This is why we can’t have nice things

Today’s topic is incredibly minor, but it set me off on a thought train that kind of surprised me. Blizz recently changed its forum policy by removing the downvote option on forum comments. The main reason(s), according to CM Ornyx:

We originally added this feature as a means for players to assist with forum moderation by upvoting helpful posts and downvoting inappropriate or toxic posts. In practice, however, we found that it was primarily being used for things like downvoting a post simply because they disagreed with it, which was not the intent, and too often led to different opinions getting unfairly buried. Moving to an upvotes-only environment will remove this unintended abuse, while still allowing players to give recognition to posts that have a positive impact on the World of Warcraft community.

The ability to troll threads with downvotes, or downvoting for the sake of disagreement was the prime reason for removal here, and it nay (sic) make some increase in workload on the moderation side, but nothing we can’t handle.

For example, if a Paladin posts in the Paladin class forum about something the ‘general’ Paladin community doesn’t feel is important, they were just downvoted to oblivion, often with no context. We’d much rather people engage in meaningful conversation with each other to convey those kind of things, and, even if they don’t, the poster of the thread doesn’t feel worthless for posting a thread that ended up with -70 votes for no reason.

(In response to comment that “And now if there’s not a lot of likes then it’s still not popular?”)

I think your concern is how do we know x is popular versus y and z (wheras x may be a disagreement about game design and y may be a thread about Illidan lore). Things will be compared on the bigger picture now instead of thread by thread, which is how we’ve been doing it for a long, long time to be honest.

Predictably, this policy change caused howls of anguished protests from the forum crowd as well as expressions of gratitude for finally making the change. Many of the protests were along the lines of:

  • If you didn’t want us to downvote something because we disliked the idea, why did you label the button “Dislike”?
  • How else can we get the attention of the moderators when someone posts something really troll-y or downright disgusting?
  • Downvoting is efficient shorthand that expresses a valid opinion without clogging up the forums with “I disagree” comments.
  • Removing the button will turn the forums into a phony love-fest where everyone “likes” and no one “dislikes”.

Most of the comments in favor centered on one of two opinions:

  • The dislike button was being used mainly by trolls or haters, thus the original reason for putting it there had been abused.
  • Removing the button would serve to civilize the forums, making people actually express their disagreements non-anonymously and in somewhat logical fashion rather than as a visceral shortcut.

Also, there were a number of comments that advocated removing the “Like” button also, making people actually comment one way or the other if they agreed/disagreed with the post.

As I said at the start, this is incredibly minor in the big picture of things. I don’t think I have ever used the dislike button in a forum post and am pretty sure I will not miss it at all. If I agree with any of the reactions, it is with the “get rid of all the buttons” one. But here’s the interesting thing about the policy change — Blizz changed it because they felt it was being used as a social weapon rather than as an expression of opinion. Think about that for a minute.

I happen to think Blizz was right in their assessment, although I am not sure removing one button will do much to fix the underlying problem of the weaponization of social media. The WoW example that sticks out in my mind is the gang-like behavior of a group of warlock thugs last September when they commandeered forums — even non-warlock ones — and spammed Twitch and generally bullied the entire community because they were unhappy. This was a well-orchestrated mass tantrum designed not to express legitimate opinions and grievances but rather to employ standard toddler tactics of making everyone else miserable because they were not getting their way. They turned WoW feedback mechanisms into a weapon of mass destruction. And this is certainly not the only example of the scum elements of society abusing social media, even in the microcosm of WoW. Think about the troll gangs that used to rule trade chat.

Blizz, like the rest of us, is generally powerless to stem this tide of social vitriol, of meanness just for the sake of meanness, of dehumanizing incivility. But lately they are doing what they can, in their corner of the virtual world, to remove some of the tools that enable bile-spewing bottom feeders to do their thing. I am disheartened by the fact that a dislike button became a weapon rather than an efficient way to communicate, but if removing it makes it more difficult for the knuckle-draggers of social media to pursue their despicable goals, then I say go for it.

Still, it’s a net loss when a decent idea has to be retracted because people purposely abuse it. It’s like having to put an ugly plastic cover on your couch because the teenagers in your family decide it is fun to jump on it with muddy shoes — the real solution would be to teach them some manners, but if they refuse to comply and you have lost control over them, covering the couch is the only remedy you have.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

3 thoughts on “This is why we can’t have nice things

  1. I rarely posted anything in the Priest forums, mostly because it has just become a hang out for forum regulars. The only times I may have down voted a post was when someone was asking for help, and there would invariably be a learn to play noob, or go play another class.

  2. It’s the same on the wow Reddit forum too. If they renamed the buttons to “Relevant” and “Off topic” it would achieve far more.

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