Update: declining this in favor of Drop "not constructive", combine "noisy", reword "rude" and "other" comment flags


I'm sick of comment flags, and I'm pretty sure everyone else is too. They've been a problem for five years, and they're just getting worse.

Don't get me wrong: rude/vulgar/stupid comments are a plague. We don't want this to be YouTube, and know good and well it could easily go that route. But the current method of handling them is inordinately labor-intensive and still produces inconsistent results.

I'm done holding out hope that we'll find a magic bullet here; any solution is going to make everyone unhappy to some degree. What's important is that we find a strategy that actually has some hope of actually working when it comes to the usual problems.

So here's what I'm proposing:

Three types of comment flags, with actual differences between them

Right now, there are a whopping five choices when flagging a comment:

And guess what: they all do exactly the same thing¹. The only reason we have 5 of them is as an educational tool for flaggers; the system treats them exactly the same, and for the most part so do moderators – the only exception is when someone occasionally writes something useful in the box after selecting "other".

So let's scrap all that, and replace them with...

  • Rude or abusive

    This comment is offensive or off-putting; a reasonable person would find it inappropriate for respectful discourse.

    These should still go straight to the moderators, along with an indication of how many past comments the author of the comment has had deleted because of rudeness.

    The options available to moderators handling these flags should be: [Delete + suspend], [Delete], [Edit] and [Dismiss].

  • No longer needed

    This comment is obsolete, chatty or otherwise unnecessary; it can offer no future benefit to either the author or other readers.

    Should not be shown to moderators unless the comment thread attracts more than threshold flags, at which point an automatic flag should be raised on the post. Note that moderators are already notified when a thread attracts a high volume of comments in a short period of time, so this would essentially complement that by indicating to mods when a thread needed cleanup due to gradual accretion

    The options available to moderators handling these flags should be: [Move thread to chat and delete], [Delete] and [Dismiss].

  • Other

    There is a serious problem with this comment, but it is neither blatantly abusive nor simply unnecessary. Describe the problem in detail.

    These should go straight to the mod queue as well, annotated with the name of the flagger.

    Options should be [Delete All], [Delete], [Edit] and [Dismiss].

¹ Note: This is not fully accurate anymore. If a user’s comments are consistently flagged as rude/abusive or not constructive, a moderator flag is raised.

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    Would enough upvotes on a comment act to 'dismiss' the flag, or just raise the threshold for it to be multi-flag deleted, as it does now? – Undo Apr 5 '15 at 23:17
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    What about obsolete comments that are no longer necessary but aren't exactly creating "noise"? – Doorknob Apr 5 '15 at 23:18
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    What about them, @Doorknob? When/if they amount to noise, then let's get rid of them. – Shog9 Apr 5 '15 at 23:19
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    This sounds good, but I'm not sure having the only way to disagree with flags should be upvoting them. Sometimes the flag is wrong but I see no point in upvoting the comment. I think we can turn this on and then see how much of an issue that is though. It might not need fixing after all. – ɥʇǝS Apr 5 '15 at 23:19
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    @Doorknob - obsolete comments by definition are noise ;0 – rolfl Apr 5 '15 at 23:20
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    Just to be clear, the upvote vs. flag behavior is how it currently works - if you have suggestions for changing that, go ahead & post 'em, but frankly if you're dithering over whether a comment is important enough to warrant a vote then I'm not seeing a whole lot of motivation to keep that comment around. – Shog9 Apr 5 '15 at 23:26
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    @Shog9 Take, for example, rolfl's comment above. I've never felt the need to know exactly who flagged a comment and I honestly have a lot of other things I care about a lot more. Now, if someone flagged it as noise I would have to upvote it and, by doing so, show that I agree with him and support his complaint/request/etc. The comment is obviously not noise but I really see zero reason to upvote it. Actually, it could be actively harmful. I'm now supporting something I don't really care about. Some would call that lying. – ɥʇǝS Apr 5 '15 at 23:45
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    What if I actively disagreed? I shouldn't be forced to upvote it to mark the flag invalid. – ɥʇǝS Apr 5 '15 at 23:46
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    Doesn't seem like a terrible idea. After a while run some stats, and see the effectiveness. I think this would likely reduce comment clutter a bit for newer posts, but wouldn't do much to help out all the old comment clutter, except for on real popular old posts. Preferably you would give SEDE the data so we could run queries seeing which comments have x many flags already but still aren't deleted. This could help really clean them out more effectively. – CRABOLO Apr 6 '15 at 1:44
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    If this is implemented, the threshold for "notify mods of noise" should be site-configurable. Otherwise on slow sites those flags will linger forever, telling the flaggers that nobody cares about their flags -- which is discouraging. On the smallest sites, 1 could still be a reasonable threshold for action. – user259867 Apr 6 '15 at 1:58
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    Even if you do nothing else, giving mods access to aggregate flag history for rude comments would be a huge help. We have no way of getting that information now and it's a PITA to try to track that externally. – Monica Cellio Apr 6 '15 at 2:29
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    We should also hide flags on comments that the viewer has upvoted, thus making for a simple way of disputing flags - just upvote the comment. – I am not exactly sure on the details of the implementation, but this seems like a bad idea: It quite often happens that I upvote a constructive comment and flag it as obsolete later. See also: Allow flagging a comment after upvoting it. – Wrzlprmft Apr 6 '15 at 13:07
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    While it's a great idea to condense the whole comment flag reasons, I'm not sure "noisy" is a particularly good word. It sounds a bit too unclear, subjective and lax to me and might invite abuse. What about "not useful" or something similar? But of course I'm just arguing about phrasing details here. – Christian Rau Apr 6 '15 at 14:20
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    The too chatty and the not constructive should be merged, the other flags can be left alone. I think the flag system has improved (re. EL&U) a lot recently, it's become much quicker, and I see fewer offensive comments. Maybe users are more polite on EL&U than on other SE sites. – Mari-Lou A Apr 10 '15 at 8:28
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    @Shog9 Obsolete comments are functionally different than noise to the owner though: users usually want to clean up truly obsolete comments, so they're usually not disputed by anyone. What would be useful is having obsolete-noisy flags notify the owner of the comment (as well as go into the "noisy" bucket for mods), so that users are notified that it's time to clean up their own comments. – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 17:40

12 Answers 12

100% agree comment flags need updating. But the "regular user" in me is screaming that I'm going to be using that 'other' flag reason a lot more than those listed because (1) they don't cover the real-world problems I most want to flag, and (2) they're primarily describing the effect of these comments rather than identifying the problem I'm actually trying to resolve (a classic X-Y problem).

Okay, let's start with this premise…

"Comments" are a misnomer

We invite uninitiated users (not privy to our endless meta discussions) to "comment"... but bark at them when their comments don't fall under some very specific use cases. That's our fault (more on that another time). But let's at least make these 'flags' instructive rather than labeling these activities with blunt accusations that don't at all describe what any reasonable, non SE-regular person would expect — "I'm being noisy? rude? What a bunch of fargin iceholes."

We have an on-going problem of perception. Stack Exchange users pick up on this terminology (from our flags and close reasons) and pass it on verbatim as guidance. We say things like "this is noise" or "this is not constructive" directly to unsuspecting users who are having a completely normal interaction just about anywhere else. Yes, we know what these flags actually mean here, but this SE-speak is all very unwelcoming to just about everyone else looking on.

Flags that actually describe the problem

This is really rough and draft-y, but here's what I suggest for starters:

I am flagging this comment because...

◉ unwelcoming comments violate our 'be nice' policy
⭕ does not seek clarification nor improve the post
⭕ answer posted as a comment
⭕ comment no longer needed
⭕ other...

This includes the 'rude or offensive' scenario — but 99% of the time, I'm not necessarily flagging Nazi references or four-letter words. Typically it's just someone pandering to the crowd with off-putting quips like "Are you too lazy to read the manual?" ... sorry, but <poof> deleted. But as a flag-able offense, I'd be hard-pressed to outright accuse someone of being overtly rude or offensive. It's just a bad habit brought in from the broader Internet that we simply don't do here; but it does need to be flagged.

  • Does not seek clarification nor improve the post

This covers 'too chatty' which is now part of 'noisy'. Being called noisy is an awfully obtuse accusation for someone who is sharing a bit of experience about the question (too chatty) or for someone who was offering a helpful suggestion which was later resolved (obsolete).

Comments are generally designed to ask for clarification or to make suggestions to improve the post. There are other use cases, but this flag generally covers all those tangents, quips, asides, conversations, and discussions that are outside what we traditionally consider a valid comment.

  • Answer posted in comment

This one isn't even covered. New users sometimes mistakenly start typing their answers into the closest text box they can find. Other times, a user simply cannot be bothered to write up a proper answer, so they drop something half-baked into comment where it's not subject to the vetting and voting features that a proper 'answer' provides. Others feel their pseudo-answer is just a hint, or that they don't actually know except to say, "I think it has something to do with..." But generally speaking, answers should not be submitted as comments. If you find such comments useful, flagging is not compulsory. Flags are always vetted in some manner by users or moderators before being acted upon, so communities can decide for themselves what is useful or valid.

  • Comment no longer needed

This covers 'obsolete' comments, but this flag was omitted entirely from the revised flag list. Unfortunately, very few people are going to realize that resolved issues are now being called "noisy."

As an aside, I really do hate that our local community moderators are spending ungodly amounts of time running around picking up scraps of paper here and there surrounding the city dump, but until we find a better way to clean up resolved comments, this is all we have; the obsolete flag.

[Note: I'm actually open to the suggestion that maybe we shouldn't be asking folks to 'flag' resolved comments at all. It's not that we shouldn't remove them if we have that ability, but this flag-investigate-delete-cleanup workflow (one. comment. at. a. time) BARRRRELY puts a dent into something that is essentially harmless but no longer needed. So for all the community resources we throw at this, the actual net benefit of removing this miniscule sampling is virtually zero. Think about it.]

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    On the sites I am active on, answers posted as comments rather come from regular than from new users. After all, very new users cannot post comments anywhere (except here on Meta). That being said, I think that having an answer-posted-in-comment flag (or similar) is a good thing. – Wrzlprmft Apr 10 '15 at 9:04
  • Reword suggestion: Does not improve the post nor seek clarification – Travis J Apr 10 '15 at 14:37
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    I do like this set a little more than just having "Noisy" (as I indicate in an answer below), but one thing I liked about Shog9's suggestions was that they also included suggested moderation paths for each flag. Could you also indicate what paths you see for these suggested flags? – Travis J Apr 10 '15 at 14:40
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    @Wrzlprmft Survey any random collection of posts and ask yourself for each comment you see, "can this comment be removed now?" They're not hard to find. Then extrapolate that over 30+ millions posts. All I'm suggesting is that for the amount of work we shovel into the mod queue to read, investigate, delete, and cleanup the surrounding conversations... one. comment. at. a time, the net benefit of removing this miniscule sampling is virtually zero. – Robert Cartaino Apr 10 '15 at 15:01
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    @RobertCartaino - Re: flag-investigate-delete-cleanup workflow . For comments which are "no longer needed", perhaps once flagged, the original OP could be somehow prompted to remove the comment if they feel it is obsolete, and if they approve, delete, gone - and if they decline then a moderator investigates. – Travis J Apr 10 '15 at 17:51
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    @TravisJ Interesting idea. The only hitch is they don't have the ability to then clean up any related comments, leaving the rest of the conversation fragmented. Let me think on that, though. – Robert Cartaino Apr 10 '15 at 17:59
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    @TravisJ: That’s exactly or at least very close to what I am suggesting. – Wrzlprmft Apr 10 '15 at 18:15
  • @RobertCartaino one way to take care of fragmented conversation remainders that comes to mind is to raise automatic system flag for mod attention (in case if post has comments dated later than one deleted by a notified author). FWIW some active commenters may wish to have a way to opt-out of such notifications... – gnat Apr 10 '15 at 18:16
  • @Wrzlprmft - It was a good suggestion :D It is in another answer as well. – Travis J Apr 10 '15 at 18:17
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    @TravisJ: I just saw that. I feel, that any minute now we are having a fragmented discussion about fragmented discussions. – Wrzlprmft Apr 10 '15 at 18:18
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    @Wrzlprmft -- busted! If this set of flags was in use, I would be racking up lots of "answer posted as a comment" flags. I have a bad habit of parking proto-answers in the comments until I have time to come back and write a proper answer (and then clean up the mess I made in the comments). A flag reminding me not to do this might be a good thing. – Jan Murphy Apr 10 '15 at 19:00
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    I like your categories - but what's missing here is how they should be handled. My primary goal is to create a set of categories sufficiently distinct that they can be (finally) treated independently, both by moderators and by the system itself - somewhat akin to how Spam and Not An Answer flags on answers are routed and handled. For instance, "answer posted as a comment" could potentially result in feedback to the author rather than the mod team (who can't readily convert comments to answers anyway) while "does not improve the post" could sit idle unless seconded. Let's discuss Monday... – Shog9 Apr 12 '15 at 3:30
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    I like this. This might be scope creep, but how would you feel about "no longer needed" (or obsolete, in the current parlance) flags being routed to the author to resolve? As a moderator I spend way too much time on those -- somebody says this is obsolete but I don't know who or if he knows what he's talking about, so now I have to read the post or the revision history to decide, and... eh, maybe I'll just ignore it. But the author of the comment knows the context and is better equipped to handle it. Of course, this would mean developing some UI; we need to be able to ask him "yes or no?". – Monica Cellio May 18 '15 at 21:20
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    "unwelcoming comments violate our 'be nice' policy" - "unwelcoming" feels imprecise, kind of vague. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I usually use the rude or offense flag for blatant rudeness. Unwelcoming reads more like "Nobody said hi to me...", but we don't want people making small talk whether its polite or not. Perhaps just "Violates our 'be nice' policy" would be more direct. – apaul May 22 '15 at 1:54
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    New users sometimes mistakenly start typing their answers into the closest text box they can find. New users can't comment right? – Unitato Jul 3 '17 at 9:21

I was going to post this as a separate feature request, but it seems to go fine here: How about keeping obsolete (or something similar) and inform the comment’s author about such a flag? If the author disagrees with the flag or fails to react to it within a certain time (e.g., 24 h), it is automatically converted to a noisy flag.

I have the following arguments for and against this:

  • Compared to the current system, it shifts work from the moderators to the users and also reduces the work, as the author of a comment is usually more familiar with the situation and can decide more easily whether the flag is actually obsolete. In particular it does not create additional work.

  • Compared to the suggested system, this may create more work, but this effect is alleviated by the aforementioned effect of familiarity as well as the fact that the author of a comment can unilaterally delete it.

  • This reduces the chance that someone will not flag a comment as obsolete to avoid bothering the moderators, and may thus increase the number of obsolete flags. Whether this is a good or a bad thing can probably only be answered by experiment.

  • If users constructively commented on a post, there is a good chance that they are interested in the topic or, e.g., they are just waiting for a clarification before answering. Thus, such flags often coincide with an event that the comment author wants to know about anyway or they would have been informed of anyway (also see the point after the next). This also partially addresses the prominent feature request for informing downvoters about edits.

  • The most prominent exception to the above are arguably comments coming from reviewers. However, reviewers are performing moderating duties anyway and should thus be fine with a little additional workload from such flags.

  • It eliminates the need for creating another comment to inform a commenter that their comment has been reacted to (and is now obsolete). With other words, one could simply flag a constructive comment to one’s own post as obsolete instead of writing something like:

    You are indeed correct about this information missing. I clarified this. Thank you.

    As the post author in such a situation, I am in the dilemma between

    • just flagging the original comment and thus risking that its author never becomes aware of my amendments.
    • creating yet another comment, and thus more noise, to inform the original comment’s author about the amendments, thus risking that both comments remain (because the original comment’s author won’t delete a comment with a reply) or that I forget to delete my comment in time.

    What I am suggesting avoids this dilemma and in particular the reason to make comments for the sole purpose of notifying other commentors about something. Something similar also applies to cleaning up comments after a longer discussion.

  • Most comments become obsolete, because they have been useful. Therefore it is usually slightly rewarding, if this happens: One has helped to make the Internet a slightly better place.

  • The only reason I can imagine why an author would refuse to delete an actually obsolete comment is that they are aiming for the Pundit badge. This could be countered by having deleted comments (or only comments deleted as obsolete) count towards this badge – though this probably requires a disproportionate amount of work.

  • This avoids the problem of having negative words such as noisy, unconstructive or similar assigned to good comments.

One might also consider having this feature appear under a guise other than flags, to avoid the negative connotation that comes with it. For example, users usually do not want to read something starting with Your post has been flagged and arguably prefer something along the lines of:

Your comment has been considered to be obsolete by another user. If you can verify this, please delete your comment.

As a side effect, this may also reduce the disproportionate effect of comments on flagging badges and statistics.

Some arguments are adapted from SevenSidedDie’s answer.

  • Regarding your last point, how often do comments that go obsolete (quickly) reach a score of 5? – Scimonster Apr 6 '15 at 14:51
  • @Scimonster: It happens: I have deleted at least a few comments of mine with that score. But for the obvious reasons, I cannot provide a statistics on this. Also, why do the comments need to have gone obsolete quickly? – Wrzlprmft Apr 6 '15 at 14:57
  • This would drive me nuts. I don't want a bunch of notifications that my old comments are old. I'll groan and think "just delete it then!" Reading those notifications, visiting the threads, remembering what was going on, and deciding whether to delete comments is a lot of work for a user. It saves a couple reviews if they do, but a review is going to be shorter than this process. To be fair, I do think it would be a net amount of work saved. If they don't delete the comment, the best case is the user didn't read the notification; anything else and more work was created and ultimately wasted. – Esoteric Screen Name Apr 11 '15 at 11:15
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    @EsotericScreenName: It saves a couple reviews if they do, but a review is going to be shorter than this process. – Seriously: How? A review means that at least two users or one moderator will have it least the same trouble as you: “reading those notifications, visiting the threads, remembering what was going on, and deciding whether to delete comments”. In most cases, however, you will get these notifications on recent instead of old threads. Moreover, in many, if not most, cases, these events coincide with or replace a comment reply that you would have been notified of anyway. – Wrzlprmft Apr 11 '15 at 11:32
  • @Wrzlprmft a review is one person checking it through the streamlined interface; it takes multiple reviews to process an item in the queue. And it does not entail reading notifications or navigating to the thread. Surely you agree that one person reviewing one item via a queue is faster than your proposed process. – Esoteric Screen Name Apr 12 '15 at 2:05
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    @EsotericScreenName: So, if the comment’s author is given a review-like interface to decide about the fate of the comment, you would be happy? – Wrzlprmft Apr 12 '15 at 7:32
  • I left a comment here yesterday which I was going to delete, but got busy. I saw a notification of a reply but hadn't read it. Now, not only is that gone from here, but my own deleted comments are not even in my profile. That's a poor mechanism but a separate issue. I'm grateful someone took the time to delete it, however, in support of your idea, I would have appreciated knowing about the flag, not to question it, just for my edification. That brings up the issue of duration between flag and deletion. Rude should be immediate, not Obsolete, but that's another separate issue I suppose. – Sue Apr 12 '15 at 17:31
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    Sometimes my comment is obsolete ONLY if anther comment is also deleted…… – Ian Ringrose Oct 19 '16 at 9:57

Keep the "obsolete" flag reason, with notification to the comment owner

I second the proposal by Wrzlprmft to retain and improve the obsolete flag. From a user perspective, that I think will further streamline this for mods as well as easily add utility for users.

(Originally a duplicate due to missing the other answer proposing this. Kept because we both felt this had unique value.)

The obsolete flag reason should be kept, and made to add a notification to comment-owner's supercollider as well as put into the "noisy" flag bin for moderators (either immediately, or after a timeout of owner inaction). If the comment owner self-deletes, that clears the flag as useful.

Very often I will wrap up an exchange of comments with someone, and it's obvious that we are about to agree that we're done. What ends up happening then is that I can self-delete my now-obsolete comments, but I can only notify the other user that it's time to self-delete by creating a new comment. Then they self-delete, and my comment is left hanging around, obsolete, and I won't notice unless I check back. I often fix this by not commenting, and instead just flagging their comments as obsolete, since that's what the flag is for.

I often wish that I could short-cut the whole back-and-forth cleanup by notifying them directly that their comments are ready for cleanup, and I wish the current obsolete flag did that.

I use "obsolete" all the time in in this way, and I don't like the extra work it creates for mods. I don't like that the flags send the message to the wrong person in the first place. I would much prefer that I could notify the other person that its time to self-delete their comments and, if they get the notification promptly, save the mods some work. For that reason, I think "obsolete" is a useful distinction to keep, if we could add that functionality.


Pros:

  • Lets users take care of more flag-clearing load without having to implement anything but a new type of notification
  • Retains the clear call to action of the obsolete flag reason in the popup, avoiding needing to educate users how and when a useful comment can become noisy
  • Reduces the chance that someone will not flag an obsolete comment so as to avoid bothering the mods, and may actually increase obsolete flagging behaviour

Cons:

  • Requires developer time to add a new notification type

Maybe you have this planned, but I suggest including a summary description on the comment flag popup to describe the new options.

With Q&A flags, their descriptions can be a bit confusing/misleading, many posts about it etc, and new comment flag options will bring confusion, even if just from "a change" of what people are used to.

For example, Doorknobs comment "what about obsolete comments which are not exactly noise", which is a valid a point and many will have the same thought, as well as other confusions.

I agree "noisy" replaces "obsolete", but as "noisy" also replaces "not constructive" and "too chatty" it would be useful to make this clear under the flag options, so people don't get confused with the change and missing options they were used to.

A (basic/crude) example:

new-comment-flag=popup

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    If we do reduce the number of options, the summary is necessary. A lot of people will have no clue what "noisy" even means (especially for less technical stackexchanges) – WetlabStudent Apr 6 '15 at 0:39
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    Actually "unconstructive" might be better than noisy. I kind of think obsolete and too chatty are examples. Noisy is in my opinion too technical. – WetlabStudent Apr 6 '15 at 1:10
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    s/the above two/the other two/ – tchrist Apr 6 '15 at 3:37
  • @tchrist Fair enough - it was just a crude example tho, Stack wouldn't be using the text I write, they'd use their own. Was more to show the idea of listing the old close reasons within a new one - so people can see "what do I use for obsolete now - oh, I see" – James Apr 6 '15 at 11:23
  • The first explanation is umm kind of redundant. The second one I can see as useful. Maybe as a tooltip? – Tim Apr 6 '15 at 12:21
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    @Tim I agree the first one is redundant, but if you have the second one because it is the entire point of my suggesting them (to show users this new flag is now for the old ones - unconcstrictive, obsolete etc), then you have to have them all really. A description on one and not the others will look "unfinished" and "might" bring confusion. Tooltips are not immediately obvious, and can be missed – James Apr 6 '15 at 12:25
  • Yeah, I see your point about tooltips being redundant... – Tim Apr 6 '15 at 12:53
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    Not gonna use "unconstructive" unless we can make it "deconstructive" on Philosophy. – Shog9 Apr 7 '15 at 0:19

One aspect that is extremely annoying as a user when trying to moderate comments is that I have to do this for each comment individually. This inevitably means that I'll run into rate limits, and makes it pretty much impossible to flag more than 2-3 comments if you value your sanity. As a moderator, it's much easier. I click delete on every comment that should vanish, and it happens immediately. Or I nuke all comments and undelete the few that are worth saving.

This is mostly an issue with noisy or obsolete comments, there are quite often a whole bunch of them and not just a single one. A single noisy comment is also not really that big a deal, an entire noisy and pointless discussion is far more distracting. As a user I don't even bother flagging them, I either leave it be or just flag the parent post.

If the idea is to enable the community to handle certain comments by itself, I think we need the ability to act on multiple comments more easily.

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    I think the recommended action is to flag the parent post when lots of comments need to go. – Scimonster Apr 6 '15 at 16:53
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    @Scimonster Yes, which means the moderators have to deal with it. This works now, but it doesn't work as well when the idea is to let the community handle some comments. – Mad Scientist Apr 6 '15 at 16:54
  • I thought comment vote rate limits were removed.. – ɥʇǝS Apr 10 '15 at 19:20
  • @ɥʇǝS Hmm, I haven't flagged many comments at once for a while now as I knew it would not work well. If the limits were changed, I might not have noticed it. – Mad Scientist Apr 10 '15 at 19:41
  • See revision 53: meta.stackexchange.com/posts/164900/revisions (I cannot find the link to the meta post right now, sorry) – ɥʇǝS Apr 10 '15 at 19:45

I've been thinking about flags for a long time, and recently I turned my attention to comment flags. Out of sheer curiosity, I ran some numbers for the past year of comments flags across the network - to see how many helpful/declined flags we get in each flag type. In 2016, we had 354,440 comments flagged, of those 332,237 were marked helpful. The breakdown is:

+-------------------+-----------------+------------------+-------------+-----------+
|   Comment Flag    | # Helpful Flags | # Declined Flags | Total Flags | % Helpful |
+-------------------+-----------------+------------------+-------------+-----------+
| Obsolete          | 158,527         | 2,575            | 161,102     | 98.4      |
| Too Chatty        | 63,040          | 1,747            | 64,787      | 97.3      |
| Not Constructive  | 76,314          | 8,832            | 85,146      | 89.63     |
| Rude or Offensive | 21,180          | 4,835            | 26,015      | 81.41     |
| Other             | 13,176          | 4,174            | 7,350       | 75.94     |
+-------------------+-----------------+------------------+-------------+-----------+
| Total             | 332,237         | 22,163           | 54,400      | 93.75     |
+-------------------+-----------------+------------------+-------------+-----------+

Both 'Obsolete' and 'Too Chatty' have a higher helpful rate when compared to the other flag types, and when reading the help center about comment flags the guidance is very similar. In my experience, those flags are typically very easy to process, and involve the least amount of effort in deciding if it's accurate.

For the other 3 comment flag types, you typically need to spend a bit more time deciding if the flag is correct. But I'd also guess that the decline rates on 'Not Constructive', 'Rude/Offensive' or 'Other' flags is from those flags being used incorrectly (more on this later).

The reason I've been thinking about comment flags is because in August 2016, we implemented a new auto-flag for moderators to point out users who consistently have comments flagged as rude or not-constructive. In looking at how accurate these auto-flags are, I've come to the realization that they stink. It's not because the auto-flag is bad. It's because users are flagging comments with the wrong reasons, moderators are told to process comment flags quickly, and spend very little time thinking about comment flags. As a result, we have poor comment flaggers, with no correction of the poor flagging, which then leads to noisy auto-flags being thrown at the moderators to handle.

The current flag dialog is, well, a bit terrible. The options aren't very clear and there is zero guidance in the dialog.

I've seen comments like:

You're welcome, glad i could helps.

Updated with the latest spec.

Thank you very much

all flagged as Not Constructive, when really they should have been flagged as too chatty.

Our options to fix this are:

  1. tell the moderators to spend more time on comment flags, and decline stuff flagged wrong to train the flaggers,
  2. adjust the rude/not-constructive auto-flag trigger to minimize what is included,
  3. or, revamp the comment flag options to try & capture what people are really flagging for

I chose option 3. Searching many Meta sites, you'll find posts about comment flags being declined, or confusion about what flag to use. Let's just make the dialog, and options a bit clearer.

I fully agree with minimizing or consolidating the flagging options, as suggested in the question. However, I'm concerned about the category 'Noisy'. Using 'noisy' to include things that have little value, aren't needed, or are unnecessary, sounds ok, but I'm unsure how many people will understand that definition of the word. I went in search of another word or phrase for it and got a lot of really good suggestions. I also like some of the suggestions by Robert, but I think they are getting too far into the weeds. The comment flag categories, in my opinion, should be easily recognizable to minimize any confusion.

I think we can consolidate the current options into 3 categories similar to your proposal but maybe alter the 'Noisy' option just slightly. I recommend the following:

Rude or Offensive

Keep this category as it falls in line with the Be Nice policy. When handling these moderators will be able to [Delete] or [Dismiss] from the flag queue and if necessary, they'd message a user with a suspension if required.

Irrelevant or Superfluous

I'm aware this is just quibble over a word, but I don't think 'Noisy' is as clear-cut of a name that you'd like. Irrelevant or Superfluous keep the spirit of your original suggestion by encompassing the no value, not needed, or even obsolete that we're replacing. I agree with your options available to handle these comments: [Move thread to chat and delete], [Delete] and [Dismiss].

Other

This should remain in the event a comment doesn't fit into any of the previous categories.

Besides adjusting the categories, I'd also suggest we add a bit of help to the users inside of the comment dialog box. This dialog should be updated to be similar to the post dialog - offering some guidance to the users. A very rough draft could be:

comment flag dialog

I think that by offering more guidance to the users and minimizing the number of categories, we might make comment flags a little less stupid. This would also allow the new auto-flag to solely use 'rude or offensive' flags as the indicator that moderators might need to address a problem user.

I'm open to leaving more categories if we don't want to reduce this to 3 flag comment types, but I think having some high-level buckets with guidance will help considerably.

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    Reducing the amount of reasons is great idea, thanks. Two more suggestions though: 1) have three rude or offensive flags auto nuke the comment, instead of the six required today (or is it four? I always forget with comments). 2) Add a checkbox "All or most other comments under this post also need moderation" (or something shorter) to reduce "other" flags saying the same. What do you think? – Shadow Wizard Jan 12 '17 at 22:54
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    I like the thought you've put into this. My only concern is that "superfluous" may be a stumbling block for non-native speakers; "unnecessary" - which you use in the description - is somewhat more common a word. – Shog9 Jan 12 '17 at 22:55
  • @Shog9 I'm ok with that as well, I was torn between the two. I really tried to find words that fit as a big bucket of meh we don't need this any longer but would make sense to anyone including non-native speakers. – Taryn Jan 12 '17 at 22:57
  • @ShadowWizard I'll have to think a bit more about both. I like the idea of #1, but I wonder the implications of that (gang flagging). #2, might minimize the other flags but I'll need to kick it around some. – Taryn Jan 12 '17 at 22:59
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    I like the general approach, but one problem that some of us mods struggle with from obsolete flags will remain and perhaps get even worse with this approach. At least now I have the information that somebody thinks a comment is obsolete, though I have to do way too much digging to figure out why; now I might face this investigatory problem with everything coming in as irrelevant. Any chance of allowing the flagger to communicate why if he doesn't think it's obvious? – Monica Cellio Jan 12 '17 at 22:59
  • @MonicaCellio Are you talking about subcategories or a text box for explanation? – Taryn Jan 12 '17 at 23:07
  • @bluefeet well, those are just comments... and it's easy enough to find such "gang flagging" and stop it (warnings, suspensions) when someone reports. (e.g. "Why was my valid comment gone?") – Shadow Wizard Jan 12 '17 at 23:07
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    @bluefeet when I wrote that question I was thinking subcategories (because "obsolete" was a flag type), but with your change I would use a text box, "inline" in the dialogue if possible. User clicks "irrelevant" and gets a textbox with "Why?". Subcategories of "irrelevant" would be too hard to bake in, I think. – Monica Cellio Jan 12 '17 at 23:10
  • Personally, I like the idea of using "noisy" as a flag category. I worry that some people will read "irrelevant" as "technically incorrect" and use that as permission to start flagging comments they think are wrong. I'd say the largest category of comment flags we decline are ones where someone is trying to get us to delete technically incorrect comments, and I'm concerned this wording will encourage that behavior. To me, "noisy" seems closer to what we want people to actually be flagging for, but maybe there's an even better term for this. – Brad Larson Jan 13 '17 at 15:19
  • @BradLarson I get what you're saying, my issue is I don't think 'noisy' is the correct term. Saying a comment is noisy might not be the best way to describe something for non-native speakers. I've been trying to find something that encompasses the no value, unnecessary definition that we're trying to capture. I think that adding guidance to the dialog might help with some of the 'I'm flagging this for....' and it's for the wrong reason. – Taryn Jan 13 '17 at 15:23
  • Having processed many flags on a fairly friendly site, I'm concerned that "Irrelevant or Superfluous" will be avoided by courteous users. They're kind of dismissive words, so using that flag easily feels like saying "your comment is garbage!", which could discourage flagging innocuous comments. I'd prefer seeing "obsolete" leading that name to soften it: Obsolete, Irrelevant or Superfluous. Ultimately I think this makes the category clearer: not useful or helpful, but no harm, no foul. – SevenSidedDie Jan 14 '17 at 16:09
  • @SevenSidedDie I think that is encompassed in the description that would also be included, no? And as Shog mentioned in his comment, possibly it should be unnecessary instead of superfluous. – Taryn Jan 14 '17 at 18:27
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    I think that names matter though. The name is the label we're asking them to brand a fellow user('s contribution) with, so we don't want to discourage it with a name that may be perceived as negative. The description will often be skipped if the name already decided someone whether it's right or not, too. A neutral name helps the flagger accurately identify a neutral flag. – SevenSidedDie Jan 14 '17 at 18:36
  • I've seen comments like […] all flagged as not constructive, when really they should have been flagged as too chatty. – And how should anybody know this? At least your first and third example comment do not contain any constructive information (the second is difficult to evaluate without context). They are not aiming to improve anything, except the mood of the addressee. These comments are not constructive in the generally accepted meaning of those words. – Wrzlprmft Jan 16 '17 at 14:29
  • Note that I get that this is what you are trying to improve, but so far there is little guidance (if any) as to how to use comment flags and before said auto-flag there was no reason to guide anybody on the difference between not constructive and too chatty as there wasn’t any (see this very question). – Wrzlprmft Jan 16 '17 at 14:31

I suggest combining elements of the answers by Robert and James. A flag should indicate why the comment should be removed, not the problem it causes, and that reason should be simple to understand and categorize. Reduce the number of options, and add a bit of explanation to each. Something like this:

I'm flagging because this comment is...

  • Not nice. Users are expected to display basic courtesy and civility.
  • An answer. Answers should be posted as answers, not comments, so the community can vote on them.
  • Unnecessary. Comments are for requesting clarification or suggesting improvements. If they are off topic, unhelpful, chit-chat, have already been addressed, or without value, they can be removed.
  • Other. Please add an explanation of what's wrong and we'll take a look at it.

Simple, easy to understand, and to the point. Regarding each item specifically...

  • Not nice. One of the great things about the "be nice" policy is that it's simple. "Rude or offensive" is much less so, because those terms are more subjective and complex. I've dickered more than once over whether I should flag an unhelpful, brusque comment as "rude" or "not constructive". "Not nice" mirrors the simplicity of the guiding policy. While "not nice" is a weaker standard than "rude", my response to that is "comments are meant to be ephemeral". Even something "merely" sarcastic can easily turn off a new user who's struggling with learning a new way to communicate.
  • An answer. Answers should be posted as answers, seriously. Answer-comments have been brought up as problematic many times on, for example, ELL. I cringe when I see a question with 0 answers because a knowledgeable user didn't bother to take the extra 30 seconds to type in a different box and add an extra sentence of explanation. My impression is that the biggest reason answers end up as comments instead of answers is because of rep. Either "this isn't good enough to deserve upvotes" or "this might be a terrible idea and I don't want downvotes". If it's incomplete, post a CW answer instead, or suggest it as an improvement on someone else's answer. If it's a half baked idea that sounds relevant but might not work, why are you giving such crappy advice?
  • Unnecessary. Let's cut to the meat of the issue with most of the comment flag reasons. They exist because we like to keep things clear and on point. We remove X (comments, salutations, tag lines/signatures, etc.) where other places don't because it's unnecessary and just gets in the way of the Q&A at hand. Is there really a need to keep obsolete, not constructive and too chatty as separate reasons? The system already handles them the same way, and they are different flavors of the same undesirable: noise.

These reasons provide guidance by way of explanations of what we do and don't want to see as comments, rather than in comments. "I shouldn't make this type of comment" is much easier to grasp than "I shouldn't make a comment which has a substantial amount of this quality".

The question here also mentions thresholds. We get a huge volume of comments and several other answers here suggest that we should shift moderation of them to the community. I agree, and suggest a per-option threshold (except on other) for automatic deletion. Each type should be ignorant of the others. This keeps things simple and allows for appropriate automatic handling once the threshold is hit.

Tweak the baseline and contributing factors (e.g. "contains lmgtfy link") as you like, but this would save queue work. If you're worried about false positives or the like - a reasonable enough concern - make the thresholds high or flags age away like closevotes.

The more automation for comments, the better. Because they get made with such a high frequency, this is a great place to attempt to lower the moderation workload. Mad Scientist's point about being able to flag multiple comments at the same time is well made and gets an upvote from me. Again, comments are meant to be ephemeral, so users should get used to the idea of seeing comments disappear and be able to easily contribute to the clean up process. Currently comments hang around essentially forever, unless they have a serious problem or were made by a very tidy user. This automation need not be negative; for example, a comment with X "answer" flags and Y upvotes could be automatically converted to a CW answer.

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    I disagree with not nice, because some people will misunderstand this unintentionally or intentionally to apply to anything that is not “pretty please with sugar on top”. For example, while this very comment is (hopefully) not rude or offensive, there is nothing in it that makes it particular nice and thus one might regard it as not nice. It is however not not nice if you only define things as not nice that contain explicitly unnice stuff. While using nice works for “Be nice!” due to context, it does not work here. – Wrzlprmft Apr 11 '15 at 11:51
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    As a relatively new "flagger," this seems to be the most useful list. The more description provided, the easier it will be to know which flag to use and why, potentially making less work for the moderators. I like the link to the Be Nice policy, and wonder if we might find links for any of the other categories. I also prefer "An answer" with description to @Robert's "answer posted as a comment." In my opinion, an educated flagger is a responsible flagger! – Sue Apr 12 '15 at 18:53
  • @Wrzlprmft Ihad the same feeling about "unwelcoming" in Robert's answer. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/252844/… – apaul May 22 '15 at 2:14

What mean "noisy"?

Why is having four choices too many? It makes flagging simpler, if the flagger cannot choose between the four descriptions then there is a fifth venue available, other...

How long does it take to read these descriptions, how much "wasted" space does it occupy? I like the descriptors, they're written in plain English which anyone can understand. Remember, not everyone is an English native speaker, giving non-native speakers a range of choices is being helpful. Moreover, the term noisy may not be clear, if you have to provide a detailed definition of noisy and include "chatty"; "unconstructive" and "obsolete" you might as well keep the original options!

Asking someone whose level of English is basic to write the reason for flagging a comment could be off-putting and cause unnecessary headaches. But if I had to streamline the options, I would suggest merging "unconstructive" and "chatty" under one name: "unproductive".

  • I disagree that adding more choices makes flagging simpler. More choices means more nuances to consider, particularly if they revolve around technical considerations like noise, which you rightly state can be difficult to grasp for someone unfamiliar with the concept or term. Seems to me like fewer, more broadly scoped choices would make it easier for someone who's less familiar with English or SE jargon. – Esoteric Screen Name Apr 11 '15 at 11:22
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    @EsotericScreenName, I never suggested adding more choices. Presently there are four descriptors, excluding "other". I don't think that's complicating anyone's life unduly. I have used all four options when I have considered flagging someone's comment. They have succeeded in helping me to focus on why and when comments should be deleted. But as I already suggested, two of the options could easily be merged into one. – Mari-Lou A Apr 11 '15 at 11:28

I like the direction of working on comments, and see that seems to be a current theme in the refinement process at the moment. I don't really have any issues with the extra moderation tools for reviewing comments, the metric proposed (although I am not a mod), nor the proposed behaviors.

What I do slightly take issue with is the "Noisy" word itself. I feel like noisy replaces "too chatty" really well as a word, but then is expected to also implicitly cover "obsolete" and "not constructive". In my opinion, "too chatty", "obsolete", and even "Noisy" types of comments are all "not constructive" comments. I believe it may also be hard for certain users to make the connection between "noisy" and the signal-to-noise paradigm. Rather, it is possible they make a connection to their own interpretation of what "noisy" is.

So can we please keep the term "not constructive" in place of "Noisy"? I think the path and behavior options for it are fine, but from a language barrier and understanding standpoint "not constructive" seems to be a better fit. The new description even still fits, "Use this flag for comments that offer nothing of value to either the author of the post or to future readers."

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    In practice, "not constructive" has been a synonym for "rude" as often as "noisy"; I don't think it conveys the message very well at all. – Shog9 Apr 7 '15 at 0:21
  • @Shog9 - I think that makes sense, you say yourself that not constructive is a superset of rude so perhaps the related use was in relation to that guidance. Often comments which are snarky or pithy are not quite as egregious as rude implies. I think that with updated guidance going forward not constructive would be a good candidate for the superset of chatty, nc, and obsolete. I do see your point about not wanting to retain a possibly confusing term in this new set. This was a rather minor suggestion overall wrt word choice, and if noisy is the word of choice I am sure you will make it work. – Travis J Apr 7 '15 at 1:22
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    Whether "not constructive" is the best wording or not, I strongly agree that "noisy" is a poor choice. The last two sentences of your second paragraph hit the nail firmly on the head. With all due respect, I feel that since one goal is for the community to help clean up the comment threads, it's important to keep the terminology in line with the mindset of the average person who'll be doing the cleaning! In my opinion, this is not a minor suggestion at all. – Sue Apr 10 '15 at 17:29

I strongly agree that comment flags need a better mechanism, but what you propose isn't quite right. Your comment categories make sense from a philosophical perspective but not from a flagger's perspective or from a flag handler's perspective.

The first element in classifying comment flags are according to the expected action.

  • Delete the comment.

Well, that was easy. Actually, not so easy — there are a few refinements I'll deal with later, because sometimes there is more to the story than deleting the comments. The rare cases where some comment-related moderation needs doing which doesn't involve deleting the comment can be handled by flags on the post.

Why the comment needs deleting is the next step in classifying comment flags. Not because the reason is important, but inasmuch as the reason determines who is most qualified to determine whether the comment should be deleted, and possibly take other action.

  • Obsolete comments: many comments are perfectly legitimate, but lose their usefulness at some point. Being temporary notes is the whole purpose of comments, so ideally all comments would go through this stage. There are three main reasons why a comment would become obsolete:

    • The comment suggests an action, such as an edit, which has now been carried out. (“Didn't you mean ‘marital arts’ in paragraph 3?” — post now edited to read ‘marital arts’ instead of ‘martial arts’)
    • The comment suggests an action, but the commenter has changed their mind. (#1 in “Didn't you mean ‘marital arts’ in paragraph 3?” — “No, ‘martial arts’ is right.” — “Oh, yes, of course, you're right.”)
    • The comment is a reply to another comment, and no longer serves a purpose once it's been acknowledged or the other comment is gone. (#2 and #3 in “Didn't you mean ‘marital arts’ in paragraph 3?” — “No, ‘martial arts’ is right.” — “Oh, yes, of course, you're right.”)

    Obsolete comments are generally consensual and best validated by their author.

  • Noisy (chatty, off-topic) comments that shouldn't have been there in the first place. These are a fundamentally different category from obsolete comments because determining the validity of noisy comments doesn't require looking at the history, and noisy comments, unlike obsolete comments, usually require an external eye.

    Noisy comments can be dealt with effectively by users participating in moderation, i.e. moderation of noisy comments can be a privilege granted by reputation (10k?).

    Sometimes the best thing to do with noisy comments is to move them to a chat room. Moderators (be they diamond or high-rep) should have appropriate tools to do so.

  • Non-constructive/rude comments are comments that should never have been posted. Unlike comments that are merely noisy, such comments often indicate that something bad is going on. They should be deleted outright, but might warrant additional action, such as keeping an eye for flamewars that won't die, issuing an admonition to cool down, etc.

    Non-constructive comments need a ♦ moderator.

I think we can live with these three categories (which are the current categories except for lumping “rude or offensive” with “not constructive” — moderators can see the difference for themselves anyway). Rather than have an “other” category, we should add an optional text field which will be seen by the comment handler. The user interface should make it clear who will see the optional text.

Since the “non-constructive/rude” category is the only way to reach moderators, it should lump in a generic “needs moderator attention” case.

This comment is

  • obsolete [Optional note for the poster]
  • chatty or noisy
  • rude, not constructive, or otherwise needs moderator attention [Optional note for moderators]

The most important aspect is something that many have suggested before me: obsolete comments should be notified to the comment author. This way, to merely acknowledge a comment, users could flag it instead of compounding the problem by adding a comment of their own.

If the handler of an obsolete flag ignores or disagrees with the flag, or if there is a dispute in handling noisy flags, the situation should of course be escalated to moderators.

I'm not sure whether obsolete flag should be inbox notifications. They're a bit secondary compared with replies. On the other hand, they're acknowledgements. I think they should be inbox notifications if the flagger is the target of the comment, I'm not sure if they should be in other cases.

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    Why not send obsolete flags that are ignored/disputed to the Noisy reviewers? Seems like 10k+ people could look at a post and comment history and weigh in before needing to escalate to a moderator. – Troyen May 19 '15 at 20:59
  • @Troyen Sure, that would work. – Gilles May 19 '15 at 21:35

No longer needed

This comment is obsolete, chatty or otherwise unnecessary; it can offer no future benefit to either the author or other readers.

Before this wording is cast in stone:

The title No longer needed suggests that this flag is only to be used on content that was needed at some point in time. Going by the detailed explanation and experience, this is not the intention of the flag. To avoid this unnecessary confusion, I suggest to change the title to something like “Not needed (anymore)”.

This is still too ambitious; let's face it, folks need to be dying in the streets before this sort of omnibus plan would ever go anywhere. No one agrees on what comments are good for, much less when they should be deleted - so trying to revamp the flagging system is doomed to failure without tackling at least one of those problems first.

Declining this in favor of two smaller, more focused proposals:

  1. Drop "not constructive", combine "noisy", reword "rude" and "other" comment flags
  2. Drop "noisy" comment flags from the moderator queue unless an answer has 5 or more comments

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