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As we know, the tactical downvoting (I'm talking especially about SO, as I don't know about other sites) is more and more becoming a serious problem, as I see, the community can't stop this behavior without some sacrificing.

As a suggestion, I think it makes sense to prevent an answerer from downvoting any answer on the same question, this -sure- has a harm, but IMO, it's less harmful than the tactical downvoting issue, and to make the things a bit more easier, we can prevent an answerer from downvoting a question without posting a comment to that answer before.

And vice versa, if a user downvoted an answer, he shouldn't be able to post another one unless he posted a comment first, to prevent working-around that system, so a user can't downvote other answers before posting his own to avoid posting comments.

EDIT, more clarification: I don't say wrong answers shouldn't be downvoted, BUT if you want to downvote an answer and post your own, you'll have to post a comment, so we make sure you're not just downvoting right answers tactically.

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I've been out of touch with SO recently (my daughter got her first teeth...) Is tactical downvoting really such a big problem? –  Treb Sep 20 '09 at 20:13
    
See this discussion: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/22507/… –  Rich Seller Sep 20 '09 at 21:26
    
See also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4283/… –  Brad Gilbert Sep 20 '09 at 21:55
    
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"You have an interesting approach here (wasn't my downvote, BTW)." Requiring comments doesn't work. (And surprised no one mentioned it.) –  Gnome Mar 19 '10 at 15:51
    
This is particularly starting to get on my nerves. –  Jeff Davis Feb 17 '11 at 1:49
    
See also meta.stackexchange.com/q/75499/130885 –  endolith May 18 '12 at 0:37
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8 Answers

up vote 29 down vote accepted

Tactical downvoting is something Jeff and the team has been aware of for a while, there has even been a blog post about it.

One of the recent changes Jeff made to avoid this is the timed voting, which means you can't reverse a vote after a certain period of time. There is also scripts in place to reverse serial downvotes which occur from time to time.

The best way to stop this is to flag instances of possible tactical downvoting to be investigated by the team, and if a user is guilty the relevant action will be taken. I have to admit on SU I have very rarely seen this occur, and I am not so sure if it is such a big problem on SO. I am not saying it does not exist, but I highly doubt it occurs on every question. There is possibly a small percentage of the total user base that does do this to get an advantage.

Apart from this, there is really very little that can be done to stop this, and anything more to stop it will eventually make the system to cumbersome to use. So forcing someone to leave a comment, which has been declined before, is not a solution, since this removes the anonymous nature of the voting process altogether. I don't always leave a comment for a downvote. If the answer is wrong, I don't need to make the person answering feel worse by pointing it out in a comment.

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@Diago: Why the answer is wrong would be helpful in a comment (if not given as an answer itself). –  Alex Angas Sep 21 '09 at 13:47
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When my answer is wrong and thus deserves a down vote, I would very much appreciate a comment. This would also allow a discussion, should the answer be correct (but unpopular ..) –  lexu Oct 24 '09 at 7:54
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Terrible fix; firstly people can still downvote permanently for gain, secondly it prevents legitimate vote changes for a dubious benefit. –  romkyns Nov 6 '09 at 0:02
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Locking in votes doesn't prevent tactical downvoting. People will just downvote others and leave it that way instead of undoing it later. Lose 5 rep and gain 30, where's the disincentive? This rule causes more harm than good. –  endolith Aug 1 '11 at 2:04
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How do I flag instances of tactical downvoting? I ask because the downvoter in question will have answered the question with a possibly correct answer, and also probably left comments on some of the downvoted answers. What do I flag: the answer? the comments? –  Dani Aug 15 '12 at 15:26
    
This can easily be stopped by disabling voted by people who answer the same question. The remaining community will vote on good and bad answers. End of problem that way! –  maythesource.com Dec 30 '13 at 19:53
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If I see an answer to a question that is just plain wrong, I should be able to both downvote it and post my own answer. This is such a fundamental part of SO that it's too heavy-handed to prevent it just to avoid a relatively minor problem.

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Agree, you should downvote it AND say why you did it, if you want to post another answer. –  Moayad Mardini Sep 20 '09 at 20:27
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The problem with comment requirements is that you can not force a sensible or topical comment. If I were poorly behaved, I could tactically downvote, make and irrelevant comment and move on. None the worse for it, and the victim none the better off. –  dmckee Sep 20 '09 at 20:38
    
dmckee, you'll be immediately noticed if you post a nonsense comment to justify your tactical downvote. –  Moayad Mardini Sep 20 '09 at 20:42
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Then you'd have to add code to detect when someone downvoted an answer, commented on it, added his own answer, and then deleted the comment. Or prevent that particular comment from being deleted. There are probably other cases to consider as well. Either way, I think it's too much extra code and logic. –  Graeme Perrow Sep 20 '09 at 21:40
    
(Clarification: by "you'd have to add code" I mean Jeff and the team would have to add code) –  Graeme Perrow Sep 20 '09 at 21:42
    
if you have to add code to be able to downvote, why not complete the code to that routine 100%? this would allow you to avoid having to write other code to prevent serial downvoting and other such problems. Maybe I'm just not understanding the logic here, or is it to create more work to do? –  Question-Failed Jul 30 '10 at 10:11
    
A single vote from a single potential expert is a drop in the ocean. Fixing the conflict of interest is far more important. Also, it's not a minor problem, because half of the SO's annoying anti-features are in place solely because of this problem. –  romkyns Aug 10 '10 at 9:28
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The only problem with this if you down vote another answer and leave a comment, and they downvote your answer simply out of spite. –  SilverlightFox Dec 17 '13 at 11:00
    
If you decide to answer you should not have a vote. Trust in the rest of community to vote correctly. –  maythesource.com Dec 30 '13 at 19:50
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I just ran some stats looking at people who downvote on competing answers:

  1. I looked at the ratio between downvoting the competition and total answers, so this gave me the top 500 who tend to downvote the competition

  2. Of this list only about 20 had a ratio higher than half, meaning only 20 people total on stackoverflow will downvote the competition on more than 50% of the questions they answer.

  3. Looking through the list of people who do this some patterns emerge:

    1. These people tend to answer crowded questions.
    2. These people in general seemed like experts in their fields
    3. These people seem to be participating in difficult tags (such as c++ or perl) which tend to attract a lot of wrong answers.

Overall looking at these people it appears the downvotes are helping float up good info. Which is why we allow downvoting in the first place.

As it stands I can not see any pattern of abuse in Stack Overflow and do not believe any changes need to be made to address competitive downvotes.

There are a large number of reasons I think this is not a problem

  1. Its self-correcting, meaning if somebody is misbehaving the community will correct it anyway.

  2. It is fully audited - so problem users are automatically picked up and we can ban accounts if needed (or reverse votes)

  3. Vote lock in really helps out as people can not hide their tracks.

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Vote lock-in prevents people from changing their votes for legitimate reasons, though. Helps with one problem while creating a new problem. If tactical voting isn't a serious problem, then why are votes locked in at all? –  endolith Aug 1 '11 at 1:58
    
Thanks for this answer. I've just read a few questions and many answers on this topic while increasingly wondering if there really was a problem or just an unjustified fear. Now we know. –  dystroy Dec 12 '12 at 8:47
    
Is there some public data or common knowledge regarding what are "difficult tags" ? –  dystroy Dec 12 '12 at 8:49
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It's pretty obvious that there's a "bandwagon effect", wherein people vote up answers that already have upvotes and ignore answers that already have downvotes, so it makes sense that dishonest people would manipulate this effect by using "tactical downvoting" to push themselves to the top of the list.

But if "tactical downvoting" is really a serious problem (and it doesn't sound like it is), locking-in votes is not a solution. In fact, it's a problem of its own.

There are many topics where common understanding is subtly wrong. (You know, the sorts of questions that people ask on sites like this.) The first answers will often be flawed by this common misunderstanding, and the first upvotes that pour in will also be wrong. Only after some discussion in the comments or after a more enlightened answer is posted do voters realize just how wrong that other answer is. But their votes are locked-in and can't be changed. The subtly-wrong answer now has lots of upvotes it doesn't deserve, continuing the cycle of misunderstanding as it misleads thousands of subsequent viewers.

Locking votes doesn't do anything to prevent people from downvoting competing answers anyway. They can still do that just fine. It does prevent them from undoing the damage after they "win", however, which just makes it even more harmful to the victims.

It does make permanent the small rep penalty you get for downvoting others, but that's not enough to stop anyone. Pushing yourself to the top of the bandwagon will get you a lot more rep than you lose. If that's really the rationale, it would be better to allow people to undo their downvotes, but don't give them their rep back when they do. Same effect on the voter, without the harmful side effects.

A real solution would be to remove the bandwagon effect altogether. Two proposals:

  1. For a period of time after a question is asked, display the answers in random order and hide the number of votes they've received. Downvoting competing answers will accomplish nothing, since no one can see the current score and be influenced by it. Votes will be more accurate and objective, too, since people will actually have to read through answers and judge them on their merits, instead of just skimming through the ones that were posted first and ignoring the ones at the bottom.
  2. On each page view, choose at random one of the answers near the bottom of the page that haven't received many votes, and highlight it by placing it near the top of the list (maybe directly under the top-voted answer with a box around it to set it apart?) This way, in the long run, all answers will get equal exposure and hopefully more votes, to more accurately order the answers by helpfulness and counteract the "first post effect".
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Do you have data which suggests locking in votes has not served its intended purpose? Because I bet SE has data that shows it has. –  Andrew's a Unitato May 10 '12 at 2:23
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@AndrewBarber: I've never seen any defenders of vote-locking provide any evidence that it actually helps anything, no. If there was some, this would be a good place to put it: meta.stackexchange.com/q/18370/130885 Do you have data which suggests it's not causing more problems than it solves? –  endolith May 10 '12 at 2:43
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Personally, I don't believe tactical downvoting has much effect at all. It feels immediate, spiteful and effective, so people get upset. But IMHO it's an ineffectual strategy. This is because most users vote to move an answer towards its perceived value, not because they agree/disagree with what is said. If an answer is 'worth 4 points' to most users, it will converge on that value over time.

Long term, answers that are downvoted without basis will be upvoted, netting reputation points for free. Aggressive downvoting actually helps that user in the long run!

I've discussed this line of reasoning in more detail before.

Some say tactical downvoting works because answers at the top of the stack are much more likely to be upvoted. I'd like to see some evidence of this. I've never noticed it myself. Most questions only have a small number of answers, and they're usually short. Are people really as lazy as this assumes?

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I don't totally agree that users vote to move and answer towards its perceived value. I think that they do move an answer towards either positive or negative (or zero) if they think it should be there. However, I don't think anybody is going to see a question with +30 and think "Hey, that only deserves +10" and vote it down. Nor will someone see an answer at -5 and think, "Hey, that's a -2 at the most" and vote it up. Votes settling on one value is not a function of individual perception of worth at that value, but of aggregate perception. Individuals just think up or down, good or bad. –  ベレアー アダム Sep 21 '09 at 12:42
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The problems is that an answer with -1 looks bad, so other people are likely to assume it is a bad answer and not even consider it. –  Jeff Davis Feb 17 '11 at 1:52
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@JefDavis: Maybe the votes shouldn't be displayed at all during the initial answering period, so they are voted up or down based purely on their merits and not based on what others have voted? That would remove the incentive for tactical downvoting, reduce the bandwagon effect, and encourage more people to answer. –  endolith Aug 1 '11 at 2:11
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Can't say I've noticed the problem, but perhaps it's not as prevalent in the threads I use. However, someone can only downvote your answer once - does a 2 becoming a 1 really make that much difference? If someone is in the habit of downvoting tactically, it would likely be apparent from their profile. And wrong answers should be downvotable irrespective of any other answers.

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Yes, it makes difference, so users do it. I don't say wrong answers shouldn't be downvoted, BUT if you want to downvote an answer and post your own, you'll have to post a comment, so we make sure you're not just downvoting right answers tactically. –  Moayad Mardini Sep 20 '09 at 20:31
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2 becoming a 1 is not very significant. 1 becoming a 0 means a lot. 0 becoming -1 will will cause a lot of users to look at it as a bad answer without even reading it. –  awe Sep 21 '09 at 12:05
    
With the new vote changes it will be apparent. The 'old style' vote reversal pretty much made it easy to vote answers down temporarily until you took the lead naturally, and then remove the downvotes. –  TM. Sep 21 '09 at 13:43
    
Tactical downvoting depends on the tag. My observation: there is almost none on the Perl or C tags, but lots on the JavaScript tag. –  delete Jul 5 '10 at 5:20
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Every time you become more concerned about votes than providing good answers, God closes a question.

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CW Is intended as sarcasm. –  Tim Post Jul 8 '10 at 11:05
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It would be better if people who downvote would also be required to leave a comment. Sometimes, answers get downvoted because of misconceptions, which cannot be cleared if people just downvote without comment.

And then you could flag offensive downvotes much easier too...

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This is not a bad idea.. –  maythesource.com Dec 30 '13 at 20:38
    
+1. I was just about to write this as an answer. –  TheKojuEffect May 18 at 18:22
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