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A moderator of a graduated site (but not Stack Overflow) told me in chat today (I am making a cursory attempt at anonymity, but it shouldn't be hard to figure out who it was for the determined):

But don't forget what flags are for.
They are for things that must be handled immediately.
...
If it can wait, start gathering them on that Meta post as an answer.

However, the help center says this:

When should I flag?

If anything happens on our site that makes you feel uncomfortable or that, in your opinion, clearly does not belong here, please flag it and bring it to our attention!

To me, this implies that I should flag anything that is inappropriate, regardless of the time sensitivity.

For clarity, this issue is something that the moderator and I:

  • Both agree is a problem
  • Both agree is not time sensitive
  • Both agree this is something that requires moderator attention, and cannot be handled by the community
    • "Cannot" is the correct word here. It is not an issue of "will take a long time for the community to accumulate enough votes", it's actually impossible for non-moderators to handle.

So, which is it? What is intended by the Stack Exchange philosophy?

  1. Flag things that need immediate attention only, go to meta if it's lower priority
  2. Flag everything that requires moderator attention, regardless of priority
  3. Treat such lower priority issues on a case-by-case basis.
  4. Other? (I'm not sure what other would be, but I include for completeness)
  • Short of spam and abusive content, I don't know that anything's particularly time-sensitive. A "not an answer" answer isn't going to kill anyone if it's ignored for a few hours. If mods are the only ones who can do anything about it, I don't know why you shouldn't do so. Maybe knowing more about what the actual situation is would help? – Catija May 20 '15 at 16:22
  • @Catija it doesn't matter that much, but it's about deleting very old, locked, low views, low score questions. – durron597 May 20 '15 at 16:34
  • Are you talking about moderator flags, or about spam/offensive flags that lead to automated handling, or about other flags like VLQ/NAA/close flags that pop the item into review queues? The differences in these categories is pretty significant. – Jason C May 20 '15 at 20:19
  • @JasonC the first one. The second is "needs immediate attention" and the the third is "handled by the community" – durron597 May 20 '15 at 20:20
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    ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What did I... oh... yay, it wasn't me this time! ;P – yannis May 20 '15 at 20:57
  • @Yannis It's always you somehow. – durron597 May 20 '15 at 20:59
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Flags are not strictly for "immediate" problems. Expecting flaggers to know what is immediate and what is not isn't realistic; expecting moderators to always handle flags immediately is also not realistic.

Moderators should expect that folks will flag whenever they encounter a problem on the site that they cannot resolve but which a moderator could.

Flaggers should expect that moderators will handle flags as they are able to, in whatever fashion they see as judicious and expedient.

That said...

Flags do not obligate moderators to do anything. Sometimes, there's simply nothing that a moderator can do. In others, the situation is not especially urgent and would benefit immensely from input from the community. "Take it to meta" is a stock response for most of us who've been around here for a while, moderators included - these sites exist for a reason, and when the situation calls for it then everyone benefits from the chance to discuss and organize.

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    Thanks! Can you comment in particular whether flagging these questions would be appropriate (vs. having the meta post stick around and moderators getting to them when they have a chance) – durron597 May 21 '15 at 0:09
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    I'm pretty solidly against using flags for this particular purpose, @durron597. If you want to go back and delete a whole bunch of controversial questions, campaign for that publicly and let moderators take action as they see it is warranted. "Secret ballot" delete voting via flags, where no one else in the community can even know that a "vote" is going on, is unfair; if you'll notice, the flag link is entirely absent on a big chunk of those. – Shog9 May 21 '15 at 0:15
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    Ok. Thanks for the clarification; prior to that comment I thought "Moderators should expect that folks will flag whenever they encounter a problem on the site that they cannot resolve but which a moderator could." meant that you supported my flagging of these locked questions. I understand now. – durron597 May 21 '15 at 0:18
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    I support flagging whenever you encounter a problem you can't fix. Until you're told to take it to meta. Then you should stop flagging and take it to meta. Don't do both! – Shog9 May 21 '15 at 0:20
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This concerns moderator flags since that's the flag type you identified in comments.

Moderator flags should be raised when you feel that something is happening that requires the attention of a moderator. Period.

Whether or not you think it requires immediate attention or is lower priority isn't something you should consider. The moderators have a flag queue and can work through it as they see fit. If the flag queue system is insufficient because e.g. too many "nuisance" flags are being raised, etc., then that is a sign that some changes may need to be made to the system. Use the system. Let SE work out the bigger systemic issues if there are any.

The key here is to not underestimate the importance of "requires the attention of a moderator". For example:

  • "Not an answer" does not require the attention of a moderator. Why? Because a review queue system exists that NAA throws the answer into, and the community handles it. Use the NAA flag.
  • "Spam" does not require the attention of a moderator. Why? Because questions will be automatically removed after a number of spam flags, and the system handles it. Use the spam flag.
  • "Offensive answer" does not require the attention of a moderator. Why? Same deal as spam.
  • "This answer contains typos" does not require the attention of a moderator. Why? Because the community can handle it if necessary through edits.
  • "This answer is incorrect" does not require the attention of a moderator. Why? Because this can be stated in comments and reflected in votes, and the community handles it.
  • "This question is a duplicate" does not require the attention of a moderator. Why? Because duplicate close votes and duplicate close flags allow the community to handle the case. Use close votes / close flags.
  • "This [non locked] question should be deleted because it is off topic" does not require the attention of a moderator. Why? Because the community already has a process in place to lead to the deletion of a question.
  • "This new off topic question should be closed as no-repro immediately" does not require the attention of a moderator. Why? Because the community already has a process in place to deal with it, and personal impatience waiting on an arbitrary question to go through a standard process does not equal a need for moderator intervention.

Sometimes things do require the attention of a moderator:

  • "Request merge of this question into another" requires the attention of a moderator. Why? Because the community has no means to accomplish this task otherwise.
  • "Request comment cleanup" requires the attention of a moderator. Why? Because something bad may be brewing and the community has no means to accomplish this task otherwise.
  • "This user appears to be part of a voting ring" requires the attention of a moderator. Why? Because the community has no means to deal with this otherwise.

But, of course, keep in mind things like this:

  • "This comment is grammatically incorrect, and the user is ignoring my complaints, please fix the comment" does not require the attention of a moderator. Why? Even though the community has no means to accomplish this task, some discretion is still required on your part. You do need to draw a line somewhere.

TL;DR: Basically, asking about "immediate problems" vs. "just problems" is the wrong question. The correct distinction is things that the community can deal with vs. things a moderator can do. Some discretion on the users part is required, but for the most part, urgentness does not matter. If there is a bigger picture problem where moderators are overloaded with invalid flags, then that problem should be solved on the flag-end rather than by adjusting our behavior.

  • Good answer. FYI did you see my edited link? I decided to add some more context. – durron597 May 20 '15 at 20:35
  • @durron597 No I didn't, I'll look it over now and make any relevant edits, if necessary, as soon as I can. – Jason C May 20 '15 at 20:37
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    Re: your last edit; deleting locked questions can't be done by the community. – durron597 May 20 '15 at 20:37
  • Jason, I appreciate the hard work you put into this question, but none of the examples you listed address the actual flag reason at issue here. – durron597 May 20 '15 at 22:44
  • @durron597 I may be missing it but I don't see anything in your question or the linked post that bring the appropriateness of flags into question for that specific situation. However, the same thing holds as in the examples above: Deletion of a locked question is not something that can be handled by the community, therefore if you believe a locked question should be deleted then it requires moderator attention. Since it requires moderator attention, flag it. Prioritizing the task and choosing if/when to handle it is up to the moderator who sees the flag. Only the flagging itself is up to us. – Jason C May 20 '15 at 23:30
  • @durron597 If this is some massive effort and there is associated discussion, you could link to the discussion in the flag if useful. Also, if this is some new massive effort, perhaps a moderator just wants to receive the information not through flags (e.g. maybe they want a big list of questions to clean up). But that's an independent topic outside the scope of the question: That's not really about the appropriateness of a flag, so much as it is about doing a favor for a moderator who might want information in a different form than the usual flag, perhaps in exchange for donuts, bacon, etc. – Jason C May 20 '15 at 23:49
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    The moderator didn't say "I would prefer you not do it", he said "flags are for things that require immediate attention". I'm sure the former was implied, but that reasoning doesn't allow the other moderators on the site to help with the effort. I've begun to flag the relevant questions; I suppose I will stop if the moderator asks me to, but only as a favor, not because "flags are for immediate problems" – durron597 May 20 '15 at 23:52
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Answering the specific case, I think the moderator was probably right to direct you to use the meta thread. Here it's not really the urgency - if it were urgent, then flag away, that is; but it's not the lack of urgency. It's the quantity, as well as the opportunity for community members to weigh in.

Flagging one or two questions you think should be cleaned up is a great idea, and I'd say use a flag away. But flagging a few hundred is probably a less efficient way to use your time and theirs, than simply collecting them in a thread. I wasn't entirely sure about this - as the moderator in a flag queue can simply delete directly, verus having to navigate to them - but if that's what the moderator would prefer, sounds like that's the right answer from their efficiency standpoint.

The bigger issue here though, is that you're suggesting deleting a whole bunch of posts that could have differing opinions from the community. While a moderator could certainly make those decisions him/herself, in this case why not get the community's feedback - or at least allow a bit of feedback? Seems like the way to go.

As far as "SE Philosophy", I think there's no explicit guiding logic in either direction here. Each community will be different. StackOverflow I would say a Meta thread gets more attention than a flag, most days. On a small site with two or three moderators who don't devote all that much time (because most weeks moderation is 30 minutes total), flagging 200 questions might be too much to handle. On a site like CR or Programmers, maybe it's the right answer - or maybe not - but it's up to the community (and their moderators) how to handle this sort of thing, ultimately. SE allows both options, and the community picks which they prefer.

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    Most of these questions are locked questions that got a few upvotes but were closed by the community as migration rejections. In other words, the community decided they weren't wanted, but they can't be roombaed, and they can't be deleted by 10k+. Related: Allow 10k to vote to delete on locked rejected migrations – durron597 May 20 '15 at 20:57
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    Also, I can't flag 200 questions in one day anyway. I just don't have nearly that many flags. – durron597 May 20 '15 at 21:01
  • @durron597 yeah, funny idea that one can flag 200 questions sorta spoils it – gnat May 20 '15 at 21:47
  • You can flag 100 just before UTC midnight, and 100 just after... ;) – Joe May 20 '15 at 21:49
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    @gnat Or 19+19 = 38 in my case ;) – durron597 May 20 '15 at 22:12

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