June 3, 2022

Confidentiality in Moderation

Confidentiality and discretion from your moderation team plays an important role in building and maintaining trust between the users and your staff. While transparency is important, your moderation team must carefully weigh every detail of what is learned through not only moderation but also the management of a community in order to assess what is and is not appropriate to share publicly. While it may be challenging to properly discern what information to omit or what can be shared, privacy is paramount to Discord and should be for every element of a community to uphold the trust that each member holds.

Considerations Regarding Leadership

Whichever moderation roles a server may have, there should always be an authority role that can make calls at their discretion if they believe it is the best thing for the community. A good example on how to do just that can be found here. Moderation administrators, leaders, managers, etc. should always be prepared and ready to make judgment calls on the information provided to them, whether by mods or users. A very common misconception among moderation teams is that they should share all information amongst the team for transparency. This can be a double-edged sword in the sense that disclosing private information that is not essential for a moderator can open more routes for that information to have unauthorized distribution. If this occurs, it will compromise the privacy and trust of the users that the information applies to. In sensitive situations containing very volatile information, consider if it may be beneficial to have it handled directly by a team leader or even the owner of the community.

Personally Identifiable Information

Personally identifiable information (or PII) is any information that can identify a user, such as an email address, full name, phone number, IP address, exact location, or even their Discord user ID and username.

People should never disclose someone’s personal information except their own in an appropriate environment, as disclosing others’ info can be treated as doxxing, which is a disclosure of personal info by a third party (for example, someone posting another user’s address), and can, in some instances, be actioned on by Trust and Safety as it may violate Discord’s Terms of Service/Community Guidelines. User IDs and usernames are acceptable as long as there is a justifiable need to disclose it, but make sure to always consider if there may be repercussions to that user if disclosed in any instance.

PII is very sensitive as it removes a user’s privacy and can result in them being targeted online or even in real life. Thus, this information should always be protected with the utmost discretion. Moderators may come in contact with this in ways such as a message they have to delete, someone maliciously doxxing another person, a user accidentally sharing it without realizing the harm they are putting themselves in or even from information included in a report. This information typically should not be disclosed to anyone and community leaders should consider removing it from bot logging channels to protect a user’s identity.

Also consider encouraging members of your community to learn how to safeguard their own information. You can include rules within your communities that discourage the sharing of even one’s own personal information. As important as it is to protect other users, it is just as important to help them protect themselves. Users may sometimes share their information out of good will or as a way of attempting to bond with others, but bad actors can use that information maliciously.

Personal Matters

Personal matters can refer to a huge range of information, but some common examples can include relationships, interpersonal conflicts, previous history, or things as simple as a DM or private conversation. As a moderator you may very likely come across information involving this as part of reports, concerns, or even someone breaching trust by screenshotting and sharing private messages. This information is extremely important to protect as people may trust you to keep it private and use it only to take care of the issue at hand. Exposures of this information can be very harmful to people and can result in targeted harassment, bullying, or even further negative consequences. Stories of this can cause people to be concerned and even worried about reporting something for fear of it happening to them. In the end, this makes things very difficult for moderators to not only reassure, but to rectify.

Moderation Information

Most public communities have ways of protecting their server with moderation tools, actions, and procedures. This includes moderator actions such as warnings, kicks, mutes, bans, etc. Moderation actions may be especially important when it involves a specific user.  Moderation info can even include internal details such as protocol, procedure, censor lists, or even bot details.

Moderation information is something that can vary from server to server, and thus it is relatively up to the discretion of each moderation team to instill their own server rules to enforce. Some may have full transparency with an open log channel, and some may take a more confidential approach and only speak with those involved. Both have their pros and cons, but be sure to weigh what could happen if people know who receives what penalties. For protocol, always remember to carefully decide what to share publicly, as disclosing a procedure can lead to someone using that information to evade moderators or even exploit the server. This also stands true with bots, as disclosing bot details such as configuration or censor list can result in users evading the protections put in place by your team.

Handling Information with Users vs. Mods

There are many different forms of information that must be considered heavily before disclosing to different people, whether they be users or other mods. Information can range from sensitive personal information such as emails, names, phone numbers, location, IP address, etc. to community-related information such as mod actions, previous incidents, and user history. Regarding users, very little should be shared to people who are not involved. When it comes to fellow mods, it is always best to share as much information as is reasonable aside from personal information to ensure everyone has a well-informed mindset.

Some questions to consider when speaking with users include:

  • Is the user in question involved in the situation?
  • If disclosing mod actions, is the user the one that was penalized?
  • What reason does a user have to need to know information?
  • Were they the victim? The perpetrator? Just a bystander?
  • Would it compromise someone’s privacy to disclose something?

Now for mods and members of the more internal team on servers, mods should of course be “in the loop” to know the story of a situation, and it’s never recommended to keep mod teams in the dark. That being said, even with other moderators, be careful about sharing unnecessary information, especially personally-identifying information, not only because there is often little benefit to it, but primarily because it compromises a user’s privacy even if behind closed doors.  While there are fewer factors to consider, they are still just as important as the ones you would ask for another user.

Some things to consider when disclosing to moderators include:

  • Is the mod involved in the issue directly?
  • Is the mod an “NTK (Need-to-know)” team member? These members include team leadership for serious cases.
  • Does the mod have a reason that knowing this information would prove beneficial for?
  • Would it be a conflict of interest for the mod? (If the mod has a personal history with people the information relates to.)

Remember that if you aren’t sure if you should disclose something related to moderation, always ask an administrator/leader on your server for guidance, and always dispose of private information if it is not needed.

Benefits of Confidentiality

It may be easier to be fully transparent and not have to check every sentence before it is said or sent. That being said, there are many benefits to upholding a consistent, confidential environment where staff act with discretion when assisting with a variety of matters. There are many consequences if confidentiality is not upheld properly. Below are some examples of the benefits of protecting information as well as the consequences that can come with being overly transparent.

Keeping Pseudonymous. As stated by Discord’s Safety Principles, Discord is pseudonymous, which means that your account on Discord doesn’t need to be tied back to your identity.  Protecting users who may provide information as evidence or otherwise may sometimes expose who they are, and protecting this information reassures that their personal life won’t be compromised by socializing or confiding in a server’s staff.

Trust. Users will know of and hold high trust within a staff team if they are confident that high expectations of privacy will be respected by the team they confide in. If not upheld, users will find it difficult to trust the team, and may heavily contemplate or even refrain contacting a moderation team again in the future.

User Safety. Diligent protection of user data and information helps protect users as it prevents unwanted data from getting into the wrong hands. If information is not guarded, information that gets into the wrong hands can result in targeted harassment or bullying, as many private details can reveal information to malicious individuals.

Moderator Safety. Keeping moderation actions confidential and only disclosing information to people who need to know helps to keep moderator anonymity and reinforces the idea of a team decision. Disclosing moderation actions and who performed them can put a target on the mod, as people may treat them personally responsible for an action and may result in harassment or disrespect from users who may not understand the decision.

Personally identifiable information being shared outside of need to know groups can result in compromising users and making them feel as if they may need to sacrifice their Discord to retain personal privacy. This leads to a loss of trust from the member, and perhaps even the loss of them as a member of your community.

Designing the Server for Privacy

There are multiple things to be mindful of when considering privacy and confidentiality, and it extends well beyond standard moderation. Often, privacy will fall down to the way that the server is configured. Some things to consider include:

Server Discoverability. If an LGBTQ+ server is in Server Discovery, a user may use an emote from that server in another one, and if someone clicks on the emote, it may accidentally expose the user as they may identify as LGBTQ+ privately but not publicly.

Public Join Messages. Some servers may have “welcome bots” or even Discord’s welcome feature that greets new users publicly upon joining. Server staff should take into account the type of community that they stand for, and consider if users may perhaps feel uncomfortable or exposed by being mentioned immediately upon joining.

Security. Automated security and “gatekeeper bots” may be used to prevent malicious users from joining a server on alt accounts or as part of malicious groups. While this seems perfectly normal, the part that has to be considered is what data you are requesting. Some of these bots may collect IP addresses, browser data, and various other forms of information. Users may not be comfortable in supplying information that could compromise who they are. Always make sure to read through the privacy statement of any bot that you add to ensure that you are not asking for too much information from regular members.

Bot Logging. Many servers have private log channels maintained by one or more bots. This tracks joins, leaves, deleted or edited messages, and even more. There are two main points to be wary of with these: if personal information is posted for any reason, be it accidentally by misclick or maliciously to dox a user, it will usually appear in a moderator logging channel when deleted. After the situation has been dealt with, owners or admins should consider deleting the log message to prevent personal information from persisting within that channel.

Keeping the Balance

There are pros and cons to any level of disclosure that is offered by a server to its community and its staff. It is not black and white and there are gray areas in both transparency and revealing select information with moderator discretion. There must always be a balance of both that may shift depending on the situation at hand and the type of community that is present. Just as complete confidentiality will lead to distrust, total transparency will lead to users feeling unprotected due to a lack of privacy.

Server Safety

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