Hey Steemit. Let's Talk About Flagging. Again.
I'm of the opinion problems shouldn't be ignored if we care about them enough to solve them. There have been many, many (nauseatingly many) conversations about Steemit flagging already, and I've (for the most part) stayed out of it, other than offering my opinion in various comments. I think this may be my first full blog post on the issue.
If this hasn't impacted you personally, you may be fine to stop reading now and move on. Maybe bookmark this for later if you find yourself frustrated by a flag. For the rest who are passionate about this topic, let's work it out.
We can't talk about flagging without talking about reputation. Flagging brings down reputation scores when the flagger has a higher score than the one being flagged. That puts some responsibility on the high reputation accounts to use their flags wisely to protect the network. Please read this post of mine from 8 months ago to know where I'm coming from regarding reputation:
It might also be worth reviewing this post because I'm sure there will be many disagreements on this topic.
With that groundwork laid, let's begin the discussion. I'll start by laying out my thoughts. You continue with the comments below.
This conversation was inspired by a recent spam comment on one of my posts followed by a lot more spam comments on a top trending post. I was asked to help with this situation because I have a high enough reputation score to have some influence. After seeing the obvious spamming, I did flag them along with the spam on my own post while giving this response.
This is just the latest example of a recurring problem here. I feel for those who believe they are being unfairly targeted by what I would describe as powerful (in the Steem Power sense) bad actors. I too have been flagged with justifications given which to me are irrational. I too have watched a large potential payout drop over 60% because of one whale's actions. I know what it feels like, and it sucks. Many will argue I and others should just get over it and recognize a "potential" payout is exactly that: potential. It doesn't mean a thing until it actually gets paid out in the blockchain.
It's All Potential
In principle, I fully agree with this perspective. I think everyone would be better off if people didn't really care about downvotes and just moved on. That said, I also think it's irrational to ignore a proven aspect of human psychology known as negativity bias.
The negativity bias, also known as the negativity effect, refers to the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one's psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things. In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person's behavior and cognition than something equally emotional but negative.
I remember how exciting it was to get my first valuable upvotes. Nine months ago, I was checking steemd constantly to see who was voting for me and the dopamine release I'd get was fantastic. Take that effect and multiply it many times in the opposite direction when it comes to a downvote. It can be so negative for some people that the only option they see is to leave the platform (and many have). Some will respond with "Good riddance! We don't need those people on Steemit anyway." I see the merit here in terms of not setting expectations which will lead to a community which ends in a negative outcome for us all, but I'm also very cautious to think any of us can decide what should and should not be on Steemit this early in its life. Ideally, IMO, Steemit can be whatever people want it to be as long as they are not harming others.
Downvote, Flag... Which Is It?
Currently, it's both. On the blockchain, it's technically a downvote. It changes the potential payouts just as an upvote does. If someone thinks something should get more of the reward pool, they use their Steem Power to vote it up. If someone thinks a post is getting too much of the reward pool at the expense of everyone else on the network, they can essentially upvote every other post by giving that post a downvote. That's the technical interaction in place, and I don't see anything terribly wrong with it. The more we know about game theory stuff, sybil attacks, and the potential for abuse, the more we need something like this to keep everything working in the best interests of the network.
The said, the Steemit.com interface which is currently the primary blockchain viewer in use does have the concept of a flag along with this explanation in the user interface:
Most people skip over the first bullet point right away and move on to feeling like they were punished for doing something wrong (fraud, plagiarism, hate speech, trolling, spam, etc). Further, it can be frustrating when someone gives an explanation which itself is illogical. The negativity bias kicks in and we think, "That's a BS reason. You just don't like me, and you're attacking me personally. I feel wronged!"
In some cases, individuals may be attacked personally and that's a difficult thing for many to handle. It requires emotional intelligence and self awareness to respond maturely to these situations and not resort to name calling or retaliating in kind.
Can Non-Violent Communication Help?
I'm a fan of non-violent communication which focuses on really hearing and understanding someone's needs, not whatever toxic actions or words they use to poorly express them. If we can truly understand what someone's justified needs are, we can often meet them at no cost to ourselves. Meeting the needs of others is one of the best experiences we can have as humans. See the post I linked to for more on that and Marshall Rosenberg who developed it.
Technical Problems Causing Emotional Problems
Abuse of the network or of individuals here is a problem, and we have to figure out a good way to deal with it. I think at the core of the drama here is the current inability of the technological solutions to deal with the known emotional challenges we talking, walking, meat bags bring to the table. The founder of this platform proposed a partial solution back in August of last year, but it was ultimately rejected by the community. There may be other solutions which could negate the influence of someone's Steem Power if they are acting negatively towards the network, but nothing concrete exists right now other than the flag.
There's also the problem of expectations breeding frustration. If someone sees a "potential payout," that creates an expectation. It's irrational (IMO) to think they wouldn't (on some level) think of that reward as "theirs" because of how the Steemit interface displays it. I've talked about potential solutions before, and if this is a problem for you personally, you can right now hide the $$$ values on Steemit:
Still another problem is dealing with "Bad Whales" whose actions seem to indicate a lack of caring for the wellbeing of others. We've had "whale fights" before where those with a lot of Steem Power go back and forth flagging each others' posts. I don't think anything positive comes from this. So how do we, as a network and community, deal with actions of high powered accounts which we believe will lower the long-term value of Steemit and the wellbeing of those here? How do we deal with irrational people who seem to act against their own long-term self interests?
I don't really have answers there. It's possible technological solutions can't be developed to handle this. I choose to believe otherwise, and I put my trust in the wisdom of the crowds to come up with ideas and talk them through so we can all benefit.
I'm also willing to be patient as we work it out.
Thanks for reading this long post. I'm declining payout because I don't like the idea of profiting off of the challenges Steemit faces. If you found it valuable and want to delegate rewards to it anyway, I'll leave a comment for you to do so. I also always appreciate new followers.
Thank you. Please, let's keep this conversation polite, rational, and mature. If it gets heated and you feel the need to attack someone personally, please step away and reply after your body has regulated the chemicals released by your negative emotions.
Luke Stokes is a father, husband, business owner, programmer, voluntaryist, and blockchain enthusiast. He wants to help create a world we all want to live in.