This answer illustrates something I find bizarre.

My (borderline rude) comment there has accrued 82 upvotes in less than 4 months and reads as follows:

Why in the world does this have 159 upvotes? It's just a copy and paste, without a link or version number, from some old version of the jQuery source. It's not even usable without copying more stuff from jQuery than is shown here, because it refers to multiple other jQuery properties and methods. This is a completely worthless answer.

Meanwhile, the answer I was commenting on - which has existed for over 4 years - has a mere 22 downvotes.

I can't make sense of this. A quick Fermi estimate based on these numbers (and assuming a steady stream of visitors to the question since the answer was posted) indicates that visitors to that question are roughly 50 times more likely to upvote a comment describing a post as 'completely worthless' than they are to downvote the post that they consider worthless. If people had been willing to downvote the post at the same rate that they're apparently willing to upvote my hostile comment, then it would have a massively negative score by now (as it ought to). But people have seen the post, observed that it is bad (and been comfortable expressing that via upvoting a comment that says so), and yet chosen not to downvote it, leaving it with a score that in no way represents its usefulness.

This is obviously unhelpful behaviour.

Why has this happened, and is there anything that we can or should do to modify people's voting behaviours? Do these people just really, really value their rep? Is this in fact explained by many viewers having the comment voting privilege but not the downvote privilege? Is there something statistically unusual about the viewers of that answer, or is this reluctance to downvote a site-wide problem?

  • 11
    People are scared of downvoting for some reason. Loads of "this is a terrible question" flags come in on posts with no downvotes. Vote people vote!
    – Flexo
    Jan 19, 2014 at 17:56
  • 5
    Do you think downvoting would have any effect on that answer ? :/ I don't think brother! However, I have downvoted the post for a reason that even I don't know :O silly me... Jan 19, 2014 at 18:01
  • Would I be correct in saying (from your comment) that it is an unattributed copy and paste from a third party source? Because those can be flagged Jan 19, 2014 at 18:33
  • @RichardTingle - It is attributed as jQuery Source. Jan 19, 2014 at 18:37
  • 3
    @RichardTingle It's attributed - it just happens that the quoted code is totally unhelpful out of context and is accompanied by pretty much zero explanation or commentary.
    – Mark Amery
    Jan 19, 2014 at 18:39
  • People tend to upvote things they understand in a glimpse. Often it's a short, correct, answer from someone who read page 1 of the manual. Sometimes it's the reasoning that seems to sense: "it's complicated, bang!, here's why". It's frustrating that downvoting only scratches the rep gained by these upvotes: it's virtually useless. That's the main reason for me not to downvote such answers. I'm willing to spend rep on downvotes but only if that bring the tally of votes near or below zero. Even then... if the rep is still + some people never delete or edit their answer. Jan 19, 2014 at 22:22
  • 2
    I feel that part of the issue is that downvoting does not have the same affect as upvoting. They are not equal, opposite forces. That is where the issue lies. If their affects were always kept the same but inverses of each other, I believe lower quality answers on the board would be removed much sooner. Same goes for downvoted questions. It is rather unfortunate that a single upvote so far outweigh multiple downvotes, that there is no reason for a poster to want to fix things.
    – Anil
    Jan 20, 2014 at 0:03
  • And to add to my previous comment, this issue is further exacerbated by those that feel that sympathy votes help, no matter the quality of the question/answer at hand.
    – Anil
    Jan 20, 2014 at 0:39
  • 3
    Huh... Turns out, I was the third person to up-vote that answer. Kinda hard to see it now, but... It actually was one of the better answers for well over a year. The other answer I liked was far less well-received, sadly.
    – Shog9
    Jan 20, 2014 at 9:07
  • 1
    The poster did attribute the code to JQuery, and even if you need to copy more code to get it to work, if your takeaway was "Just copy the ready functionality and it's dependencies from the jQuery file", and that worked, I don't see what the problem is. Jan 20, 2014 at 19:37
  • related: Stack Overflow technology makes me write bad answers
    – gnat
    Jan 21, 2014 at 7:01
  • Since downvoting an answer results in a rep loss of -1, downvoting all bad/improvable answers would quickly lead me to having 0 rep again. That might just be one of the reasons why people don't downvote every bad thing they see immediately.
    – NikxDa
    Jan 18, 2018 at 10:49

5 Answers 5


Let's look at the timeline:

  1. Answer was posted in April 2009, a time when SO tolerance was generally, well, infinity.
  2. Not until September 2013 did a single person even notice or comment that there is a problem with the answer.

So, for starters, the answer already had a ton of benefit from pure momentum. I've been in the exact same scenario, and while I don't suspect this answer will ever be down-voted enough to out-weigh all the early up-votes (never mind make it look, on its own and without the comments, to be a bad idea), on the plus side, I was able to convince the OP to un-accept it.

Next, I don't know how many new people have seen the post since the comment was posted, never mind the comment itself (which a lot of people tend to ignore, especially on highly-up-voted answers).

I realize more people up-voted the comment than down-voted the answer, but then we're getting into psychology - it's much easier to up-vote a comment stating that you agree than it is to express very strongly that you agree by down-voting. There's also the fact that a down-vote costs them reputation they may not be willing to give - agreeing with a comment may be expression enough. I don't think you're going to get a real answer for this unless you can interview all of the people who up-voted your comment (and make the assumption that they answer you honestly).

I'm also not sure off the top of my head whether up-voting a comment and down-voting an answer are both possible at the same rep level. It's possible the latter requires more rep than the former.

  • 2
    There is a rep difference - 50 rep needed for comments, and 125 for downvotes - but that doesn't seem sufficient to account for the difference between the number of comment-upvoters and post-downvoters here. And people did notice the problem before I commented - most of the downvotes did not come since I posted my comment, and I have no reason to think that my comment has made people more inclined to downvote the answer.
    – Mark Amery
    Jan 19, 2014 at 18:08
  • 8
    @MarkAmery Again, psychology. Trying to understand why more people aren't down-voting is like trying to understand why people sit in the left lane when they're not passing. Since you can't stop them and ask them, you can only wonder.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Jan 19, 2014 at 18:13
  • The left lane analogy is... perfect!
    – brasofilo
    Jan 19, 2014 at 18:27
  • 4
    @MarkAmery Only 15 rep is needed to upvote a comment, whereas 125 rep is needed to downvote. Jan 19, 2014 at 19:57
  • 1
    @AaronBertrand: Because the left lane is the fast lane, and they're going fast, so that's where they think they should be. (Never mind that someone else might be going even faster -- to assume such a thing without hard evidence would amount to subconsciously admitting that they might not really be going fast at all, but slow.) But all that has next to nothing to do with downvoting aversion, which I think you pretty much nailed. Jan 20, 2014 at 9:28
  • I disagree with your stipulation that people are more likely to ignore comments on upvoted answers, but seeing as neither of us have data to support our ideas...
    – user206222
    Jan 20, 2014 at 16:03
  • @Emracool OK, just remember that comments are second-class citizens, and often when a lot of conversation has taken place (which is often the case when an answer has a lot of history and offers now-controversial advice), only the most-voted rise to the top. Newer comments are less likely to be read simply by virtue of cascading effort - the user has to want to read the comments, and has to realize that they can click again to expose even more comments. You may read everything on a page, but I can assure you that not everyone does. Especially those looking for a quick answer.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Jan 20, 2014 at 16:10
  • In the context of this question, though, the comment was highly upvoted. And I have a hard time imagining people not looking at the comments on an answer at all before trying it out...
    – user206222
    Jan 20, 2014 at 16:12
  • @Emracool You can disagree all you like, my opinion is that comments - no matter how many up-votes - on a highly-upvoted or accepted answer are unlikely to be read, fully understood, and embraced by all readers looking for an answer (or looking for a reason to down-vote a highly-upvoted or accepted answer). I don't think you can possibly assert that all three of those things are true for all readers - if you want to assert that, I think the burden of proof is on you. :-)
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Jan 20, 2014 at 16:18
  • The point I was trying to make is that you don't have much besides anecdote to back your position up, either - both of our arguments are circumstantial and unreliable at best, and downright fallacious at worst. I was just saying I disagree :]
    – user206222
    Jan 20, 2014 at 16:23
  • @Emracool Not everyone has the same mindset. I can imagine people who are extremely careful before attempting a solution they found on the Intenet, no matter how upvoted it has been, and others who will just jump into running the code from the first page of their google search. Jan 20, 2014 at 16:24
  • 2
    @Emracool I said which a lot of people tend to ignore and this is only a minor part of my reasoning of why people may or may not have read the comments and still not down-voted. I did not say that everyone ignores them. I think it's much easier to believe that not everyone reads comments, rather than everyone reads comments.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Jan 20, 2014 at 16:26

I have the accepted answer. I wrote this 3+ years ago. It would be helpful to put it into context.

My point was if the OP wanted to reproduce the code of $.ready he could take the source and convert it himself. But it wasn't something that was easily recreated.

At the time I wrote the answer, the attempted answers were things like:

  • body onload="ready()"
  • put the script at the bottom! </html><script>ready()</script>
  • onreadystatechange
  • window.onload
  • etc..

Most of those answers are still there and are all clearly naive and wrong. So at the time I felt it was best to post what I did to show all the posters that the above examples were not equivalent to jquery.ready()

I didn't think someone would actually take the time to re-implement a $.ready method for the OP (correctly anyways) and I can't take the time to do it since I have a job/family and don't have the time to spend several hours re-implementing $.ready.

Copy and pasting the source of jquery was only to show that the bad answers were not equivalent or even close to what jquery.ready() is doing.

The only decent answer besides mine is the one below it which is just copy pasta as well, so what do we do?

I think the thread is better WITH my answer than without it since so many answers are incorrect. I don't think I should delete my answer since my original intent is still relevant while all the bad answers remain.

Instead of posting rude comments that offer no value to the question at hand, it seems to me that your time would have been better spent :

  • upvoting correct answers
  • downvoting incorrect answers (even mine if you wish)
  • writing your own answer
  • +1 (to this Meta answer) and point taken; I downvoted the answer without any understanding of the context in which it was posted, and didn't realise that, even if it was incomplete, it was the only thing at the time which was even correct. I guess the real problem w.r.t. that question & answer is not that you posted the answer in the first place - that seems to have been the right thing to do - but is that now that Timo Huovinen has posted an (as far as I can tell - forgive me if I'm wrong) more self-contained and better answer, you have no way of yielding the accepted answer status to him.
    – Mark Amery
    Jan 20, 2014 at 20:19
  • 1
    BTW, I hope you realise that the main point of this Meta question was not to attack your answer, or to attract any discussion of its merits or the merits of the other answers there. This thread was purely about the strange phenomenon of people being willing to upvote a comment labelling a post as 'worthless' (whether or not they were right in that judgement), but not willing to downvote that same post. I'm sorry that it's spilt over into an argument over the merits of your answer - that wasn't my intent, though it was predictable in retrospect.
    – Mark Amery
    Jan 20, 2014 at 20:22
  • +1 I tried to keep my answer as generic as possible, and judging the situation as opposed to the answer. I did not inspect the contents of the answer, merely compared the number of comment up-votes to the number of down-votes. I suspect a lot of the down-votes were due to the same mistake Mark made.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Jan 20, 2014 at 20:29

The basic mechanics of voting can somewhat account for this.

  • It requires more reputation points to downvote than to upvote
  • You lose a point when you cast a downvote, but nothing happens when to cast an upvote.

Knowing that the downvote will cost you makes you think twice, even though it is just one point. The upvote will have no effect on your reputation points, so it's much easier to impulsively upvote. Furthermore, as it requires more reputation points to downvote than to upvote, some users may not be able to downvote the post, so they will upvote the comment instead.

It also seems to me that comment votes are cast more freely than post votes. Perhaps comments seem less significant, so people use lower standards when deciding whether to vote or not.

  • 4
    Also comment votes are locked in much quicker. So if you impulsively upvote the comment and then decide the answer has some redeeming features you likely can't undo it. Jan 20, 2014 at 12:34

There are at least three voting phenomena which are correlated:

  1. Hesitation cast negative judgement on individuals, especially to their face,
  2. eagerness to vote as the majority has already voted,
  3. eagerness to suck up to seemingly more reputable individuals.

This is because the human race organizes in a fewer number of leaders and a larger number of followers. I say this without judgement on the human race, which would be pointless, but as a mere observation.

I also freely admit that I've played the role of the follower often enough in the past. It's difficult enough to even detect those instincts in oneself when one tries.

These traits easily epxlain what you were seeing: People are much more willing to follow your judgement by upvoting your comment than they are to actually cast judgement on someone's post themselves.

Standing on these premises I would assume that you even caused some of those who upvoted you to downvote the question even though they didn't check whether the answer really was unhelpful. They were merely your followers in that situation.

In the blogosphere this phenomenon is much more visible, because leaders are more likely to have a blog and followers are more likely to just be commenting. You have very fascinating social dynamics between blogs of competing political belief systems. There's the following pattern:

  1. A blogger writes something that is likely to antagonize the enemy. Sometimes this is in response to an event in the mainstream media.
  2. A blogger of the enemy responds with an own blog post in a hostile manner.
  3. Some of the more dedicated followers of that enemy blogger come to the original blogger and leave hateful comments. The most dedicated ones will send threats to the author, something their leading blogger would never do themselves.
  4. The blogger of the original post gets credited by his followers in proportion of his ability to attract enemy minions and how likely he managed to make the enemy blogger look like a fool.

This is only a slight exageration.

For a more well-known example just look at people's voting behavior in democratic elections. How many are voting and how many of those know what they are voting for? People don't vote on policies - not even because they don't understand them, although that as well - but simply because it's effort that won't pay off. So they instead opt for the more economical way of merely following a politician that appears to be on their side judged by his rhetoric. This is the only thing that can be checked rather cheaply, and the only other inexpensive alternative would be to not vote at all.


Bear in mind, you can up-vote a comment with only 15 reputation on the site. It takes at least 125 rep points before you can down-vote though, and as WolfLink notes there's a fair bit of reluctance even then since down-voting answers costs you rep.

Given the nature of the answer, I highly suspect a lot of those comment up-votes are from folks irritated that in order for the answer to be useful they have to read the code and understand what it's doing. Note that the second most-upvoted answer is much more copy-paste ready, and as a result has gained a fair bit of ground in spite of being posted over two years later.

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