George's concern - and my concern, raised in a couple of places, elsewhere over the years - are still valid... Seeing who raises a flag stands a good chance of prejudicing the moderator handling that flag, particularly in sensitive situations involving personality clashes.
This isn't a theoretical concern. It has happened, and in some cases it has caused problems to escalate far beyond what was necessary.
However... There is practical value in having this information in a great many cases, and I've come around to the belief that this value outweighs its cost.
- For spam and offensive flags, that value primarily takes the form of avoiding abuse: these flags are useful, but very dangerous if abused.
- For comment flags, the value is context: knowing how the flagger relates to the conversation is often helpful in understanding why their flag is valid.
Some examples of how this context can come into play with comment flags:
- when a person deletes their half of a conversation and flags the other half as "no longer needed", this signals to the moderator that the conversation is concluded
- when a comment is intended only as a temporary signal to an author ("thanks" / "I've edited your post"), knowing that the author has flagged the comment signals to the moderator that the comment has indeed served its purpose
- when a comment intended to provide helpful guidance is flagged as rude by its recipient, this signals to the moderator that the comment fell on deaf ears, and is perhaps doing more harm than good
- in the case of "in need of moderator intervention" flags, inexperienced flaggers occasionally assume that moderators are aware of their relationship to the thread, and write explanations that are difficult to interpret without that information.
Why this matters now
In the past, we've usually treated this as a training issue: moderators and flaggers can learn to better communicate with one another. However, it's become apparent that an awful lot of people don't even know that they can flag comments - this is a serious problem, as it leads to precisely the sort of escalation we'd like to avoid! To remedy this, we've made some minor UI tweaks last week, and now we're preparing to enable new users to flag comments on their own posts. Combined, these changes will open the door to a lot more flags from a lot more people: we're gonna have to make handling them easier.
As a first step toward accomplishing this, we've enabled flagger visibility and timestamps for all comment flags. The timestamp thing probably sounds pretty obscure, but... Along with the name of the flagger, we previously also obscured the time at which the flag was raised in much of the moderator UI: that made it unnecessarily difficult to determine when, for example, a flag on a comment followed an edit to the post. Combined, I'm hoping these two small changes partially compensate for the additional work that moderators will soon be faced with.
Moderators, please do not use this information to discourage people from flagging comments, unless those flags are overtly frivolous or abusive. In particular, be wary of chiding flaggers for flagging comments that are part of an argument they are / were engaged in: even when such flags are petty, they're infinitely preferable to re-enagaging and escalating an unproductive argument!
As always, if you aren't sure that you can interpret flags fairly, leave them to another moderator to handle.