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I find the downvoting system to be very permeable to abuse. Despite the loss of rep when downvoting, the cumulative effect is more felt on the person being downvoted. And this is perfectly acceptable. However, in a non perfect world like this one I've been witnessing on numerous occasions a "monkey see, monkey do" effect.

A question or answer rep remains pretty much unchanged for a while but once it is downvoted it is often followed by a series of successive downvotes. As I interpret it, users are copying the last action. The system is being twisted.

I'm not sure how prevalent this is. Only the devs could probably answer that question after doing some some data mining. But I've seen this happening on numerous occasions. Often on questions or answers that while certainly meriting a downvote, are in no way a case for a flurry of negative rep. It's particularly damaging to newcomers, who posting on the wrong forum suddenly see their perfectly valid question (albeit, done in the wrong place) being voted down to... say -6. For many of them, this becomes an unfriendly place.

My suggestion:

I suggest the system remains unchanged. Rep is calculated the same, downvotes and upvotes too. A flurry of downvotes can still happen. However, let the webpage display at most -3, even for those cases where the true rep is actually less.

I suspect this will help curb the enthusiasm of the downvoters.

Debatable aspects:

Why -3?:

This is tied to the Peer Pressure badge and still helps give the poster a clear indication of the general non appreciation of their post. Limiting it to -2, or -1 would be probably too much since there is probably an element of "punishment" (take the word liberally please) that would be lost. But -3 seems good enough.

A really bad post should have lots of downvotes:

A really bad post should be closed, period. And anything below -3 should be considered for closing instead of yet more downvotes. Nothing is gained by this approach. Not even those who downvote since they too lose rep. What happens is, I suspect, most users that have enough rep to vote for closing down a post still prefer to downvote.

Why not just limit the downvotes to -3?

This would be my approach if I was in charge. But I'm not. In any case, limiting the downvotes to -3 may not fit well into the current system which does not remove enough rep. A bad post worth 3 downvotes would remove 6 rep for the poster. If it had 1 single upvote, it would need 4 downvotes to get to -3 and the poster would even gain 2 rep(!).

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Just to note... I believe at -5, a question no longer pops up on the front page when it's modified. So there's a good reason to down-vote some questions even if you've already closed or flagged them. –  Shog9 Nov 5 '09 at 20:10
And at -10 (I think) it's automatically deleted. –  tvanfosson Nov 5 '09 at 20:16
This question is on its way! We should find out soon. –  GEOCHET Nov 5 '09 at 20:17
Naw. There've been questions with way more than 10 down-votes. But quite often, by the time they get to that point they're collecting flags pretty quickly too. –  Shog9 Nov 5 '09 at 20:18
@Shog9: As well they should be. –  GEOCHET Nov 5 '09 at 20:19
I'm not suggesting to limit downvotes. But instead their visibility. Incidentally, being this meta, I find it perfectly reasonable to have -5, -10, -100 votes. Especially when the question is a suggestion. –  A Dwarf Nov 5 '09 at 20:41
@Dwarf: Things should be shown as they are. Why sugarcoat it? –  GEOCHET Nov 5 '09 at 20:45
FWIW: I'll often down-vote a question that's already at -3 (for the reason given in my last comment), but after -5 or so I often won't bother. Presumably, others have other thresholds; I think it's a bad idea to try to guess where those lie... –  Shog9 Nov 5 '09 at 20:54
@Chet Things are as they are because they have already been "sugarcoated" by previous downvotes. That's my whole point. However I do not feel the desire to defend my suggestion beyond what I have done already. It's not important to me. Instead something that occurred to me after witnessing too many valid questions and answers suffering a flurry of downvotes in quick succession, simply because they have been put on the wrong forum or have had the misfortune of gathering 1 or 2 downvotes for no objective reason. –  A Dwarf Nov 5 '09 at 21:22
@Dwarf: If you think putting a post on the wrong site is not cause for a flurry of downvotes, then I am through discussing this with you as well. –  GEOCHET Nov 5 '09 at 21:27
That's right. I don't see that as a reason for so much downvoting. Have a nice day. –  A Dwarf Nov 5 '09 at 21:45
I particularly like the symmetry of this question currently sitting at -4. –  womble Nov 28 '09 at 22:42
+1 for "It's particularly damaging to newcomers, who posting on the wrong forum suddenly see their perfectly valid question (albeit, done in the wrong place) being voted down to... say -6. For many of them, this becomes an unfriendly place." –  Levon May 27 '12 at 15:27

4 Answers 4

Completely disagree.

First, if anything Downvotes garner sympathy upvotes just as much as they garner 'monkey see, monkey do' downvotes.

Also note that an upvote is worth 5 times more than a downvote.

This effect is not only negated by the voting system, it's practically irrelevant.

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You do bring up an interesting point, that to me, would be a point in favor of this idea...limiting downvotes to -3 might limit sympathy upvotes to some degree. –  beska Nov 5 '09 at 20:09
-1 attracts enough sympathy upvotes. Something really has to suck to get it past -3. –  GEOCHET Nov 5 '09 at 20:11
@beska Unfortunately it doesn't seem to matter. Whether 1 downvote or 3; people still sympathy upvote. But that is a metric that I'd like to hear from the STack Overflow team -- how much sympathy upvoting goes on? –  George Stocker Nov 5 '09 at 20:12
How do you determine a sympathy upvote? Just because someone votes something up after it has hit negatives does not mean that there was sympathy involved in it. You can't measure motive. –  TheTXI Nov 5 '09 at 20:30

You seem to be only thinking of questions:

A really bad post should be closed, period.

What about answers? If an answer suggests something completely irresponsible, I would personally welcome it being downvoted to oblivion, to make it perfectly clear to anyone reading it that this is terrible idea.

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+1. Right now it's too easy to delete bad answers, meaning items that should be there to show users that this is the wrong way to do something just disappear. –  Joel Coehoorn Nov 5 '09 at 20:17
This is an interesting and excellent point. Knowing what one should avoid is often very useful. –  beska Nov 5 '09 at 21:53
Yeah, imagine SO in 1900, and if a Mr W. Wright had suggested he could fly in a heavier than air device he would have got -1000 –  TFD Nov 22 '10 at 23:46

Strongly against this. Leave the voting system alone, it is working just fine as it is.

Down voting is not abuse. Leave your emotions at the door. Down voting is very necessary for separating the good from the bad.

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I understand where you're coming from, but I completely disagree with the suggestion. Let the community speak. If the OP is worried / threatened by a barrage of downvotes then they have free reign to

  1. edit the post to explain or change something
  2. delete their post and
  3. flag it for moderator attention for a lock in case they feel there is abuse

If something is colossally bad, then it should be reflected as such. If the community thinks something is colossally bad, then it should also be reflected as such.

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