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Currently, users can get stuck in a permanent flag hellban from which there is no recovery.

I've asked around before and it doesn't look like recovery is possible. To recover, you'd need to gain flag weight, and to gain flag weight you need someone to handle your flags. Since your flags now go into the void, you can't get any of them marked helpful via any means. – Anna Lear♦ 14 mins ago

Users can enter this hellban even if they have many more helpful flags than declined flags. Subsequently, their future flags are never reviewed, despite the likelihood of being helpful.

I suggest allowing users to recover from this ban in the following way:

  • User must have more helpful flags than declined flags (perhaps somewhere in the 1.5:1 to 3:1 range?)
  • Hellban flags are tracked silently. If another user flags the same post (and that flag is marked helpful), or if the post is deleted, the flag counts as "helpful" (not actually marked helpful until the user is unbanned).
  • Once the user reaches a certain threshold (perhaps related to measurments that trip the hellban) of "helpful" flags, and at least 2/3 of their hellbanned flags are "helpful", the ban ends.

This allows good users who get hellbanned because of a bad streak to come back from it.

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I'd assumed we would see them if they ended up being part of a larger group of flags. –  Flexo Mar 27 '13 at 21:35
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I thought the same as @Flexo, which would mean that there is a way for someone to escape flag hellban. If that's not the case, let's just reset flag weight (for flag banned users) after <arbitrary amount of time>, why complicate things? –  Yannis Mar 27 '13 at 21:36
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Interesting...I thought I had read somewhere that Stack Overflow didn't actually implement the hellban. Under what circumstances do hellbans occur? –  Jack Maney Mar 27 '13 at 21:39
    
@Yannis That's a pretty good idea. A lot simpler, too. Only downside is anyone who consistently raises bad flags will start popping up in the flag queue with junk again every once in a while. It'd be nice if we could only allow good users to escape. –  Jim Mar 27 '13 at 21:49
    
@JackManey Anna Lear spelled it out pretty clearly here –  Some Helpful Commenter Mar 27 '13 at 21:52
    
Am I the only one who is ok with hellbans being eternal? –  Some Helpful Commenter Mar 27 '13 at 21:56
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@Jack This is only a flag hellban, which means the user's flags are ignored. Stack Exchange does not implement a full hellban, which is when a user thinks they can participate normally, but no one sees there posts so they never get a reply. –  ughoavgfhw Mar 27 '13 at 22:08
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From what I remember, helpful and unhelpful flags both affect flag weight by 10, except when your flag weight is over 500, and flags are ignored when your flag weight hits 0. Therefore, the only way to have more helpful flags than unhelpful flags and still have your flags ignored is to have previously had a flag weight above 500, which means you had a streak of 50+ unhelpful flags more than helpful. I don't think there is enough chance of it happening to worry about it, and if a user has a bad streak that long, do we really want to let them recover? –  ughoavgfhw Mar 27 '13 at 22:13
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Could we see some data about how many users are actually affected by this? I'm guessing a very small number and an even smaller one with previous good flagging history –  Rory Mar 27 '13 at 23:03
    
@ughoavgfhw It doesn't take a streak that long. This question was prompted because I discovered a hellbanned user who didn't have terribly many declined flags, and had approx 3x helpful. –  Jim Mar 28 '13 at 12:08
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@ughoavgfhw We can certainly do better at warning folks that they're on a bad path. I'm okay with providing a path to recovery as well, since unlike other contributions that have multiple ways to get feedback (like posting low-quality questions and getting downvotes, for example), flags are very much a "fire and forget" kind of thing and people generally do flag with good intentions, even if they are ultimately wrong. Intentional flag abuse (as in, trying to spam the flag queue with bogus flags) is rare to nonexistent. –  Anna Lear Apr 5 '13 at 21:20
    
@AnnaLear not entirely non-existent. We've had some users who knowingly and intentionally abused the flag system (one of them "didn't like close votes", despite having 10k). The flag hellban is quite nice in those situations. –  nhinkle May 4 '13 at 21:54
    
@nhinkle Fair point. There are other ways to handle that (such as suspensions), so I'm not too worried about it. Or we could potentially implement a system similar to review bans. –  Anna Lear May 5 '13 at 1:59
    
@AnnaLear I think a full-on suspension for a user who's otherwise fine but has serious flag quality issues is overkill, but if there were a manual ban (like with review bans) that would certainly cover these cases. –  nhinkle May 5 '13 at 2:53

3 Answers 3

up vote 70 down vote accepted
+100

Update: Kevin Montrose makes it happen

The hell-ban is no more! Long live the verbose, obnoxiously evident ban!

Kevin has implemented (more or less) the system described below. Flaggers with a recent (past 7 days) flagging history consisting of at least 10 flags where >= 10% of flags were declined will see the following when they flag:

Attention: some of your recent flags have been declined - please review them before flagging this post!

Those who've had 25% or more of their flags declined will see:

Too many of your recent flags have been declined - please review them instead of flagging this post!

...and will be unable to flag any further posts for any reason.

Folks who've flagged fewer than 10 posts in the past week whose most recently-processed flag was declined will see:

Your last flag was declined - please review it before flagging this post!

Flags considered for the purpose of these warnings / bans are currently limited to post flags which often require explicit moderator intervention: Other, Spam, Offensive, Very Low Quality, Invalid Flag, Close and Not an Answer. I'm not 100% on the value of including close flags in this: we spot-tested these criteria with and without them at various times, and the downside to including them is that they can end up making some folks' flagging histories look better than they appear to the moderators. However, these are listed on the flag summary page that's linked to from the warnings, so for now we'll include them and see how it plays out in practice.

Hopefully, this will help less prolific flaggers learn to use the system correctly without repeatedly wasting their time and that of the site moderators.

We'll be keeping an eye on this and adjusting these thresholds as-needed. Please report any problems you encounter here on meta, using the tag .


We're in the middle of a major re-write of the entire flagging system. As part of this, we're re-thinking how flag weight (and thus "hell bans") work. Anna & I have been discussing this for a while - here's what we're looking at doing instead:

  • Only look at folks who cast at least 10 flags a week. There isn't much point in doing much to knock the priority of flags from people who rarely flag anything.

  • If at least 10% of your flags from the past 7 days were declined, you'll get a little warning next time you go to flag something... Along with a link to your flag history so you can see exactly where the problems arose.

    flag warning

  • If at least 25% of your flags from the past 7 days were declined, you're blocked from flagging anything. Depending on when and how those declined flags were cast, this block could last for as little as a day, and won't ever be longer than a week.

    flag block

  • For users with less than 10 flags in the past week, look only at the status of the last flag - if it was declined, then warn as above (but with the message "Your last flag was declined..."). This handles the case where new users are confused as to what "flag" is supposed to be used for.

Over time, the flag system has evolved from a rather opaque "I saw a problem, please do something" system into a way for everyone to work hand-in-hand with the elected moderators. For this to be effective, it must include feedback on how well you're flagging - closing that feedback loop should help our more prolific flaggers to become better at flagging, and reduce noise for the moderator teams.

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"This must necessarily include feedback on how you're - " I think you accidentally a word. Also, is the "10 flags a week" a rolling average, cumulative average, per-week number..? –  Hydronium Apr 5 '13 at 20:29
    
Thanks @Hydronium - and yes, it'd be a sliding window. –  Shog9 Apr 5 '13 at 20:38
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This all is great, but please, for the love of the flying spaghetti monster, give us a way to dismiss flags on the same posts with different validities. 25% of your flags from the past 7 days seems like it could be affected by bulk approvals / rejections and may lead to unjustified bans. –  Yannis Apr 5 '13 at 20:39
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One other important aspect of this would be to enable mods to selectively act on specific flags on a post. If the flag feedback gets more prominent, the cases where users receive the flag feedback meant for another user will get more noticeable and more confusing. –  Mad Scientist Apr 5 '13 at 20:39
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FWIW: there's only 1 person on Stack Overflow who meets the "ban" criteria right now, and 19 who would be warned (more would've been banned a few days ago though). There are 13 people with 0 flag weight... None with over 100 flags total, all of who took months or even years to hit the flag-ban. –  Shog9 Apr 5 '13 at 20:44
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@Yannis That should be addressed by the rewrite as well, last I heard. –  Anna Lear Apr 5 '13 at 20:44
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@gnat: keep in mind, moderators don't necessarily have this information in front of them. It's pretty easy to see when someone flags 30 short answers with "should be comment" back-to-back, but a bit harder when they're trickling in at a constant rate. Right now, the latter is actually more likely to get folks flag-banned if mods are being too generous with "decline" - this would change that. –  Shog9 Apr 5 '13 at 21:57
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@Shog9 is this 6-8 weeks away, or is there a more concrete target date? –  Jim Apr 9 '13 at 12:45
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Er, unless there's some major "you done goofed" feedback involved, it seems like this system would mean that A) we can constantly be pestered by crap flags 9 (but not 10) times a week with no reprisal B) even the most blatant, deliberate flag abusers can pester us every other week at least 10 times. Is there any protection here from people that aren't spamming dozens of crap flags all at the same time? Because that's totally not how crap flags have worked in my experience. –  Ben Brocka Apr 9 '13 at 13:03
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@BenBrocka "even the most blatant, deliberate flag abusers can pester us every other week at least 10 times" No they can't, we have a suspend button for that. And yes, I realize that suspending someone for incorrect flags sounds harsh, but so does "blatant, deliberate flag abusers". If they are, suspend and forget. –  Yannis Apr 9 '13 at 13:11
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@Ben: the scenarios you're describing (consistent but very low-volume bad flags) are very unusual... And not particularly disruptive. Yes, it allows for a theoretical worst-case scenario involving very short, high-volume bursts of bad-faith flagging... But as Bolt notes, those occurrences are already trivial to detect and deal with. (FWIW: most declined flags by a single person for all time on SO: 292 out of 477; on UX: 15 out of 104) –  Shog9 Apr 9 '13 at 15:52
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@Shog9 - little advice. If you go for absolute numbers in your formulas (-> the "10 flags/week" in the first example) try to scale them to the specific site traffic. 10 flags may seem nothing on a site but may be too much for others. –  SPArchaeologist Apr 15 '13 at 8:48
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@Arjan: perhaps I need to reword that. The intent is to not bother trying to flag-ban (or rate-limit) people who are already flagging so infrequently that it doesn't matter - the old system was notorious for banning folks who flagged a few times a year. –  Shog9 Jul 12 '13 at 0:45
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Since your last comment, have you seen more users with at least 3 declined flags in a row? I see a lot of them. I don't want to have to look at the same person knowing they are going to flag "urgent plz help", up to 10 times, before they get banned. I might as well suspend their account entirely at 3 declined flags since they probably won't really learn how to use the site. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Feb 27 at 4:46
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OK, I reread your answer - so it looks like the new system will account for those scenarios by first warning the user. And you'll (well, we will too) monitor this and see how users respond to the warnings. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Feb 28 at 1:58

An alternate method of recovery:

I've notice that these flags appear in the queue if other users have flagged the same post. However, marking these flags as helpful doesn't increase the user's helpful flag count, and shows no change to the flag in their flagging history.

If any other (non-hell-banned) user flags the same post, the hell-banned flag should come out of the void and act as a normal flag. Once the user no longer meets the criteria for the ban, it is lifted.

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Although I would prefer a more systematic, automated approach, it is worth noting that it is technically possible to raise hellban by manually "resetting" user flagging history.

One case when it has been done at Super User is described here. In brief, there was sort of a strong community consensus that particular series of flag declines deserves an exceptional treatment. Following this consensus, user contacted SE team and developers removed some of their flags from database.

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

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Probably worth emphasizing that this was appropriate because the flags were seen as reasonable and not deserving of being declined. Clearing a user's flag history after they've raised a bunch of bad/abusive flags and then later repented is considerably less likely. –  Shog9 Sep 3 '13 at 15:26
    
@Shog9 agree, screen shot shows in particular that decision has been made upon quite a thorough meta discussion - I think this is as far from anything automated as it gets –  gnat Sep 3 '13 at 15:35

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