"vote for the content, not the user" / "vote for the post, not the user" seems to be a frequently repeated principle, which sounds to me like one of the most important on SE. You can often see it in comments, and Meta answers.

However, I was never able to find a meta post that authoritatively stated this as a principle. The closest I could find was this but it has a mere 4 upvotes. I also couldn't find anything explicitly stated in Help Center, surprisingly.

Is there a canonical "vote for the content, not the user" post on SE? Help Center, Meta, Blog, anything?

  • 5
    Well, there's the tooltips on the arrows, which are entirely content focused... though that's not a guideline document.
    – Charles
    Feb 4, 2014 at 6:20
  • 1
    There are a couple of old blog posts. Vote Fraud and You talks about revenge downvoting, and More Voting Anomalies talks about sock puppet voting. I'd suggest the Why is voting important? page in the Help center is where "vote for the content, not the user" should be explicitly mentioned. Feb 4, 2014 at 13:34
  • @BilltheLizard - yes, I was interested in more generic context than just revenge downvoting. More in a "you shouldn't downvote a post from user X just because of your feelings about another post(s) from user X".
    – DVK
    Feb 4, 2014 at 16:21
  • @rene also found meta.stackexchange.com/questions/248436/… when we were talking about this in chat just now. It's close although doesn't really have a ... canonical vibe.
    – Jason C
    Aug 25, 2016 at 14:34
  • Mod message. :-) Aug 25, 2016 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


Closest one I could find is an old post from Cthu Shog.

Votes should always be cast according to your perception of the posts' content, not your opinion of the author.

Doing otherwise is considered abuse.

Considering that at the time of writing he was a Community Manager for Stack Exchange, Inc I think you can consider his post somehow official, even if the answer was never accepted by the original question creator.

Then there is this one from Tim Post

We typically just have to remind them that voting their way through another user's history is bad because they're focusing on an individual, not just content and quality.

While here he say what it is an "abuse" rather than specifying what the intended use is, one could say that if focusing on an individual rather than quality and content is bad, the right behavior is to focus on the content and quality ignoring the user. Notice that this is also an accepted answer.

I will search some more and report if I can find anything else, in the meantime I think this should suffice.

Update: other references, will point out if any one is an accepted answer:

By Shog9:

Focus on the content. Not the users. Down-vote poor content, up-vote good content, flag abusive content...

The guidance is not "never vote for multiple posts from the same user" - it's "vote for the content, not the user".

  • PS: free to remove the Shog equals Cthulhu joke if you find it distracting, but imho it should be tolerable. And we should remember our sleeper mod his true identity from time to time.
    – SPArcheon
    Aug 30, 2016 at 18:52

I couldn't find one. We ought to update the why is voting important? topic in the Help Center (h/t Bill the Lizard), but I think it's even more important to add a little guidance to the vote up privilege page, as this is the most-likely place for somebody new to voting to see it. (Arguably we should also mention it on the downvote page, but I don't think we need to. Downvotes come later, and sockpuppet upvoting is a bigger problem than revenge downvoting.)

I suggest adding the following to the end of "why is voting important" (after existing text explaining the importance of voting):

While we encourage everyone to upvote great posts, the motivation for doing so needs to be anchored in the merits of the post, not the person who wrote it. So don't skew the system by voting specifically in ways that benefit your friends, family, or colleagues; it's not fair to the community.

(This text is adapted from the mod-message template for targeted voting.)

On the "vote up" privilege page, add the following after the section "when should I vote up?":

When shouldn't I vote?

When your vote is not motivated by the content. Don't vote for your friends just because they're your friends, or out of sympathy if a post is getting downvotes. Vote based only on the content.

  • Fully support tweaking the help center topics.
    – Jason C
    Aug 25, 2016 at 15:00
  • 1
    1. Upvoting for the user is not only (or in my experience, even mostly) about voting for a friend. It's mostly "I saw a great post from Jon Skeet, went to their page, and browsed their other answers and upvoted all of them". I admit I had some streaks of fanboyism like that when I first joined SO, though that wasn't Skeet
    – DVK
    Aug 25, 2016 at 22:47
  • 2. I would like to dispute the assertion that downvotes are less important in this context. Most upvotes for the user are (or seem to be) typically on upvote-worthy posts in a use case listed in my last comment - whereas I can not find any reasonabvle use case for downvoting a series of user's posts.
    – DVK
    Aug 25, 2016 at 22:49
  • @DVK I didn't say that downvotes are less important; I said that adding "don't target" documentation to the downvotes page is less important. The Help Center has to strike a balance between conveying information and being short enough that people will actually read it, and I know SE has resisted doc expansions in the past for perceived "corner cases". Hence my suggestion that for purposes of HC documentation, the upvote page is probably sufficient. If they want to add a similar blurb to the downvote page too that's fine with me. Aug 26, 2016 at 0:37
  • 1
    @DVK I have seen legitimate cases of "go downvote that user's other stuff", where most of the questions are already downvoted and maybe went unnoticed, but after you run across one of them you might look and find the others. Not saying it's good, but I understand how it happens, and it's kind of like your fanboy case. Finally, users are more likely to object to suspicious downvotes, so they're more likely to be acted upon, so in serious cases the user will get a mod message. Aug 26, 2016 at 0:39

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