Thursday, December 08, 2011

Badtux's Law of Internet Forums

"Any forum good enough to become popular eventually becomes big enough to be dominated by total jerks."

I came to this realization, actually, by viewing Craigslist's flagging help forum and realizing that about 20% of the people asking for help about why their for-sale item got flagged did not have their ad flagged for being scams or otherwise violating the Terms of Service, they were being told, "you're asking too much money for it, that's why you were flagged." WTF? So now CraigsList's crowdsourced flagging crew is the Pricing Police, imposing their own Stalistic vision of what things should sell for upon the buyers and sellers on the site?

Why... YES! And CL apparently sees nothing wrong with this. So why did it seem wrong to me? Then it struck me: it's wrong because these people are total JERKS. They are taking a system that was originally designed to deal with spammers and scammers (and I know this because I was *there* when Craig introduced his original flagging system, back when CL was a small San Francisco board with a few thousand friendly users) and using it to impose their own agenda of how society should be organized onto the rest of the users of CL. And if you mention this to anybody at CL, they get all hostile and angry and say if you don't like it, go somewhere else because, like, CL is perfect and has no problems and yada yada. CL's support forums have become a very angry, hostile place because of the CL defenders constantly attacking the users who come on and ask why their item got flagged even though their ad is not spam, a scam, or a prohibited (under the ToU) item or type of ad.

But why can the jerks dominate things so much? Well, it's for the same reason that HOA's are dominated by the HOA Nazis, who fine you if your grass is 1.1 inches tall when their HOA rules say the grass must be 1.0 inches tall and otherwise make your life misery. It's because having the power to impose your own vision upon other people attracts jerks the way that gay prostitutes attract Republican politicians. And when you have enough of these jerks in one place, it's like they form a black hole of Peak Assholery. And CL, as a very popular Internet forum, has attracted enough users to pass this threshhold, and gives the assholes enough power (via the Flag button) to impose their own vision upon the site.

Unfortunately this appears to be a core problem with voluntary crowdsourcing: Voluntary crowdsourcing generally attracts people who are fanatics, assholes, jerks, or all of the above. This is why the OWS movement degenerated into small gangs of radicals rather than growing to encompass the rest of the 99% -- it is the fanatics, assholes, and jerks who want power, who have the motivation to grasp for power, who force their vision upon other people who then, because most people are *not* assholes, simply go elsewhere. Furthermore, when I was involved in one of the first community sites back in the 90's, back in the days when CL was Craig's local listing of classified ads in San Francisco, we ran into the *exact same* problem -- once our site got too popular, the assholes took over and abused the "Flag" button to downgrade posts that complied with our ToS but did not comply with the ideology of the assholes. The solution? Have both upflag *AND* downflag, so that jerks downflagging valid posts for ideological reasons could be overruled, and give flagging points only to a randomly chosen group of people (different every day) as a *privilege* rather than give everybody the ability to flag. That worked at first because jerks are generally outnumbered by non-jerks, but eventually enough jerks got attracted to this very popular site that it reached Peak Assholery and I had to leave because it just wasn't fun anymore dealing with assholes who wanted to impose their own will on everything.

Which, of course, is the other side of Peak Assholery: when enough assholes get on a site and start shitting all over the place, it causes non-assholes to say, "meh, I'm not going to deal with that bullshit" and leave. Which leaves the assholes dominating everything. Hmm... say, have you noticed that I haven't logged into DailyKOS in, like, *ages*? Just sayin' :).

And now that I think of it... does this describe why the American political system is so fucked up, too? Funny, the connections you can make just by observing how assholes are ruining a popular community site...

-- Badtux the Observant Penguin


  1. I'm a part of a wonderful, useful site that's been a great resource for me for at least a decade.

    Some people have left.

    I have to wonder if I'm one of the assholes.


  2. Somewhere in the Tao there is an internet moderation standard where a forum does not either become stormfront or the echo chamber where the male pronoun may never be mentioned.

    Haven't found it yet. I got kicked off Democratic Underground years ago for suggesting that millionaire Democratic politicians had enough money to install solar panels on their hanger sized mansions.

    Now I'm moderating my local Occupy discussion group and there are people who would much rather attack me than say, illegal foreclosure practices.

    There Ain't no Justice I'm telling you now.

    wv: wrisq: why it's dangerous to let young male teens on the internet.

  3. @Nagleator I like to think that being an asshole is a little bit like being crazy in that if you are asking yourself if you are an asshole, you probably aren't. ;)

    Although I also think that everyone has the potential to be a jerk and that people who are always kind to everyone are pretty rare.

  4. I'm not a consumer of much and the vehicle just bought was off of CL. It's worked well for me and others I know. I believe what BT wrote and will be looking for it next time I'm there.

    At times many have been pissed at me and asshole has been used and I'm okay with that.

    It's more of a hit and run thing for me when it comes to comments to the dark side. Like this morning at the paper in Salt Lake a comment about praying for jobs. Wasn't derogatory and was intended to remind people how the hell we got here. And it's also to keep those guys on their toes.

  5. You should see the comments section on the only "local" newspaper here, if you want to see assholery on display.

  6. Yep. Virtually every newspaper forum site has long ago reached Peak Assholery, where they've attracted so many jerks that sane reasonable people aren't interested in participating because of all the abuse they'd get from the jerks.

    - Badtux the Sometimes-jerk Penguin

  7. And meanwhile, the truly fraudulent crap continues to exist on CL. F'rinstance, there are recurring "help wanteds" which steer applicants to a Russian website for "pre-employment background check" [sic]... asking for bank ABA number, account number, PIN, SSAN, mother's madien name, etc, all to "verify identity." Flag it, and nothing happens... still there months later. Along with 20 new ones, all similar.

  8. Should be "mother's maiden name" of course

  9. I don't do Craiglist's.

  10. I've flogged the "Ponerology" book about sociopaths before and I do it again because it relates to the assholery that Tux mentions.

    There is a minority of people whose brains are wired differently so that they lack human empathy. The book's author estimated them at 6% of the world's population. They are mentally unable to feel what other people are feeling, and/or they just don't give a shit. Sociopaths. Lizard people. They operate from the unfeeling, lizardy part of the reptile brain.

    Such people are drawn to positions of power, because they LIKE to push people around. I could never be a cop or a politician, for example, because I don't like to give orders (and I'm not too keen on following them unless I've decided that they make sense.) Other people really get off on that, whether they're in a homeowner's association or carrying a badge and a gun. They also gravitate to things like Internet forums.

    Many people do not have strong moral and intellectual convictions. These people are swayed by the sociopaths. They wind up following the sociopathic model of behaviour. So sociopaths' influence can extend beyond their minority numbers.

    The rest of us opt out. Like Nunya mentioned, newspaper comment sections have turned into vile garbage. It doesn't take many bitter, bile-spewing sociopathic commenters -- never overlook the influence of obsessive-compulsive disorders that drive the same people to frequent such forums -- to make rational people drop out. I noticed this years ago with the Washington Post's comments, but I figured that was because such a well-known publication attracted people with political axes to throw, including Koch-paid shills. But I see the same dynamic during the rare times I'll read comments on some story I've followed a link to in a small paper from Kansas or Minnesota or somewhere. So it's more than sponsored propagandistic disinformation. Comments attract sickness.

    Ultimately, in another display of Gresham's Law, it kills any rational discourse in comment sections. The nutjobs might rail and screech, but they're just yakking to other nutjobs. I wonder if that's enough to satisfy their own internal morivations, or if they get tired of it too and wander to other forums where they can offend normal people. Because it's the power they get from being offensive that seems to give them the greatest thrill. It's not that they think they'll change anyone's mind with their ravings; just that they can bother someone in some small way. Their roiling rage is lessened if they can spread it around.


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