Some sites discuss information which is illegal in certain countries. There is always a risk that such countries will block the Stack Exchange network because of this. I would like to clarify that they are permitted. A few examples:

  • IPS with homosexuality, which is grounds for blocking under Russian law.

  • Biology.SE with evolution, which is grounds for blocking under Iranian law.

  • Security.SE with censorship evasion, which is grounds for blocking under Chinese law.

This question came up specifically due to the last point. On the Information Security site, we often discuss matters such as privacy. This sometimes includes discussions involving circumventing state-run censorship. The worry is that the entirety of the Stack Exchange network will be blocked due to the appearance of us "targeting" governments. My argument is that it should be allowed if it does not break US law or break the Stack Exchange ToS. I would just like to verify that this is indeed the case, or whether we need to avoid asking or answering questions that are not allowed to be discussed in certain governments.

  • Does the network allow us to discuss homosexuality?

  • Does the network allow us to discuss evolution?

  • Does the network allow us to discuss internet freedom / privacy?

I would assume that the answer to all three is yes, as long as it is legal in the US, but I would like an explicit answer. A moderator on the Information Security site seems opposed to allowing discussions that target specific government censorship evasion out of "respect for other governments". I personally do not hold this view at all, but I was asked to post this question here, on Meta.

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    IPS doesn't 'often discusses homosexuality'. IPS isn't a place for discussions. It's a place for questions and answers on Interpersonal Skills. – Tinkeringbell Aug 17 at 11:53
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    @Tinkeringbell You're right, I spoke wrong (not a forum etc). It's a place where homosexuality is often a topic in questions regarding interpersonal skills. – forest Aug 17 at 11:54
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    If we ever went that way, I wonder what there'd be left of Politics.SE... – yannis Aug 17 at 12:31
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    @yannis a site where people try to understand instead of one-upping each other? :P :D – Federico Aug 17 at 12:41
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    Just out of curiosity, is this one moderator's opinion, or is it explicitly site scope? If it's just opinion, then that's fine - mods are bound to uphold the scope of the site, not merely what they think should be on-topic, and are held in check by the mod team as a whole. – HDE 226868 Aug 17 at 13:28
  • @HDE226868 This is one moderator's opinion, as another moderator disagrees. It is his interpretation of the scope. In particular, our rule is that asking how to break the security of the system is on-topic only if you show understanding of the concepts involved. This moderator seems to want to extend that to also respect foreign governments by not specifically discussing censorship circumvention (if I am understanding his stance correctly). – forest Aug 17 at 13:29
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    For the last few years on Stack Overflow at least one user has intentionally tried to get SE blocked in China by placing controversial information in their profile and display name. Despite years of complaints from users, the company has resisted altering this profile even though it leads to occasional blocking of SE content in China. In general, the community supports this. – Brad Larson Aug 17 at 15:25
  • Downvoting for hitting my No. 1 pet peeve with SE. Yes, we know SE is a US-based site, no need to keep rubbing it in. SE claims to be an international site, there's no such thing as a "foreign" government. – Masked Man Aug 17 at 17:58
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    @MaskedMan I meant foreign to the jurisdiction that Stack Exchange operates in. I've changed my wording. – forest Aug 17 at 21:32
up vote 30 down vote accepted

At the point where SE asks us to not discuss evolution on the biology site, we might as well shut down all of the science sites. We don't need to cater to every irrational thing some nation state might do. There would probably also be a considerable amount of users of those sites that would leave the network entirely in such a case.

It's also not the job of regular users or moderators to judge any kind of legal question. Most of us are simply not qualified to do that, especially for all jurisdictions in the world simultaneously. Any legal complaint has to go via SE directly, the community is not qualified to judge the issues and also does not represent SE in any legal sense.

What individual sites can do is to decide to enforce some rules that bear a strong and not at all accidental likeness to certain laws. For example, on Gaming SE questions about cracked or pirated games are off-topic. Not because this might be illegal, but because the community does not want to support this kind of behaviour and because this causes all kinds of complications for the actual questions.

Whether you allow questions about circumventing censorship mechanisms is something your community has to decide. But I would suggest to not consider any legal issues unless SE directly asks you to.

As far as I'm aware, SE has never asked any community to self-censor for any of the three topics you mentioned.

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    Our moderator has said that he is of the opinion that things should be disallowed until explicitly permitted -- this is very scary to me. – Mister Positive Aug 17 at 13:23
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    @forest you have completely misrepresented my comment and my stance. Please do not make comments about what you think I want but leave the details to be about the issue itself. – schroeder Aug 17 at 14:51
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    @schroeder My apologies, I did not mean to misrepresent your opinion. I've deleted my comment. You said that you prefer to "stop unless told go" rather than "go until told to stop", which I took to mean to disallow an activity by default in the context in which it was used. Could you clarify what you meant by that? – forest Aug 17 at 21:36

Uh No.

In order to fully comply, the whole network will need to be taken down, and an army of international lawyers will need to spend time going through every question, every answer, every comment, every tag, every chatroom (and every deleted question and answer/archived chatroom/post revision) and remove anything that doesn't offend any one of the world's governments or religions.

And then after they've edited all the things, all of their edits are then going to have to be cross-checked to make sure that whatever edits they've made don't annoy any other government or religion.

And then, when the site finally reopens, that same army of international lawyers is going to have to vet and approve every single question, answer, comment, yada yada yada. (Ask on Math.SE how many times this will need to be repeated to ensure full coverage.)

It's not really going to happen because we're ruled by the two top words:

Be nice

Or as Bill and Ted puts it:

Be excellent to each other

Realistically speaking, each site is governed by what's on-topic for each site under the CoC umbrella.

We can't really do much more than that. In the who-knows-how-many years SE has been active, I don't really recall a nation's wrath being cast against it.

I think we'll be ok.

  • But the question is how far does "Be nice" go? Does it extend to impersonal 3rd parties? "I live in Elbonia hate my government's control over my internet, how do I illegally circumvent the controls?" "Oh yeah, you live in Elbonia, here's what you do ..." Given the concerns that Elbonia might have with that, shouldn't we encourage more general discussion about the technical issues and leave the specific political/governmental angle aside? – schroeder Aug 17 at 14:58
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    That's a question to be assessed on each site. The Gaming and Software Rec sites won't advocate the use of pirated software, and other sites may have similar overriding considerations. My point (made tongue-in-cheek) is that the platform can't possibly cater for every single possible potential sanction. – Snow Aug 17 at 15:03

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