I've been happily comment-flagging away on the sites with what I thought was a good understanding of the comment flag system.

There are some posts on non-constructive flags, but none that I can see that cover this particular issue:

When should comments be flagged as “not constructive”?

“fun” comment flagged as not constructive - Why was it declined?

Then this pinned comment in the SO Closed Vote Reviewer's chat made me rethink comment flagging.

As a mod who regularly handles flags, I don't like seeing "gee thanks" being flagged as Not Constructive. Flag it as "too chatty" and a mod will get it. But I'm a bit stuck on process, and an improper NC flag will make me decline the flag and then flag it properly.

This got me concerned about having declined flags. The SO mod continues to reveal:

"not constructive" has a strongly negative connotation and the system looks at it that way too.

The mod's attitude is:

A declined flag is not a punishment. However, the system brings posts with NC flags to our attention, and when you flag a "gee thanks" as NC, you create noise and redundant work for us.

As most of us are not familiar with the mod dashboard, it would be good to have some insight into this. There needs to be consistency between the mods' experiences and the general users' perception of the site tools and how to use them.

My reply in chat was:

@AaronHall what your telling some of us is news. I think there needs to be a featured meta post on that. As far as I'm concerned as an active user on the site. If my NC flags start to be declined I wouldn't be happy. It's like we're punished for doing what we think is the right thing and that really is not the way to approach it as a mod. I think you need to educate the community first.

So the questions are these:

  1. Does the 'not constructive' flag have a strongly negative connotation within the system?

  2. If so, can we have more detailed clarity on its use?

  3. Can we have some mods' perspectives on this?

This is related Drop "not constructive", combine "noisy", reword "rude" and "other" comment flags but not a duplicate, as this discusses it's use, the other discusses all the comment flags and is a feature request.

  • 5
    IMO the whole comment flagging system is flawed and way too complicated, which cause many people to simply not use it. Better have less flag reasons, and not require people to read tons of details before flagging. It's not rocket science. Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:26
  • @ShadowWizard I totally agree with you. Has the world come to an end? :D
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:29
  • 1
    I always interpreted the comment flag reasons as a scale of worseness, rude being at the top, obsolete being at the bottom of that scale. So yes, I considered NC to have a negative connotation to it. The last time I used NC it was declined so I'm obviously not good at spotting those. However I have a high-success rate with flagging forms of thanks as too chatty and I never considered it to be NC. I think the more rude forms of what have you tried are NC but I'm looking forward to any answers expanding on that so I can learn.
    – rene
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:29
  • @rene it would be nice to see if that perceived rank is indeed actually how it is intended.
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:30
  • 4
    Worth to mention, there is a pending feature request that if implemented, will render this discusson pointless. :) Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:34
  • @ShadowWizard yes I agree with this, it would solve this issue
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:48
  • Yup, in 6-8 years. Maybe. :) Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:48
  • @sha ikr, it's originally posted in 2015
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:49
  • 1
    But by Shog, so if even he couldn't make it happen, doubt it will ever happen. Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:50
  • @sha but bluefeet answered last month, that's promising
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 13:51
  • This isn't a duplicate - it's discussing the flags use.
    – user310756
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 21:00

3 Answers 3


"Not constructive" is empirically a meaningless flag: it is used for everything from rude or dismissive language to comments with key details that should've been edits to the post to expressions of gratitude... Whatever meaning it was intended to have is neither well-communicated nor agreed upon; in practice it is used for anything you could possibly want to flag a comment for.

We will be dropping this flag entirely in the next 6-8 weeks; until then, I recommend that flaggers avoid using it, and moderators simply delete anything thus-flagged that should be deleted for any reason. Of course, that's my advice to moderators in any case.

  • thanks for that and good news we're simplifying the flags.
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 22:05
  • 7
    Wait, 6-8 weeks or 6-8 weeks?
    – Machavity
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 22:09
  • 9
    @Machavity: Yes. Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 22:31
  • Can we remove "the author" from the triage guidance? Seems to be as easy as this one, no?
    – Braiam
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 22:50
  • 1
    I spend a good chunk of time last week arguing with someone who wanted to add "the author" to the flag dialog, @Braiam. I have a long, long TODO list, and would like to clear off the things that matter before I spend time on meaningless changes.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 22:57
  • 2
    "I recommend that flaggers avoid using it", on border-line rude comments, do we hit rude/abusive or too chatty? Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 23:30
  • If you think it's rude, use rude @PetterFriberg.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 0:03
  • @PetterFriberg as he said, mods should not decline the flags if they are used anyway. For those who do not read this.
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 1:44
  • 1
    I guess 6-8 weeks countdown is expected to start after you hire Core Q&A PM. Meanwhile there are sooo much more important things to focus on, like eg preparing entertainment for coming April Fools' Day. Yeah, don't worry about such minor things! Let these useless flaggers and moderators fight each other over vague flags
    – gnat
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 7:30
  • 5
    How should we flag comments that ask for upvotes or accepts? I thought "not constructive" was the one to use for that. Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 13:46
  • 1
    @S.L.Barth My guess is "no longer needed" will become the wheelbarrow into which we dump all the not constructive and too chatty flags.
    – TylerH
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 14:24
  • 2
    6-8 weeks is roughly the pipeline length for CRs from conception to implementation, @gnat. Unless something is on fire, hard to get below that (very, very easy to exceed it though, which is why I'm trying to keep this as simple as possible). And don't kid yourself: the new PM will be entirely consumed with coordinating the teams working on the April Fools' project at least until October.
    – Shog9
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 0:59
  • 1
    October, time to start preparing for next Winterbash! Now that makes perfect sense
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 5:31

I dug up some posts to confirm if we should not flag "thank you" comments as "Not Constructive", and I couldn't find any post which mentioned that flagging comments as "Not Constructive" will be declined.

None of the posts say that "thank you" comments should not be flagged as Not Constructive. Wrzlprmft has stated in a comment that the system has changed recently and thus a extra moderator flag is raised on Not Constructive and Rude comments.

The link provided by Wrzlprmft does clear why Aaron does wants us to raise Too Chatty flags instead of Not Constructive flags. But, "thank you" flags are "not constructive". So either the system should be changed or the flag must not be called "not constructive".

Also, I have 2600+ helpful comment flags on StackOverflow right now mostly on comments like these, which I have been flagging as Not Constructive. That's a bit weird if comments like these should be flagged as Too Chatty, and Not Constructive flags will be declined on comments like these which Aaron states.

  • 1
    "thank you" comments are "not constructive" like 0 is non-positive - and since we're using English, which has connotations in addition to denotations, we're now treating "not constructive" as negative. Please flag "thank you" as too chatty going forward.
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 15:01
  • 5
    @AaronHall: Signal-to-noise ratio implies that, in fact, anything less than a certain threshold should be deleted because it dilutes site quality too much. That's why such comments are deleted: they actively detract from the site as a whole, despite being individually meaningless and seemingly harmless. So yes, 0 == -1. Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 22:33
  1. Does the 'not constructive' flag have a strongly negative connotation within the system?

Yes. Posts with comments with such flags are flagged again for further review by moderators.

If a user’s comments are consistently flagged as rude/abusive or not constructive, a moderator flag is raised. (source)

So it's more important lately to get this right.

  1. If so can we have more detailed clarity on it's use?

I understand Stack Overflow is working on revamping the flag system, but until they do, we have to work with the system we have.

My direction is to flag as Not Constructive things that are borderline rude, negative, and don't add to the discussion. Follow these steps in order:

  1. If a comment is clearly Rude or Offensive, flag it as Rude or Offensive. For (meta)example:

    • Your religion and politics stink - Delete your account!
    • Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.
    • You should have learned this in kindergarten, you ignorant bumpkin.
  2. If a comment is clearly benign, but Too Chatty, flag it as Too Chatty. For example:

  3. If the comment is somewhere in the gray area between rude and benign and adds no value, flag it as Not Constructive Rude or give a custom reason (given Shog's declaration that "Not Constructive" is going away, and to avoid using it). For example:

    • Use a search engine before asking!
    • Don't bother trying to support last year's technology, those users aren't worth it.

The first goes against the site's goals. The second probably unnecessarily denigrates a technology or users. Mods can redact rude parts if there is valuable information worth keeping.

  1. If a comment is Obsolete, flag it as Obsolete. For example, these should be obsolete once they've been addressed:

    • Please edit your question to show us the code you're using?
    • Please fix a particular problem with your answer?
  1. Can we have some mods' perspectives on this?

Here's my perspective -
Moderator time is best spent looking at actual problems. When "thank-you" comments cause a post to get greater scrutiny at the expense of posts where people are actually escalating a back and forth, that's a problem.

If I have a private moderation conversation with a user, I don't want to tell them that they have X many Not Constructive comments, only to be challenged and on closer inspection finding them incredibly benign.

Empathizing with new users: if I were a new user who said, "thanks!" a lot, and my comments were being characterized as not-constructive, and it was brought to the attention of others, either by myself or some other leaky communication, I'd feel like the system was treating me unfairly or capriciously.

  • 11
    It should be noted that the special treatment of the not constructive flag is a relatively new thing. Until recently, all comment flags were treated absolutely identically. (see the footnote and where it is referenced).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 14:10
  • 2
    @Wrzlprmft are you able to write up an answer about this? I cannot see where the flag is being treated differently, this is news
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 14:12
  • It may not be apparent to users, but it is quite apparent to moderators.
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 14:13
  • 5
    Truly the issue is, the powers that be made a change to the flagging system and it was purely incidental if the community found and understood those changes, as this Q&A meta.stackexchange.com/questions/284053/… does not lend itself, from the title, to revealing the info about the NC flags raising mod flags
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 14:54
  • I would never flag the second Not Constructive example as not constructive. That is valid feedback. Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 18:46
  • 3
    @DiminutiveColossus Don't bother trying to support last year's technology, it has no future value would be valid feedback. But in the example used, the users are ridiculed. It is like me calling you a moron because you do JavaScript.
    – rene
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 19:46
  • Well wouldn't that depend on the cost? If supporting the old version has too high of a cost, then are those users really worth it? @rene Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 20:13
  • I did update the example with a minor insult to users, please propose improvements or additions, and I'll be happy to add more if they make sense to me.
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 16:30
  • 6
    So it's advised that you do not decline flags for NC if it should be deleted for any other reason meta.stackexchange.com/a/291613/310756
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 1:44
  • 4
    Awesome, more legalistic implementation detail BS to worry about when pointing out garbage for cleanup!
    – jscs
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 12:44
  • 3
    @JoshCaswell I agree. If it's to be deleted off the site, delete it, users don't want to be jumping through hoops trying to help the site. I understand the penalties for spam and rude flags, but all else should just be that. All else of a custom mod flag.
    – user310756
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 17:28

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