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I am somewhat confused by the duplicate flag. If one tries to flag a question as a duplicate, a comment is automatically added (in the flagger's name) asking the OP whether the proposed duplicate answers the question.

However, when this is done, other users will usually chime in that we only close a question as a duplicate after the OP has indicated that the proposed duplicate answers the question (implying that the flagger should not have flagged the question as a duplicate).

  1. Is it incorrect to flag a question as a duplicate, as a proposed answer, or should we only flag when we already know that it is a duplicate?
  2. If the latter, why does flagging as a duplicate automatically add the comment asking the OP whether it answers the question?

(See this question for examples of the comments described here. Note the comment, "https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/263495/young-adult-novel-about-a-boy-and-girl-who-could-see-through-each-others-eyes", in my name, which I did not add; it was added by the system when I tried to flag it as a duplicate. You can see the response to my flag, as well, in the comments on the question.)

Due to the system adding the comment with the question to the OP, I would think the process would be:

  1. Flag it. The comment will be added automatically.
  2. Wait and see whether the OP answers "yes" or "no".
  3. If the OP answers, "yes", then close it as a duplicate.
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    The story ID policy is very clear. We don't close them as duplicates until both parties have confirmed that they're looking for the same property. With other questions it's more subjective. If you think it's a dupe, then vote to close it and let the community decide.
    – Valorum
    May 29, 2022 at 18:31
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    @Valorum - I understand that it does not get closed as a dupe without it being confirmed by the OP. I just don't understand why we can't flag it, give the OP time to respond, and then close it (or not, depending on the OPs answer)
    – Basya
    May 29, 2022 at 18:33
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    I'm trying to understand what the system is prompting us to do, and how that fits with our policy.
    – Basya
    May 29, 2022 at 18:36

4 Answers 4

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To clear up some confusion here flagging to close and voting to close are essentially the same thing except that flagging to close does not add a close vote. Both of these, for <3k and >3k users respectively, add the auto dupe comment (in case of flagging/voting to close as a duplicate) and send the question to the close vote review queue if it is not there already. A close flag will also be marked helpful on a close vote being applied to the post not necessarily when the question is closed though.

All this means that you should be flagging to close only in situations where as a >3k users you would be voting to close. The flag to close is saying "I think this post should be closed, please review it". Unlike your workflow which seems to be "this might be a duplicate, OP please review it and respond". Note that whilst duplicate flags/close votes add the comment they also alert the wider community through sending the post to the review queue and so the whole process could actually never involve the OP.

Instead if you are unsure if something is a duplicate it is best to leave a normal comment asking if this other post answers the question.

In the specific case of duplicate closing note that we have a policy of only closing as duplicates when both questions have the same confirmed work, no matter how it is confirmed:

questions should only be closed as duplicates where both answers are accepted, regardless of the similarity between them. (If the OP posts a "yes this is it" comment, that's as good as an acceptance.)

If the one you're wanting to close doesn't have a confirmed work the usual workflow I've seen users do is:

  • add an answer with the work and how it matches if there isn't already
  • link the potential duplicate in the comments on that answer stating it has been asked about before

In regards to the comment about why the auto comment is added on flagging/voting to close as a duplicate: that's just a system thing. It's network wide with the same text everywhere and not something we can change. Even if the post doesn't end up closed as a duplicate it keeps the posts linked together through the comment and also the "Linked" section on the sidebar of both questions.

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There's a couple of questions here;

"Is it incorrect to flag a question as a duplicate, as a proposed answer, or should we only flag when we already know that it is a duplicate?"

Yes. That's our agreed policy regarding questions and you should not have flagged it as a duplicate.


"Why does flagging as a duplicate automatically add the comment asking the OP whether it answers the question[?]"

Because the PTB thought that this was friendlier than the old text and haven't seen fit to change it, despite a lukewarm user response.

On a personal note, I typically amend the duplicate auto-comment from "Does this answer your question" (which prompts people to address me personally with some variation of "no it doesn't") to "This is a duplicate of", which has a more discouraging effect.

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There are two separate ways to draw attention to the fact a question might be a duplicate:

  1. vote to close as a duplicate (available only if you rep is > 3k)

  2. flag as a duplicate

Note that if your rep is 3k or greater the flag as duplicate option is the same as a vote to close. If your rep is < 3k flagging adds a comment but does not vote to close.

The problem with voting to close is that if five people vote to close the question is closed whether or not the OP agrees¹. The first VTC automatically adds the "Does this answer your question" comment, but regardless of what the OP does the fifth VTC will close the question. This means story identification questions could be closed as duplicates when they aren't a duplicate. There could be many books matching a description, and only the OP knows for certain which book is the correct answer.

To avoid this we have an agreement that we don't VTC a story identification question unless the OP has confirmed it is a duplicate. This isn't an SE wide rule, it's a convention we have adopted specifically for story identification questions as a courtesy to the person asking the question. Note that this only applies to story identification questions.

The comment the SE adds when you VTC is not ideal, but that's out of our power to change.

If you have less than 3k rep and you flag as a duplicate this should be benign because you are just drawing attention to the duplicate and not voting to close it. However the comment it adds is that same as a vote to close comment, and this is likely to make other users assume you have voted to close. This is what happened in the case you mention.

I suggest the best option is not to flag and just to post a comment saying something like "I think this might be the same as ...". That's what I usually do if I suspect a question is a duplicate. Then if the OP confirms it's a duplicate you can flag or vote to close.


¹ If you have a gold badge for the story identification tag your VTC will close the question immediately, so those of us with the badge use our VTCs with some care!

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  • The VTC comment can be edited as soon as it's been posted
    – Valorum
    May 30, 2022 at 7:57
  • So 'flag as duplicate' and 'vote to close' are synonymous?
    – Basya
    May 30, 2022 at 8:34
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    @Basya All close flags, as in flag -> needs improvement -> ... or flag -> duplicate are essentially <3k users of alerting the system and other users that the question wants closing for some reason. The only difference is that <3k users don't add a close vote to the question. So treat close flags as if you are voting to close the post. If you want we can continue this in chat so we don't keep pinging John (:
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    May 30, 2022 at 9:15
  • @TheLethalCarrot - maybe make that an answer? I think that your last comment cleared up a lot of the confusion for me (I guess you'd need to explain also that, for story id questions, we don't VTC until after the OP confirms, just to make it a complete answer. But this is what really cleared things up in my mind.)
    – Basya
    May 30, 2022 at 9:20
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    @Basya I've updated my answer to specifically address flagging rather than voting. May 30, 2022 at 9:23
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I'd just like to state the heart of the matter, and an actionable alternative.

This is the unfortunate intersection of the way that SE sites work in general and a specific SFF.SE policy regarding story identification questions.

Flagging anything on an SE site puts an entry in a review queue. Someone has to go through the queue and act on that entry.

But SFF.SE's policy of not closing questions as duplicates until both have an identical accepted answer makes duplicate close flags for story-id unactionable until the criterion is met. They're just hanging around, making each peson who goes through the review queue spend time recognizing and ignoring the flag. Plus (as described in the other answers) there's a risk that the question will be accidentally closed.

Nevertheless, the "Does this answer your question?" comment is actually useful information for OP.

What do you do then? Just leave the comment instead of flagging.

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