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I have today seen two examples of a newcomer’s question being downvoted without explanation. It is true that both questions needed improvement, and comments were made to that effect before the downvote appeared.

The effect of such mute and spiteful negativity can only be to discourage newcomers.

My feeling is therefore that downvoting of newcomers with reputations below some small and yet to be decided threshold should not be possible. In this way we might encourage newcomers to improve their manner of asking questions by commenting and closing in the usual ways, while not discouraging by treating them so primitively as naughty 1920s infants.

To add to the extensive and balanced discussion in previous questions, is there any support for such a specific suggestion?

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  • Repeated reminders like a meta-question about it? "Be cool with everybody but especially with newcomers"? – Mitch Mar 26 at 15:27
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    Does this answer your question? Downvoting newcomers with no explanation or comment – ColleenV Mar 26 at 15:39
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    Most spammers and trolls are "newcomers". If we can't downvote those questions, they stay on the front page. – ColleenV Mar 26 at 15:40
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    @ColleenV - I don’t think the OP is referring to spammers and trolls but to genuine newcomers who post questions without research for instance but the question is still worth an answer. The usual immediate reaction is often a downvote and a blunt comment such as “do your research first!!”. – user 66974 Mar 26 at 17:13
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    @user66974 Yes, but their proposed solution, i.e. no-one can downvote a user that is algorithmically determined to somehow be a "newcomer" will give that same special treatment to spammers and trolls. There is no way to algorithmically distinguish a genuine newcomer who is confused about site standards from a troll or spammer that isn't already automatically blocked by the system. Often users who are throttled for low quality contributions will make new accounts so they can continue to ask LQQs. Humans can sniff that out pretty easily, but computers have a harder time with it. – ColleenV Mar 26 at 17:18
  • @ColleenV - and the solution is to downvote? – user 66974 Mar 26 at 17:43
  • @user66974 That's a weird conclusion to draw from what I wrote. Did you read the question or just the title? My feeling is therefore that downvoting of newcomers with reputations below some small and yet to be decided threshold should not be possible. I was also going to point out that reputation is bad measure of "newcomerness" but chose to interpret that as just some measure instead of reputation specifically. – ColleenV Mar 26 at 17:49
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    Sometimes newcomers aren't "newcomers". Sometimes, the "newcomers" who show no effort whatsoever have been active members of SE for 8 years or more. And sometimes, newcomers abandon their post after only an hour and despite helpful comments and several answers posted, they never bother to check back. I've seen them all! :) – Mari-Lou A Mar 26 at 21:47
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    Downvoting new questions is a pretty old complaint, see this 2012 post: english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2998/… – Mari-Lou A Mar 26 at 21:52
  • Thanks to all for your contributions. It is true that I am referring to newcomers who appear to be genuine and whom it sometimes seems unkind to deter with a downvote. I had not considered trolling and spamming previously because they seem to be but a small fraction of "questions". Perhaps I am too naive. – Anton Mar 26 at 22:00
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    A lot of older users don't bother putting comments explaining the DV because it too often turns into a disagreeable "discussion" with the OP... especially those who cannot be bothered with reading the Help Page. – Cascabel Mar 30 at 17:19
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Most of the regular contributors to this site would probably agree with Anton in principle that the newcomers to this site should feel welcome. His post, however, makes a couple of assumptions that are debatable.

First, Anton seems to assume that everybody who posts one or two things on this site is eager to learn its customs and become a long-term contributor to it. That does not seem to be the case. Trolls and spammers have already been mentioned in the comments, but there is a much larger number of those who are used to participating, and who enjoy participating, in the sites of some different kind, and who post something here in the mistaken belief that this is yet another site of that kind. As soon as they realise that this is not the case, they, understandably, lose interest in it. Are they newcomers, in the sense that is relevant here? Incidentally, the mistakes of this kind can be easily avoided by 'lurking' on the site for a little while, and familiarising oneself with its nature, before posting something.

Second, Anton, as many other, but by no means all, regular contributors to this site regards providing feedback to the poster as the primary function of voting. The proposal that the newcomers should not be downvoted is then based on an analogy with the lenience that a teacher may display in grading beginning students. Voting, however, also has another function: it is a signal to those who may come across the post later of how worthy of their attention it is. It is, at least, debatable which of these two functions is more important. The site is already designed so as to soften the impact of the downvotes on the poster who receives them, in that the downvotes have only one fifth of the influence on the poster's reputation that the upvotes have, while having the same weight in affecting the displayed net votes.

Finally, if anything on this site deserves to be characterised as 'mute and spiteful negativity' that discourages newcomers, it is not downvoting, but the closing of questions with the 'reasons' that are bewilderingly unrelated to the question. 'Mute' downvoting seems more respectful to the questioner, and may feel much less like stonewalling, than the blue banner that is not quite mute, but instead speaks in an Alice-in-the-Wonderland manner. Paradoxically, the main reason why the closing banners so often confusingly obscure the real reasons for closing is that those who formulated them were trying too hard to be polite, encouraging, and euphemistic; the standard formulations of the reasons for closing that were in use some years ago were more blunt, but their clarity may have made them, on the whole, less frustrating to the questioners than the current ones are.

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    Also, downvotes require only 125 reputation while close votes require 3000. It’s far easier statistically to counter a harsh downvote than a harsh close vote. Helping a new user with their question can often stave off additional downvotes, but once a question is in the review queue, similar help may not overcome the momentum toward closure. – ColleenV Mar 28 at 11:03
  • The answer seems to encapsulate many of the points raised in comment, puts my own question into a sympathetically viewed context, and manages to review a number of issues in depth without being condemnatory, judgmental or flippant. I am grateful to all who commented and for a fine answer. Let us close the matter please. – Anton Mar 30 at 17:37

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