Controlling Message Deletion in Microsoft Teams

Teams Splash

Allowing for Second Thoughts

Some organizations hate the idea of anyone removing something contributed to a conversation, no matter whether that conversation occurs in email, Yammer, Teams, or any other medium. They take the view that these communications are records to preserve as they are. Others consider it sensible that you should be able to recover from an error. After all, it is always possible to have second thoughts. Like just after you post to inform the world that your boss is an idiot.

Recalling a message sent by mistake is difficult because email systems deliver messages so quickly today. However, email travels between recipients. With persistent conversations like those in Groups, Yammer, or Teams that might be open to all to see, it is good to be able to erase or edit mistakes when they happen.

Blink and Teams Change

Microsoft Teams is an application under constant development. Microsoft publishes new features regularly and because the Teams client is self-updating, you might not be aware of changes until you go looking. In this case, some recent updates to Teams deliver controls to allow tenants and team owners to control deletions. Tenants can set default controls over deletions while team owners can dictate what team members can do to edit or remove items.

Controlling Deletions

Tenant-wide control over all teams is through settings accessed for Microsoft Teams in the Services & add-ins section of the Office 365 Admin Center. Navigate to the Messaging section, where you can tweak three settings (Figure 1):

  • Allow owners to delete all messages: If set, a team owner can remove any message in any channel within the team, no matter whom posted the message. This setting applies to all teams in a tenant. You cannot restrict it to some teams.
  • Allow users to edit their own messages: If set, a user can edit the content of any message they post.
  • Allow users to delete their own messages: If set, a user can remove any message they post.

When a team owner or member removes a message, Teams flags the missing item with “This message has been deleted.” Contributions to the conversation before or after the deleted item are unaffected.

Teams Deletion Settings
Figure 1: Options available in Teams settings for a tenant to control who can delete messages (image credit: Tony Redmond)

Allowing owners to remove any message in any channel in a team is probably the setting that causes most debate. It is good to give someone the responsibility to keep order within the “high-velocity chats” that Teams encourage. Given the cut-and-thrust of some conversations, some chance exists that someone will say something that they should not. But do you want team owners to police conversations and act as a censor?

As always, it is a question of balance. No one wants to encourage censorship and suppress the kind of frank discussions that solve problems or are part of the creative process. But equally, a company has a responsibility to its employees that discussion spaces such as Teams should be safe and free of gratuitous insults or profanities.

On balance, it is best to allow team owners to remove inappropriate content. To support this position, the company needs to give team owners some guidelines to help them make good decisions about when they should step in. And to remind team members of their personal responsibility to conversations civil.

Team-level Control

On a team level, a team owner can customize the ability of members to edit and remove messages by accessing the team settings through View Team -> Settings. Go to the @Mentions section (Figure 2) to allow or block users from these options. The settings apply to all channels in the team.

Teams deletion settings 2
Figure 2: The options available to control deletion within a team (image credit: Tony Redmond)

If the tenant-wide settings do not allow users to edit or remove their messages, owners will not see these settings. When available, the settings for a team override the tenant settings.

As you can see from Figure 2, owners can also choose to disable their ability to remove items created by other members.

Changes made to deletion settings take a little time for clients to respect. The exact period depends on how long it is before the client polls the server for new data. My experience is that a change made to restrict deletion in a specific group became effective very quickly while tenant-wide changes took longer.

Deletion Does Not Affect Compliance

The items recorded by Teams for compliance purposes in the group mailbox stay intact to act as evidence that the messages once existed. The items in the group mailbox are discoverable by content searches should the need arise. However, Teams does not capture audit records to note when owners or users remove messages.

Teams on a Roll

Since its launch in March 2017, Teams has made solid progress. Adding control over message deletion is an example of the small-but-important touches that complete an application. Of course, Microsoft has still to deliver some headline items like external access, but overall, the Teams project is on the up.

Follow Tony on Twitter @12Knocksinna.

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