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A common issue in chat rooms is the use of flags as a "downvote". IE, a user may flag a picture from a movie used to explain a question asked within the room.

Regardless of if the post is appropriate to the room, however, moderators often act decisively, with suspensions and deletion of the post.

This has an issue in that the flagged post may be wholly within the bounds of the room, both thematically and in terms of maturity guidelines. IE, posting a picture of a chestburster poking its head out of a person in an Alien movie -- it's a graphic which is within the PG-13 guideline of the room and it's a SFF topic.

Should these flags be encouraged by punishing users for posting relevantly and within the bounds of the room, or should such flags be considered unwelcome and, if so, should there be some sort of feedback involved?

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    Alien wasn't rated PG-13. It was rated R. – user1027 Feb 1 '16 at 20:48
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    Spaceballs, then. – Politank-Z Feb 1 '16 at 20:51
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    We don't get to decide what people find upsetting/offensive. But flagging someone because they dared to flag something you didn't find offensive is petty. – phantom42 Feb 1 '16 at 20:52
  • @Politank-Z Dear god the Spaceballs. – user311362 Feb 1 '16 at 20:52
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    Neither has SE ever said anything about chatrooms strictly following MPAA guidelines (whatever those are in the first place) and making everything appropriate that the MPAA deems to magically have its place in a movie labeled with some arbitrary certificate made for films. A character saying a bad word in a film that's on-topic and PG-13 for whatever reason does not give you universal rights for saying that word in chat either, for example. Neither does it rob anyone of his right to be offended by it. – TARS says Reinstate Monica Feb 1 '16 at 20:53
  • @Keen The Goonies was rated PG, but if I use any of the language there in chat you'll personally shank me. – user311362 Feb 1 '16 at 20:53
  • @phantom42 Flagging people because they posted something you find offensive is petty? Ok, so go back to the question and rethink that. – user311362 Feb 1 '16 at 20:54
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    Mods did not suspend Wad for the post in chat. That was the automatic system. – phantom42 Feb 1 '16 at 20:54
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    General solution: people should simply not get so friggin' worked up about a stupid chat flag and the resulting 30 minute absence. Be pissed by it and be done with it. You know what's really a useless idea getting offended by? Chat flags. I know it might be relieving to blame it all on the evil flaggers and their oversensitivity and the evil moderators trying to keep things together. But it's of not much use for anything. – TARS says Reinstate Monica Feb 1 '16 at 20:58
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    @TARS Except when it shuts down the entire room for weeks. Maybe it doesn't matter much to you, but for the few who actually use the rooms it's a big %$#^ing deal, as one VP might say. – user311362 Feb 1 '16 at 21:03
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    @Axelrod Um, well, you know what shut down that room? It wasn't a silly little flag. Part of it was people getting worked up about flagging. You might have missed that over being too annoyed by the moderators who did what was apparently necessary back then. (And for what it's worth, I use that room, too, and don't have much interest in repeating those incidents either, believe it or not.) – TARS says Reinstate Monica Feb 1 '16 at 21:05
  • @TARS That's funny, because what I saw for the times I was there was a flag taking place during a discussion, 14 mods piling in, and the room being shut down because it was easier than encouraging people to be civil. If not moderating is a necessary step to moderating at any point, that needs changed. Idea #1: ignoring flags that aren't on something considered offensive within the guidelines of the room. – user311362 Feb 1 '16 at 21:15
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    @Axelrod I have no doubt that's what you saw... – TARS says Reinstate Monica Feb 1 '16 at 21:18
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    @Axelrod Can you tell me what those "guidelines of the room" are (apart from some arbitrary rating of a specific country's film certification agency)? – TARS says Reinstate Monica Feb 1 '16 at 21:35
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    @TARS Ask Slytherincess or Praxis. They're the room owners and the setters of room policy where it doesn't clash with site policy. – user311362 Feb 1 '16 at 21:39
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Every group of people who interact on a regular basis develop their own social norms, unique to the blend of individuals who comprise the whole. Different customs, humor, jargon, they all become key to a group identity. The glue that holds us together.

Chat flags are a representation, a stand in, for something else entirely; The opportunity for anyone who has gained the right to take part in a space to send a signal to leadership when they think something might be amiss. Why bother with this? When a group is constantly tweaking and reconsidering their social mores -- the way they comport themselves as a whole -- that's a sign of a healthy community. In order for communities to work, individuals need to be able to influence the whole.

By design, flags are signal, not noise. If folks have differing views about what should be discussed in a given space, flags allow them to draw out these differing sensibilities and discuss them. To grapple with their opposing sense of the norm, and together, figure out a way forward.

Flags are never the problem nor the solution unto themselves, but they always represent an opportunity to operate more effectively as a community.

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    I agree, but I wish we did more discussing and less flagging. A simple "That bothers me, can you get rid of it, please?" would have prevented the entire situation from meriting prolonged conversation at all, in this case. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Feb 1 '16 at 21:29
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    @WadCheber True, but in this specific case, I think we might put a little too much responsisibility on the flagger himself. I don't think he even knew it resulted in throwing you out for 30 minutes, nor about the darker consequences of raising a flag in that specific room. He just saw something that bothered him and was relieved when it was gone. And he used the tools given for expressing this. Would discussion have been better? Maybe, but he didn't really do much wrong. (Neither do we know what discussion would have ensued if he adressed that directly without flagging, but disregarding that). – TARS says Reinstate Monica Feb 1 '16 at 21:40
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    Challenging social mores can be counter-productive, @WadCheber - at least, in the short term. Consider the comments under this very question, wherein several users seem to interpret it as a challenge to find other potentially on-topic content that would nevertheless be seen as offensive. It's often easier to attack or mock the person raising the concern than it is to discuss the merits of the complaint itself. – Shog9 Feb 1 '16 at 22:46
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    Here's another handy example of politely asking folks to stop that completely backfired. Hmm... Actually, that would would've been completely avoided if someone hadn't lifted the automatic suspension. So maybe the real solution here is to keep the suspensions but make them harder to revoke, @Axelrod. Maybe you gotta be a RO or site mod to let someone back in after they've been blocked due to a message. – Shog9 Feb 1 '16 at 22:56
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    What are you talking about, @Axelrod? Bob was seen 4 minutes ago. Oh, you mean in chat. Well, yes then, y'all successfully managed to drive someone out of the chatroom. If that's a "win-win", then I happen to know of a quick way to rack up a lot more wins. You might want to examine the message I actually linked to though. – Shog9 Feb 1 '16 at 23:04
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    Aaand that is why politely asking folks to stop doesn't work. – Shog9 Feb 1 '16 at 23:11
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    @ana - I think one of the problems here is that the person who flagged doesn't seem to have understood what flagging means - i.e., that it gets other people suspended. This should be impossible. When you raise your first flag, you should be forced to read an explanation of what a flag means. It shouldn't be possible to flag something without knowing that flags mean suspensions. We've given people tools without explaining the consequences of using those tools. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Feb 1 '16 at 23:36
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    @Shog9 - false analogy. She complained about a user saying "c***" [sic], then used the word the other user was censoring, without censoring it herself. The people who self censored were far less wrong than she was. Also, she was flagging left and right as she complained, which isn't politely asking anyone to do anything. Also, that was old Mos. This is new Mos. That wouldn't happen now. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Feb 1 '16 at 23:39
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    I'm not overly interested in arguing who was more wrong in a situation where no one was right, @Wad. The point Ana's making here stands: flags should be an opportunity for reflection, not finger-pointing; the useful question is "how can we discuss this constructively", not "where is the line and how close can we get to it" – Shog9 Feb 1 '16 at 23:46
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    Whether or not a flag leads to suspension is not determined by the flagger, @Wad. Folks tend to forget this. Even moderators, who have the option to edit any message can forget this. Social interactions are rarely so black and white; there is always room for everyone involved to be at fault, to correct and do better. – Shog9 Feb 1 '16 at 23:55
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    I'm very much in favor of improving the documentation available for - and in - chat, but I'm very much against confusing identification with outcome, @Wad. It is critical that when folks see a problem they're empowered to report that problem; relatively few people have - individually - either the knowledge or the perspective to decide what to do about the problem; that should be decided by the group or their representatives, after giving due consideration to the problem itself. – Shog9 Feb 2 '16 at 0:00
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    @Shog9 - I wouldn't be saying this if the user hadn't implied that he wasn't aware that flags might lead to suspensions. That's the issue - not his actions, which were his prerogative, but the fact that the system didn't give him the information that might have helped him determine the best course of action and understand what was happening. It wasn't his fault - the system was flawed. Not flawed because it suspended me, but flawed because the person who flagged me didn't know what flags do. We can ignore entirely the specifics of who flagged what - the basics are important. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Feb 2 '16 at 0:04
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    You're still fixated on something that isn't really a problem here, @Wad. 30 minutes away from chat might be annoying, but as consequences go it's barely a slap and serves a very useful purpose. Still, it may be we'll find something else to serve the same purpose eventually - and that should neither motivate nor stop flagging. You've downvoted several hundred posts, and each one of those votes has the potential to block an author from further participation... But this is out of your control, the mechanism unknown to you, and surely this isn't something you should be expected to account for. – Shog9 Feb 2 '16 at 0:12
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    @Shog9 - expected to account for? Debatable. Expected to understand? Absolutely. Give people all the relevant information. I downvote with restraint, but I do it. I never flag as offensive without considering the potential repercussions. And more generally, I disagree with your assessment that it isn't a problem. 30 minutes becomes an hour becomes a week becomes a month becomes a year. It isn't as cut and dried, or as innocuous, as you suggest. You know as well as I do that I was a flag away from a lengthy suspension not too long ago. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Feb 2 '16 at 0:16
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    This is the current documentation for chat flags, @Wad. It could use some love. Feel free to post a separate proposal with specific improvements. FWIW, there's no set escalation for chat suspensions (unlike main-site suspensions) - the automated ones are cumulative, moderator-imposed are at the complete discretion of the moderator. The expectation in both cases remains that everyone will show effort to learn and improve over time, but what that means depends on the individual. – Shog9 Feb 2 '16 at 0:19
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Everyone knows the MPAA ratings are horribly inconsistent and flawed. To say that any image or sequence of images within a PG-13 rating would be appropriate to be displayed indefinitely in the main chat room is perhaps naive.

Did they rate the movie PG-13 specifically for that scene, or for the movie as a whole (it can go either way). If the movie was comprised of only that scene (like a 5 second clip where someone is graphically murdered) would it still be PG-13?

And since I know what the inciting incident was for this question, I would personally say I consider an animated gif to be more offensive than a still image. Animated gifs catch the eye, and they endless loop, showing the same thing over and over again.

In the case of chat flags, it takes 6 people (or 1 mod) saying "valid" for the flag to result in the comment being deleted and the person being suspended for 30 minutes. How many chat flags are required to remove a message/ban a user?

The threshold is six, meaning the net flag count of the message has to reach six. Net flag count means the number of flags minus the number of counter flags (i.e. "I disagree with this flag").

We also take into account the number of people who have decided not to vote either way (we call this a "meh" vote), under the assumption that if many people see the message, but don't think this is obvious enough to be a flag-worthy message, it can't be that bad.

The "meh" votes are taken into account with a ratio of 1:5 (and rounded downwards); in other words, for every five people doing nothing with the flag, we deduct one from the net count.

This means unless a mod intercedes, the population at large across the entire StackExchange network makes a decision on what is offensive and what isn't.

One person may decide to flag something, but unless the population agrees, that flag isn't going to amount to anything.

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Don't read my answer until you read Ana's. She answered perfectly and this is minor commentary.

After some investigation, I found the chat item. It's an animated GIF (also available in this answer) that is mildly disturbing the first time through and exponentially annoying the next N times you can stand to watch it. Flagging is definitely called for and not because of a little blood or off-screen violence. It's obvious the film maker staged the scene to make viewers anxious. There's no reason to subject other users of chat to unsettling images like this. (Doubly so since humans are attuned to movement. Animated GIFs draw far more attention to themselves than static images.)

Context matters, of course:

This chick blew up like she ate TNT.

Oh.

Well the real context was discussion of an the question I linked to above. Talking about a post on the site is obviously exactly the sort of thing we want chat to be all about. I don't know if the animated GIF helps the answer itself, but in chat it's gratuitous. Maybe you enjoy seeing the scene fragment looped forever, but nobody should be surprised if other people are uncomfortable with it dominating the chatroom for however long it takes to be deleted or scroll out of view.

Is this "personal taste"? Sure. But it's a personal taste shared by several other users besides whoever flagged it. And this is exactly the sort of information that the flag system is designed to gather. There's no point in trying to frame it as some sort of objective ratings standard; flagging works on the principles of the Stewart test. So we should certainly encourage people to flag when they find something offensive.

The associated suspension seems to be the part that annoys folks the most about chat flags. I'm not going to argue that chat suspensions are perfect. They are intended to serve a similar function our main site suspensions:

[Disruptive] behaviors have to be dealt with. When they aren't, it takes up excessive moderator time that could be used for something more productive—and, even worse, these behaviors begin to actively turn people away from our community, stunting its growth and harming everyone.

Automatic chat suspensions cost one user 30 minutes of time they could potentially be using to participate on chat. Sadly Mos Eisley (as well as a select few other rooms) tends to take many times as many person-hours discussing the suspension, the flags that initiated it, and the system itself. Instead of spending their time doing something productive (such as answering questions on the site or income taxes or something) people just love to stir up drama instead.

So we should get rid of automatic suspensions, right? Not so fast, partner. There needs to be some way to signal to the person who wrote the chat item that the community (or at least a subset of it) did not appreciate it. In our experience, nothing communicates quite like a suspension. The real problem I see is that automatic suspensions delay the communication. You can flirt with the the line of acceptable behavior for hours and annoy people who don't flag for fear of being a bigger jerk who gets you suspended. Eventually, you cross the line, get flagged and suspended, and it feels incredibly unjust.

I don't have any solutions. But I would like to suggest that people stop focusing on problem flagging and start focusing on problem chatting. The current state of affairs is like people in a burning building complaining about the smoke detectors instead of calling the fire department.

  • If you believe a clip from a Sci Fi movie, in a Sci Fi chat room, on a Sci Fi forum will keep people out of SFF, then I would think that simply browsing the site would similarly push people away. So far, it hasn't. – user311362 Feb 3 '16 at 19:17
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    @Axelrod: I don't have any idea if it will keep people out of SFF. I do know that posting that clip has wasted many hours of time that could have been put to better use. As long as people insist on misunderstanding the root of the problem, I anticipate it will waste some more in the future. But I'm not going to let it waste any more of mine. – Jon Ericson Feb 3 '16 at 19:21
  • I can respect that, and my own thoughts on how to not waste hours of valuable time are above. Thanks for humoring me. – user311362 Feb 3 '16 at 19:24
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    "I do know that posting that clip has wasted many hours of time that could have been put to better use." Agreed. If I could do things again, I would behave differently. "People insist on misunderstanding the root of the problem" - Disagree, and I think it could have been said more tactfully. Rather than insisting on misunderstanding the root of the problem, I think it is a problem of everyone talking past each other on the issue. Other than that, well said. I will do my best to avoid similar issues in the future. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Feb 3 '16 at 19:35
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    @Axelrod How are you seriously still arguing about that awful GIF? There's nothing to win here by arguing that the "evil" flagger was oversensitive to a GIF that was borderline questionable at best (and simply crossed that border for some people). The sole argument of it being from a SciFi film and thus perfectly acceptable everywhere doesn't hold water at all. – TARS says Reinstate Monica Feb 3 '16 at 20:23
  • @TARS The beaten dog defense only works until the offending activity becomes unbearable. For you, it just hasn't reached that point yet. Good for you. – user311362 Feb 3 '16 at 21:11

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