Karma and Vote Manipulation - A Developer Letter

Posted in Donut Team
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We've had a lot of unnecessary drama in the Donut Team community over the last year. This is common place in an open forum that allows many ideologies and players from different cultures and regions; not everyone thinks the same and that's why it is important to implement systems that make it fair for everyone. However, we've seen many users criticize and have mixed feelings regarding upvoting, downvoting and the karma leaderboard. These systems will be known as the "Karma System" going forward in this letter.

The Karma System was introduced in early 2018 and was added to give the community more ways to award good behavior and dissuade wrong information or bad actors. In some aspects, this has worked. We've seen a significant increase in the community downvoting content that is unhelpful, incorrect or spammy. This has even gone on to help moderation efforts to some degree as when we notice a downvote spike, we can take action against a user if they're violating the rules. On the other side of this, the system has been gained by bad actors to move their content to the top.

Moving away from reflecting on the past, some users may have noticed their karma score fluctuate drastically on 14 February 2020. This is because we ran code that manually verified each vote to ensure that it was valid at present time. Some users noticed a gain from this as some downvote brigades were removed, while others noticed a drop in karma for various reasons. We didn't initially report on this as we wanted to investigate what caused such a huge fluctuation. Our findings were extremely troubling and the aftermath of not reporting on it immediately has left some users curious as to what has happened. What we learned is the amount of banned users since the last run of this code drastically influenced the upvote and downvotes supplied to a post. While this does not necessarily mean the aforementioned users had bad intent with these votes, however we'd like to exclude these users from votes going forward as some of these accounts were made purely for vote manipulation.

This investigation was started after a recent thread received several upvotes and then within a very short window of time was shot down severely. What we found were several user accounts created to downvote the aforementioned thread using a VPN/Tor browser. This is what prompted us to re-count votes and what led to such a drastic change in some users votes.

As mentioned before, some users have mixed feelings about the karma system as a whole. Some users view it as a deterrent to post in fear that they will be attacked because someone disagrees with their posts, while others try to rack up internet points by submitting more content. To promote an open environment here, voting has been disabled on this thread.

So what can we do?
  • We could remove the karma system entirely.
    • This solves the issue of vote manipulation.
    • This solves the issue with those who disagree with voting on posts.
    • This does not solve the issue with low-effort, spammy, unhelpful or wrong information being spread
  • We could disable the ability to downvote content and only have a "Like" button.
    • We tried doing this about 6 months after releasing the Karma System and this was widely disliked change.
    • However, we may bring this back as a permanent staple.
  • We could display who voted what on each post.
    • This may cause people to either not vote or for people to cause drama over
    • This would not be a retroactive move, all old votes would still be anonymous
  • We could remove "Upvote" and "Downvote" and replace it with reactions.
  • We could implement new restrictions to voting.
    • These would have to be discussed internally and with the community before implementing.
  • We could do nothing and leave the system be.

In Closing
We understand that everyone in this community wants a fair, balanced and friendly community. Even one person can severely impact the community and its morale to continue writing good posts. We'd like to gauge your feedback on what we should do and what you'd like to see happen. As previously stated, to prevent brigading on this thread, we've disabled voting. If you agree or disagree with someone else's point on this thread, please respond telling us that and why.

We appreciate your patience and cooperation. Thank you for your continued support.

We'll be releasing a thread regarding "Maintaining a Healthy Community" in the coming days after we discuss it internally.

– Donut Team
The best solution in my opinion would be displaying the list of users who upvoted/downvoted the post (and probs implement a notification? Like "X has upvoted your Y post!" (Could be limited to mutual subscriptions if it feels spammy))
Just some ideas:
  • New users can't post submissions for X days or if they reach W karma
  • New users can't up/down-vote for Y days
  • New users can't bump a thread by commenting on it for Z days
  • X,Y,Z,W being some small numbers like 7,5,5,5 (tweak those numbers however you like I came up with those on the spot)
  • If post's/comment's score is below 0 display it as 0 (but keep actual values stored for moderation)
  • Might be too radical of a change, but maybe disable the leaderboard page entirely for some time?
  • Add ability to look through account's comment history (or at least ability to view one's own comment history)
  • Add (anonymous) donation button that doesn't necessarily give any perks or even cosmetic changes
My two cents:
Each vote should show who cast it. Why? It would give people responsibility for their actions. I could have just downvoted this thread and moved on (not that I'm able to, or would), but I wrote a comment here explaining why.

Of course, the comments are optional, but the OP could ask that user for clarification on how they can improve, rather than having no clue other than "The community has voted this post below the point threshold..."

Does a vote count if there is no reasoning behind it?
Deja Vu. But in all seriousness, here are my thoughts.

We could remove the karma system entirely.
I'd say keep the system but remove the leaderboards page. That should discourage competition. Not that it would solve anything, but I feel that it would make people less likely to worry about their own karma compared to others.

We could disable the ability to downvote content and only have a "Like" button.
When someone posts something everyone hates, more people will be likely to make descriptively negative replies. Then those replies will get tons of likes. But as a way to make the forum more welcoming, I prefer it if a user's first several posts can't receive votes. Then new users won't have to worry about asking "dumb" questions. Can't wait to see more people ask how to play SHARMP on a mod thread. But when a new user releases their first mod before they made enough posts, that should allow us to vote on them.

We could display who voted what on each post.
"How could X downvote this? What's their problem?"
"Stop downvoting my posts, X!"
"X likes this? You got to be kidding!"
I've got unpopular opinions that no one will approve. I'd like to share them anonymously somehow without receiving backlash elsewhere. I'll be honest. I have downvoted a few posts that pretty much everyone liked. If I downvoted a post and it's publicly shown, it forces me to explain why I did so with a comment so that people don't think I have a problem. Knowing the type of posts that everyone will upvote but I downvote, that would lead to my comment getting panned no matter how civil it is. Then let the needless drama ensue. The most I could do without causing any kind of controversy is downvote anonymously. If this system were put to action, I'm forced to not vote at all if I want to retain my current reputation even if I genuinely believe something doesn't deserve the praise/criticism it gets. Basically if ten of us voted one option, the people who want to choose the other option won't want to because they're afraid of the other side ridiculing them. Forgive me for this paragraph, I felt strongly against this for a personal reason.

We could remove "Upvote" and "Downvote" and replace it with reactions.
It's not ideal for mitigating vote manipulation. But as a general feature, it's a great idea. It'd be best if we can choose only one reaction per post and there aren't too many of them to choose from.

We could implement new restrictions to voting.
Disallowing new accounts from voting would definitely be good. People have already found a way around it, but it wouldn't be long until you realize that an account is only being used to upvote X's posts.

We could do nothing and leave the system be.
Well uh... I made my thoughts about this. You could consider them. Doing nothing isn't recommended though.
I'm reading and taking in all data here, but I want to address one thing now:

And it’s surprising that you have to be over 13 to have an account but there is soo many under 13s who are generally quite annoying since they ask for Thomas the tank engine mods or join multi meme events and squeak “Nelson Jaja” in the mic over and over again. When making an account it should ask for your birthday and if it detects that your under 13 then leave some sort of underage cookie so they can’t refresh the page and put in a fake older birthday since that is more likely to stop or at least some I’m joining rather than just having a tick box.
We used to ask and store birthdays, but it became very obvious to us that people lie on the internet. If someone claims to be under 13 or otherwise has information showing their age is under 13, we will take action as required by United States law. If anyone has any information regarding the age of another account holder, you can email support@donutteam.com
Probably been mentioned already but
try removing downvoting.
Just have upvotes ,won't solve all the issues you mentioned but will help to some degree.