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I ran into this today, but reading a bit on meta, I notice that this is actually a common occurrence:

The problem

  • Mel posts a slightly incorrect or incomplete answer to a question
  • Victor posts another, slightly better answer
  • Victor downvotes Mel’s answer and comments on it explaining why it is incorrect/incomplete
  • Other people come along, see Victor’s comment first, take issue with the nitpicky attitude and/or the phrasing, and downvote Victor’s answer in retaliation
  • Some of them might also upvote Mel’s incorrect/incomplete answer out of sympathy

I think we all agree that this behaviour is not in line with StackOverflow’s goals. The ideal user should feel compelled to upvote/downvote solely based on the content of an answer, but many people don’t seem to get it.

The root cause

The two root causes of the problem are obvious:

  1. There is too much emotion connected with a downvote. A downvote is felt to be a “punishment” to the answerer; and some feel that an answer that is only slightly wrong does not deserve such “harsh” punishment. Therefore, they do the same thing back, this time actually intended as a punishment, and it is out of proportion because multiple people do it.
  2. People have the opportunity to retaliate because they can tell which answer is from the same person as the controversial comment.

The problem, continued

The incentive this generates is to stop commenting when you downvote. There is no point in trying to be helpful to the answerer if there is a greater risk of being punished for it. Clearly, this too is against the spirit of StackOverflow; the idea is to give the answerer a chance to improve their answer, but this prevents it.

The proposed solution

Allow users to comment anonymously, but only once for each downvote, for the express purpose of justifying the downvote. This removes the opportunity to link the comment to another answer and thus prevents this form of retaliation.

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Link to Mel's answer please, I wanna downvote it –  jmfsg Aug 13 '10 at 13:30
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See also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135/… –  ChrisF Aug 13 '10 at 13:38
    
@Tobias Kienzler: Jonathan Sampson, redsquare and I were the first :-) See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135/… and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135/…. –  Peter Mortensen Aug 13 '10 at 13:49
    
part of me wants to vote to close the old question as a dupe of this one, because this one is worded so much better –  Kip Aug 13 '10 at 20:47
    
@Peter Mortensen: +1 –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 16 '10 at 9:42
    
@Timwi I think this should be taken a step further, force users to leave a comment when downvoting, and let them choose if that comment is anonymous or not. Downvoting without leaving a comment is rubbish in my opinion. People need feedback so they know why their answers are bad/incorrect/etc. and do not make the same mistake next time they post an answer. –  ubiquibacon Jan 22 '11 at 20:43

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

First, the problem you've presented is just a story. You haven't provided any links to examples to show that it's an actual problem.

Second, if someone is being such a jerk in comments that it's causing multiple people to downvote them then the content of that comment is the real root cause, not the downvote. Allowing anonymous commenting is not a solution to this problem. It will only make things worse. It will allow Victor to be an even bigger jerk, and I for one do not want to see that. There's a good reason that commenting requires a small amount of reputation.

If an answer is only slightly wrong, then it probably doesn't deserve a downvote. A comment is usually enough to let the author know what needs fixing. If an answer is so bad that it can't be easily fixed, then I'll downvote. If it's close but not quite right, I'll leave a comment. I rarely do both at once.

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① Some comments are trying to be helpful, even when they sound criticising. Such comments do not necessarily come from a jerk. ② So according to you, if an answer is slightly wrong, it doesn’t deserve a downvote, but if it is not even slightly wrong and its author has been a jerk somewhere else, then it does? –  Timwi Aug 13 '10 at 23:45
    
@Timwi: No, I didn't say anything about people being jerks deserving downvotes for it. –  Bill the Lizard Aug 14 '10 at 2:58

The incentive this generates is to stop commenting when you downvote.

STOP ASSOCIATING COMMENTS AND VOTES

Don't assume that my critical comment on your post means I down-voted it. Even if you were down-voted around the same time I left my comment. I may well just be pointing out what no one else bothered to.

Don't feel the need to comment whenever you down-vote. Comment when you have something to say, something to add - comments like, "-1 for the reasons N pointed out" are just noise, and read suspiciously like the author is trying to rub salt in a wound.

Oh, and when you do leave a comment after voting, don't put "+1" / "-1" in front of it, or otherwise reveal that you've voted. That stupidity just reinforces the idea that comments and voting go hand in hand. If you pull that crap and then get down-voted in revenge, you pretty much asked for it.

Finally: don't use comments to whine about the down-votes you're getting, or solicit comments from the people who down-voted you. Flag any comments you see like that.

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Case in point - stackoverflow.com/questions/3467518/… - check "TheCloudlessSky"'s comment. –  ChrisF Aug 13 '10 at 15:39
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+1 because meta is sarcasm. –  dmckee Aug 13 '10 at 15:46
    
Firstly, even if I don’t explicitly state that I downvoted and even if you rant about this here, people will still associate the comment with a downvote. Secondly, even if they stopped associating it, your answer still doesn’t address the problem whereby people downvote an unrelated answer. –  Timwi Aug 13 '10 at 23:47
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@Timwi: down-votes are anonymous, and reasons for down-voting are personal. You aren't going to stop people from down-voting whatever they want for whatever reasons they want to. There are systems in place for limiting extreme abuse, but any attempt to force people to comment or shield commenters from revenge votes are likely to make things worse: see the discussions linked by Tobias, Peter, and ChrisF on your post above. And I know I can't stop people from making incorrect assumptions - my goal is to prevent behaviors and changes to the system that will validate these assumptions. –  Shog9 Aug 14 '10 at 0:09

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