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Declined post flags give people warnings and can result in flag bans.

Allow recovery from flag hellban

There's a rise in both flags and in declined flags, as reviewed in these two questions:

Can we have some statistics on the potential change in rate of comment flags?

When is a comment hostile or unfriendly? (Educating newer users how to flag comments)

There's been a lot of discussion about what to do with rude commenters:

Can we implement temporary automatic comment ban on 'x' number of validated rude comment flags?

Can the recidivism system be applied to comments?

But little to no discussion to cope with people failing to understand how to use comment flags or abusing them altogether. I'm not sure many users are even aware if their comment flags have been declined (a UI issue). But a pop up message or ban, in whatever way possible may assist.

Certainly as a mod, it can be hard to track someone's comment flagging, it depends on who's handling the queues at that time. Without looking at a user's history, we have no idea how many declined flags a user has or when they were. A person persistently flagging another user (targeted flagging) does tend to come to our notice, but it's still reliant on keen observation.

Can we at the least institute automatic or manual comment flag suspensions for declined comment flags? Or an auto mod flag that a user has X declined comment flags (similar for users who have too many rude or unkind flags) so we at least know to go and investigate that user?

My only hesitation in asking this, is comments are supposed to be second class citizens and to implement this may require a bit of dev time for the network. I'm not sure how messy this will be on top of the teams current todo list.

To begin with, perhaps the team could implement the simplest solution until a better UX/system can be implemented? It would provide an easier way to moderate the sites and take the pressure off Shog being pinged for stats, to help mods work out if their subjective experiences are meeting up with the objectivity of statistics.

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    If the SE network doesn't want this. I will post it on MSO and see if they want it on there. – Yvette Colomb Sep 7 '18 at 21:44
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    I'm fighting with SQL concerning your last post right at the moment... If I don't reply here in... Let's say 2 weeks... Ping me & I'll work up some numbers. But the short answer is: bans are only effective when there are a significant number of people EACH raising a LOT of bogus flags; a large number of people individually raising the occasional bad flag isn't worth investing time into; there are other approaches that are more effective (and... as a bonus... much, much cheaper to implement) – Shog9 Sep 7 '18 at 22:12
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    @Shog9 yeh sorry to hassle you. They're just ideas and I know you guys are uber busy. So yeh I'm sure I'll talk to you before then, but I'll remind you on this in a couple of weeks (is this the new 6.-8? :D ) No rush on the latest post, people have chipped in and we know you're working on it. – Yvette Colomb Sep 7 '18 at 22:34
  • To add. I think we also have a suck it and see what happens to the comment flagging patterns, including number of declines. Also I'm acutely aware that I handle a lot of comment flags and am responsible for the increase in decline rates.. so there's that subjective objectivity- in fact it's done a full loop. Crikey. – Yvette Colomb Sep 7 '18 at 22:39
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    The entire issue of comments/flags is out of control, and has been since bloggate. Commenting on main-site questions is just not worth the candle any more. – Martin James Sep 7 '18 at 23:29
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    is a bloggate like an XOR gate? – Yvette Colomb Sep 10 '18 at 9:27
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    @YvetteColomb sorta - it can be used to completely invert your meta arguments:) – Martin James Sep 11 '18 at 9:10
  • @Shog9 yikes, it's almost two weeks. – Yvette Colomb Sep 19 '18 at 15:10
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But little to no discussion to cope with people failing to understand how to use comment flags or abusing them altogether. I'm not sure many users are even aware if their comment flags have been declined (a UI issue). But a pop up message or ban, in whatever way possible may assist.

This is the real issue that needs to be adressed. You never actually notice that you have declined flags until you're close to the flag ban. The flag summary is almost impossible to find unless you know exactly where to look.

This is what you have to do to find your flag summary:

  • Go to your profile

  • Find out that this completly unhighlighted number is supposed to be clickable:

enter image description here

  • Click it despite the hover text not telling you anything about a flag summary at all. Indeed, the hover text reads "Total number of raised flags marked useful". From a UI standpoint, this is really unintuitive.

So the flag summary is pretty undiscoverable on its own. For post flags, this is remedied not just by the flag ban, but by the warning that is shown beforehand. That warning directs a user to their flagging summary and alerts them that they're doing something wrong.

I'd propose that we at least add a warning like this to comment flags, following the same rules as it does for post flags:

enter image description here

Currently new flaggers have no way of finding out that they're doing anything wrong until they get a mod message - and mod messaging every new user misusing comment flags does not scale.

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Unfortunately, adding a ban to comment flags would accomplish... Almost nothing.

The issue we had with post flags once upon a time was that a handful of people were raising a lot of bad flags. Even if most of their flags were good, someone raising 100 flags a day of which 20 are bogus could waste an awful lot of time!

But nobody is raising 20 bogus comment flags per day. Or 10. Or 2.

As we've seen in other recent breakdowns of comment flagging, most comment flags are of the "no longer needed" variety, and most of those are valid; the remaining flag types, while certainly much more likely to be invalid, are rarely raised regularly by a single person... And even less regularly declined. Here's a breakdown of users with n declined comment flags over the past 90 days on Stack Overflow:

Declined Flags Users AllFlags 
-------------- ----- -------- 
1              2088  16603    
2              284   13652    
3              83    2633     
4              43    4375     
5              14    893      
6              9     2057     
7              6     638      
9              2     113      
10             1     44       
11             5     1794     
19             1     404      
25             1     2923     
30             1     1637     
58             1     377      

...that's out of 3458 total declined comment flags in the same period. The majority of flags are raised by people who only raise 1 or 2 flags; the folks who raise a LOT of flags also tend to raise a lot of helpful flags. This pattern is pretty consistent across other sites with lots of flags.

If we turned this on on Stack Overflow right now... No one would be banned at all. But, a fair number of people would be warned, if they went to flag again...

Warnings

This is where Magisch's suggestion comes into play: all the folks with two declined flags in that list above? They could have been warned at least once, if comment flags behaved the same way that post flags do. And potentially they'd avoid raising another bad flag...

...OTOH, even if that worked that's still not very many declined flags. And the folks with > 1 declined flag are also responsible for a massive volume of helpful flags. There's some potential here for a chilling effect - at a time when we're kinda trying to encourage more folks to speak up when they see a problem.

Still... This is probably the most practical option. Getting enough signal to ban is unlikely in the vast majority of cases; catching folks who are off to a bad start & providing them with extra guidance is much more feasible.

Other options

The least-costly flag is the one that doesn't get raised at all because the flagger realized there was a better option. I touched on this a bit more over on MSO, but... I suspect that a big part of the problem here is up-front: we're just not explaining the purpose of options like "Something else" to folks who've never flagged before (and may never flag again). Most of our flagging options (and UI) are designed for (and used by) people with a LOT more experience in the system; we're gonna need to put some extra thought into how to communicate effectively with folks who may have no idea what any of this is.

We've talked about this a bit before, but... We could make handling these flags available to people who aren't moderators. That doesn't really make sense for stuff like "no longer needed" (which we could eliminate entirely if we just started archiving comments after a few days), but giving trusted users a shot at "rude" or "unwelcoming" flags would both draw on a lot more experience and help distribute the load of the biggest sources of declined flags. This... Would require a fair bit of work to implement, however.

  • Also worth mentioning that moderators can't dismiss comment flags; if they want to mark it as "helpful" they have to also delete the comment, so if they want to keep a comment they have to mark it as declined. (There is a workaround, mark as helpful and delete, and subsequently manually undelete, but that's non-trivial.) Anyway, the point is, moderators may decline a comment flag if they deem that it's borderline and should be kept, so I wouldn't support a comment flag ban. – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Sep 20 '18 at 23:50
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    Yvette knows this very well already; the SO mods even have a script to make this easier. – Shog9 Sep 20 '18 at 23:52

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