I flagged this answer a while ago as not an answer. It was declined with "declined - flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention "

So, can someone help me understand these flags? This clearly isn't an answer to the question. If I can't flag it as "not an answer", then why is that an option? What does it mean?

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In the meantime, someone has deleted that answer. –  Graphth Dec 15 '12 at 21:49
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"Not an answer" usually means that is should be a comment or it is spam.

If the answer is bad or wrong, it should be downvoted, or commented. If the answer should be deleted, it can be done by community vote, or in cases of spam, abuse, or profanity, a moderator can summarily delete an answer, but since a moderator's vote is binding, they may defer the deletion to the community vote.

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You mean deleted, answers cannot be closed. :-) –  Asaf Karagila Dec 15 '12 at 22:28
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The linked to answer is manifestly "not an answer" to the question asked, nor to any reasonable question. It was since deleted by three users. I assume that if a moderator saw it, s/he would delete it straightaway. So I don't understand why the flag was declined either. Also, if it's a borderline case whether a flag should be accepted or declined, isn't it better to accept it? Doesn't that encourage users to help out moderators, and isn't that the point of the flagging system? (I don't understand it very well either, clearly.) –  Pete L. Clark Dec 15 '12 at 22:39
    
@AsafKaragila: indeed. Thanks for the correction. I was thinking "question" when I should have been thinking "answer". –  robjohn Dec 15 '12 at 23:12
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@PeteL.Clark We'll just assume it was Bill. Or, it was a mistake by some other moderator. I'll just keep doing what I have been doing. What I have learned is that what I thought was right, but for some reason it didn't work correctly this one time. Oh well. –  Graphth Dec 15 '12 at 23:21
    
@Graphth: I like your attitude. Indeed some things are not worth worrying about. It's easy to forget that sometimes. –  Pete L. Clark Dec 15 '12 at 23:49
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@Graphth: it was not Bill; I declined the flag because it looked like an attempt at an answer that should be commented/downvoted and deleted by community vote rather than summarily by a moderator. I accept the criticism and will check to see what the other mods think, as well. –  robjohn Dec 16 '12 at 0:34
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@PeteL.Clark, mods are not editors, users with sufficient reputation are. In this case, I would also have declined the flag —it does look like an attempt to answer the question (I have graded waaay too many exams to not see that :-) ) –  Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Dec 16 '12 at 2:21
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@PeteL.Clark, « isn't it better to accept [the flag]?» I tend to err on the side of no: I prefer users to decide this sort of thing. –  Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Dec 16 '12 at 2:22
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@Mariano: Is it not possible to accept the flag and decide not to delete the question? When someone flags a question, they are trying to be helpful: it is often hard to know exactly what a moderator will do. Getting a message like "flag invalid" makes it sound like one's help is not desired or valued. When someone brings some concern to my attention, then I try to be gracious about it whether I am actually going to act on their concern or not. –  Pete L. Clark Dec 17 '12 at 1:59
    
@PeteL.Clark: some flags offer the mod the choice of delete or dismiss. In those cases, we can't. In other cases, sometimes the flags are gathered into groups and we have the choice of accepting a good flag with a bad or declining both. –  robjohn Dec 17 '12 at 2:22
    
@PeteL.Clark: I also wonder whether it would be confusing to accept a flag, but not act on it. Would that not cause people to wonder why the action was not taken? When I decline a flag, it doesn't mean that I think the flag was in bad faith. It may simply mean that I don't think the action requested is the best for the given situation. –  robjohn Dec 17 '12 at 2:32
    
@robjohn: Thanks for your answers. I find the entire flagging system confusing and underexplained, so I don't do it very often (even when I am otherwise highly active on the site). I suppose I was looking at "accepting a flag" as a moderator saying "Thanks for bringing this to my attention" and "rejecting a flag" as a moderator saying "You shouldn't have wasted my time with this." I can now see that this is an extremely crude approximation to the truth. –  Pete L. Clark Dec 17 '12 at 6:43
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@Pete: some degree of sanity can be had by reading this post. It may not answer all your questions, but it can be a start. –  Willie Wong Dec 17 '12 at 11:52
    
@Pete I initially interpreted "declined" flags as you did. But when I realized that no penalty attaches to having flags declined, I changed my interpretation to the one that robjohn suggests. –  MJD Dec 17 '12 at 15:13
    
Actually, I recall someone recently asking about flags and being told that nobody could see their flags because they had had too many flags declined, so there does seem to be some penalty associated to declined flags. –  Tobias Kildetoft Dec 17 '12 at 16:13
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