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tl;dr version: Is "the community" a legislative body or a judicial one?

In What topics can I ask about here? there are a few guidelines right at the top that ostensibly inform you whether or not "...you’re in the right place to ask your question!" However, the page then goes on to repeatedly point out ways in which, due to this or that reason, your question might be "closed by the community".

It's not immediately obvious to me whether to interpret the phrasing on the page as indicating 1) a set of rules that the community is tasked to enforce; or if it indicates 2) helpful advice to make your question pleasing to an all-powerful community.

Certainly many posts on Meta seem to involve discussions about rules for material "belonging" on the site. Is this "the community" creating or merely interpreting rules for "belonging" on the site?

Is "the community" on Stack Overflow intended to be an agent or an authority? Does the community serve primarily a judicial role, or also a legislative one? Has this role changed much since the site's inception? Does this role vary much from site to site on the network? What are the constitutional limits to the legislative and judicial powers of the community? For example, do the legislative powers extend to defining/allowing spam and/or hate-speech?

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  • One way to consider this is to ask what rules "the community" is allowed to make collectively without involving the company. For example, it looks like the community can decide to allow questions that were previously considered closable, but can't decide to permit spam or hate speech. That is, if the community decides that spam and hate speech are ok and start posting it, the company will come down in force, delete the spam and hate, and ban the offenders. The fact that the behavior was authorized by the community will be no defense. Does that sound right? Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 12:10
  • Related question: Are trolls and spammers considered part of the community, or is following the rules as currently defined a prerequisite to community membership? Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 12:13
  • @RobertColumbia does the company have a definition for "spam"?
    – Him
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 13:01
  • apparently so. Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 22:55
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    @RobertColumbia the very first sentence on that page "The community here tends to vote down overt self-promotion and flag it as spam." suggests to me that Stack Exchange Inc. is specifically disowning any responsibility for or endorsement of the "rules" on that page. It sounds to me as though what spam is and whether it is allowed is up to the community. I'm not sure if that's just wordplay or if they mean it genuinely, but that's what the page says, at least.
    – Him
    Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 1:52
  • @RobertColumbia I feel as though you only provide here "extreme" examples. I worry that this casts the question into a "black and white" sort of thing, and doesn't encourage "gray area" answers that capture the nuance of the situation. Possibly you can make your edits more clear and succint: "What are the constitutional limits to our legislative and judicial powers? For example, do our legislative powers extend to defining/allowing spam and/or hate-speech?"
    – Him
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 23:06

2 Answers 2

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"The community" is just the group of people that

  • use the site
  • have an opinion about what is good or bad content and make their opinion known, either through voting (up, down, close or reopen) or by participating on the site's meta.

As such, "the community" is a very large and diverse group of people.

It's not immediately obvious to me whether to interpret the phrasing on the page as indicating 1) a set of rules that the community is tasked to enforce; or if it indicates 2) helpful advice to make your question pleasing to an all-powerful community.

As those rules are the result from discussions within "the community" (on the meta site), it is a set of rules that "the community" has set themselves, and can change themselves. For a newcomer, it is best to see them as helpful advise on how to get the most out of your question.

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    I don't think votes are needed to be part of the community. Yes, it limits how much you can enforce site rules, but any user who can participate on Meta is at liberty to do so voicing their opinion on site policies, asking site policies to be re-examined, or even proposing new site policies. Caution is advised as the ill-informed are often looked down upon. Still, making a good-faith effort is all really needed to participate on Meta. Votes are not required.
    – VLAZ
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 12:34
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Guidelines on site scope (what “belongs” there) are developed by the community during Meta discussions. The community comprises every engaged user of a site.

There are few hard rules/policies on Stack Exchange sites, but one example is the Code of Conduct. Generally, it is only moderators (sometimes staff) who deal with violations of the Code of Conduct, often after having their attention drawn to them by flags from the community. There are no hard rules/policies related to scope, just guidelines that vary between sites.

The firmness with which guidelines are expected to be followed is down to votes by users (including moderators who have binding votes) and some guidelines lack clear consensus from Meta so expect to see shades of grey in their interpretation.

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