We have seen a lot of discussion around explaining downvotes over the years, and not all were well received. We even got to a point that we now have a separate question about why these topics are ill received.

With the release of the articles feature on Stack Overflow Teams I saw an opportunity to raise this topic once again. But this time with a suggestion on how we could implement feedback on downvotes while remaining anonymous.

In the new articles feature there is a way to provide feedback to the post owner directly and privately. As was demonstrated by this screenshot I took from the blogpost:

enter image description here

With a few adaptions I think we could easily repurpose this into a feature to give feedback when downvoting. (I am explicitly NOT saying that this should be obligatory!)

How could we do that you ask?

Well, we make it so that the default user who sends the feedback is User -1, also known as Community♦. simply don't show your name to the post owner. As Catija pointed out in the comments, moderators need to be able to trace who provided the feedback in case anyone abuses the feature.

Optionally you could choose to have your name attached to the feedback you send.

Giving feedback in this way, without leaving a public comment, makes sure that you are not traceable as the poster of the feedback. Being traceable as a downvoter is currently the biggest downside of giving an explanation as why you downvote, as it opens you up to revenge downvoting.

So are we going to see this screen every time we downvote, making downvoting a two-click process?

I think that would be a really negative experience, as a lot of times you don't feel like leaving any feedback, especially here on Meta. On the other hand new users could really benefit from getting feedback on their first few posts. Hence I propose we make the feedback pop-up automatically when downvoting a post from a user with less then 100 reputation (the association bonus level). In this way we can, to a certain extent, remediate the unwelcoming feeling new users get when their posts are instantly downvoted without them knowing what is wrong with them. Of-course the dialog should come with a cancel button if you don't feel like leaving any feedback.

For posts from users with more then 100 reputation there should just be a button to open the dialog. It could be located right under the downvote arrow.

Will I need to type in the same reason every time I give feedback?

That would be a cumbersome thing to do, I suggest we take a couple of canned reasons. Perhaps we can simply repurpose some close reasons for this. Together with a free-form text field this makes for a quick way to give meaningful feedback. Reading the answer by GhostCat and the comment from Catija I think it would be best to not implement a free-form text field, as this gives too much opportunity for abuse that is hard to catch.

With this anonymous way of providing feedback I think we can optimize the new-user experience without too much cost to veteran users.

As someone listed this question as a duplicate of the canonical question, that I referred above, I'll try to summarize how this is different from the arguments raised in the answer there.

  • Downvotes are, first and foremost, a content rating system. Yes that is very true. The potential of this feature lies in the fact that feedback is anonymous, and thus easier to give.
  • In the vast majority of cases, nothing needs to be clarified. If you feel that is the case just click the cancel button on the dialog. But with the downvote tooltip stating:

This question does not show any research effort, it is unclear or not useful

There is a lot of room for improvement. The message here is overly broad, and hidden in the tooltip. Who goes to downvote his own question to see this message? You don't want your mouse near that button on your own post. So wouldn't a message straight in your face be far superior in conveying the message?

  • Any requirement could be trivially circumvented Yes, I suggested to place a cancel button in the dialog, hardly possible to circumvent that when it is optional to use.

  • 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. I couldn't agree more. My proposed feature would only create friction when voting on posts of users with <100 reputation. Minimizing the friction to where it is most needed, and where it has the greatest effect. Also such a dialog would be easy to circumvent with a userscript, or perhaps even a profile setting. In that way users that really don't want this don't have to have it in their faces, while the more casual users can provide the valuable feedback needed for new posters.

  • Scale. With canned reasons scale is not an issue here.

  • If downvoting is made more difficult, then upvoting would need to be made correspondingly more difficult. A dialog that opens after you downvote a post hardly makes it more difficult, even so when that dialog can easily be closed/cancelled.

  • Documentation on how to ask a good question is made easily available for those willing to read it. If everyone would read this we would have no poor questions, so obviously more people need this in their face.

  • **Leaving a comment accompanying a downvote can lead to negative consequences, like revenge downvoting and even off-site harassment. ** Hence the anonymous nature of this feature.

The other two arguments are other discussions I don't feel have a place here.

  • 8
    Users without 125 reputation can't downvote, they can only click the button ineffectively. I'm not quite sure what your thoughts are there. Also, this sort of thing becomes a moderation nightmare. Only mods can see the problematic comments (since they're private) meaning that harassment becomes much harder to catch.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 8:00
  • 4
    It would also be unclear to new users that these anonymous comments are coming from regular users and are not some kind of official message if they are attributed to Community.
    – BSMP
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 8:03
  • 9
    Yeah, we probably couldn't actually attribute it to Community, anyway as the mods would absolutely need to know who wrote it and assigning it to Community would require two owners. We'd probably just have to obscure the person with a statement like "A user gave the following private feedback on your post."
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 8:06
  • 1
    @Catija fixed your first concern. Could have used a little clearer wording there, which I now have done. Also good point by not attributing it to the community user, but to just obfucsate it. The vector of abuse didn't come to mind to me.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 8:17
  • 6
    Why would this have to be tied to downvoting? This feature seems like it could be worthwhile in general if it was implemented but prone to abuse I imagine. Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 8:44
  • 1
    @TheLethalCarrot It could be available always, but I saw this feature as a way of adressing the ever continuing debate around explaining downvotes. This feature could resolve most concerns that live around this topic, not being anonymous, not being mandatory. But it just as well could be used without downvoting
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 8:50
  • something similar (like annotations) was proposed a while ago for close votes
    – gnat
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 8:56
  • 1
    Very interesting concept @gnat, thanks for sharing.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 9:03
  • 7
  • 2
    @RobertColumbia I am very well aware of that post, but I don't see how this is a duplicate of that.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 12:37
  • You may be interested in my SO question
    – TheMaster
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 14:26
  • I don't see a single reason why that would be a duplicate @Rob
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 9:46
  • @Luuklag, the 1st duplicate, and it's comments; especially this one, the 3rd and the 5th are three reasons. A means to anonymize comments doesn't improve on the current system or what's suggested in those duplicates, and this suggestion could be an answer there; were it a means to improve what those questions purport to be the problem. --- Agreeing with the duplicates that reviewers have put forth is also optional, those offered will pass or fail based on votes.
    – Rob
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 10:25
  • @Rob I'm aware of the working of the closure system, but didn't see how my question has so many similarities with the one you linked to be considered a duplicate. If my question is a duplicate of the questions your linked question is closed against, it would be better to use that as a target.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 10:42

3 Answers 3


Downvotes that come without explanations do feel bad, and any well thought idea to reduce the number of times exactly that happens is (imho) worth looking into it.

The key thing I see: anonymous is tempting, but also the biggest (potential) issue in my eyes. Why? Because a lot of people aren't very good at giving feedback. The fact that other community members see my comments, and gave me feedback about it, or plain flagged them: that taught me many important lessons. Even with years of experience around Stack Overflow, I still get comments on my comments that help me to improve my actions.

In general, what I can see on Stack Overflow: people got much better on giving constructive, friendly feedback over the last 2 years. But there are still outliers, and I worry what would happen if such a guy has a bad day. Happens to the best: sometimes, after reviewing "bad" newbie posts for 60 minutes, you really lose it, and instead of just stopping, you start treating the next "culprit" in ways that aren't okay. Now imagine that to happen anonymously, and worse: hidden from the community.

What makes that part even worse: assume these anonymous messages go mainly to total newbies. Such folks might not understand that they can flag rude feedback. They might just feel harassed, and turn around for good. And nobody else notices.

Giving feedback out in the public is a crucial element of our culture. I think it is not worth giving up on that.

So: a mechanism that encourages to give feedback: great. It might even be nice to not expose the user writing the feedback. But: the feedback should still be visible to the community, so that other users can come in and flag rude content. Do not rely on newbie users to be able to "protect" themselves!

  • 6
    Thanks for your insight. Perhaps we should just stick with canned reasons. In such way the chances of abuse are far slimmer. The only thing that would be left is giving feedback on posts that are otherwise fine, or feedback that isn't corresponding with the issues that a post has.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 8:33
  • 1
    That is the problem with "pre-canning": it is just not good enough. Albeit I am using the "auto review comments" browser plugin ... almost every time, I edit my comment. Just because every case is different, and maybe needs a slightly different aspect to emphasize.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 9:09
  • 2
    While I agree that canned comments aren't perfect, they definitely tip the scales in this case for me. Instead of being the usual 80/20 (80 % result with 20% effort) they are more like 80 / 1 in this case when you consider moderation load. As free-from reasons are a vector of abuse, and can only be reported by those that read them (the OP in this case, as it is private feedback) or be checked up on by mods. This could require tremendous efforts from mods, so by not allowing any free-form entries we still get 80% gain, with little effort needed.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 10:05
  • 1
    @Luuklag Have you thought about what those canned reasons could look like and how they would differ from e.g. the ones given for close-voting or the ones in the low quality posts review queue?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 11:42
  • 1
    @Tinkeringbell I don't think they should differ that much from the close vote reasons. Those are tried and tested already. What would be a good adaption on those is a link to a more in depth guidance for each of the reasons, as the wording on the close notices is rather short. Which is a good thing for the close reasons, but not as suitable for direct feedback. We could also simply display an extended version of the canned comment to the OP, which has the benefit that the feedback dialog is concise but the feedback is reasonably detailed enough to be actionable.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 12:42
  • Why not NOT hide it from community? The feedback is anonymous: not attached to a name. That's all. Other community users can still flag rude comments. Alternatively, as suggested: pre canning, while a custom comment is required to be attached with a name.
    – TheMaster
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 5:55

As you have concluded, feedback with a freeform text field would not be a good idea. You then propose canned reasons, like we already see in the closure and flagging dialogs.

Here are the canned reasons we already use:

A screenshot of the alt text for the downvote button on questions


A screenshot of the alt text for the downvote button on answers

There is the feedback. I believe rather than making veterans go through a cumbersome process, newcomers could receive a once-in-a-lifetime notification upon their first received downvote. The notification could lead to a help page on downvotes.

My reasoning here is that canned reasons alone will not help newcomers make better posts. Veterans who take the time to explain in comments and meta how things work, and newcomers who take the effort to read the tour and help and/or learn the ropes by trial and error are what leads to users who ask great questions and give great answers.

  • 3
    I would agree. We don't need more system generated commentary. The existing comment that is generated often isn't even read by new users.
    – Ramhound
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 20:47

Based on the concerns I've heard so far, I have a proposal.

Let's offer a vote-reason dialog that has the following characteristics:

  • Is optional.
    One doesn't have to provide a reason if they don't want to. This can be achieved by either...

    • simply dismissing the dialog (using the Esc key or a Cancel button) and the downvote would still be applied1. Or...
    • if folks don't like dismissing the dialog every time, we can have a link/button that appears after the downvote to open the dialog.
  • Reasons are posted anonymously.
    To prevent revenge downvoting.

  • Only contains canned reasons.

    • No anonymous free-form text field, to prevent abuse.
    • Reasons can be edited by moderators to make it easy to add new reasons or change existing ones.
    • (Optional) we can have a custom reason field and make it clear that this would be posted publicly like a regular comment. This saves time so one doesn't have to close the dialog and then type a comment.

Here's a flowchart:


1 This is what I personally prefer. I do not think it will slow things down but we can go with the second option if that's what the community prefers.

  • 2
    I like this very much. Hope it is implemented.
    – TheMaster
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 7:18

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