Commenting management system Disqus has apparently degraded the “downvote” portion of its “upvoting/downvoting” system. For those of you who have never used Disqus or don’t comment on many blogs, a number of them include thumbs up and thumbs down options where you can sort of grade other comments.

Bayard Russell supports the move (and may have been the catalyst for it):

I have to say, I’m grateful not to have anonymous trolls using the down-voting system simply to attack, undermine, and annoy. As I told you all after NCR suspended its comments system some weeks back (you all know comments are back up and running there, right?), when a set of anonymous down-voting trolls migrated to Bilgrimage after that happened, I contacted Disqus to ask if they could turn off the down votes for this site or perhaps make it optional for blogs using Disqus.

If that request (which other sites may also have made) is the reason Disqus has stopped showing down votes here, then I’m surely grateful to Disqus. I don’t see this as any kind of suppression of free speech, but as getting rid of an unnecessary annoyance, since what kind of “speech” do anonymous down votes by people working together to troll a blog site really represent, in any case?

Warner Todd Huston, on the other hand, thinks this is an example of “feminizing America“:

Apparently, Disqus felt that so many Americans were getting their widdle feelings hurt that they had to take measures to return everyone’s self-esteem to tip top condition. Yes, America, each and every one of you are wonderful, smart, and gosh darn it, people love you and Disqus is going to make sure you don’t get your delicate mental balance upset.

Feel free to go through life with your badly spelled, idiotic comment forever emblazoned across the Internet tubes and given the Disqus seal of approval. You aren’t a brainless racist, a grammatical moron, a pointless troll, a dimiwtted liberal, or a knuckle-dragging conservative any longer. You are a shining light driving the world to truth, justice and the new American way where no one gets their feelings hurt.

I used to like the idea of upvotes and downvotes, but the more I saw them in action the more skeptical of them I have become. It was my hope, when I was introduced to the concept, that generally polite and well thought out comments would get upvotes and pointless snark would get downvotes. At least on the sites that I read and participate on which tend to have commenters that are more polite and thoughtful.

However, even “good” commenting sections have their bad apples, of course, who seem to be there to disrupt the discourse. They also tend to have lurkers who don’t comment but do vote who may veer hard on one side or the other. In either case, voting seems to attract people looking for “Boo-yah” comments instead of carefully considered ones, because the upvotes and downvote tallies I see tend to lean towards which side of the argument they’re taking instead of the actual content of their message.

This has a discouraging effect on (ideological) minority voices, which exacerbates echo chambers. I mostly stopped commenting on a particular site for a couple of reasons, but one of the biggest ones was how frustrating it was to write a carefully considered comment explaining that a situation is more complicated than it appears gets two upvotes and ten downvotes and is followed by a “Republicans are soo stupid and you are stupid for giving them cover!!!” gets ten upvotes and two downvotes. Which is, in my experience, how it generally works. Truthfully, the fact that people seem to agree more with “Republicans are soo stupid” guy and feel the need to downvote me is more discouraging than the comment itself, which I can dismiss as a crank. Except I can’t when his view is apparently more popular than mine.

The upshot of this, in a way, is that it does democratize commenting communities. It lets people say what kind of comments they want and don’t want. Yay democracy! The views of a particular commentariat can often differ, though, from that of the people who actually run the site.

That creates something of a problem for the latter folks. If wanting a more positive commenting atmosphere makes me a namby-pamby feminized dude or whatever, I am pretty okay with that. Heaven knows there are more than enough sites that are battle arenas. So eliminating downvoting makes a lot of sense from their point of view. Obviously, Hit Coffee doesn’t generate the sort of comment traffic to make such an endeavor worthwhile, though if it did I would try to go in the upvote direction.

It would be better if Disqus gave siterunners the option of upvotes only, downvotes only, or both. But absent that, I would prefer upvoting only over a requirement for both.

Category: Server Room

About the Author

10 Responses to Disqus Downvotes the Downvote

  1. Dave Pinsen says:

    Better to keep the down votes but only from non-anonymous users.

  2. fillyjonk says:

    I dunno. I would find downvotes (and upvotes) fairly useless on comments. So Person X liked what I said, or disliked it. Why? Did they like it because I was funny in my response, or because they agreed with me? Did they dislike it because it didn’t fit in with their worldview, or because they just like downvoting comments that aren’t asinine? (I’ve seen that happen some places – the snark takes over and anyone who tries to be thoughtful gets downvoted).

    The whole “we don’t want people to get their feelings hurt” thing? While, yeah, I might have a momentary twinge over something I said that I thought was useful and thoughtful getting lots of thumbs down, I’m gonna move on awfully fast from it. Are most people so non-resilient that something like that wrecks their day?

    Or, in fewer words: “You have to consider the source.” If someone I know and respect criticizes me, I’ll take it to heart and wonder what I need to do to change. If some anonymous person who may be a goon or a troll criticizes me, I’m gonna be much more “Meh, what do they know?” about it.

    • trumwill says:

      I don’t know that it’s a matter of genuinely hurt feelings. It can often be a matter of having limited amount of time and energy during the day and choosing not to devote it where people are continuously registering their disapproval.

      It might really be helpful, though, to have names associated with the downvotes (maybe Disqus does this?). Knowing that it’s basically the same five or ten people over and over again or something.

  3. mike shupp says:

    My suspicion is this is a transitory phenomenon. We’ll put up with upvotes and downvotes and snarky comments for a few years more and then blog comments (and blogs too, likely) will sort of fade from importance, as comment action moves to Twitter or some other social media mechanism.

    The internet evolves. Stuff appears, becomes very big, then drops off almost to nothing. Some varieties of illegal file sharing, for instance, some types of piracy, some types of blogging. There’s about a seven year period for this kind of thing — people get tired of doing the same sort of stuff after seven years, is my impression.

    Anyhow. We all spend too much time writing blogs, commenting on blogs, obsessing on responses to our blog comments. It seems silly enough today, even as we do it — HERE I AM DEMONSTRATING THE POINT!!! — and it’s hard to believe we are going to intensify this experience or even continue it for decades to come. We’ll all get tired and the experience will cease to seem rewarding, and we’ll switch to something else. Or die off — I’ve a sneaking suspicion that commenting on blog posts is primarily an activity for people in their 30’s or older, and that younger people are preoccupied by other activities — sending selfies and text messages to the friends and followers, etc.

    But I’m an old fart. What would I know?

    • trumwill says:

      Seems like blogs made a big shift away from mostly one-man shops like this one and Glittering Eye to bigger operations like Ordinary Times and Moderate Voice, and there has been a shift towards blogs at media outlets, but it’s hard for me to imagine what would replace commenting. Other than a huge wave of “This crap isn’t worth it” and blogs closing them.

  4. mike shupp says:

    What would replace commenting?

    Less commenting, for one thing. I notice I’m less and less likely to wade into the comment stream if there are already a hundred comments, and I’m making fewer comments at places where bloggers ignore the comments they receive.

    And less indiscriminate commenting. Perhaps I could say Ordinary Times and Outside The Beltway have established a comfortable communitarian tone; or perhaps I could cast them as gated communities. At any event, I note the same names appear again and gain among the commenters there — but not elsewhere in blogs with similar topics. I think we’re seeing increasing numbers of people who make 30 comments a day at one or two blogs; not more people making 30 comments at 30 different blogs.

    And maybe ennui. Getting a comment into a blog isn’t quite the accomplishment that reaching the letter column of the Times of London used to be after all. The psychic reward for commenter is much less. I’d argue the rewards for those who read a comment are also reduced — I could probably do this mathematically if I were a working macro economist, but wotthehell; the notion is a reader a The Times could expect anything in the letter column to be rational and intelligently written; blog readers have to make allowances for poor spelling and the occasional dropped word, they have to screen out trolls and people who are genuinely ignorant, etc. There’s a cost in patience and other mental attributes for this screening; in essence, it’s a tax on our attention. These “screening costs” rise as the comments seem closer to each other in terms of content and vocabulary since it is more difficult to rate them. We fall asleep in overly long comment streams, or mutter “TL;DR” to ourselves and switch to something else.

    Finally we might cease to acquire the nasty habit. I’d like to see some polling on how old readers and commenters are at some blogs. My awful thought is that average ages might be increasing at about the one year per year rate, which would suggest that blogging eventually becomes an activity for the elderly, or perhaps that blogs will eventually become more or less segregated by age groups.

    • trumwill says:

      You could be right. I remember Instapundit didn’t have comments for the longest time. I assumed that one of the reasons was the nightmare in trying to moderate them. He has them now, and there are surprisingly few. Instapundit is not the superstar that he used to be, of course, but the bigger thing is that I think the culture around him has lessened.

      That could happen to more and more blogs, to the point that there are those with communities and those without comments. Maybe.

      I think we’re seeing increasing numbers of people who make 30 comments a day at one or two blogs; not more people making 30 comments at 30 different blogs.

      Anecdotally, I think that’s quite true. I used to comment all over the place. Now there’s a lot of participation on Ordinary Times, moderate participation on Glittering Eye and Dustbury, and careful participation on a few others (OTB, Lion, Unfogged) where I don’t even read most comment threads and read all of the threads of very few.

      Which is kind of funny, because it’s never been easier to leave a comment over there and be notified if/when someone comments on that thread.

      How did you find Hit Coffee?

  5. mike shupp says:

    Hmmm. Been a while. Best I can recall, I saw something at Ordinary Times that I Googled — it might have been one of your fictitious town names that I thought was real and wondered if I’d been through it — and got a link to your blog. And since I recognized your name from OT, I settled in to take a look, and kept coming back.

    It really is a nice blog, BTW. Attractive, distinctive layout, good pictures, intelligent writing. reasonable diversity of subjects, all that. (Give yourself a pat on the back!) Also my Dad was a teacher, my sister’s an RN, and I’ve spent some time living in small Western towns, so we’ve some points of overlap, which adds interest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.