As weird as the scope for this site is, I try to follow it with the occasional question I ask here. I'm also generally a positive person. But again and again i come here and get a negative response. When every question that is borderline on/off topic on a site that has such an awkward "area of topic" to pinpoint, gets a downvote and no comment suggesting improvement, from multiple people, consistently, it results in a site where people dont want to be.

The leader of the problem, and I know from over a year of experience with this site, is Gnat, followed by various others.

The comments I recently posted after asking what I think to be a fairly good question for this site pretty much sum up my complaints about him, and the generally more active voting community (a select few active users that have a big effect on the way questions are received due to sheer activity):

I figured I'd get a -1 from gnat as usual, he's, as usual, being a gnat, down voting posts without suggesting any reason or improvement. He basically has the contribution to the SE network of a bot, except spends less time focusing on each question than a script would, so he can zoom to edit and downvote the next question.

Yes, in frustration my opinion is expressed in an unkind manner, but accurate nonetheless. I think what I'm saying in not without merit, nor should it be offensive.

gnat is the reason I avoid asking questions in this community. If I were to have an issue with my question's scope and someone downvoted and said "Hey there's a problem here" that's fine, I'd fix it and thank the person for the advise. But on this site, the people all just downvote without explaining, every question I decide to ask here, and I understand the scope of the site fairly well. The people here are just very negative and make the site a bad place, and the pack leader of the negativity here is gnat.

I know you don't like the post, go ahead and down-vote it, all of you whom I'm talking about. I'm posting this opinion because I think there's a problem with negativity in this community, compared to many of the other SE communities that I enjoy being part of. Other sites downvote only a fraction of the amount that this site does, and in comparison up-vote much more. The site stats will confirm this if just looking at the front question pages of various networks isn't enough for you. And more importantly, other sites suggest improvements to questions, where as this one rushes to downvote and close.

  • 8
    Q&A formats usually begins with some form of question; you have made a definitive statement. So I'm struggling to see where you want this discussion to go... Anyway, this discussion was really only just replayed in another Meta question, so you would do well to read that before trying to reopen the topic here.
    – user174739
    Mar 8, 2016 at 10:27
  • 5
    @PeterTòmasScott I don't expect any discussion on the topic to go anywhere, because as is the nature of Meta on the SE network, those highly active users causing this problem are the same ones, by far who are most active on Meta, they will quickly downvote the post answer negatively, and nothing will happen. I'm voicing my opinion purely in hopes of reaching those in the SE staff, collectively among the other posts and stats that back my opinion up, to trigger some form of change, after all SE has acted from the top down on this site in the past.
    – J.Todd
    Mar 8, 2016 at 10:58
  • 9
    @Viziionary Keep in mind that SE's top-down action in the past is precisely what created the far stricter site we currently see that closes broad discussion-y questions instead of letting them accumulate mediocre answers. But as Peter said, this question is very inflammatory, and does not say anything the dozens of other meta threads on this subject have already said, which is why I can't bring myself to care about typing up a real answer. If it helps, I completely agree that gnat in particular is often way over the line, but that's a separate issue.
    – Ixrec
    Mar 8, 2016 at 11:02
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    "the people all just downvote without explaining, every question I decide to ask here, and I understand the scope of the site fairly well." While I personally believe the site indeed has a huge problem, in terms of your question this statement that I've quoted seems to suggest a violent contradiction. What makes you think that you "understand the scope of the site fairly well" when "every question" you've asked has been downvoted? Mar 8, 2016 at 14:33
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    +1 I agree 100% thank you for posting. Get ready for all the negative folks to downvote.
    – JonH
    Mar 8, 2016 at 20:07
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    @ThomasOwens He has correctly identified the problem. It's completely appropriate to "attack a user" when the user in question is generally hostile and actively drives people away. If I were a moderator here I would have banned Gnat long ago, and I'm a bit mystified as to why he's allowed to continually rampage around our site and turn it into a hostile wasteland. Like his namesake, he is constantly irritating, does nothing useful or helpful, and needs to be swatted. Mar 8, 2016 at 20:11
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    @MasonWheeler A person is never the problem. A behavior could be a problem, but not a person. The idea of "attack the problem, not the person" is a common theme in conflict resolution.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Mar 8, 2016 at 20:22
  • 7
    @ThomasOwens The problem is that we have a troll in our midst who is allowed to run free and drive away new users, which is the exact opposite of what a healthy community needs to be doing. You can try to rephrase it in various ways if you really want, but that's just semantics. What he is doing is highly problematic, he keeps doing it consistently, and I've never seen him do anything else. (Like, you know, ask questions or give answers, which is what this site is supposed to be about.) Obviously he has some, but that's not at all what he's known for around here. Mar 8, 2016 at 20:26
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    @MasonWheeler: It takes five people to close a question. Mar 8, 2016 at 21:06
  • 4
    @RobertHarvey True enough, and I see a lot of the same names on a lot of closes, but I don't see any of them over and over and over and over again dismissing people who have no idea what they did wrong with irritating canned messages that are essentially meaningless without context that they, being new, do not have. I see gnat do that dozens of times every single day. Mar 8, 2016 at 21:18
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    @RobertHarvey and it only takes one to get the ball rolling. Basic human psychology, the first vote makes it far more likely that others will follow. Being a bad question also has a major effect but we're not talking about bad question we're talking about questions that could be improved to become good ones, and gnat pulling the trigger on them makes it far more likely that others will follow suit.
    – J.Todd
    Mar 8, 2016 at 21:18
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    @Viziionary: Honestly, most people are not all that interested in closing questions here, especially borderline ones. There's a small group of people, some of which frequent the Whiteboard, who cast the vast majority of the close votes, and they're not especially concerned about whether gnat thinks they should be closed or not. Mar 8, 2016 at 21:27
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    I have to side with @MasonWheeler here. This is very subjective of course, but I think gnat's posting of canned links as comments, usually dismissing someone's question, contributes to a hostile environment. It doesn't help that P.SE has extremely complicated rules about what is and isn't allowed (someone once compared it to skeptics.se, and I'm not sure that's a flattering comparison). Not everyone deserves a careful explanation why their question is being downvoted/closed -- trolls or extremely clueless people don't, for example -- but a canned response by default?
    – Andres F.
    Mar 9, 2016 at 4:06
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    @AndresF. its really easy to get rid of such comments. Write your own explaining any problems and issue and advice for the user and flag gnat's as obsolete. I've done that often myself. The key part being that other people need to step up to the plate to help guide new users. Seeing it and walking away only to harp about it on meta doesn't help the new user and only serves to make the site more hostile.
    – user40980
    Mar 10, 2016 at 17:49
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    @MichaelT I often write (what I think are) more explanatory comments for my downvotes and/or close votes. I'm not familiar enough with the moderator team to know how much attention they pay to the kind of flags you suggest. Regardless, in my opinion whenever a veteran user posts a canned response, it's hostile and the harm is already done, regardless of whether the comment gets eventually deleted or not.
    – Andres F.
    Mar 10, 2016 at 20:03

3 Answers 3


Though I agree with you that "down voting posts without suggesting any reason or improvement" happens too often on this site, pointing with the finger at a single person to blame in a public space is IMHO extremly unprofessional.

You seem to be unhappy because (and how) the last question of yours got closed, but actually, I remember vaguely that question, I think I gave it a close-vote, too, and also a comment what was IMHO wrong (maybe that comment did not satisfy you, but that is a different topic). That question (which you "forgot" to mention in your rant above), was definitely too broad (at least, for my taste). Moreover, it was very clear there was no actual problem of yours involved in that question, so in closing it there was definitely no refusal to give you help for something you needed urgently.

How unprofessional your rant above may be (at least in my eyes), your reaction shows to me we should make a better job here to explain people why their question had been closed or will be closed soon, and try to be more polite in that process. A little bit more "political correctness" would help to give this site a better perception. Nevertheless we should not lower our quality standards. And if a question is "too broad", giving the asker a hint why it is too broad plus a close vote should be enough. Downvoting a without a comment should be only a measure for questions which are not understandable, badly written, spam, rants, or something like that.

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    Yours was the third delete vote. But the first two comments set the tone for any advice given. One's willingness to help may also be influenced by past interactions across multiple accounts. I am not going to repeat myself to a hostile audience.
    – user40980
    Mar 12, 2016 at 13:25
  • @MichaelT: thanks for that additional information, I did not rember those details. Do you take screenshots of all the questions your are participating in closing or deleting? ;-)
    – Doc Brown
    Mar 12, 2016 at 15:59
  • Linked above and easily accessible for you when you look at your own close votes or deletion votes. And there are some users that I'm more likely to remember interactions with than others.
    – user40980
    Mar 12, 2016 at 16:17
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    @MichaelT: thanks, found it now. Reading my comments through, it seems the OP did not even tried to answer my question concerning the real meaning of his question and if he was really knowing what he was asking for.
    – Doc Brown
    Mar 12, 2016 at 19:25
  • @RichardU: instead of ranting, why not participate in a constructive discussion how to improve the situation? See meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/7943/…
    – Doc Brown
    Mar 22, 2016 at 19:35
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    That was far from a rant. Mine are legendary. That said, there are simple ways to improve the situation. 1)Don't down-vote without a constructive comment (inspired by you) 2)When someone brings up a criticism, let them know they are being heard. 3)If someone is already being hit with a flood of down votes, resist the temptation to join in, the point has been made 4)Acknowledge frustration 5)Take criticism as an opportunity to engage, not a reason to be defensive. 6)If there is a recurring theme to complaints/criticism, then there's likely some legitimacy to it, investigate
    – user217150
    Mar 22, 2016 at 19:48
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    Also note that 20k users can vote to delete questions at -3 or lower immediately, without the normal three day wait. There is also a threshold, I forget what, where a question voted down far enough will no longer appear on the front page regardless of being open or closed. Those are reasons why downvotes appear to pile onto blatantly off-topic or poor-quality questions.
    – user22815
    Jun 16, 2016 at 15:22

It's not that I disagree with you about some of the problems on this site (I haven't notice the individual problem you listed.), but you're also not looking at it from a moderator's standpoint either.

When you've closed a question about books, resources, what languages to learn, etc. on a daily basis for the 20th time, it gets frustrating. These are obvious and rarely need interpretation which is a rare thing in this industry.

The level of hostility you describe may limit the usage, but is it limiting acceptable usage? I remember when this site first started. I may miss questions about programming jokes, but I accept the current rules or I wouldn't use the site. Putting my questions and answers under scrutiny by other professionals makes me better regardless of how many of my questions have been closed (I've had a few.).

I think my attempt to address this question shows I'm willing to give your point of view some thought.Your focus on a member is uncalled for IMHO, but I recognize your frustration and hope you're able to see the other side of the story.

  • 1
    Think about what you're saying: You seem to think it's fair for you to get pissed off at the 20th person to do something as if it's the 20th time THEY did something, but not fair for a user to vent about someone who seems to have a pattern of hostility.
    – user217150
    Mar 21, 2016 at 20:31
  • "is it limiting acceptable usage" This is indeed an important question. I fear it might limit it. If a general climate of hostility is present or even if only people assume one, it might have negative effects on intensity of accepted usage, resulting in a negative spirale. That's doesn't mean I think the closed questions aren't off-topic. But I think that the ratio of closed to non-closed is too high and for some guys, Programmers.SE may currently be a place to avoid. Lesson: The perceived image of a site probably matters.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 22, 2016 at 12:11
  • @Trilarion perception is a huge factor. It's the old sales warning that people with a negative experience will tell far more people about it than people who have had a positive one.
    – user217150
    Mar 22, 2016 at 18:30
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    @RichardU - I don't think either one's behavior is right. There's a difference between having a little understanding why someone would get upset and condoning their rudeness. It would be great to interact with everyone with a clean slate. If I saw another customer be rude to a waiter, I may be less inclined to ask them to hurry up with my order.
    – JeffO
    Mar 24, 2016 at 17:18
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    @Trilarion - I'd like to see what moderator interventions are more likely to get people to attempt to fix their questions. That doesn't mean they're more likely to continue to use the site, but at least they weren't instantly chased off.
    – JeffO
    Mar 24, 2016 at 17:24
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    @JeffO I'll readily admit that I can come across as testy myself at times. I don't always intend to, but it happens. I'm not always aware of it but that's no excuse.
    – user217150
    Mar 24, 2016 at 19:36
  • @RichardU - Happens to the best of us.
    – JeffO
    Mar 31, 2016 at 18:41

I have to agree with your overall assessment. It seems that you're guaranteed 1 downvote/vote to close from certain users, almost regardless.

I lurk, and don't contribute for the simple reason that I don't want to take the rep hit from the aggressive down-voters in here.

Now, for some suggestions:

  • Don't down-vote without a constructive comment
  • When someone brings up a criticism, let them know they are being heard.
  • If someone is already being hit with a flood of down votes, resist the temptation to join in, the point has been made
  • Acknowledge frustration
  • Take criticism as an opportunity to engage, not a reason to be defensive.
  • If there is a recurring theme to complaints/criticism, then there's likely some legitimacy to it, investigate
  • Remember, there is a real person reading your comments. While you're not responsible for how a user interprets your comments, you should respond in a professional manner
  • While you may have seen "the same stupid question 20 times today" don't take out your frustrations on the 20th person as if they asked the question 20 times themselves.

In short, if you don't want to chase people off, be more professional

  • "If someone is already being hit with a flood of down votes, resist the temptation to join in, the point has been made" - This.
    – Marc.2377
    May 11, 2016 at 2:10
  • @Marc.2377. And I must have struck a nerve, already one vote to delete.
    – user217150
    May 12, 2016 at 12:38
  • There is a reason for the downvotes, check my other comment here: meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/7910/…
    – user22815
    Jun 16, 2016 at 15:23
  • @Snowman I understand that, still what's the point in participating in a dogplile? I misstated though. I already have one delete vote for this answer. I wish the person who voted to delete had the courage to name himself though, but the fact that he didn't proves my point.
    – user217150
    Jun 16, 2016 at 15:39

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