Yes, I know the topic has been discussed before. I know that Meta already has threads that complain about how flagging doesn't work. I wanted to give a practical example.

Today, a user came in to the JavaScript chat and asked the following question:

Hey guys, as soon as I embed javascript, all my html elements are gone. Even if the script is empty!? ...Can anyone help out? The example is really minimalistic <script type='text/javascript' src="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/2.0.3/jquery.min.js"/> <script type='text/javascript' src="script.js"/> These lines make everything vanish. script.js is empty! I use google chrome and the file is on localhost

Some context:

  • The JS room encourages people to come and ask questions that are too small/badly put for main.
  • The room encourages people to just ask questions rather than ask to ask. In fact we even have a bot that prompts users to just ask if they have a question whenever they join.
  • The above user has a good Q to A ratio having 1K rep in the main site and over 80 answers.
  • The user has no negative context in the chat. No previous offenses or anything like that.

That message got 7 flags


Had a mod (ThiefMaster) not been present and invalidated those flags in time that user would have probably been suspended from the chat. This is bad, it sends the wrong message and it is very rude.

Now, some other rooms don't allow people to just come and ask questions right away so maybe users from other rooms validated the flag. Maybe users thought he was being rude? I don't know.

I do know that we don't want this sort of negative atmosphere in the JS room (and I'm sure other useful rooms such as PHP don't want it either), we have enough on our hands trying to maintain a community while helping people joining and handing with vamps/trolls.

Possible solutions:

  • Drop spam/offensive flags altogether.
  • Make spam/offensive flags room specific for big enough (tm) rooms.
  • Give room owners just the ability to invalidate spam/offensive flags.
  • 69
    A huge +1 on the "Give room owners just the ability to invalidate spam/offensive flags." idea. I would really like to see that implemented.
    – PeeHaa
    Oct 28, 2013 at 21:27
  • 5
    TTBOMK room owners have the ability to invalidate spam/offensive flags. Also, people from other rooms can (in)validate depending on rep (10k+), not ownership, AFAICT. Finally, in our room (Lounge<C++>) there's a decidedly no-question policy (quality discussion is welcomed), but we are also severely anti-flagging (they don't work; ignoring works if needed) so I can't imagine us validating flags. (For me, it has to be very very offensive (beyond "Well, f__k you then", because I can't tell without context) or very inappropriate
    – sehe
    Oct 28, 2013 at 21:49
  • 19
    Wear your flame-proof underwear when you go into that room.
    – user102937
    Oct 28, 2013 at 21:52
  • 1
    The C++ room not allowing questions is a good example of how different rooms employing different policies creates a problem with the flagging system. @sehe By room owners invalidating the flag I meant a room owner removing all spam/offensive flags on a post. Oct 28, 2013 at 21:54
  • 16
    Room-specific flags combined with bans that are a) only for that room and b) liftable by any room owner might be a good solution. That way annoying people can be silenced properly in a somewhat democratic way (enough people need to flag the message) but if it's abused room owners can undo it. Oct 28, 2013 at 21:55
  • 2
    I've just learned that I never noticed the difference between Invalidating and "Counter-flagging". So, I was more powerful (in our own room) than I ever realized. It also explains the bit of confusion that might have crept up with my prior comment. +1 for this question. Any improvements to "the system" are definitely welcome. WAIT... I "vote to invalidate" - this system is too complex for a mere C++ programmer like me I think. Where's the documentation for this ... piece of end-user facing software :) ?
    – sehe
    Oct 28, 2013 at 22:00
  • 4
    @sehe that maybe not but I'm sure there is a jQuery plugin for that, they practically work with every language and in every situation imaginable. Oct 28, 2013 at 23:07
  • 3
    I'm a +1 on making flags room specific, most of the time people without any context just validate or invalidate (both can be harmful) messages and it can be really annoying to be spammed with flags from rooms you are not active in. Oct 28, 2013 at 23:10
  • 4
    @PeeHaa I actually disagree with giving room owners the ability to invalidate flags. Room owners aren't objective judges of flag validity.
    – user206222
    Oct 29, 2013 at 1:25
  • 3
    @Emrakul Which is a good thing and which is what this question is about. Different rooms have different "rules" so room owners being able to make subjective choices to invalidate specific flags are a good thing. Just like room owners can move messages to the bin.
    – PeeHaa
    Oct 29, 2013 at 10:15
  • 1
    @Emrakul if you have a suggestion on how to resolve the situation please let us know. Oct 29, 2013 at 10:17
  • 4
    We've had problems with people from other sites flagging stuff (or acting on flags) in The Comms Room, where we're a fairly freewheeling bunch. It's a problem and one that we've asked before to have fixed. I realise its maybe not at the top of the tree but c'mon stack exchange, it's about time you looked at this.
    – Rob Moir
    Nov 1, 2013 at 15:08
  • 1
    Regardless of the room, flagging a user asking a question as offensive is not OK. I agree with the post though, may post in detail later. Nov 1, 2013 at 20:01
  • 2
    Just had a thought. What about also showing the 'invalid' and 'not sure' counts instead of just the valid counts. If I see that 4 people found it valid, and 2 found it questionable, 1 found it not valid... I'm probably going to question the flag a bit more and look into why it was flagged to begin with. I know it doesn't solve the issue, but I think it would be a small improvement that might help with flag quality.
    – rlemon
    Nov 27, 2013 at 17:52
  • 3
    It would seem that if flagging leads to a ban for all rooms, then there should not be room specific protocol for banning. If it is allowed in any room, you should not be banned in other rooms for it. Anyone in the room can just let you know that the specific room has different etiquette. (and your comment can be binned) Jan 14, 2014 at 1:38

4 Answers 4


Yeah, they should totally do that

  • 12
    Please clarify. Who should do what? Nov 7, 2013 at 14:21
  • 65
    They, you know, should do, well, that. Nov 7, 2013 at 14:22
  • 8
    To begin with, the first simple thing to do would probably be "Give room owners just the ability to invalidate spam/offensive flags". Nov 7, 2013 at 14:32
  • 7
    Wait, is that even an answer. Why did it get these upvotes?
    – Mohammad
    Dec 23, 2013 at 19:37
  • 1
    @user689 There was no other answer at this time. It was a mean to bring some attention to that important question (note that I made my answer CW). Dec 23, 2013 at 19:39
  • Oh, in that case I'm sorry.
    – Mohammad
    Dec 23, 2013 at 19:40
  • 2
    Don't be sorry, your question was very valid. Dec 23, 2013 at 19:43
  • 2
    We could almost say the question has been validated.
    – Shoe
    Jan 17, 2015 at 0:37
  • Obligatory: They should totally NOT do that and use jQuery instead
    – DVK
    Jan 6, 2017 at 2:47
  • 6
    Thanks for the bold formatting, that really highlights only the important part and makes this post a lot easier to understand.
    – jrh
    Oct 3, 2018 at 23:29

I think it would be a good idea to ban a user from flagging (in chat) if the user has had more than 3+ invalid/useless flags.

I have also had a lot of my comments flagged in the JS Room over the past purely because the user didn't like me.

There is very rarely a case in the javascript room where a message actually deserves to be flagged, 99% of the time when a owner moves an irrelevant message to the trash can, that is good enough.

Also, this may be a bit extreme, but say there was a message in chat that was extremely offensive then the people that flag it are not going to care that everyone knows they flagged it, because it would be the right thing to do.

So making the flags public may make people think twice about invalidly flagging posts, because people would be straight on their case.

  • 2
    +1 for "only 1% deserves to be flagged". Reason for flaggin in chat is removal of seriously offensive/flame/racist/... content. Things like this simply disappear in time very quickly, no need for flagging.
    – yo'
    Dec 5, 2013 at 20:23
  • what do you mean by "more than 3 +"? more than 4? more than 10? More than 3.1? Jul 25, 2014 at 12:51
  • 2
    @AwalGarg I meant 3.3333r
    – iConnor
    Aug 6, 2014 at 11:19

I've been thinking about this issue for several weeks now, and I recently got my hands on 120 days worth of actual chat flag data. The data covered all cases where at least two people found a message flag-worthy (including the original flagger) and at least one person thought the flag was not valid. In Stack Overflow's chatrooms, this happened 318 times; in Stack Exchange's, 168. I didn't get data on Meta Stack Overflow chat, although personal experience suggests that flags are rare there.

Here are a few of the cases I looked at:

  • Votes from people in a room would have deleted a message on their own, but the addition of votes from people outside of the room caused the message to be "saved"

    This didn't happen a single time in the whole four months.

  • The opposite of the above: outside votes helping delete a message when the room alone agreed with the flag but couldn't put together six votes

    This happened seven times on Stack Exchange and 65 on Stack Overflow.

  • The room total agreed with the net total

    This happened about half the time on SE and about a third on SO.

I didn't have information on which users cast which votes, so I couldn't do much with ideas based on room owners. However, I did see what would have happened if votes from people in rooms counted twice as much as those from outsiders. On SO, that would have resulted in 14 more deletions and zero saves; on SE, 12 deletions and zero saves. In all cases, the messages that would have been deleted were ones that actually ended up with a net tally of between one and five votes (i.e. not a great message, but not bad enough to delete).

My preliminary results are:

  • people do indeed tend to view and judge flags from rooms they're not in
  • the number of times "outsiders" change the final disposition of flagged messages is non-trivial, but also not overwhelming
  • the only posts that gather lots of "'meh' votes" are the ones not written in English
  • giving special powers to rooms as a whole would not have the desired effect

There are a number of problems with relying too heavily on these results, including but not limited to:

  • all flags for messages moved to "bin" or "trash" rooms show up as coming from outsiders, so I didn't count them at all
  • my numbers didn't account for the fact that the order matters when counting flag votes (five agrees in a row would immediately delete, but three agrees, then four disagrees, then four more agrees wouldn't)
  • I could only track agreement or disagreement, not who made the right call
  • I couldn't see which votes came from diamond moderators and which came from high-rep non-diamond users

Again, these are only preliminary results. I plan to run some more thorough numbers (feel free to make suggestions) and give more thought to the more qualitative aspects of chat behavior as well (e.g. what to do when something that doesn't offend room regulars does offend an outside observer).

  • (five agrees in a row would immediately delete, but three agrees, then four disagrees, then four more agrees wouldn't) Woah, wait.. what? Jan 14, 2014 at 0:23
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit see balpha's explanation of chat flagging mechanics for the details. (I used the term "agree" where he said "flag" and "disagree" for his "counter flag" because I thought talking about "counter flags" would be confusing.)
    – Pops
    Jan 14, 2014 at 0:24
  • 5
    Please share this data in whatever method required to preserve sensitive data so that we too may examine it and draw our own conclusions that may or may not be related to or in favor of the conclusions that you have made. Unless that is not possible.
    – DJSpud
    Jan 14, 2014 at 0:27
  • Thanks for looking into this! Any interest from the stack exchange staff is very very welcome. This numbers sound right given what we're feeling. It's the cases like the case mentioned in the question that really bother me (and then there are people flagging nothing which people disagree with fast but that's just clutter). 65 cases could mean 65 examples of the case in the question happened and that sucks. I hope that's not the case. I'd love to hear some ideas of how the issue could be addressed. Jan 14, 2014 at 0:29
  • I'm accepting this answer for visibility, it doesn't mean it's accepted :) Thanks again for the help. Jan 14, 2014 at 0:29
  • 1
    Haha, accept reason noted. Don't worry, I'm not going to stop thinking about it just because I got a green checkmark.
    – Pops
    Jan 14, 2014 at 0:30
  • @Pops: That post talks about net votes. It doesn't say anything about their ordering with respect to each other in time. (edit: forget it - I can't count!) Jan 14, 2014 at 0:31
  • Thanks for your time and effort with this research! Always nice to see. I'm no sure what it really tells us, though? Jan 14, 2014 at 0:32
  • @Jhawins I'll think about how to do that, although considering the number of items in my "issues" section, it might be better for everyone to wait until I can request a better data set.
    – Pops
    Jan 14, 2014 at 0:34
  • @Pops makes sense. Thanks for your input so far.
    – DJSpud
    Jan 14, 2014 at 0:36
  • @Pops Thanks! I would also like to voice support for releasing the data set (whenever's convenient) Jan 14, 2014 at 1:13
  • 6
    “people do indeed tend to view and judge flags from rooms they're not in” – That’s primarily because whenever something is flagged, everyone who can flag will be notified with an annoying symbol that doesn’t go away until they did something about them. This even happens for flags in channels I have literally neither interest in nor knowledge about. Pestering people to judge about such messages really biases the result in my opinion.
    – poke
    Jan 20, 2014 at 21:02
  • Any update on your research? Feb 11, 2014 at 11:11
  • 3
    @Pops it's been another year - have 6-8 weeks passed already? Apr 11, 2015 at 15:49
  • 1
    It's August, over a year after the last update - anything? Aug 13, 2015 at 5:17

Firstly, regardless of the room, flagging a user asking a question as offensive is not OK. Flags are for offensive things, and if a user is being annoying, call in a moderator.

I agree that there is a problem here, though.

One major stumbling block is that the problem cuts both ways. There have been cases where room regulars take it upon themselves to ban inoffensive users with the flag, and restricting flags to a room causes . There have also been countless cases where lowered standards of etiquette (within bounds) in a room have been ignored by network 10k users leading to unnecessary bans.

On idea I've been toying with is to set a maturity rating level for chat rooms (which is shown with the flags), but that gets a bit annoying, and doesn't take care of issues like the one mentioned in the question.

What if we gave room owners the ability to unban a user that was banned in one of their rooms by non-mod flags?

Another option is to have an escalation system for flags. I feel that room-specific flags can be abused, because a chat ban from a particular room is a chatban everywhere.

Finally, it really would be nice if there was a "kick" option to deal with such things. With a kick, a room owner or mod can exclude a particular user from a room for some period of time. I have a bookmarklet that lets me accomplish this, but it's hackish.

  • 1
    Hold on a minute, you have a bookmarklet that lets room owners kick users form a chat room? Dec 16, 2013 at 14:58
  • @BenjaminGruenbaum Mods. Not sure about room owners. There's a "kick" option for mods that lets the mod kick the user out of the room (the user can immediately rejoin if he wants, which makes this useless on its own). Just fire that POST request twice a second and that ought to keep the user out. Dec 16, 2013 at 15:01
  • Cool. Just a note about your first two sentences. Note that the flag dialog says "Flag this message as spam, inappropriate or offensive" and not just for offensive things. The title even says: "Flagging a message helps bring inappropriate content to the attention of moderators and other room users, for example spam or abusive messages". So, as far as the chat is C++ chat is concerned, flagging a message of a user who 'question dropped' seems completely legitimate (from the flag dialog perspective) while in the JS room, these questions are welcome. Dec 16, 2013 at 15:11
  • I agree that the problem is both ways and room regulars can abuse the system. Moreover, in general - at least in the SO chat, there is always a mod handy somewhere, so I don't really see the need for the 10K flagging system at all, or for the very least a chat-wide one. Dec 16, 2013 at 15:12
  • 3
    @BenjaminGruenbaum I'm not too sure of that, in general the inappropriate is meant to mean any violation of the civility policy, not room specific etiquette. I may ask this separately later though. Dec 16, 2013 at 15:12
  • 3
    @BenjaminGruenbaum Hm, I always thought that SO didn't have enough mods on chat. On chat.SE there usually are plenty of mods around. Maybe the 10k flag system could be done away with entirely (and replaced with a mod system), or only invoked if the mods don't handle it within 5 minutes Dec 16, 2013 at 15:13
  • 2
    People keep requesting "kick" abilities but it gives room owners power. Room owners are not supposed to have power. They are not ops in an IRC channel. We are equals here, bar mods. Jan 14, 2014 at 0:29
  • 1
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit I read that last sentence as "we're equal here, but some people are more equal" for some reason ^^ Jan 14, 2014 at 0:31
  • 2
    @BenjaminGruenbaum More accurately, "mods aren't people" ;) Jan 14, 2014 at 0:35
  • 1
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit I don't mind if only mods have it. But a 30-minute kick would be a far better option for room owners, who currently can't do anything about people who don't listen to the room rules and are annoying (there have been cases where exasperated have flag-piled with offensive flags to circumvent this, which is worse) Jan 14, 2014 at 8:03
  • @Manishearth: Can you provide examples where those people have been a practical problem? If you don't want to read someone's messages, you can simply plonk them or, better yet, simply ignore them with your brain! Jan 14, 2014 at 8:55
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit meta.stackexchange.com/questions/134203/… (the room was not at fault here, but I feel the flagban feature unwieldy for this). And I've wanted to have the feature myself while on chat.SE; there are many cases where people are annoying others in the room or spamming questions. Chat ban might be unwieldy but a kick would be nice. Jan 14, 2014 at 9:08
  • @Manishearth: Why? Where's the practical problem that simply ignoring the user does not solve? In fact, this guy was silenced so it would seem to serve as a counter-argument, not an example. Jan 14, 2014 at 9:23
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Ignoring is unwieldy (as are chat flags), and isn't really the tool for the job. Everyone has to ignore the user, and that won't stop him from spamming the room, annoying newcomers. Why do we have a suspend feature on main when we can just keep deleting bad posts? What's the practical problem suspension on main solves? Same thing. re:counter-argument: I was giving an example of a case where chat flags were (ab?)used as a kick; where the kick feature was needed. Jan 14, 2014 at 9:36
  • "Everyone has to ignore the user" No, not really; only those people who are so bothered by him/her as to be somehow emotionally incapable of simply paying no attention. I really think this is such a big deal over nothing: remember how to deal with bullies? Simply ignore them. It's not hard. All of this is certainly no reason to start curtailing basic "free" concepts like "all SO users are equal and no one user shall sit above another". Room owners are purely meta-administrative, not social-disciplinary posts. Of course we need flags and mods for the extreme cases (violence, porn, spam) Jan 14, 2014 at 10:17

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