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I want to ask a question on this site about something that a close friend is claiming happened to them. This something was probably illegal, and they want to protect the perpetrator of the crime (for some strange reason). I will (unless given a reason not to) respect their desire to do so, out of respect for the victim. I'm afraid that if I ask my intended question, that something will occur to jeopardize the protection of the perpetrator.

I guess my question is, what level of anonymity do I have on this site? If I report illegal goings-on, will the police descend? What steps can I take to protect the victim and their desires?

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    It might be a little easier for us to guide you if you were a bit more specific of the nature of your concern... perhaps tell us some of the things it's not? – Catija ModStaff Sep 26 '17 at 3:58
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Its kinda vague - but its worth considering a few things. I'd start (and finish) by saying - focus on the victim not the crime. If you read nothing else, read this.

Moderators have fairly limited access to PII. Lets assume anything you have in your profile, as well as your IP address is visible.

As far as I recall, there's only one real case where Stack Exchange, Inc's been asked to help out law enforcement, and this was probably initiated by them, not Stack Exchange. Jaydles has quite kindly shared what Stack Exchange's policy on these things are - its worth reading this post, but I've copied out the official policy

  1. We take your privacy seriously, and are extremely reluctant to share private information if it can possibly be avoided.

  2. We comply with any legally enforceable requests for information from law enforcement agencies.

  3. This happens very, very rarely. I have more than enough fingers to count the times this has occurred since I started working here a year and a half ago. I wouldn't need a single toe, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't need both hands.

  4. There are many circumstances in which we may be legally prohibited from sharing such requests. The NSA cases have been most widely publicized. But the more common cases are much narrower, such as those where a judge has determined that the details of the investigation would undermine law enforcement's ability to proceed without risk to innocents, etc. But the most common examples are probably grand jury subpoenas. These are also the most benign, as grand jury proceedings are sealed predominantly to protect the accused from having personal details dragged into public view before the government has demonstrated reasonable cause to do so.

But lets talk... common sense.

If your friend's a victim, talking about it in context is fine. You could use a sock (it gets a little messy if you want to select a right answer, so a proper throwaway account would be nice, but not necessary). I'm doubtful, except in the possibility of imminent danger anyone would stick their nose in and call the police. They might advise you do though.

If the focus is on helping the victim, and the crime is in context, the end result of what happens to the perpetrator isn't important. "This happened. I don't care about the perpetrator - I'd like to help my friend" would help focus the answers somewhat.

So, chances are no one's going to hunt down who you are, and who your friend, or the perpetrator is, and our ability to do so is likely minimal. If you still need to - there's options.

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  • I would add to this: if you or others are potentially in danger from others, even if what you post here isn't reported to law enforcement, you should assume that if there is any possible way to identify you, it will happen. For example, if there's a way to discover you and/or your post via any of the information in it (intersections of usernames, places, any details...), a determined person can do so. Additionally, if the source of the danger has had access to your phone or your computer, they may have installed malware that'd let them find out directly what you're up to. – Cascabel Sep 26 '17 at 23:58
  • hah. I didn't even consider the malicious-person angle. I was entirely looking at the "mod"/SE side of things. And yeah, that's also something to think about but at this point, I'd be thinking "Burner everything" – Journeyman Geek Sep 27 '17 at 0:00
  • Yeah. Unfortunately that sort of thing is pretty much canonical in domestic abuse situations, and this sounds a lot like that (victim cares about the perpetrator). – Cascabel Sep 27 '17 at 0:14
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First things first: as Journeyman Geek notes, if we're required by law to reveal information about the author of a post, we're gonna reveal information about the author of a post. Our privacy policy is linked to at the bottom of every page - read it. As with most sites on the 'Net, "privacy policy" is a traditional name for a list of scenarios in which we won't protect your privacy... As such, it's pretty much a direct answer to your first question (what level of anonymity you possess here).

Now... On a practical note, if you need to keep something private then don't post it on the Internet.

Full stop.

Which brings us to your last question: reporting illegal actions in the context of a question here. There are a few things you're gonna want to keep in mind...

  1. This isn't the right site for legal advice. There is no right site for personal legal advice - if you think you need that, then talk to a lawyer: there are laws and traditions which may protect such communication, but none of them apply to things you say in public on the 'Net.

  2. This also isn't the right site for open-ended advice questions. The goal here is to help folks improve their ability to interact with others; we may be able to help you figure out a more effective / polite / socially-acceptable way of doing something, but we probably can't tell you if that thing you're trying to do is the thing you should do. Not that some of us won't try, but... We don't know you; we don't know your friends or family or upbringing or what you did last summer - the best advice for one person could be the very worst for another, even in a very similar situation.

  3. If you think it's risky to be talking to us instead of the police, you're probably right. And the take-away there is, you should probably be talking to the police - or someone who you can trust to talk to them instead of you (a lawyer, a councilor, an anonymous tip line, etc.)

Interpersonal communication can at times seem like black magic, and it can certainly tempting to credit those adept at it with mysterious - even magical - powers... But we must temper our expectations for what we can accomplish in the context of this site. A thoughtful approach or well-crafted missive is unlikely to overcome a history of fear and rationalization.

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Depending on the nature of the crime there's a really good chance that you'll receive a "seek professional help" closure.

Have you considered reaching out to a victim's advocate?

Some organizations even offer help and support for victims who don't want to file charges, it may be a way to steer your friend toward some help.

If this is the sort of situation that it feels like it may well be your friend very likely needs professional help.

It may be better to lose a friend for disclosing to a professional something they told you in confidence, than to lose a friend to violence and/or abuse. If someone is hurting someone you care about please say something to someone who can actually step in and help them.

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  • See how many "needs professional help" questions are coming in. As I said in a recent answer, that need not be psychological services only but can be medical/ legal/ law enforcement or social services: anything professional. We need to define which cases would be deemed to really need help which is beyond the scope of this site. Prolonged debates are erupting as in 'newspaper vendor.' So we must revive that meta question and positively make it an official close-reason! – English Student Sep 27 '17 at 6:40
  • @English Student this isn't the place for that. – apaul Sep 27 '17 at 6:41
  • Certainly not the place for a detailed discussion, @apaul34208 -- but I read in your this answer 'there's a really good chance that you'll receive a "seek professional help" closure' and recalled we don't yet have that close reason nor any consensus how to apply that reasoning to close a question. This is meta: discussions can overlap and discussions about such necessary feature-requests must not fade out unresolved, so we need to revive that meta question. You can post any further comments on this topic under that Q – English Student Sep 27 '17 at 6:51

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