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Flagging a comment or post for profanity can be controversial, so I'd like the community's input. I'll take this as not a 1 time answer, but use it to sculpt my behavior going forward.

This answer Received a comment with profanity. The same idea could have been expressed euphemistically or otherwise. Should that comment be flagged?

  • Normally anything goes here if it is in quotes (you can discuss how someone else mentions a term, even though if you used it yourself it would be rude. This one is questionable because it is gratuitous. Flagging a comment just brings it to the attention of a mod, so I don't think it is harmful to flag in this instance. – Mitch Jul 14 '14 at 16:42
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    @Mitch: I'm not sure which of the two comments on the linked answer contains what you think of as "gratuitous" vulgarity. To my mind it would be quite difficult for either of them to succinctly convey what the writers were talking about without being somewhat coarse. I have no problem with either, and I would not wish the mods to routinely delete such comments purely on the grounds that they offend someone else's sensibilities. There's no suggestion of personal attacks - it's just language. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '14 at 17:28
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    I wouldn't even ask this question for MOST of the items on this list, but there are a few that are considered verbal "bombs" that get my attention and I'll at least consider a flag. – TecBrat Jul 14 '14 at 17:46
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    @FumbleFingers He used the word "fuck" which, for single words is usually considered vulgar enough to be considered obscene (and not to be used). Flagging is not to demand that the mods do something like delete, just to consider doing so. There's no... sorry, there shouldn't be any heat when you quote things because you don't mean them you're just referring to them. As to using them, I think the kitchen metaphor is too strong. I don't think you yourself would want to tolerate name-calling. – Mitch Jul 14 '14 at 17:52
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    @Mitch: As I said, there's absolutely no suggestion of "name-calling" in the linked comments. It's hard to see how the second commenter there could have clearly conveyed his meaning that fly has (to some people) connotations of fuck in that specific context, without actually writing the word. I'd also just add that the author there definitely has no history of being habitually and intentionally offensive or crude, and I see no evidence of that in the specific post under consideration. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '14 at 18:11
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    @FumbleFingers: the OP here doesn't know any history, and most couldn't be expected to, so it is somewhat irrelevant to choosing to flag (it might come in to the mods judgement though). Also, name-calling is obviously bad, but the OP here probably thinks (reasonably) that curse-words in whatever context are flaggable. – Mitch Jul 14 '14 at 19:20
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    @Mitch, my intention was to find out if the community considers it flaggable. I'd appreciate a world without objectionable words, but I can't expect the world to agree, so I asked the meta question to see where the threshold is in this community. With 2 relatively high rep users commenting (Thank you to both of you.) and with +1/-1 at the moment, I'm left where I started until I see more feedback. – TecBrat Jul 14 '14 at 19:54
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    The comment illustrates what the slogan writers may have intended. Given that a single word with a particular meaning is required in this context, what would you suggest to replace it with? – Andrew Leach Jul 14 '14 at 20:54
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    TecBrat: you're not left where you startedł. You know that others are ambivalent. Or have opinions in two directions. (Not the same as ambivalent) I'll be more explicit about my opinion. I think it is reasonable to flag that but as a moderator I'm not sure id delete it (I'm not a mod) – Mitch Jul 15 '14 at 0:42
  • -1 You question is addressed here english.stackexchange.com/help/flagging. There is no mention of controversy. – Frank Jul 15 '14 at 13:41
  • @Frank. Thank you. The most important take-away I got from your link was "Remember: don't feed the trolls! Replying ... only encourages it – whereas flagging allows removal without providing undue attention." The controversy I mentioned is something I've noticed on SE in general. – TecBrat Jul 15 '14 at 13:59
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    I've just flagged both of the immediately-preceding comments as "Too Chatty" - that's something I think I've never done before in all my time on ELU, and I've no idea whether the mod who has to check my flag will applaud my action or simply sigh. But essentially I agree with Mitch that OP is welcome (and indeed should feel encouraged) to flag vulgarity if it bothers him. The mods are responsible for "taking the temperature" of our collective sensibilities in such areas and steering a middle way between the obsessively puritanical and the gratuitously offensive. I think they're doing okay. – FumbleFingers Jul 15 '14 at 16:36
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    @Fumble Of course, if you announce that you were the one who flagged it, I will know. And I dismissed it. ;-) – Kit Z. Fox Jul 15 '14 at 18:35
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    As the author of the deleted comment, I am surprised to learn that a) my comment could be construed as controversial in 2014, and b) someone thought fit to delete it. As far as I was concerned, I was presenting a plausible account of how the dropping of a preposition from slogans like "Fly United" might have become commonplace; I can't see how else National Airlines' innuendo-laden ad campaign could have been described without resorting to kindergarten-level bowdlerization (this IS a site for adults, isn't it?). --> – Erik Kowal Jul 17 '14 at 6:34
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    @ErikKowal No, this is a not an adult site. It is, however, a professional site, and gratuitous vulgarity comes off as coarse and unprofessional. Our only strong/special rule is that the rude words be mildly censored in titles due to how things get indexed and not wanting to get blacklisted. Beyond that, please read Our help center entry on expected behavior along with meta.english.stackexchange.com/q/253, meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/981, and meta.stackexchange.com/q/22232 for further guidance. – tchrist Jul 17 '14 at 23:10
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It was gratuitous vulgarity (not a discussion about language), and the only connection I can see to the OP's post is that it had to do with an airline. As Andrew Leach clearly stated in his post about flagging comments:

it doesn’t need to be mentioned at all if it’s not relevant to the question or its answers.

While Andrew was discussing a 'worldview', the same can be said about offensive comments. The question was 'which is better, "I loved flying with American Airlines" or "I loved flying on American Airlines"? To have a long anecdote ending with "I'm Cathy; Fuck me" is not only offensive (as was the ad campaign - please feel free to search for accounts of the harassment stewardesses had to put up with after that campaign, to which they were vocally opposed), it's completely unnecessary. It doesn't add anything of value, doesn't clarify anything, is there just to exemplify one person's story-telling prowess.

This is your site as much as it is anyone else's. Yours is just one small voice in a sea of thousands. If users feel quite free to post such crap, you should certainly feel free to flag it if you so desire as not constructive, too chatty, or even offensive. It's your prerogative, it's silent, it hurts no one (there is no penalty, if I'm not mistaken, to not constructive or too chatty flags, and the penalty for offensive is small), and it might serve to make this site actually more about the English Language.

Edited to add: A comment was removed which explained the primary reason for my use of the word: if the comment were to be deleted (a perfectly reasonable assumption, since it was), the post would leave some to wonder what was the offensive language referred to in the OP's question. Though I grant that many commenters used the word, comments disappear.

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    Accepted for: It doesn't add anything of value, doesn't clarify anything, is there just to exemplify one person's story-telling prowess. – TecBrat Jul 15 '14 at 10:09
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    You are failing to make the use-mention distinction here. The original comment was reporting on an offensive ad campaign. The fact that the comment spelled out the innuendo doesn't make the comment offensive any more than your answer should be considered offensive for having a bolded fuck in it. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jul 15 '14 at 14:56
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 - I am not the arbiter of what is and isn't offensive; each individual has that privilege. One point in my answer is that we all have the right to determine that for ourselves. I bolded fuck because the comment bolded it. If anyone were to call my answer offensive, I would have absolutely no problem with it; that is their right! They also have a right to flag it. You can't mandate for other people what they may or may not find offensive and for what reasons. You can opine, however. That is your right. – anongoodnurse Jul 15 '14 at 15:09
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    I'm merely pointing out the contradiction in your post calling out another post as offensive for mentioning the word "fuck" while your post does the same thing. Ask yourself: does your post offend you as much as that comment supposedly did? What is the source of the offense? If a child runs up to their mother and says "Mommy, Billy said 'Fuck!'", is the child saying something offensive? Or are they simply reporting another's offensive language? I've mentioned the word "fuck" like a million times in this comment. Do you find it offensive? If not, how is it different from that original comment? – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jul 15 '14 at 15:14
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 - this is tedious. I'm not challenging your right to anything. Personally, I did not enjoy writing and bolding fuck. I did it because it was pertinent to my answer. Can you simply let it stand at that? – anongoodnurse Jul 15 '14 at 15:17
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    I think you do rather undermine what seems to be your own position (it's okay to mention words such as fuck, but not to use them), when you refer to such usages as such crap. – FumbleFingers Jul 15 '14 at 16:41
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    Just point of fact, the comment didn't actually bold the fuck. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 16 '14 at 13:36
  • It seemed bolded to me, and now I can't see it. But I've changed my answer. – anongoodnurse Jul 16 '14 at 13:58
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I agree that it was gratuitously crude. I don’t think it was necessary, but as it is a mention case not a use case, it is wrong to forbid and difficult to condemn outright.

Some may find it needlessly offensive, and apparently have. But I don’t know if that suffices for flagging purposes.

So I’m sorry but I don’t know that it’s worth flagging: I don’t wish to saddle our moderators with more work than they already have.

But at least it was in a comment, which are non-searchable ephemeral artifacts subject to deletion without notice.

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    I concur. It is wrong to forbid and difficult to condemn. I wouldn't be averse to replacing the word in question with a synonym, but actually I suspect that the comment admirably expresses exactly what the slogan is intended to evoke. Certainly I would not be inclined to delete it; I'd be happy to edit it to use a different word if one could be suggested without unduly changing what was intended. – Andrew Leach Jul 15 '14 at 8:33
  • @AndrewLeach - you contradict yourself. See your flagging post. – anongoodnurse Jul 15 '14 at 8:55
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    I don't believe I do. It's an explanation of the slogan, which is a mention. That said, I wouldn't be averse to replacing it with a less controversial word. What I am absolutely certain of is that nothing should have been done to it until the question had been resolved by the community here. – Andrew Leach Jul 15 '14 at 9:01
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    -1 for needlessly If someone finds it offensive it's offensive to them, that is sufficient for them to flag it. – Frank Jul 15 '14 at 13:59
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    @Frank: needlessly here modifies offensive, not find. tchrist isn't saying they are needlessly finding it offensive. He's saying it is offensive for no good reason. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jul 15 '14 at 14:58
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 needlessly offensive is more or less offensive than plain old offensive? – Frank Jul 15 '14 at 15:15
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    @Frank It doesn't matter how offensive it is. The fact that the offense is needless means that there is no benefit from it being there. Sometimes you have to offend someone to say something. Then it isn't needless. Sometimes you offend for no good reason. Then it's needless. In the first case the need for the statement provides benefit to offset the cost of the offense. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jul 15 '14 at 15:21
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 That was exactly my point. Your original comment seems to suggest I had misunderstood the meaning of needlessly in the answer. If you offend someone when making a point, then they are offended, therefore the comment is offensive to them and can be flagged as such. If the flag was for needlessly offensive I would not have down voted. – Frank Jul 15 '14 at 15:28
  • @Frank I don't understand why your downvote calls out needlessly then. Isn't it obvious that if a person sees something needfully offensive then they should think twice about flagging? – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jul 15 '14 at 15:33
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 No, the flag 'reason' is '.... rude or offensive'. If you want it to be changed to something else then post a suggestion to have it altered. – Frank Jul 15 '14 at 15:38
  • @Frank So if you find something offensive, but understand that there are good reasons for it to be offensive, then you'd flag it anyway? Because the flag reason text doesn't list all the qualifiers which might cause you to think twice about it? – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jul 15 '14 at 15:42
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    @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 Personally, no I wouldn't (I'd be hard pushed to be offended by anything on EL&U). I can reiterate why I down voted the answer and you can reiterate your view, but we can't determine what does and does not offend other people; that's up to them. That we feel the 'offensiveness' is needless or needful is neither here nor there; it's the offended person that wields the flag. – Frank Jul 15 '14 at 15:56
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I'm sorry that you felt the need to ask. The comment didn't add anything to the discussion. Had the profanity been replaced with more tactful language, it was still a candidate for removal. I would have deleted it without a second thought.

To address your question, the fact that the comment contained profanity was not in itself reason to flag it. If the comment were contextually appropriate, the existence of the word fuck would not necessarily qualify it for flagging. The commenter's word choice was intended to provoke a particular, graphic reaction to demonstrate the crudeness of the innuendo. Because the commenter was explaining what the sexual innuendo was in an illustrative way, it is in the decidedly grey area of use-mention.

In this case, I would recommend that if it bothers you, flag it with the 'other' flag and ask a mod to review the wording to determine if it can be amended in such a way as to preserve the original information without using crass or vulgar language.

In response to some of the extended commentary here, I want to put to rest the notion that you should even care about how much work this creates for the moderation team. For one thing, if enough of the community agrees with you that something is offensive, the comment will be automatically deleted and we won't even see the flag. For the other thing, it is one of our responsibilities to handle flags. That's part of what we do, and that's why we just had an election to bring on more mods.

We won't know what the community finds offensive unless you flag it for us. If there is a lot of offensive content, we need to know about it, regardless of the amount of work it creates for us. That said, tread lightly with the offensive flag. Use-mention can be a sticky wicket. If you aren't sure, you can use the 'other' flag to write us a note.

  • I'm in complete agreement with this answer. I'm particularly impressed that you seem to have rather deftly managed to address OP's question without being tempted to include your own attitude to posters on ELU using "bad language". The current +4 -4 = 0 votes for the question suggest it may be a bit of a polarising issue among users at large. Although I agree with tchrist's attitude, I won't upvote it because he says "not worth flagging". I assume you don't find "offensive" flags burdensome (but remember the "silent majority" who aren't voting "that profanity is okay by me"). – FumbleFingers Jul 15 '14 at 16:50
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    Can you confirm if flagging is anonymous or not? The help page at english.stackexchange.com/help/flagging doesn't say either way. – Frank Jul 15 '14 at 17:12
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    @Frank I don't know how much I am allowed to disclose about how we handle flags. In general, mods are unaware of who flagged what. In the rare cases where we need to know, we don't share this information publicly, so it is certainly anonymous to the regular community. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 15 '14 at 18:33
  • I think that would be useful information on the flagging help page; it may encourage more people to flag rather than shy away (or at least those who bother to read them). – Frank Jul 15 '14 at 18:50
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    @Frank We do not immediately provide the flagger's name in the case of non-custom comment flags, since the flagger's identity is rarely relevant to dealing with non-custom comment flags. Same goes for spam/offensive flags on posts. However, the data is available to moderators if they wish to find it. – Grace Note Jul 16 '14 at 14:22
  • @Grace: I think that's exactly what we wished to know, thank you. Obviously there could be contexts where mods need to know who raised a flag, but in general it shouldn't be relevant, so it's reassuring to be told the default system doesn't act like a judge saying "The jury will ignore that last remark". It's easier to be objective if you don't even know certain things, rather than having to discount them in your judgement. – FumbleFingers Jul 16 '14 at 15:53
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Did you find it rude or offensive? That's the only determiner.

If you find it rude or offensive (or any other option) then flag it as such, if you don't, then don't flag it.

If you need other people's opinions to determine if you feel offended then you weren't offended. Of course, you could be offended after being told you should be.

I saw the comment and thought to myself ... that'll offend someone but it's not my place to flag it just for thinking that someone might be offended, the offended have to take matters into their own hands and declare themselves as offended. There's a good example here Repwhore comment from KitFox I didn't flag it as I'm not offended by it but I can imagine some people could be.

I don't think I've had anything flagged so I don't know what happens but I don't think there's anything in the way of controversy about it. Moderators see the flags and act on them in the way they think they should.

  • +1 For getting to the heart of the matter. The reps can't really do their job properly unless people who are offended are willing to flag posts they're bothered by. Ideally, the "offendee" would explicitly take issue with the "offender", and resolve their differences without needing to involve the mods. But sometimes people are diffident about standing up for themselves in potentially "delicate" contexts, so it's absolutely vital they're not equally inhibited when it comes to "anonymously" flagging. – FumbleFingers Jul 15 '14 at 17:00
  • @FumbleFingers I think anonymity is a very good point. I almost always add an explanation for my down votes, the author can take it up with me if they wish. I can see why someone would not want to discuss something that has offended them with the "offender" and so can raise it anonymously, however, the help at english.stackexchange.com/help/flagging doesn't make it clear if flagging is anonymous - do you know if it is? – Frank Jul 15 '14 at 17:08

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