During a question on SO, whilst the question remained somewhat ambiguous a potential answer was downvoted. No explanation of the downvote was made to the poster, nor was there any reason for that one answer to be singled out.

The answer had a slight flaw in it, but at the time numerous answers had a slight flaw - there was no real justification for it. I placed an upvote to return the post to zero - I felt that the downvote was unwarrented and not constructive / supportative of someone who was contributing in a positive manner.

The question is - is such a tactical upvote to counter a harsh downvote, and continue to encourage people right or wrong?

To put additional context / remove a conflict of interest - my own answer which had two upvotes was actually incorrect in the end, the best answer had a score of zero so I also voted that up and then deleted my own post to ensure the best answer was highest.

  • I almost always counter downvotes on questions that appear to really be attempting to help the user. I feel it's a way to tell the contributor of the answer that their effort is noticed. Nov 11, 2011 at 16:01

5 Answers 5


but I'm interested more in the voting guidance as to whether its permissible

Of course it's permissible. You can vote up or down on any content for any reason, as long as you don't stray into areas of vindictiveness or sock-puppetry. It's your vote, do what you will with it. The community would prefer if you voted based on merit rather than some sense of sympathy, but we certainly cannot require it.

Keep in mind our goal here. We want to make the internet a better place by providing correct, useful answers to the problems that programmers face. Our vehicle for identifying those useful answers is our vote. Correct answers bubble up, incorrect answers bubble down.

Downvotes are our means for saying there is something wrong with this answer. It is incorrect, not useful, or perhaps even harmful. It tells people to stay away from it. It also tells the author to come back and fix it. If you're anything like me, you're annoyed by a -1. You would do anything to correct your own error. That may involve learning something, which is great. That may involve fixing just some silly typo. Or it may simply be that you remove the answer entirely. That is also great. We don't need bad answers to stick around.

When you upvote a downvoted answer for no reason other than sympathy, you're acting against the impetus for change, whatever that change might be. The visibility of the downvote is gone for users of insufficiently high reputation. For all the author knows, for all other viewers might know, there is nothing wrong with the answer.

Again, you can vote for any reason whatsoever. Many of us would simply ask that you vote based on merit, and let downvotes do the work they were intended to do.

(There is that whole imbalance of -2/+10 that other users mention, but that is ultimately a secondary concern.)

  • +1 / Accepted : All the posters opinions have merit but I was interested in the rules surrounding it.
    – Andrew
    Nov 11, 2011 at 15:37

I think "sympathy" upvoting is a bad idea. Think, for instance, of reputation: the user who posted some code that was flawed got +8 points of reputation from the answer.

You should ignore the current score of an answer when deciding on voting. This is the way that the scores will be most useful.

Or, of course, you can edit the answer, remove the flaw and upvote it!

  • I can not completely agree. I think the reputation has to been separated from the score of an answer. When an answer has the same quality than others, but a smaller score, I have two choices either I vote the others down or the one up. I tend to upvotes. Thats not so much about sympathy its more about fairness.
    – stema
    Nov 11, 2011 at 15:12
  • 1
    @stema For me, upvoting means "I think this post is helpful". Sympathy upvoting breaks this semantic. Nov 11, 2011 at 15:18
  • This would of probably been a better approach, edit and then upvote. Instead of just voting - to ensure some semblenece of balance, I have edited the correction in (upvote then edit, instead of edit then upvote). But would you really upvote your own edit? thats another interesting one for another day.
    – Andrew
    Nov 11, 2011 at 15:20
  • @Andrew If the general thrust of the answer is correct, and it's just a small error, then yes, definitely. Nov 11, 2011 at 15:22
  • +1 : For the suggestion to edit then upvote, that was quite probably the better approach to of taken at the time
    – Andrew
    Nov 11, 2011 at 15:38

I've always hated this behavior. You should upvote good content regardless of its current score or the behavior of any other voter. You should not upvote something you wouldn't upvote otherwise just because someone else downvoted, regardless of their intent or attitude. People shouldn't play God and get all self-righteous about it. It's just a single vote.

As others have noted, a downvote plus an upvote is +8 rep. If your intention was to neutralize things, you've failed.

  • This reads as being a very personally emotive answer - your 'hatred' so to speak, but I'm interested more in the voting guidance as to whether its permissible
    – Andrew
    Nov 11, 2011 at 15:07
  • 2
    @Andrew, of course it's permissible. You can vote up or down on any content for any reason, as long as you don't stray into areas of vindictiveness or sock-puppetry. It's your vote, do what you will with it. The community would prefer if you voted based on merit rather than some sense of sympathy, but we certainly cannot require it. Nov 11, 2011 at 15:11
  • @Anthony - and that may be within a comment, the correct answer. It's an emotive subject clearly - one is always happy to seek guidance, but you have perhaps answered the question.
    – Andrew
    Nov 11, 2011 at 15:14
  • @Andrew I do agree with Anthony, and you're right that this is my personal opinion and ... strongly expressed. :P
    – user154510
    Nov 24, 2011 at 21:19

I would only upvote an answer if it was a good answer. While this may be harsh for the person who answered to have a small error penalized with a downvote with no explanation, that's just how it works. He only lost 2 rep points, and you gave him 10 for an answer with an error. I would also wait a bit to see if maybe the person who downvoted isn't formulating a comment or a better answer. Finally, if you spotted the error, I would still go ahead and leave a comment. If it makes you feel better, you can specify that you aren't the downvoter.

  • I take your point, but there was a decent gap of time in this specific case, and the error was a Inner Join to Left Join - which I commented on - so was trivial for the poster to correct.
    – Andrew
    Nov 11, 2011 at 14:43
  • @Andrew - A wrong answer is a wrong answer. Putting the wrong JOIN is a pretty big deal actually.
    – JNK
    Nov 11, 2011 at 15:04
  • 1
    @JNK - indeed, I do not disagree, although multiple posts had the wrong join in due to the amiguity of the question. I could see no reason this one post was singled out, perhaps it was another of the people answering, tactically voting to get theirs to the top - we will not know.
    – Andrew
    Nov 11, 2011 at 15:16

I find this behaviour offensive. It's nobody's job to "undo" someone else's right to vote, even if in your opinion the someone else voted "wrongly".

Of course, for the same reasons, neither me nor anyone else should be able to stop you from doing it. All we can do is ask: only upvote content that is worthy of upvotingdon't just upvote something because you disagreed with someone who'd decided that it was worthy of downvoting. Remember, not voting at all is a valid option.

  • This question is about rules, not about personal emotions - it should be kept to that.
    – Andrew
    Oct 29, 2012 at 20:36
  • @Andrew: Where do you think the rules come from? Oct 29, 2012 at 20:51
  • They do not come from either your or my personal emotions - emotive language doesn't answer questions about rules.
    – Andrew
    Oct 29, 2012 at 20:55
  • @Andrew: They most certainly do. Community opinion drives Stack Overflow's policies and those of its sister sites. Oct 29, 2012 at 20:56
  • Drive - that's the future policy you wish to affect, policy that is in place should be less subjective.
    – Andrew
    Oct 29, 2012 at 21:15
  • @Andrew: Current policy used to be future policy Feb 17, 2014 at 11:25

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