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Comment flags do not show who did the flagging, which is usually fine -- as a moderator reviewing such flags I can evaluate whether something is "not constructive" or "too chatty" or "offensive" without knowing the history. But "obsolete" flags require more work, enough that when I see them I usually heave a hearty sigh, take a look, and then go do something else in hopes that some other moderator will untangle the mess. That's not ideal, especially as they're doing the same thing to me. And nobody else sees these flags, so the community can't help.

Here's what happens: a post garners, say, 10 comments and a subsequent edit, and now, say, 3 of those comments have been flagged as obsolete. Does that mean they were questions that have been answered in the edit? Now I have to go review the edit and compare it to the comments to try to figure that out -- and also decide if any other comments are also obsolete, because you can't flag your own comments and the flagger might have only flagged the other side of a conversation. (And he didn't just delete his comments because, with the others still there, he'd be leaving a hole.) If I know that the flag came from the person who made the edit, though, then I'd be more likely to just trust the flag and not check his work closely. (At least if the user has some rep on the site or is known to me.)

Or maybe they're obsolete because their primary purpose was to ping somebody -- "@so-and-so, see my edit". In that case if the flag is coming from so-and-so then it's definitely obsolete (he's seen it), but if it's coming from somebody else it might just be zeal. So I have to guess -- the comment was left an hour ago, so-and-so was here 30 minutes ago so might have seen it... or might have visited some other page on the site and hasn't picked up his pings yet because he's reading from his network-flaky commuter rail.

Or maybe they're obsolete because two people have been having a conversation in comments and somebody else is pointing out that "hey, he responded to this comment and nobody else cares, so you can delete that now". Or maybe somebody is using "obsolete" where he should be using "not constructive", because to some users "obsolete" means "make it stop already". (Yes, I've seen this.)

Or -- and we prefer not to think ill of users, but... -- is that "obsolete" flag coming from somebody who disagrees with a point raised in a comment and wants to just delete it? Now we're back to trying to figure out if the point was valid, if it was addressed in an edit, if it was later retracted, or what.

Moderators aren't supposed to be the content police. We're knowledgeable in the topics of our sites, of course, but that doesn't mean we have the expertise to judge every single case. I've sometimes investigated "obsolete" flags and still left them for someone else because, after review, I still can't tell, because it's about some arcane point that I don't understand.

How do we fix this? While it wouldn't be a complete solution, telling us who left the flag would help in several of these cases, and shouldn't be a hard change. Could you please identify the flagger on, at least, obsolete-comment flags? If it's easier to just do it for all comment flags that's fine too, but it's the obsolete flags that are driving this request.

In an ideal world we'd make bigger changes to comment-handling, but it'll take a while to figure out and then implement that. In the meantime, so long as mods are the only ones who can handle these flags, could we please have this additional hint?

Followup request

Can we add more information to "obsolete" flags?

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    Another option would be to have a short box like the one for "other" where the user explains why the comment is obsolete. – HDE 226868 Jul 19 '15 at 17:52
  • @HDE226868 I thought about that, but users who are inclined to type something beyond just clicking an option can already do that via "other". And even if they did fill it in, I suspect that most users don't know that comment flags don't report who flagged, so that'd just get us an anonymous "I saw it" or the like. – Monica Cellio Jul 19 '15 at 17:56
  • That could perhaps cause more problems than it would solve, then. – HDE 226868 Jul 19 '15 at 17:57
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    A very hearty +1, one of our mods told us in chat to custom-flag the post / a single comment instead of using the reason obsolete. I can see why it's a real headache to see why something is supposedly obsolete noise. – Marshmallow Jul 19 '15 at 18:09
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    "users who are inclined to type something beyond just clicking an option can already do that via 'other'." I would do that, but I always figured "obsolete" was easier to process. Huh. – Josh Caswell Jul 19 '15 at 18:12
  • @JoshCaswell it usually would be easier to process if only we knew its source, or if enough such flags from the community would auto-delete (like with offensive flags). – Monica Cellio Jul 19 '15 at 18:21
  • @MonicaCellio: Enough flags do soft-delete a commment, but this hardly ever happens as few comments receive sufficiently many flags. – Wrzlprmft Jul 19 '15 at 18:57
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    +1 from me too, I've had an issue with this for a while. Knowing who flagged can help me determine whether it's just a conflict of opinions (so someone is being argumentative and is just looking to silence the critic) or whether the flag needs further investigation on what is sometimes a quite detailed post. – slugster Jul 19 '15 at 23:05
  • Followup: meta.stackexchange.com/q/281607/162102 – Monica Cellio Jan 12 '17 at 23:02
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    Here's a tardy "AMEN" for Monica - this continues to confuse well intentioned users on our site as well as reinforces the difficulty of properly/efficiently moderating all comment flags when a high false positive rate of "rude/not-constructive" drowns out the "obsolete" flags that some people are using very well and correctly. meta.apple.stackexchange.com/questions/2960/… – bmike Feb 1 '17 at 14:19
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You're right: this wouldn't be a complete solution. I don't have any particular objection to it, other than that I don't think it would help very much.

Maybe 30% of "obsolete comment" flags are raised by someone directly involved in the conversation. Making 30% of these flags slightly easier to handle isn't a bad thing, but... I'm skeptical that these flags are the right way to handle these comments period: they require entirely too much work for the potential benefit in most cases.

Consider the site that probably sparked this request: on The Workplace, the average number of comments in a thread that sparks "obsolete comment" flags is about 17; these are threads that probably could use some clean-up regardless of who is raising the flag. In contrast, the average on Stack Overflow is... 6 comments; most of these probably don't need any cleanup.

Making 30% of these flags a bit easier to handle is a poor solution if a majority of these flags don't really need to be handled at all... I'd prefer some sort of heuristic approach that sweeps these flags under the rug until (or unless) there's some other indication that the thread is becoming unwieldy and could benefit from a thorough cleanup.

See also: Make comment flags less stupid

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    And before anyone asks: Stack Overflow gets about 20x the number of obsolete comment flags that The Workplace generates. TWP mods could probably just auto-respond to each and every one of these flags by purging comments and rarely be doing wrong; SO mods could achieve the same success rate by just declining these flags sight-unseen. – Shog9 Jul 20 '15 at 19:13
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    I endorse "make comment flags less stupid". In particular, the treatment there for "noisy" (what "obsolete" would fold into) sounds like it'd help a lot on The Workplace. Or just take the "obsolete" option away; it's rare that a single comment out of a thread is obsolete, so make people use a custom flag to tell us what's really going on. Right now an "obsolete" flag without even the context of who's saying it makes mods start from "there might be something going on in here", and with the volume we get that's too much work for comments. – Monica Cellio Jul 20 '15 at 19:21
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    Just how transient are comments? It seems that since there is so much time that goes into maintaining them, especially for retaining certain valuable ones, that they are not actually transient. Is there a way to determine the overall "value" of comments with respect to posts? It often seems that comments are basically a mini forum which is just scoped to a post. Was this the original intent? – Travis J Jul 20 '15 at 19:32
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    Original intent was to get folks to stop posting them as answers, @Travis. Ironically, it's now easier to delete answers than it is to delete comments. – Shog9 Jul 20 '15 at 19:46
  • @Shog9 any chance to consider Comments Review system that will allow easier and faster deletion of comments, like VLQ delete process? (with less than 6 votes required of course, more like 2-3) – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Jul 20 '15 at 20:17
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    @ShadowWizard bluefeet mentioned this in a comment under the post linked above. – user259867 Jul 20 '15 at 22:25
  • @ShadowWizard for more chatty sites, I don't like that idea since I nearly always clear out more than just flagged comments and a queue would not allow that effectively. It might be fine for rude/offensive comments, but more difficult for "needs cleanup" situations. – enderland Jul 20 '15 at 23:20
  • So... That'd be a great way to handle things like "rude/offensive/mean" flags, @Shadow. Not so great for things where some large % of the entire thread probably needs to be removed, unless we just make reviewers vote on whether to move the whole mess to chat. – Shog9 Jul 21 '15 at 0:03
  • Handling rude/mean/etc comments via queue sounds like a good idea. With noisy I don't think so, and please don't move messes to chat, whenever comments amount to a pile of noise, it is usually not worth keeping any of that at all. And if you put whole comment strings to a queue, would you really want users spending time on reading noise? – Martin - マーチン Jul 21 '15 at 7:05
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    @Martin actually I suspect rude/spam comments are very small percentage of the comments that should be removed, so not worth the efforts in my opinion. /cc Shog - though "nuke entire comments thread" sounds appealing. :) – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Jul 21 '15 at 8:49
  • @Martin-マーチン you might be interested in this related question about moving to chat (I asked how having that mod feature has affected how people behave; no answer yet, but someone's working on it). – Monica Cellio Jul 21 '15 at 12:28
  • Regardless of the changes to make comment flags less stupid, why can't moderators know who flagged a comment? That never made sense for me. – bfavaretto Jul 23 '15 at 21:47
  • I've explained this before, @bfavaretto. Short answer is: it's too much information most of the time. – Shog9 Jul 23 '15 at 21:50
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This has now been implemented. Moderators can see the flagger and timestamp for comment flags. Sayeth the Shog:

However... There is practical value in having this information in a great many cases, and I've come around to the belief that this value outweighs its cost.

  • For spam and offensive flags, that value primarily takes the form of avoiding abuse: these flags are useful, but very dangerous if abused.
  • For comment flags, the value is context: knowing how the flagger relates to the conversation is often helpful in understanding why their flag is valid.

The same cautions apply here as for other flags: if knowing the flagger identity compromises your impartiality, let someone else handle it.

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