I have already seen this post, but it is from the Era of Displayed Flag Weight. Also, it talks about moderating SO/SU (where flags are as rare as hay in a haystack and flag weight is a bigger deal). Over there, Jeff says:

I generally try to err on the side of clearing as valid since the user was trying to be genuinely helpful, even if I don't agree with the flag.

Which, to me, doesn't seem quite right.

In the general case, when should a flag be declined? For larger sites? For smaller sites?

4 Answers 4


I'm really talking about small(Chemistry) and medium(Physics) sites here, I'm unfamiliar with SO/SU so I'll exclude them.

In my opinion, one should mark a flag as helpful when one agrees with the flag, even if no action is taken. For example, if an LQ post is flagged as VLQ, but isn't deletable, I would generally mark it as "helpful", because the deletable/non-deletable barrier is fuzzy; and I don't want to discourage the user from flagging other VLQ posts.

I decline a flag when:

  • I disagree with it: For example, a custom flag saying that it ought to be closed/deleted for so-and-so reason, which I do not feel is in accordance with the faq/my general feel of the site-specific rules. When not sure, other moderators can be brought in, and the flag will be marked as helpful (the decline shouldn't discourage users from flagging other similar questions which may be on the "bad" side of the fence--this is similar to my remark about VLQ above). I decline when I'm sure of it.
  • It is just unwarranted noise
  • It is an NAA flag about a wrong answer
  • It is a spam/offensive flag about something that isn't spam or really that offensive. Spam/offensive flags are dangerous, they have rep penalties attached to them and all. Improper use of these should not be encouraged in any manner.
  • It is a flag that wasn't asking anything from me, in my capacity as a moderator, to do. I may have downvoted the post, but that would be it. A question I sometimes ask myself while declining a flag with this option is "If it had been me instead of the flagging user who saw the post, would I do anything aside from vote (/comment1)?" If the answer is "No", then the flag ought to be declined.

Declining a flag serves the useful purpose of telling a user "don't flag stuff like this again", which keeps the queue from getting bloated and saves our time. It may scare a user from flagging in its entirety, but I think that's a rare case. Thus, we shouldn't restrict ourselves to declining flags in very explicit cases.

But this is just my policy.

1. By comment I refer to a comment that would be left by any normal user, asking for clarification/etc of an already good (not closeable/deletable) post. I am not referring to the comments that have a clear moderator undertone to them. (an implied "or else..." sorta thing)

  • 3
    I disagree with the close vote flags, specifically on smaller sites, where community closure is not common, mods should be flagged for closure as a standard. On the other hand, deciding whether a post deserves closure is very subjective (and indeed, that's why multiple close votes are needed in normal cases).
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 25, 2012 at 23:34
  • Using your terminology the "close/keep open" barrier is also fuzzy.
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 25, 2012 at 23:36
  • @Sklivvz: Of course, when not sure, other moderators can be brought in. This is when I'm sure of it --that deals with the close/keep fuzziness, just not explicitly. Dec 25, 2012 at 23:43
  • If you need more than one mod to determine if closure was needed, how do you expect a normal user to know better?
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 25, 2012 at 23:47
  • @Sklivvz: In which case the flag will be "helpful". I said that I decline it if I'm sure. I probably should have made it more explicit that it becomes helpful if I'm not. One sec. Dec 25, 2012 at 23:49
  • +1 then, I think we fundamentally agree - and by the way, this is also the current policy afaik
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 25, 2012 at 23:54
  • 1
    @Sklivvz is right that this is pretty much the current policy. My personal guidance for declining flags is "Decline when you need to change the person's flagging behavior". A flag that brings attention but leads to different or no action, that's still helpful. A flag that brings attention where it isn't needed, or which the flagger is misguided in what needs to be flagged, that's when you can decline.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Dec 26, 2012 at 14:24

Flags are useful because the help moderators (and high-rep users) to keep an eye on all hot spots in the site they moderate. For this reason, flagging should (and is!) encouraged whenever possible. On the other hand, signal/noise ratio should also be kept high.

I find no fault in the current standard, as I don't see any valid reason to change it.

I only clear as INVALID when the flag is egregiously wrong, rude, or just plain dumb.

Which includes:

  • Flagging wrong answers as very low quality
  • Being rude/unhelpful
  • The moderator is asked to do something they obviously shouldn't, like taking sides in an argument (e.g. "Can you tell this guy he is an idiot?")
  • Plain dumb/obviously not cases (e.g. when an edit from the user would have suffice: "Edit this so that...")

Some valid reasons for flagging (mark as VALID):

  • Flagging questions for closure/deletion on smaller communities that do not generally close autonomously, even if I disagree with the assessment, unless it's evidently wrong or noise.
  • Flagging comment threads for clean up, even if I don't do anything - it's my job as a mod to determine the best course of action, the user did well to point me so I could assess.
  • Flags for anything the specific user can't do due to reputation.

In other words, not all flags should require an action beyond a review to be deemed useful.

The outcome of the flagging decline policy should be to have at the same time:

  • Many flags (to cover everything)
  • With a high information content (so mods spend time only where their judgment is needed)

And not only one of the two.

  • 1
    "like taking sides in an argument" - That's not always true. Moderators are often the final say in many arguments concerning scope of site or closeworthiness. Heck, they get auto-flagged for rollback wars, which is just an argument over editing.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Dec 25, 2012 at 23:57
  • @animuson: That's not really true. When there's an edit war/etc, we lock the post and saunter over to meta. If a meta discussion is getting nowhere then we may make an executive decision. (OK, we can make an executive decision anyway, but the point is that we don't) Dec 25, 2012 at 23:59
  • I may edit the answer: what I meant is that if one of the parties in an edit war wants a mod to take their side, it's a wrong reason. If one of the parties wants an objective assessment, then it's a valid reason. Autoflags are always requests for a human assessment of possible problems.
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 26, 2012 at 0:02
  • But I don't agree that asking a moderator to "take sides" is really a bad flag. As long as there's something for the moderator to do related to the flag when they get there, the flag is still helpful. They don't necessarily need to take a side, but at least the flag got the post the attention it needed, even if it requested that attention in the wrong way.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Dec 26, 2012 at 0:05
  • @animuson let's say you take the opposite side, would you still mark as helpful?
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 26, 2012 at 0:06
  • What I mean, in any case, it's flags like "Can you tell this guy he is an idiot?" - which it's perfectly fine to close as declined.
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 26, 2012 at 0:08

As of now, moderators are officially discouraged to decline flags without a strong reason.

  • Clarifications given in September 2011 Newsletter of SE Community Moderator Blog look pretty straightforward:

    Flags Too Often Marked [declined]

    Marking a flag [declined] was designed to deter serial abusers of the flagging system, but we find that this “slap on the wrist” is being used more often than is beneficial.
    Flags should be closed as [helpful] under most circumstances. If you feel strongly that a question was flagged in bad faith, it is okay to mark it [declined]. But try to err on the side of clearing as [helpful] whenever the user is trying to be genuinely helpful, even if you do not necessarily act on the flag...

Unless it is overruled by some equally authoritative guidance, it is just safe to stick with above. Note by the way that the reasoning quoted above has nothing to do with the , which makes it applicable independently of weight being displayed publicly ot not.

Declining flags that were submitted in bad faith is apparently considered the right thing to do.

Accepting flag is encouraged when you believe the user is trying to be helpful, although as far as I understand, for and flags moderator would better act judiciously about accepting flag that might possibly incur 100 reputation loss for the author of flagged post.

  • 1
    While the above doesn't directly address flag weight, it was absolutely shaped by the public display of it. I agree the comment applies just as much now as it did then, but the act of declining a flag doesn't carry the meta drama that it once did. That said, a declined flag can also be used as a teaching moment when a user is actively flagging, but can be shaped in a direction to make the workflow for everyone involved easier.
    – casperOne
    Dec 26, 2012 at 8:34
  • Again, that is during the era of Displayed Flag Weight. (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/119715/…), which is why I've posted this. But yeah, that's what we should be doing. I'm posting a sister feature-request (to make it so that we can mark flags as helpful but notify the user as well) later. Dec 26, 2012 at 8:37
  • @JollyOldSaintNicholas: Btw, I'm interested in an answer to this post from an SO mod as well (you guys have a much higher volume, the rules probably are/should be different) Dec 26, 2012 at 8:38
  • 1
    Btw, regarding the spam/offensive thing. Marking the flag"helpful" does nothing to the flagged post/user. Not for any flag. Deleting the post auto-marks it as helpful though (without the rep penalty). Mod-flagging as spam/offensive does the deletion-lock-penalty dance. (as well as automarking it as helpful). Dec 26, 2012 at 8:45
  • 1
    @JollyOldSaintNicholas "shaped by etc" this sounds like you assume questionable declines somehow feel less painful for flagger now that back then. If this is the case, as an active flagger in times of both public and hidden flag weight, I can assure you that now it does not feel any better than before
    – gnat
    Dec 26, 2012 at 15:23
  • @Manishearth I hesitate to lay down a set of "rules". I'll talk about experiences and what we generally do, but don't want to put out something that's going to hamstring us in situations that are not cut and dry (and there are more of those than you think).
    – casperOne
    Dec 26, 2012 at 15:57
  • @gnat Why is feeling being accounted in this? I think that's the point I'm trying to make. There's no reason that feelings should be taken into account of any of this. We're not denying it because we think the denial of the flag makes you feel bad, we're denying it for whatever the denial reason is. If I don't see a situation where the flag applies, then me denying it is simply saying "I didn't see what happened here". On a high volume site such as SO, with hundreds of flags a day, it's simply a matter of accounting for what we did correctly (which I think is the better course of action).
    – casperOne
    Dec 26, 2012 at 16:00
  • @gnat Now if the message that's associated with our doing the proper housecleaning needs tweaking, that's a system issue, not a moderator issue.
    – casperOne
    Dec 26, 2012 at 16:02
  • @JollyOldSaintNicholas "no reason that feelings should be taken into account of any of this" - that's a wishful thinking. Trust me, I've been exactly like you 7-10 years ago. Raw performance and getting things done is all that matters, feelings don't count - that's how I thought back then and I learned rather hard way that this is not so. I think you will eventually learn that, too. I for one read quoted guidance just this way. Decline of the flag submitted with intent to be helpful feels like a “slap on the wrist”. Avoiding this makes flagger happier and more productive
    – gnat
    Dec 26, 2012 at 16:51
  • @gnat Perhaps, but with the number of flags and number of people, we really can't think about how a user would feel for each flag we process. Also, we shouldn't because we've stated repeatedly that it's not meant that way. It's simply feedback as to whether or not the flag was helpful or not, and if not, why. Personalizing it is just going to get in the way of making the site better.
    – casperOne
    Dec 26, 2012 at 17:20
  • 1
    @JollyOldSaintNicholas: I don't want a "rule", I just want an updated policy-type thing which advises but does not direct us. Dec 26, 2012 at 19:49

Looks like for SO (and maybe the other two trilogy sites), they are getting stricter about the flags due to the review queue. So this answers the "for large sites" thing.

From here:

Because of the analytics in use in the review queue (and other places), we've been told to be more strict about 'accepting' flags that are off base. It used to be that a flag, even incorrect, would be marked 'helpful' if there was something off about the question. No longer. If you want us to take action on a question, then flag it correctly.

And, specifically regarding VLQ flags:

Are we taking a stricter approach to evaluating quality flags?

Yes, we're taking a more 'letter of the law' approach to dealing with quality related flags in order to help reviewers better hone their moderation skills. Previously, most of the moderators were inclined to validate a flag even if it didn't exactly apply, but still pointed us to problematic content.

  • Note, this isn't exactly recent, we had to run a community bulletin reminding people about the proper use of SPAM flags not long ago because they were being used to say 'this is a basic question'. It's just recently been reinforced with the needs of the review audit system and made official policy.
    – user50049
    Dec 29, 2012 at 14:36
  • @TinyTimPost: Spam flags are a completely different issue, though. Those are dangerous. But thanks for reminding me, I'll edit a bit into my other answer. Dec 29, 2012 at 14:38

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