I have an official role moderating an online community that is open to the public. I exercise my best judgment in interpreting the rules, but:

  • I don't make the rules, I only enforce them.
  • I am only one moderator in a larger team, and we don't always agree in our interpretations.

I told a user that what they were doing was against the rules, in no uncertain terms and in an official voice. But after doing more research I found that I had interpreted the rules in a way that was inconsistent with past actions by other moderators, and the consensus among the current team also disagrees with my interpretation. In hindsight, I should have done more research and consulted with the team before taking any action, but I had some reason to think the situation was more straightforward than was actually the case.

Now I have to eat crow. I said the wrong thing, I was very firm about it, and I can't erase or edit the record of the conversation. I need to publicly admit that I was wrong and clarify the actual correct policy. I want to retract my statement in a mature, credible way, so that the mistake doesn't make me less effective as a moderator going forward.

However, in addition to retracting the statement and clarifying the policy, should I offer an apology to the user? Why or why not?

If an apology is necessary, why might I want to do it:

  • publicly, as part of the retraction?
  • separately, in a private conversation?
  • 1
    most importantly you need to get that rule clarified and updated so no one else makes the same mistake
    – user671
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 14:58

8 Answers 8


As an official responsible for the smooth operation of a community, you need to be aware that your actions affect the the social integrity and harmony of the group. What you do should not be about absolving yourself of any personal sin except to the extent that it re-stabilizes the group or those members who might require it in order for the group and all of its members to continue operating.

You understand that retraction, apology, and restitution are different things.

Apparently you made an official decision that is on the record, so that record needs to be factually corrected. That can be done in a matter-of-fact dispassionate way. A retraction might include an explanation of how the error was made, just so other's can avoid making the same mistake.

An apology is generally reserved for cases where someone was hurt or inconvenienced by your mistake. It's not necessary, but has benefits to the social cohesiveness of the group involved. In a public apology, unless your error was egregious, you should keep it brief, if you make one at all. In a private apology, you can make it any length you want, tailored to the recipient. In both cases, you should refer to your public retraction, which shows your effort to correct the error and accept responsibility.

If someone was hurt or inconvenienced, restitution might be in order. This might come by simply apologizing, or it could include reversing the loss (if it's possible) that the error caused.

  • There are a lot of great answers here; I'm giving yours a checkmark to highlight the point about the difference between retraction, apology and restitution.
    – Air
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 2:04

Yes, you should apologize. You're human. They are human. Humans are known to make mistakes.

Since the sanction was made in public, an apology should be too. This shows that moderators of the community are not infallible and that they are willing to make amends for their mistakes. The public apology does not (and probably should not) go into specific details, but a genuine apology will do wonders. Personally, I'd phrase this apology to be more of an apology to the community at large.

A private apology may also be helpful. Personal touches and the offer to talk about the problem in private with the affected user may help to smooth over hurt feelings. In this apology, I would provide details about how you are going to correct the problems you caused; remove bans, return privileges, etc. If you offer to talk with them, make it clear that the goal is to resolve the issue and not to become a place to rant about "moderator abuse". You want to solve a problem and learn from this mistake. They want to remain a member of the community. Work together.

One thing this incident may have raised in your community is how to handle this type of problem in the future. Do you have an appeals process? Is there a way for other moderators to check and balance one another? If "no", to both of those, it may be time to start that discussion at the moderator level. Having a process to resolve this in the future will help moderators and community members. That doesn't mean mistakes still won't be made, but if they are, everyone will know what hoops need to be jumped through to solve it.


The basic idea of apologies is that you make an apology whenever you feel sorry for something that you did, to the person that you wronged.

It's a matter of personal integrity. You don't apologize because you made a detailed analysis that shows that you will get personal benefits by apologizing.

If you follow that rule your apologies will have meaning. They allow you to authentically communicate your feelings. It makes you seem human and most communities want that.

  • 2
    Exactly. The reason people sometimes feel reluctant to apologise is a vague feeling that it makes them somehow vulnerable to further criticism. In reality, apologising or not isn't part of handling criticism appropriately. Someone who will attack you more because you admitted fault should be ignored and/or dealt with appropriately. Don't let such people's behaviour decide how you will act.
    – MGOwen
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 0:09

It depends on what sanctions you imposed on the user.

If you just told them off then your apology should be enough, though you should probably send them a personal version of the apology or make them aware of your public statement in some way.

If you docked them "points" (assuming they have "points" on your system) or suspended them then you should immediately reinstate the points and unsuspend them. You should also remove any "black mark" they might have on their account. If you can't remove the "black mark" then adding a new annotation that explains the context would be a good idea. This would be a good place to send them a personalised version of the apology.

You don't have to go into great - or indeed any - detail in the apology. You can simply say something like:

I recently made a decision in good faith but later found it it was wrong. I'd like to apologise for this. I have reversed the action I took and apologised to those concerned.

This will show that the moderation of your site is itself moderated and that incorrect decisions can be corrected.


I find it depends on the community and whether the way you handled the situation would have made the user look bad publicly. If you simply indicated that a behavior was against rules when it wasn't, then a simple public retraction and correction and maybe a personal apology to the user should be sufficient. If you indicated the behavior somehow reflected poorly on the user, then it would be good to apologize publicly instead.

Ideally, you want the apology to match up with the scope of the community that the user was wronged with. If the only way they were wronged was that they received an unfair penalty from you, then it is just between you and him. If he was wronged in that his reputation was impacted in front of a larger community, then it is important to apologize publicly to him in front of that community.

It's really up to you to judge which of those situations applies in your case. Alternately, you could apologize privately and offer to apologize publicly if they would like or simply let it go if they'd rather just move on.

  • 4
    This, very much this. The scope of the correction needs to be informed by the scope of the damage. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 14:29

You should seek to remove the erroneous statement to make sure that it isn't taken as truth in the future. If you are able to achieve this then a public apology is not required.

In the case where you cannot remove the incorrect information, you should state that it is wrong, and then state the correct information.

Apologising to the user publicly might not be a good thing because it draws attention to them and they might not want that attention, you must use your judgement about this, or if possible even ask them what they think privately.


You made your decision based on your knowledge at the time. It was wrong, correct it. If you have not been rude ( I hope you were not ), I don't think you need to apologize. If you want to apologize, then do it.


You state that you would like to apologize so I think you have answered your own question. However, if you would like anothers opinion I would ask if this a personal or professional apology. It sounds like you personally feel as though you owe the person an apology. This is not a personal situation though so I don't believe your personal feelings should be the deciding factor. I would actually advise against a personal apology. This could open you to personal attack or unnecessary criticism and basically just make things worse. I would only apologize in a professional capacity in an open forum so there is no opportunity for manipulation of statements or escalation of the issue.

If you are asking if you should apologize as a moderator in a professional capacity I would suggest first checking with company policy. There may be a set standard and if apologies are allowed (required/recommended, etc.) There may be guidelines as to what the apology can contain.

If a professional apology is made the suggested apology in this answer was well written. Or perhaps something like, "[during this recent event] using the information available, my understanding of the rules, I made the decision based on my best judgment. I have since reviewed policy and precedence I have decided my ruling was inaccurate and am therefor overturning the decision. We hope that this error in interpretation of the rules did not cause any hardship or issues for our member and we appreciate your understanding and patience." We are all humans and we all make mistakes at one point or another (or in some cases several points and others!). I think it takes integrity and character to admit an error and accept responsibility. If the site member uses it as an opening for an attack do not let their lower quality of character get to you. And refer to company policy on how to deal with them. I am sure there is something that allows you to get rid of them without too much disruption to your life and I applaud you for having the strength and quality of character to want to apologize for an honest mistake. Good luck to you!

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