Just like the actual Q&A sites (maybe even more so), chat needs a way to govern itself, i.e. put much of the moderating duties in the hand of the community, and not only a tiny group of moderators. That's why chat, just like the main sites, has a flagging system that enables (almost) anybody to flag a message as spam or offensive.

So if someone feels the need to advertise fake Dolce & Gabana handbags in chat or to keep delighting everyone with inappropriate insults because you don't use git, we want to be sure that this gets dealt with quickly. The "quickly" part is essential, because the messages scroll by pretty fast in chat, and thus may be out of sight after a short time.

In chat, like on the main sites, users with at least 10k reputation can see a list of flagged messages – enabling them to see possible problems and add their own flag, so the issue is dealt with quickly.

There is, however, one difference. On the main site, a 10k user has to actively go to the tools page to check for flags. In chat, on the other hand, the current flag count is always there, literally right in on your face:

flag count in chat

This is very much intentional for the above mentioned reason: In chat, issues have to be dealt with faster. The goal, of course, is that the number isn't there at all, most of the time, because there are no flags.

Let's be clear: The flag count is there to stay; it needs to be immediately visible.

Now, so far (knock on wood), people in chat have been quite well-behaved, and we haven't seen lots of issues. The flag number rarely lights up, and when it does, it's often for (sorry) really idiotic reasons.

Of course, saying "good morning" is a very offensive thing to do, and heaven forbid that anyone talks about anything in the PHP room that could possibly be considered not-PHP-related.

So there you, 10k user, see the "(1)" on your avatar lighting up and don't know what to do. Someone flagged a post for a spelling mistake. You don't want to reflag it, because this post didn't deserve to be flagged in the first place. You don't want to flag it for moderator attention, saying "please clear this flag", because if the moderator sees your flag, they have also seen the "regular" flag, so flagging for attention would be extra work without any added benefit.

So the number is staying there until a moderator notices and clears it, and you can't do anything about it. But you want to get rid of it, and you can't, and sooner or later (when the real problems come), you have learned to ignore that number.

TL;DR? Start reading here.

So we want to implement something like this request – not on the main site, but in chat: Have a way for high-rep users to disagree with flags, vote to unflag, flag the flag, whatever you want to call it.

Before we do that, we'd like to have some feedback from you, to make sure it gets done right. The following questions come to mind:

  • What (i.e. how many counter-flags) does it take to clear a flag?
  • Who should be allowed to counter-flag?
  • Should the fact that one particular user's flag are often disagreed with be grounds for some sort of, well, action?
  • What problems can you see being caused by giving the power to counter-flag?
  • Or do you even think that this is a bad idea, and why?

Still TL;DR? Start reading here.

Voting to unflag. Discuss.

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    I got distracted reading the xkcd "literally" comic, and then this one from The Oatmeal, and by the end I'd forgotten about this post entirely – Michael Mrozek Oct 27 '10 at 12:31
  • If you know it's too long, why don't you shorten it? – Ladybug Killer Oct 27 '10 at 12:57
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    @Ladybug Killer: Profile neurosis, mainly. I like to hear myself talk, even if it's just on teh interwebz. – balpha Oct 27 '10 at 13:01
  • @balpha: Ask for professional help. Please! – Ladybug Killer Oct 27 '10 at 13:31
  • I agree completely! Why show us flags if we can't really do anything about it. You know, as a moderator of Stack Exchange sites, that most flags are really stupid, and shouldn't have been flagged in the first place. Let us help moderate that. – jjnguy Oct 27 '10 at 13:43
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    @Ladybug @balpha gets paid by the number of words he posts on Meta. – Pekka Oct 27 '10 at 14:19
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    Can I get in on getting paid for being verbose? I could make a killing. – Welbog Oct 27 '10 at 14:31
  • @Pekka: OH MY GOD, WE WILL ALL DIE! – Ladybug Killer Oct 27 '10 at 14:34
  • @Sid - it's called "blogging". – user27414 Oct 27 '10 at 14:53
  • No one's paying me for that. – Welbog Oct 27 '10 at 15:11
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    @Sid - you're doing it wrong. – user27414 Oct 27 '10 at 15:30
  • I disagree​​​​. – Welbog Oct 27 '10 at 15:33
  • @Ladybug: [ If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter. ](programmers.stackexchange.com/q/10933) – Gnome Oct 28 '10 at 2:24
  • @Roger: I know. That's why balpha sucks so much. He does not take the time needed to write a thoughtful post. I hate people like him. – Ladybug Killer Oct 28 '10 at 8:02

The thing is, if they need to be dealt with, then give me options.

For instance, if the number 1 pops up now, these are my options:

  1. Ignore it (that is, assume I go look at the post, but don't know what to do about it)
  2. Increase its flag status

Now, if someone goes and fixes this flag (assume I didn't do anything about it), but another message is flagged, the icon still says 1. Are you forcing me to go visit that page every few minutes to figure out if there's a new set of messages that have been flagged?

I'd expect the following options available to me:

  1. Ignore the whole thing, leave the flag in place, and leave the counter on my icon (ie. I need to ask someone, I'll leave everything as-is in the mean time)
  2. I will increase the flag by flagging it myself. Now I have "dealt" with it, give me the option to get rid of the counter
  3. I will decrease the flag, since I disagree. Now I have "dealt" with it, give me the option to get rid of the counter
  4. I will ignore it, not my room, not my rules, no idea how to handle it, not my problem. Give me the option to get rid of the counter

Basically, whatever I choose to do with the flag, give me the option to get rid of the counter.

For many of the messages I've seen flagged, I have no idea why it was flagged in the first place:

  • Not only do I not know what went through the head of the person that clicked Flag in the first place
  • I don't even see what the problem is with the message. In my mind, I would vote against the flag (as you propose a system for)

However, I'd still like a system where I could say "OK, I don't know what to do with this flag, please ignore it for my part, and give me back the counter when someone flags a different message".

| improve this answer | |
  • Let users ignore flags by clicking on the blue square next to a flag.
  • Two ignores remove one flag.
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  • 4
    two is far too low; I am thinking four – Jeff Atwood Oct 28 '10 at 1:48
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    @Jeff when do you even have four (or even two) 10kers online at the same time? – badp Oct 28 '10 at 7:41
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    Ignore != Remove - Often I'm not sure what to do about a flag and so leave the burden of decision to someone else. – Justin Feb 8 '11 at 6:04

If you look at newgrounds, one clever thing they do:

users who flag inappropriately are eventually stripped of the right to flag


Due to the large amount of abuse to Newgrounds by malicious users we have implemented features that allow users to help police the site. A user's Whistle level can go up or down depending on how accurately the user flags questionable content. If a user abuses their use of the whistle to flag portal entries and reviews that do not violate our terms they will lose points and eventually be stuck with a broken whistle.

Users with broken whistles have no effect on anything they attempt to flag. However, users with a broken whistle may still receive negative or positive points so they can either dig themselves a deeper hole or try to regain a normal level and effectively flag entries once again. Users who blow the whistle accurately many times can increase their whistle level to bronze, silver, gold or deity levels. Users with a higher whistle level pull more weight when they use it.

This is IMHO the correct and best self-regulating solution.

However, this does require some formal decision of whether the flag was correct or not, somewhere along the line -- whether it's by the community or by a moderator. And that history has to be retained somewhere.

| improve this answer | |
  • If the post was removed (through enough flags or a moderator), it was correctly flagged. If the flags are cleared by a moderator (but not if they expire; does that happen as on the main site?), it was incorrectly flagged. Make the threshold high enough (or low enough) so simple and infrequent disagreements or misunderstandings don't break too many whistles. Perhaps provide moderators an option to clear without adding broken whistle points. – Gnome Oct 28 '10 at 2:27
  • Since flags are visible, it's gameable by just reflagging anything someone else notices to artificially increase your whistle (OTGH, that is desired behavior?). Perhaps only the first flag should count towards whistle points, or later flags should count for less whistle points. – Gnome Oct 28 '10 at 2:30
  • @Roger Don't forget about edits. – badp Oct 29 '10 at 21:18
  • @radp: I don't follow. – Gnome Oct 30 '10 at 2:30

What (i.e. how many counter-flags) does it take to clear a flag?

I think 1-1 would be fine; it can't be too high because I don't think there are all that many 10k users on the chats in the first place, and you don't want the feature to be useless because no flag can get enough counter-flags to remove it

Who should be allowed to counter-flag?

10k users, the same people that see the flags. I'm undecided on whether or not the author of the post that's been flagged should be able to counter-flag; normally I would say no, but the standard SO policy seems to be yes (people can vote to reopen/undelete their own posts). If the flag/counter-flag relationship is 1-1 then probably people shouldn't be able to counter-flag their own posts; if it's higher they can

Should the fact that one particular user's flag are often disagreed with be grounds for some sort of, well, action?

Yes, but I think that should be true on the main sites as well, and as far as I know it isn't. There should be a moderator view that shows people with multiple contested flags

What problems can you see being caused by giving the power to counter-flag?

If the relationship is 1-1 and people can counter-flag their own posts then you need two flags to guarantee a flag stays visible; other than that it seems fine

Or do you even think that this is a bad idea, and why?

I don't really have a problem ignoring the flag count, but there's been multiple complaints in chat feedback. An alternate plan would be to allow users to clear the flag indicator, so it only reappears when there are new flags they haven't reviewed, but that means you need to keep track of all the users that have already marked the flag list cleared

Random sidenote: Maybe 6 flags to kill a post is too high -- have chat posts ever been cleared by a flag, or is it always manual mod intervention? On SO it can take 12 hours to get 6 votes on an obviously spam post, and that's with considerably higher traffic than chat gets

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Obviously there is a problem to solve here since flag status is "on your face" and people are abusing the flags.

However, I think we should err on the side of caution here. If less than half of chat users find something offensive, we should still consider it offensive and not let the other half cancel their votes out.

Perhaps a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio would be good.

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  • Aha! So you just edited my question so you could use the quote in your answer. Busted! – balpha Oct 27 '10 at 13:07
  • @balpha - I haven't read your question yet (too long). – user27414 Oct 27 '10 at 13:10

Remove flags entirely from chat.

As you said, messages in chat are short-lived, so what does it matter if someone said something that some whiner finds offensive? The offensive message is going to be off the radar in no time.

Doubtless you'll tell me that the message lives on in the message archives. If channels really move as fast as you claim they do then no one in his right mind will have the time to look through them. People do not spend time looking through chat logs very much. Trust me, I've hosted chat logs online for years and the only people to use them are weirdoes looking for the strangest things on search engines.

So just get rid of flags and this entire issue solves itself.

| improve this answer | |
  • +0 - I personally would have nothing against this, but it would lead to people complaining to moderators about stuff they find offensive, and moderators having to make the call whether to delete something or not. Is that really better? You'll always have people complaining about others' posts, and the flagging system, as imperfect as it is, makes the removal of content at least somewhat democratic – Pekka Oct 27 '10 at 14:18
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    Flags are the only thing that keep nut jobs like that "Welbog" guy from flying completely off the handle. (Speaking of which, I haven't seen him in ages - maybe he just went away?) – user27414 Oct 27 '10 at 14:20
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    They'll complain about posts as long as they think you're going to do something about it. You will always have users that find strange things offensive. They will whine as long as they feel someone is listening. Don't listen and maybe they'll learn to stop whining. I don't think Stack Overflow sould be in the business of enabling whiners. – Welbog Oct 27 '10 at 14:21
  • Jon, are you suggesting that I am afraid of flags? I do not afraid of anything. – Welbog Oct 27 '10 at 14:23
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    I've said it before and I'll say it again. There's nothing worse than a whiner who whines about whiners. – user27414 Oct 27 '10 at 14:23
  • @Sid - You don't ignore flags, do you? – user27414 Oct 27 '10 at 14:24
  • I agree, and that's why balpha is so annoying. I'm choosing to ignore the whiner whiners entirely. – Welbog Oct 27 '10 at 14:24
  • Of course I ignore flags. – Welbog Oct 27 '10 at 14:25
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    @Sid - didn't you say the other day that ignoring someone makes you a coward? And didn't you just say you "do not afraid of anything"? Yet you ignore whiners and flags. Interesting. – user27414 Oct 27 '10 at 14:26
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    Flags are not people, Jon. Did you get dropped on the head lately? – Welbog Oct 27 '10 at 14:26
  • Whiners are, though. – user27414 Oct 27 '10 at 14:27
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    They waive their rights as people by whining. – Welbog Oct 27 '10 at 14:30

Lift the anonymity of flags. If you find something offensive, you have to step up and say so.

It will create some bad blood and arguments among users, but I think this is acceptable in chat (It wouldn't be on SOFU proper).

It would be very effective against flag misuse, but still provide a means for people to take down content if they're really serious about it.

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    That might instigate conflict between the flagger and flagee. – user27414 Oct 27 '10 at 14:18

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