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le_inferno's avatar

Why do moderators have the ability to read everyone's private messages?

Asked by le_inferno (6189points) June 10th, 2010

I don’t understand how intruding on people’s private communications is fair, ethical, or necessary. If there was a specific incident that would elicit banishment, i.e., threatening, harassing, etc., then a mod can be notified and he/she will investigate. But what’s to stop mods from abusing this privilege by reading all personal exchanges? Nothing. Do they screen everyone’s messages for possible alerts? Do they just read anything they feel like intruding upon? What’s the deal?

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36 Answers

CMaz's avatar

Have your private messages been read by the mods?

Aethelwine's avatar

Only Andrew, Ben and Tim have this ability. I believe augustlan does too, but that’s it.

timtrueman's avatar

They cannot be read by moderators. Only the community manager (augustlan) and the staff can (and we don’t unless there’s a specific issue like harassment reported to us). I’m not sure where you got the impression mods could read PMs.

chyna's avatar

Mine would bore them to tears.

timtrueman's avatar

@chyna And that’s precisely why we don’t read them unless there’s a pressing reason to…I’ve worked a lot of jobs where I have access to information like that and trust me if I had the time to read your PMs I’d pick sleep or Starcraft II over reading your dirty laundry any day.

chyna's avatar

@timtrueman Wait, what? You know how boring my pm’s are? haha

CMaz's avatar

@chyna – I know better. ;-)

zenele's avatar

Mine are all about sex. Mostly with imaginary friends.

chyna's avatar

@ChazMaz Shhhh. You said it was just between us.

@zenele You calling me imaginary?

KatawaGrey's avatar

@chyna: That’s because you delete all the interesting ones.

@le_inferno: You can delete your private messages if you are really that worried about other people reading them. I do wonder what you are putting in your messages that are so bad that you worry about moderators reading them.

chyna's avatar

@KatawaGrey—Go read @le_inferno‘s pm’s and let us know. Just Kidding.

Buttonstc's avatar

There’s a very simple rule of thumb here to eliminate all your problems. It’s basically what I follow for ANYTHING I write online.

This is the Internet. Don’t write anything you would be ashamed to have published in the newspaper or forwarded to your parents and friends.

Privacy on the Internet is an illusion. There is no privacy on the Internet.

Given the right motivation and resources, anybody can dig up anything. Remember this at all times.

Problem solved.

This is what saves me a ton of agita. I don’t care if Google keeps all my Gmail from now to eternity. If the mods here want to read my pms they’re perfectly free to waste their time and bore themselves silly.

I’m not lying awake at night worrying about any of it.

Berserker's avatar

@Buttonstc has it right. There’s no privacy anywhere online, so don’t write shit you don’t want peeps to see. I mean look at Facebook. They find you wherever you go. You’ll never be safe.

As for mods or staff here reading my PM’s or not, I don’t give a shit.

ipso's avatar

For what it’s worth – in the corporate world the line is drawn squarely around the equipment (both machines and network). If they own the equipment, they have the right (nay – legal obligation) to make sure nothing illegal or improper is going on within their purview. Sorry – them’s the facts.

Governments own the Internet infrastructure (for the most part) and claim the same authority – but as a public serving entity, we [should] have more control on their … control.

jerv's avatar

It never ceases to amuse and sadden me how many people forget what @Buttonstc says.

One thing to bear in mind here is to be aware of what sort of site you are on. Some sites have mods that really will abuse their authority whereas most sites are staffed by responsible people with a code of ethics. Are you saying that you do don’t trust Ben and the gang? How can you not trust a face like this?

Also, as @ipso points out, the admins here have a duty to ensure that there is nothing illicit happening here, and they have the technical ability to do so.

Fortunately, the Fluther Privacy Policy states: “We won’t share your info with any third parties without your explicit permission, unless the law or some imminent harm requires it. So basically, the only way they can legally share anything contained in your PMs.

Besides, it’s unlikely that they care enough to read PMs anyways. See, they are busy people and likely have better things to do than reading PMs unless they have a good reason to suspect that you are up to something nefarious. Of course, now that you’ve brought attention to yourself and sounded paranoid, now might be a good time for you to stop using the Fluther PM system to distribute links to kiddy-porn sites :D

Seriously though, the only privacy we have in the digital age is the statistical likelihood that nobody gives a shit about you. Security through obscurity.

ipso's avatar

@jerv wrote: “Seriously though, the only privacy we have in the digital age is the statistical likelihood that nobody gives a shit about you. Security through obscurity.”


augustlan's avatar

I’m usually the one doing the reading of PMs and only if there’s a damn good reason. If someone reports harassment, for example. No other mods can ever see them. This idea that all mods can see them has been mentioned a number of times, and I’m not sure why people think they can.

MacBean's avatar

I kinda wish the OP would come back and answer @timtrueman and @augustlan‘s implied question about where the idea that all mods can read PMs comes from. I’ve seen it mentioned a time or two, as well, and it always makes me blink and wonder where people are getting their info.

Buttonstc's avatar

I think that the specific powers that mods have varies from site to site with some being more restrictive than others.

So, it’s most likely just an assumption based on experience with other sites.

I always tend to assume that mods on any site can do pretty much anything and access any part of my account ( since it’s their site and their servers) but, as I mentioned before, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

They could publish it on the front page of the NY Times for all I care :D

jerv's avatar

@MacBean Actually, I don’t know of anyplace where the admins have the ability to change the basic code of the site and yet do not have the ability to access any and all info (including PMs) on the site.
As for what moderators can do, that varies from site to site. Some admins use their mods as extensions of themselves and grant mods near-admin powers while other places give mods barely more power than a normal user.

le_inferno's avatar

@MacBean Apparently this was a misunderstanding, a mod asked someone on Fluther I was corresponding with about the contents of a message he sent, but she claims she got her info elsewhere…. neither of us are sure how. It wasn’t private info, and I’m not “worried” about mods reading them, I just thought it would be odd and a bit crooked if they were.

augustlan's avatar

@le_inferno While I obviously can’t go into the specifics, I know the situation you’re talking about. For the record, party A told party B something in real life. Party B sent messages to party C about it. Party C then contacted me. That is how it came to my attention, not through reading PMs.

chyna's avatar

@augustlan Are you saying Fluther isn’t real life?

jerv's avatar

Sounds like a soap opera to me…

augustlan's avatar

@chyna and @jerv Pretty much. :P

Buttonstc's avatar

@le inferno

I’m still trying to figure out your comment about it being crooked.

But let’s transfer this to a different situation or even another site, for that matter so that the basic principle is clearer.

Whatever site you are on, it is owned and paid for by whoever owns that site.

The fact that one is granted the ability to send PMs is merely a courtesy they extend to their users. It’s still their site and their servers (or server space paid for by them).

I always assume that the Private Message system on any site means Private from the public at large NOT from the owners and Admins of that site.

It’s done as a convenience for the users so they don’t have to put their own email addy up for potential spam or trolling spambots.

The only place you have a reasonable expectation of privacy is on the hard drive of a computer owned and paid for by you. Everything else is up for grabs.

If you’re using a work computer, they can snoop on you at will and it’s not considered as crooked but as sound business practice. Same goes for any other “space” on the Internet.

You can’t reasonably throw out accusations about “crooked” if that space isn’t owned by you.

And I’m using the word “you” in a much more general sense than just you personally. It includes me as well. It’s more of a communal “you”.

We would all do well to remember this. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy anywhere on the Internet. Period.

I’ve encountered a bunch of articles from people complaining about Google’s policies about the contents of Gmail. But Google is being very upfront about precisely what they are doing and not doing with it, so what’s the beef ?

They are providing a whopping 2–7 gigs of free storage space on servers that they pay for. That’s a lot of free storage.

If one doesn’t like what they’re doing with the content of their emails, the solution is really simple. DON’T USE IT.

The exact same thing applies to PMs on any site. If you don’t like the idea of the possibility that they could be read by anyone other than the recipient, DONT USE IT.

There are no grounds for accusations of being crooked. Their site. Their servers.

It’s nice that Fluther limits the ability of mods in this way but they aren’t required to. And many sites don’t and it’s not considered a big deal and certainly not considered crooked in any way.

Privacy anywhere on the Internet is a delusion (especially when using equipment or space not under your ownership).

Berserker's avatar

@jerv Like posts through the monitor, so are the Days of Fluther.


le_inferno's avatar

You’re missing the point. It’s not about “ability” or “power,” it’s about respect and ethics. It goes without saying that the creators of the site can read PMs, but the question is should they? You “expect” and “assume” that nothing is private, but I feel that I shouldn’t “expect” people to abuse their power and disrespect people’s personal communications. There is no reason they should be encroaching upon messages not meant for them, unless they’ve been alerted to some kind of threat. “Because I can!” would be a very infantile and absurd defense for reading someone else’s PMs. It’s just the nature of the act—yes, they provide the ability for us to send messages, but it’s highly dishonorable to snoop for the sake of snooping. You bring up businesses—that’s completely different. This is a leisure site, not a workplace that relies on a loyal and hardworking staff to succeed. Businesses snoop to make sure their workers aren’t slacking or hurting the company. If they did it to encroach upon their workers’ personal, non-work-related affairs, I’d stand by thinking it wrong.

If I buy my friend a journal, I have provided her with a means to write down personal thoughts. Does that make it okay for me to read from it behind her back? I mean, hey, I can, and she left it out, and I bought her the damn thing! I have every right to read it. Right?~ I mean, that’s essentially what you’re arguing. I would consider that to be extremely disrespectful. Just because I have the power to do something, doesn’t mean I should. Should I censor what I write in my journal because I “expect” and “assume” everyone who comes across it will read it, simply because they can? I think not.

ipso's avatar

@le_inferno, you have a well crafted and heart-felt point; but I (for one) still don’t agree.

You seem to be arguing that is not a business.

This is what I think: As a business, they have an obligation to keep their house in order, and that specifically includes monitoring of network traffic; all network traffic; PMs are not somehow exempt. It is my understanding that they can (and should) be held liable if something illegal is found festering and they have not done so. (Espionage, kiddie porn, murder – you know: the bad stuff.) As a parent I would sue the f’ing CRAP out of their business if found to be harboring….

Alas – I don’t know the precedence, or examples, or the actual law.

Crossing the line is in anyway sharing personal information outside the company (including to governments – unless legally mandated to do so – and even then kicking and screaming, and definitely letting reporters know in any case), or in any way acting upon that information external to the company, whereupon involved employee(s) should be ruthlessly terminated.

le_inferno's avatar

@ipso I wasn’t arguing that Fluther isn’t a business, but the incentive business’ would have for snooping on someone is different from doing it for no real reason.

ipso's avatar

ya lost me at “no real reason”. I explained why I think they have that reason.

chyna's avatar

There is no reason they should be encroaching upon messages not meant for them, unless they’ve been alerted to some kind of threat.
Per @augustlan:
I’m usually the one doing the reading of PMs and only if there’s a damn good reason. If someone reports harassment, for example. No other mods can ever see them. This idea that all mods can see them has been mentioned a number of times, and I’m not sure why people think they can.
@le_inferno It has been stated many times and again in this thread that they can’t read them, only if something has been reported. But apparently, you still think the mods are reading your pms. The only way for you to be sure they aren’t is to stop using that function. I myself believe Augustlan in that they do not read them and will continue using that function.

le_inferno's avatar


I’m very aware that what I was discussing does not occur on Fluther; @Buttonstc and I were merely discussing hypotheticals.

Can you tell me about any businesses that constantly “monitor” their employees’ every digital action and/or communication? I don’t know any that do, but I’m willing to stand corrected. Perhaps they would monitor a problem employee, or someone they have reason to believe is doing something harmful to the business, which is what Fluther does. What I meant is that such “monitoring” seems unethical (not to mention useless) if there’s no just cause.

ipso's avatar

Hi @le_inferno, I would love to elaborate. However @chyna just made a poignant point about this site, and I now think it’s best to stay focused on that.

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