Catija said something in a comment yesterday that really struck me as something we could all stand to keep in mind:

You don't have to vote on every question and answer posted here. When you downvote because something makes you uncomfortable, you are hurting the person who has asked the question... they already admit in the question that the subject is somewhat taboo. When you judge them in your voting rather than judging the question quality or topicality itself, you're signaling, in another place, that they are not welcome. The SE I love is not that sort of place

She later removed the comment because the comments that sparked it were removed, but I think it's a message worth keeping perhaps even working it in to our help center text somehow.

I know we generally don't try to tell people how to vote, but perhaps we could keep the core message, but reword it as a message about how to judge posts more generally.

What do you all think?

If you think it's a message we want to put in the help center how should it be worded?

If you think it shouldn't be in the help center, why not?

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    I appreciate this question and I stand behind what I said. I think, after seeing the links in Shog's answer, that it would have been even better to ask a question similar to those - a meta reminder to vote based on quality, not convictions. I hadn't realized that was even appropriate, to be honest. It's one thing to explain the problem (and what such voting practices signal) to another user and another thing entirely to actually ask people to change their voting practices.
    – Catija
    Dec 5, 2017 at 0:58
  • What if questions on certain topics SHOULD be unwelcome here? Dec 5, 2017 at 10:09
  • @Rand al'Thor Feel free to support your point of view with an answer.
    – apaul
    Dec 5, 2017 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


I don't have much of an opinion on this, beyond the feeling that it is too trite to be effective; the help center already contains extensive guidance on voting, as does the UI itself - if someone's going out of their way to vote in a manner contrary to these guidelines, chances are they either feel they have a good reason to or are oblivious to any guidance.

...But that doesn't mean y'all shouldn't be on the lookout for this and take steps to mitigate it. It just means you shouldn't waste your time squirreling away more proscriptive guidance.

I happened to be compiling a list of resources for a moderator on one of our religion-focused sites who is dealing with a similar problem. And it struck me that, although this site does not explicitly purport to address questions on any particular system of beliefs, it does most certainly attract a large number of participants from a diverse set of backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems... Who are all expected to turn their knowledge of these same into answers, in spite of the fact that they're extremely likely to contradict one another in different contexts (or perhaps even in a single context!) This is precisely the problem we've seen on sites dedicated to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. where different sects are both on-topic but yet at odds with one another.

With that in mind, here are some discussions from yesteryear that y'all might find useful as you attempt to solve these problems here:

This is not a short list nor a quick one to read, because this is not an easy problem that can be solved with simple measures. But for those of you building this site, I believe it is worth your while to become familiar with the challenges that've faced those who walked this road before.

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    Thanks for this valuable insight. I think that all of the questions highlighted here are examples of discussions we should have here. I don't think that I'd say anything different than the answers on them do, though. We've done a lot to move in that direction - asking for cultural background in a question, for example - but I think that it's really great to see other, established sites, reminding users to vote based on the question, not their own morality or ethics... or to abstain from voting at all.
    – Catija
    Dec 5, 2017 at 0:54
  • It seems there are two broad aspects from those links: personally voting based on question/answer quality, and encouraging this with clearly scoped questions (and answers that match). Since people are justifiably attached to being able to vote anonymously as they please, I think rather than direct advice (e.g. the help center suggestion), the better way to continuously encourage good voting is to act directly on posts: edit questions toward that clear scope, edit/require answers to match that direction, and firmly moderate comments to avoid discussions of belief instead of post quality.
    – Cascabel
    Dec 5, 2017 at 2:01
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    You nailed it, @Jefromi. The epiphany here was realizing that folks will nearly always vote for their "side" if answers derived from a position which agrees with their PoV are pitted against those that do not; no amount of pleading, threatening or cajoling will change that. But it's not always - or even often - necessary to polarize readers and answerers that way; this is not a platform for proselytizing, and both questions and answers should keep this in mind.
    – Shog9
    Dec 5, 2017 at 2:06
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    So, the question that this comment occurred on was the furry question. There was nothing proselytizing about it... it said clearly that it was a fringe interest often looked down on. Someone asked why the question was downvoted and someone else responded saying that they didn't like the subject. This caused a discussion in the comments about how to vote, now deleted. I don't see how to improve that question to prevent that attitude. Some people clearly don't like any mention of sex. I don't see how we can sufficiently "sanitize" these questions when that question met with downvotes.
    – Catija
    Dec 5, 2017 at 2:26
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    Question voting and answer voting are markedly different, @Catija. You can avoid situations where pro/anti furry answers are battling it out below a question (or pro/anti vegan answers, to use an older example) but if most folks on this site vehemently dislike [sex|porn|furries] then questions on those topics are gonna tend to be downvoted. That's actually by design - it's part of how we determine what is or isn't on-topic on these sites; if there's essentially no one around to defend a topic, it dies. You've probably seen this with ID questions over on Movies.
    – Shog9
    Dec 5, 2017 at 2:41
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    But to use the religious sites analogy, if Islam downvoted all questions about Shia Islam, that's really not an "Islam" site. At what point is it necessary to say... "this is part of who we are, get over it, stop down voting"? It's a more obvious example with that site... but we could easily, say, have a group of people systematically downvoting every question with the LGBT+ tag in an attempt to get them off the site. This fails to meet "be nice"... It's an attempt to exclude a group of people from participating in your club.
    – Catija
    Dec 5, 2017 at 2:48
  • This is where discussing things on meta and getting folks involved beyond "you must allow this" is critical, @Catija - because it doesn't matter what you say your topic is or what you think that includes, if the folks using the site day to day don't agree then it's their opinion that actually matters. Shia Islam is on topic for Islam.SE for precisely two reasons: the Shia folks on the site think it should be on-topic and the Sunni folks on the site think it should be on-topic. OTOH, most of these sites exist because folks on some previous site decided they didn't want some topics.
    – Shog9
    Dec 5, 2017 at 3:04
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    @Catija a few jumbled points. 1 I'm not convinced that's a practical problem for the site; that furry question, for example, has a lot of upvotes atm. 2. People who downvote like that tend to be active on meta and chat. You can have conversations and you can change some people's minds, if you think long term. 3. An easy solution is to ask a lot of really well thought out questions. People often have a knee jerk reaction to a new type of question if it's the first time they see it, the more questions they see often the more they learn about a topic.
    – user8960
    Dec 5, 2017 at 3:12
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    Honestly, forget meta and chat. The best case you can make for the existence of certain topics on a site is a lot of really good questions with really good answers. Meta and chat can supplement but not replace that.
    – user8960
    Dec 5, 2017 at 3:18
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    @Catija You can't control how people vote but you can moderate comments, which is why I mentioned it way up there. If someone has a non-nice view and dislikes a question because of it, but all they can do is downvote - that is, they don't get their "I don't like this subject" soapbox attached to it - the damage is reduced, and the downvoter has much less "reward" for their effort and hopefully eventually just moves on. If they really want to pick that battle, they'll have to have it out on meta and it probably won't go well for them.
    – Cascabel
    Dec 5, 2017 at 4:12
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    Also somewhat related on Community Building (so not a specific case like the links in this answer). Shog has seen it before, but linking for others. Dec 5, 2017 at 17:28

It is the common sense approach advocated all over Stack Exchange:

downvote if the question/answer is weak or shows lack of research/ effort, or downvote to highlight a serious factual or logical defect.

It is standard practice to spell out what is expected from an upvote/downvote -- in fact we do already mention in the help topic related to voting that

Voting up a question or answer signals to the rest of the community that a post is interesting, well-researched, and useful, while voting down a post signals the opposite: that the post contains wrong information, is poorly researched, or fails to communicate information.

In addition, as noted by Community Manager @Shog9 in a comment here, the help page for the downvote privilege already covers the intended purpose of downvotes pretty thoroughly and goes out of its way to advocate restraint, but (he adds) whether anyone reads it is debatable.

In fact, new members may not often read that page, nor have enough exposure to SE culture yet to understand the implications of downvoting; and as for those who do know their DV's, even experienced members can too often be tempted to cast opinion-based downvotes. So there can be no harm and only good in specifying at the 'downvote' action point, what is and what is not expected from a downvote, by adding a popup reminder such as

downvotes are meant to highlight defects in the post such as lack of research/effort or a serious fault of logic. Please do not use downvotes to express your personal disagreement with (or disapproval of) the author or the content of the post.

I know this might only be possible to address at the network level, but such a reminder should ideally be incorporated as a popup message that appears when someone presses the downvote button. The system can then ask you to confirm the downvote, or else the user should be allowed 2 minutes to reverse their downvote at their own discretion, if they realise that they actually downvoted for the wrong reason.

However, the way that's presented should not make it more laborious for a user to cast a downvote: I am sure SE will not implement any feature that tends to discourage/ complicate/ inhibit downvoting in general, because downvoting is as integral as upvoting to how the system evaluates, ranks and displays posts on the basis of relevance, accuracy and quality.

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    Note that the help page for the downvote privilege already covers the intended purpose of downvotes pretty thoroughly and goes out of its way to advocate restraint. Now, whether anyone reads it is debatable, but...
    – Shog9
    Dec 2, 2017 at 23:23
  • "goes out of its way to advocate restraint. Now, whether anyone reads it is debatable, but..." __ Exceptionally detailed information and guidance is available in those help pages, and thanks for the link @Shog9 -- how can we more effectively push at least the main points into the view of new users? Dec 3, 2017 at 0:10
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    If you're new to the network, you'll get a link to that page in your achievements list upon earning the privilege. If you've earned the association bonus on any site, you won't get notified of this privilege and thus won't get a link (though in order to earn the association bonus you would've had to first earn the downvote privilege elsewhere and would've thus gotten a link on that site; since the privilege description is the same everywhere, if you read it once then the system assumes you don't need to read it again).
    – Shog9
    Dec 3, 2017 at 0:59

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