In an effort to make peace and resolve this issue before it turns into an all out feud, I'd like to refocus the discussion on the core issue that started it.

One user has taken umbrage at what he suspects is another user copying his answers and is downvoting accordingly. It is hard to tell from the answers whether this is true or not because the alleged copying isn't an exact word-for-word copy. The person posting the "copy" contends that it was not an intentional copy even if the answer was similar in some cases.

So let's settle this in the SE way, with votes.

  • 11
    Guys, let’s cut out the sniping.
    – nohat Mod
    Sep 4, 2010 at 18:08

4 Answers 4


My opinion is that upvoting is the appropriate tool to move the best answers to the top, and downvoting should be reserved for incorrect answers or those that are deficient in some way, not as a way to "double vote" another answer up the chain.

Ideally, if a similar (but inadequate) answer already exists we should promote editing the existing answer to improve it instead of adding a new answer that reformulates the existing information. However, I think it is acceptable to add a better worded answer if you don't yet have edit rights.

Finally, I think downvoting other answers on questions that are not somehow deficient to promote your own answer should be discouraged.

  • 4
    To edit an answer to change its meaning is something I would not think correct, nor would I be favorable to it. If something should be done is to report what should be changed in a comment; it is the task of who wrote the answer to change it. If somebody reports that the pronunciation of a word is always and only one, I would not change the answer to add that in some cases the pronunciation is a different one. If somebody is not sure of the answer he is giving, and wants to give the possibility to change the meaning of the answer to other users, then he would add a Community Wiki answer.
    – apaderno
    Sep 3, 2010 at 16:13
  • [continue] Adding a CW answer would also be fair for the users who cannot edit the answers given from other users, if they are not CW answers.
    – apaderno
    Sep 3, 2010 at 16:14
  • @kiamlaluno - Agreed, you shouldn't edit an answer to mean something else. However, despite the debate on the referenced question about whether the answer was ACTUALLY a copy, I was more trying to address what should be done when you think the answer is correct, it just needs clarification or more detail.
    – JohnFx
    Sep 3, 2010 at 21:36
  • I understood what you mean; what I meant is that adding a sentence more modifies the meaning of the answer. Adding a sentence that reports the American pronunciation of a word, when the original answer did report the British pronunciation would change the meaning of the answer. It could give more reputation to a user who didn't write the answer other users read after the sentence has been added; who first wrote the answer could not have reported the American pronunciation because he thought there aren't differences with the British pronunciation. Is it right?
    – apaderno
    Sep 4, 2010 at 10:06
  • I think this answer deserves more votes. Jan 6, 2011 at 4:24
  • @Cerberus: I think the same net effect could be achieved by simply downvoting every other answer - main difference being it costs you rep to do that. Anyway, in the case of, for example, plural of index, if we don't all downvote the wrong answer (as chosen by the techies before it was migrated to ELU, I suppose) it'll stay at the top forever. Apr 30, 2012 at 21:53

I'm opposed to tactical downvoting - the practice of an answerer downvoting a competitor's answer merely to ensure their own answer is the first one in the list.

However, reasons I would downvote are:

  1. Blatant plagiarism: Copying material within the site without attribution. (Outside the site? Fair game ...)
  2. Redundant answers: If an answerer hadn't bothered checking existing answers before posting their own, and their own answer doesn't add anything, then I'd downvote them. That's because the answer adds to my reading burden without giving me any benefit. If the answer has a similar message, but is phrased differently, such that people who don't understand the original might understand the new one, I'd regard that as legitimate.

In the original Stack Overflow community discussions around this matter, the consensus seems to be that if the second poster is improving on earlier posts (for example, adding citations, examples, etc), then this is considered a 'good thing' for the site as a whole and should be encouraged.

Granted, this ELU community is a different group of people, and may have different views on the matter. However, I think that we want to encourage the most accurate, complete, cited answers as possible. If these answers are posted after someone quickly posts a short answer with no supporting details, then the more complete answer should be up-voted.


When talking of similar answers, I think it should be considered how the answer is perceived from the others. For example, there is a difference between the first group of example, and the second one.

  • I think that commenter is a used word.
  • I believe that an island is a piece of land surrounded by water.
  • I have a feeling that a sybil is a woman able to foretell the future.


  • The word commenter is reported by the New Oxford American Dictionary, which doesn't report its meaning. Looking for the word in the Corpus of Contemporary American English […].
  • As reported from the NOAD island means a piece of land surrounded by water.
  • Looking for the word sybil in the New Oxford American Dictionary, I found the following definition: a woman able to foretell the future.

Answers that refer to a dictionary cannot be considered the copy of an answer that doesn't refer to any dictionary, or that refers to another dictionary (especially if one is the American Dictionary, and the other is the British dictionary). They would be a copy if you would cite a dictionary, but then you would not write what that dictionary says, and copy the answer given from the other user.

When considering if two questions are similar, I would also include the tone of the answer: An answer should not express an opinion about who asked the question; the topic is the question, not who asked it.
Replies that include phrases like you didn't hear well, or your dictionary has been printed when Napoleon was only three years old, make the answer full of denigration. Between an answer that express an opinion about who asked the question and one that doesn't do that, I would surely choose the second one.

Is it an acceptable practice to downvote other answers that are too similar to previously given answers?

I would say it's not acceptable if the down-vote is made from another user who already answered to the question, and down-votes the other answers given to the same question just to put his/her own answer in evidence, and avoid another answer is accepted from who asked the question.
I would then not down-vote a question that is equivalent to another one, and let who asked the question decide which one is more clear for him. Between an answer that is not clear for who asked the question, and one that is clear to who asked the question, the user will probably select the one that is clearer to him; if you down-vote a question which is not wrong, the OP would probably select the other question, even if he understand better the other one (especially if the user understand the down-vote as the answer is not correct).

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