those that contain the fallacies, and those that don't? Even including, if I remember correctly, meetup announcements?

And if perchance I disagree with Eugine's opinion about a user X, the proper way to express my disagreement would be to upvote all their comments, both those smart and those not smart; because otherwise my vote has smaller value than Eugine's? And then if we all adopt this norm, we will keep upvoting and downvoting comments according to the users' popularity, regardless of the merits of specific comments? Why not simplify the whole system and upvote and downvote users directly? -- Do you have the same political opinion as I do? Upvoted. The opposite opinion? Downvoted. Certainly there is a lesson somewhere about how this would lead to increased rationality.

You know, in the political debates I often had a similar position like Eugine. But I didn't mass-downvote my opponents, and as far as I know, none of them mass-downvoted me. Something like implicit cooperation in a prisonners' dilemma. Which allowed the ... (read more)


I see your points, but...

But what if shunning didn't work?

I have 12 500 or so Karma. That gives me around 50 000 downvotes. That's enough to zero out tens if not hundreds of contributors, especially if I concentrated on newbies. I could literally zero them out - keep them at zero, whatever they posted (and prevent them from posting top level comments), and either break them or the Karma system. Then once they'd left, I could reverse all my downvotes, and apply them to someone else.

If I was that cruel, and willing to ignore people's opinions, then shunning would have no effect on me, nor would it reduce my power to cause destruction. At some point, something other that social means would be needed to stop me.

-2buybuydandavis7yThank you for listening to them. Exactly. "At some point." We were a good ways away from the hypothetical you described. Social response should be commensurate with the social problem. The example given is some guy who lost like 40 points? Let's say that was the scale of the issue for a dozen people. This is a trivial problem for any individual, save for their propensity to curl up in a fetal position when someone on the internet expresses through those 40 points that he thinks their posts aren't up to snuff. I think I've lost more karma responding to this nonsense, and spent much time responding as well, because I find the response a little out of proportion, a little unfair, and worst of all, an empowering of the "you hurt my feelings, shut up" principle. The social problem he was responding to was a perceived worsening of the signal to noise ratio, and a sizable chunk of the list seemed to share that opinion, and share that karma feedback was an appropriate response for the desired end state of shutting some people up, though I think that individual karma bombing has limited support. I believe the solution I had suggested was for the moderators to contact the karma bomber and tell him "hey, you're causing a problem, can you knock it off?" That might have ended it without further escalation, and we could have all go on our merry way. I don't know the details of the discussion between Kaj and Eugine. Maybe that was it. Solution if he won't knock it off? I'm torn. Which is the bigger problem - people taking action to protect their tender ears from the "noise" of posts they don't like, or people taking action to protect their tender feelings from being hurt when someone expresses disapproval? Both are quite disruptive and tiresome, IMO. First, there should be pretty easy technical countermeasures that would limit the power of any karma bombing campaign. Limiting all votes to your karma limit would be a nice start, particularly compelling to the signal to
5Stuart_Armstrong7yYou make some valid points. And possibly I'd have done things differently, were I a moderator. Possibly. But this kind of phrasing isn't helpful: Either the overall Karma system does its job (by using feelings, or reputation, or whatever), or it doesn't. It doesn't, no one would care. Clearly, they do care, so it is doing some of its job. Yay! Eugine exploited a technical and social loophole, and threatened to destroy the whole system. Hyperbole? Do you really want to see competitive karma bombing, rushing to nuke your opponent's score before they can do it to you? Reducing this level of misbehaviour to "feelings were hurt" is entirely misleading. Eugine cheated (exploited what was self evidently a difficult to close loophole), people got angry at being cheated (a useful evolutionary response) and the cheating could have irreparably damaged the website.
-1buybuydandavis7yYeah, I get that a lot. Then again, I think a lot of other people's phrasing isn't helpful. I think many of their ideas are positively harmful. But in any group, I don't always expect to get my way. It's funny that all the people bemoaning his karma bombing of others where he perceives their irrationality, have little compunction about karma bombing my posts here so that I have to spend karma to not be rude and leave people hanging who took the time and effort to respond to me. I've made arguments all the way through here. Anyone here saying I'm simply irrational? Not making any points? Can't put an argument together? Not that I've seen. It's all tone. It's all about hurt feelings. It's all about having different values. If I were karma voting on those terms, I'd get carpal tunnel syndrome in a week. Click click click click click. Look upthread at my -6, followed by your 100% +9. So, in your estimate, is that an accurate evaluation of our comparative rationality in those two posts? I was abysmally irrational, and you're pristinely rational and insightful? Looking at the pattern of votes, I think it's unlikely that even the majority of my downvotes came from people who actually read each of my posts. A lot of people are just signaling disapproval. Like Eugine was doing. Eugine is at least downvoting people on his perception of their rationality quotient. Who's really cheating here? But is there anyone sharpening the tines of their pitchforks for these new cheaters? Strange how the pitchforks magically align to ideological north, instead of cheating north. Hurt feelings are the crux of the matter. The "cheating" business is a minor transgression serving as rationalization for the picthforks, and as we've seen, a rationalization hardly consistently applied. Turn all of Eugine's downvotes to upvotes. Still "cheating". Should provoke the same outrage, if the outrage was really about cheating. Do you maintain upvotes would have provoked the same outrage

He had no power to send people away. People who left, chose to leave. The continued formulations of this episode which portray his targets as helpless victims lacking agency are dysfunctional. They act and chose too.

Karma is supposed to influence behaviour.

8pragmatist7yYou do realize that karma is more than just a feel-good point system, right? If your karma is low enough, it materially hinders your ability to participate on this site. You can't make discussion posts, or top-level comments, and you have a limited ability to reply to comments. All of this actively discourages low-karma users from participating, not just by making them feel bad, but by actually making participation a hassle. So a newbie who has been karma-bombed may not be leaving simply because he can't handle the heat; he may be leaving because, with the ability to meaningfully accrue karma denied to him, he faces numerous annoying technical obstacles to participation (and certain modes of participation are effectively closed off to him).
-2buybuydandavis7yYes. True, but that was how it was expressed (not exactly in those terms, of course).

It's extra important to police the social norms of a community that's about breaking the prevailing social norms, if you want to have a community at all. The norms you police are the borders of your community.

Begging the question that mass downvoting amounts to harassment.

He did it with the intention of driving away people from the community. Doing things with the intention of weeding out people is well described as harassment.

Eugine would have had the possibility to respond to Kaj with an apology and a promise to not engage in this activity again in the future. From Kaj summary it looks like he didn't. While I would have prefered a solution where he could have stayed, I think strong moderation is valuable and I therefore support Kaj's decision.

9Vladimir_Nesov7yIt's good for the forum to drive some people out. The question is in correctness of particular decisions about driving people out and in acceptability of means of doing so. Applying the concept of harassment is misleading (noncentral), as it suggests incorrect conclusions (e.g. driving people out is undesirable in general), even if some of the other conclusions happen to be correct (e.g. disapproval of Eugine's behavior). (One currently accepted method of deciding to drive a user out is to see if most of their comments are significantly downvoted by many users, and if they keep posting similar stuff regardless. If that's the case, their comments start getting deleted, which is a means of driving them out or motivating them to reduce active participation.)

It's good for the forum to drive some people out.

That is likely to be true, but I'd argue that it's not good for the forum if a single self-selected mostly-anonymous person is the only one deciding who gets driven out.

'Single' implies that consensus among the community is not required; 'self-selected' implies that anyone with an end goal different to that of the site can attempt to force their goal on the community; mostly-anonymous implies a lack of accountability for their decisions. These are all red flags.

3buybuydandavis7yYeah, I believe even the signal to noise crowd is generally opposed to individual karma bombing.
-4buybuydandavis7ySome people describe that as improving the signal to noise ratio. A good many, I believe. Likely he's the hero of his own story, and believes he has nothing to apologize for. Never had that lesson in losing against those with power over you.

Did he admit his guilt, or his actions? From the outside, it sounds like the latter.

Given that the downvoting continues unabated (just got a couple of dozen drop), he clearly does not think he did anything wrong.

6buybuydandavis7yWhat a weird system, that he is banned but can still vote. But maybe someone else took up his sword? (And no, it wouldn't be me.) But back to the issue of his guilt, per the OP, he was confronted and gave his reason. Sounds like he meant it in the first place, and considered it a public service.

From OP:

Unfortunately, it looks like while a ban prevents posting, it does not actually block a user from casting votes. I have asked jackk to look into the matter and find a way to actually stop the downvoting. Jack indicated earlier on that it would be technically straightforward to apply a negative karma modifier to Eugine's account, and wiping out Eugine's karma balance would prevent him from casting future downvotes. Whatever the easiest solution is, it will be applied as soon as possible.

9NancyLebovitz7yKarmacampaigning is an interesting case-- it doesn't seem likely to cause damage in the same way that karmabombing does. Sometimes I'll find my karma going up, and it's hard to find out which comment or post is attracting karma. A karma dif option (probably with a time frame) would be nice, but I don't know how hard it would be to add.
6buybuydandavis7yI'd like that too.
-3Username7yPerhaps differences between eugine's and kaj's political views caused a harsher punishment.
6buybuydandavis7yKaj's political views likely played a part in how he saw this, as would anyone's, but I don't get the sense of "I'm gonna stick it to the other team" from Kaj here. EDIT: BUT, I think political views likely played a part in the more general reaction, and thereby the resulting punishment. EDIT2: see http://lesswrong.com/lw/kfq/moderator_action_eugine_nier_is_now_banned_for/b2gp [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kfq/moderator_action_eugine_nier_is_now_banned_for/b2gp]
-2[anonymous]7yThat's something that irked me as well: I would have preferred the ban to be performed by somebody other than a self-identified feminist. OTOH, I have seen no evidence that Kaj's political views had anything to do with his decision (I just have a sizeable prior for it because he's human), and I can't even recall him ever talking about politics on LW off the top of my head (I only know about his political views from his comments on Slate Star Codex, and the idea of holding people accountable for things they've said in a different venue, well..., it reminds me of something [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brendan_Eich#CEO_appointment_and_resignation].)
8ChristianKl7yThen why didn't you speak up when Kaj asked the community how to deal with the issue?
3[anonymous]7yI wasn't watching the issue that closely back then.

Needless to say, it is not the place of individual users to unilaterally decide that someone else should be "weeded" out of the community.

I don't think this actually makes sense. Generally the way a group comes to a decision something is for a few individuals to come to believe it, and then they convince others. If individuals are not allowed to decide, it's unclear how any weeding can ever be decided upon. Indeed, it's unclear if this rule would even allow you Kaj to ban Eugine!

If individuals are not allowed to decide, it's unclear how any weeding can ever be decided upon.

Pattern A: Someone writes a stupid comment. I downvote the comment, you downvote the comment, Eugine downvotes the comment. The comment now has -3 karma, and the user lost 3 karma. If they continue writing stupid comments, their karma will drop to zero.

Pattern B: Someone writes a stupid comment, I go berserk and downvote all their 30 comments and 2 articles. The user lost 50 karma.

The difference is that in Pattern A, it was individuals making the decision, but it took more than one individual to sent a strong signal. Also, the signals were connected to comments: if the user wrote ten smart comments and ten stupid comments, they would see the difference. Thus, they can learn.

Indeed, it's unclear if this rule would even allow you Kaj to ban Eugine!

Having more rights than an average user is pretty much the definition of a moderator.

How about also making a rule that you can't downvote something that you've replied to?

3Nornagest7yIt's often convenient to be able to write a post explaining a downvote. I'd be okay with barring people from downvoting replies to their own posts, though, which also prevents downvote duels in long threads but preserves the ability to explain a vote. (It'd likely be marginally easier to implement, too, since the presence of a post is stabler than the direction of a vote.)

Fuck, I think that guy was one of my biggest upvoters. You'll pay for this.

5NancyLebovitz7yI wish I could be sure you were kidding. What happened to " Harry Yudkowsky and the Methods of Postrationality: Chapter One: Em Dashes Colons and Ellipses, Littérateurs Go Wild"? It was funny, it got karma, and it seems as though there was a flawed effort to move it to Main.
6Will_Newsome7yEliezer deleted it presumably.
2NancyLebovitz7yWhy delete it with a fake move to Main rather than actually deleting it?
2Will_Newsome7yOh I didn't know about the attempted move to Main. Maybe a mod was feeling trolly and tried to move it to Main and then another mod was like "this isn't main material" and hid it? When I go to edit it from my Overview page it still says "Less Wrong discussion" in the dropdown thingy.
0NancyLebovitz7yI don't know that there was an attempted move to Main-- that's my deduction. What I actually see is that if I go to the article from your name page and click on the title, I get Main with a notification that the article doesn't exist.
0[anonymous]7yI guess I could try pressing the 'submit' button from the edit page again and seeing what happens. ETA: Nope, still "does not exist". ETA2: I submitted a new version. For the lulz.