"Hide comments in downvoted threads" is now active

by Wei_Dai1 min read5th Oct 201288 comments

27

Personal Blog

I just found out that a new website feature was implemented 2 days ago. If a comment is voted to -4 or below, it and all replies and downstream comments from it will be hidden from Recent Comments, and further replies in that subthread will incur 5 karma points penalty. The hiding, but not karma penalty, applies retroactively to comments in that subthread posted before the -4 vote.

This seems to be worth a discussion post since most people are probably still voting things to below -3 without knowing the new consequences of doing so.

88 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:01 PM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

This opens up a new aspect of downvoting, which I've just now tried out, and will describe in the interest of full disclosure: you can "swim up" the chain of comment parents until you find one that is at -3, and by downvoting that cause the entire downthread discussion to be effectively censored.

Swimming upthread is something I do quite often in the course of trying to understand what sparked a particular controversy - I'm often dismayed to see that these are tangents that had nothing to do with the original question being investigated and not a whole lot to do with rationality.

This comment by Wei Dai was the trigger for my looking to use this tactic (it felt like it belonged in a low-overall-value discussion of the kind I'd like to see less of), showing up at the top of Recent comments.

No less than eight levels above was this comment by wedrifid, sitting at -3, with a total of 38 children comments. Downvoting it (without the slightest qualm, given the first non-quoted words were a rhetorical "How dare you" that I strongly prefer not to see around here) did in fact cause Wei Dai's comment to disappear from Recent. (Here's the starting point of the whole subthrea... (read more)

I have no particular antipathy toward either Wei Dai or wedrifid, nor did I allow myself to develop a particular attachment to either "side" in that particular controversy, given that the appearance of "sides" at all didn't strike me as particularly productive.

Not productive in the slightest. In fact I would happily downvote my own comment (despite reflectively endorsing it) just to hide the entire pointless load of tripe.

2Eliezer Yudkowsky8yYep, there's some of my own comments I wish I could downvote for the same reason.
1wedrifid8yReally? This is a little surprising but only in a purely logistical sense. You don't tend to be in situations where that can be effective. Voting on your comments is more extreme than with most so whenever your comments form part of an unproductive conversation they already tend to be downvoted way below the threshold where less prominent users who draw less attention may only have reached -2 or -3. For this reason I suspect the current implementation handles this for you with requiring your noble self-sacrifice. (Pardon me if I'm just being too literal and you meant "would wish to be able to downvote". The prominence and popularization factor is just what popped into my head following the "that would be redundant" thought.)
0thomblake8yMe too. And that was even a feature of the system, once upon a time. But I'm not bitter, no.
2maia8yThis is likely the point of the rule: to discourage otherwise-high-quality comments that might inspire a wave of crappy ones.
3prase8yThe problem seemed to be that a crappy comment can sometimes inspire a wave of good comments.
0[anonymous]8yYes, and I like it (a lot). Especially now that the comments are hidden. When the comments were still visible it was more necessary to reply (so that errors aren't accepted without correction). Now the (presumably, more often than not) bad replies don't require high-quality refutation because they are invisible to those who don't seek them out. The penalty to comment replies has very little downside.
4RichardKennaway8yI generally don't read deeply nested comments (except when I load the Recent Comments page, which shows me everything without knowing how deep it is). I find they're rarely worth it, especially when it's just two people going hammer and tongs at each other. Even if one of the two people is me.
3Wei_Dai8yOn reflection, I think I got a bit frustrated towards the end of my discussion with wedrifid, and lost some of my "cool", but overall I would say that the discussion has been productive at least for me, given the inherent difficulties in human communications (and the (still mysterious-to-me) refusal on wedrifid's part to answer many of my questions). While the information I got wasn't what I set out to obtain at the start, nevertheless what I got is useful. For example I've learned that there are a number of forum behaviors that he considers undesirable and is willing to "punish" (which he apparently means in a somewhat technical sense): * rhetorical questions aimed at convincing the audience (and not hedging/indicating uncertainty) * inferring ("mind-reading") negative motives or toxic beliefs in others and then stating them publicly in order to shame * quoting others out of context in order to making them look bad (this one was actually learned previously, but I'm including it here for completeness sake) To be clear, naturally I don't disagree that these behaviors are bad but think wedrifid tends err in the direction of judging too many people guilty. Regardless, at least in the future I can be more careful about my uses of rhetorical questions, inference of motives and beliefs, and quoting (e.g., do not use them unless I'm extremely confident that their actual and intended effects won't be misunderstood) and hope to avoid some of the "punishments" that way. It may be that in retrospect the amount of useful information exchanged seems really small compared to the amount of text exchanged. I think in part that's due to hindsight bias and illusion of transparency that makes us think communication is easier than it really is, but almost certainly there are also things we could have done better, that would have made the exchange go more smoothly and efficiently. If anyone has any suggestions in that regard, I think (at least speaking for myself) they wo
6Morendil8yI wrote a few here, then stored them away: I want to hold off on proposing solutions. Let's discuss the problem instead. What started the whole thing was a question asked by komponisto, presumably intended to get at some interesting aspect of the object-level discussion, but which rapidly went meta (not "meta" in the sense of discussing LW, but "meta" in the sense of discussing the discussion). Going meta isn't the problem, per se. Losing track of the object-level inquiry altogether, while the meta discussion explodes into a 167-comment beast from a one-word comment? Yes, I think that qualifies. The original comment which led to the explosion is upvoted at +8. (That's one way the "technical" fix of censoring descendants of highly downvoted comments might be missing its target, not so much low-quality comments as polarizing, i.e. trollish, comments.) The thread rapidly hits the limit of reply nesting (10 levels), so that only a portion of it can be seen simultaneously with the original exchange (komponisto's question and nsheppard's one-word reply). Your replies, for instance, appear only on page 2. It's a safe assumptions that readers who are coming across your replies have lost the original context, unless they were involved in the controversy from the start. On this first page, several of wedrifid's comments - and only wedrifid's - are highly downvoted. This further reinforces the hypothesis that the thread is polarizing and information cascades are taking place. Reading your first intervention requires loading page 2 of the thread, and reading through to the bitter end requires one more page. This is way beyond what adds value to most LW readers except the most dedicated, and reminds me of the admonitions against thread mode [http://meatballwiki.org/wiki/ThreadModehttp://meatballwiki.org/wiki/ThreadMode] . Starting from your first intervention, the pattern becomes mostly a "ping-pong" one of you and wedrifid going back and forth. Only one other commenter
1Jonathan_Graehl8ychecking my understanding of this telegraphic little clause: polarizing: those who invest the effort in following the argument will tend to pick a side they like best and vote accordingly? information cascade: without realizing it, or, knowingly forgoing their own deep evaluation, people affiliate themselves with the winning side, piling on extra, uninformative, votes?
0Morendil8yYes on both counts.
0Wei_Dai8yThanks. I don't have much to add and look forward to seeing your suggestions.
4TheOtherDave8yThis may be a stupid question, but... why do you want to avoid "punishment" (in the technical sense you reference here)?
1Wei_Dai8y1. My tentative understanding is that "labeling something and calling it undesirable" is only one form of "punishment" that fits wedrifid's definition, and that if I ignore his milder punishments, he may escalate to more severe forms. (I started putting an example of what I think may be one of his more severe forms of punishment, but removed it in case he considers it to be either quoting out of context or mind-reading.) 2. My expectation is that in most cases when I'm punished I will consider myself innocent but also have some doubt (e.g., perhaps I am biased about my self-assessment or just missing something obvious). I may be tempted to defend myself or ask wedrid to explain his reasons, which may cause more discussions that others consider unproductive, as well as frustration to myself if I fail to resolve the doubt.
0TheOtherDave8yOK. Thanks for the explanation.
3yli8yThis could be fixed by making the hiding apply only to comments at most, say, three levels down from a downvoted comment.
2Exetera8yPerhaps a way to make this work would be to automatically unhide downstream comments whose upvotes are greater than the sum of the downvotes of all its negative-karma parents? In that way, a good (ie. high-karma) discussion can't be killed by a low-karma parent thread so easily.
-6Emile8y

This confuses me. I can understand how one could think the -5 penalty is useful and I can understand having further comments not show up in recent changes. But if the primary problem seems to be signal/noise in Recent Comments then the penalty doesn't do anything useful. Worse, if a useful thread occurs in part of a downvoted thread, not only will one need to move it over somewhere else, if one wants any chance that people reading that part of the subthread will be able to follow to the new location, one will need to post a comment in that subthread pointing people to it. That will mean one will still need to pay the -5 penalty. This is a not well-thought out combination.

4Pentashagon8yMaybe we need a "move to open discussion thread" voting button in addition to the karma buttons. Above a certain threshold off-topic but useful discussions could thereby be moved and orphaned from an original <-4 parent, perhaps leaving a link to the new thread or more sensibly someone else could just link to the new thread in another comment if there's any lingering topicalness. This would further discourage trolls because there would no longer be any correlation between their downvoted comment and a good discussion.

Hmm, EY quietly refused to only apply this to obvious trolls (negative 30-day karma). I wonder what his logic might be.

To make the fact that another downvote would push something below the threshold more evident, would it be helpful to change the colour of the score to yellow when at the threshold and red when below?

[-][anonymous]8y 18

The threshold ought to be a user preference. I might consider starting to have a policy of upvoting all comments currently at -4 or lower (except stuff I would delete if I were an admin, i.e. obvious spam, disclosures of confidential information, and the like) until it is made into one.

8wedrifid8yIf so, then definitely of the 'opt-out' kind with the current behavior as the default. Making the (at least reasonably likely to be) trashy conversations invisible to new users is one of the most important goals of the feature.
2thomblake8yDownvoted comments were already collapsed by default.
[-][anonymous]8y 14

BTW, comments below -4 (I guess), such as this, are collapsed by default even if I leave the “Don't show me comments with a score less than (Blank for none)” preference blank. At the very least, the “(Blank for none)” should be updated.

5timtyler8yIt's pretty bad. I can't read even some of my own comments when logged in without clicking.
-2Eugine_Nier8yIt also ignores the value.

I just noticed that I got a "you have mail" indicator in my message box but there are no new messages. I'm assuming that this is related to the change here. Is it intended that replies are hidden even within inboxes or is that a bug? If not a bug it seems excessive and given a karma penalty redundant. Not that I especially mind either way but if you are going to hide messages from the inbox you need to also hide the 'new message' indicator for invisible messages.

I disagree somewhat- hiding new messages from the inbox is a bad idea. People should be able to know when new messages have been made to them. The primary advantage that would occur here is that people who browse using Recent Comments won't see them. This doesn't accomplish anything.

This is indeed a bug; the feature spec said not to hide from inbox.

4JoshuaZ8yWell, that's good to know. Next question then: are you going to respond to any of the other concerns about this such as those discussed in this comment [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/esl/hide_comments_in_downvoted_threads_is_now_active/7koh] ?

I disagree somewhat- hiding new messages from the inbox is a bad idea. People should be able to know when new messages have been made to them. The primary advantage that would occur here is that people who browse using Recent Comments won't see them. This doesn't accomplish anything.

(My main point was that there is a need for consistency between the notification of messages inbox and the contents of the inbox. Otherwise it is just telling you that you have mail and you need to find it yourself... somehow. I'm not sure you are disagreeing with that much at all.)

9Vladimir_Nesov8yI've submitted a bug report [http://code.google.com/p/lesswrong/issues/detail?id=353] about that.

and further replies in that subthread will incur 5 karma points penalty.

Is there still a warning given about this five point penalty? I ask because I it presumably exists but I have yet to see it, either after this change or the previous change. If it does exist I must just have never wanted to reply to a comment that has been significantly downvoted and, more recently, never have wanted to reply to a comment with a downvoted ancestor.

Performed the following experiment:

Went to this comment, which has (right now) a score of -9 and a child with a score of +12 and a grandchild with a score of +4.

Recorded my karma score (9686).

Attempted to reply to the downvoted comment; got the warning. Didn't post a reply.

Attempted to reply to the upvoted child; got the warning (which, incidentally, warns about replying to downvoted comments, which might be confusing). Didn't post a reply.

Also performed the following experiment:

Went to this post, which has (right now) a score of -9 and some upvoted comments.

Recorded my karma score (9687).

Attempted to reply to the post, no warning.

Submitted this comment

Checked my karma score (9686). I assume the -1 is just because someone downvoted something in the minute or so it took me to do that.

(Incidentally, I would still love a feature where I could review recent upvotes and downvotes applied to me... to the extent that karma is intended as feedback for the poster, it helps to have some way of associating that feedback with the actual thing being evaluated. Knowing that I said something at some time that someone wants less of on LW doesn't really help me much.)

(Incidentally, I would still love a feature where I could review recent upvotes and downvotes applied to me... to the extent that karma is intended as feedback for the poster, it helps to have some way of associating that feedback with the actual thing being evaluated. Knowing that I said something at some time that someone wants less of on LW doesn't really help me much.)

Definitely this.

9Vladimir_Nesov8y(There is a bug report [http://code.google.com/p/lesswrong/issues/detail?id=354] about this issue.)
3[anonymous]8yAs I think I said elsewhere, I no longer even bother to notice the last two digits in my total karma, or the last digit in my last-30-days karma.
2TheOtherDave8yWhich sounds like it makes karma even less useful as feedback for you than for me.
0[anonymous]8yI do skim my user page to take a look at my recent comments' karma scores about once a day or so.
0TheOtherDave8y(nods) I've concluded from a few rounds of attending to numbers that in a typical one-week period, I'm likely to see a digit or two of shift due to voting on old (knocked off my user page) comments.

Is there a way to turn this off?

-2eurg8y* unnecessary link and opinion retracted -
5[anonymous]8yIn principle, we could have different thresholds for the karma penalty to replies and for the removal from Recent Comments.
4drethelin8yI don't see why not. Karma isn't that important, and if someone is losing or gaining karma because the small number of people that prefer to see dead threads up or downvote them I don't think it will really change anything. Allowing this to be an optional feature seems like it would be a perfect compromise between people who want to participate in these conversations and moderators who don't want to see them.

Another change is that comments with scores of -4 are collapsed, regardless of how the preferences are set. Preferences can still be used to collapse more comments.

I normally use LW without JS, so it's a big hassle for me to uncollapse comments. This also means that I don't see recent comments in the sidebar, which means that I didn't realize that everyone was seeing them (as opposed to the few people who go to the recent comments page) and was confused by all this concern about them. I don't have much experience with them, but they seem of dubious value to me. A simpler solution would have been just to delete them.

Hiding replies to highly downvoted comments from Recent Comments seems like a good idea. And now that such comments are not clogging Recent Comments anyway, the 5 karma penalty is now even more pointlessly stupid.

I like this change (a lot). Especially now that the comments are hidden. When the comments were still visible it was more necessary to reply (so that errors aren't accepted without correction). Now the (presumably, more often than not) bad replies don't require high-quality refutation because they are invisible to those who don't seek them out. The penalty to comment replies has very little downside.

I'm glad to see this functionality implemented, as I'd hoped for someone to take on the challenge of reducing or eliminating long, useless threads for some years now.

This seems to be worth a discussion post since most people are probably still voting things to below -3 without knowing the new consequences of doing so.

There is a moderation mechanism designed to do X when users do Y. If this mechanism is good, we should keep it. If this mechanism is bad, we should remove or modify it. But we should not think about this mechanism while voting. That's gaming the mechanism.

  • Upvote = "LessWrong discussions should have more of this."

  • Downvote = "LessWrong discussions should have less of this."

That'... (read more)

There is a moderation mechanism designed to do X when users do Y. If this mechanism is good, we should keep it. If this mechanism is bad, we should remove or modify it. But we should not think about this mechanism while voting. That's gaming the mechanism.

A mechanism requiring that it should not be thought about is a significant flaw. Stable systems rely on being robust with respect to people trying to achieve desired goals via them, at least to the degree that is practical. It so happens that I don't think the 'gaming' potential of this mechanism is actually especially significant. People downvoting a comments because "they want to see less of this entire thread" is not too much of a corruption away from "they want to see less of this". People do exactly this already, without this mechanism. In fact, they go through and systematically downvote every comment in a thread. Downvoting just the one is a net reduction in 'gaming', if that label applies at all.

But we should not think about this mechanism while voting. That's gaming the mechanism.

And playing to win is wrong!

There is nothing more to think about while voting.

There wasn't until karma became meaningful. Now karma has meaning.

That's all. There is nothing more to think about while voting. If you think there should be more things to consider while voting, please explain what and why.

  • "This comment deserves to be at +5, not +40. The voting is totally out of proportion and I would prefer it were encouraged to a +39 degree than a +40 degree."
  • "The parent is at +8 while this comment is at +1. It is an undesirable thing for there to be such a difference in karma between these two comments because the reply is at least as good as its parent. I am going to upvote the reply."

I certainly support the heuristic: Upvote = "LessWrong discussions should have more of this." In fact, I've been advocating it for long enough that when I first advocating that interpretation it provoked controversy in as much as some considered it too cynical compared to more pure ideals along the lines of votes being obliged to mean "the point in this comment is rationally coherent". That said, it isn't quite the only consideration that it is reasonable to take in to account and I apply both of the heuristics mentioned above from time to time.

2[anonymous]8yThat's why I think upvotes and downvotes should be shown separately: that way it'd be clear whether +40 means +41 -1 or +140 -100.
-1Exetera8yReplies are not necessarily as good or worse than their parents. A lot of the Sequences on this site might be construed as "replies" to more mainstream statistics, philosophy, or science, and yet I would certainly hope that the Sequence entries would get more upvotes than their parents.
8Wei_Dai8yI asked [http://code.google.com/p/lesswrong/issues/detail?id=345#c13] Eliezer: And he answered: So apparently he does want people to be aware of the mechanism while voting.

I really dislike this. It makes me feel like we all have the responsibility to upvote downvoted threads if we happen to notice discussion going on downstream. After all, if discussion is happening, then it should be greater than -4, and so we should upvote in circumstances where we otherwise would have not voted.

I like the option of not voting. I upvote when I see something I think we should have more of, leave alone the majority of stuff, and downvote only when I see something inappropriate. Our choices are NOT binary, but ternary. Yet this new system of hiding at -4 takes away my choice to not upvote. If I see worthwhile discussion downstream, I feel obligated to upvote.

7TheOtherDave8yI'm not sure how I'd even notice if this norm were in place or not. After all, a -4 comment with replies is not evidence that there exists a person who both voted it down to -4 and replied.
3Viliam_Bur8yThank you for the link! However, my (motivated, I admit) reading of that text is that Eliezer wants to bring attention to a paradox of downvoting a comment and discussing below the comment. Either the comment is an interesting discussion-starter, and then it should not be downvoted; or the comment is worthless, and then people should not start a discussion below it. Downvoting a comment and discussing below it is kind of supporting something you oppose.
8[anonymous]8yIf it's a seriously misguided but good-faith comment by a newbie, I might want to downvote it and explain why I did it. Hanlon's razor.
0Nighteyes56788yBut, if it's a newbie and you knew that changing it from a -3 to a -4 would end the discussion, wouldn't you just not down vote it, and explain your problem or correction? This new change seems to me to be a way for someone to end a conversation, though they had to have 3 other people help them get it there. Is that an intentional change we want to make?
2[anonymous]8yI was arguing against EY's argument mentioned by Viliam_Bur in favour of this change, which I'm opposed to. Of course, given that the change has been implemented, I won't downvote a post at -3 unless it's obvious spam or something.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky8yNot just metaphorically. People are behaviorally reinforced into trolls because attention is reward and provocation gets attention. By downvoting something and commenting in reply to it, you are building positive associations to getting downvoted, a rather psychologically-sick sort of internal state that is a very bad thing to do to anyone. Would you consider it a nice thing to do to follow somebody around and give them a smile and a kiss each time they lost their temper or experienced some other failure of will, so as to reinforce that behavior? No, right?

Could you taboo "trolling". I think several distinct things are being lumped under that word. Here are the kind of posts that tend to get downvoted:

1) Simply being obnoxious, e.g., "First Post!!!!". As far as I know, these are almost non-existent here.

2) Someone arguing for a crazy position they don't believe.

3) Someone who genuinely believes a crazy position.

4) Someone arguing for a reasonable position that causes some voters to get mind-killed.

Which subset of these do you mean by "trolling" and what do you think is the appropriate response to each?

You forget 5) Someone arguing for a position (crazy or otherwise) in a deliberately provocative way.

2Eliezer Yudkowsky8yTrolling: Provocation for the sake of response.
5Eugine_Nier8yOk, the next question is whether being voted below -3 is a good proxy for a comment being provocation for the sake of response. For example, I strongly suspect eridu simply honestly believes the insane ideas he espouses, does he count as "provocation for the sake of response", if not what do you think the appropriate response to his comments should have been?
1MixedNuts8yPattern-match: Almost all comments are posted at least in part for the sake of response. What's provocation? In particular, how is it different from nonconformism?

Ars Technica discusses recent changes to their moderation, including auto-collapsing threads with negative points. They're quite pleased with the reduction in trolling.

I've gone through and devaporized all of eridu's comments in his epically successful "radical feminism" troll - I don't like vaporizing things (or exercising direct moderator power at all, really), and since eridu at -243 karma can't reply to anything else in that thread, it should be safe now. It also serves as an extremely clear exhibitable example of what this feature was for!

(Looking over so many at once makes me pretty sure that it was trolling (a reinforced behavior of provocation-for-attention), btw.)

6duckduckMOO8yIt looks to me like Eridu sincerely holds positions that you would be expected to find particularly objectionable or even have trouble believing someone could hold in part due to a huge inferential distance between what the world must look like (including perceptual valences) to the two of you. He's not presenting new ideas. Some People have been taking seriously those ideas for a long time. Is anyone who is a sincere radical feminist that bring their normal (imprecise and [even more]politicky) ways of speaking to less wrong going to be labelled a troll? If so your heuristic is broken because that's a very common way for people to express themselves. Also trolling almost always means provocation for a negative reaction. provocation for attention is a sad and pitiable state of affairs more commonly associated with the words attention-seeking whereas trolling usually means looking to upset people for the sake of it which is a much more hostile kind of thing.
7Wei_Dai8yI think both you and Eliezer are right. Eridu probably is sincere in his beliefs, but also has been reinforced by the attention he received into provoking people in a way that doesn't help his cause. He seems to even know this but still endorses [http://lesswrong.com/lw/e95/the_noncentral_fallacy_the_worst_argument_in_the/7f0f] his behavior: ETA: I'm not sure how we can try to help someone level up their rationality without at the same time giving them attention and risk turning them (by reinforcement) into a troll. The "hide downvoted threads" mechanism only limits the damage...
1IlyaShpitser8yThanks -- I was curious to look into the details of that memetic attack.

Nice! This looks like a better way of preventing long discussions in buried downvoted threads than the previous karma penalty to simple replies.

Hopefully now in reply to crappy posts, people will either create a new thread (or use an open thread) if they have something interesting to reply, or not reply at all if they don't; and people will be less willing to post if they expect to be downvoted - in all cases, it's a win!

6drethelin8yWhy do we want to encourage spreading discussions around? If it's a good conversation then it makes more sense in context and people should just keep it together, and if it's crappy you're just crapping up more of the forum. We don't encourage good replies to good posts to also post elsewhere.