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https://unix.stackexchange.com/a/606142/22653 contained some unnecessarily unkind responses which I flagged as unkind. One was a blatantly rude response to a legitimate query that an acronym be expanded as it was not easily determined through web search. The other was a backlash to the original rude comment.

Later, I notice that my flags are rejected. This is astonishing, because by any reasonable interpretation of "unfriendly or unkind", they were... completely off-topic and disrespectful with no relevance to the question or answer.

Now I see the two comments were removed, because, I presume, someone was actually able to properly categorize them as inappropriate.

Still, it seems kind of weird that people would reject this flag, the flagger gets pinged, and then later activity justifies the original flag to the point the comment is removed, but the rejectee remains pinged, and, I'm guessing, the rejecter probably walks away with nothing to help them refine their own efforts.

I realize that in any online forum, there will always be trolls and anti-trolls, and that at some point one has to remain somewhat calloused to avoid over-reacting and contributing to the problem, but the "unfriendly or unkind" flag is, well, not at all worded to discourage soft-selling combative or rude comments.

Perhaps someone should be able to respond to rejects of this nature. I know, who wants the extra work? But on the other hand, I really don't care to flag if this is how its going to go down when people don't want to have to call something for what it is, or when the wording of the flag reason is unclear, or over-broad, and promotes this sort of thing.

To make the point that I'm not objecting to rejects as a whole, I also felt the answer violated a policy of requiring an answer author to disclose affiliations with their response and did flag as such. This flag was rejected also. On that reject, I took a hint that not everyone felt it was a self-promotion (though one could see in the comments that I documented how it appeared to be). I then followed advice to use other means to address the situation by editing to add a disclosure, and, to echo the reserve of others, used a down vote (for various reasons addressed in other's comments; not just the disclosure issue). I took this as a "learning experience". On the other two though, the thing I learned was that rejects seem too sticky when they were later proven to be wrong.

I'll also remark that a couple other rejects on the question aren't being contested because they are more likely to be related to action/reaction to other comment activity more close to being personal.

Feel free to elaborate with detail on what constitutes "unfriendly or unkind" even though the COC: unfriendly-language is hardly unclear. Perhaps additional thoughts could be a constructive response to a situation of this nature. I've searched Meta a bit, but don't really find anything that does more than echo my own confusion about how these terms are hard to understand.

Please also feel free to address the problem of dealing with moderators that do not enforce clear policy that has little room for misunderstanding.

I have reviewed the Why does flag marking as helpful/declined not always correlate with moderator action? FAQ, but it does not address the accumulation of rejects even though the action that should have occurred finally did occur.

Re: Jeff Schaller's answer:

The primary takeaway is apparently:

The flag option one must select to effectively enforce the CoC without declines does not link to the CoC!

As a new flagger with 1 "helpful", 4 "declined", and 1 "pending". 3 "declined" flags are for actual inappropriate comments. 1 pending likely will devolve to a "decline" (maybe its border line?) but due to proximity to actual confessed snark, probably was also actually unkind. I never intended to challenge the "spam" decline. Basically, 66% of the flags are "declined" but are legitimate attempts to enforce CoC. [ I have since retracted the "maybe borderline" tag. Its just not worth the hassle. ]

It is really hard to swallow the explanation that "unfriendly or unkind" really means "rude or abusive". Those comments WERE "unfriendly or unkind" by a traditional meaning of the words, and the "unfriendly or unkind" link to the CoC certainly doesn't mince words about whether "subtle putdowns" are allowed or not. All I really get from this is that someone didn't want to remove/edit flagged content, and that I suffer the consequence despite the fact that I actually was attempting to support the CoC [as linked]. The flags should been rewarded; instead, demerits were assigned!

This discourages flagging. That snarky comments are not "unfriendly or unkind" but are rather are "no longer needed" is somewhat mind blowing. Is it not inevitable that other people will continue to call snark unkind/unfriendly based on the CoC wording, and principles of least astonishment, etc?

It appears the effect is that someone who flags "unfriendly or unkind" is actually being punished as if they themselvers were "unfriendly or unkind" as an accumulation of these declines can actually result in a ban!

Regardless of technical nuances behind ranking "unkind or unfriendly" as harsher rudeness or blatant abuse, snark IS worse than "no longer useful", and should get deleted or edited away. (Comments can't be edited, so there is no alternative to deletion, and besides, mods routinely defend comment deletion by saying that they are always considered transient, or some such.)

It should not be the case that someone who names snark/unkindness/unfriendliness for what it is, accumulates declines that contribute toward eventual banning. (Perhaps seriousness of this is mitigated in that declines may be transient. i.e. time elapse may diminish the potential to result in a ban). The referenced article even contains a "When are these flags removed? paragraph that points to the related concern behind this question:

(declining the flag would penalize the flagger).

The answer may help me avoid declines via semantics, but others will have declines happen without seeing this explanation and also find themselves discouraged from flagging. The system is surely broken?

I appreciate the effort taken to answer, and I appreciate that it can be helpful. I get that at some level the tools are challenging.

In summary, the answer really doesn't address accumulating declines, but rather tries to offer a workaround that dodges the problem by altering user behavior, and does not help advocate for improvement of the system. (It is granted that the author has no power to change the system and that this in itself is undoubtedly frustrating).

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    The Stack Exchange system is pretty complicated, and I can hardly keep up with how it all works. I think the flag bans are there to curb abuse of the flagging system, not well-intentioned usage. My latest understanding is that "A declined comment flag will not count toward a flag ban, but it does count toward one's net helpful flags and can reduce the flagger's daily flag allowance.". I think there's a rolling calculation of declined flags to warn you, which is probably what you're seeing. – Jeff Schaller Sep 3 at 11:45
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    Thank-you, I believe that link has the content that actually answers the concern I felt wasn't addressed, however, it still seems likely that complexity and behavior of the system still tends to discourage new, responsible flaggers, but probably neither you nor I can do a whit about that. If you were to add that to your answer, I'd feel better about marking your response as the accepted answer, though, LOL, its not like there are any others to mark. I still object to decline statistics being inflated by bad declines, but, well, I guess at some point newbs must just be willing to move on. – kbulgrien Sep 3 at 17:56
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    Sounds like good progress! I'll update the answer a bit later. I would suggest a bit of patience, as other users may not visit Meta every day. No rush to accept a discussion question :) – Jeff Schaller Sep 3 at 19:09
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You've raised several discussion points in your question, so I'll try to tackle the ones I noticed.

I notice that my flags are rejected. This is astonishing, because by any reasonable interpretation of "unfriendly or unkind", they were... completely off-topic and disrespectful with no relevance to the question or answer. Now I see the two comments were removed, because, I presume, someone was actually able to properly categorize them as inappropriate.

I've looked at the comments you flagged as "unfriendly or unkind" (the flagging pop-up window adds "This comment is rude or condescending."). When a comment gets flagged, a moderator has a limited set of responses, boiling down to:

  • "delete" the comment (and mark flag as helpful)
  • "edit" the comment (which I think also marks the flag as helpful)
  • "decline" the flag

When you flag something for moderator attention, you get the attention of (usually) one moderator -- at least, only one will handle any particular flag. As a result, there's only two humans involved in the judgement: you (deciding to cast the flag) and the handling moderator. This is distinguished from the typical community moderation such as close votes, reopen votes, and up/down votes, where multiple individuals are involved. If a moderator disagrees with your judgement call and wishes to provide that feedback to you, the only choice is to decline the flag. If they, or other flagging users, or other moderators see the comment(s) as unnecessary, then the comments may eventually disappear. An "unnecessary" comment can span the range from "+1 awesome answer!" to shades of unkind, to harassment, bigotry, or abuse. Comments that are simply "off-topic" or that add nothing to the post can be flagged as "no longer needed" versus "rude/abusive".

You found comments that you felt were unkind; the moderator that handled them didn't agree, but the comments were in the end found to be unnecessary for the post. As a moderator, I appreciate that you're looking out for the site! Keeping the conversations civil is important; if you can't say it nicely, don't say it. The moderators can and will suspend those who violate the CoC.

I also felt the answer violated a policy of requiring an answer author to disclose affiliations with their response and did flag as such. This flag was rejected also.

I declined your spam flag on the Answer. The spam flag is slightly magical in that it has a feedback loop to the StackExchange system that may end up blocking the author from future posts. The wording on the flag dialog is slightly tricky here: "Exists only to promote a product or service, does not disclose the author's affiliation." -- you've picked up on the "affiliation" aspect of the Answer (thanks to your strong sleuthing skills!) but I did not find the answer to be spam in the sense of "exists only to promote a product or service". You don't often see them for very long around here, but think of spam emails you may have seen that promote pills or other "quick fixes", all for some fee. Spam flags exist to get rid of those posts quickly and block future spam efforts by that user. You did the right thing afterwards by incorporating the missing information in an edit to the Answer; thank you for digging that up and including it in an attempt to improve the answer! It is unfortunate that the author of the Answer didn't do that originally, which made the initial answer nearly useless.

a couple other rejects on the question aren't being contested

I couldn't figure out what this meant. There are no downvotes on the Question at this time; there are no flags (handled or pending) on the Question, nor are there any deleted comments on the Question at this time.

Feel free to elaborate with detail on what constitutes "unfriendly or unkind" even though the COC: unfriendly-language is hardly unclear

Unfortunately, clarity is in the eye of the beholder. Stack Exchange has taken steps recently to clarify and encourage good behavior. I would encourage you to stay on the lookout for rude behavior and flag it when you see it. I did find some additional guidance on Meta Stack Exchange that I'd like to echo:

What are the “spam” and “rude or abusive” (offensive) flags, and how do they work?

A post should be marked as rude or abusive (formerly known as offensive) if it contains hate speech, obscenities, abuse against people, or abuse of the community or system

Addressing your last point:

feel free to address the problem of dealing with moderators that do not enforce clear policy that has little room for misunderstanding

There are ranges of behavior on this site (as everywhere) and different people may disagree on where a comment stops "being nice" and starts being "rude or abusive". I sincerely hope that none of us ever sees a comment that is blatantly rude or abusive, but I'm an eternal optimist. If you see such a comment, please flag it. If you see a comment that simply isn't contributing anything to the attached post, consider flagging it as "no longer needed" -- again, keeping in mind that you're sending this flag to another human who will use their judgement to keep the comment or not.

I hope this answer helps as part of a discussion; I don't think I can possibly spell out a clear line for every variation of a "rude or abusive" comment except to say that one moderator thinks that the bar is higher than you did in this case.


Incorporating a comment that I originally added to the Question, in response to the OP's frustration with the flagging system:

The Stack Exchange system is pretty complicated, and I can hardly keep up with how it all works. I think the flag bans are there to curb abuse of the flagging system, not well-intentioned usage. My latest understanding is that "A declined comment flag will not count toward a flag ban, but it does count toward one's net helpful flags and can reduce the flagger's daily flag allowance.". I think there's a rolling calculation of declined flags to warn you, which is probably what you're seeing.

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  • Re: "I couldn't figure out what this meant", if you look at the other "unfriendly or unkind" flags on other answers, you will see that one on my answer was declined. I didn't want to push on that one because the author of the flagged was one that was the target of a prior meta post that you and I interacted on, and I figured I was extra sensitive. It turns out, though, that if you go back to my answer, the author of the flagged comment later added "(1) Yes, my wording was snarky and belligerent.  I apologize." which basically proves my flag was valid, but was/is declined... – kbulgrien Sep 3 at 5:27
  • Thanks for the effort taken to write an answer. I have incorporated additional notes in the question as a result. – kbulgrien Sep 3 at 7:32

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