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I am starting to see more people use wiki answers and questions in what "seems" like to prevent rep loss from downvote. There seems to be wiki use for no reason sometimes.

Are people that afraid of a -2 rep? Do people really take downvotes that personally? I am seeing more and more people freak out when they get one downvote. Shoot, I don't think people even downvote enough to help with the site organization.

People should take downvotes as a sign that they may want to rethink their questions or make them more clear with proper sentences and detail. Of course on meta, it can just mean disagree. Why the fear?

Edit: Do we need to clarify what up/downvotes mean on the sites or is it clear enough?

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Oh come on Sam, you know mmm-bacon is always relevant. – Troggy Sep 9 '09 at 21:35
:p only to bacon aficionados – waffles Sep 9 '09 at 21:36
obligatory downvote – Nathan Koop Sep 9 '09 at 21:41
@Nathan Koop - I HATEZ YOOO000U!!!!1!!!1!!111oneoneone – Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 9 '09 at 21:44
I downvote you just to let you feel the pain of being downvoted. – Graviton Sep 10 '09 at 2:54
This is one of the few posts I can upvote without feeling bad – juan Mar 15 '10 at 20:28
I downvoted as would be expected to such a question, but also thought it was an excellent comment about the community thus earning an nothing! – davidsleeps Jul 22 '10 at 11:44
If I had 7,944 rep I would not feel a down vote all that much. But I don't. I am just above 50 and want to stay there to be able to comment. So yes, I am looking for save alternatives. Like not answering questions any more. – Martin Aug 12 '10 at 14:32
How 'afraid' I am of downvotes depend on how close I am to the next 'promotion'. Currently I have ~1160 rep on SO. Lose a few? Who cares. But if I were ~1500... Nooooooo.... :-) – Greenflow Sep 1 '13 at 0:40

15 Answers 15

up vote 72 down vote accepted

I'm not "afraid" of downvotes in terms of reputation... but I get concerned when I receive downvotes anyway, because it means I may have "been wrong on the Internet"

What do you want me to do?  LEAVE?  Then they'll keep being wrong!
I don't like being wrong. It gives me a really bad feeling. In particular, because people do (unfortunately) judge answers based on names rather than just content, I'm likely to cause more harm than most if I'm wrong about something. With great reputation comes great responsibility ;) The idea of people introducing bugs into their code due to my ignorance is an alarming one.

That's why when I am wrong, I want to know about it as early as possible so I can correct the mistake - which is why I find comments explaining downvotes to be so useful.

What's a couple of reputation points compared with all of that?

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Agreed, people in general and me in particular don't like being wrong. I don't usually post unless I'm sure of my answer, which is why I want to know why someone thought it was wrong enough to deserve a down-vote. – ChrisF Sep 9 '09 at 21:08
This is a very good and productive way to look at downvotes. – Troggy Sep 9 '09 at 21:39
if you downvote a jon skeet answer, then the only logical conclusion is that you asked the wrong question – Steven A. Lowe Sep 10 '09 at 3:00
@Steven: If you downvote a Jon Skeet answer, you should be absolutely positively sure that it needs a downvote, but if it does, you SHOULD downvote it! As he sais himself, he wants to know if he is wrong so he can fix it (or learn from it, even the best can learn new things)... That said, this also applies for downvoting any other user... – awe Sep 10 '09 at 7:36
@awe: Absolutely. And leave a comment, of course. Another reason to do so is that if you disagree with me it may mean that your own understanding is flawed or that my answer isn't clear enough to correct that misunderstanding. Explaining why you disagree can help to make a correct answer clearer, resolving the disagreement. – Jon Skeet Sep 10 '09 at 8:31
And downvotes without explanations or comments are a vile plague on the universe, with absolutely no recourse on the one penalized to challenge what is wrong. Rep is hard enough to come by without some anonymous goon engaging in "drive-by downvoting." You want to downvote? Explain it. – David W Sep 16 '12 at 23:20
So, Jon, in light of this, what do you think of the "downvote-as-disagreement" policy on MSO, particularly with respect to discussion questions? – Peter Alfvin Aug 31 '13 at 18:15
@PeterAlfvin: I think meta is entirely different. Reputation is even more irrelevant, and voting as disagreement is simply a convenient way of using an existing system for a slightly different purpose. – Jon Skeet Sep 1 '13 at 8:53

This is a deeply psychological question, so there are of course many answers. But it basically stems from an acceptance/rejection dichotomy.

I'm sure most people here know that whenever you are commenting on someone's performance, it is best to (as much as is possible) use the 'sandwich method' of starting and ending positive, and including your criticism in the middle. This is because human beings (being naturally social) are programmed to try and fit in. So, in a community such as this, where the only way to show acceptance/rejection is with an up/down vote, that is the only currency measure. So, every downvote will be regarded by some as being an implicit rejection from the entire community. I'm not saying I endorse this, these are just visceral responses to that kind of stimulus.

Every downvote is an apparent indication that someone out there feels that you've done something wrong. This isn't true (especially on meta) but because there isn't a 'constructive criticism comment' on every response, the person feels alienated with no understanding of how to re-integrate with the group. Even if they get a 'pity upvote' they are still left with the feeling that there is something about them that needs to be corrected.

Obviously, this seems like taking the internet too seriously, except that it is a natural reaction for someone who has invested themselves into the community. If I were to join some random IRC channel and have someone say "DevinB is GAY!!!!!" I wouldn't be nearly as offended as if the same thing happened on StackOverflow, where I've spent time and energy trying to integrate myself successfully.

The actionable part of this tirade follows:

Part of dealing with this 'taking downvotes too seriously' problem is recognizing why they feel this way. Yes, we can yell at them all we want and say "This is the internet you douchebag, stop being a whiny bitch", but as I mentioned earlier, the reaction that these people are feeling is not a logical consideration of their standing in the community, it is something deeper than that, and they have no control over it. The best way to educate those who take downvotes too seriously is to explain clearly and politely that downvotes are a judgment helpfulness or (on meta) disagreement, not disrespect.

If we start being impolite and abusing those users, you're only confirming their erroneous assumption that they've done something wrong, rather than the truth that they've misunderstoond the meaning of something done to them.

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I'm not sure why there aren't any comments on this. Were they all removed for some reason? In any event, I couldn't agree more than people fear downvotes because of the social impact, but I'm surprised you think that anyone can "learn" to not take them negatively, particularly when the system is designed such that it's impossible to tell if a downvote is for quality or disagreement. Further, even if a few people did successfully "learn" this new interpretation, what about the rest of "society" that sees the downvote number? Why do you think "education" on this point works? – Peter Alfvin Aug 31 '13 at 18:25
Thank you @devinb. Perhaps SE could consider expanding the possibilities (as Facebook has). Another option would be special downvote comments that would be anonymous. – DocSalvager May 12 at 23:33

Yes. I'm afraid of downvotes.

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To hell with the rep I could get!! – Austin Salonen Sep 9 '09 at 21:01
Upvoting just so you DON'T get rep! Ha! – Graeme Perrow Sep 9 '09 at 21:02
(-1) Not an answer. This is more of a "comment". – devinb Sep 9 '09 at 23:40
@devinb: The question was “Are people that afraid of a -2 rep?” and this is indeed a valid answer to this question. And you just confirmed the main problem with this side: Unfair down-voting. The slightest wrong word and you are merciless down-voted. There is a complete lack of accountability to the self proclaimed stackoverflow police. Meta-moderating like on slashdot is desperately needed. – Martin Aug 12 '10 at 14:40
@Martin, The question has always been "Why are people afraid of downvotes", and as you can see from my answer, it is possible to take the question very seriously. When someone posts on StackOverflow it is because they have a problem, large or small. And it is serious to them even if to no one else. So mocking them, even seemingly mildly, is actually a slap in the face. This "answer" is a joke, and it is a joke at the asker's expense. That is not acceptable behaviour. – devinb Aug 12 '10 at 14:56
@Martin, I would encourage anyone who has a problem with my posts to downvote them, and hopefully explain why, so I can engage them about it. – devinb Aug 12 '10 at 14:56
@Martin was there any specific instances of negative behaviour that you saw that caused you to become concerned? – devinb Aug 12 '10 at 14:59
@devinb: Well have a look at this:… . This is my very first answer on stackoverflow. And it has been down-voted - today - after 6 month. It is a perfectly valid answer to the question quoted. Correct, polite and with an example link. I put a lot of effort into it. It won't get much better. There is just an tiny technicality: I did not answer the original question but a question from one of the comments. And I only did it because I had no 50 reps - an honest mistake. And see what happened. – Martin Aug 12 '10 at 15:26
@Martin, the "tiny technicality" is exactly why. Your "answer" does not answer the question. That's not a minor detail, it's actually fairly significant, because it is simply not relevant to what the OP is looking for. While it's a fairly benign mistake, it is a mistake. – devinb Aug 12 '10 at 15:38
@Martin, plus if you read my response to this very question, it is revealed that you should not be taking downvotes very seriously. They are simple one person's opinion. It is when there are many downvotes that you might want to worry. In your case, now that you have the reputation to comment, you should delete your answer, and add it as an "@CommonsWare" comment on the relevant post. – devinb Aug 12 '10 at 15:39
@Martin. This will have the bonus effect of removing the -2 point on your next reputation audit (it will not happen immediately). – devinb Aug 12 '10 at 15:40
@devinb: I already planned to delete the down-voted answer (as I did with any previously down-voted answers I made). Sadly correcting the answer is not enough for a potential regain. Which brings us back to the meta level. Down-votes should teach me but are they teaching me the right thing? They teach me to delete instead of correcting. They teach me that answering a question is a risk. Commenting or wiki as the OP noted isn't. And why do I take this into account? Well good answers have a 10% change of acceptance or up-vote while the tiniest of mistakes has a 100% change of down-vote. – Martin Aug 12 '10 at 16:48
@Martin, they are designed for a dual-purpose. The two purposes are to indicate whether you answer is appropriate and whether your answer is correct. Ultimately, they are one and the same, because incorrect is inappropriate, but the downvotes don't indicate which one the problem was. It accurately depicted your answer as problematic, but was unhelpful in helping you remedy. – devinb Aug 12 '10 at 16:52
@devinb: And one more thing: With my answer I was trying to the help the OP by clarifying his question. Is that not what this side is all about? Answering question and help people? Yes If you have the 1000 or what rep to edit the original question then you can do so more effectively. But I did not even have the 50 for a comment. My only options where not helping or using answer. So again the message I received is: Sticking to the rules if far more important then trying to help. Is that the message SO wants to rely to its new users? – Martin Aug 12 '10 at 17:00
@devinb: I understand the importance of rules - but the “bad user experience” does not only hit the lusers and noobs but also potential new experts. Anyway I am off for holiday now. Was nice to chat to you. – Martin Aug 12 '10 at 17:33

People take things personally. They interpret anything that isn't "Good Job!" as a personal attack and then they get flustered over it.

I've probably beaten this pony to death, but it's true. We live in the day and age of "self esteem". Kids in school will get gold star and back pats just for putting forth the effort and it doesn't prepare them for the real world (or at least how society works in the real world).

It's a big newsflash when they first realize that people aren't going to tell them what a pretty picture they painted when they rub their feces on the wall. This is incredibly evident here on Meta more than any other site. When someone posts a suggestion or an answer or anything in general, they want to believe that downvotes against them are somehow people not respecting their "right to be heard."

Nobody is stopping you (this is said in general, not towards the OP) from posting whatever you want. We can respect the effort put in, but we aren't going to reward someone who makes (what we feel) is a crap suggestion or a crap answer.

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Did anyone downvote you on this responce? You tend to attract a downvote or two even when you are logicaly correct. – Troggy Sep 10 '09 at 14:43
@Troggy: I picked up several down votes on this one. – TheTXI Sep 10 '09 at 15:18
@TheTXI Everyone loves to hate on TheTXI don't they – Troggy Sep 10 '09 at 17:03

Down vote with no commet = BAD. Unless the reason is clearly obvious.

Down vote with comment = GOOD. Helps understand why something is considered wrong and gives the person posting the ability to ammend it if they think the down vote is valid.

Down voting with no comment (again when it is not obvious) is like walking up to someone and saying, "YOU SUCK!" and then walking away with no explanation. For some reason this has always been acceptable behavior on the internet :)

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Clearly obvious to whom? In most cases, the person posting the response didn't see anything 'obviously wrong' with it, or they would not have posted. – devinb Sep 9 '09 at 23:52
devinb: sometimes when you post your answer, you may assume it is obvious to another poster why there's is wrong, assuming they read yours after you downvote them. – please delete me Sep 10 '09 at 2:21
Exactly why I said, "Unless the reason is clearly obvious." meaning a completely of topic, not answering the question that is being asked, etc... yes this is open to interpretation so down voters SHOULD leave comments. Maybe have a reason popup when you downvote or something although now the voting isn't as straight forward or quick. – Kelsey Sep 10 '09 at 4:33
I just consider a down vote as a negative action which is fine but a negative action with no feedback just leads to the negative action possibly never being corrected. – Kelsey Sep 10 '09 at 4:35

I guess for exactly the opposite reason we like upvotes.

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+1 and might I add, "duh!" – Steven A. Lowe Sep 10 '09 at 3:01

There's no point in taking a lot of downvotes when you know that you're in the minority but want to state your position as a talking point. Of course this is just for subjective stuff.

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For some reason, I tend to wind up regularly on a minority opinion. Or so it seems to me. I don't care to get downvoted just for being unpopular. – Paul Nathan Sep 9 '09 at 21:20
I wind up in the minority opinion too, but that's what happens when you like Perl. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 9 '09 at 21:52
@Chris: Just because you like Perl? Try being in some discussion groups when your favorite languages are C++ and Common Lisp! – David Thornley Sep 10 '09 at 14:13

If people perceive their worth in the community as "reputations", take any of them "reputations" away and they feel bad.

It's human nature.

There are productive ways to deal with that "bad feeling" and there are non-productive ways to deal with it.

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While it's certainly possible some people fear downvotes because of SE reputation impact, I believe as others here appear to that the predominant reason is social in nature, largely unrelated to numerical reputation. Specifically, I believe downvotes represent a social threat.

The SCARF Model

As discussed in this paper, human beings are wired to view the world in terms of threats and rewards. We've long understood how the body reacts when being physically threatened (e.g. by a rushing tiger), but recent research has shown that social threats are experienced with the same brain circuitry and intensity as physical threats. These social threats (and corresponding rewards) can be thought of as being composed of five basic elements, as shown in the figure below. I believe each of these comes into significant play with respect to downvotes.


The act of being judged is in itself status-lowering. When someone judges you or your work negatively, the effect is amplified. Further, a downvote is persistent, both in terms of the net vote totals for your post and, for those who can see it, the total number number of downvotes. As a result, you perceive your status as permanently lowered as long as the post is visible.

On MSO, the problem is particularly acute because although downvotes are allowed/encouraged for expressing disagreement, there is no way for anyone to distinguish a quality downvote from a disagreement downvote. So disagreement downvotes carry all the "baggage" of quality downvotes in addition to the fact that being disagreed with is status-lowering in and of itself.

Note that while in some extreme cases, numerical reputation impact can represent a "status" threat, it is usually minor, typically mitigated by more positively weighted upvotes and masked in one's total reputation.


The threat of downvotes creates uncertainty because you don't know what the reaction of the community will be, particularly on MSO. While quality related factors such as completeness, correctness, etc. are largely under your control, matters of agreement or disagreement are generally not.


The existence of the "question ban" means that autonomy is at risk as well. The fact that the specifics of the ban are not published means that users have no idea whether a question will trigger this ban and no specific knowledge of what will be required on their part to undo the ban, adding to their uncertainty.


Downvoting, and particularly massive downvoting, communicates "you don't think like we do", "you don't belong here" and "you're not one of us", independent of the intent of the downvoter. This is particularly impactful when someone is new to the community and unsure whether they will be accepted.


This attribute is second only to "status" in terms of the weight it carries. Unfortunately, the ways in which downvoting is experienced as unfair are myriad, particularly on MSO. Downvoting being anonymous, downvotes without comments (or comment upvotes), disagreement downvotes for questions that aren't bona fide feature requests and high rep users advocating "downvote whenever you feel like it" - these things all strike many as being arbitrary and/or unfair.


While it's true that upvotes represent a corresponding "reward system", a key research finding was that human reaction to threats is generally an order of magnitude stronger than the reaction to a corresponding level of reward. While SE has wisely taken that into account in terms of the numerical reputation system, it's not clear whether it has been taken into account in other SE decisions, particularly on MSO.

In particular, rationalizations that the threat of downvotes will incentivize better posts may make sense in the case of objective quality criteria and a culture that largely abides by that criteria (e.g. SO), but hardly seem applicable in the case of the MSO's agree/disagree voting system and culture.

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I can't help but kinda agree with this. It's a big part of why Meta feels so hostile to newbies. (On the other hand - when people come to Meta demanding that the system should be changed fundamentally because of an experience you just had, they deserve to be downvoted. Still, an "agree/disagree" system would be really really helpful when Meta is reinvented eventually) – Pëkka Nov 13 '13 at 1:40

Insecurity and lack of understanding the community mindset. Too much weight and emphasis put on rep.

I don't see the auto-CW phenomenon on SF. That said, I don't see the massive downvote and edit/rollback wars either. It's rare that we get a good flamewar going over there.

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Yah SF is rather calm most days. – Troggy Sep 9 '09 at 21:14

There is so much discussion on the voting/rep system it's a little mad, most of the comments by people are disingenuous.

A trivial fix, if the rep is about organisation, is to change it, don't link it to a person, and call it 'relevance'. This would mean that it is truly about organisation only; no-one would have a number stored against them, and each post could be trivially sorted such that accurate information is presented.

The fact is the admins don't want it to be about sorting; it is about popularity, and it is only natural to want to be popular, and feel distress when someone doesn't like you.

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They fear "social rejection", instead of embracing it.

Or they are just plain rep whores.

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-1 for calling us whores - plus, i think you mean "embracing it" ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Sep 10 '09 at 3:02
gawds, my spelling can be atrocious at times... – Stu Thompson Sep 10 '09 at 8:07
+1 for calling them whores :-) – Ladybug Killer Sep 10 '09 at 8:29
@Steven A. Lowe: You're different. More of a 'Rep "Companion"' than a 'Rep Whore'. Feel better? – Stu Thompson Sep 10 '09 at 17:04
Why should anyone embrace social rejection? – Danubian Sailor Jun 27 '13 at 13:43
BTW, there is a Q&A on Social Rejection from cogsci site :… – pimgeek Mar 10 at 8:20

I've never used CW to avoid downvotes, but I do understand a certain "fear" of downvotes. First of all, I don't want to be wrong, I don't find that to be an enjoyable experience. Additionally, I want everyone to see the world my way, it's the perspective I understand and it's not easy to see things from the other side, and downvotes suggest someone else does not see or appreciate my point of view. And finally, while a higher reputation is not necessarily the end goal, it certainly is a very nice benefit, and one that people may take some pride in. I know for myself here on Meta Stack Overflow (unfortunately my highest reputation), I care far less about downvotes, in part because the subject is far more subjective, but also because my reputation is more "expendable".

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Finding out I'm wrong is the first step to learning more. That doesn't mean it's pleasant. – David Thornley Sep 10 '09 at 14:15
@David, agreed, I'm definitely not suggesting downvotes shouldn't exist or be used. I was simply explaining some reasons from my personal experience to have a bit fear and/or disappointment and frustration when I receive a downvote. – Timothy Carter Sep 10 '09 at 14:49

As long as we are all coming out with it, I will admit to not enjoying being downvoted as well.

The only alternative use for the CW box that I have employed is in responding to a post with a link to someone else's answer on a separate question. I will tick CW because I feel embarrassed about getting rep for someone else's work.

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I've never been downvoted before so I wouldn't know 3 times at least, it does not feel that bad.

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Cool, I like to help out where I can. Let us know how this new experience works out for you. – beska Sep 9 '09 at 21:28
Now this answer is a complete lie. – Troggy Sep 9 '09 at 21:33
It's also a candidate for the peer pressure badge. – ChrisF Sep 9 '09 at 22:08
Oh noes! My perfect record! – Spencer Ruport Sep 9 '09 at 23:31
@Ruport - Go for peer pressure! Go for it! – Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 10 '09 at 0:09
No way! This post now stands testament to the fact that I'm not afraid of downvotes... and how badass I am! – Spencer Ruport Sep 10 '09 at 0:10
But you can get a badge! – Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 10 '09 at 0:37
@Spencer: – perbert Mar 15 '10 at 19:33
Another downvote... One year later. – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 16 '10 at 3:40
Another downvote... Three year later. – Somnath Muluk Mar 3 '12 at 6:51
Haterrrrrrrrssssss – Spencer Ruport Dec 16 '13 at 0:54

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