I just had a "not an answer" flag declined, which hasn't happened in quite some time. It reads:

declined - This is not "not an answer", this is SPAM. Flag as such.

However, if I recall correctly, the post concerned (reproduced here) isn't spam at all. I cannot actually see it anymore (on account of it being deleted), but unless it was edited between the time I flagged it and when the flag was reviewed, it was simply nonsense gibberish. I suppose you could call such junk answers spam, if the full definition of the spam flag wasn't so explicit:

This question is effectively an advertisement with no disclosure. It is not useful or relevant, but promotional.

And I'm pretty sure that didn't apply.

Now, one of the moderators obviously felt strongly about this (actually declining the flag out of spite, then deleting the post), but I figured I'd ask here anyway: In the future, should I flag gibberish answers as spam or not?


5 Answers 5


Declining a flag that you're going to act on seems ridiculous, even under a strict definition of the word "helpful". And the SE policy is specifically a lax definition of the word "helpful". Jeff has said:

Declining a flag should be exceedingly rare.


[A]nything that helps keep the streets clean of trash is helpful, even if omg that item should have been recycled not thrown in the trash, you moron! We can't expect users to understand the subtleties of recycling every time they see a bit of trash on the street and point it out; penalizing them for this is insane and harmful.

One more:

[A]s mods, you should always assume the flagger was trying to be helpful except in the case of compelling evidence to the contrary.

Regardless of what the "perfect" flag might be, your flag was helpful under this definition and certainly better than not flagging at all. As badp noted in his Meta post there are several somewhat applicable flag reasons and it's a purely subjective judgment call. Having a slightly different opinion than a mod shouldn't result in your flag weight going down; from the point of view of the system it now views you as less capable of identifying things needing to be dealt with, despite the opposite being true.

I have my moments where I disagree with the policy Jeff handed down, but nonetheless it's our policy and effort is better spent trying to change it than ignoring it. And regardless, I again think that declining a flag and then acting on it is ridiculous.

  • 1
    I wouldn't have normally dismissed those flags as unhelpful, but when I see that 700+ flag weight people cast "very low quality" or "not an answer" flags without even downvoting such a terrible post, it's kind of my duty to send negative feedback and tell people they're doing it wrong. The point of flagging isn't flag weight. The point of Stack Exchange is not reputation. We should care more about keeping the site clean than about keeping our arbitrary numbers high.
    – badp
    Dec 11, 2011 at 11:34
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    @badp So what you're saying is I should just ignore bad posts unless I also downvote them? I basically never do that at all, and I'm not the only one. I just don't care about downvoting things that are going to disappear anyway, especially since my vote won't help it along the way. If doing so enabled me to cast a delete vote or something, that'd be different.
    – a cat
    Dec 11, 2011 at 11:56
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    @lunboks Flagging is not a substitute for voting. The links to profiles tell me absolutely nothing. Downvoting things that are going to disappear anyway is still important, because it gets through the message that the deletion wasn't just a moderator's sole arbitrary decision, but that there's a publicly expressed community support behind that.
    – badp
    Dec 11, 2011 at 12:31
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    @badp The profiles tell you the flagging history vs. the total number of downvotes cast.
    – a cat
    Dec 11, 2011 at 12:46
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    @badp You can send a message with a comment or in chat and offer flagging or other suggestions. Declinning a valid flag because you have an unusual interpretation of spam and want to make it known is abusing the flag system, in my opinion.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 11, 2011 at 16:04
  • @AnnaLear my 'unusual interpretation' is inches away from being valid. (I find "it's spam" to be much more valid and applicable than "it's abusive", but that's just me as I've found out.) The difference between spam and offensive is, for all practical purposes, purely cosmetic.
    – badp
    Dec 11, 2011 at 16:52
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    @badp My point is that you should not decline valid flags because you want to be pedantic. "not an answer" still fits perfectly too. You're punishing a user who's trying to improve the site for no reason. I don't know about anyone else, but I sure am going to think twice about flagging something now.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 11, 2011 at 17:33
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    @badp On a side note, if flagging as spam or offensive is gonna be policy, mods have to take extra care to dismiss appropriately since those special flags don't auto-dismiss as helpful when the answer is deleted like other flags do.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 11, 2011 at 17:36
  • @AnnaLear Again, that's been an exceptional behaviour for an exceptional case. Stop worrying about it.
    – badp
    Dec 11, 2011 at 18:20
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    @badp Voting is always optional and entirely up to the individual. Flags are separate and you should treat them as such. Behaving like this is going to discourage people from keeping the site clean (flagging), not the other way around. If you're really so afraid that someone posting absolute gibberish will think you're acting out of line by deleting their post, which I doubt, then downvote and leave it for another mod. Dec 11, 2011 at 18:48
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    @badp There is nothing particularly exceptional about this case.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 11, 2011 at 19:23
  • @MatthewRead It's not a matter of being afraid. At any rate I don't wish to drag this even further
    – badp
    Dec 11, 2011 at 19:57
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    @badp So the latest gibberish post i flagged offensive, giving me no flag weight, as a mod took care of it, instead of the community. So please, either enforce a rule where we have to flag them as offensive, or let it be fine with a non red flag. Do not use both of them.
    – mordi2k
    Dec 11, 2011 at 23:30
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    I don't like to downvote as much as I'd rather give my votes as points to encourage participation from people of lower rep. Also, people who don't know how to use the site yet may get put off when they see a whole bunch of downvotes to their first post, which tends to be a comment (they don't have rep for that yet!) rather than an answer. I will typically just flag those and move on without downvoting.
    – l I
    Dec 14, 2011 at 1:17

To answer your actual question (rather than issue), per this post on Meta Stack Overflow:

When should the Spam flag be used?

A question should be marked as spam ONLY when it consists of undiscriminated bulk advertisement. It should NOT be marked as spam in the following cases:

  • The answer contains no useful information (such as an answer that says "I don't care about your problem")
  • It contains gibberish (such as "fsdguejgkfdlk")

So no, you should not flag gibberish answers as spam.


Just to throw more fuel on the fire, we should keep in mind that posts marked as spam automatically hand out a -100 reputation penalty, whereas posts marked as not an answer and subsequently deleted do not.

Personally, if I leave my laptop open and my son mashes on the keyboard and manages to post a garbage question / answer, I would rather not get hit with a -100 rep penalty, just so that we can clean up the site without involving a moderator.


Disclaimer: This was originally meant as a comment, however it got far to many letters for that, so I wrote it as an answer instead.

First let me say, I respect your decision, however I do not agree with it. I wish this would have been handled differently. Anyways, what is done is done. It's in the past and cannot be undone, so let us focus on the future instead, and improve on how this will be handled in the future. So please look at this as constructive critique, as that is my intention.

Going by your own saying:

What this post would normally receive on its own is 8 "not an answer" flags, 6 "very low quality" flags and perhaps a couple "moderator attention" flags, when the community could very simply and easily have deleted the post on its own through half as many spam or offensive flags.

It's clearly obvious that a lot of us see the flag reasoning differently than you did. And the flags should not have been declined. Instead you should have brought this up on the meta, since there clearly is a dispute of our views.

A reason for this might be due to poor wording of the offensive flag description:

This question contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech.

As Tim Stone mentioned in a comment somewhere: Since the "abusive" part is smashed in the middle of offensive and hate speech. I would not consider gibberish abusive. But rather something more offensive than just gibberish. What that might be I have no idea.

However, now that it is explained to me, I can see the error in my reasoning. And I'm sure there are more of us seeing it this way.

As you said in a comment:

Again, that's been an exceptional behavior for an exceptional case. Stop worrying about it.

This cannot happen, and frankly should never happen. There shouldn't be any exceptional cases for flagging. As it will only make us more confused about what to flag as, and would likely make us flag less. Additionally, I have always flagged cases like this as "Not an answer", as I found it the most suitable flag, and it has always been approved by mods. When suddenly one of these gets declined, it would only make me more "afraid" of flagging, as I don't want to lose more of my flag weight.

Anna Lear brings up a good point as well:

If flagging as spam or offensive is gonna be policy, mods have to take extra care to dismiss appropriately since those special flags don't auto-dismiss as helpful when the answer is deleted like other flags do

Flag weight is there to reward us for appropriate flagging, so what is the point of flagging something we won't get rewarded for, when there is a reward system implemented? Yes, it is to help the site. But honestly, when there is a reward system in place for it, I would like to get that reward when flagging appropriately.
So we either need to enforce a rule that posts like this should be flagged with a red flag, or let it be fine with a non red flag. If it's the latter, this should never happen again.


You should have explained to us that we were using the wrong flag, before handling the situation like you did. And we should make this clearer for the future. Should flags like this be declined in the future, or allowed?

  • 1
    Red flags can be dismissed as helpful either by explicitly marking them as such or by the mod flagging the post the same way. Since moderator flag is binding, the system just skips ahead as if 6 people flagged the post as spam or offensive, dismisses existing flags as helpful, and applies the normal penalties to the post and its author. This is what I was referring to in my comment on Matthew's answer. Red flags can award flag weight. They just have to be handled more carefully to make sure that happens.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 12, 2011 at 14:27
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    It should be noted that both the Spam Flag and the Offensive Flag FAQs note that most posts don't fall into either category and are used for extreme cases (spam for self-promotion, offensive for hate speech or abuse). Of course, the issue is in what qualifies as abuse, but until Shog9's answer, the consensus was that it meant abuse to other people, not the system.
    – user3389
    Dec 12, 2011 at 17:52
  • @AnnaLear Yes, but how often do that happen? I still have ~80% of my red flags sitting there, neither getting declined or marked as helpful. Since most people tend to avoid using the sort of flags, mods should pay attention to it, if we should start using them for more cases.
    – mordi2k
    Dec 12, 2011 at 23:49
  • @MarkTrapp I completely agree. That's why I've never used the red flags for gibberish posts. And I think that is how most people saw it. That is why we should come to an agreement of when to flag posts as offensive, so this never happens again. Seeing as a mod saw it differently than a lot of other people.
    – mordi2k
    Dec 12, 2011 at 23:52
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    @mordi2k Not very often, unfortunately. I try to dismiss them appropriately on the sites I moderate, but it's not really advertised well that those flags work subtly differently from the rest. So I try to mention it whenever opportunity presents itself. :)
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 12, 2011 at 23:53

Here's what happened:

LessPop linked on chat to a post that was clearly spam, I told people that, for once, I wouldn't be going to touch it and I wanted the community to handle it, because you don't need moderator intervention to handle such posts. Regular flagging with red flags will do.

I then looked again and what I saw was people not downvoting it, people not flagging it as spam or offensive, just people casting soft flags such as "not an answer" or "very low quality".

Those flags are honestly terrible flags that say absolutely nothing about what's the problem with the post and what should be done:

  • Is the post a "me too!"?
  • Is the post a "thank you!"?
  • Is the post a comment on the question?
  • Is the post a comment reply to another comment?
  • Is the post a reply to another answer?
  • Is the post another question altogether?

These flags need moderator attention however, because the required actions are not available to most/enough users. Garbage posts do not.

Since there was no spam/offensive flag on the post, I dismissed them as "this is spam, flag as spam". Then people started flagging as spam. When I checked it again and there were 5 spam flags, so instead of letting the post live on further I simply did what anybody else could've done in the meantime and delete the post like a regular user.

The point of all this was making sure that if such a thing happens off-hours when nobody's there to see it, it'd be gone on its own without mod intervention, because you don't need mod intervention to make it go.

That was my drive: making sure moderator intervention is not needed to handle garbage.

Apparently my drive was instead abusing the power to cause massive underserved flag weight loss and whatnot and causing 30 hours of drama everywhere.

I'm sorry about my attempt to improve the community. It seems that instead I drove a lot of people off flagging (the flag queue suggests otherwise) and you drove me off flag handling given that every single time a moderator makes a mistake that inevitably translates in 30 hours of flaming, bickering and complaining (the fact I'm still here suggests otherwise).

Jeez, we're humans too.

If it's pretty mindblowingly obvious that the post is complete and utter gibberish (link), it needs to go, and it needs to go fast, so make it go. Get it off the site as soon as possible. As Shog9 said:

The last flag option reads,

(o) it is not welcome in our community
This question contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech.

I would say "not welcome" and "abusive" pretty much sum up the content of that post. And I'm a pretty reasonable person.

The average moderator response time to flags this month has been 5 hours 40 minutes. We can't allow such posts to stay online for so long.

  • 15
    I agree this case was extremely obvious, but flagging posts inappropriately to make them go away just seems sort of... well, wrong. According to the system, if the answer doesn't fall into those two special categories, deleting it is not my call to make until I am at 20k, and I'm supposed to escalate it. If the problem is that the post would stay up too long otherwise, then we probably just don't have enough moderators or users who can vote to delete. (Well, I say probably - we don't have enough users who can vote to delete.)
    – a cat
    Dec 11, 2011 at 1:19
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    Also, I fail to see the urgency if it's not promotional or offensive in the slightest. Worst case, it'll accumulate a few downvotes, get pushed to the bottom, and hang around for a few hours.
    – a cat
    Dec 11, 2011 at 1:24
  • @lunboks I really value garbage posts above promotional (and below offensive) in the scale of urgency. Anyway, garbage now counts as offensive.
    – badp
    Dec 11, 2011 at 1:26
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    "I am offended that you would post this garbage", that sort of thing? That's a pretty liberal interpretation of offensive/abuse, but sure, I can get behind it. Anyhow, I still feel there was no need to decline that flag.
    – a cat
    Dec 11, 2011 at 2:00
  • @lunboks Do you want your flag weight reimbursed?
    – badp
    Dec 11, 2011 at 11:29
  • I guess. Is that a serious question? Because AFAIK that's not possible, and even with 1 less flag, I still have more of them than I will ever need in a day.
    – a cat
    Dec 11, 2011 at 11:46
  • @lunboks Make a few bogus flags (with reason "flag weight reimbursement because badp is a bloody idiot") and I'll approve them, if you care about your 10 points of flag weight enough.
    – badp
    Dec 11, 2011 at 12:33
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    No thanks, that's all right. For +10 flag weight, I'd have to expend about an entire day's contingent of 30-40 flags, and I think we both have better things to do.
    – a cat
    Dec 11, 2011 at 12:42
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    Why did you feel the need to solicit spam flags instead of just delete it yourself, anyway? Dec 12, 2011 at 1:28
  • @RavenDreamer To be fair, posts are automatically deleted if they acquire enough spam flags. This helps to save the mods some trouble, which I think is something we could use right now given the sudden boost in activity and the large amount of flags that have come with it.
    – Mana
    Dec 12, 2011 at 3:18
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    That being said I don't agree with the decision to decline the flag and then not delete the answer(assuming that is what happened here?).
    – Mana
    Dec 12, 2011 at 3:19
  • @Mana Yeah, Badp specifically told the people in chat "flag this answer as spam". I'd find the chatlog, but I'm supposed to be studying shiftyeyes. Dec 12, 2011 at 3:52
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    @badp The fact that you told people to flag it as spam in chat doesn't really help me, since I was kind of not there. All I got was a declined flag where I wasn't sure what I did wrong (even if it was spam, it'd still be not an answer by merit of not answering the question). I was about to refer you to this MSO discussion about NAA flags, but it looks like you've already seen it.
    – a cat
    Dec 12, 2011 at 9:10
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    @badp Regarding your edit: No one is saying that you should be perfect, and no one is disagreeing that it is a good idea to act on these things promptly. The problem is that you invented your own policy, enforced it unreasonably, and are apparently still standing behind it despite mass disagreement. You can't expect a favorable reaction to that, regardless of our tolerance of everday mistakes; this is not the same category. Dec 12, 2011 at 18:52

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