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Once in a while, the moderators will find out that something like the following happened: 

  • Someone posted an update from their organization, and shared it on Slack or social media, asking coworkers and friends to go upvote it for increased visibility.
  • Someone saw something they didn’t like on the Forum — maybe comments criticizing a friend, or a point of view they disagree with — and encouraged everyone in some discussion space to go downvote it.

This is a form of vote brigading. It messes with karma’s ability to provide people with a signal of what to engage with and is against Forum norms

Please don’t do it. We might ban you for it.

If you’re worried that someone else (or some other group) is engaging in vote brigading, bring it up to the moderators instead of trying to correct for it. 

Why is it bad?

  • Karma is meant to provide a signal of what Forum users will find useful to engage with. Vote brigading turns karma into a popularity contest.
    • Voting should be based on readers’ opinions of the content they’re voting on. If someone convinces you that a post is terrible — or great — it’s fine to downvote or upvote it as a result of that, but you should actually believe that.
  • We should resolve disagreements by discussing them, not by comparing the sizes of the groups who agree with each position. 
  • If people try to hide criticism by downvoting it just because they feel an affinity to the group(s) criticized, the Forum will become predictably biased. We won’t have important conversations, we won’t learn from each others’ mistakes, etc. 

What actions should we avoid? (What counts as vote brigading?)

If you’re sharing content:

  • Don’t encourage people to all go upvote or downvote something (“everyone go upvote this!”) — especially when you have power over the people you’re talking to.
    • It’s more ok to say “go upvote this if you think it’s good,” but it’s still borderline, and you should be careful to make sure that it doesn’t feel like pressure on people. 
  • Be careful with bias: if the content is criticizing your work, or your friend’s work, or something you feel an affinity towards — be suspicious of your ability to objectively engage with it.
    • Consider letting other Forum users sort it out or leaving a comment explaining your point of view. 

If you’re voting:

  • Please make sure you’re really voting because you think this content is good. 
    • If your friends or coworker shared their content and that’s the only thing you really engage with and vote on, interrogate your heart or mind about whether you might be biased. 
  • Please report attempts at vote brigading to us.

Examples

There are many borderline cases. Here are some examples, sorted by how fine/bad the action of person sharing the content is: 

The actionIs it ok to do?
You share a post (and maybe what you like or dislike about it), without explicitly asking people to upvote or downvote.It’s fine (I’m very happy for people to straightforwardly share posts with people who might find them interesting)
You share a post and what you like about it, and say something like “upvote the post if you like it”

Iffy, but mostly ok. The problem is that people might vote reflexively as a result (or follow this like an order, if you’re in a leadership role), so I think that’s the main thing to be wary of. 

I think the situation is worse for downvoting than for upvoting, here (coordination on downvoting can suppress a post) — see below.

You share a post that criticizes your work, and write something like “downvote the post if you think it should have less visibility” Not ok — even though there’s an “if…”. Don’t do this, especially if you’re in a leadership role.  
You share a post and say something like “Everyone: go upvote the post!”Not ok. Once again, it’s even worse if you’re in a leadership role with respect to the people you’re sharing the post with.
On a call with other people, and you say, “there’s this post I don’t like / a post that’s criticizing me/us. Could you all upvote / downvote it?”Extremely not ok. This has the added harm of making it easy for the asker to see if the other people on the call downvoted the post. 

Other voting norms

You can see the full voting norms here. Most importantly, don't do the following:

  • “Mass voting” on many instances of a user’s content simply because it belongs to that user
  • Using multiple accounts to vote on the same post or comment

If you have any concerns, you can get in touch with the moderation team[1] by emailing forum-moderation@effectivealtruism.org.

  1. ^

    The current active moderators are me, @Lorenzo Buonanno, and @JP Addison, but the email reaches the whole team (including advisors), and the Forum team — you can get in touch with individual moderators by DMing us on the Forum.

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:05 AM

Thanks for the excellent post!

I'll make sure to share it and augment visibility by... Oh wait, never mind.

Thanks for writing this up. I saw people asking for upvotes a couple of times e.g. on Slack channels, from people I'm fairly sure are well-meaning and cooperative and who just haven't considered the problems this behavior causes. I never said something because I had the suspicion they are pretty self-conscious about getting up/downvotes and about posting on the forum in general (to which I can relate :D), and starting a conversation that touches on those issues seemed a bit too much every time.

Thanks for the comment. I agree that well-meaning and cooperative people sometimes end up vote-brigading (or borderline), and I imagine that there are people who might read this and feel quite bad. I really don't want that. 

I'm just hoping that we can make lots of people aware of this to prevent accidental/uninformed/absent-minded cases of this happening. 

(Then we'd still be left with clearer-cut cases of uncooperative behavior, but if nothing else, the people being asked to vote-brigade might be able to warn the mods more easily with increased awareness of the problem.)

Thanks for this - I recently voted on a post more along the lines of supporting my friends/colleagues than on objective value. This has helped me realise I didn't think things through enough!

FWIW, different communities treat it differently. It's a no-go to ask for upvotes at https://hckrnews.com/ but is highly encouraged at https://producthunt.com/.

Where does sharing your post within an organization (Slack etc.) fall? If you share it without a direct request… maybe just “I’m proud of our work”? Should people at organisations be encouraged not to vote on each other’s posts?

I'm not the OP but according to this post, that should be perfectly fine— especially if you don't mention voting what-so-ever. The idea is that upvotes and downvotes occur naturally and internally by the reader with no outside influence (or as little as there can be).

Sharing is simply sharing, and we should encourage it.

Thanks for the question and the answer. I agree with @David van Beveren — I think it's fine to share posts with your organization! I think people often end up on posts that are relevant to them because someone shared them in a group chat or a shared space — I don't want to discourage that. And I do this at CEA with posts that I write (I linked to my recent thread in a CEA channel earlier today and asked people to consider sharing recs/what they're looking for). 

Just don't ask for upvotes. (Maybe a heuristic is: might an employee feel forced to go upvote it? Will they think that you expect them to upvote? If no, you're probably ok. And when you're voting, try to vote because you actually think more Forum users will appreciate seeing the post or because it's a good example to follow, and be mindful about bias/partisanship.) 

Moya
1y10
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I think this is important, and yet, I feel that the opposite also needs to be pointed out - please don't disengage / not vote, just because something was shared by a friend / person who inspires you / whomever.

Basically, I see the failure mode of people disengaging from voting because of being afraid that it might be vote brigading due to the way they got notified of the post, or particular comment, being kind of on a slippery slope to getting there - but not getting their honest opinion reflected in the votes would be just as bad.

So yeah, don't vote brigade, but if you do genuinely feel something should be up- or downvoted on its own merit, then please do so, no matter how you ended up in a place to see this content.

Vote brigading is bad because it 'turns karma into a popularity contest' as you rightly point out. However, the Effective Altruism Forum currently allows users with more karma to cast more votes on any post or comment. How is this not just as much, if not more, a popularity contest? After all, you are letting some users have more votes, simply because they are popular users (they have more karma).

Brigading involves an expression of popularity that is inauthentic for karma purposes -- its success depends on how many friends/bots/others you have in the outside world. The karma system is designed to measure authentic community sentiment based on interaction with the material, and the designers basically felt that the opinions of community-trusted and experienced contributors on what was karmaworthy content was more probative than votes from the average user. While I think the system needs some reform, giving more weight to high karma users doesn't promote inauthentic engagement in the way brigading does.

Edit: duplicated word

It is true that vote brigading may be worse than the forum's unequal karma system, because, as you point out, at least popularity on this forum is more likely to be related to have more justified opinions on posts and comments on this forum.

However, unequal voting still falsely equates popularity - specifically, popularity on this forum - with expertise. There are several reasons why this is problematic. First, it excludes expertise from outside of the effective altruism movement: people with truly valuable perspectives and relevant expertise who are not affiliated with effective altruism have less voting power and may be less likely to get upvoted by the more popular users, who may fail to appreciate valuable new perspectives they are not used to. Second, it overgeneralizes expertise: for example, someone who might have earned a lot of karma by writing on x-risks can now also cast more votes on posts completely unrelated to that (such as posts on global health and animal advocacy), which makes no sense. Third, it privileges the most active commenters: since karma from votes on posts and karma from votes on comments both count towards the same overall karma score, someone who has written a small number of excellent, well-researched posts may have far less karma (and thus far less voting power) than someone who has written dozens of mediocre (but not bad) comments, especially if these comments are under recent or popular posts (where comments are most likely to be upvoted). Fourth, it privileges individuals who were already quite influential in the effective altruism movement when they created their forum account: they will find it far, far easier to collect karma than those who are both new and unknown in the effective altruism movement. Perhaps all these problems explain why almost no website ever uses the same unequal voting system found on this forum.

And even if is true that users with more karma deserve to have more voting power, then the current voting system is still unreasonably disproportional. The difference in voting power between less and more popular users should at the very least be considerably reduced. Maybe it is acceptable to have something where users who have 1,000 or more karma should have a strong upvote of 3 and a regular upvote of 1, and not, as it is currently the case, overall voting power that is about twice as strong as that of users with less than 250 karma. You said you think the karma system should be reformed, so I hope you are in favor of changes like these.

I think few people would argue that there is a super-strong correlation between voting power and assessment of content value. However, I'm also skeptical that the correlation is zero or trivially different from zero. So the question is how much does one weigh the value added by that correlation vs. the downsides of weighing votes by karma? In the abstract, I can potentially live with your downsides:

  • It doesn't bother me that a forum sponsored by an effective-altruism group gives more voting power to people who are (much more likely to be) effective altruists. I like a universe where different interest communities can curate content that meets their needs, even though I recognize the downsides. I just don't think there is a lack of spaces where general-population weights apply, so I assign fairly modest value to creating another one.
  • Although weighting subject-specific karma would be ideal, I still suspect that the average 5000 karma user who posts and knows mainly about GH&D still has some advantage in identifying quality x-risk content over the average 100 karma user. (Of course, if the 5000 karma user actually doesn't understand the x-risk content well enough, we can hope that the user had been around enough to have awareness of their own knowledge limitations and not vote -- or at least not strongvote! -- on content they do not sufficiently understand. But we can't assume that.)
  • The imbalance in how karma is awarded is a significant problem (see below). But it's not implausible that, on average, people who have spent a lot of time reading and writing would be better at identifying quality content than the median user.
  • I'm psuedonymous and not even in an EA or EA-adjacent job, so my experience doesn't track your point about influence in EA = ease of collecting karma. But that is a sample of one, and other people's mileage may vary.

One has to balance those against the downsides of mostly-egalitarian approaches or some centralized authority deciding who should get more voting power.

On the positive side, I'd say that the Forum works as a fairly low-moderation space because -- by voting weight at least -- the user base is pretty good at informal regulation by voting down uncivil, self-promotional, needlessly inflammatory, or other problematic content. Maybe that would work just as well with egalitarian voting strength, though? I like moderate decentralization in general, so I would be open to (e.g.,) giving some psuedo-moderation abilities to some high-karma users who also passed a community vote.

--

My highest reform priority might be to allow users to select from different karma weightings for how posts and comments are displayed to them (e.g., traditional karma weights, egalitarian weights, and at least one point in between). Or that could be a lower priority if it required more developer time than I am hoping! Ultimately the proof is in the pudding -- if a certain weighing is best at pushing good content to the top, users should slowly gravitate toward it and we will learn the correct weights (for most users) by experimentation rather than guessing at how to balance competing considerations.

Second priority would be rebalancing karma to better match useful contribution; the karma awarded per unit of value created seems higher for meta content than object-level content, and is probably higher for comments than main posts as you point out. 

Third priority would be reining in strongvotes, which I think indirectly addresses some of what you're identifying. The extent to which a user is willing to deploy strongvotes is probably a more significant determinant of voting power than the user's base karma, and it's not clear that everyone is using anywhere near the same bar for strongvoting. Most likely, the best reform would adjust the strength of a user's strongvote in some way based on its frequency of deployment (although strongvoting down norm-breaking content should not be disincentivized!).

I agree with most of what you wrote here, thank you for taking the time to reply. I agree that an option to display a comment or post's karma score based on different scoring systems (the old system, an egaliterian one, ...) would already be a great improvement.

The only point that I find questionable is the idea that it's OK that a forum ran by effective altruists gives more voting power to effective altruists. To me, this seems at odds with the ideals of cause neutrality and means neutrality: how can effective altruists claim that any means of doing good is in principle open to their consideration, when their most important online discussion forum gives some users, compared to others, so much more ability to downvote or upvote (new) ideas, questions and proposals?

I think it's important to start by figuring out why the Forum has value. It's a very unusual institution. Thinking about organizations/movements/etc. that are similar to EA, I'm not coming up with any clear analogues (although my knowledge of similar things is hardly encylopedic). It's unusually open for a central epistemic institution. You can be a random person not involved in EA, get an account, and potentially have meaningful influence on the direction of how EA thinks about the topics you choose to write on. Although some users have more voting power, I think there is at most a fairly modest correlation between voting power and other power in EA. The net effect is deconcentration of epistemic power within EA, which I appreciate. I think your concern is a fair one, which I'd characterize as in part asking whether the Forum could further deconcentrate epistemic power by changing the karma system.

Most Internet message boards add little to no real value to the world -- why is this one different? To me, it's critical to (roughly) figure out how the Forum adds value to the world before making any major changes to it. The most obvious theory of value-add is many Forum readers are in a position to use the information and perspective they gain from reading and participating to do significant good in the world. I'd suggest that the bulk of those readers are effective altruists working in EA-related positions, so the Forum's theory of value significantly depends on those readers finding the Forum a good source of actionable information for time invested. 

It's less clear how content that those users do not find helpful ultimately leads to real-world value, and having a good signal:noise ratio (in those readers' eyes) is important to keeping them engaged. If they don't find participation an effective use of time, conversations that would be happening on the public Forum are likely to migrate to Slack and similar spaces. And the bulk of high-karma users are EAs in EA-related position (myself being one of the exceptions), so one would think there's a fairly good correlation between voting power and ability to act on the information obtained from the Forum.

Looking at other message boards, the ones with light-touch moderation and egalitarian voting tend to have a bad signal:noise ratio (e.g., most of Reddit). If you think about subreddits with top-quality material and a good signal:noise ratio (e.g., r/AskHistorians), they tend to be aggressively moderated. I am worried that moving too much in a most-of-Reddit direction would destroy much of the Forum's value proposition. Ironically, I think this would increase the centralizing influences on EA thought. And of course, having more active moderation increases the influence of the appointing authorities (who would be people who already have a lot of influence in EA). 

So I think we actually share some of the same values and concerns here -- I am just more concerned that reducing EA influence on Forum voting too much would impair the Forum's value and have a net negative effect on getting new ideas, questions, and proposals out there.

I guess another crux is that I don't see the differences in voting power as "so much more" ability. On regular votes -- which I believe are the vast majority of votes cast -- no user has more than twice the voting power of someone who just signed up. On strongvotes, where the differences are more pronounced, one of the most powerful voters [5-10K karma] counts for eight, while someone who has posted a few dozen comments and maybe a top level post probably counts for four [250-499 karma], and someone who is almost brand new counts for two [10-99 karma]. I can't get the top karma chart to work, but I think there are only a few dozen users with 5K+ (there are now a few with 10K+). Since there are a lot more lower/medium karma users, the total fraction of the total voting power in the hands of the high-karma crowd is not particularly high. 

[anonymous]1y5
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I agree that the voting system is unreasonably disproportionate. I think I got infinite +5 strong votes around 500 karma or so, which strikes me as absurd. And apparently people vote brigade enough for the mod team to ask people not to do so, so it's not like this feature isn't abused at least sometimes. 

Thanks for raising awareness for this!

Once in a while, the moderators will find out that something like the following happened: 

  • Someone posted an update from their organization, and shared it on Slack or social media, asking coworkers and friends to go upvote it for increased visibility.
  • Someone saw something they didn’t like on the Forum — maybe comments criticizing a friend, or a point of view they disagree with — and encouraged everyone in some discussion space to go downvote it.

Are you also analysing voting patterns to detect vote brigading? Do you have a sense of how much is happening at the moment?

Hear hear. It's one of those things that anyone would realise was a terrible idea if they gave it a second thought. Problem is that it's a habit imported from outside, so not many have given it a second thought.

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