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There have been a number of posts recently complaining about floods of chat flags, and most of them have been wholly justified.

I propose a simple solution in three parts:

  • Don't let a user have more than one active chat flag at a time. I have never actually seen a case where a user has a legitimate reason to flag multiple messages at the same time. In such cases where a user might want to, though, they can easily wait a little until their first flag is handled.

    Additionally, in cases of blatant chat abuse, a moderator will eventually need to step in either way, regardless of how many chat flags show up.

    Ultimately, one flag is enough to signal that something's up. Since all chat happens live, there are many eyes watching each chat. If one user can't flag, another user will be able to, and one is all that's needed.

  • Show flags in a message's history. Right now, moderators can access the history of chat messages. Flags should show up in this history the same way previous revisions do, along with who raised the flag and what the result was (as well as the suspension length given, if any).
  • Let moderators see the history of all flags a user has raised. This one's pretty simple: let mods have access to the complete chat flagging history of a user, complete with what they flagged and what the outcome was.

With these three things, moderators would have the tools to easily and quickly handle abusive flaggers in chat.

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    My knowledge of chat is a little dicey, but I believe the third point already exists - mods can already view a list of messages by a user that were previously flagged. It could perhaps be surfaced better in the flag UI, so when a mod looks at a flag, they have easier access to the user's history. – Adam Lear Sep 11 '15 at 0:08
  • We also have to make a distinction between mods and 10k users - the latter have access to handle a subset of all chat flags, but not the history thing I mentioned in my previous comment... as far as I know. – Adam Lear Sep 11 '15 at 0:08
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    @AnnaLear Perhaps I wasn't clear; my apologies. I mean to say that we should be able to see all flags a user has raised, as opposed to all messages by a user that were flagged. – Aza Sep 11 '15 at 0:08
  • I also recommend auto-banning users who have more than X declined flags in a time frame. – Mysticial Sep 11 '15 at 0:09
  • @Emrakul Ahh, I thought you might've meant that, but "who flagged" made me think otherwise. :) – Adam Lear Sep 11 '15 at 0:09
  • @Mysticial Agreed. I didn't include that one in this post, though, because I was looking to keep this feature request as simple as possible, and automated bans always raise large arguments >_> – Aza Sep 11 '15 at 0:11
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    Yeah. On chat.SO, there aren't enough mods to cover 24/7. And quite often there are no mods around when the flag trolls hit. (I believe they are smart enough to do it intentionally when no mods are around.) Since 10ks aren't allowed to know who flagged, we can't deal with the users ourselves. So the only option is to autoban. – Mysticial Sep 11 '15 at 0:13
  • @Mysticial I'd definitely be interested in a feature-request on an automated flag ban as well. I agree that this is a problem, particularly on sites with separate chat servers. – Aza Sep 11 '15 at 0:14
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    @Mysticial: I think there should be separate buttons for "decline" and "decline and vote to ban". I've seen a fair number of flags that I've declined, but they were questionable enough that I think they were raised with decent intent. – Jerry Coffin Sep 11 '15 at 0:21
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    I have a better idea. How about when a flag is declined, the user that casted the flag is banned for 30 minutes? We'll see less flags, I can assure you. – Shoe Sep 11 '15 at 0:22
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    @Mysticial Mod flags don’t seem to last very long on chat.SE no matter what time of the day or night it is, but since chat.SO only has SO mods and the CMs to watch over it, I can imagine that they can be spread pretty thin at times. – tchrist Sep 11 '15 at 1:37
  • @AnnaLear Is it possible to see the history of all of my own chat flags? – Shokhet Sep 15 '15 at 20:14
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While I appreciate the intent here, this proposal suffers from two flaws:

  1. It's very focused on a specific and relatively rare problem with flags (albeit one that can be quite irritating), namely: some idiot flagging everything in sight just to be annoying. In fact, it is so focused on this particular problem that it ignores the downsides of its implementation to all other scenarios, including those where flags are actually valid.

  2. It relies heavily on moderator handling of flags. This isn't necessarily a problem on chat.SE which is positively lousy with mods... On chat.SO and chat.MSE, there are far fewer moderators available at any given point in time; flags can and sometimes do sit around for a while waiting for enough trusted users to validate or dismiss them.

I'll address each part of your proposal individually:

  • Don't let a user have more than one active chat flag at a time.

    This assumes at least two of three things will usually be true:

    1. No one will post multiple offensive messages in quick succession (this happens).
    2. Flags will be handled very quickly (depends on the site, the time of day, how many high-rep users are active, etc.)
    3. The people handling the flags will be able to anticipate further abuse and empowered to suspend / kick-ban / delete the accounts posting the abusive messages and clean up the mess that's already been made. (Difficult if no mods are around, impossible if no mods or room owners are around)
  • Show flags in a message's history I'm not sure how this will help... You can already look up a list of flags associated with every author in chat; assuming you can see who wrote the message, you can find the flags. If you're a moderator, that is. It's not clear to me whether you intend this to be public information; if you do, then that's a pretty huge change (folks got kinda upset when flag data was inadvertently public a while back). Otherwise, the only thing novel here is the list of flaggers... Which is useful in cases of flagrant abuse, and (as history has shown), prone to abuse when visible otherwise. Implicitly encouraging moderators to "punish" people for flags they do not feel are warranted has a chilling effect on people's willingness to flag abuse; the end result is that folks leave chat to those willing to put up with an endless stream of abuse and nonsense - probably the opposite of what you're hoping for here.

  • Let moderators see the history of all flags a user has raised. My only concern here is the same as in the previous part: you explicitly want this so that you can punish abusive flaggers. However, definitions of abuse vary wildly. I've repeatedly heard from folks who detest flagging because they already feel that flagging makes them vulnerable to annoyed moderators who are more interested in tolerating the excesses of their friends than, well, actually moderating; in such a climate, expecting flags to be handled fairly when the tools are altered specifically to encourage retribution toward flaggers is... probably naive.

It's worth noting that moderators can already identify the flaggers associated with each flagged post... If they're handling flags in rooms associated with their own site. I suspect most of the angst here arises from situations where no qualifying moderators are around.

That said... How big of a problem is this, really? I know everyone loves to talk about it, but I have a sneaking suspicion the root cause is simply that bogus flags tend to hang around a bit longer than obviously-justified ones. If a dozen people see the bogus flag and only 1 moderator sees the justified flag, there's gonna be some misconceptions about what gets flagged. With this in mind, I have

A counter-proposal in only two parts

  1. Set a limit for unanimously-declined flags per day. Something fairly low, like... 2 or 3. Hit that limit, and all other pending flags are silently declined and you can raise no more for 24 hours. Leave the option for raising mod-only flags (the ones where you have to type up an actual problem) open, but automatically shut down the avenue for griefing as soon as it becomes plausible that's what's happening. This would suffice to allow both moderators and privileged users to shut down flag abuse without threatening the utility of flags.

  2. Show a recent flag history to moderators. There's a spiffy tool available to folks with access to the internal network here that just lists a bunch of recently-flagged messages along with how many counter-flags they got, how many "meh" responses they got, and whether or not they were deleted. I'd post a screenshot, but when I went to grab one it just made me angry at people who use chat... So just trust me that it's a stunningly beautiful developer UI and also a great way to quickly identify trends in how flags are being raised and handled: I think having this information would make a big difference in how flags are perceived by moderators, and potentially allow them to better identify and address systemic problems.

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    +1 for "stunningly beautiful developer UI" – balpha Sep 11 '15 at 5:07
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    So, what would it take to implement your own proposal? (which sounds good to me) – Shadow The Princess Wizard Sep 11 '15 at 7:25
  • I like your counter-proposal. I'm not sure I have enough data to discuss your counterpoint about one-flag-only, beyond that I'm not sure it's correct. You definitely have a point about the other two, though. – Aza Sep 11 '15 at 8:32
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    I think I'd prefer actively showing an error or something on attempted blocked flags instead of silently declining. The latter a) would require keeping track of when the ban started (vs looking at the last declined flag timestamp); b) is hellban-like and not sufficiently "hey! you! stop doing the thing." – Adam Lear Sep 11 '15 at 17:36

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