The Tyranny of the -1


I'm sure someone else has already written about this far better than me but this has really been bugging me lately. That is, that +1s or Likes or even more specifically −1s seem like they're squashing discussion.

Sites like Hacker News, Reddit, Discourse, Disqus, Stack Overflow, Arstechnica, etc all have voting systems for their comments. Those sites in particular you can upvote a comment if you like it and downvote a comment if you don't.

We all like upvoting things we like. Pictures of dogs or babies or whatever your fancy is. I'm not sure I have anything against upvoting. It's downvoting that I'm more worried about.

If you lean liberal you probably like downvoting things you find conservative. If you lean conservative you probably like downvoting things you find liberal. Maybe there are enough people on both sides of those issue that no one is going to lose their voice?

But, on other issues I find that downvoting often seems to lead to groupthink. People downvote on things they don't like even when they should arguably consider what's being said. As an example, on Hacker News you're not supposed to downvote ideas you don't like, you're only supposed to downvote comments that don't add to the discussion. If they say something you disagree with but they aren't being mean and they're making a contrary point you're not supposed to downvote it. But, human nature being what it is if you say something unpopular you'll get "downvoted into oblivion". That basically means your comment will no longer appear.

Even on systems that don't make low−liked comments disappear it feels bad to have your comments downvoted, or at least it does it to me so I assume I can't be the only one that feels that way. The more it happens the more I feel like I shouldn't comment, even if I think I've go something to say that adds to the discussion.

A good example might be my take on Google Glass which I posted here. It's not a popular opinion but do think the ideas it brings up, that a world with no privacy might have some positives, merits discussion and shouldn't be "downvoted into oblivion" which is how I've seen the general attitude be when I've posted something similar threads about Google Glass.

Another example, I've commented a couple times that I personally find myself much more productive in a group than alone. There's even some research that suggests that works better for some people. But a vocal majority of the HN crowd arguably believes in the dogma of "private offices are always and forever 100% best for engineers, period, end of story, no arguments, no variations by type of person" so even trying to bring up that (a) there's studies that disagree and 🍺 that maybe it's different for each person, is pretty much guaranteed to get downvoted into oblivion.

It seems to me that's really really bad. I don't know if the sum total of commenting / dislike systems is going to affect world culture but it certainly feels like we might be slowly heading into that brave new future. A future where if you don't think like everyone else you'll be ostracized or rather, in order to fit in you'll learn to think like everyone else. To put it another way, downvoting = thought police.

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