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Say there is a comment stating that an answer is wrong, but there is no downvote.
Or, even if there was a downvote, there always is a counteracting upvote.

It seems some people just feel uneasy when they see a downvoted answer, which is being formally correct. Why so? Why doesn't the voting system work on the matter but on attitude only?

Many times I've got a complaint like this: "Why a downvote? What's wrong with my wrong answer? Yes, it's wrong, but I tried to help!".
So, it's not the correctness thing, but there is only attitude/formal text quality to take into account for a vote?
Am I taking the vote system totally wrong?

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Because someone is crying over being wrong and posting anyway. Are you heartless, man? – random Mar 19 '11 at 20:32
@random if it was SO and I flagged your comment, it's gonna be deleted. – user145842 Mar 19 '11 at 20:42
My word, this question has been downvoted ... must ... not ... sympathy ... upvote ... ... ... ... ... ... phew, managed it. – amelvin Mar 19 '11 at 20:44
I don't think it's bad, but unless it's tempered by upvotes for good answers, it's just spoil-sport doomsday behaviour. wave of negativity.. bad – RichardTheKiwi Mar 19 '11 at 21:58
It is considered rude to downvote the five other answerers, if your answer competes with them. As you usually do. – mario Mar 20 '11 at 0:01
@mario so, you gonna say that I am dishonest and downvoting answers for competing mine, not for being incorrect? Dirty thoughts some to dirty mind, only I can say. it's not my fault that under PHP tag there are usually 5 stupid answers vs. one sensible one. You can't prove your lie anyway. – user145842 Mar 20 '11 at 0:22
@mario: there's actually been a fair bit of controversy around that. Primarily concerning the scenario where five people post answers that are utterly wrong and you both down-vote and answer to correct the situation... – Shog9 Mar 20 '11 at 0:31
@Shog9: That's perfectly fine. But downvoting utterly wrong answers isn't actually the voting pattern OP typically shows. Exhibit yesterday explains his up to downvote ratio quite well. – mario Mar 20 '11 at 0:42
@mario: what am I supposed to be seeing via that link? There are only two answers, both with one down-vote, and nothing to indicate who down-voted either one... – Shog9 Mar 20 '11 at 0:46
@Shog9: Can't be bothered to find a better example. But anyway, I'll received that downvote after the answer was already accepted. And it just seems someone who contributed a purposefully unhelpful answer wasn't happy about that. - While the implication is obvious, let's skip the accusations. Just from the looks of it, would you agree the downvote I received was warrented? I fail to see the utterly wrongness in the explanation. – mario Mar 20 '11 at 0:51
@mario: since I don't know the reasoning behind the down-vote (nor am I familiar enough with the subject matter to guess) I cannot say whether or not it was warranted. Nevertheless, at least two other users felt it was useful and voted accordingly. I recommend you not stress over it - if whoever down-voted it felt something was in need of correction, they didn't bother to mention it. – Shog9 Mar 20 '11 at 0:57
@Shog9 no need to be familiar too much with the subject. Everything can be seen from the OP's comments: answer itself was useless but the real solution come in comments. – user145842 Mar 20 '11 at 1:10
@Col.Shrapnel. Indeed. But solving an issue in comments requires some sense of tact that certain answerers were unwilling(?) to display. – mario Mar 20 '11 at 1:13
I tend to correct to "-2" usually. – Uticensis Mar 20 '11 at 1:31
It also depends on the site and the question. I downvote more on obscure, technical points or mathematical miscalculations if a reader who might stumble upon such an answer is likely to be seriously mislead, for example. – Uticensis Mar 20 '11 at 1:36

I don't think it is considered bad.

Say, there is a comment, stating that answer is wrong, but not a downvote.
Or, if there even was a downvote, there always goes a recovering upvote.

Your second sentence says it all. If there is a down-vote someone will feel the need to counter it with a sympathy up-vote. So if the answer is wrong leave a comment. You kill two birds with one stone. You point out the incorrectness of the answer and prevent someone getting +8 for a wrong answer.

Your comment might have the added benefit of either a) getting the answer improved or b) removed. So it's a win all round.

However, that's not to say that you shouldn't down-vote if you wish.

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Okay, I'll comment. But what's wrong with downvote itself? – user145842 Mar 19 '11 at 20:43
@Col. Nothing. But what I've outlined certainly passes though my mind when I see a wrong answer. – ChrisF Mar 19 '11 at 20:44
@ColShrap Nothing wrong with downvoting, but without a comment it can encourage a sympathy upvote. – amelvin Mar 19 '11 at 20:45
But I asked not what to do when I see wrong answer but what's wrong with a downvote. – user145842 Mar 19 '11 at 20:46
@amelvin a comment will not help. sympathy upvoters often have no clue of the matter – user145842 Mar 19 '11 at 20:47
I've had a few answers where I made a minor mistake, and another community member was kind enough to respectfully point out the mistake. I edited my answer to make it correct, which improved the quality of the content displayed to the community, taught me something, and will teach others something who happen to come by and see the answer. I personally use downvotes when someone is both wrong and being a stubborn jerk about it. If they can improve their answer or question, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. I think people will respect you more for trying to help. SO is about helping – jmort253 Mar 19 '11 at 21:11
@jmort253 what about major mistakes? – user145842 Mar 20 '11 at 0:32

Am I taking the vote system totally wrong?

No. But plenty of other people do. Lemme spec it out:

Anyone can vote for or against anything for any reason at any time*

That's the rule. That's what the site enforces, and because down-votes are anonymous, no-one's going to tell you differently (unless you do something stupid like go around bragging about how you voted).

Now, the guidelines are that you should up-vote useful and down-vote useless posts, and that you should leave a comment if you have constructive criticism to add (that is, suggestions on how the post could be improved). Nothing enforces this, because useful and useless are in the eye of the beholder, and one person's honest feedback is another's brutal attack (something you are all too familiar with, I suspect...)

Another user argued with me yesterday that, although a given answer wasn't particularly good, it wasn't so bad as to deserve a down-vote. He seemed to believe that there exists some objective "badness" metric by which all posts should be judged, and only those on the scary-high end of the scale should suffer the indignity of a negative number in their left-hand margin. This is, in my view, complete and utter bullshit - but it's the prevailing attitude, both here and elsewhere. It's also why I'm forced to wade through a page or so of unhelpful (but sincere) crap every time I seek answers on traditional forums... At least SO isn't permanently cementing the first half-dozen non-answers front and center.

What can you do about this?

  • Nothing. I mean, at a fundamental level, this is our nature, we've been socialized to avoid overt criticism and a Q&A website isn't going to change that for any significant portion of the population.

  • Try to leave a polite, but honest, comment describing what's wrong. If nothing else, it may give readers a heads-up. Try to avoid getting sucked into arguments though. Yes, this is harder to do than it is to write.

  • Up-vote the stuff that's actually worth reading. And if you can, leave a comment there too, noting why you think it's helpful. Folks get hung up on comment-free down-votes, but a worthwhile comment on a worthwhile post can help drive up-votes in the proper direction... And elevating the good answers (not "punishing" the bad) is the ultimate goal.

  • Accept that others might see something you did not. Yeah, the answer might be 50% factually inaccurate and written at a 3rd-grade-level... but hey, maybe it helped some third-graders get past a problem that another, more precise answer did not. Do what you can to correct the major problems, and move on...

*Yes, there are a handful of edge-case exceptions to this, like the serial-down-vote-rollback script... But they really don't come into play the vast majority of the time.

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The idea of a Q & A site is that a quality answer will rise above the dross and be accepted so that:

  • a) The OP gets an answer to a question
  • b) People who subsequently browse to the question will know the 'right' answer

So the upvotes and downvotes matter less than the correct answer being chosen by the OP. I realise that sympathy upvoting (as well as over-aggressive downvoting) is confusing, but it doesn't stop the primary goals of the system.

I know that some people won't comment after a downvote for fear of random rep reprisal - but really the admins can sort out any reputation vandalism that goes on. Downvote, comment and say why - that will reduce sympathy upvotes.

There are other problems with the SO system, but there are less faults with this voting structure than any others that I've come across.

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First, the way you vote is really up to you. It's your call. No one can really tell you how to vote, except the community coordinators who have outlined some basic rules for voting on questions and answers, not people.

As for me, when I review a question or answer, I personally try to put myself in the other person's shoes.

Since I'm here to learn, I value those people who take the time to show me a link and help me correct my answer over those who down-vote and leave a snide remark. I also try to do the same with others because that's the way I want to be treated.

We're all human, and I of course have perhaps a time or two been a bit hasty with down-votes, but for the most part I try to avoid down-voting and use it only as a last resort. Instead, I prefer to use other tools at my disposal, to police the sites, that are less likely to elicit a negative response from the person whose question or answer I'm critiquing.

For example, I've had people with edit permissions edit my answer to add more value or fix a problem and then leave a comment. I've since found myself doing the same because it contributes more to the community as a whole, both to the poster as well as to the readers. Plus, it's a good feeling to know you've helped someone and to receive a "thank you".

You have good knowledge in your domain, and I think that other people will respect you more as a leader and expert if you treat them with respect as well. Let's strive to be the leaders and experts that people want to see come around because they know we'll be able to help. Let's not be the ones that make people cringe because they think we're obstinate know-it-alls.

It's easy to overlook that not everyone's potential can be immediately recognized when they are a newbie, and it's easy for us all to sometimes forget that fact and give a less-than-favorable response to a question or answer that we might consider amateur.

I find that sometimes I just have to eat my words, even though I'm sometimes tempted to laugh at the question being asked :)

In conclusion, the main difference between a down-vote and using the other tools to manage the site is that the other tools promote further learning whereas the down-votes seem to have a negative, punitive effect to them, which tend to discourage people rather than motivate them.

Here is a list of different ways to police the site:

  • Leave a comment with links or proof suggesting the poster might need to review the answer and make corrections.
  • Suggest and edit if you're a < 2000 user, and leave a comment asking the poster to accept. You'll receive +2 rep for your efforts.
  • Make an edit if you're a >= 2000 user, and leave a comment explaining why you made the change and that the OP can rollback if he/she disagrees. This helps you progress towards the Editor badges.
  • Don't vote at all.
  • Down-vote, which sends a strong message to the poster and costs you -1 reputation. This is really the only policing activity that costs you reputation.
  • Flagging can be used to help close material that is truly objectionable, if you're not a user with at least 3000+ reputation.
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