16

We've got well over 5000 obsolete comments on Arqade. Since these cannot be handled using any of the user level tools, I have been flagging these so that they can be actioned by a moderator, however these appear to have been rejected en-mass?

All of these flags below are for comments that say things like "thanks", or "this worked for me", or "you should edit X into your answer/question" followed by a "I have edited X into my answer/question", all the sort of stuff that doesn't need to exist.

Only moderators can action stuff against comments, so this is very much in your remit to work on - this isn't something that a group of lowly users can band together to clean up - you have to do it because there's no other option available for them to be handled.

In addition to the flags I've raised here, I've also raised flags on multiple other Stack Exchange sites - including Stack Overflow, Ask Ubuntu, Super User, Server Fault, etc. These flags are only being rejected on Arqade, so I ask - what gives?

  • Well, if three users flag them, they should be auto-deleted, but that requires a bit of external coordination to work out in practice. – Troyen Feb 4 '14 at 9:53
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    only for spam/offensive - not for obsolete – kalina Feb 4 '14 at 9:54
  • I could've sworn I've deleted other people's comments by simply flagging obsolete/chatty, and not just on SO. – Troyen Feb 4 '14 at 10:18
  • @Troyen maybe someone else deleted it just as you finished flagging... – Oak Feb 4 '14 at 12:28
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    The irony of this does not escape me, but I just removed a bunch of comments that are now obsolete :/ - Thanks for keeping it civil folks. – Tim Post Feb 4 '14 at 13:09
  • I've flagged the occasional obsolete comment, but I find the lack of a 'reason' text box a bit annoying. For example, there was one comment about R18 games being banned in Australia. Without knowing that law had been overturned, how is a mod to determine the comments worth with a simple 'obsolete' flag? I've been using the custombox for this, but it seems wrong when there's a perfectly good flag reason just sitting there – Robotnik Feb 4 '14 at 13:16
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    @Robotnik the whole idea behind the obsolete / rude flag is a shortcut for common reasons. If your reason is custom, please use the custom box, that's the recommended approach. – Oak Feb 4 '14 at 13:22
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    You are correct, Troyen: that logic works for all comment flag types. – Shog9 Feb 4 '14 at 16:16
  • If you need to leave a detailed reason, flag the post @Robotnik. – Shog9 Feb 4 '14 at 16:16
24

[the block decline of flags at the end yesterday] was indeed to send the message of not to take this sort of "shotgun" approach to flagging.

I'm sorry that this essentially boils down to some sort of miscommunication since not only did I have the above line, minus the bold, but very much there and explicitly saying what not to do, but I also figured that the many lines I had spoken about what is bad and not helpful, versus what is efficient and organized, would be directly implying the underlying intent without me needing to explicitly say "Don't do it". My bad, I should've been more direct and I understand that now, I messed up. I think underlying messages should be inherent and sticking only to what I said is a bit self-deprecating on the reader's part, though. But without further ado...

Don't do it.

Before I went to bed last night, I was working with others on the community team to compose a general announcement about these scripts. At that point I also got a complaint from the moderators that the walls of flags had returned, and so I piped up about that before wanting to sleep on this and come back at it with a rested head. In the mean time, my team was the one that mass-declined your recent flag load. It was only done on Arqade because the rest of the team was only aware that you were doing this on Arqade (and Arqade was the one, again, who poked us). You were in fact explicitly told why there was a decline in the previous incident, and so you persisted, and so we continued to decline for exactly that reason.

Here's pretty much what I got to writing last night with Shog9's help:

Do not flag based purely on naive keyword searches. If I thought a simple keyword search was sufficient to remove these comments, I would remove them en masse and cut out the middlemen.

If you come up with a system for identifying noisy/obsolete comments with a very, very low false-positive rate, post it up on meta & we'll just clear 'em all out. If you want to test your system by using the results to flag small batches, go for it - but don't just flood the queue, especially if you're still in the early "naive keyword search" stages.

If you refuse to follow these guidelines and flood the flag queue with what amounts to noise, your ability to continue flagging at this rate - and possible a large chunk of your past flags - will be removed.

This goes for everyone working on these scripts.

We're actually thinking of blocking this script from functioning any further on our API.

Arqade isn't the only site that has had issue with these flags. They are, however, the most recent ones that came to us about it. As well, different teams take different approaches - in this case the moderators had noted, which I relayed in our exchange, that they do like to check context on these things and don't always agree that all of these needed to be removed. A clarifying comment can be signal for some folks, and acknowledgment of the request for clarification is signal when joined with that kind of signal. That's how it worked over here. I can't speak to the experiences on other sites as I haven't analyzed the latest in flags or interrogated the mods there.

Yes, moderators are the only ones who can handle these. But this approach to flagging is far from an ideal means to get these taken care of. Rather than strongly urge you as before, I'm going to outright say it, if your main interest is clean up then the best way to get things done is the way that is most organized and most useful and helpful to those who actually have to do the job behind it. Your comfort level with regards to how much you're willing to do at once, your ability to do 200 edits in a single day, that's nice but it's not comparable to doing flags because that is no longer on what your comfort level is. And comfort dictates how well the job gets done.

I've not gotten to read the comment exchanges here and I shall be doing so shortly, but I wanted to get this message out first.

  • 5
    From your (moderators) perspective, it seems like flagging simply based on keywords, but there's a review process behind it. The user reviews possible obsolete comments, with the context of the post and decides whether or not to flag it or not. When done in reasonable amounts, it's helping the site, but in this case, the amounts were unreasonable. – 3ventic Feb 4 '14 at 13:30
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    @3ventic I've seen some of the flags, the comment threads it's been attached to and I can say that this is a rather generous approximation of what actually happened. – badp Feb 4 '14 at 13:37
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    @badp It was less of an approximation and more of an ideal goal. Users need teaching and there needs to be more communication about flagging standards (which is happening now, and that's good). – 3ventic Feb 4 '14 at 13:39
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    @3ventic The review process being lost is a fault here, and part of that is because of the limitations of the flag queue system. If you pick out of a list of 500 comments that all have specific keywords, the moderators still get a list of 50+ comments that all have specific keywords, which doesn't give any illustration that the situation has changed. – Grace Note Feb 4 '14 at 13:41
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    Could this flag queue be added to the 20k privilege? For us, that would add an additional 17 pairs of eyes. – MBraedley Feb 4 '14 at 14:02
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    @MBraedley Possibly. We're looking at a variety of options, but keep in mind that right now, only moderators actually have the ability to action on comments like that, because comment actions are... rather nuclear because of how low priority we consider them. There's a lot we'd need to work on to make this work in both a way that retains the work effort on handling them low, but avoids potential concerns about the access opening to something that no one can properly track. – Grace Note Feb 4 '14 at 14:08
  • @GraceNote That's why I suggested it be included in 20k and not 10k or 15k. I'd be hesitant at best to allow 10kers to destroy comments. – MBraedley Feb 4 '14 at 15:29
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    @MBraedley We still lack proper tracking and handling. It's worse than a labyrinth to try and sift through this stuff, so until we have better tools all around, I'd rather not make a queue for this. – Grace Note Feb 4 '14 at 16:16
12

Obsolete flags can only be handled by moderators. When you create work for the moderation team, you enter into a working relationship with them. You can decide to stop flagging at any time, they can't decide to stop handling your flags at any time. If your flags are detracting from the time that they feel they should be spending on issues that are more pressing than obsolete comments and request that you stop, you need to stop, especially if you're flagging in volume.

You're well aware that there is an election going on, which in and of itself is a large source of work for them. They've indicated that they're having issues keeping up with the load, a large portion of which you might not be aware that they're even doing. Moderators from all over the network are currently working with us to better refine the systems we have in place to combat serious abuse that has been affecting almost every site in our network.

There's also matters of sock puppetry, users circumventing system imposed restrictions, and lots of other things they deal with day to day that requires a significant amount of time and work. Just chasing down reports of suspicious voting can suck a half hour from your day. Duplicate answers on multiple posts can take an hour to clean up properly once all gets merged.

It's not that obsolete comments don't need to be cleaned up, they just don't need to flood the flag queue right now - they're not going anywhere, as you noted. Holding off on your flags is part of working with a team of volunteers - if they ask you to stop, please - just stop and wait for a more opportune time to carry out your cleanup.

I can't overstate just how much their current workload has been understated. Work with them, which sometimes means holding off.

  • 4
    I have no issues with holding off if the words "please hold off for a bit" are used - badp quoted some thing mentioned by Grace yesterday which was frankly quite cryptic with multiple possible meanings and is claiming this said "hold off for a bit" so as far as I'm concerned, I haven't been asked to wait before my cleanup effort was rejected without reason - as you say, it's a working relationship, before the response to this meta post the only actual communication in this relationship has been from my end, and even then it was poorly communicated after jumping to conclusions. – kalina Feb 4 '14 at 11:04
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    And yet, we have multiple accounts of "obsolete comment flags really just take a single click most of the time", moderators not actually saying "Tone it down a bit, this is too much.", and the argument not actually being supported by anything. I agree with the point that, if the moderators feel it's too much one should tone it down, but I disagree that the moderators have convincingly made that point at any time. – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 11:04
  • @FEichinger I think 90% of the problem here is frustration. This could be a good thing, but just at a slightly later time in the future. The thing to do is just hold off, let them get some more help in and indoctrinated, let the stress levels cool down a bit, and then look at it again. Remember, they are volunteers, if they say 'hey, too much, this isn't really urgent ..' the community really needs to respect that in order to keep the relationship working. – Tim Post Feb 4 '14 at 11:15
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    @TimPost Then they should say so. That's really the whole point being made here. The only indicator kalina got was Grace saying it "is not all that helpful to actually getting things actioned on", not "give them a break/wait until the elections are over/let them have some more time". And, the other important point here, why were the flags unceremoniously declined? They were valid, some were even actioned - they were declined anyway, and nothing here ever addressed why that happened, instead accusing kalina of "knowing she shouldn't have cast them in the first place" - which is nonsense – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 11:18
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    @FEichinger From what I can gather (I'm honestly just walking into this), they didn't have a chance to before it continued. I think a big catalyst here was just mis/missed communication. Give me a bit to get through a bunch of transcripts. – Tim Post Feb 4 '14 at 11:44
  • @TimPost Flags are rate-limited like anything else, so the "it continued before they could say something!" part isn't all that relevant - once the limit is reached, the flags can't continue, and from that point there's lots of time to tell the user to stop. When there are too many flags, then, they can be worked off over the next days, while the user stopped flagging like that. I'm not seeing the problem that warrants mass-declining. – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 11:48
  • @FEichinger The push happened close to UTC midnight. – badp Feb 4 '14 at 12:25
  • @badp At any point could any of you have given a clear "Stop!". All I'm saying is that whenever she takes a break from casting those flags, she would be perfectly capable of reading a warning she gets via ping or mod message. And those breaks are bound to happen, because of the system's own constraints. – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 12:27
11

All of these flags below are for comments that say things like "thanks", or "this worked for me", or "you should edit X into your answer/question" followed by a "I have edited X into my answer/question", all the sort of stuff that doesn't need to exist.

I agree, all of these comments should be nuked, preferably from orbit. I find it unfortunate that there's no way for non-mod but high-rep users to already handle them, but that is the way it is.

However, if you - or anyone - have any plan on doing a large-scale cleaning operation, standard flagging is not the best approach - it's better to coordinate it in meta beforehand. For example:

Why is it important to coordinate it in advance? Because unlike just organically browsing the site and modifying things, these sort of sweeping cleanups have repercussions:

  • Tons of wiki edits will flood the review queue, hiding other issues
  • Tons of tag edits will flood the front page, hiding other new/edited questions
  • Tons of flags will flood the flag queues, hiding other flags

By coordinating these things in advance, you can distribute the effort between different users (including mods) and distribute it over time.

In short, and more to the point - if you browse the site and see such a comment, I think you should flag it as obsolete. But if you plan on searching the site for these comments and flagging many at a time, please coordinate it in advance on meta.

  • 1
    I agree, but what would be the best way to coordinate a comment cleanup when most people don't have access to mass-flagging tools, and comments are spread out a lot, and we can only flag so many comments a day? – 3ventic Feb 4 '14 at 12:38
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    Excellent answer. I would even ask, why wasn't this explanation given to her ahead of time, instead of just shunting her off to the oblivion of rejected flags? Not to mention the personal attacks about her "abuse of flagging". – AviD Feb 4 '14 at 12:39
  • @AviD regarding why the flag were rejected in this instance - I refer you to Grace's future answer. – Oak Feb 4 '14 at 12:46
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    okay, great. But the lack of communication here is still at issue, in my opinion - as I've mentioned to other mods, it does apparently seem like an issue of prejudice. Now, I'm not saying whether it is justified or not, but just that it is relevant. – AviD Feb 4 '14 at 12:53
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    @3ventic answering questions as to "how it can be done" is another great utility for the "coordination in advance" meta post. – Oak Feb 4 '14 at 13:26
  • @AviD indeed it is. I won't deny that communication between mods and users - and particularly, between mods and mods - is sometimes lacking; perhaps that should be a meta topic by itself. But it's not that simple in this particular case, and again, Grace's post has some more information about that. – Oak Feb 4 '14 at 13:36
  • So I've been going through the D3 questions lately with the new patch and there are a lot of comments that are now obsolete and hiding newer comments asking for updates or clarifications to mechanics changes. Should I flag each comment individually as obsolete, flag the post and say "nuke all comments in this topic", or just ignore them? – Troyen Mar 18 '14 at 19:08
  • @Troyen Flagging the post is preferable if you believe all/many of the comments need to be removed. – Oak Mar 18 '14 at 20:17
10

What gives is that you're flooding a moderation team that's been struggling with keeping up with ~2,300 flags/quarter, as I disclosed yesterday before all of this started.

You are fully aware that:

  • We are struggling with keeping up with load, which is the whole point of the current elections for three slots
  • Comments are not a priority, and you're distracting us from the rest of the website
  • With three extra moderators that are as active as we are, we'd be able to handle about 3,500 flags/quarter, and you're planning to flag 2,200/quarter at 25/day (which is a generous reading of 25 a "time") as some sort of concession.
  • We struggled with dealing with your first wave of 85 flags; the five of us took a portion of the flood each and failed to handle them consistently, and you complained about it loudly
  • You were asked to stop before you raised the new wave of flags. So you decided you'd flag even more.
  • Flag numbers are shown prominently in the election and some of our candidates are being rewarded handsomely for their flagging history.

You continued anyway, and your new wave of flags was denied at no penalty whatsoever to your account except for a completely private number of declined flags.

So the obvious rational thing to do is ask on meta, complaining that doing the thing you were warned about doing is not working out nearly as well as you'd have hoped.

We have limited resources. We have to make the best of them. Waves and waves of menial comment flags that solve no actual problem on the site are, on the contrary, a problem.

We care about the site, we have a responsibility to care about the site. But our responsibility is a long term one; there is literally no end to our mandate. We set your flags on fire because we care.

What we don't care about is burning ourselves out to the altar of your flag number so you have a better shot during the next elections.

You were warned by Grace. You were warned by all of your flags being rejected. This is your third warning.

This line ends the amount of time I have to properly give this subject my attention at this point in time.

  • 10
    I'm extremely disappointed you think this has anything to do with a flag number, this is purely about cleaning up the site - an activity I have discussed at length targeting each separate part of the site (tags, tag wikis, questions, etc). You only have to look at my meta history to realise that cleaning up is one of my primary activities, why you would jump to the conclusion otherwise is beyond me. – kalina Feb 4 '14 at 9:56
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    "So the obvious rational thing to do is ask on meta" - yes it was, and to view it as a complaint when I was in fact merely asking what is going on - since I hadn't heard anything from the Arqade moderator team regarding any of this, even after I had asked in chat lastnight (which resulted in a "haven't got time to talk about it" response), meta is the correct place to ask this question to get a specific answer. – kalina Feb 4 '14 at 9:59
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    I specifically stated to Grace I was going to do more, no comment along the lines of "no, don't" was made, therefore I can't agree with your conclusion. If you don't want me to do something - state it very specifically so that these misunderstandings do not occur. I've always made this very clear, cryptic nonsense with multiple interpretations is not a warning - clear, concise statements are warnings. – kalina Feb 4 '14 at 10:01
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    "Too much load" is an incredibly stupid reason for rejecting perfectly valid flags. Accept and reject flags based on each individual flags merits, not for some silly reason like this... – Ayrx Feb 4 '14 at 10:14
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    Arqade currently has 6 moderators and plans to get 9. On average, that makes about 133 flags per moderator per month, or a grand total of 4 flags per day. I'm sorry, but 4 flags per day? I know there's more to the job than flag handling, but that is just ridiculously low. – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 10:16
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    @badp I'm curious, is the problem with these flags the source of the flagging, or the type of flag? Because from here, it really does look like the former. Obsolete comment flags are the easiest to validate, 90% of the time they are clear and unambiguous enough to merit a quick delete comment without further investigation. So I'm just curious, if this is a policy of de-prioritizing comment flags, or a way of handling a perceived trollflagger? – AviD Feb 4 '14 at 10:17
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    The SO mods are always saying that comment flags are the easiest to handle, they can just nuke them in seconds without even loading the post. Are comment flags really that much of a burden on Arqade? – Troyen Feb 4 '14 at 10:20
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    Then why are you bringing up those numbers in the first place? You made it look like that was the upper cap you could possibly handle, when in fact it's just what's there. And if it's just what's there, what prevents you from handling more flags, now that there are more flags there? – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 10:36
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    And you also just said that the only reason you're currently only handling 20 is because that's all the flags there are, not that that's the max you could handle. – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 10:41
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    I have no problem with you saying you can't handle the load. But presenting numbers in the single-digit figures as oh-so-terribly-heavy a load is unsettling. – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 10:50
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    I don't disagree that doubling the total flags could pose a problem. I don't even disagree that obsolete comments are ultimately a non-issue. But the way this has been handled and the arguments you've been bringing forth here are not in line with that, and make me think this is about something completely other than "these flags are not worth the effort". – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 10:59
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    @badp A lot of this seems to be miscommunication. I'm right there with Kalina in not seeing Grace's message as "please stop" or "please wait until after elections". In the interest of preventing further miscommunications, what exactly is meant by the "warnings" that you mention this meta post is the third of? Is it a threat that further action result in suspension or some such? I make no argument for or against that, I'm just not clear on what exactly you were implying there. I also feel like the first two "warnings" were not clear as "warnings". Let's be clear to avoid miscommunication. – Sterno Feb 4 '14 at 12:04
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    On a different note, next time we have elections it would be awesome to hear from the moderator team about some specific reasons they felt new moderators were warranted. Knowing that they feel overwhelmed by the flag queue might help when casting votes. – Sterno Feb 4 '14 at 12:08
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    Abuse -> suspension, surely. But how is this abuse of the flag button? Those flags were valid! Or is what you are saying is that they are NOT valid...? – AviD Feb 4 '14 at 12:20
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    @TerryChia I don't think there is a specific post on this here on Arqade, but the general theme that individually okay actions can be problematic en masse is discussed rather extensively across the network. The most common instance of this is mass-editing, but I remember some previous cases of mass flagging on other sites that were problematic. Meta doesn't need to address every single issue in advance. – Mad Scientist Feb 4 '14 at 14:16
-1

In other network sites these comments are deleted by moderators frequently without flagging. It would be interesting to hear the moderator concerned comment, since the lack of consequences for the commenting user (in the event of a comment being flagged obsolete) leaves no apparent reason for the flags' rejection if the circumstances Kalina cites are correct.

  • I'm not sure where you're going with this. There already is a specific "obsolete" flag for this reason, and aside from the comment being deleted there are no consequences. – user98085 Feb 4 '14 at 9:09
  • Aah, so there is. – Falcon Momot Feb 4 '14 at 9:10
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    @FalconMomot Obsolete flags cannot be handled by sum of flags. – badp Feb 4 '14 at 9:55
  • Oh! Good to know. – Falcon Momot Feb 4 '14 at 15:06
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  • @BillyMailman TIL. That's pretty bad, but oh well. – badp Feb 4 '14 at 15:14

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