I won’t discuss here how and why an admin should be able to read direct messages from other people (it has been discussed many times). Also, renaming them “direct messages” rather than “private message” here was smart. I won’t discuss Discourse Encrypt either. My message is about communities that don’t use this plugin.
However, I have a little request, which follows my experience described here:
I also add that if we need to paste a screenshot of a public profile in our forum for any reason, users could be surprised that our screenshot contains the “direct messages” tab from a user public profile!
Since 99.% of users think “private message” means “really private” on the Internet because they were never educated about this, then implying, saying, or explaining to them that administrators can easily read “private” messages could (would?) cause a backslash.
A few years ago, I read a little testimony here (I couldn’t find it with the search engine, but I’d like to read it again if someone finds it!), where a user encountered this situation, he explained that 50 of his users went away from his forum.
Someone replied that’s just how private messages work on the internet in general, in this kind of software, at least.
But the first person replied something like “and yet, 50 of my users left anyway”.
You can explain to your users all you want and with all the best arguments you have, people may just not 1) understand and 2) realize or decide that they don’t trust you after all
On Discourse, a lot of moderation tools or actions are obvious. Extra menu, tools, buttons, various warnings, red things, stuff like this…
But on a public user profile, with this particular “direct message” tab, nothing: just the regular “direct message” button that displays the user direct message list (in which we can even add ourself as a new participant if I’m not mistaken!).
Of course, we are administrators, responsible and ethical and stuff, and users must implicitly trust us when they register on our website.
But I think adding a little something to the ability to read direct messages would be a good thing.
Whether it is a confirmation popup like “You’re about to read other people’s direct message: OK / CANCEL”, or having this tab invisible by default, but set it visible via an admin setting (until we uncheck, or for some fixed duration), or having the “direct message” tab with a different color…
I don’t know. But just a little something that explicitly says that clicking this tab is a moderation or administration action, and not a regular action.