If a question is unclear to a person on this site, but is actually a well formed, concise question to someone with the correct background knowledge - would the person who doesn't understand still be in the right to downvote the question based on SE's policies/rules for voting on questions?

I am getting too much extended discussion in the comments (on me) - but where this is leading me is whether or not the goal of SE is to have purely objective moderation or if the real trust lies in the reputation system which allows any and all votes under the assumption that more 'good voters' than 'bad voters'* will be participating and an objectively good moderation will be reached through that process despite the inevitable 'bad voters'*.

*Good voters and bad voters are not up/down votes, but voting cognizantly and carefully to improve the site (good) versus carelessly and ignorantly for whatever reason possesses such people (bad).

  • 9
    Hi @TCooper, welcome to meta.SE. Assuming who downvoters are and especially assuming they downvoted because they didn't understand it is a very common but unfounded assumption being thrown around all the time around here. Do you have some evidence that this happened? Without any, I'm afraid this question might not be received all that well.
    – M.A.R.
    Sep 13, 2019 at 18:26
  • Pretty sure it's impossible to have evidence of this in a system with anonymous down votes... but I thought of this while looking at some other old questions on the down vote process here on SE. I'll see if I can find the example that sparked the question. - I was looking at the question as a hypothetical discussion? Basically are questioned to be down voted objectively or by wider community limits of knowledge? Opens a whole can of worms, which is better for the site/community, etc
    – TCooper
    Sep 13, 2019 at 18:28
  • 6
    Sure, I was saying more in lines of a downvote accompanied by a comment saying something along the lines of your suspicions. Of course it happens occasionally, and people also sometimes downvote for absolutely spurious reasons. It's their votes and as long as it's not a grudge against a person or other sorts of fraud, it's what rights they're systematically granted. This question just might not be received all that well because more often that not, when these assumptions are thrown around, it's a frustrated OP venting about their post's poor reception with their own post hoc theories.
    – M.A.R.
    Sep 13, 2019 at 18:38
  • 1
    @M.A.R. understandable, it was an unexpected downvote that got me down this rabbithole, but I wouldn't say I'm frustrated in any sense. More curious as I've used this site for years and never given the community/voting too much thought at all.
    – TCooper
    Sep 13, 2019 at 18:41
  • also, @fbueckert, I do think it's a very well thought out proposal, but the people that take enough time to really think it through are also the people that would take the time leave a constructive comment on every down vote they made, and help improve the community. Instead quickly down voting after skimming a question is preferred because it allows for "faster moderation of the site" - instead of focusing on adding / creating new quality users. (but that's too much work! - most well thought out answer I've ever seen) ... you might be an example of someone not fully understanding the question
    – TCooper
    Sep 13, 2019 at 21:51
  • 4
    Well, this is exactly what I expect to happen when people identify themselves; their criticism written off as, "they don't understand". It just makes them a target, and having to justify their vote is a massive chilling effect. People don't want to have to deal with the drama of posters being offended their post got downvoted. The vote is more important then the need to deal with drama, for this exact reason.
    – fbueckert
    Sep 13, 2019 at 21:55
  • @fbueckert One, I have no idea if you down voted or not and I really don't care. Two, you offered an unsubstantiated argument against something slightly off topic I recently said I support. So I responded. This forum does allow discussion, has a tag for it, and it's used on this post. I didn't realize you could form an argument against a point I made but I was expected not to do the same. I would see this very differently on SO, Physics, or any other SE though...
    – TCooper
    Sep 13, 2019 at 21:59
  • 3
    Re "I am a HUGE proponent of supplying a reason": The canonical is Encouraging people to explain downvotes. But they won't even implement a feature where feedback can be provided anonymously. Sep 13, 2019 at 22:04
  • @Peter Mortensen, thanks for the link, its the first one I was looking at earlier this week, and for getting me back on topic. I think anonymously would also be just as effective, you can even have canned responses as a radio button list, or the last option is a text box to actually contribute. To be clear, I never said the site should force it, just that as members of the community we should do it. On my SF post referenced above I'd been on this tangent a day or two and wrote "my least favorite thing about the site is people that down vote and don't say why" - people, not system.
    – TCooper
    Sep 13, 2019 at 22:10
  • 5
    @TCooper: "I do think it's a very well thought out proposal" Well... you're wrong. First, you don't actually propose any changes; your question is about whether something is right or wrong, not what any actual rules should be. Morality and legality are separate things, after all. Second, even if we assume an implicit proposal to change something based on a user having sufficient knowledge, you don't say how that should be determined. So your "proposal" as it stands is at best incomplete. And thus, not particularly "well thought out". Sep 14, 2019 at 13:54
  • @Nicol Bolas “Well you’re wrong” you say while trying to compare the original question to a separate conversation in comments... try reading it through again, understanding they’re two separate topics, then reread your comment...
    – TCooper
    Sep 15, 2019 at 5:30
  • 1
    @TCooper: Fbueckert said that your proposal (among others) was not well thought out. You replied that it was, and I replied that it wasn't, with a more specific list of issues. So it's not clear exactly what your issue is. Though I find it interesting that you didn't feel the need to respond to any of the criticism of your post or to make the post better by taking them into account. Sep 15, 2019 at 13:28
  • @Nicol Bolas -you still clearly haven’t read the convo. This post has nothing to do with forcing a reason to be supplied to downvote. That was mentioned in the comments. That’s what I said was well thought out. And it’s a combination of human laziness and too few good moderators that prevent that. Not the proposal’s underlying ideas. And this is exactly when I edited the question where it mentions the comments getting to too much extended discussion, I then quickly accepted the duplicate as explained in an above comment in response to a deleted one ... I don’t know what post you’re looking at
    – TCooper
    Sep 16, 2019 at 14:20
  • @Nicol Bolas - to put it very simply we were off topic, you assumed my comment was regarding this question instead of another because it probably should have been - but it wasn’t and now you’re dissecting an argument made about another topic in reference to this current one. It makes no sense, not because you’re wrong but mixed up in the convo, probably due to SE’s selective comment display
    – TCooper
    Sep 16, 2019 at 14:35

2 Answers 2


Voting is intended to express the quality of the content in question. If a person does not understand the content, then they are not able to assess its quality either way. As such, it is expected that they would not vote.

Note that failure to understand a topic is different from misunderstanding it. In the latter case, one genuinely believes that they do understand; they're just wrong about that.

It should also be noted that there are distinct levels of understanding, and some votes need not require full understanding. I may not know much about Kotlin, but I can still tell if a user is asking for a Kotlin library. I may not know a particular technology, but I can still tell when a post is meandering, or misuses English or somesuch. And so on.


Is a down vote legitimate

Yes, all votes are legitimate.1

If a question is unclear to a person on this site, but is actually a well formed, concise question to someone with the correct background knowledge - would the person who doesn't understand still be in the right to down vote the question based on SE's policies/rules for voting on questions?

Yes, if a user that is trusted with the down vote privilege (that comes at 125 rep) makes a judgement call and decide to vote they are right.

Do note they can make the same "mistake" by up voting a truly unclear post. There are users that seem to have those voting buttons reversed. A bit annoying but in the grand scale of things not something to worry about. True pearls will start to shine over time.

There is still, despite popular (Twitter, Reddit) belief, a greater chance a post gets an up vote then a down vote, if it gets a vote at all.

1. sure, serial voting isn't and maybe some user removed events indicate votes gets invalidated but I'm not attempting, nor going, to rewrite all voting peculiarities here. I'm painting the bigger picture, think Bob Ross, not Rembrandt

  • 3
    I'm not sure I'd say all votes are legitimate. There's serial voting, for example. Sep 13, 2019 at 18:56

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