What is community moderation, and why should I care?
Community moderation is the "cleaning up" of the site by users like you! It involves flagging, closing, commenting, editing, and sometimes deleting posts. It also involves "implicit" moderation — not doing anything considered inappropriate for this site (e.g. getting involved in long comment discussions which would be better off on chat).
Why should you care? Well, in the end, this is your site. You are the community, and by and large you get to decide the path it will take. Helping out by participating in community moderation keeps this site on topic and clean, all in all a fun place to learn from. Neglect community moderation, and it slowly goes on to becoming more and more like most places on the Internet — an untamed wilderness that's no fun to be at.
Yes, as moderators, it is our job to keep the site clean. But we cannot do it without participation from the community. We have too many posts coming in to be able to read through all of them, and we can't be in all places at once to keep an eye on things. This is where you come in — you keep a lookout for stuff that needs cleaning, etc., and do your best to address it. This may involve commenting, flagging, and/or closing.
OK, so how do I start?
The basics of the community moderation tools
More information on when it is appropriate to use comments can be found in our "Comment Everywhere" privilege page.
Comments are pretty simple to use, not much to see here. Later on in this post, I've explained what not to use comments for, and also cases in which commenting on a post is good. I'd just like to leave this note here:
When commenting on posts, be nice. If it's a new user that you are commenting to, be welcoming and helpful. Many times, without knowing it, our comments scare off new users, simply because the comments are basically saying "You broke a rule!" — which may sound authoritarian. If you instead try helping them by explaining what went wrong and how to fix it (if it can't be fixed, explain how to avoid it) in a helpful manner, you will not only help keep the site clean, you will also help new users get on their feet. A win-win situation for everyone!
There's some extra information on this here.
First, let me explain what flagging is. Any user with at least 15 rep, can flag a post. How do you flag? Simple: you click the "flag" link at the bottom of the page. You ought to get a menu like this:
The exact options shown may vary; the above menu is what you get when you try to flag an answer with no votes.
Anyway, there are quite a few options, and I'll explain when to use them in the sections following this.
A flag basically brings a post to the notice of other users. Custom flags ("it needs ♦ moderator attention") and comment flags are visible only to moderators, and are treated with the strictest confidence. Other flags add an entry for the post in a review queue, where they are processed by users who've crossed certain reputation thresholds.
How do you know if a flag has been acted on? Simple. The flag counts on your profile will update. If you have flagged some posts, you should see something like this on your profile's activity tab:
If a flag has been "disputed", declined, or not handled yet, it is not counted here. A flag is marked helpful when either:
- (For non-custom flags) The post is closed/deleted, depending upon the type of flag
- A moderator marks it as helpful
A flag is declined whenever a moderator feels that it is invalid. Do not be discouraged if your flags are declined; instead use the opportunity to learn when to flag and when not to flag. You can see some stats on your flags and with a list of your flags if you click on the number shown on your profile. You ought to see something like:
Declined flags have a reddish "declined" message next to them, as seen above. Be sure to check on these, and learn from them.
Declined flags aren't necessarily a bad thing — if you get too many (as compared to your helpful flags), the number of posts you can flag per day decreases, and your flags have a lower priority. If you get an insane amount of declined flags, the system starts ignoring that, but this is only in extreme cases.
Do not be afraid of your flag getting declined. Flag often, and learn when not to flag from your declined flags.
Also, see if you can improve the post yourself, or leave a comment. Don't leave all the work to the moderators ;-)
There are shiny badges for flagging.
You may also want to see this page.
As linked in the question, there is a good tutorial on question closing here. So I'll just write a bit about closing in general here.
Unlike on most forums, on Stack Exchange closing is meant to be a temporary state. It is a "time out box" for questions which cannot/should not be answered in their current form. Questions that are not salvageable get closed as well, though there is the option of deleting them after a while if they add nothing to the site. Closing a question prevents community members from wasting time in answering something that's not really useful to others — one of Stack Exchange's goals is to Make The Internet Better™ with relevant, informative posts that will be useful to many others.
Be sure to leave a comment when you vote to close a question. If the question is salvageable, explain how the user can improve it. If the question isn't, then help the user learn to ask better questions. (How to Ask and the FAQ are useful to link to in such cases).
If you're not sure about closing a post, flag it. For that matter, it's perfectly OK to flag and vote to close a question, at least for now. That way, moderators can help finish it off, though we can find these questions via the close vote review queue as well. Currently, we have a dearth of community moderation and flags, so we can handle extra close-flags. If we are successful in encouraging community moderation, then it's better if you don't flag-to-close along with a vote-to-close.
Also: if you can improve the post yourself, don't hesitate to do so!
After improving, if you feel that it is now up to the mark for the site, you may vote to reopen (or ask for reopening in a custom flag). As mentioned before, closing is a temporary state in most cases.
What's considered as "bad" here, and how should I deal with it?
There are a lot of things that need to be dealt with. First, lets look at the close reasons. If you find posts that satisfy these criteria, vote to close/flag them as such.
Again, be sure to leave a comment when you vote/flag to post a q. You may want to add a "Welcome to Physics Stack Exchange!" for new users as well. If you cast the last close vote on a salvageable post, then leave a comment "If you do so-and-so, then you may flag this post for mod attention to ask for it to be reopened" or something like that. In many forums, what is known as "closing "is The End for a post, and many users feel it is the same here (and end up complaining instead of simply fixing the post)
This question covers exactly the same content as earlier questions on this topic; its answers may be merged with another identical question
This one is pretty self explanatory. If two questions are essentially asking the same thing, and the answers apply in both cases, one can be closed as a duplicate of the other. You need not close according to which was posted second. If one of them has better answers, and/or is better phrased, close the other one as a dupe of it. If they both have good answers and are pretty much exactly the same question, flag the post with a custom message asking for a merge.
Questions on Physics - Stack Exchange are expected to relate to physics within the scope defined in the FAQ. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about closed questions here.
If the question seems to go against:
- the FAQ (specifically the first and third) sections
- policy discussions on meta
- or your general idea of being on-topic
, then flag/vote to close as off topic. Comment on the reason it is off topic, and maybe tell them to read the FAQ and/or how-to-ask. Note that a quick way to add a link to the FAQ in comment is by typing
[faq] in the comment box.
As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ for guidance.
This is generally for questions that will end up having many equally valid answers, or those provoking too much discussion. A question should, in the end, have a few answers that are pretty much saying the same thing. Two or three opposing/radically different answers are OK as well, but not more. Examples of NC posts:
- "Make a list"-type questions - these end up with a lot of equally valid answers and become a poll. Note that we do allow book recommendation questions at the moment, as long as they specify the subtopic and level of understanding required.
- "What do you think about...?" - these promote too much discussion
- "What is the best...?" - not all of these are NC, but some can be. See this blog post
Sometimes, if an NC question (of the "make a list" type) is made rather specific about the criteria, it becomes on topic. If you feel that it is this way, then leave a comment asking for the user to make the criteria more specific. You may still vote-to-close, though — remember, closing is a temporary state for such posts.
Again, it's a good idea to leave a comment explaining why the post was closed, with some links. You may want to redirect the user to chat (
[chat] in comments is another magic link), which is the best place for such discussion.
Not A Real Question
It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, see the FAQ.
This one is mainly about questions that, as mentioned, cannot be reasonably answered in their current form. If (channeling the FAQ, second section), an entire book can be imagined that answers the question, then it ought to be closed as NARQ. Another case is when the OP has stuffed >3 questions in the post.
NARQ also works for questions which are too vague/unclear/incomplete, as mentioned in the close message.
NARQ can almost always be reopened after some edits. See if you can make the edits yourself (generally it's nearly impossible — it involves some mind-reading). Vote/flag to close, and comment, telling the user that "The question is (too broad/vague/incomplete) at the moment, please (narrow it down/clarify it/complete it)." Or something like that. In the case of 20-million-questions-in-one, tell the OP to prune the list of questions down to a couple of main questions, and/or group the questions into related subgroups and ask as separate posts.
This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet. For help making this question more broadly applicable, see the FAQ.
This is the most confusing of them all (in my experience, people understand this one the least), but it's actually rather easy to determine if a post is Too Localized once you get the basic spirit behind it.
The aim of StackExchange is to Make The Internet Better™. This involves having great, informative posts, which will be found useful by many others in the future. If the possible answers to a question will be useful pretty much only to the OP, be useful to others for a short period of time, then the post is Too Localized. This includes many homework questions — if they don't follow the homework policy, then they ought to be closed. I generally comment:
Welcome to Physics! Please see our homework policy. We expect homework problems to have some effort put into them, and deal with conceptual issues. If you edit your question to explain (1) What you have tried, (2) the concept you have trouble with, and (3) your level of understanding, I'll be happy to reopen this. (Flag this message for ♦ attention with a custom message, or reply to me in the comments with
@Manishearth to notify me)
on homework questions. Feel free to use that comment, minus the moderator parts, of course :)
Many times, such questions have good conceptual cores. In such cases, they are still not as useful to others, simply because they are hard to find (via Google/etc) — the question title/etc give no hint of the core concept. In such a case, see if you can bring out the conceptual part of the question by editing it. Or comment on it asking the OP to do so.
Other problem posts
Now on to the other types of "problem" posts
Things that don't answer the question
This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether.
If someone posts an answer that seems to be meant as a comment or edit, flag it as "not an answer" (leave a comment explaining how to comment/edit as well. Note that users with <50 rep cannot comment).
Also, if the post is answering an entirely different question (happens at times), this can also be flagged as NAA. Note that NAA is not for wrong answers. If you feel an answer is wrong, down vote and comment. Don't flag unless it has other issues.
Very Low Quality posts
This question/answer has severe formatting or content problems. This question is unlikely to be salvageable through editing, and might need to be removed.
If the post is extremely short/is just gibberish/or is otherwise of very bad quality, then flag it as VLQ. Note that we generally don't delete short answers, though it's something that's better dealt with on a case-by-case basis, so flag away!
Link-only answers should be commented on and down voted. Nothing wring with flagging them, but we generally don't act on those.
This post pretty much covers how you deal with plagiarism. A custom mod flag doesn't hurt here if you want us to look into it.
If a post is a blatant promotion of a site (and isn't really useful), flag it as spam. If the post is a valid answer but links to a blog post which seems to belong to the posting user, then comment, asking the user to reveal their affiliation, if any. You may want to link to this section of the FAQ. If too many of their posts are used to promote their blog, custom flag their posts.
This answer contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech.
Flag the post as "not welcome in our community" if you feel that it satisfies the criteria above
Now, about comments.
First of all, comments are third-class citizens on this site. Their purpose is to aid the user in improving a post. If improvements from a comment have been made, or if the comment will not lead to more improvements, then they may be deleted. Long discussions ought to be sent to chat. The comment flag button is visible on the left of the comment when you hover over it.
If a comment is "chatty", i.e., provoking irrelevant discussion and/or a "thank you" comment, flag it as such. Stuff that praises the post/etc can be removed after the OP has had a chance to see it. Most of the comments here can be considered "chatty"
If the result of a comment/comment thread has been edited into the post, you may flag the comment(s) as obsolete. You may alternatively custom flag a comment (or the post itself) requesting cleanup of obsolete comments when there are many of them.
Not Constructive/Off topic
If you feel that the comment is off topic here (i.e., it's not related to the post/comments), then flag it as such. This option is also for comments which you feel would be better off deleted — they may provoke unnecessary drama/discussion.
Of course, if there's something else wrong with a comment, you may always use this option.
Finding posts that need attention and Review queues
While you can find many such posts just by exploring the site (or by using the tools here), and you should do this, there is a "fast track" of finding such posts, the review queues.
What are these? Well, they are filled with posts that possibly need community attention, as determined by the system or other community users. You are shown these posts, one at a time, and you "review" them. Like flagging, there are badges for this.
So, what consists a "review"? It depends on the queue. The queues have one consistent option, though — the "skip" option. This permanently skips the post (you won't see it in the same review queue again), and is useful if you're not sure what to do.
Each user has their own copy of the queue — if you review a post in a queue, it is not necessarily removed from that queue for other users. It gets removed for all users after a few more reviews by other users (the exact amount depends upon the queue and review action done). For example, all my review queues are empty, because I have reviewed/skipped everything that was in them. This doesn't mean that the posts are removed from your queues as well.
The Late Answers and First posts queue
These are available to you once you get 125 rep on the site. The Late answers queue contains answers which were posted much later than the question (and thus don't get as much attention, the purpose of this queue is to give them attention). The First posts contains the first few posts asked by new users (who will probably need help learning to use the site).
Here, all you have to do is edit the post, flag it, up vote it, add a comment, or up vote a previously existing comment, and the "I'm done" option is unlocked. If you feel that the post is fine as it is, but you don't want to vote on it (you're not that impressed with it, etc), then you can always choose the "no action needed" button.
Be sure to do as much as possible to improve the post — fix grammar/links/images/LaTeX, comment asking for more details, etc.
After a few users have reviewed a post (IIRC, it is 3). it is removed from the queue for all.
Low Quality queue
Here, low quality posts are listed. If you feel that a post is OK for the site and cannot be improved further, click "Looks good". Else, edit/comment, and then click "looks good".
If you feel that it ought to be deleted, click the "delete" button. This pops up a menu that lets you choose a boilerplate comment to place. Use this option even if the post isn't really deletable, but is worthy of one of the boilerplate comments listed there.
For users with <10k rep, this doesn't really delete the post. It just prioritizes it in the queue for those who can (so don't be afraid of using it!). Those with 10k+ rep, when clicking this button, automatically cast a delete vote on the post.
Close/Reopen vote queues
You get access to these at 3k rep, along with the privilege to vote to close/reopen posts.
Questions that may need closing/reopening appear in these queues. Questions with open close votes/close flags show up in the close queue, and questions with open reopen votes, as well as questions which have been edited after closing appear in the reopen queue.
In this queue, you have four options. You can try to fix a close-able post via the "edit" button. You also can vote to close it. (In the case of the reopen queue, obviously the corresponding option is voting to reopen) You can, as usual, skip it. And finally, you can select "leave open". What does this last option do? If two people vote to "leave open"/"leave closed", the post is removed from the close/reopen queue(respectively) for everyone. This does not clear close/reopen votes on the post.
Along with the 10k moderator tools (see above), this is one of the best ways to find posts that need closing.
Suggested edit queue
At 2k reputation, you can approve suggested edits on posts, and at 5k reputation, you can approve edits on tag wikis. Users without enough rep to edit have their edits placed in this queue. If two users approve an edit (if one rejects and one approves then it waits for more users to review it), then it is published. If you feel that the edit is:
- too minor: not much added, the post was fine without the edit
- vandalism: it made the post worse
- radical change: it modified the post so that it may no longer be what the author meant it to be
- invalid: it was probably supposed to be a comment or an answer
- copied: the edit is just a copy-paste from an external source without block-quoting and attribution
then, reject it as such.
You can also "improve" a suggested edit. This is when you notice that the post has other things which can be improved as well, and you get to edit the post. Here, you may also choose whether or not to mark the suggested edit as "helpful" (if not marked as such, the edit is rejected, though your "improve" edit still goes through). Too many rejected suggested edits block a user from suggesting more for a while; keep this in mind while rejecting edits.
There is one more queue, but it's not always visible and it isn't a community moderation thing.
Lastly, an aspect of community moderation(sort of) is deciding site policies. This is done on this site, Physics Meta. Here, we have discussions about the site policies/etc (as well as help users who need it), and you are welcome to join in! Participating in meta familiarizes you with site policies, and you get to play an active part in formulating them You may want to read the Meta FAQ first, though, especially the section on voting.