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I've noticed on the tools section that several comments from posters asking why their post has been downvoted are being flagged.

Is it now considered bad form to ask for downvote-reasons? Is the flagging of these comments directly aimed at such queries, or at "inane banter" in general? Are there any prospects (now or in the near future) that such flagged comments will come with a reputation-penalty?

Personally, I don't see a problem with politely asking for a reason for a downvote; it will likely either be ignored (harmless) or answered in a way that is beneficial to the original poster and future readers wondering why a perfectly plausible answer may have been invalid / inappropriate.

I apologize if this is a duplicate, but I haven't yet found anything that explicitly discourages this common practice.

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A couple of users with 15+ rep do not set the standards around here. Being loud does not equate to being right. Flip the ignore bit on that. –  Uphill Luge Jan 10 '11 at 20:00
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When was it vogue to whine about downvotes? –  random Jan 10 '11 at 20:18
    
@random: I'm not saying it was ever "vogue", but to me, "flagged post" has "you're misusing this site" written all over it. I don't want to engage in behaviour that is frowned upon by the community; which is why I wanted clarification. –  Ani Jan 10 '11 at 20:36
    
@Hans Passant: Are you referring to the flaggers, or to the "whiners"? –  Ani Jan 10 '11 at 20:39
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@Ani: that's not what flagging a comment means though. If you hover over the tooltip, the very first reason given is "noise". FWIW, there's no penalty for posting a flagged comment. –  Shog9 Jan 10 '11 at 20:39
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@Ani: the flaggers. Asking for clarification is reasonable though usually pointless. I've seen high rep users like Jon Skeet and Reed Copsey do it. –  Uphill Luge Jan 10 '11 at 20:53
    
@Shog9: Thanks, that's good to know. I hope no steps are taken in the future to introduce a penalty - it wouldn't be fair to retroactively penalize actions that weren't inappropriate when they happened. –  Ani Jan 10 '11 at 21:28
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@Ani: I've not heard anyone suggest it. Comments are pretty much considered disposable, the "PostIt notes" of SO - if you have something valuable to say, you want to put it in an answer. –  Shog9 Jan 10 '11 at 21:40
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Why the downvote? :) –  JavaAndCSharp Jun 25 '11 at 17:44
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Personally, I wish you'd be forced to qualify a down-vote with a comment. –  canon Jul 28 '12 at 21:20
    
In fact, I am preparing now with a proposal to make the reasoning mandatory for a downvote. Stay tuned, more to come. –  lpapp Sep 6 '13 at 19:04

2 Answers 2

I flag them on sight. IMHO, they are noise at best, and potentially harmful at worst. I've seen instances where a user will write an incorrect, unhelpful, or redundant answer and whine about being down-voted while I'm writing a comment to explain the problem.

But worse by far are the answers where someone's already bothered to point out a problem or ask for clarification, and instead of improving or justifying his words, the author chooses to blithely ignore what he's already been told and pretend he has no idea what's wrong. This amounts to little more than begging for sympathy, and deserves none.

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Context is important, but the times I've seen them (and left them) they're typically the only comment on an answer. I am honestly trying to understand why it was downvoted and it little matters to me whether the actual downvoter or someone else can explain why my answer is wrong. If the comment doesn't make sense in context, then by all means, flag it, but I wouldn't remove or flag an honest attempt at getting an explanation. –  tvanfosson Mar 19 '11 at 11:32
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-1 Why don't you write the comment first, then downvote? –  Andrew Grimm Mar 19 '11 at 12:22
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@Andrew: because the vote is both the fastest, most visible, and (IMHO) the most generally useful form of feedback. There's really no guarantee anyone - including the author - will even bother to read a comment, but the vote takes effect immediately. Best yet, if the author improves his post while I'm writing (good authors tend to be self-critical, and FGITW encourages iterative improvements) I'll see it when I refresh and can remove my down-vote! –  Shog9 Mar 19 '11 at 15:58
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@tvanfosson: I have no problem with anyone honestly seeking constructive criticism. I suspect the difference of opinion on these comments comes down to interpretation: I see a question on the vote, you see a question on the content. –  Shog9 Mar 19 '11 at 16:14
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Downvotes with no explanation on a question with no close votes and no "constructive feedbacK" in comments seems pointless. –  a coder Jan 30 '13 at 15:34
    
Which flag reason should we choose for this? –  hims056 Feb 18 '13 at 12:57
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Yes, this answer does not make much sense to me either. In fact, I will propose soon to make the commenting and reasoning for downvotes mandatory. More to come, stay tuned. –  lpapp Sep 6 '13 at 19:16

If I had to wager a guess, those posts are likely being flagged because they are normally just noise, or "inane banter" as you suggested. Not that it's wrong for the poster to want to understand what's wrong with their post so they can improve it, but the "Why was I down voted" comment will almost never help with that.

Given that the comment has no way of notifying the person who down voted, if the down voter didn't feel the need to add a comment when they voted initially, the chances of them just strolling by later on, seeing that the answer author posted the comment, and thinking "Oh, I should leave a comment" are pretty slim.

You mention that this is harmless, which is true. But it's also pointless, so the comments do nothing except clutter up the page, and clutter should be removed. People will typically comment if there's a minor mistake that can be fixed up, but if the answer is really that terrible or was the target of a drive-by down vote, a comment asking "Why?" will never fix that. So, I don't see any harm in removing such comments either.

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Even when not seeing the comments on posts they downvoted themselves, they still might learn from seeing other comments like that? (But then: low rep users are already prompted to leave a comment.) –  Arjan Jan 10 '11 at 20:12
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@Arjan There's a small chance of that, sure. But to that end, there are plenty of Meta posts related to encouraging people to leave comments when they down vote that address that more directly. If someone were to be swayed by seeing random comments, I feel that the same person could be convinced through other means as well. –  Tim Stone Jan 10 '11 at 20:23
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Sometimes, when I see "Why was this downvoted", but wasn't the downvoter, I try to leave a comment if I think I know the reasons. I may not have done so if the "whine" hadn't been there. Hopefully, all parties benefit from this. –  Ani Jan 10 '11 at 21:25
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@Ani: I've done that too, but it's risky. You tend to find out rather quickly if the author really wanted constructive criticism or merely someone to blame. I've become more and more uneasy about doing it though, for another reason: you're effectively putting words in someone else's mouth. So I've started down-voting posts before responding to the down-vote explanation request, just to stay honest... –  Shog9 Jan 10 '11 at 21:31
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@Shog9: It's clear that you are not speaking on behalf of anyone else when you say "I didn't downvote, but ...". The poster is unlikely to direct their "anger" at you + the downvoters don't feel like they've been short-sold (Of course, they are free to break their anonymity at any time). Hopefully, the poster and other readers will see at least one possible issue with the post. Looking at it another way, even when you offer criticism as a downvoter, you are not necessarily speaking on behalf of the others. We can't get away from these issues in a democratic voting process. –  Ani Jan 10 '11 at 21:38
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@Ani: you'd be surprised... But then, I feel strongly about not revealing my votes in comments, and that applies to not revealing when I don't vote as well - when I point out a problem, I try hard not to imply that I have voted or will vote; comments should not constitute threats. –  Shog9 Jan 10 '11 at 21:42
    
@Ani The fact that you may not have commented originally is part of the issue though. If you didn't see something so wrong that you felt the need to address it without the comment, speculating on the cause of the down vote because someone asked seems a bit off to me. Not bad, certainly, just off. Basically, I feel it's more important to be examining the quality of the information instead of the cause of the vote. –  Tim Stone Jan 11 '11 at 20:55
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@Tim Stone: That's a fair point. I would say though, that I don't normally go around "hunting" to criticize posts. The primary reason for voting is to make the best answers float to the top. Nobody has the time and patience to let the poster of every poor post know why it may have been inappropriate. I might (under normal circumstances) want to add a critical comment if I think that's constructive. On the other hand, my inclination to do so might be stirred if it's not clear to the OP why it isn't a good answer. I don't think that what I describe is specific to me; it's just human nature. –  Ani Jan 11 '11 at 21:06
    
@Ani Sure, and I can understand that. I think what you describe is indeed typical of most people, which is why I just consider it one of those user behaviours that isn't worth going to great lengths to try and prevent (and definitely not to punish). At the same time, that doesn't automatically make it something that should be encouraged, which is why I don't have a problem with the flags as an after-the-fact cleanup measure either. –  Tim Stone Jan 13 '11 at 6:28
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I don't always comment when I see an answer that's been downvoted and which clearly have something wrong with it. If the OP asks for an explanation, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and explain in a comment why I think the answer deserved a downvote even of the original voter doesn't. SO is about learning and whenever I've left such a question I really do want to know what someone found lacking in my answer so I can learn from it. –  tvanfosson Mar 19 '11 at 11:35
    
@tvanfosson In cases where an explanation is valuable, it's just as valuable without the OP saying "Why the downvote?". If the explanation could really be that useful, it seems that it should be given anyway, for the benefit of anyone who might come across that post. Making it a prerequisite that the OP asks for it confuses me, especially when the OP is generally asking in reference to the two point drop in their reputation more than the potential issues in their content. –  Tim Stone Mar 20 '11 at 6:54
    
@Tim Stone - wasn't my point. Most often in my experience there isn't a comment accompanying the down vote. If I don't understand what someone found wrong/lacking in my answer, why not ask people to help point it out? Given the discussion I might change the wording from the shorthand "why the downvote?" to something more like "can someone explain what's wrong here?" but the point is the same for both, at least for me. –  tvanfosson Mar 20 '11 at 13:04
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@tvanfosson I'm sure that there often isn't a comment, but the fact that people have something to say after being asked for it suggests there's no reason there couldn't have been (not the OP's fault, but still). I think it's important that people who have a legitimate misunderstanding are explained what the issue is (when it's not apparent from other answers), I'm just skeptical that all of the people who phrase that request as "why the down vote?" are those people, and I don't think that, in most cases (especially by the time someone bothers flagging), calling out to the void actually helps. –  Tim Stone Mar 20 '11 at 15:03

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