The SE ToS state (term 1, 2nd paragraph, 1st sentence) that a subscriber to SE must be an individual. Context suggests that a "subscriber" means what it appears to mean: an entity that signs up, that gets a username, a user account. "Individual" needs no gloss.

Do moderators have the authority to disregard the (good-faith, clearly acknowledged, completely up-front) creation of a user account by a collective of (named) existing users?

If they don't, what should the response be when this occurs?

  • Draw the users' attention to the provision in the ToS, and close the collective account?

  • Wait until someone posts from the collective account and then 'go mediaeval' and ban the individual user who does so?

  • Something else?

This case arose recently on Puzzling, and the sequence of events that followed culminated in the banning of the top user for a year. At no point has the above provision in the ToS been officially referred to.


I wouldn't say it's the mods that have authority for this. It's more of an admin responsibility than a moderation one.

Mods are there for the day-to-day maintenance of the site, but for issues around noncompliance with ToS then personally I'd hand it over to Stack Exchange admin team to look into and handle.

Same with things like underage users being identified.

It doesn't impact the site content itself if the user is present or not, so I wouldn't say that is a moderation issue, but if that user is in breach of ToS then it's over to the StackExchange community team to deal with and resolve.


Moderators don't enforce the terms of service, we enforce the rules of the community and a few global rules from SE, but I doubt that most mods have even read the ToS. The Terms of Service are a legal document, and moderators tend to stay away from the issues that require legal arguments.

There is a single rule that is somewhat of an exception, the ToS prohibit children younger than 13 years from having an account with SE. We moderators tell SE if we see a user that is younger than 13, not because we read the ToS but simply because SE asked us to do that. We don't actually enforce this rule, we don't have the tools to remove all traced of personal information from an account, but we notify SE about this.

As a general rule, I wouldn't act on a user simply because the account is used by multiple people. As long as all the people using the account behave, there is no issue with this practice. There are quite a few potential issues, as this can give high-rep abilities to users with not much experience with them. The account is responsible for all actions, this simply means that if one of the persons handling the account is doing something wrong, the entire account will suffer the consequences.

There is also the issue of self-promotion, which can be an issue for accounts that represent a particular company. The fact that multiple people handle the account doesn't matter for this, like any other user they need to avoid excessive self-promotion.

I've heard about the specific suspension you're talking about, and I'm pretty sure that violating this particular piece of the ToS wasn't the suspension reason.

  • You've misunderstood - I wasn't stating or implying anything about the reasons for that suspension, and for what it's worth, I'm pretty sure too that they weren't connected with a breach of that point in the ToS. I was asking what mods should do when a collective account gets created. If they know it's a breach, should they disregard it? @JonW says he would notify admin. You're saying that usually you'd do nothing, because in your view there's "no issue" with such a breach so long as everyone "behaves". But wouldn't knowing and doing nothing be exercising an authority to disregard or waive? – h34 Sep 7 '15 at 9:33
  • @h34 Moderators have no legal authority in any way, at any time, with regard to Stack Exchange. We are at full liberty to disregard something until it becomes a moderation problem. Us ignoring an issue can't sever sections of the ToS. meta.stackexchange.com/legal/moderator-agreement – user206222 Sep 7 '15 at 9:46
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    @Emrakul - In the question, I didn't mean legal authority. "Full liberty to disregard something until it becomes a moderation problem"? So you can disregard subscription by minors under 13? I suppose you are free to do so. – h34 Sep 7 '15 at 9:51
  • @h34 SE has never asked us to enforce this particular part of the ToS, I didn't even know that was in there. My understanding is that we moderators are free to handle such collective accounts according to our own judgement, which generally means we only intervene if they cause trouble in some way. – Mad Scientist Sep 7 '15 at 11:51
  • That may be some mods' approach, but could admin say they condone it in cases where this term in the ToS is being breached in clear and open fashion? I'm guessing they might want mods to notify them, given that it's not a circumstance that requires legal expertise to recognise or handle. – h34 Sep 7 '15 at 14:09

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