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In my community we have an option to report a post breaking our rules and moderators to review them. Now we are having two major problems with this lately:

  1. Users start to report an awful lot of posts which are not breaking our rules. We are currently only blocking 20-30% of the reported posts.
  2. Some users start reporting hundreds of posts just for fun.

Solutions we are currently thinking about:

  • Setting a maximum of reports per user in a specific time. The problem I see with this is that it will also lead to us also losing the valuable reports. No matter what threshold I set, it never takes the qualitative aspect into consideration and therefore we always loose helpful reports.
  • Setting a maximum of "not blocked"-reports per user in a specific time. If it gets exceeded we will not count the reports anymore. Here the problem is that it will cost us more resources and time to implement it.
  • Creating a more complex reporting procedure. Will take even more implementing time.

Our moderators get frustrated with the workload. Are there other options that I didn't take into consideration? What solutions do other communities apply?

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I've been a moderator on Stack Exchange for a few years and have watched flag-handling evolve there. Here's what I've learned from that so far.

Once upon a time, SE had a flag ban -- if too many rejected flags piled up, you couldn't flag any more. (This was visible to the user, not a shadow-ban.) That stopped the bleeding but wasn't recoverable; once you hit the ban, you were done unless an employee manually removed it. A perma-ban does not allow users to learn and improve.

This was replaced with a system of warnings and temporary flag bans. If you have too many recent rejected flags, as a proportion, you get a warning when you start to flag again that says something like "Wait! Your last few flags were rejected; read (some link here) before you proceed". If you continue past that and have more rejected flags, you're blocked from flagging temporarily. Rolling evaluations, warnings before bans, and temporarily bans help stop the bad flags without locking people out forever.

An SE user can see his flagging history -- what he flagged and whether the flags were accepted or declined. SE also, along the way, added more-detailed flag feedback. Instead of just accepting or declining a flag, a moderator can choose a standard response from a list or type a custom response. Many (most?) users who flag incorrectly are doing it out of ignorance, not malice. Feedback on individual flags can help educate users so they're more likely to flag correctly in the future. Users do need to see the feedback, of course, and some have raised the visibility of this feedback as an issue on SE.

Finally, there is a limit (per day) on how many flags an individual user can raise, and it is tied to the user's track record. Better flaggers get more flags, but everybody hits a cap eventually. (I think it's something like 100/day on SE.) Users can see what the limit is. Knowing that there is a limit might encourage users to use their flags more carefully (or might not; not everyone pays attention to such things). You say you are concerned with losing the positive flags, but if your community is at all active, somebody else will flag it. Joe Flags-A-Lot doesn't need to be able to; your mods will still find out. Individual limits contain prolific flaggers without hindering other users, and you can set the limit based on individual records.

Your question suggests a preference for false positives over false negatives; you'd rather get junk flags to avoid missing the real ones. But your moderators are getting frustrated with the workload. It sounds like it's time for you to consider allowing some flag-worthy stuff to live just a little bit longer, to allow your moderators to see a better hit rate. Plus, as I said, these are all individual limits, designed to slow down users with bad records; the rest of your community can still flag. (Are you, perhaps, over-relying on a few active flaggers? Is it time to get more of your community involved in this activity?)

  • Some questions for better understanding your very helpful answer: Paragraph 1: Were the flag bans communicated to the users or a shadow ban (the user thought he could flag but it wasn't counted anymore)? Paragraph 2: Are we still talking about the flag ban or did it evolve to a "normal" ban for abusing the security measures of the community? Paragraph 3: Could it help to make sure we tell every user whether his/her flags got removed or will this lead to more trouble than it would educate the users? Paragraph 4: Should we tell them the exact number or not communicate the limit at all? – loiro Jul 14 '16 at 8:57
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    @loiro thanks for the feedback. I've edited to address your questions; please let me know if I missed anything. See also the good points raised in this answer, particularly the idea about telling users "hey, this was already flagged -- do you want to flag anyway?". – Monica Cellio Jul 17 '16 at 19:12
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In your question you raise the possibility of restricting the number of flags but are worried about losing valuable reports:

Setting a maximum of reports per user in a specific time. The problem I see with this is that it will also lead to us also losing the valuable reports. No matter what threshold I set, it never takes the qualitative aspect into consideration and therefore we always loose helpful reports.

The problem with having unlimited flags is that users can, and will, flag everything. If they have a limited number of flags then they will hopefully learn to use those flags more judiciously. If they see a borderline post they might hold off flagging or use other means to correct the situation like editing (if that's allowed) rather than "waste" a flag. This should address your second point of people misusing the flagging system "for fun".

If you have enough users with flagging abilities you should still get the coverage you need.

You can also vary this limit (like Stack Exchange does) and allow those with a proved track record of using flags correctly more flags.

One other thing to consider is to tell users that a post has already been flagged as they flag something.

This post has already been brought to the moderator's attention. Do you really need to add your flag?

This could serve two purposes:

  1. The user can cancel their flag and use it later on a post that hasn't been flagged.
  2. Something that has been flagged multiple times is clearly something you want to deal with sooner rather than later. Sorting posts by the number of flags will allow you to deal with the more serious issues sooner rather than later.

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