I'm not a native English speaker, so I'm not sure whether "Private message" and "Direct message" share the same meaning.

In my understanding, "private message" directly implies privacy, whereas "direct message" does not, but the "personal message" page on Wikipedia seems to consider them as synonyms.

So, what's the difference, if any, between "private message" and "direct message"?

  • Have you read the definition cited in that Wikipedia article? Although I may well be mistaken, I think the term direct message came with Twitter and its kin; I don't remember seeing it before.
    – user3395
    Aug 8, 2019 at 20:23
  • You seem to be asking about choices contained in some form of social media. Am I mistaken? Your own link explains it's about communication "… on a given platform". That's nothing to do with English… Can you explain how a "direct message" would not be private? Jun 14, 2020 at 21:45
  • @RobbieGoodwin: I assumed that a "direct message" could be legally read by administrators (f.e. for moderation needs), while private messages could not. Jun 15, 2020 at 7:51
  • If you think there's a broadly accepted linguistic or legal difference between "direct" and "private" messages, what precedents are you citing? Unless you hoped SE had some kind of over-riding jurisdiction, why would you ask about that here, rather than taking your assumptions to whatever platform you were interested in? Jun 17, 2020 at 20:05

2 Answers 2


In the context of social media, the distinctions outlined in some of the replies here don't really apply / aren't observed, with terms direct message and private message being used interchangeably, though perhaps platform-dependently: e.g., Reddit has private messages while Twitter has direct messages – they are both private in nature (although multiple recipients and group "chats" are possible), but perhaps indirect given the architecture of these internet applications, or the internet in general if you want to be really technical about it, although they appear direct to sending and receiving parties.

I'd say private message (PM) is the term people normally default to, but some (younger?) people will often say DM me ("direct message me") regardless of the application. I don't want to investigate this in detail, but some insight may be gleaned from Google Trends – I'm purposely steering clear of corpora as I don't see any indication of year in iWeb or GloWbE, both being Web-based corpora – where I searched for the frequency of queries how to direct message and how to private message in the United Kingdom (here) and the United States (here).

In the Related queries boxes below the graphs you can see which term is used with which popular social networking service.

  • twitter has direct messages and they are not private, are they??
    – Lambie
    Aug 9, 2019 at 15:32
  • @Lambie They sure are! That's why I said they're the same thing as private messages. See this video, or this official help page, where it says "Direct Messages are the private side of Twitter. You can use Direct Messages to have private conversations with people about Tweets and other content."
    – user3395
    Aug 9, 2019 at 15:50
  • Yeah, OK. but tweets are not private messages, are they?
    – Lambie
    Aug 9, 2019 at 15:51
  • @Lambie They are not, although you'll sometimes see Web sites refer to direct messages on Twitter as private tweets.
    – user3395
    Aug 9, 2019 at 15:53

"Private" (adj) means something meant to be accessed by certain individuals who are given permission by the sender. A "private message" should only be read or received by the recipient. No one else should be able or allowed to read it unless given permission by the sender or recipient of the message.

"Direct" (adj) means being sent from A to B without extra procedures in the middle. A message can go through one or more people or procedures. For example, you can relay your message, which means you give your message to another person, then that person gives your message to your final recipient. In many cases, there may be some procedures to check your messages or deliveries, such as security and customs checks. A "direct message" doesn't go through any of that. You directly give it to your recepient with little or nothing in the middle.

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