I'm sure I'm not the only person who has been puzzled (and at times a little annoyed) at being downvoted (both questions and answers). At the same time, I accept people's right to do that and I think voting (up and down) should remain anonymous.

This doesn't change the fact, though, that downvoting without leaving a comment is of no benefit to anyone on the site, least of all the author of the post that has been downvoted. And herein lies the problem: How does one provide what could well be useful feedback whilst retaining the right to remain anonymous when downvoting? Unless I'm missing something, I don't think it can be done on History SE.

Shouldn't this be changed to encourage downvoters to leave anonymous comments (but ONLY downvoters can do that)? I guess at least some downvoters don't really have what most other users might consider a good reason for downvoting - so be it. Equally, I suspect that some do have an interesting point to make but are reluctant to do so for fear of being victimized.

There may well be a downside to what I'm suggesting (anonymous comments allowed for downvoters) so I'd be interested to know what others think.

  • 2
    If you honestly have a feature request, unless there's some reason why it would only be appropriate to the History site, it should probably be posted on meta.se. (After of course performing a quick search to make sure nobody asked for it before. If you don't find anything, its probably still gonna get marked as a dup for something, but at least you can say you checked.)
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 15:02
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    I'm not a regular downvoter and those genuinely earn it but I have to admit any time I read a comment demanding that a downvoter explains their reasons, I just translate the comment as "how dare you downvote me!" (and am very tempted to downvote just for that). A downvote is feedback just like an upvote and I've yet to see anyone demand that upvotes on their post are explained.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 15:26
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    @SteveBird - Exactly. I think I even had another meta answer in here somewhere in which I mentioned that in my experience, people who complain about silent downvotes (present company excluded of course) almost never genuinely want feedback. They want to argue with voters in the comments, to convince the downvoters their post was right in the first place. This of course completely validates the silent downvotes; why would anyone want to engage with someone who has no plans to listen?
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 15:42
  • I wouldn't disagree that a lot of people might be thinking as Steve Bird says, but I've also added that comment (why the downvote) to other people's posts, not just a couple of my own. However, the main thrust of my question is that there is a kind of contradiction between allowing anonymous downvotes and not allowing anonymous reasons for the downvote, especially as the former has little if any benefit to the community without the latter. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 20:13
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    @SteveBird A downvote is indeed feedback, but it is a silent one. Just the other day I got negative score on a question because the title was too broad, even though in the rest of the question I explained exactly what I wanted and got a good answer. Indeed the "how dare you downvote me" thought occurred to me, but it only got worse when people didn't give reasons for downvoting. I think we should encourage people to explain their downvotes, even if the user asking the question doesn't want to listen. Its better than punishing the user without giving a chance of improvement.
    – James Cook
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 20:42
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    @JamesCook An upvote is equally silent (or rather unqualified) feedback but no one complains about that. An upvote is taken as "I like/approve of this" without any futher need for justification so why isn't a downvote simply treated as "I didn't like/approve of this", in the same manner? Why should we demand that people to justify their dislike?
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 21:24
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    @Steve Bird. Yes, an upvote is unqualified (and I'm sometimes baffled by the number of upvotes some posts get), but we can't 'legislate' for everything. Downvotes, as negatives, have a greater need for reason and those reasons can help improve site content so why not allow anonymity if this will encourage at least some downvoters to explain? Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 22:06
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    Overall, I think the comments are skating around the main point of my question: it's not about whether downvotes are reasonable or not, it's about letting people give reasons without fear of reprisals (i.e. let's protect the downvoter who is prepared to give reasons). Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 22:12
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    In support of @LarsBosteen, I think that when you do harm to someone you have an obligation to justify that harm, in contrast to when you benefit someone, in which case there is no need for justification. As for the anonymity topic, I think that it would give our moderators much more work to do because of violations of the Be Nice rule, at least if it's not implemented properly. There could be a report button, though, so the moderators only need to check comments that get too many reports.
    – James Cook
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 22:16
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    A possible solution to more feedback with downvotes might be a voluntary checkbox system similar to the close vote system. You can still be anonymous, but check a box (if you wish). Seems redundant with the close vote system though.
    – justCal
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 4:43
  • It appears that the querent and a number of the commenters do not understand the SE voting system. Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 1:01

4 Answers 4


I very rarely downvote, so I'm mostly putting guesses on other people here, but I think the reasons for quiet downvotes mostly are (in rough order of poster culpability):

  • An existing comment(s) covers user's objection to the post.
  • User can't think of a good way to express their problem with the post without violating our Be Nice policy.
  • User objects to content of post for ideological reasons (that are probably obvious from content of post).
  • User suspects any response will just invoke an argument or an attack rather than being taken constructively.
  • User highly suspects the post was not made in a good-faith attempt to participate on this SE constructively, so suggestions would fall on deaf ears.
  • Post is so bad its not even wrong.

As a poster, you can't do anything about the first 2, and if you are hit by the last 2 you've probably got issues you can't or don't want to fix. The third is generally something you shouldn't call down on yourself on a whim, but when you have to you have to. Just take your licks.

But what you can do something about is this one:

•User suspects any response will just invoke an argument or an attack rather than being taken constructively.

In particular, try hard to treat each comment as an honest attempt to improve what you wrote. This is one I will admit to struggling with. When you spend time writing something, its pretty natural to instinctively growl when you see it being attacked. Its work to turn off that lizard brain and accept what people are seeing that you didn't see in your head when you were typing it.

But of course if a user sees you aggressively pushing back on other users in your posts comments, they'll think twice before voicing their objection. This goes for the content of your post too. If you use aggressive or judgmental language in your post, its pretty clear to voters how you are amped up to react to a critical comment. Nobody is going to bother, without first girding themselves for battle.

  • Doesn't downvoting require higher reputation than commenting? Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 16:01
  • @sempaiscuba - Hmmm....looks like you're right (125 vs 50). Its so rare that I downvote, I didn't even know there was a limit. First bullet deleted.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 16:42
  • I had to look it up. I guess checking references gets to be a habit! ;) Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 16:50
  • Interesting list of downvoter reasons.I think I've only downvoted once, and that was because the poster wrote something really stupid (I think the post has 8 downvotes at the moment). I've wanted to downvote on occasion but feel, in fairness, I ought to give a reason - but then I lose my anonymity. My point is that if I do not make any effort to explain my downvote I can be anonymous, but if I do make an effort to explain and be constructive I lose the right to be anonymous. I just don't see the logic in that. Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 4:57
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    @LarsBosteen - My general philosophy is to upvote the good posts, so that the tide is essentially raised around the inferior ones. About the only time I'll downvote is in the case of the last bullet and the post seems overrated.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 11:29
  • This response is consistent with the basic answer I've seen of five other SE sites where the same question has come up. T.E.D. has done a superb job of spelling this out. This answer might ought to be stickied, or part of an FAQ, or something like that as a point of reference. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 19:29

I've said it repeatedly, but my observation is that downvotes generate more personal abuse than corrections. I am strongly motivated to leave no comments on a downvote because of the number of times that people have replied with ad hominem abuse.

What you propose isn't a solution to a problem as much as it is a method for enabling greater hostility. You're asking the kids to register their lunch money so that bullies can use their time more efficiently.

I'd love to live in a world where we all followed the rule of be nice. But we don't live in that world; we live in a world full of trolls, and our reality is shaped by the presence and activity of those trolls. Trolls consume idealism like a fat man eating pasta; it doesn't satisfy him, but the activity is familiar and comforting.

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    Food for thought (so +1 on your answer), and I totally sympathize with your reason for not leaving a comment. Personally, I'm not comfortable with downvoting (i.e. criticizing) without a comment so I don't (anymore). Instead, I just ignore unless I see a good reason for voting to close or delete, or I flag. In fact, given all these alternatives to upvoting, do we really need downvoting at all? Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 23:55
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    @LarsBosteen Yes, I think we do. I'm all for closing questions that are off-topic (although I'd like to see people cut new users a little more slack before going straight for the VtC option). But just because a question is on-topic for the site doesn't necessarily make it a good question. There are plenty of reasons to downvote questions. It is also easy to reverse a downvote when the question is edited & improved. The VtC is much more of a trapdoor function. Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 0:23
  • I take your point, but the problem is that good questions and answers (which don't come under 'reasons to downvote' also get downvoted (i.e. the 'innocent' are 'victims'). Maybe its my profession (teacher trainer) that makes me so uncomfortable with unsupported criticism (which is what a downvote usually is). In teacher training, criticizing a teacher (especially an inexperienced one) without providing constructive feedback is an absolute no-no (of course, this applies to life in general). This is why (considering concerns about personal attacks) I suggested anonymous comments for downvoters. Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 0:42

Part of the reason that the down vote feature does not require comments, to the frustration of many users (myself included sometimes), is that SE/SO prefers to prevent the bun fights / pissing contests that are so common on the internet.

The SE model desires and requires a favorable signal to noise ratio, which is almost unique on the internet. It's why I bother to participate at all. (I am active on 5 SE sites).

Each down vote in the ideal world will be obvious in motive: either the question "shows no research" or the answer "is not helpful / does not answer the question"

Of course, we are not in an ideal world.

We are using flesh-based input to operate the sorting algorithm that the voting system is meant create: get the cream/best answer to rise to the top. In some cases, a comment will begin a non-productive back and forth exchange, which degrades site quality by increasing noise with no added signal. In other cases, a comment will result in what comments are built for: improving the question or answer in play.

Each person down voting needs to apply their judgment on what they think will be the outcome of a comment for a given question or answer. Give the users some credit, eh?

This SE site, and any other SE site, Isn't A Discussion Forum.

What that means is that if the answerer or asker does not meet the minimum quality standard outlined in the Help Center, the system is built to provide negative feedback. While stated in a variety of more flowery terms (see Be Nice rules), the message that needs to be sent clearly is "No, your input isn't good enough, raise your game." A favorable signal to noise ratio requires that kind of feedback to get the quality content the SE system desires.

There's the rest of the internet to make noise: at an SE site, signal is valued.

See also "Optimizing for Pearls, not Sand" at the home site.

I'd also recommend reading Shog9's answer here on a very similar discussion from early in the site's beta period.


I'll admit that I've not given this question a lot of thought. That may be partly because I don't feel especially motivated by reputation scores and badges (heresy on SE, I know!).

I try to give the "best" answer that I can to a given question, and let people upvote / downvote / ignore as they see fit. Indeed, on half-a-dozen or more occasions, I've actually expected downvotes when I've challenged what I assume to be "cherished views" (generally involving religion or politics) with inconvenient evidence. Sometimes I've been surprised at how few I've actually received.

Most of the time I'll either comment, or upvote someone else's comment, when I'm downvoting. In general, the reasons tend to be on Mark's excellent list Why did I get a downvote? here on meta. I've even contributed a reason to that list myself (in fact I've just noticed that my answer there has attracted a downvote. Perhaps that's just one of those "idealogical" votes that @T.E.D. mentioned in his answer! ;) ).

However, one problem that I would anticipate with allowing anonymous comments for downvoters is that it would potentially provide an opportunity for people to bypass the "Be nice" rule with impunity. At the very least, this would mean an increased workload for moderators.

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    Yes, considering that answer related to Hitler and denialisim, I think its a reasonable assumption any silent downvote it gets is from a voter who, against all evidence to the contrary, in fact thinks Hitler apologists and denialists are dandy sources.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 16:53
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    Could the problem of 'Be nice' violations swamping the moderators be solved by having the comment automatically deleted if, say, 5 people flag it? Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 22:38
  • @LarsBosteen Yes, that could work. Provided that system was applied consistently. But like I say, I've not really given this question a lot of thought. Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 0:21
  • because I don't feel especially motivated by reputation scores and badge says guy with 25k rep. Pretty much like tose extremely rich people who claims to not care all that much about money :)
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 21:13
  • @Bregalad Fair point. :) However, I've been saying the same thing for a long time. I think the system leads to a range of undesirable behaviours (although I would hesitate to use it myself, I've seen the term "Rep Whores" used on other sites). As I say, I just try to give the "best" answer that I can to a given question, although the fact that I actually get paid to do historical research probably does give me something of an advantage in that regard. :) Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 21:24

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