In most fora, there seems to be a reasonably kind and tolerant atmosphere, but I have seen several times on Stack Overflow, that people appear to almost 'gang up' to punish answers, for reasons that very often seem very petty - like here:

How to add hours to current time in python

where a user, 'Rishabh Jhalani', has given an essentially correct answer, but is voted down for a very minor thing. I have experienced this myself, and while it doesn't cause me sleepless nights, it does tend to discourage me from engaging with the community. After all, I made an effort, however small, to contribute something - for free - in good faith.

I would like to see a reduction in this sort of behaviour, so I suppose there are two questions: Should we try to discourage this sort of small-mindedness? And, if so, how? I can imagine a scheme, where you can't down-vote, unless you also provide a comment, or a scheme, where a user's total up- and down-votes are tallied and visible to the community. What do people think?

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  • Wow - I posted this a mere moment ago, and it has received 4 downvotes from only a small handful of people. I guess this answers my question, really.
    – user400204
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:28
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    How do you know why that person downvoted? Why do you think that the answer is useful? It's just taking a snippet of code from another answer posted 6 years earlier, not formatting it properly, not explaining anything, and adding a typo to the code. Why do you think that's a useful answer? Why do you think someone else shouldn't accurately reflect the fact that that answer isn't useful in the slightest?
    – Servy
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:29
  • Generally, when there is already an answer which is comprising of things mentioned in new answer then new answer doesn't help anybody, you are inviting meta effect to the new answer btw. Aug 21, 2018 at 13:32
  • @Servy: That's rather my point - it is impossible to know. Also, I was under the impression - and I may be wrong here - that stackexchange was about helping each other and building a community and encouraging the sort of atmosphere that helps in achieving these goals. Writing aggressive comments doesn't fit into this, in my view. Now, go ahead and vote me down, if you haven't already.
    – user400204
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:33
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    As a sidenote, upvoting something because you don't think it deserves downvotes is not the way to go about it. That's pity upvoting; you're not voting on the post, you're voting on the judgement of the post. That generally doesn't get a good reception.
    – fbueckert
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:36
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    @j4nd3r53n But you specifically claimed to know why the answer was downvoted. You claimed that it was downvoted due to it having an incorrect value in the code. SO is here to create a repository of knowledge by answering quality programming questions with useful answers. That answer does nothing to accomplish that. It doesn't even help the question author. It's just repeating another answer, badly. Commenting on a post to explain why it's problematic helps achieve those goals. Upvoting bad posts because you don't want someone to feel bad for posting bad content harms those goals.
    – Servy
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:37
  • @j4nd3r53n You're taking this personally, it goes against what you expect and seems to frustrate you. That the second post today about downvotes which doesn't take into account years of debates about them, downvotes on this post reflect that.
    – Tensibai
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:41
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    @j4nd3r53n I appreciate your concern for the harsh approach that new(ish) users can experience here. But the example was not a good choice. Find a good question or answer that gets treated unfairly, and you'll get a different response.
    – S.L. Barth
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:43
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    A new low-quality buggy answer on an old highly upvoted question that has an accepted, highly upvoted quality answer. We have a review queue specifically for new answers on old questions, which are normally poor attempts to farm rep. So the folks who are in these queues will see these answers quickly and if they judge the answer poor and not useful they will downvote it and vote to delete it. Solution: if you see a question that has an accepted answer, unless you have anything of value to add, don't add an answer yourself. Find questions without answers and give them your attention.
    – user1228
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:56
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    @Won't Not everyone is good at answering. For those who find answering difficult, I have a different suggestion: look for good questions and answers that haven't received much attention, and vote them up. Every now and then I see a new asker who did make an effort, who did know what they were doing. And their question gets drowned from the front page by the Daily Dose of Drivel. I say find these questions and give them a vote, make them stand out from the trash.
    – S.L. Barth
    Aug 21, 2018 at 14:07

3 Answers 3


There's only one asker of a question and a small number of answerers. Try to think of things from the point of view of the larger number of people who might have the same or a similar problem.

  • Is an answer without explanation useful to them?
  • Are repeated answers useful, we're now expecting people to check those answers to see if there's something about one answer that might mean it is preferrable to another answer when in actual fact there isn't.

But the main thing to understand is that downvotes are not punishment, they are a signal that says, looking at another answer would be a better use of your time here.

We're actually being kind to the majority here and might even teach the answerer not to continue doing an activity which is not beneficial to the site as a whole.


please forgive, if this isn't what this forum is for.

Stack Exchange isn't a forum. It's a collection of Q/A sites, not of discussion topics.

essentially correct answer, but is voted down for a very minor thing

The answer is essentially 3/4 of a line taken from an answer written 5.5 years prior, with a very minor change and with a broken formatting, and literally nothing else. It provides no new information, and cannot be reasonably considered useful. That's not a minor thing.

I have experienced this myself.

Are you saying that you copied a part of a 6yo answer, called it your own, and got it voted as not useful as the result? In that case, it would be a case of the system working as intended.

I can imagine a scheme, where you can't down-vote, unless you also provide a comment

That has been rejected before, several times over in multiple variation. You can't force people to write useful content when button mashing is seen as having just as much value by the server code.

scheme, where a user's total up- and down-votes are tallied and visible to the community

You can already check the number of upvotes + downvotes cast in anyone's profile. If it's your own profile, you can even click it to see the list of them. What direction somebody voted is deliberately secret, we want people to vote without any fear of retribution. Making the split viewable - even just totals - would lead to all sorts of behavior we don't want, and putting it on display would be even worse.

  • I see - I must have misunderstood the 'Discussion' tag, then. I follow the Maths and TeX fora, mainly, and while I sometimes see daft questions, I have never come across somebody being viciously mauled as a result. Perhaps they are just kinder people. As for my experience - look it up if you care about it; but no, I haven't copied old code - apparently in one case it was because I didn't provide a general parser, but relied on people to experiment and do that part of the work themselves.
    – user400204
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:51
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    @j4nd3r53n One person downvoting an extremely low quality answer isn't "being mauled". If those other communities refuse to downvote extremely low quality content, then that's a pretty big problem. If that's true, then apparently they're very unkind people as they have no consideration for the future readers of the posts who are being misled as to their actual quality because people were unwilling to inform them when they saw problematic content. That would be unfortunate if it's true.
    – Servy
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:53
  • I have provide an answer or answers with "exercise for the reader" in there. I did get some negative feedback in the process, but the net result was positive. Remember the best part of an answer is the explanation, not code. Aug 21, 2018 at 13:53

There are several issues with the answer you mention.

First, it answers a question that doesn't show effort. The official position of SE is that that is not a reason to downvote answers. But we get so many zero-effort questions that are answered instead of improved, that some users have decided to punish the answerers.
(When the question was originally posted, Stack Overflow was more tolerant of such questions. We had less of them, and they were still new - so they still provided value.)

Second, the question has had an answer for a long time. The new answer doesn't seem to add anything new. Again, not a reason to downvote, but it's not adding value either. And if it doesn't add value, it's noise.

Third, the answer doesn't explain anything. It merely provides a line of code. It is natural to have a mistake in answer - but in itself that is already a reason to downvote. If that comes on top of the answer not giving any explanation... then sorry, it's a poor answer. That are two reasons to downvote.

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    Posting an answer that's not useful is in fact a reason to downvote it. It is in fact a great reason to downvote it.
    – Servy
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:34