Okay, so a bit of background: I'm 15, and my brother is 19. I technically have my own laptop, but I still need to ask someone to put the password in for me (because parents). My brother knows the password, so I will ask him sometimes.

Now, I moderate a Stack Exchange site. (Yes, it is permitted for a minor to be a moderator.) This is not immediately visible to most users looking at this question, because reasons. When you become a moderator on any Stack Exchange site, you must agree to the mod agreement. This says, among other things:

ii. I acknowledge that I may have access to potentially personally-identifying information about Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange users and that in connection with such access [...]

b. I will not disclose this information to anyone

Now, I will sometimes leave pages open on my computer. These include mod pages, which can sometimes include PII if I'm, say, looking at a voting ring. Sometimes, when I have him log on, he'll page through my tabs... and try to sneak a look at the Teachers' Lounge or the pages I've had open. He has not looked at any pages with PII yet, but he has taken a look at the (cleared) flag page. If he looks at PII from my account, that seems like a violation of b. in the mod agreement. Thankfully, this hasn't happened yet, but if this doesn't stop soon it might, and I really want to avoid that.

My parents know that I mod a SE site, and I've told them that I am really uncomfortable with my brother looking at stuff on my computer. They refused to talk to him about it, saying that a.) He's not going to do anything, what's the problem? b.) I spend too much time on there already, so they don't really want me bringing it up again.

I've already asked him to stop a couple times, saying that I really don't want him looking at the stuff, even if it isn't PII, such as the Teachers' Lounge chatroom. He hasn't so far (keeps trying to get me to press keyboard shortcuts and stuff that will switch to my mod tabs while he's watching, but I'm not so tech illiterate that I don't know what ctrl 1 does). He's relatively familiar with SE - he has 20k rep on Stack Overflow, 14k on another site, and 10k on Meta.SE, so he's not unfamiliar with the system. (Hi. Yes, I know you'll probably be reading this question at some point. Maybe you'll take me seriously now...)

We're both culturally American, although not living in the States right now.

This isn't just about the mod stuff - while that certainly contributes to my unease, I don't like him watching over my shoulder watching what I'm doing generally. (Or looking at my phone.) So:

How do I bring up the issue of my brother reading what's on my screen?


3 Answers 3


Bring your shared context into it.

You said your brother is a high-rep user on other SE sites. He therefore knows about moderation and PII. He also presumably cares about not getting you in trouble, even if he doesn't care about making you uncomfortable with his snooping. So address both the discomfort and the risk. Something like:

Hey Bob, it makes me pretty uncomfortable when you go through my browser tabs. It feels like an invasion of privacy, like reading my email, even if that's not what you meant. And when it's SE stuff it's particularly bad -- people have lost their diamonds because they leaked PII, and being a moderator is important to me just like being a high-rep user is important to you. I know probably every user wants to know what really goes on in the Teacher's Lounge, but could you leave my browser alone? I promise I'll share non-private stuff with you if you want to know what the moderator job is like or whatever.

Key points:

  • Use the "when you do X I feel Y" formula. Don't say "you're invading my privacy"; say it feels like it to you, makes you uncomfortable, etc.

  • Use the shared bond. You both care about SE, so he's therefore more curious about those pages than your parents would be. Acknowledge that curiosity and then redirect it (the offer to share without violating the mod agreement).

  • Share your fear -- his snooping has consequences for you and that would hurt you.

I don't share my computers with anybody (and I lock them anyway), but I sometimes talk about SE with my husband because it's important to me. (He's a reader but not a user.) I've found that I can tell him interesting things from my sites without going anywhere near private information, so I can share something that's important to me with someone I'm close with. If you and your brother aren't already talking about SE, maybe he's trying to fill a gap (consciously or unconsciously). If that's the case, try talking about day-to-day SE stuff more often when neither of you is sitting in front of a computer. You both should have interesting anecdotes to share from your sites, after all.

  • "You both should have interesting anecdotes to share from your sites, after all." And with Winter Bash coming up, there's another (fun) thing to talk about. For example, "Hey, bro, have you gotten any cool hats yet?" or the ever- popular topic of secret hats!
    – Kendra
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 19:47
  • 5
    This was an excellent idea. I tried it (accompanied with perhaps a small amount of whacking him with a plastic water bottle), and I seem to have gotten the point across. Thanks :)
    – Mithical
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 15:29

I'm only going to address the interpersonal solution ideas here, since you've already ruled out other obvious answers (like getting a password, always logging out, having your parents forbid him from watching).

How you should go about doing this depends vastly on what type of person your brother is, and what kind of sibling relationship you two have. If you know he genuinely respects you and your wishes, this is easy. In that case you only need to make clear to him how much you care about this and how important this is to you.

Something like:

Hey John, I've noticed you've been sometimes looking at my screen when I'm browsing and sometimes looking at my tabs when I'm not at the computer. I'm doing some work that is very important to me and have access to data that I'm supposed to keep very confidential, can you please mind not to do that? It'd mean a lot.

Now, I stress this will work if and only if you and your brother have a good standing and he's the type of person to respect that request. Whether he is or not, only you can glean that.

If you have any ideation that this is not the case, I'd go with saying nothing in your case. If he's at all nosy or malicious, you telling him to cut it will only make it more likely that he'll go snuffing around for stuff he's not supposed to see, and maybe telling others. Right now, I suspect he doesn't quite know what he's looking at, so that works in your favor. If he's a nosy person and you tell him, that might change.

  • 2
    Based on the question it would seem that OP already tried this approach a couple of times and his brother simply ignored it @Magisch. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 17:47

There are 3 steps in general to addressing any interpersonal problem:

Step 1: state your points politely and try to convince; also try to understand the other person's point of view. You seem to have done this already and Big B ignored.

Step 2: firmly but politely assert your information privacy boundaries. The aim is not to be ineffectual here out of a desire to be too polite. If you have not yet taken a tough and clear stance you should do it now. Be explicit in telling your brother that his looking at your moderator pages violates not only the terms of your moderator's agreement with SE but also your own sense of propriety and privacy. Also that this matter is not debatable or negotiable. Not to be unreasonable here, but you want to make it clear this is an important and sensitive matter for you even if he might think it trivial:

This isn't just about the mod stuff - while that certainly contributes to my unease, I don't like you watching over my shoulder watching what I'm doing generally. (Or looking at my phone.) You can't do that.

It was often my 2-years-younger sister's extreme seriousness in asserting herself in step 2 that made me realize 15 years ago that I could not hold my own opinions that infringed on her rights in matters that were important to her in this manner. Since your parents were found unhelpful I wouldn't recommend involving them again here.

Step 3: Escalate!

The gloves come off and it will no longer be a polite exchange of views. If your brother ignores or has already ignored your most serious and reasonable efforts to convince him and you consider this an issue worth fighting for, then it's time for a controlled interpersonal conflict. You can absolutely forbid him from looking at the screen after entering the password, though I don't know how you would enforce it. Enforcing it is, however, less important than laying down the no-compromise position. Create a verbal fight if you need to. Shouting and screaming and then losing control and crying a bit is a potent tool. That applies not just to this particular case but to anything that somebody is truly passionate about. Tears of anger would demonstrate how important one considers the matter under debate. [I don't necessarily recommend this tactic but I have seen people including adults use it very effectively in family disputes and OP is just young enough to get away with it this year. If the brother ignores every reasonable approach then a bit of melodrama might go a long way.]

It's not so easy for a younger sibling to maintain their position against an older sib when parents are apathetic about intervening in the dispute, but I have seen youngsters redress the imbalance of power by ruthlessly exploiting their knowledge of Big B's or Big S's personality and weaknesses. It can become a guerilla war unless your brother sensibly withdraws at an early stage, as he rightly should. Most people cannot defeat a determined younger sibling (even in tennis) because too many interpersonal factors will intervene to complicate the contest.

Disclaimer and caution: since some other young person might read this answer, I will strongly suggest that you should proceed to step 3 only if step 2 fails. Note too that only you can decide how much you wants to escalate this. I might advise you to be extremely diplomatic and never antagonize your brother or your parents, but based on the information provided in your question, that won't solve your specific problem. If this is an important issue for you then you may have to fight on its behalf. I am sure you wouldn't consider doing anything hurtful or seriously unethical anyway.

Don't stop till you get what you want or till you decide it's no longer worth fighting for.

  • 1
    You really recommend screaming and crying as a negotiation tactic for someone trying to talk as an adult to adults?
    – JohnP
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 17:27
  • I did say I didn't necessarily recommend it @JohnP but I have seen people including adults do it very effectively in family disputes and OP is just young enough to get away with it this year. If the brother ignores every reasonable approach then a bit of melodrama might go a long way. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 17:35
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    "Shouting and screaming and then losing control and crying a bit is a potent tool." This could backfire if the OP's parents, who say that "I spend too much time on there already, so they don't really want me bringing it up again.", decide it's not worth the hassle and forbid the OP to stay a mod and spend (any) time on SE. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 18:32
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    It's a tool of last resort if both parents and the brother refuse to consider OP's most reasonable arguments @Anne Daunted. Again, only OP can decide how much he wants to escalate this. I could advise him to be extremely diplomatic and never antagonize his family but that won't solve his problem. The entire question is such that a conventional communicative 'interpersonal' approach has already been tried & did not succeed. I hope you never encountered such a situation. If his own family thinks he has no problem then OP might shout and scream a little or allow his brother to read his mod pages. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 19:09
  • 1
    As a creative thinker this is a good challenge for you @Anne Daunted. I can't think of any better approach for OP here but I would really appreciate it if you can come up with a truly interpersonal solution. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 19:12

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