We have flags that we see a lot here, most often "Low Quality" and "Not An Answer". These work great and have been really helpful when you actually beat Community user and they're on posts like:

  • Answers that are new questions, or just re-asking the same question as the author
  • Answers that are commentary, discussion, or conversational responses to either the question author or one of the other answers
  • Snide pseudo-answers which only pretend to be answering the question, usually to make some snarky quip
  • Poor posts that can be formatted and grammatarized

We have a variety of clear actions to take on these in accordance to what we should be doing. Non-answers get eliminated, while poor quality material either gets eliminated or revised.

Recently, I'm seeing a high trend of seeing these flags on posts that aren't like this. Flags that I'm having to dismiss as invalid because of the lack of action we can take. We're getting flags on posts where it is an answer, but...

  • it is partially entirely incorrect
  • it's a sub-par clone of an existing answer or otherwise insufficient in comparison to other existing answers
  • it is inconclusive and has little backing behind it

These are the kind of posts that qualify, very strongly, under the descriptions "not useful" and "not clear", which are exactly what the downvote tool is for. And that's pretty much all that will happen, because these kind of posts fall out of the scope of what we, as moderators, are expected to handle. Our job is for serious issues - posts outside the control of the community members or which need immediate attention. Things that require intervention and deletion from the higher ups. Being wrong or having worthless information isn't a matter for intervention if it's still an answer to the question. Convince the author to delete the post if it must be removed from the site.

As it stands, flagging these latter class of items is not going to accomplish a lot (other than make me further concerned). You should be downvoting these kinds of not-useful answers.

Alternatively, if the community actually has expectations on us moderators to do something exceptional about these kinds of items, speak up about it. If you expect things more severe than downvoting must be done about these, let's hear some suggestions on what could be done. Otherwise, stick with downvoting, please

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    Don't be afraid to downvote people! It's good for you! Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 13:11
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    @Less While I upvoted your comment, there's an essential comma that's missing from it. ♪
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 13:12
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    No there isn't. There very much isn't. That comma would be there if I wanted it. Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 13:20
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    @Less Aw, I'd put it there for you (replacing 'to', obviously).
    – badp
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 13:22

3 Answers 3


I cannot agree more. Having a large number of flags for stuff like that means it takes us longer to spot and take care of things we really have to take care of.

u need 2 bribe the guardz

^ Edit.

All the other answers are wrong, the numbers of players in chess is 3. I know this because I am smart.

^ Downvote.


^ Flag.

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    Sudden urge to ask a question where AaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAA gg is the appropriate answer...
    – Zelda
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 15:55
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    You sometimes get answers where a user has failed to understand Markdown and what should be a formatted map comes out as AaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA gg. If you're not sure click edit and look for patterns!
    – fredley
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 14:11
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    At first I thought your flag example was an AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity reference... but now I'm thinking not
    – Wolf
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 23:11

I would expect someone to point out that my answer is wrong/partial-wrong in the comments. I could then remove/fix it. IMHO, flagging an answer tells nothing to the poster and it might reduce engagement if my answer just gets removed by moderator without giving me a chance to improve it.

Also, people should edit the answer/question ( you can do that even if you don't have enough rep ).

I would like to be a part of a community that helps me improve my posts rather than "zomg, -1".

Edit: this of course applies to answers that are salvageable, promos/rants etc should be closed/downvoted with prejudice.


We were talking about this in chat, but I do think moderators should be doing something exceptional with low-quality answers.

The problem

Low-quality answers add nothing to the site, and given our influx of users from various promotions that do not understand or care to understand how Stack Exchange works or how to give a good answer, act as broken windows and invitations to post more answers like them.

Stack Exchange is supposed to make the internet a better place by providing high quality content. How do the low-quality answers on honeypot questions do the internet a solid? What is the defense for keeping these around to stink up the place?

You mention the following as being the main reasons why one ought to flag an answer as low quality or not an answer:

  • Answers that are new questions, or just re-asking the same question as the author
  • Answers that are commentary, discussion, or conversational responses to either the question author or one of the other answers
  • Snide pseudo-answers which only pretend to be answering the question, usually to make some snarky quip
  • Poor posts that can be formatted and grammatarized

But these are open to interpretation, and, speaking from experience, having a different interpretation of what constitutes a commentary answer and an answer that's just incorrect results in declined flags—even if it's obvious the answer is terrible and adds nothing to the site—because moderators err on the side of "moderators don't handle flags on answers, ever".See addendum

On "A Theory of Moderation"

The canonical article on how moderators should act, "A Theory of Moderation", states the following:

Even with active community self-regulation, moderators occasionally need to intervene. Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt — if you don’t have human exception handling in place.

Based on this, an intervention should occur when the following are true:

  1. When something that should not normally happen does
  2. When that something can bring your community to a screaming halt

Taking the first condition, unless a case is being made that we should welcome and encourage the persistence of low quality answers, it should not normally happen. Users technically do have a means to deal with that without moderator intervention: users with 20k+ rep can vote to delete negatively scoring answers. Great!

Except are only 12 non-SE users who have the necessary privileges to delete negatively scored answers, half of which are moderators who won't act.See addendum 6 people to handle all the answer deletion when 3 have to work in concert (since it requires 3 votes to delete) is untenable.

To the second condition: when we start getting an influx of new users from a new game (coughcough), they overwhelm the front page, suggested edit queue, and 10k flag queue. People waste tons of time suggesting edits, commenting, voting, looking at flags on low-quality stuff that adds nothing to the site: duplicate answers, half answers, speculation, answers that demonstrate only a cursory understanding of the English language, and so on. That's time people can be focusing on the actual business of the site: asking and answering high quality questions.

And this happens every time we have a promotion or a new, popular game comes out: Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, League of Legends, Fez, etc. The site stops being a bastion of high quality content while we slowly attempt to absorb the influx of new users who don't get or care to get what Stack Exchange is about. And most of the time we fail: the questions in are full of just junk content that doesn't help anyone, but sits there because we can't delete it.

Moderators should be intervening to quickly and comprehensively remove this stuff as part of their exception handling, but they don't because of this "no flags on answers" rule1. This rule doesn't make the site, or the Internet a better place and it violates the spirit of "A Theory of Moderation".

Objections and concerns

I don't understand the basis for this rule, but:

  • If it's a problem of manpower, please recruit more moderators.
  • If it's a problem of ambiguity, we can come up with a rule of thumb like if it's -1 for more than a week, it's low-quality and should be deleted.
  • If it's a problem of logistics, we should look to sites that have similar policies like Skeptics.SE and Programmers.SE.
  • If it's a problem of ideology about not deleting answers no matter how bad they are, it's incompatible with Stack Exchange's slavish devotion to quality.

If it's something else entirely, we should be able to address it: let's work through the details of what it means for moderators to delete low-quality answers. But a blanket rule on not deleting answers is not helping our site at all and it needs to go.


After discussing with moderators and Grace Note, I think everyone's in agreement that deleting posts that are unequivocally not answers is good, and I don't mean to suggest moderators aren't handling those flags.

Instead, the "no flags on answers" policy I'm referring to is declining flags on posts that answer the question, however remotely or tangentially, even if they're junk and add no value to the site. While downvoting is important and people should do it (if only to allow 20k+ users to delete those answers), it's not enough and moderators should be helping the community take out the trash.

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    Stack Exchange is built on the principle of keeping helpful content immediately visible by floating it up, and making unhelpful content sink down. You completely ignore the role of votes in this post. Votes are the primary mechanism to differentiate not only the right from wrong, but also the high-quality from the low. Votes are a valid way to deal with an influx of low-quality content. I'm not saying there isn't content that could - and should - be removed from the site; I just think we need to remember the fact that voting is the primary way of community "moderation".
    – Oak
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 20:23
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    @Oak I agree that votes are our first line of defense, but I also think votes should be one of the primary indicators to mods that a post is not adding anything to the site (or worse, is detrimental to the site) and should be removed. We don't gain anything other than the nuisance of copycat answers by letting, say, a -3 answer sit around indefinitely. The community should be making the quality judgement call, but we need moderators to help us take out the trash even when said trash ostensibly answers the question.
    – user3389
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 20:39
  • "6 people to handle all the answer deletion when 3 have to work in concert (since it requires 3 votes to delete) is untenable." I'd like to mention that 10kers also get access to part of the FAQ, have access to the list of outstanding delete votes Also, I don't know where you saw this "no flags of answers" rule, deleting answers is the bulk of what I personally do as a moderator.
    – badp
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 21:36
  • @badp 10k users can only delete questions (after 2-ish days), they can't delete answers: it's a 20k-only privilege. See here for talk about how this post has been interpreted to mean no flagging posts that are technically answers: if mods are, in fact, deleting posts that are clearly low quality yet ostensibly answer a question, then I'm happy.
    – user3389
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 22:00
  • Hehe, if you need someone pushing delete around here, I'm still available :P
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 7:24
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    @badp It's a list of recent delete votes, really. If it goes past the fixed limits (1 month or 45 pending items I believe), then the votes will just disappear from the radar. Also, can you look up if answer deletion by community votes has actually happened, ever? People aren't voting to delete a whole lot, but recently that has improved quite a bit, at least on questions.
    – a cat
    Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 17:17
  • @lunboks Here's one answer that must have been deleted automatically: gaming.stackexchange.com/a/17188/23
    – badp
    Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 18:24
  • @badp I think lunboks is referring to members of the community deleting, not the Community user. Here's one with two user votes and the Community user.
    – user3389
    Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 18:30
  • @MarkTrapp that's a post that got flagged really.
    – badp
    Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 19:42

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