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My First Question on TSE

I recently asked my first question (Is it objectionable to carry someone else's passport across the UK Border?) on TSE.

While watching a show where UK Customs confiscated a passport from a traveller's baggage at Heathrow, it stuck me that it's quite easy to find oneself carrying a passport for someone else, say for someone who has dual passports but travelled on one, or if a friend has travelled to a destination where they did not need a passport but are now planning to travel further, or even a child's passport to show to a parent for some legal formalities, or some other situation like that.

Having spent close to half an hour looking up rules, formulating the question and checking for duplicates, I hit the 'Post Your Question' button, and sat back with my mug of tea, waiting for some answers.

The first comment

The first comment I got was "This might be a better fit for law.stackexchange.com".

This was from an experienced and long-standing member, but included no constructive suggestion on how it might be improved or edited to fit the site, just a straight-up dog-whistle to other fellow experienced users to vote for this question be closed without the opportunity to receive an answer. (See Too much group behaviour in closing questions?)

Sure enough, while it was followed by a few comments in support of the question being on-topic or at least partly on topic, and even a few answers being given as comments, the overall perception of the question remained negative.

Is the question really off-topic?

A question about International travelers, passports and customs at Heathrow is clearly primarily about travel. Yes it does intersect law, but by that measure all the visa questions on TSE should be moved to Law SE?

https://travel.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic states

Travel Stack Exchange is for road warriors and seasoned travellers.. If you have a question about …

customs & border crossing, visas and other travel documents such as permits

...

While I defer to the moderators to determine what's on topic and what's not, a cursory reading of this does not indicate at all that a question about travellers, passports and customs could conceivably be off-topic, else I would not have spent my time.

a. Questions about Passports are not off-topic:

Should questions about attaining and potentially losing passports be allowed?

b. All questions about law are not off-topic:

Seeing the magic word legal does not make a question off-topic; TSE has a legal tag which describes itself as "Questions regarding permitted or forbidden activities in various places, including unforeseen technicalities."

knowledge pertaining to customs and immigration might not be as common as knowledge about local laws and ordinances, but frequent international travelers might be able to answer based on experience or research.

I think the guide line would be - if you would consider paying an attorney for advice on the matter, it's probably not a good fit for a Q&A web site, but that goes for almost any topic. I'm not going to ask an attorney if it's illegal to smoke in public in Saigon any more than I'm going to ask The Internet what to do if my visa is revoked.

Customs and immigration laws that deal with travelers rather than immigrants would also be on topic.

Travel questions relating to the Law

Hostility and unwelcoming behavior

I put to the community that such overzealous community moderation leads to a chilling effect for new participants, when less than a minute after you just spent 30 minutes framing a question, someone pops in to try and get it closed, claiming it's off-topic.

And then to prevent your effort going down the drain you have to spend another 30 minutes following the comments and guessing and editing things, lest the question get closed by the time you log back in again.

All of this quick jumping to close also discourages people who would like to answer but who now think answering would be futile as the question is likely to be closed.

This issue has been addressed on Meta before:

Could something be done to make this site more friendly?

I have the feeling that some people would rather “police” Travel SE instead of steering newcomers in the right direction or creating a positive environment. For example, if a question is borderline, it will rather be closed or criticized with a commanding tone rather than trying to construe it in a way that makes useful answers possible. There also seems to be some difficult-to-understand restrictions on what can be addressed here.

Deleted Comments

Alongside, some comments on the question have been deleted, likely after being flagged. Such pick-and-choose deletion of comments leads to a rather different and asynchronous impression of the discussion.

Moving Comments to Chat

I definitely feel the moderator moving the comments to chat has a moral responsibility to move all the comments to chat in the original order, preserving the discussion for any interested readers. Moderators deleting cherry-picked comments is akin to selectively editing a conversation - whatever the intent, the outcome is misrepresentative of the conversation and a morally dishonest act.

Arbitrary standards

As I type this, the question already has three votes to close.

Peculiarly enough, one person who voted to close as off-topic actually has Why prohibit engine braking? as their second-most popular answer on TSE, where all the answers are about automobile technology and the tenuous connection with travel is merely that the road sign was abroad from one person's perspective.

Conclusion

As a user generally familiar with SEs but asking my first question on TSE, I have described my experience which I would characterise as unwelcoming and discouraging.

One is unlikely to pay an attorney to ask if it's ok to carry a friend's or spouse's passport with oneself when travelling, so I still feel, like some of the comments agree, that this is on-topic here. I would have appreciated constructive feedback on this, or suggestions on editing the question to fit what the community feels is correct.

I understand each person acts differently but given that I see these issues have been raised preiously on Meta, is it possible for the community to encourage restraint while dealing with new questions? After all, Rule 1: Be nice!.

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    I am not weighing in about the validity of your original question, however I am having trouble reconciling your invocation of "Rule 1: Be nice!" with your own comment of "It's essentially an established member dog-whistling that the question should be closed." IMHO this comment is effectively insulting the actions of someone by insinuating that they aren't operating from a good faith position. In addition you seem to attempting to defend your position with large doses of whataboutism. Neither of this is going to endear you to other people.
    – Peter M
    Jul 6 at 14:17
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    That was a specific reply to another question asked of me in the comments, unfortunately due to the practice of deleting comments the conversation is not visible chronologically at least to me.
    – user29097
    Jul 6 at 15:24
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    You still make the same comment in this very question
    – Peter M
    Jul 6 at 15:31
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    I copy-pasted most of this question and I apologise if in this context it seems like a personal attack. However for an asker whose question gets closed and effort written-off, there is zero difference in outcome if a person silently votes to close, or chooses to leave a prominent first comment from a high-rep user that suggests the question is not a good fit for the site. I'd argue the latter is worse as it drives reader opinion faster for closure (as happened on the original question). It's not nice, it's a direct attack on the time invested in the question, and it's definitely unwelcoming.
    – user29097
    Jul 6 at 17:26
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    Addendum: I definitely feel the moderator moving the comments to chat has a moral responsibility to move all the comments to chat in the original order, preserving the discussion for any interested readers. Moderators deleting cherry-picked comments is akin to selectively editing a conversation - whatever the intent, the outcome is misrepresentative of the conversation and a morally dishonest act.
    – user29097
    Jul 7 at 5:04
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This might be a better fit for law.stackexchange.com

To me this appears to be a polite, non-hostile response to any question, including yours. My interpretation would be that the user is not sure if this was off-topic (otherwise they would have voted to close) and was expressing their opinion. As the one who asked the question and invested significant time in researching/framing the question it may not appear the same to you and that is understandable but your response to the comment, labelling it as a dog whistle", made it appear as if you took it as a personal attack.

The OP to whose comment you took offence has already clarified that they they did not mean to needle you (even if you took it that way). They are also correct in saying that "maybe a better fit for XXSE" is a stock response for questions which straddle the boundaries of diverse stack exchange topics. The easiest response would have been to point out how passports are on topic and there are similar questions without resorting to words like dog whistle. Other users would have upvoted your remark. If someone did VTC & question got closed, you could have opened a meta topic asking for clarification about the policy for such questions.

High rep users can certainly exert some influence over community regarding quality of a question. However, I do believe that if others do not agree with their opinion, it would be pointed out to them in subsequent comments. Of course questions do get closed (or remain open) due to quirks such as being presented to 5 like minded individuals but there are sufficient safeguards in the system to revert it. Case in point is your question that was closed as off-topic but was reopened because some in community thought it was on topic.

In my experience people do not desist from answering a question because it is likely to be closed. The question about engine breaking has a comment how it would be better fit on mechanicsSE but it still has 8 answers and lots of votes, so a lot of people in community obviously think it is a great question for this site.

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    It did feel as if the accepted process for asking a new question on TSE includes a trial by fire where the question has to pass numerous unknowable & subjective conditions, where any failure to follow a single norm could lead to closure of the question with only a slight chance for re-opening. Yes, the linked question is re-opened now, but that's like lynching and shooting a new visitor to your town first, and then giving them a bandage later if the crowd decides to. Not very welcoming even if it's now normalised on TSE!
    – user29097
    Jul 7 at 11:07
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    Woah! Are you seriously equating closing a question with serious physical injury? As for being a new user you have sufficent rep to not be considered one. In fact a 1K rep user is considered well versed with how this site works.
    – RedBaron
    Jul 7 at 11:25
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    I have shown above my pre-asking research, which indicated this question was on-topic on TSE. The question was re-opened, which also indicates it was. The challenge here was purely with unnecessary rapid community moderation (not from mods, but from established users) for new questions, which influences the fate of the question and creates an unwelcome environment. Where this is coming from is what I'm trying to understand. How is it possible that people prioritize closing and downvoting over asking and answering?
    – user29097
    Jul 7 at 12:15
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    Comment is not moderation. If you look at it impassively, maybe your response to the original comment precipitated some of the "moderation"? No one prioritizes anything except responding to the question. Some people do it by asking for clarification in comments, others do by voting or answering. Once a close vote is cast, the question appears in moderation queue of all users who have sufficient reputation & they can then decide if they wish to close it. Same for reopen.
    – RedBaron
    Jul 7 at 12:38
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    That's like a self-fulfilling prophecy then. A high-rep users comments that the question is not a good fit for the website, and the question is doomed - if the asker doesn't reply then it colours others' impression of the question leading to more close votes, but if the asker refutes the accusation then the question gets close votes because people don't like you any more. I didn't think asking a question on a Q&A site was like participating in a popularity contest, but I'll accept your explanation because one downvoter specifically said they voted to close "because of my attitude."
    – user29097
    Jul 7 at 12:50
  • If the asker doesn't reply someone else definitely will to present a different point of view.
    – RedBaron
    Jul 7 at 17:33
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The suggestion that the question may fit better on law.se is a perfectly reasonable comment. I don't know if I agree on this case (I think the question seems perfectly on topic for both sites), but it's not an unreasonable view and there's nothing impolite or objectionable about the phrasing. That user believes another venue is more likely to be able to provide an answer. You've complained that there was no constructive suggestion on how to make the question on topic here, but giving advice on where you would be more likely to get an answer is no less constructive.

In response to that advice, you've accused the user of "dog-whistling" (multiple times), of making "implicit threats" and "an invitation to group-think", and of being "hostile". You also speak of writing a question and then "someone pops in to try and get it closed". All of this sounds like you're ascribing nefarious motives to what seems to be well-intended and constructive advice.

You've also started digging through another user's post history to find where they've posted other things you think might be borderline or off-topic. You've brought it up twice now (in the comments and in the meta post), and on neither occasion have you bothered to ask what the difference was. You seem to be just using it as ammunition in an argument - pure whataboutery.

Since you end your post by mentioning Rule 1: be nice!, I feel it's relevant to note that among all the comments under the question, the only ones I can interpret as being remotely hostile are your own.

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  • Thanks for your time. As a new asker, I have no role in moving questions. Consequently when high-rep users immediately and publicly signal to other users that they feel a question is unworthy to remain in this SE, it does not benefit the asker at all. Au contraire, it builds public opinion against the question and discourages answers. There can be no greater way to negate the effort of the question-asker, intentional or not.
    – user29097
    Jul 6 at 15:23
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    Let’s make this a little more abstract. Don’t think about your question. Imagine that some time next week, I’m browsing the site, and I see a new question that straddles different topics. After reading the question, I think it would be more likely to get a good answer if asked on a different stack exchange site. What do you propose I should do? How can I best help this user to get a good answer to their question?
    – Chris H
    Jul 6 at 15:45
  • My suggestion would be to not comment right away unless it's to clarify the question or to answer. Wait and give it a chance to get answers from others. If after a while there aren't enough answers, then suggest the other alternatives - "you can also try xx.SE if you aren't getting the answers you need". That way you aren't dissuading others from answering, and the asker also appreciates you for giving them a plan B after it's clear their plan A failed.
    – user29097
    Jul 6 at 16:38
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    That would be one reasonable course of action, but I’m afraid I still simply don’t see the issue with an immediate short comment suggesting the other site. It’s perfectly common behaviour on stack exchange sites. I’ve left similar comments many times and seen plenty of those questions get answers on their original site. I suspect your interpretation is very uniquely your own. It’s particularly strange to me that you can think that comment hostile but apparently consider your own behaviour in response acceptable.
    – Chris H
    Jul 7 at 5:39
  • Speaking specifically of my question, it was closed pursuant to the gatekeeping, and other users' comments made in favour of it being on-topic were deleted. QED. While there might be historical reasons behind these practices, the whole experience is quite unwelcoming and disrespectful to new askers' efforts. Yes my response was sharp, because I'm vocal. There might be those who stay on nevertheless, but I am certain there's a long tail of people who never ask another question because of this treatment. I myself have asked for my TSE account to be closed, so you have at least one example there.
    – user29097
    Jul 7 at 8:14
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    Your post complains that deletion of some comments left the conversation misrepresentative. There may have been some comments deleted before I saw them, I can't comment on them for obvious reasons. But now you say "other users' comments made in favour of it being on-topic were deleted" - there were also comments calling it off-topic which were deleted, and comments saying it's on-topic which were not deleted. You are misrepresenting things.
    – Chris H
    Jul 7 at 8:33
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    In fact, that's a pattern. You declare the mods' actions to misrepresent the conversation, but you misrepresent their actions. You declare other users to be hostile towards you (after giving well-intentioned and constructive advice that didn't happen to the kind you wanted), while you start accusing others of malicious behaviour. If you want your travel.SE account to be deleted, you can do that yourself here. There's no need to ask anybody. Frankly saying that almost sounds like the "implied threats" you were complaining about too.
    – Chris H
    Jul 7 at 8:40
  • This is precisely the problem with deleting comments! Someone deleted selective comments. I agreed there might be historical community reasons for doing that. But the only two comments they left on the question were for closing it, all the others were moved to chat. That's fairly suggestive. Later two comments were made in favour, which were deleted and not moved to chat. Now the entire comments are gone. What can I say except the mods ought to leave all the comments in, and in a chronological way? Like Caesar's wife, it's important for mods to consider if their decision appears fair as well.
    – user29097
    Jul 7 at 9:02
  • My leaving this site cannot be a threat to anyone - I'm a nobody here, just trying to highlight an issue faced by a new asker. Closing a question that a user spent substantial time to research and get aligned with the site guidelines, now that's arguably a threat of causing their effort and time to be wasted. I did use the delete option you linked to, almost a day ago. It apparently takes 24 hours to delete the account. That's what I meant by "asked". Meanwhile I'm only replying because I received notifications while on other SEs. Ultimately it's your community, I have no axe to grind.
    – user29097
    Jul 7 at 9:16

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