# On downvoting for reasons independent of post content, e.g. chat behavior

Sure, it would be better if he "learned to crawl" before signing up for the marathon of Calc II, but here's a guy giving a good-faith effort and receiving downvotes (and very helpful answers, I might add) in return.

Can you hold-off on (potentially) discouraging downvotes? I think I counted 14 downvotes on his 7 most recent questions (not counting the dupe mentioned below)...

What are the downvotes supposed to discourage, anyhow?

(I understand down/close votes for his asking a duplicate of his own question...)

• I second that. He is working very hard. – André Nicolas Jun 9 '12 at 4:36
• BTW in a similar case (about downvoting questions of some user, who was posting them in quick succession; I believe it was a discussion at meta) someone advised to base upvotes/downvotes not on the user but on the mathematical content of the question, which seems to be a good advice. (I don't remember who said it and I cannot find the discussion now. I thought it might have been Bill Dubuque, but I'm not entirely sure.) – Martin Sleziak Jun 9 '12 at 5:19
• @martin we generally prefer to talk about behaviors not specific users, unless there is something thermonuclear happening. It's more useful to consider general patterns of behavior in the overall community, and it frees you from having to single out anyone. – Jeff Atwood Jun 9 '12 at 11:56
• @Jeff I am aware of this, it was discussed not so long ago here at meta What's the deal with naming names?. My first comment above was merely about the choice of tags. In the second comment I tried to remember the name of user who gave that advice, not the user whose behavior was discussed. – Martin Sleziak Jun 9 '12 at 12:05
• @Jeff: I am (also) aware of the general preference for leaving specific usernames out of the discussion. In this case, I do not think that people are downvoting [a certain user] (solely) because he asks a lot of questions. If it's not too egregious, I would mention (my opinion) that [this user] can be dense, argumentative, and quite frustrating to work with. Those are the reasons I think he is being downvoted, but they aren't legitimate reasons for voting. – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 9 '12 at 13:50
• @GerryMyerson Your devilish reasoning doesn't sound very reasonable to me. I have known a student respond to "You should really study something other than mathematics." at the end of an oral exam with "Well, I am also happy with a B on the exam.". Downvotes are certainly not the way to go for this. – Phira Jun 9 '12 at 14:07
• @Phira: You're reading too much into the choice of pronoun. Maybe I should have disclaimed with this. In any case, I don't know why anyone is voting in any direction, but will venture to guess that it's not (solely) because of his plenitude of questions. – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 9 '12 at 14:08
• @Phira: I can do this all day! – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 9 '12 at 15:30
• @MartinSleziak: I think one cannot separate questions and the person posting them completely. A typical question of the infamous professor WM would be a legitimate question of a confused young student hearing about infinite sets for the first time. ut after some time, it becomes annoying spam by a crank. That reasoning doesn't necessarily apply in this case here, but I do think it makes sense to take a poster into account. – Michael Greinecker Jun 9 '12 at 17:45
• @ThomasKlimpel: There is a professor in Augsburg who is well known for his crankery of the Cantor-was-all-wrong kind. He once "proved" that the reals are countable. His initials are WM and he had various sock-puppets on M.SE. – Michael Greinecker Jun 10 '12 at 12:30
• @ThomasKlimpel: It's not the position championed that makes the crank, hot how it is championed. As far as I remember The Emperor's New Mind, Penrose distinguishes meticulously and honestly between mainstream science, his tentative scientific positions, and his own philosophical agenda. I don't find his arguments in the latter category very convincing (I rather want something like his conclusions to be true, but that doesn't prevent the arguments from looking like grasping-at-straws), but he's certainly not pushing them in a cranky way, which makes all the difference. – hmakholm left over Monica Jun 13 '12 at 0:12
• I know very little about the details of this case, but regarding the question, "What are the downvotes supposed to discourage?": I do not know whether discouraging particular behaviors is a primary motivator of downvoting. I think that signaling to other users that I do not think a post is worth spending time on is a primary motivator of my downvoting. – Jonas Meyer Jun 13 '12 at 16:46
• @TheChaz: details of the specific user aside, discussions like this tend to be much more useful if you can take the outcome and apply it to future situations. I highly doubt this guy will be the only person to ever spark the wrath of Math.SE by behaving in this way. If the problem isn't limited to the shear number of questions, then expand your description to better summarize it. – Shog9 Jun 14 '12 at 18:45
• @TheChaz: so say that then! In a year, no one's gonna remember who Jordan is/was - but folks will still have to handle rude, stubborn, lazy, abusive users. A consensus on how that should be done will be useful. – Shog9 Jun 14 '12 at 21:02
• @Xny: This tread is (or was, at least) about down voting questions (since those are Jordan's main contribution to the site - outside of his chat involvement, of course). If you want to complain about perceived abuse, feel free to start your own thread. – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 17 '12 at 22:32

It is worth emphasis that downvotes based on reasons completely independent of the content of the post (e.g. poor behavior of the author on chat), can possibly have some very bad side-effects on the health of the site. Namely, users who have no knowledge of the true reasons for such downvotes may be misled into believing that the downvotes were for other reasons, e.g the content of the post being off-topic, or too elementary, etc. As a consequence, readers may be hesitant to post questions on similar topics - even though such topics might be quite welcome here. It is important to keep in mind that downvoting sends global messages to the community about norms, policy, topicality, etc. New members and members not active on meta or chat, probably infer much information about such matters by observing voting patterns. So one should be very careful about using voting for non-content-related purposes, lest it send nonintended messages to the community.

If there are problems with a user that are independent of a particular post, then please use the proper channels to communicate such. In the case at hand, it has been mentioned that the heavy multiple question downvoting may have been sparked by the author's recent behavior on chat. In that case, please address the issues on chat using the designed channels, not on the main site. Doing so avoids the damaging side-effects mentioned above.

• Thanks for your input, and for the edit. – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 14 '12 at 21:48
• Oh my god, you sound so much saner and well-reasoned than I. My hat is off to you, sir. – David Wheeler Jun 15 '12 at 8:50
• Even voting according to content can be misleading to new users. I have often seen wonderful questions with lots of down-votes. The mystry was often solved by looking at the edit-history. The first version of the question was horrible and then someone edited it into a great question. Voting is naturally a bad medium for communication. – Michael Greinecker Jul 21 '12 at 17:03
• @Michael Indeed. That problem would be alleviated somewhat if edits pinged downvoters, so that they could revise the vote if need be. But, in the end, there is not much hope of getting past all the limitations imposed by the simple one-dimensional votes implemented in the SE platform. – Bill Dubuque Jul 21 '12 at 17:08

I think the moderators should have dealt with this behavior and should have punished the the user because of it before it got to the point where other users would start to down-vote his posts to show their unhappiness (it seems that everyone here agrees the behavior to be inappropriate and bad for the health of the site).

The FAQ clearly states that "rudeness will not be tolerated". From the example quotes that have been provided above it is clear that the user has repeatedly acted in a rude and insulting manner. If the moderators did not tolerate such inappropriate behavior by this user probably other users would not need to express their feelings using down-votes.

The moderators should contact the user and ask for respectful behavior and they should ban the user in case the user does not comply and continue to act disrespectfully. Down-voting a user's posts because of his disrespectful and rude behavior is much less harmful for the site than such behavior (IMHO).

The chat is part of MSE, asking good questions or trying hard does not give anyone the right to act in a rude manner any place on MSE (including MSE chat).

• Are the moderators expected to read everything on chat? Did anyone apprise the moderators of what was going on on chat? – Gerry Myerson Jun 15 '12 at 7:06
• @Gerry, they don't need to read everything posted on the chat but I would be surprised if no one has flagged any of these disrespectful messages. It seems to me that the moderators were aware of the situation since one of the moderators wrote "That the moderators do not think that this particular user should be suspended with that reason is a conscious choice that we made [...]". – Kaveh Jun 15 '12 at 13:58
• Mods have seen the flagged messages before, since he has been suspended 30 minutes per inappropriate message that was flagged on several occasions. – Joe Jun 15 '12 at 18:26
• @Kaveh That "we" might be royal, since I am not aware of any discussion among moderators about this issue (or possibly WW refers to some much older discussion, before I became a mod). Part of the problem here is that diamond mods aren't always aware of such chat matters because they are not always flagged, perhaps because chatters seem to be more tolerant than main folks regarding such matters. – Bill Dubuque Jun 15 '12 at 19:24
• @Bill, I agree with what you have written in your answer. My point is such inappropriate behaviors should be punished before it causes other users to use down-vote to express their unhappiness about them. The FAQ also states that the right thing to do if a user notices inappropriate behavior is to flag the post for moderators. (I don't know the history of the case. Moderators can check the history of flagged posts of users from their profile. I also think it is generally a good moderation practice to add annotations to the user's account when such cases arise for future reference.) – Kaveh Jun 15 '12 at 19:58
• @Bill, I checked the user's profile in the chat and there has been flags. The last one is from 2 days ago. Update: the flags doesn't show up on the main site but only in the chat. They notify all moderators in the chat so it is likely that those flags have been dealt with by a moderator from some other site. I think it might be helpful to tell this to MSE users so if they feel a MSE user is regularly acting inappropriately they should bring it to the attention of MSE moderators in some other way (e.g. a post on meta). – Kaveh Jun 15 '12 at 20:13

The community norm is clearly not to vote only based on the mathematical content. Let $X$ be some interesting mathematical question. Imagine seeing the following question:

hey math geeks! can anyone of you tell me why X? please hurry, I do not have uch time (some of us have a life...)

I'm pretty sure it would rain downvotes, especially if it is not a first time offender. Now let us depart a bit from this and assume the question itself was okay, even though it was on the barely acceptable side. But the user shows similar behavior in the comments. Many people would probably still downvote since this is still unacceptable behavior. A step father away but qualitatively still the same would be a user complaining in chat about the people trying to help him.

Now this was pretty much what happens with the user who prompted the original question. The user asks questions without showing own effort or even trying to make the problem self contained, combined with mild rants. Among this rants in a recent question, he called the webpage of someone offering free calculus tutorial "horrendous" and clarified in chat (names replaced by "[]"):

I hate [X], I don't think I hate anything more than him Wait, I hate [Y] more, [Y] is even worse because he became incredibly rich off writing incredibly bad text books Hopefully [X] is living in his one bedroom apartment alone with his misery [....] [X] is an idiot [...] I am going to write an email to [X] telling him why he is an idiot

The same user complains about the people not helping fast enough without trying anything to make it easier for them:

I don't understand why my attitude matters I am here to learn but people are more interested in down voting questions for improper formatting than teaching people this is why I fail all my tests, I just waste my entire day in here getting nothing done

This is far from a unique example, he has insulted several members of M.SE. in a similar manner:

By far the worst part of math is putting up with people like [Z]

But I agree, banning might be preferable to downvoting in this case.

• Certainly, if his being here is contributing to his failing test then he should be banned. It is in his own interest! – user1729 Jun 13 '12 at 12:39
• I downvoted this for the last line, and because this seemed merely a list of Jordan's sins from chat (and the debatable statement of how much work he shows). That said, I totally agree with your comment on mm's answer, which I quote: I think a large part of the downvotes can only be explained by POPs behavior in chat and I do think this behavior warrants a banning. Downvotes are not constructive in the way flagging in chat would be. Most of what POP said there is unquotable here and full of four-letter words. – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 13 '12 at 17:38

The response to questions based on the person asking them is, in my opinion, shameful behavior on the part of this community.

Yes, Jordan has rankled many people in chat. He's also been the target of derision and general ridicule, and if you wanna bring out the ol' ban-hammer, make sure you swing it fair. Behavior that is clearly outside the scope of what is supposed to be the focus of this site (that is, mathematics) such as berating a certain author of a well-known series of online class notes is one thing. Such rants have no place here; as I understand it, mathstackexchange is not a book-review (or "note-review"?) service.

Yesterday a perfectly worth-while question was asked, and down-voted within THREE MINUTES of being posted. Not because of the queston itself (which was fairly innocuous), but clearly just to denigrate the asker. Not just one down-vote, but FIVE. What kind of people are you? Are you really that cut-throat and rapacious?

Heaven forbid that anyone except "pure" (sniff) mathematicians ever endeavor to understand math, right? "No stupid people allowed", says the big sign on the door.

As I said, shameful.

• How is that a shameful behavior? Selling a knife to a person is harmless, but selling a knife to a person that has been in prison for stabbing several people seems like an irresponsible. I really don't see why we have to feel shame because of voting based on the person asking. I do agree that voting should generally not be based solely on the person, but with time and bad questions the weights begins to lean towards personal history. If you stop to think about it, it's not an unreasonable process. I do agree that once in a while one should stop and re-evaluate the process, though. – Asaf Karagila Jun 14 '12 at 6:17
• When people go "oh, it's Jordan, down-vote." That is morally wrong. And intellectually indefensible. Some of his questions may in fact deserve down-voting, that's fine. Everything else is ad hominem. I know the difference between "maintaining standards" and personal attacks when I see them. Objectionable ACTIONS need to be addressed. Labeling a PERSON objectionable, is just prejudice. – David Wheeler Jun 14 '12 at 6:48
• Real life is not a rhetorical debate. We have a strong bias for logical fallacies, mainly because life is not purely logical. Even if those arguments are ad hominem, they are valid in this context. People evaluate other people based on their previous history with them. If your mortal enemy will do something nice for you, will you smile and thank them - or will you suspect and reject it? At first it will be the latter, with time it may become the former. Is this not the same case here? People dislike Jordan and now he has to work twice as hard to reverse that. – Asaf Karagila Jun 14 '12 at 6:57
• What dismays me is the willingness of people to jump on the "bash Jordan band-wagon". Dismissing it as "human nature" doesn't cut it for me, not by a long shot. Greed is human nature, too, but that doesn't mean thieves ought to be allowed carte blanche. Down-voting Jordan's questions to express disapproval of HIM, well, frankly, it makes me feel bad about the community. It makes me think: "ooh, those people are icky...I want nothing to do with them." For how much, really, separates me from him? This violates a certain sense of decency, that I feel a site like this is obligated to maintain. – David Wheeler Jun 14 '12 at 7:05
• Do you judge every mosquito you smash to the wall by the amount of blood it drew from you and your housemates? This analogy does not go very far, but it does serve as pointing out that often we see things which we are generally annoyed about and we want to abolish them. If someone behaves as Jordan did on the chat, I am far from surprised that some people would downvote his questions constantly. I do agree that this post comes in a good timing and calls to evaluate the process and see whether or not Jordan deserves this or not. It seems to me that at least until now - he earned it. – Asaf Karagila Jun 14 '12 at 7:24
• I would like to add that with all the downvoting, Jordan still is among the top 5% rep earners this week. By posting questions from his hated proffesor or the hated supplier of online class notes. And there are users who actually behave well, are polite and get downvoted for things not related to MS.E whatsoever (like the creator of algebraic general topology). – Michael Greinecker Jun 14 '12 at 16:07
• It is my firm contention: that personal dislike of a person and down-voting their (legitimate) questions is abuse. Some of Jordan's behavior in chat, and certainly some of the comments in some of his questions is worthy of moderator attention. Down-voting a question that is poorly posed, or posed in such a way as to suggest no attempt at honest work has been done (esp. in a question tagged as homework) is not what I'm talking about here. – David Wheeler Jun 14 '12 at 19:37
• Go off-scale tolerance detected. Why community must tolerate users which allows themselves to behave this way (use foul language, abusing others)? Such behavior must face symmetric response. I completely disagree with approach to users of community as robots, which exchanges mathematical messages. We are here to talk to each other. This is community which consist of people. People interested in mathematics. If someone require asap a full answer, because he will fail the test, then he get to the wrong place. – Norbert Jun 14 '12 at 22:50
• There are some inter-twined issues, here. Personally, I take a dim view of people who "just want the answer" because they don't want to take the time to "learn the material". But as Bill Dubuque pointed out, using down-voting as a kind of "moral persuasion" is not only ineffective, it harms the site itself. Visitors don't know the sub-text. And a case could be made, more so for mathematics than other disciplines, that it is, and should be, unemotional. I am not arguing that name-calling or other disruptive behavior is OK (cont.) – David Wheeler Jun 15 '12 at 8:41
• (cont.) I am saying that down-voting a question because one does not like the asker is inappropriate. @AsafKaragila : yes, I made that comment for you, glad you caught the reference. I do feel, and feel rather strongly, that actions to "drive undesirable people" from this site are NOT in the best interests of this site, nor do they serve the subject (mathematics) particularly well. – David Wheeler Jun 15 '12 at 8:48
• @Asaf: I want to make sure I understand your position. Are you saying it is okay to downvote a user's posts solely because one thinks they are a bad member of the community and wants them to go away? – user856 Jun 15 '12 at 18:47
• @Asaf: Of course it is a natural thing for people to want to do, and clearly people are doing it or else we wouldn't be talking about it here. The question is whether we ought to be doing it. If someone left a downvote and an unjustified comment belittling my answer, I would be tempted to go downvote their posts in retaliation, but I don't. And if the topic of spiteful downvoting were brought up on meta, I don't think saying that it is a natural and human thing to do would be a useful contribution to the discussion. – user856 Jun 16 '12 at 0:38
• @AsafKaragila Of course it's understandable why this happens. Nevertheless, I feel that "trying to be better", setting for ourselves high moral standards is a good thing even if we don't always live up to these standards in due course. It's like asking people to be polite in the chat-rooms. People may not always comply, but the stated expectation that they should try, creates a better atmosphere than saying naught at all. – David Wheeler Jun 16 '12 at 4:38
• I don't like to see people persecuted. If someone breaks a rule, I think it is the action that should be censured, not the user. Long after you and I have stopped using this site, only our actions are left behind, our motivations may be undiscernable. The person in question no doubt brought upon himself the ire he received, but what remained for all to see were several "starred comments" a day in chat ridiculing him. I daresay, people becoming afraid to ask "noob questions" is counter-productive. It creates an atmosphere of elitism, which could lead to site stagnation. – David Wheeler Jun 16 '12 at 20:07
• You mean "inappropriate thought" or "expression" do you not? That is, you feel the expression of certain thoughts and feelings are "bad". Let's pretend they never occurred. History is, in the final analysis, written by the editors, no? – David Wheeler Jun 25 '12 at 7:31

I was going to stay out of this, as I loosely agree with The Chaz and Andre. But as there is another answer that I am completely and totally against, I will enter the fray.

Let me be precise: In Michael Greinecker's answer there is the line:

But I agree, banning might be preferable to downvoting in this case.

And the comment by user1729:

Certainly, if his being here is contributing to his failing test [sic] then he should be banned. It is in his own interest!

Whether or not the POP (Person of the Original Post) "shows any research effort, is unclear or not useful" (taken from the hover-over downvote description) should in no way lead to any talk or action towards banning/suspending him. It is fortunate that suspension, deletion, and destruction are mod-controlled.

FWIW, I don't downvote POP's questions, and nor do I give explicit answers. I understand a certain desire to do so, as POP has a tendency to not show any research effort and apparently to spurn resources such as his professor, his textbook, and sites such as Paul's Online Math Notes.

Although I think that the lack of 'any research effort' is a sufficient reason to downvote in general, I am very torn as to whether or not it would serve any purpose in this case. The only thing missing from POP's questions are his own work. If it were the case that downvoting would force POP to post his own work, or at least his attempts, before getting answers, then that would be great. But this seems unlikely, for a lack of consensus and similar reasons preventing a consolidated homework policy.

To end, I wanted to note that it is not as if he is completely unwilling to put in work. On multiple occasions, I have gone into an extended chat discussion with him on his problems, where he arrived at the answer.

TL;DR:
downvote maybe, preferably not; explicitly answer maybe, preferably not; but ban/suspend absolutely not.

• I think that Michael and user1729 intended to suggest that if a user feels they are failing exams because they sit here all day, then perhaps a suspension would work for their benefit as it would force them to step away and perhaps study. Whether or not it is applicable in this case - I don't know and I don't care. – Asaf Karagila Jun 13 '12 at 15:40
• "POP's" tendencies to show (or not show) work are not as clear-cut as either of these answers indicates. At the time of asking this meta question, 6 of Jordan's 7 most recent questions showed work and/or thought. This doesn't justify the other behavior in MG's answer, but I guess that's what we are discussing... – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 13 '12 at 15:55
• @AsafKaragila: Yes, your interpretation is essentially correct. However, my comment was not intended to be taken seriously; it was meant to point out the (something resembling) irony of persons situation! – user1729 Jun 13 '12 at 15:57
• @user: sorry - I hate it when I miss irony. And I didn't mean to misportray POP's demonstration of work. I'll have to have a look at that. – davidlowryduda Jun 13 '12 at 16:06
• @mixedmath: it seems like I have to clarify something: I do not think that POP should be banned for posting too many questions without showing own effort. I do think POP should be banned for extreme rudeness demonstrated in chat, which I would consider part of the SE network. POP would have been banned a long time ago if he wrote similar things on the main site. – Michael Greinecker Jun 13 '12 at 16:49
• @mixedmath ...(continued) I posted my answer because I think one cannot discuss this case as someone posting too many questions and getting downvoted for it, which was the intentions of those who wanted to depersonalize the original question and give an abstract version. I think a large part of the downvotes can only be explained by POPs behavior in chat and I do think this behavior warrants a banning. Downvotes are not constructive in the way flagging in chat would be. Most of what POP said there is unquotable here and full of four-letter words. – Michael Greinecker Jun 13 '12 at 16:56
• @Michael: please see the revision history of this question. I never meant to emphasize Jordan's plenitude of posts. Edit: Nevermind. – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 13 '12 at 17:26
• @TheChaz: I am aware of the revision history. I didn't mean you when I was talking about those wanted to change this to an abstract question on "downvoting users who ask a lot of questions". – Michael Greinecker Jun 13 '12 at 17:30
• @MichaelGreinecker: My apologies for the confusion. I missed some comments while reading on my phone at a stoplight : / (To chat? ) – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 13 '12 at 17:34
• @mixedmath So maybe I'm confused but if most of the problems people have with him are from chat, what's wrong with banning him from chat and not MSE? – Eugene Jun 14 '12 at 0:40
• @mixedmath: just one clarification: there is a moderator template for contacting users in case of "consistently low quality contributions over a period of time", and it has been invoked before to suspend users. That the moderators do not think that this particular user should be suspended with that reason is a conscious choice that we made, not due to any belief (at least on my part) that [suspending users due to a history of poor contributions] is outside our mandate. – Willie Wong Jun 14 '12 at 9:27
• @Willie: Thanks for that. I didn't know about that template. – davidlowryduda Jun 14 '12 at 10:17
• The person we are talking about shows his calculations in rather more detail than many, and even in acceptable LaTeX. – André Nicolas Jun 14 '12 at 22:07