Much has been written about the very low quality flag.

Joel dislikes it. Popular wants it gone. I find it confusing, even after our modifications.

Last week I attempted a change. I set it up so only negatively scoring answers or closed questions would be eligible for this flag. This enraged Jeff. It enraged him so much, he took a break from his holiday to revert the change.

His claim is simple (Jeff said, paraphrased):

Very low quality means NO DUMPING. There needs to be a trivial way for the community to flag toxic waste. People, in general, do not vote. How can you, of all people, change the system so it allows for more waste. I thought you were on a quality mission.

This got me thinking:

In my question Shog said:

Silently convert them to down-votes. Complete with the normal rep-deduction for the flagger/voter.

Clearly this was in jest, but still there is a point here.

The text for low quality reads:

This answer has severe formatting or content problems. This answer is unlikely to be salvageable through editing, and might need to be removed.

The tooltip a downvote reads:

This answer is not useful

If you think a post is toxic waste it would follow that it is not useful.

Looking at the last 30 days of stats (which are slightly skewed due to my changes)

Valid Invalid Disputed Total Downvoted 
----- ------- -------- ----- --------- 
3107  89      89       3306  955  

It is clear that only 1 in 3 users that use the very low quality flag, downvote the question.

Should we change it so the system downvotes the post you flagged as VLQ on your behalf (act as though you clicked the downvote button)?

This would help on a few fronts:

  1. People would learn that VLQ means toxic.
  2. It would help our ban from asking / answering heuristics.
  3. It would encourage voting.
  • 1
    How many of the posts with valid flags got then closed/deleted? Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 22:50
  • will add that ... one sec
    – waffles
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 22:50
  • 1
    Why the heck are people still not downvoting questions even now that the vote is free?
    – Pekka
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 22:57
  • 9
    @Pekka Because they don't know question downvotes are free? Because they don't want to hurt another user's rep? Because they think downvoting is mean? Because it's more work than doing nothing? Because just because?
    – Pops
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 23:31
  • Why the heck not make downvotes free on anything?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 18:54
  • Does this mean that someone could flag and downvote independently, leading to them being able to downvote a question twice? I believe you can do this with spam flags right now, but it doesn't matter there as much because of how quickly that content gets removed. Would that be a good or bad thing if they were able to do this? Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 21:47
  • @BradLarson no, all I am saying is simulate the fact they pressed the downvote button by doing it for them. If they are out of votes, do nothing. If they already downvoted, do nothing. If they decide later to undo, allow it based on voting rules.
    – waffles
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 22:22
  • @waffles - Makes sense. The low quality flags have always been tricky to figure out. The one positive thing I can see about them is that they've brought to my attention (through the 10k tools listing) questions that weren't horrible at their core, just poorly phrased. A flag for editing would fill that purpose nicely. Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 22:38

4 Answers 4


I was actually totally serious about that. Folks willing to ask a moderator to dispatch posts on their behalf should be willing to put their rep where their mouths are.

On that same question, I suggested something else:

Why not make the flag act like spam flags, where it also subtracts from the post's score, at least unless/until it's dismissed? I mean... if it's so bad that it needs a moderator-ejection, is there any reason why it shouldn't be down-voted? And yet, there are plenty of low-quality posts without down-votes. I donno... Something stinks about this, and I sincerely hope it's just reluctance to lose 1 point. When there's a borderline question without a single critical comment, without a single down-vote... What are mods supposed to do about a flag?

So if you're not comfortable turning flags into straight-up down-votes, make them... Temporary down-votes. Down-votes that moderators can dismiss.

Although I still like the idea of taking a bit of rep from the flagger. If the post is really so bad it must be removed from the site, they'll eventually get it back after all...

  • 4
    I think taking rep from the flagger is important, it should make people think more about why they're flagging VLQ.
    – Kev
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 22:50
  • 4
    Downvoting questions costs nothing, so the whole "make it cost rep to the flagger" thing is moot for at least some flagged posts.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 22:53
  • 4
    they'll eventually get it back after all... - I love that line. If the person will get the 2 reputation back for a quality flag, this is the way to go. This way they lose 2 reputation for bad flags but in the long-run lose no reputation for good flags.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 23:48
  • they already get the downvote back if the post is deleted, but only after recalc. The intent of VLQ is to be the "this is toxic waste and requires immediate government intervention" option. Downvoting is like yelling at someone for littering. VLQ is like calling the police when you see a crime. Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 23:41
  • 2
    What is a "crime" on Stack Overflow? How is it different than "litter"? Commented Nov 25, 2011 at 22:04

If you can't be clear in why a post is bad other than to say "here, I'm too lazy to articulate, you eyeball it" then it just moves the busywork up the chain.

Given the ambiguous nature of "very low quality", the system indeed should count that as an implicit downvote from the flagging user and dock the rep as if they normally downvoted the post.

Not to have it as a system granted downvote, but to attach it to the user throwing the flag.

And let's not be stingy about a pop up every time they flag as so. Both to make them aware of what's happening with their rep and to deter them from choosing the slacker option.

After all, VLQ means, "do this for me, I can't be arsed".

  • 4
    Strongly disagree with your last sentence. VLQ means "There's nothing to be done here besides delete", which non-diamond users can't do. The flag description and Jeff's elaborations say that VLQ means the post is not correctable by any action that is available to a regular user.
    – jscs
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 8:00
  • correct; per what @josh said, the flag means "this is a toxic waste spill and needs to be removed by the government immediately before it harms the rest of the environment." Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 23:38

For answers, I prefer to downvote when the answer is factually wrong, or does not directly address the problem the question is referring to. They highlight problems the author could potentially fix/ correct.

I preserve VLQ flags for posts which are... VLQ. Times when a new user hasn't quite got to grasp with the format of the site is the main one. Times when the answer has no relevance to the question asked. These times are generally when the answer makes me feel physically sick just looking at it, and the answers that cause me to wake up in a cold sweat the following night. This flag highlights an answer that is in no-way salvagable.

The answers I flag as VLQ are that VLQ that I should not have to sacrifice 1 of my precious reputation points to report them. They should be removed from the site ASAP and swept under the carpet. Yes, my -1 will be restored eventually during some recalc x years into the future, but that is an inconvenience for me and a waste of CPU for your servers when the answer should be forgotten about the instant I hit VLQ and a moderator comes along and deletes it.

A downvote from me, on the otherhand, means your answer needs re-addresing.

For these reasons, I don't believe the VLQ and -1 vote should be associated.

For questions however, I see VLQ and -1's as the same.

  • So you flag as VLQ when: comment as answer; answer on wrong question; formatting problems? How does a mod know what is what if so?
    – random
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 0:00
  • @random: No, a comment as answer obviously receives the not an answer flag. An answer on wrong question does not happen very often, but I'd probably other it. A VLQ flag might indicate formatting problems, but a mod who's received a VLQ flag and is looking at a incomprehensible post should be putting 2 + 2 together.
    – Matt
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 9:53

Should change it so the system downvotes the post you flagged as VLQ on your behalf?

Sounds good. It could give a message saying:

You now downvoted this post. If you think it is really that bad that a moderator has to remove it, please flag it again (with a custom reason).

Other than that, there maybe could be a kind of "needs editing" flag, which would make the corresponding post show up in review (but not in the moderator queue).

  • 1
    I object to a "I'm too lazy to edit the post, edit it for me, flag" ... not philosophically against "bookmark this so I can edit it later when I have time"
    – waffles
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 22:45
  • Hmm, some types of posts need edits by people who know the topic, which could look on this if it were in review. That would the idea of the second flag. Though I should make this a separate feature-request. Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 22:48
  • 1
    @waffles, I quite like editing, but I can't be bothered to go out there looking for things to edit. And trawling the review queue doesn't help, because I have to juggle two modes in my head (this is crap - flag it vs just needs sprucing up). If someone else performs the 'marshalling' for me, I'd be quite happy to work my way through the 'flagged for edit' list...
    – Benjol
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 10:41

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