Personally I think downvoting should only be done in very exceptional circumstances: I've been on this site for over 2 years and only picked up the critic badge about 1 month ago (meaning I never downvoted anyone for about 2 years).
I appreciate that not everyone has the same opinion as me, and that people can downvote when they like, as long as it doesn't violate the CoC.
However I believe there comes a point at which a post has been downvoted enough already, and further downvoting becomes more harmful than helpful. It happened to one of my answers recently, causing a chain reaction that lead eventually to at least 1 suspension, but I won't go into too much detail about my own situation since I'm biased there. Today I noticed another relatively high-rep user (who clearly knows what they're doing) became the "victim" of chain-reaction downvoting:
It seems here that when the number goes negative enough, everyone that passes by seemingly wants to add to the user's misery. I picture this like someone that's already been beaten by the police, but long after the police have gone away, people that walk by the body on the ground and see that the person has been reprimanded for something, throw a couple extra kicks in.
Apart from Meta Stack Exchange ("Meta is Murder"), I have never seen such badly downvoted posts on the Stack Exchange network over about a decade of being here. Why does this community do this, and why is it tolerated (if you are one of the people that do this, for example downvoting a post that already has a net score below -2, can you provide me with some insight as to why you do this)?
Similar problems have been recognized by others (e.g. Why my question gets so many downvotes? Is it off-topic?) and this site seems to have a downvoting problem in general (https://academia.meta.stackexchange.com/search?q=downvoting) which I have not seen on the other sites that I'm equally active in (I have 1000+ rep on 7 sites and 150+ rep on 26 sites).
The post shown above had a net score of -11 when someone decided to downvote it to -12, so I wonder: If you are one of the people that pushes such posts further into the ground, is it because you believe the question should be deleted (if so, why don't you vote to delete or if you don't have enough rep, just flag it or wait for it to be deleted by others, since if it's so bad clearly it shouldn't be on the site and it will quickly get deleted by others?)? Or do you usually do this because the post angers you so badly that you feel you need to stab it further? In the latter case, my personal opinion is that the behavior is starting to tread on the fence of violating the CoC and the policy of "Be nice, Be welcoming", but I don't expect everyone to share the same opinion as me.
If you contribute to negative-downvoting chains, I wonder what you think writing a stern comment can't do, that downvoting something which already has a very low negative score, can do successfully?
To conclude my (personal) opinion on this issue (which I don't expect you to share, but I'd like to voice it here):
- MATLAB Answers (a StackOverflow clone that lives outside the SE network) has an upvote button, but not a downvote button.
- Facebook has a like/thumbs-up button but no dislike/thumbs-down button.
- At Matter Modeling SE we have absolutely no Q/A that have a net negative score, but there's been zero issues on the site, and all 7 moderator candidates committed to commenting/close-voting/delete-voting in favor of downvoting:
Note: cag51♦ has observed this phenomenon for upvoting: Case Study: First Answer Bias. This question is also tangentially related: Are upvotes skewed towards the first answer to a question?.
My 4 sub-questions are in bold. Thank you for your considerations.