When we started Stack Overflow, we wanted to make sure that downvotes were more of a visual and psychological motivator than a punitive action. That's why

  • upvotes are +10
  • downvotes are -2, and cost the casting voter -1

However, recently, I've seen Marc Gravell and Jon Skeet both say similar things:

IMO, downvotes don't quite carry enough... -5 downvotes and +1 upvote (for sympathy) yields zero points overall; or it could even yield +10 points for a new user! I'd prefer to see, say, -4 points? -5 points?

I am starting to come around to this way of thinking. There are some users who ask a lot of questions that get downvoted heavily, but over time these users end up with a fairly sizable amount of reputation.

This doesn't feel right.

We are considering changing downvotes to -5, with the same -1 cost to the casting voter.

There really aren't that many downvotes in the system, so the net effect of this change would be to reduce rep growth for users who tend to get downvoted as much as they get upvoted. (Yes, I realize this is no panacea: over time, we'll still get rep inflation for marginal users based on sheer quantity; this is only one of several changes we are considering to help mitigate this.)

The other downside to this change, besides the obvious minor loss of rep for most users, is that it would force a global reputation recalc for every user. I think we're due for one of those anyway.

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    I like this, but I would raise the weight for users with reputation > X. – jjnguy Jul 20 '09 at 12:02
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    I have to ask - are these 'marginal' users causing problems? How? I just want to make sure there isn't some sort of 'anti-noob' bias here. – Michael Kohne Jul 20 '09 at 12:21
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    Jeff - as it's a major change it would be worth making an announcement on all the sites just before it happens to explain and hopefully prevent a lot of "I just lost X rep - WTF" messages. – ChrisF Jul 21 '09 at 10:02
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    It would not "force" a global recalc. It would work fine without a recalc. The recalc will attract far more complaints than any extra penalty for bad questions/answers. – Perpetual Motion Goat Jul 21 '09 at 10:49
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    I say this only somewhat facetiously, but global recalc is unconstitutional. You can't change the law, then punish people for something they did that was legal at the time but now illegal. It's perfectly possible to write a database query that will use one calculation scheme before the cutoff date and a different one after. I support the +5/-2 proposal, but I don't support a global recalc (and my rep is only like 350, so I don't have anything to lose personally--just don't think it's right). – devuxer Jul 22 '09 at 0:42
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    Rather than the -2 to -5 change, I'd like to see it just not award rep points for upvotes to questions or answers with a negative score. Much the same effect, but less disruptive to users who play by the rules. – Joel Coehoorn Jul 23 '09 at 13:25
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    @DanThMan I'm afraid I disagree - your rep is not something you own. It only really has value relative to what everyone else's got. Everyone's rep would be recalculated, and the relative ranking afterwards would better reflect their actual kudos on the site. – Keith Jul 23 '09 at 20:26
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    Doesn't the EULA state that the rep points remain property of stackoverflow? – Tom Hawtin - tackline Jul 24 '09 at 3:05
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    It isn't a game. It is a question and answer site. – jjnguy Aug 1 '09 at 21:10
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    Any news on when this will be happening? – jjnguy Aug 11 '09 at 13:29
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    Downvoters should be forced to write a comment telling why is the downvote. This would help with this "tactic downvote" thing. – The Disintegrator Aug 27 '09 at 3:19
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    @Jeff: Please don't go with -5/-2. Or at least make the change to -5 first, and only increase the voter penalty to -2 if there is evidence of a problem with leaving it at -1. If you make the changes one at a time you'll be able to measure the impacts independently. – Dan Dyer Sep 25 '09 at 23:28
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    @Roboto: that is ridiculous. I have given 357 downvotes, and I'm sure there are users with way more than that. Forcing people to leave comments for each one would result in thousands of comments that read "asdfasdfasdf" or something equally meaningless. – Graeme Perrow Dec 17 '09 at 16:20
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    My forced downvote comment would default to "Take that. Hah!" for 15 character. As much as I dislike drive-by downvotes, forcing a comment is simply an invitation to uniformative or unhelpful comments – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Dec 20 '09 at 1:45
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    Declined?! Darn, I was genuinely looking forward to this change – Mark Henderson Mar 19 '10 at 1:54

41 Answers 41

1 2

If you were to do this I would increase the cost of casting the downvote to -3 (not -2, you increasing the downvote score by 5 after all) and make people explain. Some downvotes are simply vindictive and you'll be making those more effective.


I think that the penalty for downvotes should be less when the downvoter leaves a comment. Maybe -2 without comment and -1 with a comment.


As I (just now) mentioned on this thread, I think the weight of a downvote should increase non-linearly, the way that upvotes are now - only instead of starting out high and getting lower, it should start out low and get higher!

  • Exponential growth? How does that make sense? – Kyle Strand Apr 26 '13 at 19:34
  • @Kyle: Because one person downvoting an answer doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad answer, but many people downvoting the same answer likely means it's bad, even if it has more upvotes than downvotes (see eg. the most downvoted answer on the site). And by the way, I never said "exponential growth," I just said it should grow. – BlueRaja Apr 26 '13 at 20:13
  • (Also, the behavior of upvotes/downvotes has changed since I wrote this; it used to be that the first few up/down-votes were worth more than later ones, but now it's always +10/-2 for upvotes/downvotes to answers, and +5/-2 to questions) – BlueRaja Apr 26 '13 at 20:17
  • I said "exponential" because you're suggesting that the rate of change (i.e. the rep lost per downvote) should change with (i.e. should be a function of) the total number of downvotes, which is the definition of exponential growth. In any case, your suggestion wouldn't help in the case of questions/answers with a lot of downvotes (such as the one you posted). – Kyle Strand Apr 26 '13 at 20:17
  • Also, that answer has only 5 downvotes...did you mean to post a different one? – Kyle Strand Apr 26 '13 at 20:18
  • @Kyle: Whoops, yes, I meant to link to this (Also, off topic, but that is not the definition of exponential growth eg. your statement is also true of quadratic growth). – BlueRaja Apr 26 '13 at 20:23
  • What? Yes it is. "Exponential growth occurs when the growth rate of the value of a mathematical function is proportional to the function's current value." In this case the rep-loss per downvote is the "growth rate," and the function's current value is the total number of downvotes. – Kyle Strand Apr 26 '13 at 20:26
  • I guess I'm assuming that the function would be some variation on a proportion. If it were logarithmic, I suppose the function would not be exponential. – Kyle Strand Apr 26 '13 at 20:27

I think if there are a lot of downvotes AND upvotes then that tends to indicate that it is a religious or other contentious issue. Why penalize them overall for particular questions?

I think it is a serious mistake to keep the -1 for the down voter.

Leaving it with -1 only makes it MORE enticing to do "strategic" downvoting or retribution voting.

If you're going to ding someone for 5 hitpoints then it should probably cost you a little too.

One of the reasons why there may be so many downvotes (there are pile-ons - it would be interesting to see the statistics on downvotes) is that they are essentially "free". Maybe the problem really is that it is too easy to cast downvotes.

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    I'm pretty sure we'll go with -5/-2 – Jeff Atwood Jul 23 '09 at 0:22
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    that works better than 5/-1 I think. – tim Jul 23 '09 at 2:21

Just let users with large amounts of reputation down-vote for free. Also you could limit the amount of free down votes for these users (maybe 10-20 per day). This way users who have proven themselves over time will get a tiny bit closer to being moderators.

  • As far as I know, moderators also have to pay 1 reputation point to downvote. – Donald Duck Jul 16 '17 at 1:29

Don't increase the penalty-points per downvote. Instead consider using one of the following:

  • increase incrementally the penalty-points per consecutive downvotes

2 downvotes received one after the other causes the weight of the penalty-points carried by the 2nd downvote to increment by say +1 (i.e. 3) and so forth. This increment gets reset to 0 whenever an upvote is received.

  • increase incrementally the penalty-points per downvote based on total number of downvotes

After 9 (total, not consecutive) downvotes are received then the following downvotes would each carry an incremented weight of say +10 (or whatever) penalty-points, which will again be incremented by +10 on reaching 100 downvotes and so forth

This could also be applied to serial downvoters. The more they downvote (either consecutively or in total or a combination thereof), the heavier the penalty-points.

You may also have to keep in mind the total points each user already possesses, as it would really hurt newcomers to be hit by a tsunami of downvoters. Maybe a little red pop-up box could remind them that when they withdrew their answer/response, the weight of the negative points would be withdrawn as well. This way they can keep the answer up until they get sufficient explanation via comments as to why their answer was considered incorrect or inappropriate. Then they can defend their answer, or edit their answer to clear up any misunderstandings, or just delete it (and put in a new answer).

  • How does this help? Your first suggestion would still have two downvotes + 1 upvote being a net win for the person being downvoted (even as their post stands with a negative score)... Moreso if the upvote comes between the downvotes! And near as i can tell, the second suggestion only makes a difference for heavily down-voted posts (even 5 down-votes + 1 up-vote would still be a wash rep-wise). – Shog9 Jul 25 '09 at 22:37
  • @Shog9: If someone upvotes, it's indicative that there was indeed some merit in the answer. However when people downvote, and that too consecutively it indicates a unanimous disapproval. To increase the weight of downvotes in such instances would be the most appropriate and effective. As for the second suggestion, I have given as example limits: 10 and 100 to increase the penalty-point increment per downvote. Limits could just as easily be of 5, 12, 25 and 75 (or whatever) Similarly the increment of penalty-points at each stage could be set as per conscience to be more harsher or lenient. – facepalmd Jul 25 '09 at 23:24
  • I think this is getting a little complicated for just votes.. – mk12 Aug 19 '09 at 13:57
  • @facepalmd: "If someone upvotes, it's indicative that there was indeed some merit in the answer." I know this is old now, but the whole point of this discussion is that your statement there is just not true. – Joel Coehoorn Dec 20 '09 at 4:01

The proposed change might roughen the pleasant atmosphere I associate with Stackoverflow. So here's my 3 cents against increasing the penalty:

  1. It's good to know what's wrong is as well as what's right. An increased penalty will cause more wrong answers to be removed, along with the comments explaining why it's a wrong answer.

  2. Some answers are controversial. They are not wrong, or unhelpful, but they still get a lot of downvotes. Increasing the penalty would discourage people from expressing what they really think.

  3. Quality of information is ensured by a negative feedback loop:

    Negative feedbacks tend to dampen or buffer changes; this tends to hold a system to some equilibrium state making it more stable.

    By increasing the penalty, the constant in the feedback loop changes from 0.2 (one upvote = 5 downvotes) to 0.5 (one upvote = 2 downvotes.) This 150% increase will remove the "feedback" nature of downvotes. Downvotes will be a smack in the face rather than a gentle push in the right direction.

  4. People will be very upset if you lower their reputation retroactively. It's like saying "a penalty kick is now worth 7.5 instead of 3 points" and reordering the rankings at the end of the Rugby year.

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    On (4): Should not be a problem as long as the revised formula is applied to all players equally. It's like a stock split or join. – Lawrence Dol Nov 21 '09 at 19:41
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    On (3): StackOverflow suffers at present from a large quantity of crap - the signal:noise ratio is too low. – Lawrence Dol Nov 21 '09 at 19:41
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    @Software Monkey: (4) Even if the formula is applied equally, it changes the valuation of past behavior That's almost universally acknowledged as unfair (3) Yeah, negative feedback (especially the subtle type) was reduced greatly by the "Vote to old to be changed" change. It will decrease even further when a downvote equates to -5 points. Then people will downvote only people they hate, instead of people you suspect might be wrong – Andomar Nov 21 '09 at 20:57

Rather than going through and majorly dropping all question points by half, why not just make upvotes on answers equal +15 or something? Then no one loses any abilities they've worked for.


Allow multiple down votes by the same user at a cost to both parties of 1 point to a maximum of 10 down votes. It should always hurt to punish even when punishing the people who deserve a lot of punishment.

  • Upvoting this because I like the idea of variable downvoting "strength" while maintaining the same cost ratio. – Kyle Strand Apr 26 '13 at 19:37

Why not increase the downvote value according to the user's rep?

ie, Joe N00b joins and starts downvoting everywhere - it'll be carnage. However, if his downvotes don't count much (-1 if that) then it'll be fine; If Jon Skeet decides you've gone too far (or answered incorrectly) then your rep penalty from his downvote should count more. He's an obviously more responsible user who would only downvote (hopefully) for things that really needed it.

So if the downvote penalty ranged between 0 and -10, a user with 2000 rep might cost you 2 points, a user with 10,000 rep might cost you -5 points.

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    This has been discussed and [status-declined] before. Can't find it at the moment though... – fretje Jan 15 '10 at 20:28
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    But wouldn't it be cool? I think that each of my downvotes should reduce the target's rep by at least 1% of my rep (but also cost me 1% of my rep) - BAM! 280 rep gone. It would be so cool. Too bad I never downvote... – Pollyanna Jan 15 '10 at 20:45
  • just because its been declined before doesn't mean its not a good idea. – gbjbaanb Jan 16 '10 at 16:20
  • @Pollyanna - why do you not downvote? – Rook Mar 17 '10 at 1:07
  • @idigas - I'm not really sure anymore. It used to be because I was in the beta and I felt bad about dinging other users on the head - generally because I didn't see anything that was so bad I felt it needed to be pushed down the stack, especially when I could have the same result simply by voting everything else up. But now it seems like I'm not downvoting out of sheer habit - as if my first 'real' downvote would have to be on something that truly deserved it. – Pollyanna Mar 17 '10 at 1:54

An eye for an eye...

If a downvote inflicts -5 hit rep points, it should cost 5 mana rep points.

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    Well... that would effectively kill down-voting. – Shog9 Dec 22 '09 at 2:57
  • @Shog9: which would not necessarily be a bad thing – Steven A. Lowe Dec 22 '09 at 14:19
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    @Steven: Perhaps, but in that case why not just... remove it from the system. Entirely. Would simplify rep calculation, post scoring, etc. Personally, I feel that, so long as it's a part of the system, it should be useful and be used, and therefore I oppose anything that makes that less likely: increase in cost, arbitrary restrictitions on when it can be used, etc. As soon as we start treating it like some evil bastard feature that shouldn't really be touched, there's no reason for it to exist. – Shog9 Dec 22 '09 at 17:25
  • @Shog9: I agree. Remove it. It is unnecessary. Let the absence of an up-vote serve as an implicit down-vote. – Steven A. Lowe Dec 23 '09 at 0:19
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    Well, the trouble is... sometimes posts are really quite awful. Not awful in a "this doesn't belong here" sort of way, just awful in a "this is completely wrong" fashion. It's nice to down-vote them, to leave a quick and effective indicator to future readers that this isn't worth your time. Comments don't really do the job; you don't see them 'till after you've read the post they're attached to. Mass-upvoting does sorta work, but only for answers, and only when there are multiple answers, and only when at least some of those answers are at least somewhere close to being correct. – Shog9 Dec 23 '09 at 3:09
  • That said, I could live with an upvote-only system. I just don't think it would work as well. – Shog9 Dec 23 '09 at 3:10
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    @Shog, that would suck... long live the downvote! – juan Feb 4 '10 at 20:38
  • L0L I love how you relate that to gaming. – puretppc Sep 18 '15 at 17:52
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