I have a friend who is kind of obsessive about not wanting to talk about movies he hasn't seen yet. It's not just that he wants to avoid hearing spoilers; he wants to not even hear a very broad opinion, like, "I liked it." He feels that even hearing this generic endorsement will color how he watches the movie, and he'd prefer, when he watches, to be doing so completely free of outside influence.
That's hard to do for movies or shows on streaming services where buzz makes opinions ubiquitous in everyone's social media timelines. To be sure you don't get contaminated, you'd have to avoid social media and continually remind your co-workers within earshot that you want to avoid hearing any mention of the show. That's a lot of work, and likely to make you an unpopular co-worker with some people who really like to talk about what they've seen.
It shouldn't be that hard for editors of literary journals to do with stories submitted for consideration, though. After all, these are unpublished works they're dealing with. The only people who've seen them, maybe, are small workshop groups. There's no danger of having been contaminated by a public discourse on a story that's still seeking to enter public discourse.
Except there is. The danger arises from the way Submittable presents work in progress to editors. In a typical set-up, stories sit in a queue, usually according to the date submitted (you can arrange them by other criteria, but this seems to be the fairest way to go through a queue, starting with what came in first and working to what came in last). There are a number of ways journals handle the first stages, depending on the preferences of the head editor and the staff on hand.
One common method is for first-line editors to pick entries and vote on them. Once the first vote is made, subsequent readers can see that a vote has been made and, more importantly, which kind of vote.
The snip above is from my own Submittable work queue. I was the one who voted no on the three entries you see there. This means that everyone except the first reader (me) is going to already know what another reader (me) thought before starting in on reading. If that second reader has any particular feelings about me, those could end up influencing the next vote. It could be, "Jake's usually a good reader, so I'll probably agree with him," or it could be, "I hate Jake, so I'm going to vote the opposite of whatever he said," or it could be anything in between. The point is that my vote is likely to have at least some influence on the next votes, even if it's an unconscious influence. And that means objectivity, always difficult to achieve for judges, is going to be a little bit more tainted.
For many journals, the majority of readers doing the lion's share of the work are new. The work is unpaid and grueling, so it's understandable why journals would cycle through readers. When someone new comes on board, it's natural for them to feel their way out before they get comfortable. When I read for the Baltimore Review, I had two conflicting impulses: to vote with the majority so people didn't think I was a pain in the ass, and to vote against the majority so it appeared I had a unique take that made me valuable to have around. Both of these impulses were a distraction from what should have been my only desire, which was to vote the way I really thought.
No matter which impulse I followed, the presence of other votes represented an influence on me. This was especially true because the Baltimore Review used a two-strikes-and-you're-out approach: the editor figured if two readers both didn't like something, it had too long of an uphill climb to make it, and she'd send a rejection notice. That means that once I saw something had a down vote, there was a motivation for me to go in and vote no, too, because then the story would be out of the queue, which felt like progress.
A lot of journals use a blind reading to protect them from knowing who the writer is and being influenced by that. They do this in the interests of fairness. Journals should probably also consider protecting themselves from their own influence internally. It's possible there may be some way to configure Submittable settings so you can see that a vote has been made, but not know what the vote was or who made it. But if so, it's not the default setting, and I sure can't figure out how to apply it. A journal could instead have everyone send a private note to a central editor with votes and thoughts, so that only the central editor could see them. But that's a big burden on that one editor, and a system like this would mean Submittable wasn't much more efficient than a journal working entirely off of email.
If a technical solution became available, making anonymous and masked voting possible, that doesn't mean votes shouldn't stay anonymous and hidden forever. Once enough are in, the blinders could come off, and if necessary, editors could have discussions among themselves and argue through points of disagreement. The idea isn't to avoid disagreement. Quite the opposite. It's to avoid agreement that comes too easily. Journals struggle to achieve diversity in their editorial staff in order to be fair in judging work. That diversity can be undone, though, by subtly encouraging groupthink through the voting process. A simple tweak to Submittable could probably do a surprising lot of good for encouraging diversity. It would certainly be an interesting experiment for journals to try and see if they get more disagreement than they've had before.