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In this post I'll detail my ideas on how to fix chat flagging. Most of them have been posted in some form before, but I think it is necessary to view those different ideas together as they interact at various points. I've also refined some older ideas and added more details.

I won't repeat the long discussions here on why chat flagging is in need of improvements, there are enough posts on this on meta. The main goals of my ideas are to reduce the drama the current system causes and to improve the ability to deal with problematic users in chat.

Fix the chat flagging UI

The current UI for flagging is confusing, there are two different places where the flagging actions are exposed, one only uses the spam/offensive flag without any indication that moderator flags exists. The other exposes both flag types, but the moderator flag option is less visible. My impression is that many users only know the spam/offensive type flag and use it for every situation, which is a problem.

There should be only one single flagging dialog, similar to the one on the main sites. It can still be triggered from multiple places, but it should always present a choice between the flag types.

Add more flag types

I propose to have the following types of flags with different behaviour:

inappropriate: removes the message but doesn't cause suspension

offensive/spam: removes the message and causes a short suspension

requesting external intervention: this flag is only visible to moderators outside the room

moderator flag flag for moderator attention

One thing the many complaints about the chat flagging system have shown is that people react strongly to being suspended for a perceived or actually invalid reason. It doesn't matter that the 30-60 minute suspension is a very mild punishment, any punishment that is perceived as undeserved leads very often to a strong reaction. There are many situations in which the suspension is not necessary and removal of the message alone would solve it. For this I propose to add the "inappropriate" flag reason.

The changes I'm proposing will make moderation more local, which has a certain danger. Differences in room culture are fine, but this can get out of control without outside intervention. This is why I added a flag specifically to request outside help. Maybe the general moderator flag would be sufficient for this, the main reason for the flag type is not the slightly different behaviour, but the documentation aspect.

The language here is not meant to be final, just to convey the idea of the different flag types.

Require users to view the context

Viewing the context can be very helpful to decide whether a flag is valid or not, I personally click through to the transcript every time before acting. I think this should be enforced in the software, and either the flag dialog should show a few lines of context or viewing the transcript should be forced before being able to act on a flag.

Escalate the number of users seeing a flag

This is the big change, the current behaviour of showing flags immediately to everyone is in my opinion responsible for most of the problematic aspect of chat flagging. The current behaviour has two consequences:

  • it draws a lot of attention to incidents, often inciting further escalation
  • only the quickest users get to decide the fate of a flag, anyone looking closer before acting is usually too late

What I propose is to only show the flags to all eligible users currently in the room, and only expand the visibility of the flag if necessary.

There are a few factors to consider when choosing the users that get to see the flag.

Currently being in the room is the prime criterion, those users very likely know the context already and are familiar with the room.

Activity is the second most important factor, chat flags need to be handled reasonably quickly, they should be shown to users that are likely viewing the chat window right now.

Familiarity with the specific chat room is very useful as well, so I'd use the number of messages posted in that room as a third criterion.

If a flag is not decided on in a short timeframe by the users that can currently see it, it should be shown to some more users. It is likely useful here to distinguish users taking no action at all on the flag, and users at least clicking on the flag indicator and viewing the flag. The number of users being able to see the flag should be expanded very quickly until enough users clicked on the flag that it can likely be resolved by those users (this obviously should take into account if the user is a moderator or not).

The goal is to show the flag to enough users that it can be resolved, but not much more than that.

Better tools for moderators

There are already some recent improvements to this aspect that help a lot, but it can still be rather time-consuming to find out what is happening when trying to investigate a situation.

It would be helpful to see important information inline in the chat window (or transcript). Seeing deleted messages inline would save a lot of time. Another useful thing would be the ability to see resolved flags inline as well, so quickly see which posts the whole thing is about (if there is more than one).

Another useful tool would be a list of recent moderator-relevant events in a room. Moderator-relevant events are mostly flags and now also kick-mutes, but timeouts and similar should appear there as well. Right now you pretty much have to be present when it happens, chat has no memory which can make it hard to figure out what happened if you arrive after the fact.

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    Well this and this – Benjamin Gruenbaum Sep 14 '14 at 11:39
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    -1 I agree this is a problem but I don't think this is the solution. I think we should drop non-mod flags altogether now that room owners can kick. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Sep 14 '14 at 11:44
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    The trouble with showing it only to the local chat users is that when everyone present is so involved in a discussion or dispute that their emotions are high, that's the same time we're asking them to apply good judgement. Those two things don't mix. Otherwise, I agree with having more accountability and traceability. – Kit Z. Fox Sep 14 '14 at 11:44
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    @BenjaminGruenbaum You don't always have a room owner present, and they can't delete arbitrary messages. The kick ability can not replace chat flags entirely. – Mad Scientist Sep 14 '14 at 12:22
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    @KitFox In many cases there is a larger number of users watching the whole mess that are not directly involved. And for those cases where the local handling doesn't work I added the explicit flag for outside assistance. – Mad Scientist Sep 14 '14 at 12:24
  • Can you clarify - should the "requires outside intervention" flag be only visible to moderators, or be a full broadcast? – user98085 Sep 14 '14 at 13:01
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    @FEichinger Only mods. This flag indicates a possible larger problem with the entire room, and such issues should be handled by a moderator. – Mad Scientist Sep 14 '14 at 13:03
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+50

Flagging in chat is broken. This proposal would be a major improvement. In particular, "requesting outside intervention" (mod-only) would help with contentious cases like we've seen recently -- anybody involved in the room who is unhappy about either lots of bogus flags or valid flags being dismissed (depending on which side of the argument he's on) can escalate. We shouldn't leave flags just to room occupants if things are getting heated.

I think two further improvements are needed for moderators:

  • As I suggested here, make it easier for moderators to audit flagging history in their site's rooms after the fact. Your suggestion to log events like timeouts and kicks is good; I want to add insight into flagging itself, even if it didn't result in those actions.

  • Raise auto-flags for moderators (and log in the room, same as for timeouts etc) if flag or flag-decline velocity or overall volume reach certain thresholds. I don't know what those thresholds should be, but if a room is attracting a burst of flags, or if most flags are being declined, that's something it's worth telling moderators about. Chat raises moderator auto-flags for users who are repeatedly kicked, and the main sites raise auto-flags for things like high comment volume and many edits to the same post, so this suggestion is in that spirit.

  • The logging should certainly include flags, but I'd also make it available to all mods as flags are very often handled by outside moderators. – Mad Scientist Dec 3 '15 at 16:46
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    +100 for auto-flagging if flag declines reach a certain rate. That would solve a lot of potential problems. – Nathan Tuggy Dec 3 '15 at 17:56
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I agree as well.

More flag options mean that the flag reviewers have a better idea of what the flag is for and the "protocol" for dealing with the flag at hand. I think though, the external flag should also be able to reach the local moderators as well. This would mean some outside mods and some mods who understand the room culture and deal the flag with ease.

For the people dealing the flags, they should at least have the Established User privilege and a good flag rate to be able to handle the flags here. With the Established User privilege required, these people have been here for quite sometime and will most likely know when to flag and how to handle them. A good flag rate will be able to ensure that they can handle flags as well as the mods and others can (well as close as possible). To prevent too much activity, maybe show some of the users there who are currently active in the chat.

Also, mods should get a bit more privileges.

  • Mods should be able to see the flag history and the names of the people raising the flags of the chat room (like Monica Celio said). This could help find who the troublemakers are and deal with them swiftly and appropiately if action is ever required

  • Mods should also be able to see flagging statistics and get auto-flags if the amount of flags or the rate of declining flags are higher than normal for that chatroom. This can alert moderators to the scene/put the chatroom under 24 hour surveillance (also requested by Monica Celio)

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There's several problems with chat flags

  1. One flag for EVERYTHING
  2. No context for what was said (yes, you can open up a transcript via link but that takes time)
  3. Twitch flag responses - Most flags seem to get closed in less than 5 seconds (see #2 for why this is isn't a good thing). I suspect in some cases that people see their buddies get flagged and quickly review it out of the queue.
  4. Anger at flagging - Most common thing in a log right after a flagged chat message? "Who the f*** flagged that?" And often there's a flash mob railing against the flag.
  5. One punishment for a sustained flag - deletion and 30 min temp ban (if we used the flags for only Offensive/Spam, like it said, this wouldn't be an issue)

Unless a mod comes in and does something else, Chat flags are the wild west. Shoot from the hip and hope you hit something. 3 seconds to decide if someone gets a ban.

Clearer rules will help, but the flags themselves are a pain. There are a few things that could help clean this part of chat up (and help enforce new rules)

  1. More reasons in flagging. Break things down into Spam, Rude or Abusive and Needs Removal (covers things that don't need to be in the log but don't warrant a ban)
  2. Different results based on the flag. Spam always gets a 30 min ban but Rude could get a warning then 10/30/60 ban (people like that might just come back in swinging). Needs Removal would simply be removed from the log with the reason provided by the flagger
  3. Force moderation to happen in a queue in a separate window, just like Q&A does. Right now I can quick moderate all flags in 3 seconds without leaving chat. The moderation window needs to provide the chat log prior to the flagged line.

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