I know that we all sometimes think our answer is good or acceptable when in fact it isn't. Sometimes we fool ourselves in the moment, other times we stubbornly hold to our position. I've been a contributing user on and off since March of this year. I have no doubt that people sometimes vote out of rancour for another user, or sometimes to balance out a perceived unjustified up or down vote. There's not much we can do about these, and the lower rep users are powerless as voting is anonymous, and doesn't require a comment.

I'm posting this because it's been only in the last two or three days that I've noticed an increase of downvotes on my answers, and apparently this is the only the place to raise such a concern, out in the open. I'd like to give a bit of background:

I was arguing with another user about the connotation of a word. At one point they stopped responding to me after I specifically asked them for proof of a claim they made. It seemed to me that in a moment of pique they decided to stop responding to me. OK, I understand that. But then hours later I start getting comments from this user and downvotes to my answers from them. In fairness, some of those answers might have been bad, one of them had a clear error, whatever, I'm not concerned with those initial downvotes. When I bring up the point that they're specifically targeting me to look for errors or reasons for their disapproval, they tell me that I have a "persecution thing" going. Only minutes later they tell me that they're a high rep user(a bit over double mine) and I'm a low rep user, and that they're just browsing my answers, seeing as I have a tendency to give "questionable advice", and that they'll stop when they get bored. I've given 205 answers since March and only about 7 had a negative vote count of -1 or -2 before this feud started; now there are a couple more.

I can give a short list of downvotes I find unwarranted:

There are also others that have been downvoted by this user, but I only bring up these last three, as my other answers may well be bad answers, I don't know.

Also, it'd be typical to say this in my defence, but I'm not at all intransigent, I'm happy to accept I'm wrong. I've made friends with at least two users with whom I've had long not-so-happy disagreements with. Just yesterday I had a long exchange with a user, which wasn't friendly, where in the end I conceded their point, upvoted their answer and gave a supporting comment.

So I guess I'd like a diagnosis of whether I'm a paranoid schizophrenic. Either way it'll be a good self-discovery thing for me despite the actual result. Thanks.

  • 4
    Frustration is a medal we all have gained becoming regular users on ELU. Moving on is the next important step. Is the cat on the picture your cat? Really cute.
    – user 66974
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 10:43
  • @user070221 I understand. But are you implying I should move on or the other user should? I'd love to move on, however it may be the problem that someone else doesn't want to move on because of some grudge held against me. By the way I don't care if someone hates my guts. My question is specifically asking to see if these downvotes have been coming from this person and if they are fair; not least because this may continue to happen.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 11:22
  • 2
    I am not trying to play down your concern, but here, as in real life, we interact with people who are friendly and well-disposed but also with people who, for some reason, don’t like us. I think your contribution to the site is appreciable and fair. There little we can do for haters.
    – user 66974
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 11:28
  • 1
    @user070221 Well said!
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 12:16
  • 2
    People downvote for many reasons. Some of the reasons are labeled by the system "This answer is not useful", others are what we think voting is supposed to be at that moment: wrong content, irrelevant content, bad formatting, current vote total relative to votes on other questions, etc, etc. There's no real knowing what someone else's reasons are unless they themselves say so.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 12:38
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    @user070221 +1. Make that a feature request, the 'Frustration' badge.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 12:43
  • 2
    Were some comments deleted? Otherwise, I don't see how you can tell with certainty that these downvotes all came from the same source.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 13:57
  • @J.R. No, I can't tell for sure. All I'm saying is that immediately the user trawled through my answers which resulted in a couple of downvotes (justified as far as I know). I'm only saying that recently more answers were downvoted, which seemed fine to me. Of course what I think is fine isn't necessarily fine, so maybe I'm probably wrong. And no, there's no evidence that this same user had downvoted. I was going to say I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but I guess I already have. It's OK. I'll wear my frustration medal, as user070221 put it.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 14:34
  • 3
    The series of downvotes seem to have begun on August 15th, if the downvotes are from the same user, it's impossible to tell by looking at your reputation table, than that user is abusing their privilege, and they may not be downvoting a series of questions in rapid succession in order to avoid detection. They may even have a sockpuppet. I'd flag this behaviour to the mods, you have a legitimate qualm here.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 16:28
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA Thanks. As it's hard to know which downvotes are deserved and which are abusive, it's a tricky thing. I'll wait to see what happens. Even if it were a case of abusive downvoting, no one can stay mad at me for that long. I'm just not loathsome enough, so I keep telling myself.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 16:44
  • Piccino/a! (I don't know if you're male or female catfish) Don't take it so bad, I know, easier said than done. If the downvotes are primarily from one individual (but we cannot be sure) then, in my books, it is targetting downvoting and it needs to be quashed asap.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 16:55
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA There's a difficulty here. If in fact there is a single person doing this extra downvoting, they may legitimately not like the content of your answers and it may be a coincidence (to them) that they are all from one voter. There are measures in place to deal with serial-voting. But a flag to the mod should help clear things up.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 19:04
  • @Mitch That crossed my mind while I was thinking. What if, hypothetically, we're just two people so at odds in our opinions that whatever I write they legitimately disagree with. That's totally understandable and is nothing to raise a complaint about. I think this has been discussed at length, and the best thing for me to do is just continue on and not worry about it. I appreciate everyone's help.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 19:16
  • 1
    This is going to sound picky, but the expression my downvotes in your question title sounds as if you are the one casting those downvotes, not receiving them. I know this is clarified in the question; but still in a hurry one sometimes decides what to read based on the headline... Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 22:13
  • 1
    Of course, if you feel that the answer wasn't that great to begin with, you should delete it. But deleting an answer because a user has pressured you, by commenting, and maybe flagging your last reply, is allowing that person's behaviour to influence you and your self-belief. Look at the answer, objectively, can it be improved? Can you be bothered? If you think it's fine, and you would repost the same answer, then why delete it? It's 2 downvotes. Someone might find it upvote it in three months time.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 12:58

4 Answers 4


There is absolutely no way to know who downvoted something or why—unless they say so in a comment. (Such as here, assuming that the comment is still there when checked.) Anything else is pure speculation.

A staff developer—not a moderator—with access to the database can determine who voted for something, but will only do so in extreme and highly unusual circumstances which go well beyond just one or two routine downvotes. Even then, it won't tell them why the voting happened that way, even if inferences can be made from a pattern.

In the answer I linked to above, the commenter said:

DV for answering a question that shows no research by the OP.

This has nothing to do with the quality of the answer itself. It could have been the most amazing answer ever written, and upvoted by hundreds of other people, but still downvoted by this one person for the same reason.

In this answer at https://meta.stackexchange.com/, in response to a similar question about downvoting, Tim Post says that "the answer was down voted because I lost my keys." He also says that some people attribute downvoting "to various phases of the moon."

All of these are possible reasons for a downvote. They're not likely, but they serve to underscore the point that downvoting (or upvoting) need not actually be rational.

In all of these cases, the downvote may not be a reflection of the content of your post at all. Or, even if it is a commentary on your post, it may simply be something along the lines of "I don't agree with that answer."

It doesn't necessarily mean that your answer isn't a good one, or that you need to do something to improve in the future, it may simply be that "it is what it is."

In each of the three answers you linked to, I see that you also received an upvote. That means that for each person who didn't like what you were saying, somebody did like what you were saying. That's worth keeping in mind.

You also have a good overall reputation. That reputation is the net result of all of the people who have thought you've been doing a good job.

There will always be people who downvote. Unless you agree that there actually is something wrong with your posts, don't take it to heart. So long as you keep getting upvotes, you can be confident in your participation.

I, myself, have answered some questions quite simplistically without (relatively speaking) putting a lot of effort into them; several of them have received a surprising number of upvotes (30+).

On the other hand, I've also literally put hours of work into some complex answers that I've been very proud of—only for them to net a low-digit or even negative score.

In my mind, I would want to see those two sets of results reversed. That only seems "fair" to me. But that's not the way things work. I've also learned not to take any of it personally—it's just the nature of an audience whose members don't all perceive things the same way that you do. Some of them will agree and some of them will disagree (for whatever reason), and the votes will reflect that.

Try not to obsess over one or two particular cases but focus instead on the bigger picture.

  • 2
    Very cool answer. Wow! DV for answering a question asked without research. And the comment was even upvoted. Geez, I shouldn't be saying this but I did just a thing a few hours ago, and got upvotes for it. Shhhh. I'd better pussyfoot on eggshells from now on.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 17:49
  • 2
    The disconnect, Jason, between quick, easy answers that get a person 30 upvotes and a really well researched answer that gets plus or minus two votes is the reason I just write my answers to please myself, and hopefully the OP. Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 22:11
  • @Knotell: But, it is a reason to dislike the StackExchange concept, and can turn off confused newbies.
    – jxh
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 19:09
  • 1
    Jeez, I've been linked to as an example on a Meta answer - I can't ever delete that comment now!
    – AndyT
    Commented Sep 19, 2018 at 13:24

Here are my thoughts on some things that could be improved in the posts you linked. I believe the best response to an unwarranted down vote is to improve my answer to attract up votes from other people to offset it.

Sardony sarcasm, irony, satire, or what

While it wouldn't cause me to down vote, I don't up vote answers that aren't written in complete sentences. I think it's a good idea to give some indication of the question you're answering in case the original question gets edited.

A word to describe things that reduce control

I also don't up vote answers that are guesses? (Although I don't down vote them because of that unless there are other issues.)

Informal and maybe even childish word for "warranted"?

This answer is better in terms of complete sentences, but it is written like a guess instead of an authoritative answer. I wouldn't down vote it, but I wouldn't up vote it either.

So yes, I can see how someone could decide to down vote those answers based on the content and not necessarily because they're trying to get back at you.

One thing you can do is state your answer with more confidence. Here is how I would rewrite one of your answers to be something that might cause me to up vote it:

A word that "describe(s) that which reduces control or produces the opposite of control" is "difficulty".

It's defined in Oxford Living Dictionaries as state of being difficult or something that is difficult.

1.Needing much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand.
1.1 Characterized by or causing hardships or problems.
Oxford Living Dictionaries

It is a good match for "things that which have a chance of preventing the intended or desired result" because a "difficulty" makes things harder to accomplish.

Here is how it would fit into your example paragraph:

"When a users interact with software there are always difficulties. If you're designing a software tool you want to minimize difficulties to provide the user a reliable tool. But if you're making a game you need difficulty to make it exciting for the player."

As an aside, I rarely find arguing back and forth in comments to be productive. In my opinion, you should have disengaged long before it got to the "Prove it!". Accept the feedback, or accept the rejection of feedback you've provided and only go back and forth if someone is asking you to clarify (which is different from disagreeing with you). Or at least that's what I aspire to do - sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the moment. :)

  • 2
    Thanks for your suggestions. When you say my answers should sound more authoritative, I purposefully avoid that because 1) Many questions are open to subjectivity, and 2) I'd like to contribute an answer which I'm merely "offering", but not asserting is necessarily correct. About disengaging in a dispute, I generally agree, but as a concrete example, just yesterday another user and I came to an understanding long after it came to saying "prove it", and I'm glad we did continue it. I have no problem with downvoting me, I have a problem if it's someone who may be targeting me for being angry.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 11:13
  • @Zebrafish My advice is freely given - you can use it or not without offending me at all. It's worth pretty much what you paid for it :) You don't have to defend your choices to me.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 11:22
  • 1
    I was just giving you my point of view. Your suggestions are appreciated. For better or worse, this community, like almost any, is one in which people's behaviour is shaped by a court of public opinion. That is to say if what you say in your suggestions is endorsed by the majority, or perhaps more importantly those with with higher power, then I'll have no option other than to fall in line with those standards or be an outcast. This is just an observation, but I think is quite accurate.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 11:29
  • 1
    @Zebrafish I've found that softening my language to account for the subjectivity in the topic isn't perceived well. It is much more effective to state things more confidently and trust other people to add the "in my opinion", "usually", "most of the time", etc. People tend to discount opinions stated less confidently, even when they're supported with evidence. You should try saying "I think this." instead of "This?" and see how it feels. It's OK to state your opinion without making it a question, and it's OK to let someone disagree with you instead of trying to convince them.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 13:56
  • 3
    I, too, think a little bit of subjectivity goes a long way. I appreciate when an answer says something more like "One word you could use is..." instead of "The word you are looking for is..." That said, I also think this can be taken too far, and Colleen makes some good points here. Starting an answer with a question (Difficulty?) and concluding it with "Let's try filling the blanks of your example with the word and see if it sounds OK" strays too far toward the wishy-washy side.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 15:14
  • 1
    There definitely is a delicate balance between saying something confidently and saying it in a way that makes people think of all the ways what you’ve stated isn’t quite true. I try to avoid absolutes, like never, always, et. al. and to explain any obvious exceptions or caveats.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 15:46
  • @J.R. Got you, I'll avoid answering like that.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 16:47
  • +1 for honestly pointing out that answers that are guesses to the OP's question (often a SWR) are not always prized by everybody: which ties into the desire by some not to bother to answer questions (often SWR) that amount to a "guessing game" Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 22:06
  • 1
    I think there could be some interesting cultural issues going on there when it comes to how 'authoritatively' one phrases ones answer. I tend to 'err' on the side of less authoritative and am dismayed how authorative-sounding some bad to wrong answers can be. But such answers are often upvoted. Human nature is warped...
    – S Conroy
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 17:39
  • @SConroy How absolutely/authoritatively someone tends to state their opinion is most definitely influenced by culture and to some extent by gender. I don’t mean to imply that one extreme is better than the other. Both extremes are bad. In my experience, making what should be a statement into a question is going too far toward one extreme. There are better ways to soften your language.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 17:45
  • @CollenV. I think I agree with you in that specific case.
    – S Conroy
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 17:47

Unfortunately, your question conflates two issues, and also assumes that one or both applies here on what appears to be insufficient evidence.

Anonymous Downvoting per se is an intrinsic and deliberate part of the site, which is not going to go away. There are many discussions and objections on this meta site (over 400 last time I checked), but the fundamental point is that everybody with sufficient rep has a right to vote, and has no duty to justify an opinion. If your post gathers more downvotes than upvotes, you should probably consider whether your point or expression of it could be improved; if it gathers a few downvotes among the upvotes, then that is a normal part of the criticism process.

Abusive downvoting is indeed a problem; if one user has downvoted a lot of your posts in one day, that is more likely to be personal than justified, and should be corrected. There is a script that checks each night for an excessive number of votes (up or down) from one account on another, and sometimes reverses such votes. If you think this has happened but has not been picked up, ping a moderator. But: firstly, it really does need to be a lot of posts; downvoting three answers in one day is not abuse even if they did all come from one source. And secondly, neither you nor the mod have any idea whether the downvotes actually did come from one source, let alone who it was; anonymity, as I said, is an important feature of Stack Exchange. If the mod investigating sees a large number of single votes on your answers over a short time, it may be worth escalating to a member of SE staff, who can pierce the veil of anonymity and check whether abusive voting has taken place (I say single votes because it is common for several users to downvote an answer in quick succession, and for an answerer who is already feeling persecuted to take this as further evidence. By definition, this is not abusive). Abuse can lead to suspension, but the reasons for any suspension are confidential; all you will learn is that (perhaps) downvotes on your posts have been reversed.

  • Thanks. How do you "ping" a moderator? The only way I felt I could raise this point was by asking a question here. Also, I've already asked this, but haven't got a response yet. In my answer here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/460475/… it seems that my last comment was deleted but someone, leaving the last comment to be one from this particular user, which misrepresents my answer. I'm just wondering why someone would delete someone else's comment, leaving theirs to the be the last one. The final comment is wrong about my use of "by".
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 12:26
  • Don't worry about it, apparently it's not straightforward to see who deleted the question because it can be closed by being flagged, even by one flag if it has certain trigger words in it. So I'll just accept that my comment disappeared, and deleted the answer.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 13:00
  • 1
    @Zebrafish You can ‘ping’ a moderator by raising a custom flag. Or visit chat and talk with a mod. On comments: they are treated as ephemeral on Stack Exchange; they can disappear without notice. If it makes the other comments incoherent, you can flag them to request deletion. It would be up to the mods (or the automated system) whether they are deleted.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 15:24
  • @Lawrence Oh right, the chat rooms are there above and to the right. I hardly come here on meta, so I haven't noticed it.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 15:36
  • @Zebrafish They’re also accessible from the hamburger menu on the main EL&U site. There’s usually at least one moderator in the EL&U chat room. You can use the ‘@‘ convention to ping them there.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 15:40

Are the downvotes against my answers fair?

Well, seeing as you asked... in the cases you cite, I think yes, they are.

Personally, if I was going to give you those downvotes I'd explain why in a comment. As you can see from Jason's answer, I'm a fan of doing that.

As to the serial downvoting, I think other answers here have already covered that sufficiently.

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