Why are there so many meta questions about a supposed recent uptick in downvoting, closing, and/or bad questions themselves?

Also, why are these questions so presumptuous, assuming that there are lots of bad questions? Or assuming that the rate of closing or downvoting is steadily increasing lately?

Also, why aren't any of these meta questions reflecting on the possibility that their meta question is itself closable as non-constructive (speculative) or too local (depending on that one person being downvoted), offering only the existence of their question as justification for their meta post?

Do you suppose that some of these meta questions are rhetorical? Or that some of these questions are thinly (or not so thinly) veiled peeving?

There is definitely a grain of truth in the assumptions by the questions, stated as bald assertions but with little obvious self-reflection.

Actually we probably could take the energy to turn around/edit questions that don't fit our stated rules for downvoting/closing and just make something substantive out of them, but would that teach the author anything? And why do these meta questions end up eliciting really long answers that express a truth that addresses the question but that's a lot of work and probably won't be appreciated anyway?

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    I asked a question about downvoting on meta yesterday. I was not concerned with trends (and didn't mention them) but with the amount of downvoting that I saw, whether an increase or decrease from the norm. I have only been here a week, so I wouldn't know about trends. I don't care much about my reputation here because I am new and don't know if I should value the opinions of people here yet. Having experience on other SE sites, I was shocked at the downvoting behavior here, as it doesn't fit with everything that I have seen and read about the purpose of downvoting in the SE system. – Rachel Aug 26 '12 at 21:22
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    As for my own idea of what is a lot or too much downvoting, I think that if every thread has a downvote in it, that is too much, and I think this because I think that a downvote should be reserved for serious, persistent problems that could not be fixed by better means, such as commenting, editing, or closing. Some here seem to think that you should downvote a post if you don't find it personally interesting or if you think it has fixable problems that you don't have time to fix. I think this kind of behavior will not improve the content of the site or the happiness of the users. – Rachel Aug 26 '12 at 21:35
  • @Rachel: I like the passion you have for this site, and I hope you stick around for a long time. – J.R. Aug 26 '12 at 23:28
  • Wait, @Rachel, persistent problems? Do you mean a post that has been criticized but not improved? Or a pattern of poor posts? Because the latter sounds an awful lot like "tactical" down-voting to me - votes should really be cast on the content of the individual post, not on its history, the history of the author, or the topic in general. – Shog9 Aug 26 '12 at 23:50
  • @Shog9: I mean a post that has not been improved despite problems being pointed out and not otherwise addressed. I just gave my thoughts on the appropriateness of downvoting in a dozen situations. – Rachel Aug 26 '12 at 23:55
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    Hi @Rachel. At the moment, the top 6 questions, including yours but not including this one, are about a perception of poor downvoting/closing here at ELU. All these meta questions ask why is it so bad here. I was being reflective and making fun because I don't see the same that the authors of these questions do. And this meta question was sort of a parody of all those. I agree almost entirely with your additional list of reasons to downvote (mostly to the effect that there are few good reasons). I disagree with the stated phenomenon, but agree that... – Mitch Aug 27 '12 at 0:13
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    @Rachel: ... agree that downvoters should probably do something differently than downvoting. All of the stats that have been done (by tchrist and shog9) have shown that ELU is middle of the road in comparison to other sites, and that any uptick in the past week is both anomalous and attributable to mods to the new review page (affecting mostly only much older questions). I thought it was weird that your question got 3 downvotes. – Mitch Aug 27 '12 at 0:21

In the interest of discussing facts rather than speculation, here's some recent data on posts and votes:

graph of votes and posts over the past couple months

As you can see, there has been a slight increase in down-voting recently, following shortly after a small jump in questions posted. This would seem to jibe with J.R.'s observation of a short burst of poor-quality questions.

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    Thanks for the graph! That’s really interesting. I assume that isn’t something that we can generate ourselves using the Stack Exchange Data Explorer? – tchrist Aug 26 '12 at 20:05
  • No, no voting data in SEDE – Shog9 Aug 26 '12 at 20:07
  • Hunh. There actually is a visible uptick in downvotes in the last week. But I don't really see any other trends. As to reasons that everybody is looking for, really, everybody votes independently. – Mitch Aug 26 '12 at 21:04
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    I think it's telling how the number of upvotes stays consistently above the number of downvotes, yet no one ever runs to meta and laments, "I gave a very basic answer to a very simple question – why are so many people upvoting my answer?" – J.R. Aug 26 '12 at 23:25
  • I know, @J.R. - those up-voters catch all the breaks. You should totally post that rant. – Shog9 Aug 26 '12 at 23:48
  • @J.R.: off to do so...to restore balance to the universe. – Mitch Aug 27 '12 at 16:38
  • For 'thinly veiled peeving', I'm surprised there was an actual substantive response. Thanks! – Mitch Aug 27 '12 at 16:39

Here's my take on what happened this week:

  1. For whatever reason, EL&U was hit with a lot of inferior questions, all in a matter of a couple of days.
  2. Many regulars in the community, somewhat irked by a flood of poor questions, responded with a flurry of downvotes.
  3. Many onlookers and askers, taken aback by the outbreak of downvotes, came to meta, to wonder aloud why this community seemed so negative and unwelcoming. Some of these questions were about their particular question, while others were about the overall trend.
  4. Some regulars tried to respond by offering their opinion on what happened, or explaining how the community worked. This has led to a lot of discussion about some recurring themes, like:

    • When is it okay to downvote?
    • Is it okay to downvote without leaving a comment?
    • Why did my question get closed?
    • I think my question is great! Why is someone calling it "too localized"?
    • How can someone new be expected to know how to ask a good question?
    • I did a Google search before I asked – what do you mean, I didn't do any research?
    • What gives with all the moderators here? Who do they think they are?

My hope is, by the time the dust settles, everyone will have a better idea of how the community works, and everyone will be all the better for it.

I don't know if I answered very many of your questions, Mitch, but I think I answered the first one.

  • I was being silly. But yes, your earnest answer does help explain well the first 'why'. – Mitch Aug 27 '12 at 16:41

We tell users to downvote whenever the “question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful”. But frequent downvoting seems to be perceived by some commenters as bad.

I am a frequent downvoter. I wish to champion free use of downvotes. More people should use their quota of downvotes, because they make the site better.

Downvoting is my last resort when I cannot fix the question.

When I run across a question which fits the description, I may be unable to fix it, for good reason:

  • I may not have time to do the necessary research that the OP should have done: we are currently overwhelmed by large numbers of very basic questions which lack even an elementary dictionary citation. In many such cases, the question is also simply unclear or otherwise impossible to improve. This situation is why I am currently a frequent downvoter. Support the proposal to create English Language Learners.

  • I may not have the expertise to fix it.

  • The question is off topic and so fixing it would be moot. (Note, though, off topic is not sufficient reason to downvote a question. Any good question gets my upvote, even if I have to turn around and recommend it be closed for general reference, duplicate, or off topic/migrate.)

Downvotes are helpful, not only to the OP but also to other volunteers. This is true even when downvotes are not accompanied by an explanation. Downvotes signal the community: they draw attention to a problem that somebody else may be able to fix. I am often alerted to problematic questions when they attract downvotes, and sometimes I am able to fix the question.

I don’t delay my downvote even when I make a suggestion for improving the question. My vote signals the quality of the question now. It is not good for the overall quality of the site for bad questions to accumulate upvotes. When a question is improved to the point where it no longer fits the description, I remove or reverse my vote.

I hear a concern that downvotes may turn people away from the site. I hope so! In my experience first-time posters come in two flavors:

  • Those we don’t want: the ELLs and the Nortonns. Earnest English language learners need the assistance of the proposed ELL site, not English.SE. Peevers, spammers, emotionally disturbed, or those who are just too self centered to read and follow the FAQ need to just go away.

  • Those we do want: the Rachels. Experts or experts-in-training with enough enthusiasm that nothing you do will keep them away. They'll learn from the experience and the FAQ, they'll come back better, and they'll contribute.

  • Excellent! thanks for responding earnestly to (what I thought was obviously) a snarky peeve. I don't disagree, but I just want to point out that downvotes, however much one can spin them as 'corrective measures' or 'things to learn from', they still have an emotional impact to the receiver. – Mitch Aug 27 '12 at 17:33
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    I hope they do. That's how people learn. And that's how I learned. I didn't resent it: I learned from it. – MetaEd Aug 27 '12 at 17:42

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