There continues to be a lot of discussion about improving overall quality of puzzles on the site. Downvoting a puzzle is a way we can try to mark certain puzzles as low quality until something like a specific close reason comes around. I've been convinced by posts like this that if I care about quality, downvoting is an important way to make an impact.

And now one proposal is to have a specific chat room to discuss low quality puzzles. If that happens, I could easily imagine people bringing up certain puzzles and suggesting to others in chat they should be downvoted. So hence my question:

Is it okay/right/fair/ethical to encourage others to downvote a specific puzzle?

On one hand, there are mediocre puzzles that get lots of upvotes, generally because they make the Hot Network Questions list. Balancing this with some downvotes would at least indicate to the poster that it's not unanimously liked and might reduce its likelihood of staying on HNQ. And there are poor quality puzzles that probably don't get enough seasoned users' eyeballs on them, and thus aren't as downvoted as they should be.

On the other hand, if I were a new user and I saw in chat that people were specifically asking for my puzzle to be downvoted, I'd probably be a bit miffed. Something just feels a little wrong there.

I don't have a strong opinion, but thought that there's real possibility this may start happening and so we might want some thoughts on the record, so a new user has a way to figure out what's going on.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see a problem with it. Everyone is free to make their own decision about their vote; a chat room would only draw people's attention to questions. They would then decide how to vote on them. Additionally, I think the idea of the chat room was more specifically about closing low-quality questions, which don't belong on the site in the first place, rather than downvoting. The difference is that questions that don't belong should be closed, as soon as possible. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2016 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ I think as well that the chat room will be for closing questions instead of downvoting them. That being said, we can't prevent people who want to downvote from doing it... $\endgroup$
    – IAmInPLS
    Sep 1, 2016 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I wondered the same thing. I like the idea of a "crap catching" chat room, but I worry that it will end up with a core group of people who continue to be active, and that may build at the very least a perception of brigading vigilantes... $\endgroup$
    – Alconja
    Sep 1, 2016 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Alconja Yeah, that perception is what I'm worried about. I don't think we want to been seen as an oligarchy passing judgment on anyone new who comes in, but somehow we have to balance that with the fact that we do want to pass judgment on bad content that comes in. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2016 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ Everyone should downvote this question. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2016 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ @IanMacDonald Love the paradox. Support the premise by encouraging downvoting the premise...doesn't compute...brain cracking... :) $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2016 at 20:44

5 Answers 5


I'm not sure it would work but what if we had a chat room that was just a "think list". People just post links to puzzles that they think people should take a look at for whatever reason. Just links with no comments. I'd like to help improve the quality of the posts by encouraging the good and guiding the not-so-good. There are times when I can't spend much time on the site and I would appreciate a pointer to content that is outstanding in one way or another from one of the many whose opinion I respect.

It relieves the poster from the effort of being polite about not great posts and I think there is a lot less sting than getting your faults called out in public. Less personal animosity anyway.

  • $\begingroup$ If the idea of this is specifically to draw attention to low-quality posts, then I don't think it's really any different than what's already been proposed. If it's also meant to draw attention to high-quality posts, that almost necessitates some commentary. I won't want to have to click through each question to determine whether it's something I want to try to solve or something I should VTC. This could also easily be abused by people trying to get more attention for their own puzzles. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2016 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if there are feeds that will automatically add a puzzle if it reaches a certain score threshold? We could have a room that automatically gets every post that gets to -3 or below or to +15 or above. That might be interesting... $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2016 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ @GentlePurpleRain I was thinking either good or bad. My guess is that you could tell immediately which it was and take action. I didn't think about people trying to draw attention. Wouldn't that be likely to backfire? If I saw it was a jerk who posted his own puzzle I'd be inclined to vote it down on principle. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2016 at 20:57

General thoughts.

I think people should vote in general. Up or down, depending on their thought on a certain post (question or answer).
This way there will be a separation between good content and bad content.
But I'm just being Captain Obvious here. Of course this is what people should do.

Specific thoughts.

I don't think users should be encouraged to downvote (or upvote) a specific post.
That's why begging for upvotes in the comments is frowned upon.
But here is what you can do. Actually what you should do.
Everytime you downvote something, leave a comment explaining your reason for the downvote.
If other users agree with your point, they willprobably downvote as well. But this give them the chance to challenge your reason and make your realize you are wrong (in case you're wrong and you're not stubborn enough to stick with your idea).


It is okay/right/fair/ethical to encourage others to downvote a specific puzzle?

Absolutely not. Everyone has their own opinions. If someone likes a puzzle, they upvote it and if they don't, they downvote it. It depends on the user's likes and dislikes and his perception.

As for the new users part, well, they need to understand that the site has a benchmark on the quality of puzzles. If they get offended very easily, there is nothing we can do.The community expects to see good puzzles in the main site.As a community, we are here to help anyone who wants to improve and post puzzles(even if they are easy for some). We can't spoon-feed every new user here. They can't just post trivia and expect it to be well-received in the community.All new users are welcome if they want to improve the quality of the site.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't that's what he is saying? $\endgroup$
    – Areeb
    Sep 1, 2016 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ "Absolutely not. Everyone has their own opinions....It depends on the user's likes and dislikes and his perception." Exactly, so what I'm asking is do you feel okay with one user telling another "hey, this new puzzle is so bad I'm sure you would downvote it if you saw it. In fact, it's better for the site as a whole if it gets downvoted. Of course it's your vote! Go look." $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2016 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @DanRussell yeah, that would lead to a huge number of puzzles being downvoted.. $\endgroup$
    – Sid
    Sep 1, 2016 at 16:31

Essentially, there's nothing wrong with it.

I recently came across a meta post on Stack Overflow about what the OP calls "bandwagon voting thru chat". The accepted answer (with a score of 19) says:

People coordinates all kind of efforts through chat. If you make any kind of behavior "fraudulent" you should also include flagging spam, voting to close, voting to reopen, voting to delete, voting to undelete, etc.

That people are made aware of an specific post that merits attention trough [sic] chat is not in and on itself fraudulent. You can ask in a chat room for voting in an specific way for a post, that doesn't mean that everyone will do as you ask.

I agree with this: there's nothing inherently 'wrong', at least as far as the system is concerned, with bringing people's attention to a low-quality post through chat. However, that still leaves the important issue of personal feelings: how will somebody feel, knowing that their post has been singled out for mass downvoting/close-voting in this way?

"Vote for the post, not the person."

An important mitigating factor is that we should always be voting on the post based on its own quality, not on who posted it. Downvoting riddles just because they're posted by a newbie is at least as bad as upvoting maths problems just because they're posted by Gamow.

Unfortunately, this can be a difficult habit to overcome: since the quality of a puzzle is often difficult to ascertain until it's been solved, it's easy to cast votes based on a thought process like "I know this person, they always post good puzzles, +1". To try to break this way of thinking, I suggest imagining that the puzzle was posted by someone else: e.g. if you see a newbie riddle, think how you'd vote if it was posted by Hugh Meyers or Alconja.

Anyway, I'm getting a little off track here ...

Always be friendly.

This is the most important thing in pretty much any interaction here on SE. Be nice, assume good intentions, and try to make it clear that your own intentions are good too. When discussing a low-quality puzzle in chat, remember that the OP may see your conversation and try to be tactful: don't say "this is crap", say "this has too many possible solutions" or whatever. Constructive criticism always hurts less, and is more likely to be taken to heart and used by the OP to improve their puzzle.

In fact, don't just act as if the puzzle writer is reading your conversation in chat: actually post a summary of it in a comment on their puzzle! Again, constructive criticism can help the OP to improve their puzzle, but only if they're actually aware of the problem. One of the guidelines laid out in A Theory of Moderation, which as a moderator I've always tried to stick to, is:

Whenever possible, try to leave frequent comments on posts where you've taken (or considered taking) a moderator action, explaining the reasoning. This is important so that community members can learn the norms of the community and the moderation policies.

This doesn't just apply to diamond moderators. On SE, everyone with enough reputation can take "moderator actions" such as voting to close or delete a question. When you do so, it's nearly always great to explain your reasoning so that the affected user can learn from it and improve.

So if a bunch of people do talk in chat about a particular question and encourage each other to downvote or VTC it, it'd be great if one of them could write up a summary of their conversation about why the question is bad and post it as a comment on the question.

Of course, all this describes ideal situations which won't always happen. Everything is easier in theory than in practice; every battle plan is perfect until the first blow is struck. But the guidelines above might help people to stay nice and friendly even when downvoting or criticising each other's puzzles.

  • $\begingroup$ That answer you quoted defends "asking in a chat room for voting in an specific way for a post", not "bringing people's attention to a low-quality post". The latter might be OK, but that is not the same as asking people to vote a certain way. $\endgroup$
    – Rosie F
    Sep 1, 2016 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @RosieF Essentially there's not much difference between "look at this post, it's low-quality" and "look at this post, we should downvote it", since low-quality is equivalent to deserving downvotes. The whole point of having a room to bring people's attention to bad questions is so that they can be downvoted or close-voted rather than hitting HNQs. (Of course, there's the issue of niceness and not making someone feel they've been gang-downvoted, but that's what the last chunk of my answer addresses.) $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2016 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ Ah. I'd misunderstood your "bringing people's attention to a low-quality post". I didn't realise you meant telling people it's low-quality when you bring it to their attention. I see a wedge from "What do you think of question <N>?" (OK maybe) via "I think question <N>'s low-quality; how about you?" to "Question <N>'s low-quality! DV it!". Other users don't have to be as keen to vote as the asker is. And if the Q is objectively bad, won't those who vote on it DV it without being told to? And IMO the best way to make users feel they've not been gang-DV'd is to not gang-DV them. $\endgroup$
    – Rosie F
    Sep 1, 2016 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ @RosieF The post would be gang-downvoted, not the user. I just wanted to point that out because I think a lot of people that use these sites are decent well-meaning people and they think of it as a kind of personal insult to downvote a post. But there really are poor posts that get a lot of (irreversible) upvotes before they're solved or because of HNQ. Several downvotes can not only communicate to the poster that this is not a great puzzle, but can also get it off the HNQ so we're not communicating to other SE users that this is what our site is about. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2016 at 20:15

Is it okay/right/fair/ethical to encourage others to downvote a specific puzzle?

There is no need to do so...

...because on a small, slow, sleepy site like this you gain nothing by downvoting and scaring off potentially new users. In particular, as far as I can tell "keeping the page of active questions clean" is not really an issue here (compared to Stackoverflow.SE where there are new questions popping up in every single minute).

I like very much the atmosphere of TeX.SE where roughly the following voting model is followed by the community (that is, by the regular members, who keep the site running):

  • Good questions receive upvotes. Of course, they do.
  • Duplicate candidates, questions requiring further clarification, stay inbetween 0-1 (by balancing out the occasional up/downvotes).
  • Poor questions which are borderline off-topic, or are unlikely to be salvageable stay in -1 (by again, balancing out the occasional up/downvotes; there is no need to severely downvote and scare off a new user, especially if s/he cannot lose any more rep., and privileges). Once a question is closed the auto-delete maintenance script will get rid of it eventually.
  • Spam, blatantly off-topic nonsense get custom flags and get deleted by the moderators.

So, the model there is that (a) they do not downvote unless it is absolutely necessary to do so; and on the other hand (b) they upvote good content. In effect, good content will have a positive score, "bad" content remains near zero. Actions (a) and (b) together are effective, as good and bad content can and will be distinguished this way.

Another point I would like to mention is that while elaborating on why you downvoted, by means of providing constructive criticism could be extremely helpful to the OP, it is a risky business as it can backfire: not once it happened to me that after such criticism random, old posts of mine (not on this site) got suddenly downvoted out of nowhere. Indeed, once you downvote and leave a comment it is not too hard to guess that you downvoted the question. After all, this is a puzzle-solving site.

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    $\begingroup$ That would be fine if it's what happened here. But the issue we're having on Puzzling is that often bad content gets upvoted because it seems like it might be good. It's hard to judge a joke before you hear the punchline, and it's hard to judge a puzzle before you see the solution. This question, for example, got 20 upvotes, but its accepted (correct) answer has 5 downvotes. I think we'd all be happy if bad content just stayed at 0, but it doesn't always do that here. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2016 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ @DanRussell I am quite puzzled why the accepted answer is not on top. Is this a site-specific feature? $\endgroup$
    – Matsmath
    Sep 9, 2016 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ If the OP accepts his/her own answer on any SE site, it doesn't change the sort order. In this case, the puzzle was bad enough that despite lots of attention, it didn't get solved and the OP had to post the solution...which then revealed the poor quality of the original puzzle. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2016 at 13:19

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