According to https://meta.stackoverflow.com/help/whats-meta, the MSO-unique "votes as agreement/disagreement" is limited to posts of type . In practice, however, this guideline seems to be fairly commonly ignored; pretty much any question that includes an opinion is fair game for agree/disagree MSO votes.

To what extent that's because people are not aware of the policy, don't look at the tags or simply choose to violate the policy, I'm not sure. I know that the FAQ wording was changed recently, so perhaps we need to "give this time". But in the face of prominent MSO users having promoted other points of view, particularly with respect to questions, I wonder if only changing the FAQ makes sense.

I can think of other actions that might be helpful to bring behavior in line with policy, including possibly altering the policy, but I hesitate to list any of them in this question for fear that they'll prompt agree/disagree responses, this question's category notwithstanding. And let me say explicitly that I can fully support not doing anything else, if that's the collective wisdom. I'm just asking for a discussion. :-)

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    I agree that Help Center wording seems out of line with actual practice. I think it should be worded more broadly. Aug 18, 2013 at 22:57
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    Often there isn't really a hard and fast distinction between downvoting because the question isn't useful and downvoting because you disagree with it. A question that is complaining about a non existent problem (even if it isn't a feature request) might be downvoted because you disagree about the scope or existence of the problem, and consequently about the question's usefulness.
    – user200500
    Aug 18, 2013 at 23:40
  • I thought the "usefulness" term/criteria applied to answers and that the criteria for questions was different (e.g. well-formed, properly researched, etc.). Am I wrong about that? Aug 18, 2013 at 23:45
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    @PeterAlfvin From what I can make of the first relevant paragraph, "usefulness" subsumes "well-written, well-reasoned, well-researched" etc. Votes reflect the usefulness of posts (both questions and answers).
    – user200500
    Aug 18, 2013 at 23:50
  • @PeterAlfvin literally, the tool type on meta still says "The question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful". So forgetting abut the meta-specific guidelines for voting, you can interpret downvotes to mean that the question is not useful or is lacking research. However, your hyper obsessive concern for downvotes and your odd wording of titles to attempt to avoid them might be hurting you as well. Aug 18, 2013 at 23:51
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    @PeterAlfvin I'm not trying to squelch your enthusiasm for meta and your efforts to try to improve the site, since you seem to be very interested in understanding the site and helping improve it, but MSO is a unique monster and trying to understand it will drive you nuts. It made me go insane the first few weeks I was actively reading the site before I figure out that it is special Aug 19, 2013 at 0:01
  • @psubsee2003 Thanks for the clarification/feedback. FWIW, I would say that I have an extreme concern for agree/disagree votes on questions, which I indeed think are counterproductive for the asker and the community. If I were really trying to avoid downvotes, asking questions on MSO is the last thing I'd be doing. But you're point about all votes being an indication of "usefulness" is very well taken and would seemingly provide "cover" for downvoting any discussion question about something folks don't want to see changed (or even talked about further!). Aug 19, 2013 at 0:03
  • @psubsee2003 Appreciate the following comment as well. Look for less questions from me about well-travelled topics going forward. Aug 19, 2013 at 0:05

2 Answers 2


To what extent that's because people are not aware of the policy, don't look at the tags or simply choose to violate the policy, I'm not sure.

Most likely the first one.

The old guidance was more broadly worded and it resulted in weird situations like a support request getting massively downvoted and, when the asker would ask why, they'd get a comment like "oh, votes here just mean disagreement". Which made absolutely zero sense.

When we very recently updated the guidance, we didn't put a lot of effort into publicizing the change, instead letting it happen more organically. That was perhaps a bad decision in hindsight.

We spent a lot of time talking about the voting on meta internally and we came to the conclusion that in the long run, we're going to need to make more extensive changes. Maybe we'll disable voting altogether on posts that aren't feature requests. Maybe we'll change the voting arrows to something contextually relevant. None of that has been particularly thought through or specced out yet, but in the meantime we wanted to remove the guidance that became a crutch and was turning out to be harmful in practice with something a little saner.

As mentioned in the comments, "often there isn't really a hard and fast distinction between downvoting because the question isn't useful and downvoting because you disagree with it." But I hope that at least with the new guidance in place, we can collectively stop hiding behind disagreement as an excuse in the cases where that distinction should be fairly obvious.

  • I can't tell you how much I appreciate you answer, Anna. Given the pummeling I've been taking with meta.stackexchange.com/questions/193762/… (where I accepted the answer within a few comments/minutes/downvotes) and other recent experiences, I was feeling extremely isolated. I'm not sure I would have withdrawn entirely, but I certainly felt totally discouraged from floating any new ideas even for the sake of discussion. Aug 19, 2013 at 0:57
  • One curiosity question, Anna: When you say you spent a lot of time "talking internally" about this, did you mean outside of publicly available comments on MSO? I'm asking both because I'm interested in knowing whether/what non-public forums are available to moderators and because I've raised the question in other communities (work, school, church) as to whether essentially all governance dialog should be public or not, using the SE communities as a reference. Aug 19, 2013 at 3:11
  • @PeterAlfvin Moderators have access to private chat rooms. And email, obviously. That said, we strive to keep as much governance discussion as possible in public. Moderators are encouraged to come back to meta with the conclusions of any policy-related discussions or to seek community input. And with that said, I work at SE, so in this case "internally" means "the community team at SE got on a Google Hangout and discussed if/how voting breaks down on meta". The result of that call was the help center change and Shog9's meta post to announce it.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 19, 2013 at 3:33
  • @PeterAlfvin Also, for reference: Who are the community managers and what do they do?
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 19, 2013 at 3:35
  • Downvoting support requests for "disagreement" doesn't make a lot of sense, I agree. But it certainly does make sense to downvote support requests that show no research effort, imply that the site is broken, make unnecessary personal attacks, are feature requests in disguise, or are generally poorly asked. Removing the voting system would be the wrong choice. If you're going to do anything, make downvotes not affect reputation so people would stop whining about this. Voting is a way to rate content—simple as that. Poor quality support requests or discussions deserve to be downvoted.
    – Cody Gray
    Aug 19, 2013 at 4:07
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    @CodyGray Yeah, I agree that removing voting altogether would be counterproductive.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 19, 2013 at 4:08
  • There's also the issue of questions being mistagged. If a question tagged as bug or discussion describes expected functionality that the author feels is "broken" and should be changed, this should be open to voting based on the merits of the proposed changes.
    – user200500
    Aug 19, 2013 at 4:29
  • @CodyGray I don't think people will stop complaining about downvotes because I don't think the points hit is the biggest dissatisfier. A downvote based on disagreement, particularly in the context of a discussion, is a social hit in terms of status, certainty, relatedness and fairness (see davidrock.net/files/NLJ_SCARFUS.pdf). It has a negative/chilling effect in the same way that attacking someone's idea during brainstorming has a negative/chilling effect. Further, I think rep should be negatively impacted for personal attacks and other gross violations of expected behavior. Aug 19, 2013 at 4:30
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    @Peter I mean no disrespect, but that just sounds like utter nonsense to me. I had the same reaction when one of my elementary school teachers announced that she would no longer be grading papers in red ink because of the negative, destructive connotation it had. The problem is, all of that nonsense is socially constructed. People just make it up. If wanted to chill your freedom to express your ideas, I could find much more effective ways of doing it than clicking a little arrow that appears next to your contribution. If people really feel deterred by that, they need to grow a thicker skin.
    – Cody Gray
    Aug 19, 2013 at 4:46
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    We are obligated to treat people fairly and with respect, but downvoting does not violate either of those cardinal rules. If it is determined that it does, this is a community in which I do not wish to participate.
    – Cody Gray
    Aug 19, 2013 at 4:47
  • @CodyGray Thing is, it's got nothing to do with your intent, only the effect. I think SO works because downvotes are relatively rare and are used primarily when answers are flat out wrong. I suspect MSO isn't working in some fundamental ways for a fairly large group of people. You can call them thin skinned if you want, but expecting their feelings to change is about as likely as expecting them to grow thicker skin. Aug 19, 2013 at 4:52
  • @CodyGray Our eventual goal is to strike a reasonable middle ground here. No, downvotes on a feature-request shouldn't make someone feel inferior (although really, nobody likes being downvoted unless they're trolling), but if someone has a legitimate support request (key word being "legitimate"), downvotes can sting a lot. As usual, there are plenty of grey areas to consider here.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 19, 2013 at 4:53
  • @PeterAlfvin Downvotes on SO aren't nearly as rare as you might think, especially on questions. It's tag-dependent, but then so is MSO.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 19, 2013 at 4:54
  • @CodyGray Note that flagging/voting to close has less of these problems because, properly implemented at least, it carries accurate close reason information, which makes it less arbitrary and more fair. It also provides a path for users to improve their question/answer. Aug 19, 2013 at 4:55
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    @PeterAlfvin I didn't say SO had more downvotes than MSO. Just that it had a lot of them as well. When someone is downvoted on SO, I bet they aren't at all comforted by or concerned with the fact that downvotes are more frequent elsewhere. (Fun fact: counting deleted posts, there's 166k downvotes on 74k questions MSO and 2088k on 6500k questions on SO, give or take.)
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 19, 2013 at 5:26

On Meta people vote up and down for more reasons than you can imagine, I see this as an expression of Meta's "culture".

Often people will downvote because they disagree with a point of view or because they see the post as not useful, poorly researched, and/or unclear or any combination of these reasons. Sometimes people downvote just because it's Friday, or because they hate fun.

I may be way off about this, but I see the agreement/disagreement policy as being more like a guideline, than an actual rule.

  • I couldn't agree more that this is Meta's prevailing culture, including the "pirate" view of "rules". Whether it's effective is another matter, as is whether it can/should be changed. But I'm not going to ask that question .... Aug 19, 2013 at 4:59
  • @PeterAlfvin I think the wording of the policy needs to be cleaned up, its a little misleading. Have you seen meta.stackexchange.com/questions/44188/… it may help you get acquainted with the culture in a slightly less painful way
    – apaul
    Aug 19, 2013 at 5:05
  • You say the policy is misleading, point to a question describing the culture and suggest we need to bring the policy in line with the culture. Others say that policy should be used to drive some change in the culture in order to improve it. I'm personally am going to back away from even inquiring about the pros and cons of potential changes (I actually have proposed almost nothing of substance) since I can't seem to do so without triggering the reactions mentioned in your reference. Aug 19, 2013 at 5:51
  • Arrr now you be sayin I'm a bloody pirate, eh matey?
    – Cody Gray
    Aug 20, 2013 at 6:10
  • @CodyGray Yarr we're a lot like pirates here
    – apaul
    Aug 20, 2013 at 16:43

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