42

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 ideas rejected?

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

This question was originally from this Meta Stack Overflow question. While there are many posts related to this issue which get closed as duplicates of Encouraging people to explain downvotes, that question doesn't adequately explain to new users why this is always turned down. The purpose of this question is to be the network-wide community-approved FAQ to be used as a duplicate target for questions asking for mandatory feedback on downvotes.

4
  • 2
    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 meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135/… because it was a feature request. Feels like FAQ for the sake of having an FAQ rather than because it's needed. – user400654 Mar 19 '19 at 16:53
  • The attribution on this question and answer do not meet the minimum requirements. – jscs Jul 29 '20 at 23:59
  • @jscs The rules in that blog post were rescinded during the licensing revamp earlier this year, and the CC licenses only require a link back to the original content as attribution. – Sonic the Curiouser Hedgehog Jul 30 '20 at 0:02
  • This meta question has +29 votes. The linked meta on the same topic has -29 votes. Ironic – Stumbler Sep 9 '20 at 17:59
44

Forcing downvotes to be accompanied by comments 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 comments 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 on all 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's 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

11
  • 3
    (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. – Iñaki Viggers Nov 9 '20 at 12:26
  • 1
    @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 Nov 9 '20 at 19:16
  • and then there are cases of users going on targeted voting. For a user it is easy to spot when you are serially being voted on. Simply reporting that with a flag will oftentimes result in Community Managers diving into the database, and look up who voted on what exactly. If they find any fraudulent voting behaviour they will reverse that. – Luuklag Nov 9 '20 at 19:17
  • 2
    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 Nov 14 '20 at 2:57
  • 3
    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). – Alisson Nov 24 '20 at 4:26
  • I have personally found several posts with 1 single downvote, but it was a good post and I upvoted. But I've never found a post with 5 downvotes and I found it good. – Alisson Nov 24 '20 at 4:27
  • So maybe downvotes shouldn't require a clarification, but it should only be displayed if at least X people downvoted. – Alisson Nov 24 '20 at 4:28
  • @Alisson Yeah, the SE team actually tested that out on Stack Overflow. But it did lead to some controversy, though I can't find the links on their meta site. – Sonic the Curiouser Hedgehog Nov 24 '20 at 5:30
  • 2
    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. – Alpha Delta Dec 22 '20 at 15:25
  • here we go! 1. A comment explaing the shortcomings of a question/answer is far more lucid than a glib dv - which is hardly specific. 2. As 1, a dv is too vague. 3. Gibberish will prove to may that the dver has little intelligence, therefore the dv itself is meaningless.4. A single vote is nothing, really. True, so why take notice? If it means that little, why use it? 5. vtc is way more effective, why not use it? 6. dv and uv translate as bad/good. No, they translate as what the voter considers bad/good - not the same at all. 7. Doesn't cover answers. 8.True! Leaving polite comments shouldn't, – Tim Feb 18 at 9:32
  • but sometimes do. That's where mods come in useful. 9&10. Mixed views, so no comment. All this to still stick with 'anonymity breeds contempt'. Most times, my dvs are sort of half expected - saying something which may, just possibly, be construed as controversial, so will be picked up on. Had that dver left a comment or questioned what was meant, my reply would have probably sorted out any potential misunderstanding. My only suggestion thus far would be to make a dv cost 10 points, thus putting a better value on it. For 2 points, it's more like a toy that gets broken, but who cares anyway? – Tim Feb 18 at 9:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .