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I'm concerned about whether my own pattern of behaviour might be interpreted as serially down-voting another user. But I find myself conflicted about whether to continue or not because I am NOT down-voting as revenge or personal grudge. I genuinely believe these answers are bad answers ¹.

On the particular Stack Exchange site there is a low enough rate and answers that regular members can and do review a high percentage of all. So inevitably I do see most of these answers without doing anything so pernicious as following the user's profile.

It doesn't help matters that in a previous interaction with this user they became abusive and landed themselves with a two day ban for their behaviour ².

I note that the rate of downvotes against this user's answers has dropped. but it doesn't appear to be related to improved answers but some other factor. In all of this I am driven to look out for the sake of future readers seeking advice rather than the ego of individual users.

We want to stop personal attacks and we want to detect these and put them right. But we can only detect correlation, we can't detect causation. I don't want to avoid giving downvotes to woefully bad answers, where I feel comments won't help fix them. But I'm scared to downvote another answer from this user in case I am accused of serial down-voting.


¹ These answers follow a pattern that could be described as "a stream of consciousness loosely triggered by the question". These answers frequently don't manage to hit the same topic as the question let alone provide an answer. They often include significant misinterpretations of the manuals meaning they can be diametrically opposed to "the right answer".

² In my very first interaction with this user, they posted a particularly vague and seemingly incorrect answer to my own question. I commented to ask for clarification and my comment sparked an unfortunate cycle between the two of us that resulted in this particular user becoming abusive and being suspended. Despite having been polite and non-confrontational I still felt mortified that I had triggered this and would have silently down-voted had I known the outcome. This appears to have triggered a sequence of revenge down-votes from the user in question.

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The things to remember when it comes to serial downvoting are:

  1. 90% - Are you seeking out their posts and downvoting them based on the person, not the content?
  2. 10% - Are you voting on other people's posts, both up and down.

(percentages made up mostly to illustrate the weighting)

You say that you come across this user's posts in day-to-day usage of the site - that's good! That's what we're hoping for. If you see an answer and decide it doesn't answer the question or is wrong, feel free to downvote. What you shouldn't do is see one bad answer and then go to all of their other answers and vote on them. That's what can cause problems.

Remember, we hide the username at the bottom of the post to encourage you to read the content before knowing who wrote it. As long as you're honestly voting on the content and not the person, you're unlikely going to run into issues.

And, since you're not looking at only this user's posts, you're also going to be voting up and down on everyone's questions and answers, which helps the site and helps others recognize good content.

Some suggestions

As a curator, think about whether the answers can be improved. Are they generally correct but a bit meandering? Edit or suggest an edit that will help improve the answer. That's the big benefit of collaborative editing here on Stack Exchange! It's difficult sometimes to get past the fear of editing too much but edits can always be rolled back. These edits may help the user see how to structure their answer so that it's more useful to others.

If there's a large number and they seem to be regularly getting downvoted and ending up negatively scored, it might be worth flagging one of them with a custom moderator attention flag and letting the mods know that they may need some help with writing good answers. While editing is helpful it can be a lot of work to make an answer read well and the poster should be able to make the adjustments themselves.

If the answer isn't salvageable because there's sources missing or it's just plain wrong, then downvote and move on to the next question that catches your eye, however you find it. If you feel up to it, you can also leave comments and request improvements to the answer if there's things you can't personally fix. These also serve a benefit for moderators who might be looking into voting fraud to understand why you might have several downvotes for a specific person. Mods can't see which posts you've voted on but if they look at some of the user's posts they may see your comments.

Final thoughts

We don't want you to fear using your votes. Don't let fear of being seen to be targeting your downvoting at someone impact how you vote. If you see someone who's constantly making low-quality contributions, it's likely that the mods are aware of it, too - OK, probably not on SO due to the scale but... most everywhere else.

If, for some reason, a moderator reaches out to you about targeted voting in a mod message, they're likely going to warn you the first time. As you say, there's only correlation, not causation, so you'll have the opportunity to respond. Do so, thoughtfully, and explain the situation. That said, I think it's very unlikely unless the user is extremely prolific.

So, do your thing, use your votes.

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    might be worth flagging one of them with a custom moderator attention flag and letting the mods know that they may need some help with writing good answers on SO, in particular, I would expect this flag to be declined, with a message to the effect of, "that's the community's job". – De Novo Nov 25 '19 at 17:28
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    And thank you for giving an authoritative answer here :) – De Novo Nov 25 '19 at 17:28
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    "unless the user is extremely prolific" -- my concern is just that. There's a user on History.SE who's answered something like 7% of all questions, and some of the answers are real stinkers, such as an assertion that the Chinese did not develop writing until 800 AD. – Mark Nov 25 '19 at 21:05
  • @Mark Well, in that case the mods are likely aware. :) The other factor is whether you also upvote or only ever downvote. :) It's been interesting for me to see people who have tons of up and down votes for the same user... it's not a personal vendetta... the person just ... writes a lot and sometimes it's not always great. Anyway, I understand your concern this is also where the "do you vote for other people" part comes in. If you're only downvoting that person, it'll look bad. If you downvote frequently, it looks like you just downvote a lot. Which is just a sign of a curator. – Catija Nov 25 '19 at 21:26
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If you vote only a single user's answers, then something is wrong, either on your side or on the site itself.

If there are more users on that site who post other answers, vote other answers as well, either up or down.

This alone should prevent you from being marked, at least automatically, as a serial voter.

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