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I've noticed that my flagging history on politics.SE has a quite low acceptance rate. In particular, I currently show a total of 6 "rude or abusive" flags, all of which have been declined.

I cast these flags, generally speaking, on answers that disparage a political outgroup - which label such a group as irrational, cruel, motivated by some hidden actual purpose, resistant to facts, etc. What often happens is that someone will ask a question about why group X appears to believe/endorse Y, and someone who is not in X will treat this as an excuse to go on a length about why Y is bad and how this demonstrates the moral failing of X - rather than trying to find any sympathetic grounds for the disagreement. Other times, someone who is in X, after defending Y from the X perspective, will tag on a snipe about how non-X ideologies blind their adherents to the superiority of Y. In some cases, transparently biased sources get held up as "experts" who can then be used to establish "facts" about the motives of the outgroup (to which the source in question also doesn't belong).

I think it's transparently obvious that this sort of conduct is rude. It tends to marginalize people with differing beliefs, by making them feel that their views are not respected, or even that they're getting propagandized against. In Code of Conduct terms, I consider that such content meets the standard of "...unkind, cruel, or mocking comments that provoke or insult another person", and/or "the poor treatment, expressed irrational suspicion... and/or intolerance of another... group of people due to [their political affiliation]".

But my flags for this sort of issue are routinely declined; and my follow-ups with custom flag reasons - carefully explaining the specific cause of offense - also get declined; and many of my proposed edits to remove the objectionable material (in the cases where this is actually feasible, and wouldn't end up effectively erasing the answer) get rejected. When I try to point out the rudeness in the comments, this usually results in the author doubling down; my flags on such comments also get declined.

Why?

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    not an answer, but a hint: the threshold for "rude and abusive" are pretty high, whereas that for "no longer needed" is a lot lower. Stack Exchange comments are not a place for discussions or exchange of ideas, but we do use them sometimes for that, and I think the general idea is that those usually get cleaned up in a few days or a week thanks to the amazing, tireless moderation team. They let us "borrow" comment space for discussions for a while sometimes, in case something really productive comes from it (sometimes it really does, like a new or follow-up question).
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 0:02
  • So I use either "no longer needed" or "something else" where I flag one comment and leave an explanation that it, or a whole group of comments have run their course, are probably not useful to future readers and don't really serve to improve the post. I've found those types of flags get pretty good response. The problem with "rude and abusive" is that it reflects negatively on the user who you've flagged themselves, not just the comment. I rarely use that flag anywhere in Stack Exchange unless it's a personal attack against another user, or just plain foul language.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 0:02
  • If you are only flagging comments and posts that you personally find offensive, it is unlikely that they'll be taken as seriously as for example, a user flagging comments and posts that they partly or wholly agree with, but which others will reasonably find offensive.
    – Nij
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 6:11
  • @uhoh but I object to the answers around here at least as strenuously, and run into the same issue. And that certainly doesn't address edits being declined and people seeking to restore outgroup-bashing content. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 13:09
  • @Nij I'm perfectly capable of being offended by comments that are targeted at groups I'm not in myself. It's the form of them that bothers me. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 13:11
  • From what I can see you have 8 suggested edits and 3 of them have been rejected. One was rejected due to edit conflicts, another was rejected by the author due to disagreement and the last was rejected due to how much it changed the meaning of the post. Just because you disagree with content doesn't mean that it should be edited out downvote if you feel the need and leave a comment explaining what you think is wrong with the post.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 13:34
  • @JoeW You misunderstand. It is not that I disagree with the content. It is that I think the presentation of the content is not conducive to open discourse, at a minimum, and is likely to offend people at worst. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 15:40
  • And the author of the post disagrees with you on that which is why they posted it. One of the edit reject reasons on this site is if the edits conflict with the authors intent and that is why two of your edits got rejected with one of them being from the author of the answer.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 15:45
  • Why are authors permitted to have and maintain "intent" that is frankly inflammatory? And if that is the baseline assumption here, then why would I want to participate? Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 15:53
  • As your flags have been declined it appears that the moderators disagree with you on them being inflammatory. As has been suggested it might be more helpful for you to use a custom flag so you can explain what you think the problem is.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 16:31
  • How can I talk with the moderators so that I can actually have a back and forth with them and try to convince them of the inflammatory nature that I find blatantly obvious but apparently everyone else disagrees about? Do I need to open a separate Meta post for each one and air it all publicly? Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 16:37
  • All you can do is flag with a custom reason, they are unlikely to engage in any back and forth. Maybe they will answer this question later but generally they are not going to engage in a debate so people can convince them that something is rude/offensive.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 17:17
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    @KarlKnechtel I think it's fine to add examples (preferably small excerpts that you think are ones that need to be dealt with most) to your question. That way other users can see what it is specifically and give feedback as well.
    – JJJ Mod
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 17:26
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    So, you just don't like the way they say it? That's not enough alone to make it rude or abusive, of course flags are declined. It is very unlikely that you can make unbiased edits to a post that you fundamentally disagree with, so follow the first rule of arguing on Stack Exchange: downvote and move on. What's the second rule? Follow the first rule.
    – Nij
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 20:50
  • @Nij No, I emphatically do not "just" not like the way they say it. I sincerely believe that the way they say it ought to be deemed a violation of the Code of Conduct, according to my reading of that document and its apparent intent, and my participation in meta.SE and/or meta.SO threads about the most recent update. "It is very unlikely that you can make unbiased edits to a post that you fundamentally disagree with" One of my rejected edits was for a post I agreed with, except for the one offensive part. There is no real potential for "bias" in removing snark and uncharitable remarks. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 23:07

1 Answer 1

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It might be easier to discuss this if you cite some excerpts of posts so they can be discussed for all to see.

Nevertheless, as someone who declined some of those flags I can give you an answer without going into post specifics that might be helpful.

I think the main reason for these flags getting declined stems from different interpretations of the code of conduct. In your meta question, you write:

I think it's transparently obvious that this sort of conduct is rude. It tends to marginalize people with differing beliefs, by making them feel that their views are not respected, or even that they're getting propagandized against. In Code of Conduct terms, I consider that such content meets the standard of "...unkind, cruel, or mocking comments that provoke or insult another person", and/or "the poor treatment, expressed irrational suspicion... and/or intolerance of another... group of people due to [their political affiliation]".

The code of conduct portion you're referencing is the one on Bigotry and Discrimination which reads:

Bigotry & Discrimination – the poor treatment, expressed irrational suspicion, hatred, targeting, and/or intolerance of another person or group of people due to their ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, or held religious beliefs.

The code of conduct mentions a number of protected categories but it does not mention political affiliation or political ideology. I think that's because we want to allow criticism of political ideas as long as the post is useful to the site (questions that aren't otherwise off-topic and answers that actually answer the question) and it doesn't violate the code of conduct (again, in my reading political beliefs are not a protected category).

I'd further note that there's another code of conduct page on political speech which reads:

Harmful political content policy

The spirit of this policy is to create and maintain rules and guidelines that allow users to share knowledge and discuss challenging topics safely and peacefully while still allowing a decent level of scrutiny to governments.

We do not allow advocating for violence or encouraging harm to others. We do not allow discriminatory content towards a person’s actual or perceived ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and/or disabilities. We also do not allow content that supports, celebrates, or furthers the cause of extremist organizations as per our Abusive Behavior policy.

While on our sites users are expected to be factual, respectful, and objective while participating in main Q&A, user profiles and chat rooms allow for more subtle and nuanced conversations where pointed or harsh criticism of political figures, their policies, and governments (including satirical statements) can be allowed as long as they do not otherwise violate the Code of Conduct and do not contain insulting language directed at individuals.

Additionally, we will not allow political misinformation or widely disproven allegations against a political figure not supported by reasonable evidence to be promoted on the platform. Read more in our Misleading information policy.

In that spirit, it's of course best if posts are written in a neutral tone, critical arguments are written in a constructive way, etc.

To get back to the issue of declined Rude/Abusive post flags, there's only a few things we can do as moderators:

  • Mark it as a helpful flag but not take any action. Unnecessary flagging is not really a behavior we want to encourage. A flag that sees no action just takes up our time reviewing the post. If no action is necessary then we'd rather it didn't get flagged.

  • Decline that flag and take no further action. This is the default option (at least for me) when a flag doesn't warrant moderator action. It's my view that that's what happened with the declined flags.

  • Delete the post. If the answer is clearly a code of conduct violation and it is not easily salvageable through editing. I don't think post deletion was warranted in the cases of the flags I declined.

  • Edit the post. If a code of conduct violation is present in some portion(s) of the answer which can be easily removed so that the rest of the post is worth keeping then this is an option for us as well. I don't think that applied to the posts you flagged because those posts criticized some political beliefs which I've argued is within the bounds of what the code of conduct allows.

Finally, there's some other things you can do. All of the above is just talk about the code of conduct and using RA flags, but it's of course no endorsement of what was actually written in those posts you flagged. If the posts are flawed content-wise then options to tackle that are:

  • Downvoting
  • Leaving a comment pointing out a clear flaw or asking the poster to reference a dubious claim. In your post you mention the use of false experts, that's something you could call out in a comment.
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  • What I'm hearing is that if I don't like the way people argue here - notwithstanding the actual arguments; my objection is to the form - effectively I can downvote stuff and potentially have it reverted by the system anyway; propose edits that will be rejected because other users share the author's biases and don't see a problem with snarking; or leave. Is that about it? I'm not convinced that the list of protected categories mentioned in the CoC is intended to be inclusive, but I'm planning to ask on meta.SE to confirm. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 17:36
  • Actually, let me first check if we speak the same meta-language when it comes to political discussion: are you familiar with the principle of charity, and the rationalist concept of tabooing words? Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 17:39
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    @KarlKnechtel voting is the main tool we have to score if an answer is good or bad. Deletion (whether through community votes or expedited through red flags) is reserved for special cases where the rules have been broken (not an answer, code of conduct violations, etc.). The question here is whether your form objections rise to the level that the mods should intervene (by deleting those flagged posts?). I don't think it rises to that level for the flags I've declined but I'm curious if the main meta perspective will yield some new insights on how we should handle these flags.
    – JJJ Mod
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 17:51
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    Of course it would be ideal if posts are written in a better way, everything is more constructive, etc. etc. But that's not part of the decision-making when handling these flags. At that point the question is whether the post gets to stay or not.
    – JJJ Mod
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 17:51
  • Also relevant in this context: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/289398 Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 22:19

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