Should we make flags more visible?

Although I love BBS, and I think the BBS community is a great success, there is one thing I’ve been disappointed with since the start:

There’s not enough flagging here.

Discourse is designed around the principle that you empower the community to govern itself (with discussions like this, on meta) and push out the bad actors. And the primary tool of that community immune system is flagging.

(Not talking about spam. Spam gets crushed in minutes, and we added an Akismet layer a few months ago that makes those even less likely to need human intervention. Special thanks to @SmashMartian who is a spam flagging machine. Just look at these read stats.)

I have some theories about why there is a dearth of flagging, namely that Happy Mutants don’t want to feel like “the man”. I don’t know if you noticed, but the community here isn’t exactly a fan of the police, uh, to put it mildly. I get the feeling that any perception that they might be acting as police, even by pressing a flag button on someone else’s post, is enough to dissuade a lot of Happy Mutants from doing it.

(Note that flags are only available to trust level 1 users, so you can’t sign up a bunch of new accounts and flag a post to make stuff happen.)

We’ve made changes since launch to make flagging easier and hopefully more common:

  • Added “flag whole topic” button at the bottom
  • Friendlier copy on the flag dialog
  • Clarification on flag dialog that flags are private, in case people are worried that others will see them flagging something

But that stuff hasn’t helped much. Maybe a little.

So I had an idea. Maybe you have ideas, too.

  • I have access to flags here for diagnostic purposes, so I see all the flags that are cast. But as a matter of policy, I do not act on flags, ever, except for spam and other obvious stuff.

  • While I do not act on flags, I do have the right to cast my flag as I see fit, just like any other user. (and have it handled, ignored, what have you, that’s up to the BB folks, not me.)

  • I’ve noticed that it is much easier for me to pile on the flags and push out obvious bullshit when other people are flagging, and I see those flags.

So I had an idea:

What if we made flags visible on posts to everyone here, at say, trust level 2 or greater? (But never visible to the author of the post in any case)

That is, you would have some of the same information I do. Namely, that a post was flagged as problematic. We would probably show this information anonymously, so you would see that stuff was flagged, but not by who and not why.

This way more people could vet those flagged posts, and hopefully put a stop to awful posts before more people see them, respond to them, are aghast by their horribleness, etc.

Your thoughts on this? Other ideas about flagging? :ear:


As I was trying to articulate over here, I think a certain element of flagging is orthagonal, if not inapposite, to one of the cultural tenets of Happy Mutants.

It really says it all right there, we recognize we’re all deviates in some senses and some spheres, and we all try to be positive about it. Live and let live. Let your freak flag fly. Et cetera.

To that end, I think this place will always lean toward being tolerant of newcomers expressing opposite or different viewpoints. I hope so, I know I’m guilty of forming one opinion about someone online, then feeling like an ass later when they surprise me with their other talents, skills, and good-nature.

I’m not a fan. I’ve been a member of some communities with various implementations of Karma systems (by user, or by post), and I always worry they encourage a bit of groupthink. Also, I think we also do this to some extent already - I know in any given flamewar I check to see who’s giving likes to whom. That tells me aplenty about the sentiment of the regulars on any given topic.


Just doing my bit to keep the place tidy. A lot of spam comes during USA graveyard-shift so living in Mysterious Future of UTC+10 means I can get the drop on the buggers.

I reckon that besides not wanting to netcop, indecisiveness and plain apathy also play a part in dissuading flags. When in doubt, the usual action is to not-flag, rather than flag. And a lot of folks just plain don’t care.
Add in the Mutant Factor, which I feel comes less from not wanting to emulate the plod and more from a default of holding speech and exploration of ideas in high regard, and I’d be very surprised if the flagging wasn’t less than anywhere else.

Visible flags could address some of those issues by giving some form of reassurance that “Yeah, it’s just you. Other people think this poster’s a wanker, too.”. And by raising the profile of flags, it could also bring in folks who wouldn’t normally bother.

Visible feedback on what’s considered good community behavior is usually helpful in guiding the tone of a community, as well as showing that it’s the members themselves who are guiding it, showing that the ability to provide a place where the disenfranchised and unheard are able to speak is dependent on the loud and hate-filled are not silenced, but quietened enough to allow free exchange of ideas between both.

Flamewars cause collateral damage and a chilling effect on those who may wish to speak. So does excessive moderation. Balancing the two is tricky. And there’s always the problem distinguishing between an impassioned and justifiably angry response and an abuse-filled rant. Sometimes it’s both.

Ick. That’s an ugly few paragraphs, but I’m having trouble braining today. :confused: tl;dr -
Yeah, why not show when posts are flagged. It’s not like it’ll change the tenor here, but may help get rid of problems quicker.


Seems clear enough, no fixing needed.

  • Showing likes is broadcasting empathy.

  • Showing flags is broadcasting… what exactly? Serious concern? Disapproval, to some degree? It’s not an unconditionally positive thing, like likes.

Bear in mind we would only show flags to TL2 or higher, and always anonymized in both who cast them and what the flag was about.

So we’d be broadcasting that message of mild negativity, but in a very limited radius. Where we send likes out on a flagpole for the world to see (including anonymous users), flags are dispatched via short-range radio to a specific area of the known neighborhood.


For obvious sexism? racism? transphobia? homophobia? That’s not a freak flag we want flying in here, is it?

Hell, even if it’s New User Who Came Here To Post Common Issue Talking Points, I’m not sure we want that, either. Say something more interesting than regurgitating tired old talking points, or with all due respect, GTFO.


Unlike most places on the internet (youtube, the comments of the local paper, hacker news), I rarely encounter that type of comment here. Not saying they don’t happen, but the obvious litter seems to get picked up when I’m not around.

I’m don’t think I’m gonna flag in that case. I’m old enough and wise enough to know that I’ve often been dumb enough to enter a discussion with talking points that I were novel to me, but were tired old talking points to others.

As spoketh the Beastie Boys, “As long as I learn I will make mistakes.


I’m not sure that this would have much of a positive effect. We’ve already had some meta-drama about people "like"ing the wrong things, so revealing flags could cause problems.

On the other hand, you’ll never find out what works if you don’t experiment. Bold is good. Mix it up a little. Move fast and break things. The worst that can happen is that we find it doesn’t work and we revert to the old invisible flags.

The main thing is, this thread will boost the signal on the key message- flag more.

Oh- another idea- perhaps some more badges for good flagging or spam hunting.



Someone hasn’t looked at the badges page recently…

There’s a badges page?


There has been for ages. Here you go.


How 'bout that.


I do think that flags are antithetical to the free and open discourse that I look for in this community, and I use them incredibly sparingly. But perhaps that’s because I think of flags in a particular way; to be used only in agregious case when I want a mod to note that a comment crosses the line from unpopular sentiment to ad hominem attack, purile content, completely off-topic, or is otherwise deeply inappropriate.

So maybe the problem isn’t the visibility of flags so much as the definition, which users like myself carry over from the way flags are used on other sites. If you think they should be used more, change the way that people see flags from “this content must be removed” to “this comment stinks.” Don’t use the term “flag,” use something less loaded, like a tomato for instance. Or poop emoji. I wouldn’t be in favor of making this the same as a downvote - systems that have equally weighted up and down votes often fail to distinguish between content that is disagreeable and content that people disagree with. But using a term or symbol that had a meaning somewhere between a flag and a downvote might make people more inclined to use the system and encourage a higher level of self-policing.


[quote=“SmashMartian, post:11, topic:56570”]
There has been for ages. Here you go.
[/quote]Damn. It.

I typically flag when I feel that things have gone too far, when conversations have become one-note arguments and personal. Now, if I came into the forum and noticed that a lot of other people had flagged something, I probably wouldn’t bother. But since I don’t know, and since Falcor can’t be everywhere at once (physics says so, not His failings) I feel more responsible to speak up and point things out than if I thought someone else would say something instead.

Frankly, what’s helped me adjust to calling down the wrath of thread closings is simple encouragement from when I have done so via a DM. I feel like a member of the community cleaning up around the place and helping to fix broken windows. Seeing others flag something would actually discourage me from doing so (except for your obvious racist/sexist/wahteverist) out of fear that I’d be piling on.

Frankly, I think discussions like this encouraging others to flag more to help clean up around here would be more useful than anything else. Ain’t nobody’s momma* work around here, we all gotta’ pull some weight.

* - Apologies to any mommas that do work around here. Thanks for coming in today!


:mushroom: :mushroom:

Would that actually make a difference, though? As I understand it, all flags* are examined by a mod, and when the amount of flags hits a certain level, a post is hidden. So you only flagging the worst examples helps remove them while leaving lesser examples alone means they get examined and cleaned up later.

Actually seeing what posts are flagged gives posters feedback on what’s acceptable and what ain’t.
Maybe even take actually take this a little further and show something like "This post has been flagged and found to be acceptable’ or something like that on the occasions that flags are rejected. I dunno if that’s possible or even needed. Maybe something to think about.

*Well, I presume all flags are looked at. And I’m with @waetherman about the name being problematic. Bananas or something would be way better as you’d be saying to the mod “Just look at it!”


To me, that’s how eyeroll.gif and whatever.gif are deployed now.

But that makes me think, maybe try adding an eyeroll button. If the number or percentage of eyerolls per post or per thread exceeds a limit, a dragon is summoned.

Not sure I like the idea, but offer it in the spirit of brainstorming.


I’ve never requested a thread close - I’m always disappointed when I see that happen. But I flag at least once a week, I think. It helps me think about what I write, and hopefully keeps my hyperbolizing from sliding into unwarranted personal slurs and abuse.

Sometimes, though, people need to be told they are assholes.

I prefer to find someone who can craft a better OT response than I can, and PM them to come into the thread and “help out.”


If there’s a certain limit to be met to cause a post to be hidden, for the most part I would be reluctant to be the one to drop the last rock in to see the boat sink. I see happy mutants as the kind to mostly roll their eyes and walk away from a dumb thread than to try and correct everyone on the internet. “See what that guy said? How crazy.” I mean, that’s what I try to do. You guys and my family like me (mostly, on both accounts) and that’s all I really need.

But, let’s take Billie Love, who tried to defend that horrible liar about cancer recently. She came in saying something similar to “isn’t hope a kind of medicine?” which was total BS and everyone called her out on it. Nobody had to get flagged, her post didn’t need to get buried, it was handled in a manner befitting it.

This is a self-correcting community for the most part. I like it.


I see what you’re saying - I guess that’s kinda the sentiment I’m trying to express, though I think I mean it a little more harshly. But the main point is that commenting on someone else’s comment with an eyeroll or whatever is just spinning a thread further off topic - more comments to sift through that are not related to the OP or that don’t contribute to a discussion about the OP.

Take for instance, the following exchange from the thread about a parrot harassing a cat;

Tubacat: Why should birds be what you/we think of as “well-behaved”? I’m with Space Monkey. I spent a hour in Costa Rica once just watching a pair of scarlet macaws interact with each other; they looked beautiful and intelligent, and very happy not in cages…
logruszed10h: I’m not interested in your agenda regarding any form of pet ownership. Nor am I interested in playing pedantry-chicken with you.
Tubacat: Wow. Just wow. Glad I don’t know you.

I ended up flagging Tubacat’s last comment because it was completely off topic and ad hominem. It added nothing of value. It was a turd of a comment, lying on the page stinking up the thread. But it wasn’t what I would ordinarily “flag” because I don’t think of flags that way - it wasn’t purile, it didn’t offend my sensibilities and wasn’t a particularly harsh insult. In my mind it wouldn’t ordinarily require mod intervention. But at the same time that entire exchange brought down the level of conversation in that thread - a thread about a bird harassing a cat, ffs. You have to do a lot to bring down the level of conversation in that kind of thread. So I flagged it in the spirit of community policing. Plus, I just wanted to destroy something beautiful, and there was nothing beautiful around so I took it out on the most worthless comment I could find. :smile:

I agree with @SmashMartian though. To the extent that someone like Billie Love presents an idea that “hope is medicine” that’s a terrible idea, but it’s not offensive. In fact, there’s probably some good that comes out of publicly discounting it. It’s a difficult distinction to make; a comment I don’t agree with or think is wrong vs a comment that adds nothing to the conversation or takes it off topic, thereby actually making the conversation worse vs a comment that is offensive and absolutely should be removed. It’s that grey middle-bit that I’m suggesting, if in fact there is a need to broaden the number of flagged comments, that something other than “flag” should be used for.


I admit I don’t flag very often. Takes a lot to offend me, and I typically ignore the vast majority of the sniping and backbiting and less-than-useful posts I run across, mostly because I don’t find them particularly awful enough to act upon. I’ll flag spam, sure, or if something really gets out where the buses don’t run, but I personally find that this community doesn’t need a whole lot of enforced landscaping. Just as I won’t live in a neighborhood with an active homeowners’ association or CC&Rs, and I won’t squawk if a neighbor paints his house flat black with orange pinstriping or prefers to fill his front yard with dead tumbleweeds, but I will call the cops on obvious vandalism, burglary, or other miscreance. By the same token, I only flag when I see something that I feel actually needs flagging, and in this community I see something like that maybe once a month, tops.

But then I don’t read many of the more… er, controversial threads.

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