The only dumb question is the one that isnt asked.

Is downvoting questions constructive?

I came across this question today and it had a couple of downvotes before I answered it. This got me thinking.

The downvoters left no answers, nor any comments. They simply clicked the link to the question, read it (I assume), clicked the downvote icon, and finally left. I see this behavior very often on this site.

The question in the post is valid in every sense. It should not be closed as it meets all the requirements for a question on Superuser. It is not a duplicate (that I know of). It is on topic, as it pertains to computer hardware. It is crystal clear what he is asking. It isnt too broad or opinion based, as it has a clear and concise answer. It should not be flagged either. It isnt spam. It isnt rude or abusive. The question is not of low quality. Nor does it need moderator intervention.

While this question is not technically challenging, or complex, I believe it is an excellent question. Anyone who reads that question can clearly understand exactly what he is asking. Based on that question, I was able to give him a definitive answer that he was able to accept. Other people coming to the site can read that question, see the answer, and learn something new.

So why the downvotes? The only reason I can think of is that the downvoters assumed this question was "common knowledge." Is it common knowledge though? A user commented on the question with the wrong answer.

Sadly, these "driveby downvoters," as I like to call them, are not uncommon on this site - as well as others on SE.

What do downvotes on question accomplish? Assuming the question meets all the metrics of the site, nothing. Well nothing positive, at least. The poster of a downvoted question might be discouraged and remove the question. Also, the poster might be discouraged and not ask another question. Doing this doesnt help anyone. The purpose of a Q&A site is to provide answers to questions, which other can learn from. If there are no questions, there is no reason for this site. This goes double for the recent initiative to encourage and help new users.

Personally, I never downvote a question and I think it should be removed.

I want to point out that I dont have an issue with downvoting answers.

  • 4
    You made some very good points. However, my educated guess would be that the three people who issued downvotes feel that it shows a lack of research effort by the OP. Our community encourages a question's author to troubleshoot and/or research on their own prior to asking their question. Beyond that, this particular OP has a rather prominent history of posting questions with an obvious lack of troubleshooting or research.
    – Run5k
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 16:01
  • @Run5k One could make the argument its hard to know what to search for if you dont know anything about it. And in the case of this particular user, even if he is known for a lack of research, then that should be a comment. His lack of effort should not be a reflection of the question itself. The same question could be asked by someone who knows nothing about computers.
    – Keltari
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 16:28
  • @Run5k also, by downvoting this user for lack of effort, new users wont know that. all they will see is a user being downvoted for asking a simple question
    – Keltari
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 16:31
  • "And in the case of this particular user, even if he is known for a lack of research, then that should be a comment." You will find that many prominent Super User contributors have made similar comments to that OP over the years. Despite our best efforts, he remains very prolific at authoring questions that are unclear and/or display nominal research effort.
    – Run5k
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 16:56
  • @Run5k I have never noticed it and I would say im fairly "prominent." and I still say it doesnt matter.
    – Keltari
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 17:00
  • I think that we need to agree-to-disagree, good sir. I have definitely noticed it throughout the two years I have been active on a daily basis within the Super User realm. Personally, if I was faced with similar circumstances I would not devote the time and effort to posting a comment every time this particular user does that. It falls upon deaf ears. That being said, the potential duplicate that Mukubai referenced is probably a better environment for this discussion.
    – Run5k
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 17:09
  • 7
    "His lack of effort should not be a reflection of the question itself." the downvote's tooltip disagrees with you: "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful"
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 4:16
  • @Keltari, rather than quietly letting this question get buried on the front page, I would genuinely like to hear your feedback regarding the last comment made by Andrew T.
    – Run5k
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 12:53
  • @Run5k this is focusing way to much on the question I gave as an example. I am talking in general terms, not this specific user. But as typical on this site, people read, but dont comprehend.
    – Keltari
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 15:04
  • 1
    @Keltari, I am rather confident that my reading comprehension level is more than sufficient, especially within the Super User realm. In contrast, do you honestly feel that it is more productive to author subtle insults rather than address the question and provide feedback accordingly?
    – Run5k
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 15:17
  • @Run5k if you think that is an insult than you just proved my point. I'm done here.
    – Keltari
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 15:33
  • 2
    "What do downvotes on question accomplish?" - They are supposed to signal to the community the question should be improved.
    – Ramhound
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 17:56
  • @Keltari Happy New Year to you and the rest of the Finkelman family! You are certainly one of the most knowledgeable members within the Super User community, and your contributions are truly appreciated. I'm sure that our newest users admire you a great deal, and as a result it may be prudent to exercise a bit more patience and empathy towards those who aren't quite at your level. Just some food for thought.
    – Run5k
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 19:34
  • Excellent observation. +1
    – user1061912
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 21:01

1 Answer 1


From a moderation perspective question downvotes do at least one thing: they feed in to the automated site question and answer ban systems and can, temporarily at least, limit the flow of qualitatively bad questions from a user.

Sure there is nothing stopping the user from creating a new account and starting again, but it provides a clear signal that we have a minimum set of expectations from users.

From the page detailing why a question ban might be applied:

At Stack Exchange, asking questions is a privilege, not a right. If a user cannot demonstrate, after asking a reasonable number of questions, that their contributions are making the site better (or at very least, not making it worse) then they will be blocked from asking further questions until they have demonstrated their ability to contribute positively.

Sure, in the words of Mr. Garisson, "there are no stupid questions, only stupid people" and everyone deserves the chance to ask a question, some people insist on asking questions that are off-topic, are lacking every key detail needed to provide an answer, or are just not very good.

Downvoting questions tell not only other users but the very system itself the "this user is not asking good questions" for whatever reason.

I would defend everyone's right to ask questions, regardless of how "stupid" they might be, but if a user is asking questions in "bad faith" or are otherwise abusing the system in ways that fall under the radar of site moderators then downvotes give normal users a means to effectively moderate the community without resorting to calling a grown up in the form of a moderator or contacting the community moderation team.

Downvotes fit the style of community moderation. They point out bad content and have consequences and are not simply about giving the OP a smack.

Being told that what they are doing is not acceptable as well as what we expect from them and what they can do about it is a useful feature that completes the community moderation style of the Stack Exchange sites.

Hopefully someone would have spoken to them before it got to that stage, but sometimes the only way to make people listen is to force them to stop first.

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