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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?

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  • 14
    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? – Lee Louviere Aug 23 '12 at 21:45
  • 4
    I meant to focus that comment more on malicious editors could cause misdirected rep damage since the first revision owner gets the damage. – Lee Louviere Aug 23 '12 at 21:59
  • 1
    @Xaade: The scenario that you are describing is exceptionally rare, and if it does happen, moderators can reverse it. – Robert Harvey Aug 24 '12 at 15:07
  • 1
    @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. – Lee Louviere Aug 24 '12 at 15:21
  • 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 Apr 1 '15 at 2:03
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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 advertises a product, service, or similar and is unsolicited or lacks disclosure.

  • 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 a 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 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 or profile do not count.

  • If an otherwise valid post contains an apparent spam link and the bulk of the post is plagiarized from another post or from an offsite 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 care about your problem”. Flag as not an answer instead.

  • It contains only gibberish, such as “sdhsgfdhsfdshs”. Use 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., a clear violation of the be-nice policy.

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

    asdasdasdasdasdasdasdasdasdasdasdasd

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

  • If an otherwise valid post contains vulgar words as an expression of frustration, edit the bad part out instead of flagging the entire post as rude or abusive. If this results in an edit war or rollback war, flag for moderator attention.

    Note that this is very different from handling an otherwise salvageable spam post.

Do not use this flag because:

  • A post criticises somebody or something in a civil manner.

  • A 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 primarily 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.

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 hide or delete. There are a couple unrelated cases where the system does differentiate between these flags:

  1. If a question gets two answers that are flagged as spam and deleted, it will be automatically protected. The same doesn't happen with rude or abusive flags.

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

  3. Posts that are deleted by the system upon receiving six spam flags (or a single one from a moderator) may be used as review audits. (As stated above, this doesn't apply for the "rude or abusive" flag.)

What effects do these flags have on a post?

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

  • 3 red flags on a question: question is banished from the front page and all question lists except search results.
  • 6* red flags: post is locked and deleted, and the author loses 100 reputation. (Locking means that users with the moderator tools privilege (“10k users”) cannot edit or undelete it.)
  • 1 red flag from a moderator has the same effect as 6 red flags from normal users: instant destruction.
  • Contents of a post that was deleted and got at least one valid red flag, will be hidden.
  • Each red flag, during its validity, carries an implicit downvote from the Community user, and it does not affect the flagger’s reputation.

* on English Language & Usage and The Workplace, 3 flags (instead of 6) are sufficient.

When are these flags removed?

You can retract spam and rude or abusive flags like all other flags. They also expire after four days if the thresholds aren't reached. (Previously, they expired after two days - source.)

Rolling back a post to a previous state will revert to the number of flags from that particular revision. This allows the author (or someone else with edit rights) to rollback a post to which someone else introduced spam, rude, or abusive content in a later revision.

In addition, these 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 in the past. Since these flags carry heavy weight 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 these flags usually cause the posts to become review audits.

  • 6
    @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 Feb 25 '15 at 15:06
  • 6
    @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 Feb 25 '15 at 15:07
  • 1
    @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 Feb 25 '15 at 15:08
  • @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 Feb 25 '15 at 15:14
  • @animuson Thanks. I've edited to hopefully make it clear that "offensive" is supposed to cover both meanings of "abuse". – hvd Feb 25 '15 at 15:17
  • 5
    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." – Petter Friberg Apr 8 '16 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 Sep 27 '17 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 Sep 27 '17 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 Sep 27 '17 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 Sep 27 '17 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 Sep 29 '17 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 Apr 8 '18 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. – Petter Friberg May 29 '18 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.) – Petter Friberg May 29 '18 at 6:52
52

For reference:

What about malicious edits?

Problem

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.

Explanation

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.

Solution

  • 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.

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protected by Won't Jun 13 '11 at 16:28

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