I posted a question on a fairly specific Java use case, and received a one-sentence answer basically of the form "what you have here is a special case of X." There wasn't any explanation of X, of why the case under discussion was a form of X, or how to apply X in the case; furthermore, while it might be true that X could be applied, it's far from straightforwardly obvious that X is the best approach or how to apply it in detail.

I downvoted the answer. The user who posted the answer asked why. I explained, perhaps not politely as I could have, but exhaustively. The user (who has 24K rep at the time of this writing) asserts that his answer is neither misleading nor unhelpful and that my downvote is "abuse".

Well, I didn't find it helpful. And while I didn't find it misleading, I didn't find it led me to an answer either.

I've been on SO for more than three years, and I thought the purpose of upvoting/downvoting was to highlight quality answers. Is there a norm that's arisen that I don't know about, that says downvoting is only for answers that are factually wrong, and low-quality answers that are not factually wrong should never be downvoted?

(The specific case is here.)

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    It's funny that someone would post 7 words as an answer, then spend all that extra energy arguing in comments instead of just amending the actual post. – user159834 Mar 28 '12 at 0:46
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    If you believe an answer is wrong or otherwise bad, you are free to downvote it. That's not abuse, that's the voting system working as intended. – NullUserException อ_อ Mar 28 '12 at 0:47
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    @Wesley funny, yes. But hardly uncommon. It's one reason why I strongly discourage anyone from revealing - much less discussing - their votes in comments: all too often, it just distracts from the actual content that should be discussed. – Shog9 Mar 28 '12 at 1:21
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    @Shog9 On the other hand, without revelation, when someone downvotes my answer, how can I decide whether it's just an idiot who doesn't like me or there's really something wrong with my post? – Daniel Fischer Mar 28 '12 at 1:33
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    If there's a problem with your answer, someone should tell you that. They don't need to also mention whether or not they down-voted it though, @daniel – Shog9 Mar 28 '12 at 2:26
  • Sure, @shog, if somebody, downvoter or not, comments on problems in the post, there's no need to say "I downvoted". But if all you have is a downvote, you're none the wiser. So whenever I get a downvote I cannot explain if I try, I really wish there was an optional anonymous downvote-explain facility. So I'd know, downvote and no comment about problems whatsoever => idiot. – Daniel Fischer Mar 28 '12 at 2:38
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    Honestly I'd be willing to give up more than the 1 rep it just cost me to downvote that useless an answer – yoozer8 Mar 28 '12 at 3:39

You actually did the right thing - as alluded to in the FAQ's What is an acceptable answer? and other places (I believe Joel or Jeff blogged about it at some stage) one line answers like this do not constitute good answers, even if they are correct. This particular answer should have been a comment.

Previously there have been a lot of Not an answer flags raised for answers like this, and mods were pretty good at deleting them once they got flagged enough (even though technically they shouldn't have been flagged this way). However this practice turned into a torrent of flags, so now people are encouraged to use the voting system to penalize the answer rather than flagging.

  • You mean to say I've been abusing the flag system all this time? Gasp! Hmm, it still seems to be working... – Cody Gray Mar 28 '12 at 4:07

It's not. One user, regardless of their rep, doesn't set or necessarily represent SE policy or good practices.

Don't get worked up over what one user says. If a mod told you this, in their actual capacity as a mod, it'd be worthy of bringing it to meta to clarify, but I think you're perfectly aware of the reason for downvotes and that this wasn't abuse.


Why did you even admit you downvoted? You really shouldn't betray the fact that you downvoted. That was the whole purpose of keeping downvoting anonymous.

Downvote away. If the answer is short and doesn't answer, it really does warrant a negative.

There are many eyes to double-check anyway. If you're bothered at a DV-complaint, and you should be, flag the comment. Nobody with that high of a rank should be generating noise about votes. I do hope in the future an automatic penalty is levied on vote-whiners.

Hmm, You do raise an interesting question with:

Is there a norm ... downvoting is only for answers that are factually wrong, and low-quality answers that are not factually wrong should never be downvoted?

So let's suppose you left it as-is. Just as if you never saw it. It sits there at the bottom of the answer list. Nobody really cares, everyone finishes work at 5PM, gets a Whopper, hits the gym, goes home. So although you are really entitled to downvote, I would say it's wiser to leave it be. Hmm.. at least with "super" users(24K rep!) like the referenced(who may be more sensitive).

Imagine a classroom setting here. Teacher asks everyone "Why is pi irrational?" One person can say "because it's goes on infinitely" , while one can say "because its value cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction having integers in both the numerator and denominator (unlike 22/7)."

  • Why not admit that you gave the answer a downvote and explain why the answer is worthy of one? – Charles Sprayberry Mar 28 '12 at 0:33
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    @CharlesSprayberry - Because of what happened in this case? I mean, a short snarky answer like Mr. EJP gave fits in a comment, that seems self-evident(I thought there was an auto answer-to-comment feature just for this situation,... right?). And OP is basically asking something that sounds like a rant. I get his point, but it's a rant. What's his goal here? – Adel Mar 28 '12 at 0:36
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    Downvoting is anonymized for good reason but that doesn't mean it's bad if you want to admit you find a post worthy of downvoting. The system assumes the greatest level of privacy, as it should. – Ben Brocka Mar 28 '12 at 0:48
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    -1 I always try to point out why I downvote an answer so the OP can correct themselves (or correct me). I think it helps improve the site. You are of course free to downvote and leave no comments, but there's nothing wrong with explaining why you did it. – NullUserException อ_อ Mar 28 '12 at 0:51
  • @BenBrocka - Sure, it's not bad. But it's obviously problematic with certain people who might have an ego about it. I just think it's asking for trouble to admit to it, in cases where it's obvious. But hey, tis da internat. – Adel Mar 28 '12 at 0:52
  • @NullUserExceptionอ_อ - Well, I see what you mean. But when the OP leaves a very terse response, it's dubious that he'd decide to totally U-turn and right a long articulate explanation. That's if you agree that EJP was sending a subtle jibe here(which i'm thinkin) – Adel Mar 28 '12 at 0:54
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    I don't know about the rest of these people, but if I were going to downvote this, it'd be for suggesting that I eat a Whopper. – Josh Caswell Mar 28 '12 at 1:19
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    @lulius At least make it a Double Whopper... – jonsca Mar 28 '12 at 1:30

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