Negative VotingLike I said previously, social media is not all about friends and mutual help. It might also trigger unreasoned hatred, misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Well, fellow Mozzers might have noticed my highly negative attitude towards SEOMoz thumb down system; so recent discussions over there inspired me to post my opinion on general negative voting across the social media. It’s not that I am against disapproval or criticism in general – no, I am not going to put the necessity of negative voting under question – my main point is that negative voting should make sense.

What does a thumb down mean?

Different social networks treat thumbs down differently. In general, the role of voting down in social media site algorithm can be divided into three major groups (depending on the direct impact on an individual submission): active role, passive role and… well… something in-between.

Active role: a thumb down contributes to ‘burying‘ the submission (= no one will see it; an active role of general community news sorting)
Example: Digg

Passive role: a thumb down only shows a member’s attitude (no automatic impact on the post; though this might be added to a submitter’s record)
Example: SEOMoz

Intermediate role: a thumb down tells the system that the submission (and the like) is not relevant to you personally (and to like-minded people) (= don’t show things like this to me and my friends; but this is not necessarily a generally bad post)
Example: StumbleUpon

*Note: StumbleUpon algorithm has been up for debate recently; I have no official evidence to support this (like they say “The thumb down will also lessen the likelihood of your friends stumbling this content“), my assumptions are based on my personal experience and investigation.

What is the process of thumbing down?

Process of thumbing down

Now what is the process of negative voting?

1/ Anonymous thumbs down (it can be either commented, or just left as it is) = the community doesn’t know who thumbed down the post (e.g. SEOMoz)

Advantages: people are free to show their negative attitude;

Drawbacks: beside being rather pointless (most often it does not mean/show/tell anything to a member), this kind of negative voting seems potentially dangerous to the overall community atmosphere and behavior: (1) it encourages ‘biased promotion/discrimination’ based solely on personal attitude (= I don’t like this person, so I will thumb him down no matter what he/she says); (2) it can limit members in their freedom of expressing their own independent opinion (e.g. members feel uneasy to voice their (opposite to the community’s) opinion at the fear to be thumbed down ‘scot-free‘); (3) it may be unfair (as often it is ruled by emotion, that’s only a one-click action!).

2/ Non anonymous (with no compulsory comment/explanation) – example: Mixx

Advantages: unlike the previous one it seems to be more thoughtful as a (cough) “thumber” knows that people will see who has voted them down;

Drawbacks: people may be afraid of showing their honest negative attitude to the submission as this is a good way to make enemies with the submitter (who most often watches his post progress).

3/ Non anonymous (with a comment required)

Advantages: an approach requiring much thought and effort; so negative votes are most often well reasoned;

Drawbacks: people do expose themselves to potential revenge (like above) plus in this case negative voting seems to take too much effort (anyway, why should a negate vote be so much harder to cast than a positive one?)

The solution?

Negative Voting - the Solution

The above analysis got me to thinking about a perfect system (ok, nothing is perfect under the sun – at least the best possible combination of the negative voting role and process). So what might that be?

1/ Anonymous (with no need to comment) but also invisible to anyone except a thumber himself = StumbleUpon. Really this model seems one of the best existing – it provides both freedom of the members and healthy sleep of the submission owner. Besides, non-active role of the negative voting allows for this invisibility. After all, thumbs down don’t mean “Your post is bad” – it just means “This article is not too interesting to me but I have nothing against you personally and I do assume that you are a talented blogger“. Besides, in cases of utmost disagreement, you can always show it by commenting your thumb down.

2/ Anonymous (with the required anonymous comment). I don’t know if that model exists, but it seems quite reasonable. It requires some effort and thought (removes “emotional” factor) and at the same time gives some freedom (you are no more afraid of massive revenge).

Any thoughts?

And what are your thoughts and experiences with negative voting across social media you participate?

Post images: under the same sun, dripping cloud, UAE

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I am the owner of this blog as well as Brand and Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas and Founder of MyBlogGuest, MyBlogU and

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  1. BigTequila says:

    Hi Ann,

    This issue is fresh on my mind as well considering the post you and I both became engaged in over at (“Generation Google”). The thumbs were really flying over there. I myself have really given the system a lot of thought over the last few days in the wake of that discussion (argument).

    I see pros and cons to the system over at SEOmoz. On the one hand, it sucks not knowing who exactly is thumbing you down and why…especially in such a heated discussion. I have the suspicion someone went around thumbing down every single one of Sean’s comments, for example, without actually reading them. That just sucks. However, all told I don’t know that the system failed – Sean received a lot more thumbs up than he did down, so I took that to be a general agreement with him from the community (at least those who were paying attention). I think once we get passed being hurt by a thumb down (which is tough, I know), we can come to look at them as just disagreement…but I agree it would be nice if we could achieve the expression of disagreement without such a negative connotation.

    I still think my idea to add a third choice – “Throw Feces At Commenter” – would be good.

    I’m not an avid user of the social media sites you discuss above so I don’t know that I can offer a strong opinion on those systems. I do think that in the spirit of open discussion I’d like to keep thumbs downs in a forum like SEOmoz public – not in terms of identifying the thumber but in displaying the total number.

    I also think that identifying the thumbers would just serve to polarize the community even more in a discussion/argument like that occurring in “Generation Google.” Of course, I’m not one to simply throw my thumbs around without making a counterpoint…but if it was all out there in the open I think it could get uglier faster and create a real rift in the community.

    At the end of the day I think I like the SEOmoz system. It’s not perfect, but it’s been working quite well for years now…and I don’t know exactly what a “better” system for a site like that would look like. I think the nature of that community is well suited for this system. Social media bookmarking is, I think, a different animal.

    Anyway – very thoughtful post.


  2. Mike, wow! Thanks for the comment. I did notice that Mozzers tend to post excellent comments (that’s SEOMoz school I guess which again proves that the system does make us better πŸ™‚ )

    I do agree that SEOmoz system is not perfect but it works – and that’s the best proof of its quality. But that’s all/mostly due to the community (which is perfect πŸ˜‰ ) not due to the system itself – that’s my guess. I deliberately didn’t mention this because I was mostly talking about SM and SEOMoz is much more than that – it’s like a higher education in UGC. I did take it as an example to show the flaws (not criticizing SEOMoz but the system in general)…

  3. Hey Ann! I stumbled across your profile on stumbleUpon and I landed on your blog. I like what you are doing on your blog and you have some wonderful articles..
    Looking forward to be around very often πŸ™‚

    – Wakish –

  4. BigTequila says:

    No problem – happy to contribute.

    I do think the community over at SEOmoz is a special one. That’s why I spend so much time there. It feels like home.

    Yeah, I saw your post was more focused on SM – which is an area, I must admit, I have a lot to learn in…but I thought I’d mention the SEOmoz system since that’s something I’ve got a lot of experience with, and I thought it wasn’t too off-topic from what you were discussing.

    I think in general it’s hard to say what a thumbs up or down “means” exactly. It’s ambiguous. It could mean, β€œThis article is not too interesting to me but I have nothing against you personally and I do assume that you are a talented bloggerβ€œ – or it could mean, “you’re a turd!” Hard to say, exactly, unless the person is so brave as to get vocal about it.

    Your idea for requiring an anonymous comment is an interesting one. I’d like to think that this would result in a lot of constructive criticism, but that may be wishful thinking. Not sure, but it would be interesting to see it in action.


  5. Hi Ann, way back when I did a post ( I talked about this thumbs system – I like the one that exists on Sphinn – I am not a fan of anonymous thumbs, but I agree, it maybe worth keeping them anonymous to avoid backlash – but your reasoning for the thumbs should be displayed.

    Out of the 27 downs I have, about 18 came from the same post on which I stood up against Network Solutions in support of Gabs Comments.

  6. @rishil – I linked to your post – thank you for mentioning it.

    Btw, mine came from the recent “don’t change anything here” post Mike mentioned (I tripled them there) and at some point it turned into fun watching them grow! πŸ™‚

    @BigTequila – I would be eager to see it in action too. The only fact that it seems to be unpopular (if ever existing) is alerting – for sure!

    @Wakish – I do want that too!

  7. I do not like ANY negative voting, voting down, desphinn whatever negative πŸ˜‰

  8. lol – kudos for the direct link to my post…
    BTW did you read Rands response ( I think Mike did too)?

    Amazing how quite a few ideas have been taken on board and are in practice now.

  9. I try to avoid negative voting… you know… karmic reaction and all that.

    Seriously, it’s VERY VERY rare that I would ever give someone a negative reaction using voting, I’ll simply not say anything.

  10. Nice article Ann. How timely! πŸ™‚

    As you know, I’m not a big fan of the thumbs down either. Conversely, I have to say, at SEOmoz, with the exception of the recent flame attack we sustained (personally over 20 thumbs down within a one hour period), I think the SEOmoz system is pretty good.

    I think that’s more a testament to the respect that the individuals in the community have for each other as well as the maturity level of the average mozzer. Some call us a Cult because we’re not constantly sniping at each other. I say – we put the Cult in Cultured! πŸ™‚

    In any case, I think we both, along with Mike (Big Tequila), and Brent Payne, for the most part, respectfully disagreed with some very popular people and for that, were subjected to a bit of over zealous and anonymous thumb-downing. However it was an anomaly.

    This happens so infrequently on SEOmoz, that I would personally like to see the SEOmoz team remove those negatives that are blatantly made in the heat of emotion – especially when placed on clearly neutral or positive comments.

    As for the perfect thumbing system, I don’t know if it exists without moderation. For a moderated system, I would suggest that the thumb down be anonymous, require a brief explanation of the reason, and if it’s blatantly hostile or senseless, the moderator reserve the right to remove it.

    Thanks for another great post.

    Regards, Sean

  11. Interesting distinctions, Ann, and I get your point, but it seem like StumbleUpon’s down-thumbing is really more of a personalization function than a feedback mechanism. It’s a nice tool, and it lets you decide what you like, but it doesn’t offer any feedback to the original content creator. Although I agree that online feedback (especially the anonymous kind) has gotten nasty, I do see the value to being able to provide negative feedback or indicate that something doesn’t fit a community.

    I don’t think there’s a perfect answer. There’s a general aspect of internet culture where we all have to learn to stop and think and not use anonymity as a shield for acting like immature idiots (or worse), but that’s going to take time and no system will solve that problem. We’re barely a decade into what can be called internet “culture” and it’s still going to take decades to work the kinks out. We haven’t remotely seen the impact of the web on our social interactions.

  12. Sean Maguire says:

    Cool. I just got to place the 22nd Sphinn on this article. That’s hot!

  13. You know, I switched my name to BigTequila to achieve some anonymity…but I’m realizing it’s a pain in the arse for people to type “Mike (Big Tequila)” when referring to me…so I’m going with a less cumbersome variation from here on out. MikeTek. What do you guys think?

    23rd sphinn from me! I knew this post was going to generate some good discussion when I first read it.

  14. I have to agree with Big Tequila (MikeTek), on this. πŸ™‚

  15. The thumbs down is unfortunately a necessary evil to control abuse of our favourite social media sites. Personally I barely ever use it unless I’m ridiculously opposed to the article (ie. violence, racism etc). If I don’t like an article I simply won’t vote.

    From an author’s perspective, I prefer the mandatory comment option. In my view a negative vote questions the quality and credibility of an article (although I understand not everyone sees it that way). So if someone is questioning the quality of my work I’d like to know why. Who knows… it might open my mind and a healthy discussion/debate.

    Without a comment we can’t assess whether the criticism is valid.

  16. What’s this about the submission owner? I think the fact that Digg, Stumble, et al can delete entire user accounts / profiles at their internal discretion makes it clear who owns the bits on these systems belong to.

  17. Making Sales Making Money says:

    Ann, very touchy subject matter with me right now, I have never thumbs downed anything I just click away to the next page. Solid post here , well written and balanced. Congrats

  18. Sean said – “Some call us a Cult because we’re not constantly sniping at each other.”

    You mean it’s not because of the sheets?

    Ann – Good post, nice blog. Try not to take negative feedback too personally. I don’t think I’ve ever down thumbed anyone, but I receive a regular sprinkling of them. I don’t usually know why or even on which comment – they just appear on my profile. Ever since Al Gore invented the Internet there have been those who get their jollys attacking people. Thumbs are a lot less frustrating than the flame wars of old. Look at them as a badge of honor that you earn by offending ass holes.

  19. @Mark @Lora @Don – I never use them either!

    @rishil: yep, SEOMoz is doing better day by day πŸ™‚

    @Sean: moderation is critical, thank you for adding this to the discussion – very, very true!
    Oh, and thanks for the ‘hot’ sphinn πŸ˜‰

    Mike: thanks and the discussion is really great!

    @James: true, I also think that comments make the down vote fair; but anyway, why we feel ok that thumbs ups can (and sometimes should) be unfair, but thumbs down must be given for a good reason…

    @David: I do my best not to take it too personal but you know when you spend so much time and effort on what you are doing – that can be too hard not to think about negative votes. And that’s not only about myself, I do hate when people thumb down another person for no reason!

  20. so Ann, it’s you who always thumbs me down on seomoz…eeeaah!! πŸ™‚

  21. so Ann, it’s you who always thumbs me down all the time on seomoz…eeeaah!! gochya:)

  22. I too feel a little touchy about “thumbs-down”, because I’ve had a really bad experience with it.

    A few years ago, I was a PowerSeller on eBay with an eBay store. Anyone who hangs around eBay for awhile will realize that they have really poor customer service, but luckily some bright eBay employer dreamt up the idea of the eBay Answer Center.

    At the AC, people can come and post questions and regular old eBayers will post answers. This sounds dangerous, but there’s a dedicated group of AC responders who are very familiar with eBay policy that will come along and correct (not always gently) anyone who posts incorrect information.

    Anyway, the AC was humming along just fine, providing helpful info to anyone who needed it, when eBay announced they were adding a voting system to the answers in the AC.

    Basically, now someone would be able to “thumb up” or “thumb down” any answers or comments given in the Answer Center. Word on the street was that eBay wanted us to be more like Amazon, with their “I found this review helpful” rating system.

    The thing is, in the AC, the answers weren’t book reviews. They were things like “If you don’t ship with delivery confirmation, you don’t quality for PayPal Seller Protection”. In other words, important matters of policy and even matters of federal and international law.

    The dedicated group of AC responders (of which I was a member) rallied, contacting eBay and writing letters of protest over the proposed change. It didn’t matter how clearly we explained the kind of damage that a ratings system would cause the AC. eBay management didn’t care.

    The only concession they were willing to make (and this was after months of discussion) was to add two phrases to the options. Instead of “Was this answer helpful? Y or N”, it now says “Was this answer helpful? Yes, this was helpful/No, I need more information”. That was the only change they would make.

    Of course, people troll the AC all the time and vote down responders they don’t like, even if the answers are perfectly valid. We warned eBay of this, but they didn’t care.

    Suffice it to say, I will never view a thumbs/rating system the same way again.

    Sorry for the long comment! Love your blog!

  23. @Lori: Thanks for your excellent comment and for stopping by… EBay system did have some serious flaws (as I recall as I’ve not there for 2 or 3 years now). Even their feedback system was not perfect (rate me bad and I will rate you bad back)…

  24. Some of the SU algorithm write ups have covered the negative thumbing in SU as a way to stop showing the page to other visitors. It is not shown not only to you, but to anyone.

    So I guess SU still qualifies the “don’t show” thumbs down.

    Unless you have observed the page shown to others. Then again, it could happen, if the page was thumbed up again.

    Sigh. Sorry for making assumptions, but I don’t think the SU thumbing thing is so straight forward as you have described.

  25. “Sigh. Sorry for making assumptions, but I don’t think the SU thumbing thing is so straight forward as you have described.”

    Thanks for the comments first of all… No, I was not saying (or at least didn’t mean to say), it is straightforward. An simple algorithm = bad algorithm – actually I was implying that a good thing about SU thumbing is that it’s not the matter of black/white judgements, i.e. that’s its “non-straightforfardness” (hmmm) that makes SU thumbing system one of the best solutions.

  26. nice site and though full article already bookmark on my browser πŸ™‚

  27. MANDYLEACH24 says:

    I guess that to get the from banks you should present a good reason. But, once I’ve received a consolidation loan, because I was willing to buy a car.

  28. I think that is inevitable. thank your views

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