Some quality users leave Stack Exchange because of a slight imbalance in the current voting system

The ultimate problem is that *some* people who write quality answers are driven away by a *slight* imbalance in the voting system for answers. The imbalance is unnecessary and correctable. By making small, deliberate, well-considered changes, the SE community will attract and retain more users who write quality answers.

Note well

  1. I strongly support the downvote function.
  2. I agree that downvoting should be anonymous.
  3. I do not think that downvoting should be connected to comments (i.e., less reputation loss if a user also leaves a comment).
  4. I believe that most downvotes are appropriate and legitimate,

(I originally wrote this for the English Language & Usage meta, but moved it here because this is the best place for it—to get trashed.)


  1. A minority of EL&U users downvote "inappropriately," to troll, to be mean, or for a reason other than a "legitimate" reason for downvoting.
    1. I have not found an official Stack Exchange list of legitimate reasons, but the SE FAQ includes When should I vote? with some thoughtful answers.
    2. The above FAQ post references Why do you cast downvotes on answers?, which has even more discussion.
    3. If you need proof that a few users purposely abuse downvoting, then see this answer about a "sockpuppet account." What to do against downvote troll?
  2. "Illegitimate" downvotes on answers do not matter to some users, cause some users to rethink their writing, and have a negative impact on some, but not all, users. Three (or four) sources of evidence that illegitimate downvotes affect some users:
    1. The post, Yes, there are mean spirited, small-minded, humourless users in EL&U. What to do? The poster listed the option "Leave EL&U and close my account A possibility." But luckily for us, she did not leave. This is evidence that for some people the downvotes hurt, and it strongly suggests that some people leave without having a meta discussion first.
    2. Search the EL&U meta forum for terms such as downvotes, downvote, and downvoting. I searched because I wanted to see if someone else had already made my suggestion (below), but with hundreds of results, it was impossible for me to read everything. Downvoting is important enough to some users that they ask questions in meta about it. And the quantity of questions about down-voting suggests that many people are upset by the current system. Some answers also say that some people, however, are not negatively effected by downvotes.
    3. Look at the tags in the meta section. Especially when you remove the mandatory tags and the moderator tags, the "down-votes" tag is one of the most frequently used tags of the approximately 150 tags in this forum. Furthermore, when you compare the "down-votes" tag to other tags related to voting, vote-to-close, votes, voting, and up-votes, the down-voting tag is the most frequently used. This is a topic that is important to some users.
    4. I think there are too many illegitimate downvotes, and I believe the system can be improved.

Current system

In the current system:

  1. Upvote question: +5 for the author, +0 for the voter
  2. Upvote answer: +10 for the author, +0 for the voter
  3. Downvote question: -2 for the author, -0 for the voter
  4. Downvote answer: -2 for the author, -1 for the voter

Gaining reputation works as an incentive to write well. The SE founders explained their thoughts for their original scoring system in the context of increasing the penalty to the author of a downvoted answer. Downvotes on answers cost the voter reputation "to make sure downvotes are cast only when you feel strongly that something is incorrect / wrong / dangerous / of low quality." (Emphasis in original.)

Because there is enough illegitimate downvoting on answers to affect multiple users, the current system obviously does not meet the goal of only downvoting when a user feels strongly about the answer.

Suggested change to downvoting

To discourage illegitimate downvoting, increase the penalty to the voter for downvoting answers, but do not change downvoting questions. How much? There are many ways to derive the amount of change, so the amount of the increase is not as important as deciding that an increase would help dissuade illegitimate downvoting of answers. A few possibilities: A/B testing, modeling, incrementally increasing the penalty until some benchmark is achieved then stopping. The amount of the increase is not as important as agreeing that an increase is good.

Second suggestion to bolster the change in downvoting

As the SE founders wrote, their primary goal was to differentiate the answers based on upvotes. The lack of votes, especially on questions has been noted in many places. Therefore, giving some sort of reward for upvoting would encourage upvoting. I am often surprised when I see an answer with multiple positive comments but few upvotes. If an increased downvote penalty on answers accidentally dissuades legitimate downvotes, then offering a reward for upvoting will help offset that problem. It will also move the "tone" of the website in a more positive direction.

Changing costs will have a positive effect

All things being equal, upvoting good answers has the same effect as downvoting bad answers—except that an environment with more upvoting is a healthier environment and will attract and retain more users. (This post discusses the negative effects of excessive downvotes but the author of the post accidentally buried his ideas in hyperbole.)

Net effects of changes

With some creativity and planning, all of the following would happen:
  1. Total voting on answers would increase, which would help to separate good and bad answers.
  2. Illegitimate downvotes on answers would decrease.
  3. If legitimate downvotes on ansers decrease, the increase in upvotes on answers will more than offset the change.
  4. Important: the users who allegedly "have trouble with receiving criticism" to their answers (see below) and sometimes stop using SE (see above), would be less likely to leave this community.
If you have trouble with receiving criticism, that's not beside the point at all - in fact, that's a good reason to keep downvotes. Over time, hopefully Stack Overflow will help you to deal with criticism better (just like it helps us to communicate better) - and it does this in a harmless environment, compared with having to learn via getting annoyed with your manager, for example.

--Full answer

The above quote is patently false: SE does not exist to "help [users] to deal with criticism better." Blaming the people who believe the downvoting system is not well balanced only drives those people away. It is possible to change the balance in the system, and keep more users involved.

Please consider what I am not saying

Please consider that I am not saying any of the following.
  1. I am not saying that illegitimate voting is a rampant problem. I am saying it is a problem and I provided proof.
  2. I am not saying that most people believe the downvoting system is out of balance. I am saying that a significant minority of people believe it is out of balance and that those people would like to see some change and some people quit SE because they believe the system is out of balance.
  3. I am not suggesting a dramatic shift in the current system. I am suggesting a small move in a more positive direction so that it benefits many users without hurting any users. (If a user is "hurt" that downvoting someone's answer costs them more reputation, then there is something seriously wrong.)
  4. I am not suggestion changes to voting on questions.
  • 5
    Downvotes on questions used to cost voters reputation. Making the change so they didn't meant more people downvoted - legitimately.
    – Oded
    Feb 6, 2015 at 17:48
  • 2
    Another blog post on the subject - don't know if you read it: blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/06/optimizing-for-pearls-not-sand
    – Oded
    Feb 6, 2015 at 17:49
  • 5
    The crux of the issue here is that of legitimate vs illegitimate votes. Unfortunately, computers can't measure intent (and humans mostly fail at that too). Any change to the voting system will effect both types of voting - the reputation amounts have been tested in the early days of Stack Overflow, they are not arbitrary.
    – Oded
    Feb 6, 2015 at 17:54
  • 5
    Your question would be better if you replaced downvote with upvote.
    – bjb568
    Feb 6, 2015 at 18:08
  • Oded, your comments and the post (that I had not read) made me realize that I should emphasize that I am speaking only about voting on answers. I edited the post in a few places to clearly exclude voting on questions. Feb 6, 2015 at 18:12
  • 4
    This is a good Meta post, although I disagree that the feature should be implemented. Well researched and clearly, constructively argued.
    – jscs
    Feb 6, 2015 at 20:02

2 Answers 2


Trolls are those who create accounts with the sole purpose of annoying the community or posting offensive or distracting trash. Someone who downvotes something they do not approve of or like is not a troll. There are some very strong measures in place for dealing with trolls of the standard variety (which can block the creation of new posts or new accounts).

Those who target downvotes at another person in a clear manner are already dealt with by the system or by moderators (as was the case in the answer you link). That's already being handled in the rare cases where it occurs. I don't see the need for a systemwide change just to deal with a handful of bad apples.

There already is a very high barrier for being able to downvote, and it takes a bit of work for someone to get their sock puppet high enough to hit that threshold. For the thousands of sock puppets I've deleted over the last few years, I can count on two hands the number that were used to target downvotes at someone.

For normal users, they are free to vote how they see fit (again, as long as they are not personally targeting another user). We can provide suggestions for how they may vote, but their vote is up to them. People respond far more strongly to criticism than praise, which is why we see all the complaints about downvotes (and very few about irrational upvotes). Systems like Facebook have conditioned people to think that only upvotes are needed, but we do need to be able to express when things are wrong or of poor quality.


Despite your claim to the contrary, you have not in fact demonstrated that there is a problem with illegitimate downvotes. Your "proof" of there being lots of illegitimate downvotes is people complaining about downvotes on meta. This is a flawed argument. People complain on meta about legitimate downvotes constantly. They're upset when their low quality content is downvoted for being low quality content (or at a minimum, they disagree over what is considered "low quality"; someone having a higher standard of quality and voting according is not committing voting fraud). While it is indeed unfortunate that these people get upset, it is no way is a sign that the votes were in any way improper.

There is significant evidence of a lack of willingness for people to downvote content that they feel is not helpful. This is a major problem. I quite often see posts with comments explaining major flaws with the post, often with several comment upvotes, on posts that have no downvotes. This is quite a bit more common on answers than on questions, because of course answers "cost" a rep to downvote. The existing 1 point cost of downvoting answers is causing bad content to not get downvoted. Having bad content not be indicated as bad is extremely harmful. It means readers are likely to come here, read these answers, think that they represent good solutions, only to find that they have serious problems (or worse, not realize that the post has serious problem).

Meanwhile even the most mediocre of answers frequently get at least some upvotes, because it costs users nothing to cast an upvote on that content. Upvotes have moved to become "not terrible" rather than "quite good". So your idea of trying to work even harder to make people upvote even more, and downvote even less, is only going to encourage people to post even more fairly low quality content; it will mean that even posting fairly bad content is likely to result in net gains, to an even greater degree than it already does.

If anything we need to make it easier to downvote posts. I'd submit that the existing -1 rep cost for downvotes isn't actually helpful, and that the site would benefit from removing it.

  • I wrote, "I am not saying that illegitimate voting is a rampant problem." You wrote, "Despite your claim to the contrary, you have not in fact demonstrated that there is a significant problem of illegitimate downvotes." I do not plan to write all possible synonyms for rampant or significant." The ultimate problem is that some people who write quality answers are driven away by a slight imbalance in the system. The imbalance is unnecessary and correctable. I will edit the original post to make this more clear. Feb 6, 2015 at 18:18
  • @HunterHogan You're saying that it's a problem, and apparently one significant enough that it's worth dissuading people from voting properly. Yes, you said, that it's not "rampant" and that "most votes are legitimate". You haven't provided evidence that it's a problem at all, even a small problem.
    – Servy
    Feb 6, 2015 at 18:19
  • 1
    The ultimate problem is that some people who write quality answers are driven away by a slight imbalance in the system. The imbalance is unnecessary and correctable. I will edit the original post to make this more clear. This is of course true. People writing quality answers are indeed driven away by the imbalance encouraging upvotes to downvotes; that imbalance is unnecessary and correctable, we can just remove the cost for downvoting; I don't think the rep taken away from downvoting needs to be balanced, it's okay for it to be unbalanced.
    – Servy
    Feb 6, 2015 at 18:22

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .