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.
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.
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.
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.
Retribution can serve as deterrence.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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).
What about the attack on MugaSofer from May 2013 (ticket on the issue tracker)?
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.)
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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. :)
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).
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.)
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)
Well, two of those three statements are falsifiable statements that are useful for making predictions about the future.
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?
The problem is how does one distinguish someone defecting because he's dealing with a DefectBot with someone defecting because he is a DefectBot.
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)
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 interpretation of the anti-harassment rule. Thus Kaj_Sotala has used powers beyond their intended scope to punish someone who did not really break a rule. And the punishment was probably excessive; a massive karma penalty would probably have sufficed.
Given all this, it may still have been a good decision on net to ban Eugine_Nier. But mission creep is usually just something I read about, not witness live, and it's nice to view it from closer to the "inside."
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.
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.
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.)
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)
How are you going to deal with socks?
Are you going to be implementing a more systematic process for detecting karma abuses?
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.
EDIT: AAAUUUGH REDDIT'S DB USES KEY-VALUE PAIRS AIIEEEE IT ONLY HAS TWO TABLES OH GOD WHY WHY SAVE ME YOG-SOTHOTH I HAVE GAZED INTO THE ABYSS AAAAAAAIIIIGH okay. I'll still do it. whimper
GIVE THAT USER UPVOTES FOR BRAVERY. Thank you.
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.
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.
It's heartwarming to see off-the-cuff SQL that includes foreign key constraints.
Heartwarming enough to offer me a job? ;)
EDIT: Downvoted? Ouch...
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.
Would need to figure out one first. Many of the proposals I've seen so far require code changes.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Thank you. That's all I ask.
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).
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.
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".
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
Did he admit his guilt, or his actions? From the outside, it sounds like the latter.
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?... (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.
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.
Karma is supposed to influence behaviour.
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.
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.
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.
Given that the downvoting continues unabated (just got a couple of dozen drop), he clearly does not think he did anything wrong.
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!
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.
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?
Fuck, I think that guy was one of my biggest upvoters. You'll pay for this.