Downvoting considered harmful

A study [PDF] published in a journal of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence found that sites that have a "downvote" button to punish bad comments lock the downvoted users into spirals of ever-more-prolific, ever-lower-quality posting due to a perception of having been martyred by the downvoters.

What's more, positive attention for writing good posts acts as less of an incentive to write more good stuff than the incentive to write bad stuff that's produced by negative attention.

Leskovec and his colleagues don’t look at Reddit, but instead at four other prominent information-sharing Web sites with roughly similar mechanics (these sites, like Reddit, allow users to “upvote,” or “downvote” posts and comments). They use some complicated statistical and experimental techniques to reach two key findings:

(1) People who write low quality posts are more likely to write again when they get negative attention. Furthermore, the quality of their posts deteriorates. This goes beyond the simple adage that you shouldn’t feed the trolls by giving them attention. The evidence suggests that negative feedback can perhaps actually create trolls. It also suggests that people getting negative feedback are more likely to give others negative feedback, too, spreading the infection.

(2) People who write high quality posts are encouraged by positive attention to write more. However, they aren’t as encouraged by positive attention as bad posters are by negative attention. Furthermore, the quality of their posts does not go up. Broadly speaking, encouragement doesn’t seem particularly effective.

How Community Feedback Shapes User Behavior [Justin Cheng, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Jure Leskovec]

Why Reddit sucks: some scientific evidence [Henry Farrell/Washington Post]

(via Making Light)

(Image: /disapprove, hobvias sudoneighm, CC-BY)

Notable Replies

  1. Kimmo says:

    Further, it appears that if you want to maximise awesomeness, you complement folks for the behaviour you want to see from them, before they've even forked it out.

  2. Ratel says:

    Which is to say, people suck. The answer is Ars "ignore" option and hide-on-excessive-downvote formula . If someone is clearly just posting to be a dick, regardless of why, then ignoring them allows them to be stupid and self-destructive without bothering anyone else.

    I used to find considerable annoyance on Ars' comments threads, but when they implemented their new system, I found I could go intentionally to things like climate change threads, scroll through a few pages clicking "ignore" on denialist accounts, and as a result, my Ars experience has been radically more positive.

    Occasionally I'll go through a thread and check out the comments that have been hidden because of excessive downvote. In every case to date it's been an incontrovertible douchbag. I say the system works.

    And I get downvoted occasionally! Maybe I'm some kind of neuro-abnormal freak, but generally that makes me stop and think about whether it was worth posting my comment.

  3. I downvote this.

    Ball's in your court Doctorow, what's it going to be? Three posts about bananas? You haven;t got the grapes.

  4. Or it could be that some people are just assholes and proud to be one.

  5. Some sites only count downvotes if the comment has positive votes, they never go below zero or show the number of downvotes, only the number of upvotes after the downvotes have been detracted. this is also an excellent way to allow quality comments to rise to the top without inflaming or encouraging trolls. It isn't an issue if done right, they things they point to as negative are easily neutralized while keeping all the benefits of the vote system.

    also, i personally -LOVE- sites that have the IGNORE feature where you can click on an extra annoying user and make them disappear from all your comment thread views, and they no longer see yours either, it is like they aren't even there anymore. I never use it for contrarian opinions that are intelligent, as I appreciate those, but it sure comes in handy weeding out the a-holes or trolls that have absolutely nothing of value to add without further inflaming or encouraging them. More sites need to utilize this feature.

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