# Clever downvoting

I realized that someone methodically downvotes my answers. This guy knows that serial downvotes may be automatically reversed by the system. Usually he downvotes three my answers per day, but not every day (see my reputation changes at 03/06/2014, 04/06/2014, 06/07/2014). I don't think this is a simple coincidence because

• there is a downvote of my question which got Good Question badge

• there are questions that were downvoted several times, though I believe they are absolutely correct. If someone will point me the mistakes I'll fix them or delete that answers.

Given the third fact I suspect that this guy even bothered to create several accounts to downvote my answers.

I've contated MSE moderators but they told me that they don't have evidence (due to limited permissions) to classify this as serial downvoting. I've sent an e-mail to the commmunity team, but they do not respond.

I believe these are intentional downvotes, so tell me how to stop them?

• I downvoted this question since I don't see the point of posting it here. – Tobias Kildetoft Jul 6 '14 at 13:12
• @TobiasKildetoft, and where should I ask this question? I feel like that neither mods nor SE team do not try to solve my problem. That is why ask it here. Btw I have another issue where MSE mod keeps ignoring me. What whould I do in such cases? – Norbert Jul 6 '14 at 13:40
• @TobiasKildetoft, I suspect that higher people are SE team. But if you read my question carefully they do not respond either. – Norbert Jul 6 '14 at 13:48
• Hmm. You do not fit to the victim profile of a known frequent downvoter. The mods probably cannot do anything, because they have zero means of identifying the persom (if it is, indeed, a single person). The SE team can identify the downvoter(s). They also say they can identify sockpuppets, but I don't know how foolproof that is. I'm afraid I cannot suggest anything more constructive than to accumulate more data, and pass that to the SE team for investigation. A painful route, but ... what else? A larger sample may be needed to make the "coincidences" unlikely beyond reasonable doubt. – Jyrki Lahtonen Jul 6 '14 at 14:09
• @JyrkiLahtonen, you can post this answer. – Norbert Jul 6 '14 at 14:17
• If you contacted SE recently, then the slow response is likely due to the 4th of July holiday. – user61527 Jul 6 '14 at 18:37
• @Thisismuchhealthier. Indeed I did. I contacted SE earlier this week, but haven't gotten a response either - I'm guessing that this is from the holiday, since their response last time was pretty prompt. – user61527 Jul 6 '14 at 19:10
• @Did Nope. Makoto Kato got 2012-07-27 : 22, 2012-07-26 : 24, 2012-07-25 : 22. You are #6 most downvoted overall, but no chance to catch up with MK. – user147263 Jul 6 '14 at 20:25
• @Thisismuchhealthier. This is interesting (eventhough I was only trying to best T.Bongers' 3-consecutive-days count of 12 downvotes). Say, could you check that the downvote rate on my posts is markedly higher since around last mid-May? This is a feeling I got but it might be due to paranoia... – Did Jul 6 '14 at 20:44
• I've been the victim of flagrant serial downvoting as well as very clever, disguised downvoting this year. It's gotten a bit out of control I think. I have what I think are completely reasonable answers that do not warrant downvotes but have been downvoted out of spite. Mostly they have been reversed but there are some posts here and there that weren't caught for whatever reason. You just have to learn to deal with it for now until the site moderators can find better ways to reverse long term serial voting. (Perhaps a step in the right direction is to require comments on downvoted answers.) – Cameron Williams Jul 7 '14 at 19:12
• It always strikes me that serial downvoting is always assumed to be wrong. Say person A has genuine grievances with 20 of person Bs posts, isn't the type to comment, and knows the system. Well, person Bs daily downvoting of person As posts would be considered illegal, even although person As grievances are genuine! That is, bad things happen to good and bad people alike. – user1729 Jul 7 '14 at 19:32
• @user1729 I think the long-term detection script would take into account whether (1) A has grievances mostly with posts by B, compared to posts by others; (2) A is the only person who has grievances with those posts by B. If both of these hold... it's getting harder to believe that B is not being targeted. – user147263 Jul 7 '14 at 19:44
• Also, I also find it odd that people say "look, lots!", and yet we are mathematicians - why aren't people testing for statistical significance first? – user1729 Jul 8 '14 at 12:13
• I see some justice was found after all: you got 4 downvotes reversed, and T.Bongers had 8 reversed. – user147263 Jul 9 '14 at 7:31
• @O.L. The problem is solved. Downvoters made to much downvotes and the system finally classified them as serial downvotes. – Norbert Jul 14 '14 at 16:35

To save everyone the trouble of digging through all the reputation changes (on this and other occasions), I wrote the query Daily downvote counts on a user's posts. This is what it returns for the OP (today's votes are not included, but otherwise the data is very fresh: SEDE was updated 10 hours ago):

2014-07-06 : 3 (added manually)
2014-06-29 : 4
2014-06-04 : 3
2014-06-03 : 5
2014-05-25 : 1
2014-05-24 : 1
2014-05-23 : 1
2014-05-22 : 1
2014-02-19 : 1
2014-01-16 : 1
2014-01-04 : 1
2013-11-06 : 1
2013-11-02 : 1
2013-10-28 : 1
2013-09-02 : 1
2013-08-24 : 1
2013-03-10 : 1
2013-01-08 : 1
2012-12-18 : 1
2012-12-04 : 1
2012-10-10 : 1
2012-10-08 : 2
2012-08-30 : 2
2012-04-10 : 1


On one hand, you have a reason to suspect that someone became unhappy with you in early June. On another hand, there is a three-week gap. So it could be two separate incidents. Either way, I think this is not enough pattern for SE team to act on.

One of two things will happen: either they'll get tired of it, or they'll eventually trigger a long-term serial voting detection script. Quoting an SE Community Manager:

we have undisclosed means to detect this, even in the long term.

• Also, the series of 1s on four consecutive days in May is probably a part of this story. – user147263 Jul 6 '14 at 16:07
• thank you for this investigation! – Norbert Jul 6 '14 at 17:46
• @Norbert: Someone even semi-competent can bypass the automated guards. One should remember that the state of health of some users is questionable. – André Nicolas Jul 7 '14 at 5:34
• These data do not include all of the MANY days on which this user got $0$ downvotes. The mean is substantially less than $1$ per day and then leaps to eight in two consecutive days. That is a clear sign that something is different. It could be that the user's posting habits changed. That could take the form of greater posting frequency, and it would be easy to check that out if one can get the kind of date seen above. I wonder why that obviously relevant information was not included here? But a change in posting habits could also be a change in content, which is subtler. – Michael Hardy Jul 7 '14 at 22:55
• @MichaelHardy The main reason 0s are not included is that this is how the SQL query works: it returns downvotes grouped by date, and the date when they occurred. As for other things not being included -- I am disgustingly lazy. – user147263 Jul 7 '14 at 23:03

While I know how frustrating undeserved downvotes can be, I'll ask you to consider this from the perspective of an SE employee investigating such complaints. Keep in mind that they generally don't have any domain knowledge, so they can't judge whether a post is right or wrong in many cases.

The voting system is an important part of the SE system. While we occasionally joke about those meaningless internet points, the reputation system actually fulfills a very important role. It might not accurately reflect knowledge or actual reputation among peers, but it is the gatekeeper for the more important privileges like the ability to close or delete.

There are two important points that need to be considered for complaints about abusive voting:

• We humans are awfully good at seeing patterns in the noise. As a moderator I've been surprised a few times when an SE employee was asked about a series of likely abusive votes, and it turned out that they were actually not all cast by the same user. Users that try to guess who downvoted them are wrong more often than they guess right.

• It is almost impossible to discern the intent behind a low number of votes.

Regarding the latter point, what we actually ask from the SE employees investigating such cases is that they read the minds of the users casting the downvotes. Of course they can't do that, but we still expect that they can distinguish someone disagreeing with the content of the post from someone deliberately targeting a specific user with downvotes.

Judging the intent of votes without having any mind-reading capabilities only works if you have a sufficient amount of data. It's almost impossible to do with only a handful of votes. But it gets very, very easy with a large amount of votes. While this means that occasionally users get away with a few abusive votes, they will be stopped if they try this on a significant scale.

• While your arguments are reasonable I must confess that it is very suspicious for me when during one month I get as much downvotes as for previous two years. That is why I asked this question. – Norbert Jul 7 '14 at 21:44

A part of a response message I've received from the Stack Exchange Team on this issue:

"We're currently working with the moderators and sifting through a lot of voting data to try and make some sense out of this, we know it's becoming an increasingly irritating problem."

• I believe that the permission of having multiple accounts on SE showed finally its weakness. No other math sites I know permit users to have multiple accounts! – user26857 Jul 9 '14 at 14:19
• They are trying to make some sense out of voting on this site... I have no punchline for that. – user147263 Jul 9 '14 at 14:46
• @user26857: One of the conditions on having multiple accounts is that you do not do anything which is impossible for a single account user. In particular, you are not allowed to downvote on the same answer twice. I do agree that using different users to downvote different posts is a difficulty which this feature may cause. – Asaf Karagila Jul 9 '14 at 14:56
• @AsafKaragila In your last sentence you got my point. – user26857 Jul 9 '14 at 15:35
• @user26857 Anyone with access to the data dump can compare email hashes and determine which accounts were created using the same email address. – apnorton Jul 9 '14 at 15:37
• @Thisismuchhealthier. I don't know exactly what they want, but the OP said that he didn't received an answer and I've posted this one. – user26857 Jul 9 '14 at 15:37
• @anorton Anyone can create multiple accounts using different e-mail addresses, and then use these accounts to downvote, which I'm sure actually happens. – user26857 Jul 9 '14 at 15:42
• @user26857 I agree, but you'd be surprised how many sockpuppets use the same email. (there's a data query for that, but I have since lost it) – apnorton Jul 9 '14 at 15:45
• @anorton I'm sure you are right. But why then there is no filter on SE to hamper this? I've asked this long time ago here, on meta, and they showed me a lot of (non-convincing!) reasons. (I always thought that the admins of SE are more interested in traffic, which even so is still low, more than on the quality of this site.) – user26857 Jul 9 '14 at 15:47
• @user26857 SE is larger than just Math.SE, so any user-creation policy that applies here should also apply anywhere on the SE network. There may not be very many legit reasons on this site for creating sock-puppets, but here is a good example of one on another SE site. – apnorton Jul 9 '14 at 15:49

I sympathize with you Norbert, I see some of what I think is thoughtless and mean downvoting. I also see a lot complaints about it from lots of people. Is it not time the right to downvote is revised or removed completely? I do not downvote, I do not believe I am qualified with my rep total. Frankly, I have not spoken up before because I am frightened of retaliation. I do believe that a downvote should cost the doer the same as the receiver and that a comment be required. This anonymity that the downvoter enjoys is not good.

• I would leave a right to downvote but the coment will be required. – Norbert Jul 8 '14 at 14:37
• There are many threads discussing the value of downvotes proper. As to anonymous, the asymmetry would be weird. I downvote 10-15% on main, and it tends to be of archetypes: lack of respect for the site (1) in format (eg, the other day a question on bijections with a title like RAJAAJAJAJ(repeat many times), and (2) in content (eg, comment wars where OP aggressively refuses to listen to suggestions). I should not have to explain my downvote for that. Any reasonably set up system can be abused, which is unfortunate, but let's not imitate politicians and legislate to the 0.1% case. – gnometorule Jul 8 '14 at 14:58
• @gnometorule That is the problem with dealing with this issue. It was never my intention to single out any particular member. I believe you, but you are not the only one downvoting. Can you vouch for the integrity and intelligence of everyone else? – bobbym Jul 8 '14 at 15:22
• I can't, but that's my point about the 0.1%: don't let them implicitly determine the rules. As @Thisismuchhealthier.'s script indicates, by and large increase of participation increases absolute number of downvotes. That's unfortunate (I +1'ed this question), but we should handle extreme cases (there are examples), and shrug the rest of. In particular, do not not participate because of fear of it as you say you do. – gnometorule Jul 8 '14 at 15:26
• I guess that will be the general viewpoint and I will abide but what the majority wants. Pleasure to talk to you. – bobbym Jul 8 '14 at 15:35
• I only downvote and never comment. – user159761 Jul 8 '14 at 19:26
• Is number of downvotes per user limited? Because limiting number of downvotes per day (or making them dependent on reputation, maybe), I think, could be a nice way to limit the problem. – PA6OTA Jul 9 '14 at 16:25
• I don't think that bobby's post should be downvoted. Even if you disagree with his opinion, why kill his ideas? In a democracy, the minority opinion should not be suppressed. – PA6OTA Jul 9 '14 at 16:26
• @PA6OTA Voting is different on meta. The number of votes is already limited per day, in a somewhat confusing way: at most $40$ votes, of them at most $30$ on answers. – user147263 Jul 9 '14 at 17:34
• @PA6OTA: don't tell that to me, my opinion and post was deleted. naff said. – user159761 Jul 9 '14 at 18:49
• Just as I said about retaliation I got a downvote on a answer. Coincidence? I doubt it. Nobody even looks at my posts. To the downvoter all I can say is I am sorry for posting a dissenting opinion, I will not do it again. You are right and I am wrong please do not target me further. – bobbym Jul 9 '14 at 19:11