This is a response to the general question, and not specifically to the example. The whole Stack Exchange system is a bit complicated, so if the example involved a new or new-ish user, it was probably just an innocent mistake using the site, and not something for which anyone ought to be faulted.
I think threatening to downvote is a bad practice. If you think a post is bad, don't threaten to downvote it. Downvote it.
- Or edit it, if you think you can improve it. Just remember, editing is a good thing and even major changes are often OK, but an edit should retain the original meaning of the post and respect the author. Some posts cannot be fixed easily by editing.
One can comment when downvoting, explaining the reason. After the post is edited, one can remove one's downvote.
Votes express the community's beliefs about the quality and accuracy of posts. They result in reputation changes for the post's author (unless the post is community-wiki), but they are about the post, not the author. A downvote is not a punishment. The amount of reputation lost by the author is just 2. Very small. One of the reasons it's so small is so that we are not discouraged from downvoting posts that are wrong or bad. So let's not be discouraged.
Sometimes people downvote when they shouldn't, but I think it's at least as common, at least on our site, for people not to downvote when they should. If we threaten downvoting as an alternative to downvoting, we're at the point where our reluctance to downvote makes us meaner rather than nicer.
Downvoting costs some reputation (-1 to the voter), which sometimes discourages us from doing it (and often should). But if it's worth saying something like "this post deserves be downvoted" then it's worth downvoting it.
If we want to express that an answer is bad, we can do that without threatening to downvote. For example:
- "Method X never works in situation A. So this answer is not very useful here."
- "Method X is dangerous for reason A. Please edit this to add a warning about Calamity C. Otherwise, users who read this may damage their systems / lose data!"
- "This answer would be much improved if it more clearly explained Method X. Right now, it's unlikely someone who doesn't know Method X already would be able to follow this answer."
- "That's really not how Thing Q works at all. See this Thing Q article (link) for why this approach is not at all applicable."
I see this as a subcategory of unproductive "meta"-comments (comments on main about using the site itself, rather than about Ubuntu). Some meta-comments (like "You've said this worked for you, so you should probably accept this answer") are productive, but comments that tell people they're voting wrong are usually not productive.
Therefore, I think there are also some related sorts of things we should avoid saying:
"I've improved my answer, so please remove your downvote!"
It's enough just to comment (pinging them with
@TheirName) and say you've improved the answer.
"That downvote was uncalled for."
We should avoid telling people not to use their votes, even if we think they're not using them very well. (The only possible exception is serial downvoting, and that's automatically reversed quite well by the automated safeguards in place.) Good alternatives:
- If someone downvotes without a comment, either ignore it or say, "I'm not sure why someone downvoted, perhaps they thought X, but actually, Y."
- If someone downvotes and leaves a comment and you disagree and don't want to ignore it, say, "I said X because A," or "X is not really wrong, because A."
- If someone downvotes, leaves a comment, and you agree with the criticism but think it didn't warrant a downvote, don't say anything. If you agree your answer had a significant flaw (something worth mentioning in a comment), then whether or not to downvote it is subjective. Attacking people for downvoting too readily will only make them less likely to comment when they downvote in the future.
"Hey everybody, downvote this!"
Commenting to assemble a mob of downvoters is ugly and bad. It's one thing to say you don't believe a post is as good as the community thinks (suggesting, but not stating explicitly, that it deserves downvotes). And it's OK to say you think a post is underappreciated, too (suggesting, but not stating explicitly, that it deserves upvotes). But I think it crosses a line of etiquette to explicitly call for downvotes on a post (or even to explicitly call for upvotes). Each of us votes our own "conscience."
- I can think of one exception. If someone has explicitly said they think an answer to a question with an active bounty is bad, you can remind them they can downvote bad answers and that an answer with less than +2 score will not receive any part of an expired bounty. I am not saying that we should say this lightly. Only that in limited circumstances it should not be considered harmful.
- Similarly, it's OK to request upvotes in chat for a community-wiki answer to a question solved by the OP. (Often, an OP will solve their problem, edit or comment about it, but not post a solution. A community-wiki answer stating the solution, like any answer, needs a score of +2 for the question to no longer appear in the "unanswered" list.)
- There may be another limited exception to a similar situation: When in chat, and a post is spam, and you are flagging it as spam, it may be OK to explicitly ask people to downvote it and flag it as spam. This is not very useful, both because flagging it is the most important thing and because people will downvote it anyway, but calling for downvotes on actual question/answer spam should probably not be considered actively harmful.
"You did that thing in your comment that some guy put in a list of things not to do in a comment. Ha!"
- The purpose of this list is to make suggestions for better communication. It is not a weapon to beat people up with.
- If a comment bothers you and you think it should be removed, flag it. Comments get removed all the time. Even good comments often get removed once they are obsolete.
- If a comment bothers you and you don't think it should be removed, ignore it.
If you feel obligated to reply to a mean comment to come to someone's defense, then (1) make sure you're flagging it too, and (2) think real hard about whether or not you should be doing anything else besides flagging it.
Commenting to object to someone else's meanness may be justified in a tiny minority of instances, but even at best it risks inflaming things further and leaving you feeling sick inside. I know this from experience.
(This is not to say that posting questions on meta is bad. Posting meta questions is often good. I'm talking about comment replies.)
However, I think asking why someone downvoted is okay and can even be helpful (provided it's not done rudely).