19

I understand that voting is anonymous, and that downvoters (or upvoters for that matter) don't have to explain anything to anybody; and that is as it should be. But, is there anything wrong with posting a comment asking about the reason for a downvote? (Which may be answered by the downvoter himself if he chooses to do so, or by anyone else who cares to point out defects in the post which may have provoked downvotes.)

I ask because of something that happened to me a year ago. The answer I posted to this question received 14 upvotes and 2 downvotes. I posted a comment inquiring about the downvotes, and within minutes my comment was deleted by a moderator. Curious, I reposted the comment to see what would happen, and the same thing happened again.

Was that the action of a rogue moderator, or is it site policy? The latter seems unlikely, because I've seen lots of similar comments which were not deleted.

  • 1
    For the record, your comments on that post weren't flagged, but simply deleted by a passing moderator, who presumably had just happened to notice them and deemed them not constructive. – Rand al'Thor Jan 30 '17 at 2:36
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    @Randal'Thor I suspected as much, because flags typically take hours to be acted on. – user14111 Jan 30 '17 at 2:51
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    Note always that comments are intended to be transient and can be deleted by a moderator for any reason and none, including "because it made the question look untidy" or "because I couldn't be bothered to read the whole comment chain". Such actions don't make them a rogue moderator. – Valorum Jan 30 '17 at 13:21
19

There's a general disapproval for asking about downvotes. Even if your intention is to improve your question, and not to whine, those types of comments all get lumped together.

An alternative, that I feel avoids getting lumped together with the "Why the downvotes?" type comments is something along the lines of "If anyone has any guidance on improving my question or making it more clear, please advise." Sometimes this is asked in chat, too.

In this case, the comment isn't about upvotes or downvotes, and is showing an intent to improve the quality of the content. I find that users are more willing to offer help and advice than try to explain why someone (else) voted the way they did. The first is being helpful, the second is risking opening a can of worms.


Here's a quick query that shows the questions/comments for open questions that currently still have "Why the downvote?" type comments on them (for questions that actually have downvotes1):

Data Explorer: Questions with comments asking about downvotes

Some questions appear multiple times, because a discussion of the votes. I left it that way because the discussion sheds some light on how we view this. Generally, it seems that there's a close to even split on downvote comments coming from the OP vs. someone else. I won't try to draw conclusions from this data right now, but I think it's worth perusing to get a feel of how we address these comments.

1There were 2 that no longer had DVs. I flagged those comments as obsolete.

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    Making a distinction between "why was my post downvoted" on the one hand, and "what is wrong with my post" or "how can my post be improved" on the other, seems like verbal quibbling to me. Obviously, my reason for suspecting that there may be some problem with my answer is the two downvotes. – user14111 Jan 30 '17 at 2:49
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    @user14111 It may be, at that. But on the other hand, I've seen way too many cases where "Why the downvote?" was followed by an explanation from someone, was followed by an argument or attack from OP. There's, unfortunately, a reason the stigma exists. You get burned out quickly on that. I haven't seen someone clearly asking for help lead to the same scenario. – user31178 Jan 30 '17 at 3:31
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    @user14111 - I think 'How can I improve" helps show to the reader of your comment that you care about the quality of your question (or answer) and seek to improve upon it, rather than simply noticing the downvotes/loss of rep. Even if both questions achieve the same outcome (a reason for the downvotes), the 'How can I improve my post' comes across better, IMO. – Robotnik Jan 30 '17 at 5:47
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    @CreationEdge - Precisely so. I tend to explain my downvotes but that's because I'm a glutton for punishment. Life would be so much easier if I just drove by, downvoted and drove on. – Valorum Jan 30 '17 at 13:18
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It’s certainly discouraged

According to this answer on the main meta site, written by one of our benevolent overlords:

I flag them on sight. IMHO, they are noise at best, and potentially harmful at worst. I’ve seen instances where a user will write an incorrect, unhelpful, or redundant answer and whine about being down-voted while I’m writing a comment to explain the problem.

As the second-most-upvoted answer there says:

You mention that this is harmless, which is true. But it’s also pointless, so the comments do nothing except clutter up the page, and clutter should be removed. People will typically comment if there’s a minor mistake that can be fixed up, but if the answer is really that terrible or was the target of a drive-by down vote, a comment asking “Why?” will never fix that. So, I don’t see any harm in removing such comments either.

That said, I personally feel that such comments are not always useless. Particularly on a somewhat smaller site such as ours, there’s a distinct possibility that the person who left the downvote will see the comment. The main issue is that those inclined to explain their downvotes generally will have already done so, and so the likelihood of successfully getting someone to explain their downvote is small.

In essence, though, people certainly can flag such comments, and they have main meta policy to back them up.

  • And yet, generally speaking, pointless comments are not deleted with such ruthless efficiency. You can easily find inane comments that have been up for years. – user14111 Jan 30 '17 at 2:05
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    @user14111 - I agree. I can’t speak to whether you were being targeted. I’m only addressing the question of whether we’re allowed to ask (probably, but it’s discouraged) and whether such comments can be flagged (yes). – Adamant Jan 30 '17 at 2:06
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    @user14111 It's because people don't flag them, generally speaking. Not because moderators are being biased. It only takes one comment flag to bring attention to it. So if there's a small group of people, or just one, that really doesn't like those types of comments, they're likely to get removed. – user31178 Jan 30 '17 at 2:23
  • Regarding your boldface sentence: I disagree with the premise. Oftentimes I see an answer that has a flaw or insensitivity in it (or whatever) that I wouldn't feel strongly enough about to downvote, or maybe even comment on—but if there's a comment from the author saying, "Why the downvote?" I will usually respond with my observations. ("I didn't downvote but....") The reason for that specific downvote isn't so important. Learning why the answer might be thought downvote-worthy is nice, to clear up the mystery. – Wildcard Feb 7 '17 at 9:34
2

If your intent is to fix whatever is wrong with your post, then I highly recommend asking what the downvotes are for. There will be some people who reflexively criticize you for it, but there's often someone who actually tries to help.

If you can deal with the noise from the critics, then the value from the person who answers your question more than makes up for it. I've found and fixed problems with many of my questions and answers by doing this.

It does help to be careful about phrasing the question, I find. Asking something more like

I don't understand what the downvote is for, could someone explain so I could fix it?

Generally goes better than

Why am I downvoted?

The second seems to be perceived as complaining, despite the fact it's a perfectly valid and reasonable question.

When I see a question that has received downvotes, and no one has left a comment explaining, and I think I see the reason why, I'll often leave a comment to that effect for the poster. This saves them the trouble of facing an irrational backlash by asking what the problem is.

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    My gut instinct is that most downvoters don't return to the scene of the crime. You'd be far better asking in chat "Why do people think my question/answer has received downvotes?". Diagnosis usually follows quite swiftly. – Valorum Feb 1 '17 at 0:27
  • @Valorum I'm not expecting the person who left the downvote to answer. You've rephrased the same question. Note: "could someone explain". – DCShannon Feb 1 '17 at 0:39
  • Yeah, this is essentially the sentiment I have towards the situation. Something that isn't explicit here, though, is that the Why am I downvoted? version isn't just perceived as complaining, but may be flagged by someone why finds them chatty/obsolete. I don't know, but I suspect that they're less likely to do that if you change up the phrasing like you and I have suggested. – user31178 Feb 1 '17 at 18:06
-1

I personally consider "why the downvote?" comments to be pointless and I used to flag them as "too chatty," but I'd say there's a fairly high tolerance for them here.

However, even if that sort of comment is generally tolerated, any given comment could still get a couple flags and/or a moderator might happen to think it's pointless, especially if the question's at +12 overall.

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    Why do you consider them pointless? As I understand it, the main purpose of comments is to improve the posts that they are commenting on, by requesting clarification, etc. Soliciting feedback on the defects of posts may be "pointless" but it seems less so than many other types of comments such as "thank you" and "you're welcome" comments, or humorous comments. – user14111 Jan 30 '17 at 1:29
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    @user14111 - They tend to be pointless because such a curt request is often met with aggression rather than a positive spirit of acceptance and constructive dialogue. – Valorum Jan 30 '17 at 13:16
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    @user14111 They're pointless because 1. you can't guarantee that any of the people who downvoted your question will ever go back to it and see the comment and 2. there's no evidence that the comment makes people more likely to explain why they downvoted. – Anthony Grist Jan 30 '17 at 14:09
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    I consider them pointless because 1) The main function of voting is to indicate to other people visiting a post what the concensus is - how good is the Q or A? It's only secondary that a downvote tells the poster that someone thinks their post could do with improvement. And for that secondary function, the default meaning of votes (as indicated by the tooltips on the up/down buttons) applies. and 2) Because I've only rarely seen them work as intended: to see feedback given by the downvoter and then acted on by the OP. – Ward Jan 30 '17 at 19:17

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