This is one of those periodic 'meta' posts. In light of the message from Kos that he's going to begin cracking down on ratings abuses, it would help to clarify what "ratings abuses" actually means. For a general theory-and-practice of how to use troll ratings, you can read The Tao of Troll Rating. The nut of that can be expressed in a few sentences:
To Troll Rate something has exactly one meaning. When you Troll Rate something, as a trusted user, you are stating that the comment should be made invisible to all site users. You're saying that the comment is so bad -- so disruptive or damaging to the community -- that it isn't worth even a debate, but should be deleted from the discussion as being simply inflammatory, simply off-topic, or simply a lie.
Remember that, because that is the only use of the troll rating. It is an editorial vote to delete a comment from the conversation.
Conversely, there is one particular reason troll ratings should never be used: to express disagreement with a poster's opinion.
There you go. Simple and to the point. Unfortunately, there are always "interpretations" and "degrees" involved with things like this (see Christianity, etc.), and so simple rules always require a latticework of caveats, clarifications, etc., etc., etc. In addition, these things only work when the community is willing to police their own; community guidelines mean nothing if the community isn't interested in curtailing abuses, or is willing to overlook misbehaviors from people "on their side" of an issue.
In light of the current primary fights and ratings wars, here are some explicit clarifications of how the community rating standards are supposed to work.
- Do not troll rate people for expressing a contrary opinion, so long as it is expressed in a civilized fashion. The exceptions are for conservative talking points or debunked or false information; this isn't a site for conservatives, they have entire swaths of the internet in which they can regale each other with their reality-impaired fantasies.
- Do not troll rate someone you are actively having a fight with. If you are in a heated argument with someone, you should not be judging whether or not what they say is trollworthy. Leave it to others to decide what behavior is or isn't over the line.
- Do not give positive ratings to people having fights in the comment threads. It is insulting to a diarist to hijack a portion of their comment threads in order to have a fistfight between two or three users. It is insulting to the rest of the community to have to scroll past a fight dozens of comments long in order to get back to the topic at hand. If the fight is off topic or otherwise egregious, it should be trollrated in order to remove it from the thread, but there are almost no circumstances in which users should be rewarded for having a fight. Behavior like that isn't worth positive mojo -- don't do it.
- The exception to the normal troll rating golden rule of "rate the comment, not who makes it" is for people so disruptive to the community that they need to be quickly autobanned. This is a very difficult threshold to reach, and is reserved almost entirely for freepers or other trolls here only to disrupt. "Troll rate on sight" is not intended to be used against anyone but the most obvious and egregious of trolls -- if your definition of obvious and egregious is not the definition used by the rest of the community or by the site administrators, expect your rating ability to be suspended.
- Troll rate a trollworthy comment, regardless of who makes it. Everyone has bad judgment from time to time. Everyone can have a bad day. Even if the person who made the offensive or inflammatory comment is someone you know and respect, you still owe it to the diarist and the community to remove the comment. You can make it up to them later.
- Do note give retaliatory troll ratings. If you get what you believe to be an undeserved troll rating, do not retaliate. Leave it to others to decide if the rating was abusive. It is begrudging community practice to respond to an undeserved troll rating by troll rating the ratings abuser, thus reducing their own level of "trustedness" and making them less able to abuse ratings in the future. But don't do it unless you are absolutely positive the original rating was abusive -- and I mean 100% positive. And never do it if you're the one that got troll rated. I repeat: do not troll rate fights that you yourself are in.
- On the other hand, one troll rating does not matter. If you get troll rated by one person, know that you will continue to walk this earth. It's not the end of the world. Unless a second person rates the same comment (either with a recommend, or another troll rating), it doesn't even count. There's no point in complaining to the admins -- they already see every troll rating on the site, and do not usually yank ratings abilities based on one troll rating, or even one thread's worth of troll ratings. It's larger patterns that are more likely to require intervention.
- There isn't actually any site rule that says you can't quote hidden comments in order to make a point. You should still think carefully about doing it -- after all, they were hidden because we believe that they are so unrepresentative of the community as to be unworthy of display -- but there are valid reasons to bring them up, and it isn't against the rules to do so.
- Banned users are banned permanently -- they are not permitted to return under new names. This is true even if you are autobanned by the community, and even if it was "unfair" -- if you've garnered so much resentment during your time here that it reached that point, we're not going to bail you out. You're done. If you see a new user banned after they make only one or two comments, it's because they're users who have had previous accounts here and blew it the first time. We don't give second chances, and we check new users who seem to get into trouble. For that reason, you should consider your reputation here before getting into fights -- if people start thinking of you as someone who always gets into fights, they will begin trollrating you more and more frequently, and it will be very difficult to convince others of your goodwill. You are responsible for your behavior.
All of these rules should be obvious, as they are all extensions of the basic premise of troll ratings: use them to hide disruptive, inflammatory, or false comments.
In light of the primary wars, which have sparked rampant ratings abuse -- both of positive ratings, and negative ratings -- I want to make one point especially clear. Do not rate based on which side of an issue someone is on. This is very important. A comment that should be hidden is a comment that should be hidden, regardless of which side of an issue it takes. If you are rating down comments from "the opposing side" of an issue, you had well better rate down similar comments if they come from your side of the issue. If you are giving positive ratings to insults hurled by your own side, thus rewarding obnoxious behavior, you are similarly sabotaging community moderation efforts. This "double standard" has been all too transparent, in candidate diaries: community moderation doesn't work if large portions of the community explicitly refuse to moderate themselves according to the same standards to which they hold others.
So yes, at the moment we're therefore trying to crack down on ratings abuses. In doing so, we're removing many people's ratings, and by the nature of the process sometimes people are getting caught up in it who really don't deserve to be, based only on a few ratings that an admin was baffled by. This is unfortunate, but a product of the size of the site: we can't review the ratings history of every single site user, we have to make individual judgments based on very limited information. However, these rating removals won't be permanent: after things calm down, we expect to restore all or nearly all of them.