Downvoting costs you, not much, but it does cost you. There are discussions to increase the cost of a downvote on the issuer, I'm wondering if the same should be done for upvotes as well. I probably just set a lot of you on tilt, but give me a second to hash out my reasoning.

I was recently discussing "pity upvotes," where users apparently grant upvotes for no apparent reason (somebody want to help me on the technical definition?). After all, upvotes are free, and don't cost you anything. Allegedly, there's a problem with pity upvotes where users allegedly feel they can post anything and get some rep from it. If this were the case, how would you suggest addressing it?

I'm curious as to whether it should cost me to upvote a question/answer. Not much, but something. That way I'm giving away of piece of me in order to elevate a worthy-post higher in the stack, both internally to a question, or externally on the front page.

I'm not convinced there is a pity upvote problem, but if there was, how many of these issuers would still cast pity votes if it cost them -1 reputation? The recipient still gains +10. I don't think your average user would have any problem with this, considering they themselves need only 1 upvote to pay the price to upvote 10 other people.

Alright, I'm done speaking.

  • Already been thought of - I've suggested this a couple of times. The economics of the site make it highly unlikely that such a thing will ever happen. – nb69307 Mar 18 '10 at 16:52
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    Pity Up-Vote (n) - An up-vote cast with disproportionate weight given to its negative score over the merits of its content. Acid test: "I probably wouldn't normally up-vote this but it didn't deserve to be down-voted." – Robert Cartaino Mar 18 '10 at 17:20
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    @Robert: If I'm not mistaken, a pity upvote doesn't necessarily require any downvotes. – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 17:28
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    I believe there's a pity upvote problem, but I don't know if this is the solution – juan Mar 18 '10 at 17:50
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    @Downvoter: This may not be the solution, but I'd like to see some discussion on what could be. – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 18:00
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    I have to admit Im totally guilty of this. When someone is at -15 Im sure they get the picture, I just dont see the need to rub their face in it. – Locutus Mar 18 '10 at 18:09
  • And what happens if youre already at zero? – Locutus Mar 18 '10 at 18:20
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    @DataPimp: Not piling on is commendable, but it is very different from issuing pity upvotes which will only encourage poor behavior. Please don't issue pity votes. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 18 '10 at 18:21
  • Here, I just gave you a pity downvote then a pity undownvote :) – Kev Mar 18 '10 at 18:24
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    @dmckee thats like saying if I see four guys kicking the crap out of someone.. not making it 5 guys is commendable but actually helping him encourages him to do it again. Sorry man, I just dont agree.. dont worry, my one vote isnt going to help much vs your 15. – Locutus Mar 18 '10 at 18:43
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    @DataPimp: You analogy fails because downvotes are not necessarily violent or disparaging acts. It has been a long time since I saw a non-CW post at very low numbers unless it really deserved it. The first few months of SO's existence saw some un-called for piling on, but it isn't common now. And don't forget that in the current scoring regime 1 upvote cancels out 5 downvotes so a questions at +2/-7 is a net win for the poster even if it is total crap content. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 18 '10 at 18:53
  • @dmck my analogy failed and you completely missed my point....we suck. – Locutus Mar 18 '10 at 19:30
  • @Jonathan Sampson said, "pity upvote doesn't necessarily require any downvotes" ... I would say it does require down-votes but that's my definition. To pitty, something has to be down. If you're just talking about random, anomalous up-votes, then I would consider that something different, not "pitty up-votes." – Robert Cartaino Mar 18 '10 at 20:05
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    Pity Up-Vote (n) - An up-vote cast with disproportionate weight given to a negative reaction to the post over the merits of its content. Acid test: "I probably wouldn't normally up-vote this but it didn't deserve to be down-voted." – Robert Cartaino Mar 18 '10 at 22:47
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    Pity Up-Vote(n) - A consequence of worrying about what the vote does to the poster's reputation score, instead of worrying about what the vote says about the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the post being voted upon. – quack quixote Mar 20 '10 at 19:16

The simple solution would be to implement the delayed increased rep hit for downvotes.

Secondly, policy stating whether pity upvotes are acceptable or not.

Voting is what makes the site filter the crap out fast. If voting costs rep, then you are discouraging it, and the crap will stay longer, making the site less valuable.

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    "If voting costs rep, then you are discouraging it," is simply not true. You don't pay for things in life because those things are discouraged. "Voting is what makes the site filter the crap out fast," and what about the votes that are themselves considered crap? How do you suggest we filter them out? – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 16:57
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    First, I assume that you tried to say Things aren't discouraged in life because you have to pay for them, second there are some users that have stated that they don't downvote because of the rep hit, third, cigarettes are being discouraged through taxes making them more expensive, forth, I believe that upvoting a new user just for being new regardless of the quality of the post, is a toxic behavior for the site, where we should be voting on the post, regardless of the user. – perbert Mar 18 '10 at 17:03
  • @Jonathon: You may have missed the point. I'm currently sitting around 18.5k on SO right now, and I've cast more than 2000 upvote. If those cost rep it would have cost me more than 10% of my total score. To whatever extent I am motivated by rep that's a big deal. As i is I've already burned on order of 1% on downvotes. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 18 '10 at 17:06
  • @voyager I think your #2 suggestion has merit. The pity upvoters are basically a herd species, so if you can provide an alpha male (as we are programmers, it will have to be a male) such as Jeff or a moderator who invalidates their behaviour, it may stop. I've been trying to do a similar thing to stop "belongs-on" tagging, which does seem to have reduced recently - probably coincidentally. – nb69307 Mar 18 '10 at 17:07
  • @dmckee: It would cost you, assuming you don't ever gain any new rep. – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 17:14
  • @voyager 1) I don't see much difference in what we both said. 2) Irrelevant. 3) Irrelevant. Charging for something doesn't necessarily mean you are discouraging it. 4) I assume you tried to say Fourth. But I agree, users shouldn't get upvotes just for being new. – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 17:19
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    @jon It might be my lack of proficiency with the English language, but the first one parses in my head as things are discouraged -> !(you pay for them), while I thought that you tried to say !(you have to pay for stuff -> things are discouraged). 2) It is relevant IMO because that will mean that those users won't upvote either, reducing the community filtering. 3) It's the exact same policy; charge for things that you don't want to encourage. 4)(A moderator making fun of a user's English skills? Isn't that frownd upon?)I've seen +1 welcome to stackoverflow too much lately in poor posts – perbert Mar 18 '10 at 17:35
  • @voyager: 1) Let me rephrase for you, "It is not because things are discouraged that you pay for them." Again, same statement as before. 2) Users that downvote and take a small rep hit would upvote to take a small rep hit. I would at least, considering I'd make up for it with getting my own upvotes later. 3) So you think downvotes are discouraged because they cost you rep? Now you're begging the question. 4) "Correcting" != "Making fun". "+1 Welcome to Stack Overflow" doesn't mean the quality of the post wasn't considered as part of the reason for the up vote. – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 17:43
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    @jon 2) except that there are users that don't downvote at all because of the 1 point hit. 3) some users are discouraged from downvoting, it's not a thought experiment, they have stated so themselves. 4) The fact that you might take it into consideration doesn't mean that other pity upvoters do. I've seen my fair share of bad questions upvoted just so they are not -1 or voters stating that the only reason they are voting is because they didn't agree with the downvote. google.com/… – perbert Mar 18 '10 at 17:51
  • 2) That's their problem. If they were fully-participating they shouldn't be worried about a small cost to vote. 3) Nobody is discouraged from down voting. It's the type of down voting they're doing. If it's seemingly arbitrary, and appears to be malicious, that is when they're discouraged from continuing in the same fashion. 4) Perhaps, but your initial example featuring the "+1 Welcome..." comment doesn't demonstrate a pity up vote. – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 17:59
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    @jon 2)(sorry user, I didn't want to point to you directly) stackoverflow.com/users/2915 3) you are still side stepping the issue here: you are trying to tie intent to downvotes and saying they are evil in some way without any kind of way to probe it other than it seems strange. – perbert Mar 18 '10 at 18:12
  • @voyager 2) Care to demonstrate how #2915 doesn't down vote "because of the 1 point hit," which is what you argued to begin with. There's nothing wrong with choosing to not down vote, but that wasn't your argument. 3) You said "some users are discouraged from down voting," who are those users and what are the reasons for the discouragement? – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 18:30
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    @Jon 2) because he said so himself! 3) because they'd lose rep! – perbert Mar 18 '10 at 18:40
  • 2) Link? Even if this is the case, it doesn't mean much. I'd say he has little reason to be worried about losing his rep considering his activity-level. 3) Now you're equivocating. Did anybody discourage them from down voting, or do they just not like the idea of losing rep? The two aren't one-in-the-same. – Sampson Mar 18 '10 at 18:48

Gonna just re-purpose a comment I left here...

You can't really control how people vote (and probably shouldn't try). I don't think Sympathy Voting is a solvable problem: some folks will up-vote down-voted posts (just as others will down-vote up-voted posts) because that's just the way they think.

However, it should be possible to avoid the situation where some users manage to pile up rather large amounts of reputation on the site based entirely on asking scores of bad questions...

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    It should be possible for a pity-upvote to be counteracted with one more downvote, not the current five. – Ether Mar 20 '10 at 4:45
  • @Ether: It can be counteracted with just one more downvote. It's the displayed "vote score" that matters to you, and not some arbitrary number on your profile page, right? – Gnome Mar 20 '10 at 18:10
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    @Gnome: actually, the post score isn't that much of a problem - with enough voters, the score tends to end up reflecting the community's collective opinion of a post. The problem is that it's possible to garner significant rep for consistently pitiful/controversial posts even when the average final score for the posts themselves is <= 0. – Shog9 Mar 20 '10 at 18:24
  • @Shog: I've seen examples of people asking inane questions over and over again to game rep, but haven't seen an example of rep-farming-through-pity in the wild or pointed out on meta. (Then again, I stay out of C# and Java tags, the most popular ones where it could be more susceptible.) – Gnome Mar 20 '10 at 18:34
  • @Gnome: the problem is that posts that receive a lot of up- and down-voting become rep farms for the user. This is how some "bad users" end up having a lot of rep even though the total score on their posts is near zero. I'm not trying to suggest that it's intentional -- just that the reputation score of these users is not actually reflective of the value of their posts. – Ether Mar 20 '10 at 18:50
  • @Ether: I would be greatly interested in an example of a user that has gained, say, 2k rep from this kind of answer (their current total rep doesn't matter). My impression was this really isn't a problem. – Gnome Mar 20 '10 at 19:02
  • following the principle of focusing on questions/answers vs users, i think Sympathy Voting is a problem that stems from focusing on the user. consider voting as a reaction to the current valuation of the question or answer post: then what you'd call a "sympathy upvote" isn't sympathy, it's correcting the valuation of the post. (eg, "this post isn't worth -3; it's at most -1"... or "this post isn't worth 10; it's at best 6".) if we properly focus on the post, not the user, up- and down-votes have the same value: 1. – quack quixote Mar 20 '10 at 19:13
  • @Gnome: if you want examples, see previous discussions (several extreme cases pointed out here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1326/…). Note that I don't know or necessarily care if any of these users are doing so for the express purpose of gaining reputation - merely that they're getting access to advanced capabilities (close, re-open, edit...) without really bothering to learn or take an interest in the site (which is supposedly the point of tying these tools to rep levels). – Shog9 Mar 20 '10 at 19:22
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    @~quack: which is why I keep stressing that it's (at best) pointless to attempt to stop sympathy voting - like any other votes, there'll be users who agree and disagree, and that's why votes are anonymous. The problem isn't the votes. The problem is the unintended consequences within the reputation system. – Shog9 Mar 20 '10 at 19:25
  • @shog9: no disagreement here. – quack quixote Mar 20 '10 at 20:05

Could we have it so the cost is only incurred for answers which are already net negative? Obviously we'd have to warn users before their vote was submitted. Perhaps use the -3 threshold currently used for greying out answers.

Not sure how workable this idea is, just thought I'd put it in the mix.


I've already seen too many questions/answers that deserve many more upvotes than they receive so trying to stop pity upvotes seems to be combating the wrong thing in my eyes.

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    So at least one person has come out today as a pity-upvoter. – random Mar 18 '10 at 17:21
  • or pity-upvotee – juan Mar 18 '10 at 18:17
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    This question shouldn't be at -3, I'm upvoting ... – Andrew Grimm Mar 19 '10 at 1:36
  • I'm not a pity upvoter I just see enough trouble trying to get people to vote for actual questions/answers that deserve it. Any sort of system that would discourage upvotes at all seems like a bad idea in my eyes. – Dynamo Mar 19 '10 at 13:59

I don't like varying the cost for an upvote depending on what others think of the post, or whether the post is already above zero net score or not. Dissenting opinions are important and they are sometimes the correct opinion (consider that experts are usually not in the majority).

Rather, let's go back to the question and think it through. Why are pity upvotes a problem? Simply because they counteract five downvotes rather than just one. If a user comes along and feels that a post currently at -2 net score really should only be at -1, it is perfectly reasonable to upvote it to bring it back to -1. However, they have also now (perhaps unknowingly) given the poster +10 reputation, which effectively undoes the effect of five downvotes. If a post yo-yos between -1 and -2 a few times, it effectively becomes a rep farm for the poster.

This is wrong.

The reputation change for upvotes should be changed to +2 if the post has a net score below zero (or put another way, if there are more downvotes on a question than upvotes, the weight is +2; otherwise, it is +10). This does make the reputation algorithm a little more complicated, as it now must take into consideration the current state of a post, but no one said that programming had to be easy. :D


We should not be preventing "pity votes", as that presumes that the down-votes are "correct" and the upvotes not.

Personally, I vote on questions and answers, not users. There's no pity involved, I just attempt to use my votes to move posts toward a score that reflects their quality.

If I see a post at -5 and I think it's more of a -2, why shouldn't I vote it in that direction? The effect this has on the poster's rep is not my concern - I'm voting on a post, not the poster. It is up to the system to decide what my vote means in terms of trusting the poster.

The real problem, it seems, is that when there is disagreement about a post's proper score, many upvotes and many downvotes can be cast with little net change in the score, but much (positive) net change in the poster's rep. This is a fault of the system.

Maybe the rep you get for a post should be (10 * votes) when votes is positive and (2 * votes) when it is negative. That way, the system trusts you based on your posts' net score, still with a large bias towards postive rep.

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    "If I see a post at -5 and I think it's more of a -2, why shouldn't I vote it in that direction?" Because you shouldn't be the arbiter of what the final score should be. You think it's good, vote it up, you think it's bad, vote it down, and the community, if everyone does that, will place it exatly where it belongs. Voting something up, despite it being bad, is exactly the problem: the person is gaining rep for posting poor content. – beska Mar 21 '10 at 11:39
  • @beska "if everybody does that" - extremely false assumption. "Votes" on SE are nothing like "votes" in an election. People "vote" on whatever catches their eye. You cannot assume that everyone votes on everything, so the rest of your comment is invalid. – Blorgbeard Dec 29 '14 at 22:29

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