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Data Mining Shows How Down-Voting Leads To Vicious Circle of Negative Feedback 293

KentuckyFC writes: "In behavioral psychology, the theory of operant conditioning is the notion that an individual's future behavior is determined by the punishments and rewards he or she has received in the past. It means that specific patterns of behavior can be induced by punishing unwanted actions while rewarding others. While the theory is more than 80 years old, it is hard at work in the 21st century in the form of up- and down-votes — or likes and dislikes — on social networks. But does this form of reward and punishment actually deter unwanted actions while encouraging good behavior? Now a new study of the way voting influences online behavior has revealed the answer. The conclusion: negative feedback leads to behavioral changes that are hugely detrimental to the community. Not only do authors of negatively-evaluated content contribute more but their future posts are of lower quality and are perceived by the community as such. What's more, these authors are more likely to evaluate fellow users negatively in future, creating a vicious circle of negative feedback. By contrast, positive feedback does not influence authors much at all. That's exactly the opposite of what operant conditioning theory predicts. The researchers have a better suggestion for social networks: 'Given that users who receive no feedback post less frequently, a potentially effective strategy could be to ignore undesired behavior and provide no feedback at all.' Would Slashdotters agree?"
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Data Mining Shows How Down-Voting Leads To Vicious Circle of Negative Feedback

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  • In other words... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dr Fro ( 169927 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @04:57PM (#47027647) Homepage

    Don't feed the trolls?

  • Re:BS (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 17, 2014 @05:07PM (#47027741)

    Don't feed the trolls.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @05:22PM (#47027843)
    That's the criticism, well maybe that's too strong a word... That's the critique I've had of Slashdot's moderating system. By allowing both up-votes and down-votes, you create a system where the voice of the majority can drown out the voice of the minority. I've often seen people here express the mistaken belief that if a minority viewpoint is introspective or informative, it will survive the unfair downvotes and rise to the top. It doesn't work that way.

    The average ranking is not rank = up - down. It's rank = p1*up - p2*down. Where p1 is the size of the population which would rank it up, and p2 is the size of the population which would rank it down. A minority viewpoint consequently gets a disproportionate number of unfair downvotes simply because it's a minority viewpoint, and thus has to garner a lot more upvotes just to obtain an equal ranking to a majority viewpoint.

    For an apolitical, non-religious example, consider Windows vs. Linux. Say Windows users outnumber Linux users 50:1. Now imagine if a search engine let you rate search results based on whether they were useful or not useful, which is then used to prioritize subsequent search results. In every population, there's going to be an idiot segment who votes stuff down simply because they don't like it, not because it was inaccurate or irrelevant it was to their query. Consequently, if a search for hard disk repartitioning brings up four Windows sites and one Linux site as the top results, the Linux site is going to have 50x as many downvotes from those idiot users who never specified Windows in their search but were upset that an "irrelevant" Linux site was included in the search results. If the idiot segment of the Windows population exceeds 2% (numerically equivalent to 100% of the Linux population), that Linux site will end up with a negative rating regardless of how useful or informative it is.

    I say "criticism" is too strong a word because neither way is the "right" way to do it. They are just different. A moderating/ranking system which only allows upvotes simply generates different results from a moderating system which allows both upvotes and downvotes. Sometimes the former is more useful; sometimes the latter is more useful. The important thing is to understand the limitations of both and how it will bias the rankings, and not fall into the mistaken belief that a minority viewpoint has just as easy a time reaching +5 on Slashdot as a majority viewpoint. If a contrary viewpoint reaches +5 on Slashdot, it must be making a helluva good point.
  • by seebs ( 15766 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @06:08PM (#47028103) Homepage

    People who are trying to get "negative" responses are not getting negative conditioning, they're getting what they want.

    The trick is to give them feedback they don't want, not necessarily obviously "negative" feedback.

  • Re:BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @06:22PM (#47028167) Homepage Journal

    It's correct. Slashdot's moderators routinely downrate good posts on the basis of "disagree", and the system itself hides good conversations, muzzles the moderators, incorrectly presumes anonymity is a bad thing for posts (wrong), while assuming anonymity is a good thing for moderators (wrong again), and does nothing effective about moderation abuse. The best thing you can say about it is that it can be ignored if you properly configure your browsing options. By far the best way to read slashdot is at -1. I've been doing it for years.

  • Re:BS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by buybuydandavis ( 644487 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @07:11PM (#47028433)

    This is about the oldest lesson online. Don't feed the trolls. The proper response to a troll is *plonk*.

  • by BergZ ( 1680594 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @08:20PM (#47028735)

    We are told "Do not feed the trolls." But some cannot resist. Why are some incapable of letting the troll starve and vanish?

    ... because we are also told "the cure for bad speech is more speech".
    When a troll posts misinformation (especially those long debunked arguments) I think the people who reply are not attempting to convince the troll (trolls can't be convinced):
    They're trying to persuade the reasonable readers with facts and better information.

  • Re:BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @08:37PM (#47028849)

    It's correct. Slashdot's moderators routinely downrate good posts on the basis of "disagree"

    I haven't had this experience very often at all, and I frequently post controversial opinions that tend to be against the mainstream opinion here. In fact, one of the most common situations where I bother to post at all is where I see a post that has already been modded "+5 insightful" or something, but it's full of incorrect information or is speaking from ignorance.

    When contradicting such a post, I always make a point of explaining my objections with supporting details and often links to information that shows what is wrong with the parent post. Sometimes I'm ignored, but rarely downmodded below my default karma post level of 2. (I've probably posted something like a thousand posts here, and I bet I could count the downmods below my initial score on one hand.) Once in a while, I get modded up, then modded down, and sometimes up again. I don't monitor my posts closely, but I've seen it happen a few times.

    In general, though, when I post something controversial or against a parent who was already modded up, I explain myself, and I'm not a jerk about it unless the parent is obviously an idiot or has already been a jerk about something.

    And in quite a few years of doing this, I've almost never encountered the sort of abuse you're talking about. Being ignored? Yeah, sometimes. But actively downmodded? Not when I make my point clearly.

    and the system itself hides good conversations,

    As well as a whole lot of spam, trolls, and other nonsense.

    muzzles the moderators, incorrectly presumes anonymity is a bad thing for posts (wrong),

    In any ideal world, I would like for an AC to be equivalent to a registered user with neutral karma. I agree that anonymity should not be penalized simply for anonymity -- especially since in some situations, posters may really NEED to be anonymous.

    Unfortunately, the number of situations where that anonymity is necessary is quite small compared to the number of AC posts that contain spam, trollish behavior, etc. So, Slashdot's decision to mildly encourage pseudonyms over AC is, overall, I think a pragmatic solution. Since Slashdot doesn't require real names, this isn't a problem for me -- pseudonyms are good enough in most circumstances, and it encourages people to be more responsible in their behavior to maintain a generally positive record of contributions.

    I agree that mods seem to ignore AC's more often than registered users, and I think that's a problem. But I think making anonymous users higher in "default karma" would make it worse and harder to sift through the garbage.

    while assuming anonymity is a good thing for moderators (wrong again),

    So, you claim the system is broken because moderators unnecessarily mod people down to disagree with them. But you think that making moderation public will improve this? It might, in some cases. But then you end up with people pissed at other users who modded them down, and they might retaliate by downmodding their "enemies." Some of those reactions may be against unjust mods, but others may be people who are overreacting.

    In essence, you take a system where there are already some reasons to abuse downmodding, and you give people new reasons to do so -- which will tend to lead to more infighting. I agree that it could cut down on some abuse, but it would only work if you had a lot more adminstrative interventions and conflict resolutions (which I doubt would happen here).

    and does nothing effective about moderation abuse.

    I can't speak to this issue, because, as I said, I try to post positive contributions, and the amount of times I get downmodded is incredibly small.

    By far the best way to read slashdot is at -1. I've been doing it for years.

    I only ever

  • Re:BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lisias ( 447563 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @10:12PM (#47029315) Homepage Journal

    Recently, somebody down voted all of my comments in one thread so they were 0'd, and then /. suddenly decided that I'll only deserve 5 mod points every few days. That, to me, is obviously weird. I thought my comments weren't that bad, even if they weren't great. This is the 2nd time this has happened to me, and it happens far too easily.

    It happens all the time to me, too.

    I just don't care. The 15 mod points will come back, and then someday some mod-troll will hit you again, and you will pass some time with 5 mod points again, and then by some reason the 15 mod points will come back again.

    Some time ago, the meta-moderating used to be used against such practices, but no more.

    My advice? Just ignore the problem. Enjoy the "free time" from moderating and try to enjoy it - you are not paid to moderate this thing, if Slashdot is OK with mod-trolling fskcing up the good moderators, why should we bother either?

  • Re:BS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @01:20AM (#47029903) Homepage

    Catch with your theory is, a well written lie is still a lie. So should a well written self evident lie be uprated for be well written or be down written for being a lie. It's like allowing spam to survive because it was well written spam. So comments should be contributory to the thread, be at least somewhat on topic and be generally truthful unless they are a joke or satire. They can challenge norms and beliefs but challenging well accepted facts with a blatant lie is just lame and annoying.

    When it comes to responding to trolls the best response for it is to simply comment acknowledgement them as trolls and ignore and not respond to their content, with the message of don't feed the troll, especially when they start commenting double digits in a single thread.

    As for reading at -1 OMG it makes your eyes bleed and should only be done when moderating to ensure any low rated good posts get a chance to rise to general viewer ship.

  • Re:BS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @06:09AM (#47030515)

    Interesting. I suppose that must happen to me on Reddit. I'm middle aged and the vast majority of the posters on Reddit are teens to early 20s and it just seems like we cannot relate to each other at all. We just don't discuss issues the same way at all.

    On Slashdot I have pretty good karma and rarely get downmodded, but on Reddit every single post I make gets downvoted. Every one. I kid you not. Often by as much as 10-15 points.

    It may just be that I have a lot of enemies over there, but I think it is also a generational thing. When I post at some level I think it must feel to them like their parent or something and they have to downvote it.

    What I find strange is that because every one of my posts is downvoted I just ignore it. It doesn't cause me to post less. I haven't found the negative moderation to have any real negative effect. I suppose it does mean that there are fewer people who can read what I write because I would guess that not everyone changes the default visibility preference to something more sensible as I do. I can still see posts that have been downvoted to like -30 or so. Since I still find posts at like -15 or -20 to have value it seems that unlike Slashdot, the moderation system over there just isn't effective. Well at least if its purpose was just to censor obvious trolls and spam. But then I don't find any serious discussions over there at all.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.