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Let me use a metaphor to describe why non-local flagging is wrong: your favourite bar. You like your favourite bar because it is a bar that plays your favourite type of music (e.g., Jingle Cats).

Everyone in this bar is here because of the music. It is everyone's favourite music. Suffice it to say that these people like the sound of cats meowing to Christmas tunes too much.

And on your left is a guy named Reginald who just happened to come into the bar. He complains loud enough for you to hear that he hates this music and wants it changed. You are deeply offended by this man, so you flag his comment (e.g., call the cops).

Reginald's comment wasn't heard by a lot of people, so you didn't get the right number of Jingle-Cats lovers to grab him and toss him out of the bar.

Next the cops show up and you explain the situation. They don't understand how deeply you love Jingle Cats and how much Reginald has offended you and so they ignore you and go on to rescue a puppy from an alligator (rightfully — you're kinda crazy).

In this case Reginald, offensive as he is, was left alone by the authorities because his offense is local to the traditions of the bar patrons. Any regular of the bar would want Reginald thrown out, but no authority will understand their reasoning. Reginald remains at large.

Now, this is exactly the problem with flagging in chat. By design it requires non-local users (moderators, 10k users) who happen to be online and aren't likely to be regulars of your chat room and won't know what is and is not terribly offensive to the culture of its members. This kind of authority-requiring flagging works for actual offenses (like if Reginald had stabbed somebody) but doesn't help in removing bad apples who are offending those who define the room.

Going from there, the problem with overflagging in chat is solved by giving users the ability to deal with problem users locally without having to go directly to a non-local authority. I'm not going to suggest a particular method for introducing this ability. I just want to be clear that you're trying to solve the wrong problem. Jingle Cats forever!

share|improve this question
Huh, what? E.g. is for examples (e.g., "e.g., call the cops"). I.e. for for re-explanations of things already stated. Which verb is missing and where? Why can't you just edit it? – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 12:32
-1. I hate puppies. – user27414 Oct 28 '10 at 12:34
Pekka, I think it could be either in this situation. Feel free to edit it. – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 12:35
Also, this question shows my ignorance of how chat flagging works. I thought this was already solved locally, in that x flags trigger automatic deletion? Edit: Ah, I see now that this is not the case in chat. So for every flag, there is a moderator who has to delete the offending content? Goodness, that sounds awful. +1 – Pëkka Oct 28 '10 at 12:37
@Pekka: Uhm, what? x flags do very well trigger automatic deletion – balpha Oct 28 '10 at 12:41
@balpha ah, okay. But what is the point of this post then? Isn't the suggested "local" solution already in place? I'm confused – Pëkka Oct 28 '10 at 12:42
@Pekka you're not alone :) – balpha Oct 28 '10 at 12:48
Hey now! What do you have against reptilian predators? Hm? Alligators need to eat, too, 'ya know? – dmckee Oct 28 '10 at 15:34
@balpha Basically this post reads, "please give room owners message editing or removing rights, and/or user kicking and/or banning rights." – badp Oct 28 '10 at 18:50

You're forgetting that the bar is part of a mall, and the mall owners themselves have certain rules that they require the inhabitants to follow.

Besides that, the fundamental flaw in your reasoning is this: If there are enough regulars that are offended, there is no requirement for non-local users. Because all of these regulars can also flag the offender, and with enough flags, the offender (rather, the offensive message) is gone.

And how "giving users the ability to deal with problem users locally" would be solving the problem with overflagging is beyond me.

share|improve this answer
This analogy really has unlimited potential. I wonder who the mall cop is.... It must be a pretty big mall to have an alligator, though – Pëkka Oct 28 '10 at 12:52
@Pekka: Yeah, it's huge. And the alligator is kind of the watch dog, necessary because sometimes the evil people from the little hyphen-mall across the street come over to cause trouble – balpha Oct 28 '10 at 12:55
There obviously aren't enough regulars or you wouldn't have come up with your thread about overflagging. The problem you see with flagging is that you don't understand why people flag things that seem fine to you, so you want to implement something that allows people to get rid of them. I'm saying that is wrong, because the people who flag those things are doing so for a reason that is probably legitimate for those in the channel. Also the mall analogy is the same, because the cops also have rules they expect the bar patrons to follow; the culture of the bar has furthuer rules. – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 13:09
@Sid - since when were you so obsessed with rules? – user27414 Oct 28 '10 at 13:13
Seriously, though, if we had an unflag option where it took multiple unflags to remove one flag, we could solve the problem of flag abuse while still respecting the mores of each room. – user27414 Oct 28 '10 at 13:14
@Jon, that still has the non-local problem. It allows one large group of users to determine what a smaller, independent group of users must accept as right and wrong. Fundamentally, rooms should be self-governing. They can't be self-governing in small numbers with the flagging system as it currently is. Obviously there must still be a mechanism for more serious offenses (such as a user spamming across multiple rooms) which is what flagging is designed to handle. It is not designed to handle users that are rubbing a particular small channel the wrong way. – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 13:16
@Sid - I suppose you're right. A local group of users can really only make rules more restrictive, not less. We might need some specific examples (more specific than jingle cats) at this point. I'm not sure it's a good idea for some chat rooms to be less restrictive than the chat site in general. – user27414 Oct 28 '10 at 13:20
@Jon, it's not really a matter or more or less, it's a matter of different. Rooms have different cultures and those cultures have different ideas of what is and is not acceptable. To anyone outside of the Jingle Cat bar, complaining about Jingle Cats is not offensive. To any regular of the bar it is terribly offensive. In this case the room is more restrictive than the site in general. – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 13:22
@Sid - right. And the existing system (especially with "unflags") supports more restrictive rooms just fine. If you start shouting nonsense in any room, you get flagged. If you say "down with jingle cats", you don't - except in the Jingle Cat Bar. I think the only issue that remains is should we (and if so, how) make some chat rooms less restrictive? Should I be able to post spam in the Spam Bar? Should I be able to use salty language in the Sailor Lounge? I think an argument can be made in either direction here. – user27414 Oct 28 '10 at 13:26
@Jon: I'd rather avoid that argument because Jeff & co are unreasonable about affording freedoms to their users. What I'm talking about is mostly small more-restrictive rooms, which are not supported well by flags. In the Jingle Cats bar, flags will be created and not understood by the rest of the site's users and therefore ignored when they should be acted upon. That is the problem with the existing system. – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 13:30
@Sid - I think what you're saying then is that you have a chat room with so few people that they are unable to enforce their mores with the existing tools. Moderators won't come to their rescue because they don't understand what those mores are. Is this about on target? – user27414 Oct 28 '10 at 13:34
@Jon: Basically, yes. It also applies to larger rooms during slow periods when a non-critical number of regulars is online, as well. Basically every room that has its own mores needs something other than flags if they hope to enforce them. – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 13:37
@Sid - You can still use the ignore feature if you have one anti-jingle-cat nutjob annoying you. If you want to talk to the guy anyway you can just ask him to stop whining about your favorite music. In most cases, I think moderators would be able to figure out what's flag worthy. For example, in an ASP chat room, saying "M$ sux0rs, use PHP" would be flag worthy. You don't need to be a member of that room to know that. Do you have any specific examples? – user27414 Oct 28 '10 at 13:42
@Jon: "I think moderators would be able to figure out what's flag worthy." If that were the case, what is balpha's thread about? One of the base assumptions is that there is an overflagging problem: flags are being created that non-regular users do not understand. In many, actual cases, from chat as it is right now these are things being flagged that non-regular users think are fine, but were obviously flagged for a reason. It is a problem, and the solution is not ignoring flags. This is the entire point of this thread. – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 13:46
@Sid - it sounds like you're saying that flag abuse isn't really a problem, the problem is that people don't understand why someone flagged a seemingly innocuous post. I might say that it doesn't matter because one person does not a consensus make. But you're saying that some chat rooms are too small for consensus. At best we can agree that flags are insufficient for small communities. I don't see how we get to flags being useless or fundamentally flawed. – user27414 Oct 28 '10 at 13:53

Here's my suggestion.

Flags should be a way to call attention to serious violations of the rules. For example, excessive use of obscenities or abusive language, spam, and excessive noise.

The members of each room can deal with room-specific problems personally through direct communication with the offenders. If someone regularly goes off-topic or posts inappropriate comments (not warranting full-blown flagging), other participants can simply ask that person to stop. If this does not work, participants can ignore the offending user (at this point they would basically have become a troll, anyhow).

share|improve this answer
That's a fine suggestion but how are you going to get people to do this instead of automatically going for the flag button? – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 14:49
@Sid - perhaps the wording on the flag button can be more direct. If people are flagging non-offensive posts, then the problem is flag abuse. This suggestion only addresses flags being inadequate for small-room-specific issues. – user27414 Oct 28 '10 at 14:51
I can get behind that. If the wording is changed to make it clear that it's to be used only for rule violations rather than mores violations (and people actually read and heed the new wording) then it would solve the overflagging problem. Let's see what the powers that be think of it. – JSONBog Oct 28 '10 at 14:55

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