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When flagging, there are two special case options: spam and offensive.

  • What is spam, and when should I flag content as such?
  • What is considered offensive content?
  • How does the spam flag differ from the offensive flag?
  • What is the effect of these special flags?
  • Is there any way to remove these flags after being cast?

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share|improve this question
Looking at the answer. I see that the first revision owner loses the rep? What happens if a bunch of people vote spam on an edit? If it's one or two votes, the OP or editor can rollback and remove the flag, but if it's 6, the original revision owner (the OP) loses rep? What if the Spam is a malicious edit. Shouldn't the flagged revision owner lose rep instead? – Lee Louviere Aug 23 '12 at 21:45
I meant to focus that comment more on malicious editors could cause misdirected rep damage since the first revision owner gets the damage. – Lee Louviere Aug 23 '12 at 21:59
@Xaade: The scenario that you are describing is exceptionally rare, and if it does happen, moderators can reverse it. – Robert Harvey Aug 24 '12 at 15:07
@RobertHarvey Ok, but for reference I posted an answer with my findings. Hopefully if anyone else has the question in their head, it'll clear it up. It's basically the consensus from other questions. – Lee Louviere Aug 24 '12 at 15:21
I couldn't see the flag - at bottom of post - for marking an answer as (real) spam. I realised I needed to be logged-in to the site (i.e. in this case refresh my browser). – PeterX Apr 1 '15 at 2:03
up vote 178 down vote accepted

What makes something spam and when should I flag it?

A post should be marked as spam ONLY when it contains an unsolicited advertisement.

It should NOT be marked as spam when:

  • The answer contains no useful information, such as an answer that says "I don't care about your problem". Flag an answer as 'not an answer' instead; if you find a weird non-question, then flag it 'for moderator attention' with a custom explanation.

  • It contains only gibberish, such as "fsdguejgkfdlk". Use the 'offensive' flag for these cases, or flag 'for moderator attention' with a custom explanation if it requires more detail.


What makes something offensive and when should I flag it?

Even if a post is a bad post for some reason or another, it is probably not offensive. The Offensive flag is meant to be used only in extreme cases, like hate speech, abuse against people, or abuse of the system.

For example, if a user posts obscene images to the site, that should be flagged as offensive. But if someone says something bad about your favorite technology, that probably doesn't apply.

As a rule of thumb, if you can't justify something as being hate speech, or abuse, you shouldn't mark the post as offensive. Instead, you should downvote the post.

Abuse of the system also includes posts that contain no useful content at all - i.e. gibberish posts along the lines of:

asyuv;laergap897wertp[98 gb;vp98a34

Cats are not allowed to walk across keyboards as part of Stack Exchange posts; this is abuse and should be flagged as such. (Source)

If an otherwise valid post contains vulgar words as an expression of frustration, edit the bad part out instead of flagging the entire post as offensive.

How does the Spam flag differ from the Offensive flag?

In terms of getting the post deleted, there is no functional difference aside from separate counts - 3/6 of either will be sufficient to delete. Spam flags provide data for spam-filtering, and offensive flags similarly provide data for anti-trolling measures.

What effects do these flags have on a post?

These types of flags receive an extremely high priority in the moderation queue. It should be used only when the content of the post you are flagging meets the criteria defined above, or it will likely be declined.

The spam flag is designed to eliminate posts with no relevant content and to penalize the authors:

  • 3 flags on a question (spam or offensive): question is banished from the front page and all question lists except search results.
  • 6 flags (spam or offensive): post is locked, deleted, and the first revision owner loses 100 reputation.
  • 1 flag from a moderator has the same effect as 6 flags from normal users: instant destruction.
  • Contents of an answer that was deleted, and got at least one valid spam or offensive flag, will be hidden.
  • Because a question with 6 flags is locked and deleted by the Community user, a 10k reputation user cannot undelete it.
  • Each flag carries an implicit downvote for calculating the post's score (it does not affect the caster's reputation).

Is there any way to remove these flags?

There is often no need, as spam and offensive flags expire after 48 hours if the thresholds aren't reached.

Rolling back a post to a previous state will revert to the number of flags from that particular revision. This allows the OP (or someone else with edit rights) to rollback a post to which someone else introduced spam or offensive content in a later revision. However, as a general user, once you mark a post as spam or offensive, you cannot take it back.

share|improve this answer
"it does not affect the user's reputation" I don't think this is the case any more, but I'm not 100% sure. From memory the implicit downvote acts just like an ordinary downvote. – Qantas 94 Heavy Jun 5 '14 at 9:17
@Qantas94Heavy It means the flag caster's reputation: normally casting a downvote to an answer is a -1 to your own reputation. – Joe Jul 9 '14 at 18:19
@animuson Doesn't "It contains only gibberish, such as "fsdguejgkfdlk". Use the 'offensive' flag for these cases, or flag 'for moderator attention' with a custom explanation if it requires more detail." contradict "As a rule of thumb, if you can't justify something as being hate speech, or abuse, you shouldn't mark the post as offensive. Instead, you should down-vote the post."? That doesn't seem like abuse, at least not abuse in the meaning normally associated with "offensive". (Before your edit, this answer said to flag gibberish as NAA.) – hvd Feb 25 '15 at 15:06
@hvd We've established in past discussions that abuse of the system qualifies under the offensive flag. Posting gibberish that doesn't mean anything is definitely abusing the system. – animuson Feb 25 '15 at 15:07
@animuson That seems fair enough, but then the part of this answer that covers "Offensive" could use some cleaning up as well. I'll see if I can think of clearer wording (no promises) to edit, or if you can think of some, please do edit. – hvd Feb 25 '15 at 15:08
@hvd Here's the post I was referring to. It's since been edited to also include the VLQ flag (though the NAA flag will also do the same thing now). There's no harm in letting it run through the review queues instead, but nuking it as offensive will throw them into the system filters and blocks to prevent them posting more junk in the future. – animuson Feb 25 '15 at 15:14
@animuson Thanks. I've edited to hopefully make it clear that "offensive" is supposed to cover both meanings of "abuse". – hvd Feb 25 '15 at 15:17
Be careful on "gibberish posts" Shog9 instructions is that on user with reasonable posts elsewhere "flag will be declined because it'd mess them up for what was probably an innocent mistake." – Petter Friberg Apr 8 at 22:23

For reference:

What about malicious edits?


At first this appears to be potentially a bad mechanic. An offensive edit would cause the OP to get punished with automatic rep loss. If the community isn't paying attention they could flag spam and cause unwarranted damage to the first revision owner.

There are ways to counter this. Before it reaches 6 flags, an editor could revert the edit and the flags would be revoked. However, if the 6 flags occur fast, or a mod flags, there's no chance to intervene.


The reasoning is in how edits can occur.

  • If an edit is by the first revision owner, the content is their responsibility.
  • If an edit is by a low rep member, the edit must be approved.
  • If an edit is by a high rep member, they have some trust with the community and likely shouldn't behave in this way.

Any outliers to the above can be corrected and revoked by moderation.

Why not assign flags to the current revision owner?

Going with the above understanding, an editor is trusted. Likely they are trying to improve the post. So if they fail to completely improve the post and leave behind overlooked offensive material, they would incur the penalty in the suggested alternative system.

Possible real scenarios

It is still likely for offensive material to get placed in an edit.

Considering the poor performance of reviewers quickly approving edits. It is possible that a malicious edit carefully hidden from first glance can be unintentionally approved. Resulting in the above problem.


  • Be careful when you assign flags. If you see an edit, check the revision history and rollback if the previous revision is not offensive.
  • Be careful when you approve edits. Ensure there's no offensive material, new or not. If there is, take the opportunity to improve the edit and remove the offensive material entirely.
  • Be careful when you edit. Ensure that you've removed the offensive material.

If these suggestions are followed, we can avoid misdirected punishment and save correction efforts by moderation.

share|improve this answer
@bmike Shog's advice is tells us specifically to flag gibberish as offensive since some are "testing waters", so it helps. Anyways, someone posting gibberish isn't going to do anything good either way. – Braiam Feb 2 at 6:32

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protected by Won't Jun 13 '11 at 16:28

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