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Usually I like moderator actions and the reasons for them to be public. The community can examine them and is either convinced that they are correct, or they can make an argument why they were not.

But there are certain actions that are based on secret or private information that can not or should not be made public. Making that information public might reveal details about abuse prevention mechanism that need to be secret to work, or it might infringe on the privacy of a third user.

Such cases can be rather problematic because the community can't see why the action is justified and there is plenty of room for speculation. And sometimes just repeating "Trust me, we have our reasons" doesn't cut it.

What are ways to deal with such situations more effectively?

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    A good example of this problem is when you have evidence of voting manipulation, and the user demands to know which user was "allegedly" upvoting them unfairly.
    – nhinkle
    Jul 29 '14 at 18:33
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    @nhinkle I intentionally avoided any specific examples to avoid making this question SE-specific. But that was certainly one of the examples I was thinking of.
    – user21
    Jul 29 '14 at 18:42
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    I think that's wise for the question to be SE agnostic, and my example is from SE experience, but it could certainly apply on other sites as well.
    – nhinkle
    Jul 29 '14 at 18:49
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First, make sure you explain why the information is secret. If the community understands why certain information cannot be disclosed, they're a lot more willing to accept decisions based on that information, even if they're not allowed access to it.

Second, make sure there is oversight. If one moderator's decision is questioned, bring in other moderators to look at the facts and weigh in.

Last, make sure there's an appeals process. On Stack Exchange sites users can appeal to Community Managers via email if they're not satisfied with moderator decisions.

One other point that I would stress is to give community members the benefit of the doubt if there is any. You want to establish a reputation of making fair decisions, especially when the information you make those decisions based on is kept secret. You can't do that without the trust of your community.

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    This basically covers it all but I'd like to add that you should also strictly enforce consistency. This enforces your first point: Users aren't going to believe your excuse for privacy if you don't follow your own excuse in every situation.
    – MrHen
    Aug 19 '14 at 14:46
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Let us answer the concern of the OP through considering the following points:

  • Some people believe that some moderating actions should not be revealed because of some sensitive issues. However, there are two points questioning such a belief. First, if knowing some information may lead some community members to abuse their privileges, this means that the platform or the community structure has some bugs (holes), so the administrators should try to fix such bugs, instead of evading them. Second, any feature has its pros and cons. Even if there were no solution for the the problem mentioned in the first point, one should not neglect the benefits of "transparency". With transparency, community members can trust their moderators and administrators; trustworthiness should be considered as one of the first priorities for each community.

    In other words, transparency is so vital for a community that no other issue should deprive the community of it.
  • Transparency does not mean that moderators of a community must reveal all information to the community members, but it means that the community members can access to any required information which is needed to judge moderators actions. For example, if there is a community member insisting that some moderator has abused their privileges, transparency here means that the community members can access to the history of the related moderator's actions in order to judge the case well.
  • Finally, as you stated, revealing some information "might infringe on the privacy of a third user." Not to lose transparency because of such an issue, we can include a statement like the following in the privacy policy of the community: Due to the community transparency, some information of members might be needed to be revealed to community members publicly in case of some controversial moderation issues. Please note that such situations, in which a third user's information is needed to be revealed while the user may object, are very rare, and I think we should not lose that important feature, transparency, because of such very rare situations.

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