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As per the FAQ, we know that there are two small differences between spam flags and rude or abusive flags (referred to below as S and R/A, respectively).

  1. If a deleted post has at least 1 valid spam flag, it can be used as review audits. The same doesn't apply to R/A flags.

  2. If a question has a second answer deleted with at least 1 valid spam flag, it's automatically protected by Community ♦.

However, in day-to-day usage those two things don't make a difference in how the flags affect the posts and sites they're cast on. Pops (an ex-CM) said it best a while back:

Feb 28 '17 at 21:31, by Pops

It's... hard... to argue in favor of writing an algorithm and making a bot spend time calculating which of the two flag types to use when they are, in actuality, the exact same flag. It's not even Coke vs. Pepsi, it's Pepsi vs. a second bottle of Pepsi that's using a different but still valid Pepsi logo.

In spite of an MSO post saying that S and R/A flags should be handled equally (and SpamRam handles both flag types identically in every way), they do make a difference in the system, which is said to have annoyed some SO mods.

  1. Is there practical differences between S and R/A flags anymore?
  2. Is it an issue or not that offensive posts are flagged as spam?
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    possibly related: Why don't we treat rubbish the same as spam? – gnat Feb 22 '18 at 12:54
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    Interesting line there about "some SO mods" being annoyed. Can you clarify as to who those were and where they were annoyed? AFAIK, Art of Code and Undo have written a Q&A pair on MSO asking us to not differentiate, and all the mods have agreed to that. – Bhargav Rao Feb 22 '18 at 23:53
  • @BhargavRao IDK. That word's said by another mod on another site. – iBug Feb 23 '18 at 1:41
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    @ɪʙᴜɢ If that is the case then either remove that statement from the post or ask the another mod on another site to add in some evidence about it. – Bhargav Rao Feb 23 '18 at 1:50
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    Probably related: nsfw triage review audit. Don't underestimate the importance of R/A deleted question NOT being used as audit tests. – Νеvеrꭑoꭇе Feb 23 '18 at 8:38
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No, there is no practical difference between the two. The only reason for keeping them separate is the different signals that each sends to us.

To expand on your first point, yes, spam flags can trigger a review audit. We explicitly don't include abusive flags because we don't think we should be intentionally showing abusive posts to users as audits, and we actually want to tweak those criteria so that a post which has a helpful abusive flag will be ineligible regardless of any other criteria.

But to go a bit higher-level than this: moderators have a page that lists all the flags cast against a user's posts. A user being consistently abusive is a completely separate issue than a user continuously spamming. Even if at the lower level both of those flags result in the same action being taken against them immediately, moderators should still be able to look at the user's history of problems and answer the question "What is the actual issue I need to contact them about?"

If all of those flags were combined as some sort of "this is spam or rude or abusive" then moderators would have to spend time looking through every single post in order to figure out whether they need to be contacted about their rude behavior or contacted about the spam they're throwing on the site. Those two messages have nothing to do with each other, and using the correct flag makes it obvious what behavior needs corrected in the long-term.

So... either flag will achieve the same short-term goal of getting rid of a post and blocking the user regardless of which one is used. But using the correct flag will help moderators determine a long-term goal of stopping the behavior, and each flag type can trigger very different long-term actions against those users.

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    Hang on, you can't say there's no practical difference and then tell us that the information about different types is important for deciding how to practically handle a given situation. Which is it? – Nij Feb 23 '18 at 5:54
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Is there practical differences between S and R/A flags anymore?

Dunno about "practical", but those are different things. It's like apples and oranges: they are both fruits, but they are different. So better use proper flag.

Is it an issue or not that offensive posts are flagged as spam

Yes I think this an issue. Maybe not big, but in the very least it's confusing those who see it, and send false signals to the automatic filters used by Stack Exchange. No idea how the auto flag of Charcoal works (assuming that's what you mean by "we, the Charcoal team, along with the SmokeDetector bot, have flagged offensive posts as spam"), but if it can't differentiate between spam and rude/offensive, better not use it at all until someone fix it. Doing only half job is sometimes worse than not doing anything.

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    Please note that the charcoal team has had approval to use "spam" flags instead of R/A flags. (See the quote from Pops in the question). These flags aren't as different as you claim they are. – Cerbrus Feb 22 '18 at 12:35
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    @Cerbrus so the approval is wrong in my opinion. It's like "allowing" us to use wrong close reasons on purpose. It might be legit to do with the approval, but personally I won't do it. – Shadow Feb 22 '18 at 12:41
  • There's a lot of context missing in this question. These spam flags are used because of technical limitations. (One of those: Identifying the proper flag ID on different SE sites) In the end, R/A or Spam have (mostly) the same effect. Note that this only affects flags cast through SE's API. Manual flags cast by a user visiting an SE site should always be the "proper" one. – Cerbrus Feb 22 '18 at 12:44
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    @Cerbrus still, whatever the reason, if the auto flags can't be correct, I prefer they won't be used at all. Just my own personal opinion. – Shadow Feb 22 '18 at 12:46
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    @ShadowWizard even the system considers it the same.... when you flag as spam or r/a both of them get greyed out (and say this is the flag you already chose) – WELZ Feb 22 '18 at 12:56
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    @WELZ in that case better just merge them into single flag reason, feel free to start such feature request. As long as there are two different reasons, I believe we should use the proper one, be it manually or using whatever script/bot we have. – Shadow Feb 22 '18 at 13:00
  • The system stopped specifically including spam flags and excluding R/A flags in spam filters a long while before the two-spam-answer automatic protection criterion was introduced. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Feb 22 '18 at 13:24
  • Also, before offensive was renamed rude or abusive, the policy was to flag trolling posts as spam; the "offensive" flag meant exactly that. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Feb 22 '18 at 13:26

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