The Very Low Quality flag option sucks. prepares for controversy

I'd like to see it removed totally as a flag option.

Its original purpose was as a response to contentless or meaningless posts; posts that aren't answers, aren't coherent, aren't even made up of words. It was intended for cases where the cat has walked over the keyboard.

However, Shog9 has more recently recommended that the "rude/abusive" flag should be used for gibberish posts. Such gibberish is abuse of the system, and is certainly inappropriate for respectful discourse, so gibberish can be happily flagged as abusive instead. This also enables the community to remove it much quicker.

The effect of the VLQ flag is to send the post to the Low Quality Posts review queue, where the (effectively) two options are either Looks OK (i.e. do nothing, leave the answer as is), or Delete. Hence, the only thing a VLQ flag is ever going to achieve is getting the answer deleted.

By talking with some other moderators, I've discovered some common misuses of the VLQ flag:

  • (on SO) Code only answers
    These are answers. While they may not be great quality, that's a reason to downvote, not to delete (which, again, is effectively the only thing a VLQ flag can do).
  • Questions that need closing
    These should not be deleted (the VLQ effect) or sent for moderator attention. The correct action is to close flag or delete, and send it to the Close queue.
  • Short answers i.e. answers that don't give much detail, but do attempt to answer the question. Once again, these are answers - should not be deleted, don't need moderator attention. Downvote.

So far, the only case that has been thrown out as possibly a valid use for the VLQ flag is link-only answers. They don't fit exactly with the description text of the NAA flag. However, I often flag link-only answers as NAA, and have yet to have such a flag declined; the NAA and VLQ flags both send posts to the LQP review queue. If this is really an issue, we could change the NAA description to include link-only answers. On the other hand, my opinion is that link-only answers aren't answers - the litmus test is to read them as you would if the link was not there, and "click here" is definitely not an answer.

So, we're left with a flag:

  • that is commonly misused;
  • that has a viable alternative;
  • whose purpose has become less and less clear over time.

Are there any reasons we shouldn't remove it? I don't see any.

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    Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/276982/…
    – Catija StaffMod
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:00
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    Once again, these are answers - should not be deleted, don't need moderator attention <--- A few of us holdouts believe in a higher standard to answer quality. Right now the VLQ flag is the only meaningful way to get those <s>answers</s> hints/suggestions reviewed by others.
    – enderland
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:09
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    @enderland They are technically answers, so they are answers. Downvote them, definitely, if they're low quality, but they shouldn't be deleted.
    – ArtOfCode
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:12
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    I have walked over my keyboard and am telling you, we need this flag.
    – cat
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:30
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    Also, I suspect that if you posted this on MSO vs MSE you would have had different results. Smaller sites use VLQ a lot differently and a lot more effectively, as moderators and community there generally care to have a higher standard than SO can do.
    – enderland
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:33
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    @cat that's the kind of thing you flag as abusive
    – ArtOfCode
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:45
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  • @cat: On top, you on a keyboard is also NAA.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 25, 2016 at 17:30
  • @Wrzlprmft Thankfully, I am still on my keyboard, in the comment section.
    – cat
    Apr 25, 2016 at 17:35
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  • More broadly than short answers, I'd say it's bad/wrong answers, i.e. VLQ flag as a super-downvote. I'm not totally sure if there's any way to solve that problem (take away VLQ and maybe people will just flag super-bad answers as NAA instead) but it's the main thing I've seen on cooking.
    – Cascabel
    Apr 26, 2016 at 17:16
  • I agree. 7 out of my 12 declined flags were VLQ flags. In most cases, that's because I didn't really understand how to use them (in one case it was because of robo-reviewers in Triage, the flag wouldn't have been declined if I would have flagged as Should be closed). If the VLQ option was removed, I would probably only have had 5 declined flags instead of 12. Feb 4, 2018 at 20:01

4 Answers 4


On questions, it's a super-downvote if the question gets closed. This isn't terribly useful, except that some people use it instead of a downvote — hey, people, if you see a very low quality question, then the only reason not to downvote it is if you've run out of votes for the day! I wouldn't be sad to see it go.

Don't remove the “very low quality” flag on answers, though. Just give it a sensible name — “delete”. We have a “close” button (or “flag” for low-rep users) on questions, with a list of close reasons, that sends questions into the close queue until enough votes have come in. We should have a “delete” button on answers (“flag” for low-rep users), with a list of delete reasons, that sends answers into the low quality delete queue until enough votes have come in.

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    I agree with this completely. VLQ should just be a "Recommend Deletion" that automatically casts a downvote and delete vote (if possible).
    – enderland
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:36
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    for the sake of completeness at Stack Overflow this flag seems to be used to push question into triage queue. I am not sure that downvotes could serve this function equally well - because these are available only to users with 125 rep, while flags can be cast starting with 15
    – gnat
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:42
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    This just punts the problem into a subdialog. Now we need delete reasons. Is there one for "very badly written"? If so, what are the parameters for that? If not, why bother?
    – Shog9
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:47
  • @Shog9 That's a separate issue, to be discussed in the relevant meta thread. I don't think “very badly written” is a good deletion reason, it isn't that much clearer than “very low quality”. “Incomprehensible” would be better, but still not ideal. Apr 25, 2016 at 16:51
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    @Shog9: The reviewers in the low-quality queue get a dialogue anyway (though that’s only for canned comments). That I cannot assess these comments when flagging but only when reviewing is a nuisance anyway. While you said in your answer that the VLQ flag exists for such differentiation, VLQ does not really differentiate anything, as it is to vague.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:52
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    It's only a separate issue until we actually try to implement it, @Gilles. Then it's the same issue with more clicking. The core problem remains differences in opinion as to what (if anything) should be done with these posts; more indirection doesn't change that.
    – Shog9
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:59
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    The "comment" option is completely optional and the default is "no comment", @Wrzlprmft. Which is important right now, because leaving a "post is teh suck" comment wouldn't be particularly useful.
    – Shog9
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:59
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    @Shog9: I know, but still there is an assymmetry of methods of easy expression available to the flagger and to the reviewer.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 25, 2016 at 17:03
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    "Recommend deletion" kind of hides away any notion of what answers are appropriate to delete, and I think might just encourage a different flavor of misuse than mentioned in the question. To some people, it would appear to validate the idea of upgrading super-downvotes into deletion. It seems like it might be more effective to replace it with a better summary of its intended use (incomprehensible, gibberish, etc), perhaps like Monica Cellio's answer.
    – Cascabel
    Apr 26, 2016 at 17:15
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    @Jefromi This is why I want to have deletion reasons. You don't vote/flag “delete”, anymore than you vote/flag “close”, but “delete as new question”, “delete as gibberish”, etc. Apr 26, 2016 at 18:46

Couple of quick notes here since I'm sick and probably can't write a coherent essay on this:

Flag types exist to direct and differentiate folks' desire to see problems addressed

You look at a post and say to yourself, "there's a problem here". Maybe it's a problem you can fix; if so, there's an "edit" link below the post and all is well. But what if it isn't fixable?

Well, you can downvote. And if you've earned some privileges you can maybe vote to close or delete. But for the majority of people using the site, there aren't a lot of self-service options... Except for flag.

A little bit of history... Originally, there were two flag options: Spam and Offensive. Their behavior was pretty well-defined, and you might think the meaning was also... But with only two options and an infinite variety of problems, folks ended up using Offensive for just about everything that irked them.

Then Other was added. Great! Now folks can use that and describe their problem. But there's no default or expected behavior here; a moderator has to look at each flag and decide what action (if any) is warranted. Sorta like creating an emergency hotline and telling folks to use it for everything from litter to massacre in progress.

So TPTB looked at what was actually being flagged and added some more flag reasons to help direct and prioritize these impulses. That's how we got "Not an Answer", all those close flags, and everyone's favorite: "Very Low Quality".

See, back in 2011, folks were posting a lot of really terrible stuff. Not exactly nonsense mind you; just... Embarrassingly-bad questions and answers. Stuff that wasn't even wrong so much as just... Annoying. Txt-speak explanations that don't explain anything. Code-only answers where the code isn't formatted and also is copied directly from the question. Questions that are copied from an assignment somewhere, with a few round-trips through a machine translation service en route. Stuff that, given infinite time and patience and clairvoyance could maybe be fixed, but in practice just saps the energy of everyone reading and makes us long for the quality and clarity we used to have over on Yahoo! Answers.

Now, maybe things have gotten a lot better since 2011. I gotta admit, I've been a bit distracted over the past 5 years; heck, I've spent entirely too much of that time looking at the worst parts of these sites, so it's entirely too easy for me to think of them as cesspools full of lazy answers and unintelligible questions. Maybe things have gotten a lot better and we don't need a flag for "garbage" anymore.

Close votes/flags are nominations for deletion

The only practical difference between a "close as unclear" flag and VLQ from the perspective of the flagger is that the former recognizes the potential for correction, while the latter sees none: in both cases, the question is insufficient, but one flag provides instruction for improvement and offers a chance at redemption, while the other admits there's zero chance of any substantive improvement and requests that the blight be obliterated before it spreads. However, in the long term both options commonly result in the question's deletion.

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    If it’s so important to have the distinction between closeworthy and VLQ for questions: Why treat those questions mostly the same, i.e., sending them to some queue where the reviewer can only decide between doing nothing or voting to close (and possibly waste a close vote from the flagger)?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 25, 2016 at 17:07
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    They also go to the moderator flag queue, @Wrzlprmft, where there's a big fat "delete question" button shown prominently under them. Heck, there's a delete button for mods in the LQ review as well. There's no facility for deleting unclosed questions for non-moderators though, which is why they get the UI they do.
    – Shog9
    Apr 25, 2016 at 17:14
  • Are moderators really an important factor here? How many questions flagged VLQ get actually deleted by moderators from either queue?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 25, 2016 at 18:08
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    Somewhat out of date, but should give you a rough idea @Wrzlprmft (you don't really need numbers though; just observe that it's nearly always moderators complaining about VLQ - they're the ones who have to decide what it means.)
    – Shog9
    Apr 25, 2016 at 18:09
  • Hmm, if I am not mistaken that includes answers and autoflagged questions, doesn’t it?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 25, 2016 at 18:18
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    Yeah, so it's skewed in favor of review on Stack Overflow where moderators don't have the option to handle autoflagged posts outside of /review. Still a good picture of what gets handled by mods vs reviewers on most sites, @Wrzlprmft.
    – Shog9
    Apr 25, 2016 at 18:33
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    @Shog9 So then it seems the solution is to stop showing VLQ flags to mods, since they don't know what to do with them, and there's already a system in place to deal with those flags without their intervention.
    – Servy
    Apr 25, 2016 at 19:44
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    Which is a nice ideal, but currently impractical if we actually want these flags handled @Servy. Previous attempts to let 10K users handle them were completely ineffective, current LQ review is considerably better but still overwhelmed on occasion. Bluefeet has been working on enabling normal users to handle more of these when needed, but even with that worked out there'll still be a need for mods to make the final decision in some intractable situations.
    – Shog9
    Apr 25, 2016 at 19:49
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    @Shog9 And yet mods aren't shown close flags in the mod queue, even though the close vote queue isn't able to keep up with all of the questions flagged for closure. And given that this is basically just a close flag without the flagger having to choose a more specific reason (for questions) one wouldn't really expect it to be treated any differently by mods. At the end of the day I consider it a basic premise of SO that there will always be more moderation actions needed than there will be people willing and able to perform them, so everything won't ever be handled on SO.
    – Servy
    Apr 25, 2016 at 19:53
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    Close is an interesting case, because arguably the creation of close flags created a lot of the moderation issues we've been dealing with for the past few years, @Servy. Traditionally, there was neither a "queue" for votes nor an expectation that they'd be "handled" - your vote was effective if other voters reacted in kind to the post within a relatively short time period, otherwise it was just, like, your opinion, man. Flags came with expectations though, and close flags created expectations for voting. Trying to sort this out has been interesting.
    – Shog9
    Apr 25, 2016 at 20:14

We should collapse VLQ and NAA into one flag, perhaps called "Not Useful" or "Not Constructive", that sends the post to the LQ review queue for possible deletion. This would cover several cases:

  • link-only answers
  • comments posted as answers
  • gibberish
  • duplicates of earlier answers (happens occasionally on some sites)
  • posts that violate local requirements like "back it up" and aren't going to get fixed (e.g. because the author has rejected a call for improvement, or the author hasn't been seen in the three years since he posted it)

Some push-back would be needed -- as guidance in the review queue, perhaps -- to discourage its use for:

  • wrong answers (downvote those instead)
  • answers that are fixable and new or newly-active; if somebody's working on improving a post, we shouldn't delete it out from under him
  • spam or offensive posts; I suspect that having those flag options appear first, as they do now, will be sufficient for this (as a moderator I don't see a lot of VLQ flags on spam)

I'm focusing pretty heavily on answers here, in large part because that's how I see the VLQ flag being used. The remedy for a VLQ question is closure, downvoting, and eventual deletion by either the community or the Roomba. It's the junk answers that are harder to deal with. But if a question attracts VLQ flags, it should be handled the same way as flagged answers.

I don't propose naming this flag "Should Be Deleted"; I'm concerned that people would use such a flag for wrong answers (that are still answers and not gibberish). As with the other flag types, I tried to propose a name that describes the problem instead of one that recommends an outcome.

  • The entry point should define the expected outcome, just like there's a “close” button, or a “should be closed” item under “flag”. Then the next screen should be a selection of reasons. A “not constructive” button is pointless — what does that mean? It's even worse than “very low quality”. And a “not useful” button is not what we want: you need to be a veteran Stack Exchange user and nitpicker to make sense of “wrong answers are useful”. Apr 26, 2016 at 18:49
  • @Gilles I thought of "not constructive" because we already use that language for comment flags. Apr 26, 2016 at 19:11

As a moderator, when I see posts with 'VLQ' I have an additional option available to me: to add an insufficient explanation post notice:

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

This shows the poster that their answer deserves more thought. If they improve the post then great, all the better. I can remove the notice. If they don't improve it then we are within our rights to remove it. I prefer the former, but I do the latter too.

This notice is more serious than just a comment stating 'please improve this', and it also shows to the future visitors that we expect answers to be of a better standard.

So I don't think it should be removed. A VLQ post should be given the opportunity to improve, and this annotation gives that extra motivation.

  • According to some CM (I cannot remember who right now), that notice should not be used on most sites anyway, as they do not have a policy for deleting such posts. On those sites which have such a policy (e.g., Skeptics), NAA fits perfectly for such posts. Finally, the dialogue to add such a notice should be easily adaptable to NAAs.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:35
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    Probably this, @Wrzlprmft? Note that Jon's a mod on UX, which definitely ventures into "subjective" territory at times and gets answers that suffer for it; of the 400-some answers that've been "noticed" in its history, roughly 60% get deleted (the remaining notices should probably be reviewed).
    – Shog9
    Apr 25, 2016 at 17:36
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    Wow, I wish normal users had this as an autocomment option in LQP. Apr 25, 2016 at 20:16
  • @Shog9 Yes, we use it as a bit of a tool for counteracting subjective posts that may well still be useful and not necessarily worthy of deletion, but still could do with significant improvements, and acts as a 'heads up' to other people thinking of answering a question with a one-liner that they need to do better. (Of course, we've no way of knowing if this actually works as a deterrent though, as proving someone didn't do something they were going to do is pretty tricky)
    – JonW
    Apr 26, 2016 at 8:34

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