Retaining chat logs - pros and cons

For those of you who run chat channels in your forum:

(a) did you include in your TOS your policy on retaining chat logs?

(b) do you retain chat logs, and if so why/why not?

Chat logs might be useful for accountability and fair moderating. However, chats are more of a free for all with loose tongues and less care put into what is said. Logs of chats aren’t subject to the careful moderating and auditing that topics are. Yet you can be held accountable for their content if produced under subpoena. Naturally, we’d delete and address inappropriate comments but still…

Has anyone thought this deeply about chat logs or have any wisdom to impart.

A chat log retained for a set period of time, say two weeks, might be handy, to address issues, but limit liability. Or am I overthinking this?


I have never been required to pull a log in the several years that I’ve managed a Slack community. I actively pull some and publish them to our blog (i.e. in the case of Q&As or events) but otherwise I don’t think it’s necessary.


That is very good to know, Hawk. I have a litigation background so my mind tends to go down those kinda what if scenarios and we might come to the attention of big oil and gas conglomerates depending on how things go in our town.


Don’t take my advice as legal by any means… maybe @angus might have insights.


It really depends on the jurisdiction and the context.

To avoid confusion anyone may have, most “Data Retention” laws apply at the ISP level and concern metadata, rather than the content of communications. E.g. EU Data Retention Directive.

(13) This Directive relates only to data generated or processed as a consequence of a communication or a communication service and does not relate to data that are the content of the information communicated.

Also, “Data Protection” laws (largely concerning privacy) are different, but may overlap with “Data Retention” laws (largely concerning law enforcement). For example the EU’s new GDPR.

Where legal issues will definitely arise with data retention for a forum is in the context of current or anticipated legal proceedings.

Under the common law, if a party destroys discoverable material, this can constitute contempt, particularly if litigation is already on foot.

See further.

This will apply regardless of what you put in your Terms.

Some basic takeaways:

  1. Make sure you don’t delete data if you think it may in any way be relevant to a legal proceeding.

  2. Familiarise yourself with your relevant data protection laws.


Good info, Angus. We wouldn’t destroy evidence. We just are trying to decide whether chat logs are something we want to retain in the first place. I am guessing we aren’t the first to look into this so I am reaching out in the community as well as doing our own research.

Data protection and data retention is an important disinction.

The document you shared tells me I am right to give this careful thought. Thanks.

Thinking out loud…

Chats won’t be public and given that they won’t be moderated with comments being gone over unless something is reported to moderators we don’t want them public as a representation of who we are and what we want to disseminate to the public. We want respectful discourse and a standard of fact checking and working conscienciouslyto listen to each other in the topics themselves. People can be more casual and let their personalities show in the chats. It would be great if we just state in the TOS and our self hosted chat page that we don’t retain chat logs so people can feel safe to be themselves but also understand that putting more thought into topic posts is important to protecting what the community stands for — integrity and a source of reputable information.

A benefit of retaining logs is accurate post-chat moderating but the more I think about this the more I think moderating in the topics in the forum itself will weed out the trolls and fire starters.