Recently I encountered a question on one of the Stack Exchange sites that had a comment below that said something like

Downvoters should comment so the question can be improved

It was a comment by a moderator for a question at -1 that seemed reasonably well-researched and clear. I have even seen things like

Please refrain from downvoting bad questions that are salvageable if they are below -1.

in comments as well. It seems like the norms are not consistent across Stack Exchange sites. One moderator at a particular site has specifically said that such comments are inappropriate while other sites' mods are actually the ones making such comments! I think that when a moderator makes such posts it sends mixed signals as to whether these sorts of comments are appropriate, even though most of the Meta community views them as inappropriate.

Obviously people are free to vote as they choose and we should not "force" people to explain their votes. It is definitely important that voting be completely anonymous if the voter would like to remain anonymous (there is clear consensus on this amongst many posts on the meta). However, I have not seen any post on the meta that says it is inappropriate for a user to leave a comment suggesting down-voters give feedback and that such a post should be deleted. Although, the majority of users seem to think such comments are not constructive. -- Edit: As of 2018 the majority of users consider these comments constructive

I am mainly asking this question for guidance as to whether such comments should be flagged or not, since there is nothing in SE policy that says they should or shouldn't (and there is also no meta SE post that explicitly states this either). It is only fair that users be able to have at least some idea as to why their comment gets deleted. I hope that an answer to this post can serve such a purpose.


People are free to vote as they choose.

That's the bottom line; you'll find that numerous proposals to force people to explain their voting behavior have been rejected simply because whether to vote up, down, or at all is a matter that is left to the user (as long as that voting isn't in violation of other site policies, as it would be with voting rings or serial voting).

Aside from that, comments asking users to explain their votes are typically considered unnecessary noise and will be deleted as such if flagged for moderator attention.

The variation you see between sites has to do with the fact that each site has its own voting and asking dynamic, and while they all run on the same system, they all are composed of different users and moderated by different moderators who have different opinions about site policies.

On Stack Overflow, for instance, these comments are considered bad behavior and will be deleted if flagged. However, on smaller beta sites, where voting and participation are important to advancement, you may see an intentional lapse in moderation.

While I don't see any official policies on this, there is a strong consensus on Meta that these types of comments are not constructive.

The bottom line is this: if a user wanted to leave a comment explaining his/her vote, s/he would have1.

1 Except, obviously, in the case that the user is in that small range from 15-49 rep where voting (albeit upvoting only, which is not usually the problem here) is allowed, but commenting is not.

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These comments will eventually not be constructive, and should be flagged. But the reason why there are so many conflicting opinions on this is that the ideal timing of the flagging can depend on the context. If a new user with low rep posts a question that gets downvoted, and they post something like

"Is there something particular about my question as to why it is being downvoted? Can I improve it?"

This is viewed as initially constructive, even though eventually it won't be constructive to users reading the Q&A thread in the future. So the comment should eventually be flagged. But when?

The SE consensus is that the comment is initially constructive because it shows the community that the new user wants to improve the question. Without the comment, SE users will rightfully assume that the new user is unlikely to improve the question. But because the new user wrote the question, someone answering the comment will often lead to the question being edited in a way that really benefits the Q&A and the SE community. Alternatively, immediately deleting these comments or flagging them before anyone has the chance to respond can have the opposite effect. Such behavior can scare away newcomers who would have blossomed into fantastic question askers and answerers. So scaring them away has a strong negative effect on the SE community. In this case, it is reasonable to wait a day or two to flag the comment to see if anyone points to potential question improvements. That said once the user improves the question, or a few days have passed, the comment is no longer needed and should be flagged.

Most of these comments aren't asking anyone to reveal their voting identity. But if they are worded in a way that does ask for the voter's identity to be revealed, flagging immediately is appropriate.

However, some of these comments can be flagged immediately without any negative effects on SE. For example, if an experienced user answers a question, and the answer gets downvoted, and additionally, there are other highly up-voted answers, in this situation, there is little benefit to asking for post feedback. Deleting the request for feedback is unlikely to scare away an experienced SE user. Also, the presence of other good answers means that feedback is not likely going to improve the overall quality of the thread by much either. Flagging this comment immediately is a good idea.

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    i flag them all as no longer needed, regardless of context. I've read the comment, decided against explaining my downvote, and therefore it is no longer needed. So far they've all been marked helpful. – user400654 Dec 10 '18 at 17:18
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    @KevinB There seems to be some confusion. This answer states that comments that ask for folks to reveal their personal voting reasons should be flagged. I've completely overhauled the answer to make things clearer. – WetlabStudent Dec 10 '18 at 21:53
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    They should be flagged immediately, and imo, added to the list that allows single flag deletions. They're just noise at best, and bullying at worst. – user400654 Dec 10 '18 at 21:54
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    @kevinB "Noise", I can see an argument for, but "bullying", seriously. Apparently "how can I improve my question?" is bullying ... that's frankly ridiculous. – WetlabStudent Dec 11 '18 at 3:47
  • You've obviously not seen some of the responses i have. People sometimes get outright vile when their post gets downvoted. – user400654 Dec 11 '18 at 5:04
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    Sure, but that has nothing to do with this question, which was very specific about the type of comment posted, not vile ones. – WetlabStudent Dec 11 '18 at 5:38

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