It is a frequent occurrence on this site that:

  1. Someone will ask a question.
  2. The question will get a downvote.
  3. The OP (or someone) else will post a comment saying "Why the downvote".
  4. Over time the question will accumulate lots of upvotes.
  5. Later visitors to the question (especially new users with under 1000 rep) will just see a score of over 20 with comments complaining about downvotes, and get confused.

In these situations, should I flag these comments as obsolete? Is there a different flag that would be better?

I've tried flagging a couple of these (mostly with custom flags explaining why), and about half of them got declined.

An example of one that got declined is Did Vader ever face another Force user in aerial/space combat, aside from Luke in Ep. IV?. The question has 41 upvotes, 2 downvotes, and a comment posted half an hour after the question was originally asked, saying:

Why the downvote? I don't see anything wrong with this question. You have my +1.

I flagged using a custom flag of

Obsolete, as question has since received many upvotes.

which was declined. Did I use the wrong flag? Is this the type of comment that we like to preserve for eternity? (Possibly to show that every popular question starts with a singular downvote.)

What flag if any should be used for "Why the downvote" comments on questions that subsequently got many upvotes?

Note: The above question also applies to answers, but that seems to me to be less common than questions.

  • 3
    What do the upvotes have to do with it? What if the question gets its first downvote after collecting 40 upvotes, and the OP posts a "Why the downvote" comment, would you flag it for instant deletion?
    – user14111
    Mar 22, 2016 at 5:03
  • @user14111 - the comment was the first posted, and it was within an hour of the question being posted.
    – ibid
    Mar 22, 2016 at 5:31
  • 5
    I think this is just a reaction to a different problem this site experiences: Many questions are usually downvoted shortly after they are asked by some random troll (my opinion) without a comment why it is downvoted. Usually the upvotes come in not much later so the question gets a positive score, but for many users the first notification they get for a new question is a downvote (happened to me as well more than once)
    – Thomas
    Mar 23, 2016 at 10:16
  • 5
    Why all of the downvotes?
    – ibid
    Mar 30, 2016 at 17:28
  • 2
    No matter how many upvote a post of mine gets, any and all downvotes I get cause me great distress. A "Why the downvotes" comment is a short way of asking anyone and everyone "What's wrong with my post and and how can I avoid these painful downvotes in the future?" which is a helpful and constructive thing to ask.
    – RedCaio
    Mar 30, 2016 at 23:49
  • 3
    I don't understand even the motivation for wanting to delete them. They aren't harming anything in any way, but some people find them useful, so removing them is either a wash or harmful.
    – DCShannon
    Mar 31, 2016 at 22:29
  • 1
    @RedCaio Downvotes shouldn't cause you any distress, if they do, you're taking them way too seriously. The primary purpose of voting is to give other people (not the author of a post) an idea of what the community thinks of the Q or A. Giving the author feedback is a secondary effect. Mar 31, 2016 at 22:45
  • @ibid In my case, because I disagree with you and this is the standard way of showing disagreement on meta :P (my explanation here is also consistent with my dislike of downvotes without explanations! :P )
    – Andres F.
    Apr 1, 2016 at 1:20
  • @DCShannon Methinks ibid's main motivation is a shiny gold Marshal badge ;-)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Apr 2, 2016 at 18:33
  • This question nicely demonstrates how differently various people vote. My primary purpose in downvoting is to signal to the author, rather than other readers, unlike @Ward. And on Meta, some people downvote posts to indicate disagreement, which I find absurd. I don't think you should flag them at all, but I've upvoted this question because it's a good topic to discuss.
    – DCShannon
    Apr 4, 2016 at 15:55

2 Answers 2


I think that all "Why the downvote?" comments are pointless and should be flagged and deleted.

In general, I think those comments are not constructive because the meaning of a downvote is right there in the tooltip that pops up over the button and because I don't think I've ever seen anyone come back and add a comment explaining their downvote in response.

In the situation you describe, where the comment was posted early on and the question subsequently received many more upvotes than down, I think obsolete is also a valid flag, but not constructive would apply as well.

In the case of a "why the downvote?" comment posted after a question has received several upvotes, I think the comment is absolutely not constructive. If several people have already rated a question as clear and/or useful, who cares why one person thought it wasn't? It's highly unlikely that the downvoter will explain why if they didn't in the first place.

  • 7
    As by far the biggest downvoter on the site (having cast more downvotes than you have rep), you would say this ;-)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Mar 22, 2016 at 11:26
  • 5
    I personally always explain mine if asked.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 22, 2016 at 16:47
  • 6
    I tend to explain why I've downvoted. Sometimes it seems to provoke annoyance, but more often than not it helps the user understand what they've done wrong and how to fix it.
    – Valorum
    Mar 23, 2016 at 12:17
  • 9
    Comments such as "Why the downvote?" have personally been helpful to me, because another member helps point out something I can use to improve the question. So, no, they're not pointless. They may not entice the voter to explain, but the community does help out.
    – user31178
    Mar 24, 2016 at 4:48
  • 4
    @CreationEdge I assume then you always go back and delete your comment asking about the down-vote..... IMO if you get feedback then you should delete the comment and improve your question. If you don't get feedback then you should analyze your question to see where it can be improved, and delete your comment after a reasonable time. Either way the comment should be deleted. Since I can't delete these comments when others make them I flag them for deletion.
    – Erik
    Mar 24, 2016 at 22:26
  • @Erik I'm always open to feedback ;)
    – user31178
    Mar 24, 2016 at 22:33
  • @CreationEdge lol me too even when I'm too stubborn to head it :)
    – Erik
    Mar 24, 2016 at 22:34
  • 1
    I'd like to downvote this a few hundred times, but I won't explain why.
    – DCShannon
    Mar 31, 2016 at 22:26
  • I feel I owe anyone I downvote (except obvious trolls) an explanation. Of course this can devolve in endless argument, but I think that -- more often than not, like Richard says -- it helps the other person. Occasionally, it even helps me, when the other person shows me I misunderstood something!
    – Andres F.
    Apr 1, 2016 at 1:22
  • (BTW, this is getting too meta... but I just downvoted this answer because I disagree with it :P Because I think politely asking for an explanation is a good thing)
    – Andres F.
    Apr 1, 2016 at 1:23


You're right that often there's no longer any point to such comments, and they should be deleted as no longer relevant. But remember: the reason for such comments is usually because the OP is hoping for useful feedback which might enable them to improve their question. If the question has since received many upvotes, that doesn't mean it can't still be improved. If someone is motivated to keep improving their question until it pleases everyone who reads it, then good on them, I say!

  • If the comment is recent, leave it, because in that case it's more likely that the downvoter will come back to explain themselves - or that someone else will make a constructive criticism which might give a possible reason for the downvote.

  • If the comment says more than just "why the downvote?", leave it, if the rest of the comment is something worth keeping. (Mods can edit comments, but it's rarely worth doing, and we'll probably get annoyed if we start getting loads and loads of flags asking us to edit obsolete or non-constructive parts out of otherwise useful comments.)

  • If the comment is old, contains nothing constructive, and hasn't elicited any feedback, flag it.

In relation to the specific comments you flagged: I handled a few of these flags, and the only ones I declined were as follows.

  • The one you mentioned in your question - I nearly deleted this one too, but since it said more than just "why the downvote?", I decided to leave it.

  • This one, which spawned some discussion and feedback in the comment section - in this case, since I was the downvoter, instead of deleting the comment I replied to it.

One more example: I hesitate to say a comment is worth keeping because it has a high score, but this 35-scored comment could even be said to have some historical value: it's quite ironic to see a "why the downvote?" comment on the site's second highest-voted question ever, as others have noted.

  • 2
    In this case, the rest of the comment could have probably been flagged for too chatty or whatever else we flag "+1" comments as.
    – ibid
    Mar 22, 2016 at 13:02
  • 2
    @ibid Yes, you're probably right. And in that case it wasn't even the OP making the comment but someone else. So I guess I shouldn't have declined that flag, sorry.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Mar 22, 2016 at 13:04
  • 1
    I probably would have declined both as well. The first one is one of only two comments so it's not causing any comments to be hidden behind a link; it's not harming anything so why delete it? And the second one spawned some discussion (as you point out), so deleting it would make the follow-up comments obsolete and they'd have to be deleted, too.
    – Null Mod
    Mar 22, 2016 at 14:10
  • IMO the first one might have more words than "why the downvote" but it doesn't add anything meaningful so it should go. As far as the other one goes it's purpose was to get your feedback, so why wouldn't you delete it after its purpose in life was over?
    – Erik
    Mar 24, 2016 at 22:41
  • @Erik Re the first one: yes, I conceded that in comments above. Re the second one: if I deleted it, the person who made the comment wouldn't get the notification from my reply, and the reply would look strange hanging on its own.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Mar 24, 2016 at 22:51
  • 1
    That's fair. It seems like to me that your comment would be understandable on its own though. This is especially true if you changed the intro to "I down-voted because ...." Also you could always ping DVK in chat if you felt they still cared. Personally my bias is to flag/remove cruft, and I almost universally see the "why the down-vote" style comments as cruft. At the end of the day your implicit position of "they aren't doing much, if any, harm and might be helpful so leniency is reasonable" is valid too.
    – Erik
    Mar 24, 2016 at 23:07
  • 1
    @Null: The mere presence of a useless comment is doing harm: It has to be read (otherwise I wouldn’t know it’s useless), and it sets a bad example for future commenters elsewhere on the site.
    – chirlu
    Mar 25, 2016 at 11:52
  • 3
    @chirlu I don't consider such comments to be useless. Thus, if they aren't causing harm by, e.g., hiding more useful comments, then I see no reason to delete them. If you can't be bothered to spend 1 second reading the comment, then I guess you can't be bothered to flag it, either -- so, what, you expect other users to flag it to save you a second of your life? And if you can't be bothered to read it, why should a moderator be bothered to handle the flag?
    – Null Mod
    Mar 26, 2016 at 1:46
  • "I nearly deleted this one too, but since it said more than just "why the downvote?", I decided to leave it." The entire content is the definition of a worthless comment, though; saying you see nothing wrong with the question doesn't seek to improve or clarify the question, nor does saying that you upvoted it. If it said more than "why the downvote?" and the rest of the comment was actually useful, perhaps I'd understand why you decided to leave it, but I'm kind of disappointed you think that's something that needs to be kept around (or even posted in the first place). Mar 28, 2016 at 10:55
  • @AnthonyGrist Yes, I probably shouldn't have declined that one. (See the comments above here.) On the bright side, its presence isn't really harming anyone, so it's not a disaster that I did decline it.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Mar 28, 2016 at 11:14
  • @Randal'Thor - Not a disaster? I lost a potential helpful flag point! How will I ever make 500? :)
    – ibid
    Mar 30, 2016 at 0:16
  • @ibid You're a good way there already, in an impressively short time! I'm surprised you're not the top "flagging" asker on meta yet :-)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Mar 30, 2016 at 0:27
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor - Negative feedback has caused me to hold back on flagging answers. (Practically every time that I used "not an answer" I was told that it should only be used on single line remarks like "yipee", and not on poor-quality/indirect/incorrect answers.)
    – ibid
    Mar 30, 2016 at 0:31
  • 1
    @ibid "Not an answer" means literally not an answer: it doesn't attempt to answer the question. Doesn't have to be a single-line remark; it could be commentary or discussion. Not just poor-quality or incorrect though. Have you seen this guidance on main meta?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Mar 30, 2016 at 0:36
  • @Randal'Thor - I'm just a bit sour that one of my favorite answers I've posted (which had attempted to answer the question, albeit somewhat indirectly in the same humorous style that the original question was asked in), and which the OP liked enough to nominate for a favorite question of the quarter was flagged and deleted as "not an answer".
    – ibid
    Mar 30, 2016 at 0:40

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