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The proposal is change the reputation effect of downvotes received from the current -2 to 0. A downvote would reduce the score of a post, but generate no notification with "-2" in it.

The "-2" entries in reputation log are reasonably effective in creating problems, such as:

  • annoying otherwise sane and productive contributors to the point of rage-quitting;
  • generating complaints to mods and eventually CMs when the perceived revenge votes are not reversed.

But they are not good for solving problems. Reducing reputation might revoke a privilege, but (a) beyond the very low levels, this rarely happens; (b) the privilege revoked is unlikely to be related to the actual problem. Consider the scenarios where someone has a privilege they shouldn't have:

  • If a spammer gets a misguided upvote, the solution is spam flags (-100 penalty, likely to be followed by user destruction). Similarly for trolls.
  • For a voting ring, the solution is vote invalidation and suspension.
  • When a user posts low-quality content, the solution is to revoke or reduce the posting privilege. And that can't be done by -2 penalty, since posting requires no reputation. Post ban or rate-limiting are based on the history of posts created, not on falling below a reputation cut-off.

If there's a specific improvement or correction to be made in a post, the solution is to leave a comment pointing it out. A downvote may be appropriate too, as a warning to other readers. But "-2" achieves neither.

Yet, we keep generating "-2"s - and then tell people to shrug them off when they get upset and post on meta...

  • 5
    Your argument is solid, but it could equally well lead to the conclusion that the rep effect of a downvote should be increased, not removed. Why do you favor the latter? – Josh Caswell Oct 26 '16 at 15:40
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    Only if we remove the rep increase for upvotes, too. Then everyone is at 1. Forever. – fbueckert Oct 26 '16 at 19:47
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From the help center:

Reputation is a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you; it is earned by convincing your peers that you know what you’re talking about.

That means that if you post good stuff, you earn reputation; it also means that if you post bad stuff, you lose reputation. Note that an upvote already counts 2.5 (for questions) or 5 (for answers) times as heavy as downvotes, so a 'random' downvote is easily compensated. The -2 reputation following a downvote serves (when justified – which is most of the time) as a reminder to post good quality content. Note that you can usually delete the post and get your lost reputation back. If this doesn't happen too often, it won't have any negative effects.

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I think your proposal makes things worse instead of better. The biggest job most SE communities currently have is keeping the quality high. Downvoting is an effective mechanism to tell a user that his post isn't well-received. The overall reputation shows if someone has a level of expertise, not necessarily the highest number of posts.

It is good is not only shows in numbers on a post, but also 'costs' the user something. He will learn from it and try to prevent that from happening again. If you have a few hard-earned points, you really don't want to lose them for posting a low quality post.

Losing reputation will prevent users to post FGITW 'I hope that it sticks' answers without consequences.

Of all things, don't lower the reputation penalty. I would argue it should be higher, especially on answers.

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  • annoying otherwise sane and productive contributors to the point of rage-quitting;

People normally don't rage-quit because of the reputation loss from downvotes alone. It is because of their experience overall. Downvotes are often accompanied by some comments that can get out of hand (non-constructive). If you accompany downvotes with friendly comments, you can avoid a lot of rage-quitting.

Even if the reputation loss from a downvote would be changed to 0, there would still be that "-1" mark, and the potentially non-constructive comments. Changing the reputation loss to 0 would not help there at all.

  • generating complaints to mods and eventually CMs when the perceived revenge votes are not reversed.

In my 1+ year experience as a moderator, I cannot recall having gotten this complaint even once. Regular users are aware of the potential revenge votes but they normally shrug it off as they will likely soon get two upvotes in return.

  • and if you take those two seconds to accompany the downvote with a comment that explains what is wrong, someone may even learn something. – SPArchaeologist Oct 26 '16 at 18:09
  • anyway, while I mostly agree, I would advise you to try to avoid basing your assumption on how people react to downvotes just on a single site. The network has a lot of different realities, especially when it comes to extreme-low-traffic sites. Often people believe every site work well like SO, but trust me, that is not the case - many communities out there are in very unhealthy state and the whole "with large numbers good content will float to the top" doesn't work if there aren't large number to begin with. – SPArchaeologist Oct 26 '16 at 18:14

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