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As a moderator, I sometimes need to contact a user about his behavior on the site or about other site-related issues.

How can I contact a user privately, as a moderator? What are the possibilities and how do I decide which is appropriate?

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2 Answers

Using a private off-site email is inappropriate in 99.99% of cases. In a year of moderating, I've never had to do that. It's an option that should only be considered if all else fails (see below). In the event that you do have to send a private email, be sure to bcc community@stackexchange.com on it.

  1. One way to contact a user privately is to use the private messaging system. It's available from the user profile by going to mod->actions->contact this user privately. There is an option to suspend the user along with the message, but it's an optional step that can be avoided. (The corollary is, too, that you can't suspend someone without notifying them.)

    The user will be notified of the message on the site and receive a copy in their email if they provided one on the account.

    This way should be used when you're notifying the user of an infraction and you can choose from several common message templates.

    Sending a mod message (whether suspension is included or not) puts a permanent mark / annotation on the user's account as well as notifies the other moderators on the site and several Stack Exchange employees. Do not use it to respond to the user's flags or for other non-serious issues.

  2. Another option is to create a private chat room. You must not do this just to chat with users or your friends. This option is strictly for moderation issues that do not warrant a private message (i.e. a user asked you a question in a flag and you can't respond to it in public).

    Normally, a chat ping (@username) will only reach a user (via the global inbox) if the user has been in the chat room recently. As a moderator, you may "super-ping" a user, which will generate an inbox notification even if the user has never been in chat. The syntax to do this is @@<user's id on the site>@<site host name>. For example, to ping Rebecca Chernoff, use @@140548@meta.stackoverflow.com.

    Because the super-ping will only work if the user has access to the room, you should make sure you make the room private and give the user write access to it before you super-ping them.

    The most reliable way to do this and ensure that the user has a chat account is as follows:

    1. Create the room.
    2. Super-ping the user with a generic message to create the chat account.
    3. Give the user write access to the room.
    4. Make the room private.

  3. Consider whether you really do need to contact the user privately. If you're just responding to a common question in a flag that doesn't reveal any sensitive information (e.g. "is this question on-topic?"), you can respond with a general comment on the question instead. You can also use your site's main chat room.

Direct communication with users aside from sending warnings is fairly rare and whenever possible should be done on meta, in chat, or in comments on relevant posts instead. Look out for opportunities to explain something to everyone rather than just one person whenever possible.

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Worded much better than I was capable of ... –  Paŭlo Ebermann Jan 14 '12 at 21:13
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Anna & @Rebecca, are you sure you want to publicly mention that email address for BCC? I've not seen that address before; you might not want random users to start using that too? (Nice to get some insight! ;-)) –  Arjan Jan 14 '12 at 22:18
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@Arjan It was previously mentioned in the July 2011 Moderator Newsletter which is now also public. –  Jeremy Banks Jan 15 '12 at 0:08
    
Anna , Thank You Very Much , excellent answer. –  Adel Apr 9 '12 at 2:19
    
@Anna (sory off topic) but and former moderator on Stack Overflow and Programmers. your still the moderator but profile says different. –  TheFisherMan Jun 9 '12 at 7:58
    
@PresleyDias I now work for Stack Exchange and the nature of my work makes me a moderator across all sites. –  Anna Lear Jun 9 '12 at 14:09
    
You say that you should make the room private and grant write access before super-pinging, but then the steps have it in the other order. Which is right? –  Jefromi Mar 11 '13 at 23:21
    
@Jefromi Doesn't matter so long as the user has the right permissions to get into the room when you super-ping them. (I believe chat will prevent the super-ping and let you know if that's not the case.) –  Anna Lear Mar 11 '13 at 23:24
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There are these options, as far as I know:

  • Open a private chat room for this purpose, give this user the right to join, and super-ping him there.

    This is the preferred way for minor things.

  • Send a moderator message, with the moderator tools. It sends a e-mail to the user, and a copy to your fellow moderators (and yourself) and the SE team. It gives you the option to also suspend the user for some time, but it also works without giving a suspension.

    Use this for major infractions.

  • Send a email. If you do this, also send a copy to the community team, so they have an overview about what is going on.

    This should only be used if the other ways are somehow not effective.

Of course, often you don't really contact the user privately - a public comment on a post or a ping in your public chat room often work, too. (I think we never had to contact anyone privately on Crypto SE.)

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Note that, for reasons of transparency, SE discourages the use of private chat rooms for this purpose. As a general principle, public communications should be used unless a private mod message is more appropriate. –  Robert Harvey Jan 14 '12 at 21:10
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