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What is flagging for moderator attention? How does the flagging process work? What are the different flags, and what are they useful for?

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    $\begingroup$ Note This post was sparked (I believe) by an email I sent to Asaf proposing the creation of a FAQ on flagging, after realizing from recent events that many flagging issues are not clear to many users. I was hoping to solicit input from many folks (including past and current mods) before posting a first draft, but now that Asaf has already done so, perhaps discussion can occur here. In particular, I think it would be helpful to attempt to devise recommended policies on flagging, and for this it is essential for experienced users to share their insights on what works best. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 26 '12 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ Also, it would be helpful to mention precisely what powers mods have to act on various flags (e.g. see Arturo's recent question about this), and how dispute resolution works, etc. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 26 '12 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed the email sparked this post. I figured that first we need to iron out what is flagging and what is the extent of the power of this system. Then we can iron out policies. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila May 26 '12 at 14:31
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Flagging in general is a process in which a normal users requests the moderators to attend to a specific post. The flagging itself requires the user to have 15 points of reputation.

Some of the flags appear in the Moderator Tools page which is accessible to users whose reputation is at least 10,000. Users can then review the flagged post and give their opinion by agreeing with the flag (or flagging for a different reason) or by invalidating the flag.

Flags stay visible in a moderator's tools as long as they are not voted on (see below the cut). If you vote to support the flag, invalidate it, etc. it will disappear from your moderator tools but appear on others, that is until the question is closed/deleted or the flag is cleared by a moderator.

Repeated flags are allowed, meaning one can flag a single post several times. This can be done only after the first flag has been cleared, though. Otherwise a message appears reminding you that you already flagged the post.

It is therefore important not to act on flags that you are not certain about. Every action increases the bias of other users which may follow your footsteps.

Users have ten flags to use every day. This number increases with the reputation and with the number of helpful flags raised and can reach 100.

There are essentially three different forms of flags:

  1. Automatic flags, these are raised by the software to alert the moderators that something may need intervening. There are three flags of this sort:

    • Low-quality post, this flag is raised when the software considers a post to be of low quality. On our site, due to short-but-TeXy answers the flag may be raised on answers which are actually very good answers.

    • Multiple deletions, this flag appears less often than the others, when a user removes a series of posts quickly. Often it is raised when someone deletes unattended posts (without answers/votes/comments). However it may actually be vandalism.

    • More than 20 comments, a flag raised automatically when a discussion occurs in the comments.

    In a recent request, one of the moderators discussed the input the community should give to automatic flags: http://meta.math.stackexchange.com/q/4056/622.

  2. Free form flags, these flags appear only for moderators. Users may employ these to address the moderators with a short text. Some possible uses for this form of flags are:

    • Requesting that a post be made Community Wiki.

    • Pointing out that a user has a duplicate account that needs to be merged.

    • Sending a request for re-opening or deleting a closed post.

    • Any other request which might be accompanied by an explanation or an otherwise non-standard flag.

    It is important to stress that these flags appear only for moderators. If the actual content of the flag is pointing out that something is off topic, or that an answer is actually a comment it is better to use the standard flags, as these flags can be supported or invalidated by other users as well (which may also vote to close, delete, etc. bad posts).

  3. Standard flags which are predetermined requests for a specific attention. These flags are divided to three groups:

    1. Offensive and spam flags should be used only when something is truly offensive or contains spam. After three such flags a post is removed from the front page, and after six flags it is deleted automatically, along with a 100 reputation points loss to the poster.

    2. Closure flags are for questions only and can be used for low-reputation users to point out that a question is off topic (and possibly suggest a migration target) or that the question is a duplicate of another post. Note that users with sufficient reputation to cast closure votes do not see this dialog and have the standard closing votes dialog instead.

    3. Not an answer, this flag is for answers only. It can be used to point out that something is not an answer to the question. There are three major reasons for raising this flag:

      • Users without sufficient reputation for commenting try to post comments as an answer. In which case a moderator can convert the answer to a comment on the appropriate post.

      • Users which come from outside the site and do not know how the site works post a new question as an answer to an old question.

      • The original poster uses an answer to address others or suggest edits. Sometimes the user is unregistered and simply cannot comment or edit because the account had split. (In such case a free form flag suggesting an account merge is also appropriate.)

    4. Low quality is the last flag, and the least useful too. The purpose of this flag is to point out a very low quality post. The moderators, however, do not intervene with the content of the posts and therefore usually have nothing to do about this sort of flag.

      Not all is bad with this flag, though. Sometimes low quality posts are posts which should be flagged for other reasons. In such cases the flag is helpful, although it is best to use the appropriate flag instead.


So what happens after you flagged?

Some of the flags will appear in the Moderator Tools page and be viewable by users with 10K reputation. And all of the flags will be shown to the analogous page for the Moderators. The flags will stay on the pages until either (a) a moderator clears the flag (and it disappears from the page for all users) or (b) the user votes support or disputes the flag (in which case it will disappear from your own queue).

Flagging a post, and supporting or disputing a flag, are relatively straight forward. User with over 10K reputation should however read the following two Meta Items

But when the flag lands on a Moderator's plate, that's where things can get tricky. Here are an interesting fact about the Moderator tool panel:

For each group of flags on a post (which basically means that all flags, supporting votes, and disputing votes by 10K users *since the last time the flags were cleared on that post) the Moderator can choose one and only one action. The entire group can be marked either helpful or we can mark to decline the flag.

For a single flag (or flag with supporting votes) this is fairly straight forward. A moderator looks at the flag, decides

  1. Some action is required:

    • Sometimes off-topic or spam posts needs to be closed or deleted; "comments as an answer" will need to be migrated to the correct threads. When moderators close or delete a post, the flags are automatically considered helpful. The user who flagged will see that also as their feedback.
    • Sometimes other type of action is required: the OP needs to be contacted, accounts need to be merged. In those cases after performing said action the moderator will manually mark the flag as helpful.
    • One interesting case where action by moderator will automatically decline a flag is when a post is flagged Low Quality. The flag is intended to signal posts which are so bad that they cannot be conceivably salvaged. If the moderator proceeds to edit that post, the system interprets it to mean that the post is in fact salvageable and automatically declines the flag.
  2. Some action is not required:

    • Sometimes flags are purely informational and does not need to be acted upon. In those cases the moderators often leave the flags open for a while so that other moderators also have a chance to see them, and afterward mark the flag as helpful but with no action required.
    • Sometimes moderators materially disagree with the flag, in which case the flag will be declined with either a standard reason such as "A moderator has reviewed your flag and found no evidence to support it" or "A flag should only be used to indicate something that requires moderator intervention", or a free-form reason which the moderator will provide. The reason for the declined flag will be displayed to the original flagging user.

In the case where there are multiple (possibly mutually conflicting) flags and/or supporting votes and/or disputing votes, the situation becomes more complicated.

  1. In the case that there are disputing votes (where a 10K user marks a flag invalid), the only feedback returned to all users from moderator action is Disputed (note, not declined nor helpful; always disputed). If the moderator marks the group of flags as helpful, that would be the only feedback to the users. If the moderator declines the group of flags, in addition to seeing the word "disputed", the users will all see the reason for declining the flag. This is a known bug.

    To emphasize: if you are a 10K user and you see your dispute vote return a feedback of "Disputed - a moderator reviewed your flag and found no evidence to support it", most likely this means that the Moderator actually agrees with you and declined the original flag. Conversely, if you flag a post and see a feedback of only "Disputed" with no further reason, it means that other users do not agree with your flag, and that the moderators either agree with the flag or acknowledges the fact that there is a disagreement about the flag.

    For more information about this one may wish to read

  2. In the case that there are not disputing votes, again recall that a moderator can only mark as helpful or decline an entire group of flags at a time. So if you and some other user both flagged the same post but for drastically different reasons, you may see your flag declined for strange reasons. A moderator may or may not contact you specifically about this; feel free, however, to e-mail the moderators when there is some doubt to why your flag was declined.

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    $\begingroup$ I stopped now because an hour was enough to make me a bit dizzy. I may edit and give it a final touch later on. I also left out comment flags completely because I never really used those. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila May 26 '12 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Cool! Can I shamelessly steal this later? I'll give attribution, of course! $\endgroup$ – Alenanno May 27 '12 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Alenanno: No problem, but please wait another few days. I might improve this a bit. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila May 28 '12 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ Sure! Thank you. :) Just ping me here. $\endgroup$ – Alenanno May 28 '12 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Willie: I don't know about closure flags; but if I flag something and then it gets community-deleted it is marked as helpful too. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila May 29 '12 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ But if you flag something and someone disputes it and it gets community-deleted, I think it will get marked as "Disputed". $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong May 30 '12 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know about that. We can either run an experiment or ask the StackOverlords. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila May 30 '12 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this. I stopped flagging duplicates, because my most recent flag (for a duplicate) was declined, with the reason being given as "declined - flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention". I don't think I have any other way of drawing attention to duplicates (other than in comments), but I supposed that flagging must not considered the appropriate way to do this (even though it's specifically one of the flag options). From what you've written, it looks like it might just be a case of the flag being declined 'for strange reasons'. $\endgroup$ – Tara B Jun 10 '12 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Tara: actually, in that case a moderator did decline your flag (being the only one on that question). I, however, have no idea why he chose to do so. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Jul 24 '12 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Tara: There was some incoherence after the elections and some moderators invalidated flags without fully understanding the flagging system. It should not stop you from flagging the future, and in case you feel that you are flagging and you think a flag was wrongfully declined (e.g. as in the situation you describe) you can start a thread like I did here to get a better understand why the flag was declined, and help prevent future cases like this. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 24 '12 at 13:45

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