New feature: Comment flagging

One of The Oil Drum's strongest assets is our commenters, who carry on thoughtful, civil, and evidence-based discussions about energy each and every day. Unfortunately, these discussions can sometimes be diluted by individuals who do not abide by the Reader Guidelines—they post spam, sales pitches, and incoherent rants. Our editors work tirelessly to ensure that the signal-to-noise ratio of The Oil Drum's comment threads remains high. And now we are adding a feature that will enable TOD readers to help them out.

[UPDATE] The "Flag" link has been moved to the right of the "Start new thread" link.

We have launched a new feature called comment flagging. This feature enables users to flag comments that do not abide by the Reader Guidelines. The flagger's identity is hidden from the other readers but is visible to the editors. Readers who are logged in will now see a "Flag" link at the bottom of each comment (next to the "Reply" link to the right of the "Start new thread" link); clicking this link will cause the comment to be flagged. If a comment receives a certain number of flags, it becomes hidden automatically. Editors will use the list of flagged and hidden comments as a guide for moderation and to ensure that the system is not being abused.

Flags should be reserved for comments that violate the reader guidelines. Do not flag a comment just because you disagree with it! Abuse of the comment flagging system is grounds for account suspension. To ensure that readers use their flags judiciously, they are limited to 5 flags (this number is subject to change). If a reader has already flagged 5 comments and they flag an additional comment, then the earliest flag they have placed will be removed. Comments are not automatically unhidden when flags are removed; they can only be unhidden with an editor's intervention.

You can view a list the comments you have flagged under the "My account" link or at You cannot see whether other individuals have flagged a comment; only editors have this information.

Thanks for trying, I hope this works.

It seems a fair amount of thought has gone into this.

I want to see what it looks like. Flag my next post.

is there any options concerning how users can view posts which have been flagged? -- ie, have them visible, but with a different colour background?

What happens to replies to flagged posts? there are sometimes well thought out replies to what would otherwise be a post which was mostly troll.

(you could even disemvowel the offending posts)

Short of becoming an editor, so you can see the offending post, there are no options for seeing the posts.

We did not want readers to starts discussing why such and such post was being removed. Editors will want to watch the system, to see that post from readers with opinions that differ from the majority view are not being flagged, just for their differing views.

Replies to flagged posts are hidden, too.

It just becomes too confusing if the replies to hidden posts are not hidden.

I flagged Team10tim's test post above per his request. Apparently enough other people also flagged it, and it is now invisible.

Since we are given a limited number of flags, I'd now like to remove my flag. When I go to "My account" to look at posts I have flagged, I can't see Team10tim's "Flag this" post in order to unflag it.

Is there a way to remove my flag from a post that has become invisible?

When you exceed your flagging limit, your oldest flag will automatically be removed.

Poor Hothgor wouldn't have lasted nearly so long with such a system in place. I'm not here enough the last year to know who our latest unabridged troll is, but this move would seem to indicate we've got at least one or two on the loose.

This is partly preventative. And sometimes problems are greatest on certain types of posts-nuclear, for example.

Sometimes really inappropriate comments are made late at night, when most staff is not around. They can be hidden quickly, if readers help out by flagging them.

Great idea. I would like to see some of the travel forums adopt this approach too.

You've just lost one editor - they'll be spending so much time and energy checking all this they'll not have any left for editing and writing...

Edit - could you put the "flag" button somewhere OTHER than right next to the reply button? I've already accidentally flagged a post of Gail the Actuary's...

Perhaps it could be along the top with the little icons.

Agreed, that "flag"-thing should be somewhere else ....
Secondly, I do not miss that rating-system, which I saw as disturbance on the pages.

Maybe add an "unflag" option?

I believe it has an "unflag" toggle. Let me put up another test bad post.

Seems to me that allowing unflagging would tend to deplete anothers flagging quantity.

Should not editors only have the ability to unflag? Is this not going to lead to confusion?

Also is there a place for the 'flagger' to indicate just why he thinks it qualifies for flagging?


It is only your own flag you can remove, for example, if it was inserted accidentally. You can't see or remove anyone else's flag.

Good suggestion. The "Flag" link is now to the right of the "Start new thread" link.

I would much rather see a return of the UP/DOWN rating system, preferably of the type that shows the thumbs up (green hand with number) and thumbs down (red hand with number).

That kind of rating system lets you see the balance of opinion on the validity/relevance/stupidity etc of both the post and the poster.

I too miss the ratings system sadly it now seems to have been dropped permanently.

And a proper rating system would also have allowed the users and posters to self-regulate.

Too bad, so sad.

Bit I agree with Paal above that the rating system was better dropped. A plentiful supply of substantial objections to it was raised and not remotely disposed of. (And congrats to the team for (a) trying it, and (b) removing it).

Not necessarily. SuperG just decided that we needed to separate the two functions - highlighting good posts and hiding the truly obnoxious ones.

I also believe the UP/DOWN vote provides the readership with an idea of how strongly (or weakly) posts are assessed by fellow readers. The is another means by which to improve posting at this site, as people would have to think twice before creating a weak opinionated post. Support for positions via solid references would become more popular, and the discussion would rise back up a few levels (and those who persist with weak or insignificant positions would be assessed accordingly).

The de/merits of the up/down system were well-discussed in one or two posts at the time (sorry I don't have the ref). Among the substantial objections to it the not least was that it did not "provide the readership with an idea of how strongly (or weakly) the posts were assessed by fellow readers". There was no way of distinguishing between numerous various motives for downing. A most telling critique was that it enabled those who lacked evidence or logical basis for their opinions to nevertheless voice them.
Furthermore the value of this site is not as a popularity/orthodoxy competition (which just about all other sites function as), but as a site where flawed ideas have their flaws tactfully explained by real experts, while promising ideas have their promise built on by quasi-experts such as myself.

I do agree with this view.

It had problems. Yet some good was mixed with bad.

Someone who rants? A good nicely worded rant can have its own virtues?

Reason can go just so far then....

I can suppose that the banksters thought they were reasonable. As well as their hired accountant parrots. And according to 'Rules' they might have been following the rules. Rules who made? And why?

Sometimes /regulations fail. IMO many times. One can cry out in jail but who hears? To put it in a different venue. Are the guilty right now being held accountable? Not that I see.

However this is just a website,albeit a good one. So no one is likely hurt. Just debating you see.


My problem with the previous system is that it tended to draw attention to the posts with negative ratings. I would rather that posts which are truly inappropriate disappear. The presence of this type of system may even get some commenters to think more carefully before they post things that some may view as problematic.


I agree. And I have no problems with mine being flagged if I step over the boundary. Which I am sometimes wont to do. Can I then see if any of mine have been flagged? I know I can see one's that I flagged.

This I think is a good step.


I had an idea a while back about the old up/down ratings system (which I also miss - it was good for saving time / reducing the time-sink factor of my addiction to this site ;), reading just the highly up'd posts)

The idea was that each vote would only count as 0.1 instead of 1. Reducing the perceived "strength" of all our votes.

Additionally, it could maybe be only shown as full digits? Readers would not see the ratings until ten pos/neg votes.

Just an idea...

- Ron

My problem with the previous system is that it tended to draw attention to the posts with negative ratings.

I'd say just the opposite; if a post had high marks, people would pay attention to it. If it had low marks, people would barely scan it. Often the name of the poster carried some weight, so a high number of UP marks simply provided people with a great way to spend their precious online time on the best posts.

On a completely unrelated site, products are given reviews and star ratings.

The reviews with 1 or 2 stars by them get several times the views of reviews with 4 or 5 stars by them.

As humans, we're naturally drawn to the screaming and whining and ranting.

Not really likely; the sort of people who deliberately post "problematic" comments thrive on the feeling of conflict. "You're trying to silence me!" they cry with a sort of joy. Expect more of your time to be taken up answering angry ranty emails from people declaring themselves the new Galileo.

But if TOD was invaded by a horde of cornucopians then what?

The others would be squashed. Or flagged out. Or whatever.

Say if /.ers invaded. Well I will be glad to see the results but IMO there are a vast number of doomer(read that as Realists) types who read but do not comment.

There is a larger majority of non-doomers in this nation but just like the voters in an election. The small still voices go unheard. Then the majority win and I recall that at least elections were not supposed to work that way.

Reason for the electoral college. Populism wins.

Ahh well I am content with whatever.

Airdale-"I could be wrong, I have been wrong before." as someone uttered,some unknown soul...

But if TOD was invaded by a horde of cornucopians then what?

Was just about to go to bed (2am) when I was inconveniently re-awoken by that fantastic vision!

I think a site such as this by its very definition attracts mainly those who think energy shortage is an issue, whereas those who think otherwise naturally go somewhere more fun. So the general preponderance of doomish thought here could be dismissed as mere artifact. I don't see it as that myself but don't see how to disprove it (if our arguments are not self-evidently sound anyway).

By the way - pathetic conference arranged by London's "Institute of Ideas" to discuss the economic crisis with not a word about energy! . Certainly a horde of cornu's there.

Would it at all be possible to 'grey' a comment, it becoming less easy to read until it eventually disappeared, could work both ways if a slightly greyed value was used for the basic comment?

how 'bout individuals who post under more than one username ?

Sounds like a very good system to me. The thumbs up and down I mostly ignored unless a comment was particularly obnoxious. Being of a minority view here, I suspect a lot of comments got a thumbs down for disagreeing. I wasn't above it.

This system is much better for those like myself who try to limit comments to one per post, if I have anything to say. My comments are take it or leave it. Any editor is free to delete any or all of them at any time.

I comment for my own enjoyment because I like to write and know my comments will frequently be torn to shreds by others or be deleted.

I learned it from Kunstler. Every week he types out another post and it is picked to pieces by some of his critics. Yet the following week he puts up another as if nothing happened. He writes because he loves it. It is like the birds singing in the morning. They can't help it.

IMO that is the way it is on the internet.

I think the thumbs up/down was kind of wasted in that it was designed to try to weed out comments that broke the rules. Sometimes I just wanted to say "Yes I agree" with this comment or "No, I disagree" and give the writer some feedback without having to take up valuable time and screenspace by commenting. I would like to see something like that reintroduced but with the possibility of seeing who else agreed and who didn't. Maybe call it a cheer or a frown. The quality of commenting may be improved if many of the one liner commenters had a quick alternative.

If the thumbs up/down system was intended to identify comments that broke the rules, then I did not use it properly. I used it to voice agreement or disagreement with a comment which is the meaning of a thumbs up/down gesture. It allowed the crowd to express their opinion without censorship. The flagging system will likely devolve into group censorship over minority viewpoints. Those who read the comments early in the day will shape them to their liking. Those who only have time to read later at night will not see the changes. I think automatically hiding the comment, rather than leaving that decision to a moderator, is the fundimental flaw. Because I abhor censorship, I will not use this flagging system in its current form.

Blue - you have exactly illustrated my point that readers do not take on guideline pages and consequently they misinterpret-misuse the system. In your case you assumed the thumbs were to express dis/agreement even though it had been explicitly stated that they were intended not to but instead to rate contributiveness instead.

One can disagree that an article has something to contribute, and so give a negative rating. There were many articles that I did not agree with philosophically, but provided sufficient references and rationale that I gave thumbs up to. My thinking has changed on some matters since reading comments from people who know what they are talking about and are not practicing selective emphasis or cherry-picking.

My response is to close my web browser.

Hi Folks,

I agree with all the comments above...

Again I am reminded of John Gall's (2002) "The Systems Bible", notably the 'Design Don'ts' chapter, especially the bit that states (caps in original)

The scholar will recognize this Occam'a Razor in modern form:



While I appreciate the amount of effort that goes into TOD, are things really getting that bad that you need to inaugurate another system into an already complex set of systems?


So I click on "Flag" and that does it. What is the "-" for.

Good idea.

I went to MYACCOUNT the other day and happened to notice something had changed. It showed 'commments you have flagged' or words to that effect and I tried it to no avail.

This was the preparation for what I did not understand at that time.

It says each user will be allowed 5 flags but I did not see a time frame for those 5 indicated. Five per Key Post?

And BTW the terminology is difficult. A post, a comment, a TOPIC?, A Key?

What is what? An Essay Post? There is confusion in my mind. We need a good definition stated somewhere.

To me a comment is the same as a post. Ones says "posting a comment"..another call the whole Topic a post. Etc....

Again good idea.

But it appears its going to be a judgement call. Just how easy will it be for the judges/editors to examine many flags and find one that is not fair? Perhaps a questionable call? Or a very good comment with just a small infraction yet enough to qualify for a flag.

Like I say , a judgement call. I do have faith in the editors but I do notice that some seem to have an agenda likewise and some of their comments I find to be biased.Not overtly mind you but obvious.

Example: The debates on dissing and bashing Christianity. Seems that much is allowed yet others oxen are vastly gored.

Example: The bashing and outright derision of a previous president or party. Repugs come to mind. Yet there seems to be NO VAST Left Wing Extremists or Depugs. Whatever.

Lastly. I grow tired of the name calling and outright derision that exists. Perhaps that can then cease to be a problem.


The five flags is five lifetime flags, but you will in a way be able to reuse old flag, since they will no longer be needed. Once a post is blocked, it will not reappear, even if the flags are taken away by this feature.

The idea is that this is something to be used sparingly. If a person just starts flagging posts that have ideas they disagree with, they will soon run out of flags. Unless multiple users find a post offensive (with the precise level to be determined by the editors), the post will not disappear.


You mean forever? Surely not.

So I flag something and another unflags it. I just lost a flag.

I think this needs some thought and further work.

5 lifetimes flags would IMO mean that it would have to be a Super Super bad post. Why would one use up his supply for just normal trash that should not be allowed?

And yet there is no idea of what the count required to make the post hidden?

Based on the above I would be far more happy to return to the rating system which did seem to work but yet had flaws. For instance 'highjacking'.


Think of it as five flags in a week. Once comments have rolled over into "No Comment" mode, the flagging will make no difference, since whatever its state is (hidden or not) will be determined.

If a comment is truly bad, there will be others besides you flagging it.

The idea is to have few enough flags that commenters use these on offensive posts, not ones they simply disagree with.

Ok Gail,

I am looking forward to it.

Thanks for your work on TOD. I for one appreciate this site. Sometimes I disagree but its still the Mucho Primo site on the net for me.


This system does seem to have been well-thought out, to the extent of at least apparently disarming my two objections. Firstly the quota of five per week should prevent it totally degenerating into an unpopularity contest, along with the need for a certain number of flaggers (how many?). And secondly it doesn't add burden graphically.
The one question remaining is to what extent it adds burden of data or processing, to my end if not yours. These are already some of the most complex pages downloading to peoples' screens (I guess). Is there much extra IT burden involved?

When I was on dialup I had problems with bandwidth.

I went to EVDO and now can handle far more. At a cost that is.

Some posters are very excessive in comments. I skip them to read later.
Some I can tell differently and just skip on down.

Yes the bandwidth is an issue still and as some move to more rural areas they may lose bandwidth and not have to time anymore.

Perhaps there is currently less commenting than over last winter for many might be very busy. I am but I still take a break. Reading good comments is valuable anyway, at least in my world.


Commenting will likely go up when gasoline goes back up in price. That's my guess for the lower number of comments.

Summer time and the the living is easy, most posters here live north of the equator, comments will go up after the light fades some I think, though higher fuel prices may impact as well.

Looking at the new crescent in the just dark (and only for a few hours for a few weeks more in these parts) sky listening to old blues out of Prague ( and reading a few comments on the Drum is a rather global back porch experience though.

The truly obnoxious comments don't seem to occur that often here so flagging might work out if used sparingly. A little bit of off the wall isn't a bad thing from time to time.

I wish to suggest one change to this new system. The word "flag" is unclear. A reader could (mis)understand it to mean "flag as a star comment", and there'd be no-one ever correcting their illusion, for years and years (till the DoomsterReich itself dawns...).

I therefore suggest changing the link from "Flag" to "Abuse".

In unrealistically hopeful theory commenters both read and remember the instructions guidelines page. In practice some don't/won't.
That word "abuse" would also help to make clear and remind that it is specifically an abuse notification device rather than just for clobbering those you find tedious. Other sites such as youtube enable you to downflag loads of posts merely out of dislike, thus adding to this potential confusion in commenters' minds.

"Flag" is a pretty standard term for this use, at least on this side of the pond.

Perhaps "Flag for removal"? Even more clear than just "flag" and also common on other sites.

"Flag" is a pretty standard term for this use, at least on this side of the pond.

Yes but most of the human race are on the other side of the pond! And if we're going to go for the "pretty standard" we'd best join the pretty standard crowd who believe there's no need to bother about energy shortages within the next few decades. I still don't see the case against changing to "Abuse" (except someone's got to spend some seconds/minutes typing it in the right bit of the java).

My vote is "Flag as Abuse" as I see that used quite a bit.
To me, I think both terms will work OK as long as most people read about the purpose for it's use.

Likely those who make injudicious use of flagging will likely be 'flagged' as disruptors or hothgarian in manners by those editting the flagged posts.

Airdale-I love technology..too bad it will disappear. Electronic tech that is. My field and still is to a large degree. But now its Tractor-FlyByWire,GPS and VRT card burning or whatever,large repeater business band comm gear,high towers,etc

It probably wouldn't hurt to have a help screen, discussing how the system works. It could even be a link to this post.

As I understand it, every user has 5 flags. Lets think of them as physical flags. My 5 flags start out in my possession. My flags may be either in my possession or planted on a comment that offended me. Pressing a flag button on a post changes the disposition of one of my flags.

If I have not previously pressed a flag button 5 times, one of the flags remaining in my possession will be planted on the comment whose flag button I just pressed, and will cease being in my possession, but I will still have control over its disposition, as described below, and it's still mine. If I have previously pressed the flag button at least 5 times, none of my flags will be in my possession; they will all be planted on comments that offended me.

A comment bearing one of my flags will be visible or invisible, depending on whether it accumulated a sufficient number of flags from me and other readers to make it invisible.

If I press a flag button on an offensive comment when I have previously pressed at least five flag buttons, the flag of mine that has been planted the longest on a comment will be unplanted from that comment and replanted on the comment whose flag button I just pressed.

If the comment from which my flag was removed to make it available for replanting is visible at the time my flag was removed, its status is the same as if I had never flagged it. If it was invisible at the time my flag was removed, it remains invisible, even if it now has fewer flags than required for it to become invisible.

Is this correct so far?

May I put all my flags on one comment?

Your explanation is correct.

Also, you can only put one of your flags on a comment.

It probably wouldn't hurt to have a help screen, discussing how the system works.

...which some posters will not read or not remember, and go on indefinitely flagging the posts they rate highly.

When I move my cursor over the "Flag" button, a window pops up explaining the function as "Flag as inappropriate" which explains its function clearly.

True it does, but only after a delay by which time xyz has most likely already(*) clicked it on false assumption they are uprating it, and then move on to repeat the mistake infinite times more. Why not just put "Abuse" so it's clear without java popups; again keep it simple and idiot friendly please!
(* already clicked because you move your mouse there to click it, not to see if a popup unexpectedly appears)

Has anybody noticed that where the comment is narrow on the screen, FLAG is right below REPLY. So you will have a lot of people hitting FLAG by mistake.

Is there a 'confirm' for flagging?

There probably should be. (Click. "Oops! I... sorry dude!" )

Oh, I guess unflagging would work...

Oh well, doomed to the bin again

I did a Flag just to see what happened.

It reloaded me to the top of the page and reset all the NEW flags.

Other then that I don't have a problem with the system so far.


EDIT:Sorry, it opened a new tab of the same thread with me looking at the top of the page and the current NEW flags. I didn't notice it at first but then saw that I had another tab opened for the Oil Drum.

This will make it harder to keep track of the NEW flags i think?

Question? Can I use all my 5 flags on the same comment?


Edit2: No it will not let me flag the same comment more then once. But it did open 4 new tabs of the drumbeat with new NEW flags and the Unflag.

Now, can I flag my own comment?


Edit3: Cool, I can flag my own comment

Apr 27 2009 - 10:04pm
Apr 27 2009 - 8:03pm
Bahamas Ed
Leanan, yes, I was thinking
Drumbeat: April 27, 2009

Ed, (I love playing with computers)

I am a tad concerned about deleting rants, trolls and ad hominim attacks. One thing leads to another, there have been many occasions on TOD where an offensive or stupid comment has led to interesting discussions and resolutions.

I believe that TOD is trying to educate people and sometimes poorly informed people REACT to their fear by responding with a post that on the surface is quite confused, hostile or irrelevant. Perhaps shutting a door in their face will only amplify thier fear unnecessarily, and perhaps dealing with such difficulties will bring unexpected allies.

On the other hand, putting power into peoples hands is a pet topic for me so we shall all see if we might make good moderators. I won't be using the feature. I would like a "thankyou" button for those posts, comments and threads that really hit a chord.

Yes - some things really do need to be deleted.

Agreed. It is hard to know what should be hidden. Sometimes a comment (even if written in an offensive way) can get the original writer to clarify his or her position.

On the other hand, some of the writers of posts get upset with what they feel are unwarranted attacks, and don't want to write if the atmosphere is too hostile. Some posters on Drumbeat stay away if they feel that their thoughts on say, religion, are not respected.

I think this system will work well to make use of the good judgement of the great majority of those here, as long as a remove can't be imposed by only 3 or 4 of the most extreme or impulsive.

"Flag as inappropriate" looks a good improvement of wording, better than my proposal of "Abuse".