Apologies if this has been asked / answered before (let me know and i'll delete this). But i've searched a bit and haven't seen anything about it other than a few comments on different posts.

Why do I get -1 rep if I downvote an answer ?

Recently I've come across an annoying habit on stackoverflow (particularly in the Ojective-c tag), where I think new users are trying to get quick rep points, or bump up their stats by just answering any question. One user in particular just keeps posting the same link to a github repo for any question tagged with UITableview. Others don't answer questions, just post their working code that doesn't achieve the asker's desired result.

In these cases the answers are of EXTREMELY poor quality, so I downvote, leave a comment explaining why I downvoted (because I hate random downvotes) and depending whether they edit / comment back later I may flag it.

As I mentioned before its generally new users that do this, so what happens is, I get -1, and they don't login for 14 months. The answer doesn't get edited or deleted and i'm stuck with my -1 for pointing out a poor answer.

How does this make sense?

Can we change this?

What if we change it to only get a -1 if you don't leave a comment explaining it, I would be more of a fan of that. It would curb random downvotes and still allow others to denote poor answers. I for one have noticed very little downvoted answers, but a lot of comments like "This doesn't answer the question" with no reply. In my view it looks like people are afraid to downvote for the sake of their rep.

Any thoughts welcome

  • Possible dupe / related: Should downvotes on questions be "free"? Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:10
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    If downvoting answers where free when leaving a comment, you take away the anonymous aspect of voting. I'd be very much against that. Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:11
  • @MartijnPieters ok well maybe thats not the right way of going about it, I do still think the current system is broken however. Sorry I deleted that comment Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:13
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    Note that you could also leave a comment "Awesome I have the same problems - looking forward to answers!" and then downvote it anyway.
    – PeterJ
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:16
  • I have often wondered the same thing. Sometimes answers are just "wrong", and not flaggably bad. Why does it cost you reputation to indicate (by downvoting) that the answer is wrong/unhelpful? What's the rationale? My guess is that it discourages a downvoting rampage against someone, but surely that (rare) occurrence would be detectable and reversable by a mod
    – Bohemian
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:18
  • @Bohemian exactly. poor code, poor design or my favourite. "Try code: <code>" with no explanation to the user as to why it might work. User has come here to understand what his problem is, barking code at him isn't going to help in the long run. A comment saying "You should add some explanation" generally has no affect in this situation either Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:28
  • slightly related? meta.stackexchange.com/a/148274/158100
    – rene
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 13:11
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    "One user in particular just keeps posting the same link to a github repo for any question tagged with UITableview." Can you link me to one of those answers? Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 13:36
  • @BilltheLizard I can't unfortunately, I searched for quite a while before asking the question as I wanted to have some examples, but couldn't find it. If I ever come across it i'll try remember to post here Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:23

3 Answers 3


This is by-design, and as far I know, it's not called being punished, but sacrificing own reputation to fight evil. Generally you're doing a good work.

However, not all downvoted answers match the criteria to be deleted by the moderators. If they aren't unreadable, or comments, or link-only, but simply incorrect, the downvotes are the correct way to go.

You could flag them, but mods are not analysing the validity of the answer, so if the answer contains code that doesn't compile or do something else as asked for, such flags will usually be refused (I've made a lot of such flags, and received feedback I should not use flags to signal errors in answers, only general problems with them).

High-rep users can vote to delete the answers, otherway, downvotes should make a pressure on the poster to delete it. You can also collect links to very bad answers and ask high-rep users on meta or chat to cleanup.

  • Ok but having just recently gotten 3k rep so I could take part in the close vote queue, I was very unwilling to downvote any answers for fear it would take longer to get to 3k. Right there I see a huge problem, maybe its just me Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:24
  • I don't know if there's any delete queue for answers for 10k users, but for us there's only low-quality queue, but the answer being invalid is not the valid reason to vote for delete there. If you flag invalid answer as bad quality, instead of landing in low-quality-queue, the mods are usually refusing such flags with some means of expression they're annoyed by such flags... Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:31
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    @Simon: You'd need to cast a lot of downvotes for it to make any noticeable difference to your rep gain. Remember that a single upvote on your answer earns you 10 rep, while casting a downvote only costs one. Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:34
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    @IlmariKaronen I don't always get time to answer questions with the hours I work but I still try to clean things up whenever I can, so I can get negative points for a day. I still don't see the rationale of using a feature on the site to highlight poor quality answers and at the end of it coming out with negative points. I work hard to post good answers on stackoverflow and therefore get my rep, I don't see it as fair that I have to sacrifice my points to make sure a user ins't getting crappy info Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:39
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    @SimonMcLoughlin At the end of the day if you feel that your imaginary internet points are worth more to you than informing readers of the fact that an answer is incorrect, unhelpful, or otherwise problematic, that is your choice to make. Nobody is forcing you to downvote answers if you don't want to. Personally I don't consider my rep so valuable as to not downvote a bad answer just to have a tiny bit more of it, but that's just my evaluation.
    – Servy
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:30

If the answers are:

  • hopelessly and unsalvageably useless,
  • not actual answers to the question, or
  • spam,

then you should not only downvote them, but also flag them for review. If the answer are indeed as poor as you describe, this will usually lead to their being deleted — which will get you your 1 rep back from the downvote, too.

For the particular case of a single user repeatedly spamming a link, you can also flag one of their posts as "other" and describe the behavior in the free-form text field. That way, moderators can investigate it and take appropriate action.

Conversely, if you simply find that an answer is not as good as it could be, consider just upvoting any better competing answers. If that's not enough, you can downvote the poor ones, too, but that's really something that should be used carefully and sparingly — in my experience, an overeager downvote is often just an invitation for someone else to "sympathy upvote" the post, anyway.

Also, in my experience, if you feel that an answer is incorrect or misguided, but is getting upvoted anyway, posting a comment describing why it's a poor answer is usually much more effective than just downvoting it. It may also even get the answerer to fix their answer, something downvotes rarely do. I don't generally even bother downvoting such answers unless they're objectively wrong or harmful (e.g. vulnerable to SQL injection), since I've found that such feedback is often better received if it doesn't come with a downvote.

Ps. Note that you can (and should, every once in a while) view the results of your flags by looking at your flag summary (follow the link here or click on "helpful flags" in your user profile). If you're getting a lot of declined or disputed flags, you may need to adjust your flagging behavior.

  • This is not the case, more than once I have flagged an answer and all that happened was another user / mod left a "stronger" comment linking to the FAQ, was never removed Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:15
  • Sure, but it doesn't answer the question: Why does it cost you rep to identify an unhelpful/wrong (but not flag-worthy) answer?
    – Bohemian
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:16
  • Well to be fair I think the unanswered flags is more to do with a colossal close queue, than my flagging behaviour. I do only flag an answer when I believe it to be of very poor quality, however others believe in giving them a chance to edit, which is perfectly fine, but not at the expense of my rep. Fair enough its 1 point, but it was my point that I earned by putting in some of my time to help another Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 11:44
  • FYI "disputed" are OK, it's "declined" that are "incorrect evaluations". Disputed are are neither good not bad - they are when you flag "this post has invalid flags".
    – Bohemian
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 20:30
  • @Bohemian: From a pure scoring viewpoint, "disputed" is indeed ±0. From the viewpoint of improving your flagging based on feedback, though, a disputed flag (other than an "invalid flags" flag, which are (nearly) always disputed) can mean anything from "some random 10k user misclicked in the review menu" to "this flag was so obviously bogus that it never even got to the mods". Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 20:51

The reason downvotes cost rep to cast is simple:

Not everyone aligns their actions with the good of the site

Some people like to downvote competing answers so that their own will appear first (in the default sort) with the hope that they will be more likely to get upvotes from people who might get bored and not upvote the third or fourth answer. They also hope that the asker will accept whatever answer got the highest score. Since these tricks don't always work, a very small rep penalty actually makes them much less attractive. If the trick works less than one time in ten to earn you 10 extra points, you're losing rep by doing it.

Some people just want to make the site better. 1 rep is not a big thing, just enough to make you think for a moment before spending it, and then they spend it. They also know that if the answer is deleted, they'll get their rep back.

  • 1
    Ok but my issue is that I have downvoted bad answers for no other reason than they were bad. The questions haven't been deleted and the only way I can remove my downvote is to edit the question (badly by adding enough chars) so I can remove it. Fair enough there needs to be a system to protect abuse, my point is that I don't think this is the right / fair way to do so Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 13:55
  • IF you are not willing to spend a tiny bit of rep to ensure that this site is more valuable to you, then don't downvote. But I hope you do. Making it free would be nicer for you but would increase abuse. Everything has to be in balance because people are not all the same. Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:02
  • I want to keep doing it as I do feel it promotes better answers and helps everyone out. Can't tell you how many times i've learned something while answering someone else's question through it and the use of comments. I know the issue of the anonymous aspect of voting was raised earlier, but I question the useful-ness of a downvote without an explanation. I see it as "Your answer sucks, I know why but I ain't telling ya evil villain laugh" Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:29
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    @SimonMcLoughlin The issue there is a huge number of people aren't capable of accepting constructive criticism. They'll just argue you tooth and nail rather than concede that they made a mistake, and the comments frequently devolve into unconstructive arguments rather than constructive debates. Too many people also take the downvotes personally, and will attack anyone in whatever way they feel they can whenever a downvoter apparently identifies themselves through comments.
    – Servy
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:33
  • I also think that everything will always be abused somehow, I don't feel that charging a user to help out the site is the right way of protecting people. I as a user with a fairly low amount of rep, wouldn't be inclined to spend it (however small), when I don't have a lot of time to get it back should the answer not be deleted / edited. I think this leads to the idea that only very high rep users will bother which again isn't right in my view. We need protection but I think the community could come up with something better Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:33
  • @SimonMcLoughlin we may have to just agree to disagree. You can't take rep to the store, you know. About all you can do with it is spend it on downvotes and bounties, and many of us do that, and did that long before we had thousands and thousands of rep. If you don't want to you don't have to. If the site made downvotes free it might get a few more sensible and useful downvotes from you, which would be good, but it would get far more bad ones from selfish people, which would far outweigh the good. That is why it is not going to happen. Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:40
  • @Servy maybe that is the reason it was done and I can understand that, but I for one am sick of living in a world where we have to cater for this kind of crap. I can't put pictures on my facebook because "Everyone will see them", comedians can't tell certain jokes because they are "politically incorrect" and now we can't encourage people to add comments because people might get upset. Maybe its just me and maybe nobody else agrees with me, will have to take the hit on that one, but i'm just sick of this attitude. I think society needs to grow up and people need to stop pandering others Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:47
  • @KateGregory No I see your point, everyone is saying the same thing, I haven't said once it should free. Where we will have to agree / disagree is that I don't like the principle of having to spend it on something like that. Clearly its just me and i'll have to make my peace with that. Thanks for the input Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:50
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    @SimonMcLoughlin I was simply referring to why many users choose not to comment when posting answers. They have found, through a considerable amount of experience, that it's often much less helpful than it can seem at first. Many still do choose to comment, or comment in at least certain situations. My point was simply that there are quite a few entirely reasonable reasons for choosing to not comment when downvoting, in contrast to your opinion that it is "wrong" to not comment when downvoting.
    – Servy
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:51
  • @Servy Ok, I personally don't see it that way. I've received many downvotes over my time here and would love to know why, particularly on one or two questions where I badly needed help. I also find it weird when I get 10 upvotes and 1 downvote, clearly theres an issue there in my opinion. It has happened to me, I got serial downvoted because an asker didn't like my answer, I would prefer to see the site work the other way, let people comment / discuss and kick / ban / punish those that can't be civil about it. We have different views and thats fine, I wanted to ask the question to ... Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 15:02
  • @Servy see if other people agreed and discuss it. Clearly i'm on my own and thats fine. Thanks for the input Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 15:03
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    @SimonMcLoughlin Perhaps you're one of those minority of people who's capable of being given constructive criticism and using it to improve your answer. That's great, but just realize that you are in the minority there. Most people don't accept criticism constructively. You may well benefit from having downvotes explained. Many others just don't.
    – Servy
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 15:19

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