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If I see a post which is vandalism (like this one, only visible to 10k users -- consisting of random characters), what am I supposed to flag it as? (Concretely, I remember both "spam" and "rude or abusive" flags being rejected. Do I need to raise an "other" flag and spend time writing a reason?)

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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps you could edit your question to contain the content of the post, so other people can see it? I think it would be a useful example. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 16 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ Can I just make up an analogous post? ;) $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 16 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ The link now says "This answer was marked as spam or rude or abusive and is therefore not shown - you can see the revision history for details." Not sure what to make of this. (And given it is not shown: Is it appropriate to quote it?) $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 16 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ Making up an analogous post would be fine too, of course. But I wonder if some people might not believe that sort of thing actually gets posted. And the fact that an answer is not shown doesn't mean you can't quote it, at least not as a blanket rule. If the content is offensive (hate speech) then yeah, you might want to refrain from quoting it or at least put it in spoiler markup; if it's spam you'd probably want to at least change the URL and anonymize it so it doesn't identify the thing being promoted; other than things like that, quoting or paraphrasing should be fine. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 16 at 22:05
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Since I declined the flag, I'll answer why -- "spam" takes the definition that the post is intended to drive traffic somewhere else and does not disclose the authors affiliation with the post. "Rude and abusive" is for something that is offensive. Both of these are flags that will lead to IP addresses being rate limited or blocked outright, and so they should be used appropriately. They can also lead to reputation loss.

On the other hand, for a post like that one you linked to, something along the lines of "Not an answer" or "Very low quality" is a suitable flag and one that I would have marked as "helpful." For something that is initially posted as vandalism, raising the NAA flag or the VLQ flag is good. If a user edits an answer and turns it into junk like that one, then a custom flag to alert us to post vandalism is a safe option because we'll go look at the post and figure out whether it needs to be rolled back, locked, etc..

Ultimately, although I declined your flag, I still deleted the answer. Which means even if you use the wrong flag, it brought it to our attention and the action needed was taken. So using the wrong flag isn't a big deal really and won't penalize you in any way, unless you end up having mountains of declined flags.

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    $\begingroup$ If a new account just posts glibberish, it should be blocked! Or do you feel this was an attempt at a valid answer, and the user should be encouraged to just put a bit more effort into their answer? -- Also, I felt (and feel) that "not an answer" is reserved for something meaningful which is however not answering the question -- like things which should be (valid) comments, or which maybe completely misunderstood the questions. I certainly don't feel that "not an answer" would refer to these kind of things. $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 15 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ (I realize that it doesn't matter too much if a flag is accepted or rejected -- I just find it puzzling.) $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 15 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ @NorbertSchuch Well, if it's a single junk post like that, it could be coming from a NAT/university or something and so rate limiting the IP could have impacts on many other legitimate users. If a new user posts a few things like that and they get downvoted and deleted, they'll end up hitting the question or answer ban eventually. There's a lot of options for dealing with problematic users and posts -- spam and/or R&A deals with a specific set of problems. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 15 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ If SE blocks university IP ranges if a single user keeps posting offensive content, I would find this equally concerning. $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 15 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ @NorbertSchuch SE is aware of those kinds of concerns but it seems that IP is still the best tool, even if it's a rather blunt one. Which is why we just pay attention to the type of flag and decline some, even when we act on the post. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 15 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ Note that this answer by David Z lists under "Rude or abusive" "content which could reasonably be considered abuse of the system like nonsensical gibberish (though you can also use "very low quality" or "not an answer" for this sort of thing)". --- By the way, what happened to the VLQ reason? I would have certainly picked that one had it still existed, I definitely feel it does not match NAA! $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 15 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ VLQ is still there for answer flags on the main site -- but it isn't on our meta site. That would also be an appropriate use for gibberish posts. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 15 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Hm, this is odd: I just checked and it shows up on some answers and not others. Does it depend on the reputation of the user? (My feeling is it wasn't there on the answer I flagged, but I might be misremembering.) $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 15 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ @NorbertSchuch meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/286971/… If it's already being reviewed for closure due to another flag (like NAA), then it won't appear. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 15 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ Yet another new thing I learned about how the system works... it's a complicated set of tools they've built here. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 15 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ Hm - this could have been the case earlier. I'm rather sure I would have flagged it as VLQ if available. So I don't see why hiding this close reason would be a good thing? --- BUT: I also don't get a VLQ flag on anna's answer here (just the first random post I tested). Does it mean this post has been flagged, or is there a reputation component involved? $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 15 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ It looks like it also isn't enabled if the post is upvoted -- yet another good reason to not give out sympathy upvotes (not that you do, but for other readers who might come along later) $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 15 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ To summarize all this -- keep flagging things you think we should look at. If it's the wrong flag type, no big deal. It's more important to get things into the queues and onto our radar than to worry about the specific flag per se. So long as you don't get a whole lot of flags declined and start getting system warnings, there's nothing to worry about and we appreciate the help on keeping the site clean! $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 15 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ There's not much reason to flag once you have enough privileges In guessing you mean as a moderator? I still flag plenty of comments and posts $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Feb 16 at 6:08
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    $\begingroup$ @AaronStevens I suppose there are a lot of things that high-rep users can edit or vote to close or delete, which lower-rep users would have to cast flags for. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 16 at 8:26
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According to our general guidance on flags, "very low quality" is the most appropriate flag type to choose for this kind of post. It would also be valid to flag it as "not an answer" (for obvious reasons), or "rude or abusive" (under the theory that this is abuse of the system, though that's really a theory that came from the higher-ups at SE; I think the moderator team here tends to think of the "rude or abusive" flag as being meant for abuse of people).

If, for some reason, you were unable to cast any of those flags, then you could cast a flag for moderator attention (a.k.a. "other"), but in that case you would need to explain in the flag message that you couldn't use any of the appropriate standard flag reasons.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. Indeed, as I think we clarified now, the problem was that VLQ did not show up as there was already a pending flag. (As I explained above, I feel that NAA is not meant for these type of posts - otherwise, NAA would be sufficient as the only flag for answers: Either it is an answer and can stay, or it is not and should be deleted.) $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 16 at 10:30
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    $\begingroup$ NAA is not meant for this type of post, true, but it is a valid reason to flag it. There are many situations where more than one flag reason can apply to the same post. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 16 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly, I felt "rude or abusive" was a valid flag reason ;) $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Feb 17 at 7:54

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