Archive for May, 2016

Don’t Fear the Downvote

There are two approaches for rating posts / comments on discussion boards and forums.  One restricts users to “liking” or upvoting a comment.  Another allows users to give either positive or negative feedback with upvotes or downvotes.  Many site tie the accumulated score to a user (though this is more common in the upvote / downvote approach), while some leave it only to reflect on the individual post itself.

The result of an upvoting only system is a clear push towards the most extreme.  The flashier, the more controversial, the more reactions you can get (positive or negative) the greater the number of likes.  Reasonable discussion goes out the window.  The entire system is about shock and awe, with special deference to reinforcing what others already think.  Nowhere is this more clearly obvious than Facebook (which I left a few years back).

The upvote / downvote approach tends to keep things civil, but has a chilling effect on contrarian opinions and whimsy.  From a moderation standpoint this allows the character of an environment to enable self policing to an extent that largely shapes posting habits and makes it clear what is and is not acceptable.  For this reason the combination upvote / downvote approach seems to be catching on as the more common in newer and more trafficked discussion platforms.  I mean, moderation is difficult, time consuming, and has (when “mishandled” according to a site’s users) lead to widespread abandonment of a platform.  Why risk alienating your users?  Let them police themselves, and then you’re off the hook.

So if you pick a community that reflects your values you can be in for a smooth, mostly troll-free experience.  Echo chambers no longer need be imposed by filters on your search results or Facebook filters, we can self-impose them by which communities we choose to participate in.  Indeed, we can all have our own special self space, where everyone thinks just like you.  Unless of course you are a contrarian.  If you feel the iconoclastic pull, believing that you (and perhaps others) grow more when being exposed to differing opinion, and looking at this established bubbles (with their ideological walls) as more prisons than fortresses, then what?

If I might make a suggestion, have you tried going for the downvote?  I know, all conditioning suggests that a positive score is good, and a negative score is bad (golfers bear with me, sorry), but does a score on the internet mean anything?  No, no it doesn’t.  Now I’m not suggesting you go to StackOverflow and submit really stupid answers to coding questions (you rebel you), but in an age where offering up a dissenting opinion is the mark of a troll, then only those unwavered by being labelled as trolls can freely speak their mind.  So don’t restrict yourself to communities that reinforce your world view.  In fact avoid those, as they have less to offer you.

When I see a post hidden due too “too many downvotes” that’s the post I make a point to read.  Sometimes I too disagree strongly with the post, but a frequent take away for me is, “That person had to know they’d get downvoted for saying that, but they just didn’t care.”  I mean if fear of losing some points in a stupid internet scoring system is enough to keep us from going against the grain, then courageous dissent is all but being conditioned out of the youngest generation.

So I resolve to go for a negative score.  Not by posting gibberish or wall-of-text copy-paste spam, but by telling that joke that may or may not be funny, by expressing an unpopular opinion, and by asking questions that may have been answered on the 18th page of a 45 page article (that I stopped reading after page 10 because come on).  Maybe this approach will have an effect on some of the communities I frequent, but likely not.  I’m not doing it for them though, I’m doing it for me because my own personal growth (from exposure to contrary positions), integrity (by not allowing group thought to influence me), and courage (to express an unpopular opinion) matter a hell of a lot more than an online score card.

May 1, 2016 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment


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