Downvotes aren't personal but they can come off as personal to lower rep users that aren't as used to the site and the mechanics of the site.

By making it appear that there is a downvote floor of zero to users that aren't as familiar with the site it allows them to not feel like they are being trashed on while allowing existing systems to work. Users with high enough rep can click to see the vote counts (as is already implemented) and do the math.

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    There is some moment users realize they are bad at asking questions. Either when they run into a question ban (none of my posts are below 0?) or once they get enough rep to see their real votes, causing them a heart attack ... – rene Apr 26 '18 at 19:51
  • @rene if we can't convince them to be egoless then perhaps we can delay the bruising? TBH the idea is to allow the hoover to work as is, so in theory they wouldn't see all of it. – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 19:53
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    If bruising is needed, let's do it quick / keep it short. Learning is also making mistakes. – rene Apr 26 '18 at 19:58
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    Excellent idea. Glad you proposed it. About time someone did. – Shog9 Apr 26 '18 at 20:00
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    This is already done for primary voting in moderator elections; candidates with negative scores are shown as having a score of zero, and if someone downvotes, it will appear to decrease to -1. Only if you have 1,000+ rep can you see, by clicking the score, the actual negative score. – Sonic the Masked Werehog Apr 26 '18 at 20:18
  • Is the proposal for new users to not see negative scores at all, or just to not see them on their own posts? A possible consequence of the latter: incorrectly concluding that your question is obviously better than that other one because yours is at 0 and it's at -2, when really yours is at -7. I don't know if we should care about that, but if users are going to use other questions as yardsticks, this would be a false measure. – Monica Cellio May 10 '18 at 3:03
  • @MonicaCellio all posts, basically this would lie about votes until a user gets the 1000 rep and can click on the score to see the split. Even after 1000 rep it would still just show zero you'd have to do the math yourself to see the true score. – Mgetz May 10 '18 at 11:04
  • @Mgetz yikes. If I come to a site from Google because I'm having a problem, I sure want to know which answers the community thinks are bad ideas! And unless you also hide upvotes (so, hide all votes), you can create some pretty distorted views of things -- +11/-20 sure looks good when you strip out the DVs. – Monica Cellio May 10 '18 at 13:32
  • @MonicaCellio that already happens even with downvotes, people tend to vote emotionally and not according to the reasons in The help center; this question is a good example of that. Some people have down voted it because they disagree with the premise not because the question doesn't have merit. This then leads it to show up lower in results although the answer is important (it's a bad idea for a lot of reasons). – Mgetz May 10 '18 at 14:03

Before we look at this too closely, I want to be sure that we're doing our absolute best to set people's expectations based on what they're about to submit. I'd like to send better signal that something might not go so well way before voting happens. Scrutiny by people feels more inhuman than scrutiny by dumb machines, after all.

After that, once we're confident that we've got every reasonable measure in place to give folks a good idea of what we need and expect in a question, we need to look at an interface that encourages a bit more empathy - maybe edit if you can before down voting? Maybe something else?

If we change the software (and to an extent, culture) a bit, I think we'll then be talking about cases where all efforts failed, seeing what we could learn from those, and then ultimately making a more informed move.

It's definitely a problem and something we need to come back to, but I'd like to do it a little more thoroughly. If it looks like that's going to take forever, then perhaps ideas like this might make good short-term fixes as we reach the broader goal of folks having a better experience when the start.

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  • I think we also need to recognize that the votes are used by backend systems to do things like hoovering. So things like duplicates may get overly downvoted even though they aren't bad per se – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 20:12
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    @Mgetz Our data science team is looking into if downvotes kinda lost their way as a reliable signal for sorting / giving visibility, especially in that context. We may ultimately figure out that we need more granular signal than "up" "no vote" "down" as those make intent pretty hard to figure out. That's actually part of the reason why AI attempts at quality have failed in the past, the training that sort of signal sends throws things off. – Tim Post Apr 26 '18 at 20:16
  • I'm thinking that my suggestion is papering over the cracks rather than repairing the foundation. I do think that the systems need to be changed. Right now I think votes are waaaay to important to moderation and hoovering of bad posts. I'm not sure what the right solution is on that front though. – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 20:19
  • @Tim You may want to consult the greybeard guys, even if they look a bit like catweazle nowadays. – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 26 '18 at 21:19
  • I agree that we should look at the root problem, but this seems like the kind of short term band-aid that would be part of the long term solution anyway, and is part of a larger recommendation I have thought about making. – TylerH Apr 30 '18 at 14:51
  • I see you've declined this few hours ago, any chance to explain? Thanks. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask May 10 '18 at 19:08
  • @ShadowWizard The suggestion was declined at my request because it has no intent to be implemented and people are voting emotionally instead of as described in the help center. – Mgetz May 11 '18 at 11:00

Downvotes are meant to send a signal.

By hiding them, you take away the chance the user has to improve their post.

Bad idea.

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  • I don't actually disagree, but inline with recent posts from above I figured I'd make the suggestion anyway. – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 19:49
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    However there are some interesting things with this FR, you avoid some of the hostile stuff, OP does not know how to improve (they need comments for that), OP feels less "dis-liked" hence more encourage to improve. I think you should consider these points also in answer. Maybe zero is not the correct number but below -1,-3 it actually maybe can have sense – Petter Friberg Apr 26 '18 at 19:52
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    @Mgetz "recent posts from above" - huh? You mean the "Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming" blog post? If so, hiding the downvotes isn't the way to be more welcoming, IMO. Explaining them in better way is, either via comments, or some auto banners, etc. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Apr 26 '18 at 19:52
  • @ShadowWizard correct – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 19:53
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    You're saying "because it has information for the user". I contend that the actual information content of a change from "-2" to "-10" is zero. (But I probably agree not to limit it at 0, since the change from "no downvotes" to "some downvotes" is informative.) – Jeremy Banks Apr 26 '18 at 19:55
  • My actually experience is that OP gets hostile more related to DV then harsh comments, they are mostly the "goat to blame", instead what really hurts are the DV's. I'm not sure, but maybe hiding for all users (hence also avoid the DV band-wagon) for awhile (6-8 time unit) could be an interesting experiment. – Petter Friberg Apr 26 '18 at 19:57
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    let's do emoji's instead of down votes? 😒 – rene Apr 26 '18 at 20:01
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    @rene works for github – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 20:05
  • @Mgetz but on GH votes are not anonymous – rene Apr 26 '18 at 20:06
  • @rene honestly if emoji were a parallel system to votes I'd be fine with that. – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 20:09
  • True, @rene... So how about emoji instead of comments? – Shog9 Apr 26 '18 at 20:10
  • @Shog9 emoji on comments BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 20:10
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    That's it. I've had it. Y'all are getting comments for comments with unlimited emoji and markdown table support (within the actual comment to the comment!) – Tim Post Apr 26 '18 at 20:19
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    My downvote is my only mechanic to tell the author there is a problem if I don’t want to deal with users who are unwelcoming of feedback by NOT submitting a comment. If I am feeling in a good mood I often copy the canned close reasons. If I had a way to submit appropriate approved statements encouraging feedback that didn’t reveal my username (thus opening me to downvotes on another SE website) I would use that in a heartbeat – Ramhound Apr 26 '18 at 22:23
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    @yagmoth555 -30 just means 30 people acted upon what they felt was right, hiding that won't solve anything. But... thinking about it, maybe changing the score system to something else, not numeric, might indeed improve feelings while still sending clear enough signal, e.g. some color with tooltip. Red with "This post needs improvement" instead of -3 and lower, etc. That's worthy to consider IMO, but not just hiding negative score. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Apr 26 '18 at 23:16

This proposal would:

  • Prevent visitors and low-rep users from quickly determining which answers are terrible.

  • Reduce the usefulness of downvoting bad answers (since you can't flag them).

  • Make it more difficult for new users to realize there is a problem with their posts.

  • Send a message to new users that they need to be shielded from the community.

  • Give them a heart attack when they finally get enough rep and see the downvotes.

And what would this all be in exchange for?

  • Making users with bad posts think that their posts are good so as not to be offended.

This would largely defeat the point of downvotes on particularly bad questions. Remember, votes aren't just for users to feel good about their own posts or realize their answer is not ideal. Votes are supposed to tell people who don't even have an account about the quality of a question or answer. Imagine someone searching security-related information online and stumbling across a Stack Exchange site. One answer, explaining the solution, is +1 while the other, giving dangerous advise which can result in a security breach, is -4. The person stumbling on this would not immediately realize that one of the answers is very, very wrong. They would think it is fine!

If users unfamiliar with a particular subject are unable to tell the difference between a new or neutral answer from a heavily-downvoted answer, the advice to downvote bad or dangerous answers rather than flagging them for deletion (after all, flags should not be used to point out inaccuracies) is pointless for everyone but the regular users. Before I registered, I can't tell you how many times I've seen an answer and known that it was wrong because it was downvoted.

The voting system is bad enough as it is (low-rep users and visitors will think that a highly-controversial +9/-7 answer merely got 2 upvotes). Making it more difficult for such users to quickly tell if an answer is incorrect would make the site less useful for new users.

What do we really need to do? We need to make downvotes less personal. Create a notice explaining what a downvote is and linking to various help resources, explaining how to improve their post and why it may have been downvoted. We already have rep capped so it cannot go negative, since overall rep is not as important to the community for determining the quality of a given answer. This allows new users who do not understand the site to recover from a few bad initial answers.

Perhaps an alternative solution, if new users, despite being adults, need to be handled with kid gloves, would be to cap visible downvotes at -1 (perhaps shown as < 0). This would be visible only to the owner of the post. Everyone else (including other low-rep users and guests) would be able to see the full vote. A link to the FAQ could be shown to the owner of the post.

I do not ever want to have to leave a comment on a -8 answer along the lines of:

I know you can't see it yet and think no one voted, but your answer actually has 8 downvotes. You might want to improve your answer (and soon, because most people do not retract their downvotes!) before you risk getting suspended.

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  • See meta.stackexchange.com/q/135/226653 moreover recognize that the current voting system is flawed. Many people downvoted this question not because it was necessarily bad but because they disliked or disagreed with it which is contrary to the reasons the site gives for downvoting in the help center. – Mgetz May 10 '18 at 11:10
  • I was under the impression that votes on Meta were for expressing agreement or disagreement. Is that only for the per-site Metas? – The forest of Reinstate Monica May 11 '18 at 0:16
  • Per The Help center that is not the case, even if you disagree with the question voting is reserved for the question not having been researched or not having merit at all in even asking (e.g. someone asking "why is the sky blue?" on meta). The fact of the matter is that Voting on meta has never "worked as intended". – Mgetz May 11 '18 at 10:54

Full disclaimer: I'm a developer at Stack Overflow. I understand what you're trying to get at, and it's an issue I think and care a lot about.

As others have pointed out, downvotes are largely meant to communicate that a post is not of high quality, and that is something important to communicate. I don't think hiding a negative score on a post is quite what you want here.

However, instead of removing that communication altogether, downvotes and what they intend to communicate could be framed better. In other words, we should do our best to communicate why a post is low-quality and also what could be done to improve it, possibly before a downvote is cast.

Right now, low-rep users who aren't familiar with the culture and the rules of Q&A who get downvoted without much explanation probably feel like they're being told: "Your post is bad and you should feel bad." Having an explanation about why that post is bad, such as in comments or some other mechanism, might communicate: "Your post is bad and you should feel bad for these reasons..." Having an explanation first before a user is penalized, either by being downvoted or being shown downvotes, might communicate what we want: "Your post is bad and before you feel bad, here's what you could do to improve..."

A feature or set of features that has this in mind may be what we're looking for.

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    But wouldn't that be the same oft-rejected feature of requiring downvoters to explain themselves? – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 20:03
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    "downvotes are largely meant to communicate that a post is not of high quality" - yes, but to the other users, not to the OP. The OP does not need that information, they need specific advice for improvement, which is a different thing. – user315433 Apr 26 '18 at 20:06
  • @Mgetz I think there's a lot of nuance to be worked out in a feature like that. First, do we need to require explanations? Why can't we encourage them, but not necessarily require them? How strongly do we encourage them? There's a lot of ways to explore what a feature might look like, which I'd personally like to see tested. – Jon Chan Apr 26 '18 at 20:06
  • @JonChan I would direct you to one of the many rejected feature requests that do into that. In essence it breads a lot of idownvotedbeca.us comments – Mgetz Apr 26 '18 at 20:08
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    @bro I disagree. I think that downvotes communicate quality to both others and OP. They're not mutually exclusive. What I'd like to see is how to communicate opportunities to OP before signaling low-quality to others too. Something along those lines. – Jon Chan Apr 26 '18 at 20:08
  • Any communication with regards to quality should be submitted anonymously on behalf of reviewers using predefined suggestions. Otherwise this “feedback” will result in backlash against those that choose to review submissions. – Ramhound Apr 26 '18 at 22:17
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    A red banner (and a top bar notification) for when you get downvoted and visit your question should pop up for low rep users saying "hey, you just got downvoted, it could be for a couple reasons. Please take a look at your question to make sure it follows the guidelines over at the help center and edit it where necessary. If you're not sure what the problem is, please leave a comment under your question asking for assistance, or if that fails, come over to [Meta]" or something along those lines. Worded friendly and put in your face (aka actually notifying users when downvoted...) is key. – TylerH Apr 30 '18 at 14:54

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