Transparency in Social News

Filed as Features on February 13, 2007 8:00 am

The principle of transparency is regarded by many to be necessary in a successful democracy. Every day, people are demanding more transparency out of the media, business and government. Socially driven news sites are a step in that direction. They offer a level playing field where users come to edit news democratically. What role does transparency play in the users’ actions on these sites?

Semi-Transparency

Digg features ways to positively and negatively rate both submissions and comments. The positive votes on stories are fully transparent, allowing you to see a complete list of who voted on them. Positive votes on comments are semi-transparent in that they display the last couple of friends of yours who have voted positively on comments. All negative rating – both buries and comment thumbs downs – are secret (with the exception of Digg Spy’s display of burials).

The transparency on Digg has generally been a good thing. It has served on numerous occasions to enable users to bust voting rings. The lack of transparency on the negative side of things, however, has given rise to lack of accountability for people burying stories. This in turn, has resulted in a “Bury Brigade“; a group of users who maliciously bury users or sites until those sites are banned from submission.

Full Transparency

On Netscape, you can vote positively and negatively on both stories and comments. All votes and sinks are completely transparent. You can see a list of everyone who voted positively and negatively on every story, and even every comment.

Like Digg, Netscape has benefited from having their votes transparent to users. Users have on occasion been able to point out sock puppet voting rings. However the transparency has affected the social atmosphere to a certain degree. Some users take it personally when others rate their submissions or comments negatively. The result is an increased level of ill will floating around in some areas of the community.

No Transparency

Reddit has a positive/negative voting system on both submissions and comments. All votes are secret. Only the number of positives and negatives are available.

The lack of transparency, as it has on Digg, has been known to cultivate malicious negative rating of stories on Reddit. There have even been reports of trolls and bots who automatically down-vote new submissions.

Newsvine only allows positive votes on articles and comments. And like Reddit, they have no voter transparency.

Although there is no negative voting mechanism on Newsvine, there is a feature that lets users report stories for being spam, inaccurate, inappropriate, etc. There have been accusations of users abusing this story-reporting feature to get stories removed.

The more transparent a social news site is, the more accountability users have to each other. The more exposed we are to each other, the more we stand to learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As such, I urge all of the above mentioned sites to strive for even greater transparency of their users’ actions.

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  1. By Mike K posted on February 13, 2007 at 2:59 pm
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    I would contend that another key principle of a successful democracy is the ability to cast a vote without fear of retaliation, i.e. in secret. You even admit this is a problem yourself with Netscape, when you say:

    “The result is an increased level of ill will floating around in some areas of the community.”

    On reddit, on the other hand, it seems the site owners are very concerned about trollbots and appear to have a desire to fix it. Most of the reddit userbase are in favour of keeping votes secret.

    I think it is an oversimplification to say that public voting is by definition good, without investigating the issue further.

  2. By Derek van Vliet posted on February 13, 2007 at 3:57 pm
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    Great point, Mike. Can you give some examples of the retaliation you speak of? I can’t recall anyone on digg/netscape ever being retaliated against for voting on something.

    Sure, flaming has gone on in some cases, but I don’t think that it has affected the democratic system on the sites. For instance, if someone flames me for voting on something, it certainly doesn’t change the way I vote in the future.

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  5. By V.N. Dank posted on February 14, 2007 at 9:44 am
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    Transparency is great. Retaliation for unpopular viewpoints by flaming or just plain rudeness (on Digg, Netscape, etc), can be somewhat moderated by a charter of rights and responsibilities like any democracy.

  6. By Pebblebeach posted on February 14, 2007 at 11:02 am
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    Cool! Good point.
    Can I translate this into my tongue language, and post it to my blog? Of course, I will credit the translated contents properly by linking it to yours.

  7. By GregPC posted on February 14, 2007 at 12:15 pm
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    I like your post very much. Transparency needs to be pervasive for social media to really take off. It would be good to know who’s got what opinions; but also who is doing the original posting and what their agenda might be. I don’t have problems with an agenda so long as I can factor it in to what I am reading. You mention that people want greater transparency from business, the government and the media – they also need to be prepared to be more transparent themselves.

  8. By Dan Muresan posted on February 14, 2007 at 2:51 pm
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    Good points. A small point: you mis-linked Netscape (ww.netscape.com leads nowhere).

  9. By DaXtermGuy posted on February 14, 2007 at 3:51 pm
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    I agree, with transparency comes trust. The only thing i disagree with in social media is the blurred line between opinion, rumor mongering, and actual news/facts and I think that’s something that can be easily solved and will be.

    Not to mention transparency allows people to be more interactive with the things they feel are important. imagine is CNN, for example, used netscape’s or digg’s model. I wouldn’t have to endure 15 hours of 5 minute news and hear something interesting more often.

  10. By KirkH posted on February 14, 2007 at 5:11 pm
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    Yes, and we should make transparent voting booths on election day so people know who is voting for what.

    “The more exposed we are to each other, the more we stand to learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

    There is something to be said for anonymity, a cousin of privacy. There are a lot of smart people that only voice their unpopular but valuable opinion because they know they won’t be attacked.

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