Downvoting, Can It Be Illegal?
On the Steem ecosystem there are many different opinions about what Steem should be like and how the reward pool can be managed. However, today I would like to discuss with you the possibility of certain downvoting or flagging behavior that could potentially be legally risky.
It is easy for a person to assume that downvoting content on the Steem blockchain would be no different from "smashing the dislike button" on Youtube or on Facebook. Many of these social media sites provide users with the ability to express that they like or dislike a particular piece of content.
So, why would the downvote feature on Steem be any different? Let's look at how Steem is different from all other social networks.
Steem Is A Public Utility
The term utilities can also refer to the set of services provided by these organizations consumed by the public: Coal, electricity, natural gas, water, sewage, telephone, and transportation. Broadband internet services (both fixed-line and mobile) are increasingly being included within the definition.
The politicians are riled by the activities of Twitter, Google and Facebook and it seems new regulations are inevitable. Twitter has been referred to as a public square and for that reason it is argued by many that it no longer has the right to be a private service and should be viewed as a public utility.
This stance is taken by many concerned individuals across several national lines as the liberties acknowledged by nation states around the world are not applied within the ecosystems of these internet businesses.
Unlike in the case of the private corporation managing the social platform Twitter, Steem, however, began immediately as a public utility. While Steemit.com and other frontends are private businesses for the time being and are not viewed as a public utility, the Steem blockchain itself is indeed a public utility owned by everyone and no one.
Similar to Facebook, we are seeing businesses being built on Steem and offering services that are exclusively operating on Steem and are entirely dependent on its ecosystem. Promotional services, contest services, content producing services and other new business services are forming on the Steem blockchain and investing large sums of capital toward these projects.
Steem's "Like" & "Dislike" Buttons Are Unique
People express their feelings about content all the time with a push of either a like or a dislike button on many websites. However, on the Steem ecosystem this ability can have an effect on a business' ability to gain visibility and possibly even function as a business within the Steem ecosystem.
Let's say a business, invested in a purchase of 300,000 STEEM in order to obtain visibility for their own service on their website. They didn't purchase 300,000 STEEM to give other people visibility, but to give themselves visibility, which is a logical action to take by most businesses. So they write articles about their business using their Steem account @selfpromoter, linking to their site and upvote their own content with the 300,000 Steem Power they purchased as a utility token for that very purpose.
However, then a small group of people, let's say 10 people each with 100,000 Steem Power, delegated half their SP to a collectively managed account called @vivalarevolucion, resulting in an account of 500,000 Steem Power. Now, these 10 people subscribe to a particular ideology that is not shared by the capitalism-loving capitalist known as @selfpromoter. These 10 fellows believe Steem is meant exclusively as a meritocracy with a reward pool that must remain sacred and untainted by the dastardly folk that would fill its blocks with memes, spam and other self-serving content. They seek to protect the universal oracle by adding @selfpromoter to a list for their bot to repetitively downvote.
Suddenly, @selfpromoter finds that all of his business' content is condensed and darkened to make difficult to discover by his target audience and all the $ valuations have gone from $3.75 to $0, resulting in a direct loss in ROI of $37 per day, and a larger loss in customer acquisitions.
Additionally, the bot would leave comments on all of his posts referring to the content as either spam, abuse, trash or plagiarism. The bot also threatened any viewers of the content that if they communicated with @selfpromoter they too would be put on a list for downvote harassment. So, @selfpromoter is not only having his expected ROI for investing in STEEM directly assaulted, but his business brand is undergoing defamation and his and all viewers' human rights, particularly freedom of association are being violated by this threatening bot.
All his time and effort has been wasted, his business has suffered economic and defamatory harm and it will take 13 weeks for him to recoop the initial investment amount from the purchase of 300,000 STEEM. All this time, effort and damage to @selfpromoter's reputation has an economic value that a court can appreciate and recognize. The ideologies of a pure community oracle for long-form content in a digital meritocracy is fine and dandy, but personal ideologies don't hold up in a court of law as a legitimate excuse for causing economic harm to a business.
Downvoting an account once or twice can't be used against you. However, if you pursue a business or individual on Steem with the intent to repetitively prevent them from utilizing their purchased Steem Power or performing standard functions on a common public utility such as Steem, be prepared to one day receive a letter from a lawyer.
I warmly encourage you to be extra cautious. Accounts such as abusereports refer to Steem users as "trash" and threaten all other users that might be interacting with the account that abusereports deems bad can result in aggression from that account. This is a violation of freedom of association and every Steem-based business hosting a condensor frontend should not tolerate any presence of an account making such a threat.
Downvote/flag harassment is not acceptable and it is the accounts that harass other accounts that should not be tolerated, not the self-voters or bidbot customers. Any activities that are found distasteful by the Steem community should be handled by hardfork changes to the protocol in a code is law approach and not by downvote harassment.