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I often have my questions or answers related to Israel-Palestine heavily downvoted since the Hamas attack in October. Some of them disappear into oblivion, as per SE rules. In some cases it could be justified, in other cases it feels like some users really want to bury the question or answer, but it's usually too interpretative to tell.

Today I have an interesting example of manipulation by voting because the question has a mostly factual correct answer: the question asks "the implications of Israel destroying cemeteries", in particular whether this is a war crime. Two answers have been provided:

  • the most upvoted (12 upvotes, 0 downvotes at the time of writing) is an opinion-based answer deflecting to a different topic.
  • the other (mine, with 5 upvotes and 3 downvotes) explicitly answers the question with references and citations of the NYT.

Unless there's something I completely missed, this is a factual question with a factual answer, and my answer is objectively better based on SE criteria.

At the time I wrote my answer, there were only 3 upvotes on the other one. Moreover I'm pretty sure I saw my answer earlier with exactly 10 upvotes and 10 downvotes, which if confirmed would imply that many votes have been discarded (??).

To me this shows that a really high proportion of users vote according to their opinions and against the principles of SE. They also tend to vote really early in order to efficiently game the SE system.

To be clear: this is not a rant about points, I'm just documenting what seems to become a serious manipulation issue for the site.

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    I would relook at the comments on your answer to explain why people have downvoted your answer as you talk about a religious site not a cemetery which can be but is not always a religious site.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 31 at 13:33
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    @joeW This is again a diversion by people who don't read the full answer, and of course don't click on the links. (1) The NYT is usually considered a reputable source, and it clearly considers cemeteries as religious sites; (2) the second link is a report entitled "DESTRUCTION OF CEMETERIES"; (3) even if one considers my answer as poor, can you explain why the other is considered better?
    – Erwan
    Commented Jan 31 at 16:38
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    You answer is talking about religious sites and uses a quote that refers to religious sites. What you seem to ignore is that cemeteries are not always religious sites and would not be covered under that. If you are going to keep that argument then you need to provide some evidence that cemeteries (or at least the ones in question) are generally religious sites. Also just because people see something as bad such as the desecration of graves doesn't mean that it is a war crime. If you want to improve your answer start out with evidence that they are religious sites and the rest will work.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 31 at 16:58
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    @JoeW so in your opinion the New York Times article is wrong too to conflate cemeteries and religious sites? And you assume that there are many non-religious cemeteries in Gaza, a territory where 99% of the population is Muslim? And you didn't answer about the other answer: how is 'cultural heritage' more on-topic that religious sites for cemeteries?
    – Erwan
    Commented Jan 31 at 17:15
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    @JoeW what a crude display of bad faith: 1) clicking on the link would clarify any confusion 2) the second quote of the same article explicitly mentions destruction of cemeteries 3) your last statement is a lie: the article links the two even by reading only the title and subtitle.
    – Erwan
    Commented Feb 1 at 10:37
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    Please stop accusing people of not reading your article and please considered the feedback that others have given you. The quote you gave talks about religious sites but the question is about cemeteries which means if you want to use that quote for evidence you need to show a link between religious sites and cemeteries. Not to mention that the quote you give also states that destroying religious sites isn't a war crime if there is a need for it and the article does nothing to try and state that there wasn't a need for destroying those cemeteries.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 1 at 13:11
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    @JoeW Erwan's answer clearly states that if there is a military necessity for destroying a cemetery, it can be destroyed. You have also not engaged with his critique that in Gaza most cemeteries are in fact religious since Gaza is highly religious society. He is correct that you are engaging in bad faith. Commented Feb 1 at 21:03
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    @JoeW ok, I agree that people who don't read the full 10 lines of the answer (including the second quote "the Israeli military did not respond to questions by The Times about its reason for razing the cemetery") might misunderstand. That still doesn't explain why the other answer was favored despite being way more off-topic than mine.
    – Erwan
    Commented Feb 1 at 21:05
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    The feedback on your answer has nothing to do with the other answer on the question. You asked why your answer was downvoted and feedback was provided stating why.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 4 at 15:29
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    I provided feedback as to why your answer got downvotes, I am not providing feedback on the other answers. What you are calling biased voting I am calling problems with your answer as you are talking about things that are not directly related to the question and not attempting to relate it to the question. If you would actually relate religious sites to cemeteries it would be different
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 6 at 13:26
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    And it also says we evaluate each answer without considering the other answers. I have stated multiple times now that the issue with your answer is that the question is asking about cemeteries and your answer just talks about religious sites. While it does have a footnote about desecrating graves the act of destroying a cemetery by itself isn't desecrating graves. If you could tie the concept of religious sites and cemeteries together it would do a lot to improve your question. Overall though just because you are getting downvotes doesn't mean they are biased or not in good faith.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 7 at 17:03
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    "To me this shows that a really high proportion of users vote according to their opinions and against the principles of SE." This is just one example. It could be that your answer is simply not the best. For concluding anything about a general effect I would require many, many more data points not just a few examples. This is an over-generalization. Commented Feb 8 at 18:48
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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution the other answer is objectively worse: it's opinion-based, it is less on-topic, and it cites no source at all. And the main criticism in the comments for my answer applies even more to the other answer, but somehow it was a problem only for my answer.
    – Erwan
    Commented Feb 8 at 20:49
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    I had also noticed this, and was considering posting on meta, when I received a 7-day suspension for writing too many comments that could be interpreted as showing Israel in a negative light or requesting clarification on pro-Israel comments from others. Commented Feb 8 at 20:57
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    @Erwan " the other answer is objectively worse" If this is true, then it could still simply be a mistake, not a sign of a general bias. Average quality of questions, answers and votes kind of varies a lot here, sometimes great, sometimes not so great. What I mostly object to is stating a general effect "high proportion of users vote according to their opinions" when all you have is one example with a few voters for that at most. This is an over-generalization (from one question to all questions and from a few users to all users). Commented Feb 8 at 21:02

5 Answers 5

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It's inevitable that on this site pro-Israeli voices will be in the majority, among the moderators too. Live with it, or move somewhere else.

The same goes for people who complain that Russian or Chinese viewpoints get DV, I might add. Especially in answers with competing viewpoints, like e.g. "is China/Russia/Iran democratic?" etc. (If you need an example like that, see this recent Q about why Russia opposed NATO expansion.) One can still hope for a degree of neutrality [in votes too] when Q's ask for answers from a specific viewpoint.

I'm not bothering to look for those links, but moderators here have said a few times they can't police how participants vote, outside of sockpuppeting/serial voting cases. And some moderation actions like question and answer bans, which sometimes people complain about, are automatic, mostly based on votes.

BTW, the same goes for other Western-dominated fora, like Reddit, to an even greater degree. (Although there's something to be said about certain subreddits, but I don't want to get into that.)

In my personal opinion, this site did a bit less nakedly pro-Western/pro-Israeli compared to how it was years ago, even if the famous users of olde disagree with this site moving away from just propagating the ultimate [Western] truths, in obvious format. But you cannot really expect any sort of mythical neutrality, given that it's ultimately a vote-based site, with a certain user base. (Democracy in action, LOL.)

Related FAQ question: Help! I am being oppressed! Why do people keep downvoting my opinions? (In particular the 2nd, non-mod answer there is somewhat more relevant to the topic at hand here.)


BTW

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    I think you're right, but I would note that pro-Israeli voices don't have to be pro-Netanyahu, in particular pro-far-right. There are more and more discourses by Israeli government officials which qualify as hate speech and as such clash with SE rules (not to mention hate speech is illegal in many countries).
    – Erwan
    Commented Feb 1 at 10:46
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this shows that a really high proportion of users vote according to their opinions and against the principles of SE

Sure they do.

Voting on SE is an absolute right, de-facto free to be exercised by users just as they please.

Although, ideally, we'd want users to vote impartially, do their best to be objective in assessing the merits of the question and make voting decisions just based on that, in reality there is no way to police it.

That is especially true on Politics.SE — which is inherently the most prone SE to its users behaving in accordance to their feelings and political preferences, not the SE guidelines. However dry and factual a question is, it will more often than not be comfortable to one group and not comfortable at all to another.

We haven't invented a better system yet.

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Erwan, I share many of your concerns and I believe the problem is becoming worse in recent weeks. Perfectly reasonable questions and posts are downvoted immediately and then auto-deleted. My suspicion is that this is due to externally organised tactical voting campaigns. Whilst this is something that is difficult to detect and prevent, I would urge the developers of this site to check for unusual voting patterns by groups of users if they are not already doing so.

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    There are indeed tools in place to check for such unusual voting activity. I don't think any such activity needs to be externally-organised, or indeed organised at all: it just requires enough users who feel a certain way about a topic that they instinctively downvote anything that disagrees with it, independently of one another.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Feb 3 at 16:24
  • @F1Krazy I agree that regular users voting is the most reasonable explanation. Organized manipulation is less likely but not impossible, there are known attempts at disinformation on Wikipedia for instance. While less visible, PoliticsSE could be a target.
    – Erwan
    Commented Feb 4 at 14:54
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    @F1Krazy there have been other recognized instances where pro-Israeli groups manipulated social media systems for propaganda purposes - for example, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Internet_Defense_Force Commented Feb 8 at 21:01
  • "the problem is becoming worse in recent weeks." We'll find out soon enough: politics.stackexchange.com/a/84694/18373 Commented Feb 11 at 18:39
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It's not a good example of biased voting, it's a good example of a poor answer being downvoted. The entirety of that answer is based on its claim that a cemetery is considered a religious site, which may be true in international law - but the answer entirely fails to support that claim with factual information. Therefore the answer appears to be predicated on an unsubstantiated claim, which is a guaranteed way to attract downvotes on a site that is focused on fact-based answers.

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    You don't answer to the question of bias: the other answer doesn't justify the link between cemeteries and cultural heritage either. It offers no evidence at all, as opposed to mine which has various links to support the claim (citing the NYT is not 'an unsubstantiated claim' btw). So how do you explain the difference in voting: if my answer is considered bad and 'unsubstantiated', shouldn't the other answer be considered even worse?
    – Erwan
    Commented Feb 10 at 11:13
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If you don't want to get downvoted for your opinions, then don't push them in your questions and answers.

As explained in the help center:

Politics Stack Exchange is for objective questions about governments, policies and political processes.

It is not a place to advance opinions or debate, but rather for exchanging objective information about the policies, processes, and personalities that comprise the political arena.

If your posts contains opinions anyone would want to downvote for any ideological reason, then that is a sign that your content is not objective.

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    In this answer about cemeteries, are you talking about my 'opinion' that cemeteries are religious sites? This 'opinion' is not mine, it comes from the NYT, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and the Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties, as cited in my answer. Btw I would be grateful if you could give me an answer to explain your deletion at this question.
    – Erwan
    Commented Mar 3 at 15:50
  • @Erwan and that answer got downvoted because it didn’t provide any evidence to back up that link as the article provided doesn’t back it up.
    – Joe W
    Commented Mar 3 at 18:15
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    @Phillipp many questions / answers are being downvoted not because they contain opinions that others dislike, but because they contain facts that others dislike. A report by the UN or large NGO is about as objective as your going to get, but many users here seem to dislike questions/answers that reference them.
    – Ben Cohen
    Commented Mar 4 at 0:01
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    @JoeW we already had a long discussion together about this above, where I specifically pointed to you all the evidence in the quote that I copied in the answer and in the article. You had nothing to answer to all my evidence, and now you're still pretending that there's no evidence? Moreover as I already said the point is: if it was really the lack of evidence which was the cause of my answer being downvoted, it should have caused the same effect on the other answer... but it didn't.
    – Erwan
    Commented Mar 4 at 10:42
  • @Erwan All I ever have said is you need evidence in your answer itself which you have never provided. You claim that you have shown evidence in your comments but I have never seen it.
    – Joe W
    Commented Mar 4 at 13:08

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