I've just read that downvoting is used to ban poor askers. However, there are many, many members who will never dare downvote anything because of that little 1 rep. (Besides, I think downvoting is not taken into account in the 200 daily reputation limit, but I'm not sure.) This has, as a side effect, that only really, really bad questions get downvoted.

I understand that downvotes remove rep from the people who receive it, so it must not be abused. But maybe users could have, like, (reputation / 1000) free downvotes every day?

Currently, the incentive for downvoting is a strong sense of duty. The incentive for not downvoting is OHEMGEE LOOK AT MY REP. And often, the latter is stronger.

  • Regarding your proposed idea. Free downvotes would apply to all downvotes, not just those cast responsibly. Not to mention, a daily limit is really just an infinite supply of free downvotes spread out over the course of multiple days. It only takes decent levels of participation to earn 1k on Stack Overflow, and from that you can extrapolate the resulting issue. – Grace Note Aug 24 '10 at 18:12
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    @Grace Note, yes, but at 1000 rep, that's one free daily downvote, non-cumulative (as I understand it). Hard to abuse that. – MPelletier Aug 24 '10 at 18:16
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    @Grace Note: you can't downvote the same thing multiple times already. – zneak Aug 24 '10 at 18:20
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    I don't see how the inability to downvote the same post is even relevant to my comment. You don't even need to target the same user to be downvoting irresponsibly. @MPelletier Technically, slow downvoting is actually an easier abuse because it's not subject to the vote-fraud detector. It's not like I expect it to be heavily abused, but I don't see a large advantage to outweigh making revenge voting and similar forms of downvoting good content easier and more prevalent. – Grace Note Aug 24 '10 at 18:57
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    @Grace: But if somebody really downvotes irresponsibly, do you really think that 1 or 2 or 5 free votes a day is going to make that big a difference when most people already upvote irresponsibly 30 times a day and users are capped to 30 total votes per day? Everybody seems to forget that there's a social cost to downvoting, and when you quantify that into a real cost and make it very cheap (-1 rep), some people actually become more likely to do it, especially if they can do it anonymously, because the real cost masks the social cost. – Aarobot Aug 24 '10 at 21:04
  • (Obviously I don't have exact figures, but the qualitative argument alone doesn't work. The reputation cost to downvote is merely a kind of fine and there's scant evidence to indicate that it actually discourages the "wrong" kind of downvoting. It will, however, almost always discourage the "right" kind of downvoting.) – Aarobot Aug 24 '10 at 21:06
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    @Aarobot I don't really want to have the "the way to counter pity upvotes is unrestrained downvoting" argument with you again. We agreed to disagree 3 months ago and I don't see either of us changing stance now either. – Grace Note Aug 24 '10 at 21:11
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    After trying to think of an answer for the last three hours, I came up empty. I don't really like the feature request, since it takes away the most pain for users who'll feel it the least... But I'm fine with seeing the down-vote cost disappear entirely. – Shog9 Aug 24 '10 at 22:00
  • I just wish when people get downvoted, they don't get all bent out of shape. – Brian Aug 24 '10 at 22:10
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    @Changeling: perhaps if it was more common, it wouldn't seem like such a big deal... I know I was far more concerned about it (especially targeted "revenge votes") when I first started out on SO. Over time, I've realized it doesn't make that much of a difference. (then again, evidence suggests that some of the users with the highest overall reputation on SO are also the most likely to whine about being down-voted, so...) – Shog9 Aug 24 '10 at 22:24
  • @Shog9: Yea I see what you're saying. Except downvoting is offensive to the question asker/answerer and any come-along friends who decide to stick up for them. In some heated discussions, it can be an all out battle until the dust settles and an answer is finally accepted. – Brian Aug 24 '10 at 23:45
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    Downvoting IS offensive when not given a reason because it takes away rep from the poster and the poster won't learn from their mistake. I don't like free rep for downvoting. People can easily abuse it if it doesn't cost them anything. It's like free ammunition for a gun. – Tony_Henrich Aug 25 '10 at 6:37
  • @Tony_Henrich: I don't think it should be forever free, and that you should downvote irresponsibly. I'm suggesting that people get a few free downvotes each day. – zneak Aug 25 '10 at 6:56
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    Think of it this way @Grace. You can eat an entire lunch from the free sample tables at Costco, but most people don't. There's a social cost to being a jerk, which the majority want to avoid. But put those same items on "sale" at 80% off and they'll get snapped up within seconds, because buyers assume that they're not ripping off the seller, they're just paying an amount closer to the true value. I suspect that something similar is true for reputation and downvotes; everybody assumes that the majority will go nuts and downvote everything, everywhere, and I don't believe that's really the case. – Aarobot Aug 25 '10 at 13:42
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    The whole cost-of-downvote debate really sounds like the "war on drugs" - yeah, making it illegal or at least taboo may stop some people from doing it irresponsibly, but the majority of people who do it would do it responsibly, and probability-wise, the deterrent is far more likely to punish responsible use than irresponsible use. Further evidence that the truly irresponsible are more likely to ignore deterrents (especially if they perceive that they won't get caught or that the punishment is light), really casts the entire system in a suspicious light. – Aarobot Aug 25 '10 at 13:46

11 Answers 11


I'm for 100% free downvotes for all.

People downvote very liberally here on meta. I don't see any kind of problem. People can downvote with impunity on community-wiki questions. Again - no problem.

In fact, we do have a problem with sympathy upvotes. Our real problem with downvotes is that they have too little power, not too much. Making them free would actually help with this.

I am well aware that this post is an open invitation to downvote the daylights out of me. Do your worst - I dare you!

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    Meta is different and CW is different - that comparison doesn't hold. – Georg Fritzsche Aug 24 '10 at 20:59
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    @Georg - I will grant you that meta is different, purely based on the signal-to-unicorns ratio. However, I would expect to see more downvote abuse in CW than in regular SO questions. There is no substantial downvote abuse in CW. Hence, I would expect none in regular questions. – user27414 Aug 24 '10 at 21:18
  • I'd be ok with downvotes costing 1 rep if they had more effect. For instance, if the weight of it was -5, I'd downvote more often. As it stands now, -2 rep doesn't matter after you have your first 100. – Earlz Aug 24 '10 at 22:28
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    @Earlz: [status-planned-for-months-and-months-then-declined] – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Aug 24 '10 at 23:10
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    Downvoting without a comment is cowardly and unconstructive. I have posted perfect legitimate questions, that are well formed, and still get downvotes from cowards who like to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. Downvoting, without comment, should cost at least as much reputation as being downvoted since you actually choose to downvote - not to be downvoted. – OtagoHarbour Aug 4 '18 at 15:44

Downvotes are important (very important!) but they are also potentially divisive, so they are just slightly discourage with a minor cost.

The idea is that you will think twice about them and only apply them where they really belong.

'Course, once you have oodles of rep the one point cost doesn't mean much and you can feel free to cast them whenever it seem like a good idea, but that is exactly the effect your suggestion would have.

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    Except it's not happening. Even assuming 10 upvotes per downvote is normal, many 10k+ users have a ridiculously low amount of downvotes. – zneak Aug 24 '10 at 20:01
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    And I'm pretty sure it's not because they never see poor contents. – zneak Aug 24 '10 at 20:07
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    @zneak: Is your problem that many 10k+ users don't have many downvotes? That shouldn't matter to you - what should matter is if incorrect answers etc. are getting downvoted and float to the bottom. As long as that happens i don't see the problem. – Georg Fritzsche Aug 24 '10 at 21:01
  • is it possible that the low number of downvotes is because there aren't that much "bad" answers (compared to good ones)? – user141148 Aug 24 '10 at 21:38
  • @Carlos There probably aren't as many bad answers as good answers, but I don't think it directly affects that there are still large volumes of bad answers which really should have downvotes. – Grace Note Aug 24 '10 at 21:43
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    @zneak: Oddly enough my SO vote ratio is near 10:1 up:down, but I don't think that there is any a priori reason to think that's a goal. I'd also note that there is a selection effect at work: genuinely bad answer probably get deleted by their owners rather than continuing to suffer both the public shame and the rep costs of many downvotes, and genuinely bad questions presumable get closed and eventually deleted. In either case, (once a recalc occurs) those votes disappear from the ratio. No idea how big an effect that is. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Aug 24 '10 at 23:08
  • That's cause we CLOSE instead :-) – Rosinante Aug 24 '10 at 23:32
  • @Georg Fritzsche: No, that's not it. It's just that it's faster to look them up because they're on the first users page. – zneak Aug 25 '10 at 4:09
  • "so they are just slightly discouraged": that's the problem that led to this question: practice shows that the "minor cost" discourages them too much. – ivan_pozdeev Aug 31 '16 at 11:06
  • ...Or that there are too many places where they "really belong" (by Pareto principle) so the "minor cost" becomes major in the long run. – ivan_pozdeev Nov 25 '16 at 18:15
  • Upvotes are potentially divisive too. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 21 '17 at 17:53

The cost of a downvote is - in theory - insignificant. But it "scares" people due to the psychological effects that a "cost" has.

For example let's say that you offer to give away or sell a pen that is worth $5 to random people in the street. If you give it away for free, almost everyone will accept it. If you sell it for 1 cent then only a small percentage will. But if you sell it for 5 cents, around the same number of people who bought it for 1 cent will buy it (logically, you would expect a decrease in the number 5 times greater than the decrease between "free" and "1 cent").

The step between "free" and "almost free" will scare a very large amount of people due to psychological factors.

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    This observation rings true, was noted in the question, and is supported by evidence. But where's the argument that this outcome is desirable? – Shog9 Aug 24 '10 at 22:27
  • @Shog9: oh, I agree with the OP and upvoted him. It's not desirable. I was just rambling about this. ;) – Thomas Bonini Aug 25 '10 at 0:18
  • (+1) But, I think you should change the first line. The rest of your post disagrees with the nuance of that sentence. Basically, it is "relatively insignificant" but "behaviourally significant" – devinb Aug 25 '10 at 21:23
  • And the same psychological effect, it also scares people from casting a legitimate downvote. – SOFe Sep 8 '16 at 12:35

The original idea behind the penalty was to discourage people from down-voting answers that competed with their own. Some people would answer a question and then down vote the other answers to boost their own answer. The chosen "solution" to this problem was the -1 penalty.

It wasn't a very good solution because, as you point out, it discourages all down-votes and it only indirectly addresses the issue.

Out of interest, has anybody analysed the data dump to see what difference there is in down-vote rates for community wiki and non-CW posts?

A better solution is the one that Slashdot has used for years (I assume they still use it, I haven't been there for ages). Their rule is that you can comment on an article or you can moderate other comments but you can't do both. If you later decide to comment on an article where you have moderated, your moderation is undone.

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    I'd love to see a citation for that first sentence... It doesn't sound familiar at all, or make any sense (if the goal of down-voting competing answers was to gain rep, then the cost is nowhere near enough to make that unprofitable). – Shog9 Aug 24 '10 at 22:04
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    I'm all for the slashdot solution. – zneak Aug 25 '10 at 7:00
  • @Shog9 I'm pretty sure I read it either here or (more likely) on User Voice before Meta existed. I'm sure Jeff can correct me if I'm wrong. – Dan Dyer Aug 25 '10 at 20:20
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    I had a quick look on Uservoice (the search sucks) and I found one mention (stackoverflow.uservoice.com/forums/1722-general/suggestions/…), but that was also me. So if I am mistaken, at least I have been consistently mistaken. – Dan Dyer Aug 25 '10 at 20:40
  • To prevent competitive downvoting, I would suggest something similar to slashdot's approach. You can downvote other people's answers or you can leave answers, but not both. If you downvoted any answers and later left an answer, then your downvote(s) should be retroactively canceled. Also, you should not be able to upvote your own answers/questions. – RobH Aug 26 '10 at 0:54
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    @Shog9 A citation (of sorts) found: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/15849/… Chris Upchurch's comment in response to my answer. – Dan Dyer Aug 31 '10 at 17:32

I sadly searched in vain for the option of:

Downvotes should cost reputation when you fail to support your action with a comment.

This way, the down-voter has incentive to be a responsible downvoter, as he is faced with much more comparable costs to get his point across. A popup reminder to 'can you edit it, rather than downvote it' doesn't seem enough incentive, but with this way, it's attempting to equalize the payoffs and costs.

  1. downvote anonymously - cost: reputation
  2. downvote openly - cost: time to explain
  3. edit post to make it more useful - cost: time to edit post
  4. ignore post - cost: anxiety from not having chosen other 3 options

This would not only allow free means to downvote (by doing so transparently), it would encourage editing the posts because (in my optimistic mind), people would rather spend their typing to fix a post (and get named credit) rather than spend their time criticizing (and dealing with virtual hostility). Just my (late) 2c.

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    here, have a DV that cost me nothing. (Just making a point - that's exactly how your system would be used) – Andrew Barber May 2 '12 at 16:32
  • Did I downvote or upvote or even vote at all? You have no clue if I'm getting a free downvote or just putting in my two cents. I've got enough reputation to downvote 4,800 answers and questions. What difference is it to you if I comment and downvote? Voting is anonymous, learn to love it. – user7116 May 2 '12 at 16:41
  • @AndrewtheStupid Neither of you seem to see that this is an extension of the current system. "Did I downvote or upvote or even vote at all?"--I sure don't need to know--the OP doesn't address the recipient, he is concerned about the one CASTING the vote. Thus, for you to downvote me, costs you (as it already does). In addition, I received a response knowing WHO potentially downvoted me and I can ascertain their intent (success). – hexparrot May 2 '12 at 17:12
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    @sixlettervariables So both of you have STRICTLY PROVEN my point. Yes, you have downvoted me and you say 'cost you nothing', but it cost you your time and effort, and most importantly, if it was not constructive, I could FLAG it, which is another mechanism that could conceivably be employed to protect from abusive downvotes, e.g., for a flagged comment ruled unconstructive, its impact (reimbursing the rep) could be undone. – hexparrot May 2 '12 at 17:12
  • @hexparrot Nothing about what you suggest enables any of the things you just claimed. – Andrew Barber May 2 '12 at 17:18
  • Quite frankly, I have no problem with the costs incurred to downvote--and I don't mind if people do so anonymously--and as yourselves--have sufficient currency to downvote 4800 answers and questions, but that is all beside the point: such a system that I am suggesting encourages more helpful actions (editing/constructive comments) rather than anonymous dismissing and downvoting, which provides very little benefit to the community at large. It's not increasing the costs for you to anonymously downvote, it's increasing the comparative cost versus doing something helpful. – hexparrot May 2 '12 at 17:20
  • @AndrewtheStupid So what exactly is my proposition failing to address? I could go and 'revenge downvote' you, putting myself into single digits and you would have no idea why (irrelevant that I lack the currency or its impact would be insignificant), or I could 'revenge downvote' you and post worthless comments to reimburse myself. Which one would more easily be detectable as abuse and be punishable? – hexparrot May 2 '12 at 17:24
  • Both would be incredibly easy to detect. Your proposal does nothing against "revenge down voting", and I'm not even sure why you think it would... you think those meaningless comments would be left by someone revenge DVing? – Andrew Barber May 2 '12 at 17:27
  • @AndrewtheStupid How are you continuing to miss the main premise of my proposition then? If somebody REVENGE DVing doesn't leave comments, they're experiencing the exact same behavior as currently in place: paying with rep to DV. If they DO leave comments that are of no consequence, they're opening themselves up to site-wide flagging (that is, people reading their comments would flag it), which would be a useful process in weeding out abusive behavior by bringing their behavior to the forefront. – hexparrot May 2 '12 at 17:30
  • No, it would not be remotely useful. Not in the least. It would result in dozens... hundreds... of false-positives due to people commenting but not voting. It would have a chilling effect on real comments. Why would I leave a non-DV-comment if it exposed me to being flagged just because another of your DV'ers revenge-DV'ed you? – Andrew Barber May 2 '12 at 17:32
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    Here's what you are missing: There is no compelling reason to think Comments and Votes should be connected. – Andrew Barber May 2 '12 at 17:33
  • There's nothing in place to currently protect against "revenge downvoting", other than the inability to afford it. Should somebody be discouraged from downvoting a strictly bad post simply because of those costs, or can we provide a means to transform the desire to downvote into constructive commenting (and if not constructive, the comment would be not rewarding?) – hexparrot May 2 '12 at 17:33
  • @AndrewtheStupid ...'There is no compelling reason to think Comments and Votes should be connected'... has it occurred to you this is a means to change that? You seem to be under the impression that I could (under my proposal), put at risk USEFUL comments? Right now I can falsely flag USEFUL comments--what measures will stop this? My idea encourages people to flag useless comments...and patterns that emerge from abuse would be more prevalent then. – hexparrot May 2 '12 at 17:38
  • let us continue this discussion in chat – hexparrot May 2 '12 at 17:40
  • @hexparrot: who cares if you flag comments. Comments are not important and are subject to deletion at any point with no guarantees. I'd downvote more if they were free, lots more. Especially if all I had to do was comment, because downvotes are always constructive. Serial downvoting is already reversed. You've not been with SO long enough to appreciate the workflow, and that's Ok. Downvotes happen, and they mostly happen anonymously. Either learn to love it, or be forever mad. – user7116 May 2 '12 at 17:49

I think you have misinterpreted Jeff's answer. Yes the number of down votes a user receives could ultimately get them banned from asking any further questions but in general down votes are not for that purpose.

Down votes are there to indicate whether you have asked a question that:

  1. Can't really be answered i.e just asked to incite a riot :-)
  2. Hasn't been worded correctly
  3. Isn't very clear. Rambles on for ever and never gets to the point
  4. Is something that could easily be found by either searching google or Stackoverflow itself.

Also down votes are given to answers that are incorrect. There are potentially many other reasons to but I'm guessing that would be the main reason.

I also don't think that people hold back on down voting just because of the -1 rep. I know that I feel that it deserves a down vote then I'll give it one. Also try to remember to always add a comment as to why you down voted. Nothing worse than getting a down vote and no reason why.

Sure, ask LOTS of stupid question then you are going to get banned - its basically spamming the site. Ask a question, or post an answer, that gets a couple of down votes? I think you'll be safe!

This is all my understanding of the voting system so if I'm wrong I'm sure I will be corrected in no time at all! ;)

  • Your list points look like things that generally don't get downvotes. – Grace Note Aug 24 '10 at 18:15
  • @Grace Note - Thanks - I have no idea what went wrong there! Updated my answer. – codingbadger Aug 24 '10 at 18:20
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    I've met several high-rep users who said they "comment instead of downvoting", which in itself beats the idea of downvoting (they should comment and downvote, if I understand correctly). – zneak Aug 24 '10 at 18:24
  • @zneak - I would say always comment. If a down vote is required then down vote. Its only 1 rep. Give a good answer and you'll soon get it back! – codingbadger Aug 24 '10 at 18:27
  • @Barry: I know that. It just seems like not everyone does. Just go to the Users page, check the vote ratio of the users you see. Most have about 10 upvotes for each downvotes, very few have more, but a noticeable amount have much, much less downvotes than that. Should speak a little. – zneak Aug 24 '10 at 18:37
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    @zneak: I thought most comment instead of downvoting for minor, fixable, mistakes. Plain wrong or ignorant answers are in a different league. – Georg Fritzsche Aug 24 '10 at 19:15

I think this is a good idea. Close and delete votes can be seen as a form of "downvote", and they are subject to daily limits to prevent abuse. Why wouldn't a similar mechanism work for downvotes?

It's incoherent to defend the importance of downvotes, yet at the same defend a mechanism that effectively results in big ratios #upvotes/#downvotes. Are most entries in SO that good?

I agree that downvotes should be used sparingly, that we should empathize the positive contributions more than we disfavor the negative contributions. However, let's be fair: many answers in StackOverflow are inane, and a significant part of the answers range from inaccurate to completely wrong.

We should confront the authors of wrong questions or poor questions, not leave their posts rotting at score 0, . I find this more constructive (if the downvote is, obviously, accompanied by a commentary).

  • (-1) "It's incoherent to defend the importance of downvotes, yet at the same defend a mechanism that effectively results in big ratios #upvotes/#downvotes." This is simply false. People can defend both guns and gun control and still be 'coherent'. – devinb Aug 25 '10 at 21:20
  • @devinb you ignored the second clause. – Artefacto Aug 26 '10 at 11:24
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    So does the sentence I quoted. – devinb Aug 26 '10 at 11:35
  • @devinb That phrase doesn't even make sense. "does" what? – Artefacto Aug 26 '10 at 23:56

I think, and this is something I've just thought about, is that the cost of down voting is not high enough! People use the down vote instead of editing questions / answers into better shape, such as removing slight errors for example. Admittedly, some questions are bad and some answers are just wrong.

Perhaps a better solution is to pop up a prompt when down voting along the lines of:

Could this question/answer be edited into better shape rather than down-voting it?
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    Heh... I'd love this, but... Editing is, in some ways, even more controversial than voting. But more importantly, editing takes time and effort that many users (the casual readers) simply don't have or care to spend. – Shog9 Aug 24 '10 at 22:29
  • The edit suggestion idea is not bad, but the cost of down voting certainly should not be raised. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Aug 24 '10 at 23:13
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    I somewhat don't like this. I don't think it's the community's responsibility to edit bad stuff into good shape when it's downright bad. – zneak Aug 25 '10 at 15:40
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    I agree with zneak. Also, considering how much rep you have to have to be able to edit other people's posts vs. how much you need for downvoting, there is a significant number of people for whom the latter is the only option of the two. – RobH Aug 26 '10 at 0:47

One more aspect that other answers have missed (or not realized its importance):

Downvotes are negative motivators to the receiving party.

They induce anger, anxiety and despair which discourage the one at the receiving end from participation of any kind, not just that that they resulted from - rather than encourage them to improve by learning on their mistakes. That, assuming those were even objective mistakes rather than someone just disagreeing with them.

It's because of this that they disabled notifications of rep losses - to diminish this effect.

The difference between questions and answers here is that answers are typically authored by the site's core users rather than one-time visitors. For the former, both reputation points are meaningful as an incentive for continued participation, and negative motivation actively hurts the site's workability - one can take only so much abuse before rage-quitting for at least a while.

This is not saying that the current system is an optimal one, this rather points out that this concern must be taken into account by any would-be solution.


I'm writing this answer after the change in rules to downvoting. That is downvoting questions no longer costs reputation points.

From everything I've read on Stack Overflow, comments, edits, and good answers are encouraged. I've taken that philosophy to heart. I believe that downvoting is not constructive if there is no comment to accompany it. And, a comment will usually encourage some questioners to edit their original question, at least that's how it works with me.

  • "I believe that downvoting is not constructive if there is no comment to accompany it" But unfortunately we can't have this nice thing because of a few idiots who feel compelled to beat the crap out of everyone who even dares to downvote their posts. – dorukayhan Feb 6 '17 at 1:03

Downvotes are important because they cost reputation.

Without a penalty, the vote would be meaningless.

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    Could you clarify how they become meaningless? I don't see how the casting cost is important as the ability to mark bad posts is still retained, which I find equally important to the effect that cumulative downvotes are supposed to have in teaching a user to improve. – Grace Note Aug 24 '10 at 21:53
  • @Grace, if I get downvoted I can't dismiss it by saying my dissenter had some obscure agenda to suppress me or something inconsequential that I wrote. If the guy spent reputation to downvote me he probably means it. – Ami Aug 24 '10 at 22:34
  • You may have missed the point of the post. @zneak is talking about the cost to the person casting the vote and not the penalty imposed on the recipient. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Aug 24 '10 at 23:15

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