Countries, societies and clubs have constitutions. Why not stackexchange?

Over the last several months we've seen stackexchange "the company" use/abuse power, push/disrespect boundaries, cause community unrest and backlash and finally lawyer up (how sad).

I feel the turmoil occurred in part because there's no clear understanding, internally and externally, of those powers/boundaries are.

But what are the boundaries, exactly? What rights and obligations, if any, do the various types of people (visitors, users, moderators, employees, management, owners, etc) involved in the organization have?

A constitution embodies the definition of such concepts.

Should stakexchange have one, call it that, publish it and live by it?

Note: This goes beyond a revamped moderator agreement. This is about everyone.


Given recent communications and decisions made by Stack Overflow management, needless to say the constitution would be toothless unless it nominated an independent body to resolve disputes, which would specifically exclude courts (even though suing seems to be a national sport of the US, second only in popularity to playing the “credit score” game) because getting a fair result should not depend on how deep ones pockets are, and which may include the collective community voting to determine the outcome, or selecting jurors from the community.

  • The company would have to have a constitution, though it may not be named that. Though that's just for how the company is to be legally constituted, not the community. – curiousdannii Mar 31 '20 at 0:44
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    A a constitution is a second step, the first step is to set up a suitable power structure to legitimize and amend the things that would go into a constitution. – tkruse Mar 31 '20 at 1:22
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    Can someone tell me if this is downvoted because it's a bad idea or a poorly worded or off-topic question? – Bohemian Mar 31 '20 at 1:24
  • A constitution is a great thing within the trias politica, where there are three different institutes that can change, enforce, and judge compliance to, that constitution. If we have a constitution that can be changed by SE itself, or we have no party to enforce it, or we can't judge anyone due to violations of it, it's not worth much imo. – Erik A Mar 31 '20 at 8:58
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    Yeah...please, no Supreme Court! – Martin James Apr 1 '20 at 9:56

Yes. Yes, I think it should.

That Wikipedia link of yours sez that...

A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles or established precedents that constitute the legal basis of a polity, organisation or other type of entity, and commonly determine how that entity is to be governed

Crucially, it extends beyond just "boundaries" - it starts with principles! And an awful lot of the strife lately can be boiled down to fundamental disagreements over what principles are held, who they apply to, and what recourse folks have if they feel those governing principles have been violated.

Let's face it: Stack Exchange isn't a small group of people. We congregate here from across the globe, bringing with us myriad cultures and beliefs. There must be something that we share... But if it isn't stated, explicitly and frequently, then what hope do we have that it will be shared - much less respected - in the future?

Well. I suppose we've already seen the answer to that...

So yes. There should be a constitution. Not a list of petty rules, but a charter, a governing code for all who wish to have a hand in the future of these sites. Hashed out in public, and ratified by as large a majority as can be mustered.

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    A constitution needs politicians and leaders, not lawyers and janitors. At best we're at a start of creating a context that might support a constitution. – rene Mar 31 '20 at 7:50
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    A constitution doesn't need anything, @rene. But sometimes people need a constitution. The question then becomes: will they have one that reflects their ideals, or will they have one thrust upon them? – Shog9 Mar 31 '20 at 15:50

Constitutions are all good and well in an organisation with constituent members.

While I jokingly refer to the folks on the sites I moderate as my constituents - one finds that the trappings of politics, while "being the worst solution, except for all the others" for politics, work even worse outside politics.

Fundamentally - the company needs to clear up its relationship with its users and rather than a constitution have a code of conduct for its employees dealing with users.

From what we've seen - preventing another incident where a decision which the folks most familiar with the community were overruled certainly would be useful, but we've gotten some promises - like the company not speaking to the press over situations where a community member might have gotten on the wrong side of someone, or some rule that might be a good point.

SE had this implicitly. We handled things like adults - and often still do. I've had CMs go "Hey, so I need to overturn this decision", explain why, and it at its best was understood, and at its worst, well, I got to say I told you so.

Fundamentally though - it needs to rebuild and reinforce a culture where people are respected. A significant part of the problem as I perceive it is simply internal and personal politics overcame good advice and well...

A constitution is roughly worth as much as that other valued piece of paper work, toilet paper, if the folks in power don't respect it.

  • It is not lack of constitution that caused recent events, rather lack of common sense and decency. While having some common goals and principles spelled out could be beneficial, at this moment introducing more rules could do more harm than good. Suspicion would kill any effort in that direction. We just have to stick to "assume good intent" and hope for the best. And the rest concerning what SE want's to be when it grows up... I don't think anyone has clear picture at the moment... and the old one is lost. – Resistance Is Futile Apr 1 '20 at 12:53

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