Regarding Private Messages on

Some of you know or have already used the private message function on Discourse here on

There are pros and cons to it as a service we offer here in its current form.

It’s a simple messaging device that works well, but has few user controls. Most particularly, while you as a user can block notifications from another user, you cannot block another user here from sending you a private message. And, you cannot delete a message from another user without opening it first.

This matters in discussions that get so heated that arguments flow over into private messages where it can get pretty ugly - threats and such. It would be very useful for the messages to allow a user to block someone from perceived harassment, but alas we would have to alter the code to make that.

Also, admins on the site do have the power to read private messages. That means if you get a message from someone you regard as threatening or otherwise seriously inappropriate, and you contact us admins to do something about it, we cannot use, as a reason to not get involved, that we can’t read the message. We can.

As a default, we don’t want to get involved in private matters when it really should be worked out among the specific individuals. Still, we have legal and social responsibility for the site so we can’t ignore everything.

One solution is to allow private messages only for those who reach high trust levels on the system. That alleviates much of the potential for problems that arise from stepping into personal arguments.

But private messages here can be useful for community building purposes if you do not know the personal email address of someone you wish to contact and you don’t want it publicly declared.

So, what to do?

Maybe the most straight-forward way is to include messages into our netiquette rules in just the same way as forum content. Users should not expect them to be “private”, as admins can see them (maybe for this reason Discourse calls them just “messages”, not “private messages”.) We would not have to create (and enforce, which is more difficult) rules for admins to not read them unless flagged. And just as with normal content, flagging the message would be the way how users would get admin attention to an abuse.

If users want to have a discussion that is hidden from admins, they should exchange e-mail addresses / WhatsApp numbers or similar via Discourse messages. We’d put that into the user manual as well.

As a useful compromise, we can grant private messaging starting from trust level “2” and formalize that we promote everyone we recognize as a valid user immediately to trust level “2” (I dot that already when I come across a light-gray “trust level 0” user who posted something useful).

That leaves us the leverage to manually demote users to trust level “1” (and then lock their trust level to that) if they repeatedly abuse the messaging system. So we can let users start with messages, and take that function away when they abuse it, while still letting them keep the other privileges of an established user (posting more than one link etc.).


This makes sense…keeps it simple anyway. And we know how to deal with the stuff, it is really a matter of explaining the reality of how it works while minimizing work we might have to do related to compliance.

And the level 2 idea is good too.


So I think I’ll implement that proposal (in the platform settings and as an update to the Terms & Conditions) in time before the start of the POPREBEL project. When somebody complains and has a point, we can still change course.

I went into Admin and did not see where I could look at someone’s messages. How do you know an admin can do that?

It’s the tab “:envelope: Messages” when visiting somebody’s user profile as admin user.

ok. so we make sure people know that because of this the messages are not private and we guarantee no such thing.

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I like the idea guys…
I think a short visualization of the user manual will come in handy at some point - I think points like these are crucial, it’s not a given that users read it (on the contrary!) and unless we point things out they can be easily misled. I’ll think about it more ahead of our training…

Perhaps we will have live platform tours regularly to show newcomers around.
Would not be bad to increase our conversion rate too :slight_smile:

another way is to develop our tips by looking at a comment or a user or whatever and see what a moderator can and can’t do and determine how useful each thing is, and in what situation.