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The laws of Loshon HaRa apply whether it is the spoken word, written word, or even gestures. While I'm inclined to think it is permitted (and have done so on select occasions) how would you understand the halachic status of a down vote with respect to hilchos loshon hara?

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2  
Ironically, this question was....down-voted. – Shmuel Brin Feb 19 '12 at 23:39
    
Yeah, I saw that, it would be interesting to know why. – Yirmeyahu Feb 20 '12 at 2:48
    
This downvote is typical loshon HaRa because his lake of rationality, one may think that the question is not a Tsarich Yun Gadol of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, but ironically downvoting is pure evil – kouty Mar 29 at 21:14
up vote 11 down vote accepted

The real answer is that a down-vote could mean "I don't think this is the kind of question mi.yodeya should focus on", without necessarily implying anything bad about the person who asked it.

Being able to respectfully disagree with an opinion -- while maintaining respect for the person who holds it -- is a hallmark of healthy Jewish learning. R' Moshe Feinstein was asked by someone in Bnei Brak who wanted to give a halacha shiur that would quote the late Chazon Ish, but occasionally disagree. R' Moshe wrote that any respectful quoting of the Chazon Ish's views is a respectful thing, even if you then describe why you disagree. And that the Chazon Ish never expected or demanded that everyone agree with him all the time.

But even if a down-vote was construed as deleterious to the asker (which it shouldn't be), let's review the Chofetz Chaim's criteria for Loshon Hara for a creative purpose:

  • If Shmerel asks a question, and I believe that people will be harmed if they treat this question as important, or by extension, if mi.yodeya will lose its ability to help people because it's filled with highly-ranked unhelpful questions, then I should do something about it.
  • The downvote system is the best way to to do something about it.
    • It's as neutral-tone as you can get
    • It doesn't damage Shmerel disproportionately (if at all)
    • There is no way (that I can think of) that accomplishes the same goal with less harm to Shmerel.
  • The only remaining conditions are ascertaining it's true, and intending for good purposes.
    • I think we're all assuming that when we see "Shmerel's question", we've ascertained satisficingly that Shmerel indeed asked this question.
    • How do I ascertain that the question is unhelpful, and that my motives are good? Well, that's where I think the system trusts our judgement.
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If someone writes something incorrect, it would be proper to downvote him so that other people do not learn to act incorrectly. StackExchange relies on downvoting (not flagging, as some people assume) to mark incorrect information.

Downvoting a wrong answer would be permitted as it has a clear constructive purpose. The Chofetz Chaim and other poskim all permit speaking Lashon Hara for a constructive purpose (subject to several conditions). Helping people learn the correct Halacha and not stray after an incorrect idea is a toelet, a very important one indeed.

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Let us also remember that, at least according to the Chofetz Chaim, speaking positively about somebody is also forbidden by the laws of shemirat halashon, so giving up-votes would be equally problematic.

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I would say "speaking positively COULD be forbidden", e.g. if I go on and on to a large crowd about how wonderful Shmerel, someone will start naysaying. In most situations here, I don't think upvoting someone's answer will cause them any harm. – Shalom May 10 '10 at 17:45
    
unless that someone has more up votes than anyone else, in which case the large crowd effect could be important. ("ugh, not HIM again") – Jeremy May 10 '10 at 18:53
    
Speaking positively about someone else is generally a mitzvat aseh of v'ahavta l'rayacha kamocha. (Sefer HaChinuch). – LN6595 Mar 28 at 18:35

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