Why Karma and Upvoting systems do not work

There is a common conception these days on pretty much all platforms that up- and down-voting as well as Karma system are a good thing, it is not but let me explain that below.

Karma systems

I do not mention a specific platform, so this is applies to all platforms that enforce such idea.

Farming points, rewards or money itself, r for that matter any questionable valuable that the platform enforces on you with the promises that this is good for you or gives you special items, awards or reputation. This is pretty much the basic idea, of course the psychological aspects behind it are much deeper and we are not going the analyse that part in-depth here but let me tell you why this will never work.

There is some sort of superhero problematic that is quite complex to understand. I make it short and simplify it by saying that challenges and rewards trigger other people, in both ways, good and bad. Usually in a bad way, which results that such individuals down-vote your content in order to create damage, damage here means reputation damage or you loose some karma points, rewards, badgets etc.

In my time I see this phenomena very often, there is some sort of jealousy or hate because some people have more badges, or a higher status, call it what you want. Other people cheat, in this context cheating means they buy those points, rewards or badgets and going the short way, not by earning it with good content but with money.

Up- and Down-Vote systems

This usually goes hand in hand with Karma systems except that those systems have no real award other than a visible counter. Some platforms combine both systems or reward you when you get some points, which only helps the platforms to attract more people submitting content to them.

Such systems also getting widely abused by trolls, paid competition that use the system to e.g. down-vote the competition or to write fake reviews on e.g. Amazon to undermine trust and shape public opinion.

Another problematic with such systems are that the platform can track every vote and click much better, or in other words it probably makes you more unique because not everyone likes or dislikes the same.

Can up- and down-vote system be useful

I think the user should be in control. In short, yes, it can be useful but only under controlled environment.

When you e.g. listen to a Spotify song and you like it, it can be used as some sort of bookmark when it triggers a sorting mechanism so that the liked song gets automatically inserted in a - favorite songs - category. In this example you can expand the ability in a good way and create - based on your likes - playlists. But what does that say about songs you maybe never heard or simply forgot to like … Not much. However, the platform once again can benefit from it, it then can count your likes and suggest you new things you never heard or liked.

The underlying key here is that only and entirely the platform benefits from it because thy probably can create statistics about you and your behavior, in other words they create some sort of unique profile based on how you interact and what you upvote. Upvote represents a like on several platforms. So there is a direct connection between those things.

What is the overall conclusion

I think such systems are toxic to the internet, people who hate each other automatically don-vote you regardless how good or bad content actually is.

Then there are political attacks and motivations to abuse the system to let you rank lower or higher. In some scenarios disliked content even automatically gets hidden from the public, which some actors know and abuse.

Good content does not need any of such systems. Content and how you interpret good or bad is up to you, the given information is present or not present. What you do with it and how you handle it is also totally up to you and should not be orchestraed and echo-chambered by the public opinion.

Approaches to solve the problems

  • Such systems should be controllable by the user, there should be options to disable such systems. Or even better there should be no voting and karma indicators at all.
  • Alternatives such as like systems, that work differently should entirely controlled by the user. There should be no statistics collected or only under a consent that your likes are collected, Spotify goes such a way and this is somewhat mentioned in their terms of service. The better step however would be to give you as user an opt-in and also a way to quickly delete all likes or playlists more easily so that in case you change your mind Spotify cannot fingerprint you any further based on your played or liked songs.
  • Content is content. If you like given content or not, we are not talking about spam or low-effort posts etc. is up to you. Even if you originally do not like what the original creator has to offer it might start an interesting discussion. More infos could be revealed based on other peoples finding etc. In general forum based conversations can be very useful as research point because they are more easier to discover without enforcing to be logged in like on e.g. Discord. We assume here that such discussion take place on public forums.