Chat is an offshoot of the main site, and using it is a privilege users earn early on during their time here. Chat is our place:

  • for real-time collaboration
  • to meet fellow members of the community
  • for less structured, casual (but still roughly on-topic) conversation

Our chat system exists to serve the main site; users of each site can gather and commune with each other. When in chat, we expect all users to abide by our Code of Conduct policy, which means that we expect community members to treat each other with respect.

While it is a place where the community can go to interact on a more casual level, chat still needs to be moderated by the community and there are tools in place to help with the moderation. This raises a few questions, that will be addressed below:

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What tools are available to room owners?

Room owners are users that have some elevated permissions in a chatroom. Typically, they will be the first line of defense when it comes to inappropriate content or behavior in a room. Users will look to the room owners to guide the room. The room owners are also able to perform moderation tasks without the need to involve a diamond moderator.

As a room owner, there are several different ways you can keep your room in-line.

Taking out the trash

If unsuitable messages are being posted, then you have the ability to move the messages to the trash can. A “trash” (or “bin”) is just a room created for the sole purpose of holding unwanted messages. Users who have their messages binned aren’t punished but are implicitly encouraged to stop whatever they were doing. This keeps the transcript free of inappropriate, offensive, or spam messages.

You can bin messages via the room↓ menu on the right side of the chatroom, then selecting move messages.

Move Messages

By selecting move messages, you will be presented with batch operation popup to allow you move multiple messages at once.

batch popup

By hovering over a message, you’ll see a large plus as the cursor which is the indication that the message will be added to the migration list. Selecting the message (by holding down ctrl you can select multiple messages) will highlight it and once all of the messages are selected, you can choose “relocate” which will allow you to choose the target trash room and the messages will be removed.

relocation

This removes the messages from the main transcript.

Kick-mute a troublesome user

Should your room be graced with the presence of a user who is causing trouble, and they fail to respond to the guidance of the room owners and other participants, then you have the ability to kick them out of the room for a period of time. The kick-mute length increases with each instance: initially they will be kicked for 1 minute, then 5 minutes, then 30 minutes. After three kicks from the room, an automatic moderator flag is raised. The kick-mute option is available by clicking on the username and the following pop-up will be presented:

kick-mute

A user who has been kick-muted will be removed from the room, and upon attempting to return, will see a message informing them that they must wait along with some guidance on how to behave in chat.

A user who has been repeatedly kick-muted will lose the privilege to create chatrooms and will automatically have a moderator flag raised; this should normally serve to inform the moderators of a seriously disruptive person. However, in some cases a person may cause enough problems in chat to require moderator intervention before the three-kick-mute threshold is reached; in these instances, you can flag one of their messages for a moderator to review and step-in as needed. Don’t be too reluctant to use kick-mute – if you wait with kicking until everyone hates the person, they’re gonna have a hard time coming back and it may take too long to get a moderator involved. Kick at the first sign of trouble, and be ready to forgive and forget if they correct.

Also note that kick-mutes are not announced to the room in general although other ROs will receive a banner notification; you may find it helpful to post “kicked” in order to reassure others in the room who have become agitated by the person being kicked. However, this is not required and if the conversation shows signs of moving on then you should generally allow it to do so.

Putting the room in timeout

Sometimes, everyone is being disruptive or inappropriate, or a disagreement among a subset of users threatens to polarize others and lead to non-constructive behavior. In these situations, it's helpful to put the room into a "timeout" and give everyone a chance to calm down and reflect on what they're doing.

room menu, showing "timeout" option

Choosing the "timeout" option from the room menu presents you with a dialog asking for a duration and an explanation:

timeout dialog

Both are mandatory. If you forget to enter a message, nothing will happen. (Note that moderators can impose a timeout without entering a message, in which case a default message will be displayed reminding folks to keep the room on-topic).

Try to write a message that explains the problem you've observed and encourages people to reflect. Avoid messages that will further inflame tempers or that point fingers at individuals. Note that the message is limited to 100 characters.

  • Good: This conversation is getting heated - let's take a break and talk about something else.
  • Bad: Magisch ruined it for everyone. Now no one gets to talk.
  • Good: Conversation here should be relevant to SciFi enthusiasts; let's create a separate room for politics
  • Bad: Trump is awesome; if you disagree, GTFO.

Once a message is entered and "OK" is pressed, the room will be in "timeout" mode: only room owners and moderators will be able to post messages; everyone else will see a countdown where the message input form normally sits. Also, the message explaining the timeout will appear in the transcript:

timeout countdown

Once the timeout has expired, the input form will return and everyone will be able to resume conversation.

Timeouts can be cancelled by imposing a new timeout that lasts 0 seconds. You'll then get to see a "Timeout cleared" message. Note that you still have to provide a timeout reason, even while it won't be displayed.

Flagging messages and users

Just like any other user of chat, you have the ability to flag messages for a moderator and/or flag messages as inappropriate, offensive or spam. Letting a moderator know when there’s a problem you can’t handle by yourself is a good way to ensure that they work with you rather than seeing you as part of the problem. Please read the guidance about when you should flag, in the answer covering tools for regular users.

Establish a room topic

Use the room description to set boundaries what users can expect in the room or is expected from them when they join. If the guidance doesn't fit consider linking to a team page or an external hosted site. Adding tags can help in giving a room focus. When necessary, judicious use of short timeouts can help to reinforce the topic(s) allowed in the room.

Lead by example

The best way to prevent problems from arising is frequently to set a good example for others by conducting yourself in the way you’d want them to. If you are welcoming and friendly, that sets an expectation for those who join you. Conversely, if you’re casually vulgar and insulting, expect that anyone willing to hang around will be as well.

This isn’t limited to room owners, of course... But as a frequent participant in the room, you may have a better ability than most to recognize when a problematic attitude is developing, and more opportunities to correct it in your own behavior.

What tools are available to regular chat users?

You, as a member of the community, have the ability help keep chat a place that is welcoming for everyone. There might be a variety of other users, including moderators and room owners, in chat with you. Users can be distinguished by the way their names appear — moderator names appear in blue and room owners are in italics.

The nature of a social platform is that you’ll occasionally encounter messages that you’d rather not see. You have three primary ways of dealing with these:

Flag as spam, inappropriate or offensive

Use the hover menu at the far right of each chat message to flag it.

Flag option 1

When you flag a message as spam/offensive, the flag will draw the attention of every moderator and user with >10k reputation currently on the chat network. In both cases, they’ll be asked to determine if the flag is valid or not:

valid | invalid | not sure

If a sufficient portion of the users who see and respond to the flag deem it valid, then the message will be removed and the author will be given a very short suspension. Moderator responses are binding: Any moderator who reviews the flag will instantly mark it as valid or invalid, with the corresponding results.

Remember: Only use this flag for messages that violate the Code of Conduct or are spam.

Violations of the Code of Conduct include, but aren't limited to:

  • Subtle put-downs/unfriendly language (e.g. "Are you speaking English? If so, I can't tell.")
  • Name-calling, personal attacks.
  • Bigotry, intimidation, or harassment.
  • Anything that shocks the conscience (yes, this is subjective — let your conscience be your guide.)

Flag for moderator

On the left side of the message, hover and click the dropdown arrow for the flag popup. This presents two options: flag as spam/offensive or flag a message directly for a moderator.

flag option 2

The former is described above; if you choose the latter, you’ll be given an opportunity to describe the problem in detail:

please indicate why this requires moderator attention

When you flag a message for a moderator, this will alert any moderators currently using chat that something needs their attention. Be as descriptive as possible; by default, they’ll only see your message and the content of the message you flagged, so if the situation requires them to view the full transcript, you’ll want to mention that.

Ignore a user

You can also ignore specific users, which will hide their messages in chat from your view. This can be an effective way to handle distracting or annoying users, but shouldn’t be used in place of flagging for rude or offensive messages.

Examples:

  • User is posting spoilers from a movie you haven't seen yet

    Ignore them. Or leave the room entirely, and maybe go watch the movie.

  • Multiple users are discussing PHP.

    Ignore them.

  • A user is harassing other users.

    Flag as inappropriate/offensive.

  • Multiple users are discussing their favorite revenge porn.

    Flag for moderator attention.

Lead by example

Once again, leading by example is a powerful tool. In many cases where a user is being annoying but hasn’t posted anything worthy of an offensive flag, you have two options:

  • Flag for moderator
  • Ignore them

The latter, when done by everyone in the room, is very effective: If everyone ignores the problem user, they tend to go away and stop being annoying.

  • 6
    "Remember: Only flag things that are truly inappropriate or offensive." => Well, apparently the Stack Exchange team disagrees: i.stack.imgur.com/a9UVC.png -- ("See something that makes you uneasy? Don't hesitate to flag it!") – That Brazilian Guy Mar 7 '16 at 22:50
  • 3
    We created that pop-up specifically to link to this answer, @ThatBrazilianGuy... Which it does, in the last two words you quoted. I know, it's a long answer, but if you read it in full it describes multiple ways to flag things with nuanced suggestions for when to use each... Along with several other helpful tips for dealing with problems and avoiding them in the first place. Of course, most folks - like yourself - probably won't bother to read such a long answer, and so we tried to provide succinct guidelines in the pop-up itself. Don't complain that they lack nuance; that's rather the point. – Shog9 Jan 15 at 2:38

What tools are available to moderators?

Moderators are our human exception handlers and will get involved when users and room owners can’t handle a situation on their own. If flags are raised or they are notified of something, then a moderator will step in to investigate and resolve the problem.

The tools for moderators are very similar to those for room owners. They can bin messages, they can kick-mute a user, but they have additional tools that grant them far more control over chat:

Mod tools – message deletion

There are a few different ways moderators can delete messages:

  • Flag deletion: moderators can flag a message using the same methods for regular users, however moderator flags are binding meaning the message will instantly be deleted, and the author of the flagged message will be suspended for 30 minutes (if already suspended, the author’s suspension will be extended by 30 minutes). This only applies to spam/offensive flags — custom moderator flags do not automatically delete the message or apply any suspension.

  • Individual deletion: to delete a single message, you will hover over the message in chat or in the transcript which will show the dropdown arrow. Selecting the dropdown arrow, you’ll see the menu:

    delete message mod

    Choose delete and the message will be removed.

  • Bulk deletion: to delete multiple messages, you will select the delete messages option under the room↓ menu:

    mod menu

    Selecting this option, you will be presented with batch operation popup to allow you delete multiple messages at once.

    mod bulk delete

    By hovering over a message, you’ll see a large plus as the cursor which is the indication that the message will be added to the migration list. Selecting the message (by holding down ctrl you can select multiple messages, and holding shift lets you select a range of messages) will highlight it and once all of the messages are selected, you can choose delete and the messages will be removed.

    When a message is deleted it is replaced with the stub (removed). If you use the bulk message deletion, then the number of messages deleted will also be posted into chat – note that this message can also be deleted.

All deletion methods (flags, single or multiple) do leave a trace of the action, so it is not a silent removal; users will be able to see that something was deleted.

Alternately, in cases where entire conversations should be removed, there is a private moderator trash can that moderators can move messages to which allows easier review of the discussion by other moderators than deletion does but is not viewable by non-moderator users.

When do I delete messages? Moderators are trusted to use their judgment when processing flags and other situations on the site. We expect moderators to use that same judgment when it comes to chat. If you see name-calling, abusive, vulgar messages, or messages in violation of the Be Nice policy, then delete immediately and move on to suspension if needed. Flag-deletion is an expedient way to accomplish both message removal and author suspension in cases where a user is being rude or abusive.

Examples:

  • A user posts an animated image that is annoying users: delete the message.
  • A user posts a string of obscenities directed at another user: flag-delete the messages.
  • A user posts a string of obscenities directed at SQL: nod in sympathy, then mass-delete the messages.

Mod tools – room deletion

Rooms that are inactive for seven days will automatically be deleted, but you have the ability to delete chatrooms as needed via delete this room from the room↓ menu, or by going to the room’s info page, switching to the access tab, and clicking the delete button.

When should I delete a room? Since inactive chatrooms are automatically deleted, it’s not often necessary to delete a room. However, you may wish to delete a room it is no longer being used (private rooms for moderation purposes), or appears to exist only for nefarious purposes. Deleting a room prevents any users from posting messages in it, hides it from the default list of rooms, and limits visibility to moderators and privileged users.

Mod tools – timeout and freeze

  • Call a Timeout: Like room owners, moderators can put a chatroom in a timeout. Unlike room owners, moderators are not required to enter a message; this is to allow for faster response when a moderator is called in to resolve a tense situation.

    When should I place a timeout on a room? A timeout should be used when a moderator has been notified of a problem and you or the room owners are not able to get the behavior under control. If you are posting messages and users are not listening, then you should call a timeout for a period of time sufficient to resolve the situation.

    When you place a room in timeout, be sure to select a length of time that will allow you to convey to the users what behavior needs to stop – most likely this will be longer than 60 seconds (the default length of time). Use the time to explain why the timeout took place, perform admin tasks like editing, deleting messages, and/or suspending users who instigated the problem. When the timeout is in place, room owners will still be able to talk but normal users cannot.

  • Freeze a Room: A moderator can prevent any messages from being posted in a chatroom by freezing a room. This option is available under the room↓ menu, or from the access tab on the room’s info page. By selecting freeze this room, the room will be frozen and users (except moderators) will not be able to chat.

    When should I freeze a room? Freezing a room should be reserved for situations that are unmanageable otherwise. If a room is producing inappropriate, offensive content and a timeout didn’t reign in the behavior, then it should be frozen until the situation can be resolved. Freezing is also appropriate in cases where a great deal of damage has already been done and the moderator responding has no way of knowing up-front how long it will take to sort through the backlog.

    While the room is frozen, only moderators can talk. A room freeze prevents room owners from participating, and prevents the room from appearing in the default list of rooms for the site. Moderators can use this time to leave guidance for the room with reason why it was frozen, to give everyone a chance to calm down, or to permanently close a room while still allowing public access to the transcripts.

    In situations where it is necessary to freeze a very active room, consider creating a private room with the room owners to discuss the situation and decide how best to proceed.

  • Unfreeze a Room: Moderators have the ability to unfreeze a room which will allow users to participate again.

    When should I unfreeze a room? If the room was frozen automatically for inactivity, unfreeze upon request (as long as the request is reasonable – repeated requests to unfreeze an unused room may become a burden and should then be declined.).

    If a room was frozen due to user behavior, then it will be up to the room owners (if there are any) and the moderators to determine if/when a room should be unfrozen. Typically, this would be once the transcript has been cleaned up and the users involved have been suspended.

Mod tools – private room access:

It is possible for moderators to both create private rooms and to grant access to users via the access tab on the room’s info page. Only users listed there, moderators of the site associated with the room, and SE employees can access such rooms.

When should I create a private room?

Private chat rooms are for the sole use of moderators when discussing sensitive information with each other or with individual users. We like to keep communications out in the open, and establishing “elite”, private rooms for subsets of the community goes against what Stack Exchange is about. You may wish to create a private room for:

  • discussing general moderation issues with other moderators on your site;
  • discussing a particularly sensitive topic with a specific user on your site;
  • resolving a sensitive matter in chat itself.

Please respect the privacy of those with whom you share such a private room; do not make the contents public without their consent.

Mod tools – suspension

Chat suspension blocks a user from participating in chat for a period of time ranging from 1 hour to approximately 3250 years. Chat suspension is separate from main-site suspension, and does not require (or allow) sending a private message. Chat suspensions can be triggered in several ways:

  • Suspension via a flag: When a spam/offensive flag is validated on a message in chat, the message is deleted and the author of the message is suspended for 30 minutes. If the author is already suspended, that suspension is extended by 30 minutes. Note that moderator flags take effect immediately (see above for details).

  • Suspension via mod tools: Moderators can suspend users for a specific amount of time by going to their chat profile and select moderation tools to be presented with the menu:

    chat mod menu

    In the suspend this user option place the number of hours you want them blocked from chat. The suspension will also annotate their chat profile, but you should also “annotate the user” so that there is record of why they were suspended.

    When users are suspended from chat, they don’t receive a message from a moderator. For short suspensions, it is sufficient to leave a public message in chat noting briefly why they’re being suspended, or leave the suspension unexplained if it would be obvious from their behavior immediately prior. If you feel it is necessary to open a channel for communication after suspending, use a moderator message on the main site, or use...

  • Suspension via main site: A main-site suspension will automatically suspend the user in chat as well, as long as their chat account is associated with the site on which they’re suspended. This is useful if you wish to ensure that problematic behavior doesn’t spill out onto the main site, while still opening a channel for communication via the mod-message system.

When should I suspend a user?

If a user is displaying disruptive behavior and they haven‘t positively responded to warnings or kick-mutes, then suspend the user to give them time to correct their behavior and to remove the immediate problem from chat.

Examples:

  • A user posts NSFW pictures or videos: flag-delete the messages (triggering a short, automatic suspension)

  • A user posts abusive, overtly vulgar messaging, or violates the Code of Conduct: suspend the user (optionally flag-delete the messages as well)

  • A user starts name-calling another user or harassing them in chat: suspend in chat (for repeat or flagrant abuse, suspend on main as well)

  • A user starts spamming chatrooms asking others to join their open-source project: flag-delete the messages (for repeat or flagrant abuse, suspend on main as well)

  • A user attempts to use chat as a dating site: suspend on main

Repeated or flagrant violation of any policy should result in a main-site suspension; in particular, harassing other users should be treated the same in chat as on main, with warnings and increasingly long suspensions.

Related

Mod tools – editing:

Moderators have the ability to edit any message at any time. The edit option appears in the message dropdown popup:

edit message mod

By selecting edit, you can alter the message that was posted.

When should I edit a message? If a message contains obscenities or PII that was posted, then you can edit to avoid having to delete it. In extremely sensitive cases, you may wish to edit, delete and then purge the message history.

Editing a chat message is a rare thing; typically a moderator will just delete a message instead. However, a skilled moderator may be able to use editing to rein in inappropriate conversations without the disruption inherent in deletion; whether the effort to do so is warranted is left to the discretion of the individual moderators.

Note that all edits are recorded in the history of the message, unless history is purged.

Mod tools – purge history:

When a message is edited, a moderator can remove all record of the previous versions via the purge history tool. The purge history option is available directly from the message history: on the message dropdown popup, select history. On the history page, you'll see the original version and the edited version along with an option to 'purge history':

pre-purge

Once you’ve purged the history, the previous version will be removed and you’ll see:

post-purge

When you are in chat, you’ll still see the history option on a message but the message history will no longer exist for viewing, this is an indicator that the history was purged.

When should I purge the history? If a user posts extremely sensitive personal information, you can edit the message, then delete the message and purge the history to prevent anyone from viewing the original content. Remember to edit before deleting, as you cannot purge a message with no revisions, and editing after deletion is... challenging (but can be done). Once the history is purged, there will no longer be a record of the content in chat.

Deleting a message is typically enough; purging the history should be used very sparingly. In particular, do not purge history to “redact” entire conversations; it is critical that other moderators be able to review what has happened when there’s a problem.

Mod tools – user and flag review

Problems in chat can be hard to identify in real time. Problematic behavior can emerge over time, spread across dozens or hundreds of messages. It's important for moderators to be on the watch for attitudes that are causing discord, so that advice and correction can be offered before the situation has degraded to the point where recovery is impossible. To this end, several tools exist to allow moderators to identify problematic trends in chatrooms or individual users:

Most-flagged users

Found under /admin/users?tab=flags, this report lists the users who've attracted the most flags on their messages. Each user's previously-flagged messages may be examined to determine if there's evidence of a persistent problem, and whether there's been any attempt to improve over time.

Moderators are encouraged to reach out to users who are climbing this list, either via mod-messages on the main site or by taking them aside privately in chat. A lengthy suspension may save other users a great deal of frustration and reduce the need for future flags.

Most-ignored users

Found under /admin/users?tab=ignores, this report lists the users who've been ignored by a large number of other users. This includes people who've demonstrated a willingness to be persistently abrasive or annoying, and also a fair number of chat-bots / feed-bots. Being ignored doesn't necessarily indicate a problem requiring moderator attention, but if a large number of users find it necessary to ignore a particular individual then it is very likely the person being ignored is having difficulty participating constructively.

Moderators are encouraged to reach out to users who are climbing this list, either via mod-messages on the main site or by taking them aside privately in chat.

Recently-flagged messages

Found under /admin/recent-flags, this lists the 100 most-recently flagged messages, along with the number of spam/offensive flags, counter-flags, unsure "flags" and moderator-only flags for each.

Moderators are encouraged to peruse this list and observe the sorts of messages attracting flags. They may also take additional action if needed, including imposing longer suspensions on persistently abusive authors or lifting automatically-imposed suspensions where unwarranted. If a given room is attracting an unusual quantity of flags, it may be wise to investigate more thoroughly: a pervasive attitude problem among room members or persistent attack on them from others may present itself.

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