According to privilege page for down-voting:

Downvoting should be reserved for extreme cases. It's not meant as a substitute for communication and editing.

I happen to take this seriously, and always make sure to offer an explanation with every downvote I dish out. By the same token it bothers me quite a bit when I get an anonymous, no-explanation downvote on a question I've carefully crafted. While I think it's more than fair to ask for an explanation, I usually get heat for it- the prevailing attitude seems to be that questioning a downvote is "noise", "pointless", and generally bad form.

I would prefer the system required a comment on every downvote- it would be more constructive than the current "you know what you did" approach. But seeing as how we're relying on ettiquete, is asking for an explanation off limits?

P.S. I'm ready for the rain of ironic downvotes- I'm taking this for the team...

  • 10
    Brace yourself for torrents of downvotes with no accompanying comments. ;) Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 2:23
  • 1
    Yup- here we go ;)
    – Yarin
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 2:28
  • 1
    @Yarin: Hopefully, you'll see the humor in the downvotes here. Who cares about meta rep anyway? =)
    – casperOne
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 2:32
  • Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/31302/…
    – casperOne
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 2:35
  • casperOne- yeah, I'll survive
    – Yarin
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 2:37
  • 5
    Clearly, this was down voted because my hair is a bird.
    – user50049
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 2:55
  • 1
    I upvoted just to be contrary. :p Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 3:31
  • I upvoted because you put good effort and the general idea has potential... Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 4:28
  • pass-by (15 chars, you see the 15 chars of comment is annoying, yet I have typed more than 15 chars now, soli, just can't help)
    – ajreal
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 7:07
  • 5
    -1 for not referring to other questions about commenting on downvotes in your question. Please put a little bit of effort into your questions. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 7:29
  • I HATE anonymous no-explanation downvotes with a passion. I have considered stopping any contributions to StackExchange sites on a number of occasions because of them. People with high reps don't care and call it 'noise', for people like me it feels like a stab in the back because some brainless miscreant decided they don't like you for no good reason. The prevailing attitude on this, IMO, is short-sighted, lacking imagination, selfish and counter-productive.
    – sillyMunky
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 22:22
  • This is normal; anyone can downvote a post if it is not written good.
    – user447378
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 3:26

6 Answers 6


Voting is anonymous

That said, I don't think the right question is whether or not it is appropriate to question a downvote, but is it worth it?

After all, who are you targeting the question to? It's a shout into the void, and I'd consider it lucky if you did receive a well-crafted, constructive reason as to why, let alone the crap you are likely to get if someone does respond.

An explanation is a privilege if given, it's never a right; if voting wasn't anonymous, then there would be all sorts of shenanigans and retaliatory behavior much larger on the scale of what we see now.

While I do think it's a wonderful thing that you offer a reason when you downvote (and I'd love to see more responsible participants on SO like you), it's not required of you as you are granted anonymity in this action (even mods can't see specific votes you cast).

This is your right.

You choosing to forfeit that right doesn't demand that someone else do the same. Common courtesy might, but that's not something that we could enforce even if we wanted to (nor do I know that I'd want to, given it's subjective nature).

TL;DR version:

It's not off limits, but there are better things to do with your time on SO that will have a much better impact on the ecosystem.

  • Yeah see your point- just gets me in trouble anyway
    – Yarin
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 2:36
  • 3
    That is true: Asking for the reason of down-voting is pointless, as the down-voters will not get notified of the comment, which will be probably be left without an answer. Even if the down-voters notice the comment, it's in their right not to say anything. I much prefer that to being said something that, after the down-vote, seems more an excuse than anything else.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 2:43
  • @Yarin: I wouldn't say it gets you in trouble, there's just more constructive things to do. I'd say continue to offer the explanations when you downvote (those help the poster know what they can do to improve the site) and just shrug off the downvotes, considering it a pleasant surprise when someone lets you know why.
    – casperOne
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 2:44
  • 2
    After all, who are you targeting the question to? - All those people that would give you a sympathetic upvote. You only need one - the rep gain from an upvote is significantly more than the loss from a downvote on an answer.
    – Bringer128
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 3:05
  • 3
    @Bringer128 sympathetic upvotes violate the purpose of voting, Jeff has made that clear. Soliciting those votes is not conducive to the health of the site.
    – casperOne
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 4:13
  • 1
    @casperOne I know I have seen answers with a score of -1 and thought "That answer isn't bad enough to deserve a -1 vote". In this case it would be a sympathetic upvote to counter a downvote you disagree with. To reference Jeff's post, it is thinking "This answer is more useful than other answers with a score of 0 on this question."
    – Bringer128
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 5:09
  • That said, I'm not promoting using sympathetic upvotes for 'gaming the system'. I have also seen it work the other way, where people who did not give the -1 vote give constructive criticism in place of the original downvoter. I guess that means 'the community' is a better answer for 'who are you targeting the question to?'
    – Bringer128
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 5:11
  • 4
    Anyone I downvote can safely assume the reason is because "I hate your face."
    – user1228
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 14:36

Generally speaking, a commentless downvoter (who we all agree has the right to do that) will not answer a comment asking why. Probably because they're never going to look at the question again. So your comment is just taking up space for everyone else.

I used to ask, but I never ever got an answer. So I stopped. Not because I think downvoting without commenting is better than I once did, but because I accepted that the answers weren't coming.

The require-a-comment thing has been asked and answered a thousand times, so I'm going to pretend I didn't see that part of your question :-)

  • I've read many posts on downvoting on meta stackoverflow. It may have been answered many times but every time every answer against is is short-sighted, lacking imagination, selfish or counter-productive.
    – sillyMunky
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 22:24

I used to try and comment when I had downvoted. Then in one case where I'd commented (and downvoted, though that wouldn't have necessarily been obvious from the comment, only the timing) the person who'd written the answer accused me in the comments of having downvoted their answer only because we had both posted 'competing' answers on another question. I immediately received downvotes on a couple of my other answers, including getting two downvotes in quick succession on my answer on the 'competing' question.

I had no idea that the person had also posted an answer on the other question—I don't pay attention to such things—and even if I had, it would have had no bearing on whether I downvoted. But what I learned was—these days, I'll either downvote or I'll post a comment, but I rarely will do both. Downvoting is anonymous and I'd prefer it stayed that way.

On the plus side, the scenario above led to an outcome I should presumably be proud of... an accepted answer on the 'competing' question with -2 votes. :)

(PS. I think the 'competing' answerer on that question subsequently deleted their answer, so don't assume blame for the other two that are there now. I have no idea which user it was—like I said, I don't pay much attention to such things—but I don't think it was either of them.)


The answers so far seem to agree that asking for the reason of a downvote is utterly pointless. I disagree. It is a legitimate question like any other question. If the reason for a downvote is obvious then asking for it is pointless. If your answer was no good then improve it or delete it or just suck it up. In this case the question will quickly be perceived as whining - and rightly so. But it isn't always obvious what's obvious.

Sometimes it is even an important question. If I see a solution I am interested in, but with downvotes to it, it makes me wonder. Is it just the result of immature drive-by shooting or some personal vendetta? Or is something actually wrong with it?

I have seen helpful explanations popping up on multiple occasions after the question had been asked. It is generally received better if somebody else than the OP asks. Hey, I have found myself answering after a downvote I did not bother to comment on. It is just another question, and people are suckers for questions around here. It's a Q&A site, remember?

  • 1
    Thanks, this really is my position. I've been an SO user for years, and most of the downvotes I've gotten have not taught me anything about how to improve the question. Consequently, I'm not that much better at avoiding 'bad' questions as I was when I started.
    – Yarin
    Commented Dec 10, 2011 at 15:23

I 've made a habit of leaving the comment "@downvoter: Please help me improve this answer by leaving a comment." or something equivalent whenever I get an anonymous downvote. I do this for the following reasons:

  • First and foremost, I am eager to improve. There is nothing wrong with asking someone who finds your answer worthy of a downvote what exactly it was that they found wrong with it.
  • Knowing that my answer is deficient and how helps me improve it, thus benefiting the community.
  • I believe it's only fair for downvotes to be justified. I never downvote without leaving an explanation (and sometimes leave an explanatory comment even when upvoting).
  • In some cases where I have been the victim of drive-by downvoting (and willing to bet good money that the downvote does not have any merit), I found that leaving such a comment that goes "uncontested" underscores the merit of the answer. It is also a small moral victory.

Some people might be surprised to learn that this strategy has worked very well over time. Usually such a comment triggers a response (in rare cases from third parties even!) stating what exactly it was that people found "bad" with my answer. This can either be a technical issue (in which case my main aim has been achieved, see above) or a philosophical one (in which case there's usually something to learn about the viewpoints or thought processes of others, i.e. it helps "open your mind"). IMO this result alone is a win.

Finally, there's a good chance that by assimilating the moral of the comment into the answer the downvote will be removed or even converted into an upvote. That's a bonus as well.

Wrapping up, I want to point out that the success of this strategy is IMHO dependent on being able to be polite and open-minded when engaging a downvoter in conversation (update: for example, this is IMHO not polite enough).

  • It is interesting to consider whether "success of this strategy" should be measured in terms of the net effect on your reputation/learning, or the net positive benefit for the functioning of the site overall. You're clearly focussing on the former (primarily your learning), but it is not at all clear that this strategy will actually overall benefit the site, and there is a range of arguments that could be made why this might be actually (slightly) harmful, in my view. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 5:58
  • 1
    +1 your 40+ K rep at SO adds a certain weight to your reasoning
    – gnat
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 8:42
  • @downvoters: Please help me improve this answer. You know what to do.
    – Jon
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 13:58
  • @DuncanBabbage: Keep in mind that my personal improvement (not reputation; life is too short to care about -2 rep) also benefits the community whenever I provide a good answer. But I 'd be very much interested in hearing a counterpoint of the type you refer to.
    – Jon
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 14:00
  • 1
    @Jon I'll be chuckling at the irony of commentless down votes on this answer for a while. :p Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 17:58
  • @AndrewBarber: Me too :)
    – Jon
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 18:10

I like the idea of making that comment-feature you want optional, AND rewarding the commenter-downvoter a tiny bit. But only activate this feature for users with 1000 or 2000 points(to prevent vandalism).

Overall, yes - it's helpful feedback. But I can't agree with you 100% because some answers/Questions are self-evidently horribly bad - why do I have to type in "this is bad" or "you need a new degree" ?

Give me options, I'm happy. Force me, I'll be annoyed(I can see my own fallacy now with asking for certain things before.)

Of course, nobody's going to listen to this idea. Maybe it is too taxing on the servers and such, and it may lead to hidden-drastic costs.

  • 1
    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa - the kind of comment you would get an awful lot if commenting when downvoting was required or rewarded. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 4:29
  • @AndrewBarber - I tend to trust StackOverflow users more than that. Besides - this can be a privilege for 1000 or 5000 point users. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 4:30
  • I would be more willing to believe you trust SO users if you weren't arguing for a system to carrot/stick them into doing something... Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 4:33
  • "carrot/stick them" ?? How so? You already grant high-score users some privilege, this is another one that may be helpful. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 4:37
  • 1
    @Adel- I think it's a fine idea!
    – Yarin
    Commented Dec 10, 2011 at 15:19

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