I've recently been in a discussion on SO where I had downvoted a question because it is a common question (similar to any simple question that causes annoyance) and I downvoted it as such and then left a comment stating "-1: This issue is discussed in-depth all over the place." which I agree may have been a bit harsh but still to the point. I then got jumped on by one of the older members who said "@M.Babcock, -1 to your comment since it was completely unhelpful."

The comment was left as a justification of the downvote not as a direct criticism of the question. More often than not on SO a downvote goes without a distinct reason why and someone ends up asking for a reason, so I've found the best way around this wait-and-see is to include a reason if one isn't already provided (in which case I upvote the reasoning comment).

My question is this, are we supposed to leave comments justifying downvotes or not (regardless of how correct they may or may not be)? If not, then please help me understand the best way to mitigate the "who downvoted?" or the "+1 for the unidentified weeny who downvoted without justifying" situation.

For the record I find myself curious of other people's downvotes more then I downvote myself.

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    Your experience is one reason why I am very glad votes are anonymous. Jan 19, 2012 at 5:45
  • @AndrewBarber - So it is a better practice not to leave comments to questions when I downvote a seemingly obvious question?
    – M.Babcock
    Jan 19, 2012 at 5:47
  • I would think carefully before admitting down voting, because people tend to react badly. I try even to be careful to say I didn't down vote when I make a comment suggesting why someone else might have done so. In fact: I tend only to make down vote related comments on posts I did not down vote myself. Jan 19, 2012 at 5:51
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    By the way: I did a minor edit to your question's title just to make sure no one thinks you are posting one of the many "people should be forced to comment when they down vote" questions, since that's not what you are really asking. Jan 19, 2012 at 5:53
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    Voting is anonymous. Discarding that anonymity is of your own (or the other person's) choosing. Asking why something was down voted is rather pointless as its not expected and really just creates noise. Indicating why you up or down voted is just as much noise as well. It's better if everyone just didn't use the comments for this particular reason as it almost always doesn't agree with one of the parties involved.
    – casperOne
    Jan 19, 2012 at 5:58
  • @AndrewBarber - The politics seem to be the confusing part (I realize it is inherent in this sort of situation). It is just frustrating to hear from someone who is supposed to be worth more (in rep anyway) that you've done something wrong. I'll continue to be open about my down votes in the future so maybe the askers can learn something from why they were downvoted, but at least I'll have this meta thread to back it up. Thanks for your help, also thank you for clarifying the question title.
    – M.Babcock
    Jan 19, 2012 at 6:04
  • @casperOne - Then what is your preferred way to indicate to new users that a question could better be avoided or asked in another way (perhaps with more detail or including code)?
    – M.Babcock
    Jan 19, 2012 at 6:05
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    "I downvoted it as such and then left a comment stating '-1: This issue is discussed in-depth all over the place.'". The irony is killing me Jan 19, 2012 at 6:41
  • @M.Babcock a) downvote - this is the indicator of a poor quality question b) if it's really not a good question, vote to close or c) flag for moderator attention. If it's closed, then the close reason will be an indication (there's always a nice blurb indicating why as well as a link to the FAQ). The best part is it's not open to interpretation as it's consistent in its message because it's generated by the system.
    – casperOne
    Jan 19, 2012 at 13:21

3 Answers 3


are we supposed to leave comments justifying downvotes or not

If you like. Commenting on down vote is an option.

help me understand the best way to mitigate the "who downvoted?

There are no ways. Votes are anonymous.

  • Understood, but that doesn't help clear up the ambiguity. If I choose to comment my reason for downvoting (hence giving up my choice to remain anonymous) then am I in the wrong?
    – M.Babcock
    Jan 19, 2012 at 5:44
  • @M.Babcock No, there are no wrong or right. If you want, you are free to justify your down vote. Jan 19, 2012 at 5:45
  • Then what is the correct response for doing so (even when they link meta as a source for not doing so)?
    – M.Babcock
    Jan 19, 2012 at 5:48
  • @M.Babcock SO frowns upon words like "fu** you", so you are free to ignore those people. As I said, if you feel like leaving comments do so. Jan 19, 2012 at 5:56
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    @M.Babcock You can add comments and still vote anonymously - I don't get the obsession of the +/-1s. Jan 19, 2012 at 8:43

If the issue is discussed in-depth all over the place, flag as exact duplicate and link to one example.

  • That's good, but it only works for questions. How about answers?
    – yannis
    Jan 19, 2012 at 8:02
  • I prefer to read, why an answer was downvoted, and I prefer to explain downvotes, to indicate, what should be considered bad. Especially for intensive upvoted answers, where I think that they're bad or wrong. If a comment already exists, with which I agree with, I vote it up. IMHO this is constructive criticism. Jan 19, 2012 at 8:13
  • Fair enough. I disagree, because I happened upon quite a few mindless comment wars that started from such comments, but if your experiences with down vote comments are mostly positive, I can see the benefit.
    – yannis
    Jan 19, 2012 at 8:17
  • If such comment wars are mindless, they're a pity, but can happen without downvote too. A downvote is a form of communication, and a comment too. A commented downvote is normally more constructive than an uncommented. A discussion might be unavoidable, given different experiences and values in both users. Yes, it happens, but the mood of mindless warfare is always the other side. :) Maybe the discussion shows a conflict which is typical in the community. Useful discussions aren't always easy, but that shouldn't be a reason not to try to explain your viewpoint. Jan 19, 2012 at 8:29
  • @Zaphod: Either the answer is truly to the question, in which case the question should be a dupe of one of those other questions which had an answer that is also a dupe, or the answer's not in which case it should be voted down (or flagged, as appropriate). Jan 19, 2012 at 9:30
  • @DonalFellows I would agree with that, but I was asking in the context of comments, which this meta question is about. The answer user unknown works for questions, but it doesn't work on comments on answers saying -1 Points 2,3,6,8 are off, won't waste any time explaining as it's discussed all over the place - or anything along those lines.
    – yannis
    Jan 19, 2012 at 9:36
  • @Zaphod: Well that's just not a very good comment in the first place. Flag the comment if you want to. Jan 19, 2012 at 9:48

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

Strictly speaking, leaving a comment for any other purpose is noise and should be avoided. I wouldn't mind the -1: This issue is discussed in-depth all over the place. comment if there was a link in there somewhere pointing to a similar question. You may claim that the issue is discussed all over the place, but what's the point of leaving the comment if you don't somehow steer the OP to a better discussion?

Personally, I avoid down vote comments. When I vote and have something useful to say, I do post a comment but I avoid any obvious clue that it's tied to my vote - especially +-1. Once in a while, my comments are misunderstood as down vote comments, and it's always hilarious when that happens. I usually get a response along the lines of "yeah, I see what you mean, but you didn't have to down vote". Guess what, dude, I didn't, but just to prove you right, here's a -1 to you.

A few months back I went on a comment cleanup rampage, targeting specifically down vote and up vote comments. I fished quite a few of them via SEDE, and flagged most of them as obsolete. And I continue to flag them as such whenever I see them.

So, imho, you should never post a comment just (or mostly) to justify your vote. It adds nothing new to the discussion. And every time someone leaves you such a comment, you can post a comment with a link to the comments privilege page I quoted above. But then again, that comment would be against the intended purpose as well.

So just flag vote comments as obsolete/too chatty, and/or ignore them.

  • But how can the user know what is wrong with their post if someone doesn't leave a comment to explain?
    – Benjol
    Jan 19, 2012 at 6:55
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    @Benjol What do you mean? Please read my answer again, I'm saying down vote comments are useless not constructive criticism. The point is not for the OP to know what's wrong, but what's wrong and how it can be fixed.
    – yannis
    Jan 19, 2012 at 6:57
  • Maybe I'm taking it out of context, but "you should never post a comment just (or mostly) to justify your vote" was the bit I disagreed with. I agree that there's no point leaving a comment saying "I downvoted this", but I don't see any reason why you shouldn't say "I downvoted this because ..." (which is what I would call justifying a downvote).
    – Benjol
    Jan 19, 2012 at 7:32
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    @Benjol Well, even if what comes after because is constructive criticism, I fail to see the point of writing I downvoted this because. Why not just write something like "Hey, foo() is deprecated. Why not use bar() instead?". Ideally with a link to a source that states poor old foo() is deprecated. Is there any point to explicitly tie that to a down vote? The only point I see is that the OP might be more a bit more motivated to improve the post, just in case you retract the down vote, but that's not a good enough reason for me.
    – yannis
    Jan 19, 2012 at 7:39
  • OK, fair enough, you don't see the point of such comments, and I agree that there is no reason that you have to include the information that you downvoted. But you're proposing actively flagging these comments, which is going a bit far in the other direction, and risks confusing people, as generally here on meta people have been actively requesting to know why they're downvoted. Also, personally I'm not even following my reputation closely enough to realise that I've been downvoted :)
    – Benjol
    Jan 19, 2012 at 7:56
  • @Benjol why have I been downvoted? I flag those too :) But I wouldn't flag a comment just for being tied to a vote (either up or down), unless it was mostly that, as the given example -1: This issue is discussed in-depth all over the place.. As I wrote in the answer, if there was a link in that comment that pointed to a relevant question, it would be fine by me. But just stating that it's discussed all over the place, is not enough, even on horribly trivial questions.
    – yannis
    Jan 19, 2012 at 8:01

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