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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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  • meta. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stoploss ( 2842505 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @04:58PM (#47027657)

    I look forward to observing the many ironic and humorous mods this topic will induce. In fact, the act of moderation itself may be the actual discussion more so than any of the content.

    I would mod my own post as insightful troll, for example. I mean, this is just pandering, right?

  • Common sense (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 17, 2014 @05:04PM (#47027711)

    The findings seem to be common sense. Or, as the saying goes, "Do not feed the trolls". Alternatively, the popular wisdom is, "Ignore them and they will go away." I have seen this in action on many forums. Debating a troll or a bad writer will just cause them to post more and more, they become more combative. Ignoring a troll or someone who is behaving badly and they usually pack up and go someone else to annoy other people. Postive feedback can encourage additional posting, at least that has been my experience.

  • Re:Common sense (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Baby Duck ( 176251 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @05:11PM (#47027781) Homepage

    Don't Feed the Trolls means don't engage them will novel comments you crafted yourself. The impersonal act of downvoting without comment doesn't fit in their diet.

    The researchers are really bad at establishing causation. People who generate content awful enough that others actually bother to make the clicks to Downvote ... are more likely to make inferior content again in the future. It's because they suck at critical thinking and/or writing. No combination or up or down voting will magically bestow these skills upon them. The "shame" of being downvoted in a non-personal way is not enough behavioral impetus to motivate someone to acquire skills (to do better "next time.")

  • Re:BS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the_povinator ( 936048 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @05:30PM (#47027917) Homepage
    I read TFA, and unfortunately the research is very weak. They did not do a proper randomized study, they merely trained a classifier to figure out how good they thought a post was, and then divided up posts into pairs where their classifier thought they were the same but the feedback was different. They assume that their classifier is accurate, i.e. really reflects the goodness of a post. The rest of their research follows from this assumption.

    If it had been a proper randomized study (i.e. roll a dice and up/down vote posts) I could have believed it.

  • by wispoftow ( 653759 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @05:42PM (#47027991)

    I'm afraid that this article touches on what I perceive as a growing problem: it's the notion that "Everyone's answers and opinions are right and have value."

    This might be fine in some areas where many things are subjective, in which case the axiom "there's no disputing taste" is appropriate. In these cases, then I agree that one should probably hold one's criticism.

    But especially in the technical areas, such as computer programming and the physical sciences, the laws of physics and logic often times point to a more correct answer. In my own work, I find that I am constantly wading through massive amounts of literature, and wondering -- what the hell happened to peer review that used to weed much of the crap out? Eventually, wrong answers and half-baked opinions stack up to warp reality, such that it is difficult to find or promote the few rigorous and correct.

    I think it's a similar situation on peer-reviewed sites like Stack Exchange. Often times, the posted opinions for solution to a problem run the freaking gamut. I am glad that a lot of the good opinions (based on sound reasoning and experience) are boosted up, but the dreck (based on fuzzy thinking, old wive's tales, and "antipatterns") are ranked downward, thus giving some help to an interested third party (such as me) who really doesn't have time to be patient and P.C.

    Disclaimer: the right answer can be the minority opinion -- which may have been knocked hard by other reviewers. Here I am speaking about the 99% of the time that the best answer is the most highly rated.

  • I disagree (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @05:46PM (#47028011)

    Yes larger population could in theory tromp down a smaller one.

    But generally a larger population is more complacent and less likely to do anything, where a smaller population is more vigorous.

    I've voiced some unpopular opinions here. Yes sometimes I'm modded down. But pretty often I'm also modded up, so on average I feel the result is actually pretty fair - over time my voice is heard, despite blips of silence.

    Read at -1 for a bit before you truly claim that down-moderation is not needed... or at least if not down, some people just need an off switch.

    I think a combination of user moderation along with a handful of overseers that address the more egregious moderation abuses by the mobs, would be the way to go.

  • Re:I disagree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dbc ( 135354 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @06:00PM (#47028059)

    What I find interesting is that over the years here on Slashdot, when I've posted an unpopular opinion it tends to simply get ignored. But.... unpopular *data*, now that is what brings out the pitchforks and torches. There is nothing that angers people so much as to be confronted with uncomfortable facts.

  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Saturday May 17, 2014 @06:35PM (#47028249) Homepage Journal

    But mod'ing them down? I like that. It means I don't have to wade through hundreds of trash messages to find anything worth reading.

    On slashdot, I think negative feedback does result in more trollish activity, but it also pushes the activity below the threshold at which most people read, so the community doesn't see it and isn't damaged by it. Trolls also don't get mod points so they can't visit their wrath on others.

    All in all, I think it works pretty well. I'll leave it to others to discuss if the mechanism to suppress trolls has negative side effects.

  • My two cents (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hduff ( 570443 ) <<hoytduff> <at> <>> on Saturday May 17, 2014 @07:04PM (#47028387) Homepage Journal

    My thoughts are that posting in on-line communities is done mostly for reasons of self-esteem (although there are obviously other motivations) by people whose task is to share and receive useful-to-them information.

    If your self-esteem is high, the post itself provides the validation and positive or negative comments have little to no effect on what you post since validation is intrinsic.

    If your self-esteem is low, validation comes through feedback. Positive feedback is then seen to come from kindred souls and negative feedback from trolls. In both cases, validation is extrinsic and therefore has a volatile effect on the poster.

    My problem with TFA is what they quantify as "better" content. People post using words, phrases and grammar that they come equipped with; their level of education is fixed for the most part; their real-life experience and socialization is essentially fixed for the short run. Their ideas and opinions are already formed. There will not be any substantial improvement in the quality of what people post, no matter what the feedback is.

    Obviously, we need to fund more studies, especially studies done at exotic locales and funded by government money.

  • Other suggestions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by justthinkit ( 954982 ) <> on Saturday May 17, 2014 @07:14PM (#47028441) Homepage Journal
    6 years ago I suggested that any negative mod should cost you 3 mod points [].

    2 years ago I said On political threads, all comments should have the same rating. []

    Today I would add that maybe /. should increase the maximum points a post can accumulate. Giving more "upside" to the discussion.
  • Re:BS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by crossmr ( 957846 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @08:09PM (#47028677) Journal

    There is a lot of retaliatory butthurt behaviour on the internet.

    You make one comment someone doesn't like and suddenly it's open season on everything you've ever said, regardless of it's worth. Somewhere like Reddit, someone will go through and downvote your last 40+ comments just because you got the better of them in a debate. Downvoting without commenting is the last vestige of the defeated. They know their argument can't hold water, so rather than concede the point, or move on, they go through and downvote anyone who spoke against them. While some comments are generally stupid enough that they need no reply (or further replies than the ones they've already received), someone who just abandons a discussion in favor of downvoting damages a community.

    I can remember one exchange over on reddit, something on Korean language, where a native Korean chimes in as a reply to my comment "This guy is totally 100% right why is this being downvoted?" And it was all because of some other topic where a handful of butthurt children couldn't handle being proven wrong on a point so decided to run around downvoting anything else I'd posted within the last few days.

    I've had it happen on Slashdot as well. Not in awhile, because I don't comment here as much as I used to (I used to frequently get mod points, but not that much recently). A few times, almost always after a debate with someone, the other party (I can only assume) would get mod points, and then past posts of mine, like ones over a week old, would suddenly all be moderated down as troll or something like that. I think I even made a post a few years ago about vindictive moderation.


  • Re:BS (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 17, 2014 @08:20PM (#47028741)

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

    I find that short-sighted and offensive. I do not recall ever having down voted a post because of my beliefs on the subject matter. I get sick of wankers posting their off-topic gripes and sometimes down vote them, but the majority of my mod points go to people offering insight or relevant personal experiences and views to the subject matter. Moderating right now, and don't like being dumped in a big imaginary group of people.

  • Re:BS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by prehistoricman5 ( 1539099 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @08:26PM (#47028773)

    Downvoting over disagreement is the flaw of any vote-based system (and upvoting based on agreement too). I also haven't run into too many egregious abuse cases on Slashdot. The vast majority of -1 content seems to be flamebait and spam. I agree with you that anonymous moderation is bad - it fails to discourage frivolous moderation, but I wouldn't call the Slashdot moderation system anonymous. Although individual moderation actions are anonymous, you can consider the moderator to be "the community." There are far worse moderation systems out there; compared to them Slashdot is paradise.

  • Re:I disagree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @08:49PM (#47028907)

    What I find interesting is that over the years here on Slashdot, when I've posted an unpopular opinion it tends to simply get ignored. But.... unpopular *data*, now that is what brings out the pitchforks and torches. There is nothing that angers people so much as to be confronted with uncomfortable facts.

    Funny -- I've had the exact opposite experience. If I contradict a popular post on a controversial topic without evidence, it is ignored. If I cite reliable sources to backup my opinion, it often gets modded up.

    I have seen situations where people get downmodded or ignored for posting "facts" from unreliable sources, like conspiracy theories or some quack website. Or they only cite their own "data," which is often just speculation or anecdote.

    I'm not saying it doesn't happen -- but I've contradicted a LOT of posts around here that had already been modded up as "+5 insightful," because the parent was just making crap up, and I responded with a reasoned argument and links to back it up. Unless you're a jerk or your data is of the "tin-foil hat" variety, I've seen the behavior you cite quite rarely... at least in my experience.

  • by Vegan Cyclist ( 1650427 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @09:28PM (#47029077) Homepage
    It seems the down-mod still has some use, but the up-mod is about if it just 'cost more' to mod-down posts?
  • Re:BS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kaenneth ( 82978 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @09:37PM (#47029131) Homepage Journal

    I would think a limit of downmodding a particular poster once per day per user would be reasonable.

  • Re:BS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lisias ( 447563 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @10:21PM (#47029359) Homepage Journal

    I think that the old and faithful meta-moderating should come back, and once a bad moderator it's detected, he/she should be silently flagged - and then silently banned from moderating for some time when the flag is downed, and the cycle restarts from scratch, with the previously offender having to rebuild his "reputation".

    It's damn too easy to be a troll around here, and damn too hard to prevent the harm. One must be a kind of masochist to be a assidual contributor of this site.

    (I frequently get feed up, and spend some weeks ignoring the site until I cool down - I prefer being absent that being abusive)

  • Re:BS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrL0G1C ( 867445 ) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @07:18AM (#47030655) Journal

    The seemingly obvious answer is to have I agree/disagree as completely separated options which do not effect the mod level of a post.

    I partly agree about anonymous moderation, I can't make reasoned debate about nuclear power without fearing being modded as troll, the worst part is that this appears to affect my ability to mod in the future, so effectively I am punished for putting forth my view - that's a horrible form of censorship. On the flip side, if I knew which **** was modding me as troll I might mod them as troll in the future as revenge, I'm sure I'm not the only person that would consider this.

    It would be nice to be able to appeal a troll mod, Meta-modding seems to over-look this - most meta-modding is of informative/insightful posts which is a waste of time.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford