On the one hand, the behavior guidelines begin as follows (bold by me):

Be honest.

Above all, be honest. If you see misinformation, vote it down. Add comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong. Provide better answers of your own. Last but not least, edit and improve the existing questions and answers! By doing these things, you are helping keep Stack Exchange a great place to share knowledge of our craft.

While you’re doing all of those things, we also require that you...

The privilege documentation on downvoting on the other hand reads like this:

When should I vote down?

Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect.


Down-voting should be reserved for extreme cases. It's not meant as a substitute for communication and editing.

Instead of voting down:

Why are these in contradiction to one another??!!!

The guideline suggests to always vote misinformation down, while the privilege documentation suggests that downvoting should be an action of last resort in improving a question or answer. In my experience, when a person, who subscribes to the privilege documentation's version of downvoting, gets downvoted by someone who follows the guideline's version of downvoting, there is much outrage and indignation that even spills over as abuse toward the downvoter (sometimes veiled as polite shaming of the downvoter for not being constructive, even if they do comment to explain their downvote).

My personal opinion is that the suggestion that downvoting is an action of last resort only leads to grief and aggravation because

  1. users do not always downvote as a last resort
  2. the user interface actually encourages downvoting as a first response by making it as easy as upvoting

Instead, the idea that downvotes indicate that someone thinks a question or an answer is of poor quality is, I think, an accurate and objective description of how users actually use downvoting. It does not allow, in particular, for the sentiment of "you should not have downvoted what I wrote even though what I wrote was wrong".

  • If you see misinformation, vote it down. Add comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong. Weren't downvotes just supposed to indicate somewhere, sometime, someplace a key ring suddenly vanished? Jokes aside, my personal view is that downvotes should have two purposes: warn other users to avoid a problematic answer, and give the poster an opportunity to learn what he did wrong.
    – SPArcheon
    Jun 30, 2016 at 13:44
  • I don't understand what you mean: you say a downvote "should... give the poster an opportunity to learn what he did wrong", but downvotes are just a decrease in a number so they literally cannot give such feedback. It's comments that can give such feedback, so do you mean to say that downvotes should always be coupled with comments? Jun 30, 2016 at 18:45
  • The second one is wrong Jun 30, 2016 at 22:05
  • Vladimir, what I meant is that I agree with you on this post, but I fear it is another war against windmills, since even too often the community can't even seem to agree on the fact that "users aren't entitled to use downvotes as they wish" in the first place.
    – SPArcheon
    Jul 2, 2016 at 14:24

3 Answers 3


The privilege documentation is obviously and harmfully wrong.

If an answer is wrong, it should be downvoted immediately. If someone comes across the post, your negative opinion can then be taken into account. There's no point leaving a comment and just hoping the post will improve, while in the meantime the post score does not represent the post's factual accuracy.

Leave a comment by all means, and make an edit by all means. But there's a reason the system allows you to reconsider your vote once said edit has been made.

Do not hesitate to downvote. Your freedom to do so is at the very core of what sets Stack Exchange apart from its forebears: immediate, and largely reliable, score-based peer review.

  • 1
    I took it to include anything at all wrong with the post, notably typos. It's a little extreme to down vote because someone confused there homonyms. You might as well fix it, or comment so that someone else can fix it.
    – Laurel
    Jun 30, 2016 at 20:38
  • 1
    @Laurel Well typos aren't a downvote reason, that's true. Jun 30, 2016 at 20:46
  • 2
    @Laurel lol @ "there homonyms" :p Jun 30, 2016 at 20:46
  • 2
    I think instead of encouraging people to avoiding downvoting bad answers with potential, the dev team should add notifications for edits to posts you've downvoted. But IIRC that was first requested some four years ago and never happened, so we're somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place. It seems to be about "help at all costs" nowadays, which is a huge problem and the antithesis to SEs raison d'etre. Jun 30, 2016 at 20:49
  • 2
    I think there needs to be the ability to opt-in (or opt-out) of notifications on edits to posts you've downvoted (or close voted or starred). Just so that people don't get annoyed. There are many times when I down vote in the hope that I will never have to see the post again...
    – Laurel
    Jun 30, 2016 at 20:54
  • 2
    @Laurel I'll agree with that. FB has an "unfollow this post" option for when you comment on something then almost immediately regret the resulting spam (but don't want to retract your comment). Let's get that. Jun 30, 2016 at 20:56
  • 1
    @Laurel While I understand people using the wrong word in place of a similar word, part of the process of writing a good question, is spending the time to make sure that does not happen. So grammatical mistakes, to me in a question or an answer, is a valid reason to issue a down vote. If I spend the time to check my own questions for errors, before I submit it, everyone else can also. I would rather write answers to questions I can answer, then edit questions that have grammatical mistakes, that are still not clear even after my edit....
    – Ramhound
    Jun 30, 2016 at 23:33
  • 2
    @Ramhound With the greatest irony, I note that you have also included you own homonym mix-up ("then" instead of "than"). Which lets me rest my point: typos are always a possibility, even when you proofread (books with professional proofreaders have mistakes). There is a wide gap between intelligible and typo, you know.
    – Laurel
    Jun 30, 2016 at 23:49
  • @Laurel - Comments are entirely different, they are disposable, if a comment makes no sense it should be trashed. I don't grammar check comments for that reason, might say "what ... ...." to myself, then ask for clarification but that's about it.
    – Ramhound
    Jun 30, 2016 at 23:51

I agree the wording "extreme cases" is very wrong here. A post providing misinformation is not an extreme case, it happens every day. That section in the help center wants to point out you can use down-votes as last resort when helping improving through comments doesn't help, and that is a good thing.

I would suggest to update the page to read like this:

Down-voting is not meant as a substitute for communication and editing. It is generally better to first help the author improving the post by commenting. Use down-votes if the post lacks any effort and quality.

(improvements welcome)

  • 1
    I think this would be an edit in the right direction, but it does not clarify whether downvoting first and then commenting (or downvoting without commenting at all) is to be frowned upon even in the cases when the post in question contains "misinformation". Jun 28, 2016 at 20:08
  • Yes. It is okay. It says "generally", so not in all cases. Also it says when to downvote. It doesn't say you have to comment first, although it is better you do. Jun 28, 2016 at 20:39
  • 1
    I would prefer something like "Use down-votes if the post is off-topic, lacks effort, or is (harmfully) misleading"; lacking quality is too broad and subjective I think. I would also prefer "It is generally better to help" rather than "It is generally better to first help" since otherwise it sounds like the sequence downvote, then comment, is discouraged. Jun 28, 2016 at 22:06
  • 4
    I like to distinguish whether the answer is close to acceptable (i.e. it just has some minor errors that could easily be fixed) or is totally going down the wrong path and will waste the reader's time trying to use it. In the former case I leave a comment, in the latter I downvote and explain why (unless someone else has already made a similar comment).
    – Barmar
    Jun 30, 2016 at 17:29

The privilege documentation is wrong. It's probably an artifact of an older time.

You should downvote for incorrectness. You should downvote if an answer misses the point. You should downvote for being needlessly hard to read. Any reason why you think an answer is not helpful is a valid reason to downvote. The downvote is the lightest tool you have to address bad content, not the heaviest.

*To be technically correct. Neither of them are wrong per-se because you can downvote for almost any reason you please so except for a few cases such as serially downvoting a particular user's posts.

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