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This is not a duplicate of questions asking about features that would allow users to post anonymously or about whether or not anonymous posting is allowed. I am asking why should the user/reputation system exist, if the ideology behind anonymous voting is truly valued.


I get why votes are anonymous. Users should be able to cast their votes without worrying about being judged for their votes or lack of votes. Votes should only reflect the quality of the question, answer, or comment being evaluated.

One might ask why are votes displayed publicly anyway (as opposed to being only shown to the user that posted the question). Wouldn't someone go into a post that has 400 upvotes with a certain bias that might affect their genuine evaluation of whether they actually consider it to be a good post? This is different, as this induced bias is not that influential, and the genuineness of votes cast on SE would not really matter if votes themselves didn't exist. So yes, hiding votes from the public would make votes marginally more genuine, but would eliminate the importance of vote genuineness.

So why is vote genuineness important? The point of Stack Exchange is not only to exchange information between users, but is to document that information and share it with the entire internet. Vote totals can be a credibility meter for someone researching who finds a Stack Exchange post that does not draw on cited sources but on personal experience/information (as many, maybe even most SE posts do). They can trust that a good voting score on a site with generally credible communities as a whole equates to a credible answer.

One can only assume that approval by a generally credible community equates to a credible question if the votes of that community reflect only the quality of that post. That is why voting genuineness is so important on this site. If Stack Exchange were like Facebook, where people upvote other people's posts because they are friends or because they respect or admire other users (or otherwise in the negative respect), then people drawing on information from this site cannot be sure that a post's voting score reflects the actual quality of that post.


But now to my main question: if voting genuineness is so important, then why are usernames and reputation scores even displayed publicly? While there is no reason why reputation and privileges should not be recorded privately, the public display of identity and reputation can harm voting genuineness in many ways.

As a side note, I will use the term "numeric reputation" to reference your SE reputation score, and "non-numeric reputation" to reference your actual reputation among the SE community/ies. Numeric reputation is indicated by a user's rep score, while a user's non-numeric reputation is tied to their username/identity. The two are usually correlated but not the same.

It cannot be denied that someone would be more likely to downvote or vote to close a question by someone with 40 reputation than they would one by someone with 20k rep. They might assume any flaws in a higher rep poster's post was just a one-time mistake and would be less likely to insult their non-numeric reputation with a downvote/close vote. They might not want to risk their own non-numeric reputation by challenging someone with a high numeric and non-numeric reputation. On the other hand, someone might be more likely to downvote a 40 reputation user who has't made many posts, or has made numerous bad posts because they do not think they deserve the reputation boost. This would hold true even if that user's post was a good one. A similar phenomenon holds for upvoting; someone would be more likely to upvote a respected member of SE to motivate them to continue their positive contributions than they would someone who just joined or who has a bad numeric or non-numeric reputation. All these influences on voting are not dependent on the actual quality of the posts in question, decreasing vote genuineness.

The non-anonymity of user identity and reputation causes many of the problems with SE discussed in this article. That being said, changing the user/reputation system would certainly take away some of the appeal of participating on Stack Exchange, as it cannot be denied that many users value the reputation they have built in their respective communities, just as they value their raw reputation score as a number they can be proud of personally or use professionally. A quote from Jeff Attwood:

One of the major reasons we created Stack Overflow was to give every programmer a chance to be recognized by their peers. Recognized for their knowledge, their passion, and their willingness to help their fellow programmers get better at their craft.

In my view this is an important problem, and while I am not suggesting taking away the reputation system from SE, the problems with SE that are revealed when considering it are important to address.


I understand that this question may be too broad or subjective as there really is no one correct answer and it is more prompting a discussion, but given that this is meta SE and not a specific SE site and because I see this as an important issue I assume that it is an acceptable bending of the rules.

Edit: I now realize this may be a duplicate of this post (although not exactly the same). Maybe this post should be moved there?

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    This is an interesting point of view. I'm sure this is very debatable, but I think I agree with the main idea. And although your question is more about the whys than it is about proposing a change to the system, since such a change (making more things anonymous​) would be very drastic to SE, perhaps a smaller change could be proposed in the same direction... – Pedro A Jan 4 '18 at 12:23
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    "It cannot be denied that someone would be more likely to downvote or vote to close a question by someone with 40 reputation than they would one by someone with 20k rep" - actually, it can. I don't look at the poster's name or rep before deciding to dv or vtc. The system deliberately puts them after the post in order to encourage us to decide based on the post, not the poster. – Kate Gregory Jan 4 '18 at 21:45
  • @KateGregory what you say is true once you get on the question page, but on the active page, when a user answers a question that bumps the post to the top and users can see who has posted and answer (or edited) a question. I know from experience that when I see some usernames I am more optimistic about finding a good answer than with other usernames. – Mari-Lou A Jan 5 '18 at 0:58
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TL;DR

Please forgive me for writing such a long answer, I really did not intend to.


I disagree to some extent. I think that this is not as big an issue as it might seem on first appearances. You have made some valid points, and I am inclined to agree with your argument, but I think there are other things to consider.

What is the purpose of reputation anyway?

To begin with, what is reputation all about? From the Help Centre:

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.

This is worked out in two ways. Your reputation is a measure of how much the system trusts you, giving certain privileges as you reach reputation thresholds, but I believe that it also a measure of how much the community i.e. other users trusts a you.

High rep users started with 1 rep and had to work their way up the ladder. They have proved themselves to the community. Other users have confirmed, by their votes, that user's answers and questions are helpful, clear, and well researched. Thus a high reputation user does in a way deserve more respect than a new user, who has yet to prove themself.

Unfair votes

Your whole argument is based on unfair voting, where a high-rep user gets votes that they shouldn't have and a new user doesn't get votes or is downvoted when they really should have been upvoted.

Personally I have not found this to be true. I have read many high-rep user's posts and many low-rep user's posts. In my experience those which are good are upvoted, no matter who the asker is. Your own question is a good example of a new user's question which is good, and therefore has been upvoted. It is very important to note, however, that most new users I have bumped into are not very good at asking the right kind of questions or answers for SE sites. This can seem like downing of newer users, but it is a reality that newer user's posts are often just not as good as high-rep user's posts.

A high-rep user, on the other hand, knows by experience how and when to ask and answer questions. They have had a lot of practice and have become good at it. They are also much less likely, in reality, for a well practiced user to make mistakes or write rubbish posts.

Post or usercard?

When a user upvotes, do they look at the usercard first or the post first? I can't really answer for other users, but personally I jump straight into a post and read it through, before looking at the poster's usercard. I expect other users will say the same thing.

Your usercard only comes after the entire post, so naturally the post will be read first, unless you are looking for the poster's name and rep immediately.

In conclusion

I believe that there are real effects relating to votes according to reputation level, but when you account for some of the other factors, it is really not such a big issue as it might seem.

It is also a totally normal human effect, and a helpful one. Outside in the physical world, you put more value on the opinions of people whom you know you can trust, rather than total strangers. A stranger can earn your trust, however. It works just the same here.

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It cannot be denied that someone would be more likely to downvote or vote to close a question by someone with 40 reputation points than they would one by someone with 20k rep. They might assume any flaws in a higher rep poster's post was just a one-time mistake and would be less likely to insult their non-numeric reputation with a downvote/close vote

I certainly can deny this is the case. The amount of reputation an author of a question or answer has, is not a contributing factor, in my decision if the contribution is helpful or unhelpful to the community. However, I might consider their past contributions, when I determine if their answer is the correct answer to the question though.

But now to my main question: if voting genuineness is so important, then why are usernames and reputation scores even displayed publicly? While there is no reason why reputation and privileges should not be recorded privately, the public display of identity and reputation can harm voting genuineness in many ways.

The community must be able to tell who has written a given contribution. An argument could be made to hide the amount of reputation a given author has, but knowing they have written quality contributions in the past, is critical in the determination how helpful a specific contribution might be to the community depending on the subject area.

In this context, "helpful" is the likelihood of the answer that was submitted, is the correct solution. I am not considering the amount of reputation they have earned in the past, but their history of submitting detailed contributions in the past, I certainly know quality answers and questions don't always get the correct type of attention.

I have seen users in the span of one hour, submit dozens of answers to questions, the quality of those answers are extremely low. In most cases, these answers are simply deleted, because they are observations instead of a detail explanation of how to solve a technical problem.

If stack exchange were like Facebook, where people upvote other people's posts because they are friends or because they respect or admire other users (or otherwise in the negative respect), then people drawing on information from this site cannot be sure that a post's the voting score reflects the actual quality of that post.

This happens more than you realize.

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