I flagged an answer yesterday as "not an answer," leaving a comment saying as much (which got two upvotes). Someone else who reviewed the answer left the stock "This does not provide an answer to the question" comment, which also got two upvotes (one mine).
However, the answer was edited after the flag, and now I think that it does provide an answer to the question.

However, in my flagging history, the flag shows up like this:

not an answer – Shokhet yesterday declined - flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention

.....say what? When else should "not an answer" flags be used?

  • $\begingroup$ I did not link to the answer in this question, because if some moderator decided that it qualifies as an answer, then it probably should. If, for the purposes of this discussion, people need to see the answer, I can link to it; but since I'm really asking a question of the moderators I don't think that will be necessary as they can see my flagging history. $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Nov 13 '14 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Shokhet. I replaced the title of your question with one that hopefully is more specific while capturing the intent of your post. If you feel it doesn't, feel free to edit further or roll back as appropriate. $\endgroup$ – user Nov 13 '14 at 11:44

Your profile currently shows a single declined flag, so I assume that's the one you are talking about; that particular flag was handled by Tim B. I've taken another look at the answer, and the below is how I would reason.

Flags should ideally be used for content that is basically "unsalvageable" within the scope of the site. As you say that after the comments and the (later, small) edit, you feel the answer does answer the question, it follows that the edit turned the non-answer into an answer. That, to me, indicates that the answer was still an answer earlier, it was just in need of clarification of exactly what the answerer meant. It is also important to note that by the time Tim handled the flag, that edit had already been made. Especially taking those two together, declining the flag seems to me to have been an appropriate course of action at the time it was done.

Hence, the timeline was: post answer -> flag answer -> edit answer -> review flag -> decline flag as invalid.

Consider the answer downvote canonical reason: This answer is not useful. That sounds applicable to an answer that needs to be more explicit about exactly what the answerer feels is the answer to the question. (Once the answer is clear, it may still be wrong, which should warrant downvoting.) You don't say whether or not you downvoted, but there are no current downvotes on that answer, and I can see no evidence that the answer has been downvoted in that past and those downvotes reversed after the edit.

Hence, at the very least and by your own admission, at the time Tim handled the flag it was no longer valid, and at the time the flag was raised, really what the answer needed was a small amount of clarification about what the answerer felt the answer to the question was. That can be handled by commenting and downvoting, and does not require moderator intervention. (If you leave a comment asking the answerer to clarify an answer and after some reasonable time they have not, that may be reason to flag the answer. But do make sure to give it at least a few days or so; not everyone visits the site every day.)

To try to sum up: an answer being wrong (technically inaccurate) is not a reason to flag that answer; as I said above, it is a reason to downvote. Even more so on a site with as wide-ranging topics as the Worldbuilding SE, moderators are not and cannot be expected to be subject matter experts in every subject that ends up being asked about on the site. In this regard, think of us moderators, when we act in the role of moderators, more as janitors than experts.

  • If you feel an answer is wrong or in need of clarification or expansion, then downvote, ideally following up with a comment and/or take it to chat as appropriate so the answerer becomes aware of what is wrong with the answer. Be willing to acknowledge that perhaps the problem was simply a misunderstanding that can be fixed by rephrasing the answer without actually changing its content. Do not flag just because an answer is technically inaccurate; "only technical inaccuracy" is even specifically a reason to decline a flag. Always respect the original poster; if they do not want to edit the answer (for whatever reason) after you make your case why the answer is wrong, respect that decision, but do consider downvoting answers which you feel are incorrect. Better yet, post an answer of your own with your view of things (take care to not make it dependent on any other answer; the question and any one answer should make sense when read together with no other context).
  • If you are able to fix the post without changing the original poster's intent, then edit to fix the problem. Everyone can propose edits, and users with (currently) 1,000 rep or higher are able to edit immediately without community review. Keep in mind that editing a post bumps the question to the top of the front page, so please try to make edits substantial enough to count even when you have the rep to make minor edits.
  • If a post is outright gibberish, spam, etc., is unlikely to be salvagable or even is outright unsalvagable (into some form appropriate to the site), then by all means flag it with an appropriate flag reason.
  • Given appropriate reputation, when appropriate, prefer voting to close, voting to delete, voting up/down, etc., over flagging. Flags show up separately to moderators, and we prefer keeping that to only content that actually requires moderator attention. This is not meant to say that you cannot flag; it's better to flag once too much than once too little if you are uncertain. However, flags do end up in the moderator queues, and there are only three of us, so if some other action which you have access to will do equally well through community reviews, prefer that other action over flagging.
  • Always flag spam or offensive content with the appropriate system-provided flag reason. Do not use custom flags for these. If enough people flag with those specific reasons, the flag is handled automatically by the system without requiring further human intervention. This automated handling does not work when people use custom flag reasons, even if the custom flag reason is for example "spam!".
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for a very detailed answer! ....FWIW, I didn't flag because it was wrong, I flagged because the answer, as it was phrased at time of flagging, was more of a comment than an answer -- that, to me, deserves the "not an answer" flag. While I did realize (after writing this question) that this answer was edited, I didn't realize that it was edited before the flag was handled. $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Nov 13 '14 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Shokhet I see how you reasoned there, but in that case, assuming the answer at least takes a stab at answering the question (even if it would be better if it was expanded upon), it's better to just leave a comment (and possibly a downvote) first in situations like that. Especially since in this particular case the rather small edit turned the answer into something which you feel was appropriate as an answer. Save flagging for those instances that need moderator attention. (This is not to say you can't flag, far from it; just that you shouldn't flag if some other action will do properly.) $\endgroup$ – user Nov 13 '14 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ OK. Thanks again for explaining! $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Nov 13 '14 at 15:57

As the person who handled the flag I can't really add much to what Michael said but I can confirm that I was looking at the post-edit version. For the record though I would most likely have declined the flag even on the pre-edit version. The question is a reality-check - they are asking if something is possible. Replying saying it is not possible may or may not be wrong but is still an answer.

The overall reason for declining flags like this is simple, it may have been a poor quality answer but it was still an answer. Poor quality answers should be down voted or deleted. There is no need for moderators to do anything with those answers as voting will automatically take them to the bottom of the list or even grey them out if they go negative enough.

Not An Answer should be used for cases where the "answer" really is not an answer. A common case is where someone is asking for more information or clarification. Another case is where they are going off on a completely unrelated tangent, etc.

For example you have a Not An Answer flag accepted for an answer that said:

This is an interesting question from an interesting point of view, but is this just a game or is there a concept involved with a real outcome?

This is clearly a comment asking for clarification, not an answer and is a perfect example of where a Not An Answer flag is appropriate.

There have also been a number of flags on what were essentially link-only answers that have similarly been accepted. Note though that we as moderators and the community as a whole are all learning all the time and need to work out just what level of answers deserve what type of treatment so those standards may well change as we refine our understanding of how this site works best.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for explaining....would you have declined the flag, pre-edit? As I saw it, that answer didn't make an attempt to answer the question at all.... $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Nov 13 '14 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ As I said in my second sentence I most likely would have declined the flag. The question is a reality-check - they are asking if something is possible. Replying saying it is not possible may or may not be wrong but is still an answer. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Nov 13 '14 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Pre-edit wasn't saying "not possible," he was just saying that the terms used in the question were incorrect....to me, that's a comment, not an answer. $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Nov 13 '14 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ I agree pre-edit it was pretty borderline. It was doing more than just saying that the terms were incorrect though, it explained some fallacies in the question but then went on to explain how crowd control devices work. It was missing the conclusion to really turn that into an answer but it did provide the information needed for people to draw their own conclusions. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Nov 13 '14 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ Added a bit more to the post, need to get on with other things now though :) $\endgroup$ – Tim B Nov 13 '14 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ All right. Thanks again for clarifying :) $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Nov 13 '14 at 17:00

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