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I have noticed that sometimes, when I downvote a new question or answer that is borderline, exactly one other person will upvote it and no others. I can guess at the reasoning behind this:

  • This question / answer is not quite good enough to have a positive vote total, but does not deserve a negative vote total.
  • Therefore, I will vote it back up so that its vote total is zero out of fairness.

This is quite a minor gripe, but I would appreciate if people did not do this. Since downvoting only gives -2 reputation while upvoting gives +5 (questions) or +10 (answers), the net result is +3 or +8 reputation for the user. This behavior is not "fair": it incentivizes borderline content and disincentivizes minor downvotes.

In other words, please only upvote such things from -1 to 0 if you would have upvoted them from 0 to 1.

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    $\begingroup$ Occasionally I have done this, since I tend to vote often. I won't from now on on downvoted questions. (Unless they have been improved, or should be upvoted) $\endgroup$ May 24, 2011 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ I think the reputation system is somewhat separate from the totaling mechanism. For the reputation, it would make more sense for downvotes that keep the total non-negative to completely cancel the reputation from the corresponding upvotes, and upvotes that keep the score nonpostive to cancel the corresponding downvotes. But it seems like a minor issue to me. When I vote I'm not worried about reputation, I'm worried about giving information to others about the question or answer I'm voting on. $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2011 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ In short, I think we should just change the point system rather than trying to change voting behavior. $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2011 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ In my opinion, this complaint isn't just minor but also misguided. You've made a measure of community approval (rep) the target, rather than what should be the target: actual community approval of a question or answer. $\endgroup$ Jun 8, 2011 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Nick: isn't rep supposed to roughly correspond to community approval of a user? I am just as worried about that as I am about questions and answers. $\endgroup$ Jun 8, 2011 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Qiaochu: Roughly, sure. It also serves as a way to give users a gold star. I think unwarranted negative feedback is a sufficient reason to give a user a little boost of serotonin. $\endgroup$ Jun 9, 2011 at 1:02
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    $\begingroup$ "This is quite a minor gripe, but I would appreciate if people did not do this." I see nothing wrong with this type of voting, I find once a question has its first downvote others come more quickly (like the first vote is a catalyst). It's my opinion you should NOT downvote "borderline" questions/answers/posts because what you may find to be "borderline" could be seen as very useful to someone else, but it may not get the attention it deserves because of your vote. $\endgroup$
    – Squirtle
    Apr 22, 2013 at 1:53
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, don't be negative, if a question is badly framed, there's an edit button for that... I am going to up-vote decent questions with a negative total $\endgroup$
    – aman
    Nov 23, 2019 at 12:43

6 Answers 6

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I have done this a few times for some first questions, and I don't do this out of "fairness", it is my assessment whether this first post deserves standing at $-1$ in my opinion. And I can guarantee you that "-1" has quite a different psychological impact on a new poster than "0" and a comment.

I don't see how one or two +3s for the very first post of a new user is a problem or will lead to more borderline content. It is in fact quite unlikely that a new user understands how they got +3.

I also sometimes happen to upvote first and non-first posts who stand at -1 because I just want to upvote.

I would say that this phenomenon is a consequence of the system and I actually think that is very unlikely that people are smart enough to hit the right obfuscation level on this forum and at the same time want to exploit this to gain reputation. (Except maybe one time for curiosity's sake.)

I disagree that voting "should" be independent of other votes, but this may be a topic for a different thread and "should" should be defined first, although I probably disagree for most definitions.

(Simple recent example: I happened on an older thread with a highly upvoted accepted answer where I added my vote. Then I read the second answer with significantly less votes and realized that it was better. So I removed my vote from the accepted answer and upvoted the second because this was the only way to help indicate that the second answer was better, especially as many people would not read the second less-voted unaccepted answer. Now, the accepted answer totally deserved my upvote, so my vote was based only on the voting pattern.)

Edited to add: The example shows that the votes of the people who "only vote on the content" also depend on prior votes. Since everything is sorted by vote, it is wrong to pretend that there are any "independent" votes.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that the "should"-paragraph was a reaction to a comment of Bill Dubuque that he deleted in the mean-time. $\endgroup$
    – Phira
    May 23, 2011 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ I was referring to votes on the same answer - not different answers. But I don't disagree that there may be some exceptional situations where it may make sense for votes on the same answer to be dependent on prior votes (e.g. to discourage piling on downvotes on newbies, who have yet to learn norms). As for your example, I do agree with using votes to affect the sort order of answers, as a way to get better answers exposed. I often encourage folks to do such because far too often the best answers have fewest votes (sometimes only because they weren't first). $\endgroup$ May 23, 2011 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ In other words, while Qiaochu may want the question or answer to stand at -1 to communicate his disapproval, some other voter may not want such (harsh?) disapproval communicated to the poster (especially if it's a new user). $\endgroup$ May 26, 2011 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ @ShreevatsaR "especially if it's a new user" It sounds like you bend the rules based on who a user is. Are you also one who would be sympathetic to female profile pictures? (No pressure to not answering the last question) $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2017 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ @SimplyBeautifulArt I was summarizing this answer. But to answer your question, yes I most certainly do on the one hand expect regular users to understand the community norms, and on the other hand consider it important to create a welcoming environment to newcomers, for the sake of the long-term health of the site. (See Please do not bite the newcomers for an essay at another website.) I do not consider this “bending” the “rules”. (And no I don't care about profile pictures.) $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2017 at 0:38
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I don't like this behavior (counter-voting) for the following reason:

I think that it is not the job of any particular user to decide what is the right total vote for a question, it should be decided by the community as a whole, the total vote should be an indicator of what a user reading the question thinks about the question on average and this is a signal to other users.

The counter-voting biases the average towards the opinion of those who are counter-voting, and makes the signaling to other users about the quality of the question less useful.

I think users should vote independent of the total vote a question has at the any time and the votes of other users and solely base their votes on the quality of the question/answer in their opinion.

Counter-voting is not just voting about the question but it is voting about the votes and opinions of other users about the question and deprives other users from their rights to their votes. Would you like it if other users used their votes to counter-vote not because they think the quality of the question deserves their vote but just to cancel your vote?

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    $\begingroup$ I think I disagree. My opinion is that the total for each question is determined by the community as a whole as a sort of simulated annealing: if someone thinks that the total is lower than it should be, she can vote up, and similarly for down votes. The end result is that each question arrives at the total that the community thinks it should have. At least when I vote, the question I have in mind is "does the total for this question match what I think the total should be". I have no objections if others vote the same way, of course. $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2011 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl: +1, you have a very interesting point that I didn't think about. It looks plausible that a simulated annealing like process is at work in practice. But I still think that this view complicates the process a lot, the total vote a question deserves is quite subjective and also relative to other questions, I can try to think of situations where the outcome of the process is not a satisfying one, and may even find situations where the mechanism is not truthfull if the user's utility function is to make the total vote as close as possible to the amount they think the question should have. $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Jun 8, 2011 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ In comparison, the view that a vote represent the opinion of the user w.r.t. the quality of question independent of other users makes the voting process much simpler (and probably truthfull). So if we can convince the users that their votes should be independent from other users, i.e. make the utility function of users independent from each other, then I think the result will be a better indicator of the quality. But maybe this is just not a realistic view. $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Jun 8, 2011 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ I do see your point. $\endgroup$ Jun 8, 2011 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ I think this answer speaks volumes. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Mar 30, 2020 at 19:59
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I don't see any problem at all.

I think the appropriate comparison (for a question) is between net +3 (a downvote and an upvote) vs. 0 (no vote either way). If you explain the downvote (you do that, right?), the OP will have something to learn.

This is not about 10 downvotes followed by 10 upvotes = net +30...that does seem wrong. But just the smidgen of +3 (if that is all it ever amounts to), is not really enough to care about.

If upvotes and downvotes were more psychologically similar, then they'd be designed to be more equitable in value (or the other way around).


I stumbled across a related question and commentary at meta.SO about sympathy voting. The end result is that (with numbers computed on those sites)...well the opinions go both ways even with objective numbers.

And here's a another relevant meta.SO thread about preventing pity voting. Mostly contra.

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    $\begingroup$ The absolute value of the reputation difference is not what I care about: it's the sign. Marginal changes are what drive incentives, and if I'm going to end up awarding reputation to someone because I think they wrote something unhelpful, then downvotes become useless: the only reason I'd downvote something is if everyone was more or less equally willing to agree that it's useless, and in that case I don't need to downvote at all. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2011 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ A '0' net vote tally (not rep points) is also a disincentive. And even if the new user doesn't realize that they don't have the marginal -1 vote, they'll learn from the downvote explanation. $\endgroup$
    – Mitch
    May 23, 2011 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ :) I just noticed the downvote on my answer, and if your comment was an explanation of that, it didn't register as such with me. So would you have no problem with downvoting in this situation if the rep value of a downvote equalled that of an upvote? $\endgroup$
    – Mitch
    May 23, 2011 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Mitch: I did not downvote this answer. I don't think I was sufficiently clear: I am talking both about incentives for the person I'm downvoting and for my incentives. If people are just going to upvote whatever I downvote that's borderline, then I am disincentivized from downvoting borderline things, and I don't like that because it prevents me from communicating my disapproval quickly. Making the rep value of a downvote equal to that of an upvote would make it too easy to abuse downvoting, so that's not a solution either. Perhaps a slightly better solution would be to display both the... $\endgroup$ May 23, 2011 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ ...upvote and downvote totals by default. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2011 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ OK, I see. I think you were clear, and maybe I was emphasizing the view from the votee. I think the effect on the votee does help with -your- incentive though, with an explanation about the downvote an annihilating upvote won't remove the incentive of telling the votee that their things needs improvement. +1 on displaying both up and down votes especially since they are of different rep-value. $\endgroup$
    – Mitch
    May 23, 2011 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ There might also be some other psychology at work. Posts with positive or negative scores probably get read more often, because the person reading sees the score and wonders what the reason for the vote(s) was. This definitely happens when there's a ton of up- or down-votes. Zero-score questions then look the least interesting: they look like people don't even care or didn't even read it. This suggests that borderline posts get "stuck" at zero, due to people not reading them, and quickly return to to zero if they get a vote in either direction, when other people notice them and vote. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2013 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ I up-voted it, so you're back at 0... 100% agree with you by the way $\endgroup$
    – aman
    Nov 23, 2019 at 12:49
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Well, this question is 11 years old, and yet it is bumped already. So I hope that it is OK that I answer. Anyways 2011, this is 2022 writing!

When I give upvotes or downvotes, I am often deciding to do so on whether the question or answer deserves an upvote or a downvote, and how many. At least in the cases in the margins so to speak. For example, I agree that a clear "do it for me please" homework question, copied and pasted, should receive a downvote. But if such a question already received say 5 downvotes [and no upvotes], I'll let it be. I certainly will not upvote, to address the OP's question. Nor will I upvote anything else that I think deserves a downvote. But if something already got its share of downvotes, I won't add another to that. No need to pile on further. Just the same, I agree that a good answer should be upvoted. But if an answer already received say, 17 upvotes [given the traffic patterns of MSE now as of this writing, that is quite a decent number], then it would have to be a really clever answer for me to add another upvote. I'm glad that the answer got credit, but I won't upvote if I think the answer does not deserve even more credit than what it had already received.

And, when coming across a question with a few answers where the answer getting the most credit was NOT the best answer, I've certainly upvoted answers that I thought were not getting the credit they deserve--and withheld my upvotes from other answers that were fine but that had already received their points.

So, getting back to the topic, I've occasionally upvoted a question or an answer, not for the reason that I thought it deserved an upvote per se, but instead because I thought it received a downvote it did not deserve. It is actually fairly rare come to think of it, but it has happened.

I am aware of the unfairness of a decent but uninspired post getting a net +8/+3 [10 points/5 points for the upvote minus 2 points for the downvote], when perhaps a net of 0 would have been more appropriate. But is it really more unfair than that decent post receiving a net of -2, and the stigma of a -1 showing up next to it? I suppose I consider this question on a case-by-case basis. In any even I am NOT seeing how this has anything to do with the proliferation of "bad" questions on here where there is no doubt that the downvotes are warranted. Typically those who write those questions are posters who post once or twice and that is it. They just want their homework question answered, they do not seem to care at all about staying around to become productive members of the MSE community.

ETA: Anyways, it may do us all well to understand that, in general, on a site like this, not everyone is going to do things in a way that we agree with, and it is just the way it is. This includes our upvoting and downvoting powers. People are going to upvote and downvote for reasons they see fit, and I don't see what can be done about that. Keeping a perspective about these things may be the best approach.

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    $\begingroup$ Your response is not anything new, given three answers posted long before yours. Please review Kaveh's answer. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Mar 24 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ Please strive to coalesce your edits (e.g. use the sandbox). Every time you edit it bumps this to the top slot on the main page, so reviewers may have to expend 7x the effort processing your 7 recent edits. Cumulatively this adds up to much wasted community effort. $\endgroup$ Mar 25 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill Dubuque fair enough, my apologies I will do so moving forward! $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Mar 25 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ I hope you are aware that there is no 10 pts for an answer upvote/ 5 pts for a question distinction any more, for quite some time (I ask because what you wrote here: "I am aware of the unfairness of a decent but uninspired post getting a net +8/+3 [10 points/5 points for the upvote minus 2 points for the downvote], when perhaps a net of 0 would have been more appropriate." $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Mar 27 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ A single pity upvote of a very low quality question grants the asker +10, in fact. 4 downvotes, followed by I pity upvote awards the asker a net gain in rep. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Mar 27 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy for what it is worth, I actually mostly agree with you. We may differ in that I sometimes will upvote a so-so question, but if I wasn't clear in my post, I happen to agree with you that a low-quality question should not be upvoted, and in fact should be voted to close. I have no idea how one would fix this problem though--below the admin level of say, reassigning points to upvotes and downvotes that is. The fact of the matter is that people are going to vote as they are going to vote, and those who insist on upvoting posts that received a few well-deserved downvotes prob aren't on Meta $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Mar 28 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ You know already that "so-so" and "very low-quality" are two different things... $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Mar 28 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, @Mike. It gets tricky at the border of "so-so" and "very-low-quality", particularly given subjective variance between the two. I appreciate your comment to me. We all need to work together to respect that inevitable gray boundary, and cut each other a bit of slack. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Mar 29 at 21:53
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I recently cast an upvote to reverse a downvote that had been given to this question.

Subsequently, another user and I debated whether I should have upvoted the question. Our back and forth comments were each posted following the question itself.

While you can read the original comments that the other user and I each posted following the question, in an effort to make this answer self-contained, I will repeat my thinking here.

Since my reasons for making the upvote are somewhat long-winded, I think it best to describe them in this answer, rather than in the comments.


First of all, I think that the point made in the (already existing) answer of Kaveh, to this posted meta-question, is very well taken. That is, I think that the effect on the poster's rep should be consistent with [1 person 1 vote], and the existing [$(-2)$ - downvote ::: $(+10)$ - upvote] mechanism is unfair.

I also think that it is fair to point out that I did not originally upvote this question. Instead, once I saw that the question had been downvoted, I reacted to the downvote.

This is one side of the ledger.


From my perspective, the other side of the ledger is represented by points made in the already existing answer of Phira, to this posted meta-question.

For reasons explained in the next section of this answer, my opinion is that the question does not deserve a $(-1)$ score. I distinguish this from the conclusion that the question deserves a $(+1)$ score.

Further, I think that Phira hit the nail on the head, when he focused on the psychological effect of a downvote. I regard that effect as being the most important consideration in this situation.

Therefore, I feel that it is important to upvote in such a situation, as long as I also include a comment that clearly explains my thinking.

From my perspective, the real value to the OP in this situation is the combination of my upvote combined with my comment clearly explaining my thinking.


The remainder of this posting focuses on the specific question that I downvoted. I am unsure how pertinent one specific example is, to the generic issue of upvoting to reverse a downvote. However, I don't see the harm in focusing on the specific question, and explaining my evaluation of this question.

The OP started with an extremely worn-out question:

(In effect) prove that $\forall n \in \Bbb{Z}, ~n^2~$ is not congruent to $(2) \pmod{3}$.

Obviously, the most common approach to this question is to first focus on the manual consideration of $a^2$, for $a \in \{0,1,2\}.$ Then, you compare the congruence, (mod $3$) of $a^2$ with $(a +3k)^2.$

The OP took an unusual approach, that I have never seen before, that I consider creative and potentially workable.

That $a^2 \equiv 2\pmod{3} \implies (a+1)(a-1) \equiv 1\mod{3}.$

Then, in trying to implement this approach, the OP confused the conclusion that (for example) $(a+1)$ is not a multiple of $(3)$ with the conclusion that $(a+1)$ is not a multiple of $(2)$.

Then, the OP showed work, in attempting to prove the desired result, based on the OP's erroneous intermediate conclusion.

I don't see how an analytical error in the work shown justifies downvoting the question. I also don't see how the use of a workable but very non-standard attack on the problem justifies downvoting the question.

Further, besides the OP's creativity, I was positively influenced by the fact that he showed work and then (in effect) asked : is this work valid?

I do not understand what frame of reference leads one to downvote such a mathSE question.

So, what it comes down to is:

I think that the combination of the OP's creativity and work shown deserves to not be downvoted. I stated that in the comments, following the question.

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    $\begingroup$ "Does not deserve to be downvoted" is completely separate from "deserves to be upvoted". You only get one vote per post for a reason - you determine your own vote for yourself. The score is the net result of all individual votes for a reason - it is not the ends that you should be seeking to manipulate. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Nov 18, 2021 at 5:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Nij Yes, I think that your point is very well taken. I was hoping to avoid controversy by glossing over an issue, but now I have to bring it up. There seems to be a clear trend on mathSE (not meta-mathSE) that there is no quality control on anonymous downvotes (i.e. where no explanation is given to the OP). Interesting how this meta-answer is now at $(-4)$ and yet no one has said (in response to my meta-posting): "I think that the original mathSE question is defective because...". ...see next comment $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2021 at 6:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Nij Ignoring the issue around unexplained (i.e. anonymous) downvotes, it seems that the mathSE reviewer should have some rational reason for downvoting a mathSE posting, even if they don't tell anyone what that reason is. This begs the question: is quality control on anonymous downvoting on mathSE articles (not meta-mathSE) a problem? $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2021 at 6:28
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    $\begingroup$ No, it isn't. Upvotes significantly outweigh the downvotes in both number and rep value, despite long-standing issues of quality and the high proportion of closures on Math SE compared with other sites. If anything, upvotes are where we have a "quality control" issue. Almost nobody posts a comment saying what they really liked about a post either. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Nov 18, 2021 at 8:31
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I am the person you are complaining about. I do it out of spite, mostly. I read the question, and if it is truly an awful question like "Do my homework for me" type, I'll let the down-vote stand. Otherwise I up-vote and chuckle a little because I know it's going to make someone grumpy. Good to know it's working.

There is another reason, besides entertainment for this:

I don't know how to best communicate MY OWN questions sometimes. So I do the best I can. Sometimes, my best falls short of some individual's standards. Those individuals come in two forms: Those who down-vote with no comment, and those who leave comments that drip with a sense of superiority. Many love to hold their knowledge over the heads of others.

This type of behavior is so prevalent on this site, that I decided to play anti-hero a little bit.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see how you're being an "anti-hero" when you're self-admittedly only behaving out of spite. This reminds me of nothing but a toddler throwing a tantrum. $\endgroup$
    – YiFan
    Nov 22, 2019 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ "I am the person you are complaining about." The complaint was posted in 2011. So either you are not the person Qiaochu was complaining about, or else it took you eight-and-a-half years to fess up. $\endgroup$ Mar 22 at 11:26

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