Many times when I'm reading a very poorly written question, I look at the asker's rep. If it is low, I usually go on with my day because "they are new and haven't gotten the hang of things."

However, every once in a while, I'll come across a >1k user. The most recent one was a 5k user asking the equivalent of "please help. Give code to mke unicorns" (typos and obvious mistakes included). I instantly downvoted because he was just being too lazy to ask a good question. Sometimes, I'll click through to see their profiles and discover other real put-offs like a record of over 500 questions asked and fewer than 20 answers given.

Is it right to discriminate against high-reputation users like this? Pretend for a second that someone asked a poorly formatted question, which, while not so bad as "gimme teh codez," was difficult to read or missing vital info such as an error message. Is it right to downvote it if a high rep user asked it and leave it alone if a low rep user asked it?

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    I hope your beef at the end of the second paragraph is that they ask genuinely poor questions and/or don't contribute a lot by accepting answers, and not that they simply have a high ratio of questions asked to answers given. – Grace Note Jun 10 '10 at 21:57
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    I don't look at it as discrimination against the high rep user, but as cutting the low rep newbie some slack. – Bill the Lizard Jun 10 '10 at 21:57
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    Upvoting because this is a well written, meaningful question with few to no spelling or grammar mistakes and because it encourages positive discussion amongst the Meta community. (And I wouldn't expect anything less from an almost 5k-rep user. Would I expect the same thing from a 1-rep user, probably not). – squircle Jun 10 '10 at 22:11
  • I also expect that from 1-rep users, but I'm willing to cut them some slack. @the – Gnome Jun 11 '10 at 0:37
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    Are you complaining about somebody high in this list? data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/q/35370/problem-users – waffles Jun 11 '10 at 1:55
  • @waffles.. um no? the person literally had over 500 questions and under 40 answers. – Earlz Jun 11 '10 at 4:31
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    If the mods don't want ppl with 40 answers to be able to ask 500 questions, why not implement it in the system (I have seen lot of such complaints). On the other hand, as long as their questions are not downvoted, why complain? Ultimately, the site exists and is alive solely because people are asking questions. – JP19 Jan 20 '11 at 18:30
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    @waffles: gave me the dreaded divide by zero exception. Do I need to fill out a trouble-ticket? ;) – IAbstract Jan 20 '11 at 18:32
  • @JP19 well, I'd say no. If their questions are of good format. I mean, some of other SEs I'm interested in, I know almost nothing about, so I may do nothing but ask questions. I think it's wrong to have 500 questions all of horrible quality though. – Earlz Jan 20 '11 at 18:57
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    @waffles I get a divide by zero error for that query now. – George Stocker Jan 20 '11 at 19:06
  • @IAbstract, ignore my earlier comment, I misread what you said. I'm getting the same error (and a different error when I change 0.0 to 1.0). – Pops Jan 20 '11 at 20:23
  • @George ... I fixed it data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/q/35370/problem-users – waffles Jan 20 '11 at 22:11
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    What about people w/ over 20k+ yielding incorrect answers but getting +votes solely based on that reputation. Rep shall not have any discriminatory effects. – bestsss Jan 20 '11 at 22:13
  • @Popular Out of curiosity, what is still unresolved about this question that caused you to place a bounty on it? – Pollyanna Jan 27 '11 at 16:33
  • @Polly Ah, I didn't see this until after I commented on your new answer. Here's part of what I wrote there: "I appreciate and wanted to highlight the fact that the devs here care about quality." So, nothing was unresolved, this was just a "you deserve more than just an upvote" bounty. Not that 500 MSO rep is worth much, but.... – Pops Jan 27 '11 at 16:48

If the user has 5k rep and hasn't learned anything -- including how to ask and answer questions -- you should vote their posts down.

Additionally, I would flag posts like this for moderator attention so we can take a look at users who fit this pattern. It's a big reason why we reduced the value of question upvotes.

I'm not shy about wanting to remove egregious cases of users who are posting lots of questions and show no evidence of improvement. If you're not even trying to learn, then from my perspective, you forfeit the right to participate here with us.

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    +1, and I'm going to open a bounty just so I can award it to this answer. I love that Stack Overflow has this philosophy. – Pops Jan 20 '11 at 18:09
  • (I'm also going to leave the bounty open for a few days in the hope that it'll garner extra views for this answer.) – Pops Jan 20 '11 at 20:22
  • @Popular Demand: It worked. – John Jan 21 '11 at 19:06

I don't think that there's anything wrong with having a forgiving or charitable attitude toward newbies. When I see a newbie writing a good question or answer, I will take care to upvote it.

However, a bad question is a bad question, and there's nowhere near enough downvoting as it is. There are only four reasons why I won't downvote a bad question:

  1. It looks like the author was really trying but just lacked the vocabulary to express it properly, and/or doesn't use English as a first language. In this case I'll usually try to edit (if I'm feeling up to it).

  2. The user just registered (0-5 questions, no more than 20 or 30 reputation). In this case, it doesn't always seem worth my 1 internet cent to downvote because they probably won't get the message (and may not even come back).

  3. The question is bad enough to warrant closing - no sense in wasting a vote if it's going to get plonked anyway.

  4. I'm out of votes for the day.

So, is it "right" to discriminate against higher-rep users? Sure - they should know better. Would I personally do it? No - lack of experience on Stack Overflow isn't an excuse for poor communication, and indicating to other users that the question itself probably isn't worth reading is more important than penalizing the person who asked it. If a question's bad, I downvote it. But I won't think any less of you if you want to hold the newbies' hands.

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  • However, some users use lack of downvotes as a way to argue their question shouldn't be closed, or should be reopened, and they get very determined in that argument. More and more, I've been evaluating downvotes and close-votes completely independently in the cases where I might have linked them in the past. – Gnome Jun 11 '10 at 0:17
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    @Gnome: Actually I agree - there are several times when I'll downvote and vote to close, especially on subjective CW questions. In particular, if the question feels like rep/badge-farming then it's important to get downvotes in early before the swarm arrives. – Aarobot Jun 11 '10 at 0:28

The reason they got to 5K is because people pitied them.

Now they have 5,000 reputation and haven't learned a thing.

"Discrimination" is something every human does, it's not a bad thing. Discriminating for the wrong reason is a Bad Thing™

Just think, if more people hadn't pitied this user, they may not have gotten as high as they have with reputation, and we'd all be better off.

Upvotes for this type of user normally fall into one of three categories:

  • Sympathy Upvotes - For when someone rightly downvotes their questions
  • Edit Upvotes - they receive upvotes because an editor made their question better
  • Popularity Upvotes - they receive upvotes because it's a Bikeshed question.
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    Pity votes, but also possibly others consistently cleaned up their questions for them. – Gnome Jun 11 '10 at 0:36
  • Would people pity users with a rep between 500 and 5000? – Andrew Grimm Jun 11 '10 at 1:13
  • @Andrew Grimm A few ways: Sympathy Upvotes (for when someone rightly downvotes their questions) Edit Upvotes, where they receive upvotes because an editor made their question better, or Popularity Upvotes where they receive upvotes because it's a Bikeshed question. – George Stocker Jun 11 '10 at 1:25
  • ppl are trademarking a lot of phrases lately – juan Jun 11 '10 at 1:32
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    +1 for bikeshed votes. SO is starting to look like reddit. I ask an honest and difficult programming related question and get no useful feedback because all of the knowledgeable users are too busy embedding xkcd comics on one of the rep-whoring/cWiki posts. – Evan Plaice Jun 11 '10 at 3:31
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    @Evan Or putting ascii Ghosts in. Don't forget those. stackoverflow.com/questions/3008475/… – George Stocker Jun 11 '10 at 10:53
  • Ok... So I was a bit harsh and in a ranty mood on the last comment but the ASCII Ghostbusters art is pretty bad. Especially on a serious question. Hilarious... but not helpful at all. lol – Evan Plaice Jun 11 '10 at 11:20
  • @Evan I don't think you were harsh at all; I think the concerns that you and others have aren't being taken seriously by @Jeff Atwood or other members of the Stack Overflow team. Maybe they don't see the problem with us being Just Another Programmer Forum? – George Stocker Jun 11 '10 at 12:11

If I followed standard Meta protocol, I'd have downvoted you because I disagree with discriminating people by reputation. I've said as much countless times. However, I don't think it is "not OK", so to speak.

This boils down to your own moral choice, as far as I think. For any user, a vote represents their own opinion. If you think that such bad questions deserve the downvote (and indeed, that kind of question generally can use a good downvote), then there is nothing wrong with finding the downvote. If you find it strictly more disappointing that a high reputation user asks that kind of question, then it's perfectly fine to focus your efforts there. It basically shapes your "opinion" that "these questions are bad, these people should know better so I'll focus my downvotes towards them".

There's nothing inherently "wrong" or "right" about this practice. It's purely in your own hands and heart, whether or not this feels okay to do. As far as the system is concerned, bad questions are getting voted down. To the system, it doesn't matter that this happened because you focused your rage on high rep users and spared the low rep users.

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How many people can get 5K rep without giving good answers these days? I thought it'd be one or two outliers with very thick skin.

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You may be an expert in one field though and a learner in another.

Plus you gain reputation often by answering technical questions in your area of expertise. Does not necessarily mean you are good at asking questions.

I am expert in C++ and not in other technologies, and perhaps have to learn how to do something in an area where I lack and my first inclination may be to jump onto stackoverflow.com and shout "help, where do I start?".

If it's a business issue I have to solve that is also likely to be far more important to me than the possible loss of a bit of reputation.

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    I think the issue is not with the technical content of the question, but the manner in which it was written. If one cannot convey their need to the audience of SO, then how are we expected to be able to answer them? There's a big difference between a poorly written beginner's question, and a well written beginner's question. – Pollyanna Jan 20 '11 at 17:57

Is rep discrimination OK or not?

Rep discrimination is not acceptable. Note that the upvote and downvote hints do not mention a user's reputation:

  • This question is useful and clear
  • This question is unclear or not useful

Emphasis added

If you have the time to fix it, fix it. If you don't have the time to fix it, you may instead choose to leave a comment if it's salvageable, or a downvote if it's an unredeemable question.

However, in all cases your votes are yours to do with as you please. If you feel that high rep users should be held to a higher standard, then you may choose to downvote their questions if they fail to meet your standard.

If you do downvote, I would strongly recommend leaving a comment as well, as in most cases high rep users get a lot of 'noise' downvotes and may not link the downvotes to poor contributions.

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  • I'm not sure why Popular Demand felt this question needed to be revisited (by placing a bounty on it) but here are my thoughts as a strong counterpoint to the prevailing attitude. – Pollyanna Jan 27 '11 at 16:30
  • I appreciate and wanted to highlight the fact that the devs here care about quality. I was looking at the problem with the unspoken understanding that, in lieu of downvoting, users should help newbies participate constructively at Stack Exchange with edits, comments, &c. – Pops Jan 27 '11 at 16:42

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