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Something I've recognized since I've started to be more active again is that it feels like some 80% or so of new posts get downvoted, often pretty fast after being posted. Most of the time I can't find anything in the posts that is so wrong with them that it deserves a downvote. In fact I find that many of the really good answers I am reading lately get a downvote at first. I've also had a few and I feel like this is discouraging for the people who provide in-depth answers.

Obviously it's up to everyone to up- or downvote according to their own opinion. And it's up to anyone to downvote without explaining it. I won't start a discussion in the direction of "You must leave a comment when downvoting". I don't want something like that, I just want to understand why so many good questions and answers are being downvoted immediately. Did some important on-topicness rules change in the last half a year or so? I couldn't find anything when searching through meta and I've seen other users asking themselves something similar. I don't remember seeing such a pattern when I had been active before.

It also doesn't seem like this is a specific target. It's across multiple topics, it's across multiple users, it's across high and low rep, it's across short and long questions and answers, it's across fantasy and technical writing...

I could also understand if it had something to do with really popular questions. HNQs often get a couple downvotes just because there is a whole lot of users that see it so someone at some point will probably find something they don't like.

One example I just randomly picked from the frontpage is Does it really serve a main character to give them one driving want? Every single post, question and answers, has exactly one downvote and it's only been viewed 65 times. Roughly ten percent of the views come from people who interacted with the question. Judging by my past experience there shouldn't be this many downvotes for a topic like this. I can understand if people downvote everything related to torture on WorldBuilding.SE, but this just strikes me as a weird pattern.

Did something change that I am not aware of? It just feels like far more downvotes lately than before and far more than the traffic on the site would imply.

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    This pattern started about a month ago. On many many posts, particularly posts by established users, questions and answers, there is one single downvote, no explanations. It is a strange pattern: a post that is contentious or problematic would attract multiple downvotes, and someone would comment. That makes sense. An occasional post getting a single unexplained downvote - happens, someone didn't like it. One downvote on everything - I struggle to understand it. – Galastel Mar 15 at 13:57
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    Also, some older posts are getting random downvotes. – Monica Cellio Mar 15 at 17:52
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    Can the admins see if it's a single account doing it? If so, can't someone undo it as this is, at this point, clearly meant to work against the Stack? – Sora Tamashii Mar 16 at 0:49
  • @SoraTamashii Unless a few particular users have been targeted, I don't think it's grounds for vote reversal, even if it was one account. Even though it might not be constructive, it is their prerogative and costs them rep on each answer downvote (which heightens the risk of revealing their identity in a low-downvote community). – Troyen Mar 16 at 6:09
  • @MonicaCellio and others, did something happen? I just got a reversal of votes. But the odd thing is I lost 90 points (9 upvotes, if for answers) and gained 30 points (3 downvotes, if for answers). I know this one wasn't my husband (besides, he never downvotes me). And it wasn't a user's account being deleted because when that happens the notification is different. – Cyn Mar 16 at 6:10
  • I'm looking at the last several days and there aren't up/downvotes in the same time period that could account for this. – Cyn Mar 16 at 6:16
  • Strange! I thought a downvote would cause loss in rep - so after a limit reaches, that downvoter should have been left with NO sufficient rep to downvote. Can't we find out those users who lost rep consecutively due to downvoting and ban them if they found guilty of targeted/spam downvoting? – Karan Desai Mar 16 at 6:17
  • @KaranDesai You do not lose rep for downvoting questions. You lose 1 point for every answer you downvote. You would have to check people's profiles individually and then make a determination. Mods maybe could do it more easily. I don't know...I think just discussing the possibilities is right for now, not taking action like that. – Cyn Mar 16 at 6:21
  • I attempted this query may be this could say something – Karan Desai Mar 16 at 7:14
  • @KaranDesai for the non-tech-savvy, what does this query do? – Galastel Mar 16 at 9:00
  • @MonicaCellio How do we put a stop to this? This is not a culture we want to propagate on our site, so this needs to be stopped here and now, before more new users learn that "this is how we do things here". So long as it's one person doing this (which seems likely at this point), they could be privately told to stop. If they can be found. – Galastel Mar 16 at 9:03
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    @Troyen The -1 reputation for downvoting a question doesn't show on the reputation page for other users - otherwise, voting wouldn't be anonymous. And I don't think it's feasible to track every user's reputation, to see if there are any -1s unaccounted for. It is easier to see if someone has a total number of downvotes that stands out. That's right on the activity page. But suppose you do that, and find the person, or at least a person you suspect, what do you do with it? Other than quietly hating them? And suppose your suspicion is wrong - are we starting witch-hunts now? – Galastel Mar 16 at 9:15
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    @KaranDesai High-rep user - nope. Can't see it either. Not sure even moderators can - I think it's something only SE employees have access to. – Galastel Mar 16 at 10:15
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    @Galastel There are a few public places where SE reveals reputation lost for downvoting an answer to other users without even going to data SE, though it's not publicly associated with which answer. But as you said, there's not much for us to do with that info. We had a couple such users on Japanese.SE and weren't able to do anything about it even though we knew who they were. In our case, several polite requests on meta (without calling them out) didn't help out. It's unfortunate, but I'm not sure this is a case where SE will step in, unless there's targeted downvoting against a user. – Troyen Mar 16 at 10:19
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    It appears that the Writing SE user responsible has been dealt with. I think I know who it is (based off their account being put in the penalty box and the massive downvotes just stopping), but I don't know if I should reveal the username (even though anyone COULD find them). – Sora Tamashii Mar 19 at 13:12
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SE generally allows people to use their votes as they see fit, even if a lot of them are downvotes. However, targeted voting (in either direction) is a violation of the rules, because votes are supposed to be for the content, not the person.

Moderators can't see individual votes or, for the most part, distributions. If there is enough voting between particular accounts we can see that, and when that happens we can escalate the case to SE for further investigation. (Employees have access to better information and can invalidate votes if they conclude that there's voting fraud.) We recently detected some voting fraud and some votes were invalidated as a result, but for a broader distribution, where each person only gets a few downvotes, it's harder for them to determine whether it's targeted or the voter's actual opinion. I agree that this is very frustrating (I've received some of this too).

I will ask if SE can review recent voting trends. If, for example, it were to turn out that a use is downvoting every post that hits the front page, for example, it would be harder to believe that it's being done in good faith. If it turns out that the downvotes are coming from somebody who's also doing a lot of upvoting, there probably isn't anything we can do. Mods don't have enough information to know, but I'll ask for help.

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    "We recently detected some voting fraud and some votes were invalidated as a result..." Hmmm... You know it's funny, I have thought for a while that one particular user might be systematically downvoting me and perhaps others. No evidence, just a gut feeling. Then I see that this same person is in the "penalty box" for "voting irregularities." Maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought cause the reversal caused me to revert 3 downvotes but also 6 upvotes. Though it's likely there were more that weren't included in the investigation. – Cyn Mar 18 at 1:56
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    The weird systematic downvotes on me and others have stopped for now too. I mean I still get occasional downvotes, it happens, but the last downvote on Writing appears to be March 14th. The voting correction was March 15th. – Cyn Mar 18 at 1:57
  • @Cyn that particular user's number of downvotes cast went down by about 20... – Galastel Mar 19 at 1:20
  • @Galastel doesn't seem like a lot based on that user's total ups and downs (mostly up's). But I trust the mods. – Cyn Mar 19 at 4:24
  • So it was only 20 downvotes in total? The whole problem that has been discussed here? Or are there still some downvotes unaccounted for? It seems like 20 downvotes in total are too few to do anything systematically to a large number of people. – PoorYorick Mar 19 at 13:31
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    @Spectrosaurus there's been some other unusual downvoting, which might be perfectly innocent (if peculiar) or might not be. I've asked SE to review, as mods do not have the tools to do so. – Monica Cellio Mar 19 at 14:16
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    @Spectrosaurus the question Secespitus links to still has a downvote to every post (except two very new ones), so not all strange downvotes got reversed. And none of the downvotes I've received got reversed either. But it looks like there have been no new strange downvotes. Maybe there wasn't sufficient ground to reverse every single downvote by the user. If they can't prove a downvote wasn't genuine, if there was no discernable pattern... Mind you, even after the reversal, the user has cast more downvotes in a month than I have in a year. – Galastel Mar 21 at 0:33
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    @Galastel I see. (Literally - I had forgotten that I can now see upvotes and downvotes.) Well this is strange. The user we're talking about does not seem to fit the profile of a petty downvoter. It would be interesting to get their version of the story. Note that the strange downvotes also might have stopped because people have become vocal about them and the "perpetrator(s)" are now laying low, or simply realized that downvoting is more frowned upon here than they thought. – PoorYorick Mar 21 at 1:40
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I've seen this before on other SE sites. So when I started being active here I assumed it was just common here as well. As you observed, there seems to be no logical reasoning behind it. Sure if a question or answer are problematic or controversial or poorly written you may see some degree of downvotes. But seemingly straightforward and well-written Q&A's will suddenly receive a single downvote across all posts.

I have always taken this to be pettiness. Or spitefulness. Or maliciousness. Or someones cockeyed idea of vindictiveness and an effort to circumvent targeted downvoting. (Meaning spread the downvotes out so the system can't tell you are targetting a single user)

For this reason I am sparing with my downvotes and liberal with my upvotes. I try to silently be a force of positivity. If a question is remotely interesting or useful I try to upvote it. If I gain even a sliver of insight from an answer (and it isn't just plain wrong in some way) I try to upvote.

This sort of voting behavior has been seen before. That link also has information on steps you can take to help mitigate voting fraud. This is also something that can be taken to Meta.SE. I understand employees can look at actual votes and see if a malicious pattern can be determined.

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Thanks for bringing this up. I've seen another odd pattern where I'll be on SE and I see several downvotes for different posts of mine come in a fairly short time. Like 3 in 5 minutes. Some of the posts are months old. It feels like someone is on my profile looking at my posts and systematically downvoting them. It doesn't happen like that with upvotes (except for once when my husband was catching up on viewing questions I wrote). If it were outright maliciousness, you'd expect once in a while the system would pick up on the volume and do a reversal. If it is a pattern and not just coincidence, someone's being careful.

As I'm here longer I expect my posts to get more votes overall (because there are more posts to interact with) and some do come from old posts, since people find things on searches and vote on them (which is exactly how the site is supposed to work). But the percentage of downvotes appears to have gone up (I haven't looked at the stats so this is from memory).

And yeah, it suddenly got a lot worse a month or so ago.

  • Coming late to the topic. Is there a way to record the time of these suspicious votes? – NofP Mar 20 at 18:16
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    @NofP Well the rep tab on my profile activity shows every up and down vote I've gotten with the day and time (to the minute). It also states which question or answer it was for. I consider it suspicious when I get multiple downvotes within a few minutes, especially when one or more is an old post. This can mean someone looked up my posts from my profile. Obviously most downvotes are just people who didn't like my post, and that's okay. It's patterns that garner suspicion. – Cyn Mar 20 at 18:52
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    You can also look at patterns on specific posts, where every answer plus the question has one downvote, but that's harder to figure out the timing for. I will say that these weird patterns seem to have stopped for now. Make of that what you will. – Cyn Mar 20 at 18:52
  • I was thinking that it would be interesting to cross the times of the downvotes with new answers. In most cases just a coincidence, but too many coincidences are always an interesting possibility – NofP Mar 20 at 23:47
  • @NofP An interesting pattern to look for if there's a user you suspect is a number of "unusual" downvotes received by different users shortly after suspected user receives a downvote. That's a pattern for revenge downvoting - user suspects downvotes came from someone, so he goes and downvotes them back. I actually tried to look for that pattern, and there was a partial fit. Of course, it doesn't take into account that user might not be online to immediately see he's got a downvote. And the problem disappeared before I had the time and patience to try to track this pattern over a length of time – Galastel Mar 23 at 17:36
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    @Galastel Yeah very hard to track down but I think you're dead on about the motivation. People constantly say "tell people why you voted to close" or "give a reason for your downvote" but the honest truth is I often don't say why so I can stay anonymous (I've only been cursed out once but it was enough). And yes I know it's not anon for VTC after a successful closure, but then you're not alone. – Cyn Mar 23 at 21:58
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I've reviewed the voting patterns on Writing lately and I have seen some patterns:

Recent voting on Writing

(The site analytics page is available to 5k users on beta sites.)

Notice that nearly all the voting on the site is upvoting. Downvoting is an order of magnitude less common. I also see there was a spike in voting starting in late February and leveling off by the end of March. In addition, the gap between upvotes and all votes widened around that time.

Interestingly, there was a spike in posting at around the same time:

Posts on Writing

So the general increase in voting makes a good deal of sense. More posts => more opportunities to vote => more votes. Now that doesn't explain the ratio of downvotes increasing.

I looked at the sample post, which has two downvotes. As an employee, I can look at the individual voting of the two downvoters. I didn't see any particular patterns in their voting records. Without asking them, I'll never know what prompted them to downvote. Maybe they disagreed with the premise of the question. Maybe they don't like Titanic. Maybe they are unhappy with the volume of questions recently. Maybe they misclicked. Whatever the case, I didn't see the targeted or revenge downvoting patterns that would warrant a moderator message and vote invalidation.

Obviously we wish we did know why certain posts were downvoted if only so we can fix legitimate problems. But there are good reasons to let people vote without having to explain themselves. Yes, it means there are hidden rules for downvoting that are unique to specific users. As the site grows, more people will vote in idiosyncratic ways and that's probably a good thing. People will also upvote based on their own criteria and the more voting activity a site has, the more robust it will be against the whims of individuals.

While it might help to reason out what prompts downvotes, it's probably better to use your votes. Get used to the occasional unexplained downvote secure in the knowledge that there will be plenty of upvotes to counteract them. It's democracy in action.

Finally, notice the gap between upvotes and all votes has disappeared again in the last few weeks. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd postulate that downvoters are responding to the increase in posting, which has also leveled off recently. Perhaps there were more downvote-worthy posts during that time. We've certainly seen that general trend on other sites as they see an uptick in activity.

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    Thanks for the analysis! Part of me is like "it's all my fault! I started almost 2 months ago -- I don't recall downvoting a lot, but maybe I did, then calmed down?" But clearly it was someone else. I was so tentative with that first downvote, that without the badge, I may have never done it. – April Apr 17 at 13:50
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    Thanks for the review! – Monica Cellio Apr 17 at 17:51

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