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Before downvoting I check to see how long a user's been a member of the SO community, to determine what kind of comments should be left and whether a problem with the post is due to new-ness or ignorance (see also Could we Please be a bit nicer to new users?). In the process, I often end up looking at some of their other posts, finding that they are of poor quality and downvoting. This is not done systematically or maliciously.

Is such down-voting appropriate, or unnecessarily harsh?

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Appropriateness or harshness aside, if you downvote too many too quickly, they'll all get reversed as serial downvoting. –  LittleBobbyTables May 13 '13 at 13:19
    
@LBT Yeah I'm talking about one or two, often that's enough posts to make a sound judgement :) –  Fabian Tamp May 13 '13 at 13:20

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Personally, I don't think you should seek out a user's other answers. It doesn't seem like a natural occurrence to me - you only came across an answer to down-vote because you were looking into a user, not the question. If you happen upon a post that is absolutely terrible, then of course you should feel obligated to say so (though perhaps via a comment instead of a down-vote). Unless it's in a niche tag, though, or it's brand new, an answer bad enough for you to down-vote without any other context should probably have already been identified by other community members as such.

As LBT noted, if you do this for too many posts by the same person, they will be reversed and you'll likely be suspended.

You can certainly get a feel for a user's experience with the site by simply looking at the summary of their questions / answers, without reading the posts themselves. Again, unless they're in a niche tag or all brand new, there should already be some voting evidence from the community that is apparent right there. If you see a lot of 0s or -1s or simply not a lot of answers at all, then you can consider them one way vs. a lot of high up-votes, accepts, etc.

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I don't think you need to gauge the quality of their actual answers (and down-vote them) to help you determine what type of comment you should leave. This is like trying to find out if your waiter's mother smokes (and yelling at her if she does!) before deciding what type of tip to leave.

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No you should not

Votes are used to judge content, not users, and when you start going through a user's posts and specifically seeking out their content to judge, then you're voting the user, not the content.

That kind of behavior is more likely to drive a user away from the site than help them learn how to use the site better. Sure votes are anonymous, however receiving downvotes on multiple (possibly older) posts at around the same time is a sure sign that someone is targeting you for downvoting, and is not voting solely based on your content.

So vote on the post you come across, and if you want to help them understand the site better so they can improve the quality of content they post, then leave a comment.

If you happen to come across another one of their posts that you think warrants a downvote later on, that's fine too. But don't specifically seek out a user's posts to vote on them, as that kind of behavior is more destructive than constructive for the site.

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At the great risk of getting flamed, I say yes.

At times I have gone through questions and answers in some tags, and after a few pages I notice the same username popping up. Asking similar open-ended questions, showing no effort to learn over time, and no remorse when said issues are pointed out.

In that case, I may strategically downvote a few questions/answers which do deserve it on their own merits, then fire off an email to the SO team to let them know about a particular user who appears to be abusing the system. I'm only doing it to help protect the integrity of the system. Sifting through the answers of a particular person is sometimes the way you find patterns.

I disagree with Aaron Bertrand's answer that implies that we should just assume that someone else is looking at it. There are a lot of bad questions and answers on this site that are years old and still sitting around with virtually no attention.

From the FAQ:

We actively moderate our community, but we need your help to do so. Anything that is getting consistently flagged by our community members will be investigated and followed up on. And of course you can always email us directly if you feel the matter is urgent.

And from the SO blog:

The moderators get email complaints about this user’s behavior.

The downvoters might consider explaining how they would do it differently.

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Let the downvoting begin... –  JimmyPena May 13 '13 at 13:52
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So, a couple of things: (1) when you "let the SO team know" have you ever gotten a favorable (to you) response? Have you also been told that you are abusing the system as well (what is the team supposed to do about a user you've down-voted a couple of times - if the problem is pervasive the automatic ban will take care of that)? (2) I see old questions get closed all the time - remember that not everything that was on-topic, constructive etc. only a few short years ago is still on-topic, constructive, etc. However those questions live on because they passed then & don't get attention anymore. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 14:10
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Sending an email to the SE team seems a little...extreme...to me. They've got bigger things to deal with than a couple of crappy answers/questions. –  tombull89 May 13 '13 at 15:00
    
@AaronBertrand If I didn't get a good response from the SO folks, I would have mentioned in my answer that it didn't work and that "the system" will somehow handle it. –  JimmyPena May 13 '13 at 17:58
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I still disagree with your general premise (and you seem to have expected that) that you should target a user's other posts to find patterns. Just because there are a lot of bad questions and answers on this site for a long time does not make them a pervasive problem today (it just means they were okay at the time), and does not mean those users are abusing the system - it was just a different system then. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 18:17
    
I also disagree that the system won't take care of itself in this regard. If a user is posting so many bad questions or bad answers that you feel the need to e-mail the team about it, what gain do you have by also going and down-voting a bunch of their stuff? And if this is the scenario and not enough people are naturally noticing and down-voting / VtC, then they must be posting in such a narrow range of visibility that it effectively doesn't matter. I don't think there is a general problem on the site where bad questions / answers - regardless of who posts them - survives for long. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 18:37
    
@AaronBertrand I will concede that downvoting AND emailing isn't the smartest idea. Please explain how you would identify users who consistently ask basic, low quality questions demonstrate no effort over time, where individual questions might be upvoted and/or reasonable on their own merit. –  JimmyPena May 13 '13 at 19:34
    
@JimmyPena I think you have a solution in search of a problem. I don't feel the need to seek out and identify those people. The system should be dealing with that on its own - if they consistently ask basic, low quality questions then those questions should be getting down-voted, closed and deleted - without being discovered via a witch hunt, which is what you seem to be advocating. E-mailing the team about someone who is abusing the system in this way hardly sounds like an urgent issue to me in any case. Feel free to witch hunt but don't expect a quorum on that tactic. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 19:42
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@AaronBertrand I don't go looking for it :) But when it jumps out at you ("this guy asking another simple question again?!") you can't help but wonder why it has gone on for so long without any moderator intervention. –  JimmyPena May 13 '13 at 19:45
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@JimmyPena that's funny, because there are some SO users who have asked a LOT of bad questions and garnered a LOT of reputation from doing so. As far as I know they've never been banned or disciplined in any way, but I can still avoid them altogether (I use a "favorite users" plug-in) without going to their profile, clicking through to their questions, and down-voting a bunch of them. Or e-mailing the team complaining that they are help vampires etc. Some people are just going to do things you don't like but are tolerated by the greater community. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 19:49
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In regards to your recent edit, I would hardly call a few bad posts an "urgent matter" worth emailing the team about, and the line you quoted from the SO blog post was regarding when users may get a timed suspension from a moderator, and when taken in context of the blog post seems to indicate that they are referring to offensive/disruptive behavior, not simple misunderstandings about how to use the site. Are you saying that you send emails to try and get a user suspended whenever you come across a user with multiple low quality posts? –  Rachel May 13 '13 at 20:19
    
@AaronBertrand things you don't like This isn't merely a difference of opinion, Aaron. –  JimmyPena May 13 '13 at 20:44
    
@Rachel I would hardly call a few bad posts an "urgent matter" worth emailing the team about Nobody's making that argument. If you choose to not follow up on the behavior described in the FAQ, that is your business. –  JimmyPena May 13 '13 at 20:44
    
@JimmyPena well you haven't convinced me of otherwise. Once again, if they were repeatedly doing things that the community as a whole considered negative, there would already be repercussions with or without you intentionally targeting them. That's why it's a community. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 20:46
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Jimmy Pena, it should be noted that the blog post predates the current auto-question-ban system by quite a bit. It may be that the auto-ban was implemented in order to relieve the staff from having to handle this manually in response to the individual emails suggested there. –  Josh Caswell May 14 '13 at 2:46

Set motivations aside for a moment.

If the content is bad, harmful, and/or poorly researched, then vote it down. If the content is well researched, good, useful, then vote it up. It doesn't matter how you came across the content. Vote as you normally would.

If you are concerned about your motivations for seeking out the content, that's something you will need to deal with on your own. If you feel you are being vindictive, and that thought causes you anguish, then stop being vindictive.

However, there should be no blanket rule against voting up or down just because you are viewing it from someone's profile. This is a self-policing site, and that policing takes a lot of forms. Voting correctly is a good thing.

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But the motivation is the problem IMHO. You see a bad post so you go to that user's profile to seek out other bad posts by that user? Seems quite malicious to me. YMMV. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 19:52
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This may not be want we want to admit, but some users are actually bad for the system. An inconvenient truth, perhaps, but true nonetheless. I don't care how you get to that content. If it is bad, identify it as so. Aggressively (and I would say ruthlessly) separating the good from the bad is why we are here. If if makes you feel bad about it, then obviously stop doing it (or get over it, see: aggressive separation). –  Anthony Pegram May 13 '13 at 19:58
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Then, by extension, you should be ruthlessly targeting ALL of their bad posts. Except there are safeguards against that - for a reason. You can only down-vote so many times in a day overall, and too many against one person will be reversed and reprimanded. So what should you do then? Gather a mob and assign a set of posts (some number just under the radar) to each person? I don't think you should take that as your job. I'll repeat again: if a person is a notoriously low quality poster, it doesn't take dedicated targeting policemen to clean that up. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 20:01
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If you find a scenario like this, where someone has gone crazy with low quality posts and has been getting away with it, I'd err on the side of contacting the team directly instead of ruthlessly down-voting a bunch of their posts. I just don't see what's gained by targeting someone like that, particularly for posts you would have never read otherwise, and when one additional down-vote is quite unlikely to change anything about what they've been getting away with doing. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 20:04
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Yes. Target as many of them as you would like. If you feel so inclined and have the time, vote every single one of them up or down as you feel competent enough to be be able to fairly do. System guards aside, we're here to vote. (I would say that if the system reverses those votes that were correctly applied, it should be challengeable.) (And, no, I'm not encouraging people to have a vendetta. The stipulation in my answer and comments is that each post is evaluated fairly.) –  Anthony Pegram May 13 '13 at 20:06
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Well, I disagree. shrug Sounds like a malicious vendetta to me. –  Aaron Bertrand May 13 '13 at 20:07
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Unless this is the same way you treat all users (which is virtually impossible due to the number of users vs the amount of time a single person has in a day), then you end up specifically targeting specific users, which is not how SE is supposed to work. SE tries to focus on content, not users. By looking over a user's content you are focusing on the user first, not on their content. In addition, there are many users that start out posting bad content, only to gradually get better and eventually start becoming a valuable member of the community. Why punish them for past mistakes? –  Rachel May 13 '13 at 20:11
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@Rachel, on the other hand, if you see a bad question from the same user that just posted another bad question you saw, but you click through to verify it. Were you correct? Is it a duplicate? And then you notice the user posted 6 bad questions in a row. Can you not review and vote on all of them? I say you can, just like a police officer can pull you over for speeding and notice your open container of alcohol when he does. I say it's valid. You may not agree. What I'm saying in my answer is there should be no blanket rule, written or otherwise, against it. Your motivations are not my concern. –  Anthony Pegram May 13 '13 at 20:15
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@AnthonyPegram As I said in my answer, "If you happen to come across another one of their posts that you think warrants a downvote later on, that's fine". But the difference is you come across those posts naturally while browsing the site or seeking answers. You shouldn't be seeking posts in a user's profile just so you can vote on them. To use your own example, that is like a police officer pulling you over for speeding and then deciding to search your car, home, and workplace to check for any other violations of the law. –  Rachel May 13 '13 at 20:22
    
An inconvenient truth and Aggressively (and I would say ruthlessly) separating the good from the bad is why we are here this pretty much sums it up for me. –  JimmyPena May 13 '13 at 20:51
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"some users are actually bad for the system" Why would you waste your time, rep, memory, CPU cycles, keystrokes and mouse clicks opening all of a user's posts and downvoting each and every one of them systematically, when you can just flag one of them and tell us that this user is bad and that something should be done about the user (which can oftentimes be handled only by us and not you)? –  BoltClock's a Unicorn May 13 '13 at 21:10
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If you are downvoting a user's content solely based on a collection of links to answers that are from the same user, that is targeted voting, period. If you were really voting based on content alone, you have no reason to do it specifically from a user's profile. This is why, regardless of whether your intentions are for keeping up the quality of content on the site or because you're intentionally rustling jimmies, the vote fraud script works. (Also because we can't know for sure if your intentions are benign, but you probably already knew that.) –  BoltClock's a Unicorn May 13 '13 at 21:12
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@BoltClock, sure, I well aware of the scripts, and I do not make a habit of seeking out users' posts for destruction. But that's not to say I have never clicked through to a profile, because I do find some user's to be quite frankly ridiculous with their question rates. And I will not begrudge anyone from voting for any reason as long as the post was worthy of it. (Conversely, actually flagging a user for being, well, nigh on useless seems more vindictive than simply voting. But hey, if that's a valid action to take, then I am all for it.) –  Anthony Pegram May 13 '13 at 21:28
    
At the same time, I realize everyday that I am an idiot so if anyone started rummaging through my 1000 answers or so, they could probably find 800 bad ones. If they did and started voting them down, my feelings would be hurt for a moment or two. I would feel defensive. But if I'm being honest with myself, I'll know I probably deserved it. –  Anthony Pegram May 13 '13 at 21:29

No, definitely not.

The person has very likely different interests compared to you which also means that there are different areas of expertise. It is therefore very likely that you believe to have found a bad answer based on your former prejudice which in fact could be good simply because you are not so firm in everything (well, if you are not Jon Skeet...). I also see the danger that once you have a bad impression of an user you are acting on your emotions while skimming the answers. This is not a good idea.

But if there are so many bad answers from a specific user ? Well, are you flogging dead horses ? You are investing precious lifetime trying to punish incompetent users for nothing, absolutely nothing in return. Stackoverflow has exactly this system of rewards so that good answers can be found while admitting that bad answers will always exist.

Always remember: http://xkcd.com/386/

Therefore I agree with Aaron Bertrand adding that you only downvote answers from a specific user if it is a really terrible answer, you know that it is a terrible answer and the user has some good answers.

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