Despite "helpful" contributions from various Members, this Question doesn't at all have a previous Answer.

Without explanation, a down-vote can be very like a slap round the back of the head… painful but in no way useful.

With explanation, a down-vote can be very useful. It would be in no way necessary to identify the down-voter, even though that would fairly obviously be preferable.

Which would we rather have?

Until people like Chenmunka, Dan Bron, NVZ, Helmar, or RaceYouAnytime can explain what they think makes Why is it not…? and Will you please change…? similar, let alone interchangeable, may we please not pretend this question already has an answer?

Even ignoring their own standing or image, hands up anyone who thinks that kind of failure contributes anything useful…

Else, who thinks it helps prevent progress?

  • 5
    Not my downvote, but this complaint is as old as Noah, SE isn't going to change any time soon.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 6, 2017 at 21:54
  • Thanks Mari-Lou and in your view, should they? I've no idea of the actual relationship between whoever constitutes SE, and members like us but I think you've been here longer than I… what's your own view? Jul 6, 2017 at 21:59
  • I'm all for explaining a DV, not every single one because users do become tetchy, but most DVs. All you can do is put forward a good case as to why it makes greater sense on EL&U to explain why a post misses the mark. But we'll just hear the same things from the same old users who want to preserve the status quo. EL&U is very conservative.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 6, 2017 at 22:04
  • 4
  • @Mari-LouA Interesting you should characterize us as very conservative when often we are accused of being a "bunch of lefties promoting liberal viewpoints";-) Jul 6, 2017 at 22:36
  • 1
    I thought when I started here that there should be a mandatory comment for DV, but the longer I am here the less relevant it seems to be. Besides, it would be very easy to get around such a mandatory comment (just post, and delete). Also, as NVZ has pointed out, this can lead to all kinds of other issues such as serial revenge DVing and other type of behaviour. Jul 6, 2017 at 22:39
  • 3
    @Cascabel but you are still a virgin, pure and unspoilt. One day, you too will join the conservatives. You will snort at some fandango slang expression, and demand that apostrophes be taken out from "photo's". It's inevitable. Flee, fly before your wings are clipped.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 6, 2017 at 22:40
  • 11
    I'll explain my downvote on this question: I do not believe people should have to explain their downvotes. It's been suggested before, ad nauseum, and the reasons it's been rejected before have been detailed, also ad nauseum. The whole point of voting is to let consensus emerge about the quality of a post. To sort the wheat from the chaff. That is, voting is for the site and all its readers; it's not for the writer of the post.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 6, 2017 at 23:12
  • 4
    Driveby downvoters are just one of those nuisances one has to live with. When you get downvoted without a reason being given, take a look at your Q or A and try to figure out if there is a reason. Sometimes you will realize you have been unclear, or that your answer is not to the point. Sometimes you will conclude that the downvoter is a prick or an idiot. And then move on.
    – ab2
    Jul 6, 2017 at 23:28
  • When Robbie Goodwin suggested elsewhere that downvotes without reason are unhelpful I agreed 100% because I have said this repeatedly myself. I requested Robbie G to post it as a meta question and also began thinking of this problem. Later I came across so many questions in the same spirit at meta.stackexchange.com/search?q=Downvote+reason and the consensus of all the excellent answers over the years is that compelling users to leave an explanation for voting will inhibit voting overall which is bad because Stack Exchange depends heavily on voting to distinguish the good Q's and A's. Jul 7, 2017 at 5:34
  • See also: Etiquette with regard to Downvotes
    – NVZ Mod
    Jul 7, 2017 at 6:44
  • 1
    though less painful, but also upvotes would need explanation often times.!!
    – user66974
    Jul 7, 2017 at 7:17
  • 3
    @RobbieGoodwin Please go through the answers and comments in the linked duplicate question. It will tell you why this feature-request will never be implemented. Also, this is a network-wide thing, not about ELU, so if you need a stronger response to your feature-request, please ask it on Meta Stack Exchange. I'm sure it will be closed as duplicate there as well.
    – NVZ Mod
    Jul 9, 2017 at 5:00
  • 1
    As I mentioned earlier, you need to make a strong case that a downvote accompanied by a brief explanation on a LANGUAGE site makes sense, and should be encouraged. Although you should be aware that serial downvoting and revenge downvoting is a reality, and, understandably, many users want to avoid being targeted. On the other hand, a mean-spirited and serial downvoter would be hard pressed to explain a DV that is cast because they simply dislike the poster.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 9, 2017 at 10:03
  • 1
    @RobbieGoodwin, doesn't the balance of upvotes over downvotes on Mr. Bron's answer indicate that quite a few people, in general, agree with it?
    – jsw29
    Sep 2, 2021 at 21:51

2 Answers 2


You want to know a secret?

top 5 questions ever asked on EL&U, all showing downvotes

These are the literally the top 5 EL&U questions of all time, and every single one of them has downvotes.

Do you care about who cast those downvotes? Do you care why? Do you think the authors of those questions care why?

Would you even have known they had downvotes if I didn't show you?

It's not about you

No, of course not. Because they're absolutely drowned out by the flood of upvotes. Consensus has emerged: these are good questions.

And that's the point. The votes aren't for you. They're for everyone else. They make it easy for the will of the people, collectively, to be heard.

That was the innovation of Stack Exchange. This is the fundamental mechanism that makes the whole thing work.

Separating the wheat from the chaff

This system of emergent consensus is, and I'm being literal here, why you're here.

You found Stack Exchange because you did a Google search and one or more questions came up top of the search results. Or a co-worker told you about it, or sent you a link. Or because you read an article in a blog or news site that linked back here.

Well, how did that happen? It happened because Stack Exchange makes it easy to find the good stuff, and ignore the bad stuff.

Ultimately, when you see a highly upvoted or highly downvoted post, you don't care why. You care the most people agree, and that takes a the impossible burden off you to evaluate every single post.

Voting, up and down, is what makes this work.

The bad old days

And as a corollary, anything that has the effect of inhibiting voting erodes this system.

It makes us return to the bad old days of forums where the title of the thread might be "Got error message #e77q: too much covfefe in the yatch", the exact same error message you're getting, and page 46 of the thread may or may not contain the resolution, but you will never know, because the first 45 pages are nothing but "me too!" and "I googled this and found nothing" and "@captmooseknuckles is a lu$3r!".

obligatory xckd

Which would I prefer?

So, you ask:

Which would we rather have?

The answer is clear. Forcing people to type a reason for downvoting will result in fewer people downvoting. Forcing people to disclose their names when downvoting will result in fewer people downvoting.

Fewer people downvoting is a bad thing.

Who did you vote for?

I contend you already know this. And not just from Stack Exchange. Do you ask people who they voted for in the last election? If not, why not? If so, what is the usual reaction you get when asking? What do you think accounts for the fact that most ballots in major electoral systems around the world are secret?

I'll tell you another secret. In the last major political election in my country, the candidate I voted for did not win. Do you care who I voted for? Does it matter? The other guy is in office.

What matters is the results. The will of the people has been expressed. And that's the way it's supposed to work.

Yeah, but what about my posts?

Look at the top questions again. They all have downvotes. If you had written those posts, would you care about the downvotes? Would you even notice?

No. It's a handful of malcontents; every crowd has a few, and the normal course of action is to ignore them¹. Same with downvotes. You're going to get one or two, it's both natural and inevitable and completely unnoteworthy.

It's only when you get more than a few that you should take notice. It means several people agree something is wrong with your post. And it's not up to them to tell you what or why.

You were the one who posted it, right? The onus probandi is on you. Step back, disengage your ego, and look at the post again with a critical eye.

¹ I walk through Times Square every morning on my way to the office, and there are literally naked cowboys, creepy Elmos, unintelligible prosthelytizers and topless women. I don't pay attention to any of them. You'd go crazy if you tried. The good news is, I suppose, being in Times Square, no one would notice you'd gone crazy.

  • PS: and I'm being 100% serious here, if you disagree with this answer, downvote it. Downvote it like it's going to determine the outcome of this question. Because I can tell you, pro or con, it's going to be cited as precedent in future debates on this topic. Downvote it: that's the only way this is going to work.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 7, 2017 at 0:09
  • Another brilliant answer from the person who cracked the 'little yellow-handled axe' covfefe -- the question has a clear answer at meta.SE and that simple answer is that "anything that inhibits voting is bad for determining the quality of posts" but your answer is more entertaining and more eloquent! Jul 7, 2017 at 5:02
  • 1
    I downvoted, as much as I admire and respect your posts and your clarity of thinking you're ignoring the thousands of users who care and feel bewildered when their (mediocre) posts receive two or more downvotes. They want to "know" what is wrong, because a DV is equivalent to an X on a graded paper. It says WRONG or BAD. Now any half-decent teacher will explain where the error lies, so the student learns from that mistake (hopefully) and doesn't repeat it the next time.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 7, 2017 at 5:06
  • 1
    An anonymous DV, I'm not saying DVs should be banned, DVs are helpful to visitors and for maintaining quality on a site, but an anonymous DV says BAD and leaves it at that. That is not helpful to the author, who sincerely cares and wants to learn.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 7, 2017 at 5:07
  • @DanBron - you should explain it is all just an illusion. Up/downvotes are imaginary.
    – user66974
    Jul 7, 2017 at 7:20
  • 2
    ... says the user who deletes his questions and answer on a whim...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 7, 2017 at 8:02
  • @Mari-LouA - well, the "imaginary" ELU world is and idea elaborated by Dan, not me.
    – user66974
    Jul 7, 2017 at 9:47
  • @Josh Actually that's a good idea, and may also address ML's concern. If people just decouple the idea of rep, and stop worrying about it (because, as you say, it's meaningless), maybe it would take the sting out of downvotes. People worry about this stuff too much.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 7, 2017 at 10:25
  • @Mari-LouA Of course. You are welcome and encouraged to downvote if you disagree. I was being sincere. I know DVs carry a sting, and my best advice on that is to bear in mind that this is all a game, none of it is "real". Gamification is just a clever mechanism SE employs to make people care more than they otherwise would. If people remembered that, the random DVs would hurt less or not at all. So you could stop caring "why" on a couple downvotes. More than a couple, I find it hard to believe that the author doesn't know why already, or can't spot the problem immediately, or no one commented.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 7, 2017 at 10:34
  • 1
    @Dan Bron - I never said it is meaningless, that's a tenet of yours. But users should definitely worry less about random downvotes. I think chatty and useless comments are worse, something we really should get rid of.
    – user66974
    Jul 7, 2017 at 10:37
  • 2
    @Josh Ah, I see. I stated writing a comment about meaninglessness but I won't belabor the point, I think both our positions are well-established. On comments: I don't think comments are so distracting as they are held up to be. In fact, personally, the personal connections I build in comments are, on a daily basis, what makes me feel connected and part of the community. But also respect that the site wants to focus on Q&A, and letting comments get out of control inhibits that, and gets us back to the XKCD situation. So I don't complain that comments are treated as ephemeral.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 7, 2017 at 10:50
  • I mean, overall, bottom line, I think the system works, as it is. So I take it it's given.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 7, 2017 at 10:50
  • 4
    To get back to the comment of @Mari-Lou A, wise and sophisticated users may be able to shrug off a downvote now and then, but newer users can't, nor should we expect them to -- or even want them to. It's good that they take reactions to their posts seriously. So it should be an unwritten rule for more experienced users, that we don't downvote without explaining our downvote.
    – ab2
    Jul 7, 2017 at 17:09
  • 1
    @Dan Bron Again, it is just fine if you don't; it's hardly compulsory! But the suggestion to encourage the practice -- ab2 would prefer seniors leading by example, and I add at their discretion -- seems the better option to develop consensus on this issue. Jul 8, 2017 at 1:27
  • 1
    @EnglishStudent Some senior members do it quite often. I for one have updated my (several) answers based on comments by Edwin Ashworth, and he usually reverses his downvote once I have updated the answer. If he hadn't left those comments, I'd have probably gained more downvotes from others and still would not be aware of what is wrong in my answer.
    – NVZ Mod
    Jul 8, 2017 at 11:44

I was the one who suggested to you, @Robbie Goodwin, that you should ask this meta question; I agree 100% with you (and I have always believed) that anonymous downvoting is very unhelpful because it gives us no feedback on what is to be improved in our post: could there not be a provision to make members at least leave an anonymous comment specifying the reason for the downvote?

So I appreciate your asking this meta question: thanks a lot for raising a point that really made me think and also do some study at meta.SE -- I found that THERE ARE SO MANY META QUESTIONS at https://meta.stackexchange.com/search?q=Downvote+reason which echo your sentiment, and the consensus of all the excellent answers given over the years (my own summary) is that

'Stack Exchange depends on voting to distinguish the good questions and answers from the huge number of posts: so any rule change that would inhibit the volume of voting (as compelling voters to leave an explanation surely will) is bad for the system.'

That is why leaving a comment explaining the reason for an upvote or downvote remains optional and not mandatory, but of course I learned that only because you raised this question.


In order to clarify my thoughts and final position on this matter I reproduce here my 3 comments to Robbie Goodwin's recent suggestion on another page that anonymous downvoting should not be allowed:

@Robbie Goodwin by 'anonymous downing not to be allowed', do you just want the downvoter to be identified? I have taken exception a couple of times not to 'anonymous' downvoting as such, but the fact that the anonymous downvoter did not specify the reason for the downvote. Of course leaving a comment as to the reason would immediately identify the downvoter at present, but we could possibly include a stipulation to downvoting that makes compulsory the leaving of an optionally anonymous comment specifying the reason 4 DV. Would you like to invite discussion by framing this as a meta question? – English Student Jul 4 at 0:27

@aparente001 your very pertinent point adds an interesting dimension to this topic. I forgot an explanatory comment might be rude, but I should prefer even a nasty comment explaining the reason for downvoting, and I daresay Robbie G would as well! There could also be a provision to protect the identity of the downvoter while explaining the reason for the DV. If the reason given does not convince us we shall ignore it. If the comment is offensive we shall flag it. The anonymous downvote is not at all helpful because it offers no feedback and gives us no suggestion to help improve the post. – English Student 2 days ago

@aparente001 I also believe that if downvoters were required to provide at least an 'anonymous reason' for downvotes (same for upvotes) it would discourage thoughtless and reckless up- and down-voting, although the reputation points would not build up at quite the same rapid rate! I have seen so many mediocre posts including outright wrong answers upvoted for no good reason --some of mine included-- and earning 10 points multiple times for the lucky member. So let users explain the reason for upvoting as well! – English Student 2 days ago

End note: after reading the excellent answers to the numerous similar questions asked over the years at meta.SE, I now understand and fully endorse the community wisdom behind leaving the decision (to post a comment explaining the reason for an up- or down-vote) not mandatory but optional.

  • 5
    For what it's worth, your quoted comments here are almost certainly "Too chatty" as I very much doubt they have anything to do with the actual post on which they were made. Please, please restrict your comments to the content of the post itself (there's a little more leeway on Meta, but not much). Comments are not for chat.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Jul 7, 2017 at 8:41
  • @Andrew Leach Your point is respectfully noted. I am being more careful to avoid discussion in comments and will be even more careful in future. But I hope the quoted comments are relevant to this answer? Jul 7, 2017 at 8:50
  • @EnglishStudent why not just summarize things instead of just copying the whole comments into your answer?
    – NVZ Mod
    Jul 7, 2017 at 17:27
  • @NVZ let's just say it was easier at the time! I had only 5 minutes to post that answer. It is clearly an Appendix and that signals that it is not crucial to the more important first part of the answer. I shall summarize its points into the main answer later and remove the appendix (I am no surgeon but in Medicine, in USA, this is called an appendectomy!) Jul 7, 2017 at 22:01
  • Excuse me, Guys, and what did English Student say that wasn't relevant, please? Jul 8, 2017 at 23:51
  • @Robbie Goodwin It is not about relevance, but the technically correct objection that we were originally discussing this topic in comments under an unrelated question, rather than in chat or meta. Jul 8, 2017 at 23:54
  • @English Student, you lost me there. I thought those guys were complaining that you were 'too chatty' or somehow off topic. I thought everything you said was pertinent. Jul 9, 2017 at 0:15
  • @Robbie Goodwin many thanks for the support -- (mis)using the comments section for discussion,as I have been doing because chat is too detached from the question page, is controversial, but as the site rules stand, 'comments is not for chat.' However I hope you can see the community wisdom that forcing a member to explain their downvote (or upvote) will inhibit voting in general and slow down the process of democratically determining which questions and answers are of higher quality, which is the whole basis of how Stack Exchange websites help people find the best answers to their questions. Jul 9, 2017 at 1:06
  • @English Student ~~With your last statement I slightly disagree: Although high-upvote'd Qs & As are one metric for positive value overall, it is not the only, as so too is the Search function highly useful. Highest-voted Questions tend simply to be those with much broad appeal, and higher-voted Answers are generally the most useful but not the only ones worth reading; if no reason is given to a multiple-downvote'd Answer, then that should indicate some obvious in-adequacy/accuracy with it, but that is not always the case. Similarly with a Q: a brief but tactful Comment goes long way.
    – 11qq00
    Sep 9, 2021 at 0:35

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