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Comment flagging could be a community tool against the often rough tone on SO. However, the current comment moderation system isn't suitable for the purpose. It's not useful for anything but the removal of really outrageously offensive stuff. That's because it's almost completely opaque:

  • There is no indication to the outside world that a comment has been flagged. Until it is removed, drive-by visitors see abrasive comments just hang around there seemingly unchallenged. That helps grow the sentiment that SO is a place full of hostile jerks.

  • There is no indication to fellow users that something has been flagged. Such an indication would encourage inspection of the comment, and signify there may actually be a chance to get the comment removed.

  • There is no feedback about flags to the commenter, giving the process zero educational value.

If the tone on SO is supposed to become friendlier, flagging should become a public process. It would help streamline the flagging itself, and flags cast by the community would show to the drive-by Googler that rude comments do get challenged around here.

What should be done:

  1. Hide flagged comments quickly, before the deletion threshold is reached (say, after 2 flags) from the eyes of unregistered and low-rep users. This hides bad comments from the world but gives the community enough time to dispute bad flaggings. The comments stay visible to registered and higher-rep users; when enough flags have amassed, the comment gets deleted and becomes visible only to mods, just as it works now.

  2. Show comment flags publicly, as small symbols next to the comment. Allow users to cast more flags, or dispute them.

  3. Provide commenters with feedback on deleted comments - perhaps a system message in the inbox detailing which comment was deleted:

    Your comment on the question "how to flobber the gargle?" was deleted as "Rude or offensive" by 3 other users. Click here to check out our community guidelines on commenting.

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    Is pile on flagging something we want to encourage? – Richard Tingle Dec 25 '13 at 20:35
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    @RichardTingle - Flags can also be disputed, not just piled on. – Travis J Dec 25 '13 at 20:36
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    @Richard yes, I think we want to encourage more comment flagging. At the moment, I personally don't even bother flagging borderline comments because I have no idea whether someone else will ever cast the second vote. – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Dec 25 '13 at 20:36
  • @Travis from the question itself? – Richard Tingle Dec 25 '13 at 20:41
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    "There is no feedback about flags to the commenter, giving the process zero educational value." Yes a comment of mine was just deleted 5 minutes ago and I have no clue what the reason is. – PeeHaa Dec 25 '13 at 21:02
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    I'm a little worried about the drama that showing flags will create- "Who flagged my comment?" could be the new "I was just strategically downvoted." – David Robinson Dec 25 '13 at 22:06
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    @David yeah, but flags would become publicly disputable at the same time. I think frivolous flags would have more of a hard time than right now – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Dec 25 '13 at 22:10
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    I really like the last suggestion, feedback. I think that'll work better than it would in other scenarios - less of a chance of retaliation, I think. Still thinking about how to prevent the pile-on effect, similar to the pile-on effect you see for upvotes on non-constructive comments. There's got to be something to how a single mod flag, when acted on, can remove odiousness so well from a post's comments. – Michael Petrotta Dec 26 '13 at 0:16
  • @Pëkka I think the main problem is the huge amount of comment flags vs. small amount of moderators. If comment flags would be added to the 10K tools so that we can handle them it would be at least a step towards your goal. What you think? – Shadow The Princess Wizard Feb 3 '14 at 20:28
  • @Shadow interesting idea. But I was under he impression that two or three flags from normal users could get a comment deleted already? – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Feb 3 '14 at 20:32
  • @Pëkka 3 + (score / 3) is the formula, as mentioned here, yep. But even so, I suspect it's very rare to see comments get deleted by three users, except for obvious offensive or rude comments. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Feb 3 '14 at 21:09
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Whatever solution would also need to address the new problems that could be introduced by the proposed changes, for example I suspect:

  • passive/aggressive flagging of comments ("I'll flag so I can express disagreement anonymously, yet visibly"). This may not be a problem, but I think we should at least discuss it :-)

  • not really giving a positive action for users that get notified of deleted comments or of comments on deleted comments, yet enabling aggressive people to get upset/repost deleted comments,

  • These would definitely be things to address, although I think the ability to dispute frivolous flags would actually lead to less passive aggressive flagging. – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Dec 25 '13 at 21:05
  • not really giving a positive action for users that get notified of deleted comments yeah, there should be a helpful resource to link to - perhaps Joel's "summer of love" post? – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Dec 26 '13 at 0:07
7

I agree with this. In chat, flags are public to 10k users. And when a comment in chat gets flagged, often the original poster of the comment manually removes it.

I think that having some sort of indicator is a good idea. It will drive other users to help come to a consensus for the comment and could also influence the comment poster to manually remove it (if warranted).

Moreover, continual action against repeat offenders could cause them to reflect on the content or tone of their communications (could, some users constantly flame and it usually results in some form of a ban).

5
+550

I completely agree with your first and third points; so, I'm not going to say anything about them save a query about the current comment-hiding algorithm. Does it not already take into account comment flags?

Your second point is going to be tricky, as Skliwz has stated, because people will be able to use their knowledge of the flag status of the comment in order to negatively impact people. I'm definitely not going to state that you couldn't expose the flags but I think there might be another way to attack the problem.

The problem, as I see it, is one of perception; the perception that Stack Overflow is rude and the perception that no one is doing much about it. Part of Stack Exchange's ethos was that many hands make light work (I can't find the blog post ☹). Currently, however, the ability to flag comments isn't widely known and it's not possible at all unless you have over 15 reputation.

Stack Overflow has almost 2.4m users of whom 2m can't even see that you can flag a comment. It has 6.6m visitors a day, it implies that 6.2m people don't realise that the site does anything about the "rough tone".

Why not expose the ability to flag to everyone?

This would create a different problem; a multitude of flags. However, this can be dealt with by being deprioritising them slightly. A single flag from a passer-by wouldn't need to take top priority. However, if multiple passers-by flag a comment (or post) then it means something and attention should be paid to that indication. Something being deprioritised doesn't mean that it should never be dealt with... just that the current mods might hurt me if I suggest adding hundreds more flags to the queue that they'd have to deal with.

In the same way that flagging can auto-delete now, there's no real reason why an unregistered user couldn't flag a comment and, in combination with registered users, delete it. They couldn't do it themselves or it would be too easy to get rid of everything.

Most importantly, it would give the impression that Stack Overflow does care and is willing to do something.

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    To offload the comment flag workload, have you considered variations on Make comment flagging work more like chat flagging, available to users with 10k reputation to offload the mod flag workload? – user213963 Feb 3 '14 at 21:41
  • I could have linked to several other feature-requests but I deliberately didn't @Michael. That would have made this post about them and disguise my main objective, that there is a perception that SO doesn't care. I believe that perception could be altered by exposing the interfaces that show that it does actually care to the vast majority of people who never see them. Maybe they might even be able to help in the clean-up. – ben is uǝq backwards Feb 3 '14 at 21:44
3

I would argue that pile on flagging isn't something we want to encourage; if people are offended, think it's obsolete, etc. they should flag it, but not because someone else thinks it is. This seems especially bad as there is no way to dispute the flag from the comment itself.

Equally knowing someone has flagged something isn't going to add to oversight because the flag may or may not be approved. Oversight would only come if a record of the comment deletion was recorded after the comment was deleted.

Feedback seems very useful however or else people will continue with the same negative behaviour never realising their comments are being deleted

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    Under this suggestion, there would be a way to dispute the flag right next to the comment. Actually I think there would be less frivolous comment flags overall – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Dec 25 '13 at 20:52

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