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In a comment to an answer on this site I saw this:

To the folks who insist on downvoting, please note that downvoting is extremely unhelpful and actually qualifies as divisive and harsh speech.

Do others agree? Does downvoting an answer necessarily qualify as divisive and harsh speech? I've thought of it as a form of feedback. Of course, if it is possible to elaborate and provide more constructive feedback then by all means...

Does downvoting violate the precept on correct speech?

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    If this is a question about how this site works, it should be on Buddhism Meta SE. If this is a question on Buddhism e.g. on the precept on correct speech, then it should be here, on Buddhism SE. So, which is it? Do you intend to ask whether downvoting violates the precept on correct speech? Or do you intend to ask what is the purpose of downvoting on this site?
    – ruben2020
    Mar 18 at 15:37
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    I intend to ask whether downvoting violates the precept on correct speech. That is what I understood the comment to be asserting. I'm asking others if this is true. Mar 18 at 15:50
  • upvoting can be divisive if you're upvoting someone using harmful speech!
    – anon
    Mar 19 at 8:49
  • I personally rarely downvote anything. I upvote helpful content, and I feel like that's the kindest thing to do. Mar 19 at 19:36
  • For those who may be jumping in after seeing this reach the Hot Questions list, this question is about downvoting behavior as interpreted in Buddhism rather than Stack Exchange policies or practices such as the Code of Conduct. Mar 20 at 16:03
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Divisive speech is speech that sets people up against each other. Divisive speech sows the seeds of conflict and suffering.

A typical example of divisive speech is telling one person or group of people something negative about another person or group of people, usually in private. This gives one side a reason to generate aversion towards the other side.

Harsh speech is rude or offensive speech usually directed at its object. For example when you disagree with a person's understanding of Buddhism you tell him or her that he or she is an idiot, completely confused about right Dharma etc.

Harsh speech sows the seeds of conflict and suffering by giving the other person a reason to generate aversion towards you and your opinions. This is especially dangerous and harmful if your opinions are actually right and beneficial, because it creates a reason for the other person to hate what's right and beneficial!

In both cases Buddha made exception for the senior bhikkhus to censor and reprimand the novice bhikkhus. He compared it with a surgeon causing temporary pain to a patient for the sake of long-term benefit. He also said, not speaking up when someone is wrong according to Dharma is by itself a problem, because it enables the wrong behavior or understanding to endure.

Finally, Buddha said that when saying things that are beneficial but unpleasant to others we must have a good sense of timing and tact, to say it in the most acceptable and the least harmful way.

From all the above we can understand that negative feedback is acceptable and even encouraged in Buddhism, provided it's done properly to make sure it lands well.

I don't think downvoting can qualify as divisive speech, because we are not (privately) setting up people against each other. Someone may say that it creates the reasons for other people to dislike the downvoted answer, but that would only be true if the answer could not be upvoted by someone else who finds it right and beneficial. At the end, it's the cumulative effect of multiple votes that matters, not a single up or down vote.

As to whether downvoting qualifies as harsh speech creating a reason for the author to dislike the downvoter, I think this would be true if the votes were not anonymous. However the way it is done on this site, no one can see who has voted something up or down so unless you tell the person you did it, their frustration does not have a specific object. This way it serves as a signal that their answer was not 100% acceptable by all readers which by itself is useful feedback IMO.

Then again, I think this falls into the territory of "the right timing and a sense of tact". Sometimes a gentle comment is more appropriate and sometimes a downvote or even a moderators flag is the right way to go.

Just my 2 cents.

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    I mostly agree with Andrei, so much so I will not try to enter my own answer. It is clear that Buddha did ‘downvote’ wrong thinking, both questions and answers, many times in the Sutras. So it cannot be wrong. However, he usually followed it up with right view teachings to help educate and lead the confused to correct knowledge. For me, simply ‘downvoting’ without some correcting and clarifying comments could be misunderstood and construed as unhelpful and divisive. Something to be avoided. I’d invite comments on this idea – not just downvotes, please. ;>)
    – GVCOJims
    Mar 18 at 20:32
  • Does anonymity really circumvent harsh speech? Wouldn't that be a rather significant loophole, like allowing you to be as harsh as you want in an anonymous message you send someone? Or, perhaps more applicable to this scenario, allowing people to e.g. take part in mobs shouting harsh things, given that the recipient may not know who actually shouted which what (other than just someone in the mob)? Or one might even argue any participation on a website using an alias would entirely fall under this loophole.
    – NotThatGuy
    Mar 20 at 17:16
  • Good point. I think anonymous downvote is different from anonymous insult. The main point I make is, harsh speech is bad because of its propensity for generating conflict. Anonymous downvote was meant to be the simplest and least conflictogenic way of providing negative feedback. If it were not anonymous it would be more conflictogenic, can we agree on this? That said I agree that merely being anonymous does not make unwholesome communication wholesome.
    – Andrei Volkov
    Mar 20 at 18:53
  • Indeed there might be a bit less conflict than if it weren't anonymous, although I would argue whether it causes suffering is perhaps more applicable here. That isn't clearly better or worse when there's anonymity. But for both of those it probably indeed comes down to "the right timing and a sense of tact", and how it compares to other options in a specific situation. It also depends whether or not you consider "harsh speech" to include acceptable negative feedback (i.e. "harsh but acceptable" or "not harsh because acceptable"), but this may just be semantics.
    – NotThatGuy
    Mar 20 at 19:48
  • Right. I'm glad we got beyond the basic rules of thumb and into wise application of principles. To me the principle that conflict/discord/clash/disharmony is the essence of dukkha and that therefore preventing one I can prevent the other has been extremely helpful to understand.
    – Andrei Volkov
    Mar 20 at 20:10
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The purpose of upvoting and downvoting answers on this site is to give the community the chance to determine the quality of the answers.

So, the better the answer (in terms of being on-topic, correct, accurate, answers the question and supported by elaboration and references), the more upvotes it should get.

On the other hand, an answer which is on-topic and allowed (not spam, rude etc.), but is wrong or inaccurate, should get downvotes. In fact, I think it is beneficial to downvote wrong answers, so that readers are able to identify it as a negative example i.e. an example of wrong understanding.

Is it incorrect speech to downvote?

According to MN 58:

  1. In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

  2. In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

  3. In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

  4. In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

  5. In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

  6. In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings."

I would say the third case above is the case for downvoting.

Downvoting an answer may be unendearing and disagreeable to the person answering.

If users can judge whether the correctness of an answer is factual and true, and if declaring this is beneficial for the answerer and other readers, then upvoting or downvoting is the proper time to express this, according to the way this site works. This is correct speech.

It's only incorrect speech if you know an answer to be correct, yet downvote it, or vice versa.

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It's a well-known or frequently-expressed feeling on other SE sites -- a downvote feels like an insult, and a downvote without a comment seems rude and unhelpful.

Even so, in spite of the fact that users may not like it, SE allows it -- people can downvote, and aren't required to comment.

I recommend you comment -- if you can be friendly, and with a comment maybe phrased as a question or as constructive criticism suggestion -- especially with a new user, who might be sensitive to the community's reaction to their post.

I might also recommend that you don't comment in any of the following scenarios (if a comment is no better than or worse than no comment):

  • If the comment isn't informative, for example:

    I"m downvoting this answer because of your view about X, which is wrong I tell you.

  • If it's not new information:

    As I've told you 50 times already, I disagree with your view about X

  • If experience tells you that commenting on this particular person's answer usually leads to more arguments and "division" than not commenting

I agree it may be perceived as harsh.

As for whether it breaks a precept, is immoral, I think that depends.

Canonically the Buddha would have "a sense of the proper time" for saying "things that are factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others" -- which most people don't necessarily.

But the Buddha might also sometimes not correct -- or stop correcting -- mistakes:

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I personally avoid downvoting and harsh comments unless it is extremely necessary because it hurts the sentiments of poster and vilifies the atmosphere. Buddha criticised many times but it was out of compassion. Those who try to be emotionless while judging have wrongly interpreted the teachings. The point is to be as considerate as possible while judging a human being... there is no substitute for a sincere compassion.

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Of these four persons, Potaliya, he who speaks both in dispraise of what deserves dispraise seasonably saying what is a fact and true and in praise of what is praiseworthy, saying seasonably what is a fact and true - he is the most admirable and rare.

AN 4.100

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I doubt we’ll find a sutra reference that speaks about downvoting answers, so I’ll just relate a personal experience here. Early on, there was a person that downvoted seemingly every one of my answers for a period of time, and I found that very divisive, especially because his comments were not helpful, other than to let me know that it was he that was doing it. That kind of downvoting, in my opinion, does not conform to right speech. But this was contextual. If an answer misrepresents Buddhism in general, or is based on something else entirely, then downvoting that probably does at least conform to defending the Dharma, if not also being right speech.

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    there is a sutta reference Mar 18 at 23:42
  • A downvote is meant to mean, "This answer is not useful". So someone might downvote an answer not just for being wrong but for being too short, difficult to understand, or even unreferenced or something like that. So there's more than one reason to downvote (which is why a comment to explain the downvote can be helpful too, "helpful" meaning that it might help the author see how to improve the answer), equally though there are (as you said) comments that don't seem to be helpful.
    – ChrisW
    Mar 19 at 7:30
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These are concerning public dhamma discourse and what is abusive circumstance

There Venerable Sāriputta addressed the mendicants:

“That is possible.”

When he said this, Venerable Udāyī said to him, “This is not possible, Reverend Sāriputta, it cannot happen!”

But for a second … and a third time Sāriputta repeated his statement.

And for a third time, Udāyī said to him, “This is not possible, Reverend Sāriputta, it cannot happen!”

Then Venerable Sāriputta thought, “Venerable Udāyī disagrees with me three times, and not one mendicant agrees with me. Why don’t I go to see the Buddha?”

Then Sāriputta went up to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to the mendicants: That is possible.”

When he said this, Udāyī said to him, “This is not possible, Reverend Sāriputta, it cannot happen!”

But for a second … and a third time Sāriputta repeated his statement.

And for a third time, Udāyī said to him, “This is not possible, Reverend Sāriputta, it cannot happen!”

Then Venerable Sāriputta thought, “Even in front of the Buddha Venerable Udāyī disagrees with me three times, and not one mendicant agrees with me. I’d better stay silent.” Then Sāriputta fell silent.

Then the Buddha said to Venerable Udāyī, “But Udāyī, do you believe in a mind-made body?”

“For those gods, sir, who are formless, made of perception.”

“Udāyī, what has an incompetent fool like you got to say? How on earth could you imagine you’ve got something worth saying!”

Then the Buddha said to Venerable Ānanda, “Ānanda! There’s a senior mendicant being harassed, and you just watch it happening. Don’t you have any compassion for a senior mendicant who is being harassed?” https://suttacentral.net/an5.166/en/sujato

Downvoting, pestering, contradicting and annoying the righteous is like that. It is wrong action.

"The practice of Dhamma, [1] the practice of continence, [2] mastery of this is said to be best if a person has gone forth from home to the homeless life. But if he is garrulous and, like a brute, delights in hurting others, his life is evil and his impurity increases.

"A quarrelsome bhikkhu shrouded by delusion, does not comprehend the Dhamma taught by the Awakened One when it is revealed. Annoying those practiced in meditation, being led by ignorance, he is not aware that his defiled path leads to Niraya-hell. Falling headlong, passing from womb to womb, from darkness to (greater) darkness, such a bhikkhu undergoes suffering hereafter for certain.

"As a cesspool filled over a number of years is difficult to clean, similarly, whoever is full of impurity is difficult to make pure. Whoever you know to be such, bhikkhus, bent on worldliness, having wrong desires, wrong thoughts, wrong behavior and resort, being completely united avoid him, sweep him out like dirt, remove him like rubbish. Winnow like chaff the non-recluses. Having ejected those of wrong desires, of wrong behavior and resort, be pure and mindful, dwelling with those who are pure. Being united and prudent you will make an end to suffering." https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ati/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.2.06.irel.html

These are some of the harshest reprimands in the sutta.

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I do not think downvoting is harsh speech. This is a Q&A platform that individual should allow to post their opinion.

With good intention and no harsh remarks, downvoting could be a wake up call to the question posted, improving the quality of the future questions.

Use it right, it is a good feature to have!

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Yes it is. It's hardly to assume that any here isn't lead by unskilful mind using it and what ever system is build to serve common people successfully requires to make use of greed, aversion and ignorance. Well, and people here are foremost devoted and feel obligated to serve Mara. At least lazyness to write, and fear to get rebuked or different punished by system-servers, will lead one to make use of it either and so, in best common way, mixed kamma will be always the peak of skillful use of vote.

At least, to do not fall into other foolish views, it's totally not generally that dispraise and rebuke is wrong speech, but leads even to heaven if right and proper investigated, but as for the ordinary person, not arrived at the Dhamma, naturally corrupt, either praise, blame and equanimity will be in 95% of cases akusala.

"Dhammo have rakkhati dammacāriṁ"

Hard would it be, if even searching for, to appear in good companionship...

(and sure, one is free to up- downvote here, or confused just walk on, or gain conviction by catching proper attention, watching foremost the frames of reference)

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