It's not representative democracy, because the decisions are taken by the entire community, but they are weighted :P

The closest one that comes into my mind is the "Venus project" :)

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    Anacharcy? Or something even scarier - Writer-ocracy! Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 2:21
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    there is mass voting, yet mods have a huge amt of [nearly dictatorial/authoritarian] power & are elected for life. conclude its a weird hybrid of various systems. have been analyzing it for yrs & still encounter surprises. invite more discussion in Politics Chat
    – vzn
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 18:58
  • 2
    Don't forget that stackexchange is a business whose owners can close it down or arbitrarily change it in any way they wish without consulting we great unwashed masses. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 10:17

5 Answers 5


I would say it resembles a meritocracy of a consultative nature. The more reputation you have (the more merit), the more influence.

A new user with 1 rep can neither vote nor comment. All they can do is ask and answer questions, so they have no decision influence whatsoever. As reputation increases (ultimately as decided by the community), users get more and more power. This only breaks down when it comes to ♦ moderators, which are elected — but again, only by users that have proven their merit by earning at least 150 reputation.

Edit: as pointed out in comments and other answers, finally the community power is only of a consultative nature. The owners can choose to follow recommendations or not. They usually do, but ultimately, true power is with the SE company. Nevertheless, as long as the company listens to the community, people in the community still have influence, which is quite similar to power.

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    Depends however on how deep you want to go. Ultimately, SE is owned by a company and the company employee can do a lot of things having no merit within SE system. Of course, such actions, if taken inappropriately, would violate the trust of the users, which may get offended and leave, but still they can be performed and SE users can do nothing about it.
    – StasM
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 8:38
  • True; the meritocracy ultimately holds no power, but just recommends the ones that are truly in power. I adapted the answer to reflect this.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 8:53
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    Also, it is not a meritocracy, it just resembles one.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 12:27
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    Also, Mods can do whatever they want (within checks and balances)
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 16:04
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    Does that make it a Consultacracy? Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 5:57

Power in Stack Exchange is not held by its users, but delegated to them by the owners of the SE network - for example, the users are afforded no formal mechanism by which to change the "constitution" or rules by which SE sites operate, or to decide, for example, to open source the code on which the sites run.

In that respect it could be said to resemble a form of Executive Monarchy in which power is technically wielded by an absolute ruler (who chooses not to exercise all of their power directly).

Alternatively, one could consider the mechanisms by which SE sites operate as analogous to physical laws, in which case the owners of the SE network are effectively deities, able to change the nature of the universe by fiat.

That, I think, would make the technical staff angels, and moderators a kind of priesthood, responsible for interpreting divine law, and mediating between the mortal realm and the heavens.

Since there are, however, some democratic (or meritocratic, as suggested by @gerrit) elements to the governance of this mortal realm - election of moderators, and so on - one model to which SE could be said to bear a slight resemblance is the Democracy/Theocracy amalgam of Iran (with, admittedly, many differences, not least of which is that Wikipedia does not appear to be contemplating an invasion of SE to prevent us from getting nukes).

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    Church of Atwood?
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 3:23
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    Amen and +1. I was just about to post that SE most closely resembles governments such as Bachrain or other Middle-Eastern monarchies.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 16:05
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    @YannisRizos - Atwood was cast out in a coup d'etat. Or at least that is my consipiracy theory and I'm sticking to it, no matter what Atwood himself says.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 16:06
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    @DVK You're a bit late, the community realized Jeff's nefarious plans a couple of years ago.
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 17:37
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    Our uranium refinement facilities are safe you say?
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 19:26

Certainly not democracy!

It's some kind of voluntarism (anarchy), because you are not enforced to become StackExchange member. You become a member and accept rules on contract. If it was a democracy or any other form of non-voluntary government you would be involuntary member from the day of your birth.

So, despite some good observations it seems that everyone missed this point.

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Let me make something incredibly clear up front: While I come across as rather angry, I'm not. I'm very happy with the way the SE network is run, and while I disagree with SE on many things, we've agreed to bury the hatchet because the bickering is not productive if it goes on for months at a time.

As a friend of mine just pointed out, it's technically a form of Despotism.

Stack Exchange, Inc has the final say in everything that goes on in this site. Here is why I say that:

  • First, SE, Inc has complete control of the websites source code.
  • Second, while they generally leave the community to it's own devices, and the government of the city-states/provinces to the community elected moderators, occasionally they need to interfere for whatever reason (legal, nobody can agree, etc).

So in some ways, it's a meritcracy. In some ways, it's a democratic republic, since we have a constitution (as encoded in the FAQ of each respective site, and enshrined in Meta.StackOverflow). But when you get down to it, all this exists at the whim of the "dictators", SE, Inc.

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    I think we need a new 'ism'. You know the diagram in each FAQ? We could have that same diagram with several political systems with Stack Exchange still appearing in the middle. Oh my, what have we done?
    – Tim Post
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 2:21
  • That doesn't make sense to me. That's the equivalent of saying that representative democracy today is not representative democracy because those private corporations who run the infrastructure own the source code (which they do). While this is true, I do think we live in a corporate plutocracy, but as long as it is labelled "democracy," that is what we have to accept.
    – Sentinel
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 15:42

It's a mixed / hybrid goverment, integrating elements from almost every one of the basic forms of government.

At the heart of Stack Exchange communities there is a token economy, the reputation system, which allows for a certain degree of self governing, a trait that points to meritocracy and timocracy. It's also a trait that, if left unchecked, may (and have in isolated instances) lead to plutocracy.

There are also strong democratic elements, the Meta process resembles a deliberative assembly1, and has at times been used to define policies, hold referendums, and protest decisions. The election of community moderators, representatives of their respective communities, is also a deeply democratic process.

Network wide, each Stack Exchange site has a degree of autonomy, and per site Metas can be considered a form of local assembly, with Meta Stack Overflow being a grand assembly (of sorts). This arrangement is skewed in favour of Stack Overflow and the larger sites of the network in general, due to various historical and practical reasons2, and it's a bit reminiscent of a commonwealth, or perhaps colonial structures, such as internal colonialism and neocolonialism.

At the end of the day, though, Stack Exchange Inc. has final say in all matters, and if we assume Stack Exchange Inc. as a single entity then we are talking about a benevolent dictatorship, a (mostly benign) authoritarian form of government.

1 ...or a Roman Arena, depending on perspective.
2 Population, for example.

  • 2
    The SE Inc. oversight is a lot like a monarch's reserve powers. Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 7:16

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