I would like to propose a possible solution to serial anonymous downvoting. Sometimes the phenomenon occurs within a short space of time, and in that case the system detects the voting irregularity and within 24 hours reverses the downvotes. This system works and is an effective deterrent to would-be revenge-downvoters, as it means they are also identifiable to the moderators.

But what happens if the series of downvotes is spread over a distance of time? With not one downvote explained, justified or used as an aid to help the user improve his or her question. What then?

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That's an impressive list, isn't it? :) I'm not insinuating that I didn't deserve any of the downvotes. I'm not suggesting that the person responsible did not have any good reason for not downvoting. What I am saying is that this person, (who no longer has an account in ELU or in ELL) systematically and deliberately downvoted my questions and answers anonymously. And because his account has been deleted I know exactly who the user was, which makes the downvotes that more unpleasant and sadder. And I swear if he had once or twice indicated why my answers or questions were weak, I would have listened to his criticisms and have adjusted my answers accordingly. But he never did.

Once, confidentially, when I was unaware of his duplicitous behaviour, I even asked him why I might be receiving so many downvotes. He said I sounded too arrogant and lacked humility. Well, that was a shock. But I listened and thought maybe I do sound like that. Maybe the voice which I hear in my head while I'm writing is different from the one others hear. Nobody wants to be disliked, even if it's on the Internet; it's a fact. Consequently, I attempted to soften my comments especially on Meta, and tried to be more diplomatic. Funnily enough, things improved a bit, and I thought my "advisor" had given me some sound advice. Ha! (That's an ironic "ha!" by the way)

I have to say in his defence, he also upvoted a few of my answers and questions, but he would nearly always leave a comment. Now these few sparse comments have been deleted along with his account, which explains how I know who the person was.

Anyway, here is my idea on how to discourage anonymous downvoting. It is something which I suggested some time ago on Meta Stack Overflow but it didn't make a chink in that sea of comments, arguments, discussions which have engulfed that thread. See the link below.

In brief:

  • for every five downvotes a user leaves without a comment he should lose 5 rep points.
  • On the fith consequetive downvote a visual reminder should appear advising him/her to leave a comment.
  • If the user explains one downvote in five, no change in rep points occurs.
  • The downvoter needn't specify he or she is a downvoter, as long as the comment is constructive and legible.
  • Any user leaving meaningless incoherent comments or insults ought to be flagged by the community, and have 5 points deducted if he/she refuses to edit their comment.

I don't think it is an infallible solution, and for high rep users losing five points is peanuts but... at least they will be some form of penalization for anonymous (at times inexplicable) down-voting.

Encouraging people to explain downvotes

I would have written an "answer" but I haven't nor ever will, earn 10 rep points, on this site so, I have to make do with a long comment. I read one suggestion made by mg1075 who might be onto something. What if instead of [earning] a badge, as he suggested, for every five downvotes with no comment you lose five rep points? Cont'd. – Mari-Lou A Sep 17 at 7:32

Cont'd ... This will still allow leeway for: 1. You just want a quiet life and no hassle. 2. to explain why would take too long. 3. Your downvote is confirming the general consensus that an answer is incorrect. 4. You're in a mean mood. But on the 5th consecutive downvote you would need to make a constructive legible criticism. Anyone who writes a mangled comment would be immediately spotted and be flagged by the community. I'm not sure if this idea has already been suggested, so apologies if it has been and was rejected.

  • 2
    On a related note, if you suspect that someone is targeting you and circumventing the serial downvoting script, please flag one of your downvoted posts and leave a comment to that effect for the mods. We have other means of investigating, but we can't do so if we aren't alerted to suspicious behavior.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Oct 9, 2013 at 13:27
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    But I had no idea the downvotes were from this single individual, it looked unrelated. The times I have flagged suspicious activity I've been told there was nothing to report.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 13:38
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    I don't know if this would ever be implemented, but, if it were, there would be some issues to resolve, such as: Would you lose the rep after any 5 downvotes without a comment? Or only if you did that 5 times consecutively? (If a user leaves comments 80% of the time, it seems a shame to take away points from that user after 5 undocumented downvotes accumulate, as if that user was in the habit of downvoting silently.) Also, it seems like if you upvote an existing comment, that should count as a comment. If someone already typed "What did the dictionary say?" I needn't leave the same comment,.
    – J.R.
    Oct 9, 2013 at 19:18
  • @J.R. For every five consecutive downvotes, the anonymous voter loses five points, . If someone leaves a comment 5, 6, 7, or 8 times out of ten, I don't see a problem. Obviously if someone else has verbalized a downvote and that reason coincides with yours, why should you leave a similar comment but at least the questioner or the user who has written the answer has already something to go on. The times when a downvoter has explained their negative vote have been humbling experiences but very often they have also taught me something.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 21:13
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    Ha, I just checked your reputation tab and you conveniently cut the screenshot off right before it shows that the day event also cost you 110 reputation from removed upvotes which explains why the total for the day was negative. If your theory is correct and all of those were associated with the same user then that user was doing you a favor this whole time. I don't understand why you are complaining about them.
    – MrHen
    Oct 10, 2013 at 15:24
  • @MrHen I mentioned that the user had upvoted a few of my questions and answers. "I have to say in his defence ..." I showed the red mark, -36, at the top of the screen shot and at the bottom there are 3 reversed upvotes. I also mentioned that things improved for a bit. Why do you say the user did me a favour? The fact remains that he downvoted my answers and questions anonymously. This post is really about a proposal, I had an idea to encourage members to leave a comment before this user was deleted. I chose to illustrate my proposal with a screenshot.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 11, 2013 at 4:32

3 Answers 3


Well, to play devil's advocate, I don't have a problem with anonymous downvotes because I think the downvote tooltip explains the purpose well enough. (So do other comments on the post; so do close votes; and so on and so on.) I do have a problem with systematically targeting a particular person with downvotes but that isn't the same problem.

As for the particulars in your suggestion:

for every five downvotes a user leaves without a comment he should lose 5 rep points.

If the user explains one downvote in five, no change in rep points occurs.

They already get a rep hit for downvoting which somewhat implies they don't mind taking the rep hit. So... effectively removing an extra point per downvote isn't really much of a deterrent.

On the fith consequetive downvote a visual reminder should appear advising him/her to leave a comment.

Since I don't think downvotes need comments I don't really care about implementing this. Moreover, trying to force people to leave explanations of downvotes is actually a great way to make those people targets for retribution voting. This happens enough as it is and I would rather let people opt out of the drama/argument around whether a particular question or answer deserves a downvote.

The downvoter needn't specify he or she is a downvoter, as long as the comment is constructive and legible.

How are you suggesting enforcing "constructive and legible"?

Any user leaving meaningless incoherent comments or insults ought to be flagged by the community, and have 5 points deducted if he/she refuses to edit their comment.

StackExchange already has guidelines for comments even though most of EL&U ignores the recommended purpose behind comments. Which is to say that you can already flag comments that are incoherent, meaningless, insults or otherwise unhelpful. (I personally don't bother because EL&U seems happy with their comments and I have better battles to fight.)

In the end, I sympathize with your plight but don't really think it needs any drastic attention or policy/feature changes. Chances are high you can outgrow any targeted downvoting by continuing to post valuable content and reaping the benefits thereof.

My two cents.

  • - 1. Normally, five downvotes would equal 5 lost rep points, in this case the total would be ten, i.e. on the fifth consecutive downvote sans comment, an extra 5 points would be deducted. I doubt it would make any difference to a high rep user the first time, but if they left 15 anonymous downvotes in a row they might start feeling a bit peeved off. - 2. Perhaps you have never asked yourself why a perfectly acceptable question or answer of yours was downvoted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 22:53
  • (cont'd) But I am not the first, and more than one 5,000+ user has left a comment asking or demanding to know why his/her answer has been downvoted. It's a common complaint, and I don't see why someone as eloquent as yourself should feel uncomfortable about leaving a comment. I am sure when an answer is blatantly wrong you have downvoted and voted to close it. -3. An illegible comment is easily understood, a user might just hit random keys in order to circumvent the loss of points.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 22:54
  • -4 I really don't think it's my personal plight, although admittedly it does knock my confidence. Anonymous downvoting is a common complaint. I posted my proposal on Stack Meta Overflow in September before I knew who had been downvoting me. Did you see the number of downvotes that single individual posted? Wasn't it excessive?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 23:02
  • -5 My posting relevant helpful answers does not make a blind difference. I realize I am not popular, to prove my point, less than an hour of my posting in meta I received two downvotes. Coincidence? No, I didn't think so, I flagged the downvotes and the votes have been reversed.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 23:06
  • 1
    (1) So your hope is to... maybe peeve people? (2) I have, sure. But I got over it by asking people I respect about it in chat. (3) So your system might encourage bogus comments which then need to be flagged by the community and then moderated. (4) And I sympathize with the entire plight. But don't think it deserves special attention or feature changes. (5) You have 5k rep. I guess I don't understand the problem.
    – MrHen
    Oct 9, 2013 at 23:07
  • -1 No. My hope, if that isn't too grand a word, is that a user like myself might get some indication as to where her/his answer is incorrect or poorly thought out. Whenever I have posted answers or questions it has always been to the best of my ability and I care that I am at least correct in my explanations. I may not have the style or panache of some of the veteran users on ELU but I sincerely hope my answers are of help to others. If and when they are incorrect, is it too much to ask "why"?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 23:14
  • 3
    +1 for anonymous downvotes to avoid vengeful behavior. Not everyone deals with constructive criticism well. Oct 10, 2013 at 0:30
  • I came across a situation where an AD had swept in and downvoted an answer of mine and two from others (their combined reputation over 100k, I think). I merely upvoted the other two answers where I normally wouldn't have done, and checked back later to confirm my suspicion that someone would return the favour. Ignore vindictive downvotes; learn from constructive ones (which I think must have a reason and hence be non-anon). . . Oct 10, 2013 at 15:36
  • I did get worried once or twice when negatives appeared by answers - if these are purely malice- or prejudice-based, one single downvote can carry all too much apparent significance. I'd say all downvotes should need to be non-anon and have a reason attached. Oct 10, 2013 at 15:37
  • 1
    +1 I can't find anything to disagree with in this answer (and believe me, I tried! :). As soon as I'd finished reading the question I upvoted it, thinking "Actually, this sounds like quite a good idea!" In my early days on ELU I sometimes got pop-up reminders telling me I should upvote questions as well as answers. That worked for me, and I guess I saw OP's feature request as something similar. But by the time I got to the end of reading this answer, I'd changed my position (and it was nice to find that final paragraph addressing my last remaining misgivings just at the right time!). Oct 10, 2013 at 20:58

Votes serve a different purpose to comments. Votes crowdsource the value of the post as is. And that is the primary purpose of the site: to identify good questions and answers based on votes.

It is true that comments can provide constructive suggestions, but they should not be tied to votes. Comments are helpful but they are secondary. Votes are what make the site work, not comments.

Votes without comment are beneficial, not awful. They let a person vote their conscience without being targeted for criticism.

Personally, I look at the average of the votes I'm getting. If I'm getting mostly upvotes, my post is on the right track regardless of the comments. But if it's controversial or mostly downvoted, I try to improve it, whether or not there are comments to guide me.

If someone has decided that I need serial downvotes, that's their problem. I don't want to internalize their unhappiness. Its effect on my reputation is trivial. It disappears in the noise. I just let it go like water off a duck's back.

  • It is telling that (a) all three answers are from members whose rep points are among the highest, (b) all three are saying that anonymous downvoting is not a problem, (c) they either imply or declare that they prefer to downvote answers without leaving explanations, (d) none of them wants to be subjected to criticisms and hence prefer anonymity. Whose criticisms do they want to avoid, the answerer/the OP or the community's? And if several downvotes from an individual are unmerited and done in spite? Do those types of votes help make the site work better?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 10, 2013 at 7:06
  • Minor clarification regarding (d): I don't mind criticism; I actually enjoy criticism and will seek it out from people whose opinions I trust. I am actively avoiding drama. The rest of your points/questions have more or less be addressed elsewhere in this question's answers and comments. If you still want to discuss we can hop over to English Language & Usage Chat.
    – MrHen
    Oct 10, 2013 at 15:15
  • 6
    @Mari: Those are unfair criticisms, I think, and it seems like you're jumping to conclusions – especially w/ (c). I suspect just about everyone agrees that spiteful downvotes are unhealthy, and that downvotes with a comment can be more helpful than downvotes without. But not every silent downvote is done with malice, and, more importantly, even if the current system has some flaws or weaknesses, a change wouldn't necessarily bring about an improvement. Coerced comments may deter downvoting, but would that be desireable? The prospect of downvotes inspires some to submit higher quality work.
    – J.R.
    Oct 10, 2013 at 16:25
  • @J.R. I understand there are times when it would be pointless to leave a comment, there are times when a user becomes overly self-defensive and this may lead to an endless stream of bickering. If a user refuses to admit there is a "problem" or his/her answer is inaccurate there's not much anyone can do. But I'm sure there are cases where there are users who receive downvotes and are bewildered or confused and believe, rightly or wrongly, that the community is downvoting them and NOT their answers.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 11, 2013 at 11:03
  • (cont'd) A comment explaining why will not only help the user but also to visitors/readers who might not understand why one question has been voted lower than another. Especially if there is a difference of two or three votes. Knowing where is the mistake is HELPFUL. Ask any language learner. It's no good saying that's something is wrong and not explaining why.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 11, 2013 at 11:06
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA - I don't disagree with any of that. However, I was addressing your comment – specifically, how you wondered aloud about high-ranking users who were simply politely presenting the other side of the coin. That doesn't mean "they prefer to downvote answers without leaving explanations," or that "none of them wants to be subjected to criticisms and hence prefer anonymity."
    – J.R.
    Oct 11, 2013 at 12:27

Before suggesting a solution, could you identify the problem more clearly? Serial downvoting certainly is a problem, but one that the mods know about and can usually solve (as they did here). Anonymous downvoting is not the same thing and is not, as far as I know, a problem. There may be many good reasons to downvote, and many good reasons not to leave a comment saying that you downvoted. (One of the latter is the number of users who cannot accept any criticism whatever (eg this question), and will, if they find the identity of a downvoter, continue arguing and complaining beyond any sensible resolution; but there are others.) Anonymity of voting is an important part of the SE philosophy; there is no logical reason why you should have to justify a downvote any more than you should an upvote. And the comment threads are often overloaded as it is; why would you want to compel extra verbiage?

For clarity, I don't think this is a bad solution; but I do think it's a solution to a problem that doesn't (or at the very least hasn't been shown to) exist.

  • Could I identify the problem more clearly? I posted a screen shot. Not one of those downvotes were accompanied by a comment. Many of the questions/answers that were downvoted more than once do not have any comments explaining why. It is my suspect that some (not all) of the downvotes are made by "sock puppets" (I think that is the correct terminology). When a user has kindly pointed out my mistake I have listened, checked and verified. When it has been too late to do anything, I have deleted an answer spontaneously.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 23:24
  • (cont'd) I can take constructive criticisms, my pride may be bruised but in the end I appreciate the learning curve. I think my proposal is not a bad one, it allows a certain leeway and freedom.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 23:27
  • I would also like to point out I do not know why the user's account was suspended and why he chose to delete his two accounts (ELU and ELL). He must have had other users flagging his behaviour, as far as I was concerned, he was a friendly and enthusiastic person.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 9, 2013 at 23:34
  • 4
    It doesn't really matter if you can take constructive criticism. Other people can't and some of us don't feel like dealing with them.
    – MrHen
    Oct 10, 2013 at 0:24
  • 3
    Yes, this is exactly why I don't always leave comments. Oct 10, 2013 at 0:32
  • @Mari-LouA: if you post three comments objecting to an answer in meta, what would you do if I actually downvoted a post and cost you reputation? Oct 10, 2013 at 9:39
  • Your answer and that of the others disagreeing with my proposal, plus the fact they have all received upvotes speaks volumes. In a sense you have downvoted my idea, but I wasn't aware that one could lose reputation points on meta. Unless you are saying you choose to downvote a post of mine on ELU in retaliation. If you did, how would I know it was you? You would have to leave a comment. In that case, I might very well adjust my answer, I might delete it, I might try to defend my answer and/or ask for further clarification. Ultimately, I respect your expertise and I would listen.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 10, 2013 at 9:55
  • For the record, downvoting an idea and disagreeing with an idea are very obviously two different types of actions. You shouldn't automatically associate the two in your mind.
    – MrHen
    Oct 10, 2013 at 15:10
  • @MrHen: you shouldn't downvote an idea at all, just a post. Mari-Lou obviously thinks downvotes are addressed to a user, but actually they only say 'this answer is not useful'. (Certainly 'I disagree with you' is not a reason to downvote.) Oct 10, 2013 at 15:17
  • @TimLymington: Agreed.
    – MrHen
    Oct 10, 2013 at 15:19
  • @TimLymington and MrHen I don't vote for the user, but their answer. I have upvoted answers written by users I have never heard of, especially if their contributions add something useful and generally help the OP or even myself. I have very often upvoted your answers as well and will continue to do so. Likewise, if someone on meta proposes an idea or a feature I will either agree wholeheartedly or not, so I don't understand the difference between downnvoting/disagreeing with an idea or a post. Aren't they one and the same thing?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 11, 2013 at 11:32
  • 1
    @ Mari-Lou A: Hardly. I disagree with some things, such as the colour of X's bathroom, but that's not a matter of right and wrong. If they start saying "This is the only decent colour for a bathroom" or, worse, "You've all got to have this colour of bathroom', I'll downvote. Oct 16, 2013 at 8:56
  • @EdwinAshworth I understand that when someone posts on meta there is no right or wrong question or answer. On meta people express whether they agree or disagree with an idea, i.e. a proposal, or whether they believe a user has posted an answer which reflects their opinion too. "However, for Meta sites, the downvote is used to indicate mere disagreement with a question asked"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 17, 2013 at 20:34

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