This is tangentially addressed here, but it seems to me that allowing the down vote of a question only serves to discourage the asking of questions.

It was the recent asking of this question (and the one down vote it received when I encountered it) that got me thinking about this.

Most often, I have interpreted the down votes on questions to mean "I don't like this question", though I realize the idea is supposed to be that the question isn't particularly useful. The problem is, what might be especially useful to one person, might seem like a "dumb" question to another person.

We have mechanisms for editing, clarifying, and closing questions. So, at least to me, the option to down vote a question does nothing more than discourage the questioner.

What am I missing?

  • 6
    We do want to discourage the asking of bad, low effort questions. Apr 24, 2022 at 3:51
  • @curiousdannii I disagree. We should encourage all questions. Then use the mechanisms that are in place for editing, clarifying, and, if necessary, closing. What is your definition of a "bad" or "low-effort" question? If someone has a question, any question, why isn't that a legit question for them? In addition, with this being a site accessible internationally, sometimes language barriers or errors in translation are perceived as "bad, low effort" questions, when the are in fact actual questions that posters want the answer to. ..and thanks for the down vote...I see what you did there.
    – moscafj
    Apr 24, 2022 at 10:18
  • 2
    A low effort, bad quality question looks like “How grapes? When is?”
    – Preston
    Apr 26, 2022 at 21:13
  • @Preston...maybe....but then the question could be asked to be clarified, and if not, closed, eliminating the need to discourage the questioner with a down vote. You probably know that many legit questions get down votes, so it is not only the incomplete ones. I hope you see my point.
    – moscafj
    Apr 26, 2022 at 22:40
  • How do you tell the difference between a question nobody thinks is good, and a question that people think are bad? How do you tell the difference between a question that is kinda okay and a question that is controversial? How do you allow the system to know what good posts look like, and which users should be considered high-risk for low quality, without a means of pointing out bad posts?
    – Nij
    May 8, 2022 at 10:52
  • @Nij....The questions you raise are valid, but my point is that the answers to your questions are too subjective. We have mechanisms for dealing with questions without down voting (which can discourage participation). Those mechanisms are asking for clarification, editing, and closing the question. They all serve the purpose of ensuring that questions are appropriate for the site, and structured appropriately. If an aim of StackExchange is to encourage participation, I am suggesting that down voting questions does the opposite.
    – moscafj
    May 8, 2022 at 11:19
  • Honest question: a bit curious why the question implied that closing a question is not discouraging since the usual complaints were generally about both downvotes and close votes.
    – Andrew T.
    May 10, 2022 at 6:12
  • @AndrewT there are specified criteria for closing questions, and the questioner can be asked to clarify first or be directed to the help page to learn what kinds of questions are acceptable. We also work to eliminate duplicate questions. I'm not reacting to complaints, rather, I often see good questions, misinterpreted questions, and questions asked by speakers of languages other than English down voted. I would prefer to see more people participating. The fact that an earlier reader of this question down voted it makes my point (though I've been around here long enough not to be put off).
    – moscafj
    May 10, 2022 at 10:23
  • 1) this should be on main Meta, not here. We cannot make site-wide policy decisions here. 2) Meta votes are not the same as regular votes. They are used to indicate agreement/disagreement with the post, not necessarily just its quality.
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 19 at 6:04
  • ...and to make my point further, what would be to purpose of down voting a serious question on meta? It simply discourages me from wanting to participate in the conversation. This is what the help page says about using meta: to provide feedback, to report a bug, to suggest changes to the community, to discuss how the site works. ...votes reflect the perceived usefulness: well-written, well-reasoned, well-researched posts tend to get more attention and more upvotes. Meta invites the community to discuss, debate and propose changes to the way the community itself behaves,
    – moscafj
    Sep 19 at 10:52
  • The purpose is well-established. It even has its own help page - meta.stackexchange.com/help/whats-meta & one per stack meta - cooking.stackexchange.com/help/whats-meta You appear to want to change the entire structure SE is built on & wonder why people might not agree. That's the whole point of meta, see see if people agree. If they don't then whatever practise you are proposing stays status quo. Posting a main Meta question to a local stack Meta limits the scope even if the idea does turn out to be popular. A decision like this cannot by made per stack.
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 19 at 13:14
  • @Tetsujin I mainly use Seasoned Advice. I've never mentioned the entire SE structure. This question is posted in Seasoned Advice meta.
    – moscafj
    Sep 19 at 14:53
  • Yes, but a single-site meta is not where this type of decision is made. Main Meta is for global policy changes - one site cannot go it alone on something like this, even it it did turn out to be a popular idea [which I very much doubt. I think you're about on your own on this one, sorry.]
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 19 at 15:00
  • @Tetsujin I think we are understanding meta differently. If decisions cannot be made for individual sites, why have individual site metas? On the point itself, I have yet to hear an argument for down voting questions that effectively disputes my concern. I will continue to raise the issue. I think your assumption that I am on my own is misinformed. Part of the problem (and one that being more inviting overall has the potential to solve) is that only a very small number of people on SA participate in these conversations. An even smaller number seem to have the ability to shut them down.
    – moscafj
    Sep 19 at 15:16
  • Individual site metas are to make decisions pertinent to that site & only that site. Whether we consider xyz on-topic? Why was my question about abc closed? etc. On busier sites, especially the 'mothership', Stack Overflow, downvotes on multiple questions from a single user eventually prevents them from asking further poor questions. Sure, it can be discouraging to get a downvote first time you post, but how else is anyone going to learn, most especially in the recent case where the close vote prompted a vitriolic response from the user …
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 19 at 15:23

1 Answer 1


As for the history of the option: it has been around since the inception of the network, and a major cornerstone of the SE philosophy. In fact, I believe there is an old blog post where Jeff Atwood announces that he made downvoting of questions cheaper in rep for the downvoter, since the feature is used too seldom.

The reasoning behind it: it is done in order to make it easier to distinguish between good and bad questions. The most direct positive effect is on the "silent readers", which is the millions of people who read sites on the network without ever making a post or a comment. (That's the demographic whose interests are given preference in SE network design). Sorting by score is an important way for them to get quicker to more informative pages. Also, negative scores are a very good information source that enables not only sorting, but also automated cleanup*.

As for the more active community members, they also enjoy the advantages provided to the readers (sorting, less garbage on the front page, etc.), but are also given an important tool to actively communicate their opinion on what kind of question they don't want to see. This is even more important than upvotes, especially when one notices how rarely a downvote is given.

And lastly, for the asker, it is a very strong incentive to discourage the asking of similar questions. While every site has a handful of people who persistently ask questions which get regular downvotes, most people are sensitive to negative feedback and react to it by either learning more about the rules of the site, or by refraining from posting.

And yes, I am aware that some people find the principle unfriendly. This is seen as an unavoidable side effect of the network's main goal, which is to provide strongly curated content. We are an environment which provides content very selectively, and where there is selection, there is also rejection. The founders saw this as entirely appropriate for a professional, content-oriented resource which actively deemphasizes the social nature of other formats such as discussion forums.

* I am aware of the irony of this very question having fallen victim to unwanted automated cleanup. Sadly, it does have side effects.

  • While I appreciate the history, the question is raised in the spirit of encouraging, rather than discouraging participation. The obvious problem is the subjectivity of "good" vs. "bad" questions. I would very much like to see some debate on why the mechanisms for claifying, editing, and closing questions are not sufficient means to achieve the goals listed in your "reasoning" above. ...and thank you for locating and reopening the question.
    – moscafj
    May 14, 2022 at 17:52

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