After some discussion about downvoting questions, my conclusion is that even though downvoting questions may serve a purpose, I believe it is currently psychologically harmful for the OP because he misinterprets the meaning of the downvotes. The correct interpretation is: "a member thinks that the question is unclear, does not show research effort, or is not useful for future users". But this information is nowhere written on the about page or FAQ.

  • The about page does not even mention voting up or down questions.

  • The FAQ extensively discusses what are off-topic questions, but does not describe what is a bad question (on-topic). It merely gives advice about how to ask a good question, but never specifies you will be downvoted if you do not follow the advice. Specifically, I haven't found a section explaining In which case should I downvote a question? (for voters), and What does it mean when someone downvotes my question? What should I do about it? (for the OP).

The only information about this is on the tooltip that appears when you mouse-hover the down arrow before downvoting, that I don't expect new users to read, and is anyway not very explicative not knowing the SO culture.

Hence, when downvoted, a new user have to guess what this downvote means, and I believe the first guess is to feel insulted, and insulting is of course against the policy of SO (it doesn't really matter if the downvoter didn't mean it that way, it is still the way it is perceived).

Then I would suggest making the correct meaning of downvoting questions clear in the about page, or at the very least in a FAQ section "What does it mean when someone downvotes my question? What should I do about it?" that we can link when downvoting, or even better, that is automatically displayed to the OP when a user downvotes the question.

There is a very good potential FAQ entry on this subject that has been written by the community moderator Andrew Barber, who says as a comment:

It's something I'd been thinking about posting as a proposed FAQ for a while

  • +1 There are so many "why was my (question|answer) downvoted" Meta questions it isn't funny. (And most of them are downvoted.) Jul 9, 2013 at 8:00
  • 2
    More documentation that most people won't bother to read ?
    – user147520
    Jul 12, 2013 at 6:36
  • 1
    and hovering over the downvote symbol isn't good enough? Jul 12, 2013 at 6:39
  • @lain: you're so right, what was I thinking? Documenting the features of the site is clearly useless. I'm right away making a new feature request: "can we please delete the whole FAQ?" Jul 12, 2013 at 6:40
  • @JourneymanGeek: 14 hidden words are far from a nice automatic message explaining politely what the downvotes being attributed mean, and what the user might do to change this. Jul 12, 2013 at 6:45
  • Anyway, I find it funny that someone actually disagrees (-1) to explain in the FAQ a central but undocumented feature. Jul 12, 2013 at 7:15
  • I seem to remember a meta proposal once to give users a specific notification the first time they got a downvote, explaining what had just happened. Don't have time to find it now.
    – AakashM
    Jul 12, 2013 at 8:11
  • @AakashM Thx! I've made some more research, and I've indeed found this one. And in the same time I've discover that it links to this very explanation of the meaning of downvotes. This is maybe a bit long for the FAQ, but is a very great example of how it should look like, in my opinion. Jul 12, 2013 at 8:56
  • I quote: "It's something I'd been thinking about posting as a proposed FAQ for a while", from the community moderator Andrew Barber. I think it may be time to do it :-) Jul 12, 2013 at 8:59

2 Answers 2


If the OP finds psycological harm from being downvoted, then he has deeper issues. I find that hovering over the down vote arrow is usually good enough to tell me what its for. I do try to comment when I downvote and feel that somehow, the question or answer has hope for redemption.

If you post enough bad questions, and they get closed, you get banned from asking bad questions till you fix them - in which case downvotes are the least of your worries.

It dosen't hurt to spend a little time learning community culture, and anyone who needs to be spoonfed basic etiquette of a site, is unlikely to benefit.

I think this would be the equivalent of handing a bicycle to a fish in terms of actual usefulness.

  • By "psychological harm", I do not mean necessarily anything serious for his health, but I'm convinced it does affect negatively more than 90% of the users. Any of us do have an ego, and seeing this negative number do create an emotional reaction, of different degrees, and is perceived as offensive. But even if it was only for the rare 0.1% actually depressive users to which it could cause serious damage (accumulated with unrelated issues), it would still be worth it to implement this simple and practical solution: at the first downvote, display a very polite message explaining downvotes. Jul 12, 2013 at 7:06

I completely agree. I think one thing the FAQ can stress is how voting isn't permanent and users can change their votes or something along the lines of that.

Basically, downvoting is a signal to let users know their question needs to be fixed rather than a signal of a bad question. I know when I started I also felt intimidated about writing a poor question (to be honest I spent most of my time when I first started SO without asking questions because I was so scared of getting downvoted all the time).

The community also can do a lot to help with this problem too though. I seldom see it but not enough people comment as to why they downvote a question despite the fact that SO tells the user who is downvoting to leave a comment. I feel this was a good design on SO's part but I think we the community need to do more and make more constructive comments. This problem has been made quite clear before on meta but I feel it is something we need to encourage much more.

I guess maybe we can make it so that if you downvote a question and then leave a comment, you can somehow get something back? I don't want to go that route though where we reward people for petty things like that... I want the community to sincerely believe it is their responsibility to set the standard of how a user should act on SO. I hope your suggestion gets more attention!

  • +1 +50, you brought even more good arguments to convince me that this is an important request to fulfil. Especially since your link proves that being nice to new users is backing up by more than a thousand people: how can explaining nicely to them what downvoting means be disapproved? Jul 17, 2013 at 18:17

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