A recent question received a number of rapid down-votes, which I guess was likely due to annoyance of voters because it was the third in a sequence of effectively duplicate postings by the same author with different new accounts. The first two (less coherent versions) have since been deleted, but the down-votes remain on the third.

In comments, a question was raised: should down-votes be used to publish bad behavior by a questioner? I see an argument either way:

  • Argument for: down-votes mean "I think this is a bad question", and indeed, one reason to think something is a bad question is because the person just asked the question already.
  • Argument against: votes should be on the question, not its context. Bad questioner behavior should instead be addressed through flags.
  • While I think this is a good question, and thanks for asking it, as per meta voting traditions, I am not up voting because my answer is "no".
    – StrongBad
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 13:44
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    I just want to point out that this is not enforceable in any way. (For the benefit of those future readers who read it and say "I believe I was downvoted for my behavior not my post... DO SOMETHING MODS". There is really nothing we can actually do to prevent users from voting however they please, as long as it isn't fraudulent voting.)
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 13:55
  • @ff524 I think I will expand my answer to include that by "rule" I mean there is nothing mods can do.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 15:14
  • 4
    I think it's a question of the degree of rudeness, say, you witness. I didn't vote here, but I remember downvoting a question that escalated, in the comments below it, to condescending personal attacks against a high-rep user. That said, I think some people trigger downvotes way too fast - the recent question on serving cookies during an oral exam comes to mind which fit, in my eyes, perfectly under 'etiquette.' Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 16:17
  • Regardless of previous behaviour, the question is bad and worthy of downvotes all by its very self. I'm astonished a lazy research-less extremely broad question got any upvotes at all. Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 0:04

3 Answers 3


There are limited rules regarding how users can use their votes. The only constraints I can think of are that the system prevents, or at least tries to prevent, systematic down voting of a user and sock puppet accounts. This means that if a user can down vote whatever they want for whatever reason they want and there is nothing the mods can do about it. Any "policy" we decide on in regards to down votes (and up votes) is completely unenforceable.

I do not think systematically down voting a user's questions to punish them is a good idea. First, they will likely get reversed by the system bot, although in this case with multiple accounts, they probably would not. Second, if a user eventually asks a good question even if it takes multiple tries, we want to encourage the good question.

There is also a big difference between a down vote with a flag and one without a flag and also between a down vote with and without a comment. If you are going to down vote, it is best to leave a comment to help the user, often a new user, understand what they have done wrong. In all cases of bad user behavior, you need to raise a flag alerting the mods. We have extra tools to deal with things like multiple accounts, rude users, and duplicate questions. If you do not flag us, we do not know.


As in every StackExchange site, the rules are pretty simple. You should downvote bad questions.

You could read this blog post by Jon Skeet referring to this issue (it's a bit more focused on programming, but the general rules apply everywhere).

If you downvote a question because the user who asked has done something reprehensible, this is not desirable in SE. The reason is, that a question is a question, no matter who asks. Also, "hating" on a user (even if someone promotes or attemps piracy or whatever), is not constructive. A terrible person, can ask a good question that is helpful to others. Judge the question, not the user.

Furthermore, downvoting should always be revised. Downvoting is not the same as in reddit or other websites. It's not simply a means to indicate poor quality, but a means to provide meaningful feedback, and lead to the improvement of a bad question (or its removal).

By downvoting a user, the aforementioned goal is not satisfied. A user that asks a bad question, may learn that it is not constructive and improve, he also has the right (and should) delete or edit bad questions into good ones. Such behaviour should be applauded, not reprimanded because of past "sins".

The aforementioned question is a good one, and even if previous questions indicate that this user is interested in copyright infrigment (I have no idea about this user, hypothetically speaking), it does not matter. This website is about people coming to read answers to their questions, already posted by others, not about a community and its members' relationships.

  • 4
    It's a bit of a grey area, though, when the same question gets asked three times. In a vacuum, the question might be a decent question, but the third instance of the question could easily be classified at "not useful," and thus a downvote doesn't seem unwarranted – not if the downvoter happened to see the same question get asked earlier.
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 18:28
  • 1
    The question is not a good one because it shows no evidence of research effort. Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 0:02
  • Coming from the programming SE sites, I totally agree with Gkinis that academia is a special case because people vote with what they like, rather than anything related to the quality of the question or answer. I wrote this answer the other day: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/64567 It was the only attempt at answering the question, and also would infact solve the OPs issue. However even I didn't agree with executing the idea for ethical reasons. Nevertheless, votes are cast differently here. The real question is - is that even a problem? Why cant academia do things its own way? Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 15:00

I understand that in the current system, votes on questions and answers are both a way for higher reputation and then more privileges, and a way to punish the poster for any other reason. Probably there should be a punishment (down-vote) mechanism (other than flags) independent of the question/answer votes (e.g., in the user profile page).

If the system wouldn't change, I suggest that question/answer votes should only blindly address the quality, as much as possible, not the context, of the question/answer. As a future content reader I wouldn't care about the context, nor about whether the user is/was rude. I would suggest that the moderators encourage users not to vote for anything other reason than the post quality.

  • 1
    Voting is anonymous, so how do you propose we encourage? I am also not sure why we need a "punishment" other than flags (not that I think of flags as punishment).
    – StrongBad
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 3:07
  • 1
    I actually don't care about punishment at all, but people anonymously *do* that. Isn't there something like a policy page new users can read? If you agree with my view on the purpose of votes, when you see anonymous down-votes that are most likely for punishment, you could leave a comment to encourage people not to conflate between reaction to the poster and reaction to the post itself.
    – Orion
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 6:42

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