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This is not a post against invalidation of flags, but rather I am trying to raise awareness to something which might be happening behind the scenes with the flags recently. Invalidation is a good process when it happens properly, not when it is done out of boredom or frustration at the never disappearing yellow counter of open flags.

I checked my flags today and I noticed that a few of my recent flags got disputed status despite being with accordance to how the moderators acted on them.

Amongst those were answers which were obviously unrelated to the questions, or answers that were explicitly comments to other answers. The fact that they were marked disputed means that someone out there marked my flags (and supposedly someone else's flag) as invalid.

I noticed a trend that when there is a large number of open flags and the yellow counter appears, after a day or two most of them get an invalidation flag automatically. I suppose that this is the action of someone tired of seeing this number and tries to rush up the process.

First thing to say about this is that doing so sends mixed signals to the moderators reviewing the debating what to do about these flags. Furthermore this is not really clearing the flags and the counter still shows up despite flagging or invalidating. I am begging, whoever does that, please don't do that. If you want to flag something, go and take a look first and think about it. Is it a valid flag? When the only goal is to "clear flags" then there is no point in invalidating a flag.

Second thing to say about this is that the automatic low-quality flags often being raised wrongfully and often catch comments or questions posted in the answer box. Those should not be invalidated but flagged as not an answer instead. The second automatic flag, 20 comments, were mentioned before and we were asked not to invalidate it.

Third thing I have to say is a request to the moderators to try and hasten the treatment of old flags. I have to admit that often I would flag something and it would be quickly dealt with, but sometimes I find myself waiting for three days until a moderator agrees with me (and deletes, for example), but the flag is still disputed because someone was probably annoyed at that yellow little number. In case of request to set something as CW, I can understand the need to debate or consider it first. However when seeing something which is clearly not an answer, please merge it as quick as possible.

Fourth thing, which is the last thing about this, is that 20K users which can delete answers can hasten the process and delete questions which were posted as answers (often to very old questions). However if the post is really a comment, I prefer to wait until a moderator can turn it into a comment (the flag would be automatically cleared otherwise).

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    $\begingroup$ Whoever downvoted, I would like to hear why you disgree with the notion that flags should not be dispensed but rather examined.... $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 1 '12 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ I took a quick look at a few of your recent disputed flags and it appears that other 10K users (not diamond mods) have disputed the flags, i.e. it shows "invalid flag" in the history. Would that explain the cases you are concerned with? $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Jul 1 '12 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Bill: Yes, this is exactly what I brought to meta. The moderators are doing their job, and it can take some times to clear the flags. It is the users which "abuse" (figuratively) the system. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 1 '12 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Bill: As I write in the top part, the "invalid flag" option is valuable to help the moderators see which flags are correct and which are not. Had the flags I was talking about been random or borderline cases, I would have thought it through on my own. However since I do recall seeing invalid flags all over the place recently, I figured that this is the doing of someone. I wanted to raise awareness to this issue and remind people that invalid flags are supposed to help the moderators. If people invalidate flags automatically it makes the process ineffective and somewhat useless. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 1 '12 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ There are at least 4 different 10K users who have disputed these flags. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Jul 1 '12 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ So there was someone that actually looked at this and figured that it is an answer to the question? That strikes me as a rather odd conclusion, especially since there was a comment below point to the fact that this should really be a comment to the other answer posted. Furthermore - you want to tell me that several people thought that this is an answer? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 1 '12 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ That, like the others, has a single "invalid flag" listed in the history. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Jul 1 '12 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I never said that it was the same person. However I do see that when there is a high open flags counter after a day most of the flags will get invalidated by someone. Again, this is why I brought this to meta, because I feel that this might be some sort of trend. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 1 '12 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps they actually did disagree in some cases. Why do you presume that they deemed the flag invalid "out of boredom or frustration at the never disappearing yellow counter of open flags"? Why would that "frustrate" anyone? $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Jul 1 '12 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ If seeing the number of flags causes such frustrationa and urge to have them dealt with immediately and so on, I can only suggest using some CSS hack to hide them. Such preoccupation on such trivialities is surely avoidable stress. $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Jul 1 '12 at 22:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Mariano, I come to m.se and see that little yellow circle with a 10 in it. Trying to be a good citizen, I click on it and see fewer than 10 things to deal with. I'm guessing this is because I already dealt with some of them, and my page knows this, but the front page doesn't. Anyway, of the ones I see, several are "20 comments" flags which I think we're supposed to ignore; several are on matters beyond my competence to decide, and seem to stay on the list for days. In short, I try to help, but see very little I can do to help. The system should not act to discourage those trying to help. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 2 '12 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry, I do not think the system acts to discurage anyone. Asaf describes users «tired of seeing this number and [trying] to rush up the process»: my comment refers to those users, who presumably exist (I don't know) As I have said repeatedly, people should just relax: if the flag count is causing that type of anxiety, then the problem is not with the flag but with the user, really. If a flag sits unhandled three days, oh well, it sat unhandled three days—unless it was something really really REALLY pressing, I personally am not going to get exited about the event... $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Jul 2 '12 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ I confess to simply not care about anyone's percentange of invalidated flags or non-invalidated flags or even just flags. $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Jul 2 '12 at 1:50
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    $\begingroup$ I am terribly frustrated by flags, but as a moderator I am able to act on my obsession (this hasn't helped get rid of it though...). I understand that it is frustrating to have what should be valid flags not count towards one's flag count, and I approve of Asaf's call for more thoughtfulness in the use of "invalid flag". But I think the moderators can see who makes good flags in general, and who doesn't, without looking at someone's disputed flag percentage or whatever the measurement is. $\endgroup$ – Zev Chonoles Jul 2 '12 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf I do "get your point". However, unlike you, I don't find it all surprising that there exists at least one other user who disagreed with you on some of your recent flags. The community here is very diverse, so one should not be surprised if, as here, one encounters users asserting minority opinions on subjective matters. As I said, there were at least four different users involved, so this was not a fluke such as one user's confusion on how flagging works. In such a large diverse community I'm not at all surprised that flagging can occasionally prove just as puzzling as voting. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Jul 2 '12 at 18:38
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I think that some reviewers are not looking very closely at the flags at all, or else the accept/reject process has something confusing that causes these kinds of misflags.

My take of the "not an answer" flag is that it means that the post does not attempt at all to answer the question asked. I do not think it means "the answer is incorrect."

I disputed a "not an answer flag" on an incorrect answer with an "invalid flag" recently, and yet it was declined for this reason:

declined - flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer

Since that was exactly my point, I am a little disappointed that the "invalid flag" flag was declined.

Everybody, please read carefully before blowing through your reviews!


Thanks to the comments in my answer, I have now been set straight that Declination indicates that my flag was helpful. This highlights part of the current process that is very confusing to understand by a relative newcomer. Hopefully someone is working on a better configuration that can avoid this type of misunderstanding.

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    $\begingroup$ If you invalidate a flag and you get this message then it means that the moderators agreed with you. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 10 '12 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila OK, well that's nice to know, but does that mean that declination flags are equivalent to helpful flags? $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Dec 10 '12 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ Invalidation is not counted into helpful flags at any case. If the flag is declined it means that your invalidation was helpful. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 10 '12 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Moderators cannot act on single flags, they always act on all flags that are active on a post. If a post was flagged and that flagged disputed, there are two flags on that post (the disputing is a flag itself). If a moderator declines the flag, the user disputing the flag also gets the decline message. This is just a very confusing part of the system. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Dec 10 '12 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila and Mad Scientist, thanks for setting me straight on this. I think it's an especially confusing setup at the moment, and I'm glad I asked. At first glance, "declined flags" appear to be as negative as "disputed". $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Dec 10 '12 at 16:11
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In fairly recent memory, I have been flagging "invalid" on a good handful or two of "not an answer" flags on very old posts (2011 or earlier). The posts were indeed not answers (example here for 10k+ users), but given their age I don't think doing something about them would improve the site in proportion to the time it would take a moderator to do it.

The intent of my "invalid" flagging is to let the moderators know that there are members of the community who thinks the flag might just as well be summarily dismissed without action -- to counter the impression that might otherwise arise that the community is equivocally demanding that action be taken.

The question I try to answer when reviewing flags is not "is the flag description literally true or not?", but "is moderator intervention necessary here or not?".

If the moderators tell me that this approach to flagging is not helpful to them, I will of course stop it at once.

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  • $\begingroup$ Henning, as someone who was the one to raise the flag in your linked post, I can assure you that I spend quite some time in picking clean the site. I did my best to deal with newer posts first, but eventually you start getting at the old ones. Besides there is this theory about bad apples and broken windows (unix is still good :-)). $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 4 '12 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ Furthermore, it seems to me that the attitude of "old threads can be left alone" is similar to saying "Oh, this piece of code is still in the main code but the code was written so long ago - since we hardly ever use these routines there is no sense in debugging them", the moderators are here to perform a certain job: they are helping to make sure the site is as clean as possible from mis-usage noise (e.g. comments in answers; questions in answers; spam). While some moderators would very much like it if only spam would be flagged, this is not how the system works. (cont.) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 4 '12 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ (cont.) Once a flag has been raised, the moderators will look into it. So what your attitude seems to be saying to me, had I been the one reviewing it, would be "Oh, this may have been a perfectly reasonable flag, but no need to deal with this since this is old." and the next time someone else comes across this and flags this, you may invalidate it again, and again (with time lapse big enough for you to forget such invalidations). This doesn't make much sense to me. Had I been a moderator I would have to spend more time to figure out what's invalid, rather than clearing the flag. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 4 '12 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Asaf You wrote "While some moderators would very much like it if only spam would be flagged", but I don't believe that is true for any current MSE moderator. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Jul 5 '12 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Bill: I am glad to hear that. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 5 '12 at 20:07

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