Lately, I have seen again lots of downvotes on questions and answers without any comment. Maybe it has nothing to do, but it seems to me that this coincides with a period of low activity on the site. For this reason, I have decided to reopen this debate.

It's not the first time that this happens in this site but, since there is no Meta post inviting to discuss it (or at least I haven't seen it), I decided to write one. Lately, specially on answers, I have noticed a proliferation of downvotes without any comment to explain why. In general, I feel that this behaviour is not very constructive for the site for the reasons explained in this Meta question: explaining why an answer in being downvoted encourage the poster to improve that answer. It can even encourage that user to write better answars in the future. Of course there can be some exceptions to this "rule". For instance, if one finds an answer that is spam in a very evident way, it's no worth writing a comment to say "we don't want spam in this site". I would like to have your opinion about that and see if you think we should/could do something to discourage that practice.

[In addition to this, speaking specifically about answers and always in relative terms, I have the impression that, lately, the amount of downvotes is relatively high whith respect to the total amount of upvotes on answers. I sometimes wonder: we are really doing so bad in comparison to the past? I know this is another subject that maybe should to be asked in another question. I don't do it because I'm not sure if this is really that way or it's only a subjective impression.]

  • As a moderator, do you have a way to see whether these downvotes are given by “regulars”, by relatively new users or what else? Or – with respect to your last question – statistics about up- and downvotes. – DaG Jan 13 '18 at 14:39
  • @DaG: No, votes are secret even to moderators and there is not such statistics. – Charo Jan 13 '18 at 14:45
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    In general it seems to me that people upvote questions very little here. I wonder if I should do a meta post about it, since it's somehow unrelated. – Denis Nardin Jan 15 '18 at 10:22
  • @DenisNardin: This is in fact related to my last question. – Charo Jan 15 '18 at 11:42
  • Could you please add a few specific examples, so that we can judge if the reason for the downvote is clear from the context? – Federico Poloni Jan 18 '18 at 19:00
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    The anonymous downvoter strikes again... – DaG Jan 18 '18 at 22:44
  • @FedericoPoloni: I can do it, but I can't be exhaustive, so I hope no one will take this personally. – Charo Jan 18 '18 at 22:51
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    Some examples: italian.stackexchange.com/a/2010, italian.stackexchange.com/a/6754, italian.stackexchange.com/a/1641 (but there are others). – Charo Jan 18 '18 at 22:51
  • @Charo In the first three answers that you listed, there are rather detailed comments that are critical towards the answer (in the first one a comment even states "this is a terrible answer" + motivation). Isn't that sufficient for you? – Federico Poloni Jan 18 '18 at 22:55
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    @FedericoPoloni: Sorry, I made a mistake about the first answer, so I would have to remove it from the list of my previous comment. But comments of the other two are from a long time ago, whereas the downvote is recent (you can check it). – Charo Jan 18 '18 at 23:08
  • @Charo How can I check if a downvote is recent? Maybe you can as a moderator, but I have no idea how to do it. – Federico Poloni Jan 18 '18 at 23:12
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    @FedericoPoloni: From the profile of the user who has posted the answer, choose "Activity", then the tab "reputation" and then the tab "time". For instance, italian.stackexchange.com/users/677/… (choose the tab "time"). – Charo Jan 18 '18 at 23:24
  • I've corrected my previous comment in such a way to remove the first answer from the list. – Charo Jan 18 '18 at 23:36
  • @Charo Just to be clear, I am not the one who downvoted those answers in your examples. – Federico Poloni Jan 19 '18 at 15:33
  • @DaG It is my understanding that downvotes are handled differently in Meta: they simply express disagreement with the proposal. – Federico Poloni Jan 19 '18 at 15:36

As a matter of fact, the general consensus across the StackExchange network seems to be that downvotes don't (generally) need a comment.

I'm not very keen on downvoting (even less so here, being a moderator) and my personal opinion is that many downvotes should need a comment. It's not really easy to make a hard and fast rule, but we're in a different situation: this site is still in beta, which means questions and answers make the difference in changing the status.

Therefore I endorse Charo’s invitation to be more generous in comments in particular when downvoting and to check back whether a downvote (or simply a critic comment) triggered an edit to the question or answer: this will certainly improve the quality of the site.

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    I found a little bit disturbing to receive downvotes without any explanation, especially during this week. As mentioned it would be a way to improve the overall quality of the site. Moreover SO launched a survey to understand why the site is perceived as not very welcoming. I think this is another aspect of the same problem – abarisone May 1 '18 at 16:24

Given that I personally agree with Federico Poloni's answer, I personally find this debate quite sterile. While I think nobody has a problem with downvotes being cast, the question of whether people should leave a comment after having downvoted doesn't have a solution, and it doesn't make much sense to talk about it. This opinion stems from the fact that this is an uncontrollable phenomenon, unlike other matters which can actually be "policed" on an SE site.

Also, coming back to recent events, let's not forget that downvotes can also stem from authentically capricious behavior, without any reason pertaining to the content of the question. I know this is hard to digest and hear, but it is a possibility. There is nothing that can (ever) be done about this sort of behavior because of how the site is structured (namely the anonymity of votes). This is another reason why I personally find talking about this subject quite futile.

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    In fact, the object of my post (the original title was "Please leave a comment to explain the reason of your downvote") is not to make some kind of "police" of the site. It pretends only to be an invitation to be some more constructive in our practices. I've changed the title of the post because @FedericoPoloni asked me trying to write something more neutral, but I don't know if, as it stands now, it may cause some confusion. – Charo Jun 14 at 14:45

I don't think that every downvote needs a comment. Sometimes I don't want to repeat things that are in the help center (or maybe already stated in other comments, or clear from the other answers), and I don't want to enter what may be a long discussion with OP.

Sometimes I use downvotes because an answer is poorly documented, because I disagree with it, or simply because I want to see less content like that on this website. It would be difficult to formulate my points in an non-subjective way, and that would almost always lead to an argument.

Not all answers are worth salvaging, if it takes lots of revisions and arguing. But it's always useful if the best answers appear on top, and downvoting is a means to do it.

If SE didn't want this, why is there a button to downvote without comment? And it's the largest one in the whole interface (tied with the upvote one).

Besides that, some people take downvotes too personally. OK, you got a drive-by downvote. So what? It's just imaginary internet points. And "I don't like your answer" doesn't mean "you're an idiot".

  • Note that I'm not making any objection about downvoting, I was only saying that, in my opinion, it would be more constructive for the site if we comment most (not all) of our downvotes. – Charo Jan 19 '18 at 10:32
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    Your reasons to not comment seem peculiar to me. Certainly the answerer has a right to know in what particular way you disagree with him/her. I have been puzzled in the past by answers (not by me) in which I couldn't fathom what motivated the downvoter. A little bit of clarity would often help. – Denis Nardin Jan 19 '18 at 10:34
  • Certainly the answerer has a right to know in what particular way you disagree with him/her --- uhm, why? – Federico Poloni Jan 19 '18 at 11:42
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    So that he can improve the answer – Denis Nardin Jan 19 '18 at 12:08
  • I have addressed this: Not all answers are worth salvaging, if it takes lots of revisions and arguing., Sometimes I use downvotes because an answer is poorly documented, because I disagree with it, or simply because I want to see less content like that on this website. It would be difficult to formulate my points in an non-subjective way, and that would almost always lead to an argument. If I have a clear, relevant comment, I will make it, but that doesn't happen every time I downvote. – Federico Poloni Jan 19 '18 at 13:24
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    In a sense, I agree with you: some answers or questions seem “obviously” not useful, with no need (nor requirement by SE's rules) to even lose one's time in adding a comment. On the other hand, I (often) force myself to remark about the reason that answer/question deserves, in my opinion, a downvote. If you reread carefully this very answer of yours, you'll see why. You write “I don't want to repeat...”, “I don't want to enter... a... discussion” and even “It would be difficult to formulate my points in an non-subjective way”. [to be continued] – DaG Jan 19 '18 at 16:41
  • All of this seems to point to some arbitrariness, almost a “just because”, which doesn't lead to a level of communication useful to everybody. The same fact that your objections are “difficult to formulate” should be food for thought (for my thought, too, of course, since as I mentioned my first reaction is often similar to yours). If you find it difficult to formulate, everybody else could find it difficult to understand. – DaG Jan 19 '18 at 16:51
  • When I have a constructive comment, I make it. But "I don't find this question/answer interesting or useful" is reason enough to downvote, in my view (and hovering on the downvote button will confirm that the SE team agrees). This is subjective. That's just my opinion. I could try to write my reasons, but people will start arguing. (And, in case you haven't noticed, we are arguing about downvotes even now, which we shouldn't.) – Federico Poloni Jan 19 '18 at 16:55
  • I think people take downvotes too seriously here. At least three people have written disagreeing comments, yet no one has downvoted me. Why? Do you think downvotes are a personal offense? They are not. They are a way to get better answers displayed more prominently. What's wrong with them? – Federico Poloni Jan 19 '18 at 16:59
  • @DaG: I agree with that and this is the reason why I wrote «Of course there can be some exceptions to this "rule".» – Charo Jan 19 '18 at 17:00
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    @FedericoPoloni At least I did not downvote because I think your answer is useful (votes on meta carry so many meanings that it is slightly confusing) as expounding a legitimate viewpoint that is nevertheless different from mine. I agree that there are answers that are essentially impossible to improve, but what seems obvious to you might not be obvious to the poster, or in fact to everyone else. [And, to establish my credentials, I have been accused to downvote too much in the past...] – Denis Nardin Jan 20 '18 at 8:19
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    For instance, let's immagine the situation of a new user which has used StackExchange to make questions about another language. Let's immagine that he or she is also a beginner in Italian. He or she is used to see how good answers receive a large number of upvotes in other StackExchange sites. But I think that in our site you can sometimes see good answers with only two or three upvotes (this is a personal opinion). This new user can feel that these answers are not good. If, in addition, he or she sees a lot of downvotes on other answers, the conclusion can be that the site is not useful. – Charo Jan 20 '18 at 12:01
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    Yeah, I think that the main problem is that people seem to just not upvote on this site. I might ask a meta question specifically about this when I have some free time. – Denis Nardin Jan 20 '18 at 19:33
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    @DenisNardin: I think that the problem is that, lately, we are having very few voters on this site. From the site analytics one can see that we had 123 posts from the beginning of the year until now, but if you visit the "voters tab" you will see that only 6 users have voted more than 10 times this year (that includes up and down votes). – Charo Jan 21 '18 at 17:41
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    @Charo That looks like a very serious problem. Still, there are plenty of answered questions where the answerer did not upvote the question (usually there's only one upvote on the question, and it's mine). This seems to me a very bizarre behaviour: if the question is good enough to spend time to answer, it's certainly good enough to upvote! – Denis Nardin Jan 21 '18 at 17:52

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