On the mechanics of moderation and flagging


I’m creating this post after realizing that the current setup of the moderation system is causing real, serious misconceptions and harming the community in very subtle ways that were not obvious to me before. I’ll be bringing these issues up to the Discourse development team. Still, I wanted to explain how this particular issue happens and hopefully correct some misconceptions about the system as a whole.

Firstly, when a post is flagged, users carry “weight” based on their trust level (essentially how long they’ve been here and how often they’ve been flagged), and whether or not their flags have been agreed with in the past. Enough flags from users (or even one flag from our highest-rated leaders) can result in posts being hidden before a moderator has even seen the flags at all.

This is not clear, and it’s not clear in the automated messages that are sent. This can be even more confusing because no message is sent when a flag is “agreed” with (though we do now send a message if a flag is reversed and a post restored).

This has weird implications when a reply to a bad comment is flagged. Depending on who flagged the original bad comment and who flagged the reply, it can give the impression that the bad comment was ok (because it wasn’t immediately hidden), while reply was not (because it was immediately hidden). This sucks, because in both cases, no moderator has reviewed these posts yet, but messages have gone out saying “The community has flagged your posts!”, and from all appearances, a bad post has been allowed to stand unopposed.

This situation can be corrected once a moderator has had an opportunity to review the problem, but in the time in-between, this is a huge mess, and I’ve now learned in at least one occasion, convinced a longtime member of our community to leave because they believed their response to an insult was deleted, but the insult allowed to stand.

I’m not entirely sure what to do here about this:

  1. On one hand. we could disable posts from being hidden by the community, but then bad actors could walk all over the forum until a moderator showed up to deal with it, and we don’t have enough moderator hours to cover the blog 24/7.
  2. On the other hand, if we make any flag hide posts, it creates the ability for bad actors themselves to hide posts and sow confusion by sending automated “your posts were hidden by the community” messages on otherwise innocuous posts - again, until a moderator can show up and undo things.
  3. We could also raise the threshhold for when flags hide posts further, but we don’t get a lot of flags, and I fear that would create the same issue as option 1 above.

For now, what I’m going to do is rewrite the automated messages to make it clear that posts that are hidden may not have been reviewed and may be restored, and I think I’m going to suggest that a “your post was reviewed” message be sent in the same way a message is sent to the flagger for “something else” flags when they leave a note. But I’m mainly writing this down so that this issue is out in the open - just because your post was hidden doesn’t mean it was reviewed by moderators, and if a post you’ve flagged isn’t hidden, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be once a moderator reviews the situation.

Thanks, and I genunely apologize that this is so confusing!


Potentially stupid question: how about adding more moderators? Us Leaders are empowered to do some things to try to help, but we’re still limited in our capabilities.


There is no funding for paid moderation, and Boing Boing is not going to allow non-staff members to moderate the forum directly (we have an obligation to keep user information private and there are liability concerns with non-contracted individuals acting on behalf of BB).

That’s not actually the biggest issue here though, the issue here is that the system should not require 24/7 vigilance by moderators just to make sense and not create misconceptions. Actions should be clear, transparent, and obvious, and they currently are not.


Makes sense - those are aspects I did not consider.


surely a hide should only be attributed to “the community” if it’s based on flags from multiple people

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This is true of all but the top rated leaders. Every other hidden post was hidden by multiple members of the community, and this represents the vast vast majority of cases.

The issue is, so few people flag that raising this bar would cause posts to almost never be hidden automatically and in essence remove the ability for the community to protect itself without moderator intervention.


I’ve had posts snapped off the forum but have not been given the opportunity to edit or amend them - even though I get a message that states that I can.

I find that more troublesome than losing a comment where I may have responded to something and it is taken as “collateral damage” when the original comment is removed - that’s just part of the system we all work with.


Yes, the messaging is something I can theoretically change, and will as soon as I figure out where these live in the system.


No problem. Being able to fix something is part of what I see flagging for. None of us are perfect and the chance to correct a hurried comment can make all the difference in one’s actual honest intent.


To be clear, “hidden” means messages that remain posted but under a “View ignored content” warning?

In general, I think that single-user insta-flagging is maybe too powerful a tool for even the most trusted non-moderator members. An important related question becomes, do moderators see value in distinguishing flagging from deletion, as moderator tools? I would trust a moderator to insta-flag a post but if the mod’s first tool is deletion it might not even make sense to discuss mods insta-flagging.

As someone who has only occasionally been flagged and has more often been silently mod-deleted, I do see a value in receiving a flag – it’s a good temperature-taking tool to indicate that what I posted was way off-base. I am not super clear on whether it’s possible to amend a post in order to get it un-flagged, as I don’t think I’ve ever had a post get flagged that wasn’t then mod-deleted.

As far as mod-deletion goes – I know, kind of off topic – if I’ve pissed the mods off enough that they are going to delete a post (with or without it having been community-flagged) I’d appreciate at least an automated (but preferably personal) message acknowledging that this happened. To my knowledge all mod-deletions are currently silent, which is confusing and a little hurtful, because it’s not always obvious what unstated or stated line was crossed. I recognize that traffic might be too high to accommodate personal messages, though. As a regular (but not “Regular”) here I wonder if space can be carved out to do this for at least higher-trust users if they get mod-deleted.


Users who can hide with a single flag are users that 1) have consistently shown to raise flags on posts moderators would agree with, 2) showed enough restraint to suggest they can handle what I personally believe to be the most difficult part of moderation requirements: restraint, and 3) have continued to have flags that are agreed with by moderators to the point that their flag weight remains at the highest level.

This is both a manual (identification of the users, and trust level change) and automated (tracking of flag acceptance) process, and one that has been extremely effective.

We may wish for a legion of moderators here but that’s not going to happen. Leaders with consistent track records and the ability to hide disuptive posts with a single flag are critical to a speedy response when necessary.

This does not (regularly) happen. If I, as a moderator, see a post that should be deleted but wasn’t flagged, I will flag it then delete it, which is something the tools allow. Instead what tends to happen is that if a moderated post is deleted, all the replies are as well, and those deletions are “silent”. This is unfortunate, and I’ve asked the Discourse team to consider a notification for this (something along the lines of “Your post was deleted because it was a reply to a moderated post”), but that request was sadly turned down. So we make do with the software we have, unfortunately.


To be fair it’s only happened a couple of times – so maybe I just caught some folks in a Mood when I was being Disappointed in BoingBoing.

More generally I think the most important dimensions for flagging and moderation are, for the flagged / moderated user:

  • clarity of what happened and why
  • explanation of consequences
  • opportunity for remediation (if appropriate)

I like to think that I’m not the target audience for this, since really I have been flagged/deleted VERY few times in my memory, but as a person with empathy who has occasionally made social missteps, this seems to me what would add value to the flagging system, at least for those who honestly cross the line in their passion. Trolls are a whole other thing, of course…


Do the people who have the ability to instantly hide a post by flagging actually know that they have that ability? When I flag something, it becomes hidden to me, but I assume it doesn’t go hidden for everyone. It’s understandable that if people knew that had the ability, they could tend to abuse it. But then, wouldn’t it be a self-correcting system, if a moderator disagreed with the flagging enough, they’d lose the ability?

sometimes a comment has reached the point that one more flag will hide it. earlier today i was trying to flag a comment and in the middle of explaining the reasons for the flagging the post went hidden and i could not flag it.


If you see a post become hidden, it has become hidden for everyone… You don’t know if others have flagged the post, and because flag weights are dynamically changing based on your last 100 flags and the outcomes of those flags, a user who has “one shot” capability today may not have it tomorrow if those flags were disagreed with.

So no, this isn’t an issue. People who flag in line with moderators will hide posts more regularly than those that do not. I think it’s also important to note that posts hidden on a single flag are the exception, not the rule, because very very few users have enough flag weight to one-shot posts at any given moment.


I guess I was thinking of somewhere else, or I just happened to be the deciding flagger in the last couple of times I flagged stuff. I could have sworn it did more than just tell me that I flagged something. Thanks for the explanation.

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Update: I have now updated the automated messages that appear when a post is hidden for flags to reiterate that it has not yet been moderated, and that in most cases, a second message will appear if the post is deleted or restored. Hopefully this will help clear up any confusion.


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