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In a public post in Reddit, I feel that the content of a private message sent to me is necessary to illustrate my point. I haven't asked them whether I should public it or not, but my reply on their message hasn't been replied yet, and the account seems to be inactive since them. Since the public conversation needs to go on, should I quote the message anyway? I feel that this is OK both ethically and legally. Ethically because the content is appropriate for the public conversation, and legally because I am a partner in the private one. I can rephrase it, but quoting seems more trustful.

I plan to write like this:

I'll quote a person that PMed me:

[Their entire message]

Unfortunately they haven't replied since then. (/u/X: sorry for doing this without your permission, but I hope that you don't mind. If anything, I'll remove this.)

[Then go on with my point]

Is this fine?

  • will you reveal their name/picture or make it obvious to someone who knows in any other you who it is you are quoting? - also what type of message was it? – Jesse May 6 '18 at 8:13
  • I don't reveal anything in my understanding. The only information I know is the username (that is clickable to see their past activities) and all. The message is a feedback on my research which has a compliment and a comment about my lack of rigor like standard math paper – Ooker May 6 '18 at 14:25
  • 1
    In some countries, disclosing private correspondence is illegal. – mouviciel May 7 '18 at 13:24
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The person who sent you the message could have posted publicly and instead chose to send it privately. Even if you think there's no privileged information and the sender shouldn't be concerned, that's not your decision. "Don't forward private email" has been one of the basic netiquette rules for decades. This is even stronger when a conversation started in public (on Reddit in your case) and somebody explicitly moved to a private conversation.

If you want to transmit information you received privately, without violating trust or upsetting people, your options are:

  • Describe what you've heard in your own words and without attribution. This is hearsay, which is probably ok if the matter is not controversial but usually not a good idea if it's likely to inflame matters. This is also appropriate if you've received feedback that you're now going to act on, as described in this answer. In a case like that, it doesn't matter who it came from.

  • Get the person who told you to post it or give you permission to do so.

If you're going to do the first, don't quote verbatim. Doing so could reveal the identity of the writer, either through the statements made or through "tells" of writing style, position, etc. That, too, would be a privacy violation.

I'm not saying you need to be paranoid about what might well be an innocuous message. I'm saying that you shouldn't decide on the other person's behalf. Further, if you make a point of being careful about other people's privacy even when it doesn't seem to matter, they'll be more likely to trust you when it does matter.

  • @MonicaCellio in my case it is true that the person moved from a public to private channel. But I'm thinking about a general case, where private message is the default channel to communicate – Ooker May 8 '18 at 4:08
  • @Ooker if you have a different question, please ask it separately. But in short: people who send private messages have a reasonable expectation of them staying private, so breaching that will be seen as rude by many. (Smart people also realize that once it's out there it could be forwarded, and write accordingly, but we're talking here about the etiquette question.) – Monica Cellio May 8 '18 at 14:43
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I believe there are 2 main reasons why a user would send you a private message instead of a publicly available one (in the context of reddit or similar sites).

1) They fear other users might jump the bandwagon on the negative part of their message and want to spare you the humiliation that might come with it.

2) They don't want to become the target of people not agreeing with their point but think it's important enough to let you know.

In the first case you don't really do anything wrong with quoting them directly (preferably with name to give them credit).

In the second case you should never leave any identification on who wrote the message. If you do they might still fall pray and can't do anything about it. This will feel like a big violation of trust.

The problem is that you can never know for sure which of the 2 cases is relevant here as long as they don't confirm that you can quote them.
In that regard I agree with Monica Cellio's answer that you should be careful with publicly posting anything that was sent to you in private.


What I would do is decide whether the message itself is really important or only the general point it's trying to get across.

If the message itself is important, for example if you don't know if you interpret it correctly, then it makes sense to directly quote it. But I would anonimize it except if you have permission from that user (or know them well enough personally to know they wouldn't mind).

If only the main point is important you are probably better of not quoting the message at all:

I have received a message/messages that my work lacks the rigor of a standard math paper. [continue with point you're trying to make here]

If they really wanted credit for complimenting/insulting/informing/... you they would've done so with a public reply instead of a direct message.

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If you have given credit where credit is due (like in your blockquoted template), then it is fine. In fact, you don't really need to sound apologetic about it. You can do something like:

Quoting u/userX in a private message:

[message from userX]

[Your point here]

This would give the user credit and it would show that you are proud about using the information that they gave you.

IMPORTANT NOTE: if the private message contained privileged information about the user that would not otherwise be posted onto the public conversation, it is best that you leave out / censor out the privileged information that was given to you, to protect their privacy.

If you really want to convey this message to him:

u/userX: sorry for doing this without your permission, but I hope that you don't mind. If anything, I'll remove this.

You may choose to do it in a private message.

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