On Stack Overflow, we've suspected the plagiarism rabbit hole was deep... but we've had some users who are plumbing the depths of that pit and finding out that it's far deeper than anyone realized.

Up until now, it's been fine to leave them under moderator flags. You typically don't see a ton of them at once, and a user with a pattern will get dealt with in short order. But we now have 900+ moderator flags on SO, with at least half (probably more like 2/3 now) being plagiarism. There's two problems with this

  1. Plagiarism flags are slow to handle. Assuming you got enough data from the flag ("this post is plagiarized from here [link]"), you now get the fun of figuring out if the post was copied. Sometimes it's a slam dunk and pure copy-pasta. Sometimes it's mix-and-match posts. Sometimes it's simply not properly attributed. And sometimes you just can't tell. And if it has a lot of votes, you'll need a post disassocation from a CM on top of that.
  2. It clogs the queue so other flags get lost. If there's something important flagged on SO, it may not get handled in a timely fashion.

I certainly don't want to even imply our newfound plagiarism flaggers' efforts are creating any issues. I've seen some seriously messed up stuff from years ago that we were able to fix thanks to them. I want this stuff flagged, regardless of how many flags it adds to the queue. We just need to be able to categorize it better.

With a dedicated flag, we could also improve the process. Add sources for the material as part of the flagging process. A surprisingly common tactic to gain rep is to find a duplicate question, go to the duplicate, and copy the best answer(s). If the source post(s) are on the site, give us a console where we can see a comparison side-by-side. I don't think that would be terribly hard, but it would give us a leg up on removing copied materials. It also forces flaggers to provide a link to the source material (uncommon, but I've seen more than a few that are just "This answer is copied from another answer").

It might also be useful to make a case-by-case disassociation system for CMs. That way we're not building these massive error-prone lists by hand so we can open one ticket to them. It would take some of the tedium out of the process and guide all SE moderators through handling plagiarism ("Would you like to delete this post? Request a disassociation?")

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    Related proposal on MSO (for on-site duplicate answers) How about adding a "duplicate answer" manual flag type? Sep 6 at 3:57
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    Duplicate answer is not the same thing. Assessing whether something is repeating the same thing as another answer generally requires subject-matter expertise (unless it's just plain copy-pasta), and while it's something that I'm fine with users flagging for moderators to review, it's not anywhere near the same as plagiarism and shouldn't be conflated with it. @Henry
    – Cody Gray
    Sep 6 at 4:01
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    I agree that plagiarism and duplicated answers are different things @Cody especially with regard to "equivalent" answers that are not identical. IMO that doesn't change the fact that the proposals are related in that they both propose a new flag workflow which would (1) help organise flag queue by providing a new category of flags (which helps with handling and tracking) and (2) require the flagger to provide a content origin when flagging a post because sometimes these types of flags do not include a link to the source. Sep 6 at 4:06
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    Yeah, I see the connection, @Henry. I guess what I'm saying is, I think it would actually be a significant drawback if people started misusing any new "plagiarized" flag type as a way of flagging answers that they thought duplicated/repeated other answers on the page...
    – Cody Gray
    Sep 6 at 4:15
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    @HenryEcker To some extent they're in the same wheelhouse, but we're getting to where we do need more specialized flags on some sites (especially SO). The problem on "late retreads" is that people are more likely to just say it's the same as another answer without specifying which answer they mean.
    – Machavity
    Sep 6 at 13:58
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    I'm sorry, I'm a bit confused. The only thing I meant to indicate with my initial comment was that these proposals are related. I was noting the relationship because (1) there are good points made there which also apply to this proposal; (2) the workflows for both of these flags have similar issues both wrt. handling time and the way that people flag these types of posts; (3) if developers take the time to implement this there are other types of flags which could benefit from a "requires supplemental link" mechanism. Sep 6 at 15:00
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    Also having just gone through the process of creating a new closure reason, there was significant emphasis on providing guidance on how to use the reason in the UI itself. I assume that this is similar for flag descriptions where it is important to consider what this flag should not be used for and what they should do instead. Like, for example, differentiating plagiarism (exactly copied text without attribution) and functionally equivalent answers (retreads). I hoped that by providing a related proposal with similar issues would help in this regard as well. Sep 6 at 15:00
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    Excellent suggestion! The side-by-side comparison could probably be done using an iframe, which would also permit comparison of non-SE material, eg Wikipedia articles.
    – PM 2Ring
    Sep 7 at 0:08
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    "I think it would actually be a significant drawback if people started misusing any new "plagiarized" flag type as a way of flagging answers that they thought duplicated/repeated other answers on the page." Agreed. So - why don't we have both? "Plagiarized" and - not "duplicate" (since that's ambiguous), but "redundant". Sep 7 at 20:11
  • @KarlKnechtel right, a duplicate answer is not necessarily plagiarized. Two users might see a question "How do I reticulate the spline in F#?" and independently consult, summarize, and cite a post on the Spline Reticulation in Functional Languages blog. We don't need both answers but neither are plagiarized. Sep 12 at 13:57
  • Well, yes, but I was also thinking of the situation where two users independently think about a problem that has only one realistic solution, and write out the relatively simple solution in substantially the same way. Off the topic of this post, but also a significant problem, at least on Stack Overflow. Sep 12 at 16:01


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