A long time ago I posted a cops-and-robbers challenge in which I (perhaps foolishly) permitted unicode solutions but included the following rule:

You may use any Unicode characters for these, but please don't use whitespace, or symbols that are hard to distinguish from each other

Recently, it received an answer that uses the unicode character U+202E (right to left override) to trick the reader into thinking the order of the characters is different from what it is.

Obviously, this is the sort of thing that that rule is meant to prevent, so naturally I flagged it as "not an answer", leaving a comment to explain what the problem is. However, the flag is now marked as "disputed", which as I understand it means that a mod reviewed the answer and clicked "looks ok".

My question is, why? This seems to me a very clear case of an not-an-answer.

The only reason I can think of is that the mods accept the poster's argument that U+202E is not technically whitespace. But that's an absurd technicality. Am I really supposed to accept that a dumb joke answer has to be permitted, even though it's clearly against the spirit of the challenge, just because I didn't think of the right-to-left override character and explicitly forbid it?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just a clarification: there is no "looks okay" button when handling flags. There's "mark helpful" and "decline" both of which should give an option to specify a reason for handling the flag. Also, a disputed flag doesn't necessarily imply the moderator team calling an answer valid - it could have been disputed for any number of reasons like "the cop answer already has a robbers answer". \$\endgroup\$
    – lyxal
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 13:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, it could be because that's the mod team's way of saying that the flag would better be raised as a moderator flag rather than a NAA flag. NAA flags are typically for posts that are in no way shape or form code golf answers (e.g an answer that should have been a comment or an answer on a completely different topic). I know that if I were to handle a NAA flag like that I'd probably dispute it for that reason. \$\endgroup\$
    – lyxal
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 13:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @lyxal ah ok, maybe I misunderstood the process. (And it does already have a robbers answer, from you, which is a fine answer, although if it were up to me they would both be deleted.) \$\endgroup\$
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 13:14
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ No moderator had any interaction with this flag. I saw the flag, but it was "handled" entirely by the review queues. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wheat Wizard Mod
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 13:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WheatWizard I see, thanks for the information. Sorry for misunderstanding the system. \$\endgroup\$
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 13:55
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Not your fault. The system is complicated and creates problems like this. I'm writing a full answer to explain what happened and how to play the system right. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wheat Wizard Mod
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 13:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As a conclusion to this, I reviewed and deleted the answer as invalid without seeing the surrounding discussion. The user has a history of answers involving troll and/or loophole abuse \$\endgroup\$
    – Jo King Mod
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 11:14

1 Answer 1


You used the wrong flag

"Not an answer" seems like the obvious thing to flag something like this as. It breaks the rules, it's not a valid answer. On our site the best course of action is usually to flag it as needing moderator intervention and explaining the issue.

Why do the other options exist? What's wrong with them? Well, flags are designed for a general stack exchange site, not our site.

The following is how I understand the system to work. Since it's incredibly complicated and pretty poorly documented I look forward to being corrected on a bunch of the details.

When you flag something as NAA it will appear in the moderator tab, but it will also appear in the review tab for non-moderators. This is intended to help moderators handle the volume of flags on stack overflow, by delegating easy moderator tasks to trusted users.

However on this site

  • determining if an answer is valid requires much more care and effort (SO doesn't delete answers for being wrong or only partially answering questions only those that are blatantly off topic)
  • we have a lot more moderator power and we can reasonably have moderators tackle all the issues

This makes a system where reviewers mostly look at stuff that was automatically flagged by a bot and are looking for very basic issues and see loads of false positives. On top of that the UI design heavily encourages you to use the flags in a particular way that sends them into that system, and gives you no hint as to the implications of that.

What happened in this case, which I can see from moderator data, is that

  • You flagged it as NAA
  • Several moderators (including myself) saw the flag but didn't take any action.
  • It appeared in the review queue where two users (not moderators) marked it as "Looks OK" and one user (not a moderator) marked it as "Recommend Deletion".

My understanding is that "disputed" in this case means that the reviewers were inconclusive. And the reviewers being inconclusive closed the flag making it disappear from the moderator tab. And when things disappear we moderators generally assume one of the other moderators handled it.

None of this would have happened with a custom "In need of moderator intervention" flag. Of course I cannot blame you or any user for using the system intuitively. The problem is that the system does not work, not that people are following its instructions.

So we can try to spread "awareness" that this issue exists, but it is going to keep on happening.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ As one of the two reviewers who marked it as "Looks OK" (fully aware of the issue it was flagged for), it was my bad for not taking the time to flag it again for a mod to look at, which is what I usually do. Diffusion of responsibility, ig. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 17:13

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