Recently I got suspended from the chat because 2 of my posts were flagged and the flag "accepted"; one referenced Islam as people believing in a "magic sky man" or something, the other mentioned masturbation in a way that only the most puritanical person could find offensive:


I have also seen this happen to other people. Something should be changed about the flagging system to stop these suspensions happening so easily. It can easily be used by puerile or malicious people to shut down discussion they don't like, which isn't good for chat. As far as I know, these flags gets sent to every user with more than 10k rep, so having one or two of them "accept" the flag is very likely. In short: it's way too easy to flag something and get someone suspended from chat.

The flagging system should be overhauled; maybe so that if there are appropriate mods in the room, they should see the flag and no-one else should. Maybe so that more people (maybe 10?) have to click "Accept" on the flag for it to actually suspend the user; suspension is a very harsh thing that should usually be left to a mod. Maybe so that there is some warning sent to a user before they actually get suspended; a 3-strikes-and-you're-out system or whatever. There are many ways to improve it.

What's more, there should definitely be some accountability for actually flagging stuff. People frivolously flagging posts should be investigated and get warning and/or suspensions themselves. Right now, it seems like they can just do this with impunity and that sucks.

Not that I'm going to, but I could start creating accounts with various different IP addresses, getting a bit of rep, then go around causing havoc in chat by flagging stuff left, right, and centre. The system's way too easy to abuse at the moment.

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    I've found in general, when I see posts being flagged, they are for fairly innocuous things. I didn't see yours, but I would consider both masturbation and glib religiony connections to be ... less innocuous. Yes, flagging can be abused. I'm not sure what to say. I don't have a point here. I think flagging to be judged by 10Kers is dumb (it should be limited to mods). – Mitch Jun 17 '14 at 15:46
  • "Less innocuous", pfft. Chat is meant to be more casual than the Q&A section. What's wrong with just allowing free speech within reason? It is not helpful to tiptoe around worrying about what every uptight person might think about something. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 15:47
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    This probably ought to be migrated to Meta.SE. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 17 '14 at 15:54
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    No, it shouldn't @Kit; it's been discussed there many times. Here's but one link: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/126017/… – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 15:56
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    Presumably the specific interchanges that led to suspension have been deleted (OP's link is "broken"), so it's difficult to comment on the rights and wrongs. But I would call particular attention to what @Shog9 said in his answer on SE.meta: You do not get to tell anyone else what offends them, not here, not on the main sites, and not in chat. Ever. Having said that, I think mods in particular should try to avoid being offended if it seems that no-one else in chat has a problem. Ordinarily, there's only subjectively offensive language/behaviour. It's not up to mods to be "objective". – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '14 at 16:04
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    "You do not get to tell anyone else what offends them, not here, not on the main sites, and not in chat. Ever." - this attitude really gets on my wick. So basically, if anything offends anyone, they get to censor you? It blows my mind that people don't see how this basically destroys any notion of useful discussion. Why should everything be tailored to the people taking offence and now, you know, everybody else? How about this: if something offends you, GET OVER IT. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:12
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    @Jez Are you planning to take your own advice? – Kit Z. Fox Jun 17 '14 at 16:14
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    @Jez: Wise up. No-one is telling you how or what to think. But people are entitled not to have their sensibilities trampled over by others who either don't know or don't care that their behaviour may be causing distress. – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '14 at 16:14
  • @KitFox Oh ha ha. Except that I do get over stuff that offends me, and I don't try to shut other people up if they say stuff I don't like. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:15
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    @FumbleFingers Actually, no, generally in free society people are not at all "entitled" not to have their "sensibilities" trampled over. It has long been dicovered that this approach just leads to all free speech being shut down because different people have all sorts of different sensibilities. The only approach that consistently works is to put the onus on the offendee to deal with their feelings rather than mollycoddling them by allowing them to avoid hearing/seeing stuff. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:17
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    @Jez: If I started telling you here, in the most efficient way I know how, exactly what I think of your general attitude right now, I've no doubt the mods would rapidly step in and delete my posts (and probably suspend me). That's because I can be extremely offensive if I want to be, but such behaviour isn't normally acceptable in a public "forum" such as an ELU comment thread. As someone once told me: Always tell the truth, but don't always be telling the truth. In some situations it's best to keep some of your opinions to yourself. – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '14 at 16:22
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    @FumbleFingers I'm aware of a line to be drawn beyond which point one keeps one's opinions to oneself. I just think that on this site, it is drawn way too soon and the consequences are too draconian. There should be a lot more wiggle room when it comes to what is allowed in chat. Most people (like 99%) are perfectly capable of dealing with stuff that offends them in a minor way, yet the site is set up with a tiny number of moaning professional victims in mind. I see no reason to cater to this particular minority. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:27
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    @Jez: Well, like I said, we can't see the exact circumstances that bothered you. And as per Shog9's dictum which I reproduced, none of us has the right to tell someone else they shouldn't be offended if they actually are, so only the 6 people who flagged you can really say. But if you're bothered about peremptory action by a single mod, I might well agree with you (a mod should be particularly "indulgent" if there's a possibly only he is offended, which may be a cause for concern with some candidates up for election at the moment). Overall though, I think you should chill out a bit. – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '14 at 17:12

suspension is a very harsh thing that should usually be left to a mod

It's a half-hour suspension per flagged post. And it takes at least 6 people or a moderator to make that happen, per flagged post. And that's assuming that other high-rep users or moderators don't decline the flags first.

So what's really going on here is that you managed to piss off a bunch of folks in chat, got no support from moderators or other trusted users, got a slap on the wrist, and are all sad about it.

Get over it.

See also: Are expletives allowed in SE chat?

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    The problem is that you only need to piss off ONE user in chat: the flagger. Then it only takes 6 people to flag the post as "valid". I can guarantee you that people are not taking the time to judge the post in context of a conversation. The flags are "resolved" so quickly that I usually never get a chance to click on them when I see them. I've never once had time to view a transcript or join a room and read context and then decline a flag. (And in my experience, almost every single flag should be declined). – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 17 '14 at 16:09
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    @Shog9 Nonsense. And given the number of users these flagged posts get sent to, even the most tiny thing flagged could easily be "accepted" by 6 users. No, it's way too easy for the ban to happen. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:20
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    I'm pretty sympathetic to flags being declined because folks don't recognize the problem being flagged without reading the transcript, @Mr.Shiny. That's why we have mod-only flags, where folks can elaborate on the problem. But if your comment is clearly inappropriate to 5 folks who haven't seen the context, maybe you need to remember that you're still writing in public? This isn't hard; to even post one message in chat you have to manage this at least once on the main site. – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 16:27
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    Oh, drop the chicken little act already, @Jez. Somehow, I've managed to post nearly twice as many messages in chat as you without generating more than a fraction of the flags - it isn't nearly so much of a minefield as you make it out to be. You're annoyed because you did something stupid and got called out on it; take your own advice and GET OVER IT. – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 16:30
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    Well, you walk on eggshells and post "safe" stuff. Why should everyone have to talk like you? According to me, and many who read my posts, I didn't post anything at all offensive, let alone offensive enough to deserve a ban. As for the number of people who clicked "accept", that depends a lot on how many people are voting on the flag, doesn't it? If 5/6 people find it offensive, maybe that's reasonable. If 5/1000 people find something offensive, then erm... so what? You could probably find that kind of percentage for just about anything ever said by anyone. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:32
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    @Shog9 The thing is that in my experience the people who flag stuff VALIDATE the flags without context, rather than INVALIDATING without context. If there was, say, a way to counter-flag for mod attention, then it wouldn't be a big deal. But I have never once seen a flag I wanted to click "VALID" on. Not even once. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 17 '14 at 16:37
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    @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 So would you consider direct insults to be acceptable? While there is a lot of noise, there is a significant amount of rather unambiguously valid flags in chat as well. Those flags are typically handled much faster as well, which makes it easier to miss them compared to flags on gray areas. – user23030 Jun 17 '14 at 16:42
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    @MadScientist I don't consider insulting people to be polite. It's rude. But should it result in chat bans? Maybe, for repeated behaviour. But I don't think I've ever come across an insult so rude it warranted action. Maybe I hang out in more civilized chat rooms. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 17 '14 at 16:46
  • Anyway my point isn't that chat suspensions should never happen. It's that the chat flag system makes it too easy to hand out suspensions. Like the case in question. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 17 '14 at 16:48
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    Or maybe you just don't notice most of the crud because messages get removed and users suspended before making huge spectacles in most cases, @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇. Here's some analysis of flag handling we did recently. A half-hour suspension really should not be considered onerous, unless your only goal here is to troll chat all day. – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 16:48
  • @Shog9 You seem very resistant to the idea of any changing of the current system at all. Is it perfect? It's almost as if you don't really want to think about ways to improve it. I think the "out of context" thing is one of the biggest problems with the current system. Not only are people voting on flags based on the single post alone, and not its conversation, but they're voting on posts from other rooms. Different communities in different rooms tend to have different tolerances for what they think is acceptable. It's silly to have the whole network voting on one room's posts. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:53
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    Not resistant at all, @Jez - there are a handful of reasonable ideas floating around for making chat moderation more effective, including a short delay before propagating flags out of a given room. We're working on finding a place in the development schedule for some of these... But here's the kicker: it won't matter in situations like this, because self-righteous folk will still get annoyed when their messages get removed. Instead of blaming "those outsiders" it'll just be "those folks who shouldn't be in MY room". So the next request will be private rooms... Which I will resist. – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 16:56
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    Well except that it is a perfectly legitimate point that different rooms have different standards. I don't think it makes sense for one room's flags to be voted on by every 10k+ chatter on the network. Most of the flags I see are for rooms that I don't frequent, and I certainly don't know how touchy they are about things. You're apparently trying to deny the reality that different chat standards get established by people in different chat communities. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:59
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    @ Shog9: I think you need to bear in mind that users in chat are mostly more seasoned SE users than the average poster on main sites. They might well tend to be aware / respectful of your status on SE, and (rightly or wrongly) this may affect how casually they support others who might wish to censure you. Not that I've any direct knowledge of this, but it does seem at least a possibility worth considering. – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '14 at 17:20
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    You may well be right, @Fumble. If so, I must admit that route is an extremely effective work-around for the various problems with chat flags. – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 17:22

I think the flagging system needs to be measured based on the cost of false positives and false negatives. In this case, you claim that you were incorrectly suspended which (assuming you are correct) carries the penalty of not being able to use chat for a relatively small period of time. The worst case scenario, then, is that your conversation is interrupted and you have to take a break.

The alternative wrong would be the harm caused by the flagging system missing an offensive post in chat and not removing it. How should we compare this against the temporary suspension? Is it better or worse to leave a truly offensive post in chat compared to forcing a merely somewhat offensive poster to take a short break?

I don't really have a direct equation handy for this comparison but I don't think we should be trying to change the current flagging system until we start addressing both of sides of the coin. In short:

  1. How frequently does the current system unjustly suspend someone?
  2. How frequently does the current system miss truly offensive posts?
  3. How do we compare the net negative impact from (1) and (2)?
  4. How do we improve the result contained in (3)?

All you've done is talk about your personal experience as it relates to (1) and then immediately jumped to (4). If you have any interesting thoughts on (2) and (3), I'm eager to hear them. I am all for improvements to systems -- but I am absolutely against reactionary changes to systems.

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    FWIW, I deliberately avoided adding my own opinions on whether your particular posts deserved flagging since there are already enough opinions on the subject flying about. :P I'm more interested in what we should do about the system than the particular circumstances that caused us to ask the question. – MrHen Jun 17 '14 at 17:52
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    Trouble is, the whole thing is extremely subjective, which is why I'm very anti-censorship in general. The second you start asking about whether someone was "justly" suspended, it's a subjective opinion that (except in the most extreme of cases) many people will disagree on. Does a "truly" offensive post deserve to stay in chat? What is a "truly" offensive post? Totally subjective. That's the problem. Either you have this messy free-for-all / luck kind of system where a post might get censored if you're unlucky, or you just say all but the MOST egregious stuff is OK... – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 18:00
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    ... and IMHO the best people to decide on what the MOST egregious stuff is, in the context of the discussion being had, is the people in that chatroom, with the mods' opinions obviously having a heavier weighting. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 18:00
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    @Jez: I can understand that and agree that it is very subjective. But is your position that the harm caused by (2) is so low, why bother risk the harm caused by (1)? – MrHen Jun 17 '14 at 18:20
  • My position is that the definitions of "unjustly" and "truly" from 1) and 2) are so subjective that they can't be meaningfully defined. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 19:01
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    @Jez Well, right now they are implicitly defined by what does or does not get flagged/removed. There is a pragmatic definition in spite of the philosophical difficulty in obtaining a definition. So the effects of (1) and (2) are still occurring all around us and, in fact, (1) is exactly what prompted you to post this meta topic. So there is some line somewhere that you feel is appropriate to claim as a false positive; your hint at the "MOST egregious stuff" presumes there is also a line somewhere that would constitute a false negative. So... isn't that enough to continue the discussion? – MrHen Jun 17 '14 at 19:08

I am not the one who approved the flag and I only saw it after the fact, however both posts had a reasonable expectation of being offensive and were certainly not professional. One mocked a deity, which people are notably sensitive about. I'd agree the other was closer to the edge, but still was kind of objectifying. If I'd reviewed that flag, I probably would have edited the line without a suspension personally, but that isn't an option for 10k users I don't believe.

If there was any change I'd want to see to chat flags, it would be the option to remove a line without suspension. Mods can still do this, but 10ks can't and it is still more work for a mod to do it.

  • Well, the policy itself sucks then. "Mocking a deity" might make a few over-sensitive people unhappy but frankly, who gives a shit? Why is this site so utterly obsessed about avoiding offence for anyone? You're saying that one is expected to tread on eggshells to talk around here. That sucks. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:24
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    What gives you the right to tell other people what they find acceptable, @Jez? Chat is a service provided purely for the enjoyment of the folks who participate on the main Q&A sites, something you've not even bothered to do enough of to gain the privilege of reviewing other people's flags. So you get to use this chat playground at the discretion of folks who've put considerably more work into building this thing, and you have the nerve to talk down to them? Well, shucks - if you don't like it, you can go somewhere else. – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 16:35
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    As a matter of fact, I do regularly get to review other people's flags, and I dismiss most of them as the likely work of some hypersensitive person who wants to shut someone else up, which I see as very selfish. A lot more selfish than my request that people be allowed to talk without the constant sword of damocles hanging over them that they might offend someone (anyone) in some minor way and get whacked over the head for it. Oh, and how did I know the "go forth and multiply" was coming. Yeah, well right back at ya, buddy. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:45
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    I'm completely serious, @Jez. If your only goal here these days is to cause drama in chat, you should go somewhere else. Please. – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 16:49
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    Well that isn't my only goal here. The fact that you assumed that tells me a lot about you. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 16:54
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    You already knew everything you needed to know, @Jez... Such as the fact that I've yet to see EL&U's chatroom come up in conversation except as part of exactly this sort of pointless drama. Y'all are a tiny minority that causes a vastly disproportionate amount of trouble for, so far as I can tell, exactly zero benefit to the actual site with which you're associated. Until you change that, I'm unlikely to be particularly sympathetic toward these complaints. – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 17:00
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    Heh, that tells us what you think of our community anyway. lol. Just FYI, your last comment offended me a lot. I guess you deserve a temporary ban. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 17:01
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    Flag it then, @Jez. If it doesn't bother you that your only contributions here these days are purile comments in chat, then there's not much I can really say to that. There are forums dedicated to not censoring anything - go find them, be happy. – Shog9 Jun 17 '14 at 17:06
  • I was trying to point out the hypocrisy of your position. You missed it. – Jez Jun 17 '14 at 17:09
  • @Shog9 Hey! The Bridge has way more drama than our chat! – Kit Z. Fox Jun 17 '14 at 17:09
  • @Shog9: I have flagged your last comment as offensive and untrue. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jun 17 '14 at 17:15

I saw the flagged line about the sky man and the masturbation, and they were perfectly fine. We are not children.

I agree that the flagging system doesn't work, especially since people who do not understand the context get to vote. If you're not part of the conversation, you can't really in good conscience understand the context and validate a flag, unless it's a really serious personal attack, like "I hate you, you fucking whore" or something like that (but, even then, you need to make sure it wasn't intended as and perceived to be ironic!).

I think most of your suggestions could seriously improve the flagging system. I would vote for any of them.

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    The policy, as I understand it, is that context is specifically not supposed to matter for the purpose of what is or isn't offensive. – AJ Henderson Jun 17 '14 at 16:05
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    @AJHenderson Context always matters, especially when talking about what's offensive. Words are meaningless without context. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 17 '14 at 16:06
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    @AJ Henderson: I think that's a @!#*ing ridiculous position to take. There can be no offence unless someone takes it. – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '14 at 16:09
  • @AJHenderson: Then that would be an absurd policy, for language has no meaning outside context. Oh, jinx at Mr. Shiny. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jun 17 '14 at 17:10
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    resist. the. urge. to. flag! – Braiam Jun 17 '14 at 17:42

I don't think offence, intended or otherwise, is really relevant to whether a comment is acceptable or not. Can the matter not be approached more philosophically?

If the comment is an ad hominem, it goes. If it isn't, it stays. Ad hominem status can (largely) be evaluated context-independently, because it would have to be directed within the comment.

Comments attacking faith or beliefs directly would easily be identifiable as ad hominem, but objecting to a person professing their beliefs by flagging them is inappropriate. See the example situations below:

Situation 1:

Person A says that X religion is silly, as this is what they believe. Person B believes X religion, so is offended. Consequently they flag the comment. Much as A was stepping on B's sensibilities, B is now equivalently dismissing A's beliefs, with the added consequence of a chat ban for expressing them.

This ban is an inappropriate result. A should not be muted for expressing their beliefs in an untargeted manner. Any affront taken is mainly 'on the receiver' should be dealt with by rejoinder or ignoring the comment.

Situation 2:

Person A says that Person B's belief in X is silly. Person B flags the comment and A is chat banned.

This ban is appropriate as this is a direct affront to B via their beliefs. Any affront taken is 'on the issuer' as it is a directed statement.

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