I'm sure I'm not the first one to discuss this, but bear with me. (I saw this, btw)

A few answers are poor. They get lots of downvotes, perhaps deservedly so.

Some answers are divisive. They get lots of upvotes AND lots of downvotes. Usually (but not always), some representative from each camp explains their rationale.

What really stings is the downvote of an answer others perceive to be good, as evidenced by the upvotes.

Equally hurtful is when an answer score changes from 0 to -1. I think the poster has a right to know why.

I propose to make it mandatory for the FIRST downvoter to explain his rationale in a comment. If the question receives further downvotes, it can be assumed that others agree with them.

I wouldn't be surprised if I am not the first one to come up with this.

What do you guys think?

EDIT: Adding another idea from the disussion in the comments.

An alternative could be making anonymous downvoting a privilege, like everything else. That way, only serious trusted users can have anonymity.

At 125 rep, we earn downvoting privileges. That shouldn't be anonymous. Anonymous downvoting should be a privilege earned at a much higher rep. I'm thinking 1250 or 2500.

  • 1
  • I suggested that it should be mandatory after the fifth anonymous downvote cast by a user i.e. on the fifth downvote cast, the user can no longer enjoy anonymity. Then afterwards he or she regains the privilege of anonymity. Got me nowhere... Of course, the detractors will say: But no one complains when a question is upvoted without a comment. So come up with a good rebuke/counter-argument for that.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24, 2015 at 9:47
  • @Mari-LouA: On the contrary, I think anonymity should be a previlege for trusted users. To gain that, you'd have to identify yourself the first few times.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 24, 2015 at 9:49
  • @Mari-LouA: Anyway, I could live with the anonymity as long as they at least added a valid explanation, but that's not feasible. They could siply fill the box with gibberish if they're allowed anonymity.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 24, 2015 at 9:50
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA: 300: allow named downvoting. 5000 or so: allow anonymous downvoting. That's what I was thinking.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 24, 2015 at 9:52
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA: The sad reality is, trusted users are the ones who usually don't hide behind the anonymity and speak their mind in the comments.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 24, 2015 at 9:59
  • 1
    Upvoting the "concept" that anonymous downvotes is a privilege earned. Not terribly keen on the quota, 10,000 seems far far too much. But 2,000 rep points is more attainable, and means the user has been around longer than one week.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24, 2015 at 10:04
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA: 10k is too much indeed. Manifestation of my supressed outrage. How about 3000? 300 - named, 3000- anonymous. Kinda fits.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 24, 2015 at 10:06
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    See also: How to guarantee getting anonymous downvotes. May 24, 2015 at 21:50
  • 3
    RE: If the question receives further downvotes, it can be assumed that others agree with them. That would be a terribly oversimplistic assumption. This proposal already has 9 downvotes; are you prepared to argue that all 9 downvoters downvoted for the same reason? I'd be surprised if that were the case. RE: Equally hurtful is when an answer score changes from 0 to -1. I think the poster has a right to know why. You do know why; hover over the downvote button, and it tells you. (Just realize that it reflects only one voter's opinion, and sometimes you can't please all people all the time.)
    – J.R.
    May 25, 2015 at 10:34
  • 2
    A better idea? Shrug it off. I was recently downvoted on a question from a few years ago. The answer had been at +5/0. Of five answers given, only one had earned more upvotes. One commenter said my answer was "exactly" what he wants in an ELU answer. Yet someone decided to downvote it anyway. That's fine; everyone has a right to their opinion; I'm not going to demand an entire system be changed just so I can have my curiosity slaked. I use unexplained downvotes as a chance to reevaluate my answer; oftentimes the result is an improved answer. If I can't find a way to improve it, I move on.
    – J.R.
    May 25, 2015 at 10:48
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    @J.R.: By that rationale, it's your opinion that the system shouldn't be changed. I've the right to mine. So you shouldn't really say "shrug it off". I think that people should voice their concerns. That's how the system knows what's going on and areas for improvement are discovered.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 25, 2015 at 10:52
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    I shouldn't say "shrug it off?" So much for you being "all ears" for a better idea. (You don't have to agree with my thoughts, but please don't tell me you're "all ears" to new ideas, and then tell me five minutes later that I shouldn't have shared one.)
    – J.R.
    May 25, 2015 at 10:54
  • 3
    @TusharRaj - I think that what J.R. means is that you should not worry too much about donwvotes. There is a degree of randomness and irrationality ( just as in real life) that probably should not be taken too seriously. In my experience here, at the end of the day good questions and answers will receive up votes. Background noise of up or donwvotes will remain unnoticed in the end.
    – user66974
    May 26, 2015 at 7:33
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    @TusharRaj - I agree with you that here users are probably more generous with downvotes compared to other SE sites, but I don't count too much on any significant change with that respect. But we love this place anyway and we will not be put off by spurious downvotes,:)
    – user66974
    May 26, 2015 at 7:57

6 Answers 6


The officially delineated grounds for downvoting at EL&U are not (it seems to me) internally consistent. On the one hand, on the Help Center's Privileges page, the "vote down" privilege is accompanied by this brief and extremely broad description:

Indicate when questions and answers are not useful

But if you click that description and jump to the Vote Down page, you get what I take to be a significantly different representation of what downvoting is all about:

What is voting down?

Voting down, also known as "casting downvotes", is how the community indicates which questions and answers are least useful.

In my opinion, the wording "indicates which questions and answers are least useful" is a sizable step away from the wording "indicate when questions and answers are not useful," although what either phrase means is, of course, subject to interpretation.

One might argue, for example, that endorsing the downvoting of questions and answers that are "least useful" encourages more-aggressive downvoting than does endorsing the downvoting of questions and answers that are "not useful"—since a question or answer can be useful and yet still qualify as "least useful," whereas a question or answer that is "not useful" (if we understand that term literally) is less useful than the worst "useful but least useful" question or answer.

Nevertheless, I think that reserving downvotes for "least useful" questions and answers invites a more restrained approach than does applying downvotes to all questions and answers that are "not useful." I suppose that much of the ambiguity here relates to the unanswered question "useful to whom?" I almost never see a single-word request question or answer that is useful to me, and many of them don't seem likely to be particularly useful to most other readers, either. But for the person asking the question, both the question and the array of answers it elicits may be quite useful.

Under the circumstances, the invitation to downvote the "least useful" questions and answers seems to envisage restricting downvoting to questions and answers that seem unlikely to be of significant value to anyone, as opposed to downvoting ones that merely aren't useful to the voter. This impression is strengthened by the next question on the Vote Down page:

When should I vote down?

Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect.

The downvoting standard here seems radically different from either the "questions and answers are not useful" standard or the "questions and answers are least useful" standard. Taken at face value, it ignores the criterion of usefulness altogether and sets up in its place a three-pronged analysis:

  1. Is the question or answer egregiously sloppy?

  2. Does the question or answer constitute a no-effort-expended post?

  3. If it is an answer, is the answer clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect?

If the answer to any of these three questions is yes, the standard indicates, a downvote is appropriate; and if not, it implies, not.

If voters took this standard seriously, I have no doubt that there would be far fewer downvotes at EL&U. Questions and answers that are egregiously sloppy or show no effort at all, and answers that are clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect are far less common here than downvotes are.

I don't think I've ever seen a question or answer on the main site by Tushar Raj or Mari-Lou A or Andrew Leach or TimLymington or FumbleFingers or Dan Bron (to name the six users who have participated in this discussion so far) that deserved downvoting under an objective reading of the "When should I downvote?" standard—or for that matter under an objective reading of either of the other two standards presented in EL&U's Help pages. Yet every month, if not every week, they—like every other regular EL&U participant—post useful and reasonable answers that draw downvotes.

That's just the way it goes at this site, perhaps to some extent because the Help Center offers inconsistent advice about what downvoting is about and when it is appropriate, but almost certainly to a much greater extent because people who have earned the right to downvote rely on their own ideas about when to exercise that right—as (I think) they should.

It can be quite vexing to put a lot of time and thought into an answer only to have someone breeze by and downvote it for some unknown reason. But to me, that's the price of participation as an answerer here. Though I sympathize with Tushar Raj's unhappiness about how unhelpful anonymous downvoting is to the person whose answer has been slapped, I think that it's a mistake to obsess over the unfairness of it all.

In my experience, the difference between a +25 answer, a +10 answer, a +3 answer, and a -1 answer has less to do with the quality of thought and reasoning each contains than with the vicissitudes of how many visitors read the answer, cared about it (and the related question), and agreed with its conclusions. After all, it's not as though someone who posts reliably solid answers is a genius one day and a hopeless idiot the next.

It's true that comments can help you recognize weaknesses in your answer that you had previously overlooked, whereas downvotes can't. But the lesson of this disparity isn't, I think, to try to make downvoters become commenters; it's to try not to let downvotes gain outsize importance in your own appraisal of the quality of your work. Indeed, I suspect that if downvoters were required to explain their reasons for downvoting, the answerer would find the thinness of many of the explanations quite disappointing and not at all helpful.

EL&U is founded on the twin propositions that—in the long run—thoughtful, well-reasoned questions and answers will yield positive vote totals, and that people who submit such posts will see their point totals rise. This view is (as FumbleFingers indicates in another answer) both democratic and optimistic; and if it doesn't work in the long run, we have much bigger problems than the fact that good answers sometimes go unrecognized. My advice is, Have confidence in the quality of the content you submit, and let the votes fall where they may.

  • Accepting this to highlight the answer and keep it at the top of the queue.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 25, 2015 at 11:20
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    +1: Well-reasoned, well-worded, sound in every aspect. I'll note that even my highest-rated response accrued a single down vote: 135 to 1, but some user felt it important to register that modicum of discontent. Who knows why? Ultimately, who cares? Just soldier on.
    – Robusto
    May 25, 2015 at 11:33
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    RE: It's true that comments can help you recognize weaknesses in your answer that you had previously overlooked, whereas downvotes can't. I'm not convinced that's entirely true. I've had downvotes before that prompted me to take a harder look at my own answer; I was able to locate some weaknesses and subsequently bolster the answer. But that's a minor point – I agree with general thrust of what you're saying.
    – J.R.
    May 25, 2015 at 12:01
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    @J.R.: Perhaps I should have said "It's true that comments can help you recognize specific weaknesses in your answer that you had previously overlooked, whereas downvotes can only invite you to look back at it and wonder what you might have done wrong." Like you, I re-inspect my answers when they receive downvotes and sometimes find correctable flaws in them—but there is clearly a major qualitative difference in corrective guidance between a comment saying "I think you have overlooked X" and a downvote saying "downvote." Your comment here is a good example of that very difference.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 25, 2015 at 17:02
  • ...But not to give too much credit to the downvote as a spur to improving my answers, I also re-inspect my answers when they receive upvotes—and sometimes find correctable flaws in them. For me, simple distance from the original formulation of an answer is extremely valuable to the process of improving an answer, since it gives me a better chance to see the answer as would an independent reader encountering it for the first time instead of as would a writer who knows what he or she is trying to say.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 25, 2015 at 17:09

Downvotes serve a very useful purpose on the Stack Exchange: they discourage answers that are weak, sloppy, incorrect, unsubstantiated, or hastily-written. This motivates many contributors to be more careful and thoughtful, to corroborate their ideas, to proofread their answers, and to strive to write something that is accurate and useful for the long-term.

This proposal has one telling sentence:

I think the poster has a right to know why.

I think “right” is a very strong word here. Sure, posters usually want to know why, but I'm not convinced they have a right to know why. More importantly, I'm not sure this perceived “right” trumps the right for another user to downvote anonymously – and those two rights can't co-exist.

If all downvotes had to be explained, some people might be less inclined to downvote. (Raise your hand if you've ever explained your downvote only to get sucked into a bitter and hostile debate.)

Some might view fewer downvotes as a good thing. However, it's quite possible that the overall quality of the site would diminish if there were fewer negative consequences for submitting weaker answers (and therefore fewer incentives to submit better ones). I'm not asserting that such a decline in quality would be an inevitability, but I think it's a possibility.

One thing that has kept me active in SE is that so many of the answers here are worth reading, and very few are distractingly weak or glaringly incorrect. I believe the ease and anonymity of downvoting help keep the site the way that it is, and there is some underlying wisdom in the site's current design.

I propose to make it mandatory for the FIRST downvoter to explain his rationale in a comment.

This seems like a very bad idea to me. There would be less incentive to start negative feedback for a flimsy or dubious answer. Many users would wait for someone else to be the “bad guy” before piling on, and the few who are hardy enough to open the floodgates will gain reputations as being overly critical and negative.

At 125 rep, we earn downvoting previleges. That shouldn't be anonymous. Anonymous downvoting should be a previlege earned at a much higher rep. I'm thinking 1250 or 2500.

That idea has some merit, but I don't think it addresses the initial problem that prompted this question in the first place.

  • 1
    raises hand .... raises other hand
    – Dan Bron
    May 26, 2015 at 14:39

A downvote indicates that somebody thinks your answer 'not useful'; nothing more and nothing less. There is no intrinsic reason why there should be more upvotes than downvotes in total, let alone why anyone should be required to justify a downvote any more than an upvote. If there were any evidence that people are downvoting for bad reasons, it would be worth investigating both specifically and generally; but despite periodic complaints, there is none (for the general case; only the mods know about specifics).

In fact, posts like this make me less likely to leave a comment when I downvote. Most users are mature enough to accept that a downvote indicates one person's view, and it may be worth indicating how the answer could (in my opinion) be improved. But sometimes a downvote says all that is necessary, just as an upvote may do. Somebody who thinks anonymous downvoting should be a privilege while anonymous upvoting is normal has misunderstood the nature of criticism, and nobody has a 'right' to argue with the fact that somebody else thinks an answer bad. It is not far along that line to "But can you prove your opinion?" or "Well, you shouldn't be allowed to say things like that." An anonymous downvote from me indicates that I think that answer unhelpful, and am willing to lose a point of rep to indicate the fact. I don't expect the answerer to agree with me, but I would hope he would re-examine the post with a fresh eye. If he still thinks it a clear expression of a view he genuinely holds and can support, then it can be put out of mind (unless the numbers start to look worrying).

  • There is an inherent flaw with the logic that equates anonymous upvoting with downvoting (Looping in @Mari-LouA). An anonymous upvoter agrees with your answer. Let's say someone asks "Should I use A or B in this sentence?" You answer A, and justify it. Any upvoter doesn't have to add anything, since your answer already gives reasons for choosing A. But if someone thinks it should be B, we don't know why. They simply downvote and move on, and we are none the wiser about why B might have worked, or why A isn't right like we thought? I'm just saying there should be representation from both sides.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 24, 2015 at 18:01
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    @TusharRaj: You are assuming that downvotes merely indicate disagreement. There is ample discussion, both here and on Meta.SE, to indicate that a downvote is the wrong action in such a case. Of course people may still do so; but equally they may be upvoting for reasons unconnected with the quality of the post. May 24, 2015 at 18:19
  • And you're assuming I'm support anonymous upvoting. If a method can e devised that prevents unfair downvotes AND unfair upvotes, I'm all for it.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 24, 2015 at 18:22
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    You do not appear to have taken in the basic principle of SE (and other democracies); absent proven bad faith, there is no such thing as an unfair vote. May 25, 2015 at 23:14

As the OP points out, trusted users are the ones who usually don't hide behind the anonymity, and [usually] speak their mind in the comments.

Nobody's perfect, least of all me. But if I post a comment along with an [erroneous] downvote, there's a good chance I'll be pinged by someone (not necessarily the OP) challenging me to justify myself. And with any luck I'll reconsider my position and retract, if I've just been thoughtless.

I agree with OP's observation there, and I've no reason to suppose anonymous votes by high-rep users represent a serious problem on ELU (primarily because we don't do it much). Personally, I don't think low-rep users cause a problem in this area either - but even if not everyone agrees with me on that, I wouldn't want to change the current system.

Presumably the main reason OP is bothered is because an anonymous downvote could be seen as hostile/intimidating (once your rep starts getting into the thousands, you're hardly going to be bothered by the loss of a few points).

But disregarding unwanted "noise" from NNS who should usually be posting on English Language Learners, it's important to remember that we all speak English, and to a first approximation we all collectively define "valid" usage.

If wealthy educated grammarians had always been able to publicly "out" the perpetrators of any usages they didn't agree with, things like a naranja and Mine Ed[ward] might never have led to an orange and My Ned. In both those examples, "uneducated" people propagating the new usages would have been shouted down, because by the standards of the time they were "wrong".

TL;DR: English is inherently "democratic". So is anonymous voting.

  • Why does "My Ned" mean?
    – Dan Bron
    May 24, 2015 at 17:08
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    @Dan: My understanding is that the diminutives Ned, Nan, Nell etc. arose from "mis-parsing" of the now archaic use of mine before Ed[ward], Anne, Ellen. May 24, 2015 at 17:13
  • Ah, ok. We don't really use those diminutives on AmE, so until you explained their nature I wasn't sure what you meant. All cleared up now. Thanks!
    – Dan Bron
    May 24, 2015 at 17:22
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    @Dan: I called them "diminutives" for want of a better term. There are plenty of Americans called Ned, for example. Come to that, there are plenty called Ted, and for many of those it's derived from Edward, not Theodore. May 24, 2015 at 17:32
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    I am far more likely to comment than to down vote. In fact, most of the down votes I hand out are for poor or illiterate questions and answers that are plainly wrong.
    – Robusto
    May 25, 2015 at 12:02

If it's hurtful to new users to see their questions go from 0 to -1, then perhaps new questions should start with a score of -1. I'm only half joking ;). Most questions on this site are bad, especially questions from new users. I prefer to flag/closevote than downvote such questions but I can't fault anyone who wants to downvote them. They deserve their downvotes. What can new users do? Read the tour!

  • I was talking primarily about the answers.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 25, 2015 at 11:36
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    @TusharRaj Well considering that downvoting answers isn't free like questions, then there should be even less worry that downvotes on them are unfair. Any downvotes they get will almost always be deserved. May 25, 2015 at 11:38
  • If you really think that, I'm happy for you. You didn't have to face it. Yet.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 25, 2015 at 11:39
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    @TusharRaj I've had lots of downvotes. So I guess my answers deserve them. May 25, 2015 at 11:40
  • I salute your faith in the system. This reminds me of Megan Fox on SNL: "I don't remember doing any nudity, but my nude pictures are on the internet, so I must have done it."
    – Tushar Raj
    May 25, 2015 at 11:48


I like the second proposal.

Anonymous downvoting should be a privilege earned at a much higher rep. I'm thinking 1,250 or 2,500.

Pertinent considerations

• The privilege of downvoting an answer (125 rep points) is awarded after earning the privilege of upvoting an answer (50 rep points). The community trusts the user to cast downvotes, at his/her discretion, responsibly.

• The majority of users are disgruntled at receiving an unexplained downvote.

• Anyone would feel confused by two downvotes in a row, with no explanation, if they had spent time writing a post to the best of their abilities.

• If there is a comment helping users see where the problem lies, they can edit and improve their answer/question.

• Likewise when questions are put on hold it is accompanied by an explanatory note, which indicates what the problem might be.

• Some users do not care or never ‘listen’ to comments. That is their prerogative. And downvotes are like water off a duck's back to them.

• Some users will nitpick continually. The commenter or answerer may read abusive comments. There are users who thrive on being confrontational, it can be exhausting (and a waste of time) arguing with them.

More often than not, when I explain to a bemused poster the motivation behind any downvote, the OP will edit their post; the stumbling block is removed, and I delete my comment, and/or reverse my downvote. I'm not always right, and sometimes an answer gets upvoted despite my observation/objection/criticism. And that's fine, at least I have voiced my downvote, the user knows why and can disagree with me. And that's perfectly fine. I may or may not change my own mind. But other users can see my comment, and make their own decisions.

Medica in her meta post: How to guarantee getting downvotes without explanation, listed three possible reactions from users who receive motivated downvotes: 1) Moaning and whining. 2) Immediate launching of personal attacks and insults. 3) Revenge downvoting.

If all downvotes had to be explained, some people might be less inclined to downvote. (Raise your hand if you've ever explained your downvote only to get sucked into a bitter and hostile debate.)

I struggle to remember the last time any of these incidents happened to me because I left a comment attempting to explain a downvote. On the contrary, it's been my experience that many users have responded thoughtfully, and were appreciative that somebody took the time to comment as to why their post may be misleading or inaccurate. (*Raise your hand if that has never happened to you.*) But I have had [short] heated debates with users, unrelated to downvotes. Insults; disagreements; accusations; teasings; rudeness; and sarcastic replies etc. occur, regardless of downvotes.

[A brief note on sarcastic comments on EL&U: how can a user tell if it is said with a smile; a wink; a smirk; or with a snarl? IMO they can be thinly-veiled attacks.]

Tip: If you cannot handle the occasional, mild online abuse, don't post opinionated comments or answers in the first place.


The OP—who has forwarded two proposals—does not say he wants every downvote to be explained. The first proposal asks that the first downvote includes a motivated comment. Subsequent downvotes do not require a comment. If the comment left at the first downvote is accurate and fair, my supposition is that the incriminated post might attract further downvotes because subsequent downvoters will agree with the commenter.

The second proposal argues that the user must earn the privilege of anonymity. I'm in favour of the second proposal.

Let's consider the instance when a question is put on hold, the OP still has the opportunity to edit his post.

A question is only put on hold not closed outright, in order that it can be reworked and re-opened [brought off-hold].
Andrew Leach

There's also the help centre which provides tips, and guidance on how to keep questions on topic. If you can have that for questions, what's wrong with leaving a comment beneath poor answers?

But sometimes a downvote says all that is necessary, just as an upvote may do.

Sometimes that is true. Not all posts need a motivated downvote, especially if the user is unregistered and has written utter drivel.

But sometimes:

  • an answer will basically consist of one word, with no references or support.

  • people post good answers to questions which they think the OP should have asked.

  • a biased, or loaded, or strongly opinionated answer/question will be posted.

  • a correct answer, which was obvious to any native speaker, will be posted; but without any explanation.

  • answers will have not have addressed all the issues.

  • correct answers, written by non-native speakers, will contain significant grammar, spelling or punctuation errors.

  • answers or questions are formatted so poorly, they are unreadable.

  • the poster has not fully understood the question.

In all these cases, and in many others, a user may be justified in casting a downvote, but to the OP, the reason for the anonymous downvote may not be obvious. Why can't one comment be left explaining one of the reason(s)? Helping posters improve their answers or questions actually benefits the site. It's "pro-active", it's "constructive", and a civil exchange of ideas can lead to one to reconsider their answer or downvote.

And yet after two years of participating on EL&U I still don't get why there is always such a strong opposition to encourage this sort of behaviour.

"No!" everyone will cry in unison, we all want this to be the standard behaviour on EL&U. If that's the case, how do we encourage this behaviour? How do we cultivate a civil and fruitful exchange of opinions?

Perhaps if the privilege of anonymous downvoting had to be earned, then the newbie ‘downvoter’ will think longer on the reason for downvoting an answer. The non-anonymous downvoter will be motivated to write a comment in a polite, logical, coherent manner.

If users can't verbalize why they cast a downvote, then perhaps that's a good enough reason for not casting one in the first place.

Another advantage for making anonymous downvoting an earned privilege is that when an answer or question does receive an anonymous downvote, the user knows that the vote was cast by an experienced member. Someone who has had learnt the ropes, and has over time recognized the difference between a weak and a bad/false answer.


Revenge downvoting. And AFAICT that is the second proposal's largest drawback. It is pointless flagging downvotes when it is limited to only two or three posts, the mods cannot do anything. The system; however, does "protect" users from serial downvoting, but it is not infallible. The ‘voting fraud detection script ’ is a well-guarded secret, see the links below for further details, so I would not advise circumventing the script to test its limits. Please, don't. ☺

What is serial voting and how does it affect me?

Consistent serial downvoting now avoiding detection

Victim of Serial Downvoting

Protection against revenge downvotes

I've tried coming up with my own solutions, e.g. freezing a downvoted user from voting for a short specific period. But I can imagine that being terribly complicated to put into practice, and in turn, this counter-measure would be abused. Maybe it's not worth it. Maybe we should be adult enough to support the sting of a downvote.

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