I am seeing an increasing number of people using the offensive flag incorrectly. The description reads:

This question contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech.

yet I am seeing it questions that are just bad questions and answers that are just wrong or just links, for example. In the former case down-votes and close-votes are the appropriate responses, and in the latter case down-votes and/or comments are the appropriate responses.

Because of the consequences of something being deleted through offensive flags - a 100 point reputation hit - we have to take these flags seriously and spend some time checking out the post to make sure that we're not missing something.

At the moment the only feedback we can give is in a custom decline reason on the flag - which may well not get read - or a mod message to the user, which can be overkill if this is only the first or second time this happens. Both of these can be effectively ignored and the user can carry on abusing the offensive flag.

If we want the user to stop then the only effective solution is to suspend them from the site for a day or so which seems somewhat harsh.

It would be better if we could prevent the user from using the flag for a short period - a couple of hours or so, maybe a day at most. This means that we are addressing the specific behaviour we want to correct, but allowing the user to carry on using the site for other reasons.

I see this option as being available to moderators where we see the flag - perhaps a new option "decline with suspension" on the "decline" dialog. We could then either pick one of the standard decline reasons or add a custom message as now, plus the length of the suspension. If it's not possible (or in fact desirable) for specific flags to be blocked then a general flag ban would be the best solution. In fact this might be better as it would stop them using the "other" flag to tell us something was "offensive" to them.

The next time the user tried to flag they'd see this message instead of the flag dialog and the time left on their suspension.

If they don't flag before the suspension runs out then they should still be shown the dialog and at least have to click through it before flagging. I know people don't read these things properly, but we can at least say that they were shown the information.

The suspension doesn't need to be more than a day at most, and should usually be a couple of hours. All it is there for it to get the users attention and tell them "stop, you're doing something wrong".

  • 1
    I thought spam/offensive flags were anonymous?
    – Ral Zarek
    Jul 17, 2013 at 11:38
  • @RalZarek - They were, but that changed around the same time as the new "on-hold" changes. This isn't a new problem.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Jul 17, 2013 at 11:39
  • 6
    I demand that there is a thorough definition of what a "reasonable person" is before this question gets answered. What are their values, their beliefs and where do you draw the line between an unreasonable person? You may post links to humanity.SE, psychology.SE, philosophy.SE and religion.SE to clarify this. Thanks.
    – Gordon
    Jul 17, 2013 at 11:40
  • @Gordon - perhaps. But this question is addressing the case where there is no hate speech, abusive, sexist or racist language in the post.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Jul 17, 2013 at 11:41
  • @ChrisF tbh I was just attempting to be funny
    – Gordon
    Jul 17, 2013 at 11:46
  • @Gordon & ChrisF - out of curiosity, is it common for the same person to use the offensive flag repeatedly in the same few hour time-span that such a short ban would be effective? Jul 17, 2013 at 12:02
  • @psubsee2003 - flags do tend to come in batches, but I also covered the case of when the next flag comes outside the suspension period.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Jul 17, 2013 at 12:06
  • @psubsee2003 my impression is that these batches come from reviewing. It's common for users working the review queue to flag multiple questions in a short time. If these people don't know how to properly use the flags, there will be more false positives then. It doesn't only happen with spam/offensive flags, but with all the flags. The spam/offensive flags are just special in how we handle them.
    – Gordon
    Jul 17, 2013 at 12:08
  • @ChrisF yeah, I saw that, but my assumption is that even with the message, a short ban might not be noticed enough if repeated flags are not the norm. If they are, then it probably would get noticed enough to do some good Jul 17, 2013 at 12:08
  • @Gordon that makes some sense. Thanks Jul 17, 2013 at 12:08
  • Could this also be for chat flags? Too many invalid flags get the flagger banned (from flaggin) for a period of time.
    – tombull89
    Jul 17, 2013 at 14:04
  • @tombull89 - I'd say chat flags would be more automatic than this. They come and go so quickly.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Jul 17, 2013 at 14:06
  • @ChrisF okay, I guess that's another feature request entirely.
    – tombull89
    Jul 17, 2013 at 14:07
  • @ShadowWizard the spelling of latter was correct, if we nominate two things, we can refer back to them as the former and the latter. Oct 31, 2018 at 11:53
  • @Mari-LouA correct, didn't know that, thought it's a typo. Oct 31, 2018 at 11:57

2 Answers 2


How about if we expand this beyond spam / offensive flags? What if we had a setting as moderators to present a custom-worded warning dialog to a user the next time they flagged, no matter the flag type? This may or may not have a temporary ban from flagging attached to it.

It's well known that most people don't read custom decline reasons we provide to them, or even know where they can find these. By putting such a warning right in front of them the next time they tried to flag, hopefully they wouldn't miss it this time.

For example, I had to decline 9 flags yesterday that read "plz help answer this question thx" or some variant. Three of those people had flagged multiple times for this. The only way to get them to stop is to send a direct moderator message, which takes time, leaves a permanent mark on their record, and is CC'd to every moderator on the site. If we had a lightweight way to halt their flags for a bit and to give them a direct message as to what they're doing wrong, that would be a much better way to handle this.

Misuse of spam and offensive flags is obviously worse, given the automatic downvotes and potential reputation penalties those carry, but I see no reason why a system like this should be limited to those flags. There are many other abuses of the flag system this could work to prevent.

The flag weight system has been tweaked lately to try to deemphasize streaks of poor flags from certain users, but I think we need something a little stronger to cut down on this and educate problematic flaggers. A direct warning that doesn't carry the stigma of a moderator message would seem to do this, particularly if coupled with temporary flag bans in the worst cases.

  • I don't see why it can't be extended to all flag types. It was just that I've been seeing particular abuse of the offensive and (to a slightly lesser degree) spam flags.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Jul 17, 2013 at 15:26
  • Sounds reasonable. We have review-queue suspensions, why not flag?
    – Kevin
    Jul 17, 2013 at 15:34

I've noticed an increase in wrongly applied offensive/spam flags, too, but in a few cases, I could understand why the posts were probably perceived as such.

Even if there is no obvious hate speech, abusive, sexist or racist language in the post itself, the non-written context might very well be offensive, like when the same user keeps asking the same lame questions or gets across incredibly lazy to an extent that it is reasonably offensive. Or sometimes, comments get out of hand and people flag the entire question then instead of individual comments.

However, even when the flag is totally unjustified, I think the easiest solution in general would be to autoban people from flagging after multiple consecutively declined flags. A message could pop up, pointing them to a post on MSO explaining why they got flag banned and how to resolve it (if we don't want to make the ban disappear after a certain time again).

  • 1
    I did think of an autoban, but it would have to be accompanied by a message next time they tried to flag otherwise the "learning opportunity" would be lost.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Jul 17, 2013 at 12:00
  • @ChrisF yes, certainly. We could point them to a Meta post just like we do when they are question banned. Then explain what the flags mean.
    – Gordon
    Jul 17, 2013 at 12:01

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