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So a user writes something. Another user flags it as offensive. We've all seen it (if you're a mod, anyway).

You review. It's religious-based. Might actually be offensive to someone, might not, don't know enough about the fine details of the religion.

Correct course of action?

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Delete the post. Suspend both users, and then randomly suspend a user that wasn't involved at all, just for the kicks of it. Brag about it in Teacher's Lounge, mission accomplished. –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 10:08
    
Not any SE site which discusses religion I assume? –  Bart Aug 13 '12 at 10:11
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@Bart Mark is a moderator on Travel.SE. –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 10:11
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@YannisRizos Travel as in pilgrimage? ;) –  Bart Aug 13 '12 at 10:12
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occasionally it comes up about pilgrimage, occasionally about the Israel/Palestine thing. That really sends them into overdrive... –  Mark Mayo Aug 13 '12 at 10:13
    
@MarkMayo If it happens a lot, perhaps you should bring it up on your site's Meta and ask the community for feedback / help. –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 10:20
    
My personal opinion is: "when there is doubt, there is no doubt". If something is offensive toward group of people then it should be removed - plain and simple. Of course there might be edge cases in which case I'll go with Yannis advice and ask for the other mods opinion. –  Shadow Wizard Aug 13 '12 at 10:21
    
@ShaWizDowArd Agreed, but you can't expect moderators to always be able to judge what's offensive and what's not, it's almost always a judgement call. –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 10:22
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@ShaWizDowArd - and if someone wants to delete something just because they don't like the answer, so they flag it as offensive? This is what has happened on occasion with the Israel vs Palestine topics :/ –  Mark Mayo Aug 13 '12 at 10:22
    
@Yannis like I said in an edit to the comment, there are edge cases. But usually stuff like "he is terrorist" or "certain religion is based on terror" are obvious offense. –  Shadow Wizard Aug 13 '12 at 10:24
    
@Mark if they don't like it and do find something offensive then it's their lucky day - if they don't like it and flag without good reason then no harm done except wasting some moderator time. :) –  Shadow Wizard Aug 13 '12 at 10:25
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@ShaWizDowArd I have a feeling Mark wouldn't have any problem handling stuff like "he is terrorist", this question is more about the edge cases than outright offensive posts. –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 10:26
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@Yannis good point - in such case, better ask someone who do know and can explain. –  Shadow Wizard Aug 13 '12 at 10:28
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Whatever you do please don't start censoring things just because it might offend absurdly delicate sensibilities. Unless it was clearly intended to offend I'd never remove something from a legitimate informative post. Lots of people find evolution offensive you know. –  Ben Brocka Aug 13 '12 at 13:31
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@BenBrocka Lots of people find foo offensive is not a valid argument, lots of people in Germany found the Jews offensive in the late 30s/early 40s for example. The key is whether a reasonable person would find foo offensive or not. –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 13:43
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2 Answers

Offensive flags are the worst, aren't they?

No one is expecting you to be able to judge anything and everything, if you are uncertain of how to handle the flag, you should ping the rest of Travel.SE's team diamond and discuss it with them in your site's private mod room, there's a reason there's three of you.

If you can't reach consensus between the three of you, or just want more feedback, you should bring the issue up in Teacher's Lounge, fellow moderators and Stack Exchange employees are (almost) always there to help. And if by any chance it's something you don't want to share with 200+ moderators, you can email Stack Exchange directly and ask for guidance.

Lastly, if there's a comment/flag war going on at the time you see the flag, lock the post for an hour/day immediately to give everyone some time to calm down, but edit out the offensive remark prior to locking. Your edit can be rolled back in the off chance you later decide it wasn't really offensive.

Or, you know, do what I usually do, pretend you never saw the flag and let someone else handle it. ;P

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The only flaw in that clever plan is that the moderation tool clearly shows to me which other mods have viewed the flag. –  Ankur Banerjee Aug 13 '12 at 10:37
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@AnkurBanerjee Hence the smiley at the end of the last sentence. My standard excuse to my fellow mods is that I saw the flag(s), but I was browsing the site from my mobile at the time and didn't feel comfortable taking action in case I fat fingered anything. ;P –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 10:39
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Sweet! I'm going to steal that one. –  Ankur Banerjee Aug 13 '12 at 10:40
    
@AnkurBanerjee don't think I haven't seen this ;) –  Mark Mayo Jan 4 '13 at 22:48
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Frankly the fine details of the religion shouldn't be your concern. Our metric (I forget where exactly it's codified, but it's in there somewhere) is whether a reasonable person finds it offensive. Being that you're a mod, I'm just going to hope that you're a reasonable person. Maybe if you're on a religious site the finer details might be more relevant, but that'd have to be up to your site really.

Now, in the context of the Israel/Palestine thing, I can think of two general situations:

  1. Someone states "Hey, don't go to X, Xrealites/Xistinines are violent"
  2. Someone states "Hey, that region of the world is in a lot of violent turmoil, maybe stay away"

Number 1 is clearly meant to say people from X suck. Clearly jingoist stuff like that could clearly be seen as offensive; flag on that's probably valid. Number 2 is a fact. If you find facts offensive, that's your problem.

The key for offensive content like this is intent. You can be offensive by bringing up off-topic facts that make X look bad for the purpose of making X look bad. But if you're properly answering the question posted (and the question isn't clearly offensive) and there's no apparent malicious intent, don't assume there is malicious intent just because someone flagged it.

Of course, if you really, really don't feel comfortable making a decision as a mod, you can let another moderator handle it. But if you really, really have to try hard to find the offensiveness in a statement, well maybe it's just plain not offensive.

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I think this is the first answer of yours I've ever downvoted, you are answering to a comment, based on your wild interpretation of the comment. I'm sorry but this isn't an answer. –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 21:33
    
@YannisRizos What's the problem exactly? The assumption on what the flag is about isn't really relevant to my answer, it's just an example of clearly offensive content vs not –  Ben Brocka Aug 13 '12 at 21:52
    
That's not what the question is about. What offensive or not is a debate we better leave for the site's moderators and community, your examples are highly speculative based on an off comment. Granted Mark mentioned the "Israel/Palestine thing", but just that, unless you are a regular on Travel I don't see how you could possibly suggest (imply?) that he (or anyone else) finds facts offensive. Unless Mark gives us examples of the content flagged as offensive, let's not play the guessing game. That said, it's just a down vote, not looking for a debate, or worse an argument, mate. –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 21:56
    
I still find the most relevant thing is simply; if you can't identify why something could possibly be offensive, it probably isn't. –  Ben Brocka Aug 13 '12 at 22:04
    
No argument there. –  Yannis Aug 13 '12 at 22:05
    
Well to elaborate then, there was a comment about how to visit Saudi Arabia is difficult as you'd need to cut off part of your penis to convert to Islam. I know very little about Islam, and I've seen several clueless digs at religion along these lines. Anyway, it was flagged as offensive. Turns out historically it's probably accurate, although many places don't require circumcision these days. But without the knowledge, at first it does just look like a dig, so when it was flagged, I assumed the flagger knew what he was talking about. –  Mark Mayo Aug 13 '12 at 22:22
    
In hindsight, I do wish there was a way to see who the flagger was (it was weeks ago), I'd love to get their side of the story. But for now the writer who got censored is now calling me rude for not telling him his comment was deleted. –  Mark Mayo Aug 13 '12 at 22:23
    
Two things - we need a way to look back and see who flagged something, and also the system should notify someone when their comment is deleted :) –  Mark Mayo Aug 13 '12 at 22:24
    
@MarkMayo yeah, spam/offensive and all comment flags never show the flagger. It's a bit annoying. –  Ben Brocka Aug 13 '12 at 22:41
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