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I have noticed a number of blatantly off-topic questions that hang around for a long time despite heavy down-voting and calls for removal by senior users. I found somewhere on the site (although I can't find it now) that 10 flags would remove a post immediately, so I dutifully add my flag; but flags do not seem to accumulate enough to get rid of the post in good time. The problem may be that, while it takes only a couple of seconds to identify such a post with certainty, it takes much longer to flag it (including typing out 10 characters such as off-topic-, which seems unnecessary since the off-topicality can be seen at a glance). Also, people may not be aware of the 10-flag rule.

I am only talking about obviously off-topic questions, which genuine users would unanimously want to remove, such as school homework problems and muddled questions by people who don't even understand school maths. It seems that they are protected by well-intentioned procedures aimed at giving some benefit of the doubt to questions of borderline topicality (which are not much of a problem in my view). In contrast, posts by trolls and spammers seem to be very well filtered.

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    $\begingroup$ Only spam and offensive flags automatically remove posts, and the threshold is 6 flags for those. All questions are hidden from the frontpage if they fall below a score of -4, but they're still visible on the /questions page. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Nov 18 '13 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. I got that wrong. $\endgroup$ – John Bentin Nov 18 '13 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the easiest way to achieve the goal (as it doesn't require changes in the software) would be that the moderators do a bit more than they do now with respect to removing "clutter" posts. -- Or would this be infeasible / cause too many objections / ... ? $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Nov 18 '13 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ The "average flag handling time" is currently a bit under 100 minutes (... thanks Todd!) I don't think reacting any faster to flags is really viable. I think more flags for moderator attention, and more flags for spam (please, however, only when it's not even mathematics) would be helpful. $\endgroup$ – Scott Morrison Nov 18 '13 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ In the case of this -4 thing, would it make sense to encourage users to be more liberal in their downvoting? $\endgroup$ – stankewicz Nov 19 '13 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ There is no need for flags. Users with high-enough reputation can vote to delete closed questions. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Nov 21 '13 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ I was wondering whether the OP will find out that his question was migrated if the original is deleted before he comes back to the site. But it seems that there is a notification for the OP when a question is migrated. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Nov 23 '13 at 8:38
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    $\begingroup$ @stankewicz: I agree with that (more liberal downvoting) in principle, but I find it very difficult in practice. Given the typical vote scores on questions, downvoting a question to –4 feels like a vey cruel pile-on. When the questioner’s a repeat offender, or blatantly putting no effort in, I don’t mind doing that, but the vast majority of noise questions are well-meaning, sincere, and have put a modicum of effort in, but just haven’t taken seen relevant parts of the site description/FAQ. Maybe I’m just soft-hearted, and should be downvoting nonetheless… but it’s hard to bring myself to. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Dec 1 '13 at 22:02
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What I think you're thinking of are spam or abuse flags, which automatically delete the post and deal the author a -100 rep penalty once six accumulate. You definitely don't want to use these for off-topic posts, unless they are also technically blatant advertisements or speech that a reasonable person would find offensive.

These flags also help to teach our spam protection layer, so they should only be used where they literally apply because Math Overflow contributes to teaching our spam system along with every other site in the network.

Down votes on questions don't cost the voter any rep, so down vote them, flag as off topic, vote to close, flag as very low quality - whatever seems appropriate. Just please don't use the spam flags unless they're really called for because such use could contribute to false positives in the system, of which there have been none so far.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not suggesting that spam or abuse flags should be misapplied to off-topic posts. As well as being muddled about which flags could automatically remove a post, I was unaware that down-votes on questions don't cost the voter any rep. Thank you for your reply. $\endgroup$ – John Bentin Nov 19 '13 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnBentin They also quickly move a question off the front page (there is some caching involved so it might take a minute), but down votes are definitely the tool for the job. $\endgroup$ – Tim Post Nov 19 '13 at 12:02
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If migrated questions and similar stuff are too distracting when using the site, one can use search to hide them: is:question migrated:no score:-1 closed:no. This should hide migrated stubs (=questions that have been migrated from MO, but are still shown here for next 30 days after migration), closed questions and questions having score -2 and lower. Search results can be ordered by choosing newest or active, so the end result can get close to the way you are usually viewing question.

The results of the search do not look exactly the same as the tab with newest/recent question, but they look at least similar. I guess this is a reasonable workaround to view questions and hide all posts that can be characterized as obviously off-topic. Using search for hiding migrated question was suggested in this comment on meta.MSE.

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  • $\begingroup$ Questions migrated from MathStackExchange are likely to be too advanced for that site and are not of the problematic sort under discussion. Rather, the obviously off-topic questions are those that should be migrated in the opposite direction, if they are to be preserved at all. $\endgroup$ – John Bentin Nov 24 '13 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnBentin I might be wrong, but I think this hides questions migrated from MO, not questions migrated to MO. Search help says: migrated: yes/true/1 returns only questions that have been migrated to a different site; no/false/0 excludes migrated questions from the search. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Nov 24 '13 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clarification! $\endgroup$ – John Bentin Nov 24 '13 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't help though if one is trying to showcase MO to someone who is curious but sensitive to seeing all this 'junk'. Telling them to go to mathoverflow.net (and perhaps clicking on 'Questions') is much easier than mathoverflow.net/… $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Nov 26 '13 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRoberts I do not know how to help with that. However, if I understand Tim Post's comment correctly, downvotes should help to remove such questions from the front page. Downvoted questions are still shown after you click on questions. (Although I am not sure what are the differences when displaying the frontpage for registerd users and new users.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Nov 26 '13 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ I should perhaps also add link to this question related to search options mentioned in my answer: Is there an option to hide migrated (or even on hold) questions? $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Aug 28 '16 at 12:50

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