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Reddit upvotes and downvotes are about to be less fictional

Reddit is adjusting its voting system to make a post’s score more accurately reflect its popularity, according to a post by founding engineer Christopher Slowe. The company has been removing what Slowe (aka KeyserSosa) calls “outdated, unnecessary” rules that mask post scores, and recalculating vote counts for older posts as part of the process. As a result, many scores will be rising — and the system will hypothetically be getting, if not more transparent, a bit more trustworthy.

The rules in question were created to prevent spammers or vote manipulators from seeing exactly how their efforts were affecting a given post — they changed the number based on hidden variables defined by Reddit, “fuzzing” the upvotes and downvotes. But they also had unintended consequences. As Slowe writes, the calculations could artificially deflate scores, sometimes in ways that made it seem as though posts were being mass-downvoted. This could undercut faith in the scores, making vote counts seem meaningless.

These still aren’t precise counts. “There'll still be some slight fuzzing,” writes Slowe. “The intention here is to make it ever so slightly hard for cheaters to know if their attempts are working.” The recalculations also don’t affect karma earned from posts, which is calculated separately. But they’re supposed to stop drastic, improbable drops that could happen under the old system. One user, for instance, describes posts’ points getting cut in half repeatedly, or popular posts suddenly losing points at a rapid clip. Making this less likely is “the intention with this change,” says Slowe.

Reddit has been struggling to balance control with openness, and scores that are closer to straight vote counts make it tougher to argue that it’s pulling strings behind the scenes to favor or disfavor certain groups. And preventing sudden, unwarranted popularity drops could mitigate the paranoia around vote brigading or other kinds of manipulation. This isn’t a seismic shift, but it’s an example of how basic structures like scoring can help shape an entire platform’s tone.