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You can get low flag weight simply for difference of opinion. Case in point:

using vb6 program that has a System.Collections.ArrayList in a clean Win XP SP2 install

That's the answer the OP selected as THEIR answer. The comment, "-1 what does this have to do with anything," is inappropriate in my opinion especially seeing that the OP found it very relevant.

Furthermore, if we're supposed to flag noise, then comments like, "Why the hell are people upvoting this??" very much should be flagged by users as they add nothing to the conversation.

I've been watching the past couple days what posts or comments I flag and which ones get labeled as "invalid". Both of the above cases where labeled invalid. I would certainly love to hear the argument that it's actually an abuse to flag these comments.

I can't see the options that moderators get for discarding flags but it seems, based on the effect on my flag weight, that it's either/or with no in-between. Either something you flag is deleted and thus your flag is considered "valid", or it is not and your flag is "invalid". Is there really no, "Yeah, I kinda see your point but I'm not going to delete the post," kind of selection? If there is, are moderators simply choosing not to use it??

I've also noticed seemingly unbalanced application of these two options. When something gets lots of flags, it gets deleted, when it gets fewer it does not. The actual content of the flagged thing matters much less than the amount of people flagging it. Thus if you're not part of a mob sitting in a chat room picking people to flag (or "focusing the community" depending on what side you sit), legitimately or not, a completely legitimate flag may be tossed by a moderator. I am not a big fan of mob justice (it simply isn't) so in all honesty I find this rather tragic, especially since people are now actually penalized for doing what they think is right. Perhaps there is a reasonable argument that posts that bother more people should be deleted and those that don't bother the community as much, even if the content is exactly the same, should not...but if this argument is legitimate then penalizing those who just happen to be in the minority is not.

With these various things in mind, none of which should be at all surprising or can be helped, it seems like quite a heavy hand to actually doc people for flagging things they legitimately see as inappropriate. It's even a greater heavy hand that actually decides to suppress the flags from such people. That being said, I see two ways to resolve the problem that could still limit the impact of people who "habitually abuse the flagging system":

1) Implement the flag weight similarly to voting. 2) Make sure there's a third option that neither deducts nor increases the weight of those who flagged the post. The use of "inappropriate flag" would then be for more obviously abusive flagging.

Personally I don't think the first is as good as the second because it's still possible to have legitimate gripes about things that moderators simply don't see as inappropriate either for some users or as a whole.

Furthermore, I don't think it's enough just to label a flag as "invalid". Should there not be a reason for such an act? As I was perusing the mod tools today I saw a couple that I really would have deemed actually invalid since the flagging reasons where absurd, it would be easy to express that. If a participant in SO is going to be penalized for something in such a way that can impact their ability to flag abuse I think it's quite unfair that nobody even bothers to tell them why. Simple dismissal of a flag may not require so much effort but if a user is being penalized I do think it's the right thing to do.

Penalizing people without telling them why has never been effective and has not, as far as I can tell, been accepted as legitimate in any but the most extreme dictatorships.

Of course, I've got a very low weight so nobody is inclined to listen to me anyway. Hopefully though as I show above the reasons for my flags are, in my opinion, completely legitimate.

Also, I certainly hope it is the case that flags are basically anonymous. Human nature is human nature and moderators are human beings. Human beings develop biases. This should not be allowed to affect their application of this system. The SO developers are bright people so I'm sure a flag is just a flag in the moderator view.

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Taking action and marking flags valid/invalid are two different things, although they usually happen together. –  mmyers Feb 27 '11 at 3:57
    
Clarification: The previous comment applies to questions and answers, not comments. The only way to clear a comment flag other than deleting the comment is to click the "dismiss" link, which I presume marks the flag invalid. –  mmyers Feb 27 '11 at 4:10
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I don't think lowering your flag weight is equivalent to penalizing you. It's just a measure of the alignment among your criteria for flagging and those of other people. –  belisarius Feb 27 '11 at 5:02
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@belisarius - It has several objective effects that label you. It drops your flags to the bottom of the list, and eventually the system totally ignores you. I'd say that having a score dropped AND having your flags ignored counts as penalizing. It certainly has that feel to it on the receiving end. –  anon Feb 27 '11 at 5:43
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@Crazy I feel it's more like having a downvoted proposal in meta. Just says that other users don't share your point of view. Democracy doesn't always favor genius, nor better governments, nor better flags. –  belisarius Feb 27 '11 at 5:55

2 Answers 2

My personal work flow with flags is this:

  • If I take some action, it is valid
  • If it looks as if the community is handling it and I don't need to take action, it is valid
  • If I don't see a problem, but see why someone might it is valid
  • If there is absolutely nothing wrong - it is invalid or left for other mods to check out, depending on the context.

Investigating flags does take a bit of work, especially if a post has changed several times, you have to base the accuracy of the flag as it was when it was flagged. The same thing goes for comments, which have a five minute grace period for editing (but no version history).

All too often, we see flags marking comments as problematic for purely technical reasons instead of serious problems. Many people are still using flags as a way to say "I disagree". If I see one of those, I dismiss it.

Comments are a special case, because we have only the option of deleting the comment, editing the comment or clearing the flag (no valid / invalid there). Generally I edit comments where I can just remove an over the top remark and still preserve the author's intent. In rare cases, especially where comments are at the threshold for auto deletion, I clean up a flame war so that a broken and incoherent conversation isn't left.

The idea of accurate flagging isn't to earn a badge, it's implemented so that flags that are very likely to be accurate and need attention float to the top of the moderation queue. We usually let comment flags just take their normal course (either fall off, or accumulate) when in doubt.

However, it is a matter of interpretation and a moderator isn't always going to see it in the same light that you do. Most comment flags on SO are viewed by at least three moderators. We aren't penalizing you by dismissing a flag, we're just disagreeing that action is needed.

Note: I was opposed to the idea of giving a badge related to flagging, this is why.

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When you dismiss a flag as "invalid" it lowers the flaggers' flag weight by 5 points. Because a low flag weight in turn makes a user's flags invisible, you are essentially forcing the user who flagged the comments or posts into a position of being ignored. You can not accept that responsibility if you want, but it is happening. My suggestion allows you the opportunity to dismiss comments without it in turn telling the user, "The moderators at SO think you should be ignored." I didn't even mention badges, don't know why you brought it up. –  anon Feb 27 '11 at 7:10
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@Crazy Eddie - I see what you hope to accomplish. A flag, however is either valid or invalid. Note "I don't see an issue, but I see why someone could" is also under the 'valid' category. If a mod is in the middle, it's left for other moderators to see. The whole system is designed to let serious issues naturally rise to the top, well above the "This answer is just plain wrong!" flags that we receive. –  Tim Post Feb 27 '11 at 8:40
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@Crazy Eddie - 80% of comment flags have nothing to do about SPAM or hate speech. "VI is the best editor, ever!" is not SPAM or hate speech, for instance. "*** you #&($*&#, accept this answer" is a problem. We need the latter to rise to the top. –  Tim Post Feb 27 '11 at 8:42
    
In theory, OK. But it obviously isn't actually working the way you claim. Mods are clearing out comment flags and when they do it pounds on peoples' flag weight. Designing a system that ignores human nature and then pretending it works, doesn't actually make it work. –  anon Feb 27 '11 at 20:44
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@Crazy Eddie - Again, if the comment is spam / hate speech / profanity or otherwise inappropriate, we do not clear the flags. I'm not lowering anyone in the queue by dismissing a comment flag. In order to get buried in the queue, you would have to have many comment flags dismissed. If you flag appropriately, that won't happen. –  Tim Post Feb 28 '11 at 2:00
    
Well, Tim, there's two examples in my OP that you can explain how are inappropriate use of flagging. –  anon Feb 28 '11 at 4:30
    
@Crazy Eddie - I'm not a set of deaf ears and I don't mean to sound like a broken record. I have some ideas for enhancements to the tools, I'm waiting to see how the weight ultimately works. We're not going to know that for a little while. I expect that rising to the top of an often paginated list isn't the end game. Will they implement 'backrub' flagging so that your flag has more weight if higher flag weight users also flag it? Don't expect a particle accelerator to be built into a mouse trap. Let's just see what they do with it in the coming weeks? –  Tim Post Feb 28 '11 at 11:32
    
@Crazy Eddie - Still, the problem of flagging out of disagreement vs reporting actual issues is large. That problem has to be solved first, which means people need feedback from their moderators on what should be acted upon. One or two examples in a sea of literally thousands per week is not really representative. –  Tim Post Feb 28 '11 at 11:38

Good for you that you worked out which flag was marked valid/invalid. It would take me too much discipline to do that, so I turned instead to a feature request: To flag or not to flag and a request for auditing Basically I found the same issue as you did - that even though the FAQ says to help flag things, the system will penalize you if you're not doing it right (by the system's rules).

Read this and you will figure out how it all works. It's not really hard - within 2 days I have my flag weight from 25 (min) to 500 (max). That's not to say I advocate gaming the system, rather, I only want my flags to help (mods => community).

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I've got my own idea for pushing my weight back up. Having access to the mod tools should make it quite easy. –  anon Feb 27 '11 at 20:43

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