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It is often said that voting on Meta means something different than voting on regular sites. Upvotes mean "I agree", and downvotes mean "I disagree".

However, I submit that this is not the case. Downvoting of a question has one effect in particular: censorship.

Once a question reaches -8 votes, it disappears from the front page. It can still be found; it isn't deleted. But all it takes is a net 8 downvotes for a question to be more or less lost without a direct link.

You might say that a net 8 downvotes obviously means that the community doesn't agree or want that. Well... does it? Particularly on polarizing issues, a question can temporarily get -8 votes as different people come online and see it. Maybe certain people with a certain belief all see it at once and downvote it a lot.

The front page is how most people find stuff they want to talk about, vote on, or answer. Removal from the front page means that most people will not find it without being pointed directly to it. Once a question hits -8, it is unlikely to be upvoted again. Edits will be irrelevant, new answers won't matter. The question is basically exiled.

The problem is that, on polarized topics, fast mass downvoting can quash any idea that is not popular with the most active members. After all, the most active members are the ones who are most likely to be online and see it. If a bunch of MSO regulars see it and downvote it, it goes away. Someone who checks MSO maybe once a day is less likely to be able to catch the question before it is exiled. This gives undue power to members who are most active on MSO, simply because they have more free time to spend on MSO.

I think this is a significant problem for polarized topics. It becomes very difficult to adequately discuss something that a significant number of active members dislike, even if the community at large doesn't mind.

Consider a question I posted about the relatively recent process in coming up with a solution for deleted questions. It currently stands at +9/-8. Initially, in the first few hours, the question was heavily downvoted and even closed. However, after a day, it was upvoted and reopened.

This shows that a question can initially have a negative response, but later get a positive one. And you can check; any edits I did to the question were relatively minor. The question posted as is was initially negative, but ultimately positive.

If that -8 happened to all come first, odds are good that the +9 and the reopen would never have happened. Those 9 people would never have had the chance to weigh in on the subject. And that's wrong.

It is wrong for someone's potential vote to not matter just because they don't visit MSO multiple times in a day. It is wrong for someone's potential vote to not matter just because they have a different sleep schedule from many of MSO's members.

The problem is one of timing. Heavy dislike from active members who quickly see the question and downvote it can kill a question before someone who might upvote it ever even sees it.

I suppose the best suggestion would be to either lower the -8 threshold (or remove it altogether) or keep it from kicking in until 1-2 days has passed. If the question isn't active, it'll already be off the front page. And if it is active, then enough people will have seen it to know if the threshold represents a real consensus or just the fast-acting few.

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One possible workaround for the threshold thingy on Meta would be to include answers in it. A -10 question with a +7 answer for example shouldn't be buried, I'd want to read that answer. Or the threshold could be dismissed on [discussion] questions (although that's too prone to abuse). –  Yannis Mar 22 '12 at 20:12
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It'd be amusing if this hit -8... –  ben is uǝq backwards Mar 22 '12 at 20:14
    
There are groups out there that see questions on the front page based on which chat-room you are in (specifically the high traffic /highly used ones e.g. Teacher's Lounge) and who shares the question. It's not a cut and dry voting ring in order, but most times you would tend to see the opinions of a group align based on a certain topic. If anything, I wouldn't mind if the votes were hidden for the first X minutes where X is based on average times from birth of post to a voting flood. –  phwd Mar 22 '12 at 20:21
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I started a feature request inspired by this. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/126591/… –  Pëkka Mar 22 '12 at 20:42
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I'm not sure this is actually an issue in reality. Someone who checks MSO once a day won't see a bunch of questions on the front page anyway because there is enough activity to push those questions off. Right now, only questions from the last 8 hours are shown on the default front page. If someone wants to see more, they have to go hunting for questions in order to weigh in, and then they'll also see questions that were "censored" from the front page. –  Troyen Mar 22 '12 at 20:42
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I don't know about censorship, but I would like the threshold removed on MSO. Spam and abuse can be removed by mods, but unpopular ideas shouldn't be. –  Adam Rackis Mar 22 '12 at 20:53
    
@Adam yeah. And anything truly harmful gets closevoted as well anyway. –  Pëkka Mar 22 '12 at 20:55
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Be it discussion or feature request, the tooltips still perfectly apply to the heavy majority of whatever is posted on Meta. –  random Mar 22 '12 at 23:20
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-1 because I want this discussion to be hidden from view forever, and for no one to be able to ever consider it. –  Cody Gray Mar 23 '12 at 1:06
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"The front page is how most people find stuff they want to talk about, vote on, or answer." -- Citation needed. –  balpha Mar 23 '12 at 6:44
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You forgot to add that with every downvote one looses reputation and therefore cannot contribute to the discussion at all if simply even a few of their questions are unpopular requests, no matter how well presented. –  Joshua Drake Apr 13 '12 at 17:03
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Yeah, this post showed me pretty much the hospitality of the meta. You clearly want to be among yourselves. I'd say, you have enough top reputation members, who can manage this website one their own. I really don't see, why I should try to participate, if I could catch some of you on the wrong foot and get it all on my newbie account. I mean, what has your disagreement with my idea, to do with my abilities to contribute something else? –  user227656 Jul 8 '13 at 13:56

4 Answers 4

Not all ideas are good, nor do they deserve the attention of the entire meta audience. Every bad question and poorly conceived idea takes time and attention away from ideas that have merit and should be considered by the greater audience. Having several people vet and down-vote a poorly thought-out question or suggestion saves everyone else from wasting their time. And the faster that happens, the better.

To quote myself quoted in "Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand":

When I go to a Stack Exchange home page, I see a list of questions. If most of those are terrible questions with little to no indication that I’d be wasting my time by reading them, the value proposition of visiting and participating is diminished: I have better things to do.

Compare that to answers on a specific question: I’ve made a conscious choice to look into what I think is an interesting question. I already made the decision that the question is worth my time. If I find the answers to be useless, I have a few different options, as an interested party, to register my displeasure, including writing my own answer. Being able to write your own answer is key: if your answer is good enough, it’ll rise above the junk answers and everyone will be better off for it.

There is no such action for question lists. I can’t say “these questions suck, show me this question I just thought up instead”: that’d be silly. So, it’s imperative the question list have a high signal-to-noise ratio, and removing the penalty for those users who do take the time to read a question and later find it to be useless so they can down-vote is conducive to that.

In other words, this is by design: MSO is a proving ground, it's not show-and-tell for contentious or polarizing ideas. If you want your idea or question to be considered and treated with respect, make a cogent argument that doesn't polarize or alienate the community. If the community still disagrees, either figure out how to repackage it or just move on.

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"Every bad question and poorly conceived idea takes time and attention away from ideas that have merit and should be considered by the greater audience." The problem with this mode of thought is the circular logic. Questions that have downvotes are bad; you can tell because they have downvotes. On SO, that may be true; on MSO, it isn't. After all, downvotes mean "I disagree", right? So a question with net downvotes means that more people disagree than agree. It doesn't mean that the question is bad or is a "poorly conceived idea." Therefore, you reasoning doesn't work on MSO. –  Nicol Bolas Mar 22 '12 at 20:53
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"I disagree = I don't want this considered, and people waste their time by considering it." That's... a frightening thought. There is a huge difference between "I don't agree we should do this" and "nobody should even talk about it. This idea is so terrible that it shouldn't even been seen, let alone discussed." –  Nicol Bolas Mar 22 '12 at 20:58
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I tend to agree with @Nicol here. Those suggestions that are so bad people shouldn't even read them should be closed as "not constructive." I often find myself downvoting suggestions that I find original, really cool in spirit, totally worth thinking about... they're just not suitable for SE. Most suggestions that reach -8 are indeed crap, but not all of them. –  Pëkka Mar 22 '12 at 21:03
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"Having several people vet and down-vote a poorly thought-out question or suggestion"...but the point is, it may not be a poorly thought-out question or suggestion. It may just be one that a number of people disagree with. The fact that you would suggest that a downvoted question is poorly thought-out is exactly the point the OP is trying to make: The impression given, regardless of what the FAQ says, is that downvotes indicate a crappy question, not merely disagreement. –  Kyralessa Mar 22 '12 at 21:03
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@Pekka I call bullcrap. If a suggestion gets to -8 right away, it sucks. If a suggestion maintains a -8, it sucks and the community has continually reaffirmed it sucks. There is no reason to give crappy suggestions and questions that get -8 quickly the benefit of the doubt: we're not losing anything. There are no diamonds in the rough there. –  user149432 Mar 22 '12 at 21:10
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@MarkTrapp, hold off on that bullcrap call, and kindly go sort the questions by votes, go to the tail end, and actually peruse some of those questions that have 30+ downvotes. You'll find that in fact many of them are eloquently written and present their reasoning well. They were clearly downvoted to oblivion only because a lot of people disagreed with the suggestion, and not because of any lack of quality in the question itself. –  Kyralessa Mar 22 '12 at 21:13
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@Kyralessa That's exactly what I'm saying. The quality of the question has no effect on whether a question gets down- or up-voted—something that absolutely matters on main sites like SO. Many of the heavily downvoted questions on MSO are worded well. But they're terrible, no good, very awful ideas and shouldn't push ideas that have merit off the front page no matter how well they're worded. There's not a single suggestion on that list that has a -8 score that should ever be implemented. –  user149432 Mar 22 '12 at 21:18
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@MarkTrapp: "There's not a single suggestion on that list that has a -8 score that should ever be implemented." Well, a -18 net score didn't stop this from happening. In fact, this idea is a great example of the difference between "I disagree" and "its bad, GTFO." –  Nicol Bolas Mar 22 '12 at 21:41
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@NicolBolas And you're conflating is with ought: just because SE decided to revoke the Yearling badge requirement does not mean it was the right thing to do. The community overwhelmingly rejected the idea, yet they did it anyway. It's no different than all the massively upvoted suggestions that get status-declined. –  user149432 Mar 22 '12 at 21:56
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Mark, you're still making circular arguments. Clearly at least one -8 request has been implemented. But you're still arguing that anything that's -8 is a terrible idea because only terrible ideas hit -8. Stop begging the question and start considering that possibly low-rated posts should not be made to disappear @Nic –  Adam Rackis Mar 22 '12 at 22:05
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@AdamRackis It's not an example of a good idea being censored: it's an example of an unpopular idea that hit the "censorship" threshold yet was still considered by SE. It's an example of how even down-votes don't fully quash ideas, completely contrary to the problem stated in this question. Show evidence that ideas that should've been implemented but were unfairly "censored" by downvotes and we'll talk. Otherwise, you're presupposing something as true that I'm rejecting. Reasserting your supposition doesn't make it automatically true. –  user149432 Mar 22 '12 at 22:19
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I explicitly disagree with the censorship characterization here. I'm simply saying that the reasons for removing questions on SO don't apply here. A downvote here means I disagree, and I don't think questions people disagree with at a ratio of 8:1 should be removed. Do you have any evidence that, but for this rule, the front page would be deluged with I can haz social networking on stak overflow questions? –  Adam Rackis Mar 22 '12 at 22:28
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@MarkTrapp: Again, the problem is that you define "have merit" to mean "fewer than 8 people disagree with it more than agree." I do not believe that this is a good metric for determining the merit of an idea or post. Furthermore, it is a temporary metric, as contentious issues can attract a lot of votes. A question voted to -8 in an hour could get voted to +8 in five. But it's a lot less likely to happen if the question is thrown off the front page. –  Nicol Bolas Mar 22 '12 at 22:30
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@NicolBolas It doesn't have to be fundamentally broken, but that's your argument: you're the one who's characterized the current status quo as "censorship" and "a significant problem". You haven't provided any shred of proof of either. Where are all these stellar suggestions that have been censored and left unconsidered because they fell off the front page due to getting a -8 score? –  user149432 Mar 22 '12 at 23:49
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@AdamRackis If removing that from the front page is wrong, I don't want to be right. –  user149432 Mar 27 '12 at 16:43

But all it takes is a net 8 downvotes for a question to be more or less lost without a direct link.

A lot less. Click on the Questions button and you get the complete unfiltered list of questions.

Regardless of whether downvoting has a censoring effect or not, that doesn't change the meaning of a downvote on Meta. If I disagree with a feature request I downvote it.

It is wrong for someone's potential vote to not matter just because they don't visit MSO multiple times in a day. It is wrong for someone's potential vote to not matter just because they have a different sleep schedule from many of MSO's members.

This could also be used to argue that questions shouldn't fall off the front page after a certain period of time, which is preposterous. (Everything on the front page right now has had activity within the past 8 hours.) If people want to go back through and vote on everything, they just have to go through the Questions button and vote.

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It may be correct but this doesn't really address the OPs question. He's asking for questions to not be penalised because of votes, not for MSO to force questions to stay on the front page. –  ben is uǝq backwards Mar 22 '12 at 21:17
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@Ben The penalty for downvotes on questions is taking them off the front page prematurely. Making them stay on the front page is exactly what he's suggesting. (Although I do admit that I'm not 100% against this post, I just like pointing out logical holes in people's arguments. Maybe I should do that on Skeptics instead of on Meta...) –  Bill the Lizard Mar 22 '12 at 21:21
    
If only my Meta question hadn't been down voted I could downvote this answer, but then I read this answer and see that downvotes on Meta are different, and therefore I have no issue. –  Joshua Drake Apr 13 '12 at 16:59

Nobody is censoring as such. You simply need to look in the right place.

By its very nature Active questions tab is filtered in a way that is deemed to be most helpful to its viewers. If you want an unfiltered ("uncensored") view where unpopular questions haven't disappeared into oblivion, use the Newest questions tab. In fact if you visit the newest question tab right now you will see the question Something is Rotten in the State of StackExchange [closed], with a current total of -20. It is sitting there loud and proud, not hidden away or censored in any way.

(Note that I submitted this answer without first reading the entire incredibly long comment thread on Mark's answer, so hopefully I'm not reiterating something that has already been said).

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If only my Meta question hadn't been down voted I could downvote this answer, but then I read this answer and see that no one is censoring me, so I shouldn't care. –  Joshua Drake Apr 13 '12 at 17:00

However, I submit that this is not the case.

You nailed it. They're pretty much the same as everywhere else.

It's the posts that are different...

Try it: post a here that involves Stack Exchange spamming users with emails touting third-party products. It'll get down-voted pretty quickly. Now go post a question on Stack Overflow asking how you can spam a bunch of people. Same down-votes. What have you learned? People don't like spam.

This Spam is pretty tasty though

The big difference between SO and MSO is that most of the questions on Stack Overflow don't involve folks proposing that you help them make your life worse. But a great many of the [feature-requests] here on MSO are just that: suggestions that the website you love to use be broken in some way, usually for the benefit of someone who isn't you. So you down-vote them. Just like you would on any other site.

I'm going to ignore most of the rest of your post, since it appears you're basing it on the assumption that this "identical vote" idea is somehow revolutionary. But I will point out that the threshold for hiding posts from the front page on Meta is -8, while on the rest of the sites it's -4 - if you'd like to propose that it be lowered further, you should be able to do that in a short paragraph, thereby saving the rest of the post for data justifying this. I recommend using SEDE to obtain this.

If you don't want to justify it, you're effectively duplicating this: Meta sites' front pages should not hide questions with very low scores

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