I'm not a native English speaker, but I usually do try my best in interacting with the Stack Exchange-sites. I haven't been using this site much so maybe there is something culturally I have missed here, but would it be possible to get some feedback on my recent question (Word for something that is emotionally charged in a way that reduces the chances of approaching the subject from an objective point-of-view?) that at this point have two downvotes without any suggested improvements?

If this is an unsuitable use of meta then please let me know and I'll remove this question.

  • A comment seems to suggest that downvoting is more arbitrary here than in other SE-sites. However, your help center states "Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect." Is this not followed? – Alex Jun 28 '15 at 22:42
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    I haven't read your question yet (I will go do so now), but I'll mention that statement in the Help Center is misleading and has caused no end of frustration and confusion. Maybe the best way to think about it is: the reasons given are sufficient but not necessary for downvoting. A vote is an expression of an opinion, and here everyone with sufficient rep is entitled to express their opinion, either way, for any reason. It's a privilege, one earned, and people exercise it. That said: questions which even have the faintest whiff of politics tend to attract more votes overall, both + and -. – Dan Bron Jun 29 '15 at 1:38
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    Now let me go read your question & see if I can offer any guidance specific to your situation.... EDIT: wait, the question has a net positive score and several good, upvoted answers, one of which you've already accepted. Am I maybe just late to this Meta question? Is it obsolete now? – Dan Bron Jun 29 '15 at 1:39
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    @Alex: No, this is not followed—at least not consistently. And the reason it isn't (I suspect) is because elsewhere in the Help Center (under 'Privileges'), the downvote privilege is accompanied by this explanation of how you should use it: "Indicate when questions and answers are not useful." So on the one hand you have advice to downvote only egregiously bad questions and answers, and on the other hand you're invited to downvote questions and answers that in your opinion "aren't useful." Confusing, isn't it? – Sven Yargs Jun 29 '15 at 1:40
  • @DanBron I think it's 3/3 in regards to up/down votes now, but that's still 3 downvotes I'm confused about. But apparently this might just mean that 3 people found it uninteresting? – Alex Jun 29 '15 at 7:30
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    @Alex: note that the help center only says to use your downvotes for sloppy, no-effort or incorrect answers; it doesn't say to use them only for sloppy, no-effort or incorrect answers. – sumelic Jun 29 '15 at 18:06
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    Though I didn't DV that OP, I was certainly tempted, because your articulation was extremely confusing. and also contradictory. You may have needed some help formulating that OP. – user98990 Jun 29 '15 at 21:10
  • @LittleEva Thank you for your feedback, could you give me an example of how the articulation was confusing so that I can understand and improve this? – Alex Jun 29 '15 at 22:50
  • Too bad I've vote-capped; I'd simply +1 this because it's trying to avoid ranting slash whining. – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Jul 5 '15 at 19:29

The direct answer to your question is that downvotes are as much part of the site as upvotes, and we cannot tell precisely why three people (at time of writing) downvoted the question any more than why six (at time of writing) upvoted it. There is no accounting for disapproval any more than approval, and we certainly do not require explanations for either, as innumerable hurt posters on meta have been told.

However, your more general point is less clear and more interesting. The help page on voting says "Voting up a question or answer signals to the rest of the community that a post is interesting, well-researched, and useful, while voting down a post signals the opposite: that the post contains wrong information, is poorly researched, or fails to communicate information." The tooltip when you downvote a question says "This question does not show research effort: it is unclear or not useful" (note that this is not exactly the same as downvoting an answer, with which some of your comments seem to have confused it). And the 'Privileges' page says "Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect." The three are not entirely consistent, though it is important to note that all of them are the same across the Stack Exchange network (so any requests for change would have to be made on Meta Stack Exchange) and the wording has already been the subject of long and agonising debate (so any such requests are unlikely to be greeted with enthusiasm). Each site conducts a discussion on what should be downvoted, and ELU has very many questions on the topic (see Should ELU offer more guidance on Question Downvoting? as an example: searching "downvoting" on this meta gives 484 results), but it comes down in the end to what each individual voter thinks, which is no more susceptible to justification or explanation than which way a political vote is cast.


I'm not at all sure that there is any advantage to spelling out when people who have downvoting privileges should exercise that right, since such advice is ultimately strictly precatory anyway.

As sumelic says in a comment above, the advice to "Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect" doesn't say "Only use your downvotes..." Indeed, it doesn't put any practical limits on when to use downvotes at all. But it does suggest that downvotes are most appropriate in what I think it is fair to describe as instances involving exceptionally poor submissions.

It seems to me that this language can easily lead to hard feelings when posters concludes that downvoters must have judged their submission to be egregiously sloppy, effortless (in a bad way), and/or clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect. Maybe the site's policy would be clearer and less susceptible to misunderstanding if the Help section said something like this, instead:

Casting downvotes is, in general, an unregulated privilege. Downvoters are under no obligation to explain their downvotes or to identify themselves as having downvoted a particular post. Some downvoters limit their downvoting to questions and answers that they deem egregiously sloppy, lacking in effort, or factually incorrect. Others downvote questions and answers that they consider excessively simple, lacking in evidentiary support, or unduly opinion based. Still others downvote questions and answers that they find uninteresting, unhelpful, or (in some other respect) unsuitable for this site. It is even possible that some people downvote questions and answers that, although acceptable in point of research and presentation, reach conclusions or make points that the downvoters disagree with.

Here are five important things to understand about downvoting:

  1. Downvoting is a privilege that users earn by acquiring enough points on this site to establish themselves as being presumptively responsible users.

  2. Downvoting (like upvoting) is part of an assessment system that is designed to be anonymous and that therefore requires no explanation or justification for particular votes.

  3. Cumulatively, downvoting (together with upvoting) tends to promote better questions and answers, and restrain worse ones, by helping the one to rise and the other to sink.

  4. Downvoting can help a poster recognize that a submission may have weaknesses that the poster was not previously aware of, and thus encourage the poster to improve it.

  5. Everyone gets downvoted occasionally, whether the downvoted post deserves it or not. If you recheck a downvoted submission—particularly if it has attracted only one or two downvotes—and it still seems sound, consider the possibility that the downvote is not a profound and authoritative judgment on the quality and usefulness of your answer, but rather one person's opinion, expressed at the click of a button, after an unknown amount of deliberation, for an unknowable reason. Then let it go, and move on.

  • Something which may take the sting off downvotes: each downvote is worth only 1/5th of an up vote in the scoring system. – keshlam Jun 30 '15 at 21:17
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    Actually, a downvote on an answer is worth −1/5 of an upvote.  A downvote on a question is worth −2/5 of an upvote. – Scott Jul 11 '15 at 5:06

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