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Suppose I see a post in the chat room that I think is potentially inflammatory, what is the best way to bring it to a moderator's attention?

Flagging seems a near nuclear option, and I've been specifically told not to do this by a chat moderator (not one of our home grown ones). I can use an @moderator in a message, but I may want to keep quiet the fact I'm flagging other users' posts - partly from cowardice of course but partly to avoid inflaming things further.

So is there a way/what is the best way discreetly to tell the moderators there is a post in the chat room that they may want to look at?

A quick footnote:

We've probably all been in situations where we can tell a conversation is about to turn nasty, but nothing offensive has been said yet. Nipping such exchanges in the bud is usually the best way to keep things from getting heated. However the last time I attempted this I was told:

Flagging isn't for when someone says something that might turn the conversation unpleasant. It's for after the conversation has already turned unpleasant in spite of attempts to remediate.

I think the point is that flagging notifies all chat room mods across the entire SE, and since they're strangers to the Physics chat they can't know why an apparently innocuous comment could start a fire. That makes flagging pretty useless in this context, but that's is the way the SE chat is designed and there's nothing we can do about it.

My question was how to notify just the Physics mods, who will know enough of the background to judge if a comment should be removed.

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OK, there are a couple different things going on here.

Potentially inflammatory posts

It's certainly true that chat bystanders can often tell when a conversation is about to turn nasty. And you're definitely right that it's better to prevent nasty exchanges from breaking out in the first place than to allow them to happen and deal with them afterwards.

The thing is, you don't need moderators to do this!

In any community, when someone starts behaving inappropriately, the first and best way to stop that behavior is for other people in the community to come right out and call them on it. A simple "dude, don't say that" or "I'd rather you not talk about [whatever]" or "let's drop this for now" or something like that is often all it takes. If different people disagree on what's appropriate, the whole group can get together and discuss it, and come to some consensus. There's no need for moderators or any higher authority to get involved, and that's good - a community like our chat room should be able to maintain itself without having a moderator constantly watching over everyone's shoulder.

Actually inflammatory posts

Actually talking to people works when everyone is being reasonable and civil. But that's not always the case in practice. People's tempers flare up sometimes and their control can slip.

If you ask someone to drop an issue or tell them something they said is inappropriate, sometimes they respond by insulting you or spouting profanity and completely ignoring what you're trying to tell them. When calling someone out on their inappropriate posts doesn't work, and they escalate to "conversational violence" (insults, rudeness, etc.), that's what flagging is for. Flagging brings a post to the attention of the chat moderators, and possibly also 10k-rep users, from across the SE network.1 Sometimes a forceful word from a moderator is all it takes to get the discussion back on track, but if not, moderators (or a consensus of enough 10k-rep users) have the power to remove chatters who don't have the sense to remove themselves from an argument.

Here's the thing, though: flags show up to a lot of people. Unlike on the site, where we only have 4 moderators and a few dozen 10k-rep users, there are over 300 chat moderators and probably thousands of people with 10k reputation. Obviously not everyone is online at any given time, but still, that's a lot of people seeing a flag. So flags should be used with care. You shouldn't be casting flags unless things have really escalated so badly that the people in the room can't deal with it anymore. (Or for spam, but that rarely happens.)

The typical outcome of a flag is that the flagged message will be deleted and the posting user suspended for 30 minutes (or longer if circumstances warrant). For anything that doesn't deserve that kind of a response... well, is it really so bad you (people in the room) can't handle it yourself? Probably not.


You'll notice that nowhere in here did I address the main point of the question, which was how to contact only the site mods privately. Honestly, that's probably not that useful. If we (mods) are logged in at the time, we're probably watching the chat room anyway, and we'll step in when things start to get out of hand. Otherwise, we're not going to see any message you might send us until we do log in, by which time it will be too late to defuse the situation.

The fact is, chat moves fast, and blowups in chat should likewise be handled fast. So once things get to the point where you need to call in outside help (and remember, they should not get to that point easily), it makes sense for that call to reach someone who can respond quickly. If one of us Physics mods isn't already in the room, it's better to bring in a chat mod from another site rather than waiting around for one of us to get there.


1As Shog9 pointed out, there are two kinds of flags. The inappropriate/offensive flag goes to mods and 10k-rep users, but there is also a custom flag that is only seen by mods. The situations described in this answer will typically only need a generic inappropriate/offensive flag, if any. See more information about chat flags on Meta Stack Exchange.

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    $\begingroup$ It sounds as if the system needs changing. When you hover over the right-hand-side of a chat post, the message reads flag this message as spam, inappropriate, or offensive. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Apr 15 '16 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget there are two types of flags. Inappropriate/offensive goes to mods and 10K users, "flag for moderator" goes to moderators only (and lets you explain the situation). See: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/271267/… $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Apr 15 '16 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Shog9 Thanks, added $\endgroup$ – David Z Apr 16 '16 at 10:13
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David Z has it right. As a moderator who spends a lot of time moderating chat myself, I'll clear up a few misconceptions:

Flagging

That flag button on the right-hand end of a message? That one is for offensive or inappropriate messages. It's not designed to be used for messages that aren't themselves offensive, but might turn a conversation toxic, because it draws far too much negative attention. You should use this button when someone has said something out of line with the Be Nice policy.

The message menu (obtained by clicking the dropdown arrow on the left hand end of a message) has an option called flag for moderator. This is the one you want to use to discreetly signal moderators. It will not go out only to the site mods, but to every mod currently on the chat network, which can be a blessing or a curse. Feel free to ask for a moderator who has room experience to handle the flag and step in (even if it doesn't happen, it's worth a shot).

The "never flag anything" attitude

This attitude refers to the former type of flag (the offensive/inappropriate flag). It's designed to stop people flagging things because it draws the attention of 10k users and moderators across the entire chat network, not all of whom come into the room to be helpful, but to mock and complain.

It's also false and damaging.

Not flagging things that need to be flagged because they're offensive is a Bad Idea. If someone's out of line, you can talk to them if you think they'll respond to that. More often than not, they won't - and it's time to signal someone who has the tools to resolve the situation. An accurate offensive flag puts that power in the hands of 6 10k users, which is essential for getting stuff removed quickly.

If any users turn up in the chatroom and complain or mock people, you can signal for mod attention with a moderator flag, or offensive flag again if they say something out of line. More often than not, a moderator or two will turn up along with the first flag and will prevent those users from grouching about things.

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