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Encouraging people to explain down-votes

I know that this issue has been raised a number of times in the past, with some improvements being made to reduce the negative impacts it has on discussion, but the problem persists, and I would like to suggest a further change.

I am aware that the need to preserve anonymity when voting is an important aspect of the design of the community, and that making comments mandatory on downvotes would negate that.

What I am suggesting is that downvotes, without comments, should cost the voter the same number of Rep Points as the owner of the Answer. So that, if I were to downvote another user's Answer, I would lose 2 Rep Pts as would they.

I know there is a small notification bubble which pops up suggesting the voter add a comment to explain the vote, but it seems that is not encouraging alot of users to do so. If the same bubble basically illustrated a reward for the voter in adding a comment "If you add a comment, explaining your vote, you will gain 1 Rep Pt." there may be a greater engagement for people to do so.

(Yes, I am raising this as I have had 2 downvotes - and no other actions on my answers - in the last 48 hours with no comments, no explanations and no ideas why they did so. But I still think there is merit in this idea all the same.)

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    Does it not suggest that there is a problem (user-perceived or otherwise) in a system if that many people are offering suggested solutions to something which gives them difficulty or detracts from their experience? I note that one of the suggestions was enacted, but as I mentioned in this "Question", I do not believe that suggestion has served the purpose for which it was originally put forward. Closing off these questions in a knee-jerk reaction is like refusing to attend a fire alarm because "it was burning last week, but we put it out". Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 14:55
  • I have downvoted you, my answer should serve as my response. But your suggestion would force me to also add this additional comment to explicitly state that I was one of those who downvoted you. Note, I am not telling you anything that you could not get from my response.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:06
  • The suggestion is a worthy idea, but the execution would cause many problems. This is why it has been rejected in all it's previous permutations.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:07
  • Can you please express uour opinion on marking question as duplicate at the following link: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/219750/…
    – Revious
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 19:54

1 Answer 1


The following links may be helpful to you:

First: A note on the psychology of downvotes

Key Quote:

[Taking downvotes too seriously is an] erroneous assumption that they've done something wrong, rather than the truth [which is] that they've misunderstood the meaning of something done to them.

Downvotes should be taken as seriously as any "Caution: Falling Rocks" sign. It means you should keep your eyes peeled, but you don't stop driving, and you don't burst into tears.

Change Down Voting to Require Comment for Why (caution, very long)

Relevant points of my (very long) answer

The negative reputation is rather minor, and the downvote is valid critisicm. It is not the most constructive criticism, but it is a very quick and easy way to indicate that "I find flaw with your answer".

As for being helpful, if I'm lost in New York city and I ask someone for directions, it doesn't matter how nice they are, if they are wrong. I appreciate that they were trying to help, but if they didn't know the correct answer, they should probably have stayed silent.

Downvotes are to indicate that the answer is wrong. On a technical advice site, this is critical. It is not only to indicate to the answerer, but to everyone else that they should not follow the advice within. While that's a little harsh, it helps a lot of people very quickly. Explaining your downvote is often just asking for a fight, because the answerer will refuse to concede.

If you don’t like my question you have to explain why.

Key point of my answer

Voting and commenting are completely separate mechanisms that were designed for different purposes.

Voting is to bubble the best answers to the top. Commenting is to engage.

So annoyed with no-comment, vindictive downvoting

Key points from TheTXI's answer

  • I wish people would stop taking everything personal and assume that all downvoting is a vindictive personal attack when 95% of the time it is not.
  • Not every downvote requires a comment. I should not have to explain myself every time I want to mark someone for being wrong.
  • If someone doesn't want to give you a reason for why they downvoted you, then you should examine your post and see what it may have wrong with it compared to other posts.

Not everyone is right all the time! This includes both the downvoter and yourself. If you are wrong, you should try to fix it, if they are wrong, well, you're still right, so be happy about it.

Statler and Waldorf badge for explaining downvotes

Quotes from my answer

  • Relevant comments: How do you determine relevance of the (forced) comments?
  • Regexing the comments: Would any comment at all be sufficient?
  • Repetitive comments: Rather than upvote another comment, people will post an identical one for themselves.
  • Downvotes are comments (Redundant comments): Every time you downvote you are saying that you disagree. It IS your statement of criticism.

Allow users to leave an anonymous comment when voting

If you are nice enough to leave a comment on a downvote to explain yourself, [...] [Ed: emphasis mine]

Commenting is optional. It is meant to be.

Proposal: Require anonymous comment with downvotes [closed]

Jon B's response:

First, I don't think I should be required to justify my decisions to the world. Second, you can't force someone to type a meaningful comment, even if you force them to type a comment.

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    I sincerely hope that this closes the issue.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 14:03
  • "(caution, very long)" - hypocrite :P
    – jjnguy
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 14:16
  • Skimmed it...and I have decided that people bitch about downvotes a lot...
    – jjnguy
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 14:18
  • @Justin: I'm not a hypocrite. It is very long! As are my posts. I often cut my posts in half to try to make them readable. But my degree is in Philosophy; being long-winded is what we do.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 14:28
  • @devinb: I understand the points you raise here, however I do disagree with a number of them. I would try and elaborate here, but as I am limited to a short response, I cannot do so. I would also like to point out that my suggestion did not involve making comments compulsory, but rather simply rewarding users who make the time to leave comments explaining the flaw in the offered answer. This tact has just as much merit as the rewarding of users who leave correct or upvoted answers. You also ignore the negative psychological aspects of being "marked wrong" without explanation which ... Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 14:48
  • ... discourages people from offering answers. Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 14:49
  • @Lucanos. I dealt with those in the full text of the "psychological aspects" section. You'll have to click through the link. If you read the "Statler and Waldorf" badge section in full, you'll see my response to incentivizing comments in any way. Please read those two, and then respond again. (I understand I'll get two downvotes out of this ;) btw) You can respond here, or directly on those responses if you want.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:03
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    @Lucanos. Furthermore, in directly linking "add a comment" to "gain one rep point" you are very explicitly encouraging gibberish comments. You are also discouraging downvoting at all, and as I mentioned, downvoting is a critical part of the site.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:05
  • @devinb: I did click the link and have read the "Statler and Waldorf" Question, but cannot find any material from yourself which answers the psychological aspects I raise. I think that there are sufficient safeguards in existence to identify, tag and eliminate spammy/gibberish comments (such as those you believe would be spawned by compulsory or incentives for comment). I get that downvoting is a critical part of the site, but I am simply saying that encouraging people to educate mislead, misleading or just-plain-wrong Answerers would also be inline with the aims of SO (in my opinion). Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:28
  • @devinb: To better illustrate the need to encourage explained downvotes, imagine if your computer didn't have any error messages - instead, you made a mistake and it would just say "No." One could argue that the "No" is a sufficient amount of feedback - you made a mistake and it says so in a simple fashion. But aren't the more detailed error messages, pointing out what has failed and why, so much nicer? Sure, no-one likes to see them (as much as people do not like being downvoted), but in both cases, the message allows the error to be resolved. (PS: I did not downvote your answers.) Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:32
  • @devinb: NOTE: I corrected myself, and revisited the first-listed Answer, which I believe is the one you were referring to regarding psychological impacts. My mistake. I do think that the fact that SO uses reputation points to reward constructive behaviour, ranks uses based on their total, allows differing access based on "scores" does also mean that a negative score is seen as a devaluation of the contribution made my a community member. If not, then the counterpoint may need to be raised - why have negative points for downvotes at all (and just flag inapprop. answers as spam)? Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:37
  • @Lucanos This is the link that deals with psychology. Re: spammy comments. If the comments are spammy or useless (by what criterion?) do I re-lose the reputation?. Re, educating the misinformed StackOverflow is about answering questions correctly. Only the top answer needs to be correct, because that is the answer that the community is recommending. Obviously, helping everyone is in line with SO, but your solution won't help that, your purpose is good though.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:41
  • @Lucanos: Re: so much nicer. Yes, it is nicer to do that. But you can't force people to be nice. And any error message is better than no error message. For instance, if I push on a pull door, I faceplant (recieve downvote). Even if there is no indication, aside from the handle (incorrect fact in my "answer") the downvote is enough for me to find the problem myself and fix it. Not all feedback is equally helpful, but feedback is feed back.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:44
  • @Lucanos: Re: rep as incentive downvotes are an incentive to not be wrong. You think that people don't mean to be wrong, but the fact is that a lot of people will post inaccurate information because they don't bother to look it up. This does not qualify as "spam" because it is on target and on topic. But it is also wrong. See the "New York Directions" part of my original response. Re:downvotes devalue contribution This is their purpose. When you downvote someone, you are saying that they have (in some minor way) detracted from the site.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 15:46
  • @devinb: I found the link regarding psychology (see my comment starting "NOTE: I corrected myself..."). Re: Spammy Comments. I think that the examples used repeatedly in discussions against the encouraged commenting are widely accepted examples of what would be considered spammy". ie "jsgqdgds", "(-1) you suck", etc. I am not aware of the current handling of spammy comment - I have just seen the flagging option when reviewing comments. Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 16:08

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