I recently saw a comment by Shog9 saying that he disagrees that downvotes are different on meta

This surprised me, as I find almost everything Shog writes to be well thought out and correct, however this statement goes against what I thought was true about meta voting.

The meta FAQ says:

Are upvotes and downvotes different on meta?

Voting here works a bit differently from other Stack Exchange sites. On Meta Stack Overflow, voting is often used to express agreement or disagreement, not to point out a lack of quality or helpfulness. Please don't be concerned if you receive downvotes – members of the community may simply disagree with your bug, feature request, support issue, or the nature of the discussion.

When I asked Shog about his comment, he was nice enough to leave me this reply, linking to some MSO posts I had not read before:

@Rachel: see my answers here and here - down-votes are different insofar as the posts are different - but it irritates me to see folks whose crappy posts are down-voted being told to just ignore it because "hey, this is meta". Helping folks learn to improve their work is just as important here as it is on any other site. – Shog9♦

Jeff's downvoted but correct answer here also helped me understand:

While "I agree" and "I disagree" is one way that votes can be used on meta, it is not the only way.

So yes, Shog is right that for some posts, votes on meta should be no different from votes on the regular site. And the FAQ is also right in that for other posts, voting is different and is meant to express agreement/disagreement.

This makes sense to me now (after 2-3 years of SE use and 50k+ network rep), however based on the number of meta comments I see quoting the FAQ entry about meta voting differences, the number of MSO posts like this one, and the number of downvotes to well-written questions merely seeking to understand the SE sites better, I don't think the FAQ entry about meta voting is clear enough about when meta votes are meant to be different from regular votes.

So I'd like to propose this section of the FAQ gets updated to make it clear when voting on meta should be different from regular votes, and when it should be the same.

I'll leave the actual text change up to someone that's better at writing than I am, however here is the summary of my conclusions after browsing meta a bit:

  • Any post (question or answer) that proposes a change (such as this one) should be voted on based on agreement/disagreement.

  • Any post not proposing a change, such as posts seeking or supplying information, clarification, or understanding, should be voted the same way you would any other post. Are they well written? Do they show research effort? Are they useful? Clear? etc.

    As an example, a question asking "Can we reopen this question?" would be voted based on agreement/disagreement because it is a proposal, while a question asking "Why was this question closed? I thought it was a great question because of xyz" should be voted on the same way you would vote any other question, not based on if you agree/disagree with what the OP wrote (to agree or disagree, post an answer stating your position and why, or upvote an existing answer).

    Similarly an answer that says "I think we should leave this question closed because of xyz" should be voted based on agreement/disagreement since it is a proposal, however an answer stating "Your question was closed because of xyz" should be voted based on it's correctness and usefulness.

  • And last of all, Meta votes should not be used for things unrelated to the post itself, such as how well you like the user, their username, a comment the user made elsewhere, etc. (I've meta comments explaining votes for each of these reasons before...)

We can't force users to use their votes responsibly, however we can provide a better set of guidelines explaining how meta votes are meant to be used.


Please update the meta faq section on vote differences to make it clear when voting on meta should be different from regular votes, and when it should be the same.

  • 2
    When it should or shouldn't is rather difficult to definitively answer I think. And the message already states "On Meta Stack Overflow, voting is often used to express agreement or disagreement" though some annoyingly confuse this with "always". – Bart Nov 29 '12 at 17:23
  • People can and will always vote however they want. That entry in the FAQ isn't stating, "you should vote based on whether you agree or disagree" it's saying, "many votes cast on this site tend to be based on whether the voter agrees or disagrees). It's indicating what people have often done in the past, not what they should do in the future. – Servy Nov 29 '12 at 17:23
  • Voting isn't always just approval or a quality commentary either. Many people likely take both into consideration when voting. Often posts that are advocating a change or some course of action that are poorly phrased, not written constructively, etc. get downvoted even though the voters agree with the action to take. People tend to only vote based on agreement/disagreement if there are no significant quality issues that get in the way of arguing that position. – Servy Nov 29 '12 at 17:26
  • @Bart Yes I understand that now, however the word "often" is easily overlooked and based on the number of times I have seen that FAQ entry mis-represented in comments and posts, I think that FAQ entry could use some clarification. I used myself as an example, as I've been around for a while and did not realize this until just recently, and I suspect I am not alone in this – Rachel Nov 29 '12 at 17:26
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    The problem is people keep misquoting it. The link to the FAQ is often just thrown out there as a catch-all for a downvoted post, an easy way out of explaining the real reason why a post sucks. – animuson Nov 29 '12 at 17:31
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    @Rachel Yeah, I would rather like to see something which says that voting works as normal, but is sometimes used to indicate agreement/disagreement. That might be more clear. (While still being vague ;) ) – Bart Nov 29 '12 at 17:31

This surprised me, as I find almost everything Shog writes to be well thought out and correct, however this statement goes against what I thought was true about meta voting.

Careful; I've been known to write patently ridiculous things just to see if folks are paying attention, or to get them to make an argument for something they otherwise assumed would be taken for granted. Not that I was doing that with my comment about votes, mind you. Or am doing that right now. But it does happen; for all you know, it's happening right now...

On a more serious note: I tend to agree at least in part with Robert here, in that changing the FAQ is trying to wag the dog. In my experience, most folks tend to vote based on their overall impression of a post: was it helpful, was it easy to read, do I feel my time was wasted, did other people up- or down-vote it already, are there pictures... etc. And changing the FAQ won't change this.

The current FAQ entry serves a useful purpose in that Meta sites do tend to invite stronger opinions and more aggressive voting than most posts on ordinary Q&A sites. This is by-design, encouraged, and at the same time often disconcerting to those who are new.

What I don't like to see is folks who should really know better slapping that explanation into the comments on a poorly-written, lazy, ranting or trolling post as if to say, "'Tis an act of God with which mortals cannot contend, sit quiet and await your fait."

Because believe it or not (and you've experience this first-hand, I'll wager) how you say something can be almost as important as what you're saying:

This happens more often on meta than on SO, but I've seen it happen on both. Valid questions are being downvoted and buried because the OP is being obstinate, rude, or in some important manner problematic.

Telling someone who has just asked the 1011th question about q-bans or proposed private messaging or mandatory voting comments yet again that the down-votes are just because "voting is different here" is a cruel joke. Maybe you don't have time to teach them to write an effective argument, or draw a hand-drawn narwhal, or use search... But at very least, you don't have to drag a red herring across the trail on your way through.

August 4th, 2013: we've updated this guidance to emphasize the use of "agreement-based" voting for feature requests and the relative normalicy of votes on others sorts of questions.

  • 2
    I find a good example in the comment chain here, where a user asking why their answer was deleted got downvotes by at least one user because they "disagreed with the implication that the answer shouldn't have been deleted". I think updating (not changing) the FAQ to include something to specify that votes are not always different on meta would be helpful in guiding users on how they should be using their votes, as I think there are many users who don't actually understand that voting is not always different on meta. – Rachel Nov 30 '12 at 13:17
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    As another example, look at the votes/comments/bounties on this proposal to change the voting tooltips to I agree/disagree. It has wide community support while Jeff's correct answer that votes do not always mean I Agree/Disagree has a lot of downvotes. Sure the "old school" Meta crowd understands meta voting, but so many of the new users don't realize that and misrepresent the current FAQ entry when teaching other new users. I think an update to the FAQ could definitely help. Also, I'll be more careful about what I say about your writing :) – Rachel Nov 30 '12 at 13:18

Common sense sort of rules the day here.

If a post is a feature-request, or a discussion that is prefaced by the OP's own opinion about the matter, or the OP is ranting, feel free to downvote if you disagree.

But it's pointless to downvote a user's support post when they ask something like "Why was my answer deleted," if the question is asked clearly, constructively, and in good faith. That kind of voting only discourages people from asking for clarification, and promotes the idea that SE is a place hostile to new users.

The problem is not so much an understanding of how votes work (since ultimately people are free to use their votes however they wish), but rather using one's votes responsibly. Downvoting people who are merely asking for information is a slap in the face, and reduces the value of your votes, in a "cry wolf" way.

  • Though it's tempting to downvote if the "why?" turns into the OP stating "this really shouldn't have been deleted. It's a perfect answer. This is ridiculous". – Bart Nov 29 '12 at 18:12
  • @Bart: If the OP says that, it's a prefaced opinion, and the downvote is perfectly legitimate. It's a rant, at that point. – user102937 Nov 29 '12 at 18:12
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    @RobertHarvey The problem is it isn't always hard to tell which it is. They may not explicitly ask the question, but it's often implied in the way that the question was asked that they believe that some action should take place. Regardless of whether or not you would like it, many people vote based on whether they agree/disagree with the action the OP is perceived to be advocating. – Servy Nov 29 '12 at 18:16
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    @Servy: I don't downvote those folks; I interpret their opinion as clarification of the question, and give them the benefit of the doubt. We're not really that sensitive to challenges/criticism, are we? Assume good faith, until the OP proves otherwise. – user102937 Nov 29 '12 at 18:19
  • @RobertHarvey I'm just saying that regardless of whether or not you do that, some people do. – Servy Nov 29 '12 at 18:21
  • Careful not to go too far trying to judge intent, @Servy. Not every question about email headers is written by a spammer. – Shog9 Nov 29 '12 at 18:28
  • @Shog9 I personally do my best to follow the what Robert is proposing here in how I vote, I simply know that not everyone does, so when it comes to explaining to someone why they're getting downvotes it's something that needs to be considered. – Servy Nov 29 '12 at 18:30
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    @RobertHarvey You pointed out a good example of downvotes being incorrectly used in the comments of this question yesterday. I think having the FAQ updated to clarify when you should or shouldn't use votes to express agreement/disagreement would help many users understand the meta voting system better, as right now the current FAQ entry is frequently misrepresented in comments by users that don't know any better. Sure some users know better, but many others don't. – Rachel Nov 29 '12 at 18:43

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