20 Jan 2012

Downvoting Etiquette: How to Handle Down Votes?

Despite the fact that the recent trend seems to be against downvoting in general (both the social media giants – Facebook and Google Plus – are not giving their users the option to vote down / dislike an update), we still have to deal with negative voting dilemma: downvoting is still available at social voting veterans (Digg and Reddit) as well as large new-comers: the last year’s successful start-up Quora lets its users down vote each others’ comments.

So is downvoting really necessary? In most cases, when properly integrated into the algorithm, yes, it helps a lot.

For example, Quora uses downvoting feature to attract more attention to the “best” (most constructive and informative) answers as well as hide (“collapse”) non-interesting one-line comments.

Digg uses down votes to (automatically and manually) block offensive comments.

Downvoting is the essential user-powered moderation mechanism, when treated and approached properly.

Downvoting Etiquette

As a social media user who is entitled to thumb down anyone’s comment, what’s the best (and the most ethical) way to use that option?


Reddit votingTo answer this question, it’s the wisest to cite Reddiquette, the smartest guidelines about user interaction:


  1. Down vote anything if you think it shouldn’t be on reddit;
  2. Down vote anything if you think it is off-topic on a particular community
  3. Down vote anything if you dislike it.
  4. Downvote useless comments (if they add nothing to the discussion)


  1. Don’t down vote anything if you dislike the person (as apposed to the comment);
  2. Don’t mass-downvote someone else’s posts;
  3. Don’t downvote opinions just because you disagree with them;
  4. Don’t downvote opinions just because they are critical of you.

Comment your down votes: Downvoting is anonymous. You should only comment on your vote down if you have some constructive criticism which can help the original poster to improve.


Quora representatives have more to say about downvoting reasons:


  1. Downvote if the answer is not relevant to the question;
  2. Downvote spam or nonsense;
  3. Downvote factually incorrect answers;
  4. Downvote merely a short expression of personal taste with no explanation.


  • Don’t down vote if you simply answers because they disagree with them.

Comment your down votes: yes, please, if you down vote, try to provide constructive feedback to help the poster write a better answer.

So let’s recap:

Down vote when: Quora Reddit Digg
The content is irrelevant and / or offtopic Yes Yes N/A
The content is useless (adds nothing to discussion) Yes Yes N/A
The content is offensive N/A N/A Yes
You dislike the content N/A Yes N/A
You dislike the user N/A No N/A
When you disagree with the opinion No No N/A
When the opinion is highly subjective No No N/A
The content is factually incorrect Yes N/A N/A
Downvoting with comments Encouraged: downvoting with no reason or associated comments) is frustrating to the poster Discouraged: comment only if it’ll help the poster to improve N/A

Generally, the two social media giants have basically one point of disagreement: whether you should or shouldn’t comment your negative vote. The reasoning is clear: Reddit aims to avoid personal attacks and prefers to keep down votes anonymous, while Quora prefers to teach the users on how to become more useful contributors to the community.

The bottom line: So should you comment when you vote anything down?

  • Downvote the main story if you dislike it;
  • Downvote someone’s comment if you have some real reason behind that (share this reason to help the initial commenter).

Your negative vote is only good when it makes sense.

How to Treat It If Your Comment is Down-Voted

The truth is, there is no “perfect” solution and downvoting can have some nasty consequences: unreasonable downvoting can be demoralizing and discouraging to (especially to newer) members.

Experienced members who have participated in social voting sites for ages are most likely to have received multiple thumbs down and have learned to deal with it.

What about newer users? Or those who are a bit easier offended?

Try to Learn Your Lesson

Reddiquette suggests using downvoting to try to understand if you are actually spamming. As funny as it may sound, but that’s really not always easy (especially for new-comers) to tell if you are (unwillingly) gaming the system.

Do you keep getting too many down votes and buries? Then try to evaluate your own actions: chances are your contributions are irrelevant to the community.

Don’t Get Obsessed

bury brigadeReddiquette advises against trying to contact mods asking why your submission got down voted:

Millions of people use reddit; every story and comment gets at least a few down votes.

Indeed, there will always be trolls and bury brigades no matter what. If you have good reasons to suspect that your story is being buried with down votes, try contacting the moderators with your reasons. Otherwise, just don’t feed the trolls!