On StackOverflow, I've received a couple of downvotes for rather stupid answers and some for controversial ones. Every time I do I feel beaten with a stick, enraged at the system and disinclined to post again. Of course, it might just mean that I have a big ego, low self-esteem and trouble with criticism, but that's besides the point.

I think we all feel insulted whenever we receive punishment from strangers after sincerely trying to help or asking for help ourselves.

As I'm not sure that I agree that "insulting users" is necessarily a good design choice, I'd like to cite Pavlov and propose removing downvotes altogether. They don't really do anything except let people beat on each other and discourage answers from all but the established coterie.

I understand the "but it's wrong argument" and would like to propose two positive solutions to counter it:

  1. Write the right answer.
  2. Upvote the right answer.

Alternatively, if the previous solution is unsatisfactory, I'd like to propose a much higher reputation threshold before downvotes are enabled to apply and a higher threshold before they can be received. That way, the wiser users can still beat each other, but us timid newbies are shielded a bit.

UPDATE: sigh I suppose I asked for it.

EDIT: BF Skinner is the experimentalist I was trying to cite, not Pavlov.

Here's a link to some more general articles on the principles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinforcement#Types_of_reinforcement

"punishment [downvoting] only temporarily changes behavior and presents many detrimental side effects."

Basically positive punishment (downvoting) doesn't change the behaviour (ie// It's unlikely I'll post more thoughtful questions and answers in the future because this one has been heavily downvoted) and it's likely to cause "many detrimental side effects".

EDIT 2: "Evil" in this context is defined as "that which causes harm or destruction or misfortune;" Downvotes appear to be "Pure Evil" because they a) hurt, b) are encouraged by the system c) appear to be undoable (ie// once you smack someone, you can't unsmack them) and d) don't have an objective criteria to their application (ie// anyone can downvote for unspecified reasons). They are excused by the theory that they indicate wrong or misleading answers/questions (Here there be sharks!), which I contend is of dubious value given the required criteria for downvoting.

11 Answers 11


I disagree completely.

Downvotes are an incentive to get it right. If you've posted a "rather stupid answer" then that deserves the downvotes. Either edit your answer or delete it - otherwise your answer is going to be there in its "stupid" form, misleading people forever.

Downvotes with no explanation are certainly annoying, as they give you no indication of how to improve the answer (assuming it's an honest attempt to answer the question to start with - if it's an answer which just tells the OP to get lost, then it's pretty obvious why that will be downvoted). But downvotes with a comment are useful, IMO... not just to you, but also to anyone else reading the answer later.

It's perfectly possible for wrong answers to get upvotes - downvotes are necessary to provide a counterbalance, IMO. Yes, I may have already written or upvoted the correct answer - but I still want to be able to say that a given answer is just plain wrong. It's even better now that you can click on the aggregate to get the separate upvotes/downvotes tally.

If you have trouble with receiving criticism, that's not beside the point at all - in fact, that's a good reason to keep downvotes. Over time, hopefully Stack Overflow will help you to deal with criticism better (just like it helps us to communicate better) - and it does this in a harmless environment, compared with having to learn via getting annoyed with your manager, for example.

The fact that you think it's insulting users is part of the problem. It's not - it's insulting a user's post. If someone downvotes me, that doesn't mean they disrespect me - it means that on this particular occasion, they think I'm wrong. They may have just upvoted another of my answers elsewhere.

EDIT: So, you've said it's not the reputation that's important. It sounds like you want somewhere you can express an opinion and no-one can tell you you're wrong. Well, if that's what you want, get a blog and disable comments. That's not what Stack Overflow is for.

Personally, I like the fact that people can tell me I'm wrong (and in what way). It means I can learn. It also means that when I'm wrong, other readers know I'm wrong. It's good all round, basically.

If you don't have a thick enough skin to either gracefully accept criticism when you're wrong or defend yourself when you're right, Stack Overflow is not the place for you. As Jeff has said many times, there are people for whom Stack Overflow is not appropriate (in terms of posting answers). People who want to be able to write dross and not be accountable for it fall into that category, IMO.

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    -1 for missing the point. Downvotes HURT more then their reputation cost and to what gain? Advising future travellers that someone thought this was poor advice? – James Dec 4 '09 at 16:33
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    Where did I even mention the reputation cost? And yes - the gain is to advise other people that this is bad advice. That's more important to me than your fragile ego, I'm afraid. We all get things wrong every so often - why wouldn't you want those mistakes to be pointed out? – Jon Skeet Dec 4 '09 at 16:38
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    (And if you feel so strongly that downvotes are a bad idea, why did you just give one? Isn't that just a touch hypocritical? I don't particularly care about that vote as I disagree with its premise - but I'm intrigued by the fact that you thought it was worth giving.) – Jon Skeet Dec 4 '09 at 16:39
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    @James: yes, that's a pretty solid gain in exchange for the negligible cost of potentially hurting someone's feelings. – Shog9 Dec 4 '09 at 16:40
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    @James: If downvotes hurt more than the reputation loss, I say we increase the reputation loss until the hurt and the reputation loss are equal in magnitude. Balance is a wonderful thing. – Welbog Dec 4 '09 at 16:42
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    sigh My point was that downvoting provides a disincentive to GET IT WRONG, rather then an INCENTIVE to get it right. It substantially increases the emotional cost of trying in the first place and/or continuing with the discussion. – James Dec 4 '09 at 16:43
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    @james.rw.birchall: Your comment is confusing. You are arguing against downvotes but then state their purpose perfectly, to advise "future travellers that someone thought this was poor advice". – raven Dec 4 '09 at 16:44
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    @James: Stop thinking that people are downvoting your answer because they hate you: they just hate your dumb ideas. – Welbog Dec 4 '09 at 16:47
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    @James: How else would we flag a bad answer? And ... IT'S JUST A NUMBER. You are more than the sum of your votes! If a downvote hurts so much emotionally, you definitely need to work on your criticism handling skills. – John Rudy Dec 4 '09 at 17:51
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    @James: Please see my edit. If someones doesn't want to be accountable for your content, SO is not the right place for them. Do you really want people to post garbage with absolutely no peer review other than upvotes? Because if you're sensitive enough to be hurt by a downvote, surely you're sensitive enough to be hurt by a comment saying, "No - this answer is wrong and dangerous!" too... so by your logic we should ban comments too... and kiss goodbye to a lot of Stack Overflow's value. – Jon Skeet Dec 4 '09 at 18:31
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    "Ignore it and upvote the right answers?" That still doesn't tell the next visitor that an answer is wrong. It just says "this one's 'more' right than that one." – John Rudy Dec 4 '09 at 19:21
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    @James: But the point is there's a huge difference between, "These two answers are both okay, but X is much better than Y" and "X is the right answer, but Y is wrong and bad and should never be tried." That is an important difference, and one which should be expressible. If it's just in comments, do you really think that a comment saying, "This is a crazy answer - it's completely wrong due to X, Y, Z" will be less "hurtful" than a downvote? – Jon Skeet Dec 4 '09 at 19:59
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    @James: Just rereading your comment, you seem to be suggesting that a bad answer should only be criticised if it's upvoted and accepted. Why? It's not like other answers magically go away - no, they stick around and can do harm by misleading people. An additional benefit in having your wrong ideas revealed is that you they were wrong - or you defend them, and cause people to think more that way. I see absolutely no reason why a wrong statement should survive unchallenged, whether it's upvoted or not. – Jon Skeet Dec 4 '09 at 20:05
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    What do you mean by "smacking" the author? Again, you're taking criticism of an answer as criticism of a person - and that's not the system, it's your flawed interpretation. As for this question - almost everything on Meta is a matter of opinion rather than truth, so voting is usually used to indicate agreement rather than the correctness it's used for on Stack Overflow. That's just a difference between the two sites. – Jon Skeet Dec 4 '09 at 21:10
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    @James: I think it's about whether the bruised ego is worth the benefit to you and other readers. I think it absolutely is worth it, and when handled properly is a positive thing. And yes, I believe that if you're going to put your opinion up in public view, you should be prepared for others to disagree with it and say so. – Jon Skeet Dec 4 '09 at 22:13

but... you posted a wrong answer? Downvotes are the community's way of warning people "This is not right". A 0-vote answer could be new, or ignored, but a -1 answer probably ain't great.

And really, a downvote is -2 rep. That's nothing.

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I don't mean to be blunt, but there is apparently no way to respond to this without causing you to feel slighted, so I feel the direct approach is best:

Of course, it might just mean that I have a big ego, low self-esteem and trouble with criticism, but that's besides the point.

No, actually, that's all it is right there.

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If you get that worked up at being downvoted, then you probably want to stay away. It's no fun to be downvoted with no explaination, but this is the real world - it's not fair and there are people who don't play nice.

Without downvotes, we only have a way for 'right' answers to bubble to the top - we have no way for 'wrong' answers to sink to the bottom. And yes, in a QA site like SO/SF/SU, having wrong answers sink IS valuable. While a few questions get a lot of people looking at them (and voting) most questions only have a few viewers and a few voters. We need those votes to count toward getting the right answer. Sometimes that means we get our feeling hurt, and that's just a fact of life.

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    Heck, without downvotes there isn't even a way for "right" answers to bubble up, because people can (and unfortunately will) upvote wrong answers occasionally. – John Rudy Dec 4 '09 at 17:52
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    I was thinking that eventually, the upvotes would 'win' and the right answers would end up higher than the 'wrong' ones, but thinking back, I've incorrectly answered questions and gotten quite heavily upvoted based on all of us mis-reading the question. So yea, you're exactly right. – Michael Kohne Dec 4 '09 at 20:10
  • So should you get heavily downvoted because of it? Isn't there a difference between "wrong" and "useful" (which my new discovery of the tooltips says is the purpose of the up and down votes)? – James Dec 4 '09 at 21:01
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    Yes. If the answer is WRONG then it should be voted down. That tells everyone else that I screwed up. – Michael Kohne Dec 5 '09 at 22:39
  • "We would have no way for 'wrong' answers to sink to the bottom." But we could have one: clicking the "downvote" should mean an upvote on all other answers. – Calmarius Sep 24 '13 at 22:17
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    @Calmarius - but that's not the behavior we want - there may be MORE THAN ONE wrong answer to a question! (believe me, I've incorrectly answered some where multiple persons mis-read the question). In your scheme, you'd end up upvoting each of the bad answers, just less upvotes than the good answers. That's not right. – Michael Kohne Sep 25 '13 at 2:31
  • @MichaelKohne Just the appearance what's important. Downvote would be still downvote. If you downvote 3 answers they get +2 the others get +3 for example. So the only way is up. The order is preserved. (but these kind of massive +1-s wouldn't worth rep.) – Calmarius Sep 25 '13 at 7:31

Most of the times a down vote mean that your answer is not helpful - face it.

Like other day when I tried to be fastest gun in the west and answered a question on sql-server with mysql syntax. Next person answered it in the correct syntax, down-voted me and put a comment stating why he did it. I promptly added a note to my post saying though this is correct in mysql, this is not what OP is after, and up-voted the correct answer (by the one who down-voted me). Now if you can't do this, then you are right, you have a big ego and trouble with criticism.

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If you think downvotes are evil now, wait until they get put on steroids!

Seriously, though... if one of your questions or answers gets downvoted, it will barely make a dent in any Rep you have gained from upvotes. And if you've only gotten downvotes, then there is probably something wrong with the post. If the Rep loss bothers you so much, you can either correct it in the hopes of gaining upvotes (you would probably only need 1 to cancel the Rep loss from downvotes) or you can just delete it, have a Rep recalc, and it will be like nothing ever happened.

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  • Oh man. I see I've jumped into the debate too late... – James Dec 4 '09 at 21:29
  • Hang on a sec: can I delete something and reclaim the rep? – James Dec 4 '09 at 21:30
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    @James: Yes, you can. Any time a post is deleted or migrated to another site the Rep you earned (or lost) from it will disappear, but only after your Rep score is recalculated. You can flag one of your own posts for moderator attention and ask for a recalc (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/14107/…). Keep in mind that even if you get back the Rep lost to downvotes, you can also lose Rep you gained from upvotes (which is why a Rep recalc often ends up costing you Rep). – gnostradamus Dec 4 '09 at 21:46
  • Thanks gnostradamus, I didn't know that. – James Dec 4 '09 at 21:49

Downvote means two things:

  1. This is bad and wrong
  2. I don't like this

This is why I suggested two kinds of vote.

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  • +1. I like. It's the difference between voting for the answer, and voting for the person. Currently, there's no way to indicate that something is factually correct, but unclear, controversial or misleading. – James Dec 7 '09 at 16:50

I can count on one hand the number of times I've had an answer downvoted when I legitimately thought I was right (excepting the wild, wild west that is meta)... pretty much all my downvotes come from snarky stuff which is, let's face it, a legitimate target, and the only thought that came into my mind was "yeah, I deserved that one". If you want people to stop saying "you're wrong", perhaps you just need to stop posting wrong answers?

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    I've had plenty of comment-less downvotes where I've no idea why someone thought I was wrong. Out of commented downvotes, I agree with some (and edit) and disagree with others. – Jon Skeet Dec 7 '09 at 15:52

The downvote, although described as an "extreme measure" (per the faq), is a vital part of how this site functions.

It is a form of communication between users, for one. If a post gets downvoted, other users will be more mindful of whether the post is of good quality.

For questions, a downvote warns users that the question has little to no signs of previous attempts from the asker for solving the problem, and poor effort in wording the question or the asker's ability to communicate their problem effectively.

For answers, downvotes either mean that the answer is incomplete, doesn't answer the question properly (in which case a flag may be more appropriate, but it depends on the circumstances), was written with little or no effort, or the voter doesn't agree with the answer, whether it be the techniques used or the overall answer.

The downvote is also the first step towards closing questions (and this ties in with the previous part). If a question gets downvoted multiple times, it is (most often) an indicator that it is unfit for the Stack Exchange network for whatever reason (or for the specific site it is on at that moment, in which case it would be moved) based on the input of our diverse community. Since the downvote privilege is awarded when users achieve 125 reputation, the judgement of the pool of qualifying downvoters should be trusted.

And whether or not you like it personally, it is an integral part of how this site continues to work. Downvotes aren't (at least, not most of the time) personal attacks against specific users, but rather the community's judgement of the answer that's been given at that specific moment. I personally don't take into account a user's past history when voting for answers because I advocate fair distribution of reputation.

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IMHO Jon Skeet's opinion about comment downvotes are applicable to answers too:

If a comment is wrong, respond to it with another comment. That provides a lot more information than a downvote which could mean anything.

I completely agree with the "undo an accidental upvote" idea, but I don't see any much point in downvoting comments.

In terms of the value of upvoting comments: if a comment indicates that an answer is wrong, the upvotes on that comment indicate support for the reason given. They're almost like downvotes for the answer, IMO - just without rep getting involved.

An upvote can mean "I agree" or "I find it helpful", it doesn't demand further discussion.


  • If an answer is wrong, then we should explain why is it wrong.
  • If an answer is offensive, spammy, we can flag it.
  • If you simply don't agree with an answer, probably the whole question is close worthy, as questions that encourage posting opinions and discussion in general doesn't fit into the site's Q&A format anyway.
  • Did I miss something?

Good answers get their share of upvotes anyway.

In general, positive rewards encourage more participation, while negatives scare users away.

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Downvotes are bullying, I think the guys want show they are better it is competition! Everyone here is not in the same level studies then why downvote if you don't know what if the answer is really like. $\int$

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    I promise you that no users are here to compete or to show they are better. We are all fair and work toward the same goal: to help fellow programmers in need. If you're new to the field then say so; we will more then likely be kind about it and let you know why you're getting downvoted and how you can prevent it in the future (and even fix it now). – Mystery Feb 28 '12 at 3:02
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    I dislike downvotes as much as the next guy, but when I get them, it forces me to take a thoughtful look at my answer. Sometimes, I've discovered that I gave people completely wrong advice only because someone had the courage to downvote me and then say, "Sorry, this is completely wrong." I learned. After that experience, I found a few answers from the guys who downvoted and commented, gave them upvotes, and thanked them for giving me feedback. – sarnold Feb 28 '12 at 3:07
  • You can't talk for all users @Purmou, sure are people to compete, I don't care to be downvoted here because it is really a way to be against the system of pressure in the fellows. – chessmath Feb 28 '12 at 3:07
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    @chessmath: I speak on behalf of what I observe. This is one of the most humble communities I've ever had the privilege of joining on the internet. The level of respect and camaraderie among every member on this site is astonishing, and you would be overreacting, crazy, and, to be perfectly honest, foolish to think otherwise. – Mystery Feb 28 '12 at 3:10
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    Are you mad because of this question? – simchona Feb 28 '12 at 3:13
  • Give a kid a hammer and the whole world will be a nail! – chessmath Feb 28 '12 at 3:13
  • Not everything gets downvoted, so I'm not sure your analogy makes sense. – simchona Feb 28 '12 at 3:15
  • The stick is really small beacause you only lose 2 points but anyway you don't feel good at all! – chessmath Feb 28 '12 at 3:15
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    Downvotes aren't meant to make people feel bad; they're meant to help other users figure out which content is good and which isn't as good. – simchona Feb 28 '12 at 3:16
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    @chessmath - Just because someone isn't in the "same level of studies" doesn't give them the right to spout ignorance across the Internet. Without downvotes, someone in a lower level of study may actually do something incredibly stupid because there was no signposts to tell them not to follow misguided advice. I will say though that what bothers me is not the down-votes but when people are a jerk about telling you your wrong. I learn a lot from mistakes sometimes and appreciate when people are a little less abrasive. It's easier for things to sink in that way. – jmort253 Feb 28 '12 at 3:25
  • Well if downvote, the good content will be identified by the up votes both case are animal training but the punishments are no longer in prosper way! – chessmath Feb 28 '12 at 3:35
  • Well if downvote were good you would downvote you mother when she did not raised up you properly, the good content will be identified by the up votes both case are animal training but the punishments are no longer in prosper way! – chessmath Feb 28 '12 at 3:40
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    You're no longer making sense to me. – simchona Feb 28 '12 at 3:45

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