Spam gets fairly heavily punished - 100 reputation penalty, if I recall correctly, and the content itself gets hidden in the revision history.

Now if we just have some rubbish:


I'm not talking about someone posting a question or comment as an answer (i.e. possibly just not knowing the rules or being frustrated with not having the required privileges), or someone making some really horrible attempt at answering the question, I'm talking about an answer that clearly shows absolutely no observation of any content on the page.

This, in my opinion, causes a similar amount of harm to the site - I'm inclined to say the fact that someone posts spam isn't as important as the fact that they're posting something that needs to be deleted, since we're likely going to delete it pretty quickly, and they're (likely) behaving maliciously, or am I wrong?

Why don't we treat this equally harshly, or why do we treat spam as harshly as we do?

Side notes:

I'm sure I've seen a few times where users get punished for posting spam when their link is likely actually relevant to the question and useful (should I flag these? They are still link-only answers, so they shouldn't really come back, and often I'm just not sure enough). While false positives are bad, it seems worse that we're treating worse behaviour better.

I'm assuming that's not what "abusive" in this reason is referring to: (I'm also not sure, off the top of my head, how this one gets treated)

It is offensive, abusive, or hate speech


4 Answers 4


I'm assuming that's not what "abusive" in this reason is referring to

Abusive means what it says. Don't overthink this.

Look... The problem folks have with these is that they see the pile of nonsense and try to extract meaning from it. "Surely if I can determine what the author's intent was," you might imagine them saying to themselves, "...I can then pick the exact right type of flag."

This is an utter waste of time. There is no meaning to the post! It's VLQ, it's abuse, it's Not An Answer, heck it might even be a spammer, testing the waters... There's no metric you can apply that'll narrow that down, because there is no meaningful content to apply metrics to.

So pick the flag that speaks to you. I'm partial to "rude or abusive", because enough of them immediately delete and lock the post, which is handy in those rare scenarios where someone's flooding the site with a lot of these... But VLQ or NAA work just as well in the vast majority of cases. The important thing to remember here is that when the post clearly means nothing, you shouldn't be wasting too much thought trying to decipher it; flag it and move on with your life.

Note that this advice does not apply to questions or answers posted in horribly broken English; while those may well be Very Low Quality, in most cases they're still a slight step up from the sort of "cat on a keyboard" nonsense you're referring to.

  • 5
    Given the context, it sounds too much like verbal abuse. On my way to post a request to change the wording... Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 20:57
  • 2
    To the first line that's not a quote: I don't know. Yet your confidently asserting that I do. Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 22:18
  • 36
    Can we please finally just update the description to use a less overloaded term to indicate incomprehensible garbage? And where does the line get drawn on gibberish? If the question is "How do I do x in game y?" and someone posts "much question very ask so interesting wow", which is almost always a bad-faith non-answer, is that gibberish or just NAA?
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 22:55
  • 5
    Eh; that flag has always been subjective, @Tim; some folks raise it on anything with a cussword in it, others hesitate even on blatant death threats. Frankly, I don't mind folks having to think twice before using it, but if you have a suggestion for an improvement over "inappropriate for respectful discourse" then throw up a suggestion.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 0:14
  • 9
    Isn't the broad subjectivity a bad thing though? I agree that people shouldn't flag carelessly, but I'm worried people are too hesitant to cast flags the system can handle automatically in favour of those that require moderator intervention. But I don't know what the desired behaviour is, so I'm not sure what text is most appropriate.
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 1:55
  • 2
    The desired behavior is for folks to flag things that bug them, @Tim - with enough resistance to prevent consensus except in situations where something is widely believed to be offensive or abusive.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 3:10
  • 1
    So, recapitulating, unintelligible gibberish that don't reach the "broken english" category must be flagged as offensive. Is this still valid?
    – Braiam
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 6:39
  • 3
    More to the point, should we pay attention to other variables in the post such as account age, current reputation, and consistency of gibberish, giving the benefit of the doubt and using the VLQ flag for actual cat-walking-across-keyboard posts, saving the rude/abusive flag for posts that are obviously an intentional abuse of the system, or should we just blindly jump on the rude/abusive flag if we see anything that isn't legible? Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 6:47
  • 8
    @Shog this answer of yours kind of conflicts with this older answer, where you clearly advice to use VLQ flag for gibberish, and not abusive. Which should we take? Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 7:07
  • 5
    Believe it or not, we changed the flagging system considerably over the past 4 years, in part because of posts like the one you link to, @ShadowWizard. See my edit.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:01
  • 2
    You can apply metrics to the user though. If it is a brand new user with no other posts or contributions to the community, it is extremely likely that it is intentional. If it is a user with 4k rep, it is much more likely that a cat walked across the keyboard while they were grabbing a coffee. In the latter case, is it not at least common courtesy to use a VLQ flag instead of imposing the -100 penalty that goes along with a rude/abusive flag? Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:31
  • 1
    Unless you have good reason to believe there's more going on than meets the eye (or you're one of those people who gets all bummed about any disputed flag), my advice remains: don't over think it. @tiny
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:39
  • 2
    Then I wouldn't worry about all this.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 0:32
  • 21
    As far as my experience goes, I think that people are arguing about "oh, what flag to use" not because they really like the mental exercise, but because based on reports flags often get dismissed unless they are of the exact type the reviewing user/mods expect. So, I fear that if someone wonder "is this spam, offensive or not an answer" is just because he flagged some gibberish as rude in the past (see =>"I'm partial to "rude or abusive", because enough of them immediately delete and lock the post") and got a reply they should have used NAA instead. Or the exact opposite. Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 13:19
  • 3
    @Shog9 - Is this still your current advice on the usage of flags, because I am getting mod push back severely for my using R&A flags.
    – Chad
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 20:05

Let us see what the rude or abusive flag means.

A reasonable person would find this content inappropriate for respectful discourse.

I think that


is inappropriate discourse in general (at least I would not start a conversation about it), so it is also inappropriate for respectful discourse. Hence this flag can be used for such answer.

Also, it is abusive since the post of such "answer" is abusing the system.

However, be careful with using this flag when the user has more than 1 rep or if the user has other, non-gibberish posts. It could be a mistake, e.g. a real cat on the keyboard, and then the -100 penalty is way too severe. However, this is extremely rare.

It is not spam. Use the spam flag only if a question is promoting services or if an answer is promoting services is a spammy way.

  • 7
    Also, "agpyeghrujdsg" doesn't answer the question, so NAA; appears to have low quality, hence VLQ. It's mostly subjective.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 10:54

We don't, because there's no need at all.

How are spam posts and rude or abusive posts similar?

  • They add zero or even negative value to Stack Exchange
  • We don't want either of them to exist on Stack Exchange

How do we deal with S and R/A?

  • We raise red flags
  • 6 red flags = forced deletion + punishment
  • The SE system doesn't distinguish S flags and R/A flags (they have exactly the same effect)

What about rubbish?

  • It adds zero or negative value to SE
  • We hate rubbish
  • We raise red flags for rubbish, more specifically, R/A flags
  • Rubbish gets wiped out soon, and the OP receives rep penalty
  • The SE system doesn't distinguish spam/RA/rubbish

So what? Conclusion!

Rubbish is essentially the same as spam and R/A. There's no need to tell them apart.

  • 7
    Spam tends to repeat itself, so building up a collection of things known to be spam makes prevention easier. Rubbish doesn't tend to repeat itself.
    – Mark
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 1:19

As one of the other answers states, multiple flags could be considered correct:

It's VLQ, it's abuse, it's Not An Answer, heck it might even be a spammer, testing the waters...

Since there is more than one "correct" flag, it is ultimately up to you to decide which flag you prefer to use.

However, contrary to the preferences expressed in the other answers, I would personally be against using "rude or abusive" unless the account is brand new, and would instead flag it as "very low quality" or "not an answer."

The reason I feel this way is that it is possible for someone to accidentally make such a post.

Someone's phone might turn on while in their pockets or purse ("purse typing"). Someone's kid or pet might mess with their computer while they are away. Etc.

And in cases such as these, I do not feel that the harsh penalty imposed from such flags is warranted.

So if a user with a non-negligible amount of reputation made such a post, I feel that deleting their answer as VLQ or NAA is more fair than deleting it as rude or abusive (R/A).

However, if the account is brand new or has a very low reputation, then I would be in favor of flagging it as rude or abusive because in a case like this, it is much more likely to be deliberate rather than unintentional.

Therefore, in my opinion, it is most fair to use "rude or abusive" only if the account is new or has negligible reputation, and to otherwise flag such posts as VLQ or NAA.

Ultimately, the choice is yours as to how you wish to flag such answers (as long as the flag you choose makes sense), but this is my personal opinion about the most fair approach.


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