Feedback Guidance

Some aspects of feedback to SmokeDetector have historically caused confusion. This page is intended to address some of those confusions.

For guidance on when or why to watch or blacklist something, see Guidance for Blacklisting and Watching.

Generic Guidance

In very general terms, the litmus test for whether you should use k or f is this:

If SmokeDetector was implemented as a system-level block, would we want to catch this type of activity?

If the answer to that question is yes, you should mark the post k. Otherwise, a f or n response may be more appropriate.

If it’s not obvious which type of feedback was appropriate for a post, it may be easier to refrain from giving feedback until you can discuss it with others in Charcoal HQ and work out what the correct response is. You can also leave a comment on the metasmoke record to help others looking at the record work out what’s already been thought of. Please don’t comment on the post itself on Stack Exchange unless you’re a regular of the site.

There are a few types of activity we have specific feedback guidelines for, as outlined below.

Disclosed affiliation

It’s fine to promote your own product or service on Stack Exchange, as long as:

If all of those conditions are true, then self-promotion is not spam and therefore f and not k (unless it doesn’t answer the question, in which case it’s n). If any of them are false, self-promotion is k.


Self-vandalism is where a user vandalises their own post by replacing all its useful content with something like “xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx”, or “deleted deleted deleted”. For self-vandalism, use tp- (or one of its aliases, such as v, vand or vandalism). At a system level, we’d want to catch and block people doing this, but it’s not worth blacklisting the user because it’s usually a one-time incident. Most users, when warned, don’t do it again.

Posts containing only garbage

For posts containing no understandable content (e.g. “dfajiojaifojadiofjadhiga”), these should be given tp or tpu feedback, because we would want a system-level block of this content.

However, if you choose to raise a flag, you want to be a bit more nuanced in which flag you use. Shog9’s answer on MSE indicates that, in the vast majority of cases, almost any flag works, but that he’s partial to “rude or abusive”, as those flags get the post deleted faster. For users with more than a very small amount of reputation, you should stay away from red-flags (spam or R/A) (MSE). Give those users the benefit of doubt and raise an NAA flag. In addition, be aware that which flags are acceptable for this type of content are different on some individual sites. On some sites, flags other than “rude or abusive” and NAA may be declined (e.g. some sites will decline spam flags on this type of content: physics).

Foreign-language posts on English sites (or vice versa)

Most sites on Stack Exchange are English only, but some permit, or require, other languages. Posts which are in a language other than those used on the site where they were posted are handled largely based on their translation into the appropriate language, with the exception that answers are either NAA or TP, depending on content. Questions are FP and answers are NAA, unless a translation indicates the post contains text which would be considered TP (i.e. if it’s spam or R/A, it’s k). Being in the wrong language for the site alone doesn’t make a post k-able. Typically, most of these can be determined by using automated translation (e.g. Google Translate). However, it’s sometimes necessary to get the opinion of a native speaker. We have a list of people who have indicated they are willing and able to review posts in some languages other than English.


Plagiarism — copying without attribution from another source such as someone else’s answer or another website — is not always easy to spot. If you do spot it in an answer, then mark it as tp — you may wish to explain to other users in the chatroom why you’ve done that, to avoid arguments about what the feedback should be.

If you get to a post before it’s deleted, an easy way to spot plagiarism is to check the other posts on the same page for similar content.

Catching something that’s just plagiarism, and not also spam or rude/abusive (R/A), is a bonus if we do, but we’re not aiming to catch just plagiarism. So, while plagiarism by itself should be marked as tp, the !!/report command shouldn’t be used to report plagiarism and the user should normally not be placed on the user blacklist, under most circumstances. As to flagging, plagiarism is usually handled by raising an “in need of moderator intervention” flag in which you explain that it’s plagiarism and provide a link to the source, a probable/possible source, or at least explain why you think it’s plagiarism. Plagiarism on its own is not normally handled with either spam or R/A flags. It’s possible for there to be additional circumstances which make putting the user on the user blacklist (i.e. tpu) and red flagging appropriate (e.g. a persistent troll that repeatedly posts inappropriate plagiarized content; there are, unfortunately, some trolls like this), but that’s not the normal response to just a single plagiarized post.

Repairable offensive posts

Some people think that f*cking is a synonym for very, so they use it to provide emphasis when writing their post. These posts usually can be salvaged by editing out the inappropriate language and leaving a comment. Therefore the appropriate feedback is f as we don’t want a system-level block preventing these kind of posts. “Salvaged” here means there would be something of value to the site after the offensive words were removed. If there’s no content to salvage, then tp- is appropriate, or tpu-, if you feel the post indicates the user may repeat similar content, as we would want to block them at the system level.

While this guideline makes many posts which contain some minor offensive language fp, if a post is edited by the author in a way which is mostly offensive, then the appropriate feedback is tp-, as we would’ve wanted that edit to be blocked by the system.

NAA feedback

NAA feedback has sometimes been a little confusing. Using n as your feedback should, in general, be done if:

Bad questions

The NAA feedback is disabled on questions, as questions are, in fact, not answers. But, what if the question is VLQ, off-topic, too broad, or otherwise considered ‘bad’ by SE’s quality standards? Unless the post is actually spam or rude/abusive, then the appropriate feedback is fp-. Charcoal is not intended to be the arbiter of what’s on-topic for any particular site. It is possible for such posts to go over the line to the point that they can/should be marked as TP, but that should be based on a spam/rude/abusive spectrum, rather than topicality.

If you’re still unsure, error on the side of caution and choose f. Then, leave a comment on the MS report or in chat indicating what is wrong with it, and why you chose that feedback.

User expressing suicidal intent

Please avoid raising red flags on such posts, unless the post is far enough into the spam/R/A spectrum such that it’s significantly inappropriate for others to be reading/for it to be displayed. Such posts should be handled by raising an “in need of moderator intervention” flag to bring it to moderator’s attention. A moderator on the site should raise a Community Manager (CM) escalation, for which there is a specific category. Such escalations receive priority processing by the CMs. The desire for red flags not to be raised is because the effects of the red flags may be yet one more negative thing for the person, who is already in a vulnerable place. However, that shouldn’t mean that all someone needs to do to not get red flags for a post that’s truly offensive is to say they are considering suicide. So, use your judgement, but please lean fairly strongly towards not raising red flags and allowing moderators/CMs to handle the situation.

Feedback, on the other hand, should be based on a normal evaluation of the post (i.e. if it’s spam or R/A, then it’s TP).

Posts which you manually report

It’s preferred that you don’t both manually report a post and provide TP feedback on the post. If you report something in error, you may provide FP or NAA feedback. While this isn’t as critical as it once was, due to changing the required number of feedbacks from 1 to 2, it’s still expected that you don’t give TP feedback on your own reports, particularly where the only reason for detection (i.e. in the why data) is that it was manually reported.