I would like to have the ability to tell flag reviewers a little something in addition to the flag type. I know that different flag categories get treated differently, with VLQ going into the low quality queue, and so forth.

I think there are many cases where users end up submitting custom flags because it's not immediately obvious that something is Not An Answer, or that a comment is Obsolete, etc. This results in custom flags, causing the post to get treated differently than appropriate.

I think this is especially true:

  • In VLQ flags where the reviewers could use some explanation as to why this "mostly code answer" doesn't address the question without having to open the whole question and figure out why the code doesn't answer the question.
  • In NAA flags where the moderators could be told why something isn't an answer, but the flag will still get sorted as NAA in the mod queue.
  • In Obsolete comment flags where it might not be clear why something is obsolete, saving the moderator time to figure out "oh, this is obsolete because it got edited into the question"

There should still be a custom flag box, obviously, but I think it would be beneficial to be able to add that extra bit of communication while still sorting the flags properly.

  • Can you give an example of a VLQ or NAA flag that meets this criteria? Maybe I don't have a problem because I always jump out of the queue and into the question to moderate so I have context, but I've never had a problem figuring out if a flag was accurate or not and taking appropriate action. Aug 5, 2015 at 14:34
  • @ThomasOwens I put an Custom "NAA" flag on this answer as a result of the discussion in this MSE question
    – durron597
    Aug 5, 2015 at 14:38
  • I don't see how it's NAA, though. As a user with edit permission, I would simply merge the two answers (into the older ones) and then flag the second answer as a custom flag with a reason. I think that NAA has a very specific meaning, and that's not it. Aug 5, 2015 at 14:39
  • 4
    @ThomasOwens as a Programmers moderator, you probably can find examples in my flag history over there, 2-3 a day average iirc. Every time I flag and post a non-canned comment indicates that reviewer would benefit of more detailed explanation of what's wrong there. In a sense, comments are a workaround for suggested feature, although a poor one as it fails miserably when post has 3-4 more other comments. Example: "I am having difficulties to make any sense of what's written here, not to mention how it could address the question asked. See <How to Answer>"
    – gnat
    Aug 5, 2015 at 14:43
  • @durron597 your question is now disappeared from the newest / recently active page. This only happens under "new-nav". If you are under the new-nav you can see it for yourself. In your case its a 1 downvote to the answer posted. Here is my "where did my newly posted question go" I would appreciate if you or someone on new-nav can validate this. I can add this evidence to my original "bug" post. Aug 5, 2015 at 14:49
  • 2
    @durron597 guess what someone just upvoted the answer and you question now appears in newest / recently active page. Aug 5, 2015 at 14:52
  • @durron597 always bring it down to -1 so the community can delete it. Aug 5, 2015 at 16:12
  • (to be clear; my upvote on this post is to signify that it's a well-asked question, and not that I support this feature. For my thoughts, see my answer below :)
    – MTL
    Aug 5, 2015 at 16:56
  • 1
    I've handled the flag on that answer, @durron597. Note that if it had gone into /review, it could not have been handled as effectively unless you had also edited the other answer first - which you did not. This is a good example of a situation where the single-post-at-a-time behavior of review breaks down and the situation benefits from someone who can view and process the question and answer set as a whole. That could be the flagger themselves, but often it is not... And this suggestion does little to encourage more active flagger moderation.
    – Shog9
    Aug 5, 2015 at 17:29
  • Frankly I feel like we should be able to include a comment/explanation with any flag or close reason.
    – TylerH
    Aug 27, 2015 at 22:08

4 Answers 4



Comment, then flag

Conscientious reviewers read comments

Explain your reason in the comment flag

Communication vs. Persuasion

It's trivially easy to add information to the post itself or to the flag right now, if you really want to.

  • The advantage of just leaving a comment is that it gives the author a chance to correct the problem in addition to offering mods and reviewers a better understanding of what you found concerning; the downside is that if the problem is corrected, your flag may be disputed or declined... And if you're wrong, someone might tell you that.

  • The advantage of using a custom flag is that it is immediately visible to the moderator handling the flag and less noisy if they disagree; the downside is that your flag will be handled by moderators instead of reviewers, and moderators have no qualms about just declining the flag if you're wrong - if your flagging style depends heavily on persuading reviewers to act on borderline posts, then you may find yourself facing a lot more declined flags.

I gotta be honest; I don't find any of the downsides particularly compelling here. If your goal is to communicate (and it should be) then you have multiple avenues to do so when the canned flag reasons don't suffice.

OTOH, if your goal is to persuade, then don't hide behind a flag. Voice your concerns publicly, either in the comments or on meta, and let others agree or disagree as they will. Turning flags into some sort of star chamber where controversial or misunderstood posts get removed by shadowy figures with no public explanation isn't a good solution to anything.

  • 2
  • Realistically, posts with 3-4 other comments are an extreme edge-case for what is already an edge-case, @durron597. Of course, you can always combine both techniques and flag "Not an answer - see my comment."
    – Shog9
    Aug 5, 2015 at 16:46
  • 2
    Follow-up feature request: add GUI for mouse-drawing text on screenshots of the question when submitting flags. i.stack.imgur.com/IYpaw.png
    – durron597
    Aug 5, 2015 at 16:46
  • @durron597 I think "handwritten" close reasons are great example of how it should be done - these conveniently combine public communication with ease of access to the specific message for reviewers
    – gnat
    Aug 5, 2015 at 17:42
  • Not exactly wild about the way those get used most of the time, @gnat; far more often they are persuasive rather than communicative, appealing to reviewer prejudice rather than encouraging improvement. If we had such a thing for answers, I would be little surprised if it wasn't mostly used by other answerers to attack competing answers...
    – Shog9
    Aug 5, 2015 at 17:51
  • @Shog9 my observations of handwritten close reasons suggest that your may worry about possible misuse more than it's really worth it
    – gnat
    Aug 5, 2015 at 17:58
  • ...as for 3-4 other comments being edge-case, my understanding is, this is only at Stack Overflow (last time I heard, rest of SE network was already getting more views than SO, so ignoring their needs and specifics may be not quite wise... anymore)
    – gnat
    Aug 5, 2015 at 18:19
  • 2
    A quick check of the logs shows 70% of page views network-wide hitting Stack Overflow yesterday, @gnat; no doubt this varies over time of course, and even if it were consistent that'd be no reason to ignore the needs of other sites... However, the median # of comments per post is between 1 and 3 network-wide, and on all but 32 sites 90% of posts get 5 or fewer comments. For VLQ/NAA-flagged posts specifically, only 7 sites have less than 90% of posts with 5 or fewer comments. It is an edge-case of an edge-case.
    – Shog9
    Aug 5, 2015 at 19:25
  • I think your answer would look stronger if you edited these considerations in. I am still planning to post my own answer to thoroughly trash your :) - but I would prefer this to be a fair competition (meanwhile, upvoted your comment to help readers see it)
    – gnat
    Aug 5, 2015 at 19:29
  • I look forward to seeing your answer...
    – Shog9
    Aug 5, 2015 at 20:53
  • ...there you go "...such a feature can be considered simply as an improvement to already established workflow, making it smoother and less error prone"
    – gnat
    Aug 6, 2015 at 18:26
  • funny how an answer supposed to justify decline of feature request made a solid point in favor of implementing it. "To see why it is so, take a closer look at what SE team folks recommend in another answer..."
    – gnat
    Aug 7, 2015 at 15:32
  • 2
    I tried your "comment and VLQ flag strategy" here and got declined. So much for not needing this feature.
    – durron597
    Aug 26, 2015 at 22:16
  • Yours was one of four VLQ flags declined on that answer, @durron597. What makes you think this feature would've made a difference there? FWIW, I deleted it based on your second flag, but probably would've declined a VLQ flag as well - whatever issues it might have, it isn't VLQ.
    – Shog9
    Aug 26, 2015 at 22:35
  • @Shog9 one can argue that this particular case falls under severe content problems unlikely to be salvageable through editing, need to be removed but oh well. Sounds like you want duplicate late answers to be handled solely with custom flags to moderators - good luck with that (I think you'll need a lot of it)
    – gnat
    Aug 27, 2015 at 6:32

Current UX for NAA and VLQ flags is long obsoleted by various changes in flagging process. Suggested feature offers an opportunity to correct this and bring it more in line with ideas laid out in Stack Overflow is not yet a vast wasteland: a history of moderator tooling.

To see why it is so, take a closer look at what SE team folks recommend in another answer:

leaving a comment... gives the author a chance to correct the problem in addition to offering mods and reviewers a better understanding of what you found concerning... And if you're wrong, someone might tell you that...

If you think of it, recommending to use comments is a fascinating advice. 3-4 years ago, it would be totally opposite to that, "Don't ever use comments to back up NAA / VLQ flags. If you feel a need to explain something, just use custom flag. Don't expect moderator to waste their time trying to find your comment and figure if it relates to flag or not."

  • This is a radical change in flagging workflow, and as you can see, SE folks openly endorse it (and there's likely no way back, if you check that "not yet a vast wasteland" post referred to above).

The reason for such a striking change is that nowadays NAA / VLQ flags target totally different audience who are expected to handle them in a very different way.

As opposed to diamond moderators, LQ reviewers are expected to invest substantial effort in studying flagged post if needed. This is because, as opposed to moderators, they can't be trusted to make right decisions quickly. Also, as opposed to moderators, they are expected to have plenty time for that - at the limit of 20 reviews a day and thousands other eligible users to back up if they choose to skip review, why wouldn't they.

This change of the audience led to the change of the role of comments. These are now welcome as sort of grease, helping reviewers - regular inexperienced users - better understand what's going on there and make the system work smoother and more reliably. (Compare that to the past, could you ever imagine self commenting to explain routine VLQ / NAA to a veteran moderator who was handling hundreds such flags a day?)

Okay, now that we learned that comments are assumed to integrate with VLQ/NAA flagging workflow, let's see if it makes sense to improve this integration.

For that, consider a pretty similar system that also involves communicating moderation details to multiple, possibly inexperienced reviewers. I am talking about close voting and more specifically, about free-form close reasons:

Closers can enter a free-form reason... Free-form reasons will be presented as comments, but the close dialogue will refer the reader to the comments for more info...

This is how it looks like for close vote reviewers:


You see, free-form close reasons are in essence regular comments, only with additional integration into close dialog. That integration (copying comment text into close dialog) makes pretty good sense, as it spares close vote reviewers the need to look for and figure whether particular comment relates to the vote or not (not to mention protection it offers for the cases of regular comments being edited or deleted or obscured by other comments).

Same approach, and for the same reasons, could be (and I believe should be) implemented for flagging. (side note, since it involves comments, it makes sense to consider limiting an option to cast "commented flags" to users having a privilege to comment)

If flag messages get implemented as "connected comments", similar to free-form close reasons, one can even argue that this doesn't introduce changes to flagging process - because, as explained above, change already occurred long ago and is even openly endorsed by SE team.

From this perspective, such a feature can be considered simply as an improvement to already established workflow, making it smoother and less error prone.

  • 2
    Good answer as usual. I just want to mention that I'm asking for this to speed up moderator flag handling (make their lives easier)... not because they can't figure it out on their own, but that they shouldn't have to.
    – durron597
    Aug 6, 2015 at 18:28
  • @durron597 but of course. Story of free-form close reasons suggests that not only regular 3K reviewers find a similar feature convenient, diamonds also seem to be happy with it
    – gnat
    Aug 6, 2015 at 18:29
  • ...whether to offer an option to comment flags other than NAA / VLQ, I prefer to leave it to SE folks to decide. My main point is that at at least for flags targeted to LQ queue this looks like a really needed feature
    – gnat
    Aug 6, 2015 at 18:42
  • There's precedent for this in close flags, but only duplicates; critically, flaggers are currently never allowed to attach free-form text, even for close flags. This was not an oversight.
    – Shog9
    Aug 7, 2015 at 19:10
  • @Shog9 of course that was not an oversight. In the past (in. the. past.), when VLQ/NAA flags were reviewed by diamonds, it was critically important to spare flaggers very idea that routine flags could have additional details communicated via comments. "If you feel a need to explain something, just use custom flag." Nowadays, it's opposite. Just in case if you worry about potential misuse from low rep users, comment option can be limited to 2-3K but frankly I'd prefer to let flag reviewers in LQ queue to catch the abusers and, say, reflag abused posts for mod attention
    – gnat
    Aug 7, 2015 at 19:19
  • That's why I mentioned close flags, @gnat: when the free-form OT reasons were introduced, close review had been in place for just shy of a year, and moderators were no longer handling the bulk of these flags; the concern was that users without a history of useful answers would not have a solid understanding of the site's scope and - without attribution in the UI - would mislead other reviewers (blind leading the blind). Of course, nothing stops 50-2999-rep flaggers from posting comments on their own, but such comments are not given any veneer of respectability by the close-vote UI.
    – Shog9
    Aug 7, 2015 at 19:43
  • thanks @Shog9 - this looks like a solid reasoning. Need some time to chew it up (just can't believe that you can be right here:) but it certainly helped me to gain much better understanding for decline
    – gnat
    Aug 7, 2015 at 19:51
  • all right @Shog9 - I think I found a minor... "leak" here. By similar logic, it looks okay to allow commented flags for users with history of useful flags. Absence of (recent) flag suspensions plus Deputy badge or something like that could possibly qualify. I am not going to push for this though, because your explanations made me feel safe leaving it to you to decide whether to take it from there or keep the decline
    – gnat
    Aug 7, 2015 at 21:37

I support this feature. While existing discussions claim that adding a comment to explain is enough, they are easily made obsolete par revision changes, and is not visible to the interface to provide the necessary context.

  • Revisions are a good point, but I'm not clear on how a custom flag message would help with that much. Aug 5, 2015 at 15:11
  • 4
    Comments can become obsolete and therefore reside, but custom flag messages appears in the ticket in the review queues and expires when the review is completed.
    – Unihedron
    Aug 5, 2015 at 15:14
  • Unless the comment is flagged, reviewed, and deleted, that doesn't seem to make much difference. Neither one can actually point out very well the conditions at the time of flagging. Aug 5, 2015 at 15:26
  • actually, a better analogy could be "handwritten" close reasons. These are additionally displayed as comments, and as comments, can be edited / deleted / obscured by other comments but close reviewers always have a convenient, easy to find view of original note right in the close dialog
    – gnat
    Aug 5, 2015 at 15:28

I appreciate why you're requesting this feature -- just yesterday, I flagged an comment with a custom flag to explain why it was obsolete, instead of just flagging it as obsolete.

However, I don't think that this is necessary -- for flags on posts (you mentioned VLQ and NAA, specifically), I think that reviewers certainly should (though they might not always) read the comments on the post so that they know what's flying. There's nothing wrong with writing a comment that says something along the lines of

I am flagging this post as "not an answer" because I don't think it answers the question. Please [edit] your post or it will be deleted.

And as for comments, I don't think there is much to gain. The use case is much less common than the one for VLQ/NAA, and doesn't save the mods anything because they'll anyways have to read a custom message to handle your flag.

  • 1
    Full confession: I originally was planning to write this about comment flags only but then expanded it to include NAA and VLQ. I think that obsolete is the one where I want this feature the most, followed by NAA, then VLQ. But I see no reason not to have the feature, except of course dev time.
    – durron597
    Aug 5, 2015 at 16:16
  • If comments are what interest you the most, please see the last paragraph of my answer :)
    – MTL
    Aug 5, 2015 at 16:17

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