For anyone who is concerned about their upvotes on Disqus, I have some official, and some unofficial answers here.
Disqus keeps records of votes by mapping the post, the user, and the vote ( -1 for downvote, 1 for upvote, and 0 if you change your mind and cancel a vote).
Channel System Impact on User Experience
In 2015, in “The Before Time” (when things were working correctly), users were not required to log in to upvote. They were required to log in to downvote, and not required to log in to flag. Sites could not set voting settings for themselves ( and still can’t). Forum settings included allowAnonPost, a true/false field, which indicated whether forums allowed anonymous posting or not (whether a user had to register, or whether the user could just post with a name and unverified email address).
When the channel system was being added, the people who started the Channel system wanted to make sure that only registered people are allowed to post to any forum. The channel system is just a collection of forums, with some settings on top of them. However, the channel system also drastically limits the operations that a moderator or owner can do to the channel, as opposed to a forum. This can be a subject of a different article later on. For our purposes, though, it’s worth noting that when this change was made, a few changes were forced onto the 3,500,000 forums that existed before the channel system started. Here is a view of the “forum settings” (for a channel or for a forum – in this case, for a specific channel):
As we can see here, mustVerifyEmail and mustVerify are forced ON, and allowAnonPost is forced OFF. Also, a new value called allowAnonVotes exists, AND IS FORCED OFF. Most of these changes were added when the channel system was added, and most are values which are forced on forums. So when the Channel system was being put into place, that is when it became necessary for users OF ALL FORUMS to register before they could vote. Before this change, it was possible to upvote a comment without having to log in or register. This way, a forum could, if it chose to, have a completely anonymous forum, where people could assign whatever name and email address they wanted to a user and type anonymously. The forum moderator would be able to see the IP address of the user, and could ban trolls by IP address. Users could comment, reply to each other, upvote, or downvote, without having to have a Disqus account. Of course, the Channel system changed this quite dramatically.
When channels were created, a few hundred “default” channels were added, and then assigned to various people who “knew a guy” at Disqus, and acted as a sort of beta testing group. These were not people with a lot of forum moderation experience, but had some experience with social media (meaning: they had their own Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and probably Tumblr account). This is evident by the front-and-center approach used in the moderation of these channels. In their world, the moderator is the “star of the show”, and needs to consistently be on the top of the list of the top commenters in their channel. In a professional forum, a moderator is a behind-the-scenes person who rarely goes into the threads to speak, usually because they are too busy with other functions of the site. The channel system removes most of this work (and thus, control) from the moderator, so the moderator can focus on running their channels more effectively, in theory.
In practice, the moderators of these channels got involved in as many discussions as possible. So rather than taking pride that a few of their users were really enjoying their channel, and how they ran their channel, and seeing that some users were getting top billing in the “top contributor” list, they instead saw their own channels as a competition, in which they were the competitors against their own users. That somehow, if they weren’t in the top contributor list, that they were somehow bad moderators. This, coupled with the purely acidic personality of some of these moderators (and thus, the fact that they had a lot of negative votes), meant that they were constantly struggling for the top contributor spots on their own channel.
Not willing to allow people to be happy and enjoy the Disqus Channel system, they set out to make sure that their numbers were high, as this validated their position as a moderator and, to some extent, themselves. They knew that they were not popular with people, that they banned people for no reason, or essentially no reason, so they set out to do what they could to make sure that only they and their in-group had the highest reputation scores. So additional changes had to be made to Disqus (remember, these changes affect ALL 3,500,000 forums as well as the 100,000 or so channels). For example – if a user is banned from a channel, their votes do not count. This has the added “bonus” for these moderators of ensuring that they do not get any “lower reputation” by being downvoted by people who they banned.
However, these moderators still have a hard time maintaining a high enough reputation, so they want to be sure that people who delete their account, and people who have been banned, have their votes removed from the channels in which they have been banned. It would be like the user was never there. So now we see the true motivation behind the changes to the upvote tallies.
There is a constant claim that this was done in order to combat bots that mass-upvote or mass-downvote. However, the way that most of these bots work, they register a bunch (in the hundreds) of user accounts, vote, then delete the accounts, then re-register the accounts, vote, etc., until the users and votes are high enough. When a user is banned from a site, his or her 30 days worth of posts is deleted. If Disqus really wanted to combat the bots, they would make it so that the last 30 days of votes of a user are removed when the account was deleted, if the account is less than 30 days old. Also, if this were the case, then everything would have been “fixed” one single time, and people would have noticed a “hiccup” where their votes were lowered. Instead, what is being observed is the votes being, on a daily basis, “tinkered with”. This indicates that Disqus are “changing the rules”, and removing new votes which match the new rules. It’s like they are trying to reach some sort of “desired result” while monkeying with the data. Disqus has also changed the velocity at which people can upvote — ostensibly to discourage bots. However, if you go to a forum and upvote a bunch of friends, you may find that only one vote per every 5 seconds counts. For some people, one vote every 8 or 10 seconds. Is it difficult to put a 8-10 second delay in a computer program to do votes? Absolutely not. Is it difficult to continue reading a forum while you have to wait and count to 10 every time a human wants to upvote ? Absolutely. So what Disqus have done is made it much easier for bots to be able to upvote an assigned target, and much more difficult for humans to upvote their friends.
The “Upvote Gang”
Sometimes, people have friends online, who like to talk with each other. They upvote for a number of reasons, but mainly to show friendship, camaraderie, solidarity, or just so they can remember where they were and what messages they’ve already seen (particularly in media-heavy channels and forums). Why do they upvote? It doesn’t matter. This is how they enjoy the system, and how they communicate with each other. They are having fun, and having a good time on Disqus. This is the ideal user experience for a system like Disqus. However, because some channel moderators don’t have a lot of friends, or these moderators believe they are in competition with each other and their users for “top spot”, they don’t generally upvote each other. Plus, with the acidic personalities that some of these moderators have, they tend to get a lot of downvotes. Until they can find out who the person is that downvoted them, and ban them. Ironically, the huge drive that some channel moderators have to ban as many people as they possibly can from their channels, especially promoted channels — works very much against them. Because when a user goes to a promoted channel (like News Views, Breaking News, etc — the top few channels when you have to sign up), they are generally going there with a new account (because they don’t know any better). They may be under the impression that these channels are Disqus-sponsored, so when they get banned, they may delete their account. This looks very much like bot activity described above, and it may be that these accounts get added to the “upvote culling” that is visible on people’s channels. As a result, if my calculations are correct (and, more accurately, HAL’s calculations), then News/Views, which got something like 5,000 comments a day for the last two days, would show something like 300 total upvotes for those two days. HAL has the accurate figures on exactly how many upvotes truly happened during that time. Of the past two days on News Views, they averaged 5,200 posts per day, and 5,027 upvotes per day, 4873 of which could be verified. However, if my guess is correct as to how Disqus removes votes, and removes people from voting, if we were to look at the “engagement” stats for News/Views, we would probably see something on the order of 292 total upvotes during those same days. A lot of this is speculation on exactly how Disqus decided which people’s votes to count, and which ones not to count, but I’m pretty confident in HAL’s numbers.
People’s upvotes are disappearing for a number of reasons, and all changes have the end result of making sure that certain moderators in channels that have been around since the channel system started less than a year ago will have an easier time retaining a higher reputation. However, this comes at a cost to the people who haven’t used the channel system, or who have had accounts that have been around for years, especially on forums which allowed “guest” users to upvote (unauthenticated voting), which was the case for all Forums until about a year ago. In fact, the information that I have from inside sources is that ONLY currently-registered users will have their votes count. What I don’t know is how far back this will go — because if Disqus decides to make this apply forums that had allowAnonVote set to TRUE (or not set, which defaulted to true), then Disqus will be removing legitimate upvotes from real people. Just to appease a few channel moderators who have a hard time staying popular. Who will be affected by it? The people who have been on Disqus for years, through various forums, and channels, etc. The most loyal, most-upvoted, most-respected people on Disqus will be the ones most affected by Disqus’ constant desire to appease bad channel moderators. Disqus have chosen to reduce the quality of their service many times to appease these bad channel moderators — this is just the first time most people have noticed.Click here for reuse options!
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