The flag is now a common mechanism for reporting offensive content to an online platform, and is used widely across most popular social media sites. It serves both as a solution to the problem of curating massive collections of user-generated content and as a rhetorical justification for platform owners when they decide to remove content. Flags are becoming a ubiquitous mechanism of governance—yet their meaning is anything but straightforward. In practice, the interactions between users, flags, algorithms, content moderators, and platforms are complex and highly strategic. Significantly, flags are asked to bear a great deal of weight, arbitrating both the relationship between users and platforms, and the negotiation around contentious public issues. In this essay, we unpack the working of the flag, consider alternatives that give greater emphasis to public deliberation, and consider the implications for online public discourse of this now commonplace yet rarely studied sociotechnical mechanism.
A flag can be a good way of making a powerful new image. Times, Sunday Times (2016)The house was decked out in flags and bunting. The Sun (2007)Both had problems with flags and emblems.Davey, Ray Rev. & Cole, John A Channel of Peace (1993)It has beamed ceilings and flagged floors. Times, Sunday Times (2007)It is the flag of this country. The Sun (2013)Your energy is flagging and you feelwashed out a lot of the time. The Sun (2015)Why do centre flags no longer feature in football? Times, Sunday Times (2010)He had also been flagged as a terrorsuspect for years in police files. The Sun (2015)These flags can be found anywhere you look. Times, Sunday Times (2014)It was feared the flags could become detached at speed. Times, Sunday Times (2006)Perhaps we should have a flag day for them! The Sun (2011)Can anyone put up a flag for the country they favour? Times, Sunday Times (2006)Week three of the show season and energy is flagging. Times, Sunday Times (2013)People have long been putting flags on their cars and hanging football duvet covers on washing lines. Times, Sunday Times (2010)But they also fly the flag for dodgy clobber made on these shores. The Sun (2012)And the flags have become very long and tall. Times, Sunday Times (2009)Flags flew from buildings, taxis and police cars. Times, Sunday Times (2010)They're not ones to wave flags or call attention to themselves. Christianity Today (2000)Wednesday's cashtwist was designed to boost flagging ratings. The Sun (2007)At various stages in his career his enthusiasm flagged, and he moved on to another challenge. Times, Sunday Times (2011)BRITAIN'S building industry is flagging because of a shortage of bricks, it was warned yesterday. The Sun (2016)Sitting areas have flagged floors, settles and woodentables. Times, Sunday Times (2006)Follow a hiddenpath up to the tree hut, where you can display your flag. Times, Sunday Times (2013)DO you think you can set a new standard with your flag design? The Sun (2013)Study the flags and emblems. Times, Sunday Times (2009)