Below is a message I just got from jackk. Some specifics have been redacted 1) so that we can discuss general policy rather than the details of this specific case 2) because presumption of innocence, just in case there happens to be an innocuous explanation to this.
I'm Jack, one of the Trike devs. I'm messaging you because you're the moderator who commented most recently. A while back the user [REDACTED 1] asked if Trike could look into retributive downvoting against his account. I've done that, and it looks like [REDACTED 2] has downvoted at least [over half of REDACTED 1's comments, amounting to hundreds of downvotes] ([REDACTED 1]'s next-largest downvoter is [REDACTED 3] at -15).
What action to take is a community problem, not a technical one, so we'd rather leave that up to the moderators. Some options:
1. Ask [REDACTED 2] for the story behind these votes
2. Use the "admin" account (which exists for sending scripted messages, &c.) to apply an upvote to each downvoted post
3. Apply a karma award to [REDACTED 1]'s account. This would fix the karma damage but not the sorting of individual comments
4. Apply a negative karma award to [REDACTED 2]'s account. This makes him pay for false downvotes twice over. This isn't possible in the current code, but it's an easy fix
5. Ban [REDACTED 2]
For future reference, it's very easy for Trike to look at who downvoted someone's account, so if you get questions about downvoting in the future I can run the same report.
If you need to verify my identity before you take action, let me know and we'll work something out.
So... thoughts? I have mod powers, but when I was granted them I was basically just told to use them to fight spam; there was never any discussion of any other policy, and I don't feel like I have the authority to decide on the suitable course of action without consulting the rest of the community.
As one of those targeted, I thought about what I would change if I could. All I came up with is posting mass downvoting stats periodically. If people knew their actions would be detected and made public, they would probably refrain from doing it in the first place.
I am not familiar with the LW database schema, but It is probably trivial to write a SELECT statement which finds users who have been downvoted more than, say, 100 times in the last month, and find the most prolific downvoter of that user. Hopefully this can be a roughly O(n) task, so that the server is not overloaded. I'm sure Jack can come up with something sensible.
Healthy gardens have moderation. If Eliezer doesn't want to do it I think someone else should have the authority to moderate. I consider you (Kaj Sotala) to be trustworthy for that role. Having somebody who's in charge helps.
I have one of these too. Someone is slowly working back through my comments systematically downvoting them. Given the rate, I think they're actually doing it by hand, and must have a browser window they've kept open for months just for this task. It's like they're trolling themselves for me, without me having to actually lift a finger. Some LW karma is cheap for such entertainment.
It was/is the same for me and others, too - small blocks of downvotes on old comments until they reach your first one, and then periodic block downvotes on your recent comments.
I also suspected that it is done by hand at first, but now I am leaning towards it being done with a bot/script (something adapted from reddit most likely), since it happens to many users and the pattern is quite regular over a long time.
Oh, leave me my illusions. I want to picture them FURIOUSLY DOWNVOTING ME COMMENT BY COMMENT, in UNQUENCHABLE NERD RAGE.
I have around 10,000 almost entirely from commenting on posts over three and a half years, it's not hard. I would assume someone with a long-running grudge. It's difficult to think of a worse (appropriate) punishment for them than continuing to be someone who would think this was a worthwhile way to spend their life, however.
Assuming they currently have 1 karma/post on average, which seems low to me, it would only take ~2500 karma to downvote all of David, Tenoke and falenas' comments. That isn't tiny, but for example I'm not particularly prolific and I have ~1500 karma, which I'd expect to be more than sufficient.
One can get sufficiently high karma rather easily. We are not necessarily speaking about the "top contributor" level here.
For example, if someone gets 10 karma points in a month, which is easy if they write regularly, they have 120 karma points in a year. If they don't downvote regularly, and only decide to drop the whole bomb on one person, that's 4×120 = 480 downvotes. Even if they spend half of it on regular downvoting, and the other half on a bomb, that's still "hundreds" of downvotes.
[REDACTED 2], your behavior is bad and you should feel bad.
I'm also one of those target. Literally every comment I have ever made has been downvoted, 10 downvotes a day, for a few months. This happened until whoever was doing it reached my oldest comment. Recent comments are also downvoted.
Not only is mass downvoting feel pretty terrible, it also messes up the purpose of voting. Voting is meant to be a signal of how useful the community thinks a person's comments are, and that's no longer true of my votes or any other victim of downvoting.
My own view is :
Mass downvoting of most/all a user wrote regardless of content defeats the purpose of the karma/score system and therefore is harmful to the community.
Mass downvoting is rude and painful for the target, and therefore is harmful to the community.
So we should have an official policy forbidding it. For the current case, I would support using first 1. (it's always good to ask for reasons behind an act before taking coercive action), and then apply any of 2.an 4. and 5. depending on the answer (or lack of it).
I would rather see mods take matters into their own hands than see a tribunal or other bureaucracy.
I think it is vital that any moderator action be public. If you ban them, fine - but let's see a great big USER WAS BANNED FOR THIS POST.
I think that if we believe mass downvoting is wrong then there should be a public ex cathedra statement that this is so and any practical technical measures to prevent it should be applied.
Well, here I am again, this time providing a paper backing up my claim that having a downvote mechanism at all is just pure poison.
It doesn't make any sense for this type of community. This isn't Digg. We're not trying to rate content so an algorithm can rank it as a news aggregation service.
Look at Slate Star Codex, where everybody is spending their time now - no aversive downvote mechanism, relaxed, cordial atmosphere, extremely minimal moderation. Proof of concept.
Just turn off the downvote button for one week and if LessWrong somehow implodes catastrophically ... I'll update.
For what it's worth I find the SSC comment section pretty unreadable, since it is just a huge jumble of good and bad comments with no way to find the good ones.
I think people go to Slate Star Codex, because that's where Scott writes his articles, not because of the voting mechanism.
From the paper:
Seen that at LW a few times. At some moment the user's karma became so low they couldn't post anymore, or perhaps an admin banned them. From my point of view, problem solved.
I think it would be useful to distinguish between systems where the downvoted comments remain visible, and where the downvoted comments are hidden.
I am reading another website, where the downvoted comments remain proudly visible, with the number of downvotes, and yes, it seem to enrage the user to write more and more of the same stuff. My hypothesis is that some people perceive downvotes as rewards (maybe they love to make people angry, or they feel they are on a crusade and the downvotes mean they successfully hurt the enemy), and these people are encouraged by downvoting. Hiding the comment, and removing the ability to comment, now that is a punishment.
Tricky one. I had a look at the Facebook group and was slightly horrified. You know all the weird extrapolations-from-sequences lunacy we don't get any more at LW? Yeah, it's all there. I think because there are no downvotes there.
My impression is that real-names-and-faces systems incentivize everyone to play to their expected audience's biases, not to be nice. If the audience enjoys being nasty to someone, real-names-and-faces systems strongly disincentivize expressions of toleration.
The very nastiest trolls I've encountered really just do not give a shit. Name, address, phone number, all publicly available.
This is the "real names make people nicer online" claim, which is one of those ideas people keep putting forth and for which there is no evidence it works this way. I say there is no evidence because every time it comes up I ask for some (and particularly during the G+ nymwars) and don't get any, but if you have some I'd love to see it.
edit: and by the way, here's my "photo".
I'd rather kill karma entirely than refactor it into an upvote-only system. If you're trying to do anything more controversial than deciding which cat picture is the best, upvote-only systems encourage nasty factional behavior that I don't want to see here: it doesn't matter how many people you piss off as long as you're getting strong positive reactions, so it's in your interests to post divisive content. That in turn leads to cliques and one-upmanship and other unpleasantness. It's a common pattern on social media, for example.
The other failure mode you get from it is lots of content-free feel-good nonsense, but we have strong enough norms against that that I don't think it'd be a problem in the short term.
I'd be fine with that. I feel a bit silly repeating the same arguments, but we're supposed to be striving to be, like, the most rational humans as a community, yet the social feedback system we are using was chosen ... because it came packaged with Reddit and Reddit is what was chosen as the LessWrong platform because it was the hot thing of its day. There was no clever Quirrell-esque design behind our karma system designed to bring out the best in us or protect us from the worst in us. It's a relic. Let's be rid of it.
No Karma 2014
In a footnote, they discuss what they meant by "write worse":
They measure post quality based on textual evidence by spinning up a mechanical turk on 171 comments and using that data to train a binomial regression model. So cool!... (read more)
The main function of downvotes in LW is NOT to re-educate the offender. Its main function is to make the content which has been sufficiently downvoted effectively invisible.
If you eliminate the downvotes, what will replace them to prune the bad content?
Well, if this is really the goal, then maybe disentangle downvotes from both post/comment karma and personal karma while leaving the invisibility rules in place? Make it more of a "mark as non-constructive" button that if enough people hit it, the post becomes invisible. If we want to make it more comprehensive, it could be made to weigh these votes against upvotes to make the show/hide decision.
i think that has way more to do with it being a blog with interesting posts on than anything to do with the commenting system or lack of "like" buttons.
Remember to think like an attacker in what you recommend.
If the offender really is at fault (which should be quite easy to tell in most cases), then they should probably be banned since this is a pretty disruptive behaviour.
At any rate, have you checked with Eliezer - he used to claim that it is impossible to check a user's voting history, so he might have some other plans that you are not aware of.
I just wanted to comment that I trust you to take thoughtful action with your mod powers. Part of being The Rationalist Community (tm) should be some group coordination abilities, and deferral of the ultimate power of decision and action to an appointed trusted and trustworthy designee seems like a good solution here.
I don't consider banning a good option if the person wasn't warned beforehand. People can reregister and it can get messy. Speaking with the person and convince them to behave differently in the future should be the first choice. Karma punishment sounds like a good tool.
Downvotes are bad. They decrease trust and cause defection spirals. I am confident that the existence of downvotes makes the community less enjoyable, less welcoming and less productive on net.
That said, I'm not sure we should do anything to punish people using them in an extra-bad way.
"being welcoming" is not actually good for a community if you want standards to be high.
This is also why Hacker News disables downvoting on replies to your comments.
How easy is it to change the ratio of required upvotes to allowed downvotes? As an example, I very rarely downvote, so I probably have quite a lot of spare downvotes. If you were to change the ratio to require receiving 10 upvotes per 1 downvote, I don't even think I'd notice, and I imagine that a lot of people with this type of voting pattern would be in a similar position.
On the other hand, someone who mass downvotes presumably is going to burn through their downvotes faster than even someone who downvotes fairly, but finds themselves generally more incl... (read more)
Make your downvoting ability proportional to upvotes in the past month rather than upvotes ever?
Soooo... The #0 issue is that votes are supposed to be for ranking content, but people take them to be for rewarding/punishing writers. I'd try whether stopping calculating users' total and last-30-days karma would ameliorate this.
Back in the stone ages, I believe the Extropian list had extensive configurable collaborative filtering mechanisms. I didn't use them much, but that seems to me the actual solution. Let people trust who they want, and follow who they want. I see a Karma Score configured by me.
People who mass downvote have an effect only if people choose to let them. Done.
Not to say that the implementation would be trivial, only that there are solutions.
And I like griping about how the web has gone backwards in significant ways. I can say "yay" or "boo" to a post. Oooh baby, that's high tech. The Singularity must surely be just around the corner.
The failures of old mailing lists and Usenet were why social mediums universally abandoned killfiles and similar filtering mechanisms: the balance of costs was all wrong - a large number of people had to take affirmative action to ignore the small number of bad apples. It turned out to be better to actively curate the default than to thrust the burden of filtering signal from noise onto each and every user.
To give an Extropian-list-specific example: determined harassment was why Nick Szabo stopped posting there. The filters didn't help there.
No; a lot of the materials are now private, I don't think Nick wants to drag old stuff up, and if the harasser was the same Detweiler dude who did some later harassing, he may well have been mentally ill and not really responsible for his actions.
I didn't specify 'failure of Usenet readers'. I specified failure of Usenet.
Still a serious UI burden which doesn't scale. Torture vs dust specks.
It's difficult in the way that constant strain and vigilance is so difficult. Trivial inconveniences on every post.
By flat-out banning the harasser.
Not really. This is my own lived experience comparing Usenet to Google Groups, Reddit, web forums, and Wikipedia, and noting the explosion of user-contribution in the shift from Overcoming Bias to LessWrong. You could easily prove Usenet is declined, but I'm not sure what research you could do to prove that the incentives were structured wrong or that features like killfiles fostered complacency & reluctance to change, other than to note how all of Usenet's replacements were strikingly different from it in similar ways.
My read is that killfiles were a major aspect of systematically bad design of Usenet which made it uncompetitive and unscalable: it increased user costs it should not have, adding friction and trivial inconveniences. Killfiles express a fundamental contempt for user time: if there are 100 readers and 1 spammer, it should not take 100 reader actions to deal with the 1 spammers, as killfiles inherently tilt matters. What would be much better is if 10 readers take an action like downvoting and spar... (read more)
Another experience here from a long-time former user of Usenet, overlapping yours to some extent.
comp.sources.* was made obsolete by the web and cheap disc space. The binaries newsgroups also, except for legally questionable content that no-one wanted the exposure of personally hosting. (I understand the binaries groups still play this role to some extent.)
I dropped sci.logic and sci.math years before I dropped Usenet altogether, and for the same reason that if I was looking today for discussion on such topics, I wouldn't look there. There's only so long you can go on skipping past the same old arguments over whether 0.999... equals 1.
rec.arts.sf.* took a big hit when LiveJournal was invented. Many of its prominent posters left to start their own blogs. Rasf carried on for years after that, but it never really recovered to its earlier level, and slowly dwindled year by year. Some rasf stalwarts mocked those who left, accusing them of wanting their own little fiefdom where they could censor opposing viewpoints. They spoke as if this was a Bad Thing. It's certainly a different thing from Usenet, but if you want a place on the net for pleasant conversation among friends, a blog under... (read more)
OB allowed users to send in emails and they would be posted, which is not a high bar (lower than, say, learning a Usenet reader) and a fair number of people contributed. It's just that LW made it much easier and unsurprisingly got way more contributions. This apparently came as a big surprise to Eliezer (but not me, because of my long experience with Wikipedia; it was a bit of a Nupedia vs Wikipedia scenario to my eyes).
No, I'm not. I'm saying the interfaces got better at certain features of UX, like dealing with spam and trolls. Usenet could be intrinsically better at debate (in the hypothetical universe where it had a restricted userbase and wasn't dying of spam and other issues).
eg. imagine a forum where all comments had to be accompanied by an argument map but the forum didn't have any way of banning/deleting accounts. I have little doubt that the debates would be of higher quality, since argument maps have been shown repeatedly to help, but would anyone use that forum for very long? I have much doubt.
They don't seem false to me. That's pretty clearly his opinion.
As a Bayesian, you should count not a user's downvote, but P(downvote | user, facts about the post). If user X downvotes half of all posts, each downvote is 1 bit of evidence. If user X downvotes one out of 16 posts, each downvote is 4 bits of evidence.
The tricky part is how you combine facts about the post with the prior over all posts in cases where user X hasn't voted on many of user Y's posts. What if user X downvotes 1 comment in 50, and they've only voted on one of Y's comments before, and down-voted it? I could talk about how to do that correctly, b... (read more)
I vote for public shaming of the mass downvoter. "Banning" them is fine but creating extra accounts is fairly trivial.
I have seen advice that you can vote however you want. If centralizing your downvotes is an action that is faced with punishment a vote use is prohibited. Thus I am thinking there is a line drawn in the water on accepted vote policies.
For those that have beef with users and not posts maybe a channel for those could be developed as a voteable user karma (maybe require a reason for user-downvotes?). Mass downvoters go for the posts as a proxy for the user.
For what kinds of legit use is the association between an username and post used for? Could we do withou... (read more)
(1) is clearly the appropriate action to take in the first instance.
Whatever happened to "no penalty without a law"(nulla poena sine lege)? How did we go from "what should our policy on this be" to "let's do a public spectacle, come up with some rules and apply them retroactively"? LW, I am disappointed.
This isn't a legal system; it's a blog forum. Legal systems impose themselves on non-consenting participants, and therefore are properly subject to procedural and moral restrictions that do not apply to consensual social systems.
Trying to apply the proper restrictions of a legal system to an informal, consensual social system leads to all sorts of weirdly biased results. Another example is the popular notion that "innocent until proven guilty" applies to conversation or personal opinion about a person who is believed to have done something wrongful — at least, when the accused is a member of my tribe, and thus someone who I empathize with.
This isn't really very retroactive - mass downvoting has always been disallowed/looked down upon, it is just that [it was claimed that] there was no way to tell who is an offender in order to punish them.
Even if we don't apply the rules retroactively to whoever this is, it's a perfect opportunity to come up with some rules and them apply them in the future.
I'm sure that the infamously antiauthoritarian LW community would just have loved it if the editors had just decided on a course of action behind closed doors.
Would you also object if I said (which I am not saying, just asking hypothetically) that I suggest the public shaming only for the downvotes that will happen in the future, after this rule is agreed upon? In other words, is retroactivity your true rejection?
I consider the retroactivity not a good rule for a website, because a creative person can find more behaviors that are obviously wrong, but still not forbidden yet. For example, is there an official rule against hacking the server and deleting someone else's account? (Or, as an extreme example, finding the other user in real life and hurting them?) If someone did it, would it be okay to defend them saying: "well, it wasn't said explicitly that such behavior is forbidden, therefore we should protect their privacy"?
Retroactivity and similar rules are made for countries, which have more time and resources to debug the laws, more power to apply, et cetera. LW is not a country, it does not have to follow the same rules.
Can any user downvote, or is some karma needed? It would be good if only users with karma at least, say, 20 could downvote, because that would prevent creating a new account for safe mass downvoting. (Similar system is used at StackExchange.) I'm saying this because if we adopt a policy of detecting and punishing mass downvoters, their logical next step would be to mass-downvote using a different account.
My opinion (but I have low confidence in my ability to correctly handle these situations) is the following:
If an obvious case of mass-downvoting is detect... (read more)
Yeah, blocking topics of discussion on LW is one of those things that doesn't work out so well.
One of my proudest stupid moments on the Internet was when I was chatting to Mike Godwin (I know him through Wikimedia, he was their lawyer for a while) and I compared someone to Neville Chamberlain. ... talking to Mike Godwin. He just said "don't talk to me about WWII stuff, there's no happy ending to that discussion."
It may be too late to influence the consensus decision here, but I'm one of the people downvoted, so what the hell.
As one of the users who was targeted - I don't know who by yet, it may have been a different person to [REDACTED 2] - I'm much more interested in being able to ask why and get new information. That is, after all, the purpose of the karma system, no? To provide information?
Sure, it feels shitty to be suddenly subject to various anti-troll measures because some anonymous individual apparently finds you sub-par. Seriously, it does. It messes up ... (read more)
As far as harming the goals of the community, is mass downvoting of a single user any different from mass upvoting of a single user?
What's the point of the up/down votes in the first place? If the object is reducing bias, doesn't making commenting a popularity contest run counter to this purpose?
Might a one half point penalty for down voting change the incentives enough to prevent mass down voting? Perhaps combined with Viliam_Bur's minimum karma suggestion. Generally I favor ideas that don't make more work for the moderators.
(I am not imagining having half karma points, rather docking one karma for every two (or n) down votes.)
A simple-ish solution is for a mod to PM the offender and ask for an explanation, and figure out a corrective (if necessary) and retributive (if necessary and appropriate for deterrent) solution. Then implement it, make a public note, and be done with it. Very imperfect, mostly due to personal impatience with forum meta, but mostly gets the job done.
If the direct victims (the mass-downvoted) are not calling for blood, warning [REDACTED 2] seems sufficient and closer to minimal recourse than, say, bannination. If an explicit policy is made against mass-downvoting, treat future offences by [REDACTED 2] or others with harsher punishment for violating an explicit policy. Do any of the mass-downvoted feel that that would be insufficient?
I suggested in another thread that successive downvotes on (1) one person's account (2) over a certain number of downvotes (3) within a set period of time should prompt the system to tell the user that they have to sacrifice personal karma until (x) days later in order to use up/downvotes.
Something like this is already in place, where a person has to sacrifice karma in order to comment on a post that itself is below a certain karma threshold.
Make all downvotes cost one karma point, and make it so downvotes are weaker - perhaps 5 or 10 downvotes needed to cancel a single upvote. This really disincentivizes downvoting, but you'll do it anyway if something is just too over the top.
The only reason I'd keep downvoting in general is for use against things like the pedophilia posts from a few months ago - if downvoting tells someone that we don't want them around, there are cases where I'm ok with that.
People already rarely downvote. (Well, except for those who do the mass downvoting.) Making the downvotes 5 times weaker, that's almost like removing them completely. Almost no one would bother.
Has Redacted2 broken any explicit site rules? I personally feel that unwritten rules of etiquette are not punishable. For that reason I strongly oppose options 4 and 5. For comparison, if Redacted2 had hacked the site to get around the karma requirements for downvoting that would be very different. As it is Redacted2 clicked the readily-available thumbs down button while following karma requirements. This is not a punishable offense.
That doesn't make it correct, and it doesn't mean Less Wrong's policies can't change. If the policies change, then options 4 and 5 can be considered for future use.
Strongly disagree. I've been involved in user-facing administration before, and binding yourself to a narrow set of policy rules (especially on a site like LW, where they aren't well documented) is about as useful as drinking antifreeze. It's tempting, sure, since we've all been socialized to believe in the rule of law and no ex post facto punishment and all that good stuff. But the truth is that that only works in government because government runs a well-developed legal framework that's had centuries to fill in its loopholes and smooth its rough edges. And it still requires a lot of discretion on the part of its various enforcers.
You can't make loophole-free policy that's more specific than "don't be a jerk", not if users are going to be interacting with each other in a reasonably natural way. You don't have the time or the expertise. That means you'll occasionally need to extend or invent policy to deal with cases that aren't well covered, and that means you'll occasionally piss people off. It's okay. It comes with the territory.
That said, block downvoting is common enough behavior that we probably should have policy to deal with it. Ideally policy and code, but that's probably not going to happen.