Spam flags and offensive flags are strong weapons: they automatically decrease the points of a post, and with enough flags the post is deleted.

On MathOverflow, it is a custom to flag crank posts (for example, "This entire field is rubbish and worthless") as spam. While math.SE should be somewhat more tolerant of people posting borderline content, people calling certain fields rubbish is not something I'd like to see on math.SE, and to some extent I find it to be offensive. (Especially if things are meant seriously.)

But I do recall a discussion saying that spam flags should be reserved for actual spam. So, what's offensive? The very title of the flag says "it is not welcome in our community".

I recently raised an offensive flag against such a post. And it was quickly rejected by a moderator, leading me to ask two questions:

  1. Do 10k users see offensive and spam flags? Or are they only shown to the moderators? If the former is true, then declining the flag was against the idea of letting the community moderate itself.

  2. Do we want to have such community norms, similar to the one on MO which supports flagging crankish posts as spam/offensive? If so, what would be a typical case where one should consider raising such flag?

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    $\begingroup$ Related to 1: Can 10k users still see spam/offensive flags?. $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2013 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ Ah. I knew that something changed! $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Jun 6, 2013 at 5:41
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    $\begingroup$ 10k users cannot see these flags. They're only shown to mods. I like the example of the post you flagged (although I was not the mod who reviewed it, nor did I look to check); would I call it spam? No - I like the idea of flagging spam only as spam. Is crankwork spam? I don't know - I'm content to let each decide for his/her own. But I did look at the post you flagged and deleted it, because it certainly did not belong. The difference to me is that spam flags carry a 100 rep penalty, and so should be reserved for really bad things: hate speech, profanity, actual spam (all of which exist here) $\endgroup$
    – davidlowryduda Mod
    Jun 6, 2013 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ ... But that's just me. I do not at all mean that this should be how things are. It's merely how I've perceived them so far. $\endgroup$
    – davidlowryduda Mod
    Jun 6, 2013 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ @mixedmath: Thank you for the comment[s]. I do agree that 100 reputation penalty is something to consider. But then again, I find it somewhat fitting when someone completely negates with extreme ridicule a major mathematical field (or an axiom, in this case). I wouldn't have much problem with letting those users take the penalty. And while we're at it, if it's not offensive; but certainly "an answer"; what sort of flag would someone use to alert their fellow users that something needs to be inspected more closely? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Jun 6, 2013 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Asaf: I had to think about this for a moment. The immediate answer would be that the 'Not an Answer' flag would be the way to alert others. But then again, perhaps the best thing to do would be to downvote, vote to close, leave a comment of disaproval, and custom message flag the mods. The downvote and comment warn users who might not know better but who are seeing the answer that things are amiss. $\endgroup$
    – davidlowryduda Mod
    Jun 6, 2013 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @Asaf for the question. I've been wondering what exactly "spam" means presently, as the term seems to have taken on much more meaning over time. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 6, 2013 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


First some facts about the spam/offensive flags:

  • 6 flags will automatically delete a post
  • A succesful deletion by spam flags results in a -100 reputation penalty for the user
  • 10k user no longer see them in the queue

MO is also still operating on a very old SE 1.0 software that has been officially unsupported for a long time now. So they can't change the software and have to deal with the limited features that are available to them. I don't know this for sure, but I assume that this is part of the reason why they adapted a feature meant for a different purpose for this.

I personally oppose misusing spam/offensive flags for content that is not either blatant spam or seriously offensive. Those flags have a much lower reputation requirement than the regular community deletion privileges, they are meant for blatant cases of abuse, not for anything more subtle.

Spam is easy, offensive can get a bit more tricky. Direct insults, hate speech or profanity without any actual content fit into the offensive category. Someone calling an entire field rubbish I would not consider enough for an offensive flag, but it is certainly not constructive and should be dealt with.

There are existing mechanisms for removing content that I find sufficient for such cases:

  • Questions can be closed by five users and deleted by three users afterwards
  • Negatively voted answers can be deleted by three users
  • Moderators can quickly delete content that has been flagged and maybe already closed by the community

Spam/Offensive flags are a useful but dangerous tool. They require only minimal reputation to use and can auto-delete posts, and ability wich low reputation users don't have access to otherwise. They also don't have the same safeguards and limit deletion by 10k and 20k users has like only being able to delete closed questions and answers that are already downvoted. For that reason I consider it too dangerous to use them for anything than clear spam and offensive posts.

  • $\begingroup$ Dear Mad Scientist: I actually was drawn to Asaf's question, because I would like to know what constitutes "clear spam": I tend to view the term "spam" literally, and narrowly, (and nonetheless have flagged even given this narrow interpretation). But after spending time in chat, it seems many use the terms "spam" and "spamming" to describe a wide range of content and behavior. So what is "clear" spam? (I'm being completely genuine here. It would help to understand what constitutes spam, as it seems what counts as spam has evolved over time.) $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 6, 2013 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Posts trying to sell you Rolexes, Viagra or other stuff completely unrelated to the topic of this site, that is blatant spam. There is other stuff that is spam-like, e.g. a user promoting his own software/website/whatever by posting an answer containing it to barely relevant questions, but I would not use the spam flag for such more complicated issues where the line between acceptable and inacceptable behaviour is rather fuzzy. $\endgroup$
    – user9733
    Jun 6, 2013 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. That's precisely the "narrow" understanding I've been employing. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 6, 2013 at 15:56

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