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Sometimes my post receives downvotes with no explanation on what I've done wrong. Even worse, sometimes I just get snarky comments!

It seems like this is especially bad for new users, who are made to feel unwelcome by veteran users. Stack Exchange's rules can be difficult to grasp, especially for newbies, and downvotes can feel hostile and discouraging.

Several ideas have been proposed for how to fix this, including:

  • Every downvote should be accompanied by a mandatory comment
  • Downvotes should be accompanied by a mandatory, anonymous comment
  • Downvotes should be accompanied by a reason selected from a drop-down menu
  • The first downvote should be accompanied by a mandatory comment
  • Downvotes should cost reputation points unless accompanied by a comment
  • …and other variations.

However, whenever someone suggests one of these changes on Meta, it gets unceremoniously rejected and (ironically) downvoted without a detailed explanation!

Why are all of these suggestions rejected?

Is it because people here are curmudgeonly trolls who just hate people and don't want new users to feel welcome?

Formerly Why isn't providing feedback mandatory on downvotes, and why are ideas suggesting such negatively received?.

This question was originally from this Meta Stack Overflow question.

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    Are such questions just deleted here? i don't see this question come up very often here, and don't see anything in search related to it since january... and that one was closed as a duplicate of Encouraging people to explain downvotes because it was a feature request. Feels like FAQ for the sake of having an FAQ rather than because it's needed.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 16:53
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    The attribution on this question and answer do not meet the minimum requirements.
    – jscs
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 23:59
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    @jscs The rules in that blog post were rescinded during the licensing revamp earlier this year, and the CC licenses only require a link back to the original content as attribution. Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 0:02
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    None of the points addressed by the answer below cover the idea of using a set list of generalized down-vote reasons, which would be anonymously provided to the OP. If it's not too big if a headache for someone to provide close reasons, then why should it be considered one for a down-vote? And the assertion that an up-vote should require a comment too is silly. There's only one reason to up-vote, while there may be multiple reasons to down-vote.
    – mkinson
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 13:07

2 Answers 2

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Forcing downvotes to be accompanied by comments or other feedback sounds like a good idea at first, and many here would like to see new users get all the info they need to ask questions that are a better fit! Contrary to popular opinion, most users here are nice and want to help, and don't enjoy "shooting down" newbies' questions with downvotes to make them feel bad and unwelcome.

However, downvotes are important for the health of a site, and mandating feedback for them would massively impede the way Stack Exchange currently works—to the point of potentially destroying it. It's just not feasible, for a number of very good reasons. That's why, although this gets suggested frequently (on average, a few times per week overall, both here and across per-site metas), it is declined and often downvoted* by meta users.

Here's an overview of the primary arguments for why it's a bad idea:

  • Voting is, first and foremost, a content rating system. Rather than being a way of communicating with the author, downvotes are a way of communicating to future readers that a post is not useful, doesn't show much research effort, or is not a good fit for the site. If someone wants to leave a comment to communicate with the author, they can always do so, independent of the voting system.

  • In the vast majority of cases, nothing needs to be clarified. The tooltip on the downvote arrow already explains what a downvote means, and it is specific for questions and answers. In most cases, the "comment" in the tooltip already adequately explains the logic behind the downvote, so an additional comment would just be wasted effort and noise.

  • Any requirement could be trivially circumvented by entering gibberish or something unconstructive like "this is bad". Detecting and stopping those who enter such stuff through moderation/administrative action is simply not feasible on a network with millions of users.

  • It may not feel that way to you at the moment, but downvoters are doing the site a service, and making voting more difficult would impede the site's most important quality-control tool. Voting is ad-hoc and frictionless by design! Voting separates good content from bad, and makes the good content more visible. This is essential for the platform to work, even if it sometimes feels mean. If a vote is in error—which can always happen—the expectation is that the "swarm intelligence" of future viewers will eventually correct the problem. A single vote is nothing, really. What matters is the sum of all votes, which is why we only display the aggregate score.

  • Scale. Stack Exchange sites get thousands of questions every day overall. Many of them are of poor quality, or just not a good fit for the site they are asked on. It is beyond human capability to respond to each one of those bad or misplaced questions with custom-tailored advice. It would drain too much time and energy from the unpaid volunteers who answer questions and help users.

  • If downvoting is made more difficult, then upvoting would need to be made correspondingly more difficult. The system uses downvotes and upvotes to filter out the "good" content from the "bad." If consequence-free downvoting is a problem, then, logically, consequence-free upvoting is, too, because it potentially marks low-quality content as "good".

  • Documentation on how to ask a good question is made easily available for those willing to read it. Stack Exchange's rules are special and arcane, but it's not like there hasn't been a lot written on the topic; in addition to the help pages, there are also comprehensive FAQ questions written by Meta community members, with the tag. Similarly, we provide extensive guidance on how to answer questions.

  • Leaving a comment accompanying a downvote can lead to negative consequences, like revenge downvoting and even off-site harassment. Many experienced users will tell you that they used to leave helpful comments along with their downvotes, but have stopped doing so because of the unpleasant blowback they received from some unreasonable users. Even for those users who remain rational, commenting about votes almost inevitably leads to extended, off-topic discussions, which we strive to avoid.

  • Stack Exchange, Inc. is actually doing a hell of a lot to make the place feel more friendly. The past few years have seen tons of discussions, initiatives, UI changes, help center updates and renovations, experiments like mentoring, and more—all aimed at making starting out on Stack Exchange a more pleasant experience without compromising on quality. (Actually, a lot of veteran users feel that site's owners are putting too much emphasis on making the site feel nice, for the sake of traffic—which translates into money—over quality; regardless of whether they're right or not, it is not accurate to say nothing is being done. It's just a really tough problem.)

  • We can't accommodate everyone. There will always be more question-askers out there than there are competent answerers. You can't overburden the latter by allowing a huge quantity of bad or badly-fitting questions into the system—you'd destroy the entire system, and hence prevent any questions from getting answered. Not getting to ask your question on Stack Exchange isn't a death sentence; many veterans have questions every day that they don't ask on Stack Exchange because they know they wouldn't be a good fit under the current model. The resources those veterans turn to to solve their problems are usually open to everyone on the Internet—they just take time, effort, and sometimes periods of frustration to understand. There are also other, more mentoring-oriented resources to turn to.

* On meta sites, downvoting is used to indicate disagreement with feature requests. But it's the same thing: the votes are a way of communicating to future readers (including the Stack Exchange team) that a certain feature request is overall disagreed.

Originally from this Meta Stack Overflow answer

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    (1) Comments "alert" also future readers (not just the author) why the voted post is unfit. (2) Typing gibberish or "this is bad" evidences downvoter's lack legitimate motive and/or his inability to articulate, which weakens the purpose and effectiveness of content rating. (3) The "swarm intelligence of future viewers" is oftentimes just an euphemism for "herd effect". (4) It is up to each contributor to not be dragged into off-topic discussions by some troll. (5) The anonymity of downvoting encourages deplorable behavior which quite often goes undetected by SE programmed functionality. Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 12:26
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    @IñakiViggers (1) - While true, I don't see this as a reason to make comments mandatory. If one feels in a contributing vibe one can choose to add a comment to clarify that something is wrong with the post. (2) While true it is also a way to downvote garbage posts quickly. Posts that are so obvious garbage they're not even worthy of a comment. (3) Ok, not sure what you mean by that? (4) Yes, but why not make it easier not to be trolled, by not demanding a comment on a downvote? (5) Which is why we have moderators and staff members. Personally I don't agree with quite often, but every now [1/2]
    – Luuklag
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 19:16
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    nothing needs to be clarified. This is simply incorrect. It is not always clear why downvotes are given. One reason being that they come from people, who are not always in 100% compliance with whatever the the help documents are. Another reason is that the help documents are too long and unclear themselves. They aren't written by a single, skilled writer with a user in mind. They are the organic outgrowth of the community and thus aren't honed into clear documents.
    – xdhmoore
    Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 2:57
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    Downvoting without a reason is only useful when there are already several downvotes. The first downvote alone is useless without a reason, because future readers have no context on why it got downvoted (accidentally, trolls, someone just misunderstood the post). As soon as there are, say, at least 3~5 downvotes, then I'd agree providing no reason is not necessary, because if one person downvote alone it might mean nothing, but if there are a bunch of people downvoting, then it must mean something (you wouldn't think a group of people combined to mass downvote). Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 4:26
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    This is just lazy. Each and every one of the above "problems" can be avoided. If explanations for down votes are provided then it would prevent future mistake. Mandatory comment is probably not a good idea. But an anonymous drop-down list could work. Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 15:25
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    The line of argumentation here is logically flawed. Having a vote tally is great. But that in itself does not mean commenting should not be encouraged. Anonymity and lack of context disconnects people from those we affect, often to the detriment of all. Interpreting the arguments here: votes are useful to future visitors, but comments are not? Commenting complements voting. You can and should vote and (as necessary) comment. Depends on site and post. Questions may be self-contained and few comments necessary to clarify or guide. Comments are often useful to future visitors.
    – Buck Thorn
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 9:52
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    I know this is an old question and an old answer, but I have to disagree here. Note that I am unsure how to solve the problem of bad downvotes. Documentation on how to ask a good question is made easily available for those willing to read it. This, while true, is unhelpful. I have asked plenty of good, high quality questions. I know this because other community members and I have spoken about it. Yet these questions are CONSTANTLY downvoted, for no reason at all. Its odd that on a non-opinion based site, people will downvote questions against their opinion, without saying anything.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 22:44
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    These are good reasons, but there are equally good reasons for a feature where users give feedback for their voting - either way, whether from a pre-defined list or 114 characters max. of text. As long as the reason is genuine, it will be useful for all users. Currently, voting is shrouded in mystery. No one knows anything, and people can just vote without giving a reasonable response. Currently, SE is like a slightly more regulated form of Twitter. At the end of the day, whoever owns the platform makes the rules, but we all have good reasons either for or against. Feedback = learning.
    – user1225180
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 1:16
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    Then one should be able to close a question without specifying a reason as well. Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 10:20
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    @AlwaysLearning Closure is governed by very specific guidelines– if a post does not fall under a specific close reason, it should not be closed, plain and simple. Voting, both up & down, is not like this, and is intentionally designed to be much more subjective and to offer much more freedom to voters than the close vote rules do. Close votes and up/ down votes are different tools, with different rules governing them.
    – zcoop98
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 16:18
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    These sound like reasonable things, and they are, but there is STILL a big problem here, so more needs to be done. What other ideas do you have? And maybe it's time to revisit some of the ideas that are rejected in this answer. "You'd destroy the entire system" is a bit hyperbolic, don't you think? And "we can't accommodate everyone" is a response that's far too often used as an excuse. Yes, you guys have done a lot. More needs to be done. -- Veteran user of 11 years.
    – MaxRocket
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 18:40
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    @MaxRocket Totally agree
    – user1315829
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 10:34
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    I probably comment too much, rather than too little. But even if everyone maintained my level of commenting, there is no way we could manually respond to each and every question which deserves a downvote. There simply has to be a limit of how much hand-holding we can offer new users.
    – tripleee
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 12:15
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    In the same lines, a comment does way more that just legitimate the downvoter or giving an explanation to the author/future readers. With a comment, the author, knowing what's wrong (if he's wrong) can improve his answer, or remove it if it is plain wrong, and consequently, it contributes to increase the content quality (or remove the garbage) of the platform and the trust we can have to the given answers. It's beneficial in all possible ways we can think of it.
    – Fareanor
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 14:39
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Being brutally honest, I believe:

  • It's the role of an answer's author to teach the readers.
  • It's not the role of the readers to teach an answer's author.
  • It's the role of those voting to judge, not to teach.

I recognise that it can be frustrating when you get downvotes and don't know why.

If you get downvoted without comment and there are other answers, then read them carefully for differences. Beyond that you may never know. Or you may know in a few year's time when you happen to find more information on the topic... but then you might never know because the voter might be wrong themselves.

I also believe that leaving a comment is a very different skillset. Being able to judge the correctness of an answer is one thing. Being able to boil down the problems with an answer succinctly into a handful of words, much short than the original answer requires a whole different skill.

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    Is it correct that a new low-voted answer is added to a FAQ question? According to meta.stackexchange.com/questions/393435/… it should be endorsed by the community. Especially it is shown for me above the accepted and higher upvoted answer despite that my sort is Highest Score (default) Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 1:36
  • How about for questions then? Is not the entire purpose of this site to "teach" question askers? Commented Feb 8 at 17:26
  • @ThisGuyCantEven Pretty much exactly the same answer. It's the role of those answering to teach and the role of those voting to judge. These are different skillsets, and we shouldn't require those judging to also be teachers. There are those who feel we shouldn't have down-votes on questions. I don't wish to comment directly on that, but if we have voting on questions then it has a different purpose and skillset to commenting on questions. Commented Feb 8 at 21:00
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    @ThisGuyCantEven No, the purpose of this site is to compile a library of knowledge, and incidentally in the process help out question askers. Commented Feb 8 at 21:16

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