Downvotes, Digital Citizenship and Online Safety

An army of virtual downvoting trolls could be coming for your teen.

reddit-downvote-2A downvote is a feature used by some social networks and apps as part of a system to make sure that the “best” content rises to the top of user feeds. The definition of best, or most popular, is solely determined by the whim of users (with the possible exception of Yik Yak, which appears to downvote any mention of another social network), but it works well in some cases. The other elements of this set of “voting” features are positive indications (upvotes, Likes or hearts), a network’s reporting system for abuse and trolls, and in some cases user comments. Reddit, Yik Yak, Quora and Hyper are among the few networks or social apps that have a downvote option for users; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and most others do not.

Why do sites use it? Well, let’s take Twitter for example. Many users and ex-users describe Twitter as being too “noisy”, with all content appearing in reverse chronological order, not sorted by topic or quality at all. Likewise with Instagram. Facebook on the other hand takes on the grave responsibility of deciding what is important to you, deploying their algorithm to determine which posts actually show up in your feed. Both have obvious shortcomings.

The reason that most sites don’t have a negative vote option probably relates to the fact that it cuts down on some engagement, which could lead to fewer users and less time on site. If a post that you were going to make could get downvoted into oblivion, you would be less likely to post it. If your posts consistently get negative feedback, you might leave that network entirely.

What does a downvote mean, exactly? A number of discussions on Reddit and Quora hash out what they mean and how users actually use them. To the question of whether a downvote is ever appropriate, one Quora user offered the most community-friendly answer of all:


Of course, life is not that simple. Another Quora user feels free being quite a bit heavier handed:


The above user appears to be very comfortable being the judge and jury.

Reddit’s user guide, their reddiquette section, takes a very constructive view. In their “please don’t” section:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.26.41 AM

As a matter of fact, on the r/news subreddit, if you hover over the downvote button, a popup occurs stating “This isn’t a disagree button. Use selectively.”


It appears that the powers that be want the downvote used exclusively to improve the community.

In practice, if you’re the parent of a teen, the downvote thing (on Reddit and elsewhere) appears to be a kind of kangaroo court where others are quite quick to slam your content or opinion because they don’t like it or disagree. It doesn’t operate with any significant level of decorum (you don’t see when people were nice enough to not downvote), and it is something that could be impacting the self esteem of your kid. What is more, all downvotes on the networks above are anonymous, and unless a user downvotes and comments, your teen will have no idea why the negative feedback is occurring.

We’re not saying that networks that allow downvotes are bad, they actually work in most cases to elevate good content and organize opinions, but some users are just plain mean, and cyberbullying is common. Just beware that if a young user in one of these networks, he either needs to be very thick skinned about what he posts or is sure to post and comment very carefully.




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