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Being active on Stack Overflow and Meta - I don't have even 100 helpful flags on both sites (many of them came from flags before I could vote to close). Then I see people in a moderator election having thousands helpful flags.

How do they do it? I like to participate in useful flagging but I don't even know where all that posts come from that I should flag.

  • How do you do it?
  • What are you flagging? What flag reasons do you see mostly?
  • How do you look for posts that need flagging?
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Having thousands of helpful flags is... unusual. –  Pops Mar 15 '13 at 19:05
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Why is that unusual? There are hundreds of bad answers and questions every day, all ripe for flagging. –  LittleBobbyTables Mar 15 '13 at 19:07
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I'm just saying that, in practice, most people don't have helpful flag counts over 2000. Certainly there are lots of flaggable posts out there waiting to be found if you have the time and will to hunt for them. –  Pops Mar 15 '13 at 19:11
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I feel like the two answers are just telling you how to "raise your flag count" (useless thing), not how/when to actually flag the stuff you see on a daily basis properly. Which were you interested in? –  Wesley Murch Mar 15 '13 at 19:28
    
@mog: I'd like to find flag-worthy posts and not just increase my flag count. –  juergen d Mar 15 '13 at 19:31
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@LittleBobbyTables Hundreds of bad posts that only the mods need to take care of or hundreds of bad posts that the community can edit/comment/downvote? –  MPD Mar 15 '13 at 19:33
    
@MPD - all of the above? Answers are usually the problem, since you can't close them by themselves, and are harder to delete. They crop up all the time in the Late Answer and First Post queues, and are usually the "Thanks", "I'm having this problem too", "Post your code" or spam links, that don't show up in the Low Quality queue for whatever reason. –  LittleBobbyTables Mar 15 '13 at 20:00
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Funny story: before I reached 10k and discovered that I could re-flag stuff in the 10k queue, I had fewer than 10 helpful flags. After that I was well past Deputy (80) but nowhere near Marshal (500). I never got Marshal before becoming a moderator (by which time my reputation had increased by a factor of 8), and I never will. And now that I'm a mod? If I'm productive my flag handling amounts to well over a hundred... in a single day. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Mar 15 '13 at 20:05
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The average user only flags posts he/she comes during the normal course of using the site. But some users actively go out of their way to hunt down bad posts and clean them up, and that process often includes a flag for situations that a regular user can't handle on their own. Since the primary job of SO moderators is janitorial work, it makes sense that moderator candidates are often ones who have worked at janitorial cleanup in the past as a regular user, hence their large number of flags. In short, nothing is wrong with you. You're just a user of the site, not a self-proclaimed janitor. –  Rachel Mar 15 '13 at 20:15
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I gotta confess: in four and a half years on SO, I've flagged under 200 posts for moderator attention, and slightly less than that as spam or offensive. I did lots of other stuff - but flagging felt like pushing work on someone else rather than trying to figure out how to handle it myself. Flagging culture has changed a lot in the past couple of years, and the site has benefited from it - but I can't really blame anyone for not flagging if they're doing other stuff. –  Shog9 Mar 15 '13 at 20:31
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10k tool will help you to reach 50flad a day ... I have done this for some time after reaching 10k –  NullPoiиteя Mar 16 '13 at 4:54
    
I think Andrew Barber can answer this question perfectly. :) –  hims056 Mar 19 '13 at 10:19
    
A lot of my flags are for very short answers that would best be shown as a comment. I flag and ask a moderator to convert, which they nearly always will do. –  halfer Mar 25 '13 at 21:01

4 Answers 4

up vote 25 down vote accepted

First, let me say there is nothing wrong with not flagging. It takes time to go through and flag. When I first started flagging I would only flag stuff that I ran across everyday. Then I made an effort to go for the Marshal badge which took time because you have to actively search for the bad posts.

At this point, I had about 1700 helpful flags. I was shocked to see the flag count of some of the people in the Stack Overflow election because I thought I had a good flag count - the other counts put mine to shame.

How Do I Do It? / How do I look for posts that need flagging?

I use several different methods and Tools to find posts that need to be flagged.

  1. If you do not have access to the moderator tools (10k+), then the Review Queues are helpful. Both the First Posts and Late Answers queues will have candidates for flagging. I don't think these queues are as easy to work in as the old review system but that is mainly due to the lack of items in the queues and the review limits.

  2. Using the Moderator Tools;:

    • New Answers to Old Questions. This is basically the late answer queue without the review limit. The link to this is hidden on the Stats tab, all the way at the bottom of the page in the list of links. This contains 25 pages of answers added to Questions More than 30 Days Old and there is always a plethora of horrible posts to edit or flag.

    • The Flag Queues this interface is not as easy to use to work through posts but you can find items to flag.

  3. Check the StackOverflow home page. If you see a question with a high view count and a user with low rep, that is an indicator that the question has been bumped by an edit or an answer. So I will go check it out.

  4. Use the Data StackExchange to write or browse queries searching for bad posts..

  5. Pick a tag and go through old posts.

  6. Perform an easy search like "Check This Out" and you will probably find some beauties.

So that covers what I use to find the items to flag, now to cover what I choose to flag.

What are you flagging? What flag reasons do you see mostly?

Easy ones to flag:

  • Thank you answers
  • Posting new questions as answers
  • Spam or self-promotion type of answers
  • Link only with dead links

Some posts land in a gray area and these would be - Link Only answers with working links. Typically when it is link only, I take a two step process.

  1. If it is a new answer, I will place a comment asking the user to post some details from the link. If they do not edit the post after a few days, I will flag it.

  2. Old answers that are link only and the user is not active, I will flag for the mods.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of answers added daily that are junk and they can get lost if we don't flag them.

While there are tools that are available to find items to flag, it still takes considerable time. I currently have 70 mod flags I can use everyday and it takes a lot of searching to find 70 items to flag.

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Searching for "having the same", "please help", and "please post" with is:answer are usually winners as well. –  LittleBobbyTables Mar 15 '13 at 19:25
    
@LittleBobbyTables There are too many to list. –  bluefeet Mar 15 '13 at 19:25
    
you're not kidding –  LittleBobbyTables Mar 15 '13 at 19:26
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Those "check this out" results are unbearable. –  Wesley Murch Mar 15 '13 at 19:38
    
@mog Yup, 2.5k answers that need to be reviewed to see if they are flag worthy. –  bluefeet Mar 15 '13 at 19:39
    
@mog a little piece of me just died. –  Some Helpful Commenter Mar 15 '13 at 19:53
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Those "check this out" results are horrifying, but it's only about half as bad as it looks. The beautiful thing about that search is that all of the blatant link-only answers are ranked very high due to relevance weighting ("check this out" is a much higher percentage of the total length of very short posts), so they're all bunched up in the first few pages. They start to thin out after that. –  Bill the Lizard Mar 15 '13 at 20:54

Flags are easy to "farm" from the 10k flag queue.

You basically go down the list and re-flag all the "not an answer" flags that look legitimate.


Is it cheap? Yes. You can easily rack up 50+ flags a day doing this.
Keep that up for a few weeks and you'll have a thousand flags...

IMO, it's a bit of a weakness in the flag system, because it gives a huge advantage to 10k users. Furthermore, there really isn't much of a point to re-flagging something that already has 5 "not an answer" flags.

There are more legitimate ways to get flags. But re-flagging all the NAA flags is by far the easiest - too easy... and IMO, probably worth a change of policy of some sort.


That said, if somebody has the time to repeatedly go through the flag queue and (properly) re-flag everything, you might as well vote them moderator so they can actually clear those flags...

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+1 Never thought of that. Having enough reputation to vote to close, I hardly needed to flag anything any more. So I'm stuck at 1.5k helpful flags for a while now. But not at 10k on SO just yet, so I was wondering what some were still flagging... –  Bart Mar 15 '13 at 19:10
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Note that if you want to be helpful and not just farm flags you can go through the queue an mark all of the flags you disagree with as inappropriate. It's much more useful to remove a flag from the queue so a mod doesn't need to see it, than to have an extra +1 next to a flag, from a mod's perspective. –  Servy Mar 15 '13 at 19:11
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@Servy And those aside, the most important flag is the first flag. –  Mysticial Mar 15 '13 at 19:12
    
I wouldn't really use words "huge advantage" or "weakness". It doesn't make any difference if your flag count is 10 or 10,000. Or more accurately, if person A has flag count 10 and person B has flag count 10,000, it gives person B absolutely no edge compared to person A. (Unless perhaps if they're running for mods.) –  Juhana Mar 15 '13 at 20:05
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@Juhana True, but if that number is supposed to be representative of how helpful the user is in terms of flagging, then the imbalance in "flagging difficultly" will undermine it. (Out of disclosure, I currently have 900 flags, the vast majority of them are NAA re-flags. And because of that, I do not consider myself a significant contributor flag-wise.) But you are right. The number should not matter much anyway outside of a mod-election. –  Mysticial Mar 15 '13 at 20:14
    
I feel like this is a weakness in the system and should never have been allowed. When voting for moderators, I actually take their helpful flag count into consideration, and this method skews the results -- not all flags are equally valuable, and this is the least valuable kind of flag. So given two people with equivalent flag counts, the one that used this method more often has actually been less helpful, but there's no way to see that from the flag count. Oh well, too late to change this now. Anyway, while I take flag count into consideration for mods, it's rarely that important a factor. –  Ben Lee Mar 21 '13 at 22:18
    
(If you have 20k, you can vote to delete, too, and sometimes clear the non-answers before moderators have to. Sure, it doesn’t take much evaluation, but why not do it?) –  minitech Jun 24 '13 at 17:19
    
@minitechη I usually do if it's already downvoted. But I'd rather not mess up my voting stats just to downvote it so I can cast a delete vote. I'm also a bit more hesitant to close/delete vote things from higher rep users who can retaliate. –  Mysticial Jun 24 '13 at 17:26

Disclosure: Currently, I have 3288 helpful flags (for someone who is here for 10 months). 3132 helpful flags are from normal flags to post (that means excluding spam/offensive flags and comment flags), 115 helpful spam flags, 11 helpful offensive flags. From page 39 - 70 are flags made before Dec 2012 (around the time I got 10k), which means roughly 1500 posts are flagged, and around that number are helpful (my number of declined flag is roughly 1% of all the flags).

(I italicized helpful, to differentiate it from the total number of flags raised)

So where does this large number of flags come from in the period that I don't have any access to moderator tools?

  • A large portion comes from monitoring the Late Answer queue of the old review system. The old style gives a list like the current 10k-tool for handling flagging, which allows me to go through a day's post very efficiently and flag a bunch of not an answer (link answers included).

    I stopped doing this when the old review queue was removed (note that new review queue existed alongside the old review queue for some time). The new review queue really slows down the process of finding post to flag. Due to that, I made significantly fewer flags in Oct 2012, and 0 flags in Nov 2012.

  • Another portion came from actively searching for posts that have symptoms of not an answer. Of course, I looked through the post before flagging (otherwise, the flag is likely to be rejected). I searched for keywords in answer such as "thanks", "thank you", "same problem", "same issue", "any solution", "doesn't work", etc. and checked through the posts to flag them.

After access to moderator tool:

  • Re-flagging stuffs in 10k tool, although I didn't know until recently that it was pointless to put too many flags on a post.

  • More recently, I found out about the New Answers To Old Questions. (I read the privilege wiki, but there was no link in there, and the link to the list is hidden in stats tab, at the bottom of the page). I was overjoyed when I discover the list.

    This is a more or less equivalent version to the Late Answer queue in old review system, but it only shows 25 pages, while a day's number of new answers is much more than that number. One good thing about it is that it shows the post with MarkDown rendered - which allows me to flag problematic post, and also edit posts with bad formatting/indentation.

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"although I didn't know until recently that it was pointless to put too many flags on a post" Where do you see that? I see just the opposite. Robert Harvey: Pile on those flags!. –  ThinkingStiff Mar 15 '13 at 20:47
    
@ThinkingStiff: I read it somewhere, wrong link, I guess? –  nhahtdh Mar 15 '13 at 21:03

To answer the question in your title, there's absolutely nothing wrong with having a low helpful flag count (except if that's due to a bunch of rejected flags). If you're happy to ask and answer questions and cast the occasional close vote, that's great. Most of our best contributors do just that, and they are what make the sites work.

Helpful flags are a handy metric during moderator elections because we're electing people primarily to handle flags. If someone has shown that they understand what is and is not proper to flag, and has taken the time to do so, odds are they'll help to process the thousands of flags we get every day. That's not the entire story, of course, because we had some extremely well qualified candidates in this last election with lower helpful flag counts. People tend to fixate on raw numbers, though, which is why earlier elections were mainly based on who had the highest reputation score.

If you want to help out by flagging content that needs it, there are a few places to look. The easiest flags for us to process are the non-answers. Many people will leave behind "me too" comments or follow-on questions in answers, as well as some complete gibberish and spam. This older Meta question has some queries within it you can run to find answers that really aren't, and I still use variants of some of those to clean out problematic content. Additionally, this Meta question describes a few Data Explorer queries for finding potential spam. The Late Answers and First Post review queues are also places where a lot of spam and non-answers will pop up.

As a warning, don't just flag everything returned by one of these search queries or review queues, because that doesn't help anybody. "Not an answer" flags should be for things that can be seen as being non-answers without having to read anything else in the question. If something requires a little explanation, don't hesitate to use an "other" flag to describe what's wrong ("This is intended as a comment on Bob's answer.", for example).

I personally appreciate detailed "other" flags describing large-scale problems that we might need to act on. This could be plagiarism, obvious voting fraud, extremely rude and abusive behavior, or other exceptions that need handling.

Finally, please don't try to game the system by hitching a ride on flags in the 10k flag queue. Only add your flag to something there if you legitimately want to increase its visibility to us. We can see when people do this, just like we can see when people flag everything in the Low Quality Posts review queue as low quality. Flag because you genuinely want to help prune bad content and deal with odd issues, not to boost some arbitrary number.

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NAA flags are easy to detect, and one can "legitimately" increase the flag count just by reflagging NAA posts. On the other hand, I can guess from the high number of close question flags than very few people really wants to handle close question flags, since it takes significantly more time to review them. –  nhahtdh Mar 15 '13 at 21:13

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