Many people, including some moderators, have expressed to me the following, which is an excerpt from a moderator's comment, many times in many places:

... the guidelines are guidelines and not rules. Each community has its own norms and practices.

Although I am not sure whether the Stack Exchange community team endorses such a viewpoint, let us accept it. Now, I wonder how community norms (policies, rules, or whatever you call) are determined by the community. Specifically, the following questions arises:

  • Are norms determined in a completely democratic way; that is, are they determined by most users?
  • Is there any veto in determining community norms; for example, if most users endorse a norm, may moderators or a group of community leaders (highly active meta users) veto such an endorsement?
  • Do users have to express their agreement/disagreement with a norm by voting on Meta; for example, if many users endorse a norm by their treatment on the main site, will it not be regarded as their agreement/disagreement with a norm?

EDIT (by Gerry Myerson): Here is an example of a community norm contradicting the written guidelines determined by the Stack Exchange community team: a moderator wrote,

When you raise a large number of "no longer needed" flags on ancient posts, you are asking us to take some time out of our day to investigate something which (almost certainly) will not impact the overall site. One or two "no longer needed" flags on ancient posts is fine, but, as I recall, there were a lot of these flags. If I was the one who handled your flags, the goal was to send the message "please don't raise so many flags".

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    $\begingroup$ This comment can be entirely wrong or correct. If you are using stackoverflow then there has been releasion of collectives which has highly been downvoted and disagreed but still is present. So the rules are entirely made by the staff and hardly are action taken. Do remember this might not be correct too $\endgroup$
    – user876009
    Jul 10, 2021 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Jitendra, the question is about math.stackexchange, not about stackoverflow. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2021 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ It's hard to answer your questions in the abstract, Later. Is there some particular norm you are interested in? $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2021 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson ya I know but we can relate many rules $\endgroup$
    – user876009
    Jul 10, 2021 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson Let us keep this post general. As you may know, when I saw some norms contradicting the written guidelines determined by the Stack Exchange community team, I was told by the community leaders, including some moderators, that community norms are determined by the community itself, so I asked this post to know its procedure and details. However, if you need some example, here is one (A moderator stated the related community norm in a comment). $\endgroup$
    – Later
    Jul 10, 2021 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ Later, The world is not, and most certainly neither SE, SO, nor math.stackexchange, is a black and white endeavor, nor is any human institution black and white. Please don't try to make it so; I'd rather not have the human race controlled by binary robots. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jul 10, 2021 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ I count ten comments by moderators at that link, Later. I'm not going to read all of them, just to find the one you had in mind, when you could just as easily copy it & paste it into your question here. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2021 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Later: Community norms are indeed determined by the community itself, but I wouldn't say that there's a procedure involved. Things are much more fluid and unspoken than you seem to make out. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Jul 10, 2021 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ I think its good to try to get things in writing, but not everything can be written down clearly. Your questions are also too absolute, and oddly phrased. If I agree with a "norm", i do not have to find or make a post about it and upvote it... And anyway, most users by a long shot do not visit math.meta, and if they do, its likely just for the mathjax help posts $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2021 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ You're welcome. But I've showed you the way; I'll let you do the further edit. $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2021 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ I've been outspoken in my criticism of the moderators and indeed I agree that the aversion to "rules" rather than "guidelines" is nothing short of bizarre, but comparing yourself to Galileo is nothing short of comical $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2021 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ Later, please stop moving the target: I.e., editing to try to stay relevant. Please stop repeating the perpetual narrative that you are a victim. If anything, you're self-sabotaging yourself on this site; I think you undermine realizing your goals; $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jul 11, 2021 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ Later, you are tenaciously stuck on your self-narrative of victimhood. We are tired of the repeated accusations. Your behavior, and words, alone, are responsible for the consequences you experience. Which you then blame others for. But it starts and ends with you. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jul 11, 2021 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ (I am aware of this user's other meta activity, but this question is much improved, both in content and format. It is not perfect, and I did have to quote their clarification to find a clear version of their question, but also there is nothing to be lost by treating it as an honest question and giving it an honest answer. I am not entirely sure how to verbalise how these "norms" are decided & am not convinced by Joe's comment of "Things are much more fluid and unspoken than you seem to make out". Sometime, I wonder if it is simply certain groups shouting louder and being more active on meta.) $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Jul 11, 2021 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ If Later's goal is to divide the community, then Later will be pleased to know that there are currently three votes to reopen, and two to delete. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2021 at 4:10

1 Answer 1


(The following is Teresa Lisbon's comment, which I will post it as an answer.)

Most policies get voted on by a "meta" (and not "main") majority. Now it is up to you as to whether this is "democratic" or not. I cannot comment on the second point. For the third, I think moderators would be keeping track of trends that are displayed towards norms , but I'm not sure any kind of actions or changes of norms would precede a meta post and a "meta" community vote. More important changes could be tagged as feature requests so that they rise to more prominence. EoQS has been viewed 6K times due to good publicity.

  • $\begingroup$ (I edited to correct the spelling of my name) Thank you for the answer , I had made the comment when the question was closed. I can't think of ways to elaborate on what I said (other than the comment above the one I made as well). Maybe one more sentence : Not everything is black-and-white, and disagreements only serve to highlight the gray areas, so these will occur(on meta posts) and are good to see as well. If people care, we go forward. I can't say it's more complicated than that. $\endgroup$ Aug 9, 2021 at 7:44
  • $\begingroup$ @SarveshRavichandranIyer Why are your edits/comments merged with Teresa Lisbon’s? $\endgroup$ Feb 29 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @ТymaGaidash That's my old name. $\endgroup$ Feb 29 at 23:22

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