The way disputing flags is handled is rather confusing for anyone not familiar with the arcane details of the SE platform in this area. In some parts the feedback users get is only confusing, in others it is plain wrong. The main problems of the whole mechanism are

  • The "disputed" status of a flag only means that a single 10k+ user disagreed with the flag, it completely ignores what happened with the flagged post, what other 10k+ users think and what a moderator thought about the flag. This is very confusing for users checking their flag feedback, especially when a valid flag that was acted upon is disputed by one user.

  • The user that disputed the flag gets the same mod feedback as the user that flagged. As those two users obviously disagreed, one user will always get the wrong feedback. (Am I using the "Invalid Flag" flag wrongly?)

  • The terminology is confusing, it is not immediately obvious to users what the difference between a declined flag and a disputed flag is.

Some ideas to fix these problems:

  • The user that cast the flag that was disputed by another user should never see the dispution in his flag feedback. The important feedback is what a moderator did (acting on the flag or invalidating it), or what the community did with the flagged post.

  • Dispution should not affect the flag weight of the target flag, it should only be a way to indicate to 10k+ users and mods that the flag might be wrong, it should not have any actual affect on anything else

  • 2
    If disputing itself could be improved... it's a little confusing to flag a flag and then have that flag "declined". Feb 26, 2013 at 14:22
  • 2
    I agree that this could use a little improvement, but we see a lot of disputed flags on Stack Overflow, and I find them to be really helpful. If a user I trust disputes a flag, it does make it easier to process that flag. We definitely could clear up the process here, but I'd like to see disputed flags stay. Feb 26, 2013 at 15:35
  • 4
    @benisuǝqbackwards what if I dispute the dispute on the disputed flag, so that I'm flagging a flag what was placed on a flag, and then it gets declined?
    – Ryan
    Feb 26, 2013 at 16:01
  • 5
    [obligatory "yo dawg" reference]
    – user102937
    Feb 26, 2013 at 16:12
  • I have flagged before and then had my flag declined because the question was handled before my flag could be attended to. It would be nice also if the system had a way to clear all flags once a question has been handled. Feb 26, 2013 at 16:32
  • @0A0D: If you flag a post, and the post is deleted or closed before a moderator gets to it, the flag is automatically marked "helpful", not "declined".
    – jscs
    Feb 26, 2013 at 17:59
  • 1
    @JoshCaswell: If you flag a question because of multiple comments, for instance, if the problem is handled then the original flag on the question is outstanding. The moderator does not see what you saw before and thus marks it as declined. Thats if two different moderators handle two different flags. So if you flag the question but not all the bad comments, then your flag may be obsolete by the time someone gets to it. Feb 26, 2013 at 18:11
  • In your suggestion it's not clear what happens to the "invalid flag" flags after moderator action. If the original flags are considered helpful, should "invalid flag" flags be declined, and vice-versa? That would make sense. Or do you exclude this possibility when you say "it should not have any actual affect on anything else"?
    – bfavaretto
    Feb 28, 2013 at 19:30
  • 5
    Wow, this definitely needs fixing. I'm approaching 19k rep on SO and until this moment completely misunderstood what "disputed" meant on my flag history. I mentally equated it with "declined" and I was terribly confused why certain of my flags were declined, especially considering they were listed under my "helpful tags" section. I also had no idea that I, as a 10k+ user, had the ability to "dispute" a flag. I know in the flag queue I can select "invalid flag", but didn't realize this corresponds to a "dispute" since that terminology doesn't show up anywhere there.
    – Ben Lee
    Feb 28, 2013 at 21:12
  • 1
    @bfavaretto if you dispute a flag, I would propose that it never has any effect on your flag history, the disputing flag gets never declared valid nor declined. It would be purely informative for the mods and 10k+ users deciding on the target flag. I think this is the easiest way to avoid most of the messy and complicated parts of the current solution Feb 28, 2013 at 21:14
  • Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/161873/… Mar 9, 2013 at 15:32
  • When you flag someone else's flag, your flag automatically becomes disputed, and the other person's flag becomes disputed too. seems to makes that flag immune from being either accepted or declined. Dec 20, 2013 at 20:53
  • I definitely got confused by this, when a post I flagged got closed, but my flag was marked as disputed. Dec 20, 2013 at 21:03

1 Answer 1


We implemented the ability for moderators to handle flags on an individual basis instead of only being able to handle flags on a post-by-post basis.

In the case of disputed flags, this thus allows a moderator to directly mark the appropriate flags as "helpful" or "declined" in the case of conflicting flags. So for example, if a flag is incorrect and someone disputes it as invalid, the bad flag can be declined with explanation while the invalid flag is marked as helpful. Counter to that, if the flag was spot-on and the disputer was in the wrong, the correct flag can be marked helpful, while the disputer can be given guidance as to why the flag should not have been marked invalid. In whatever case it plays out, with the flags being handled individually, this will also not result in any reports of flags being "disputed" - only "helpful" and "declined".

This should solve all three of the problems as proposed - not with the ideas of solutions you provided but hopefully I think this solution is actually nicer than additional mechanical krutz and overhead that otherwise might've addressed the issue.

  • Can I ask a dumb question? Why can't we divide flags in to more rational categories? # of flags issued / # of flags accepted or marked helpful / # of flags declined? The whole concept of having a 'disputed' flag which can overlap with helpful and declined seems to be counter-intuitive. Categorizing them by end result would be far easier on users to understand.
    – jmac
    Mar 19, 2014 at 0:01
  • @jmac Backwards compatibility is the reason now. Right now, with the ability to handle flags individually, there's not much reason to let flags run the "disputed" resolution. But we can't just define what they were in the past - the flags that were disputed were still cast and that's how they got resolved.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Mar 19, 2014 at 2:02
  • Wait a second, looks like I have my wires crossed. My flagging totals do add up, so it looks like a flag can't be both disputed and helpful, it is only one or the other. So it looks like the actual behavior is: flag goes in, if it is handled by a 10k user who clicks 'invalid flag' then it is 'disputed', if they click something else it is 'helpful', but when a moderator does it they get 'declined' or 'helpful'? Now they can list a single flag helpful and another flag declined on the same post? That doesn't seem to solve the issue...
    – jmac
    Mar 19, 2014 at 2:14
  • @jmac Flags are disputed if someone flags another flag as invalid and then a moderator acted on all the flags on the post at once. That's how the whole dispute system came into being is because moderators could only act on a post-by-post basis. Since marking both the flag and the flag that calls it invalid as the same status is... well, inaccurate, we created that whole "dispute" system to counteract that. But since you can now cut past that whole buzz, yes, this should solve the issue.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Mar 19, 2014 at 2:26
  • So all flags eventually get handled by a moderator, gotcha. If they had an 'invalid flag' on them at the time of the moderator action, and the moderator action is not to mark the flags helpful, you end up with a disputed. By having moderators be able to deal with individual flags, even if a 10k user marks your flag as invalid, the moderator can mark it has helpful/declined individually rather than just having it automatically handled by the system. Thanks for the clarification, I think I get it now.
    – jmac
    Mar 19, 2014 at 2:31
  • Does this post replace the explanation from Jarrod that we shouldn't actually use this feature to avoid disputed flags? Mar 19, 2014 at 8:19
  • @MadScientist That actually came from Shog9, who I need to poke about that first.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Mar 19, 2014 at 11:21
  • @MadScientist Spoke with him about it - what I've written here is fine - his edit was more about these upcoming plans which may or may not invalidate the need for this kind of work at all.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Mar 20, 2014 at 12:24

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