Occasionally you'll come upon a bad answer, not a willfully bad one, but often just one where they say "Hey, I'm looking for that one too!" or "Thanks for answering that, FuzzyBoots. I was looking for that too!". Clearly, these items should be flagged as "Not an answer". Should I also click on "delete" as well? Downvote?

And does the answer change at all for willfully bad posts such as spam or joke answers?

  • 3
    One special case is when the OP of a story-ID question posts an 'answer' to say "thanks, that was the story I was looking for". When this happens, it's important that the answer be converted to a comment (this may be needed in order to determine duplicate status) - which can only be done by mods - rather than outright deleted, which can be done by high-rep users. So in this particular case, it's worth raising a custom mod flag to ask for the answer to be converted to a comment.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Nov 19, 2016 at 0:17

2 Answers 2


Do everything in your power to get rid of chaff as fast as possible

Downvotes are somewhat less useful, especially if it's a 1-rep user or an unambiguously bad post1, but I still encourage you to do it, and absolutely flag and vote-to-delete (if you have that privilege). It only takes three delete votes from 20k+ users to get rid of a post, so the sooner you cast a vote the sooner it's gone.

The main moderation benefit to downvoting, as a 20k+ user, is that it allows you to immediately vote to delete answers2; otherwise you have to wait for it to show up in the Low Quality Posts review queue. So, for answers at least, that would be a compelling reason to downvote.

Flag spam or abuse, but don't VTD

Spam and abuse flags are slightly special in that enough of them, from users of any reputation level (with the privilege to flag, obviously) will automatically delete the post. It goes without saying that, if the flag is warranted, this is the fastest way to get rid of it.

However, it's probably not a good idea to vote-to-delete these posts, because posts that get auto-deleted through this mechanism are automatically locked, so it can't be edited or nominated for undeletion. Although this is a bit of an edge case, it does help mitigate the risk of disgruntled 10k+ or 20k+ user(s) undeleting a bunch of old garbage. I'm not entirely sure if that still happens if the post is deleted by user votes, but personally I'd rather not risk it.

I should mention that there might be an another reason not to vote-to-delete something that you've flagged as spam or abuse. Spam/abuse flags result in certain data being fed into some behind-the-scenes tooling, but it's not clear whether that happens only if the post is auto-deleted (as a result of six spam flags/one moderator spam flag) or if it just requires a valid spam flag (you can see Rand al'Thor and I discussing this in comments).

1 I should clarify what I mean here. Downvotes are the community's way of expressing displeasure with a post; it accomplishes this in four ways:

  1. It "punishes" (in the psychological sense) the user who posted the material by imposing a reputation penalty
  2. Through the visible score, it signposts to other users that this is undesirable content
  3. In some cases, it actively hides the post from view; questions with a score of -5 or lower are hidden from the front page, and answers with a score of -3 or lower are displayed in a faded, low-contrast colour
  4. Question/answer score is one of the factors that goes into temporary posting bans

These are all valuable things, so don't take this as me telling you not to bother voting. However, I would argue that the benefits of downvoting are diminished when it comes to posts that are obviously going to be deleted; because the post is going to be completely removed from the view of most users, there's relatively little benefit in visually differentiating it from other posts, so points 2 and 3 above still apply, but the utility is lessened.

In the case of a post by a 1-rep user, points 2 and 3 still apply but 1 does not; 1-rep users receive no reputation penalties whatsoever.

Again, the benefits of downvoting aren't removed, just diminished.

2 Unless the post already had upvotes. This is an occasional problem, much as I wish it wasn't

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    "Downvotes are somewhat less useful, especially if it's a 1-rep user" - the point of downvotes is never to decrease the rep of the user, but only to mark a bad post as bad. This applies in exactly the same way regardless of the user's rep.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Nov 19, 2016 at 0:07
  • @Randal'Thor If it's a borderline post I agree, but the benefit is somewhat diminished if the post is going to get deleted anyway Nov 19, 2016 at 0:09
  • 1
    From the point of view of training the system to better identify spam, it's better not to vote to delete it. Six spam flags will nuke it anyway, and if it's deleted in the ordinary way, the system won't recognise it as spam. If you're worried about a spam post not getting deleted fast enough, you can pop into chat and call for more flags.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Nov 19, 2016 at 0:19
  • Other than that, I agree with this answer :-)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Nov 19, 2016 at 0:21
  • @Randal'Thor I assume you're referring to the automatic spam-detection algorithms? I confess I don't know much of the details of those, but (as I said) the post content is still hidden if a post is deleted "in the regular way" with even a single spam or abuse flag on it (unless they changed that behaviour and didn't update the FAQ, which is possible). Seems odd that they wouldn't then include the post in any algorithmic training, but hey Nov 19, 2016 at 0:24
  • I don't know much of the details of them either, but I'm pretty sure they only count a post as spam if it's actually marked as spam by the system, i.e. locked and with its contents hidden in the revision history. It often happens (e.g. see here) that a post is wrongly flagged as spam but still deserves deletion, and if it gets deleted (e.g. via the review queues) without the spam flags being explicitly declined, those flags will be marked helpful in just the same way as if it really was spam.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Nov 19, 2016 at 0:40
  • It might also be worth mentioning that, if a post is deleted, all votes are reversed, so there's only a temporary "penalty" in downvoting a bad post likely to be deleted.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Nov 20, 2016 at 14:19
  • @FuzzyBoots I thought about that, but even a temporary "penalty" has value as a deterrent; the amount of moaning we see from askers about downvotes on their questions (and the number of people who delete their questions as soon as they get downvotes) proves that Nov 21, 2016 at 14:54
  • @JasonBaker: :) I was meaning "the penalty you invite for downcourt goes away".
    – FuzzyBoots
    Nov 21, 2016 at 15:51

On the subject of "joke answers", it's always important to remember the guiding principle of Stack Exchange, that 'We Hate Fun'™

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That isn't to say that an answer has to be boring (indeed, some of my most highly upvoted answers contain a strong element of humour) but like the mullet, it has to be "business at the front, party at the back", tempering fun with actually being a solid answer to the question asked.

If you see an answer that is purely funny, congratulate the poster on being droll, then downvote, flag as 'not an answer' and click the delete button.

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