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I am worried about the attitude of some people who claim that down-voters must always explain the reason for down-voting or who criticize the users who vote down posts without explanations. (Here is an example of such a criticism.)

On the Stack Exchange system, voting is anonymous: users have the right to vote without revealing their identities for whatever reasons they have. Down-voters who do not wish to reveal their identities cannot explain the reason because there is no way to post a comment anonymously. This is a legitimate use of the system, and I do not think that users should be criticized just because they down-voted a post without giving an explanation.

Of course, no one should expect that votes without explanation are as convincing as votes with good justification. Because of this, I think that it is wiser to explain the reason when you vote down a post. But that is a separate issue. My point is that as long as we use a system which allows anonymous voting, it is users’ right to vote up or down without giving any justification.

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TL;DR allow, require, and encourage are not the same. We should encourage commenting, but not require it.

I agree that we should not forbid down-votes without comment and we should not say that non-commenting down-votes are doing something wrong.

However, what the system allows and what the community encourages need not be the same. I think we should encourage people to provide constructive comments or at least justifications along with their down votes so that better questions/answers are given in the future.

However, encouraging doesn't mean calling out the anonymous downvoters (I have seen a few questions where there were comments like "to the downvoter: " or requesting downvoters identify themselves). Sometimes people have very good reasons for wanting to remain anonymous and it is not our place to question them on this. Also, for some question it is clear that they are very unlikely to improve (either if the user repeatedly asks poor questions or if it is a very poorly worded question from a temp account on a homework-like topic), and it gets tiring commenting on every question you downvote (although maybe this applies only to people like me that downvote too much).

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    $\begingroup$ I agree that it is ok to encourage justifications, as long as it does not turn into demanding justifications. I think that the point of the current voting system is to encourage as many votes as possible. In other words, the current system prefers votes without justification to no votes at all. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 4 '11 at 21:26
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One reason that I often down-vote without comment is when I am reading the website from my smart phone. It takes way too much time to craft a helpful comment on such a restricted device, especially when I would normally want to link to something or quote some text.

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So I got called out on this issue on a comment that I made here.

The problem that I have with anonymous downvoting is not that it's anonymous. I don't see a reason to add a redundant comment to back up a downvote. That's not what I'm advocating.

However, I don't see a reason why I can't call out a blank comments section with negative votes. The very least that we can do is remind OPs of the FAQ (even just "please read the FAQ" is sufficient).

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    $\begingroup$ Given that the system does not allow anonymous comments, your opinion is a self-contradiction. How can the down-voter remind OP of the FAQ if he/she wants to remain anonymous? You are saying that you are fine with anonymous down-voting if there is already a comment explaining the down-vote. In my opinion, the right of anonymous voting should not be conditional. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 7 '12 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to be framing this in terms of policy. No, I don't think that it's necessary to make my suggestion policy. However, I don't see why it's necessary for you to call me out for encouraging a useful explanation. $\endgroup$ – John Moeller Jun 7 '12 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ I thought that you might want to reconsider your opinion after learning the subtlety of the design of the system. If not, then I just wasted my time (and probably also your time). $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 7 '12 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, I agree with you that negative score without any comments is not nice to OP. So thank you for adding a comment explaining a possible reason for down-voting to that question. I am just opposing to demanding a down-voter to leave a comment. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 7 '12 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for acknowledging this. But I would caution that the difference between "demand" and "encourage" is very subjective. $\endgroup$ – John Moeller Jun 8 '12 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ In my opinion, commanding like “Down-voter, write a reason” is a demanding without doubt. The point is that down-voting without commenting is not a wrong thing to do, although it may be stupid. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 8 '12 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ "not wrong, but maybe stupid" is a very careful slicing and dicing that I don't think is the point of John's original comment. He's merely saying that in his opinion, it would be helpful for a downvoter to comment. He's not asserting that it should be policy (that would be a meta post). Also note that although commenting is not anonymous, there's no easy way to link a downvote and a negative comment. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Jun 9 '12 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Suresh: I do not know why you and John are talking about policy. (I have never claimed that I am talking about policy, whatever it means.) Judging from his accusation “Downvoters: If you're going to downvote, at least give a reason,” it is clear to me that he thought that it was wrong to down-vote without commenting when there was no other comment explaining down-votes. I am claiming that it is not wrong. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 9 '12 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ Well he thinks it is, and you don't. So let's agree to disagree on this point. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Jun 9 '12 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh: I cannot understand your comment. I think that my objection is exactly to the point of John’s comment. I can agree to disagree, but your claim that my argument is not the point of his comment is extremely confusing. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 9 '12 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ @TsuyoshiIto Suresh understood the point of my comment better, as he also knows me personally. I think it best if we drop this. $\endgroup$ – John Moeller Jun 10 '12 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ “Suresh understood the point of my comment better”: If that is true and he made his insensible comment, neither of you has probably understood my opinion. But because I already tried my best to explain my opinion, I will not try anymore. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 10 '12 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ @John, I think the confusion arises from the way the point is stated. I agree that asking for comments explaining the reason the question is down-voted is fine, but it shouldn't be stated in a way that feels like a criticism of the down-voters, they haven't down anything wrong. The form is important: "could one of the down-voters explain why they have down-voted the question so the OP can address them and improve the question?" or "I don't understand why the question is down-voted" are quite different from "Downvoters: If you're going to downvote, at least give a reason." $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 11 '12 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ The later comment gives the feeling that the downvoters have done something wrong or against the norms which is not the case. They don't need to give any reason for their down-votes based on the previous discussions. Calling them out in this way is not nice IMO. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 11 '12 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh -- Hm, ok, I buy your reasoning, and I think you make a fair point. I'll try in the future to do it the way you suggest. $\endgroup$ – John Moeller Jun 12 '12 at 6:20
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I read the comments on the meta.math post. I do see Tsuyoshi's point about allowing downvoting to be anonymous. I guess the real question is: how we do balance a legitimate desire for anonymity in downvoting, and encouraging downvoting as needed, with the poster's ability to understand what's wrong with the question/answer (and therefore be able to improve it)

p.s in the light of this I removed the comment template regarding commenting when downvoting. Depending on what we decide here, we can create a new template.

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  • $\begingroup$ My thoughts when reading that meta math post was, "Holy crap, I hope our meta never looks like that!" $\endgroup$ – Aaron Sterling Nov 11 '11 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ well meta.math has a bit of a "history", let us say :) $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Nov 11 '11 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh I would have just weakened the words of your template from 'site policy' to 'is encouraged' or something like that. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Nov 12 '11 at 3:38
  • $\begingroup$ The question is: do we even agree to encourage it ? $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Nov 12 '11 at 5:00
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe we should make a separate question to vote on it? Or does it not matter too much? $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Nov 12 '11 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ that is usually how we decide policy $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Nov 12 '11 at 6:15
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    $\begingroup$ I think it is appropriate to encourage, but the StackExchange software already does that for individuals below some reputation threshold. maybe the real question is: are anonymous down votes a problem right now? I almost always comment if I vote down or to close, but I haven't seen down votes abused, even by the anonymous. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Sterling Nov 12 '11 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaron, I agree that they are not abused, but I don't think that is the problem. As Suresh said the idea of commenting is to help OP understand what is wrong with the answer. On the other hand Tsuyoshi's point is valid (and caused me to change my view about down-voting). I am in favor of encouraging without demanding. Something like "it would be helpful if down-voters explain the reason for their down votes and how OP can improve the post to address them (if they think it is possible)". $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Nov 12 '11 at 17:02
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Your ability to down-vote anonymously doesn't protect you from the criticisms in doing so. As questions could be down-voted for so many reasons, the signal of a down-vote is just a negative vibe and is aggravating.

If you want to improve the content quality on the site, foster a stronger community from the many eager students who tinker at the edges of the community, or ANY other well-meaning goal then I have a hard time seeing how you might expect a down-vote to achieve it.

Perhaps an anonymous down-vote is a consequence of any substantive statement or question in a public forum - but the backlash from it is enabled by the system as well.

(I would like to see that votes cannot go negative. If they are malicious/offensive, they should be flagged. If not, the OP is sincere and should be assisted in ways that would make the negative vote redundant.)

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  • $\begingroup$ My point is not “people should not criticize justification-less down-votes,” but “people who criticize justification-less down-votes without understanding the design of voting system of Stack Exchange are missing the point.” $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 24 '11 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ being sincere is not the point, down-voting is not for being insincere. There are norms and policies that users expects OP to follow, e.g. reading the FAQ and understanding that the scope of the site is research level. Also the total vote a question has is also a signal to other users, and I think a question with a negative total vote is different from one with zero total vote. On the other hand I agree that we should try to help the user understand the reason for the down votes the question receives, so I encourage commenting when down-voting. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Nov 25 '11 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ It might be useful to have a list of common reasons for down voting or making a feature request to show a list of common reasons to select from when a user down votes a question that would help the OP understand the reason for down vote without revealing the identity of the down-voter (but I think it should not be mandatory to select one). $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Nov 25 '11 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh I really like that suggestion! $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Nov 26 '11 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh make a request about it. $\endgroup$ – Tobi Alafin Dec 24 '16 at 10:57

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