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Looking back at one of my previous questions here at meta I feel like I was hit by serial flag decliner (someone who makes a large number of questionable declines of flags in a row):

Wonder if this kind of issue can happen on Stack Overflow?


update

Recently discovered another example of large number of questionable declines of flags in a row. The issue was discussed and resolved at SU meta:

  • Reason for flags declined?
    in brief, decline of ~20 flags in the row was cast on heavyweight flagger...

    ...acted with the best of intentions (as evidenced to some extent by my 700+ flag weight before this), in accordance with many meta posts, and made it clear, in act (this was not the first time I flagged so many things) and in word (I made a post asking for more flags) that this is what I was going to do to a greater or lesser extent...

http://i.stack.imgur.com/2JQ86.jpg

Per my reading, conclusion at SU Meta was that the issue was caused by misunderstanding and some miscommunication. As for the flags affected by the unfortunate series of declines, these were considered extreme circumstance and as such were removed by a dev modifying the database.

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What's the issue? I don't see how this question is different from the one you linked to. –  Bill the Lizard Oct 21 '11 at 12:49
    
@BilltheLizard all answers listed in linked question are deleted, despite not-an-answer flag being declined. That makes it look like a series of unjustified flag declines doesn't it? –  gnat Oct 21 '11 at 13:11
    
That was already explained by Tim Post in the comments to his answer. One moderator declined your first round of flags, then another moderator deleted the posts. –  Bill the Lizard Oct 21 '11 at 13:15
    
@BilltheLizard could first round moderator declines qualify as serial flag decline? –  gnat Oct 21 '11 at 13:29
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Please clarify what you mean by serial flag decline. I doubt you were specifically targeted. I think it just wasn't clear why those posts were flagged the first time. I've mistakenly declined flags myself for the same reason. –  Bill the Lizard Oct 21 '11 at 13:52
    
@BilltheLizard that's what I am asking to clarify. Does declining of six flag in the row qualify as serial decline? Taking into account that my flag weight at the moment was above 500 and that later, all six declined answers were deleted –  gnat Oct 21 '11 at 14:39
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I think you're introducing new terminology with "serial decline." You'll have to define what you mean by that before we can tell you if this qualifies. –  Bill the Lizard Oct 21 '11 at 15:22
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@BilltheLizard Defined. :) –  Chris Frederick Oct 21 '11 at 15:51
    
@BilltheLizard interesting. Do you mean some... thing similar to one that allows us to qualify downvotes as serial-vs-reasonable? Some, you know, measurements, statistics, heuristics, patterns? –  gnat Oct 21 '11 at 16:47
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@gnat: Yes, something like that. What's really interesting is that I'm now looking through your flagging history and I don't see flags that were declined on these questions. I also don't see anything on the individual flag histories for each post. Were the initial flags already removed, perhaps? –  Bill the Lizard Oct 21 '11 at 16:51
    
@BilltheLizard what do you think about definition given by Chris in recent revision? "someone who declines a large number of flags in a row". As for the disappeared flags, I just asked a question about these: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/110016/… –  gnat Oct 22 '11 at 5:53
    
That definition doesn't carry a lot of information. What's a large number of flags to decline? Do the flags have to be raised by the same person to matter? What if they're all raised against the same person? For the same reason? Was it the correct reason to be flagging, or should the posts not have been flagged at all? There are a lot of variables here. –  Bill the Lizard Oct 22 '11 at 6:45
    
@BilltheLizard I see. Would it be correct to assume that so far, no data like that was tracked / monitored at all? I ask because generally I'd rather expect that when certain power is given (power to accept/decline flags in this case) it would be natural to also establish some means to monitor how this power is applied wouldn't it? –  gnat Oct 22 '11 at 6:53
    
We have to dig a little bit, but all of that information is available to moderators. "Was it the correct reason to be flagging, or should the posts not have been flagged at all?" is subjective, of course, but making that decision is what we're here for. –  Bill the Lizard Oct 22 '11 at 11:55
    
@BilltheLizard Sounds good. As far as I understand you can find any data, just need a description of what kind of things/patterns to look for - right? Here, I am thinking about somewhat similar to reports on suspected serial downvotes - with the difference that for downvotes most of the things go without saying since there is tried and true approach how to dig. –  gnat Oct 22 '11 at 13:05

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Generally, moderators are discouraged to decline flags without a strong reason.

  • Clarifications given in September 2011 Newsletter of SE Community Moderator Blog look pretty straightforward:

    Flags Too Often Marked [declined]

     
    Marking a flag [declined] was designed to deter serial abusers of the flagging system, but we find that this “slap on the wrist” is being used more often than is beneficial.
     
    Flags should be closed as [helpful] under most circumstances. If you feel strongly that a question was flagged in bad faith, it is okay to mark it [declined]. But try to err on the side of clearing as [helpful] whenever the user is trying to be genuinely helpful, even if you do not necessarily act on the flag...

Given that moderation is human activity involving judgement call, deviations from above guidelines are inevitable.


As for series of questionable declines - to start with, the risk of it to happen is always there when there is a series of flags.

Flag decisions are often open to interpretation which implies a risk that flag will be dealt with by someone who disagrees or misinterprets the intent. This is especially the case with not-an-answer flags with their wildly rich set of suggestions: "should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether" (should... what?).

Discussing things at meta prior to flagging lowers the risk but does not eliminate it completely because there is a chance that flag will be handled by moderator who is not aware about particular discussion.


The only way to guarantee that there will be no serial decline is, well, not to flag in series at all.

There is also a low-risk option when flagging series of Q/A that were already discussed and agreed at meta. For these, one can use "Other" flag with comment like "flagging for removal as agreed at meta discussion: <URL to meta discussion>". This leaves pretty little room for flag to be misinterpreted, no matter who will handle it at moderator side of flagging queue.

http://i.stack.imgur.com/N0JwV.jpg

In flag comments, a reference to particular moderator who "blessed" this series of flags wouldn't hurt, either: "...as agreed with moderator <name> at meta discussion: <URL to meta discussion>"

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