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I know this is not an issue that only affects me. It is the 'revenge downvoting'. I believe this to have happened to me today after a discussion on a certain users question. Normally, it's just something to brush off, but on this occasion, I had downvoted his question (I would have linked it but he deleted it at the time of posting this), and I had also voted to close as a homework question without an attempt at an answer. He reacted angrily to this, so a few times I told him how he could improve his question if he wanted people to help him. He responded by telling me that my questions were 'too trivial' for him (fair point, I'm still studying!) and angrily suggested I voted him down because I wasn't smart enough to answer. Even though there were 3 other close votes for the same reason and a -6 score (at my last view of the question).

When I next logged on, I saw that I have had many downvotes on some of my (highly scored) questions and answers. A minor thing, but still it is a shame people respond to (sometimes) helpful criticism like this. It says on this PAGE about 'serial voting'. How many votes in what amount of time is seen as serial voting?

Is there anything more that can be done about revenge downvoting? I know this annoys a few people as it has been mentioned in comments before!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It would be interesting how you can see who casts which votes \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH May 23 '18 at 14:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can't. But you can make a pretty educated guess. Especially when in a comment thread someone mocks your questions during a discussion then next thing you have 8-10 downvotes. Especially when said user was angry! \$\endgroup\$ – MCG May 23 '18 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ In my experience, downvotes are pretty rare, and I doubt it is because all my answers are so great! Even one downvote is suspicious, having more than one in a short period of time even more so.. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe May 23 '18 at 14:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MCG: still you maybe not want to state it as fact... \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH May 23 '18 at 14:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PlasmaHH edited so the user isn't directly mentioned \$\endgroup\$ – MCG May 23 '18 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pipe: Downvotes are rare to you because you don't have a lot of rep and therefore a target on your back. Also, the more you try to be responsible and explain the reason for downvotes, the more mysterious downvotes happen to your unrelated answers. The issue is real, even if you aren't observing it. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop May 23 '18 at 18:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olin that's true. I think it's a good thing to leave a comment when you downvote or vote to close a question. In my opinion it's more polite than remaining anonymous and You can even help people by telling them why you downvoted their question/answer. However some users just take it really badly and go on a revenge thing. That is something that should be tackled because it encourages people to not bother telling people why they voted as they did, which means the poster has no idea what they should change to make it acceptable \$\endgroup\$ – MCG May 23 '18 at 18:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeh, it is all meant to be helpful, not punitive. Like text messages, a lot is lost in terms of sentiment in places like this. And, tongue-in-cheek comments can be misconstrued very easily. I like to think that everyone here would, in different circumstances (i.e in-person), be willing to help whomever. I think everyone wants to help, it's just hard sometimes to get to a good starting point. A lot of the takeaway is "please form your question better after some research". I agree it would be good to see who voted up/down for accountability purposes. Oh, and "Don't downvote me Bro!" :) \$\endgroup\$ – CapnJJ Jun 1 '18 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ BTW, I think it is more important to try and help than worry about answering the question sometimes. There have been times that making suggestions "outside the box" in comments leads to the OP solving the specific problem for which you didn't really know much about. But, then, I have a lot of free time on my hands lately and, as such, delve into places I normally wouldn't... maybe shouldn't... "a man's got know his limitations" :) \$\endgroup\$ – CapnJJ Jun 1 '18 at 16:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CapnJJ It's true that everyone wants to help. In fact, that's why the old forum model is so horribly messy and it gets impossible to find actual quality information. The Stack Exchange model was created to prevent all of those people who "just want to help" from writing their half-answers everywhere, and to make actual quality answers stick out. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe Jun 5 '18 at 9:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pipe good point. \$\endgroup\$ – CapnJJ Jun 5 '18 at 12:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ MCG, I skimmed through some of your posts on main and I can say that there is no real reason someone would downvote you because of you behaviour (you are pretty much always nice and polite). \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Tork Jul 23 '18 at 10:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanielTork I always try my best to be polite and not rude, but unfortunately, some people just don't like to be told they need to do more. This particular instance I downvoted a question, explained why I did and how the question could be improved to be on topic. Unfortunately, the question is deleted now, but it can be seen around with other people aswell. They take it personally and get angry rather than take the 2 minutes to review the question so they can get helpful answers. \$\endgroup\$ – MCG Jul 23 '18 at 11:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ In fact, I have made mistakes on some of my questions (and answers) that have been pointed out to me. Instead of arguing, I'll make the change (if it is a valid point) and thank the person for pointing it out to me. \$\endgroup\$ – MCG Jul 23 '18 at 11:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, what I mean is-that there is nothing wrong with your behaviour. There's nothing you have to do about. Other users face the revenge-downvote problem because of their rough attitude. You can act on bad posts without giving feedback if you value you rep. that much. But I think the reversing-bad-votes works ok. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Tork Jul 23 '18 at 15:18
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Revenge down-voting is not ok and looking at your account I agree this is what's been happening. otably, after tossing out 3 revenge down-votes against the same user, there's some automatic protection against revenge down-voting kicking in. That's why you only get 3 votes at a time.

When this automatic revenge-vote detection kicks in, I believe moderators will be notified and can take actions. I don't know the exact mechanics for this, there's a lot of things going on behind the scenes that we normal users don't see. This kind of behavior typically ends with a ban and a rep-reversal.

If you suspect revenge down-votes, you should also take one of your own down-voted posts, then flag it for diamond moderator attention. Explain that you suspect revenge serial down-voting. Moderators can see who cast the votes and take action.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This guy may have known that then.... Looking at the timings of the votes it was 3, then 2 hours wait then another 3, then a wait then another 3. Maybe he knew about that! \$\endgroup\$ – MCG Jun 5 '18 at 7:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Moderators can see who cast the votes": This isn't accurate. Diamond mods apparently have access to aggregate voting counts between users, to identify patterns, but they can't know who exactly voted a specific post. Only SE employees have access to the detailed data. See meta.stackexchange.com/a/218120/325443. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Jun 5 '18 at 8:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dim They however can escalate to SO employees if necessary. \$\endgroup\$ – Lundin Jun 5 '18 at 8:25
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I don't think the exact number of votes is published, or at least the moderators generally doesn't discuss details. It will just cause downvoters to plan their actions and game the system.

According to this answer on the global meta, the normal procedure for this is to wait 36 hours, and if you still haven't got your votes reversed, flag one of the answers involved and describe the problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not too bothered about getting them reversed, it's only minor rep loss! It would just be nice to do something to discourage the behaviour. It doesn't seem to be too uncommon unfortunately. \$\endgroup\$ – MCG May 23 '18 at 14:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, don't wait 36 hours, flag for diamond mod attention immediately. The longer you wait, the more dicking around that other user can do, meaning more work for the moderators when they have to reverse it. \$\endgroup\$ – Lundin Jun 5 '18 at 6:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did end up flagging it. The votes got reversed. I hope that doing that has flagged the user too, as it's not really the rep loss that bothers me, I'd rather flagging the post would bring the user to the moderators attention who could then keep an eye on them for similar behaviour. \$\endgroup\$ – MCG Jun 5 '18 at 9:32
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The same thing happened to me most recently yesterday or the day before. The downvotes were reversed by the system over night.

Is there anything more that can be done about revenge downvoting?

Absolutely! Make all downvotes public.

Vandals only exist when they can be anonymous. Take away anonymity, and the problem goes away too.

The current system dis-incentivizes people from doing the right thing and explaining downvotes. As you saw, you cast a downvote you genuinely believed in, and got revenge downvotes because you explained why. If you had silently downvoted, no revenge would have taken place because the revenge voter would not have known who to pick on. If the revenge downvoter would be exposed by everyone seeing who downvoted your posts without reasonable justification, those downvotes would never have happened in the first place.

Voting is supposed to be a peer-review measure that helps identify good and bad content. But who reviews the reviewers? What if someone downvoted a correct answer due to a misconception? If votes were public, then you can at least have a dialog. The voter would still ultimately decide whether to stick to his vote or reverse it, but the process would be more open. Public scrutiny tends to lead to more accurate results. After all, that's what the voting system is counting on in the first place. It just has this flaw where votes can't be scrutinized.

The only argument I've heard to keep votes secret is that people will be more likely to cast a vote. Think about that though. What kind of person would be reluctant to vote if others could see that they did? It would be someone that isn't really all that sure about the vote, and doesn't want to look stupid. Such a vote has very low information content. I'd rather have those that know what they're doing, and are willing to stand up and be counted, do the judging of what is good and bad content.

The only other argument is you don't want the recipient of a downvote to know it was from you for political reasons. That might deter some legitimate downvotes, but there is already a simple mechanism around that. Anyone can create a account with any name. Unless you deliberately tell everyone, nobody knows who the person is behind a account. However, with votes being identified to accounts, action can still be taken against vandals.

From comments:

The problem with this idea is that it will make all your own downvotes also public.

Many of my downvotes are already public. In fact if the system were automatic, it might actually be less work. About the only time I don't explain a downvote is when something is so blatantly crappy that it shouldn't need any explanation, or others have already pointed out the same thing. In the latter case, I usually upvote the other comments.

I only downvote when something is sloppy, badly written, seriously misleading, or downright wrong. I have no problem standing behind such votes.

So, will the fact the downvotes are public (and the bad guys will refrain revenge) counterbalance the fact that now, much more bad guys will want to make you pay?

Absolutely, since there will hardly be more bad guys that will want to make me pay. Again, the bad guys already know I downvoted them. The difference now would be that everyone can see if they pick random posts of mine to downvote for no good reason. They will be much more reluctant to do so. And if they do anyway, everyone will see what kind of dirtbags they are.

And the main problem with non-anonimity is that there is a much higher risk of escalation

Actually I expect it will be overwhelmingly the opposite. If everyone can see what you are doing and judge you by it, you're not going to go around doing things that don't appear justified.

I've very occasionally had individual users that followed me around and seemed to go out of their way to be contrary. There are far more mysterious downvotes compared to those incidents.

Imagine, someone downvotes your post, and you think it is unjustified. You start arguing.

But that's not how it works. Almost always when someone explains a downvote on one of my posts, I simply let it be, especially if there is any judgement call envolved. I'm OK with a downvote as long as the voter genuinely believes it is deserved within the norms of the site. If it's a technical disagreement, I might add something to the answer to explain why what I said is true, but I'm not going to engage in a debate. Most of the time if a downvoter explains the reason and it's wrong, others will pile on him and I don't have to do anything.

The next day, the same guy posts something else somewhere else, but the post is pretty bad. It somewhat deserves a downvote. What do you do?

Particularly if it's a answer, I'm actually a little less likely to downvote just to avoid the appearance of retribution. Of course this only goes a short ways. If something is clearly wrong, I'll downvote regardless of whatever else is going on.

If I want to give someone a little slack, I'll point out a problem in a comment, then come back and downvote a day or two later if it hasn't been fixed and I remember.

I often hold off on downvoting when the author has a history of writing good posts. That means the error is more a small oversight, and a comment without a vote will quite likely fix the problem.

If I don't recognize someone as generally writing good posts, it's better to downvote along with the comment. It's been surprising how few times someone actually got back to me when I downvoted, pointed out the problem, and even told them to ping me after it is fixed.

having a handful of arguing comments under each downvoted post plus having to involve the mods much more regularily to solve users hating each other only because of some downvotes

But I really think that's not going to happen. This hypothetical argument comes up sometimes, but nobody can provide any concrete evidence this is a issue.

The only way to resolve this is to try it. Make all downvotes public for a month or two, and see how it worked out. The current system is clearly broken. We certainly have something to gain if it works out as I suspect. If not, we revert back to the existing system. At least then we'll know the true pros and cons either way.

Let's stop guessing and try it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think it'll be a decent idea to make them public. Or at least make it mandatory to leave a comment as to why you voted down. As in have a mandatory box to fill in as to how the question/answer can be improved or what is wrong with it \$\endgroup\$ – MCG May 23 '18 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem with this idea is that it will make all your own downvotes also public. Then, for all the posts you downvoted without putting a justifying comment (because somebody else already did, or because it just wasn't worth it), you now risk some revenge. So, will the fact the downvotes are public (and the bad guys will refrain revenge) counterbalance the fact that now, much more bad guys will want to make you pay? I'm not sure. And the main problem with non-anonimity (is that a word?) is that there is a much higher risk of escalation, and the diamond mods are probably already very busy. \$\endgroup\$ – dim May 23 '18 at 19:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ In fact, I'm pretty sure the site would be much less welcoming if voting was public. Imagine, someone downvotes your post, and you think it is unjustified. You start arguing. Nobody agrees. The net result is a chain of crappy comments under your post, and each of you thinking the other guy is an asshole, but this is the end of it at this stage. The next day, the same guy posts something else somewhere else, but the post is pretty bad. It somewhat deserves a downvote. What do you do? What will happen if you downvote? \$\endgroup\$ – dim May 23 '18 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dim: Votes on meta are only for disagreement. Not a big deal. I'm not surprised that some would feel threatened by making all votes publicly visible. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop May 23 '18 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin I know about meta votes, it was just another bad joke... Now, I don't feel "threatened" by making downvotes public, at least not from a rep point of view. At this stage, I don't care about rep. But I think having a handful of arguing comments under each downvoted post plus having to involve the mods much more regularily to solve users hating each other only because of some downvotes would simply kill the site. \$\endgroup\$ – dim May 23 '18 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, I read your additional edits, and I still disagree on the consequences of such a change. But it doesn't matter. What I simply want to add is that if you really really want your suggestion to be seen by the right people (the stackexchange team, not a bunch of EE engineers filling in time), you should submit this on the main meta. Because what I know for sure is that simply discussing this here won't have any effect ever. But you seem to have strong arguments (although I disagree with them), and I'm curious how it could be received by the whole community and the people in charge. \$\endgroup\$ – dim May 24 '18 at 7:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think making the votes public would rather increase the amount of drama and revenge-voting. \$\endgroup\$ – Lundin Jun 5 '18 at 8:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lundin: Remember that the revenge-votes would be public too. This will have a serious damping effect. In any case, everyone is just guessing. The current system is broken. Why not at least try something different for a while so that we can all know whether it's better or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jun 5 '18 at 11:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ People are already pretty trip wired for complaining about downvotes. If you make downvotes and upvotes public, you'd see 10x-100x messaging on the comments system about voting. I don't think we need those kind of discussions on this site. \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Jun 7 '18 at 5:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lap: Everyone seems to be arguing about bad things that might happen if downvotes are public. But these are ignoring the current known downside of anonymous downvotes and the very likely advantages of public downvotes. What's your solution to the current problem of vandalous and revenge downvotes, for example? \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jun 7 '18 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop I think the current system is adaquate, talk to a moderator \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Jun 7 '18 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with Olin. Anonymity takes away responsibility and respect. \$\endgroup\$ – JYelton Jun 19 '18 at 21:06

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