There are numerous questions asking whether a specific behavior is "ethical" on Stack Exchange sites. Such questions are difficult (well, impossible) to answer without a code of ethics or a set of behavioral guidelines to evaluate the behavior against.

There are the FAQs, which do lay out some behaviors (i.e. rudeness is not tolerated, promotions are usually discouraged by community members, the types of questions that are considered appropriate, etc.), but the FAQs do not go so far as to make any statements about many other behaviors. For instance, "gaming" the reputation system is not considered an appropriate behavior (see this post and this other post, and there may be other, more subtle behaviors that many users might consider to be unethical, such as posting and answering questions on how to unlock cell phones.

Other than the specific behaviors listed in the FAQ, and actions moderators take in response to flagged posts there are no formal ethical guidelines that dictate which behaviors are ethical or not.

Are these measures sufficient, or should Stack Exchange consider creating a formal set of ethical guidelines?

  • 3
    You are asking whether or not these measures are sufficient. Do you think they are not? If so, do you have examples of what you would like to see in a formal code of ethics? Asking whether or not we need one is fine, but it should have a focus on producing a desired result. Right now, I don't understand what the desired result you're trying to achieve is.
    – casperOne
    Jan 10 '13 at 19:47
  • What would formalization add? The community itself, with support from the moderators, seems to be doing fine without it. Even going as far as reflecting on their own behaviour through such "events" as the summer of love and what not. I don't really see the benefit of something formal.
    – Bart
    Jan 10 '13 at 19:49
  • 7
    It is already in place: "Be nice". Everybody knows what that means, trying to be more detailed would be a big mistake. Jan 10 '13 at 19:55
  • no good can come from creation of a formal code of ethics for the site, also if it is enforced like a list of rules its note really ethics at that point.
    – Ryathal
    Jan 10 '13 at 20:52
  • @Ryathal I don't know if that's necessarily true, but I agree, we shouldn't make problems where they don't exist. If they exist, then we should see how an action like this would address the problem.
    – casperOne
    Jan 10 '13 at 21:56
  • I fully agree with Uphill. Anything more specific than that is just an invitation to hunt for holes in the rules. "But nothing ever said I couldn't do X". You might have clarifying statements, comments and examples, but having more "rules"? Not a good idea. Jan 11 '13 at 0:36

Let's say that we codify be nice with a concrete implementation of nice. Think for a moment of all the ways that someone could conceivably be not nice. When they aren't, and are ultimately called on the behavior, this is what you'll hear:

What rule did I break? I followed the nice guide to the letter.

The topic is just far too subjective to document with that kind of precision. How we behave in the context of the circumstances we're presented is dictated by our fundamental understanding of right and wrong. We simply can't teach that in a document any more specifically than we currently do. The majority of people do the 'Right Thing' when using the site, and we have some very well articulated messages to send to folks that go off the tracks, including messages for users where a difference in culture needs to be explained.

As for the general 'house rules', I think we're as covered as we can possibly be without seeming overly pedantic to those that just naturally use the site as intended.

  • Ethics: use them.
    – user7116
    Jan 11 '13 at 0:09

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