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So here a certain user has downvoted all the answers because he "can't believe" we didn't tag it as a duplicate instead. (In case you're wondering if I'm just speculating about the downvotes' origin, rest assured that the user drew the answerers' attention to the fact he had downvoted them for this reason in a comment to the OP.)

Naturally, there is no way to expect anyone to be familiar with all questions that have been asked. And even if they have been seen before, they might not be recalled, or might be hard to locate.

I just think this policy is not a good use of downvotes. It does not have anything to do with the content of the answer.

Are there counterarguments?


To clarify, this is just about indiscriminate downvoting purely because the question happens to be a duplicate.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think it is a good practice, but "acceptable"? Are we considering whether it is a punishable offence? $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Aug 16 '13 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ Dear @JonasMeyer We've discussed acceptable and unacceptable uses of downvotes before. It seems like it qualifies for discussion in this case too. I am not insinuating anything about punishment. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Aug 16 '13 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ I hazard a guess that the downvoter is one who spends a lot of time methodically searching for duplicates, and can't stand neither the "laziness" of the asker and the answerers (in not searching properly) nor the "injustice" of people raking in upvotes when they are just producing "copies" of the original answers. I'm not saying that I approve of this kind of downvotes, but I have some sympathy for the downvoter as well (may be s/he could use a break? may be I could use a break, too). I have occasionally seen essentially duplicate questions posted and answered with barely a day in between. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 16 '13 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ Dear @YACP : Well, hollow challenges and little personal jabs about memory aside, this is really just another discussion about what downvotes are for. You are, apparently, arguing they are appropriate even for relevant correct answers as long as you have some issue with the post. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Aug 16 '13 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ Dear @YACP : While I know you are greatly tempted to take this personally, I just meant to call this particular policy into question. If someone else did it, I would have posted the same thing. It has little to do with who is practicing it, I just wanted to have a discussion about it. And to answer your "jerk dared" addendum to the last comment, I could care less about downvotes on my answers. The more important thing is that we don't have people hosing downvotes that are little-deserved. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Aug 16 '13 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ Cool off, please. You can argue your case a lot better tomorrow. Now it seems to be too fresh in your mind, and this exchange is devolving towards nastiness. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 16 '13 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ @rschwieb Good. Let's see what happens! A prediction: 99% will say that you are right, but that's all. The topic will be forgotten soon and you will be happy for opening a new great topic on meta. (Or even better: the moderators who like me a lot will have a short meeting and decide a suspension for "irregular use of votes". And then you will be even happier.) Conclusion: you will be very happy sooner or later! $\endgroup$ – user26857 Aug 16 '13 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ A former moderator once wrote "The reputation system encourages [...] answering questions without looking for duplicates - so let me try to discourage doing so." I think this is exactly what YACP tried to do: discourage answers to duplicates. I have more sympathy with his/her actions than with this meta thread (which was made a thread about a particular user from the beginning, by including the link). $\endgroup$ – user90090 Aug 16 '13 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen I'm not spending a lot of time searching for duplicates! The memory helps me to recall quickly if I've seen something similar posted before and then I rather use Google to find it. Furthermore, in this case I wasn't the only one who had a deja-vu sensation, so I guess it was a frequently asked question. $\endgroup$ – user26857 Aug 16 '13 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ I have yet to see a counter-argument that I consider at all persuasive. Not to put too fine a point on it, with very rare exceptions I consider the downvoting of an answer that is both correct and relevant patently offensive. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Aug 17 '13 at 5:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian: Offensive or not, I don't know. I guess in the case of duplicates the strong negative feelings emanate from the strictly enforced rule in academia (that you are certainly aware of) that publishing of a duplicate automatically raises suspicion of plagiarism. This isn't at all relevant in a Q&A site, but I can see the point of it. In the economy of academia the publications are the monetary units, so drawing the parallel "duplicate answers = plagiarism" in our local economy , where reputation is the currency (like it or not), is not so far-fetched. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 17 '13 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I'm considering opening a thread about reasons for downvotes. When I entered the site, I did get the impression that downvotes are also used as means of expressing extreme displeasure of the antics of another user. On my first day here I received an anonymous downvote for giving a full solution to a HW problem, so that was the crash course that did it for me. That downvote was reversed just recently, 2 years later, but the damage (to my thinking) was done. The recent meta-threads have made me reconsider this (yet again!). $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 17 '13 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ Without giving any opinion about whether it is morally a right thing to do, I just like to note that in this case the downvotes accompanied by a comment about them visibly had an extremely counterproductive effect. In a short span of time, the two answers to the duplicate question, neither of them particularly direct and to the point of the question, gained more upvotes than any answer to the question it was marked as a duplicate of (or to some other related questions I found) did over more than a year. More than likely several people upvoted just to do justice by "cancelling" the downvotes. $\endgroup$ – Marc van Leeuwen Aug 19 '13 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ @YACP: If I would have been in their place I would have had enough dignity to accept my mistake and withdraw my answer. You’re making an assumption that obviously is not universally shared, namely, that posting those answers was a mistake. Without commenting on those particular answers, I will say that I have seen answers to duplicate questions that were at least as useful as any of the answers to older versions of the question; such answers are not mistakes and should not be deleted. And I won’t fault anyone who fails to delete a correct answer, even if better answers exist. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Aug 21 '13 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ @YACP: I’ve written considerably more than one, and I flatly disagree: answers to duplicates are rarely instances of plagiarism, so your comparison is largely irrelevant. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Aug 21 '13 at 7:25
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When I noticed for the first time that a non-negligible amount of rep can be obtained from answering dupes while there is no "reward" for dupe-closing, I also considered downvoting dupe-answerers who "should have known better". But, apart from realizing that rep is but a transient shadow (though having >3k is a nice thing...), I learned that some of these dupe-answers are better answers than the original got, and may have been triggered by a slightly different formulation of the problem.

Ultimately, why should you punish someone for being helpful?+ The search for a dupe that is not granted to exist may turn out more time-consuming than answering for some of us, while for others hunting down dupes (or happening to remember just the right search term having seen the dupe before) is the easier thing. That's why we're a community after all, and not "the site of all the questions that user163 can remember".

There are however two things that could improve the situation somehow:

  • Give an incentive for dupe-hunting (though in order to avoid abuse, reopening might be equivalent to a downvote on the closevote...)
  • A better mechanism such that the answers to both the original and a dupe are shown closer to one another even before merging - which should happen more often, once a dupe-status has been established

+ There is an exception to this, namely someone merely paraphrasing an existing and old answer without adding anything valuable to it, which is quite "not helpful".

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    $\begingroup$ In the current case one answer is essentially a 'link-only answer,' originally linking to an MO-answer and now to some lecture notes. So one is at least quite close to your exception at least for the one answer. $\endgroup$ – quid Aug 17 '13 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ @quid Well a link-only answer usually deserves a downvote - either one posts such a link as comment, which may deserve upvotes, or one summarizes enough to mitigate the consequences of link-rot... $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Aug 17 '13 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ I like your analysis and your bullet points. Just one thing: I don't think that a downvoter seeks to `punish' here. Rather the goal is to draw attention to a questionable practice. A comment would do a better job, but may be ignored. In this light a downvote could be viewed simply as sending a stronger message of disproval. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 18 '13 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen True, "punish" is maybe not the correct word, "stronger message of disapproval" sounds better. The fundamental problem is that there is only one kind of downvote and often a lack of comments explaining them. Maybe two different downvotes à la "this answer is not helpful" vs "while technically correct, posting this answer is not helpful" $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Aug 18 '13 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Jyrki: It doesn’t matter whether the intent is to punish if that is how the downvote is seen, as I think it often is, and if the effect is to punish, which it certainly is. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Aug 19 '13 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ I have to confess that my English is not good enough to understand this a la Foucault discussion about punishment. All I can say is that sometimes one can be more helpful by determining someone to search (think would be ideal) before posting his questions. Or in this case the OP should have been thought to do so, not to give him an answer. This way he will know that from now on can post any question without a minimum effort because always someone will answer him. $\endgroup$ – user26857 Aug 19 '13 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ @YACP So the respective dupe-asker, but not the answerers, should be punished. But since it is nearly impossible to clearly know how much effort an asker put into looking for similar questions first (unless they explicitly mention the dupe candidate and conclusively argue why it's only related but no dupe), you cannot really do this in a fair manner. And concerning those who answer, as said for some it is easier to simply answer than searching for a dupe $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Aug 19 '13 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen Rather the goal is to draw attention to a questionable practice. Could be, but I don't think it's possible to call something which is likely to happen by accident a "questionable practice." The dupe-closure header already draws attention to what happened. The mass downvoting is more questionable. Spamming downvotes onto good-faith answers is just a poke in the eye beyond the closure template. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Aug 19 '13 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ @rschwieb: I quite agree (at a general level). Confession time: I have done this once. A 20k+ member duplicated his answer from day before. That cannot be explained as an accident. I still regretted the downvote. If somebody else serially does this in frustration, then I have some sympathy, because I've been there. But I don't condone this practice as a rule. A keen follower of a tag has IMHO no excuse - a new user can do this unknowingly and accidentally. In other words I expect more from high rep users. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 19 '13 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen Well if you spot someone posting exactly the same answer as somewhere else, this is so strong an indicator of a dupe question (though there may be exceptions) that said user should really have voted to close (and comment-linked to their answer) instead. It's not a strict reason for a downvote, but one should in that case directly comment to said user since they obviously had no trouble finding the question from which they just copied their answer $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Aug 20 '13 at 6:41
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Neither behaviour seems particularly exemplary:

  • Clearly, if the user is aware that a question is a duplicate, the appropriate action is to vote to close as a duplicate.

    Answering a duplicate question?  That's a paddling

    But, we should probably assume people are just trying to help. So, let's not be too critical if they answer a duplicate.

  • Downvoting solely for meta reasons seems to be generally regarded as inappropriate. I try to avoid it personally (and regret prior meta-downvotes).

    Your downvote is bad and you should feel bad

    But there's a large number of people with their own internal voting policies (which may or may not be internally consistent, and change over time). The only way to avoid (what might be regarded as) inappropriate downvotes is to not participate.

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    $\begingroup$ Zoidberg is great. "The Devil's Hands" is an amazing episode! +1 for including it in your post. Also for including a great reference to the first hacker movie, "War Games". $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 17 '13 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ While the wargames quote is indeed great, it unfortunately would imply the end of SE as we know it... $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Aug 17 '13 at 7:28
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for adding a bit of levity to this grim thread/topic. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 17 '13 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ The "first last" episode of Futurama was the best episode ever, I think. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Aug 18 '13 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ These points are true, but it looks like there is some insinuation that this post is about downvote shaming, which is a shallow interpretation which I've been trying to dissipate. I asked the question to try to establish a discussion on the practice, that's all. IMO, I think this practice is a grade worse than "downvoting to order answers" which was discussed recently. It's not as severe as, say, downvoting every single answer for a particular user. Now we have a starting point in case other users start to enjoy the practice in question, and that was my goal. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Aug 19 '13 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Pete: I don't know if best. If a gun was put to my head, I'd still not be able to choose the best episode of Futurama. There are so many great ones, even in the newer seasons (although this summer has been below average, and still it beats most other shows). But the first-last one is definitely an excellent episode that can compete with any other on the title of "best". Unless you allow the ordering of the episodes to be a preorder and not a partial order; or define "best" as maximal, and not maximum. In that case I agree that it is a best, but "best" is no longer unique... $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 21 '13 at 14:35
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I sometimes recognize a question as a duplicate, but that happens rather rarely. If I felt obligated to actually check whether a question is a duplicate before answering it, I'd just stop answering questions altogether.

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    $\begingroup$ Exactly. And there have been times when I was positive that a question was a duplicate and fairly sure that I’d answered an earlier version and still couldn’t find an earlier version after some ten minutes of searching both on-site and with Google. My time is better spent answering questions. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Aug 22 '13 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ I think that a bona fide attempt to locate a duplicate is all we can reasonably ask and expect from each other. Some of us are better at catching duplicates than others. There are many factors affecting this. If you concentrate on a few tags, it is easier to remember even temporally distant dups. Also, there are several popular exercises e.g. in Galois theory, reproduced in many a textbook, so that you cannot help but recognizing it. I have noticed that whenever I "visit" an uncommon tag, as a consequence of seeing a question I think I can answer, the risk of answering a duplicate increases. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 22 '13 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ (cont'd) Mind you, on some days, with all the interesting fresh questions of the day already answered when I was sound asleep, I spend more than half of my time revisiting old questions. This certainly aids my dup catching. My time zone forces me to adopt this approach (possibly different from yours) to the site. I am not ruling out the possibility that this is a breeding ground for my resentment towards some of the antics of others. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 22 '13 at 7:12

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