# Downvoting for a perfectly legitimate question just because one thinks the OP is misbehaving in other threads

One member wrote this is a very proper reason to downvote. He even implied that it is a very proper reason for voting to close. And he actually did vote to close, for example, as shown in this thread( the question was closed almost a month after the frequent editing problem was solved by introducing the sandbox).

What do you think?

Here is the conversations with him.

• Voting to close this as non-constructive. Nothing can be done with the way people vote. It took me sometime (about a year) to realize this and be indifferent about this. – user17762 Dec 16 '12 at 21:51
• I think, as a discussion topic, it would be interesting to know how the community feels about this. The way a jury votes cannot be controlled, however, they are given guidelines not to consider prior crimes when judging guilt. In the same way, we can suggest that perfectly good questions should not be downvoted due to prior transgressions of the author (if that is the community's feeling). – robjohn Dec 16 '12 at 23:16
• @robjohn: Generally I might have agreed. However in this particular case I can't. We are talking about the case of a user which not only grossly misused almost every possible feature, but also insisted repeatedly that he did nothing wrong. When words no longer help, something has got to give. Or to compare this to a jury duty... on the third offense, the punishment is more severe. – Asaf Karagila Dec 16 '12 at 23:33
• That is clearly an invalid reason for down voting. Why is this question closed as not constructive? – Yury Dec 17 '12 at 0:56
• @Yury: No offense, but I don't think that you have been on the site long enough to understand the issues here. – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 1:00
• @Asaf: That's true that I joined math.SE just a few months ago (though I have been a member of other math forums for many years). Frankly, it seems very wrong if somebody down votes a post or answer because of a personal dislike of the poster (or by other unrelated reasons). If it is acceptable here, it would be a good idea to tell novice users like me about that. – Yury Dec 17 '12 at 1:17
• I have voted to reopen this question, more or less in the spirit of Robjohn's comment above. Regards, – Matt E Dec 17 '12 at 1:40
• I have voted to reopen this question, in the spirit of Robjohn's comment, and out of respect for $Yury 's concern. – amWhy Dec 17 '12 at 1:57 • @Makoto: I have opened a meta thread. Several people opened meta threads. Look at my answer below, instead of just downvoting it and cursing the screen that you are being prosecuted. Do you think that you were issued a suspension during the summer for no reason? (which only recently you have chose to complain about, for some strange reason.) Or do you think that all those people who voted my comments, answers, and threads and downvoted your posts are just sock puppets that I created, or people I have brainwashed somehow? You are so blind that you can't admit that you may have done wrong? – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 20:04 • Furthermore, there is absolutely no point in opening a meta thread. This is not your site and I am tired of starting meta threads related to your specific and unprecedented behavior. I did it once, and it was tiresome. Secondly you will just claim that you are innocent of any point, and you are just trying to do some math, and for some unknown reason people prosecute you. ENOUGH!! People have better things to do on this site than to explain to you why you are being impossible. [...] – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 20:10 • @Makoto: One unsolved problem is that criticisms of you get turned into big incidents. Another unsolved problem, IMO, is the frequent edit problem -- I am not aware of you having given any semblance of appreciating (or even understanding) why others found it troublesome, and I have little confidence that you would refrain from resuming such activities if you ever found the sandbox inconvenient. – user14972 Dec 17 '12 at 20:56 • OH MY GOD, I just went to see that one old thread I opened which Makoto claims that the problem mentioned in it was already solved...And it suddenly hit me that I have been having the same back-and-forth deaf argument with Makoto for at least five months. This is the definition of insanity. Why do I keep thinking that maybe this argument Makoto will finally understand? I don't know, but I sure think that most people would give up on you as a person. – Asaf Karagila Dec 18 '12 at 0:16 • There are currently three votes to reopen this question. It has already been closed twice with one reopen in between. I would be interested in hearing a strong argument for why this should be reopened yet again. What is the intended/expected outcome of such a move? – cardinal Dec 18 '12 at 1:25 • @cardinal, maybe if we reopen the thread Asaf and Makoto will both manage to get suspended, and we can have some peace here. For a while. – Gerry Myerson Dec 18 '12 at 5:48 • @Makoto: the fact it hasn't been resolved in the sense I described is significant, because it is one of many manifestation of the deeper problem that you don't seem to respect or care for the community opinions and norms, a problem which continues to create new and fresh incidents. – user14972 Dec 22 '12 at 10:34 ## 5 Answers I generally believe that questions and answers should be voted on based on mathematical content (including presentation and pedagogy) alone and not on personalities and/or prior perceived transgressions committed on the website. That said, it can sometimes be surprisingly difficult to maintain a separation of those two. Furthermore, people have the liberty to vote as they see fit and so each person must come to their own decision and reconciliation of these matters. While best practices are nice to have and may have some small effect on overall voting patterns, little can (or should) be done to enforce them, except in the most extreme of cases. MSE is a place for people who want to learn mathematics and for people who want to help others to learn mathematics do so. This should be obvious, but it is too often ignored. From this perspective, it should be clear that voting on questions only for content is not even an ideal aiming for. Here is a quick test anyone can (but should not) do: Find the best question, however you judge that, you can find on MSE and simply post it three time in a row. Given that each of thess questions is a shining piece of perfection, they should all gather upvotes galore and comments singing your praise. Of course, this won't happen for obvious reasons. It should be clear that we show some leniency to new users we would not show experienced users that should be familiar with the laws of the land. It should be clear that it is legitimate for someone beginning to learn serious mathematics to be somewhat confused by Gödel's incompleteness theorems (and their popular expositions) and ask a question to that effect. It should also be clear that if you ask twenty questions about supposed flaws in these theorems, people will treat you as a crank. Sure. Ideally, which is what the comments and the other answers deal with, votes would reflect the content of the answer, and the quality of it. Alas, this is not really the case, is it now? Can anyone argue that the famous$\mathsf{W}$is any better than an answer which actually give a long and details explanation of something nontrivial? No. We can't argue that. The$\mathsf{W}$is simply popular. And people need to understand that voting, while often and perhaps in most cases, reflect to some extent the mathematical validity of the content, also reflect how much the community simply likes the answer, or the user. But let us talk for a moment on what's really going on in this meta thread. The OP opened this post after a comment I had left to him (which for some reason he took an extra effort to copy-paste into the reply box). This user has a very rich history of not caring what anyone else thinks. This user has a very long history of telling people to open meta threads, and to completely ignore anything that happens. In a recent thread Brian M. Scott wrote in a comment "once burnt, twice shy". So what can we do? Believe you me, when the problem just began with this user I was polite, and he ignored. Others were polite, and he ignored. I discussed this with the moderators, and they debated more while he continued to act. When meta threads were opened about him, he ignored. When he was actually suspended for his behavior one recently-former moderator quickly undid the suspension claiming it was unilateral and unjust. The suspension was re-applied, and the same thing happened again. So what are we left with? We are left with a user that had a lord and protector from suspensions, continued to ignore all criticism, and continued to do whatever he pleases, despite continuing requests. Sure, in the general case, in the ideal case, one shouldn't vote based on the user and their actions. But this is not the ideal case, and whatever this thread ends up reflecting will be used by that very borderline antisocial user to insist that things which transpired in the summer of 2012 are now unfair and must be reversed. I don't know about any of you people, but I wouldn't let someone with a rap sheet full of arrests for theft the keys to my apartment. When a user continues on and on and there is no other way to make them understand that what they are doing is wrong then the community, like a sick body, has to react and try to defend itself somehow. To the common user [read: non-diamond moderators] the only remaining way is to downvote, close and delete. So sure, generally one shouldn't downvote based on the user. But we tried this before, discussing the general case in the OP's case, and it led nowhere. We even tried to discussing the specific case and it haven't really led anywhere either. The OP will continue to behave and do whatever he wants, and none of us can do anything to change that. Historical reminders: (Please don't bump these threads, it would serve no good now, but they can shed light on the origin of this meta post now) 1. How much (self) editing is too much? 2. Where is the fine line between using and misusing? (in particular this comment which is relevant here.) 3. Use of main-site comments for meta suggestions • I see the downvotes accumulating, and I suppose that there are several people who will disagree with this. Alas the history cannot be changed (although it can be forgotten). I wonder why MK did not try and open such threads in August and July (during the "start a meta thread" period of his activity)... – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 7:11 • Can anyone argue that the famous W is any better than... Yes I can (perhaps unsurprisingly, being the author) and I even kind of explained why in the comments to the answer. But I agree that the number of votes it received (and continues slowly but steadily to receive...) is a partly irrational phenomenon. More importantly and more to the point of the present thread, I agree very much with your approach in this post and with (the rest of) your explanations. In fact these strike me as being honest, remarkably self-examining, and going to the core of the situation. +1. – Did Dec 17 '12 at 7:29 • @did: Thank you very much. As for the example, I agree that the$\mathsf{W}$answer is good. It is not trivial to capture this amount of mathematical insight in one letter. Alas, as you said the amount of votes it gathered is irrational. Equally I could have used Mariano's$\pi$answer, which captures a deep point in one line, but I can't say it is better than many answers which have single digit vote counts. – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 7:34 • Right. Let me not derail any further this thread from its main point. – Did Dec 17 '12 at 8:11 • I upvoted the$\mathsf{W}\$ as a piece of community art. I would be worried if it would make up most of the did's rep and give him the power to vote to close, but as such there is nothing irrational about the many upvotes. – Michael Greinecker Dec 17 '12 at 10:20
• @Michael, I agree, but this comment just reinforces what I was writing to begin with. Votes are not necessarily about mathematical validity, or even "the level of mathematics involved". – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 11:38

Moderation tends to be conservative. While often a good thing, it also means that I (and I assume Asaf as well) have little expectation that complaints about a pattern of misbehavior will lead to anything unless an individual incident is sufficient to provoke moderator action on its own.

We are also considering a situation where the user is particularly unreceptive to criticism and complaint.

This leaves downvotes as the only means of expressing dissatisfaction that is likely to have an effect.

While "purity" of voting is a nice ideal, I believe that retaining that purity is a greater evil than double-purposing downvotes as an outlet for this sort of expression.

Thus, I conclude that in situations meeting the above conditions, reacting to misbehavior with downvotes is desirable, until either

• The user becomes receptive to criticism
• There is overt moderator reaction inspiring confidence the situation will be resolved (e.g. by action against the misbehaving user, or satisfactorily refuting the claims of misbehavior)

And what remains to be clarified is the best downvoting patterns to use in reaction.

I don't know the particulars of this case. However in general I think the votes should mainly reflect the quality of the posts and the author's behavior in other threads shouldn't have much effect (though it is understandable that other users can be come harsher in judging the user's posts if the user is regularly misbehaving).

If a user is really misbehaving then you should inform the moderators to take action about it. If a user is repeatedly abusing the site's features and explaining this to the user doesn't change the user's behavior then the user can be temporarily suspended. If the temporary suspensions doesn't make the user understand that the behavior is not acceptable then the suspension can be made permanent. It shouldn't get to the point that users would need to use their votes to tell the user that such behavior is not acceptable.

• In this case the user was suspended, but the suspension was reversed, twice, as a recent thread indicated. Of course suspending a user five months after is useless, and I don't think anyone wants that now. Alas when the time was right for it, it just didn't happen for one reason or another. What do you suggest now? – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 7:12
• @Asaf, I think the cases varies a lot, so it is hard to give a general rule. There are two outcomes possible outcomes at the end: either the user will change behavior to avoid abusing the site or will be permanently suspended (which should be avoided as much as possible). Temporary suspensions is part of the mechanism to make the user move towards the first. However it is not sufficient by itself. The goal is to make the user understand that the behavior is not acceptable to the community and why it is so. As I see it the temporary suspension is a tool to make the user understand that – Kaveh Dec 17 '12 at 7:19
• Yes. I agree very much with this. However the time for suspensions is over. The problem is no longer a meta headliner but rather a page 8 story. Pushing a suspension will get it back and incite another drama. People just got tired from trying to deal with this user. This user who wouldn't even acknowledge that he has made any mistake. That sounds insane to me. – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 7:22
• the issue is a serious one and if the user values his participation in the community he would reconsider his behavior. By itself suspension is much less constructive. (Suspension period can be set manually, and I think in scientific sites 2 days seems a more reasonable period to start with, it is light.) – Kaveh Dec 17 '12 at 7:22
• If you are bored, you can read through the following meta thread which has recently tried to re-discuss the events of the summer, as if they are unbeknown to the OP. – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 7:25
• I see, as I said I am not familiar with the particulars of this case. One thing that can help is to make it clear to the user that the general community has a negative view of his behavior. For example, a meta post asking "Do you think [this behaviour] is acceptable?". Sometime the misbehaving users feel that the objecting parties' views are not shared by general community. Avoiding making it a general issue can also be helpful, i.e. in place of arguing over whether some behavior is bad in general we can argue that the community of this particular site views it as unacceptable. ps: thanks. – Kaveh Dec 17 '12 at 7:28
• There has been too many of these comments, and a meta thread (which I have linked in my answer) that actually referred to the user specifically because his behavior was unprecedented. Despite a good consensus that people disagree with the way he was acting, the only moderator outcome was Bill's Sandbox thread. No suspensions were issued (well, they were, but reversed in an internal lack-of-communication that was typical with one recently former moderator). The mainpage editing stopped, and people soon left the memory of the events behind, but the behavior is still the same to this day. – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 7:31
• @Asaf, if I understand correctly the original issues were: 1. too much editing, 2. answering own question, 3. not receptive to comments about these. I think 1 is a problem, 2 is completely OK, need to look further to see how serious 3 was. It might be helpful to try to fix these one by one in place of all of them together, starting from the most important one which is too much editing. ps: maybe we can ask for a feature request to avoid users making too many edits in a day so the edits are more significant. – Kaveh Dec 17 '12 at 7:42
• No, the issues began with the user editing way too much. The second issue was that his questions were mainly motivated by self-interest, and for the most part were ended up open because one or two experts said they were interesting (although apparently solving open problems does not merit a link to arXiv). The user would treat this site as a blog owned by him, and would post insanely long answers and convoluted posts with links and definitions from other posts, it was a tangled web. The last issue was the worst, and still is (if you remove "about these." from it). – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 7:46
• The edits are not an issue anymore thanks to the Sandbox on the meta site. However I still fail to see how so many users wrote so many long answers before that, and how it was possible for me to write and work on answers and proofs for a full week before actually posting them. And I am more than certain that I am not the only user who did/does that. – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 7:53
• @Asaf, down-votes for such posts seems fine, they can be interpreted as being about the way the posts are written rather than the behavior (hard to read, not self-contained, etc.). Regarding way too much editing, that is a serious issue. I think asking the user to update the posts only after more careful thought and therefore less frequently is reasonable, plus temporary suspension if the user doesn't change behavior (but as I said, I am not very familiar with particulars and surely the moderators can make a more appropriate decision). – Kaveh Dec 17 '12 at 7:53
• Yes, all that happened in the past, but none of that helped, as I said. To show how much the user regarding this site as a personal blog, let me tell you of the time he posted a plain discussion request and insisted it was on-topic. After being heavily downvoted, dramatized on meta, and whatnot, several users worked to edit the post to a vastly more reasonable question. Some months later, the user asked on the meta why is the question downvoted (and of course got a nice reap of reputation from pity votes). – Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '12 at 7:56
• Kaveh, rest assured that this is not just Asaf's personal crusade against Makoto. IMHO he speaks for a sizable fraction of the community.MK could be a valuable contributor, if he used his knowledge solely to answer others' questions, and/or asked his own in a way that would make it sound like help is actually welcome. Instead he is using the site as a personaly study diary/blog. I could (and do) just ignore him. But, no, he has to start these meta threads accusing the rest of us of foul play. – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 17 '12 at 10:42
• @kaveh: I'm not voting on your answer, but I do not think that we should rely on the moderators to choose the tone of the community. In my opinion, the point of the voting mechanism is to allow the overall community to decide such things. It's improper to go around downvoting all posts by a given user, but downvoting individual posts that you feel misrepresent the purpose of the site is most direct way to express that opinion. Polite comments, when they can be written, can and should also be used to explain the purpose of the downvotes. – Carl Mummert Dec 17 '12 at 13:23
• @Kaven: Just because something shouldn't happen doesn't mean it won't happen! Also, after reflecting on the issue, I believe there is merit to having moderators act only in the extreme cases, leaving the more moderate cases to the community through comments and voting. How much merit? On that point I'm not sure. – user14972 Dec 17 '12 at 19:56