As a precursor to adding decline reasons for suggested edits we have added decline reasons for moderator flags.

Because flagging for moderator attention can result in some fairly severe unilateral action by mods (suspension, deletion, rep loss, etc) these decline reasons are private. They are displayed only to moderators and to the flagging user when browsing their flag history.

We currently have the following predefined reasons for moderator flag declines:

( ) flag is about technical accuracy of post
( ) flag indicates state that never existed on post
( ) flag is conversational, not actionable
( ) other: [enter one line of ASCII here...]

The primary purpose of the flag decline reason is to educate users -- and moderators -- about proper use of flags and when they should be declined.


flag text: "this answer says i++ but it should say i--!"

flag is about technical accuracy of post.

flag text: "I need an answer to this ASAP!!!"

flag is conversational not actionable.

flag text: "this is not an answer"
flag text: "this is very low quality"
(moderator disagrees; post history has no evidence of said 'problem')

flag indicates state that never existed on post.

This is just a starting point; ideally I'd like the "top 5" moderator flag decline reasons to be populated here so mods rarely have to reach for the other field to manually type anything in when declining a flag. I am not tied to any of these mod flag decline reasons in any way. Feel free to propose anything from mild copy changes to totally different decline reasons, provided you can ...

  • provide examples, as I have above, of actual flags that fit these decline reasons
  • defend your examples

If you are a moderator on a Stack Exchange site, or someone who flags a lot, let us know what common decline reasons should appear in the decline dialog.

  • 2
    I hope rejection reasons for suggested edits is next on the list. Sep 13, 2011 at 8:53
  • 11
    I think this is a great feature. I feel the way the reasons are worded in too abstract a way for the end user though - with new Meta questions as a likely result. Would it be an option to show a slightly longer, more informal text to the user, including a link to the relevant FAQ entry? Like for example, Flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies in a post. See this link for what to do instead. The moderators would continue to see the short descriptions you show
    – Pekka
    Sep 13, 2011 at 9:20
  • @pekka sure, education is the goal Sep 13, 2011 at 9:28
  • 2
    Who is the target of this feedback. The user who has 6 of 600 flags declined? 50 of 100 declined? 20 of 20 declined? 1 of 3 declined? Sep 13, 2011 at 20:41
  • "flag indicates state that never existed on post" is a bit too jargony. Sep 15, 2011 at 23:45

8 Answers 8


Here are some suggestions on providing the end user with more elaborate messages:

( ) flag is about technical accuracy of post

Flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer. See [Link to FAQ] for what to do instead.

( ) flag indicates state that never existed on post

A moderator has reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it.

( ) flag is conversational, not actionable

The flagging system is intended to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention. Please do no use it for anything else.

( ) invalid suggested migration

The question would not be on-topic on the target site you suggested, or does not need migration at all.

( ) other: [enter one line of ASCII here...]

And specially for Will:

( ) You Suck

Please stop flagging.

  • 2
    You forgot "( ) Community, please STFU!", as the Community user can't be slapped. Trust me, I've tried.
    – user50049
    Sep 13, 2011 at 15:16
  • 2
    @Tim yeah. V3 of the SO API definitely needs an interface for slapping Community.
    – Pekka
    Sep 13, 2011 at 15:17
  • Note that the second reason is "a state that never existed on the post," which means there was nothing to fix.
    – user102937
    Sep 13, 2011 at 15:18
  • @Robert so it wouldn't apply to content where the problem was fixed in the meantime? Is that really the case? It was my understanding that mods look at a flagged post and judge the validity based on what the post looks like at that moment
    – Pekka
    Sep 13, 2011 at 15:20
  • Flags on posts that were fixed in the meantime are valid.
    – user102937
    Sep 13, 2011 at 15:27
  • @Robert fair enough, changed
    – Pekka
    Sep 13, 2011 at 15:28
  • "...or agrees but doesn't think intervention is required" -- That's also a valid flag.
    – user102937
    Sep 13, 2011 at 16:06
  • @Robert cool, then that can be removed to, makes it simpler. Done
    – Pekka
    Sep 13, 2011 at 19:37
  • this is great, but I cannot use #4 as I outlined in the comments here Sep 14, 2011 at 6:29
  • Which Will Sucks? (No, that is not incorrect grammar, other than the capitalization of Sucks.) Sep 16, 2011 at 0:04
  • 1
    @muntoo no, this is for Moderator Will so he can respond to users which will suck.
    – Pekka
    Sep 16, 2011 at 6:30

I gotta say, I'm confused once again as to the purpose of declining a flag.

We've been told repeatedly over the past few days that we should only be declining flags done in bad faith: things where the user was just using flags for completely the wrong reason.

The first two fit in with that purpose: people shouldn't be flagging in lieu of downvotes or putting a bounty on a question.

But the third, as described here, is not what I would consider to be a dismissal of a bad faith flag. If a user thinks an answer is so bad that it's actively harmful to the site, flagging it as such seems to be the appropriate action. However, moderators can and do disagree with that assessment: that doesn't mean the user was wrong to bring it to our attention.

They weren't using flags the wrong way, they're just mistaken in this specific instance. Before this whole education about when to flag as declined, that was generally the reason we dismissed flags as invalid. Yet we've now been told that we should almost never decline flags if they were done in good faith. Being mistaken doesn't mean a person was acting in bad faith.

What I would consider to be a bad faith "flag indicates state that never existed on post" would be something like someone marking an answer as spam when it contains no promotional content, or marking a post as offensive because it contains a mild critique of PHP, or something equally pointless.

So which is it? If we're supposed to be declining flags as we've been doing: that is, declining flags when the flagger is mistaken even if they appear to be genuinely trying to help, then that's fine but we've been getting some serious mixed messages.

If we're supposed to only be declining flags when the flagger is being a nuisance with flags (i.e. acting in "bad faith"), then the "flag indicates state that never existed on post" is problematic and shouldn't be there.

Rather than the vague wording of this decline reason, I'd rather see something that indicates something concrete.

For example, on Programmers, we have people flagging questions that have source code in them as "off-topic, belongs on Stack Overflow" even if they're asking about a conceptual problem. These flags are nuisance flags from people who just don't bother reading the question once they see the code block. I'd like to see a canned dismissal message something akin to:

question is on-topic and valid for this site

and for answers, particularly for answers that thin-skinned people find offensive (like the mild critique of PHP mentioned above):

post directly answers the question

  • 11
    The analogy I use here is recycling. If someone flags a piece of recyclable trash as "this should be thrown away" ... is the correct response "WRONG! That's plastic type 4 which goes in the orange recycling bin! I'm going to have to reduce your flag weight for not learning our detailed rules" or "gee, thanks; picking up every bit of trash helps. I'll go ahead and drop this in the correct bin"? Even though the flag wasn't technically correct, it resulted in trash being removed from the street which is a net benefit to the community. Sep 13, 2011 at 9:40
  • 4
    stated another way -- where there is smoke, there is fire. I've cleared almost 3k flags on Stack Overflow this quarter, and despite the "accuracy" or "correctness" of the flags, in the overwhelmingly vast majority of cases the post being flagged had some kind of underlying problem that needed mod attention. In fact, forget the text of the flag entirely; think more along the lines of "did our community get any better, even in a tiny way, from a moderator having looking at this flagged post?" Sep 13, 2011 at 9:48
  • 1
    @Jeff That I understand, but the "flag indicates state that never existed on post" canned reason, at least with your explanation in the question, reads more like the former than the latter because it ignores intentionality. "I can see why you flagged this so thanks, but in this case I disagree because it's borderline okay." vs. "You flagged this as not an answer but I say it is an answer, so here's -10 flag weight for bringing it to my attention but falling on the wrong side of the decision." That seems like more fodder for "Why was my flagged declined?" posts.
    – user149432
    Sep 13, 2011 at 9:55
  • 3
    @Jeff, but in this scenario, your accepting of a flag is not educating the flagger, because you can't provide any extra info. He could be learning about the right recycling bins and saving your time...
    – Benjol
    Sep 13, 2011 at 10:02
  • @mark again, go with how strongly you feel about that flag. Same rationale for downvoting. By all means, downvote away, just make sure you mean it when you do. Sep 13, 2011 at 10:03
  • 7
    @Jeff: So, why have flag reasons at all, if the moderators then have to ignore them? Give us a way to give flagging feedback (like "this should have better be flagged as ...") even if we mark a flag as helpful. Sep 13, 2011 at 10:03
  • 1
    @benjol not true; go to your flags page and you'll see this: "[post] flagged as [trash]" --> "[post] placed in orange recycling bin" -- verbatim. If the user isn't mindful enough to see that and connect the dots, they're beyond help anyway and mailing them an engraved invitation isn't going to make a difference. Sep 13, 2011 at 10:05
  • 2
    @Jeff to Paūlo's point, if we're only supposed to use that specific declined flag reason when we feel strongly about it, it doesn't seem like something that should be a canned reason. Like you said, the vast majority of cases where the reason would apply should be marked as helpful. For the edge cases, there's the free-form box. By having the canned reason there, I'm almost certain people are going to use the existence of the option as a reason to keep declining good-faith flags that they take no action on. It should be made more clear that its only when you strongly disagree with the flag.
    – user149432
    Sep 13, 2011 at 10:09
  • @mark no, I'd say if you feel strongly then "other..." is usually the best option. Sep 13, 2011 at 11:14
  • 4
    I think the fact that in order to dismiss a flag as invalid requires much more than it did before will ensure it is rarely used. I've already noted in my own actions how I'm much less likely to beat the living crap out of people's flag weight than before.
    – user1228
    Sep 13, 2011 at 14:25
  • 1
    @won reminds me of when comment flags didn't require a reason.. the comment flags were atrocious. Once we required a reason for flagging a comment, the quality went through the roof. It was amazing to see. Sep 14, 2011 at 4:49

Reason: Question is off-topic on requested destination site

Flag text: Please migrate to X

Used when people flag for moving question to "X" SE site and flag is declined

  • 2
    Alternatively, question flagged is ontopic for current site, hence declined Sep 13, 2011 at 9:22
  • 1
    In this case, I would argue that the flag is still helpful because it points out an off topic post which may soon become a bad migration. I would not want to penalize users for not reading the FAQ on another site while trying to be helpful on the current one.
    – user50049
    Sep 13, 2011 at 9:24
  • 2
    generally I mark these helpful because even if they can't figure out our arcane "this goes in recycling bin X" question topic rules, the question still gets closed as off-topic -- and that's a net good to the community. So therefore I oppose this decline reason. (I typed the same thing as @tim at the same time.. but this is a religious argument I have with some mods..) Sep 13, 2011 at 9:25
  • 6
    Being able to add a 'note' to an accepted flag might be a better cure .. e.g. "I see your point, but this is off topic for Programmers". I really wish we could send more signal when accepting a flag, as that is ultimately more productive than the rare times we reject a flag.
    – user50049
    Sep 13, 2011 at 9:26
  • 1
    @tim if the user is mindful at all, they'll see on their individual flag page "flag 'migrate to clowns.se' marked helpful" right next to "[question title] closed as off-topic". And if they aren't mindful.. I don't think stamping it on their forehead (and creating more work for mods in the common case of helpful instead of the rare case of decline) will necessarily improve matters. Sep 13, 2011 at 9:31
  • 4
    @JeffAtwood It need not create more work, if it were optional. I think it would really help us help our frequent flagger club to achieve even better precision. But, we digress a bit I suppose, and it's not something I feel strongly enough about to write a compelling case in a proposal.
    – user50049
    Sep 13, 2011 at 9:42

The reason I decline flags 99% of the time are the ones flagging wrong answers.

I'd prefer:

flag is about technical accuracy of post.

to be a bit clearer and say something like:

flag is about technical accuracy of post or a wrong answer.

As per Tim's comment above, quite often flags go stale because another user has made the effort to rescue a post, or the OP has added more info to the question.

We're an exacting community and this is a good thing, however there are times when I want to decline some of these "low quality" flags as "Lazy - Didn't use your edit rights" (ok, maybe not quite literally like that).

I know this is a contentious issue, but often flags are raised on a question that could easily be rescued with a quick edit where the english is poor but they have provided enough technical info to be able to answer the question.

I see that a lot, even after the barrier to editing has been removed.

The others seem reasonable now that you've explained them.

  • 3
    right but if they require explanation, we need to improve them. As for "can be rescued".. at 4k questions/day, I tend to be in the "mash the big red delete button" camp. We (and by we I mean the community of people willing to edit) simply don't have time to "save" every question or answer through extraordinary levels of effort... Sep 13, 2011 at 11:31
  • 1
    To clarify something @JeffAtwood just said, our delete button is neither big nor red. Please, do not submit feature requests to make it less of either in the name of our moderation UI experience.
    – user50049
    Sep 13, 2011 at 12:16
  • 1
    @jeff - I very much realise that not everything can be saved, and I certainly wouldn't expect the community to carry the can for folks who habitually can't be bothered stringing a sentence together or don't acknowledge this type of help. But there are some pretty obvious cases where little or no effort is needed and that is easily demonstrated by the fact that the "NARQ" flag is no longer valid because of a simple 30s edit by someone else. That's the scenario I'm highlighting. But then it's maybe a corner case and digressing from the main discussion.
    – Kev
    Sep 13, 2011 at 12:47
  • "moderators are janitors not proctors"
    – user1228
    Sep 13, 2011 at 14:26
  • @won if you find being a moderator an onerous burden, you can certainly open your slot to someone else... Sep 14, 2011 at 4:41
  • @JeffAtwood: Haven't reached that point yet. The point of the comment is that we're for cleaning up messes, not judging the technical accuracy of an answer or comment. If we were I'd want to get paid, and to be kept far away from the PHP folks. They scare me.
    – user1228
    Sep 14, 2011 at 14:05

(just noticed JoseK deleted a similar answer, but I still want this)

Flag could have been resolved by editing

Or, in other words,

You could have fixed this yourself in the time you took to flag it

On a less serious note, I'd also like the ability to reply using image macros.

  • 3
    I don't see how that could be constructive. We'd end up with a lot of users that just don't bother flagging, when before at least we got a signal that something required attention. Or, what about the user that edits 10 posts and decides they'll just flag 10 more so someone else can handle them? Heck, even us moderators from time to time flag posts just to say "Something is wrong here, but I don't have time to deal with it". Additionally, those flags alert higher rep users that something might need editing. I'd really be opposed to this.
    – user50049
    Sep 13, 2011 at 14:35
  • On the other hand, I agree that VLQ was supposed to be for posts beyond salvation, but it just seems like the use outgrew the intention.
    – user50049
    Sep 13, 2011 at 14:36
  • @TimPost: "I don't see how that could be constructive" "I agree" wait wat?
    – user1228
    Sep 13, 2011 at 14:39
  • I was just noting that I also feel that the community could be doing more, and I think the whole purpose of the VLQ flag basically went out the window when it was implemented. I'm just saying that I think invalidating flags that do point to problematic posts would probably be a bad idea. +1 for the image macros, though.
    – user50049
    Sep 13, 2011 at 14:44
  • @tim at 4k questions per day (and geez maybe 20k answers/day), you have to let go of the idea that every post can be saved through editing. Now on a SE 2.0 site with one ten-thousandth the traffic of SO, that would be true. But on SO, the reality is that the delete button is the correct and most efficient course of action a lot of the time. This is also a response to your answer, Will, because I almost always find people are flagging VLQ on things that suck so much they need to be instantly deleted -- and only a moderator's loving touch can accomplish that, they cannot do it by themselves. Sep 14, 2011 at 4:46
  • 1
    I deleted my answer since I did a quick search and could not find a good example to go with it.
    – JoseK
    Sep 14, 2011 at 5:20
  • 1
    @Jeff I don't think every post can be saved through editing. I'll admit that I used to. I think that the majority of the really stinky ones probably aren't even worth trying to save. Still, many I see flagged as VLQ are more or less just a little rough around the edges. 10 seconds of editing later, it's a post that we actually want on the site. I'm not 'Father Flanagan` compromised, there is such a thing as a really bad post. Wow, sometimes I wish my last name was different.
    – user50049
    Sep 14, 2011 at 13:35

( ) flag is about technical accuracy of post --> Posts are not moderated for technical accuracy.

( ) flag indicates state that never existed on post --> The problem described by your flag never existed on the post.

( ) flag is conversational, not actionable --> Please use the flagging system only for reporting actionable problems with a post.

And a potential new one: Your post can only be deleted if there is a compelling reason to do so, and you didn't provide one.

  • 3
    I think you're confused -- all problems can be corrected by moderator action. Perhaps you're not moderating hard enough Sep 13, 2011 at 15:35
  • @Michael: Edited. Assuming you're only half-serious, of course.
    – user102937
    Sep 13, 2011 at 15:36

I suggest watering down the wording of

flag indicates state that never existed on post

if put this bluntly, it's likely to start angry fights on Meta if a mod overlooks something.

Maybe use something like this instead?

Moderator was unable to confirm that post was in this state

  • 1
    This could be cured by a simple feature request. Give mods a link in the overlay we see at the bottom of the page to go directly to the revision which was flagged. This saves us time and improves accuracy when dealing with posts that have an extensive history, but most VLQ flags are not on that type of post.
    – user50049
    Sep 13, 2011 at 9:47
  • 1
    I've got yer feature request right here, @Tim!
    – Pops
    Sep 13, 2011 at 14:56
  • I won't decline a flag unless I'm able to confirm that the problem originally existed via the edit history. If there's a doubt, or I don't have time, I mark the flag "helpful."
    – user102937
    Sep 13, 2011 at 15:46

My first thoughts, this is not targeted as final reason-list, but rather to write down my ideas for reasons.

  • Flag is not accurate
    • The described problem (in the flag description) could not be comprehended.
  • Not a flag reason
    • The flag is about a problem which is not corrected by flagging.
  • Flag is indecipherable
    • I have no idea what you tried to tell me, buddy.
  • Flag is spam or nonsense
    • User is spamming the flag queue. This could f.e. be a reason to invalidate floods of spam-flags. Or if the user wants to complain that Jon is stating his opinion.
  • latter two never really happen, or at least nowhere nearly often enough to rate top 5 Sep 13, 2011 at 9:42

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