[Discussion] Votes and their meaning or lack thereof

Submitted by VoidOutput in meta

Hello everyone, today I'd like to propose for your consideration a topic of discussion regarding votes.

To be absolutely clear, I am not talking about votes on policies and proposals as seen on this forum, but rather about votes that are displayed to the left of submissions such as this one or comments.

Generally speaking, I'm always trying to think about site mechanics and their effect on discourse and our interactions. Votes are something that we take for granted. Most of r/@ refugees come from reddit and votes are so ingrained that we don't think about them twice. It may as well be something that we include in the site design, mechanics, and programming because it's how we do things.

It's come to my attention that some of our members think little of the vote counters, going so far as to describe them as useless. I've also noticed that some have complained or at least noticed some posts being the target of mass upvotes or downvotes likely as part of an operation involving multiple accounts. If you also include the fact that new accounts can be whipped up in a matter of seconds to constitute a new army of votes, it becomes apparent that whether or not you think votes have subjective real value, they likely have even less objective value.

I'm now left wondering about three hypotheses and their consequences:

  1. "Votes do have (objective) value"
    This case is really problematic because if we really go through what this entails, then we'd see our lack of account verification as a threat to this model, thus doing everything we can to limit the influx of new users or imposing verification steps. Only then would votes correspond to a real intent by one person only to signify their (dis)like of some content. It seems to me that most of the userbase would be massively opposed to such a policy.

  2. "Votes have some value"
    I see this as the status quo. To my eyes, this is way less problematic than the first hypothesis but still somewhat precarious. This means that we think that in general votes aren't being manipulated and that we can tell if it is the case, which is a dubious position at best. It means that we still think we should rank posts accordingly, thus offering a different amount of attention to what people post.
    If I were a paranoid individual, I would be distressed about the possibility of COINTELPRO tactics being applied very transparently by some accounts without even having to actually write posts for it to work!
    Nonetheless, we could say that this has worked before and that past efforts that we know of to divert the course of conversations have either been ignored by us or foiled by moderators. Whether you consider this a satisfying situation is up for you to decide.

  3. "Votes have no value"
    In this case, a question immediately comes to mind: "Why are we even featuring vote counts as prominently as we do?" Why do we allow these numbers to influence whether the content in question seems interesting and whether we think it has the approval of the community?
    In the case of a upvoted post, it seems bizarre that 10 needs to be displayed when the information was already there when it was 3 30 minutes after being posted - the content was immediately interesting, nothing has changed. Is it a reward you seek from seeing those points?
    Moreover, on that point, and I speak from personal experience but I feel like this position is shared by some here, vote counters can become as addictive as any other thing - checking them obsessively day after day when this is clearly a mechanic that plays on our brains tendency to value random outcomes. Getting rid of it might inconsciously make us more focused on content.

You can probably deduce from the content of this post so far that my natural inclination would be to agree with the third hypothesis. I have several ideas about what to do if most of us would (a) agree about which stance seems most reasonable and (b) try to do something about it. I'll detail two of those shortly below, but I can expand on them later if you like.

  • Replacing counters with indicators such as "Interesting" or "Hotly debated" depending on several factors.
  • Muting the text if a submission if below a certain threshold.

But I don't really want to impose my preconceived notions of what to do because that's up for debate and first we might want to actually decide what we as a group believe is the best stance. I just wanted to provide some examples in order to broaden our horizons about what it is possible to achieve if we wanted to.

Please do share your thoughts about what position you think is best adapted for Raddle, whether you have corroborating or invalidating evidence from your own experience of using Raddle, Reddit or indeed any other vote-based website, or whether you think that my assumptions are incorrect or my worries unfounded. I am very interested in what you all have to say.

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Comments

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GaldraChevaliere wrote

I'd like something more akin to SomethingAwful or other traditional forums where responses are tallied at the bottom of the post. Things like "Good Post" "Unhelpful" Uh dude what the fuck", etc, in little button-emoji form.

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VoidOutput OP wrote

I really like this idea. I would just like to suggest that if this moved forward we not include reactions such as "Agree" or "Disagree" because those would be effectively the same as upvotes or downvotes.

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n_n wrote

I'm now left wondering about three hypotheses and their consequences.

\roll d3

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[deleted] wrote

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JayGrym wrote

Truth be told I usually just go to the 'new' section and the 'recent comments' pages lol

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ziq wrote (edited )

Like all democracy, voting on the Internet is a collective power used to erase dissent, to shame people into toeing the line, to create increasingly marginal outgroups to villainize and purge for the group's entertainment, and to ultimately harmonise the discourse so that only one train of thought becomes socially acceptable and any deviation from accepted dogma is punished harshly.

How you feel about that depends on how much you value the idea of society.

When this site started, the discourse was identical to that on left-reddit. It took a lot of work to shift the discourse to where it is now; away from the toxic privileged urban middle-class white European struggle session circlejerk you still see on reddit.

The people that wanted raddle to remain a white yuppiefest ragequit one by one and now spend their time launching bitter struggle sessions against raddle as a whole on reddit.

The thing about ardent collectivists is they won't stay somewhere where they fail to accumulate the power they need to seize control and start their purges. The moment they realize their power isn't growing, they bail in a fit of rage.

The most dominant personalities in any community steer the discourse, and on raddle those personalities happen to be post-left and thus very keyed in and resistant to collectivist power games. The discourse here, after many hard-fought battles, has been brought as close to anarchy as possible under the circumstances.

Voting is a constant test to that anarchy we've managed to carve out here. Hierarchy; the power of the collective constantly threatens to quash raddle's anarchy, as it would in any community. And so we work everyday on improving our politics and strengthening our own anarchy so that we can maintain raddle's anarchy.

When the day comes again that collectivist forces threaten to overtake raddle; when voting and f/meta are used by reactionaries to launch petty struggle sessions and power machinations, we'll use their own weapons against them like we've done in the past, and hold on to anarchy.

Collectivism is a weapon that can be just as easily turned on itself, and understanding that is what has allowed us to reinforce raddle's beating anarchic heart.

You can't destroy authority, but you can keep it at bay; starve it so it stagnates and doesn't gain the strength to take over.

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VoidOutput OP wrote

I have to be honest, I have trouble seeing your point: you seem to agree that votes and voting cause systemic problems going so far as to saying that it's a weapon but then concluding that this state of affairs is in fact A Good Thing? Am I understanding you correctly? I'm sorry, I feel like I'm missing something.

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ziq wrote

We live in the real world where people use peer pressure, shaming, hierarchy to kill anarchy. There's no way to design around civilized peoples' base impulses. Technology can't create anarchy. Anarchy is a constant struggle that each of us fight on a daily basis.

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VoidOutput OP wrote

Alright, so two important points:

Firstly, I'm not saying that we should design around civilized people's base impulses, I' msaying that the current system transforms our initial impulses and what we could think into something else. Effectively, I'm proposing that we let these impulses be expressed as they are.

Secondly, to be perfectly frank, I don't think any change coming from this would create or strengthen anarchy. It is my hope that by thinking about our systems and modes of interactions that we increase the quality (or at least the perceived quality, which is at least as important) of the discourse on the site. And I also hope that this change would lead us to a better place. What that entails for anarchy on raddle is unclear to me, I can't see how it would be negatively affected, even indirectly.

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ziq wrote

I think people would just find other ways to spite each other if downvoting was took away. It's not like people on chans or phpbbs are any more civil to each other.

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VoidOutput OP wrote

Let's put it another way: the text box I'm typing into, and that we're allowed to have, is one of the most permissive ways to communicate on the Internet. Literally anything is OK to be in there (as long as it's within the TOS). One could be fully aggressive, very calm or visibly happy - anything on the spectrum of human communication.

And then we have that single counter on the side with two buttons. Agree or disagree. I like. I dislike. My point is that this severely limits our ability to quickly express how we feel about a post and to perceive how others feel about a post.

I'm not pretending that getting rid of the votes would make anything more civil - I certainly hope that you don't think that's what I intend. All I'm saying is that to a certain extent that system modifies what we think and that we should look for alternative ways that are truer to our intentions. Let's be as creative with our online community as we could be in real life with radical communities trying to find alternative ways to do anything.

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ziq wrote

I once suggested changing the simple upvote/downvotes to a multitude of reactions like 'funny', 'insightful', 'troll', 'badass', 'boring', 'wow', etc. but I've stopped requested complicated features like that because I know emma has enough on her plate and just figuring out how it would rank things with all those different reactions would be a chore for her, I"m sure.

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ziq wrote (edited )

An example of a collectivist bemoaning their failure to force their will on raddle:

https://old.reddit.com/r/Anarchism/comments/aybmpy/raddle_the_libre_anarchistmanaged_reddit/ei0mpx2/

An example of a reactionary struggle session to silence dissent:

https://old.reddit.com/r/Anarchism/comments/ax6lhy/marx_was_a_repulsive_white_supremacist_or_why/ehu9wjo/

Notice how voting is used to reinforce this toxic behavior and maintain the discourse.

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zzuum wrote (edited )

I'm in the camp that votes affect how we view posts and I therefore have a theme that hides vote counts. I don't think they are helpful.

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Fossidarity wrote

I also have a theme! I'm okay with voting on Raddle because it's a voluntary choice, if you don't want is just use a theme.

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black_fox wrote (edited )

i appreciate the ability to upvote and downvote comments, as downvoting comments by assholes annoys them and i think that's funny. and i appreciate upvoting comments as sometimes someone says something good or says something i was going to say, so instead of repeat the same thing, i just upvote it.

i don't find downvoting submissions useful and i think it could be done away with. i just really don't see the point, but i see upvoting them as kind of like, a recommendation from the community. if people don't like something they can simply not upvote it.

i think it's hard because we may interpret upvotes and downvotes of a submission differently.

edit: i do like Galdra's suggestion, though i'm aware that makes work for emma or you folks that know how to do web stuff

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VoidOutput OP wrote

Regarding your edit, we're just discussing concepts, I'd prefer that we don't get bogged down by planning and try to keep our minds open so that we can find creative solutions. Of course I realize that this entails work but I'd like to think that I could try and implement these things.

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rot wrote

I've said we should just remove votes and rank by most commented in chronological order instead of top and controversial. We could add tags with "emojis" like Galdra suggested as well.

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rot wrote

Clicks could also factor into how posts are weighted.

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VoidOutput OP wrote

Not sure about that last one, that's how we end up with clickbait. Plus we'd have to register clicks and I'm not sure that'd gel well with the privacy-aware folk here.

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[deleted] wrote

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VoidOutput OP wrote (edited )

Wait you disagree with all positions? You might care about this on a sliding scale of 'a lot' to 'not at all' but you either think votes are meaningful or that they aren't, which is it if I may ask?

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JayGrym wrote

I believe the disagreement lies in change. I think.

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[deleted] wrote (edited )

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VoidOutput OP wrote

I hope I don't misinterpret what you're saying but I think you want whatever can be done to inconvenience or hurt malevolent outsiders, but I guess I would first prefer to think about what could benefit us. Well, maybe you think you have more to gain by angering them.

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[deleted] wrote (edited )

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VoidOutput OP wrote

When I think about it, you might like the react system suggested by galdra. You could have a special "FUCK OFF" reaction just for this occasion and others :)

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sudo wrote

I think they do have some value. For me, a highly upvoted post will grab my attention, as it (usually) signifies that it's a very good post. Likewise, I will probably skip over a post that's been massively downvoted. The same goes for comments.

I'd like to keep the current upvote/downvote system. I think that's the biggest factor that makes Reddit-style forums superior to traditional order-of-posting forums; the upvotes and downvotes do an excellent job of straining out the muck. What I think we should do to combat vote manipulation is to have an intelligent daemon program running as part of Postmill's code that would detect vote manipulation in progress (e.g. multiple accounts with no posts or comments logging in in rapid succession to up/downvote a particular post or comment), and silently reverse the votes. That way, we wouldn't have to implement any restrictions on creating new accounts.

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VoidOutput OP wrote (edited )

Would you say that you consider the vote counter to be the best way of quickly reading whether a post/comment is worthy of attention or are you open to other ways?

code that would detect vote manipulation in progress [...] and silently reverse the votes

That's an interesting idea, although I'd like to propose a similar alternative that's done on other such sites: temporary shadow bans. The votes would look like they're registered but to every other user, they'd see the normal count.

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sudo wrote

Would you say that you consider the vote counter to be the best way of quickly reading whether a post/comment is worthy of attention or are you open to other ways?

I'd have to see what those other ways are before I can say.

That's an interesting idea, although I'd like to propose a similar alternative that's done on other such sites: temporary shadow bans. The votes would look like they're registered but to every other user, they'd see the normal count.

That's basically what I had in mind, but I neglected to mention the part about the votes appearing to be intact to the alt accounts. Sorry.

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