Currently, a user only needs 15 reputation to flag a post. They are allowed the option to flag a post with a custom moderator message.

However, on some of the heavier-traffic sites (Stack Overflow is the context I'm speaking from), we are receiving flags from the poster which request help, such as (but definitely not limited to):

this is an project in which i am working please provide suitable link?

And my current favorite:

Plz Reply Fast..

These are obvious misuses of the flag system, and contribute noise overall in their use and handling.

With that in mind, I'd like for a bar to be set based on rep which disallows a user to use a custom mod message when flagging a post.

What that bar should be, I'll leave as an open question, but I think it should be considerably higher than the 15 rep required right now to flag overall.

In regards to Robert's answer about being a teaching moment, I agree, it's a teaching moment, and that's what we're currently doing.

However, in these moments, the user is so bombarded by everyone else on Stack Overflow that a moderator declining on top of that would turn them away. I'd also argue that the person asking probably doesn't even know what they're doing in this case, and is just flailing for attention.

While we are there to provide teaching moments, moderators aren't the deus ex machina mechanism for Stack Overflow in these situations (for others, we absolutely are).

I don't see why we should give the impression with a big ol textbox that screams "this box will grant any wish you desire".

(Note, this is somewhat sarcastic but an actual custom message on a mod flag)

In regards to reputation, the bar might have to be set for 1.5K+ users, as this flag just came in from someone a little over 1K:

May you need authorization from the group owner so that you can view the group.

  • 13
    Well, did you reply quickly? Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:14
  • Maybe make it the same amount of rep you need for a rep boost to other sites i.e. 200.
    – Tablemaker
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:15
  • 2
    @Adam R@ck!$ Yes, and possibly with great hostility. Fortunately you'd have to be a mod to see the responses. =)
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:18
  • 10
    But it's very urgent! ;) Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:19
  • @BilltheLizard That's why I replied quickly! Just... Not in the affirmative =)
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:20
  • 16
    Perhaps the SE team could collect some data about flags cast with custom reasons, specifically the rep of the caster at the time of flagging and whether it was approved or declined, and then run a support vector machine (I learned that word today, wheee :-P) to figure out what the optimal rep cutoff is.
    – David Z
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:21
  • +1 that's not a bad idea. If only, just for the simple reason that low-rep users might misuse it unintentionally because of their lack of experience, while mid-high users know how to keep that "clean".
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:25
  • 4
    @casperOne i try to write you funny and/or gibberish in those flag messages for all the off-topic facebook questions i send you. didnt know you read them!
    – bkaid
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:29
  • 1
    Is this that common of a problem on SO? Why not just decline those with the canned "not actionable" response? Flag weight goes down, other flags move up. I shouldn't think those obviously invalid flags require much thought.
    – a cat
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:51
  • 3
    @lunboks It's not rampant, but it's about reducing system noise. Right now, the signal-to-noise ratio on flags with custom mod messages is infinitesimally low when coming from high-rep users. As for how they are handled, I dismiss them as such, but we're seeing a possible correlation which we can use to stop the noise in the first place. It's not about how to handle flags, but reducing the number that need to be handled that aren't really issues in the first place.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:57
  • @c@asp3r - oh my. A 1K user flagged that?! It seems I've been greatly overestimating the trust that various levels of rep betoken. Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 21:31
  • @AdamR@ck!$ Indeed. Perhaps we all have?
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 21:33
  • 5
    have to admit, it turned out extremely difficult not to flag this question using some garbage message - just to test how it feels like
    – gnat
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 22:45
  • @gnat Who says I'd be the one handling the flag? That would be highly inappropriate of me given that this is my post. I'd let my highly esteemed colleagues take care of it for me =)
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 0:12

2 Answers 2


I initially agreed with this, but then I remembered that many design elements in the SE network are designed in a way that makes them more informative.

For example, we still provide a flag link in posts, even when the user is out of flags for the day. This allows us to display a message telling the user that they are out of flags, rather than leaving the user scratching their head about the disappeared link, thinking the site is broken.

Declining such flags with an explanation makes it a teaching moment.

  • By your example, we could do the same for the custom mod message box as well, simply grey it out (with the appropriate logic on the back end of course) to indicate the option is there but not available to them.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 20:32
  • 1
    They wouldn't know why it's greyed. You might as well hide it; greying it without explanation would only increase the confusion.
    – user102937
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 20:35
  • That's a user experience concern, which is valid, but a side-effect of whether or not gets implemented. If implemented correctly (the disabling of the option), then users would get the teaching moment right up front, requiring no moderator attention at all. That combo alone would be very, very valuable.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 20:43
  • My answer is all about user experience.
    – user102937
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 20:44
  • 3
    Agreed, but the question is, if we can build in the teaching moment up-front as well as reduce the noise overall, why wouldn't we do it in the name increasing the efficiency of the system overall? One can interpret your answer as a preference for using declining the flag as a teaching moment as opposed to letting them know it's something to aspire to. In declining the flag, you are using negative reinforcement. However, when someone sees something that they don't have, and are told how to get it, that's positive reinforcement, and a better motivator overall.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 20:47
  • For the record, I did upvote. :P
    – user102937
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 20:51
  • 6
    Agreed with both of you here. A "You need ### rep to send custom moderator flags" message should pop up when a low-rep user selects that checkbox, or something like that.
    – user154510
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 20:57
  • For the record, I didn't downvote this. =) I think we're on the same page for the most part.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 20:59
  • 1
    I like @Matthew's idea on this. I think that's the best solution to this Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 21:33


What proportion of flags from users with 15–49 rep (or wherever you want to set the bar) are so worthless? If it's not significantly above 50%, I'm strongly against raising the bar.

Flags are for when a newish user comes with a to him difficult problem, and someone replies with insults for posting such a noob question. Flags are for when a user asks help with merging accounts. Flags are for when a user accidentally posts their password (ok, they can and even should send email instead, but one more channel ins't amiss). Flags are the only way users can ask for legitimate help with punctual site issues, don't take it away from them.

All of these use custom messages, by the way. It's canned messages that aren't so useful to very new users. New users need custom messages.

What could definitely be improved is the text in the flag box. Ok, users don't read, but we're talking about users who've discovered the flag button already, and the text is really misleading.

Something not quite right? Let us know about it, and please provide relevant links if possible.

This doesn't say anything about what moderators are supposed to do. In fact, seeing that, I would go so far as to say that the users raising those flags you hate so much aren't really to blame. Ok, they haven't read the flagging privilege page, but who does?

  • @casperOne I fail to understand what you fail to understand. Most legitimate flags from low-rep users are custom, and need be custom. Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 22:04
  • 3
    a) What's a difficult problem that they encounter? b) someone replies with insults, they have the spam/offensive flag, not a custom message c) merging accounts might be a legitimate case, but I don't see the value in that over this proposal d) additional channels aren't necessarily a good thing, but custom messages do help here e) punctual site issues? See a). As for improving the text in the flag box, these users are obviously not reading what's there to begin with, I don't see how adding more text helps them now.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 22:13
  • Please don't make assumptions. The statement that there are "flags I hate so much" is unfounded and IMO, out of line. This isn't about my personal opinion towards a single type of flag being misused but about a noise on the Stack Exchange sites that I believe can be handled better than through moderator intervention.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 12:27

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