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If I upvote someone, it doesn't cost me anything, but if I downvote it costs rep and provides a disincentive to do so.

Downvoting is treated also as a personal attack, and there is a general attitude that 'not upvoting' should be the negative way to treat an answer that you believe is wrong or not useful.

I've seen good answers to questions posted later sitting below 7 or so crappy answers with a few votes apiece - the top answer has 40 or so votes, so clearly few believe these to be of use, but due to no downvoting at all, a good answer is buried where no-one will ever read it or upvote it into a place where it will be seen. This contributes to the 'hurry to answer' 'first in best dressed' state of answers, and hides useful material under piles of crap.

So my question is; Why is there both a community and a score-based disincentive to downvote? Shouldn't downvoting be used alongside upvoting to show which answers the community believes is useful, and order them in the reading queue? If 'not voting' should be the default state, shouldn't there be a malus on both upvoting and downvoting?

I'm asking this because I downvote answers, and with rpg.se's ability to check downvotes/upvotes, I often take a look at the ratio - and very rarely is there even a single downvote. Given that some answers receive few upvotes comparatively, or are clearly poorly written or researched, it's clear that downvoting is being preferentially avoided. Why is that good for the site?

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    \$\begingroup\$ To provide some small impediment to serial down voting of all answers but your own. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 18 '14 at 23:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Downvoting is treated also as a personal attack, and there is a general attitude that 'not upvoting' should be the negative way to treat an answer that you believe is wrong or not useful." - That isn't the attitude I've noticed. If people treat answers as a personal attack, we tell them to get over it, more or less gently. If answers are wrong or totally useless, we downvote the hell out of them and their authors usually delete them. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 19 '14 at 0:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Treat downvotes* I mean. If people treated answers as personal attacks this place would be very interesting indeed... \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 19 '14 at 14:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm glad that people are downvoting this question, it shows that there is at least a little bit of cheekiness left in the human race. I've seen lots of people get upset over downvotes, there's a topic on this meta saying that downvotes should 'require' an explanation, people clearly treat it as an attack of some description. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 19 '14 at 22:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's possible that you're also getting a filter bias given that answers that get downvotes (especially multiple downvotes) are likely to be deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – Grubermensch Jun 19 '14 at 22:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Grubermensch - That's entirely possible - turn that into an answer and I will upvote it. I'm mostly looking at answers to new questions over short periods of time, though, and questions with large accumulations of answers that include terrible ones with only 3 upvotes and no downvotes. If there is downvoting that removes answers other than terrible ones, there should be more downvoting on extant answers unless everyone always votes the same way. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 19 '14 at 22:36
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It's behavioural engineering: the stated purpose of the reputation malus for downvoting is to prevent people from downvoting for frivolous reasons (second paragraph), like "I don't like that game." Putting even a small cost on it means that people are much less likely to downvote for frivolous reasons, and reserve downvotes for when a post really deserves it (in their opinion, of course).

Observationally, it's effective. The issue of unpopular (or divisive) game systems or topics attracting downvotes has never come up as a problem in this community or any other meta.SE I've been active on.

Personally, I can see the temptation—I often find myself muttering "I hate that question"*, but because I don't like the topic, not because the question is bad in any way. Without a rep hit for downvotes, I'd probably get into the habit of downvoting the topics that I'm personally annoyed that people even discuss, but as it is I mutter to myself and move on. I actually think I'm better for it, too—so if I look at it that way, the malus to Imaginary Internet Points is overwhelmingly compensated for by the bonus to Real Life Personal Growth points.

* As I've been reminded, the malus doesn't even apply to questions, only answers. So... I guess the behavioural modification has worked exceptionally well, to make me check myself even when it doesn't apply! ;)

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can actually downvote questions for free. (But please still keep on not downvoting questions out of pure annoyance with the topic!) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 18 '14 at 23:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs That's right, they got rid of that. And yes, I do it rarely enough that it's easy to forget. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 19 '14 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ That link seems definitive - if the podcast was the developers, and it's site controlled not moderator controlled, then those were likely the reasons they did it. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 19 '14 at 22:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JackLesnie Yep, those are (were, in Atwood's case) the developers, and it's network-wide. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 19 '14 at 22:42
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Observational Bias

There is some bias in observing the number of downvotes on an answer. Generally speaking, people are likely to withdraw answers which get hit with downvotes. I would imagine this hockey-sticks very quickly, and so seeing very few answers with more than a single downvote is to be expected. It might be nice to see some statistics on downvotes to answers that have been deleted to confirm this trend.

A similar effect could occur where answers with downvotes get fixed, and then the original voter removes the negative vote. This would also decrease the observation of downvotes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I was thinking this too. The fact our downvotes go unseen is an indication of what happens when things do earn downvotes. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 20 '14 at 0:20
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First and foremost, how we vote, who we vote and whether or not we vote up or down is a personal choice and no standards are enforced. There are guidelines, but we cannot change how people vote in general by anything other than education. Ultimately, it's up to the users.

That said, we want you to downvote. In fact, please do it, and do it often. It's an important part of the system.

  • It's especially important that we downvote questions. This is reinforced by the fact that question downvotes are free.

  • It's equally important the people upvote early, upvote often and keep the reps folowing.

  • It's also important to think before you downvote, especially answers. This is why answer downvotes cost reputation, people tend to become attached to their contributions to this community and it does hurt a bit to know someone doesn't appreciate that. Adding a small penalty to the person casting the downvote helps them realize there is a cost there. The rationale here is that its a negative action, it affects users reputation in a negative way and can easily be taken personally/create an unwelcoming atmosphere. While its and important part of the site's curation element, its the easiest to abuse and also the easiest for the user to feel abused by. Adding a cost adds a bit of a check on the person casting the downvote.

But like you said in your post, it's clear that both upvoting and downvoting are really, really Really important to this site (and really the concept). We must use the tools regularly and properly for this site to function.

We must also not take downvotes personally, sometimes people aren't going to like your answers (more often your questions). Lets be kind to the downvoters, they're doing a service to this community. That said, if you do downvote, want to reveal yourself and have something constructive to point out on the post, please do so. The ultimate goal of downvotes is to improve the content on the site.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why is it important to think before you downvote, but not think before you upvote? Is it an attempt to treadmill users to increase user uptake? That is essentially my question, so expanding on that point would increase this answer's value for me. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 18 '14 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JackLesnie I added a bit more. Ultimately, there is a penalty for the same reason lots of sites don't even have the ability to downvote. Its easily taken the wrong way and it's something you should give at least a moment of consideration to. It's a negative action whereas all other actions on the site are by default positive/neutral. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 18 '14 at 19:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you expand on how it could be abused, or if there's a historical basis for the abuse that you're aware of? My understanding is that in the overall wash of users, 'trolls' are a small % and won't affect overall results - is that incorrect? \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 18 '14 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ chat? \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 18 '14 at 19:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't use the chat on this site. I'd prefer to have this question answered in the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 18 '14 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JackLesnie tbh, the question your asking is a far better topic for meta.stackexchange.com than for here. They will have a lot more insight into the hows and whys your looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 18 '14 at 19:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure it has been explained on meta, at least in the post where it was introduced. Lemme see if I can find it. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 18 '14 at 21:53

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