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Having prepared a post on uncommented downvotes I was directed to previous discussion (thanks for the pointer @jeffschaller), but having read through a selection of these I was left with an even larger void in my comprehension.

We upvote because we see value in someone's work. That is obvious. It's there for all to see.

We comment when we see something wrong, or maybe can give some small improvement that does not justify a copycat answer.

If we plagiarise an answer then there is usually some attribution (a link or an acknowledgement) in the post recognising this. Credit where credit is due.

If we see how an answer that can be significantly improved, or we have an alternative, then we post it to the benefit of all.

So we can agree; we can help; and if we disagree we can just post to show the right way. All very constructive.

So where is there any constructive value in a downvote? It just seems to say "this post is wrong, but I can't be bothered to tell you or anyone else who sees this post why it is wrong"

It can't be to express preference for another answer on the same topic. Just upvote the other answer. Job done.

So, why do we have downvotes at all?

Clarification

@jeffschaller I like your reference. It makes exactly the point about lost/absent information that I have tried to make but from the other side of the fence.

@fra-san I read these references yesterday and they deal with uncommented downvotes. That wasn't the point I was trying to make.

@muru Your link refers to downvoting on questions and these are also subject to explicit moderation in review, even removal. I would agree that as users we benefit from this feedback that our questions need clarification but I would also say that I see few downvoted questions without a comment explaining why, or a pointer to the guidelines. Constructive.

8

I would answer your question with your own words:

We downvote because we don't see any value in someone's contribution. That is obvious. It's there for all to see.

In general, votes are for rating. Rating allow us to separate the signal from the noise.

  • Sorry but I don't see (sic) that. First downvoting is based upon an individual opinion and is not there for all to see. Opinions vary, some vote up, and some vote down, so all are not seeing the same thing QED. Although you have in fact just provided me with the real answer to my question. I will wrap some words around it and post. Thank you.. – bu5hman Apr 27 '20 at 14:28
  • @PhilipCouling I'm using the same argument of the OP. That's why it is simplistic. Claiming that mine is simplistic is simply missing the point, that OP argument is flawed and lacks nuance. – Braiam May 16 '20 at 11:33
  • I'll rephrase... I wholly disagree that down-voting has anything to do with information to noise ratio. However your answer doesn't really describe the link between down-voting and information to noise ratio. This answer might be more convincing if you could elaborate on the link. – Philip Couling May 16 '20 at 12:35
  • ... Further, not seeing the value in something is a really bad reason to assertively down-vote. Much better to passively ignore. The answer may have been based on the OP's own words (hard to corroborate now) but that doesn't give them automatic credit as being "right". – Philip Couling May 16 '20 at 12:42
  • @PhilipCouling I recommend you reading Why voting is important? on the help center. It should refresh your knowledge about what is voting used for. – Braiam May 16 '20 at 12:49
  • @Braiam Funnily enough I have. voting down a post signals the opposite: that the post contains wrong information, is poorly researched, or fails to communicate information. That is extremely different from "because we don't see any value...". The premise of this answer (the OPs words) remain incorrect in my opinion. – Philip Couling May 16 '20 at 12:53
  • @PhilipCouling incorrect information has no value, or does it? If you are trying to find the answer to a question, having the wrong answer would not be useful (unless you naively arrive to that one, in which case it's more important to know why naivety fails). BTW, answers that aren't even wrong get deleted, not downvoted. ;) – Braiam May 16 '20 at 19:23
  • @Braiam that's actually my point. Posts that are wrong might be of negative value, but not all posts of low value are wrong. It's the low value posts which do not fit your linked definition that concern me. Down voting simply because you don't see the value in a post would be against the guidelines you linked. – Philip Couling May 16 '20 at 20:54
  • @PhilipCouling low value is a catch all for all the undesirable posts. Lets put another example: a correct post, that is literally repeating the same that another answer is saying, is that useful? Does it has value? How about two answers that are not incorrect, they are the same but one of them goes more in deep in the topic, does they have the same value? – Braiam May 17 '20 at 14:35
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If anything, downvotes on answers are more important than upvotes. Downvotes are the only way we have of indicating that an answer is bad. "Bad" could mean anything from inelegant, through not actually working and all the way to actively dangerous. Without downvotes, we would have no way of pushing such bad answers down, without downvotes, upvotes would be pointless.

To address a couple of the points you raised in your answer:

Accepted answers are valued by the questioner simply by the fact of acceptance, that they solve the questioner's issue. Their problem was solved and that's the help they asked for. (+15)

Users often accept answers that are really bad. They often don't even do what the question asks for! They might work for the OP, but we don't answer for the OP, we answers for the millions of users who visit these sites and who might have the same issue. So an accepted answer that doesn't do exactly what the question asks for is a very bad thing.

But it is not really possible to damage someone by posting an answer, to take insight or knowledge away. Brain surgery is not involved so a downvote can never have the same weight as an upvote. (-1)

It is absolutely possible for an answer to cause damage! Either because it is actively harmful (it can cause data loss, or it's a fork bomb or any of a myriad other possible dangers), or because it is not a good solution or because it isn't even a solution: it doesn't solve the problem at all.

We need to be able to downvote such things so that it is clear that they are not good solutions. I don't see why you would say that downvotes don't have the same weight. As I said in the beginning, if anything, they are more important.

What it comes down to is that the entire system of Stack Exchange is based on voting. We use voting as a way of helping good content rise to the top and bad content fall to the bottom. So if we can only vote in one direction, if we can only vote up, the whole system is pointless.

  • We are in essential agreement but from different viewpoints. As you say, "Bad could mean anything", my main point all along was that the explanation is worth more than the vote. The need for balance in downvotes is agreed. PS. Am happy to see downvotes on my post. Discussion is good for the soul. – bu5hman Apr 30 '20 at 16:53
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    @bu5hman people are free to add an explanation. Unfortunately, what often happens is that if you add an explanation, you are then targeted for revenge downvoting or for abusive comments. This is the main reason why nobody wants to make comments obligatory for downvotes. It just leads to a lot of drama. Personally, I almost always leave a comment, but I have more than enough rep to deal with the revenge voting and I'm a mod, so I have the tools to deal with drama. Other users do not. – terdon Apr 30 '20 at 17:18
  • TBH I am in the same boat as you. I rarely downvote an answer (they tried and that's good) and I would rather leave a comment to help than "hit and run". The 'drama' doesn't faze me. The rep doesn't faze me. More interested in learning what is was that was wrong. Have learned a lot on U&L, mostly from good critique of what I have posted. It's a wise man who knows he doesn't know! – bu5hman Apr 30 '20 at 17:33
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    @bu5hman please don't do that. If an answer isn't good, it needs to be downvoted. That's how the sites work. Comments aren't very visible and can be deleted without warning. If you see a bad answer and don't downvote because "they tried" you are actively harming the site. Leave a comment as well, if you like, but do downvote. – terdon Apr 30 '20 at 17:35
  • After several years I just found pretty much the same advice in the guidelines. My bad. Why didn't someone push me there before??? That said, it remains an opinion poll unless a reason is there. The good thing about close voting on questions is that it forces you to think before you vote and encourages you to comment if no-one else has already made the issue you have seen. OP gets a chance to learn. Nuff said. Thanks for the feedback. – bu5hman Apr 30 '20 at 18:03
  • @bu5hman bear in mind that the entire site is an opinion poll. That's how anything based on voting works, after all. – terdon Apr 30 '20 at 18:56
  • It's not my site so ... it's not my place to opine (sic) on the intent. I see value in U&L for the rational "peer reviews" more than just simple opinion, but that's just my own take-away. – bu5hman Apr 30 '20 at 19:18
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A point, that @terdon (+1) alludes to, but that doesn't across clear enough: Down-votes are essential to make some answers disappear, (imho)

Especially among the older questions there are some really terrible answers, with consequences ranging from wasted time (already bad) to actual data loss (very bad). Granted, the really super-destructive answers get either down-voted into oblivion quick enough, or comments point out the pitfalls, if it's only potentially destructive.

I regularly stumble upon, or have to glance over ancient (3+ years) answers, that are just plainly a waste of everybody's time and bandwidth. I have enough rep to see the vote-count on posts, and it's clear that here on stack-exchange, many people often up-vote answers with an authoritative or asserting tone, but hardly anybody down-votes!

That's why the old crap stays around. Within 10 minutes everybody can find at least as many examples of unmaintained-thus-now-incorrect, plain-false, or just time-wasting examples by authors in the 20000+ range.

Duplicate answers I view similarly.

I think there should be a gold badge, that you get for every 400 down-votes given!

The down-votes are the foxes of the internet, they get rid of the old and sick, and keep the rest of stack-exchange healthy! (At least, if the ecosystem still functions correctly)

  • To be precise, I mean: in general people should vote a lot more, up, down, and also flag comments, that are no longer relevant (60%+). If many more people would down-vote bad answers, they would also quickly get the points they lost voting down back, which I believe is a reason why down-voting is less frequent than it should be. – Alex Stragies May 2 '20 at 3:13
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    Absolutely. Especially since users with the relevant privilege (>=20k rep) can only vote to delete answers that are negatively scored. So downvoting is the only way to allow voting to delete. – terdon May 6 '20 at 11:37
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Downvotes are to be taken constructively that we need to improve to make a mark in others' minds.

Downvotes also help in keeping untrained people like me not to post any unnecessary messages and to take out more time to learn & observe the community in such a way that my answers will be of value to the community.

Though I was also very depressed with some downvoting, eventually i learned that those downvotes are the stepping stones to success.

The point should also be that Unix and Linux community encourage the answer posting people by upvotes. So let's see both sides of the coin.

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Before I post I must express my thanks to @braiam for giving me this clarity, a true lightbulb moment, and I hope i have understood the post correctly. These thanks are, of course, in addition to the upvote!

So, what do I see?

Questions always have value to the questioner and downvotes relate to the quality of the question in either enabling a constructive answer, or relevance to the scope of the site; upvotes to an interest, or even a stake, in the question posed. Fair enough.

Accepted answers are valued by the questioner simply by the fact of acceptance, that they solve the questioner's issue. Their problem was solved and that's the help they asked for. (+15)

Upvotes to answers by others than the questioner seem to be given where someone has gained something, perhaps insight or knowledge, from seeing a particular solution. (+10)

But it is not really possible to damage someone by posting an answer, to take insight or knowledge away. Brain surgery is not involved so a downvote can never have the same weight as an upvote. (-1)

So the number of votes either way is just an opinion poll, no more, no less. The weighting in rep attached to the votes then seems to reflect the real value change that can accrue to anyone who reads them. They may gain something but can never really lose anything.

This makes perfect sense now, to me at least.

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