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As there are many complaints about uncertainty of which flag to use for what post and even conflicting feedbacks from different moderators or established users, I would like to see some kind of official flagging checklist / decision helper / cheat sheet which can be followed by all flaggers and reviewers to reduce confusion and incorrect usage.

Please reserve the answer section for official statements and restrict personal opinions to comments. Thanks.

  • 5
    Would be easier to answer this if you could kinda hint at where the guide for users who've just earned the privilege to flag falls short... – Shog9 Aug 8 '16 at 23:42
  • @Shog9 Thanks for that link, I forgot that flagging was a privilege and therefore did not search for a guide in this section of the help center. Anyway, there are still uncertainties, especially about the exact difference and usage of NAA and VLQ. The post linked in the help page about NAA flags also does not mention e.g. link only answers which I think should be addressed with this flag (as your post meta.stackexchange.com/q/225370/280883 suggests). Moreover, I had about a dozen tabs open to read all the guides, they should be summarized in one place. – Byte Commander Aug 9 '16 at 0:17
  • @Shog9 By the way, could you please edit the help page you linked? The second last section about retracting flags needs an update as retracting flags got recently made possible. I already pinged a local moderator about it but it seems like he has not the privileges to touch that page. – Byte Commander Aug 9 '16 at 0:28
  • Ah, good catch - fixed. – Shog9 Aug 9 '16 at 3:29
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The following are some guidelines for flagging on Ask Ubuntu. These guidelines are derived from existing policies set out in the help center, Ask Ubuntu Meta and Meta SE, and were further refined by a discussion between the current mods.

First, a few general points about flagging:

  • As a general rule, if the problem you see with a post can be fixed by editing, then edit and fix it instead of flagging.

  • Flags are handled by humans, not machines. This means that similar flags might not always be handled in the same way. While the mod team tries to be consistent, we are still a collection of 12 separate individuals. Your flags can also be handled by any of a dozen or so Stack Exchange employees (yes, SE staff sometimes handle mod flags). This means that your flag could have been handled by any of almost 30 different people. Some discrepancy is unavoidable.

  • Flags don't provide you with any reputation. There is no penalty for having a flag rejected. At worst, and only if a significant percentage of your total flags has been rejected, you might get banned from casting flags for a short time. That ban will expire quickly and then you're back to flagging just as before. There is no mark on your record, you can't get banned from the site for mistaken flags and there really, really isn't any reason to get worked up about it. We appreciate the effort that users make in casting flags and they are, when used correctly, a great help to moderators, but they're a tiny, tiny part of what makes Ask Ubuntu great. Let's not get too hung up on them.

Now, on to the specific flags:

1. Not an answer (NaA)

This flag should only be used for answers that are not even attempting to answer the question. The Official SE Policy® on this has been explained very clearly by Shog9 in the main meta here, and is summarized very nicely in this image:

when is an answer not an answer

Briefly:

  • If the OP is asking how to do foo and an answer explains how to do bar: flag as NaA.
  • If the answer contains no valuable information and, instead, only has a link pointing to where an answer can be found, then it is not actually an answer so you should flag as NaA.
  • If an answer is a "I'm having this problem too" post, or is otherwise not even attempting to answer the question: flag as NaA

So, NaA flags should only be used if the post is not even trying to answer the question. NaA flags should not be used if:

  • The answer is an honest attempt at answering, but is flat out wrong. In such cases, do not flag at all. That's what downvotes are for.
  • The question is asking how to do something with one tool and the answer explains how to do it with another tool. This is still answering the basic question (How can I do X?), it is simply providing an alternative approach. Such cases should not be flagged at all.

2. Very Low Quality (VLQ)

The description of the VLQ flag is actually quite clear (emphasis mine):

This question has severe formatting or content problems. This question is unlikely to be salvageable through editing, and might need to be removed.

VLQ should only be used for things that are so hopelessly awful, they can't be fixed. When thinking about whether you should flag something as VLQ, ask yourself this question: If I could, would I just delete this immediately, or can it be fixed?. If the answer to the question is yes, I would delete this and no it is impossible to fix, then you might want to cast a VLQ flag.

If, however, the post could conceivably be fixed and might contain some useful information, then please do not flag it. Instead, either fix it yourself or, if that's not an option, downvote it.

If the post is just a wrong answer, or isn't using the formatting tools correctly, or has bad grammar or other such fixable issues, please don't flag. Such posts should either be edited into shape or downvoted.

3. Spam

As explained in the flag's description:

Exists only to promote a product or service, does not disclose the author's affiliation.

If an answer (or a question) is being used to sell us something, it should be flagged as spam. 6 spam flags cast on a post will cause the post to be deleted. Spam posts should not be downvoted since that will eventually remove them from the front page and this might prevent enough spam flags being cast to trigger the post's deletion.

It is also important to only use this flag for things that are actually spam. A rant against Ubuntu is not spam. A rude answer is also not spam. If there is no product being peddled, the post is not spam and should not be flagged as such. This is important because the spam flags carry automatic downvotes and can also result in the offending user being automatically banned. Also, the posts that are flagged in this way are used to train Stack Exchange's spam filters. So wrong spam flags are actively harmful.

4. Rude or Offensive

This one should be pretty clear. If a post contains rude or offensive language, that's the flag to use. However, these should also be used with care since they, like the spam flags, can lead to automatic bans of users.

A post that is attacking your favorite software or opinion is not necessarily rude or offensive. This flag should only be used for the truly egregious cases; for posts that contain offensive language, racism, sexism or any other horrible -ism. Not for posts that simply defend a position you happen to disagree with.

Also, if a post contains a couple of bad words but is otherwise fine, just edit the words out instead of flagging. It is much simpler for everyone that way and that’s probably what the mods would have done anyway.

5. "In need of moderator intervention", custom flags.

If you feel the need to flag a post which doesn't fit into any of the categories above, this is the flag to use. However, please make sure to follow the guidelines below:

  • Please don't use this flag if one of the others fits.
  • If you are sure none of the default reasons applies, take the time to write an informative message explaining what the issue is. For example, if an answer is just repeating information already provided by another answer, please make sure to include this in your message and also include what answer is being duplicated. Custom mod flags along the lines of "this is bad, it should be deleted" are worse than useless since they don't explain why you feel that way.
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    Thanks a lot for your detailed explanation, that is exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. Another small question, if an answer is dangerous (like rm -rf pranks or just suggesting other harmful things, even if intended to answer the question), what would you recommend in this case? VLQ? Mod flag? – Byte Commander Aug 13 '16 at 19:09
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    @ByteCommander for those, use a mod flag explaining precisely what's wrong with the answer. The explanation is important since the mod might not notice or simply not know why the answer is dangerous. – terdon Aug 13 '16 at 22:41
  • «Please don't use this flag if one of the others fits» It happened to me once that I couldn't flag something as VLQ but I could use a custom flag. I raised it and it was marked as helpful. What could be the reason of this inability to flag as VLQ? – Andrea Lazzarotto Aug 17 '16 at 13:55
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    @AndreaLazzarotto a recent change in the SE engine made it so that you can only flag as VLQ for the first few (7, I think) days after posting. – terdon Aug 17 '16 at 14:06
  • I see. Thank you for your clarification. – Andrea Lazzarotto Aug 17 '16 at 14:23
  • @AndreaLazzarotto more info here. – terdon Aug 17 '16 at 14:29
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First off, read the section on flagging in the help center - there's a ton of good information there, and links to more.

Second... Don't think too hard. Flagging is something that's made available to almost everyone who uses the site constructively even a little bit - as such, it generally doesn't rely on flaggers knowing a whole lot about how things work. Although you can spend the time to learn the deep and mysterious details of the system, you generally don't have to; flags always depend on someone or something else vetting your assertion that there's a problem, so if you make a mistake... It'll get caught before it does any real damage. Like everything else on these sites, flagging is powered by humans... So there will always be the potential for mistakes. But focus on raising flags where you're sure there's a real problem, and things should just work the vast majority of the time.

Finally... Looks like a lot of the confusion here arises from "link-only answers". A link-only answer is an answer that consists of zero relevant information beyond a link that may point at useful information elsewhere. Hence the word "only". Lots of folks get confused about this, which is why we don't use the term anywhere in the UI: what matters is whether or not the answer is... Well, an answer. If you see a link and you're unsure of what flag to use, chances are you're asking the wrong question... So ask yourself this:

  1. Is this answer impossible to understand? Very low quality.
  2. Can you understand the answer, but find it contains absolutely no information aimed at answering? Not an answer.
  3. Is there something else gravely wrong with the post (spam, abusive, plagiarism, etc.)? Use spam, abusive, or in need of moderator intervention flags.
  4. Is the post understandable and clearly attempting to answer, but simply wrong or poorly-written? Down vote.

In short, when you see a problem, focus on the problem and the proper flag will emerge. Don't work backwards trying to pound arbitrary posts into the shape of a flag, hoping a problem will emerge; don't use flags as "super-downvotes"; don't use a flag in lieu of an edit or a comment or an answer or anything other corrective action that you're empowered to perform yourself... And if you do any of these things then don't get all twisted up if whoever happens to respond to your flag doesn't do what you'd wish them to do.

See also: Your answer is in another castle: when is an answer not an answer?

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    So, a LOA is NAA or VLQ? I did not get it. If there is NO information, except a link like this perfect example askubuntu.com/a/809716/167850 what is it? I think it is a poor attempt to answer. – Pilot6 Aug 9 '16 at 15:27
  • Or should I downvote? – Pilot6 Aug 9 '16 at 15:27
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    Perfectly understandable and clearly not an answer, @Pilot6. Also deleted, by review, in response to a NAA flag. You can't downvote now because it's deleted; otherwise you could. You can and should also flag as NAA in the "not-deleted-yet" scenario, unless you're motivated to edit or feel like leaving a comment and hoping for the best. If you're still confused, then forget the term "link-only answer" - folks routinely use it for things that aren't. Just ask, "is this an answer?" and follow your conscience. – Shog9 Aug 9 '16 at 15:33
  • Finally got the idea. – Pilot6 Aug 9 '16 at 16:46
  • That was my NAA flag. – Pilot6 Aug 9 '16 at 16:50
  • Then there's no problem. – Shog9 Aug 9 '16 at 16:50
  • I would have commented. But this was an experiment to see if the flag is accepted. – Pilot6 Aug 9 '16 at 16:51
  • Sorry for the late comment, but this came up in a mod discussion @Pilot6: be careful with "experiments"; it's easy to draw the wrong conclusions from a too-small sample size. We've got some folks running flagging experiments (on SO and elsewhere) right now to train content classifiers, and they involve hundreds to thousands of flags before attaining much in the way of accuracy. Ideally, if you're gonna experiment then you'll be open and rigorous about it - document what you're doing up-front, keep detailed records. Example: meta.stackoverflow.com/q/280546 – Shog9 Aug 11 '16 at 20:34
  • I do not overestimate that small "experiment". For me everything is quite clear now. And I think the discussion was useful for moderators too. – Pilot6 Aug 11 '16 at 20:37

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