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I'm a moderator on a small site, and I've noticed a pattern in my voting. When a post is VLQ or off-topic, it's easy to comment explaining why and close/delete, and I don't feel bad about that. It's usually quite obvious on LQ posts, and OT is similarly straightforward most of the time. Sometimes others have already voted/commented as well.

Where I encounter problems is when I come across an answer that is factually incorrect. It is very important to downvote incorrect answers so that future visitors don't think they're right, especially on small sites where there's less voting, and if you don't downvote nobody might. A zero score on a solitary or accepted answer (on a site with low voting) seems positive; there's certainly no sign to the OP or future visitors that it's wrong. So downvoting is crucial in these cases.

It's also important in these cases to comment explaining why the answer is wrong. This is important for two reasons: 1) the author could then edit the answer to remove the incorrect statement(s), and 2) future readers can see an explanation of what's incorrect, helping them further to not internalize wrong information.

Here's where the problem comes in: I feel perfectly fine doing this on sites where I'm not a moderator. I understand it's the best thing to do for everyone involved (even if sometimes people who are downvoted don't feel what way), and I have no qualms about doing so. But as a moderator, I feel bad casting the downvote and leaving the comment shortly after, clearly tying the vote to myself. (It's pretty easy for the user to tell; they can see when the comment was posted and check their rep history. When you don't get a lot of downvotes there's always the possibility it's a coincidence, but... the likelihood is pretty high.)

The reason I feel bad is because of the diamond. I don't worry when the user is fairly new, because I think they'll react to my comment/downvote the same way as they would anyone else's. But when you have an established user who you've interacted with before, and you're (politely, but still) poking holes in their answers and associating yourself with a downvote, I feel like my criticism carries more "weight" than others, and that I might be making the user feel bad. I vaguely recall having felt that way in the user's place before, though I don't recall when and it might not have been on SE... But I definitely remember the feeling of "Wow, this was bad enough to get a moderator's attention? I must really suck."

And of course that's not the feeling I'm trying to get across, and my comments are always kind and matter-of-fact, but I still feel like I might be putting undue pressure on users that might not be there in absence of the shiny diamond. And so I'm not sure if I'm doing more harm than good; I know that the downvotes and comments are helpful, but I don't know if I'm negating that effect by associating myself with it. I know that I wasn't successful in inspiring change the last time I tried this, and that in the past I've had users delete the answers within minutes of my comment. I didn't mean for them to delete it! Editing to fix is of course always the desired result.

So... I don't know. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Is this problem entirely in my head? I feel like it's sort of similar to moderators having binding votes, though; if you're going to make a decision to do something, it's going to be seen through moderator-lenses. It's not just your opinion anymore, you're representing moderation. And so I feel like maybe that's making my comments have a different effect than I intend. So what should I do? The options seem to be: 1) keep doing what I'm doing, 2) keep commenting but stop the downvotes. I see pros and cons to both.

What say you to my giant wall of text, meta? (The sad part is I was really trying to keep this short.)

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How many of the users know that the diamond is used to recognize moderators? –  A.L Apr 27 at 2:19
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@n.1 I think most users, even new. It's pretty much intuitive. –  Shadow Wizard Apr 27 at 6:39
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Related: Should we have a "mod voice", and how? –  Josh Caswell Apr 27 at 18:59
    
Maybe potentially related?: Enable Optional Anonymous Reasons for Downvotes on Questions. See also Robert Harvey's comment. –  Cupcake May 15 at 16:51

5 Answers 5

Well asked, that's for sure. Now for my personal opinion and advice about it.

There is indeed a point in what you say, many users both new and veteran, low rep and high rep, have respect to a diamond thus would look in a different light on comments having such diamond.

But, diamond moderator, diamond employee and even Stack Exchange founders themselves, all are also users of the site where they are posting. Established users, more than anyone else, are expected to know and understand it, as they know how things work and been there for a while.

If such a user will be upset just because a diamond mod proven him wrong, it's 100% his own fault.

I, for one, would rather feel good if a diamond user (well, or Jon Skeet ;)) will downvote one of my posts proving me wrong, explaining why and in this helping me to improve.

So to sum this up, I believe you really should keep doing it and the established users who still didn't do it, will have to adjust and understand it's for the best of the site.

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What role exactly does the downvote play? I assume you would also react on the comment alone. And, either correct or delete the answer. In the latter case, the dv is 'gone' and in the former it at least should go. To cast it seems thus not necessary. Of course if you do not react on the comment that's a different thing. –  quid Apr 26 at 22:01
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@quid Unfortunately, at least half the time the users don't react to the corrections. So my worry is that incorrect answers will stand with positive or zero scores, and future readers will be misled. Shadow Wizard, thank you so much for your opinion on this! It's good to hear from a non-mod that this really might not be so bad. I appreciate the input very much! –  WendiKidd Apr 26 at 22:04
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@WendiKidd then you can still downvote later (in which case it would not even be clear anymore it was your dv). On a small site (and you asked about this) this seems quite feasibale to me. –  quid Apr 26 at 22:06
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@quid downvote means something is wrong. It is fully expected to downvote a wrong answer, and one should not be upset for getting it. It is not rude. It's part of the system. –  Shadow Wizard Apr 26 at 22:12
    
@Wendi cheers, I am only one though and might be in minority. :) –  Shadow Wizard Apr 26 at 22:13
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@ShadowWizard I did not ask for an explanation what a downvote means. I asked what is the exact purpose of it being cast, especially on a small site. What do you achive that you could not achieve without it when you write a comment anyway. The point of having the ability to downvote is that you do not need to comment. If you comment anyway it is sort of redudant. –  quid Apr 26 at 22:17
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@quid the purpose is exactly what Wendi said, to signal out a wrong post. Score is visible in the questions lists, where comments aren't visible so it's really not redundant. Having -1 will make the curious visitor read the comments, where having 0 which means "nothing wrong here" might cause the visitor to not read the comments thus never realizing it's actually wrong. Those are more than enough reasons to justify downvoting, no matter by whom or on which site. –  Shadow Wizard Apr 26 at 22:44
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OP talks about answers only. How is the question list relevant? Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against dv and rather think some people are too upset about them. But it should also be recalled that downvotes were there before comments. Sure, they still play a role and I did not mean to say one should not cast them. I only meant to say that I do not see any inevitability in certain situations. –  quid Apr 26 at 22:56
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@quid this holds true for questions as well, but anyway we have search system that also returns answers where you see their score. And the "Having -1 will make the curious visitor read the comments" is the main purpose. –  Shadow Wizard Apr 26 at 22:56
    
Yeah, though on small sites it's a smaller community and so people take things more personally. I asked the "mod voice" question because there are definitely users that confuse your comments/downvotes on site topics with "the mods are discriminating against me." I've kept to the SO mod party line from this answer, but it results in a cadre of 3-4 users who are always out to pick a fight with me over every perceived slight/activity. –  mxyzplk Apr 28 at 2:35
    
Sure, "mod4life, ignore them," but it does cause site disruption as they shriek in chat about "the wicked and unprofessional mods." And in smaller sites, there's fewer people in chat to drown out the gadflies, etc. –  mxyzplk Apr 28 at 2:35
    
@mxyzplk if someone choose to feel discriminated it's his/her own fault. Apart of saying "I am doing this as ordinary user, not as mod" over and over there's nothing you can or should do, but you should not back off and not downvote just because some users might get upset. –  Shadow Wizard Apr 28 at 6:45

As a moderator with a diamond on a smaller site, you're the leader, and you set the tone for how things are done. Voting pushes content either to the top or bottom of the page. If you're uncomfortable pushing bad content to the bottom of the page, then your core users will be uncomfortable with this too.

However, if you set the standard for applying a down vote and accompanying it with a nice comment, your core community members -- at least some of them anyway -- will catch on and do likewise.

Even on smaller sites, I down vote stuff that should be down voted. The goal is to push the content off the page, not to be mean, cruel, or heartless. However, I totally get where you're coming from. It took me a long time to get over this and learn that it's necessary in order to build a community capable of taking care of itself.

In my experience, the following formula helps to create good comments:

  1. Say something nice. Anything! It doesn't matter, just say it.
  2. Explain what the problem is with the post.
  3. Explain how to fix the problem, and link to official resources in your meta or the blog, if appropriate.

A good example could be:

  1. Hi user! Thanks for participating. Say something *nice*
  2. I wanted to point out this is incorrect because of X reasons..... Here's the problem
  3. My suggestion would be to either remove the post, or you could do a little more research on this and then correct the problem with an [edit] to make the answer correct. Good luck! Here's how to fix it

Then glue it all together:

Hi user! Thanks for participating. I wanted to point out this is incorrect because of X reasons..... My suggestion would be to either remove the post, or you could do a little more research on this and then correct the problem with an [edit] to make the answer correct. Good luck!

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Probably your best bet is to separate these actions in time. Leave your comment telling them that they're wrong, and explaining why, but don't downvote. The next day, or later the same day, revisit the question (your activity tab will lead you to places you commented). If the answer hasn't been edited and is still wrong, and nobody has commented pointing out your error, you can go ahead and downvote.

The OP will still have a possible twinge when they see a comment with a diamond, but it won't come with the sting of a downvote. But if the post remains wrong, you can provide the feedback that future visitors will rely on, and do so relatively anonymously, since you commented so much earlier.

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You explain what I meant to convey a lot better than me. –  quid Apr 28 at 14:15

As a mod on a smaller site, I can empathize with you.

The dynamics of smaller sites are different that the larger sites. I probably don't downvote as much as I should, but I do find myself leaving a decent number of "leading" comments on answers to try to get better answers out of people. I could just as easily answer the question myself, but that only serves me. By trying to get better answers out of people in one instance, I am hopefully going to get a better answer next time. I find this an important aspect of my moderation duties.

I find this especially important with the established users. I don't think they get lazy, but I think having consistently good answers from the high rep users serves as a good example for other users for how to answer.

So, no I don't think you are being harsh. If you feel that downvoting your established users is best for the long term health of your site, then you should continue to do so.

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If you are (only) worried about the down-vote, I would leave it away for regular users, at least initially. A regular user should have the good sense to react on a critical comment, so that the down-vote would only be temporary anyway.

Since the site is small in addition there should not be that many comments that yours gets overlooked. Thus, somebody getting the idea this is right, while it is wrong, due to your 'missing' down-vote seems quite unlikely to me. So no harm is done by not down-voting.

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About your first sentence: how a downvote of a moderator is different from one of a regular user? –  A.L Apr 27 at 2:33
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I am not sure what or and especially why you are asking me. OP appears to see such a difference, while I did not express an opinion on this matter and wrote a conditional phrase. Further, the parenthetical "only" can and should be read as expressing (slight) disagreement with the premise that the (main) problem was with the downvoting. But, I answered the question as asked. Would a nonmoderator express unease about downvoting I would mainly give the same advice, except that for a mod the dv is still less relevant as the cmnt carries more weight. –  quid Apr 27 at 9:44
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Ok, thanks for your explanation. I took the first sentence literally, my bad. –  A.L Apr 27 at 14:04
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I agree with this +1, in particular as downvotes too often pile up but they do not get retracted after the post is corrected ... –  Dilaton Apr 27 at 23:35

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