It's well-known mods aren't almighty, and some problems require staff intervention. One of those cases is serial voting. Following a discussion here, could we have an indicator if a flag has been escalated, and the current status of it?

There's always going to be a backlog, but it'd still be nice to know the current status when it's been escalated, instead of hoping the flag resulted in escalation. As an example of when this is useful, I recently flagged some serial voting. The first reply said:

helpful - Same goes for upvotes. What can I do about getting a sudden flood of revenge downvotes?

But that doesn't tell me much. Was it escalated to Stack Exchange employees, or shrugged off as "the system will handle it"? Spoiler: It won't. Batches of three serial votes currently don't get reversed. That might be a separate problem on its own. I went ahead and flagged again for good measure, but I still don't know if it was escalated, and therefore if I need to flag again. I understand there's backlogs that need to be handled, but I personally want to know if it will be reviewed or not.

And just to be clear: I'm not asking about this specific flag. This is used as an example. With backlogs though, it would be nice to at least know if the flag has been escalated and will eventually be looked at, or if it'll take a few months and more votes before it gets reversed.

I'm not entirely sure what requires escalation, but I imagine there's other usage areas beyond serial voting. Not knowing the system, if there are such cases where the escalation status shouldn't be revealed, mods could be given an alternative to hide the escalation status, or alternatively, the status when the flag has been reviewed by an employee can be generic, with a simple Reviewed by employee.

Anyway, the general idea is that if a flag is escalated, it throws an additional status on the flag. Something along the lines of:

User comment – Username Aug 8 at 22:37 helpful - Optional moderator reply - Pending employee review


User comment – Username Aug 8 at 22:37 helpful - Optional moderator reply - Escalation marked as helpful/declined by employee

Would at least make it possible to tell that there's something going on with the flag, and removes the confusion of a helpful flag with no action taken.

The escalation status should naturally not affect the user's flagging stats in any way, so that won't be a change compared to today as far as I know.

Edit: I failed to think about implementation difficulty. That's on me. If the system I initially proposed is not worth "tripling the complexity of the flag system is worth the tiny number of cases it would affect.", could we at least have an indicator that it has been escalated? Leaving it to moderators to manually type out that it has been escalated first of all takes space (I'm assuming the flag replies have some length restriction as well), and it assumes moderators are able to remember it. Being a moderator on 0 sites, I have no idea how flags are escalated, but if there's a button, throwing in a notice it's been escalated (again, in a style similar to the helpful/declined part of the flag) wouldn't change anything for mods, but let end users get this type of information.

Additionally, if employees would end up never typing anything, how can you expect mods to consistently remember to leave a message when a flag has been escalated? I don't doubt that mods could actually do that, but this could be automated. Linking any of the features I've proposed to (presumably) standard buttons just adds an output with little effect on the process for mods or employees

For the sake of completeness though, I'd also like to suggest adding escalation to the FAQ (something along the lines of "Why was my flag escalated, and what does it imply?"), either here on main meta or in the help center, and link to it from the flag status. This is, again, mainly to avoid confusion when it takes a while for anything to happen for stuff like serial voting, or anything similar.

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    I'm still not sure what this extra status solves? It somehow has that smell that you expect to get more control/feedback over a proces that is by definition out of your hands once you raised the flag. Besides curiosity what do we gain? The proces itself doesn't get better, right? You don't get improved vote reversals from this, right? – rene Aug 8 '19 at 21:06
  • @rene I don't expect feedback, hence why I left out optional employee reply. I also know employees can't disclose any of the invenstigation as well. That part doesn't make sense to add. There's no improvement to the process itself, but it could potentially reduce some flags from users who haven't seen this questions, or people like me who wonder what's actually going on – Zoe the 1337 Princess Aug 8 '19 at 21:22
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    The flag process as it exists now is pretty much exactly as much as you'd get by reporting serial voting to us directly. We send a single message saying someone will look at it and intentionally never reply again. We don't send messages that the investigation concluded. Aside that, I don't think tripling the complexity of the flag system is worth the tiny number of cases it would affect. Staff would likely end up just dismissing them all as one status and never writing anything anyways. – animuson ModStaff Aug 8 '19 at 21:40
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    @animuson again, the point isn't getting feedback. There's no need to add a reply system. If the status itself seems like a pointless step, Reviewed by employee is enough (the helpful/declined part was the other suggestion. Feedback was never my idea). The real difference between mod-flagging and waiting for escalation and contacting SE directly is that contacting guarantees employee review, but removes the sanity-checking aspect (assuming mods have the technical tools to find abusive votes - I know they can't take action on it though). – Zoe the 1337 Princess Aug 8 '19 at 21:51
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    If the request devolves that far though, what's wrong with just making sure moderators type out "we've escalated this" instead of having extra flags to say the same thing? – animuson ModStaff Aug 8 '19 at 22:07

A flag currently has two states: pending or handled.1 At least on my sites, when mods get a flag that requires an employee to take a look, we usually leave the flag pending and contact the team. If we were to reply, which we can only do by handling the flag, then we would have to send the team a link separately or reflag it internally. That's more work for all involved.

As a moderator I don't want the ability to send status updates on pending flags. If we had it for this case, then some users would ask for updates on every flag and that would get tedious and annoying.

Flags are not a good way to have a conversation. Think of flags as fire-and-forget alerts. If you think something requires employee attention, use the "contact us" link and submit a ticket that way. If they need more information or want to give you an update, they can do that through their ticketing system.

1 Consider "aged away" to be one of the cases of "handled". That's just the system handling a flag instead of mods.

  • You're missing the point. This has absolutely nothing to do with sending status updates, but that doesn't prevent users from trying when they're left in the dark. I imagine that's more likely to happen with low-rep users or users not familiar with the flagging system, but the vast majority of at least SO's users have low rep and might not know that. I have no idea where you got the impression this FR is intended as a status update system, but I imagine it's the last sentence of my question (which I have now removed for good measure). – Zoe the 1337 Princess Aug 10 '19 at 7:28
  • The idea was to display that something happened to the flag after the mod reviewed it. The point isn't a live-streamed "your flag is number 6-8 in line" and show who processes it and see a full description what action was taken, and why. On SO, most serial voting flags are marked helpful, then escalated, and I imagine that applies elsewhere in the network as well. The initial idea was splitting the escalation status from the flag status (pending/declined/helpful or pending/reviewed, and the alternative was throwing in a "flag escalated" header, not creating a communication system in flagging – Zoe the 1337 Princess Aug 10 '19 at 7:34
  • @Olivia the title has a lot to do with it too. You seem to be missing my point: the system doesn't have the concept of "escalation". Escalation is manual and usually takes the form of "hey (CM), could you take a look at that flag?". For well-defined cases like flags asking for disassociation we can submit a CM ticket and then handle the flag with a message, but that's the exception. We cannot reply to a flag without handling it, and -- given that escalation is not built in -- any "reply but keep active" mechanism to support your request would also be requested for other flags. – Monica Cellio Aug 11 '19 at 2:55

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