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?
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!.