We've never had an explicit policy around downvoting -- users are free to, if they like, cast all their votes as downvotes. Whether this behavior is desirable or not is another matter.

Now, we do discourage downvoting by making downvotes cost -1 rep to the casting voter. But, there's nothing in our policy that says continual downvoting is bad or wrong or inappropriate.

However, my thoughts on this are changing. I no longer think it is community friendly behavior to cast an extreme number of downvotes, and I am considering an explicit policy forbidding it.

Some data points (as of today):

Total SO upvotes cast:

Total downvotes cast:

users with more than 100 downvotes cast:

users with > 100 downvotes and the lowest ratio of upvotes to downvotes:

        |           |         | up:down
user id | downvotes | upvotes |  ratio
 187712 |       201 |      37 |    0.18
   2525 |       580 |     149 |    0.25
 136829 |       137 |      43 |    0.31
  55943 |       438 |     140 |    0.31
  19405 |       236 |      94 |    0.39
   5640 |      3299 |    1337 |    0.40
 180659 |       126 |      66 |    0.52
  78613 |       348 |     198 |    0.56
  39892 |       181 |     109 |    0.60
    432 |       310 |     197 |    0.63
 238704 |       198 |     132 |    0.66
  12643 |       170 |     116 |    0.68
  18256 |       219 |     152 |    0.69
 122428 |       167 |     118 |    0.70
 118854 |       120 |      86 |    0.71
 105662 |       273 |     201 |    0.73
 187690 |       135 |     101 |    0.74
   1782 |       573 |     430 |    0.75

(this is a complete list, there are no more below this threshold.)

Based on this data I am leaning towards enforcing a "no more downvotes may be cast" if

  1. You have at least (n) votes cast total
  2. Your upvote to downvote ratio is lower than ~ 0.5
  • 23
    I should also add that I think this was downvoted for hilarity and not because the community thinks it is a bad idea. I am all for hilarity but not when it prevents discussion of a semi-important policy change. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 0:54
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    hmm... I think the downvotes were legitimate disagreement – juan Mar 18 '10 at 1:01
  • 19
    You are exposed, 1782. You do cast upvotes. Shame on you. – Pekka Mar 18 '10 at 1:10
  • 55
    I may be wrong and I'm not sure how to say it without appearing rude, and I apologize if I am, but I'm getting this gut feeling that no matter what we say this will be implemented – Thomas Bonini Mar 18 '10 at 2:48
  • 34
    "I cleared all votes on this post" ... raised eyebrows ... – Pollyanna Mar 18 '10 at 4:00
  • 15
    I always suspected that user -1 was a trouble-maker... – Marc Gravell Mar 18 '10 at 6:10
  • 37
    @Jeff: There's nothing hilarious about my downvote! Pure genuine disagreement. – fretje Mar 18 '10 at 8:30
  • 59
    @Jeff: Don't worry. I downvoted the suggestion because it's stupid, not because it's funny to downvote someone complaining about downvotes. Especially when the guy who's complaining was the guy who thought them up in the first place. So, I guess what I'm saying is I'd downvote it again if I could, but my first downvote is because of how stupid the idea is. I look at those stats and see that we only have 596 honest users on SO and that, to me, is much more of a problem than your hypersensitivity to criticism. – Welbog Mar 18 '10 at 10:40
  • 15
    The community at work! -5 despite a vote clearing and an artificial addition of +10. This question is going to be fun. – Pekka Mar 18 '10 at 11:38
  • 10
    @Polly: Why would they? They probably have no idea that Jeff thinks that what they're doing is wrong. I certainly don't think what they're doing is wrong, and I definitely don't think that they themselves think what they're doing is wrong. Do you think that everyone should check meta before doing anything just in case Jeff has recently outlawed their behaviour? – Welbog Mar 18 '10 at 14:15
  • 10
    As a few of the answers below point out, how many of the downvotes are for CW or deleted questions? It would seem silly to count those at all. Since CW questions are generally quite subjective, a downvote is simply an expression of disagreement with an opinion, which shouldn't be viewed as "nasty" or out of line. – gnostradamus Mar 18 '10 at 15:40
  • 35
    @Lance: Personally, I'm weary of this attitude that down-votes somehow epitomize negativity. You wanna see real negativity, visit TDWTF - endless bitching about bad/lazy coders. When someone posts a bad answer on SO, you can down-vote it without exposing the sort of bitter frustration that inevitably arises from seeing naive or harmful programming practices - that's a good thing. If anything, the numbers presented here are evidence of a pervasive willingness to wear rose-tinted glasses... Note that none of the users listed eschew up-voting completely, but some users never down-vote. – Shog9 Mar 18 '10 at 15:56
  • 9
    @Pollyanna A couple of hours ago I watched as the vote count ticked upward 5 times in about 15 seconds. I suppose 5 people may have logged on and upvoted it in that period, but there again... The problem is if you mess with the vote count once, no-one can ever trust it again. – nb69307 Mar 18 '10 at 16:32
  • 8
    @Patrick If Fox News were around, they would say he's "ramming it down our throats" – Jared Harley Mar 18 '10 at 23:10
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    Just put a status-completed sticker on it and be done with it. Why ask us if you didn't really care? The question has 44 downvotes and almost all the answers are completely opposed to your proposal, yet you're still going ahead with it. Bravo! When you have any new proposals, mark them as completed just so we know where to start from. – alex Mar 19 '10 at 9:33

22 Answers 22


If I'm reading your output correctly, only a small minority of users would even be affected by this. If you pick n = 100, and the ratio you suggest, how many is that exactly of our 596?

And is this really bothering you that much that you're going to pipeline this past all of the other status-planned changes we've been waiting on, just to get these people to fall into line with what you have literally just decided is your point of view?

Your data can be interpreted another way: People are severely attached to their reputation scores. Take me, for example. Do you really think I've only ever seen 33 questions or answers worthy of a downvote on all of SO in my time there? Of course not. I just don't see the point in wasting reputation points. I don't think people are withholding downvotes out of a warm-and-fuzzy sense of community. They just want a high score. Therefore, the inverse corrolary doesn't hold: People are not downvoting because they are anti-community sociopaths. They are doing us all a favor by burning rep for the sake of accurately representing content.

If you want to change the ratios as you've planned to do for 9 months, great, the community has pretty clearly been in favor of that. But automatically blocking people from making editorial decisions based on automated user profiling just seems to make no sense.

All you've demonstrated is that these people are a minority, the reasoning apparently being since they are a tiny minority, they must be doing something wrong. But you have not demonstrated by any means that they are performing a disservice to, or harming, the community in any way. Since that's your ostensible rationale for this change, I'd like to see the evidence of that.


I'm definitely against this.

Total SO upvotes cast:

Total downvotes cast:

For every 1 downvote, there are nearly 125 upvotes cast. This indicates, at least to me, an overall very positive and supportive community!

There will always be people who think downvoting more often is appropriate. There are positive aspects about the people who aren't afraid to speak what's on their mind and vote for what they think is right, be it upvotes or downvotes. Sometimes the person who goes against the grain gives us an insight that we never would have thought about otherwise. That is a huge value to the community!

The ones who have no benefit (i.e., serial downvoting for no reason) are already mostly taken care of by the anti-abuse scripting, which, I should point out, does the same thing on upvotes as well as downvotes.

  • That may be too high. Some content really is "not helpful" or even harmful. I'm running about 14:1 up:down, and I try to never be part of a pile on. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 18 '10 at 0:33
  • 2
    @dmckee: I'm at just over 71:1 up:down, and I feel I should probably downvote more often. However, I think most of the time people should be given a 2nd chance with their posts, while other people just downvote immediately and move on. Personal choice. – Jon Seigel Mar 18 '10 at 0:37
  • 1
    @Jon: Second chances are good. I often comment and let some time elapse first (well, on topics I'm going to stick with for a while), and I comment on why I voted that way and check back latter on. Plus, I console myself with the posters choice to delete the offending content and get the rep back (if we ever get a recalc). – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 18 '10 at 0:52
  • 4
    That less than 1% of the total votes are downvotes certainly doesn't look like there would be too many downvotes cast. – sth Mar 18 '10 at 2:36
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    you're not considering, though, the ratios involved. The absolute number is low, yes, but a user with 3 downvotes to every 1 upvote is a very .. different .. sort of user than one with 3 upvotes to every 1 downvote. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 12:22
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    Stack Overflow's new motto: quell diversity. – Welbog Mar 18 '10 at 12:24
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    @Jeff: The ratios aren't the point. There will always be outliers to some extent. What I think people really object to here (myself included) is the idea that you're thinking about a form of censorship on the contents of the site. – Jon Seigel Mar 18 '10 at 12:47
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    so we're going for Godwin's Law on this thread as well? Remember, first one there loses!! – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 12:51
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    @Jeff: I agree that some of these comments are a bit panicky with regards to the "oppression" factor, but discussing potential censorship != Godwin's Law. Until someone says "Nazi" or "Hitler". ... Aw, crap. – ベレアー アダム Mar 18 '10 at 12:55
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    @Jeff: You're the one who started it by coming up with a rule that affects people only because they are different from the norm. So even assuming that Godwinning an argument automatically disproves your side (which is completely false), you lose. These six users aren't doing anything wrong, and you're not supporting your claims that they are impacting anyone else negatively. They have a different interpretation of what downvoting is from yours, and for that they are going to be restricted. That is wrong. I don't care how you try to justify it. Without evidence, it is wrong. – Welbog Mar 18 '10 at 12:56
  • 7
    Maybe those six users just only upvote rarely. That doesn't mean in itself that their downvotes are unjustified. – sth Mar 18 '10 at 13:01
  • 1
    @Jeff: how many of those downvotes are on community wiki posts? I've certainly started downvoting subjective/inappropriate CW questions a lot more since the introduction of the Electorate badge, enough to dramatically skew my up/downvote ratio. Do you consider me a problem user too? – Ether Mar 19 '10 at 0:03
  • 2
    For those joining late, there was a paraphrase of Pastor Martin Niemöller, which has since been removed. – Andrew Grimm Mar 19 '10 at 1:08

This is a kind of sticky one... On the one hand, I believe that people should be able to vote how they choose on posts. Especially (as has been pointed out) since there's a large portion of people who shy away from downvoting posts that truly deserve it, since they don't want to hurt their own rep. So having a minority who downvotes heavily is arguably a good thing, to make sure those (deserved) downvotes are still getting given (of course this presupposes that the downvoters in question are downvoting posts that legitimately deserve it, but you haven't provided data either way on that).

On the other hand, having disgruntled users (& the team swamped with emails) is obviously not a good long term scenario either...

Another random idea: Make the cost of a downvote relative to your up:down ratio like so (obviously you'd want to tweak the numbers)...

 Up:down ratio | Rep cost for a downvote
 > 200:1       |  0
 > 100:1       |  1
 > 10:1        |  2
 > 5:1         |  3
 > 2:1         |  5
 > 0:1         |  10

That way people can still vote how they want, but if you're a serial downvoter, its going to cost you. Probably more complicated than its worth (& no doubt confusing to the user), but at least there's no hard limit on the user behaviour.

It would also encourage people to make some downvotes (since they're free if you don't make many), which I think overall is a good thing for the health of the SO ecosystem (we need some reasonable number of downvotes happening to keep some semblance of control on the noise. Hopefully this suggestion would even out the downvoting across the board rather than having the bulk who barely downvote at all and a minority who downvote heavily.

  • I'd be wary about ever making it cost nothing, as a 200:1 ratio would be hard to lose, and I think the idea of having a cost to downvoting is very beneficial. But as a general idea, perhaps as part of the solution, I think it's great. – user141160 Mar 18 '10 at 5:25
  • 1
    A logarithmic formula like 1/log(ratio+1)+1 could do it. – Gumbo Mar 18 '10 at 9:02
  • 4
    I appreciate the sentiment, but far too complex as you noted. Anything that's hard to understand is kind of a nightmare to support. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 11:06
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    This has got to be one of the best answers yet, and it comes with a potential solution! Though stead of a cost of 0, maybe make it cost 1 rep per two down votes? Another idea instead of a dynamic value is that with the larger ratios you could potentially allocate only x number of down votes. So if you have a ratio of 0:1 you may only get 30 down votes a day or something (to stem the tide I guess). You already do this kind of tracking for flagging, so it hopefully wouldn't be too difficult. – Joshua Mar 18 '10 at 20:46
  • +1 for eliminating hard limits. – Ether Mar 19 '10 at 0:07
  • 1
    -1: by downvoting I feel I contribute to SO. At -1 rep it's already cost me more than 10% of my rep. Don't make it worse. – RomanSt Aug 14 '10 at 11:25

When I first saw this question title, I thought it was from a new user. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was Jeff Atwood who posted the question.

Two things:

  1. Liberty lost for one is liberty lost for all. There's no getting around that.
  2. Downvoting incurs a cost, yet it provides as much of a benefit as upvoting. It lets the passerby know what's 'good' and what's 'bad'.

We already know that there are reports of sympathy upvotes (many, many reports). We know that users that serially vote for another user have their reputation recalculated.

So why are we punishing people for their non-targeted aggregate behavior?

If you're going to target people who only downvote, please also show us the data for people who mostly or only upvote. I think they are the problem because it's not possible for them not to have seen a 'bad' post in all their time here.


You're worried there's too much down-voting.

Neil's worried there's too much up-voting.

Maybe there's just too much voting?

When SO was young, it was important that each user be able to really spread the love so to speak; now, there are lots and lots of users who can and do vote. Maybe it's time to reduce the daily allotment of votes, up and down...

  • You're worried there is too many daily votes. Some people worried there is too less daily votes and posting feature requests to raise. May be Jeff's idea is to get less claim emails about those after all? – YOU Mar 18 '10 at 2:57
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    @S.Mark: if Jeff's hoping to reduce the number of emails as the sites continue to grow in popularity, I'm afraid he's in for some serious disappointment... – Shog9 Mar 18 '10 at 3:00
  • Ironic how following your example (what you said in the comment of the top answer) I downvoted your post =) – Thomas Bonini Mar 18 '10 at 3:02
  • 2
    @Kop: that's not ironic, that's admirable! FOLLOW MY LEAD, ELEVATE THE GOOD ANSWER! – Shog9 Mar 18 '10 at 3:07
  • Too much voting on SO.... but SU it seems like nobody posts. Or is it just me? – Locutus Mar 18 '10 at 3:45
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    +1. Let's do it like here, in Russia: ban all voting, and the correct answer is selected by a site moderator. – P Shved Mar 18 '10 at 6:45
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    @Pavel: Is it no longer required to say "In Soviet Russia"? – Andrew Grimm Mar 18 '10 at 8:08
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    @Andrew Grimm: it's been 20 years since there was a Soviet Russia. even jokes catch up with reality once in a while... – quack quixote Mar 18 '10 at 9:48
  • @Pavel +1000 for the loudest laugh today yet :) – Pekka Mar 18 '10 at 10:53
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    @Andrew: In Soviet Russia, the correct answer selects you! – fretje Mar 18 '10 at 11:24
  • 2
    @~quack I don't think it's really a joke. – Pekka Mar 18 '10 at 11:41
  • 1
    @~quack: FWIW, the "In Soviet Russia" jokes began as just plain "In Russia". It was only after the Berlin wall fell that "Soviet" had to be added. I wondered if removing "Soviet" meant that Russia had gone back to being an autocracy. – Andrew Grimm Mar 19 '10 at 13:21
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    In Soviet Russia, the party-approved answer is the correct answer. You have a complete freedom of either upvoting it in the morning OR in the evening. – DVK Mar 22 '10 at 0:44
  • 1
    You could do it like in the US and the UK; allow voting, then throw away the votes and let the moderators and developers do whatever they want. Oh, wait.. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 17 '11 at 13:17

I'm not a big fan of upvoting everything in sight, either, yet I don't see that being considered a problem. It seems absurd to stop people from casting their votes as they see fit, as long as they're not gaming the system, doing it out of malice or with bad intentions.

There's already a rep hit for downvoting. This rep hit should be increased to -2/-5 as proposed just to make it harder, but the total number of downvotes you're allowed to have should not change. Some questions and answers are bad, there's no denying it, no matter how much editing you do. Why not be allowed to downvote it? It's a democratic process. They'll receive pity upvotes anyway (which is probably one of the worst thing to do anyway; don't encourage people to be lazy, to not put any effort and to misinform).

The only reason you've given is to keep the Trilogy community friendly. Ok, I agree, downvoting a lot seems unfriendly, but there needs to be some sort of backlash for undesired behavior. If my question gets closed within minutes or gets edited too much, I might feel equally upset, especially as a new user. Almost anything can be perceived as negative, even good things as closing as duplicate.

Maybe we're too scared to lose our precious rep. That could be a reason why there are so few people with a lot of downvotes, not because everyone is trying to be friendly.

Edit: reading Jeff's comments from this post I see that his intention is to reduce the complaints about downvotes. And I have the perfect solution! No more downvotes! There's too many of them; 0.8% of all votes cast, simply enormous!1!!

Of course people complain about downvotes, they're a form of punishment and of disagreement. No one likes to be proved wrong or to be punished for being sloppy/ignorant/just plain wrong! The -1 we receive when we downvote is also a sort of punishment and a deterrent, yet we don't complain about it.

We've been rather vocal about the 30s limit on comments, limit on name changes, lack of explanations regarding haikus, rep losses due to rep recalcs and a lot of other stuff, yet I don't see any of that changing. You want to make people feel better, yet you're once again annoying a very active part of the community. Why?

Have you looked into each email and examined it carefully? Have those people really been wronged? Were they only downvoted by the people you pointed out in your question or were they downvoted by multiple members of the community? You just want to find scapegoats for the angry members of the community that have been downvoted yet maybe those downvotes were warranted.

  • 6
    And we don't see any mods clamouring to save our ire from all the pity upvotes. Always trying to protect the eggshells of their downvotes. – random Mar 18 '10 at 7:27
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    I hate pity upvotes. Only upvote if it honestly is a good question and you truly believe it is worthy. It should not because you feel bad or think the question is being voted unfairly. Unfortunately, it is one of those determining "intentions" behind an action on the site, which is close to impossible to prove unless explicitly stated. Some people sure make it obvious sometimes though. – Troggy Mar 18 '10 at 9:45
  • @random: If you can you demonstrate that pity-upvotes are causing serious problems, we will deal with it. – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 15:30
  • 3
    @Jonathan, how could it be dealt with? – Rich Seller Mar 18 '10 at 15:45
  • @Rich Hang'em out to dry! @Jonathan It's a problem because it encourages users to post anything, no matter how poor it is, because they'll still get rep: 4 downvotes, 1 upvote is still +2 rep. – alex Mar 18 '10 at 15:55
  • 2
    @Jon: You already forgot about users like Blankman and Shore and the discussions about that here on meta. I don't think that issue is totally sorted out - yet. – fretje Mar 18 '10 at 16:14
  • @RichSeller: I'd first need to see the scope of the "problem." If you were to ask me how I would handle a nest of rats, I'd ask how big the nest was. There's a lot of play between a bb-gun and dynamite :) – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 16:34
  • @alex: What's the poorest question you've seen that received more than a couple upvotes? (I say "a couple" to consider potential puppetry/gaming). – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 16:35
  • @Jonathan I don't think you get it. Why upvote something that is wrong? If 5-6 people downvoted it, why upvote? What does that user gain? He'll see that his rep hasn't really taken a beating and move on, not learning anything other than the fact that he will always gain rep, whatever he writes. Help people grow! Challenge them to be better by criticizing when it's needed. – alex Mar 18 '10 at 16:45
  • 2
    I've certainly started downvoting more often as my reputation has become higher, because I feel I have enough rep now that I can afford to lose a bit to express a strong opinion about a bad post. – Ether Mar 19 '10 at 0:02
  • 1
    I wish I could up-vote once more for the edit, exactly my thoughts! – fretje Mar 19 '10 at 7:48
  • 2
    @Jonathan Sampson - here's just ONE serious problem caused by pity upvotes. Some people (myself included) started to refuse to waste our rep on down-voting alltogether, since we know it'll at best be useless, and at worst actually prompt some idiot to up-vote the post from -1 to 0 whereas without my downvote, the idiot post would have stayed at 0 with no +8 rep gain to the poster – DVK Mar 22 '10 at 0:51
  • @DVK Apparently pity upvotes are considered ok, while downvotes are hurting the community. Jeff wrote on the blog: "Well, we are now going on record with a public policy — it is not community friendly behavior to cast an extreme number of downvotes". I'm sure the definition of extreme will vary from a case to case basis, sadly – alex Mar 22 '10 at 1:27
  • I don't think Jeff meant to address anything that is within my area of concern... he was talking about people with many 100s of downvotes and no upvotes, IMHO – DVK Mar 22 '10 at 1:43

I no longer think it is community friendly behavior to cast an extreme number of downvotes, and I am considering an explicit policy forbidding it.

Are you trying to make people act friendly by changing policy? On the face of it, that doesn't sound like a good idea at all.

The world is not a carebear world, and even though I want the SO environment to be more welcoming than the real world, I don't see legislating downvotes changing that. The main sources of unfriendliness are, IMHO, comments, answers, and other actions, rather than downvotes.

I've noticed more downvoting on my part recently. I went from somewhere around 1,700:600 (2.83:1) to my present 1,893:1,110 (1.71:1) for about 200:500 (0.40:1) in my most recent votes. According to those numbers, approx. my last month's worth of voting doesn't meet the suggested 'friendliness requirement'. Yet, I don't feel like I'm doing anything wrong. Am I blind and hateful?

It's not a conscious decision, but I have run into the daily vote limit often[1]. Perhaps I have subconsciously realized I only have 30 votes per day and that upvoting from 5 to 6 isn't nearly as useful as legitimately downvoting from 2 to 1 or 0 to -1? It's not that I don't want to upvote; I'm trying to make the most positive impact possible (legitimately pointing out errors and flaws should be a positive improvement, right?[2]) and have limited votes to do it with.

[1] Speaking of which, I bookmark posts when that happens, is my rapid-fire voting the next day on all those saved bookmarks triggering any "suspicious voting"?
[2] I am happy to reverse the vote when they respond to my comment and point out where I'm wrong, or fix the flaw, etc. Or, as pointed out elsewhere here, if they just delete then they can get the rep back in a recalc, but the downvote stays on my record.

To temper that 200:500 ratio, I realized that a large chunk of those downvotes (about 100? strongly doubt it's more) are from community wiki questions, where I downvoted to express opinion, indicate duplicates (e.g. on the questions with 75+ answers), and so forth. I have more "large" CW questions bookmarked, and could easily add 30 downvotes/day for several days by just going through most of them (again, upvoting good answers on those questions is largely redundant at this point, and I'd rather point out duplicates and flaws).

In reference to dmckee's comment regarding downvotes being appropriate: In a rep recalc (completed recently, and the first my account has ever had, AFAIK), I gained ~100 rep but didn't see a decrease in my downvote count. However, I also know I have one deleted answer with +6 votes, plus misc. others, so could it have been up to ~200 downvotes on now deleted non-CW questions/answers? I have extremely few, if any, downvoted and deleted answers (e.g. no peer pressure badge).

Taking the higher estimate of 200 downvotes (but please someone mention if I've misinterpreted), that means roughly 18% of my downvotes have been explicitly endorsed by either the original poster or the high-rep users (i.e. owner-deleted answer or closed+deleted question+answers), which seems like a decent percentage.

  • 1
    on SO you currently have 1,899 upvotes and 1,122 downvotes so you'd need to cast another 2,676 downvotes (without a single upvote) before this became an issue for you.. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 11:09
  • I'm fine with bringing it up in a year (when I actually approach any ratio limit that might exist), but I also think my recent trend is appropriate voting, likely to continue, and not unreasonable that others might follow the same or similar trend while still voting "appropriately". I think my votes are weighted by early days of voting often without participating, when the -2 rep seemed significant. – Gnome Mar 18 '10 at 11:30
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    +1: I'm glad I finally found someone mentioning the issue of CW votes. I think many of my downvotes are for CW questions/answers that I simply disagreed with or found un-useful. – gnostradamus Mar 18 '10 at 15:34
  • 1
    Yup, I downvote a lot of poor CW questions too, enough that it has really changed my up/downvote ratio in the last few months. A lot of this is due to the introduction of the Electorate badge. – Ether Mar 19 '10 at 0:05
  • Update: Almost 3 months later, now at 2,340 upvotes vs 2,236 downvotes on SO. The 1up:2down ratio has stayed about the same for my behavior in that 3 month time-frame. – Gnome Jun 3 '10 at 9:51
  • Update: 7 months later, now at 3,407 upvotes vs 4,019 downvotes on SO. That's 1514 up to 2909 down since this post; or still about 1up:2down. I also regained about 500 rep in a recent recalc, re the above "explicitly endorsed by either the original poster or the high-rep users". – Gnome Nov 13 '10 at 0:55
  • @Jeff: Has my voting pattern in the past 9 months (2 before this post + 7 after) really been borderline on anti-community behavior? "I don't feel like I'm doing anything wrong. Am I blind and hateful?" – Gnome Nov 13 '10 at 0:58
  • it's the ratio that is of interest and I don't think a 1:1 ratio is a problem. when you get to 0.5:1 let me know. – Jeff Atwood Nov 13 '10 at 1:21
  • @Jeff: That's what I'm trying to say: over the past 7 months the ratio has been 0.52:1 (1514:2909). Granted, it will take another year at this rate, but if it's anti-community to vote this way, then I've been doing that for quite a while — yet it doesn't feel like I've been anti-community. – Gnome Nov 13 '10 at 1:32

I don't like the fact that I have to pay to disagree with someone, but I get it. If downvoting didn't cost something, the community could become very divisive (and retaliatory). On the theory that one's life is much more pleasant when a person is positive themselves, I try to make sure that I reserve downvotes for things that are actively harmful - wrong/bad answers and abusive questions - and try to commend things much more than I knock things -- stems from advice that you need to give your kid 10 "attaboys" for each "wtf" just to keep things in balance.

BUT as long as people are following the rules, I respect their right to disagree with my philosophy. I'd need to be convinced that the behavior has materially damaged the site before I'd support adding new rules to limit the behavior.

Personally, if you truly think this makes a person a bad community member, I'd be more inclined to expose it -- and other behaviors, like excessive question asking -- as part of an expanded "reputation" display. I have no idea what nomenclature you'd use, but I'm thinking along the lines of "5427 knowledge 1268 community 0.85 participation" -- where the first represents reputation, but only from answers, not questions, the second represents contributing to others via votes, comments, etc, and the third the ratio of getting (asking) to giving (answering). If you could encapsulate this into a single number for reputation with the ability to expand it a la the up/down votes on a question/answer to see the component parts, that would be ideal.


Have you looked at the heavy downvoters and seen whether the questions/answers they downvote deserve it or not?

Further thoughts: Do the heavy downvoters tend to downvote the newbies? Maybe we should add spawning protection for new users against heavy downvoters.

  • Well, it would be a big job... – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 18 '10 at 1:14
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    Don't save the newbies. There are quite a few soft-heads who upvote newbies just because they post, not because their post is actually worth the upvote. e.g. "Welcome to SO, upvote for you! Despite your question making no sense" – random Mar 18 '10 at 1:41
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    @random there is a whole other side to this, which is inappropriate upvotes or even NO voting at all, ala our top Super User .. that's also not desirable behavior, particularly from a top user. But it's not something you can really enforce, as voting is already incentivized in many ways. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 2:02
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    What's the purpose of discouraging downvotes? Apparently it's not to prevent newbies getting the Statler and Waldorf treatment and not coming back. Is it to protect the feelings of people who are established users who may hold a grudge? – Andrew Grimm Mar 18 '10 at 2:37
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    You can't enforce it, but you can allow the community to correct for it. Not that they're doing much of that, seeing as how <1% of votes are down... – Shog9 Mar 18 '10 at 2:37
  • @random as one of those soft-heads Im going to stand behind Jeff and say, "neeneer neeneer neeneer" – Locutus Mar 18 '10 at 6:18
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    The idea that new users should somehow be immune to being downvoted when they do bad things is disturbing. – Welbog Mar 18 '10 at 10:31
  • @NlfE Why does it disturb you? – Andrew Grimm Mar 21 '10 at 8:38
  • @NlfE - because it degrades the site's content, causes moral damage to other users, and biases the site towards bad users. – DVK Mar 22 '10 at 1:51
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    @DVK: You talkin' to me? Also, did you really mean "moral damage", or did you mean "damages the morale"? If you meant the former, I can't reason with you. – Andrew Grimm Mar 22 '10 at 22:49
  • @Andrew Grimm - Yeah, got a bit confised with attributions :) And yes, you're right, I meant "damages the morale" - good catch. – DVK Mar 23 '10 at 1:59

I have a hypothesis. Implementing this policy won't change the flow of email.

I support this hypothesis as follows:

Most Stack Overflow users pass through three instars: larva, pupa, and moth.

Larval users have such low rep that a downvote feels like a real hit. This feeling is amplified by the initial shock of that first bit of negative feedback.

Pupae have enough rep that the impact of a downvote is no longer a significant hit to their overall rep. Further, in the process of gaining that rep, they've met enough negative comments and downvotes to have some thickness of skin. (Unless, of course, they've gotten their rep entirely by throwing softball questions.) However, they are still coveteous of their rep, and so downvote sparingly, if at all.

Moths have enough rep to spend it on downvotes, and are really not perturbed by them.

Thus, my claim: even polite, low-ratio downvoting will continue to generate plenty of complaining email. Because it is human nature to complain about the perceived unfairness of negative feedback. (And I bet that your email comes from a bimodal distribution: larvae and the constitutionally hypersensitive.)

On Meta, all the time, we write 'votes are on content, not people.' But the rep system guarantees that people will feel the sting. If you want happier users, then you need some way of getting bad content to sink without ruffling the feathers of its creators. This strikes me as a quest for a square circle.

If you are going to limit downvotes, I wish that you'd put a symmetrical limit on upvotes. Require more rep for them, or limit them. I mostly downvote to counteract the effects of what I see as ridiculous upvotes. I'm ready to leave something mediocre at '0', but I am provoked into spending rep when I see positive numbers on content of negative value.

Edit: I have some concrete suggestions:

  1. An 'interstitial' page that comes up for the first N postings, for small N. It would say:

1.1. Content you post is licensed, forever, to the site.

1.2. People get to vote on your content. Sooner or later, you will get downvoted. Have faith; if you contribute to the site over the long term your upvotes will be many more than your downvotes. Please do not send unhappy email to the management just because you get a downvote.

  1. Voting on question requires M points of rep, where M is at least 500.

What I don't like is that I always saw voting as an independent thing, only relevant to the context of the post in question.

With this, you are tying voting with a user behaviour (ie: you already downvoted too much, go upvote a little more).

Wouldn't this force the user to upvote stuff he wouldn't have upvoted hadn't this restriction existed?
Is downvoting really such a big problem?

  • 3
    Actually badges already changed behavior, like the electorate badge causing more voting for questions. – Lance Roberts Mar 18 '10 at 1:46
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    Well, I think that's bad also @lance – juan Mar 18 '10 at 1:48
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    "is this a big problem" considering the ratio we're talking about would affect 6 users out of a userbase of about 100k, I'd say no. But the ill will generated by this behavior has a disproportionately large effect, to the point that it starts driving out friendliness and replacing it with bitterness, discontent, and ultimately vindictiveness. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 1:58
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    @Jeff, so I got it right in the first revision of my deleted answer. Well then, I don't think it'll have a great impact, I'm neutral towards it then. – juan Mar 18 '10 at 2:06
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    @Jeff: are you doing this just to cut on the number of emails that team@stackoverflow.com gets? – perbert Mar 18 '10 at 13:00

There are 18 users who exhibit this poor behavior out of how many now? And how significant has the 'damage' been?

Tempted to close this as "too localized"...


But hey, I'm at the opposite extreme. If you're going to force people to play pollyanna, you probably ought to make sure people like me have to play punisher occasionally.

I can't say I'm a big fan of halting people at the poll box and inspecting their vote before allowing them to cast it, but you've got all the data. Balancing a game is hard, and if this behavior is proving damaging then something does have to be done about it.

  • 3
    ...but at the moment the only damage you note is a constant stream of complaint email. Are there any other undesirable effects on the site? If there's no real effect on SO other than email complaints, wouldn't the best solution simply be to inflate their upvote count artifically so that people stop complaining (not unlike what you've done with the vote on this question)? Is there a good reason to believe that forcing a ratio won't simply result in the same amount of complaints, but this time for lessor infractions? At the end of the day, the emailers will find something to complain about. – Pollyanna Mar 18 '10 at 4:21
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    there are, but we'd have to get into specifics about specific userS (note plural, even in this exceedingly small sample set) which I would rather not do. It's the behavior we want to change, and the data helps us do that. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 6:27
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    @Jeff You use the word "userS", but you do that even when there's only one of them! meta.stackexchange.com/questions/20683/viewed-1-times/… – Andrew Grimm Mar 18 '10 at 8:11
  • It's six users and 1291 downvotes (almost half belonging to user 5640) which affected here. That's less downvotes than a number of individual users (including me) have cast. – Tom Hawtin - tackline Mar 18 '10 at 17:48
  • @tom I think you got the numbers backwards – Jeff Atwood Mar 19 '10 at 7:13

I no longer think it is community friendly behavior to cast an extreme number of downvotes

Jeff - while it is obviously your call, you being the Boss and all, this pronouncement seems to be running somewhat counter to your usual motto of "let's stop guessing and support with data".

As such, i'd like to respectfully request that you provide the data and the reasoning behind that specific statement (as opposed to the data you provided that merely shows that there are a couple of large-scale downvoters, without substantiating why those people's behavior is, indeed, bad).

Just to be clear - I'm not necessarily disagreeng with that exact statement, provided you pick some reasonable definition of "extreme".

But I'm extremely worried that it will lead to an un-intended consequence of having people use this statement to support the sentiments of "ALL downvoting is not a community friendly behavior" and the corollary "Let's upvote crap even more than we do now"


Okay, new answer. Let's assume for the sake of discussion that this problem is real and must be addressed. Is this policy an effective way to do that?

In my opinion, the only effect of this policy would be cultural. That is, Jeff and moderators could then truthfully say, "Excessive downvoting is viewed as anti-community and is discouraged." That in itself can be a powerful message that could have positive benefits.

Beyond that, I see little benefit. The six people who would be affected have cast a total of 1800 votes, or about half a percent of all downvotes, or 0.003% of all votes. So in all likelihood, people will continue to receive downvotes which are upsetting to them.

In addition, the people affected can easily get around this to continue to cast downvotes as they see fit, simply by also casting upvotes. It doesn't seem to me that a person who is upset by downvotes will be less upset by the fact that the downvoter has cast more upvotes than is currently the case. Rather, I think that the recipient of the downvotes first becomes upset, and then goes to look for reasons why the downvote they received was unfair. While this will reduce the incidence of one of those reasons (for six users), I think that the overall effect from the downvote recipient's perspective will be negligible.

In summary, if we are simply looking for something we can say to the community when they are upset by excessive downvoting, this will be suitable. If we are looking for a way to reduce excessive downvoting and keep people from getting upset in the first place, I don't think this will do very much.

  • "Excessive downvoting is viewed as anti-community and is discouraged." Yes, exactly -- and it isn't just us giving this community principle lip service, it has some teeth, though very, VERY few users will ever run into it. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 13:11
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    This type of thinking is precisely why microwavable food has labels reading, "Caution: Contents may be hot after heating". It's a cop-out that doesn't solve anything. Having something to point at when users complain about "unfair" downvotes doesn't solve any problems and it makes the userbase look stupid the way it makes consumers look stupid for ostensibly needing an obvious warning label. Let the whiners whine. They probably deserved the downvotes they're getting anyway. – Welbog Mar 18 '10 at 13:13
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    @Jeff: How do you know these six users' downvotes are excessive? If those users can justify every one of their downvotes, who are you to say what they're doing is wrong? – Welbog Mar 18 '10 at 13:15
  • @Jeff: It has exactly six teeth. :-) But seriously speaking, I think I see where you were going, which is that you want to make this a real, concrete change, without affecting too many people. It's hard trying to please everyone. From that perspective, this makes sense. I think though, you would be well-served to point out to the six people affected that you aren't trying to punish them or characterizing them as bad human beings. There simply is a new policy, and they have to go cast some upvotes. They might not like it, but again, you can't please everyone. – ベレアー アダム Mar 18 '10 at 13:17
  • @Jeff: I suppose that you've been looking on the database and checking the legitimacy of those downvotes before posting this question, right? – perbert Mar 18 '10 at 13:17
  • @ベレアー アダム With what you say, it would be useful to know how many different people is sending emails. If it is less than .01% of all the userbase, then why are we hearing their wining? – perbert Mar 18 '10 at 13:19
  • @voyager: That goes back to the original discussion about evidence, and I don't particularly want to go there. :-) I think the difficulty in the first place is that the way the OP went made it seem as though this was a "list of shame," when in reality it should have been presented as a "List of people affected by the new policy, who will now have to go cast more upvotes. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause." – ベレアー アダム Mar 18 '10 at 13:22

Jeff said:

"Legislation to fight the behaviour of six people is stupid" This is the nature of most laws: the actions of an extreme few require new laws to be instated. This social pattern has repeated itself over and over, even in the relatively brief history of Stack Overflow.

Yes, that's a common social pattern. But is it right? Well let's take a pause and go read this article over here...

The behaviour of one man has skewed the concept of everyday life for everyone else.

It’s [the] oddball 5% that is targeted by the tidal wave of legislation... It just changes the pattern of everyday life for everyone else. This is what drives me mad...

Happily, however, I have a solution to the problem, a way that normal human behaviour can be preserved. It’s simple. We must start to accept that 5% of the population at any given time is bonkers. There are no steps to be taken to stamp this out and no lessons to be learnt.

I can't agree strongly enough with Adam's post:

And is this really bothering you that much that you're going to pipeline this past all of the other status-planned changes we've been waiting on...

Please just implement the weight change of votes and we'll see behaviour changed, in a more even-handed manner. Heck, implement it first on meta as a beta test. But this is a more balanced approach than implementing a cap. If you have to put in a cap, that's a sign that something else is wrong.

Lastly, the tone of discourse on this thread has been really disappointing from one person in particular. I expected a bit more maturity, especially given the position he's in. I will continue to flag posts as offensive as I see them. Perhaps I should have been mailing complaints instead if I wished them to result in immediate action? I guess the squeaky wheel really does get the grease.

  • I think the weight change will hurt the dynamic on SO; downvotes will go from being mostly cosmetic at -2/-1 to "bring the pain" at -5/-2 (or -3). Honestly, I would rather hurt 6 people than all of our users. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 23:57
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    @Jeff: I don't know how much it will affect everyone. What I do know that +10 for an upvote and only -2 for a downvote is absolutely not right; it rewards controversial posts. Downvotes really should penalize -10 when counteracting an upvote; perhaps they can still only do -2 damage (or -5) when the post's net score is less than 0, I don't know. Any of these would be worth trying out to see what happens. – Ether Mar 19 '10 at 0:35

Jeff, the overall figures you've come up with tally with what I've noticed myself on SF. In general, active users tend to cast (very) roughly a 1:10 ration of votes. I really can't see the need for a policy change to handle the very minute number of extreme radicals you've uncovered. Just leave it be and accept that we're all different.


This is probably good to put in place if you're still planning on raising the hit taken from a downvote.

  • 7
    I hope he's still planning on doing that – juan Mar 18 '10 at 0:12
  • +1 I completely agree. – Locutus Mar 18 '10 at 0:52
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    Unless the VCs veto it. – random Mar 18 '10 at 1:27
  • 3
    Damn VCs controlling everything – juan Mar 18 '10 at 1:45
  • After raising the hit taken from a downvote, not before. – Ether Mar 19 '10 at 0:12
  • You mean VCs will downvote it? :) – DVK Mar 22 '10 at 2:01

Currently I have cast of 288 downvotes, and I feel that I should not be limited to openly expressing that I believe a question or answer is bad/wrong/not useful.

Knowing this:

Ratio Cap

An upvote/downvote ratio would be a nice way of dealing with this. It allows the people that legitimately want to downvote people to continue to do so, but makes sure that they are also actively upvoting people as well.

The problem would be the frequency of ratio calculation. If the calculation is cached, there are a large number of ways it could be abused.

Moving Cap

Another possible solution might be a moving cap. Every week or so, take a percentage of the current posts (questions/answers), and that would be the cap.

All in all, I would favor against imposing any sort of limit besides the increase in the amount of rep both the voter and the receiver are deducted.

  • 1
    He's saying 'vote (n) times' meaning that it won't affect anybody until after they have a certain number of votes in the system. After that they have to have a good ratio to downvote. – Lance Roberts Mar 18 '10 at 0:09
  • @Lance My reasoning still stands valid. But, I will update it to reflect that. – Tyler Carter Mar 18 '10 at 0:11
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    I have 302, but with 1982 upvotes that's a ratio of 6.56. You have a ratio of 2.37, so you're in no danger. It's only for extreme cases. – Lance Roberts Mar 18 '10 at 0:15

I'm going to post this as an answer just because the comment thread on the appropriate answer is long enough.

Have you run your query on Meta?

  • I don't think this would apply to Meta, since meta is so discussion-heavy. – Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '10 at 14:06
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    How many of those +25 upvotes on this question are valid? @jeff – random Mar 18 '10 at 14:52

What I suggest doing is provide a warning to these particularly heavy handed users.

Only then, if the situation get's worse should someone intervene.


I wasn't sure until I read Jeff's comment:

"is this a big problem" considering the ratio we're talking about would affect 6 users out of a userbase of about 100k, I'd say no. But the ill will generated by this behavior has a disproportionately large effect, to the point that it starts driving out friendliness and replacing it with bitterness, discontent, and ultimately vindictiveness.

Nastiness tends to spread. Even if you don't mean to be nasty, you had a bad day/week, and just spewed your venom for a little bit and are back to normal, the venom's in circulation. Coupled with the fact that it's specifically designed/intended to affect edge cases, I think it makes sense.

People, and people who pride themselves on their knowledge in particular, can either be prone to or become trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of disdain and derision. It's not a problem yet, perhaps, because SO goes out of its way to encourage positive interaction. Don't ask me about numbers, I don't have them. But go look at the old tech forums and bulletin boards. Or just remember the atmosphere. Do you think people intended to set up a place where every thread could turn into a flame war or snipefest? I don't think, generally, that's the case, but I do think it became a widely known issue for a reason.

  • (And I know people aren't unaware of this general dynamic. I do think the contagious aspect of it is something to ponder, though, and when you have folks that are, knowingly or not, creating by their actions a sinkhole of negativity, it should be addressed.) – user141160 Mar 18 '10 at 5:56
  • Nastiness does spread, but this proposed change only affects 6 people and does nothing for the occasional "bad day/week, and just spewed your venom for a little bit and are back to normal" of the normal user. – Gnome Mar 18 '10 at 6:50
  • @Roger, that, to me, is a selling point and not a defect. I don't want the normal user smacked on the hand every time they go on a bender. What I'm trying to say there is that it happens even to people who don't have a habit of it, and that that venom stays in circulation. Now imagine that's your modus operandi. You don't get numbers like that unless it's habitual. You're habitually poisoning the place. What is your effect on the community? (And on yourself?) – user141160 Mar 18 '10 at 7:31
  • I also don't think it's a bad thing to say, Look, you're being awfully downvote-centered right now. Wait for a bit, only upvote good stuff, and resume intelligent downvoting later. (It's not like downvoting itself is bad; certainly needed, in fact. It's the imbalance that's problematic.) – user141160 Mar 18 '10 at 7:42
  • I don't think it's clear they are poisoning the place (see dmckee's comment meta.stackexchange.com/questions/42601/… and other answers), but even if you assume 'poison' from 6 users is a problem worth preventing, it's a drop in the ocean compared to the bad-day-venom you pointed out from the other 100k users. Also, in my answer I point out how my last ~700 votes don't meet the proposed threshold (but maybe would if I had more votes per day), and I certainly think I've been voting appropriately. – Gnome Mar 18 '10 at 7:59
  • One of the surprises about SOFU is that the combination of anonymous voting, a strong norm in favor of civility, the daily vote limit, and the anomaly detector has kept that tendency towards ever increasing vitriol firmly in check. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 18 '10 at 16:51

I'm ambivalent. I generally don't like to see absolute constraints, but we do need to maintain a welcoming enough community that new users do not get driven out.

What do we have by way of evidence (or even anecdote) that these sourpuss users are causing trouble?

That said, if you are going to go ahead with it, the limits you suggest are conservative, and will affect very few users.

I will suggest:

  • Set the controlling ratio at 1:2 up:down
  • Set n at 150 (half of the Civic Duty threshold) or more
  • Allow a waiting period between announcement and application

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