When flagging, there are two special case options: spam and rude or abusive.

  • What is spam, and when should I flag content as such?
  • What is considered offensive, rude or abusive content?
  • How does the spam flag differ from the rude or abusive flag?
  • What is the effect of these special flags?
  • When are these flags removed?

Return to FAQ Index

  • 16
    Looking at the answer. I see that the first revision owner loses the rep? What happens if a bunch of people vote spam on an edit? If it's one or two votes, the OP or editor can rollback and remove the flag, but if it's 6, the original revision owner (the OP) loses rep? What if the Spam is a malicious edit. Shouldn't the flagged revision owner lose rep instead? Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 21:45
  • 5
    I meant to focus that comment more on malicious editors could cause misdirected rep damage since the first revision owner gets the damage. Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 21:59
  • 2
    @Xaade: The scenario that you are describing is exceptionally rare, and if it does happen, moderators can reverse it.
    – user102937
    Commented Aug 24, 2012 at 15:07
  • 2
    @RobertHarvey Ok, but for reference I posted an answer with my findings. Hopefully if anyone else has the question in their head, it'll clear it up. It's basically the consensus from other questions. Commented Aug 24, 2012 at 15:21
  • 1
    I couldn't see the flag - at bottom of post - for marking an answer as (real) spam. I realised I needed to be logged-in to the site (i.e. in this case refresh my browser).
    – PeterX
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 2:03

2 Answers 2


Note for moderators: some sites, including Stack Overflow, have more permissive, overriding guidance on the handling of these flags.

What makes something spam and when should I flag it?

A post should be marked as spam only if it promotes a product, service, or similar; and is unsolicited or lacks disclosure of affiliation.

  • Due to the way search engines work, this includes links. For example, an otherwise normal post that contains a link to a website only in a punctuation mark is still spam.

  • Unsolicited means that mentioning the product serves no purpose other than promotion. For example, if an answer mentions software that may solve the asker’s problem or a question about web programming references a website as an example, this is not unsolicited (it may still be spam if there is an undisclosed affiliation).

  • Lacks disclosure of affiliation means that the author is clearly affiliated with the product but does not disclose their affiliation. Note that a simple “my” may suffice. However, the disclosure must happen in the post itself; the author’s username and profile do not count.

  • If an otherwise valid post contains an apparent spam link and especially if the bulk of the post is plagiarized from another post or from an off-site source, flag as spam (example). Do not try to salvage the post by removing the spammy content. If you're unsure, you can often find the original source with a Google search of its first sentence.

    Be specifically cautious when judging posts falling into this category. Sometimes it may just be an innocent user leaving a signature trying to get some SEO. (Related)

It should not be marked as spam when:

  • The post contains no useful information, such as an answer that says “I don't have any idea how to solve your problem”. Flag as not an answer instead.

  • It contains only gibberish, such as “sdhsgfdhsfdshs”. Consider using the rude or abusive flag for these cases - see below.

What makes something rude or abusive and when should I flag it?

A post should be marked as rude or abusive (formerly known as offensive) if it contains hate speech, obscenities, abuse against people, or abuse of the community or system, i.e., if the post is or contains a clear violation of the Code of Conduct.

  • Abuse of the system or community is everything that is created with the intention to harm them. This includes posts by users with no useful contributions to the site that contain no useful content at all – i.e. gibberish posts along the lines of:


  • As a rule of thumb, everything that would be out of place in polite discourse is rude or abusive.

Do not use this flag if:

  • The post criticizes somebody or something in a civil manner.

  • The post is a (civil) rant in disguise. If any part of the post can be salvaged, edit out the rant-y parts. If not, vote or flag to close as Opinion-based (for questions) or flag as not an answer (for answers).

  • Somebody appears to have posted nonsense due to an innocent mistake such as a copy-and-paste error. This includes cases where a user with other useful contributions to the site posts nonsense - though if repeated, do use this flag.

  • The post blatantly violates other site rules. This is what downvotes, close votes, and other flag types are for.

  • The post is talking about rude words, such as writing code to filter profanity or objectively discussing the meaning of the rude words (example).

Also, if an otherwise valid post contains vulgar words as an expression of frustration or nonsense content (e.g., to get around the question quality filter), edit the bad parts out instead of flagging the entire post as rude or abusive. If this results in an edit war or rollback war, flag as "in need of moderator intervention" and explain the situation. (Note that this is very different from handling an otherwise valid spam post.)

How does the spam flag differ from the rude or abusive flag?

The exact definitions of these terms are given above and the distinction can help moderators handle these flags if the problem is not blatantly obvious. (Note that if the spam or abuse is hidden, it may be necessary to elaborate this in a custom flag.)

Otherwise, the system does not differentiate between these flag types when counting the number of flags it has towards the thresholds to automatically delete. There are a couple of unrelated cases where the system does differentiate between these flags:

  1. Deleted answers with at least one helpful spam flag count towards automatic protection of a question. Answers with helpful rude or abusive flags, but no helpful spam flags, don't count.

  2. If a post has a single helpful "rude or abusive" flag, it won't be used as a review audit in the review queues, to prevent NSFW posts from cropping up as tests.

What effects do these flags have on a post?

Spam or rude or abusive flags ("red flags") receive an extremely high priority in the moderator flag queue and come with severe penalties:

  • Each red flag, during its validity, carries an implicit downvote from the Community user, which does not affect the flagger’s reputation. This also limits the visibility of posts: on main sites, questions with a score of -4 or lower aren't shown on the front page (-8 on meta sites), and answers with a score of -3 are grayed out.

  • Upon receiving four red flags, the post will be locked and deleted, and the author will lose 100 reputation. (Locking means that users with the moderator tools privilege (“10k users”) cannot edit or undelete it.)

    • One red flag from a moderator has the same effect as four red flags from normal users.
  • The contents of posts that were deleted and got at least one helpful red flag will be masked from 10k+ users: the content isn't shown on the post itself, but can be browsed to in the revision history.

    • If a post with pending red flags is deleted for any reason other than self-deletion, even if not automatically by the system in response to four red flags or one from a moderator, the red flags will be automatically marked helpful. This will trigger this mask when viewing the post, but this doesn't necessarily mean it was deleted for that reason.
    • The post content is not masked to moderators, who see the post content on the post as it would otherwise be normally shown. Other users can install this user script if they don't want these masks.
  • Questions that are deleted automatically by the system in response to four red flags, or one from a moderator, also receive more masking than normal deleted posts: the list of potentially related posts in the <10k 404 page won't be there, and the title is stripped from the URL to the post.

When are these flags removed?

  • You can retract spam and rude or abusive flags like all other flags. These flags do not expire. (Previously, they expired after two days or four days.)

  • Red flags can be cleared by moderators, whether active or already dismissed. This will cause the flags to be marked as disputed, even though they may have been marked helpful or declined in the past. Since these flags impose a heavy penalty on the post and its author, a special mechanism is provided to clear borderline flags without penalizing anyone (declining the flag would penalize the flagger).

    In addition, this is sometimes used to remove bad audits from the review queues, as helpful spam flags can cause the posts to become review audits. (While only posts that are actually deleted by the system in response to four spam flags are fed into the queues as known-spam audits, some spam is too subtle to expect reviewers to catch and can result in failed audits even if the reviewer is paying enough attention to ordinarily pass.)

  • 10
    @animuson Doesn't "It contains only gibberish, such as "fsdguejgkfdlk". Use the 'offensive' flag for these cases, or flag 'for moderator attention' with a custom explanation if it requires more detail." contradict "As a rule of thumb, if you can't justify something as being hate speech, or abuse, you shouldn't mark the post as offensive. Instead, you should down-vote the post."? That doesn't seem like abuse, at least not abuse in the meaning normally associated with "offensive". (Before your edit, this answer said to flag gibberish as NAA.)
    – hvd
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 15:06
  • 17
    @hvd We've established in past discussions that abuse of the system qualifies under the offensive flag. Posting gibberish that doesn't mean anything is definitely abusing the system.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 15:07
  • 2
    @animuson That seems fair enough, but then the part of this answer that covers "Offensive" could use some cleaning up as well. I'll see if I can think of clearer wording (no promises) to edit, or if you can think of some, please do edit.
    – hvd
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 15:08
  • 1
    @hvd Here's the post I was referring to. It's since been edited to also include the VLQ flag (though the NAA flag will also do the same thing now). There's no harm in letting it run through the review queues instead, but nuking it as offensive will throw them into the system filters and blocks to prevent them posting more junk in the future.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 15:14
  • @animuson Thanks. I've edited to hopefully make it clear that "offensive" is supposed to cover both meanings of "abuse".
    – hvd
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 15:17
  • 8
    Be careful on "gibberish posts" Shog9 instructions is that on user with reasonable posts elsewhere "flag will be declined because it'd mess them up for what was probably an innocent mistake." Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 22:23
  • @Undo: I fail to see your point of the disclaimer you added on the top. The linked post doesn’t invalidate the advice given in this answer the slightest. Also permissive […] guidance on use of flags can be misunderstood in that more posts are permitted, i.e., there are stricter criteria as what can be red-flagged.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 14:24
  • Mostly, Stack Overflow has jettisoned the difference between spam and R/A flags @Wrzl. For example, this answer prohibits spam flags on gibberish, while SO doesn't care. The wording clarity comment is valid, but I can't come up with better wording right now. Mostly hoping folks click the link.
    – Undo
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 14:33
  • @Undo: I understand this, but that doesn’t mean that anybody following this advice will run into problems. Linking that post (at the very top) gives the impression that the situation is more complicated than it is, which is unnecessarily confusing.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 14:35
  • @Wrzl Issue comes when moderators see this and start declining stuff. It's difficult to coordinate a 20+ person team, and if a blurb at the top of a commonly linked answer helps prevent some mSO drama I'd say it's worth it.
    – Undo
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 14:38
  • 1
    @Undo: Okay, but that’s nothing we need to confuse the average user reading this FAQ with. I slapped a for moderators before that notice, so everybody else knows that they can skip it.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 10:38
  • 1
    @ɪʙᴜɢ This edit you have done is being discussed at Meta Stack Overflow. It would be helpful to have your input about it over there (in particular, about what you have based it on).
    – duplode
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 14:05
  • @animuson The "lacks disclosure" introduced in revision 53 has now become a reason to state that a spam flag is valid (not matter what the content of the post is). Hence a post with a link to your github page or even this answer a spam flag according to this guidance is valid. Is this the intention? I had the impression that we should edit in attribution if post is useful, and if it's just a link to a related blog post (hence blog answering question) flag as NAA. Commented May 29, 2018 at 6:46
  • I'm also curious why "However, the disclosure must happen in the post itself; the author’s username or profile do not count.", specially since this is the reason the spam flags are applied (hence people understand the OP is affiliated since OP's name clearly state it's, but since not indicated in answer, it breaks the rules of this post.) Commented May 29, 2018 at 6:52
  • Re. edit: Isn't a question about the origin of a rude word distinct from questions about code that uses offensive and vulgar words for filtering out profanities. These two types of questions would never appear on the same site. Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 6:35

For reference:

What about malicious edits?


At first this appears to be potentially a bad mechanic. An offensive edit would cause the OP to get punished with automatic rep loss. If the community isn't paying attention they could flag spam and cause unwarranted damage to the first revision owner.

There are ways to counter this. Before it reaches 6 flags, an editor could revert the edit and the flags would be revoked. However, if the 6 flags occur fast, or a mod flags, there's no chance to intervene.


The reasoning is in how edits can occur.

  • If an edit is by the first revision owner, the content is their responsibility.
  • If an edit is by a low rep member, the edit must be approved.
  • If an edit is by a high rep member, they have some trust with the community and likely shouldn't behave in this way.

Any outliers to the above can be corrected and revoked by moderation.

Why not assign flags to the current revision owner?

Going with the above understanding, an editor is trusted. Likely they are trying to improve the post. So if they fail to completely improve the post and leave behind overlooked offensive material, they would incur the penalty in the suggested alternative system.

Possible real scenarios

It is still likely for offensive material to get placed in an edit.

Considering the poor performance of reviewers quickly approving edits. It is possible that a malicious edit carefully hidden from first glance can be unintentionally approved. Resulting in the above problem.


  • Be careful when you assign flags. If you see an edit, check the revision history and rollback if the previous revision is not offensive.
  • Be careful when you approve edits. Ensure there's no offensive material, new or not. If there is, take the opportunity to improve the edit and remove the offensive material entirely.
  • Be careful when you edit. Ensure that you've removed the offensive material.

If these suggestions are followed, we can avoid misdirected punishment and save correction efforts by moderation.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .