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This is a much more philosophical question than most. It is inspired by the question Is "the community" an arbiter or an authority of "belonging" on the site? as it relates to the role of the community as a rule maker or a rule enforcer.

I've been on the network for several years, and seen quite a few community-oriented initiatives designed to better understand or support the communities of our various sites. We listen to the needs and desires of users across various spectra - subject matter experts to subject matter newbs, high rep users to low rep users, highly-active users to casual users, etc. In all of these initiatives, there are two groups of users whose voices always seem to be ignored or silenced - those whose primary purpose in being here is to post spam or abuse.

Ontologically speaking, are spammers and trolls part of "the community"? I've been trying to evaluate this myself and find that neither option is fully satisfactory.

  • If spammers and trolls are members of the community, why does it always seem that their voices and needs are not only not valued, but completely ignored? Why are we not working to help them meet their goals in posting their crap while minimizing the effects of this crap on other users? Alternately, if spammers and trolls are community members, they theoretically have a voice on the sites on which they spam and troll and could, theoretically, gain power or even take over the democratic apparatus of a site (passing their own pro-spam and pro-abuse policies and electing moderators who promise to enforce these policies).
  • If spammers and trolls are not members of the community, it makes me wonder what other users might also be excluded from the definition of the community. For example, are users who post non-abusive non-answers (e.g. "I'm having this problem too, did you find a solution?") to be deemed outside of the pale of the community? Shall there be a minimum reputation level (e.g. 1,000 rep) to be truly considered part of the community? Might some of our sites decide that only users who hold to certain sociopolitical views shall be considered truly part of the community?
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    In that group you may include those whose only motive is monetary, directly or indirectly. They may be part of the spam organisations (e.g., a sort of contractors recruited through Upwork or similar) to facilitate the spammers getting a foothold. Or they are part of the paid homework industry. For example, they get a commission on Upwork to generate a certain amount of reputation points (transferred / laundered to the spammers or CV stuffers through the bounty system). Feb 5, 2023 at 4:26
  • cont' - Their outward appearance may be as plagiarisers, but the real reason is probably that they input part or whole of a question into a search engine and directly copy-paste from one of the top search results without understanding any of it. They have little or no idea if it will work (the answer is probably completely bogus). They just hope for a spurious upvote. With ChatGPT their job just got easier (as they can copy-paste the result directly instead of copy-pasting from a blog post (also with some chance of being detected as plagiarism)). Feb 5, 2023 at 4:26
  • cont' - They essentially inject close to pure noise into the system, thus lowering the signal-to-noise ratio. (I don't have a name for them. The Poisoners? Something with "search engine" and "human agent" in it?). Feb 5, 2023 at 4:31
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    This is why the whole idea of a "community" is silly or even harmful. It doesn't apply to what we're doing here. We're building a library of material in Q&A form. There is no community. There is only the content. The people who help to build the content are valuable insofar as they are contributing to building high-quality content. And then there are all the people who benefit from that content, but had no part in building it. They are certainly not part of any "community", but they're a very important target audience for a Q&A site. Feb 5, 2023 at 6:18
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    @CodyGray "There is no community" - tell that to the CM's, who would lose their job if that was true. But you are wrong, and there IS community in each SE site. Feb 5, 2023 at 15:45
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    @ShadowWizardChasingStars Each site has a core of veteran users, yes. Whether that's a community is debatable, but not all of the regulars are part of the core group. Most simply do their own thing for their own reasons.
    – Mast
    Feb 5, 2023 at 16:07

2 Answers 2

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If you ask me, everybody whose net contribution is positive is part of the community. Users posting non-abusive non-answers are not part of it ... yet. With some friendly nudges, they might become in the future. Spammers and trolls, definitely not. Other than that, when does it really matter if somebody is part of the community or not? Stack Exchange is about the content, not the users ... The more reputation you have, the more privileges you have, and the more influence you can have. In that way, being part of the community is not binary, it's a gradual process.

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  • The more reputation you have, the more privileges you have... being part of the community is not binary, it's a gradual process - that's exactly the core answer, you can't just determine engagement any better than by contributions, and contributions lead to reputation gains
    – nicael
    Feb 4, 2023 at 23:18
  • I understand the logic behind your answer, but gotta say that I don't like the fact that being part of the community is tied to reputation. It is indeed that way more or less, but I wish there were other ways to be granted (certain) privileges and be more influential.
    – M--
    Jun 11, 2023 at 6:07
  • Reputation is not exclusively tied to questions and answers. Reputation on a site is also awarded for approved edit suggestions. There is some limit to how much rep can be earned that way, something in the range of 1000 to 2000 I think. It does, however also serve "the community" and the process also gets you involved with some of the community as the edits are approved by other users with higher rep, 5000 I think, not just moderators. It is even possible to "rep cap" doing edits. (Reputation is capped at 200 points earned per day, exclusive of bounties.)
    – Chindraba
    Jun 11, 2023 at 9:50
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    @M-- You might be interested in The Stack Exchange reputation system: What's working? What's not?
    – Rubén
    Jun 11, 2023 at 19:09
  • @Chindraba_on_strike fully aware of those. Yet with 2000 rep you cannot VTC and more. Read my comment again but in the context of the answer above.
    – M--
    Jun 11, 2023 at 19:43
  • @Rubén-PeopleFirst thank you. Yeah, I have seen that and referred to it in my conversations with the staff (regarding RMs on SO Collectives).
    – M--
    Jun 11, 2023 at 19:44
  • @M-- Reputation points are this system's way of attempting to ascertain that you're aware of how the site works, how the system works, and have a certain level of engagement and knowledge about the site's subject matter. Suggesting edits and having them reviewed with positive results only goes so far in that direction. Asking or answering questions, and exposing your knowledge to review is what is needed to get more advanced privileges. VTC is rather important to the site operations and ought not be trusted to someone who only has a record, perfect though it be, of making edits to other posts.
    – Chindraba
    Jun 11, 2023 at 22:26
  • @M-- Another way would be to have a panel of a moderator, 2 or 3 SMEs and stand for an interview, perhaps even take a proctored exam on the subject matter. Hardly an efficient process for tens of thousands of users. Other sites, and other systems might have tried, successfully or not, other systems. For here, and for now, this is the system which is used, and it seems to work reasonably well.
    – Chindraba
    Jun 11, 2023 at 22:28
  • @Chindraba_on_strike I did not suggest edits as a measure for trusting people with any privileges, you did. And, I have been around enough to know why we have reputation as a measure, while it has certain imperfections. Unless wishing for better ways isn't allowed, I would not want to clutter the comment section more than I did already.
    – M--
    Jun 11, 2023 at 23:16
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Nowadays, "community" looks to be a must-have to be used word by the current Stack Exchange, Inc. CEO. I don't know if this is for SEO, if this obeys expectations set by Prosus, the investment group that bought Stack Exchange Inc., if this was learned in the business school or what.

The closest that I found to a recent view of community was wrote by Theresa Dietrich, former Head of Product and Community, three years ago, from The company’s commitment to rebuilding the relationship with you, our community,

I understand our community ranges from users who visit only to find an answer, through increasingly deeper levels of engagement, to our curators and high reputation users at the core.

I'm sure long-time active Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange site users don't see community the same way as Theresa. We see community as a group sharing the original Stack Overflow vision, later extended to the Stack Exchange network.

To be part of the community is not enough to be a lurker or an unregistered user. To consider someone as a community member, the person should be a registered user, be an active question-and-answer poster and earn the required participation privileges according to each community's norms.

Despite this being posted in Meta Stack Exchange, it's worth noting that the Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange community encompasses multiple communities, Stack Overflow, Math Overflow, Super User, etc. Each has a topic, scope and understanding of "practical, detailed questions". Participation on their respective main site is focused on post quality, and involvement in their per-site meta is concentrated on their workings.

Spammers. If we understand spammers as people whose only goal is to drive traffic to external sites, their actions show that they don't share the Stack Overflow original vision; hence, they aren't part of the community.

Trolls. Suppose we understand trolls as people whose only goal is to provoke emotional responses, contrary to the focus on posting high-quality questions and answers, to the community workings and no chitchat policy. In that case, they aren't part of the community.

Some community members might occasionally post spam, behave as trolls, or fail to post quality content. In such cases, community members with the required privilege might flag their respective posts and eventually apply a post ban, suspend the account or even request account deletion if they persist in such behavior.

The company might have a Facebook community, an Instagram community, a customer community, a SOT community, etc. They might address their blog posts to all coders, potential customers, or users of their selling products. Still, with due respect, these communities / audiences usually are not considered part of this community, except for Meta Discussion, the Discord community created after the 2019 schism, which recommends using the same user name used in the network and uses Discord roles to identify current and former community moderators and Stack Exchange Inc. employees.

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